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The first time Mark meets Eduardo Saverin, he’s not really paying attention. On top of the project proposals he keeps mocking up and Erica keeps shooting down, the red tape the military keeps mummifying the science department in, and the overwhelming rush of adrenaline that comes from the knowledge that in three weeks, he'll be leaving the Milky Way galaxy, he also has to worry about his underlings staging a mutiny.
In the face of all the things going on in Mark's head, meeting one Air Force major doesn't register, much.
“You’re making me crazy,” Dustin says, eyes red and wild. “You’re making us all crazy. Go, go to McMurdo and stock up on Red Bull while you still can. Take your laptop with you, I don’t care. Just—get out of here. If you make another expert in non-linear systematics cry, I will throw you down a mine shaft, I am not even bluffing with my muffin.”
Mark blinks at him. "I don't see what the problem is. And I don't really have time to go on a fucking grocery run to the surface, I still want to try and test that new program for data compression."
Dustin, who normally just whines cheerfully and lobs pop culture-ridden insults and then dives back into his work, looks ready to rip out Mark's throat with his teeth. Maybe this is what cabin fever looks like, Mark muses, and starts looking surreptitiously around for something to use as a weapon.
“I will maroon you on an ice floe,” Dustin says, through clenched teeth. “Don’t think I don’t have people that will help me. I could form a Mark-marooning team like that.” He snaps his fingers and Mark re-evaluates the situation, looks around and sees the bruised, fragile expression on half the faces around him, the murderous look on some of the others.
"I'm not being unreasonable," Mark says, feeling a bit uneasy. "I’ve integrated the Ancient code into our databases, and everyone needs to learn it before we leave for Atlantis. That’s just how it is. I really don't see why Olsen's bitching so much, anyway—I chose the most intuitive of the seven Ancient platforms--"
Dustin has his face in his palm, now, and looks like he might be praying for strength—Mark thinks he catches him muttering something about the Triforce, which is just lame, but also makes Mark feel a flicker of fondness beneath the annoyance and confusion.
Dustin’s pretty close to being fluent in the new hybridized code by now—not as comfortable as Mark is, but close. But even he’s still struggling, fumbling lines and working slow, typing like he’s mired in molasses. It’s infuriating—Mark has countless other projects to complete before they leave for Atlantis. He doesn’t have time to babysit a pack of supposed PhDs through the fundamentals of goddamned Linux—it’s alien Linux, sure, but that’s no excuse.
At least Dustin's not completely hopeless. That's something. He says as much, and Dustin cracks a tiny, brief smile. Mark feels himself relax minutely. He'd been pretty sure that he wasn't about to get punched in the face, but it's happened before, in other departments.
"Dude, you must be tired. That was almost a compliment."
"You're welcome?" Mark says uncertainly, and Dustin squints at him for a moment and then shakes his head.
“Look,” Dustin says. He rubs at his face, squints at Mark through one eye. “Not everybody's as smart as me, and definitely not as smart as you. So give us a few days to get familiar with the new alphabet, at least, before throwing War and Peace at us. Okay?”
“That’s a terrible metaphor,” Mark replies after a moment, and shoves his hands in his pockets. He shuffles his feet, feeling abruptly much younger than his twenty-nine years. He hadn't realized until this moment just how unhappy Dustin was, and if Dustin was this unhappy, it seemed likely that the other scientists really were on the verge of murdering Mark. In which case Dustin had just saved Mark's life. Fuck. Um. "Want me to bring you anything back from McMurdo?”
“See if they have any new porn. And maybe some Skittles.”
Dustin’s not grinning like he usually does, but Mark feels himself breathe a little easier anyway.
He knows he’s a genius. He’s the best person to head the science side of this operation; Erica wouldn’t have chosen him if he wasn’t. She’d also, he remembers now, told him he was going to have to work on his people skills. He’d given that the consideration he felt it deserved at the time.
He’s considering it more seriously now as he trudges across the snow towards the waiting helicopter. By the time he’s reached it, he’s concluded that he has Dustin to remind him not to break his underlings. Mark will just have to remember not to break Dustin. It seems like a manageable goal.
Mark’s already plotting out a primer for the less linguistically capable—if Dustin thinks it’s necessary, then he can dumb things down, take the time to show people the basics. Building blocks. Bit by bit. Hopefully it will be marginally warmer in the helicopter; maybe he’ll be able to take his gloves off to type.
It’s really fucking cold in Antarctica, which should be obvious but somehow the sheer magnitude of the temperature drop still blindsides him. He hasn’t been outside for weeks; whatever resistance he’d acquired doing research in Siberia last year is completely gone and he’s shivering despite the fact that he’s trussed up like a fucking turkey and can barely put his arms down. The wind cuts right through each layer of cloth and sinks into his bones; he might as well have on flip flops and shorts. At least then he’d be freezing comfortably.
The pilot is leaning against the side of the helicopter, and he doesn’t look at all like a Thanksgiving turkey. He’s trim and lean in his military gear, and, obnoxiously, he doesn’t look like he even feels the cold. He doesn’t seem to register Mark’s presence, either – he’s got his head tilted back and is regarding the sky with a worryingly dopey grin. Mark suspects oxygen deprivation. He just hopes the guy has enough brain cells left to fly them to McMurdo and back.
He coughs, annoyed, and the pilot keeps grinning at fucking nothing for a split second longer before turning towards him, hands in his pockets and smile wide and friendly.
“Sorry, hi, got distracted,” the pilot of the helicopter says abruptly, cocking his head and regarding Mark. He’s all easy grin and aviator sunglasses; Mark dislikes him immediately. “Dr. Zuckerberg, right? You’re my last supply run of the day. Ready to go?”
Mark ignores the question, settling in the passenger seat and eyeing the complex array of instruments. He really hopes this specimen of military vapidity isn’t completely air-headed, though he supposes muscle memory accounts for a lot. Even a chimpanzee can be reliably trained to manipulate some machines, after all.
“It’s lucky you scheduled the flight when you did. We should have enough time to get you to McMurdo and back, if you hurry.”
This gets Mark’s attention. He flicks a sideways glance at the pilot, who still has on that dopey smile.
“Why should I hurry?” he asks finally, when no further details are forthcoming. He’d naturally checked the station’s weather report before he left—he has no desire to be stranded in McMurdo by a blizzard when he's got so much work left to do back at the outpost. Obviously he’s going to hurry back, but this pilot doesn’t know that.
“Storm’s coming,” the man says cheerfully, almost gleefully, like a little kid.
Mark stares at him scornfully, then tilts his head and pointedly regards the sky, which is completely empty of anything other than a few distant, feathery clouds. Then in case that wasn't enough, he adds condescendingly, “No, all the weather reports said it would be clear today.”
“You’ll see,” the pilot says, and now he’s definitely gleeful, leaning slightly in towards Mark, away from the controls. “It gets—I don’t have a lot to do out here. Glorified taxi driver, and all that. Weather-watching’s my hobby.”
Mark’s appalled. Weather-watching. It sounds like only a hop, skip and a jump away from doing rain-dances. Making poorly educated guesses on the outcome of baseball games. Wearing lucky boxers on the day of exams.
Still, he supposes it’s not a good idea to viciously insult the person keeping him from twisted, fiery death on the frozen Antarctic plains, so he keeps his doubts mostly to himself. Probably it is boring as fuck out here, flying in a straight line, back and forth, with nothing to see but ice and sky. Let the grunt have his faith in voodoo, he thinks, feeling magnanimous and making a mental note to relay the event to Dustin. See, I do have tact.
So he just says, “Whatever,” and turns back to his code. “Eyes on the road, taxi driver.”
“It’s Eduardo, actually,” he hears the man say, but he’s already pretty thoroughly submerged in his work. It doesn’t take much. The white noise of the helicopter and rush of air is soothing and he feels oddly safe, thousands of feet in the air, cradled by a fragile frame of metal and sky.
“I’m Major Eduardo Saverin. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Whatever,” Mark repeats, rolling his eyes, and keeps typing. He doesn’t notice when they land until a warm hand shakes him gently.
“Seriously, don’t take long,” Saverin says, and he’s got his goggles shoved up over his forehead and is grinning madly. Mark blinks at him, has to take a moment to shake off the alien symbols overlaying his vision. “I really don’t like getting stuck at your base overnight. The soldiers are a bit jumpy, you know?”
“Well, we can’t all be surfer-dude flyboys,” Mark says dryly, and blinks again in surprise when Eduardo laughs, teeth whiter than the ice around them.
Mark retreats, leaving Eduardo outside to chat with the guards in attendance, gesturing expansively. All of them are laughing, possibly at Mark, but none of them look at him or point or anything, so maybe not.
Inside the commissary, Mark finds some really terrifying porn that appears to be centered around kitchen appliances. Perfect. He pays extravagantly for it before moving on to comestibles. Six pounds of skittles, and creepy egg-beater porn. That and the report of Mark’s friendly interaction with another human being should mollify his favorite underling, he hopes.
He adds a case of Red Bull, twelve pounds of Twizzlers, and some kits of tuna salad. Then he hesitates, and puts a pack of Cadbury bars on the pile, caramel and raspberry and dark chocolate. It’s only logical. He might have to bribe Erica to listen to him, someday.
While he’s there, he inquires idly about the weather. Maybe Saverin had gotten a report from one of the bases out in the Weddell Sea, scooped the meteorologists back at base. It’s possible.
“No, sir. Should be all clear skies for the next week, don’t you worry,” the attending officer reports sunnily. Mark squints at her, then shrugs and goes to find an outlet to charge his laptop and check in on the outside world, to see what academic travesties have been committed in his absence.
By the time he wanders back out to the helicopter, the sky isn’t quite as blue as it was before, and the wind’s picked up. The idiot pilot meets him by the door, and he’s out and out beaming.
“Get what you came for?” he inquires, and shoulders Mark’s bag, ushering him toward the passenger seat with a hand at the small of his back. Mark stumbles for a moment, and Saverin makes a soothing noise, a quiet, “Easy, now, it’s slippery,” and then helps him up into the ‘copter.
Saverin’s in an expansive mood on the way back, chattering about the internationality of his passengers, how one of the doctors had taught him to swear in Balinese, how a botanist had shared some sort of fizzy candy snack with him. Mark is, again, appalled—do none of his colleagues have any discretion in the fucking slightest? Surely even an empty-headed military grunt has to wonder what a botanist is doing in a frozen wasteland.
Mark doesn’t offer any responses beyond a few grunts and head-tilts, and stares at the darkening sky.
By the time they land, the wind has picked up considerably, and visibility has dropped by at least thirty percent. Saverin lands with the delicate precision of a ballet dancer on point, and Mark immediately hates himself for the mental comparison, shaking his head as though he could dislodge it from his brain.
“How did you know a storm was coming?” he asks instead. “We have experts in meteorology, and they didn’t have a clue. How did you—”
“I’ve been working on a model to predict Antarctic weather patterns for the last two months,” Saverin cuts him off cheerfully. He leaps out of the ‘copter and grabs Mark’s bag again. He’s like a fucking puppy, all big eyes and bouncing stride. “I’ve been using a nested pattern of algorithms and raw data from the stations and it’s finally got a success rate of over eighty-nine percent. I know it was a bit of a bumpy ride, but I’m seriously so—this is just so great, you know? I thought I’d never get that downdrift over the Ross Ice Shelf accounted for. There are just so many variables—sorry, you’re probably not interested in this, are you?”
Mark stares. For once in his life, he’s literally speechless. His tongue feels too thick in his mouth.
“Look, you better hurry,” Saverin advises, and smiles up at the boiling sky. “I’ve got to get going.”
“You should stay,” Mark says without thinking. “It’s—if the storm’s—”
“Huh? Oh,” Saverin stares at him a moment, and Mark can’t parse the look on his face, which has shifted slightly into a different grade of smile than the ones Mark had seen before. Mark shifts on his feet, uncomfortable. “I’ll be fine. Flown in worse.” He flaps a hand dismissively, barely visible through the blowing snow.
Mark wants to say, Be careful. Which is asinine. Presumably millions of dollars of taxpayer money have been spent training this man, and really, it’s nothing to do with Mark, anyway. But there’s lightning flickering and Saverin’s smile suddenly is edged, predatory and hungry, as he stares up at the sky.
“Thanks for the lift,” Mark says finally, and Saverin flicks a glance back at him like he’s forgotten he’s there.
“Any time,” he promises, and hands over Mark’s bag. Mark had nearly forgotten about it, mind numb with cold. Mark can barely hear him speaking over the wind. “Well, anytime after this storm ends, anyway. Should be about three days.” His grin is bright and sunny again, totally incongruous with the crash of thunder.
“Right,” Mark says faintly, and shoulders his bag and trudges into the base. He waves his badge irritably at the soldiers on guard, who have to recognize him by now but still insist on going through these pointless motions anyway, and he gets into the elevator. He watches the floors fly past him, the sound of the storm fading, and wonders about Eduardo Saverin, flying through the storm alone, laughing into the wind.
Then Dustin descends on him, babbling about some breakthrough in the code and how it's tied to the command chair, and that’s even before he spots the Skittles. Mark forgets about his taxi driver for the time being. He's a very busy, very important man, and he has a lot to do.
He remembers to ask a few days later, after hearing some of his scientists plotting out a trip to clean the commissary out of Nesquik Cafe packets.
“The storm? Don’t worry, Doctor, it’s stopped, now, if you want to go back to the commissary for more, ah. Supplies.” The lieutenant he'd approached for news smirks at him, waggling her eyebrows.
Fucking Dustin must have been waving that porno rag around. Mark ignores the derisive look on the soldier’s face and doesn’t think of Major Eduardo Saverin again. He does a few quick searches on weather modeling, and the necessary algorithms, and is resolutely unimpressed. Relative to the work Mark’s doing, it’s child’s play.
Someone should tell Saverin that he should publish, though. Not Mark, since Mark is entirely too busy to go back up to the surface, regardless of the weather. But someone. Someone should tell him. Anyone who can be that creative and innovative and accurate shouldn’t be a glorified taxi driver.
But Mark doesn’t have time to worry about it. He’s not worried about it. It’s an idle concern, something soft and easy to occupy his thoughts instead of the hard, knife-edged panic over whether they’ll be ready in time or not. What they’ll find when they step through the event horizon. Whether Mark will be equal to it.
He’d be a lot more confident if he could get the command chair operational—it’s the epitome of Ancient technology, the control interface that links all the weaponry systems of the outpost. Mark’s confident that if he could just observe someone using it, then he’d be able to break down the security system that’s preventing his team access and be that much closer to a full understanding of Ancient firewalls.
The Ancients were squirrelly motherfuckers, though, and only the random handful of people who possess the ATA gene are able to bring the chair online.
The day before they leave for Atlantis, Mark finally convinces Dr. Alice Young, who'd been the one to discover the ATA gene in the first place to finally, finally sit in the goddamned chair. Immediately thereafter, she somehow manages to send the drone that Dr. Narendra’s been working on rocketing around the lab maniacally, destroying priceless artifacts and even more priceless computers, before it goes flying up the elevator shaft and towards the surface.Where it apparently targets a helicopter carrying an important military general, because that's just Mark's luck.
“I told you I didn't want to do this!” Dr. Young shouts at him, panicked and furious. “I hate this fucking thing!”
“I hate everything,” Mark snarls back, and goes back to frantically trying to override the power circuits of the command panel. Turns out this is unnecessary, since eventually Erica and Dustin manage to calm Dr. Young down enough that she shuts down the drone on her own, before it impales a helicopter and kills a general, and the pilot, or whatever.
Mark blows on his singed fingers and glares at Erica, who is serenely congratulating Alice and totally ignoring Mark's extremely impressive efforts, which totally would have worked if Alice hadn't shut the thing off herself first.
The helicopter and its passenger, and its pilot, are reportedly fine and headed back to base, and Erica has banished Mark from even looking at the chair for another three hours. Mark uses the opportunity to steal Olsen's last Red Bull and starts helping Narendra repair drone-related damages.
He’s zoned out on mending the delicate fiber-optic circuitry of an Ancient DHD when Dustin comes flying around the corner like a rogue drone himself, scattering lab techs and soldiers. Mark squints at him, then goes back to his work.
“Dude, that helicopter pilot! The one Alice almost hit with the drone! Mark, come see!”
He follows Dustin back towards the room with command chair, and then stops in his tracks. Saverin. Saverin is in the chair. His face is lit up like the sun; he looks young, and awed, and a little bit freaked out. Dr. Young is standing next to him, flapping her hands in a panic, and for a moment Mark’s brain goes offline. This is nothing like seeing Dr. Young in the chair, a few measly glowing panels and a drone rocketing around the room. The entire room is glowing, soft blues and oranges and golds.
“I told him not to sit down!” Dr. Young says. “I want it on the record, I warned him!”
Mark ignores her and stares down at the chair’s occupant.
“You,” he says blankly. “I should have known it’d be you.”
Saverin’s voice is thick, almost drugged when he responds. “Mark.”
He remembers my name, Mark thinks wildly, and then has to surreptitiously pinch himself. Dustin is already eyeing him suspiciously, whispering, ‘You know this guy? Mark, I didn’t think you talked to anyone but me! Mark, my heart! I think it’s broken!’
“Mark, what’s happening?” Saverin says, voice rising. There are a dozen people swarming around him, chattering excitedly and trying to talk to him, but Saverin’s ignoring them all, calling Mark’s name. He’s staring straight ahead, body rigid, and he looks panicked. “What’s—what’s wrong? I can’t move.”
“Nothing’s wrong. You have the gene. The ATA gene, it—it means you can interface with Ancient technology,” Mark says blankly. Apparently it’s not enough that Eduardo’s a mathematical genius with a dazzling smile and warm brown eyes and the ability to fly untouched through Antarctic hurricanes, oh, no.
“It’s very rare,” Erica says brightly, coming up behind him. “Mark, for example, does not possess it, no matter how many times he asked Dr. Young to test him. Dr. Young has it, but—”
“It appears your expression of the gene is far more advanced than mine, thank f—I mean, thank god,” Dr. Young finishes weakly. Mark glares at her. “I’m not a fan of turning things on with my brain. It’s weird. And creepy. And, ah, there was that whole missile thing. Sorry about that?”
“Apology accepted,” Saverin says, and then smiles, and Dr. Young’s cheeks pink slightly, and Mark hates them both just the slightest bit more. What were the fucking odds of Saverin, Saverin of all people, having the gene that Mark needs so desperately? Mark could calculate the specific probability if he wanted to be all Spock about it, but he doesn’t bother—it's staggeringly improbable.
“I can’t believe this,” Mark seethes to the room at large.
“We have that in common,” Saverin says, voice tight. “Maybe you didn’t hear me earlier, but I can’t move.”
“Happened to me too,” Dr. Young says, apparently attempting to be soothing. She pats Saverin’s hand, and then takes his pulse gingerly. “It’s normal. Just, um. Don’t think of weapons? Thinking of weapons went really, really badly for me.”
“Well, I wasn’t before!” Eduardo says testily, color appearing high on his cheekbones, and then a dazzling array of panels and sensors light up around him in the air. His face abruptly changes, and the expression is somehow familiar. It takes a moment for Mark to place it—it’s the same way Eduardo had looked staring up at the lightning-streaked sky.
“Oh, wow. That’s—that’s really kind of cool. I think I’m getting the hang of this. Was that what you fired at me and the General, Alice?”
A diagram of the drone appears, labeled in meticulous Ancient, each part dissecting itself before their eyes. It’s more than they’ve managed in months – in years. Mark is simultaneously awed and annoyed.
“Never mind that now,” he says irritably, interrupting Alice, who’s still apologizing profusely. Dustin squawks in dismay—the idiot’s practically panting like a spaniel puppy, all adoring eyes and happy noises as he examines the diagrams. “Ignore him. Picture where we are in the solar system.”
Eduardo obeys Mark’s command, apparently, because the diagram dissolves and stars come into being around them, stretching outwards. Eduardo’s at the center of it all, face soft and wondering. He’s tipped back in the chair, staring up and out and beyond anything anyone on Earth’s ever seen.
Mark tears his eyes away from Saverin and turns to Erica. She’s standing at his elbow, watching everything unfold quietly, taking it all in before she acts, but Mark’s impatient and has things to do.
“We need him.”
“Yes, thank you, Mark, the thought hadn’t occurred to me,” Erica retorts, and Mark can practically hear her rolling her eyes.
“Colonel Sy won’t like it,” Mark continues, ignoring her. “Saverin’s got a black mark on his record, not for anything serious—military bullshit. You’ll have to do that thing you do. Smooth things over, whatever. But we need him. I don’t need to tell you how much. You’re not a scientist, but it should be apparent even to you.”
“Mark,” she says, attention fully on him, now, her eyes narrowing. Mark crosses his arms over his chest preemptively, wondering which of the things he’d said had inadvertently pissed her off this time. “Have you been hacking into confidential government files again?”
Oh, that. “Don’t be boring.”
"You know what's boring? Prison is boring," she says, but this is an argument they've had before, and Mark sees a smile lurking at the corners of her mouth. "I'd like a report on the system's security weaknesses on my desk by this evening," she compromises. Mark smirks victoriously. "And I'll have a word with Colonel Sy. I do agree that we need Major Saverin on our team--"
“Excuse me. Sorry to interrupt, but do I not get a say in this?” Saverin pipes up, sounding curious and lazily amused, like this is all academic. A game. Mark is beginning to sympathize with some of the comments in Saverin’s file – maybe sometimes the man is deliberately infuriating.
Mark snaps back automatically, “No,” and Saverin talks right over him, smiling at Erica ingratiatingly.
“I’ve only just found out that aliens exist. It’s a bit much to take in, you know?”
“Understandably,” Erica says sympathetically. “And of course you have a final say in whether you join the Atlantis Expedition.” An involuntary noise of protest escapes Mark, and she shoots him a dirty look before turning back to Saverin, face softening. “Of course you do. Please feel free to ask any questions you have. And I really must apologize for Dr. Zuckerberg’s presumption. He can be—”
“A total asshole,” Dustin fills in cheerfully, and Dr. Young smothers a laugh in her sleeve. Mark had forgotten they were even there. Lurking on the sidelines uselessly. Now that they had Saverin's superior gene, Dr. Young could go back to her witchdoctor ways, attacking innocent people with vaccinations and haranguing all and sundry about vitamins and sleep deprivation. And Mark could go back to avoiding her.
Sadly, Dustin was a permanent fixture in Mark's life.
"Dr. Moskovitz, I would like to take this moment to remind you that I am, in fact, your boss," he says mildly, and is gratified that Dustin immediately meeps and edges behind Saverin.
“I was going to say over-zealous,” Erica continues tactfully. “But I assure you, Major, he gets less grating over time.”
"How much time are we talking, here?" Saverin says dubiously, raising an eyebrow, and Dustin snorts.
“She’s totally lying. Mark never gets any better. Dr. Albright’s just being a diplomat, she can’t help it. It’s her thing.”
“Thank you, Dustin,” Erica says dryly, and Dustin flushes.
“But diplomacy’s good, right? Dr. Albright’s the best. She’ll talk Sy down like that, don’t even worry about—whatever, with the military. There won’t be any problems. I mean, she dated Mark for a couple weeks without killing him, everything’s a cinch after that, right?”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to put her out on my behalf,” Eduardo demurs, and he’s smiling sweet and charming, like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. “Sounds like she’s already got her hands full. But thanks for the offer. You’re both too kind, but I’m not sure I’m really the soldier you’re looking for.”
Mark stares at them. He just—he doesn’t get how they could act like this, light and bantering, as though this expedition isn't being held together with spit and a coded prayer, as though they don't need every last ounce of luck and talent and skill that they can get. As though Saverin isn’t gearing up to say no, for whatever fuckwit reason he’s concocted in his head.
Mark stalks forward, puts both hands on the arms of the chair. Saverin will fucking take this seriously. Mark doesn’t give a shit about diplomacy.
“Look, flyboy, I’ll make this simple for you,” Mark bites out, ignoring the rest of the room entirely. The world narrows down, focusing in on Saverin's wide, brown eyes. “You have the gene we’ve been looking. You have it, and we need it, and that means that you have the opportunity to learn things the human race has only ever dreamed of before. Forget Star Trek—this is real, this is going beyond everything we know and building something new and changing the world. Fuck, changing the whole universe. If you’re an idiot, fine. Turn us down.”
He pulls back slightly and shrugs, adopts the disdainful look he’d turned on his most loathed, insipid grad students back at MIT. “Stay here and be a taxi driver for the rest of your life, if that’s what you want. I personally think you’d be bored out of your skull and wind up flying your helicopter into a hurricane and dying a messy death on a lonely mountain somewhere, but if you’re as stupid as you look, go ahead. Do that.”
"Mark," someone says, horrified, but Mark's not listening. And Saverin's just staring at him, face motionless.
"I wouldn’t care, but you know what, it turns out we need you. You interface with Ancient technology naturally, better than anyone we’ve found so far, and believe us, we’ve looked. There's—" Mark hates admitting this. "There's only so much we're able to do with our computer systems, and we don’t have the time to learn enough before the expedition leaves. You should be there, in Atlantis, with us. You should come with us. We need you."
"Okay," Saverin says, and Mark stops, mouth still open for his next verbal assault. He shuts it with an audible click. He’s turned off the chair somehow, and the room is darker now without the outline of the solar system glowing throughout it.
"Okay?" Mark asks cautiously. “I mean, okay. Of course okay. Good. I knew you’d see reason.”
"Well. I wasn’t sure before, but—" Eduardo shrugs and rubs at the back of his neck, breaking eye contact and smiling crookedly. “What can I say? You had me at Star Trek.”
“You’re a Trekker, too?” Dustin says delightedly. “Dude, I think I love you.” He does the ta’al, fingers spread, and Eduardo laughs, his eyes crinkling up with amusement as he lifts a hand and does it back before turning back to Mark.
“So, what exactly is this expedition? I mean, Alice was talking about aliens, but Atlantis, that’s Earth mythology. What’s the deal?”
“Um. Atlantis is an alien spaceship city thing, actually,” Dustin says after a moment where all the Atlantis personnel gape at each other wordlessly. Mark keeps forgetting—other people don’t know this shit. Classified, classified, so fucking classified. “In the Pegasus galaxy. It’s, um. They think the city left Earth and flew there?”
“What?” Eduardo says, voice rising in what Mark feels is a really unattractive way, eyes bugging out. Mark can see Erica gritting her teeth and doing her counting to ten thing behind him.
Okay, fine. So Mark had maybe left some things out of his rousing speech. He’d still said all the important stuff.
“Don’t worry, the Stargates reduce travel time between galaxies to less than a minute. Actually,” Mark pauses thoughtfully. “It takes exactly 2.56 seconds to enter and then exit a wormhole. So far we've theorized that's tied to gravity and the subspace distance, but maybe—”
Erica steps forward, cutting Mark off. "Major Saverin, you may want to take some time to think over our proposal. Mark’s passionate plea aside, there’s a lot you need to know before you officially sign on—"
“Yeah, and Mark left out the part where we might never get back to Earth. Ever. Space castaways!” Dustin enthuses, and now Eduardo looks a little white around the eyes.
“We only have enough power to open up the Stargate one time,” Erica explains apologetically, ignoring Dustin, too, which makes Mark feel marginally less insulted. Normally he’d have jumped in smugly and started describing zero-point modules and subspace entropic decay and the brilliance of the Ancients and his theories on how they could eventually replicate the energy source they’d created, but hopefully there would be time for that later.
“Don’t tell me a one-way ticket is going to be a problem,” Mark says, cutting through the bullshit and rolling his eyes. “I mean, what do you have to come back for, really?”
“Dude,” Dustin hisses reproachfully while Erica kicks Mark hard in the shin. “Tact, man. Dammit, Mark, we’ve talked about this!”
Eduardo ignores them both, staring at Mark thoughtfully with a self-deprecating smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.
“Well, you’ve read my file,” he says finally, breaking the silence. “What do you think?"
Mark thinks Eduardo Saverin has a father and a mother in Miami, but that he hasn't taken leave in six years. He thinks Eduardo is unmarried. He thinks Eduardo is alone at the bottom of the world by choice. And there will be plenty of clouds to study in the Pegasus galaxy. That's what Mark thinks.
“I think you’re coming,” Mark says, dragging his eyes away from the tilt of Eduardo's mouth. His throat is oddly tight. Mark isn’t the only one who should be feeling exposed right now – no one but Erica has seen his file. But maybe---maybe Mark shouldn't have told anyone he'd looked up Eduardo's.
“You did tell me you were a genius," Eduardo says dryly, then turns to raise an eyebrow at Erica. “So, where do I sign?”
Mark swallows, then lifts his chin. “Good. At least now one of the people waving a gun around Atlantis won’t be totally brainless.”
“In Mark-speak, that’s a compliment,” Dustin confides in a low voice, like Mark isn’t standing three feet away.
“Yeah, I actually had that much figured out,” Eduardo says, shooting Mark a smile. Mark flushes for no reason.
“Like I said, you’re not completely stupid,” he mutters, and then waves a hand at Dustin. “So if we’re done with the press-ganging, we still have actual work to do.”
“Yeah, chair diagnostics!” Dustin coos, and picks up the scanner attached to the chair base and shares a look of glee with Mark. “Come to papa, baby!”
“You know, I’m starting to have a bad feeling about this,” Eduardo says, standing up from the chair. He’s swaying slightly, but he’s smiling, too.
“Chill out, Skywalker,” Dustin says, bouncing in place. Mark relieves him of the scanner before he drops it. “This is gonna be great!”
NEXT TIME ON STARGATE: TSN…
Mark narrows his eyes. “I’m coming with you, Major.”
“You are not, Mark,” Eduardo says through gritted teeth. “You’re a civilian. Bringing you on a military rescue mission is an unacceptable risk. I won’t allow it.”
“One, Erica’s already okayed it and two, I’m a genius. You’ll need me. What exactly are you going to be able to do when you come across Wraith technology? Shoot it?” Eduardo glares at him. “We’re wasting time. Someone get me a gun.”
“A gun. You, with a gun.” Eduardo sounds insultingly dubious.
“It can’t be that different than Halo,” Mark says defensively, and Sergeant Lee starts laughing.
“Oh, man, this is going to be hilarious,” she says, and hands Mark a small handgun that she’d had stowed away somewhere under all the other guns and ordinance she was carrying. Mark takes it gingerly, and it's heavier than he expected. “Rock on, science man. Let’s go blow up some aliens.” She rubs her hands together gleefully.
She’s unhinged. Hot as fuck, but seriously deranged. Mark is starting to have second thoughts, but he’s not backing down now, not with Eduardo looking just the slightest bit relieved beneath his put-upon exasperation.
“If you’re coming, I want you to stay out of the action, but I guess I better teach you how to shoot something that's not controlled by a Wiimote,” Eduardo says ruefully. “Crash course. Pay attention.”
He starts rearranging Mark's body, kicking his legs apart to give him a better stance, whatever that means, and straightening Mark's arms. His hand is warm through the cloth, and even warmer when it brushes the bare skin of Mark's wrist.
“Oh, he’s paying attention alright,” Lee says, leering, and Mark would glare at her, but he’s busy at the moment. Learning about the safety and reloading and shit so that they could infiltrate an alien base and rescue people from space vampires. That’s what he's paying attention to.
TO BE CONTINUED…