It's Not About the Bike
Chapter Seventy-Two: It's Not About the Bike
All of Atlantis, it seemed, had pitched in to try to make the Courier feel welcome on her first official ride. The kitchen staff had sent up a case of lemonade-flavored Gatorade, and a second of other assorted flavors, which were stacked on the floor between the legs of the box with a 'free' sign on them. On top of the box was a white corrugated-plastic Postal Service tote basket, which Dr. Weir had provided for incoming mail. And Dr. Keller had arranged for a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, which were waiting (with napkins) on the end of the conference room table.
Sergeant Jin Shan Tong and his team had drawn this shift for Gate guard duty. It was just past midnight, and as usual, they were fighting the boredom of guard duty by trading stories. Two of his men - the two Marines - were sitting on the stairs, while he was pacing back and forth between the Gate and the newly installed bicycle ramp that ran up one side of the stairs; their Army fourth was leaning against a wall close to the Gate, telling a story from his service with the Third Infantry Division on Earth.
"...so then the wind kicks up, and all that sand, you know. The el-tee joked that we weren't invading Iraq anymore, that the Army had sent us to take Mars." Army Corporal Lukas Wojtyszyn - his name spoke to his Polish heritage, even though he was from the North Side of Chiacgo - grinned. "We all called him Marvin the Martian behind his back for the rest of the campaign. Oh, man, did that sand get everywhere
... inside the Bradleys, inside our goggles, down the back of my shirt..."
Jin Shan turned at one end of his circuit, facing the Gate. Just then, he blinked, and she was just there
... racing toward him on that salvage-built bike and, it seemed, just about to run him over. He reached for his M-16, as she gripped down hard on her hand brakes and swerved to avoid a crash, finally having to dismount as the bike began to tip over. Where the blazes did SHE come from?
"Sorry about that. Maybe I should have called ahead?" Then she pulled off her sunglasses, and flicked the thick, dark brown braid that lay over her shoulder, sending it back to its place hanging down her back. "Evening, Jin Shan."
Sergeant Tong swallowed. Get a grip on yourself, Marine!
He took another deep breath, relaxed, and said, "Good evening, Ambassador Summers. I see you brought Tachikaze along." He saw Wojtyszyn lifting and pointing his own M-16 at the Courier's back, and waved him off.
She smiled, folding her sunglasses and tucking one earpiece into the neckline of her shirt. "I usually do." She looked around him, at the staircase. "I like how the ramp came out. My people said Atlantis had done a good job with it." She started pushing the bike toward the ramp, lining herself up to take the edge of the stairs.
"Is there much incoming mail tonight?" Jin Shan asked, trying to keep her talking; maybe she'd explain just how she got to the Gateroom without setting off the alarms... or the Gate itself
, he realized.
"Just a couple welcome letters from Giant Forest and Lachryma." She reached the top of the stairs, and caught sight of the box. "You guys do know how to make a girl feel welcome, don't you?" Sniffing, she added, "Chocolate chip cookies?"
"Courtesy of Doctor Keller." Jin Shan nodded, as Summers fitted her bike into the Earth-style bike rack that Dr. Weir had ordered from the SGC. She unbuckled one of the saddlebags on her bike, and pulled out two wax-sealed letters. He pointed at the basket, and she laughed, before reaching up to drop them inside.
Then she lifted the lid, checking inside the box. Three paper-clad rolls of one-dollar coins, and two short stacks of loose Sacagaweas, sat on the front edge of the largest cubbyhole; behind them was a rubber-banded stack of a couple dozen folded sheets of paper. The rest of the cubbies were empty. She picked up the prop-stick, which was normally stored by being laid across the front of the lower row of cubbies, and propped the lid of the box open. Looking at Jin Shan, she asked, "Form letters?"
Jin Shan shrugged. "You'd have to ask Dr. Weir."
She nodded, unbuckling the buckskin cover on Tachikaze's cargo box, and pulling out her coin sack. It currently held a few dozen of the silver-alloy Satedan coins, and she quickly added the three rolls and twenty loose Sacagaweas, then settled the coin sack into its compartment behind the padded compartment she used for the Lachryman medicine bottles. She then took the letters, sliding them into the saddlebag that she'd opened, before buckling both compartments closed once again.
Then she settled into a chair at the table, and waved a hand. "Your team are all welcome to join me, Jin Shan. I'm used to sharing my food. And my good fortune. Besides, my mother always said that eating in front of people who have no food is bad manners." Picking up a cookie, she smiled. "I haven't had chocolate chip cookies in years
The Army corporal bounded up the stairs, two Marines following at a slightly more sedate pace, and Jin Shan started passing around the plate of cookies as he introduced them. "Ambassador Summers, this is Corporal Lukas Wojtyszyn, of the Army, and Corporals Constance Washington and David Marshall, my fellow Marines. Team, this is Dawn Summers, otherwise known as the Courier."
"Pleased to meet you all." Dawn smiled, and then she closed her eyes, bringing a cookie to her lips and taking a bite. And then there was some definite savoring of the taste... the reason she hadn't had chocolate chip cookies was the lack of chocolate
, not that the Ring worlds didn't have cookies, because they did, but they were mostly lemon cookies or butter cookies.
"How long will you be staying?" Jin Shan asked, reaching under the box and handing her a bottle of Gatorade.
"Just a few minutes. I've got one more stop to make on tonight's run. I always go to Lachryma last; some of their deliveries don't need to be sorted." At Jin Shan's questioning glance, she elaborated, "The Sisters provide medical care throughout the network, and most of the deliveries they get are used medicine bottles being returned for cleaning and re-use."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, and soon, the plate of cookies was empty, as were five of the Gatorade bottles. A sixth had been tucked into Tachikaze's cargo box, and Dawn carefully lined Tachikaze's front wheel up with the top of the ramp. "I'll be back in two days. Will I see you guys next time?"
Jin Shan smiled. "I'll let Dr. Keller and the kitchen staff know you liked the cookies. I don't know what the guard schedule will be, but sometime soon, I'm sure. Have a safe ride."
"I try." Then she pushed off, and Jin Shan mentally catalogued the strange sound Tachikaze's steel-cable-laid wheels made on the ramp, which had been surfaced with a couple gallons of Navy non-skid surfacing. He remembered the stuff from his cruises with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit on USS Tarawa
, where it covered the light carrier's flight deck. Tachikaze was accelerating down the ramp, and suddenly, Jin Shan realized that she hadn't asked for the Gate to be activated
He quickly reached for the transmit button on his comm unit, watching in horror as she hurtled down the ramp, and started across the Gateroom toward the inactive Gate. "Tong to Gate control."But there was no time.
She was picking up speed, her braid lifting from her spine as she worked the pedals and lowered herself into a more aerodynamic position on the salvage-built bike. He realized that she hadn't reached for her own DHD, either, and revised the call he'd planned to make. "Medical emergen..."
Then he trailed off, in shock. Summers and Tachikaze had reached the Gate, and in an eyeblink, they were gone.
Final Author's Note: A huge thank-you to all my readers and reviewers for sticking it out. I have some active ideas for other stories - perhaps a sequel or a companion piece to The Courier
, as well as a couple with different crossovers - and I hope to see you all very soon.
I know it ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, but then... you know me, by now. It felt like a natural stopping point.