Set after Shattering Occam's Razor
Colonel O'Neill's head felt like it was going to split in half as he looked at the massive stack of paperwork on his desk. He had been filling out forms for ten hours a day, every day for the preceding two weeks. He had delegated as much of the administrative burdens placed upon him as he was legally, ethically, and morally allowed to do, finding every Junior Officer and NCO with a pulse that even vaguely fit into his administrative control, and he was still conservatively five weeks behind on the paperwork he was obligated to file.
In any major command incident there was a litany of reporting obligations to parent commands and oversight agencies in the event of any safety and security incident. Even for minor injuries on the job there were reports to be filed and message traffic to be sent. It could be administratively burdensome at the best of times and that was when aliens hadn't taken the Admin Officer's brain away in a jar.
Most of the people who were supposed to be handling this sort of thing were either dead, in the hospital, or being reviewed to make sure they were mentally and physically fit for duty. Senior leadership had no choice but to step in and handle the gaps in coverage or they would fall even farther out of scope than they'd already fallen.
It could be worse, he supposed. He didn't envy the people given the unenviable duty of filing the paperwork for the litany of security incidents and information spillages that had resulted from the attack on the SGC. It seemed like every service member still drawing breath had entered spaces that they'd not been authorized to be inside out of pure necessity. It would ultimately result in virtually no consequences for the affected servicemembers, but the paperwork still needed to happen.
He was going cross eyed trying to comprehend the log book for purchasing orders in an effort to figure out the arcane system for record keeping that the civilian previously running procurement had used when, blessedly, there was a knock on his office door.
"Enter!" O'Neill said in what he very much hoped wasn't utter desperation, and was glad to see Daniel Jackson's head pop in the door. At least he was for ten seconds until he realized why the good doctor was there. "No - hell no Daniel! I'm already looking at a sixteen hour day tomorrow."
"Jack, I'm sorry. I would love to get you out of this. Heck, I'd love to get me out of this, but the Secretary of the Air Force is adamant that all civilians and servicemembers attend the whole Safety Stand Down." Daniel shrugged. "Hammond tried to convince him that it was going to complicate things more than solve them, but he's getting this from the SECDEF. I get the sense that they're not willing to deviate from the written instructions at all for when this eventually gets disclosed."
"Who could they possibly be bringing in who is qualified to speak about an invasion of murderous crustaceans?" Jack's blood thundered in his ears.
"They're mostly bringing in people from the CDC, some from NASA, and a couple of xenobiologists from the NID." Daniel pulled a notebook out of his pocket running his finger down his hasty scribbles. "And a science fiction writer who retired from the Army Rangers. Apparently he was on the staff of a couple episodes of Deep Space Nine."
"We had men die and they're sending us a freaking author?" Jack swore profusely. "And what is a xenobiologist? Did they just grab a cryptozoologist and hope for the best?"
"I'm pretty sure he's just a PHD with a focus on biology and paleontology." Daniel chewed his lip speculatively. "His published work seems pretty interesting and he's been attending the TED conference in Monterey to give lectures."
"The what?" Jack blinked.
"It's an academic conference in California, they try to grab a whole bunch of interesting thinkers to give speeches. They're generally good - or at least I hear they are, I've never had the chance to attend." Daniel shrugged. "It's the sort of place that would never have been willing to hear my theories in a million years. You know, respectable."
"So how long are we going to listed to Mr Respectable Dinosaurs and Cells?" Jack sighed.
"He's blocked out for two hours." Daniel replied. "He's talking about the dangers of alien bacteria and basic quarantine procedures."
"Two hours? We have to sit through a two-hour lecture on quarantine? Unbelievable - how many two-hour briefs are they forcing us to sit through?" He waited expectantly as the doctor bashfully said nothing. "Oh dear god no. Daniel, how many?"
"They're just what we're legally obligated to show." Daniel replied nervously.
Jack knew in his rational brain that the doctor hadn't wanted to be put in charge of arranging the Safety Stand Down any more than he'd wanted to be fixing the supply chain, but he wasn't feeling overly rational at the moment. "How many, damn it?"
"Five days worth." Daniel replied. "They're flying us out the representatives with the requisite clearances who have the certifications to give us the safety briefs… and … well…"
"Well what Daniel? What else?" Jack snarled, accidentally knocking down a stack of papers that he knew weren't numbered. His eye twitched in agony as he realized that it would be at least another hour to fix that. "You have got to be…"
"I've got it!" Daniel knelt down and started putting the paperwork in order only for Jack to kneel in the middle of the pile.
"Uh-huh, nope - you're not avoiding this. What else?" Jack glared murder at the archeologist.
Daniel let out a frenzied mess of sounds that didn't sound like English. Jack exhaled abruptly, counting down from ten. "Space Monkey, so help me, if you don't say that with actual words…"
"Hammond decided that since we're already doing it, we might as well do all the yearly training briefs." Daniel winced as Jack let out a vile oat.
"Are you telling me that between every damn program level brief we're going to be getting I'm going to have to sit through some schmuck rambling about motorcycle safety, the proper operation of a barbeque, and not getting a DUI?" Jack asked in a voice of deadly calm.
"And sexual assault prevention, digital security, equal opportunity enforcement - " Daniel flinched as Jack went into another loud tirade.
"Equal Opportunity? We're the only employer of Extraterrestrials and Dragons on Earth! How much more diversity could they possibly be looking for?" Jack flung the pile of papers into the air, kicking a couple of them as they fell.
"Jack, you know this stuff is important." Daniel chided him. "The SGC isn't all of the military and I've heard how some of the Enlisted talk. There are a lot of words they use that are not ok when they don't think anyone is listening."
"Daniel, crab people literally invaded Earth. I'm not overly worried about the racial divide between people who just killed enemies with an exoskeleton." Jack replied in frustration, though in truth he knew the doctor was right. Every time he was entirely certain the safety and conduct briefings were too dumb there would inevitably be some serviceman or servicewoman who proved him wrong after they got drunk and tried to play a winning game of NJP bingo.
"Jack." Daniel said with an upward lilt to it, using the Colonel's own name to convey disappointment, annoyance, and amusement simultaneously.
"Just - just let me be mad for a little while Daniel." Jack sighed in defeat. "I get that its necessary, I get that we need to do it. I just - If I have to watch that freaking safe driving video one more time I'm going to file a complaint with the IG for inhuman treatment."
"I'm getting Siler to give that brief. He's going to just have it be a couple minutes of motorcycle safety. It won't be that bad." Daniel offered comfortingly, picking up the pages for the second time and putting them on Jack's desk.
"I guess that's something." Jack sighed. "We should get the admin orders hot filled - it should be easier not that this has been classified as a hardship duty billet with hazard pay."
"It wasn't already?" Daniel blinked
"How could it be? It's in Colorado. We can billet code combat pay easily, plenty of commands do that, but if we started alleging that working in NORAD was dangerous someone would start investigating what we do here." Jack shrugged. "Someone is going to get greedy and take a set of "non-deployable" orders with combat pay just so they can live in Colorado Springs, the poor bastards. No idea what they're getting into."
"I think I understood half those words." Daniel sighed. "I swear that the military speaks in it's own dialect. I'm just glad you had the courtesy not to use the litany of acronyms I know were on the tip of your tongue."
"Don't worry Danny Boy. We're 5 by 5." Jack grinned sarcastically. "I just need to grab my CAC before we head to the DFAC to avoid an OPSEC issues that might end in a PI or an NJP. Don't want to be the cause of an RTFM issue."
"F U." replied the doctor chuckling dryly. "Do you want to come and get Jello with me or not?"
"I never say no to Jello." Jack replied with gusto, before closing his eyes in exasperation as the phone rang. He kept them closed as it rang another six times.
"Uh, are you going to - " Daniel stopped as Jack held up his finger and counted another three rings, waiting for the answering machine to get it. It picked on the tenth ring.
"As I was - damn it!" Jack picked up the telephone in a furry. "Yes, what is it?"
"Uh… maybe I have the wrong number. My name is Harry Dresden." Replied a confused man's voice. "I got a call about a consultant job from a Jack O'Neill. Something about providing expertise."
Jack's headache tripled. The guy from Chicago, of course he called back. The SGC had been liaising with the NID to try and figure out how many alien predators were in Chicago. Early investigation suggested that the massive creature who'd attacked the Tok'ra had not been a unique occurence.
They had nothing concrete as of yet but Mayborne's people were trying to be discrete, slowing the process. Slow though it might have been, the NID agents were capable and competent. Jack didn't like to admit it, but their reports were comprehensive and useful. So when they mentioned the apparent resource for dealing with "unusual" problems was the P.I. Harry Dresden, he believed not only that it was true but also that it would only be a matter of time before Harry Maybourne realize that as well.
So, in an effort to waylay Mayborne potentially getting his claws in someone actually worth a damn, Jack had made the man an offer out of the new budget for contractors to replace the ones who'd died. Fortunately the SGC did need civilian investigators to run security assessments and check for foreign surveillance, so trying to hire a P.I. - especially an underpriced one - was an easy sell to Hammond.
"Hello?" Asked the voice.
"Sorry." Jack replied. "It's been a long day. Yes, we are potentially interested in screening you for some contract work on behalf of the USAF."
"I'm not actually Enlisting or anything if I do this, am I?" Asked the PI.
"No." Replied Jack. "You'd be consulting at the rates we quoted you."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but what's the catch. Your offer was a bit too good to be true. It's been my experience that when people offer you everything you want, you don't want what they're offering." Jack could hear the sounds of pages ruffling in the background.
"There actually aren't many people who are going to pass a high level background check or our additional screenings." Jack replied. "That offer depends upon you meeting those criteria and providing proof of your extraordinary claims."
There was a brief pause on the other side of the phone before the man broke into a fit of the goggles. "What, are you worried about me talking about the little green men?"
Grey actually, thought Jack. Though, he supposed, the Unas might count as green - certainly not little. "There are a number of advanced systems and classified items in NORAD. We require even criminal consultants to pass stringent standards."
"Yeah." The P.I. exhaled deeply. "I was worried about that."
"Mr. Dresden, I assure you that most potential issues on a background check can be resolved." Jack replied. "You'll never know till you try."
"Huh? Oh - no, no. I'm not worried about that." The man replied dismissively. "It's the computers I'm worried about. Wizards tend to make those go… bad. Me more than most. If I walk into NORAD I'm pretty sure your stuff will try to reenact the movie War Games."
Jack rolled his eyes. Of all the Mickey Mouse reasons for not taking a background check. "Mr. Dresden, this is a perfectly normal process. You don't need to worry."
"If I go near any of those computers we all need to worry." The man replied. "Look, I really need the money but I'm not willing to risk having hurricane Dresden around Nukes."
Jack closed his eyes and tried to remind himself that a literal Dragon was coming over to his backyard on Saturday to learn how to make Smores and tell scary stories. "You believe that just having you around NORAD is going to cause a nuclear war… because your magic powers will cause lasting damage to the computers?"
Daniel blinked, mouthing the words back to Jack in amusement. Jack shrugged, holding his hand over the receiver and whispered "Yes, seriously."
Dresden replied sheepishly. "Uh… yeah kinda."
Jack repeated the words "this is plausible" and "Hok'taur are a thing" in his head on a loop as he physically restrained himself from saying the sarcastic response that was just begging to be said. "We could meet you off site then. We really just need you to go through the credit and criminal history checks and it will be fine."
There was a long pause. "Credit?"
"Yes." Jack affirmed. "Credit is one of the major barriers to getting a clearance. If you've got issues with debt that is a red flag for people to exploit you for personal or political gain."
"I was kind of hoping that the US Air Force exploiting my debt was going to get me out of it." Replied the self-titled Wizard with a tone of defeat in his voice.
"Exactly how bad are we talking?" Jack groaned. Of course the cops were willing to work with someone desperate for cash - a man who listed his profession as "Wizard" wasn't likely to see any clients who weren't crazy or desparate. If the man actually had any magical powers, he'd have to be a complete moron not to list himself as a Private Investigator and just use his "magic" to just solve crimes effectively. It wasn't as though clients gave a rats ass how cases get solved, as long as they were.
"I - I'm probably not behind on any bills right now." Replied Dresden in a tone that sounded only partially confident in that statement.
"Look, we'll run you through a background check and if it comes up without issues we'll call you back. Just tell me your e-mail address and we'll send you the SF-86 paperwork." Jack pulled out a pen and a pad of paper.
"Is that a computer thing? Because I don't have a computer. I don't even have a mobile phone." Replied the P.I. nervously. "I don't even have a fax… they don't last for me."
"Do you possibly have a friend who lives in the year 2000 with a Delorean who'd be willing to visit you in the 1950s and pass along a print-out before the sock hop happens and your brother disappears from the polaroid?" The acerbic reply slipped out of Jack's lips before he could manage the brain to mouth filter that was necessary in interacting with civilian contractors. Fortunately Dresden seemed to have a decent sense of humor.
"Yeah, I've got a gal." Dresden chuckled. "Anything that I can start looking up in the interim?"
"You're going to need to get fingerprinted. You're a contractor with the Chicago PD so that shouldn't be an issue." Jack tried to remember what had been the biggest pain from his last background check. "Oh, and you're going to need to account for your whereabouts for the past ten years. Addresses, people who knew you, people who can verify that. Stuff like that."
There was another long pause. "Uh… I was living a little out of the way for a lot of my youth... "
"Just put an address for the investigator to go to." Jack replied.
"My… guardian was protective of his privacy." Dresden's willfully diplomatic tone worried Jack, his reply did nothing but reinforce that worry. "Kind of a recluse. Not a "let people on his property" sort of guy if you get my drift. I don't even think there was an address. We were just sort of out in the wilderness."
"Do you at least have a high school or college that we can use to verify your identity?" Somehow Jack knew that the answer was "no" before Dresden bothered to reply.
"GED, but I just went to the school to take it on the day of the test." The man sounded a little ashamed. Jack didn't press the issue, if he really had been raised in the abject destitution it sounded like he'd been raised in, it would be cruel to keep asking questions.
"Dresden, we can't hire you if we can't tell you why we're hiring you. And the only way you'll be able to be hired is by passing a background check." Jack replied calmly, trying to be honest but clear.
"I mean, if what you need is advice about magic I'm sure we could work something out." The man replied hopefully. The P.I. must have really needed the money.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Dresden. It doesn't work like that. You pass a check then we'll start vetting you to see if we want to hire you. You don't and we can't. Simple as that." He replied to the P.I. in a matter of fact staccato that was firm, but not unfriendly. "You have my telephone number. If you want to leave me a message with an e-mail address I can send you the forms, I'll send them to you. The choice is yours."
"I - I'll get back to you." The man spoke slowly, fumbling the words enough that Jack was quite certain he'd never hear the name "Harry Dresden" again.
"You do that. Have a nice day." Jack said his goodbye, hanging up the phone to look at Daniel Jackson. The doctor looked like he was about to explode from the effort of not asking questions about the frankly absurd conversation he'd just been privy to.
"Do you want to tell me something Jack?" The doctor was able to get the sentence out without devolving into giggles, but just barely.
"Jello first - stories about lunatics later." Jack replied. "But I promise you that was one hell of a conversation."
"Oh, I'm sure it was." Daniel joked. "But I promise that I've got one to match it."
"How could you possibly have a conversation to match a midwestern Wizard listing off all the reasons that he will never be able to step foot in this base?" Jack snorted.
"The Chaplain is planning to give a spoken word beatbox rap summarizing the contents of everything said at the Safety Stand Down. He has Siler doing the beatboxing while he raps with Teal'c." Daniel held up his hand, palm forward. "I swear to God. Teal'c."
"Ok, you win."