A Short Record of Outmoded Concepts and Theories of the Tauri'iAuthor: pogrebinArtist:> mashimeroGenre:
references events up to S4Notes:
We picked the Sept 26, 2008
astronomy pic of the day for the challenge.
Artwork and fanmix at mish_mashi
A Short Record of Outmoded Concepts and Theories of the Tauri'i
It’s been five years and three days since the stars started to blink out, and in another six months, the sun is going to explode, taking with it Earth, its solar system and anything that happens to be nearby. The naquadah from the gate will irradiate the dust and debris that will mark their passing-- not for years, because another few months after that (give or take, they are operating on a cosmic scale gone freakishly out of balance) the rip in subspace will have swallowed up everything and all there will be is absence and silence stretching across-- not just their universe-- but every single one that was is or might have been.
Nothing can change this.romanticism
When the world ends, Rodney is in the Byurakan Observatory, sprawled on the slopes of the Aragatz mountain and backlit by the flicker of Yerevan, capital city of Armenia: this fact makes no sense. At least not from a practical standpoint. The 2.6m Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector that is the pride of this picturesque but decidedly post-Soviet facility doesn’t even begin to compare to the LMT in Mexico or the 12 telescopes of Mauna Kea, which themselves pale in comparison to the Asgard tech that Rodney himself helped the SGC install fifteen years ago. But apparently, Rodney is a mystery even to himself because instead of picking the facility which would afford the best view of the universe tearing itself apart, he decided to go somewhere sentimental.
Byurakan was the first real internship he’d ever had-- his second year at Northwestern, still fifteen years old. It was the only place willing to sign all the extra paperwork demanded because he was still a minor, with a legal system lax enough for them not to care enough to restrict him from the run of the place. Where he’d met Artak Paronyan, who had convinced him that the way to look up at the stars was-- after four or five swigs of vodka wrapped in a paper bag, backs flat against the grass and growth of the mountain as the sun dipped away and the evening shivered over the precipice and the clouds shadowed the moon into sharp beams, jutting out into the sky like multiple searchlights describing an arc so slow that it seemed static, like whatever they were looking for had been lost for millenia but that didn’t matter.
Byurakan is where Rodney learned what it meant when he said the word: cosmic
Celestial navigation is actually still taught by the Fort McMurray Eager Beavers (and also-- till 1997-- by the US Air Force) and Rodney of course remembers the principles. The almanacs and log tables and notion of navigation by the North Star does not work outside the Milky Way, limited to the planet, a system forged by a people that believed their relative position in the universe to be static. Maybe not quite as bad as believing the Earth to be the centre of the universe, still, while everything else orbited around it but not so much better: celestial navigation only works if you assume that human eyes will only ever be looking up at the stars from one vantage point. While Rodney learned what it meant to say cosmic
in Armenia, it is not until he walks through a wormhole, or holds his hands against the Apollo’s hyperdrive engine, or lands his feet on the surface of another planet that he actually finds himself able to mean it.
Celestial navigation is a dead system for a humanity that can gate across two galaxies without breaking a sweat, but that didn’t stop Rodney from looking up every time they stepped through the stargate onto a new planet’s surface. The co-ordinates might be different, the skyscape unfamiliar, but in space everything is relative. To make the stars familiar, all you have to do is skew. It is illogical, but comforting to know that even if he hasn’t unpicked the exact mathematics of each new starscape, the potential is there: in their light, relative to each other, the stars are delivering a message to their impossibly small human observers. The stars are saying: we can guide you home.
Rodney thinks, yes
and thinks, you just need to ask them right.collimation
At the end of the universe, the stars dissolve.
Celestial navigation is a dead system for a humanity that can take fixed positions and unloose them. They are not small ships freed of mooring, drifting without anchor, no, they are ships free floating on an ocean that has come unstuck from the land. They have slipped the bonds, opened atoms like an oyster-picker slipping their knife between the shells and twisting, they have destroyed the bonds between one star and the next which old sailors used to guide their ships home at night and then they destroyed the stars themselves-- it is no wonder that soon they will feel the molecules in their own bodies slipping away from each other, pulling in opposed directions.
In space, direction is relative.
A concept in astronomy is: collimation.
Telescopes ensure that divergent light is re-converged into a collimated beam, light travelling in parallels, correcting all kinds of dispersal to produce a sharper image. Collimated light is said to be focused at infinity, but instead of poetry Rodney finds only terror in this idea. Like distance erases humanity. From far enough away we’re all just travelling in straight lines. With enough tweaking the scattering and deflection and reflection and occlusion that marks our passage through the universe can be collapsed back in to simple parallelism: a collimated beam, that can be easily read.
For the most part, astronomers regard the light from the stars to be collimated: the stars in the night sky are far enough away that they are a point-source indistinguishable from infinity.
That is not true anymore.
The light that emerges from the dying stars straightens and stiffens as it reaches the Earth, parallelism that slides like a fake smile over their violent origins; an effect of distance.
As the Ancients approached the horizon of ascension, shedding matter behind them like an inconvenience, did they feel like this?
Rodney does not know.
Humanity is Ascending, and it is taking the rest of space-time with it when it goes.dead reckoning
The thing is though: stars aren’t fixed, the constellations shift with the seasons and through time. The first humans looked up at a night sky that was not altogether alien but not quite familiar. semiotics
The thing about the Ancients is: they don't think like us. Their language makes no distinction between the metaphorical and the literal. This is why they have no fiction-- when they wanted the satisfaction of a story well told they just rewrote the universe. Their lullabies are seismic events, their anecdotes involve terraforming. This synchronicity is not poetic-- it has created a most utilitarian race. The destruction of the symbol has only led to its proliferation-- nothing is fictional, so everything is. This is the only way to wield power in a world of infiinite consequence-- the Ancients were not, as Rodney suspects and Sam fears, careless
with their experiements. Tis implies innatention & a certain laxity of procedure. It simply never occured to them that they should
care. And Rodney and Sam know enough quantum physics & postmodernism to understand why-- Ancient technology caught up with its philosophy and actualisised the destabilisation of the real, casting razor-points of light into the shadows between intention & action, scissoring themselves away from their human descendants and cleaving to their gods. The Ancients never worried about consequences because, well, you might as well worry about entropy or the deaths of all your future children and their children, inevitable and separated from you solely by occurence in time.
When they decide to Ascend, the physical becomes unnecessary-- to the Ancients, the unnecessary is discarded.
The inscription of the device, loosely translated reads: clarity of focus*. Its sides are perfectly proportioned and cool to the touch. It hums softly to a beat not unlike that of the human heart (the cosmologists are beside themselves: something about the harmonics of the universe itself), emits ionizing radiation and is buried so deep in Area 51’s sublevels that you have to stop on the way up from viewing it or you’ll get the bends.
*This is what Rodney thinks, but if you had asked Daniel he’d have said: clarity is paramount. There is a moral imperative in the words. bureaucracy
Once the device is activated, it takes exactly six days and ten hours for Rodney to be called. It is only by day three that the catastrophic effects of the device are discovered, and by day four almost every department and organisation that has clearance for the Stargate Program is trying to get an expert up close. Rodney, insulated from the chaos and power-grabbing by the SGCs total control of the Atlantis Expedition’s information, has no idea until he recieves the official communique, accompanied by a marine with the hard data on a disk—the information too sensitive to be transmitted by databurst (according to the SGC anyway, Rodney would argue the point: he designed the security protocols).
The situation is serious and therefore he spends only 71 minutes crowing that Sam asked him
for help before putting in for an indefinite Leave of Absence from the Atlantis Expedition to move to Area 51, where the device is being held. Sam is in charge there which means that the three now infamous labrats that inadvertently activated the device (Hall, Skaaden and Chakravarthi) are under her purview-- so the end of the world as we know it was caused not by Rodney McKay and his enormous and total arrogance and his experiments in the Ancient fortress masquerading as a city but rather by the cautious and wise Sam Carter, right here on boring old Earth. Truth be told, he's pretty surprised it isn't him, so his irritation at humanity (and indeed everyone else's) imminent doom is tempered by gratitude that she's taken one for the team.
About eight months after that Rodney comes to the realisation that the device’s effects cannot be halted.existentialism
The day they declassify the first star burns out—their act one of political expediency rather than symbolism, but the connotation is there for all to see. That becomes the image that most people associate with the Stargate Program, with the greatest and most wondrous advances of humanity in any century: the night sky subtly disfigured by the absence of one star, a cosmic emptiness. The other races the Tauri’i are aware of are informed just before with a comminique that contains all the data that they have accumulated on the device and an open invitation to study it.
The surprising thing is the riots that follow on Earth (and probably other worlds, Rodney has pretty much given up trying to keep abreast of the political situation anywhere else) are quite shortlived. Within six months there is widespread acceptance, and even a certain kind of feverish jubilation; the breakdown of traditional systems of political government is tempered by a growing movement towards Ascension. It is not long before the Atlantis Expedition is completely recalled and the fortress becomes a spiritual sanctum, a completely open space dedicated to the singleminded pursuit of Ascension with delegations from many species and planets spanning both the Milky Way and the Pegasus galaxy taking up residence in the Ancient halls. Even various factions of the Wraith end up making their home there, adding their expertise to the only escape from the end of the universe.ontology
With the defeat of the Ori, Goa’uld, Replicators (Pegasus and Milky Way iterations both) and the near subjugation of the Wraith in Pegasus, the Tauri’i are the only technologically advanced species to involve themselves in politics and activity on an intergalactic scale. The Pegasus-based Asgard have taken the news with something approaching aplomb—their own destruction as a species was unconscionable but somehow the notion that their annihilation would only be one gasp in the drawn-out death-spasms of the universe makes it all more bearable. There is nobody left, really, to say, ‘I told you so’, no higher power but their own judgement. Rodney misses Elizabeth acutely.diplomacy
The First Contact teams are all retrained for Diplomatic Relations: their job is now to make contact with new civilisations and to inform them of the end. There’s no easy way to break it. The teams, though, often come back through the gate with offerings and garlands—tithes from fearful civilisations to their angry gods. Offerings in the hopes that they will be spared, from societies that have been lived under the Goa’uld, the Ori, the Wraith. The Tauri’i have become inadvertent deities: individual Shivas, bent on destroying the universe with their dancing feet.
Gods, then, do not have to be omnipotent.
Alternate interpretation: after the sixth month, Daniel says to the IOA: these are deliberate misunderstandings. The anger of the gods is meaningful, an accident is not. The anger of the gods, at least, can be appeased, there is hope for salvation. Our explanations offer none.
The flowers rot on the gateroom floor and the produce goes stale in the storage rooms. academia
2015 is widely regarded as the official end to scientific attempts to deactivate the device, sealed by Dr R. M. McKay’s momentous Third Address to the UN, coinciding with the fifth anniversary of Activation. Though unofficial sources had admitted that all serious possibilities had been exhausted up to six months before this confirmation, Dr Samantha Carter remained—and remains, till date of publication—one of the few voices of dissent within the Stargate establishment, continuing her work with support from private donators but, tellingly, without public endorsement from the UN, her own home government or McKay himself. The last is perhaps not so surprising, given the well-documented history of professional and personal animosity between the two, even well before Declassification. Both, however, have come under fire for their refusal to participate in research towards Ascension. [Peter Kosansky, Consciences and Consciousness
, Princeton University Press, January 2019]The English language has failed us. All languages. We have overleapt the boundaries of our own consciences and consciousnesses.
[Dr Rodney Meredith McKay, Third Address to the United Nations, 12 February 2015]
The history books are being written with all due haste, an academic attempt to stuff the gaping nothingness of the maw with anything, even words.theology
The major religions of the world—having been proved mostly right—have achieved a unity and tolerance for each other never before observed in human history. Heaven is talked of as a universal and symbolic concept, death-cults and life-cults find their contradictions resolved in the ideology of Ascension: an end that isn’t, both reincarnation and return. The Catholic Church is in propaganda overdrive. Rodney is fairly sure he’s seen a Kitchener-style poster of a mustachioed and bearded Christ, almost winking with a finger pointed towards the viewer and large, retro font proclaiming: the Kingdom of Heaven is within YOU! But he might have just imagined it. It’s getting difficult to tell these days. Gita Chakravarthy has found herself the unwilling and somewhat sheepish icon of the Kali cults of South India (whose long-held belief in chaos and destruction has lent them a newfound following) her face photoshopped onto images of the six-armed, red-tongued goddess and circulated the world-over through email and print.
The focal point of all of this religious and spiritual fervour is Ascend!—a very loose conglomeration of people and associations whose binding interest is in the study, promotion and achievement of Ascension. Zen-like offices with water features, stone gardens and saffron-cloaked attendants have sprung up everywhere. Their advertising is hard to miss: every location branded with a neon sign whose exlamation mark spews white light in a 180 degree arc. Though they actively welcome those of any and all faiths, the organisation touts itself as being secular and scientific. Most of Rodney’s friends—the sensible ones anyway, who are doing research into Ascension Technologies—have gotten at least some funding from this umbrella group. Despite their success and size, the group seems to have developed something of an obsession with converting McKay to the cause. (Perhaps, like the bodhisattvas of Buddist philosophy, they believe they cannot achieve nirvana until the last darkened soul is enlightened?) Rodney’s very public refusal to participate in Ascension Tech—mostly in the form of genetic manipulation as the time grows shorter—makes him the perfect target. They even have a circular—Ascend McKay
—which they dutifully deliver to his house every second Tuesday. It’s after the fourth one that Rodney is motivated enough to barge into their head office, slam down the circular (printed on recycled paper) and demand to speak to someone in charge. During the ten-minute explanation of their non-hierarchical organisational structure, Rodney works through fourteen mathematical caculations in his head before getting bored enough to look around.The soft sitar music is interrupted overlaid with choral singing and chanting, and the fragrance of incense in the air makes Rodney edgy.
They have pale, watercolour-like motivational posters of Daniel Jackson with various beatific expressions plastered all over his face (the man has an infuriating array of them) and even a few of Sheppard—his associations with Chaya and Teer lending him some notoreity. Rodney’s never actually managed to pin anyone down but he’s pretty sure that there’s a rumour going round that sleeping with John Sheppard ups the chances of Ascension, or that Sheppard somehow mystically ‘picks’ those on the Path (or the Way, or the Long Road or whatever it is the Acension-freaks are calling it these days, Rodney makes a very deliberate effort not to know). In retaliation for this blatant favouritism—on the part of the universe, genetics, the Ancients, and even the gossip mill—Rodney takes to sending Sheppard crude stick-figure drawings with labels that say: John Sheppard’s Magic Cock. Sheppard, irritatingly, never seems appropriately disturbed, even when the packages reach him during comm blackouts, on postings to places that Rodney is barely even supposed to know exist.
“Didn’t these offices belong to WeightWatchers?” Rodney asks.
The woman at the front desk looks a bit shifty, then shrugs. “We still have the vitamin supplements lying around,” she rummages around underneath the desk and hands him a bottle. “They’re good for you.”
“Thanks,” he replies, absently, pocketing it. The pills rattle inside the plastic bottle every time he takes a step, converting his walk down the corridor into an unintentional marenge.game theory
The last time Rodney saw everyone—his version of everyone, the ragtag survivors from Atlantis and Cheyenne Moutain—was the last day before Sam got on a plane to Japan to head up the Indo-Japanese Space Research Commission, chaired by Miko Kusanagi. They’ve taken over an entire bar in rural Arizona and have the Daedalus in orbit, beaming people straight from the gateroom in Colorado Springs to the venue. Sheppard arrives with Ronon, Cam Mitchell, Lorne, Cadman and a couple of others from SG teams that Rodney doesn’t recognise by name. They’re still dressed in BDUs and smell of iron and something else: a smell that’s instantly recognisable as one of the endless iterations of offworld
. Everything is ending but there are still wars: Sheppard prefers to fight the ones off-planet rather than get roped into riot control and peacekeeping under the newly formed Military Federation of People of Earth which internationalised the national and personal militias and brought them under the control of the International Court of Justice.
The cliques are obvious but Rodney falls between them: he isn’t quite with Sheppard and the other gate teams still operational, sent on secret missions, pushing back the occasional Wraith or Asgard resurgence, nor is he one of those who has cut ties—conscientious objectors, retirees, the angry and bitter, though all four descriptors probably fit him tolerably well. Keller hands him a drink and talks ferociously about her various projects to modernise medical care throughout the galaxy, but can’t quite talk around the fact that all her expertise has been reduced to palliative care: making us comfortable before the end.
Radek hangs back and makes it his business to rescue Rodney whenever someone gets too maudlin or too political—but Rodney’s used to being confessed to and cursed at by now. He’s become an icon to most of them, as real as Ronald McDonald or a gilt idol, it’s easy to talk into that kind of blank staring face. Symbolically speaking. This does not stop him from tearing them all a new one when the fourth drink gets in him.
It’s only when Teyla shows up, late—she’s got a lot of commitments as the de facto leader of the remaining Concord of the peoples of the Pegasus Galaxy—that the four of them drift towards each other. Teyla presses her forehead to each of them in turn.
“Rodney,” she says, her voice rich and mellow, a sepia-tinted movie of their own past. “Are you well?”
He starts to laugh but what comes out is some kind of strangled gasp. Instead of asking him anything she drops her hands from his shoulders to round his body and presses him close. It’s a long time before he lets go but none of them mention it.
“Are you well, Ronon?” She asks, in turn.
“Yeah,” he replies, a sideways glance towards Sheppard with a grin in his eyes. “Killing Wraith.”
“Ah,” she nods.alchemy
Sam raises a glass and toasts to Oppenheimer’s children
with sickness clawing away at her face, and a brittle, bright, cold laugh like the morning after a nuclear explosion, heavy with the promise of poison on the wind.
He isn’t so surprised. He’s even less surprised when he wakes up in the morning and realises that he isn’t angry any more, he hasn’t been for a long time. Rodney McKay gave up: he can’t fix the problem and he doesn’t know a guy that can.
“Do you believe in miracles, Rodney?” She had asked him, her fingers worrying at her dogtags. The light from the bare bulb catches the engraving, they still say CATHOLIC.
He can’t remember what he said: yes, no, maybe. All are perfectly possible responses. He may have told a story about Newton, and how he studied gravity and alchemy side by side in an age where alchemy was already considered a medieval pursuit. “Physics is occult,” he might have whispered. Newton was a visionary.market economics
Anyway, that’s all besides the point.
A week before the Earth is going to be obliterated by the solar system’s exploding sun—the latest in the series of planets and moons and ships to be caught in these solar extinctions, and not the first inhabited planet by far—Rodney charters a series of planes and then a self-drive 4x4 from the capital city to get to the Byurakhan observatory. There are a lot of concepts and ideas in the previous sentence that no longer really work, but they’re used anyway: charter, self-drive, capital city. The people of Earth are clinging to the planet’s surface as it bucks and shivers in death. The only real economy or political system left is that of Ascension. The systems persist, because the old habits give a measure of comfort, but they are irrevocably warped. Rodney’s Toyota has a doll hanging from the rear-view mirror in traditional lotus pose with light emanating from its chest. When they go over a speed-bump it lurches and wheezes out one of twenty Ancient platitudes or sayings.schadenfreude
This is how he finds out that it was the Ancients that said: necessity is the mother of invention.
The prospect of death is just a tool to sharpen the mind. In fact, a large number of the Ancients actually celebrated the war with the Wraith. They toasted every enemy victory, they danced to the black box recordings of their own lost battleships, finding universal rhythms in the explosions, screams, cries, beeps, the mesh of electronic and organic voices screeching their one last defiance against the end. The spiritual and the practical narrowed to one goal.
There is another saying: it’s the journey, not the destination. The Ancients most definitely did not come up with that one.
So what does it mean when all the destinations coalesce into one?
Rodney finds himself thinking about this kind of thing a lot these days. Things he isn’t good at. Equations without meaningful solutions (and not in the glorious clear-blue mathematical sense, where illogic is still part of the pattern). This should really be the preserve of those better and wiser but they seem to be in short supply these days, even by his own rather imperious and arbitrary standards. “Hey,” he says, half-drunk and smiling over tofurkey last Thanksgiving (Canadian, not American, thank you very much) “We finally found a use for you English graduates.” “Yeah,” Kaleb replies, serving Madison an absently large portion of mashed potato. “The apocalypse is good for something after all.” When he leaves Kaleb presses a copy of Rilke’s Elegies into Rodney’s hands, and Rodney actually reads it. He will never admit this to anyone.aerodynamics
Sheppard doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking. No, that’s wrong. Sheppard spends a lot of time thinking but somehow isn’t as weighted down by it as Rodney is: sometimes Rodney can’t believe the sun is rising, that the Earth is still maintaining its axial tilt, that the natural laws still operate (and will, at least right until very nearly the end) because his flesh feels molten and unreal: he has never been so very aware of the constituent parts of his body and the very miracle of his being, his moving, his knit network of bones moving so gracefully underneath his skin. Like Darwin he becomes fascinated with hands, holding his own up to the dawn and almost believing he can see the light filter through it, illuminating his cells and their so functional, so punctual movement through his capillaries. To him, it is a terrible knowledge, heavy, horrible, numbing, pulling him down to the earth with every breath, but then, Sheppard’s got a lot of practice at escaping gravity. transcendentalism
Sheppard shows up three days later with nothing but his new war wounds and a cooler full of beer to find Rodney on the floor in one of the observation towers, the disassembled parts of a telescope spread in a semicircle around him, lenses glittering like the discarded pupae of a butterfly. Rodney blinks at the sound of a human voice, and it takes his brain some time (not a lot, he’s still a genius) to click back into its familiar patterns before he parses the greeting (loud, booming, unnaturally large in a landscape that is deadened and waiting) and forms his mouth into a smile. “The stars are blinking out,” he says, as if that explains this—pilgrimage-- yes, he dares to use that word, Dawkins be damned, he could kick his ass with a P-90 and combat boots any day.
“Yeah, buddy,” John agrees. “They’re unreliable like that.”immanence
They lie with their backs pressed flat against the earth and the sky pouring into their eyes, and drink beer. They redraw the celestial maps by the hour, and line the walls of the common room with the obsolete versions, historical artifacts that nobody will remember, cave-paintings made only to commemorate their own existences, freed from the tug of postereity.
It begins to snow.
Ronon arrives the by the cover of night in an armoured car, back seat filled with ammunition and chocolate pudding cups swiped from the mess at the SGC. They drink the last of John’s beer around a indoor fire that finally generates enough smoke to set off the sprinkler systems. They’re attempting to dry off outside when a campervan shudders to a halt on their driveway and disgorges Teyla, Torren, Kanaan, Kanaan’s lover (or second wife, Athosian norms are a little bit hazy on the distinction, and Teyla’s lectures on the subject veer from drily academic to personal in a way that they all find frightening), Torren’s two stepsisters, fourteen Athosians who have chosen not to stay on Atlantis to Ascend and six members of Teyla’s diplomatic corps from various Pegasus worlds. utilitarianism
Rodney does not know if anyone else has noticed that this is all actually his fault. Not his personally, but another Rodney’s, one who gave up his life for the chance to rewrite 40,000 years of history. In that universe—where Teyla, Ronon, Jennifer and Sheppard are dead—the universe didn’t end. The financially crippled Expedition probably lacked the resources to even discover the device and send it back to Area 51 for more study. He wonders if they all know, if they bear some sort of guilt for the way things turned out this time. For sucking their sustenance from the future rather than the past, inverting natural laws like all citizens of any fin de siecle (and there has never been any as grand as this one). Nobody has mentioned it to him, but if anyone were to ask he’d say: he’d make the trade over again.meteorology
“Do you think it will rain tomorrow?” Teyla asks.
“No,” Rodney says, fingers of one hand digging into the soil and the other held up in an expansive gesture that brushes against stars, obliterates galaxies, reshapes the cosmos to fit the outlines of his palm. “No,” he predicts. “Clear blue skies.”
Rodney says, “Think of where we are in the solar system” and John closes his eyes and leans back against the Earth and the sky rearranges itself at his desire, like the entire expanse is just the projection of an Ancient device.