Because It Sparkles

by Domenika Marzione

It's databurst day, which is sort of like a cross between Christmas and Report Card Day -- lots of surprises, some good, some not so good, and some that could have been the former but end up the latter because you didn't quite apply yourself. For a group of overachievers like the scientists in Atlantis, it has the potential to be very stressful and, after eight months in the city, Nancy's learned to avoid her higher-strung colleagues until at least after dinner.

Atlantis dials Earth at noon AST and the contents of the databurst are usually distributed to the general population by 1400 -- it gives the command staff a little bit of a headstart when it comes to dealing with whatever shit is about to hit the fan. Which is why when Carson sticks his head in the doorway at 1330, Yoni sighs -- the CMO looking for his faithful deputy to assist in the handling of some crisis.

Nancy's in Yoni's lab because if she has to ask someone for help interpreting lab results, she'd rather risk him thinking she's not very bright than having to go over to Bio-Chem.

"Should I go?" she asks, since while her friendship with Yoni has developed enough that she doesn't think he'd actually call her an idiot to her face, that doesn't mean she's entitled to insider information with respect to the goings-on in Medical.

"No, love," Carson assures. "There's nothing in the databurst so awful that I'd rather listen to Jonathan's commentary than handle it myself."

Yoni totally fails to look offended -- Carson can insult him however he wants so long as it means he doesn't have to do more bureaucratic work. "Did it come?" he asks instead.

"It came," Carson replies happily. Actually, it might even be close to glee. "The whole thing."

Nancy gets worried for reasons entirely unrelated to the databurst. Yoni and Carson are a formidable administrative team, but they are also terrible influences on each other and Carson looking mischievous bodes ill (or well, depending) for the comportment of the heads of her department. Yoni's answering delight pretty much seals the deal.

"Okay, what are you two up to?"

If it's anything like the stained-glass-with-Jello, she wants in.

Yoni and Carson exchange a look and then Carson speaks. "Come to my quarters, 1900 Friday."

"Bring pretzels," Yoni adds, since he knows she still has some and both the commissary and the general store are out.

"You don't have to bring anything," Carson tells her, frowning at Yoni. "We'll get him a salt lick from Zoology to tide him over until the Daedalus returns."

He heads off then, since even if it doesn't require Yoni's attention, the databurst brought plenty else apart from whatever Friday's mystery presentation is that at least requires his.

Yoni's, meanwhile, is already back to her printouts and so she returns her attention there as well, since the key to getting Yoni's help without him reducing you to tears is to not make him explain anything twice.

"Can I get a hint about Friday?" she asks once they're done. "Do I need anything? Special equipment, plausible alibi..."

Yoni shakes his head and gives her one of those rare non-sardonic smiles. It's almost fond and, although she knows it's not a sentiment directed at her, she returns it because good behavior should be rewarded. "An appreciation of fine cheese," he says. "And pretzels."

The cheese part is a joke, one she isn't going to get until Friday, but the pretzel part is not and she rolls her eyes before heading off. To get back to her desk she has to dodge Bagley, the pleasant-but-needy endocrinologist visiting from Earth, and once there she jots down notes in the margins of her printouts so she'll remember what Yoni said. She's still going to have to go to Bio-Chem, but she has a better grip on what she needs from them. It's a little embarrassing to need help at all -- these are all tests and results she's run and received a thousand times on Earth -- but she's not running them on human samples this time.

Eight months in Atlantis and that still feels a little weird to contemplate.

By the time Bagley realizes she's back, she's ready to go again. Every week when the databurst is released to the general population, pretty much everyone in the city checks their email at once, which in turn brings the servers to a painful slowdown. Nancy's as eager as everyone else to see what she's got in her inbox, but she doesn't handle the frustration of The Crawl well, so she takes the time to go out and get a run in instead.

She finally gets into her email at 1600 and along with the professional (comments on an article she's writing, invites to two conferences she can't go to, a handful of links she'll have to request the pages for next week, etc.) and the personal (mother, father, sister, best friend, ex-boyfriend) is an email from Yoni repeating the command to bring pretzels on Friday night.

She seriously considers going to Zoology for a salt lick. Instead, she elaborately wraps two pretzel rods in the pastel tissue paper her mother used in her Easter care package and asks Lori if she has any ribbon. Preferably pink.

Friday is surprising and entertaining long before she finds out what Carson and Yoni are up to. The marines are staging some kind of exercise in an unpopulated part of the city and they are apparently using Wraith stunners and paintball guns, since the injured are showing up twitchy and looking like they'd wandered into a Holi festival.

"Aren't you supposed to be wearing eye protection?" she asks Sergeant Gregson as she flushes out his left eye, which thankfully doesn't seem damaged, although she's going to send him through the scanner anyway -- after first sending him through decon to get cleaned up.

"I was, ma'am," Gregson replies with remarkable good cheer. "That's why my eye is yellow and the rest of my face is blue. I got hit again wiping off the lenses."

She knows better than to ask anything else.

Evening comes and she shows up at Carson's with her wrapped pretzels and her extra bag of dark chocolate M&Ms (since her mother went nuts for Easter) because Carson is an especial fan. Laura Cadman is already there, which Nancy expected, but so are a handful of other people from various departments plus McKay and Weir. It should be awkward to go show up at something that's supposed to be wacky fun and find your boss' boss (plus McKay, who, Carson's buddy or not is still McKay), but it's actually not. Wacky, at least. It's a party. Weir, like everyone else, is in civvies and is carrying on an animated conversation with someone Nancy doesn't know by name. McKay is in Carson's kitchen barking at those nearby to leave genius alone as he concocts what looks to be a giant batch of sangria except that booze is not allowed and Weir is right there.

"Ah, Nancy," Carson greets her and accepts the M&Ms happily since the general store never stocks the dark chocolate kind. "Come in, have something, find a seat."

The living room has extra chairs arranged around the couch and facing the giant TV that's really some re-purposed monitor screen from somewhere in the city.

"What exactly are we doing tonight?" Nancy asks Laura, who is standing by the dining table, which has been pushed over to the side and is covered in snacks. Laura is her regular workout partner and they've hung out even when they're not flipping each other into the floor mats or going to poker night.

"Eurovision," Laura replies sagely, loading up a small plate with veggies. Atlantis may be out of pretzels, but she's awash in crudités and crackers and dip. And hummus. Lots of hummus. The marines brought back a ton (possibly literally) of chick peas the other month, bartered for who knows what, and despite the fact that they are dried and will last forever, the leathernecks on kitchen duty have been churning out hummus like clockwork. The current platoon in the kitchen seems to favor a hot and spicy blend that manages to overcome a good deal of Nancy's hummus fatigue. "Apparently, it's the Miss Universe Pageant crossed with American Idol. Carson's been waiting for this like it's the new Star Wars."

"Without Jar-Jar, I hope," Nancy says, looking around again. Apart from Weir and Laura and herself and McKay, everyone else is from Europe, something she probably wouldn't have noticed otherwise. Maybe this is like soccer -- something everyone else in the world is extremely passionate about and the US just doesn't get. Of course, she wasn't quite expecting Carson and Yoni to be so giddy about a talent competition.

"So where is Yoni?" Laura asks. "He's been as antsy as Carson."

As if on cue, the door opens again and there's Yoni with Major Lorne, who looks bemused but wary, like he's not sure what Yoni's dragging him to and whether he should've brought their marines for protection. Nancy doesn't blame him. That said, Lorne is greeted by almost everyone like he was expected, or at the very least welcome. He eventually makes his way over to them -- or at least to the food.

"Doc," he greets Nancy. "Lieutenant."

"Welcome to the Confused Americans Club, sir," Laura replies cheerfully. "Hummus?"

Lorne makes a pained face and sighs. "What do I have to offer you to keep that off of the menu next month?"

Laura's platoon must have kitchen duty, since she laughs. "An extra off-world mission would be nice?"

"Hide the garbanzos and you can go wherever you want," Lorne promises.

Carson comes by with two glasses of whatever McKay was working on. He hands them to Nancy and Laura and apologizes to Lorne for not having three hands. Lorne assures him it's fine and goes off to get his own glass.

"What is this?" Nancy asks, since it really does smell and look like sangria.

"What it looks like," Carson replies. "The wine is so low alcohol that it's practically grape juice."

"But we're still not letting the marines near the stuff because they'll make up in quantity what they lose in alcohol content," Laura adds with a frown that's undone by the fondness in her eyes. She can gripe about her men all she wants, but Nancy knows she thinks the world of them.

The sangria tastes like regular sangria -- really good sangria, actually. Not too sweet and not watery at all and there's all sorts of fruit in it and... "Wait a second, isn't McKay allergic to citrus?"

Cadman laughs, a low, throaty chuckle like there's a story behind it (beyond the obvious one of her history with McKay). "When he wants to be. It's really not a bad allergy. He can probably get through a glass before he feels anything."

Nearby, Weir is telling a story of her first encounter with Eurovision, which was in Malta during the early part of her diplomatic career and involved a lot of beer. "Sadly, my next posting was in Guinea-Bissau and it was a long time before I was in another participating country," she concluded sadly, then perked up. "I still root for them, though."

"Do they ever win?" Laura asks.

"No," Weir admits, accepting a glass of the sangria from McKay. "But they usually do quite respectably. Except 2003. That was an unfortunate year."

This sparks a whole host of reminiscences of contests past with everyone seemingly having a dozen stories of legendary bad costumes, ringers from other countries, national selection processes that were obvious cases of self-sabotage, the tricks of block voting, nul points and notable instances thereof, ancient rivalries coming back to haunt, conflicting definitions of 'schlager,' and Celine Dion before digressing into a debate over whether Finland is inept or just cursed by having a language not fit for singing pop songs.

"What have we gotten ourselves into?" Nancy asks.

"I'm at least getting other benefits out of being here," Laura replies. "You're on your own. Unless you've got some assurance that sequins and bad choreography makes Yoni want to put out."

"If those are his kinks, I don't want to know about it," Nancy says earnestly.

The Eurovision program is supposed to be pretty long, even considering that this is an abridged and edited version, so Carson starts the video while everyone is still socializing and grazing and it quickly becomes the sole focus of the room. The song acts are both better and worse than advertised -- the entire production is awesomely cheesy, like it's stuck in an 1980's timewarp, and so slickly over-produced it's a wonder nobody slides off the stage. The assembled audience mock and cheer and argue about what the votes will be -- when they're not telling stories of childhood outrage and tears over past voting injustices, real or perceived. Even Yoni is involved, apparently still resentful at the coalitions that cost Israel the title in 1983.

"Ofra Haza," Espersen sighs. "Lovely voice, but, by God, she was hot."

"Yes, yes she was," Yoni agrees sadly.

There's a murmur of agreement and Nancy suspect she really ought to know who Ofra Haza is -- or, perhaps, was.

The somber mood is broken up by the appearance of Israel's current entry, which is... not quite what Nancy expected. It's sort of a kosher version of Soul Train, with a black man backed up by gospel singers performing in both Hebrew and English. It's neither awesomely outrageous or outrageously awesome. It's kind of bland and, lacking in any kind of novelty apart from a black guy representing Israel, nobody thinks it will do well in the voting. Least of all Yoni.

"A few diaspora points, maybe," he sighs, taking a sip from his beer. Carson put out a six-pack of near-beer, the official malt beverage of Atlantis, but a quick peek over at the table reveals that the six bottles of O'Douls are still where they were. Nancy cocks an eyebrow and Yoni shrugs, raising his glass of what is probably marine-brewed beer, the unofficial malt beverage of Atlantis.

Feeling charitable in Yoni's national humbling, Nancy hands over the pretzels.

"You guys should've gone with the transvestite again," Gallerstein calls over.

Without knowing the context, Nancy agrees. Drag queens are a natural for this sort of thing.

"Transsexual," Yoni corrects absently. "We should have."

He takes some more ribbing (in good humor), but soon enough everyone gets distracted by Spain's act, which seems to involve a bondage couple writhing on the ground while four pin-ups sing (badly) about the wonders of duty-free alcohol, and then Malta's entry, which Doctor Weir watches with her hands over her mouth. Nancy's not sure if it's to keep from crying or laughing.

"There are drinking games for this, right?" Laura asks as the female host comes out in yet another new outfit.

"Absolutely," Surekova assures. "Take a drink if Germany sings something chirpy, if Cyprus gets twelve points from Greece..."

"If the UK gets nothing from France," Carson adds as he passes by with more potato chips.

"If you can't tell what language they're singing in and it's English --"

"--and finish the glass if they're actually making up their own language," a few people chorus. Nancy laughs along, too, until it turns out the Dutch really are singing in their own made-up language.

There are more rules, pointed out as they occur (which is often). Nancy suspects that everyone would be courting alcohol poisoning if they were playing along with real booze.

The acts progress, more ridiculous than sublime (although the Russians in attendance are impervious to the mocking of their representative). Carson retreats to the kitchen in shame once the UK act starts with tarted up schoolgirls in uniform before devolving into bad white-guy rap, but returns in time for Finland's act, which is apparently the one to see.

And, oh, is it.

"Oh my god," Nancy gasps, unable to catch her breath from laughing. "Orcs playing heavy metal!"

Yoni grins, eyes still on the pyrotechnics and spectacle. "Welcome to Eurovision."

"No, Eurovision is what we've been enjoying all evening," Sallinen says jubilantly. "This is Finland finally breaking its streak."

The room breaks into laughter and some applause at the conclusion, congratulating Sallinen and wondering about what will happen next year if Finland wins, since it is apparently common for contestants to ape the previous winner's routine.

After the rockin' Orcs, the rest of the acts are a natural come-down -- although it's not hard to muster up some energy to mock the French -- and everyone starts to get antsy for the voting, completely ignoring Armenia's closing performance in favor of the debate. The voting is a confused jumble of languages -- and that's what's on the screen -- and politics and it turns out that everyone at the viewing party is well-versed in the way these things go, since the predictions are mostly on the money. Israel gets four pity points from France, Malta is saved from nul points ignominy by Albania, and Finland cleans up. Their encore performance is watched by all.

"Next year in Helsinki!" a happy Sallinen cries out as the credits roll and the party breaks up.

"Why don't we have this in the auditorium?" Gaudette asks as they help Carson and Laura clean up. "I think there'd be a wide enough audience to merit it. The marines got the Superbowl there."

Lorne is the nearest important person to Gaudette, but he shrugs and puts his hands up to indicate it's beyond his control. "I don't have any pull with the civilian MWR committee," he says. "You'll have to talk to them."

"The civilian MWR committee is made up entirely of people from outside the EBU," Carson calls over his shoulder as he carries the empty sangria bowl back to the kitchen. "Don't think we didn't ask."

"I think I'd be willing to make it happen by fiat," Weir says thoughtfully. "It would be an excellent balance to the North American dominance of culture. And that Malta can't possibly do worse than this year."

"I'd vote for it," Nancy offers, handing Carson a full trash bag as he re-emerges from the kitchen empty-handed. "Anything that means one less free week for them to run a Peter Greenaway movie."

"Or anything out of the oeuvre of Philip Seymour Hoffman or David Cronenberg's early work," Laura adds, eating another carrot stick as she carries a tray of veggies back to the fridge. "We live in an alien city and fight space vampires. Why do we need to seek out weirdness for our entertainment?"

That's a question that has long plagued this city on the sea and it's what people are still griping about when Nancy thanks Carson for the invite and heads back to her own quarters.

The next morning, Surekova sends her an email telling her to look in her (Surekova's) shared drive since she's put mp3s from past Eurovision albums in there. It came up last night that everyone had at least three records or tapes in their collections at some point and, from there, a discussion about who had what on mp3 here in Atlantis. That this event is a merchandising giant does not surprise Nancy. That someone would decide that Eurovision songs were on the short list of what to bring on an extended stay in another galaxy... Eight months in this city and that really shouldn't surprise her that much, either.

"The Herreys?"

Nancy, immersed in reading the files in the directory, squeaks in surprise. She turns around to find Yoni, looking both smug and amused and holding a flash drive.

"You can't fully appreciate 'Diggi-loo Diggi-ley' without the accompanying visuals," he goes on thoughtfully, holding out the flash drive, which she grabs. He'd promised her yesterday that he'd dig up some research from last year that would be relevant to her current project. "Although maybe it improves without context. Or maybe you'll like it anyway. My sisters had the dance routine down cold and you share the same lack of aesthetics."

"After what I saw last night, my estimation of your ability to judge quality and taste has taken a marked downturn," she replies archly.

"You expect me to be insulted when I've seen your music collection?" He cocks an eyebrow at her, then turns to go. He's dressed for an off-world mission, which means he's probably running late for that.

"There's nothing wrong with my music collection," she calls after him.


The next year, Eurovision is indeed organized to be shown in the auditorium with great fanfare. And a little melancholy, since it hasn't been very long since Carson's death. The evening is dedicated to him, in fact.

Yoni makes vague noises about not going, especially once Weir makes the announcement about it being in Carson's memory. The obvious response would be to tell Yoni that he's being an idiot, but that would go over about as well as telling him he had to go to Carson's funeral, so Nancy doesn't. She instead asks to borrow his Ofra Haza CDs, since she assumes he has some, and tells him that Sallinen has borrowed a Wraith mask from the Athosian kids and is planning to show up in costume as a member of Lordi. And then she goes and finds Lior Shilman to make sure he gets Yoni to go, since Lior can make it sound like he wants company comparison-shopping sequined boobs on the big screen and not like it's an intervention.

(Shilman makes everything about boobs, which can be part of his charm in exceedingly small doses. Or if he's getting on Yoni's case for not seeing enough of them in a non-professional capacity. He's a lot like a male version of Lori, actually, which would be dangerous if the two of them ever really talked to each other. But Yoni seems intent on making sure that doesn't happen and Nancy's never bothered to call him on this particular bit of self-preservation, since she benefits from it as well.)

Eurovision 2007 is not as big as the Superbowl party, which completely takes over the city, but it's certainly big enough. And what it lacks in comprehensiveness, it makes up in wacky as Sallinen's not the only one who shows up dressed for the occasion.

Out here in Pegasus, despite the patches on their shoulders, primary personal identification tends to run along Earth/not-Earth and military/civilian lines. The resurgence of nationalism is entertaining and familiar and, maybe, a little comforting so far away from home. Also a little surprising, since if it weren't for Erjavec running around with a giant flag, Nancy's pretty sure she'd never have realized Mazgan wasn't the only Slovenian in Atlantis.

Nancy feels like an old hand explaining the concept to Lori, who was lured to the event by the prospect of free snacks and great spectacle. (And it being Something to Do, which is often as not a good enough reason for anyone.) They get popcorn and orange sodas and commandeer some seats where they can spread out and snark about the makeup and the outfits and the music and also absorb the Rocky Horror atmosphere in the audience and laugh at how the marines keep sneaking in to watch but pretend they're not.

Israel and Malta both surpass last year's futility, although Israel at least has to good grace to do so with exceedingly poor taste while Malta merely has gold-painted backup dancers (with fans!). The French produce men in hot pink outfits, the Danes win Nancy's vote for actually sending a real drag queen, and the disproportionate percentage of Eastern Europeans making the final has the heavily Eastern European contingent from Science giddy even before the illicit booze kicks in.

The Serbians win, despite their singer and her dancers all being fully dressed.

"I'm almost disappointed," Lori sighs, finishing her soda. "On the one hand, yay, good taste actually wins the day. But on the other, what fun is that?"

Nancy stretches her legs and stands. "I'm sure it's just an aberration."

The small-but-vocal Serbian contingent passes by, singing (badly) the winning song.

"It's a shame we can't participate," Lori muses. "I mean, I get why the Europeans don't want the Americans -- although, really, Israel's casting pretty far afield if you're going for a greater Europe -- but I wish we had our own version. We can do excellent cheese, too."

"I don't think New Mexico-Delaware's going to muster up the same kind of hate-on as Sweden-Finland," Nancy replies. "It would end up looking like the bastard child of the talent and 'state costume' portions of the Miss America pageant."

The line for the transporters is going to be horrendous, so she sits back down.

"Well, how about a Monroe Doctrine version? North and South America," Lori offers. "We'd get to watch Canada have a pitched battle about whether they sing in French or English before they decided to make up their own language. Or sing in Esperanto."

"They might get Celine Dion to sing it," Nancy counters.

"Even better," Lori says. "It'd be perfect. She could get Cirque du Soleil as her dancers."

"You had very traumatized Barbie dolls growing up, didn't you?"

They wait fifteen minutes before checking to see how bad the line at the transporters is. There's still a wait, so Nancy suggests they see if the rain has slackened off and, if so, that they walk at least part of the way home. The reconstruction of Atlantis (after the Replicators, after the whales) has led to the opening up of a pedestrian path through large parts of the populated parts of the city. You can't get from one end to the other without either a transporter or a marine escort, but the plan is that eventually you will be able to. Barring more Replicators, Wraith, or whales. In the meanwhile, knowing that there's always a crowd after Movie Night, the marines secured a path between the auditorium and a few other transporters. There are regular streetlights and the odd amelioration that could pass as a bench.

It has stopped raining -- it's still humid, but not oppressively so -- and they walk. They aren't the only ones with the idea; the pedestrian path isn't crowded, but it's certainly occupied. At some distance in front of them, Nancy thinks she can hear the Serbians singing.

"Carson would've liked this," Lori says after they've walked for a little bit. "Not the results, maybe. But it was a good party and he liked those."


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15 August, 2009