Rating: Teen (for later violence and a little language)
Spoilers: Early S4 somewhere for a brief mention of the potential existence of the setting, but nothing major
Characters: Kavanagh, Simpson, Corrigan, various minor OC's and alien race of the week
Summary: He'd been told in the mandatory counselling - necessitated by "his" continued inability to get on with most of the personnel on Atlantis - that teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. He could definitely say it helped his teamwork skills when the shared vision was not dying horribly.
Author's Note: This is for lirielviridian, who wanted "college, deadly presents ( weapons! WEAPONS!) and Kav who can hold his drink." Lacking in college elements, sorry, but I think I managed to fulfil the other two requirements well.
Kavanagh woke up slowly, eyes adjusting to the light as he squinted at the wall clock, noting it was 10am - no wonder he was feeling groggy from too much sleep. Ritually putting on his glasses first, he started getting dressed, however he made no haste in doing so.
Exiting his quarters, he walked down the scarily empty corridor. The one sound he could identify as he made his way to the mess hall was Gregor's muted singing in the shower block. How he was meant to pass the holiday here he didn't know. Drinking was one of the few things they had, but it was little use without the prospect of spending the winnings. Obliviating his brain cells wasn't at the top of his list, which then left only work, even though they weren't obligated to for the next week. Reflecting on what it had been like in the summer, he realised it might have been a different matter had the outpost been even half full.
Designed for a maximum of forty occupants the complex was a modest size spanning several wings over three floors, including the subterranean storage level where the generators were hooked up to a unit that took advantage of the natural source of heat deep below the ground. A few of the less technically minded staff posted here in the summer had joked about living at the steampunk science outpost, completely ignorant of the significance of the feat and how it allowed them to be independent of the ever-rare ZPM's or the still occasionally volatile Naquadah power sources. This place had been designed to last, to be at least partially self-sustainable, and should push come to shove it was an acceptable alternative to the Beta Site for part of Atlantis population.
However, with a mere ten occupants, and a handful of secretive guests, it currently felt...eerie. It was large enough that you could traverse an entire level or a whole wing and possibly not find a sign of anyone, whereas in the summer it had been buzzing with activity. Back then he'd often felt nearly claustrophobic in the crowded kitchen at mealtimes and had simply desired to be left in peace in the lab, rarely finding himself alone anywhere except his own room. Now he felt an irrational pang of guilt for his prior wishes, grudgingly recognising that the quiet he'd wanted wasn't all it was cracked up to be. This was why probably he felt relieved to finally reach the mess hall and hearing the familiar whinings of Ursula.
“Please stop me next time. Just take the bottle away and send me off to bed,” said Ursula Ronald as she raised her head, eyes scanning round the table imploringly, “Seriously, I'll pay you half my winnings.”
Bob snorted at the plea, spilling precious coffee from the mug he'd held raised at his lips. Bob wiped the liquid up with his sleeve, earning a disapproving look from the other linguist Santini, and next to him Sloane subtly lowered his book, peering over it at poor Ursula. Raising an eyebrow he obviously couldn't resist remarking, in that obscenely dry voice of his, how amusing he found her suggestion.
“You do realise that incentive means we're more likely to leave it as long as possible before helping you. More reward that way.”
Bob grinned conspiratorially to Sloane and as Ursula lifted her head up wearily he winked over handedly at her. She groaned and plunged her head back into the comforting zone she found amongst her folded arms that were resting on the table.
Another of the social scientists chose this point to made his late appearance - not that this kind of time was uncharacteristic of him usually. Gregor Valk strolled in casually, smoothly nicking a slice of buttered toast off Ursula's plate as he passed their side of the table.
“What's with the late breakfast this morning?" queried Gregor before taking a large bite out the toast, practically consuming half of it at once, " - is practically brunch."
Following the usual pattern, this was where Kevin Yates deigned to speak the obvious. "My shift alarm didn't go off,” Kevin drawled between slurps of his porridge. The man was near incapable of expressing a useful opinion or stating any previously unknown fact. His one redeeming feature was his incredibly meticulous level of work. If you wanted anyone double checking sums, stats or set-ups he was the guy but a great conversationalist he was not; adequate words seemed to escape him leaving only the dreary predictable exclamations. Of course Kevin wasn't the worst there...
“Same here,” piped up Yolande, who followed up the agreement with a sickly sweet smile at Kevin. That woman was overbearingly chirpy in the morning, or any time for that matter, being entirely too eager to please anyone it was possible to. He supposed her manner might have helped with the Tirtas on occasion, except that she was clearly no diplomat, she just didn't know when to stop.
There was a final murmured opinion on the topic of "Thank God they didn't, my head is killing me enough as it is" from Ursula, with the rest of the table silent.
As much as he liked this place, nothing was perfect, he mused. The morning conversation wasn't usually thrilling but there was a lot to be said for human contact to keep you sane, regardless of how inane it could get, making it more a case of at least saner than getting none at all.
And just as he thought the subject was closed, Simpson added her two cents."Technically we're on leave you know. Fat lot of good it does us stuck here mind you." She always liked to have the last word, which seemed almost as infuriating as the other quirks of the remaining team members.
"You could work if you want," he challenged, half expecting a snide comment in return about how he was trying to compensate for his lack of other talents, like, oh say, social skills, by going beyond the call of duty.
All he got was a calm response from her, she didn't even glance up from her book. “Actually Johnes and Corrigan are with the Tirtas. Our planetary hosts are playing up again, refusing to cooperate.”
This prompted another rare instance of commentary from Sloane, who had never been overly eager to work with the aliens. “I don't know what they expect to happen, it's not like they could leave if they wanted to and there's not much else to do here except for work on their precious artefacts. After all, that's what's the outpost is dedicated to currently since the bulk of the anthropologist buggered off home early. They escaped none too soon, leaving us stuck here pondering their mysteries and playing babysitters for our supposed helpers.”
“They don't own the ones we dug up” Will reminded Sloane, irritated by the man's erroneous summary of the situation. The Ancient artefacts found in the ruined temple complex in the mountain were theirs to keep, the territory considered neutral by all the planets clans...it just happened they were stuck on how to use them or what they were for. All they had was the sneaking suspicion they fitted together physically somehow, it was like a puzzle they kept coming back to, hoping for that eureka moment of clarity that had so far eluded everyone involved and the consulting Area 51 scientists who visited from time to time.
Rebecca Santini had been frowning throughout this exchange and was clearly unable to hold back any longer. “No, they don't own them but they do control the more well preserved ones, the ones they actually have writings about. I shouldn't need to remind you how valuable that knowledge might be.”
Simpson, obviously amused by the linguists' repetition of the far-too-familiar diatribe, unsuccessfully repressed a snicker before deciding to join in briefly to fan the flames. “You always need to remind them.”
Replying more in response to Simpson, defiant of her interference, Will couldn't help but spurn the theory Santini so readily defended - he found it hard to believe Simpson felt the situation was of little consequence, hoping to strike some chord that would wake her from her current apathy and find another ally on the subject.
“That's because she always likes to bring up how important it is, ignoring the fact they're just legends. Are we really going to trust stories passed down by oral tradition to have any semblance of the original facts, if they were even privy to any Ancient knowledge?”
Naturally Simpson ignored his impassioned response, it seemed she currently only liked to stir the pot on others' arguments and it was Gregor, yet another person who was sitting on the fence in regard to this importance topic, who cut in and tried his best to conclude the "discussion."
"Sorry guys but we're not having this argument again. Frankly, it is boring and I've heard it one too many times. If you like, Simpson and I could recite it off by heart, condensed to save time, and then maybe we can get onto a more interesting topic."
Kavanagh bristled at Valk's phoney light-hearted manner - they never actually got anywhere on this topic exactly because he or Johnes would step in and smooth it over about as effectively as spreading cold butter on fresh bread.
Santini ignored Valk's request in part as she opened her mouth to speak, with a certain fire remaining in her eyes that indicated she considered this far from over.
“What's more interesting than debating the superiority of ones discipline by disparaging another one? I don't think anything else holds much sway with William since most of anything else doesn't involve inflating his sense of self-importance.”
The glare she gave him across the table made him feel uneasy and for a second he worried at what the linguist might be inspired to do, though he wasn't about to show it and he doubted she was one for pranks nor for the more serious and preposterous idea of getting, potentially dangerous, revenge for what amounted to mere slights. Either way, he figured that was about enough interaction for today until he'd be forced to come down for dinner.
“It's a bit too early for breaking out the moonshine but this pleasant morning conversation does tempt, however, I'm going to get back to my other projects. Not everyone needs babysitting by aliens to be able to do any work.”
The day passed quietly, silence his only companion in the empty labs. The tests on one of the peripheral objects were easy to set up alone but it was a shame that they'd take twelve hours before he'd have any results to analyze, which had left him the rest of the day, all afternoon, to go over the artefacts, searching for any missed details that might help identify their function. Once more he found himself staring at the dull metallic surface sick of the sight of it and willing himself to pay attention.
“You're not getting far on your own, are you?”
Being more of a statement than truly a question from Simpson, who'd appeared without a word looking over his shoulder, it made him wonder if his earlier efforts to convince her how ill advised and unnecessary the Tirtas advisory group was had been in vain.
“I hate to interrupt,” she continued, showing little sign she actually cared as she peered incredulously at his notes, “but it's almost time for dinner. Bob's organised a roast dinner, best we could manage of one. He wanted to point it out to you sooner rather than later. Corrigan thought the meal stood a chance to put the Tirtas at ease and be a show of good faith to share our customs with them.”
Swallowing down the urge to refuse to attend, he managed to emit a small noise of acquiescence as he looked down the microscope at a sample. Honestly he couldn't think of anything less appealing than a diplomatic dinner where Corrigan and co. explained the origins of Earth traditions to their likely completely uninterested guests, but not attending would only serve to create friction between him and both sides – he wasn't neutral in this no matter how hard he wished he could be. He sighed, resigning himself to the thought of an abysmal evening in their company; it was never just allowed to be about the science, too much else tended to get in the way of discovery and exploration for his liking.
He'd forgotten Simpson was still in the room, studying his new experiments with a critical eye as she ambled towards the door. Catching his sigh she made one last, unexpected, comment as she hung around near the exit.
“It's not always possible to find the answers on your own, no matter how good you think you are. Pride hurts science but that's not something I'd expect you to understand.”
That was possibly the first time for quite a while that she'd directly addressed and criticised him, but he resisted responding in kind to the jab at his ego, not feeling it was wise to escalate such an argument with another member of his department when he needed to stay calm and amass all the patience he could get to survive the evening. Instead he chose to remind her of her debts.
“You owe me five bottles from last week. Leave it any later to pay up and I'll expect interest on that. Don't forget the one from the other night as well.”
He got a prickly stare in return but despite her cold tone and thoughtful pause before her reply, she did promise to fetch it right after dinner. Calling back sourly as she headed down the corridor only just audible, she pointed out “It's bad manners to be late and not a good idea to insult the guests.”
For once he let her have the last word, not wanting to antagonise her as he had a feeling it'd be immensely useful to have that extra drink this week if the general situation with the Tirtas didn't improve.
The dinner was a very predictably awkward one, with Corrigan and Johnes trying their best to patch stuff up. Johnes, the default leader of the outpost, had started proceedings off by sharing their sole bottle of wine amiably only to find blank stares from several of their guests, who watched the liquid slosh into their glasses but seemed to deem it in bad taste. Others drank heartily, quickly dispensing with their share and begrudgingly being doled out a second that emptied the remainder. Finding it increasingly hard to ascertain what would please their visitors, Corrigan had focused on teaching them the meaning of Christmas.
“What significance are these Christmas trees?” asked Mikku, one of the more forthcoming Tirtas that Bob liked rather undiplomatically to call Mike.
“Well, that's up for some debate. The holiday has become rather commercialised, that is to say it's more about buying and selling goods, and is often celebrated secularly, with the meaning ignored. The trees are actually a relatively modern addition from a few hundred years ago, quite likely a throwback to pagan traditions and the winter solstice, the time in the year when the day's are shortest.”
“Your people ignore the meaning of that which they practice?” said Yolle. He appeared quite disgusted at the thought - yet probably secretly pleased to find a reason to disparage us, thought Kavanagh - causing Corrigan to backtrack a little.
“Well, Earth actually has a great number of different customs and winter festivals that various groups observe and there's crossover in customs, which means what holds meaning with one culture can be entirely different for the next.”
Yolle gave a strange hmpfh sound and said no more, probably satisfied at getting at least one jab in at Corrigan for the night, as he always tried to do. The leader turned his attention to the meal in front of him, picking at the thinly sliced chicken breast without much interest. Corrigan seemed to give up too and glugged back the rest of his glass of wine, leaving the conversation dead. Finally Santini broke the uncomfortable silence that had befallen them, choosing to talk to the Tirtas opposite her, Rennu, who again had been assigned a nickname by Bob. “Ren” - on whom jokes about Stimpy were obviously completely lost, though that never stopped Bob from being inordinately amused enough for the both of them – was probably the most suitable choice of Tirtas to question, apart from Mikku.
“What about your festivals, Rennu? Do you celebrate during the wintertime?”
Santini's voice was strangely saccharine as she chatted to the middling caste Tirtas, Will wasn't used to hearing her talk without the snippiness she directed at him; they tended not to be in the same room where possible, which was fine since she never stayed long after the first round of drinks. He found it alarming how reassuringly she spoke, all the better to weasel information out of you, making him pleased to be technically on the same side, and personally glad that she became infuriated enough by him that she was more direct – he wasn't one for playing mind games and suddenly he got the distinct impression that she would enjoy them. Rennu, however, seemed oblivious to both her subtle manipulation and the disapproval of one of his own, missing the dark glare that came from Birre, who may or may not have been his superior, further down the table.
“We do indeed mark the shortest day of the year, much as your ancestors once did. Many generations ago the rituals to stave off the dark days used to require a real sacrifice but no longer do we practice that. The rituals still remain, an intricate and dangerous dance between the two who represent the sun and the moon. In fact, we made sure to bring the -”
Rennu hushed abruptly, bowing his head at the single word of Birre.
The rankings of the Tirtas dictated only Johnes and Corrigan could interact with Yolle and Yolle would duly ignore anyone “below” their station, though really he marginally tolerated their presence. The other Tirtas respected the linguists and anthropologists among them, giving Santini a good position from which to work. The scientists weren't so lucky, they were treated with suspicion because they were perceived to be people eager to uncover secrets, regarded duly as spies by a great deal of the Tirtas. The one figure immune from the former assumption was Birre, who barely interacted with Yolle or any of the other Tirtas, let alone talked to any of their people. Nobody had figured out what his purpose was with the delegation. Will was starting to suspect he was their resident Grand Inquisitioner; always watching, listening, studying them as much as they were the artefacts, ready and poised to act, though to do what Will didn't know.
Birre promptly stood up, his forceful stare cast upon his fellows, meeting the gaze of each. With no further words said, every one of the Tirtas followed his example, apart from Mikku, who continued eating heartily as if nothing whatsoever was wrong. The troop exited in a line after Birre, all other eyes watching with a mix of confusion and amazement. Exactly the excuse he required, Will left after they did, glad to be rid of the drama.
When he returned to the mess hall an hour later he found the mood more relaxed, almost cheery, like they were in a state of happy ignorance over their current predicament. It was as if the blanked out window, literally covered up past its height with snow, meant nothing to them – the storm was getting worse and everyone said nothing.
Simpson, the person he was looking for, was standing next to a smaller table with Mikku and a few others. There was a flamboyant swoosh as Mikku uncovered the item they were crowded around, the unveiling bringing about multiple oohs and aahs of appreciation. Curiosity grew as he covered the ground between him and the gathering, ever eager to see what precious Tirtas artefact he was sharing with them, presumably without authorisation. Getting closer he caught a glint reflected at him from between people.
“So you say you need another person for the ritual? I'm sure Kavanagh could assist, he did fencing at college, isn't the right Will?” teased Simpson, saying his name in a mock-buddy way that grated. He would have counted to ten as he walked over but closing in, the crowd parted slightly, providing room for him to join them and revealing what would have caused him to choke on the drink he'd picked up upon entering, had he taken a sip the moment before as he'd intended to.
Simpson grinned, beginning to laugh at his speechlessness. Mikku simply looked at him, apparently expectant of an answer. Will, however, was transfixed on the exquisite triple bladed sword, polished to perfection, gleaming in the light. It was the weirdest sword he'd ever seen, wonderful carvings scrolled the length of the blades, tendrils with leaves trailing devolving into branches curling back down to the bizarrely shaped mount, that he realised were actually three slotted into one another.
Without thinking his hands traced the hilt, surprised to see the two outer swords grips curved back round to meet the straight middle grip, with each punctuated by a distinct diagonal hole and his fingers found equally oddly the end of the middle hilt itself was hollow. This sword wasn't designed for battle, in fact he was sure it would be quite tricky to hold any of them but the middle one. Incredible as the sword was, he wasn't going to show Simpson, or anyone else, his admiration.
“Interesting. Simpson – moonshine, remember? I'd like it before you get too distracted.”
She thinned her lips, unhappy with his timing, but a nod accompanied her cold glare. Whispering her thanks to Mikku, she then stalked off towards the lab, not waiting for Will to catch up. Halfway there and he'd just about got on par with her power walking when her hand shot out from besides him, halting his progress as she slowed herself, edging towards the corner intersection with care. Straining he made out two less familiar voices, Rennu perhaps and some other Tirtas, though it was soon much easier to hear what was becoming a heated argument.
“...we have to rectify our mistakes.”
“At what cost, Tarru? We don't do that any more, the old ways are abandoned and for good reason!”
“But you heard what Minster Birre said – an eternal winter is coming! The storm is proof of it, the worst we have ever seen. Hunting is harder each year and the weather spurns us. This is the last step, we have angered the very stars.”
“You can't be serious, “angered the stars”? That is nonsense. The sun will always rise, it has never stopped even without the old ways. We do not control it and I am sure it doesn't care of our movements.”
“Do as you wish then, and we will do as we are compelled to. You were warned.”
Heavy footsteps indicated one of the two leaving but they stood motionless for another minute, waiting until they they heard the other running off. Continuing on with caution, Simpson was quiet, leaving him to speak first.
“What was that about? Old ways, angering the stars. They're more backwards than I thought.”
She left his comment alone, pondering out loud, sounding uncertain. “Maybe we should have interrupted that. Then at least they'd know we know they're up to something.”
He laughed. “No way. I'm glad we heard it all, there was little enough to go on as it was. Whatever we know is weak but at least we can be sure they mean business. Bet Corrigan will be in for a fun day tomorrow.”
Simpson said nothing, still mulling over the event as they approached the makeshift distillery. She'd been fumbling with her keyring for the correct storage locker key when the static came in over the radio. There was a second of it, no one saying anything, then the connection dropped. Simpson had stopped searching for the right key so he can't have been the only one to experience it.
“Open frequency? Did you hear tha-”
A brittle scream emanated from below. They stood stock still, shocked. When the radio clicked on and off again they shared a look, Simpson signalling they should go back the way they'd come. Jogging the same route in reverse they tried to be as stealthy as possible – an effort that was made useless as Santini came across comms, her intense pleadings deafening at first.
A deep chill settled on him as he ran towards the mess hall listening to her desperate voice, growing ever weaker, so full of fear that he could feel it too. He couldn't make out the words, she'd been reduced to babbling in her native tongue and the few he half recognised sounded disturbingly like part of prayers, repeated over and over.
Want more Kavanagh fic? Visit my Kavanagh fanfic100 table.