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The Fall of the Roman Empire

by Eildon Rhymer

 

Rating: PG-13

Characters: Sheppard and McKay

Content warning: Silliness. Latin. Italics. Naked legs. Sandals. Wanton destruction of the Roman Empire and the fourth wall

 

Summary: In all the scholarly debate about the fall of the Roman Empire, no historian has yet uncovered the role played by a certain speed-obsessed, bare-legged centurion, and a verbose hypocaust engineer called Rodneus. That story can now be told…

____

 

"Salve!" said the dark-haired man.

 

"You want salve?" Rodneus frowned, looking up from his work. "Oh. Yes. The fact that I am working on the hypocaust – very complex work, I'll have you know, and something that only I can do – clearly indicates that I am a physician who deals in voodoo." 

 

"No. Salve," the dark-haired man said again. "Didn't you hear the italics?"

 

"You urgently want salve? Been playing in the brothel, have we, and picked up an itch somewhere embarrassing? Though with that short skirt of yours I'm surprised they don't mistake you for… Sorry. Sorry." He held up his hands. "Backing off. But once again: still not a physician. Can't help. Sorry. Run along now. Working."

 

"Salve," the irritatingly-persistent man said again. "It’s Latin. It means 'hello'. The italics are to show it's in a foreign language."

 

"But we're speaking Latin now." Rodneus had never heard such idiocy in his life. "We're Romans. It's what we do."

 

"Yeah." The dark-haired man shrugged. "Beats me why we do it, too, but apparently it's the convention."

 

"So we're speaking Latin all the time, but sometimes we have to say a stray word in… what? Super-Latin?" Rodneus threw up his hands. "God, this is–"

 

"Shouldn't that be 'gods'?"

 

Rodneus opened his mouth and closed it again. "Not necessarily," he declared in dawning vindication. "We might be living in the latter stages of the Roman Empire after they – I mean, we – converted to Christianity. Constantine, and all that. So, as I was saying, it is ridiculous for us to pepper our words with…" He trailed off, fighting a dawning compulsion. "Latin," he forced out. "Etcetera. Non compos mentis. Coitus interruptus."

 

"Was that an invitation?" drawled the dark-haired man.

 

"No," Rodneus snapped, "even though you do have disturbingly… naked legs."

 

"It's military fashion," the man said stiffly.

 

Rodneus snorted.

 

"And it's cheating to use random Latin expressions that don't fit the context," he said. "Comprende?"

 

"What? Had you gone AWOL when the gods were handing out brains? That's not Latin."

 

The dark-haired man didn't seem too bothered. "Never did like playing by the rules." He let out a breath. "Look. This story's gone south. How's about bailing and starting again?"

 

Rodneus sighed. "Well, I can't imagine it being any worse." He flapped his hand impatiently. "Go on, then, if you insist. Start it again."

 

******

 

"Salve!" said the dark-haired man.

 

Rodneus rolled his eyes. "Salve!" He raised his hand in exaggerated greeting.

 

"Salvete," the man said. He pointed behind him. "Ronon came along for the ride. There's two of us now, so you say salvete."

 

"Um… Uh…" Rodneus snapped his fingers in sudden triumph. "He's clearly a barbarian and not a Roman citizen, so with true Roman snobbery I refuse to grant him the status of human. I reflect this in my word endings." He folded his arms defiantly.

 

The painted barbarian surged forward, snarling.

 

"Or not." Rodney unfolded his arms. "Salvete. Salvete. Salvete." His voice grew higher and higher.

 

There was silence for a while.

 

"Is there supposed to be a story here?" Rodneus hissed at last.

 

The dark-haired man was looking around. "Think so."

 

"What's your name, anyway?" Rodneus asked him. "I can't keep calling you 'the dark-haired man.' Clumsy narrative. Names are better than epithets. It's in all the style guides."

 

"Sh–" The dark-haired man snapped it short. "Give me a moment." He turned away and seemed to be rummaging through a small book. "Pastor," he said, with an air of triumph.

 

"You?" Rodneus snorted. "There's no way you're a preacher, not with those legs."

 

"It's Latin for Shepherd," the man said. He seemed quite proud of himself.

 

"I refuse to call you that," Rodneus said. "I'll call you… Who are you, anyway? What's your job?"

 

"Depends on who you ask," the man said. "The brass back at Rome have me down as a cohort centurion, but what I really like to do is race chariots." The man's eyes shone. "I once pulled ten G–"

 

"What?"

 

The man looked puzzled.

 

"Oh," Rodneus explained. "That wasn't Latin. The italics were there for emphasis, because you're talking gibberish. Pulled ten G?"

 

"Was pulled by ten gee-gees," the man said. "It was cool."

 

"Again not Latin, despite the italics."

 

"Frigidus?"

 

"You forgot the italics." Rodneus sighed, wearily flapping his hand. "I know. I know. Let's start the story again."

 

******

 

"Salve!" said the dark-haired man.

 

"Actually," said Rodneus, "in Classical Latin, a V was pronounced like W, anyway, so that ought to be said more like sal-way."

 

"W, huh?" the dark-haired man smirked. "Yes, Wodneus."

 

"Oh no. Oh no. Oh no no no no no. 'Welease Woderick.' We are not going with the Monty Python references. This fortress is not 'only a model', and if you as much as whistle…"

 

"Wight, Wodney."

 

Wodneus hit him.

 

******

 

"Salve!" said the dark-haired man.

 

Rodneus decided not to answer.

 

"Salve!"

 

His work was quite incredibly amazingly important. It was impossible to look away from it, in fact.

 

"Salve!" A foot jabbed him in the ribs.

 

"Ow! That hurt!" Rodney glared at the man. "Even in sandals – and really, centurion, I'd advise you not to do much kicking with a skirt that short, if you know what I  mean. What is it with you military types? Bare legs, skimpy sandals…? Is it because you think you're so self-evidently manly that you can carry off the girly look? Is it some macho pride thing, to go out in the British winter half-dressed?"

 

The foot jabbed him again.

 

"Ow! Get off!" Rodneus stood up. "Salve," he said wearily. The barbarian didn't seem to be here this time. "So what's so important that you need to interrupt my really important work? Because, I'll have you know, the fate of the whole Empire could depend–"

 

"On you fixing the hypocaust of one small military outpost on the extreme edge of the Empire?"

 

"Well… Yes… uh… It could do."

 

"And isn't that toilets, anyway? You fix toilets?"

 

"Central heating, actually. And it's only one of my specialisms. I hold several…" He paused for a moment, considering Latin plurals, then decided to wing it. "Doctori Philosophić...s from…uh… Oxford and… and… Yale and… anyway, they're in astronomy and… and… engineering, and–."

 

"And yet here you are fixing the central heating system in a remote outpost on the Antonine wall."

 

"Ah, I see what you're doing there, centurion. Very clever. Let's sign you up for Mensa right now."

 

"Mensa's a table. Why would I–?"

 

Rodneus ignored him. "Hadrian's Wall would be more obvious, because it's more famous, so you've put us on the Antonine Wall to blind the readers with convincing-sounding history so they think the author's a Roman expert and believe every word she says, however outrageous."

 

"You wound me," said the centurion, as he drew his gladius, his lorica segmentata shining in the sudden sunlight, the device on his discarded scutum gleaming like a jewel, and his P90 sleek at his front.

 

"Oh, come on!" Rodneus cried. "That's anachro– ". The alarm on his watch went off. "Oh! Time for second breakfast. Prandium, I mean. I hope there's waffles." He saw the centurion looking at him. "Waffllei." He said it like a challenge.

 

"So we'll resume this story after you've finished eating? The threat to the Empire can wait on your stomach?"

 

Rodneus didn't bother replying.

 

"To hell with it. I–"

 

"Hades."

 

"Isn't that Greek?"

 

"I think Romans use the word, too."

 

"To hell with it." The centurion also knew how to make a word a challenge. "I'm taking the chariot up."

 

"Out," Rodneus corrected him.

 

He got no reply, and then there was the smell of waffles…

 

******

 

"Salve!" said the dark-haired man.

 

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Rodneus waved his hand in circles. He stood up; brushed himself down. "Your barbarian friend not here?"

 

"He got bored," the centurion said. "I can't imagine why."

 

"Bored?" Rodneus protested. "What–? Ah. Well. He is a barbarian. You can't expect those people to understand finely-honed wit like mine."

 

"Wanna know how many men he's killed?" the centurion said lightly.

 

"Uh… Ah. No. I think I'll…" Perhaps he would return to his work, after all. "He's off… uh… killing things right now?"

 

"Hunting," the centurion said. "He's gone with Teyla. She's an Amazon."

 

"In Scotland?"

 

"Her people were wiped out."

 

"And Ronon? Why's he here on the wall, uh… killing things?"

 

"His people were wiped out."

 

"Wiped out." Rodneus swallowed. "That… uh… happen a lot round here?"

 

"Strangely, yes."

 

"Doesn't help us with the plot, though."

 

"No."

 

******

 

"Salve!" said the dark-haired man.

 

"So why are you here, anyway? A cohort centurion… That's kind of important, isn't it?"

 

"Equivalent to lieutenant-colonel. According to Vicipedia, anyway, and when's that been known to be wrong?"

 

"Lieutenant-colonel. Frigidus!"

 

"Anyway, I…" The centurion rubbed his ear, while looking at the ground. "I got a… a… blackus markus. Banished here to the uttermost north with only tame barbarians and arrogant scientists for company."

 

Perhaps he was supposed to be sensitive and sympathetic, but he really didn't do people. "Come on, centurion. Blackus markus? You can't fool me with those italics. That's not proper Latin!"

 

"Ebay ietquay, Odneusray."

 

"Ebay? Ebay? What? Is that where you bought your brain? Is it–? Oh. Very funny, centurion."

 

"Come on–"

 

"Nope. No. Will not do. Do not want, and words to that effect. Go away. I'm staying right here."

 

******

 

"Salve!" said the dark-haired man.

 

Rodneus ignored him.

 

"Salve!" said the dark-haired man.

 

Rodneus' work was very fascinating and of world-wide importance.

 

"Salve!" said the dark-haired man.

 

Rodneus peeked out of the corner of his eye.

 

"Do you wanna stay in an endless loop of salve-ing, or shall we get this show on the road?"

 

Well, when he put it like that…

 

******

 

"Salve!" said the dark-haired man.

 

Rodneus brushed his hands together briskly. "Where's the plot, then?"

 

"Well, here's the thing…" The wind made the centurion's skirt blow in the wind in a very alarming fashion. He didn't seem to notice. "I think we're supposed to go on a long and dangerous search – a hundred thousand words of encounters and sub-plots and original characters..." He jerked his hand, discreetly pointing with his thumb.

 

Rodneus looked where he was pointing, and saw a puella with dazzling jewel-like green oculae and hair like unto a raven's wing and a figure that meant that everything he had learnt about science and gravity was clearly wrong. He had no words. He had no words. (Oh, crap. Italics, he thought. Habet… No, that's the present tense. Habuit? Verbum. No, plural. Verba.  Agh. Accusative. Amo, amas, amat… No, that's verbs, no pun intended. Is it just 'verba' again? It is now. And put in a negative somewhere. Non? Non habuit verba? Verba non habuit? Does word order matter in Latin? And what about…?) He had no words, he thought firmly, without italics. His mouth gaped open.

 

"Name of Maria Susanna," the centurion whispered. "Says she's due to join us on page fourteen. She says she loves me. Something about… squeeus? And… whumpus? And nursing me back to health…" He moved closer to Rodneus. "What do you say about skipping all that and cutting to the chase? It'll mean cutting Ronon and Teyla out of the story, but…"

 

Rodneus looked at the puella again. "That, my friend, sounds like a very good idea indeed."

 

******

 

"Salve!" said the dark-haired man.

 

Rodneus moved his hand in a quick circle. "Salve, etcetera etcetera. What now?"

 

"There's a hidden chamber buried somewhere in the lands of the Caledonii," the centurion said quickly, "with a mysterious chair in it. Feel like checking it out?"

 

Rodneus nodded.

 

Their journey was short and without incident.

 

"Mysterious inscriptions," Rodneus said, when they were in the subterranean room. "Fortunately I can read Mysterious. Oh! Apparently all the gods are real and are called Ancients and they built this chair as a secret control room, yadda yadda yadda." He paused. "Etcetera etcetera etcetera," he corrected himself.

 

The centurion sat in it, and Mysterious Things happened. "Frigidus!" he said.

 

"Stop." Rodneus moved to the chair. "I'm sure I can improve on its design, using my hypocaust engineering skills…"

 

"It's a super-secret control chair, not a central heating system," the centurion said, standing up.

 

Rodneus Did Science to the chair. It took a long time, and was finished in seconds.

 

"Are you sure people want to read this?" he said, when he was finished. "I mean, it seems a bit… rushed."

 

"To Hades with the readers," the centurion said. "The sooner we do this, the sooner I can get back to my chariot."

 

"I… I…" Rodneus felt embarrassed. "I'm not really a people person, but… shouldn't be give them what they want? They might reward us with food."

 

"We could have hot sex." The centurion smirked. "Then the author can put 'McShep' in the header information and her readership will instantly double."

 

Rodneus eyed him up and down. "Despite the skirt and the… the legs, centurion, I really don't think…"

 

"Nah. Doesn't matter." The centurion shrugged. "Now she can put "contains 'McShep'" in quote marks and it won't be a lie, because I said it. Got 'whump' in it, too, because I said that. Job done. No-one cares about the actual plot. Now, let's get this show on the road."

 

He sat in the chair again. Blue light surrounded him. "Rodneus…!" His eyes snapped open. "What did you do?"

 

"A few improvements. Why?"

 

The centurion was silent for a while. "Rodneus…" He returned the chair to its upright position. "We appear to have destroyed five sixths of the Roman Empire."

 

"Ah." Rodneus swallowed. "Oh."

 

The centurion looked at him. At long last, he shrugged. "No biggie. We'll blame it on the Vandals and the… what's another good name? Oh, the Goths. Visigoths. Huns. People like that. Give it a few years, and the historians won't know the difference."

 

"But…" Rodneus' mouth was gaping open.

 

The centurion got up and slapped him on the back. "Fancy a ride in my chariot? There's cookies under the co-pilot's seat."

 

"Okay," Rodneus managed to say, and then went off together into the world to come, and the sunset.

 

END

 

******


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