Five Things Nancy Wishes She Could Tell Someone Back Home

by Domenika Marzione

1 - That living in another galaxy is often just like living at home.

Ninety percent of the time, there is absolutely no difference between Atlantis and, say, a research facility in the middle of California that's a little remote but hardly off the grid. Yes, the architecture is a little weird, but have you seen the buildings some universities stick their medical faculties in? Everything she uses during the day at work is from Earth: the computers, the lab equipment, the pens and pads with the drug company logos, her stethoscope, the boxes of rubber gloves and bottles of generic Tylenol. She has a cell phone, even, although she can't call anyone outside the city. Her kitchen has diet ginger-ale from a processing plant in Indiana and a box of Cheerios and three kinds of booze bottled back on Earth (and one growler of Devil Dog beer bottled in Little Tripoli from Earth ingredients using Earth supplies); her bathroom cabinet has Dove soap and Vaseline lotion and boxes of Garnier Nutrisse #66 and if she runs out of toothpaste, she can go down to the general store and choose between Crest and Colgate. She can and does order from Amazon and Ikea, even if it takes a while for things to get here. She sends her mother flowers for her birthday and picks stuff off of her college roommate's baby registry and wastes time on the internet playing flash games and IM-ing her colleagues across the hall. She lived rougher in Baltimore than she does here, let alone Ethiopia.

Medical doesn't have the byzantine politics of Science, but it still has the same factions and rivalries and cliques and disagreements that they all thought they'd left on Earth but should have known better. She gets along with some colleagues better than others, has people she sees away from work and people she doesn't but gets along great with in the office and people she can manage to be polite to but tries to avoid. As a body, they argue about supplies, time on the special equipment, who has what shift and why won't they switch, whose leftovers are moldering in the office fridge. They have department meetings every other Monday morning and the following week's coverage schedule is sent out on Friday afternoons and once a month is the research seminar where they talk about their work and while attendance isn't mandatory, Carson always seems to notice if you haven't been to the last few.

The publishing schedule isn't any less demanding just because the output is still classified up the yin-yang. In fact, it's arguably more onerous. The Stargate Program expects research in quantity as well as quality since they are without such distractions as students or car payments or the kids' soccer practice. There is jockeying for grant money, even if all of their funding comes from the same place, and performance reviews and constant, if occasionally passive-aggressive, reminders that the Stargate Program is spending a lot of money to keep them safe and happy in another galaxy so they can do their work. The weekly missive from the SGC can be boiled down to one phrase: what have you done for us lately?

To the man and woman, they are where they are because they're workaholics without strong-enough personal attachments that they can (literally) disappear off the face of the Earth for a year or so without a problem. In theory, at least, since all of them do have people and events they miss and deeply regret doing so. Possibly as a result, Earth events, especially cultural ones, tend to be more of a thing in Atlantis than they would have back home and attendance is better and more enthusiastic than it would have been otherwise. Most of Medical doesn't even understand American football, let alone had ever gone to a Superbowl party before Atlantis. Same thing for the Chinese New Year party, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and whatever else the civilian MWR committee gets up to. (The marines, institutionally more familiar with recreating little bits of home in faraway places, will throw a party on any and all pretexts.) Which explains why there is a March Madness bracket pool every year in Medical, which in turn makes the corpsmen and marine orderlies weep because they pick teams on basis of on-court performance while the doctors pick schools based on academic strengths or location or whether they like the department chairs and yet somehow manage to not finish last.

2 - That living in another galaxy is often weirder than anyone could ever imagine.

She goes to the commissary for dinner, even though she's got food in her fridge and even though she's not hungry. She just doesn't want to be alone with her thoughts. Lori's on duty this shift, but she takes her meal break and the two of them poke disinterestedly at salad and lasagna. Everyone in Atlantis knows by now and there's a muted rumble of conversation about Carson that Nancy wants to tune out. Lori says its worse up in Medical, which has the highest concentration of the people who knew Carson best and is where all of the work is going on.

"Jen sent Yoni home," Lori says as she stabs a piece of purple carrot. "I'm not sure if it was for our safety or his."

She's not sure if Lori is mentioning it because it's something to talk about or because Lori expects her to do anything about it. If it's the latter... Nancy hurts for him, genuinely and truly. But she hurts herself, too, and she's not sure she's up to risking him lashing out if she tries to offer any kindness to him. He let her hold on in Decon and that helped. A lot. She doesn't want him undoing that good because his reaction to being in pain is to cause it in others.

After dinner, she walks back to Medical with Lori and asks Jen if she needs an extra hand. Jen assures her that it's all over but the shouting and there's nothing that won't wait until morning.

She's tempted to go out again for a walk, but ends up back in her quarters, changed into pajamas and debating whether butter pecan or cherry garcia goes better with What's Up, Tiger Lily? when the doorbell sounds. She closes the freezer door and opens the apartment one to find Yoni.

He looks like crap, like he's probably been fighting with the marines (he's not all beat to hell, so it wasn't Ronon) and possibly like he's been crying. He looks vulnerable and Nancy wonders if that was what Jen saw or if this is all that's left after the anger has been burned away.

"Butter pecan or cherry garcia?" she asks, stepping aside so he can enter. She's surprised to see him -- glad, but surprised. "We're watching Woody Allen back when he was funny and not sleeping with his stepdaughter."

"Why don't you ever get good ice cream?" Yoni asks in return, his voice a little off and the tone more so. He comes in and then stops, like he's not sure if he should turn right to go into the kitchen or left to go to the couch or turn around and leave.

"There's no such thing as bad ice cream, Yoni," she tells him, moving past him to the kitchen, resisting the urge to pull him along so that he doesn't flee. "Do you want a drink?"

Yoni nods, following her.

She gives him a tumbler of bourbon and a bowl of cherry garcia with rainbow sprinkles, fixes herself the same except with kirsch instead of bourbon, and they sit and watch the movie without talking. During one of the musical interludes, Nancy gets up to take the bowls and glasses back to the kitchen and sees that Yoni's asleep.

3 - That she's a little jealous that the ATA gene therapy didn't work on her. And a little relieved.

Most of them had been given the option of trying the gene therapy before they'd left Colorado; Nancy had gone through with it while Lori had been on the list of people who could not because of elevated risk of complications. At the time, Nancy had felt a little bad for Lori and then a lot bad for herself after the therapy didn't take, but her interest in alien technology had all but evaporated after her first practical experiences with it were the Wraith virus and then the marines going catatonic from exposure to Ancient tech. By the time she gets settled into her apartment in Atlantis, she's more relieved than disappointed that so much of what she sees is so familiar and that her genetic makeup is still one-hundred-percent human.

Over time, however, new experiences overlay the old and her feelings toward alien technology grow more nuanced and more or less favorable, depending on what is putting the city in peril this week. Her first ride in a puddle jumper and getting to see Atlantis from on high is marvelous; the technology that allowed Weir and Sheppard to be possessed and nearly kill each other is less so. Stargates are amazing, except when they're rigged to blow. Watching Carson speak affectionately to the city and her toys when he thinks nobody is watching is sweet; watching Weir fight a battle against bits of nanotech in her blood is anything but.

By the time Major Lorne and Yoni bring Sergeant Weimeier in because he was speaking Ancient, Nancy's more or less learned to just roll with it. Weimeier is lucid enough to be embarrassed, which is exacerbated by Suarez calling him 'Damien' and Ortilla refusing to let him budge from the bed despite both Nancy and Yoni agreeing that there's nothing wrong with him besides the obvious and whatever was affecting him offworld, Atlantis is seemingly not. Seemingly being the key word, however, because apparently Weimeier is willing to lie like a rug to get released from the infirmary and accidentally greets the arriving Colonel Sheppard with the Ancient equivalent of 'hail fellow well met.' Which gets Nancy and Yoni a dirty look from all four military personnel and Weimeier a trip to New Athos to clear his head.

Weimeier returns to Atlantis a week later, having received, in no particular order, a new nickname in Little Tripoli that he's not shedding any time soon, meditation training from some of the Athosians, Ancient tech refresher training from Sheppard, and the promise that if he ever lies about his physical or mental condition on an off-world mission again, Yoni will see to it that he is stripped, staked to the ground, covered in honey, and left for either ants, Wraith, or Doctor Grebner, whoever shows up first.

4 - Half of the things everyone gets up to -- Carson & Yoni, the marines, the crazy shit that happens in Science practically every day -- that involves classified details as essential parts of the story.

"Hey, Doctor C. What're you doing out here?"

"Exactly what you think I'm doing, Sergeant Reletti."

"Taking a refreshing stroll in the crisp ocean air?"

"No, although that's what I'm doing if anyone important asks, so thank you for securing my alibi."

"Do you have a date out here, Doc?"

"Not in the sense you're thinking of, Sergeant Suarez, so no need to look so worried. Yoni's chances remain as good as they ever were."

"I wasn't--"

"Yes you were. Doc's business is her own."

"Thank you, Staff Sergeant."

"All right, ladies! Grab your purses, hike up your skirts, and get a fucking move on... Apologies, ma'am, didn't see you there."

"No worries, Gunny. My skirt is figuratively hiked and my purse is got."

"You're coming with us, Doc?"

"Indeed I am, Sergeant."

"Do you know where we're going?"

"Much better than your company commander would like."

"... you're blackmailing Captain Polito to ride the flume?"

"That's such an ugly word. I consider it a one-time payment for services I normally offer gratis."

"You and the skipper..."

"Not another fucking word, Suarez."

"... Sorry, ma'am. Didn't mean to imply you were a..."

"Woman of easy virtue?"


5 - Not to worry about her.

There's a high turnover in Atlantis; people say it's because it's so far from home and it gets claustrophobic and while the daily privations aren't much, they add up. But it's really because people just can't take the stress of it anymore.

She has been imperiled by killer robots, life-sucking space vampires, whales, and the many ways humans can find to destroy themselves without any help whatsoever. All without leaving the city; off-world has brought its own share of misadventures and risks. She's nearly died more times than she knows, since Atlantis's command sometimes downplays things after the fact. She thinks she gets used to it, but she doesn't; nobody ever does. She does get better at maneuvering under the weight of it, though.

There are funerals, wall ceremonies, emergency medical evacuations to Earth, and the too many times when there's nothing at all to be done except pray. She's learned to differentiate between the shell-shocked brittleness that benefits from an offer to listen or share the silence together and the kind that has to be ignored in order to preserve dignity and the occasionally too-thin pretense that everything is and will be okay.

The first time she goes home, after the sudden eviction from the city by the Ancients, she feels weird for more reasons than just the whiplash. Earth feels oddly safe, oddly innocent. She travels constantly, as if she can outrun whatever it is that makes her feel like she'd drown in softness if she just stopped moving. But she can't, not when her mother can call her cell phone even in the middle of the Pacific on an island without indoor plumbing and ask her if she's okay and whether she'll be back in time for Easter.

She wonders if this is what Ronon felt like when he came to Atlantis and if her mother sees in her the shadow of the trapped animal Nancy saw in him. She asks Yoni, indirectly, in an email from Tahiti about other things, since there's nobody else she can talk to about this. He tells her it's not unlike someone's first experience in combat. She doesn't think she's been in a war, but maybe that's just because she's never fired a weapon.

feed me on LJ?

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2 August, 2010