Calling Captain Ahab

by Domenika Marzione

"Put a halt on the unpacking," Lorne said as he walked into the conference room. The three captains and Lieutenant Gillick, currently serving as logistics officer, stood up and gave him matching looks of cautious curiosity that had nothing to do with the fact that Sheppard wasn't right behind him. They were used to that by now.

"Sir?" Polito finally asked as Lorne took his seat, the others following.

"We may be bugging out again," he explained grimly, opening the folder that had his notepad and the printout of the picture McKay had been showing them at the command briefing. "The whale problem is actually the least of our worries."

Explaining the eruptions on the sun and what it could and would do to the planet didn't take long and then they were on to figuring out how to evacuate the city. Little Tripoli had been up and running within days of their arrival -- military efficiency plus the very real need to keep anyone in uniform far (far) away from anyone connected to the Daedalus (the stunner tag had gone off as expected -- a rousing success among the marines and an even more rousing reaction from Caldwell and his officers). But it had been two months since they'd arrived back in Atlantis and even the civilians were settled in again. Uprooting everyone and everything would be difficult; the preparations for the evacuation before the Wraith siege had taken weeks and that had been a much smaller group.

"How much can the Daedalus take?" Radner asked. "Conversely, we might be able to use their transporter to ricochet the harder-to-move equipment to a safe location, temporarily or permanently."

Whether they were redeploying to Earth or relocating to the Alpha site and then hoping to re-establish a base in Pegasus was still undetermined; it would depend on how bad the damage to the planet was and how much they could salvage from Atlantis. Lorne knew that there were Ancient outposts that could be turned into decent homes -- his team had found some of them -- but they came without much of the protections that Atlantis afforded and the civilian and military roles would have to be seriously re-thought if that were to happen.

"Right now, the Daedalus is taking our most serious medical cases," Lorne replied. "If we have to evacuate the city, they'll take what we can't get through the gate or into a jumper. We'd have to run the idea of bouncing stuff to a third location by Hermiod or whoever is going to be working out the details of that. I don't speak transporter well enough to say. But it sounds like a good idea."

Radner grimaced, acknowledging their limitations.

"How are our marines, sir?" Hanzis asked.

"Three have been transported up to the Daedalus," Lorne replied. They were all from Bravo Company Second Platoon, since Eriksson's unit had been pulling security in the sub-levels and thus been closest to the whales. "Which leads me to the next point. We don't need any heroes here -- we'll have plenty of hands to do whatever needs to be done, so don't let your marines brush off symptoms just because they've had worse in the past. Order them to the infirmary if you have to. And that goes for present company as well."

Lorne looked straight at Hanzis, who was currently winning the fight against a bloody nose but looked like he was losing the one to a headache. Hanzis looked back steadily, but nodded.

"Right," Lorne sighed. "So let's get moving."

"Caldwell's going along with it?" Lorne asked, a little incredulous. Not that he thought that Caldwell wouldn't do anything, including putting his ship at risk, to save Atlantis, but, well, this was the kind of suicide mission that invariably got cited as a reason why Sheppard shouldn't have the command and Caldwell should get it instead.

Sheppard shrugged. "It looks like a good idea in the absence of better ones," he replied a little quietly. Over the course of their flying careers, they'd both had to adjust to speaking and listening without hearing too well -- ear trouble and learning to communicate over droning engines taught everyone early. As a result, while Sheppard tended to shout among the civilians, he trusted Lorne to be able to read his lips and figure out what he was saying. "But I think it could work."

Lorne thought it might, too, but not to the point that he wasn't going to support the decision to evacuate all non-essential personnel from the ship before it left orbit. "Good luck, sir," he said instead.

"Thanks," Sheppard replied, then turned to Reletti, who was standing a little apart to give them the pretense of privacy. "The chair is a little overwhelming at first, Sergeant. But just force it to behave and it'll knuckle under. Kind of like the city when you first got here."

"Yes, sir." Reletti had been the consensus choice among the senior officers to be Walking ATA Gene with Sheppard out of the city. Courtesy of his time with Lorne's team, Reletti was the natural gene carrier with the most experience interacting with large-scale technology. (Or at least successful experience; Beckett, even if he hadn't been kept away by the overflowing infirmary, was a reluctant alternative.) If the shit hit the fan, Lorne was to plop Reletti into the control chair and do what he could to save Atlantis -- up to and including seeing if the city could actually still fly. "Although you'll forgive me if I'm not eager to find out."

"I'm hoping to save that lesson for another day, too," Sheppard said. This was not the time to tell Reletti that Lorne and Sheppard had already discussed familiarizing Reletti and the most adept of the other gene carriers with the control chair. There were a few civilian scientists who could probably be taught to work the chair, Sheppard thought, and it was becoming more and more impractical to have such a crucial tool be limited to just one effective user.

Sheppard looked like he was going to say something else, but their radios beeped and while Lorne wasn't sure if Sheppard could hear the words that followed, Sheppard could definitely tell that there was something being said.

"The marines on board the Daedalus have been beamed down to Little Tripoli," Lorne translated. Sheppard nodded and gestured for them to go meet them.

"Suarez is gonna be so pissed," Reletti said cheerfully as they walked to the transporter. "He finally gets back to Atlantis and we're under siege by fucking whales."

Lorne grinned a little; Suarez, never a fan of anything weird, was going to be wondering (aloud) why he had agreed to return to space duty. Especially since Atlantis had little use for trained snipers.

The humor didn't last long, though. Before they could reach where the marines had been beamed down, Lorne's radio chirped again and Yoni told him that Sergeant Bell had died and that Ortilla had been brought in after collapsing in a hallway.

"Give me an update, Doc," Lorne called over his shoulder. He was sitting at the gate officer's station (Lieutenant Murray, exiled to the balcony, looked on) with Radner at his side. "In layman's terms," he added, since under pressure Zelenka was usually no better than McKay with the technobabble.

Polito and Hanzis were out in the city; Hanzis had a detachment and was covering the medical suites and general environment while Polito and the larger force were covering the city at large and especially building where they'd herded all of the civilians. With the shield, Atlantis should be safe whether or not the Daedalus was able to stop the sun flare from nuking the planet, but Lorne hadn't wanted to take any chances. The database seemed to say that the tall blue building in E-5 had once been a music conservatory, but whatever it had been, it seemed to have more shielding than the typical Atlantis structure (all of Atlantis was soundproof, but some areas were apparently more soundproof than others) and could serve as a short-term bunker against the aural assault from the whales circling below.

"The prominence is collapsing," Zelenka reported from across the room. Ronon was sitting with him, booted out of the infirmary by both Carson and Yoni because they were running out of space and he was underfoot. "We'll know within minutes if the Daedalus will be able to deflect the radiation."

If Sheppard's plan didn't work -- basically, if the Daedalus exploded -- then they'd have to choose what to do next off of a short list of possibilities. Or, rather, Lorne would have to choose since he was effectively in charge at the moment. (Weir would recover once the whales were gone, Yoni had assured Lorne when he'd made one last visit to the infirmary.) Atlantis had a fully-functional life support system, so immediate evacuation was not necessary. But nobody in either Science or Medical had been able to give any kind of assurance that staying on a nuked planet, even in their little hermetically sealed bubble, was a good idea for any prolonged period. Plus the whales would have little incentive to leave the safety of the shield, exacerbating the problem.

(Sergeant Bell was the only fatality so far, but most of the people who'd been sent up to the Daedalus to escape the sonic torture and then sent back down to avoid being blown up were not doing well. Zelenka had some of his engineers trying to come up with some sort of counter-whale business, something that would generate sound waves that would cancel out the ones the whales were emitting. But they were having no luck so far and more than one had fallen prey to the threat they were trying to defeat.)

To his left, Radner was speaking quietly on his radio. Lorne had his radio on, too, but he had switched from the battalion command net to the city command net in recognition of his change in duties. Lorne waited, since whatever it was was obviously not trivial.

"Major Lorne?" one of the civilian engineers on duty in the control room called over. "We've had a building collapse in E-4. It wasn't anywhere we were working and there's nobody nearby."

Lorne leaned back in his seat to look at the screen that depicted life signs. He didn't doubt that the engineer could read it herself, but he wanted to see what she considered "nearby."

"Marines watched it go down,' Radner added. "Said it imploded."

"Did the whales do that?" Lorne asked the engineer.

"It's possible," she admitted. "We haven't done a systematic study of the resonance frequencies of building materials in Atlantis, but it could absolutely be in the same range as what's making our ears bleed."

"Fantastic," Lorne sighed. "So there's no way to tell if the central spire or the building in E-5 will go down?"

The engineer shook her head no. Lorne turned to Radner. "Warn everyone to start looking for cracks and make sure everyone has an escape route to the nearest transporter. Here and there."

Radner repeated the order for Polito and Hanzis and then called Murray over to organize the evacuation of the control and gate rooms. They had regular 'fire drills' -- it was Lorne's job to make sure that most of them were not suspiciously timed to when Weir had refused to authorize one of Sheppard's walkabouts -- and so he wasn't worried about people not knowing what to do. He was worried about losing the nexus of Atlantis, however. The fire drill included grabbing the control crystals that would allow them to dial Earth from anywhere, but still....

"How’re they doing?" Ronon asked Zelenka.

"Well," Zelenka sighed, "according to my calculations, the blast wave should have hit us by now but I’m reading no discernible increase in radiation."

Which only meant that Sheppard's plan wasn't an immediate failure, but he appreciated it when Zelenka allowed for Ronon's more hopeful scenario.

"To get back to this motherfucking galaxy, I spend three weeks allowed only to go the head, the gym, the chow hall, and my rack. That's it. And all under fucking guard -- it was like being back in basic except it was fucking airmen instead of DIs. Fucking Air Force hall monitors! I hope whatever you fuckers did on the last trip was worth it because you fucking owe us for that. And then we get here and we're under assault by fucking talking whales. A month ago, I was in fucking Hawaii. I should have... Good afternoon, sir."

Lorne looked up, too amused by Suarez's aborted harangue to be offended by the insults to the Air Force. (Especially since it was only a matter of time before Suarez learned who was really responsible for the Daedalus's crew's reactions.) He had been hidden by the curtain partially separating Ortilla's bed from the space next to it. Ortilla, not quite improved enough to be discharged (blood pressure still too low and Yoni thought he was hiding a severe headache), was definitely improved enough for visitors and to gripe about infirmary food. Reletti had duly informed him that six weeks of his mama's cooking had made him soft. "Welcome back, Sergeant."

"Thank you, sir," Suarez replied, still a little stiff. "It's good to be back. Talking whales or not."

Lorne nodded and smiled, letting Suarez off the hook. "I have to get back to work," he said, standing up. Reletti pushed up from his stool, too. "Team meeting Friday at 1730."

They'd gone out as a quartet twice, but there'd been too much to do around Atlantis to do much galactic galavanting.

Ortilla grinned. "Aye aye, sir," he said. "And thanks for the contraband."

Lorne had brought him some snacks from the commissary. "Don't rat me out to Doctor Safir," he warned. Never mind that Lorne had asked Yoni what to give Ortilla. The boys liked to think that they could pull stuff over on authority.

He stopped by the doctor's station on the way out to get updates on the other marines still in care. Keller, one of the new doctors, told him that she thought they'd have an empty infirmary by Wednesday, "but then everyone who thinks they're suffering from after-effects will start trickling in. I'm kind of torn between appreciating their consideration for waiting until the actual crisis is over and wanting to hit them all with wet noodles for being so smart and yet still able to con themselves into thinking they've got illnesses they can't possibly get."

"Haven't had much time with Doctor McKay yet, have you?" Lorne asked by way of reply.

Sheppard was in Hanzis's office when Lorne passed by, but he showed up at Lorne's doorstep a few minutes later.

"Wall ceremony for Bell is on Thursday," Sheppard said, coming in and dropping down into his chair. The Ancients had pretty much left Little Tripoli as it stood and Sheppard had been open in his relief that Lorne's furniture had been undisturbed. "And Engineering is going to be needing escorts to do structural assessments again."

They'd spent a month checking over the city after they'd returned, so they at least had baselines by which to compare. Hopefully, the second go-round would take less time. "Can we halve the detail?"

The marines had been going apeshit by the end of it, reduced to pack animals and unskilled labor while the scientists trekked along like Victorian adventurers with their retinues.

Sheppard chuckled. "We can quarter it," he replied. "Until there's an actual problem, I'm happy to drop it down to three marines per team. How's Ortilla?"

"Getting there," Lorne replied, relieved. "Suarez finally caught up with him and Reletti in the infirmary."

It had been almost a day since disaster had been averted, although the Daedalus was going to need some repairs before heading back to Earth. It would probably be another few days before anything like normal operations returned.

"Reletti won the stunner tag, didn't he?" Sheppard asked, although they both remembered it perfectly well. Reletti wasn't excessively humble about his skills, but he'd admitted that he'd probably had an advantage for having spent his 'vacation' in a recon unit in Iraq and not at home chilling out on leave.

Suarez would be all the more pissy once he found that out -- on top of both that he'd missed out on the stunner tag and that that was the reason why he'd had such a miserable ride over. Between that, Reletti still a being little cranky from being treated like an inanimate object by the scientists who needed his gene, Ortilla hating being fussed over, and Yoni was always in a foul mood when under siege by hypochondriacs... "I'm thinking of taking a trip to M5L-3G5."

Sheppard cocked his head. "Isn't that the monk planet?"

Enforced silence except by the party designated to conduct business. Which, in this case, would mean Lorne. They usually just sent a lieutenant, since a platoon of marines could maintain silence more easily than McKay, which was why Sheppard never went after a first disastrous meeting.


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30 July, 2006