- 1 -
When Paul tells his wife that he's been selected as lead engineer for an important new program, the words 'and classified' go unspoken between them, just like they always have. The fact that it's a small but critical upgrade to the on-board software of a top-secret surveillance satellite platform, a multi-million dollar contract that's the result of a highly selective Air Force acquisition process? Well, that's something that's left entirely up to her imagination.
She's happy for him, of course, but he hears the resignation behind her congratulations. It's the sort of job that means more stress, more travel and more long hours; and besides that, it's asking a lot for her to be thrilled for him when she and her best friend are trying to save their little startup company from going under in an avalanche of market collapse.
But they plan dinner out to celebrate anyway, a return to the tiny restaurant they'd found the first night they'd moved into town. And when Paul's buddies drag him out of the office for an early happy hour, he's certainly not complaining. It's a good night, the perfect cap to a good day, and never once, from the first beer to the coffee and crème brûlée, does Paul even think of the moment when he decided not to follow his father into the Air Force after all.
- 2 -
Paul's career has been textbook, an unbroken string of successes resulting in one advantageous assignment after another, from ISR to missile defense to cyberwarfare. He doesn't have a lot of friends, or not what he'd call friends anyway; his own currency of hard work and intelligence and old-fashioned good luck has bought him a collection of envious peers as well as coattail riders, but it hasn't netted him a lot of people he can trust.
Still, he's respected everywhere he goes, and that means something to him. He's proud of that respect, and as his now-retired father administers Paul's oath as Lieutenant Colonel, he can tell the older man's proud of that too.
But even now he can't stop thinking about the one time that respect seemed to fail him; about that odd interview he'd had at the Pentagon years ago, grilled by an assistant to an assistant to the Air Force Chief of Staff.
They'd both left strangely unsatisfied.
- 3 -
"I'm promoting you to Lieutenant Colonel," Colonel Reynolds says without preamble, "effective now."
Paul stares at him, momentarily at a loss for words.
"We've got a camp full of civilian refugees and a bunch of really damn junior SG team members who are going to get themselves, and us, killed if we don't get them organized. I need to give you some semblance of authority if any of them are ever going to take you seriously. I'll be honest, I don't even know if I take you seriously, but I need all the hands I can get right now."
"Right," says Paul, even though he's still blinking inside. "Yes, sir."
It's not really the promotion that's got him flabbergasted so much as it's the fact that he and a small handful of other officers have to figure out what happens after the end of the world.
Reynolds has gone back to studying the supply lists in his hands. "You waiting for a ceremony or something, Davis?" he asks.
- 4 -
The day after his promotion, Paul attends the annual reading of names at the SGC. General Hammond himself reads them all, every man or woman lost or missing in the history of the program, from civilian scientist to SG team leader to the SGC janitor who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Paul's been here every year since he took the liaison post, and it's never less than sobering.
But this year in particular, he can't help but wonder. He's made a career in the Stargate Program out of a high wire act, balancing between the needs of the SGC and the politics of the Pentagon, trying to remain both true and realistic at the same time. He has nothing but awe for the work of the men and women at the SGC, but he can't help them if the men he works for don't trust him.
This year, they trusted him enough to promote him; but he wonders if he could have traded that for a shorter list in Hammond's hands if only he'd argued a little bit harder.
- 5 -
Rosemary looks down at the paper in her hands. "He was always such a nice boy." The sentiment sounds so pathetically empty, the exact sort of thing you say about your dead son to someone you don't know, but it's true nonetheless. "I don't know why he never got married, except that he loved his work so much."
She raises her eyes and studies the general's face. O'Neill, he'd said his name was. She's not sure what she's looking for, but she's surprised by what she finds. There's something more worn about this man than most of the officers she's known.
"I'm sure you have questions," he says after the silence has gone on a little too long.
He's not wrong. She can think of any number of things to ask, like whether O'Neill's the one who ordered her son on the anonymous mission that killed him, or why they'd give Paul his last promotion now when they hadn't bothered for all those years before, or what he'd been doing with himself since his mysterious assignment to the Pentagon a decade ago.
Whether her son was as tired as this General O'Neill suddenly looked.
But Rosemary knows better. Between Paul and his sister Marie and their father Ronald, she's had several lifetimes full of questioning Air Force officers.
"I can't answer everything," he's saying now, "but I'll tell you what I can."
"No." She turns away, placing the paper and its unwelcome reminder of what she's lost onto the little desk where she writes out her bills, fussing until the edges of the page align with those of the desktop. Somewhere along the way, she thinks, Ron's military precision wore off on her. She takes a deep breath and looks back at the general. "No, there's nothing that matters now."
He hands her a card, looking awkward, and she thinks he'd probably rather scrawl his name and number on the notepad by her phone. "If you think of anything," he says, and she nods, and he moves to go.
Outside on the porch O'Neill pauses and turns back to face her. "He was a good man, Mrs. Davis. And there's never a good reason to die, but he didn't die for nothing."
"Thank you," she says softly, then she closes the door.