Re-mixed Story: A Sonnet for Robert Oppenheimer by gaiaanarchy
Warnings/Notes: Written for the gateverse_remix. Sorry this is a day or two late – I had thought we had a week from the initial posting day, and such turned out not to be the case! Oops. And Gaia – I hope you like it, although I suspect it is too bitty. I found remixing your stuff to be incredibly hard, since I really love all of it, just as it is!
Summary: “But Rodney…” says Radek.
“Pracovat, you miserable piece of hovno,” says Radek, before looking up and catching everyone staring at him, gaping like visitors at a zoo. Ah, yes, he is in the Gateroom, isn’t he? Not in his lab. And how often does he have to remind himself of this? He smiles at them widely and pushes his glasses up his nose.
“Ah, it is just power outage. It will be fixed soon.” Fixed again, he should say, perhaps, because it is happening more and more. Not since the early days of Atlantis have the systems been so unreliable. Indeed, he does not remember them being this bad, even then. Something is doing to them what ten thousand years could not. And Radek has ideas about that, oh yes, he does.
“Hey, doc,” says Lorne, his even voice hiding a rough concern, “You wanna get some sleep after this? Edwards can take over, or Sanchez. All the critical systems are back up.”
Radek stares at him, blinking a bit. “You need three more traps, for the black energy creatures. I know this. I received email along with rest of department.”
“But not right now. We need you functioning more.”
And the Colonel is right, and Radek knows it, but it is not easy. He doesn’t like to leave anything half done – something half right, half wrong. It eats at him, at his sleep, at his resolve. But the shadows at the corner of his eyes are almost closing in, and it is time, he knows. He shivers a little, because he’s realised now that they remind him of the ghosts Dumais saw before she died screaming, and it is not a lucky memory, not a good one.
“I will go to bed,” he promises, not saying ‘I will go to sleep’. He does not like lying.
He feels drugged, as he half stumbles from the Gateroom, and briefly contemplates asking Dr Keller for something, before rejecting the idea. If he feels drugged now, what will he feel like when he actually is? The scratchiness of his eyes and itchiness of his skin are sensory memories. He expects to be able to turn and see Rodney, as blind and red-eyed as Radek himself, bitching about Carson and his meanness with stimulants, and the Wraith to be above them in the sky.
He ducks his head and does not think any more. Rodney is far away, and the Wraith are long dead. The phantom taste of champagne is on his tongue, new associations taking the place of old ones.
There is a cot in his lab, and he lies down upon it. He wishes champagne was not so cloying, or so sour. They’ve had to drink so much of it in the last few years.
“We have fought our great fight, but that does not mean that we will not continue to encounter challenges. I do not know where all our roads will lead. But I wish you all the best of luck in your endeavours. It has been an honour,” says Elizabeth, and there are tears in her eyes.
There are tears in Radek’s too. He would wipe them, but that would make his emotion more obvious, and he does not want that. It is a glorious thing that they are doing, this returning to Earth in triumph, he should be happy. He is not even crying for his missed chance, because he does not want to return. Not yet. He will have his day soon enough, after the media circus has died down. He does not really know why he is crying. The Wraith are gone. The whole of the Pegasus galaxy is celebrating – or at least all those parts of it with whom Atlantis is in contact. Ladon of the Genii even sent through flowers. There was a note that made Elizabeth blush, and Radek found his grip on his clipboard becoming strangely tight.
He watches her walk down the lighted steps of the Gateroom, towards the Stargate, beginning to push her way through the jubilant crowd.
She is leaving now. So it does not matter. None of it matters. Radek will be Chief Scientist of Atlantis, and Rodney may go off and bask in his fame as Saviour of the World. They all deserve their rewards, even Radek.
But then Elizabeth turns to him, and her eyes are wet and shining. She should not be so beautiful with her nose pink, but Radek has often noted that Elizabeth is a law unto herself. He gasps a surprised breath when she hugs him, and he can smell flowers, and ozone, and the wide, wide scent of the sea.
Dr Xiaoyi wants another meeting, and Radek feels better, almost normal, or at least able to carry on. Several hours of rest is good enough, nearly as good as sleep. He can get back to the systems, stop them crashing, keep Atlantis running. It worries him, that he has turned into nothing more than a glorified maintenance man, but when has he the time to find out more about the underlying cause?
Xiaoyi is as large and round and sleepy looking as ever. It is deceptive. Fleetingly, Radek wishes it was Elizabeth staring at him across this desk. It is still the same desk, and he even misses the ugly artifacts Elizabeth had a penchant for. Xiaoyi likes traditional Japanese minimalism. There is bamboo in a vase.
Ronon stares at him from the other chair, and Radek wonders why he is here. It brings him to alertness, as nothing else has done. Radek places his mug, with coffee still inside, carefully on the desk, but it still slops slightly. His hands are not shaking. They are not.
Ronon has a different jacket on, wool, not leather. His dreads are tied back. For Ronon, this is almost formal wear.
Xiaoyi opens things. “Ronon has a concern, and I want the Physics Department to reassure him. I understand that with the Wraith threat neutralised, missions that SGA-12 go on may be less than… stimulating, but there’s no need to go inventing problems that aren’t there. Correct, Radek?”
Xiaoyi is smiling, and Radek wants to punch him in the mouth. He is shocked at himself, at the impulse. He must get more sleep.
“What exactly is wrong, please?”
Ronon’s voice rumbles its way down Radek’s spine, as always. It is surprisingly pleasant. “Sateda’s gone.”
Radek blinks at him, and therefore doesn’t miss the tension in Ronon as he states the bald words. His eyes are saying more than his mouth ever does. As ever.
“What do you mean – gone?”
“Ronon has dialled the address, and Sateda is not registering a gate,” says Xiaoyi. “Of course, there could be any number of reasons, not least that the gate could be damaged, perhaps in some natural disaster? An earthquake, perhaps? Or new settlers have decided to take the gate offline for some reason. We don’t know, but it’s hardly an overwhelming concern.”
Ronon squeezes his eyebrows together, and Radek agrees with him. Xiaoyi’s bullshit is greater than usual, and is less plausible when he’s nervous. Ronon makes a lot of people nervous, it is one of his strengths.
“And yet there have been many unexplained phenomena in recent weeks and months, they cannot all be dismissed,” says Radek, glaring at Xiaoyi, “They cannot all be ‘Aurora Borealis effects’. You have not let me study them.”
“But the city,” Xiaoyi protests, “The IOA requires…”
Ronon stands, and Xiaoyi shuts up. It is a pleasure to see.
“I want to find out,” says Ronon.
There’s not much more to the meeting after that.
The Wraith are dying. He should be happy about this. They are winning the war and elsewhere hiveships are crashing into one another, their remnants being drawn down into the nearby gas giant, or spiralling out into space. It is probably quite beautiful. Radek is sure that he should be happy about this, and somewhere, sometime, he is quite sure he is. But right here, right now – Atlantis is meant to fly, was built to fly. But she has not flown for ten thousand years.
The lower levels are groaning. There is a strange smell, like burning rubber, which is odd, no? Because the Ancients did not use rubber. So perhaps it is a universal smell. Burning hydrocarbons. Although the Ancients, of course, would have called it something else. There is the shriek of twisting metal, of over-strained systems. Radek would not like to say that Atlantis is being held together with spit and baling wire, because, right now, he wants some more baling wire – or chewing gum. Or even a bobby pin or two, like his sister wore in her hair when they were both still small. Even that would be a help right now.
The Weapon is holding up, of course. It is still blasting away. Lorne is in position for now, his shift, and Radek watches him concentrate, sees a kind of fierce joy on his face as he deals out destruction and death.
It makes Radek laugh, as he wipes the sweat and grime away, and swaps one burnt out crystal for yet another. Lorne seems startled, but Radek is too in the moment to care. They each have their dance. And Radek will keep his steps, he’ll keep them flying.
They’ll win this pitomý war, if it’s the last thing Radek ever does.
“Tell me about it,” says Radek, as they stand on the bridge of the Orion, on their way to Sateda’s fate.
Ronon grunts and stares at him sideways. He reaches up and pulls a small dagger from his hair and begins to pick his nails. Radek is unimpressed. It is, after all, only a very small dagger. Colonel Holland looks at it with narrowed eyes.
“The monks of Desal’a say it is the end of the world,” says Ronon at last, and Radek clasps his fingers behind his back, rather than exclaim hastily. He probably looks stupidly pompous. Certainly Ronon is raising an amused eyebrow, and it makes Radek want to explain, to have his words rush over themselves, for his English to slip once more. Somehow – somehow the certainty of it, that is what makes it so frightening. The kind of laughter that isn’t quite hysteria, isn’t quite relief, bubbles up inside. Admitting to himself that he has known something is wrong – has known for a while – is liberating. Hearing Ronon announce it so calmly. That is less so.
“Do not jump to premature conclusions,” he tries, more for Holland’s benefit than his own. “We do not know what has happened.”
“If you say so. I don’t know what’s happened – but I know what it is.”
Ronon slides his knife away.
“I was thinking I would take my people home,” says Ronon, “But not now.”
He moves closer, as they stare out of the view-screen, and Radek finds in himself an odd urge to comfort him, although they’ve never been that familiar. Their sleeves brush, leather sliding over fabric, and Radek shivers.
He wishes he could do or say anything at all, when they drop out of hyperspace to an empty orbit, not even the rubble of Alderaan to provide a clue.
“To Rodney McKay. Largest head in two galaxies!” Radek announces, his lips twitching, his genuine pleasure at the occasion only marred slightly by a faint wistfulness. After all, it was he himself who wanted to stay behind on Atlantis, have his opportunities later… Although it feels poor consolation now.
“Hey!” Rodney’s head turns so fast he looks like one of those ducks you shoot at fairgrounds. He had better watch that on the podium, Rodney will not want to look like a stuffed animal in all his many photos.
“Oh, sorry, sorry, ‘brain’. Of course, I meant ‘brain’. I am still so poor with the English, yes?” says Radek, straight-faced.
It is wicked of him, but even now, he cannot let Rodney’s ego have full rein, it is just not in him to do so.
“You're doing just fine, Dr. Zelenka,” says Jeannie, Rodney’s sister, as she pats his arm. Radek has always liked Jeannie, she is accomplished, and more than bright enough in her own right. It might have been her sharing the limelight today – except, remember, Rodney does not share well, and never has, apparently. Radek wonders if his own sister will make the journey to see him win his own Nobel when the time comes.
Of course, she will. And Marjeta will bring little Viktor, and the new baby when it is born, and it will the most marvellous day of his life. Of course, it will.
Idly, he wonders what it will be for – nothing to do with the Zero Point Reactors, Rodney has made that abundantly clear.
Radek takes a sip from the glass of champagne that Colonel Sheppard has just poured. When he is summoned by the Academy, he will not have champagne. He does not like it. He shall have the finest vodka, and Rodney will choke over its strength, and over nothing else. Rodney does not share well, so it will be most satisfying to see him swallow it down, yes?
When Rodney steps forward to make his speech, Radek is smiling, but his mind is far away.
“There was a ZPR overload in section 39, but only a small one. Compensation was automatic and the readings levelled off. The main coupling burned out, and there was a surge in the generator relays, but other than that, it’s been fairly quiet,” says Sanchez, Radek’s second in command. There’s a sly streak to Sanchez, and a small smile is lurking under the serious report.
Radek raises an eyebrow, “Is that all?” and Sanchez grins wider. The sad thing is that it is a good day, and the stone that has sat in Radek’s belly all the journey back from Sateda gets just a little bigger. How can you tell people unacceptable truths? Or, more precisely, how do explain the end of the world?
“And how was your day?” asks Sanchez, as he passes over Radek’s tablet, with all the reports neatly delineated.
Radek stares at him, his office feeling suddenly too small. He wants fresh air for this, the sea breeze in his hair, the size of the ocean offering an illusion of safety.
“Sateda has vanished, Paulo. There is nothing, no debris, no radiation, no evidence of any kind of destruction. It is just… gone.” He snaps his fingers.
Sanchez stares at him. Radek never calls him Paulo. It had seemed fitting, but perhaps he is wrong. Or the potential problems are rolling out in Technicolor detail in Paulo’s mind, somewhat as they did in Radek’s.
“There’s an explanation. There must be.”
Radek smiles without humour. Of course, there is an explanation. There is always an explanation. They are scientists, after all.
“And we must find it. For if it could happen to Sateda, then it could happen to us, no? At any time. That should be enough for Xiaoyi and his IOA.”
Sanchez is not slyly amused any more. He looks worried. Radek is glad of that. He is not the only one.
“But if Merlin was the director of Project Arcturus, he must have known that the weapon could be perfected!” Radek says, raising his voice as he and Rodney hurry through Atlantis’ corridors. Rodney doesn’t even slow down.
“There were problems, big problems, you saw the planet and the graveyard of ships!”
But Rodney is already talking to Dr Jackson, heads bent together, elbows rubbing over datapads. Elizabeth is delicately flushed – speaking Ancient obviously agrees with her. Radek tries to make himself heard, he tries…
“So, wait, if Merlin eventually came up with the right equations, why didn't it work?” asks Sheppard, and Radek wants to say, yes, yes, that is right, Rodney will listen to you.
Instead, Rodney turns on Sheppard, his eagerness making him even more brusque than usual. “Because he didn't figure it out in time. The Ancients were already losing the war. The evacuation to Earth wasn't long after Arcturus failed.”
Radek wants to interrupt, he wants them to slow down. Dr Jackson came through the Gate less than five minutes ago. The war against the Ori is urgent, yes, but not so urgent that they cannot take another five minutes to think, to question…
“But why didn't they try to do it again there?” asks Sheppard again. His face is open, curious. But he wants to be convinced, Radek can tell. He trusts Rodney, more than anyone else perhaps, but Radek cannot blame him for that, they all do. And why shouldn’t he? Sheppard is not a scientist, whatever his skills in mathematics, it is not his place. And he wants this weapon.
No, to question, to check his results, to be rigorous – that is the Radek’s job, and others of his peers. Except that no-one else will dare, and Rodney does not always listen to him.
“I don't know; do I look like a historian?” Rodney is saying, “Maybe they were scared by the first failure. Maybe they didn't have the necessary materials. Maybe they were lazy.”
That is too much, Rodney is coasting on his own ego now, he must… He must at least try.
“Actually, Rodney . . .” Radek begins, but Dr Jackson interrupts.
“We're not sure that the failure on Arcturus wasn't deliberate.”
Rodney is horrified. “What?! Why would the Ancients give up on something that could win the war…”
“Well, as far as I can tell from Merlin's records, there were two sorts of cliques within Ancient society: those fighting the war and those working on Ascension. Now, those working on Ascension didn't care about the war because once they Ascended, they wouldn't have to worry about the Wraith. Normally they tolerated those still trapped thinking on the material plane, but…”
“When there was a weapon that could cause death to a supposedly eternal being, they sabotaged it,” Rodney finishes. He sounds resigned. Radek knows he is anything but.
“Merlin himself was the one to do it – the lone survivor. That's why he was the only one who could come up with a weapon against the Ori. That's why he finally decided to become human again.”
“Or maybe . . .” Radek says, but they are not listening. They do not want to listen. Maybe Merlin became human for another reason. To prevent knowledge of the weapon falling into the wrong hands. To guard against exactly such foolishness as he is witnessing here.
But he is alone in the Gateroom. Frustrated, Radek runs his fingers through his hair, fighting the urge to swear. He is an unlikely Cassandra, but Radek thinks he knows precisely how she feels.
He has collected his tray, and is looking around the mess for somewhere to sit when Teyla waves him over to her table. Radek is surprised, and hopes he does not show it, but he obliges her by heading over, and sets his tray down with a small clatter, uncertainty making him clumsy. It is not that he and Teyla don’t talk, but they are not close. Their lives are so very different. Radek has never wanted to be out in the field. Teyla is never anything else.
Although, Radek thinks, that is not precisely true at the moment. He says hello, and she smiles at him serenely, a queen of her court. The many worker bees – oh, sorry, marines – compete to do her bidding. You would think they had never seen a pregnant woman before. And he finds he shares a real smile with Teyla, secretly, after the latest eager face is sent to investigate the possibility of casala melon juice, freshly squeezed.
“They mean well,” says Teyla, glancing after them fondly.
“Yes, yes. And Denan is grateful too, no doubt, having so many willing hands.”
“Denan will accept such help gracefully – or else. He is only the father, after all,” says Teyla. But her eyes are merry, putting the lie to her words.
“How long is it now?” asks Radek, at a loss for something else to say, feeling as he had with his sister, when she too had grown strange and distant with motherhood.
“Some six weeks, I believe, or so Dr Keller seems to think. He will appear when he appears. However, I wish to know…” She pauses, apparently seeking the correct phrase, and Radek has a sinking sensation in his belly. “I wish to know if he will have a world in which to grow up.”
Teyla still looks serene, she doesn’t appear upset by the implication, only interested. Radek wants to tell her it is not his fault, and then feels ashamed of the urge.
“Ronon,” says Teyla, “Was most definite on the matter. My people say the Sacred Book of the Ages is being rewritten, but for my part, I wish to know what you say, Dr Zelenka.”
She is beautiful, this warrior, this leader of her people. She trusts him, thinks Radek. She deserves more than the prevarications he has been offering himself.
“I think,” he says, carefully, “I think that the universe is being torn apart at its most fundamental level.”
He feels like he’s been running. He feels the sweat break out on his forehead.
“Ah. I had wondered. Thank you for that,” says Teyla. She reaches across the table and takes his hand, patting it gently. “Drink your juice, Dr Zelenka.”
“They will not negotiate, Elizabeth!” Radek is trying not to shout, but he is finding it hard, much harder than it should be. The thought of Wraith stalking the corridors of Atlantis terrifies him, but he does not want Elizabeth to see that, she will believe his motivation is a selfish one, that he is too afraid to do what must be done.
“And even if they will, what are you asking them to become? The IOA are already making noises about assimilation camps. They will be second class citizens, never trusted, always watched. They will be no more than our slaves, dependent on us for food, shelter – their very existence!”
Elizabeth is staring at him open-mouthed, as though he has grown another head. Radek is very conscious that her office is not sound proof. He clenches his fists.
“While I appreciate your opinion, Dr Zelenka,” says Elizabeth – and it’s Dr Zelenka, not Radek, oh, this is very bad – “Carson is certain that the transformation is stable, and that the Wraith…” She checks herself, “The former Wraith will be fully human in all the ways that matter.”
Radek stares at her, blinking, mournfully contemplating that statement. In all the ways that matter… What about other ways?
He doesn’t know that he can explain to her his visceral horror of such camps, of such experimentation, of the potential for such things going so very wrong. Perhaps no-one can understand, who has not lived under the yoke of a repressive regime. He wonders at his speaking out. He wonders at his temerity.
“I do not think it will be as easy as you think, Elizabeth.” He feels so very tired. First Arcturus, and now this.
She looks at him and he wants to continue to protest, but the words dry up in his throat; it would break his heart, if he were not already resigned.
“It’s better than genocide,” says Elizabeth, with finality.
He is, god help him, not sure that she is right.
It’s a day or two before Radek realises he’s being stalked. Ronon is very good at it, and Radek is very bad at noticing his environment. It is only after the fourth or fifth time that Radek has seen Ronon out of the corner of his eye that he realises that Ronon is – lurking. He thinks that is the right word. Not that Radek is any expert on the finer points of such things, but once he has noticed, Ronon is pretty difficult to miss.
He realises that Ronon’s stare on him causes the back of his neck to heat, and his arms to prickle with goosebumps. He wonders if it is guilt.
“I want you to fix it,” says Ronon suddenly, one day. Radek does not jump. He does not slop his coffee over his hand. He has been getting more sleep. It is funny that the certainty of disaster has given him back his calm.
Ronon looks impressed.
Radek puts the coffee pot back onto the hot plate and looks at Ronon where he’s lounging against the door jamb. “What do you wish me to fix?”
It startles Radek into unwary laughter. He feels the gooseflesh spread, as though Ronon has spoken of some prophecy, some impossible Labour of Hercules.
“I can’t,” he says, “Because I do not know what is wrong.”
“But you will.”
Is it heartening, this confidence that Ronon has in him? Or is it an impossible weight? Radek cannot tell. It used to be Rodney, he remembers suddenly, it used to be Rodney who held the weight of the whole expedition on his shoulders. And now all Rodney worries about is looking thin for the photographers. There is something important in that, Radek thinks. Something.
“It is Rodney who will know. Not I,” Radek finds himself saying. He wishes he were not so certain. He would like to be the hero, just once. Just once, looking into Ronon’s eyes, he would wish to be more than the short, balding substitute, he knows himself to be.
So it is a shock, although a pleasant one, when Ronon strides forward, into his office – his office! – and presses him back against the filing cabinet. Radek would laugh again, he would, except that… Ronon’s lips are warm and soft, his beard tickling. It has been a long time since Radek felt anything half so pleasant. His senses swim in just this much sensation. More will be too much, perhaps, and yet – he does not want to stop. Ronon smells of leather and clean sweat, his large palms cup Radek’s head. His knee is pressing insistently between Radek’s.
Radek presses closer. He murmurs into Ronon’s beard. “I am amazed. This is…unexpected.”
Ronon lifts him up, and swings them both round onto his own desk. Something crashes to the ground. Radek can feel him shrug. “You’re not as pretty as Parker or Sheppard. But I don’t want pretty, and it’s the end of the world,” says Ronon, his voice rumbling into Radek’s bones, “What else is there to do?”
It is a point that Radek finds difficult to argue with.
It is not such a big deal. Not really. Radek skims over and over the same set of equations before realising he has not taken in any of them. He waits for Chuck to put him through. How strange to realise that he is nervous, because he’s only talking to Sheppard, not Rodney. Not this time. Perhaps that is why… Radek doesn’t often talk to Sheppard. Hardly at all, in fact. And yet now he is.
His earpiece chirps to let him know he’s through, and Radek jumps. He can hear a false heartiness as he says, “Colonel!”
“Radek!” says Sheppard, sounding surprised, sounding as though he could be next door. “Aren't you supposed to be in another galaxy?”
“Yes, yes, I am in another galaxy, Colonel. Therefore we have only 38 minutes in which to converse. I have called to offer you my congratulations on your promotion.”
“Thanks. Though I'm not sure it warrants a cross-galaxy phone call.” Sheppard sounds amused, which eases Radek’s butterflies somewhat. It is so ridiculous.
“Do not complain. As Rodney likes to remind me – it is not collect.”
Sheppard chuckles at that, and Radek takes a deep breath. “Speaking of Rodney. He is not there, is he?”
“No, I don't think so. But we have a date with a news crew in about an hour, so I'm sure he'll pop his head in any minute now to make sure I'm not going to say anything to sully his stellar reputation.” Sheppard sounds happy, Radek thinks. That’s why he sounds so different. He swallows.
“You mean of making reporters cry, using killing of children as metaphor, and in general behaving as arrogant ass?”
“Yeah, pretty much. Do you want to talk to him? I can go look.”
Radek does not panic, no, he does not. He does wipe suddenly damp hands on his trousers though.
“No, no, actually, I was hoping that you would do the talking to for me.” And he is not a coward, not any more. He cannot sit back, and watch and wonder. He must do something.
“Oh? What's the matter?”
“Rodney will not listen. He thinks the Reactors are McKay's gift to humanity – to be used to save starving children and clean the world's streets and tie your shoelaces, yes?” Radek tries for a light tone, to be charming. He feels a fraud. He is insulting the man’s best friend. His significant… something.
“Well, he did discover them.”
“Yes. He does not listen when I caution against overuse. And not just for the danger of them falling into the wrong hands, but for overdependence.”
“Perhaps the Ancients knew something we did not, yes? Perhaps they made the project fail for reason other than they did not want people to be able to kill them.”
Will Sheppard realise that this isn’t professional jealousy? Will he understand that Radek is not just worried, although those are the terms he is using. That, in fact, he is terrified. Like he used to be of away missions – that something in the dark could reach out and kill him. That something out there is… wrong. He can feel it in his bones.
“And what reason might that be?” The Colonel sounds sceptical, Radek thinks, as well he might.
He takes a deep breath. “If you were Oppenheimer, Colonel, and you knew what the world would be after the result of your work, would you still build the bomb?”
Is he being too oblique? Is the protest enough? Will the analogy only annoy the Colonel – for he is a military man at heart, and Radek is insulting his country’s greatest military victory. Radek knows old soldiers at home who would be offended at much less...
“I don't know, Radek. I don't know.”
His grip on the workbench in front of him is tight. He looks blindly through the blue and gold stained glass of his office window, and blinks, once, twice. It is a long way for sound to travel – many millions of miles. Sheppard does not believe him.
“But you will speak to Rodney? Urge caution?” Radek hears himself saying anyway, hopelessly, pointlessly.
There is a silence.
“Colonel?” Radek asks.
“Hi, Rodney,” Sheppard says, and Radek winces. His timing has always been bad.
Radek can hear Rodney faintly, berating Sheppard. Perhaps he should be reassured by the apparent truism that some things never change, but Radek knows that Sheppard isn’t listening anymore. If, indeed, he ever was. Should he comfort himself with the knowledge that he at least tried? He laughs a little, in deprecation, or in irony, and closes the connection, before taking off the headset.
Knowing he was right was probably no consolation to the boy who cried wolf either. Not once he was being eaten.
Whenever they sleep in the same bed Ronon curls around him, sprawls on top of him, like the heaviest of blankets. It is a surprisingly reassuring thing in these uncertain times, even if Radek has to turn down the heat in his quarters a degree or two. It is strange to Radek that a man who is so wary in public, so obviously suspicious, trusts him enough to sleep so close. To sleep at all. It is a compliment he is happy to accept.
Idly, Radek twists one of Ronon’s dreads as he thinks. Ronon wants him to save the universe that Rodney has managed to destroy. Impossible. No-one ever listens to Radek Zelenka, the cautious one, the wet blanket, the naysayer. Being able to say ‘I told you so’ has never been his ambition, but what else can he do? The equations scatter in his mind like nervous beasts – he can’t see the pattern. Not yet – perhaps not ever. He is not an Ancient.
“You’ll figure it out,” says Ronon, his voice low and rough with sleep. His eyes are still slits. He rubs a possessive hand across Radek’s belly, and Radek shivers. He wishes he had Ronon’s confidence.
“Me and Teyla are going to visit Earth. So you won’t be distracted any more.”
Radek is about to exclaim that he can both work and play, without the one interfering with the other, thank you very much, before he realises that Ronon is teasing him again. It’s still rare enough that he doesn’t always recognise it. There is a gleam in Ronon’s eye, and then he huffs a laugh and rolls over onto his back, stretching as he goes. Radek stares, and then pokes him in the side.
“Some distractions are worth it, do you not think so?” he says, and Ronon smiles.
“Teyla’s going shopping. Then we’ll visit Sheppard,” says Ronon, as though it’s a normal occurrence, as though he still sees him in the gym every day.
Radek tenses, and looks away. Ronon has too much faith.
“He didn’t listen to me.”
“McKay’s problem, McKay’s fault. McKay listens to Sheppard. And Sheppard will listen to Teyla.”
Ronon sounds so certain. Radek wishes it was that easy.
“Athar, the Divine Mother, says he will, and she should know,” says Ronon, as matter of fact as ever. He scratches at his thigh.
Radek stares in astonishment. Athar? The name is familiar, and Radek chases the faint memory. “Do you mean Chaya?” he exclaims, at last.
“Chaya, Athar. She’s ascended anyway. Cloud of golden light and everything.”
Shouldn’t Ronon be more impressed – honoured even? But then, what does Radek really know about his upbringing, or his beliefs – maybe this kind of thing is normal in the Pegasus galaxy? Maybe ascended Ancients pop over for tea all the time?
Ronon is staring at him and Radek shifts uncomfortably. He is not Rodney, he does not blurt his thoughts, but perhaps he is more transparent than he imagines.
“The monks of Desal’a let me use their Visitation Room,” says Ronon, and curls up again, burying his nose in Radek’s hair.
“Of course, they did,” says Radek, faintly.
The technology tempts him, but honestly? He’s not sure he wishes to know.
“Rodney,” says Radek, quietly, as they file out of the meeting. He grasps Rodney by the arm, letting Colonel Caldwell, in particular, get so far ahead that there’s no possibility that he can overhear. Rodney is still on a high, his face a little flushed, the endless possibilities of the Dorandan Experiment still racing behind his eyes. How had Elizabeth described it? No more nuclear reactors. Power to every home. The whole of Atlantis safe, and living to its full potential. It’s a wonderful dream.
“Yes, yes, we’ll get to the practicalities soon enough, I know we can’t continue to adjust the field strength manually, I realise it’s risky, and that we’ll have to make sure the containment field will hold in all circumstances, etcetera, etcetera, blah, blah... But not now, Radek.”
Rodney wants his arm back, he’s tugging it away impatiently. There are drinks and little nibbly things from P3X-238. Radek looks at his feet, he wants to shuffle them nervously, which is patently ridiculous, but this is new. Awkward. He wants to say this, he does, but he is unsure if he knows how. Rodney will crow for weeks probably. It would be like him.
“I am sorry, Rodney. That is all I wanted to say. I think I was correct to express my doubts, but you were right, and I was not. And unlike you, I can be the bigger man.”
Radek looks up then, into Rodney’s eyes, and smiles at his disbelieving snort, but Rodney’s stopped pulling away. There’s a moment of electric understanding, which is something they still share. Less often than once upon a time, perhaps, but still there.
“It is wonderful work,” Radek says, as sincerely as he knows how. The possibilities really are endless, after all. He’ll be happy to see them expand and grow.
“Isn’t it, though?” says Rodney, and he is so exultant, so excited, that Radek just has to laugh, and clap him on the back. What else is left?
He will not be a poor loser.
“They did it,” says Ronon, as he stares out over the balcony, the sun shining brightly on the waves, as they lap the piers and pylons of Atlantis.
“They did something,” Radek corrects him, feeling lost, feeling as though the universe should be irrevocably changed in some way, now that John Sheppard and Rodney McKay are no longer in it somewhere, fighting and making up, and figuring things out as they go along.
The news has just come through, and Chuck called him to the Gateroom to personally let him know. Radek appreciates the thoughtfulness, while intensely regretting the public setting. But there are so few of the original expedition left, they must stick together, they must support each other. Xiaoyi can not be expected to understand.
Radek remembers that he clutched Chuck’s shoulder, manfully, and then called Ronon. It is an indulgence that he does not regret.
They stand now on the nearest balcony. Curious faces turn their way from the Gateroom, pale blurs behind dark glass that Radek ignores. Rodney and John are dead, nothing more than wisps of plasma in the fading corona of the Dorandan solar system.
They did it. Although Radek wishes he was more certain about what it was.
The universe hasn’t changed. Nothing has changed. Except that now Radek is on his own, no hiding in Rodney’s shadow ever again. Instead, there will be a legend with a tragically mysterious end, that Radek will never rise to meet – at least until the truth about the end of the universe becomes public knowledge, something that is unable to be ignored. He should hope that it does not happen in his lifetime.
Instead, Radek thinks about Teyla and Denan, and their baby, who will not have a universe to grow up in. He wants to weep. He takes off his glasses because they will fog, and the salt will stain them, but he doesn’t cry. He will miss Rodney. He will miss them both.
Ronon leans next to him, as silent as ever. Then he hooks an arm round Radek’s neck and draws him in. Radek smells leather and Ronon, and finds it comforting.
“Rodney went back to Doranda to introduce a temporal instability into the system,” says Radek, at last, to fill the unbearable silence. “To ensure that the reaction was a failure, yes, somewhere in the present, which has never been allowed to happen. This failure created new unpredictable particles, that act as a kind of elemental backwash. We had already observed that many particles were trapped on the brink of existence from another firing in the distant past – I think… I think that Rodney caused many more to come into existence, and given their temporal nature, it may mean that in the distant past Arcturus was a failure. Not a sabotage, by rival Ancient power blocs, but an actual failure. The Arcturus Project can never work, now.”
Ronon tugs him closer, trapping him between his body and the rail. “But it does.”
Radek sighs, “Only in this timeline. In every other one, every single branch from ten thousand years ago, until today – in all these others, Arcturus doesn’t work. Rodney has saved the universe, over and over and over again.”
“But not this one.”
“No, not this one.”
Ronon folds his coat about them both, and rests his chin on the top of Radek’s head.
“So what do we do?”
The metal of the railing is cold under Radek’s fingers, and he wants to say nothing, that they do nothing. He is not Rodney. He has never been Rodney, with his lightening shafts of brilliant insight. But perhaps that is not needed. Perhaps he does not need to be the best, because for what he has in mind, he only needs to follow in Rodney’s footsteps. And that he has certainly learned how to do.
“We must find a way to destroy the reactors,” says Radek, slowly, as he thinks it through. “All of them. It will not be easy, but each one we succeed in destroying will extend the life of this universe by hundreds or thousands of years.”
Ronon hasn’t moved, Radek can’t see his face, and suddenly Radek wants that, needs to know. He twists within his grip, “We will be reviled, yes? As terrorists. Vrazi. As murderers.”
“So? I need another enemy to fight.” Ronon’s teeth are very white in his brown face. His grin is blinding.
Radek finds his heart is beating very fast. Who needs a Nobel Prize anyway?
He will not be a poor loser.