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Posted July 27, 2006
Fan Fiction: Uncle John
7: Theoretically Speaking
John scratched absent-mindedly at the scaly patch on his arm as he waited for the latest data burst from Earth to finish downloading. It had been several days since he'd last been able to check his email; they hadn't exactly allowed him a computer while he'd been bug-ified.
When it had finished, he sifted quickly through the messages from Command, notes from the few friendly acquaintances he had in the armed services back on Earth, and the flood of spam that always managed to get past Atlantis' network defenses, looking for inventively titled correspondence from [Watchful_Umad] or [Scythe_Bearer]. They had yet to explain what their usernames stood for, but he had a feeling the stories would be worth waiting for when they finally did.
He reached the end of the list without finding a single message from either of them and a knot of dismay slowly settled in his gut. In the months since they'd begun corresponding, his nieces had never completely missed a check-in; Buffy had occasionally skipped one due to the demands of her job, and Dawn occasionally had a paper or party or something that delayed her replies, but they'd never both been busy at the same time and never more than once in a row. This time, several uplinks had passed without so much as a peep. Something had to have gone wrong.
John was in the middle of composing a careful, concerned query to go out in the next uplink when the door to his office slid open and Rodney shuffled inside. Rodney's appearing there was a strange enough occurrence to begin with, never mind his unusually hesitant attitude, that John stopped typing immediately instead of making his teammate wait until he'd finished the email. Usually John was the one hunting Rodney down in the labs, the mess, or the rec room-- or at least that was the way it had been before the Arcturus disaster. Since then, there hadn't been a lot of time to socialize even if he'd been in the mood for it, what with his having nearly been turned into a life-sucking Wraith bug thing and all.
"What can I do for you, Dr. McKay?" he drawled, closing his laptop and squaring his posture into something a little more appropriate for the military leader of Atlantis. There was always the possibility that Rodney was here in an official capacity due to some kind of problem between the scientists and the Marines. There hadn't been any really serious trouble between the two segments of the city's population since the new wave of personnel had finished settling, but living in a confined space on the front lines of a protracted, apparently unwinnable war with a limited and unvarying social circle could sometimes have strange delayed effects on people.
Rodney shuffled his feet a little and crossed his arms in front of him. "Uh, nothing all that important," he said-- and was that a hint of nervousness in his voice? "I was just wondering, uh, if your niece had said anything to you-- I know you haven't had a chance to check your email before today, but--"
"But what?" John interrupted, the dismayed feeling in his gut slowly shifting toward anger. He remembered Rodney threatening to find out what Buffy's email address was; if it was his fault she and Dawn hadn't written him... "What did you say to her?"
"Nothing!" Rodney objected, throwing up his hands. "Why, was she upset or something? All I did was tell her she was welcome for the help!"
"McKay," John growled, knowing there was no way that was all there was to it.
"No, I swear!" Rodney said again, and pulled a wrinkled print-out from one of his pockets. "Here, I brought a copy for you, just in case."
John took the paper from him and scanned the email over, brows knotted in a frown as he tried to pick out why such an apparently innocuous, if somewhat rude, message should have upset his nieces enough to stop writing. He glanced up in irritation at the paragraph about Arcturus-- seriously, what was Rodney doing whining about it when he knew damn well John couldn't have actually told Buffy the scope of how badly Rodney had screwed up?-- then paused thoughtfully as he read, and re-read, the last few sentences.
"She never told me what her friend was researching, exactly," he said, raising his eyebrows at Rodney. "And I'm sure she knows that-- this 'remind me' business strikes even me as fishy. Why did you want to know?"
Rodney's hesitance melted away as his expression took on determined lines. "We were so busy at the time, I didn't really put it together, but the more I thought about it afterward the more it bothered me. The questions she asked-- individually, they're unimportant, the kind of thing a college student studying advanced physics might theoretically ask. But taken together?" He paused expectantly, then snorted when John just raised his eyebrows at him. "Stargates, Colonel. She's researching Stargates. Has to be, unless there's some other kind of long-distance wormhole-enabled travel portal out there. To be specific, she was asking about wormholes connecting two points in space-time over vast distances, and the effects that might occur if one end was anchored somewhere with vastly different physical conditions. Like, say, the vicinity of a black hole."
John hadn't got that from her questions at all, but then again, he hadn't been paying much attention to the details and he trusted Rodney to know what he was talking about with the science stuff. Well, at least when Atlantis' chief scientist wasn't in pursuit of some insane scientific Grail. "Like what happened that once in Colorado," he offered, vaguely remembering a reference from the SGC reports he'd had to cram before 'gating to Atlantis. "Days were passing outside the mountain--"
"But only minutes on the inside," Rodney completed the sentence, nodding vigorously. "And it just so happens, when I last heard from Samantha Carter she said there was another event like it a month ago in Cleveland of all places. Conveniently enough, however, no one remembered anything about it afterward. The only reason the SGC knew something had gone down was that one of their technicians was on leave with his family there, and had a rather confusing phone conversation with someone back on base while it was happening. When Carter looked into it, she found evidence suggesting there'd been a brief temporal slow down in the city relative to the rest of Earth, but she's still completely baffled as to how it happened and why no-one noticed."
"So you got suspicious," John concluded, grimly. "About my niece. And you didn't tell me."
Rodney's chin went up defensively. "To be fair, I didn't tell anyone," he said. "I was hoping Ms. Summers had some kind of innocuous explanation for it, so I wouldn't have to have this conversation with you."
John sighed and lowered his head into his hands, rubbing at his temples. "But she didn't explain," he said. "Instead, she stopped writing-- and got Dawn to stop, too." He could feel a headache beginning behind his eyes; he'd known they were too good to be true, but they'd filled a hole in his world he hadn't even realized was there. Family he could be proud of knowing, who were excited about knowing him, too.
Rodney cleared his throat. "Are you even sure they're really your nieces, and not, you know--"
John lifted his head up again, glaring at him. Images of Dawn with her Sheppard height and coloring and Buffy beaming at him with Joyce's smile flashed through his mind, re-centering him a little. No, whatever else was going on, they were still his and deserved the benefit of the doubt.
"Who else would they be, Rodney?" he asked, irritably. "Okay, so maybe there's something else going on, but who would set up something that elaborate just for a few random questions they could have got answers to from someone back on Earth? Like, say, the NID or your friend Carter?"
"I don't know," Rodney replied, throwing up his hands. "It was just a thought. God forbid I have any concerns about the security of the project, or, you know, your personal happiness."
John sighed, glancing back down at his laptop as he tried to work out what to do next. It wasn't like he'd have a chance at getting back to Earth anytime soon, but maybe he could get in touch with General O'Neill? He remembered the blacked-out file he'd been handed with Buffy's name on it and the man's carefully-hidden excitement at the idea of hooking her into the program. That kind of enthusiasm suggested that whatever she was involved in, it was something the SGC-- or at least the head honcho of Homeworld Security-- knew about and maybe even approved of. This was the US military, after all; the left hand never knew what the right hand was doing. If he shared Rodney's concerns with O'Neill, maybe the General would share more information, or at least give him some idea what to say to Buffy.
Cheered by that train of thought, he nodded and opened the laptop back up. "I'll send her another email," he said. "Ask her how she's doing, and so on; I'm sure it didn't help that I haven't said anything since you wrote her that. And I'll get in touch with Command. We'll get to the bottom of this."
"Good," Rodney said, crossing his arms again and retreating back into that defensive persona he'd adopted around John of late. "Well, then. I have to get back to the lab--"
John rolled his eyes. He really was going to make Rodney work for it before he'd let the man pull the trust card again, but he couldn't let this awkwardness keep drowning their off-mission conversations. "Speaking of science," he said, interrupting him, holding up the wrinkled email hardcopy. "'Hideously inaccurate', Rodney? Ego, much?"
The light of battle flared in Rodney's eyes again as he snatched the page back. "It's true," he said, fiercely. "And I'm not the only scientist in the Stargate program who feels that way. You remember Dr. Jackson?"
John nodded; he hadn't been in Antarctica long enough to really get to know the archaeologist, but he'd met him, and of course he'd heard about SG-1. "Yeah, mild mannered guy with glasses, knows a lot about languages?" he said vaguely, hoping to provoke Rodney further.
Rodney snorted in haughty amusement. "You wouldn't call him 'mild mannered' if you'd ever heard him frothing at the mouth about the state of scholarship in his field. I've heard he's taken to writing his own textbooks and giving them out to every new member of his staff to give them a head start on all the re-learning they'll have to do just to be qualified to handle the artefacts sitting on the shelves in his office, much less the things they'll run into off-world. A lot of the discoveries made by SGC scientists have never made it back to the general scientific community, and it's really starting to hurt not only retention of current personnel, due to their inability to really publish anything of value, but also the program's efforts to recruit new faces."
John raised his eyebrows at that. "So what's that say about the scientists who came to Atlantis?" he asked. He'd been wondering that for awhile, actually.
Rodney shrugged. "That they're crazy?" he replied, gesticulating wildly. "Seriously, Sheppard. There's no doubt that the majority of personnel who volunteered for the Atlantis project are moderately intelligent and capable individuals, but they're also, to put it mildly, eccentric-- people who care more about the science than recognition, and who didn't fit into the cool kids clubs back home."
"Really," John drawled, smirking at him. "I never would have guessed."
He tuned out Rodney's sputtered reply as he opened the email program on his laptop and began to type.
© 2006 Jedi Buttercup.