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Bartering Your Way Through The Galaxy 101

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"They traded you fifty pounds of coffee for a watch."

"Not exactly."

Lorne winced. On the one hand, he was sure he didn't want to know how Keeter had obtained the coffee. Every platoon had someone who had channeled their considerable skills and taste for larceny into scrounging up whatever the platoon needed, from ammo to lug wrenches to breath mints. Not always legally but some, like Keeter, could be encouraged to more or less remain on the right side of the line.

On the other hand, Colonel Sheppard was more of a stickler for this than he used to be. Lorne suspected from the phrasing that Sheppard was echoing something Dr. Weir had said about being arms dealers to the galaxy. Lorne dismissed this as a typical civilian misreading of the situation but the upshot was that he should know now rather than later what minefields Keeter was leading him into, especially when Lorne was going to be the one who had to explain why his team was a day late returning to Atlantis.

"Not exactly," he echoed.

Keeter looked like a seven year old torn between protesting his innocence and copping to the frog parts littering his sister's bed.

"You said to see what they had to offer. So Parrish and I just started moseying around the town."

"About that." Lorne hadn't known what to make of the fact that his junior officer and his team scientist had set out together when normally they didn't have two words to share. "I thought you were going to take Menendez."

"No, that wouldn't have worked. I needed someone who doesn't look like he could raze your house and rape your goats without breaking a sweat."

"But Parrish?"

"Well, I figured if anyone said anything about weird plants that we could maybe eat or trade, he'd be good to have along."

"Okay. So. You and Parrish strolled through town." Lorne waved away the quick mental image of Parrish holding a parasol, and wondered what Parrish's take on all this would be.

"Yeah. Anyway, this guy at the bar started asking about my M-60."

The two of them in a bar. Dear God. He fingered his own gun out of habit and decided to focus on the important stuff first. "A guy. You talked to some random guy in a bar about your gun."

"Not random so much, sir. Every town has someone with an eye open for an opportunity. You just gotta know how to spot them."

Lorne could see that. Like calling to like and all. "What did you tell him?"

"Nothing. Almost nothing." Keeter fidgeted a bit. "I might have told him how many rounds it could fire in a minute. Anyway, that doesn't matter."

"Doesn't matter."

"No, because it turned out what he was really interested in was knives."

"I thought you said you traded your watch for the coffee."

"No, no. I traded my knife for some beaded shells."

"Wampum? You traded your knife for wampum?"

"Hey, that's what Parrish said!" Keeter looked up and must have seen something in Lorne's face that made him take it down a notch. "Yeah, so, whatever, I think they use it as money. After that, we wandered out past the storehouse and I traded the shells for a couple of three-legged chickeny sort of birds."

"Edible?"

"No, not really. We hung around for awhile shooting the breeze. Well, I shot the breeze and Parrish mostly looked at his feet, but while we were there, we ate some sandwiches made of the bird. Let me tell you, they mighta looked like chickens but they tasted like ten day old roadkill."

"So you traded the chickens."

"Yes, sir" said Keeter with a big 'now you're getting it' smile.

"For..."

"For a shovel and some leather gloves. But that was in the next town over, that's why we were so late getting back."

"The next town? You didn't think maybe checking in was a good idea first?"

"We didn't have time, the wagon was leaving. Seriously, sir. It worked out fine. I have a sense about these things."

Lorne struggled with the urge to pound Keeter on the head. He squashed it, mostly because he remembered Specialist Arkes -- Keeter's soulmate, now that he thought about it -- back on Earth who'd disappeared into the Iraqi desert for two days. Just as they'd been considering him AWOL he'd turned up with a pallet of Humvee replacement tires.

"Moving on."

"Okay, so we made a few more trades. In one of them, I got my knife back, which was pretty cool, and you know Parrish was the one who realized that the pink seeds were hallucinogens, he should totally get credit for that. And he knew what the coffee beans were the second he saw them. I gotta say, he really worked out much better than I thought he would. Anyway, I threw my watch in with the seeds to clinch the deal and here we are. I'll need another watch, though."

Lorne clapped him on the shoulder and they made their way toward the others. "No problem. Once McKay figures out you're the one who brought back coffee, he'll make you one that not only keeps time but shoots laser beams."

Keeter smiled and Lorne made a mental note to warn Dr. Beckett that there was an outside chance hallucinogenic seeds would soon be circulating on the Atlantis black market.