stringertheory: (Blue Deco)
[personal profile] stringertheory
Title: N is for Nautical
Rating: PG-13
Fandom: Stargate SG-1
Characters: Lionel Pendergast
Word Count: 1426
Categories: character study, drama
Spoilers/Warnings: Minor for all Pendergast's episodes; major for "Ethon" (9.15).
Beta: [personal profile] fignewton
Summary: Lionel Pendergast was not made for the sea.

Lionel Pendergast was not made for the sea.

His parents loved to illustrate that fact with an anecdote from his childhood. When he was just a toddler, he had been given two toys for his third birthday: a plastic tug boat and a wooden plane. A month later, the plane had been played with so much that its propeller fell off. The tug boat had become a chew toy for their spaniel.

While the other boys spent the summer holidays building newspaper boats and going on swimming trips, Lionel built model airplanes and hung around his uncle’s aviation shop. He learned how to do minor repairs, watched the small planes the strip serviced take off, and sat in the cockpits of grounded ones and pretended to be a fighter pilot or a space explorer. He daydreamed not of the ocean, but of the sky. He’d known from the time he was ten that he was going to be a pilot. He’d known from the time he was thirteen that he was going to fly in the Air Force.

In flight school, he was known for having nerves – and a stomach – of steel. He could ride along with the most daredevil of instructors or attempt the most advanced maneuvers allowed for trainee solo flights and get both feet back on the ground without the slightest quiver. Yet when he went fishing with a group of fellow cadets, he spent the trip hanging over the edge of the boat. Considering that they were on a very small lake on a very calm day, the watery defeat of the group’s steadiest member was the source of much amusement and good-natured ribbing.

No, Lionel was not made for the water, so the fact that he wound up commanding one of the largest ships in the U.S. military fleet was quite the twist of fate. That his ship flew – in the sky, across the galaxy, among the stars – just made it that much more special.

The Prometheus was beautiful and he was honored to be her commander, to be the leader of their world’s first intergalactic battleship. He was only slightly peeved that he hadn’t been the one to take her out on her maiden voyage. Since she hadn’t even been complete at the time, and the flight had been a case of grand theft spaceship, he decided it didn’t count.

He visited the ship in its bunker one night a few days before his own maiden voyage. He meandered the labyrinthine hallways, up and down through the many decks, in and out of rooms and holds and compartments. He did his best to memorize every passageway and hatch, every nook and cranny of what would essentially be his home for large portions of the year. The ship creaked and groaned around him, still settling into its own weight and shape. He sat in the mess hall, staring out the window at nothing, and listened to the noises, getting familiar with them. Even though his ship would be in space (where no one can hear you scream, he thought with a wry grin), she would still have her noises – internal signifiers of external stresses.

He remembered one of his old friends, a navy officer, explaining how ship captains could tell the state of their boat just by her sounds. Lionel wanted to be able to do the same. So he listened.

Standing on the bridge a few days later, watching the ground fall away as the ship rumbled into the air, he tried to imagine ocean as far as he could see. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine salt in the recycled air, that the vibrating of the ship beneath him was actually the rolling motion of cutting through waves. He imagined, and for a split second he felt that familiar heave of his stomach. Then he opened his eyes to a view of nothing but dark sky and a sprinkling of stars. The ship gave a gentle lurch as the sublight engines fully kicked in now that they were above atmosphere. Lionel gave the final orders that would set them up for their first hyperspace jump and took a deep breath.

With the crew bustling behind him, he stared out the bridge windows, fighting the childish urge to press his nose against them. From his vantage point, the Earth glowed blue and green against the dark background of space. It looked much like the pictures he had seen taken from space shuttles or the ISS. It was something he’d never expected to see in person. It was beautiful.

He soaked in the sight, something in the back of his mind routinely identifying whatever areas of the planet he could spot through clouds. Staring down at the vast expanses of blue, he imagined the tiny pinpricks of ships sailing across the waters. On their tidy decks, miniscule figures hurried back and forth, focused on their tasks and unaware that far above them, someone was looking down. Lionel smiled to himself at the thought. Then he looked out at the sky – at space all around him – and watched the stars twinkle, seeming closer only because he knew he could reach them now. Just like he had when he was little, he picked out the brightest one he could see and made a wish.

It was odd at first, being on a ship – living on a ship. It was a strange command for an Air Force officer, full of unusual tasks and unfamiliar jargon. The first time he gave the order to come about, he almost fumbled over the words. He sent people to various decks and berths. He gave the command for battle stations. And once he even ordered a sergeant to swab the deck – all of deck 17 – after catching the man joking that he’d heard “Pendergast can’t swim, you know, and that’s why he went into the Air Force so it’s just, you know, ironic that a man who can’t swim is driving a ship.”

The orders came more easily, the lifestyle more naturally as time went by. Lionel knew the ship as well as any plane he’d ever flown, knew her quirks, knew the way she handled when she was whole and when she was wounded. He could see her in his mind without hesitation, every corridor and compartment, all marked out on a mental map that was clear and precise. And he felt at home on the bridge, guiding his ship through ethereal waters. In spite of all the odds, he had become a captain.

He was a captain until his last breath.

It was the final flight of the Prometheus. He could tell from the way she groaned with every move, the sound of weapons fire as it hit her hull: she wasn’t going to make it. The last order he gave was to abandon ship, the image of a grand vessel slipping beneath the waves emblazoned in his mind. The ship was going down and he was going with her. If they had to go, he was glad they were going together. He imagined that exploding into dust in space was a bit like burial at sea. There would be no body to bury, nothing to take home to his family.

His navy friend had once told him a story of a frigate captain who sailed the treacherous waters of Lake Michigan. The man’s typical freight was fuel: kerosene and whale oil, transported inland on his trusty boat, the Sea Otter. He and the ship were well-known, having been seen in port for nearly thirty years, give or take. One evening just as the sun was setting – and not too far off shore – the ship had hit something in the water and begun to sink. The impact had also ruptured the cargo hold and part of its load, which then caught fire.

The captain had ordered everyone off the ship, but he had stayed behind. The crew had watched from the lifeboats as the man stood at the bow of the ship, puffing his pipe while the ship burned behind him and sank below him.

The memory of the story came unbidden as the ship rocked with another impact. The Prometheus was burning around him and the blasts just kept coming. But through it all, he could still see the stars through the front windows. He took a deep breath and sat a little straighter in his chair. The final blow came along with a final thought.

The captain goes down with the ship.


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October 2015

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