"Okay, okay, no. Wait."
The platform rocked under Sam's feet, dipping the edge into the ocean and slopping cold water up over her toes. The air in the city had been warm and heavy, but out here, floating above the waves, the breeze whipped at them and made the sun feel pleasant rather than oppressive. She took a smooth step back toward the more stable center of the platform, closer to where Rodney was stooped over the low-set control interface, glaring at her.
"Not stable yet, McKay?" She smiled at him guilelessly.
"Obviously." He looked back down at the open panel. "You're going to drown us both. And then where will we be? I mean, not you and I, obviously, we'll be dead. We in the larger sense. Humanity. Irresponsible."
"Uh huh." Sam slid her sunglasses on and turned to look back in the direction of the sun, toward the city, glittering above the waves. The platform they were standing on was meant to function as a sort of scaffolding stand-in, for repairs to the outer edges of the piers and the lower stories of the towers. They'd found stacks of them in one of the huge, warehouse-sized rooms in the lower levels, along with other, more inscrutable industrial machinery. All of it waterlogged, some of it unsalvagable. The platforms were exciting, to a point: they used low-powered antigravity and employed something close to the technology used for the inertial dampeners in the 'jumpers, to float and to keep personnel secure while they worked. But they lacked maneuverability, and there weren't that many applications for them. The expedition had settled into the city, made it a home - but they didn't do much in the way of upkeep. Damaged sections were avoided, not repaired. They didn't have the resources to treat the city they way they should to make her last another ten thousand years. Someday, perhaps.
"Hah!" McKay snapped the panel shut and was grinning up at her when she turned back to him. "Now you can go back to the edge."
Sam raised an eyebrow, but she was between the sun and Rodney, now, so she was pretty sure he couldn't see it. "Tell me why we're out here again?"
McKay's grin was gone as fast as it had appeared, and he looked uncertain, then embarrassed, then resolute. He stood up a little unsteadily and tilted his chin in exactly the way that made her less likely to listen to whatever argument he was about to make before he spoke. "To demonstrate that these platforms are functional and secure for use by personnel, and to secure official permissions for that use."
"Right." Sam sighed and tried not to be too annoyed. If she wasn't here, she'd be inside, spending her day not-in-the-sunshine, after all. "And what might that use be?"
McKay deflated a little, then drew himself up again, less certainly this time. "Recreational." He cleared his throat. "Use. Um. Recreational use." He took a breath as though he was about to say more, then pressed his lips together and turned to look out at the waves.
Sam rolled her eyes. Ridiculous. "Sheppard wants to what, set up a floating golf course?"
McKay spun around fast enough that he nearly overbalanced, and she got a chance to see the body-stabilizing properties of the platform in action. Interesting. McKay seemed to think so too, because whatever response he had planned to make had been derailed in favor of long, carefully heavy steps around the surface of the platform. It wasn't very big - just a few meters on each side - so Sam had to start moving too, just to get out of his way.
McKay stopped at one corner and gave a little jump, feet landing firm, the now-gentle rocking of the surface reacting just enough to be forgiving, but not enough to sacrifice stability. Sam moved over to the edge and sat tailor-fashion, her knees just at the edge of the field keeping them safe. There was a pressure there, but a gentle one, and she extended a hand through it easily.
"Perfect." He looked down at her, and she could see in his face exactly the moment that he remembered he hadn't answered her yet.
It suddenly didn't seem worth arguing about, and she cut him off as he started to speak again. "Whatever, McKay. Approved. Just don't let whatever it is get too crazy."
"Really? I mean, well, of course I expected - "
"Don't get too happy - you're the one who's writing up the official materials use forms for submission to the IOA. Make sure you come up with something defensible if we get audited."
"Yes. I can do that." McKay obviously hadn't expected it to be this easy. He smiled at her, then sat down as well to look out at the waves. The ocean looked endless from this perspective, stretching out to the horizon. The water was clear and dark, incredibly deep here close to the city. Strangely quiet, with no hull for the waves to slap against, far enough from the city behind them that the waves were smooth and uninterrupted.
"Sam! Look!" McKay was whispering, suddenly close to her, gripping her shoulder and pointing off into the distance. She startled and blinked; between the sun and the waves, she'd been dozing where she sat, but after a moment she saw it: a dark curve rising up out of the waves, disturbing the smooth line of the horizon, then slipping down and out of view again. It looked like it must be huge. "It's a flagecallus."
"Your whale friends?" she whispered.
He frowned. "They aren't - what? What do you mean by that?"
"Yes. My whale friends." He made air quotes around the phrase.
"Why are we whispering, anyway?" That derailed him again, at least. "How big is it?"
They watched as it crested the waves again, closer this time.
"Hey, McKay - that thing can't swamp us, can it?"
McKay looked indignant. "They would never - I mean, no. A little water could, potentially, wash over the platform, but not more than puddle depth. The platform would just rise. Nothing to worry about." He looked out at the whale-thing as it sunk back beneath the water again. "I'll just double-check the settings, shall I?"
He moved back to the center of the platform, and Sam took the opportunity to pull off her sunglasses and rub the sleep out of her eyes. She tucked the sunglasses into the neck of her shirt and leaned forward a little with her elbows on her knees, trying to catch sight of the whale again.
No dice. It was gone.
She sat up straight again and set a hand flat on the platform, preparatory to pushing herself to her feet, when a disturbance in the waves made her look straight down into the water, and directly into a large, dark eye.
The noise she made wasn't a scream, really; it was more of a yelp. Anyway, McKay would keep his mouth shut about it if he still wanted her approval for recreational platform use.
"What? What happened?" McKay shouted from the middle of the platform, where he stood white-knuckling the edge of the console.
"Your friend just got a lot closer," she called back.
The whale was rising up through the water slowly, and after a moment, a curving side broke the surface of the water. It was glossy - not scaled like a fish, but not like the skin of a dolphin or whale on Earth, either. It almost looked like enamel, with a faint, light-catching design that looked like shadows one moment, and quicksilver the next.
It was moving slowly, like it was being careful of them. Perhaps it was. In any case, it didn't feel like a risk when Sam knelt up and reached out a gentle hand to touch its skin. It was smooth and cold, and nearly as flawless a surface to the touch as it had looked. She pressed a little, just to say hello, and as if in reaction, the suface of the whale rose in turn.
And that's when it all went to hell.
Sam had perhaps been putting a little more of her weight onto her hand than she should have been, so when the edge of the platform lurched upward to make room for the whale coming up from underneath it, she overbalanced. The built-in failsafes kept her secure, but they weren't meant to keep people on board from interacting with other objects - otherwise they'd have been no use at all. So when the surface under her knees rose and the surface under her hand stayed where it was, she'd faceplanted right into the side of the whale.
She blinked up at the sky and groped at her shirt for her sunglasses before McKay stepped into view, blocking the glare.
"What happened? What did you do?" He bent toward her. "Is your lip bleeding?"
"Lost my balance." She licked gingerly at her lip. Yeah, that was blood. Damn.
"But how - wait a minute." McKay stared at her, his eyes widening. "With your lips? What were you doing?" He looked at her with a strangely intrigued expression as she sat up and looked out at the low waves where the whale had been.
The platform was perfectly level again, the ocean smooth and calm, the sunlight lower and cooler than it had been. She picked up her sunglasses and pushed the stray hair that had escaped the braid back away from her face with one damp hand. Damn. She was probably going to have a sunburn as well as a fat lip.
Sam raised her hand toward McKay, and after a momentary frown, he figured it out and pulled her to her feet.
"You've got some interesting friends, Rodney." She wiped her wet hands dry on his shirt as he tried to twist away. "Now come on, take us home."