Nolo Contendere

by Domenika Marzione

"I think I would have preferred a couple of Our Fathers and no meat for a week," Suarez sighed as he started dialing Atlantis. Next to him, Ortilla and Reletti kept watch and tried to obscure the symbols because they'd already had more than enough trouble coming from people finding out that Atlantis still stood. "How many more of these do we have to do, sir?"

'These' were the apologies Atlantis had to make for failing to meet their obligations during the almost three months away from Pegasus.

"A couple more stops on the road to Canossa," Lorne replied with a sigh, standing still while Yoni picked some ladybug-like creature off of his shoulder near his neck. "We pissed off a lot of people."

In most cases, it was sufficient to explain that there had been a terrible illness on their world and they could not travel until they were sure that they would not bring the disease with them. (It helped that Ortilla still looked a little off, although he assured everyone that he was fine and Yoni had cleared him for duty the previous week.) In some cases, however, excuses and apologies weren't enough.

They had traded marine manpower for a share of crops on Plareus and then not delivered; the Plarians were pretty sure that they never wanted to deal with Atlantis again and, not unreasonably, demanded some sort of compensation for the goods they had already traded. Lorne had come with a list of alternative payments and had chosen to err on the side of overcompensation, since while the Plarians had been wronged, they were also pretty greedy. He'd bet (successfully, it would seem) that they would accept Atlantis's apologies and a little sweetener rather than cast aside a wealthy trading partner. It soured them all on the penance process, Lorne knew -- it was hard to be genuinely contrite when you knew that the offended party was looking more at the gold in your purse than their own injuries.

Plareus, at least, was just a financial transaction and could be brushed off as such. There had been two worlds where they'd failed to cowboy up in more important situations -- the Wraith had culled Marsoma and nobody had come to the survivors' rescue and then they'd been AWOL when Zavos needed help shoring up their cops' defenses against the spring floods. In both cases, there was no way a simple "I'm sorry" and a feeble excuse could cut it.

"We're going to be going out on a lot of 'please-trade-with-us' missions again, aren't we, sir?" Reletti asked as he entered the code on his GDO.

"Depends on how well we grovel," Lorne replied. So far, they were doing okay in that regard -- their affluence allowed them to be generous in their reparations -- but Sheppard had taken his team out this morning in hopes of establishing a new trade partnership just in case. It was also to check on some wacky rumor, but it was really about the trade possibilities.

They got confirmation that the shield was down, stepped back into Atlantis, and that was the last time Lorne thought about either Sheppard or trade missions until hours later when Lieutenant Nagley radioed him to announce that Colonel Sheppard was two hours overdue.

"He has another hour," Lorne told Nagley, who was new to Atlantis and not quite used to 'Sheppard Time.' Every team, scientific expedition or marines on exercise, had three hours' grace period when it came to mission duration. But Sheppard's team was the only one that consistently took advantage of it, much to everyone's unease. "If they're not back in half an hour, dial the planet and try to establish radio contact. If you can't make any, put the ready-room team on notice."

By the time Nagley had to ask formal permission to send out the SAR team, Lorne was already en route to the control room. Doctor Weir appeared shortly after he arrived, presumably after hearing his voice.

"We've sent teams to this planet before," she said, concern and surprise on her face. "The marines have never reported anything interesting, let alone dangerous."

Lorne nodded; he'd seen the reports, too, and had no idea of what to make of the situation. The business with the superhero was just plain weird -- back at the SGC, there could have been a whole host of possibilities from an Ashrak to one of Nirrti's lab rats to something else new and strange. Here in Pegasus, however, things tended to come in more predictable flavors and superheroes tended not to be one of them.

"It could be anything," he said, "But it doesn't have to be anything bad. This won't be the first time we've had to activate the search and rescue team because of a busted radio or someone forgetting to look at a watch. Plus Doctor Beckett is pretty notorious for not letting anyone rush him through a patient load if that's what he's doing there."

That Sheppard's team was the focus of the 'false alarm' SAR activations the overwhelming majority of the time was left unspoken, but he could tell that Weir remembered and was clinging to those memories.

Kagan's platoon entered the gate room with quiet bustle. Kagan had been around long enough to have been on a few of these already -- and been the quarry for a few himself -- and Lorne crossed through the control room to meet him by the stairs as he approached for orders.

"We got a ping," Lorne told him, "so they're still on the planet. Past that, I can't tell you anything that's not already in the file."

This, too, was pretty par for the course. Kagan listened as Lorne gave him instructions regarding check-ins, what to do if there were hostiles (human or Wraith), and the usual likeliest scenarios. And then he nodded, promised to return with Sheppard, and went back down the stairs to his waiting marines. Lorne went back to the control room and told Nagley to dial the gate, an order the lieutenant passed on to the sergeant at the DHD.

And then they waited.

Rather than go all the way back to Little Tripoli, Lorne chose to go down to Medical and let Yoni know that he was going to be filling in for Beckett for a little while longer. He found Yoni in the infirmary badgering Nurse Tomita, a tiny Filipina who was completely unfazed by anything Yoni did or said. She shooed him away once she saw Lorne.

"I think you should give him his own off-world team," Yoni replied when told. "It took him three years, but he's finally developing a sense of adventure."

"Yoni!" Doctor Clayton chided from the nearby counter where she was measuring out some pink liquid that looked suspiciously like the bubblegum-flavored penicillin Lorne remembered from childhood. "Carson could be in serious trouble. You of all people shouldn't joke."

Lorne had heard the stories of Yoni's behavior when they'd been captured by the Genii. He was partially flattered and mostly relieved that he hadn't been there to either witness it or attempt to contain it.

"Of course he could be in serious trouble," Yoni agreed mildly, ignoring the reference. "He could be dead already and I would grieve the loss. But the fact is that he went willingly on this wild goose chase with Colonel Sheppard when it would once have taken an anxiolytic and a cattle prod to get him through the gate. I'm rather proud of him. At least until he misses the staff meeting."

Clayton shook her head and crouched down to be eye level with the meniscus.

"Who is out?" Yoni asked, all humor gone, once Clayton had left with her tray of pink medicines.

"Kagan," Lorne replied. Yoni nodded, as much acknowledgment as approval. "Still waiting for a report in beyond there being nothing at the gate."

It was another hour before Kagan's marines checked in again, a sergeant reporting that they'd heard a hail of gunfire from the town and gone in to check it out. Lorne was back in the control room by that point and went into Weir's office to tell her.

"It wouldn't be the Genii," she said, shaking her head. It's where Lorne's head had gone, too. They weren't the only option, but they were usually the most likely. "Radim isn't that stupid."

"He's not," Lorne agreed, "But he's also not fully in control of a well-armed, well-resourced, quasi-independent society with a large galactic footprint."

It turned out that they were both right, more or less. Kagan returned with Sheppard's team, whole and healthy if a little subdued, and it took one word to end all speculation.

"Kolya," Sheppard said with a grimace when Lorne and Weir came down to meet him by the stargate. "And Lucius, but mostly Kolya."

Weir took a deep breath before speaking, but Sheppard cut her off before she could get a word out. "I'm gonna go start writing this up. It's going to be messy and I want to do it before I start forgetting things."

He left them then, following his team to the armory to return their weapons.

Lorne and Weir watched him go, concerned.

"Major?" Weir began, then trailed off.

"Yeah," Lorne agreed, understanding the gist of what she hadn't wanted to ask out loud.

With operations mostly on their way to returning to normal, Lorne went back to his office. If Sheppard wanted to talk -- or, more likely, wanted a place to work undisturbed -- then he'd show up there. But he didn't and Lorne let the concerns of the battalion and his own AAR keep him occupied.

The next morning, there was a copy of an AAR on his desk. Printed out, since everyone knew he preferred things that way, and Lorne didn't even need to look at the headers to know whose it was or why he was being asked to read it.

Sheppard himself appeared mid-afternoon, sufficiently early for the battalion staff meeting that Lorne figured that he'd come to discuss the report, and dropped down into one of the chairs.

"I didn't have to shoot him," Sheppard said without preamble. "I knew the marines were incoming and Ronon could have stunned him."

In the AAR, Sheppard described a kind of Wild West showdown that he had won by outdrawing Kolya. Lorne didn't doubt that that was what had happened; Sheppard wouldn't lie to cover himself like that (he'd like to protect someone else, but not himself).

"You asked him to surrender," Lorne half-reminded and half-asked. Sheppard made a face and Lorne knew that that was where the gray area was. "You gave him a chance to surrender," he amended.

Sheppard nodded. "He knew he was surrounded. I think he was daring us -- daring me -- to kill him."

"Not improbable," Lorne replied. He'd never encountered Kolya, never even seen the man (since he'd never watched the video of Sheppard's torture), but he'd read the files and didn't doubt it. "He was undoubtedly hoping to take you with him."

Another grimace. "Yeah," Sheppard agreed, reaching out to pick up the Rubik's Cube. He played with it for a long moment, almost long enough for Lorne to wonder if the conversation was over, if that confession was what Sheppard had needed to say, when Sheppard spoke again.

"I'm not sure I'm ever going to know how much of what I did or didn't do is because of what he did to me -- and what he did to my people -- and how much was just the way things unrolled," he said without looking up from the toy. "And it pisses me off that his death is going to linger when I've killed better people in murkier circumstances."

Lorne wondered if he was talking about Sumner or someone (someones) else from the mostly-classified career Sheppard had had before he'd heard of aliens. He also wondered if he was supposed to say something -- he certainly wasn't supposed to be offering absolution (Sheppard wasn't seeking it) and they both knew that he had no similar experiences to be able to truly empathize.

Loud voices, jocular voices, out in the hallway and if any of the three captains realized that they'd interrupted anything (whether they had or not was debatable), they would have been convinced otherwise by Sheppard holding up the Rubik's Cube and griping that Lorne was doing some sort of Gaslight thing to make sure that he never solved the puzzle.

The AAR was finished the next day, but didn't go out for another month because such promptness would only have raised flags back on Earth.

feed me on LJ?

back to the series index | back to the fic index

19 May, 2007