The Legend of Smedley Duckler, the Fighting Quacker

by Domenika Marzione

Atlantis produced tons of reports daily -- Science alone had a data storage equipment allotment that was probably bigger than G-2's entire budget and Little Tripoli went through reams of paper like they were toilet paper -- but the true chronicle of this city on the sea was the gate room officer's logbook. The logbook contained the mundane and the bizarre, both within the city and what passed through the stargate, and through its dutiful reporting immortalized the people who, however briefly, called Atlantis home.

When Lorne had first come to Atlantis and everyone was still new to the galaxy and their duties (and, in most cases, new to the idea of being in space), he'd read the logbook to learn about the place and the men he was to help lead. Emergencies -- a very fluid concept back in the first weeks -- would have resulted in a radio summons, but it was important to also get a feel for the pace of the city when she wasn't in panic mode. Now, with everyone well at home with Atlantis and her people's quirks, Lorne read it because the lieutenants were so efficient and comfortable in their roles that it was the only chance he had to see what everyone else was up to. Which was occasionally 'a lot.'

"Do you know what got loose?" Sheppard asked. He was sitting at the conference table in Lorne's office, catching up on paperwork (still on whale-related adventures if the previous question was any indicator) and, obviously, the logbook. Which had an entry detailing Life Sciences reporting a missing animal specimen and no addendum reporting its recapture. And also no note indicating that the city population had been warned. "Ten bucks says its bigger than a breadbox."

Lorne, who was working on his own backlog, paused. "Who's on this week? Salker? I'm not sure I like those odds."

The current crop of lieutenants were all capable of handling almost anything on their own, but with that confidence came a sense of whimsy that tended to get magnified during long, boring overnight shifts. Or, how Kagan had nearly let a zebra run loose in the city the other month.

Sheppard grinned. "Five bucks and I'll make it bigger than a packing crate."

"Deal," Lorne agreed. He picked up the phone on his desk and dialed the gate room. "Lieutenant, what got loose from Life Sciences and should we be warning people?"

What it was and what was being done about it might not have made it into the logbook, but it would have been part of the handover briefing.

"It's a duck, sir," Osgeny reported and Lorne could hear him grinning. "Lieutenant Salker opted against putting out an APB. Those always cause a panic and we're going to get a call if anyone sees it anyway."

Lorne closed his eyes to better enjoy this moment when he really, really loved his job.

"Do I want to know how it got loose?" he asked, opening his eyes again because his laptop, abandoned on the corner of his desk, was beeping forlornly. "Actually, no, I don't want to know. Just try to find it before it shits on anything important."

"My marines are on it, sir," Osgeny assured.

"You owe me five," Lorne said to Sheppard as he replaced the handset. "It's a duck."

Sheppard stared at him for a moment before throwing his head back in laughter. "Awesome," he said. "We've got the marines hunting for Wraith, lost scientists, and Donald."

It was a good thought, one that carried them through an afternoon of paperwork and bureaucratic mundanity. Lorne had a meeting with Doctor Weir, before which he stopped off in the control room. Osgeny had given way to Gillick, who started grinning even before Lorne could get a word out.

"Still haven't found him, sir," Gillick reported.

The duck wasn't the first creature to get loose from Life Sciences and there were plenty of places in the city to hide; at least this wasn't going to turn out to be as potentially problematic as the escaped lizard from the other month.

"I'm sure you'll triumph in the end, Lieutenant," Lorne told him, giving him a reassuring pat on the arm. "How's Doctor Gorshuk taking it?"

Gorshuk was the excitable head of Zoology and also Life Sciences, a man whose quirks were mostly put up with because they were completely without malice and because he was completely unfazed by his boss. The marines called him Doctor Dolittle because he would talk to his specimens -- and believed they responded in kind.

"Doctor G wanted me to use the BFT to find it, sir," Gillick said, gesturing to the life signs detector in the corner of the control room.

Lorne could tell by the broadening grin that Gillick had accommodated him. Aaron was their most fearless and battle-savvy platoon leader, but he was still as prone as the others to go along with the crazy just to see what happened. "I'm guessing you didn't find it."

"No, sir," Gillick replied. "If he's still alive, he's hiding in a populated area. If he lasts much longer, when we finally find him, we might have to hire him to teach SERE."

"Find someone not me to write up the paperwork for that billet," Lorne told him, turning toward the catwalk that led to Weir's office.

"Do I want to know?" Weir asked him warily as he sat down.

"Ninja duck, ma'am," Lorne said as he opened up his notebook. "Now would you rather start with what we're asking for and we're not going to get or what we've done that we're going to get asked about and forget to answer?"

Within the regular cycle of a day and night in Atlantis, everyone in Little Tripoli knew about the duck. And that's when the fun truly began. At first, the marines on city patrol got razzed for being outwitted by a duck, but as the days progressed and the duck remained at large, the mockery turned into, well, respect. For the duck, at least.

Most of the civilians -- including a somewhat disconsolate Doctor Gorshuk -- believed the duck to have either died in the city or flown off in search of food and land and, with neither being close by, had probably perished in the sea, since apparently this duck was not meant for trans-planetary flight.

But the marines firmly believed the duck -- now named Smedley Duckler -- was still at large and merely biding his time. Wanted posters appeared in the hallway noticeboards, "Have You Seen This Duck?" with someone's drawing of the duck in profile and frontal views. Smedley Duckler Facts were sent around by email ("Smedley Duckler's tears cure cancer. Too bad Smedley Duckler has never cried."). There was a petition to name the duck an honorary marine, which in turn became a mild pissing match between the recon marines and regular riflemen over the duck's MOS (Lorne had let his trio go on about this for probably too long because it was one of the only times he'd seen Yoni smile since Carson's death). In short, the duck became the most popular being in Atlantis as far as the marines went.

And that was before it turned up in Little Tripoli.

Neither Lorne nor Sheppard were immediately aware of Smedley's recovery -- the marines, rightly fearing that the duck would be returned to Life Sciences, pretended to still be looking for it. But eventually the gig was up -- even Radner could not be smooth enough to ask questions about the proper care and feeding of a duck without raising suspicions.

"How attached to this duck are you?" Sheppard asked Gorshuk.

Lorne was along because Sheppard absolutely refused to handle the matter on his own. ("If we're doing this for those lunatics, we're doing it together.") He mostly kept in the background and tried to look serious -- but not too serious, since Life Sciences, not without cause, believed that the marines saw the animal kingdom only in terms of what size ammunition was best to kill it with. They didn't want Gorshuk thinking that they were acquiring targets on the leathernecks' behalf.

"I won't be complicit in cruelty to animals, Colonel," Gorshuk replied. "We're not done with our studies and I don't want to find her on the commissary menu when we're done."

"Her?" Lorne repeated. "It's a she?"

Gorshuk looked at him like he'd asked if the duck had a beak and feathers. "Yes."

Lorne looked at Sheppard. The marines were not prepared for that possibility, at least judging by the fact that Smedley's deluxe accommodation included a picture cut out from someone's Maxim. "We should tell the boys."

"It's going to be completely obvious very soon," Gorshuk said a little proudly. "She should be laying eggs within the week."

Sheppard gave Lorne a weak smile.

"We'll need her back before then, obviously," Gorshuk went on, crossing the room to where a large cage sat, one not nearly as nice as the crib Smedley had off of the south end of the start of the obstacle course.

"And then we can have her?" Sheppard prompted.

"Of course not!" Gorshuk exclaimed. "The eggs will have to incubate and then, once they hatch, we'll have a chance to study the family environment."

Lorne realized where this was going -- Gorshuk wasn't going to be giving Smedley up any time soon. "Any chance we could get a duckling?"

"And rip a newborn from its mother?" Gorshuk glowered at him and Lorne shrugged. It was worth a shot.

"C'mon, Doc," Sheppard tried. "How about we work out some kind of joint custody agreement. You could come visit her in Little Tripoli, she can come here, everyone gets a little quality time with the duck..."

Gorshuk made an impatient noise. "You still haven't told me why the marines are so eager to retain responsibility for a creature they have no idea how to care for."

"It's a duck, Doc," Sheppard pointed out. "It's an alien duck, but it's still a duck. They've cared for more complicated and demanding creatures."

"They've adopted her," Lorne added, since they weren't going to get anywhere unless they coughed up that bit of information. "She's kind of become a mascot for them. They're pretty interested in making sure her -- and her kids -- lead a long and comfortable life."

Gorshuk's sour expression softened a little. "That is an admirable gesture. When we're done with Florence, I will definitely consider letting the marines adopt her and her brood."

The interview was clearly over.

"Thanks, Doc," Lorne said as they left.

"This is going to turn into one of those ugly custody things," Sheppard said as they walked back toward the transporter. "Like those Lifetime movies."

"That or Waco," Lorne agreed. "Can we pull rank?"

Sheppard went into the transporter first. "Gorshuk's not going to care what McKay says," he pointed out. "And I'm not sure how well 'marine morale' fares against 'pursuit of science, which by the way is the reason we're out here in the first place' as far as Doctor Weir goes."

Nonetheless, they tried anyway. Weir, to her immense credit, didn't laugh them out of her office.

"Can't they get another duck?" she asked.

"They're attached to this one in particular," Sheppard told her with a shrug.

"Very attached, ma'am," Lorne added. The hurt and disappointed looks they'd gotten once they'd returned to Little Tripoli without a stay on the order to return Smedley (nee Florence) had not been pretty.

"I suppose it would be pointless to suggest to Doctor Gorshuk to get himself a new duck," she mused. Weir was as familiar with Gorshuk's quirks and habits as the rest of them. "I can talk to him about maybe arranging visiting hours?"

The handoff happened on a Monday; the marines had refused to make Smedley -- who was now known to be a she-duck, something that seemed to raise her in the estimation of her marine peers -- languish in a cage all weekend. Zoology had people who took care of animals even during non-working hours, but it had just been easier to tell Gorshuk that he'd have to wait.

Come Monday, Smedley got an honor guard for her trip to Life Sciences. By Tuesday, there were "Free Smedley" signs up in Little Tripoli and the 'wanted' posters from before were now replaced by mock-ups of the sides of milk cartons, although they still said 'Have You Seen This Duck?"

Gorshuk was kind enough to send over pictures of Smedley first sitting on her eggs in her cage and then with an even dozen newborn chicks.

"She looks very sad, sir," Lieutenant Cardejo said when he saw the picture of the latter; he'd come by to deliver some paperwork while Lorne was printing out the photo. "It can't be good for those babies to be raised in a prison."

Lorne carefully handed him the photo and a tack. "Go put this up somewhere festive."

In hindsight, what happened next was probably inevitable.

It was a completely uneventful mission and they returned on time and in good order... to find the gate room buzzing with the kind of energy that Lorne associated with something really weird just having happened. He looked up at Weir's office to make sure she was safe and saw an irate Gorshuk waving his arms, voice distantly audible.

"Welcome back, sir," Lieutenant Nagley said from the balcony. "I think Doctor Weir would like to see you."

Nagley looked a little pleased with himself and, when Lorne turned around, his marines were giving each other little marine signs of congratulation (which in the outside world translated into 'random acts of violence'). He sighed. "Don't think you guys can't be nailed as conspirators," he said, handing off his rifle to an unrepentant Ortilla. Yoni did not look confused and Lorne hoped that that meant that he had missed the exchange rather than that he'd been in on the thing.

"Florence and her brood are missing," Weir said as soon as Lorne crossed the threshold to her office.

"Really?" Lorne asked, trying to sound surprised. "Bad cage?"

"The cage is fine, Major," Gorshuk huffed. "Your marines are the problem."

"My marines weren't the reason the duck escaped the first time, Doc," Lorne replied with a shrug. "But if you'd like, I'll ask around."

"Please do that, Major," Weir exhorted, enough of an expression on her face that he knew she wasn't actually angry. Maybe a little annoyed that things had escalated, but not enough to actually do anything punitive.

Nagley was making himself very busy when Lorne passed through the control room en route to the transporters.

"While I appreciate you guys waiting until both Colonel Sheppard and I were off-world at the same time," Lorne began as he walked into Polito's office, First Sergeant Backman trailing behind and various sergeants watching from the anteroom, "keeping this an all-marine effort did nothing for your creativity. Or your ability to avoid the obvious. Doctor Gorshuk is demanding your heads. And the ducks."

"I honestly don't know where they are, sir," Polito said, standing up behind his desk. "I won't insult your intelligence by saying that I didn't know that something like this was likely, but I don't know who was involved and I don't know where the ducks are."

"Find the ducks and I won't care who was involved," Lorne said with a sigh. "Today, please."

He pretended not to notice the jubilant energy in the hallways as he went back to his own office.

"What did they do?" Sheppard asked cautiously as he entered Lorne's office a few hours later. He tossed Lorne an apple; Sheppard's team had been on a mission to Ertal, which was sort of like the Yakima Valley with a giant, honking Ancient outpost in the middle. "They all have that look on their face, like a cat waiting for you to find the mouse they beheaded and left as a present. They usually only look like that when Navy's crushed Air Force and it's not football season."

Lorne rubbed the apple on his shirt. "They did exactly what you'd expect them to do on the first opportunity with both of us away," he answered. "I told them to undo it by end of play today."

"We work with crazy people," Sheppard sighed, sinking heavily into his chair and pulling out his own apple. "Thank god they're occasionally useful."

Kagan radioed later to tell him that a patrol discovered a cardboard box with Smedley and her dozen chicks in the hallway outside the entrance to Life Sciences' suite. "Didn't see who put it there, sir, but all ducks are accounted for."

Even odds were that Kagan's marines had dropped off the box, but there was no advantage to pointing it out. "Thank you, Lieutenant," he said instead. "Please inform Doctor Weir."

And all was right with the world -- at least as far as ducks went; Engineering's attempt to hotwire a building in B-7 that shorted out the entire section was something else entirely -- for a few hours. Lorne had planned on making it an early night at the office; it was movie night and North by Northwest was the feature and Branson had promised Sour Patch Kids if he didn't forget to show up again. But he still almost missed the movie because of a summons from Kagan on behalf of Weir.

He showed up to find Gorshuk there as well.

"Ma'am?" he prompted, because even the marines weren't so batshit as to kidnap the ducks twice on the same day.

"If Florence and her ducklings are to reside in Little Tripoli," Gorshuk began, "we'd like weekly visits to her nest to observe her in situ as well as periodic visits to Zoology for check-ups and weigh-ins and other medical and scientific testing."

Lorne blinked and looked at Weir, who gave him a tiny shrug and a bigger smile. "Sure," he told Gorshuk. "But what prompted this change of heart?"

"She started pecking her way free of the box," Gorshuk explained. "She made a hole big enough for her ducklings to pass through and then started down the hall with them behind. She stopped at the first marine she saw and waited. Like she wanted to be taken home."

Lorne grinned. "They really do adore her."

"And apparently she them," Gorshuk sighed, like he couldn't even begin to account for the taste of such an otherwise intelligent animal.

Smedley -- probably never to be called Florence again -- and her chicks were already back in Little Tripoli. Gorshuk asked for permission to visit the following day and Lorne readily agreed. There were a few other ends to tie up and then Lorne left, stopping off in the control room where Kagan was playing Ms. Pac Man on his laptop.

"Doctor Gorshuk will be visiting Little Tripoli tomorrow to check out the ducks' living arrangements," Lorne told Kagan. "Make sure someone's there to escort him and make sure someone takes down the beefcake pictures from the nest."

After realizing that Smedley was a she, the picture of the naked babe had been replaced with a picture of Daniel Craig in a bathing suit. ("We asked Doctor Clayton, sir," Sergeant McCormack had explained helpfully. "She said him or Russell Crowe.")

"That was taken down as soon as we found out about the chicks, sir," Kagan replied, sounding a little scandalized. "Young eyes and all."

"Very good," Lorne said, since he couldn't really come up with anything that might work as an actual reply. "I'm clocking out. Have a quiet shift."

And thus Smedley Duckler, the Fighting Quacker became the official mascot of Little Tripoli. The ducks could be found honking at marines doing the obstacle course ("she's tougher on us than a DI, sir") and swimming alongside those doing training laps off of the makeshift pool by the east pier. Gorshuk and company quickly gave up on the idea of studying the ducks as ducks, instead restricting themselves to veterinary care and quietly suggesting it as a field study for one of the anthropologists from G-2.

For those actually used to marines and their behavior, however, it was somewhat less than remarkable. Or maybe Lorne and Sheppard had just worked with the crazy people for too long.

Art by Ileliberte (c) 2008
Art by Ileliberte

For the record, the official Marine Corps mascot is a bulldog named Chesty, in honor of Chesty Puller. The most recent Chesty retired in July.

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11 October, 2008