Five from Five

by Domenika Marzione

Five places on Earth (minus four) where Ronon felt at home.

"Are you seriously watching that?"

Ronon turns his head from the giant television screen to look at McKay, who is standing there with two large bowls in his hands and a sour expression on his face. They are at the SGC's 'safe house' -- a home owned by the Stargate Program and intended for visitors who don't want to be put up underground at the Mountain. Earth visitors, Ronon thinks, but the SGC has never stopped anyone from Atlantis from bringing Ronon or Teyla here during their infrequent visits. At least not after the first time.

"What's wrong with it?" Ronon asks as he tries to peer into the bowls as McKay comes around to the front of the couch. He would not recognize one as food except that it's in a bowl for such and McKay clearly intends to eat it; it's bright orange and looks like the packing material the SGC uses. The other is potato chips; Ronon has learned all about those in Atlantis.

"You've got eleven-hundred sixteen channels to choose from and you're watching the British Parliament bitch each other out," McKay says flatly, as if the facts speak for themselves.

"I like it," Ronon replies, reaching for the potato chips. They don't taste like the potato chips in Atlantis and he must've made a face because McKay grins.

"Roast chicken," he explains, pleased. "I've got my sister exporting all of the good flavors. The Americans are very pedestrian when it comes to their junk food."

McKay goes back into the kitchen for something to drink and Ronon eats chips and watches Parliament snipe at each other. He has no idea of the substance of the issues involved, but the back-and-forth and refined name-calling is familiar to him and, in its way, comforting. Satedan politics were like this, the Senate with its facing benches and tension reined in only by centuries of protocol. He remembers sitting in the gallery as a child, watching his father and uncles and grandfather as they did ferocious battle against men who would later appear as friendly guests at their table.

"It's Diet Coke," McKay warns as he holds out a glass full of soda and ice. "All they have is that and regular Pepsi."

McKay puts down his own glass and picks up the other bowl and puts it by his left side. He picks up his tablet computer with his right and, with the tablet resting on his lap, eats with one hand and writes with the other as he leaves Ronon to his viewing. Later on, when Sheppard returns from whatever he had to do at the SGC, he asks the same question McKay did.

"It's familiar," Ronon says.

"What sort of Stockholm Syndrome is this?" Sheppard asks as he loosens his uniform tie. "McKay finally stops bitching for a minute and you need to fill in the silence?"

McKay makes a rude gesture with his orange-stained fingers, but doesn't look up from his screen.

Five songs (minus four) Major Lorne can't just listen to anymore

("It's All I Can Do" by the Cars.)

Lt. Col. Bassett -- callsign Hound Dog -- was the CO of one of the fighter squadrons they interacted most with on their daily circuits over northern Iraq as part of Operation Northern Watch. Lorne had met him a few times on the ground since they actually shared an airbase, and the very first time, he'd come away with a first impression that hadn't changed: I want to be him when I grow up.

Which was not something one often said of a jet jockey.

Bassett was one of the few senior officers Lorne had interacted with who successfully negotiated the balance between being cool and being in command. He treated everyone fairly and well, showed honest respect to everyone, and hadn't lost any of the glee that came with knowing that the USAF had handed you the keys to an airplane and told you to go off and fly.

The first time Lorne met him was because Bassett had come looking for him. "We've been sayin' howdy for a week now," Bassett had explained, holding out his hand to shake. "Figured I'd see what you looked like from the neck down."

"Shorter, sir?" Lorne had offered, unable to not smile back.

"It's all about the stature, Captain," Bassett had told him, giving him a firm clap on the shoulder to match the firm handshake. "It's all about the stature. Stand tall."

And Lorne did, at least at that moment, with Bassett looking at him like he saw a future general. And every time he heard Hound Dog sign on to the frequency they were using to coordinate between the gas stations and the fighters.

As far as combat rotations went, ONW was pretty mild. Turkey wasn't the worst place in the world to spend the fall and it wasn't the refuelers the Iraqis were shooting at because they generally weren't close enough to the action. The fighter guys didn't seem that impressed anyway -- sometimes the Iraqis looked like they were trying to aim, most of the time it was a couple of desultory rounds just to prove that they were paying attention.

Which is why Lorne was surprised that he ended up witnessing one of the only aerial fatalities of the op.

The mating had been problematic, but not so much that it couldn't be attributed to Sung having had too much coffee and a jittery hand on the boom joystick. Or it was him, but it probably wasn't Hound Dog, who'd flown more missions than Lorne had flight hours. Except maybe it was.

"Sorry 'bout that," Hound Dog said over the comms. "Baby's a little colicky this evening."

After that, though, the refueling had gone fine. Hound Dog had taken a reasonable amount of avgas and disengaged without so much as a hiccup. Lorne wished him good flying, he returned the favor, and looked out the window so he could see the pair of jets drop down and away and then turn back to their AO.

Which is why he was looking when he saw the explosion. It was small, but in the dark of twilight, it was easily seen. Lorne must've said something because Bauerstein, his co, asked what had happened.

"Hound Dog's lost an engine," Lorne answered.

They radioed it in, not sure if Bassett would have to eject or if he could get the fire contained and limp off to the nearest safe surface, and Lorne turned his own plane into a gentle bank so that he could keep the two jets in view. They could see Bassett fight, see the plane even out and then plummet and twist and it quickly became obvious that she was going in and Bassett would have to get out. Except he didn't and Lorne watched the jet spiral in. He wanted to turn away, but he owed it to Bassett to not give up hoping for a miracle. There was none.

They had a CD player -- Bauerstein had joked that he could probably find an 8-track in the bazaar -- and during flights went through everyone's music collection, subject to Lorne's approval as pilot-in-command. Ric Ocasek was singing plaintively about helplessness.

"Turn off the music, Sergeant."

Five ways (minus four) Teyla met the Atlantean expedition

"... hunters, which in theory should make them useful, but in practice it doesn't," Sora explained as they waited for Margli to finish clearing the table after dinner. "They're generous, if a little... condescending. Teyla, their leader, is a good woman; I've known her all my life and I'd trust her with it and all I hold dear."

John cocked an eyebrow. He knew Sora and there was a 'but' in there somewhere. She knew him, too, and nodded in acknowledgment.

"But we've never told them our secret," she allowed.

"So you trust her with everything you hold dear except your true identity," Sumner translated dryly. He was as unsurprised as John was; the Genii were the Pegasus equivalent of Russian nesting dolls -- every new layer had what you thought was their true face, but there was always something underneath. Atlantis got on so well with them precisely because neither side expected perfect honesty from the other; they occasionally bumped uncomfortably at the other's boundaries, but the pretense that there were none was only ever a polite fiction.

Across from him, Tyrus shrugged and took a drink from his tankard.

"They'd never fight the Wraith," he said, although it was unnecessary. Both John and Sumner knew well enough that the Genii had precisely one test of trustworthiness, one that Atlantis had unknowingly passed the first time they'd tried to down a Dart instead of running for their lives.

"They have an extraordinary record of good fortune when it comes to hiding from the Wraith," Sora picked up as Margli's daughter, a tiny little girl John could never remember the name of, came out from the kitchen with a large platter of fruit and cheese that seemed almost too big for her to carry. But she made it, carefully placing it on the table and then beaming at Sumner, who rewarded her with a ruffle of her hair and a subtle gesture with his chin that she (correctly) interpreted as permission to pick one of the cherries off of the platter before running back to the kitchen. "So much so that we'd probed them to see if they were using any kind of technology, Alteran or otherwise, to aid them. They have no technological history of their own, but they've picked up a few pieces from other worlds in their trading."

At the mention of Ancient technology, John exchanged a look with Sumner. "Were they?"

Sora picked up her fork and stabbed a piece of melon, biting into it daintily and shaking her head no. "They insist that it's instinct, but asking them about it makes them nervous. Teyla especially, which is why we thought that they were secretly using something and just didn't want to offend our simple ways."

The last came out with the verbal equivalent of an eyeroll. Sora was as brilliant and as deadly as she was beautiful and she occasionally chafed at the dichotomy between who she was and how she had to present herself to the galaxy. John had maybe been a little disappointed when he'd realized that she'd taken the lead as liaison between their two peoples not because of any interest in spending time with him, but instead because it got her extra time in Atlantis, where she could impress others and not hide her intelligence and power under a bonnet and full skirts.

"Or they didn't want to share it," John felt obligated to point out.

"That, too," Sora agreed after she chewed and swallowed. "But less likely; they're a very earnest society."

Margli's daughter returned, this time with the little plates she'd forgotten before, and put one before each of them with great seriousness and ceremony before scurrying away again. They served themselves.

"You'd do well to make allies of the Athosians for their commercial connections," Tyrus said. "Their trade network is shallow but very broad; they aren't large enough to completely fill your needs for anything, but they will know who to contact and would be willing to serve as go-betweens. But it would pointless to deepen your alliance beyond that; they can offer little else beyond their mediating and nothing else that you could not do better with elsewhere. They'd only be a drain on your resources."

Sumner looked at John sidelong and John fought back the urge to smile back. The Genii were first-rate guides to the Pegasus Galaxy and Atlantis had only ever benefited by the association. But part of that association meant learning each other's foibles and, in this case, it meant that the Genii thought Atlantis too open with their hearts and hands and Atlantis occasionally found the Genii pragmatism too close to ruthlessness.

"So we won't offer to prop up their economy with a ridiculous trade agreement," Sumner promised. "You think you'll be able to set up a meeting with them for us or do we just stumble upon their world by happenstance? And do we risk burning Paros by taking him along?"

Paros was a valuable member of John's off-world team, but he was also the equivalent of a field grade officer in their intelligence service, which by necessity was both covert and clandestine. His cover was that of a sole survivor of a world destroyed by an earthquake (Muggath, which apparently really had been wiped out by an earthquake ten Genii years ago), which apparently had held up marvelously for years. But there was a difference between dragging Paros around the galaxy looking for Ancient tech and taking him to a world where there was a real chance that he could be recognized as Genii.

"It'll be fine for you to go there with the intent of trading," Tyrus assured. "They do as much business on their home world as they do in the markets. And by all means, bring Paros. They'll have no idea who he is."

John did not roll his eyes. He liked Paros and respected him as both man and operative, but he sometimes wondered if the Genii really didn't think that everyone in Atlantis knew that Paros was reporting back to his masters what the Lanteans saw and did.

It was well past dark when John and Sumner left the tavern to head back to Atlantis and, on a moonless night, they chose to use their night vision gear instead of attracting attention with flashlights.

"Should I put the visit to Athos at the top of my to-do list, sir?" John asked as they trudged through the high grasses. "I've got a list of planets McKay wants me to check for ZPMs and I think he might've gone to Weir about it by now."

Sumner grunted, familiar with Atlantis politics. "Get things set up with the Athosians ASAP," he replied. "If Tyrus is right about them being more useful for their connections than anything else, we're going to need time to work those. Or find out that their cut is too rich for our blood and look elsewhere. Weir knows that the likelihood of us running out of food is greater than that we find a ZPM on some random planet. I'll run interference if you need it."

"Thank you, sir."

"But stop blowing off McKay," Sumner warned as they approached the DHD. "I know he's a pain in the ass, but Rank Hath Its Privileges and I'd rather him be your pain in the ass than mine."

John chuckled. "Understood, sir."

John dialed home and Sumner punched in his IDC and, a moment later, they were blinking at the bright lights of Atlantis's gate room.

Five times (minus four) Captain Radner regretted knowing aliens existed

Being a member of the Stargate Program allows Dave to be witness to many wonders and to many tragedies, the latter not being mutually exclusive from the former.

It also forces him to lie a lot. Always to lie.

Dave can't remember the last person in his life he was completely truthful with.

He has always had to lie about his lovers at work, or at least retain a plausible fiction, but now he has to lie about his work to his lovers. It is the last frontier, the last sacrifice of honesty required of a man who swore fealty to the platonic ideal of honor.

He has always downplayed the professional dangers to his family; an MOS of field artillery in the twenty-first century means he's more at risk of tragic accident than enemy fire, a paper-pusher post in Colorado means he's far from war. But he's not far from war in Colorado. He's the pointy end of a different spear. He comes back through the gate bloodied and broken, he stands at attention before battlefield crosses honoring men he fought beside, he wipes away tears as he writes up AARs for missions against enemies that constantly redefines senseless cruelty and meaningless death.

And he can tell no one why he aches in mind, body, or soul. Or all of the above, depending on the week.

The Stargate Program is not completely without compassion or reasonableness. Many of the SG team members come to the Mountain already married and their families are treated the way the families of every other covert unit's operators are treated -- a cover story, benefits and bureaucratic support, the promise of the pretense of transparency within the unit. The wives don't know what or where, but they have a gist and they have each other to rely on when the absences grow long or when word gets out that the CACO and the chaplain are getting into their cars and there'll soon be a knock on someone's door. Girlfriends that graduate to serious status are vetted by the Program before they're told anything; Dave's seen more than one SG team guy venting in the locker room that The One has been deemed a security risk and he can't say a word or he's out.

Dave has never been that guy, although for the sake of polite fiction he's pretended to be once or twice. He's sure most of the SGC either knows or suspects -- you can't be running up against mind-readers and sentient parasites and whatever the hell else is out there and still have many secrets -- but the difference between unofficially knowing and officially having to act on that knowledge are different things. His chain of command at the Mountain may be in the Don't Ask, Don't Care category, but even if they wanted to, they couldn't run the paperwork to get any potential serious boyfriend of his read in to the Program.

He's not sure if the fact that he no longer seems to have any serious boyfriends is either cause or effect. Even the one time he dared to get together with a civilian researcher at the SGC, the lies got in the way. Lying is easy short-term, but it requires so much energy over any duration that it just stops being worth the effort. Especially in a job as draining as this one. He's thought about leaving the Program, going back to the Corps and a more familiar, lower-maintenance set of fictions, but he's not sure the SGC would let him. He's good at what he does for them and the casualty rate is so high that they won't willingly part with any asset worth keeping. Especially a Marine asset, which they tend to consider impossible to find in quality and quantity.

The assignment to Outpost Sigma Seven, aka P32-K4L, is thus unsurprising. The CO is a Marine colonel (Everett) and Dave has no dependents; they can send him offworld for months at a time without worrying about more than making sure he gets EML. He goes without expecting much and his expectations are met, but the experience means that Everett is deemed the best choice to reinforce Atlantis and Dave, as his faithful assistant, trudges through the gate with him.

Five Things (minus four) that Sheppard and Yoni don't talk about.

John's not sure when Safir sets up the krav maga classes; he's got a million things to do within the city, half a million more as part of his off-world duties, and his interest in the particulars of the marines' fitness regimen started and stopped with the assurance that they had found a time and place for regular PT that wouldn't piss off the scientists too much.

When he does find out about it, it's after the fact and from Ford, who is an enthusiastic, if not necessarily apt, pupil. Ford is clearly in awe of Safir, impressed by his combination of military experience and professional success and his ability to combine the two, and will go on about him if given opportunity. John finds out more about Safir during a long walk to the stargate on an off-world mission than he did from the man himself when they'd discussed firearms training.

("Of all the people on the expedition to fanboy, he chooses him?" McKay boggles to an unsympathetic Teyla.)

Ford's near-worship of Safir thankfully settles down into something closer to deep respect than man-crush. After the mess with the nanovirus, Ford's loyalties are clearly split, however, and John has to take steps to make sure that there is no rupture between himself and his 2IC because of it. But he's doing a lot of repair work in that wake anyway and it's just one more bridge he has to keep intact as opposed to the ones he has to rebuild entirely, which makes it not such a big deal in the greater scheme of things.

By the time they have to get serious about the siege, Ford is pleased when Safir is one of the first civilians impressed into their 'home guard,' but he managed to not be giddy. Of course, after a year of watching Safir beat the crap out of Laganzo, Staumitz, Eversby, Guttierez, and Ford in the name of hands-on instruction, the marines as a body might be a little giddy. Or maybe just giddy that they've got a civilian who can shoot straight; their reserve forces aren't exactly a cause for overconfidence.

The siege changes everything, of course, and not for the better.

Safir, who has been pulling double shifts in Medical and then out on city patrols, is crashing in the ready room when Ford pulls a gun on Beckett, but he's awake by the time Ford knocks out Zelenka and flees the city. After it's over, it's Safir who stands with John as they discuss their options before meeting with Caldwell; Carson has stayed downstairs to calm his horrified staff.

Two months later, the three of them repeat the conversation, more or less under the same conditions except that Safir -- Yoni -- now has official standing and Carson's downstairs calming his horrified staff because of Ronon.

Elizabeth shares his and Yoni's belief that Ford is not a threat to Atlantis, at least for the time being, but she's worried about finding a way to explain that to Caldwell without making it seem like they're being blind in their loyalty.

"Coming from either of you two, it will seem like the protection of a protege," she says thoughtfully. "The taint of which will extend to Carson and possibly Major Lorne if we're not careful."

She decides to go to Caldwell with Lorne and Radner, the two senior Atlantis officers with SGC experience. Lorne never knew Ford before today and Dave only knew him briefly before the siege, so they can pass as informed and objective. Elizabeth wryly says that it's easy enough to make Lorne look innocent when he's not standing next to John.

She leaves the two of them standing in a corner of a quiet hallway.

"He was not meant for this," Yoni says and John doesn't need to ask who or what.

John shrugs. "Are any of us?"

feed me on LJ?

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2 August, 2010