Hollowest of Victories

by Domenika Marzione


"Is Ogrodnick done yet?" Rodney asked, coming to a stop at the edge of the table.

Radek looked up from where he was hunched over a magnifying glass. The look he gave him was more sympathetic than irritated, but Rodney didn't get annoyed by the pity. He wouldn't ask for any sympathy -- didn't think he deserved any, not for this -- but he'd come to appreciate the patience Radek and the others had shown him over the last week. All the more because he knew, in his heart of hearts, that he would not have done the same if the situation had been someone else's.

Another lesson he needed to learn first hand to learn at all.

"Today, he thinks," Radek answered, gesturing with his head in the general vicinity of where Mike Ogrodnick, lead programmer, network manager, and whatever other titles fell under the umbrella of Chief Computer Dude, had his office.  "Provided nothing unusual."

Ogrodnick was unflappable, unintimidated by his own lack of PhD, and immune to influence no matter how pressing your request was, even on the warped scale of Pegasus Galaxy Disasters. But he was a good guy and had accepted Rodney's task with due solemnity and a promise to get it done as soon as possible. As with the others, Rodney was grateful and completely unable to express it. At least in any way that wouldn't get him another appointment with Kate Heightmeyer.

"Unusual as in 'life sucking vampires show up' or unusual as in 'booby trapped hard drive'?" He sat down heavily on the empty stool next to the table. Rachunek was not around and her workspace was clear, so he rested his elbows on the table and rubbed his face with his palms. His eyes burned and he really should have maybe invested in reading glasses before they went off on the one-way voyage to another galaxy because he'd already had to increase the default font on his computer and the tradeoff was less text on the screen and he didn't like the sacrifice. He didn't like going blind, either, though.

"Does it matter?" Radek was hunched over the magnifier again, adjusting the attached light to better view whatever device he was examining.

"No, no," Rodney agreed with a lightness that sounded unbalanced to his own ears. "I suppose it doesn't."

The truth was that the entire project ultimately didn't matter, not in any official capacity and not at all if they never found a way to get back in contact with Earth.

"There is no time constraint," Radek went on, voice a little tight as he maneuvered his pincers. Radek liked to tell people that his grandfather had been a watchmaker and that's why he was so good with tiny machines, but the truth of it was a combination of steady hands, patience, and a fanatical attention to detail as well as a memory that Rodney alternately hated and envied. "Unlike other projects. You had time booked on the accelerator this morning. Nobody wanted to bump you."

It was as close as Radek would get to telling him to stop obsessing and get back to doing the work he was supposed to be doing instead of trying to assauge his guilt.

"I forgot," Rodney admitted, not taking quite as much pleasure as he should have in how well his authority had been respected without reinforcement.

"It happens," Radek answered absently, as if all Rodney had done was simply forget. "But you should be glad it was Otkharev and Williams and not someone who will make a fuss."

Rodney groaned and sat up straight, then rolled his neck to hear it pop; the slouching over the table was making the muscles in his back tight. He'd spent more time than usual this past week hunched over laptops and it was coming back to haunt him in unhappy ways. "I'll apologize later."

"That would be nice," Radek said, clearly amused. "But it would be out of character. You may scare them."

"I could use the entertainment."

Radek sat back and looked over. "It's not going well?"

Rodney shrugged. "It's going, but... Brendan had a very different basis for his understanding of libration point analysis than I do. I'm trying to be faithful to his interpretations, but..."

But Brendan Gaul had been a pure mathematician whose career had taken him into the applied world and, for all of Rodney's analytical prowess, he'd always been on the other end of the spectrum. It wasn't a matter of not understanding the work -- he understood it perfectly well... just from a completely different set of bases. There was so much overlap between where Rodney had started off and where Brendan had too-quickly finished -- it was why they fought so often. That, and Brendan had shown the promise of very likely overthrowing one of Rodney's own theories involving external influences on precession cycles.

He and Gaul had a far different relationship than the one he had with Radek. Rodney respected Radek, probably more than any other scientist on the expedition, but he didn't fear him in any professional capacity. Gaul... Gaul he had feared. A little. In weak moments. They had been rivals on Earth and it had only gotten worse in Atlantis; new eigenspace, same eigenvectors. They had bickered and sniped and taken disproportionate pleasure in poking holes in each other's work and there had been genuine animosity that broke through to the surface more than a few times... and it all seemed so damned meaningless and trivial and childish because, at the end of it all, Brendan Gaul had been ridiculously noble and stupid all at once and Rodney wasn't sure whether or not to be grateful for that.

He'd had a week to relive that day, to plot out the 'what-if' list like an endlessly expanding series. He'd made so many choices that, at the moment, had been nothing but minor and maybe a little selfish, but instead had turned out to be major and directly impacting on the other members of the team. His assumption that there were no Wraith possibly alive, his determination to stay with Sheppard, his treatment of Gaul, his conning of Elizabeth to let them go down to the surface in the first place... Which one of the many choices would have brought them all home safely if he'd decided differently? Which one, if he'd thought objectively and not with his ego and his fear, would have kept him from having to choose between Brendan Gaul and John Sheppard?

"If you have not already gotten to that point," Radek began, breaking a silence that Rodney belatedly realized had been stretching awkwardly, "Novetny offered to help you with the harmonographic programming."

Rodney tilted his head. "Novetny?"

"Mousy blond man with Liberec accent," Radek explained, as if that told Rodney anything.

"I know who Novetny is," Rodney retorted. "But why would he volunteer? He's got five projects he hasn't finished yet and put in for training for offworld research. Unless that's it -- he thinks I'll approve him for that."

Radek sighed and went back to his magnifier.

"Novetny bunked with Gaul before we left," he said after a moment.  "And he's very good with the n-space programming. Did some projections for me a couple of times."

"Oh," Rodney said, taken aback a little. He barely remembered the two-week quarantine before they'd departed Earth. He'd spent all of it working on interfacing the ZPM with the SGC's stargate and wouldn't have left the base even if he could have. "I'll make sure to ask him, then. It won't happen until Ogrodnick finishes unlocking Gaul's laptop, though."

The natural paranoia of a close (and closed) research environment had a nasty habit of turning everyone into amateur cryptologists and John Le Carre wannabes with encrypted data and layers of passwords on top of the not-insignificant USAF protections. Rodney was not immune -- hell, he'd hired his own security specialist to design his encryption system before they'd departed. But getting stuck in a wormhole two weeks into the expedition and coming seconds away from ceasing to exist without having published any of his greatest works... The passwords to all of his research projects were attached (encrypted, but attached) to his personnel file.

"We are a secretive sect," Radek mused. "Which is good most of the time. Except..."

Except when you die unexpectedly -- and in a fashion of dubious valor and necessity -- and your genius is lost to the vacuum that spawned us all. "Except," Rodney agreed.

Three weeks and one nanovirus later, Johnson, Wagner, and Dumais proved to be less jealous of their intellectual gifts and less protective of their laptops than either Gaul or Abrams. Their work was easily moved to the main database but, with the exception of Wagner's almost-ready-for-peer-review article on inorganic conductivity, was kept in-house because of its classified nature.

One year after the first Daedalus round trip, "A Preliminary Case for the Possibility of Halo Orbits in N-Body Dynamical Systems" by Brendan Gaul and Rodney McKay appeared in British Journal of Applied Physics D: Applied Physics 40:2

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