Accompaniment for a Fine Meal
by Gaia
Print version Print version // This story is completed
Sequel to β€˜A Thursday Morning Concerto for the City in the Sea.’ Kako’s coming of age ceremony.
Spoilers: Echoes, Grace Under Pressure, Poisoning the Well
Notes: Sequel to A Thursday Morning Concerto for the City in the Sea
Mashakein stalks quietly through the forest. He does not run, never rushes, even though he could slip by unnoticed on silent feet. Prey is captured with dignity. That is the way that it is taught.

It is not as though this particular prey would notice. It is young, scrawny in flesh, but with many years of untapped potential. It is a veritable feast as it stumbles through the forest on too-thin legs. Perhaps it is not well fed. Mashakein makes a mental note to remind the scientists to plant some of the protein-enhanced tava seedlings here. They will yield a better hunt.

The prey moves in the shadows, dancing around patches of sunlight as though they might sting. It reminds Mashakein of a hatchling, still in its larval form and terrified of the light. They are raised in darkness, in the damp deep bowls of a hive, not in a cave as History speaks of it. Again, everything Mashakein's people do is done with dignity.

This one is different. ‘Sick,' Mashakein thinks with a huff. He will feast on it alone, then. He will not be allowed to share. Its movements are graceful – swift like the flying things, their feathered wings soft against the harsh light of the sky.

Birds. They are bleached white and curious, perched on a sun-swept balcony, bobbing their heads in rhythmic curiosity. Kako stays hidden in a corner, small and afraid. Flying things are unpredictable as Wraith – there one moment and then gone in a flutter of wings and shadows. But these . . . Dr. Eckhart has told him about these.

‘If you trust them,' he says, ‘they will make the most beautiful song.'

Kako reaches out a hand, tentative but hopeful. The bird cocks his head to the side, the way Dad does sometimes when confused and questioning. It opens it's mouth, but Kako does not pull back, heart filling with joy at the concert nature is playing for him.

Mashakein stumbles, falling back against a tree trunk in surprise, not anguish. It has been long since he has encounter one of these – the descendents of a failed experiment. It will be a sweet feast indeed.

The prey leaps, so sudden that Mashakein is startled by the movement. It lands with barely a sound, crouching down in the streambed below – further than he's ever seen prey jump. Here the canopy is thick and its pale skin and animal hide clothing blend in among the shadows. Even its stock of braided black hair seems almost forgettable here on the forest floor. Its eyes, though – blue like serene jewels in the darkness.

The ocean stretches out before him, Pachabel playing the twists and curves of the waves. Sin and cosine, as Papa has taught him, a neat mathematics of land and sea and perpetual motion. Someday, he thinks, he will find the equations that govern the flow of energy – love and understanding and truth that moves behind the stars.

Three knocks on the glass of balcony window means that it's Papa, arrived unaccountably to tell him a story.

Kako does not turn at his approach – the footsteps unmeasured, but familiar.

"So," Papa says. "How's the view?"

Kako gives long orations, stories of math and music and beauty - how he has calculated that constant too; how the universe is strung together by the language of God and how there are old beings made of light and pure untapped energy that swim in it like dolphins, stopping only one an eon to come to the surface for air.

Papa does not hear him.

"I went to the organ room today," he says.

Kako turns to face him at that. Normally, Papa's unpredictability is best kept a arm's length. ‘See no evil, hear no evil,' Dad would say. But the organ room, where they sit down together and play, arguments and conversations and harmony spoken like all of the talking they will never have.

"I heard your newest piece on the playback. It was very good."

Kako smiles. It was a song about Phlagesalis – the swimming creatures that tell so many tales when they pass by. They rescued Papa once. Kako composed his gratitude as the base.

"Would you like me to play it with you? There is room in the base for more complexity."

Kako nods, silently. Atlantis tells him that she will project the song for the creatures to hear. They too, have a wonderful story to sing.

Mashakein hitches in a stuttering breath. This one dwells in the City. He saw it in a flash, as the prey thought of the great organ, its tall pipes flashing the colors of the rainbow. This one, he must have.

The prey jumps again, balancing on a log that straddles the dry trickle of the river. It has a crudely fashioned bow and arrow slung across its back, but it hardly looks capable enough to use it.

The sticks fly with an easy grace. Kako could map the arc of their movements – he knows the equations to describe this thing – fighting on the edge of chaos, where one act responds to another and another with only thought to guide the choice of where to begin.

Duck, bend, lift up. Block. The clash of the sticks are loud to his sensitive ears, Tchaikovsky composing a war with no enemies.

They stop and Kako rubs at his knuckles. They sting and he does not deserve it.

"You are doing very well," Teyla says. "Though you will practice with me from now on."

They fear him now – after he brought his stick down hard on the fleshy part of Jinto's back. He still does not understand why Jinto missed their next practice session, nor why he now walks with his back so artificially straight.

He pleads with her. ‘I am not dangerous,' he says, though she must find it written in his eyes.

"It is not that you are dangerous," she says, even though Papa may have said otherwise. "It is that others do not speak your language. Atlantis understands, but Jinto does not."

Kako nods – he and Atlantis understand each other. They both understand how to be alone, but not lonely.

‘Perhaps not so defenseless, then,' Mashakein thinks. He is at odds now. This prey is too complex – too exquisite for the blunt flash of a stunner blast. It is a rare treat to find at once one as defiant and yet still so innocent.

Kako is huddled down behind a console, the familiar glow of the Potentia alight above him. He wants to reach out and take it in his hands to cradle it, like a much beloved toy, but Atlantis tells him not to – she needs its comfort more. He stutters with flashes of light and loud horrible discord, the previously predictable floor shaking beneath him.

The Wraith, Papa and Dad have told him, as though he could not see their fear painted in lines and edges across reality, Atlantis shivering at the many dots far out in space – straight stripes converging at on a terrified center, like the spokes of a bicycle.

The floor shakes again and Kako rocks against it, trying to tip the world back onto its center. Someone is yelling out a discordant scream, even if there is nobody else here.


He turns to find Dad, hair and skin and clothes black but unconstant. He smells of flesh, burning like rings of smoke, and red, the fearful color, splattered across one arm and cheek like inkblots.

Kako whimpers. Atlantis tells him that sometimes people can break – he's seen it in the Medical database. But not Dad. Dad is not allowed to.

"It's okay, kiddo," Dad whispers, kneeling down, his movements stiff and rushed, beautiful cosine curves squared and pointed.

But the Wraith?

"Hey, everything's going to be fine, okay?"

Except Dad is gripping his arm too tight. It does not occur to Kako to pull away.

He shakes his head.

"Trust me, kiddo. We're going to get out of this. I just need your help."

He pulls out a piece of paper – Papa's familiar scrawl, the one that showed him the language that holds the world together. "We need to modify the shield," Dad says. "Just like that.:

Yes, he can see that. They had been trying, before the Chair room winked out like the Christmas lights before Dad takes them down to hide in their box.

"Can you ask Atlantis to do this, Kako? It's very important."

Kako nods. Ronon had told him, before depositing Kako here – that whatever happens, he must be brave. Brave is not a concept that Kako can touch, but he is on the verge of understanding.

Atlantis listens, the floor steadying beneath their feet.

Brave is implied by the precise ark of Dad's smile.

Worthy prey, indeed. But Mashakein has had enough. Stalking is an art form, drawn out to the precise limit where the prey might just begin to sense, but not enough so that the sweet shock of its surprise is less intense.

Peek-a-boo, a voice titters in Mashakein's head. The strange words are accompanied by the image of a brown-haired prey, older and also scrawny, looking down and covering laughing green eyes.

He spins around, but there is no one there.

When he looks back, the prey is staring at him, blue eyes piercing like laser beams.

I see you.

Mashakein's people have no need for speech or sound, when thoughts tell it all, so it is unusual for him to sense another's feelings as words. Even operas are written in images rather than words. It takes a moment for him to formulate his response.

You knew I was here all along.

Down in the streambed, the prey nods.

Teyla says it's impolite to intrude.

A flash and he can see the face of the fighting prey, the one with the sticks and the golden hair. She is holding the prey's hand and gesturing towards a closed door, behind which they can hear a few low moans.

My kind does not worry about the image of propriety as thought of by our food.

Atlantis has told me of your kind. I saw one once.

Another image – this time it is a lead hunter, like Mashakein himself, only one of Jessera's hive; he can tell by the pigmentation. The hunter stagers in the pitter-patter of weapons blasts, falling to the floor. Mashakein is surprised that this memory comes with a tinge of sadness.

You are alone, little one, and without the weapons that you saw kill so dispassionately. Why are you not afraid?

The prey smiles up at him. I am only afraid of the Wraith.

Images flicker past now – smoke and chaos and discordant patterns, disappointment, longing, growth in logarithm instead of line; stories of monsters that take young children away, cruel beasts that must be fought to bring peace and with it, harmony. Atlantis knows them as the story of Pandora, in the story of ghosts and vampires and inexplicable deaths – a disease that festers in the womb of time.

You are not Wraith. The Prey giggles, even as Mashakein drops down beside him in a simple deadly motion that he feels in his very genes.

Then you have nothing to fear. Mashakein smiles, knowing that this one will taste so sweet, without the bitter draught of dread dulling its complexity.

And with that, he slams his feeding hand down hard on the prey's chest.

It does not cry out. Its dark hair does not fade like a sunset to grey and then white. It simply looks down perplexed, stepping back when Mashakein pushes it aside, thwarted.

How is this possible? he asks, sending an image, a feeling of vibrating, pulsing, heated anger along with his words.

The prey smiles. Mashakein does not know if the prey intends to answer or not, because they are interrupted. In the distance he hears the foliage rustle, the brown head of some kind of forest creature peaking out among the shrubs.

I'm sorry. I must go to hunt. Dad and Papa did not want me to, but I must return with a berserbek if I want to grow older than fifteen.

And with that, the prey scampers lightly off.

Mashakein would be inclined to follow, even if just to have this prey's head for its defiance.

Except his heart is beating far too quickly, his breath coming in stuttering gasps. It is too much – the anger is weighing him down, collapsing, pulling, yanking until he is not sure he will explode or be whisked away by it.

Lying in the soft dirt of the riverbed, light and shadow painted in the canopy above, Mashakein takes his last breaths, his heart beating out the percussion of the first music he has ever heard.