Chasing Ishmael

by Domenika Marzione

"Hey."

Lorne looked up from his desk. Sheppard was standing in the doorway, just his head and one arm visible. "Heading off, sir?"

They didn't do any formal handing over of authority here and, technically, with everyone's calendars available on the network and a city that could find people on its own, even an informal announcement of departure or arrival was unnecessary. But it was something they did nonetheless, an acknowledgment that this was a dangerous place and shit happened. Which was why they usually said hello and goodbye face-to-face, saving the radioed messages for emergencies and odd hours.

(The main entrance to the civilians' gym was open again as of last Monday, although the under-repair scorch-marked walls were still hidden by plastic sheeting; most everyone was still going over to Little Tripoli or to one of the rooms opened to serve in the interim. Beckett and Hewston had been dead less than a month and the wounds were still raw in Atlantis. The hallway outside of the medical suites had never been closed -- too busy, too integral -- but the marines had worked nearly nonstop for days to quickly erase the visible reminders. The hall now smelled more of cleaning solution than anything else, the faint undercurrent of chemicals from both the research labs and the infirmary everpresent as always and the lingering reminders of the explosion mostly imagined. Nonetheless, that there hadn't been any meat other than in stews or baked dishes in the kitchens -- the smell always carried into the commissary and the halls -- was unsurprising and unremarked upon.)

"Yeah," Sheppard sighed. "I get the feeling I'm going to regret this -- it's got all of the makings of a Pegasus take on Moby Dick and McKay makes a crappy Ahab."

The mission had sounded crappy from the start and Lorne felt both sympathy and relief that it was clearly Sheppard's mission to take. Of course, the last time this had happened Lorne had ended up with it anyway (while Sheppard had been captured and tortured by Kolya), so he kept his yap shut about it. "At least we've recovered enough from the whale adventures to make jokes?"

Sheppard smiled weakly. "My ears are going to be metaphorically bleeding either way. Teyla's coming because she wants to get back on active duty, but I don't know why Ronon wants to come -- he's going to be bored off of his ass and picking fights within an hour. Throw in McKay bickering with Zelenka and the rest of their geek squad... On the other hand, I'm pretty sure this is going to cure Doctor Weir's wanderlust for a while."

Lorne grinned. They'd both escorted Weir around on missions benign and not and he understood the stress of it -- of having an additional person to have responsibility for, of worrying about how your team's dynamic would shift (and/or offend), of being the person to get the expedition's leader hurt or worse.

Sheppard was about to say something, but tilted his head as if to listen to his radio. "The Pequod is packed and ready," he said with a smirk. "I'll catch you later."

"Have fun, sir," Lorne said.

With Weir, Sheppard, and McKay all out of the city, Lorne was more or less in charge -- Keller was technically the ranking civilian and if a crisis happened they would both be equally responsible to answer it, but the reality was that this was Lorne's watch. Keller was still adjusting to her new position within her unit, let alone within the city itself. Lorne was not the only one to wonder if watching her would give them any insight to what Sheppard must have gone through in the first days of the expedition. If it did, it probably wouldn't be from the near-permanent deer-caught-in-headlights look Keller wore. Yoni was still doing a lot of the administrative work -- far more than he'd done under Carson -- but Keller was still dizzy from her rapid climb from lowly researcher to city executive.

That in mind, Lorne made sure to wander into the control room after lunch, let himself be seen and be the target of the dozen stupid questions that might have otherwise gone to Keller (and the answer to all but two would be "wait for Doctor Weir" anyway, with the other two being "no").

"How's the fort, Lieutenant?" Lorne asked as he entered.

"Still holding, sir," Eriksson replied with a grin. The lieutenants liked it when Doctor Weir was not at her desk -- not that she was disruptive or in any way a problem, but the scientists did tend to be a little more docile when there was no possibility of an appeal waiting in the next office. "Colonel Sheppard's jumper docked at the station about half an hour ago."

Lorne arched an eyebrow and looked at his watch. "It took them that long to find the place?"

The jumper must have been a very, very unhappy place by the time they did.

"Apparently, sir," Eriksson replied and there was something in his expression that made Lorne think that the lieutenant (and probably the entire control room) had been audience to at least part of the jumper hijinx.

"I'm guessing this'll mean that they'll be calling in to extend the mission time," he said.

"I expect so, sir," Eriksson agreed wryly. "They're still on expedited activation, though, right?"

The normal 'grace period' for overdue missions was three hours, except when a mission was deemed high-risk. Having almost all of Atlantis's senior command in one jumper somewhere under the sea counted as high-risk.

"Hell yeah," Lorne answered over his shoulder as he crossed over to the plasma monitor where the jumper could be tracked. "So where are they?" he asked the guy at the console.

The scientist took a deep breath before rattling off a spiel on the technology of the station and how it had drifted over the millennia and possibly been drawn by magnetic energy within the planet's surface and... Lorne sort of drifted on the sea of words until he heard a number that might or might not have been the distance in nautical miles from the station to Atlantis.

"Thanks, Doc," he said, patting the guy on the arm -- Lorne thought his name was Ebersol, but if in doubt, 'Doc' worked -- and turned back to Eriksson. "I'm going down to the range if anyone's looking."

He trusted Eriksson to know that that meant anyone looking for Someone In Charge as opposed to him in particular. Yoni was doing a fair bit of gatekeeping on his own -- scaring off people who would take advantage of Keller's inexperience relative to her authority -- but it didn't hurt to share the responsibility. Yoni had enough enemies as it was.

The visit to the range was admittedly partly calculated -- it wouldn't stop people from chasing him down, but it did wonders for the vehemence of their pleas and arguments. But he did need the practice and maybe a little of the stress relief as well. It had been a long few weeks beyond the upheaval in Medical. The events that had triggered the episode in the first place had their own consequences -- new rules for what scientists (including and especially Engineering, which was collectively well aware of their favored status and tended to treat regulations as guidelines rather than obligations) could and couldn't do with or without marine escorts. New prohibitions among the civilians meant new responsibilities for the marines and that, in turn, required meetings and discussions and simultaneously threatening the scientists with the possibility of brandished firearms while also forbidding the marines from doing exactly that.

(It wasn't as bad as it could have been, although nobody really felt like gloating about it. McKay had lost a dozen people at least temporarily -- all three of the fatalities were from Science and all but one of the other casualties as well; Doctor Metzinger was back to half-days in his lab, if not yet ready for infirmary duty -- as well as Carson and nearly Teyla in the bargain. As a result, Rodney was neither interested or even maybe able to put up much of a fight when it came to scaling back the freedoms of his subordinates. Zelenka put up token protests, but that's all they were.)

It being the middle of the day, the range was full of marines. There was usually no room outside, where the platoons practiced more complicated maneuvers than destroying paper targets, and Lorne had reserved space inside. He signed in, collected a P-90, ammo, and ear and eye protection, and nodded acknowledgment to the smiling marines he passed. The marines were always a little smug every time anyone not them was at the range -- they loved civilians -- but Lorne had yet to figure out the root cause of the marines' extra glee every time they saw him or Sheppard here.

He started with his 9mm, emptying a couple of clips (moderately tight groupings; he'd always been good with a pistol) just to get into the groove. When his hands and wrists were pleasantly humming, he switched over to the P-90. He rarely fired the rifle in the field -- the marines were better and quicker shots and the more likely scenario was them pushing him down to protect him. Yoni was a better shot as well, but it wasn't as if Lorne didn't know what he was doing with the thing. He'd been using one for years, could fieldstrip and swap out clips blindfolded, and his aim was not poor by any stretch of the imagination. Nonetheless, it could always get better and that's why he practiced.

Several hundred rounds had been fired by the time his radio earpiece -- tucked into his breast pocket while he wore protective earphones -- started vibrating. He safed the rifle and took off the earphones so he could put the radio on. "Lorne."

"Colonel Sheppard's team has missed their call-in time, sir," Eriksson reported. "They should have checked in fifteen minutes ago."

Lorne sighed. "Give 'em five more minutes, Lieutenant, then try to contact them. If you can't get through, notify the ready-room team that they're on standby."

"Aye aye, sir."

Lorne took the earpiece out, put his headphones back on, and policed his station; there would be no more practice rounds fired today. Hopefully, no more rounds fired at all.

The mood in the control room was a little tense, but not really very high up on the panic meter -- it hadn't yet been half an hour, everyone knew that Sheppard's team had a long history of wacky shit happening, and the nature of the mission meant that it was perfectly likely that someone had blown a fuse or accidentally unplugged something and it was just a matter of time before McKay and Zelenka were convinced to stop trying to fix it and go to the jumper to use its comm.

Unsurprisingly, Eriksson got no answer and so Lieutenant Patchok's marines were strapping on their gear in the ready room. Lorne radioed Keller himself, saying only that she should probably come to the control room. There wasn't much for Keller to do, but it was important for her to be present.

By the time Keller appeared, nervous but contained, Simpson -- the head of Engineering with Zelenka gone -- was already in the jumper bay figuring out what would be needed for the various kinds of problems that an underwater station could face. Nobody was saying that the main ones -- depressurization or loss of structural integrity -- were essentially death sentences so far away from help.

Lorne called for Patchok to meet them there and then escorted Keller up to hear what Simpson could tell them, which was essentially that she had collected tools that could work in deep water so that minor repairs could be effected -- or so that the rescue team could break in to the facility should that be necessary. They didn't have the proper undersea equipment, but they didn't have any qualified divers for this sort of work, either, so it was a moot point. Oxygen tanks, scuba gear, torches, and the rest, but the bottom line was that at the depth the station has sunk to, the work would have to be done by extending the jumpers' shields. Keller asked intelligent questions, fear forgotten in the face of duty, and Lorne didn't miss how the others reacted -- with relief and pride.

The next question, the one nobody but Lorne could answer, was to figure out who would drive the jumpers, since the marines couldn't fit in one even without the equipment and they would be giving a lift home to everyone already down there (one way or another; Simpson glossed quickly over the fact that body bags were being packed). Lieutenant Cardejo was the pilot on call and Lorne's not too worried about his relative inexperience -- this wasn't going to be fancy flying -- but there would have to be others and that wasn't going to be easy. Sheppard and McKay were down there, Beckett was dead, Paik was on Earth, Eriksson was on duty in the gate room, and Lorne knew that he himself had to be a last resort with so much of Atlantis's command missing. There were civilian pilots -- ATA carriers who'd been getting flying lessons -- but none of them would be able to handle this.

"Lieutenant?" Lorne radioed to Eriksson. "Hand the gate room over and report to the jumper bay, please. You're our lead pilot."

"Reletti can drive the third jumper," he told the others. "He's got more flight hours than any of the civilian pilots."

"He's got more flight hours than Cardejo," Patchok said, then radioed the ready room.

Reletti appeared a minute after Eriksson, Cardejo jogging across the room from the other side. Lorne explained the mission as Simpson and Doctor Zigmanis, the guru of the jumper bay, played loadmasters, splitting the cases according to likelihood of use and free space to bring back everyone trapped beneath the water. By the time the marines trundled up, they had adjusted their own equipment to reflect the fact that it was far more likely that they would be doing heavy lifting than getting into a firefight. Keller quizzed them on various first aid procedures -- including drowning scenarios and whether they could recognize signs of the bends.

There was little fanfare in sending off the jumpers. Lorne and Keller headed back to the stairs that would take them down to the control room.

"Does this happen often?" Keller asked as they entered the stairwell.

"'This' as in most of the command of Atlantis going missing at once or 'this' as in interruptions to the normal course of business in Atlantis?" Lorne asked by way of reply as he held the door open for her.

"I've been here long enough to have a very grim view of what passes as the normal course of business in Atlantis, Major," Keller said. "But I honestly didn't pay attention to how often Carson or Yoni were called upon to be more than doctors. Carson, at least. Lord knows what Yoni's runnin' off to most of the time."

A quick smile since they both knew that Lorne was responsible for much of that.

"We don't lose Doctor Weir regularly," Lorne said, although now that he thought about it, they kind of did. "Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay more often. Me occasionally. The entire city once in a while. It's sort of a grab bag of chaos, but if you're worried about being left in charge of the city on a regular basis, I wouldn't."

"Nobody wanted to deal with the everyday," she said in a quiet voice as they moved through the hallway behind Weir's office. "That's why I got the job. It's just... when everything goes to hell in a handbasket on a weekly basis, why did they think that the junior member of the staff would be the best person to handle that?"

Lorne cocked an eyebrow. "Because so far you're doing just fine?"

He was rewarded by a surprisingly heartfelt smile. Which was nice, since things, as usual, got worse before they got better.

feed me on LJ?


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20 June, 2007