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The Courier: The Mailbox Mystery (#2)

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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Courier-verse". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: In a galaxy full of legends, the Atlantis Expedition finds themselves on the trail of another...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Stargate > General > General: Atlantis(Recent Donor)CaptainBoulangerFR1857135,66624400192,52010 Aug 1319 Feb 14Yes

Bureaucratic Inertia

Chapter Forty-One: Bureaucratic Inertia

John shuffled into Elizabeth Weir's office, tossing the spiral-bound notebook across the desk to her. She looked at him with a curious glance, and he explained, "Dawn's directory of all twenty-eight worlds in the Courier network. There's quite a lot of interesting and potentially useful information in there. Government systems, who to talk to, what each planet's usual imports and exports consist of... all conveniently matched up with their names and Gate addresses. I checked, it's all the same addresses as Lachryma's DHD history file."

"What did you have to trade Ambassador Summers for this?"

John noted the formal method of address - Elizabeth was making sure she mentioned the diplomatic position, and he wondered exactly why. He'd spent all afternoon with the girl, whom he'd begun thinking of as 'Dawn', Teyla still addressed as 'Arwen', and who actually had at least two other names, and hadn't expressed a preference between them; she simply answered to all of them. "We didn't trade her anything for the directory. The information was given freely. She said that..." He paused, trying to frame his words in a style more like what the girl had used herself, and continued, "...that we're her people too, and having that information would make it easier for us to use the box more in the short-term, rather than forcing us to go out and learn it all ourselves." He smiled. "I was thinking that once we get the box installed, we could send out a form letter, 'Greetings from Atlantis' or something like that, to break the ice with the twenty or so planets on that list we haven't visited yet. And maybe a couple of the ones we have visited already, because on a couple of the planets, we only spoke with one or two people, and they were not necessarily ones who were in any kind of position of authority or influence."

Elizabeth opened the book and started flipping through the pages gently. Her eyebrows rose when she realized that on the subject of some of these planets, John had written down two or even three pages of information, and his writing wasn't huge. Some of it was just bullet points, other sections in paragraphs, but... "This is quite a lot of information. What are we doing to thank her for it?"

"So far, the Courier's gotten two hot meals out of the cafeteria, and three bottles of lemonade-flavored Gatorade." Pausing, he corrected himself, "One and a half meals, really, she didn't eat very much at dinner. She was looking rather pale and tired, and apparently we'd disrupted her sleep cycle by showing up, so she's gone to Teyla's to sleep."

"Two meals, a few bottles of Gatorade and a soft bed?" Elizabeth summarized, and John nodded in reply. Elizabeth nodded. "Well, we're going to have to do a lot better than that. This whole trade network of hers," Elizabeth held up the notebook, "is a potential gold mine for us, because if we can cut down the amount of cargo space the Daedalus needs to use transporting food supplies, we can bring other equipment out here or even bring more people and get more research done. We've been operating at the end of a very long supply line for a year now, and this may be our best chance to become more self-sufficient, at least in terms of food. And now that we know she wasn't spying on us... regardless of what those idiots back on Earth think."

John rose an eyebrow. For Elizabeth, denouncing the IOA or the SGC wasn't that far out of character, lately. They seemed to think that a long supply line and a few long-distance conference calls gave them the right to second-guess Elizabeth's decisions from the next galaxy over, and he felt it was completely justified for her to be offended. But the language she'd chosen to use was pretty strong, for her, on any subject; Dr. Weir wasn't they type who tossed around insults and swearwords lightly. "What's up?"

"They still think she's spying on us somehow, that all the Earth references had to have come from her hacking our database. Even though all the evidence she's given us points to her having been out here for eight years, after time-travelling from the future of what is probably an alternate Earth. They just waved that off with the 'entropic cascade failure' line."

John shook his head. "I never understood that."

"I don't understand it either, they've got all the evidence we have, and they're ignoring it because it doesn't fit their original conclusion. And the fact that..." Elizabeth trailed off, as John shook his head at her.

"I meant, what's entropic cascade failure?" John had heard the phrase, but never in a context where he was comfortable asking questions.

"Oh, it's a theory Samantha Carter cooked up when the people who'd passed through the quantum mirror from an alternate universe started getting sick and dying off. According to the theory, being from an alternate universe makes you somehow incompatible with any other universe, and the universe trying to correct itself eventually causes a fatal degenerative illness. Like MS, but on a much larger, more horrifying scale. Most of the people they've run into have died from it in a matter of several weeks, and even the outliers died well within the first year."

John nodded. "But if that's true, then either Dawn's from our universe, or she'd be long dead by now."

"If she's really been here for eight years, yes." Elizabeth nodded. "However, Ambassador Summers says she got here by 'magic', and all the other evidence backs up her story. So maybe her 'magic' is real and is somehow protecting her from the entropic cascade failure?" She tapped her own notebook. "They sent back the results of my research-this-please list, and even her more casual references don't check out."

John squinted at her. "But her fictional references do?"

Elizabeth nodded. "I would guess that's because she's from an alternate-universe version of Earth, not our own. Different enough that her personal experiences are different from, and perhaps even incompatible with, things that happened on our own Earth. Their history might have small differences, though apparently they're similar enough that the United States and Canada both still exist, etcetera. But the worlds are obviously similar enough that their fictional and mythological works are nearly identical." At John's confused glance, she simplified, "So they have the same movies, the same books, or near enough... but maybe in our universe, she doesn't personally exist, because her parents never met each other, or we just haven't been able to find her yet because she lives in a different state, or has a different first name. Heck, she could even be married, or dead, or in the Marines or... I don't know... living in Vegas running an indoor skydiving school. If we wanted to find her double, we'd pretty much have to run a facial recognition scan or DNA tests on everyone on Earth, and even then we might not find anything, because she might be dead or may have never existed in the first place."

"You're sure about this alternate universe thing?"

Elizabeth nodded. "I suspected it earlier, that's what I didn't want to tell her. Because if this is really a different universe than the Earth she comes from, that means she probably can never go home. She could go to Earth, but it wouldn't be the same Earth that she remembers. She's obviously smart enough that she would have understood that immediately, and I didn't want to upset her until I was sure."

"But obviously, the information that they sent back to you supports this theory, or you wouldn't be saying it now." John nodded. "What did they find?"

"Her drivers' license... it's one of those divergences that have me on this alternate Earth theory. The address doesn't exist, it was an apartment building in Evanston, Illinois, just outside Northwestern University, but it burned down in ninety-nine and the lot was divided and redeveloped, it's now a Starbucks and a gas station, both with different addresses. The serial number is part of a sequence that the Illinois DMV set aside for undercover federal agents; it was used by a naval investigator who bears no resemblance at all to Ambassador Summers. And the driver's license supports my time travel theory as well, because the expiration date is in twenty-fifteen. The State of Illinois isn't even close to issuing licenses with twenty-fifteen expiration dates yet. And there's her casual reference to having taken a college class in two-thousand-and-eight, before coming to Pegasus eight years ago, when in our universe, it's only two-thousand-and-six." Elizabeth tapped the notebook again, and added, "The city of Sunnydale, California, which she specifically told me to put on the list... has never existed. Closest thing is a Sunnyvale, which is just outside San Jose, but she's apparently a native speaker of the English language, which would be confirmed by her story that she grew up and went to college in the United States. Which means that she wouldn't have gotten the pronunciation so wrong that I'd write a D instead of a V. And then there's her talk about Daniel Jackson... as her professor, when he's never taught and is with the SGC instead... and her Daniel Jackson has a radically different theory on the purpose of the Egyptian Pyramids than ours does."

"She's definitely a native speaker. You haven't sat around with her all afternoon. It's not just the language, it's her mannerisms. She does air quotes and everything. And she's familiar with all our foods, she not only asked for Gatorade by name but knew there was a lemonade flavor, and... actually, aside from the random bouts of dizziness and the whole bit with not wanting to be invited in..."

Elizabeth held up a hand. "Wait... what about that?"

"Oh, when we took her to Teyla's to sleep, she actually hissed at Teyla, like a snake, for trying to invite her in. Told her off for it, gently, insisting that it's not safe to invite someone into your home."

Elizabeth sat back in her chair. "Which doesn't make sense with our customs at all, and Teyla would know that. But... if she really comes from a world with demons and vampires... most of the legends say that vampires can't enter a home unless they are invited. If vampires really exist and that legend is really true on her world..."

"Then maybe on her Earth, it's a basic security precaution that's become a custom?" He nodded. "So if we ignore this entropic cascade thingy, and just assume she's really from an alternate universe, all these things start to fall into places that make a lot more sense?"

Elizabeth nodded. "Yeah. But she's asking us to believe it's magic that got her here, and that's a real sticky situation. The mere existence of magic is a tough pill to swallow, and I can see it being close to impossible for some people. Rodney, for example. The IOA and SGC, too. They would rather believe something more plausible, in their worldview, which is that she's somehow carrying out an elaborate deception, even though that would require the participation of everyone we've ever talked to about her, and she has no obvious motive for doing so. They still want me to arrest her for espionage, for hacking our database, since that's so obviously the source of all her Earth knowledge. They repeated the orders to arrest her - at the end of the conversation." She shrugged. "I'm stalling for time. Hopefully, I'm wrong about the magic, and it's just bureaucratic inertia, and besides, if she's really an ambassador..."

John interrupted her, "She is. I was in the room when Giant Forest's ruling council elected her. A council that she is also a member of. And the meeting it happened at wasn't a scheduled meeting, it was summoned at her request, in response to our arrival." John pointed out.

"Then she definitely has, or should have, diplomatic immunity. Except that the IOA is ignoring her diplomatic position, as well as the fact that arresting her would be a major interstellar incident. And I have to remember that it would be especially disruptive, considering that if we held her for more than a couple days, the Courier network would begin to collapse. Which means the collective economy of all twenty-eight of these Courier-box worlds, which she singlehandedly shored up after the destruction of Sateda, would start to fall apart again. Even leaving aside how that would make them feel about us, for having caused it, that would also have some pretty serious ramifications for each of the planets involved." Elizabeth shook her head. "I can't give you that order. Right now, I'm stalling them until they send it in writing, and then I can attack it through the normal bureaucratic channels. Hopefully, they don't address a copy directly to you."

John sat back in his chair and whistled. "That is a problem. Considering that... I don't think I could give the order either. But I've got the Uniform Code of Military Justice and posse comitatus to back me up, if it's an illegal order. I could stall just by asking for a military lawyer to tell me if it is an illegal order or not. You don't have those options."

Elizabeth nodded. "For now, let's just keep her on Atlantis, so they can't accuse us of letting her go. She's not technically under arrest, and I'd prefer not to tell her that Earth even suggested it. But the Gate control room techs have orders not to activate the Gate if she's in the room. They'll tell her that there's a glitch, or the control system is down for maintenance, or something." She shook her head. "Hopefully, it won't come up."
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