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Serving More than Food

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Three weeks....

"Morning, Dr. Carter," Nathalie said cheerily. "How are you?"

Sam Carter looked as worn as the rest of them felt, but she replied with a faintly chipper, "Not bad, how are you?"

"Hanging in there!" Nathalie replied.

"What do we have today?" Sam asked as she looked at the breakfast serving line.

"It's Oatmeal-ish day," Nathalie admitted. "So... hot oatmeal or... oatmeal breakfast cookies."

Sam frowned for an instant, but quickly caught herself. "I had forgotten. Okay, oatmeal it is!"

Nathalie served up a bowl and pointed down the line. "There is fresh fruit to go with that... we just got a supply of almost-cherries, so help yourself."

"Thanks!" Sam moved to the fruit and put a scoop on her oatmeal. With the strict limitations -- no one quite called it rationing -- on sugar, the fruit helped sweeten the otherwise bland oatmeal. It's not that they didn't have it, but they had agreed to start thinking like the next re-supply might not be on time.

The breakfast cookies were relatively popular, since they also had fruit in them. They were a definite step above a power bar for breakfast and coming to the mess was a good place to get any news.

"Any updates, doc?" Sargent Matias asked softly.

Nathalie shook her head. "Not yet, sorry."

Matias shrugged. "Okay, thanks."

The soldiers were actually taking being cut off from Earth better than some of the scientists. Many of them had been deployed to the Middle East, or elsewhere, before getting to the SGC. They were familiar with odd food and no news.

Some of the scientist who were not directly involved in working on contacting Earth were finding it harder to deal with being cut off. They were more than faintly hardy -- they would not have survived Dr. McKay's screening otherwise -- but the reality of not knowing what was going on was harder on them.

Luckily, Dr McKay traveled on his stomach, and Colonel Sheppard had used that idea to institute a daily check-in -- everyone was required to show up for at least two meals a day. It helped make sure no one was isolated and let the mess serve as a regular gathering point.

As head of the Quartermaster Corp assigned to Atlantis, Nathalie ended up with the task of both feeding the members of the Expedition on increasingly native foods, as well as keeping track of who did and did not appear for meals in a day.

Fortunate for Nathalie, Major Teldy had the fussy job of comparing her reports with whoever was assigned off-world. There were several teams cautiously seeking food to bring back to Atlantis. Both Teyla and Ronon were busy identifying much of what they brought back -- to make sure it was edible.

The best news was that the newest planet Atlantis had landed on had a surfeit of fish. Huge fish. It took a squad of Marines to land one, but a single fish would provide meals for a day, or more.

So they weren't hungry, but everyone was already getting tired of fish and oatmeal.


Four weeks....

"Tormack! Yes!" Dr. McKay peered eagerly into the serving dish.

Nathalie put the same size scoop she had given everyone else, added vegetables and a portion of baked fish on the plate before handing it to him.

He looked at the plate in dismay.

"Tormack!" He held the plate back to her.

"When everyone else has eaten," Nathalie said firmly. "There are two gate teams just getting ready to come out of the infirmary after their post-mission checkups. And three more scheduled to come back in the next couple of hours. So don't come back too soon."

"But... it'll be gone!" McKay protested.

Nathalie shrugged. "Have some more vegetables."

Nathalie bit back a laugh at the face McKay made at that suggestion.

Colonel Sheppard gave her a rueful smile as she gave him the same things she had given McKay. But he took the offered extra serving of vegetables.

Glancing in their direction a few minutes later, she saw Sheppard share most of his tormack with McKay.

Nathalie sighed. She sometimes wished someone would look at her like McKay looked at Sheppard. She shook herself as the next Marine came up for his dinner.


Five weeks....

"What am I supposed to do with this?" Nathalie asked. There must be over fifty birds in the bags strewn around the store room. Turkey sized birds.

"Dinner, I guess," Ronon answered with a shrug. "Good eating, roasted."

"Okay, but... they still have feathers!" Nathalie protested.

"Careful when you pluck them, there are barbs on the ends of some of the feathers," Ronon replied, as he was leaving. "It's to discourage predators."

"Consider me discouraged!" Nathalie sighed.

Nathalie desperately searched the staff database for anyone who might have a farm background. She started with the biology department and got lucky that Dr. Alan Winters knew enough to be willing to try.

Ronan came back with a couple of the Athosians as Winters started working. Ronon threw her a quick grin as he sat down. Ronan showed Winters how to deal with the barbed feathers and what feathers to save for other uses.

They all debated the best way to prepare the birds. Ronon had only had them roasted, but the Athosians swore by what sounded like a braising process. Winters shrugged and admitted that his mom had actually done the cooking and had no strong opinion.

Nathalie settled on a process that was comparable to roasting chicken over a beer can -- it kept the meat moist but also provided for a crispy skin. The birds were more like duck than chicken, largely 'dark' mean, but a welcome change from fish.

"That looks good," Sam said as she took her plate.

"Thought we could use something different," Nathalie replied. "Ronon tells me we can get more of these, since the planet they're from is pretty deserted."

"As long as we don't over-hunt them," Sam warned. "Work something out with Colonel Sheppard to send a team or two out on a semi-regular basis."

"I'm going to suggest a couple of scientists should go with them," Nathalie added, while she still had Sam's attention. "We should find what they've been eating, there might be some grains we can harvest. Or eggs we can gather."

"Add that to your list," Sam said over he shoulder, as she moved down the serving line.

"Done!" Nathalie smiled.


Six weeks....

Unscheduled offworld activation! Chuck called into the Gate room.

Nathalie looked up from the logistical information she had been reviewing with Sam Carter.

Sam rushed out of the office. Nathalie followed, mostly out of a desperate sense of curiosity.

"Receiving Dr. Zelenka's IDC," Chuck intoned. "Audio signal only."

"Put him on the speaker," Sam commanded.

"Dr. Carter?" Radek asked.

"I'm here! Radek!" Sam replied. "What can you tell us?"

"We're on the outermost edge of the Milky Way," Radek reported. "As expected, we've only been able to monitor general radio signals."

"Anything?" Sam asked eagerly.

"We don't have enough information yet," Radek said firmly. "We need another day or two to sift through everything that's coming in. But there doesn't seem to be anything unusual."

"Do you want to stay there or move on?" Sam asked.

Nathalie listened eagerly. Any news of what was going on in the Milky Way -- good or bad -- would be welcome by everyone in Atlantis.

"Since this is pretty much just a moon without any atmosphere, there's no reason to stay here," Radek replied. "Major Lorne and I are starting to get claustrophobic, but we'll be okay for a few more days."

Speak for yourself, doc! Lorne's voice could be heard in the background.

"Any updates on your end?" Radek asked Sam.

"We've been dialing Earth twice a day," Sam reported. "It still doesn't connect, but the Gate works fine here in Pegasus. McKay is pretty frustrated at this point."

Radek gave a mirthless laugh. "That's one way to describe it."

"Anything else?" Sam asked.

Lorne's voice came over the link. "I'm going to take us to the next planned stop and we'll check in from there. That planet has an atmosphere, and a small population, so we can get out and see if we can get some fresh food. But we'll report in before we do anything."

"Sounds good," Sam agreed. "Safe travels."

"Jumper three out." Lorne closed the connection.

Sam stood slumped over the console for a moment before she gathered herself together.

She seemed to suddenly realize Nathalie was there. "Go ahead and share what you heard," Sam decided. "It's reasonably decent information and it's news."

"Thanks!" Nathalie nodded.


Seven Weeks....

"I'd like to ask a favor." Colonel Sheppard had asked Nathalie to stay after their staff meeting.

"If I can," Nathalie hedged. She knew better than to just agree.

Sheppard ran his hand along the back of his neck -- one of his 'tells' that they had learned about over time. He was unsure about what he was going to ask.

"I don't normally ask but, well..." He hesitated.

"Come on, it can't be that bad!" Nathlie teased.

Interestingly, Sheppard blushed. It was cute, but she'd never really tell him that directly.

"Oh?" Now Nathalie was curious.

"Well, it's out anniversary day after tomorrow," Sheppard admitted. "And, I was hoping that maybe I could ask for a small cake... a cupcake... something... I know we're rationing flour and sugar, but... I thought I'd ask."

"You want me to make you an anniversary cake?" Nathalie asked.

Sheppard nodded. "Not really for me, but, for Rodney. He's been working overtime on this Gate problem, and I'd like to do something special."

Nathalie stared. Sheppard never pulled rank.

"If it's too much trouble.." he started to say.

"No!" She said firmly.

"Oh. Okay... I understand..." he started to say.

"Sorry!" Nathlie said quickly. "No, it's no trouble! I'd love to do that for you. Both of you."

He smiled at her. "Thanks."


Eight Weeks....

It was two weeks since there was any public news from Zelenka and Lorne. Nathalie -- and everyone else -- suspected there had been at least one report that had not been shared with the general population.

Nathalie went with the "no news is good news" option. She was an optimist and hung on to the hope that whatever was happening was fixable.

Sam Carter started taking her tray back to her office, or off to a secluded table to eat alone.

McKay and Sheppard looked exhausted and especially frazzled one overcast day. They had been off world with another team, rescuing the team that had been captured by some Wraith worshippers. Nathalie didn't hear the details, but the worn look and the bruises on Dr. McKay's wrists were all she needed to know.

She saw Sheppard poke McKay while they were in the serving line.

McKay frowned and looked up at her.

"You the cake lady?" McKay asked.

Nathalie had to laugh. "Yes, I am," she admitted.

"That was good," McKay said. "Thanks!"

"You're welcome!"


Nine Weeks....

It felt good to be able to let someone else do the serving at breakfast and not have to count heads, Nathalie realized.

In fact, she had slept in and didn't even go for breakfast. She lay in the bed and actually read a book for a bit, before taking a long, hot shower.

Feeling better than she had in a while, she went off to the mess and automatically took over serving lunch.

Nathalie rarely paid attention to groups coming and going from the mess area. She looked up and realized that maybe she should start.

"General O'Neill!" Nathalie was startled.

"Major Bending, good to meet you," O'Neill said as he took a tray. "I hear there might be cake, although I'm more of a pie person."

"That's for the party, later," Nathalie replied. "If you're staying, that is."

"Oh, yeah," O'Neill said, waving a hand. "Need to officially check on folk, and all that."

"And who checks on you?" Nathalie asked before she could stop herself. "A two month Foothold situation in the Mountain isn't anything to brush off."

O'Neill shrugged. "Worked out okay in the end," he admitted. "I hear there's almost-turkey for dinner."

"We do appreciate the re-supply," Nathalie grinned. "It wasn't bad, but we were almost out of chocolate."

"I'll make sure there's an extra case of that on the next delivery," O'Neill promised.

"Jack! Sam tells me she has some openings for..." Daniel Jackson hurried up to stand next to O'Neill.

O'Neill held up a hand. "Not yet! Remember?"

"But..." Jackson started to protest.

"Daniel. Not yet." O'Neill said firmly.

"All right, all right." Jackson gave in semi-gracefully. He took a tray and followed O'Neill down the serving line.

"General O'Neill?" Nathalie called after him.

O'Neill looked up.

"What kind of pie?"