I don't think this could reasonably considered "official" participation; however, I have quite a few Teyla and Ronon story ideas running around in my head (as well as for characters of color in various other fandoms) and I thought this might be an excellent time to write them. The idea was to post a new story each day during the week, although at this point, I'm going to be out of completed fic on Thursday if I don't finish some more. And of course the first one I tried came out 3000 words long. Note to self: Write shorter stories, dammit!
Title: Songs of Athos
Word Count: 3000
Season/spoilers/warnings: early-to-mid Season 1, probably well before Storm/Eye. Gen.
Summary: Teyla discovers Earth music -- and rediscovers her own.
Teyla had dwelt in the City of the Ancestors for less than two mirna when she first heard the songs of Earth. She'd walked into the control room above the Ring in search of Major Sheppard, and hesitated, reluctant to disturb the bored-looking night shift as they sipped at mugs of the bitter koffee drink they so favored. Then she stood still for a different reason, startled by the thin strains of alien music whispering against her ears. In the short time she'd spent among the Earthkind, she had decided that music was one of the many cultural developments they didn't seem to have yet on their world. They never sang, and she'd seen no sign of instruments among them -- at least nothing she'd recognized as such.
But someone was playing something: a stringed instrument, from its sound quite similar to a dulcine. The player was not in the control room, of course; the gate room staff must be listening to his or her music through someone's radio, turned up so that the low strains shivered through the room. Teyla came closer, reluctant to break the spell, and tapped her toe lightly on the floor to politely get their attention.
The two men at the controls both jumped. "God, you're quiet," one of them said, a young man that she did not know. She was relieved to see that the other was Peter Grodin, one of the few Earthkind who looked directly at her, rather than through her. He smiled at her now.
"May I help you, Teyla?"
She inclined her head in a nod. "I wish to know if Major Sheppard and Lieutenant Ford have returned from Barath-Dukh."
She could see his quick slip-and-recovery as he took a moment to link the world's actual name with the designation that Earth used for it. Perhaps she could have endeared herself to the Earthkind by using their names for places, but it still seemed too disrespectful to her; a world should be named by those who lived there, not by people from another galaxy.
"They dialed in about an hour ago to check in. They're still scouting; they'll be back in a few hours. I can dial M44-C23 if you need to talk to them."
Morning would be soon enough; she needed to discuss the schedule for puddlejumper trips to the mainland, but it certainly wasn't urgent. "No, no; there is no need." The music played on, alien but haunting, and Teyla found that her head had cocked to catch the nuances. A woman was singing now, and Teyla did not recognize her voice from those she'd met in the City. "Dr. Grodin, may I ask who is singing?"
"What, this? Oh ..." He swiveled around to his computer, tapped a key. "Um, Dar Williams."
"Chick music," the other man murmured behind his hand, winking at Teyla. She was not particularly amused by his juvenile attitude of conspiracy.
"You've never heard Earth music before?" Grodin asked her, ignoring the other man's antics.
"No." The singing woman had faded away, replaced by a quick heartbeat-like throbbing that reminded Teyla of Genii festival music. A man was singing now, his voice low and harsh, a startling change from the melodious woman's voice. And that was when it hit Teyla: the music was recorded. The idea startled her in its elegant simplicity, its remarkable creativity. Music was so intrinsically connected to its performer; what a feat to think of divorcing the auditory from the visual in that way! It was like the creation of an entirely new art form, not really music but something entirely different. She'd never thought of the Earth people as a particularly innovative bunch -- they were good at appropriating the Ancestors' technology, but as far as their own development, they didn't have anything half so advanced as the firelighters and memory crystals that the empires of Athos had possessed in the not-too-distant past.
But this was quite impressive. "How clever!" Teyla said, and then closed her lips, hoping the sentiment would not be taken as patronizing. No doubt they thought themselves clever for thinking of it, but her father had taught her that it wasn't polite to point to other people as if they were trained vulpine performing at a fair.
But Grodin only smiled, and then she was the one who felt like a performing vulpine, though she didn't think he meant to make her feel that way. "If you like it, someone could probably dig up a spare iPod for you. There's a ton of music on the server."
And that was how she discovered that Earthkind were both uniquely blessed in music, and uniquely bereft, like no people she'd ever met. They loved music; the little headpieces which she'd assumed were some kind of communication equipment actually turned out to belong to music-playing devices. They listened to music constantly, all day long. In fact, she found it rather annoying when she had to get their attention over the music in their headphones -- now that she knew it was all right to do so, that it was only recreation and not the serious business she'd assumed.
But at the same time, for all their apparent love of music, they made very little of their own. Sometimes they could be heard humming broken snatches of the music playing on their headphones, or Major Sheppard would whistle as he went about a task offworld. Music, in general, seemed to be a thing that was left to a particular class of people on their homeworld, not a right of the average person, which Teyla thought very sad. She thought it sadder still when Lieutenant Ford overheard her singing a little song about living in the Ancestors' city while she was cleaning her P90 in the shooting range.
"So that's, um, some kind of traditional song of your people?" he asked, a bit shyly.
She smiled. "No, it is only a liaha." When that word seemed to run afoul of the comprehension barrier between them, she explained, "A song I invented, just now; it's about us, and living here." And not even a very good one, she thought; she was out of practice.
"You write your own songs?" He looked amazed, as if she'd just said that she could fly puddlejumpers or perform surgery.
"You do not?"
It turned out that, among the Earthkind, even those who sang for their own pleasure would always sing songs that had been created by the music-making class. She tried to understand this oddly rigid way of thinking, and even asked Major Sheppard about it, to be certain that she had not misunderstood.
"Is it forbidden?" she asked cautiously, hoping that she wasn't trespassing on a taboo subject. It was usually fairly difficult to offend Earth people with casual conversation, she'd found, but sometimes one could stumble into offense with a perfectly innocuous question. Remembering their word for forbidden things, she added for clarity, "Illegal?"
"Illegal? Making up songs?" He seemed completely flummoxed by the question. "Of course not. People just, you know, don't."
It was obvious that the question had never occurred to him. But he frowned and pursed his lips, trying in seriousness to answer it -- something that she liked about him, for he usually tried, even though he wasn't very good at answering questions. "Most people can't, I guess."
"But why?" she pressed, because surely people who could dream of other galaxies and then make their dreams reality could not be so deficient in imagination.
"I dunno. Most people just aren't any good at it."
That was like saying that no one swam because they would first have to learn how. "Well, of course they would not, if no one ever tries." To try to take the sting out of her words and make him feel better about his failing -- not that he seemed especially bothered by it -- she added kindly, "I have not been to a singing circle in many mirna; I would be very slow now, I think."
"Singing circle? So that's like ... people singing, right? In a circle?" He smiled at her with his mouth, though his eyes were hidden behind dark glasses, making it difficult to tell if he laughed with her or at her. Knowing him as she was coming to, she thought probably with her, but by now she'd had enough unpleasant experiences with the Earthkind's fondness for ridicule that she could never quite be certain.
She thought about telling him how her people entertained themselves on trips or while working by competing with songs -- making them up on the spot, trying to make the others laugh with a funny song or cry with a sad one. In the evening, if the weather was nice, those who were not too tired from the day's labor would gather around a fire, and the women would work small handcrafts, the men would mend nets or whittle, while the better singers among them tried to outdo each other. Around it went, faster and faster, improvisation and story and melody, until everyone had dissolved in laughter and they all drifted away to their houses. Teyla had been very good at it when she was younger, but life had grown harder, and there never seemed to be time anymore.
She could have told all this to Major Sheppard. But really, she grew weary of explaining everything to the Earthkind all the time. People couldn't be expected to have everything handed to them; sometimes they had to seek it out for themselves. As with their music, perhaps Earth people had a separate caste who did that for the rest, and they hadn't thought to bring any of the knowledge-seekers to her galaxy. "Yes," she said shortly, and left it at that.
But this had started her thinking about what she was missing on the mainland, and about her own pettiness at resenting her role as a bridge between the Athosian and Earth people, when she herself had chosen that role. Her teammates seemed to enjoy her singing; she wondered if it would be possible to capture Athosian songs and add them to the song collection on the Atlantis server. It wouldn't be quite the same as the living, breathing, ever-changing nature of the music as she knew it, but maybe it would help the Earthkind understand her people in a way they seemed disinclined to do on their own. In many ways, they did not seem to recognize her people as equal to theirs. Music, she thought, might only be proper music to them if it came from a box.
She asked Dr. Weir if she could borrow some recording equipment for her next trip to the mainland. What she got was recording equipment plus one enthusiastic anthropologist to run it. Dr. Camber was about fifty Atlantean years old, a pleasantly shy man with a slight stammer.
Major Sheppard flew them to the mainland.
"You are staying?" Teyla asked, surprised, when he parked the jumper.
He just shrugged, and slipped his sunglasses down over his eyes. "Guess I'll see what this singing circle of yours is all about."
It was not as awkward as she thought it might be. Guests were, of course, always welcome to sing, although singing was as natural as breathing on most worlds, and it wasn't terribly common for the Athosians to trade with people who didn't have something vaguely similar. Still, they laughed along with Dr. Camber's halting attempts at making up a song about anthropology, treating his ill-crafted lyrics with the same gentleness as a child's early efforts.
Teyla remembered how patient Major Sheppard and Aiden had been with her as they showed her the use of the Atlantean guns, Aiden's lean hands folded over her own, showing her the action of the P90's moving parts. They did know patience, the Earthkind. They did know grace. She looked around for Major Sheppard and found him sitting in the shadows, smiling along with two young women singing a silly song about a hilariously ill-fated romance.
"You should sing," she said to him, impulsively.
He smiled, and shook his head. "Not the singing type."
As much of the time as Major Sheppard appeared to be completely without shame, it always surprised her, the things that he refused to do.
Two days later, back on Atlantis, Dr. Camber came by her quarters and pressed a laptop into her hands. "It's all on here, and catalogued, of course. Uh, the sound, sound quality's not that great. You might want to have one of the engineers run some filters on it."
She'd genuinely forgotten that her purpose in going to the mainland had been to record songs; for an instant she wanted to ask what he was talking about.
"Or, or ask Lieutenant Ford," the anthropologist was saying. "I've heard he brought a video camera as his personal item. He might know something about sound mixing."
She was not exactly sure what sound mixing entailed, but she was glad that Dr. Camber had suggested Aiden. Of all her teammates, she found him the most approachable, the only one she could manage to address comfortably by his first name. Major Sheppard was her team leader, however close she felt to him at times, and Dr. McKay ... was, well, Dr. McKay. She'd never so much as seen him wear iPod headphones. There were many words in his world, but, she thought, no music at all.
Aiden surprised her with his eagerness for the sound-mixing project. She watched intently as he did arcane things with sliders and flickering colored bars on the computer screen; leaning forward, she sought to decipher the fast-changing words in the angular Earth script she was only just learning to read. "Used to daydream about going to Hollywood," he explained, eyes fixed on the screen as he spoke. "Doing film editing. Went into the Corps instead, but I always thought I'd keep my hand in, maybe work in film after I get out. Not in Hollywood, I don't think, but I might open my own little studio, wherever I settle down. I had a buddy who made good money editing documentaries for the local university, that sort of thing." He smiled up at her, suddenly shy. "I guess that means nothing to you. Sorry."
"It is all right." I'm used to it, she thought, with only a little bitterness. In a way she appreciated that Major Sheppard and the others did not feel as if they had to slow down and tailor their words to avoid confusing her -- but she herself went out of her way to avoid making references they didn't understand, at least without explaining, and it surprised her that they did not feel the need to make a similar effort.
Perhaps it was yet another difference between their peoples.
"How's this?" Aiden asked, and he touched a key. Music filled the room, and Teyla's mouth opened, for she recognized Marta's clear young voice, lifted in a love song.
And it was different. Perhaps she could understand, now, a little better, why the people of Earth believed that they could not make music, if this was what they understood music to be. Teyla couldn't quite define the difference, and it certainly wasn't worse; in fact, the absence of a visible singer turned the familiar music quite exotic, in the same way of the ghostly music she'd sometimes heard playing in the labs.
"You have done very well," she said, and, impulsively, squeezed his shoulder. "Very, very well."
The smile that he flashed her was quick and bright as the sun. "You want me to upload them to the music server?"
Teyla couldn't help smiling back. "Yes, please."
Later, scrolling through the SONGS OF ATHOS folder and carefully puzzling out the filenames, she discovered that Aiden had made up his own names for the songs based on their lyrics. "Morning Greeting", "Love Song of Dena and Jan", "Death of the Old Farmer", and so forth. At first it sat ill with her, for songs had never in her lifetime been things that possessed names, and it was very odd to see them thus. But no odder, she mused, than fixing music in an unchangeable form, after all. Music's very essence was its malleability -- a song was never the same twice. Yet each time that "Marta's Love Ballad" was played on someone's iPod, it would be exactly the same. If Marta died in a Wraith culling, her voice could still be heard, singing of her love for Dorian the blacksmith's son.
Teyla shivered, and closed the folder. She started to close the computer as well, to go to her evening bantos practice and meditation -- then hesitated, and opened it again. The long, long list of Earth songs lay before her, dwarfing her people's small music folder. But we make new songs every day, she thought, and a smile twitched at her lips. They have only what they brought with them. We shall not lag behind for long.
For all her academic curiosity about Earthkind and their relationship to their music, Teyla had not actually listened to any of it, beyond the snippets that she'd heard in the lounges and labs and gate room. Now, she read her way down the list of names, the words coming easier to her with repetition. Some of the names were lyrical and lovely, others harsh and unbeautiful to her, but each one promised an exotic glimpse of another world. She had no criteria to choose between them, so she selected more or less at random, choosing songs and carefully dragging them to her desktop. Since Earthkind liked to use music as a background to everything they did, she felt that it would be appropriate to have a soundtrack to this activity. She clicked on Marta's song to activate it.
Strange, so strange, when her own voice swelled behind Marta's, coming from the computer's tinny speaker as if she herself were one of those special caste of music-makers on the Earth homeworld. But here, in the Pegasus Galaxy, music belonged to everyone and no one.
Still, she clicked and chose. Beethoven, America, Muddy Waters, Spice Girls, U2 -- the names fascinated her, and she drank them in, she wanted them all.