The swirling vortex is luminous with warped cloud-like shafts of Caribbean ocean blues, glacier whites, and even darker hues of blue. It would be similar to traversing the wormhole of the Stargate if you didn’t travel through it in less than a few handfuls of seconds, but chose to slow down and enjoy the ride for a lot longer amount of time beautiful as it is. The Earth ship Daedalus certainly knows how to travel in style as it gracefully sails through hyperspace.
Brightened by daytime lighting to establish some semblance of normal naval life let alone establish the time change shift between one galaxy and another, Carl Binder, wearing his red triangle-shaped-accented grey Atlantis operations uniform, sits alone and working on a laptop as the pale blue of hyper-travel passes by out the Daedalus’ Mess Hall’s only window. Granted that it’s large and multi-paned, affording a fantastic if limited view of the beauty of hyperspace travel, but the blue light outside doesn’t penetrate beyond the glass itself really; the spot bit of lighting above him more than makes up for it. Even in the totally void of any other life room and surrounded by the simple tables of matte black tops and chrome legs with complimentary chairs and a drink cart beside the closed door into the room, laden with spare bright yellow and shiny chrome cups, two coffee urns for decaf and caf alike and an urn of hot water, and small jars of sugar and powdered milk depending on the drinker’s bent as well as a small metal basket of waiting to be used, single wrapped teabags, Carl can’t help but somehow look tense. His loose fitting, sportswear like uniform can’t dull the impression of tension about him. And he likes it that way. He’s had this uniform since day one of the Atlantis Expedition and he’s not about to hand it in for any of that tighter-fitting fashion statement crap they’re supposed to wear nowadays. He’s known Samantha Carter since she was a Captain and first joined the newly formed SG-1 and honestly believes the more glamorous and stylized uniforms she’d brought with her when she took over command of the Atlantis Expedition for what ended up being a single year was retaliation towards the military for its restrictive and single-minded fashion sense. The others keep trying to get him to wear Carter’s uniform design that Woolsey held on to when he took over for her, but nope. Can’t and won’t do it. His presentation of strict, tense moodiness has always been source material for him to throw people off their guards to the point where they were either immediately on the offense in order to beat him to the punch or act like they’re about to be so incredibly scolded by their principal, their parents, or both when they meet him. And to him that’s the best first impression maker he can possibly have. It’s the automatic ‘Don’t mess with this guy’ thing that always tugs the corner of his tight mouth up into a charismatic half-smile.
A male voice, Colonel Steven Caldwell’s Communication’s Officer Lieutenant Mark Stuart comes over Carl’s earpiece…
“Mister Binder, Colonel Caldwell wanted me to inform you that we are approaching Atlantis and will be dropping out of hyperspace soon. He would like you to return to your cabin in case our drop out is choppy.”
Carl answers his earpiece by touching it then saying, “No.”
“Excuse me, Sir,” the Lieutenant asks, clearly he hadn’t expected that particular reply.
“I said ‘no’,” Carl repeats with no little hint of sing-song sarcasm as he still continues typing on his computer. It was so much easier to work without the up close distraction of the glass salt and pepper shakers. Even typing while keeping his arms in close to his body like he usually does, he always worried he’d bump one of the damn things or they’d come sliding across the table and bump into him or worse, get their irritating particulates into his keyboard and make it difficult for him to press the keys and the computer to make the connection that that was the key he’d pressed. He’d moved them to another table and now only had to contend with the awkward waffled reflection of the grating covering the ceiling.
“Sir, the Colonel—“
“I don’t really think it matters where I am on this ship if it gets choppy when coming out of hyper. If things hit me or I hit them, I promise I will not sue. Now do not contact me again.”
“Don’t you want me to let you know when we land, Sir?”
“Lieutenant, I’m in the Mess Hall. There are windows to one side of the room. Big windows. I can see when we’ve landed let alone will I feel it. Mister Binder out.” Carl breaks the radio connection without further ado and keeps typing. Taking a break only to take out the small packet of honey roasted peanuts from one of his jacket’s pockets that he’d gotten himself back in Cheyenne Mountain’s Mess before beaming onboard the Daedalus in the first place. Thank goodness they were nearing Atlantis, his self imposed rationing of his limited supply of the peanuts was almost at an end; this was the last bag. But he’s always felt that there’s something wrong about traveling without a tiny bag of peanuts with you. He didn’t need a stewardess or steward telling him the ridiculous story of how he has to turn off his cell phone and his computer because somehow things he buys at retail stores will bring down a massive hunk of flying metal that costs millions of dollars to make and decades of science to reasonably perfect for regular operation with a text message or an e-mail. But he does need peanuts. He tears open the bag, pours a few into his palm, empties his palm into his mouth, and munches happily.
* * *
It’s a typical meal time for whoever’s mealtime it is in Atlantis’ Mess Hall. Once again, hustle and bustle only with a lot more personnel than either the Operations Center had in it or the embarkation floor had around it. It’s hard not to notice that no matter the foot traffic, the rust-colored marble of the flooring inlaid in a wheel and spoke pattern by bands of dark maroon red marble hasn’t been worn through or scuffed, an ironic testament that the Ancients built this place to last. All that dims the floor’s complexion is a thin veil of dust tracked in from offplanet or some other part of the city on the personnel’s boots, sneakers or sandals. For some it’s breakfast before they go onto their shift wherever in the city, for others it’s lunch in the middle of their shift via the quick grabbing of a pre-packaged sandwich, a bottle of water, and banana, orange, or apple from a huge bowl at the end of the buffet line of tables before dashing back to their work, and for still others it’s dinner after coming off their shifts. You could always spot the latter, they were the only ones not rushing to get their food or to get someplace else. They were the ones casually doing everything and wallowing in the fact that they had a moment’s peace to take things slow unlike everyone else.
Sitting at one of the white-topped rectangular card tables is Paul Mullie, eating his lunch consisting of a chicken salad sandwich on white with lettuce and tomato with a side of plain potato chips and a bottle of diet cola. With another Expedition member sitting right across from him with only a bottle of water in between his hands, the other Expedition member, Airman Ben Wilcox, leans over the table way more than he has to to try and have a discreet conversation with Paul. Paul makes a mental note of that, either it’s for show which means that people in the crowd are watching them or that Ben is really eager to get these next few moments all to himself.
“Is it going to happen,” Ben asks urgently. Number two it is, but don’t rule out Number one just yet.
Paul keeps focusing on eating, “No.” Chicken salad is a relative luxury in Atlantis. Usually as soon as anyone finds out that it’s in the Mess, everyone stampedes to get one. Paul lucked out, he was the first to realize that it’s here and snag himself a sandwich before they’re officially discovered and word spreads around the city’s grapevine. Let the stampede commence, who cares, he already got his. The rest of you kids have fun.
“It’s been five weeks,” Ben won’t let it drop.
“And still nothing has happened. Shouldn’t that tell you something?”
“Come on, Paul. Are you honestly telling me that a member of the Expedition’s flagship team going rogue and assassinating the leader of a planet that’s friendly with us isn’t going to get in any trouble at all? Not a peep of reprimand? Nothing?”
“That’s exactly what you heard,” Paul answers while taking a swig of soda. Their eyes lock over the top of the bottle.
“Not a peep of reprimand. Nothing,” Paul checks his watch while chewing a last mouthful of sandwich, “And I’ve got a meeting so bye.”
Paul gets up, brushes off some chip crumbs from his grey uniform pants and some more from the bottom few inches of his red, long sleeve, zip-up semi-sweater top, then he takes his bright Easter yellow tray with him as he starts walking away. He notices his new dark-colored hiking-style boots haven’t made a sound on the floor, either he’s broken them in in the month since they arrived on with Earth’s last resupply via the gate which brought the rogue team member of current gossip topic or the floor really is as dusty as it looks. Ben stays behind at the table and calls after him.
“I don’t believe you.”
Paul calls back without looking, “I don’t care.”
He dumps his tray and empty soda bottle in a receptacle near one of the wide and tall room’s many entrances/exits then grabs a bottle of water for himself and the rest of his morning from the drink cart by the garbage can on his way out. He can hear Ben’s chair squeak as he pushes it back to stand up. Paul can picture the visual of the tall thin man wearing black rimmed glasses walking away, the standard military uniform of black BDU pants, black t-shirt, black short sleeve BDU shirt, and black gun belt and empty holster hanging loosely on him. His black combat boots completing the image of a soldier almost exactly like Colonel Sheppard. Just without the senior rank and the messed up hair and wearing eyeglasses with the uncanny ability to never move whatsoever. Paul smiles, bet Radek Zelenka wished he had a pair of those ones.
* * *
Robert C. Cooper, reading from an opened grey Atlantis Expedition file folder, stands in one of the city transporters as it transports him with one of the Expedition’s newer members of the Medical Department to their selected destination. On the inside of the small cramped, oddly-shaped, copper-toned walled room, there are no lights, no sound, just the feeling of standing in one place waiting for something to happen. And it does, the transporter doors open… And nobody steps out.
Fifty-year old Doctor Stewart waits, bobbing up and down from the balls of her feet to her heels and back again a few times before she clears her throat loudly. Rob looks up at her.
“You feeling okay,” he asks.
“Yes, I’m fine,” she answers.
Rob nods with an accommodating smile then goes back to reading the file, balancing its spread between his forearm and his opposite hand. Although it wasn’t necessarily out of his purview, fiscal concerns weren’t his cup of tea but a necessary part of his job. He hated having to review budgets, but he was getting good at them and had learned to commit them practically to memory at first glance. Spotting the differences from the last budget review he’d seen instantly. And there are a lot of differences between this budget review and the last one.
After a few more moments with the transporter doors still wide open, the auburn haired woman clears her throat loudly again. Robert ignores her, wow, there are really a lot more differences than last time. She clears her throat again, louder. Robert’s eyes slide over to look at her again, this time suspiciously. The last thing he needs right now is to get sick.
“Are you sure you’re okay,” he asks, “because you keep coughing?”
“I keep coughing as a means of telling you that the transporter’s arrived at your destination,” she answers him, trying to be polite but the edge of terseness comes through in her voice. The minutes on her watch are ticking away and she needs to really get to her destination or she’ll be late for her second grouping of appointments. She’s already going to have to radio someone to see if some go-for somewhere would be able to bring her a tray of lunch.
Robert looks straight ahead as though noticing as well as seeing that for the first time. He quickly tries to recover from the embarrassment.
“Oh, uh, thank you. Really, thank you,” he slaps the grey Atlantis file folder closed as he hurries out of the transporter’s opened doorway, he calls back to her, “Hope you, uh, you have a nice day!”
Patricia smiles back at him, it’s a nice enough facial expression but it’s barely veiling sourness, but being polite, she offers him a little wave and a nod as the transporter doors close between them finally. Then she immediately turns and pushes her destination’s indicator button on the transporter’s back panel’s city map. She turns back around once the computer accepts her request and crosses her arms over the chest of her plump body with a heavy sigh and a roll of her hazel eyes, the side of her pale finger brushes up and down against the tight soft weave of the red and white maple leaf embroidered flag of her country against her bicep. Time is ticking, but thank God Doctor McKay is offworld and not supervising anything today otherwise there’d be a lot more people looking to blow off steam by venting to her. A lot more.
* * *
Like the hustle and bustle around the city, this room, Atlantis’ second gym, is quite active too. While it’s similarly sized and shaped and more frequently used counterpart is used primarily for sparring matches and hand-to-hand combat training, this gym is a testament to the number of people working and living here and the planet’s culture where they come from. It’s like any other gym back on Earth. Lines of stationary bikes and treadmills to one side of the room with a narrow clear avenue down the center and weight-training equipment stations dotting the other side. Located on either side of the entrance and against the wall at the other end of the central avenue are rolling carts topped with tightly packed rows and columns of water bottles and shelves of folded white towels underneath. Peter DeLuise and Allan McCullough are riding stationary bikes side by side. Two in the middle of an empty row of many.
“So how many questions have you gotten,” Peter asks breathlessly. It’s been awhile since he’s worked out. Work has been pulling him away from the gym more often than he’d like. Well that and frozen gift baskets from his wife and mother back home; Italian food segregated into individual meals, good old fashioned large ones, in lunchbox containers sitting in the mini-fridge in his quarters. He never can resist a taste of home especially when it comes from his mother and his wife. Fantastically beautiful women, both of them.
“More than I care to keep track of,” Allan replies equally as breathless. With his supermodel bone structure and matching physique, Peter always thought working out was easy for the man until now. They’re both killing themselves here. Maybe Allan’s looks are natural, you know, ‘they come from God’ thing.
“Good, me too.” Peter pants.
There’s a pause. The whirring of the stationary bikes keeping up a rigorous pace in the void.
“So how did you answer,” Peter gets the air to break the silence.
“Who says I answered,” Allan asks, finishing with a little airy laugh. Even running out of breath from exertion, his laugh is staccato.
“No one. I was just wondering.”
“Did you answer?”
“Yeah, I told them ‘no’.”
“I told them ‘no’ too.”
“You just said you didn’t answer. ‘No’ is an answer,” Peter points out.
“I didn’t say I didn’t answer,” Allan details. Smiling and ending in another airy, quick fire laugh.
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I didn’t. I said ‘who says I answered’. That’s not saying I didn’t answer, that’s asking you a question.”
“In order to not answer mine.”
“So you’re dodging the question.”
“It’s called misdirection. I like misdirection.”
“Hmm,” Peter nods. And they keep pedaling.
A female Expedition member dressed in workout clothes comes up to them, she’s super attractive and sexy too. She’d certainly make Colonel Sheppard and Ronon stop working out or more likely they’d start working out even more to try and impress her. There are rules against fraternizing within the military ranks, but Sheppard was somewhat well known for flirting with the civilian ladies of the Expedition and Ronon, well, he had dated one of them and tried to make a play for Doctor Jennifer Keller.
“Hey, can I ask you guys a question,” she asks as she puts one of her hands on the tops of the bikes’ console and twists her Maxim model figure from side to side playfully to pair well with her equally as playful smile.
“No,” Peter and Allan snap at her in unison.
Flustered and suddenly more than a little spooked by the yell, she freezes. Wide-eyed. Tense in her shoulders. Yanking her hands back from the bikes and lifting them up in surrender. Other people working out nearby look over at them, Peter and Allan ignore the looks and keep biking at their quick pace. The woman abruptly turns and leaves, continuing on down the gap between sides and trying hard to avoid eye contact as she walks away from the two men.
“What time is it,” Peter finally asks after a few more moments spent in silence. They only have a set amount of time they can spare for this before work.
“I don’t know,” Allan answers.
“What do you mean ‘you don’t know’,” Peter looks over at him.
“I mean ‘I don’t know’,” Allan shrugs, “I don’t wear my watch when I workout. I just… go. I don’t really think about the time, I think about other things.”
“What other things,” Peter squints in confusion, returning his gaze straight ahead of him.
“What work things?”
“Twists, you know, angles.”
“What twists? What angles?”
“Like when gate teams are out. We know what their missions are and we know the information the Ancient database has on the planets, but we’ve changed a lot of things since we’ve gotten here. We’ve woken up all the Wraith and we pissed off the Replicators, not to mention setting both loose in this galaxy again. And those are just the starters. I think about what could possibly go wrong that no one else can possibly imagine going wrong. You know, the twists, the angles. Stuff like that.”
Peter runs a hand through his sweaty hair. It’s short and close cut now, but he’s had it down to his shoulders and even shaved bald once but that was when he was in more physically intimidating shape. He is working out again though, so maybe he’ll shave it again. Who knows? “You do all of that and you never pay attention to the time,” Peter looks over at his friend and co-worker.
“Yeah,” Allan shrugs with another breathy laugh as he keeps pedaling. The sweat dripping from the tips of his matted hair and his temples, his angular features seeming to naturally guide the salt water away from his eyes. “Keeping track of time just seems to be so insignificant by comparison.”
“So no watch?”
“No watch,” Allan agrees with a nod.
Peter can’t believe that. He tries to… but, nope, can’t. Just can’t.
“How can you not wear your watch? Who doesn’t wear their watch when they’re working out?!”
Allan doesn’t see what the so excitable problem is, “You’re wearing your watch. You check the time.”
Well that’s true. Peter starts to check his watch while maintaining his vigorous biking pace, “I can’t believe you don’t wear a watch. I mean seriously who doesn’t wear a watch when they workout?”
“I don’t like wearing my watch when I workout. Like I said, I think about other better things. Besides, it distracts me.”
Peter’s still trying to focus on what the small digits of his watch are saying, he’s bouncing around so much. Finally he has to hold his arm still, maybe the extra control’ll help, but he’s still bouncing vigorously with the keeping up of his fast pace. If he lets down on it for a moment, he’ll never live it down. Allan won’t let him and he’ll make sure everyone else on the job will hear about it too and they won’t let him live it down either. God, he cannot focus on this thing. He tilts his head to his free side to see if that will help…
“Distracts you,” he complains disbelievingly again, “How can it—“
Peter falls off his stationary bike.
Allan keeps going. Keeping up his fantastic pace, he long ago in this city lost the ability to feel when the sweat was trickling down his face. His hair matted it at his hairline to his forehead and the back of his neck and irritatingly behind his ears, but that didn’t hold off the sweat very much. Nowadays it only ever bothered him on the rare occurrence when the saltiness slipped into his eyes. And that’s when he knew to stop working out and go back to actual work, he was sweaty like a pig.
Peter’s voice comes up to him from the floor, “Like that?”
Allan nods, unruffled, “Like that.” He laughs a bit again. Higher pitch than his normal voice and in short ha-ha bursts. Point made.
“Okay.” Then a moment later, “We should go, we’ve got a meeting.”
“Okay,” Allan abruptly stops biking. He hops off the hot piece of exercise equipment and grabs a nearby towel off of the front panel of a treadmill in the row behind his bike. He wipes his drenched face before flinging the white terrycloth around his neck as he heads off for the gym’s locker room. Next a quick shower and an equally as quick change into his duty uniform.
Leaving Peter still on the floor behind him holding onto his arm that’s got his wristwatch on it. See, his pace slowed and now he’s never going to live this down. Allan and everyone in this room will make sure of that.
* * *
In a set of Atlantis quarters bright with afternoon sunshine beaming through the large window above the bed, even while draped over with white fabric, Joe Mallozzi is zipping up his uniform jacket and giving himself one last check over on his appearance in a full-sized mirror in front of his Ancient armoire. Ever since Samantha Carter took over command of the Atlantis Expedition after the death of Doctor Elizabeth Weir, someone thought they’d switch the Expedition’s far more loose-fitting, workout clothes designed uniforms to these tighter fitting fashionista versions of uniform and Woolsey was keeping the style around. Some personnel still wore the older uniform versions, but that was usually due to either stubbornness for comfort’s sake or they hadn’t gotten around to laundry day yet and the old uniforms were more acceptable than no uniforms. It’s been over two years and he’s still coming to terms with the uniform change.
He’s always cut quite the dash in the many, many semi-loose suits he wore. Like Richard Woolsey he preferred to wear suits, they were more stylish to his way of thinking and gave him the undeniable air of professionalism and respectability that a good suit always conveys. And now… well, now these damn outfits make him rethink the way he looks at every angle simply by how he judged they looked on other Expedition members. Sometimes the look was really really good and others it was a ‘Dear God, go change your clothes’ moment because of how ill fitting it was on them either too tight or too loose, looking like it needed to be cut off or duct taped on. Today his mind is hung up on the fence between ‘just okay’ and ‘Dear God’. He was leaning towards ‘Dear God’, but what was stopping him was the fact that, well, he wasn’t sure any of his old uniforms were clean yet and any of his other new ones were going to fit much better. Trapped between a rock called No Uniform and a hard place.
Behind him is a bed with Akemi, a young, beautiful Japanese woman naked but covered up with the bed sheets, lying on it, watching him. Now the gorgeous woman behind him, she makes this uniform look fantastic each and every time. She has this natural fashionista tact with everything she wears. Women think she looks cute or adorable and men think she looks incredibly attractive. Each and every time, she hits it out of the ballpark. She constantly looked gorgeous in them, every line hit her figure just right and the cut seemed to serve her in all the best ways. God, he wished it would do that for him, but alas…
“Lunch,” Akemi asks in her accented tone of voice that implies lingering tendencies towards broken English.
“Nope,” Joe’s forced to say, “I’ve got a meeting to go to.”
“What meeting,” Akemi asks.
“Senior staff,” Joe replies.
“Can you cancel? Spend rest of the day with me?”
He sees her in the mirror’s reflection pat the empty half of the bed in front of her, where he was before he got up to put on his clothes. Inviting him to stay. And it is sooo inviting.
Joe sighs though, he really really wants to, but, “Nope.”
He refocuses back on his image in the mirror for more final checks although he’s pretty sure now that no matter how he tugs or where he tugs on the bottom hem of his jacket nor how much his hands try to physically flatten down the fabric over his chest and stomach none of it is going to fix how he feels this uniform makes him look.
“Why not?” Her voice sing-songs. Still more invitation to stay even though it’s unintentional. Her voice was always that way. Sweet and smile-inspiring.
“It takes a lot of time and effort to run a mythical city risen from the dead.”
Akemi smiles, “City not dead. Cities don’t die.”
Finally fine with his appearance, or at least figuring that this is as good as it’s going to get and he’s definitely doing laundry sometime tonight, he turns and walks over to her, “By the grace of God and us,” he leans down and kisses her good-bye while simultaneously picking up some files lying on the nightstand by his side of the bed, “And believe me, I’d rather be here with you.”
She smiles again as he heads for the door then stops to tell her…
“I’ll see you tonight maybe for dinner though?”
Akemi starts nodding, “Yes,” she agrees.
Joe leaves their quarters. He sees a few other Expeditions members wearing the newer suits and smiles. Okay, so maybe he still does cut quite the dash, doesn’t he? His pace picks up as he walks off.
* * *
Surrounded on the floor in one of Atlantis’ labs by files and papers and laptops with a small semi-enclosing arc of dry erase boards with all sorts of mathematical equations all over them behind him and next to the door, it’s like the morning after the geekiest, nerdiest frat party ever, lays Martin ‘Marty G.’ Gero. Young and past out asleep while curled up into a contented adult version of the fetal position, his earpiece is talking while he’s snoring.
“Mister Gero,” Lawerence, one of the science department’s lab assistants says over the radio link.
Some silence then snore…
“Mister Gero.” With warning this time.
Snore, a particularly loud asthmatic bear one…
Lawerence’s sigh can be heard over the radio link then an inhale of breath and, “Marty!”
Martin snaps awake at the shout. Instantly popping up into a wobbly sitting position. His hand automatically tapping his earpiece and his sleep bedraggled voice answering, “Marty Gero here.”
“You have a meeting, Sir,” the assistant’s voice returns to regular volume and tone, just another day on the job in Atlantis.
Marty tries to check his watch, but realizes that he’s not wearing one. He never does, he always to check to see if he’s got one on but he’s never worn one. He looks around the messy floor/ “desk” he’s got around himself, squinting, to see if his cell phone, useless for phone calls but handy for time keeping, is lying around him somewhere, anywhere in this mess. He liked to work on the floor on the odd occasion. Bigger work area. It’s been his work area for the past two weeks. He can’t even remember what his bed feels like…and he’s not entirely sure he accurately remembers where his quarters are, but he’s not going to admit that to anybody until later when he might try to make it back there tonight and will most likely have to radio Lawerence for the directions.
“I, I, d—what time is it,” he finally asks coming up empty on his squinty-eyed search. He turns his eyes upwards to search the walls. He doesn’t ever remember there being any wall clocks in any of the rooms in the city, but, like with his none existent wristwatch, it never stops him from looking to see if there is one there. Well, not true, he’s never been into every single one of the quarters so who knows. There might be some sort of San Diego Chargers lightning bolt wall clock or STAR WARS A New Hope poster one somewhere, bound to be between the rather jock-like military personnel and geek-embracing scientific members. He wouldn’t put it past Colonel Sheppard to have one that looks like the Alien from Alien, maybe it hisses or whatever those things do as an alarm sound. He knows Doctor McKay has a Star Trek themed one that plays the Red Alert sound for its alarm.
“You have five minutes to get there, Sir. Good luck and good morning, well, afternoon.”
Martin nods as Lawerence breaks the radio link between them. Still dazed and confused and not really awake but getting there, Marty’s dark blue eyes abandon the search of the laboratory. Good luck indeed. He smears a hand over his face, ruffling the thick growth of his beard and mustache, and his first coherent thought to himself is ‘Where the hell is the coffee pot?’ Then ‘Please, God, don’t let it be from yesterday.’ And ‘I need to trim my beard sometime soon.’