Maiden Voyage

by Domenika Marzione

"It'll keep the marines busy."

"It'll keep them underfoot. Until they're restricted to quarters."

"They'll get themselves some cross-training."

"They'll get us Article 15'ed, sir."

"Not if we do this right. The captains think they can come up with something low-key that won't upset the normal course of operations too much. Do most of the running around in the middle and morning watches, keep them in the less-populated areas, that sort of thing. It'll be fun."

"I'm sure it'll be fun, sir. I just hope it's enough fun to keep us laughing after the bill comes due."

"What do you think, sir?" Polito asked hopefully as Lorne looked over the piece of paper with its written-out lists and diagrams. Lorne was half-convinced no one was using their computers for this so there'd be no evidence at the hearing.

"I think I understand why you went straight to Colonel Sheppard," Lorne replied, not looking up because he didn't need to see Polito and Hanzis try to look innocent. They'd been working together long enough to stand up the battalion that a tempo had been established and everyone's role was set. Chains of command could follow one of several models and, despite the fact that the Atlantis Battalion had a very deviant form and was still missing parts beyond the already-known deviations, Lorne knew which one they'd ended up with. Had known as soon as he'd realized Sheppard would be the CO and not Caldwell or whoever else the SGC had been hoping to install. And it had apparently taken the marine captains a similarly short time to understand that Lorne was who they went to get stuff they needed and Sheppard was the one they went to for everything they wanted that they knew wasn't good for them.

Lorne wasn't thrilled getting stuck playing a role somewhere between Bad Cop and schoolmarm; he'd enjoyed his time as giver of lollipops and the Nice Guy to Edwards' permanent tetchiness. But being XO meant never getting to pick your part.

"What is this word, Captain?" he asked, pointing at one of the indecipherable scrawls. He couldn't even figure it out from context.

"Uh, 'reefer,' sir," Polito answered, leaning over to squint upside-down at his writing. "It's naval-speak for--"

"I know what it means, Captain," Lorne said. "I just couldn't read the hieroglyphs you call letters. And are you sure that you want to put items for your quest in there? That's probably going to be more closely guarded than the bridge.... You're not hiding anything on the bridge, are you?"

"Not anymore, sir?" Polito offered a weak smile.

"Not anymore," Lorne repeated sternly, making it an order. "Listen, we all know that this is a fabulously bad idea, that Caldwell is going to be pissed and will have to be convinced not to space us all, and we're going to be paying for this down the pike. But there has to be a line between curing our marines' cabin fever and staging an invasion that endangers the ship. The former is admirable and, even more importantly, plausible. Doctor Weir will cover our asses, but don't make her job any harder than it's going to have to be."

Weir was fearless when it came to arguing her position and defending her people, but Lorne knew she'd resent it if they made her defend the indefensible.

Murmurs of obedience from the captains.

"Now," Lorne went on, gesturing to a point further down on the page. "Wouldn't it be a little more challenging if we required three of five for this section instead of two?"

"How do you know about these places?" Sheppard asked as they exited one of the storage rooms on the fifth deck. They had been given a dozen brightly-colored rubber balls -- handballs, Lorne thought -- and asked to hide them throughout the ship. These were the Commander's Prizes, worth twice the points of the regular items on each platoon's list, and Sheppard had asked for help in making them worth their value. So far, they'd placed five.

"All of the old pilots used to sneak peeks at the blueprints of the Daedalus once they were finalized," Lorne explained, accepting a neon pink handball. "I got a couple of tours as she was being built, too."

Sheppard nodded and gestured with his head for Lorne to go first. "I thought you might have some sneaky connections or something."

"I have those, too," Lorne said with a grin as he led them to the nearest ladder; there was a room on the sixth deck that looked like a maintenance panel on the schematics used as a ship's map. "The logistics officer used to be on SG-14."

It took them the better part of three days to hide all of the balls; there were still meetings and briefings and hours of paperwork to write up and decisions to be made for what happened once they got to Atlantis. Sheppard tended to be quiet in the big conferences that Caldwell and his senior staff sat in on, letting McKay pick fights with Doctor Novak and the other doyens of the Engineering deck, but he was far more animated and involved when it was just the actual Atlantis staff. The meetings with just Lorne and the two captains were where Sheppard's vision for the city, seemingly intentionally left opaque to outside eyes, became clear and it was fun watching Polito and Hanzis adjust both to the enormity of the task ahead of them as well as to the fact that their CO's fecklessness was mostly an act.

It wasn't entirely an act, however, and it was also maybe a little bit contagious. Lorne hid the last ball, the shiny gold lamé one, by finding a ladder and taping it in the corner of the bulkhead outside of the officers' mess.

"We perhaps should have thought that one through a little better," Sheppard admitted.

Weir's eyebrows rose. "Perhaps," she repeated slowly, as if she weren't sure if Sheppard were speaking to the exercise as a whole or just the example she had cited. Lorne suspected she knew very well that it was the latter.

"We assumed that the marines would find something in the stores or bribe someone in Supply," Sheppard went on with a shrug. "Nobody thought they'd actually accost one of the airmen."

In hindsight, they probably should have seen that one coming. They knew the marines would go for the easiest and quickest route to their goals; speed and ingenuity counted in this exercise. That they hadn't considered the possibility that one of the leathernecks would truss up one of the crew to get his insignia probably reflected more poorly on them than on the marines who'd kidnapped Senior Airman Allerby and cut off his patch while he was wearing his jumpsuit.

"You're very lucky no one was hurt," Weir said, sounding more frustrated than disbelieving. "And that the marines were as helpful as they were in securing and repairing the ship."

And therein lay the conundrum. The scavenger hunt had gone about as well as hoped -- the marines had gone crazy, the airmen and civilian scientists (both the Daedalus's crew and the ones being transported to Atlantis) had alternately borne up under fire and hidden for their lives, and Caldwell had been just about to have every marine tied to their racks and the officers thrown in the brig... when the virus hit.

While Sheppard and McKay had ultimately saved the day, the marines had been more than helpful in the aftermath -- in some cases, they'd been close to invaluable. And so while Caldwell was still seething whenever he saw anyone in cammies, he hadn't actually either filed a formal complaint or otherwise done more than speak sharply to Weir. Lorne knew that Caldwell hadn't said anything to Sheppard because avoidance was necessary to keep up the pretense of peace -- there were usually at least two bulkheads or a deck between the men at all times -- but appearances could be maintained until they got to Atlantis and everyone would be too distracted to worry about shipboard antics.

"I think we're going to have to get used to that," Sheppard said, gesturing vaguely. "The marines are going to be about as much trouble as they're worth."

To her credit, Doctor Weir did not cough, spit-take, or otherwise react to the statement beyond pursing her lips.

"I don't think it was a marine who was ultimately to blame for the human pyramid outside of the officer's mess."

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29 December, 2007