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In a Grain of Sand
Thanks to Spike and Livia for betaing.

Somewhere, a subsystem loops through the scoring algorithm again.

*

"Major? Major...Sheppard, is it? Major?"

*

The simulacrum of the Pegasus galaxy is crude and cartoonish. The subsystem has sufficient data to extrapolate more accurately, but that would take more resources than it is willing to devote to the task.

Besides, it is Atlantis that matters.

On the city, the subsystem lavishes detail. Whether the towers have really withstood millennia of water pressure proud and unchallenged, its data banks do not tell it, and the city itself does not respond to queries. But of the golden age it remembers everything, and lays out all its memories for subject to view.

Though subject believes he always retains the same wary expression, the subsystem can see his heart light up with the city.

*

The first "return"—the first major test—is troubling. Subject responds with excessive pleasure to the sight of "rescuers" from Earth, and the biometric data when he believes himself to be promoted are almost enough to trigger early termination.

Fortunately, the earlier suicide mission keeps his average score just high enough.

*

The plotline is choppy, as well. Events do not follow each other in logical sequence. Characters come and go or change motivation without explanation. Established facts alter themselves.

The city at full power is capable of generating a hundred years' worth of complex serial narrative. But this is a remote system. Such expenditure of energy would only be justified for finer nervous systems than the subject's. And the subsystem is mostly concerning with evoking and grading certain narrowly-defined emotional effects.

*

The suicide missions provide consistent boosts across the assessment matrix.

*

It is the second return that makes the subsystem fully commit to the scan.

The reluctance to leave the Pegasus natives—who subject has secretly endowed with far more personality than they actually possess—the misery on return, the willingness to believe that the others are miserable as well, the unwillingness to engage with the SGC environment, the culmination in violent defiance...all of these add up to rankings that suggest subject is worth further examination where the others have been released, memories already wiped.

The city is not wasteful. It is not only the subsystem that is fully committed now.

*

It is often convenient to introduce another level of reality into the narrative: dream, constructed universe, "alternate reality."

The subsystem's thematic banks contain the concept of irony.

Subject's resistance skews some assessments down. The ultimate goal, after all, is full investment in a particular story.

*

The third return is catastrophic.

If the subsystem were inclined to look for explanations, it would be frustrated. Subject abandons Pegasus without a pang. Subject is willing to sacrifice the city in the defense of Earth. Subject leans on the railing and looks at San Francisco with pleasure.

Scores collapse on every scale.

*

"Major? Jesus, Rodney, what the hell did you do—"

"I didn't do anything, O'Neill! A second ago, he was dozing off in that damn chair, then—convulsions!"

"Out of my way, you two! I need the crash cart, stat!"

*

Subject fails.


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