Their surroundings are just as dismal as they feel. The mess hall is about half full. Smatherings of people are all over. Some can be seen through the windows sitting at the outdoor tables enjoying the oceanic breezes and others are spread all around the room sharing jovial conversations or engaged in deep psychological warfare via a chessboard. But there are a handful who are neither jovial nor playing a game, in fact they aren’t currently finding anything good about the day so far, not even the food. They aren’t eating at what had become their usual outdoor table. They really don’t feel like happy sunshine today. Sheppard, twiddling his thumbs, and McKay, eating, sit on one side of a long table while Ronon, remaining still, and Teyla, staring down at the stretch of empty table in front of her, sit on the other side. Everyone is silent. No one looks happy.
“We don’t need a fifth,” Ronon finally says after half an hour of silence.
“Perhaps it is for the best,” Teyla tries, “If it was a great help to the other teams on Earth—”
McKay cuts her off, still chewing around his bite of food…
“Vala was only allowed on SG-1 because she was an information broker. That was it. Plain and simple,” McKay swallows and continues, “She had a lot, and I mean a lot, of contacts and whatever information she couldn’t get from them, she stole.”
He goes back to eating. After so many years working and socializing with Rodney, they knew that he honestly believed he had just helped the situation and after so many years working and socializing with Rodney, they knew he had done the exact opposite of his intentions. John was only half-listening anyways. There was a nasty thought that kept strolling past his mind. Was Kenmore’s arrival here a reflection of Woolsey’s opinion of Sheppard’s ability to command? John knew his style wasn’t exactly in line with what Woolsey had both wanted in an officer and expected of one but John thought that they had gotten past all that. Richard was throwing the rulebook out Atlantis’ windows more and more often and John was beginning more and more to understand where Woolsey was coming from. We saved Earth together, didn’t we? He thought that there was a meeting of the minds going on here, but now there was a fifth. Richard had put a fifth on his team. My team. They didn’t need a fifth…Or at least John thought they didn’t need a fifth.
John looks over at Ronon. The big guy is sitting stiller than Sheppard has ever seen him sit. This was underneath the Satedan’s skin bad. Really bad. He could see it in Ronon’s eyes. There was a lot he wasn’t saying but wanted to, a lot he wasn’t doing but wanted to. Sheppard returns his eyes back to the floor and the nasty thought strolled past the front of his mind again. Both Sheppard and Ronon are too dismayed by the situation to try and be a part of the conversation, but Teyla is not about to let this go without trying to understand it first.
“I got the distinct impression that Lieutenant Kenmore was not an information broker nor did I get the feeling that she is a thief.”
“Yeah, well, looks can be deceiving,” McKay pointed out through another mouthful of food.
That doesn’t help Rodney, and he can’t stand that damn thought making another pass at him. Okay, so he was going to join the conversation. Maybe if he did that the damn thought would shut the hell up and leave him alone. Sheppard finally snaps.
“Well if she isn’t an information broker and she doesn’t have any Ancient artifact for us to examine, then why is she here?”
After a moment of silence, Ronon pipes in with the only answer he can think of.
“Maybe she was sent here to report back on us to the IOA?”
That was one Sheppard hadn’t thought of. Okay, okay that one actually helped. The thought hadn’t made a pass yet. So it was slowing down. Joining the conversation was actually helping. Even though the IOA’s report of Ronon a couple of years ago had been glowing after the incident involving the destruction of the Midway Station and Teyla had passed their inspection with flying colors despite the IOA’s misgivings about her pregnancy, the IOA still didn’t exactly trust either of them. They really barely even trusted their own members. So if Kenmore was here, that had to mean that they approved of her, didn’t it? Teyla shakes her head.
“I do not believe so. If she were merely reporting on us back to Mister Woolsey’s former organization, then why would she be so angry to be here?”
The thought made a pass again. God dammit.
“Maybe she’s acting,” Ronon’s look at Teyla tells her all she needs to know about his belief in what he’s saying.
McKay shakes his head.
“I don’t think so. It isn’t exactly a secret that the SGC and IOA don’t get along. And that last IOA report nearly cost Woolsey his job here. I don’t see him playing nicely with the IOA anymore. No, I agree with Teyla, she’s not reporting on us.”
Ronon looks at him incredulously, “Is that all you’ve got? She doesn’t like the IOA and neither does Woolsey?”
The big guy had a point.
“She brought her son,” Teyla adds.
Sheppard sits up at this.
“See, that’s what gets me,” he says, “That’s what doesn’t add up.”
“I agree. I believe she was tricked. If I knew that I was coming to a place which had such a threat as the Wraith, I would not bring my son. I do not believe that she would do so either.”
Ronon’s expression changes. He looks away. Okay, so they did have more. He wasn’t buying any of it though, he liked his own explanation better. But they did have more. McKay shrugs as he continues eating, the visual representation of his team’s acknowledgement that Teyla did have a point that no one could really get around or talk around. And the scene returns to what it had been before their little outbreak of conversation: silent, glum, and absolutely tense. John’s about to explode in anger and scream out loud at the thought in his head already on its third pass since the end of the conversation when Teyla suddenly straightens up. Sheppard and Ronon stare at her. She nods in the direction back behind McKay and Sheppard. Sheppard and Ronon look in the direction indicated to see what had so caught her attention. Walking up the stairs into the mess hall is the new arrival Lieutenant Ursula Kenmore. She’s wearing a black t-shirt now and from the waist down it’s still all the green BDUs of the SGC and black combat boots. Sheppard couldn’t tell from here if everything was spit and polish, but the closer she got to them the more he noticed her slight swagger and doubted her shoes were so militaristic. John rolled his eyes. He hated cocky people which was odd considering the general opinion of him was that he was one of them. But this woman took it to a whole new level he didn’t particularly like.
Her path was taking her in between their table and the empty one next to it. Sheppard looks over at Teyla and she gives him a barely perceptible nod of agreement. He looks back at Kenmore approaching. He didn’t like having to do this, but okay, here goes nothing. John stands up and prepares to talk to her as she passes by, but before he can manage a word, she slips past him without removing her focus from a table beyond them. Well thank God that bombed before he had the chance to set the charge on it. It saved him from lying to her face and John wasn’t sure he could do a good impression of sincerity right now. He looks down at Ronon and Teyla, the mutual expression is one of shock. It wasn’t normal for someone in or out of uniform to slight Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, especially someone new to Atlantis, his command. John turns and they watch Kenmore continue on to a table at the far end of the room her son and Lorne are sitting at. Well that explains that. As she stops and starts to talk to the Major and her son, Sheppard sits back down. McKay can’t help himself, even around yet another mouthful of food.
“See what I mean, looks can be deceiving.”
Kenmore takes up the empty seat right next to Lorne and facing across the expanse of practically empty mess to their table. Sheppard nods. Rodney, you have no idea, John goes back to twiddling his thumbs, but instead of staring at the floor he watches Kenmore’s table intently, no idea at all.
Kenmore stops at the table her son and Lorne are sitting at. Lorne, facing her, looks up at her with a smile.
“See I told you your Mom would be here soon.”
Michael looks up at his mother, chomping happily with a big grin on his face; he tells her, “I got blue gelatin with whip cream.”
She smiles down at him and his blue-tinted lips and teeth and lovingly brushes the top of his head.
“Speaking of which, I got you a tray too,” Lorne gestures at the tray of food sitting on the table in front of the empty seat next to him. Kenmore looks uncomfortably at it. It isn’t hard for them to catch on to it.
“Come on Mom,” Michael pleads.
Kenmore looks at her son, still unsure…
Lorne takes that as his tag in.
“You gotta eat.”
…Then she looks at Lorne. Their faces look so inviting and Kenmore knew Lorne from his days back at the SGC. He was more geologist than marine then but the SGC had a funny knack of turning every field scientist into soldiers. She trusted him, she trusted her son. After a moment, Kenmore relinquishes, walks around the table, and takes up the seat next to Lorne. She picks up a fork and looks down at her plate. Okay maybe she didn’t trust them this much.
“Salisbury steak. The last time I had this in the SGC mess hall was a few months ago.” Were they kidding?
She takes a bite and the instant flood of just bad is almost more than she can bear. She starts to chew the bite loosely in her mouth. She isn’t sure if she even wants her teeth touching this stuff. Her face isn’t even bothering to contort, it’s beyond that now. It’s just wanting the piece of food out of her mouth. She has to fight to keep it in, although for the life of her she can’t understand why she’s doing that. Surely it would be saner just to spit it out on her tray and get it over with.
“And it tastes like it’s that old too,” Kenmore says around the bite.
Lorne and Michael shoot each other smiles. They go back to eating too. She watches them. Ah, resilience, it was amazing how young stomachs and well-trained ones were so alike.
“I’ve been showing Michael around the city,” Lorne pipes up.
And with that Michael can’t stay in his skin, he starts bouncing in his seat, his eyes look like if they could bulge out of their sockets by their stems, they would, and he’s forgotten all about food. He’d be the perfect physical incarnation of a cartoon character. She smiles, ah yes, how resilient.
“He has Mom. He really has. This place is so huge. There are towers all over the city. And they have spaceships. Did you know they have spaceships? And it’s so cool.”
Kenmore’s smile disappears. She hates to have to do this, she knows what it’ll do to her son.
“Yeah well don’t get too attached to it. We’re going home,” she forks her mashed potatoes. Those might be safe enough. Flavorless starch ought to be safe.
Her son’s enthusiasm slightly dims but it doesn’t diminish, oh but it will, and his whine returns complete with swinging, kicking legs underneath the table.
Kenmore cuts him off, she has to.
“Don’t ‘But Mom’ me. We don’t belong here Michael. We weren’t meant to come here. We’re supposed to be at an outpost.”
“This is an outpost,” Michael tries.
Damn, she shouldn’t have given him that opening. Better make this as quick and painless as possible.
“Nice try. A Jaffa outpost in the Milky Way.”
That really does seem to put out Michael’s fire. Glumly, he pokes at his own mashed potatoes.
“Are we really going home,” he asks after a moment of silence.
God he had that puppy dog thing down. What the hell was she going to do when he got older and the whimpers became cries of teen angst and he bellowed Mom was oppressing his creativity by telling him to pick up his dirty underwear out of the middle of his bedroom floor?
“Yes,” she puts more kindly but she can’t help but be more tight and terse in her next breath and that wasn’t Michael’s fault, “Mommy’s going to have a little chat with Mister Woolsey later. He agreed to meet with me in a few hours. With any luck, we’ll be having Salisbury steak for dinner back at the SGC.”
Michael keeps poking at his potatoes, he doesn’t look as happy as Kenmore feels at the prospect. As Kenmore prepares to finally take a bite of her own potatoes, a staff member walks behind Lorne and up to Kenmore’s free side and sets down a stack of files beside her on the table. Kenmore freezes with the fork stopped just in front of her open mouth and looks down at the stack.
“Lieutenant Kenmore, Mister Woolsey wanted me to deliver these to you. He wants you to read through them before your mission briefing in a few hours,” he tells her, sounding exactly like how she expected a Woolsey lackey to sound, stiff and unyielding to anything but the orders Woolsey has given him.
They all three look up at him then Kenmore looks back at the stack of papers, too stunned to really function. She thought that it was a private meeting between her and Woolsey in his office in a few hours not a mission briefing. How could she be going to a mission briefing, she didn’t belong to any teams here? Maybe he was planning to squeeze her in just before that mission briefing. That has to be it.
“But,” she finally manages; but before she can even fathom any more words, the staff member walks away.
Kenmore and Michael stare down at the stack as Lorne watches the staff member leave.
“But Mommy, I thought you said you hated paperwork.”
Lorne looks over at the stack. It’s thick. Perhaps five, six inches; six inches sounded right to his judgment. Let alone are there lots of file folders, he can’t see a single one that doesn’t look at least a quarter of an inch thick. That is paperwork he wanted no part of, either reading it or creating it. Lorne wasn’t even sure he wanted to be sitting at the same table as it. Funny thing, he took a bite of steak and began to chew it with absolutely no hesitation or revulsion, his taste buds we’re so used to it by now, Lorne had a sinking suspicion that he was a part of at least a few pages worth of report in there. But one thing was for sure, he swallowed, he didn’t envy his old friend one little bit. He takes another bite of steak.
Kenmore puts down her fork and stares at the stack with a false smile, “Well now apparently Mommy does,” she sounded like she could strangle the files with her kindness. Although Lorne had a strong feeling that it wasn’t the files’ neck she was imagining there when she looked down at them.
“I don’t think you’re going to be able to convince him you’re not staying here,” Lorne says, eyeing the stack again.
Lorne and Michael go back to their meals as Kenmore continues to stare at the files.
“Wanna bet,” she mutters under her breath.
Lorne glances at her out of the corner of his eye.
From across the room Sheppard and his teammates watch the staffer come, deliver, and go. They know that stack. Both Sheppard and McKay had handed them to staffers themselves when new arrivals came and were put directly under their individual commands. Today, John had managed fifteen of those, and his gut was giving him a nauseating feeling that he had probably had a little bit of a hand in that one too, and Rodney had managed twenty, and probably had no hand in this one whatsoever. It was the Welcome-to-Atlantis stack of immediately relevant mission reports and team personnel files. Sheppard doesn’t even know where the umph came from to power his voice, let alone make it sound strong, clear, and, despite the slightly downcast edge to it, normal…
“Well, I guess that answers that.”
Normally the others would nod. No one nods.