Pretty As a Picture

by Domenika Marzione

Arguably the quietest time in Atlantis was in the hours after the databurst, when everyone who could was sitting down to read their emails from Earth. Administrators both civilian and military had requests and orders to sift through before getting to their personal caches (Lorne really wished the SGC would get past flagging everything as "Urgent" and just mark the actually important documents. It all got read eventually, which was presumably the motivation for the free hand with the prioritization -- unless the Mountain really considered deviations from the standard abbreviations in AARs to be a crisis on par with Ori incursions) which was why Lorne was still skimming the latest notes from General Landry's meeting with the IOA when there was a knock on his door jamb.

"Got a minute, sir?" Radner asked, looking a little... wide-eyed. Like he wasn't sure if he was going to start laughing hysterically or cry piteously.

"What's up?" Lorne asked, gesturing for the captain to enter. Radner was the battalion S-1, in charge of personnel and administration, so something had probably come that was going to make waves in Little Tripoli.

"You haven't gotten to the clarification of Marine administrative message 197/07 yet, sir, have you?" Radner asked by way of reply, coming in to the room holding a piece of paper, which he in turn handed to Lorne.

It was a rhetorical question; both Lorne and Sheppard got copies of all of the Marine administrativa, but they left the implementation to the captains when possible. In other words, Radner knew that Lorne hadn't read the message.

"It apparently fell through the cracks at the Mountain. It's dated from March."

Lorne skimmed the page in his hand. "Well this is going to put a damper on the boys' entertainment," he said once he reached the bottom. New tattoo regulations, which was both laughable and practical in a surreal sense -- getting tattoos was one of the only things the marines couldn't do in Pegasus (well, almost -- over the years more than a few had somehow found ways to get inked on off-world missions). So while the ban on 'sleeve' tattoos was more informational than an enforcement issue, the required bureaucratic maneuvers to assure uniformity with the rest of the Corps was going to take a bit of doing. Especially since the message was two months old and the deadline for compliance was coming up fast.

He looked up at Radner. "How bad is the documentation process going to be?"

Radner shrugged. "It's pretty much going to be getting the entire battalion into PT gear and giving them a once-over, then dealing with everyone who needs to be grandfathered in," he replied. "I'll coordinate a time with Matt and Mike so we only have to do this once."

Lorne nodded. "Let me know if you guys need anything," he said. Air Force regulations regarding tattoos had always been both stricter and less necessary than the Corps'; he still fondly remembered Edwards' rant on the questionable necessity of the then-new USAF prohibitions on body mutilation. ("Forked tongues? Do we really have people in this Air Force who would fork their tongue on purpose?")

"I get my sense of humor back from the laundry this afternoon, sir," Radner answered. "I'm pretty sure anything else will be optional."

"There you are," Sheppard said as he came into the infirmary. Lorne turned around, but not before catching Yoni's annoyed look. Lorne had come down to run a possible mission by Yoni, since his schedule was more complicated than the marines'.

"What do you want?" Yoni asked curtly.

"Be nice, Jonathan," Keller called over from the other counter, not looking up from whatever she was doing. "It's Thursday and you're supposed to be nice on Thursdays."

"I'm going to make up for it tomorrow," Yoni promised her.

Lorne cocked an eyebrow at what he'd thought had been a joke but apparently wasn't; he couldn't imagine what kind of deal Keller and Yoni had struck to actually guarantee a day of best behavior. Six months and he had no insight into the woman.

"No you won't," Keller replied, back still turned. "But you can go to town on Saturday."

"I'm off on Saturday," Yoni said.

Keller turned and smiled, a tablet in her hand. "I know," she told him cheerfully before turning to Sheppard. "Now is there something I can do for you, Colonel, or did you need Prince Charming here?"

Sheppard smiled, since getting on Yoni's case was always more fun as a team sport.

"Actually, I'm here for Major Lorne," he said. "The marines are re-enacting the Miss America pageant and I figured we'd go be the peanut gallery."

Lorne blinked stupidly for a second before he connected the dots. "I'd forgotten about that," he admitted.

"How could you?" Sheppard asked, still amused. "The First Sergeants have been announcing it so often I was starting to think that I had to show up in the gym at 1400 in my green-on-greens."

The truth of it was more that Lorne had forgotten what the date was; he'd been as unable to tune out the constant reminders from company commands as Sheppard.

"It's Tattoo Day in Little Tripoli," Yoni explained to the confused Keller. Yoni knew because the marines had been bitching about it for two weeks despite the fact that none of the three would need the waiver -- Ortilla was the most heavily inked of the three and he'd still been able to serve as a Drill Instructor. "The marines have to show off their 'artwork' so that it may be documented if it takes up more than a prescribed amount of surface area."

Which was about as basic an explanation as could be mustered up for a civilian. Keller had treated enough marines during her tenure in Atlantis to appreciate the situation.

"Hunh," she mused thoughtfully. "Two hundred hunky young men parading around in their skivvies and I'm stuck here. Pity I'm so conscientious. Did you tell Nancy?"

Lorne laughed with Sheppard at Yoni's disgusted expression. "I am not going to be party to your...." Yoni trailed off in exasperation, waving his hands as if to shoo the thought away. "Are we done?" he asked Lorne.

"Yeah," Lorne said, partially out of pity and mostly because he would need the same kind of favor from Yoni on some future off-world mission when the marines were feeling goofy. "Thanks."

"C'mon," Sheppard exhorted. "I want to get there before the evening gown competition starts."

With a wave to the amused Keller, Lorne followed Sheppard to the transporter. A minute later, they were following the noise toward the main gym. It was a sonic wall of chatter, laughter, and unheated argument with the occasional blast of a senior NCO's voice cutting through the din.

"Does Wrubelski really need a megaphone?" Sheppard asked rhetorically after a very clear and loud exhortation for Sergeant Alson to pay attention. "I'm pretty sure they can hear him back on Earth anyway."

Lorne grinned, outright laughing when they came through the open doorway to see that Bravo's First Sergeant did not, in fact, have a megaphone at all.

The gym was a sea of green-clad marines in some apparent-only-if-you-know-where-to-look kind of order. There were some stations set up for the inspection and more for the documentation of those tattoos deemed in need of such. According to the regulations, the offending tattoos had to be photographed, measured (in inches), and its location recorded on Page 11 of the marine's SRB. There was supposed to be official signatures here, there, and everywhere, too, but Atlantis had mastered the art of the electronic version long ago -- none of the original documents were in Pegasus, anyway. Some poor marine back at the battalion's rear echelon (to maintain both appearances and OPSEC, the battalion had a nominal HHC, which was really a room full of marines doing paperwork to make it look like everyone was still on Earth and doing regular USMC things) was going to get stuck printing out all of the photos and Page 11s and attaching them to the actual service jackets.

"It's less beauty pageant than prison booking," Lorne said as they strolled through the strictly controlled chaos. Marines getting photographed were stripping off shirts or shorts (or, in some instances, both) and holding still for digital cameras and tape measures and the occasional sharply worded question from a gunnery sergeant about how shitfaced was he when he agreed to this fucking ugly piece of work.

"They may be reprobates, but they're our reprobates," Sheppard replied, tilting his head to look at one of the shirtless marines. "What is that?"

Lorne followed his gaze to a forearm that was covered in an impressive network of smaller tattoos that worked together as a whole. "It's what would happen if Hieronymus Bosch had done Where's Waldo," he finally answered. "That must have taken days."

"And if I hadn't had command of two hundred marines for two years, I'd have wondered how he could have stayed drunk for that long," Sheppard said absently, distracted by Sergeant Colson's right shoulder, which was emblazoned with a giant American flag underneath which was a list of names and a single date too small to read from this distance. For all of the weird-ass art, a healthy portion of the tattoos were in homage to the familiar trio of God, Country, and Corps -- and occasionally all three at once, especially in the Wait Here to Be Photographed line. There were pictures of children's faces, flags, names of fallen comrades, psalms and crucifixes that took up the entire run of bicep from shoulder to elbow. It's what kept the whole event from feeling too much like an avant garde gallery showing -- that and the cursing and belching and pervasive stink of two hundred-plus men in PT gear of various states of unwashed gathering in a single room that, however well ventilated, was normally used for a purpose for which it was not intended.

There weren't that many marines who would be needing grandfathering and very few whose arms or legs were completely covered -- the 'quarter sleeve' seemed to be the biggest offender percentage-wise. But most marines, including Lorne's three, saved the really big tattoos for their torsos and kept their arm art above the elbow so that it didn't show with their sleeves rolled up. All of them, however, were quite proud to show off their tats to their Air Force visitors. ("Did you intentionally misspell that, Sergeant?" "No, sir. But by the time I could afford to get it fixed, I was used to it.")

"There are your boys," Sheppard said, gesturing with his chin toward one of the basketball backboards, under which Lorne could see Ortilla standing out among the crowd. Courtesy of a few missions gone awry Sheppard knew as well as Lorne did that none of the three were getting moved to the strip-search line. "Wanna go say 'hi?'"

Lorne was content to leave them where they were -- it was very important to the trio that they not lose their place within the pack for being 'the Major's marines' and going up to them would kind of defeat the purpose. "I've been listening to them bitch for weeks about this," Lorne said instead.

Sheppard nodded and while he didn't say anything, Lorne knew he understood it wasn't about not getting griped at.

The crowd was starting to thin out a little -- thankfully, since the room was becoming both very warm and very pungent -- as the marines unaffected by the policy change were booted out of the gym.

"How's it looking, Captain?" Sheppard called over to Hanzis, who was nearby sharing a joke with First Sergeant Dyson and Lieutenant Cardejo.

"I think I'm ready for a second career as a horse-trader, sir," Hanzis replied. "That, or a madam in a gay whorehouse. If I never have to spend the afternoon looking over arms and legs when none of them are female, it'll be too soon."

Lorne grinned. "At least you've got a lighter load," he offered. The platoon on guard duty in the gate room had an appointment later in the day -- Murray had done an informal survey and reported that only one member of his unit was even questionable for needing an exemption, which was part of the reason the general muster had been done at this time.

"The other two didn't have Sergeant Haverman explaining to them why he's got the leprechaun from Lucky Charms on his thigh climbing up Jack's beanstalk to get to his ass, sir," Hanzis responded.

Sheppard barked out a laugh, which set off Lorne and then Dyson and Cardejo. Hanzis maintained his aggrieved look, although he was clearly fighting the urge to join in.

"Do we want to know?"

"No, sir, you really don't," Dyson said with some vehemence. "It's not that kind of Don't Ask, but, really, sir, don't ask."

feed me on LJ?

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20 June, 2007