Chapter 1: How It All Started
“YOU COULD HELP, YOU KNOW,” McKay protested from the temple’s rearmost inner wall, behind where an altar –or a control console– once stood, but had long since fallen to pieces. How typically inconvenient. Sometimes it seemed like the universe had it out for Rodney, like it wanted to see him constantly punished for being so unbearably brilliant. If he believed in such whimsy as Fate there might have been something else for his ill-will to latch onto other than his relaxing teammate, but unfortunately for Sheppard, Rodney was a pragmatist.
“Help with what, exactly?” Nearby, Sheppard lounged back onto his elbows, staring up at the unbelievably high ceiling, its intricate pattern of stone archways, and the vines growing inside from the clerestory. ”You’re examining a wall of runes, how can I possibly help with that?”
McKay huffed, “I don’t know, but your magical genes always find some way of contributing in situations like this.” No power in the `verse could make him admit to Sheppard that the writing on this wall had him stumped. No power at all.
“Thanks for saying ‘contributing’ instead of ‘barging in’,” Sheppard muttered as he sat up just enough to roll his sleeves up over his elbows. He removed his wristband and watch as well, setting them down beside him before he reclined back into his previous position, forearms braced against the cool mossy stone, head titled back.
“I’m considerate like that.” Rodney rolled his eyes as he looked back over his shoulder, catching sight of John’s sprawl. “—What are you doing? I said help, not pose for a centerfold.” Rodney stood up from his uncomfortable crouch to stomp around the crumbled altar-slash-control console and the obligatory ceremonial dais to frown quite pointedly at his Colonel. “Which you’re… completely pulling off. Unsurprisingly.” —Only to lose all his steam.
Despite most outward appearances, Sheppard was already concentrating on the task at hand, so a smarmy comeback would have to wait a few moments. Since Antarctica, talking with Ancient tech had always come more easily than a spring-break co-ed, but every once and a while the conversation needed a little lubrication. Fortunately for the mission, flirting with reluctant tech was one of John’s favourite things to do. Right up there with roller coasters and Ferris Wheels.
Tongue held between his teeth just right to help him focus, John reached down with his gene, through the moss, then the temple floor to the circuitry beneath, where he sent it a warm, Hey darlin’, come here often? Whatever he was tapping into, it felt sticky, like it had been sat, unused and uncared for for a very long time. John gave it a mental nudge; you awake down there? The power pulsed at him, like a sleeping creature slowly blinking awake; it was starting, but unevenly, jerking and ebbing. It bucked and fought its tired systems in such a lifelike way that John’s body, way up on the surface, couldn’t help but laugh.
“Is this good enough for you, McKay, or should I really open her up and see what she can do?”
“McKay?” Still nothing. John pulled his way out of the temple’s systems, and pushed himself up with a sigh. “Earth to McKay— er, M5-something to Dr. Meredith Rodney McK—”
That’s when McKay started screaming.
By the time John had the temple -–the machine--whatever-- turned off, it was already too late.
Chapter 2: The First Week or So
Rodney wakes up changed. This is how he gets his voice back.
This chapter was written especially for the Starter Pack, so excuse if it feels a bit rushed.
Rodney woke up in Atlantis’s isolation/observation room, which was… not comforting. Even less comforting was the fact that there were no beeping machines in the room with him. He wasn’t hooked up to anything, he wasn’t tied down, he wasn’t even underneath a blanket. It was like they’d dumped him on a bed in an otherwise empty room, set the observation window to one-way, and just left him there.
What the hell was going on?
One of the last things he remembered was being chased across M59 3OK’s desert surface by creatures the Historians had won the right to name Lindworms. Even at his fastest sprint, Ronon was keeping up with him while running backwards, shooting at the two-legged fire-breathing dragons like some kind of manic space cowboy, and laughing like he was having the time of his life.
With a lucky shot, one of the Lindworms had erupted into a flaming ball of blood and guts and sulphur. Ronon whooped out a victorious yippie-ki-yay, like John McClane himself. After that, the team made it to the planet’s ring platform unscathed enough to be transported to M59’s forest moon and get on with their mission.
The moon was the only reason for a second trip to that godforsaken desert planet. M59 3OK itself was nothing but sand and death and death and sand as far as the eye or scanner could see. It had a Stargate and a ring platform, and that was it. But the moon? It supported life, and not a small amount. There were ruins of old cities full of crumbling towers and intricate tunnel systems, there were overflowing aqueducts, and fields of wild crops. There was abundant wildlife and a thriving ecosystem.
Where the people had vanished to was not Rodney’s concern; that was a job for soft scientists. He was there for the power reading SGA-5’s science officer had made a note of in his initial scouting report. As fascinating as everything else was, naquadah radiation was a higher priority.
The trail lead them to what had probably been, in its day, a very pleasant park in the center of town. Somewhere the working Middle-class would have gone on their lunch break. …Or perhaps not, because hidden behind the snarly trees and undergrowth had been a rather sizeable temple.
Rodney’s last clear memory was of Teyla shaking her head at Ronon and Sheppard’s display of excessive manliness as they grunted and heaved themselves at the temple’s sturdy main door.
And then he was back on Atlantis, in a room that felt simultaneously too large and yet too small. He was stiff and sore and oddly itchy, and no matter how much he blinked or shook his head, his eyes wouldn’t behave.
Everything was unbelievably sharp and moved too smoothly. It was like watching a video with a higher than standard frame rate all the time. It was exhausting.
And distracting. When Carson finally came to tell him what the hell was going on, Rodney found himself distracted by the stitching on the other man’s uniform, or the way his pulse was beating nervously in his neck, or even the– wait. What was he saying?
“You’re an owl, Rodney.”
Maybe it wasn’t permanent.
Maybe it would wear off on its own.
Maybe he was fooling himself.
Between them, Sheppard, Zelenka, and Elizabeth had a list of things to ask Rodney before they could make his “temporary leave of absence” official. Of course, they had to work around the severe communication barrier of him losing the ability to speak. “Hoot once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’,” was not the most efficient of methods, and barely a handful of minutes into their meeting, Rodney’s answers had developed a clearly patronising tone. This system would just not work in the long run.
It was fortunate for everyone that Colonel Sheppard stumbled upon the Squawkboxes when he did.
Teams 2 and 3 had been sent back to M59 for reconnaissance and a need-to-know order of find out what the fuck happened. Until Rodney was put back on active duty, the rest of his team had grounded themselves out of solidarity.
How unnecessarily considerate of them. What else did the entire team having nothing to do but sit on their thumbs do but remind Rodney that he’d been reduced to absolute uselessness? He couldn’t work: he couldn’t type, he couldn’t scour through the ‘Lantean database for answers. Hell, he couldn’t even berate his underlings, because not only had this fiasco taken his body from him, it had robbed him of his voice as well! He was trapped in a useless, clumsy, fragile shell, and there was nothing he could do about it. What else was there to do but sit around and sulk while less intelligent people bumbled around a problem they could never solve because they simply weren’t him? Attempts at flying always resulted in crashes, feeding himself was worse than the thought of filing peer reviews, and Rodney was half sure that the stress of it all was throwing him into an early molt. Sulking was the only thing left for him.
Sheppard, however, had a different plan. With the A team off-duty, and the B and C teams busy, he’d rounded up the D team – which mainly consisted of recruits so fresh-off-the-Daedalus that they still had that New Car smell – and convinced them that the best use of their time that particular afternoon would be spent exploring the city’s east-side isthmus.
Rodney didn’t see how this was better for him than re-learning how to sit without falling over (of all things!) on the back of a couch while watching old episodes of Quantum Leap. It was just as frustrating watching children manhandle his city as it was losing his balance time and again, tumbling head-over-tailfeathers, and landing on his own face. Everyone else knew it too, by the way they were tip-toeing around him and keeping their tongues in check. –Except for Dr. Evans, who Rodney was pretty sure only checked her email when she was reminded to, leaving her blindly ignorant towards current events. Like the fact that the owl scowling at her as she flirted awkwardly with Sheppard was, in fact, her boss.
She eventually picks up on Sheppard’s discomfort and wanders back to her actual work, which finally lets McKay notice the watch-like device John’s been fidgeting with. He catches Sheppard’s eye and asks with a head tilt, What’s that?
“Dunno,” Sheppard answered with a shrug. “Looks cool though.”
Only it wasn’t Sheppard that had answered him. The slightly deeper and less nasal voice than usual had come out the device in his hands.
“What the–?” Sheppard reacted the same time Rodney did. “…I didn’t say that out loud.”
Rodney stared back, his demeanour radiating, No shit.
“Holy shit– Can this thing read my mind?!”
By that time, Rodney was shaking with frustration. It was taking Sheppard far too long to reach the only logical conclusion and give him the device. He was hopping on one foot, flapping his wings for balance, and sticking the other one out at Sheppard, begging for him to get a clue.
The device fastened around McKay’s ankle with a firm click. The effect was instantaneous.
“Oh my god, you are such an idiot sometimes!! Most of the time your brain is pretty sexy, and it somehow makes you more attractive than your face and your stupid hips already do, but on occasion? You’re a freaking moron!! If the foremost expert on Ancient technology in two galaxies is trying to get your attention while you’re fiddling with an Ancient artifact, you could, what is it? Look at him?!
“And for that matter!” Rodney spun to glare down the rest of the room, all of which – scientist and military alike – were staring at him, frozen, with mouths agape. “Evans! You’re a selfish nitwit that is embarrassingly ignorant of your immediate surroundings. You’re demoted as soon as I can start doing paperwork again. Nyström! Your methods are sloppy and you plagiarize from your co-workers when you think you won’t get caught. You’re not only lazy, but stupid. You aren’t demoted; you’re fired. Radek! Get him off my city immediately!” There was a barely-noticeable silence where Zelenka didn’t immediately pop out of the woodwork to appease his boss. “Today, Crosby. Today.”
Sheppard leaned over to supply quietly, “He’s off-world. Working on your problem?”
“Dammit.” Rodney considered that a moment. When he looked back up at John, the voice coming out of the Ancient device was quieter, but no less intense. “We have to get to that idiot’s lab sooner rather than later, before his project explodes.” He meant Nyström, who was currently being bombarded with accusatory looks from his colleagues. They didn’t seem to like the idea that he’d been stealing their work, and rightly so.
John offered his forearm, which was covered in one of Ronon’s wide leather cuffs, so that Rodney could get enough grip to maintain a perch without drawing blood. –Not that that prevented the occasional flail for balance and frantic flapping directly into Sheppard’s face, but it was better than being carried, or trying to fly short distances in close quarters – something Rodney dreaded attempting.
On the way to the nearest transporter, Rodney confided to John, “I’m going to have to borrow your hands for this, but if you do exactly as I say, we should live to see our dinner.”
Sheppard nodded, sagely. “Tell you what, buddy, if you get us through this? I’ll even share my meatloaf with you.”
How's a little TMI with your breakfast, mm?
There were a lot of things John didn’t know. Like that owls could snarl; he didn’t think they had the necessary muscle structure. But then again, the average owl did not have the inferno of Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay’s unsurpassed rage boiling underneath all those feathers and talons. This was not the first fact to which he was enlightened today, nor would it be the last.
“DID YOU KNOW,” Rodney spoke in all-caps a lot lately. The working theory was not that he was actually yelling, as thoughts do not have a quantifiable loudness, but rather that he was thinking very emphatically, which the psychic voicebox could only translate aurally in the form of amplitude. It was the smallest of comforts. ”DID YOU KNOW THAT OWLS CANNOT DIGEST EVERYTHING THEY EAT?” Rodney swooped down out of the air with minimal warning.
John dove for his coffee mug, snatching it safely away from Rodney’s uncoordinated landing. The wings were big, and awkward, and never seemed to do quite what Rodney wanted of them. Hopefully the squints down in the labs would find the
magic completely scientific solution to Rodney’s transformation and he wouldn’t have to deal with this much longer.
“AND ALL THAT FUR AND BONE THEIR STUPID BIRD GUTS CAN’T DEAL WITH? THEY PUKE IT UP. I hope you feel as nauseous about this little fact as I do. And you don’t have to go through it twice a day. Carson calls it an owl pellet, the bone shaker. How did he ever get a degree in anything? Seriously, I’m considering changing his title on my medical file from Physician to Veterinarian, just to get back at him. …Are you eating that?”
John couldn’t handle this right now.
“Where are you going? HEY. SHEPPARD. Where are you going? Dammit, slow down, I havn’t got the— hang of— SHEPPARD.”
Chapter 4: Bucket List
The team learned quite quickly to set Rodney’s Squawkbox to silent when they went off-world, meaning that instead of transmitting out loud, it sent its signal directly to their radio headsets. That mission-gone-wrong cum lesson nearly ended with everyone else in jail, and Rodney hooded, tied to a post, and almost roasted for sacrificial dinner.
Most villages considered Rodney sitting on Sheppard’s leather-covered shoulder - or perched on his wrist - to be a symbol of status and power, embodying his strength as a leader and that of his character. The ones that didn’t and tried to chase them away as demon worshippers… well. SGA-2 took care of the follow-up visits to those planets instead.
One noteworthy priest on M49-382 was absolutely sure that the Great A’hoole that escorted the Visitors to their village was a vessel for a godlike Ancient, and insisted the festivities and trade negotiations could not possibly begin until it had chased down and slaughtered a piglet-ish in the town square. Rodney’s “horns” perked up at the thought of pork! and that was that. Deity on at least one planet? Check.
Chapter 5: Poachers, Traders, and Thieves
Rodney's kidnapped while out on a mission. His team comes to the rescue.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
They would come for him. As long as he was still alive, there was hope. It’s important to focus on the good things right now: they hadn’t clipped his wings, they hadn’t bound his feet. Of course they’d taken the Squawkbox from him, but they didn’t know about the locator chip deep in his left thigh, or how pissed his team became when their things were taken from them.
So instead of flapping his wings, careening around his cage, hissing, spitting, and making a panicky nuisance of himself, Rodney sat, and listened to his captors. They were traders - Pegasus equivalent of black market by the look of the weapons across their backs and the variety of loot in the wagon that wasn’t him and the other carnivorous bird occupying his cage - unfair traders that bragged about the gullibility of the last folk they dealt with, ammunition and provisions for worthless trinkets.
Rodney felt a strong urge for the taste of their eyeballs - which, in hindsight, was an extremely gross thought. …Considering how much tastier their tongues would be. The thought of tasty tasty revenge meat occupied Rodney’s mind until they reached their destination - or at least until the wagon lurched to a stop, driving the other, smaller owl into his side.
“You alright, kid?” came out as a low warble, punctuated by a chirp (the traders had removed his Squawkbox, thinking it nothing more than a shiny bauble). His cellmate only stared at him with big, dumb, terrified eyes. ”Whatever,” Rodney sighed, and settled down on his perch to wait for rescue.
Rodney was torn for an evening over what to call his cell mate. He couldn’t say it out loud, but anything would be better than referring to him mentally as ‘it’, ‘him’, or ‘the kid’. He’d narrowed it down to either Dodge or Landon* on account that they were locked up by fucking monkeys. Dodge was the better name, but he was also the character that had been shot, stuffed, and mounted. Don’t want to jinx the kid even more than he already was, so…
Landon was missing a pinion feather from his right side, the side he had pressed against Rodney as he shivered in his restless sleep. Rodney’d seen it earlier, tucked behind the ear of one of the traders. Head Goon. He was the one that pulled them out of their cage by their feet to dangle them in front of anyone that showed the slightest interest in a rare A’hoole. He used the feather to emphasize a point and gesture at his merchandise. Once, Rodney saw him draw it along the jawline of a market whore. Rodney yearned for the taste of his flesh by that point, to see the moronic shock upon his face as his entrails were torn from his steaming gut before his very eyes.
Rodney was woken from his bloody dreams by the semi-distant pops of controlled P-90 fire. He knew that sound, as sure as anything, but he must have been hearing things. Maybe he was still dreaming. …Was that someone calling his name?
Landon chirruped unhappily as his support scuttled away and further up their branch, peering out of the cage. He couldn't see anything yet, the commotion was still too far away. And hopping didn’t help, even if it did make him feel better.
John! HEERE!! OVER HERE! ”RAAAWWKK!! RAAAAAAAWWK!!” Teyla! Ronon! Shep-parrrd! “RAAAAAAAAWKK!!" Landon joined in, screeching and flapping his wings. He may have been terrified and stupid 90% of the time, but the kid had a set of lungs on him.
“Shuut uuuup, you useless dinnermeat!“ Head Goon banged against the cage with a club. ”It’s just some bandits. Mebbe debt-collectors. Whichever the case, looks like that Roadnea’s in for a lifetime of regret.” Rodney snapped at the goon’s chuckling face, despite the cage between them. He held onto the woven wires with his talons, flared his wings, beating them senselessly and howled…
“Teyla, secure that sonnovabitch. Ronon, get the lock. Rodney, calm down. Rodney.”
A flash of light, and an entire side of the cage was gone! He was out! He was free! And he was diving, talons first, straight for Head Goon’s face! ”Holy shit!” someone else had to have exclaimed, because Goon was too busy being tongueless - and then eyeless. Mere seconds later, his face hung in ribbons as he gurgled in such a satisfying way that Rodney was nearly appeased enough leave the man the dignity of keeping his entrails. Nearly.
Teyla's floated down to him from somewhere overhead, soft and soothing. “Dr. McKay? Colonel Sheppard, Ronon, and I have come to take you home; back to Atlantis. …Do you understand?”
Rodney murmured an affirmative around a beakful of colon, but it came out more like a purr. He heard, he even comprehended, but seriously guys, you have no idea how tasty a fresh stomach is. It’s like two meals in one! Landon should be getting in on this action— Landon!
But Sheppard was in full-on Commander mode, so he was a step and a half ahead of Rodney's bloodlust-addled bird brain. “Ronon, grab him. Wrap him up in something - anything! Teyla, check the dead one, the Squawkbox has to be around here somewhere. Hey, Asshole.” That sound was definitely a military-issue, sloppily tied boot kicking the last trader in the ribs. ”The bird had something tied around his foot. Where is it? Tell us, and you won’t suffer the same fate as your friend.”
That sole survivor and witness of those traders would come to refer to Rodney as the Horrorhawk, for his sudden unexpected transition into a bloodthirsty beast. Rodney bore the title with pride, even though it was totally inaccurate; Hawks and Owls are completely different orders of Aves.
Teyla found the Squawkbox around the neck of the disemboweled trader - he was wearing it as luck talisman. Shows how much luck it brought him. True to form, the first thing the device projected when it crackled back to life… was bitching.
“KKKKRRRRRAAAAWK PRRRRAAAAND WHAAT IS WITH THE SWADDLING CLOTHES? I KNOW I SAVE YOUR LIVES ON A WEEKLY BASIS, BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE THE SAVIOR THING SO LITTERALLY— Oh. Hello.” Rodney blinked up at Ronon, like he might drop him now that he could understand his ranting. “You don’t take the yelling to heart, right? I just… haven’t heard my own voice in a while.”
“Good to see you too, McKay.”
“…Can you unwrap me now?”
He was grinning. That’s never a good sign. ”Nah, let’s keep our little Messiah all bundled up until we’re back on the city. Just in case he goes all squirrelly again.”
“Landon too!” Rodney squirmed and twisted his head around as far as he could - partly because it freaked Ronon out how far he could do that, but mostly to look back to the cage. ”He can’t fly until his primaries grow back in. We have to take him with us or he’ll die.”
Rodney had more arguments on the tip of his tongue (so to speak), but Sheppard was already pulling out his falconer’s glove and soft leather jesses for Landon’s legs. ”Look at you, a genuine avian philanthropist, huh?”
*Landon, and Dodge were two of the three surviving characters that crash-landed onto The Planet of the Apes (1968). They were the astronauts that weren't played by Chuck Heston.
Also, Rodney has yet to develop sticky fingers when it comes to other owls at this point. That will soon change, with the discovery of the owlets. Landon was released back into wild soon after his pinion grew back.
Chapter 6: And Then There Were Baby Owls
The team stumbles upon a nest of orphaned owlets. Rodney's maternal instinct gets kicked into high gear.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The second set of owls native to the Pegasus galaxy they found was a nest of barely-hatched, fuzzy owlings, that, despite being a) male, and b) not actually an owl, Rodney took to with surprising ferocity. He hunched over them, puffed up to twice his normal size, wings flared protectively, and hissed at anyone that came near them.
Ronon and John stood back and stared, stunned, until Teyla stepped forward with a marvellously restrained eye-roll. Using only her soothing voice, womanly charm, and diplomatic superpowers, she managed to calm Rodney down enough so that he could explain that he wasn’t leaving them to die, and that was final.
He snapped at Ronon’s fingers several times as he collected the baby birds while Sheppard wrestled him away, trying to hold him under his arm like a slippery fish. It only occurred to them once they were back in the Gateroom, burdened with birds, that they’d have to explain this to Elizabeth. …Somehow.
Rodney ended up assembling an honest-to-God nest in one of the larger greenhouses. Pieced together with small twigs from the greenhouse, bits of leather, seaweed, and his own feathers; that was where the owlings stayed (for the most part), under McKay’s fierce mothering. The mission debrief and team meetings came to him, along with like mice that Rodney strongly protested against having to regurgitate on command.
When they were still too young to fly, but too old and restless to stay in the nest all day, Rodney’s parliament of owls would follow him around on foot.
“You’re embarrassing,” he would tell them. “Making me look like a partridge.”
There are ten owlets in this first group. John and Rodney end up giving them two completely different sets of names. Then the rest of the Expedition starts using whichever name is easier to remember. Of course, there are a few exceptions, which results in several owlets having three given names.
Archimedes | Launchpad | "Archie"
Fermat | Taz
Gauss | Woodstock
Tycho | Inky
Sierpinski | Pinky
Cantor | Blinky
Hypatia | Clyde
Copernicus | Huey
Décartes | Dewie
Oort | Louie | "Shingles"
Chapter 7: How John Became an Uncle ...Again
At first, it was because he was the only one available at the time, but after a while John became the owlets' favourite, so he was promoted to Default Babysitter.
Uncle!John is my absolute favourite part of Owl!verse. And because of that, it never really goes away.
This chapter is a selection of drabbles and ficlets from when the owlets were just bb's.
Notably, one of these sections contains the first mention of Carl the Koi - who is not-so-secretly my favourite character.
He was gonna get it.
Rodney was gonna kill him, and he was gonna be dead, and then the Wraith were going to attack and kill everyone, thereby making his efforts to find these little runaways completely moot.
He could already hear the yelling in his head: “You lost them? Lost them. In four hours, you managed to lose the closest thing I’ll ever have to children. Children, John Sheppard. People go to prison for losing children back on Earth. All you had to do was keep your office door shut until I came back. How hard is that?! How many visitors were you getting?! Mister Popularity over here can out-maneuver two-dozen darts in a zero-G dogfight, but can’t keep an eye on ten baby birds?! One of which is missing half his tail feathers, so he keeps turning in circles.”
Not to mention how pissed he’d be when he found out John was running around collecting them in a ten gallon bucket.
“Are you guys trying to get me in trouble? Hide-and-Seek is a people game. A people game that is our little secret, right? You don’t go tattling to mom on me. —How many of you are down there, anyway?” Carefully, John lowered himself, headfirst, into this open pipe with a pocket flashlight held between his teeth.
“Is everyone okay? Woodstock? Launchpad?” A piece of deli meat from John’s lunch (he found it made wrangling the owlings easier if he carried a slice or two around with him at all times) brought the pair of tiny owls within grabbing distance. ”Alright, boys, let’s get ourselves out of this mess.”
The Squawkbox sounded surprisingly good, very much
like his real like his human voice had. The difference was comparable to how you sound to yourself, as opposed to how you sound to others. In fact, it was exactly that; Rodney’s synthesized voice sounded like how he heard himself in his head. It was the voice in his head; that’s how the technology worked. He didn’t hear the difference, he couldn’t, even with his new and improved hearing, but as a third-party observer, John could. The radios made it even worse, adding enough static and pitch shift to make Rodney sound just like his old self.
Which is what startled John so badly when Rodney’s old voice was suddenly in his ear, demanding where the hell he was. It was almost like Rodney
was back to normal was human again and here, glaring a sharp blue storm at him. «Sheppard. Answer me.» John would be willing to bet money that Rodney was even more aggravated in that moment because he couldn’t cross his arms in his frustration. The thought brought a soft smile to his face.
He made sure to keep his voice low as he tapped his earpiece. ”Hi, mom. What’s up?”
«Where. are. you? You’re not in your office or your rooms or the mess or that gym with the big windows—» He went on for a while, obviously having been looking for a while before he commed. Completely justifiable pissy attitude then, since John
neglected forgot to leave a note as to where they’d be. Oops.
“Oh that. I got all my ducks in a row an took ‘em for a stroll down to, ah, Greenhouse beta. You know, the one that looks like an aviary?”
«I am well aware which one Beta is—» There was no wind interference when the Squawkbox transmitted directly through a comm line, but Rodney was obviously already on his way, and the most direct route was outdoors. He’d be coming in through the skylight..
“I think they like it. …Or not. They passed out pretty quick after discovering Carl,” the local Gotta-be-a-Koi fish. Orange, tiger-like black stripes, about two feet long, and Ronon’s bicep thick. The biologists guessed he was about a hundred and fifty years old, and maybe a little psychic - but that’s anyone’s guess.
«That fish is a lousy conversationalist,» Rodney groused, still en route.
“You’re just bitter because you can’t eat him.”
«Damn right. Scaled bastard probably tastes like straight up garlic butter, or chocolate mousse, or crispy québequois poutine…»
“The butter, maybe, but the other two sound kind of fishy.”
«You’re not nearly as funny or as cute as you think you are.»
“I think I’m adorable.” John closed his eyes and stretched his back carefully, moving as little as possible, mindful of the owlings.
There was a pause. «You do raise an excellent point.» So the big bird had arrived. Cracking open one eye revealed Rodney pushing off from a perch high in the rafters to spiral down towards them. «How do you get them to do that?»
“Do what?” Woodstock was trying, and failing, to wiggle himself a comfortable place into John’s hip. The hand not keeping his head off the mossy rock they were laying on reached down to soothe and rearrange the little bird into a better position.
That flutter was Rodney landing. «They’re so comfortable with you. Like you’re not actually a big scary person, but… theirs.»
“I wish I could say this is the first time they’ve used me as a giant pillow, but, ah.. They do this a lot.”
«Can I try?»
John nearly sat up in his surprise. ”What?”
Seeing an owl roll its eyes would never stop being strange. «Lift your elbow.» John did, and Rodney slipped under it to fit against his side, resting his head on John’s chest. He sighed. «The kids are right. You are comfy.»
«Shh.» Rodney hadn’t adjusted the Squawkbox, so his radio voice - his old voice - was still whispering itself directly into John’s ear. «I just spent the better part of an hour searching this city for you. Let me catch forty winks for my trouble. Hush.»
“Rrodney. What is it you think Colonel Sheppard does with your little owls all these times? It’s with him they’ve been, yes?”
“Correct, and as long as they leave me in peace to keep all of us from expiring horribly and they’re all still alive at the end of the day, I couldn’t care less.”
Emergency klaxons rang out. An automated voice projected throughout the city, «Local Quarantine procedure 3. Decontamination level 2.»
Zelenka slid him a silent look. Rodney sighed, dropping his beak into his chest feathers. ”It’s like I asked for that, isn’t it?”
Decontamination Level 2 basically meant shower as soon as possible once the quarantine is released. Pretty standard. Not very threatening. In a Level 2 situation, Atlantis automatically stepped up air circulation and filtration to pull any possible contaminates out of the air as quickly as possible, sometimes resulting in tiny wind storms. The owlings could easily be swept up and away in the commotion, but fortunately for them they were already in a communal shower with the exploration team, decontaminating.
Despite the abundance of falling water, all ten owlings were clustered around Sheppard’s feet as he first washed himself, then each bird of Ancient Pollen 142. (“Is it really necessary to name it now, Doctor?” “Naming things is what separates us from the primates, Lieutenant! That, and hats.”) He wrapped a towel around his waist and led the parliament back to the locker room where he towelled each of them dry, trying his absolute damnedest to ignore the sideways looks his marines kept giving him. A sharp order to supervise the decontamination of the rest of the city got them hustling away when the staring got a little too heavy.
“What do you say, guys? Do we deserve some Doctor Who after all this mess?”
Chapter 8: Radek Zelenka: Master Chůvu
Radek doesn't like minding McKay's birds, but if he has to, he'd prefer to do it well.
I know as much of Czechoslovakia and its language as I do about dik-diks, but if I've read google right, a chůvu is the male equivalent of a Nanny.
This chapter also contains a nearly throw-away mention of Dean Winchester: Space Marine. We'll get back to that later.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Between muttering under his breath in czech, Radek was calling out - cooing, unbelievably - for the missing owlets just like Colonel Sheppard had showed him: ten gallon bucket in one hand, and a slice of deli meat in the other. If this was just another one of the Colonel’s tests before he was deemed suitable for birdsitting, he would have to havefurther words with Elizabeth about removing him from the roster.
“There are many ways I could be spending my valuable time, Dr. Weir," Zelenka had objected. "Bird watching is not one of them.”
“I agree, Radek, but consider this: where in the hierarchy of Important Tasks does Keeping Rodney Appeased fit in?”
”Hn. As they say, it takes a village, yes?”
Sheppard has one hand practically buried into his side, trying to hold in his laughter while Zelenka attempts to round up the last few birds. One of which, Tycho, was clinging to his thigh holster, awkwardly half-sitting on the butt of his sidearm. “This is cooperative for them, you should consider yourself lucky. They give Dr. Brown a real workout with all their runaround.”
“I apologise for not being naturally gifted with owl whispering such as yourself, Colonel.” Taz was busting out the top-notch wobbly evasive maneuvers tonight. Two-to-one odds it was Ronon that had taught them to be so good at duck-and-weaving around and about a moving target’s feet, the shit-disturber./p>
“It’s not whisp— I thought— You’re supposed to be good with birds!”
“My pigeons always came to me, Colonel. Chasing was never necessary.”
“Right! Chasing. This is fight vs flight: stop chasing them and they’ll stop running. ..Unless they’re just messing with you, which is also a possibility.” Tycho crooned in agreement. “They’re punks like that.”
“So it would seem.”
“You, ah, you let me know when you need another hint. I’ll be… around.” He gestures vaguely over his shoulder in the pond’s direction.
Hypatia peeks out from under a fern to see Dark Tufts and Speckled Beak leaving the hubbub. Dark Tufts always has good ideas, good ideas that usually involve treats, so with a quick look to make sure their chůvu isn't looking, she scuttles off after them. Under a log, over a big stone, and down a polished path, she rapidly gains on Dark Tuft’s shiny black boots. She catches up - nearly running into them, in fact - at the Carl-whale’s pool where Speckled Beak is already splashing around in the water, making a general nuisance of himself.
Hrroooting up at Dark Tufts catches his attention. He smiles at her and lowers himself to the ground.
”He is getting better, right?” He means their chůvu. Dark Tufts is considerate and kind like that, to be asking after the comfort of others. ”You’re just messing with him now.” Hypatia innocently tilts her head the same way that makes her Da puff up and huff at her. It has the same delightful, if considerably more subtle, effect on Dark Tufts.
“Lower the sheild!”
Chuck complied with Dr. Weir’s order, then leaned over to speak in stage whisper to Zelenka. “Whoever it is, I hope they bring some of that Athosian dark malt with ‘em. Eh? Am I right?” Radek just barely acknowledged Chuck’s gossip. He was getting off shift in a matter of minutes, the number of which entirely depended on how quickly he finished this latest rendered composite of ‘Lantea-bound meteoroids. A threat-level of 3 or so, on a scale from 1 to 10, where 15 is when McKay turns that very unhealthy shade of purple— or, he used to, before…
The gentleman coming through the shimmering event horizon is Damodar, a trusted represetative of the Athosians, and no, he doesn’t have any slightly-illegal liquor with him. However, his arms are full of colourful Athosian linens. Linens that are not folded very well and appear to be… moving? Elizabeth does a very good job of ignoring this fact until the obligatory greetings and well-wishings are done with, something everyone along the mezzanine above them can’t seem to manage. They’re all wide eyes and curious eyebrows as Elizabeth finally gets around to the itty bitty elephant in the room.
“Damodar, may I ask,” she gestures towards the fabric. “What have you brought us today?”
“Ah, this.” Damodar understands that he’s under a spotlight, raising his voice for the room to hear. “There was a fire on a world my people are known to trade with. A fire that destroyed several crops and fields, yet took no homes or lives, thankfully. The Drùnidanii are a proud people, so when we offered assistance, they largely refused, only giving us this.” He motioned to the bundle of fabric in his arms. “Tales of the New ‘Lanteans has traveled far and wide among traders. It is for this reason that Drùnidanii asked us to pass this along to you. It is a rare creature in this galaxy, approaching extinction, and yet Atlantis is home to a flock of them.” Damodar smiles fondly at a memory for a moment, then continues. “I was hoping to speak with Dr. McKay, is he available?”
“Unfortunately not,” Elizabeth manages not to shoot a disapproving look up to the control room, where a flurry of gossipy activity has burst out. “He’s off-world for the next few days with Colonel Sheppard and his team. May I?”
“Of course.” Damodar pulls back a few layers of fabric to reveal a tiny, quivering owling. Perhaps even smaller than the others were when Rodney first found them. The poor thing is still covered in soot and dirt, a few feathers sticking up in odd directions from dried mud.
A suggestion wafts down from a Marine in the peanut gallery. “D’you think the little brother could use some friendly company, Dr. Weir?”
“What an excellent idea, Dean. Shingles is in my office, if you would.”
Shingles is the unlucky owling to suffer a temporary name change while his dads are away because a)no one should be expected to remember a name like Oort, and b)as soon as the wormhole carrying SGA-1 had winked shut, Shingles had magically started his first seasonal molt and was now leaving small brown feathers absolutely everywhere. He was twitchy and a little nervous, but he would have to do for now.
Lt. Winchester had the dustmop wedged into the crook of one elbow like a mini nerf football. “Special delivery. Sign here, initial here. Ma’am.” He saluted like a good soldier, handed over the owl, and returned to his post.
Damodar adjusted the swaddling linens cum nest to accommodate Shingles, who, unexpectedly, practically sat on top of the smaller owl andclicked at him until he stopped shivering. Instant big brother, so it seemed.
Zelenka interrupted the quiet staring Elizabeth and Damodar were stuck in by clearing his throat. ”Dr. Weir? It’s my shift to watch the owlings now. I have to collect them,” he shook the ten gallon bucket Sheppard had left him, “and then spend some time in one of the greenhouses. You may come with us, if you wish. I, and the owlings, have no choice in the matter, Rodney somehow knows if we skip a session and we must be going.” He reaches for the wrapped owls with his free arm, muttering, “Pojď, ptáci.*” The muttering continued as he walked away. ”Máte-li hovno na mě znovu, budete spát v šuplíku s ponožkami.*”
* ”Come, birds. If you shit on me again, you’re sleeping in the sock drawer.”
Chapter 9: Colonel's Little Helper
Just a little moment between John and his favourite owlet.
“Which one are you again? Huey or …Copernicus? Think you can help me figure out how to win the war?” Sheppard patted the bedspread in front of him in invitation. ”Hop on up here, big man.” The owlet (whose name was both Huey and Copernicus, depending on who you asked) crouched, wiggled his tail feathers back and forth, half opened his wings and hopped/flew/scrambled the short distance straight up, landing in an ungraceful heap on the bed.
Sheppard smirked. His first attempts at flight had been equally abysmal, but just as satisfying. Accommodating, he turned his tablet so that the little owl could peer down at it - in case it had learned to read 10,000 year-old schematics in the past week. ”So. What do you know about Wraith cruisers?”
“Really? Through the air ducts, you say?”
“Hm.” John scritched the owlet’s head as he went through these same schematics for the umpteenth time, hoping for that ever-elusive weak spot to jump out at him this time. Huey purred under John’s hands and kept him company as long as he’d let him.
Chapter 10: Unwanted Rendezvous
Rodney seeks discreet help after a mishap.
“Of course the only time you don’t want to go to the infirmary is when you’re actually injured.”
“I’m fine. I need you to do something for me—”
“You’re concussed, Rodney. I can see it in your eyes. You can’t even stand up straight. For god's sake, you walked in here, and not too steadily either. Can you even fly right now?”
“Were you always this much of a nag, or am I just having trouble blocking it out today?”
”Fine, I’ll go see Carson. --After you do something for me.”
“……..I need you to write a mass email about the transparent sliding doors. That, um, they either need to be tinted or left open.”
“...You ran into a closed door, didn’t you.”
“Don’t laugh— Stop laughing!”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry - ow OW! Stop pecking me!”
”Stop LAUGHING. AT. ME!”
“Fine, fine! Jesus. I’ll write a draft after Carson clears you, come on.”
Chapter 11: It's Cause They Don't Blink
Rodney runs into Atlantis' first plastic owl decoy. Quite literally.
The first false owl in the city, Rodney will tell you, snuck up on him. He took a corner in the Jumper bay rafters and it was just there. Looming. Fierce. With these cold, dead eyes that were always watching you.
The first time, Rodney ran into it, and the pair of them tumbled to the floor in a confused heap of feathers and plastic. A Marine came running at the noise: the clatter, the harried squawking, and then the yelling.
“Dr. McKay, are you—”
“GET THIS THING OFF ME— GET THIS THING OFF ME! GETITOFFGETITOFF!!”
Backup, arriving a minute later in the form of Sheppard, Ronon, and three more Marines, thundered into the Jumper bay to witness McKay clinging to the back of that initial Marine’s TAC vest, hunched over his head and beating his wings as he yelled, “KICK IT AGAIN!”
An order Sheppard quickly belayed. ”Don’t kick it again. What’s going on here, McKay?”
“IS THIS SOME KIND OF SICK JOKE?! A STEP DOWN AND TO THE LEFT FROM A HORSE HEAD IN MY NEST! A MESSAGE— NO! A WARNING! MAYBE—”
“It’s a decoy, McKay. To keep the seabirds away, since we’ve been leaving the roof open for you? Sound familiar?”
Rodney scowled at seabirds, but slowly closed his wings. ”I… don’t think I read that memo.”
“No kidding,” Ronon snorted and turned to leave, taking the Marines with him after a nod from Sheppard.
“I think they make the place feel homey.” He relieved the young Marine of his feathered backpack, thanked, and dismissed him.
“They? There’s more of them?”
“I think you broke this one’s neck.”
“Bastard deserved it.”
Chapter 12: Do They Get Worker's Comp Out In Pegasus?
A few times Rodney's ended up in the infirmary.
“Is the... city-- city safe?” His words were slurring even through the Squawkbox.
John rubbed him through the towel, Carson told him it would help his circulation and warm him up. ”Yeah, buddy, the city’s safe. You saved everybody, just like you always do.”
“Rrroadnay, I know you’re cold, but I need to check for annae other injuries.” Carson had already worked his frigid stethoscope past the protective barrier of the towel. Rodney would have snapped at him, had he the energy.
“C’mon, buddy. We’ll let you sleep real soon where it’s nice and warm, but right now you gotta cooperate. Don’t want the witch doctor to curse you, right?”
“Colonel. Doen’t encourage him.”
"If I have to stay in here with these bone-shakers, can you at least sneak me in some jell-o? The blue kind! Maybe... maybe one of those mice from the mainland? With the very long tails?"
His radio beeped twice before one of the nurses asked for Colonel Sheppard to kindly report to the infirmary. Colonel Sheppard, to the infirmary, please. Didn’t sound too urgent, but then it was protocol to keep all non-secure radio transmissions as calm as possible. ”Duty calls, boys.” War and Peace: back on the nightstand, Owlets (only two today): on his shoulders, and he was en route.
A couple minutes later, John was strolling into the infirmary. He called out, “You rang, Doctor?” Carson stepped aside to reveal Rodney on an exam table, bundled up in a towel and drugged to the metaphorical gills, by the looks of it. ”Geez. What happened to you?”
“Don’t.” Rodney tried to stand up, but Carson gently pushed him back down.
“Did a door beat you up again? I’ll talk to the city for you, buddy. Get it all sorted out.” Laughing at the guy right now would pretty much guarantee no hot water in John’s showers for the next month or so, but holding it in was going to give him hiccups or something before too long. He coughed discreetly into his fist instead.
Cutting Rodney off was difficult before his thoughts could be directly amplified from his brain, but Carson had lots of practice. ”Our fair feathered Doctor has dislocated his shoulder, Colonel. Given that I am not actually a veterinarian,” he’s still sore about that, “this is the closest equivalent to an avian sling I could manage. He needs to stay out of the air for at least a week, and you are the only person in the city that could trick him into compliance.”
“HEY. I HAVE IMPORTANT WORK TO DO, CARSON. WORK THAT CAN’T JUST BE PUT ON HOLD. YOU CAN’T STOP ME FROM SAVING YOUR LIVES ON A DAILY BASIS, CAR-SON. OR WOULD YOU PREFER I LET THE CITY SINK INTO THE OCEAN, OR LOSE ALL POWER, OR SUFFOCATE US IN OUR SLEEP FOR NO GOOD REASON? MAYBE—”
Now John was laughing. ”Just keep him from flying, right? That’s it?”
Carson sighed - grateful for John's understanding, exasperated at his patient. ”That’s all. Just get him and his godforsaken technologically-enhanced voicebox out of my infirmary.”
“No problem, Doc. You know me: Colonel Bird Perch.” John took special care to mind Rodney’s bum wing as he scooped him up. ”C’mon, buddy! I’m sure if you ask nice, Huey and Cicero’ll bring you a near-mouse. They’re getting pretty good at catching their own meals.”
“Huey and Cice—? Sierpinski, Sheppard. His name is Sierpinski.”
“Whatever, Emu. Like he can tell the difference yet.” Not the most creative of arguments, but he was a little busy mentally composing a list of flightless bird names to call Rodney over the next week. ”Which greenhouse has the most near-mice again?”
There’s an air of tension in Atlantis’s infirmary. It isn’t the silence, despite Keller arguing in hushed tones with Elizabeth to get everyone out and into a waiting area. It’s the presence of every last bird in the city sitting shoulder-to-shoulder along the window ledge of the operating theatre, even the ones that weren’t on active duty at the moment.
Because in the operating room itself, Dr. Petersen (the veterinarian gifted to them by the IOA after Woolsey presented his report on Atlantis's Winged Unit) was trying his damnedest to keep Rodney alive.
In short, the mission had gone awry. The native populations of M4M had broken out into civil war. Fires were started, hovels were burnt to the ground, and then Rodney was shot - and not in the ass this time.
After the surgery, they managed to clear out anyone that didn’t absolutely have to be there, something that relieved Keller to no end. Even those that could have stayed if they wanted to, had left to debrief Elizabeth. Bandaged, hooked up to intravenous fluids, and laid out carefully inside a donut pillow, Rodney was placed on one of the infirmary’s few beds with an ocean view. The window, of course, wasn’t for Rodney’s sake, but for that of his adopted progeny. All twelve of them. And they weren't small owlets anymore.
All twelve of them that, no matter the bribery, coercion, or force would not be removed from the infirmary. They had Rodney surrounded on all sides, curled up as close as possible to him. Both raised guard rails were full of raptors waiting to hiss and snap at anyone that dared come too close. Several nurses were already sporting bandaged hands and scowling faces. So far, Sheppard is the only person they’ve let close at all, because he has no motives other than to sit nearby in an uncomfortable chair, read a three-year-old copy of Links, drink tepid hospital coffee, and occasionally feed Des and Hyp bits of his turkey sandwich.
The owlings have always trusted the Colonel; since before they can remember, he’s been as good as a father to them, so they don’t so much as whine when he finally gets up and starts moving them away from Rodney. With half of them moved to the railing on the next bed, he gives a swift command of Attention to keep them in place before giving Dr. Petersen the all clear to come in.
“What’s the news, Doc?”
Fortunately, Petersen is one of those doctors that can work and talk at the same time. ”The surgery went well,” he explained. ”There was minimal blood loss - which is remarkable, considering Dr. McKay’s blood pressure. I expect him to make a nearly- to full-recovery in a couple months.” He looks up with a grin, “If we can get him to keep still that long.”
John snorts in amusement and shakes his head. ”Right.”
Chapter 13: Does This Tie Say "I'm Not Here to Lynch You, Really"?
Richard Woolsey's brought to Atlantis to observe and report on their newest unit.
Richard Woolsey’s faster than he looks, you know. He ran track all through high school and his first few years of university, but since Social Sciences 211 he’s never had the need to put his skills to use. Of course, hiding behind Colonel Sheppard as quickly as possible isn’t the most dignified way to do so, but he really wasn’t expecting the young raptor to be so… big.
The Colonel smiles fondly at the bird. “You’ll have to excuse Huey, Mr. Woolsey. He tends to have a flare for the dramatic.”
By the time Richard peeks out over Sheppard’s shoulder, the owl is already resting comfortably on his gloved hand and wrist, looking rather proud of itself. ” ‘Huey’, Colonel?”
“Or ‘Copernicus’, whichever you prefer. They all have two or three names, depending on who you ask. Kind of an old in-joke.” He shrugs, reaching up to scratch behind a tuft of feathers Woolsey has been told is not actually the creature’s ear.
“I see,” Woolsey nods hesitantly, even though he doesn’t see
at all. He’ll ask questions, find out everything the IOA wants to know about these alien birds, and yet he’ll be back on the Daedalus before it’s done unloading its supplies. His report will be finished and filed before they’re back in the Milky Way.
“What exactly am I looking at, Dr. Weir?” Woolsey was anxious to get off this creepy city. It made his palms tingle and his skin feel tight, it was alien and strange, and no one would just let him leave already. He had all he needed to deliver a comprehensive and detailed report to the IOA about Atlantis’s befeathered squadron, and yet they kept insisting on dragging him around, to give him superfluous information.
Of course, tidbits such as that “Archie” is the chivalrous one, that “Taz” has an inferiority complex, and that “Cantor”, ironically, has a terrible singing voice makes for lovely casual dinner conversation; however, they have no place in an official report concerning military assets. …Unless that’s what Drs. Weir and Zelenka, Major Lorne, and the Colonel have been telling him without words: that these creatures are more than just assets, that they are complex, and deserve more respect and consideration than mere tools.
“There.” Dr. Weir is pointing to a pair of birds ducking and weaving amongst the towers to the west of them.
Woolsey squints into the sun. ”What are they doing?”
“Training exercises,” Elizabeth explains with a smile on her face. ”Dr. McKay’s teaching this one to associate verbal commands with specific aerial maneuvers. Fortunately, they’re incredibly intelligent and pick it up very quickly, otherwise we’d never get Rodney to help with this stage of their training.”
Chapter 14: How Would That Even Work?
Sheppard and McKay are propositioned by the hot alien princess of the week.
This one cracks me up and gives me the jibblies, I had to include it. I'm sorry XD;;
“I adore your pheasant, Colonel,” The princess purred her words, not quite into Sheppard’s ear, but she may as well have, as she slid into his lap.
“M-my what?” John’s amused grin faltered.
She raised her hands to run the backs of her fingers down the sides of both their faces. ”Your plumages are most complimentary in the sunlight. Our offspring would be flawless”
“It would be my honour to tend to you and your pheasant after the evening meal, Colonel.”
«No, really. Am I the ‘pheasant’, or is it a hilarious euphemism I should take note of for future use?»
John turned his nose into Rodney’s exposed chest feathers to mutter as covertly as possible, “You’re pretty calm for someone being propositioned with group bestiality.”
Rodney’s beak opened, and clicked shut. Several times. He shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, scrunched his head down into his shoulders, and let out a quiet growling sound.
Sheppard turned back to the princess with a false smile. ”Can we get back to you on that?”
Chapter 15: Do Robot Owls Dream of Electric Mice?
The origin of Atlantis's artificial owls.
Repli!Raptors. Like UAVs, only stealthier, and unmanned. They have a limited intelligence, take orders well, can be switched off when unneeded, and they don’t steal your fries when you’re not looking.
The idea came to Rodney in the middle of Blade Runner, Near’vember’s film-of-the-month. He got so excited that he hopped off the back of the couch he was perched on, scrambled over Teyla and Ronon’s laps, and trot-waddled across the room and out the door. Sheppard caught up with him at the nearest transporter, where Rodney was flapping his wings madly to stay aloft while he selected his destination. John picked him out of the air like a leaky balloon and guessed Rodney was aiming for Lab 2.
The kids don’t know quite what to make of it. They sit with it on a railing in the ‘Gateroom before it’s sent out on reconnaissance, flanking it on either side. They preen through its feathers when it comes back from a mission, carefully checking for any damage. They treat it like Rodney brought them home another sibling - as he occasionally does.
And then it began to learn. The kids taught it to fly casual, so not to attract attention. They taught it how to pretend it’s been shot and plummet nearly all the way to the ground, so that its pursuers think it’s been killed long enough for it to escape. Fermat even taught it how to hang upside-down from the ceiling in Dr. Weir’s office and scare her witless when she least expects it. And yet, no matter how hard they try, they can’t get it to steal fries for them. That just goes against its programming.