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sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-05 11:35 am

The Difference Engine: Post Story Notes

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
-- TS Eliot, The Hollow Men

In the words of Matt Albie, this was not the comedy we intended to do when the week began.

The fic grew out of a discussion of SGA on my livejournal specifically focused on Sheppard, and how most of the time he's a total sociopath (this thread has since been lost in the Great Hack of 08). I hadn't seen more than one or two episodes at that point, and so as I watched I spent a lot of time studying how Sheppard interacted with people to see if I could get a handle on it. I determined that he wasn't a sociopath so much as he was permanently stuck at age seventeen, but he definitely acts like a sociopath (as many teenaged boys do) so that's a whole other story (and it's called John, and it's by kHo, and it's fantastic).

The end result was that people said there were a lot of fics out there where Sheppard was either 1. crazypants or 2. an actual robot. Having read a great deal of SGA fanfiction, I know item #2 to be a complete lie. But I was fascinated by the idea of it, so I realised I was going to have to write it myself.

I had intended for it to be a short, primarily creepy, perhaps slightly amusing vignette, or a series of short scenes getting into Sheppard's (tin) head, but the more I thought about how all this would work, the longer and more elaborate the story got. I'm not sure in the end there's any actual point in setting it in the SGA universe as opposed to just rewriting it as fiction, but if I spend one more minute working on it I will kill myself, so there you have it.

The original working title of the fic was simply Robot John (I have a knack for the obvious) and then Tria Prima, but as I hate to use titles that are cleverly incorporated into the text I decided against it. I thought about quoting Eliot but finally settled on The Difference Engine after Babbage's creation.

Isaac Asimov really did invent the term "robotics" (by accident). The Matrix does suck and McKay disdains it rightly.

Because I was writing the story literally along with the episodes as I watched them (not my favourite technique -- it feels a bit jumpy and overly referential to the show) there were a lot of scenes I cut or discarded as inappropriate. I saved some of them, god knows why; normally I don't.


This was supposed to fall just before their return to Earth to close the book on the first Tria Prima trial. I couldn't figure out where the hell to take it, but I like the idea of it.

One of the Anthropologists that came in the last wave to Atlantis had begun a map of the Pegasus Galaxy, carefully locked and on a non-networked computer (John's insistence). Each planet they'd visited was marked in orange, and a spiderweb of blue lines connected each planet to its trading partners. It was an impressive piece of work, whatever Rodney had to say about voodoo-worshippers.

The people of Pegasus were traders and talkers. They wandered, they gossipped; word had long ago spread about the black-clad visitors who traded medicine and goods for food and basic supplies. Never broke agreements, and helpful folk in a pinch; it was rumoured that they lived in the city of the Ancients, and they guarded their gate pretty thoroughly so it might be true.

Ronon, trained in the military, had carefully edited out any references that could identify John, as well as his real name, when he translated The Modern Prometheus into Satedan. He was not so careful about who he shared it with; it was Atlantis all over again, where he gave a copy to one of the few straggling Satedans who had survived, and the Satedans thought it was a decent work of heroic epic about a man with a mechanical brain so they shared freely out of it with their acquaintances. It was translated into Kelari next, and one of the scribes of Kel translated it into a subdialect of Athosian that was the Lingua Franca in a significant portion of the galaxy.

Many of the people in that sector had met the visitors, and it wasn't exactly difficult to pinpoint Rodney McKay as one of the alchemists who had built the clockwork man. His companion, Colonel John Sheppard, was almost equally as recognisable. They treated him with a certain amount of curiousity, those who had only heard the rumours, but he looked and walked and talked like any other man. The peaceful people of the galaxy left him to his own devices, and the ones who were less peaceful had more pressing concerns than whether this man with the gun was a wind-up toy.

Occasionally someone would sidle up to him, after a communal meal or early in the morning, and proffer a tightly-wound scroll or a rough-paper book with a hand-stitched cover. He was never certain what to say to them, but he would nod and sometimes flip through the book, looking down at his own words, second- and third-hand in another language.

Finally it occurred to him what he wanted to ask when they showed him the book; he said, to a young man who couldn't be more than nineteen, "What do you think I am?"

"A warrior-priest," he said blankly, as if it were obvious.

Another time, a middle-aged man from a reasonably technologically-advanced society grinned toothily at him. "A prophet of the future?" he suggested.

And another time, the pair of women looked at each other before answering. "An adventurer!"

McKay happened to be checking his equipment nearby, and he rounded the corner as John asked the question; when the two women were gone, he touched the back of John's neck lightly, affectionately, and didn't have to say anything at all.


I ended up cutting this out because the events of the last three episodes don't fit well into the Robot!John timeline; in the end this is something that would have taken place after the epilogue, when Carson Beckett returns from the dead.

He went to see Carson, after Rodney left with a warning to give him some time, let him digest the news of Elizabeth's death (and his own). When he walked in, however, Carson's smile lit up his face.

"John, I'm glad to see you," he said, reaching out to shake his hand, the other gesturing him into a chair. "How are you, son?" As if they weren't the same age at all -- Carson's mannerism, down to the thickening burr when he was excited. "How's the head?"

John smiled a little. "It's good, it's fine."

"I'm glad to hear it. Dr. Keller knows?"

"Well, yeah -- most of Atlantis does."

"Really? Oh, I suppose Tria Prima's been concluded, hasn't it."

"Yeah, that was...unpleasant, but it's done. They're in Phase II, at least that's the news we get from Cheyenne Mountain."

"I don't suppose I could see the medical reports?"

John shrugged. "I'll try and get them for you."

"Thank you. And I'd like a full report from you, too, if you're so inclined."

"Sure, but listen, you don't want to talk about -- "

"But I do! It helps to make it all seem -- " Carson laughed. "Normal. Funny old world, eh?"

"Galaxy," John murmured.

"That too. You look healthy."

"So do you. Are you..." John hesitated, torn. "I mean, two years..."

"Well, it wasn't a picnic, but I've survived. Sort of, or so Rodney tells me," Carson's eyes skittered away and he changed the subject hastily. "I wanted to ask him about you but I thought, well, better to ask you personally. I was hoping you'd come."

John leaned back, making an and here I am gesture.

"I thought about you. Everyone, but -- well, I suppose it's foolish, but I worried about you."

He tried to smile again, but he knew he was failing.

"After you...died," he said slowly. "I missed you. Thought you should know. Actually did. No faking."

Carson gave him a weak smile.

"Anyway, I can't stay long. But I brought you something to read," he added, reaching into the inner pocket of his coat. Teyla's copy; she wasn't using it at the moment, which wasn't a good thing to think but true nonetheless. Carson accepted it with a pucker of confusion between his eyebrows, paging through it. When he realised what it was he looked up again sharply.

"Just read it," John said, and tried not to run as he left.


This is pure self-gratification.

There was only one doctor Rodney really liked, and John suspected it was because he was the only man who had ever managed to stay engaged in a shouting match with him for longer than three minutes.

SGC carefully did not say that he was the best at what he did, but they did say that nobody practiced rigorous failsafe surgical examination like him. If they were going to do this they were going to do it right and if they were going to do it right then the scruffy, sharp-eyed, overmedicated guy with the cane was the one to call.

He reminded John strongly of Rodney. He would have thought the pair of them would be like oil and water, but Rodney respected brains and spine, and Dr. House had those in spades. House respected pragmatism, skepticism, and the inability to ask stupid questions, which were practically Rodney's keywords.

Once they'd stopped shouting at each other they got down to the really precise fighting, the kind you can do with your voice lowered in the mess. John sat between them at meals and actually learned a thing or two about the subtle art of the witty insult.

And he liked that Dr. House didn't treat him as some kind of half-malformed freak like the others, trying to walk a line between curiousity and tact. He treated John like an experiment, which would have been less reassuring if John hadn't seen ample evidence that House was after the truth and wouldn't let politics or human feelings stand in his way. You knew where you stood with people like Rodney McKay and Gregory House.

This is so, so amazing

(Anonymous) 2010-11-29 04:34 pm (UTC)(link)

I actually think this is the second time I have found and read this story, but given the direction my PhD thesis started going... it is so much more awesome, and so much - just more - this time around. I love the who concept, of brains and code and creation and - well, this. Seriously, I'm in love with this fic forever more. It's so - mindbogglingly romantic, and I mane that in so many ways... Great job.

kho: (sga- hair)

[personal profile] kho 2010-12-15 02:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Holy fuckballs. Hi. I just found this story and read it and loved it and yes, I am the kho who wrote John that you referenced up there. I read this story the whole time going, 'oh, wow, my story should have been THIS.' Granted, the impetus for our stories was completely different, inability due to whatever emotional trauma versus inability due to scientific circuitry, whatever, but... wow. I was thinking the whole time "I remember this John being in my head, wonder if she was as creeped out as I was when writing John." and "Ooooh, man, I wish I could have had John rewire himself to love Rodney instead of just imprint on him and label him 'mine'."

Anyway, this story is just fantastic, and I haven't yet read the additional bit yet, just HAD TO hurry up and go THAT'S ME, I WROTE THAT, HEEEEE. lol. It's not easy writing a story from the point of view of someone who doesn't feel, so I had to commiserate a bit.

Anyway, yes yes, loved it. Weee!
sanura: (Default)

[personal profile] sanura 2011-01-29 10:13 pm (UTC)(link)
I think I'm just using your entire archive as a procrastination tool, but man this story stands up to a third reading just as well as the first, and I haven't even watched any Atlantis since it went off the air.
bellawishing: (Default)

I didn't comment

[personal profile] bellawishing 2011-03-19 12:40 am (UTC)(link)
Before..I saved it as a favorite though. This fic was ridiculously awesome, and if there were a "SGA Top Ten AU of All Time" this would be on it.

(Anonymous) 2011-06-26 06:46 am (UTC)(link)
SELF-gratification? More like EVERYONE-gratification. Because, seriously, SGA + ROBOTS + Isaac Asimov + philosophy = greatWINyesGOOD, but all that AND House? The best, seriously.

like all of your work that I have read...

(Anonymous) 2012-08-19 10:23 pm (UTC)(link)
This is fantastic. Inventive, and clever, and well-written and the sort of story that makes me think (which is the best kind). I don't comment enough, but I have read almost everything you've written (exceptions being stories in fandoms where I am not caught up on canon and don't want spoilers) and loved it all. Started with Stealing Harry, which I have just re-visited as a podfic. Thank you so much for your excellent wordsmithing in story and blog, and if I should ever make it to Chicago, I hope you will let me take you out and buy you lots of burgers. Or at least leave you a gift certificate of burgeryness if creepy stalker Danes like yours truly are too much that day ;-). I am posting this anonymous, but I'm merwy on lj (lurking only, these days, though... there is obviously no obligation to respond, and I'll get back to you on the burgers should I be in the neighbourhood :-) So thanks, Sam, for making the internet extra wonderful! Merwy

(Anonymous) 2013-07-26 08:07 pm (UTC)(link)
Wow. I'm reduced to monosyllables. This is a fantastic piece of storytelling, backed by good writing and a lot of deep thought. Thank you.