Title: Four People Who Got the Job (and One Who Didn’t)
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Characters: Sheppard, McKay, Jack O’Neill, OCs, references to Elizabeth Weir, Ronon
Words: Too Many
Notes: set after Sunday with a slight, barely-there spoiler for that episode. I made up a lot of the military stuff, but not the epigraph: that's by WH Auden, because even intergalactic space-age colonies need worker ants. Can be read whole or in sections. Originally here, for the Five Things challenge at sga_flashfic
Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.
The interview takes the form of a written exam: skill questionnaire, lots of diagrams, some situational questions, and at the end, a final…well, Syed would have to call it a word problem. That one takes the longest; when he’s finished, he slides the packet across the desk to Dr. McKay.
McKay glances up like he's surprised to find Zain Syed, lieutenant junior-grade, applicant number six, still sitting across from him. At first, he’d pretended to read Syed’s service jacket, but he's spent most of the last half-hour staring into middle distance. “I’m an astrophysicist,” he says suddenly.
“Uh. Yes, sir. So I understand.”
“I just wanted you to know: I’m not actually authorized to interview you, hence the, uh…” he flaps the pages. “Not that I couldn’t understand what you were saying, of course. I’m very bright. Genius-level, in fact. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve explained that I am more than capable of interviewing outside my specialty…specialties, as it were…but, anyway, we do have an ordnance expert, couldn't bring her along because…well, transportation is limited and we didn't want to leave the city unattended so soon after—well. Yes. We’ve recently lost quite a few of our staff, so those of us already detailed to make the trip just divided up the interviews we had to conduct and, and...here we are.”
“Of course.” Syed is so accustomed to need-to-know that he's not quite sure what to say to all that information. For the first time, it occurs to him that this might be a special special project—and suddenly, he really wants the job. He can’t think of a military base known as ‘the city’…but, hell, he’s served at places known colloquially as ‘The Pit,’ ‘The Club,’ and, most recently, here at ‘The Mountain.' Plus that six-month stint at 'The Farm,' which doesn't officially exist and which he'd prefer not to remember. ‘The City’—why not?
“I did write the last question,” McKay adds with a flush of pride.
And that explains a lot: for one thing, it had been written in long, rambling paragraphs instead of the short instructional lists usual in explosives work. For another...no serious ordnance specialist would invent a scenario around something as improbable as exploding tumors. Tumors? Seriously?
“It was very—I’ve never encountered anything quite like that last one, sir.”
McKay looked at him. “No, I…don’t imagine that you have.” He blinks, shakes himself as though he’s waking from a daydream, shuffles the paperwork back into the file marked SYED, Z. “Thank you. I’ll send these back to my colleague and she’ll contact you with our decision once it’s been made.”
Syed stands and retrieves his uniform lid. At the door, he turns around. What the hell, he figures: his answer is written, but if he doesn’t ask, he’ll be thinking about it all day. “Is there a solution, sir? To that last problem?”
McKay startles; he'd been staring off into space again. “A solution?”
“Yes, sir. I—well, you can see my work, but I could only get the casualties down by about a quarter. A sudden explosion that takes out the medical bay?” he shakes his head. The problem had asked him to predict the bomb radius and devise a response plan, but...taking out the medical facilities in the first strike? That’s a nightmare situation. “What’s the solution? How do you save them all?”
“Oh.” McKay looks down at the packet in front of him, then looks back up, lifts his hands in a helpless shrug. “I couldn’t tell you.”
“Right. Of course not; forget I asked.” Syed ducks his head. Obviously. They weren’t going to give away the answers when they hadn’t even finished interviewing! “Thank you, sir.”
OD 89D is the army military operation specialty (MOS) designation for an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Specialist
“Hey, hey, keep your hair on!” A man in officer’s blues comes through the door balancing a cardboard box with a locked metal case on top of it. He has,
Dr. McKay simply shook his head. “Late to his own funeral,” he mutters, and then he begins the interview.
It is the weirdest fucking job interview
“Uh, excuse me sir. My radio’s damaged,” says one applicant, poking at the wires and twisted metal through the plastic.
“They’re all damaged, Airman,” explains the lieutenant colonel calmly, not even turning around. “I shot them.”
“Yes, yes, interview question one,” Dr. McKay chimes in, dispensing the last of his tool kits. “Fix the radio.”
“Is this also a timed task?” someone asks, a little snidely, as Dr. McKay and the Colonel distribute question two (a shoebox of speaker wire and yet more metal bits).
“Everything is a timed task,” McKay snaps. “Ok, interview question two: use the parts we have given you to build a wireless receiver. Go.”
That one’s a little harder: you have to actually tear apart the box and punch the screws through it or the whole thing collapses and you can’t get a signal. At the same time, if you put the connectors too close to the cardboard, it’ll smolder. It's a good problem.
The next question is multipart —“Interview question three, parts A through L. Go.”—and involves the colonel wandering around at random and swapping your project with someone else’s.
Interview question four is far too complicated for one person to do in less than a half-hour.
“That’s an excellent question. What makes you ask?”
“I was just, you know, wondering, that’s all. Sir.”
“No, I mean, why did you bother asking? Letting you work in groups would be a pretty odd choice if we are assessing your skills individually.”
“If I don’t ask, I won’t know,” the colonel repeats slowly. “Very true. And, in fact, worth asking. Because for this question you can use any resources in this room, including your fellow interviewees, but excluding myself and Dr. McKay,” he grins slyly, “because asking us would take the fun out of it. Anything else?”
“Question five is to be completed individually,” McKay says finally. “Build a visual signal device. Go.”
It’s a ridiculously simple problem, especially since, for once, McKay’s given them all the pieces they need, and all in functioning order. But something’s wrong. Up until now, Linc’s been having a pretty good time. This is the sort of work he likes: fiddle with the pieces until you’ve got something that talks, or moves, or blinks, or does something. Now, though, he simply cannot get his LED—he guesses that’s what it is, it sure as hell glows—to shut off. It doesn’t seem to have any switches or buttons, but from the moment he first touched it, it’s been getting steadily brighter. For the first time, he glances at the applicants around him; no one else seems to be having this problem. Fuck! He can’t imagine he’s going to get cut any slack for having defective equipment. He dives back into his work: you can’t build a light-based signaling device if the lighting element is always on!
“Time!” McKay calls, and everyone obediently stops. At the last moment,
“Jesus Christ!” the applicant at the next lab station whispers, and Lincoln looks down to see that the LED beam has burnt through its plastic shutter and is melting his stainless steel lab table.
“Uh, Dr. McKay, sir?”
“No worries, Airman,” the Lieutenant Colonel—SHEPPARD, according to his name-tag—pops up behind
“Thank you all for coming in today,” Dr. McKay is saying. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Please take your service jackets out to the central desk for refiling…and, uh,” He glances down at his seating chart. “Robert Lincoln?”
“Don’t go away. My colleague and I will be with you in just a moment….now, hey, please try not to get the files any more disordered than they already are!” McKay flaps a file. “I’m a very busy man and I do not have time to…”
“I’m sorry, sir,”
“Neither did we,” Sheppard says, hoisting himself onto one of the lab tables and inspecting someone else’s abandoned signaling device. “I mean, we just found them last week, brought ‘em along to keep Rodney busy during the car trip. But it’s good to know, yeah?” Very carefully, so as not to disturb the rest of the jerry-rigged device, Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard leans in and taps the silvery ball.
“The LED. How did you get it to turn off? I couldn’t find any switch.”
Sheppard looks up, puzzled. Linc can see him mouthing pressure sensitive? And then he throws his head back and laughs until he cries.
“No—no, it’s—God. LED. I’m totally telling that one to Zelenka when we get back!...Sorry,” he catches a glimpse of
CMF 94L is the US Air Force MOS designation for an Avionics Communications Equipment Repairer
“You’re in the, er, Veterinary Corps, Captain...Meyer?”
“Or should I call you doctor—you have a doctorate, yes?”
“Uh, that’s correct. I have a doctorate in veterinary medicine.”
“We have something in common: I’m a doctor of astrophysics and I have a second Ph.D. in engineering, myself,” the interviewer offers.
“Oh. Well. Uhm. Good for you,” Lucy Meyer says.
She amends it—“ Good for you, doctor?”—when he gives her a sharp glare and she’s pretty sure that sinks her chances for this job. Attitude, her last commanding officer had called it: excessive attitude quite unbecoming of an officer. But she didn’t mean to sound obnoxious: she just didn’t know what else to say. God, she is so much better with animals. If only she could be interviewed by a marmot or something.
“I don’t know much about animals, to be honest,” the doctor says severely. And Meyer waits for the typical spiel about how there’s no place for cuddly creatures in This Man’s Army—never mind that cuddly creatures have done a hell of a lot less damage than the American military, and that her veterinary R&D division has been invaluable in...
“I do have a cat, though," he breaks into her thoughts, “I’m trying to convince Eli—uh, Dr. Weir—to let me bring her on the next tour, but obviously I wouldn’t want to do that if the proper infrastructure weren’t in place. It could be very dangerous. For my cat, I mean. Not for any of the staff. She’s very gentle, regardless of what Ronon may tell you. He is a giant beast who startled her and she was completely within her rights to fight back. Besides, it was just a scratch. He’s such a crybaby.”
Meyer has gotten lost amid the pronouns—the she is either the cat or the Dr. Weir, but is he both the beast and the baby? It doesn’t matter, though, because her interviewer is still talking.
“Anyway, it’s not that we wouldn’t want a veterinarian anyway, especially a rare animal expert such as yourself. It’s not like
The doctor is fumbling around in his briefcase as he talks and he finally pulls out a book (Asymptotic Cones and Discrete Convex Analysis: A Monograph). It’s bristling with post-it notes, napkins, scraps of paper covered in angry handwriting, but the photo he’s using as a bookmark shows a fat, sour-looking cat.
It is not precious. It’s not warm or cuddly-looking, or even a particularly cute, so Meyer says the most she honestly can. “Part Siamese, doctor?”
The doctor 's expression, normally somewhat sour in its own right, is ridiculously pleased. “Why, yes. Yes, she is, I think. I found her in a back alley, so I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve always thought she might be. Not everyone sees that, you know?”
“I can’t imagine,” Meyer says. “It seems perfectly obvious to me.” Something about him, something about that genuine pleasure at being agreed with, makes Meyer wonder if the doctor is also, perhaps, inclined to be more comfortable with animals—or particles or stars or whatever astrophysicists study—than he is with people. Then, they would indeed have something in common.
He seems to sense it, too, and leans forward confidentially. “We need a vet, doctor, and before I explain the full circumstances of our, uh, project, I have just one question: how do you feel about whales?”
64A is the MOS designation for a
The officer—a lieutenant colonel, Air Force—looks at the file in front of him. Faint confusion crosses his face as he flips through the pages (resume, recommendations, letters of merit, photocopied diplomas).
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant Deitz, would you mind waiting just a second? I think there’s been some sort of…”
“Uh, no, certainly,” Deitz says. “Take all the time you need.” He arranges his cuffs. There’s a spot on the left one, and he really needs to find a new dry-cleaner because that is just not acceptable. Maybe he can get one of the secretaries to take care of it. Only they’re not secretaries anymore, are they? Administrative assistants, is it, now?
The LC stands and goes to rap gently on the door to an adjoining office.
“No!” The shout is loud enough that even Deitz jumps. “No way, Colonel! I am not taking your interview with the chaplains.” The office’s occupant stomps over to pull the door open, but barely decreases his volume. “You drew the short straw, fair is fair, and I refuse—”
“Uh, Rodney? Rodney!”
The shouting man—Rodney—shuts up, but his glare would peel paint. The LC, however, looks utterly unfazed as he holds out Deitz’s file.
Rodney sighs and takes it, then disappears into his office and returns with the thick blue-paper-bound book that is the Air Force listing of military occupation specialties. “AFSC…ok, 51H, no, no, here it is: 51J. What’s the number?”
“Four. Or you could just look at the file, which tells you exactly what he—”
“Oh, no, no, thank you, Sheppard, I’ll do things by the book.
Rodney’s attention returns to the colonel. “Don’t you dare—the one we have gives us enough trouble as it is! And it’s not like we even have jurisdiction out there. We can barely keep her busy, even with the chemists and their stupid patent paperwork.”
They both look at Deitz, who really has had about enough of this. If they have questions, they can ask him! He is, after all, sitting right here. And it can’t be a question of references—his service jacket is excellent, impeccable even, if he does say so himself.
“Well,” Colonel Sheppard sighs. “I have to fill the slot somehow. If we don’t have fill the complete roster, they’ll cut our funding allotment, and then we won’t be able to restaff when we need to.”
“Oh. My. God!” Rodney throws up his hands. “For a modern-day empire, you Americans really are—”
“McKay!” the colonel’s tone has barely changed at all, but the expression that flashes across his face is enough to stop Rodney in mid-sentence. Dietz actually does find himself sitting straighter in his chair. “Do you have anything helpful to say?” the colonel continues, more quietly.
Surprisingly, Rodney looks suitably chastised. “You have to fill the roster, but you don’t have to take a—” he looks at the file “51J-4.” He shrugs. “I was supposed to bring on a few new systems managers, but we don’t really need them, so I filled the slots with a bio-environmental engineer and a saxophone player.”
That seems to cheer Sheppard up a little. “A saxophone player?”
“Sure. Army Band—42R9L. I wanted the electric bass guitar, but she’s not rated for offworld service yet. Maybe next go-round.”
Deitz is still puzzling over offworld service when Colonel Sheppard sits down across from him.
“Sorry about that, Lieutenant. But, uh, long story short, while I’m sure you’re excellent at what you do, my…er, my colleague and I really have nothing to offer a man of your skills. There’s been an error in the paperwork—you know how that goes—and we’re really not in a position to take on another lawyer at this time. I'm sending your jacket over to the JAG office on base; no doubt they can find you something more suited to your talents.”
51J-4 is the staff division of the
The man who comes storming out of the office—chief petty officer, Harris notices—is red-faced and furious, muttering to himself as he shoves past her. Not particularly auspicious. She steps into the room the petty officer has just vacated and announces herself.
“FS-2 Harris, sir.”
The man looks up from the stack of paperwork in front of him and waves her off irritably. “I’m not military, you don’t have to salute. At ease, or whatever. Don't just stand there.”
The interviewer skims over the file in front of him—Harris can see her name on the front—and grunts. “You come highly recommended by a…uh, friend of this program.” He looks at her more carefully. “This program has very few friends. Care to tell me how that happened?”
Harris isn’t quite sure how to start, but the man looks like he expects an answer, so she just starts at the beginning: “I needed a knife, sir, and—”
“I’m a doctor of astrophysics. Dr. Rodney McKay. If you’re going to persist with the titles, you could at least get them right.”
“Anyway. A knife?” He smiles for the first time. “Sounds like you’d fit right in on At—at our program, that is.”
He is a little less encouraging when he learns it was a filet knife; beautiful Japanese blade, but the cleaning staff would stick it in the dishwasher like a plastic spork if she didn’t get to it first. Fortunately, it was just after and the kitchen cleaning staff wouldn’t come in until around 0400.
Which is why she was a little surprised to walk in from the back corridor and find a man in full dress uniform surveying the open shelves over Mallory Kinnon’s station.
“’Evening, soldier. Where do you keep your peanut butter?” the man asked without turning around.
Later, Harris will wonder how he knew she was even there—he had no more reason than she did to suspect someone else would be in the kitchen that late and he wouldn’t have heard her walk in wearing her cork-soled kitchen clogs. At the moment, though, she’d been startled enough by his presence to simply answer the question.
“No peanut butter, sir.”
She’s glad she tacked on the honorific when he turns around: major general, Air Force, and a chest with so many medals and campaign ribbons that he looks like the proverbial junkshop window. Harris doesn’t even recognize some of them, and she’s got a pretty good eye for that sort of thing.
“No peanut butter?! Well. That’s positively un-American,” he concludes, half to himself. Seeming to remember where he is, the general sticks out a hand, “Jack O’Neill. Didn’t mean to disturb anything, but I just got back from a tour off—well, I’m back in the good old U.S. of A. and I’ve been dreaming of a good old peanut butter sandwich. Guy named José suggested I stop by here.”
José probably got flustered by all the shiny medals and suggested the
“Charlene Harris,” she says, returning the handshake. She’s a little surprised that a major general bothered to learn the name of the night guard at guard station C2, but glad that he’s not the formal type.
His already firm handshake tightens. “Charlie?”
“Oh. Right. Of course, sorry—this old man’s ears are not what they once were,” he smiles sheepishly, ducks his head in a way that makes him look far from old, despite the gray hair. Up close, she can see he’s got a plastic swipecard badge clipped to his uniform jacket: Pentagon VNE. Visitor, no escort. Good Lord, no wonder he felt free to walk into her kitchen. “Well, FS Harris, I don’t suppose you know where a stranger could get a sandwich this time of night?”
“We don’t have real peanut butter, but let me see what I can manage,” she suggests. She expects him to refuse out of politeness—no, no, not necessary; I couldn’t possibly—but he just squints at her speculatively and, deciding that her offer is genuine, nods.
“I’d appreciate that, FS Harris.”
She could put together something with the Black Forest ham that they serve as part of the antipasto, or heat up some of the morel pasta that they bake by the batch, but Harris decides to approximate the peanut butter sandwich as closely as she can. She doesn’t have any really romantic ideas about food-as-art, but she understands that an army travels on its stomach and comfort food is a kind of psychological warfare. Again and again, Harris has heard from people stationed overseas—no matter how good the grub is, no matter how exotic, nothing is as good as Mom’s homecooked. (“The fruit,” one of her old master-chiefs had moaned about a stint in
Hideo, the pastry chef, is playing around with variations on molasses torte for the fall dinner menu, and Harris is pretty sure she’s seen…yeah, a little digging unearths a packet of peanut butter chips. She steals a handful and starts melting them in a bain de marie made of two mixing bowls and some tapwater.
“You know there are rules about peanut products in commercial kitchens,” Harris offers as she stirs. “Because people have allergies.”
The general snorts. “Yeah, I got a guy—a contractor, I had a contractor who had food allergies. Made everybody crazy.” He looks thoughtful. “Though that may not have anything to do with the allergies.”
Harris adds a scant teaspoon of cornstarch to her peanut butter mix, just to give it some consistency. “Yeah, well, I used to work with this guy…”
By the time she’s told the story about FS-2 Ashland’s various phobias, culinary and otherwise, they’re fast friends. Funny: Harris’s first restaurant job had been waiting tables in a dumpy Italian place, but she’d never mastered the perky art of smalltalk (Hi, my name’s Charlene and I’ll be your waitress today). She’d spent a week in front of the house before the owner had taken pity and sent her back to make salads. She never had any problem talking to people in kitchens, though.
“You like working here in
Harris shrugs. “Sure. A little fancier than what I was trained on, but that keeps things interesting. And it’s a nice area, good if you have a family. Nice schools. There’s milk in the fridge, near the cream sauce. It’s that or water.” She sticks a few pieces of dampened ciabatta into the microwave, hoping to approximate ordinary white bread, which her CO flatout refuses to keep in the kitchen.
“Milk’s fine for me. Technically still on duty, I guess, depending on what time zone we’re in.” The general finds a gallon in the walk-in. “Do you?” he asks.
“Do I what?” Harris nods when he holds the milk out toward her.
He pours some into a measuring cup. “Have family?”
“Uh—no. I, uhm. No. It’s just me.”
The general nods and she waits for him to say more, to ask questions, to try and talk his way out of the awkwardness (what? Pretty girl like you and no boyfriend?). But when he looks up from the milk, it’s to ask, “What time zone are we in, anyway?”
“Eastern,” she says and the general makes a face at his wristwatch
For jelly, she picks the quince out of the quince preserves in the confits anglaise; it'll balance out the fact that her peanut-butter-chip paste is a little sweeter than the usual sandwich spread.
They eat standing at a warming tray. The general tips his measuring cup toward her and says something that sounds like a cough with added vowels. “Health and happiness,” he translates when she looks confused, “or so I’m told. Not fluent in the dialect myself.”
He does not specify dialect of what. Harris clinks his glass. “Well, cheers.”
“This is really good,” the general says a moment later, already halfway through his sandwich. (A healthy appetite is a cook’s best compliment, her grandma used to say). “And, uh, creatively put together. Thank you.” And then after a few more bites, “You ever think about transferring out of the Coast Guard?” he asks conversationallly.
Harris shrugs. She’s standing in an empty commercial kitchen, eating a 4-star sandwich with a major general in the middle of the night. His question seems totally normal. “Not really. I like the work, like the variety. Get bored, put in for another duty station: what’s not to love?”
“Like to travel, then?”
“Oh, yeah. That’s why I joined up.” She shrugs again: many Coast Guard servicewomen end up on land since the smaller cutters are single-sex, and that sex is invariably male. Heaven forbid she jump the bones of one of those impressionable young guardsmen. It’s not like they’re trained military professionals or anything. “Of course, I thought I’d see more of the world than I have, but you know how it goes.”
He stops in mid-bite, looks at her over the edge of his sandwich as though something has just occurred to him. “When you say see the world...just this world?”
FS-2 is a standard MOS for a Food Service Officer, in this case, a member of the US Coast Guard