Originally Posted: Aug. 24th, 2007
Length/Rating: 512 words, PG, Gen
Summary: “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” — Sydney Smith. Written for sga_flashfic‘s Men and Machines challenge.
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Men weren’t meant for this; the constant grind of war that wore on minds and joints and bones brittle from too long in space. Planet by planet, system by system, eaten away by time and entropy as much as Wraith. So it seemed natural to look elsewhere, to enhance, adapt, evolve to overcome such petty limitations. Because the war wouldn’t wait, and there was so much more at stake than mere humanity…
When Atlantis found him, burnt and broken from the fall, they almost let him die through simple ignorance. For all their borrowed technology, they still hadn’t learned the fallacy of flesh. He felt them crawling through the wreckage, and even shuttered as his senses were, death would have been gentler than their reaction to a mind half-crystallized and engines that leaked bloody oil.
He’d known long before the final plummet, that this would be his last fight. The math of endless war demanded conservation above all else, what remained of his corroded silver shell was fit for salvage, nothing more. So it had been, and so it would always be, a simple equation of life and death. If his squad returned, he’d offer up that final contribution, a quiet end to centuries of service.
But even in the ebb of battle, remnants of hiveships racing across the sky in fiery arcs, the crawlers threw themselves into his resurrection. He tried to stop them from wasting time on dwindling probabilities and was treated to a stream of rambling condescension in languages he didn’t understand. So he let them work, at worst they’d only hurry the inevitable, at best they’d buy him a few hours.
When the rest of his squad arrived days later, slicing into the atmosphere with subsonic booms and electric chatter, he was mended well enough to limp back into the air. Startled, the flock scattered, still clumsy in the unaccustomed gravity. A flurried conversation followed, streams of computations to force an unexpected dataset into compliance; slowly warping impossible into improbable into reality. That crawlers could have done such work was just new data, absorbed into the common knowledge without hesitation. That they had wasted time and energy on the impossible… paired off in calculation with insanity.
When the numbers fit, they returned to probe and prod his battered shell, sensors scouring Atlantean patchwork for any flaws. It held, as he’d known it would, and finally satisfied, they pulled him back into the grid, flooding his circuitry with the power and cell transfusions he’d need for true repairs.
As he healed, they circled; the same fluid dance they’d done on a thousand other worlds, almost a ritual after centuries of repetition. Mending, repairing, rebuilding for the next battle, scavenging the dead, because out in the black the war was still waiting. It would always be waiting. A flock of silver ships/birds/fish/men, they circled, looking down on what they used to be.
And it would have been enough… only this time their past looked up, and knew them for what they were. And for the first time, he was ashamed.
*- The French-men haue a military prouerbe, The losse of a nayle, the losse of an army. The want of a nayle looseth the shooe, the losse of shooe troubles the horse, the horse indangereth the rider, the rider breaking his ranke molests the company, so farre as to hazard the whole Army. [1629 T. Adams Works 714]
Author’s Note: The theme which I have wrought badly, was supposed to have been the trade-off between humanity and victory. The point being that the soldier-ships had gone too far, willing to abandon companions simply because the probabilities were too low. John would obviously go through hell and back to make sure no one is left behind, and Atlanteans thrive on doing the impossible. When faced with that, the ship couldn’t help but see how far they’d fallen.