Never Go In Against a Sicilian When Death Is On the Line

by Domenika Marzione

On the ever-growing wishlist for offworld missions, Yoni Safir was fairly sure that a planet with no extended welcoming ceremonies was near the top, possibly surpassed only by 'no Wraith'. Although there were times when the possibility of Wraith would definitely have broken up the monotony of interminable speechifying and entreaties to the Ancestors to bless this meeting of two peoples.

In a galaxy where the most common form of transportation was interplanetary travel via stargate, it seemed improbable that every collection of huts and houses really needed to go through a whole production to greet visitors. And yet that's what always seemed to happen. At least to their team.

Ortilla was doing the Meaningful Coughing thing again, which probably meant that he was showing his boredom. It couldn't be helped; they'd been at this for an hour already and it was hot in the direct sun. Lorne and the village leaders were under a canopy, but the rest of them were exposed to a summer sun that was proving unrelenting. (The canopy really looked like a chuppah with the vines and the lace and the four bored attendants holding up the poles; the idea that the half-heard mumbling was a secret wedding ceremony had kept him amused for the first ten minutes or so.) They had taken off their hats as a sign of respect and Yoni knew his black hair was hot to the touch and his ears were probably red; Reletti was already sunburned and Suarez and Ortilla were both a little rosy as well.

The village leader was holding up a goblet for the inevitable drink of friendship (or whatever the phrase of choice would be) and Yoni hoped that this meant that the ceremony was drawing to a close. Either Lorne would be married or they'd at least get out of the sun. Maybe both. Either way, he was prepared to shout "Mazel tov!" and put his hat back on.

Lorne was being offered the massive cup first and he needed two hands to hold it. Yoni couldn't hear well enough to know if Lorne had been told he needed to take a sip or finish the cup, but he seemed to drink the proper amount, judging by the approving smiles on the leader's face.

And that, in hindsight, was about the last thing that went according to plan.

The leader was drinking his own portion when Lorne took a step back -- staggered, really.

"Stuff must be stronger than he thought," Reletti murmured behind Yoni, who was inclined to agree -- some of these agrarian societies could produce some pretty potent local moonshine. It was a funny notion... at least until Lorne turned away from the canopy and looked right at Yoni, eyes full of fear.

In the time it took Yoni to curse and run to catch Lorne before he collapsed, the marines had their rifles unslung and ready.

He could hear the village leader protesting innocence, flustered and afraid, and the marines' shouted questions, but he wasn't paying attention. Let Ortilla handle the scene; his own priority was making sure Lorne didn't die.

As a matter of course, he knew the basic facts about each of his teammates -- allergies, prior serious illnesses and injuries, blood type. Lorne didn't have any serious allergies and he hadn't seen them put any substances in the cup other than the liquid.

"What did he drink?" Yoni called out, not looking up. Lorne was breathing shallowly and was unconscious and flushed, but whether the last was a symptom or simply a result of their walk to the village, it was hard to tell. He didn't rouse when Yoni tried. "Reletti! Help me get him into the shade."

Reletti appeared immediately, putting down the P-90 to help carry Lorne out of the sun.

"They say it's some sort of fruit wine," he said as they settled Lorne's body on the ground. "Don't you dare move!" he barked at one of the pole-holding attendants. The canopy snapped tautly.

"Get some examples of the wine and the fruit, both of the fresh fruit and if they're using any sort of dried or preserved version," Yoni told him as he continued his exam. Reletti muttered "aye, aye, sir," and disappeared, retrieving his rifle as he stood up.

Without his sunglasses and in the shade, Yoni could tell that Lorne was indeed unnaturally flushed -- a deep red instead of the pink both he and the similarly fair Reletti had turned earlier. He opened Lorne's eyes and cursed.

"What?" Ortilla asked from behind him.

"Cyanide, or something that acts like it," Yoni replied. "We need to get him back to Atlantis now."

"It doesn't look like a planned assassination," Ortilla said as he crouched down. "The locals are too freaked. Do we have time to get him to the gate ourselves or should we call for a lift?"

Calling for a lift would require someone running ahead to the stargate and calling Atlantis from there. Even with a pilot ready, it would take time, but it would take less time than trying to carry him all the way back themselves.

"Neither. Both," Yoni replied. "Call for a lift and we'll make our way toward the gate."

He checked Lorne's pulse again. It wasn't as rapid as it had been before, which was both good and bad.

Ortilla stood up. "Suarez!"

Yoni heard Suarez's footsteps as he ran to them, but kept his eyes on Lorne, making sure he was still breathing. Poison ingested by mouth meant that any CPR would be complicated, so hopefully it wouldn't be necessary.

"What do you need?" Suarez asked.

"Get to the gate and get us a jumper," Ortilla answered. "Tell them it's an emergency and the major's been poisoned."

"Tell them it's possible cyanide exposure," Yoni added. Suarez was the fastest runner on the team and whoever was clinician-on-call would know what to pack. "Go!"

Lorne spasmed and Yoni turned to him, ignoring Ortilla's final instructions and Suarez's departure. Lorne's eyes opened and he looked around, confused and terrified.

"Doc?" Ortilla asked.

Yoni kept his attention on Lorne, asking questions to see if he understood (he did) and determining how well he could breathe on his own (not well). On Yoni's instructions, Lorne didn't try to speak or move.

"You're going to hate me a little," he warned Lorne as he dug through his pack to pull out the bottle of emetic.

To preserve the dignity of both men, he sent Ortilla in search of fresh water and clean cloths before helping Lorne to sit up and drink the surprisingly foul liquid. They'd brought ipecac syrup from Earth, but the Athosians had something that worked faster and didn't bring about the same sort of lethargy. It smelled of sage and apparently tasted like sewage, but it worked remarkably well.

Lorne was even weaker after than before, understandably, and after Yoni and Ortilla had moved him to a cleaner spot, Yoni had to lean him back against his own chest in order to have hands free. Ortilla had put purification tablets in the water -- taking no chances after a poisoning that still hadn't been explained by the gibbering locals -- and Lorne made faces at the iodine smell, but sipped on command.

Reletti appeared, arms full. "Jug of the wine, there's a half-dozen of the fruits -- they look like little nectarines -- and a picnic basket."

"They poisoned the major and they're giving us lunch?" Ortilla asked, skepticism dripping from his words.

"I didn't ask," Reletti replied with a sigh. "They are completely freaked out. Their head guy drank from the same goblet and he's fine. Except for the fact that he thinks we're going to My Lai the village and is begging forgiveness every ten seconds."

"Wonderful," Ortilla muttered, taking his pack off his shoulder and kneeling. He pulled out the collapsible stretcher and extended it. "We good to go?"

Yoni couldn't do much more than wait until Reletti and Ortilla carefully moved Lorne to the stretcher. Suarez's transmission came through as they were organizing their packs and preparing to move out; a jumper was being prepped and would meet them on the path between the stargate and the village. Suarez was running back and would catch up to them and the jumper.

Ortilla and Reletti lifted the stretcher carefully. Ortilla also carried Lorne's pack and fended off the swarming locals, leaving Yoni to keep one eye on Lorne and the other on not tripping over the still-fearful village leader. They'd put Lorne's sunglasses on for him, but Yoni had refused to let him cover his face with Ortilla's boonie hat when Ortilla had offered.

The jog to the gate was brisk; they were about halfway and had already met up with Suarez when the puddle jumper appeared over the horizon, coming to a graceful landing a few meters away. Mike Abelard came running down the ramp, kit in hand, but Yoni waved him off until they were all settled in the jumper.

"How's he doing?" Sheppard called from the pilot's seat as the ramp retracted and the jumper took off again.

"Stable," Abelard replied as he handed Yoni the sodium nitrite. Yoni set up the intravenous line, Lorne watching impassively he inserted the needle. Mike gave him the sodium thiosulfate and stood up, going over to talk to Sheppard directly without shouting the distance of the jumper.


The trip back to Atlantis was quick and there was a trauma team waiting in the jumper bay. Yoni followed them down to the medical suites, calling out instructions and shooing away onlookers with little patience. He ordered Ortilla, Suarez, and Reletti to stay in the outer rooms and later told Sheppard to go join them and get the hell out of his way.

The four were still waiting when he emerged an hour later.

"Well?" Sheppard asked. He was sitting in the only chair; Ortilla, Suarez, and Reletti were sitting on the floor next to him.

"He'll be fine," Yoni replied, rolling his neck. Between the running and the intimate acquaintance with everything Lorne had eaten in the past day, all he wanted to do was go shower. "He's not going anywhere for the next day or two, but whatever it was, we caught it in time."

The concern was that whatever the poison was -- and it wasn't anything they could immediately identify -- would prove to have long-term effects similar to cyanide. But there was no point in bringing it up until they'd done more testing. The Ancient devices they knew how to work would probably tell them everything they needed to know, but neither he nor Abelard wanted to move Lorne around any more than they had to. He was resting comfortably -- passed out from exhaustion, really -- and would keep.

"Good," Sheppard said, nodding. "Is he up for visitors?"

Yoni ignored his teammates' hopeful looks and shook his head. "He's sleeping. Come back in the early evening."

Sheppard stood up, the three Marines doing the same.

"I'm going to go tell Dr. Weir the good news," Sheppard announced. "Let me know if you need anything or there's a change."

He left, nodding to the Marines.

"He's really okay?" Suarez asked.

"No, Suarez, I lied to the colonel," Yoni retorted, then sighed. Suarez was just concerned. "He's fine. He's going to have a sore throat and he's going to be weak for a bit."

He saw the cloth bundles next to their gear. "Reletti, give me two of the fruits and take the rest down to Botany, tell them to do a full analysis. We can test the wine here. What is in that picnic basket?"

Reletti unpacked the basket, which was really more of a macrame bag. "Bread, some more fruits, cheese...."

"Take the fruits down, too, then," Yoni said. "I'll take the rest, get someone to do a tox screen here."

Yee was their pathologist and while she hadn't been trained to do criminal pathology, she'd know what to do.

"You think they tried to poison us again?" Ortilla asked curiously.

"I don't know if they tried to poison us at all," he admitted. "You saw how scared they were. It's a new galaxy -- there are many substances that we are unfamiliar with. New allergens, new reactions, new substances."

"So the major was just allergic?" Reletti handed him the macrame bag.

"No, he was definitely poisoned by something," Yoni replied, accepting the jug of wine with his other hand. "But it may not have been something that's poisonous to people of that planet or even of this galaxy."

"Hunh," Suarez murmured. "Cool. Except, you know, not."

Ortilla stared at him flatly.

"And you give me shit for saying stupid things," Reletti accused as he shouldered his own pack. "Catch you later, Doc."

Suarez followed him out and their bickering could be heard until the outer door swooshed closed.

"You want me to do anything else, Doc?" Ortilla asked, gesturing to Yoni's full hands. "Take that anywhere?"

Yoni shook his head. "It's across the hall and I have to explain what sort of wild goose chase I want to send Dr. Yee on."

Ortilla nodded. "I'll go take the major's rifle back down to the armory, then. Take yours, too?"

Yoni had left his pack on an empty exam bed. "Thanks," he replied.

"We did okay out there, I think," Ortilla said as he collected the rifles; it was part question and part evaluation. "The major won't be disappointed."

"He's alive," Yoni said with a shrug. "He can be as disappointed as he'd like."

"But he won't be," Ortilla promised, adjusting his pack with a short jump.

"No, he won't." Yoni smiled and Ortilla smiled back.



Epilogue

"Do you want the good news or the bad news first?" Yoni asked Lorne as he pulled up a stool with his foot.

"The bad news," Lorne replied immediately. "Because if it's that you're not letting me out of here, I want my laptop."

Yoni snorted. "You're getting your tuchus punted out of here this afternoon," he promised. "The good news is that we've figured out what happened, pathology-wise."

Lorne cocked an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"MX3-4G7 is toxic," he announced, sitting down.

"All of it?"

"All of it," Yoni confirmed. "Soil samples, water samples, and plant samples all came back positive for a compound that mimics cyanide in almost every way we can measure."

It was entertaining solely because Lorne had not manifested any secondary symptoms of cyanide poisoning; the Ancient body scanner had promised no lasting damage. If Lorne had been able to keep down dinner, they'd have let him go on restricted duty last night.

"So it didn't matter what I ate," Lorne concluded. "Canary in the coal mine."

"Not quite," Yoni replied, "but close enough. If we'd sat down for that banquet, we'd all have been poisoned."

That part wasn't so funny. Because if that had happened, they all would have died. And a second team sent to find them would have been presented with evidence indicating that the worst had happened and from there... nobody had wanted to speculate. Dr. Weir had been horrified and Sheppard had simply shaken his head.

"So my being the canary saved a lot of trouble," Lorne said, face clearly showing that he'd imagined where it could have gone. "And that's the good news. Which, apart from giving you even less of an excuse to whine through the next long welcoming ceremony, is still not great news. Nor the bad news I asked for first. Spill it, Yoni."

"The bad news is that I don't think you're going to like the name Dr. Yee has chosen for the compound that poisoned you," Yoni said, choosing not to protest the comment on his decorum.

"What is it?" Lorne asked warily.

Yoni lost the fight to keep the grin off of his face. "Iocane."

Lorne looked confused for a minute, then scowled. "As in iocane powder?"

"It's actually quite appropriate," Yoni went on as Lorne sighed and sunk back into his pillow. It had also been inevitable since The Princess Bride had been a movie of the week last month.

"Don't tell the boys," Lorne implored. "They'll run it into the ground."

"They won't hear it from me," Yoni promised. Because Suarez and Reletti were funny, but not that funny. "Although keeping it out of the file entirely is impossible."

They'd all debriefed separately, so it was just a matter of the usual tons of paperwork. Yoni had had to write up most of it because, as Ortilla had explained, he was the ranking officer with Lorne incapacitated. It was a dubious argument -- Yoni had no official status as a warrant officer -- and one he thought the Marines used to their convenience. Like now.

"They won't read the files," Lorne pointed out. "It's hard enough to get them to read the mission briefings."

Lorne had a point there and Yoni tipped his head to acknowledge it.

"Is this where I thank you for saving my life?" Lorne asked after they'd watched a pair of Marines injured in a wrestling match trundle by.

"You can if you'd like, but I think this is where you congratulate yourself for putting a doctor on your team." Because while they both knew what what would have happened if Yoni hadn't been there, he had simply done what he was trained to do and it was that training that had been what Lorne wanted on his team. Also, it was embarrassing and not necessary and not all his credit. "You should thank Ortilla and Suarez and Reletti. They didn't miss a beat."

"I already did," Lorne said patiently. "And they accepted it far more gracefully than you are."

"You hired me for my medical training, not my diplomacy."

"I hired you for your medical training and hoped I could teach you diplomacy," Lorne corrected with a grin. "I've pretty much given up on that."

"Good," he said as he stood up. He'd left Nancy Clayton with a clinic full of Athosian and RDR children to go talk to Lorne; Nancy would kill him if he didn't return soon. "And if you have failed to get yourself released by dinnertime, I will prove to you just how much of a lost cause that is."

Lorne chuckled and settled back on the pillows, closing his eyes. "Promises, promises."

feed me on LJ?


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27 May, 2006