by Domenika Marzione


The email came unadorned except for a bland 'FYI' type line or two from Lorne, which meant that:

(a) Lorne wanted to make sure that John actually saw the email. He'd been CC'ed on the original and hadn't needed Lorne's forward... except maybe he did because he hadn't realized that he'd been CC'ed on the original until he'd seen his name in the forwarded headers;

(b) Lorne wanted to talk about it in person, since by this point John could read volumes into his XO's understatement;

(c) Marines were batshit insane, which wasn't news either in general or in the context of the ones in John's care, but was still a concept being reinforced here.

(a) and (b) might have direct relationships to (c). Although Lorne knew better than anyone else what sort of character the Marine Corps cultivated, so this was probably a request for guidance in shaping that insanity toward a more productive end.

"Mad Matt's at it again?" John asked, leaning against Lorne's doorway.

Polito wasn't the sole author of the war games exercise -- there were touches that could only have come from Radner and Hanzis -- but he was the driving creative force. And that he'd gotten the other two captains to contribute was a testament to their unity of vision for what Atlantis's marines should be doing. As well as a warning sign that John better think long and hard before agreeing to it.

"Apparently," Lorne answered, looking up and grimacing.

John took that as an invitation to enter and crossed the room to his favorite chair, picking up the Rubik's Cube as he sat. "It's been a rough couple of months," he began. "If the leathernecks want to go crazy, I'm inclined to let them. Within reason."

The marines had lost men -- John had lost them men. They'd been sent packing back to Earth with their tails between their legs before the job was done and then yanked back to Pegasus just as soon as they'd re-acclimated. They had spent the last few months apologizing for their sudden disappearances, for their failure to be when and where they promised to be, and rebuilding trust lost -- in two galaxies. They were frustrated and aching for a fight and if John couldn't give them one, then he could at least give them something close.

"It's their definition of 'reason' that I'm worried about," Lorne replied wryly. "This makes the Five Planet Hump look like a stroll in the park."

The proposal was extreme, even by crazy-ass Marine standards. A list of planets, scenarios, enemies (many), allies (few), and resources gave them possibilities of sieges, betrayals, ambushes, hostage situations, rescues, and the rare chance to emerge unscathed. It was a quick and brutal tour of all of the various ways Pegasus could kill you -- the ways Pegasus had already tried to kill them, with varying degrees of success. John didn't think anyone in Little Tripoli had actually forgotten the lessons, but he also understood, as did Lorne, why they wanted to reinforce them.

"I think the control room scenario was really just there for wishful thinking," John said and Lorne cocked an eyebrow. "I hope."

Elizabeth got pissed off every time they practiced the Enemy In the Gate Room drill; she hated being forced into her office and kept under guard, out of danger and thus also out of the loop. (The control room engineers got cranky and pissy, too, but John didn't care about them and Rodney always ended their stream of complaints with "Would you rather die?") Elizabeth went along with it because she had no choice, but he didn't see her agreeing to an extra three go-rounds just to keep the marines amused. Six times a year was enough.

"We could probably clear A-sector for them if they really want," Lorne mused, tapping the eraser end of his pencil on the papers on his desk. John suspected he'd printed out the entire proposal, which included Powerpoint slides of maps and graphs and photos. "I don't know how they'd get from there to the stargate without stampedes through the gate room, though."

"There's enough here otherwise," John said. "I say we kibosh the Atlantis scenarios -- we can do some elaborate city defense drill later on -- and maybe see if they can live without getting the Daedalus involved because I don't think Caldwell's forgiven us for the scavenger hunt yet ."

Caldwell would probably approve of the Goa'uld thing if (when) he heard about it, but John wasn't sure he wanted to take another chance with Caldwell facing most of Atlantis's marines while they were armed with Wraith stunners.

"Yeah," Lorne agreed. "And the temptation not to exact revenge may be too much for the crew."

Especially after the weapons officer got zapped with a stunner during one of the exercises.

"I won't admit it in front of the Three Stooges, but I'm impressed with the proposal," John said. "Not in the least at what they got shipped here for it."

Water cannons, experimental crowd control weapons, and a few other items that John couldn't believe the SGC had coughed up when they still wouldn't send drone weapons.

"It's like that episode of MASH with Radar and the Jeep," Lorne chuckled.

John nodded. "We should at least let them use it. Preferably not on us."

"You've got to be kidding me," Elizabeth said as soon as they sat down. "Pain rays?"

"The marines'll love it," John assured her, settling down and preparing to weather the worst of the storm. "We'll have to ration time with it, like we do with the other cool toys."

That didn't seem to have the placating effect John was hoping for. In fact, Elizabeth's eyebrows went up even further.

"It's been tested many times, ma'am," Lorne said in his most soothing voice. "It's safer than most everything else they have to play with in Little Tripoli and we really don't have anything else we can use for a Replicators scenario."

Elizabeth looked at Lorne skeptically, the way she did when she was sure he was covering for John but couldn't prove it.

"And it's already here," John added. Pragmatism usually got him points.

"So are the Wraith," Elizabeth shot back. "I don't see you using them."

"Actually, on Page Eight...." John trailed off with a grin. "Seriously, Elizabeth, it'll be a useful teaching tool. You have to train as you fight and we can't safely reproduce most of the hazards the marines will face in this galaxy. This is something new, something that they can't anticipate, and it'll be effective for what we need it to be."

Elizabeth took a deep breath, but when she didn't immediately say anything, John knew he'd won that point. She may have thought that he gave the marines entirely too much rope to hang themselves, but she also knew that he would give them whatever training advantages they could get and she trusted him on that score.

"Does this mean that you won't be using the Wraith stunners again?" she finally asked.

"Um, no, ma'am," Lorne replied. "A Wraith ambush is going to be included in all three rounds of the exercise."

The plan was to run the exercise three times, each company alternately running the gauntlet, being the gauntlet, and staying back in Atlantis to protect the city and see to regular duties. The exercise would change each time, to avoid any advantages gained by repetition, but there would be constants in each iteration and the Wraith would be one of them. John was looking forward to taking the Dart they'd acquired out for another spin or three.

"It says here you're making this a joint training mission?" Elizabeth tapped the Page Down key and she skimmed the screen.

"Yeah," John confirmed. "We figure this'll be a good experience for the Ipetians -- Valarn wants his people to have a little more hands-on practice and we weren't able to do the annual shindig because we were on Earth, so..."

They'd been training the Ipetian militia almost from the beginning and the marines liked working with the Ipetians, who had the necessary ethic if not the skill with technology that John didn't think any of them had really understood until it wasn't there.

"And the Athosians?" Elizabeth prompted.

"The Athosians are reprising their roles as bad guys, ma'am," Lorne answered. "Halling's choice. The armorers are trying to graft paintball pellets on to rubberized arrow tips for them to go hunting marines."

Elizabeth smiled slightly and John grinned in response, remembering Polito's giddy glee at the possibility of an army of Green Arrows.

"Everyone else will have guest starring roles, depending on which scenarios we're using," Lorne went on.

"So I saw," Elizabeth said. "Some of the... assignments... seem to strike a little close to home."

John looked down, pretending that he didn't know that Elizabeth was watching him. Most of them had come from his experiences, but that was both completely irrelevant and very much the point.

"That was intentional, ma'am," Lorne said, maybe a touch louder than necessary. "It's the most effective way to evaluate if we handled situations in the best possible way."

"I don't see Pheobus or Thalan -- or their analogs -- on the list," Elizabeth said questioningly.

"It was conflated with the Goa'uld and my adventures with the Ancients," Lorne answered with an even tone. "A sort of general 'compromised element of the senior command' scenario."

"We certainly have a wealth of examples to choose from," Elizabeth murmured sourly. "I'm going to assume that you have medical protocols covered, yes?"

"Beckett and Safir are both involved," John confirmed. "We'll have a medical station on every planet and every platoon's got a corpsmen now, so we're not anticipating anything weirder than usual."

The worst usually involved sprains, strains, the occasional broken bone, dehydration, and a half-dozen allergic reactions. All were avoidable to some degree and successfully doing so was part of the exercise.

"Is Doctor Safir participating again?"

Yoni had usually gotten dragged into these things because they were short of medics, but now that they'd brought back a dozen corpsmen, Yoni's involvement beyond vetting the medical business was because the marines wanted him there and he wanted to do it.

"Yes, ma'am," Lorne replied cheerfully. "Capacity to be determined. But I'm sure they'll come up with something good."

Carson had offered a few suggestions, each more unflattering than the last.

Elizabeth grimaced. "I know I'm going to end up regretting this," she sighed, holding up her hand to forestall protests. "But go ahead, have fun, and make sure to leave the scientists alone."

next part | Back to the fic index

1 December, 2010