A Question of EnduranceAuthor: ceitieGenre:
Don’t Look NowWord Count:
NoneSummary: “The Irtinani are a very cautious people. They do not easily welcome visitors to their world, and the rituals necessary to receive permission to travel there are – onerous.”
“- and that’s why it’s absolutely imperative that we go to MX4-209 as soon as possible. According to Teyla, once the snowstorms begin the mountains will be impassable, even by puddlejumper. We’ll have to wait another seven months to try and find the facility!” Rodney turned away from the screen showing a diagram of the Ancient research base and stared at the rest of the table, crossing his arms over his chest.
John glanced around the room. He’d thought Rodney’s presentation was pretty convincing, and Woolsey was nodding in thoughtful agreement, but Teyla looked like she was fighting back a grimace, and Ronon was just plain sneering.
“You don’t agree?” John asked, raising his eyebrows at Teyla.
Ronon answered first. “No. It’s not worth it.”
John frowned, and Teyla glared at Ronon before saying, “If the facility still stands, then yes, I think that such valuable knowledge would make the trip to Irtinan worthwhile. It is only – ”
“If this is about what you mentioned before –” Rodney burst out, but John aimed a kick at his ankle to get him to shut up as Woolsey leaned towards Teyla, brow furrowed in concern.
“What is it? Is there some reason why you shouldn’t go to, ah, Irtinan?” Woolsey asked.
“The Irtinani are a very cautious people. They do not easily welcome visitors to their world, and the rituals necessary to receive permission to travel there are – onerous.” Teyla said carefully.
John glanced sideways at Ronon. “Translation?”
“No one goes to Irtinan if they can avoid it,” Ronon said, slouching further into his chair. “I went once with my sister’s cousin to buy some fabric and I nearly sliced my own throat after the first three hours.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” John said, sitting up. “Just how bad are these rituals? Are we talking torture here?”
Rodney stared at Ronon. “You were buying fabric?”
Teyla said quickly, “No, no, it is not torture. Exactly.”
“That doesn’t sound terribly reassuring,” Woolsey muttered, and John nodded in agreement.
“They make nice textiles,” Ronon said. “Soft. Good for underclothes.”
There was a significant pause. Woolsey jerked his eyes away from Ronon first and managed to ask, “Teyla, what exactly do these rituals entail?”
“The Irtinani are very fond of – I believe the word you have for it is –” Teyla didn’t succeed in fighting back a grimace this time, “– bureaucracy
“We wish you a joyous welcome to Irtinan, travelers.” A bored-looking kid with a orange badge pinned to his shoulder looked up as they walked through the gate. He waved them through the small clearing, gesturing at the path leading through the evergreens. “Please follow the path to Visitors Building One.”
John nodded and smiled, and then shot a look at his team. Rodney was fumbling through his pockets, but Ronon was scowling into the woods and Teyla tilted her head in acknowledgement: they had noticed the watchers perched in the trees as well. The Irtinani must be very committed to their version of border control.
The path led directly to another clearing, at the end of which sat a large wooden building, painted the same bright orange as the kid’s badge. It had a neatly inscribed sign over the door that John couldn’t read, and a smaller sign stuck in the ground near the door with an arrow and a bunch of stick figures standing in a long row. There was a line of people stretching through the door that reached almost all the way to the entrance of the clearing. Most of the people waiting had taken a seat on the grass, huddling against each other in the chilly air.
Ronon was already glowering, and Teyla took one look at the line and sighed heavily. John said, “Rodney? Still sure it’s imperative to find that facility?”
Rodney looked up from yanking a knitted hat down over his head and glared at them all. “Yes, of course! Do you really think I’d be putting myself through this otherwise?”
“Probably not,” Ronon said grudgingly.
“Okay, then I guess we get in line,” John said. He reached for his vest pocket and asked with his best camp counsellor voice, “So who’s up for Go Fish?”
“God, my toes are freezing,” Rodney said, poking at his boot. “I can barely feel them.”
“Yes, Rodney, we are aware that it is cold. I am cold as well,” Teyla said, and looked meaningfully at Rodney’s parka, hat, and scarf.
“You’re already sitting on my vest as well as yours,” Rodney whined, but John could tell that it would only take a few more stoically suppressed shivering fits from Teyla before Rodney would hand over the scarf too.
“Are you saying you want to leave, McKay?” John asked, without looking up from his cards.
Rodney huddled deeper in his coat. “No.”
“Then suck it up,” Ronon said. “It’s your turn to bet.”
“I don’t even like this game. Can’t we play something else now?”
“No way, I’m finally started to win,” John said. Although they would have to take some kind of break soon, because they had been sitting on the cold ground for over an hour now, aside from when they got up to move a little closer to the orange building, and his legs were starting to cramp. He considered the thermos of coffee that he’d hidden away in his backpack, but decided that he’d better save that for later, if Ronon was right about this taking at least three hours.
“Or perhaps allowing you think that you are winning is part of my strategy,” Teyla said, her voice at its most bland.
“Don’t even start,” John said, pointing his finger at her warningly. Teyla was way too good at that type of mindfuckery, which was why John was never playing strip poker with her again.
The line started moving forward again, this time at a fairly steady pace, so John tucked his cards into his hand and pushed to his feet. “Hey, looks like we might actually make it inside the building this time.”
He ignored Rodney’s complaints about joint stiffness and Ronon’s dirty look. Teyla smiled at him, but it was the kind of smile that had a dirty look beneath it.
The four of them shuffled slowly forward, following the group of three traders who had spent the last hour having a deeply personal discussion about the intricacies of their sex lives that had given John proximity embarrassment.
Rodney was mumbling under his breath, “Please let there be heating, please let there be heating,” and even John couldn’t suppress a happy little sigh when they finally inched through the doorway into the warmth of the building. Despite the fact that the walls were all painted a vibrant orange, and that the building seemed to consist of one large room full of different line-ups heading toward the people at the desks pressed against one wall, it was a relief to be out of the damn clearing.
But Teyla was frowning and looking carefully around the room, so John nudged her with his elbow. “Something up?”
“I believe that our line does not end in this building. It seems to circle the room, and then lead out that side door,” Teyla said, her shoulders slumping.
John followed the line ahead of them with his eyes, aware that Ronon and Rodney were doing the same thing. “Well, crap.”
Rodney’s eye twitched, but he lifted his chin and said, “Oh, come on! I’ve waited in line for concerts longer than this, are you – you ‘run-ten-miles-before-breakfast-for-fun’
people telling me you can’t take it
John bared his teeth at him. “Sure, fine, whatever. We can wait a little longer.”
Two hours and three buildings later, they finally walked up to an orange desk, with a sniffling woman half-hidden by stacks of books and papers sitting behind it.
“We wish you a joyous welcome to Irtinan, travelers,” she husked out, and then sneezed explosively. Rodney started backing up, and John grabbed him by the arm before he could take more than three steps backward. The woman wiped at her face with a handkerchief, sniffed hard, and then smiled weakly up at them.
John tried to smile back, although he wasn’t sure how well he managed to convey ‘friendly and harmless’ rather than ‘near murderous rage and frustration’. “Hi, it’s nice to be – welcomed. We’re just here to take a look at –”
“Oh, no, no,” the woman said, waving her handkerchief at him. ”I’m not responsible for recording or judging the purpose of your visit.”
“No, I only take down some basic information about each of you. Um –” She started shuffling through the books at her desk. She yanked one out of the middle of a pile with a small noise of triumph and flipped it open, dipped her paintbrush and positioned it over the page.
“Could you start with your full name, including all titles, ranks, and salutations, please?”
“Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard,” John said. At least this part should be simple.
He glared when Rodney leaned over his shoulder to add, “That’s John Fergus Sheppard.”
“That’s it, you’re getting put down as ‘Meredith.’”
The woman looked nervously between them, and then continued, “And your age, in Standard Geyerdan years?” Off of John’s blank look, she added, “If you only know it in Old Standard Hoffan years, that’s fine! We have a conversion chart.”
“Oh, well. Great,” John said. He was seriously going to do something terrible to McKay when they got home.
“Now I need to establish your relations with the others travelers in your group. Spouses?”
John blinked. “I already told you I’m not married, in any way, shape or weird cultural form.”
The woman’s smile turned strained, and she wiped at her nose with her hankie. “I have to go down the list, so could you just tell me which ones apply, please?”
Ronon growled, making the woman’s eyes go wide, so John stepped backwards onto his foot and said, “Right. Sure. Uh, no spouses.”
“No,” John said, and resisted adding, duh
. There was no way he looked that old, right?
“Hired companions of a sexual nature?”
,” John said, rolling his eyes and ignoring Rodney’s huff of outrage. “Can’t you skip straight to the ‘co-workers’ box and just check that one off?”
“Not really,” the woman said, not sounding very apologetic. “Hired companions of a non-sexual nature?”
The occupant of the next desk they arrived at was taller and crankier than the first woman, but at least didn’t seem to have any communicable diseases. She and Teyla didn’t get along too well, though.
“I do not see why it is any of your business whether my parents had drafted a formal bonding agreement before I was conceived,” Teyla said flatly, and her fingers were slowly curling into fists.
The woman adjusted her orange badge officiously, then looked Teyla up and down. “The Irtinani people need to know what kind of travelers are being allowed in to our towns and villages. One bad influence can have a disastrous affect –”
Teyla’s eyes went narrow and dangerous, and John tensed, unsure if he should try and say something diplomatic and calming, which would likely end in disaster; but luckily Rodney snorted, “Teyla? A bad influence? In what galaxy?” and some of the tension fell away from Teyla’s face.
She turned to Rodney and raised her eyebrow. “Oh, I think you would be surprised. Especially if you had known me in the wilder days of my youth.”
“Hey, if you ever feel like sharing stories about those days…” Ronon said with a leer, and Teyla cracked a small smile.
“Perhaps,” she said, and turning back to the woman, added, “And yes, my parents did have a formal bonding agreement, but it involved eight other people and a large tree as well. Does that answer your question satisfactorily?”
Rodney snapped about five hours in, dragging John to one side while Teyla completed the physical exam by executing a series of somersaults and handstands.
John was really not looking forward to those, but he figured that he might get the chance to “accidentally” kick his examiner in the face during the headstands, which would add a tiny ray of sunshine to this nightmare of a day.
“Okay, that’s it, I’m done. Let’s get the hell out of here,” Rodney said, clutching John’s arm tightly and looking crazier around the eyes than usual.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” John asked, detaching Rodney’s hand from his arm. “We’re almost done. We’re finally, finally
almost done, and there is no way you’re quitting on me now, McKay.”
Rodney gestured at Teyla. “Do you honestly think I can do a handstand without breaking my neck? There’s no point in reaching the research facility if it’s only the three of you with my corpse in tow!”
“If Ronon and I have to hold on to your legs to keep you from falling on your head or your ass, that’s what’s going to happen,” John said, tensing his jaw in grim determination.
Which was what they did, which was how John
ending up being accidentally kicked in the head.
They staggered out of the orange depths of Visitors Building Fourteen after exactly five hours, thirty- five minutes and twenty-one seconds, according to John’s watch. Ronon accurately steered them towards the nearest establishment that served alcohol, which turned out to be some kind of lounge for the giant lizard fighting arena that was next door.
John ignored the growls and shrieks that could be heard through the thin wooden wall at his back in favour of taking a deep gulp of something that he was pretending tasted like beer.
Teyla had her head buried in her arms on the tabletop, ignoring the rest of them.
John couldn’t really blame her; he was pretty sure that she had spent the last couple of hours in some kind of deep Zen state in order to keep from inflicting violence on everyone around her. Ronon was staring intently at Rodney, and Rodney was trying to glare back but kept shifting his eyes away.
“Say it, McKay,” Ronon said.
Rodney sniffed and looked down at his drink. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Ronon didn’t blink. “I was right, and you were wrong, and we’re never coming to this world again. Say it.”
John felt his mouth twitch into a smile as he watched Rodney’s face contort in annoyance. “Seriously, Rodney. I’m backing up Ronon here.”
Rodney slumped down in front of his drink, pulling it closer. “Fine,” he mumbled over the top of the mug, “we’re never coming here again. And – you perhaps had a point about the negative consequences of coming here outweighing the possible benefits to science.”
Teyla snorted loudly without lifting her head from her arms.
Rodney coughed. “Especially since, uh, apparently anyone wishing to travel on the local public transportation to the mountains where the facility is located, needs to visit the Travelers Buildings to get the proper authorization.”
John figured later that the giant lizards choosing that moment to crash through the wall into the lounge was actually a stroke of luck, because otherwise one of them would have lunged across the table to strangle Rodney, which as had been previously mentioned, would really have made the whole trip pointless.