Characters: Ancient!John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Sam Carter, Alison Porter, Anne Teldy
Pairings: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, Sam Carter/Jack O'Neill (background)
Summary: Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.
Series: part 2 of #39 in the Ancient!John 'verse (part 1). Part of Locality.
Notes: Yes! Yes, I know, it took forever to get this done, but combine writer's block with the busiest month ever and you have this October. I'm spending more time on campus than I am at home and between work, my scholarship commitments, the tutoring I do and the various other bits and bobs I've gotten dragged into, it's a wonder this ever got written at all.
1) Vindicta is one of two Victoria-class lintres John built while Ascended. Her name means vengence and she's the linter John prefers. 2) Erecura is the 7th moon of Arimanus, the 5th planet in the Loegrian system, and is an obsucure diety related to Persiphone. Which makes sense because Arimanus is a type of devil. 3) Yes, I know Alison Porter in SGA is a physist of some sort, but the actress who plays her also played Ezri Dax in DS9 and that is how I see her always. So now she is a psychologist - and about ten years younger than she appears in SGA, for late 20s. 4) Putting these two halves together feels vaguely scizophrenic to me. I hope it works out.
2 August, 2007 – in via Erecurae
Like everything else aboard Vindicta, the engine room appears not so much as to have been designed as ripped straight from the minds of Gene Rodenberry, Isaac Asimov, and the folks behind the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.
While not quite as elegant as the Ancient ships they've managed to recover – Aurora, Thetis, and the short-lived Orion – the Victoria-class battleship is still a marvel of engineering, seamlessly melding Ancient style with Tau'ri substance. The upper eleven decks are a warren of rooms and corridors, following some design aesthetic incomprehensible to human minds, but the lowest is given over entirely to the engine room, which in turn is given over to the pair of hyperdrive generators that run the length of the vessel. For what Sam presumes are stability reasons, these have been placed directly along the spine of the ship, with only a two-metre wide walkway between them.
She finds Rodney working on the starboard generator near the aft of the ship, apparently engaged in a lively argument with the instrument panel:
"Alright you ungrateful waste of metal," he says, gesturing testily at the exposed wiring of offending technology with a Phillips-head in one hand and a coffee cup in the other, "you listen to me: there is absolutely no reason for you to be malfunctioning: none at all. You were working perfectly after the battle, so I can only assume this is some sort of payback for ignoring you since we came back from Asuras. And if that's the case, take it up with your pater, because it is entirely his fault."
"Rodney McKay," she begins, causing him to jump half-a-mile in surprise, "please tell me that you and your husband did not build a warship in lieu of adopting like normal gay couples."
Yanking his robes off the nearby railing, he uses them to dab at the coffee now covering the front of his tunic. "Blame Rory," he tells her with a glare. "She got it into her head that John's her father and now so do the rest of them. And you owe me a new cup of coffee."
"I didn't think Vindicta was self-aware."
"She's not," Rodney says, tossing his ruined robes back over the railing. "At least, not like 'Lantis or Rory. It takes thousands of years to get to that point. But we copied most the code for her secondary systems directly from Aurora, so Victoria and Vindicta have about the same level of sentience as a cat – right down to the breaking things to get peoples' attention." He turns back to the instrument panel, "So don't you think for one minute that I don't know exactly what you're doing, young lady."
Sam can't help her laugh. "I always suspected you'd be the parent that makes sure the kids eat their vegetables." For a moment she pauses, then, "Have you two ever thought of having kids of your own – real kids, I mean?
"Could you see us with kids?" he snorts, closing up the instrument panel.
"I think John would love to be a dad."
"Are you kidding? He'd be over the moon. But he'll never go for it, not while the war is still going on."
"You don't know that."
"Actually, I do."
"So you have talked about it."
"Something like that…" Rodney mutters, toeing aside the coffee cup, now empty save for the Phillips-head screwdriver, and collecting his ruined robes from the railing. He pulls it on – oil stains and Martinique embroidery and all – and gestures towards the nearest set of rings, some quarter mile down the walkway. "Was there something you actually wanted, or were you just asking to see if Jake might have some intellectual equals when he grows up?"
"Actually," she says, moving to walk along side him, "I was just wanted to ask how John was doing."
Snorting again, "Would you believe me if I said fine?"
This time he sighs, fiddling with a frayed hem for half a city block before answering as if betraying a confidence even to admit, "He's doing better."
"Well, he's not dead. That's certainly an improvement."
"And you're not answering my question."
"He can't remember anything from the past year, is that what you wanted to hear?"
Sam stumbles to a halt mid-step, catching herself on railing. "What?" She can't have possibly heard that correctly. It's been days since John rose from the dead. He's talked to dozens of people, including his entire medical staff and the Third Expedition's physiologist, Alison Porter. No one, least of all Sam herself, had suspected he was missing anything other than the powers he never should have had. Hell, this entire mission to Erecura had been undertaken in the belief that John had remembered something vital from his time as an Ascended being.
But if John's missing a year…
"I know, I know," Rodney says quickly, hands waving in double time. "'Lantis has been filling him in on the details, so that's how he's been able to hide it from us for as long as he has, but he barely remembers anything after Elizabeth died."
She doesn't intend to be as disparaging as she sounds when she asks, "Then where's this let's go to a volcanic moon impulse coming from?"
"Don't ask me. Personally, I'm hoping John was smart enough to realize that there were things we needed to know that he wouldn't be able to remember after he Descended and so left mental post-its for himself. It's a bit of a stretch, I know, given the number of times he died last month, but I hold out hope."
"This isn't good, Rodney."
"You're telling me? I'm the one he doesn't remember getting married to."
"What if there's nothing there?"
"The outpost is there," he insists, coming to a halt beside the ring transport platform they had to have cannibalized from some uninhabited planet, as the SGC had done for the 304s, though it seems impossible for them to have recovered the number of rings needed to make a twenty-two kilometre long battleship practical in as short a time period as they did. "Or, at least, it was – the Ancient database agrees on that much. I don't care how geologically active the moon is, something has to have survived the last ten thousand years."
"But what if it's not what he thought it would be?
"John's a big boy. He'll get over it."
"He's not stable."
"He's not hurting himself. He's not hurting anyone else. I think that's about all we can ask for right now."
The thing is, anyone who's spent five minutes with John knows that what he needs to be doing is spending some quality time in a nice padded room, not piloting one of the most advanced warships in the universe halfway across the system on the off chance that ten thousand years of volcanic eruptions haven't destroyed whatever puzzle piece he thinks might be there.
Because as good an act as John has been putting on, no one believes he's firing on all cylinders at the moment – not even Rodney, who's so keen to have his husband back that he seems willing to overlook nearly all the signs screaming out that John's not fine, that John's not okay, that he'll never truly be okay ever again.
Because there are some things that people just don't bounce back from.
"Have you always wanted to be a pilot?" Doctor Porter asks, her boundless enthusiasm unflagging even after twelve hours in flight.
Iohannes is tempted to ignore her, as he has for the last eleven hours. If he'd had his way, the psychologist would not be part of this mission at all, but Sam had made her presence a condition for borrowing the Expedition's geologists to check out Erecura. As much as he would rather pretend the entire field of psychology does not exist, he and Rodney had agreed that there was no point in investigating a geothermal energy research station without geologists in case the moon itself had something to do with the puzzle piece that should be there.
But Iohannes is far from patient at the best of times and the final hour of a twelve-hour journey is not the best of times by anyone's measure. He shares a look of exasperation with Major Teldy – Sam's other condition, who's flipping through a Regency romance over at the weapons console – before giving in and saying, "I think people who don't want to fly are crazy."
The grin Porter gives him manages to come across as innocent rather than exploitive, although that's almost certainly what it is. "I don't know much about it, but you seem to be very good. Actually, people tell me you're one of the best they've ever seen. I suppose you'd have to be to manage a ship this size. Did it take a lot of training?"
"Flying comes naturally to pastores."
"And you've been a pastor since you were five years old."
"Someone's been reading my file," Iohannes snorts, turning his attention back to the forward viewscreen.
Like the linter's exterior, Vindicta's bridge has a vaguely delphine shape, with a squat, narrow protrusion just large enough for two consoles jutting out from the gentle curve towards the bow that began twenty kilometres back. Three huge viewscreens follow this curve, rising from the deck plating and arching inward to meet each other at the centre of the overhead, allowing for a full view of the emptiness around them. Though they can function as typical display screens – magnifying objects and presenting heads-up displays, - they typically act as windows, turning Vindicta's bridge into one large observation deck.
Two sets of doors punctuate the stern wall, neatly dividing the master display panels into operations, life support, and engineering sections. Along the curving bow are four oversized consoles, running tactical, navigation, flight control, and communications from port to starboard, with the middle two tucked into the dolphin's nose while weapons and comms hang a further back, a little farther off to the side. A captain's chair sits in the centre of it all, still wrapped in plastic sheeting for want of enough officers to command the fleet.
The bridge is kept dark most of the time. What light there is usually takes on the deep, relaxing glow of display panels and computer controls operating under standard conditions, but with Arimanius getting awfully big in the window, everything has taken on an unhealthy umber glow, turning the controls beneath his fingers a moulted brown.
His fingers themselves are hideous – sick and sepia-toned, like an early Terran photograph or something fished out of a fetid pond – and Iohannes can scarcely bear to look at them. He has seen enough corpses in his life. He doesn't need to imagine himself as one, not when he can imagine the cells in his newly formed body dying one by one. He is a child of the stars. Slowly, to the stars he will return.
Arimanius doesn't hold his interest for long.
Porter gives him that smile again, all cheekbones and pursed lips, the one that should worry him more than it does. No one would ever call her beautiful, but there's a certain prettiness about her that cannot be denied, especially when she smiles. Joy lights up her entire face; he can easily see some young man or woman devoting their life to trying to make her laugh for that reason alone.
It's quite likely he'd like Alison Porter if she'd chosen a different profession. She has the same bright, indefatigable nature Teyla does, albeit lacking the refinement age and experience will bring. Her quiet humour is enough to keep what sessions he's been unable to avoid from being unbearable, but she's is still a psychologist. She still asks questions Iohannes would rather not think about, let alone discuss with anyone, and refuses to allow him to leave until he's answered to her satisfaction.
He tries to avoid as many sessions as he can.
"It's my responsibility to learn everything I can about my patients," she says, as if she knows what track his thoughts have taken and cannot help but be amused.
"Nobody can learn anything about a person from a file."
"Well," she admits, the corner of her mouth twitching upwards, "it's far from ideal, I'll give you that, but it's better than nothing."
"Is this the part where you tell me off for dodging our appointments?"
This time, her smile reaches her eyes. "It's like you can read my mind."
"I had wondered. Colonel Carter had mentioned that telepathy was an ability some of Ascended beings have. Now, I know you're not Ascended anymore, but you're still fairly close to it – Doctor Beckett told me that, if you weren't as close to it as you are, they probably would have lost you on the operating table right after you Descended, – so I wondered if you still had any of the abilities. It certainly would explain some things."
"There are no more Ascended beings. There is no more Ascension."
"How is that even possible?"
"I suffer from an overdeveloped sense of vengeance," he says lightly, even as his knuckles go white on flight controls. In the Jovian's light they appear wan and sallow, and he has to swallow to keep from being ill. He has seen a thousand corpses, but lately even the thought of one is almost more than he can bear.
Maybe mortality isn't all that he remembered.
Or maybe he's just getting old.
Porter laughs. It's even better than her smile. "I don't think that."
"A man with vengeance issues? He would have taken out the Wraith first chance he got, regardless of what the Others threatened to do to everybody else. No, I think what you have is an overdeveloped sense of responsibility."
"Well what d'you know," Iohannes says even more lightly still. "Psychology is good for something after all." Then, without waiting for a response, he reaches across the console and switches over to internal communications and announces to the linter at large, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking. We will be entering Molniya orbit of the volcanic moon of Erecura in fifteen minutes. If you want to adjust your watch, it is currently 40:36 at the research outpost. The weather in its vicinity is a Level Three hazard warning for both toxic agents and extreme cold, but inside it is a balmy 22.3 degrees Celsius. We wish you a pleasant stay on Erecura and hope to see you again very soon. On behalf of the crew, thank you for choosing the Lantean Argosy for all your space travel needs."
Porter gives him a knowing look as he switches off the Tannoy, but luckily says nothing. What, in fact, is there to say that hasn't already been said?