The Goon's Guide to Rest and Relaxation
Paperback Edition because Geeks complain about heavy things
re·lax·a·tion(re lak saysh'n), noun, a form of activity that provides a change and relief from effort, work, or tension, and gives pleasure; indulgence in recreation, diversion, or amusement. Mathematics A method of solving equations in which the errors resulting from an initial approximation are reduced by succeeding approximations until all errors are within specified limits.
Goon's addendum: It is important to remember that everyone needs time to revitalize now and again, even Geeks and Goons. This is not a waste of time. On the contrary, it will only serve to make you a more alert and attentive Goon in the future. However, there are a few rules that should be followed during your period of rest and relaxation. First, except in rare and specific cases, relaxation does not involve the use of weapons of any kinds. Guns and ammo would be best served waiting for your return back in your quarters than becoming filled with sand and salt water while you lounge on a tropical beach. Second, civilian clothes should be worn during your down time. This does not mean that you may not wear camouflage, however, it will probably be the day-glo variety and worn only during those same rare and specific cases alluded to in rule number one. Finally, please make special note that Geeks have an entirely different definition of relaxation than normal human beings. And while finding the proper balance between work and relaxation may truly be a succession of trial and error, Geeks need vacations too. Perhaps the best way to ensure that they accomplish this requirement is to confiscate any geeky paraphernalia that they may be carrying,( e.g., laptops, calculators, and pocket protectors) and replace them with sunscreen, sunglasses and an alcoholic beverage made with crushed ice, fruit juices and topped with a festive paper umbrella.
"Well, McKay, you said you wanted to go someplace tropical."
"Just shut the hell up." I snapped at John and grabbed at the crosshatched wooden bars to the cage we were in, trying to keep my balance on the thin grid of slats at our feet as the enclosure was winched up off the ground and swayed precariously. "Five seconds. Five fucking seconds and we would have been gone. We would have been through the gate and gone on the first real vacation that we've had since… well, since ever. And to think that at this very moment I could be sprawled completely nude on a pillow-top mattress, eating room service waffles while you did highly desirable and completely unmentionable things to me with the whipped cream and syrup."
John grinned even as he grabbed my arm to keep me from stumbling as the cage began to swing in a wide arc. "Its okay, Rodney, it's just the two of us here, you can mention those things if you want."
I tried for withering, but couldn't keep the small twinge of amusement from the look I gave him as I fisted the hand of the arm he was squeezing into the back of his shirt. At this high of an elevation, the wind was cold and carried a faint rotten egg smell. I could see the goose bumps rise on his arms from the chill, but all that was about to change, and change for the worse.
"What I really want to do," I grumbled, "is get my hands on that Czech playboy down there and ring his bead and feather draped neck."
"You can't really blame Zelenka for this." At my rolled eyes he amended, "Okay, maybe you can blame him for part of the problem, but ultimately it was Lorne's fault he was captured in the first place. Besides, he seems to be trying to work it out with his new in-laws."
Far below us I could see Radek, dressed in the local garb, talking frantically with the Chieftain, hands and feathers flying as he pointed to the two of us as we were swung further out and away from the platform where they had first forced us into the cage by spear point. By the unmoving stance of the tribal leader, it appeared his words were having little to no effect. Off to the side, Teyla, Ronon, and the handful of marines we had brought along on our rescue mission knelt secured and surrounded by armed guards. Ronon snarled at one of the captors, started to rise and was rewarded by a blow to the head from a spear butt than sent him reeling forward, face first and unmoving into the ground. Teyla yelled something at the guard, unintelligible from our distance, but I could only imagine that it wasn't very nice. Then again, maybe she was asking for pointers for the next time the warrior's hands drifted where they shouldn't.
John and I both winced. "Seriously," he confided, "I'm surprised he even felt it with all that hair acting as padding. I didn't think even armor piercing bullets would pass through that mess."
"Dreds of Kevlar, liver of steel, and a heart of gold, that's our Dex," I agreed with a melodramatically wistful sigh.
We watched for a few seconds more as Teyla yelled, Radek pleaded and Ronon lay still in the dirt, but our attention was quickly drawn away from the activities down the mountain and back to what was down below us. The edge of the cage swung over the mouth of the crater and we were hit by the first blast of heat and the first waves of volcanic gases coming off the pool of lava roiling below us.
The caustic gases stung my eyes and I closed them, instinctively rubbing them with the hand that should have had a death grip on the bars. I drew a breath and immediately regretted it as the compounds in the air ate at my throat and I was racked with a coughing fit that just seemed to get worse with each breath I drew in. Pulling myself in closer to John, I buried my face in his shoulder in a futile attempt to filter the air before it could reach my lungs. The hand on my arm moved around to my back and held me close even as John was reduced to his own set of coughs into the side of my neck.
"Jesus Christ, that burns." The words were muffled against my skin, recalling more intimate conversations and I couldn't help but mentally curse the lack of whipped cream and pillow-top mattresses once again.
"It's the sulfur dioxide," I informed him. "It's mixing with the water in our eyes and lungs and converting to sulfuric acid."
"And here I was worried about the lake of fire below us." His grip on me tightened as he dissolved into another round of coughing.
"Skipping to the end already? And you call me impatient."
He snorted against me and I moved in closer because if this was the end, I couldn't be close enough. The beam to which the cage was attached reached the end of its semi-circular arc and jarred to a stop. The pen lurched and swung sickeningly and even with his arm around me, John couldn't keep me from going down, one leg sliding painfully among the criss-crossed wooden poles that made up the floor.
"Rodneeey," he called between clenched teeth as he stretched a hand for me and fought to maintain his own tenuous balance.
I reached out and grasped his leg, holding on for dear life, clenching my eyes closed as tight as possible, telling myself that there was no way I could fall between the openings although who knew how strong these poles really were. Our prison rocked drunkenly for a short eternity before finally slowing to a gentle sway, but even that didn't slow the pounding of my heart.
When he felt safe enough to stand with just minimal support, John ran a worried hand over my head. "Hey, you okay?"
"Fuck!" I yelled more than a little frantically. "This is why I don't do carnival rides!"
"Yeah, well if Space Mountain took place in an active volcano, I probably wouldn't like it as much either."
I refused to release my grip on his leg. "John, no rush here, but if you've got any ideas on how to get us out of here, now would be the time to act on them."
"Funny, I was just about to tell you the same thing."
"I really, truly fail to see anything funny about that."
With a jolt that had both of us clinging for support again, the cage slowly started to lower. Although we were probably a good fifty or so meters above the magma, I realized in a panic that my leg dangling through the bottom of the confine was closer than that. "Get me up. Get me up!"
A hand clamped onto my bicep and started hauling me up and combined with my own scrambling I was soon standing, leaning heavily into Sheppard once more. "This… this really isn't good," he told me as he desperately looked around the cage for any sign of escape, before wiping stinging eyes against my own shoulder.
"No," I agreed, "it's really not. Especially when you shouldn't even be here in the first place."
"Well if it had gone as planned, you weren't supposed to be in here with me."
"Seeing as you didn't do anything and I did, it's kind of hard to see the logic of the case you're presenting."
"And seeing as you didn't do anything wrong, there was no way in hell I was just going to stand around and let them sacrifice you."
"Oh, and you decided it would make more sense if they threw you into the fiery pit of hell instead? Brilliant reasoning, Colonel; slash and burn defense at its finest."
"You know what, McKay?" he yelled in my face. "I really don't want our last moments together to be spent arguing."
"Why should the last ones be any different from all the rest?" I yelled right back.
He regarded me for the time it took to blink watery eyes, then sputtered laughter. I couldn't help but do the same. And that's what we were doing, leaning against each other with tears in our eyes as much from acidic tongues as acidic gases, when we realized we weren't going down any more, but were instead being raised to the surface. We watched in amazement as the top of the crater came into view and then the cage was miraculously swinging toward the platform and toward a befeathered engineer pushing anxiously at his glasses.
"Well, looks like Dr. Z came through after all," John told me with a broad smile.
And I was so relieved that I couldn't even really get mad at Radek for being the cause of this entire problem to begin with. The cage landed on solid ground and my knees wobbled in phantom memory of the swaying motion that had become the norm. The door swung open and I grabbed John's arm, tugging him along as I stepped gratefully from the enclosure. I jerked to a halt when he stopped abruptly behind me and I turned to see a spear point pressed into his chest.
"What's the problem, boys… and girls?" John asked warily of the natives that were threatening him.
"Yes, what the hell, Radek?" I demanded.
"I have arranged for you to be released, Rodney, but they will not release Colonel."
"What?" They had to be out of their fucking minds if they thought I was going to watch them stick John back in the cage.
John furrowed his brow. "That doesn't seem quite fair, now does it?"
"I am sorry, Colonel, I tried. Honestly. But they have promised not to drop you back in volcano until Rodney and I have had chance to fix device."
"But you two messing with the damn thing," John reminded him, "is why we were in there in the first place."
"They will give us one more chance," Radek told us morosely. "I had to give back my hairless sheep."
With a roll of my eyes, I tightened my grip on John's arm. "Well Carson will be devastated I'm sure, but right now I really don't give a flying flock about your livestock. John is not going back in that cage."
"Is only way, Rodney. If you do not help me, then they will lock you up again, too."
"There is no way in hell I'm going back in that overgrown bird cage, and neither is John."
Long fingers pried my own away and I turned to see John take a step back toward the dangling prison. "Go save the day, Rodney. And me while you're at it."
The spear wielders pushed him back into the recently vacated cell. "No! John…" Frantically I turned to the engineer at my side. "Radek do something. Use your God-given Slavic charm and make them understand. Sing them your rendition of 'Stand by Your Man'. Just do something. You talked them into letting me out; you can do the same for him."
"Rodney, this is best I can do," he insisted.
I heard the door closing on the cage and closed the distance between me and it, between me and John, and gripped the bars even more desperately from the outside than I had from the inside. "This is… this is just…" I shook my head in frustration, pivoting from foot to foot. "Goddamnit!"
John wrapped his hands around mine. "Don't worry about me, Supergeek; I'm not."
The cage started to rise and I looked in desperation from John to the natives around me and back again. "Hey! No! You said you wouldn't send him back until we had a chance… Stop it! Radek, for God's sake, do something!"
John's grip tightened momentarily then was gone with a small smile and smaller wave as he was raised high above my head. The cage dangled in the air but thankfully they didn't swing it back over the caldera. Radek's hand on my shoulder pulled my eyes away from John's that were staring down at me through the bars.
"Come, we must hurry."
"Yeah, hurry," I agreed softly and with one last longing look back up, I followed closely in Radek's wake, determined to get John back on solid ground and get our goddamn vacation back on track.
Rodney was late.
Then again, Rodney was always late. The infinitely mysterious process known as McKay time moved in fits and starts that no mere goon like me could understand. Okay, I was a bit of a math whiz, but as far as I could tell, McKay time had absolutely nothing to do with numbers and damn sure couldn't be calculated. I had no idea how it worked; I don't think even Einstein himself would've had a clue
I did know that I was packed and ready to go and Rodney had yet to pull his duffle bag out from under the bed. Hell, I'd even cleaned up the place while waiting. The man might be the king-high-geek who saved the Pegasus galaxy on a routine basis, but once…just once let him pick up his dirty underwear off the bathroom floor. Was that too much to ask?
Apparently it was.
After tossing the fifth pair this week in the garbage, I headed for the labs. I had a theory that once he ran out of underwear he would learn to pick them up. Or at least build a nice little robot to do it for him. If he could build a fembot, he could come up with something a little less perverse and a whole lot more useful.
I was approaching the lab and nearly to the door when a head popped out with brown hair wisping in the front from a hurried finger-combing and annoyed blue eyes.
"Did you see your shadow?" I asked with mock earnestness. "That would mean six more weeks of winter, right? Or are geeks and groundhogs different? I mean, both are near-sighted, grumpy…."
There was an inarticulate growl and the head disappeared. I guessed we really were in for six more weeks of winter…not that winter meant anything to the tropical sea in which Atlantis floated. I ambled on into the lab and started off with a little growl of my own, "Rodney, we're supposed to leave in fifteen minutes. Unless you plan on addressing your illustrious peers buck-naked you better get your ass back to the room and pack."
Hunching over a computer at one of the lab tables, he typed rapidly with one hand and flicked the other over his shoulder in a go-away gesture. "I have plenty of time," he said loftily. "Once that missing link Wallasby realizes he's evolved enough, barely, to walk upright and scuttles his moronic self here, I can turn things over and we can leave."
Wallasby, Wallasby…not the one that had threatened to jump from the balcony or the one who'd locked himself in the bathroom for two days. Which one…ah. "He's the one who uses his asthma inhaler whenever he sees you, isn't he?" I snorted.
"If my mere presence, noble and giving as it is, is enough to make the man lose the ability to breathe, then obviously Darwin needs to have a word with him." The laptop was closed with a snick. "In a far, far better place. Besides he's never actually turned purple, just a light lavender at best. If he still has fifty percent lung capacity left, then he can still work. When he has one foot in the body bag and Miko is performing CPR on him, then we'll talk sick time."
"You're a regular Mother Teresa." I grinned and bumped my shoulder against his.
He leaned against mine for a moment and frowned. "You couldn't pack for me?"
"If I did that, Rodney, you would never learn the error of your ways. Your sloppy, always late ways," I pointed out. "Your underwear on the floor, toothpaste squeezing in the middle, ball of hair on the shower-drain ways…and seriously, what the fuck? Where does all that hair come from?" I looked at the top of his head and shook my own. "It's uncanny. And I swear it tried to bite me on the ankle yesterday. We should invite some of your fellow geeks over and sell it to them as a real live Tribble. I mean, my God, where does it…."
A sharp elbow to the ribs cut me off. "Is this really how you want to start our vacation?" he retorted. "With the prospect of you not getting any again for the rest of your natural life? Or unnatural life as the case may be. You've soaked up so much hair gel that your molecules are suspended in a soup of it. It's like tanna leaves. You'll probably live forever. You've all but been embalmed already."
"That's nice," I grumbled, rubbing my ribs and then brightening. "Vacation," I savored the word. "That sounds pretty damn good, doesn't it?"
"I don't know. I've never been on one." He folded his arms and rocked back on his heels. "Utter waste of time. I could be coming up with weapons, theories…could be bettering the universe. Well, bettering it more than I already have, but no. You want to go play in the sand and surf. Look at volcanoes. Eat roasted pork and gluey pudding while the sun sets. A total and complete waste of time." Tilting his head, he gave me that crooked grin of his. "I can't fucking wait."
I grinned back. "I can't fucking either."
Hawaii. I'd never been stationed there, my bad luck. Antarctica sure, but hula girls and drinks in coconut shells, no way. Not that I'd minded Antarctica. It was nice. Quiet. Not a lot of people and the ones that were there were too cold to bitch much. Still, Hawaii…I was looking forward to swim trunks and endless beaches, watching Rodney's pale skin burst into flame, eating way too much at the dorky tourist luaus, hiking into the misty mountains and flying over the volcanoes. And not once would some bug evolved to sentient life try to suck ours out of us. And that last bit was the very definition of vacation in my book.
Of course we had to go to New York first. Rodney was going to present a carefully worded paper or two at a seminar of…hell…some classification of geek. Physicists… mathematicians… something. Naturally it was winter in New York. Bad air, bad taxi drivers, bad weather. Ordinarily I would hate every minute of it, but…grabbing his wrist I pulled him close in that empty lab and gave him a quick kiss. "I can't wait to see you shine. All the other earthbound geeks will be green with envy."
His eyes gleamed with smug glee. "They will, won't they? If only Stargate Command would do away with that whole pesky classified thing, I could really show them something. They would surrender their doctorates on their way out and become window washers."
"And crown you God-Emperor of the Geeks?" I added, tongue in cheek.
"No one deserves it more." He looked over my shoulder at the sound of the door opening. "Ah, Wallasby, about time you showed up. Although I do suppose that setting back astrophysics a decade or two is time consuming."
I heard the immediate puff puff of an inhaler and rolled my eyes as I snared a handful of Rodney's lab coat to drag him out of the lab. "We won't be going anywhere if you shut the man's lungs down with your ruthless, albeit hot, bitching," I hissed in his ear. More loudly, I said, "Keep the ship afloat, Dr. Wallasby. We'll bring you back a souvenir."
"Yes, maybe someone can whittle you a spine out of coconut shel…"
I slapped my hand over his mouth and dragged my not-so-better half into the hall. Fifteen minutes later we were in the gate room and ready to go. Rodney moved his duffle bag from hand to hand and then up over his shoulder before looking around obviously disgruntled. "Too bad everyone's on M2X-569. There's no one to see us off."
My lips twitched. "What are you picturing in that twisted brain of yours? Teyla, Radek and Dex throwing streamers and confetti? A whole cruise ship send off?"
"I'm just saying," he muttered. "I'm not asking for a parade or anything, not that we don't deserve it…selflessly saving the city time and time again. Offering up our very lives…." He scowled pointedly at me. "Far more times than is really necessary. Nobly…."
Hastily I turned to the tech at the dial up computer. "Unless you want to hear more of this, I suggest you dial up Earth and fast." And that's when it happened—before even the first chevron could be activated. The alarm blared and….
"Incoming wormhole," the tech said, forehead wrinkled. "Two hours before check in time. It's Major Lorne's IDC."
"Oh no," Rodney denied instantly, shaking his head. "This is not happening, do you hear me? This is not happening." Dropping the duffle bag on my foot, he demanded, "Do something."
"Like what? Put up the forcefield and let Lorne splat on it like a bug on a windshield? That's kind of harsh, don't you think?" From the look in his eye, I had a feeling he didn't think so, but before he could tell me so himself, the wormhole flared to life and Lorne came walking though…alone. Before he could say a word, Rodney's finger was planted in his chest.
"Do not open your mouth, do you hear me?" he snapped. "Do not even think about it. You're going to just go stand in a corner, mouth still not open, while we open a wormhole to Earth. And after we've waved goodbye, cheerfully mind you, and the gate has shut down you then can go tell Elizabeth or whomever you want what latest catastrophe has struck. Nod if you understand me."
His eyes narrowing, Lorne opened his mouth only to be stopped with a "Not one single solitary word." Shrugging, he obeyed. He didn't say anything. He simply shook out the material that had been wadded in his hand and held it up for display. It was part of a uniform…Dr. Z's uniform. There it hung in all its forlorn and lost glory.
It was his pants.
"Dr. Zelenka has married?" Elizabeth asked in disbelief from her seat in the briefing room.
Major Lorne glanced at his watch. "Probably by now. Supposedly they had to wait until the moons were aligned properly." He averted his eyes away from the expedition leader and mumbled almost bashfully. "Something about ensuring virility."
"I'm assuming that's why you have his pants and he doesn't," John offered with a grimace.
"When I started back for the gate he was being led away to some sort of ceremony… one that evidently didn't require clothing. Again, having to do with virility."
Elizabeth's eyes widened slightly as she sat up straighter. With a groan I let my head sink into my hands, repeating my silent mantra of 'this is not happening, this is not happening, this is not happening…'
"I see a big potential in trade for Viagra with these people," John provided dryly.
Elizabeth shot him a disapproving look then addressed Lorne. "And this Chief…Agala, is it?" At Lorne's nod, she continued. "He is the one that ordered this whole marriage?"
"She, ma'am; the Chief is a woman."
At Elizabeth's surprised question, the fifth person in the conference room spoke up. Dr. Franzier was the buxom new anthropologist who had arrived on the Daedalus last month, and had quickly gained the nickname Dr. Brassier among some of the more depraved members of the science staff. I'll give you one guess who that would be, and the fact that his khaki pants were currently balled up in the middle of the conference table should be a dead give away.
"Dr. Weir, if I may. The natives of M2X-569 are a matriarchal society, reserving the higher social and political stations in their culture for women. Although men are trained as warriors, they are never elevated beyond the rank of a common foot soldier. Only women are allowed to serve in what we would consider an equivalent position to an officer. As best we can glean from the limited access we have had with them, only highly honored men are even allowed to own property. If Chief Agala is marrying Dr. Zelenka to one of her children, then she is considering this a great tribute."
"What else do we know about these people, Doctor?" Elizabeth inquired.
"They are primarily hunter/gathers, with minor agrarian skills. They do participate in limited trading with those that have come through the stargate, although they themselves do not travel through the gate. They live in a remote jungle area, near a dormant volcano and worship an Ancient device as a religious relic, which is why we notified Dr. McKay about the planet in the first place."
And why I had in turn sent Zelenka to check it out as I was supposed to be on my way to Earth and a much needed and sought after vacation with John. Almost two weeks of just the two of us together before we had to head back on the Daedalus. That thought alone was almost sweet enough to put me in a sugar coma. But now? Towering volcanoes, restless natives, angry gods, and Radek stripped of his clothing. It was like an episode of Gilligan's Island had been transmitted through the wormhole and made real by some fluke of quantum mechanics. This is not happening, this is not happening, this is not happening…
"A not so dormant volcano," Lorne corrected the woman with a raised finger.
The anthropologist blinked in surprise. "We were told that the volcano hasn't erupted is hundreds of years, possibly thousands. The geologists didn't even pick up any tremors on their sensors in the immediate vicinity."
"Yeah, well evidently that changed when I touched the device," the Major admitted sheepishly.
At that revelation I raised my head with interest. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Are you suggesting that the device is somehow controlling the volcano?"
Lorne shrugged. "All I know is that I activated the device, Dr. Zelenka started babbling about energy fluctuations and field spikes, and a few minutes later the ground was shaking and steam was venting from the side of the mountain."
I looked with wide-eyed amazement at Lorne then to John. "And you say I should never touch things," he countered smugly.
"Do you understand the amount of energy that would be involved in controlling something as monumentally powerful and ultimately destructive as an active volcano? The pressure modulations, the temperature regulations, not to mention the toxic gases that would have to be somehow scrubbed…"
"So I take it the answer to your energy question is a lot."
I shook my head in disbelief. "Colonel, we are talking global tectonic processes here, million-square-mile pieces of that planet's continental plates moving against each other. Establishing a wormhole to Earth would equate to powering a toaster oven compared to the energy requirements for controlling something like this."
John considered for a second. "So like I said, a lot."
With an impatient roll of my eyes I turned back to Lorne. "So you turned the device off and the earthquakes started pretty much immediately?"
Lorne shook his head. "I didn't turn it off, I turned it on."
"But that makes absolutely no sense," I told him shortly. "Why would the Ancients create a device to make a volcano erupt? All the other devices we have seen have been to protect the local inhabitants, not endanger them. There is no way that you could have turned it on."
He shrugged. "Blue glow, little tickly feeling in the back of my head. Seemed on to me."
I leaned back in my seat with crossed arms and a murmured, "Hmmm," and tried to work through the puzzle in my head.
"Hmmm?" John regarded me skeptically. "Self proclaimed Big Brain on Campus and all you have to say is 'Hmmm'?"
"Well until I can actually see this device and what it's doing, I can't really do more than speculate."
"Major," Elizabeth cut in, "are the villagers in danger from an eruption at this time?"
"See, that's just it. When the rumblings started, they were ready to skewer me with their spears. Claimed I had angered their gods by touching the relic. But then Dr. Zelenka took the device from me and it deactivated and the earthquakes stopped immediately. And that's when things really started getting weird."
"How do you mean?" Weir asked.
"Well, one minute I was being held at spear point, the next minute Agala is taking beads off her neck and putting them around Dr. Zelenka's, calling for a feast to be prepared, for the High Priestess to prepare a marriage ceremony, and someone to find her kids so that Dr. Zelenka could pick which one he wanted to marry."
Franzier blinked in surprise. "She was going to let him pick who he was going marry? That's amazing. Bestowing that kind of honor, they must think he's the equivalent of a god."
"Beloved of the Gods, is what she kept calling him. Evidently she thinks he stopped the earthquakes by intervening with the gods on their behalf."
I shook my head in disbelief at John. "Only Radek. I swear to God, we go off world and we get cloned, attacked by killer frogs, eaten by plant life, captured by paramilitary groups, and shot by Ancient defense systems. Not to mention the Wraith, juvenile and adult, that have taken a very personal interest in us. But Radek? He goes through the gate and marries into royalty. I swear this just goes to prove that the universe has a personal vendetta against me… some galactic mass balance equation that is intent on destroying my genius because we are evidently too efficient at destroying the idiots that it keeps spewing forth to keep the scales from tipping too far in our favor."
John snorted sarcastically, "Yeah, that has to be it." He turned back to Lorne. "So I take it now that he's family, the locals want Zelenka to stay close to home."
"That's the impression I got. I left Teyla and Dex behind to keep an eye on things, just in case, so I could come back for reinforcements. That is if you agree, Sir."
John pushed back in his seat and sat straighter. "Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm kind of fond of Dr. Z and I for one think karaoke night just wouldn't be the same without him. Dr. Weir, I recommend we execute a rescue mission to bring him home."
Elizabeth placed clasped hands on the table. "I agree that we need to get him back, Colonel. However, I think we should try diplomacy before we descend on them with a detachment of marines."
"They're a warrior tribe; they won't give him up without a fight," Dr. Franzier interjected. "However, I agree with Dr. Weir in that we don't need to send in a large number of military personnel. This is their religion we're talking about. From everything I've gathered from Major Lorne's briefing, they don't mean Dr. Zelenka any harm. On the contrary, it sounds like he's being revered by these people. I would hate to risk an armed confrontation over something like this."
"Fine," John conceded, "I'll take a small group and we'll try to talk him out first. If that doesn't work we'll try to stealth him out. Force will be our last option."
"Perhaps you should take Dr. Franzier with you," Elizabeth suggested. "Maybe she would be able to negotiate Dr. Zelenka's release."
John shook his head. "Negative. I want only military personnel on this mission. If it turns ugly, we'll already have Zelenka to look out for. If I've only got a small contingent, we won't have the resources to baby-sit civilians." He turned with a small smile to Franzier. "No offense, Doctor."
Franzier frowned but said nothing. Elizabeth sighed with a nod of her head. "Very well, Colonel. Who will you be taking?"
John seemed to consider for a moment then rattled off a half dozen or so names, none of which included my own.
"And, of course, I will be going," I supplied.
"Did you up and enlist when I wasn't looking, McKay?" John scowled at me. "I said no civilians."
"Yes, I know, but I'm overruling you."
"Overruling me? You can't overrule me. This is a military operation."
"On a planet that has a potential power source that could make a ZedPM look like a calculator battery. As head of science, it is my responsibility and obligation to investigate this."
"Investigate it later; after we get Zelenka out."
"And what if you do have to use force? Do you think they are just going to let us stroll back in and check out their little religious icon after you and your goon squad have whittled their numbers down with P-90 spray? No, this may be the only chance we have and I'm not letting this opportunity pass."
"What about your trip? Tomorrow morning at nine a.m. you're supposed to be addressing the Theoretical Society of Astrophysical whatever."
"The Society of Theoretical Astrophysics and Cosmology. The science is theoretical, John, not the organization. Although every time we walk through that damn gate it's proven as fact. But can I say anything about it in the presence of my peers, my Nobel committee sitting peers? Noooooo."
"Rodney, focus," he told me briskly.
With a final disgruntled mumble about classification and nondisclosure statements I continued my argument. "Besides, it's not my trip, it's our trip."
He sighed. "As soon as we get Radek back, I will come and meet you."
The fumes from his over the top aftershave that I had trashed the week we started sleeping together really had caused permanent brain damage if he thought I was stepping through that gate back to Earth and at least a three week trip back to Atlantis without him firmly in tow. With my luck he would kiss me goodbye, turn to walk away from the gate, trip and break his neck. And there I would be stuck on the far side of the universe with no way to get back to him.
"Hmmm, let me think about that absolutely idiotic suggestion for a minute. Uh… No."
"Goddamnit, McKay, you do not have a say…"
I disregarded his petty attempt at trying to pull rank on me. As if he could. It would be sad really if it wasn't so endearing at the same time. "Elizabeth, if you would be so kind as to contact the SGC and see if Colonel Carter could present my papers for me, I would really appreciate it. She did the peer review for me and at least she will be able to answer any questions with more than a blank stare and a line of drool running down her chin."
"Rodney, we are not done discussing this," John gritted between his teeth.
"Discussing? When were we ever discussing it? You were yelling, I was ignoring, and now we're through. So, chop chop. You've got marines to wrangle, and I've got power sources to study and keep the scientific community in general in the dark about. Besides, I really can't wait to see the bride Radek chose for himself. Probably makes Franzier here look like she has the figure of a thirteen year old boy in comparison." The anthropologist glared and I added a hasty, "No offense."
Elizabeth frowned as well and I braced for her dressing down about my sexist remark… or the fact that I didn't make the same comparison about her. Before she could speak, Major Lorne snorted. "Funny you should use that analogy, Dr. McKay." At the bewildered looks we were giving him, the Major continued. "Ends up, Chief Agala only has sons."
Elizabeth sat back in surprise and Franzier murmured something that sounded like, "Fascinating."
John smirked beside me but I just shrugged. "Well, knowing Radek, he's probably even more excited about that prospect than the alternative."
"Miles. Invariably, it is miles and miles to the nearest village. On every mission, to every possible world. Oh no, we couldn't possibly build the village next to the stargate. That would make things far too easy, and we wouldn't want to do that, now would we?"
The lilting warble of the blue-breasted McKay, it shook the leaves of the highest trees. "Sure, build their homes right by the stargate, that's practically drive thru eating for the Wraith," I snorted. "What could they possibly be thinking?"
"Only of themselves," he grumbled as he trudged over the dried mud of the path. "That's obvious." Shifting his pack full of geek gear, he continued, "We should've brought Dr. Bra…Franzier along. You already have one civilian along. Why not two? She might have some insights into whatever twisted Radek worshipping that is going on. She could also distract the tribe playing Margaret Mead while we got some real work done."
If it didn't have the potential to destroy at least a galaxy, Rodney didn't have much respect for it as a discipline. Anthopology fell squarely in the non-destroying column. "We may have to end up calling for her," I admitted, stepping over a root and putting out a hand as Rodney approached it. Sure enough, as predictable as the rising sun…I snagged his elbow and kept him upright until he got his feet back under him. "I have a feeling what we say isn't going to hold much weight in a matriarchal society." But I already had a plan for that. After all, Teyla was a leader. It wouldn't be that much of a stretch for her to pretend to be ours as well.
"Or we could put the Major in a wig and dress," he suggested snidely as he wiped sweat from his forehead. "Apparently he has the load bearing capacity of a little girl."
"I'm still not carrying your pack, Dr. McKay," Lorne said placidly.
Contemplative blue eyes slid my way. I shook my head and drawled, "I'm not your pack mule, Rodney. My job's keeping you alive, not carrying your shit."
"Love and honor, my ass," he grumbled for my ears only.
I answered in the same low murmur. "Now that I'll do." Giving him a wicked grin, I sauntered on with my eyes on the trees surrounding us. It was a nice planet and we were in a tropical area of it…a little bit of our vacation had come to us. The heat was intense but the breeze was cool and the air was filled with the smell of flowers. Of course where there were flowers…I reached into my pocket, pulled out a small cylinder, and sprayed Rodney liberally with bug spray.
He waved an arm, coughing a little more dramatically than was called for, but didn't complain. He'd learned months ago it didn't do him a damn bit of good and it was better than a needle full of epinephrine. "Are we almost…cough…there yet?"
"If it makes you feel better, then sure. We're almost there." I looked up at the morning sun. It would soon be directly overhead, the days here were eighteen hours long at best. Soon the cool breeze wasn't going to be any relief at all. I was considering stripping off my jacket as I walked when I spotted something in the trees. I was about to point the P-90 up before I grinned. "Hey, McKay, looks like you've got an admirer."
A furry face had poked out of the green and red leaves. It looked kind of like a monkey or a wooly lizard with a heart shaped face and large purple eyes. The color was sure to match the bruise that was going to pop up on Rodney's forehead. "Owww," he howled, hand clapping to his head. "It hit me with…what? What the hell did it hit me with? A coconut? A cannon ball?"
I bent down and picked up the offending object. It was some sort of hard green fruit one-third the size of a walnut. "Yeah, it's huge." I bounced it on my palm. "Cannon ball easily."
"Unsympathetic bastard," he grumbled and took another step only to be hit again, this time in the back. "Son of a bitch!" Another one took him in the shoulder. Holding arms protectively over his head, he snapped, "Damn it! Shoot it already, would you?"
"You're a regular Frances of Assisi, aren't you?" I grinned. "It's just a…well, whatever it is, it's little and furry. I don't shoot little furry things. I haven't shot Dr. Z yet, have I?"
"If you had, we wouldn't be in this mess now," Rodney growled and took off running when another hard fruit nailed him. I followed at a trot, contemplating how a lizard-monkey managed to push Rodney into more cardiovascular exercise than I ever had. Well, the running kind anyway. Boom chicky boom.
The McKay critic followed us all the way to the village, squealing and tossing nuts and fruit as fast as it could, which was pretty damn fast. When we pounded into the clearing of mudbrick huts, Rodney was red-faced and sweating and more than ready to promptly dive behind Dex, who I had to admit at eight foot whatever was good cover. "Talk to it," I heard him demand. "With your hair and fashion sense, it's bound to recognize a not-so-distant cousin." The nut that hit Dex directly between the eyes seemed to contradict Rodney's theory.
"Ah, Colonel. We have been waiting for you."
I turned to Teyla as I blotted moisture from my forehead. "Yeah, sorry we missed the wedding. How's the honeymoon going?"
Her lips curved in the faintest of the smiles. "I am not quite sure. Dr. Zelenka will not come down to participate in that tradition." She nodded towards the center of the village. There was an elaborately carved wooden pole about twenty-five feet high and eight feet in diameter. There were faces and trees and mountain ranges…anything you could imagine. And a feathered, beaded Dr. Z was perched at the top, cradled in the open mouth of a giant lizard-monkey head and from the sounds drifting down he was sleeping the sleep of the innocent.
"So," I asked, bemused, "where did it all go wrong?"
"I am not sure," she frowned. "He seemed unalarmed at the prospect of the marriage and was quite ebullient at the celebration. But when he retired to the matrimonial hut, he reappeared within moments running. His…ah…betrothed followed. After a few circuits of the village, Dr. Zelenka began climbing."
"Seeking the high ground, huh?" I continued to look up at the sleeping scientist, hands on my hips. "And you have no idea why he went from willing to take one for the team to running for his life?"
She looked to one side, momentarily biting her bottom lip. "There may have been mention of anatomic incompatibility. But Dr. Zelenka was speaking so quickly that I cannot be sure."
"Yeah, I can see how that would be a deal breaker," I drawled. "How'd the tribe take it? And where are they anyway?" Because here seemed like a perfect opportunity to make a break for it.
"Most are conferring with their gods at the volcano. They could not have been too outraged however or one would have climbed up after Dr. Zelenka. In fact, the chief seemed quite amused. Apparently the shy and virtuous are prized here."
"Virtuous? Oh please do tell me you're not talking about that oversexed Czech." Rodney joined us as Dex charged into the forest swearing vengeance on a certain nut-throwing native. He looked up, following my gaze. "Radek!" he bellowed immediately. "Stop lying down on the job and get down here this instant."
There was a flailing of arms, cursing, and a few feathers drifted down our way. Batting them away, Rodney sighed, "By the time he climbs down I'll have it figured out anyway. Where is the device?"
I put a hand on his arm. "Wait. I want to hear where the rest of the tribe is. You said most were at the volcano?"
She raised an eyebrow and tilted her head towards the jungle. At that moment twenty men and women materialized out of the foliage. Almost nude, they were painted in stripes of green and red from head to toe with dark hair pulled back in tight braids. More importantly they were armed. Some with bows, some with spears and some with primitive swords.
"Wow," I murmured. "They're good." I hadn't heard a single sound or caught a glimpse of even a one of them.
"The best I have ever seen."
"And they have sharp things," Rodney scowled. "I'm not a fan of the sharp things. There's the whole bleeding issue, not to mention massive infection should we survive losing most or all of our blood." He looked upward again. "This is all your fault, you moonshine loving piece of…." I slapped my hand over his mouth to cut him off.
"Beloved of the gods, remember?" I whispered.
The Beloved of the Gods chose that moment to make his entrance. Climbing down the pole like a clumsy monkey, he fell the last five feet. He squawked, more feathers flew, and all in all it was a particularly disturbing image that the farmer in the dell had never sung about. I extended a hand to pull him to his feet. Pushing up his glasses, he walked to stand between us and the warriors. Lifting his arms high, he spit out a feather and announced grandly, "These under my protection. Respect them as you respect me."
Immediately red and green bodies prostrated themselves before him. Rodney muttered, "I hate him. God, I hate him…the lucky bastard."
"Give him a break, Rodney. You're already worshipped and feared," I grinned. "I worship you and everyone else fears you. Isn't that enough?"
"When you lie down in the dirt and kiss my hallowed feet, then it'll be enough."
"Yeah." I slung an arm over his shoulders as Dr. Z continued to beam at his supplicants. "Never going to happen."
"We are honored," Agala told us from her flower covered throne at the head of the banquet table. Her long grey braid was worn straight down her back, adorned with various brightly colored feathers and a few shells. And although she was obviously one of the oldest women in the tribe, she was still muscular in a highly exposed and wrinkly sort of way that the scant feather and leather straps that passed as clothing in this neck of the woods… er, jungle… could not help but reveal. "The companions of the Zelenkalenalai are most welcome among our people."
As if his given name wasn't bad enough, they had decided to lengthen it even further with what I guessed was some sort of honorific tagged on to the end. The much-loved lenalai himself sat to my right in the highest position at the left hand of the chief. Teyla sat opposite Radek in the second highest position, seeing as she was assumed to be the leader of our own little Atlantean tribe, with John then Ronon sitting beside her. The six marines and Lorne mingled amongst the tribespeople that were also in attendance at the small open aired court.
Teyla nodded her head in acknowledgment. "The honor is all ours. Your hospitality has been beyond measure."
Behind the Chief stood four young men and I could only guess they were the sons that Radek had had his choice of. One, the tallest and broadest of the brood, kept looking forlornly at the engineer, and I assumed that he was the paramour that Radek had shunned the night before. Anatomic incompatibilities. I snorted. Now that was an understatement. The young man, probably in his early twenties, had at least an inch or so on Ronon and hands that could squash one of those hard little nuts I had been pelted with into paste. It didn't take too much conjecture to come to the conclusion that the greedy little Czech's eyes were bigger than his stomach... and a few other things… that would never be mentioned by me. In fact, I quickly came to the conclusion that I was sorry I ever even thought of those things in the first place.
I leaned toward Radek and whispered with a glance toward the dejected youth. "So, what happened? Bite off more than you could chew, shall we say?"
He took on an almost pouty expression. "He had nicest smile."
"Yeah, nicest smile and biggest loin cloth." I shook my head in disbelief. "I knew it was just a matter of time before your kid-in-the-candy-store ways came back to bite you in the ass... among other things."
"He also came with most sheep," Radek defended.
"Sheep? There were sheep involved as well? What the hell sort of depraved sickos are we dealing with here?"
"He is youngest son, came with biggest dowry."
"Dowry, huh? Is that what the kids are calling it these days?"
"It is great honor to have fifty sheep. I am extremely wealthy man here. Besides, they are very cute. No fur, completely hairless."
I smiled in mock excitement. "I'm so happy for you, Radek. You managed to improve your station in life while simultaneously finding hours upon hours of conversational material for you and Carson. But at any time, even once, during the past two days did it dawn on you that you are not here to start a harem of bald sheep and hot, largely 'endowered' young men? That instead of marrying into Zulu nobility you are supposed to be, oh I don't know, doing your fucking job?"
"I was doing fucking job," he hissed at me.
"Just to clarify, fucking in this context is being used as an expletive, not part of the job description." And that ruffled a few of his feathers, literally as well as figuratively.
Radek started to rise from his seat. Just as he was opening his mouth to speak, Teyla cleared her throat and narrowed her eyes at the two of us, tilting her head meaningfully toward Agala. With a huff, both Radek and I sat back with crossed arms, but remained silent.
Agala waved an arm and addressed Teyla. "You have many beautiful men among your tribe." Her eyes lingered on John before moving on to Dex. "Are you sure you would not like to trade?"
Teyla gave her a demure smile and bowed her head. "You honor me with such an offer, however, I am sorry but I cannot stand to part with any of them."
"Even the blue one?" The chief hitched her chin in my direction. "He does not seem like he would be able to do much heavy work," she assessed.
John snorted and I kicked him hard under the table. Ronon grinned and said, "She's got you pegged, McKay." I thought of kicking him too, but quickly decided against it considering I hadn't seen hide nor hair of that armed and dangerous demon monkey since the warrior had pursued it into the jungle.
Teyla shot us all disapproving looks. "That may be true," she told Agala while glaring in my direction, daring me to contradict her, "but he serves in other ways."
I ignored her glower, instead picking up my drink, sniffing experimentally, then glancing quickly at John. He nodded subtly, indicating that the beverage appeared to be citrus free and I took a sip of the fermented fruit cocktail. I waited as John kept a wary eye on me, didn't feel any immediate allergic reaction, then took another drink.
"I'm sure he does," Agala agreed knowingly. "It has been my experience that the weak ones are often the best for activities that require a soft hand and a hard appendage."
I choked on my beverage, spewing liquid across the table and onto Dex whose menacing gaze moved from the red droplets on his leather shirt to me and back again. Radek hammered my back in a flurry of feathers in an attempt to get me to draw breath again. All I managed to do was suck in a downy plume and choke once again. John simply leaned back in his seat with a lopsided grin. "Maybe Dex was right, Rodney. She does have you pegged."
My coughing was slowing and I lifted my cup for another sip to try to wash down the feather that had become lodged in my throat. Teyla addressed Agala once again. "Actually, he serves me as a man of science."
"Ah! Like the Zelenkalenalai." She turned to Radek excitedly. "He is one of your followers then?"
At her question, the coughing started again with renewed gusto. Through tearing eyes I heard John call, "For God's sake, McKay, drink it, don't inhale it."
She had to be kidding. A follower? Me? The Dr. Rodney McKay? The same Dr. Rodney McKay who had graduated with honors even after telling the Dean of Science that if he were smart he would ditch the entire chemistry staff and start again with an erector set and chimp DNA? That Dr. Rodney McKay? And she thought I was a goddamn disciple of a Bohemian John Holmes wanna-be?
"Yes, one of my pupils," Radek clucked in disappointment. "Not one of my better ones, unfortunately, but is hard to compare to glory of Zelenkalenalai."
I pushed back from the table, red faced, oxygen deprived, and downright homicidal. And as soon as I managed to dislodge the goddamn piece of plumage from my windpipe, I planned to kick him in his overused and uncontrolled lenalai. I staggered back and turned, bent at the middle, and with hands on knees managed to finally hack up the feather like a cat with a hairball.
I felt one of John's hands on my back, the other squeezing gently on the back of my neck. He placed himself between me and Agala and murmured quietly in my ear. "Let it go, Rodney. You so much as raise your voice to Zelenka and the people here will skewer you like a shish kabob."
I sucked in a breath and whispered harshly. "Then do your job and keep me alive while I stuff that goddamn chicken suit he is wearing down his miserable throat."
The hand at my neck squeezed a little harder. "I am doing my job and the best way to keep you alive is to keep you from going after Dr. Z when he is surrounded by his adoring public."
"Why the hell does he get an adoring public? I want an adoring public. I deserve an adoring public, goddammit." I drew in another breath and shook my head. "You know what, screw it, leave him. Leave him here with his colossal lover and even more colossal ego and his herd of nude sheep. I'm sure they will all live happily ever after in some bizarre porn version of Grimm's Fairytales. Rumpelforeskin or the Horny Little Tailor, with an entirely indecent and anatomically impossible meaning to 'seven in one blow'."
He snorted near my ear. "No can do, Rodney. We have to bring him home."
"If we leave now, we can still make a red-eye flight to New York," I tried to reason.
"What about your volcano-controlling power source? You know you can't resist a good power source."
"Dammit," I snapped, "It is not fair that you know all my fucking weaknesses."
The hand on my back moved in a minute circle. "Yeah, I know all those, too."
I took a deep breath, stood and squared my jaw. With a small nod to John I made my way back and sat stiffly beside Radek. Between the gritted teeth of a plastered smile I asked him, "So tell me, oh wise one, where is this miraculous device you used to commune with the gods?"
At my question the tribespeople began muttering nervously and some a little angrily. Back in his seat beside Teyla, John's hand dropped casually to the nine millimeter on his thigh and Dex's did the same to his gun. With all eyes locked on me, there was little I could do beyond clenching my linked hands even tighter.
Radek laughed nervously as he waggled a scolding finger in my face. "Ah, Rodney, always such impatient student you are. We would not wish to risk angering gods yet again."
I ground my teeth until my molars ached. "But I didn't come all this way to not see the device."
Radek looked anxiously between me and Agala who was sitting stone faced and watching the byplay. "Does not matter how far you have come. Major Lorne accidentally angered gods and only by my intervention did they not destroy village and everyone in it."
"But Major Lorne is not a man of science like me; a man of science who very much wants to see this power source… so that I can pay proper tribute to the gods." I added quickly. "Surely as your… student," I choked the word out, "I can't offend the gods."
Radek looked to Agala who sat studying us for a few seconds more, then nodded her head in decision. "The blue one's words make sense. You may see the relic." She grinned slyly at Radek. "Perhaps the Zelenkalenalai will be moved by the gods to consummate his marriage after communicating with them again." She turned and patted the arm of her youngest son. "Kilala spent many hours today at the temple beseeching them to allow just such an honor."
Radek's fake smile rivaled my own. "Yes, well, we shall see. I do only as gods command."
Agala frowned slightly. "Of course. It will happen eventually, I am sure. The gods could not find disfavor in such an offering, even if he is just a man. Would you not agree that he is a fine specimen, Teyla?"
"Ah, yes, very fine. You should be very proud."
"It would be inappropriate for me to offer him as trade seeing as he has been chosen by the Zelenkalenalai, but perhaps one of his brothers. For the thin one here and one of the young ones in the back." She pointed a finger at John who raised a concerned eyebrow and then she waved a hand in general at the marines.
"It is more than a fair offer," Teyla told her.
John's eyes widened in alarm. "Hey!" And I have to admit that mine did the same.
"But, as I have said before, I cannot part with any of them."
With a resigned sigh, the chieftain leaned back in her throne. "Very well. But the offer is still open if you change your mind."
"Thank you, I will consider it further," Teyla promised earnestly. "I admit there are times when they can be very trying on my patience."
"It is the way of men," Agala dismissed. "But what are we women to do? They are too pretty to cast out into the wild." She smiled dotingly on her son then shook her head. "Bah! I have become too soft hearted in my old age."
I raised a finger, thinking then would be a good time to broach the subject of the device. "Ah, you didn't forget about the relic did you?"
Agala frowned at Teyla. "You spoil this one. He is much too forward. A good lashing would serve him well."
"What happened to being soft hearted in your old age?" I weakly asked the group in general.
Teyla fixed me with a glare once again. "I will take that under advisement and give it serious consideration."
I rolled my eyes and thanked the powers that be that we didn't live in a matriarchal society, because if Teyla were truly in charge there would be no living with her. But then she always did come through in the end, just like now.
"However, if you would be so kind as to let him see the relic, I would greatly appreciate it. He is so like a child when it comes to these things, he will be unbearable if he does not see it."
"Very well, bring it forth."
A relay of calls went up the mountain to a small wooden temple that sat halfway up the steep path. In answer to the summons, two figures could be seen working their way carefully toward the settlement. As they moved closer, I could see that the figures were two women of the priesthood and they were carrying the device on an ornately carved wooden tray. With a primitive genuflexion, they placed it in the center of the table. All the locals except Agala followed suite and prostrated themselves before the device.
It was smaller than I had thought; little more than a metallic cube a little larger than my fist with inlaid swirls and loops on the sides and iridescent blue Ancient scripts overlying the patterns.
"There's text, Radek. Why didn't you tell me there was text?" I demanded.
"Text?" he asked questioningly as he pushed up his glasses. "There is no text."
At my request he leaned forward from across the table and studied the cube. "Yep, it's there."
She shook her head. "I do not see the text of which you speak."
"It's the gene," I stated excitedly. "Only people with the ATA gene can see it." I looked up and found Major Lorne and called him over. He worked his way through the crowd, carefully stepping around the bodies still flattened in worship on the ground. "Why didn't you tell Dr. Zelenka there was Ancient script on the device?"
He blinked at me in surprise. "I thought he knew. I mean its right there, plain as day."
I shook my head in disbelief before ignoring him completely and turning back to the device. I read the text on each side. "Raise temperature, lower temperature, raise pressure, lower pressure, raise moisture, … well I assume lower moisture is on the bottom. It sure seems to have the basic components to control a volcano." I frowned in thought and spoke to Lorne. "Maybe you tweaked something when you triggered it. Did you think anything when you activated it?"
"Nothing like, 'boy it sure is hot here' or 'the pressure of this job is really getting to me'?"
"No, just 'on'," he insisted.
This didn't make any sense and I hated when things didn't make any sense. I should be able to figure these things out. I wasn't the goddamn student, after all. I was the Answer Man. And the Answer Man had answers. "Well, there must be something more, I mean just picking it up and turning it on shouldn't cause a volcanic eruption." He had to have done something more. Think, McKay, think. Then something else struck me. "And just were the hell is it pulling power?" Unconsciously I reached out and picked it up. "Something this small can't have a self contained power source."
Agala gasped and the heads of the worshipping natives rose in unison. John reached out a hand across the table and pulled the device from mine. "Rodney, put it down. Now."
"But I didn't activate it," I insisted, pulling it back out of his grasp, even as the unit glowed blue in my palm.
I'm not sure who said it but it could have been said in chorus by the entire Atlantean contingent. A dull roar grew behind us and the ground started shaking violently. Radek tumbled to the dirt beside me and I tried to steady myself with one hand against the table. Other hands were on me then, so were spears and crude swords. John jumped on the table, deciding to take the shortest distance between our two points, although with the earthquake continuing, he was staggering toward me in anything but a straight line. Ronon picked up a chair and swung it at one of the natives approaching him even as Teyla tried to reason with Agala.
John reached a hand for me as I was pulled backward and slammed to the ground, the force of the impact knocking the air from my lungs. I noted absently that the device hit as hard as I did and tumbled under the table. Spears were pushing into my chest, pricking through the fabric of my shirt and then I looked up and saw John pulling one native off of me, then a second, only to receive an elbow to the face from a third. The tremor finally subsided and Radek was pushing himself into the circle as well, holding the device in his hands.
"Here, here, is okay, is okay now," he was saying.
But it wasn't okay, wasn't okay at all, because even though Radek was holding the device. It still glowed a faint blue.
I've said it before and I imagine I'll probably be saying it the rest of my hopefully long, definitely geek-challenged life.
Rodney can piss off anyone.
Anytime. Anywhere. For any reason you could possibly imagine in an infinitely wide universe. Under the right circumstances, even Gandhi and Mother Teresa would've jumped his ass. Double-teaming him, Gandhi would get him in a headlock while Mother Teresa kicked him in the ribs. And you wouldn't be able to blame them one bit. Rodney was the social equivalent of Fat Man and Little Boy. He came, he destroyed, and then immediately after, he expected a place in history for his trouble. That was Rodney.
It didn't stop me from trying to get between him and several spears. It didn't make me hesitate for a second. Yeah, he was a diplomatic crisis on two legs, but he was my diplomatic crisis and I liked him the way he was. No spear holes. No blood. That's how I got an elbow to the face—trying to keep those things from happening. Luckily at the same moment, Dr. Z managed to fix things...almost.
"Here, here, is okay, is okay now," he said frantically, holding up the Ancient device for all to see. And unfortunately all could see…the damn thing was still glowing. Not as brightly, mind you, and the volcano had leveled off to a low simmer in the distance, but obviously things hadn't quite returned to status quo. That tends not to work out so hot when the local natives worship said status quo. And that was how we ended up in the hut of torture and despair.
The despair was all mine, and Rodney was providing the torture.
"It's not my fault," he insisted for what I knew…knew had to be the tenth time.
"Uh huh," I mumbled skeptically as I pulled the wadded cloth away from my nose only to see the drip drip of red in the dust at my feet. Sighing, I put the handful of ripped T-shirt back up to my nose. That native had slung a mean elbow. If we could get him back to Earth, there was a place for him in the NHL, guaranteed.
"I didn't think anything at it. Nothing. I swear it." He paced the confines of the small hut, hands waving in outrage. "I mean, you didn't think anything, right? And Lorne didn't think anything. And if I didn't think anything and the two of you didn't think anything, then this shouldn't have happened."
"Yeah, yeah, tell it to Gozer." I was sitting on the floor and I leaned back against the mud wall as he prowled like a tiger with a PhD and an aversion to sun and physical labor.
He brightened. "Do you know I built a proton pack my senior year of high school? Not a completely accurate model, but a working one. The FBI and I were on first name basis by then. Agent Hyland actually came to my graduation. Nice guy."
I rolled eyes in his direction and gave him a jaundiced look over the hand held to my nose. "That's heartwarming, McKay, really. Thanks for sharing. Maybe Elizabeth can send him an invitation to your memorial service after Agala and her crew chop us up into monkey chow. Won't that be just peachy?"
He stopped the frantic back and forth and studied me. "Huh. I'm surprised you can be that caustic with what little brains you possess dripping out of your nose." Moving over, he sat down beside me, shoulder to shoulder, and said gently, "Let me see."
"It's a busted nose, Rodney," I said ruefully. "There's nothing to see. Nothing pretty anyway."
"Let me be the judge of that since Carson's not here," he said with exasperation. "Although ironically enough he's probably off judging as well…livestock. Blue ribbon. I'm sure he'll be devastated he missed Radek's flock."
With resignation in the face of stubbornness to the tenth power, I let him pull the cloth away. He took a long look, grimaced, and released my hand. "I'm not usually a fan of the raccoon look, but on you it's not so bad," he said while summoning a reassuring quirk of his lips.
"I guess Chief Agala won't be as quick to want to buy me now that I'm not quite so 'purty'," I snorted then winced as the air struggled through swollen tissues. "Ow."
"I think the Cursed of the Gods thing might be more of a deterrent, but what do I know?" He lightly rubbed knuckles across my chin and added solemnly, "You're still dripping. Here. Give it to me." He tugged at the cloth demandingly when I tightened my grip on it. "For God's sake, if you're afraid of a little pressure, it'll never stop. Let go before the part of your brain that contains your mathematical skills comes oozing out, plops to the ground, and then scuttles off looking for a better home. Not to mention the oversized lump that contains your sex drive. We both need that."
He tugged again and I loosened my grip. "That would be the hypothalamus, right?" I asked dryly.
"Shut up. Now is not the time to make me horny with your perverse flashes of intelligence." He folded the cloth and with infinite care held it to my nose. It wasn't bad, not bad at all…until he increased the weight of his hand and the pinch of his fingers until my eyes watered. "And no whining," he added immediately. "Bleeding to death via your nose is not what anyone wants on their tombstone. So…how do you always put it when I'm in excruciating pain? Ah, yes…be a man."
Never mind that the last excruciating agony he was in had been the toe-stubbing incident of last week. I only hoped it stayed that way. I touched a finger to his shirt and slid it neatly through the spear-rip. Underneath, by a full-fledged miracle, was smooth, untouched skin. "From now on, the vest stays on," I ordered nasally under the muffling layer of cloth and hand. "Every minute of every mission, your goddamn vest stays on. You eat with it, you sleep with it, if you wake up in the middle of the night, you piss with it. Got it?"
"You say it like it was my fault," he grumbled, "which I thought I had made very clear it was not. If the Ancients program a volcano-affecting device with a hair trigger, that's their idiocy…not mine."
How do you tell someone you love that he's as unsocialized as a crotch sniffing, rug peeing, hand biting half-grown puppy? And that, volcano affecting devices aside, sooner or later the Pegasus galaxy would host a Just Say No to Rodney McKay program, fifty steps because no way twelve was getting the job done. How do you tell someone that?
I tilted my head until it rested against his. "Totally not your fault," I agreed firmly.
We both dozed a little after my nosebleed stopped. There wasn't much else to do. The hut was guarded five ways to Sunday. We could've made a break for it as they tried to shove us in. The marines, Teyla, Dex…they could've done some serious damage with their weapons. Very nearly wiped out the whole village. But wasn't that what we were trying to avoid in the first place? Not to mention the fact there would've been casualties on our side. And from the looks of these natives, it would've been quite a few. Not acceptable. We still had a chance at diplomacy. Teyla was as skilled as anyone I'd ever seen at it. And she had the hopefully still beloved of the gods Dr. Z on her side. Between the two of them, I thought they might be able to talk Agala around. We just had to give them an opportunity.
"You know it's nice having a pillow, but I really wish you had kept your mouth shut."
The murmur woke me from my light sleep as I slumped against the wall and I blinked at the faint gray light streaming through the occasional crack in the wall. "Bitch, bitch, bitch," I mumbled, fingers automatically carding through light brown hair. Head in my lap, Rodney rolled from his side to his back and looked up at me in the gloom.
"It's cold, that's weird," he murmured to himself thickly as he yawned. To me, he asked, "This martyr complex…were you born with it? Are you issued one in the Air Force? How does it work?"
A martyr? That was a little overly dramatic. They'd wanted to pin the whole pissed off volcano thing on Rodney for breaking the Ancient doo-dad, and granted, they weren't entirely wrong there. But bottom line: my command, my responsibility. If they wanted someone to take the fall for what had happened, it wasn't going to be Rodney. And as they'd seen me touch the Ancient device after Rodney had, it wasn't hard to convince them that it was a definite possibility that I was the one responsible. But why choose between the two of us, Agala had figured. Certainly not without giving it some thought anyway.
Which is why we were both stuck in here.
I moved my hand to smooth the wispy strands that stood up over his forehead and touched a light finger to a faint smear of monkey induced bruise. "I got it in a box of Crackerjacks," I said with a small grin.
"You're such a liar," he snorted. Then he reached up to rest a hand on the back of my neck and pull me down. For a moment I forgot about cranky natives, an even crankier volcano, and a Dr. Z who'd been molting in all the wrong places. Instead I concentrated on the warmth of lips, the silk of tongue, the kneading of fingers against the nape of my neck. Rodney had amazingly clever fingers. He could rewire a jumper, build a bomb, and reduce me to a boneless mass all with the most subtle of touches.
It was the best way to begin a morning, the only way…and if it hadn't been interrupted by a mass of highly annoyed natives with spears, I'd have been happy to continue the entire morning that way.
Instead we spent it suspended over a volcano.
I had been a man in motion all day. A veritable human yo-yo from the moment they had dragged us out of the hut and forced us into a wooden cage. Up the mountain, down into the volcano, up out of the volcano, down the mountain and back up again. A perpetual motion machine made flesh and blood. Only now I wasn't moving, and it wasn't by choice, that was for damn sure. I should enjoy it, part of my brain rationalized, not having to torture my thighs and calves by playing mountain goat and making that trek once again. But that was just the shock talking, settling in as comfortably as I had settled into John's arms that very morning. And God what I wouldn't give to be doing that right now, so I called his name… again. But it didn't work. I leaned my head back against the tree, licked my suddenly dry lips, cleared my throat, and tried a slightly different tact.
And although my body couldn't move, my mind could and it wandered back to how I had found myself in this predicament in the first place.
"Tell me everything you know about the device, Radek. Every goddamn thing." I addressed the feather covered engineer at my side as we walked the steep trail down the mountain, although my eyes kept wandering back up to where I had just left John as he hung suspended a good five meters up in the air in a wooden cage. "Lorne said something about an energy spike."
"Yes, huge spike in device when he activated it." Radek ran hands rapidly up and down his arm trying to warm chilled skin. There was a big difference between down coats and downy plumage that left a good seventy percent of your body exposed to the elements.
I shook my head even as I wrapped my arms around myself in an attempt to ward off the cold. "See, that doesn't make any sense. The thing is smaller than a ZedPM but generating sufficient power to control a volcano? How in the hell is it doing that?"
Radek corrected me. "Not generating power, using power; pulling it from some other source."
"But what other source? Where is it coming from?"
"Who knows?" Radek shrugged then shivered with a passing breeze. "When Major activated it, huge energy field developed, seemed to come from everywhere. I could not pinpoint it."
"Well, what the hell is up with that?" I asked in frustration. "And what the hell is up with the weather? How can these people live dressed like dominatrixes with a tickle fetish when the weather is like this?"
"Was not cold like this before," he informed me as he tried to control fluttering feathers in a very disturbing Marilyn Monroe-esque manner. "Just started last night."
I stopped in the middle of the path and blinked at him. "You mean last night after the device started glowing and wouldn't stop?"
"Son of bitch," the Czech mumbled in wide-eyed understanding.
With a shake of my head at how we ever missed it, I started walking faster toward the temple just ahead of us, Radek close on my heels. "Pressure, temperature, moisture…"
"Is not controlling volcano…"
"It's controlling the goddamn weather."
We walked past the guards at the door of the temple with barely a glance and headed straight for the small stone altar where the device glowed blue and an additional handful of guards stood watch. Another trembler rocked the mountain side sending us staggering for hand holds. They had been occurring at an increasing frequency throughout the night, each one a little longer and stronger than the last.
"So what is controlling volcano?" Radek asked when the shaking stopped.
"Maybe the volcano is powering the device," I suggested.
He shook his head. "If volcano was active before, then maybe, but it was not. Why would volcano sit dormant then become active again, just because someone turned on weather cube?"
"No clue," I admitted. "Maybe the volcano itself is being controlled by another device then, but whatever it is we better figure it out soon or the thing is going to blow. And seeing as John is dangling at ground zero, I would like to keep that from happening."
"Okay, what do we know?" Radek pushed up his glasses and started pacing in a routine I had become more than familiar with over the years; talking and walking his way through the problem until he stumbled over the answer or talked himself into it. "We know weather was fine and volcano was fine before turned on device."
"We know there was a huge energy flux when the device was originally started," I provided.
"We know device is stuck in 'on' position. Major Lorne tried to turn it off last night but did not work."
I stood with arms crossed in thought, absently chewing on my thumbnail as I stared at the object of our scrutiny before me. We were missing something. Damnit, it should be right there. And where was the power source? To control a volcano, the supply would be huge. To control a volcano and the weather, the supply would be astronomical, unless….
I snapped my fingers. "It's not an 'and' it's an 'or'."
"There is another device, there has to be. And the power supply, wherever it is coming from, isn't strong enough to power both devices. So if you turn one on…" I gestured toward the faintly glowing cube before us.
"It turns other off," Radek finished for me.
"So, we find the other device, turn it back on and the eruptions stop," I rationalized. "Simple, piece of cake. Don't suppose you happened to have noticed it sitting around anywhere have you?"
Radek raised a finger in thought. "If theory is true, then maybe if we turn weather cube off, the volcano device may turn back on." He grimaced as he acknowledged, "That is assuming there is another device controlling volcano."
Another tremor shook the temple and we both toppled to the floor along with the guards, covering our heads as chunks of mud and thatch collapsed from the ceiling. I crawled drunkenly across the floor and pulled myself up at the window to look up the hill. The cage swung violently, but somehow John was still standing inside as the bucking of the earth finally stopped and a huge cloud of steam and gases bellowed from the crater.
As much as I wanted to find the other device, it was obvious we didn't have time. The next quake could just as easily be accompanied by an explosion of lava and a collapsing caldera. This needed to end and it needed to end now.
I walked the short distance over to the device and picked it up before any of the guards had regained their feet. "Only one way to find out," I told Radek as I drew back my arm and slammed the cube with as much force as possible into the stone slab of the altar, intent on smashing the device into a million tiny pieces.
The cube bounced once, twice, and came to rest as Radek and the guards gasped in shock behind me. But I didn't care; in fact I barely noticed the uproar. Because my attention was fully, completely, and utterly occupied by the Ancient block… the Ancient block that still glowed a mocking blue.
"You mother fucking piece of shit."
I reached down to pick up the focus of my anger, planning to try to destroy it once again. Behind me I heard the clatter of weapons, realizing a little too late that trying to destroy the object of thousands of years of religious devotion in front of several avid devotees may not have been the best decision I had ever made in my life. However, that thought quickly left my mind as the sky darkened ominously and the winds threw open the door and whipped through the small building.
Okay, I thought as I held the cube in my hand, this is bad. Thunder cracked as a bolt of lightening peeled across the sky, close enough that the hair on my arms prickled and I could smell the ozone. Then the ground shook again, rolling like a wave and tossing us like so much flotsam and jetsam. Okay, I thought again as the back and one side wall of the temple crumbled away before my eyes, this is worse.
I turned my attention to Radek who was yelling to be heard over the wind that was lashing the loose debris violently around the small building. He was pointing up the mountain, up to where John hung in a cage. Only he wasn't hanging any longer. The pole that had been supporting the enclosure had snapped and the cage along with its lone occupant had crashed to the ground.
"Goddamnit!" I scrambled to my feet, only to be knocked down as the floor swelled beneath me. I laid there for a few seconds more until the ground finally stopped shaking then clambered up once again and headed up the hill at a dead run, the device still in my hand.
"John!" I called as soon as the mangled prison was in sight. I climbed over the pole and another bolt of lighting lit the sky. I stepped among splintered wood littering the ground as I once again called his name. The wind changed directions, blowing in from the volcano so that the gases caused my eyes to tear and I wiped at them even as I searched frantically through the wreckage.
Nothing but broken beams, shards of wood, and a piece of chain that was still securely fastened to the busted door. But then I looked a little closer and did see something else… blood. A drop in the dirt, a smeared handprint on a piece of framing, bright red and wet and obviously coming out of John. He was injured… injured and gone, two of my least favorite traits when it came to the man, and combined they were even worse. The guards were gone as well, and honestly I didn't know if that was a good sign or not.
I stood and turned in a circle, scanning the area through eyes squinted against wind blown dust and caustic gases. "JOHN!"
Down the hill, people were running and feathers were flying, a flurry of activity that included both native and Atlanteans. It was like some apocalyptic version of Chicken Little, only this time the sky literally was going to fall, as well as a big chunk of the mountain if I couldn't get this device to turn off. I placed it on the broken pole, picked up a large piece of wood and slammed it down with as much force as I could muster, then I hit it a second and third time until my improvised club broke in two. I shook my head at the cerulean that still radiated from the block. The one time I wanted to obliterate an Ancient device and the thing was a fucking Timex.
How the hell was I ever going to destroy this? And just where the hell was John? And just what the hell was I going to do to avoid the band of locals making their way angrily up the trail and toward me?
The ground rumbled again and I grabbed the device off the post and held on for dear life. A high pitched whistle, like a tea kettle left unattended for way too long, shrieked through the air then ended abruptly in conjunction with a thick, wet, gurgling sound. About two hundred meters away red molten lava bubbled up through a newly open fissure.
Oh, fuck me, this was bad.
The river of fire moved slowly down the mountain side hell bent on destroying everything in its path. I had no doubt that the village and any villagers that happened to get in its way would meet the same fate as the trees that were bursting into flames at its touch. I hefted the device in my hand, considering if the same level of destruction would apply to a piece of shit Ancient device that refused to turn off. With a shrug I decided that it really couldn't get much worse than impending doom. So why not give it a try?
I staggered through the wreckage of the cage and crude pulley system that had swung us up and out over the volcano, working my way toward the fissure and the super heated magma spewing out. The temperature was intense, stopping me from getting any closer than about ten meters back. But from this distance I could hear the sizzle of moisture being boiled out of the ground and the crack and pop of black crusts cooling on the surface of the lava only to be broken up and carried along by the motion of the underlying flow.
Well, no time like the present I decided. I hitched my arm and threw the device toward the lava flow. If there was one thing that I could do, it was throw crap. Just ask John. And with all the accuracy that I had honed pelting him with his morning wakeup call, the device landed squarely on the top of the flow. For a few seconds it sat there balanced on one of the blackened pieces of crust, riding it like a passenger on a raft, but then the piece tipped with the weight of the device and it slowly sunk into the lava.
Okay, now what?
I waited, trying to determine if my plan had worked and the volcano had shut down once again. The lava still flowed, but the storm seemed to be breaking up as I moved away from the heat and into a stand of large trees, the winds were already dying down and the thunder was nothing but a light rumble in the distance. I took that as a good sign. And I took it as an even better sign that I saw John about thirty meters away, hobbling on what appeared to be an injured leg as he snuck up behind a native with a bow that was aimed right at me.
The arrow flew at the same moment that John swung the stick he was carrying into the back of the archer's head. The red and green striped body crumpled and I was slammed hard into the large tree behind me, color blossoming as I clunked my head on the trunk.
What the hell just hit me?
I started to lean forward, only to realize I couldn't. That's when I noticed the arrow sticking neatly from my left shoulder, the arrow that had me pinned like a feather trimmed pushpin to the tree behind me.
I had seen Ronon shot with an arrow before. The small missile passing through his calf like the ones you used to draw piercing valentines in elementary school. He had simply bent, broke the shaft, pulled out the offending barb and tossed it away. Like it was little more than an annoying splinter. Problem was, I reacted worse to splinters than he did to the damn arrow. And the throbbing pain, along with the pattern of blood radiating outward on my shirt weren't doing much for the brave and noble front I was maintaining, that if I was really honest with myself wasn't so much bravery and nobility as shock and denial.
"John," I called hoarsely, my voice shaking as much as my body was starting to. But he didn't hear, was too busy securing the native down the hill. I tried again but still couldn't get my voice to rise above the panicked constriction that was taking hold.
Okay, if Ronon could do it, I could do it, right? He may have been a warrior of Sateda, but I was a scientist from Canada. Home of rugged manly men… trappers, lumberjacks, Mounties… and genius astrophysicists who were averse to heavy lifting, intense pain, imminent death, and fucking arrows affixing them to trees like a flyer thumb-tacked to a corkboard.
I forced myself to take a deep breath. Okay, Rodney, get a grip. You can do this. Just snap the end and pull away. Snap the end… and pull away. Simple. Easy. So what are you waiting for, McKay? Do it.
I reached a hand up to the shaft, dropped it before I could bring myself to touch it, whimpered to myself as I thought about how long it might take John to find me hidden in the shadows of the trees, reached the hand again, grasped the arrow, and pulled down.
And although I failed to break the arrow, the less than manly man shriek that left me finally succeeded in catching John's attention.
His head popped up immediately and he scanned the hillside. "Rodney?"
"John," I mouthed the word, unable to get sound to actually form as I fought the wave of nausea that passed over me. My knees wobbled and I fought to remain standing because if I thought it hurt now, the thought of it literally holding me up was sure to be unimaginable.
But my scream had been enough to get him limping up the hill in the right general direction. "Rodney!"
Fuck this hurt. It hurt like fucking hell and all I wanted to do was get off this tree, off this volcano and off this fucking planet. "John."
He stopped, listened a second, then entered the small grove I was in. "Rodney!" He turned in an awkward circle. "Where the hell are you?"
I leaned my head back against the tree, licked my suddenly dry lips, cleared my throat, and tried a slightly different tact.
And that was all it took.
In the military, most people remember one thing: the first time someone shoots at them. That's what invariably sticks in their mind. Not me though. With me it was the first gun I fired and the first blood I spilled. I shot and he bled.
I don't remember the name of the village where it happened. I just remembered the bloom of scarlet on his neck, the spray of red that hit me in the face. And I remember for days afterwards that red was the only color I could see.
Shiny, red, and wet…the same color I saw now on Rodney's hand, that color turned to purple on his blue shirt. It soaked the cloth over his shoulder and emphasized the transparent whiteness of his face. He was pinned to a tree by an arrow. Pinned. And all the 'Polo'ing in the world wasn't going to make that image any less stomach churning. Never again without his vest, I'd said. Unfortunately that philosophy couldn't begin until we got his vest back from the natives…along with our guns.
"Are you all right?" he asked the second I reached him. Those were the first words out of his mouth…are you all right? Soaked with blood, dripping with cold sweat, pinned to a goddamn tree and his first thought was of me. Of course his second was more McKay-centric, "It hurts like hell. It is not a splinter—I don't give a shit what Dex says, and I'm going to scream like a little girl when you pull it out."
I concentrated on the last first. Resting a hand on his neck, I leaned my forehead against his and offered lightly to conceal my concern, "Actually you'll scream like five little girls, but who's counting?" Straightening, I ran my thumb along the line of his jaw. The skin was worryingly cold and clammy. "Besides, I won't be pulling it out. I'll be pulling you off. And not in that happy, fun way either unfortunately."
His hand fisted in my shirt. "I don't suppose we could call for Carson? He could numb me up from…oh say, my eyebrows down." He swallowed heavily, his breath hot and quick against my face. "That's not too much to ask for, is it?"
In a perfect world, no. In our world we didn't even have the option of taking our time. Behind me came the angry roar of human voices over the thundering volcano. Was it my imagination or was it thundering just a little less? I glanced quickly over my shoulder. Ah, shit. Here they came…the entire goddamn village from the looks of it. "Here's hoping you have to be virginal to get tossed into the volcano," I grimaced as I turned back to Rodney. "Okay," I added, briskly over the hard knot in my stomach, "let's get this over with. You ready?"
He opened his mouth just as I snapped off the feathered end of the arrow then grabbed both of his shoulders to yank him forward and off of the quarrel. His mouth continued to move soundlessly as his knees sagged. I caught him under his arms and managed to keep him upright as he finally recovered his voice. "You…you…no, I'm not ready. You're supposed to wait after asking that, you sadisticson of a…oh. Oh…that hurt. You know…really sort of…ow." That's when his legs gave out entirely. Shock, and I could imagine how getting nailed to a tree with a prop out of a Robin Hood movie might do that. Unfortunately, we didn't have time for it.
"Come on, Rodney." I tried to heave him back up as the knee I'd wrenched in my fall faltered and threatened to crumple under our combined weight. "We have to get out of here. Now."
"Out of here," he repeated in a mumble, his head falling until his chin hit his chest. Then he shook his head hard, icy drops of moisture flying from his face. The glassy blue eyes focused and he was back. "I stole their God-relic and heaved it into the lava. Am I correct in guessing they're pissed?"
"Yeah, you're correct," I confirmed. "And, by the way, what the fuck? You tossed it into the volcano? You were supposed to fix it. How is melting it fixing it?" I had us moving through the trees, Rodney's legs becoming more steady with every step. He was tougher than he thought, my geek. A helluva lot tougher. "That's like me kicking my laptop when it's on the fritz, which I never heard the end of, thanks so much."
"Yes, well, I had a screwdriver and Radek's feathered skirt to work with. Forgive me if I had to resort to less traditional methods," he snapped as he slung his good arm over my shoulders and tried for more speed.
"MacGyver could've built us a jumper out of those," I pointed out. "We could be divebombing the natives now in air-conditioned comfort if he were here, but I know you did the best you could do." I gave him a consoling pat on the back as we vaulted a small fallen tree.
"Are you trying to finish me off by annoying me into an early grave or distract me from the pain?" he pushed out between gritted teeth. "Because you're failing miserably at the latter and doing a bang up job at the former." Then his eyes flickered. "Wait, there was blood on the cage…when I came looking for you. What happened? Where are you hurt?"
Jesus. Between the two of us, where weren't we hurt? I looked back over my shoulder again. Nothing. No sign of our pursuers, but they were out there. I didn't have a doubt. "Nothing to worry about. I wrenched my knee when the cage fell. As for the blood…." I snorted. "I hit my nose again. How's that for a heroic wound…the second nosebleed in two days. I'll bet Rambo never declared that on his health insurance."
"Considering Rambo could use your scrawny frame as a toothpick, I don't think you need to worry about that." His head lifted and he cocked it to one side, listening. "Listen," he ordered, his hand tightening on my shoulder. "Do you hear it?"
I shook my head after a moment of nothing but chittering lizard-monkeys and the rustle of the underbrush as we moved through it. "I don't hear anything."
"Exactly," he beamed, a trace of color returning to his pale skin.
But before Rodney could explain why that was so amazing, the sky fell on us. A good portion of it anyway. And it was under that heap of Agala's warriors, women and men, that I felt the cold blade of a knife at my throat and the even colder realization there wasn't a damn thing I could do to get us out of this.
Rodney, however, was a different matter.
"I've told you and told you. Even your God himself…herself…themselves…er…whatever. Even they have told you." One hand waved at the top of the volcano that loomed over the trees. The smoke and fumes had almost died completely and the ground was as still as a stone. "See? No more boom boom," he said caustically. "If there's no more boom boom, all is well, right? All is happy in the land. Time for another celebration. Let's eat, drink, and consummate. Oh, and get medical care, preferably not in that order. I mean, that's not to say I don't enjoy consummating, and I do it on a regular basis I'll have you know. Quite regular. In fact…."
Shock, I kept repeating to myself as the trickle of blood ran down my neck from the blade angled under my jaw. It was shock. Rodney was in shock and had no control over his mouth. Never mind he never had any control over it. That thought made up my mind. "Rodney," I hissed. "Shut the fuck up!"
He turned towards me, his eyes widening. "Hey. Hey, what are you doing, you feathered son…daughter of a bitch? Get off of him. I fixed things, okay? I did. Where the hell is Radek…he can tell you."
The female warrior behind me who was easily as tall as Ronon asked, "Shall we kill them both, my Chief?"
"Oh, come on," Rodney protested desperately, starting towards us. No one seemed to think he was a threat with his injured shoulder or because his hands were too soft as Agala had said, who knew which it was? But he was free…no natives or knives at his throat. And maybe if he kept his mouth shut it would stay that way.
"Rodney," I warned with a healthy desperation of my own. "What part of shut the fuck up do you not understand?"
"The part that has me stand here and let you bleed. The part where I know I fixed the damn…."
Agala's voice managed to do what Kolya, the Wraith, Carson, or Elizabeth never had…silence Dr. McKay. He moved over to my side and glared at the warrior who slowly withdrew her blade from my throat.
"I have had enough." Iron gray braid swinging with the emphatic motion, she sliced one knife edge hand through the air. "The Gods do not wish to be pleased, angered, and then placated over and over. I do not wish it either. The world shakes no more and it will shake no more. You will leave our world with your troublesome ways…one way or another."
You had to admire a woman who spoke her mind and threatened your life all in one. "Ah, ma'am," I drawled, trying for the most subservient tone I could manage, "we are more than happy to go. Give us our people and you will never see us again. That's a promise."
Anthracite eyes measured me for a long, long moment before her head shook. "Men. Careless children with careless hands and careless spirits. Why Chief Teyla has not castrated you long ago to curb your curiosity and troublemaking ways I cannot comprehend." She looked up to the now sleeping volcano.
"But," she added grimly, "it is never too late."
"Well," Teyla said into the silence nearly an hour later, "at least it did not come to that."
Rodney gave her a blazing scowl and then focused it on Radek. "Dial the gate, Dr. Zelenka, that is if your feathers aren't blocking your view."
"Do not raise voice to me," Dr. Z huffed. "They loved me. They worshipped me. Then you come along…poof…all goes to shit. Why? Because that is what you do? Yes, you ruin good and fun times for all." He entered the address with annoyed slaps of his hand. "That is your skill. That is your gift…to suck all joy from universe."
Rodney who was resting as heavily on me as I was on him growled and began to lunge. I held him back by a handful of his shirt. "They're still watching, Rodney, from the trees. And you know what happens to puppy dogs that fight," I reminded, holding up two fingers and worked them in a scissors motion. "Snip. Snip."
Casting a hunted look over his shoulder, Rodney decided that discretion was the better part of valor. Leaning back against me, he repeated with a grumble, "There better not be any castration hungry Amazons in Hawaii. That's all I'm saying. Although after Elizabeth hears this story, she may join their ranks."
A split second later the gate opened and we went home. And if my hand happened to rest over my crotch in a protective motion, who could blame me?
"Christ, Carson, what are you using? A set of salad tongs?"
"Actually, it's a pair of rusty needle nose pliers," the physician told me distractedly as he worked, "the kitchen crew was using them to unclog the garbage disposal."
"Oh, well, at least I know it meets your rigorous sanitary standards of wiping off all visible residue on your pant leg."
"Now, Rodney, you know I'm much more stringent than that. Give me a little more light there." That last he directed at the nurse standing behind him. A second dabbed at my shoulder before he returned to probing my injured appendage and addressing me. "It's my labcoat sleeve or nothing."
There was wood in my wound. Not nearly as much as there had been before John had deskewered me, but a few slivers had remained, and now Carson was rooting around in there like a kid going after the prize in a cereal box. Any minute now I planned to see him just give up on the big ass tweezers he was using and instead stick his tongue out the side of his mouth and stick his entire fist in the hole. The hole that went all the way through me. All the fucking way. Now if that wasn't enough to make you want to toss your powerbars, nothing was.
"And what the hell is taking so long? You've been at this for hours. The anesthetic is starting to wear off."
"Twenty minutes, Rodney," he corrected me with aggrieved patience. "It's been twenty minutes, and that's including the time to x-ray you and let the local take effect. Besides, you still have about an hour before the antibiotics in your I.V. are completely administered. You aren't going anywhere until they're done, so you might as well get comfortable and stop complaining."
"Easy for you to say," I grumbled. "You aren't the one having a set of tweezers the size of hedge clippers jammed repeatedly into his shoulder. There is nothing comfortable about that, let me assure you."
"Rodney, you are more comfortably numb than my Uncle Seamus at his fifth daughter's wedding reception. The man was so bladdered that he didn't even blink when the Maid of Honor kneed him in the groin for goosing her behind."
"So I now see where you inherited your winning charm and bedside manner."
"Uncle Seamus is actually quite the charmer, and very spry to boot. He married the Maid of Honor the next year at the age of sixty-eight. Daughter number six arrived not long after that."
"Tell me the Maid of Honor was a Border Leicester ewe, Carson, and you will have confirmed every theory I have had about your ancestry."
"Believe it or not, Rodney, buggering sheep is not the national pastime of Scotland."
"I would never suggest such a thing. I assumed that was something you would save for special occasions like family reunions and passing your medical boards."
"Now, see, I leave the room ten minutes and I miss all the good cultural conversations."
At the sound of his voice, I lifted my head from the bed and saw John standing in the doorway, an ace bandage on his knee and crutches under his arms.
"Crutches?" I demanded. "You're on crutches? How the hell are we supposed to cavort on the goddamn beaches of Hawaii with you on crutches?"
John hobbled over to the bed and sat on the edge beside me. He gave Carson a sideways glance then shook his head at me as he took my hand and whispered reassuringly. "I don't really need them."
"Yes, Colonel, you do," Carson told him pointedly without looking up from his work. "And you will use them until I tell you otherwise. Besides, I hate to break it to you, lads, but you aren't going anywhere near the sand and surf with this shoulder, not until the stitches come out anyway."
"What? No, no, no, Carson, we have plans… airline tickets, rental car reservations, hotel confirmations, even passes for a luau and pineapple plantation tour."
"Rodney, lie still. I can't clean this wound properly with you flailing about."
John squeezed my hand. "Rodney, it's okay."
"No, it's not okay. This is our trip we're talking about. Our trip."
We had never had a honeymoon. Not in the traditional sense. We had planned three days after the ceremony squirreled away in the outskirts of the city, taking nothing but a supply of MREs and pudding cups, a couple of sleeping bags, and a single change of clothes for when we eventually crawled out of our makeshift love nest and back into the real world of Atlantis that we had firmly planned to leave far behind. Three whole days that was cut down to less than two when the water filtration system shut down and two marines and Kavanagh ended up trapped behind a force field that activated as a security precaution to keep potential saboteurs from compromising the city's water supply.
But we had made the most of those two days, both of us knowing in the back of our minds that three days was more than either of us expected to get. So that when Radek had finally programmed the city's computers to track us down and come banging guiltily at the door, we had emerged rumpled and dazed, with perpetual smiles that never left our faces. Even during the seventeen hours it took to get the system up and running and the two grateful young sergeants out from behind the shield and away from the pony-tailed man that John had eventually convinced them was not worth a one-way ticket back to Earth in the brig of the Daedalus.
And if two frantic days could do that, I could only imagine what two tranquil weeks would be like. Day after day with no interruptions beyond room service and our own desire to see the sights, watch the waves, or purchase pay per view. Slow and leisurely, soft and lazy, and the only thing that I would have to do when I woke up in the morning would be warm and willingly wrapped around me in bed. The absolute definition of perfection that was now perfectly screwed by a busted shoulder and a bum knee.
John intertwined his fingers with mine. "Rodney, it will be okay."
"Sure, it's easy to be optimistic when you don't have Bloody Beckett digging for buried treasure in your shoulder."
John smirked. "Does that make Dr. Z his parrot?"
Carson snickered from my other side. "He certainly had beautiful plumage."
"Just like the Norwegian Blue," John offered.
"Oh, don't do that," I warned him. "If he starts quoting Monty Python I'll never get out of here."
"Well Radek was a little down when we came back. Maybe he's pining for the fjords."
Carson chuckled at John's comment and I glowered. "You are not helping."
John just grinned and shook my hand in his. "And just what would you like me to do?"
"Make yourself useful. Create a distraction."
"I thought that's what I was doing."
"Not for Carson, he's the one inflicting the pain."
"That's a matter of opinion," Carson muttered, then when I turned to glare at him groused, "Rodney, for the last time stop moving!"
"Then stop trying to snag a nerve ending with those things."
The physician sighed and turned to John. "Colonel, can you not do something? I haven't eaten since breakfast and its nigh on supper time. If I don't finish up here soon and get some food in me, I'll be crankier than Rodney and start looking as scrawny as you."
John flicked his eyebrows and grinned. "Sure, Doc, whatever I can do to help."
He leaned over then and kissed me, his tongue moving against mine slow and leisurely, his breath on my face soft and lazy, and his lips meandering across my own warm and willing. Everything that I had been looking forward to, everything I had ever wanted, everything that I already had. And for the first time all day, I forgot about natives and volcanoes, arrows and injuries, big ass tweezers and smart ass physicians and concentrated totally and completely on John.
"Well, so much for my appetite," Carson mumbled from somewhere far, far away. But I barely heard him, really didn't care and definitely didn't feel it as he finally removed the last shard of wood from my wound and stitched me up.
I reached up my good hand to cup the back of John's neck, sheathing fingers in his hair, just as Carson told me, "There, the wound's clean and sutured. We just need to let the antibiotics work their way into your system and you will be free to go." When neither of us responded, there was an awkward pause before he continued. "Well, then. Thank you, Colonel; you've done a bang up job of… er, occupying Rodney, but we're all done now, so you can stop anytime now…. Anytime at all…. Now would be good."
But neither one of us had any intentions of stopping anytime soon. John's crutches clattered to the floor and he climbed up into the bed and onto me, his mouth never leaving mine as he ran a thumb along my jaw and settled headily and heavily on my chest.
"Oh, bloody hell." Off in the distance I could hear Carson ordering. "Out! Everybody out! Unless you're prepared to be struck blind, I suggest you leave now." Quickly moving footsteps were followed by a final request. "Try not to rip out the I.V. if at allllll the saints preserve us! I'm scarred for life!"
With that final exclamation at the way I wrapped one leg around John, Carson abruptly left the room, and as the door slid shut just as John's tongue slid along my jaw, I decided that maybe he was right.
Everything really was going to be okay after all.
"We could always go somewhere else, I guess."
An hour out of the infirmary and Rodney was moping, something he was exceptionally good at. Like a kid who'd lost his ice cream cone to the neighbor's hungry dog, he was scowling and pulling out the whine long before it had aged. Shuffling back and forth across the floor with his arm in a temporary sling to keep it from pulling at his shoulder, he glared indiscriminately at anything and everything his eye happened to catch. Luckily our desk, chair, and couch weren't too offended by it.
"I hear Niagara Falls is splendid in the midst of winter," he added blackly. "We could freeze our balls off entirely and our honeymoon worries are instantly over."
"To be from Canada, you sure bitch about the cold often enough," I observed from my slouch on the edge of our bed.
"Why do you think I left? Because of my vast and enduring love for a country that finds farting, burping and other bodily functions to be high humor? Hardly."
"I thought it was for the money," I grinned.
"Well, there is that," he admitted, "but the weather was a factor, trust me." He paced some more before finally saying with a more serious and dark edged disappointment, "We were almost there. We were right at the gate. It's like some sort of karmic punishment for a really bad past life, I swear it. It's just not fair."
Okay, enough was enough. When Rodney started using words that he didn't even believe in, drastic steps needed to be taken. I patted the bed beside me. "Sit down, McKay. Don't make my tired ass get up and chase you down either. Sit."
He grumbled but obeyed. "What? I have a right to be upset and you know it. It simply isn't f…."
"Yeah, yeah. Not fair. I got you." I draped an arm over his good shoulder. "Never mind that you once told Kavanagh that if he wanted fair he should put on some clown makeup and start hawking corndogs."
"No. No buts," I said firmly. "I said I'd fix it and I will. I promise. Now, let's go to bed. I'm tired. You're tired. We're both full of painkillers. So let's take advantage of it and take the mother of all naps."
"You and your naps," he snorted disparagingly, but from the strain around his eyes and the lines of discomfort bracketing his mouth, he was more than ready for some rest. "All right, fine. If we can't go to Hawaii in real life, we may as well dream about it." He heaved himself back up to his feet. "Trouble is I'll probably add Wraith in grass skirts doing some sort of bizarre hula that sucks the life out of you. Joy."
I took a handful of the scrub top the nurse had given him and held him in place. "As long as they don't eat my poi, I can deal. Where are you going?"
"To shower and change," he grimaced, looking down at his pants which were pretty liberally covered in dirt. "Turning our bed into a pigsty is actually not top of my list of things to do."
True…we were both less than hygienic at the moment. I followed him to the bathroom as I snagged the desk chair to pull it behind me. When he turned and raised his eyebrows, I dumped it by the sink and pushed him into it.
"Not that I don't enjoy a little variety, John, the spice of life and all that, I'm not sure parts of me are up for this right now," he mused, running a hand over his weary face.
I rolled my eyes. "Why I'm the one labeled the horndog I will never know. One space bimbo notch on the bed post just doesn't compare to what goes on in there." I tapped his head lightly. "And, Dr. Horndog, if I can call you that, you're not supposed to get the shoulder wet, remember? That makes showering difficult." I stripped off his shirt, easing it with exquisite care off of his injured arm. Next I did the same for his pants and boxers, slapping his hip lightly to get him to lift his butt up off the chair so I could pull them down. Following that, I soaked a washcloth with warm water, wrung it out, and soaped it up.
Then I soaped up Rodney.
Starting at his fingertips, I used long, even strokes to clean his arms, circular ones for his chest and back, short and gentle ones for his face and stubborn chin. For his legs I had to bend a little and almost overbalanced when my knee protested, but a water-warmed hand rested on my shoulder to brace me as intent blue eyes held mine. As for the other parts…it seemed Rodney was right about the spice of life and wrong about everything else. And if a wrenched knee won't let you kneel…well…you can always sit.
By the time I got Rodney back to bed, he had a happy, sloppy smile on his face and was practically asleep on his feet. I dressed him in boxers…the last pair to his name…and pulled the covers over him. "Hey," he mumbled, reaching for me, "where going?"
I leaned over and gave him a warm kiss. "I have to get cleaned up too. I'll be right back." Ten minutes later I was, but it was to a physicist sprawled on his stomach and snoring the ceiling down. Grinning to myself, I slid under the sheets, nudged at him until he rolled onto his side and then I spooned up behind him. I wrapped an arm around his waist and kissed the nape of his neck as he slept on. Okay, Hawaii….
How the hell was I going to fix that?
Seven hours later I woke up with an idea. Sliding out of bed without waking Rodney, I dressed and headed for the gate room. Looming over our communications officer…I could loom if I had to, I ordered, "Get me the SGC and have them connect me to the Daedalus, I want to talk to Hermiod."
Two weeks later I was in a familiar position…standing behind Rodney in the lab. "Get your stitches out this morning?" I asked, peering at the laptop screen over his shoulder. As I'd suspected…Minesweeper.
"Please," he snorted. "As if you haven't already elicited a full report from Carson. Yes, Mother, I had them removed and nothing too vital fell out in the process. Now I am free to shower. It's not quite Hawaii, but I try to embrace the joy nonetheless." He sighed and leaned back against me. "Not that I won't miss the spongebaths. I will. I very much will."
"Who says they have to stop?" I grinned against the warm skin of his neck and then planted a kiss there. "So, you packed?"
"Packed?" he straightened and turned. "Packed for what? It's not a good time for jokes about our nonexistent honeymoon, John. I've already had ten of my staff call in sick already these past weeks. Some pathetic whining about my 'horrific, life destroying mood.' Can you believe such ludicrous garbage?"
"Those bastards," I said in a distinctly humoring tone. "And that's okay. I packed for you. We're going through the gate in about twenty minutes. Then we're catching a plane to Hawaii where you can get your new scar in all the sand and surf you want. And now that I can walk without crutches we can do a little hiking in the mountains. Luaus. Room service." I grinned. "But I think we'll skip the volcanoes."
"What in the world are you talking about?" he demanded. "The Daedalus left from Earth, what? Yesterday. We'll have no ride back."
"Actually, no, it didn't. It turns out due to a lucky combination of Colonel Carter's new diagnostic program failing, Carson needing a piece of medical equipment that takes three weeks to order, and Hermiod refusing to work on the Asgard High Holy Holiday, the Daedalus won't be lifting off for another week. I know it's not the two weeks we'd planned on, but…." I shrugged and smiled, "We'll make do."
Rodney's mouth fell open for a moment then snapped shut. "Really? Really? We're going to Haw…wait. There is no Asgard High Holy Holiday, Samantha's diagnostic programs never fail, and Carson tends to whittle his instruments out of Popsicle sticks."
"Is that so?" I snagged his labcoat and started towing him towards the door. I could smell the cool mint and hear the puff puff of Dr. Wallasby headed our way down the hall. "You have friends in high places, Rodney, whether you believe it or not. Now, your replacement is on his way, so let's go grab our bags."
"You really packed for me this time," Rodney said in disbelief. "I thought you said it would spoil me?"
"Hell, you're already pretty damn spoiled," I drawled. "I give up. There's no changing that."
He narrowed his eyes, but let it go. "Did you pack underwear? That damn laundry has eaten every pair of mine. I've had to either wear yours or go commando."
"The laundry?" I pulled him past a white-eyed Wallasby. "You really think the laundry ate your entire underwear collection?" So much for my vaunted plan to teach him to pick up after himself. The man was the most oblivious genius in existence.
"Either that or Kavanagh's been stealing them instead of just drooling over them." He added suspiciously, "Or was that just an incredible piece of bullshit on your part so long ago?"
"It's our honeymoon, McKay. How about more enthusiasm?" I slung an arm over his shoulders. "Dr. Z's babysitting the tribble and we have nothing but a week of paradise to think about."
It seemed to hit him then, to truly register. "We're going," he marveled. "We're honestly going. You did it. You did it!"
"I told you I would," I said simply. "I promised I'd get you what we wanted. Hell, what you deserve."
"I already have both--right here, right now." Those blue eyes, that crooked smile that slowly curved his lips, he wasn't wrong. About us, Rodney was never wrong. "So…twenty minutes? We have twenty whole minutes before we leave?"
In the end it was more like thirty-five, but what the hell? There was no rule we couldn't start our honeymoon here.