The Pudding Cup Caper
Twelve hundred pudding cups, gone. It just didn't seem possible.
John swung down the hallways of Atlantis, tapping the clipboard on his palm.
The first unexpected benefit of rescue from Earth had been the surprise of being alive.
The second: an actual supply chain from Earth, furnished courtesy of the US military. Cup O' Soup mix, candy bars, you name it. No more tricky negotiations with pseudo-farmers over tava beans. (They'd keep the deals they had: tava beans were cheap.) No more replacement uniforms of fesselwood hemp, dyed Ranger Rick green since the Pegasus galaxy didn't know from "olive green," not even with a sample. (The dyers on PJX-9 had complained, "Why would one wish such drab attire?" and John switched his team to basic black, a color no one got wrong.) McKay for his part had announced that thank god his scientists could get back to doing research instead of making aspirin. They'd been making life-saving antibiotics actually, but John knew to how to pick his battles.
And no more policing hoarders. Or so John had hoped.
Fortunately, by now he knew the repeat offenders. John tucked the clipboard under one arm and pounded his fist on the worst culprit's door.
"McKay! Open up in the name of the law."
The quartermaster's report had gone first to Elizabeth's computer, of course. She leaned her chin on her hand, tired. Everything and everyone coming off the Daedalus was ultimately her responsibility, and she had no illusions about the fragility of her position with the IOA right now. Not after she'd forced through Major Sheppard's promotion.
They'd be watching every dotted "i", every form and every ...
... damned pudding cup.
There they were, flagged in red. Just what she didn't need. She clicked the report closed with a sigh.
Fortunately, Elizabeth knew the most likely suspect. She would just have to reason with him. His hoarding was understandable but not necessary any more.
It wasn't until she was standing outside Ronon's door that it occurred to her this topic might be difficult to broach. She strained to look around where he stood, blocking the doorway, glowering.
Elizabeth had reasoned that a man on the run would have been conditioned to eat while he could, and stash food if possible to return to later. She'd read studies about hoarders. Often they had some sort of trauma that left them with a pathological fear of not having enough. In Ronon's case it was a perfectly logical fear.
Rodney's door slid open a crack, but stopped, the mechanism humming in complaint. One paranoid eye peered into the hall at John, and rolled.
John pushed ahead.
"I'm not decent!" Rodney insisted, still managing to hold the door.
"You sleep in your clothes," John said and shoved, grateful Rodney never did anything as simple as a chain lock. He ignored Rodney's squawk of complaint.
"A man is entitled to a certain amount of privacy!" he said, fully dressed of course.
John stood in the middle of the room and turned. It was too much to hope they'd be in a stack in the middle of the room. "C'mon, Rodney, where are they?"
Rodney's chin lifted. "I have no idea what you're talking about, and anyway, you have no proof. About, about--whatever it is."
"The pudding cups." John pulled out the clipboard and waved it. "We have three flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and lemon meringue." He slapped the clipboard down on the bed. "And you hate vanilla."
Rodney spluttered, "Ronon started it."
Elizabeth smiled as casually as she could. No need to alarm him. Open body language, she coached herself, mentally relaxing her shoulders.
"May I come in?"
Her smile cracked around the edges as the silence stretched.
At length Ronon said, "No."
She decided she needed a course in monosyllabic negotiations.
He folded his arms. "You just want the pudding."
Elizabeth's eyebrows rose. Well... that was easy enough. She decided to go for the psychological angle.
"Ronon, there's plenty of food here for everyone."
"McKay started it."
Rodney explained, "He threatened me! He said if I took the last pudding cup at lunch, he'd make sure I'd never get another."
"And you took it anyways."
"It was chocolate! The cooking staff always keeps those for themselves."
John dropped his face to his hand. There was no use arguing with a hoarder. They assumed everyone was hoarding as well.
Elizabeth tried her most reasonable tone of voice.
"Let's think this through logically, shall we? Just what are you going to do with twelve hundred chocolate pudding cups?"
"Twelve hundred?" Ronon frowned. "I've got, like, ten."
John said, tiredly, "Rodney. What are you going to do with twelve hundred pudding cups?"
"Eleven hundred and ninety. Ten are unaccounted for. I counted twice."
Rodney leveled an accusing glare at John.
"Don't look at me! I haven't had a single one," John complained. "I had to skip lunch to deal with this mess." He brandished the clipboard again.
"You've got twelve hundred of these things?" Ronon puzzled.
He stepped into his quarters and Elizabeth took that as an unspoken invitation to follow.
"No, actually. We have thirty-six hundred," Elizabeth explained. "In three flavors."
"I thought they were rare," Ronon said, sounding bemused. "That's how McKay was acting anyway."
"Vanilla, chocolate, and lemon meringue," she continued, sing-song.
"Lemon meringue? That sounds tasty," Ronon said. He handed her two big handfuls of pudding cups from the dresser. "Can I try one?"
"Yes," she said, "You may." She struggled to hold the sudden armload of little cups and still maintain her dignity. One plopped to the floor. She abandoned dignity for practicality. "Help me carry these?"
"I might add that we're scheduled to get more on the Daedalus' next run," Elizabeth called after Ronon in a lofty voice as she trailed him into the hall.
Ronon snorted. "Don't count on it."
John prowled Rodney's room, checking the bathroom, whipping the doors open to the storage area.
"Where's your warrant?" Rodney complained, stalking behind him. "This is illegal search and seizure."
"You're on a military base," John said on his hands and knees, examining under the bed. It was a platform, and clearly solid. He knocked on it anyway. "Everything up to your ass belongs to the US military."
At last John was reduced to looking under the pillows. Rodney stood by, his stance and expression smug.
John gave up and sat on the bed. "Their sell-by date is two months from now. How are you going to eat twenty pudding cups a day?"
"Please," Rodney said, brimming with confidence now that John hadn't found anything. "Those sell-by dates are just a marketing ploy to get people to throw away perfectly good food and purchase more. If properly stored, most processed food lasts months, even years past the sell-by date."
John believed that. He'd had friend leave a McDonald's hamburger out as a college experiment. As far as he knew, it was still there, undecayed, so long as....
"Stored properly, huh?" John said on a sudden thought.
Rodney's eyes widened. John checked the bill of lading on his clipboard again, this time reading more than just the total. "Says here to keep them at room temperature down to forty degrees Fahrenheit. Just like a computer or..." He stood on the bed and pushed at the overhead panel. "...cooling duct."
"No!" Rodney yelped. "They're very precariously--"
An avalanche of pudding cups rattled to the bed. John jumped clear, landing on one with a wet splat. A spray of brown speckled the walls.
"--balanced." Rodney sighed. "That took hours."
With a groan, John pushed himself up from the floor. He wiped along his hip, getting a slimy handful of pudding in the process. He wrestled with the impulse to lick his fingers. On the one hand, dirt. On the other, he hadn't had even a hope of chocolate pudding in little over a year, and the idea of wasting it made something hurt inside. He tried to convince himself that there would be plenty more, but not even the sight of twelve hundred (well, eleven hundred and ninety) pudding cups piled over the bed could make it go away.
that's when Elizabeth and Ronon chose to show up. Ronon had a plastic spoon and an empty pudding cup in one hand, so it looked like everyone had had pudding except John.
John licked his fingers, looking up like a guilty kid. Screw it.
A few more pudding cups dropped from the ceiling and Rodney started plucking the little cups off the ground.
"If you've broken any more..." Rodney scowled, as if this weren't entirely his fault.
"Rodney...." Elizabeth began in full lecture mode.
But Ronon interrupted, "Here."
He tossed Rodney something. Another chocolate pudding cup.
"I like the lemon better."
John slumped onto the bed and told Rodney, "Bring me a spoon and a pudding cup and I'll call it even."
"You're getting chocolate all over my...." Rodney began, before John silenced him with a Look. "... oh, all right."
"Not so fast, you," Elizabeth said to Ronon's retreating back. "For your part in this, you and Rodney both get to carry these all the way down to supply. Now."
Fortunately, it turned out Rodney hadn't had time to get rid of the boxes.
Once the two of them had left with the first load, Elizabeth sagged to the bed next to John, who handed her a cup and the spoon he'd been using.
She asked, "Is it just Rodney, or...?"
"...or do we have a problem?" John finished for her, nodding. "I'm thinking armed guards."
"Hmm, tempting." She considered, twirling the plastic spoon between her fingers. "Make that Wraith stunners and you have yourself a deal."