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Learning How To Fly Chapter 5

Chapter Five


*


Chapter 5

*

Rodney McKay was surprised to see the Marine at the docking of the Daedalus . Rodney was there to accept equipment and to intimidate new scientists. Why was Winchester there?

Rodney tried to sneak up behind the Marine, but it was a hopeless endeavor. Winchester turned to face him. “What’s up, Doc?”

“Funny,” Rodney griped. “You can’t be getting any new materials. I haven’t gotten any requisitions from you. O’Neill is sending your stuff through the Carter-McKay Mid-way station during the next check in since you didn’t have the authority to put in a req in time for this trip.”

Winchester frowned and started toward the door away from the Earth ship. “It’s nothing that would concern you.”

Instantly Rodney was interested. “Oh?”

Then a young airman walked off the ship with his hands full. “Dean,” the airman exclaimed with a smile. The smile disappeared when he saw Rodney. “Oh?”

“What do we have here?” Rodney asked silkily.

The airman handed Winchester the package and practically ran back to the ship.

“Well?”

Winchester looked defeated. He sighed. Rodney was familiar with that sigh. He normally heard it just before the Marine surprised him (and cost him money and ego). “If I give you one of the prepackaged . . .things in here, will you leave us alone?”

Rodney narrowed his eyes. Did he want what was in that package or not? One prepackage wouldn’t do too much harm. Winchester was probably not getting explosive materials in such a sneaky manner. “Agreed.”

Winchester put down the package, knelt, and pulled a knife from somewhere. He cut in a predetermined pattern and then reached a hand inside. Rodney was relatively sure that some thought crossed the Marine’s face (Why couldn’t facial expressions be in mathematical equations? He would understood that.) and then he pulled out two packages. One was the snack-sized peanut M&M’s and the other was a one-pot package of coffee grounds.

Rodney snatched both away before Winchester finished standing. Chocolate and coffee were the two of the most tradable items on Atlantis. Rodney had thought that he knew all the distributors in the city, but Winchester had never been even whispered. Rodney knew that his stuff wasn’t for sale. And since Winchester hadn’t given the airman anything in exchange, it might just be for favors.

Rodney calculated how much chocolate and coffee one could pack into a cube that was approximately 2/3 m on each side. He divided that by the six week round trip journey and realized that Winchester barely had enough for himself, let alone Rodney as well. Finally he decided. “Give me three bags of coffee every time Daedalus lands and I won’t tell anyone in the city that you have a stash and a supplier.”

Dean winced and countered. “Three and you sign off on a requisition - no questions asked – per shipment.”

“Four and a requisition every other trip,” Rodney pushed.

“Three and every other,” Dean said.

Rodney considered it. He wondered if Winchester was better at trade than Teyla, then decided he would suggest as much to Elizabeth. Winchester would hate the trade trips through the Stargate that Rodney was routinely subjected to.

“Deal.”

Winchester waited to reach out his hand. “So we agree to three bags of coffee per trip, a signed – no questions asked – requisition every other trip, and silence on my supplies and my supplier to everyone else.”

Rodney waved his hand. “I said ‘deal.’ So are we going to shake or not?”

Winchester shook his hand. (Maybe slightly firm but not obviously crushing.) The scientist did notice all the calluses. The Marine took a knee again and pulled out two more coffees. He handed them to Rodney. “I’ll give you a req by the end of the week.”

*

Lorne didn’t care for Winchester but the man did his job and in no way added problems to the command structure of Atlantis. There didn’t seem to be any fallout concerning the name deception. No one would have even known about it except for the mysterious abilities that Winchester had shown under pressure and threat of death. Whatever reason O’Neill had, it still hadn’t followed them out to the Pegasus galaxy. Lorne knew that O’Neill didn’t stick his neck out for just anyone. It had to be combat related. How had O’Neill and Winchester had an “adventure” and the SGC grapevine miss it? How had they become friends and the grapevine miss it?

The grapevine was suddenly missing a lot. For instance, Winchester had come to some sort of agreement with McKay, to the point where the Sergeant could say something oblique like “one more” and the scientist would quit complaining instantly. Lorne wasn’t the only one on Atlantis who wanted to know the source of that power. McKay, for obvious reasons, was silent on the score. Winchester tried to keep out of the minor squabbles, saving his mysterious power for the “important stuff” like postponing Chair experiments indefinitely.

After the leadership team had conned Winchester into his gene therapy, Sheppard told Lorne to ensure that Winchester got all his flight hours in. So Lorne ordered Winchester to spend every afternoon from 1400 to 1600hrs in the puddlejumper learning and thought that was the end of it. Lorne should have known better. After a couple of days, Zelenka thanked Lorne for giving him a Marine to help explore the innards of puddlejumpers.

“Too smart for Marine,” Zelenka said. “Good with his hands.” Zelenka had tilted his head. “Are all mechanics American this capable?”

Lorne refrained from commenting on car engines that had become increasingly, unnecessarily complicated with each new model. “That’s not what he’s supposed to be learning,” he said instead.

“But I can keep him, yes?”

Lorne tried not to be surprised. Though the Czech was nicer about it than McKay, he still didn’t waste work time with the unintelligent. “I’ll have to talk with his CO. We need him as a pilot for the puddlejumpers.”

“Did you assign him a teacher?”

“I told him that Bates took Athosians to and from the mainland at 1400.” Bates always had orders to complete a number of planetary experiments before returning.

Zelenka had obviously spent time figuring out the Marine. “Ah, but you did not order him to join Bates.”

Lorne had heard Sheppard gripe about Winchester’s nasty habit of following the letter of orders and not the spirit, but figured that the sergeant had learned his lesson. He hadn’t.

So Lorne excused himself out of his duties and showed up in the jumper bay at 1430 the following day. “Hey Doc?” he called.

“Back here,” Zelenka answered.

Lorne followed the direction of the voice and found the scientist and the oft-absent Marine deep in the bowels of a puddlejumper. “Winchester.”

“Sir,” he said warily.

“Time for your flight lesson.”

“But . . .”

“Now.”

Winchester put down the wires and crystals. “Yes, sir.”

“Dean?” Zelenka called.

“Yeah Doc?”

“Piloting a puddlejumper is like driving.”

Winchester’s look of disbelief was funny, but Lorne didn’t crack a smile.

“Truth.” Zelenka nodded. “You drive in the x-z plane. You drive a jumper in the x-y-z plane.”

Winchester didn’t seem happy with the explanation but he was considering it as he followed Lorne into Jumper 1. Supposedly, according to Sheppard, Jumper 1 was in the best shape out of all the jumpers. Lorne directed Winchester into the pilot’s seat. “Think ‘On.’ Maybe think of a lightswitch in your head. Something like how you got the control chair to work.”

“I still don’t know what happened in that Chair, sir,” Winchester protested.

Neither did anyone else, so Lorne changed tactics. “You’ve got a car at home?”

Winchester swelled with pride. “A cherry ’67 Chevy Impala. I do all the maintenance myself.”

Lorne was impressed. “Where did you leave it?”

“O’Neill’s taking care of it for me.”

Something like that should have been all over the gossip mill. Why hadn’t anyone at the SGC shared that with Atlantis? “Okay. Think of turning a key in the ignition.”

Nothing.

The puddlejumper wasn’t responding to Winchester at all. If Winchester still wasn’t as white as a ghost, Lorne would wonder if he was chanting ‘don’t start, don’t start’ in his head. Speaking of, “Winchester, talk to the jumper out loud.” Most people couldn’t chant one thing out loud and another in their head.

“Turn on, damn you,” Winchester said. “I know the starters’re not bad on you. The sooner we start, the sooner we’re done. On. On. On. On. Turn. Turn. Turn. Come on,” now he sounded cajoling, “You know you want to start. Turn over already.”

Nothing.

Jumper 1 was Sheppard’s primary ride and was a bit of a snob for any artificial ATA gene carrier. With Winchester’s gene being a little odd, perhaps Jumper 1 just didn’t connect. So Lorne tapped Winchester on the shoulder. “1 can be a selective to its pilots. Let’s try 3.” 3 was the jumper that Lorne normally took out. Though officially the jumpers and the pilots could be switched, everyone had their favorite. Winchester and Lorne repeated the failed ignition process with 3. Lorne could feel 3 waiting for an instruction from him, but couldn’t seem to get the jumper to acknowledge Winchester. Lorne mentally ticked off what he knew about the different jumpers. Jumper 8 would start for just about anyone.

“Let’s try 8.”

Winchester followed him out, looking hopeful that the whole piloting thing might fail.

“Don’t start thinking that you won’t be flying today,” Lorne warned. “Don’t you dare start thinking ‘off’.”

Winchester slumped.

They had to cross the bay to get to Lorne’s third choice. Winchester had just turned his back on the puddlejumper that he had been working on before when there was a sudden string of Czech swearing. Both whirled to see and the puddlejumper was hovering and following Winchester.

“You were thinking ‘on.’ Weren’t you?” Lorne accused.

Winchester was white as a sheet. “You told me to practice.”

“In a jumper,” Lorne clarified. It still shouldn’t have worked. “For right now, think ‘down gently’.”

Winchester screwed up his face in concentration and the puddlejumper slowly settled on the floor of the bay. It thumped hard.

“Think ‘Off,’ Sergeant,” Lorne ordered as he ran to the ramp of the jumper. He stepped inside and helped Zelenka to his feet. “You okay, Doc?”

“Fine, fine. Just surprised. Fell on my tush. No harm.”

Lorne looked around. “What are you fixing?”

“Weapons,” Zelenka muttered.

“You mind taking a break and letting Winchester and me take it for a spin? Is everything else in working order?” Might as well use the puddlejumper that responded to the Sergeant’s mental calls.

“Aye. I need a break,” Zelenka said. He patted Winchester’s arm as they passed. “Have fun, Dean.”

Winchester was standing just outside of the jumper.

“Get in here,” Lorne ordered.

Winchester stepped inside and the jumper lit up in welcome. “Off, off, off,” he muttered. The jumper wasn’t obeying.

Lorne wasn’t amused, no, not at all. “Sit in the pilot’s chair and tell it to close the bay door.”

The bay door was closed before Winchester sat down and no one was near the button at the door. Sheppard was going to be jealous. Every other pilot had to be sitting in the chair for the jumpers to work.

Lorne tapped his earwig, “Lorne to Tower. Permission for Jumper 17 for lift off. Over.”

“Permission granted Jumper 17,” Chuck responded. “Over.”

“Over and out.”

“Pull back on the controls,” Lorne told Winchester, “And you’ll feel when the automatic docking will take control.” Even Lorne felt the jolt of the automatic docking and then they were elevated out of the jumper bay and into the sky above Atlantis. “Steer the controls to the mainland.”

Winchester turned smoothly.

“Push on the controls to go faster. Straight ahead.” Lorne decided to use Zelenka’s suggestion for the next part. “If you move the controls on the y-plane, the jumper will move on the y-plane as well.”

Winchester nodded tersely. He lowered the jumper to just above the ocean waves and then pushed forward. The jumper sped across the water, leaving a wake like a jet ski. Lorne could tell that they were rapidly accelerating as the sergeant relaxed, but he wondered how fast they were going and if they were in the correct direction. He paused and then thought it again, expecting the jumper screen to accommodate him. It didn’t. Huh. While he didn’t have Sheppard’s affinity for all things Ancient, jumpers rarely gave him an issue. “Winchester, tell the jumper to give you a speed and a map of where we’re going and where we’ve been.”

The screen instantly lit up. Maybe they should have kept Zelenka for the trip. The Science Department was going to go crazy with this information. In other news, Winchester was currently going faster than a 747. Unlike McKay and Carson, Winchester had excellent spatial direction and was headed straight for the mainland settlement. “You can go faster,” Lorne prompted.

Winchester pushed on the controls harder and was almost at Sheppard’s maximum speed. Immediately he backed off.

“What’s wrong?” Lorne asked.

Winchester tilted his head. “Something’s not quite right. She didn’t like the upper speeds.”

That was a surprise, but then Winchester excelled at the unexpected. Not even Sheppard knew when an Ancient object was about to fail. Lorne decided to test it. “Not quite right as in ‘we’re about to lose all power and dive into the ocean’ or not quite right as in ‘I’m an old lady puddlejumper and don’t like to go fast’?”

Winchester glared and patted the consol. “He didn’t mean that, girl.” He glanced at the tools Zelenka left in the back of the puddlejumper. “If you take the controls, I’ll be able to fix it.”

Curiosity more than anything else made Lorne reach for the controls. Winchester stood and the jumper took a nose dive. Winchester grabbed for the controls again and the jumper settled on the ocean like a boat. “I thought you had it,” he muttered.

So did I, Lorne thought. He also sent a mental apology to the jumper, just in case. I wasn’t trying to be insulting. This time when Winchester let go of the controls, the jumper ceded to Lorne’s command. Winchester puttered in the back of the jumper for only five minutes when Lorne’s earwig beeped. “Tower to Jumper 17. Come in, Jumper 17. Over.”

“Jumper 17 to Tower, over,” Lorne answered.

“Are you experiencing problems, Jumper 17? Over.” Chuck asked politely. After almost losing Dr. McKay to the bottom of the ocean and losing his pilot, Lorne wasn’t surprised that the Tower was keeping a close eye on all jumper travel.

“Negative, Tower,” Winchester responded before Lorne could. “Over and out.” He slid back into the pilot’s seat and took the controls. Immediately, the jumper achieved height and moved forward. Once again, the map and jumper speed appeared on the screen. Lorne watched as Winchester approached what had been previously thought of as the jumper maximum speed and then exceeded it.

“You can probably go faster if you were higher off the ocean,” Lorne hinted.

Winchester nodded tersely and raised the controls slightly. Still the high speed increased. Sheppard was going to be so jealous when he finally got around to reading Lorne’s report on this lesson. The high speed stabilized. Lorne committed the number to memory. “And now for maneuverability.”

“Do you have an obstacle course out here, sir?” Winchester asked.

That wasn’t a bad idea and one Lorne would implement mostly so that he could have Sheppard race Winchester. He could clean up on bets with that one. No one would see Winchester coming. “Not yet. For now, I want you to drive out the outside of these points.” Please? he asked the jumper and the jumper screen was speckled with the dots that Lorne wanted up there.

Winchester nodded. He slowed a bit and then weaved the jumper around the arbitrary points in space. He overshot the first two before figuring out just how slow he needed to be as compared to the sharpness of each turn. Soon, Winchester was smoothly weaving through the dots. He wasn’t at his top speed anymore, but the speed he was using would be comparable to Sheppard’s. Lorne leaned back and relaxed. Yes, the race must happen soon.

“Cloak,” Lorne ordered.

Winchester screwed up his face again. A beat. “Did I do it?”

Lorne tapped his earwig, “Jumper 17 to Tower. Over.”

“Tower to Jumper 17. Over.”

“Is the jumper cloak engaged? Over.”

“Affirmative. Over.”

“Thank you Tower, Over and Out.”

Winchester grinned. Lorne had to smirk. For someone who started out deathly afraid of flight, Winchester was doing well. He just had to be in control. “So how’s flying?’ Lorne asked.

Winchester still winced. “Not horrible, sir.”

“Good.” Lorne watched the scenery go by and observed Winchester’s maneuverability. He decided to bring the sergeant in on his plan. “You know you went faster than Sheppard ever has in a jumper.”

Winchester looked surprised. “Are you sure, sir?”

“Yes.” Then Lorne thought about it. “Unless Sheppard lied on his reports to make the other pilots feel better about their speeds. So how do you feel about racing Sheppard?”

Winchester checked Lorne’s face to judge the seriousness of the question. And how far he could push. “Would there be betting on this race, Major?”

“Not in front of Weir.”

Winchester grinned. “Give me fifty percent of the take and you can count me in.”

“Agreed, but we’re going to have to see if you can start any of the other jumpers,” Lorne added. “’Cause the first thing McKay will want –and Sheppard- once he loses is to switch jumpers.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Head back to Atlantis and take your time. Get a little more altitude.”

“Yes, sir.” He turned white again, but obeyed the order.

Lorne quietly enjoyed the ride. Winchester was humming Metalica under his breath. Lorne didn’t mind. When Atlantis appeared on the screen in the distance, Lorne called the Tower. “Jumper 17 to Tower. Come in Tower. Over.”

“Tower to Jumper 17. Over.”

“Permission to land. Over.”

“Permission granted, Jumper 17. Over.”

“Over and out.”

Winchester piloted Jumper 17 to the perfect spot for the automatic docking to pick them up. This time was smoother. Winchester managed to land 17 with a small bump.

“You’ll get better at that,” Lorne said. “Let us out.”

Winchester was standing already, but didn’t sit back down to open the bay door. It opened when requested. Lorne kept his smile to himself as he led the way out. “Doc?” he called into the jumper bay.

“Aye?” Zelenka answered from inside Jumper 18. The jumpers were being number according to the order they were cleared for duty.

“I need you as witness.”

Winchester looked at him confused, and Zelenka looked curious as he joined them. “Major Lorne, what do you mean?”

“Winchester here is going to attempt to activate every jumper in the bay and we’ll record the results.”

Zelenka nodded.

Winchester didn’t groan but he looked pained. “Even the ones that didn’t work before?” he asked.

Lorne looked at Zelenka. The doctor shrugged and nodded. “Is fine. I believe you when you say he couldn’t initiate mental contact with some.”

“Good. Come on, Winchester. You still have fourteen jumpers to try.”

“Fifteen,” Zelenka corrected. “18 should wake for him. If my theory is correct, 18 will be one of three that will wake for him.” Lorne wasn’t surprised that the doctor had noticed Winchester’s difficulties and had already formed a theory about it.

Lorne pushed Winchester toward Jumper 2. “The sooner you start, the sooner you can start making bets around the city for the jumper race.”

Zelenka looked interested at the mention of a race. “He fast?”

“In his jumper.”

Zelenka grinned. “I will help make bets.”

“We’ll tell Sheppard that a race will distract Winchester from actually flying. He’ll jump on any excuse to take the puddlejumper out. He is a pilot, after all.”

“Yes, he is.” Zelenka was smart on several levels. “Are you going to have Winchester tune up 3?” It was, after all, some that a pilot would do.

“Yeah, doc.” Lorne glanced at Winchester fighting with Jumper 2. “I think I will.” Winchester, Lorne decided, could end up being very useful.

*

“You interested in a jumper race?” Lorne asked Sheppard.

Sheppard was interested, obviously. “Weir is not going to approve a race.”

“It’s because of Winchester. I need something to distract him from actually flying. I figure competition is a good way to get a Marine to do anything.”

“True.”

Lorne rattled a basket at his feet. “And a race will get him practice his maneuverability.”

Sheppard smirked at the basket full of empty, plastic coke bottles. “Weir is not going to like us littering up this world, major.” Chuck, from Tower Control had donated them to the cause. As soon as he had heard about the proposed race, Chuck had approached Lorne and wanted part of the cut. He had kept track of Winchester’s speed and he could place bets with people that Lorne and Zelenka couldn’t. Winchester had agreed to split the ever increasing pot with him.

Lorne shrugged a bit. “Loser picks up the trash, sir. Winchester already agreed to the condition. When –if he loses, he’ll have to practice hovering. Pacosky said that he’d use the net to fish them out.”

“Does Winchester know how sneaky you are, Major?”

“I got him flying for over an hour yesterday, sir.”

“Oh, good. Bates said that he had never set eyes on our wayward sergeant.”

“That’s what he reported to me as well. That’s why I personally took him out.”

“How is he?”

“Rough. I promised him that no one would be grading him on his lift-offs and landings as a part of the race.”

“I suppose that we could let him have that handicap.”

“Yes, sir.”

John returned his attention to his never-ending paperwork. “I have time tomorrow afternoon at 1400hrs. Will that work for Winchester?”

“Yes. That’s his normal flying time. I’ll set out the buoys earlier.”

“Good. In the meantime, I’ll clear it with Weir.”

“Thank you, sir.”

*

Lorne knew that maneuverability would be Winchester’s Achilles’ heel but that he would leave Sheppard in the dust on straight distances, so in dropping the buoys, he would clump them all together at the beginning. The straight part would be at the end. That was when Winchester would catch up and pass Sheppard.

He had filed his completed report at 0600hrs and so far no one had accessed it. Zelenka promised to keep McKay busy and had already set up the betting pool among the scientists. Chuck had made a bet with all of the gate room personnel. Winchester could get people to take bets, but the odds weren’t as lopsided in Marine quarters as they were in the labs. Too many Marines had a feeling that Winchester would at least put up a good showing.

Lorne had expected word to get around, and was in fact banking on it, but even he was surprised at the jerry-rigged screens available in every rec room in preparation for the race. The air of festivities made it hard to get a lot of work done.

He turned a blind eye to the beer keg that nearly ran over him on its way to the rec area furthest from the Tower. Mostly. “Marines,” he said to the men and one lady.

“Yes, sir?”

He looked from the conspicuously unlabeled keg to the soldiers. “I will be checking on all of you during your duties tomorrow. Try to show a little restraint.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Dismissed.”

Most of the soldiers hurried away but the female, Corporal Kwong, paused. “Sir?”

“Yes, Corporal?”

“Who do you think will win the race? Air Force or Marine?”

Lorne kept his tone light and vague. “Corporal, I have been training that Marine. It is my duty to support my student.”

“Of course, sir.”

Lorne waved her away and checked his watch. He had to check in with the lieutenants before grabbing Pacosky to drop off the buoys. He was running out of time.

*

“Ladies and Gentleman of Atlantis, I hope you are ready for the first ever puddle jumper race.”

Chuck had reserved a radio channel to MC the race and if Elizabeth stumbled across his narration on the air waves, this was going to be last puddle jumper race of the Atlantis expedition. Lorne was already enjoying the race description. He was in the gate room, observing on the main sensor screen. He was officially on duty, as was Chuck.

Elizabeth was taking a late lunch. Lorne had no idea what Sheppard had told her to permit this race or to get her out of her office, but he was going to take advantage of it.

“We have a fine, fine day for a race,” Chuck continued, “sunny skies and a light wind out of the southwest at seven knots. Today’s race covers three hundred kilometers over the ocean. The course is divided into two main sections. First, maneuverability: the pilots must weave between forty buoys floating on the currents. The second section of the race is pure speed. The pilots will return straight to Atlantis, then they will circle once around. The first jumper to pass by the windows of the Tower gate room will be declared the winner.

“The first pilot exiting the jumper bay is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. An esteemed member of the US Air Force, Colonel Sheppard has served and flown on every continent of Earth. He was the first member of the Atlantis expedition to ever fly a puddlejumper. Colonel Sheppard definitely has experience on his side for this race. He is hovering above the Tower in his preferred vehicle of Jumper 1.”

Lorne sent Chuck a sharp look. Yes, bets were still being made somewhere in the city, but there was no need to overdo the disparity between the racers.

Chuck nodded once in agreement and glanced at his notes. Lorne nearly laughed: Chuck had made notes to MC this race. “Our challenger today is Sergeant Dean Winchester. This Marine learned how to fly yesterday, but he has been assisting Dr. Radek Zelenka in restoring the Ancient puddlejumpers to their original conditions. In fact, Winchester is piloting the most recently fixed jumper, 17. Will the knowledge of the inner workings of his space craft be advantageous today? In case of an emergency, Major Jonathan Bates of the USAF will be riding in Winchester’s puddlejumper.”

McKay was complaining loudly about Winchester’s so-called advantages and that reminded Chuck of McKay’s role in this race.

“Anyone tapping into today’s video feed will be able to see the interior of each jumper and the pilots flying. Today, our judges will be Dr. Rodney McKay and Dr. Radek Zelenka. They will ensure that each pilot will complete an outer circuit of every buoy. Are the judges ready?”

Zelenka nodded and McKay waved his hand. “Yes, yes, let’s get this over with already.”

“The judges are ready,” Chuck said for all of the personnel listening in. “Are the pilots ready?”

Sheppard’s “Yeah” overlapped Winchester’s “Yes, sir.”

“The pilots are ready. All the buoy beacons are broadcasting correctly. On my mark, the race will begin. Ready! Set! Mark!” Chuck took a deep breath. “And they’re off. They are neck and neck as they round the first buoy. Now they round the second buoy. Oh! And Colonel Sheppard is starting to pull away, but Sergeant Winchester is nipping right on his heels.”

Lorne shifted his shoulders and rolled his neck. He reminded himself that this had been the plan. Sheppard would speed through the maneuverability. Winchester was doing well, Lorne reasoned. In fact, he was doing better than even Lorne had hoped. Sheppard was just that much better. He was a damn fine pilot and no one would ever forget that. Maybe, Lorne shouldn’t have included the buoys and the maneuverability as part of the race.

“Colonel Sheppard has finished the maneuverability potion of the race four buoys ahead of Winchester,” Chuck declared for all. “Colonel Sheppard has turned his jumper around and is now headed straight for Atlantis. Winchester has two more buoys, one more buoy. Winchester has finished the buoys and is returning to Atlantis. Oh! Winchester is picking up speed. Winchester is closing in on Sheppard. Does he have enough distance to actually overtake Jumper 1? Winchester is six lengths behind. Five lengths behind. Colonel Sheppard has less than one hundred kilometers to Atlantis. Winchester is four lengths behind Sheppard. Three lengths! Ladies and gentlemen this race just got more exciting. We obviously can’t count Winchester out yet. He has moved two lengths behind Sheppard.

“Twenty-five kilometers to Atlantis and Winchester is only one length behind Sheppard. And now they’re neck and neck, rounding the city. Is this true? Is Winchester inching away from Sheppard? And now they are approaching the finish line in front of the gate room. This might be a photo finish. We will definitely need our judges for this one. And it’s over!” The two jumpers blurred by the windows.

“Let’s have an instant replay in slow motion.”

Everyone’s eyes were glued to the display screen as they watch the final second of the race. Lorne was thrilled that Winchester won and by a couple feet too.

“Are the judges agreed?” Chuck asked the doctors.

“Winchester won,” Zelenka declared.

“How did he do that?” McKay immediately demanded. “He cheated. He had to cheat. Bates really flew, didn’t he?”

Chuck ignored McKay’s indignant accusations. Everyone could see Winchester sweaty and flushed and ecstatic in the pilot’s seat and Bates standing behind him with his jaw dropped open. “And now we check in on our winning pilot. Tower to Jumper 17. Come in 17.”

Winchester tapped his earwig. “This is 17, over.”

“Congratulations, Sergeant Winchester. You are the official winner of today’s puddlejumper race. If you and Colonel Sheppard would please park in jumper bay one, I’m sure there are many people waiting to congratulate you.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoyed today’s race and have a pleasant day. This is Chuck of Atlantis Tower, signing off.”

*

Elizabeth tapped of her earwig and the race narration concluded. Chuck had done an excellent job MC-ing the race. She closed Lorne’s report on her computer. The Major had done an excellent job setting Sheppard up. Sergeant Winchester had flown admirably.

All of this was vital information.

She checked her watch. She’d give the gate room personnel ten more minutes to celebrate the race and come to grips with its conclusion, and then she would return to her office. Her very presence would sober up the soldiers and remind them of their posts and their mission.

Everyone –even she- needed this light-hearted distraction from the wraith.

*

Lorne was not the first one to arrive in the jumper bay. He wasn’t even the hundredth one to arrive in the jumper bay. The bay was filled with people, all loud and cheerfully rehashing the race. He was glad that everyone, even those who had lost money (and Lorne knew that over sixty percent of them had lost money) had enjoyed the race.

Lorne snagged the net from the corner that he had stashed it and made his way to Jumper 1. He just happened to pass Winchester. He elbowed the Marine, “Did you have to make it such a close race?” he yelled at him.

Winchester grinned and laughed and shrugged. Lorne didn’t know how much of the near loss had been because Winchester had been hustling and how much was because Sheppard was a damn fine pilot.

Lorne kept on going until he saw Sheppard. He actually followed McKay’s voice as it was raised over the din. Finally, Lorne stepped onto Jumper 1. “Here you go, sir,” Lorne didn’t smile as he offered the net to his CO, but it was a strain on his self-control. “Have fun picking up the buoys.”

Sheppard accepted the net and shook his head good-naturedly. “Did you make money off your bets, Lorne?”

“Me, sir? Money was not the goal of this exercise. You all confirmed a theory that I had.”

Sheppard was mildly amused. “And what theory would that be, Major?”

“That none of you read my reports, sir.”

“I looked at your report, Major,” McKay immediately protested. “You spent over two pages detailing how Winchester couldn’t activate Jumpers 1 through 15. At all.”

Lorne nodded. “Yes sir, and then I spent two more pages on how Winchester can activate Jumper 17 from across the jumper bay, mostly when he’s trying to activate Jumpers 1 through 15.”

McKay looked stunned. “I stopped reading it before that.”

“I presumed as much, sir.”

Sheppard shook his head. “You proved your point, Major. So your third point was that Winchester’s top speed was better than mine?”

“No, Sir, the third point in my report detailed that Winchester could tell –somehow- that something was wrong with Jumper 17 and so he landed on the ocean and fixed it, which is when the fourth point of report comes into play. It was only after Winchester played jumper mechanic did the jumper exceed your top speed.”

“That’s…” McKay’s voice trailed off. “That makes absolutely no scientific sense.”

Lorne put forth Zelenka’s theory. “Doctor Zelenka mentioned that Winchester only worked on Jumpers 16, 17, and 18. Those are the only three that recognize him. 17 recognizes him the most and his connection to 18 is getting stronger by the day. Zelenka believes that Winchester’s connection to 18 will be as strong as his connection to 17 by the time they are done.”

“That’s interesting,” Sheppard cast eyes on the sergeant who was still accepting the riotous congratulations from the Marines of Atlantis. He wasn’t sure when the race had become another Air Force vs Marines thing, but he had a feeling that it was intentional on someone’s part.

“I thought it worth reporting, sir.”

“It sounds like a report worth reading.”

“It is,” Lorne assured them.

“I still want to try 17,” Sheppard said.

“Of course, sir. Though you might have more success if you had Winchester in 1 as you flew. He might be able to identify what’s slowing up your jumper. Not to mention that 17 is particular to Winchester now that he’s flown her.”

“Really?” Sheppard eyed him. “Did he make 3 go faster?”

“Yes, sir. He did. Zelenka reported a nine percent improvement in both speed and mainframe computation, already. That report is also on the share drive.”

Sheppard looked at the net in his hand. “What are you doing right now, major?”

Lorne offered his most innocent expression. “I have Gate duty and then more reports to file, sir.”

“Of course you do.” Sheppard looked around the busy hallway. Ronon stood a head taller than the rest. Sheppard waved him over.

“Yeah?”

“I need someone to net the buoys out of the ocean while I fly. You busy?”

“No.”

“Good. Let’s go clean up our mess before Elizabeth sics the Biology department on us for littering.”

“Ok.”

Sheppard grinned. “You know, Ronon, I asked you to come because of our long and deep talks.”

Ronon glared.

“Okay, so I lied. I asked for your help because the two of us will get the job done faster than anyone else.”

“You did just lose the race, Sheppard. You’re not the fastest.”

Lorne hid his smile as Ronon’s biting wit came out to play. He left before he could be dragged into any argument. Zelenka caught him at the door and slipped him his cash prize. Lorne stuffed the wad into his pocket. He had made out like a bandit on this little endeavor.

*

John Sheppard sat in Jumper 17 and tried to activate it again. The jumper bay was quiet. Everyone had returned to their regularly scheduled duties. 17 would not turn on. He could feel it in the back of his mind, like a curious cat. It was observing him but not approaching. He was sweating and had a headache. The cat of Jumper 17 wasn’t interested in him. John tried to tell himself that he was just trying out a newly fixed jumper like any other. He was putting himself through this pain because he needed to know if the jumper would acknowledge his presence.

It had nothing to do with the speeds Winchester had managed to coax out of it.

On.

Finally, the jumper lit up, slowly. He had never had an Ancient piece of equipment respond so sluggishly.

Now what?

At least he knew that in an emergency, he could fly 17. He would never be able to reach Winchester’s speeds with it, but he had 1 for that. He would drag Winchester out on his jumper until he could match (or exceed) the record for the jumpers’ top speed.

He stumbled out of the jumper with a migraine so bad that he considered going to Carson for help. Thick black and blue hues floated through his vision.

Sleep.

He would just sleep off the headache. Atlantis cooed to him and he felt better. Yes, sleep would work.

*

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
amanofmydreams
May. 21st, 2010 07:30 am (UTC)
Ohhh I loved this chapter, the race is perfection...just what everyone needed and I soo knew that Liz was off listening or watching, she is a lot trickier then anyone else on base, and running the thing so she kinda knows :P

I loved Lorne and Zelenka's interaction with Dean and him making friends finally or kinda with both of them. I'm interesting to see where this is all headed, runs off to the next chapter.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )