Asymptotically Approaching Inspector Clouseau

by Domenika Marzione

"I warn you, madam - I know the entire Geneva Convention by heart!"
"Oh, how nice! You must recite it for me some evening; I play the harpsichord."

"Suarez, dial the gate!" Lorne called over his shoulder.

He couldn't see their pursuers, but from the way Safir and Reletti were standing, he could tell that they did. They hadn't gotten a very good head start and they had no familiarity with the terrain, so it stood to reason that the Aneirans would catch up to them sooner rather than later.

Murray and Ortilla were oriented perpendicular to the road, sneaking peeks past Safir and Reletti as they watched and waited. Lorne felt bad for Murray; this wasn't the first time they'd ended up in a hairy situation with the lieutenant along.

"Suarez!" he hollered when he didn't hear the familiar noises of a stargate being dialed.

"Dialing, sir!"

The DHD hummed to life as Suarez keyed in the sequence for Atlantis.

He didn't want to have to open fire on the Aneirans. Firstly because this whole scenario was ridiculous to the point of surreality and there was no reason to grant legitimacy to the Aneirans' pretense by giving them the fight they so obviously desired. Secondly, while he and his team were armed to fight the Wraith or any Earth force, they were less equipped to take on Bronze Age weaponry. There wasn't anyone coming at them that a bullet or three wouldn't stop from a distance, but close combat would mean battle axes versus Bowie knives and that wasn't anything he wanted to get his team into. And then there was the matter of arrows and whether their P-90s and Berettas would actually fire right now.

The wormhole opened with a whoosh and he dialed his IDC, aiming his GDO at the gate without turning around.

"Atlantis?" he asked into his earpiece, which thankfully he still had and it still worked. Ortilla had lost his and Safir's had shorted out. "Drop the shield, we're coming in in a hurry."

"Major?" Dr. Weir's voice came through their radios. "You're good to go. Is anyone hurt?"

"No ma'am," he answered, deciding to put off any elaboration until it was impossible to do otherwise. He took his hand off the radio button. "Doc, Reletti, let's go!"

Safir and Reletti turned and ran just as the first arrows came flying past them, driving into the dusty ground with jarring force. Murray and Ortilla were ahead of them and all four converged on the gate just as a wave of spears and arrows broke over the horizon.

"Fuck!" Suarez exclaimed behind him, pushing him down and toward the open wormhole. They tumbled through the gate practically as one, emerging in Atlantis in an awkward, messy pile. He heard the sound of the shield re-engaging and then the wormhole closing before any of them moved.

"Major?" Dr. Weir called as she skimmed down the stairs, Sheppard right behind her. She stopped short as she drew close, amusement and concern warring on her face as she looked them over to see if anyone was hurt. Nobody was. Sheppard simply looked entertained and picked up one of the spears that had followed them through the stargate. "Do I want to know?"

Lorne sighed heavily and pushed himself into a kneeling position. "The meeting didn't quite go as planned," he said. Sometimes understatement was the only way to go.

"No, no, I can see that it didn't," Weir agreed solemnly, the smile playing at the corner of her mouth completely ruining the effect. "Unless baths in purple goo are new traditions. Should we be getting a hazmat team here? Where's Carson?"

"Tell Carson to stay where he is," Safir said grumpily, sitting up gracelessly as his goo-covered hand slipped on the floor. They were all covered in the stuff head-to-toe and Lorne hoped that their weapons weren't as ruined as their clothes probably were. The marines, typically, were amused but Yoni was practically radiating irritation."It's harmless. Just funny-looking."

The goo was the result of some strange interaction between a local plant and water that turned the latter into pools of purple gel; they'd waded into a few to escape and one had turned out much deeper than expected. 'Swimming in jello' was how Murray had put it, although 'nearly drowning' may have been closer to the truth as one of the ponds had proven deeper than they were tall and it was hard going to tread water (tread goo) with their weapons held over their head.

Weir nodded skeptically. "Do you need anything?"

"What we really need is a hose, ma'am," Lorne answered, smiling apologetically when her eyes widened and she coughed. "But we'll settle for the showers," he added quickly because he had an unfortunate habit of saying things that sounded fine in his head but came out completely wrong when talking to Dr. Weir.

The gateroom personnel, all of whom had pretty much stopped working to watch when they'd come through the gate, tittered with laughter. Sheppard, off to the side and leaning on the spear he'd picked up, smiled broadly but Lorne could see that he was still waiting for the full story before he actually let himself laugh.

"And maybe the incinerator for those uniforms," Sheppard suggested, standing up straight and holding up the spear. "What happened? You were supposed to make nice with the locals and come back with flowers in your hair."

What they had been supposed to do was put in an appearance on Aneira, greet the locals, with whom they'd had dealings with many times before, and return with affirmation that it was okay for Atlantis to start sending research teams to the crumbled ruins several kilometers away from the outer reaches of the village. They'd failed spectacularly on all accounts.

"Umm," Lorne began, then stopped and sighed again, running a hand through goo-slicked hair. Before the arrows had started flying and the situation had progressed from ridiculous to menacing, Reletti and Suarez had gotten far too much mileage out of what Earth substances the goo resembled and what the Aneirans could use it for. Now, the pair were silent and instead of making lube jokes were finding new and exciting aspects of their boot-tops. "We sort of started a war."

"A war?" Weir asked at the same time Sheppard repeated "Sort of?"

"I think you have some explaining to do, Major," Dr. Weir said, the smile gone from her face. She waited expenctantly for an answer and gripped her elbows. The posture was one of restraint and forced patience and Lorne felt like an errant pupil dragged before the principal.

"We didn't actually start it," Lorne went on, embarrassed and hoping to forestall the questions for which he had no satisfactory answers. Safir had suggested that Dr. Weir would be used to such announcements by now, but be that as it may, Lorne had been hoping to surpass expectations in terms of going around the galaxy causing trouble. He'd been such a nice boy back in the Milky Way. "The Aneirans did. They declared war on us. Halfway through lunch."

"Was there a breach of etiquette? Some provocation?" Dr. Weir tilted her head, which made her look less angry and more curious. "Was it possible that you might have accidentally done -- or not done -- something that you weren't aware would prove... incendiary?"

"That's the thing," he replied, forcing himself not to sound defensive. Because it well and truly wasn't their fault and Dr. Weir was eyeing Safir suspiciously. "We were on our best behavior. We gave them the presents we'd brought, sat through their ceremony, and said that the really bad food they offered us was delicious and we were happy to share it with them. And then we found ourselves surrounded by spears and told that Aneira had had enough of our insolence and they were declaring war on our people."

From the disbelieving expression on Dr. Weir's face, he knew he was just making things worse. Because even if you had been there, the story sounded ridiculous.

"We weren't insolent, ma'am," Ortilla insisted. Lorne felt a little grateful for the support and guilty that his team felt that he needed it. "We were very polite."

"I'm sure you were, Staff Sergeant Ortilla," Dr. Weir replied soothingly. "I'm just... the Aneirans have always been very friendly with us. I can't understand why they would suddenly declare war."

"Not to mention the fact that it seems pretty suicidal," Sheppard added, tilting the spear and looking at the tip as if it had answers engraved on it. "Could someone else have gotten to the Aneirans? Put them up to this?"

Lorne knew that Sheppard understood why they'd come through the gate in a muddle and why they hadn't engaged the Aneirans. They may look ridiculous covered in purple goo and running from inferior weapons, but a little embarrassment now was better than a lot of regret later.

"It sounds like there's something else at work here," Dr. Weir agreed slowly. Her frown faded in favor of a wry smile. "Why don't you and your team clean up and then we'll reconvene in the small conference room to discuss what it could be."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, because there was nothing else to say. He turned and followed his team off the platform and toward the armory. The goo trapped in the tread of their boots made every step feel like walking on ice, so they couldn't slink off very quickly and thus avoid the amused smiles of everyone in the gateroom.

Sheppard followed, spear in hand, and Lorne didn't have to slow so that he could catch up. The others unobtrusively sped up as best they could to give them a little space.

"This was really out of the blue?" Sheppard asked, not making it sound like an accusation. Lorne had read the mission reports from the first year; Yoni had been right -- Sheppard had caused enough of these sorts of situations on his own. A fact that was undoubtedly one of the reasons Dr. Weir was so skeptical about their innocence. Nevertheless, Sheppard knew from experience that sometimes accidents happen and sometimes accidents don't even need to happen for things to go very, very wrong very, very suddenly.

"Completely," he affirmed, because as much as he'd like to pin all the blame for Dr. Weir's suspicion on Sheppard's team, he knew his own squad had not led a blameless existence. "One minute we're discussing harvests and the next minute, bam, we're surrounded by angry men with pointy spears."

"Weird," Sheppard said as they approached the armory. "Weird and fishy."

With an exhortation to go get cleaned up, Sheppard went off to deposit the spear in the collection of weapons and other warlike articles they'd collected from other worlds and Lorne was left to join his team in trying to get the goo out of their weapons.

"-- terms of a truce so that peace may be negotiated," Teyla was saying as Lorne joined the group by the active stargate. Sheppard greeting him with a cocked eyebrow. "I believe that this will be acceptable to the Aneirans."

He understood why Dr. Weir had decided to send Teyla back to Aneira to set up a meeting, but it still galled him a little. Even after a thorough debrief during which he'd had the full support of Sheppard, Dr. Weir had chosen to send a third party -- Teyla -- to Aneira rather than any military member. The not-so-implicit implication was that she still didn't quite believe that Lorne's team was as blameless as he had insisted they were. Sheppard had fought to go with Teyla, who had in turn insisted that she could go alone, but Dr. Weir had stood firm and reminded everyone of the last time that someone had gone offworld to negotiate during a conflict, they had been taken hostage. That the Genii might be involved had come up more than once during the discussion of possible motives.

The compromise had been to send Ronon, a middle ground that appealed to no one except Ronon himself -- Teyla had resented the assumption that she'd need protecting; Sheppard had bristled at being left behind while his teammates went off into what was technically a war zone; and Dr. Weir had been unsure that Ronon wouldn't make a bad situation worse through his impetuousness. Ronon, who was currently standing behind Teyla, eyeing the wormhole impatiently, seemed oblivious to the lingering concerns.

"Ronon," Dr. Weir began seriously, waiting until he looked at her. "It is important that we present ourselves as strong without appearing antagonistic. We don't know why the Aneirans sought war with us and we don't want to escalate the conflict in our ignorance."

"I can assure you that we shall handle ourselves with the utmost decorum," Teyla answered, looking meaningfully at Ronon. Who did not roll his eyes, although he clearly wanted to. "We understand the seriousness of our mission."

Dr. Weir nodded. "Go and be safe," she said.

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Sheppard added wistfully.

"I thought you said not to make things worse," Ronon retorted. Lorne turned so that Sheppard wouldn't see him fight back a laugh.

The pair went through the stargate and Lorne was left with Dr. Weir and Sheppard.

"Well," Sheppard sighed. "Nothing to do but wait."

"I'm sure you two can find something to do," Dr. Weir said with deceptive lightness. "The weekly databurst is tomorrow and there's plenty of space for the last month's worth of mission reports."

Lorne gave a sidelong look at Sheppard, who looked back with nervous edge of a cornered animal seeking escape. The SGC, allegedly spurred by the re-establishing of contact with Atlantis (but probably more inspired by the assumption of commands by both Sheppard in Atlantis and Cameron Mitchell with SG-1), had handed down a new set of protocols concerning the format and content of offworld team mission reports. The new format required four times as much writing and carbon copies seemingly to everyone from the head of Homeworld Security down and neither he nor Sheppard had completed so much as one of them. On the other hand, the Atlantis Battalion had never been so up-to-date on internal paperwork.

"We'll see if we can't get started on that," Sheppard said earnestly. "Come on, Major."

Lorne had no illusions that they were going to do anything of the sort and was perfectly okay with that. The SGC's idea of concision was best described as unintentionally ironic and he wasn't looking forward to spending what would probably be three days typing up politically astute interpretations of his team's activities. Certainly not when the most recent of which required third party intervention and a peace treaty.

He followed Sheppard out of the gateroom and toward the transporter.

It was more coincidence than anything else that they were in his office when Dr. Weir paged them to say that Teyla and Ronon had returned. Sheppard had looked at him smugly as he told her that they were just finishing up some paperwork in Little Tripoli and would be there presently.

Of course, Dr. Weir would notice tomorrow that there were no completed mission reports going back to Earth -- but that there was a brand-new requisition form for ammunition; he and Sheppard had discussed supplies during their time at the range. Thus their victory would necessarily be short-lived, but the Pegasus galaxy was all about living for the present, so he went along with his CO and smiled back. He knew that their afternoon had been as much about Sheppard keeping him from worrying about what Teyla would come back with as it was about avoiding putting mission reports together.

Teyla and Ronon were already in Dr. Weir's office when they arrived; they took seats along the back wall, letting Teyla and Ronon sit across from Dr. Weir's desk. Lorne was almost happy to find himself next to the file cabinet -- his role in this meeting was to be as unobtrusive as possible, to sit there and keep quiet unless he had to defend his team's honor against any accusations.

"How'd it go?" Sheppard asked once everyone was seated. Dr. Weir shot him a look, but he didn't seem to notice it. "You two run into any trouble?"

"We are fine, Colonel," Teyla replied with a smile, then turned to Dr. Weir. "The Aneirans agreed to the truce and treated us very well."

"Their food's terrible," Ronon added sourly.

Lorne smiled ruefully in agreement. Aneiran cooking was awful. The raw ingredients brought back to Atlantis had never proven problematic, but anything offered on Aneira had to be choked down while holding your breath. Even the marines had balked and marines, as a rule, ate everything; Safir had considered pleading kosher until Lorne had convinced him that there was no way the Aneirans would take 'your food is unclean' well.

"But they didn't try to poison you," Dr. Weir pointed out. Lorne thought that that was more by accident than design. "Were you able to pick up any reason for why they declared war? I know that wasn't part of your official instructions, but..."

Teyla nodded. "But it would do you well in your negotiations to better understand their position," she finished.

"Yes," Dr. Weir agreed.

"I did not learn anything of their motives," Teyla said apologetically. "Although, in light of what information I do bring back..."

At Dr. Weir's prompting, Teyla took a deep breath and continued. "I was given the terms by which the Aneirans will surrender."

Lorne looked at Sheppard, who shrugged.

"They want to surrender?" he asked, wondering whether he or Teyla had misheard. "Or they want us to surrender?"

"They wish to surrender to Atlantis," Teyla confirmed. Next to her, Ronon grinned in pleased amusement. Lorne would have thought that the loss of a chance to fight would have disappointed him, but he supposed this was worth the tradeoff.

"Well, that isn't what I expected to hear," Dr. Weir mused wryly. "What are their terms, dare I ask?"

"They will accept Atlantis as overlord of Aneira and will surrender their weapons to her emissaries," Teyla began, checking off points on her fingers, "Although they hoped that they would be able to keep their arms and serve as part of Atlantis's own military."

"Spears'll go nicely with the tac vests," Sheppard leaned over to murmur at Lorne.

"I suppose the archers could come in handy if we found ourselves another enemy apart from the Wraith," he replied in a similar tone. "Fill out the phantom Alpha Company."

"Tell the SGC that we don't need the extra hundred marines," Sheppard agreed with a nod. "Get one of the lieutenants promoted -- Maguire's senior, right? Have him lead the Aneirans. He'd look good in their native dress. The Royal Aneiran Company of the First Atlantis Battalion."

The mental image of the big lieutenant in the gaudy Aneiran costume topped by a black tac vest and accessorized by a thigh holster and a spear made him cough.

"Gentlemen?" Dr. Weir looked pointedly at them. Lorne bowed his head in silent apology.

"The Aneirans will pay tribute as part of their... conquered status," Teyla went on, tentativeness gradually losing out to amusement. Lorne suspected that Teyla had found the entire situation funny from the start, but wanted to see how everyone else reacted before admitting it. "They suggested an increase in their contribution to Atlantis's standing trade agreement, but are open to other methods."

The Aneirans traded some simple goods to Atlantis -- ropes, baskets, etc. -- but mostly foodstuffs.

"Just so long as they don't cook it first," Ronon rumbled.

"Hear, hear," Sheppard agreed. Dr. Weir gave him another look and he caught this one, shrugging. "What? If they want to give us hot meals, then we know it's a trap."

"We don't know it's not a trap now," Lorne felt obligated to point out. "Why would they start a war they couldn't win and then surrender at the first opportunity?"

He suspected that he knew the answer, but really hoped that he didn't. Instead, he hoped that the Aneirans had realized that their success in chasing his team off of their planet had been more about his team's restraint than their own prowess.

"Perhaps it was their intention to surrender all along," Dr. Weir replied, smiling knowingly. Lorne realized that she was having the same thoughts he was and they weren't the ones about sudden bouts of clarity. "Teyla, what do the Aneirans expect Atlantis to do as... overlords of their world?"

"Protect them from the Wraith," Ronon answered before Teyla could speak.

"Ronon is correct," Teyla agreed. "Although the Aneirans didn not speak of it in such terms, they made it quite clear that they hoped Atlantis would use its technology to fend off the Wraith's attacks."

"They obviously don't realize that we're not doing such a hot job of it ourselves," Sheppard muttered loud enough for everyone to hear.

"We're doing a better job of it than most of the other planets we've come across," Dr. Weir said. "And the Aneirans know that. And probably know that we've been helping other worlds when we've been able to do so."

"So my team got chased around their planet, shot at, and nearly impaled because the Aneirans were hoping to dupe us into giving them what we would have given them for free?" Lorne asked, mostly rhetorically. Because his luck wasn't that good. "When did my life turn into a Peter Sellers movie?"

"Dr. Strangelove?" Sheppard cocked his eyebrow. "I thought I was the one who rode off into the sunset sitting on a nuke."

"More than once and please don't remind me," Dr. Weir replied, looking pained. "But I think that the Major is correct -- Aneira is trying to be The Mouse that Roared."

He utterly failed at feeling vindicated.

"They made a movie out of that?" Sheppard asked. "Hunh. We did it in school as a play."

"I'm sure someone in Atlantis has a copy of it on their hard drive," Dr. Weir told him, then turned her attention back to Teyla and Ronon, who were looking thoroughly confused. "It's a story from our world of a small country that started a war with one of the largest ones because that large country was known to be very generous with the opponents it had defeated."

"Are we going to skip the part where the really little country's got a really big bomb?" Sheppard asked, eyebrows raised. "Because under the circumstances, I kinda don't like that part."

"I don't, either," Dr. Weir agreed. "I think we should probably accept the Aneirans' surrender before they acquire one."

Considering this was the Pegasus galaxy, it would probably be some Ancient device that would work only in Atlantis -- a self-destruct button or something on that scale.

"As much as we'd like the Alpha Company filled out," Sheppard began dubiously, "I don't know that we actually want the Aneirans joining our military."

"I wasn't planning on asking them to," Dr. Weir replied wryly. "I don't think our 'protectorate' should be required to give up much of anything, although I'm tempted to demand a few extra bushels as payment for the six lost uniforms and equipment. But there's no need to be punitive -- Major Lorne's team was inconvenienced, not damaged."

"Your competence is cutting in to our profit margin," Sheppard told him with a frown.

They'd trashed the uniforms and the boots, but apart from two earpieces and a spare clip for Murray's P-90, they hadn't lost anything else. Nevertheless, it still felt like a cheap exchange for nearly getting drowned in purple goo just so the Aneirans could ask for help the next time the Wraith came -- something they could already do.

"I'll try to do better next time, sir," he replied.

"They wanted us to apologize?!?" Reletti asked as he stepped back to change the clip in his 9mm. "For being their cannon fodder?"

"They should apologize to us," Suarez muttered just loud enough to be heard with ear protection on.

"At least for making us eat their food," Safir agreed as he stepped up to take his turn. "Although that was arguably their first act of war."

"We aren't going to have go there and grovel, are we, sir?" Ortilla looked genuinely concerned. He put down the box of ammunition he'd been holding.

"We don't have to go and apologize," Lorne assured his team, holding up his hands in both defense and appeasement. "I'm only telling you because Dr. Weir already told them 'no'."

It had been close for a while; the Aneirans, wanting to save face and keep up the pretense that they were not the Pegasus version of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, had insisted that Lorne apologize for his team's culturally insensitive actions and that they wouldn't surrender without some sort of ritual debasement. Dr. Weir had seriously considered asking Lorne to just go along with it -- nothing would go in his record, of course -- but Sheppard had put his foot down and refused. In the end, Dr. Weir had told her opposite number that if the Aneirans couldn't name the offense that had precipitated a war, then how were Lorne and his men to apologize for it?

"Do we get to go get surrendered to?" Suarez asked, still fiddling with his weapon.

"No," Lorne answered with a frown. "I don't think we're going to Aneira for a long time."

Safir finished his clip and pulled his target in to look at the grouping; Reletti, the team's best pistol shot, held his up for comparison. Lorne could see Yoni bitching himself out for his poor performance (it wasn't; Yoni was a pretty good shot), but he couldn't hear the words and suspected that he'd not be able understand them if he did.

"Don't mind that," Reletti said, resetting the target and sending the sheet back out. "Purple goo got into places where purple goo should never go."

"Weren't you the one suggesting it'd work as lube?" Ortilla asked blandly as he watched Suarez, who was still fiddling. "This year, Sergeant."

Suarez made a face, but finally stepped up to the mark and loaded up a target sheet.

"It turns out that the purple goo has slight antiseptic properties," Yoni said as he re-loaded his clip and Reletti emptied his. "So, actually, there aren't that many places where the goo shouldn't go. It explains why the Aneirans are so relatively healthy, at least."

"Yeah, well hopefully it doesn't explained why they're so fucking cracked," Suarez retorted, raising the pistol and firing.

"I don't think we'd be able to use it as an excuse even if it were," Reletti replied, changing clips. "We got a rep."

Lorne knew -- his team was just behind Sheppard's in terms of Most Likely to Engage in Wacky Hijinx. He was perfectly happy to lose that competition.

"They're not cracked," Ortilla said, unholstering his own sidearm. "Just ballsy. They got what they wanted, didn't they?"

"Yes, they did," Yoni agreed, closing the ammunition box. "So when do we get what we want?"

"What do you want, Doc?" Lorne asked, well aware that he'd probably regret the answer.

"To be the good example instead of the object lesson," Yoni replied indignantly. "I'm losing the moral high ground to mock with every month that I am on this team."

Lorne didn't think there was anything he could get them into that would quell that particular impulse.

"C'mon, Doc," Reletti chided with a grin. "You should know better than all of us -- this is the Pegasus galaxy -- we're all Wile E. Coyotes here."

"Yes, well for once I would like to be Road Runner."

"You got the chicken legs for it, Doc," Suarez volunteered with a grin as he changed clips and returned to the ready position, making sure his back was turned and he couldn't hear Yoni's reply over the noise.

"Speaking of losing the moral high ground," Lorne began, looking to see if he'd left anything lying around. "I'm going to go away before I wonder how I can justify bringing any of you offworld without a leash and a muzzle."

"We're handsome and charming, sir," Ortilla volunteered with a perfectly straight face. Lorne tried not to feel a little betrayed. "Good PR."

"Except for the odd interplanetary incident," Yoni amended with a little too much satisfaction. "But we're still ahead of the game there. We haven't been taken prisoner yet."

It disappointed him that everyone seemed to take for granted that the 'yet' was necessary.

"Yeah, well, I'm going to go see about keeping that streak intact," he said instead. "Mission briefing tomorrow at 1030."

He left his team discussing their ideal imprisonments, several of which seemed to involve desperate women demanding help propogating the species. Having seen all of the AARs before they went to the SGC, he didn't want to get their hopes up by saying that such a scenario wasn't impossible.

FYI: The Mouse that Roared

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6 May, 2006