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On Atlantis, Biro possesses at any given time exactly seventy-two pens in blue and black ink. Forty of these are in her room under lock and guard. Another twenty languish in the bottom right drawer of her desk, rolling around underneath The Best of Gay Erotica 1998-1999, which is usually enough to scare away any sticky-fingered Marines. The rest are clipped onto her person: somewhere, anywhere. She's the pathologist whose voice is loud, loud, and trails pens like a dove dropping feathers.

It's a fairly harmless neurosis, albeit one she's been teased for her entire life. The 'Lanteans teased her too, but that stopped when they started running out of office supplies, and they couldn't really be bothered to start it up again once the Daedalus brought things like Post-Its and Ho-Hos, as well as an XO who painted sunsets, and a thing that may or may not have been a bomb, and may or may not have been hidden somewhere on Atlantis. She suspects they've mostly forgotten. In this way, she knows that she belongs.

(Her personal item was a box of roller-ball Biros, point two cubic meters, 120 blue pens plus 5 free. It was either that or a framed picture of her ex-girlfriend. It was a new galaxy; she should have practical, useful things. She might have reconsidered had it been a picture of her ex-girlfriend's dog, who turned out to be much more personable than the ex-girlfriend.)

She is the most popular doctor with the Athosian children, who prefer her pens to the lollipops the other doctors give out - their tongues have not gotten used to the acrid taste of processed sugar, though Carson is well on his way to converting them. She can sympathize with their choice. Pens are useful, exciting, they carry a promise of creation inside them like ink. The children use them to scribble over their sections of their white-canvas homes, driving their elders absolutely nuts, and when the ink dries up the pens become swords, blasters, chopsticks, pick-up sticks, poke-it-to-see-if-it-moves sticks, jewelry.

When she flies to the mainland to prod bruises and wipe noses, now, they tail her about her rotation and find every excuse to bump into her, or trip her - swarm around her like tiny young planets orbiting a sun - their hands reaching for lab-coat lapels and into pockets, searching for goodies. It's a game they play, to see who can take the most from the slow, simple Tau'ri, and they shriek and scatter whenever they think they've been caught - running past the adults who pay them no mind. Running into their homes, frame-built homes that Dr. McKay refers to as "huts", and Dr. Weir as "dwellings". From the air the Athosian settlement is all white domes, like eggs in a nest settled into loamy soil, but on the ground, the flashes of interiors she sees are dark like lungs, or wombs, rippled with wooden veins.

"Dr. Biro," they call, "Dr. Biro. Can I have a Dr. Biro, please?" the more polite ones ask. Thanks to Dr. McKay's more infrequent - yet memorable - visits, they have gotten a bit confused, and think she named the pens after herself.

Always, Biro smiles a good-natured, unsure smile; she has a vague idea that she's being made fun of, but she's not sure what the proper response is - fight or flight, slap them away or give out her pens herself - so she stands there and takes it. Athosian children, she reasons: so solemn, too young too fast, they deserve a bit of fun even if it's at the expense of others. She is the type who mistook a childhood bully for a friend.

"Wex!" she booms, "Jinto! So good to see you again!" They turn to her enormous voice as it reaches out to rattle the leaves on the trees, and they stop, as if their names were magic words to turn them into good children again; as if they had been released from some spell, or bound to one. Shame-faced, they slink up to her and wait for their turn to be examined.

"May we have a Dr. Biro, please?" Wex asks, though he has already plucked it from her hair.

"Of course," she says, and starts to palpate his abdomen.

 

*

 

"Lesbians!" Dr. McKay squawks as she hurries by with her tray. "Lesbians!"

"I don't get it," Ronon complains. "Where's the punchline?"

"I believe that was the 'punch line'," Teyla says.

"Oh come on, that was funny," Dr. McKay says, and stuffs another grape into his mouth, hamster-style.

"No it wasn't," Ronon says grimly.

 

*

 

On Atlantis, Biro possesses at any given time a laptop and an iPod, of which she has filled with 12.78 GB of music, and has an extra LaCie, 44.99 GB, when everything she brought became too much for her laptop to stand. It's become her War & Peace - on it she keeps Doctor Who and audiobooks and scans of Catwoman, a guilty pleasure ever since childhood: half-remembered nights of tracing curves with a hesitant finger, under sheets and a flashlight moon. Her handwriting hasn't changed much since then; the Emmy Laura Biro scrawled on the inside covers looks the same as the Dr. Emily L Biro on her luggage tags. Not much has changed at all, to be honest. Her hair is still the same steel-wool brown.

The laptop is government issued, but the LaCie came from Dr. Zelenka. Before departure, all those years past, she hadn't wasted a thought for bringing in contraband but Dr. Winters, whose sister had married a East Berliner after the Wall went down, said: bring cigarettes. They smell, but they don't spill, and they are easy to hide, in your luggage, on yourself. Wrap them in your socks. Wrap them in your underwear. People will trade things for them, useful things. As she found out later, more useful advice would have been bring pornography - it's even easier to hide, in digitalized form, and is more or less a reusable resource as long as no one's planning any stag parties - but she's comfortable dealing with cancer in a way that she's not with sex, perhaps because she doesn't smoke.

("Unfit for off-world duty," she writes on Dr. Moon's physical, in the same childish script. "Diminished lung capacity, heavy smoker. Suggest intervention," which of course is always ignored.)

Biro traded her 138 cigarettes for Zelenka's LaCie and a corner-piece of good chocolate, which went to Dr. Misra when he was having a bad day, and didn't look back. She still has her Best of Gay Erotica, though - a Secret Santa gag gift from a sweet Marine she had slept with, once, who knew Biro couldn't care less about all 304 pages of cocks and asses and asses and cocks. She had apparently sent away to Earth for it; it came in an Amazon box, and over the mailing label, someone had scrawled, CITRUS.

(Of course, everyone from here to Cheyenne probably peeked inside to look. The Marine had addressed it to Dr. Emily Biro, c/o Cheyenne Military Base, Deep Telemetry Project. A few weeks ago she got a carefully anonymous email asking her to contribute it to the cause, though specifically what cause was unclear. She's still deciding whether or not to. Someone should get more use out of it than her, and she likes the thought of a train of giving, exchange for exchange, unfurling between people she has nothing else in common with. On the other hand, Dr. Misra says it will probably end up in some poor Private's locker, and he is usually right.

"Give it to Dr. Weir," he advises. "She could use a little more excitement in her life.")

 

*

 

"So explain this to me again," Weir tries, as Biro patches up up the Colonel's leg. The former had insisted that the briefing take place in the conference room; the latter insisted that the briefing not take place at all, or at least that he didn't have to take part in it while he was suffering from such a grievous, manly wound. Dr. McKay had steamrollered right over both of them. "The Dameshens wanted what, exactly?"

"Nuts," Dr. McKay says sourly. "Specifically, Colonel Sheppard's."

Weir raises a highly sardonic eyebrow.

"Hey, Doc," the Colonel asks, "that isn't going to scar, is it?"

"Oh, no," Biro says. "Well, probably not. Maybe. But you know what they say: ladies love the scars!"

"Relax, Captain Kirk," Dr. McKay says loudly. Usually, he's right in everyone's face, but today he's hovering in the doorway, about as far from the bed as one could possibly be without being out in the hall. A few minutes before, a medic had ran over his foot with a supply cart. "Your usual fanclub will be out in force, just watch."

The Colonel makes a face.

As much they make her feel like an escapee from a Monty Python skit, she infinitely prefers those conversations to the ones that go like this:

"I can't sleep," Lieutenant Ramirez says, dully. Or, "I can't eat. I can't breathe. I need something to help me sleep. To help me eat. To help me breathe." Sometimes it's not him. Sometimes it's a hollow-faced doctor, or a woman soldier, hair lank and stinking.

"No more caffeine for you," she says, or: "Eat more vegetables. Train with Ronon. Do you need an inhaler? Do you want to talk about it?"

"Okay," they say. "Sure. Yes. No. No," and in the mouths of the grieving, there is no difference between any of the answers.

Sometimes, though, they talk. Sometimes, though, they tell her: it was just a thing. Or, I think she loved me. Or, Doc, I think you should ask someone to take my gun away. My shoelaces away. My knives.

Sometimes, they say, I can't.

"Poor Danny Ramirez," Dr. Misra clucks. "Poor Knox, but poor Ramirez. Luckless bastard, to be the one left behind."

 

*

 

On Atlantis, Biro possesses at any given time a voice that fills a room before she steps through the door. People for the most part prefer her to shut up, but she has always been proud of her talent, reliant on it - the substance of it - where her body could not make up the gaps. Until she hit middle-age, she had always been a very skinny woman. As a child people said: weirdo. Runt. Boy-girl. Girl-boy. She could fill a room with a thousand decibels. In college, the repertoire of words expanded to include: lezzie. Queer. Dyke, both bull- and not. Lesbian. It was generally accepted that something was strange about her, the loud kid who couldn't shut up or censor what she said, who knew three words for skull by her eighth birthday, but Biro didn't really see how a fondness for cunt could explain any of that. By the time she went to work for the military, of course, new words were used: ADD. ADHD. Asperger's. Low-level OCD. Compulsions. (Her mother: "I always knew Emily was different, but she seemed so normal.") Strange words, words like shoes three sizes too big or a language she doesn't speak.

Despite or perhaps because of them, she lives on an alien planet, though for the most part she does not notice a difference from being on Earth. There she doctors to bodies both living and dead. Biro talks to herself as she cuts into Bobby Knox's head, but the dead don't listen to much, and her big, big voice, her fat-man voice, it works so much better on the living.

 

*

 

"Dr. McKay!" she orders. "Dr. McKay, hold still. Don't panic. Don't move."

She asks: "Has the bleeding stopped yet?"

She says: "Hold him steady."

She says: "Colonel, please. Everything is going to be fine."

 

*

 

Thirty-five hours and fifty-one minutes later, Dr. McKay is well out of surgery: the scrubs are bundled off to laundry; clamps disinfected; IV, monitors, and Colonel Sheppard clustered around his bed like worried relatives. "No change?" she asks when she comes in, but it's apparently too loud, because Dr. McKay stirs and the Colonel shoots her a look that would have another woman afraid. Instead, it flows over her like an oil slick, blackness on water.

"I'll be going then," she says, cheerfully, off to walk her rotation. All other patients are sleeping, or possibly dead; the two moons are hung high in a sky that's star-pricked, like an inverted X-ray, painfully bright. In the shadows, the shape of Dr. McKay is grotesque, a Quasimoto or two-headed Hydra. She frowns, walks closer: the shadows resolve not into one body, but two, the Colonel sitting on the edge of the bed, reaching to grasp Dr. McKay's wrist; taking a pulse, she realizes. Thumbing a little at the vein there. Glancing around and then kissing him, high on his forehead, where a butterfly bandage meets skin.

"Oh," she thinks, but it's not enough, she's full to bursting with the secret and so she cups her hand over her mouth and speaks it. The sound of the enormous whisper spreads and spreads until it rocks the planet, sending up little wavelets on the mainland shore, seismographs jumping in their storage containers, schools of fish knocking against each other like marbles -

"I think the earth moved," Dr. McKay says, hoarsely, bleary with pain and sleep.

"Why, Rodney," the Colonel says, and his hands do not shake as smoothes out the blanket, "we haven't even gotten to the good part yet,"

- and then she uncovers her mouth and wipes it on her pants, because there is a little moisture on it, just damp breath-residue, and goes to the other side of the infirmary: certainly not to give them any privacy, because why would two friends need it, but to recount the 405 alcohol swabs and 200 dressings and 67 bandages they keep on a rack there. It's a very important job, after all. With the military especially, one missing rag, one thing out of place, can send the whole creature into chaos. Of course she doesn't want that to happen.

She is, after all, a very helpful and orderly person.