The Curse of the Extraneous Lieutenant

by Domenika Marzione

Laura Cadman walked into the armory and made the sharp left into the room where tactical vests and non-explosive accessories were kept. Sergeants Suarez and Reletti were strapping themselves into their gear, Suarez barely started and Reletti almost done. Both snapped-to when they saw her, but she waved it off and they went back to what they were doing. After a few months in Atlantis, Laura could identify most of the marines by company, if not necessarily by platoon, but every officer knew the ones assigned to Major Lorne's off-world team.

Members of off-world teams had lockers, but everyone else had to fish equipment out of the bins and chests marked with their unit. Her platoon's toyboxes, bigger than most because they were the battalion's engineers, were at the far end. She found her vest right on top, where it always was because Gunny Wilder expected her to be there before everyone else as well as expecting their marines to wait for her. (They were past the getting-to-know-you feeling-out stage, but Laura understood that while Gunny believed that even sergeants could be taught new tricks, he didn't believe that lieutenants had a learning curve -- they stayed stupid until they got captain's bars, at which point they were another NCO's responsibility.)

"Morning, Lieutenant," Reletti said as he finished adjusting his thigh pack. "Going offworld?"

"Yup," she replied, taking the holster from where it was looped through an armhole. Damned thing had finally stopped chafing -- they'd gotten new ones when they'd deployed and the material had been stiff and unyielding and took forever to break in.

"By yourself?"

"With us, you fucktard," Suarez answered for her, retying his boot. He stood up straight. "How much of the mission briefing did you sleep through?"

Reletti looked uncomfortable. "Really?"

"Is that going to be a problem, Sergeant?" Laura asked with deceptive mildness. Reletti had come from Recon and Recon was the last bastion of the all-boys Corps, so his reaction wasn't that surprising, although Laura had figured it would have been tempered by now. Especially since she'd seen him in furious combat with Teyla in the practice rooms. Either way, it wouldn't be the first -- or the fifth -- time someone had an issue with a woman in an infantry position. She wasn't infantry, of course, wasn't on an offworld team, and her platoon didn't often need to go through the gate. But she was a Marine, damnit, and an officer, and she expected her due.

"No, ma'am," Reletti replied instantly and with apparent sincerity. At least he was red-faced under his tan. "I just... missed that part of the briefing."

"Uh-huh," she said as she zipped up her vest.

Her duties in Atlantis were both far beyond what any woman in the Corps could hope for in terms of action as well as far less than the other (male) lieutenants' duties. Sheppard -- and thus everyone below him -- was willing to be pragmatic, although not willing to completely break new ground, and she respected the former as much as she bristled against the latter. Just as in the Middle East, they were fighting an enemy that didn't care if it killed women, so there was no real reason beyond tradition -- and, granted, training -- for her to not be allowed to go where the boys did. Except that tradition and history wasn't something the Corps ever overthrew lightly, in their home galaxy or any other.

"It's not you, ma'am," Reletti went on, obviously not sure of her mood. "It's just that we have a history of... stuff happening when we have a lieutenant along."

Laura bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing, the earnestness of his expression convincing her that he really was just worried about Major Lorne's Thunder Run. It was what the lieutenants of the Atlantis Batallion had started calling Lorne's test-driving of the new officers. And while she hadn't gone on one -- her first time offworld had been with Colonel Sheppard's team and she'd gotten zapped into Rodney McKay's body as a result -- she knew that Reletti was right to be nervous. But why spoil the fun? "Oh, really?" she asked instead.

"Lieutenant Eriksson was with us when we ended up going in to a river with leeches," Reletti answered with a sour face. Next to him, Suarez shuddered in remembrance. "Ever see Stand By Me, ma'am?"

She'd only heard about that one well after the fact; Eriksson hadn't talked about it for pretty obvious reasons.

Staff Sergeant Ortilla entered the room, tac vest on and P-90 attached. Practically filling the doorway, he looked over at his two team members. "This year, please, boys."

"Doc and the Major aren't even here yet," Suarez protested.

"And they'll still be done before you," Ortilla replied, gesturing with his hands for them to speed up.

"Lieutenant Gillick nearly got eaten by those lion-things," Reletti went on, stepping over the bench and crossing in front of Ortilla.

"Puma-things," Suarez corrected. "Fast motherfuckers. Thankfully, they couldn't climb trees too well. Fuckers nearly Lorena Bobbited him. Left some pretty good scratches on Ortilla, too. Looked like he'd gotten--"

"Suarez, watch your language in front of the Lieutenant!" Ortilla looked slightly pained and Laura didn't think it was because of the language.

"I've heard worse," she offered nonetheless, following Reletti out the door and into the room where the firearms were kept. "I've said worse."

She'd worked retail before going into the service, gotten used to being a public face for a company, and she'd had the language to match. Two years later and she was still shocking her mother with how easily foul language rolled off of her tongue. Shocking herself sometimes, too.

"Ain't the point, ma'am," Ortilla replied, walking behind her as they went into the main room, "All due respect. We're supposed to be representing Atlantis when we go out. Most of Atlantis doesn't curse like a Marine."

Statistically, probably around thirty percent of Atlantis did -- and that was just the ones who swore allegiance to God, Country, and Corps -- but she understood where Ortilla was going. It had to be a little more instinctive to not turn the air blue.

"Suarez has a potty mouth," Reletti sang over his shoulder.

"Kiss my follicly-enhanced gluteus maximus, Reletti!" came from the other room, then a noise of something dropping, then "oh, fuck!"

"Sometimes I wonder how he made corporal," Ortilla sighed. "Excuse me, ma'am." He turned back into the other room.

Next to the gun locker with Patchok's unit's insignia, Reletti cocked an ear to listen. Muttered voices and Suarez's yelp echoed back. Reletti grinned, then opened the locker to retrieve an extra clip for his Beretta.

"Lieutenant Eriksson, Lieutenant Gillick, who came next?" Reletti mused aloud as he crossed the room to retrieve his P-90. Now that Laura was done bristling at what was probably a completely unintentional slight -- according to scuttlebutt, Reletti was the one most likely to say something off-the-wall -- she could settle in for the rest of the story. "Lieutenant Paik got food poisoning, so I don't think that really counts. We had to carry him back to the gate, though, so maybe it does."

Chris Paik had been throwing up for a week. "I think it does," Laura confirmed, checking her own 9mm.

"Lieutenant Salker took a Wraith blast in the belly, which was just really embarrassing," Reletti went on. He made a disgusted face. "It paralyzes where it hits and, well, you can't control the muscles...."

"And you pee yourself," Laura finished for him. Tom Salker was a great guy, but if he didn't have bad luck, he'd have no luck at all.

"Yeah." Reletti grinned cheerfully, because scatological humor was always funny. "Another one we had to carry back home."

Yoni Safir came through the outer door, hair still wet and with the slightly irrated look of someone running late. "Lieutenant," he said by way of greeting, bowing slightly. "Reletti."

Laura knew Yoni well enough to be able to call him by that name, although she tended only to do so when she was out of uniform and socializing with Carson. Safir was well-liked by the Marines because he trained with them and treated them like men and not monkeys, but he tended to keep to himself a bit and most of what she knew of him as a person came from Carson and it wasn't much. Which was a shame because one of the chemical engineers had a ferocious crush on him and kept bugging her for information at poker nights.

"Yo, Doc," Reletti greeted him. "Don't worry, you'll still get done before Suarez. Miss Manners is reading him the riot act."

Yoni arched an eyebrow. "Really? What now?"

"Staff Sergeant Ortilla doesn't want him to curse like a Marine," Reletti explained helpfully, using the tone NCOs took when passing on a particularly nonsensical order.

"Would that not strip him of his essential self?" Safir asked mildly as he unrolled the sleeves of his shirt. "And, more importantly, would that not render him mute? Not that that would be a bad thing, necessarily. Maybe I should wait until the esteemed Staff Sergeant is done. What conversation was I interrupting here?"

"Sergeant Reletti was regaling me with tales of the Curse of the Extraneous Lieutenant," Laura supplied.

Safir grinned broadly. "How far down the list are you?"

Reletti counted off on his fingers. "Eriksson, Gillick, Salker, and Paik so far. Maguire, Murray, and Appleman are left."

"Nothing happened with Maguire," Safir scoffed. "The locals thought we were an entertainment troupe."

"They thought Lieutenant Maguire and Staff Sergeant Ortilla were wrestlers," Reletti explained to Laura with a conspiratorial grin. "They thought we were some really, really well-armed circus going world to world."

"No harm, no foul, no exfil under fire," Yoni said, waving his hand dismissively. "Any embarrassment on Maguire's part doesn't count."

"He got groped a little," Reletti translated. "Okay, maybe a lot. It was a hot planet and we were in short sleeves."

"And the locals were short and had very particular ways of assessing physical prowess," Safir added with comically raised eyebrows. Before Laura could do more than chuckle, he went to the doorway of the other room to see if it was safe to enter. It apparently was, so he disappeared.

Laura tried to imagine Brian Maguire dodging grabby hands. They all knew something had happened since he blushed furiously and changed the topic whenever it came up, but never the what.

"Lieutenant Murray was just a pointy spear magnet," Reletti went on. "We didn't have any real incidents, but we did end up with Major Lorne having to talk his way out of a few tight spots."

"Lieutenant Murray is still a pointy spear magnet," Laura said, picking up the demo kit she's packed the day before and making sure that it hadn't been touched. "He got chased off of Pelgas yesterday."

"No kidding?" Reletti grinned. "How'd he pull that off? The Pelgarians are all hippies with love beads. They're growing pot alongside the barley."

Laura smirked. "There was another tribe there to trade for foodstuffs and they thought Murray's people were cutting in line. At least that's what I heard."

Reletti rolled his eyes. "Figures. So who's left... Lieutenant Appleman."

"Appleman is a putz," Safir announced as he returned, vest on and fiddling with his knife sheath. "And he's lucky I was there or else he wouldn't have a putz, either. Not that I think that that would be such a loss."

Laura tried not to choke. Nobody liked Appleman, not the Marines, not the civilians. He was arrogant, lazy, a little cowardly, and an embarrassment to the Marine Corps. The rest of the lieutenants were trying to figure out how Appleman had even gotten assigned to Atlantis in the first place.

"You can't call Lieutenant Appleman a putz, Doc," Reletti sighed. "Not in front of another officer." He gestured with his chin toward Laura.

"He is a putz," Safir replied. "And Lieutenant Cadman knows it."

Laura bit both of her cheeks to not laugh.

Reletti sighed again. "It's that rank thing, Doc."

"I am a civilian and immune from that."

"You're like a warrant officer when you're dressed for action," Reletti explained. Laura got the feeling that this wasn't a new discussion. "You can't talk smack about the officers in front of other officers."

Ortilla and Suarez appeared in the doorway. Ortilla cocked an eyebrow at Reletti and Suarez went for the gun lockers. Safir went to a far cabinet to retrieve something.

"I think that's it for the list," Reletti went on after it became clear that the argument with Safir was going nowhere. "We pretty much got 'em all."

"So Lieutenant Patchok was one of the lucky few?" Laura asked, knowing that that wasn't the case.

Rudy Patchok was Ortilla, Suarez, and Reletti's platoon commander. He was a good guy, if you liked the neurotically obsessed with fitness types. Rudy always made her feel like she was a french fry away from failing her PT test, but it was hard to resent him for it because it was completely without malice and he was a terribly nice guy.

"The Major wouldn't let us test-drive Lieutenant Patchok, ma'am," Ortilla answered. "Muttered something about it not being in anyone's interest and sent him off to Colonel Sheppard's team. Which is just hazing, if you ask me. Lieutenantn Patchok's a good guy and didn't deserve that."

"You didn't, either, ma'am," Reletti added.

Laura laughed -- it was long enough since then that she could laugh. "Thank you," she said.

Suarez was still fiddling with his 9mm when Lorne appeared, already kitted out and ready to go. "Gang's all here?" he looked around, nodding at Laura. "Good, let's go. If we can get out of here in the next ten minutes, McKay will still be in a meeting and we can get through the gate without him giving us a shopping list."

They trudged to the gateroom, passing Paik's group in the ready-room and Salker's team on gate duty. Lorne called for the sergeant to dial the gate and they were off. Six hours, three explosions, and one unintentional detour later, they came tumbling through the gate to land at the feet of Colonel Sheppard, standing there among the gate team, his pistol drawn.

"Lorne?" he began once the gate shut down. "Que pasa?"

"Cultural misunderstanding," Lorne muttered, grimacing as he rubbed his knee. He accepted Sheppard's hand to help him stand.

"And why have you brought me back another dented lieutenant?" Sheppard went on, looking over at Laura's soot-blackened face and uniform. "I can't keep lending them to you if you keep returning them in this condition."

"Didn't mean for it to happen, sir."

"Yeah, that's what you said last time, too," Sheppard replied. "Go get cleaned up. The story for this one's got to be good."


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