“I don’t see why you dislike this place so much,” Rodney said to her, biting deeply into an apple-like thing. Juice spilled down his chin, and he swiped absentmindedly at it. “It’s pretty, and peaceful, and… and there’s all the fruit you can choke down.” He gestured with his own for emphasis.
“Fruit,” Fred repeated, her tone utterly disgusted. “I didn’t like fruit to begin with, and now that it’s all there is to eat, let me tell you, I really really don’t like it.” She sighed, staring down at where her toe was scuffing the paving stones under their feet. “What I wouldn’t give for a taco right about now.”
Rodney almost choked on the apple-thing. “Taco?” he said, voice garbled around his mouthful.
“Yeah, taco,” she said glumly. “It’s this—“
“I know what a taco is,” he interrupted, chucking the fruit over his shoulder as he turned to face her. “What I want to know is how you know what a taco is.”
Fred looked bewildered. “It’s a common food where I come from, is all,” she said slowly.
“Where I come from, too,” he said meaningfully, staring hard at her.
Comprehension dawned on her face, and her eyes rounded almost comically. “You mean you—you’re from—wait. Let’s make sure we’re talking about the same thing before I get too excited. I don’t think I could take any more disappointment this week, after the way the plumbing’s been shot to hell.”
Rodney took a deep breath. “Okay,” he began. “A taco is this corn tortilla, shaped like a U, crispy, and there’s—“
“—meat and lettuce and cheese and if you go to the taco stand on the corner of Mercer and Burlington on the north side of L.A. they have this evil taco sauce you stick on it that makes you burp flames for the rest of the day,” Fred finished, her words coming faster and faster until they were nearly blurring together.
They stared dumbly at each other for a long, tense moment.
“I’m from Canada,” Rodney said after a while. “Ottawa.”
“I’m from Texas,” Fred said. “San Antonio. But I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the past few years. Before that I was sucked into another dimension, in a situation only slightly similar to this one. By that I mean I was a slave, just like I am this time, but here they give me clothes and let me do things besides shovel dung. I didn’t like shoveling dung. But by the time Angel found me, I was pretty good at it. Then—“
“Wait. Wait.” Rodney pinched the bridge of his nose and squinched his eyes shut. “You were in another dimension?”
“Well, yeah,” she replied easily, like these things happened every day. He was starting to think that perhaps, for her, they did. “Aren’t we in another dimension now?”
He dropped his hand to his side and shook his head. “No, we’re in another galaxy. The Pegasus galaxy, to be precise.”
She punched him in the bicep, hard enough to smart, and exclaimed, “No way!”
Rodney rubbed his sore arm and glared at her. “Way.”
“But how?” She began rubbing her chin in what he was beginning to learn was the precursor to her brain starting to puzzle things out. “I got here by magical portal. How about you?”
“Magical portal? No. By perfectly explainable and empirically scientific portal.” He was starting to think perhaps her brain was more scrambled than he’d initially thought.
“Hm.” She moved from chin-rubbing to pacing, wagging a finger at the ground as to punctuate her words. “I’ve been studying theoretical wormhole physics ever since the first time I got sucked into a different dimension, and everything had pointed to it being possible.” She looked up at him, eyes shining. “Small world, huh?”
He just shook his head. “Small universe,” he corrected, but his tone was almost gentle. “Tiny. Miniscule, even.” He squinted a little, his prodigious mind already at work. “How did it happen? Your getting here, that is.”
Fred grimaced. “As far as I know, some glowy entity nabbed me just as my soul was being siphoned out of my body by an ancient goddess. I was given the choice to become a glowy entity as well, but I didn’t think it sounded like much fun. Plus, I’m not big on diner food.”
McKay wondered what her prejudice against diner food had to do with anything, then dismissed it as irrelevant as the mention itself. “Ok,” he said instead. “What then?”
“Then, I woke up here. Naked. And cold.” She shivered at the memory. McKay shivered a little too, but for a different reason. “They took me in and put me in the general slave pool—“
“Slave pool? Like a typing pool?” McKay thought that idea was pretty funny.
She smiled too. “They soon realized I was smarter than your average bear, so I got promoted from ‘future concubine’ to ‘fix-it person’. But I don’t know how much longer it’ll be before I’m demoted back to ‘potential ho’.” She averted her gaze, looking upset. “All things considered, I think I preferred being a cow.”
Bear… cow.. McKay was mostly just confused. “Wait,” he demanded. “Back up. They’re going to make you sleep with Innak if you can’t figure out how to fix the plumbing?”
“Yeah. Stinky, huh?” Fred squared her narrow shoulders, clearly trying to put on a brave face but only ending up looking more pathetic. “Can’t say I’m looking forward to it. But the last time I tried to escape, they locked me in a room for a week. Hey, what are you doing?”
McKay had begun to gather up the remains of the lunch, bundling it into a wad that he pressed—far harder than was necessary—until it was compacted into a hard little ball. “Let’s go,” he said. “Back to the lab.”
“What, now?” She blinked huge eyes at him, surprised at his sudden motivation to get back to a problem he’d as much as said was beneath him.
“Sooner we get back to it, the sooner it’s solved.” Taking her elbow, he began to steer her back to the cellar.
“Thanks,” she stammered, hurrying to match his pace, shooting furtively admiring glances his way. “I don’t know why your teammates think you’re a jerk.”
“I do,” he replied pleasantly. “And in a rare occurrence, they’re correct. I am a jerk. I’ve found that a good personality is only necessary when you’ve got nothing else going for you. But for those of us with rather more exceptional resources, it’s more of an option than a requirement.”
“And you say it with a straight face,” Fred marveled. “I’m impressed.”
They’d arrived at the door to the lab. McKay nodded in satisfaction. “As you were intended to be,” he said, and motioned for her to precede him into the room.
Fred smiled at him then, a real smile, and it lit up her face. “You know, I think this might work,” she said, voice nearly a whisper, but filled with a tenuous hope.
McKay shooed the lone scientist in the room toward the door, snatching the tools from the hapless man and smirked at her. “Of course it will. It always does.”