Rodney was finalizing the physical sciences packing list for the Daedalus (for the eighth time, because his weight limit would only accommodate a third of the items he needed and no matter how he adjusted the list, what had to be left behind was heart-breaking) when Dr. Jackson came in waving a computer print-out and looking caught between bemused and sheepish.
Rodney winced inwardly. This wouldn't be good. "Finished?"
Jackson nodded. "Finished." He added, "It's, um, pretty weird."
"Wonderful. Please, let's hear it."
He adjusted his glasses, lifted the page, began: "'For those who wish to cultivate within themselves the capacity to be gardeners--' this is a pun in the original, by the way--'it must first be known that no matter how complex the garden or however varied it appears, there are within only six kinds of flowers.'"
Rodney's disappointment didn't show on his face. Because really? there wasn't an expression that could cover just how fucked up this was. When he had found these files he had been deliriously happy. When he hadn't been able to read any of them, well his Ancient was kind of sketchy and mainly limited to engineering notes and error messages. When the translation program kicked out gibberish, he'd been frustrated, but hey, this would be complex, wouldn't it? So he'd handed it to Elizabeth, begged her to put it on the top of her pile. It had seemed to take forever, and when she had triumphantly to told him it was a set of gardening instructions he'd thought she was teasing and this disappointment nearly brought him to tears. But, hey, she was a good linguist, but she wasn't Daniel Jackson. Rodney had lived in hope of contact with earth again....
And then, only days after discovering they weren't to be horribly destroyed after all, they were back on Earth, and here was just what Rodney needed, Dr. Jackson himself, and Rodney had begged, just this one, this first one. If they could figure out an algorithm, they could manage the rest themselves, but none of the staff at Atlantis was up to whatever this was, so please, please--Rodney had pleaded and bribed and even experimented with flattery and charm, and Dr .Jackson had said, "Yes, fine."
Except Dr. Jackson was reading, "'The flowers are glorious and wonderful. Know them well. Water lilies and cactuses; redstraws and bluebells; night flowers and morning glories.' From there it goes on to describe the properties of water lilies."
"And that's really what it says."
"Well, I took a liberty with 'bluebell.' The direct gloss is 'blue cups.' But I think I've captured original rhythm and intent." He set the page down. "Why did you have me translating poetry?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because it was in a text file marked 'Introduction to Basic Physical Chemistry.'" It was all Rodney could do not to start screaming and throwing things.
"There must be some kind of indexing error," Jackson was saying thoughtfully. "It's definitely poetry."
Rodney was saved having to cough up polite and gracious 'thank you anyways' by the arrival of Sam Carter at a full run. She crowded past Jackson like he wasn't there and fairly tossed three hundred pages of computer printout onto the desk Rodney was using. "McKay, what the fuck is this?"
Rodney, despite his inspired efforts, had never gotten her angry enough to actually curse at him before. It was kind of pleasing, and if he hadn't been in such a foul mood, he probably would have been looking for ways to wind her up further. Instead, he glanced down at the heading on the stack and said, "Hmm. That would be my report on mechanical distortion and ionization in the production of mid-range force fields."
"It doesn't make any sense," she ground out. "This is gibberish, McKay. If you're going to send us this kind of useless crap--"
Stung--worried that he might have made a mistake, because, hey, every time Rodney did make a mistake Carter was the one to spot it and maybe he was getting a complex--Rodney glanced through the introduction to make sure he had submitted the file he thought he had. It was fine. He flipped to the equations section. Everything looked just the way it ought to. Even the little appendix Radek had added on the generation of M fields in puddlejumpers.
Satisfied that he wasn't in the wrong, Rodney sat back and smiled a little. "It only took me two months to work this out. I'm sure, if you really put your mind to it, you could understand it by the end of the year."
"This is not acceptable," she answered. "We did not send you to the Lost City of the Ancients to send back 'let's pretend' equations and gibberish--"
Jackson looked ruefully at the translation he'd just done and muttered, "They seem to have no shortage of it."
"A failure of intelligence on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine," Rodney said. He stood up and began to gather the work he was taking home with him.
"Where do you think you're going?" And, boy, being out of the loop on something--left behind in the dust by Rodney McKay of all people--was clearly driving her up the wall. It would be insulting, except Rodney had already known what she thought of him. He'd gotten her goat this time, though. Possibly her entire herd. Rodney wished he were in a better mood, so he could enjoy it.
"Dinner," he said shortly.
"Fine. We can discuss this in the cafeteria."
"Oh, please. I haven't had a hamburger in eleven months, and I'm not going to eat in your lousy commissary." Rodney slammed his brief case shut and started for the door. "Excuse me, Dr. Carter."
She didn't move, but stood in his way, looking startled. She collected herself very quickly, though, and said, "You're absolutely right. I know just the place. I'm buying."
"Excuse me?" Rodney said.
"Look, you're an ass and your equations don't work, but you do deserve a hamburger. Daniel? Want to come?"
"For an evening of greasy food and impossible physics? Thanks anyway."
Sam drove. And maybe she was on her best behavior, because she didn't pelt him with questions all they way. It was a lot more kindness than Rodney would normally have expected.
He wasn't sure if the headache he had was because of the stress of her proximity (because, hey, the only person in a decade he'd actually wanted to impress thought he was a bastard and just slightly incompetent, and really, he couldn't hate her enough for that), because of his disappointment in Jackson's report (Rodney had hung the last of his hopes on that), or because he hadn't eaten in several hours and his blood sugar was down (which it was).
When he'd said hamburger Rodney had been thinking of the Burger King he drove past on the way in from temporary VIP housing every morning, but Sam pulled up in front of a steak house. Rodney felt himself smile at this little concession of effort, but he quickly covered it. The safest course, if he was going to spend the evening with her, was to pretend to be bored.
With the menu in his hands, though, Rodney found himself completely torn. Everything looked good, even the fish dishes, which were out of the question because they were always served with lemon and even if you asked three times, you couldn't trust them not to forget, or not to remember after they'd garnished the plate and then just take it off again, which was just enough contamination to get Rodney a trip to the hospital....
Potato skins or fried cheese? Rodney didn't even like fried cheese, but it had been months since he'd seen it, and he'd forgotten what it tasted like. And they had spring rolls, which he hadn't expected in a steak house.
Pasta. Personal little pizzas. Fish (no, big no, and how weird was it, to be in a galaxy where he had to worry about orange juice and lemons again?) Steak, five kinds including buffalo. Only three kinds of hamburgers, but Rodney suddenly couldn't decide what he wanted from a hamburger, if he even wanted one at all....
Sam closed her menu and leaned forward. "Are you okay?" she asked.
"At home," Rodney whispered, "'mystery meat', it's not some kind of beef of pork cooked in some kind of mysterious way. At home, the 'mystery meat' is a real mystery." He giggled. "Usually lizard."
"Yuck," she said briskly. "Okay." She took the menu away from him, signaled the waiter, and ordered them both deluxe hamburgers and French fries, the house salad and beer.
The waitress came back with the beer and breadsticks, and while Rodney shoved the breadstick in, Sam produced the report from her bag and flipped to the equations. "This can't work," she said, pointing.
Rodney chewed, looking at the line of derivatives in question. He imagined trying to work that if he hadn't been doing equations in Ancient for more than the last year. "Right. Pen? You think it ought to look like this." He drew an alternative in the margins.
"Well, I don't know if that would work, but at least it wouldn't violate the laws of cause and effect."
"Right. Okay. What if it looked like this?" They were speaking very quietly, because, yeah, sure, eighteen nations got regular reports on their work, but this was still a public place and you couldn't be too careful.
Their head bent over the paper, they worked through the salad. At least Rodney assumed they did, because when the hamburgers arrived, the bowls were empty and the page was filled with tiny notations.
Sam re-piled the stack of paper and put it in her canvas bag, so that there was room for the plates. "But, look, if you're right about this--"
Ketchuping his hamburger, Rodney said, "I am right about this."
"The system uses three times as much power as it ought to. And where is that extra power going? Because even basic thermodynamics--"
"It uses three times as much power as it should because at the time it was designed efficiency wasn't on anyone's list of priorities. They had infinite amounts of cheep power."
She shrugged. "You have a point. But where's it going? It's not light. It's not heat. You tell me it's not radiation--"
"Oh, it's radiation. It's just venting into another universe." Rodney took a bite of the hamburger. For a moment his eyes prickled and he couldn't chew, just sit, awed by just how alive he was, impossibly, here on earth, eating a hamburger....
Rodney shrugged, forcing a little of his attention back to the conversation. "We don't have a way to measure it, but the math works out." He popped a French fry into his mouth. It was hot and light and tasted like going out for Sunday dinner after church, the only good part of the whole day.
Fortunately, thinking about that distracted Sam for the next twenty minutes, which was five minutes more than Rodney needed to enjoy the hamburger.
The desert quandary was solved by Rodney ordering one of everything except the key lime pie. He had eleven months of back pay to spend, after all. He could have a bite of everything.
While they waited for desert to arrive, Sam began to scribble on a napkin. Rodney, mostly full and more tired than he ought to be, didn't bother to try to follow. She'd get it eventually. She was Samantha Carter. She was already using concepts that had taken Radek over a week.
Rodney chewed small bites very slowly. He tried not to compare it with the tuber-starch pudding Atlantis had been serving with every meal for the last month.
Sam smiled suddenly. "Nareem--" she paused for a moment, smiling sadly, "A friend of mine from the Tollen kept trying to drop hints about the Uncertainty Principle."
"It's like general relativity," Rodney said around a mouth full of apple pie. "It's not a total loss, but it only works under very limited conditions."
Sam smiled ruefully. "Very limited. Apparently, only if you have extra cats." She laughed suddenly, tapping his report. "This is very good. My god. I'm going to have to rewrite...." She stared off into space for a while, then snagged the remaining half of the bread pudding. "This is incredible."
"The chocolate cake is better," Rodney answered.
"No, I mean...." She laughed again and waved at the napkin.
"Oh," Rodney said, at a complete loss, "er. Thank you."
Sam didn't seem to notice his unusual reticence. She was ebullient. Well, when Rodney had worked this out back in September, he'd been ebullient, too.
"Well, this is going to rock everyone's boat."
"Eventually," Rodney said. And Sam nodded, because she knew what it was like to have stuff that changed the face of physics in your hands and not be able to publish.
She shook off her frown and said brightly, "Say, do you remember this: 'Schroedinger, Erwin! Professor of physics! Wrote daring equations! Confounded his critics!'"
Automatically, the rest of the section spooled out through Rodney's memory. '(Not bad, eh? Don't worry. This part of the verse; Starts off pretty good, but it gets a lot worse.) Win saw that the theory that Newton'd invented; By Einstein's discov'ries had been badly dented.'
Rodney blinked, suddenly unable to breathe. Frantically, he shoved his plate aside and dug though his briefcase for the piece of paper Jackson had given him. "My god!" he shouted, "I'm such an idiot!"
Sam smiled slightly, her voice teasing rather than scathing, "Not an idiot. A little slow, maybe, but--"
Rodney slammed the paper down on the table, whispering, "'What now? wailed his colleagues. Said Erwin, "Don't panic; No grease monkey I, but a quantum mechanic; Consider electrons. Now, these teeny articles; Are sometimes like waves, and then sometimes like particles."' Fuck! Sam." The world tiled and spun. Rodney couldn't get the words out fast enough, "Sam! They built their laboratories to look like temples. Of course they wrote their text books to read like poetry. Oh, my god, it'll take years to figure out what they meant by anything--"
Curious, she lifted the papers from his hands and read aloud--very softly, since they were still in a public place. "'For those who wish to cultivate within themselves the capacity to be gardeners, it must first be known that no matter how complex the garden or however varied it appears, there are within only six kinds of flowers. The flowers are glorious and wonderful. Know them well: Water lilies and cactuses; redstraws and bluebells; night flowers and morning glories. The properties of the water lily--"
Rodney snatched the paper back. "Up, down, strange, charmed, top, and bottom," he whispered.
"Oh, you don't think...."
"This is from a text document labeled 'Introduction to Basic Physical Chemistry.'" Rodney swallowed. "There were diagrams of...flowers."
"'Basic.' Atomic." Sam leaned toward him so that they could both look at the paper at once. "Quarks. My god. They wrote their physics in poetry and gardening metaphors."
"Oh, I'm sure there's some flower arranging and decorating advice in there somewhere, too. It's completely mad. I almost threw this out." He had. He'd fussed over it for months, gotten his hopes up repeatedly....and almost thrown it all out. He'd only dumped it in his brief case because he'd been in a hurry to leave. Rodney ran his finger along the soft paper. "So, which one do you think is 'top'?"
They were the last ones out of the restaurant. All of the deserts had disappeared, including the sub-standard apple pie, and Rodney had consumed so much coffee he probably wouldn't sleep for the rest of the week.
He felt wonderful. It was the best night--the best anything--he'd had since he'd lost the ZPM to the flakey religious nuts. He had pages of Jackson's translation with him, enough to keep them puzzled for hours. Sam was quick and focused. Her instincts were incredible. And when she wasn't busy hating him, she was very funny.
At midnight, the restaurant staff had finally apologized and asked them to leave. Rodney was in such a good mood he didn't really care. "We can move to an all night diner," he said as Sam got out her key chain and unlocked the car. "Oh. Hey. I have the rest of this data file with me. We can go back to base and run the translation again. We can probably work it out now, since we understand the context."
"Don't give us any trouble and you won't get hurt." The young men who melted out of the darkness were dressed in sloppy black leather and one of them was armed. Rodney's mouth opened in disbelief. They were being mugged? He survived a year with the Wraith, the Genii invasion, a nanite plague and a fucking cloud of darkness that ate energy and here on earth, on earth, a couple of kids just walk up and mug him?
"Rodney, get behind me," Sam whispered. And wasn't the irony of that just icing on the cake? He thought of point that out to her, but really, she was lots of fun when she wasn't loathing him. And, anyway, now that he had her mind, there wasn't any point to making demeaning comments about her body.
"Hand it over--wallets, cell phones, come on, move it."
"No," Sam said.
Rodney cringed, thinking about the highly sensitive information he was carrying. Of course, his highly sensitive information was just poetry as far as anyone would see. The stuff in Sam's canvas bag was...oh, crap. "We'll give you the cash," Rodney said desperately. "I just got paid. I have five hundred dollars on me--"
"No," Sam said. "Rodney, get behind me. I'll handle this."
"For god's sake, why? It's only money!" Rodney's panic was very nearly automatic. He'd survived the Wraith, for pete's sake! And he was going to die, here, killed by some stupid, druggie kid, for nothing, for five hundred dollars he couldn't have spent in Pegasus anyway--
One of the young men was nearly hopping with pent up fury. "Give it to me! Now! Everything!"
"Because this might be what it looks like, but I'd rather not be kidnapped by the Trust, just in case it's not." Sam raised her voice. "Go away," she said.
"Shut up!" One of them shouted, and reached for her. This was what Sam had been waiting for. She ducked away from the gun, caught the punk's arm as he moved in, shoved him past her into the lamp post beside the car.
The other one was trying to get his gun on her. He handled the weapon with less confidence than Rodney usually did, and that was saying a lot. He's just some stupid kid, Rodney thought, his panic fading in the face of his fury. It's not like it's a Wraith, ready to suck our lives out with his god damn hands. And suddenly, Rodney had the punk by the wrist, dragging the barrel of the gun away from Sam and toward the ground. Stupid, stupid kid. Get a life. Enjoy it while you can. If the Wraith make here, then you'll have a problem!
The kid swung his other arm, connecting hard with Rodney's mouth and nose. The pain was sharp and Rodney tasted blood. He pulled the arm he still held forward and brought his knee up into the punk's stomach. The punk grunted and started to fall. Rodney shoved him hard, and as he went down, Rodney came away with the gun. He tossed it under Sam's car and hit the punk with the briefcase still slung around his shoulders. It was heavy. Rodney hit him twice.
This was completely different from taking self-defense lessons with Teyla. In fact, Rodney thought, looking down at the crumbled punk at his feet, this was his first opponent who didn't dramatically outclass him. Rodney had kind of assumed that there *weren't* any opponents who didn't outclass him.
The punk struggled to rise and Rodney clubbed him again with the bag.
When he straightened, Sam was standing over the other one, looking at Rodney in astonishment. "What?" he snapped.
She blinked. "Nothing," she said.
"Do you really think they're Trust?"
"No," she said. "But let's call the FBI on them anyway. It's faster than filling out reports with the local police and we can get back to work sooner." She pulled her firearm from her bag and stepped back so she could keep an eye on the prisoners.
"Good plan," Rodney said. He dabbed his mouth on his sleeve, but it was too dark to tell how much blood came away. His lip was swelling, though. Sheppard would have something to say about that tomorrow, probably.
"Well?" Sam said irritably, "Make the call."
"Shockingly, I let my cell phone contract lapse. What with going on a one-way mission to the other side of the universe and all."
"Oh, right. Sorry." One handed, she held out the bag. Not knowing the number of the FBI, he called the SGC.
Except for the occasional whining and complaining from their captives, the wait for the authorities was quiet, and almost companionable. Rodney leaned against the car and let his adrenaline bleed off, smiling to himself.
This was the best vacation he'd had...probably ever.
The story of Schroedinger's cat (an epic poem) by Cecil Adams used without permission.
Summary: Rodney. Sam. Gardening instructions. Physics. Oh, and also muggers.