John took no more than three steps into the room before he retreated, hands clapped over his ears to keep the bombastic tone at bay.
"What was that?" Rodney asked, ears ringing.
"Gee, Rodney, during the extensive time I spent inside the room, I formed several theories," John said, rubbing his cheek just in front of his ear. This was not what he'd expected when asked to continue the exploration of Atlantis. The room wasn't in the least bit threatening; one of those frosted not-glass panels on the door with a stylized...something that wasn't writing on it. Rodney had spent a long time staring at it, saying it reminded him of a mathematical equation, but finally had thrown his hands up, unable to decipher it.
"Well, what did you touch?"
"The floor! Come on, Rodney, you were watching me." There wasn't much in the room to touch. Low seats and what the Ancients used for couches scattered throughout the room, and the only other feature was the walls, which alternated with patterned texture and featureless panels.
Aiden and Teyla exchanged amused glances at the exchange, clearly thinking that John and Rodney were spending too much time together.
"Actually, Major," Rodney said, "I was looking at the scanner."
"Small spike in power; nothing, really. About the same as turning on the lights in other rooms, just a bit larger."
"Not likely to be a sonic weapon, is it?"
"I can't say for certain, but I doubt it. I don't think it would've activated when someone with the gene entered the room."
Aiden cleared his throat, and the two men turned to him. "What about if someone without the gene went in?"
"Worth trying, maybe," John said, then frowned. "Do we have anything we can use as earplugs?"
A quick search turned up nothing suitable but Rodney's ever present Powerbars, which Aiden flatly refused to stick in his ears. After a brief moment's pause, he stepped into the room.
Percussion, something remarkably like a fiddle, and other instruments sounded lightly. "Huh," Rodney said.
"Afro Celt Sound System! I love those guys. But it's not one I recognize, and I thought I had all of their stuff," Aiden said, delighted.
"It seems that this is intended as a music room," Teyla offered.
"A conservatory," Rodney murmured, thunderstruck.
"Then why did it make that noise when I stepped in?" John said, looking slightly irked.
"Ten thousand years? That's a long time to go without a tuning."
"Plus, no offense, Major, but I've heard you sing," said Aiden, making certain he was out of arm's reach.
"Very funny," John said.
Teyla indicated with a head tilt that she'd like to enter the room, which had also taken on a soft glow of colors. John nodded and gave her a sweeping 'go ahead' gesture, something vaguely chivalrous in his movement. Smiling, Teyla entered.
Exotic, ethereal music floated without a locus. The other three team members stared at Teyla, looking a little startled. She merely looked serene...and happy.
The music played for a moment, then seemed to fade. John nodded, breathing deep, then stepped through before anyone could stop him.
The music was still loud, but it was also decidedly music this time, too.
"Sounds like something from Beethoven," Rodney called. "Something from around the time he was going deaf."
"Kind of like we will be, you mean," Aiden said, grinning and ignoring the look John shot him.
"Come on in Rodney," John said. "I'm curious to hear what it will make of you."
For a moment, John could swear Rodney's shoulders slumped, but then the scientist squared them, and stiffly stepped into the room. Softer music, layered with complexity, began, and all three team members stared at Rodney, who had a look that made Aiden glance away without knowing why. The look made Teyla think of a man in chronic pain who suddenly had that pain made fresh and intense, bringing it to the forefront once more. It made John think of a starving man suddenly shown a banquet he knows he can't eat.
"It's a little like Rachmaninov, isn't it?" John asked quietly.
"If Rachmaninov had been allowed to progress, grow multiple arms and play more than one keyboard," Rodney agreed, striding towards one of the wall sections that wasn't pulsing with color. And many of them were now; pulsing with an intensity that augmented the music. Rodney studied the panels and then touched a few of them in succession. The panel slid down and revealed a wall of crystals underneath. Running his hands over them reverently, he paused with his hands on one, closing his eyes and listening for a moment. Then, abruptly, as the music swelled, he pulled it out.
Silence descended, broken by the sound of Rodney's footsteps. Handing the crystal to Teyla, he paused by the door. "You can put that back when I'm out of here," he said softly. "But do me a favor and wait until I'm out of earshot."
The three exchanged puzzled looks as Rodney walked away.
The carrot and the stick, Rodney thought, suppressing a groan. "Yes, Radek?" he asked, putting as much irritation into his voice as he could to discourage what he knew was coming.
When he'd put Radek in charge of puzzling out the mysteries of the Conservatory, he thought he'd found an elegant solution to his dilemma. Radek was more than competent to handle the room on his own; in fact, given the engineering in his background, he was perfect. And he had enough on his plate that it should've been months before he had the time to look into it. So Rodney should've been doubly safe.
He knew as soon as he'd heard Radek's voice, long after the end of Radek's ordinary day, that he was, no doubt about it, screwed.
The comm clicked on. "I know it's late, McKay, but could you come to the Conservatory? I have need of someone with the ATA gene."
"Try Major Sheppard," Rodney snapped. "He's got a better connection with the city, any way."
There was a slight pause where Rodney had no trouble 'hearing' Radek's blinking, and he could picture the other man's expression without having to think about it.
"The major has...let it be known rather stridently that he does not wish to be disturbed for 'the laying of hands' after a certain time of the day." Pause. "He was rather adamant."
"Get Williams, then," Rodney said, irritated.
Rodney cursed inwardly. He could go down the list, name by name, of all those who had, naturally or through the therapy, the ATA gene, but he knew Radek well enough to know that if he was that quick with the top two choices, he'd have eliminated everyone else on the list, too. "All right," Rodney sighed. "Just make sure the damned room is off when I get there." He keyed off his comm without waiting for Radek's reply.
So. The carrot had done its job, luring him into action. He was sure to feel the stick as soon as he set foot into the room he wanted never to see again.
"Why are you even working on this so late, anyway?" Rodney asked, shifting his touch on the panel.
Radek shrugged. "Is intriguing," he said. "This room works for those without the gene as well as it does for those with. If we could find out why-"
"We could use it to apply it to the systems currently only available to those with the gene," Rodney exclaimed. "Radek, that's brilliant. Why didn't I think of that?"
"I was wondering the exact same thing," Radek said, and his eyes flickered to Rodney's face, calculating and bright.
Too bright. Rodney quickly looked away, unwilling to give up more of himself than this room had already taken.
After a moment, Radek continued. "The potential extrapolations make a little loss of spare time unimportant."
"Don't let Heightmeyer hear you say that, or you'll have enforced down time added to your schedule," Rodney advised him. Radek glanced again at Rodney's face to ensure that he was serious, and then went back to work.
"I think I have it set up so that I can control who is the focus," Radek said, indicating a small data pad he held. He hesitated, drinking in Rodney's expression, assessing. Rodney stifled the stab of pain and longing that look inspired in him and just nodded, thinking stick as the first notes started to play. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the music, light but layered with complexity.
"Like Bach," Rodney said. "Huh. I would've guessed Dvorak for you."
"What, because I'm not enough of a stereotype?" Radek asked, an underlying tone of seriousness beneath the playfulness.
"Actually, I like Dvorak," Rodney said, a little defensively.
Radek gazed at him, expression unreadable. "But not Bach?" he asked, neutral.
Carrot, Rodney thought, unable to look away. "No, I like Bach, too," he said, as flatly as possible. They stood in the room as the music played on, silently exchanging glances from time to time that Rodney knew were going to shanghai him at the worst possible times, full of questions and interpretations that would keep him wider awake than the Wraith or the Goa'uld or the many fears of failure did.
The music ended and the silence stretched out as Radek's expression shifted from calculating, to a little wistful and a little fearful, to determined. Rodney steeled himself, but it still felt like a punch when Radek asked softly, "May I hear what it would play for you?"
Rodney closed his eyes and dropped his head, wanting to lash out at Radek, wanting to share the old pain that never quite died. After a moment, he nodded, and Radek tapped at the pad.
Another intricate, layered piece, reminding him of nothing other than the music that used to fill his dreams began, and he closed his eyes as the pain of it warred and underscored and mixed with the beauty of the music. He could feel his fingers twitch, wanting to be able to recreate the beauty and the mystery, knowing he never could.
He opened his eyes, half wishing for tears, and met the wide open gaze of Radek, staring at him with a look of naked longing, and once again Rodney thought of carrots and sticks and the asses they motivated.
"I always wanted to be a pianist," Rodney found himself explaining, helpless against the forces at work. "Was quite good, in fact. Technically brilliant," and he was unable to contain the grimace. "But I lacked the heart, they said. Lacked that special something that turned technical brilliance into art. And so here I am," and he spread his arms out to encompass all of Atlantis.
Radek bit his lip, eyes never leaving Rodney. "You create art here every day, Rodney," he said quietly.
"It's not enough," Rodney told him. "There's always going to be a part of me that wishes I could be that artist, that always reaches for what it can never have."
And now there was a return of that look of hunger and longing on Radek's face, full force and potent, startling Rodney with its intensity, so much stronger and deeper than Rodney had suspected. "I know what you mean," Radek said.
"The gene therapy, of course," Rodney said, pieces falling into place. He smiled, tamping down the flash of disappointment. "It's...nothing to be ashamed of, Radek. This version doesn't take in everyone. But Carson's still hard at work, and he's not going to be satisfied until every last person in the city can turn off the lights with a thought."
Radek glowered at him, puzzling him because he'd honestly meant the words to comfort.
"You know, for a genius, you are very stupid man," Radek said and closed the distance between them, hands reaching out to cup Rodney's face. He leaned in and kissed Rodney with a fierceness, data pad clattering to the floor. Rodney reached out and wrapped an arm around Radek, pulling in tight against him. For an endless time he was only aware of the feel of Radek pressed snug against him, his lips as they kissed and his arm around Rodney's waist, his other hand cupping the back of his neck. Dimly he was aware of the music, a duet of melodies that complemented and chased each other in a fashion that left him as dizzy as the kissing did.
He released Radek as the music faded, breathless and staring.
Radek stared back, amusement lighting his eyes. "Did you just call me 'carrot'?"
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