Stranger Things Have Happened... Somewhere

by Domenika Marzione

M72-656 was turning out to be one of those worlds Lorne wished he had brought the jumper to explore. Mostly for cautionary reasons -- the local population was a bit better-armed than most and, judging from the relative lack of advancement of technology in their city, they spent a good deal more on defense than anything else. He had learned enough the hard way about people who had those kinds of priorities -- they tended to think the best defense was a good offense and were usually spoiling for a fight. Nothing had happened during the visit, but Lorne didn't think he was going to be comfortable until they were back to the stargate, which was still a couple of klicks away.

The other reason the jumper would have maybe been a good idea was that it would have kept all of his marines in earshot, if not arm's distance.

Squinting into the sun, Lorne sighed and tapped his radio. "Slow down, Reletti," he said, not for the first time today. "Not all of us are recon marines."

"Sorry, sir," came back, but the body language of figure in the distance was anything but apologetic.

"Who peed in his cornflakes?" Lorne asked, since while Reletti was walking point like he didn't want to be seen with anyone, everyone else was a few steps away in different directions.

Reletti had been a little off all day -- a little quieter, a little more withdrawn, and generally reserved in a way that Reletti normally was not. And the other two were leaving him be, which was unlike them, at least as far as Suarez went. The marines had few secrets and fewer sacred cows, which in practice made everything that went on in their daily lives in Atlantis fair game. The problem, Lorne suspected, was that that 'rule' had taken a beating by two months of lives lived apart from each other. The team dynamic had been fundamentally altered by their time on Earth and Lorne had accepted that as unavoidable and surmountable with time and patience. But this was maybe the first time that he wondered if something had changed that could not be fixed by waiting it out.

"Databurst is today, sir," Ortilla replied after a moment, hesitating because while almost everything was fair game among the marines, airing dirty laundry to the officers was something else. "I think he's expecting bad news."

Lorne felt Yoni's eyes upon him and met his gaze, shrugging slightly. He had no idea what it could be. It was too soon for news on the promotion front, although Lorne agreed with Polito that that was pretty much guaranteed and there'd been no Red Cross messages in the last databurst, although Reletti certainly could have gotten some news through personal email. But in that case, the other two would have known.

"Dear John letter?" he asked, not really expecting that to be the answer.

"He got that last year, sir," Suarez said from the rear. "He's not smooth enough to pick up a chick in the two weeks he was home. Well, maybe to pick up a chick, but not enough to pick up a chick who has to break up with him."

"A simple 'no' would have sufficed, Sergeant," Lorne said, trying to look serious. Yoni was making no such effort.

"Just trying to be thorough, sir," Suarez replied.

"That's what we're afraid of," Yoni told him.

Whatever it was, it was probably not that serious and definitely was speculation at this point, all of which meant that it could wait. The marines knew that they could come to him if they needed to, although they rarely ever did -- the senior NCOs fulfilled their shepherding and caretaking duties admirably.

They trudged along for another half-hour before Reletti -- who was staying at the far edge of 'close enough' -- called in on the radio. "Sir, we're being shadowed. I've got a posse -- can't tell how many -- in the trees on our two o' clock. I thought they were just out for a stroll, but they slowed down when I did."

Lorne looked around at the rest of the team. Ortilla gestured for Suarez to fall back a little further and unclipped his rifle. Yoni, who was on the right, took a quick look as he was ostensibly stretching his neck and then turned back to Lorne, nodding. All of them picked up the pace from a quick saunter to a more purposeful march.

"There's another group about two hundred meters behind us, sir," Suarez said. "Eight o' clock. They're armed."

"Wonderful," Lorne sighed, wishing he could be more surprised than he was. "Reletti, do we have any defensible positions we can get to without giving anything away?"

If they broke into a run, then the Gaorgi would know that their cover was blown and they could just start shooting at will. He'd rather save that until it was strictly necessary. He'd been looking around all along, as he suspected the others had, but there wasn't anything that they had passed that was still close enough.

"Defensible with any real expectation of safety? No, sir," Reletti answered. "There's a hill off to the side, about eleven o'clock, that will at least give us high ground if we can get to it first and there's no one on the other side. But it's not going to offer anything in the way of protection. If we haul serious ass, we can maybe get to the stargate. It's about half a klick away."

"We can do that, sir," Ortilla suggested. "There's always the chance that they're just trying to intimidate us and don't actually want to start anything."

Lorne cocked an eyebrow. "Do you really believe that, Staff Sergeant?"

"No, sir," Ortilla replied with a grimace. The Gaorgi had been uninterested in anything Atlantis had to offer except their weapons, which weren't for sale. "I think they want our lunch money and they'll do whatever they can to get it."

They came over the crest of the short incline they'd been walking up and could see the hill that Reletti had been talking about. Reletti himself was still a few meters ahead, but he'd dropped back and could now rejoin the group in a hurry if he needed to.

"The front group is closing in, sir," Reletti reported. "There's at least two dozen of them, all armed with those rifles they were showing us. If we're going to make for the gate, they're going to have to drop the shield for us without an IDC and we're probably still going to get lit up."

Lorne didn't want anyone getting shot. Those rifles were for use against the Wraith -- or any of the Gaorgi's many enemies. They shot cartridges the size of M203 grenades and while they didn't do as much damage as an M203, they did enough and, unlike many of the civilizations they'd encountered, the Gaorgi not only had developed their own firearms, but they'd also managed to make them reasonably accurate.

"We go for the hill," Lorne announced. Reletti was right -- there was no way they all made it to the stargate in one piece. "Reletti, can you get to the DHD and dial out? Don't stay, just dial and scram. I'll radio in."

Any advantage Reletti had had from being deployed while on Earth had long since been made up by everyone else. Suarez was the faster runner, but this was as much about guile as speed. He'd trust Suarez with this task, but he liked Reletti's odds more.

Reletti tilted his head thoughtfully for a second. "If I can make it to the trees, then I'm good, sir."

"Then make it to the trees," Lorne said. "Everyone else, we go to the hill on my mark. Three.... two... one... mark."

They ran -- head-down, full-bore, we-practice-sprints-with-full-gear-for-a-reason running. Lorne heard the first pop of a rifle being fired, but no there was no crack, no whistle that meant that the bullet was close. Up the hill, which was steep enough that he stumbled and he felt Ortilla grab on to the back of his vest and just yank, half-dragging him along until he found his feet again. With Suarez in the lead and Yoni following him, they dropped down and fast-crawled to the rear, up near the summit. Suarez was already firing, not so much putting his newly acquired sniper's skills to use as spraying the field to drive back the Gaorgi.

By the time Lorne stuck his head up far enough to take a look, the two groups of pursuers had joined forces and there was a sea of green-and-brown-clad soldiers. There were some casualties, but not enough to give the Gaorgi pause.

"Fuck," Ortilla sighed to Lorne's left, shifting so that he could make their left flank his target area. "Where did they all come from?"

The city had probably a couple thousand citizens, but Lorne guessed that every male of health and proper age was part of the military -- it may have been the only way to secure food for their families.

"This is a big turnout for a handful of P-90s," Yoni said from somewhere on the right. "Perhaps it is not all that they want."

The thought had crossed Lorne's mind. The Gaorgi had been much more interested in the fact that four of them were military on their world and all of them had come armed than in anything Lorne had said about cultural exchanges or commercial prospects. The leaders had asked about how they trained, what they used, and everything Lorne really wasn't prepared to talk about but was concerned he might have to at gunpoint.

Lorne waited for the volley of fire -- they were getting closer, if not yet close enough to fire directly and expect to hit anything -- before tapping his radio. "Reletti?"

"They've got three at the stargate, sir," Reletti replied after a long pause, voice pitched low and quiet. "Give me a minute."

Lorne was about to remind Reletti that he had permission to shoot if he needed, but then Suarez yelped and rolled over and Lorne watched as Yoni was on him in a flash, pulling him down toward the back of the hill, which was still safe for a little longer. Lorne moved up to take one of the empty firing positions, but he kept his ears open -- one for Reletti and the other on what was going on behind and below.

"You're fine," Yoni said after too long. Lorne could hear him ripping open bandages, so fine was probably a relative term. "It ricocheted off of your radio from above."

"Lucky fucker," Ortilla muttered quietly, opening up another three-shot burst. There were still a few dozen soldiers below and the shots were getting closer, if Suarez's ricochet were any indication. "Get your sniper-qualified ass up and firing, Suarez! Take a nap later."

A grunt of pain and acknowledgment from Suarez and Yoni shuffled back.

"Dialing now, sir," Reletti said.

"Good," Lorne answered. "Get through the wormhole if you can."

"I don't think I can hang around long enough for them to drop the shield, sir," Reletti answered, voice strained. "I'm about to be overrun.... Go ahead, sir."

Lorne couldn't hear anything over the radio from Atlantis when he tried to confirm audio, so he just spoke and hoped that Lieutenant Murray, the gate room officer, could hear him.

Their rear wasn't going to be safe for much longer -- the Gaorgi had realized that they were trapped on the hill and were effectively surrounded -- and Ortilla had shifted again to try to keep anyone from doing an end run and coming up behind them. Which is how he nearly ended up putting three shots into Reletti's chest.

"Warn us, you stupid fuck," Ortilla bit off, turning back to his position and Reletti finished scrabbling up the hill. "You know better than that."

"Sorry," Reletti muttered, catching his breath by inhaling deeply.

Lorne looked him over. "That yours?" he asked, gesturing to the blood on Reletti's hand.

"No, sir," Reletti replied, wiping it on his pants leg. "There's a second unit coming in from the other side."

"Fantastic," Lorne sighed. If reinforcements didn't show up soon, dinner was going to be in a prison cell -- he didn't think the Gaorgi were looking to kill them all, despite the high caliber weapons.

Reletti ended up sitting with his back to everyone to cover their back end. They were slowly losing the battle to keep the Gaorgi far enough away and they were starting to run very low on ammo. Suarez had already taken one of Reletti's extra clips by time Lorne heard music in his ears -- or close enough.

"Major?" Sheppard's voice came over the radio. "I've got a trunk full of marines and Lieutenant Kagan is securing the stargate. We'll be at your position in about a minute. Everyone still in one piece?"

Lorne knew that Sheppard could see the life signs on the HUD, but all that they would tell him was that the people on the ground were alive.

"For the time being, sir, but I'm not sure how much longer we're good to wait," he answered, since Ortilla had just announced that he was out of ammo; Lorne handed his P-90 over. "We're dry on rifle ammo."

"Understood," Sheppard said a the jumper appeared over the trees.

"What the fuck?"

Lorne was about to ask what Suarez had seen when it hit him -- it wasn't what he saw, but what he heard -- silence. The Gaorgi had stopped firing. Or, more precisely, stopped being able to fire, since they were still very much trying to get shots off.

"What are the odds of an entire unit's rifles jamming simultaneously?" Yoni asked.

"Outside of a hand-to-hand training scenario?" Ortilla scoffed. "This is fucking weird."

"Stargate is ours, sir," Lieutenant Kagan announced on the radio. "Should we proceed to your position?"

"Negative, Lieutenant," Lorne replied, still watching the Gaorgi fight with their rifles. Clearing them wasn't as simple as it was on an M-16 or even a P-90, but they obviously had practiced. Whatever was happening, however, wasn't something they had trained to handle and some of them were starting to run away. "Hold where you are for now."

"Is the Colonel doing this, sir?" Suarez asked, transfixed. He'd pulled out his sidearm, as Lorne had.

"I don't think the puddle jumpers come with that kind of equipment," Lorne replied. The jumper was making a slow descent as Sheppard was looking for a place to set her down so that they could get to her safely. "At least I've never seen that option on the display."

"What about...." he trailed off, wiggling his hand a little.

"Do those look like Ancient weapons to you, you moron?" Reletti asked with a disbelieving snort. "Even then, he's not a fucking magician."

The rest of them laughed -- partially out of relief and mostly because it was funny.

They ran to the jumper the moment the hatch started to open, piling in and landing on the squad of marines who'd accompanied Sheppard's team in the jumper. As they lifted off, Sheppard told Kagan to dial home and return to Atlantis and they'd follow.

Ronon got up to let Lorne have his seat, but he waved the bigger man back down. It was going to be a short enough flight and he dealt with excess adrenaline better if he was standing and could move around a little.

"You can thank me any time, Major," McKay said from the shotgun seat.

"You didn't do anything, Rodney," Sheppard sighed in annoyance. "Everyone good, Major?"

"Everyone's fine, sir," Lorne replied.

"Thanks to me," McKay insisted.

Lorne looked over at Teyla, who looked up with an expression Lorne recognized as one of hard-won patience. He cocked an eyebrow and she grinned back.

They were back to Atlantis in a flash, floating up into the bay and exiting the jumper in no time. Doctor Weir was waiting with Zelenka and Beckett showed up with gurneys shortly thereafter. Lorne assured him that they were all fine, but it took Yoni's more forceful insistence to convince Beckett that the emergency care was unwarranted. Suarez followed Yoni down to the infirmary anyway, to get the graze cleaned properly, but Ortilla and Reletti were there to watch McKay prove that maybe he'd had something to do with their safe return after all.

feed me on LJ?


back to the series index | back to the fic index

19 May, 2007