"Please slow down," Radek said, not quite yelling, "and stop swinging the mop around like girl in marching band dance corps."
Twenty minutes into his journey to find McKay's Ubergeese, and he'd already been addressed as "Dr. Slenka," regaled with complaints about the lack of weaponry they'd been granted, and struck in the face with a dirty mop. Radek dearly hoped that Rodney came through this ordeal alive and intact, so that Radek himself had the opportunity to render him otherwise.
"I'm trying to limber up," the mop-wielder, a squat young man with close-cropped sandy hair, said. "We're gonna have to MacGyver this op, since you guys sent us out to apprehend a bunch of dangerous animals without any proper gear."
"Annikov, shut up about the gear, already." The tall auburn-haired woman, Sandusky, was apparently the leader of this little gang of janitors informally known as the Dirt Devils. "We're rounding up some geese, not attacking a terrorist cell. We surely don't need weapons for that."
Sandusky shot Radek a look as she said that. He was careful to appear not to notice.
"Maybe not," Annikov said in a tone of voice that implied absolutely no agreement whatever, "but if they're not dangerous, why do they have a group of scientists trapped? Why do they need us to rescue them, if the geese are so harmless?"
"If the geese were dangerous," Sandusky said, sounding a little bored with the conversation, "why would they send a custodial crew instead of a team of Marines?"
Annikov sighed, clearly outmaneuvered and frustrated. "I don't know. This is just a weird assignment, is all. And Slenka won't tell us nothing!"
"It's Doctor Ze-len-ka," Sandusky said firmly. "Three syllables. That's right at your limit, Annikov, so you should be able to handle it."
Radek hid the urge to snicker with a delicate cough behind his hand. To Sandusky, he said apologetically, "Ordinarily, we would consider this situation a matter for security, but our Marines are occupied with some unusual issues today."
"Yeah, that Kolya guy is here, I heard." She glanced at Radek's face and laughed good-naturedly. "I hope you didn't think it was a secret, Dr. Zelenka. There's been an awful lot of 'unusual issues' in the city lately. Everybody's talking."
An emphatic snort announced the viewpoint of the large woman pushing the heavy janitorial cart on the other side of Sandusky. She'd introduced herself to Radek simply as Jimenez. "Unusual, my ass. Things have gotten positively fucknuts around here. You got any insights into why that is, doc?"
"I'm sure he does," Sandusky intervened, "and if he was free to talk about it, he would've already told us. Look, guys" – Sandusky stopped, and her cohorts followed suit – "we've been asked to do a job here. If it was beyond our skillset, they wouldn't be asking. Isn't that right, Dr. Z?"
Very carefully not swallowing, Radek nodded and murmured, "Of course."
Rodney would pay for this.
Sandusky said, "See?" and started walking again, leading them all to resume. "And really, is it so surprising that we'd get this gig? Remember, when there's a really tough mess to clean up, who do they always call?"
"The Dirt Devils!" Jimenez and Annikov responded. Annikov held up a hand, and Jimenez returned a surprisingly spirited high five.
"That's right," Sandusky continued, clearly launching into a favorite and oft-repeated pep talk. "'Cause they know we have the training, and the toughness, and most importantly–"
"The creativity!" Annikov said, right on cue.
"– to solve any kind of problem we might encounter. Without any fuss, without any whining, and without crying for additional resources. We don't just make do with what we have…"
"We make what we have do what we need!" Annikov clearly found great joy in supplying the expected interjections in Sandusky's speech. Radek felt a faint pang of envy for a man who could be satisfied by such simple pleasures.
"Damn straight. So let's go get us some geese!"
"Technically," Radek said, "our goal is to rescue the biology team. I do not expect you three to try to capture these birds."
"Duly noted, Doctor."
From her breezy tone, Radek suspected that Sandusky was humoring him. Her post-pep talk mind couldn't conceive of the vaunted Dirt Devils being unable to cope with a few measly geese. He was debating how he could deflate this notion without contradicting his earlier implication that the geese weren't dangerous when Jimenez said, "You guys hear that?"
They all stopped moving. In the distance, Radek heard the distinct vocalizations of geese.
"Sounds like a lot of 'em," Annikov said. "Hey, what's that thing?"
"A life signs detector," Radek said absently, studying the screen. He pointed in the direction of the goose-sounds. "There are a lot of signals coming from the vicinity of the biology team's last reported location. Dr. Svensen radioed that she and her team had fled to a set of quarters about fifty meters from where we are standing. Some of the geese managed to follow them inside, so the team were forced into the bathroom."
He could feel the weight of the three of them not expressing opinions about an elite team of biologists fleeing from geese. He cleared his throat. "Before we proceed, I would like to explain tha–"
"You guys hear that?" Jimenez said again.
"Hear what?" Sandusky asked.
"Hey," Annikov said, "they got quiet."
The hairs on the back of Radek's neck stood up as he realized that he could no longer hear the geese. "Do prdele!" he swore, glancing down at the life signs detector just in time to see that a number of dots had moved. "Hurry, we must–"
The air was suddenly full of sound as geese poured into the corridor from around the corner and charged the little group of humans. Radek, who had spent a great deal of time around birds, had never heard anything quite like this. The geese - who seemed even larger than he remembered from the previous sighting - were shrieking what was clearly an avian battle cry as they came for him and his companions, all screeching voices and lunging beaks and monstrous flapping wings.
They were strong! So horribly strong, more like creatures to be found in some dark alien cave than from the imagination of a brilliant, arrogant scientist forever just on the threshold of crippling insecurity. Radek had a moment of penetrating, overwhelming empathy as he understood, for the first time, the full scope of his colleague's internal torment.
The empathy evaporated when the geese knocked his feet out from under him and slammed him to the floor, pecking and biting wherever their beaks could land. Twisting and flailing, he was unable to produce more than grunts and whimpers, but in his mind, Radek was screaming all manner of dire threats and epithets directed at Dr. Rodney McKay.
And now, the wretched beasts were speaking, shouting actual words as they tried to devour him. Was there no end to the horrors that Rodney would inflict upon him?
"Doc, come on!" they said. "Up! You gotta get up!"
Radek laughed weakly. As if he would fall for that.
There was a thud and a squawk, followed by more thudding and squawking, and then something was lifting his shoulders and dragging him. The infernal birds were carrying him off! He wailed and tried to pull away.
"Stop that shit!" the voice yelled into his ear, sounding suspiciously human. The meaty appendage that encircled his chest and heaved him up was most decidedly not covered in feathers.
Widening his focus beyond his immediate and direct experience, Radek noted that Annikov was making deft use of the mop to pummel and fend off McKay's geese. All that limbering up had apparently paid off.
"Stand clear!" Sandusky moved into Radek's view, brandishing a can of some sort of aerosol cleanser and a cigarette lighter. A stream of flame jetted from the nozzle, prompting the geese to shrink back a bit. After two more flame-jets, Sandusky bellowed, "Put him on the cart and move!"
Radek wondered who she was talking about until he was hauled onto the janitorial cart. Lying awkwardly with his torso twisted and legs splayed, he tried to struggle back to his feet, but Jimenez had already begun running, pushing the cart at an alarming pace.
"Wait!" Radek cried. "We can't! I need–"
"Hang on, doc!" Jimenez yelled. The cart jerked to the left, and Radek was forced to clutch a handle protruding from the attached mop bucket to keep himself from rolling off. He felt something jolt in his lower back as the lower half of his body tried to continue the rolling motion.
Weeks of chiropractic was in his future, he was sure of it. Should he prove to actually have a future, of course.
The harrowing ride seemed to go on and on, culminating in the cart being thrust into a transporter, hitting the back wall and dumping the hapless scientist to the floor. His back. It would never be the same.
Groaning, Radek slowly untwisted himself on the floor just in time to get a faceful of Annikov's mop as the others piled into the transporter. Sandusky slapped the controls to shut the door before turning to look over the crew. "Everyone okay?"
"Fine," Annikov and Jimenez said in near-unison. Jimenez added, "I think the doc's gonna need some first aid. The geese did a real number on him."
"I can see that," Sandusky said. "How about it, Doc? Any injuries other than what we can see?"
Radek sat up and wiped a hand over a tickling sensation on his cheek. His palm came away smeared with a bit of blood. The back of his hand and his wrist showed evidence of the goose attack. He assumed he was covered in tiny cuts and bruises. "I'll be fine. I was just a bit dazed."
"Holy shit," Annikov yelled, too loudly for the confines of the transporter, "can you believe those things? All this time I been hearing stories about the freaky animals in the Pegasus galaxy, and now I finally get to experience it myself!"
The man sounded jubilant.
"What's fucking weird is," Jimenez said, "they look just like Canadian geese, only gigantic."
"Yeah, that's true," Annikov said, grinning with excitement. "It's like the geese I used to see on this pond where I grew up, only on steroids. The geese on steroids, not me. Or the pond."
Sandusky was standing with her arms folded. Radek realized she was staring at him. Wisps of her dark red hair had escaped her previously neat ponytail. Under the intensity of her gaze, he began to feel guilty, and he wasn't even sure why.
She knelt down and looked him square in the face. "Doctor Zelenka, I think it's time you told us exactly what we're dealing with here."
Oh, yes, that was why.
Rodney would pay for this.