Nasty, Brutish, and Short

by Domenika Marzione

The doors swooshed open before he even finished wondering if he'd have to break stride to wait for them. The first Marine to see him called out "Officer on deck!" and the muted clatter of boots and rifles echoed throughout the gateroom as he entered it. He frowned, gesturing for the men to go back to what they were doing, and took a look around.

In the the pink and orange light of early morning, the gateroom looked gorgeous and gaudy and completely alien and he suspected he wouldn't have been surprised if either Barbarella or a Wraith popped out from behind the stargate. Neither did though, only Sergeant Bates, who approached with a sour face and the look of someone about to speak. Bates was not popular with the men, that much Sheppard had observed, but his seniority and Ford's faith in him gave him command of the third shift without any other officers or senior NCOs.

"All quiet, sir," Bates reported, coming to a stop a half-step too close. As if they were on better terms than they were, as if proximity equaled intimacy to everyone observing. Sheppard knew the game, knew the drill and, ten hours into his new command, didn't feel like playing along. He nodded, muttered "good", and started walking across the stargate's platform with Bates following along behind.

There were four men apart from Bates on the floor surrounding the platform, and two more in the recesses to either side of the stairs up to the control room. There was one on the stairs and two at the top, with two more in the control room and the walkway to what would be Dr. Weir's office. It was a good set-up Ford had come up with, at least for now. It would be thinned out once they got a feel for the place and whether there was any traffic through the stargate, but a heavy presence for the first night made everyone feel more comfortable and they could spare the men for the time being.

He moved toward the steps, making eye contact with each of the Marines as he passed. They all looked competent, a little bored, and edgy with the sort of numb fatigue that all-night guard duty inspired. The next shift wouldn't be coming on post for almost an hour, but having an officer around --having anyone around -- would break up the monotony and keep them alert.

The view from the window at the top of the stairs, the one he'd looked out from as Atlantis had risen, was incredible and he had to keep himself from standing and staring too long at the interface of light purple sky and dark blue sea as the first rays of light hit the city from behind.

With effort and mindful of those watching, he turned away and went to the control room. The control room had its own draw, one that was much more disturbing and unfamiliar than the alluring expanse out the window. He could sense Atlantis everywhere, a hum he could feel more than hear, but here in her nexus, the sensation was much stronger and a little overwhelming. It wasn't like sitting in the chair in Antarctica, but it was the closest comparison he could come up with. The noise in his mind grew from a whisper to a murmur as he approached the systems consoles, as if the city wanted to tell him everything she was doing all at once.

"Nobody dialed in?" he asked the closest Marine, a Sergeant Leary, purely for the distraction. He knew nobody had dialed in -- all hell would have broken loose if there had been any sort of stargate activation.

"No, sir," Leary replied, unbothered by the stupidity of the question.

"Good," he said, looking around and pointedly not paying attention to the beckoning holographic screen that dominated the center wall. He focused on what else he saw instead, leaning up against one of the consoles they hadn't been able to activate. "Whose ruck is that?"

Nobody answered, so he turned back to Leary, who looked down. "Yours?"

"No, sir," Leary replied, bringing his chin up and staring straight over Sheppard's left shoulder. "It's Colonel Sumner's, sir. We didn't know what to do with it, so we left it where it was. Figured you or Dr. Weir would take it in the morning."

Sheppard couldn't hold back his sigh. His not-great-but-still-pretty-good morning disappeared in a flash of regret and sadness. It was only when Leary coughed that he realized that he hadn't either moved or answered. "I'll take care of it," he said. Leary murmured a "Yes, sir" and went back to his slow circuit around the upper tier of the gateroom.

The only other people who knew what had happened to Sumner were Weir and Ford, both of whom got the full story in one terse telling out on a windy balcony and away from all prying eyes and ears. Everyone else simply knew that Sumner had died at the hands of the Wraith; the Marines knew that he'd been taken for interrogation and everyone else would know soon enough. That Sheppard had delivered the quietus, that he had done anything at all besides find the body, was not public knowledge and hopefully never would be.

The pack was heavy and he had to crouch to pick it up. Sumner had been a Recon Marine officer for twenty years and the thing was probably better-packed than anyone else could have done, but Sheppard still lifted it as if it might come apart in his hands or break if he dropped it. He was careful because it would be disrespectful if it fell, like it was some sort of weird stand-in for the body he failed to bring home.

There was going to be a brief recognition of Sumner's passing later that day. Weir wanted Sheppard to say something, but he couldn't. What was there to say? I'm sorry I didn't get to him faster? I'm sorry that you think that if one of the Marines had gone after him, then Sumner'd have been okay, but I'm a helluva lot better on the ground than you think I am and I know I didn't screw that part up? I'm sorry that all I had to go on was one pleading, determined moment of eye contact and not a verbal affirmation? I'm sorry that that one moment of mercy is going to haunt me until something worse comes along to replace it?

Shaking his head and clearing his thoughts, he took the pack back to the room where his own sat and tied them together. He'd have to go through it later, look for things like perishables and dig out Sumner's spare personal weapon (he had to have at least one). He would also have to poke around for anything resembling orders or mission-related documents, both written and whatever was on the laptop they'd all been issued. Find the death letter, because there'd be one of those, too. It and the personal effects would be returned to his next of kin when (if) they got back to Earth, but things like sundries and spare uniform parts... after a decent time period and dependent upon need, they'd be redistributed. As would anyone else's should it come to that. But it was an unsavory thought and not one to dwell on, not with Atlantis and her new citizens waking and stirring and preparing for their first full day together.

feed me on LJ?

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