Disclaimer: I have no claim whatsoever to these characters. But they kind of own me.
A kind-of-oldie, as I slowly post my oeuvre (or at least the part that doesn't violate the TOS) here.
Many thanks to cross_stitchery, lupus_grise, and earth2skye for comments on an earlier version of this story.
More Than Anything
by Helen W.
Rod's last words were, "Think I should duck?" and then John was blinking from the brilliant flash of the transporter.
"Did it work?" asked Elizabeth. She was hunched over Radek's shoulder looking at his computer screen, and John wondered how much of the data stream she understood.
"No change..." Radek reported, then, "Yes! The particle stream has stopped.
There was scattered applause from around the control room, but it was muted. So he wouldn't have to bust any heads.
"He must have talked very quickly, even for Rod," said Radek.
"Or he's acting as some sort of dam," said Miko.
"In which case, we could have sent a volleyball," said John, wondering why they hadn't thought of trying something inert first.
"No second-guessing," Elizabeth ordered. "Radek, how's the rift?"
"I can't tell for sure," he said, "but if anything, it seems to be repairing itself."
So that was it; it was over. Unless whoever was beaming particles at them had simply paused long enough to mop up whatever of Rod had survived the trip.
John didn't notice Elizabeth had moved until she grabbed his arm. "We did nothing for Aidan, and that was a mistake I don't intend to repeat," she said. "We need - NEED - to hold a memorial service for Rod, and I want you to deliver the eulogy."
"We don't do services for MIAs," he said.
Elizabeth nodded. "But Rod isn't military."
"Why me?" he asked, buying time.
"You've known him since grad school, John. Who else should do it?"
She was still holding him in place; John didn't know whether she was trying to be comforting, or firm, or whether he just looked like he was about to keel over. Probably the latter, because the next thing she said was, "Go to bed, John. We'll let you know if anything happens that Miko can't handle."
Right. Miko had napped for a while earlier, on Rod's command.
Five minutes later, John was at the desk in his quarters, staring at his laptop. Wondering how everything had gone to hell so quickly.
Wondering what the hell he was going to say about Rod that everyone didn't already know.
Just twenty hours ago, they'd been in the lounge watching 'The Princess Bride' - him, Rod, Teyla, and Ronon. His team. The movie's cultural references had been more difficult than usual to explain, in part because Rod had been going all meta on the parallels between Gilder and Florin and various societies they'd encountered in Pegasus. Ronon had been amused, like he usually was by Rod, and Teyla had been insulted, also not entirely unusual. And John's biggest concern at that moment had been that they were going to end up hating one of the best movies ever.
Then, right before the part about the rodents of unusual size, the alert had come over their headsets - they were under attack, be prepared for anything, physicists and command staff to the control room. "Since we're both both," Rod had asked him, "does that mean we have to jog twice as fast?"
On the way, things had been clarified a bit: the 'attack' was a sudden increase in exotic, high-energy particles brushing against, and sometimes passing through, the city's shield. By the time they'd made it to the control room, Radek had determined that the source of the particles was a rip in the fabric of space-time. Which happened to be located in elliptical orbit about the planet. Fifteen more minutes of monitoring had shown that the rip was growing, probably from particles wearing away its edges. A little math (John racing Radek while Rod tried to explain things to Elizabeth) had indicated that, if the rip kept growing at a steady rate, in a week and a half it would intercept the planet. Chew, swallow, keep on going. Worst-case, it could hit subspace, and that would be very, very bad.
It had seemed reasonable to John that, if the universe had a knee that needed a patch, it would be located in their planet's upper atmosphere, and Rod had seemed to agree. Radek, though, had been sure that it had to be related to something they'd done, and by midnight he'd shown that the particles were not unlike what he'd predicted could have been created if they'd gone through with the experiments Rod had proposed on Doranda. Things had gotten a little tense for a bit then, with Elizabeth all-but-accusing Rod of conducting experiments behind her back. But John had known Rod for almost twenty years and - no, just no.
They'd worked all night, trying and failing to find some sort of easy-apply iron-on. Then Elizabeth had walked into the conference room where they'd been brainstorming and, displaying the benefit of at least a few hours' sleep, had said, "If this isn't the Genii, or the Wraith, and if it's not us, it's got to be some other us."
From that little bit of insight, they'd developed the hypothesis that what they were seeing was some sort of Dorandanesque energy production experiment gone horribly wrong. Extra-universal pollution, with them in the role of Ivory Coast.
The good news - and John had shared everyone's enthusiasm when they'd gotten to this part - was that, for the particle-dump to be happening right-now right-here, the folks on the other side of the rip had to be a lot like them. Maybe exactly like them.
Reasonable people, who'd never do something like this without a hell of a lot of safeguards in place. Certainly they'd be monitoring for any cease-and-desist pleas.
So they'd taken a jumper up and beamed a message into the rift. And the particles had kept on coming.
By then he'd been awake for almost a day and a half, and even with the universe unraveling in front of him he'd gotten a little punchy. "Rod," he'd asked, "What do you do if Eddie's in the space-time continuum?"
"You let him out..." and they'd looked at each other and John had said, "Even if they're not listening, they won't miss a note. Or, a - a tape or disk."
"We have no reason to expect they'd understand anything written, and what if they don't run Multics?"
"We could also make something off a Vax VMS system, or something running Tops 20, for backup,"John had argued. "I'm sure something would work." But he'd known at that moment that it would have to be one of them. Him, Rod, or Zelenka or maybe Miko - someone who would be able to explain what was happening, in whatever symbolic system they encountered on the other side. And a human beamed into the rift had a good chance of survival - Rod had figured out how to make the personal shield work for anyone, and the math showed that they'd simply appear in the maw of whatever device was generating the particles. Rod had refused to let Zelenka be considered - "He understands this sort of physics better than anyone, we'll need him here if this fails"- and he wouldn't even discuss sending Miko, so it came down to the two of them.
John had rigged the straws, too late remembering who'd taught him how. Rod had drawn the longer one, waved it in the air, and said, "Give me a half-hour to settle a few things."
"But you won," John had gasped.
"Exactly," Rod had said. Then, more softly, "I'm more expendable than you, John. You can do everything I do until we can get a replacement for me from Earth. Or Elizabeth promotes Radek. But you're the only person in two galaxies who has your intelligence and your field judgment. You've got to stay."
And then Rod was gone.
Who'd have thought, when he'd first been introduced to 'Meredith McKay,' that they'd both end up in another galaxy? They'd been the same age - twenty-two - but Rod had been a PhD student with a couple of years under his belt whereas John had, at that point, only been interested in getting a quicky MS, then going to flight school.
The week John started school Rod had been prepping for his orals, and had barely grunted at him (or anyone else). Then Rod had emerged from his exam with his committee practically bubbly during the post-exam party, all those professors telling Rod's advisor that McKay was a student who made a career.
He'd have to put that into Rod's eulogy.
And John, who up to that point had found flying planes to be the best high there was, had decided then and there that he wanted people - really smart people - to say that sort of thing about him too.
It was the responsibility of an examinee's officemates to organize a pubcrawl post-orals, a job Samantha Carter, their office's other inhabitant, had shoved off on him with a malicious grin. "Have fun with Meredith!" she'd called brightly.
John had decided that he wasn't going drinking with a guy named Meredith, and so the first thing he'd said when they'd met up in the department lobby was, "Do you have a middle name?"
"Rod it is."
Nobody else had shown - half the department was prepping like mad for their orals or written exams or was getting ready to defend, he'd figured, but Rod had seemed surprised and a bit hurt that even Sam hadn't joined them.
"She says you're a sexist pig," he'd had to tell Rod.
"How... why... She's an officer in the Air Force! She wouldn't say that!"
John had never really figured out what had gone on between Sam and Rod before he'd met them; Sam had defended her PhD thesis and graduated shortly after, and she and Rod seemed to have a fine working relationship now. If anything, it was John himself that seemed to bug Sam, when all he was usually trying to do was bring her up to speed in something he was particularly versed in. It wasn't like the woman could be an expert in EVERYTHING.
John had gotten the sense that Rod had kept to himself pre-orals, had been considered sort of arrogant by the other students, but the whole time John had known him Rod had seemed a pretty cool guy. Popular, even. The same guy everyone on Atlantis knew. Yeah, John would tell everyone how, though the Air Force Academy had prepped him pretty well for graduate-level coursework, it was Rod who'd helped him shape his first-year research project, then had convinced him that he should do whatever Sam Carter had done to get permission to go for a PhD instead of the 20-month MS the Air Force expected of him. Probably the biggest decision of John's life, and everyone needed to know the role Rod had had in him making it.
Spending the early 90s in grad school had meant that he'd sat out Desert Storm, something he had mixed feelings about, but Rod had said that someone with John's brain should be considered a national treasure; and besides, there'd be other wars.
And John had, in fact, seen a little action in the 1990s, flying reconnaissance missions over Bosnia, but for the most part his career had been in research and academia, first spending two years at Wright-Pat and then (probably in part due to Rod's influence) landing a faculty position at his Alma Mater.
By the time he'd gotten back to Colorado Springs as an assistant professor of physics, Rod had been with the SGC in Cheyenne Mountain for a couple of years. Rod couldn't, at the time, say anything about his own work, but he'd collaborated with John a little, so they saw quite a bit of each other. Truth be told, it had made John jealous sometimes, how Rod could manage to contribute meaningfully to John's work in his spare time, but Rod never asked for credit of any sort, not even when a co-authorship was clearly justified.
And then John had found out he had 'the' gene...
So as a 36-year-old major, John's first human kill had been his own CO, and he'd had to quickly learn to fight, to command ground forces and keep his people from dying. And if he was a little awkward with the military contingent on Atlantis sometimes, if he chose to hang out with the more cerebral members of the science party - well, who could blame him?
The door indicator sounded, and Teyla's filtered voice spoke in his ear. "John, it's me and Ronon."
"Yeah, we wanted to know if you were still awake," said Ronon, sounding appropriately sheepish.
John doubted that ignoring them would make them go away, so he thought the door open. They both looked a hell of a lot better than he felt, but they'd gotten sleep last night.
Teyla gestured toward his laptop. "You are already working on the talk Dr. Weir has requested?"
John shrugged. "A eulogy. It's part of a memorial service. It's like a funeral. It's something we do for our dead."
Teyla nodded. But, of course, she'd probably attended plenty of them. Yeah, she'd definitely been at Griffin's and Grodin's, the latter with her arm around Rod.
"It bothers you to do such a thing for someone who may still be alive," she said.
"Yeah," said John. "It's like we're giving up. Forgetting about him. Moving on."
"But it also serves the purpose of allowing you to mourn as a people."
"I think this might not be inappropriate in this context," said Teyla. "I would appreciate the opportunity to share stories, as we did about Peter Grodin. My people have very different customs."
"Well, I'm not ready to mourn him yet," said John.
"Is that not what you are doing?"
John scowled. "I'm doing what Elizabeth wants," he said. "I think she feels guilty for accusing Rod of carrying out some of the experiments we considered on Doranda."
"I think Rod would get a kick out of us holding a funeral for him," said Ronon.
"You really think he'd like it?" asked John. Rod and Ronon's relationship had never made a lot of sense to John. Rod sparring with Ronon might have made Rod a touch more hardy in the field, but had been more likely to land Rod in the infirmary than anything.
"Having us all talk about him for an hour? He'd like that more than anything," said Ronon.
Teyla smiled. "He did - or, rather, does - lack the personal reflexive modesty common to your people," she said.
John laughed. "He always said I was the one with the ego."
"Rod is more subtle, but it is a matter of degree, not kind," said Teyla.
"He once told me you were the one person who always sees through him," said John.
"Of course," said Teyla. "We are friends."
"At this thing, would it be okay if I said he was the first phoney person I could ever stand?" asked Ronon.
"Ugh, yeah, sure," said John, wondering if the memorial service wouldn't be more of a roast than anything else. Well, served Rod right. "What do you mean, phoney?"
"You know. Always so nice to everyone," said Ronon. "Like he thinks nobody will like him if he snaps at someone."
"Well, it's hard to be brilliant on Earth," said John. "The folks we brought to Atlantis, we really aren't that representative. He probably had a rough time as a kid."
"I have always assumed you and Rod have similar backgrounds," said Teyla. "Aren't you both doctors of physics?"
"Yeah, but I had a pretty normal life growing up. I was obviously going to go to college, but so was everyone I knew. I didn't even know I had a real knack for physics until I'd been in grad school for a year. Whereas Rod - you know how he makes fun of the Mensa club here? Well, he qualifies for it based on a test he took when he was eleven. Most people from my culture take it when we're sixteen. That's not normal."
"So he overcompensates."
"I guess. Right when I first met him, maybe he was a bit hard to take, or that was his rep at least. But I guess he changed pretty quickly. I never knew him that way."
Teyla smiled. "I wonder why."
John shrugged and rotated his chair to face his laptop - might as well get some of what he'd been thinking about down, and maybe the others would take the hint and leave him be.
Ronon crouched behind him. "Okay, I know I'm just learning your written language, but what does "o forst ,et rpdmeu ,clau' mean?"
Teyla moved to his other side, lifted his hands away by his wrists, and saved the few lines he had down. When had she learned to use a word processor? "Sleep now," she said. "Perhaps tomorrow will bring better surprises than today has."
John doubted it. "I'm okay, guys," he said. "See you in the a.m.?"
A look passed between them - probably they were agreeing it was safe to leave him alone - and they slipped out.
John turned off his computer, thought the lights low, and shifted to sit on his bed.
Rod, where are you? Are you okay? What am I going to tell your kid sister?
Rod, where are you? Are you okay? What am I going to tell your kid sister?
Shit, how are we going to do this without you? If you make it back, I promise to back off on harassing your staff, even when they're idiots. I promise to pay attention when you talk about golf. I won't yell at you the next time to try to play hero in the field.
But more than anything, wherever you are, I hope you find a place where it's okay to be Meredith Rodney McKay.
* * * THE END * * *
All feedback is, as usual, appreciated, here or to helenw at murphnet dot org.