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The Numbers Game: Or, Atlantis Reads Harry Potter

McKay/Sheppard, established relationship (though not obvious til the end) - mild PG

Summary: "Don't look now, McKay," John said lightly, "but you're just about the only person on Atlantis that doesn't want to read the new Harry Potter book."

For [livejournal.com profile] semielliptical, something lighthearted.

~.~.~


The publication of the seventh Harry Potter book was eagerly anticipated in Atlantis, no less than it seemed to be on Earth. 'Flabbergasted' was the only word Rodney could find to describe his reaction to the fever-pitch of excitement. He himself was completely immune to Potter-mania. The rest of the expedition members seemed equally baffled by his indifference.

The reactions to Rodney's lack of interest ranged from sheer disbelief to expressions of shock and pity. People also kept muttering "Muggle!" under their breath. It was very confusing.

Still, he wasn't prepared for Elizabeth's announcement at that morning's senior staff meeting. "We have a problem," she said gravely, sweeping the assembled expedition members with her gaze.

Rodney and John exchanged glances. John straightened up a little from his slouch and Rodney leaned forward. "What is it?" he demanded. "Wraith? Asurans? Bad news from Earth?"

Elizabeth shook her head. "The Daedalus is due to arrive in eleven days, and I just received their cargo manifest in this morning's databurst." She pressed a few keys on her laptop, and everyone's email clients pinged softly as her message arrived in their inboxes. "I've just forwarded it to you all. The item I'm concerned about is number 57."

Rodney scrolled forward rapidly to entry 57 in the lengthy attachment.

Item: Harry Potter / Deathly Hallows (book)
Requestor: E. M. Weir
Purpose: Recreation / general use
Location: crate 32
Quantity: 3 (original request quantity=300)


Rodney stared at his laptop. "You ordered 300 copies of a children's book?" he asked blankly. "Good thing they realized it was a typo, Elizabeth. Really, you should have someone proofread your requisitions. What if you dropped a few zeroes from an order for basic foodstuffs?"

Elizabeth glared at him. "I do have someone check the requisitions, Rodney -- Sergeant Wilcox, the quartermaster. And that wasn't a typo! Everyone on this base is looking forward to reading the new Harry Potter book in eleven days, and we're only going to have three copies! That's the problem."

Rodney glanced around the room. Kate Heightmeyer was clearly concerned and Carson seemed frankly alarmed. Even Teyla had an expression of dismay, and really, Rodney would never have put Teyla and escapist reading in the same sentence. Of course Ronan just looked bored, but then, he always did in meetings. John didn't exactly seem distressed, but he was frowning, very slightly. For Sheppard to show even a hint of concern meant he thought it was serious.

The sheer disbelief must have shown on Rodney's face because Carson and Kate jumped in immediately. "Have a heart, man," Carson said. "I know ye don't care for it, but Harry Potter's a jolly good read, and folk here are stressed. They need a little diversion."

"Everyone I've seen in the last month has mentioned looking forward to it," Kate added. "I agree with Elizabeth, this is something of a problem. Not on the scale of a Wraith attack, obviously," (Rodney snorted) "but there will be a lot of disappointed people." Rodney snorted again, and rolled his eyes for good measure.

"Can't we just scan the pages and let people read it off the server?" John asked hopefully.

Elizabeth gave him a stern look. "That would violate the copyright laws of every country that's part of the IOA, Colonel. The expedition is funded by the governments of all those countries. I can hardly sanction that kind of solution."

Rodney glanced around. Everyone looked unhappy.

"We'll have to make the best of it with the three paper copies we're receiving," Elizabeth said firmly. "We'll need to establish some sort of reading order, and make sure people are assigned randomly, so there won't be any question of favoritism. That would cause all kinds of discord."

"We'll be getting three copies of the book," Kate said thoughtfully, "so three people can start reading immediately. The first one to finish can pass it to number 4 on the list, the second to finish can give it to number 5, and so on. It would help if supervisors could rearrange schedules to let people finish quickly once they get their turn."

"The first thing the marines'll want to do is start trading for better numbers," John said with a grin. "The scientists too, actually. Any problem with that?"

Elizabeth thought for a moment. "No, I don't think so. Barter is part of life on Atlantis, we all know that. I only want everyone to feel satisfied that the process we use to assign the reading numbers in the first place is as fair as we can make it."

"Perhaps you could hold a lottery in the mess hall," Teyla suggested. "Allow everyone not on duty to attend. They will be able to see that the drawing is truly random and that everyone was given an equal chance to be among the first to read the book."

There was agreement all around the table, except for Rodney, who was so amazed that grown men and women cared this much about a children's book -- fiction -- a fantasy! that he could hardly keep from commenting on it, at length. But Teyla was giving him a quelling look, and John -- who could usually be counted on to egg him on with wry amusement -- was staring thoughtfully at the screensaver on his laptop. Rodney filed that away for later, and let his outburst go unsaid.

~.~.~


The next evening found Rodney, John, and another 241 of the 285 members of the Atlantis expedition crowding into the mess hall for the Harry Potter Reading Priority Lottery. The proceedings were being webcast to the other 42 members of the expedition remaining at duty posts throughout the city.

"Pumpkin juice or butterbeer, Dr. McKay?" one of the galley crew asked as they passed serving tables set with punch bowls and glasses. Rodney stared at her over his shoulder as John dragged him past.

"I can't believe this," he marveled, looking around the room. He felt a little like he was gawking at a highway crash. "All these people want to read a kid's book?"

"Don't look now, McKay," John said lightly, "but you're just about the only person on Atlantis that doesn't want to read the new Harry Potter book."

"The only person?" Rodney echoed. "The only person? You mean you want a place on that list too, Colonel War and Peace? You only read one page a day!"

John shot him a look of irritation. "Geez, Rodney. I finished college too, you know. I can read faster than a page a day if I want. I've just got..."

"A schedule, yes, yes, I know. So you do want to read Harry Potter?"

John shrugged. "Maybe."

"But you never mentioned..."

"Shut up now. Elizabeth's starting the draw."

Rodney shut up. It was either that, or broadcast his conversation with John to the entire room, because everyone else in the mess hall had fallen silent as Elizabeth and Major Lorne came out of the kitchen. Lorne carried a giant Ancient punch bowl, which he slid carefully onto the seat of a chair that had been placed on top of a table. He gave Elizabeth a hand as she climbed up onto the table gracefully.

"Well, you all know why we're here," she began with a rueful smile. "Somehow, the SGC didn't see the necessity of providing us with an adequate supply of the new Harry Potter book, which I know everyone has been looking forward to with great anticipation. Instead, I'm sorry to say, they've made sure we'll never run out of rutabaga and canned green beans. So we'll have to make do with an inadequate supply, and I know we'll handle this shortage with as much grace and good humor as we've dealt with everything else. Here we go. Major Lorne?"

Lorne reached up into the punch bowl -- the rim was just above eye level -- and pulled out a slip of paper. Elizabeth took it, unfolded it, and read out the first name.

"Congratulations, Sergeant Hernandez, you're reader number one!"

Luz-Maria Hernandez let out a shriek that any game-show contestant would have been proud of, and came forward amid laughter and scattered applause. At the front of the room a grinning Lorne handed her a sheet of paper emblazoned with the Atlantis insignia. #1 was written on it in red magic marker, so large it could be seen across the room. Hernandez made her way back to her seat with a huge smile, receiving pats on the back from everyone she passed.

"Mr. Copeland, you're reader number two!" A slight, red-haired lab tech from the medical department came up to get his hand-made certificate.

"Lieutenant Cadman, you're reader number three!" Rodney scowled as Cadman bounced up to the front of the room, took her certificate from Lorne, and did an impromptu victory dance in front of the crowd.

The drawing went on. Rodney divided his attention between calculating the average number of Lanteans per minute receiving their certificates (4.126 -- Lorne had quickened the pace once the first three were awarded), gulping down glasses of 'pumpkin' juice (actually made from an Athosian berry and completely free of citrus despite its alarming orange hue) and watching Sheppard pretend to be only mildly interested in the proceedings.

More than half an hour had gone by when he heard, to his astonishment, "Dr. McKay, you're reader number one forty-two!"

"But..." he started to sputter. "Who even put me in the drawing? I don't..."

John gave him a push. "Go get your paper, McKay, you're holding things up."

Rodney broke off, suddenly noticing the other 241 people in the mess hall, all waiting for him to claim his certificate. He strode up to Lorne. "I don't even like Harry Potter," he informed Lorne tersely, but Lorne handed him a sheet marked #142 and smiled beatifically.

"Maybe you'll change your mind, Doc," he said. Rodney slunk back to his seat.

Forty-five minutes later the drawing was down to the last dozen members of the expedition. John's name still hadn't been called, and he had slouched so far down in his chair that Rodney's back ached just from watching him. Carson Beckett was also glum, his expression growing more disappointed every time another name was called. Finally Lorne reached the bottom of the punch bowl.

"Dr. Beckett, you're reader number two eighty-four." Lorne gave Carson a sympathetic look as the doctor came forward with slumped shoulders.

"And finally, reader number two eighty-five. Colonel Sheppard."

~.~.~


Rodney lay awake that night, puzzling over what he had seen.

Sheppard apparently wanted to read the new Harry Potter book. Ridiculous, escapist reading...

Well, okay. Escapist reading, maybe that made sense. Pegasus was a dangerous place to be. They lost people, and everyone felt the losses, but Sheppard took them especially hard. That damned unrelenting conviction he had, that protecting the city and everyone in it was his personal responsibility. And it wasn't like Sheppard could take a three-day leave, get drunk and leave it all behind for a little while, not while he was in charge of the military on Atlantis.

Sheppard deserved some escapist reading.

Rodney smiled as an idea came to him, and reached for his laptop.

~.~.~


ATLANTIS BBS / HP TRADES

Have: three 1-pound bags M&Ms; 
12 4-oz Cadburys with raisins. 
Will trade for reader #100 or 
better. 
--rmckay@atlantis.gov


~.~.~


Trading away his chocolate was wrenching, but it left Rodney securely in possession of the certificate for Harry Potter reader #98.

His Dr. Who DVDs were next. That was bearable only because he'd had time to watch them first -- that, and the fact that they netted him the certificate for reader #55.

Rodney winced every time he placed an offer on the TRADES board, knowing that if Sheppard noticed and asked what he was doing, he'd be hard pressed to come up with a plausible story. But Sheppard seemed uninvolved in the trading, and that was just as well. As the lucky bearer of reader certificate #285, no one would have traded places with him anyway.

Rodney was pondering what to offer next when the weekly databurst from Earth brought an email from Jeannie, and the important news that she'd included a six-pack of Molson's in her care package, which was now only four days away on the Daedalus. Chuck agreed to trade #37 after Rodney forwarded her email as proof the beer was really on the way, and offered his Toronto Leafs sweatshirt as collateral.

~.~.~


Rodney's weekly science staff meetings started with each scientist in turn describing the work they'd done in the last week, failures and successes alike, and the next steps they planned to take in each research project. Rodney would press for more details, force them to question shaky assumptions, hand out criticism with a liberal hand, and dole out praise on rare occasions.

"All right, Kavanaugh, that was, er, good work." Rodney gritted his teeth. "Yes. Good work. The problem with the desalinization tanks is half solved, and that, uh, puts you in a really good position to get it finished this coming week. Which I'm sure you'll be able to do."

Kavanaugh looked triumphant -- evidently feeling that his true value to the expedition was finally being acknowledged -- and the rest of the science team gazed at Rodney in amazement. When the meeting was over, Kavanaugh lingered until everyone had left and slid reader certificate #20 across the table to Rodney.

~.~.~


If Sheppard paid no attention to the furious activity on the HP TRADES bulletin board, Lieutenant Cadman apparently did. Before Rodney had formulated a plan for approaching her, Copeland, or Hernandez, she had come to him.

"You want me to do what?"

"I want you to give me a footrub, McKay. You've heard of them right?"

"Well of course, but why do you want a footrub from me? That's just bizarre. I don't remembering you having a footrub kink when we were sharing my head!"

Cadman grinned wickedly. "Every girl wants a footrub now and then. It's not something that stands out in anyone's psyche, it's just a given!"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Fine, I'll give you a footrub." He glanced at his watch. "I've got a half hour before we brief for tomorrow's mission. Let's go."

"Oh no," Cadman said with a wide-eyed look. "I want to enjoy this. Comfortable clothes, chocolate, the whole shebang. Tonight, in my quarters. Twenty-one hundred hours." She punched his arm. "Relax Rodney. I'm not after your virtue."

Reader certificate #3, Rodney remembered. Sheppard would be able to lock himself in his quarters and read the whole damn Harry Potter book the moment the Daedalus unloaded, without waiting for the rest of Atlantis to finish it first. Rodney sighed and agreed.

~.~.~


He buzzed Cadman's door promptly at 2100 hours, having set his laptop to first remind him of the appointment ten minutes before and then shut itself down. He had a bad track record with ignoring alarms when he was engrossed in his work, and if he was late Cadman would harass him about that as well.

"Hey Rodney, I wasn't sure you'd really show up!" Cadman said cheerfully. She was dressed casually, as he'd expected, in gray sweats and a faded USMC t-shirt. Her feet were bare, and she was slouched comfortably in the armchair next to her bed.

Rodney plastered a smile on his face. "A deal's a deal. One footrub, coming up."

Cadman smiled and waved at the floor in front of her. "Make yourself comfortable." Rodney settled himself cross-legged and lifted Cadman's feet into his lap while she leaned back in the chair. She'd just showered, judging by the faint scent of soap; that was nice of her.

He rubbed his hands together to warm them and began to massage the arch of her right foot. Okay, this wasn't so bad - a little awkward, but she didn't seem to be coming on to him; maybe she really did just want a footrub. The Marines spent a lot of time on their feet, after all.

"Mmmm," Cadman said, sounding satisfied, "that's nice."

"Glad you like it," Rodney said, relaxing a bit.

Then Cadman's door buzzed. "Come in," she called. Rodney dropped her foot and sat back hastily, looking over his shoulder.

Simpson, Kusanagi, Keller from Medical, and Sergeant Tina Wilcox stood outside, trying to stifle their grins as they took in the scene in Cadman's quarters.

"What the hell--" Rodney spluttered.

"Oh, did I forget to tell you?" Cadman asked sweetly. "It's Girls Poker Night. Come on in," she added to the little group in the doorway. "Doctor McKay here was just giving me a footrub."

"Well, that's awfully nice of you, Doctor McKay," Keller said with fake sincerity. The other three women added their agreement. "What brought that on?"

"Rodney's trading me for my Harry Potter number," Cadman said brightly. "Looks like he's become a fan after all. Or maybe it'll be a present for someone!"

Rodney glared at her, his cheeks reddening against his will. "I agreed to give you a footrub, not set myself up to be laughed at by everyone in Atlantis!"

"Don't worry, Doctor McKay," Simpson answered soothingly. "It won't be everyone in Atlantis laughing at you... just all the women."

~.~.~


The Daedalus arrived two days later, and Rodney was there to claim one of the precious copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when crate #32 was pried open.

That night, he sat up in bed with his laptop against his knees, his arm around John's chest, and John's head tucked under his chin. He glanced over John's shoulder to check his progress, and smiled. Only 219 pages to go before John finished saying thank you.

end

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