Originally Posted: Jun 14, 2007
Length/Rating: 1693 words, PG, Gen
Summary: The first time Steven met Matt. In the dark. With zombies. (AU: Imaginary Gate Team 5)
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There was just enough light to make out shadows in the darkness, but not enough to see, not really. Even though the rational part of his mind knew it was pointless Steven found himself staring at those blurs, trying to pull details from the darkness. Trying to force his mind to admit that the walls he felt closing in around them weren’t really moving. No, not ‘room’, his subconscious stubbornly insisted, ‘mausoleum’.
Earthen tunnel shorn up with brick and ancient timbers, walls lined with shelf after shelf of bones and leathery skin.
He was surrounded by a city’s worth of really old, really dead people, and that was Not Okay. It was Not Okay in a new and exciting definition of Not Okay. He was never volunteering for another ‘peaceful trading mission’ again. Ever. No matter how much Rodney mocked him for spending all his time in the lab analyzing samples other people had collected, or how fun Parish made being out in the field again sound. Never. Again.
Steven knew he was hyperventilating, but his heartbeat was loud, so loud, and if the Wraith didn’t hear him maybe the dead would.
He was surrounded by miles and miles of tunnels with nothing living in them and a fleet of space vampires tromping overhead. It was every nightmare he’d ever had as a kid all rolled up into one brain-shorting epic.
He could handle the dark and the tunnel, he was a geologist after all, and the threat of imminent death, because botany wasn’t a walk in the park either. But the undead? Not so much.
“McCravey.” The lone marine who’d made it into the tunnels with him sounded more amused than annoyed. He should know the guy’s name, he really should, but everything’s focused on trying to see and all Steven can remember is this was one of the newer ones. He thinks. But the marine doesn’t seem phased by the dark or the dead or the Wraith, so maybe he isn’t so new. “Close your eyes.”
Three words and suddenly the room was a lot smaller.
“What?” Steven was proud he only sounded partially like a dying duck, because as if things weren’t bad enough, now the marine was going crazy on him.
There was an amused snort from the marine and Steven could see his outline shift slightly, leaning back against one of the walls, gun hanging by his side and arms crossed. Leaning back against shelves full of dead people. Steven chalked up another point in his favor for not collapsing into hysterical gibbering as the fact the Marine was in direct contact with mummified corpses percolated through his brain.
“Close your eyes. Seriously, it’ll help.”
“How can it help.” He whispered back, furious that the marine was a) using the dead as a backrest and b) talking loud enough that the Wraith might hear them. Although b might not be that important because there was a lot of earth between them and the surface. Actually, quite a lot of earth if you took the collapsed entrance into account, but there had to be other ways into the tunnels. Because if the Wraith had a way in, then they had a way out, and if the Wraith didn’t have a way in–
“Close your eyes and think happy thoughts,” the marine coaxed, as if he was talking to a five year old. “Come on, you’ve seen Peter Pan, right?”
For a moment Steven was tempted to explain that he was almost forty which was apparently a good deal older than the marine, and not only had he seen the overly saccharin Disney movie, he’d also read the books. More than once.
But even in his head the rant sounded too much like Rodney and damned if he was going to perpetuate the myth that all scientists were that unbearable.
“I think,” he said as politely as he could manage, “we’re in the wrong galaxy for Neverland, besides you’d need fairy dust and happy thoughts, not just happy thoughts. And maybe you haven’t noticed, but we’re stuck in a hole in the ground with a truly insane amount of dead people while the Wraith wreak merry havoc above us? Because personally, I’ve noticed.”
“I noticed you noticed,” even in the dark Steven could see the grin. “I know it sounds stupid, but give it a try. Right now you’ve got about two minutes before I give up hope and trank you in self-defense.”
“Just close your eyes McCravey, like this.”
There was a long pause. Steven couldn’t tell if the marine was actually standing there in the dark, eyes closed, but he wouldn’t put it past him either. After a moment of mounting panic at being forced to choose between standing in a tunnel of dead people with his eyes closed and lying unconscious in a tunnel of dead people, Steven went with the voluntary blindness.
There was another pause.
“It’s not working you know.” Not that Steven had expected it to work; he’d always been lousy at mediation and ‘finding his happy place’.
“Hmm,” the marine sounded theatrically thoughtful, “are you thinking happy thoughts?”
“Of course! Anything is better than thinking about where I am now, ergo: happy thoughts.”
The marine laughed, but quietly enough to sooth Steven’s nerves. “So what are you thinking about?”
Dead people. “Uh– puppies,” and didn’t that sound inane, but at least it sounded better than the truth.
“What kind of puppies?”
Dead puppies? Which was a dementedly amusing image, zombie puppies. After a moment he realized he’d never answered the question. “Corgis?”
“Are you asking me?” Yes, the marine was definitely laughing at him now. “Because damned if I know what kind of puppies you’re thinking of.”
“Well fine,” Steven snapped, “what are you thinking about then?”
“How is that a happy thought.”
“I like my job.” Steven couldn’t see the grin this time, but he could hear it.
“All you do is shoot things, I really don’t see how that counts as a ‘happy thought’.” He was trying not to be dismissive, but the old ranged verse hand-to-hand combat debate was ingrained. Fun was in the contest of skills, sword to sword, not in the one sided battle where there was no defense, no parry, just the random luck of not being in the right place at the right time.
“Have you ever shot anything?” At least the marine didn’t sound insulted.
“Uh, no– wait what does that have to do with anything?”
“Shooting things is a highly underrated pastime. Which you’d know, if you’d try it.”
“By that logic it should have been obvious I haven’t shot anything, so why bother asking?”
“Some people don’t like the noise.”
“I’ve heard louder.” Historically accurate canons were not known for their silence. “And just for clarification when you said ‘anything’ I thought you meant ‘anyone’. I went through the basic firearms training with everyone else, but I still don’t think you should be equating happy thoughts and firearms.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” There was another lull in the conversation. “You still got your eyes closed?”
Steven was surprised to realize he actually did. Not that it mattered, there was next to no light in the tunnels anyway. “Why?”
“Just wondering if you were still thinking of puppies, that’s all.”
“Corgi puppies?” Zombie Corgi Puppies!
“Actually I was thinking of that tech-a-ma-bob from two rooms back.” Not that he had any clue what it was beyond ‘Ancient-looking’, but there had to be some sort of silver lining to the whole fiasco.
For a moment he wasn’t sure if the marine was kidding, it was sort of hard to miss a three foot tall lump of matte silver that practically screamed anachronism. Then his brain clicked over and he realized the marine meant the term and not the object. “Tech-a-ma-bob? Oh, uh, it’s just easier than calling them ‘random piece of alien technology’.”
“I like it.”
Steven opened one eye, trying to gauge if the marine was being sarcastic, “I’ll be sure to let Rodney know the military approves of our use of inappropriate nicknames.”
“I’m not ‘the military’, I’m Matt.”
“Oh, um, nice to meet you?” And it was, in an odd trapped-together-underground-with-dead-people-and-impending-death-by-Wraith kind of way.
“Sergeant Tanner, you still awake down there?” A chipper voice crackled over the radio and Steven was amazed that she sounded completely unfazed by the attack. “Because I’ve got two lifesigns and Lieutenant Cadman’s got a shitload of explosives and you know how happy it makes her to watch things go boom.”
“Let’s keep Cadman happy then, shall we?” Matt radioed back, “We’re far enough back, so boom when you’re ready.”
“Booms in five then, I take it you had to trank the Thundercat?”
“Nope, and now it’s your job to explain the nickname.” Matt wasn’t quite laughing and Steven wasn’t sure if he should be offended. “See you in five.” Matt snapped the radio back onto his vest and moved a little further away from the entrance, tugging at Steven’s sleeve to get the scientist follow.
“Amy explains Amy’s nicknames, it’s not for mere mortals like us to comprehend.” He grinned and motioned for Steven to cover his nose and mouth with his undershirt. “She’s dubbed me Silverhawk if it makes you feel any better.”
“Not really,” but now Steven was wondering what Rodney’s nickname was. The few 80’s cartoon shows he remembered were the one’s his niece had made him sit through. The sudden image of Rodney as a My Little Pony was disturbing. Amusing, but disturbing.
There was a thunderous kaboom from the far end of the tunnel, followed by a wave of dust and light. And he was not going to think about how much of that dust was rock and how much of it was dead people, he just wasn’t.
“You did good McCravey,” and with what Steven assumed was a congratulatory back-pat Matt was heading out of the cave, leaving him to follow.
And maybe trading missions weren’t that bad after all.
Except for the zombies.
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