Vignettes 3

by Domenika Marzione

One

Chris is eating a donut when the world as everyone knows it comes to a sudden and sharp end.

He's sitting with Gunderson at Molly's, enjoying a home-made strawberry jelly donut and drinking the shittiest coffee in the county for his morning break when his cell phone rings. He thinks it might be Kim -- the baby was colicky this morning and she was making noises about taking him to the doctor -- but it's not.

"Put down your donut and turn on the news," Reletti says without so much as saying hello or identifying himself. But it's not like Chris can't recognize the voice or read the number on the display.

"How do you know I'm eating a donut?" Chris asks as he turns on his stool to look over at the television across the diner, which is playing The Price Is Right but with a crawl running underneath, the kind that usually contains warnings for tornadoes or boil orders. Angie, the waitress, is standing beneath it reading it in a mumble that Chris can't hear.

"Hey, Angelina, what's that say?" Gunderson calls over. Angie likes to think she looks like Angelina Jolie, but she doesn't, not even when she bites her lips so that they'll be all puffy. She hits on Chris all the time, which he could deal with if Gunderson wasn't always encouraging her for his own amusement.

"You're a cop in the middle of fucking nowheresville," Reletti retorts and Chris can imagine the smug look. "What else would you be doing?"

He wishes Indiana wasn't in the way so that he could flip Reletti the bird and he'd see it in Chicago.

"What happened?" he asks instead, since he knows that Reletti wouldn't be calling him if it was any kind of routine crazy shit. It's got to be space-related crazy shit.

"There's a city in the Pacific Ocean?" Angie reports, puzzled. "What does that even mean? We already know San Francisco's there -- you don't have to break into the show for it."

"Shit," Chris mutters, then turns away from the TV and gets up off his stool to walk to the far end of the diner to sit in one of the empty booths. "The cloak went?"

He's known Atlantis was there since it happened; he was already in Yuma by that point, but still in the Corps and still able to be yanked back in to the Stargate Program to help with the security set-up. They didn't keep him that long, but long enough for him to know that they weren't going to try to move Atlantis until they had to or until they could do it without being able to pretend they were doing something else. The fucking fireball had been hard enough to explain away.

"Apparently," Reletti replies with a sigh. If Chris resented spending his double-digit midget days playing security guard for Atlantis, at least he hasn't been dragged back into the program whenever something needed an ATA carrier and Colonel Sheppard was busy. Reletti doesn't tell him what he does or even every time it happens, but Chris knows what it really means when Reletti says something about Don Corleone fucking with his exam schedule. "There's video footage of the whole fucking city."

You don't just hide a city the size of Atlantis off the coast of California without anyone noticing it... except they did, at least up until now. There've been all kinds of crazy-ass rumors since Atlantis landed, some very close to reality but most totally nuts. The internet is full of whatever the Splashers have come up with now -- complete with Google Map imagery -- and Chris has always thought it a little funny that everyone's favorite conspiracy theorists to mock after the Truthers and the Birthers are actually right. Until now, at least, when it is no longer funny in the slightest.

"You think they're gonna have to spill the beans?" he asks. He doesn't want to have to explain to anyone about aliens or that he used to fight them. He doesn't want to be the town freak. He doesn't want his wife wondering what else he's never talked about from his time in the service; she's always been respectful of his not wanting to tell tales of the war and he doesn't want her thinking that he was taking advantage of that. As far as he's concerned, Atlantis was just another deployment -- a fucking weird one -- but he doesn't think Kimmy would see it that way.

"Christ, I hope not," Reletti sighs. "It's not like we don't have enough shit to do."


Two

"What is 'SBOM?'" John asks, slouching (further) down in his chair so that he can lean his head back and look at Lorne upside down. "Is it one of those Marine expressions?"

Every military service runs on acronyms and, after twenty years in the loving embrace of the Air Force, John is pretty sure he's got most of them down, even the service-specific ones. But the marines in Atlantis have an entirely new galaxy to name and comment upon, which has, on occasion, caused confusion. Usually when the marine doing the naming is spelling-challenged. Or Polito, whose handwriting cannot be read without a decoder wheel.

"'Sisters and Brothers of Mercy,'" Lorne replies, not looking up from whatever he's doing. Which, judging by the expression on his face, may be wishing he had a decoder wheel for Polito's handwriting.

(Charlie Company headquarters does, in fact, have a decoder wheel, as does the office where the lieutenants do their work. Why Lorne doesn't have one is beyond John's ken, except that he thinks it might be because the marines of Charlie think Lorne is actually omniscient and doesn't need one.)

"... we have holy orders fighting the Wraith?" John sits up. "What does that make us, the Templars?"

"You'd have to run that by one of the chaplains," Lorne says. "We're still trying to figure out who they are, actually."

John is both curious and annoyed; he knows that there are a lot of things, not all unimportant, that happen without his knowledge, but he'd like to think that a possible ally against the Wraith would not be deemed unimportant to tell the CO. And he knows Lorne is a better judge of what to keep from him than that, which in turn... "If I were more on top of my reading, would this not be news to me?"

"It would be less of a novelty," Lorne allows, "but the leathernecks were playing Secret Squirrel a bit, too."

Lorne explains that nobody realized anything was up at first; months ago, Osgeny had come across a pair of middle-aged ladies helping out the survivors of a Wraith attack and thought it odd enough to mention, but not odd enough to make a production out of it. A little while later, it was Murray who encountered them doing the same thing. The marines started calling them the Sisters of Mercy. When Gillick ran into them, there were men as well as women and it was a mysterious illness and not the Wraith, which lead to the current moniker and, finally, after research and discussion, someone getting around to telling the CO and XO.

"Maybe I've been in this galaxy too long, but I get nervous when I hear about other people doing good works for nothing," John says, hating himself for such cynicism. But it's not cynicism if it has a basis in fact, is it?

"You and everyone else," Lorne says wryly; he's probably thinking the same thing. "Hanzis has already been to see Teyla and Ronon, but they've never heard of anything like this."

John mentions it in passing to Elizabeth later that day. Her reaction is immediate. "Could they be Ancients?"

The thought hadn't not crossed his mind, but he'd dismissed it. "Isn't that a little too... useful for them?"

"Go ask your friend Chaya," Elizabeth retorts, eyebrow arched playfully.

"I'd rather ask Jackson," John replies, ignoring her smirk. "We might get a straighter answer."


Three

By the time Reletti is commissioned, the Stargate Program has realized that, especially among the marines, the key to a good retention rate in Atlantis is an occasional break from the Program. 'If you love them, set them free' and all that. They develop a system of deployments that lets personnel stay on Earth for two out of three rotations (often including a combat tour on Earth), form and see their families, and build lives that they can return to and rely on for emotional support. It is especially important when it comes to retaining officers, who at some point have to look to their careers if they intend to stay on past their initial contracts. The days of officers spending many uninterrupted years in Pegasus is over; even Sheppard goes back to Earth for 'shore duty.' (The Air Force is annoyed but nonetheless unable to stop the Marines' naval lingo from creeping in and taking hold.)

Reletti first comes back to Atlantis as a senior lieutenant, serving a tour in Pegasus before returning to Earth and the Real Marine Corps. He returns again as a captain and, despite every intention of going back home to the Corps after the tour is done and maybe trying to get out of the Program for real, ends up spending the balance of his career agreeing to Pegasus deployments whenever they come up.

It's not out of love for the city (which he does love, just not enough to forsake all else) or dedication to the mission (which he has, to a degree commensurate with his combined experience there) or that he thrills to the fact that he has responsibilities and freedoms far beyond his rank (he enjoys the latitude Atlantis's unique situation affords him, but he wouldn't have stayed in the Corps as long as he has if he really had a problem taking orders). It's not even all of them put together plus his unspoken-but-universally-acknowledged position as the person Atlantis likes best after Sheppard.

The people in Atlantis spend a lot more time outside of the city than they used to. More research, more trade, and after the initial waves of refugee resettlement, a lot more general-purpose mingling. For Little Tripoli, there's a lot of keeping up a visible -- and armed -- presence throughout the galaxy so that the good guys can feel safe and the bad guys know that Atlantis stands ready to kill them. There's also foreign internal defense (training up local militias) and the same sort of labor-for-food trade missions that AJ went on as a sergeant, except now the marines get a kick out of him stripping off his blouse and picking up a shovel like the rest of them.

He meets Idara during the middle of a clusterfuck; the Wraith are no longer the dominant threat in Pegasus, but they can still do damage and, once in a while, they can manage a catastrophe. She's in flexicuffs when they meet because, unsure of who was friend or foe in the dark, she'd nearly cut one of his lieutenants in half with a machete. By light of day, she's threatening to claw out the eyes of whoever put her in this humiliating and helpless position, which is why the skipper gets to cut her free. She doesn't attack, but she doesn't forgive, either, and AJ's initial take-away from the entire episode is less that she's a beautiful woman and more that this was not the friendship-building experience he'd hoped a rescue would be.

They run into each other less than semi-regularly but more than occasionally; Idara is the leader of a small nation (in the sense of 'people of common culture' and not 'Belize') that has, curiously, chosen to live on a few different worlds and she's always traveling between them and getting involved in trade and politics. AJ, whose off-world responsibilities are something like the interplanetary version of a provincial governor, is relieved when she starts greeting him without fury in her eyes. He doesn't understand why his company sergeant thinks it's funny when he says so. At least not until the time Idara corners him in an empty room and nearly has her way with him right against the wall. First Sergeant Martinson laughs hard enough when AJ confesses that one of their marines thinks he's choking.

In the movies, after meeting like they did and realizing their (her) hate was really the opposite, they'd get together and live happily ever after. But it's not the movies. It's a deployment to an outpost in another galaxy, one where everyone is strictly forbidden to get romantically involved with the indigenous population, and there isn't any chance for a happily ever after because AJ can't stay in Pegasus (and isn't sure he would if he could) and Idara can't come to Earth without a compelling reason. And so AJ, like Persephone, begins his cyclical travels between his lover and his mother, to whom he can't even acknowledge the existence of the girl he'd marry if he could. All he can do is hope that by the time his career has brought him to a point where he is no longer needed by the Stargate Program in Pegasus, something will have changed.

(AJ is well aware that he would be throwing his career away by trying to force a compelling reason to let Idara come to Earth; they try for the better part of two tours before Keller gently tells Idara that she'll never be able to bear children.)

Sheppard is not unsympathetic, but the fact is that there can't be even the hint of a double-standard and AJ must follow the same rules as everyone else regarding fraternization with the indigs. Idara can't stay in Atlantis, can't visit except for (usually manufactured) necessary reasons and has no reasons to ever be in anyone's personal quarters. AJ can't visit her without similar justification and certainly can't be seen to sneak off with her for any length of time if they happen across each other off-world. Officially, the reasons AJ keeps getting assigned to Atlantis is because of his experience, his outstanding performance, his ATA gene, and the fact that he puts up less of a fight than most of the other captains in the group when his turn comes up. And all of these things are absolutely true. They're just not the only reasons.


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2 August, 2010