QH: Attrition

by Domenika Marzione

They lost Teal'c first.

It was during an ambitious simultaneous attack on Chulak and Hebridan, a plan that had been six weeks in the making (an eternity as far as these things went) and involved pretty much every weapon they could afford to shift from defense to offense. It was intended as part genuine assault and part very expensive sleight of hand -- they needed to move people and resources off of half a dozen weakly guarded planets and they'd known that the Ori would respond by drawing resources away from those places to focus on the more important targets.

Cam had been put in charge of the air element on Hebridan; they had a couple of F-302s and about a dozen craft of various builds and abilities and his job was to cobble the mismatched elements into something more than a flock of clay pigeons for the Ori artillery to skeet-shoot. O'Neill had taken on the ground command himself, understanding that a patchwork infantry needed a leader whose authority nobody would question.

The plan worked -- the Ori left token forces on the target planets that were easily overcome, allowing the retrieval of all but four of the personnel on the lists. When it came to material resources, they made out better than their most optimistic projections had hoped for, getting everything they'd gone in for plus more that happened to be lying around because they hadn't known that the Ori were using Alaris as a depot.

The plan worked, but not without cost. Teal'c was one of two dozen Jaffa killed in a seven-hour firefight on Chulak, which when coupled with the losses on Hebridan made the entire operation feel like less of a success than it had been. They'd realized going in that there would be a price paid, but it had seemed more of a bargain during the wargaming. It didn't seem like much of a bargain at all back at the SGC, even surrounded by all that they had bought with the blood of their friends and allies.

Cam felt like an outsider as he sat with Carter, Jackson, and O'Neill during the brief ceremony they held for all of those killed in action. Teal'c had been a comrade in arms and a friend, but their few years together paled besides the decade-plus the others had shared. O'Neill made sure Cam was present for the private 'wake' SG-1 past and present had for Teal'c later on -- Jonas Quinn was there, too -- and over really good bourbon poured into sample cups from Medical, they reminisced until almost dawn. Cam listened more than he contributed, but he was okay with that -- the others needed to tell stories and he wanted to hear them.

The war went on without Teal'c and it went on in a way none of them really, truly believed would come to pass. The priors came, the armies came, and then Cam found himself fighting on Earth the way he'd been fighting on other worlds and it disturbed him profoundly. It disturbed them all to have their maybe sanctimonious smugness of Earth's inviolability shattered like the pretense it was and Cam felt ashamed for both causing it to happen and for believing in its existence in the first place. He'd let his planet down, something O'Neill had never let happen when he'd been in charge of SG-1.

"No, he waited until he was in charge of the entire program," Jackson said when Cam made the mistake of speaking his shame aloud.

They were hunkered down behind rubble in Tikal -- the Ori were going after pretty much every pyramid on Earth, regardless of whether they had ties to the Goa'uld or not -- and Cam gave him a look as he changed magazines. "That's not--"

"What happened?" Jackson cut him off, getting off another few shots. "Or did you mean to say 'logical' or 'rational'? They're all valid, for my statement as well as yours. This isn't anyone's fault. Shit happens, Mitchell. Shit happens and just because you are right there when it does, that doesn't mean you are the cause of it. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Common logical fallacy."

"I guess some of us really are just barely bright enough to walk upright," Cam muttered, embarrassed and biting back a curse as he put his knee down on a rock. Next time, knee pads. And a shut mouth.

"That may be so," Jackson said, not taking his eyes off whatever he was watching. "But it's a mistake we all make. Sometime when we're not pinned down and surrounded, ask me how long it took to stop blaming myself for what happened to Sha're."

Cam took the -- rebuke? peace offering? whatever it was -- in silence. They got rescued by the Odyssey, beamed out of certain death and then back to the SGC, which was reeling from the loss of all of SG-19 along with the three dozen refugees they had been escorting.

While he was pretty sure Jackson had been speaking rhetorically about Sha're -- he knew the story details, although never from the man himself -- he never got to ask. Jackson was declared missing/captured three weeks later after failing to return from a mission to investigate a temple in northwestern Paraguay.

They didn't think he was dead -- the Ori wanted him almost as much as they had wanted Vala and he was too useful to them. But Cam was still a little surprised when Landry said that it might have been better for all involved if he had been killed instead of captured.

"He knows so much," Landry said after Sam had nearly bolted out of her chair, anger radiating like a sun. "He knows everything about every culture, both on Earth and in our galaxy. With his help, the Ori can craft a message that is far more effective -- as a threat and a reward -- than the one they've been pushing. And he's not going to want to tell them anything. I don't want him to suffer both in the giving and in the knowledge that he has given."

You didn't last long in the Stargate Program before you learned that there were fates worse than death.

Cam got put on stand-down in March -- he hadn't had a day off in months, but neither had anyone else and he fought the forced "vacation." Landry succinctly told him that he didn't give a fuck what Cam wanted and if he was spotted at the SGC in the next ten days, Landry would throw him to the Ori himself. His 'team' -- a collection of military personnel from all over the world and all over the galaxy -- would function without him for that time. They would have stand-down in shifts, but Landry wanted Cam out of the ballgame entirely for the duration.

Cam went back to his apartment and wondered what the hell he was supposed to do to create the fiction of "down time" when the world was at war. He spent three days watching DVDs and eating Chef Boyardee before deciding to drive to Kansas. It would be fucking expensive and he'd have to plan ahead carefully to deal with the gas situation -- it was like the Carter years all over again -- but he hadn't seen his folks in forever and, well, he didn't want to think about the why and the when too much.

The drive was eerie; I-70 was practically empty for long stretches. But it was good to get there, to see his parents. They didn't ask a thousand questions -- he'd already given them the gist of things, confirmed that he'd been fighting aliens when he'd had The Accident -- and just let him be their son instead of Lt. Col. Mitchell, commander of SG-1. He returned to Colorado Springs with a trunk full of food and a heart far lighter than when he'd left. He hadn't realized how much he'd needed the break, both from the fighting and from his routine.

Three days later, he nearly got blown up when Sam's latest experiment went haywire.

"If you had wanted me to stay gone, all you had to do was say so," he told her as green ash rained down on them and then stuck to their skin once the sprinklers kicked in.

Carter got her mandatory furlough before they'd even finished cleaning up the lab.

They got a bead on Jackson the first week of April, right after Sam got back. Spies in Egypt had maybe seen him and wouldn't it be fucking ironic if they found him in Giza. They didn't find him, didn't know if that was because he wasn't there or because they didn't see him, and the only good news out of the whole mission was that they came back with everyone they'd left with.

They returned from Giza to be told that the long-expected bug-out of the SGC was underway. The Mountain had survived as long as it had mostly because the Ori were still a little slow on the whole How Earth Works business and NORAD had done a surprisingly effective job with the defenses way back when. But it was still getting to be too much of a risk to keep everything centralized -- the Ori had a steep learning curve, even if they still moved as slowly as any other military giant -- and Colorado Springs was enough of a target with so many military bases nearby.

Cam didn't have much to pack in the three hours he had to go home and get what he needed to live life on the run. His new base of operations was Morocco, but that was really only a place where he kept his spare uniform. The whole globe-trotting -- and planet-hopping, since the stargate was kept operational even if everything else had been disassembled and destroyed -- business remained his life even if he woke up to the muezzins instead of KKFM on the rare day when he was sleeping in the same place as his stuff.

The defiant calls to prayer were music to Cam's ears. Months in to the invasion and the conversions were starting to come in waves instead of isolated instances and the places where the Ori had parked their ugly-ass carriers. It had stopped being the ones deemed most susceptible and was starting to be the ones who were scared and tired and beaten down by the seemingly ineffective defense Earth's armies had mounted, numbed into acquiescence by the horrifying numbers of martyrs and victims that grew every day. Villages, provinces, the odd entire nation all knuckled under, either unwilling or unable to fight any more and Cam felt disappointed and disgusted (with them and with himself) and frustrated at his own impotence. At their collective impotence -- they'd gotten a power source from the Asgard, had sent Reletti down to use the fucking chair and nothing.

Until there was finally something. Cam had been with O'Neill in Ankara when they'd got word that intel had confirmed the minimum level of high value targets to make firing up the weapons chair worthwhile and Antarctica had run the scenario successfully.

"You're asking me if I think it's a good idea to blow up most of the Ori presence on Earth?" O'Neill asked, voice rising with disbelief. Or sarcasm. It was sometimes hard to tell with O'Neill. "Did you actually waste brain cells on this question? Fire the fucking things!!"

They had the same display that Antarctica was using to pick targets and Cam's happiest day in what felt like forever was watching the dots disappear, turning one color and then another as each hit was confirmed. It took hours -- for the drone weapons to cease, for the confirmations to be called in, for a new map to be generated. Cam dozed to the sounds, finally falling asleep only to be woken up hours later by O'Neill.

"Get moving, Mitchell, we've got work to do."

They spent the next two weeks inflicting as much damage as possible. The Ori had been slowed to a grind, if not stopped completely, and while the good guys couldn't move at whim, they had a lot more freedom than they'd had since Beijing and Dhaka. They pulled in supplies and people they hadn't been able to reach, they started military and propaganda counter-offensives, they re-positioned their resources to where they would be useful instead of where they could be safely stored. It was a heady time and while they knew a counterstrike was coming, there was a sense that maybe they could do enough damage before it came to make a difference. That maybe victory was not out of the question after all. Cam felt almost dizzy with the optimism.

He survived the Ori's counterstrike solely because he was off-world when it came. They'd gotten word of another Ori depot, this one on Cerador, and feeling flush from the successes they'd had on Earth, they went for it. The depot wasn't as large as they'd hoped, but that meant it was less-heavily defended and Cam and his people got in, got out, and blew the place to smithereens with minimal fuss and no serious casualties. They hadn't known that it wasn't as large because so much had already been moved to Earth for a kill strike.

They'd had to use the Daedalus as the launch point, so it was Caldwell who told him. Landry and O'Neill were both gone, nobody had a clue where Carter was, and the early death toll was over a hundred with probably three times that injured.

Sam was located three days later -- she, too, had been off-world with her team -- and the death toll was revised down to sixty-eight after they established that the post in Antarctica was still intact. That didn't make it any better -- almost the entire infrastructure of Earth's defense had been destroyed in one day. The Stargate Program, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist.

Robler Rock, Idaho was where Earth's submission was made official, a piddling town in the middle of Mormon country that turned out to be the final "undisclosed location" of the American President. Cam watched from a cafe in Madrid as the Leader of the Free World prostrated himself before the Orici. Cam was crying, but so was everyone else watching CNN in shocked silence.

Two hours later, he was beamed up to the Daedalus, Earth's last remaining battleship, to begin his new life as the co-leader of the Resistance.

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5 April, 2008