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Learning How To Fly Chapter 7

Chapter Seven


*


Chapter 7

*

“What do you know about minefields?” Elizabeth asked when she cornered Dean in the middle of the mess. He had been regulated to light duty and teaching since the incident on the mainland, but it was still difficult to find the sergeant when he didn’t want to be found. The mess was the only way to truly corner the man, much to the amusement of the higher staff.

“Land, sea or air?” Winchester asked back.

“I was thinking more along the lines of space, for a first line of defense.”

The Marine was suddenly paying attention and not looking for an escape route. “I read the reports of the first siege we survived. The mines were highly ineffective, wiped out by the wraith with asteroids.”

“They did buy us some time,” reminded Elizabeth.

“The Ancients’ weapons platform was better.”

Once again this Marine managed to come up with an idea not previously considered within the realm of possibilities. “We don’t have nearly enough materials to construct a weapons platform as efficient as the Ancients.”

“But we have more puddlejumpers than pilots and a weapons platform based on that could have cloaking capabilities.”

Elizabeth blinked. “How would you accomplish that?”

Winchester used the touch pad on his computer to find a file before showing her the screen. Elizabeth happened to see the filing pathway as the proposal was opening: c:/Winchester/atlantis/weapons/space/aintnoway/puddleplatform. The knowledge she gained from that brief glance was tantalizing. Considering that McKay and Sheppard had practically forced the computer onto Winchester, he certainly had filled it up in a short time. Though, he had been regulated to bed rest for a while, with only his computer for company. Even McKay could get mountains of work done in the infirmary.

Then the file loaded and she was instantly intrigued. Despite the pessimism of the ‘ain’t no way’ file, Winchester had organized his idea in an official proposal format. Winchester paged through the multi-page introduction to an enlarged schematic of a puddlejumper. He had used arrows to show what he wanted to rip out (the DHD, planetary sensors) and what he wanted replace it with (a smaller version of the Ancients’ weapon powered by a naquada generator). He had included options, such as disposing of the life support systems and making it entirely maintained by a person in an EVA. Winchester had also stolen parts of Rodney and Zelenka’s research and made it so the weapon could be fired from Atlantis’ Chair- remote controlled, as it were.

Winchester obviously read all the reports available of the siege. He was trying to minimize losses at every turn.

“How long would it take you to build this?”

It was only now that Winchester hesitated. “Without changing my current responsibilities or schedule? Eight or nine months.”

On Earth, such a timeframe would have been nearly miraculous, but on Atlantis, where they were often living day to day, it was an interminable amount of time. Nonetheless, Elizabeth teased him. “You would be cutting out winning every pool and poker tournament in the city.” And he would not be picking up any of his old duties. She and John had discussed permanently disbanding Winchester’s gate team anyway since they were the most proficient at the Seal, far above anyone else. They wanted to spread around that ability.

Winchester merely grinned as he acknowledged his undefeated status. “A guy’s got to make some sacrifices.”

“But not all of them,” she mock chastised. “I understand that there is a SGA-SGC competition planned the next time you’re on Earth and you can’t be out of practice for that. I already have money on you with a bet with General O’Neill.”

Winchester glowed with pleasure at her confidence in him. “I’ll take it into consideration, ma’am.”

“Back to your timeframe, what if I gave you a crew?”

“I would borrow a couple scientists from time to time, but they all have their own projects. And of course, I’ll need Sheppard to launch it and to test it.”

“This will need an incredible amount of computer programming. As I recall, that isn’t your forte.”

“No, ma’am. I’d get Ash to do it. We work pretty good together and it’ll help keep him out of trouble.”

Considering some of Ash’s escapades, Elizabeth wasn’t sure she wanted the man near anything this sensitive, but then, neither did she want Ash roaming the city while Winchester was otherwise occupied. So she just nodded. “I want your entire proposal e-mailed to both myself and to McKay today.”

Winchester nodded but looked a bit confused. “Not to Sheppard?”

Now she smiled. “I want you to e-mail Sheppard the entire ‘weapons’ folder, including the ‘ain’t no way’ sub-folder. In the e-mail message, stress the priority on the puddlejumper weapons platform.”

As Elizabeth had previously noted, Winchester didn’t have many tells, but she knew that she had surprised him. He had underestimated her. He also looked a bit embarrassed. “Ma’am,” he hedged. “There are a lot of half-baked ideas in those folders.”

“I expect that, but I still want Sheppard to have an idea of possibilities available to us. I’ll also ask him to prioritize them with what he considers to be most useful.”

“Yes ma’am.” Elizabeth knew that Winchester planned on withholding some of his ideas, but John would still be overwhelmed (and overjoyed) with the possibilities.

“Dean?” Elizabeth deliberately used the young man’s first name as a warning.

“Yes’m?”

“Why were you so pessimistic of your chances of getting this project approved?”

“There are only a few naquada generators and many other actual scientists competing for the power. There are also a finite number of puddlejumpers. I had wondered about the puddlejumpers on M5S-285, thinking we could trade for some of their mostly defunct ones, but still, there are problems. I’m not sure that McKay will be pleased with some of the components of Atlantis that I need to scavenge to make it work.”

Put that way, Elizabeth could see the problems. As it were, McKay would have to make a decision of whose project would get the ax to give the generator to Winchester. Or they might use one of the generators they had on reserve for emergencies. McKay might also rightfully refuse the project due to whatever Winchester wanted to take from Atlantis. Elizabeth made a mental note to forward the project on to Zelenka. McKay often treated the city as if it were his baby and his alone. Zelenka would offer a more unbiased opinion.

“Anything else, ma’am?” Winchester asked.

“No, you’re free to go.”

“Thank you ma’am.”

She watched him walk away with a spring in his step. There were so many layers to the young man. She wondered if anyone had gotten close enough to peek at them all.

*

“Has everyone had a chance to read Winchester’s proposal for making an orbital weapons station out of a puddlejumper?” Elizabeth asked at the beginning of the scientific part of the management meeting.

Ronon, who had been standing to leave as was his habit for this part of the meeting, returned to his seat. The other members of the meeting straightened with interest and some started nodding.

“First, Rodney, is it feasible?”

Rodney scowled, but not one caused by someone’s stupidity. “I think it would work with a little tweaking.”

“Very little,” Zelenka added. “Winchester has taken into account every variable that we could come up with. In a quick simulation, it worked nine times out of ten.”

“Okay. Next question: can we afford to give him all the materials that he needs to build it?”

“No,” McKay said as Zelenka said, “Yes.”

“What does Winchester want that we can’t give him?” asked Elizabeth.

“He wants one of the back-up stabilizers from the city.” McKay sounded insulted at the idea.

“It’s a back-up,” Ronon spoke what everyone else thought. “Why can’t he have it?”

McKay glared at the alien. “The Ancients didn’t create redundant systems because of aesthetics. They have back-up systems because they were needed.”

“But the stabilizers will only be used if the city flies again,” Zelenka argued, obviously a well-rehearsed discussion. “We might never have the ZPMs needed for such a venture.”

“Atlantis will fly again. We go out every day looking for ZPMs. We’ll find some eventually.”

“The odds of that event are less likely than the chances of the Wraith finding us,” John broke in. “This is a solution that we can work on right now.”

“And if the Wraith find us before the eight months is up? What then?”

“Then we’d be half-way to a solution and we could pull every available scientists to finish the weapons platform.” Elizabeth still had nightmares of the last siege, the hopelessness and the futility. “We wouldn’t be scrambling for any idea, any thing that might work.”

McKay threw up his hands. “Why are you all so sure that removing the back-up stabilizer is such a good idea? We will probably need it if-when we get the city back into space.”

“Rodney,” John said, “we’re all sure that if we get Atlantis into space and the stabilizer fails, you will be able to fix it then. We believe that you will be able to take care of any problems we might encounter.”

“Oh.” Rodney paused, “Flattery will… not get my agreement.”

John countered, “It’s honesty.”

“No, you’re just playing to my ego.”

“Are you saying that you couldn’t have fixed one puny stabilizer?” Ronon challenged.

“Midflight?” McKay screeched. “Have you any idea how complicated that is?”

Teyla smiled as she joined the discussion. “We know how smart you are.”

Rodney huffed. “You all obviously are for the idea. Why does my opinion count?”

“You are the one who decides where Winchester’s generator will come from,” Elizabeth reminded. “You are also the one who would be called upon to ensure it works.”

Rodney waved away the first question. “Give him Cavanaugh’s generator,” he said with malicious humor.

Zelenka nodded in agreement. “Yes, that is good plan.”

“Actually…” Rodney’s voice trailed away and then he smiled. “We should see about trading with the people of M5S-285. Their outpost is much like Atlantis. We never did explore the entire place. They might have the stabilizers that Winchester needs and seeing as it is under several strata of dirt, that place will never fly again, why not scavenge it from there?”

“There’s an idea,” John agreed. “Permission to approach M5S-285 with our request for a stabilizer and a couple more of old puddlejumpers.”

“Permission granted,” said Elizabeth. “Carson, I need a list of medical supplies we can trade. I’ll also tell Winchester that his project is approved and to give me a schedule. John, do you have a team that can excavate the stabilizer from the Tower?”

“Yeah. Winchester can lead it. He’s got experience spelunking and he knows what he’s looking for.”

“Yes, but does he have the time,” Elizabeth asked. Then she turned to Carson. “More importantly, is he cleared medically?”

Carson shrugged. “I have no idea how he transforms energy into a shield. It should not happen. In every other manner, Sergeant Winchester is one-hundred percent human. The mere fact that he can teach his skill to a select few indicates that he is not an isolated incident. We closely monitored his teaching in the infirmary; he used far too much energy. I worry but if he doesn’t make a shield, he should be fine.”

“Do you think that maybe Dean has some other alien race DNA?” John Sheppard asked idly. All eyes turned to him. “Kinda like the ATA gene, but something else? It would explain the hit or miss nature of those that can make a working seal. Or a seal that Winchester thinks would work.”

Carson brightened at the thought. “Elizabeth? May I try to find the gene?”

“Go for it,” Elizabeth said with a smile. That had been her pet theory as well. “As long as you have time.”

“That makes the most scientific sense,” McKay admitted. “But statistically, look at those showing the most promise: Ohlman and Pacosky and Teyla. The fact that Teyla has it –whatever it is- too makes the DNA theory suspect. Because of Ohlman and Pacosky, I’m thinking that it’s environmental. I haven’t found the cause yet, but I will.”

“Don’t let it distract from your other work, Rodney,” Elizabeth warned. “Speaking of which, Rodney, did you answer the last page in Winchester’s proposal?”

Rodney grinned. “You mean ‘Stupid Questions for McKay to Deride and then Answer’? Yes, I did. It’s mostly about fail-safes, ways to keep the platform from being used against us. Working with different self-destructs. I typed up the answers and came up with a few more fail-safes. I propose that my staff and I try to hack the computer when Ash is done making a mess of it. If we win, we write the program.”

Elizabeth wanted the best but she also wanted good working relations within the city. She wasn’t sure McKay’s proposal would accomplish that. “I’ll take it under advisement. What’s next on the list?”

Ronon beat a hasty retreat. The interesting part of the meeting was over.

*

Lorne looked up from his paperwork at the knock. Winchester was standing there. Lorne waved him in, “Yes, Sergeant?”

“Sir, did you hear that I’m to lead an expedition to M5S-285? See if their Tower has the stabilizers that I need for a puddlejumper?”

“Yes and it should be a good experience in leadership for you. Short term and with a clear purpose. See if you can make sure that none of our Marines, especially those with the ATA gene knock up any of the ‘upper class ladies’ while you’re there.” Lorne said it just to make Winchester turn a little green. Lorne flipped through his piles until he found what he was looking for. “These are the men assigned to you for the mission.”

Winchester accepted the list of names and nodded approvingly. “Thank you, sir.” He folded the paper into thirds and slid it into his BDU jacket pocket. While he was there, he slid out another set of papers. “This is for you, sir.”

Lorne accepted the folded papers warily and opened them. They were a decision tree, though similar in some respects to the previous one, it was a lot more elaborate. Lorne deflated, “Ash is not allowed off planet.”

“Yes sir. And Weir looked at me like I grew a second head when I suggested it. She’s not going to change her mind and honestly, Ash would be worse than useless down there.”

Lorne pinched his nose. Days –possibly weeks- of riding herd on the druggie because there was no way that they could find a working stabilizer under all that dirt in less than one hundred seventy hours. He should have seen this coming. “Thank you for this, Sergeant. It might keep your friend out of the brig.”

Winchester nodded. “Weir did accept my proposal of bringing back my chosen puddlejumper before I leave and Ash does know what I need in the programming. He can start on that. Dr. Miko is going to be McKay’s contribution while I’m gone. She’ll make sure that Ash is concentrating on the puddlejumper and not in parts of Atlantis’ programming that he shouldn’t be. Dr. Miko is nice enough but too much alone time with Ash and he’ll suffer an ‘accident’.”

Lorne nodded. “I’ll include the jumper bay into every round and patrol I make while you’re gone.” He would talk to Miko and see if they could schedule a minor accident or two. Carson and his team could take care of the druggie for a while. In this case, Lorne believed in spreading the misery around. If there was any way to make General O’Neill pay for the original decision that brought that man to Atlantis, Lorne was going find it.

Lorne realized that Winchester was waiting. “Dismissed Sergeant. Have a quick and successful mission.”

Winchester smirked. “Thank you, sir. I’ll try.”

*

The next few weeks passed by in a blur for Dean. If he wasn’t on M5S-285 digging for the flight stabilizer, he was trying to guess where it could be under the dirt. He was rarely on Atlantis, sleeping and eating on the planet. The social scientists had used Dean and his Marines as an excuse to observe a society after a major but nearly bloodless coup. The scientists gave Dean more trouble than the Marines. The Marines, Dean could work into exhaustion. He didn’t have the time to watch the scientists make fools out of themselves. Idiots, Dean could ignore, but then the scientists nearly got them kicked off the planet.

He sent a frantic message to Lorne. Lorne showed up for a couple hours, reported that Ash was in the brig and had a little talk with the scientists. Whatever he said worked. The scientists were no longer causing problems with the ruling class. Dean was so thankful that he sent Lorne some ideas for keeping Ash out of trouble.

The first stabilizer that Dean and his crew unearth had been crushed by the weight of the dirt above it. Dean was scared that all of the stabilizers would be in the same shape. If he didn’t get a stabilizer from M5S-285, there was a good chance that his project would be cancelled before it had even begun. Dean mapped out the rest of the tower and guesstimated on the location of the second stabilizer. He was hopeful as the caves in this part of the city were sturdier. They suffered less cave-ins. His team was responsible and probably knew more about excavation than he did. They were very careful under the dirt and never let their guard down.

Finally they found it. It took them another two days to bring the stabilizer to the surface. Dean had to dismantle it further so that it could be transported in three puddlejumper trips. While down in the hole, he grabbed any part of the crystals or connection tubes that looked in good shape.

At last, Dean could return to Atlantis with all the scavenged parts needed for the orbiting weapons platform. Whatever relaxation Dean hoped to gain by being back in the city was wiped out when he realized that Atlantis was jealous of his time in the bowel’s of M5S-285’s Tower. The outpost –which all ATA gene personnel agreed was male- was dying. Atlantis had nothing to be jealous of but that didn’t stop her from being loud and constantly in his head. She also tried to tempt him by making more Ancient equipment work for him. So instead of 7% of all equipment working, it was bumped up to 13%. Nice, but not worth the headaches he was enduring.

Dean flew off to the mainland to escape the ‘jealous non-girlfriend.’ There he made as many large explosions as he could. Dean knew of no better way to relax.

*

Elizabeth Weir tried not to compare the delicate and diplomatic Athosian representative with the high-strung scientist. Teyla admitted that yes, Winchester was experimenting with his explosions well into the night. They were complaining –well, not Teyla- of the same events and person but at much different volumes. The fact that the Athosians were saying something at all proved the scientist was correct at the size of the explosions Winchester was making.

One thing about the reinforced complaints was that Elizabeth knew that Winchester was making good use of the laboratory provided. She hadn’t been keeping as good track of the Marine’s puddlejumper flights as she should have. It was good that Winchester was flying at all after all the hassle of getting him the gene therapy and then the flying lessons.

“Weir to Winchester. Come in, Dean,” she called through the headset.

“Winchester here. Over.” He was determined to keep any familiarity out of their relationship. She’d feel snubbed except that she knew that Dean also referred to his two closest friends as Dex and Pacosky.

“Where are you?”

“Experimental jumper bay. Over.”

Elizabeth started walking that direction. “Stay there, I’ll be joining you momentarily.”

“Yes’m. Over and out.”

Winchester was exactly where he claimed, underneath the raised jumper, pulling out systems deemed unnecessary for a weapon’s platform. His strange friend, Ash, was silently sitting in the pilot’s seat with a computer, intent on his work. An oddity, since the man had never turned down a chance to flirt with her –or any other female- since his arrival.

Elizabeth wandered over to the other experimental jumper, the bomb observatory. It looked like the extra shielding had taken a beating recently.

“Did you need something, ma’am?” Dean asked from her side.

“I understand that you have been spending nights at your mainland lab.”

“Spills over.” As with everyone else, there weren’t enough hours in the day.

“I understand.”

Winchester twisted his mouth. “Someone’s complained.”

Elizabeth nodded. “The Athosians need their sleep and according to Dr. Lentz, you would be causing earthquakes and tsunamis if the explosions get much bigger.”

Winchester nodded. He might have also flushed. “The Athosians didn’t mention it to me. I try to stop and chat and not just eat and run while I’m in the village.”

“I believe that they loathe to critique you in any way,” Elizabeth reminded him, “Shaman.”

Winchester flushed again. “I wish they didn’t call me that. I’m no wise man.”

“They disagree. What are you working on to cause the disturbances?”

“Space mines. Smart mines to be used in space.”

Elizabeth gave him her full attention. “Oh? What would make them smart?”

“I’m using drone parts and messing with them. Dr. Miko had done most of the research. We can make thirty space mines out of one drone. They’d be inert unless activated by the chair through the jumper platform. That is assuming that we get a chance to activate them before anybody can see through the cloak and destroy the platform. I also want them to be disabled if, for some unforeseeable reason, they drop out of orbit and into the atmosphere before being used.”

“How is that coming?”

Winchester finally grinned and Elizabeth understood why the other females found him attractive. He was a very handsome young man. “No one complained about last night, did they?”

Considering the direction of her thoughts, Elizabeth was glad that she didn’t blush as Dean’s comment related to it. “No,” she said. “No one mentioned last night.”

“Good.”

“Those mines are basically done. Well, the design, but it’s easy enough that I could borrow a couple scientists for a day and get enough to fill the cargo part of the jumper to release them.”

“I’m glad to hear it. How is the weapon’s platform progressing?” she asked.

Dean rubbed his forehead and left a streak of dirt behind. “We’re good, maybe a day behind schedule, no more than two.”

Elizabeth smiled. “I am very glad to hear that. Please e-mail the upper staff an update at the end of every week. We might be able to help if we know the need.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” said Dean.

“I’ll let you get back to work then.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

*

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
amanofmydreams
May. 21st, 2010 08:21 am (UTC)
Look at smart!Dean go. I'm glad to see him finally getting into the swing of things, maybe a little overworked and needs a vacation but I'm excited to see this poker game!!!!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )