After a long week full of paperwork, arguing with a squadron's maintenance staff about when it was appropriate to submit requisition forms (hint: before you run out of crucially important parts), and trying to figure out exactly who had ordered the crate of five hundred padded toilet seats, Evan Lorne was looking forward to a relaxing Friday evening. It would involve beer, tasty cheesy fries, games of pool, and maybe getting lucky. His usual partners in crime were nowhere to be seen, as they were off doing something that involved high-performance aircraft and night maneuvers. That was either good or bad; Sheppard and Mitchell were fun to be around and tried to be good wingmen, but people had a habit of assuming he was with them in a more than friendly sense. Lady Sally's was the kind of quiet, friendly, low-key place where people didn't intrude on each other's territory, which was what Lorne preferred in a bar, and he kinda hoped that starting the night alone might increase his chances of not ending it alone.
Someone slid onto the empty barstool at Lorne's side, flagged down the bartender, and said in a smooth Southern drawl, "Evening, El-tee."
Lorne raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Senior. Never seen you around here before."
Senior Master Sergeant Anders was one of the fixtures around Edwards and a model example - perhaps even the prototype - of the gruff career NCOs who actually made the Air Force work, regardless of what officers might think. For reasons known only to him, he had taken a liking to Lorne and helped him learn more about leadership and logistics in four months than he had in four years of AFROTC, preventing a few potentially embarrassing mistakes in the process. Seeing him in a place that was, if not strictly a gay bar, a very gay-friendly establishment was not unlike seeing your father there.
"I've been coming here since before you learned to walk, sir," Anders told him.
"I don't think even you could be that old."
"It's possible I may be exaggerating for dramatic effect." Anders took a sip of his beer. "I've got a message I'd like you to pass on, if'n you don't mind."
"Sure thing," Lorne replied.
"I've noticed you've been hanging around with a couple of pilots lately. Now, don't get me wrong, the way I hear they're about as nice of guys as pilots get. You probably couldn't get better friends. Still, it might not be healthy to be too close to them right now."
A chill ran up Lorne's spine. "How's that?"
"Rumor has it that Major Armstrong over at Flight Test has it in for Sheppard. I can't imagine why, myself -" Lorne snorted softly "- but he may be getting a little close to comfort about what's going on with the two of them. If he starts making accusations, someone who spends most of his time with the two of them might find himself in a heap of trouble."
Lorne grimaced. "That'd be unfortunate, but it's not going to stop me from hanging out with them."
Anders grinned. "Good man. I thought that you'd say something like that. Still, you might want to tell them to be on their toes for a while, maybe get some camouflage." He pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket and slid it over to Lorne. "This is the number of a lady in need of some cover herself. Her name's Jenny Enfield."
Lorne took the paper and put it away, while asking, "Captain Enfield in Materiel Command?"
"I'll pass it along." Lorne was fairly certain that Mitchell would take advice to lay low seriously, and see to it that Sheppard did as well.
"Thanks." Anders pointed across the room. "Now that that's taken care of, we should take care of you. Have you noticed that boy over there keeps looking your way?"
Lorne blushed and ducked his head. "Senior Mas' Sarge, I'm pretty sure setting up an officer is some kind of inappropriate fraternization."
"There's a lot people like us do that the Air Force considers inappropriate, El-tee. Now, are you gonna go say hello, or am I gonna have to do it for you?"
Lorne did go over to say hi and they hit it off well enough to have plenty of fun that evening. Lorne didn't think there was potential for it to turn into anything more than a one-night fling, though; the guy didn't seem the type to put up with the restrictions inherent in dating an Air Force officer.
Lorne spent Saturday puttering around his apartment doing chores and working on the P-51 portrait he was making for Mitchell's birthday. He also reviewed the contents of a folder he kept locked in a small safe in the closet and made some calls to a few acquaintances of his. He had always been good at making friends with the oddest sorts of people, thanks to his own unusual upbringing, and he had often found that odd friends could help with all kinds of odd problems.
On Monday morning, he was working in his cubicle when Sheppard swaggered into the office and leaned against his desk.
"Hey, Lorne," he said. "You hear what's up?"
"Good morning to you too, Captain Sheppard," Lorne replied. "Yes, I'm having a wonderful day, thanks for asking."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Major Armstrong just resigned. Someone stuck a bunch of photos of him having sex up on our ready room's bulletin board last night, and by the time he came in half the squadron had seen them."
"Really?" Lorne raised an eyebrow. "They must have been pretty bad if he didn't even wait to see how anyone would react."
"There wasn't much room for doubt. Photos of him having sex would have been an embarrassing joke. Photos of him being fucked with a strap-on by a woman who clearly isn't his wife is an invitation to charges."
Lorne whistled softly. "Well, that'll teach everyone to be more careful, won't it?"
Sheppard smirked. "Tell me about it. The SFs are looking into it but they don't seem to have a clue who's responsible, and I don't think anyone cares too much."
Lorne nodded and said, "I can see why you think it's funny, but I don't see why it couldn't wait."
"Him leaving's thrown our entire exercise schedule for a loop, to the point that Colonel Mayhew's just pushing it back a week and giving us all some leave. Shaft and I are planning a road trip and we figured you could use a vacation too, if you want to come along."
"Hey, thanks," Lorne said with a broad smile. "It's really short notice, though. I don't know if I can just drop everything."
"You're fine," Gladys said from the other side of the room, where she sat at her desk by the major's office door and could see all, hear all, and rule all. The master sergeant was the division's administrative aide and her day planner was a holy artifact on roughly the same importance as, say, the Ark of the Covenant. Lorne was careful to stay on her good side with liberal application of his boyish charm and baked goods. "With the VELVETEEN Project's paperwork done, there's nothing important for the next week until the Pentagon finally gets around to sending it back."
"Okay, but I still need to ask Major Grey for permission to -"
"As if she'd say no, after how hard you've been working. It's a miracle you haven't dropped dead from exhaustion." Gladys tutted and turned to one of her Filing Cabinets of Doom. "You go ask her and I'll get your paperwork ready."
"Right. Thanks, sergeant." Lorne knew Grey probably would say yes, because if nothing else contradicting Gladys was a good way to invoke divine anger. He looked up at Sheppard. "Assuming everything works out, I'll still need to take care of a few things. When are we leaving?"
"We just need to throw some clothes in a bag and get going," Sheppard said. "Call it this evening, first thing in the morning at the latest."
"Cool. Where are we going?"
"I don't know. The beach?" Sheppard spread his hands and shrugged. "It's a road trip, Lorne. It's supposed to be spontaneous. Don't worry, though, I have a few ideas. You'll have lots of fun."
Lorne hadn't really meant to be intruding. All he had wanted to do was get in, get what he wanted, and get out. He had knocked before unlocking the door, and while he hadn't done it loudly, that was because it was late and he didn't want to wake the guys or the neighbors if they were already asleep. It wasn't because he was trying to be stealthy.
Well, no. Lorne had been trying to be a bit sneaky, because he knew Mitchell had been baking that day, and he owed Lorne a pie. When no pie had been delivered, Lorne had simply decided to go and retrieve what was rightfully his. What came after was a complete accident.
While creeping through the dark living room toward what passed for a kitchen in the small apartment, he noticed that the lights were still on in Mitchell's bedroom. As the bedroom opened directly onto the living room, he could see through the partly-open door. It was only natural to glance inside, especially when he heard voices inside.
"What the hell are you doing?" Sheppard asked.
"What's it seem like I'm doing?" Mitchell replied.
"At this point I really don't know," Sheppard said, "but I'm pretty sure it's not what we talked about."
"Just hold your horses. I think I'm starting to get the hang of things. I mean, it's just knots, right?"
"Knots that you're obviously screwing up. You'd think someone who went through SERE training would know what to do with ropes, but clearly that's not the case."
"Like you could do any better."
"I bet I could. Let me loose and I'll give it a shot."
"Oh, no you don't. You lost fair and square, you're not getting out of it."
By that time Lorne was standing at the bedroom door, drawn there by his desire to see just what they were doing. It was rather like watching a train wreck; all he could do was just stand there and stare. Sheppard and Mitchell were both naked. Mitchell was kneeling on the bed, while Sheppard was laying on his stomach and tied up. At least Lorne thought he was supposed to be tied up; it was more accurate to say that there were tangles of nylon rope at various points around his legs and arms.
"What the fuck," he finally said, covering his eyes.
"Holy shit!" Mitchell exclaimed. There was a thump as he got off the bed. "Uh, hey, Lorne. This isn't...."
"What what he thinks it is?" Sheppard suggested. "I'm pretty sure it is. He's not stupid."
Mitchell's face went through a thousand variations of panic and confusions as he tried to figure out why Lorne was there and, more importantly, what the fastest way to get rid of him was. Lorne could tell the moment he hit upon something by the way Mitchell suddenly grinned maniacally. "Crap, I forgot your pie, didn't I? Hold on, I'll get it for you and then you can leave."
"Excuse me?" Sheppard said.
Lorne shook his head. "This is so very, very wrong."
Mitchell frowned again. "I don't think the guy who had a threesome with two superior officers has any room to talk about what kinks are right and wrong."
"First," Lorne said, holding up a finger, "the superiors thing had nothing to do with it, so I don't think it counts as a kink. Second, I'm not saying bondage is wrong, I'm saying that," he pointed at Sheppard, who was wiggling free of the ropes with some success, "is just wrong."
"Huh?" Mitchell looked even more confused than before.
Lorne stalked over to the bed. "Well, for one thing, he's getting out of half of these, which kinda defeats the entire purpose. The knots are all sloppy as hell and you've got slack and tension in all the wrong places. I mean, look at this." He tugged on a rope around Sheppard's ankle. "If you pull this the wrong way, you're going to cut off his circulation. I'm sure that'd be fun to explain in the emergency room." He noticed they were both staring at him in shock. "What?"
"Nothing," Sheppard said. "It's just a little surprising that you seem to know so much about this."
"Oh, I see." Lorne rolled his eyes. "Just because I look harmless I can't possibly know anything about bondage, especially not from the top."
"I didn't say that."
"I'm pretty sure you did."
"No, I - okay, maybe I did." Sheppard looked at Mitchell and made a little nod of his head toward Lorne. Mitchell raised an eyebrow and made a tiny waving motion with his hand, causing Sheppard to shrug and nod again. Mitchell sighed and shrugged too.
"Are you two done yet?" Lorne asked.
"Yeah, yeah," Sheppard said. "Listen, this is going to sound a little weird, but you wouldn't mind, uh. Demonstrating, would you?"
"Just for safety's sake," Mitchell added.
Lorne thought about it. Sure, there had been that one time on the road trip, but he had just been traumatized by a close encounter of the bear kind. He could write that off as a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Doing it again, and with ropes thrown in, would come perilously close to officially making it some sort of 'thing'.
"Oh, hell, why not?" he said. He started stripping off his shirt "Mitchell, start getting those ropes off him, we're going to have to just start over to get this right. Sheppard, what's your safeword?"
Lorne squeezed his eyes shut and count to ten. "Right, we're just going to stick with 'stop' for now, because I'm not even going to try to explain how that's supposed to work right now." For one thing, he was pretty sure that Sheppard just wouldn't get it and would say something like, 'but it's Cam, I trust him to do whatever,' and then Lorne would have to smack him.
It took a while to get everything right, but Lorne was a patient teacher and Mitchell a fast learner. Sheppard, for his part, generally managed to stay fairly still when he was supposed to. There were a few points where Lorne was tempted to gag him just to get some quiet while explaining something to Mitchell, but the lack of a good gag and the need to leave Sheppard able to speak in case of trouble stopped him for the time being.
When they were finished, Sheppard was face-down on the bed his legs splayed out and bent back at the knees. His ankles were tied to loops around his thighs, which in turn were linked another set of loops around his waist, to which his wrists were tied. There was enough slack that his legs could be moved around a little; at the moment they were positioned in a way that left his ass up in the air.
"This is actually pretty comfortable," Sheppard mumbled into the sheets. He wiggled his ass a little. "I could stay like this for a while."
"That's part of the point, yes," Lorne said. "So like I said, Cam, this is pretty simple and easy to set up, but versatile. We can move him around however we want - say, over to the edge of the bed or onto his back if we want at his mouth easier. It'd also be easy to tie him down, just by putting some ropes around his elbows and the ankle knots."
"Mmm-hmmm, yeah, I see that," Mitchell said, nodding with a thoughtful expression. "I bet that makes it useful with more than one person."
"It can be, yeah. It depends on what you're trying. You should always keep that in mind, because having to retie things because there's ropes in the way or he can't bend at the right angle can be annoying."
Mitchell suddenly broke out into a wide grin. "I have to say, he's damned pretty like this. Just look at how he's got all his assets displayed."
"Glad you like it," Lorne replied with a grin of his own. "I find a bit of craftsmanship can have nice results."
"You want the first shot at his ass?"
"You sure? He's your partner."
"And you did all the hard work." Mitchell's grin turned into a lewd smirk. "Besides, like you said, his mouth is easy to get at. I can keep myself entertained."
"Well, in that case, I don't mind if I do."
When Lorne arrived at the brig, Lucius Lavin was pacing back and forth inside his cell. He had been in there the better part of a week, ever since his attempt to infiltrate Atlantis had failed after Sheppard and one of the lieutenants noticed something was fishy with him and declared a Case Hathor. He had only been brought out once, for a short but very memorable court martial.
Almost immediately after the forcefield went down and the door opened, Lucius all but threw himself at Lorne. He barely got a foot before being restrained by a pair of marines, who quickly and efficiently zip-tied his hands behind his back.
"Major Lorne," Lucius said, struggling ineffectively against the hold of the marines. "I demand to be returned to my people immediately! This is unfair! Unjust! You have no right to try me by your laws! I haven't done anything wrong!"
"Mr. Lavin, I'm not sure you appreciate the gravity of your situation," Lorne said. "You were convicted by a duly convened tribunal of espionage, sabotage, sexual assault, and multiple counts of battery. Under normal circumstances, Colonel Sheppard would have already had you shot and tossed through a space gate." Lorne waited a moment to let that sink in. "Fortunately for you, Doctor Weir convinced him that it would be best to return you to Telagus, as we're interested in a trade relationship with them."
Lucius' expression instantly brightened. "Really?"
"Oh, yes," Lorne said. He let himself smile ever so slightly. "They're very eager to have you back."
"Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Lucius made as if to hug Lorne, but the cuffs around his wrists kept his arms safely behind his back, where Lorne could not snap them off. "I knew I liked you. Did I thank you for trying to defend me at that, that show trial? Thank you."
"I was just doing my duty," Lorne said. He smiled a little more, because he was thinking about what he had gotten in return for putting up with that particular brand of bullshit. He had argued that the law and SGC regulations clearly allowed them to summarily convict and shoot Lucius, had even volunteered to do it himself, but Sheppard had forced him to at least try to come up with some kind of defense. Doctor Weir had insisted on it because wanted everything completely in the clear. Lorne couldn't blame her, given some of the missteps they had made in the past, but that didn't stop him from asking some small reward in return.
"Of course you were, you seem like an upstanding man," Lucius babbled on. "Hey, I could use a man like you. You come with me. What do you say?"
"I can't. I'm sure you'll do fine without me, though." Lorne gestured to the door. "We need to get going. Your friends are waiting for you."
Lorne and his marines lead Lucius through deserted corridors up to the control room. The stargate was already active, and Sheppard and Weir were standing up on the balcony. While the marine were pushing Lucius through the gate, Weir gave Lorne a slight nod and he responded in kind.
After a short walk they reached the village square. A small crowd was gathered there, with the Telagan headwoman, an elderly woman by the name of Erkava, in the lead. There wasn't a man to be seen. Lorne waved his men back and personally cut the zip-tie off Lucius. The women quickly surrounded Lucius, cooing and smiling and welcoming him home. They led him off to a chair in the shade, while Erkava came to stand at Lorne's side.
"Welcome once more, Major Evan Lorne," Erkava said.
"A real pleasure to be here again, Headwoman Ervaka lal Kesten." Lorne nodded in Lucius' direction and quietly said, "Just to be clear, we're handing him over on the understanding that he doesn't make it off this planet alive. He managed to get into some pretty sensitive stuff before we caught on, and even if that wasn't the case we're not going to let someone like that roam the galaxy."
"I can assure you, Major, that will be no concern at all," Ervkava replied.
Indeed, almost as soon as Lucius had been seated, the nearest of the women withdrew knotted ropes from their clothes, swiftly looped them around his wrists and ankles, and pulled them tight to leave Lucius firmly bound. Even then the man just looked confused until the women next started drawing knives and other household cutting tools and his former wives came to the front of the crowd.
"Ah, Major?" Lucius called . "I... ah, I think I'd actually rather stay in your cell. We should leave. Now."
Lorne just grinned and waved to him, then asked Ervaka, "You mentioned yesterday something about trade?"
"Yes, I did. We have been neglecting a great deal in the recent months, and we must act quickly to salvage what we can of our crops. We do not ask for charity, simply an equitable exchange." She gestured down the road. "If you will come with me, Headman Tikus lal Norvan is waiting with refreshments in the town hall."
"Major! Major, please don't!" Whatever else Lucius was going to say was cut short as the youngest wife, a woman who couldn't be a day over seventeen, stepped forward and started slicing his clothes off, leaving long, shallow cuts on his skin.
"We'd love to be of assistance," Lorne said as they walked away. "That's why we're out here in the first place: to help people."
All was going according to plan. Lorne's minions were hard at work building up his industrial might, his new educational program was in full swing, and best of all his attempt at breeding giant riding dogs was proving to be a huge success. It wouldn't be long before a full-scale industrial revolution was well underway and he could start introducing concepts like analytical engines, steam power, maneuver warfare, and so on.
"You know, if you keep expanding the population like this, you're just asking for a famine," Parrish said, looking over Lorne's shoulder. "One good drought and bam, you'll have people starving the streets, riots, people burning all these fascinating little factories down."
"No, I won't," Lorne said. "Look at all these granaries I've got. Not only that, but I've taught them how to can food. There's a reason Napoleon paid the guy who invented the technique so much. Pretty soon I'll have real tins, too. And look at all these fields - plenty to spare in case a couple get trashed by a flood or something."
"I'll admit, that is impressive, but you're still wrong. Look, the land down here is completely wrong for that kind of bean, and this area here is just asking for soil erosion. Your crop rotation scheme needs some tweaking, too. You could probably get some fruits up here, which would definitely help maintain a more balanced diet. And you know, while this irrigation system you're starting is a nice beginning, there's some changes that you could make to insure it's more sustainable. You don't want to drain the ground water or the rivers too much like what's happening in the western U.S.. You could also run into problems with salt deposits from evaporation."
Lorne blinked in surprise and raised an eyebrow. "Huh. I take it you're volunteering for the position of Minister of Agriculture?"
Parrish shrugged. "I may as well. It'll give me something to do while you play around with your waterwheels and basket weaving."
"Cool," Lorne said with a grin. "You could go do something else, though, if you're bored."
"I'd rather spend time with you. Besides, you're cute when you're playing your weird little game."
"It's not weird," Lorne protested. "It's just a super version of "Civilization." I love that game and so do a lot of other people. It's perfectly normal."
Parrish chuckled and shook his head. "You spend your days planning and carrying out the day to day operations of a reasonably large military outpost, including dealing with supplies, personnel issues, off-world missions, and a dozen other things. Then, at odd hours of the night, you sneak down here so that you can do the exact same thing on a computer screen, while carefully timing it so that there's no chance Sheppard or McKay will catch you. That's a little different than popping a CD into the computer."
"Okay, so maybe it is a bit weird," Lorne admitted. "Still, just think about the look on their faces when the invincible - and exceedingly well-fed - armies of Lornetopia come riding their steampunk tanks and mega-dogs out of the north and massacre all their dudes. It's going to be sweet."
Evan Lorne was having a bad day. His lunch had been been interrupted by a request for immediate reinforcements from one of their archaeological excavation sites, which had come under attack. He took four jumpers through and discovered that Corporal Saunders had not, in fact, been exaggerating, and there really were about a thousand spear-waving warriors surrounding a promontory where two dozen expedition personnel were taking shelter. He had dealt with that in short order with a few drones, in the process proving that the designers of the Davy Crockett had been on to something. He knew that when he got home Weir would probably have a few pointed remarks about excessive use of force, but she wouldn't argue with results and in all honestly he was more worried that David might be a bit annoyed that he burnt down several square miles of grassland and forest.
Upon landing, he had discovered the situation on the ground: eight men wounded and three more dead. It was clear that only luck and a considerable amount of skill on the part of Lieutenant McLaughlin and her men that they any of them were alive and that all the civilians had made it through more or less unscathed. The wounded were medevaced immediately and, since the sensors showed no sign of any enemy forces for miles, Lorne ordered the others to salvage as much equipment as they could. With the immediate problems dealt with, all that was left for him to do was make sure the cleanup went smoothly and find out what had gone wrong in the first place.
"How are you doing, Lieutenant?" he asked McLaughlin, who was supervising the men as they packed.
"Fine, sir, for the moment," she replied, flashing him a weak smile. "I won't make any guarantees about when I get home."
He studied her for a moment. She was a bit pale and jittery, but no more than a dozen other young men and women he'd seen coming down from an adrenaline high after their first real combat experience. Considering that a few minutes earlier she had been surrounded by a screaming horde, she was doing pretty damned well.
"Just try not to cry in front of the guys," he said in a stage whisper, knowing a couple of the nearest marines would hear. "It doesn't take much to set them off. Give 'em a reason and they'll all start bawling."
"I know, sir. American marines are notoriously big babies. I'll try my best not to upset them."
There was a soft snort off to the side, where Staff Sergeant Warrington was directing some of the men in their work. He affected an innocent look when Lorne glanced his way, not fooling Lorne in the least because he knew there was no such thing as an innocent marine.
"There'll be a formal debrief latter, but you mind giving me a rundown on what happened?"
McLaughlin nodded. "It started off just like any other day, except we had more of the natives around than usual. Chief Mogaba's been gathering a lot of men over the last few days."
"I'm aware of the situation," Lorne said. A few weeks before Sheppard and Teyla had negotiated a fairly standard agreement - some valuable spices and stainless steel tools in return for access to some Ancient ruins that had potentially useful technology and parts. Recently the locals had making noises about how the expedition wasn't fulfilling part of the bargain by not following all the right customs for respecting the Ancestors.
"A little after noon the Chief and a party of warriors came up and demanded that we stop work and vacate the ruins immediately. Doctor Chambers was there with me, as he was the senior civilian on site, and he was very vocally against the idea."
"Christ, him again? What did he do?"
"He said something about how it wasn't his fault that their primitive superstitions were hard to remember, sir. At that point, Mogaba drew this huge dagger and tried to gut him. Private Myers interposed himself and was badly injured. After we drove them away, I made the decision to retreat into the ruins. I knew there was a substantial enemy presence in the area and I wasn't confident we could reach the gate with the civilians and a wounded man. Given that there's only one approach, it seemed like the most defensible position. I also dispatched Corporal Saunders to the gate to get reinforcements."
McLaughlin looked out over the fractured, scared earth that had been the surrounding grasslands. "We set up what explosives we had and formed a firing line, with most of the civilians in the center of the most intact building. At that point, we waited for them to come and didn't stop firing when they did."
"You made the right decision. There's no way you would have made it all the way to the gate."
She shook her head. "Still, I think there has to have been some way I could have prevented a confrontation in the first place."
Lorne's expression hardened for a moment. "It's possible there was, but from what you've said I'm pretty sure the blame doesn't lie with you. If there was anything you could have done better, we'll figure it out at debriefing." He looked around. The air was starting to grow thicker with smoke and ash. "We should probably get out of here. Round up the men and make sure they've got everything essential."
Lorne waited until she was out of earshot before saying, "Staff Sergeant, a word."
Warrington walked over to join him. "Sir?"
"If I were to ask your opinion on the lieutenant's performance, what would you say?"
"I'm not sure it'd be appropriate for me to comment, sir."
Lorne rolled his eyes. "Are you going to make me go through all the crap about hypothetical situations?"
"No, sir," Warrington said with a grin. "She handled herself well. They make 'em tough in Canada."
"I thought you'd say that. And Doctor Chambers?"
A stormcloud rolled across the marine's face. "He's a troublemaker, sir. He's been treating us like shit the whole week and whining about how the rules the natives gave us were slowing him down. Even Kavanagh wasn't this bad. At least he was occasionally right and showed some respect for other people."
"That's what I expected to hear, Staff. Thank you." It was the third time that Doctor Chambers had fucked a mission up. He had been the source of more than a few complaints back in Atlantis since arriving two months earlier. This time he had managed to get someone killed and Lorne was no longer in the mood to put up with his antics.
The picture that emerged during the debriefings was one of technical innocence and actual malfeasance. Chambers had been riding the other scientists hard so that they could get what they wanted and return to the climate-controlled labs of Atlantis. He had also been skirting the line with the natives' rules of conduct, although no one could say for sure whether or not he had actually broken any, either deliberately or inadvertently.
Under normal circumstances, his behavior might have been enough to warrant a reprimand and more restricted duty. The problem, as Doctor Weir explained in a meeting with Sheppard, Lorne, and McKay, was that it was not entirely a normal situation. Doctor Chambers was an expert on naquadriah-based power sources and was at Atlantis to study how the Ancients had used the mineral at the request of the Pentagon. The barely-concealed disgust in her expression told Lorne there was probably some kind of politics involved that she wasn't sharing with them. Whatever the reason, Chambers was there to stay until he either screwed up in a more definite manner or he resigned. Usually McKay's fury would have quickly resulted in the latter, but Chambers seemed to have a thicker skin than most, probably thanks to his connections. It might be months before he could be removed, and in Atlantis months left a lot of time for disastrous lab accidents or more infuriated aliens.
"This is a load of bullshit," Sheppard said as they left the meeting. "Something's going to have to be done."
"I agree completely, sir," Lorne said. "I'll look into taking care of it."
Sheppard looked askance at him. "What's that mean?"
"I'm just going to have friendly conversation with him."
"Don't do anything I wouldn't."
Lorne nodded. "I'll try not to, sir."
After preparing a few files on his trusty tablet, Lorne went looking for Chambers and found him in one of the labs, fussing over the collection of artifacts that they had managed to retrieve from the outpost. The few other scientists in the lab were giving him an wide berth. It was odd, really - he looked like a perfectly normal, even friendly man.
Lorne walked into the lab after watching for a few moments. "Doctor Chambers, can I have a word with you?"
Chambers looked up from his artifacts. "Ah... Major Lane, was it?"
"Of course, my apologies. What do you need?"
"I wanted to talk to you about this morning's events. If you wouldn't mind coming next door for some privacy?"
"What, again? I though we had finished with all these meetings." Chambers sighed dramatically and made a show of neatly putting aside his tools and instruments. "This is vital work, you know. Research into whether the Ancients had found how to make a viable naquadriah-based power source could dramatically affect our efforts against the Ori."
"I'm well aware of that, Doctor," Lorne replied. "I spent time running a naquadah mine. I know the practical aspects of both substances with regards to power and weapons technology, even if the theory is a bit above my head."
"I'm sure you do, Major," Chambers said, not quite rolling his eyes.
Lorne lead him out of the lab and to the next room over, where he presented the doctor with his tablet. "You should read these over and sign at the bottom."
A frown grew on Chambers' face as he looked over the documents. "What are these?"
"Your resignation and a request for a transfer back to Area 51. The Daedalus will be arriving next week, so if you get started now you should have plenty of time to wrap up your research and get anything you need ready to ship back."
Chambers let out an amused laugh. "This is a joke."
"I'm completely serious," Lorne said flatly. "I think it would be in the best interests of everyone involved if you returned to Earth. After what happened this morning, I really don't see any other alternative."
"The alternative is that I stay right here. There's no reason for me to leave, and we both know that if there was I would be having this conversation with my actual superiors instead of you."
"No reason to leave? How about the fact that you've managed to antagonize just about every servicemember on this base and a sizable portion of the civilian staff in a few months? Or maybe how this morning you once again ignored established off-world protocols, and as a result three men are dead, eleven more are wounded, and that's without even counting God knows how many natives? I'd say those are pretty good reasons to accept that you're not a good fit for Atlantis. There's no shame in admitting that."
Chambers sighed and shook his head. "I am hardly the first person to antagonize a bunch of primitives. Wasn't one of your own lieutenants run off a planet a couple of weeks ago?"
"Yes, actually. Since then Lieutenant Costanza has been voluntarily spending much of his free time learning protocol and negotiation techniques with Teyla."
"How nice. I, unfortunately, can not waste my time with that sort of thing. Doctor McKay certainly doesn't, and I'm sure he's caused far more interplanetary incidents than I could in a lifetime."
"His reputation aside, Doctor McKay rarely causes avoidable incidents. Also, he's saved the lives of everyone in this city and countless others, so he's earned a bit of arrogance. The few times he has screwed up - and a few times when it wasn't his fault at all - he's usually shown something we humans call contrition. You should look it up."
"Major, I do not need to be lectured by you," Chambers said, shoving the tablet back at Lorne, "and I certainly do not need to leave here just to make your job easier."
Incredulous, Lorne asked, "Do you even feel the least bit guilty about the fact that a twenty-two year old kid stepped in front of a knife for you and ended up bleeding out, just because you couldn't follow some rules or keep your mouth shut?"
Chambers flinched and looked aside, but only for a moment. "That was unfortunate, but he was doing his job. He knew the risks."
"Unfortunate." Lorne's eyes narrowed in anger. "Doctor, unfortunate is what will happen if you stay here."
"I'll put it simply - you're going back to Earth. Your choice here is whether or not you go in a body bag."
"Are you threatening me?" Chambers looked like he was torn between amusement and annoyance, but certainly not fear.
"No, I'm not."
"Let me guess. It was a promise, not a threat."
"Nothing that cliché, sir. I'm in the business of protecting civilians, not threatening them. It's just a statement of statistical probability. Atlantis can be dangerous even for people who try their best. If you keep going the way you're going, chances are more people will end up dead, and it's very possible that you will as well."
"Thank you for the warning, Major. Your concern is touching, but I'm not going anywhere." Chambers had the temerity to reach out and pat Lorne on the shoulder. "You seem like you're still upset about this morning. Maybe you should consider taking a day off or something. I, however, am going back to work. Have a good day."
Lorne closed his eyes and waited until Chambers had left the room to start chuckling and shaking his head. "Well, I tried," he said to himself. "Plan B it is."
He went back to his usual work for the rest of the day. He always had a full load to deal with even on normal days. Adding in the unexpected mission meant not just most of a day wasted with debriefings but plenty of extra paperwork. He got the most time-sensitive stuff out of the way by the time he broke for a brief dinner with Parrish and a visit to the men in the infirmary, but it was still late into the night before he finally got back to his quarters. He stayed up reading until a little after midnight, when he retrieved a hidden zat from his closet, entered a few commands directly into the Atlantis computer system, and took a short walk around the city before turning in for the night.
Early the next morning, Lorne was hard at work reviewing the personnel files of candidates for replacement off-world team members when Sheppard sauntered into his office and leaned against his desk.
"You hear what happened last night?" he asked.
"Good morning to you too, Colonel Sheppard," Lorne replied. "Yes, I'm having a wonderful day, thanks for asking."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Looks like we don't need to worry about Doctor Chambers. He took a header off his balcony and dropped ninety stories onto the deck."
"Oh, that." Lorne nodded. "Yeah, I'm the one the officer on duty woke up when the patrol found him. I was going to include it in the morning report."
"Any idea what happened?"
"It looks like a suicide. There was a note on his computer to that effect. I had Sergeant Hadrian look into the security logs just to be sure, and they show that no one opened his door after 2419 last night, which lines up with the last time someone saw him. There's no signs of struggle, either. Hadrian's still working on it and I asked Chuck to take a look, but I doubt anything will turn."
"That's weird," Sheppard said. "I wouldn't have pegged him as the sort to kill himself."
"You know as well as I do that you can't always tell. Who knows, maybe the man suddenly grew a conscience and felt guilty."
Sheppard snorted. "Awfully convenient time for him to do that, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. Unfortunate, but convenient."
"Is there anything you want to tell me, Evan?" Sheppard asked, looking Lorne in the eye.
"You sure you want me to say anything, John?"
"Not really, no," Sheppard said after a moment's consideration. He pushed off the desk. "Come on, let's go grab some breakfast. There's a couple ideas for exercises that I want to run past you."
Lorne stood and eyed Sheppard suspiciously. "What sort of exercises?"
"I don't know. Something that involves running around forests and shooting things, maybe some time on the beach. It'll be fun."