The Lorentz Factor

by Domenika Marzione

"Can I go on Friday?"

Nancy looked up from her salad. Lori was a little wary, like she expected Nancy to say no.

"To the ceremony for Staff Sergeant Reletti," Lori explained. "Do you think I could go or would it be disrespectful or something?"

Reletti'd got scoopy-beamed on Tuesday; Nancy'd taken the call from the gate room -- a perfectly normal got-chased-off-a-planet-by-the-Wraith medical call (one sprained ankle, one twisted knee, minor cuts and abrasions) except for the fact that the marines had come home one short.

"Of course you can go," Nancy said. "You knew him."

Wall ceremonies were basically wakes, a chance for the marines (and whatever interested civilians showed up) to sit around and eat and tell stories and grieve. Nancy had gone to one previously, for Sergeant Pritzker, who'd died under her hands during a MEDCAP gone badly wrong. She'd gone out of guilt, even though there was no way she'd have been able to save Pritzker, who'd bled out so quickly, and felt even worse for the marines treating her like an honored guest instead of someone who'd failed to save their brother. Later on, Major Lorne had explained their reaction as one of respect, but she still associated her attendance at the event with repentance.

She was going to this one not out of guilt, though, but out of genuine sadness. Reletti, sweet, doofy-but-intelligent, mouth-on-autopilot Reletti, had gone out a hero, which is how he'd undoubtedly have wanted it. She wasn't supposed to think of him as dead -- his picture was going up on the Missing wall -- but the Atlantis expedition was five years on and there hadn't been a single portrait to come down off that wall. It was hard to hope.

"I knew him well enough to exchange risque badinage," Lori countered. "I don't want the marines thinking I'm crashing their wake just because I used to not-really-flirt with Reletti."

"Reletti used to most-definitely-really-flirt with you, me, and every other half-attractive woman in Atlantis not named Danielle Esposito," Nancy pointed out. "You're going because he was likable despite that and the marines will know it."

There were a lot of civilians at the ceremony on Friday. Nancy'd expected Weir, Teyla, Ronon, and even McKay to show up, but they'd actually had to go get extra chairs and there were still marines standing off. Reletti had had the ATA gene and between that and his tenure on Lorne's team, he'd interacted with a broader swath of Atlantis's population than most marines. The ceremony itself was short, just the photo -- apparently not a current one rank-wise -- being placed on the wall and an eloquent brief-but-fierce speech by Captain Polito that was more vow than eulogy. And then there were the refreshments, after which most of the dignitaries and civilians left, and then storytelling began. There were a lot of Reletti stories. Nancy had heard some of them before, had been a partial witness -- either during or after the fact -- for others, and listened with mostly-happy tears to the rest. Colonel Sheppard related teaching Reletti to fly a jumper, which lead into Lorne and his team critiquing Reletti's driving abilities, which lead into stories of missions gone wrong and of Reletti as a supremely competent marine, a true warrior, and a world-class puker. Nancy sat with Teyla, who'd been Reletti's bantos instructor, and Lori, who'd gotten over her early fears, slightly off to the side with the marines and the others who'd been more involved with Reletti's life in Atlantis in the center as the focus.

Yoni, as one of them, was taking this better than Nancy maybe expected; he'd been a little quiet since Tuesday, but there'd been no explosions, no need to tread delicately around him for fear of setting him off. He sat now with Lorne near the center of the gathering, not telling stories himself but adding frequent -- and frequently hilarious -- caustic asides and commentary to the ones where he'd been there as well.

Eventually, however, it was time to return to work -- she'd gotten coverage so she could go to the ceremony -- and the beginning of life moving on. Quicker for her than for most of those still sitting and talking over soda and cookies, but eventually for all of them. AJ Reletti was not going to be the first familiar face up on the wall for any of them.

"Got a minute?" Jen asked from the doorway. Lori held up a finger without taking her eyes off of the computer screen. Atlantis trading medical care for food meant that she had three cleft palate surgeries this week, all three cases complicated by patient age and the general lack of dental hygiene anywhere in Pegasus, and that meant a poopload of prep work. She wasn't the only surgeon in Atlantis, but she was the only one who could do this kind of work and with that responsibility came a lot of pressure.

"What can I do you for, Boss?" Lori asked, finally looking up.

Jen looked a little off, like she'd gotten a big shock and wasn't quite recovered yet. Which, honestly, was how she'd spent a lot of time looking in Pegasus, although it had gotten a lot better as she'd gotten comfortable in Atlantis and, later on, with her new job. Lori wondered what had happened this time -- she hadn't been out of her office since 0945 and if there'd been a tumult in the common area, she'd missed it.

"I'm going to need you to clear your calendar for the first," Jen said, stepping into the office and closing the door behind her. "We've had word from Staff Sergeant Reletti."

Lori sat back a little. "After all this time?"

They'd known for almost a year that Reletti hadn't been eaten by the Wraith, that he'd instead been turned into a Runner. There'd been a brief flurry of activity in case they'd managed to find him and had to remove the tracker, but it had been for naught. There'd been a schedule set up to look for him with a corresponding informal standing order in Medical for a surgical-qualified doctor to be ready if necessary, but it had never been necessary. The months had gone by and there'd never been any other indication that Reletti knew about the meeting times or that he was even still alive. There'd been so much to happen since then -- Carson's death, Weir's death, having to move the damned city -- that the search for Reletti seemed... not unimportant, but... it was something you did regularly without thinking too much about it, like laundry, with about as much hope of finding a $20 in your jeans before you did your darks. Reletti was gone, but so were so many other people -- to Earth, to death, to wherever else -- that it was, in its own way, just another absence. And because life moved on, there were new people to fill the spaces.

"I know," Jen agreed with a sharp exhalation. "Colonel Sheppard's going to lead the mission and I'd like you to be the surgeon for it."

Lori looked at her carefully. "What about Yoni?"

Because that was the obvious person for the job. He wasn't a surgeon by training, but Lori hadn't done much below-the-neck surgery since her residency, either. Yoni was experienced in trauma and field surgery; he was the one who went out during any of Atlantis's big fights for triage and first-response. And nobody in Medical had a more vested reason for being chosen.

"He's going," Jen replied. "He can assist if you need him. But I want you doing the cutting. You're the best surgeon here, even if it's out of your region of specialization."

Jen told her to pick a medical team, take whatever equipment she needed, and be prepared to hear from Colonel Sheppard.

Lori's first step was to go see if Yoni was in his lab, since while yes, Jen could say here and now that she was in charge, Lori was the one who was going to have to deal with Yoni in the field.

He wasn't there, which didn't really surprise her. She went back to her office, wrote him an email asking him to find her when it was convenient, and returned to her pre-surgical prep.

Yoni turned up in the early evening, right before Lori was ready to pack it in for the day.

"You'll assist," she began without preamble, since she had no idea what his frame of mind was and it was generally safer to get straight to business in those instances. "Carson did this without help -- without anything -- but I don't want to have to make do if I don't have to. We'll go into this as if we're expecting a carbon-copy of Ronon's situation and plan the manifest accordingly. Although we can probably assume Staff Sergeant Reletti will be a more amenable patient."

After her own cases, she'd started reading the notes on Ronon's surgery, both Carson's report and Yoni's follow-up. The surgery had been complicated only because of Ronon, it seemed, although she had no idea of how typical his situation -- the nature of the device, its placement, the ease of removal -- was.

"We can't assume that," Yoni said quietly. "Bring Reilly."

She'd taken it for granted that Reletti would be in poor mental health, but she'd stopped short of thinking that he'd be so far gone as to not trust his own people. She hoped not.

"I'll bring Reilly," she agreed.

Tomita was a better surgical nurse than Reilly, but if bedside manner was going to matter at all -- and it was -- then Reilly was the only choice.

"Are you going to be okay with this?" she ventured carefully, trying not to visibly brace for a sharp reply.

She and Yoni weren't friends-friends. They got along personally and professionally and they had a mutual genuine friend in Nancy, so they'd spent a lot of time in each other's company over the years and she saw more sides to him than most people, especially since most people didn't bother looking. But Lori didn't confuse Yoni's consideration in sparing her the worst of his moods and his willingness to joke and be joked on with friendship.

So she was surprised when instead of a glare she got a smile, one that might have even reached his eyes.

"Yes," he said. "I'll be fine."

They met at 0800 on the morning of the first. Reilly and Yoni could have carried all of the gear by themselves, but the marine orderlies insisted on helping -- they would have gladly boarded the jumper and tagged along if Lori had but said the word. But she didn't.

The flight itself was just a minute -- down to the gate room, through the wormhole, then parking near the gate on the other planet. Lori was told to wait in the cloaked jumper with Reilly, less out of fear that she would spook Reletti than that Reletti might not come alone. Or come at all.

But he did come alone. Lori could see him through the jumper's open hatch. He looked terrible, filthy and ragged. He'd never been pudgy, even by marine standards, but he was tall and he'd been proportionately solid; he'd paraded around Medical without his shirt on enough times (mostly totally medically unnecessarily) for Lori to see now that he'd lost a lot of that breadth. He was rangier now, more sinew and less muscle. Running for his life and not pumping iron in Little Tripoli's House of Pain. He disappeared completely when Ortilla put his arms around him.

Lori wiped her own tears away and looked up at Reilly, who was not quite dry-eyed himself. He smiled at her.

They went to another planet for the surgery; Lori didn't know which one and frankly didn't care. From her view in the cockpit, Reletti seemed more or less functional -- he was quiet, of course, but answering questions, smiling (weakly) at jokes, and the wildness in his eyes had dimmed a little even if it hadn't been extinguished. Once they landed, she and Yoni sat in the otherwise empty cockpit with Reletti and explained what they were going to do and how. Reletti listened and followed along calmly right up until Lori mentioned anaesthesia.

"I don't want any," Reletti said quietly but firmly, his voice rusty and deeper than she remembered it being. "They didn't use any to put it in."

"We're not them!" Lori retorted. She was about to say more when Yoni put his hand on her arm to stop her.

"You are not a toy to us," Yoni told him in a low voice. "We will not do anything to cause you pain if we don't have to. Even if you no longer care, we do."

Reletti stared at Yoni for a long moment and Lori felt like she was intruding on something.

"Doctor Grebner will use a local anaesthetic," Yoni said finally. "You won't be immobilized."

Reletti didn't so much agree as fail to disagree. Lori got up to see how Reilly was doing setting everything up, even though she knew he knew what he was doing.

Reletti and Yoni joined her in the rear of the jumper-turned-operating-theater. Ortilla and Reilly were there with Sheppard, Lorne, and Suarez outside by the ramp.

"Strip to the waist, Staff Sergeant," she said, remembering how this scenario used to go down once upon a time, with Reletti often turning post-mission medical treatment into the world's worst strip show and Lori jokingly reminding him to actually stop at the belt. There was none of that now; Reletti pulled off his shirt with some hesitation, holding it balled in his hand as if he was afraid to put it down. As if he thought he might need it again in a moment.

Lori caught eyes with Yoni, who nodded.

"Nurse Reilly's going to help you clean up," she told Reletti. "Then we're going to give you a quick check-up and then we're going to do the surgery. Okay?"

Ortilla looked like he was going to try to stay, but Yoni gestured that he should follow Lori outside.

"What's going on?" Sheppard asked as soon as they were outside.

"Nothing," Yoni answered, a little sharply. "We're not going to cut him open while he's filthy."

It was a few minutes before Reilly called for them. Yoni followed Lori back into the jumper, but Ortilla stayed in the doorway, seemingly filling it up and making it impossible for anyone else to pass. Lori didn't think it was by accident.

Reletti stood by the bed, wary and uncomfortable and clean from his neck to his waist. Her earlier estimate had been correct; he was very much still in peak fighting condition, but it was a different body. His torso had dozens of small scars, some faint and some not. The tracker site was a mess of scar tissue, better placed than Ronon's had been with respect to it not being accessible to its victim.

"Did you try to take it out yourself?" Lori asked as she prodded it carefully. They'd run the mini-scanner and Yoni was plugging it in to the laptop so she'd have a bigger image, but she had to do an examination by palpation for herself.

"Couldn't reach it. Ma'am."

Lori asked Reilly to get Reletti settled on the bed while they prepped. That took all of a minute, during which Lori began to explain the steps once again to Reletti, who was not looking settled despite being where he was supposed to be and several exhortations to relax his muscles.

Yoni was going to handle the anaesthesia injection -- he'd done more of them than she had -- and he, too, explained in low tones what he was doing before he did it. But it ultimately didn't matter; as soon as the needle touched Reletti's skin, he bucked up like he'd been electrocuted and shouted. Screamed.

Lori stumbled back, rattled, as Reilly grabbed Reletti by the shoulders to keep him from fleeing. Yoni, syringe still in his hand, stood back as Ortilla moved in to help Reilly.

Sheppard appeared on the ramp, concern on his face. "What--"

"Get out!" Yoni barked.

The doorway cleared.

Lori could only watch as Ortilla tried to sooth Reletti, somehow still on the table, into lying down again. He caressed Reletti's face and head, rubbed his shoulders, murmuring in English and Spanish and wiping Reletti's silent tears with his thumbs. When Reletti's chest was finally back on the bed, Ortilla kissed the top of his head.

Lori exhaled slowly, not realizing she'd been holding her breath.

With Ortilla holding Reletti's hand and talking to him and Reilly positioned to keep Reletti from moving once the surgery was underway, they tried again. Lori desperately hoped they wouldn't have to resort to restraints. They had them -- they were dangling from the bed -- but she didn't want to do that to Reletti unless there was no other way.

The procedure itself was quick; Lori only had to stop twice for Reletti's movements. She let Yoni close; as with the injections, he'd had more experience with stitches than she did.

Stripping off her gloves and hair cap and dumping them in the garbage, Lori headed out to the ramp. Lorne, Suarez, and Sheppard were immediately watching her, waiting.

"He's fine," she assured, pulling her hair out of its ponytail and re-doing it. "He'll be sore once the anaesthetic wears off."

Getting him to take painkillers was going to be problematic; they'd have to discuss pain management as part of the whole physical-and-mental-health assessment. But that was going to be later, probably tomorrow.

"Can we go see him, ma'am?" Suarez asked hopefully. He was standing a bit apart from Lorne and Sheppard and she wondered if it had anything to do with rank or if he was standing guard or something.

"Give Doctor Safir a few minutes to finish up, Sergeant," she replied with what she hoped was a real-looking smile. "Then go see if the dragon will let you pass."

Suarez looked at Sheppard and Lorne, as if waiting for permission. Which he probably was.

"Go, Chris," Lorne told him. "If anyone was coming to bother us, they would have done so already."

Suarez jogged over to the base of the ramp and waited for a minute, then started inching up until Yoni said something Lori couldn't hear, at which point Suarez smiled and jogged inside.

"How is he, Doc?" Sheppard asked, eyes still on the ramp.

"Physically?" she asked, mostly rhetorically. "The procedure went well, no complications, no lasting damage from either the implantation or removal. Otherwise, he's in commensurate shape to Ronon when we brought him in and we can expect similar rapid recovery with proper nutrition and rest."

Sheppard switched his gaze to her and it was piercing. "And the rest?"

Lori smiled bitterly. "He's exactly how he looks, Colonel. He's going to need time and help."

Sheppard nodded once and turned away, leaving her with Lorne.

"Thank you," Lorne said. He looked tired and sad, like he always did when he brought his team back after misadventure. But worse, this time. Despite the sort-of happy ending. "This couldn't have been easy."

"I'm not the one getting stitched up, Major," she replied.

He cocked an eyebrow at her and she found herself smiling back wryly.

"You're welcome," she said. "I was glad to do it."

They packed up to go about a half-hour later. Lori saw Ortilla with Reletti as she passed by to go to the cockpit and wondered if he'd moved at all. Suarez was there, too, and Lorne was sitting with Yoni, who looked very tired as well.

Back in Atlantis, she followed the gurney back to Medical and did a hand-over briefing with Jen, who was going to take over. Yoni didn't look like he was leaving any time soon, but Lori went back to her quarters to shower and change and decompress.

She was sitting on her couch eating Count Chocula and watching Bugs Bunny sing opera when the doorbell chimed. It was Nancy.

"How are you doing?" she asked as she went into the kitchen to get a bowl and the milk. Nancy was on nights this week, which meant that it was breakfast time for her. "I stopped down there. Everything's calmed down more or less. Reletti's sleeping and Yoni's playing guard dog."

"If I never have to do that again, I'll be okay with that," she said. She waited for Nancy to find a spoon and join her on the couch before continuing. "I don't know why I was expecting him to be, you know, Reletti. But he's... god, Nance, this galaxy is so fucking cruel."

She was not going to start crying again. She was not.

Nancy reached over and patted a foot. "It is cruel. And we're here to blow sunshine up its ass anyway. Because we're too stupid to know better and too dumb to quit."

It was nonsense and Lori smiled. Nancy smiled back and dug into her cereal.

feed me on LJ?

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2 August, 2010