Coup D'Etat duet

by Domenika Marzione

Nothing Like Solzhenitsyn

On the scale of dungeons he's been in, which is thankfully a pretty small number, this isn't the bottom of the barrel. It's near the bottom -- Goa'uld prisons do raise your expectations as to incarceration conditions -- but there are no rats the size of cats, there's apparently a trough to piss in, and there's room to stand and sit. The stink is bad, but it's not overpowering thanks to a faint breeze. It's crowded and he doesn't know who the strangers are, but the rest of his team is here with him. It's cool, but not frigid -- although he'd prefer his uniform back instead of whatever he's been dressed in by the Pegasus outpost of the SCA. All in all, he's sure there are plenty of worse spots. Not that it matters if they're only going to be in here for a short time. Hopefully a duration terminated by getting liberated and not the other way. It's been a little more than six months since they freed Sheppard and Sergeant Hopewell from the Genii prison on Malthusa... and carried home the bodies of the four marines who died before they could be rescued.

He was surprised to see the marines still unconscious when he woke; he checked their pulses when they didn't answer to their names. It nearly got him a shiner from Suarez, who woke up at the touch, but Lorne is now relatively comfortable assuming that Reletti and Ortilla are just sleeping off whatever they've been dosed with. He'd still feel better if Yoni were here to tell him the same thing, but not so much better that he wishes Yoni were actually here instead of treating the measles epidemic on the mainland back home.

With nowhere to go and none of the others speaking to them, they wait. Ortilla is simply too big to move, so while the two of them could relocate Reletti...he and Suarez have instead bracketed their unconscious teammates, keeping watch in a drafty corner and wondering what the future will hold. Ortilla is curled awkwardly despite their best efforts, but Reletti looks like he's napping. And since even within the sleep-anywhere-eat-anything military culture Reletti's dozing skills are renown, there's an element of normalcy to the whole drama. Which makes it all a little more surreal.

"Sir?"

"Yeah?"

Suarez is looking at him hopefully and he really wishes he had hope to give. Reletti is the flaky one, prone to saying things that make you wonder whether he ever really considers what comes out of his mouth. He's also the youngest and most of the time it shows. But Suarez is the one Lorne suspects still has the most life lessons to learn and Pegasus isn't necessarily the place he'd pick for Suarez to learn them. Sheppard gets a haunted look whenever Aiden Ford gets mentioned; Lorne has a very real fear that one day Christopher Suarez will have the same effect on him.

"Do you know where we are?"

"Not a fucking clue, Sergeant," he admits, shaking his head more to clear his thoughts than to emphasize his ignorance. Imprisonment makes him maudlin and thinking about Malthusa only makes it worse. "Although I'm thinking we're not on 177 anymore."

Suarez grins at him. "I think you may be right, sir."

The details of how they got from there to wherever here is are kind of fuzzy. They were on their weekly baby-sitting mission -- six weeks into an eight-week hell spawned by the locals' refusal to accept a platoon of marines and Sheppard's foisting it off -- and suddenly it all went to hell. They were set up; the details are of no consequence for the present apart from making him wonder if Doctor Lindsay got through to Atlantis.

"I guess the Doc'll be extra happy he's not here now," Suarez muses.

After more than a week of round-the-clock shifts and no sleep, the entire medical division is running on caffeine and muscle memory; Lorne doesn't think Yoni will even notice that he's missed a mission. At least until they've missed their check-in time or if Lindsay gets back to Atlantis.

Suarez pokes Reletti in the arm again, as he has been doing every few minutes, and this time gets enough of a response to merit a more forceful poking, which in turn turns into a short-lived slapfight until Reletti is awake enough to realize what's going on.

"Fuck," Reletti sighs, rubbing at his face. "I was kind of hoping that this wasn't Malthusa all over again."

Suarez looks toward the grated front wall of their prison cell. "Do you think we're on Geniiland or Geniiworld or Geniitopia or whatever the fuck they call their planet?"

They can't assume it's the Genii behind this, but Lorne's at a loss to suggest someone else who has the power and the interest in setting them up for capture. This was a planned snatching, not a crime of opportunity. They haven't pissed off anyone else enough to warrant that kind of treatment. He shrugs.

Reletti stands up unsteadily, holding on to the wall and the other hand outstretched so that he doesn't lose his balance. He stretches carefully, one group of muscles at a time, but then stops suddenly. "Is there a pisshole here?"

Suarez points and Reletti half-stumbles toward the trough, running the last few steps because it's not his bladder that he needs to unload, but instead his stomach. There's no real noise in the cell, so the sounds of his retching echo weirdly around the room. After it's over, he returns, looking worse than before. "I'd fucking kill for my canteen," he mutters, sitting down by sliding against the wall.

Stripped of their clothes and gear, they don't have their canteens or so much as a sucking candy between them, so Reletti just sits with his knees drawn up and taking deep, measured breaths. Suarez watches him surreptitiously, sneaking glances as he tries to wake Ortilla, who is starting to stir a little. Lorne watches him a little less surreptitiously because Reletti's pale and, curled up on himself like he is, looks like a scared twelve-year-old.

"Shouldn't he have gotten up first?" Suarez asks, gesturing with his chin at Ortilla. "The biggest guy should go through the drugs fastest, right?"

It makes sense and Lorne has been wondering the same. "Everyone reacts differently to drugs," he replies.

"They shot me more than once," Reletti says quietly. "I felt two hits, maybe three."

"Who knows how many it took to bring down this elephant," Suarez says, poking Ortilla in the arm again.

"Touch me again and this elephant is going to take your hand off at the shoulder and club you with it like you were a baby seal," Ortilla growls, pushing up into a sitting position. It takes a minute for Ortilla to compose himself and he looks around, assessing the situation and finding it grim. "Fuck."

"That does seem to be the general consensus," Lorne agrees. "And I'm starting to wonder why some of our cell mates aren't a little more bothered about it than they are."

The marines take a good look at the half-dozen others in their cell, all quiet men of various descriptions but with certain similarities. They are dirty, but not the sort of filthy you'd associate with long-term captivity in a place with no running water. They are not all young, but they all look like you'd rather be with them than against them in a bar fight. They could be plants, they could be fellow captives, and they could be a lot of trouble.

Lorne meets Ortilla's questioning gaze and nods. Ortilla sees it, too. They will have to be careful about what they say; they all were at the meeting where Sheppard described the Wraith worshiper. Which would make this possibly worse than being captured by the Genii, if only because the Wraith don't need you to break under torture to get what they want.

Ortilla turns to Reletti, who may be shivering. Lorne thinks he can hear teeth chattering. "What's with you?"

"Nothing." Reletti does not self-report illness or injury; Yoni has largely stopped asking him what's wrong if he suspects a problem and just starts examining until Reletti gives up and tells.

"Bullshit." Ortilla puts a hand to Reletti's forehead before Reletti can squirm away. Ortilla never brings it up, but Lorne knows that he's got a son back on Earth, the product of a relationship he doesn't talk about and the others don't mention. "You've got a fever."

"Bad reaction to the tranqs," Suarez says and Reletti glares at him like he's betrayed a secret.

"Stupid motherfucker," Ortilla sighs with no real heat. He leans forward and pulls off the shirt he's been dressed in. "Put this on."

Reletti starts to protest and Ortilla holds the balled-up shirt in his face. "Put it on, Sergeant."

Reletti takes the shirt and his hand is shaking a little and he's holding his mouth open a little so that his teeth stop chattering and it's Lorne's turn to sigh. He pushes up on to his knees to help Reletti, who is definitely feverish and shaking, get the shirt over his head and over the shirt he's already wearing. As usual with Reletti, it's a lot worse than he's been letting on.

Ortilla has moved out to the open space beyond their feet and is doing push-ups by the time he gets Reletti settled again. Lorne figures it's a smart move -- it'll warm him up as well as get the drugs out of his system a little faster.

Suarez goes on a recon of the mesh and bars that form the far wall of their prison, testing for weak points and rattling the door. He comes back frowning; without their gear, he's not optimistic. Ortilla picks at the mortar in the walls and tries to engage their cell mates in conversation to no avail. Lorne watches Reletti, whose fever is not breaking and who sits in quiet misery with his eyes closed.

Other than that, there's not a whole lot to do. They talk about everything and nothing, mindful that the walls might have ears. Lorne watches as Ortilla and Suarez get into a spirited discussion of baseball, which is their favorite topic apart from porn and guns, the former of which they generally refrain from discussing in his presence (a privilege not extended to Yoni, who wishes it were). The baseball battle lines have been clearly drawn since Lorne has known them: Ortilla is a rabid Mets fan, Reletti takes serious grief for his faithfulness to the Diamondbacks and dislike for the Padres, and Suarez pulls for the Indians. Lorne has been persona non grata in these debates since he declared for the Yankees, which was the hoped-for effect because he doesn't like baseball and couldn't care less about the Yankees. (For the record, nobody thinks Yoni understands the rules of baseball and he has never said anything to disabuse them of the notion; however, he is allowed to root for whichever team has a Jew on it and the marines dutifully keep tabs on that for him, telling him which teams he is now a fan of. Yoni indulges them sometimes by asking questions and ignores them the rest.)

Today's debate is none the less energetic for their circumstances; the marines spent the lead-up to departure poring over the printed-out copies of the stats that get sent along with every databurst. Reletti's contributions come in a whisper and the other two keep their voices down because it's pretty obvious that Reletti's got a headache.

While Round 1435 of the Designated Hitter Debate is raging, Lorne looks over their surroundings, hoping to see something he hadn't noticed before. Escape doesn't look likely unless they can overpower the guards when the door opens -- if the door opens. Which means that they'll have to be near it when it does. More immediately, what he really wants to know is why their captors changed their clothes. Stripping them of weapons, sure. Stripping them to look for weapons, even. But why dress them in different clothes, right down to their underwear and boots? To hide them better, obviously -- even a standard brown USMC-issue t-shirt will stand out and be memorable -- but to what purpose? If they are just going to be held here and/or killed here, then dressing them as Pegasus natives is a waste of energy. Instead, their borrowed clothes actually fit reasonably well, which means that some thought was put into the decision to switch outfits. Are they going to be moved to another world?

There's a noise from outside the cell and Lorne shushes the marines, who go from heated squabble to professional warrior in a blink. Even Reletti looks like he's prepping for action, but he can't hide how crappy he's feeling anymore. There's not enough time to think about storming the open door and, even if there were, Lorne's not sure he'd risk it. The guards are carrying automatic rifles and there are six of them.

"I guess we're in Geniiville," Suarez says under his breath.

Lorne watches two of the guards come straight to them, looking them over like he's looking for something. "You," he says, pointing straight at him. "Get up."

"No." Ortilla moves to get up before Lorne can and the rifle is pointed at his forehead before he can get anywhere.

"It's all right, Staff Sergeant," Lorne assures him, standing up slowly, hands open to show he's not planning anything.

"This one," the other guard says, pointing his rifle at Reletti, who is obviously trying to look more angry than nauseated and only partially succeeding.

"Leave him be," Lorne tells them. He remembers transcribing Sheppard's infirmary interview with Caldwell and Weir. He doesn't want to have to make the same decisions Sheppard did and he's very afraid that he'll have no other choice. "I'm the one you need."

"Shut up," the first one barks, raising his rifle so that it's pointed at Lorne's chest.

Reletti gets up slowly, but he does so steadily and if you didn't know that he'd been too weak to move for most of the day, you wouldn't necessarily know it. They are both bound with their hands behind their back.

"Semper Fi," Reletti says as they're pushed toward the door. Lorne catches Ortilla's eyes and the big man nods. He'll keep an eye on Suarez.

Once outside the cell, they are blindfolded with wide swatches of cloth and guided roughly to their left. Lorne can hear it when Reletti stumbles; Reletti is unsteady on his own, plus and he's taller than all of his guards and it's got to be awkward to be led that way. Lorne only has firm hands on his shoulders to keep him upright and going in the right direction.

He thinks that they must look like the old footage of the embassy hostages in Iran and tries to focus on the fact that all of them came home safely.


CSI: Atlantis

They trudged back to the jumper in silence, too tired to even make polite conversation with Lieutanant Paik, who split the difference between hovering and leaving them to their thoughts by slowing his long stride to keep pace with them.

Carson kept fighting the urge to close his eyes; he was stumbling along as it was in the dim light of dusk and it'd do no good to need doctoring himself after ten hours of tending to others. Neither Nancy nor Yoni needed the extra work.

It was the measles -- or close enough to it -- and they'd not caught it in time. Almost everyone on the mainland, from the Athosians to the polyglot settlements down by the sea, was ill. Thankfully, the Earth-born population had all been immunized, either as children or before they left the galaxy, and there was no corresponding crisis within Atlantis. That was about the only positive.

As it was, the children were taking it as children do, laughing about their spots and complaining about the itching and wiping their runny noses on the backs of their hands. But the adults were having a harder time of it. A half-dozen cases of encephalitis so far; they'd had to keep all but the most severe pneumonia cases in a makeshift hospital near the Athosians' settlement because the infirmary in Atlantis couldn't handle any more patients. The other complications, combined with the pre-industrial setting, had them worried about dysentery and cholera. But evacuation to the city was impractical and undesired.

Instead, everyone with a medical license, regardless of specialty, took shifts -- ten hours in the infirmary and clinic, ten on the mainland, and the rest of the day (or night) to eat and sleep. The shifts were starting to grind people down and he knew it was a race between the crest of the wave of complications and the point at which diminishing returns meant that someone made a mistake. The schedule was hell on their research (he'd not opened his notes in a week), hell on their personal lives (Laura, bless her, understood), and it had been too long for all of them since the neverending shifts on the wards during their training (he'd had more coffee in the last fortnight than he'd had since university.)

Personally, he knew his own effectiveness was starting to slip. When he wasn't on the mainland, he was in the infirmary. When he wasn't in the infirmary, he was updating Dr. Weir or handling one of the administrative duties that didn't get put aside just because they had an epidemic to beat down. When he wasn't being a bureaucrat, he was making sure none of his staff was burning out -- knowing that if they were, there was precious little he could do without causing cascading effects throughout the medical unit. And after all of that, he usually fell asleep in his clothes, laptop still open next to him on the bed.

"I think I may commandeer the whirlpool," Nancy announced to no one in particular as they climbed up the jumper's ramp. "A hot bubble bath sounds like a fine idea right about now."

She took the seat behind Paik, sprawling bonelessly and closing her eyes. He worried least about Nancy; she was resilient and energetic and her good cheer was unflagging without being oppressive. She'd get back to Atlantis and put bubble bath liquid in the whirlpool -- even if there was an injured marine already in it -- and nobody would yell at her because it was the kind of thing Nancy did.

It was a sharp contrast with Yoni, who had that half-fugue look of the truly exhausted and was staring blankly out the jumper's window after he'd deposited himself in the copilot seat. Not that Yoni was the bubble bath kind of guy (nor would he be able to get away with such a thing if he were; Nancy was adored, Yoni was tolerated.)

However little sleep Carson was getting, he knew that Yoni was getting even less. The only permanent epidemiologist on the expedition, Yoni had taken the outbreak personally. He'd designed the protocols to keep Atlantis contagion-free and they had proven largely effective, but there was less control over the ever-expanding mainland population and they'd paid the price for that. Yoni was angry about the epidemic, but he was angrier still at himself. The result was an even more foul-tempered man than usual and Carson had been tempted to find a way for Yoni to accompany his team off world when they'd left that morning instead of going to the mainland for his shift; the medical unit's resentment at having to cover for Yoni yet again would possibly have been outweighed by the relief of not dealing with him for a few hours. As it was, Carson had already re-arranged the schedule so that Yoni worked with Nancy and himself -- the two most likely to remain impervious to his withering sarcasm.

Carson felt bad, both for Yoni and for everyone who was ill, but he understood that this was the nature of things, even on Earth. And that Yoni knew better than to think otherwise. They'd gotten spoiled a bit in the first year with their controlled environments and limited variables. Now they had teams and marines and mainland residents going off world at all hours, foods and sundries and occasionally refugees coming back, and something like this was bound to happen. Had been long overdue, most probably.

"Atlantis, this is Jumper Three," Paik announced quietly as the ramp closed behind them and the jumper took off. "Drs. Beckett, Safir, and Clayton are on board and we are coming home."

There was silence as they waited for the acknowledgement; Carson rather thought it was taking too long for the gate room to reply -- more than a week into the ferry service and more than a year into his own regular trips to the mainland and he knew the rhythm of things.

"Roger that, Jumper Three," a voice finally responded. "See you in thirty."

For the first few days of the epidemic, they'd had to use the flight time to update their notes -- nobody had wanted to go back to the medical suite and type things up -- but they'd gotten Ogrodnick to set up a few laptops on a portable generator in the tent they were using as a call room, so now the flight home was a half-hour nap. If they'd lost the ability to stay up and work for thirty-six hours at a time, they'd all quickly regained the ability to fall asleep on a moment's notice.

"Doctor Beckett?"

He startled awake, opening his eyes to see that they were already making the controlled descent into the jumper bay. He hadn't even realized that he'd dozed off. "Yes, Lieutenant?"

"Uhm, Colonel Sheppard is waiting for us," Paik warned apologetically.

There was no way for Carson to see Sheppard from where he was sitting, but he blinked his grogginess away and stood up to try to look anyway.

"That doesn't sound good," Nancy murmured, stretching langorously and sitting up. "Is this for you, Lieutenant, or are we the probable targets?"

"My men spent the day in a class session, ma'am," Paik replied. "They weren't done by the time I left and even they couldn't get into that much trouble in an hour."

"It's for us," Carson said. "The databurst from Earth should have come while we were away. There was probably a row at the SGC about how much of our resources we've been using and how many supplies we're asking for."

The Department of Homeworld Security expected them to be ambassadors to the Pegasus galaxy and then griped when they realized that such interaction cost money. He sighed to himself and, as the jumper docked, mentally prepared himself to be led away by Sheppard to face Elizabeth and be told how much of what they'd requested wouldn't be coming.

"Yoni?" Nancy called over. Carson turned -- Yoni was still sitting with his eyes closed. "Jonathan?"

Yoni came awake with a start. "Coming," he muttered, rubbing his face and standing up.

Paik busied himself with shutting down the jumper -- which really didn't need that much work, but would keep him out of eyeshot and thus give the doctors the pretense of privacy with Sheppard -- as they trudged down the ramp.

"Colonel?" Carson asked, feeling a little like a lamb about to be sacrificed. Elizabeth would be appropriately disappointed on their behalf, but it was her job to be objective and, in this case, objectivity meant seeing the problem with dedicating all of their resources to non-Atlantis personnel.

"Doctor Beckett, Doctor Clayton, Doctor Safir," Sheppard drawled by way of greeting. "Welcome back. How's it looking out there?"

They knew that Sheppard knew precisely how things were going, but it was good of him to ask.

"We've definitely turned the corner as far as the uncomplicated cases are going," Carson replied. "In a week's time, we'll be within a stone's throw of normal."

Sheppard nodded thoughtfully, not smiling. "Good to hear," he said. "Can I borrow Doctor Safir for a moment?"

Yoni had been scratching at his stubble, but froze. "What is it?" he asked, annoyed.

Sheppard grimaced for half a second, then gestured with his head. "Just need to talk to you for a second."

Carson looked over at Nancy, who nodded. "Yoni, you are going to bed after Colonel Sheppard is done with you," he said, not making it a question. He had no idea what Sheppard wanted with him or whether it would even allow for Yoni to get any rest before they were all due back in the infirmary for their shift there. "We'll see you later."

He followed Nancy toward the exit, pausing with her near the door as she stopped to tie her shoe.

"Well?" Nancy asked as she kneeled. "Is Yoni getting reamed out or is there bad news?"

He pursed his lips as he realized that Nancy was intentionally stalling. Nevertheless, he looked over. The two were talking quietly -- or, rather, Sheppard was talking and Yoni was listening.

"It's bad news," he said. He knew that Sheppard wasn't a bawl-his-men-out-in-public kind of man. If there was a problem with Yoni, Sheppard wouldn't come for him in front of others. He'd either have come to Carson if it was Dr. Safir-related or spoken to him privately otherwise.

"Major Lorne's team is out, isn't it?" Nancy shifted so that she could untie and then re-tie her other shoe. "Something happen to them, you think?"

Yoni was asking a question and Sheppard immediately answered in the negative. He couldn't hear the words, but Carson could see the agitation in Yoni's body language.

"Aye." In hindsight, which didn't really exist after a week with barely any sleep, it should have been obvious why Sheppard had been there. "I suspect so."

"Shit," Nancy murmured. Carson wholeheartedly agreed.

"Come, let's go," he encouraged, patting her on the shoulder. "If Colonel Sheppard had wanted there to be witnesses, then he wouldn't have asked to speak to Yoni alone."

Nancy stood, shouldering her pack. "Should we wait for him?"

He cocked an eyebrow. "And Yoni's going to be more in the mood for for social interaction after this than he was before?"

"His bark is infinitely worse than his bite," Nancy scoffed as they started walking again. "He'll need someone to bitch at or someone to slip him a roofie and put him to bed. Probably both."

The door swooshed open and Carson could immediately tell that something was very wrong. The jumper bay shared a stairwell with the control room and gate room and there were far too many tense voices audible for it to be normal traffic.

"I don't disagree," he said as they started down the stairs. He knew Yoni considered him and Nancy to be friends. But Yoni was often least careful with those he liked best and Carson was not sure he was up to withstanding a verbal assault just now, even in the name of friendship. "But ambushing him isn't going to help. Let him finish with Colonel Sheppard and we'll hopefully catch him before he does something especially ill-advised."

And even more hopefully after they'd found out for themselves what had happened to the rest of Lorne's team. He sincerely hoped that they were only injured.

Nancy snorted. "We're years too late for that, Carson."

When they reached the level of the control room, Carson stopped. "I'm going to stop in and see Doctor Weir," he said. "The databurst probably did come while we were out and I need to brief her anyway. I'll catch you in a bit."

Nancy nodded with a grimace. "I'll make sure everything's bolted down in the infirmary."

The hallway leading to the control room was normally busy, but now the tension was almost palpable and the marines he passed were stone-faced and formal. He emerged between the control room and the catwalk to Elizabeth's office and saw Lieutenant Salker draw himself up.

"What's going on, Lieutenant?" he asked as Salker approached him. He knew their names through Laura rather than on his own; the marines did tend to blend in together with their matching haircuts and uniforms and training injuries. Laura wasn't buddy-buddy with the other lieutenants; she liked them well enough and did socialize with them, but she was the eldest by a few years and the only woman and those were two not insignificant divides. "Did something happen to Major Lorne's team?"

"We think they were ambushed, sir," Salker answered. "Bravo Company just brought them back."

Carson nodded. Yoni'd be a handful, but Lorne would be able to calm him down better than anyone else under the circumstances. "They're in the infirmary, then?"

Salker looked confused. "Sir?"

"I just got back from the mainland, son," Carson explained with exasperation. He was too tired for patience. "I don't even know what happened."

Salker sighed. "Major Lorne and his team were killed in a fire, sir."

"Oh, Christ," he muttered, running his hand over his face. He didn't know Lorne's team very well beyond their interactions with Yoni in the infirmary, but the marines seemed like nice young men and Lorne.... he'd gotten to quite like the major. But now was not the time to mourn. Sheppard should be able to control Yoni, but he should get back down to the medical suites to help out Nancy just in case. "Is Doctor Weir free?"

Salker gestured toward her office. "Not really, sir, but I think she's interruptable."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," he said, patting Salker on the arm and heading toward the catwalk. He knocked on the door jamb of Elizabeth's office, startling her a little as she'd been staring at her computer monitor.

"Sorry," he said when she smiled grimly at him and waved him in.

"I gather you've heard," she said, standing up. "How's Yoni?"

Carson shrugged. "Colonel Sheppard was just telling him when we left them," he replied. "I can't imagine he's taking it well, though. Not after the fortnight we've had. And not after he requested to be let out of the team's mission so he could go to the mainland."

Elizabeth nodded. "The bodies were retrieved, but they're burned beyond recognition."

Something in her tone made Carson sure that Sheppard hadn't let her near the bodies.

"Then how did they--"

"Dogtags," Elizabeth answered. "We'll need to do a formal identification through DNA analysis, though, just for completeness. Doctor Abelard had them brought down to one of the morgues."

After the nanovirus, they'd had to jury-rig a room to serve as a morgue. After the siege, they'd had to create several more.

"How long have they been back?" Carson asked.

Elizabeth looked at her watch. "Less than an hour," she replied. "Nothing has been done, though. I think there was a decision to wait for you and Yoni to come back from the mainland. Deal with both at once, I suppose."

"Aye," he agreed. Mike Abelard was more than capable of handling the matter -- and probably Yoni as well -- but still. "I should get down there."

"Let me know if you need anything," Elizabeth said.

"Will do."

He nodded to Salker as he passed him, taking the back stairs to the floor with the medical suites. Once he exited the stairwell, he could hear shouted voices already and since one of them was Yoni's, he ran the rest of the way.

"Gentlemen!" he began loudly as he entered the suite. Yoni was almost nose-to-nose with Abelard, Sheppard right behind him as if he were ready to break up a fistfight. Clayton, Biro, Metzinger, and Yee were nearby as well. "What is the problem here, Michael?"

Abelard turned and took a step back. "There is no problem, Carson. Yoni's just expressing his disappointment in not being part of the autopsy team."

"I should--"

"No you shouldn't," Abelard answered calmly but firmly. "You're in no physical or mental condition to be doing an autopsy on friends of yours."

Yoni said something in Hebrew, then made an exasperated noise and turned to Carson. "I want to be on the examining team."

It was Carson's turn to sigh. "Yoni, Mike is correct. You were barely conscious up until the moment you found out and adrenaline will only carry you so far. Everyone here understands--"

"You understand nothing," Yoni spat out. He looked behind him to Sheppard, as if in appeal, but Sheppard just shrugged apologetically and Yoni turned back to Carson. "I want to see them."

It was a challenge more than a request. Carson sighed. "I don't think it's a good idea," he said, because he didn't. They all knew what badly burned bodies looked like and that wasn't how he wanted Yoni to remember his team. "But if that's what you want, then fine. And then you will go with Nancy down to the commissary and get something to eat and then you will get some rest."

It was a thankless task for her, but nobody was going to get anything done with a grieving, angry Yoni hovering.

"I don't need a nanny," Yoni replied resentfully. "And I don't want company."

"Yeah, well nobody wants you as company, either," Nancy replied, unoffended. In his current state, Yoni would uncomfortable -- at best -- to be around. But effervescent and well-liked though she was, Nancy dove off of cliffs for a hobby and nobody questioned her fortitude. "Consider me everyone else's nanny."

Yoni didn't reply to that, instead stalking past everyone toward the doorway and across the hall to where they'd set up the morgue to do autopsies. The others started to follow.

"Nancy," Carson called quietly before she could join the parade. When he had her attention, he beckoned her closer. "Take something with you in case you have to sedate him."

"I was joking before about the roofie." She cocked an eyebrow when she saw that he wasn't joking. "You really think that will be necessary?"

"I hope not," he sighed. He probably knew Yoni better than anyone else here in Atlantis, but he had no barometer for how to gauge his reactions to something like this. Carson had never seen him lose control and wasn't sure what would happen if he did. "But I'd rather be overcautious."

Nancy nodded, went over to the narcotics cabinet, unlocked it to take what she needed, and then turned to catch up. Carson looked around at the infirmary -- Grebner and Laurentian were filling in as clinicians on call this shift and while they were very obviously busy supervising care of the most serious complicated cases from the outbreak as well as the usual run of injuries and allergies that plagued Atlantis, he had no illusion that they hadn't been paying very close attention to what had transpired. He caught Grebner's glance and nodded in acknowledgement before leaving for the morgue.

The morgue really wasn't intended for autopsies -- it was a very cold room for storage until the bodies were either buried or transported aboard the Daedalus. But the nurses and marine orderlies had jury-rigged an examining room, setting up tables and retrieving equipment necessary for the grusome task. Carson made a note to himself to thank them at an appropriate time for their good work.

Yoni had been circling the room, prowling between the tables with the barely-restrained fury of a caged animal, but he stopped suddenly.

"It's not them."

Metzinger sighed loudly.

"Yoni," Carson said gently. "I know that this--"

"I'm not in denial," Yoni barked, his voice echoing sharply in the small room. He crossed the room to the tables, pushing past the waiting Biro and stopping at each body to pick up and then drop the dogtags. He stopped at the third body. "This is supposed to be Manny Ortilla? Ortilla is six-four, two-thirty. This man was maybe six foot. There is nobody here big enough to be Ortilla."

Carson couldn't see the body Yoni was taking issue with. The ones he was closest to were badly burned, palsied and blackened and he realized just how difficult getting enough for a sample would be. Without enough material for a DNA identification, they'd never know for certain and he was sure that Yoni would never be convinced otherwise.

"Intense heat--"

"I know what roasting a body does, Biro," Safir snarled at the woman. "This isn't Ortilla. It probably isn't Reletti, either. Whoever this poor shmuck was, he didn't have the muscle mass of a marine and he's too tall to be Lorne."

If Yoni was right -- Staff Sergeant Ortilla had been (was still?) a very large man and if the proportions, even adjusted for the conditions of the body, didn't correspond.... He didn't want to think about why someone would want to fake the deaths of Lorne's team.

"Doc," Sheppard drawled with a casualness that had to be affected but didn't seem that way, "they're going to have to do the autopsies anyway. Let them prove you right--" he held up his hands to forestall Safir's protest "--and then we can get on to the next step. Believe me, I want you to be right. I think everyone wants you to be right. But there's nothing to be done until everyone's finished here."

"You can go back and start a search," Yoni replied, turning to face Sheppard. "I can--"

"I appreciate the advice," Sheppard said dryly. "We've already got Doctor Lindsay answering questions."

"Doctor Lindsay is useless," Yoni retorted, gesturing broadly with his arms. "She is scared of everything and has no observation skills."

"Be that as it may," Sheppard went on. "She's our only living witness to what went on, so she gets an interview. Now, I believe you had a dinner date with the lovely Doctor Clayton."

Nancy smiled ironically at Sheppard. "Come on, Yoni. It's Thursday. Beef Stroganoff for everyone."

Yoni took a deep breath in preparation to protest, but Carson stepped in before he could. "Yoni, that's not a suggestion."

That earned him a hateful glare. "Go," he said softly. "We'll find you the minute we get something, one way or the other."

Yoni ran his fingers through his hair, stalling until he could come up with another excuse to stay or to get himself tasked to the project in any capacity.

Nancy took the initiative, walking past him and taking his elbow gently. Yoni pulled free immediately, but followed, his long strides quickly catching up and passing Nancy and he left the room without another word.

Nancy stopped and looked back at Carson. "I know he's grieving, but he's lucky I like him."

"Yes, lass, he is," he agreed. "Thank you."

She shrugged and jogged off to catch up.

"Well that was far more entertainment than was necessary," Yee muttered, going over to the box of latex gloves and pulling out a pair.

"Everyone pick a station," Abelard said, ignoring the comment. With Nancy gone, Mike was probably Yoni's only friend in the room. "Let's see what we can see."

Metzinger, Biro, and Yee went to the bodies closest to them, but Abelard went over to Carson. "You want to stay?"

Carson shook his head no. "I'm no more fit to autopsy than Yoni is," he replied. "Let me know if you find anything -- or if you don't."

Abelard nodded. "We may have a tough time with some of them," he agreed. "I'll ping you once we know for sure."

With that, he went over to the fourth body, stopping en route to retrieve gloves.

Carson walked over to Sheppard, who was leaning against the wall near the door. "Shall we go, Colonel?"

Sheppard pushed off the wall and they left.

"Any chance Safir's right?" Sheppard asked as they headed for the transporter. "That it's not them?"

Carson reminded himself that the corpses in the morgue, whoever they were or were not, were wearing the identification of men under Sheppard's command. Lorne's team had gone missing before, been thought lost or at least unlikely to be safe, but this was the first time they'd been presented with physical evidence that what the off-world teams did didn't always come with a bath in purple goo as the greatest danger.

He stifled a yawn. "Safir has treated most of their wounds and illnesses over the past several months, so he would be in a position to know, but... but I'm not sure he's thinking as a doctor right now."

Sheppard nodded. "Sure."

"It'll take a few hours once they get samples," he said, because Sheppard had a little bit of the same look as Yoni -- hope and horror mixed and hidden.

The Ancient technology would make DNA identification relatively immediate -- it took a quarter of the time a similar test would require with only human equipment -- but it would still take time. And it would still require enough viable material from which to draw a sample. He didn't want to admit out loud that he doubted that they'd be able to get sufficient quantities.

They walked along until they got to the transporter. Sheppard waved his hands over the crystals and the door opened. "I'm going in the other direction," he said. "I know you will, but... I'd like to be able to tell the marines something when they ask."

"Of course," Carson agreed. "I'll let you know as soon as I know."

"Appreciate that."

The doors closed as he hit the map by his quarters and opened a moment later and he half-staggered out, squinting at the bright sunlight of the hallway.

He got to his quarters, showered, and didn't even bother looking at the stack of work he'd meant to do that day. Instead, he dropped heavily on to his bed and closed his eyes.

The incessant beeping of his radio woke him and he reached for it groggily. "Beckett," he muttered, tapping the button as he settled it in place behind his ear.

"Safir was right," Biro's voice came through the speaker. "There's no DNA match on the first two samples."

He blinked away the last of the sleep from his eyes and sat up. The clock by his bed said that six hours had passed. "What about the other two?"

"Yee is still running the third," Biro replied. "And we're still looking for sufficient viable material from the fourth."

Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, he tamped down the growing sense of hope. Just because two bodies were misidentified didn't mean that the other two were -- nor did it mean that any of them were alive elsewhere. "I'll be right there," he said.

It took him twenty minutes -- including the detour to the commissary to get much-needed coffee -- to return to the medical suites. He went straight to the labs rather than return to the morgue. Yee was sitting on a tall stool, hunched over the readout of the Ancient device they used for DNA.

"Roberta, what have you got?"

She turned to face him. "Whoever they are, they aren't ours," she replied. "They're not Major Lorne or his team. They're probably not even from Earth."

There weren't many distinguishing factors between a baseline human from Earth and one from the Pegasus galaxy, at least not ones that made for greater differences than those separating a man from Greece and a man from Siberia. But just as you could, in fact, tell a man from Eastern Europe from a man from the Mediterranean, so you could tell an Earth-born human from, say, Halling.

"The third sample hasn't been completed," Yee went on when she saw that his attention had turned to the still-humming machine. "But I'll bet my iPod on it not being a match, either. It has already come back as negative for the ATA markers and it's supposed to be someone who is ATA-positive/natural. What's his name... Reletti. The sample that was supposed to be Major Lorne's was also negative and he's ATA-positive/induced."

He smiled weakly. "That's good news, I suppose."

Yee shrugged. "We'll see. I'm running the tests on the Lorne and Ortilla samples again, just to be sure."

"And the fourth?"

Yee shook her head. "Charcoal. Biro's looking everywhere for anything with viable DNA left in it, but we may never know for sure on that one."

He thanked Roberta and left the lab, nearly forgetting his coffee mug. Going straight to his office, he accessed the rotation schedule they'd put in place for the duration of the measles epidemic to see who would need coverages. Biro, Abelard, and Metzinger would be due out on the mainland in a few hours after what would have been their clinical shifts. Yee, Laurentian, and Grebner were double-shifting. The ripple effect would last for a few days even with no further disruptions.

Settling in to handle the bureaucratic work that had been ignored before, he managed to clear most of it -- including the stern letter from the SGC reminding him that Atlantis was not the Pegasus galaxy's free clinic and the emails from the team on the mainland requesting that the next jumper bring a new supply of sterile pads -- he didn't look up until he heard a knock on the wall.

"Hey." Nancy looked more rested, if not exactly relaxed. "How's it going?"

He laughed humorlessly. "Lovely. Although it seems to be a quiet shift on the mainland, so I have hope. How was dinner with Yoni?"

Nancy grinned wryly. "He didn't attack anyone with his silverware and I didn't have to drug him. He didn't eat much, but I wasn't expecting anything else. We ended up sitting with a lot of marines, I'm sure by no coincidence."

"Aye," he agreed. "They're very protective of their own."

"And young and buff, too," Nancy added. "So I had plenty to look at while Yoni wouldn't talk to anyone. Any word on the tests? I didn't go to the morgue and I don't want to bother Yee. She knows kung-fu."

Carson smiled at the joke -- Roberta may know kung-fu, but she was also under five feet tall and delicate of frame. Nancy looked like an Amazon next to her. He told her what Roberta had told him.

"Good," she said. "So once it's official, Yoni can become Colonel Sheppard's problem."

Carson fought a smile. They both knew that the other was genuinely concerned for their friend, but there was no pretending that he wasn't a handful even when he was behaving himself. "Speaking of, where is he?"

"Still sleeping, hopefully," Nancy replied with a shrug. "Or maybe breaking some marines. I offered to stay with him last night, but he made a very rude remark involving a goat, so I let him be."

Carson couldn't help but laugh.

"It's not funny, Carson," Nancy chided, smiling herself. "Sometimes I wonder if Yoni actually really likes girls. I'm quite a catch."

"It's not that he doesn't like girls -- it's that he doesn't like people," Mike Abelard said as he came in holding a tablet. "And therein lies the conundrum."

Abelard held out the tablet. "And herein lies the other conundrum: that's not Major Lorne's team lying in our morgue. At least that's not Major Lorne, Staff Sergeant Ortilla, and Sergeant Reletti. The one with Sergeant Suarez's dog tags could be Christopher Suarez, but we'd never be able to make a positive identification and I'm inclined to say that it isn't him."

Carson accepted the tablet and looked at the screen. Nancy came around to look over his shoulder. "How many--"

"Twice," Abelard finished, smiling smugly. "And Biro is prepping samples to run them the old-fashioned way. She also said that if you want to take your turn to get to the morgue now. Because this isn't going to be the first time you trust us to do our jobs and she has to get out to the mainland."

He mustered a baleful look because he did trust his staff... and he wanted to run them once himself, too.

"And with that, I'm going off to the jumper bay," Abelard announced. "Doctor Weir wants an update when you've got one and Ronon Dex is skulking around, so you may want to tell him to go away because he's making everyone nervous."

Abelard turned and left and Nancy looked at her watch. "I'm going to go grab food before I have to go round in the infirmary. I think you should tell Ronon to go find Yoni -- kill two birds with one stone."

She, too, departed and Carson was left with the tablet and the unsettling realization that Lorne's team had not met a bad end, but instead a harsh beginning.

 


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30 January, 2008