Of course, it all started with a disagreement with Rodney.
Such things occurred perhaps once every two hours. Working with Ancient code was, literally, working with the world's worst legacy system, complete with shortcuts no sane person would ever use, and scanty documentation. It left tempers short, when one typing error could cost an entire morning spent scanning, searching for where characters had been transposed, and Rodney's temper had never been particularly long to start with. Neither had Radek's, for that matter, but he liked to think he hid it better.
It had reached the point where no-one else even looked up any more when Radek pointed out an error, and Rodney exploded in an annoyed hiss-and-spit of exhausted exasperation. Radek retired back to his own work, Rodney to sulking. Another hour, and Rodney would implement the improvement he had suggested and things would be back to normal until they butted heads again -- although, for them, the butting heads was part of that normalcy.
It was pure bad luck then, that someone should arrive in that intermittent period with a message for Rodney. He glanced over it, at first with the bare minimum of interest, and then seemed to brighten.
"Zelenka!" And Radek looked up, noting his smirk with some concern. It never boded well, a look like that.
"Yes, McKay," he returned, mildly enough. "Have you decided, then, that I am correct about the forming of an infinite loop if your program is to be run as it is?"
The smirk was quickly replaced by a scowl at that, and Radek couldn't quite resist a slight smile. Needling Rodney was, he was aware, probably very wrong but also very enjoyable.
Unfortunately, it also had a tendency to get him into trouble on occasion. The note was dropped onto his desk. "Issues with E.M. field generator on M7G-677. You're going. Tomorrow."
That he hadn't expected, and he stared a moment, caught off-guard. "Offworld? But I--" Hated going off-world, hated the feeling that every time he left Atlantis he ran the risk of being shot, kidnapped, trapped under rockfall, or otherwise mauled. If he had craved such excitements, he would have become a soldier, but he was a scientist, working a lab which was on the whole a safer place to be. At least, it was other than on the multiple occasions it had almost blown up, but still.
"Offworld?" Rodney mimicked his voice for a moment. "Yes, offworld. You will hardly be able to locate the fault if they dismantle it and bring it here, will you?" He hesitated, perhaps noting the very real dismay on Radek's face before adding grudgingly, "Besides, you needn't worry. Don't be such a baby. It's perfectly safe."
That eased the concern, if only slightly. Even Rodney was unlikely to send him off to be captured or killed just as punishment for correcting him. It was just his little piece of revenge, that was all, sending Radek away when he knew perfectly well that fieldwork was something he much preferred to avoid.
Radek looked it up anyway, just to be certain.
It was indeed, not somewhere he was likely to be captured or killed. However, Radek thought unhappily, it was very close to being as bad.
"Children?" he half-asked, half-demanded, his head popping up again from behind the monitor as soon as he had glanced through the information.
"Yes, children." Rodney's benign smile meant that he was enjoying every moment of it. "Unless they're too scary for you? Little bit scared they'd gnaw your knees off?"
"But children are--" Unbidden, the memory of his sister's son popped into his mind -- small, wild, and terrifyingly uncontrollable. She had said he was perfectly developmentally normal, and yet after a morning when Radek had been watching him, somehow he had become the proud owner of cushions with chocolate smeared into them, a television remote control which bore teeth-marks, and a laptop which refused to turn on and rattled when picked up. And, when she had come to collect her son, his sister had blamed him for not watching the boy properly.
Even dogs were not so much trouble. At least they could be thrown a squeaky toy and left to play while you worked.
"I am not good with them," he said carefully, aware that Rodney was likely to be enjoying every word. "I do not have the knack."
"You don't need to have," Rodney informed him brightly. "As long as you've got the knack of repairing field generators. Unless that's too complicated for you? I could find you some nice easy work here, if you'd prefer."
Radek grimaced at him, knowing better than to agree to that, having seen the same line used on other scientists foolish enough to tell Rodney no. 'Nice easy work' involved two weeks of filling out the paperwork the entire lab avoided because it was so terribly, indescribably tedious. It was not something anybody requested to do twice.
"Children," he lamented again under his breath, slumping back down behind his computer. Tomorrow was not going to be a pleasant day.
It did not help that Rodney took just as much pleasure out of tormenting him as he did when their situations were reversed. Over the day, Radek became the recipient of a chocolate bar, a strange wooden puzzle thing which he was almost certain children should not be given lest they choked on it, and a selection of pens and paper. Each was delivered with Rodney's best smile, and the cheerful explanation that they were 'for the kids'.
By the end of the day, the rest of the lab was joining in the fun, and several more chocolate bars, two packets of sweets, a harmonica, a pocket knife and a small paint set had joined the pile. Radek was no longer certain which of them were doing it to tease, and which seriously wished to send something for the children of M7G-677. Moreover, he was left to wonder not only who would go to the trouble of bringing a harmonica all the way to Atlantis but who would go to the trouble of bringing one all the way to Atlantis only to give it away.
The pocket knife he hid in a drawer. Children were quite dangerous enough without equipping them with weaponry.
Even without that, the things on his desk filled quite a large pocket of his bag when he readied himself to go the next day. This did not improve his mood. It was a bag which was heavy enough when filled with equipment and tools without taking extra items along just for the fun of it. Still, he couldn't convince himself to leave it all behind, despite that. Some of the others looked as though they just might have intended their gifts in earnest. He was not Rodney, he could not simply snarl at them if they asked later how the children had enjoyed their chocolate.
Still, he was not in the best of tempers when he took himself along to report ready to go offworld. Rodney appearing on the balcony before they left to gloat -- and that surprised look fooled no-one, there was no way he had come simply to seek Colonel Sheppard -- was almost the final straw. Had Radek not been conscious just how many curious stares he would receive had he shouted up to Rodney what he thought of him at that moment, the other man might have received insults which blistered the skin from his ears. As it was, Radek contented himself with dark mutterings, and the silent promise to himself to switch Rodney's coffee out for decaff again. Listening to him to complain about headaches and sleepiness might go a long way to making him feel better.
It would be fine. He would go, attempt to shield the generator from a legion of sticky hands -- which were almost certainly responsible for it breaking down in the first place -- and put in a quick repair before coming home. It should be simple, but that did not lift the feeling of dread from his shoulders.
M7G-677 was a green world, grassy and full of trees. Radek had already decided that he hated those. Where there was grass, there were biting insects. Where there were trees, there were easy hiding places for wild animals, poisonous snakes, and -- oh, god, someone just leaped out at them.
He had yelped and jumped back before he realised that the person in question would come maybe up to his shoulder at best and was perhaps thirteen years of age. This was not particularly comforting thought though, when the boy was holding a bow and arrow.
His sister's son had received a bow and arrow for Christmas once, Radek remembered. It was a cheap-looking contraption, made of plastic, with suckers on the end of the arrows. Even so, the child had spent most of the day using it with enthusiasm and little care and, suckers or not, he still believed it a minor miracle that no-one had lost an eye before he had managed to hide it down the side of the couch.
These arrows did not have suckers on the end. They looked sharp, and distinctly dangerous. He could not quite prevent himself from taking a nervous step back.
"It's all right," Major Lorne said, and Radek was certain that he did not imagine the amused lilt to the man's voice. "They're expecting us." He smiled at the boy, seeming not at all concerned that the arrow was pointing straight at him. "We're here to see the Elders?"
The "Elders" were babies. Well not literally just comparatively, but you had to be careful how you used metaphor. Radek had read about the planet of course, the day before, and he vaguely recalled Rodney muttering about it some months ago, but it was still a shock to actually see it in reality. The last time he'd been so outnumbered by young people, he'd been teaching at a university, and most of them hadn't been covered with war paint.
Some of them had though, but then, that was students for you.
He stood uncomfortably, still horribly conscious that he was surrounded by children carrying bows, carrying arrows -- was no-one else concerned about so many dangerous weapons being waved around by people who should still be in school? It was the way for things to end in accidents, and nobody here looked old enough to be a doctor afterwards.
It took time to give the explanation that he was only here to repair things, and when he was allowed to go it was only with two "guards" who were meant to keep him from getting into trouble. Radek was not a good judge of age, but he judged them both to still be somewhere in the single figures, and found himself strangely grateful that Major Lorne had also chosen to accompany them to the generator. He wasn't threatened by them, of course, but still. There was something unnerving about children.
It wasn't until they reached the cave where the generator was housed that he remembered the stash of gifts in his bag. Suddenly glad that Rodney had been unable to resist the urge to annoy him just a little more he dumped them out hastily in a heap on the floor. Perhaps they would be enough to keep the children occupied until he was done with work.
They recognised chocolate -- it must have been brought by last team -- and seized the bars with beaming smiles and cries of delight. Radek suppressed a shudder, imagining gooey chocolatey fingers, faces, clothes... it was amazing the messes that small people could get themselves into.
The harmonica was examined with curiousity before they tested it, blowing it to produce a shrill squeaking noise which answered fairly quickly the question of why anyone would give it away. Clearly, somebody had grown tired of hearing it. As the major grimaced and vanished to sit outside the cave -- presumably a safe distance from the noise -- Radek turned to examine the generator, trying to hunch his shoulders enough that they might shield his ears a little. The sooner he had repaired it, the sooner they could leave.
It was surprisingly easy to block out the noise once he was focused on his work. He had grown accustomed to the noise of the lab -- there always somebody rushing it with an alarmed message of some type of another, always Rodney exploding over some imagined slight -- and once he had begun to take the generator apart there was nothing else in the world other than himself and those small intricate pieces. He forgot that there was anyone else in the cave, his fingers moving quickly as he tried to make the adjustments needed, swearing under his breath each time the generator refused to co-operate.
Fingers on his arm made him startle, reminding him abruptly that he was not alone in there after all. He flinched away automatically, pulling his arm away from the young girl who was patting -- no, stroking -- his arm.
"Is there something that is wrong?" he asked gruffly, wondering if the concept of personal space was one that came only with age. Then again, there were days when Rodney seemed to have no idea of that either, and he was an adult.
"Your skin feels funny," she announced, sitting down beside him and reaching for one of the dismantled pieces. "Why does your skin feel funny?"
"No, no, do not touch that!" Hastily, he warded the curious fingers away, stopping himself just in time from smacking them away as he would have Rodney's. These children were smaller than Rodney, and apt to get hurt more easily.
Perhaps, in fact, this was the best way to think of them, as smaller, more breakable Rodneys. Except, if you upset children they were likely to cry, and if you upset Rodney, he was... likely to send you to a planet full of children. That was a lose for both options then.
Much to his relief, she left the machinery as it was. He was less relieved, however, that she went back to poking and prodding at his arm, pinching and pulling at the skin as though it were made of dough.
"What are you doing?" he asked, bewildered, wanting to pull away but afraid to lest she returned to trying to grab generator pieces.
"Your skin feels funny," she repeated, regarding his arm as though it were her new favourite toy. "Other people's skin doesn't move like that."
Ah. He blinked at her, understanding suddenly. If you never met anybody over twenty four in your life, then you never had occasion to learn about skin's elasticity, and how it lost it as you grew older.
Not that this made having your arm pulled around the slightest bit more comfortable. "It is not polite to comment on people's skin," he informed her carefully, trying to retrieve it from her grasp. "Now, please, I must be finishing the repair."
"He has funny hair, too." And now, god, now there were two of them, the boy abruptly behind Radek, curious fingers reaching out to touch his hair. He was not gentle, and the painful tweak brought a stream of swear words to Radek's lips, even as he twisted to catch the child's arm.
It was fortunate that the children were not well-versed in Czech. His sister would have smacked him, and scolded about using such language around small ears, but here it was only just enough to make the pair of them stop and stare at him for a moment, seemingly taken aback.
"What does that mean?" the boy asked after a moment, a few strands of Radek's hair still clutched in his fingers.
"Means--" he searched for a moment for an interpretation that was unlikely to get him into trouble. "Means this is... is not good. Not nice. Is painful. You will not do again."
The boy stared at him, bottom lip trembling for a moment. "I only wanted to look at your hair."
"We do not look with fingers!" Wasn't that the phrase people used around children? Something like that, in any case. "We look with eyes! And we do not disturb Zelenka when he is working on generator, because we say that oh, this is very important work, it will fix things and make things better for our people." He glared at the boy, willing him to understand. "Yes?"
It earned a reluctant nod, and that was enough for Radek to release the boy's arm, turning back to his work.
"You talk funny," the girl observed, clearly not put off by his outburst. "The other Full-Growns don't talk like you."
"You have funny language," Radek returned gruffly, trying to get his mind back into working order and remember what he was doing. "It is putting words in the wrong order, and having rules which are only rules sometimes." He stared at the dismantled pieces, taking a moment to locate the one he needed.
Except he couldn't concentrate, because now he had company -- two small people crouched beside him, each observing the pieces with the same intent concentration that he was trying to apply. He groaned, and flapped a hand at them, trying to shoo them away.
"You go back to play now?" he suggested hopefully, certain that the moment he focused his attention fully on his work there would be small sticky fingers exploring every component he was not working with. And there were not replacements for most of those components here. If one were to be broken or lost, it would mean returning to Atlantis for a new one before coming back here. A return trip was not a welcome thought.
"We got bored," the boy informed him placidly. "What are those things on your face?"
"On my face?" He scrubbed at his face for a moment, so accustomed to his glasses that he thought the child must refer to a mark or a smudge. "Where?"
"There!" And, too quickly for him to react, a hand reached out and hooked the glasses, yanking them away.
The world blurred, sharp lines softening and turning to swirls of indescipherable colour. Radek had become used to only removing his glasses for washing and for bed, his sight too poor to feel anything but vulnerable without them. To have them suddenly pulled out of reach brought a yelp, and this time he moved too slowly to catch the child before he had moved away.
"You will give back now, please," he said carefully, restraining the sudden flare of panic. Not only had he lost his glasses, but children had them - children with dirty fingers and careless ways, children who smeared things, and broke them, and lost them.
There was a spare pair, of course, but it was back at Atlantis, and it was not so comfortable as these. And if they were broken, it would take weeks to send them, and have them returned on the Daedelus repaired. It was not as though Dr Beckett kept an optician's lab at the back of the Infirmary.
The giggles he got in response were far from reassuring. "They make things look weird!"
"Yes, yes, very weird, very nice, very large," Radek snapped. "And not yours, so you will now please return." He stood up, meaning to retrieve them, but at the first step his foot nudged against something which clattered as it rolled away. He was reminded again that he was surrounded by small, delicate items which would undoubtably break if stepped on.. and which were all, without exception, too small for him to see without his glasses.
They were giggling again and, to his alarm, the giggles seemed to be moving further away. Were he able to see, that might be a welcome reprieve but the children had his glasses!
"I will be telling your pare-" he began heatedly, a threat which had always worked on his sister's son but which, he realised suddenly, was likely to hold less weight here. How soon did they begin to have children here anyhow? Their parents might theoretically be still alive, and yet it seemed unlikely.
Not that it seemed to bother them just now, for now this was normal for them, but Radek wondered for a moment if these children would grow up and see the next generation with their parents, and feel the sense of something which they had lost without realising it was gone. Sometimes tragedy only seemed real when you were standing outside it.
It brought a twinge of sympathy that stopped him from exploding into anger when one of them - boy or girl, it was hard to tell - moved back towards him, hand reaching to tug at his.
"May I have glasses returned now," he suggested instead hopefully. "Please."
"Peri says," a voice piped, and that sounded as though it were the girl, although he could hear the boy giggling from not so very far off, "you can have them back if you play with us first."
This was the problem with children. You invested five minutes into feeling a little sorry for them, and all the time they were plotting against you. It was, Radek decided, worse than Rodney. At least, most of the time he could guess Rodney's plans just from his expression.
"I cannot see for playing," he tried to explain. "Glasses are needed for seeing."
"It doesn't matter," the girl insisted, and she tugged on his hand again, pulling. Guessing she wanted him on her level, Radek dropped to an awkward crouch. "There," she said, seeming satisfied with that. "We only want to make you look proper."
Look proper? It was a phrase that brought back vague horrifying memories of falling asleep in a chair and waking up covered in pink nail varnish, with a smug little boy to thank for it. They didn't have nail varnish here, did they? "Am happy already with the way I am looking!" he protested, but it only earned him a childish tut, and a surprisingly strong push that unbalanced him from his crouch, landing him hard on his backside.
He hoped he hadn't sat on anything irreplacable.
"You're put together all funny," the girl said firmly, and that really wasn't a phrase to build anyone's self-confidence at all. "We're only going to fix it. Just hold still."
He could call Major Lorne, he knew. He only had to give a shout of alarm, and the major would be there, retrieving his glasses, returning them to him and allowing him to complete his work. But that would mean explanations as to why he couldn't fend off two children who barely reached up to his chest, and that was the sort of thing that would produce months of teasing back on Atlantis. Better to put up with it, and hope they returned his glasses in one piece.
The girl was in front of him now, her face so close that he could make it out even without his glasses, frowning in what seemed to be concentration as she ran her hands over his face, pressing down hard.
"Ah -- what are you doing exactly?" It seemed dangerous to ask, and more dangerous not to.
"I'm pressing the lines out," she told him, sounding disgruntled. "But they keep coming back."
"Lines do this," he agreed, before a tug on his hair brought a yelp and another string of pained curse words. Evidently, the boy had also returned.
"Just sit still," he said sternly, and if anything he sounded more bossy than the girl did. "I'm only trying to make it lie down properly."
"If many showers and hairbrushes are not succeeding in this, I am doubting that you will!" Radek protested, trying to bat him away. "I am sure that it is very kind of you to be trying, but it is meant to look this way, and it will not be changing!"
It seemed to baffle them for a moment and they withdrew, conversing in quiet whispers. Radek sat straighter, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes. Without his glasses, it was difficult to resist the urge to squint, and that made them watery and sore.
His discomfort grew at the sound of running footsteps leaving the cave. "Where are you going?"
"Peri's just gone to get something to help," the girl reassured, sitting down next to him again.
In Radek's head, the boy slipped and fell a million times over, splintering the lost glasses beneath his body. "Are my glasses going with him?"
She laughed, and patted his arm again in a way that was probably meant to be reassuring. "You don't have to worry," she said, worrying him all the more. "Peri's careful about stuff."
"I could be being more careful if I were wearing them," Radek complained, but that only brought more laughter, as though he were trying to be funny.
It was a few minutes before Peri returned, and when he did he dropped a tray of something down next to Radek. "Got'em!" he said, breathless and triumphant. "These oughta help."
Radek squinted again, wishing he could make out what was on the tray. "What is there, exactly?" he asked suspisciously.
"You're really silly." The girl sounded delighted by it, as though not-seeing were a game he had crafted solely for their amusement. "It's just to make the lines go away."
"Yes, but what-" Radek started, and received his answer as something cold, wet, and almost slimy was smeared onto his face. The shock was enough to make him startle back, raising his hand to his face, and for a moment his temper overcame his control. There was a startled silence for a minute as he exploded into angry words, calling the pair of them every name that came to mind, and then peals of laughter as the pair of children collapsed in fits of giggles.
Worse than Rodney, Radek decided again grimly. At least Rodney usually did him the courtesy of not bursting into laughter when cursed out.
"You are a nice silly man," the girl informed him fondly, once she could speak again for laughing. "We like your funny words."
Wonderful. Apparently, he was their new pet. He wondered grimly if the major would even be able to rescue him, or whether he too would be captured by these small demons in human form.
She approached again, and this time he sat still and allowed the cold -- ointment? It had to be ointment -- to be daubed on his face. It was thick, and oily, and his fingers itched to reach up and rub it off, but perhaps if he tolerated it, it would be over more quickly. Hopefully it was not some kind of strange hallucinagenic, poison, or otherwise deadly. He didn't think it would be, but with these children it was hard to tell.
She had covered a good half of his face when the tugging on his hair began again. Reflexatively, he reached to bat Peri's hands away again, but this time the boy resisted.
"I'm only fixing it!"
"You are not to be fixing it by pulling it out!" Radek protested, guarding it with his hands.
"I'm not! I'm only making up stop standing up all strangely."
Radek hesitated. "And, when it has been done, my glasses are to be returned?" he asked carefully. "You are promising this?"
"Oh, yes!" It was an agreement given too quickly, too easily to be trusted, and Radek scowled a moment.
"You understand that there is a monster who is eating bad children who are breaking their promises?" he said, hoping that might have more effect.
The hands on his face stilled for a moment in their work. "There is?" The girl sounded half-terrified, half-thrilled by the suggestion.
"A terrible monster," Radek thought rapidly, trying to bring a picture of one to mind, but all that popped up was a phrase from one of the lab movie-watching nights. "Big pointy teeth."
They considered this. When the tugging on his hair started again, it did so a lot more carefully.
It still seemed to take forever, and he was fidgeting, tired of having a face covered in some strange goop and a head which ached from having his hair pulled, long before they were done. "Will you be returning my glasses now, please?"
"No!" the girl scolded him, and the boy pulled at his hair as though to accentuate the point. "You promised we could do it. If you don't keep your promises the big pointy-teethed monster will get you!"
Well, that was one threat which might have back-fired. He tried to sit up and pull away from the grabby little hands, starting to worry in earnest now. He had barely started the work which needed to be done, and if he could not begin on it soon then it would not be complete before the light began to fade. "It is done enough," he said, attempting to sound firm about it. "There is more important work to be doing, and if it is not done your Elders will say "Why have you not completed this work?"."
"You said you would play!" And now Peri was sounding petulant, and Radek could feel his chances of receiving his glasses back slipping away, further by the minute.
"Play must be coming after work!" He stood unsteadily, holding a hand out in request. "I will be having the glasses, please."
Silence for a moment, before the boy said sulkily, "We lost them."
That was a horrifying thought, and Radek cursed at him again, uncaring any more that this was a child who perhaps knew no better. He should know better, and he should be taught better than to take valuable possessions -- essential possessions -- hold them hostage and lose them. He reached to run his fingers through his hair in agitation, and his hands met an unfamiliar rough texture.
"You will be finding them!" he snapped at the child. "You will be finding them right now, or I will be leaving your planet without a generator which is working, and if the Wraith are to be coming then let them come!"
That threat apparently got through to them. He heard gasps, something which sounded like a sniffle, and then a blessedly welcome voice.
"Everything okay, Doctor Zelenka?"
Major Lorne sounded to be on the edge of laughter, but Radek was past the point of caring about embarrassment, or what might end up on an Atlantis report. He was tired of being giggled at, tired of being treated as some child's exotic pet, and tired of the world appearing in blurs and smudges which made his eyes ache. "My glasses," he said, cold with fury. "I am needing them."
"Right." There was that note there still, as though the major were forcing himself to sound serious, but at least he was making the attempt. "You kids know where they are?"
Apparently Major Lorne was a more intimidating figure than Radek had been -- a fact which did not surprise him -- and it took only a moment for the girl to volunteer. "I think.. they might have fallen off in here. We were playing."
Radek snorted at that, barely restraining himself from snarling at her. A heavy hand patted his shoulder. The major, it seemed, did not wish to run the risk that Radek might attack her bodily.
If he could see well enough to do so, it might actually have been a possibility.
"You want to see if you can look around and find them?" Lorne suggested. "Kinda need your Uncle Zelenka to do some work for us now."
Uncle Zelenka? Perhaps, when he had his glasses, he would attack Lorne also.
He could not help, however, the wave of relief that passed through him when the lost glasses were returned to him. The lenses were, as he had feared, horribly smeared, but cleaning them on the edge of his shirt got rid of the worst of the mess, and when he balanced them on his nose again the world swum back into perspective. No chips, no scratches. The galaxy was a wonderful place.
Except for the part of it which meant that his fingers appeared to be streaked with colour, and when he raised his hands to his hair he appeared to come back with pieces of straw. That part was not so welcome. Nor was the grin which Lorne was trying to hide -- and doing so badly -- every time he so much as glanced in Radek's direction.
What kind of guard did so out of hearing distance anyway? He might have needed rescuing -- he had needed rescuing in fact! It would be enough to make him feel sympathy for the million situations Rodney usually got himself in, were it not Rodney's fault that he was here in the first place.
It seemed that his emotions were fairly clear on his face, for the major glanced at him and then back down at the children, taking a firm grip on each shoulder. "Why don't we go back outside and wait," he suggested hastily. "I think Uncle Zelenka wants some peace to finish up in private."
They vanished out of the mouth of the cave, and Radek heaved a sigh of relief, crouching to see just how much damage had been done by sticky fingers, and by himself moving about blindly. Perhaps, if it was not too much, it could be done with quickly.
A moment later, strained notes floated back inside. It was the sound of a harmonica being played, very badly.
Radek could not decide later which had been the worst part, being tormented by the children or the strained, trying-not-to-laugh faces of the rest of the team when he reappeared, straw still tangled in hair, plaited too firmly for him to simply be able to comb out. Even the planet's so-called Elders had looked as though they were hiding smiles -- and really the entire planet just needed someone to come along, give them a spanking and send them to bed without supper. Stupid children.
Rodney's expression when he had returned had just been pure glee, and he had decided then and there that switching out the coffee would not be good enough revenge. Really, there was nothing in the entire galaxy that would be good enough revenge, not for that.
When he finally managed to extract himself from hallways of people who apparently had nothing better to do than stand around laughing at him, the day did not get any better. Hair extracted from the hundred little plaits they had managed to wrap it in, and combed free of straw, sprang back around his head in a multitude of curls which did not wish to flatten down and behave no matter what he did to them. Moreover, whatever the demon children had used to daub his face proved to be indelible, and even once he had washed the greasy muck away, the colours remained, staining his skin brightly. A visit to the Infirmary resulted in staff hurrying around corners in order to keep their professional manner intact, and though Dr Beckett hid his smile long enough to offer several possible cleaners, none of them appeared to work. He was just going to have to wait until the colour wore off.
Of course he was not allowed to do that in his room, no, the world was not kind enough for that. There was an emergency -- was there not always an emergency? -- and he had to be at the lab and repairing it.
Of course, somebody snapped a picture. Of course, it became the default Atlantis desktop on every laptop on the network. Well, they would just be seeing how well they enjoyed dealing with Rodney when Radek was not acting as a go-between for the rest of the week. For that matter, Rodney could be seeing how well he liked having a city of over-anxious scientists reporting directly to him for the rest of the week, rather than having Radek acting as the filter for the things he really did not need to be bothered with. Yes, they deserved each other, and that much might perhaps be enough to comfort his injured pride.
But bad days happened, and he was not Rodney to clutch them tightly to his chest, holding them as grudges forever and a day. In time it was forgotten, lost in the chaos of crisis after crisis, and he was honestly surprised when Dr Weir appeared in the lab a couple of months later.
"Dr Zelenka? If I might have a word, please?"
He blinked at her for a moment, rubbing the back of his neck as he looked up from his work. Too long, and you inevitably froze into position. "Of course," he said politely, catching her serious expression, "is there a problem?"
"You are not stealing him!" Rodney was apparently not concentrating so hard on his own work that he could not come over to interfere and complain. "That project should be complete by the end of today."
"The project is fine, Rodney," Radek sighed. It would be done on time, allowing for interruptions and emergencies -- which almost always occurred. "May I help you, Dr Weir?"
She hesitated a moment, and then handed him the clipboard she was clutching. "Could you translate these for me, please?"
Surprised, he took the clipboard, glancing over the words in question. They were so badly spelt as to be unrecognisable, but he sounded them out softly under his breath and, if you assumed the writer had been trying to note them phonetically, they became much easier to understand. Working through them, he felt a slow flush working its way down the back of his neck, and Rodney gave a snort of laughter, recognising one or two from past arguments.
"They are.." He swallowed hard, trying to find the best way to phrase it. "We would not usually use such things in polite conversation?" It was one thing shouting them at people who did not understand them -- or at least who pretended not to so as not to deal with what he had just called them. Spelling them out in front of Dr Weir, who was studying him with a politely inquiring expression as he went through the list, was an altogether different and more embarrassing matter.
Her expression said that she had guessed as much. "But you would use them?"
He waved a hand in the air vaguely. "Perhaps, in the heat of the moment?" Surely, this was not to be a scolding about the language he used in the lab? It was a little late to make that a polite and civilised place to work, at least unless someone was planning on getting rid of Rodney.
She stared at him, as though weighing him up, for a long careful moment. "Would you like to explain to me then, Dr Zelenka, just why the children of M7G-677 have apparently become well-versed in Czech swear words?"
"Ah." Beside him, Rodney seemed to have dissolved into a fit of helpless laughter. It did not help. "Well. It was very ah, stressful visit?"
He got off with a slap on the wrist, and a request to try not to spread Earth swear words to planets where the majority of the population was still not even at the US drinking age. This was not half so annoying a consequence as Rodney snickering and tsking at his 'pottymouth' every time he lost his temper in the next month.
Rodney did not laugh so much, however, the next time the M7G-677 field generator broke down.
"Zelenka can go again," he said, as soon as Dr Weir approached him about it. "As he was clearly too sloppy to repair it properly the first time."
Radek glared at him. "Was repaired perfectly first time."
"Oh, please. You're telling me that it lasts two thousand years, and then just breaks down magically twice within eight months?" Rodney smirked. "Just admit you were having too much fun with the kids to do your job properly."
"Perhaps has something to do with also working from two thousand year old spare parts?" Radek suggested sharply. "Cannot possibly go. Working on repairing jumper for Colonel Sheppard. Very important, unless you wish Colonel Sheppard to fly jumper with no functioning inertial dampners?"
"Gentlemen!" Dr Weir interrupted hastily, before the argument could really get into a battle about whose work was currently needed more urgently. "Dr Zelenka, I seem to remember that last time you attended that particular planet we had.. language difficulties?"
It was a reminder that made Radek flush, and Rodney grin, at least until he realised the implications.
"Oh, come on! You never let me use "but I did it really badly last time" as an excuse to not do a job!"
Dr Weir cleared her throat, looking harried. "We have a chance to build a strong alliance with these people if we can avoid offending them--"
"I offend people!" Rodney protested indignantly, and now it was Radek who was hard-put not to laugh. "I offend people all the time! Besides, they're kids. They're not even old enough to know when they should be offended!"
"All the more reason we should avoid taking advantage of them before they are older, by corrupting their language," Dr Weir said firmly. "No offence, Dr Zelenka, but I believe that your language may be too much of a.. a reflex for you to ask you to promise not to pass it on to them."
"I understand," Radek agreed gravely, grateful enough for the excuse not to argue.
"That's just complete selfishness," Rodney griped. "He clearly just deliberately taught them to swear to get out of having to go back. No-one considers what I need to do that I won't be doing if I'm fixing the generator back up in some stupid little backwater that they're probably just jammed play-doh into or--"
"Tomorrow, Rodney," Dr Weir interrupted the tirade calmly, her voice firm. "Be ready, please."
Radek felt sorry for her over the next day, because it was difficult to ignore the sound of furious typing which broke out every hour or so, every time Rodney thought of a new and compelling reason he should not go and tried to explain as much in email. Each was completed with a satisfied little grunt, and Rodney would look pleased with himself for a whole thirty minutes until he received the response that he was still going and drifted back into his bad mood.
He did not feel sorry enough to prevent himself from leaving gifts on Rodney's desk however, nor to stop himself quietly encouraging the rest of the lab from doing the same. By the end of the day, Rodney had received a packet of plasticine -- already well-used, seven chocolate bars, three packets of sweets, a plastic jewellry-making kit, and a frisbee. Revenge could be a sweet, sweet thing.
He felt very little remorse when the team returned with Rodney so covered in mud that great dried chunks of it flaked out of his hair every time he so much as turned his head. Apparently, M7G-677 had begun a rainy season, and the children assigned to lead Rodney to the generator had chosen a path leading through the worst of it. Hurried steps to get out of the rain, and eager hands pulling at him, had resulted in a fall, followed by what could only be described as a mud-fight as he lost his temper and the children gleefully retaliated.
Colonel Sheppard was there, murmuring soothingly about it all being just a great big accident. It did not seem as though Rodney was believing very much of it. From the way Colonel Sheppard was trying to prevent himself from laughing, it did not seem that he believed it very much either.
Of course, Radek ensured that the picture of Rodney covered in mud became the default Atlantis desktop, at least until Rodney managed to get through the encrypted password and turn it back. Some things were only fair.
It was only a month this time before Dr Weir visited the lab, and when she did she was not looking pleased. Dr Weir wasn't like the scientists, she didn't explode in a fury of anger and exasperation, but there was a certain stern look, a certain controlled tone of voice that meant that people were starting to push her just the slightest bit too far. Radek sensed it first and glanced up, surprised. It wasn't as though they'd caused any more disasters than was usual in the last week.
Of course, Rodney didn't sense it. Rodney had to be beaten around the head for a good five minutes before he could snap out of obliviousness and pay attention to other people's emotions. Expecting him to notice anything more subtle than this was almost guaranteed to be a dead loss. "Ah, Elizabeth, I'm glad you're here. I've been emailing you all morning - can you tell me how we're meant to perform anything close to decent work when we're working without proper equipment? I have a list here of equipment we need the Deadelus to bring next time it comes from Earth -- which, by the way, I hope is soon -- and.."
"We'll discuss it later," Elizabeth cut him off firmly. "I would like to speak to you two in my office, please."
"Right, right, but first if you could just look through -- all it needs is a signature.."
"Now, please," Dr Weir insisted, and something in her tone set Radek searching his conscience, trying to work out just what they might have done of late to cause that kind of disapproval, and coming up blank.
He was still confused when she closed the door behind them, turned to glare at the pair of them and said sharply, "Now, we need to talk about using people as social experiments, and apparently I have to spell out to you why we don't do it."
Radek blinked at her, none the wiser for this explanation.
"M7G-677," she clarified. "Would either of you like to explain why, on the latest visit, one of the kids called Major Lorne a lemon-sucker?"
Ah. Well, that explained a good deal. Radek fought to keep his expression under control.
Rodney's expression had turned mulish. "I wasn't about to have someone who isn't even old enough to have mastered basic multiplication yet cursing me out," he said sourly. "It's bad enough when he does." He waved a hand in a gesture which was apparently meant to indicate Radek.
"So, you taught them that 'lemon-sucker' means.." Elizabeth consulted her notes, "...someone too stupid to even be alive, and probably about to get killed any minute now?"
Rodney folded his arms, glaring back at her. "It's accurate."
"And that 'citrus' means something which is really bad and evil, and shouldn't be trusted under any circumstances?" There was a weary note in Dr Weir's voice, as though she had already scheduled time after this meeting to go and have a headache. Radek could sympathise.
"Also accurate," Rodney maintained stubbornly.
"And McKay apparently means the smartest thing in the entire galaxy, really, really smart?" Dr Weir raised her eyebrows.
"Well," Rodney considered a moment, but apparently even he couldn't uphold that one -- not with Dr Weir frowning, and Radek staring at him, wondering if he'd lost his mind. "Look, it's not as though it matters. They're only kids."
"They're people, Rodney!" Dr Weir set her notes down with a bang, clearly near the end of her patience. "Young people, it's true, but young people have a tendency to grow up into older people, and we do not need them to reach that point, look back, and wonder if when we made an alliance with them we were only trying to make fools of them!"
Rodney flushed, but couldn't quite seem to bring himself to back down. "It's only words."
"Words can cause or prevent wars, Rodney. Words matter," Dr Weir snapped. "I don't want to see a repeat of this on other worlds from either of you, do you understand? It doesn't matter how old the people are, we are not there to teach them things solely for our amusement. I don't want to even think what the IOA would make of this. They'd likely call it a flagrant abuse of power. Never mind losing your jobs, you might end up in compulsary counselling to check for meglomaniac tendencies."
It was enough of a warning to push back the laugh which had been threatening to escape from Radek as he listened to Rodney's protests, and he nodded meekly. There were accidental slips, and then there was this. It should probably not be a laughing matter.
Even Rodney flushed, backing down a little at that. "It shouldn't matter anyway," he said defensively. "It's not as though we have any more planets full of kids to worry about, and they shouldn't need a visit for the forseeable future. How many times can they break a generator, anyway?"
"On the contrary," Dr Weir said calmly, and now Radek glanced up, almost sure he could see a smile hovering around the edges of her mouth, "they're having a celebration next week, and they've invited you both along. Apparently, they liked you."
"But--" Rodney started, as Radek felt his stomach sink, "we can't possibly -- there's too much work stacked up, and who exactly do you think is going to keep the place from blowing up while we're gone? It's not as though there's ever a time when there isn't a disaster.."
"You're going," Dr Weir interrupted calmly, firmly. "Both of you. Call it a diplomatic visit -- and I will be sending Major Lorne and Colonel Sheppard with you to ensure that neither of you diverts into language lessons while you are there."
"I don't want to--" Rodney protested again, and this time it was Radek who interrupted him because from the look in Dr Weir's eyes there were plenty of ways she could make that worse if she wanted to.
"You are not meant to want to, Rodney," he explained patiently, giving Dr Weir a quick, apologetic look. "It is a punishment."
"Fine then," Rodney groused, surrendering with poor grace, "but if the planet blows up without us, you're all going to be very sorry."
Word travelled fast on Atlantis. By the end of the day, their two desks between them had accumulated eight chocolate bars, five packets of sweets, a pair of rollerskates - large, mens', a rope puzzle and a tambourine.
Radek wondered if a week was long enough for him to ask Dr Beckett for contact lenses.