by Domenika Marzione

The marines getting assigned to KP duty wasn't John's idea, although there's actually no evidence to support that. He would like to think that he's assumed to have enough survival instincts to not put the leathernecks in charge of their consumables, but he also spent his first days in Atlantis breaking into Wraith strongholds and getting himself temporarily killed, so he's a little relieved when Elizabeth doesn't ask for proof when he tells her that it was Sumner's decision.

"He wanted them involved with as many aspects of the expedition as possible," he explains with a shrug, pretending that he doesn't notice Elizabeth looking at him like he's grown a unicorn's horn on his forehead. "Security and training aren't going to take up all of their time and not everyone can be tasked with orderly or lab tech duties."

Sumner's notes on the subject of keeping the marines busy are brief and spare; his 'diary' of the expedition's preparations are impersonal and a little formal, like he knew that someone else was going to be reading it and that that someone didn't really give a crap about what Marshall Sumner thought about anything. Of course, he probably expected that that someone would be a general asking for an accounting once Atlantis was back in contact with Earth and not his successor three days after mission launch, but that, too, is a bit of an extrapolation. John found the file on Sumner's laptop easily enough -- top of the list under Documents on the start menu -- but, nonetheless, he's coming to accept that Sumner is going to make him work for whatever he gets. When he has a little more time on his hands to do things like reflect, John will maybe appreciate that he's going to end up having a better working relationship with Sumner after killing him than before.

In the meanwhile, he has to work with the very much alive Elizabeth Weir, who is still looking at him like they left his brain turned off when they restarted his heart.

"Besides," he goes on, still pretending that there's nothing at all worrisome about handing their food supply over to the marines, "who else is going to do it? The scientists don't even want to move their personal crap to their quarters on their own because it's allegedly below their pay grade. And it's not like they're gourmets or anything."

Right on cue, McKay walks by, devouring an MRE entrée with great enthusiasm and wiping sauce away from his mouth with the back of his hand. He's talking to another civilian, who is scarfing down one of the energy bars with the purple wrapping, the kind that are so nasty that even the marines won't eat them unless dared to.

Elizabeth has taken a deep breath as if to offer up a protest, but she ends up sighing instead, frowning as she watches the pair. "Very well," she says. "But try to emphasize that Atlantis is home to a diverse group of palates as well as personalities?"

John tries to imagine the reaction to telling the marines that there has to be a vegan option. "I'll do my best," he promises, putting on his most earnest expression.

The marines take the news about KP duty with equanimity. They know that someone is going to have to handle food prep, that the civilians don't want the job, and that the sooner they get off the MRE-based diet, the better and for more reasons than epicureanism or emergency stores. ("Won't have to worry about the toilet paper supply if this keeps up," one of them cracks.)

"Don't get fancy," John tells them. "Just stick to stuff you know how to make and that can be made in quantity. Also, make sure there's something for anyone whose diet is restricted for whatever reason -- don't point 'em at the salad and tell 'em to deal."

Medical has promised to survey the personnel records for things like food allergies -- not who has what, but just how prevalent they are and how serious. One guy with a mild peanut allergy doesn't have to be catered to; two dozen people with lactose intolerance will probably require some accommodation.

That's as far as John's direction goes; he leaves the details to Ford and Sergeant Laganzo, who ends up being their first Kitchen NCO after receiving assurances that it's not a permanent change in his MOS and they'll probably make it a monthly duty.

Scouting out a location for the DFAC and setting it up turns out to be a pretty good exercise for the marines -- it gets them familiarized with the city and it lets them build stuff, which is probably their favorite professional activity after destroying things. It also keeps them mostly out of the hair of the civilians, who if they don't need the marines to do something for them are turning out to be rather vocal about their preference that anyone in uniform should be neither seen nor heard.

The ideal is to find an actual Ancient kitchen, but nobody seems sure that the Ancients did anything so pedestrian as eat (or shower; they're not finding a regular supply of Ancient bathrooms, either) and so they'll settle for some place with enough ventilation to set up their own wood-burning stoves and a counter on which they can plug in the microwaves someone thought to pack.

The search takes a while, longer than even the marines' learning curve for what passes as normal in the wacked-out dollhouse that is Atlantis, and there are a few false alarms as promising locations are nixed one after the other.

"They thought they had a great location," Ford sighs to him one afternoon during their daily meeting. John is hoping to cut these back to every few days or, even better, as-needed, but right now Ford needs them to be daily. "It had really good natural light and it was almost a regular shape, too. But some alarm kept going off every twenty-eight minutes and nobody could figure out how to make it stop."

In the end, the space they choose is like everything else -- repurposed from some other function. The kitchens were some kind of lab; they have ovens -- kilns of some kind, since they are clearly not anything that would ever be sold at Sears -- and plenty of really hard countertops and built-in storage and sinks. The marines have found Ancient refrigerators and freezers somewhere else in the city (i.e., another lab) and moved them in; apparently the transporter resembled one of those 'how many frat boys can you wedge into a phone booth' pranks during that adventure. The dining area -- some kind of atrium -- isn't directly next to it, so the marines have some remodeling to do.

John has never been more popular in his nascent command than when he authorizes the indoor use of C4.

The end result impresses Elizabeth greatly, making up for all of the times she gave John that look when he told her that they were still a while away from being done. She is taken on a tour of the galley, pausing to remark upon things John hadn't even noticed on his own walkthrough. Sergeant Teague's woodworking skills on display, for instance, in making some of the prep tables and custom-fitted shelving. The marines preen outrageously while she's there and there's actually a list of men willing to succeed Laganzo as Kitchen NCO.

The list of volunteers for lab tech duties, however, remains at conscription-only (plus Horton).

The SGC packed them kitchen gear -- pots, pans, cheap stainless steel silverware and institutional-grade tableware -- but Elizabeth adds more to the ever-growing list of items they're supposed to be trading for on other worlds. On an off-world mission to a planet without people, let alone a Costco, John and McKay both end up collapsed on the ground in laughter as Ford tries to explain big box stores to Teyla. It's not that Teyla's inability to conceive of such things is inherently funny -- she's been schooling them all too much for them to be able to laugh at her ignorance -- but, instead, it's Ford's peculiar way of describing things. He's at least a dozen years younger than either John or McKay and he's young for his age and the combination makes for a worldview that is... unique. Lord only knows what Teyla must imagine when she tries to put images to Ford's words.

"You starve during blackouts, don't you," a breathy McKay asks him after a particularly amusing oration on the essential nature of scannable product barcodes.

Teyla takes them around to meet all of the neighbors and, in addition to all of the lessons about Pegasus and the Wraith and what daily life in this galaxy is really like when you're not living in a place like Atlantis, John gets to experience the intergalactic version of what some of the Army guys in Afghanistan used to call "eating for your country." Except instead of being invited in for goat curry while out on a dismounted patrol of some little village looking for Taliban, John's got to answer more questions than he asks about the Wraith and he gets served a wider variety of food.

But, like the Army guys, he can't refuse a meal no matter how unappealing it looks or under what conditions it was prepared and he gets to pay for that the way they did, too.

After the third time he shows up in the infirmary a few hours after a mission with the same problem, Safir rolls his eyes and just gives him a new bottle of Immodium to keep.

"I don't like you enough to see you this often," Safir tells him.

McKay, who has never gotten sick despite eating everything that John does, goes to Beckett, who gives him a note explaining why he shouldn't be forced to eat off-world.

"I'm not your gym teacher and this isn't third grade," John tells him, handing back the note. "You'll plug along like everyone else until circumstances dictate otherwise."

"Yeah, like death," McKay grumbles, but it's the last John hears about it.

Much later on, Ford will explain that Teyla is the real reason -- she had a chat with McKay. John never asks her what she said.

With a lot (a lot) of help from the Athosians, they slowly get a supply of fresh food to prepare in their new kitchen alongside the hundred-pound packs of dry staples from Earth. Pimping out the marines as farmhands and jacks-of-all-trades is Teyla's suggestion, but one that quickly gets accepted not only by the marines -- who are desperate to get out of the city -- but also by Elizabeth, who understands all too well that Atlantis has precious little to trade otherwise. They were expecting a barter system, but they weren't prepared to have so little that they could use as viable currency. They won't rent themselves out as mercenaries and there's very little call for the kind of technological aid they have the capability to render. Labor is their most valuable resource and, thankfully, the marines are up to the task. Most of them have been on either official or de facto humanitarian missions and enough come from farm country that John's able to offer up a dozen or two fit young men for a share of whatever they'll be working on without worrying that it'll go badly.

The labor part, at least. John decides he's better off not knowing about what happens with the farmers' daughters so long as the marines don't get chased off of any planet with pitchforks and told never to return.

As the local produce starts rolling in, they have to figure out what to do with it. Above and beyond the dangers of, say, cowberries in every dish at every meal either until they run out or the marines realize they can freeze the things, there is the matter of exoticism. The marines are still learning how to make regular American freeze-dried mac-and-cheese by the gallon; throwing less-than-easily-identifiable alien ingredients at them is a little unfair and a lot inviting gripes from those who have to eat the results.

Plus, the kilns are, well, kilns and the marines have to learn how to use ovens that run far hotter than anything anyone is used to. There's a lot of scraped-off char, a fair share of underdone (but not as much as char because marines love fire), and Staumitz ends up being NCO of the Quarter for figuring out that the kilns are perfect for pizza and that the expedition will pretty much eat anything if it is served between thin crust and plenty of cheese.

After a month of experimentation, however, the safe options extend beyond pizza and pasta and breakfast foods. The marines have pretty much mastered the art of grilling meat and, in turn, everyone has figured out the marines' system for vegetables. If it's leafy, it becomes salad (except when it's really tough and leafy, in which case it becomes Creamed Not-Spinach). If it looks at all like a potato, there's no fear because the marines know what to do with those and actually can do it well. (Teyla's introduction to french fries rates up there as one of John's most successful Pegasus moments.) Almost anything else vegetable-related will be first roasted and then steamed to determine which method renders it edible and, failing a decisive answer, it will be deep-fried because that works for everything. (Except that one carrot-like thing that ends up cut into really tiny pieces and hidden in random dishes because nobody can figure out what to do with it and they've got bushels left.)

All of which doesn't mean that there's any kind of normal going on, but, after two months, John stops wondering why there are little purple bits in his mashed potatoes or slices of carrot-like thing in his lasagna. He learns to appreciate, if not necessarily love, near-deer, which is their default meat, and to look forward to eggs from the ugly chickens the marines have started raising in a courtyard because there's never enough to go around. (He knows he's reached some kind of new plateau with the marines when there's somehow the material for egg in a basket one very late night when he doesn't get down to the commissary until well past dinner and all he'd been expecting was an offer to microwave leftovers or throw together a sandwich.) Pizza stops being the safety option at every meal and starts being a Friday special feature that even McKay looks forward to with anticipation.

"I have to admit that Colonel Sumner might have been correct about this," Elizabeth says one lunch. It's Friday, so she's got pizza for lunch (the veggie one, even though the marines working the counter told her that the meat one was particularly good) and pizza for dessert (it's really a giant iced cookie cut into wedges, but the marines are big on themes and completely OCD and nobody's going to argue).

John looks up from his own pizza (the meat, because sometimes eating for your country happens right in your own commissary, although this time the guys were right about it being really good). "We're doing all right."

feed me on LJ?

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1 February, 2009