Minor in Archaeology

by Domenika Marzione

He leaves his radio on, but tells no one where he's going or when he'll be back. It's a compromise so when he gets in trouble for this later -- and he can almost already imagine Elizabeth giving him that look and reminding him that he can't leave two hundred-plus marines to their own devices when Major Lorne still hasn't gotten quite settled and John's just brought home a feral man as a guest ("he's not a pet, Rodney") -- he won't look completely derelict of duty.

He doesn't want to abdicate his responsibilities; the marine captains and Lorne are pretty much taking over the place without his help, but he knows that they need him to be around, to be both active guidance and passive barometer as the battalion establishes itself. But yesterday sucked in ways he doesn't want to either explain or take out on unsuspecting victims, sleeping on it didn't help and, after a morning of him being the responsible commander, everyone will be better off if he takes a little break. Even with Caldwell still circling like a vulture over the command he believes was ripped out of his jaws. (Maybe it was; Elizabeth's role in this whole business is nebulous by her own intent.)

Radner had weeks to secure the city after the siege ended and probably had it done in days; the marines have all been learning Atlantis one bootstep at a time in patrols around the city, looking for damage and learning her architecture and her foibles and the way the salty air smells differently depending on where you are. But there's nobody out this way now. John can't quite bring himself to ask Atlantis to make him disappear off the radar -- doesn't even know if he can (although, judging by how eager she's been to interact since his return last month, she probably would) -- but he doesn't see much shame in asking her to put him someplace nobody will accidentally run into him.

Into the transporter and instead of hitting somewhere on the screen, he just thought away and the doors closed, reopening in another part of the city he doesn't recognize. He hadn't realized that he could do that.

He's been thinking about all of the things about Atlantis that he hasn't bothered to learn, hasn't wanted to learn because they freak him the hell out even after a year, but now might be important. Not only for the city's safety, but also, more selfishly, for keeping him a part of the place.

He has always been embarrassed by his supercharged ATA gene, viewed it like a sixth finger or something else that makes him the center of attention in ways that are all about spectacle and how he can be used. But back on Earth, faced with the prospect of never again being able to feel Atlantis's buzz beneath his skin... he didn't think his pride would have allowed him to return to be just a light switch and to watch Caldwell or someone else run his city, but he had briefly wondered if maybe they would have been less willing to turf him if he'd made a stronger connection to the city and the technology.

Now that he's back, either through his own merits or Elizabeth's power-dealing, those thoughts feel cheap and he apologizes to Atlantis, knowing that she can't understand him (he thinks) and that if she does, she doesn't care because she's just so happy to see him. So happy to see that he brought others like him back, too, although he wishes she'd have been less enthusiastic on that front because nobody likes to see catatonic and/or barfing marines.

But now, today, he doesn't mind the frisson of excitement in the back part of his mind, is instead willing to ride it wherever it goes. Because wherever it goes won't be any place he fought the Wraith, won't be any place where he has to think about Aiden Ford.

(Caldwell is right; Ford has sensitive information and is not in control of himself. But John is right, too -- Ford would die before giving Atlantis to the Wraith. John believes Ford can be helped, that he can be cured, and that can only happen if he's not dead. Killing Ford wouldn't solve any problems, just create more nightmares and John really wishes the SGC would make up their mind on whether or not they want him murdering other officers to maintain operational security.)

The transporter has let him out indoors and he follows the hallway until he finds a window and can see how far up off of the ground he is; the transporters are kind of random in where they leave you in a building sometimes and the default is not always the ground floor. He finds a peach-colored window at the T-juncture of two intersecting hallways, the kind of windows you can push out on a hinge, and it budges with some force, grinding loose with a squeak.

He's on the second floor of a building, although he can't get the window open far enough to be able to see the skyline well enough to situate himself. He finds the stairwell and goes down two flights, then follows the sunlight to the open main doors. He doesn't know what the building is -- if in doubt, it's a lab of some variety, but he doesn't poke around. He doesn't think Atlantis brought him here for that; there's nothing persistent or insistent in the hum he doesn't really feel and she did open the door for him.

Outside is sunny and it's warm enough even with the breeze that he's happy he didn't bring his jacket. Triangulating with the afternoon sun and the central spire, he knows roughly where he is in the city. Far enough inland that he can't smell the salt of the ocean, he'd hazard a guess that he's in Foxtrot territory on the grid map, F-2 or F-3 most likely. Over on the near horizon is the lipstick-colored building that Social Sciences wants to move into and that's in E-2.

Atlantis's walkways and streets aren't quite the same everywhere in the city, but they are uniform within areas and this is one of the newer parts of the city and so they are... not afterthoughts, but occasionally a little counterintuitive and sort of give the impression that the Ancients were already thinking about other things -- either Ascension or the Wraith or how to build flying cars or whatever it was they were thinking about instead of straight lines and how those are the shortest distance between two points.

Somewhere in the database are pictures of what Atlantis looked like in full splendor, when she had trees and decoration and she pulsed with life instead of got whispered to by ghosts, but they haven't found them yet. He sort of wonders if maybe he'd find a replete Atlantis gaudy and gauche, like the way the recreations of Ancient Greece always look tacky with the colored paint and populated temples. Atlantis is not that sort of sterile white; she's kind of a little gaudy anyway and he loves her for it. But if the Acropolis looks worn down by time and disrepair and the thick smog of Athens, Atlantis looks more bloodied-but-unbowed. Like she knows that she's running on partial power, she can't do a quarter of the things she was build to do, she is but a shell of her former self... and she dares you to point it out to her, dares you to make an issue of it, dares you to call her bluff. (And, as much as he loves Atlantis, she'd better be damned glad McKay's around to help her settle up accounts when either nature or the enemy does call her bluff.)

Until they find the pictures, he's happy to wander down circuitous paths and imagine trees and plants and wonder if the Ancient children (which, not surprisingly, are kind of hard to imagine) played in that fountain or slid down this banister. Sometimes he imagines Atlantis was like Antarctica, a society of geeks spending all of their days doing research isolated from the realities of life. Sometimes it's like Coruscant (the new Star Wars movies sucked, but the city visuals were interesting), teeming with interplanetary life and commerce of all kinds. And a few times, like when he came back from saving Orin and failing to save so many others, it's like Olympus, playground of gods who lived out their soap opera lives and once in a while remembered to check in on the little people they created to worship them.

Today, it's more M.C. Escher because he's taken the same staircase downstairs and upstairs without changing direction or passing any point of focus in between. Radner had said once that he thought Atlantis had been built by little boys with more Lego pieces than they knew what to do with and John doesn't think that's completely inaccurate.

In all of his adventures in the city, even Wraith-hunting, he's never quite sure how much of it is his own free will and how much of it is Atlantis playing OnStar with his brain. He can usually tell when Atlantis is trying to communicate -- as the ATA-carrier marines found out the hard way, it's kind of impossible not to -- but he wonders if she is capable of a more subtle direction. It's this possibility that has always scared him and chilled his interest in further exploring his connection to this place. (He doesn't discuss with the engineers the likelihood of it being possible because the one time he did bring it up, McKay accused him of watching 2001: A Space Odyssey too many times and called him 'Dave' for the rest of the day.)

But Atlantis isn't trying to be coy or subtle today and John is content to follow the hum of her systems. It's so much stronger with the ZPM in place (one of the reasons Beckett and Safir didn't actually kill Rodney for not warning of what might happen to the marines) since there's so much more that has the power to be active. He's still getting used to the increased noise and energy -- both Atlantis's and how he needs more of his own to keep her from distracting him.

He knows Atlantis isn't sentient, but also thinks that maybe he can hear her ponder in her not-really-words if he'd like to see this place or that place or maybe he wants to try over there. She wants to show off and for all of the cute puppy aspect of it, it's still a little disturbing. He also wonders if the geeks over in the control room are getting nervous at the power fluctuations; the lieutenants are still getting used to that task and a room full of spazzing scientists is both training exercise and headache. But it's Appleman's shift right now and John is disinclined to be merciful; he'd wanted to punt Appleman before they'd even arrived in Atlantis and the lieutenant has done nothing to change his opinion since.

And so he follows the not-really-noise to a squat building across a small plaza dominated by an extraordinarily ugly fountain and waves his hands over the crystals to open the door. The lights come up slowly, sluggishly, and John waits for them because it's a little too dark to see otherwise. It's just as well because the floor is cluttered with boxes and cases and he'd have surely tripped over the mess.

Part tornado and part like burglars have tossed the joint, more than anything else it looks like whoever'd been here before had had to leave before they were done packing. Atlantis-as-Pompeii is a little-seen side of her; the Ancients pretty much cleaned up, unplugged the fridge, and turned off the lights before they'd bugged out for Earth. Except where they hadn't. And maybe this was one of those places. It wasn't in the area where Old Elizabeth had been; they've explored all of those parts already in case any of Janis's toys had remained.

There's no saying that the clutter and luggage here is anything important -- they've all assumed that the Ancients would have either packed first or destroyed anything truly important to their culture and to the city -- but these were the Ancients and, lord knows, they did enough stuff bass ackwards. So while these could be the equivalent of some Ancient's comic book collection, it could also be crucial material that they couldn't afford to pack until the last and then ran out of time or manpower to bring with them.

John crosses over to one of the boxes and tries to open it, first with brute strength and then, when that fails, with his ATA mojo. It fights him a little -- either because it's old or because it's important -- and then opens with a soft click and the lid opens in two and there is the familiar sight of crystals nestled in foam-like material.

It's still probably comic books, but it's enough of a find that either Social Sciences or Sciences or both will think it's Christmas. He opens two more of the boxes to find crystals in both and then tries one of the cases and it really fights him before opening crankily. Inside, there's a device that he can't even begin to guess what its function could be and doesn't touch it in case it's a weapon or something that will do damage. Satisfied that he's not calling in a false alarm, he hits his radio and flips to the frequency he wants.

"Major?"

"Sir?" Lorne responds immediately.

"Do we have a handful of marines with nothing better to do than carry some stuff back to the city center for me?"

John doesn't explain why or what. The latter more because he doesn't want to have to explain the former.

"Uhhh," Lorne exhales as he presumably is checking the roster. "Weapons Company's Third Platoon just accidentally ambushed half of Life Sciences and would be happy for the opportunity to get out of sight for a little while. Should I ask what they'll be doing or am I working on plausible deniability?"

He likes Lorne. Lorne covers the devious option as a matter of course.

"I found some control crystals," John tells him because it's not really going to be a secret for more than thirty seconds after the marines get back to the labs. "Too many for me to carry back on my own."

"Congratulations, sir," Lorne replies. "Lieutenant Murray will thank you."

It is much more important to be loved by Engineering than it is to be hated by Life Sciences. Rodney has his favorites among his units and he's still trying to get Life Sciences transferred to Medical's domain, despite Beckett insisting that until they get a veterinary division, Zoology is not a Medical subfield. (Entomology, conversely, would have no trouble under the circumstances and that amuses the hell out of all of them. Except Rodney, who doesn't want to be bothered by anything involving the soft sciences.)

Eight minutes later, Lorne is leading Murray and his men across the plaza to the building where John is now waiting outside. John doesn't ask why Lorne came along -- Lorne was either bored, about to lose his cool with the civilians, being driven crazy by the marine captains, or he is practicing his distressing ability to find John wherever he hides. John has already asked him how he does it (after Lorne found him in a brand new hiding spot) and Lorne told him, completely straight-faced, that there is a subcutaneous transmitter. John... mostly thinks he is joking.

None of Murray's men have the ATA gene, so John's not worried about anyone accidentally setting something off. One squad works on stacking and packing the boxes on to trolleys and the other two do a search of the building, turning up another dozen crates and two cases that John breaks a sweat forcing open. He's a little uncomfortable doing it in front of the marines, most of whom are still very weirded out by the ATA gene and all of the other magic in Atlantis, but if something's going to go boom, it's better to do it out here than in the labs -- it allows the marines to be smug because the scientists' track record of starting all of their own fires will be intact.

As it turns out, Elizabeth never ends up giving John that look. It seems that when Lorne briefed her, he neglected to tell her that John had been off wandering on his own when he'd found the cache. Instead, Lorne left her with the impression that John had in fact been leading Third Platoon, Weapons Company on a tour of the city. John only finds this out when Elizabeth compliments him on taking such an active hand in the absorption of the marines into the city, a conversation that is conveniently interrupted by Rodney demanding that all of Linguistics be temporarily ceded to his control so that they can get the crystals documented right now.

Lorne, of course, gives him a carefully blank look of non-comprehension when John brings it up. (Lorne may have him lojacked, but he's turning into a very good unindicted co-conspirator.)

Atlantis feels a little... happier than usual and John wishes he knew if it was all in his head, but asking that sort of thing out loud just begs an interview with Heightmeyer and Caldwell is still around to take command should he be deemed unfit for duty. So John keeps his mouth shut and thinks thank you and you're welcome back to the city that may or may not hear him.

feed me on LJ?


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28 January, 2007