I wrote a strange, sort of bittersweet story of a potential future. It's very stylised, and was lots of fun to write-- and owes its breezy, fragmented tone to James Goss's Torchwood book Almost Perfect, which I was reading as I wrote it. There's lots I want to talk about in relation to the writing of this story-- it is the same plot that I wanted to write at the outset, but told in a completely different way. I simply didn't have the time to write the straight-up narrative version of the epic, spanning story I wanted to tell, and instead went with a skipping, piecemeal narrative that (I think) changed the kind of story that ended up being told.
There are lots of lacunae, and the story is heavily focused on John and Rodney, despite my love of team and ensemble, so I wrote two ficlets to accompany it as prizes for the Guess The Author contest-- congratulations to the winners. They can both be read independently, I think.
saving the world (filling in forms)
Richard Woolsey makes a choice. Drabble for Like Gravity (It Doesn’t Matter If You Believe In It))
Richard breaks a nail against the Ancient datapad in his hand; three drops of blood fall from the edge of his fingernail. The machine does not hiss or stutter, it just calmly absorbs the liquid, like a porous pagan altar. His own voice sounds faraway and tinny as he asks, “What should I tell them, John?”
He looks up briefly at the sound of his name but settles his eyes on a point just below Richard’s right shoulder so that his entire expression is slightly hooded. Richard knows he isn’t the first commander to face this particular side of Sheppard, but he’s surprised at how much it hurts to see him like this after so many years: closed-off, wary, suspicious. John’s arms rest lightly against his sides and his shoulders slope down slightly, his body sitting in a curve on the chair. The relaxation somehow gives the impression of being as taut and military as most other officer’s salutes.
The datapad blinks to life and spews out a detailed analysis of Richard’s genome. He scrolls past it with his thumb, coughing a little when he sees his percentage chances of Alzheimer’s, of various kinds of cancers. A little box at the bottom blinks a readout of his lifetime exposure to harmful radiation (most of it, he thinks, was probably in the Pegasus galaxy) and the associated likelihood of genetic mutation. Just another piece of knowledge he didn’t particularly want to have.
John sets his hand down on the table across from him, and the dull thump of flesh connecting with brushed metal makes Richard fumble the pad and then set it down. John is looking straight at him with the edges of a smile on his lips. “I don’t know,” he says slowly. “What should you tell them?”
His throat is dry, and he’s probably blinking a bit too much-- and it’s not the light, as much as he wants to believe that. “I--,” Richard finds himself at a loss for words and so shuffles some papers around, as if arranging them in some way forces his thoughts into order. He knows it’s a strange affectation, but it brings him comfort-- and he can’t quite deny himself that. Not here, on the cold edges of the universe with space pressing so thinly from every side. “I’ll tell them whatever you ask me to, John,” he says, and then blinks again. He finds that they aren’t just words; he means them.
He blinks back, probably as caught out by Richard’s sincerity as he himself was (and he’s not afraid to chuckle at himself a little bit-- surprise, surprise, Richard B. Woolsey, professional bureaucrat and stick-in-the-mud is capable of sincerity). “You don’t just tell the USAF and the IOA to go fuck themselves.”
Richard takes the profanity for what it is: a deliberate familiarity, a wary attempt at trust. “If you ask me to, John, I’ll do just that. Possibly in less colourful terms,” he allows, with a small smile. “There isn’t a soldier or scientist on his base that wouldn’t. You’ve earned their respect. And mine.”
John slumps in his chair even more, his expression wrinkled and turned inwards. Like a schoolboy. “I, uh-- appreciate that,” he says, voice surprisingly rough. An instant later though, he’s sitting up in his chair, all military-posture and easy-grin. The transformation is so sudden that Richard could almost believe he imagined the unsure slump, the unsteady voice that nearly cracked. “Orders are orders, sir,” he shrugs. “I think they’d probably be pretty miffed if I took my sweet time reporting Earthside.”
The unsurety flickers back on John’s face. “I’m sure,” he says, with a quick nod. “I can’t ask--,” he stops, and then lets out a deliberate breath. “Not on my account.” John stands up and gives Richard a shallow, quick grin before heading for the door. He hesitates with his hand by the sensor and then half-turns. “Richard,” he says, looking a bit pained. “I know we give you a hard time, but, uh-- I hope you, y’know--…”
Richard smiles fondly and waves John off. “I know,” he says, smile deepening when John shoots him a grateful look and escapes. The door slides shut behind him and Richard slumps at his desk, suddenly exhausted. John’s reassignment orders are in a neat pile in front of him. He reaches out for the nearest pen, pulls off the cap with unecessary force and signs them before he has a chance to change his mind.
He leans back in his chair and swallows down his feelings; it’s not the first time he’s betrayed a friend, and he’s old enough to know it won’t be the last. He wishes John had been a little less kind-- but really, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t get easier, and it couldn’t possibly get any worse.
(It’s almost ten months before he has the courage to look Dr. McKay in the face again, but even when he does, all he sees is a litany of his own small failures.)
intergalactic politics (intersections with family life)
Teyla’s glad that the Pegasus Galaxy doesn’t have tabloids. Yet. Drabble for Like Gravity (It Doesn’t Matter If You Believe In It)
Torren holds his arms straight out by his sides and yells, “Jumper! Jumper!” as Teyla rolls her eyes and tries to remind herself of the reasons that John and Rodney are her friends. Ever since their visit to Earth twelve season-lengths ago, Torren had started to demand to be swung in the air like various flying-craft. Rodney’s unfortunate addition to this little predeliction had been an iPod full of recordings of the distinctive engine and rotor noises of each craft.
Kanaan catches her eye as he bends down and scoops Torren up in a wide arc around the room. “Tell me again why we let your friends near our son?”
“They give him many gifts.”
“Noisy, dangerous gifts,” Kanaan sighs.
“Yes,” she agrees solemnly. “I have no idea why we let my friends near our son.”
As if on cue, there’s a cough and a rough tinkle of a bell from outside their door, followed by a quick knock that brings a smile to her face as she recognises it. Teyla opens the door and is swept up into a thorough embrace. “Teyla.”
Kanaan hands a squealing Torren over to Ronon with a grin, miming a knife behind Ronon’s back. Teyla smothers a laugh: Ronon is also included in the ranks of her friends who seem incapable of giving parent-and-child-friendly gifts. His last present for Torren was a ceremonial Satedan dagger with a wickedly curved blade that is currently sitting in a locked box on her highest shelf.
Ten minutes later they are sitting and sipping tuttleroot soup while Kanaan distracts Torren outside. “This soup is terrible,” Ronon rumbles, slurping up the last of his bowl and holding it out for another helping.
She raises an eyebrow. “Then perhaps I will not burden you with another portion.”
“Didn’t say that,” he complains, flashing her a quick grin. “I miss it. Reminds me of you.”
Ronon has a way of saying the most devastatingly emotional things with a casual shrug; she fights off the urge to pull him into another embrace. “I have missed you too, Ronon,” she says lightly, trying very hard not to comment on his new scars, and the necklace of teeth-- not all Wraith-- around his neck. “What brings you to New Athos?”
“I was in the neighbourhood?” Ronon offers, borrowing an Earth-phrase as he often does when he is sidestepping a question. She gives him a look. “Working with the Travellers this half-turn. Hunting.”
Teyla wrinkles her nose. “The Travellers are--,” she searches for a diplomatic word. “Unreliable.”
Ronon chuckles. “You mean they like working alone.” She nods her assent: they are the only major group in the Pegasus galaxy yet to send a representative to the Coalition. “That’s good. So do I.”
“Ronon-,” she begins, but he cuts her off.
“They have ships and weapons. That’s all I need.” He shifts slightly, and hands her a slightly stained, folded piece of paper. “They have communication stations all over the Galaxy, too. We intercepted a news databurst from--,” he hesitates minutely before naming their former home. “The Atlantis outpost.”
Teyla unfolds the paper. It’s a scan of a tabloid article. Under a lurid headline is a blurry photograph of John and a dark-haired woman-- Vala, of SG-1-- leaving a hotel in the early hours of the morning. Her mouth tightens as she parses the unfamiliar Earth-script. “I see.” She shifts minutely. “When was this dated?”
“Two weeks ago.”
“Rodney is probably-- as they say, spitting nails.”
Ronon raises an eyebrow that manages to convey the idea that she is probably understating the matter. “Can’t leave them alone for a minute.”
“I will be travelling to Atlantis for a Concord trade meeting next week. I will be sure to send a databurst message to Rodney.”
“He won’t like it.” He grins. “I’ll see if I can swing by.”
“Yes-,” she agrees. “In any case, we are having some trouble with raiders around the Chemaya system. Your expertise would be appreciated.”
Ronon thumbs his blaster absently. “You know my strategy.”
“The Traveler fleet could be valuable in scouting traded routes, and perhaps providing assistance to large convoys. We know they have been having trouble with food supplies,” she adds, significantly: since the lack of Wraith-devastated worlds, the Travelers’ usual practice of scavenging for sustenance was no longer viable.
“I’ll talk to them,” he promises. “Can I give them your word?”
“I Speak for the Concord.”
“Teyla Emmagen’s word would count for more.”
Teyla twists the Speaker’s band around her wrist and tries to ignore the queasiness in the pit of her stomach at the truth of his statement, how her success at peaceful negotiations trades on her bloody reputation. She stills her fingers with an effort of will. “Then you have it,” she says simply; he smiles at her and she smiles back, and that is all there is.
Both of which go with my mcshep_match story...
Like Gravity (It Doesn't Matter If You Believe In It)
what's left after the war is over; a series of snapshots in a life.
( That night, in Rodney’s arms, John dreams of the spaces where the arms of galaxies spray into each other, the collision of asteroids, of looking deep into Rodney’s throat and seeing a spinning field of stellar debris. Humanity has taken to the stars, and it has left garbage in its wake. 5120 words )
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