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Title: Flotsam and Jetsam
Author: starry_diadem
Summary:  The team experience a Pegasus ritual.  Sadly it's very low key and doesn't involve nakedness
Prompt: Week14 Driftwood picture
Notes:  I can't believe that this provoked me into writing genfic.  This comm is obviously having a deleterious effect on my immoral fibre. With thanks to syble4 for looking this over for me.


They saw it when they rounded the headland, the pair of them plodding through the sand in a dawn that was staining sea and sky a soft rose-pink shot through with silver. The air was still, sharp with the smell of salt and rank with seaweed; the tide was on the ebb, leaving the usual tribute of flotsam on the shoreline. The bay ahead cut into the land like a shallow sickle, the beach stretching away to the next headland. They were the only two living things moving along the shore just then, but for a few early birds in flight over the sea, black against the pink sky. John could hear faint screams and screeches as the birds wheeled and dived.

"Maybe it's art," said Rodney. He rubbed briskly at his eyes, muttering something about sand being blown about, and still couldn't meet John's gaze. "Some sort of installation sculpture."

John pushed his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose and stared over the rims. When they'd come through the gate an hour earlier in the pre-dawn dark, Rodney had rolled his eyes and asked John if he needed to be surgically separated from his ray-bans, so he wasn't going to admit that the light still wasn't really bright enough to justify them. He was blinking himself, and was glad to blame the dust; the sunglasses hid that neatly. Although, come to think on it, he'd welcome some snark right then, to get the taste of failure out of his mouth and Rodney wouldn't need much of an excuse to rant at him. "A pile of driftwood?"

"That's the point. It's not a pile of driftwood. It's been constructed." Rodney tilted his head as he looked at it, squinting. "It's not a real structure though. That was never a house or a shelter. It's just been built to look a bit like one."

John stared, taking in the details. Rodney was right. It wasn't a real shelter.

He glanced behind him to the bay he and Rodney had just left. Teyla and Ronon emerged from the deserted fishing village. They must have given up on finding anything. Teyla had her head bowed as she walked past nets strung out on drying poles, not watching where she was going as she trudged through the sand as if it were sucking her down. Though Ronon's head was held high, his hand brushed the butt of his gun over and over.

Nothing in the village but ruins and the husks of the dead. Men, women, childr—

John turned abruptly, to face the bay ahead. Teyla wasn't even looking at him, but he didn't want to see the expression in her eyes when she did.

No abandoned fishing villages in this bay, no dried out husks and definitely no survivors hiding amongst the rocks at the base of the distant cliffs. Just the soft endless whisper of the sea ravening on the land, its hunger never appeased, and the flat, level sands stretching out to the next headland a quarter of a mile away.

And the driftwood... thing.

It sat above the high tide mark in the exact centre of the bay. Ignoring Rodney's squawking protest about damp feet, John stepped over the line of seaweed and shells and onto the wet sand. It was easier to walk on. Every step that he took towards the driftwood left a little depression. Wet sand became dry for an instant under his weight, then as he moved on, the footstep filled with water seeping up from below and smoothing the marks out again as if he'd never been there.

"It's non-Newtonian, you know." Rodney's tone was subdued. "Waterlogged sand, I mean. It's in colloidal suspension. It's a dilatant, like ketchup."

John glanced down at the sand. It wasn't quite flat. It had ripples in it, a more solid version of the waves that had surged over it a little while ago. There was water in the little valleys between the curving lines of ripples. "I thought you despised non-Newtonian thinking."

"No," said Rodney, slowly. "No. There're better things to despise than that. Or worse."

There was no arguing with that. John walked on, hunching his shoulders against the knowledge of what was behind him.

Up close, it was clearer that whatever this structure was, Rodney was right about it having no practical use. It wasn't a real shelter, and never had been. It looked more like the skeleton of one; grey, sea-washed ribs leaning up against a central keel-bone of a spar. Pebbles and shells had been set around it, each rib braced by stones where it plunged down into the sand. That the wood, stone and shell been set there deliberately was obvious; the placement was too careful to be the random deposit of sea and wind. It might be art but if it was, it wasn't intended to be beautiful.

Behind him, he heard Teyla gasp and Ronon said something John couldn't quite catch, his tone surprised.

No, not surprised. Awed. Reverent, even.

John turned to look at them, steeling himself. Ronon was grinning and even Teyla's reddened eyes were brightening.

"A stra'al," said Teyla. "A real stra'al! I haven't seen one since I left Athos."

Gate technology was a wonderful thing, and usually the translation units worked so unobtrusively that John forget that when they were talking to non-Earthers they weren't really hearing English. But every now and again, one small untranslatable word was a sharp reminder that they were the aliens here.

"A what?"

Teyla frowned. "You have nothing like the stra'al back on Earth?"

"Not that I know of," said John. He stood easy, his hands resting on the P90 slung in front of him. Rodney just shook his head, still uncharacteristically muted. "Doesn't look like there's an equivalent word for it."

"They are a living thing, a living symbol. An icon." Teyla stepped up to the driftwood. Her touch was gentle, as if she were afraid the wood would crumble under her fingers. "Many of them are centuries old."

"And yet every one is brand new." Ronon took a deep breath and relaxed taut shoulders. He looked less angry than he had in the village, as though something had soothed him. "They're always new."

Rodney snorted, flaring into brief Rodney-like life. "They're either one or the other, Conon."

Teyla wouldn't let things get out of hand. Her quiet Rodney got a mumbled apology. "What Ronon means is that the stra'al might have stood here for hundreds of years, but that these pieces of wood, the stones and shells, will change every time someone passes. Pieces will be taken away and others added, or maybe just shifted around into a new pattern. The stra'al changes constantly, yet is the same." Teyla stroked the grey wood, and smiled. "That is its whole purpose."

"Oh," said Rodney. "I was right, Sheppard. Art. I just wasn't expecting audience participation performance art."

"Yes." Teyla couldn't have missed the edge to Rodney's voice, but she didn't take him up on it. "If you like. It's a symbolic thing. One that belongs to everyone who passes."

"We had them on Sateda, too. Ours were usually rocks."

"A symbol of what?" John put his hand over Rodney's wrist before he could say something to provoke Ronon. Rodney's mouth closed, the snark unvoiced. John was sorry, but everyone had to make sacrifices in the name of team harmony. Even him.

"Is it not obvious?" Teyla shook her head in that pitying way that made John want to shuffle his feet and duck his head. "The individual pieces change, but the stra'al endures. People come and go, but the stra'al endures." Her voice trembled with the weight of what they'd found in the fishing village. "The Wraith come, but the stra'al endures."

John looked at the unlovely structure, trying to see the beauty in it that Teyla and Ronon did. A pile of wood with a few shells at its base. Nothing to see here, move along.

Rodney surprised him. "The individual pieces aren't important on their own. Just in how they fit together."

Teyla's mouth curved up into the starved ghost of her usual smile. "And in what they make when they come together."

John reached for something to say that would satisfy her. "Permanence out of transience, right? Life's transient, but this—" he waved an arm around him to sea and sand and sky, "—this will always be here."

He got an approving look and he had to fight down a smirk. Give that boy a gold star.

"Yes. And what little changes we make to it do not, in the end, change the fact that the stra'al is here."

"I'm going to look for some wood." Ronon turned on his heel and stalked off down towards the water's edge, his coat billowing behind him.

"We are newcomers to this world. We haven't earned have the right to move any of the pieces. We can only add to what's here already, and leave our mark on it." Teyla turned to follow Ronon. She paused and said, turning her head to speak over her shoulder, "It will honour the dead if you do this. It would comfort me."

No moral pressure there, then.

John nodded.

Rodney didn't even say how stupid this was, how much it wasted his brilliant mind and precious time he could be spending on research, on bending the universe to his will. He plodded after Teyla, instead, scanning the long line of seaweed and debris for something he could use.

John sighed. He didn't need a shifting sculpture to tell him that everything was transient. He knew it, right down to the soles of his boots. What he didn't quite believe was that there was any permanence as a result. One harsh winter storm and this would be likely be another piece of flotsam floating on the water.

Still, he took his time choosing a piece of driftwood. He found a tree root over near the rocks of the next headland, twisted and contorted but smoothed into silk by the water. That should be contradiction enough to satisfy even the Pegasus galaxy. A piece of quartz caught his eye as he walked back, its once-sharp planes rounded by eons tumbling in the water. It would do to anchor the wood.

Ronon had placed his wood by the time John got back and was watching Teyla as she added hers. Rodney was standing with one hand outstretched, thumb up, and staring down his arm at the stra'al the way artists were supposed to do when they were checking perspective. He'd found what looked like a fragment from a boat, a piece of curved wood showing the remnants of paint. It had been a bright blue once; the colour of Rodney's eyes. He grinned tightly at John when he'd put it into place. John put his driftwood on the other side to Rodney's, up against Ronon's piece. He took a few minutes to turn the wood this way and that, until the shape it made against the stra'al felt right. The quartz had little black veins running through it, that he turned so they'd catch the light.

They all stepped back and looked at the stra'al. Teyla's hand slid into John's left. She was already holding Ronon's right hand. She smiled at him when he glanced at her; that expectant, glad smile. The one that held a message he had to figure out for himself.

Rodney always was quicker on the uptake. His warm hand took John's right one, fingers curving around John's, palm to palm. A moment while John's heart hammered, then he tightened his grip slightly, watching Rodney's reaction sidelong from behind his sunglasses. Rodney's face was downcast, but he was smiling, just a little bit.

John turned his attention back to the stra'al. It wasn't so ugly, really, not now the light was strengthening and warming the grey wood into softer shades. Not so bad at all. And this was one world where a piece of John Sheppard might stay for a while. Until the next big winter storm, anyway.

The sun was almost up.

He straightened, letting his shoulders relax and rolling them to ease the tension. He held Rodney's hand still. "Time to go home."

"I don't want to go back though the village," said Rodney. "There's nothing we can do for them."

"We can cut inland and get around it." Ronon pointed towards the cliff. "That way. I can see a path to the top."

They had to let go of each other. John took point, Teyla and Rodney behind him and Ronon on their six. Their usual combination; the usual way that they meshed.

Their own stra'al, he guessed.

He could see the Stargate from the top of the cliffs, glinting in the sun. Behind them, the stra'al was left to be the only thing visible on the flat beach, and the sky to the east was cooling from its first rosy blush into a clear blue.

2,180 words


( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 3rd, 2011 12:28 pm (UTC)
This is a beautiful piece! So well-described, so lyrical, and the idea of the stra'al is interesting, somewhat alien but still making sense to "Earthers", meaningful and touching. Even though these cultures evolved in a different galaxy, we're all ( mostly, in Teyla's case ;)genetically human still, and there are many things the human mind and the human heart, no matter birth and raising, can connect with.

Oh, and don't worry about writing a gen fic! Some of us actually prefer them! ;)
Sep. 3rd, 2011 04:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm delighted that you enjoyed it.

I was given the idea by a constantly shifting rock sculpture at Halibut Point (Cape Ann, Ma), which everyone adds to and changes. That doesn't have an *official* spiritual element, but the whole idea of art being created in this way feels as though it ought to have a significance beyond merely adding a pretty-shaped stone. In Pegasus, the Wraith give such an endeavour a very sharp point.

I write only gen in one of my fandoms, but this is a first for SGA!
Sep. 3rd, 2011 12:45 pm (UTC)
That was lovely! I like that it's Rodney who gets what it is. His engineering backround recognizing structure but seeing no function, and his own knowledge base coming up with ART. And he's right.

And that there's no English equivalent for the word Teyla and Ronon use. We forget, I think, that even though they're human, they're still very much alien. That was really well done.

And John's snarky thought processes. So in character.

Thank you for sharing this one. :)
Sep. 3rd, 2011 04:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm delighted that you like it.

I like remembering that Rodney is not always clueless and that he is a very intelligent man. Remembering in Tao how keyed in he was to Teyla's and Ronon's various 'scars' from living in Pegasus suggested to me that despite the bluster, he sees very well what he's gained from the Team.

Sep. 3rd, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC)
Beautifully written and what a wonderful interpretation of the prompt. I am reminded of walking through the local Buddhist sanctuary and coming across a small pile of stones arranged haphazardly but with intent..

"Their own stra'al, he guessed."

Lovely line, and the art is gorgeous!

(PS...This comm is having an amazing effect on all of us...you write gen, and many of us have stepped out of our comfort zone...what a great experience. And you should write gen more often...your words are beautiful.)
Sep. 3rd, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC)
I'm not a writer as you know, just an avid reader but I agree with you that this comm is a wonderful writing experience for all of you writers...challenging and satisfying I'm sure.

It's certainly satisfying to the extreme for us readers...thanks a million to you all for all the enjoyment I'm getting every week.
(no subject) - starry_diadem - Sep. 3rd, 2011 04:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starry_diadem - Sep. 3rd, 2011 04:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 3rd, 2011 02:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, how beautiful. You've blended Pegasus and Team so very nicely...

Sep. 3rd, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm pleased that it worked for you.
Sep. 3rd, 2011 03:27 pm (UTC)
You started with such a sad grey image but you turned it round to have hope, friendship, something that lasts despite hardship.

Rodney surprised him. "The individual pieces aren't important on their own. Just in how they fit together."
Teyla's mouth curved up into the starved ghost of her usual smile. "And in what they make when they come together."

John took point, Teyla and Rodney behind him and Ronon on their six. Their usual combination; the usual way that they meshed.
Their own stra'al, he guessed. .....lovely hon.

This may have been very different from your usual style, but you did it beautifully well!!
Sep. 3rd, 2011 03:37 pm (UTC)
Btw, forgot to say.... "I can't believe that this provoked me into writing genfic. This comm is obviously having a deleterious effect on my immoral fibre."......you really made me laugh with this hon!!!!

But don't worry, I'm sure your immoral fibre has not been harmed beyond repair...lol

PS love the word 'deleterious', but I admit I had to look it up in the dictionary, so I guess even the readers are having a learning erxperience on this comm...well this one anyway!!
(no subject) - starry_diadem - Sep. 3rd, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starry_diadem - Sep. 3rd, 2011 04:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 3rd, 2011 06:13 pm (UTC)
holy wow. so very much to adore about this. the permanence/impermanence themes, Just the soft endless whisper of the sea ravening on the land, its hunger never appeased; John's weariness and cynicism at the start of the exercise and how it grudgingly lifts; the holding of hands and the way Rodney wants to avoid the village on the way out--in fact they all seem eager to, to keep their lightened mood. And their own stra'al.

Just so, so beautiful and haunting, m'dear.
Sep. 4th, 2011 09:46 am (UTC)
Thank you! I like picture prompts and this one jumped up and down and yelled at me until I gave in and wrote the story it was clamouring to tell me.

Poor John is very weary in this, the guilt weighing him down, but he's absurdly pleased by the chance to hold Rodney's hand. Maybe I should really label this pre-slash?

I'm delighted that you liked it.
Sep. 3rd, 2011 08:30 pm (UTC)
I liked this a lot - cultures in Pegasus know that they *are* not top of the foodchain, and this is a lovely picture of one response to that.
Sep. 4th, 2011 09:48 am (UTC)
Yes, that's what I was hoping to get across: a deep and up close understanding of how fleeting life is must be branded into every Pegasus native's soul, and I liked the thought that they could each add a little individual part to something that will stand for a very long time.

Thank you. I'm pleased that you liked it.
Sep. 3rd, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
Sep. 4th, 2011 09:48 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Sep. 4th, 2011 01:20 am (UTC)
Oh my that was lovely. I loved the idea of the stra'al, how it changed but stayed the same. What a dark yet poignant picture of life in Pegasus. And John thinking that the team is their own stra'al--*gasp*--took my breath away. I absolutely adored this story, especially the team holding hands after placing their pieces. :-) Warmed my heart, it did.

The stra'al kind of reminded me of the Inuit Inukshuk.
Sep. 4th, 2011 09:52 am (UTC)
Warmed my heart, it did
Excellent! I hoped that despite the rather bleak beginning and the weariness John feels, that the essential message that there is something permanent would come through. And he is an absolute sweetheart when it comes to team and his (self-created) family and loyalty.

I didn't think of the Inukshuk and although I'd heard of them in connexion with the winter Olympics, I really don't know much about them. They seem to be really imbued with weight and significance. I was influenced by a much less significant rock sculpture on the Massachusetts shore, but the principle is the same.

Thank you for the fb. It's much appreciated.
Sep. 4th, 2011 03:56 am (UTC)
I liked the way you showed Rodney and John embracing this Pegasus ritual and John's growing awareness that it also represented the bond among the team. He's moved from defensively wearing the Earth sunglasses that needlessly obscure his vision to seeing more truely and deeply . . . .
Sep. 4th, 2011 09:55 am (UTC)
That's a quite insightful thing to say, I think. John does hide himself behind a lot of barriers and the sunglasses, that conceal the expression in his eyes, are pretty effective. And of course, they stop him from seeing as clearly as he might. I like the idea that this simple ritual gives him a moment of real understanding of himself and the team.

Thank you! I appreciate the fb very much.
(no subject) - fanficfan123 - Sep. 6th, 2011 01:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 4th, 2011 04:25 am (UTC)
This story was so touching.

Well done!
Sep. 4th, 2011 09:55 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm delighted that you liked it.
Sep. 5th, 2011 10:38 pm (UTC)
I don't generally read SGA stories, but I'm glad I stopped to read this one. As usual, I love the way you paint pictures in words. Too many writers just don't have the knack for it.
Sep. 8th, 2011 11:34 pm (UTC)
Hi! Sorry to take a couple of days to reply, but I've been in Yellowstone and my motel lied about wifi access - I've been using my iPad as a paperweight for three days...

Thank you! I"m delighted that you've been inveigled into SGA and that you enjoyed the story.
Sep. 6th, 2011 09:28 pm (UTC)
This is so, so lovely! The flow of the words, the images you invoke, the peek into the depth of souls, the team bonding over something tragic.... You should definitely write more genfic, even if only to test the immoral fibre ;-)
Sep. 8th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm delighted that you enjoyed this! My immoral fibre should be strong enough to face a few more shocks, I hope!
Sep. 7th, 2011 10:51 am (UTC)
Your descriptions are very vivid — the first paragraph sets the scene so well — and I really like the understated way you show off the bonds among the Team.
Sep. 8th, 2011 11:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm delighted that you enjoyed it
Sep. 24th, 2011 03:00 am (UTC)
This is a lovely idea and story.
( 34 comments — Leave a comment )

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