Officers Call

by Domenika Marzione

One of the many responsibilities senior officers had was to foster and encourage the development of their juniors, personally as well as professionally. Lieutenants were usually young in so many ways, despite the fact that they had lawfully ordained command of a couple dozen men. (In Atlantis, the ratio was reversed from what was typical of Earth -- almost all of the sergeants were older than their platoon commanders and all had been in the service since before their lieutenant had even considered joining the marines.) The captains did their best to serve as mentor as well as master, but the smallness of the battalion and the isolation made it more difficult -- a paucity of examples, of opportunities, of means. The marines had mess nights -- Lorne was invited as a matter of course, along with Sheppard, Weir, and selected civilians -- but it was the informal teaching that suffered most. The officer's club was a fast-dying tradition back on Earth, but here in Atlantis, where alcohol was technically forbidden and the chance to truly be off-duty was practically nil, creativity was a necessity.

Lorne tried to do his part, both in what he enabled the captains to do and what he did himself. Atlantis was too small to stand on ceremony, which Marines did with annoying regularity, and too desperate to wait for the course of trust-building to flow at its naturally slow pace. Taking the new lieutenants off-world had nominally been about seeing how they handled the experience, but it had really been about them getting to know him and him to know them outside of the command structure. That these missions so regularly went pear-shaped was frustrating, but did not actually detract from the purpose. Which was why it was actually a sign of success that the lieutenants made themselves little purple hearts decorated with little green men -- that may or may not have been photoshopped pictures of certain Asgard -- to commemorate the experience.

(Sheppard's interaction with the lieutenants was seemingly dominated by him getting rescued by them off-world and then arcane debates in the gate room about college football. But the kids respected him as a commander, which was the important part -- even if Sheppard acted like it was really about their acquiescence that Notre Dame was living off past glory.)

Help from the top aside, the bulk of the work fell on the shoulders of the captains. Which was why Lorne was surprised when Radner invited him and Sheppard to one of their 'cub scout camps' (the senior NCOs' name for the gatherings of officers that took place not on duty and not in the commissary).

"You sure?" Lorne asked, genuinely curious. He'd known about the get-togethers, had helped the captains acquire supplies for it -- including a convoluted six-degrees-of-civilian-separation routine to acquire beer from the marines' illicit brewery -- but he'd always assumed that part of the purpose of the events was to be free to bitch about the crap that came down from above (i.e., him and Sheppard and Weir and McKay) and not just marvel at the hijinx that rose from below.

"Yeah," Radner smiled and Lorne found himself smiling back. "It's been a while since you've taken anyone on a mission."

"And they've finally forgiven me?" Lorne didn't think there were any lingering bad feelings about the missions; nothing that had gone wrong had ever really been his fault. Or anyone's.

"They're lieutenants, sir," Radner replied with a shrug that said that he agreed with the lack of blame. "They have the retention skills of toddlers. It's been a few months and now all that's left is the funny."

Which was possible with so few of their war stories.

"You want to ask Colonel Sheppard yourself or should I pass on the invite?" Not that he and Sheppard weren't going to discuss it anyway, but there was probably a protocol to these things.

"I'll ask him myself, sir, but I wanted you to know so that if he isn't sure if we're serious or not..." Radner trailed off.

"I'll tell him you're not just being polite," Lorne assured.

The conversation with Sheppard didn't take place for another week, mostly because Sheppard was off nearly getting himself killed and instead winding up with the Orion. It was on account of both actions that Lorne ended up finding Sheppard in one of the hiding places where Atlantis didn't even have to lie to say she couldn't see him.

"I think Doctor Weir's done being pissed at you," Lorne said as he stepped out on to the balcony where Sheppard was sitting with his usual hiding-out gear -- laptop, travel mug full of tea, cookies, and Athosian pillow-thing.

"Probably," Sheppard agreed with a sigh. "But I don't know that McKay is."

He gestured for Lorne to come all the way out on to the balcony.

It was enough for Lorne that he knew where to find Sheppard, so he didn't usually invite himself in to wherever Sheppard had created his private space. For a city as underpopulated as Atlantis, alone-time was a rare and precious commodity and this wasn't a case where Lorne needed to drag Sheppard back to civilization. So he grinned and perched himself on the edge of an overturned planter, resting his forearms on his knees. "That may be."

Sheppard knew that Lorne hadn't tracked him down just for the practice and Lorne knew that if Sheppard had wanted a companion, he'd have camped out in Lorne's office, so he got down to business. Which in this case was the eightieth iteration of the Project Michael story and what they were actually going to say because the Daedalus was coming in two days and Caldwell was going to want to talk about it even though there had been countless reports and AARs already sent back to Earth.

"And if that doesn't work, then we tell him to read the reports, since the IOA signed off on the fucking thing," Sheppard said, rolling his neck. Michael Kenmore had probably never been a really good idea, but it hadn't been an awful one at the time, no matter what hindsight said, and it ultimately didn't matter since they still had to live with the consequences. "When is that Cub Scout thing again?"

Lorne took a moment to register the change in topics -- surprised that he could actually follow the logic behind it. "Next Tuesday," he answered, having to think about it. "They wanted to wait until Weapons' First Platoon had evening gate room duty."

Salker had yet to be cleared for anything but light duties, which meant Gunny Calleo would be gate room officer and Salker, who was fine except for the fact that his elbow was still the size of a baseball, was free to tag along with the rest of the kids.

"Caldwell's going to feel left out," Sheppard said, looking down at the contents of his mug before taking a sip.

Lorne rather thought that was part of the point -- the marines had accepted him and Sheppard, but that wasn't a blanket blessing for all USAF personnel -- but he wasn't about to say as much to either Sheppard or the marine captains. "He'll deal," he said instead.

"Are we supposed to bring anything besides ourselves?" Sheppard asked, re-covering the mug. "Beer? Munchies? Marshmallows to make smores?"

"I think we should bring some sort of alcohol," Lorne said. "They are probably going to play it straight on that score."

Sheppard cocked an eyebrow. "Didn't Polito ask you to ask Safir to ask Clayton to ask that chemist she was dating to get them Devil Dog beer for one of these things?"

Lorne waved his hand as if to dismiss the logic. "That was for a theoretical social event not explicitly involving any military personnel," he said. Matt had been very pleased by his circumlocution and civilian involvement. "I'd hate to think what they've been drinking at other times."

Sheppard snorted. "Nobody's taken sick call for ulcers, so probably not Otkharev's rotgut."

There was a complex formula for deciding which of Atlantis's illicit booze operations stayed open, with the goal being to keep the potable, affordable stuff to a minimum on the assumption that there would naturally be less consumption of the true crap and the really expensive good stuff. Otkharev was the platonic ideal for the former -- he had been in business since the first days of Atlantis, but experience had yielded no improvement and he was content to settle for "not poisonous." Yoni said they'd used it for sterilizing instruments during the Siege and joked that it had corroded surgical-grade steel.

In the end, they went with Dr. Brown's gin, which Lorne thought was showing very high regard for the marines. Everyone knew they had low standards for booze and the still in Botany produced the best hooch in Atlantis -- and the cost reflected it. Sheppard had nonetheless procured it without bartering anything that required leaving a paper trail in Little Tripoli, a minor miracle considering Brown's sharp trading skills. Lorne didn't ask how, but suspected it may have involved McKay.

Tuesday turned out to be the kind of day that would have had Lorne reaching for booze if he'd been on Earth. Or an open spot on the shooting range here in Atlantis if he hadn't had prior plans.

Every time he wondered if maybe he was getting a handle on how Atlantis worked, something happened to very clearly disabuse him of the notion. Today's reality check had come in the form of the marines needing to be deployed within the city to quell a riot by the social scientists. Engineering had unilaterally decided to re-wire Sector C-7 and while they had gone through the rigmarole of securing a marine escort to the un-populated part of the city, they had neglected to check whether G2 had any business in the area. (Whether Zelenka or McKay was actually to blame was still unclear; Zelenka was just as capable of tunnel vision and arrogant dismissal of G2 as his boss.) After much sniping over the phones and IM, the Archaeology and Lit units had stormed into Engineering's rabbit warren, supported by Linguistics and History, and it had degenerated from there.

"It was like watching... you know those bars where the drunk guys put on the sumo fat suits and try to wrestle?" Murray asked, painstakingly tessellating his salami slices. Lorne hadn't been too surprised when the marines had shown up with a cardboard box full of cold cuts and other picnic materials; in another galaxy, cheese doodles and Doritos were something of a treat and the Daedalus had brought a supply that would disappear within a week.

"Is that what you did on your time off, Colin?" Hanzis asked severely. From anyone else, the tone would have sounded judgmental. But Hanzis was a master of the deadpan and his lieutenant didn't take it as a reproof.

"Actually, he preferred the bikini mud wrestling, sir," Salker chirped from the other side of the loose circle, focusing intently on getting a laden knife from the jar of mustard to his sandwich-in-progress. His right arm was the one in the sling and, since he was right-handed, it wasn't graceful. Morrison finally took pity on him and, liberated, Salker looked up. "Regulation haircut meant the other chick didn't have anything to pull."

Lorne laughed with everyone else. For all of Murray's bizarre luck -- and Lorne knew it was luck; Murray was as competent as anyone and had taken over Cadman's duties as the combat engineering unit in Atlantis with great ease -- he was very popular with the other officers and even the civilians. Lorne had often seen him at the center of a group of lieutenants in the commissary, holding court.

"There was a lot of belly bumping is all," Murray went on easily, used to the abuse. "And arm-flailing. It was like a penguin mosh pit. Kermit could have given some pointers to the folks over in G2."

A digression on the Muppets ensued, featuring a spirited debate between Polito and Radner on the legitimacy of the Muppet Babies cartoon versus the television show that had the lieutenants in tears from laughter. It took up most of the rest of the sandwich-making and -eating time, along with everyone piling on fitness-obsessed Patchok for indulging in the same junk the rest of them were eating. Sheppard, of course, smugly reminded everyone that he was Air Force and his PFT accommodated the consumption of Cool Ranch Doritos, conveniently forgetting that he had Ronon as a workout partner.

Inter-service jibing was a good way to break the remaining ice; the captains and lieutenants were at least used to this quasi-egalitarian setting, but having Lorne and -- especially -- Sheppard there changed the dynamic and it took time to re-establish equilibrium. The degrees to which the marines could mock and gripe about the civilians, especially the scientists and McKay in particular, changed with Sheppard there. They'd all heard him do the same, but it was different when they were the instigators. Not that anyone had to be too careful making light of the day's wackiness. ("Doctor McKay really asked for a water cannon?" Sheppard asked gleefully.)

Lorne forgot how nice Atlantis was at night; he, like everyone else, tended to spend too much time indoors and the view from his office windows wasn't very exciting. But out here, in B-1, at the edge of the city, it was very pleasant. They were far enough away from the central spire and the core network of buildings that they could see the lights more than the structures themselves and, thus obscured, it looked more like elegant cityscape and less like an obligation. They were in one of the sunken courtyards, cleaned up and partially replanted by the original expedition and then repaired after the siege. Although not to the point that the lamps worked, so it wasn't available to civilians after dark unless they brought their own lamps (which the marines had done) or the Atlantis Film Society was running an outdoor show. The ocean was audible during the lulls in conversation, as was the faint hum of the city itself.

The day had been ridiculously hot, especially considering that they were a city on the water, but the city had cooled off after sunset and now, well into the evening, the breeze from the water had picked up and it was cool enough to merit a jacket. But, since none of them had brought one, Sheppard suggested breaking in to the "Sprite" he had brought.

"Don't you dare dump that in your root beer," Polito chided Paik as the cups of booze circulated. "It's more expensive per ounce than you are. Put OJ in it if you have to."

They made a first toast to absent companions and enjoyed the fruits of Doctor Brown's labor.

The captains had been drop-jawed in their appreciation of Sheppard's gift. Doctor Brown's gin could cost you anything from your allotted tonnage on a Daedalus run to prices best left unknown. Especially for the captains, who had to pay non-Life Sciences rates and could be expected to barter a roster spot on the off-world mission list. Which was why Lorne didn't think any of them had actually ever acquired any for themselves -- despite Polito's exhortation, none of them were willing to trade their marines for booze, even good booze on a dry deployment. There were other sources -- the Athosians produced some good hooch and Atlantis was always getting wine as a gift -- and Lorne didn't think the captains were too hard up for liquor, but that didn't take away from the significance of Sheppard's gift.

The lieutenants, however, normally drank the jungle juice they made themselves. It was a continuous wonder to their superior officers -- and most of Medical -- how none of them had gotten sick from it yet.

"Do we have a star map for this planet, sir?" Morrison asked, looking up at the night sky. Morrison was the new guy, the prize they'd stolen from under the SGC's nose. He was very much still adjusting to Atlantis and its mission, but early indications were that he'd fit in fine -- and for reasons that went beyond the fact that he had replaced Cadman. She hadn't been disliked or even necessarily unpopular, but she'd been a woman in a boys' club, closer in age to her superior officers and closer in intellect with the scientists, and everyone had felt it. Including her -- Cadman's absence was supposed to be temporary, but nobody thought she was coming back.

"Yeah," Sheppard answered with a wry grin. "Science started working on one pretty early on and then the Athosians started doing their own version once they moved out to the mainland because the one we gave them was useless -- full of astronomy crap. They needed to find their way back to camp at night, not speculate on how long until a star went nova. It's why we had to use the Athosian map for Red Hood."

"Not that that helped us any," Radner muttered loudly enough for everyone else to hear and chuckle.

"Halling made the map," Hanzis grumbled. "We were trying to figure out which end was up and he had the fucking thing memorized."

"It wouldn't have been that bad if we hadn't spent a day thinking he was the good guy," Lorne pointed out. "Nobody's ever that happy to see us."

Exercise Red Hood had been all sorts of fun.

"Sir," Kagan began a little hesitantly, looking at Sheppard. "If you don't mind me asking, where'd you learn ground combat? Most pilots I knew back on Earth, they weren't exactly confusable with infantry."

Lorne had long wondered if -- when -- that would get asked; this was the question all of Little Tripoli wanted answered. It wasn't that it was such an impertinent question -- it wasn't -- but Sheppard carried an air of mystery about him, about his past, and there was something almost forbidding about even mentioning it. Even Lorne, who was in the best position of anyone in Little Tripoli to ask, hadn't. He didn't think he couldn't, just some vague sense that he shouldn't. Sometimes things came up and Sheppard didn't shy away, but he was good at evading those kinds of situations. Which is why Lorne knew that Sheppard's coffee snobbery came from his frequent deployments to Colombia but not the actual reason for why Sheppard had been in Antarctica.

But Sheppard only nodded and took a drink. "Spent a lot of time in the Nineties chasing bad guys around in places with lots of hills, lots of trees, lots of bugs, and not much else to do if I wasn't flying except sweat to death and pick up dysentery."

It was a gross oversimplification, of course, but Lorne knew from what little he'd gleaned of Sheppard's pre-SGC history and what he himself had been doing back in Big Air Force that it was also essentially the truth. He knew there was more to the story -- you rarely went from being promoted below the zone to carrying the equivalent of a scarlet letter without something damned interesting in between -- but it was enough to answer the question and satisfy the curiosity of the marines. If they wanted, they could brainstorm and figure out where some of those places were and what Sheppard would have had to have been doing there.

"My entire company got dysentery in Kosovo," Radner sighed almost nostalgically. "All at once with only four outdoor shitters between us.I was the new company XO and my first command decision ever was about where to dig new latrines. Thankfully, it was January and everything froze before it could stink too badly."

Everyone laughed; eu de overheated portajohn was pretty much a universal military experience.

"I accidentally crop-dusted Kosovo," Lorne confessed, smiling ruefully in remembrance. "Boom malfunction after a refueling. Sprayed the Nighthawk, then pissed JP-8 all over Gnjilane District until we got it stoppered. Nighthawk driver was angrier than anyone else."

Another round of laughter, this time as much with Lorne as at Paik, who had been a fighter pilot before getting conscripted to Atlantis and was typically high strung for the species.

From there, the trading of stories went on, from strange encounters in Pegasus to strange-in-more-familiar ways encounters from Earth. The lieutenants went on most of the trade runs and got into the one-upsmanship of who had been offered the weirdest deal. (Eriksson seemed to win with household-gods-for-sunglasses.) Radner had a few stories of his early adventures with the SGC in their home galaxy and Lorne had many more. Everyone in Little Tripoli seemed to think the Goa'uld were pretty fabulous as enemies; compared to the Wraith and the Ori and the irhabi on Earth, the Goa'uld were relatively harmless and absolutely tacky and, having been defeated, thus became fun. Lorne couldn't quite share their enthusiasm -- he still had the torture scars -- but he could appreciate it.

Somehow they managed to get from Hathor to the ZPM from Giza to the list of addresses provided by the 'other' Doctor Weir.

"And there weren't ZPMs at any of those addresses, sir?" Osgeny asked, making himself another sandwich. Salker kept picking at the pile of chips on his plate and Osgeny held the little plastic mustard knife threateningly. "Keep it up and I will gimp your other arm."

"There was one at the first address we tried," Sheppard answered after Salker had been forced into a strategic withdrawal. "But we lost it to those whackjobs on Dagan."

"You lost it, sir?" Polito repeated. Lorne was sure that the captains knew the rough story -- or at least why Atlantis didn't have any relations with Dagan -- but he doubted that the kids did. Which was probably why Polito was prompting.

"That was a helluva day," Sheppard sighed, running his fingers through his hair. "The four of us dug up half the planet, got ambushed by Genii, fought off the Genii, and then got flipped by the Looney Tunes who were living out some Da Vinci Code thing. I'm not sure which would have been less frustrating: having found the ZPM and lost it or never having found it at all."

Lorne didn't miss the way everyone else perked up; Sheppard in story-telling mode was a rarer treat than the gin. Even for him. He'd heard stories and read reports, but most of what he knew that didn't come from reports still came from Yoni or someone else who'd been around. The lieutenants asked questions about the Brotherhood of Fifteen and Sheppard told them about how McKay had figured out that the map was much more literal than they'd realized.

"Did Dagan have anything to do with Malthusa, sir?" Morrison asked after Sheppard told them about the murderous game of Sudoku that revealed the ZPM.

Lorne wasn't surprised that Hanzis had made sure Morrison was familiar with that story even as the young lieutenant was still learning the basics of Pegasus.

Sheppard shook his head no, but grimaced. "One of the secret squirrels on Dagan called the Genii to tell them we were there, but Kolya was already on the outs with Cowen by that point, so how much of him showing up was an official state action and how much was just him looking for revenge... I don't know what Kolya would have done with the ZPM if he had gotten it. I don't know that he knew. I'm not sure he was thinking past getting the ZPM and killing us, maybe not in that order."

It was a source of pride as well as concern among the marines that Sheppard was considered such a high value target by the Genii. Lorne didn't inspire that kind of pride, something that left him more relieved than jealous -- he knew he stood highly with the marines on his own, in his own fashion.

"I'm not even sure Kolya is still alive," Sheppard went on, staring absently at one of the portable lamps. "Ford didn't seem to have any intel on him and he was plugged in to the Genii network, more or less."

"Could Ford have been lying, sir?" Hanzis asked carefully.

As proud as the marines were of Sheppard, they didn't know what to make of Ford and the lieutenants in particular were wary of their erstwhile predecessor. Only Radner had ever met him before his 'accident' and, since then, Atlantis's only interactions with Ford had been cause to have his name and image stripped from the Wall and classified as a deserter. That would have been enough for the marines -- and for Lorne -- except for the fact that everyone from the original expedition was hesitant to outright condemn the man. Even Yoni, never one to allow someone to play the victim card, thought Ford was more a product of his demons and circumstances than actually malevolent. That didn't mean that Yoni would hesitate to stop Ford from endangering Atlantis, but instead that he doubted that harming Atlantis was Ford's goal.

"He could have been," Sheppard allowed, still not looking up. "But he had no use for Kolya and Kolya would have happily used him to get to us if they'd interacted. Or just outright killed him -- Ford had a role in both times we beat him. The Genii are crazy, but they're not totally without a survival instinct. It's part of what makes them so dangerous. Kolya... Kolya may have been interested in stopping the Wraith at some point, but by the time we met him on Dagan, he was firmly in the 'better to reign in hell than serve in heaven' camp."

What followed might have been a somber silence until it was broken by Polito. "Aaron, get your hand out of the coleslaw."

Gillick's hand wasn't actually in the coleslaw, but he was resting it near enough that it might have looked that way from Polito's position. Gillick shifted over, nearly knocking over Patchok's cup with his boot in the process.

"How have the Ipetians not tossed your ass back through the wormhole?" Patchok asked as he re-settled his cup far from Gillick's large foot. "You're fucking hopeless, dude."

Gillick was occasionally clumsy -- Lorne had seen that firsthand in their month together on Planet Nowhere -- but he was also very successful as an envoy to the Ipetians.

"Yuenthea likes me," Gillick replied with a shrug.

With Maguire gone, Gillick was the lieutenant most likely to be given the hardest combat-likely missions, and the dichotomy between his civilian bumbling and professional competence was no small part of his appeal.

"She's not the only lady on Ipetia who does," Polito pointed out dryly.

Gillick's good looks and self-effacing charm were the rest of his appeal and Lorne had heard quite enough from his own marines on that score. It wasn't actual resentment, more that Gillick was a safer target than continuing to piss off Yoni by reminding him that he had a very committed fan among the Ipetian gentry.

A chorus of watches beeped on the hour almost simultaneously -- except for Kagan's, which beeped a good ten seconds after everyone else's. ("Is that why you're always late to meetings, Jamey?" Radner asked archly.) It was as good an indicator as any that they should probably begin to pack up for the evening. There was a full slate of missions on the schedule -- the Daedalus being in meant that Sheppard was eager to be out -- and none of the marines wanted their men to think that they were out partying hearty while everyone else was either spending a quiet night in the barracks (for USMC values of "quiet night in the barracks") or on duty.

Lorne and Sheppard thanked the marines for inviting them, Radner thanked them for attending, and the lieutenants bargained among themselves over who would take which leftovers. Lorne didn't think any of the food would last long enough to see dawn.

As had been the hope, the result of the picnic out was an increase in the confraternity among the officers. Lorne noticed that Kagan and Morrison stopped looking so nervous every time they had to interact with him without a captain to run interference, at least, and there was a united front when it came to dealing with the aftermath of G2 storming Engineering's fortress (an event unofficially known in Little Tripoli as the March of the Penguins). The Daedalus ended her port call without any major blowouts between Caldwell and Sheppard and Lorne was left torn between basking in the peaceful lull and wondering what was coming down the pike to make up for it.

Three weeks later, a Wraith hive ship arrived.

feed me on LJ?

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25 August, 2007