Jeannie blinked at the Marine standing just inside the lobby. It was completely empty except for him, his desk, and the door beside it.
"Ma'am, please give me your arm," he repeated.
Jeannie held her right arm out and he waved a scanner over it. She grimaced when it beeped. She still couldn't believe she'd allowed herself to be chipped. Especially given what she knew about the company that used to make them.
The Marine looked at his screen and nodded in satisfaction. "You're to report to room 815." He buzzed her through the second door. "Have a nice day."
"You too," Jeannie replied absently and walked through to a second lobby. There were more people there, all waiting for the elevator.
"Mrs. Miller." Major Lorne nodded at her. "I didn't know you were joining up."
Jeannie tugged her uniform jacket down, frowning at it. "I'm not, really, but Mer asked me to come down for a few weeks to help him and Radek with some problem. Were you in San Francisco on leave?"
"Came in for my sister's birthday," Lorne said cheerfully as they stepped into the elevator. "I thought I'd spend some time with her and the kids while I'm actually in the area."
Jeannie glanced at the other people in the elevator, who all looked as uncomfortable in their uniforms as she felt. "Do you have any idea how much longer you're going to be 'in the area'?"
Lorne's mouth tightened. "I've actually been reassigned. I ship out next month."
"I'm sorry?" The elevator doors opened and they walked into the hallway. The walls were bare and all the offices seemed empty. Jeannie wondered if the IOA was actually using this building for anything more than a transport hub.
"It's complicated." Lorne pushed open the door to 815 and they stepped out onto a high-walled central terrace, which was mostly roped off.
Jeannie went to stand by the wall. "Complicated?"
"They've been massively cutting down the military contingent," he told her quietly. "Ask your brother about it later. In private."
Jeannie raised her eyebrow, but he shook his head and didn't say anything more. They leaned against the wall and watched the other people waiting for transport. She didn't recognize a single one of them from her previous trips to Atlantis.
Lorne suddenly straightened and walked up to the rope, untying it just as two puddlejumpers decloaked. The others waiting around the terrace gasped and started talking excitedly amongst themselves.
"Okay kids," Lorne said, waving at the two jumpers. "Pick a bus and let's get going."
Jeannie followed Lorne into the jumper on the left and settled down on one of the bench seats in the back. A woman sat down next to her.
"Hi!" The woman said, holding out her hand. "Lisa Hamilton, anthropology."
Jeannie shook it. "Jeannie Miller, astrophysics." It was true enough, even if she was still technically ABD.
"Astrophysics!" Lisa beamed at her. "You must be so excited. A real alien city! Do you think it means we might discover the secret to interstellar travel? That would be so amazing, to be able to visit other solar systems. Completely alien worlds!"
Jeannie stared at her, shocked. "You never know," she said faintly, her mind racing.
"We'll be setting down in the City in about 15 minutes," Lorne said, standing in the doorway. "If anyone wants to do any last minute studying of their intro packets, do it now."
Everyone started rustling through bags, pulling out folders and huge binders. Jeannie tried to catch Lorne's eye and ask him what was going on. He didn't look at her, but slipped a note into her hand as he walked back into the forward compartment, shutting the door behind him.
Jeannie looked down at it. Say nothing. Ask McKay. She crumbled the note and stuck it in her pocket. She settled down against the wall and watched the other occupants of the jumper, all carefully studying their apparently wrong, or at the very least incomplete, information.
Meredith was going to have a lot of explaining to do.
"Will everyone please follow me?" A man Jeannie vaguely recognized but couldn't put a name to waved the crowd towards a hallway leading out of the jumper bay. "We'll get your orientation started shortly."
"Not you," Meredith said behind her, and Jeannie jumped.
"I don't get to listen the fake orientation?" Jeannie asked quietly, crossing her arms.
Mer looked around quickly and whispered, "Not here." He raised his voice and smirked at her. "Unless you want to listen to the lecture about how to use the toilets again."
Jeannie vividly remembered the lecture about the toilets. There had been demonstrations. "I think I'll pass."
"Come on, then." Mer walked briskly out the door and Jeannie rushed to keep up with him.
"What, I don't even merit a 'hello' anymore?"
Mer sighed. "Yes, hi, hello, thank you for coming, walk faster."
"Meredith!" Jeannie lightly hit him as the stepped into a transporter.
"What?" He rubbed his arm and glared at her. "We need to get to the lab!"
"Like it's going to matter if takes us a minute longer to get there," Jeannie muttered. They walked down a long, mostly empty hallway. She didn't remember this part of Atlantis, but so much it looked alike that she really had no idea if she'd been there before.
"It might!" Mer walked up to a closed door and waved his hand in front of the panel. It opened and he paused. "Jeannie. Put your hand here." Mer pointed to a spot just below the door panel. She pressed it and Mer picked up a tablet, fiddling with it for a moment. "There. The door recognizes you now, you'll be able to get in without one of us with you."
Jeannie walked into the room and the door shut behind her. There were whiteboards filled with equations, and Jeannie walked up to one, squinting at it. "This is complete gibberish."
"Yes, well, they're our decoy work. Wait a moment, will you?" Mer put the tablet down and walked over to the far wall. "Follow me, you'll be fine."
"Follow you where, Meredith? You're standing in front of..." Jeannie trailed off as he walked right through the wall and disappeared. "...a wall. Great. My life has suddenly gone from bad science fiction to Harry Potter." She breathed in and closed her eyes, walking with her hands in front of her.
"You're fine," Mer said. Jeannie could hear the eyeroll before she opened her eyes and confirmed it.
"Jeannie, hello," Radek said and waved to her. He was working in front of a whiteboard, and behind him was a huge warehouse-like space, filled with boxes and crates. If she squinted, she thought she could make out a couple of puddlejumpers at the far end of the room.
"Radek," Jeannie said. She turned to face Meredith. "Okay, what the hell is going on?"
"Where are you staying?" Mer asked, staring at her.
"I. What?" Jeannie gaped at him. "Mer, tell me what is going on right this second or so help me...."
"Answer the question, please," Radek said, not looking at them. "It's kind of important."
"They've put us in a Residence Inn close to the office building where they're running everything. What does it matter?" Jeannie crossed her arms.
"You're at a hotel, not in one of the apartments?" Mer breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, good. That'll make moving you into the city a lot easier."
"Moving me into the... Meredith, I said I was coming down to help you for a month tops, not moving to Atlantis. And are you forgetting that my husband and my seven year-old daughter don't exactly have security clearance?" Jeannie was too baffled to even really be angry.
"They are letting families into the city now," Radek said, walking over to them and sitting down on a stool. "People are bringing children and spouses. The IOA says it's good for moral."
"I got a cat," Mer said, cheerfully. "Well, two, actually, so they can keep each other company."
"You," Jeannie stopped and stared at them blankly.
"Want to see pictures?" Meredith made a move to grab his tablet.
"You are worse than Lieutenant Montoya with his new baby," Radek said, sighing.
Jeannie reached out and grabbed Mer's wrist. "Will someone please, please just tell me what's going on?"
Meredith shrugged her off and sighed. "They're starting the declassification process in the most moronic way possible."
"They are going to say we discovered Atlantis in Antarctica." Radek paused, and took off his glasses. "It is not entirely a lie, merely withholding most of the truth. So they say."
"But..." Jeannie protested.
"Exactly," Mer said.
"They're not going to let you take Atlantis back to Pegasus," Jeannie said, flatly.
"No," Radek agreed. "They are not."
"They're not even letting us admit Atlantis has ever been to Pegasus," Mer said, crossly. "The idiots in the IOA think that finding an alien city here on Earth will be easier for people to handle than the fact that we've been fighting wars in space for the past 15 years."
"Finding the Lost City of Atlantis will make for nicer news and ease people into it gently," Radek grumbled. "Gently!"
Mer made a face in agreement.
"Families," Jeannie said faintly. "Kids running around make the alien city less scary and look better on tv."
"Precisely," Radek said.
"You want me to bring my family into that?" Jeannie asked, appalled. "Meredith, what were you thinking? I am not letting Madison become the poster child of an international conspiracy."
Mer shifted uncomfortably. "Not into that, no."
Jeannie stared at the huge warehouse spread out in front of her, packed high with crates, and it clicked. "You're taking Atlantis back to Pegasus anyway. Stealing the city right out from under their noses."
Mer nodded grimly. "We're leaving in three weeks."
"And you want me to come with you. To pack up my life on three week's notice to go to another galaxy where my daughter might get eaten." Jeannie really wanted a drink.
"I," Mer looked sheepish and oddly scared. "Essentially, yes."
"The Wraith are not as big a problem as they used to be," Radek supplied, walking back to his whiteboard. "I do not think your daughter would have much to worry about."
"Not helping, Radek." Mer glared at him.
"Eaten," Jeannie repeated. It was kind of a sticking point.
"Nobody is going to eat Madison!"
Jeannie sighed and pinched her nose. "You can't promise that, Mer."
"Yes, I can," he said stubbornly.
Jeannie shook her head. "Just tell me why."
"Why what?" Mer asked.
"Why you want us to come."
"Why wouldn't I?" Mer looked honestly confused. "You're not a total idiot, despite your life choices, and Madison's a McKay so she'll clearly be an asset in the future."
Jeannie put her head in her hands. "Mer...."
"Yes, fine." Meredith crossed his arms. "You're my sister, Jeannie, and I know we've had some problems, but I." He paused, clearly hoping she would say something so he wouldn't have to.
Jeannie waited, refusing to go easy on him.
"I don't want to lose that again," Mer said, quietly.
Jeannie sighed. Her brother could be so stupid sometimes. "Mer, look at me."
"What? I am." Mer blinked at her, arms still crossed.
Jeannie reached out and put her hand on his arm, looking him straight in the eye. "Meredith. You are my big brother. You will always be my big brother. If you have to leave and I can't go with you, you will still be my big brother. Especially because you're worried and you're telling me this time. Okay?"
"You, uh, will always be my baby sister," he said awkwardly and patted her hand. "Are you coming or not?"
Jeannie rolled her eyes. If there was one thing you could always count on, it was Meredith ruining the moment. "I don't know, Mer. I have to talk to Kaleb, and there's still that whole 'being eaten' problem."
"No one is going to get eaten!"
"They'd better not." Jeannie sighed. "It's a big decision, Mer, and I can't make it in an instant. No matter what Kaleb and I decide, it won't be a rejection of you, okay?" She looked at him, trying to put her best 'Mom still loves you' into it.
"Yes, well," Mer said gruffly, "I need your decision by Friday. Sheppard and I reserved some jumpers to haul your crap here."
"If we decide to come, you're doing all the heavy lifting," Jeannie said. She got up and walked over to Radek and looked at the whiteboard. "So, what are we working on?"
Jeannie picked up a marker and let herself get lost in the math as Radek explained. She thought about the crowd from earlier, fresh, innocent minds that had no idea how much they were still being lied to. Everyone else on Earth, completely ignorant of everything that was out there. Kaleb and Madison, who probably knew more about the actual reality of the universe than most of the rest of the world combined.
Jeannie didn't know if she wanted her daughter to grow up on a world that lied to her and patronized her and expected her to just roll over and take it. She didn't know if she wanted her daughter to grow up being surrounded by death and danger either, but the safety of Earth was an illusion. Jeannie knew that better than most. Were the illusions worth the lies? Was leaving everything they knew even really a realistic option? Did they really want to do it, even if it was?
Kaleb would have objections and reservations, Jeannie knew he would. So did she. But in the end, she thought knew which side she'd be arguing for. In the clarity of the equations that flew from her fingers, Jeannie saw herself giving her daughter the stars.