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02 November 2009 @ 01:15 am
story: this valley of dying stars  

This isn't a happy story. You have been warned.

Title and quote in italics are from Eliot.

Summary: The flames are beautiful.  It's almost worth it, seeing this.
Word count: 1500

This Valley of Dying Stars

They’re having dinner together. Two red candles on the table, and Jennifer in a red dress. Somewhere away from the usual bustle and busyness, where the soundtrack is the clink of cutlery, and words are soft and inconsequential, not infused with life-or-death urgency.

It’s a rarity to have this time to share, and it passes quickly in smiles and exaggerated stories (his) and gentle laughter (hers).

Until their radios, nestled close together on a side table, both buzz simultaneously. They stop eating, look at each other, and sigh.

This is the way the world ends.


Their radios are in their ears before they’ve even left the room. “What?” Rodney snaps, their feet clattering as they hurry down the stairs, Jennifer still shrugging on her jacket.

He doesn’t get a reply, because that moment is when the light and the deafening boom of the explosion shake through the city – through them – and they’re tossed like a pair of dolls off their feet and against the hard tessellated floor. Rodney hears glass shatter and looks up, vision shaky – holy crap, where did all those windows come from?­ – and isn’t given time to find an answer because they’re already splintering, and Jennifer’s screaming, and there’s only just enough time for him to move

…and then it’s the emergency lighting which is on, and Jennifer’s pushing him off her. “What happened?” she asks, her voice shaking, and he blinks her face into focus, and stares at her.

But he can’t lie here. They need to get to the control room. He fumbles for his radio, but his hand can’t find it. And Jennifer’s staring at back at him, kneeling among pieces of broken glass, her eyes widening. “Rodney, you’re bleeding!”

He lifts his other hand, and bright red blood beads and drops from his fingertips. He stares, hardly comprehending, until Jennifer tugs off her jacket in one swift movement and presses it hard against his side. He can’t feel the wound. He can just feel coldness in his abdomen, and numbness. “Is it… bad?” he asks, recognising the inanity of the question. There’s a lot of blood, already spreading across the tiles…

“It’s fine,” Jennifer tells him quickly. Too quickly. “You’re going to be fine.” She reaches up to her own radio. “I need a med team to the East tower. Now! What the hell just happened?”

She listens for a moment. And she goes very still.

Rodney snaps his fingers impatiently at her, knowing that he doesn’t have long before the rush of adrenaline wears off. “Give me the radio!”

She hands it over instantly and he jams it into his ear, flicking the channel, wiping blood across his cheek as he does so. Jennifer presses the already-sodden mass of fabric more firmly against him.

On the other end, Sheppard’s talking a mile a minute. “…need to do this quickly, and where the hell is McKay?”

“Here,” Rodney cuts in.

There’s a momentary sigh of relief. “Right. McKay, we’re under attack. Three hive ships.”

Suddenly there isn’t any air in his lungs. What?”

“You heard me. They dropped out of hyperspace and took out the shield generator, along with the ZPM.”

“But – that’s impossible – ”

“Zelenka doesn’t know how we didn’t pick them up before, but right now it’s very possible. We’re evacuating to the alpha site – get to the Gate now!”

“I can’t,” Rodney says. He feels appallingly light-headed. “Too far away.”

“Are you hurt?” Sheppard asks, urgently.

“…A bit.”

Sheppard swears. Rodney stares at Jennifer, who’s staring, white-faced, back at him. Her eyes beg him for reassurance, but he’s got none to give her.

Except… “Go,” he says.

She doesn’t move. “Don’t be stupid.”

“Go! You need to get to the Gate… we’re being attacked…”

“I’m not leaving you,” she says firmly, and grasps his hand tightly. He can feel her shaking.

He doesn’t want her to leave. He wants to scream that, but bites down on the words before they leave his mouth. “Jennifer, you have to…”

“No,” she says, resolutely, and grabs the radio from his ear before his slowed reactions can do anything about it. He struggles to snatch it back and the effort makes him dizzy, so that his head drops heavily to the floor. And then, in what seems to be the next moment, Jennifer’s trying to move him.

“What – ” he begins, but she cuts him off.

“We need to get up into the open. Colonel Sheppard’s coming to get us in a Jumper.”

He nods, and is grateful for the continuing numbness as he’s manhandled to his feet. He knew John would find a way, and realises that he’d accepted that without question.

There’s a lot of blood on the floor, pooling around splinters from the once-window, and he swallows, and then looks away, feeling sick.

“We have to hurry,” Jennifer says, and he can tell that she’s trying to keep the urgency out of her voice, but it’s really not working.

They stumble together along the corridor and then begin to climb the twisting flight of stairs they ran down not many minutes ago, and Rodney has no real comprehension of how he’s actually managing this, but he thinks that Jennifer’s responsible for most of the credit, since most of his weight seems to be on her.

“How did – they – find us?” he asks, between steps.

Jennifer shakes her head sharply. “Find out at the Alpha site. Don’t stop!”

There are more tremors, shaking the floor and the walls, but these are further away. The main hub of the city will be the primary target for bombardment, he thinks, almost dispassionately. But even if the Gate’s taken out, if Sheppard and the Jumper reach them, they can hide behind the cloak and wait for the Daedalus.

He tries to share this insight with Jennifer, to reassure her that they’ll be ok, but she shakes her head fiercely, and shakes his shoulder a little, too. “Tell me later. Not now. Keep moving.”

He keeps moving, the smooth pale walls blurring together and bearing his trail in bright smudged handprints. And he still can’t feel anything, and he knows that that’s bad, but he can’t sort out his mind enough to give it much thought.

It’s a shock when Jennifer waves open a door ahead of them and suddenly the stairs have ended and they’re out on a balcony, with a warm, violent wind tossing their hair and swirling Jennifer’s skirt, its colour hiding his blood staining it. They get to the railing, and stop.

Beneath the stars, the city is burning.

Flowers of flame bud and blossom over the fairy-tale towers which glitter in the moonlight, silver birds of darts dipping and darting among them, and the orange and gold blooms of light reflect and are tossed and scattered across the dark and turbulent waves.

It’s beautiful.

Deadly, and terrifying, but beautiful.

A tower explodes, and the blast of silver shards radiate outwards, and around the shape of something airborne and invisible. Jennifer’s grip tightens on Rodney’s shoulder, her fingers digging in with a fear which he instantly shares.


What they can see, others can see too, and they can only watch the darts as they turn, spitting fire.

And a fireball forms in the sky, coronas outward, a firework throwing golden sparks high into the night, reaching upwards to touch the stars and the impassive face of the moon.

Rodney’s chest tightens, and he can’t breathe. But he somehow, between Jennifer’s support and the railing he’s clutching and his own fading strength, manages to stay standing. And he doesn’t look away, not for one second. To do so would be a betrayal.

He watches, faithfully, as the remains of the golden star fall to the ocean and extinguish. He tries to think, Sheppard’s gone, but his mind won’t accept it.

The flock of deadly birds swoop and turn towards them.

Jennifer’s free hand finds his cold fingers curled over the metal bar, and fasten around them. They’re warm, and he thinks for a moment that he can feel her heartbeat through them, but that’s surely impossible. Her breath is soft against his cheek.

“Happy Birthday,” she whispers, and her voice cracks on the words.

He looks at her in wonderment, with her dress fluttering in the wind, and the firelight and starlight in her eyes and glinting from the tears spilling silently down her cheeks, and thinks that she’s never looked more beautiful. He opens his mouth to tell her so, but she lifts her fingers and holds them against his lips for a moment, to stop him.

She smiles, and this is her last smile, and it’s only for him.

“Make a wish,” she tells him, and he does.

Current Music: Simon & Garfunkel - The Sound Of Silence
Astridastridv on November 2nd, 2009 02:21 am (UTC)
Wow, this is... sad, but beautiful. I found myself holding my breath. The description of the burning spires... and the jumper exploding... and that last line... terrific writing.

And I'm so happy that you're writing Rodney and Jennifer together.
Frith: mckeller_brainstormfrith_in_thorns on November 2nd, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! I'm a descriptive writer at heart, so I'm very happy that you liked the descriptions especially.

And I do like Rodney and Jennifer. I'll have to write them again sometime, and let them live! :)
Sholio: SGA-Teyla with Kellersholio on November 2nd, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
Oh wow! Here from a rec by astridv -- I knew things weren't going to end well, but the sudden descent from disaster into disaster plus tragedy ... ow. And yet, they can't always make those last-minute escapes, can they?

Very lovely.
Frith: rodney_sciencetodofrith_in_thorns on November 2nd, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I was thinking about last-minute escapes when I wrote this - or specifically, what if everything went wrong at once, and this is what I ended up with. I'm very happy that you liked it!
iolandaiolandasblog on November 2nd, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC)
Ouch. Really not a happy story. But a beautiful one! Thank you =)

As Astrid said, your descriptions were really great. I could see the beauty in all the violence and devastation.
Frith: mckeller_brainstormfrith_in_thorns on November 2nd, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC)
Things often are very beautiful as they're being destroyed, and I'm very happy that you got that out of the descriptions :) Thank you for reviewing! :)
ed263ed263 on November 2nd, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
OMG!! That was...that was..*exhales* beautiful! The way you described the burning city and then the Jumper plunging to the ocean...wow!

And the last scene..perfect! Just perfect! ♥

Thank you so much for sharing this with us!
Frith: rodney_orangefrith_in_thorns on November 2nd, 2009 11:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I love writing descriptions, and, in a strange way, I do like writing stories too which don't have happy endings.

With this one, I started with the last few paragraphs, and gradually built it up from there, so really happy that you liked the ending scenes especially. Thank you very much for the feedback!
horridporrid: McKeller kisshorridporrid on November 3rd, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)
So lovely and heartbreaking and... this is what happens when things go wrong. I adore the strength of relationships you show here, between Rodney and Jennifer, and Rodney and John.

Beautiful and sad and I'm glad I read it. :)
Frith: mckeller_brainstormfrith_in_thorns on November 3rd, 2009 11:03 am (UTC)
Indeed, things can't go right for them all the time, and I'm really glad that you enjoyed reading this version of that. And I'm especially glad that you liked my renditions of the relationships here, thank you very much. :)
Rowan aka: The Seticat: sga - atlantis-at-sunset - obanoaseticat on November 3rd, 2009 03:06 am (UTC)
Devastatingly, painfully beautiful.
Frithfrith_in_thorns on November 3rd, 2009 11:04 am (UTC)
Thank you. That was the effect I was hoping for. :)
Shelley: SGA McKeller on Daedalusargosy on November 3rd, 2009 04:05 am (UTC)
Eep. Lovely. You packed a lot of heartbreak into a short piece. *sniff*
Frith: mckeller_brainstormfrith_in_thorns on November 3rd, 2009 11:07 am (UTC)
Thank you. Every now and then I'm in the mood to write very dark stuff, I'm very glad that you liked reading it :)
michelel72: SGA-Atlantis-Sunsetmichelel72 on November 6th, 2009 02:29 am (UTC)
Oh, wow. Elegaic and remarkably evocative.
Frithfrith_in_thorns on November 6th, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
Thank you very much.
deaka: sga teyladeaka on November 9th, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)
Really loved this -- it's elegant and moving and beautiful. I love the imagery: Rodney's blood spilling, Jennifer's skirt, the city burning... sad and lovely. The characterisations were fantastic as well.

Wonderfully done.
Frith: mckeller_binaryheartfrith_in_thorns on November 9th, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much, and thank you for picking out the images you especially liked. I did intend this piece to be sad, but destruction can be beautiful and I hoped to get that across too. I've very glad you enjoyed reading.
Lou: SGA - Atlantisgottalovev on November 17th, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)
wow. this is devastatingly beautiful, even if heartbreaking. well done.
Frith: rodney_orangefrith_in_thorns on November 17th, 2009 04:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Very glad that you liked it.
skieswideopen: McKayskieswideopen on January 3rd, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC)
This is gorgeously described and oh-so-heartbreaking. Really, really fantastic.
Frith: Rodney - purplefrith_in_thorns on January 7th, 2010 01:07 am (UTC)
Thank you very much. I'm really glad that you enjoyed reading this, and thank you for commenting!
Anne Marierawa_02 on January 3rd, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC)
This made me cry (I don't usually read McKeller, but am glad I made an exception).
Frith: Team - sittingfrith_in_thorns on January 7th, 2010 01:11 am (UTC)
I'm glad too - I really like people reading my stories! And I'm sorry for making you cry, but I also take it as a compliment *g* Thank you for commenting :)
UN 2814: watch out samusthedrowned on October 19th, 2010 05:34 am (UTC)
Hmm. I found this very touching, and adore your poetic metaphors. I also found it easy on the inner ear, as each line was significantly each characters' respective voice. I hope one day I can write masterpieces like this.
Frith: SGA - Jennifer - starsfrith_in_thorns on October 19th, 2010 11:33 am (UTC)
Wow, thank you very much! I'm so glad that you liked this :)
Sarah Lynne: sga mckeller prettyduonoaikouka on February 16th, 2011 12:52 am (UTC)
Like several other people have commented, your details and imagery are utterly amazing. Those last 5-6 paragraphs make for a very tragic, yet beautiful, fate for Rodney and Jennifer. To know that John's dead and the Wraith are about to descend on them makes me tear up. Thank you for sharing this very moving piece.