NOTES: Thank you for all of the reviews and faves for the other stories in this series. I'm thrilled you guys are enjoying reading them as much as I've had fun writing them.
This story has a bit of a Christmas flavor to it, so consider it my (belated) gift to you folks for reading these stories over the past several months.
This story takes place between Before I Sleep and The Brotherhood
Thanks as always to Lyn, my wonderful beta.
John woke up groggy and out-of-sorts when his alarm clock started its incessant buzzing. Never again, he told himself as he crawled out of bed and shut off the annoying sound. Never again would he let himself get talked into a late-night gaming session with McKay. They'd played the Ancient computer game until almost two am when Rodney received a call from Chuck there was a power spike in one of the lab areas. McKay had hurried off, muttering about incompetent scientists, to deal with the problem.
Now he sat on the edge of his bed trying to work up enough energy to move. Rodney was used to being up at all hours. John found he needed the sleep more than another chance to crush McKay's villagers into the ground. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, and with a groan, headed for the bathroom.
He showered, shaved, and dressed in a sort of haze before he stepped out of his quarters in search of coffee only to be nearly run down by a couple of people hurrying to join the gaggle of scientists and Marines staring out the door onto the balcony at the end of the hall. It took his still half-asleep mind a moment to realise something was happening outside, and maybe he should find out what it was.
John wandered over to the group, curious what could be so entertaining so early in the day, and stopped when he saw the large white flakes falling past the window to accumulate in a fluffy, white pile against the door. He told himself he shouldn't be that surprised, the days were decidedly shorter and it had been too cold to spend any time out on the balconies or piers for the last few weeks.
Halling had radioed Teyla a few days ago the harvest was in. Surprisingly, they'd had a good a year in spite of everything that had happened with the storm, then needing fresh seed with little time to plant a second crop. John had flown her out to the mainland for a visit the next day. He'd noticed most of the trees were bare and the air had smelt of dry leaves and wood smoke.
He glanced around at the rapturous expressions on the faces of the people nearest him. Everyone stared out the windows, smiling, their eyes wide with wonder. Like a bunch of kids, he said to himself.
Growing up in California, winter meant finding a jacket to wear when outside in the evening and the surfing season went into high gear. He hadn't experienced a winter with snow until he was stationed in Kandahar.
"We should make some Christmas decorations," he heard one of the scientists say. "Maybe ask Doctor Weir if we can go to the mainland and find a good tree."
"I wonder if anyone brought some Christmas music," another voice said.
"Do you think the mess cooks could make Sufganiyot?" someone else asked.
John stepped back from the window and headed for the transporter and the mess hall. He hadn't thought much of Christmas since the divorce. Nancy had enjoyed Christmas, all the color and bustle. He'd known the holidays had been hard for her, they were usually stationed far away from her family. John hadn't minded the distance as much, it was the perfect excuse to avoid his father. Something for just the two of them had been enough for him the first few years they were married. Until assignments kept him away from home more and more often and Nancy started going home to spend the holidays with her family. One year she simply didn't come back.
After the divorce, if he happened to be on a base at the time, the holiday meant little more than carols played over the base radio system for a couple of weeks and better than usual food in the mess.
He walked into the mess hall and saw the rest of his team already seated at their usual table, eating. Ford sat facing the window talking about something that made Teyla sitting across from him smile. Rodney sat with his back to the window, bundled in the same brilliant orange fleece sweater he remembered him wearing in Antarctica. A tiny part of his brain couldn't help feeling smug when he saw Rodney hunched over his breakfast looking as sleep-deprived as John felt.
John hurried through the mess line, including a cup of the much-needed coffee before heading over to the rest of the team. He sat down across from Rodney and his earlier humor vanished when he saw the dark circles under McKay's eyes.
"Did you get any sleep at all last night?" he asked, not bothering to hide his concern.
"Some," Rodney replied as he finished his toast. "The power surge you heard about turned into two more. Got to bed around five."
"Was it snowing then?" Teyla asked, turning enough to look out the window behind her.
Rodney shrugged. "No idea. Wasn't near any windows." He glanced behind him and hunched his shoulders. "I hate being cold," he muttered into his coffee cup.
That explained the orange fleece, John thought to himself as he started eating.
"You will all have to come to the mainland for the Festival of Light," Teyla said a few minutes later.
"Festival?" John asked.
"It is tradition," she replied. "On the longest night of the year, it is a time to reflect, and light candles to ward off the long winter's night. Families exchange small gifts, there is food, storytelling, an opportunity to come together as a community."
"Sounds good," John said then gave Teyla a puzzled look. "This is a different planet from Athos. So, when is the longest night?"
"Three days," Rodney said never looking up from his plate.
John stared at him in amazement and noticed Ford doing the same. Teyla sipped her tea with a tiny smile and said nothing.
"What?" Rodney asked glancing up as the others fell silent. "It wasn't that hard to figure out based on the summer solstice and we were here for that."
Teyla nodded. "Halling and the other elders reached a similar conclusion."
"All right," John said, "we'll plan on attending the Festival, assuming we aren't off-world."
"I will let Halling know. I have spoken to Doctor Weir about the festival. She will inform the rest of the expedition members they are welcome to join in the celebration."
"Speaking of gifts," Ford said, and John could see a mischievous glint in his eye, "we should do a Secret Santa. Just the four of us."
John watched as Rodney grimaced and silently finished his eggs. Teyla gave Ford a puzzled look while Ford's grin beamed across the table. John was surprised to find he liked the idea. Maybe it was time for Christmas to mean something other than roast beef that was actually properly cooked instead of tasting like dried shoe-leather, he told himself.
"What is a Secret Santa?" Teyla asked, setting her teacup down as she looked around the table.
Rodney groaned and tried to stand but John tugged on his jacket sleeve keeping him in his chair and smiled.
"A Secret Santa is a sort of gift exchange," John explained. "You are given the name of someone and you give him or her a gift. The fun part is you're not supposed to say who your gift is for until the day of the exchange."
"I … see," Teyla replied and glanced from Ford to Rodney. "There is a similar tradition amongst my people, but it is something only for children."
"There, see," Rodney said haughtily and pulled his sleeve out of John's grip. "It's for kids. No reason for adults to participate."
John pursed his lips. While he might agree the idea of a Secret Santa exchange was a bit silly, it was a good kind of silly. After what the team had been through the last few months, he thought to himself, it would be a nice bit of team building as well.
"Oh, I don't know," John drawled as he sat back in his chair. He saw Rodney's shoulders tighten as he spoke. "Could be fun." John hid his smile as Rodney glared at him.
Teyla swallowed a bite of purple fruit. "I agree, Major," she said.
John watched as Ford and Teyla both turned to Rodney. John counted down from five in his head waiting for McKay to respond.
"Fine, whatever," Rodney said with a scowl as John's mental count reached zero.
"Cool!" Ford said and stood. He went back to the food line for a clean cup, came back to the table, and pulled a pad of paper and a pen from his shirt pocket.
"Came prepared, I see," John said as Ford scribbled on a piece of notepaper.
"Yes, sir," Ford replied. "Knew you guys would like the idea." He gave Rodney a sideways look and continued writing. "My unit in Iraq had an exchange every year. Everyone had a good time."
Rodney made a humph noise and finished his coffee.
Ford tore the paper into four pieces, crumpled them up, and dropped the crumpled pieces in the cup. "If you get your own name, put it back and draw again," Ford said and held the cup out to John.
John glanced at the name he'd drawn as Ford passed the cup to Teyla who smiled slightly at her piece of paper. Rodney sighed and pulled a name out, frowned, and stuffed the paper in his jacket pocket.
"Okay," Ford said as he took the last bit of paper and did a double-take before pocketing his paper as well.
"When do we exchange our gifts?" Teyla asked.
"One week," John said and stood. "That will give everyone time to think of something, and it won't interfere with the light festival."
"We need a tree, too," Ford added.
"Don't push it, Lieutenant," John told him as he saw Rodney about to bolt. "One week, we'll have a team night, make some popcorn, see if anyone brought a Christmas movie."
"It sounds like it will be a fun evening," Teyla said as she stood and cleared her dishes.
"Oh yeah, thrill a minute," Rodney grumbled as he cleared his own dishes and left the mess hall.
Ford made a face as he watched Rodney leave. "Guess I'm not that surprised he's a bit of a Scrooge," he said, probably louder than he meant.
"Lieutenant," John said, the warning clear in his tone.
Ford ducked his head. "Sorry, sir."
"Scrooge?" Teyla asked as they left the mess hall.
"Ford, I'll leave you to explain that one," John said as he turned toward the transporter.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney exited the transporter and hurried down to his lab before he could be wrangled into any more festive exuberance. He'd done his best to ignore most holidays, and Christmas in particular, since his college days. His classmates never could understand why he hated going home for the six weeks between the winter and spring semesters. For them, it was a time to kick back, relax after winter finals, and be a bit spoiled by their families as they came home for the first time in months.
For Rodney, it meant a month and a half of listening to his parents fight, while at the same time putting out the image of the perfect nuclear family. He was spared the hypocrisy of church services, but his mother still insisted on dragging them to any number of social events for which he and Jeannie were supposed to look smart and say as little as possible.
Once he'd graduated, it wasn't hard to avoid the family holiday scene, he could always claim a project was at a critical stage and he couldn't get away. Not that his parents tried very hard to get him to come home. He'd exchange a card and a small gift with Jeannie, but even that stopped after the fight over Jeannie's decision to choose marriage and family over a physics career. For him, the holidays became a chance to get more work done once everyone else had gone home. The thought of dealing with Earth holidays never crossed his mind once he came to the Pegasus galaxy.
He closed the door to the lab and pulled the scrap of paper out of his pocket. He stared at the name scribbled in Ford's surprisingly neat handwriting and wondered what he was going to do. Of the three potential people he had to get for a gift exchange, this was quite possibly the worst. He had no idea what to give as a gift and stuffed the paper back in his pocket. He checked his desk for anything from Radek that required his attention then wandered over to the work table.
He sat down, booted up his combo-computer, reran the power usage numbers, and frowned as he pushed the computer away. He'd spent part of his late night in between dealing with calls from the control room, checking and rechecking his math with the same result. They had a problem. No matter how many times he did the math, the answer wasn't going to change, he told himself.
He scowled at the computer as he crossed his arms over his chest to think. Assuming their current usage rate, and no more huge drains on the system, they had three months, maybe four, before the naquadah generators were completely spent and the city went dark. He rubbed his forehead in an attempt to stave off the headache as he considered their options.
They'd have to cut back on usage, that was the simplest option. Move people back into a smaller area, use less power. It would mean people doubling up on rooms again. He would not be popular once that was announced, he thought with a frown. They'd have to shrink the lab areas as well. Fewer questionable experiments needing special set-ups, the botany team wouldn't be able to expand into the neighboring labs where they wanted to try growing hydroponic plants, either.
"Won't be enough," he muttered to himself as he typed a few commands into the computer.
It had taken the science teams more than a month to cobble together a new transformer to replace the one blown out when they'd tried to streamline the power systems. While it worked, and Elizabeth was able to move the displaced Marines back into the affected crew section, it wasn't efficient and would have to be one of the first things shut down.
"Great, the scientists and the Marines will be mad at me," he growled as he rubbed a hand over his face. "Maybe they'll all be infected with the Christmas spirit and won't kill me outright." He pulled the computer closer and set to work on a report to Elizabeth laying out the steps they'd need to take to conserve what power they still had.
There was another option, one that could work, but there were at least two problems. One, he wasn't sure Elizabeth would agree and two, he didn't know if he could find what he needed. He booted up another computer and started a search through the Ancient database to locate the raw materials he'd need to build a new generator.
He'd been working for a couple of hours when the door to the lab whispered open. He glanced up long enough to see John enter the room before he went back to glaring at the computer running the database search.
"If you're making faces like that, it can't be good news," John said as he came over to the work table balancing a pair of coffee cups in one hand. He handed one of the cups to Rodney, snagged the stool on the other side of the table with his foot, and sat down across from him. "What's wrong?" he asked with a smile. "Still upset how I beat you last night?"
Rodney grimaced as he took the cup and nodded his thanks. "Enjoy your hollow victory while you can," he said as he swallowed some of the coffee and set the cup aside. "We may not be playing the game for much longer."
"Oh?" John asked. He must have picked up on Rodney's mood as he stopped grinning and asked, "What's the problem?"
"You're familiar with all of the power problems we've been having?" Rodney asked.
John gave him a steady look. "It's not something I'm likely to forget anytime soon," he replied. "Seeing as how you were nearly blown up trying to fix it."
Rodney winced at the reminder but plowed on. "Between what happened with the transformer blowing up, then everything that happened in the Entry Room and the control chairs, we've depleted the naquadah generators more than expected. We still don't know how the city did all of the rerouting, but it's taxed the system even more and the power leaks are getting worse.
"Add to that you blowing up one of our generators to stop those nanites -"
"I didn't hear you complaining at the time," John pointed out.
Rodney waved off the interruption. "And throwing one of the portable generators through the 'gate to get rid of that energy monster. And nearly depleting two more of the portables when Grodin sent everyone out to the Entry Room in the transporter, we don't have many options left."
"Okay. But you have a plan right? Some way to create more power?"
Rodney shook his head and typed a new query into the computer. "Haven't you ever heard of the conservation of energy?" he asked impatiently. "Energy can be -"
"Neither created nor destroyed," John finished for him. "You know what I meant. How do we fix this?"
Rodney glared at the computer. "Since we can't seem to find any Zed-PMs and Grodin is still researching the 'gate addresses given to us by the other Elizabeth …" He took a deep breath and glanced over at Sheppard. "We're going to need another power source to keep the city running."
John leant back on his stool. "You're sure the generators we have are that bad? I thought they were supposed to last forever."
"Nothing lasts forever," Rodney retorted and picked up the coffee cup. "The dual control chairs drained a lot of our power. Power we really didn't have to spare. I thought the problems with the grid were better once the city rerouted the power back into the city after," he waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the southwest pier, "but we're back to having the same spikes and drops as before. Maybe even worse as a few of the spikes have blown out some systems. That wasn't happening before."
"Okay," John drawled. "What do we have to do to recharge the generators?"
Rodney frowned. "You aren't getting it. We can't just recharge a naquadah generator," he said. "Once it's depleted, that's it. We need to build new ones."
"And you can build a naquadah generator?" John asked, the skepticism clear in his tone.
Rodney glanced down at his hands still holding the coffee cup. "It's ironic, really," he said after a few seconds. "General Hammond wanted to punish me for what happened with Teal'c. It turns out, that may be exactly what saves all of us."
John leant forward with his arms resting on the work table. "I don't get the joke."
Rodney looked over at him and saw his serious expression. "I've told you about Teal'c, haven't I?" Rodney asked with a frown then remembered their trek through the Redwood Forest. "Oh, yeah, you were kind of out of it at the time." He fiddled with the coffee cup for a moment before draining it. "Teal'c was trapped in the 'gate buffer after a freak accident. I was brought in …" He paused for a moment then shook his head. "I guess I was really brought in to make sure Carter failed," he mumbled more to himself than to John. "I never thought of it like that before …"
He stared at his hands, lost in thought, until he felt a tap on his arm and looked up to see John watching him, a worried look on his face. Rodney gave John a slight smile, set the coffee cup aside, and continued, "Anyway, after Carter succeeded in saving Teal'c, I was sent to Russia - as part of a technology exchange, was the official reason - for their help getting Teal'c out of the 'gate buffer. Really, I was shipped as far away from the SGC as General Hammond could send me. I think they believed me when I said I had no idea what Colonel Simmons was really up to, but …"
He twisted his fingers into a knot as he replayed the meeting with Hammond and Carter in the SGC conference room. He gave John another tiny smile. "I spent the next year helping the Russians build their own naquadah generators. So, yes, I can build one, or several if we need them. The problem is finding the naquadah to power them." He pointed to the computer still running the search through the Ancient database.
"If the stargates are made of naquadah, there has to be a source for it somewhere in the Pegasus galaxy," John said.
"Maybe," Rodney replied. "Or maybe they used up all of the mineral here which is why they started exploring the Milky Way galaxy in the first place."
Neither of them said anything for a few moments.
"What about that other mineral you found," John suggested as he set down his empty coffee cup.
Rodney glared at him in disgust. "Could you be any more vague?"
John glared right back. "That stuff Volkov and Kavanagh were fighting about a couple of months ago. On that planet where you sent the pirates -"
Rodney shook his head. "We don't have much more than a few grams of it, and while it's close, we need actual naquadah for the generators to work."
"Have you asked Teyla? Maybe one of the Athosians knows of a source."
Rodney shrugged. "Maybe," he admitted but didn't believe Teyla's knowledge or sources would be much help this time.
John started to say something else but was interrupted by the radio. "Weir to Sheppard."
"Peter thinks he may have found information on two of the 'gate addresses given to us by … well, me. Can you find the rest of your team and come to the conference room?"
"We'll be there in five," John said. "Sheppard out." He turned to Rodney with a smile. "Maybe we won't need to build one of those generators after all," he said as Rodney shut down his combo-computer and followed John out of the lab.
"Teyla, Ford," John said as he tapped his earpiece. "Meeting in the conference room in five."
"Yes, sir," Ford replied quickly followed by Teyla's acknowledgement.
Rodney activated the sensor for the transporter and stepped inside.
"So, what do you think?" John asked as they walked across the balcony to the conference room. "Any chance Grodin found proof there really are a few spare ZPMs hidden out there?"
Rodney shrugged. "The list did include the planet with those kids," he replied. "So we know at least one of the addresses was legit. If we have any hope at all of finding one, those five planets the other Elizabeth gave us could be our only chance. Otherwise, we're stuck with plan B."
John grimaced as he touched the sensor for the conference room doors. "Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of," he muttered.
Rodney walked into the conference room and found Grodin and Elizabeth already there. He took a seat next to Sheppard and glanced back at the door as Teyla and Ford entered.
"Thank you for coming," Elizabeth said as Teyla and Ford found seats at the triangular table. "As you know, the search for a ZPM to power Atlantis is a high priority -"
"Higher than you think," Rodney mumbled to himself.
"What was that?" Elizabeth asked as John jabbed an elbow in Rodney's ribs.
"Nothing," Rodney said with a fake smile. "Just agreeing with you."
"Right," Elizabeth said, and gave Rodney a long look before turning back to the rest of the room. "As I was saying, the search for a ZPM is a high priority and the list given to us by the other Elizabeth is our best chance of finding one." She turned to Grodin sitting next to her. "Peter, you said you had information on two of the planets on the list?"
"Yes," Peter said as he stepped forward and tapped a series of keys on his tablet. Information from the Ancient database flowed across the screen mounted on the wall. "The first planet, Dagan, we're still researching. All we've found so far is mention of a group called the Quindosim who were charged with protecting an object they called the Potentia."
"And you think that's a ZPM?" John asked.
"It's possible," Grodin replied with a nod. "The information we've been able to find so far indicates an unnamed Ancient travelled to Dagan with a rare and important object and tasked the local population with protecting it."
"Could it have been this Janus the other Elizabeth mentioned?" Weir asked.
Grodin shrugged. "There's no way to know for sure. The data on Dagan is fragmentary. As I said, we're still searching for more information."
"What about the other planet?" Teyla asked.
Grodin tapped his computer again and different data began to stream across the screen. "The Ancient database calls this planet Lurra."
"I know this world," Teyla said. "My people have traded there many times."
"Have you ever heard them talk about the Ancients?" Elizabeth asked.
Teyla shook her head. "The village is a few miles from the stargate, near the mountains. There are no ruins nearby or other evidence the Ancestors ever inhabited the planet."
"Well, they wouldn't necessarily need to live there," Rodney replied and looked around the table. "We're assuming the sole reason for hiding the Zed-PMs in the first place was as a sort of failsafe. A way to keep Atlantis safe from the Wraith but still usable by any Ancients that returned to the city later. If all they wanted was a place to hide the Zed-PM, it could be anywhere on the planet."
"If it could be anywhere, how do we find it?" John asked.
Rodney sat lost in thought for a moment before he snapped his fingers several times and looked up at Grodin. "Are there any elements that make up a Zed-PM that aren't found on this Lurra?" he asked.
Grodin read something on his screen and looked up. "Yes, there are three minerals we know are present in a ZPM that are not found on the planet."
Rodney turned to John with what he knew was a self-satisfied look. "That's how we find it," he said. "I can program a scanner to search for those three minerals. We find the minerals, we find the Zed-PM."
"Those minerals make up only a small portion of the ZPM. It could be difficult -" Grodin started to say.
"Difficult, yes," Rodney interrupted with an impatient wave of his hand. "But not impossible."
"John?" Elizabeth said. "It's your call. Which planet do you think we should search first?"
John leant forward in his chair, resting his arms on the table. "You're sure you can find a ZPM by searching for something other than the power signature?" he asked with a look at Rodney.
Rodney nodded. "Just give me some time to configure the scanner."
John studied his hands for a moment then sat back with a nod. "All right, I say we go to Lurra. Teyla knows the people and that will give Grodin and his team more time to research Dagan and this Quindosim."
Elizabeth smiled. "Agreed, Major," she said. "Since Rodney needs time to sort out the scanner, your team can leave in the morning."
"I should mention it is probably winter on Lurra now," Teyla said as she stood from the table.
"How cold are we talking about?" Ford asked.
"We will need to wear several layers," she replied. "The winters can be harsh."
"Lovely," Rodney muttered sarcastically. "I hate being cold. Had more than enough of winter in Russia and Antarctica."
"Ford, check the stores and see what winter gear we have and make sure everyone," he glanced at Rodney and Teyla, "is properly outfitted."
"Yes, sir," Ford replied.
"There is some good news," Teyla said as the conference room doors swung open. "The stargate is in an open area. We will be able to take a puddle jumper through and there is a clearing not far from the village where we can land. We will not have to hike to the village in the frigid temperatures."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
"No, no, that is wrong," Zelenka said as he read the code off the computer screen. "Manganese is still present in that combination. It will result in false positive."
Rodney growled under his breath. He wasn't sure which he hated more, a backseat programmer or a backseat programmer who happened to be correct. He went back through the code and removed the manganese-based minerals and read through the code again.
"Are you sure this will work?" Zelenka asked. "The amounts of these minerals necessary to build ZPM are minuscule, the scanner may not be able to detect them."
"Of course it will work," Rodney said dismissively. "It should work," he amended with a glance at Zelenka. "There's no reason why it wouldn't work." He wasn't sure who he was trying to convince with his last statement.
Rodney looked up at the knock on the lab door and found Ford standing there, several bulky items of clothing in his arms.
"Hey, Doc," Ford greeted as he entered. "Got your extra gear for the trip to Lurra."
Rodney looked at the heavy coat and other items with distaste.
"What is this?" Zelenka asked as Ford dropped the items on Rodney's desk.
"Apparently, it's winter on the planet," Rodney explained. "Have I mentioned how much I hate being cold?" he asked with a glance over at Ford.
"Teyla said the temperatures can drop ten to fifteen degrees below zero at night. Sometimes it may not get above freezing during the day, either," Ford added, and Rodney thought he looked far too pleased with himself.
"Rodney, if there is snow, the scanner may not -"
"It'll be fine," Rodney snapped, his patience wearing thin. "Get out, both of you," he growled. "I have work to do before I leave for a planet where I'll likely to freeze to death."
Zelenka glared at him before he threw up his hands and walked out of the lab.
Ford stared first at Rodney, then at Zelenka's back as he left. "Is there a problem?"
"My only problem is too many people in my lab," Rodney snapped with a pointed look at Ford.
"Okay, okay, I'm going," Ford replied. "Major Sheppard wants us in the gateroom at 0900," he said as he left the room.
"Finally," Rodney muttered, walking over to check the door was locked. He stopped at his desk long enough to finger the military-issue red coat and snow pants. There was also a pair of thick gloves, snow goggles, waterproof boots, and thermal underwear piled on the desk. He dropped the red coat back on his desk with a resigned sigh.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and felt the crumpled up piece of paper with the name of his gift recipient and rubbed at his forehead as he walked back to his work table. As if he didn't have enough to worry about with the power issues and the possibility of hypothermia, he still needed to figure out what he was going to do about the ridiculous Secret Santa exchange.
"What did I get myself into?" he grumbled as he stared around the lab, at a complete loss as to what to give as a gift. He wasn't sure which was worse, trying to come up with a gift idea or worrying about what sort of gift one of his teammates would give to him.
He stuffed the slip of paper in his trouser pocket and went to the back of his lab where he kept various odds and ends in case they ever proved useful and sorted through the different drawers and containers to see what he could find. Maybe he could make something that would pass as an acceptable gift, he thought as he dug through the various crystals, bits of metal, and assorted oddments.
An hour later he'd assembled a small pile of items including housings for various Ancient devices, several crystals for various systems, some copper wire, and a piece of a meteorite he'd found a few years ago while exiled in Russia and kept in a drawer in his desk. He sorted through the items thinking of and discarding several ideas before he hit on one that seemed both acceptable as a gift and possible to make with the items on hand.
The laser cutter in the Geology lab made quick work of the meteorite, cutting the stone in half and then polishing it to bring out the texture of the underlying crystalline structure. He took the polished stone back to his lab and used a hammer and a pair of pliers and started to reshape a piece of copper from a broken bit of housing.
It might not have been the same sort of work required to fix some of the city's systems, but it was delicate and required a certain amount of concentration. It gave his mind something specific to focus on for a little while. By the time he needed to stop and join the rest of the team for dinner a few hours later, he had made a good start on the project and felt slightly better about the odds the gift would be acceptable and not laughed at once it was done.