Rodney had no idea who he was, but he already hated P. Kavanagh. What kind of a man wrote his name on his food rations? Snorting in disgust, Rodney peeled the label off P. Kavanagh's banana and stuck it to the front of the break room fridge, and then wolfed the banana down, humming a happy tune. Might as well establish his authority right off the bat.
A few hours later, there was a note stuck to the fridge: "Please [underlined twice] show respect for other people's property. Consideration and courtesy are essential to a well-functioning team. Sincerely, P. Kavanagh." Chortling, Rodney looked for something else of P.'s in the fridge, and found a loaf of bread and a stick of butter. He stuck the label from the bread on the break room detergent, and the label from the butter on the scourer.
The following day, the note said, "Please be aware that disrespect for the personal belongings of others will be reported to your superiors." Inside the fridge, P. had written on his carton of UHT milk with a sharpie - "Property of P. Kavanagh, DO NOT TOUCH." Red flag to a bull, Rodney thought, and opened the carton to drink from it.
Somebody tapped on his shoulder. Little guy, fuzzy hair, glasses. Rodney put the milk behind his back. "P. Kavanagh, I presume?" he said brightly.
"Ah, no," the guy said softly, in a thick accent. "I am not P. Kavanagh. I am person guilty of spitting into milk of P. Kavanagh. It was wrong of me. I feel terrible. I see you take milk out, and I think, I must urgently confess to my superior, before I am reported."
Rodney looked at the guy, and then at the milk, and then put the milk back in the fridge and closed the door. "Well, no harm done, this time. In future, just think before you go spitting in perfectly good milk, understand?"
The guy nodded earnestly. "Yes, I now see the error of my ways."
Rodney was pleased. The team camaraderie was obviously coming along very nicely.
At the first science heads meeting, P. Kavanagh turned out to be "Dr Peter Kavanagh, Senior Chemist." Figured. Rodney had always hated chemists.
The most important item on the agenda, according to P., was that some juvenile delinquent thought it was funny to remove the labels from his food and put them on inappropriate items. It was hard to decide whether to reveal himself now or let P. dig himself deeper. However, victory came to the patient man, so Rodney assured P. that he'd learn who was responsible sooner or later. Then, since this was the highest-level science meeting, he tried to move the agenda on to issues such as, oh, what they'd discovered, and how they were ever going to get home. P. first wanted to bring up the problem of junior scientists claiming better quarters than senior scientists, and the need to establish a clearer chain of command.
"The chain of command is perfectly clear," Rodney told him. "I am smarter, better looking, better qualified and better paid than everyone else here, and I am also, coincidentally, what did they call it?" He snapped his fingers, as if groping for the phrase. "Oh, yes, Chief Science Advisor, that was it."
"I understand that," P. said, mutinously.
"Consequently, there is no problem with the chain of command unless I say there is a problem with the chain of command. Which I don't. Therefore, there is no problem with the chain of command. Is that all right with you, Dr Kavanagh?"
"I hardly think--"
"Oops!" Rodney said, cupping his ear. "I thought you didn't say, 'Yes, Sir,' but I'm a little hard of hearing sometimes; I set off a few too many bombs in my well-spent youth. You'll have to speak up, I'm afraid."
Kavanagh stared at him with tightly pursed lips. "Yes, Sir," he said eventually, clearly meaning, 'I have nothing but contempt for you, Sir.'
Rodney beamed at him. Just so long as the feeling was mutual.
Sometime on the third or fourth day (nobody had established a time system that coped with Atlantean planetary rhythms yet) Rodney was approached in the cafeteria by a handsome Arab woman.
"Dinah Hushmand," she said, holding out her hand. Clipped English accent, immaculately dressed, obviously going to have a bug up her ass about something. Rodney brushed the chocolate crumbs off his hand and shook hers as quickly as possible, before going back to his list. He hoped she didn't want to talk about the state of the showers or something. He had a partially-translated list of what seemed to be precincts of the ancient database, and was trying to prioritise areas for decryption and translation.
"I'm the xenobotanist," she said, putting her manicured hand on top of his printout. "It's my job to write safety guidelines on the handling of alien plant matter," she continued, without a trace of irony, "and then do damage control when nobody follows them. There is a set of recommendations in your inbox for preventing xenobotanical disasters in the city, but I'm sure you won't read it."
"That's nice," Rodney told her. "Now if you don't mind--"
"My lab is in Section B4, Level Two," she interrupted, speaking slowly and clearly. "That's where you need to go when, for instance, you are choking to death after inhaling the spores of an alien fungus."
They had an entire precinct in the database for fractal mathematics?!? "Yes, that's nice."
"Section B4, Level Two," she repeated, enunciating every syllable.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Right, yes, okay, fine! B4, Level 2, choking, fungus. Got it."
She smiled at him, in that clipped English way, and lifted her hand from the printout. "Thank you for your time, Dr McKay."
Two or three weeks later (still nobody had established a goddamn time system) Rodney actually read her recommendations, which were brief, lucid, and surprisingly intelligent. For xenobotany. He was mildly impressed, and headed down to her lab to, well - not to tell her that he was impressed (by a xenobotanist, ha!), but to at least poke his nose into whatever else she was doing.
Her lab was closed. There was a sign on the door giving her office hours (in Earth Antarctic Time and Atlantean Adjusted Time Version 1.3) along with directions to her living quarters and a list of steps to take in the event of a xenobotanical emergency. As far as Rodney was concerned, it was vaguely mid-morning, so he stopped by her quarters on his way to the break room for elevenses.
She answered the door in her nightgown. After thirty seconds of small-talk, she had Rodney flat on his back in her bed, and was riding him in a way that had nine-tenths of his brain melting out of his ears and the remaining tenth comparing her to a praying mantis. Afterwards, she sat down at her dresser and started brushing the tangles out of her hair.
Rodney sat up and pulled his pants back on. His hands were shaking, and his cock was quivering like it couldn't decide if it wanted to run away or do that again. "Well, Dinah, that was, uh."
She smiled at him, in that clipped English way. "Thank you for your time, Dr McKay. Please stop by any time. I do so hate having to sleep with subordinates."
Despite the fact that she was obviously nuts (or perhaps because she was), Rodney stopped by her quarters every week or so. When all was said and done, sex was sex, and she hadn't actually bitten off his head and eaten his body after he came.
Eventually he heard through the grapevine that she'd slept with all of the Security team and was working her way through the Munitions team. That news gave him those queasy feelings of inferiority and inadequacy that he despised, so he stopped seeing her, the occasional xenobotanical emergency excepted.
Kate Somebody-or-Other arranged to meet with him in her office not long after they arrived. It was important, she said. Rodney forgot; a lot of things were important. The next day she rescheduled with a patient, understanding smile. He forgot that one, too, and the one after that. After she gave him yet another of those patient, understanding smiles, underlaid with a certain steeliness that promised she could keep doing this as long as he could, he put a reminder into his laptop and went directly to her office when it went off. She wasn't there. It turned out nobody had told him that Atlantean Adjusted Time had moved on to version four.
He ran into her in the corridors the next day. He wanted to explain before getting another damn smile, but she was wearing a little white uniform and carrying a squash racquet. "That was your personal luggage?" he blurted.
"It's the best stress relief ever invented," she replied, and swung the racquet violently at a few imaginary balls. "Come with me now." Rodney was too unnerved to argue.
In her office, she gave him coffee, which improved things considerably, sat in the chair opposite him, and studied his face. "So how are you feeling, Dr McKay?"
That was a very odd question, for a scientist. He looked around her office with a sinking feeling. There were the doctorates on the wall, and shit. Of course. She was the mission shrink.
"I'm feeling just fine, thank you," he said, and drained his coffee. "Excuse me, but I have a lot of work to do, and I think it's better for everyone if I--"
"No, please," she said, standing quickly. "Please, stay the full hour. It's extraordinarily difficult, getting people to see me, even when they need the help. If you could set an example--"
"No, no, I don't think so," Rodney said. "I'm sorry, but some days my neuroses are the only thing holding me together. I can't possibly function without them."
"To be honest," she said, and sat back down carefully, "I care much less about your neuroses than I do about the example you set. We can spend the time here any way you want. Just, please, Doctor, spend the time. There are people who will need my help more than you do, and they need to be shown that there's no stigma attached to seeing the mission psychologist."
It sounded like a trick to get him to talk; Rodney wasn't born yesterday, and he had the neuroses to prove it.
"All the coffee you can drink," she urged. "And while you're here, nobody can interrupt you."
"Oh, all right," he said, with a sinking feeling. He'd been suckered, but he wasn't going down without a fight. He'd been meaning for weeks to calculate the diffuse refraction of the gas clouds around the Atlantean sun, and hadn't had the time. "Can I have a pen and paper?"
The massive Maori guy was the geologist, Darren Taupeaffe. Rodney had idly wondered what he did, besides organising rugby games, until he saw Darren walk through the stargate pulling half a ton of rocks on a sled behind him. He was a very funny guy, hugely popular with the soldiers, and always hugged everyone, including Rodney.
"My personal space is not big enough for both of us," he'd snapped, the first time.
"That's pretty obvious, bra," Darren had said, and hugged him again, harder, then held him out at arms' length. "You'd make a good centre-forward, hey. Come play with us against Reconaissance."
Rodney had better things to do than learn a version of football even more bizarre and pointless than the American kind, but sometimes, when all the equations started to blur before his eyes, he let Darren talk him into playing corridor cricket with the Athosians.
Someone in the Engineering team had a very nasty habit of leaving little caricatures of Rodney lying around the laboratories. "Who did this?" he'd shout, crumpling up a cartoon of himself as a squirrel, hiding in a tree with cheeks puffed up with acorns. All it got him was calculated blank looks, and loud snickers behind his back. However insulting it was, though, Rodney wasn't so petty as to launch a disciplinary investigation into such rank insubordination, particularly after Elizabeth stopped laughing for just long enough to tell him she would support no such action.
Okay, so the cartoons were kind of cute, in a puerile and pathetic way. After the first month, they stopped making him fat and pasty, and started giving him a puffed out chest and manly bearing, which Rodney could appreciate as much better work, aesthetically, than the previous scribblings. He even took the time to apologise to Miko about their little misunderstanding with the sensor data, after seeing the cartoon where he gloated cruelly at the destruction of yet another scientist's sense of self-worth.
The next one he saw was slipped under his door at midnight, Rodney's time, which was probably late afternoonish in Revised Atlantean Time Mark II. It was himself, striding down the corridors of Atlantis with a P-90, very macho and handsome, and one long piece of toilet paper trailing from one shoe. Rodney stuck it to the wall by his desk and then noticed that it was signed. RZ. He pulled out the personnel files.
The culprit was obvious in retrospect. That little guy with the fuzzy hair was exactly the sort of idiot who would draw insulting pictures to get his superior's attention.
Radek Zelenka also turned out to be same person as Yebanat Prezrennyj, as the Russians called him. Rodney supposed he should have realised that the inventor of dual gamma-reflex conduits hadn't been named Fuckhead Traitor by his parents, but had in fact earned the name after stealing the highly classified method for polarising gamma radiation and selling it to the Americans in exchange for an extremely well-funded research laboratory in San Francisco.
Rodney hated the Russians with an unholy passion, so he tracked down Zelenka and they traded horror stories about the RAI and everyone in it. In his personal luggage, Zelenka had brought DVDs of every Olympic ice hockey match from 1994 onwards. They watched Sweden beat Russia to the 1994 gold, then broke out the vodka for the 1998 Czech Republic victory. By the time Canada took the 2002 gold, Rodney was drunk as a skunk and determined to move in with Radek Zelenka. Ice hockey! Hours and hours and hours of ice hockey! All the commentary was in Czech, unfortunately, but from it he learned enough of the language to tell whether Radek was swearing or gloating under his breath as he married Ancient technology to Earth technology in surprising and often disturbing ways.
Despite Kate's occasional prompting, Rodney didn't like to think about whether he was happy on Atlantis. He hadn't thought about his own happiness in years, if not decades. It wasn't relevant, and he had too much else to think about without adding his emotional state to the list. Still, after a week of hanging out with Zelenka, he felt a little lighter, a little freer. It was good to talk about Russians, and hockey, and stupid military decisions throughout history, and naquada generators, and Ancient database algorithms. It was fun to pick fantasy scientist leagues, and argue about whether the Wraith were scarier than the Borg.
"I think I have a best friend," he blurted to Kate, in the middle of studying schematics of the city water purification system on the floor of her office.
She looked up from her computer and smiled at him. "Good, I'm glad," she said, and something in her voice made him want to blush. He went back to his tools, and she went back to her... whatever she did while he worked.
After the tenth person pointed out that Kavanagh had refused to leave his quarters for days, Rodney felt obliged to do something about it. Obviously he wasn't going to get anything productive done until Kavanagh was fixed. Unfortunately, Kate insisted that telling the shrink to deal with it was not the optimal way of resolving this particular situation.
It was with a heavy heart and not a small amount of irritation that he overrode the locks on Kavanagh's doors and went inside. Kavanagh was lying on his perfectly made bed, staring at the ceiling. He looked sad and pathetic without his glasses. Well, even more so.
The conversation that followed was excruciating. Rodney had never in his wildest nightmares anticipated that being Chief Science Advisor would mean he had to:
a) assure a subordinate that he valued and respected their role in his team,
b) fabricate in great detail the ways in which talking to a professional psychologist was helping him resolve the many emotional issues that were hindering his personal development,
c) explain to a grown man that women were fickle, flighty and wanton creatures whose logic was not earth logic and whose actions had broken the heart of many a good man who had done nothing to deserve the callous and unjust treatment the fairer sex so frequently meted out.
After that, he had to stop by Dinah Hushmand's quarters, since it was four in the morning, Revised Atlantean Time Mark VI, and she wasn't in her office. He spent thirty seconds trying to explain why she couldn't have sex with the chemists, and then made a break for the door.
"For this," Zelenka told him, when Rodney had related the horrific tale from beginning to end, "for this we need vodka."
"We finished all the vodka," Rodney said morosely.
"Yes, but city is big," Zelenka said, pulling a bottle from under his mattress. "Has many empty laboratories with room to build distillery."
Rodney reached out for it. "That would be against many, many regulations, of course."
"So it would," Zelenka said blandly, handing the bottle over. "Good thing that I fit many, many bottles in my personal luggage."
They got thoroughly smashed and then watched Russia knock the Czech Republic out of the 1996 IHL semifinals, in honour of Rodney's horrible day.
"You didn't sleep with her, did you?" he begged Zelenka, sometime after they had fallen off the couch onto the floor. "Promise me you won't sleep with her."
"Rodney," Zelenka said, frowning in confusion. "Huh."
"'Huh' what? Huh?"
"I am far too drunk to make sense of this conversation," Rodney admitted.
Zelenka pointed at him with a wobbling finger. "You don't know that I like men."
Rodney blinked. "I was supposed to know that you like men?"
"I thought you did know."
"How was I supposed to know?"
"Because I am being perfectly obvious about it?"
"Don't be stupid, this is military operation."
"Then how was I supposed to know?"
"You use your gaydar!"
"What gaydar? I have no gaydar! What made you think I have a functioning gaydar?"
"You got blowjob from redhead soldier with big ears."
"Yes, well, he pushed me against a wall. And how did you know that?"
"I had misfortune to be working in jumper bay at time." Zelenka looked at him, eyes narrowed. "Are you going to tell me you are straight?"
"Well, no," Rodney said, vaguely aware that the self-preservation part of his brain had recently died of alcohol poisoning, "it's not that I'm straight, per se, it's more that I'm really not choosy."
"Ah," Zelenka said, apparently satisfied. "Yes, that is most likely explanation."
Rodney's head hurt so much the next day (which was that afternoon, for a lot of people), he couldn't think of a single nasty thing to say when Kavanagh quietly thanked him for his support.
"You're welcome," he said, rubbing his temples with his fingers. "But don't do it again. Please."
Myong-suk Park was, in Rodney's humble opinion, a very mediocre quantum physicist. Her practical work was perfectly reliable, yes, but her theory deviated not one iota from the status quo. Her conjecture was uninspiring at best, timid usually, and sometimes seemed determined to move the entire field of physics backwards instead of forwards. Rodney had been hoping to get Waisale Maikelekelevesi, the only quantum physicist who was actually making progress toward an applied theory of Zero Point Matrices, but everyone knew the world would end before military brass would even tell the chief science advisor who they were considering for a team to be stranded alone in another galaxy, let alone ask his opinion of any of them.
That said, Myong-suk turned out to be a hell of a software engineer. The first time Rodney saw her code, leaning over her shoulder to take the protein bar she was obviously not going to finish, he stood there watching the program unfold for a good twenty minutes. Her routines were diabolical, she wrote a method for calculating intergalactic telemetry in eleven lines, and she even, for god's sake, documented her APIs. She was like an ordinary physicist by day, superhero programmer by night (if anybody had figured out a way to distinguish night and day on Atlantis yet).
He traded her to Peter Grodin's systems team for two boxes of chocolate-macadamia bars, then got seller's remorse a week later. It cost him the remaining box of choc-maccas plus two boxes of raisin-almond and a bottle of HP sauce to get her back, but Rodney figured if he could just trick her into thinking about quantum theory like she thought about memory management, he could have the next Waisale Maikelekelevesi on his hands.
A week after that, she died screaming from the Ancient nanite virus, which was a colossal waste of all the food he'd just traded, but also gnawed at him more than a dozen other deaths should have. The enormity of that day seemed to narrow itself down to one woman, whose mind was on the verge of breakthroughs he couldn't even anticipate.
He found himself thinking of her at odd moments, staring at half a protein bar abandoned on top of an invaluable Ancient console. What a goddamn waste, he'd think, a hot wave of bitterness flooding through him. She really could have been something.
"What do you miss the most?" he asked Zelenka one day, fantasising about Big Macs. He couldn't even remember the difference between a Big Mac and a Quarter Pounder, how tragic was that?
"My sons," Zelenka said.
Rodney sat up. Way up. "Sons? You have sons? You? What? Huh? You have sons?"
"Yes. Two. They would be, hm, fourteen and thirteen, I think." He said it in that light tone that meant he knew the answer to six decimal places, but Rodney couldn't pay attention to that right now.
"Ah. No." He twisted his mouth a little. "Divorced. My wife says, Radek, you must choose, me or science. First I try to choose my wife; that is right thing to do, no? But in the end, it is always science. And Czechoslovakia is not good place, back then, even after the Russians are gone. There is always some war and I think, there will always be some war, but I can get my family to America if I choose science. So I steal Russian algorithm and we emigrate and then we divorce. It is not entirely honourable, what I do, but my family is safe, and I am free."
Rodney shook his head, amazed. "I can't believe you didn't tell me this."
"You think I tell anybody this? No. They think I'm monster, abandon sons to go exploring galaxy." He gestured sharply with his hand, some meaning Rodney couldn't decipher.
"You didn't, though," Rodney said, careful to make it a statement.
"Oh, I did, I suppose. But I could never see them, and I could never talk to them, you know, security. And they are American, and teenagers, ugh, how they hate their weird, foreign father! So I decide is better, when they grow up, they find out their father abandon them for another galaxy, not some equation on computer, you know? I write a thousand letters, and perhaps one day they read and understand."
"They will. You'll be their hero."
"No, I am no hero. But maybe not so useless as they think, hm?"
"I think you're a hero," Rodney said, and then felt like a goofball.
Zelenka snorted. "I think I have to solder your thick head to this console if you don't get out of my way."
They went through laptops at an alarming rate, and no matter how many experts fixed them, or put together new ones from parts, or soldered them onto pieces of Ancient technology, at the end of the week there was usually one less than there had been the week before.
Some filthy pervert had brought, in their personal luggage, dozens of catalogues from science and technology suppliers. Rodney flipped through them sometimes, and then inevitably dreamed about requisition forms. Beautiful snot-green Equipment Request 282A's, where he just had to sign the dotted line and he'd have a new TRE, and a set of ADB magnifiers and another MALP and, for some reason, a live ostrich. In the dreams, no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't move the hand with the pen in it. The dotted line was an inch away, but his arm was frozen still, a dead limb attached to his body. Then the pen would be gone, and the desk would slide away, and the form, the last form they had, would crumble to dust. He'd wake up gasping and shuddering, cold, reaching out with his paralysed hand, crying for the form to come back.
Whenever somebody died, after a respectable amount of time had passed, their belongings were redistributed. The respectable amount of time was getting shorter and shorter. It was more of a thrill than it should have been, getting a dozen red biros and woollen socks and a pink iPod mini full of Wagner and half a tin of very stale hazelnut brownies, but he longed for just five minutes in a department store, getting supplies that didn't make him nauseous from guilt or grief the first time he used them.
He would sometimes look at Zelenka's silver fountain pen, and wonder who would get it if he died, and whether he would manage not to lose it, the first time he saw it in somebody else's hand.
Bradley-not-Brad Davidson was one of the biochemists, and huffy in the way only chemists could be, with the bad body odour so common to biologists. He also was useless, which was a quality unique unto him -- whatever else Rodney could and did say about the other scientists, they at least knew how to do their jobs. Bradley-not-Brad's PhD was from some two-bit backwater college, and apparently he knew something about blue-green algae blooms and not much else. They didn't have any blue-green algae on the Atlantean planet, and Rodney hadn't seen signs of it on any other planet in the Pegasus galaxy. Bradley was a waste of resources, and that was fast becoming a crime.
Rumour had it that he'd got onto the Atlantis team because his uncle was high up in the Pentagon brass. Common sense had it that Bradley's uncle had been the hero of the family Christmas, after getting Bradley shipped off to another galaxy with only a slim chance of ever coming back. Bradley's uncle was not Rodney McKay's favourite person.
Every time a dangerous mission came up, the senior scientists nominated Bradley. Then they had to reluctantly cross his name off the list, because no scientist was sent on a dangerous mission unless it was important enough to risk lives for. Bradley was too incompetent to trust with those kinds of stakes. No, every time they had to choose somebody competent, somebody useful, somebody valuable, to send into a situation they might not survive, while Bradley stayed cozy and warm in the labs, contaminating samples and corrupting data.
Finally, it came down to a suicide mission. One of the unexplored laboratories had begun leaking a form of cyanide into the city atmosphere, but doors were sealed shut by the city safety overrides. They could force it open, but that would release more poison gas than the ventilation system could purify. The only other way in was through a duct, and nobody in a proper hazmat suit could fit through it.
"Bradley," Kavanagh said, standing in front of Rodney's desk with his arms crossed. "I cannot lose another one of my people, McKay, and you know it."
"I know it," Rodney agreed. "You're right. It has to be Bradley." He called Weir, Grodin, Sheppard, Bates and Teyla into a conference, and they nodded reluctantly.
"Somebody has to do it, and soon," Sheppard said.
Still Rodney postponed giving the order.
"I know why you are unhappy," Zelenka said, when he found him on the balcony, brooding. "You know you can't send Bradley."
"He's too incompetent."
"He is stupid shit-for-brains. He will fuck this up."
"And it's too dangerous to be fucked up." Rodney put his head in his hands. "How am I supposed to choose another chemist, and then send them in there to die?"
"I don't know," Zelenka said. "But if it helps, when you have decided who, I will be one to tell them."
"I would be okay with telling them, if I didn't know I'd just chosen them to die! You choose. I'll tell them."
"No." Zelenka shook his head. "Sorry, Rodney. I cannot choose for you."
In the end, Sheppard came to the rescue. "I'll ask for a volunteer from my team. I have very good, very competent men, McKay. One of them can send out readings and visuals and then follow your instructions."
Weir agreed; Kavanagh agreed. Lieutenant Lars Osberg went in through the duct and managed to seal the leaking vat before the poison overcame him. He sent love to his mother and brother with his last breath.
For the rest of the day, Rodney sat at his desk, hating Bradley-not-Brad Davidson with every single atom of his being.
Elizabeth came by and sat down next to him. "I thought you'd like to hear, contamination is halted, the room is clearing. We can retrieve the Lieutenant's body tomorrow."
"That's nice," Rodney said.
Elizabeth stood up. "I think I'll go have a talk to Bradley."
Rodney sighed in despair. "There's no use talking to him. Do you think I haven't talked to him? Kate talks to him. Kavanagh talks to him. Everyone talks to him, but he never learns."
"I haven't talked to him," Elizabeth said grimly.
The following day, Bradley chose to leave Atlantis for the mainland. The Athosians were a generous people, but also hard as nails. If Bradley couldn't work for them, Halling said, they'd find another planet and leave him there for the Wraith to snack on.
"I see brains," he said to Kate, concentrating very hard on getting an Earth lens to fit into a broken Ancient spectrometer. "Out of the corner of my eye."
She looked at him, clearly not understanding.
"Brains and bits of skull, splattered across the wall. Then I turn to look at it, but it's not really there." He didn't say Gaul's name; she'd read the mission report. That's what she did, while he worked in her office - read mission reports, looking for signs that somebody might need help, or was on the verge of cracking.
"Are you getting enough sleep?" she asked.
Rodney laughed. It wasn't the good kind of laugh. He was probably on the verge of cracking. Good thing he was already seeing Kate, even if he refused to talk about his feelings.
"I can give you pills," she said. "If you can sleep for a day or two, you probably won't see the brains any more."
Oh, sleep. How he wanted it. He had nightmares and deadlines and gate lag to the power of infinity. "I can't. I don't have time. Elizabeth needs the Wraith data decoded, we just lost Cynthia Bradford in that stupid explosion, and the power supply in the--" Kate held up a hand, and Rodney stopped.
"What if I arranged something with Dr Beckett? You've caught a strange flu, and you need to be quarantined, just for 48 hours. Doctor-patient privelege. Not even Dr Weir would know."
Rodney thought for a minute. Out of the corner of his eye he could see them, greyish brains splattered with white bone and red blood, on the walls of Kate's office. He wasn't a stupid man; he knew this was a bad, bad sign. He knew he couldn't keep waking up screaming whenever he found two hours in the day to lie down. "Okay," he said, eventually, and immediately felt immeasurably lighter and sick to his stomach with guilt. He didn't care. He wanted to sleep. "Can it wait until, what day is it today?"
"It's Thursday night, actually."
"How about Sunday?"
"Sunday is fine," she said, but when Sunday came, he was locked in a cellar on M2R-879, where the natives really didn't like offworlders.
"If it's all right with you," he told Ford in a voice that threatened to break any second, "I'm just going to close my eyes until we're rescued. I was supposed to be getting some sleep today."
"No problem," Ford said. He folded his arms in that way all soldiers did when they had no P-90 to heft, and moved to stand guard over him. Rodney lay down, and when he woke to the sound of gunfire, he felt annoyingly groggy and stupid, but he wasn't seeing the brains any more.
Four of the Athosian elders were trapped in an overloading transporter, and Zelenka wasn't answering his hails. Rodney ran from lab to lab, shouting for him. It took two to reconfigure the goddamn transporter conduits on the fly, and Cheng and Jones just weren't quick enough under this kind of pressure.
The chair room was deserted, but as he turned to leave he saw a half-eaten protein bar abandoned on top of an invaluable ancient console, and Radek's silver fountain pen next to it. The hot wave of bitterness flooded through him, followed by an indescribable terror, and before he could stop it, he was weeping. He hated Atlantis. He hated it more than he'd hated anything else in his entire life, including high school. God, how he hated it here.
Radek was there, then, taking the pen out of his hands. I'm sorry, Rodney tried to say, and There's an emergency, but he just kept weeping.
"Come on," Radek said gently, and led him to the edge of the chair platform to sit down. He put a hand on the back of Rodney's neck and held him there as a lifetime's worth of post-traumatic stress had its way with him.
"Fuck," Rodney managed eventually, and let out a shuddering breath. "Okay, that was embarrassing."
"Oh, please. You embarrass yourself worse every day. You breathe through your mouth. Your table manner is appalling. Your coding in Ancient is laughingstock of Science team."
Rodney laughed weakly. "This from the man who can't tell the difference between kappa and omicron waves. Where the hell have you been?"
Radek shrugged. "It is early morning for me. I fell asleep in shower." He broke the remains of the protein bar in half and gave one piece to Rodney. "So are you needing me for something? Aside from this crying on the shoulder thing?"
"The transporters went into critical overload," Rodney admitted. "By now either Cheng and Jones have fixed it, or four Athosians are dead."
"Hmmm," Radek said, through a mouthful of chocolate, and stood up. "Or they are in a state that is neither dead nor alive, like Schrodinger's cat. Let's go see which it is, shall we?"
Jimmy Bennett was a gift from Sheppard. A Genii bullet through the knee had put an end to his career as an Army bomb disposalist, which apparently required an ability to run very fast.
"I could keep him on the bench in our dugout," Sheppard said, "but I think you need him more than I do."
Jimmy was a tall, skinny black man with a lopsided smile. He had a dual PhD in chemistry and electrical engineering. He still had all his fingers, which meant he was smart, quick, and didn't make mistakes. He called Rodney "Sir", without any sarcasm at all. He asked to be assigned to the engineering team, because he didn't want to work with Kavanagh in Chemistry.
"Thank you very, very, very much," Rodney said to John, tempted to bend over and kiss his hand in gratitude.
After Jimmy's successful integration, other soldiers started trickling in. Carlo Benvenutio, crippled right arm, passable mathematician. Kelly Braxton, permanent lung damage, very good electrician. Robbie Brown, deafened, radar tech. The ones who adjusted to their disabilities were soon indispensable. The ones who couldn't adjust fit right in with the dozens of other misfits, rejects, and freaks that comprised the Science team.
"Rodney, wake up," Zelenka was saying. Rodney batted his hands away. "No, Rodney, wake up. Wake up. We have problem."
"No, we don't," Rodney insisted, pulling the pillow over his head. "And how did you get in? I put 128-bit encryption on that door."
"Yes, which was safety hazard, so I broke it. You should know better."
Goddammit. Rodney opened his eyes and stared up at Zelenka, who had his arms folded, looking thunderous. "Fine. What's the problem?"
"Fucking piece of shit Tukada took fifty fucking sleeping pills, that is fucking problem."
Oh, fuck. Rodney rolled out of bed and stumbled around his quarters, looking for a shirt. "Is he dead?"
"No, he is with Beckett now. But probably brain damage, they say. Drooling vegetable, nothing more."
He couldn't find a shirt. Fuck. Takada, fuck. Their only real hope of conventionally-powered hyperdrive technology, a drooling vegetable. That selfish fucking prick. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!"
Zelenka sat down at his desk. "I am scared, Rodney. One by one, we are killed or go mad."
"You're not going to go mad," Rodney snapped.
"It is only matter of time. We cannot get back. The Wraith are coming, and we cannot hope to succeed where even the Ancients failed. I will be killed, or I will go mad."
"Well too bad, you can't," Rodney said. "This city needs you."
"But I don't want to be the last one left alive," Zelenka whispered, and then it was Rodney's turn to sit with him as he cried.
When he came by after Takada's funeral service, Kate looked like hell.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Rodney asked.
She shook her head.
"I can't help you if you won't talk to me," he said. They both laughed wryly, and went back to to their respective work.
"Are you seeing anybody?" Rodney asked, after a while. "I mean, in any capacity, seeing anybody?"
"I was," she said, "for a while."
Kate rolled her eyes. "She was nuts."
"Oh," Rodney said, and then, "Oh."
"Yeah," Kate said.
"Amazing sex, though, wasn't it?"
She nodded. "Kinda scary, but hot."
They went back to work for a few minutes, and then Rodney decided that he did want to talk after all. "I think I'm in love."
That was alarming. "You know-- what? Am I that transparent? Is it--"
"Please, Rodney, relax. I'm a professional. Supposedly." She smiled bitterly.
"So do you want to tell me about it?"
Now he was embarrassed. "No."
She leaned forward in her chair. "Do you want me to give you the 'follow your heart' speech? Or maybe the 'you deserve to be loved' speech? Both would be true, you know. And appropriate."
Rodney shook his head. "How about the 'take as much time as you need' speech? I just don't want to--" he sighed. He didn't know what he wanted. Except he did. Everything was going wrong. Sometimes this felt like the only thing he had that could actually go right. "I don't want to do this when we're running out of time."
"We are, though," Kate said gently.
"I know, I know, I know, and it pisses me off!" He was shouting. "I'm sick of living on the edge like this, expecting every hour to bring the final countdown or just some interim crisis that could end with body bags; I'm sick of living to get through the next ten minutes and I would like to have just one thing, just one goddamn thing in my life where I can take as long as I want! I've had it with rushing! Finished, over, kaput! No more rushing! I am done with rushing!"
"Well, it certainly sounds like you are," Kate said.
"Oh, thanks!" he shouted. "I feel so much better now!"
She just smiled at him. "Yes, I think you do."
He scowled, poured himself another coffee, and got back to work.
By the time they disarmed the self destruct for General Major Asshole, Rodney had no idea if it was day or night, Monday or Friday, June or December, in any of the time systems invented in the entire history of civilisation.
On the way from his quarters back to the control room, he ran into Darren Taupeaffe, who was hauling a towering pile of munitions through the corridor on his rock-sled.
"You look tired, bra," Darren said, straining against the rope.
"Thank you for stating the obvious," Rodney muttered, staring vacantly at the sled. He supposed he should help carry things, until the brawn deigned to let the brains in on the plan for saving the city.
Darren took out a handkerchief and mopped the sweat from his forehead. He looked tired, too. "Bad news about Grodin, huh. He was one hell of a spin bowler."
Rodney just looked at him. Darren swept him up into an enormous hug that lasted until one of the new captains barked at him to keep it moving.
After Sheppard left in the jumper, Zelenka was hopping mad.
"What, five minutes is too long to wait? Maybe we can get chair to work! Maybe we control jumpers without chair! Maybe Sheppard postpone pointless heroics until we have chance to think of something else!"
Rodney leaned against the wall of the jumper bay and shook his head. "It's too late. The generator's fried. My brain's fried. It's over, Radek."
"Says you, ha. Me? I have not hit wall yet. I am bigger man than you, McKay." He poked Rodney in the chest. "You get in second jumper, fly into position. Give me five minutes, I tell you what to do next."
Rodney blinked at him though a haze of exhausted static. "What's your plan?"
"Plan? I have no plan. But I have five minutes. Now you are wasting my time, go."
Rodney went. He skirted around the nuke and took his place in the pilot seat, a cold hard certainty settling into his gut. He was going to die, but to hell with it. At least he was going to die in a giant explosion that killed thousands of the evil aliens that had ruined an entire galaxy for him.
"Wait, Rodney!" Zelenka came running on board. "Tell Sheppard. Five minutes."
"Tell Sheppard," he repeated. "Got it."
"Oh, and by the way," Zelenka said, and kissed him, hard. "I am done waiting."
It only took him three minutes to get into position, cloaked, behind the Wraith hive ships. That left two minutes to close his eyes and listen to the static in his mind. How to recrystallise the generator's naquada. Which parts of the city had taken the most damage. How long Radek had been waiting for him. Underneath it all, his ears echoed with the whine of the Wraith darts.
Maybe there was a stash of protein bars on the jumper somewhere.
"Okay," Zelenka said, through the headset. "Rodney, can you hear me?"
"Yes," Rodney said, and opened his eyes. Darts everywhere, descending on the planet. Hive ships spilling hundreds more from their open bellies.
"Awaiting your command," Sheppard drawled.
"Okay, so I scan hive ships, find most vulnerable spot. I think. Something is stored at rear of ship, design implies they can jettison in emergency. So must be fuel, and fuel must be volatile, yes? We detonate bombs against shielding between fuselage and main hulk, breach fuel containment, big boom."
"Okay, yes," Rodney said slowly, studying the enormous mass of the hive ships. "Yes, this is good, you could be right."
"Give me thirty minutes and I know I am right, but there is no time. Get where you can see underbelly. Look for two diamond-shape panels, two thirds down rear section. Drop bombs on that."
"We're releasing them from the hatch in zero gravity. How are we supposed to aim?"
Zelenka groaned. "You are astrophysicist, Rodney! You tell me!"
"And tell me too, if you don't mind," Sheppard added. "Why can't we just back up against the diamonds and let them go?"
"They need to hit at very high velocity or might not detonate," Zelenka said.
"Oh, great. Great, great, great." Rodney moved the jumper so he could see the target, then wiped the sweat off his face and neck. He should have taken more of Beckett's pep pills before he flew out; this was not a good time to be coming down from Air Force-grade amphetamines. But he was a genius, and this was Astrophysics for Dummies. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let the answer come to him. "Okay, Sheppard? You know what the Hitzford equation looks like when you graph it?"
"A sort of wave with a little curl on the end?"
"Right, good, good. Turn it upside down and cut the length of the wave part in half, that's your flight path. Release the rear hatch at the leftmost point of the curl, about five hundred yards from the diamond panels. Follow through the rest of the circle, and then run for your life. Got that?"
"Got it. After you, McKay. I'll copy you exactly."
If Rodney could have remembered the Lord's Prayer right now, he might have said it. Instead, he placed both hands on the Ancient's controls and begged them to guide his jumper through what it needed to do. Strangely, this moved the jumper back a few hundred k's before it started accelerating into the wave part of the path, and took the approach on a slight angle. Yes, of course, Rodney thought. This would give much better release velocity.
From there it was smooth and simple. The wave; the curl; the hatch opened; the jumper finished banking and raced back towards Atlantis.
"What's happening?" he demanded. "I can't see!"
Sheppard was breathing heavily. "You have hit the target; repeat, McKay, you have hit the target."
"Our scans show some damage to hive ship containment. This could take little while." Rodney could hear that he was biting his thumb.
"I can't wait any longer; they're all around me," Sheppard said. "Approaching now. Wave... Curl ... Release... Follow through... and I am heading for home."
"Direct hit," Zelenka said, after a moment, and then, "Rodney, it's working."
Rodney opened his eyes; he hadn't realised he'd closed them again. "It's working?" he repeated; the static was closing in on him.
"My God, my God, containment is breached, explosion spreading. Zdravas Maria, milosti plna-- Second hive breaching --"
Good, this was good. Darts were everywhere, buzzing madly as he dropped through the atmosphere. Atlantis was burning, bright spots and black spots all over it. The air was thick with smoke and projectiles. The jumper descended into the bay, settled on the ground, and the doors opened. Rodney took his hands off the controls, leaving two puddles of sweat behind. For a guy who'd just destroyed a Wraith hive ship, he didn't feel so good.
Elizabeth helped him out of his seat, and Teyla ran to take his other arm as he staggered down the ramp. Zelenka was leaning against the wall, soaked in perspiration, sickly white, hands shaking violently.
"You see?" he said weakly. "Bigger man than you."
"You just got higher than me," Rodney accused, and collapsed against him.
When he opened his eyes again, there was a note propped up by his bed, written in huge all caps:
DAEDALUS ARRIVED, SHIELDS POWERED. ALL IS WELL, KEEP SLEEPING.
WEIR WILL PAGE US IF FURTHER GENIUS REQUIRED.
Rodney had no idea what time it was by now, and he didn't care. There was a canteen of water and a basket of Athosian food on his table. He stumbled over to it, drank the water, wolfed down the food, stumbled back to the bed and crawled in beside Zelenka.
"No," Zelenka said groggily. "Up. Shower. Rotting carcass smell better than we do."
Groaning, Rodney sniffed under an armpit. The stench jerked him wide awake, gagging - wow, that was really bad. "Yes, right. Come on, up." He hauled Zelenka out of the bed, across his quarters, and propped him up the shower. He turned on the hot water, stood under it for a few blissful minutes, and then tried to get their uniforms off.
"Oh, very smooth," Zelenka said crossly, pulling at the wet sleeve tangled on his hand. "You think this all the way through." He turned his face up to the spray, drinking greedily while he yanked at the shirt.
Rodney slipped his arms around his waist and kissed his neck. "I thought there was no hurry."
"No hurry? Six damn months without sex, I say there is a hurry."
"Oh," Rodney said, and pushed him against the tiles. Zelenka moaned, and Rodney kissed him, pressing their bodies together. It was hot, fantastic, with the water washing away the grime and sweat and exhaustion, Zelenka's hands all over him, bossy and demanding. He kept shoving Rodney away to jerk at their clothes and then pulling him back to kiss him until they were breathless. Eventually Zelenka gave up on their pants and thrust against the wet fabric, gasping in Rodney's ear, until he came. Then he got a hand down Rodney's pants and jerked him until nine tenths of his brain was melting out of his ears and the other tenth was shouting glory hallelujahs as he came.
"Okay," Zelenka panted, eyes shut, water streaming down his face. "Now there is no hurry. Long shower, hours of fucking, shower again, sleep again. This is my plan."
Rodney was still shaking with aftershocks, but he nodded enthusiastically. "That could work," he told him.
"I have announcement to make," Zelenka said at their next weekly (or eight-day-ly, or nine-and-a-quarter-day-ly, depending which time system they were pretending to use) Science staff meeting.
Rodney looked up from Tetris. "You do?"
"Yes. It is your birthday present, Rodney. Happy birthday."
"It's my birthday?"
"Well, in Earth time it was I think three weeks ago, and in Atlantean Adjusted Time it is not for two months, and in Atlantean Revised Time there is no equivalent of January thirty-one. But according to my new system, today is your birthday. Many happy returns."
The other scientists at the table applauded nervously.
"Your new system," Rodney said.
"Yes. In honour of our recent escape from death-by-sucking-out-of-all-our-life-energy, I am naming it Atlantean Borrowed Time." Zelenka unveiled a chart. It was decorated in little cartoons. The sight of them made Rodney's heart skip - he hadn't seen Zelenka draw since... Since the virus killed a nearly a dozen of the scientists, in fact. He hadn't even noticed. It made him feel more than a little ashamed of himself, but those drawings were the most beautiful things he'd seen since he'd first stepped into Atlantis. There were all sorts of stars and planets and moons and gas clouds, along with waves and storms and Stargates and a little cartoon city in the middle.
"... to integrate with the solar variations, combined with what we can apply from the system the Ancients used," Zelenka was saying, and then rubbed his hands together. "So the days of the week, now, are Christmas Day, Ramadan Day, Valentine's Day, Bastille Day, Waitangi Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day, Diwali Day and Groundhog Day. Every four weeks, there is also Leap Day, which I officially declare to be city-wide public holiday. There will be drinking and dancing and debauchery on Leap Day. Are you with me so far?"
Kavanagh rolled his eyes. "You haven't accounted for the --"
Zelenka waved his pen. "Yes I have. The planetary rotation is thirty-five hours, not very convenient, I know. So I split it in two. Between zero hundred and twelve hundred is Low Christmas Day, Low Ramadan Day, so on. We work for four hours, from oh-six-hundred, and then lunch. Then for three hours, during the eclipse, it is Elevenses, like a siesta but in the morning, yes? And then it is High Christmas Day. Second breakfast at fourteen hundred, second lunch at twenty hundred, dinner at twenty-six hundred, bed at thirty. According to Dr Beckett, this is optimal circadian rhythm under the circumstance."
"Okay, but there's also the - "
"Yes. But if we take twenty-three days to a month, there's five months in the year, which is more logical. The months are Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon."
Rodney snickered, but obviously nobody else at the table had a sense of humour that depraved.
Kavanagh scowled. "This will only work until - "
"Until the third planet pulls out of the gravitation field of this planet, yes. By my calculations, that is in sixteen years, Atlantean. More than enough time to develop version two, I think."
Rodney cleared his throat. "And how exactly is my birthday today?"
Zelenka shrugged expansively. "It is the day I have your present ready?"
"Works for me. Those in favour?" A table full of shrugs. "Those against?" Kavanagh. "Carried. We'll tell Elizabeth right away."
"After Elevenses," Zelenka interrupted. "The eclipse is in twenty minutes. We should adjourn meeting now."
Rodney was more than happy to retire to his quarters for three hours. He and Zelenka didn't spend the first hour napping, but it was absolute bliss to pass out in the dark, afterwards.
They had finished second breakfast and were heading toward the labs when Rodney finally got the joke.
"You gave me time," he said, and paused in the corridor to beat his head against the wall in despair. "That is the lamest pun in the entire history of the universe."
"Possibly," Zelenka agreed, smirking. "But I got tired of waiting for you to have enough."