Elizabeth Weir entered the control room of Atlantis from her office as she did every time she felt the need for a tiny distraction. She observed the very alive city, mentally preparing herself for the work still unattended. Things were calmer today – no fouled missions, no petty disagreements. She considered taking a few minutes to walk through the many corridors to stretch her legs.
Seeing the half-dozing technician gave her new resolve. Elizabeth slipped past him announcing her short departure. The technician merely yawned, but did seem to hear what she said. She walked leisurely from the room, taking deep breaths and calming her soul.
Things had been tough lately. Her thoughts were gloomy and sometimes threatened to slip into defeatist. It became a little hard to breathe, as thought a heavy mist had fallen throughout the city in a few short moments. Weir sighed loudly, as if to drive away anything that might lurk.
It was then she heard it. It drifted from down the corridor, filling her with wonder and light. It was music, like an extremely pleasant aroma. The strains were also familiar to her ear, driving out the alien desolation that surrounded her. The notes were so precise it was almost mechanically perfect.
Elizabeth found her feet moving quickly to the sound, as if chasing a disappearing light down a dark alleyway. She turned a corner and saw the origin of the tantalising music at once. A door was ajar, leading straight into a very plain room. It was so dull that it looked like a white box.
In the middle of the room was a bizarre block of complex knobs and lights. A chair had been pulled up from elsewhere – perhaps the mess hall – and was occupied by, strangely, Rodney McKay.
“How are you doing that?” she asked, amazed.
He flinched and the music cut off abruptly with a slight screech as some out of place notes shot their way in.
Rodney lifted his head towards her and said in a slightly uneasy voice, “I found this here a couple of days ago. At first I thought it might be connected to the life support systems – you know, a core system – but I discovered it was really a musical instrument. The Ancients probably didn’t work all the time. They used a structure of octaves and half notes as well. It was just a matter of finding the right octave.”
He looked like a child caught at doing something naughty. Elizabeth smiled at his almost guilty expression. She pressed her hands together in silent applause. “That was really well played. Isn’t that the song they play at weddings?”
He nodded shortly. “Canon in D, composed by Pachelbel.”
“I didn’t know you were a talented pianist, but I suppose it is true what they say about mathematics and music.”
“I wanted to be a pianist,” McKay said, a hint of wistfulness in his voice.
She lifted her eyebrows in surprise. Well, that was unexpected. She took a few steps forward, hoping not to completely miss the unguarded moment. She wondered, “Then why didn’t you become one?”
“I don’t really have a sense of the art,” Rodney said in disgust, sounding as though he was reciting something particularly nasty. “I’m a clinical player.”
“You have a clinical mind.”
He ploughed on, as though flood gates had been irrevocably thrown open, “I played to escape reality. My parents, mostly. My teacher told me to quit so I had to find some other form of escapism.”
Rodney turned away from her, as if this confession had revealed too much. He played the opening bars of a very well known song, then stopped and winced, as if pained. In an attempt to relieve the air of the heaviness that had fallen, Elizabeth commented, “I hear that one a lot but I don’t know what it’s called.”
“It’s by Beethoven,” McKay explained, unhurriedly pressing the keys in the following sequence of the song. “He wrote it for Therese Malfatti, the woman that he considered marrying. The piece is called Fur Elise.”
The music wafted on softly, losing the strength that it was meant to be played with. It didn’t sound too clinical at all. Rodney let it fade, lifting his eyes to a spot on the wall as his fingers slowly moved to a stop. He seemed distracted by his own thoughts.
In his pause, Weir took a moment to look around. The room wasn’t as bare as she first thought it was. Rodney had littered it with his discarded jacket and a few sheets of scribbles. One closer inspection, the scribbles did not resemble words, more like notes jumping along roughly drawn lines.
She asked curiously, “Have you ever tried to compose a piece yourself?”
Rodney glanced at the incriminating pieces of paper laying a few metres away on the floor, as if asking permission of his own piece. He feigned modesty as he said, “Oh, I attempted my first self-written composition only an hour ago.”
“I don’t see what inspiration you could get from here,” she admitted, taking in the blank room with a slightly disapproving glance.
McKay said brusquely after a moment, “There is only one thing in here that can inspire me, Elizabeth. I wrote the song for you.”
Taken back, Weir was unsure how to respond to this. She felt an odd, but not uncomfortable, fluttering in her stomach. She was sure there must be heat rising to her cheeks. Rodney did not meet her eyes, a defeated shadow appearing on his brow. He obviously hadn’t meant to reveal that fact of his piece.
“Let’s hear it,” Elizabeth ordered, trying to keep her voice steady.
Without another word, Rodney’s fingers flew across the keys. It began quietly, timidly, little by little rising into a crescendo. As his fingers skipped along the higher notes, Weir’s heart skipped also. She was fervently glad that she was not deaf.
The music swelled with a feeling of hope, fear and a range of other emotions she’d never thought possible to burst from an instrument. Just as Elizabeth thought she could stand there listening forever, the cascading of notes stopped. Startled, she jerked her head and her eyes again found Rodney’s figure by the glowing instrument.
Rodney explained quickly, “It’s not finished. I need to rework some of the bass clef. Some of the rhythm is lost when I…”
“Rodney,” she interrupted, “it’s perfect. What’s it called?”
He met her eyes this time. He was reluctant, mouth opening just slightly.
Then, very quietly, he answered, “Fur Eliz.”