This is a "day in the life." As any military man will tell you: for every hour doing the fun stuff – chasing bad guys, being chased by bad guys, blowing shit up – there are one hundred hours worked in maintaining the status quo.
17 Apr 2010 Updated:
17 Apr 2010
Author's notes: Many, many thanks to my betas, Beetech and Kriadydragon. They did their best to show me the error of my ways, so all of the bad bits are my fault.
Author's notes 2: I have to confess that this was started as part of a challenge (I've completely forgotten which one and which community it was for- should never have cleaned out my email history!) that was due sometime in the middle of 2009. I was given a prompt of "burnout." To whomever was running the challenge: my profuse apologies; mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Chapter 1 by ga unicorn
burnout: (bûrn'out') ooooo
• A failure in a device attributable to burning, excessive heat, or friction.
• a fire that is totally destructive of something.
• Physical or emotional exhaustion, especially as a result of long-term stress or dissipation. One who is worn out physically or emotionally, as from long-term stress.
"Next on the list is M93-822," Lorne said, looking over the top of his laptop monitor.
One of the privileges of rank was getting to see the mission roster before the other team leaders, and Sheppard and Lorne took advantage of it every month. Not that they loaded up their schedules with all the jewel assignments, but it did mean that they – perhaps, occasionally – didn't get as many of the crap ones.
Captain Scipio had forwarded the list of proposed missions for the following month, some already flagged for a squad or larger group of Marines. However, there were a dozen or so that did not (appear to) require a team of Marines for either protection or brute strength.
Sheppard waited for Lorne to continue, but then the planet designator clicked and he groaned. "Ibarna. Damn, is it that time again already?"
" 'fraid so, sir," Lorne said, working hard to keep the amusement out of his voice.
"I don't suppose you'd care to go in my place?"
"I'd love to, sir," Lorne lied straight-faced, "but you know the Ibarnans will only deal with you, and Teyla'll want to negotiate for the Athosians."
Sheppard glared at him suspiciously, but Lorne schooled his face to show only sympathy.
"You better not be laughing at me; I write your OER," Sheppard muttered finally, turning back to his laptop, which was currently showing his calendar for the next month. "Damn it. I've already got two trade negotiations scheduled. At least it's not until the twenty-seventh. "
He pulled up the planet on the intranet and calculated the time differences.
"We'll leave about 1630 AST. That'll give us six hours to get through everything. Which reminds me," he muttered, typing rapidly. "A note to remember to get a large supply of Mylanta from medical before going offworld."
Lorne coughed, obviously trying to keep from laughing. Sheppard tried to glare, but could feel a smile pulling at his lips.
"You laugh now, Major, but karma is a bitch."
Sheppard resisted the urge to sigh, rub at the headache blooming behind his right eye or bang his head repeatedly on the conference table. Instead he kept a politely interested look on his face and his tone even.
"I understand what you're saying, sir. And if the Ibarnans seem amenable to –"
"The IOA wants to see a more efficient use of time for all expedition members, whatever their rank in the organization," Woolsey said, looking primly over the top of the file he was perusing. "According to records, you have been going to M93-822 two to three times a year since the first year of the expedition and that the terms of each agreement are basically the same: so many men to help harvest the specified crop or crops in exchange for a percentage of said crops. Is that correct, Colonel?"
"Yes, sir, that's correct. However, -"
"Granted, a single day here or there does not seem like much, but they add up. You need to get them to agree to an extended contract so that you can free up this time." Woolsey's expression changed to his Friendly Manager smile, the one that clearly said: 'I've made a perfectly reasonable request, now follow my instructions no matter how asinine', which always made Sheppard clench his teeth to keep from saying something that'd get him an Article 15.
Woolsey had called this meeting to review the various trade missions Sheppard would be conducting – with the help of Teyla, of course – this month. Two missions had grown to three had grown to a half-dozen, not counting the two non-trade missions that McKay had insisted be put on the team schedule and the three 'new world exploration' they had caught.
Despite the jibes from his team, Sheppard thought he was vastly improved at the haggling process, even earning Teyla's nod of approval on several occasions. He was trying to take this need of Woolsey's to review every previous agreement and 'make suggestions' for improvement as a learning tool, but it was getting difficult.
"I'll certainly do my best to get them to see the benefit of a long term contract. However," he said, holding up a hand when it looked as if Woolsey was going to interrupt again, and still had to talk over the man. "However, the last time we insisted on an extended contract, the Ibarnans locked us out of that harvest and tried to screw us on the next one. They're one of our largest suppliers of fresh produce. If they refuse to deal because we offended them, we're going to have to scramble to find two or three others who can fill that hole. The IOA might just have to accept that this is Pegasus and long term isn't a good bet, not when populations can shrink from several thousand to a handful with one culling."
Woolsey stared at him for a moment and then looked back down at the folder. "Well, I'm sure you'll do your best."
Pages flipped back and forth for a moment. Sheppard hoped that the subject of Ibarna was finished, but luck was not on his side today.
"You only ever exchange labor for a portion of the crop," Woolsey finally murmured. "There's nothing else they're interested in from us? Medicine? Basic infrastructure improvements?"
"They don't even like the hot cocoa mix, sir," Sheppard said, smiling. Everyone was still a bit amused by the deal he (and Teyla) had negotiated with the fishermen on M91-636: Swiss Miss and Kool Aid (bug juice) for fresh fish. "Seriously, except for our repairing the aqueduct system in their town during the first year, all the Ibarnans want from us is manpower. It's what they trade with the Athosians also."
"We seem to trade manual labor with several of our contracts?"
Woolsey made it sound like a question and Sheppard barely managed to suppress a groan. He knew the expedition leader was under pressure from the IOA, but this was brought up every time a new round of negotiations happened.
"Yes, sir," he said, trying to think of a different way of explaining. "But this galaxy is largely agrarian; there are damned few planets where the Wraith haven't managed to keep the population from advancing. If crops fail or if a community suddenly loses a large portion of their population to the Wraith and can't get their harvest in before it rots, then this system of bartering labor for food makes sense. And it's good PR for Atlantis, like humanitarian missions on Earth. Besides, my sending the men out to pick lettuce or apples doesn't cost the IOA a dime."
"But we could offer them so much more."
A small, frustrated noise escaped him. "But they don't want more. Some are happy with what they have. For some it's a religious or superstitious thing: what we offer is witchcraft or magic; or having more will attract the Wraith's attention, they think. Shovels, work gloves and rope they don't have to make themselves are fine. Windmills and indoor plumbing are not."
How many times had he explained this; how many times had Elizabeth tried to make the IOA understand? Maybe one of these days, with enough reiterations, comprehension would spontaneously occur.
Woolsey sighed and put the file aside. "I'm sure you'll make every effort to comply with the IOA's wishes. That's all, Colonel."
Bland smile in place, teeth clenched, Sheppard made good his escape. He needed some place private where he could bang his head against the wall.
When he woke up the morning of the twenty-seventh, it took him few moments to figure out why he had a feeling of impending doom and then he remembered: Ibarna.
Groaning in disgust, he rolled over and pulled the pillow over his head. Maybe he could smother himself with it. Or develop an incurable disease before the afternoon. Or... but no, someone still needed to go to Ibarna. and that someone could only be him and his team. Muttering curses he'd learned from Ronon, he rolled out of bed and pulled on his PT clothes before heading out to join the Marines for a workout in the dawn's glow.
Later that morning his team met for breakfast. The atmosphere was a little thick on McKay and Ronon's side of the table, both bored by the number of trade missions they'd had to participate in this month – by merely showing up, since neither contributed to the negotiations – and resentful that their requests to be left out of today's mission had been rejected. He didn't really blame them. He had spent a few minutes figuring out just how many hours they had spent during the last three weeks sitting on their asses, going back-and-forth, deciding how many man-hours (or vaccines for how many people, or help designing/building a sewage system, or...) for how many bushels of potatoes/rice/figs/apples/etc. The total hours had been rather appalling; no wonder he felt so mentally exhausted and physically restless.
Sheppard told them to think of it as a team building experience when they'd asked him if they could stay behind. The Ibarnans were expecting the four of them and would be upset and suspicious if only Teyla and Sheppard appeared. Neither had been impressed with his arguments.
McKay was showing his displeasure by alternately ignoring Sheppard and being especially pissy when forced to acknowledge his presence. Ronon had taken it out on him during their hand-to-hand training session the previous afternoon and he had the bruises to prove it.
This morning the disgruntled duo did their best to ignore him, keeping their heads down as they worked their way through a large stack French toast. After receiving non-verbal grunts to his greeting, Sheppard stuck to chatting with Teyla. The two malcontents began talking to each other, their voices low enough that what they were saying was unclear, but loud enough so that their displeasure was made known (as if the frequent glares were not enough of a clue). When the conversation inevitably turned toward the day's mission, the disruptive noise on the other side of the table increased. The eruption of the squeeze bottle of syrup, clutched in Ronon's fist as it spewed its contents across the front of Sheppard's BDUs, ended it.
"Ronon!" Teyla could pack an enormous amount of disapproval into a single word.
"Oops," Ronon murmured, smiling dangerously at Sheppard.
He laid down his fork carefully and looked across the table at his two problem children, ignoring the syrup running down his neck and under his t-shirt.
McKay's face wavered rapidly from amused to horrified and back again. Finally, he glanced over at Ronon. "Good one."
"Thanks," Ronon rumbled, still watching Sheppard for a reaction.
Sheppard waited a few more seconds, wanting to be calm when he spoke. He cleared his throat. "I get it," he said mildly. "You don't want to go this afternoon. I understand. I'm not looking forward to a solid week of heartburn, myself. But if you want to be on an offworld team you go on all the missions, not just the ones that are interesting to you."
He grabbed his tray and left before he said something inappropriate. The sound of Teyla's scolding tones followed him out of the room.
Sheppard nodded, even though Woolsey couldn't see him over the comm unit, and made affirmative noises with an occasional 'understood' thrown in as he finished strapping on his gear. Woolsey the Micro-Manager was positively OCD, reiterating mission points just prior to any team heading through the 'gate, even if they were virtually unchanged from the original mission request and had been discussed ad nauseam in the command staff meeting, and then again during the pre-mission briefing.
He finished clipping his P-90 to the harness and turned to wait for McKay who was still fussing with his bootlaces and had yet to don his vest. The rest of the team were ready, Teyla sitting patiently on a bench and Ronon pacing with a bored restlessness that did not bode well for the upcoming mission.
By the time McKay was (finally) pulling on his vest, the droning in Sheppard's ear was slowing down. He straightened away from the wall he'd been leaning on and signaled to Ronon to start McKay moving.
"I think I have all that, sir," he said, working hard to keep the impatience out of his voice. "We'll be home with a new agreement in plenty of time for Teyla to put Torren to bed."
Of course, Woolsey still had a few helpful tips to impart to which Sheppard dutifully grunted acknowledgment. His team was moving now: Teyla, followed by McKay still trying to get the vest settled to his liking while being herded along by Ronon.
When they reached the hallway outside of the 'gate room, he radioed Control and told them to dial Ibarna.
"Come on, McKay," Sheppard snapped, resisting the urge to physically push the dawdling scientist to a quicker pace. He wanted to get through the 'gate before Woolsey decided to remind him (for the third time this morning) that they were to call home if the Ibarnans insisted on something outside of the approved parameters. "Hustle up."
Unsurprisingly, McKay's pace did not quicken.
"I don't know what your rush is," McKay's voice was muffled from looking down as he fumbled with the fastenings on his tac vest and tried to walk at the same time. When he tripped over his own feet, he was saved from crashing to the floor by Ronon grabbing the vest and lifting. If he looked momentarily like a cartoon character running in mid-air, no one dared to laugh. "It's not like this is a life-or-death mission to save the galaxy or even the planet. We're going to negotiate for barley or cucumbers or whatever. And I am completely baffled as to why I need to participate."
"Don't make me remind you of all the boring missions we've gone on because you were positive you had located the site of ZPM's-R-Us. And you and Ronon will do your best to not look bored and not do anything to offend the Ibarnans. Right, Ronon?"
A grunt was his only reply and he stifled the urge to sigh in exasperation. This was going to be a long mission, really, really long. At least he'd get a decent walk out of it; the Ibarnan's had carts, but they were only for moving produce. It was a couple klicks from the stargate to the negotiating site; they'd never been invited into the town and had seen it only from a distance while inspecting the fields with Hettar.
When they entered the 'gate room the stargate was already active. He silently urged his team to hurry. They were still a half-dozen meters from the event horizon when Woolsey called down from Control.
"Colonel Sheppard, I need to – "
"Keep moving," he muttered when Teyla seemed about to stop. Tossing an apologetic smile over his shoulder, he held up both arms and pointed to the watch on his left wrist. "Don't want to be late for the negotiations," he called up. "You know what sticklers the Ibarnans are."
And with that he stepped into the wormhole.
Four hours into the mission and his stomach, despite the coating of Mylanta he'd given it before leaving Atlantis, was churning. McKay had long since pulled out his favorite toy – the Ancient's energy detector – and was playing with the settings, getting it to emit a distracting bip! every few minutes. Ronon was propped up in a dark corner and Sheppard suspected he was asleep; hopefully he wouldn't snore. Although it was preferable to what Ronon had done during the last round of negotiations: practice flipping a knife from hand to hand.
The Ibarnans, stuffy and pedantic and anal retentive to an alarming degree, had not been amused. It had taken some quick talking from Teyla and a promise of an extra team of Marines to help with the next planting (without any additional shares of the resulting crop, of course) from Sheppard to keep them at the negotiation table.
Ibarnans did not trust in long term contracts and insisted on making a new agreement with each harvest. Sheppard would not have continued to drag McKay and Ronon along on these trips, but he had made first contact with a four member team, and it was expected that he would show up with the same "attendants" for each negotiation. The first meeting after Ronon joined the team had required an elaborate explanation on Sheppard's part.
Almost four years since first contact and the ninth round of negotiations, he had it down pretty much to a science. A politely interested look on his face and no attempt at jocularity – the Ibarnan's were unamused and unimpressed by a lack of seriousness. There was a tedious opening tea ceremony, an exchange of gifts and a brief inspection of the fields before they sat down for a feast featuring items that would be available with this harvest. Conversation during the meal consisted of compliments for the fare and the produce it was made from. Ibarnan cuisine left much to be desired, but the raw produce was good so he didn't feel bad about lying.
Finally – finally – the dishes were cleared and they got down to business. He opened by explaining what Atlantis needed and what they had to offer in payment.
Sheppard made a good faith effort and brought up the possibility of a long term contract – maybe two harvests instead of just one? – and something tangible for payment instead of manual labor. But he dropped it when Hettar's expression, never too animated to begin with, had frozen and his eyes had started to narrow angrily. A hasty apology for forgetting the Ibarnans' preferences and they quickly got back on track. Now if they could just come to an agreement on the final figures: so many bushels for this many men working for this many days. Hettar and his assistants had to hold a whispered conference with each proposal. What made it all the more frustrating was that the final ratio of bushels to man hours rarely varied in the end.
The Ibarnans had made the mistake early in their relationship with Atlantis of offering the Lanteans all the produce two platoons of Marines could harvest in one day. The men had taken it as a challenge and proceeded to clear twice as many fields as any other group, thereby throwing off Ibarnas profit margins. After the second time it happened, the Ibarnans insisted on changing to the current payment method.
Sheppard stifled a belch, grimacing at the acid burn in his throat. He wished he could lean back and let Teyla hammer out the final figures for both Atlantis and the Athosians. It was his impatience to get it over with that tripped him up in negotiations like this. Teyla never seemed to grow impatient with the process. He always left the table suspecting he could have done better.
Hettar and his cronies were in another whispered conclave over what Sheppard hoped would be the final figures (a full platoon of Marines for five 12-hour days and Atlantis would get five percent of the current crop of root vegetables) when Ronon sat up and looked toward the doorway.
He glanced over, but no one was there so Sheppard returned his gaze to the huddle of Ibarnans.
The huddle broke up and Hettar turned back to Sheppard. "We believe this is a fair apportionment of – "
"There's a fire," Ronon announced, standing and going to the doorway.
Sheppard resisted the urge to go over and check for himself, looking instead to Hettar for clues on how to react. The Ibarnan trade leader did not look happy with the interruption.
"If there is a fire somewhere, then others will take care of it," one of Hettar's minions snapped, offended at the intrusion.
Ronon ignored the statement, opening the door and disappearing outside. As soon as the door opened the smell of smoke, barely perceptible before, permeated the chamber. It could be someone firing up a cooking pit nearby or it could be something larger. Sheppard glanced around. McKay was looking a little worried, having flipped right to disaster mode, and Teyla had the slightly strained, vaguely embarrassed expression she got when the men she worked with failed to follow protocols. His gaze flicked toward the Ibarnans and he had to stifle a sigh. This was going to add another hour to the negotiations, at a minimum. A burp erupted without warning and he bowed his head to resignation. Two hours. At the very least.
Before he could begin his apologies the door opened again and Ronon stuck his head in.
"You might want to come look at this," he announced calmly.
"If there is a fire outside of the cooking area it will be...," Hettar began, stuttering to a halt when a man shoved past Ronon into the room. "What is it Marteen? We are in the mid- "
"Your pardon, Councilors," he gasped, leaning forward as if to bow and ending with hands propped on his thighs as he tried to catch his breath. There were soot smears on his face and clothes, and a scorch mark on one sleeve. "The town is on fire. Half the silos are already destroyed. And the flames are being blown this way."
By this time everyone was on their feet and crowding the doorway. Sheppard managed to force his way through and followed Ronon's pointing arm toward the west.
The Ibarnan town was approximately five kilometers northwest of the stargate, now hidden from view by rolling hills two klicks away. He pulled his binoculars from his vest and studied the view. Smoke was billowing up over the top of the hill, along a hundred meter or so path. No sign of flames yet, but there were local deer and other critters dashing out of the trees and into the fields. He couldn't see a border between the woods and the crops; he already knew that the only break between the various crop fields was a path just wide enough for one of the pony carts to travel.
He handed over the binoculars to Hettar and showed him how to adjust the vision.
"Do you have fire breaks?" he asked.
Hettar lowered the glasses, pale and grim. One of the other councilors snatched them from his hand.
"Councilor Hettar?" Sheppard urged.
The man looked away from where the smoke had almost completely obscured the hilltops. "I'm sorry, Colonel Sheppard, I'm not familiar with that term."
"It's space between the woods and the fields, or between the fields themselves," McKay interrupted impatiently, "where there is no flammable material; wide enough so it would be difficult for the fire to jump from one field to the next. Do you have any? 'Cause it sure looks like you don't. How the hell do you people put out fires?"
"McKay!" Sheppard snapped warningly. He looked down at Hettar, who was looking more human than Sheppard had seen him at any point in their four year acquaintance. "Do you have a system for fighting fires? May we be of assistance?"
Hettar shook his head sadly. "If fire escapes the town there is nothing more to do. It will burn until it is finished. There has been little rain the last few moon cycles and the irrigation ditches are almost dry. It may reach the orchards this time."
The orchards were on the far side of the stargate. There were unhappy murmurs from the other councilors, but no one made a move toward the fire.
"Will you allow us to help you put out the fire?" Sheppard asked. "I can't promise how much of your crops we'll be able to save, but it can't hurt to try."
The nameless councilors started whispering in Hettar's ear, but for once he did not appear to be listening. He locked gazes with Sheppard. "You know how to stop a fire of this size?"
"With no water drops, it'll be more containment until it burns out all its fuel; but, yes, we have experience doing this."
"Then we will welcome your help," the head counsel said, waving aside the whispered objections of his fellows. "What do you need?"
"First, Teyla, take McKay and double time it back to gate. Tell Lorne I want a company here ASAP with the wherewithal to fight a brush fire; the company commander will know what to bring. And I want a jumper to get an aerial view of what's happening. Go on." Sheppard watched as the two disappeared around the corner, McKay already protesting the pace Teyla was setting. He turned back to the Ibarnans, a grim smile twisting his lips when he realized that the headache that had been plaguing him all afternoon was gone. "So, gentlemen, lets go round up your people and see what we can do."
Twenty hours later Sheppard stumbled back into the Atlantis gate room at the tail end of a company of filthy and tired (but still boisterous) Marines, Teyla and Ronon at his side. He was just as filthy as his men and still slightly damp from the load of water that had materialized over their heads and successfully smothered the last of the fire. McKay and Zelenka's years long tinkering with the Wraith culling beam had allowed them to use a jumper to deliver water to the fire. Unfortunately, it had taken almost fifteen hours for the two men to get the equipment attached to the jumper and then convince the Wraith and Ancient equipment to work together.
It had mostly been an old fashioned brush firefight: a lot of digging, some small, controlled fire, and a couple explosions. Fighting to keep ahead of the fire; winning in some spots and having to admit failure in others. In the end about a quarter of the Ibarnans' fields had burned, but it could have been much worse.
He'd been up over forty hours now and the adrenaline rush had faded long ago. Yawning, he started to rub his tired eyes, remembering at the last moment that his hand was covered in antibacterial burn gel. His hand had been well-scorched when a small bush he'd been trying to pull out of the ground suddenly burst into flames. Minor first and second degree burns and the hair on his forearm burned away; didn't even rate a visit to the infirmary, thank goodness. It'd teach him not to have a pair of work gloves in his vest. Right now all he wanted was a cold shower, a gallon of water to drink and bed. And some more Mylanta, he added, as another wave of indigestion hit him.
Ronon and Teyla wandered off to their own beds. Sheppard handed his P-90 off to one of the sergeants on gate room duty, to be returned to the armory, and was about to follow his teammates when Woolsey appeared.
"Ah, Colonel, you've returned. A moment of your time, please," he said gesturing with his mug toward the stairs leading to his office and balancing a covered food tray in his other hand.
Sheppard groaned quietly. He hadn't noticed until now that the angle of sunlight on the gate room floor indicated an early hour; a new work day in Atlantis had begun. He was too physically tired and too mentally fatigued to give Woolsey a formal report right now.
He wavered, torn between duty and a deep-seated urge to be become horizontal as soon as possible.
Mustering a tired smile, Sheppard leaned against the closest wall. "You'll be happy to know, sir, that the Ibarnans were so thankful for the help with the fire that they've agreed to a two year, six harvest contract. They still want manpower to bring in the crops, but they also want help extending their aqueduct system to their fields." He didn't even try to stifle the yawn that threatened to crack his jaw. "I'm going to get cleaned up and hit the rack for a couple hours before writing this up. I've been up for over forty hours and I'm – you'll excuse the expression – a bit burned out."
Smiling sleepily, he left Woolsey standing in the middle of the gate room and went to find his bed.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.