PECULIAR THINGS - by NotTasha

PART 3: FINALIZING NEGOTIATIONS

"Elizabeth," McKay cried, sounding like a child being chastised.

Elizabeth met Beverly's harsh expression with a pleasant mask. The man might think he was a strategic negotiator, but so far she'd offered nothing more than they'd already planned to 'give' to these people to help them through their crisis.

The negotiations – in spite of the atmosphere of the room – were well in their favor. If Beverly needed more crops to feed his people, they were more than glad to provide what was needed.

Still, she'd like to have a little more information from McKay before they continued talks. A moment or two in private might be enough to answer some questions. And, in any case, getting out of the confines of the room for a few moments would be a welcome relief. The walls seemed to creep in on her the longer she remained.

She now understood how some people could be claustrophobic.

"We would like to adjourn momentarily," Weir stated as she began to stand. "A short break before we return to the negotiating table." And she threw McKay a meaningful look.

Rodney just scowled at Beverly, his distrust and dislike obvious for anyone to see.

Beverly wasn't impressed. Thickly, he declared, "No. To break the negotiations now would destroy everything we gained." And he glanced between the two, adding, "And a break would give you a chance to deceive me." He pointed a blunt finger at the device as he stood. "You will access the device now, with me watching. You will tell me exactly what you find. And once that is verified, we will complete negotiations and determine a final price."

McKay grumbled, "This is utterly ridiculous. How much does he expect to wring out of us?"

Weir settled back in her seat. "Very well," she said softly. "Minister Beverly, we will come to a final price after we determine the machine's purpose, but the final price will be agreeable to both parties." She spoke the last words a little harshly.

Beverly sucked his teeth. "Agreed," he determined.

Beverly waddled his way around the table and held out the device to McKay, who snatched it away quickly.

In a moment, Rodney had activated the device again and was working his way through the menu. "There's hundreds of files here," McKay muttered. "Perhaps thousands! Ha!" Eagerly, he parsed through the information, smiling widely.

The room was growing lighter, becoming less oppressive as sunlight reached toward the table. The ugly little fire seemed to have finally died out as McKay manipulated the device. Beverly, Weir realized as she stood so near the man, was a man familiar with sweating.

Neither Weir nor Beverly spoke, both of them leaning closer to McKay. Rodney, when he realized this, moved closer to Elizabeth and he continued his work.

His big smile slowly fell. "That's strange," he commented. "Is that right? Hmmm. Okay. Let me try this one." And he activated something on the device.

The gadget squealed and moaned, and a dreary discord was emitted. The sound continued – with an unsteady beat – notes rising and falling in an ugly mess. With a grunt, McKay stopped the noise. "Huh," he mumbled, and accessed another file.

A similar sort racket started – the sort of tune that made Weir's nose curl up as she grimaced. It was the most unpleasant bit of music she'd heard in a long time – not since a boyfriend had tried to sing some Barry Manilow to her – changing the song "Mandy" to "Elizabeth". She cringed at that memory.

The horrific music went on and on. McKay glared at the screen. Beverly stepped back. Elizabeth shrunk away. The cacophony continued.

"Rodney," Weir called softly, and repeated louder as he seemed transfixed by the unnerving and dreadful melody. "Rodney, what is it?"

"Music," Rodney snapped in return. "Horrible, horrible music!" With a grimace, he managed to stop the dirge. "That's repulsive!" he cried. "To think that someone could have done that to... innocent instruments!"

They all exhaled in relief when the noise stopped, and McKay returned to paging through the menu. "I've heard a lot of atrocious music in my time, but this has to be the vilest ever recorded. And this thing is full of the stuff. Unbelievable!" He shook the device for emphasis. "It's packed with only audio files."

"Audio?" Beverly repeated. "It's nothing but music?"

"If you can call it that," Rodney whined. With a look of astonished disgruntlement, the scientist pronounced, "Oh God, it's an Ancient iPod! One that belonged to a total ass."

Beverly's expression fell and his hands dropped to his side. "It's nothing more than a music repository," he muttered unhappily.

Weir sighed as she watched McKay fiddle with the menus. She leaned closer to read along with him. The names of files seemed to attest to McKay's claims as she silently translated the Ancient symbols. The words 'melody', and 'tune' came up often. One file seemed to be titled, 'I Write the Ancient Songs'.

"This is crap. It's utter, useless crap," McKay grumbled, and accessed another file. It started with a thrumming sound that vibrated in her ears. Coming up over that sound was the screech of finger nails on a chalkboard, augmented by the most discordant series of notes she could ever recall hearing. It sounded like someone hitting cats with bamboo wind chimes.

Perhaps, Weir thought, Saugus the Great really was a tool, and this was just his way of demonstrating it – filling up a database with music that was prone to cause seizures.

McKay let it run for a while. Beverly patted his forehead, seeming in obvious discomfort.

Weir, feeling a little ill, finally demanded, "Turn it off!"

"Rodney!" she cried when he didn't comply. Then she looked at the scientist, giving him the skunk eye.

But McKay didn't seem to hear. He had that strange, intense expression that she'd seen before. His eyes darted – looking sharp as a hawk's. His face was taut. She could almost see the wheels spinning as his mind worked.

The sunlight had finally reached them, rectangles of light dipping down to the table. Beverly's perspiration drenched skin shone, and he daubed even harder with his jacket sleeves. The man looked thoroughly uncomfortable.

Elizabeth smiled as Rodney squinted against the glare, but his expression didn't change.

Weir replaced the smile with a weary frown. "As you can see, Minister Beverly," she stated softly, "it has proven to be useless."

"Useless," Beverly repeated softly, all smugness gone from his expression. He looked utterly defeated.

Rodney seemed to jolt out of a dream, and turned off the noise. "Yeah," he muttered, not looking up. "Can't say this is any good to anyone. Come on, who would want to listen to that? Okay, I guess one person wanted to hear it, right? That Saugus guy who recorded all this stuff must have liked it. But he's dead now, probably, well, undoubtedly, so who wants any of this now? I mean, it's just music right? Bad music -- really disgusting music. Nothing more. So…"

"Rodney," Weir warned, her voice sharp.

McKay, surprisingly, shut up.

To Beverly she stated, "We are willing to stick to the deal we struck before Dr. McKay accessed the file."

Beverly's bleak expression lifted a little. "For the tava beans! In the amount agreed to," he confirmed hopefully.

"No scanner though," McKay muttered under his breath, remembering some of the terms Beverly had attempted.

Newton looked uncertain. "And you will freely give us the items we discussed? Even for something that's worth so little?"

Rodney opened his mouth to speak, but Weir cut him off. "I am interested in learning more about the Ancients – including their choice of music." She shrugged. "It's of little use other than as a curiosity."

The minister didn't look ready to trust them.

With a smile, Weir told him, "We will not let your people starve in any case. We are able to provide you with tava beans and help with stopping the disease. We would gladly do so, as an act of friendship. You may give us this device as a small 'thank you' for helping you in this situation."

"But no scanner!" Rodney repeated, wanting to make sure Beverly understood.

Beverly pursed his lips again, and then nodded slowly. "It is agreed," he muttered, his eyes downcast.

The ceremonial 'goodbyes' were uttered next, with McKay ducking out of the 'kissing' part of the ritual. Weir did her best, steeling herself as she continued her role as negotiator.

Beverly seemed to linger a little too long in the embrace. His lips really were rather like worms, Weir decided, as she moved away from him – as quickly as she could.

Finally, Weir and McKay stepped out of the stifling room with the signed declarations in hand, which determined exactly how much tava bean would be delivered and when the the help be offered, and when the device would be offered up as a token of thanks.

It was good to breathe the fresh air, to stand in the light of the evening.

Little was said as Weir and McKay quickly moved through the streets. Elizabeth kept her eye on McKay, wondering.

It was only once they were well outside the city and nearly to the gate that she finally gave in. "Okay," she started, "What is it?"

"What?" McKay responded. "What is what?"

"The device?" Weir responded. "What is it that made you so excited?"

"Excited?" McKay echoed, looking annoyed that she'd been able to see through him so easily, but the irritation quickly fell away as he held out the device. "Listen," he commanded and turned it on again.

The same discordant music played, and Weir wrinkled her brow, feeling her headache returning.

"You hear it?" McKay asked excitedly.

"I hear a lot of noise," Weir responded. "None of it nice."

"Yes, but listen… listen…" He held out one finger, waggling it about like a conductor following the incomprehensible tune. "There… and there…"

Elizabeth paused in her walking to give Rodney an unhappy look. "I can't hear anything in that," she responded. "It doesn't even sound like music."

"Exactly!" McKay responded, his finger suddenly pointing at her.

"It's just a mess of noise."

The finger dropped and McKay looked disappointed. "Listen," he tried again. "Certain combinations of sounds keep repeating. Do you hear that? There it is again."

Elizabeth shrugged. "I suppose that's common in music?" she tried lamely.

McKay groaned, closing his eyes as if let down. "It's not music. This is nothing like music. The repetition doesn't have the mathematical perfection you'd expect in any sort of melody. But it does mimic something… there it is again!" He looked at her as the awful squawking of sounds continued from the device.

Again, frustration clouded his face as Elizabeth failed to understand what he'd heard.

"It's like 'the' or 'of' or 'you' or 'and' or… 'or'," he tried, his face screwing up in a hopeful expression. "It keeps repeating. It must be a common word."

"It's a language?" Weir finally comprehended. She reached out for the device. The database continued to squabble and squall as Rodney let her take it – the awful music seeming to change its tune as she realized its secret.

She smiled, finally hearing what McKay had discerned earlier. Yes… yes… it was obvious to her now. Certain sounds repeated, not with the regularity of music, but rather the persistence of a language.

"Probably a code," McKay told her. "In fact, if someone went to the trouble to create a cipher for Ancient, the content of these messages might prove very interesting once everything's transcribed. Why would someone code it unless it's important. It could be anything."

"Anything," Elizabeth repeated, with a smile.

"Yeah, anything." McKay smiled at that word. "We should hand it over to one of our linguistic specialists." McKay raised his gaze to meet hers, waiting. He looked damned smug.

Weir kept her attention on the recorder. "I'd like a crack at it," she stated, frowning a little even as she said it because she wasn't looking forward to listening to the discord for hours.

McKay nodded as they walked. "I can rig up a computer program if you want. I'm sure it could translate the sounds into a written form, something more… manageable," he offered as they completed their walk to the Gate. He started dialing when they reached the DHD.

"Thanks," Weir stated. "That'd be a big help." The bad music continued and she poked a few buttons, trying to turn it off, smiling a little when she realized that the device continued to function even when it was out of the hands of an ATA carrier.

A peculiar thing -- Rodney wasn't so bad at negotiations, Weir decided. Sure, he was an ass and could have derailed the entire proceedings at any moment, but they'd left the discussions with exactly what they'd come for – offering exactly what they'd already determined to give.

If McKay hadn't been with her, they might never have been able to figure out the significance of the music.

The address completed and the wormhole engaged. McKay activated his IDC.

With a disgusted grimace, McKay reached out for the music player. Taking it from Weir, he quickly shut down the racket, then handed the it back to her. "No telling what sort of peculiar things we'll find once we figure out the code," he told her, tapping it slightly. "There could be any number of surprises."

"Yes," Weir responded, smiling still. "No telling." And they stepped into the event horizon.

THE END

I hope you liked the story. I wanted to create a story where Weir was actually allowed to be a 'good' negotiator. She even is able to flex her linguistic muscles too. I figured she deserved that.

Here is the poem that was used to spark this idea. It doesn't really fit anymore, but at least it got me started.

We Are Standing Facing Each Other - by Margaret Atwood

We are standing facing each other
in an eighteenth century room
with fragile tables and mirrors
in carved frames; the curtains,
red brocade, are drawn

the doors are shut, you aren't talking,
the chandeliers aren't talking, the carpets
also remain silent.
You stay closed, your skin
is buttoned firmly around you,
your mouth is a tin decoration,
you are in the worst possible taste.

You are as fake as the marble trim
around the fireplace, there is nothing
I wouldn't do to be away
from here. I do nothing

because the light changes, the tables
and mirrors radiate from around you,
you step backwards away from me
the length of the room

holding cupped in your hands
behind your back
an offering
a gold word a signal

I need more than
air, blood, it would open
everything
which you won't let me see.