Five Times Cultures Clashed

by Domenika Marzione

one

"Do you like football, Sergeant?"

AJ blocked the attack late, distracted by the question. "Ma'am?"

"Football, that is what it is called, yes?" she asked, feinting left and spinning right and he was waiting, braced, because she had telegraphed that move by the way she had planted her lead foot. "The game Colonel Sheppard is so intrigued by?"

AJ grinned, then moved to the attack. Teyla had quicker sticks and faster feet, but he had a size and strength advantage that he was still learning how to use. Or, rather, re-learning. His first teacher had been a five-foot-nothing Filipino who was seventy if he was a day and could still take down anyone fool enough to try, but back then AJ was still learning simply not to drop his sticks. By the time he had any sort of real competence to use what he'd learned, his instructor had been a former marine almost Ortilla's size and he'd been the smaller combatant.

"It's football," he confirmed, getting Teyla to back up a few steps with a efficient combination move. Actually, he was guessing since he didn't know the Colonel well enough to say what sorts of sports he liked. But AJ didn't think Colonel Sheppard was the type to call soccer football just because most of the scientists did. "And no, I can't say I'm a huge fan. Baseball's my sport."

He didn't know how much Teyla knew about sports on Earth. Or about Earth in general. He was still wrapping his head around the idea that Teyla wasn't from there ("technically, we're the aliens," Captain Polito had reminded them, but in Atlantis, surrounded by marines all day, it was hard to remember).

Teyla backed up another step -- AJ was never sure how much she was letting him get away with; he had only been training with her for a couple of weeks. "Baseball?"

He tried for a more elaborate attack than maybe he should have, since he found himself rolling out of a tumble away with his sticks over his face.

"You try to hit a ball about the size of an orange and run between bases to score runs," he said as he regained his footing. "That's kind of a crappy explanation, though, ma'am."

Even if he wasn't suddenly fending off blows that came at him not unlike a swarm of mosquitoes, he would have wondered how to explain baseball. In Japan, yakyu- had been huge and everyone followed it. When he'd been deployed to Africa for humanitarian missions, they'd just shown the kids how to play and everyone picked up the game pretty well considering nobody had any equipment (and despite the temptation, nobody used the dud M67 grenades they'd been issued). In Iraq, where soccer was the only game in town, there hadn't been either the safety or the space to try to teach baseball to anyone. But here and now, how to to start from scratch without a demonstration?

"There are nine men playing defense at once," he tried again after Teyla took a step back. Driving him into the floor wasn't the purpose of the exercise; they both knew she could clean his clock if she wanted. "And one man at a time for offense."

"That does not seem fair," Teyla said, waiting for him to give a sign that he was ready to continue.

"It's not as lopsided as it sounds," he said, nodding and starting forward. "And the team on offense can send as many men up in sequence as they can until the defense can record three outs. Once that happens, the teams switch sides."

"Be more aware of how you set your arms to defend," Teyla warned, her right arm coming out in a flash and stopping short of bashing his ribs. "You are still coming to rest as if you were facing a larger opponent and leaving your torso unprotected."

He adjusted and she nodded, smiling. "Does the team on offense have nine men, too?"

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, not hesitating. The Designated Hitter was an abomination to the game and if it didn't make it to Pegasus, then mission accomplished. "There can be up to four men on offense at once, depending on how many are on base."

They went back and forth a few more times, slow enough that it was obvious that this was for teaching and quick enough to acknowledge that neither of them were novices. AJ thought he was pretty lucky to have gotten Teyla to be his instructor. All of the marines were encouraged to find other activities apart from PT and MCMAP; there was the usual assortment of boxing and weightlifting and track and swimming and then there were the classes in straight-up taekwando and krav maga and the stick fighting that wasn't quite escrima but was close enough that AJ had passed out of the introductory course and earned himself an individual tutor. Who had turned out to be Teyla and who had made it very clear that if AJ deferred to her gender and stature, she'd make him pay.

As they moved, Teyla asked a few more questions about baseball -- the difficulty of acquiring equipment, whether it was appropriate for children, why women didn't play -- and when they were finished, after the gentle headbutt that still seemed oddly intimate when it was just him and Teyla, she looked up at him thoughtfully.

"Did you bring videos of this baseball?" Teyla asked, smiling as if there was a joke he wasn't getting.

"Yes, ma'am," AJ admitted, a little embarrassed. His mom had bought him the DVD set of the D-backs' 2001 World Series run and he'd ripped it to the laptop they'd all been issued and told to fill up with as much non-porn media as they could since Amazon didn't deliver to Pegasus. They'd all put porn on anyway, of course, since there were a few guys in every platoon who knew how to hide files.

"I would like to see it some time," Teyla said. "If that is acceptable to you."

AJ blinked. "Sure. Um? I'll bring my computer to practice one time," he said, trying to figure out how he could swing that. His schedule with Teyla was organized so that he was already near the gyms, either coming from or going to unit activities.

"Or we could meet away from this place," Teyla replied, gesturing to indicate the room and arching her eyebrow. "We are allowed to do that, are we not?"

Most of the marines were pretty sure that Teyla and Colonel Sheppard were more than teammates, although AJ kind of had his doubts -- Laganzo had been around since the beginning and said that everyone used to think that Sheppard and Weir were making time off the clock. But he wasn't getting that kind of vibe from Teyla and, whichever one of them was the alien, he didn't think that part went any differently no matter what galaxy you were from. So he smiled back. "Wherever you'd like to meet, then, ma'am."


two

The Lanteans seemed to gripe constantly about the food, but it was plentiful and in many varieties and even though not all of the tastes were appealing and most of them very foreign, Ronon couldn't see what the problem was. Nobody starved here -- people grew plump here -- and it seemed ungrateful for anyone to complain. ("Most of us eat better at home," Sheppard had explained with a shrug. Sheppard ate what was there and if he complained, it was half-hearted and mostly to amuse himself. McKay seemed genuinely annoyed by the quality, but that didn't seem to affect how much he ate.)

"I am going to the mainland to spend the next two days with my people," Teyla said as Ronon was picking over the remains of his meal. "Would you like to come?"

Ronon sucked thoughtfully on the bone of the poultry leg he'd been eating. (He thought it was khezha, but it had been a joke on Sateda to say that anything unknown tasted like khezha. That it might actually be khezha here did not make the joke any less of a bitter reminder of what he now knew was lost for good.)

He'd been in Atlantis for nine days, although most of the time it felt like either only hours or many years. Too much, too soon. He'd figured out the problem right away, but that didn't mean he could do anything about it. He should not have accepted Sheppard's offer to come to their world, at least not right away. He should have stayed where he was, grown used to his freedom in a more familiar setting, and then found his way here. Or found his way to Sheppard's people, since coming here would be impossible on his own. The strangeness of the city and the people who dwelt here was more than he thought he could handle -- ironic, considering all he'd done for the last seven years -- and there were days (minutes, hours) when he considered leaving.

"I understand if that is too long for a first visit," Teyla went on when he didn't say anything. "Colonel Sheppard will be staying for a while and if you would like to visit briefly, I am sure that he would not object to taking you back to Atlantis with him when he leaves."

"Okay," he said. He'd been told that Teyla's people lived on an island in the middle of the ocean on this planet, safe from the Wraith except when they weren't -- the hive ships had already come once -- and no way off to either trade or escape without the Lanteans' help. He wasn't sure if he would have made that choice, to put his safety and well-being in strangers' hands like that, but Teyla seemed to have no regrets. But she lived in this place with the ring ("stargate") and a city shield and he was curious what those who had neither thought.

Teyla beamed at him, genuinely pleased.

He had no possessions to bring, nothing to camp with, so when he showed up at the designated meeting place with only his coat, there was nothing to give away his intentions. He wasn't sure about spending days among the Athosians, but neither Teyla nor Sheppard seemed to take it for granted that he'd agreed to such. The ride in the ship was long, mostly because of the awkward conversation. Or lack thereof. Teyla and Sheppard were hesitant to ask questions of him, which was just as well. Instead, they talked between each other, trying to explain things to him so that he wouldn't feel left out, but there was no way around that. With rare exception, he hadn't been around people in any meaningful way in for seven years and the ebb and flow of meaningless conversation was beyond his grasp now. Civilization was beyond his grasp now, although he apparently remembered enough to fake it most of the time.

The Athosians seemed to be okay with being pets to the Lanteans. They were happy, had provided amply for themselves and put together a life that respected their old ways and acknowledged their new circumstances. Or at least they seemed to think so. They weren't a very advanced people and a tiny part of Ronon, the urban Satedan who'd had to learn how to make a fire without a lighter for the first time only after he'd joined the military, scoffed. Of course, the Athosians had lighters, but they didn't have so much else that Ronon thought that maybe they'd gotten the lighters from someone else generations ago. That was how most civilizations advanced -- at least that's what they'd taught him in school -- and he wondered if the Athosians had figured on that when they'd chosen to isolate themselves from the rest of the galaxy. (There were regular ships to and from the 'mainland' and access to the stargate, he had been assured, but it still felt like isolation to him.) Nonetheless, the Athosians didn't seem to want for anything and seven years wanting for everything had pretty much convinced Ronon that not everything he'd learned in school had been either right or relevant.

Sheppard here was not like Sheppard in the city. He was looser here, more relaxed, and Ronon didn't know if it was because he was here or because he wasn't there. The children all knew him -- the adults (and especially the women) too -- and treated him with a kind of approachable awe that Ronon didn't think had anything to do with the Lanteans' status as keepers and protectors.

"Without knowing us, he and his people risked their lives to save us," a man said, handing Ronon a large clay mug of something that smelled distinctly like ale. Halling, Ronon thought his name was -- the only one here taller than Ronon himself. "They asked for nothing in return. It was how we knew to trust them."

Teyla had told Halling and the others that Ronon had lost his world to the Wraith many years ago and lived roughly since, leaving out the part where he was a Runner, even a Runner cured by the Lanteans. He appreciated it -- he hadn't realized how much he'd needed the break from the scared and curious looks of the Lanteans until he was free of them. Here, the people accepted that he was reserved and made him welcome without prodding. They knew of the Wraith in a way that the Lanteans never would and let his silence speak for him without pity or disregard. He suspected that he might like to stay for the duration with Teyla.

Ronon sipped at the lager carefully; he'd necessarily had to be careful when he'd been a runner and access to the stuff had not been frequent when he'd been trying to stay away from people. So while he hadn't abstained completely, his tolerance for the stuff wasn't what it had once been. "Seems to be a pattern," he said, since Halling was apparently waiting for a comment.

A dark look crossed Halling's face, but it was gone quickly. "It is, perhaps more than it should be," he said, frowning as if he'd maybe said too much. Ronon didn't think it was any big secret that Sheppard would rather save someone else than himself.

As afternoon turned into evening and the ale warmed his belly enough that he didn't flinch at the casual contact the Athosians extended to include their guests, Ronon let himself be dragged into a game with the children and Sheppard. It was some kind of tag with confused rules that seemed to come both from the Athosians and whatever version of the game was from Sheppard's home. The children shouted out names of plants and animals whenever they were tagged and Sheppard always seemed to be 'it' because he could only remember two or three and no repeats were allowed and nobody would let him count anything from his world. Ronon could hear Teyla's high, clear laughter as he ran -- ran for pleasure, from a giggling eight-year-old girl with missing front teeth -- and accepted that he was not as lost as he might have thought.


three

Elizabeth sighed, understanding why John had told Teyla to come to her and hating him for it nonetheless.

"There are many reasons why our people fight among each other," she answered finally. "Some of which will make sense without understanding our world and many of which will not. I believe, however, that it can be generalized, perhaps over-generalized, by saying that it has been true throughout history -- ours and everyone in our galaxy's -- that everyone needs an enemy. A foil. Someone or something to strive against, to compare ourselves to, to fear and to grow stronger from that fear."

Elizabeth had spent all of her time interacting with the Athosians thus far trying to emphasize what good things Earth had, that there was more to the expedition than naive daytrippers squatting in the home of absent gods. This... this was not a conversation she'd wanted to have for a while. But it was probably inevitable, more so because Teyla spent her time with John and Ford, military men, and Rodney, a civilian in military employ, and Teyla was acclimated well enough to see the tensions that ran between the scientists and their marine protectors.

"Here in this galaxy," Elizabeth went on, "the Wraith is that enemy. On our world, we don't have an external threat of that magnitude, something that can force us to forget our squabbles with each other and focus on it instead of on how we anger and disappoint each other. It is both a blessing and a curse of our safety and success -- it pushes us to reach for greatness, but at the same time it makes us look petty and small."

It was delicate business giving Teyla the information she desired -- and in some cases, deserved to know. She did not read, Elizabeth knew, not Ancient nor any local dialect. The Athosians had an oral culture, not a written one. They had some books on tape -- or at least the twenty-first century version of them -- but how many were either relevant or interesting to Teyla? Elizabeth guessed not many. And while there were interactive holographic projectors, they didn't have the generator power to dedicate much energy to fuel one of those for any extended time. She watched Teyla's expression, for doubt or confusion or understanding or dismissal. She got none of that, just more of the same open curiosity, and so she continued.

A smile from Teyla and Elizabeth was still working out how to read that language; while Teyla and John had come together as colleagues with an ease that Elizabeth envied (and wondered about -- not that there was anything improper about their relationship, but instead why she and John were still reading from different pages of the same book), Elizabeth had just barely gotten to the point where Teyla would use her first name instead of calling her by her title.

"I suppose a good deal of my... confusion stems from the fact that I cannot imagine a world unaffected by the Wraith," Teyla said thoughtfully. "Such a place has always been a fantasy -- something to tell children who ask where their loved ones have gone."

"We have those fantasies, too," Elizabeth said quietly. "And for some on our world, they truly believe that such a place awaits us when we die."

A more certain smile from Teyla, one that Elizabeth needed no translation for. "Hope," she said. "It has a longer reach than even the Wraith."


four

"They what?"

He'd gotten back from 'discussing' the situation with Weir -- for a woman who'd been head of the entire SGC, she had a shockingly narrow breadth of imagination for all of the ways things could get cocked up -- to find the marines milling about and Sheppard nowhere in sight. He was still off talking to the local leader, Bates reported when asked. Marshall wasn't sure what he expected or whether it would be different than what was -- whether Sheppard should have taken tighter control or whether he even could have. Marshall had explained to the marines that they had to respect Sheppard, but they all knew that that didn't necessarily mean that they had to listen to him. So Marshall had put the marines to more productive tasks and waited impatiently for Sheppard to show. Which he had, immediately jogging over and making Marshall wonder if Sheppard hadn't known that he was there all along.

Sheppard sighed. "They eat people, sir," he repeated with a grimace, acknowledging the ridiculousness of the statement. Unfortunately for them all, ridiculousness was not mutually exclusive with reality. "Not like cannibals, more like the way a snake eats an egg. At least from what I understood."

Next to Sheppard, Ford was looking both nauseated and skeptical, both of which were appropriate reactions, if not exactly what Marshall was hoping for out of his junior officer. Ford had been a little too isolated down there in Antarctica, Marshall had long ago realized.

"Wonderful," he sighed. "I guess we'll find out if these P-90s can stop a -- what do we call them? Wraith?"

"Wraith," Sheppard confirmed. "And I'm not sure I'd bet on the rifles, sir. Teyla says that they're invincible."

"Invincible?" Ford repeated, dubious. "I know these guys don't have a lot of stopping power, sir" -- he patted the butt of the rifle attached to his vest -- "but these people are going after them with what? Sticks and spears?"

"It doesn't really matter," Sheppard told him. "They're afraid of them. Really afraid."

Marshall had seen this kind of fear before, back when he'd been leading SG-3 through the gate. It's the way people looked at the Goa'uld before they could be convinced that the bad guys were just men with snakes on their spinal columns and not gods. "And they'll stay afraid until we knock these guys back a little," he said. "If they won't go across the lake with us, we'll go ourselves."

They never got the chance, of course. Sheppard eventually got Teyla to take him across, but then the Wraith showed up with an air attack and a fucking vacuum beam and he'd woken up in a cell along with Bates (who'd frozen under fire and Marshall'd have to figure out what to do with that once they got home -- if they got home) and some of the indigs, including Teyla.

When the Goa'uld took prisoners, the serious ones were all business about it. You got manhandled by the First Prime and not some third-string Jaffa, they already knew who you were and why you were there, and they knew what they wanted out of you. It wasn't that different from the shit you got put through in SERE training, although nobody in the cadre ever had those kinds of weapons. Marshall knew that you couldn't ever really be ready for these sorts of situations, but he'd like to have thought that he'd had a decent enough preparation to at least fake being ready.

No such fucking luck.

It wasn't until Marshall saw the bones of the indig who'd been taken out of their cell and maybe had been a collaborator than he understood. The Wraith were not the Goa'uld. Nothing like. They weren't interested in conquest -- why covet what you already had -- and they weren't interested in power or glory or glitz or the ugly jewelry. They were little more than the bugs they resembled -- their only activities were eating and reproducing and their only interest was in securing supplies to do both. They could walk upright and talk, but that didn't change things. They didn't need prisoners; they needed lunch and Marshall regretted that none of them were going to live long enough to warn Weir and the others. Warn Sheppard, who'd now have to get over his issues and force the marines to listen to him.

This was not where he wanted to die -- he wasn't giving up, but he wasn't going to be a Pollyanna when there was a skeleton a few feet away that had been picked clean in minutes. This was not where he wanted to die, but hell if he was going to falter. Not with his interrogator tearing through his mind like it was tissue paper, leaving fire and pain in her wake. Not with people -- the expedition, his home planet -- depending on him to hold out until the last. If they wanted their snack, then they'd have it -- he was in no position to stop them. But the chow line ended with him.

He was oddly unsurprised when he saw Sheppard on the mezzanine. His independence in the face of both orders and strategy was the reason he'd been available to the expedition in the first place. It's what fucked everything up for him back on Earth and what, if harnessed properly, would help Atlantis survive and thrive. Marshall had hoped to start that process as soon as the wormhole from Earth closed and Sheppard was unable to quit anything else anymore. But now he was forced to give the final exam before the first lesson. Sheppard passed.


five

It hadn't surprised Aiden to find out that the Genii had spies all over. The Genii were like frosted mini wheats -- sweet Amish farmers on one side and hardcore militaristic on the other. But the thing about frosted mini wheats was that, sure, they had a little bit of royal icing on top, but they were still 95% wheat brick. The Genii were like that -- the farmer shit really was all for show. But he didn't mind. He was looking for hardcore motherfuckers these days. Someone who'd do what Atlantis wouldn't -- take the fight to the Wraith, but any means necessary.

Aiden hadn't forgotten everything he'd learned in OCS, in TBS, as part of the finest fighting force on Earth. He remembered the physical training, the way they beat obedience and history into you so that you knew everything about every Marine ever and was damned proud of it. He always used to wonder about those guys, the ones who took everything from the Commandant like gospel, who really didn't exist outside of devotion to God, Country, and Corps. But now, out here where the second two didn't exist and the first one was kind of hit and miss depending on how he was feeling, Aiden understood. He'd been slow about getting it, but he got it now.

This place, this godforsaken (most of the time) place, beyond the reach of the furthest forward air support, beyond artillery, beyond everything... really was beyond everything. Beyond mercy, beyond fair play, beyond the Geneva Convention (especially that last one, since nobody out here knew what the fuck Earth was, let alone Switzerland). Beyond the old rules and the old limitations. Aiden wasn't great at thinking outside of the box -- Sheppard had all but said it on missions, Doctor Safir had all but said it in class -- which was why it was good to have his boys around. Kanayo had been a Genii spy for years, so to his creativity Aiden could bring what he was good at, which was logistics and work ethic. The Genii wanted to be badass, but they just didn't work hard enough at it -- it's why Sheppard had been able to take out as many as he had all by himself. Aiden could teach his team to work hard enough to give their will and skill due credit and he could get them what they needed to make their mark.

It wasn't perfect, of course. Kanayo had some great ideas, but he wasn't real military-minded and the others were less so. And so, as time passed, Aiden realized that there was an upper limit on what they could accomplish with the resources they had. Their intelligence acquisition rate was outstripping their ability to act on what they got and that was just wrong -- they were supposed to be rolling on top of the ball, not a half-step behind.

Kanayo hated Aiden's idea at first, but that was more because he didn't like the idea of outside help and thought Aiden was just looking to replace their crew with people he liked more. (Truth was, Aiden wanted Atlantis to see how right he was and take them all back, but he didn't want to tell anyone that because the Genii guys were still pissed about Kolya's assault.) In the end, though, Kanayo went along because he, too, realized that there was no way they were going to get the Wraith if they didn't get their hands on something that flew. And, once they got that, they still needed a pilot since none of them could fly the dart in a straight line, let alone through a fucking stargate.

It was pretty easy to get Sheppard's team where he wanted them -- Aiden knew which buttons to press. And so he waited, half-hidden by the trees, for his new family to meet his old one.

feed me on LJ?


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29 April 2007