“Teach me science,” Ronon said.
Radek looked up from where he was hunched over his laptop at one of the consoles in Control. “Why?”
“So I can be useful.” Ronon had mentioned it before to Rodney, but it was apparent to anyone who spent more than thirty seconds in Rodney’s presence that he didn’t have the patience to teach anyone, well, anything.
“What kind of science do you already know?” Radek returned to his typing. The code on his laptop was inscrutable. The code on the Ancient screen above the console was even more inscrutable, though Ronon recognized Ancient script.
Ronon shrugged. “Not a lot. I used to paint. Write poetry. Write plays.”
Radek’s hands slowed for a moment. “I thought you were a soldier.”
“Soldiers have hobbies. Major Lorne paints.”
Radek’s hands moved so fast that Ronon wondered if he was working at all and not just randomly pushing buttons. “Fair enough.”
“You train racing pigeons, right?”
Radek glanced up at him, hands stilling. “Yes. I did. Back on Earth.”
“We’re on Earth right now,” Ronon pointed out.
“Before the Stargate Program,” Radek said. He shook himself out.
Ronon got it. Atlantis was back on Earth and the base was in lockdown while everyone else in the Stargate Program tried to figure out what to do with the city. As far as Ronon was concerned, the decision was simple: send the city back to Pegasus, where it belonged. All of the Earthers, though, seemed to be pretty out of sorts about being back on Earth but trapped on Atlantis.
“I don’t know what pigeons are,” Ronon admitted, and Radek nodded understandingly.
“They are birds.” He made a fluttering motion with his hands, and Ronon was struck by the unexpected grace in Radek’s wrists. Then he resumed typing. “Most people consider them vermin, but they can be useful. They can race. Before the Internet, people used them to carry messages.”
“Really. They were called homing pigeons.”
Ronon leaned his elbow on the console and watched Radek type. “Do pigeons have anything to do with science?” He could read and write English passably, enough to type mission reports. Dr. Kusanagi, of all people, had been the most patient with teaching him the basics. English wasn’t her first language, but she was very good at it, and she liked to read. Ronon liked to read, too, and Miko had the best collection of books. He had no idea what Radek was typing, though. Radek’s first language wasn’t English either. Was he typing in his own language?
“Scientists, like soldiers, have hobbies.”
“Rodney won’t teach me science. I want to learn science. Rodney sometimes admits you’re smart. If I can’t learn from Rodney, I want to learn from you.”
Radek glanced at him again. “Before you joined Atlantis, you were a Runner, yes?”
Ronon straightened up, wary. “Yes.”
“What did you have with you, to keep you alive?”
“My blaster and my knives.”
“But you fought back against the Wraith?”
“Ran. Hid. Shot. Built traps sometimes.”
“Out of what?”
“Whatever I could find.” Ronon jammed his hands into his pockets, defensive. “Why?”
Radek reached under the console and came up with a shiny plastic and metal Earther device that was shaped like a box but had two narrow openings in the top. “Take this apart, fix it, and bring it back to me.” He handed Ronon the device and a screwdriver.
Ronon stared at it. “What is it?”
“One skill a scientist must cultivate is the ability to find answers if they already exist. We call it research. Go. Research. Fix. Bring it back when it works.” And Radek resumed typing, an obvious dismissal.
Ronon shrugged. “Okay.” And he turned and headed for the engineering lab, where he would probably be able to find more tools. He was halfway to the transporter when Major Lorne stopped him.
“Hey, did Zelenka fix the toaster yet?”
So the device was a toaster. “Not yet. I’m going to fix it for him.” Ronon brandished the screwdriver.
Major Lorne looked surprised for a moment, but then he nodded. “Okay. Thanks! I know Zelenka gets pretty overwhelmed sometimes.”
“What does a toaster do?”
Major Lorne stared at him. “It makes toast.”
“Toast. Like the cooked bread?”
Major Lorne pointed into the narrow openings. “See those metal coils? When you plug the toaster in, they heat up, cook the bread. You put the bread in here, push this button so the bread goes down and the toaster turns on, and when the cooking is done, the toast pops up automatically. This dial controls how long the bread cooks for.”
“You put bread in and toast comes out.”
“Thanks for fixing it, Ronon.”
Ronon waved - he rarely bothered with Earth gestures - and continued on to the lab. He was going to fix this toaster. He’d seen the Karate Kid (one of Parrish’s favorite movies). He was pretty sure that fixing the toaster was going to be like waxing the car.
“Hand me that screwdriver?” Ronon was half-under the console, only his hips and legs visible. The way the hem of his shirt rode up, revealing a strip of smooth golden skin, was distracting, but Radek reached into the tool box (a repurposed Satedan bread box) and found the screwdriver.
On Sateda, apparently no one had thought to make life difficult by having thousands of different customized bolts and screws, and so the only screwdrivers they ever had - or needed - were flat heads of various sizes (and even then those various sizes were standardized). Radek appreciated the cooperative nature of Satedan science, such as it had been before The Culling That Ended The World.
He placed the screwdriver on Ronon’s outstretched hand, then sat back on his haunches, watching the screen of his laptop, waiting. The poor thing was so old and so tired that it needed to be plugged in constantly to work at all.
“I swear some of these are rusted on.” Ronon grunted, irritated. He bent his legs at the knees, tapping his feet as he struggled with the stubborn screw.
It was some kind of reflexive reaction to strain, one Radek had observed in the Marines when they were lifting weights in the gym on Atlantis. Radek had never lifted weights there or, well, anywhere. But he’d gone in there sometimes. To talk to Ronon.
“It has been a long time since anyone has tried to fix them, I’m sure,” Radek offered.
“Too long,” Ronon said, voice flat.
Even though several hundred Satedans had survived The Culling That Ended The World, none had chosen to return to Sateda. In fact, none of them had joined The Rebellion (it was all Sheppard’s fault that was what they’d called themselves). Teyla had always spoken of Ronon and Sateda as if all of them were as massive and strong and fierce as Ronon, but Radek had learned that Satedans, like all people, came in different stripes, and most of them chose the easier path.
Ronon tapped his feet some more, his hips wriggling in a most unintentionally alluring fashion, and then he said, “Got it!” There was some rustling and some grinding metal sounds, and then Ronon pushed a half-rusted panel cover out from under the console. “This console is shot.”
“How badly?” Radek poked through his supply box. Every time they came across an electrical device, they harvested it for components, including wiring. Between the two of them, they could rewire literally anything on Sateda.
“Badly,” Ronon said, and he held out a fist, uncurled his fingers to reveal an actual bullet.
Radek stared. “That is from a P-90, yes?”
“Most likely from the time Sheppard and the others followed me back here.” Ronon slipped the bullet into his pocket and resumed poking around.
“Well?” Radek asked.
“It’s a bit more complicated than a toaster,” Ronon said.
Radek huffed. “Everything is more complicated than a toaster.” He patted Ronon’s knee absently. “But it was a good lesson, yes?”
“You know what I miss most about Atlantis?” Ronon asked.
They’d played this game often, in the beginning. After a while - after the first Great Loss - it became too painful to play. Radek tensed, unsure of whether Ronon was going to have a silly or a serious response.
“How well-stocked it was. I mean, Lorne was no mechanic or engineer, but he always had everything. A shot of that penetrant stuff would have gotten that screw off in no time, and I wouldn't have stripped most of it in the process. Got a piece of paper and a pen?”
That was something else they hadn’t accounted for, when they’d fled Earth with Atlantis’s main components in tow (Star Drive, shield system). Paper and pens. All of Atlantis had been paperless, and easily so. There was a reason most of Pegasus, however, still relied on paper.
Of course Lorne knew how to make paper.
Radek had been surprised when Ronon knew how to make ink.
“Let’s hear it,” Radek said.
Ronon, relying on a little glowing stone that was the Ancient equivalent of a night light, began listing off all of the broken components in the console’s guts, all of the components they would need to replace.
He was methodical, ordered about it. The way he examined a machine was the same way Radek did, which was convenient. It meant they worked together well. It was because Radek had been his teacher. In some things. In other things, Ronon had been a most thorough instructor.
Radek still blushed when he thought of their first time, frantic and heated, in an alcove of one of the Travelers’ re-purposed Ancient ships, hands sliding under clothes and mouths meeting over and over again. Ronon was young and strong. Radek had been more touch-starved than he knew.
“ - Radek?”
Ronon had slid out from under the console and was peering at him, amused. “Did you get that?”
Radek consulted his list of parts.
Ronon listed off several more, smirking knowingly all the while.
“Off the top of my head, we have most of these.” Radek patted the tool box absently. “But others may be harder to find.”
“Let’s go find them.” Ronon slid out from under the console and dusted himself off absently. He knelt beside Radek and helped him pack up the toolbox. Then he scooped up the toolbox and propped it onto one shoulder, and together they set out from the military command office.
Radek knew central Sateda like the back of his hand. He and Ronon had owned it for the past three years, walked its streets, combed its old buildings, but they hadn’t picked over everything yet. Ronon took point, toolbox in hand, pistol in the other. Radek watched their six, blaster pistol in hand as well.
John Sheppard had envied Ronon’s blaster for a long time.
Ronon had found one for Radek in their first three hours on Sateda.
It had taken Radek two months of daily training to use it nearly as accurately as Ronon. He kept it on stun all the time, but the Wraith had forgotten Sateda, and so had the rest of the galaxy.
Ronon picked his way across fallen debris, nimble as a mountain goat. Radek watched his path carefully, because the last time he’d tripped and sprained his ankle he’d been laid up for what seemed like forever, and being laid up made him cranky - more like Rodney than he cared to admit - and it didn’t do him any good to alienate the one person on the planet with him.
“Where to?” Ronon asked.
“The radio hall,” Radek suggested. There were always useful components to be found there.
Whenever Radek came up on the radio hall from the west side, he was reminded of the old-fashioned movie palaces on Earth, that he’d seen on television reels in the crammed cinemas of his youth, but inside, they were totally different. There were concession stands and bathrooms in the foyer, but the inside of the radio hall was - like an indoor picnic space. It had been open-air in the summer, closed in the winter, with slopes and terraces for individuals or couples or groups to gather.
And listen, to live concerts on the stage, and radio dramas, and sometimes even broadcasts from other locations. In a culture with no televisions, watching was less important, so there were no seats facing the stage, just spaces for families to spread out and eat food and do whatever caught their fancy while they listened.
Ronon liked to draw. Radek, had he been present for one of those broadcasts, would have liked to do origami, perhaps. He had to have something to do with his hands, or he would stop paying attention.
The radio hall was deserted now, the soft carpeting faded and worn and burnt in patches, the cushions and pillows and blankets torn and rotted, stuffing spilled across the floor. Ronon and Radek had a favorite spot, though. The space where Ronon and his squadron used to come as a group to listen to stories and epic poetry and plays. It was their spot.
Now it was Ronon and Radek’s spot. Instead of heading straight for the ladders up to the catwalks and the massive sound system, they plopped down on what clean cushions they’d gathered and dug into their packs for food.
Radek was running low on vegetables and nuts. The next time they swung by a greenhouse, he’d have to restock. The thing about owning all of Sateda was that no single part of it was really theirs. Sometimes they had to trek halfway across the country to find a machine that might have the component they needed, and it was easier to have small, sustainable outposts (pallets and wild mini gardens) than to have to haul lots and lots of gear with them.
While he ate, he pondered, ever mindful of the old Marine refrain, what do we have and what do we need?
They had each other, and barely enough to get by, only candles in the night so they had flashlights to work in dark places. They needed a way to fix what they had done.
“You know what else I miss about Atlantis?” Ronon asked.
Radek glanced at him. “What?”
“Now now,” Radek protested, “the rainwater cistern system we constructed is very advanced, especially seeing as how there are only two of us.”
“And we can only get cold showers if we’re within a day’s walk of the thing,” Ronon grumbled. But then he closed his eyes and hummed, pleased. “I remember my first shower on Atlantis, after Running for seven years. Warm. Constant water pressure.”
“I remember how Rodney always threatened to ruin our showers as punishment. No water pressure. No heat.” Radek missed Rodney more often than he’d care to admit to anyone but Ronon.
Ronon opened his eyes and flicked a glance at Radek. “You know what else I miss about Atlantis? Real beds.” His gaze turned heated. “You. Me. And a real bed every night.”
Radek said, “On Atlantis, you had many more people to choose from than me, all younger and more beautiful.” It was a simple truth, one that honestly didn’t bother him; but then not much bothered him these days, with most of his friends and comrades and colleagues dead, him and Ronon basically stranded on Sateda while they attempted what Sheppard would have called a Hail Mary pass to fix what had gone wrong. To fix the past.
To turn back the clock and undo the death and destruction and chaos - all of it unnecessary, all of it because of how all of them had been blinded by their love for Pegasus and their own hubris.
Ronon frowned. “Maybe that’s true, there were more people to choose from - but who’s to say I wouldn’t have chosen you? If I’d have known I had a chance.”
Radek tactfully didn’t point out that Ronon hadn’t made a move till they were fleeing from Earth, till they were separated from the others (in an admittedly deliberate maneuver to avoid easy recapture). He just smiled and said, “You know what I miss about Atlantis being on Earth? Kolaches.”
As it turned out, fixing the toaster really was like waxing the car. And Ronon didn’t have to do a lot of puzzling out by himself. Because Atlantis was on Earth, the computers in the city had access to the Internet, and on the Internet Ronon could find everything. There was a place called YouTube which featured videos that were basically step-by-step demonstrations of not just fixing things, but painting and martial arts and dancing and cooking. It was kind of overwhelming.
After some more poking around on the Internet, Ronon figured out what model the toaster was and watched a video on how a toaster worked and how to fix it. When he presented the fixed toaster to Zelenka, Zelenka looked it over, nodded, and handed him a list of other small items around Atlantis that had needed fixing for a while that he hadn’t gotten to.
Ronon had seen The Karate Kid and knew this was his training, this was waxing the car and painting the house and painting the fence, so he researched each item (usually all he had to do was ask Lorne, who was very grateful that the items - most of them kitchen appliances - were getting fixed), looked up how to fix it, and fixed it.
After several YouTube videos about fixing blenders and toasters and electric mixers, Ronon was starting to see a pattern on how machines generally worked: power source, motor, casing. And he didn’t need to watch so many videos after that, could get by on what he’d learned from the previous repair job. In addition to having an endless supply of videos, the Internet also had an endless supply of books. Ronon quickly figured out that if he was huddled in one of the labs, hunched over a computer and reading about electrical wiring or motor mechanics, he would be left in peace, because no one thought to look for him there.
Everyone on Atlantis was tense and restless. They were back on Earth, but they were effectively trapped on the city while a bunch of Earth officials tried to figure out what to do with it. Keep it on Earth? Move it from San Francisco Bay or leave it there? They couldn’t uncloak it. They could offer more regular shore leave for all of the base personnel. Apparently there was an Air Force base close enough to San Francisco that everyone was transferred there in name only, so if anyone asked, they were just personnel from the local base. Teyla was especially anxious, because her husband and son were back in Pegasus. Ronon, as he was not an Earth citizen, wasn’t allowed out of the city unless it was on official business.
Since he wasn’t going on gate missions, most of the official business that required his presence was interviews by IOA officials who wanted to know more about Pegasus, about his time on Sheppard’s team, how Sheppard was as a commander.
So the lab was a safe space. No one thought Ronon had any use in a lab. It was the best place to fix things, though. Zelenka, for all that he wasn’t very open about his praise for Ronon’s work, let Ronon have unfettered access to his toolbox. Given how Zelenka snapped at anyone else who dared go near his toolbox, Ronon figured it was high praise, that he could pilfer Zelenka’s screwdrivers at will.
The biggest issue with Atlantis, of course, was that a Pegasus gate took precedence over a Milky Way gate, so teams gating out of Cheyenne Mountain kept gating back into Atlantis and had to be beamed back to the Mountain. At first it had been entertaining, to see wide-eyed soldiers and scientists stumble into the gateroom and be terrified that they’d stepped into an alternate universe or reality or timeline or planet, but now it was irritating. It kept Chuck and Amelia and the rest of the gate techs busy, though.
Eventually word of Ronon’s new skill spread, because during his morning runs and sparring sessions, soldiers kept asking him to fix things - from a desk lamp to a string of Christmas lights to someone’s X-box. Now that Ronon had this new skill, he was eligible for the Atlantis bartering system. If he fixed Captain Vega’s Playstation, she’d sew up the tears in his favorite jacket. If he fixed Lorne’s favorite electric mixer, he’d get a whole pan of brownies made with special chocolate sold only in San Francisco. Being part of the barter system was great, but Ronon was tired of waxing cars and painting fences.
So he caught Zelenka in the lab one day - Zelenka spent a lot of time in meetings with Rodney and Woolsey and Sheppard and a bunch of other IOA officials and not a lot of time in the lab but also a lot of the time taking deep breaths and muttering under his breath in his own language - and asked him.
“Are you going to ever actually teach me science?”
Zelenka was as he always was in the lab, hunched over his laptop and typing rapidly, a piece of paper full of scribbled-out formulas next to his elbow. “What are the two types of electrical circuits?”
“Series and parallel,” Ronon said, because he’d spent forever fixing those stupid Christmas lights, and when only one bulb was bad, the entire thing didn’t work. He’d ended up rewiring the thing in parallel just so he could figure out which bulb was the bad one.
Zelenka didn’t even look up. “What kind of energy does an electrical motor convert electrical energy into?”
Ronon huffed, impatient. “Mechanical.”
“What’s the difference between a electric motor, an actuator, and a transducer?”
Ronon paused. “I don’t know.”
“How do you find out?”
“Google or YouTube.”
Zelenka lifted his head and smiled. “Congratulations. You are a scientist.”
“But I don’t understand physics or -”
“You don’t have to be a physicist to be important,” Zelenka said. “When Rodney is off-world, more often than not it’s his ability to fix or alter a piece of machinery that saves your team, not his ability to understand the movements of the planets and stars and gravity.”
“But I haven’t gone to school like you and Rodney.”
“Do you need school? Everything you would learn in school is on Google or YouTube.” Zelenka lifted his hands off the keyboard and turned to face Ronon fully. “When you were fixing things, was it fun?”
Ronon pondered. “Well -”
“When you figured out how it worked, when it made sense, when it finally worked as it should - how did that make you feel?”
“Pretty good,” Ronon admitted.
“There, you see, you have the heart of a scientist. I did not become a scientist by going to school. I became a scientist because I enjoyed it, because I wanted to know how things worked and if I could make them work better or in new ways. I taught myself much of what I need to know about fixing things, as you have. Growing up as I did, we could not afford new things if they broke, and being able to fix things was a valuable skill. Yes, school refined my understanding of concepts, taught me new ways to think I may not have learned on my own.”
Zelenka was warming to the subject, his hands fluttering, and once again Ronon was struck by how graceful his hands were. Usually he was carrying a laptop or datapad or toolbox and didn’t talk with his hands, but now he was excited and animated.
“If you wish to be a scientist, you can learn anything you wish to learn. The skills you have learned in fixing things were skills you already had in making traps to combat the Wraith. If you wish to learn how Ancient and Wraith technology work, there have been many papers written. They are accessible on Atlantis’s servers. If you have questions, I will answer them. But I think you will find you will not have as many as you think.” Zelenka reached out and patted Ronon on the arm. “Now, do you wish to help with something more complicated?”
“Yes,” Ronon said.
“The IOA wants to free up a battle cruiser for space patrols against the Lucian Alliance, but someone still needs to beam gate teams back to Cheyenne Mountain. We are trying to fix an Asgard beam transporter onto a jumper. Help Dr. Kusanagi.”
Zelenka nodded. “Colonel Carter and Dr. Lee published a paper on beaming technology. Read it, then speak to Miko.”
And he went back to his laptop.
That sounded like a fun challenge.
Ronon tapped his radio and asked control for a location on Miko Kusanagi.
As it turned out, helping Miko install a beaming device on one of the jumpers wasn’t particularly complicated. They were just finding a space under the control console and screwing it in. It was a question of finding space and then designing a simple install. Miko didn’t even draw up a design first. She studied the beaming box, the underside of the console, had Ronon hand her a measuring tape, and she marked some holes to drill, some on the console, some on the beaming box. Ronon held the box while she did the marking and measuring, watched her furrow her brow and work.
He didn’t think he’d have needed to do any pre-designing first. He’d made more complicated hanging and attaching arrangements with some of the Wraith traps he’d built.
He hoisted it into place, listening to Miko guide him (left, a little more left, no the other left, there!), and then he wriggled out from under the box.
“That was easy,” he said.
“Well, the box is in place,” Miko said, “but it’s not wired into the jumper’s functions yet.” She opened a panel on the side of the box and pulled out a small crystal tray. “You can do basic electrical wiring, yes?”
Miko pushed her toolbox toward him. “Wire this box into the main power grid for the jumper. Once it is wired, I will program the beaming interface into the jumper controls.”
Ronon had no idea where the main power grid access for the jumper was, but Miko had her datapad to hand, so he knew he could look up the jumper schematics for himself. He wondered what he would need to do to get a datapad of his own. While he poked at Miko’s datapad, she sat in one of the pilot chairs and fired up the console. Like John and Lorne, she was a natural Gene carrier.
“You think this will help us with the whole issue of people gating in from offworld missions under the Mountain?” Ronon asked.
“Someone could write a protocol so a Milky Way gate overrides the priority of a Pegasus gate,” Miko said. “It’s not that complicated. Rodney could do it. Carter could do it. Bill Lee could do it. Don’t know why no one’s bothered. Probably an excuse to keep us here.”
“Here in the Bay, or…?”
“On Earth. The Darts from the Super Hive destroyed the Chair.” Miko tapped away rapidly.
Ronon wondered if he’d ever be able to type that fast. “What if we got a new chair? From Pegasus. Or - from the old Orion.”
“You’re not the first to suggest it.”
“There could be parts for a new chair, right? Back in Pegasus?” Ronon prodded at the datapad.
“Should we send people to Pegasus to look?”
Ronon peered at her. “Are you mad at me?” He’d located the panel under the console that led into the main power grid for the jumper and just gotten the panel unscrewed, but he paused and poked his head out look at Miko.
“No.” She sighed. “It’s just - people think Atlantis should stay here, to defend Earth. Because it was originally from Earth, they think it should stay here.”
“But the Wraith are in Pegasus. If we stop them there, they won’t make it here.”
“As they say in English, you’re preaching to the choir,” Miko drawled. “How’s it going down there?”
It had taken Ronon a lot of lost wire and splicing to figure out how to use the wire strippers without cutting the wires too, but now he had it down. “Pretty close.”
“When you’re done, come sit next to me. Has anyone taught you how to program?”
“Programming is an essential offworld skill. If you can reprogram a gate or a device or even parts of a Wraith ship, you can turn the tide of battle.”
“When was the last time you went offworld?”
“It’s been a while. But that’s where Rodney shines. Reprogramming things to do what he wants. Fixing things. What do you know about programming?”
“It’s telling machines what to do.”
Ronon hummed to himself, pleased. After a few quick twists of his wrists, he had the beaming box wired into the jumper’s power.
Miko murmured something under her breath in her own language, then added in English for Ronon’s benefit, “Well done! Now get up here and learn.”
Ronon had taken to carrying a small sketchbook with him, so he could draw diagrams of things he needed to know, and also take notes. He hoisted himself into the chair beside Miko and peered at her laptop screen. She’d interfaced her laptop with the jumper so outside programs could be added, and also so someone without the Gene could work with the jumper controls.
“This will take a long time,” Miko said. “Longer, with me teaching you. But the time will be worth it, yes? And we’re not going anywhere anyway.”
Ronon nodded. “Thanks.”
“For teaching me.”
Miko beamed at him. “You are our honorary scientist, and we are proud to have you.”
She wasn’t kidding when she said it was going to take a long time. Programming something new? Took hours. And since Ronon had no prior programming experience and was very slow at typing, it took even longer.
But Miko was patient. When she explained things, she didn’t make Ronon feel like he was stupid. And once he learned something, she let him handle it himself, using the search function to find sections of code that he could alter to include the new beaming tech. Partway through the task, they paused to get another laptop for Ronon to work on, so he and Miko could tackle the code at the same time.
And they also broke for food and beverages (coffee for Miko, water for Ronon), and while they sat around eating, Miko told Ronon more about programming, and what life had been like in her native land, and why she’d joined the SGC.
“To work with Rodney, of course. He’s brilliant.”
“So are you and Radek.”
Miko shrugged. “Not like Rodney. Here is a thing we all try to pretend is real: that all people are created the same, somewhere underneath their skin and personality. That if I work just as hard as Rodney, one day I will be as brilliant as Rodney. But he and I are not the same, and our brains do not work the same, and there are things he can do that I will never be able to do, and I understand that. Of course, there are things I can do that he will never be able to do.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be a scientist like Rodney,” Ronon said. “But I think I can learn enough science to be useful.”
“Do you want to be a scientist like Rodney?”
“Then I wouldn’t consider it a failure if you don’t become one like him.” Miko nibbled delicately on her noodles. She used a pair of sticks to eat noodles and rice and similar things.
John had been strangely insistent that Ronon use a knife and fork and spoon when he first joined the expedition, and now it was habit for Ronon. But it looked like Miko was a lot quicker with her sticks. Radek also ate certain types of noodles with a pair of sticks.
Ronon said, “Can you teach me how to use those?”
“Of course! They’re called chopsticks.”
By the time they were done with dinner, Miko let Ronon in on a little secret: the art of copying and pasting. Once she was sure he understood how the code section she’d taught him worked, she showed him a faster way to add in the new sections of code so he didn’t have to type them in over and over again.
“But you are typing faster, you know,” she said. “So it was good practice, yes? Now, would you like to learn a new section?”
Ronon nodded. Miko showed him another section of code, some nested if/then statements that would be used to modulate the beaming box’s power draw from the rest of the systems so the jumper wouldn’t go plummeting out of the sky as soon as someone turned on the Asgard beam.
The two of them set to typing quietly, some of Miko’s bright and bouncy music playing in the background.
“Is this how it always is?” Ronon asked, when he and Miko were taking another stretch and snack break. “Sitting all day, working for hours on end?”
“And sometimes all night,” Miko said. “When the job is important enough, we go till it is done. Day or night, no matter the time.”
“Is that why Rodney’s cranky all the time?”
“Because he gets little sleep? That is part of it, I’m sure. But also he’s just Rodney. It’s why we all drink so much coffee, though. To help keep us awake. You should learn to like it.” Miko smiled over the rim of her mug.
Ronon had eaten many strange and awful things while he was on the Run, in the name of survival. Now that he was no longer a Runner, well, he wouldn’t subject himself to anything so bitter if he didn’t have to.
“You can add sugar, you know,” Miko said. “To make it sweeter.”
“Somehow I don’t think I’ll ever be the one they call out of bed in the middle of the night to fix things,” Ronon said.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that. You fix the things we don’t have time to fix, like the X-boxes and things. The Marines like you. And they have shifts in the middle of the night.”
“They know I like my sleep,” Ronon pointed out. “And they spar with me.”
Miko laughed. “True! Now, we’re almost on the last leg. What do you understand about Ancient interfaces? Or Asgard interfaces? And how to interface both of them through an Earth-based program?”
Ronon stared at her.
“Right. Let’s begin!”
When the job was officially done, the beaming system fully installed on the jumper, Miko sent Ronon off to bed. He couldn’t believe how exhausted he was when he finally arrived at his quarters. Miko said she’d summon him the next morning so they could test the system with an incoming gate team, but they had to schedule things with the teams at the Mountain and the gate room, so he might as well sleep.
He collapsed onto his bed with a groan, too tired to even take off his boots. No wonder all the scientists were always fully dressed when there were drills in the middle of the night. He’d done nothing but sit around all day hunched in front of a laptop or huddled under the jumper console, and his entire body ached.
Worse, his brain ached. He was pretty sure he could feel it cringing in his skull, shrinking away from everything Miko had poured into it.
He fell asleep with lines of code dancing across his eyelids.
He woke when his bedside alarm went off.
He swore, scrambled for his radio. “Go for Dex.”
“Ohayo gozaimasu!” Miko chirped. “Come to the gate room! Major Lorne will fly us up, and we will test the new beaming system.”
“I’ll be there in, like, ten minutes. I need to shower.”
“Good choice. See you!”
Ronon heaved himself up off his bed, finally managed to kick off his boots, and stumbled for the shower. He was in clean clothes and out the door in under ten minutes. When he got to the gate room, it seemed like the entirety of Atlantis was there. John, Woolsey, Teyla, Miko, Radek, the entire science department, more Marines than a scientific test warranted, and a bunch of people Ronon didn’t recognize.
It took him a moment to find Miko, who was jumping up and down and waving a hand behind several tall Marines.
“Over here, Ronon!”
He shouldered his way past the Marines and toward her. “What’s up?”
“Major Lorne will be here with the jumper any second,” Miko said. “We’re going to fly up out of orbit - cloaked, obviously, so no one sees us - and then beam a team from the gate room to the Mountain.”
“Will an entire team fit in the jumper?” Ronon asked.
Miko nodded. “Yes. Gate teams on Earth are the same size as gate teams on Atlantis.”
Chuck and Amelia were at the Control console. “Jumper Three, you are clear to descend.”
The ceiling panel opened, and a jumper came on down. Luckily, there was a space cleared for it, and it landed, and the rear hatch opened.
Miko scrambled aboard the jumper, beckoned Ronon to follow her. She was clutching a datapad and laptop.
“Aren’t Rodney or Radek coming?” he asked.
“No, just us.” Miko beamed at him. “We did the work, we run the test.”
“Strap in,” Lorne said, and Miko scrambled for the copilot seat. Ronon sat in the passenger seat behind her, and Lorne spoke to Chuck, who cleared them for takeoff.
From space, Earth looked kind of like Lantea, and even New Lantea. Much more land than water, but still lots of water and swirling white clouds.
“Establishing geosynchronous orbit,” Lorne said. “Stargate Command, this is Major Lorne. I have with me Dr. Miko Kusanagi and Ronon Dex, and we are ready to begin jumper beaming tests.”
“This is Stargate Command,” a man answered. “We read you loud and clear, Major. SG-17 is departing through their gate now. Uploading tracker signals to you.”
Miko had her laptop open on her lap, was typing away rapidly. Ronon felt just a bit useless until Miko thrust her laptop at him.
“You monitor the beaming box,” she said, waking up her datapad with a flick of her fingers. “Make sure everything is interfacing correctly. I will track their signals from here, run the beam while Major Lorne keeps the jumper going.”
Ronon nodded, balanced the laptop very carefully on his knees. “Roger that.”
“Signal patterns received,” Miko said.
“Major Lorne, SG-17 has reached their offworld destination. Dialing in any moment now.”
“Roger that, Stargate Command.” Lorne switched subspace signals. “Atlantis, this is Major Lorne. SG-17 is dialing in.”
“SG-17 has arrived,” Chuck said. “Ready to beam?”
Miko’s hands flew across the buttons on the console. The HUD screens flashed by in a dizzying array. “I am locked onto their trackers. Initiating beam. Jumper clear?”
Ronon glanced behind him. The rear compartment had been cleared of debris. “Jumper clear.”
Miko nodded. “Beaming up now.” She pressed a couple of buttons, and Ronon held his breath.
Then four soldiers in familiar olive uniforms appeared in the back of the jumper in a shimmer of golden beam light. Ronon exhaled.
“SG-17?” Lorne asked.
“You bet,” said one of the soldiers.
Lorne grinned over his shoulder. “All right. Stargate Command, this is Major Lorne. We have beamed up SG-17. Clearance to beam down?”
“Beam down to the gate room.”
“Send coordinates for gate room?” Miko asked.
Ronon watched the laptop screen. So far the jumper’s power systems were holding properly.
“Sending coordinates,” said the man from Stargate Command.
The HUD screens danced and flickered in front of Miko. How did she not get dizzy? “Coordinates received. You ready, SG-17?”
“Ready,” their leader said.
“SG-17 is beaming down,” Miko said, and there was another flare of golden light, and SG-17 was gone.
Ronon held his breath again, and then the man from Stargate Command said, “SG-17 has beamed down successfully. Well done, Atlantis.”
Miko cheered and launched herself out of her seat, threw herself at Major Lorne. He caught her, startled and laughing, and hugged her. Ronon had barely half a second’s warning before Miko launched herself at him. He hugged her, mindful of how small she was compared to him.
“All right, Atlantis,” Lorne said. “We’re coming back in.”
Back on Atlantis, Lorne released Miko and Ronon into the gate room, and the scientists immediately swarmed Miko. Ronon was shuffled off to the side in the press of bodies. Lorne took the jumper back to the jumper bay, and when he returned, he and John set about arranging for teams of people to be on patrol in the jumper up above Earth, making sure that Earth’s gate teams got back to the SGC as appropriate.
Ronon was hungry, so he started for the mess hall.
Radek fell into step with him. “You did very well, Ronon.”
Ronon eyed him. “Thanks.”
“Miko tells me she taught you coding, yes?”
“Then you are well on your way to being the next Samantha Carter when your team goes offworld.”
“If they ever let us go offworld,” Ronon grumbled.
“You are going to the mess for breakfast?” Radek asked.
“Yeah. Didn’t get a chance to eat after Miko woke me up.”
Radek clicked his tongue sympathetically. “She says you stayed up very late to work. Come with me. I have something better than eggs and bacon.”
“Nothing’s better than bacon,” Ronon said.
Radek smiled. “You shall see. Come to the lab.”
The lab was mostly deserted, as the scientists were celebrating with Miko and the gene-carrying pilots and techs were realizing that they’d have to spend long, boring shifts up in the jumper, beaming people back and forth. Radek led Ronon to his desk - where he had a white cardboard box. Radek sat, so Ronon pulled up a chair and sat beside him.
Radek drew back the flaps of the box. Strange, round pastries were piled inside, some flat, some little domes. “These are kolaches. Major Lorne brought them back for me, when he went ashore. They are from my native land - well, not literally. But the people who made them and the recipe they used - anyway. They are delicious. Try them. This one is cream cheese, this is blueberry, this is raspberry, this is strawberry. And these ones - you cannot see inside them, but they have bacon and cheese and mushrooms and other delicious things. Eat one. Eat many!”
Ronon reached for one with bacon, then hesitated. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. There are many more where these came from.”
“But - these are special to you.”
Radek pushed his glasses up his nose, smiled at Ronon. “Yes, and today is a special occasion for you. Your first big scientific success! If you type up a little paragraph about what you did, submit it to Miko, she will add your name to the paper. I know papers do not mean much to you, but they are important for science.” He nudged the box toward Ronon.
Ronon picked up the pastry with the bacon inside of it, bit into it. The flavor of bacon and strong cheese and something more subtle exploded in his mouth. He moaned happily.
Radek’s smile brightened into a grin. “I told you. Delicious.” He reached into the box for a pastry of his own - raspberry - and bit into it.
“What did you do?” Ronon asked. “For your first big scientific success.”
Radek shrugged. “My first scientific success wasn’t really mine. I mean, I did all the work, but my supervising professor, he got all the credit. That’s sort of how things work. When we are young, we work for a leader, and the leader gets the credit, and when we are older -”
“Rodney gets all the credit?”
Radek huffed. “He is getting much better at sharing.”
“Well,” Ronon said, “since you taught me, you should count this as a really big scientific success. And we should celebrate this together.”
“Well, we are sharing kolaches.”
“We should celebrate the Satedan way as well.”
“Does it involve copious amounts of alcohol? Because I am not as young as you.”
“Just because I’m a soldier doesn’t mean everything involves alcohol.” Ronon smiled. “Why don’t we finish these, and then I will show you.”
“All right,” Radek said. “As long as it is not dangerous.”
“It’s not. I promise.”
Ronon and Radek found some, but not all, of the components they needed to fix the central console. Ronon had climbed a ladder to get to some of the speakers, tear open the screens and pick through the components inside. Since it was a speaker and not a computer, most of the useful pieces were along the lines of hardware - nuts and bolts and screws - but there were a few pieces that would be useful for amplifying a signal, which was what they needed for their project.
Once Ronon had cleaned out all of the remaining speakers and they had enough amplification modules, they set off.
To nowhere in particular.
The entire planet was theirs.
The emptiness of the planet gave them the illusion of leisure. They could go where they wanted, when they wanted. Given the nature of their plan, what they had, more than anything, was time. They were going to change the past. Their present would be wiped away. Their future didn’t matter.
So after Ronon had done his work, they’d wandered away from the radio hall, into the Chieftain’s old palace. In a fit of childish glee at breaking the rules, they’d cleaned up one of the nicer guest suites and taken it over. It was as close to their home as they had on the planet. While Ronon spread out on the floor, picking through the harvested components, sorting them and cleaning them, Radek wandered through the palace to the rooms they’d turned into rain-fed hydroponic gardens, restocking on food to take on their travels.
Rodney had always made fun of Parrish and the botanists, that their skills were unimportant in the fight against the Wraith and the threats in the wider galaxy. Rodney hadn’t predicted that the members of the Expedition would be separated from each other in Pegasus, that they would have to survive on their own. Rodney hadn’t thought much of Ronon and Radek’s plan to return to Sateda, even though as far as the Wraith were concerned the planet was deserted.
Rodney was dead.
And if he’d Ascended or otherwise had his consciousness survive, he probably knew now that botany skills were useful survival skills.
By the time Radek returned to the bedroom, Ronon had finished sorting and cleaning and put everything away in the toolbox, and he’d arranged a picnic for them at the little side-table that had been part of the furnishings in the guest room when they’d come upon it. Picnics on the floor were fine and dandy, but Radek’s hips and lower back and knees weren’t what they used to be, after so many offworld skirmishes with the Wraith, and sometimes he liked to sit and eat at a table, remind himself that he wasn’t - feral.
For those first few harrowing weeks back in Pegasus, when they’d been split up and sent on the run, scattering to different planets and trying to rally a rebellion against the Wraith, Radek had seen some of the old Ronon return, the Ronon who’d been a Runner for seven years, savage and severe and focused on a single task: survival.
Radek, stumbling along behind him and begging him to slow down, talk to him, tell him where they were going, had snapped him out of it.
Ronon still ate with a knife and fork - they had their offworld mess kits, with the little steel combo knives and forks and spoons soldiers used in the field - and he didn’t question it, the first time Radek had asked if they could eat at the table instead.
At the time, Radek had just been grateful that Ronon hadn’t made fun of him for being old and creaky, or soft and weak, like other scientists. (A few quick fumbles in the alcoves of Traveler ships and broken-down Ancient outposts did not a relationship make.) But now Radek knew that Ronon knew meals at the table meant more than just saving Radek’s back and knees (which were important for things like sex, which they could have on a bed now and again).
“The firran beans are coming in well.” Radek laid his bounty on the table between them, and they divvied it up fairly.
Ronon nodded. “Good. I think I know where we can get some more sensor output relays, but it’ll be kind of a hike.”
Even though they split the food half and half, Radek never ate as much as he was given, and he surrendered bits and pieces to Ronon throughout the meal. Ronon was always polite enough to ask, Are you going to eat that? And Radek would nudge it toward Ronon with a smile.
Radek hummed around a mouthful of raw beans. “How long is kind of a hike?”
“Pretty far out. But we can camp next to that pool, with the waterfall.”
That was a couple of days’ hike. “What’s out there?” They usually went out there to just - get away for a while. Step back from the project and refocus. Or just for a change of pace.
“The old power plant.”
“But the power plant here in town -”
“Not nearly as big.”
Radek nodded. “Fair enough. We can set off tomorrow morning?”
They could set off any time.
There was a certain dread, numbness, and freedom, to knowing that tomorrow, while important, didn’t matter in the end.
“You know,” Ronon said, “you’re beautiful.”
Radek blinked, startled out of his nihilistic musing. “Pardon?”
“That first night, when we celebrated our science.” Ronon gestured with his fork. “Under the moonlight, with the cool breeze off the ocean. Back on Earth. The peaceful expression on your face. The way the moonlight made your skin glow. I wanted to kiss you then.”
Radek remembered that celebration. It had seemed forever ago, Ronon fresh off the exultance of his first big scientific achievement, interfacing an Asgard beam with an Ancient jumper. He wanted to ask why Ronon hadn’t kissed him then, but he didn’t want to hear the answer. Instead he said,
“You can kiss me now.”
Ronon nodded. “I know.” And he leaned across the table, pressed a brief kiss to Radek’s mouth.
Radek felt him smile into the kiss. When he pulled back, he said, “Once we have finished this task, we should celebrate again, yes?”
“Yes, we should.” Ronon eyed Radek’s plate. “Are you going to eat those kiri nuts?”
Radek nudged them toward him. “All yours.” I’m all yours. But he didn’t say it aloud. Ronon wasn’t much for words, and Radek wasn’t much good at expressing his feelings.
They packed away the remnants of their meal - waste not, want not - and then climbed into bed. Ronon always spooned up behind Radek, curled around him protectively. Radek closed his eyes and reveled in Ronon’s solidness, his warmth.
“If we succeed,” he said, “the future will not matter. Nothing we do after that point will matter. What should we do? What would you want to do?”
Ronon shrugged. “If the future doesn’t matter, what’s the point in thinking about it? We’ll take it one day at a time. One moment at a time.” He slung an arm around Radek’s waist and tugged him in a little closer.
One of the skills every field-rated scientist needed was basic orienteering. Could he or she make it back to the gate without a map or the GPS on one of the Ancient scanners?
Radek had never been very good with maps and compasses, but he understood his way around places organically. Could he draw a map of Prague? No. Could he give someone directions from the Masaryk University campus to his favorite bar in Brno? No. But he could find his way there, in the dark, trusting his feet alone to take the necessary number of steps, make all the right turns.
So the next morning, he and Ronon stocked up on more food, grabbed their packs and their toolbox, and headed for the countryside and the old power plant that would hopefully have the parts they needed to repair the communications console. Radek could get them to the pool with the waterfall. Ronon would have to get them the rest of the way. Radek took the lead - to set the pace, because his legs were shorter than Ronon’s, and even now Ronon was still bad at pacing him when they tried to walk side-by-side.
While they walked, Radek had Ronon help him with calculations. Ronon had never really gotten the hang of Prime, Not Prime that Rodney, Radek, and John would play to stave off boredom when they were trapped in caves, waiting out the Wraith on yet another fallen Rebel planet, but he was quite good at arithmetic, and once he’d learned some higher principles of mathematics - trigonometry, calculus, the art of the partial differential equation - he had been able to chip in and help with calculations alongside John when there was a technological emergency (and in the war against the Wrath, a technological emergency was often a combat emergency).
Radek let Ronon reason aloud, take his time, because they had time. Radek could tip his head back and revel in the warmth of the golden sunlight, admire the blue skies and fluffy clouds, while Ronon murmured behind him, using his fingers to hold and carry numbers, manipulating invisible digits in the air so he could do his work.
Like Major Lorne had been, Ronon was an artist, and he saw the world very differently, but his methods worked for him.
“So, I think I got it,” Ronon said.
“Tell me what you think you have.” Radek glanced over his shoulder and smiled.
“The message needs to have a compression ratio of about eight terrabytes worth of data compressed down to a hundred gigabytes so it doesn’t lose integrity as it goes through the wormhole.”
That was the number Radek had reached when he’d run the calculations the other day. “Correct. How would you compress that down?”
“We have the program Rodney used to use to send databursts to Earth. We can modify it to super-compress this one instance of data. How would we send it through? Radio signal?”
“I believe the data itself should be sent through on a solid crystal, but in order to convince them to take the crystal, we should send a radio transmission,” Radek said. He’d thought about this part for a long, long time.
“An Ancient crystal?”
“Not an Ancient one,” Radek said. “A Goa’uld crystal.”
Ronon huffed. “That won’t freak people out.”
“It will convince past-me that the message is genuine,” Radek said. “I carry it as a - good luck charm.”
“Never really dealt with the Goa’uld much, besides Caldwell that one time,” Ronon said, “but they don’t seem very lucky.”
“Yes, but I was recruited into the SGC because I found a Goa’uld crystal at a crystal shop and built a device by which to decrypt the data on it.”
Ronon raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t know that. All these years, and you’ve never told me that.”
“Yes, well, I wasn’t about to admit to anyone that I’d been hanging around a New Age crystal shop, drunk after my boyfriend dumped me and duped into letting some gypsy tell my fortune. She gave me the crystal and said it would help me find the love of my life. After being recruited to the SGC, the first scientist I worked with was Rodney in Siberia, and let me tell you, he was not the love of my life.”
“It kinda makes sense that he was John’s,” Ronon said. He nudged Radek gently. “You found me. Not right away. But you did.”
Radek’s throat tightened. “Yes, I did.” He reached back twined his fingers with Ronon’s, let himself fall into step beside Ronon.
They paused for lunch under a large and shady tree on the edge of what must have once been an expansive farrin bean farm. They ate leisurely, took a brief nap, Ronon sitting up against the tree, Radek’s head on his lap, and then they kept on walking.
While they hiked, Ronon recited epic poetry he’d memorized as a youth (which was lovely) and poetry he’d written as a youth (which had better adherence to Satedan closed form but bore closer resemblance to Marine marching jodies in content). Radek sang Ronon some of the folk songs he’d learned growing up, even showed Ronon the footwork for a couple of folk dances. He confessed that since he was shorter, Ronon ought to lead, and he’d never learned the women’s parts.
“Well,” Ronon drawled, “you’re not a woman,” but he put a hand at Radek’s waist and a hand on his shoulder, and together they spun across a stretch of meadow, with the songs of Radek’s childhood guiding their feet.
They stopped to make camp in an abandoned barn at another farm. They’d long ago cleared out the rotting hay and timbers, made space to sleep, even dug a little fire pit so they could cook. Once again, they slept close together, huddled for warmth.
Radek was wakened in the middle of the night by Ronon moaning and thrashing, in the throes of a nightmare. Radek smoothed a hand up and down his back, murmured soothing nothings until Ronon stilled, but he was awakened more than once.
Radek didn’t know what Ronon had dreamed about, but he was quiet the next day while they hiked. As if the universe knew what Ronon was feeling, the sky was gray and overcast, and they were rained on here and there. When they broke for lunch, Radek huddled under what Ronon had identified as an old shepherd stoop at the edge of a wild meadow and ate while Ronon wandered off into the green hills.
When he returned about an hour later (Radek finally, finally could feel the way time passed in Satedan units), his face was smeared with ash, and his expression was grim. Radek didn’t ask any questions.
The rolling meadows gave way to heavy forest, and they had to slog through the undergrowth to get to the pool with the waterfall. Ronon spoke just briefly enough to tell Radek that the power plant was on the other side of the mountain that the waterfall spilled off of.
The sun was still up when they reached the clearing where the pool was, but Radek was exhausted. His thighs burned from constantly climbing over fallen trees, and he’d been smacked in the face by branches more than once. He sank down on the bank of the pool and shrugged off his pack, set down the toolbox. They took turns carrying it, as a general rule. Ronon had carried it most of the way through the forest. Radek couldn’t decide if it was silent indictment of his lack of strength or some kind of self-punishment.
He was jolted out of his musing by a splash.
Radek lifted his head, eyes wide, and saw Ronon’s clothes and pack on the ground. A moment later, Ronon broke the surface of the pool, sleek and wet, and the roar of the waterfall faded into nothing. He was so, so beautiful.
Then Ronon shook himself like a wet dog, and he grinned. “C’mon in. It’s great.”
Radek reached for the hem of his shirt, paused. “I have heard that before. That usually means it is freezing and I will feel like I have been castrated.”
“Would I lie?”
Radek eyed him. This change was - sudden. From the brooding all day to this? And Radek realized. This was Ronon’s apology. And this was his catharsis, his recovery. The ash was gone from his face. He’d worn it all afternoon, careful not to wipe it away whenever he wiped the rain out of his eyes.
“If you are lying,” Radek said, “I will have to punish you.”
Ronon waggled his eyebrows. “Oh yeah? How?”
“You will just have to see.” Radek smiled and peeled off his shirt. Having lived alone on a planet with none other than his lover for three years, he had little self-consciousness about his nudity, so he shed the rest of his clothes and left them a safe distance from the pool where they wouldn’t get wetter if a splashing war ensued. Then he walked to the edge of the pool and dipped his toes in.
Not too bad.
So he jumped.
The water was cool, glorious. For one moment, Radek was weightless. And then he swam up to the surface and took a deep breath.
Ronon grinned at him, lashes spiky and wet, and paddled closer. “See? I told you. It’s great.”
“Also,” Radek said, winding an arm around Ronon’s neck, “you are great.” And he reeled Ronon in for a wet, messy kiss.
There was no way to be a scientist and work for the SGC and not wonder, at least once, what zero-G sex would feel like.
Sex in the water was the closest thing to it. Ronon caught Radek under the thighs and hitched him up and in, and Radek rolled against him, desperate for friction and pressure. Ronon growled and bucked his hips up into Radek, and their hard cocks slid together. Radek hissed in pleasure, and he closed his mouth over Ronon’s again, licked his way into Ronon’s mouth and moaned when he felt Ronon slide a hand up between his legs.
“Can I -?” Ronon panted.
Radek nodded. “Do it. Do me.”
“Anything you want.”
As the sun set, they built a fire to stave off the chill of the wetness of their skin, laid their clothes out to dry from the dampness of the rain all day. They sat close, sharing warmth and food, sliding hands and mouths over skin as they kissed and caressed, fed each other small morsels.
“It isn’t far to the power plant from here,” Ronon said. “We’ll get there before lunch. We can camp there.”
Radek nodded. “You think this will be enough? We have many components to get the communications console up and running.”
“It’ll be enough. Then hours and hours of calculating and coding.”
Radek nibbled on a handful of kiri nuts. “We have time.”
Ronon sighed. “We have nothing but time.”
“And each other.”
Ronon kissed him softly on the mouth. “Each other.”
They ate in silence for a bit, and then Radek said, “You had bad dreams last night.”
“Did I keep you awake?”
Another silence fell between them. Finally, Ronon said, “Did you hear it? Lorne’s final transmission from the Hammond II before he rammed it into some of Michael’s Hives.”
“I did not. I was helping Rodney coordinate John and Todd’s assault on Michael’s lab.”
Ronon swallowed hard. “He didn’t die right away. He managed to get into an escape pod, maintain radio contact.”
“Right away,” Radek echoed slowly.
“Sometimes, in my dreams, I can hear his screams as he burns.”
Radek had listened to John and Rodney’s goodbyes across the radio, listened to John and Todd’s final devil-may-care going out in a blaze of glory exchange. Radek curled his fingers through Ronon’s and squeezed. “When we finish this mission, it will be as if none of that happened.”
Ronon took a deep breath. “Yeah. None of it happened.”
Radek wondered if finishing this mission would mean that they would never happen. But he didn’t speak his fear aloud, pulled Ronon close and held him.
“Lorne for Ronon.”
Ronon was jolted out of a training form by his radio crackling to life. “Go for Ronon.”
“Can you please come to the military quarters? Captain Kennedy had a little accident with his GameCube.”
“How little is little?”
“Little enough that Rodney yelled at Kennedy and made him cry when he sent in the repair request.”
Kennedy was a good kid, a fine officer, a natural Gene carrier and a talented pilot. He’d also grown up the youngest of five brothers and had, by all reports, been quite coddled by his mother.
“Be right there. Actually, I better take a shower first.”
“The Marines don’t care what you smell like,” Lorne pointed out.
“But Miko and the scientists do,” Ronon said, “and I need to go to the lab and borrow Radek’s toolbox before I get there.”
“Fair point. See you when you get here. Lorne out.”
Ronon wasn’t surprised there’d been an accident involving a video game console yet again in the military quarters. The longer Atlantis was left sitting in the Bay, the longer tensions among personnel ran high. Ronon and Teyla perhaps felt it less, having grown up with the concept of traveling between planets, because for them identity was based on people, not place. Home was with the Satedan people, their music and art and food. Now home was with Atlantis, its people and habits, its uniforms and protocols. Everyone felt out of sync with Earth. Earth was just - the mainland.
And the lack of gate missions, the banality of maintaining security against the dwindling boats of onlookers was definitely making the soldiers restless. Gene-carrying pilots and scientists were being assigned beaming duty as punishment these days, with lots of drawing of straws to decide who’d get stuck up there for hours on end.
Ronon showered fast, changed into clean clothes, and dashed to the lab. He didn’t see Miko or Rodney or Radek or any of the other scientists he often spent time with, but Radek’s toolbox was where it usually was, so Ronon grabbed it and headed for a transporter.
When he emerged in the atrium for the military quarters, it was empty. He’d expected to see some shamefaced Marines standing around in formation while Lorne paced in front of them, delivering a disciplinary lecture. Given that Lorne had summoned him, Ronon went and knocked on Lorne’s door.
It opened, likely under Lorne’s mental command, and Ronon stepped inside, hoisted his toolbox.
The door slid shut behind him, and he saw Teyla, Rodney, John, Radek, Lorne, Miko, Carson, and a host of other senior personnel gathered around in a huddle. Captain Kennedy was one of them.
Ronon came up short.
“Ronon, come have a seat,” John said.
“I’m guessing there’s no broken GameCube.” Ronon eyed Kennedy.
“It is broken,” Kennedy admitted, “but it’s not an urgent fix.”
“Sorry about the ruse,” Lorne said. “But we have something to discuss.”
“Ronon,” John said, “how would you like to go back to Pegasus?”
John shrugged, but his voice was tight, tense. “Well, it starts with us ambushing the gate.”
“Actually,” Rodney said, “we need to take the Star Drive and the shield system.”
Ronon set down the toolbox. “Without those, Atlantis is defenseless.”
“As far as Earth is concerned, Atlantis is just another Ancient chair drone platform,” Rodney said. “But Pegasus is the front lines in the war against the Wraith. Our best bet at defeating them is staying there, fighting them, and searching the planets for tech to use against them.”
“But if we do this, Earth will get mad, won’t it?” Ronon asked. “We’ll be all alone. It’ll be just - us.”
Us was barely a handful of people.
“We’re just the senior command,” Lorne said. “There are others in the city who are loyal to our cause, to Pegasus. Atlantis isn’t just the city, it’s -”
“Teyla deserves to go back to her people, doesn’t she?” Rodney asked. “And - so do you.”
You’re my people, Ronon thought. He glanced at Radek.
Radek’s eyes were blue and wide, his expression unreadable.
“We can do this,” John said. “Just listen to the plan.”
It was a complicated plan. War on all fronts. Convincing Queen Mara to let them fix up her Atlantis-class ship she was using as a palace. Calling in their chips with the Genii and the Travelers. Retrofitting more jumpers with hyperdrives. Getting minidrones from Queen Harmony on Larris to make new drones. John, Rodney, Teyla, and Lorne had been thinking about this for a long time.
Ronon listened, thought of all the ways this could work, all the ways it could go wrong.
Lorne listed off all the people who were loyal to the cause, scientists and Marines, both Amelia and Chuck the gate techs. They couldn’t tell Woolsey about this, couldn’t put him in that kind of position. There were people who weren’t loyal to the cause but were loyal to John and Lorne and who wouldn’t ask questions when strange things happened.
Between Rodney and Lorne, they’d drawn up a duty roster, of the things everyone loyal to the cause needed to do and when so they could make their play for the gate with hyperdrive-capable jumpers between beam-ups of gate teams from The Mountain. They’d need to dismantle the shield system and replace it with an Asgard-based one. They’d need to extract the Star Drive as well, break it down to components they could carry on multiple jumpers. And they needed to shore up food and clothes and medical supplies.
It was like they were making the one-way trip to Atlantis all over again.
Ronon glanced at Radek, who’d quietly offered up his support to Rodney through the entire conversation, making suggestions and volunteering for specific technical tasks.
And then everyone else dispersed with promises of another meeting. Lorne and Kennedy and Radek stayed behind. Radek and Ronon fixed the GameCube in short order, and then they left as well.
“Lunch?” Radek asked.
“Let’s put the tools back in the lab first.” Ronon hefted the toolbox.
Radek nodded and fell into step beside him.
“Are you okay with this?” Ronon asked in a low voice.
“I don’t know. I have family here on Earth, but -”
“But Atlantis is home. Pegasus is home.”
Ronon remembered Radek’s skin in the moonlight, that night they’d celebrated, the serenity on his face as he’d tipped his face back to the night sky and smiled. “Atlantis will be here, though. An Atlantis-class starship won’t be the same. Won’t have the same people.”
“I know,” Radek said. He looked up at Ronon. “I am not like Rodney. I am not as brilliant - and I am not as brave. But the war against the Wraith is - my purpose. My calling. I cannot leave Pegasus alone to them. The planet with the children -” He gestured to his hair, and Ronon remembered how irritated Radek had been, when he’d returned from the planet with braids in his hair and colored paint on his face.
“Then I’ll come with you,” Ronon said. “You need me more than ever. I’m a scientist and a soldier.”
Radek smiled. “Yes, you are also a scientist. Now come, put up the toolbox, and then we should eat. I think today is Salisbury steak, yes?”
“You know,” Ronon said, while he and Radek were huddled over laptops side by side in the lab, doing their best to replicate the code on Atlantis’s shield system to work with a naquadah super-generator Rodney and Miko had stayed awake for three days straight to design, “you should learn some basic self-defense. For going offworld.”
“I’m not on a gate team,” Radek said distractedly.
“Not talking about a gate team.”
And Radek looked at him.
Ronon raised his eyebrows. “It’s only fair, since you’ve taught me science.”
“Will it mean lifting weights and running?”
“Running, sure. Gotta be able to outrun the Wraith, right? No weights if you don’t want to, though.” Ronon nudged him. “You can go running with me in the morning. Fit body means a fit mind.”
Radek snorted. “Who says that?”
Ronon was still envious of how fast Radek could type, his hands flying like the pigeons he once trained. “Miko.”
“Miko is a university-level judo champion,” Radek muttered. “I like - pigeons.”
“And staying alive.”
“So let me teach you how to stay alive.”
Radek eyed him for a moment, hands pausing. “Fine. Now - keep coding.”
Ronon smiled and kept on typing. He was now the proud owner of his own datapad and laptop. Radek had presented them to him a couple of days after the successful jumper beaming trial. Miko had given Ronon a bag to carry them around in, so if he needed to fight or run, he still had them with him. Rodney’s ability to do things one-handed, while balancing a laptop or datapad on one arm, was seriously impressive. Ronon would find a moment to tell him one day, except Rodney and Miko were carrying out the much more difficult part of the science team’s mission, which was to dismantle the Star Drive piece by piece so Lorne could pack it into boxes and squirrel them away on the jumpers.
Radek had confessed, over Salisbury steak, that he was flattered that his work on fitting a jumper with a hyperdrive was going to be useful again. Ronon joked that they ought to name the retrofit after him.
“That’s how scientists are remembered, right? Things are named after them,” Ronon had said.
“That is one way to be remembered,” Radek had agreed, tone wistful.
In order not to draw suspicion down on themselves, Radek and Ronon could only work on their project in small snatches, between the other projects they had going for them assigned by the IOA while Atlantis was on Earth.
Radek was a little irked that physical training would eat into their project time, but Ronon said they would need to take breaks anyway, and besides, the IOA would get suspicious if Ronon stopped being, well, Ronon. He had to be seen out and about continuing his warrior ways. He wasn’t giving them up. He had no outlet for them on Earth. And he’d look more trustworthy, if he could demonstrate that he knew how to train a scientist gently, as opposed to knocking around Marines wholesale in the gym.
“You’re on Earth, remember?” Ronon said, when Radek answered his door early in the morning, hair mussed and glasses askew and wearing nothing but boxers. “You can have a regular routine again, work regular days. Let’s go running!”
Radek huffed and shuffled back into his room, letting Ronon follow. He pulled on running shorts and a ratty old t-shirt, socks and sneakers, and then followed Ronon into the hallway. Ronon guided him through some warm-up stretches, and then they began an easy route, mostly along exterior balconies so they could enjoy the California sunrise.
They passed more than one group of runners, mostly gate teams who ran together, or gangs of Marines. They nodded at Ronon, and a few of them had cheery greetings for Radek, glad to see him taking his fitness seriously. Radek grumbled at them in Czech, likely spitting profanities, but he kept a steady, if slow pace.
After the run - just a mile, after which Radek was panting and sweating profusely, Ronon led him in cooldown stretches and dispatched him back to his quarters for a shower, with an order to meet him in the mess hall.
“We need to start working on your diet, too,” Ronon said.
“What is wrong with my diet?” Radek protested. There wasn’t too much junk food to be had on Atlantis as a general rule, though Lorne had started smuggling in candy and other snacks to keep the Marines happy.
“You need to be prepared,” Ronon said. “When you’re out in the galaxy with limited food supplies, you need to know what will give you the most energy, be the most nutritious. You need to eat what you can when you can, because you don’t know when your next meal will be.”
Radek, who was balancing his datapad on the corner of his food tray, frowned. “But Major Lorne -”
“His supplies won’t last forever.” Ronon shrugged. He nodded at a few people who smiled at him as they moved up through the chow line. “You need to learn the balance point in yourself, where you’ve eaten enough that you have calories to spare, but not so much that you’ll be sluggish if you run.”
Radek thought that over. “That is a good thing to know, but - Ronon.” He leaned in, lowered his voice. “We are not going to be Runners.”
“We won’t be SGC either,” Ronon said.
Radek’s expression went blank. But he submitted to Ronon helping him pick a healthy breakfast, and he listened closely while Ronon explained about calorie-rich foods, and what to eat to feel full but not feel sluggish.
Now that they were exercised and fed, it was time for Radek to start on his regular science duties and Ronon to train up some Marines. Ronon made Radek promise to radio him before he broke for lunch, because more dietary education was in order, and then he headed for the training gyms.
A lot of Atlantis personnel had been rotated out of the city to go on leave while the city was on Earth, but enough of them were back that most of the Marines were familiar. Lorne had given Ronon a list of the Marines who were loyal to The Cause, and so Ronon was running the Marines through the basics on close-range engagement with the Wraith.
“Just because they wear those masks doesn’t mean they have impaired vision,” Ronon said to the young Marine who was lying on the mat and groaning, winded. “Wraith have technology that allows them to see in the dark. Grabbing at my hair was a good idea, though.”
“Was it?” the young Marine panted, clutching his ribs.
“Theoretically.” Ronon offered the kid a hand. “Again.”
He’d just heaved the kid to his feet when his radio crackled on.
“Are you ready to break for lunch? Miko has informed me that I should eat lunch.” It was Radek.
Ronon tapped his radio to reply. “I’ll be right there.” To the assembled Marines he said, “Saved by the bell. It’s lunch time. See you later.” And he loped off the mats and to the locker room. He toweled off as best as he could - he always worked up a good sweat, and it was a wonder he didn’t have to take a thousand showers a day - and then headed for the mess hall.
Radek was waiting by the doorway, dodging a group of hungry Marines who shouldered past him and nearly knocked him off his feet.
Ronon caught the last one by the shoulder, steadied Radek with his other hand. “Hey,” he said. “Watch where you’re going.”
The Marine turned to Ronon, eyes wide. “Oh. Sorry, Ronon.”
“Not me,” Ronon said. “Dr. Zelenka.”
The Marine spun, saw Radek. “Hey, Doc. Sorry. Didn’t see you.”
“Be more observant,” Ronon said. “Next time it could be a Wraith.” And he let the Marine go. The kid scurried after his friends.
“I am fine,” Radek said wearily. “He did not hurt me.”
“He needs to watch where he’s going. Let’s go get food.”
After lunch, Ronon and Radek headed to the lab to work on the shields some more. They sat side-by-side, laptops open. Radek tended to play music by famous Czech composers - Rossetti, Czerny, Dvorak, Fidler, Mahler, and even one named Zelenka - while he worked. Ronon was learning to recognize some of the melodies, and he hummed along while he typed.
What Ronon hadn’t expected about typing and working in the lab was that he lost track of time, the same as he did when he was training or running or doing combat forms. He lost himself in the serenity of the task, and time fell away, and he only came back to the present when his body was tired or hungry or someone came on the radio to summon him. So he was startled out of his typing mien when Radek hissed in a pained breath.
“You all right?” Ronon took his hands away from the keyboard, because more than once he’d leaned on his keyboard and an unexpected string of typing had been the result.
“My calves are killing me.” Radek leaned down and rubbed his leg. “Running is awful.”
Ronon couldn’t remember running ever hurting him like it was hurting Radek, but he had heard Cadman give other people advice about running. “It will hurt at first, so we’ll take it slow. You can take tomorrow off, but we’ll be back at it the day after.”
Radek’s eyes lit. “Then no workout tomorrow?”
“Not running. Hand-to-hand.”
Radek sighed and muttered under his breath in Czech, still rubbing his calf. Ronon turned toward him.
“Give me your leg.”
Radek paused. “What?”
“Let me rub your leg,” Ronon said.
Radek raised his eyebrows.
“We did it all the time, in my unit,” Ronon said, “after training. You break it, you fix it.” Everyone in his unit had very, very basic field medical training (his had gotten better over time, while he was on the run), and everyone in his unit could dish out a pretty good rubdown after particularly rough sparring sessions.
“Are you sure?” Radek raised his eyebrows.
Ronon rolled his eyes. “Yeah. No big deal. Kick off your shoe and give me your leg.”
Radek obeyed slowly, slid back and hesitantly rested his foot on Ronon’s knee. Ronon slid in a bit.
“You gonna freak out if I touch you?” Ronon rubbed his hands together to warm them up.
“Here goes.” Ronon slid his hands up the bottom hem of one trouser leg and kneaded the calf muscle gently. Radek flinched and hissed when Ronon found the first knot, but once Ronon started working it out with his thumbs, Radek relaxed. Compared to some of the men Ronon had served with, Radek had a surprising tolerance for discomfort. (It was surprising, who whined at discomfort but could shrug off genuine injury and pain.)
Radek flinched and giggled when Ronon’s fingertips brushed against the back of his knee.
Ronon raised his eyebrows. “You ticklish?”
“Maybe a little,” Radek said, crossing his arms over his chest defensively.
Ronon stored that piece of information away for later. Once the worst of the knots were worked out, Ronon instructed Radek to switch legs.
Radek was quicker to obey this time, placing his socked foot across Ronon’s lap. “You are very good at this.”
“Not my first time.”
“You did mention you had much experience. Also - you have strong hands.” Radek closed his eyes and moaned happily when Ronon got the first knot to release. “You could do this for money, you know? Or to barter.”
“I already fix things to barter,” Ronon said.
“It is good, to have many skills to barter. Not everyone needs something fixed.”
Ronon shrugged. “You’re my training partner. I’ll fix you. Don’t have time for anyone else.”
Radek closed his eyes and sank back in his chair and looked, for the first time since that moment under the moonlight during their shared Satedan celebration, perfectly relaxed. “That is fine with me. Then I shall keep your attentions all to myself.”
Somehow, that didn’t sound so bad.
In the weeks that followed, Ronon and Radek had many things they could have celebrated. Finishing the shield tech replication. The shield wouldn’t hold as long as the actual Ancient shield without additional generators to hand, but the design of the super-generator was solid, and they managed to test the shield without causing any massive incidents or accidentally letting the city become noticeable.
Upgrading the jumpers, not just with hyperdrives but also more Asgard beams, so each jumper could function like a mini-Daedalus if needs be. They would have to take all but three jumpers to carry their supplies and anticipated crew back to Pegasus. Earth had 302’s to handle any necessary air combat.
Training the Marines to be capable warriors against the Wraith. Ronon staged mock-battles against the Marines, outfitting the experienced gate team members with Wraith stunners and setting them loose on the less-experienced personnel, the battles ranging across all the habitable areas of the city.
Training Radek in hand-to-hand. The day Radek successfully fended off Captain Kennedy on the mats stunned everyone. One moment they were tussling, the next Captain Kennedy was flat on his back and Radek had a training knife at his throat. His right hand, Ronon had said. Don’t forget the feeding hand.
Getting Radek in shape. Now Radek could run three miles in the morning without much fuss, only needed the occasional rubdown when his posture or his stride wasn’t quite what it needed to be for the last half mile of a run. And he was eating more healthily. John had been pleased with Ronon’s decision to make more science personnel gate-rated, and Ronon ran mini-camps for the scientists to get into shape, and not just the ones slated for gate teams or The Cause (which John, in a fit of nerdiness, wanted to call The Rebellion, naming himself Han Solo, Teyla Yoda, Ronon Chewie, and Rodney Princess Leia, much to Rodney’s irritation).
But they never found the time to actually celebrate, because the deadline was drawing near. The IOA was close to making its final ruling, and because the Marines were less restless (were gearing up for protracted warfare in Pegasus), because the scientists were being so useful (upgrading the jumpers under cover of repair, creating naquadah super-generators so they could take a ZPM), keeping Atlantis on Earth seemed like the best idea, despite John and Teyla and Woolsey and Rodney’s repeated insistence to the contrary.
Any day now, they would be ready.
The IOA just needed to let its guard down.
They would let their guard down when the final decision was made. Everyone knew what it was going to be.
Atlantis would have to stay. The city would have to stay.
But the heart of Atlantis, its people - they would leave. They would go home.
“You know what I don’t miss from Atlantis?” Radek asked. He was sitting beside Ronon, handing him parts to fix the communications console.
“What?” Ronon grunted, fighting with a screwdriver.
“Going running in the mornings.”
“You were doing an easy four miles before we left Earth,” Ronon said.
“It wasn’t that easy.”
“Easier than it had been before you started.”
Ronon held out a hand. Radek eased a handful of screws onto his palm. Radek was also holding an Ancient flashlight so Ronon could see better what he was doing.
“The leg rubs and foot rubs were nice, though.”
“You still get those.”
Radek hummed happily. “Yes, and I appreciate every one.”
Ronon asked him to shift the lamp’s beam, and he obeyed. The trek back from the power plant had been long, and because they were laden down with more gear, they’d broken it up into three days instead of two before bunking the night in the palace. Now they were bunking in the central military command post, in the communications room. Together they foraged for food, and then they returned to work. And work. And work.
For three days, they’d taken turns under the console, rewiring components, attaching new components. And they’d taken turns with the programming, adjusting the existing coding to work with the coding for the new functions they were adding to the console.
Radek’s laptop was dying, and Ronon’s wrists were sore from constantly having at the screwdriver. Neither of them were sleeping well, and they probably weren’t taking nearly enough breaks from the work.
But this was it. The final stretch. The final mission. Once they had the console up and the system running, they could encode their messages, and then -
And then -
Radek cleared his throat. “You know, we never celebrated when we finished the secondary shield system for Atlantis.”
Ronon snorted. “Rodney set us straight to the jumpers.”
“We didn’t celebrate the jumpers either.”
“Because there was always something to do. Should’ve celebrated you hitting every new mile.”
“The leg-rubs were celebration enough for me, I think.”
Ronon scooted out from under the console, to get a breath of fresh air and poke around in the toolbox for himself. “That first time you took down Kennedy. That deserved a celebration.”
Captain Kennedy had been one of the first to die, when the Wraith raided the Rebellion outpost on the Genii homeworld.
“Perhaps,” Radek said softly.
Ronon pillowed his head on his arms, gaze steadily at Radek. “There were a lot of things we should have celebrated. When we found that other Atlantis-class starship.”
Radek knew the march of events, moments that could have been celebrated but were really just mile markers on the road toward death and destruction. Without Atlantis itself, support from locals in the galaxy had been low, and they didn’t have enough numbers to mount an effective resistance against the Wraith. And no one had counted on how not being connected to Atlantis herself would affect John.
“In the end, they were things not worth celebrating.”
Ronon reached out, skated a hand up Radek’s thigh. “When this is finished, we will celebrate.”
Radek nodded and smiled, but it would be a long, hard road before it was finished.
It took them another six hours just to get the console online.
Ronon screwed the bottom panel cover into place and slid to his feet. He reached out and pressed the power button, and then he and Radek hovered over the console, watching it intently, hearing the humming, hoping and praying there would be no smoke and sparks, no pops or crackles or -
The screen came to life.
Ronon cheered and yanked Radek into a rib-crushing hug, and Radek watched the program initiate, lines of code flying past. He understood some Satedan script, but not nearly enough to handle the high-level programming the console needed before he could interface his laptop with it.
Ronon leaned over, studied the screen, watched various buttons light up. “It’s online. What do you want me to do?”
Radek reached into his pack and drew out the beautiful leather-bound journal Lorne had made for him, during an unexpected lull between battles. Everything Lorne made was beautiful. Ronon stilled when he saw it. Radek knew he had his own, one he still wrote and drew in. One thing both of them had wordlessly agreed to was that their journals were private, even from each other.
“What are you -?” Ronon began.
Radek flipped to a page covered in code. “Here. This code. It’s a multi-language interface. So we can program from my laptop.”
“You filled your journal with code?” Ronon asked.
And calculations and theories and sketches of planned repairs and hydroponic gardens and everything they’d need to survive on Sateda and make this plan happen.
And every single word of the message he wanted to include in their final databurst, everything the Rebellion had done, every decision made, every point when things went wrong, and the solution to saving Earth.
“I wanted to be prepared,” Radek said. “With the right words.”
His last words.
Ronon nodded, smoothed his hand across the page reverently, and began to type. He could type just as fast as Radek now, and was probably better at typing without looking at his hands.
Once the code was entered, Ronon set it to compiling, and Radek rubbed his hands and wrists while they waited.
Their plan was simple, but effective. Take all the satellites tasked to watching planets in the Game (they’d found another Game room in the city on Planet Mara) and reprogram them, task them to watching every sun in the galaxy that had planets with gates in the solar system, and wait.
For a solar flare. For the right flare, that would send a stable wormhole back through time to Atlantis on Earth, so they could send their message.
Radek had written the code to reprogram the satellites a long time ago, and once his laptop was interfaced with the Satedan Military Communications Console (which had been modified to produce a strong subspace signal), it was easy to put in the code, compile it, debug it, and then send it out across the satellites. Radek was pleased with his own cleverness, that he’d programmed the satellites to send the code to each other as they repositioned themselves throughout the galaxy.
The repositioning would take hours, maybe days.
But they’d done it. The system was up and running.
“Now,” Radek said, once he received confirmation that the last satellite had downloaded the new code, “we should celebrate.”
Celebrating a grand accomplishment, Satedan style, involved words. Lots and lots of words. For a man as laconic as Ronon, Satedan culture was surprisingly verbose. So many of their cultural traditions involved songs and chants, prayers and poems to be recited. Other traditions involved writing. Words. On the death of a parent or a loved one, people wrote final letters to them and burned them, hoping the smoke took the words up to the Ancestors.
For rites of passage, for accomplishments, the goal of the celebration was to internalize it. Embody it.
So Ronon and Radek climbed up to the roof of the Chieftain’s palace, armed with food, water, paintbrushes, and ink.
Radek stripped off his shirt and sat cross-legged on a blanket, gazing out across the ruined city.
“Are you ready?” Ronon asked.
“Then let’s begin.”
There was a soft splash as Ronon dropped a washcloth into one of the bowls of water, dripping sounds as he wrang the excess water from it, and then he began to smooth it over Radek’s skin, cleaning him.
The body had to be pure, a blank canvas, so the words could be bold, indelible, in the heart and in the mind. Radek closed his eyes. Ronon’s hands were strong and sure as they guided the washcloth over Radek’s arms, chest, torso. Each cool stroke was a caress, a blessing, a prayer.
Once Radek was clean, Ronon set the washcloth side and picked up a paintbrush and a vial of ink.
“Now to tell the tale of Radek Zelenka,” Ronon murmured, “who realigned the universe so we could sing backward through time.”
The first stroke of the brush against Radek’s skin was sudden, cold, but the bristles were made of something like silk, and the sensation of them across his back and shoulders was gentle, soothing.
Ronon spoke as he painted, as he wrote, narrating his and Radek’s journey from Earth to Pegasus, around the galaxy and finally to Sateda. They were the last men standing.
Ronon swept his brush up and down Radek’s arm as he wrote of that first frenzied battle in Pegasus, the hyperdrive-capable jumpers exploding through the gate and into the middle of a battle between a Traveler ship and a Hive. Ronon spoke of the battle, of how Radek and Lorne and Miko and Kennedy went on spacewalks, to salvage what was left of the jumpers and their components before being bundled onto Traveler ships to hide, to regroup, and to fight.
Radek remembered standing just inside the airlock, his EVA suit bundled into his arms, panting and terrified, and Ronon coming across him. Ronon had stalked toward him, purpose in his gaze, asked if Radek was all right, and Radek had nodded and said yes and offered up all manner of reassurances, but Ronon hadn’t believed him. He’d caught Radek by the arms and shaken him, said, Look me in the eye and tell me you’re fine, because he wasn’t, none of them were. They’d lost half their jumpers and most of the Star Drive and half of their people, and then Ronon had kissed him.
That kiss led to the two of them stumbling down the hallway hand-in-hand, ducking into an alcove, shoving hands in each other’s clothes and nipping at each other’s mouths and Ronon asking, May I? And Radek saying, Yes.
Ronon narrated the rise and fall of The Rebellion, how Radek had walked shoulder-to-shoulder with John and Rodney and Teyla, Miko and Lorne and Carson, into battles, into the war, always on the front lines. With the sweep of his brush down Radek’s other arm, Ronon wrote of the both of them working in the heat of battle, doing their best to get what they could from the sacred shrine on Larris while John and Rodney convinced Harmony and her people to evacuate onto a Traveler ship.
Radek closed his eyes and listened to Ronon’s voice, felt the caress of the paintbrush on his skin, felt the cool twilight breeze on the ink, and felt the words sink into his mind, into his skin, into his blood and bones.
He was his story.
Ronon spoke of the battles against Michael, and the unlikely alliance with Todd, who they’d broken out of the brig on Atlantis, and Radek remembered sleeping beside Ronon in bunks on ships, in foxholes on planets, and the first time Ronon said I love you, when the two of them were sitting in the dark, weapons in hand, waiting for the signal to go over the top, to bring the wrath of humanity down on the Wraith.
When the final brushstroke was laid, Ronon fell silent, and Radek kept his eyes closed, breathed deeply.
Once all the ink was dry, he opened his eyes and turned to Ronon, who was kneeling beside the blanket, surrounded by an array of candles he’d lit.
“It is your turn now, yes?” Radek said. “To celebrate.”
Ronon, who was fetching food from their little improvised picnic basket (woven wicker basket with a rope tied to it in lieu of a handle), paused. “Me?”
“I have not accomplished this alone,” Radek said, holding a hand over the swirl of ink at his heart, the Satedan figures for the date of their achievement. “You have been with me every step of the way, every step that counts. This is also your story.”
Ronon gazed at him for a long moment. Then he nodded, shucked off his shirt, and they switched places, Ronon on the blanket, Radek kneeling on the edge, wielding the washcloth and then the paintbrush.
Ronon’s body already told the story of many of his accomplishments - the muscles beneath his skin, from all the training and running and building strength to be a soldier; the calluses on his hands from weapons training; the scars from fights and battles and wars marring his otherwise smooth golden skin.
So Radek didn’t tell those stories. Instead he told the story of Ronon’s journey, from that first toaster to the Asgard beam integrated into an Ancient jumper to both of them on Sateda, alone and contemplating the ashes of their fallen comrades and the ashes of the worlds destroyed by the Wraith and the only way to fix what they had done. He told the story of his and Ronon’s first kiss and first time holding hands and that first desperate fuck when they escaped from a battle alive and then learned that Miko was dead and the first time they made love and Ronon’s first I love you and Radek’s first Miluji tě, and he’d just gotten to the part where they figured out how to send a message to the past when Ronon, who’d been utterly still beneath the paintbrush, surged into motion.
He twisted and caught Radek’s wrist, tugged Radek into his lap and tumbled both of them onto the blanket, smearing wet ink everywhere.
“But I am not finished,” Radek said.
Ronon silenced him with a kiss. When he pulled back for air, he said, “I’m not this story alone. We are this story.”
They were the story. They were the last living who knew it, who could tell it. And they were about to wipe it all away.
“I promise,” Ronon whispered as he skimmed Radek out of the rest of his clothes, “our story will live on.”
Radek nodded, and Ronon plucked off his glasses, set them aside carefully, and drew him close.
They made love under the moonlight.
They branded their story into each other’s skin with hands and mouths, sent their story up into the heavens with their cries and moans and sighs.
And they said their final goodbyes.
To this world. To this galaxy. To this universe. To this timeline.
In the days that followed it was - clean-up. Finishing. Making sure all the satellites were in place. Programming in the algorithm that would allow the satellites to calculate when a solar flare was happening, would happen, and whether the size of the flare would be sufficient to send the wormhole through to the right place in time.
And it was packing up the very last jumper with supplies, to get them to the planet where the necessary solar flare would be, so they could install an intergalactic dialing crystal in the gate and send the message home.
They took turns, packing up food and blankets and sitting at Radek’s laptop, typing up their messages home. Ronon, like Radek, had also composed the majority of his message in the journal Lorne had made for him. While Ronon was typing, Radek gave him privacy, cleaned out anything from the hydroponic gardens that would keep, keeping an eye out in case Ronon sent a light signal from one of the command bunker windows.
They had to be prepared to move out as soon as the system identified the solar flare.
They had one LSD left, that could be used to sync up with the laptop and communications console so they knew precisely when to dial the gate.
While Radek typed up his message, Ronon did forms in the background, movements deliberate and graceful and meditative.
They made love before they fell asleep. It was comfort and warmth, skin on skin and that dizzying rush of oxytocin as they lay in each other’s arms.
The console still hadn’t identified a solar flare by the time both of them were finished transcribing their message, so Radek had more than enough time to hyper-compress the encoded message onto the blue crystal.
When the data compression was done, Radek handed the crystal to Ronon.
“For safekeeping,” Radek said.
Ronon raised his eyebrows. “We’re going to the same place.”
“I know. But keep it safe.”
So Ronon took it and pocketed it, and he bent over the console, scanned the readouts from the various satellites.
Radek said, “I remember, when we had to cut your hair. I was sad. Your hair was part of you.”
Ronon reached up, smoothed a hand over his much shorter hair. His long hair had been distinctive, one of the telltale signs of the Lanteans, and every Wraith Worshipper in the galaxy knew to look for it, and as soon as Rodney caught onto that, the hair had to go. Radek had been the only person allowed anywhere near Ronon’s hair with a knife.
Now they both kept their hair short of a necessity. Less bother. They had more important things to do.
“Not as big a part of me as you are,” Ronon said finally.
Before Radek could think up a suitable reply, the console beeped.
They both stared.
Solar flare imminent. In six hours.
Time to go.
As neither of them had The Gene, they had to interface the laptop with the jumper to pilot it. Radek was the superior pilot, by sheer virtue of operating complicated lab instruments with only a primitive computer program as his interface. They headed for the jumper - already loaded with supplies - and powered it up, headed for the gate.
The planet whose gate would create a wormhole through the solar flare was like so many other life-sustaining planets in the universe, swirling greens and blues. They landed on the surface - according to the LSD, the planet was uninhabited - and together they set to work, installing the intergalactic dialing crystal.
The entire process, from leaving Sateda to modifying the gate, lasted two hours.
What to do, with the final four hours?
Try desperately to remember their damn clearance codes so their message crystal wouldn’t get smashed to smithereens against the shield on the gate. They panicked and converted the message to a radio signal just in case, but a solid piece of memory, like crystal, was far more reliable than a radio signal, which was vulnerable to corruption and interference.
The handheld LSD chirped to let them know it was time. Ronon and Radek, sitting in the cockpit of the jumper, looked at each other, took deep breaths.
“Do it,” Ronon said.
Radek dialed the gate address for Earth.
The wormhole established, and Ronon initiated the radio.
“Atlantis, this is Ronon Dex.”
Radek hadn’t heard Chuck’s voice in years. “That’s impossible. Ronon Dex is here on Atlantis.”
“I’m from the future,” Ronon said. He recited his security code.
There was a pause, and then another voice crackled over the radio.
Major Lorne. “You have the right code, and you sure as hell sound like Ronon Dex, but -”
“We’re not asking to come through. We just have a message.” Ronon’s face was pale.
Radek hit the button to transmit the radio signal.
“We have a solid state version of the message, because radio signals are vulnerable to corruption and interference, if you’d let down the gate iris for just a second,” Ronon said. “So we can send it through.”
Radek handed Ronon the last of the hand-radios, which was linked up with the subspace communicator in the jumper, and Ronon climbed out of the jumper, headed toward the event horizon in the gate.
“What’s the message about?” Lorne asked.
“The Cause,” Ronon said, and Lorne sucked in a sharp breath.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Lorne said tightly.
“Please,” Ronon said. “Radek and I are all that’s left. Just - take the information we have. It’ll help you build a new Chair.”
There was a pause, and Lorne and Chuck’s voices went muffled - someone was covering the mic with one hand.
“Prove you’re really Ronon,” Lorne said. “Tell us something only Ronon would know.”
“For that to work, you’d need your version of me,” Ronon replied.
The voices went muffled once more, and then Chuck said, “Please hold,” like he was some kind of office secretary.
Ronon glanced over his shoulder at Radek. The gate would remain open for the standard thirty-eight minutes, connected to the past even after the solar flare ended. Radek nodded encouragingly at him.
And then a very familiar voice said, “What the hell is going on?”
Radek’s Ronon smirked, amused, and then he spoke - in Satedan.
“Lower the iris,” the other Ronon said.
“Transmitting data.” Ronon knelt and pushed the blue crystal through the event horizon.
There was a pause, and then Lorne said, “Data received. Is that - a Goa’uld crystal?”
Ronon said, “Give it to Radek. He’ll know what to do with it.”
And the gate shut down.
“What the hell happened just now?” Lorne asked. The wormhole shut down, leaving everyone at the control console staring in disbelief.
Ronon stared at the blue crystal, his head spinning.
“Were they really from the future?” he asked. He hurried down the stairs to scoop it up, brought it back to Lorne.
Lorne eyed the blue crystal warily. It rested on Ronon’s palm, small and innocuous. “Unless you were in two places at once…”
Chuck said, “I just checked the gate diagnostics, and the incoming wormhole did have an unusual spike of energy. I can analyze it further, see if it matches the time Colonel Sheppard traveled through time.”
“Do that,” Lorne said. He beckoned to Ronon. “Come on. Let’s get it to the lab.”
Radek and Rodney pounced on them as soon as they made it through the doorway.
“That’s a Goa’uld crystal,” Rodney said. He snatched it from Ronon and carried it over to his workbench, laid it out on a piece of cloth. “It came from the future? Why didn’t you radio me sooner?”
“Because,” Lorne said in a low voice, “the man on the other end claiming to be Future Ronon was talking about The Cause.”
Rodney raised his eyebrows.
Radek stared at the crystal like he’d seen a ghost.
“What is it?” Ronon asked.
“I - that is my crystal,” Radek said.
Rodney immediately moved to shield it from him. “I need to run diagnostics on it.”
“I mean it looks exactly the same as my lucky crystal.” Radek blinked.
Rodney huffed. “You have a lucky crystal?”
“I purchased a crystal that turned out to be a Goa’uld memory crystal, and I built an interface for decrypting the information on it,” Radek said. “That is why the SGC recruited me.”
“Is your crystal missing?” Lorne narrowed his eyes.
Radek reached into his pocket and drew out - the exact same crystal.
“Future me did say to give it to Radek,” Ronon said.
“Can you build another interface to decrypt the information on it?” Lorne asked.
“Assuming there’s even information there,” Rodney snapped. “Like I said, I need to run diagnostics on it before you go unleashing a virus on Atlantis’s mainframe.”
Radek looked as spooked as Ronon felt, having spoken to a man who sounded just like him, knew things Ronon had told no one else, had never even admitted aloud to himself.
“I don’t need to connect the crystal to the mainframe to read it,” Radek said. “I just need a monitor and some supplies. We can use a brand new, non-networked laptop.”
“How long will it take?” Lorne asked.
“Only a few hours,” Radek said. “Less if Ronon helps me.”
Rodney and Lorne exchanged looks.
“We need to tell John,” Rodney said. “Lorne, get Radek whatever he needs. I’ll go talk to John.” He spun on his heel and swept out of the lab, demanding a twenty on John from Control.
Radek tore a piece of paper out of a notebook and began scribbling out a list of everything he would need to complete his project. While he was doing that, Lorne was on the radio to Chuck and Amelia, finding out who had witnessed the unscheduled offworld activation, heard the conversation about The Cause, and ordering them to contain the incident as much as possible.
If anyone asked, they were testing a new security protocol, in case someone lost their GDO or couldn’t remember their IDC.
It was frightening, sometimes, how good Lorne was at thinking up ways to hide what they were planning.
Radek finished the list and thrust it at Lorne, and then he began directing Ronon to fetch certain tools, prep certain items like warming up the soldering iron and clear a space on the workbench. Radek pulled up the schematics of his original project on his tablet, and he began walking Ronon through it step-by-step.
Ronon studied the diagrams carefully, listening to Radek’s voice and trying not to think too much about what his future self had said.
Twenty minutes later, a Marine arrived in the lab with a box full of everything they needed - new laptop, new monitor, new keyboard, a Mac mouse with a single button, and power supplies for everything. Radek had the laptop open and was wielding the soldering iron with expert hands, Ronon feeding him the soldering wire, when John and Rodney appeared in the lab.
“Is it true?” John asked. “That crystal contains plans to build a new Chair?”
He could barely contain the eagerness in his voice. A new Chair meant Earth would be defended, meant Atlantis could go back to Pegasus.
“I don’t know,” Radek said. “I have not finished the decryption interface yet.”
John eyed Ronon. “You believe it, though? That it was some future version of you?”
“What did he say to you, to convince you?” John asked.
“He spoke Satedan.”
“Other people out there speak Satedan,” John pointed out.
Ronon shrugged. “He made reference to my time as a Runner.” It was an easy lie, but no one really asked about his time as a Runner. It was considered rude, like asking about John’s time in Afghanistan, or Lorne’s time with the naquadah mine.
John clapped him on the shoulder. “Figure it out, fast.”
“Please do not jolt him,” Radek said, and John snatched his hand back, raised both hands in a gesture of surrender.
“Sorry, Zelenka. Let’s go, Rodney.”
Ronon watched Radek work, the way his brow furrowed in concentration, the bright blue of his eyes, how steady his hands were, the way his glasses slid down his nose. Radek didn’t even blink when Ronon reached out and pushed them back up for him.
And then time fell away, like it always did when Ronon and Radek worked together. Theirs was a wordless dance, murmurs and gestures, fingers brushing as Ronon handed him a screwdriver, accepted a handful of screws, held the laptop steady while Radek eased a circuit board out of it.
Someone - maybe Miko, maybe Lorne - brought them food and drinks, but they kept working.
Radek paused to reread the schematics on his tablet, and Ronon rubbed his shoulders to ease the tension in them from his being hunched over for so long.
Finally, Radek had everything cobbled together, the laptop gutted and half remade into a crystal reader, the keyboard hooked into both it and the monitor. It wasn’t particularly elegant or beautiful, but Radek slid the crystal into a reader tray, and there was a humming, and then -
“Yes!” Radek pumped a fist in the air, and lines upon lines of code began pouring across the screen.
“That’s gibberish,” Ronon said.
Radek smiled. “No, it is encoded. A simple code, that I used in my youth, to discourage people from stealing notes out of my lab journals. Rodney could break it easily, but no need.” He tapped a few keys, and then the code resolved itself into - more gibberish. No, Czech.
“Shouldn’t we call Rodney and John and Lorne and the others?” Ronon asked.
Radek’s smile faded, and he narrowed his eyes, peered at the screen. Scrolled through the text.
“The data is separated into several files - technical information from future me, a personal message to me, technical information from future you, and a personal message to you,” Radek said. He used the directional buttons on the keyboard to scroll through a directory. “Look.”
And Ronon stared. He hadn’t seen Satedan script on a computer screen in over a decade.
I know what you’re planning, the personal message to him began. Don’t do it. The Rebellion will only end in disaster.
Ronon inhaled slowly. “We should call the others.”
Radek started to reach for his radio, but then he said, “Let us read the personal messages to us first. Those are no one else’s business, yes?”
Ronon nodded his agreement, and he read. What he read was - unbelievable. But he kept his expression neutral, and made as few sounds as possible, and said nothing when he was done. Then he surrendered control of the keyboard to Radek and let Radek read.
Radek had far less of a poker face the Ronon, his expressions mobile and animated, at times frowning, at other times smiling, but in most places thoughtful, almost sorrowful.
“Think it’s real?” Ronon asked when Radek straightened up.
“I hope so,” Radek said.
“Because, the last thing my future self said to me was, If he kisses you, say yes.” Radek gazed up at Ronon solemnly. “You wish to kiss me?”
“Yeah. That’s how I knew my future self was really me. He said, If you kiss him, he’ll say yes.”
Radek swallowed. “How long have you wished to kiss me?”
“I think,” Ronon said, “since you made me fix the toaster.”
Radek smiled and made circling motions with his hands. “Wax on, wax off.”
Ronon leaned down, paused a hair’s breadth from Radek’s lips, their breath mingling. “May I?”
Radek said, “Yes,” and for the first time, they kissed.
The wormhole shut down, and Ronon stood there, staring at it. Radek heaved himself out of the pilot seat and hurried out of the jumper, to Ronon’s side.
“Think it worked?” Ronon asked.
Radek shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Ronon turned to him. “What do you think it’ll feel like? When they change the timeli -”