Plus Ça Change

by Domenika Marzione

"Ah! Right on time, Major," Doctor Beckett greets him, then sighs ruefully. "I never got a chance to say that in Atlantis."

Lorne grins; having met Lieutenant Colonel (Select) John Sheppard, he's not surprised. "I'll try to give you cause in the future, Doc."

Beckett beams at him again. "I'm sure you will, Major. Shall we get started? I know you've got quite a lot to do these days."

That's an understatement, but Lorne knows that Beckett knows that -- he's got just as much to do -- and so he nods and follows Beckett through the rabbit warren that is the lab the Atlantis CMO is using as a staging area. In the large, cluttered area there are nurses and airmen Lorne recognizes and he greets them with a nod and a smile -- he's certainly seen them enough under less pleasant conditions to appreciate the current ones. He doesn't know how many of them, if any, are going to Atlantis. The SGC is trying to keep everyone here at the Mountain from being appended to the expedition, which means that in addition to finding new personnel and briefing them on Pegasus, the Atlantis staff is first having to explain that there are aliens. Lorne's already had that conversation twice with two groups of marines ("Short version: they're out there and most of them want to either kill us or enslave us -- or, apparently, eat us") and has a fine appreciation for the irony that anyone who already was convinced that there were aliens is probably not fit to be part of the unit.

"I'm quite pleased that you volunteered to try the gene therapy," Beckett says as he directs Lorne past a makeshift wall of tall metal shelving to their destination. There's no chair -- at least no chair Lorne can see under the piles of folders and boxes of equipment and who-the-hell-knows-what -- and so he leans against a relatively clear stretch of lab bench. "Especially considering that you're military. The rarity of the gene's natural occurrence and the fact that the therapy has such a poor success rate has meant that civilians have had to be forced into roles to which they weren't suited."

Beckett turns to him as he puts on a pair of latex gloves. "Which really means that I'll be very happy if I never have to fire a weapon or fly a jumper through a storm ever again."

"I'm pretty sure two hundred-plus marines and a couple of Air Force pilots will be able to make that happen," Lorne assures, watching as Beckett pulls out a distressingly large needle and a series of brushed metal containers.

The truth of it is that he's really not volunteering; he's being volunteered. There had been plenty of rationales offered by very important people for why trying the ATA gene therapy would be a good idea. Some of them are even true. But while there are a couple of useful tasks he'll be able to perform if he were to develop the Ancient gene, most of the really important ones -- especially as a military man -- would still be beyond his scope because they required a natural gene carrier. And so while Lorne is admittedly intrigued by the possibilities, the truth is that he's doing this as a way of indicating that he's willing to play nicely with his superior officers, that he's still the good little airman Landry and company thought he was when they gave him the job, and that whatever taint he may acquire working in Pegasus under a commander as politically apathetic as Sheppard hasn't started yet.

He is under no impression that Sheppard doesn't understand just how tenuous his own position is -- or that he doesn't know how to play the game -- but he's been thus far baffled by how Sheppard doesn't seem to realize how his own disinclination to do so affects everyone around him. They are going to get screwed six ways to Sunday as it is -- the SGC not only doesn't want to part with men, but also materiel and pretty much anything else that an airman can run to Home Depot for here but isn't easily acquirable in Pegasus. And while the original expedition may have lasted a year on MREs, local flora and fauna, and some obscenely good luck, Lorne has a pretty good idea just how much of a fixer-upper Atlantis really is and that that sort of wilderness survival isn't feasible with the population of the city about to explode by a factor of six. He's been XO of the Atlantis Battalion for three weeks already; courtesy of Master Sergeant Jefferson, he has a very clear understanding of just how much they are going to have to rely on the benevolence and largesse of the SGC. Which is why he's sitting here being a lab monkey and wishing Sheppard would at least stop goading general officers if he's not going to start kissing ass.

"This will be like every other injection you've ever gotten," Beckett begins, concentrating on doing whatever he's doing to fill up the syringe. "There will be some localized soreness, maybe a slight fever and other flu-like symptoms. If anything else occurs or if it gets too much to handle -- by which I mean it starts to feel like you're actually ill -- then you come straight here. Do not wait until a convenient time, do not sleep on it, and do not pretend that you're not uncomfortable."

Lorne's read up on the procedure -- he's not about to do something completely insane just to get a couple of extra machine guns for Atlantis -- and is okay with the risks. The procedure is slightly less than half effective and there was only one fatality in its administration, a death that might have been preventable with Earth facilities. The odds say that nothing, good or bad, will happen except maybe a headache.

"Air Force pilot," he says, pointing at his chest because it's clear Beckett is waiting for an acknowledgement. "That's military speak for 'big baby.'"

Beckett gives him a meaningful look, the loaded syringe in his hand. "I'd have believed that -- maybe -- if I hadn't spent a year having to torture confessions of infirmity out of Major Sheppard."

This isn't the first time someone's said something like this to Lorne, that Sheppard is pretty much always opaque and getting relevant personal information out of him requires brute force. Lorne knows this already, even without the hints. Sheppard answers questions when asked, but almost as if he were divorced from the actions he had witnessed, like he was a camera instead of a participant. It's like talking to an AAR and it would be a little freaky were it not for the fact that Sheppard is seemingly personable and acts like he doesn't realize what he's doing.

"Don't worry, Doc," Lorne promises. "I'm a whiner."

He isn't really -- a couple of years on a gate team with Edwards has improved his stoicism many-fold -- but it makes Beckett smile, which was the point.

The shot doesn't hurt nearly as much as it should considering that the needle is longer than Beckett's hand. Lorne is band-aided, given a couple of packets of Tylenol and instructions to return tomorrow for a check-up but to report immediately if he's not feeling well. After that, they spend a few minutes discussing business -- marines-as-orderlies, training corpsmen (they've got one instead of one per platoon), required vaccinations and medical inprocessing -- before he heads back to his 'suite'.

"How'd it go, sir?" MSgt Jefferson asks as Lorne enters. Jefferson's anteroom is dominated by the sort of chaos that comes with moving an entire battalion's worth of another service's men to another galaxy. Lorne has no idea what is in any of the boxes that surround Jefferson's desk like ramparts. "You going to turn all Luke Skywalker now?"

"Nah," Lorne sighs, going to the coffeemaker and pouring himself a fresh cup out of the just-made pot. Jefferson is a coffee snob, something he apparently shares with Sheppard, and Eight O'Clock Coffee beans have never fouled this Braun. He feels a twinge in his injection-side shoulder as he reaches in to the mini-fridge to get out the milk. "But if I start turning into a bug, call the SFs before you call Doctor Beckett."

"Wilco, sir," Jefferson replies with a completely straight face. He's been at the SGC for a few years and he probably doesn't even register it as a joke. Lorne isn't sure he made one, either.

Lorne's been out of the office all afternoon, so there's catching up to do before the marine captains show up at 1600. Sheppard stopped by earlier, but Jefferson has no idea if he actually wanted something or if it was a social call. Sheppard has done this regularly -- drop in as if it were nothing, but the two of them always wind up discussing Atlantis and their marines for a couple of hours -- so Lorne has begun to suspect that this is simply how Sheppard works. It's a sea change from Edwards, but Lorne thinks he'll adjust. Jefferson, however, is not sure of what to make of such a commander and gets flummoxed by Sheppard's seeming lack of clear purpose.

"Anything else I need to know about before the leathernecks show up?" Lorne asks, rifling through the day's mail. He has no idea how to care for and feed two hundred infantrymen, so he's letting the marine captains figure that out. It's a task they have taken to with great gusto, although their wish lists are admittedly just that -- wishful thinking. Nonetheless, he translates everything they give him into Air Force and submits it, hoping they'll get a fraction of what they ask for. ("Can't ask for shit from the Marine Corps, sir," Jefferson had explained when Lorne had asked why the Air Force was playing sugar daddy. "They live offa the Navy's scraps and we can do better than that.")

Lorne takes the important mail -- Jefferson has already been though the pile and weeded out the junk and the requests that are going to be going back to him anyway -- and heads into his office, which is really just a conference room. There are piles on the floor and on the table here, too, but the ones on the table are what he's concerned with, at least until Huey, Dewey, and Louie turn up and want to know, in all seriousness, if they can get LAVs shipped to Atlantis.

By the time he gives up and packs it in for the evening -- hours after Jefferson has left for his baseball game -- Lorne has, quite honestly, forgotten about the gene therapy. He took the Tylenol because he was starting to feel a little crappy, but as the countdown to their departure draws near, he's had to learn to ignore the personal things like discomfort and hunger and exhaustion and heartache. He doesn't feel weird or different or otherwise like Gregor Samsa, so he goes down to the commissary for a meal and then off to his temporary quarters (which has a kitchen, but not much beyond breakfast foods and he had Eggos for dinner last night).

The next morning goes like every other morning has gone for the past three weeks -- chaos interrupted by bureaucracy and the usual smattering of crisis because this is still the SGC and just because he's no longer running around the galaxy getting into trouble doesn't mean that other gate teams aren't. The normalcy lasts until he has to report down to Beckett's lab.

He shows up five minutes early, which has the side effect of pleasantly surprising Beckett but was really intended to avoid Colonel Planchett, the SGC's Logistics Officer, who wanted to "discuss" the marine captains' wishlists.

"Any unusual side effects?" Beckett asks as he first checks Lorne's blood pressure and then takes two vials' worth.

He's tempted to make a crack about chittering in his sleep, but doesn't. "Just what you said would happen," he replies instead.

Beckett finishes up labeling the vials of blood and nods, pleased. "Very good. Now let's see if it has been to any purpose."

Beckett is holding what Lorne assumes is an Ancient trinket. He's seen some Ancient tech -- mostly after he found out he was going to Atlantis, but some of it had been floating around from Antarctica for the last few years -- and it all has the same kind of aesthetic. Louis Comfort Tiffany was an Ancient, Lorne is sure, or he knew about them. It's a pleasant change from the bombastic tackiness of the Goa'uld; having spent quality time breaking in and breaking out of their facilities, he's not sure he'd be able to live and work in one of their palaces without going blind from the bling.

"Here," Beckett says, holding out the device. Lorne accepts it, startling slightly at the buzz he hears (feels?) once he makes contact. It's like a static shock, but not. He'd been hearing something ever since he stepped into the lab, but had assumed that it was just noise from one of the eighty billion pieces of tech, Earth and Ancient, in the lab. Obviously, though, it isn't.

The trinket starts to glow a dull blue.

"Woah," Lorne murmurs, because the connection feels weird and awesome and ticklish and like he's just developed another sense.

Beckett's grin broadens to a satisfied smile. "Congratulations, Major, on being one of the forty-eight percent."

Lorne smiles back, mostly because Beckett's glee is infectious. The rest of Lorne's mind is already past the euphoria (I can hear objects speak to me) and is instead working on how many ways this new wrinkle -- which he had pretty much been betting on not happening -- will suck up his already limited time left on Earth. He's not that slavish to a schedule, but he's doing the work of five people already and his ability to be a legion of one is already being pressed to the max.

The answer, of course, is that there are many, many ways this (admittedly pretty cool) development can fuck with his yang. Before the end of the day, it becomes known that he's got the gene -- and so the scientists who had heretofore been impossible to locate and couldn't be bothered to answer their emails are now suddenly all aware of where Lorne's office is and that he's got a working phone. Doctor McKay himself shows up, which is something like getting a visit from the Pope -- at least that's the way he acts -- and demands Lorne touch this, that, and why can't you come down to the labs and spend sixteen hours being a guinea pig? Sheppard earns himself grace and thanks by distracting McKay and promising to handle Ancient frottage duties until they board the Daedalus next week. McKay isn't completely placated ("But you're a special case. I need to see how normal people function." "Rodney, where are the normal people in this facility?"), but he goes away.

That afternoon, in addition to seemingly random but really anything but conversations about past assignments and command styles, Sheppard and Lorne talk about Ancient technology. For the first time, in the middle of a description of flying the puddle jumper craft that await them in Atlantis, Lorne sees what might be the John Sheppard beneath the surface.

There are ten days before the Daedalus breaks orbit and heads for Pegasus and Lorne ends up spending a few hours every couple of days down in the labs the Atlantis people have been using, acclimating himself both to the technology and the people. Lorne thinks the toys are easier to deal with. He learns that the bauble Beckett gave him was really about as innocuous as Ancient technology gets, but for better or for worse, he's immune to the most intense interactions -- you need to be a natural carrier for that.

Nonetheless, he gets a decent handle on the "switch flipping" part of having the ATA gene; he can turn most stuff on or off without too much effort. He only really gets knocked on his ass once, by some device that he doesn't know what it does because he can't get it to work and nearly gave himself an aneurism trying. Turns out Sheppard can't get it to work, either, and that McKay was simply fishing when he'd asked Lorne first. Lorne takes that as permission to deny future demands for time and help, especially once the rest of the marines show up and he finds himself a chaperone for an especially well-armed elementary school field trip.

Herding marines becomes his chief purpose once they're underway -- the Daedalus crew is both intimidated and disgusted by so many leathernecks running around their ship. The tension eases somewhat when the marines build themselves a couple of gyms in an empty hangar... and then ratchets itself back up when Sheppard agrees to let them run a scavenger hunt. Lorne is admittedly to blame, too, because the idea was so bizarre that it seemed worth pissing off Colonel Caldwell even though Lorne knew he should be reminding Sheppard that that was the likely result.

Nonetheless, in between helping Doctor Weir run interference between Caldwell and Sheppard and trying not to get killed by Wraith computer viruses, Lorne gets some quality time in with some actually useful Ancient tech, namely the PDA. He takes long, peaceful walks through the ship on the pretext of learning how to use the life signs detector and energy analyzing features and finds a quiet spot in one of the unused library study carrels to work on reading Ancient numbers and letters. It keeps him mostly sane until they get to Atlantis, at which point all hell breaks loose because everyone underestimated how happy the city would be to welcome (and welcome back) so many of her lost sons.

feed me on LJ?


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25 August, 2007