The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.
- Tao Te Ching 36
They hurried down the hall, Rodney babbling about paintings, colored curves and spirals, and things that made no sense to them. Teyla held her unfamiliar weapon ready, having confiscated it from the armed men she had taken down. Some of the weapons retrieved were there own. The other weapons the colonel was familiar enough with to provide a quick demonstration. Carson and John supported Rodney between them as Lorne and his men launched ahead, Teyla and Ronon bringing up the rear.
John kept giving Carson questioning looks over Rodney's babble. "What's he talking about?"
"You've spent more time with him here than me, Colonel," Carson panted.
John winced. "No, not really."
Teyla surveyed the area behind them as they pressed on. She listened to the babble, and something clicked. "Curves, spirals. . ." she joined Sheppard, "the room where I was talking with Premier Anaise. It was decorated as such, only no colors."
John glanced at her. "Strange. Not as boring as the rest of the city?"
"It was very soothing. Perhaps Rodney saw the same." They hurried on, and outside. John made certain Carson had a grip on Rodney and charged to the front of the line as the outer doors became visible.
The building was surrounded.
John skidded to a halt, hearing the others stop behind him. He saw Rodney cringe, supported by Carson, his right arm tucked close to his body. Carson's eyes were wide with disbelief. Ronon looked pissed, and Teyla and Lorne were ready to take them all down. Seeing the two assume an offensive posture made John smile, even though he knew there was no use in it. They stood behind them, and Ronon followed suit. Rodney and Carson stayed back.
Legit Barial stepped forward. At his signal, weapons were raised. Soldiers, workers, scientists, everyone had a weapon. The sunlight reflected off the surfaces and glinted reflections in the buildings. The mirrored sides made the army look like millions.
"I believe you have something that belongs to us," the legit said calmly, and smiled.
"I doubt it," John aimed.
Teyla readied her stance. "There was never an agreement between us. You forfeited any right to negotiate."
"But I have evidence." Barial held up a disk that looked like the one Carson had shown back in the infirmary on Atlantis.
"What you have is an interpretation," she said. "I believe the fact that Dr. McKay is with us and not back in your laboratory shows where his desires lay."
The legit gave a quick smile. "You don't understand. He has what we need, what we require, in order to survive as a society. And if we can use his, we can use others."
It was as much of a threat as was possible to give, without attacking them out right. "No, we don't understand," John said. "Explain yourself."
Legit Barial walked as he talked, almost casually. "Our enhancements have progressed to the level where we can no longer support our needs. There is no more to give."
"Bloody DNA vampires," Carson muttered.
"There are those that are too far gone to continue the appropriate level of production. Therefore they will be used to operate the weapons systems we are creating."
"They are in storage," Teyla said softly. "I saw them." John looked at her, startled, but she never wavered.
"So these people are using their peculiar genetic code to activate and control the weapons, much like the drones and that damned chair," Carson supplied.
"You mentioned a war," John continued. "What war?"
The legit spread his hands. "Why, with everyone! We have our needs. If the visitors will stop coming to us, then we must go to them."
Teyla narrowed her eyes. "That is why you must conduct trade on those screens in such an impersonal manner. No one will come here, will they?"
"Not if they are going to be 'assimilated'. Rodney was right all along." John shook his head and tightened his grip on his weapon. "You really are insane. I was almost ready to feel sorry for you."
The legit smiled. "You don't understand." He took a step forward. "Life is a linear thing. There are no detours, it is just a straight line to the end. That's what we are. We produce. We press forward, ever further and further down that line until we reach the end. And in the end, what is there? Another line. We follow that one until it runs out." He held out his hands. "We have traveled all of the lines, Colonel. What is left for us?"
John was about to open his mouth when a commotion started. The men behind him grabbed Carson and Rodney. A thick arm caught him around the neck, and Ronon was in the same position. Lorne was on the ground, and Teyla was held by a man twice her size. There was no doubt they were fast. He didn't even realize he had lost his weapon until it was gone.
He struggled against the grip. The legit walked up to him, and spoke face to face. "We will take what is ours. We have no choice. Only now, I believe you have volunteered as well." He turned. "As all of you have. Take them."
John growled in anger and struggled as he was forced around. That was when he noticed the second commotion.
A small child was running toward them, yelling that something had happened. Something terrible.
It was the first child John had seen on the planet. That the children were hidden hadn't even occurred to him until then, or that they had regenerated themselves so many times that there were no children left. All had grown, all were proceeding as they had for ages. This child looked too new, and totally out of place.
The legit just stared at the child. The people surrounding them backed away, confused, apparently this thing shouldn't exist. John didn't know what was meant by the message, but the legit looked worried, then puzzled. The people continued to back away, then headed quickly down the street. John and the others were propelled along, and as they came closer to the cause of the commotion, the grips that held them lessened in astonishment. They found themselves between the two large towers that bordered their initial entrance, where they were released. They forced their way to the front.
It looked as though the whole of the city of Atlantis had come through the gate looking for them. A wall of marines stood before the gate, but that wasn't what had the people in a panic. It was the gate itself.
It was different. It was massive.
And it was round.
The people stared at it, muttering in a terrified tone. Rodney pulled away from Carson and stepped forward, feeling something that he couldn't recognize, not until the small child that had run screaming the news of change approached him.
The eyes were scarily familiar. In one small, pink hand he held a painting. Rodney's sea. And in the other hand, he held a red flower.
Rodney swallowed and slowly took both, unable to believe he what he was seeing. He managed an uncertain smile.
And young Joseiah Banneth grinned back.
"What has happened?" Legit Barial whispered. He looked at the child, and stared at the circular stargate, which looked so out of place in amongst the harsh lines, so fluid and natural. Much larger than life. Frightening.
"How?" Rodney whispered to the child. Joseiah just gave an impish shrug.
John walked up to stand shoulder to shoulder with Rodney. "I don't know," he answered, though the question wasn't directed at him. He looked around at the people. The crowd had fallen silent. And as John watched them, he began to notice more of their surroundings.
Everything was covered with paint. Swirls, circles, waves, the colors softened the buildings and cut the glass windows into different angles that cast a rainbow of color over the gate. The people were awestruck. Even the legit had no words.
Carson joined John and Rodney, eyeing the scene around them. "You know something?" he said quietly. "I don't believe they are too far gone after all."
Teyla joined them as well, and caught the eye of a woman she recognized, Premier Anaise Barial, who nodded at her with a smile, and extended her hand, though she stood far away.
Teyla slowly reached out her hand, palm upward. A small rainbow reflected on her palm. She looked at the legit, and walked over to him, then gently took his hand. She upturned it, and extended it until he too was holding the fluid color in his hand. And he tightly curled his hand around it, closing it in, but the light traveled through and stayed on the tops of his fingers.
"You," he muttered softly, "you have ruined us." More hands were extending, mesmerized. They caught the color carefully.
"It wasn't us," Rodney said, just as softly, looking at the rejuvenated Banneth. He handed his painting of the sea to the legit.
Barial blinked, and took it.
John exhaled gently. "Well," he said, "I think they just found the bend in that road."
Rodney couldn't do it again. It pissed him off.
He was standing on a lone balcony. His canvas was boldly white against the backdrop of waves. Hell, maybe he could call it white water rafting in a snowstorm. He cursed and shoved the easel to the floor. "I can't do this." His paints were flung down, still capped. His brush was dry. He felt very much like he was trying to catch the fragment of a dream. The terror of someone walking in and finding him probably didn't help, there was still no way in hell he was ready to own up to the fact that he enjoyed this. Or did. But then they knew he liked to play the piano. Or did. So it would fall to reason that he would pick up another hobby, one he had taken rather strongly to.
Snippets of conversations ran through his busy mind, not allowing the creativity in. He remembered earlier that afternoon with Radek, blasting him like the fool he was, yet wasn't, then tearing out of the lab in irritation only to be stopped by Colonel Sheppard. He winced and rubbed his forehead as he recalled the conversation.
"Colonel." Rodney kept walking, not slowing in his step, forcing John to keep up with him, hoping the encounter would be quick. But the colonel was good at ignoring blatant hints.
"Hey. Hey!" John managed to catch hold of Rodney's arm, pulling him to a frustrated stop. "You feeling okay?"
"I'm fine, colonel. You can let go now." He tried to tug away from the firm grip.
John's eyes narrowed. "You're avoiding me."
"I am not!"
"Oh yes you are." He gave a smug smile, then the hurt showed. "Why?"
"I'm not . . .I just have work to do." Rodney's whole body breathed exasperation, but John didn't care.
"Meaning you're avoiding me!" John wasn't letting Rodney go. "Seriously, what's up?"
"Nothing! I'm busy, for a change."
"Beckett says you missed your checkup."
Rodney snorted. "Yeah, well, I'm sure he's got more important things to do." He tugged away and resumed walking.
John matched his stride. "I think you should go."
"Funny you should phrase it that way, 'cause I think you should butt out!" Rodney slowed, then stopped, lowering his head in a sense of shame. He looked up. "I-I'm sorry. That was . . ."
"That was the increasingly short-temper that Radek warned me about. Not that it isn't your norm, but still."
"What's that supposed to mean? Wait, Radek called you?"
"You think I'm here for my health?"
"That asshole. Sorry for your wasted trip." And Rodney stormed on, in a worse mood, because would it kill the man to just admit he was checking up on a friend?
John followed doggedly. "Look, something's happened."
"A lot happened, colonel. I just want to be left alone."
John took his measure, and nodded. "Fine. You know where I am."
It was as close to an offer to talk as Rodney was willing to accept. "Yeah. Thanks."
He started to go, then turned. "Wait. Colonel."
He was hesitant to say anything. "We were obsessed with their society, blinded by it. Why?"
John paused, and shrugged. "It looked good, on the surface, all professional and shiny and purposeful. Everyone there was so into what they were doing, it was easy to get sucked in."
"But I wasn't doing anything."
"Apparently you were." John cocked his head slightly, wishing he knew what was going on in Rodney's head. "Just not the same thing as us."
"No, I mean, they wouldn't let me do anything! Why?"
"Look, they probably planned this the moment they laid eyes on you." John smiled. "You're the cynic. You're the one that would have figured out what was going on long before there was a danger from it. Of course they kept you from the labs. They knew of all people, you'd fit the pieces together."
"As flattering as that sound, it seems like they know much more about me than I let on. That's very . . .disconcerting."
"I know." John's expression was troubled. "Makes me wonder what they really do know."
"May not matter, now." Rodney's eyes cut to the side, eyeing the corridor wall. He nodded. "See you later."
John raised his chin. "See ya."
The memory faded into white as he stared at the canvas. Of course they both knew there would be a visit at some point during the night, just like Rodney knew deep down that his friend really was just checking up on him, and reluctant to admit it. But for now, he need to work some things out. Rodney's thoughts drifted back to Joseiah as he contemplated his blank canvas.
"Sheppard and I kept going out onto the balcony to watch the weapons explode against the shield." The sky above him darkened once again. "It was the most beautiful and terrifying thing I'd ever seen."
"War is poetic," Joseiah agreed. "But it still leaves people dead."
Was Joseiah dead? Did he really find a way to breathe life back into himself? They were genetic experts. Anything was possible.
War is poetic, he had said. Rodney glanced behind him at the small red flower that sat on the floor in a glass vase. It showed no signs of wilting, even after four days. "Damned hippie," he muttered, and returned his attention to the blank canvas.
He didn't know if the society had gotten the message. He didn't even know what the message was. Make love not war? Rainbows, not bombs? Hey you, watch out for that bend in the road?
His Alice in Wonderland had turned rather quickly into a bad rendition of Jesus Christ Superstar.
His brush was flung down like the paints before it, his temper growing, the irritation mounting at the simple fact that this was a puzzle he would never solve. "What was the point of this?" he yelled out to no one. "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction! Come on, simple physics here!" Joseiah was dead. Wasn't he? The waves crashed below him, offering no answers.
I never actually saw him kill himself. I just heard a gun.
What if it wasn't a gun?
He thought back to his arrival, rather his return, to Atlantis. After his release from the infirmary he had stood on this very balcony and looked up, trying not to get vertigo. The spires of the city shot straight up to the sky in long lines, yet they were graceful lines, each one bending slightly to curve into another until it tapered to a fine point, stretching toward the heavens. It had occurred to him that there was very little on the city that was rigid. The corridors were curved. The spacecraft were curved. The sharp, black lines that shattered plain window glass into a mosaic were tempered by color. He never realized how balanced the station seemed, how soothing it was, even when abused by storms, or weapons fire. The city was dignified, and carried herself well, and it was something he had always taken at face value. He gave his head a firm shake. I'm going soft.
Is that child really . . .
It was too much. Damn Joseiah Banneth and his quest for change. Even Rodney had suffered from it, and he wasn't sure it was for the better.
But one thing was certain. He had to go back, and find out. . .
Some men are afraid of the art they create...
One day. He had to know. He picked up his brush, touched the canvas, took a deep breath, and began to paint.