Chapter 1: In which the author can't juggle Real Life and Fic
All right, folks, I'm calling it. I posted "Remorse" in August of 2009. Riding high, I made expansive notes about what-then and, worse, mentioned those notes publicly.
I am a very, very slow writer. I knew this. (Consider that I once tried to write a contemporary novel and decided to give myself plenty of room by setting it a couple of years in my then-future. I set it in 1997. I have not written that novel, much less the series it wanted to be.) I thought it might take me a few months to turn my notes into a pair of stories, or as much as a year. Or two.
It's been a decade. I have to accept that it's never going to happen.
I'm not just going to dump my notes here as a raw file. They're too rough, with enough masculine swooning to make Dr. Frankenstein jealous. Instead, I'm going to provide some snippets here and a framework of what I intended to do.
The rest of this chapter will be excuses and justifications, moaning and whining. Feel free to skip past it. The next chapter will contain the few scenes I managed to write and an explanation of what I planned for this series.
This is weird to say, but: please don't comment on anything in this chapter. I don't ask for nor expect comments in general -- I lost the ability to leave them myself years ago -- but I don't really want to talk about the life stuff, please.
When I've seen people ask how to make time to write, the answer always seems to be a snide, Well, if you're REALLY a writer, you'll MAKE time to write! You must just not care enough! You must be a total failure! You should give up, you poser!
Yeah, I find it a bit alienating, because making time has always been my problem. If I were independently wealthy, it would be different, but I have a day job that makes writing hard for me. I have long found that I can be very effective as a developer, and I can write narrative, but I can't do both close together. My brain needs time to wind down from one and up into the other.
I know I am remarkably privileged to have a stable, long-term job with a good income. I'm not complaining about it; I like it and I'm grateful for it! But when it takes literal hours to (try and generally fail to) drain the dry technicality from my prose, or to get my head out of a character's mental state so I can concentrate on making a routine do what users need it to do … the hobby has to fall to the wayside. I plot and contemplate characters when I'm commuting, of course, but turning that into actual prose is actually very hard .
I respect writers who can do that! I … can't, mostly. And if you tell me I have to prioritize writing if I really care about it … sorry, the actual paying job's gotta come first. I'm Generation X; I didn't get screwed nearly as badly as those coming up after me, but … well.
(Before you try to tell me I can always find a less demanding job as a developer: nope. I'm not going into the details here, but just trust me that my job is a unicorn.)
The passage of time has also made me lose details, which means I would need even more time to go review the source materials in order to write an effective story. When the plot is based around a seven-year rewind, and when you want to treat the SG-1 side fairly, that means ten years of SG-1 and another five of SGA to rewatch (or study transcripts of).
Aside from all that, from late 2014 to late 2015, I unexpectedly had to become the sole caregiver for my mother when she needed a bone marrow transplant, while continuing to work full time. That wrapped up, I sent her home, I managed to write something in a different fandom … and then what I thought would be a quick beta process took literal months, during which my mom suddenly declined and died while I was still trying to work out if I should fly down. The posted fic was phenomenally, astoundingly better than my initial draft, but ... yeah. The rewriting process and my mom's death got all tangled up and I burned out hard on writing as a result.
And that was just the first half of 2016. That was when the shitshow was just personal.
I did tentatively poke at this story a little earlier this year. Then I tried to see if I could write an original story instead, slowly got a few thousand words in, and found I'd started at the wrong point and it all had to be trashed. That story is now a whopping two paragraphs.
I'm poking away at a different one now, which is only going as well as it is because it's tropey fanfic of that original novel series I'll never actually write. Yes, I know that's ridiculous. And I know where I want it to go, but I've reached one of those sticky bits I always hit, so I don't know if I'll get any further with it, either.
This story, meanwhile … it's been a decade. I need to let it go.
I mean, who knows. Maybe I'll hang on to my unicorn of a job for another 20 years -- I'm halfway there! -- and maybe Social Security won't have evaporated and maybe I'll finally have time to sit down, rewatch these silly sci-fi shows, and then give this story the attention I always wanted to. Never say never, right?
But don't hold out hope for it.
Chapter 2: Resolve (Structure, Notes, Fragments)
Modified notes of what this story would have been.
I know trying to read extensive passages in italics is frustrating, so I'll set off actual text passages with the header "Fragment" and a double horizontal line at their end.
The plan was for a three-fic series. The first story was the existing "Remorse". The second, in which Rodney established himself in 2002 and tried to take on the world, would be called "Resolve"; I'll cover it in this chapter. The third, in which Rodney would arrive in Atlantis and steer events differently from canon, would be called "Reprise"; that'll be the next "fic" in this series.
In "Remorse", I originally meant to have Sam bring the device in solely on her own and then toss it impulsively, because I honestly think it's possible she might make a well-intended but impulsive decision when already upset without being a bad person . During the beta process, I changed that to having her get permission from Hammond, which some readers have rightly pointed out was a mistake, because it changes the tenor completely. One of my hopes was to make it clear that Sam was never meant to be evil or bad or even all that wrong, necessarily. Like, you know, Rodney was never evil or bad or even technically wrong about Teal'c. But I was struggling to convey it.
My original notes about the timeline: "Begins just after SG-1 5x14 "48 Hours"; includes spoilers throughout both series. Note: I tried to use airdates for timing and scheduling as much as possible, but that doesn't work at all in a few cases -- most notably between seasons five and six of SG-1. "48 Hours" aired 15 March 2002; the end of season five aired 10 May 2002; and season six started "three months later" on 7 June 2002. For purposes of these stories, then, the events of the episode airing 7 June 2002 are retained at that approximate date; the events ending season five are backed up to mid-March; and "48 Hours"/"Remorse" is backed up to January."
I also had a timeline somewhere for when Madison is born, but I don't know where it is. I think this starts with Jeannie being four or five months pregnant. The backstory I worked up there: Rodney and Jeannie grew up in Toronto (or thereabouts), in an emotionally abusive family where they both learned less-than-healthy relationship skills. Jeannie was trying to make it in STEM academia, but she got pregnant. She considered how hard she was already fighting to be taken seriously, how exponentially much harder that would become if she was known to be pregnant, whether it was worth it … and decided, no, it wasn't. She decided she'd rather tell them all to go to hell and have the baby. Rodney, of course, had no idea what she was going through, because he's a man and because he's not particularly empathetic anyway, so his judgment just became the human embodiment of all the crap she was going through. Their fight was quite bitter (and in canon led to a four-year-or-thereabout estrangement).
I think maybe Kaleb is vegetarian in canon? And I figured that Jeannie wasn't originally, but that the idea of a gentle, crunchy, quasi-hippie family setting really appealed to her, so she's embracing that lifestyle rather firmly. She wants to be a better parent to her daughter than her parents were to her and Rodney, and she's consciously working towards that, but family patterns are hard to break. So when she and Rodney get together, they fall back into their old relationship regardless of how else they've developed with others.
I think later canon had Jeannie in or near Vancouver, so I decided that, while Kaleb majored in English as stated in canon, he had an office job of some kind, maybe with some kind of environmental or humanitarian non-profit; and that their house used to be his parents' house, but they've retired and are now sailing around the world or something like that, so the house became a wedding gift to Kaleb and Jeannie. (And Jeannie's mother-in-law would come by to help with the baby at some point, which would probably lead to Rodney finding reasons to be elsewhere.)
Theme song for at least the first part of "Resolve" is "High Sierra" by Boz Scaggs.
Jeannie made herself sit down on the couch and pick up her book. She was going to take a break.
After about three paragraphs, though, she found her attention wandering. Her gaze drifted up, and her empty cup caught her eye. She ought to put that in the sink. And she should go ahead and wash the few dishes that had collected over the morning, rather than waiting to do the day's dishes at once. And when was the last time she had swept the kitchen floor?
She realized what she was doing as she tipped the dustpan into the bin. With a growl of frustration, she thrust the broom back in the pantry, marched to the living room, and sat back down on the couch again so hard she bounced a little. She was not going to spend all her time fretting about the state of the house. It was just her brother.
Her annoying, aggravating brother.
She knew it was mostly insecurity. She didn't want to give him something real to judge her for, however miniscule or irrelevant. He was wrong , but he would gleefully build on any opening she gave him.
But she wasn't going to shape her life around his judgment and opinions. That was the point . He was only visiting, and it was only for a few days. From what she remembered of his housekeeping, he probably wouldn't even notice. And if a little bit of tracked dirt or a few misaligned books on the shelf annoyed him, well, too bad for him.
And he might not say anything.
That was what really had her distracted -- he had folded . That just didn't ever happen. They were their parents' children. They took positions and defended them to the last. Jeannie had been trying to counter that tendency in herself, but Mer had always embraced it.
He was wrong this time, but she had known for months that he was profoundly unlikely to accept that. When Christmas passed without a call or a card, she had suspected she might never hear from him again.
Yet he had apparently realized that himself -- and not just realized it, but been worried enough about it to back down. He had actually sounded upset at the possibility over the phone. They were McKays, with particularly thick armor for dealing with each other, and she honestly couldn't remember another time he had let her hear fear in his voice about something emotional.
Her annoying, aggravating, unpredictable brother.
He was probably up to something. She wasn't at all convinced that he honestly meant to let her live her life her way. Maybe it wasn't like him to let her actually know he cared, but it was definitely not like him to admit he might be wrong about something. "However improbable" and all that.
But there was no point worrying ahead of time. He wasn't exactly subtle. He would tip his hand soon enough, and she could deal with it then. She might as well enjoy the calm before the storm.
Especially because she didn't know when that storm was even coming. He hadn't bothered to give her anything useful like, oh, his arrival date or time, much less his flight number. She had tried to narrow down the options, but there were entirely too many flights coming in from the States every day, and when she had tried to call him, he hadn't answered.
She most likely wouldn't know until he called to demand why she wasn't already picking him up at the airport. It would probably be a day or two at least. So until then, she might as well just relax and not worry about it. She was supposed to be taking it easy and avoiding stress. She deliberately started reading again.
When the doorbell interrupted her almost half an hour later, she realized with irritation that she hadn't even finished three more pages. She put the book down with a sigh and levered herself back to her feet. It wasn't hard to get up yet, exactly, but it was starting to take a little planning.
She opened the door and suddenly had an armful of cat.
Mer was standing in the doorway, digging in one pocket with his now-free hand. He produced a set of keys and thrust those at her as well. "His stuff's in the car," he mumbled, ending in a huge yawn as he brushed past her.
Jeannie just stared at him, bewildered, as he made his way straight over to the couch. He bent over to set the case in his other hand on the floor but then just kept going, face-planting onto the couch as he let the backpack over that same shoulder slide down to join the case.
The cat had apparently been just as surprised as Jeannie was, but now it started to squirm. As soon as Jeannie felt even a hint of claws, she dropped the cat hastily, and it shot over to the coffee table, somehow flattening itself enough to squeeze underneath. About six questions battled for precedence. "What --?" Jeannie finally managed.
Mer lifted his head slightly but didn't open his eyes. "Oh, if anybody comes looking for me, lock the door and call the police. Or, no, CSIS. Unless it is CSIS. Then call ... the police, I guess." He dropped his head back down.
"Wait, what ?"
He didn't answer that question or her next several demands. His breathing had already evened out to those little not-quite-snores he made when he really was asleep, and her halfhearted attempts to wake him failed.
So apparently he had learned how to take a taxi from the airport at some point. Except ... she looked down at the keys she still held. He had bothered to rent a car?
He had said there were things for the cat in the car, so she went out to look for it. His car was one of the few on the street, presumably the one parked directly in front of her house, though it turned out he hadn't actually locked the door. The interior was littered with numerous fast-food wrappers and a staggering quantity of empty coffee cups, as well as an actual litter box on the back floorboard.
There was no way Mer had brought that on a plane, and the car had Nevada plates anyway. He had driven ? He hadn't lived within reasonable driving distance of her in years, as far as she knew. Was last-minute airfare really that bad, or had he just gotten that cheap?
There was a map of the western US in with the rubbish on the passenger seat, and a little digging through the glove box produced the car's registration. Jeannie pocketed those and then, grimacing, carefully worked the litter box out of the back. She held that at arm's length all the way inside and to the bathroom, set it down gingerly, and then went to wash her hands thoroughly, half-wishing they kept bleach in the house.
She went back out for the cat dish and the laundry hamper that had a couple of bags of cat stuff in it. When she got back inside, the cat just glared at her from under the coffee table and showed no interest in emerging, so she set the dish nearby and went to wash her hands again. Just in case.
After that, she sat at the kitchen table with the map. Mer's car was registered in North Las Vegas, and if that was reasonably close to just-plain-Las Vegas, it was down toward the southern tip of Nevada. A few quick measurements revealed that had to be over a thousand miles, at least . Add extra time for the fact that no road went in a perfectly straight line, for the mountain ranges between, for winter weather, for traffic around Vancouver and at the border and probably around Seattle, for normal stops for fuel and food ....
He had asked if he could visit just the day before, in the early afternoon. He must have left within a few hours and then driven pretty much straight through.
That explained why he was asleep now and all the empty coffee cups, but really it just raised more questions. Why the rush? Why drive instead of simply flying? Why, for mercy's sake, bring a cat ?
Maybe Mer hadn't constructed some elaborate scheme to persuade her she was wrong about her own life. The babble about police was probably just near-sleep nonsense, but maybe ... maybe he was up to something else.
Her annoying, aggravating, unpredictable, incomprehensible brother. So much for avoiding stress.
Well, since he was actually here now, and since he was taking up the entire couch, she might as well see about straightening up a little more. At least enough so that she wasn't just waiting for his criticism every time she looked around.
The house might still be more cluttered than she really cared for, but it wasn't a disaster. Within half an hour she had everything presentable. She would have liked to take a short break after that, but Mer was still taking up the entire couch, and sitting in a nearby chair just to watch him sleep felt ... weird. She huffed quietly and headed for the kitchen. She could sit there while she threw together a salad to go with dinner.
She was just putting away the rest of the lettuce when a strangled shout from the living room made her jump and head that way. Mer had pushed himself halfway upright on the couch. He blinked at her blearily. "Jeannie? What are you doing here?"
He could be slow to get going when he'd just woken up, so she might as well go with the obvious. "I live here."
"What? No you --" he started, but then he woke up enough to register his surroundings. "Oh. Right." He sat up with a sigh. "Right." After a few more seconds of staring at nothing, he ran his hand over his face, stood, and headed past her into the kitchen.
Once there, he went straight to the second cabinet from the left, pulled out a box of crackers, made a face at the label, and started eating directly from the box.
"I'm making dinner right now!" Jeannie protested.
He scoffed, fortunately between crackers. "You're just at salad. The actual eating part's at least half an hour away. Probably more. Don't worry, I won't spoil my appetite." He frowned again, at her this time, and added, "Wow, you're huge ."
"I am not!" Jeannie protested reflexively. Sure, she was showing -- she was proud to be showing -- but she wasn't all that big yet. And he would never say something like that as a compliment, even if he had said it nicely. Which he hadn't. "You promised you weren't going to --"
"Mm nt!" he mumbled around a cracker. He swallowed and continued, "I'm really not. I'm just saying, I never actually had to see my baby sister all pregnant and, and huge. I just ... need time to get used to it."
She was too thrown by what almost verged on civility from him to respond immediately. Looking almost embarrassed, he turned and started going through the cabinets again.
This time he didn't find whatever he was looking for. "Coffee?" he prompted.
"I'm trying to cut back --" Jeannie started.
"You know that's a complete myth, that you have to give up caffeine entirely, right?"
Because of course he had to think he was the expert on everything . "Yes, I do know that. Which is why I said I've cut back, not that I've banished it from the house entirely." The moment she said that, he went back to searching the cabinets, while she was stuck trying to figure out how to say she would still rather he didn't make any right now. At least without having to spend the next half hour justifying herself.
He finally found the coffee himself with a cry of triumph, but he hesitated after looking at her. "Oh. Will the smell make you sick or something? Teyla always said -- well, that was earlier, for her, she wasn't as -- as big -- but she said the smell of coffee made her feel sick."
"Teyla?" Jeannie repeated. That didn't sound like one of his university friends, and she'd lost track after that.
"Yes, Teyla ," he said, with mild irritation. "You know. You --" But then he stopped, closing his eyes, his mouth going tight for a moment. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes, set the bag of coffee grounds on the counter, and picked up the box of crackers again, keeping his eyes on the box rather than on her. "A friend."
Suspicion blossomed in Jeannie's mind, an explanation for his sudden reversal with her. "A girl friend?" He was always so competitive with her. He never had been able to accept the idea that she could do anything first.
Mer almost choked on a cracker. "Who, Teyla ? Are you insane ? No! She's just a friend. I mean, a very good friend, but -- no, not my girlfriend."
Jeannie was definitely relieved that her brother didn't have a pregnant girlfriend somewhere, but she was surprised to realize that she was just a little disappointed, too. Maybe it would have been nice to have him really understand what she was going through, but she didn't need that, and she just couldn't see him as a father. God.
"Kaleb made coffee yesterday while I was out," she said, to get away from that topic entirely. "The rest of the pot is in the fridge. You can have a cup of that if you want."
He immediately took her up on the offer, and she held back a sigh as he put the cup in the microwave. She might have hoped vaguely he would just drink it cold, or even over ice, but she hadn't really expected he would. The problem with coffee was that half the time the smell gave her heartburn, somehow, and the other half sparked fierce cravings that she couldn't afford to indulge. He would mock her either way.
To avoid either possibility, she headed back to the living room, but Mer soon followed, having heated the coffee for only about a minute -- long enough to rid it of the worst of its chill, but not long enough for her to be able to smell it. She had taken the couch again, and he sat in the chair. He made a face after his first gulp -- and she could hardly blame him, because tepid coffee on top of onion crackers couldn't be pleasant, though that was his own fault -- but, after a moment to adjust, he took several more swallows.
What in the world was she supposed to do with him?
"Why are you here?" she blurted.
He looked surprised. "I'm visiting. What, I can't just stop by and --" He paused, wincing for some reason, but then he pinched the bridge of his nose briefly. Maybe he was still just exhausted from the drive. Actually, it was kind of weird that he wasn't complaining about that. "Can't I just visit?" he asked, his tone oddly dull.
"You never have before, so --"
He was nodding. "So, no, I can't," he said, as if he was finishing along with her. As if he really thought that was what she was going to say.
"No! No, I mean, yes, you can visit, I just -- I'm confused, okay? You don't do this. This actual being-here thing, instead of just a phone call or a postcard or something. Are you in some kind of trouble?"
He wrapped both hands around the cup of lukewarm coffee and didn't answer.
"Um, Mer? That was supposed to be a joke. You're not really in trouble, are you? Okay, what did you do?"
"I didn't --" he started, annoyed, but then he stopped again, and that . That restraint was really starting to freak her out.
After a couple of seconds he started again. "I can't give you details, but you'll never believe me if I don't give you anything. So. Someone was trapped, and I was brought in to try to get him out. Everything I had, everything , said there was no way to do it -- not safely, and probably not at all. So instead they turned to a supremely unreliable informant who said there was a way. I warned them it was probably a trap, I showed her the math, but they decided to risk several dozen people and an irreplaceable facility, and .... And they were very lucky."
"So ... what? Being wrong was so surprising you had to run away?"
"I wasn't wrong ," he snapped. "I gave them the best possible information and advice I could. They decided to gamble on a microscopic chance instead. If it hadn't worked, the consequences would have been catastrophic . I'm honestly glad they got Te-- the guy out, but they took a hell of a risk."
That still didn't explain what he was doing here. And had he even denied having run away? So how did that follow? Then again, look who they were talking about. "And I bet you were just Mr. Gracious about it, weren't you?"
He took a long, deep breath, his mouth tight again. "I am trying very hard not to fight with you," he said.
Jeannie very nearly pointed out that he seemed to want some kind of prize for that, but she bit the words back just in time.
He was trying. He never tried not to fight.
And she hated when she got this way -- that trying to talk to him always made her get this way. He always criticized her, so she always pushed first. It was the first law of their shared childhood: The best defense is a good offense . But she didn't want to live like that anymore. She wanted her baby to have a better role model.
Disengage, step back, reassess. They weren't natural steps for her yet, but they would be, with practice. She pushed herself to her feet. "I should ... get back to working on dinner."
"Okay," he said. He didn't argue about it. He didn't get up to keep haranguing her. After a moment he added, clearly reluctant, "Do you need me to help?"
"No, I --" Want to be alone for a few minutes . It wouldn't help to say it, because he wouldn't understand why. And he was actually offering, which was its own surprise. "Not yet," she said instead.
"Okay," he said again. He finished off his coffee and let his head fall back against the back of the chair, closing his eyes. "Let me know."
He looked tired, and ... sad, maybe, and not smaller, but. Diminished, somehow. Jeannie shook her head and escaped to the kitchen.
Rodney hadn't expected to fall asleep again, but the soft click of the front door somehow startled him awake and the clock claimed it was slightly more than an hour later than the last time he'd checked. That didn't prove that any time at all had actually passed -- if he was in some kind of virtual environment or mental manipulation, it might simply have skipped ahead -- but he was stiff, sore, and a little sticky, just the way he would have been from sleeping upright in a chair in a warm room.
"Um, honey?" Kaleb was standing just inside the front door, gaping at Rodney. He pulled his satchel forward, as if he thought it would offer him protection against some kind of threat. Rodney hastily turned to check behind himself, but no, okay, no, nothing lurked there to explain Kaleb's wariness.
"Guess who's here to visit?" Jeannie asked brightly, emerging from the kitchen.
"Visit -- oh, your brother, right?" Rodney frowned, because he remembered how this went, and Kaleb figuring out who he was wasn't part of that. Except, well, it hadn't been four years this time. And Rodney had called ahead this time. Giving Jeannie a strange look, Kaleb added, "Was that ... already?"
"Apparently," Jeannie said, rolling her eyes on her way over to him. Then she kissed him, far more showily than was at all necessary, as Rodney manfully refrained from gagging at the display. After they finished swapping spit, she added, "Help me finish setting up the room after dinner?"
"Sure," Kaleb said. He bent over to set his bag down but jumped back when the coffee table hissed at him.
"Oh, and he brought his cat," Jeannie said. "Don't ask why, because I don't know. Actually --" She turned to Rodney. "Why the cat?"
"Because I ... I had to ... I couldn't leave ...." He really should have come up with an explanation before now. His improvisation was much better when he had time to practice it. He hadn't thought this far ahead, really; he had mostly been worried about getting out of the States.
But -- he had done that. If what he had to worry about was American surveillance, he didn't need to worry about that anymore. Theoretically. Of course, close allies -- but that would take time to arrange, surely, so his window of opportunity might be closing rapidly --
"Because I'm defecting," he blurted.
Jeannie stared at him. "You're what? To where?"
"To -- to here!"
"You can't defect to your own country!"
He was pretty sure she was actually wrong about that, but come on . Of all the stupid things to get into an argument about. "Oh, whatever. The point is that I had to leave on very short notice, the people I was working for won't be too happy when they figure it out, and I wasn't about to give him up again."
"So you did run away," Jeannie said, never one to drop a conversational point if she could score a hit with it instead. "Wait a second. The people you were working for sounds like the Mafia or something. And you said informant . Just what are you mixed up in? And did you -- are you leading someone here ?"
"Oh, that's rich," Rodney said, because she had always told him she could come to her if he needed somewhere to go. But then it hit him -- what if he was? He had already done that once, the first time around. Wallace would never have bothered her if not for him -- her email security wasn't his fault, but her collaboration on his work was, in a way. She nearly died that time, and Kaleb had definitely blamed Rodney, and Sheppard and Ronon weren't here to help.
What if the Americans did come after him? Or what if he really was in a constructed reality and whoever or whatever was running it created some kind of group to come after him? Had he just put his sister in danger again? And Madison -- if something happened to Jeannie, Madison wouldn't be miraculously untouched this time. And even if Jeannie wasn't hurt, stress was bad, wasn't it? What if Jeannie lost the baby, what if Madison was never even born, what if it was his fault --
Something snapping right in his face made him jump so hard he nearly fell off the chair, but it turned out to be just Jeannie's fingers. She looked almost sorry for a second, and her "Earth to Mer!" wasn't as sharp as he expected.
Right, she had asked a question.
"I don't think anyone's following me here. But ... I can't promise. I'll find a motel or something. I never meant to put you guys in danger -- or make you worry I was, I mean. I was just in a hurry, and I thought ... I guess I didn't think it through."
"Right." Jeannie crossed her arms. "Let's try this again. Why are you here?"
"To fix things with you." She just glared until he added, "Okay, yes, I also needed to leave the States in a hurry. But if that was all I cared about, I could have gone to, to Switzerland or something."
"Not with a cat."
"If I had to." It was a good thing he hadn't needed to do that, though. He had figured paperwork and stubbornness would be enough to get Max into Canada, but he actually had no idea if he could have made that work with an overseas flight.
"Or maybe just, oh, Mexico?"
Mexico had never even entered his mind as an option, even though it would have been a much shorter drive. "Yes, that probably would have worked too," he allowed.
"Right. And yet it never even occurred to you until right now."
"I would have thought of it!" Rodney protested automatically. Then he processed what she was suggesting and added, "I mean, if I just needed to leave and didn't care where. Except I actually wanted to come see you ."
She still looked unconvinced.
Rodney winced. It had been hard enough to say this the first time, when he had hours to work himself up to it and could bury it in a video message he was reasonably sure she would never see. "Look, I know I haven't been very good at being family. But I want to be." There had to be some way to convince her, but he was so tired.
Jeannie narrowed her eyes at him but didn't say anything for several seconds, as he struggled to find the right words. Then she turned to Kaleb and jabbed a finger at him. "Robert Frost has a lot to answer for," she snapped before storming off into the kitchen.
Rodney had no idea what she was talking about for few moments, but then his blood ran cold. Wasn't Frost the one who yammered on about divergent paths? Why would she bring that up now, of all times?
"When you have to go there," Kaleb said.
Rodney blinked at him, because that made no sense. "What?"
"The Frost quotation. 'Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.' You ... looked confused." Well, if that was true, it was an acceptable explanation, if suspiciously well timed. Kaleb gestured to the kitchen and added, "I'm just going to ... go help with dinner." And then he escaped before Rodney even had the chance to criticize him for corrupting Jeannie with his English-major ways.
Throughout the story, Rodney would have to juggle his uncertainty about what "reality" really is. Has his brain been transported back through time and, if so, how can he get back? Or is he in a Replicator / mist-people mental simulation he must break free from? (Yes, he must literally ask himself, "Is this the real life / is this just fantasy?") How exactly can you tell? As Kaleb could probably tell him, in all of human history, we haven't really developed a definitive answer.
I planned to have him approach CSIS for help breaking free from the Americans; he would have to ask for someone who has been read into the "Deep Space Telemetry" program, but regardless of whether he's in reality, he needs allies if he's going to stand up against the US military/intelligence apparatus. He would negotiate some form of hiatus or sabbatical; he would not return the gadget with which he had absconded.
And then I had timeline problems. Because I originally meant to have Rodney start a software company with three areas of focus: Social networking of some kind; games (the plots of which would be events from canon, so that he could prove advance knowledge without necessarily having to claim it explicitly); and productivity (with the compression algorithm he wrote at the end of Season 1 being a key money-maker). I was going to have that parallel John Sheppard's claim of liking "Ferris wheels [spokes = connectivity], college football, and anything that goes more than 200 miles an hour [speed = productivity]" to provide the company name. (Details on that are much later; search for "3F" if you want to jump to them.) I'm not sure Rodney ever actually heard that quote , since he wasn't there when it was said, but whatever. That's not my biggest failing with this plan; the timing is. More on that in a moment.
But I've gotten ahead of myself here, because while Rodney does have all these plans, he has to settle down in Vancouver first, and he runs into problems with that. Pretend the formatting works here.
"You know, I could be working right now. Because some of us actually have to do that." Rodney crossed his arms and glared out at the traffic.
Jeannie kicked his seat from behind, the brat. She hated always being stuck in the back seat, as she had put it, but she had agreed with Kaleb that since she was currently huge, it was safer for her to sit back there. That meant she had no right to complain about it, and that included kicking, dammit. "You can't wear the same three outfits and sleep with one borrowed blanket forever, Mer. You need stuff ."
"That's what the internet is for. That's how civilized people make purchases -- they look for what they need when they need it, they pay for it electronically, it shows up." Pretty much everything in his apartment had come that way, except for the few things he had to get from the grocery store or the nearest electronics store. Internet shopping might be disturbingly underdeveloped, but it was still realms superior to this . "Do you have any idea how much of a waste of time physical shopping really is?"
"We're almost there," Kaleb said with a sigh, his hands tight on the wheel. "Let's just get this over with, okay?"
Rodney ignored him. "Then there's the little matter of pricing. Why voluntarily restrict yourself to one price point when you can comparison-shop across any number of vendors? That's not even mentioning the crowds, the traffic, dealing with actual people -- seriously, this is primitive ."
"Too bad, you're doing it anyway," Jeannie retorted.
The problem was that he didn't have a good answer to that. He was doing it anyway, because Jeannie could nag . She could medal for Canada in nagging -- hundred-meter and marathon. He had finally determined that he would lose less time letting her drag him to a mall than being interrupted by her every ten seconds. "That doesn't mean I have to like it," he muttered.
He couldn't glare at her, not with her directly behind him, so he glared at Kaleb instead for being part of this. Kaleb might have tensed up, but he didn't give Rodney the satisfaction of an overt reaction, so Rodney went back to glaring out at the world at large instead.
They spent a stupid amount of time circling a parking lot to find a space near the shops, so that Jeannie wouldn't have to walk so far. Rodney stood well back as she and Kaleb worked on unwedging her from the back seat, figuring he'd get yelled at no matter what he did so he might as well take the option that didn't put him in swatting range.
For reasons no sane person would ever be able to fathom, they had chosen to bring him to some sort of open-air mall-type thing at midday on a weekend, when it was possibly the most crowded it could be outside the Christmas shopping season. It wasn't exactly packed enough to quite trigger his claustrophobia, but the unending streams of people coming at him from random directions were not his idea of a good time. Jeannie got wide berth with her waddle, but that just meant that in going around her they kept swerving at him, whether he was beside her or behind her.
He didn't want to fight with Jeannie, but he couldn't hold back his complaint. "I still don't see why we couldn't at least do this some time that didn't involve mingling with half the province."
Jeannie released an irritated sigh. "Because we're here for a couple of specific sales. Which they probably are, too."
Rodney could have produced a very good comeback to that, but having to pull up as a woman dragged a sniveling child across his path derailed his train of thought. He was left muttering, "Yeah, right," as he moved to catch up with Jeannie and Kaleb.
That was easier than he first expected because Jeannie had paused to put a hand to her back, wincing. She shouldn't be here, doing this, but he couldn't say a damn thing about it. She would be annoyed because she agreed but thought they had to do this anyway, or because she took offense that he was coddling her in her condition, or because she felt like it, and the only way he had found to stop the sniping between them was to avoid giving her an opening. Which he really wasn't very good at. He looked away.
That left him looking out at the chaotic humanity around them. It wasn't dense enough for him to make jokes about Soylent Green , even to himself. Ant farm comparisons, maybe. Or, well, any public marketplace.
Pegasus hadn't been huge on mass gatherings -- probably a little too close to self-herding, practically pre-packaging themselves into the to-go container for maximum Wraith convenience. Stadium rock would probably never catch on there. He didn't have to dread the day some promoter came up with Pegapalooza . But once population reached a certain density, economy and efficiency meant that markets developed, at least until the population became both dense and advanced enough for computer-based shopping. Markets couldn't be open all day and night, or even necessarily every day, so they developed crowds when they were open. Like this one, really.
The character was different, though. In Pegasus, people looked up ever, automatic unconscious glances. People acted more aware of each other in general. And he was pretty sure the children were much better behaved. Well, except for that kid planet. But, generally speaking, Rodney didn't remember people letting their spawn rocket around unmonitored like this, or whine this much. He saw one snatch something from another, nodded to himself as the second kid's face screwed up, and braced himself for the screech
of the dart whipping past overhead, appearing from absolutely fucking nowhere and scooping up a good eight, ten people before anyone had time to react. And then chaos, screaming, wailing. People scrambling in every possible direction, no idea where the danger was, no idea where was safe. Rodney hadn't seen this kind of attack before, and he gaped, frozen, unable to process anything, no frame of reference. Teyla's voice, urgent across the radio
"Major! Wraith!" too late, entirely too fucking late because the drones were moving in now, between the market stalls, cutting off escape routes, stunning or draining or herding people according to some pattern that wasn't immediately obvious. His brain seized on that puzzle because he couldn't do this. He had no idea how to do this, how to see this happening right in front of him. Beside him, Sheppard started to raise his P-90, started forward, but then glanced over at him and cursed, shifting the gun to one hand and reaching over to grab Rodney's
shoulder, shaking him, "Mer?"
vest, "Damn it, McKay, take cover!" Turning him, pulling and shoving and forcing him to run, letting go only long enough to activate his radio for bitten-off words to Teyla and Ford and then grabbing on again. Bullying Rodney forward until his self-preservation instincts kicked in. Keeping up easily even though he was moving backwards as he covered their retreat while Rodney just ran, just ran back to the point they'd agreed on, throwing himself down behind the low wall to avoid the stunner blasts,
panting, huddled as low and small as he could make himself, trying to catch his breath. Wishing desperately he had never come on this mission, never joined a field team, never come to Pegasus, maybe even never heard of wormholes.
Footsteps pounded towards him and before he had a chance to react, a winded voice was calling out, "Here! He's here!" Rodney scrambled for his weapon, any weapon, but he couldn't find it. Because it wasn't there. Because he was sitting on asphalt, his back against a car tire, his feet kicking up against another car's rear wheel, Kaleb standing panting a few feet away. On Earth.
Rodney closed his eyes, trying to breathe. Trying to stop shaking. Wondering what the hell had just happened.
"What happened?" Kaleb asked, unknowingly echoing his thoughts. He still sounded a little winded but had mostly caught his breath, unlike Rodney. "You okay?"
Rodney hadn't gotten that far yet, so he just kept his eyes on his knees ( jeans, not BDUs, no holster, sneakers instead of boots ) and tried to breathe around the way his heart pounded too fast. He wished the damn shaking would just stop already. Stupid adrenaline.
Kaleb said something else, only softer, and maybe not meant for him anyway because another pair of shoes showed up in his peripheral vision. The two pairs conferred briefly, and then the new arrivals moved towards him, one standing guard as the other reared back and kicked one of his feet. Hard. "You jerk!" came from above him. Rodney looked up to see ( blue sky, so blue, deceptively mild -- no reassurance, not when it could be filled at any moment with ) Jeannie scowling down at him. "Since when do you have epilepsy? And why didn't you tell me?"
Oh, great, just what he needed. Nonsense. He had to swallow a couple of times to get words out of his dry mouth. "Don't. Don't have epilepsy. What?"
"You think I don't know a petit mal when I see one?" She really sounded angry. That couldn't be good for Madison.
"He came out of it when you touched him, though. I don't think that fits." Since when was Kaleb the voice of rationality? Kaleb knelt down, as if Rodney particularly wanted to look him in the eye. "Do you know what happened?"
Not even remotely. "Panic attack." It wasn't. "I get them sometimes." He didn't, not anymore, not really. But it fit a hell of a lot better than epilepsy did, so they should buy it.
He used to get actual panic attacks, once. He had finally conquered those between dissertations, too busy to deal with them anymore. Or really, too busy to spend hours in the emergency room only to be told he wasn't actually having a heart attack, and too busy day-to-day to take the time to shove down his fears and anxieties until they grew so big they suffocated him. It wasn't like holding them in really made anyone view him more favorably than they did when he just went ahead and voiced them, despite what he'd been told all his life up to that point.
He did still get full panic attacks, but very rarely. He had only had a handful in all his time in Pegasus. They snuck up on him when they did hit, swamping him without warning in the relative calm after extreme stresses like the Siege, but they still followed the same pattern. They had never been anything like this.
No, this was more like a translated version, imposed by someone who had never seen what his actual panic attacks were like. This was more like the completely inadequate attempt by the mist people to build convincing physics, or the funhouse-mirror warping of reality by the Replicators. The mist people hadn't been this subtle by the end, and the Replicators had never been this patient inside his head, but he really couldn't rule either one of them out, and they were both more likely than his spontaneously developing a completely new type of panic attack. An incompletely programmed virtual environment was even more likely than those.
"Panic attack about what?" Jeannie demanded, crossing her arms above her bulge. Spoken just like someone who had never actually had one.
"Claustrophobia," he snapped. That would work.
"That's small spaces, and this isn't," she shot back.
"Not the stores. The crowd."
"It's not that crowded, and that would be agoraphobia anyway. So would open spaces, like this. Except you've never had that. So what's really going on?"
Oh, of course she would remember that kind of detail about him. And quibble about definitions. "Looks like I'm branching out, then." If he could just stop shaking. He worked his wallet out of his pocket and tossed it towards her feet. "Just -- whatever you need to do. Take care of it. I don't care."
That got her to shut up, at least. Kaleb picked up the wallet and handed it up to Jeannie before looking back at Rodney. "You need a minute?"
Yes. He shook his head and accepted Kaleb's hand up. Once he was standing, he busied himself brushing the bits of sand and gravel from his pants. He knew he was flushing red. This part was familiar, the utter humiliation of having completely lost control in front of someone else.
When he'd finished dusting himself off, Jeannie took his hand and pressed his wallet back into it. "Can you do this?" she asked. Her voice was gentler now, but long experience with Teyla let him identify it as deliberate patience over irritation. If he said he couldn't, either he would have to sit in the car for hours or they would have to leave, which would mean she would have to get whatever the hell she had wanted out of this trip later, and either way he would never hear the end of it. He nodded, not trusting his voice.
They bracketed him this time, keeping him in the middle the way his team would. For a minute he hated them so fiercely he couldn't breathe. He just kept his head down, kept his eyes on things instead of people, kept reminding himself to unclench his fists until Jeannie had given him enough to carry that the handles of the bags gave him an excuse. He nodded or shrugged at whatever items Jeannie picked out for him if they made sense and shook his head at the things that were pointless or useless, not bothering to argue with her. They treated him more and more gently until he wanted to scream at them, but he didn't have another "panic attack" and nothing else unusual happened.
The whole thing just made no sense .
So, if you take a human brain and put it through a great deal of stressful trauma, it changes. The physical structure, the chemistry; it adapts to its environment. If you then take that adapted brain and dump it in boring, normal, civilian suburbia, it generally can't just switch back. You get adjustment disorders. You get PTSD. (Disclaimer: This is my layman's impression and is likely incomplete at best.)
That's not quite what we have here. Spoilers: Rodney's 2002-era physical brain hasn't been through that (leaving aside what a poor home environment would have done). But it's just had seven years of profoundly traumatic experiences dumped into it. This won't go well.
Anyway: Timeline problems.
I seem to recall canon not being particularly concerned with realistic timeframes, but I was going to have Rodney provide early (deniable) proof of his claims by having him create a video game that predicts and solves the gate-overload issue. This game would include a flight simulator element that would be critically mocked for being poorly integrated into the main plot until it suddenly becomes the solution; would include a Greek chorus of scientific advisors who give bad advice that includes the EMP plan he pushed the first time around that just made things worse; and would include a more heroic scientific-advisor character who notices a Jonas-stand-in NPC at just the right moment.
He would have to write and publish and distribute this game between January and June 2002, with time around that to get settled in and possibly find his own apartment on one end, and with time for anyone at Stargate to have been successfully targeted by the game distribution on the other end. I'm not in game development myself, but: nope. Especially because he also has to be writing down everything he can remember about 2002 through 2009 in a file he's code-named Space Vampires!! AS WELL AS writing and publishing as much groundbreaking physics as he can credibly produce with a big old Stargate-shaped hole in the middle of it. (And I recently learned there's something called the arXiv where he could publish all his own learned-from-Atlantis work, and that it would have existed then, but that the physics portion instituted peer review at some point that might have acted as a blocker.)
He's kinda busy. And maybe I'd just handwave it all and say, hey, it's kinda canonical!
With apologies for the extensive italics, here are some of my original notes about that, because they amuse me: Aside from the productivity tools (compression, encryption primarily) and maybe the seeds of a social networking app, he decides to write games and builds a core team as the central characters. He quickly finds he needs an artist and hires one. He gives directions: An old picture of himself as the starting point for the team scientist, with given attributes of genius and enthusiasm; start at Han Solo for the leader, with distinctive hair; start at Will Smith circa Independence Day for Ford, only young and eager; start at (some famous actress) for Teyla, crossed with (maybe) a yoga instructor. This results in a character that somehow looks like the offspring of an unholy union between his own younger self, maybe Egon of RGB, Zelenka, and Kavanagh; a rakish leader with a lock of hair eerily similar to Tek Jansen of Stephen Colbert fame; and the two others. He starts with a game, not all that sophisticated, that maps out the solution to the Anubis gate problem he would normally have helped solve.
And speaking of amusing me, the following bit of silliness. Were there really autoplay banner ads with audio in 2002? No idea! (From Wikipedia: "In the ancient Egyptian language, Anubis is known as Inpu (variously spelled Anup, Anpu, and Ienpw). According to the Akkadian transcription in the Amarna letters, Anubis' name was vocalized as Anapa." Rodney would've ended up getting Kaleb's help naming the character.)
The ad push started in the middle of May, coordinated by a site that offered IP-address-based region customization. Most of their orders were for large urban areas -- New York, Los Angeles, the Silicon Valley. This push was the first they'd ever gotten to target Colorado specifically, along with military domains, but in the end that was irrelevant to them. Distribution was all automated through databases. The peculiar range just meant a different pricing package because of the lower projected hit rate.
The push was limited to one web ad, too. No pop-ups, no redirects, no rotation -- just the one simple animation, graphics and audio, 25 seconds long.
It started with a black background. Then words flared into existence, white fading into rippling blue and then to nothing: Coming in June 2002
Then a voice, male, panicked, speaking words that pattered into existence as spoken and faded away in the same pattern, two words larger and lasting longer than the rest. Sir! Enemy leader Anapa has forced our portal into overload ! A spare bass pulse throbbed urgently.
A female voice: We can't shut it down!
A steadier but still urgent male voice: When it reaches critical , the explosion will make Earth uninhabitable .
A pause as the characters faded fully to black.
Then the last male voice again, sober: We have three days .
Those words faded out completely before the game title, studio, and website appeared in time with the last bass pulse.
Moving on. The idea would be that someone at the SGC would notice the eerie similarity of the game to what they're dealing with when Anubis is targeting their gate. From my original notes: and the game provides enough of a shell of the subroutine McKay helped write for the program to work from it. If the SGC calls him, he tells them to solve the game, fully intending to tell them what to do if they don't reach the solution in time. Afterwards, the SGC sends him a "consultancy fee" -- recognizing they need to keep him favorable, since he seems to know things he's not sharing -- though they may try to woo him back first. Rodney considers the check for a long time, debating whether to accept it, asking Jeannie -- it's a tie back to the US military, but he needs the money. On the SGC side, Carter and O'Neill realize that if McKay knew about this, he has some amount of accurate advance knowledge whether his full story was real or not … and Carter puts together that he must have known about Daniel. This raises a question: he never claimed that Daniel should be dead the way he did Janet and Hammond, but he mentioned the movie [the Star Trek one where Spock dies] ; if he had been clearer, would Daniel have survived? Did he somehow steer Daniel into dying/Ascending when Daniel otherwise wouldn't have? They're disturbed and possibly angry about the implications, and may try to confront him.
Originally, I had Sam go and confront him angrily, leading to him asking CSIS and/or his government to keep her away, leading then to a politely worded letter that amounts to a restraining order that Elizabeth later finds when she reviews his file. I later decided it would work better for her to start angry but then end up talking to him through the door, with her trying to understand whether Daniel could have been saved and Rodney trying to understand why she did what she did to him. They wouldn't quite reach peace, but they'd get partway there. She wouldn't be a lieutenant colonel quite yet, so I figured he would call her Colonel from habit, and that would be a little disorienting, but she would just figure he knew the general schedule for promotions and missed slightly when assuming hers.
Separately, he would write up the work he and Jeannie first collaborated on, giving her co-author credit (he's touchy about feeling like other scientists have stolen his work, and in his head he probably doesn't give her as much credit as she actually deserves, but he doesn't feel right claiming it all to himself just because of the timeline weirdness) and asking her to review. She's not especially interested at this point in her life. He may deliberately add an error in hopes she'll catch it, but she's not reading that closely, to his disappointment.
This next original-note-dump is too long to put in italics, so here, have a new kind of section that leads into the next fragment. And yeah, I know Radek's English would likely be better than I've represented here.
[Rodney will later add additional game titles using the same team, none of them all that complex -- quickie titles -- but one of them is called "Incursion" or something similar and parallels the Genii invasion of Atlantis during the storm. That one is much, much darker than the rest, an FPS from the Solo/Jansen character's POV; the McKay insert character acts normally at the start of the game -- the open is him working at a console and chatting by radio with the Solo guy, possibly asking why, if everyone calls the vortex portal a 'vortal', he can't call the flight leader (Solo) a 'fleader'; definitely debating the sides of some s.f. debate, possibly Batman vs. Superman, until Solo finds the storm; after the open, he is normal Rodney-ish setting up the storm prep -- but is diminished, quieter, when seen later, pre-bruised on the face, moving awkwardly, and leaving red smears on everything he touches. Acastus Kolya of the Genii becomes Axis Yakol of the Enjai.]
[Rodney eventually tracks down Zelenka at the University of Unpronounceable and is overwhelmed with relief until he thinks that it's still possible he had somehow run across mention of Zelenka before and built an unrelated mental character. He writes up Arcturus (describing it as "The Arcturus Model") and sends it to Zelenka with a request for an informal but to-be-credited peer review/co-authorship. Zelenka writes or emails back: "You are genius or madman. But which?" Rodney sends back that Zelenka should prove which one -- but there's a flaw and Zelenka should contribute that. Possible brief confusion -- no, the theory as written is fine, but it doesn't go far enough … and Rodney is sure Zelenka can find the resulting problem condition. (He may need to feed pieces -- Zelenka doesn't have the test data about the first test run or the records of the exotic particles produced. Have Rodney have built in the math to predict parts of that -- on the theory that he would have reconstructed that much post-Trinity.)]
[Rodney names his company "3F Studios Software" or something like. To him, it's from what he's heard of John's first meeting with Teyla -- Ferris wheels (stylized symbol used for his social networking software), college Football (stylized sports symbol used for his games), and Flying/Fast things (stylized jet as logo for productivity tools). It also fits -- phonetically, at least -- Fundamentally Flawed Physics, which the prior two outlined papers are cautionary tales about. To reporters, though, he'll suggest a variety of interpretations, including old dorm room or apartment addresses.]
[At some point, he sends postcards to Zelenka, Carson's hamlet or village or sheep fold or whatever they call it, Sheppard care of the Air Force, and assorted others (Miko, maybe): a picture of penguins, no text or return address. He doesn't want to change anything major besides what he's had to, because he doesn't want to derail Atlantis or start some chain that loses Earth to the Goa'uld or Ori or even throws off Beckett's gene research.]
[He finds that he can predict television shows. This mostly is an argument against Replicators -- they don't seem to be able to retrieve that much trivial detail, and they seem to need the victim to provide answers, or else they'd just enter and take what they wanted and leave. But maybe they have a way to lean on centers of his brain to make him fill in his own expectations? He discovers that he can't watch BSG (miniseries December 2003) because of the line "All of this has happened before … and all of it will happen again." He won't watch Back to the Future or Groundhog Day , ever. He knows Firefly will be cancelled from US television with only half a season (autumn 2002); he even finds himself a little too sympathetic to River and the way the government tinkered with her brain. Possible: Kaleb notices his ability to call plot points in sci-fi shows but thinks it means that Rodney is steeped enough in their tropes to be able to analyze them critically -- like a lit major.]
[At some point, perhaps halfway through exile, Jeannie has harassed Rodney into coming over for the day. It is raining, a big storm, and he is edgy and nervous and irritable and won't shut up or sit down. Exasperated, Jeannie means to pull him into food preparation, but when she moves toward him with the knife in her hand, intending to give it to him so he can do something useful, he blanches. She realizes with shock that she's seeing actual fear, terror, in his face, which she never has or almost never has before. She moves toward him but he jerks away, blurting a desperate plea; finally he flees. She puts together that someone has hurt him and he's never said anything about it.]
One moment Rodney was standing in the kitchen, trying desperately not to think about rain and blood, and the next he was sitting wedged in the corner of … Jeannie's bedroom? … with his knees drawn up close, arms tucked in, head down, winded and shaking. Continuity gap, and he tried to work out what flaw in the code would cause that effect but the lines skittered and scattered in his head.
Footsteps whispered closer and his head shot up but it was just Jeannie, advancing cautiously towards him, one hand out, the way she tried to ease up on Max sometimes. "Mer?" she said softly, sinking down to her knees a few feet away from him. "You okay?"
It was hard to force words out when he was shaking so hard. "Yes," he managed, because it wasn't anything either of them could fix. "Yes. Fine. Just, you know, panic attack." Atlantis had taught him better than to disregard practical results in favor of theory, so it was marginally possible that he really was having some new kind.
He felt as jittery as if he'd been given epinephrine, and words just sort of spilled out now that he'd gotten them started. "It's really annoying, I know -- I mean, it's annoying for me, but I'm sure it is for you, too. It's just, there's not really anything I can do about it because, I mean, I tried but I guess it doesn't work anymore, and I'm not a calm person. We both know that. And it's not like I've ever been able to meditate -- well, no, okay, I did get it to work that one time, but that was only for a fraction of a second and it was unusual circumstances anyway, so it's not like that's a feasible approach under normal conditions --"
"Hey," Jeannie interrupted softly. "It's okay. Don't worry about it. It's okay."
She looked kind of upset, and his stomach dropped. He had no idea how he'd gotten to her room, much less what he might have done in the process. "I didn't -- I didn't hurt you, did I? Or Madison? I wouldn't --"
"No. No, you didn't hurt anybody." She looked like she was about to cry. "Hey, let's go back downstairs, okay?" She put her hand out, inviting, but not touching him.
He was still shaking. He blinked at her hand. "Or I could just stay here for a while," he countered. If he had to feel like a complete idiot, he'd rather do it somewhere private and out of the way. "Though I expect you and Kaleb will want the room back eventually, and wow, do I ever not want to be here for that --"
"No, let's go back down together, okay?" she said, still weirdly gentle. "We can watch a movie or play a game or something. Just the two of us, together, all right?"
"But you're busy." She had made it clear that she didn't even have time for this. All that cutting and chopping to do ….
" Mer ? Mer, look at me, okay? I'm right here, look at me. You know what? Never mind all that. We'll order pizza or something. I'll put everything away and we'll just order a pizza when we're ready. How does that sound?"
Too good to be true was how that sounded. "I don't like tofu pizza."
"So we'll get some other kind," she said. "You want pepperoni? We could get that."
"Sausage," he challenged, because he didn't buy it for a second.
She gave him a watery smile. "Sure, yeah, we can do that. I promise."
[Jeannie has Kaleb take Rodney home.]
Jeannie watched Madison sleep until she heard the door open. She went downstairs then and found Kaleb carefully hanging up his raincoat.
"So what was all that about?" he asked as he moved into the living room.
"Is he okay? You made sure he got inside?"
"Yes." He frowned and drew her over to sit with him on the couch. "Tell me."
She took a deep breath. "Somebody hurt him."
Kaleb frowned again, this time in confusion. "Today? What happened?"
"No, no. I don't know when. I just know … you remember that day we went shopping? When he said he was having a panic attack?" When he nodded, she continued, "It was like that. I just tried to hand him a knife to help make dinner, and … and the way he looked --"
He put an arm around her and hugged her close. "Hey. It's okay."
She pulled away and wiped her eyes. "It's not . Somebody hurt him. Somebody really hurt him, and he's not okay."
"All right. I'm sorry." Kaleb was quiet for a few seconds. "Afghanistan, you think?"
"You said he used to work for the American military, right? And they use civilian contractors there."
"For security , sure. Why would they need a physicist in Afghanistan?"
"Good point." He frowned. "Why do they need a physicist anyway? Especially an astrophysicist?"
Jeannie opened her mouth but then closed it again, considering. "Huh. You're right." She thought about the papers her brother had showed her. "Power generation. Research into energy sources."
"What for? Don't they have plenty of power? Unless you mean something like rocket fuels, but that wouldn't be his field, would it?"
"No. They'd have him on projects like what comes after atomic energy. Because power sources end up as bombs, and he might not work directly in weapons research but he can be so blind sometimes --" Mer bewildered her, so caustic and yet so impossibly trusting . No matter how often people tricked him or used him, he always, always believed what the next person said, what the person after that promised. They would have lured him with funding and promises of the best research opportunities, they would have promised him his work wouldn't be abused or warped, and he would have believed them.
They would have promised him he wouldn't be hurt, and he would have believed them.
She swallowed. "Maybe some other country wanted his work, or access to his projects. Or … or maybe the Americans thought he wasn't getting results fast enough." She thought of what was happening to the legal system south of the border and of the prison camp the Americans had set up in Cuba. Mer had claimed he was "defecting" from the United States. He had been so nervous the day he had gone to CSIS for help severing his ties with that country. Her stomach hurt. Mer still trusted too easily, but … not like he used to, not anymore.
"Maybe." Kaleb looked troubled but didn't contradict her supposition. "I think there might be a little more to it, though. That day we were shopping -- what if he saw a suicide bombing? Especially at a marketplace or something like that. He still won't go to malls or the farmer's market."
That actually fit. The way he had run off that day -- she had thought he was running away, but there was more purpose to it than that. He had run right over to crouch down between cars. Taking cover?
"He gets nervous around crowds," Kaleb added, "and … well, just civilization seems to surprise him sometimes. Modern Western civilization, I mean."
Jeannie hadn't ever thought of it that way before, but Kaleb was right. That explained so much of her brother's weirdness . The new, recent parts, anyway. "So you think he was … assigned overseas? Maybe. But -- he has a cat. He wouldn't have gotten a cat if he was going to leave the country. Or he wouldn't have kept it if he already had it. They wouldn't have let him take it with him." And he was weirdly attached to that cat, too, even for a single guy past 30 who claimed to be too busy for dating.
"Maybe he found it there and brought it back with him. I've read articles about that sort of thing. Or maybe he was somewhere violent for a while and then came back to work in the States."
"Where something else happened. Because somebody hurt him, him personally . Something happened to make him come here." He had never adequately explained why he had left behind his former life so abruptly, or why he restricted his physics work to writing impossibly obscure thought experiments and rewriting textbooks while he made a living at software. And going out of his way to start his own company rather than working for someone else, when he probably could have gotten a job easily -- that probably fit, too, if he didn't want to depend on someone else's control of his work. Or of him.
"Possibly. It might not be just one thing." Kaleb sighed. "I think you're right. The hiking -- he hates it, and he drives me crazy out there, but he's determined to keep doing it. He's hypervigilant in the woods, too, but not in the car or here. And he's hired a personal trainer. It's as if he thinks he isn't strong enough, somehow. Physically. Maybe he thinks he wasn't strong enough, before."
Jeannie nodded because, yes, yes, it all fit. "It's not just panic attacks, is it? We're talking about PTSD. But why couldn't he just tell us?"
Kaleb made a strange face but just said, "He might think we'd make fun of him somehow." Jeannie glared at him, suspicious of that little hesitation before we , but before she could say anything he added, "And he might not actually realize it himself."
"How could he not --" Jeannie started, but hello, Mer McKay. Not the most insightful guy on the planet. "You could be right." He really had seemed to think he was just having a panic attack that afternoon.
"He brings up strange things when we're out hiking," Kaleb said. " Epistemology , of all things, or the nature of reality. I think he knows there's something and he's working at the edges of it, but he might not be able to admit the whole thing to himself. At least not yet."
"So what do we do? Make him see a therapist?"
"'Make'? And you won't, you know. He's really touchy about anything to do with psychology or psychiatry. He'd have to be willing for that to work, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be. If he's not ready, it would probably just make things worse."
"So what do we do ?" Jeannie repeated. She stood to pace. Helping her brother was hard enough when he wanted it.
"He came here. He came to me. Whatever happened, whatever went wrong, when he needed safety he came home to me." And no matter how much they fought, he kept coming back. "We just … be here for him."
It wasn't enough, not even close. She hated being helpless or not knowing what to do. But it was a start. This was something she could do, however vague it might be. She could make sure Mer knew he could always come to her, and she could work on figuring out other ways to help him. Even if he didn't know how to ask for help himself. Even if they had to help him without letting him know what they were doing.
And if she ever found out who hurt her brother -- well, they'd better just watch out. She might be a pacifist and a humanist, but she wouldn't let that stop her from kicking their ass . Because nobody messed with her family. Nobody .
I never really liked where that ended up. It's too pat or … something. And I'd forgotten that I thought Rodney might try to toughen himself up so that he would be more prepared for all the running around of being on a gate team, possibly with caustic in-text citations of Sleator's "Singularity". (At some point I read another fic in which Rodney decides he's going to get buff, so he does approximately 2.5 sit-ups and figures it's a good start, and he worries he's hurt himself when he tries stretching or something, and the whole thing just rang so very true to canon Rodney -- but I've never been able to write that. But knowing that's more accurate to canon Rodney makes it hard to commit to writing him planning to work out and actually sticking to it.)
I don't know if any of this next bit of notes really works, but whatever, I kinda like it anyway. Keep in mind that, in "Remorse", Rodney was reset by seven years.
[Rodney shows up, immediately apologizing that he's brought his laptop and another item but he just has to finish something, half an hour, maybe an hour tops, and then he can toss it over to rendering, but he has to finish it. (Or maybe it's for during the baby's nap? Or: a piece didn't finish rendering in time, and when it finally does he has about another hour's work on it before he sends it back again.) He sets up at the kitchen table, tunneling into his system. At some points, while pieces compile or he's waiting for some kind of response, he fiddles with a keyboard, using it with headphones. Jeannie thinks it looks familiar and asks if he didn't used to play. He agrees and then gives her a surprised frown: "You remember that?" She does, dimly; she remembers thinking it was boring. He smirks and says yes, she did; he was practicing (something complex), which he plays a snippet of for her, and she wanted him to play something more "fun", at which he plays a snippet of a child's song like "Farmer in the Dell". But he hasn't played in years. She asks if he's taking it up again. He says no, he needs some kind of music for his games, and he'll probably hire someone for the real themes but he can do parts of it and can put in placeholder music elsewhere. She asks if he's good, and he says he was accurate. Playing, he explains, is like transcription. Being able to reproduce something, even perfectly, doesn't mean the user is actually good at playing any more than a perfect transcriptionist is a good computer user. And composition is completely different from playing -- it's like being a programmer. Jeannie may ask whether it's like writing highly advanced theoretical physics papers; he may be a little sensitive about that. If she points out that she can't follow them, he would counter that she can, he knows that she can. She can. But no, playing isn't that big a deal. A computer can do it. And when he thinks of all the years he wasted studying piano when he could have gotten serious about science sooner, just think how much further ahead he could be by now. That's, what, six years of progress he could be ahead. If he actually mentions ages (start at 6, stop at 12, for purposes of this story), Jeannie would correct that it's probably really 7, because you have to count age six itself as one of the years, thinking of teasing him for flubbing an inclusive-range problem. If this happens, when she says seven he pushes his equipment out of the way and lowers his head onto his arms. She leaves him alone for a while, rather than pushing. (Possibly move the advanced papers bit here, with her asking casually why he would need that extra time when he's already insanely ahead / incomprehensible. More likely instead:) She sees he's breathing unevenly, but when he raises his head he hasn't been crying; he just looks a little pale. She starts to ask if he can tell her -- but he deliberately changes the subject.
He keeps fiddling with the keyboard, little snatches, better when he's not paying direct attention. Jeannie may suggest that perhaps he could teach Madison to play; he would start to say he won't be there but cut short: He won't … he might not … we'll see. After a minute or two he'll tell her that this isn't forever; he's working on something, and it might take him other places, far away. She is careful about this, sensing it has to do with whatever has him traumatized. He plays a bit of an Athosian tune and she comments it's pretty; he may not realize exactly what he was playing and says it's something a friend used to sing. He tells her a very little bit about Teyla; she asks if this was a girlfriend, and after he's done choking or laughing at the prospect he says no, a friend, kind of like a sister. At her reaction he clarifies no, not in place of her; more like … kind of … older sister? He misses her. She hugs him hard (careful -- maybe a light touch to his shoulder first to warn him of her approach, since she would be careful of hyper-arousal) from behind his chair; after a minute or two he clears his throat and asks, "Um?" She doesn't push him too hard for explanations, which relieves him but makes him suspicious.]
So anyway. I had thoughts about a Christmas that Rodney spends with the family, including his new niece, dangling bits of wrapping paper over her and the cat equally and possibly having a bit of a cry over missing his friends, idk.
At the end of Season 7, SG-1 finds information about "the lost city" and Sam ends up exclaiming, "Atlantis?!"
I'm not wild about this next fragment; it's riddled with details that I think would've changed. But I've got it and I don't have a use for it elsewhere, so here, have it.
Elizabeth frowned at the run-down apartment building. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, ma'am," the taxi driver said. "This is the address you gave me. You want to go somewhere else?"
"No, this is fine." She paid him but was careful to note the number of the service before she got out. Approaching the building didn't reveal anything she hadn't been able to see from the taxi, and she started to wonder if O'Neill had somehow managed to send her on a snipe hunt. The building was clearly residential, miles -- both literally and metaphorically -- from the headquarters of a rising corporation.
But this was the address on her notes, which came straight from the company's incorporation paperwork. At best, something had gotten mixed up along the way. She sighed and pulled out her cell phone. She hadn't been able to get beyond automated phone systems before, but she was going to have to go ahead and leave a message and trust someone would actually return her call. She had hoped to get an idea of McKay's situation before he knew she was coming, so that she knew what she was up against, but plainly that wasn't an option now.
As before, she was greeted by a recorded message. She was about three levels deep when someone off to her side said, "Elizabeth," in a soft, amazed tone.
She turned to see a man staring at her. He was probably in his mid-30s. He needed a haircut, and his clothing was a sort of casual shabby so deaf to any particular style that it almost achieved stylishness just by that fact. Almost. He was carrying groceries, so he was probably a resident of the building. She started to ask him for directions, just in case, but his strangely delighted expression suddenly darkened. "What are you -- I mean, what brings you here?" he asked, suddenly wary.
"I'm looking for a business." She spoke carefully, unsure just how safe this neighborhood was or how this man might have guessed or stumbled on her name. "3F Studios Software. I was told it was in this neighborhood. Do you know where it is?"
He frowned. "Yes. Yes, I do. Why are you looking for it?"
"I need to meet with someone who works there." She knew better than to be too specific with strangers. "Is it nearby?"
He studied her for several seconds. "You've got the right address," he said finally. "This is the right building. Why didn't you just call?"
She studied him back and took a chance. "You work there, don't you?"
His mouth twitched. "You could say that."
"That's very convenient," she said, smiling encouragingly at him. His clothing and the fact that he had apparently been sent on a menial errand argued that he was operations staff or a gofer. Even so, her best route was probably to treat him as either important or connected. "Would you be able to arrange a meeting with Dr. McKay?"
He opened his mouth, closed it again, and then said, "Come on." He headed towards the building. After a moment's indecision, Elizabeth followed him. While he was setting down one of the bags and unlocking the entry door, she looked over the mailboxes and found that one of them did in fact have both R McKay and 3F Studios next to it.
He led the way into a rickety elevator. Once they were inside, he had to ask her to select the floor and he apologized for the smell. Elizabeth carefully avoided brushing against the walls, growing edgy at the way the man kept staring at her.
The floor they left the elevator at looked just as much like a run-down apartment building as everything else had so far. Elizabeth followed the man down the hall, her steps slowing as her doubts grew. The camera and convex mirror high on the wall at the end of the hall did nothing to reassure her.
The man set the groceries down outside what looked like a normal apartment door and unlocked it. He went in first, but she hung back because the inside looked like an apartment, too. She knew better than to go into a strange man's apartment, and she realized she had made a serious mistake even going into the building with him.
He finished fiddling with an alarm panel, glanced back to see she was still in the hall, and rolled his eyes. He reached for his pocket, rolled his eyes again at her reaction, and waggled his wallet at her before pulling a card from it. He handed that over to her.
It was his driver's license. She looked at the name and then back up at him in surprise. " You're Dr. McKay?"
"The one and only," he said, taking the license back. "In this space-time, anyway. Shoo, Max," he added quietly, ushering a cat away from the door. He ducked back out long enough to grab the bags of groceries and said to her, "In or out. The alarm is about to re-arm."
She took the gamble and stepped inside, stopping just far enough in to let the door close behind her. The man -- McKay -- ignored her, taking the groceries over to a tiny kitchenette and starting to put them away. Music played from somewhere, not softly but not quite loudly enough to impede conversation, a folkish female singer Elizabeth didn't recognize. She looked around at the cramped little apartment. "3F Studios Software?"
"Virtual office," he answered. "No desire to see my employees, no one I want to impress, so why waste the money on extra rent?" He finished putting something away and folded his arms. "O'Neill didn't prep you?"
I don't know if you want him . O'Neill had gone distant on her when she brought up the name, his expression going blank in the way that meant he was weighing just how much to tell her about something. Try if you want, but it'll have to be you. He's got a grudge against us. And he's kinda squirrelly. He hadn't explained the grudge, or really much of anything.
"He recognized your name, but I don't think he knows about this," she answered. "And you've changed since your college days." She should have done a better job of putting the math together. She hadn't really had good reason for expecting someone a decade older, beyond his success in establishing a business as a second career. Not when the college photo showed him that young. The printouts she'd been handed were fragmentary, but she hadn't really had time to scour them for date references.
His eyes narrowed. "I haven't changed that much in two months. Or five."
"I don't understand."
He went over to a bookshelf and grabbed a small stack of magazines. That one wall of the apartment was the only thing that hinted at his business -- besides the bookshelf, almost the entire wall was occupied by a collection of computers whirring away, their hum audible over even the Mozart piece now playing. He brought the stack back over to a small kitchen table, where he flipped each magazine open to a certain page and then slapped it down on the table. Once he'd gone through the pile that way, he went back over to lean back against the counter, folding his arms again. "Elizabeth Weir would have done her homework."
That was a … very strange statement. "How do you know my name?" she asked. "Did General O'Neill tell you I was coming?" If this was some sort of power play ….
But McKay made a derisive noise. "Hardly." He didn't explain further.
She went over to look at the display, where she quickly saw what he had meant. Each article had a fairly recent picture of him. Most of them were the same picture, actually, unless he was fond of wearing the same outfit and striking the same pose in publicity photos. Of course, he was in a similar pose at the moment, except for a scowl in place of the smug smile.
She checked the magazine titles. About half were local and national interest while the other half were software or technology. "I see," she said. "Yes, if I had had more time, I would have found these and recognized you. I was only given your name very recently."
He gave her a profoundly condescending look. "I'm in the Stargate Program files. Which you've had access to for a while."
Elizabeth frowned. If that was true, yes, she should have known more -- and O'Neill absolutely should have been able to tell her more. "You're not an active member of the program," she challenged. She hadn't memorized every single person's file, but considering how casually he spoke of O'Neill, she would have remembered McKay if he had been in there.
"My contract's on hold. Something like that. Enough to keep my classification status."
Of course, he wasn't military. "Ah, then you'd be in the 'stale contractors' files. I haven't really looked at those."
"Right. So you have no idea who I am, yet the minute you heard my name you came running up here to meet me."
He was trying to piss her off. Elizabeth just took a calm breath and laced her fingers together. "I'm putting together an international … research group. One of the European scientists came to me after …" McKay had brought up the program himself, so regardless of whether his classification status truly was current, there could be no harm in mentioning it. "… after he had reviewed the basic theory of the Stargates and strongly recommended that I seek you out. A Dr. Zelenka, from the Czech Republic. I was able to fit in a side trip to try to gauge whether I should put in any more effort to recruit you."
She had said the right thing. McKay looked startled, his defensiveness falling away. "Radek? Really? All right, I'll admit I didn't expect that one. Internally consistent. Huh. What's your dog's name?"
It took her a second to realize he meant her to answer. "Why?"
The defensiveness was creeping back. "I've given you evidence that I'm who I say I am."
If he was suspicious of her, asking for confirmation of her identity was perfectly reasonable. Her dog's name really was irrelevant to that, though. She considered challenging him on that, but she took in his posture and actions so far. A gesture of trust from her would help. Besides, the most likely disreputable reason someone in his position would want it was to hack a password, and she knew better than that. She met his eyes. "Sedge."
He nodded once. "Good. Tea?" He turned and started rummaging through a cabinet.
"I'm sure I have some somewhere around here. My -- aha!" He produced a box of tea bags and tossed it lightly onto the table. "Have a seat," he said, gesturing at the table before fiddling with a kettle. He scooped the magazines back up and dumped them on their original shelf as the kettle heated. Then he swiftly prepared two cups, brought them over to the table, and sat down.
After a few seconds he looked up at where she still stood, bewildered that giving him her dog's name could trigger such a sudden change. He sighed. "Look, I'm sorry, but I have to be careful. No offense."
Elizabeth could imagine a number of reasons to explain what he meant, industrial sabotage and concerns about the Trust primary among them, but he didn't offer one. She sat and was surprised to see a quick smile flash across his face. Well, she might as well try. She busied her hands steeping a tea bag. "As I was saying, I'm recruiting for an international research group --"
He waved a hand. "Yes, yes, I'm in."
Elizabeth frowned at him. It couldn't possibly be that easy. "Your business --"
"Is stable, and I've been careful to keep it very attractive acquisition bait." The Mozart piece ended and a new song started, a geek-pop tune Elizabeth couldn't name but had heard coming from the SGC labs. "I've kept everything in order. I can sell it pretty quickly. And my … I know someone who can take my cat. You need me. And I want in."
"You don't even know what we're looking for," Elizabeth protested. At least this time he let her finish the whole sentence.
"Atlantis," McKay said easily. "And I know it's farther away than you think. You'll need me to get there. Or Carter," he added with contempt, "but you're never prying her away from SG-1, which leaves me the only person who can get you there. You need me. I'm in for the search and I'm in for the trip."
Elizabeth closed her eyes, blocking out the scruffy little apartment briefly, and asked the question she should have asked first. "Is this a secure location for classified discussions?"
She opened her eyes again to see McKay smirking. "More secure than most places your country could offer. I built the alarm system. It's not just an alarm. Anyone who tries to eavesdrop just gets nice soothing static." He nodded over at the wall of computers, though Elizabeth had no idea what item he meant to indicate. "Your cell phone has been trying to ping a tower since you walked in here. It won't be able to get any kind of a signal -- or, more importantly, transmit anything -- unless I register your SIM card in my system. If it's any reassurance, you aren't transmitting any other signals."
"Oh," she said weakly. She really hadn't thought she was any kind of security risk. She pulled herself together. "How did you know about Atlantis? Have you already been speaking to Dr. Zelenka?" Apparently she did have a leak somewhere.
"No. He's been offline for over a week. He claimed he was going on some fishing trip with his brother-in-law or something. I didn't know you had him already." His mouth tightened. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you how I know. The SGC obviously still doesn't." That was definitely anger. Elizabeth glanced down and dealt with the tea bag to give him a moment.
The music switched to early Beatles. Elizabeth took a drink before setting the cup aside and folding her hands on the table. "So that's it? You just say yes, no conditions?"
"Oh, there are conditions," McKay said. "I'm your chief scientist. The other scientists report to me. I report to you, no one else -- and certainly not the military. And …." He made a face. "Between you and me, this one isn't exactly a condition, because I'm going anyway, but … my contract. Right now it's with the SGC. Can you do something about that? I know they control access to the gate, but I don't want to have to report to them, ever. I don't want them to have any authority over me. Can you do that?"
"General O'Neill said you had a grudge," Elizabeth said.
The emotions that crossed his face weren't nearly so simple as a grudge. "Something like that," he agreed tensely.
Elizabeth had expected a much harder sell. "I want to review your records before I make any plans about putting you in charge of anyone."
He looked annoyed but said only, "That's fair."
"And I'll see what I can do about your contract." She stood and put out her hand. "It's an honor to have you on board, Dr. McKay."
It was the right move. He looked startled and then pleased. A few seconds later he blinked at her hand and remembered to shake it, standing himself to do so. He gripped her hand briefly, with none of the usual dominance tricks of the successful or of most men. "It's -- I'm glad it's you," he said, awkward and earnest. "You're the right person for this."
Elizabeth offered him a startled thanks. She then smoothly took the excuse to leave alone when he offered uncertainly to see her out. She was pleased by her unexpected success, but he was pretty intense.
Rodney gathered the cups and stuck them in the sink. He could practically hear Jeannie nagging him to go ahead and wash them, but he saw no good reason to bother yet. He was about to turn away to head back to his project, or possibly to go lie in bed and stare at the ceiling as he tried to absorb what had just happened, but the lipstick stain on one of the cups caught his eye. He touched it and then scraped it lightly. Real.
He grabbed the sponge and scrubbed both cups clean, watching closely as the lipstick yielded at a predictable rate. As soon as he turned the water off his legs went weak and he sat on the floor, leaning back against the cabinet. Max came over and rubbed against his knee.
"You understand, right?" Rodney asked him, rubbing between his ears. "I have to do this. You'll be okay. Maddie will learn to stop hitting you and pulling your tail, and you can hide up on top of the kitchen cabinets until then. You like it up there. I'll make sure Jeannie knows to let you. Okay? I have to."
Max just kept rubbing his cheeks on Rodney's knee, claiming him and purring, which could mean just about anything. And Rodney knew the cat didn't really understand him anyway.
He rested his head back against the cabinet. "At least I can rule out completely crazy, though. That's nice."
He closed his eyes and scritched Max's head for a long while.
Elizabeth found that there was quite a lot of information about Dr. Rodney McKay at her disposal, if she looked in the correct places.
It went back further than she had anticipated. Much of the intelligence on him was included in the Stargate Program records he had mentioned, starting with brief notes about an investigation the CIA had launched when he was in the sixth grade. Content was sparse until his graduate school years, which had drawn interest again -- a foreign national with previous interest from the CIA, financing an extensive and expensive education with next to no family contribution. The backers of every grant and scholarship had been extensively researched, every work-study arrangement vetted -- with a few of those quietly squashed. His series of escalating security clearances was comparatively trouble-free.
A long history of evaluations within the Program revealed that he was ridiculously qualified for everything about the position he'd requested except management. She frowned at the numerous complaints and negative teamwork reviews. It was possible he couldn't have been a worse candidate for supervisor if he had actively tried.
Then the records got strange.
A series of documents traced him being brought to the SGC from Area 51 by recommendation of the Pentagon, which was certainly impressive. A sparsely worded report indicated that he and Carter had disagreed about several matters concerning the Stargate. Forms detailed a plan to send him to work with the Russians, then a delay, then a rescinding of that plan. A formal complaint that read of hasty composition lodged protest at the reassignment of Area 51 personnel by the SGC without notice or consultation, but if that complaint was the reason for the hold it must first have been made by phone, going by the recorded times. A different set of orders provided McKay transport back to Nevada. He had reported to his job there for a few hours and then left.
The country .
The phone transcripts shouldn't have surprised her. He was a foreign national in a program of highly sensitive national security. She also knew the current policy on wiretaps, whatever her opinion of it. Most of the transcripts were referenced by file numbers she didn't bother to try to pull, but a copy of the last one was in with the files tracing his last hours in the US. She felt a low-grade shame for reading it, but that transcript and the other details pieced together by the investigators led her to the same conclusion they had drawn: Something had spooked McKay and he had bolted. His flight showed all the signs of hasty preparation but effective decisions. That was a much more practical trait than she typically saw among the dedicated lab scientists, and it was certainly worth her consideration.
A thicket of official communications between US and Canadian agencies followed, the contrasting tones making her smile. The formal explanation of McKay's decision to sever ties … well, it made sense, and it fit with the conclusion that he had been scared away, but it didn't quite seem to fit the man who had executed such a simple, effective flight on short notice. That was only an impression, and it was equally inspired by the vague sense that pieces were missing, but it nagged at her.
The records after that were stranger still. McKay had agreed to a revision of his contract with unclear terms that seemed to amount to "don't call me, I'll call you" yet maintained his security clearance, as he had told her. A large consultancy fee had been issued to him for undocumented "services rendered"; the timing was shortly after the crisis in which Anubis had tried to overload the Stargate. That was the only report she could find for that time period that related to his skill set, but there was no record of any actual consultation with him. Soon after that was a standing order to buy all software titles marketed by McKay's company and to load them onto non-networked devices; that order was cross-referenced to a project she couldn't access easily.
That order was also followed by the last meaningful record in the file: A politely worded request from the office of the Solicitor General that United States Air Force Major Dr. Samantha Carter please respect the privacy of their valued citizen Dr. Rodney McKay by providing their office a minimum 72 hours advance notice of any intent to enter British Columbia.
Elizabeth sat back after reading that one. That wasn't at all what she had expected.
She wasn't all that surprised to find what amounted to a restraining order, not after reading the complaints in his file. She just would have expected them to be against him, not on his behalf. The complaints that had been made suggested a profound interpersonal ineptitude rather than malice, but that was never a guarantee. She wasn't disappointed by the direction of this sole example, of course, but it was a surprise. Unless Carter had somehow threatened him as retaliation for inappropriate advances during his consultation at the SGC, and that was what drove him to flee the country?
Carter herself was no help. The woman said stiffly that she had been advised not to discuss McKay and claimed she had to get back to her lab. She didn't clarify whether she was referring to legal advice or an order from one of her superiors.
If it was an order, it could have come from O'Neill, and he hadn't exactly been helpful to her before, especially considering that he must have known most of McKay's history with the Program. She didn't see any way Teal'c could enlighten her; the two had never met, so far as she could find.
Dr. Jackson was a different matter. He claimed to have fuzzy memories, since that period was before his Ascension, which came across as an excuse for fudging any detail he cared to. When he determined what she knew and suspected, he declined to clarify anything that had happened with McKay at the SGC but advised her to hire him. She related what little McKay had told her about Atlantis and his knowledge about the search, emphasizing that McKay wanted to be in charge of all the scientists. Jackson considered that and said he and his small staff wouldn't be reporting to McKay, but he otherwise saw no problem with that. The light reflected eerily off his glasses as he added that McKay would be valuable, and she was pretty sure he knew exactly what he was doing but she still found it unnerving enough to agree and end their meeting quickly.
McKay ran a successful business, with employees; that should be enough. She could make that work. She just hoped McKay really knew what he was getting into.
[Rodney tells Jeannie he needs her to take Max. She misunderstands, asking where (and possibly why he can't just do it), and he has to tell her he means take the cat into her home -- or at least find another good home, promise not to dump him at a shelter or something, she wouldn't do that, right? She asks why and he explains that he's leaving. This is his moment; what he's been waiting for, what he's been building towards. She may think he's just dropping out again. He tells her that this is his Madison. She asks incredulously if he got someone pregnant. He starts to say of course not but then takes offense at the emphasis she put on you , because of course he could -- but that's not the point, no. It's a metaphor, which she should understand, being married to an English major and all. This project is for him what Madison was and is for her. He'll be far away, the other side of the world, for a few months; and then, if everything goes right, he'll be much farther away than that and out of communication for … a year? He guesses that but can't know for certain. He says he'll try to visit between the two stages.]
[Rodney learns that Elizabeth had been considering Kavanagh as head of science before learning of him, which … no, just no. Between Elizabeth's careful comments and his own knowledge, he knows the SGC wants one of their people -- and preferably also an American -- in charge, because they want someone loyal to them. He knows that the first time his lack of loyalty to any other agency was effectively the same thing and he was clearly best qualified, but in his absence the SGC has been pushing for what they see as the best remaining option. Whether or not this is made explicit between them, Elizabeth agrees to have Rodney in charge and to let him choose his second, to signal to the SGC that she doesn't intend to let them have that much control -- they already have her, to an extent, and Sumner, so Rodney would be a good signal to the other participating countries that the US will not be the only voice. (That's likely another reason for him to have been chosen the first time around -- symbolically non-US but effectively US-linked and SGC-linked.)]
[In Antarctica, Rodney tosses off information, not having to work for it but trying not to move them too quickly. He's careful to try to keep his relationship and interactions with Beckett as close to the first time around as possible, because he needs Beckett to develop the gene therapy and can't risk a chaos derailing of that research. Zelenka finds him surprising, and at first must deal with an unwanted bit of hero-worship that quickly becomes confused when he learns that Rodney was previously affiliated with the Stargate program -- so his startling insights are not actually quite so innovative as Radek first suspected. But McKay's work has not crossed any lines … though once he starts thinking about it, he realizes what Rodney has done with negative space. He also pays attention to Rodney's wariness of certain American personnel; half his life was spent being profoundly aware of the politics around him, and that is not an instinct one simply disregards.]
[Daniel, when he is there, is bemused. Rodney never, ever looks at anything bearing any portion of the Atlantis address. He already knows they need eight symbols but tries not to spoil that too early. When the Sheppard-and-O'Neill visit is approaching, he is clearly distracted. (Jack may ask why he's not looking at anything; Daniel may jokingly say McKay has a whiteboard phobia. If so, Rodney will snark back that, oh, yes, he lives in mortal terror of dry erase markers.) Canon starts with Weir exiting the lift and O'Neill announced as 20 minutes out, Grodin at the drone, and Beckett fleeing the chair. Daniel then summons Rodney and Elizabeth ("Ah! Just the people I need to see," walking away, coming back, "Come with me.") from there to reveal the "eight symbols" approach. Rodney had been working on interfacing the tech. When O'Neill is ten minutes out, Rodney hauls Beckett to the chair and tells him, "This time, just try to imagine an image of where we are in the solar system." Carson dithers, activates the chair, and promptly launches the drone. Weir and Jackson had been headed up but go back down. Rodney harangues and Weir coaxes Beckett to shut the drone down. When Sheppard and O'Neill have jumped out and the drone deactivates, Ford reports they're back en route, seven minutes out, with Weir and McKay and Jackson all present. ("Major Sheppard is reporting the drone appears to have been incapacitated. Gen. O'Neill's helicopter is unharmed and on its way again. Seven minutes out." Weir says, "Thank god"; Beckett, "Holy crap". When Beckett summons everyone to come see, after O'Neill says he said not to touch anything and Sheppard says he just sat down, Rodney says, "Major, think about where we are in the solar system." As O'Neill is leaving, Weir reveals she has asked Sheppard and he has said no.)]
Funny thing about reliving a life -- every rare now and then, Rodney actually had extra time. There was only so much for him to do in Antarctica, since he didn't have to spend most of his time working out what didn't work. He actually had the occasional minute free to waste on that "management" nonsense he was saddled with as a consequence of his position.
As much as he had bitched about his staff in Atlantis, they were some of the best minds the world had to offer. At least, most of them were. Of the nations participating in the expedition, nearly every one selected from their best and brightest. The US sent the ones they thought they could afford to lose. Rodney knew he had been sent the first time because he wasn't Carter. He knew that every one of the top-tier scientists in the US, in or out of the program, had been unavailable whether they liked it or not. He heard enough to be sure the same ethic applied to the first-year military contingent, with its remarkable lack of officers. He was pretty clear on what they had thought of Sheppard at the time, and it made him wonder just why they were so eager to get rid of Elizabeth. Jokes about the Island of Misfit Toys were popular with the North Americans for pretty clear reasons.
Of course, the US lived up to every opinion Rodney had ever had about their discerning judgment. Their inadvertent loss had very much been Rodney's gain. In most cases, at least.
And then there were the rest. Like Kavanagh.
Rodney frowned as he watched from the doorway. Kavanagh was still pressing his point about the vector adjustment factor as the other scientist tried to get him to move on to the actual problem. Rodney didn't happen to know precisely what they were working on right that second, or the other scientist's name, or even what language the guy was speaking, but anyone with eyes could have seen that the guy was trying to convey that Kavanagh's point didn't matter .
Kavanagh was really just a symptom, but he was the most visible one and, to an extent, the most serious. Pretty much all of the others had been -- would be, whatever -- cowed by Rodney into either competence or invisible ineffectiveness. Kavanagh had been one of the few defiant ones.
Rodney could take this chance to get rid of him. He could manage the little that Kavanagh had contributed in that first year himself. For a little more work he could spare the entire expedition quite a lot of stress. Not least himself.
He hadn't known Kavanagh would be that bad until too late, until they were all stranded in Pegasus. The man simply hadn't comprehended that they were alone , that no one cared about his inane formal complaints, that they had to make snap decisions and live with the consequences. He hadn't wanted to figure that out. He hadn't given a damn about trying to work with the rest of them. Rodney certainly understood the need to climb past others to get ahead, but he also had the sense to know when that ethic didn't apply. Kavanagh had spent all his energy logging slights and decisions he disagreed with when he should have been concentrating on helping everyone stay alive, including himself.
Which meant either Rodney got rid of him now, or he would have to try to figure out how to give the guy a clue where months of Wraith threat hadn't succeeded. Although … he did still have Carter's device. He could --
He could ….
"Kavanagh. A word."
Kavanagh gave him a dirty look but followed him back to the grotto that served as his office. Rodney crossed his arms. "Why are you here?"
"What do you mean?" Kavanagh asked suspiciously.
"You can't work with people. You get hung up on your own solutions even when you're shown you're wrong, or even when you're right about something minor and you need to set it aside and focus on the major problem. If you haven't noticed, we've all had to live in each other's pockets for months, and we're about to head somewhere where we probably won't have anything but each other. Why are you here instead of back at the SGC, where you can be annoying and stubborn and then go home at night and order take-out?"
Kavanagh gaped at him for several seconds. "This is a civilian mission," he said finally. "I'm tired of answering to the military. They have no respect for researchers."
"You really think that's going to make much of a difference? In case it's escaped your notice, I'm pretty much a bastard. I'm never going to make nice. If you're wrong, I'm going to say so. If you do something stupid, I'm going to mock you. Publicly. The same way I will everyone else. You're not going to be in charge, even when I'm not around. You answer to me, I answer to Dr. Weir, and where we're going, she answers to no one." That was a lie, because Elizabeth answered to all of them, but Kavanagh wouldn't see it that way. "The military will have a presence, and she'll pay just as much attention to them as she does to us. If you waste our valuable time composing your infamous complaints, you'll just piss us off -- well, and give us something else to burn for fuel if we're desperate. But I can promise you that if it comes to that, you'll only end up making things worse for yourself." He wouldn't let it get to the point of threatened torture this time -- he wouldn't leave one of his people that undefended again, or let any of them sink that low -- but Atlantis had a wealth of benign ways to make someone miserable.
Kavanagh's eyes narrowed. "You just can't wait to establish your own little fiefdom, can you? You couldn't hack the program, and then you washed out at software, so you --"
Rodney put up a hand to cut him off and Kavanagh, surprisingly, shut up, looking alarmed. Rodney seized hold of his temper, strangling it into submission. "Go. No , you idiot, I'm not kicking you out of the expedition. Get out of my office . Go figure out why you're here in the first place. Have an answer by the time we're back at the SGC or transfer back to them. Your choice."
He waited until Kavanagh's stupid ponytail had vanished before sitting down. He rested his head on the desk because he should have been heading to the mess hall, dazed, joining his team to tell them with shock, "I was nice to Kavanagh." That would have been half for show and half for real, because that statement was the only way he could really say that he had caught himself thinking about doing to Kavanagh what Carter had done to him, or that he had seen a little of himself in Kavanagh's sneer. It was the only way he could have said that he had empathized with the little weasel, even for a moment.
And Sheppard should have been reaching over to press a hand against his forehead, claiming with faux sincerity to be checking for fever. And Ronon should have been raising a skeptical eyebrow, holding his tongue but storing the moment for some stealthy joke later, when he could catch one of them off guard and with a full mouth. And Teyla should have been chiding all of them and praising Rodney for unexpected maturity, but with that slightly mystified tone that meant she was just as surprised as the rest of them but didn't want to show it.
And they should have had plans for some stupid team event that night, and he should have been having to account for Torren, and he should have been millions of light-years away, and he should have been warm ….
"Ach, Rodney, lad, when I said you needed to get more sleep, this isn't exactly what I meant."
Rodney sat up, blinking in dimmed light. "What? Oh. Carson?"
Hands tightened on his upper arms. "That's right, lad. Come along now. Let's get you into a proper bed for a change."
Rodney pushed himself to his feet and ran his hand over his face, the movement tugging at a blanket that hadn't been around his shoulders earlier. "I'm fine," he muttered, trying to move away from Carson without tripping over his own chair. "And what, are you the paid spokesman for the mattress industry or something?"
Carson chuckled. "They couldn't afford me. Now come along." He steered Rodney easily from the room.
Rodney could have resisted. He could have forced himself fully awake, and if he did that at this point, he could get in hours of irritable progress. Warmth danced at the edge of his consciousness, though, and he let Carson guide him to a bed. Sinking back in would only make facing everything else harder later, but if that was going to happen anyway he might as well enjoy the sensation of home a little longer.
[Rodney asks Elizabeth who she has planning provisioning for the trip, once it's common knowledge that they're heading out of the galaxy. He gets her talking about what they'll need and, when asked what he thinks they'll encounter, gestures around. She should consider the possibility that the MALP will show them an intact space with breathable air, so that they go through, but they may have no functioning gate network, no way back, and no arable land or society to trade with. (He will also, in briefings, mention the possibility that they'll end up on a colony ship, or underwater, or on a satellite, or on a remote mountain, or in a desert; they can't trust that they'll be able to have anything they don't bring. He expects to re-contact Earth in a year, but he can't know whether Earth will have been compromised by then, as history may go differently … and he remembers the midyear shortages they went through and all the little comforts they lacked. He will also make sure to have someone for ocean mapping and someone working on caffeine-source hydroponics.) Shortly before leaving, Rodney gives Daniel a present: a copy of The Origin of Species , which Daniel notes he's already read, and a DVD of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which Daniel notes he's already seen) with a cheap bow stuck to it. He refuses to explain why, smiling mysteriously. He means to rest up, knowing what he has to do once they're through, but he's too wired to rest; then there's all the last-minute prep and hooking up the ZPM for the long-distance call to Pegasus. Before the gate opens, he tells everyone to stay within 100 feet / one room of the gate, no exceptions and that includes military , because they'd better wait for him to make sure all environmental measurements are safe and they're not about to trip something to kill them all. (He needs to hold power drain to minimum.) Gene carriers he tells not to stray more than ten feet from the gate and to activate nothing. As they step through, Daniel (if this is his POV) notices his expression of anticipation.]
And that's where "Resolve" would end.