"So I have a hypothetical question, Major."
Radek looked up from his laptop, where three different, equally unsatisfactory versions of the security rotation were taunting him. The cafeteria, or what they had chosen to use for one (Dr. Kusinagi claimed it was biology lab, Dr. Leonard that it was an art gallery) was mostly empty, which was why he had allowed himself to work here instead of the small office he had claimed for himself. (Possibly an office. Possibly a custodial cabinet.) There was an Athosian woman feeding unidentifiable mash to a toddler, two nurses chatting over coffee, a single German solider tearing into an MRE, and Rod, standing across the table and bouncing slightly in a way Radek had already learned to regard with deep suspicion.
He removed his glasses (a necessary evil whenever he did much reading) and folded his hands on the table. "As usual, I am listening, Dr. McKay."
Rod rotated his chair—Ancient furniture was much more familiar than, say, Ancient toilet facilites—and straddled it, bracing himself against the back. He was wearing his leather jacket instead of his uniform one, but at some point he had sewn a Canadian flag on the sleeve, leading it a little more formality. "So it doesn't look like we're going to find the spare ZPMs the Ancients kept in the junk drawer any time soon," he said earnestly, "and you would agree that our lack power is a security concern, right?"
"Our security concerns are the limitations of our supplies and personnel," Radek said evenly. That was the sticking point of the security rotation, in fact; Bates and Miller had each requested personnel for their gate teams, and nominated Sergeants Stackhouse, Markov and Campbell to potentially lead teams of their own. Yet Radek could not see how to maintain their security perimeter, continue to support exploration within the city, and still have enough men to send to other planets for perhaps days at a time—even with the Stargate program's peculiar tradition of only sending out four-man teams.
Rod waved his hand equivocally. "And the way to solve those concerns is energy—this place has to have some kind of internal sensors, right, and if we had a ZPM we could phone home. Hypothetically."
And report the death of Marshall Sumner. Radek shied from that train of thought; he would have plenty of time to contemplate it during another sleepless night. "If you know where to find this energy, I would be very interested to hear it."
"I don't know where," Rod said, thrusting a finger into the table. "But I do know how. That's my idea."
Rod was almost vibrating with excitement, but he held his tongue until an Athosian girl carrying a pitcher of tea had gone past—as a show of gratitude for their rescue, they had offered to help in the mess hall, something Crown's overworked squad of support troops was immensely grateful for. Rod almost upset Radek's cup of the same tea as he leaned in close and said in a stage whisper, "What would you think of a civilian leading a gate team?"
Radek searched Rod's expression, but all he saw was satisfied confidence, like a cat with a feather sticking out of its mouth. "Any civilian, or one in particular?"
Rod shrugged. "I don't want to brag, Major, but I'm probably the man most qualified on Atlantis to find a charged ZPM if there's one to be found. And it makes sense to look offworld as well as in the city—you said there were Ancient ruins on Athos, right? There are probably similar installations on other worlds, and who knows what those could be hiding?"
"I do not mean to be negative," Radek said, though that was exactly his intention, "but, Rod, there are many practical problems with this idea."
"Like what?" he asked. "Civilians have been on gate teams since the program began—you did meet Daniel Jackson back at Stargate Command, didn't you? Do you know what he and his wife have done for our galaxy?"
"Yet civilians do not command these teams," Radek said.
"But since this is supposed to be a civilian project, I think there's a certain poetic justice to trying it out." Rod retorted.
Radek rubbed his eyes. "A point to you, Doctor. Yet, as you say, you are the most qualified to deal with ZPMs—what if you should be killed on a mission? Taken by the Wraith, perhaps?"
A shadow of discomfort passed across Rod's face, but only for a moment. "I maybe the most qualified, but I'm not the only one who's qualified," he said. "And if worst comes to worst—well, you're taking a gate team as well. Aren't you taking the same risks?"
"Have you ever even handled a weapon, Rod?" Radek asked.
"I built a nuclear bomb for the grade six science fair," he said. "And statistically speaking, the number of times gate teams in the Milky Way engage in weapons fire is really quite low—"
Radek held up one hand for silence, frowning. "Rod. Please tell me that Elizabeth has not already rejected this idea."
Rod actually looked put out by the suggestion. "Come on, Major, what kind of a man do you think I am?"
"A very intelligent one," Radek said. "Rod, we have already lost one member of the senior staff, and the expedition is young. I do not know that we could bear to lose another."
"Humor me," Rod pleaded, giving Radek the same big blue eyes that his demonic nephews liked to deploy. "Pretend you're a reasonable man, Major. Give me a hypothetical gate team."
Radek had heard an expression in English once—give him an inch and he will take a mile. Rod McKay seemed to live by these words, and for him it was only ever a short hop from hypothetical questions to material facts, whether in astrophysics or workplace politics. Yet at the same time, the proposal was intriguing enough—and the personnel shortages tricky enough—that Radek was willing to take the risk. "All right," he said. "I am temporarily insane. Here is your gate team. Who shall they be?"
"Sheppard," Rod said immediately, then, "No, hear me out! He's got the most powerful gene on the expedition, meaning he can activate anything that can be activated, and he can fly the gateships even if he can't call them by their proper name. And he used to be in the Air Force."
"So I have been told, though I'm still not certain of the circumstances around his service," Radek pointed out.
Rod looked pensive for a moment. "Actually, I don't think anyone is—he won't give a straight answer about it. The last version I heard had something to do with sea turtles."
"And you want this man on your gate team?"
Rod looked Radek in the eye. "Yes. He's a brilliant scientist, just a little…ah…quirky. But I trust him."
Radek was not certain that trust was well-placed, though Sheppard had held up well on their rescue mission against the Wraith hive; there was something of substance behind the mask of reckless arrogance he projected, but Radek had not gotten the measure of it yet. "So you propose a gate team with two civilians, one of whom may have some ill-defined military experience."
"I also want Corpsman Ford," Rod said quickly. "I'm not talking about an all-civilian team here."
The name did not immediately register for Radek; he squinted at his laptop screen and scanned the rosters, trying to put faces with names. "He is American, yes?"
"You've seen him," Rod said. "Black kid, smiles a lot, likes to give Beckett ulcers?"
Radak blinked. "Are you speaking about the nurse?"
"He's a sailor," Rod said. "A medic with the Marines. But he's also field-trained, I asked him."
"He is a sailor and a medic and a Marine?"
"I don't know, it's not my country," Rod said, gesturing wildly again. "But if I'm going to take a solider with me, I want one who's intelligent enough to multitask—Ford can shoot Wraith and take care of Sheppard if he gets bitten by any rogue Ancient devices."
Radek sipped his tea in order to cover a small yawn—it wouldn't do to appear anything less than alert when Rod was on the rhetorical offensive. "A sailor-medic-rifleman, a physicist and a mathematician," he said slowly. "You are still missing the fourth man, Doctor. I suppose you will propose Doctor Leonard now?"
"Actually," Rod said, "I was thinking more about Teyla."
Radek glanced subtly around the room, but it was still mostly empty and no one seemed to be paying them particular attention. He leaned closer over the table. "Have you spoken to her about it?"
"Not directly," Rod said. "But Tagan has said his people are willing to be guides for us, and since we—meaning you, of course—did bail her out of the hive, I think it would be worth a shot to ask her."
"Guides are not the same as team members," Radek said. "You are aware of her…condition, yes?"
"As if Bates didn't let the entire expedition know about it," Rod said darkly. "But you and Elizabeth obviously trust her, or you wouldn't be letting her stay in the city."
Not that they hadn't debated it, of course. Radek had understood every point his de facto XO made against Teyla's presence—she was an unknown quantity even among her own people, she had lived among the Wraith since her childhood, and even she could not entirely guarantee that they would never again be able to exploit her mind. Yet she had also been his savior on the Hive ship, had stood by his side as he fired Sumner's mercy shot, and had helped him return with at least some of his people alive. Since coming to Atlantis, she had done nothing more ominous than practice with her fighting rods and slowly reacquaint herself with her father and her people; Radek was quickly getting used to seeing her tan face on the edge of any large group of Athosians, silently observing.
He had no more grounds to trust her than Sheppard—even less—and he was not a man accustomed to following gut feelings. But rational deliberation had not brought him to this city, for good or for ill, and he felt that she had more to offer them as an ally than as an outcast. She may not yet be a friend, but he was certain that she was not an enemy.
"So you propose this team," Radek said slowly, "a team with only one solider, lead by a civilian, with a special mission to search for potential energy resources."
"And of course I'll train the other gate teams in how to find technology with those little scanning devices—what's Sheppard got your people calling them again?—whatever, but the point is, it's more efficient if we're first on the ground to investigate whatever we find, instead of waiting for a month after another team sees something interesting because we have to schedule a special return trip," Rod said very rapidly. "It'll shorten the timeline for useful research immensely to have engineers and physicists in the field, and I won't ask the people in my department to do it if I'm not willing to share the same risks."
"A very noble philosophy," Radek said. "But why do you wish to lead a team? Why could you and Sheppard not go out under the leadership of a military officer, for instance?"
Rod cleared his throat and straightened slightly in his seat, the closest he ever came to showing discomfort. "Well, since I am head of the science division, I thought—what I mean is, I know the chain of command, so to speak, is somewhat vague when it comes to the relationship between civilian and military authorities here, and I thought it might create issues, perhaps down the road, you know? Do you see what I'm saying?"
"Indeed," Radek said. He was saying Because I'm Rod McKay.
Rod took Radek's cup of tea, sniffed it, and stole a sip. "So what do you think, Major? Hypothetically? Would it break the expedition?"
Radek hesitated, searching for the right words to defer the question until he had thought it out further. The lights of the cafeteria suddenly flickered, breaking his concentration; a moment later, his radio clicked loudly. "Major Zelenka, we need you in the control room," Dr. Weir said. "We seem to have misplaced an Athosian child."
He thumbed the button on the base unit. "I am on my way, Doctor." He glanced across the table, where Rod was holding his own earpiece and frowning. "Is there a problem, Rod?"
He got waved off for his troubles, and he got to watch Rod's frown deepen. "You're sure?" he asked the other end of the radio. "I mean, really sure? …where did you find it? Why did he touch it? All right, I'm on my way—sorry, Major," he said quickly, "but Beckett's turned something on and it won't turn off and Sheppard's actually admitting that he needs my help, so it must be serious. We'll talk about this later, hm?"
"Of course," Radek said, and headed for the stairs. Hypothetical problems would have to wait until they ran out of real ones.