SEASON: Third Season - or thereabouts
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Weir and Rodney
DISCLAIMERS: The characters, Atlantis, etc, all belong to Sony, MGM, Gecko, Showtime, the Sci-Fi Channel. I own nothing.
NOTE: I'm writing a series of short stories, each featuring McKay and one of the others. If you want to check out the other stories, please see "Stupid Stuff", "Weird Kid", "Strange Doings" and "Odd Hours"
NOTE: Tipper issued a challenge to write a story based on a poem. This is my third response. The poem will appear at the end of the story
PECULIAR THINGS - by NotTasha
PART 1: PRELIMINARY NEGOTIATIONS
The room was too warm, dominated by a squatty fireplace and a table of dark wood. The big piece of furniture filled the room, yet stood on legs almost too delicate to keep it up. The fireplace simmered, nothing but coals remaining. Uncomfortable chairs lazed about -- twenty-or-so of them, loosely surrounding the table.
The walls were draped in fabrics. Here and there a decorative sconce emerged from among the tapestries, displaying empty vases, smooth faced statues, peculiar artifacts, or guttering candles. Along the ceiling, narrow windows let in narrow light, creating rectangles on the walls. The poor illumination seemed to soak into the sooty, grimy ornaments, penetrating the dust of a thousand years.
It was the room of high ceremony, of great thinking. The people of Somer used the space for all their most important negotiations – and by the look of things, few such talks had occurred over the centuries.
The place was like a bell jar, meant to preserve a moment in time – stifling.
Newton Beverley, the High Minister of Somer, sat on one side of the table, his hands laced over his stomach as he leaned into his high-backed chair. His waistcoat stretched tightly over his paunch, puckering the fit. One fat thumb idly stroked an especially worn button. His jacket hung open unattractively.
He was speaking still, droning on about the rich history of the Somer people, its rulers and its beautifully planned future. He spent an inordinate amount of time on his own rich heritage -- son of Lowell, grandson of Lawrence, great grandchild of Lynn – uncles and aunts and other annoyances. He would have gone on and on, but McKay, by that time, had had enough.
"Great! Fine! Nice to know," McKay spat out, pressing his hands against the table. "But honestly, I don't …"
"Minister Beverly," Elizabeth cut off the scientist. She leaned forward as she placed a hand over one of Rodney's fists. She kept her voice even. "We are delighted to hear of your ancestry and of the history of your people, but perhaps we might begin the negotiation?" And she smiled warmly.
Newton looked at her through hooded eyes and uttered a drawn out, "Well." His tongue clicked disappointedly and he went on, "I see that civility is not important among your people."
McKay sputtered a moment, saying, "Oh, I think we've been more than civil. You haven't heard us going on and on, have you? Do you honestly want to know what my father did for a living? Or how 'bout my Aunt – the one who had the taxidermy hobby? Stuffed squirrels and weasels. She put them into amusing positions -- sitting at a picnic table eating lunch, jazzercising, riding a bike, that sort of thing. I think one of Elizabeth's great-great-grandfathers was a gunfighter in some flea-bitten town. Does that matter to you?"
Weir's smile remained pleasant, her eyes meeting Beverley's unimpressed gaze, letting him know that all was well – that they were friends – that a ranting McKay meant nothing. She pressed down on the scientist's hand, hoping he received the message – Shut up!
In all honestly, she would have rather completed the talks without the Candian. He was hardly the right candidate for careful negotiations, but she'd needed his expertise.
"Minister Beverly," Elizabeth said sweetly. "We are happy to hear everything about your people and we welcome the opportunity to learn more."
McKay groaned. She squeezed his hand a little tighter.
"Of course," Beverly responded.
And here, Elizabeth's expression changed slightly, from one of open warmth, to something a little more knowing. Her eyes narrowed slightly, allowing a little humor to reach them, as if they were sharing a secret. "But we're all aware of the reason we are here. Perhaps we could discuss the issue at hand before we return continue with…" She paused a moment, wanting to chose the right words from his endless recitations.
"The entire history of the people of this planet," McKay cut in. "Including their long drawn out imbroglio over tava bean growing rights, the intermarrying escapades of their higher-ups and the lineage of the fishing families of Swampyland?"
"Swampscott," Weir told him, looking toward Beverly with an expression that seemed to say, 'Forgive him. He's just that way.'
Beverly didn't look impressed, and inwardly, Weir sighed, wishing she'd brought one of the other scientists.
"Fine, whatever." Rodney let his hand be held down by Weir, because he had another one that was free to point and flail about. "But I know… and she knows… and even YOU know… we don't care. We came here to discuss the Ancient device."
Beverly slid back a little in his chair.
McKay went on, "You declared its existence, but have hidden it from us so that you could have this little negotiation session. Fine. That's fine. I understand that you're playing a game, but all you've done so far is natter on about things that nobody cares about."
Weir squeezed his hand tight enough to elicit a little cry of pain out of the scientist, and he finally jerked the appendage out of her grip, his gaze full of surprise. He looked betrayed.
"It's not right," Rodney squeaked to her.
"I'll have you know," Minister Beverly exclaimed, "That my family's rich history is intertwined with the subject at hand, and your knowledge of the history is essential."
"It doesn't matter!" Rodney declared obnoxiously.
"We are impressed with the history of your family," Weir tried to soothe.
Rodney rolled his eyes and muttered, "If you just allow me to SEE the device, I'm sure I would be able to glean a lot more out of it than from hearing about how your Uncle Dawes and Aunt Shirley had some sort of fort that pointed the way to a cottage on the hill." He grimaced, wondering if he'd gotten that particular story correct. "I mean, enough already! Let's move on!"
Beverly straightened, and started to stand, his face strained and red.
"Dr. McKay is … blunt," Weir explained. "But perhaps he is correct. It is time to move the discussion on to a new topic – the device."
Beverly turned toward Weir, his expression unimpressed. "Yes," he said slowly as he seated himself again. "The device."
Weir sat forward a little, showing interest. "Yes," she repeated, "The device."
Lorne's team had heard of the object shortly after they'd made contact with the Somers, a people whose technology seemed set somewhere in the 18th century. The major's team had contacted the locals, hearing they were in the middle of a tava bean blight and were in danger of losing their latest crop.
If the crop were to fail, people would starve. Their fishing industry wouldn't be enough to sustain them.
They'd met with a group of farmers near the bridge of Cam to ascertain the extent of their problem. When Parrish brought out a scanner to diagnose the infestation, the farmers came to attention, excited. They'd seen something similar before.
A device, a peculiar thing, in possession of the Minister. Resembling the scanner, the item could easily be held in the hand. It was decorated with strange symbols, with a 'dark, blank square' dominating the upper half. There was a strange disk and some lozenge shaped things below the square that could be depressed into the device. They'd seen the Minister do so – without witnessing any effect.
Everyone knew of its existence. It had been displayed for generations in the Minister's residence. Beverly had taken to carrying it with him, exhibiting it as a token of office.
It appeared to be nearly the same as the scanner, the farmers of Cam declared. And, if it was like the scanner, then the Minister didn't know how to use the device.
The Somers needed tava beans. Perhaps – perhaps the Minister would be willing to trade – the device for the beans.
The Somer were people who understood the use of a good bargaining tool.
Lorne had expressed his interest in such a trade, and someone sent a kid to deliver the message, asking for further information on the gadget. Shortly afterward, the boy had returned with a response, written on parchment. The Minister, curious as to the use of the device and needing to feed his people, had transcribed some of the symbols.
He would meet with the strangers when they provided him with a translation. Unable to make heads or tails of the note, the major had returned the paper to Atlantis for Weir to examine.
The translation had been perplexing. The words were anything from "Power Transformation Tool" to "Belongs to Saugus the Great" depending on how the poorly drawn symbols were interpreted. Either way, Weir wanted to see the thing.
She'd approached McKay with the information, knowing that he would be able to activate the technology – and understand it.
His brow had furrowed at her translation. "Power Transformation?" he'd grumbled. "What's that supposed to mean? There's no record of 'Saugus the Great' in the Ancient database. That device could be anything."
"Yes," Weir had returned. "Anything." She'd put emphasis on the word, letting it imply exactly what it meant.
Rodney considered this, rolling the idea of 'anything' about in his massive brain, and then agreed to go with her.
She didn't tell him that another possible translation was "Saugus the Great is a Tool." She knew the Ancients would have used the slang as they did, but Rodney didn't need to know.
So, after Rodney agreed to behave, they were ready to negotiate for the Power Transformer / Saugus the Tool's thingamajig. The meeting started off nicely enough.
But, after two hours of non-stop oral history, the only thing Weir wanted was to get away from Minister Beverly and the weight of a thousand years in that room. It was hot. The air was stale – the furniture uncomfortable. She wanted out. She'd do just about anything…
"What would you give?" Beverly asked thickly. "To view it."
Weir raised her head at this comment.
"Give?" McKay squawked.
"Certainly you don't expect me to show it to you for nothing," Beverly said smoothly.
Looking annoyed as hell, McKay commented, "What? Before we even see it, you want something out of us?"
Again, Weir spoke up, saying softly, "Of course, you will be receiving something for your troubles." Beverly smiled widely at those words. "We understand that your people need tava bean and some other necessities. We know that a disease has devastated your crops. We may be able to remedying the problem. We are ready to offer our help, but we would like to know what we're bargaining for before we can negotiate for it."
McKay just scowled across the table, folding his now freed arms over his chest.
Above them, a candle hissed and dribbled wax onto the table.
Beverly pursed his fleshy lips once or twice, and then reached into his jacket's deep pocket and pulling out the hand-sized device.
Immediately, McKay sat forward, resting his arms on the table, ready to dive forward to retrieve the device at any moment. Weir sat back a little, to give the Minister room and allowing him to feel as if he had all the freedom in the world.
Protectively, Beverly held the item close to his chest, his hands obscuring the thing as much as possible. "What would you give?" he asked again.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding," McKay groused. He extended one arm and snapped his fingers savagely. "Just let me see it."
The Minister clutched the thing closer. "Not until we have begun the negotiation."
Again, Weir smiled, her eyes meeting Beverly's little round eyes, and she let her expression remain welcoming. "We'd be happy to begin negotiations if we were allowed to fully see…"
"… and access!" McKay put in quickly, raising a finger to augment his interjection.
At the proclamation, Beverly cupped the device closer to his chest, pressing it to his jacket so that it disappeared further from sight.
The room seemed hopelessly still and the heat of the dying fire settled unpleasantly around them.
With a nod toward McKay, Weir spoke quietly, her gaze not drifting from the pinkish eyes of the Minister, "At this point, we would be happy to simply see the device … at close range." A quick glance to McKay and she added, "And, if you do not wish us to touch it, we will agree not to, for now."
Beverly's expression remained impervious. "A tuft of tava," Newton declared.
"What the…" McKay started.
"Agreed," Elizabeth affirmed, and then informed Rodney, "It equals about a 'bushel', I believe, in our system of weights and measurements."
McKay made a disgruntled grunt. Beverly raised his head so that he looked down his nose at Weir. The man had big nostrils, she noted. A bead of sweat ran down his forehead, following a crease in his skin as it ran its way to his chin.
"Agreed," Beverly finally voiced, and slowly, like a cat unspooling from a sunny nook, pulled the device from his chest. The sweat broke free from his face, landing on the heavy cloth of his sleeve.
He held out the device in the palm of his hand. With a snort of disgust, McKay leaned over the table to get a good look at it. The frail-looking table shuddered, and Weir wondered if the Canadian might break it.
"It's too dark in here," Rodney muttered. "I mean, even with all the candles, you can't see a thing. And why did you light a fire in here anyway? It's not as if we need the heat – and it's not helping to illuminate the situation any. It's too hot in here. Does anyone else think it's too hot? Anyone want to crack a window? No?"
Weir, with a sigh, leaned forward. It wasn't as if McKay was wrong about the atmosphere of the room, but Beverly appeared to be ignoring McKay at the moment.
The device was as described – designed to fit in the palm of the hand, with a disk and a few buttons on the front and some sort of display. As Weir fought to make out the Ancient symbols, McKay tipped his head this way and that, trying to figure out the buttons and looking for any other clue regarding what the thing might be for.
"Saugus' Great Works," Weir translated now that she was able to see the symbols for herself. The words made Beverly swell with pride. McKay harrumphed.
After several long moments, Newton appeared to have had enough, and snatched the thing back. "You've seen it," he declared, daubing his forehead with the cuff of his jacket. "Now, what is it worth to you? We will decide on a fee for examining it further."
McKay, still leaning heavily on the table, glared at the man. The table squeaked under his weight. "Oh," he stated. "You can't expect me to have gleaned much from that. Come on! We can't even see it clearly."
"Clear enough to translate the characters," Beverly responded. "You were able to see that it is a creation of the Ancestors. Your people are capable of using such things. It must be worth a great deal to you."
"Who knows!" McKay exclaimed. "And to your people, it's worthless, so why are you holding it back from us?"
"It is an important symbol of the Minister's office," Beverly declared.
McKay's mouth quirked into a smug line. "According to the intel we've received – it isn't. It's just something that sat on the shelf for years until you decided it would be a good thing to carry around with you when you went out to check on your peons."
"Rodney," Weir said sharply. "We must be conscious of their customs and…"
"He's just a show off," McKay responded. "It's his way of letting his people know that he has more cool stuff than they do."
"This is not so!" Beverly exclaimed hotly. "And I will not be spoken to in this manner in my own offices!"
"Minister Beverly," Weir cut in. "We are sorry for any offense." She gave McKay a fixed glare. "Please, let us discuss this matter. If we could activate the device…"
"I need to receive something in exchange," Beverly countered.
"You have no idea what this might be for," McKay declared. "For all we know, this might be the key to destroying the Wraith, this might be what saves every one of us. Who knows, it might even cure whatever's happening to your crops, and yet you insist on getting paid just to let us hold it in our hands?"
"Yes, it may be valuable. Which is why we must receive recompense for you to access it," Beverly continued. He turned from McKay as if the man meant nothing to him and attached his attention on Weir. "We will decide on a fee. If you are capable of activating the device, then we shall continue the negotiation."
"What?" McKay sputtered. "First, we pay you to look at it. Then, you want us to pay again just to hold it? And THEN you let us know how much it's going to cost us to keep it?"
Beverly gave McKay a sidelong glance. "It makes no sense for us to arrive at a price before we truly know what it does. It might take several rounds before we decide on a firm price."
"Oh, you've got to be kidding!" McKay turned to Weir. "Elizabeth, this is ridiculous. He has no idea what…"
"Gentlemen," Weir stated firmly, yet calmly. "I'm certain that we can arrive at an acceptable solution." She hid the grimace that fought to escape as she felt one hell of a headache coming on.
It was going to be a whopper.