Table Set for Four

by Domenika Marzione



"He Lives In a Pineapple Under the Sea"


Elizabeth Weir sat at her desk, looking through the window at the darkness, screen-bleary eyes not quite able to make out the horizon point between sky and sea. She rarely worked in her room and the desk reflected it; organized for form more than function, it was decorated with a too-large selection of the baubles received in the course of diplomacy, the ones not deemed tasteful enough for her office but too interesting to box for storage, and felt like a movie prop compared to the one in her office. A small bouquet of exotic feathers rested in a cup instead of pencils and a voluptuous fertility totem stood where her lamp should be.

It was Sunday night and Sunday night meant the social on the deck outside the commissary and, because of the recently concluded trade negotiations with the Picarans, that meant all the fresh pineapple and virgin pina coladas you could handle. That at least one batch would have its virtue despoiled once she announced her retirement for the evening was to be expected. "Don't ask, don't tell" applied to more than the personal relations among the military contingent. Once significant quantities of hard liquor had made an appearance -- once the Daedalus started making regular runs to Atlantis and bringing care packages from home -- John had quietly gone about setting up the informal rules for the consumption of alcohol on what was technically still a dry expedition. Elizabeth didn't know the details because it would have required asking John and thus destroying plausible deniability on both of their parts. There had been only one incidence of drunkenness that she knew of, and that only from overheard gossip pertaining to what John had only referred to as a "minor discipline problem" when he'd shown up late to a meeting one morning. But that had been months ago, although with John gone she had faith in Lorne's ability to maintain the status quo. When Caldwell showed up... she'd cross that bridge when she came to it.

A glass still half-full of pina colada and a plate of pineapple sat mostly untouched next to the laptop open before her. The botanists had given her a long and surprisingly interesting explanation for why the Picarans' main crop was pineapples. They weren't quite pineapples, Maggie Yee had explained with a handwave to indicate that the differences weren't important to anyone who wasn't a botanist. But everything about the part of the continent near the stargate was similar enough to southern Brazil that, really, the preponderance of pineapples was no shock.

The Picarans were friendly in a charmingly simple way, so guilelessly open that Elizabeth had felt more concern for their safety than relief that they were pleased to trade with strangers. With their brown skin, squat features, and tropical attire so sharply in contrast to the fair, tall, well-armed delegation from Atlantis, visiting the Picarans reminded her of history book tales of the Spanish coming to Florida or Mexico. So embarrassed by the disparity and mindful of the chance for unwitting intimidation, she'd nearly asked Major Lorne if it would be possible to return without the P-90's. But Darra, the Athosian who had unofficially replaced Teyla as their guide and intermediary, assured her that the Picarans had lived in safety (apart from the Wraith) for longer than almost any other known world. For all of the wealth of pineapples, there were not an abundance of resources that would make Picara's Land attractive to the rapacious or the bold.

Nevertheless, coming to a trade agreement was more difficult than Elizabeth had expected. The Picarans were unexcited by technology, although they seemed to find the radios to be somewhat magical, and had looked slightly aghast at the offers of mechanized tools. The trade ultimately came down to pineapples for malaria vaccinations and some saplings of the Cinchona officinalis that had been brought over on the Daedalus for use in one of the hydroponics experiments.

A small-scale cannery had long been set up next to one of the main pantries and, according to the proposal, most of the pineapples would be preserved in some fashion before they could rot. Pineapple juice, pineapple syrup, pineapple preserves, and whatever else could be done with the crates and crates of fruit currently overwhelming the quartermaster's staff.

Carson had laughed self-consciously at his own excitement over introducing a regular supply of another antiscorbutic. The limited diet of the first pre-Daedalus year had brought far too much awareness of the particulars of nutrition and dietary health, but while there had been no such problems since the supply runs began, old habits died hard. The good cheer had petered out, however, when talk of scurvy came uninterrupted by a familiar put-upon whine about citrus allergies. Earlier tonight, Radek and some of the other mechanical engineers had toasted Rodney over pineapple juice. ("It is perverse, yes," Radek had agreed when later asked. "But that is how we dealt with his presence, so it seems appropriate that that is how we should deal with his absence.")

The missing team had been on the mind of many. One of the marines who had accompanied the shipments of pineapples had remarked about how it was a shame that Lt. Col. Sheppard would be missing out. The marines as a whole seemed to think that John had been stationed in Hawaii for some time, what with his talk of surfing and sunning and an apparent unerring ability to neatly split open the coconut-type fruits the Athosians grew on the mainland without splashing the milk inside. It had been a belief Elizabeth was inclined to share because it made sense and because she had no evidence to the contrary.

She hadn't looked at his service jacket since that first afternoon in Antarctica and there had been every reason not to revisit his pre-Atlantis record when she'd made her case to General O'Neill and the President for his promotion. But tonight, on the spur of the moment and feeling quite lonely in the solitude of command, she accessed the file.

It was surprising but not shocking that John had never been stationed in Hawaii, that the closest post to Hickam that John had ever been assigned to was a brief tour at McClelland Air Base in Sacramento. John had undoubtedly known what the prevailing beliefs of his service history were, Hawaii and Bosnia and the Special Operations rumors and why he had been in Antarctica and all the rest. But he had been disinclined to correct the misperception and apparently nobody had ever sought confirmation because he wouldn't have lied if asked. The real question was why nobody ever did ask.

John was inscrutable even in absentia.



"A Second Hand Turban And A Crystal Ball"

 

Fingertips touching as he faces the setting sun, Halling can hear Jinto moving around behind him even as he murmurs the prayers to the souls departing with the light. The Prayers for the Dead disturb his son far more than they should for a boy -- a young man -- Jinto's age. Jinto is almost old enough to be learning the litany himself; he is the only son of the eldest son of his family line and it will be his responsibility soon enough.

He finishes the prayer and reaches for the bowl of broth, raising it up and letting the red-tinted light of the sunset catch the surface before bringing it to his lips. It is slightly sweet and very light in taste and it is welcome at the end of a long, warm day.

Opening eyes he hadn't realized he'd closed, he looks over his left shoulder to find Jinto watching him and he smiles at his son. Jinto returns the smile uneasily, embarrassed to be caught watching. When Jinto was small, he'd sit at his father's feet during the prayer, listening for names of his ancestors and perking up at the name of his mother, who had died birthing him.

Now, Halling knows that Jinto still listens, but to hear if other names have been added. Teyla is not family and Colonel Sheppard is not even Athosian, but the one is still their headwoman and the other... Sheppard has saved the lives of both father and son and if that does not bind a lineage to honor a man, then nothing should.

Halling has not added their names. In part because he is not sure that they are dead -- it would be almost wishing them dead if he knew that they were not and spoke their names in his litany -- and in part because he's not sure they'd want him to even if they were.

Teyla has adopted so many of the Earth ways and customs that Halling sometimes wonders if she doesn't consider herself more Atlantean than Athosian. While he slept in their halls and lived among their ghosts, praying to the Ancients felt at once harmoniously right and achingly wrong -- is Teyla affected by that closeness? Was she ever? Colonel Sheppard... he is part Ancestor himself (and, if the whispered stories are true, the consort of an Ancestor), so it is perhaps natural that he seemed so uncomfortable around prayers dedicated to his own antecedents, however far removed.

Jinto approaches and takes the bowl from him, raising it to his own lips to finish off the dregs of the broth. He ruffles his son's hair, earning another embarrassed look.

Teyla's decision to stay in Atlantis was accepted before it was understood. It is the Athosian way to lead rather than rule, but the idea of leading a people from a place not among them... it took time before many, Halling among them, to understand that Teyla was not abandoning them, that she was exiling herself as a sacrifice as much as an opportunity. The Atlanteans are new to this galaxy and this way of life and, having been shielded from the cullings of the Wraith, they have not been worn down by the burden of survival in the same way. They truly have never come across an obstacle they could not surmount and their optimism is born of experience and not naiveté. They are strong allies and it behooves Teyla to assure their support for the Athosians as well as to try and learn as much as she can from them.

"They will be found," he says to Jinto, who looks up with the sort of relief that only a child's trust can bring forth. Jinto, like most of the Athosian children, worships the Atlantean's chief soldier like a hero of legend and it is his absence that Jinto feels most acutely. "They will come back safely, hale and whole."

Jinto nods once, as if he could confirm his father's promise and make it so. Halling prays to the Ancestors that they not make a liar out of him.



"It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"

 

The first time there is coffee in the thermos-coffeemaker after 0930, Radek Zelenka is shocked to stillness.

It is instinct for him to reach for the empty carafe with his left hand and the faucet with his right, turning on the water and flipping off the lid in practiced, synchronized motions. By the time he measures out the coffee and restarts the machine, Rodney will mutter about it being about time someone made fresh coffee and Radek will mutter back about maybe Rodney actually performing the task himself one of these years. If Rodney is in a good mood, that will be the end of it. If he is not, there will be a surprisingly mean-spirited comment about how his intelligence is too valuable to waste on menial tasks when there are so many idiots around and so much real work to be done.

One morning, unremarkable in any way from its brethren in these hectic days, Radek picks up his empty cup, looks at the clock, and goes over to the coffee maker. But instead of the familiar hollow weight in his left hand, he feels the slosh of half the carafe and freezes, his right hand pausing halfway to the handle on the faucet.

Looking around, he feels vaguely foolish. Out of the denizens of their large lab, Rodney has been gone for two weeks and neither Prucha nor Lienberg drink more than a cup each. Silverman and Tarikashvili, regular visitors to the coffee station, are offworld and Sgt. Takai, their Marine-by-night-lab-tech-by-day, is confined with the flu. The twelve-cup carafe is suddenly something between luxurious and wasteful.

When nobody notices his confusion, Radek puts the carafe back on its warmer, retrieves his cup, and splashes in the proper amount of milk before retrieving the carafe to fill the insulated mug with coffee.

Life without McKay has very few perquisites beyond the obvious ones of more coffee and more quiet.

For all of his running around with Colonel Sheppard, Rodney found ample time to micromanage and meddle in practically every aspect of the science division. (Except botany, which he was inclined to cede to an uninterested Beckett under the premise that most medicine was herbs and muttered incantations anyway.)

With Rodney gone, Radek had inherited a management scheme that demanded constant oversight and subordinates that grew flustered without some sign of acknowledgment, positive or negative. Radek's own management style is much more laid-back and inclined to assume that a staff with at least one doctorate and three published manuscripts to each of their names could be trusted to do their own work for a day without seeking approval from a supervisor. Especially when that supervisor was Rodney and approval came in the form of "congratulations, you have proven yourself capable of screwing up computations that my cat could get right!"

Instead, he finds himself constantly emailed and IMed and extremely grateful that the science division does not wear communicator devices or else they'd be buzzing in his ear all day, too. As it is, the earpiece is busy enough. He is filling in for McKay the way Major Lorne is filling in for Sheppard and while Lorne seems to be handling the new duties with ease, that is because Sheppard was military and understood that military is all about delegating. Rodney didn't believe in delegating anything and there are now meetings and special projects and off-world missions to juggle in addition to his own work, which in turn has gotten back-burnered because someone has to pick up Rodney's projects and he is the only one qualified.

His own research interests do not especially coincide with McKay's. He is more intrigued with the interface between Earth technology and Ancient technology than in the Ancient tech itself -- he had been recruited into Stargate to find affinities between newly discovered alien technologies and Earth's.

But Rodney had spent the last years working almost solely on ZPMs and those are still more important than anything anyone else is doing. The Wraith are not coming now, but they will again and they will not be fooled again by a trompe l'oeil, the Pegasus galaxy's version of sawing the lady in half. And they will have neither McKay nor Sheppard to save them.

He was five years old during the Prague Spring, just old enough to remember the fear and the resolve and the collectively held breath as they waited for the steel-toed boot of Moscow to come down upon them. Almost forty years later, he thinks this waiting game feels a little similar, except that he understands the wherefore a bit better.

Radek is a part of the group charged with managing the search for Sheppard's missing team. He must believe that they can be found or else he is wasting his time and everyone else's. If asked, he will say that they will be found and he will mean it. But in his heart, he is not so sure that they will be found alive. If the Wraith have them, they are gone forever. If someone else, the Genii or some other human foe, does...

There are competing theories for each missing member:

McKay is alive because he's too useful to kill... or he is dead because he annoyed his captors.

Ronon Dex is alive because he is the ultimate survivalist... or he is dead because he is the one most likely to act on his violent impulses in a nonproductive way.

Teyla is alive because she is the woman and the most diplomatic speaker of the group... or she is dead because she is the woman and she is a warrior.

Colonel Sheppard is alive because his resourcefulness and courage is legendary and he took on the Genii alone and won... or he is dead because the Genii want him dead especially and everyone knows just how many times Sheppard has willingly attempted to sacrifice his life for others'.

In the privacy of his heart, Radek feels that McKay is still alive because, for all of Rodney's arrogance and self-absorption, he really is brilliant and useful to whoever has them. Radek doesn't think that the Wraith have them because if they do, then it is only a matter of time until the Wraith come back to Atlantis and they've seen no sign of that just yet. A return by the Wraith is an unbearable possibility to imagine, an unbearable weight to carry, and it is easier to work on that particular 'what if' if he doesn't actually ask 'what if'.

Lorne and the soldiers think that Sheppard is alive. He is their hero as much as anyone else's and they hold his fight against Kolya and the Genii as a battle to be told over campfires for generations. But Radek's most enduring memory of the outpost's military commander is something more recent and less hopeful: it is the look in Sheppard's eyes as he ran into the jumper bay during the Wraith siege. They caught glances as Sheppard moved past him and Radek thinks it is only the Daedalus's timely intervention and Sheppard's return that keeps that look of determination overcoming despair from haunting him in his nightmares.

For the survival of Teyla and Ronon, Radek does not have any strong feeling one way or the other as he does not know them as well. The marines speak of them both as true warriors and warriors are prone to dying. But warriors are also bound by honor and they'd both be hard-pressed to preserve their lives if they had come at the cost of Sheppard's.

Radek swallows his sip of coffee, hot and bitter in his mouth. Too much coffee in the morning makes him antsy and too much quiet gives him too much time to think. He misses McKay, who assured that he had neither.



"The Rain In Spain"

 

The first time the commissary makes beef stroganoff after the disappearance of Lt. Col. Sheppard's team, there are enough leftovers to make it the second option for lunch the next day. And the third option at dinner as well.

The commissary staff would curse Ronon Dex, but he is not there to receive their vituperation.

Ronon's introduction to Atlantis was met with curious stares and wary smiles. Unlike the friendly and curious Athosians, who had wandered the halls with the same sense of wonderment that the then-new Atlantis expedition members had -- at least until Halling broke his foot -- Ronon did not seem either curious or friendly. He glared and snarled and strode through the hallways without either hesitation or etiquette, brushing past people and walking through conversations without concern. Taller than everyone else and foreign in visage as well as wardrobe, Ronon had stood out and reveled in it, thrilling not-so-secretly to his intimidation of the Atlantis residents. "Colonel Sheppard's pet savage" is what they called him behind his back, not knowing that he could hear the whispered words.

His sense of spectacle was greatest in the commissary, where he ate with the hunger of a man who never knew when his next meal would come and without the care of who might be watching. The Atlanteans were unusually dainty when it came to eating, but there had been implements on Sateda and he knew what he was supposed to be doing with the knife and fork. But not using them added to the image, provided one more proof that this soft people had every reason to fear him. That and he liked the slippery feel of noodles, licking the sauce off his fingers. With no one to talk to for seven years, sense experience still rated high on his scale of pleasures.

Sheppard himself had finally interfered, telling him to stop being so bellicose. Ronon had asked him what 'bellicose' meant, and Sheppard had frowned at him and sighed and told him to stop scaring the villagers because while once upon a time it might have been for their own good, now that he had the tracking device removed he was doing it for fun and that was unacceptable. If he really needed a hobby, then Sheppard would find him one.

That week, Ronon stopped intimidating the Atlanteans (intentionally) and started beating up Marines.

The training sessions were irritatingly easy -- it took half a dozen of the soldiers to have a decent chance of slowing him -- and Ronon had little respect for such soft men and women who called themselves warriors but proved so unable to fight. At least until Sheppard had armed Ronon's opponents with Wraith stunners and let them loose on the mainland. The idea, Sheppard had explained that evening, after Beckett had chewed him out for letting Ronon take at least a dozen blasts at close range, was to learn from each other, not wipe the floor with each other. (Which was acceptable as a secondary objective, but not the primary.) The Marines were trained in cooperative combat and Ronon had been alone for seven years; he had to re-learn how to play nicely with others and they had to learn how to fight better in close quarters. They know you're better than they are, so stop showing off and start working, Sheppard had said, then patted his shoulder and left him to Beckett who, despite the easy smile and genial humor, was the man Ronon most feared in Atlantis.

Beef Stroganoff was his favored post-training meal, hot and hearty and similar enough to the traditional dish of Sateda that he could hold his nose to block out the Earth flavors and remember instead meals with his family. (The MRE version wasn't nearly as good, but with enough hot sauce, it came closer to the Satedan version than the one in the commissary.) Skin still damp from the shower, he'd glower at the server until there was no plate visible under the mound of noodles and he'd eat as quickly as possible to be sure there was enough left for a second helping.

As the weeks rolled by and his trainees stopped looking at him with fear and started holding out branches of friendship, they joined him at dinner, an entire table of hungry warriors scarfing down a meal close enough to that which his great-grandfather, one of Sateda's most notorious Wraith-killers, had sat down to once upon a time. When Sateda still stood.

The quartermaster's staff must have noticed, because at some point, Thursdays became Beef Stroganoff night and it was offered in disproportionate quantities to the other entrees. The week after the disappearance, Ronon was gone and his protégés were off on four different worlds looking for him. The rest of Atlantis ate Beef Stroganoff for two days running and threatened mutiny if it showed up at breakfast.



Lyrical references:
Sheppard: Spongebob Squarepants (blame Smitty)
Teyla: Cole Porter (Anything Goes)
McKay: REM
Ronon: Frederick Loewe (My Fair Lady)

feed me?


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