Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Warnings: Alternate Universe, crack-y
Posted to: story_lottery
Prompt: #13 - Smoke
Summary: Atlantis Aquarium's newest orca, Sheppard, keeps hurting himself. The Aquarium's founder and chief scientist, Doctor Rodney McKay, decides to figure out how.
A/N: Just got back from Florida, and all I can think of is Rodney and John as whales. Seriously. My brain is broken.
Rodney glared at the diminutive, wet-suit clad trainer in front of him. "What do you mean, he's hurt again?" he demanded curtly. "He's only been here two weeks, and this is the third time you've called me."
Teyla shook her head in frustration, her lips compressed with uncharacteristic distress. "I wish I could figure out how he's doing it, Doctor McKay" she said. "He's in the isolation tank, going through the usual adjustment period."
Rodney scraped a hand through his hair, realising too late that his hand was still wet from his weekly check of the manta rays and his hair was probably standing straight on end now. He sighed. "Give me fifteen minutes," he said. "I'll meet you there."
Teyla nodded and left. Rodney waved imperiously, and Zelenka obediently trotted over, the small sea-otter he'd been examining cradled in his arms. "I need to go over to the orca isolation pool," he told Zelenka briskly. "The new one hurt himself again."
Zelenka frowned, scritching the otter absently on her chest. Miko chittered at him, and he shushed her with a quick dive in his pocket for her squishy ball. "How did he do it?"
Rodney shrugged. "Guess we have to find out. Do we have any cameras on the pool?"
Zelenka shook his head no. "The corridors and doors, yes, the medical lockers, yes. The parking lot, yes."
"Well, I'm sure we can cross 'joyriding' off of the list of possible choices," Rodney replied scathingly. "Get some cameras set up on the pool and let's see if we can figure out how he's managing this."
Zelenka nodded and turned away to finish the exam.
Rodney went over to the med-bay sink and scrubbed off his hands under clear, fresh water. This new whale - Sheppard, he was pretty sure was his name - was causing him no end of headaches. The last three aquariums had practically begged to have him taken off their hands, despite the fact that he was a beautiful, healthy animal. They said he followed direction perfectly well, but wasn't much of a performer, and that his attitude left a lot to be desired.
Since Rodney felt much the same way about most of the people he dealt with, he felt more kinship for the whale than for his hapless trainers. But when Sumner at the SGC Aqua-plex started making noises about having Sheppard shipped to the Antarctic for some half-assed study, Rodney had decided it was time to intervene. He still couldn't say why he'd done it. Atlantis Aquarium was an internationally funded science station dedicated to studying marine life, and they did pretty well as an aquatic park as well. They were fully staffed - including their whale partners. Maybe because he'd once faced exile - in Siberia no less - himself.
He headed out to the isolation pool.
Lorne met him at the poolside, his eyes serious. "Just a scrape, Doc," he reported. Lorne was one of the trainers who doubled as a marine mammal medic when they needed one. "Left flank, back near his tail."
Rodney glanced at the far side of the large pool, where Sheppard lounged in the shallow section with just his blowhole out of the water, looking as disinterested and sulky as a killer whale could look. "Does it need any kind of intervention?" he asked. The whale was gorgeous, all long lean muscle under his thick black and white skin. Rodney remembered from his first examination that his saddle patch was unusually distinctive, light and dark grey tendrils wreathing up behind his dorsal fin like spiky streamers of smoke. Or like particularly messy hair. It had fascinated Rodney to no end, and he'd spent a good five minutes just checking the area closely.
Lorne shook his head. "It'll be gone in a couple of days," he said. "But I'll be damned if I can figure out how the hell he got it." He shifted a little to settle his wetsuit more comfortably across his shoulders. The multi-tone suits were state of the art and looked great, but tended to dry a little unevenly. "I've checked the pool from top to bottom, and I just can't see anything for him to be getting scraped on. Even the gate is completely smooth on this side. I just don't get it."
Rodney started walking the perimeter, looking closely at the sides and top edge of the pool. The bottom he knew Lorne would have covered millimetre by millimetre. He circled the entire pool, ending at the thick gate segregating the isolation tank from the other tanks. The gate was easily twelve feet wide and rose three feet out of the water. The top of the gate was smooth rounded metal, and it was set into heavy metal channels that climbed easily fifteen feet higher to provide grooves for the gate to be lifted and lowered. The chains for the gate were neatly coiled on their platforms, eight feet up.
The gate led into the first of the truly enormous lagoon-style communal pools. It currently held a small group of female dolphins and Atlantis' largest whale - a wild orca who'd tangled with a boat and was with them to recuperate before being re-released. Teyla had dubbed him 'Ronon', and he adored her.
Rodney sighed. "Yeah, I've got nothing." He looked again at Sheppard, who had left his comfy ledge to pace them. He could swear that the look in the whale's eye was speculative. Rodney narrowed his eyes. "I see you," he said, pointing at his eyes and then at Sheppard. "I'm watching you."
Sheppard parted his mouth to show his teeth and swung around to show them his back.
Lorne laughed. Sheppard lifted his tail.
A moment later a cascade of cold water deluged over them both. Rodney gasped, wiping ineffectually at the water streaming down his face. Lorne spluttered. Sheppard laughed, or at least did the whale equivalent. Rodney knew some people didn't think it really denoted amusement, but he knew it did. He glared at the miscreant and Sheppard ducked back underwater and returned to his shelf.
"Next time I come and see you," Rodney said grimly, shaking his foot to try and get some of the water to drain out of his shoe. "I'm wearing my wetsuit."
"I will be damned, drawn, quartered, and staked out on an ant hive," Lorne breathed in awe. Most of the time his accent was a barely-there hint in his voice, but just now every ounce of his Southern upbringing showed in his drawl.
Rodney blinked at him. "Lovely image," he said, then turned back to the video replay of last night's recording. True to his word, Zelenka had set up cameras to cover every inch of the isolation tank. He had to admit though that he understood the sentiment. Sheppard was something else. He slid the time marker back to the beginning, to watch it again. Zelenka hummed in excitement beside him.
The camera showed clearly as Sheppard cruised his tank in a few circles, his head and eyes above the water as if he was checking out the surroundings. Slowly he increased speed, finally submerging and going around the tank at full tilt. One more circuit and the 9 metre long whale aimed himself at the gate, exploding from the water and arcing gracefully over the top, landing with a huge splash in the communal pool on the other side. The camera caught the dolphins swimming up and circling him with dizzying speed, and the broad bulk of Ronon slowly coming up on his side.
Rodney stopped the playback, backed it up, and froze it with Sheppard in the air. He pointed. "There," he said. "That's how he's hurting himself."
Zelenka leaned forward, blinking rapidly. "The chain platform," he said. Lorne was still staring at the video image, utterly speechless. "But he has excellent clearance from both sides."
"Sure - from this side to the Alpha pool," Rodney agreed. "But coming back..."
"Ah, yes, yes." Zelenka nodded eagerly. "Coming back, the loading shelf cuts off half of his approach. He would need to angle just right."
"He's lucky he hasn't killed himself," Rodney muttered darkly.
"Why does he come back to the isolation tank?" Lorne found his voice, though it was still higher than usual. Rodney hit play, watched the dolphins circle and Sheppard roll through their antics. Was he... He was! The damned whale was flirting!
"Perhaps he feels it is his daylight home," Zelenka proposed.
"He's playing us," Rodney said curtly. A reluctant smile tugged the sides of his mouth. He glanced at the screen showing the live feed from the isolation tank, where Sheppard had just huffed out a huge plume of breath and was now cruising around upside down, sunning his belly. "And the poor bastard is bored."
He shooed the others out of his office and wriggled awkwardly into his wetsuit. After close to forty years of getting into and out of them, you'd think he'd have managed to develop a little grace at it, he mused grimly. Finally he pulled the collar tight and yanked his zipper up by its tether, tucking the ends inside. His suit was patterned in black and grey, with a bright red and white Canadian flag on the left shoulder. He patted it fondly and headed for the isolation tank.
Teyla met them at the gate. "Is it true?" she asked, wide-eyed.
"Yep." Rodney went to one knee beside the pool and slapped the water then dropped to both knees. Sheppard eyed him but slid off his shelf and swam over in the back and forth motion that was the whale equivalent of sauntering. Rodney smiled at him, close-mouthed, and when he held out his hands Sheppard slid his chin into them willingly. Rodney leaned over him and placed his cheek against the tip of Sheppard's nose. "They should have called you 'Kirk'," he murmured affectionately. "Shame on you, skirt chasing the dolphins." He sat back and gave Sheppard's cheek a hard rub before clambering back to his feet. "Ok," he said, pointing to the gate imperiously. "Up and out!" He gave the sign for a jump.
Sheppard slid back in the water until only the very tip of his nose showed and hung there, uncertainty radiating from him.
Rodney grinned at him, showing his teeth. "Oh, I mean it," he said, pointing at the gate again. "Get a move on, flyboy." He gestured for the jump again.
Sheppard turned and did a hesitant circle of the pool, turned up on his side a little so he could see Rodney with one eye. "Ah, yeah." Rodney crooned. Lorne came to stand at his shoulder. "You've realised that we've figured it out. Not so stupid humans this time." He pointed to the gate again, and this time Lorne pointed with him. "Up - up!" They did the jump sign together.
Sheppard snapped his fin down into a level swim and picked up speed with what Rodney could only describe as delight. "Jesus, he's fast," Lorne muttered. Zelenka hummed his agreement. The whale continued to gain speed until he suddenly veered into the centre of the tank and launched himself out of the water and over the gate. Lorne, Zelenka, and Teyla all gasped in unison at the incredible height of the jump, as Sheppard cleared the gate by a good metre. Rodney grinned. He'd known it – Sheppard had been holding out on them.
On the far side of the gate, Sheppard and Ronon both stuck their noses up, taking a look at the humans gaping at them. Teyla laughed. "That was very inappropriate, and potentially dangerous," she chided, trying valiantly to sound repressing. "But he was very beautiful, wasn't he?"
"Yeah." Lorne agreed, sounding star-struck.
Rodney strode for the human door leading to the communal pool with purposeful strides. Sheppard was going to need some challenges. Rodney was just the man to give them to him. He could already see the exhibition taking place in his mind, with Sheppard's incredible speed and aerials as the main showcase. He'd be a challenge himself, of course… he was clearly at the upper end of intelligence and he needed someone able to see that and to keep him interested. Rodney figured that between them, Zelenka, Lorne, and Teyla could take care of most of that.
For the rest, Rodney figured he was just the man for the job.
He couldn't wait to get started.