Category: Vignette, Introspective
Disclaimers: Neither Stargate Atlantis nor any of its characters belongs to me.
Summary: Four short vignettes on the same theme. Elizabeth-centric. Minor John/Elizabeth (friendship or more).
Notes: Thank you to Rose Wilde Irish and Pooh for beta-reading and critiquing.
Rodney is the one who discovers the room, but it's Elizabeth who awakens it.
The room is large, perhaps twice the size of the control room and gateroom. When they first enter, it's nearly empty except for long, identical rows that run parallel to the door and a single control panel standing to the right of the entrance. The walls are bare and white, with no windows or decorations.
"What do you think?" Rodney asks the two of them.
Having surveyed the room and concluded that there is nothing overtly dangerous nearby, John says, unimpressed, "It's... a room." Out of habit, his right hand remains (not resting but positioned) on his gun.
"Your observations are, as always, incredibly insightful," Rodney snaps, annoyed by John's lack of enthusiasm.
John ignores Rodney. His gaze is now focused on Elizabeth, who has moved forward.
Elizabeth approaches one of the rows to examine it. The rows are fairly shallow and close to the ground; they look like troughs, filled with a gray-white substance that may be sand - the material feels cool and grainy in her hand. As she lets the sand (or whatever) slip through her fingers, she realizes that the room's set-up is familiar. Her heart leaps slightly, but her rational side quickly reins in her hope. Disappointedly, she notes that without any light sources -
Her thoughts are interrupted by a loud, mechanical sound. All three of them start, and John automatically pulls Elizabeth back several feet. At the sudden burst of sunlight pouring in through the paneled windows, which the bare walls, sliding downwards out of sight, are now revealing, the three instinctively shield their eyes. When the noise has ended and Elizabeth can see again, her sight having adjusted to the previously blinding light, she involuntarily gasps.
"Oh," she breathes.
Next to her, John and Rodney have also inhaled sharply, in surprise, in wonder, but they say nothing. Words are inadequate.
Before their eyes, in an instant, the room has bloomed. Flowers and plants of all shapes, sizes, and colors now fill what Elizabeth had guessed, and now confirms, are flowerbeds. There are vines, bushes, grasses, even small trees. What was only minutes ago sterile and dead is now breathtakingly vibrant and alive. She recognizes some of the flora - tulips, daffodils, orchids - but many are foreign, alien, though remarkably beautiful. She can hear the faint sound of running water, though the source is unknown. Standing here, she feels at ease, tranquil.
Finally finding his voice, Rodney manages to stutter, "But - this isn't possible. There wasn't anything here. Plants can't just appear from out of nowhere!"
"Are they even real?" John says warily, knowing that the Ancients were skilled in lifelike holographs.
Before Elizabeth can help herself, she's lifting an unknown blossom, petals shaped like diamonds, deep red with streaks of blue and tips of green and gold, to her face. She can't place the scent, but it is light, airy, somehow both new and familiar.
"Elizabeth! You shouldn't touch anything," Rodney says belatedly, worriedly. "We don't know if any of these are poisonous-"
"They're not." Elizabeth's voice is firm.
Calmly, Elizabeth says, smiling, "This is a greenhouse, Rodney, a garden for the city's inhabitants, not a laboratory. The Ancients wouldn't put anything dangerous in here."
John and Rodney look unconvinced.
"All the same," John says, "I'd like to have Dr. Brown and the other botanists check this place out."
"I still don't see how this is possible," Rodney says, his scientific mind in revolt. He heads to the control panel as John contacts Major Lorne over the radio. "Even the Ancients couldn't have created plant life that can grow from nothing."
"It wasn't nothing," Elizabeth corrects. Thoughtfully, she says, "The garden was just... sleeping. Waiting for us to bring it out of stasis, I think."
Perhaps the scientists will discover that it is the strange, pale dirt, or something in the hidden water, or a chemical reaction from the sun's rays, or some other Ancient secret that can allow plants to grow instantaneously. However, though she cannot explain the technical aspects of what has just occurred, she believes, knows, that the room must have sensed her thoughts, though she lacks the Ancient gene. The room felt her unspoken desire to see flowers once again, to be surrounded by them, having been for so long without them, and responded.
Winter gardens, her father used to call greenhouses. Proof that life can still exist when everything else seems to have died away; proof of the human ability to endure and survive, to create something beautiful among barrenness.
In this city surrounded by nothing but ocean, a winter of water, Elizabeth looks across the garden and is reminded of springtime.
Elizabeth sits under an umbrella on the sand, watching her subordinates, friends, and colleagues run and play like children. Some are swimming in the water, others tossing a ball or frisbees on land, some examining shells, rocks, and other washed-up items from the ocean. Several, like her, are just relaxing - talking to one another, lying in the sun, allowing themselves to savor their respite. Nearby, a few scientists and soldiers are making an elaborate sand replica of Atlantis.
Outings to the beach occur infrequently - only when there are no missions scheduled, only on days so warm that one can think of nothing but the beach. This particular outing, however, is an annual occurrence.
The past week had been almost unbearable - sticky, hot, humid. Every year at about the same time, intense heat waves strike, relenting only slightly in the evenings, lasting for two weeks before finally breaking. During this time, the control room increases the amount of cool air flowing through the city as much as possible, but it seems that even the Ancients had resigned themselves to the heat. So, for two weeks, everyone suffers. They walk around in short-sleeved shirts and shorts; loose hair is tied or pinned out of the way; everyone carries fans (makeshift, woven, and battery-powered) and cold drinks. Still, she can see heat rolling off bodies in waves.
Of course, it's John who suggested, their first year in Atlantis, going to the beach. The Athosians found the perfect place, not too far from their camp. It didn't take much for Elizabeth to agree, and she authorized several trips over several days, personnel taking turns so that the city was never empty. That first year, she didn't go, though everyone insisted. John in particular tried guilt-tripping her, but there were just too many things to do, and she felt uneasy leaving the city that they had only recently found. The second year, she found an excuse in work again. This year, her military chief apparently decided on a surprise attack, and she was whisked away by his team on the second day without a chance to protest.
Now that she is here, she has to admit it is nice. More than nice, she amends as her feet dig comfortably into the sand. She hasn't been to the beach for a long time; her last trip must have been five years ago, maybe longer. The smell of the sea and sand is strong but not unpleasant; though she can hear the sounds of the waves from any balcony in Atlantis, it's somehow different from her current position. A few birds - ones the scientists say are like Earth seagulls but not exactly - float in the sky among the clouds. The water looks cool and inviting, and she is sure that she won't be able to stay away for long - especially not when it's obvious that John's team is (unnecessarily) plotting ways of getting her to go in.
Sure enough, in fifteen minutes, John is standing in front of her and grabbing her hand. (The direct approach, this time.) He pulls her to her feet and heads toward the water. She doesn't resist, though it occurs to her, fleetingly, that maybe she should offer up a token front. But soon she's shrieking in a most undignified, unleaderlike manner, and everyone only smirks and laughs as she is unmercifully water-attacked by her loyal followers.
For the first time in a while, the problems and worries of her job and life fall to the wayside, and she lets herself enjoy what John later calls her tiny summer vacation.
With her first step onto the planet, the faint sound of crunching causes her to pause. She looks down to see fallen leaves scattered across the ground. The colors, red, yellow, orange, and brown, fill her with a vague nostalgia, of autumns in Virginia and New York. Elizabeth glances around her - as expected, trees the color of the dried leaves line the dirt path.
Gusts of wind lightly sweep leaves into the air; as she watches, wind and leaves dance, then part. A solitary leaf, orange-gold, lands on her shoulder, and she picks it up, gazing at it before letting it drift to the ground.
Closing her eyes, she takes a deep breath, feeling the sharp, crisp air roll through her lungs, and the memories of years past become stronger. She recalls playing with her older brothers in the leaves; remembers walking through her college campus, admiring the hues of the trees as she passed; thinks of afternoons picking apples in her grandparents' orchard.
When Elizabeth opens her eyes, John is standing several feet in front of her, smiling. She knows now why they're wearing scarves, as silly as it sounded when he insisted. (The planet is safe, its people their allies.) She wonders how he guessed her feelings, but as they follow his team to the town, she thinks that maybe he shared that same sense of wistfulness, that same yearning for fall.
At first, Elizabeth is not sure why she's seeing this particular memory, but instantly, she knows that's not true. It's December, after all, at least on Earth, and the emotions that particular month invokes are strong.
It's strange how real this seems, though her younger self, her memory self, can't see her, and neither can the others from her memory. It really does feel like she's standing in the snow, the falling flakes actually landing on her face and her bare hands. Except, though it's cold, feels cold, and she knows she should be freezing because she's only wearing her Atlantis uniform, she isn't bothered by the temperature.
Next to her, John is silent, watching the scene in front of him. He's here, too, thanks to the device that has them temporarily linked. Though he has seen pictures of her from before Atlantis - he found one of her photo albums a year ago, and she ended up showing him much of it - it really isn't the same as watching and hearing her, animated and alive.
From what she read of the Ancient text and from what she is observing right now, she guesses that the machine can extract memories from the users, then convert them into third-person representations, which the users can then "live" and, in limited ways, participate in. She's not sure she feels comfortable with this, and it's questionable why the Ancients would want such a device, but she is relieved that it's John who is with her, not anyone else. It is a personal memory, after all.
This particular memory is from when she was fourteen. She is with her family, bundled up in thick coats, gloves, hats, and scarves against the frigid air, and they're on a hunt for a Christmas tree. She's laughing with her brothers, who are playfully shoving each other, trying to sneak-throw snowballs at one another when their parents aren't watching, getting scolded when they are caught. This is the last Christmas before her eldest brother goes off to college. It's also the last time both her grandparents come down for Christmas; five years later, her grandmother passes away. A few hours after this, they'll return home, the perfect tree found, and they'll sit inside, drink hot chocolate, decorate the tree, play games, and talk. And after everyone's asleep, she'll lay in her bed, staring out the window, watching the snow blanket the neighborhood.
It's one of her happiest memories of wintertime. In Atlantis, they celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, and they even have a tree and other decorations; for the members of the expedition from the southern hemisphere, those holidays feel familiar, natural. But for her, who grew up in white winters, it's not the same, not on their planet that only has one season. And though Atlantis is her home now (she treasures her new memories, considers the people here her family, and would never leave for good willingly), she can't help some of the bittersweet thoughts that come to her.
Like she did when she was a child, she shuts her eyes, feeling flakes fall on her closed lids and lashes, melt in her hair.
"You miss winter?" John asks.
Elizabeth realizes he has been watching her for some time. The figures of her memory have long since departed, leaving only the two of them alone, standing together in the fake real snow. She's not exactly sure how he knows - maybe the link does more than just show him her memories, or maybe it's just because he's her closest friend who understands her like no one else.
"A little bit," she admits.
He gives her an unreadable look. "You know, we can always visit Earth for a few days-" he begins.
She laughs, though it's tinged with some faint regret. "No, it's all right." When his brow furrows, she reassures him, "I'm happy here. Really."
When he suddenly takes her hand, she doesn't say anything, and when the link ends and they awaken in the real world, she can still feel his warmth on her skin.
Two weeks later, she returns to her office after a particularly long meeting and spots a small object sitting on her desk. Curious, she picks it up - it's a snow globe. She shakes it, watching the tiny white flakes scatter and fall on the scene, of two children building a snowman outside their house. It's lovely, sweet, and has John written all over it. She sets it carefully down again and notices the note that was originally lying underneath it. As she reads the small slip of paper, she smiles.
I know it's a poor substitute, but hopefully this helps until you can see the real thing again.
She should have known that he would still worry about her. But what she told him that day was the truth - she is happiest here, on Atlantis, and though she misses the seasons of Earth, the precious moments she has experienced throughout this year (like little pieces of home) have softened the edge of her longing. She feels content.
And maybe next year, she thinks as she folds up the note, she'll take him up on his offer.