Disclaimer: I do not own Stargate Atlantis, nor am I making any sort of profit from this story. It is for fan reading pleasure only.

AN: Sheppard is a little angstier here than in my previous fic (Lessons in Leadership), but I like angst....

The Tournament

By Kerr Avon

1. A Morning Workout

Sheppard loved his morning PT; despite all the exercise they got exploring other planets, there was something about running when you weren't trying to get away from pointy-fanged monsters that cleared the mind and soothed the soul. After about half a mile you hit a rhythm; breath came in time to the shoes slapping the pavement, and nothing mattered but reaching the next milestone. All the worries of the day, of your life, seemed to pigeon-hole themselves out of respect, allowing the runner to truly live, for just an hour. Rather like meditating, but sweatier. You actually got pulled out of yourself; the colors were brighter, the sounds clearer, and your surroundings just a little more in focus than they were for the rest of the day. The best time, of course, was just before sunrise, so you could watch the dawn with all its hopeful promise, yet see your feet well enough not to trip.

McMurdo had facilities set up for exercise, but no real track. Of course, neither did Atlantis, but the place was so large that, once enough area had been properly explored, anyone who so desired could easily find a couple of miles of unused corridor to go jogging to their heart's content. A number of the military personnel cobbled together a halfway respectable gym as well, and opened it up to Base use. A few of the scientists were welcome regulars, but for the most part the soldiers utilized the facilities.

Lately Sheppard had managed to get in a run almost every day. With the Gate temporarily shut down while they worked on shield code verification signals, he had a little extra time on his hands. Of course, he still had to help the scientists figure out what different Ancient devices did, but they never started until after the A.M. staff meeting.

This morning John had managed a good workout, followed by a nice hot shower, and felt ready to attack his day. 'Still, a nice strong cup of coffee would make it perfect.' He detoured past the Mess Hall on his way to an early meeting with Weir, planning to grab a quick cup. He wondered why room was unusually crowded until he recalled that it was Thursday, and therefore breakfast was a hot meal rather than MREs. Even so, all he really wanted was the Java.

He had just finished stirring in the creamer and taken a sip when Private Michaels stumbled and jostled the Major's elbow, causing some of the hot liquid to splash onto his sleeve. A few drops even made it onto the shirt of the man to the pilot's right.

Michaels was aghast. "I'm so sorry, sirs!" he said to them both. "Here, let me help clean it up." Grabbing some nearby paper towels, the young serviceman began blotting the damp areas on their clothes.

Sheppard smiled reminiscently; the same thing had happened to him when he had just been in the service a few months. At the time, he'd been sure they were going to Court Marshall him. "At ease, Private. No harm done." He smiled reassuringly. "Busy place this morning, isn't it?"

The young man was clearly relieved that he wasn't about to be yard-armed. "Yes, sir, it is. Thank you, Major."

Unfortunately, the civilian caught in the spill wasn't nearly as forgiving, and Sheppard recognized the scientist with an inner groan: Kavanagh. The man gaped open-mouthed at Sheppard's attitude, then decided to voice his own opinion. "Well, being drenched with scalding coffee may be all in a day's work to you military types, but some of the rest of us have standards." He stared down his nose at the now-cringing youngster. "Maybe if you idiots would occasionally use the muscle between your ears, you wouldn't be so clumsy."

Sheppard was riled, now. No one treated one of his men like that. Assuming a polite 'I might kill you, but later' smile, he addressed the scientist. "Kavanagh, might I have a word? Privately?!?" He gestured for the self-important man to precede him into the hallway. As he turned to follow, he shot the Private an encouraging smile, then dropped the steel shutters behind his eyes.

Outside the Mess, he grasped the taller man's elbow and steered him, vehemently protesting, into a nearby unoccupied room. "All right, spill it."

Kavanagh was confused, and a little frightened, both of which he tried to hide. "What are you talking about, Major?"

"Listen, this is a small base; it's like living in a fishbowl. Despite the fact that they are in another galaxy, fighting an enemy that was probably the source of the original vampire stories, a lot of these soldiers are kids, 18 or 20 years old! You treat them like dirt over something so minor as getting a few drops of coffee on your shirt, and there will be repercussions."

Kavanagh drew himself up haughtily in disbelief. "Are you threatening me?" he demanded.

Sheppard sighed, closed his eyes, and shook his head. 'No, no, no. I'm pointing out that there are consequences to everything we do in a microcosm like this. Think back to when you were 19, like Private Michaels. Now imagine that someone you respected treated you like you just treated him; someone you had to see every day. How would you react?"

The fair-haired man sneered, "I'd get my act together and make sure I was more careful next time."

Sheppard fixed him with an unblinking stare. "I doubt that very much." He continued in low tones. "Let me tell you how he is likely to react; either with lowered self-esteem, or with resentment. Now both these reactions become a problem for you."

"I'm afraid I don't follow." Kavanagh was now openly confused, but his tone was that of someone humoring a madman.

"If he goes out with you on a mission and sees himself as a failure, he is less likely to successfully protect you from the Wraith. If he goes out full of resentment, he might not try to protect you." He shrugged. "If you're very, very lucky, he'll have the maturity to realize that you're just an asshole, and will have already forgotten about the whole thing." With that, he turned and left the room.

----------------------------------------------

He rapped on the door to Doctor Weir's office. "Come in," echoed the distracted reply.

"You wanted to see me, ma'am?" Sheppard was on his best behavior.

Weir stood and came around her paper-littered desk. "Yes, John. Thank you for coming. I wanted to talk to you before the main staff meeting." She gestured for him to sit, then leaned on the edge of her desk.

He spread his arms receptively. "I'm all ears."

"We have a problem."

He snorted. "Only one?"

She smiled in agreement. "Well, only one I wish to discuss right now." She became serious again. "Morale."

His mind flitted back to his recent interaction, and he nodded. "Yes, that is a problem."

Weir straightened and began to pace. "Now, as far as I can tell, the rift that seems to be developing is not between countries or political factions or even the sexes; it is between the military and the scientists."

"Some of the scientists," he corrected.

She nodded. "Granted. While the majority of the soldiers seem to accept the researchers on their own terms, there are a growing number of self-proclaimed 'geniuses' who are becoming increasingly disdainful and resentful of the military presence here in Atlantis. They think that the 'real work' is the research that they are doing, not realizing that those young soldiers are ready and willing to lay down their lives to protect that research, and are the only reason that it is safe to continue."

"Well, can't we just tell them that? Seems pretty straightforward to me."

"Unfortunately, Kavanagh and his crowd are unlikely to listen. Somehow they've decided that anyone outside of their small research community is an idiot, and not worth listening to." She sighed. "That apparently includes me."

"Wait a second. You speak 5 languages and have brokered more than twenty treaties between factions that had 'irreconcilable differences'. How can anyone in this Universe consider you an 'not worth listening to'?" Sheppard raised an eyebrow in confusion.

Weir sat in an adjacent chair and leaned forward. "You tell me, but it's a problem. And there's the crux of the issue; I almost had a one-man mutiny on my hands when you and McKay were jammed in the Stargate. Kavanagh's pride was more important to him than finding a solution. He was certain that his proposed course of action was right, and if McKay hadn't been in need of rescue on that shuttle as well, he might have gotten the other scientists to side with him. Now, I'm not certain that McKay's presence would make a difference."

He looked at her in disbelief. "You aren't suggesting that we put them under arrest? We're a long way from home, with possibly no way back..."

She shook her head emphatically as she interrupted him. "No, they haven't done anything...yet. I want to puncture their elitist balloon before it comes to that. We need everyone to pull together if we're going to survive. Each person doing what they do best, and respecting the jobs done by others."

Sheppard blinked several times in confusion. "OK, I'm in. But how do we do it?"

Weir leaned back. "There are only three or four core scientists who seem to believe that they ought to be calling the shots around here. This opinion is based solely on their belief that they are universally smarter than the people in charge. We need to show them that their stereotypes might be a little outdated, not to mention two-dimensional."

The confused expression deepened. "How?..."

"We have a tournament."

"What, like a race or marksmanship or something? I don't see how that will help."

"No, a mental competition."

Sheppard caught on. "Oh, logic problems, puzzles...MENSA stuff?"

She nodded, a half-smile on her face. "That's the idea, but easier. It turns out that this small group of dissidents initially got to know each other through a game they all enjoy, and consider the absolute pinnacle of intelligent achievement..." Weir cocked her eyebrow and leaned forward.

An expression of horror flitted across the Major's face, to be replaced by one as close to panic as she had ever seen in the man. Which, considering everything he had dealt with in the past three months, was saying something. "Oh, no. There is NO WAY..." He shrank away from her as far as the seat would allow.

'What in the world? Damn, he's really freaked. This may not work after all.' Weir let her disappointment show as she reconsidered her options. Finally she said, "All right, John, forget I said anything. I'll come up with something else." She stood businesslike and started back to her paperwork. "I'll see you at the staff meeting in a few minutes."

She sat behind her desk and began to scan her requisitions. After a moment she glanced up and noted that Sheppard had not moved, and in fact had slumped down in his chair. He seemed a million miles away. Curious, she stood and went to touch his shoulder.

"John? Look, I'm sorry. I just saw the entry in your personnel file and thought that..."

Unseeing eyes stared forward at the hands he had clasped between his knees. "I haven't played since I was fourteen."

She snorted. "I'm not asking that you win, just show one or two of them that being an Air Force officer doesn't prevent you from having brains."

"It takes brains to speak five languages," he pointed out redundantly.

"Not in their world. The only seemingly universal comparative yardstick for intelligence that they will accept...." She shrugged and moved to stand in front of him. "is chess."

She smiled self-deprecatingly. "When I discovered that my little clique of troublemakers had a chess club and respected others who were good at the game, I realized that this was a way to get them to recognize your authority, if not mine, and maybe rethink their prejudices concerning the soldiers." She paused meaningfully, "Of course, you would have to do reasonably well..."

Shadowed eyes slowly raised to meet hers. "If I play, I'll win."