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Aberrant: Stargate Universe - Fair Trade [Fin]


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"Perhaps we can arrange a trade," the alien raised two of its five tentacles in an enigmatic gesture, and Vinny is reminded that just the othis day Rea had been wondering why nearly all of the alien life forms they've encountered so far have been bilaterally symmetrical. Be careful what you fuckin' ponder, he thinks.

"A trade." He carefully schools his voice and stance into neutrality, betraying none of his misgivings. It's probably a wasted effort, as his body language must be as foreign to the alien as its mannerisms are to his, but years of first contact experience cannot simply be ignored.

"An exchange," the creature elaborates. "Your companions will be released, and in return you will provide us with one of your memories."

"Memories?" Vinny tries to make it a statement, not a question, but the note of inquiry creeps in on the last syllable.

"The archive of our race's experience, while it contains much of merit, has not gained any significant additions in several generations. We feel that a memory from a source so different from ourselves would improve its variety considerably."

The old trapped-in-a-room-with-only-ten-movies scenario. Vinny regards the alien for a moment before responding. "Suppose I fuckin' agree to this exchange. A memory for my team's release. How do you plan to extract this memory from my mind? For that matter, do you even know if you can?"

"It is true that your genetic make-up is somewhat divergent from our own," Vinny can't decide if the understatement is intended to be humorous or not, "But our examinations of your companions indicate that with some slight adjustments, our extraction technology should be both effective and safe for use in this manner."

Vinny grimaces slightly at the reference to examinations, and then has to bite down on a slightly hysterical guffaw that arises from a sudden image of Dana snapping at a tentacled alien for shining a penlight in her eye. The past thirty-six hours without sleep are beginning to take their toll. He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly before saying "Still like to know more about how the shit works before I agree to anything, if you don't mind."

The alien blinks in what he takes for assent. "That is quite reasonable. Please observe." A tentacle is extended, bearing a tiny cluster of what looks like coral. "We believe that implanting the device in one of your aural receivers will allow it to function sufficiently for the memory extraction procedure."

Vinny takes the tiny device and examines it curiously. He's fairly certain this is going to constitute a breach of base security, and he makes a mental note to have his IDC changed the minute they get back to base. "What memory are you planning to extract?"

"We will select one together," replied the alien, with another unreadable gesture. "It may take some time for us to agree upon a memory that is both suitable for our archive and with which you are willing to part."

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"Part?" Vinny freezes, his inspection of the extraction device forgotten. "What do you mean, fuckin' 'part with'? I'm not actually going to lose the memory. Am I?" He is frustrated by how plaintive the question sounds.

"Why else would your consent be required?" asks the alien in evident confusion. "The memory extracted will be in our archive. How could it also continue to be housed in your mind?"

Vinny can feel his eyes widening, and he finds himself involuntarily holding the extraction device further away from himself. "Can't you just take a copy? Leave me my memory and keep an identical version for your archive?"

"If that were possible, this would hardly constitute a fair exchange." Vinny is fairly certain he detects a note of reproach in the alien's voice. "But of course nothing can be done without your agreement. I will understand if you are not willing to accept our terms. A memory is a significant cost, even for an exchange such as this one."

Vinny wonders momentarily if the alien means to imply that the rest of SG-4 is worth relatively little, but decides that memories really are that highly valued here.

Look on the fuckin' bright side, if memories really are the coin of the realm, then at least that makes me a goddamn billionaire.

He takes a deep breath and another long look at the device, then resolutely places it in his left ear, shoulders tensing involuntarily.

At his silent nod, the alien blinks and--

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"It's pretty cool, isn't it? You and I working together?" Dana grins enthusiastically. "We're sort of like the Butch and Sundance of the SGC."

Vinny doesn't even bother to hide his annoyance. "Butch and Sundance got cornered and killed by the Bolivian army."

"Whoa." Vinny can't help the soft exclamation that escapes him as he was swept unceremoniously from the present moment into the memory and then back again.

"The device appears to be working as predicted," says the alien, without seeming to note his discomfort. "We will begin in earnest, now."

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Dad is dead, and Vinny is left feeling bereaved and hollow. The heartache is as devastating in intensity as it is frightening in its strangeness. Some far-away part of him insists that he should be glad to have his body and mind back under his own control, to have the abusive parent gone. But Vinny still wakes to find himself weeping, wracked with a loneliness so acute that it's like a physical sensation rather than an emotion.

Even while Vinny is wincing at the pain of the memory, He finds himself shrinking from the idea of losing it. Before he has time to do anything more than wonder how it would change him to lose it, the memory is replaced by another.

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Vinny pauses for a moment to soak up the atmosphere of the street bazaar, smiling at the wild patterns and dizzying colors that surround him. A few feet away, his brother is picking over a blanket strewn with cheap jewelry and trinkets, and further down the row of stalls Dad and Mom are buying a blindingly pink shirt that Vinny knows must be for Dad. Vinny smiles to himself, feeling oddly content.

"Look at these!" his brother calls, and he turns to find the younger sibling holding out a pair of spectacles with magenta lenses. Vinny takes them, smirking, and after a moment says "Rose-colored glasses it is." and pays the vendor for them.

He finds the sensation of channel surfing through his own memories as uncomfortable as the last time he experienced something like this, with the therapist. Perhaps more so, given that this time he's not the one with the remote.

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The Kull warrior finally lies still, but Vinny has to ask. "Is it...?" He can't even work up the strength to finish the question, but thankfully there is no need.

"Yeah, it's dead," says the Major. "Right, Eckhart? He's dead." At Dana's nod, he gives him a small smile and repeats, with conviction. "Yeah' he's dead. You wanna get up?"

He's fairly certain that he keeps the fear out of his voice when he replies "Just need to fuckin' rest for a minute." He is safe. He is exhausted and hurt and thirsty and barely alive, but the Major and Eckhart are there, and he is safe. He wants to pull the fact of their presence around him and go to sleep like a child shielding himself from the monsters with the impenetrable barrier of a blanket.

Vinny feels his throat constrict. Maybe this was a bad idea.

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They are both wearing stiff dress blues, but they manage to hug warmly anyway. His father pulls away, smiles. "Vinny I'm so proud of you."

He grins back. He knows it sounds overdone, but he says it anyway: "Today the Air Force, tomorrow the stars."

He gives himself a mental shake. That never happened, that is just a dream, but it's worth it if the team all makes it home.

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"This is how your culture represents the heart, isn't it?" Jonas thoughtfully examines the card taped to the wall over Vinny's small desk.

"Yeah, that's what we call a valentine," Vinny replies absently. "M'butu made it for me a couple of years ago." At Jonas's curious glance, he elaborates, "We have a holiday called Valentine's Day that's dedicated to showing our appreciation for the people closest to us."

"And these valentines are tokens of your affection?" Jonas smiles.

Vinny snorted back, and nods. He entertains the idea of explaining about Saint Valentine and the clandestine marriage of Roman soldiers, but the thought that he wouldn't be able to explain it as well as Dana makes him hold back.

Jonas is looking at the card again. "So when is Valentine's Day?"

"February fourteenth," Vinny replies automatically, thoughts still on Dana.

"So two months from now," says Jonas. "Should I give valentines to you and the rest of the teams?"

The question startles a small, horrified laugh out of Vinny before he can stop himself. "Um, no, Jonas, I..." He can see his face beginning to fall ever so slightly and scrambles for a reply, "That's not fuckin' necessary, it's...the implications of a valentine are...kind of complicated... it's just...complicated," He says again, willing him to understand.

"The Tau'ri custom of valentines is indeed a complex tradition." Vinny hadn't even heard Teal'c enter his room, but his deep voice cuts through his increasing mental floundering with profound composure. "It has been my understanding that while it is not uncommon for valentines to be exchanged between friends and family, it is a predominantly romantic gesture, and bears many connotations of attraction and desire."

Jonas's expression shifts into comprehension. "Oh," his smile is slightly baffled, and Vinny attempts to silently telegraph his profound thanks to Teal'c as Jonas shakes his head and laughs. "You're right, that does sound complicated."

The memory lasts so long this time that he wonders if this is the one the alien has chosen, but then it's on to the next channel...

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He feels the heart stop beating as he holds him cradled against his, and he knows it is too late. Not even a sarcophagus can save him, now. The pain he feels at the loss might not be all his own, but that doesn't make it hurt any less.

...and the next...

They are striking camp when he notices that Dana's newly-cropped hair is sticking up in the back, and smiles to himself. She hasn't yet realized that only people with short hair are exempt from bed-head. He decides to bring her a comb and is drafting a tactful comment about using it in the morning when the Major remarks "God, Eckhart, you look like a haystack. Put your boonie on before the birds start trying to roost on you." Vinny tries not to laugh at Dana's look of utter bewilderment, but he's not entirely successful.

...and the next...

His mother pretends not to see when Vinny steals a spoonful of cookie batter and sinks down under the kitchen counter to savor it.

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He closes his eyes, knowing it will make no difference, and takes a shaking breath. He thinks again of Dana and Hadley and dares to wonder what this will do to him. How much difference can one memory make?

He's eating blue Jell-O in the commissary, a report open but unread on the table in front of him.

Will he be just as he was before, only somehow infinitesimally less so? Will he even know that he has lost anything? Or will he go through the rest of his life, worrying at the place where a memory should be, like a child tonguing a missing tooth, wondering what it was, wondering if it was important? His breath catches and he feels his eyes fly open, though he can see nothing but the unceasing flash of memory after memory. Will he one day fail to make the right call, will he one day put his self, his team, his world in jeopardy because he's missing the one thing that would have made him equal to the situation?

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He looks at Maybourne and says "Maybourne, you are a fuckin' idiot every day of the damn week. Why couldn't you have taken one day off?" There. Now, even if the earth is overrun by hostile aliens, at least the important shit got said.

It occurs to his to wonder what, exactly, the alien is looking for.

...but the channels keep changing.

Dana says "I will always be there for you," and though she's just a hallucination, he knows it's true.

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Lani - "I'm Losing You"

He's just wondering how much longer this could possibly take when he hears something new for what seems like the first time in ages.

"Ah." The alien's voice cuts through the tide of memory. "Here. Would you be willing to part with this one?"

"Are you insane!? Or just an asshole?!... you haven't even really gotten a taste of how spicy I can be...I love you... don't forget that, ok? If you forget everything else, remember that I love you...

He waits as the memory continues, as it pans out into the entire relationship with Olivia, from the first attempted slap to her betrayal. He opens his eyes and he's in the present moment, again, the alien regarding him silently. There is a long pause during which he blinks once or twice, and then he asks "That it? That's the one you want?"

"The experience is unlike any we have on file," replies the alien. "But perhaps you wish to retain it? Shall I continue the process in search of a different memory?"

"No, it's just that..." Vinny feels that he's going to start crying any minute. He decides not to cry because he doesn't think he'd be able to stop afterwards. "I...that's..." He stops, takes a deep breath, and continues with more gravity and composure. If not clearly wracked with emotional turmoil. "You're welcome to it if that's what you want in exchange for my team. I assume safe passage back to the Gate is part of the deal."

"Of course," the alien waves a solicitous tentacle. Vinny doesn't realize that the procedure is over until a trickle of fine dust escapes his left ear and he figures out that it is the remains of the extraction device. He blinks at the understanding that while he can remember the fact of the memory, he cannot actually recall living it.

It's like a story your mom tells you about when you were a baby, He thinks to himself, You know it happened, but you can't remember it for yourself.Then a door opens, and the Major shouts his name in the sharp way he uses when he's been imprisoned, and he sighs with relief because they're all going home.

On the way back to the Gate, Dana says "They told us you had bargained for our release." Her voice is equal parts relief and concern. "I'm almost afraid to ask what you gave them."

The Major doesn't look back at them, but Vinny knows he's listening intently for his reply. He thinks for moment, and then answers.


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