Die Verwandlung

by Domenika Marzione

It happened completely without planning, which spoke to the integrity of the men involved but ultimately wouldn't mean shit if they got caught. Two was a conversation; three was a conspiracy. Atlantis's four most senior officers sitting in a room figuring out which orders to disregard was a mutiny even if it had only started when Lorne had gone over to Hanzis's office because Mike was the guy most likely to have extra pencils.

"With all due respect to Colonel Caldwell, sir," Polito had begun with the standard military disclaimer before pronouncing someone wrong, an idiot, or both. "Some of these 'suggestions' are going to be at best hell to implement and at worst detrimental to the marines and the entire expedition."

Sheppard had been officially relieved of command at 1830 yesterday at an impromptu meeting in Medical. By the time Lorne had logged in to his email at 0545 this morning, there'd been four messages from Caldwell, three of which detailed an extensive overhaul of the Atlantis Battalion's SOP. Not an overhaul of the SOP Atlantis had been living by, the one Sheppard and Lorne had crafted with the input of the captains and intended to reflect the reality of the situation on the ground. Instead, Lorne suspected that this was an overhaul of what had been Caldwell's original plan for Atlantis, back when he thought he'd be getting the command, and recently tailored to replace what was already in place -- by hammer and tongs if necessary.

Given voice by their commanders, the marines as a body were bridling.

Lorne was bridling, too, for both the same reasons and ones entirely his own, which was why he hadn't nipped the bitch session in the bud, had let the captains speak their pieces and detail all of the places where they thought Caldwell was plainly not used to working with either marines as a species or rifle companies in particular.

"I know," Lorne had sighed when they'd wound down, reflexively looking behind him to the door even though he'd known that Caldwell was either still in his meeting with Weir, back on the Daedalus, or somewhere in between and wouldn't be showing up to Little Tripoli unannounced. "Just take care of the easy stuff first and hopefully Colonel Sheppard will be back in the saddle before we have to worry about the rest. Be obedient on the matters of process and we may be able to hold our ground on substance."

Caldwell's suggestions ranged from the petty to the practical -- Lorne would be the first to admit that neither he nor Sheppard had the background to be designing garrison defenses -- and most of them could be implemented without major inconvenience. Some would even improve the efficiency of the marines. But the sheer number of them were a statement unto themselves and it wasn't one that sat well with anyone. It was one thing to take issue with Sheppard's command decisions when he was able to defend himself; it was another to tear apart his work while he was incapacitated and yet still able to witness it. Lorne wasn't sure if Caldwell was being ruthlessly pragmatic or cavalierly disrespectful of the man he believed didn't deserve to have the job he had been jockeying for from the moment they'd found out that Colonel Sumner had been killed. Either way, Caldwell was not the most loved man in Little Tripoli right now for more reasons than that it was very obvious that he didn't have a feel for how the city as a whole functioned and was trying to bring the mountain to mohammed.

Lorne left the captains before any of them got into specifics about which orders they planned to circumvent, disregard, conveniently misinterpret, or otherwise fail to obey in a timely fashion. They'd been working together for six months that sometimes felt like six years, so while he trusted the three to act in appropriate manner, he still would have liked to remind them that just because Caldwell was giving them pretext and permission to undermine the carefully negotiated compromises with the civilian element -- most of the truly egregious procedures were a result of such bargaining sessions -- that didn't mean that those had to be the first parts of the orders they obeyed. But he couldn't because that would be simultaneously giving permission to disobey other parts of the orders. And while he wasn't sure how he'd handle a permanent transfer of power should the worst occur, giving subordinates tacit approval to disobey the commander was not it.

He stopped by Medical late on the way back from the commissary after lunch as per Beckett's request, but Beckett (and Yoni and Clayton and pretty much everyone not the dentist) was still in one of the brainstorming sessions, so he told Nurse Tomita that he'd drop by later.

There were marines in the hallway outside his office when he got back to Little Tripoli.

"Gentlemen," Lorne greeted them as he approached. His office wasn't exactly in an out-of-the-way place and he technically did have an open-door policy, but he rarely ever got visitors except Sheppard, the captains, or men sent by the captains. He expected it to be the last -- Sheppard's precarious situation aside, business in Atlantis didn't just stop -- but it wasn't.

"Sergeant Ballock's team is still hovering outside, aren't they?" Sheppard asked, not turning around from where he was seated by the desk.

"Yes, sir," Lorne confirmed, pleased that he kept the surprise out of his voice. He hadn't seen Sheppard since yesterday in Medical, when they'd had a brief chat about what would happen to Little Tripoli during Sheppard's hopefully brief convalescence. Lorne hadn't been sure who had been reassuring whom then, nor was he sure what Sheppard was doing here now.

"I'm getting a little stir-crazy," Sheppard said with a wry smile, his familiar laid-back grin undone by the slight wildness in his eyes. Not madness, but something frenetic that was all the more jarring for Sheppard's usual affectation of laziness. "I haven't really cultivated any hobbies here and there's only so much TV a man can watch in a day. And I'm not sure it's a good idea to go down to the gym."

Sheppard had thus far only shown physical symptoms -- increased energy and strength, most notably -- and he was pale. The infection site was covered up by long sleeves, so Lorne couldn't see if it were any bigger or otherwise changed. Nothing threatening, although Sheppard had definitely been spooked by whatever had brought him and Teyla to the infirmary yesterday afternoon, even as he'd later tried to laugh it off. But Lorne knew that there was much more going on below the surface -- there inevitably was with Sheppard -- and he wondered how dangerous that was.

"You're welcome to do paperwork," Lorne offered, sitting down. "I won't tell anyone you're working off the clock."

Sheppard smiled at him and, for a second, he looked perfectly normal. And then the mask slipped for a moment and it was all Lorne could do not to turn away. To not look past Sheppard to see if the marines were still in the hallway because he wasn't sure he wanted to be left alone with this man who wasn't quite his CO anymore.

It should have been like seeing his first Goa'uld, except his first Goa'uld had been a jovial Tok'ra and even the glowing eyes hadn't startled him like this did.

"I've already heard about the paperwork I'm missing," Sheppard said with a blitheness that wasn't even a good facsimile of real. It sounded like a threat.

"I wouldn't worry about it," Lorne assured him, a little more vehemence in his voice than perhaps he would have liked to use. "Remember the obedient and deferential men you lead."

"I'm not worried about the marines." The smile was more like a sneer this time.

"Maybe I should go talk to Caldwell," Sheppard mused. "Maybe I can talk him down some, make things easier for you guys. Worse comes to worse, I can blame it on the bug thing."

Sheppard tripped over the last two words and Lorne felt for him, but he also saw the white-knuckle grip Sheppard had on the chair arm.

"With all due respect, sir, I'm pretty sure that would be an awful idea," Lorne said, marveling at his own understatement. "We'll be doing enough damage control once you're cured."

It had already started. Doctor Weir had already committed thousands of words to the pages required to keep the SGC and IOA off their backs. That the SGC had a long and storied history of key personnel turning into Goa'ld, Jaffa, bugs, cavemen, and a couple dozen other embarrassing and potentially dangerous altered states... didn't mean much. The SGC had no institutional memory -- it was a survival instinct -- and little forgiveness for Atlantis.

"If I'm cured," Sheppard said with brittle cheer. "Last I heard, there was no progress down in Medical."

"Have faith, sir," Lorne told him. "They've done more with less."

They were quiet then and Lorne wasn't sure if he should get back to his work -- Sheppard, the regular one, had been content to sit and be occupied by his own thoughts or the Rubik's cube while Lorne had been occupied by military bureaucracy.

"If they don't," Sheppard began quietly. "If they can't... can you?"

Lorne knew what Sheppard was asking, but pretended he didn't. "Sir?"

"I've read Kafka, Major," Sheppard replied seriously. "Chittering like a roach is not how I want to end up. I'd like to think that Carson can undo what's been done. But if he can't, I'd also like to think that someone here can do what needs to be done."

This was something that was in everyone's mind and nobody's mouth. Neither Caldwell nor Weir had not so much as hinted about what they thought should be done if Sheppard was truly lost to them. It effectively left the decision up to Lorne, which was something he was both grateful for and appalled by. He'd caucused with the captains, since whatever happened would probably happen at the hands of a marine and no amount of honor, courage, and commitment could prepare a man to have to kill his mutating CO. If -- when -- he became a threat, the standing order was to stun him; all marine patrols had been issued Wraith weapons. If no stunner was to hand, then whoever it was would shoot to wound if there was imminent danger. Sheppard knew this part, had agreed to it -- but nobody had breathed a word about lethal force. Let alone a mercy killing.

"Our decision from yesterday still stands, sir," Lorne said, since Sheppard was waiting. "We're not going to endanger any member of the expedition, including you. Our preference is still to sedate until a cure can be found."

McKay had engineers working on the stasis pod they'd found the other Elizabeth Weir in; nobody knew if it could be used again or if they'd even have the chance to use it. Beckett had quietly admitted that Clayton's analysis predicted a very rapid decline.

"Major," Sheppard said with more force. "Evan."

"You have my word that I won't let you hurt anyone, sir," Lorne promised. "And that will go all the way to killing you if that is our only choice. But don't ask me to assist in your murder."

Sheppard nodded once, then stood. Lorne stood as well and watched Sheppard leave, exchanging a concerned look with Sergeant Ballock when the marine poked his head in to check that Sheppard had left everything intact in his wake.

It was the last time he saw Sheppard until near the end, after the search for a cure had already cost the lives of two marines and before they'd been forced to let Sheppard try and save himself.

Like all good Stargate Program horror stories, they were eventually able to joke about the episode -- carefully, since it had not been an incident without loss. But in the years that followed, they never once spoke of the conversation in his office again.

feed me on LJ?

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29 December, 2007