Huma

by Domenika Marzione

The first prior came to Langara not by stargate, but instead by ship. At least, they think it was by ship; she appeared in a far-flung region of Nirai (which was redundant in that Nirai was already the most distant and impoverished component of the Andari Federation) and by the time anyone in the Andari capital had thought to have it mentioned at a JRC meeting, the prior's origin story had changed a half-dozen times.

By the time anyone in the Andari capital had thought to have it mentioned at a JRC meeting, it was already too late. But they didn't know that at the time.

Jonas Quinn

It didn't cross anyone on the JRC's mind to ask someone other than Jonas to go to Earth and ask the Tau'ri about the Ori; it didn't cross Jonas's mind to resent being the only choice. (He didn't regret leaving SG-1, Langara was where he belonged, but he did miss the opportunities to learn and discover that that position had afforded him.) Later on, however, he'd regret both sides -- someone else might've been more persistent, required more extensive explanations, had less of a basis to trust the Tau'ri's words on faith. But regret was different from resentment and at the time he'd simply been happy to see old colleagues, meet Colonel Mitchell and Vala Mal Doran, and sneak in a few hours in the labs after General Landry had granted permission.

The Ori were a non-trivial nuisance, everyone at the SGC assured him. Not to be taken lightly, possibly planning something big down the road, but not yet able to execute anything on a grand scale and, even when they could, they were essentially no different from the Goa'uld: false gods demanding worship at the barrel of a gun. The prior was unlikely to accept a polite refusal, but she wasn't exactly backed up by a Jaffa army, either.

"You're sitting on enough naquadriah to blow that prior back to the Ori's galaxy without a stargate," Landry told him. "Just remember to fight her and not each other and you'll be fine."

Daniel, as usual, had more to say. "We don't know what they want -- no, that's not true, we do know what they want. What we don't know is how far they'll go to get it. Especially in industrialized areas, since they've been sticking to less advanced worlds. They seem to be going for places where they can replace the local gods, not where they have to create a theocracy out of nothing. Langara hasn't been a Goa'uld world for millennia and you're pretty completely into your Age of Reason, so the efficacy of a single itinerant preacher, no matter how charismatic, may end up being localized."

Jonas returned to Langara comfortable that the Ori could be handled, probably by the Langarans themselves and, if that failed, with help from the Tau'ri. He reported to the JRC accordingly, emphasizing Landry's caution about internal squabbling over his confidence that eliminating the prior was a sure thing because the factionalism was already becoming counterproductive. Or, rather, more counterproductive than usual.

Planetary defense had never quite been worked out after Unification -- the Goa'uld had been eliminated as a threat before agreement had been reached -- and the impetus to work on it during peacetime had faded in favor of strengthening economic ties since it was easier to agree on prosperity than anything to do with arms. Now, however, the agreement to disagree was making movement against the prior and her growing army in Nirai almost impossible. Who should fight under whose command was the paralyzing issue: Kelowna had superior materiel, Terrania had larger and better-trained forces, but the Andari were the ones whose land and people were being threatened. And, of course, nobody yet trusted each other enough to place their lives in another's hands. The reason the Federation had held off reporting the prior in the first place was that they had been hoping to treat the Nirai uprising as a civil war without involving the other two nations.

But this was not civil war nor was it the Goa'uld and, they quickly realized, an army of Jaffa -- or even a fleet of spaceships -- would have been preferable to the Prior Fenal and the growing nation in the east.

Nirai was essentially lost by the end of the summer; it had declared withdrawal from the Federation and given leadership over to the trade minister, who was the only top-level bureaucrat to survive the purge. Possibly to survive at all. The dispatches from Nirai were infrequent and terrifying, stories of mass murders and week-long 'prostration' ceremonies; of men and women turning in their spouses and neighbors to face punishment for non-belief; of the destruction of artifacts that dated back hundreds of years, back to when Nirai was a maritime kingdom of great renown, all consigned to the fires that could be seen from across the Sea of Nirai.

Nirai never stopped burning.

Langara watched and waited, wondering if -- when -- Prior Fenal would bring Nirai's madness over the sea to the rest of the Federation and, from there, the rest of the world. Balonth, the Federation state closest to Nirai, had been on permanent alert for months, accepting units from Kelowna and Terrania to help patrol their shores and skies. Jonas's cousin Alva was in Kelowna's Air Corps and sent back letters detailing night missions where the only light would be the distant glow of Nirai's flames because the coast of Balonth was blacked out lest Nirai's ships know where to go.

Daniel visited Langara in the fall, a check-in and an exchange of information and Jonas wished that one side or the other had had any kind of good news to share. There'd been plague on Earth, requiring an Ancient to descend to save the Tau'ri at a great cost, and Daniel had been so caught up in Orlin's sacrifice that he didn't even seem to appreciate how fortunate Earth was not only to have been spared the full fury of the plague, but also to have the sorts of connections to make such salvation a possibility. The Tau'ri could draw on Ancients and Asgard, two advanced peoples interested and involved in their survival, as well as the casual and concrete alliances forged by a decade of travel and trade and fighting the Goa'uld on others' behalf. Langara had no such options; Earth was their guardian ally and the Tau'ri were not in a position to offer selfless rescue right now.

The vaccine against the prior plague, however, was still gratefully received. It would not save the rumored tens of thousands who'd perished in Nirai, but it would help Langara in the future. Daniel promised that the SGC would send people if Langara needed them, but Jonas, for the first time, accepted the words as a platitude and not a guarantee. Daniel might very well believe that the Tau'ri would send aid, but Jonas knew how the SGC worked, knew that Daniel had only so much power there, that Langara was but one of many worlds that automatically applied to Earth for help when trouble arrived, and that aid was slow to arrive when Earth itself was in danger.

Fenal came to Kelowna on a windy, stormy day. She wanted to address the people of Langara from the podium at the JRC's assembly room. Suspecting that the prior was only going to tell Langara about the necessity of accepting Origin, they told her that she could address the JRC and staff instead. Jonas watched from a seat in the balcony -- as a former JRC member, he certainly had the standing to get a place down front, but he didn't want to be that close. Plus, he wanted to see everyone's reactions.

The assembly hall was packed, with overflow seating in anterooms and in offices with radios. Fenal, far from a frothing, angry fanatic, was quiet and eloquent and, shockingly, charming. She didn't speak of the damnation (or worse) that awaited those who refused to accept Origin, but she instead spoke of peace and prosperity and building a fertile environment for learning and growth. She explained what the Ori could offer Langara -- the tools to better understand the universe, keys to a kingdom that Langara had not been able to access first through their own fighting and then through the gentle-but-suffocating guardianship of the Tau'ri, who were well on their way to replacing the Goa'uld's reign of terror with a more benevolent form of indenture. The Ori were not interested in servants or slaves, Fenal assured her audience, but felt that obedience and worship would be freely given once people were exposed to the glories that the Ori had to offer.

"Ignorance is the enemy of the Ori," she said. "They seek to reward those who would bring light into the darkness and banish it. The only 'consequence' of accepting the Ori into your hearts is freedom."

Jonas had spent a year with SG-1, a year listening to speeches like this one and giving its opposite, and he recognized the rhetoric as it came. It was beautifully presented, almost poetic, and crafted with flawless internal logic. It reminded him of the televangelists on Earth's television (the good ones, the ones who were on Sunday afternoons, and not the late-night charlatans whose sermons were interrupted by commercials for Ginsu knives and Chia Pets) except that the Ori weren't offering love and eternal happiness, but instead a much more fungible commodity -- knowledge. And, if you were paying attention, it was knowledge for a purpose -- to be better prepared to handle non-believers unwilling to be blessed by the Ori's generosity.

But not everyone was as good a listener; Jonas could sense the mood in the hall and then in the corridors after it was over.  Fenal had played into the Langaran thirst for knowledge as well as their jealousy -- of each other, of the Tau'ri -- and through that had opened minds and hearts that had been closed to her and to Origin. Nobody was speaking of conversion, but the automatic revulsion that had been the default reaction to Fenal and Origin was maybe lessened.

Not all were so charmed, though. There were some who'd been as chilled as Jonas by Fenal's words and it was to them that Jonas was drawn. Or maybe them to him, since it was his home that became the meeting place. Informally, of course, and with no greater plan than to discuss current events. Which were taking a turn for the surreal. Relations with Nirai were soon on the verge of normalization -- Fenal had delivered a letter from Nirai's chief minister asking for the embargoes to be dropped -- and while nothing Jonas and his associates had discussed could be construed as seditious by reasonable people, not everyone was reasonable these days. Langaran envoys and ambassadors to other worlds were bringing back tales of worlds converting to Origin, of massacres, of 'miracles', and of the Tau'ri's utter inability -- or disinclination -- to halt its progress. There were movements within the governments, both JRC and nation-state, to compromise with Fenal and the Ori so that Langara could avoid harsh treatment. There were also movements to re-bury the stargate and to just cut ties with the Tau'ri, too, along with the longstanding-if-shrinking contingent who thought they should bomb Nirai and solve their Ori problem decisively and while they still could.

By advocating for some sort of action against Nirai, Jonas found himself in a curious spot, simultaneously marginalized and more crucial than ever. Since retiring from the JRC, he'd maintained a role in the government as an advisor, mostly for scientific matters but also on interplanetary matters, since he was one who'd galavanted around the galaxy for a year. Within the knot of Langaran identity politics, his Kelownan background hadn't not mattered, but he'd built and still had good working relationships with both Terranian and Andari ministers and the ability to be trusted by all three nations was arguably more important than anything else. Especially now, when every issue that had been quietly festering since Unification was rearing its ugly head.

Except now instead of being seen as someone too worldly to be caught up in nationalist politics, he was seen as someone who'd once flirted with treason and his time spent living with and learning from the Tau'ri was as much a cause for suspicion as an advantage. His Terranian bride was the same -- Zina was either proof of his pan-Langarism or egging him on to mischief because of her Terranian and Andari ties. (The real answer was both -- Zina's commitment to a free and safe Langara was, he thought, deeper than his own in many ways. Jonas was simply following his own ethical code; Zina was devout in her faith and the idea of being forced to worship soul-stealing false gods troubled her profoundly.)

He was still a voice everyone listened to, but instead of being someone all sides could trust, he was still a power player because everyone mistrusted him for different reasons.

By mid-winter, it was a suspicion not without cause. Jonas still wasn't interested in treason, but then again he hadn't been last time, either; he was still interested in doing what was right, though. For Langara and, if necessary, for the galaxy as a whole. That the Ori had come to Langara for the same reason as the Goa'uld -- naquadria -- was an underplayed theme in the international discourse. Jonas had tried to raise the argument again and again, but nobody seemed interested in hearing it. Jonas wasn't sure if it was because Langara was too new at galactic politics to see beyond her own skies or whether it was something more basic and less flattering -- a simple unwillingness to realize that they were being used. Fenal had said from the beginning that the Ori had chosen Langara for its potential, but Jonas didn't believe that she'd meant its human capital.

The after-hours meetings had started as collegial discussions, not unlike the salons that had been part of Kelowna's intellectual tradition for centuries, fueled by passion, curiosity, and Zina's wondrous cooking. Jonas and Zina, a professor of Langaran history at the university, drew academics and junior politicians and neighbors to their home, almost all old friends or newer colleagues, no one with any radical ties, and a decent cross-section of the three nations. They debated Fenal's intentions and the Ori's promises, the historical precedents for appeasement and preemtive action, and whether Fenal would end up being the one who cemented Langara together once and for all by forcing all nationalism to be put aside in favor of sheer survival. The discussions were entirely theoretical, at least at first, although there had always been the potential for indirect action with so many junior diplomats and staff members dropping by.

It was only after Nirai set up an embassy in Kelowna and demanded representation on the JRC that the purely abstract discussions took a turn for the concrete. The embassy was as much House of Prostration as diplomatic center and there was rumor that Fenal would move there once Nirai had official recognition as a nation-state of Langara. But even without Fenal, the very idea of Ori worshipers having a podium right in the seat of both Kelowna's own intellectual nexus as well as the planetary government... it was too much for many. And that was before the 'mysterious' fires that destroyed churches and homes of prominent opponents to the Ori. The Nirai delegation pled prejudice, pointing out that arson was Kelowna's most common crime against property and not every fire could be laid at their feet.

Alva, back from the Balonthian front, said over dinner that if Jonas wanted to raise an army to fight the Nirai, there would be many who would follow him. Thankfully, nobody else was there to hear him; Jonas had no such desire and doubted that any kind of force could so simply carve away their problem as if it were a tumor. The time for such a miserable, messy solution as a naquadria bomb was past. Origin had already crossed the Sea of Nirai; Langara might be immune to the prior plague, but they were powerless against this kind of subtle fever. It wasn't conversion, instead the insidious acceptance of Origin as something to be tolerated, like someone's nationalist political views or picky food preferences.

"Worshiping the Ori is well beyond bad dinner party behavior," Zina fumed one night as they lay in bed. There'd been an editorial in one of the bigger newspapers that morning equating mistrust of the Nirai with anti-Unification extremism. "We don't even know how many died there and we're supposed to not only forgive and forget, but also apologize for thinking that slaughtering half your population is wrong. When did we become like this?"

Jonas had no answer then, but he knew he'd have to have one soon.

Fenal and her growing army of sympathizers and apologists spread lies and half-truths and ugly truths about the Tau'ri, which in turn made even the most innocuous of visits suspect and difficult. Jonas had hoped to get advice and maybe even assistance from the SGC when he finally was able to travel to Earth, but instead of support, he got merely a different flavor of the relativism he'd heard back on Langara.

"We've got five worlds -- that we know of -- where the prior slaughtered the entire population except for the converts," Mitchell told him. "There're that many more where they were all near death until they said 'Hallowed are the Ori' and gave up. We've got teams on a dozen other worlds fighting losing battles. Not sayin' you've got a picnic going on over there, but compared to everyone else, you're doing pretty well."

There were some wars that were fought -- and decided -- without a shot being fired. Just because Langara's blood did not flow through her streets did not mean that the battle was not underway.

When he returned to Kelowna, Jonas told Alva to draw up a roster of those he could trust and how they could help save Langara.

Zina, too, became more proactive, although not all in ways Jonas was happy with. At the university, she had a good sense of who among the humanities and arts faculties sympathized most with their beliefs, something that would end up being very useful along with her extensive connections among the Terranians in the city. But she'd also rearranged the household altar and that was a much more personal statement. Kelowna had a monotheistic state religion that nobody practiced, but Terrania and parts of the Andari Federation were polytheistic and, when they'd wed, Zina had taken great pains to set up the altar in such a way that the gods most suitable and beneficial to a new couple were given the most honor. Zina never asked him to pray with her or leave offerings or light candles, but he'd never confused that with her having accepted his irreligiosity. And so he'd not known what to say or think when he noticed that the totem for the goddess of fertility was no longer in its usual place next to the protective spirit's figure, instead replaced with the totem for the god associated with curing disease.

"Why?" he finally asked after having watched her perform her evening rituals.

She didn't pretend to misunderstand. "Because our world is ill," she replied. "It's not the right time. I don't want our children's first breaths to be this miasma of fear."

He couldn't argue that impending war wasn't the best situation for a baby, but at the same time babies symbolized hope to him and so this was almost like saying that it was the wrong time for that, too.

"Don't think for a second that we're going to stop practicing," she said with a wink and a smile, mistaking his reaction for a more carnal concern. "When the time is right again, we can be perfect."

Alva's contacts were mostly military personnel, junior officers still in possession of fiery idealism and less-junior enlisted men who were veterans of the pre-Unification wars and had understood well before Nirai's 'revolution' what sort of darkness even a regular person was capable of perpetuating. They had technical and tactical know-how, all of which Jonas knew they'd need even if he wasn't sure how or when. Zina brought members of her prayer circle, fellow disaffected university professors (often the former instructors of Alva's young officers), and a few of her own students along with the diplomats who'd come to their dinners and salons. Jonas wasn't sure how to organize anything or how careful they needed to be -- obviously they needed to take precautions; this was close to fomenting rebellion and Kelowna had had strict laws governing treason well before Unification -- and spent his time alternately worrying about what their priorities should be and whether they'd all be lined up against the wall and shot before they were able to act on them.

Enos Kieran had at least had the excuse of everything being in his head.

Jonas still thought that the Ori were interested in the naquadria, a belief shared by most of the others, and so a two-pronged plan was developed to reduce the risk of it falling into Ori hands. Two cells were formed, each discrete and ignorant of the other's makeup and plans in case of capture; one would track down all of the naquadria already mined and refined into weapons-grade ore and the other would develop plans to destroy access to the untapped supply itself. Both groups were performing high-risk tasks; naquadria information was on the state-secret level, unauthorized transaction of which was punishable by death, and stopping the production chain was not as simple as blowing up the mines -- on the conservative end, that would vaporize half the planet.

Nobody in either cell hesitated when presented with the risks.

Initially, progress was rapid -- distressingly rapid, Jonas thought. Acquiring intelligence had been almost too easy; an assistant to a deputy subminister for transport here and there an officer whose buddy was on guard detail at the main naquadria mining complex in Gad and Jonas himself already had almost everything else because he was still Kelowna's -- and thus Langara's -- preeminent expert on naquadria and high-energy physics. Putting together plans for what to do with all of the information was somewhat more difficult; it wasn't as if they could refine their ideas through experimentation and practice.

Langara found out about the Ori armies coming through the supergate almost by accident; an envoy to Hebridan heard from a visiting Serras-Dian about the conquest of Amon-Shek by thousands of armed men led by priors. "That wasn't the only place," the envoy reported. "They are all over."

The JRC debated what to do, most of which revolved around preparing to fight off invading armies and what, if anything, to do about the Ori supporters already on Langara. The Nirai embassy produced assurances that those already converted to Origin were no more interested in armed insurrection now than they had been before and strongly rejected any proposal for quarantine or deportation. The 'ambassador' herself suggested instead that the JRC consider an alliance with the Ori, one that would spare Langara in exchange for a gradual acceptance of the Ori as their gods and Jonas was disgusted that the idea, while mostly spat upon, was not rejected out of hand.

There'd been an attempt to keep the news of the Ori armies out of the public sphere, but that was impossible; through no help from Jonas or his associates, word got out and spread quickly. The reaction on the street was mixed; half the population wanted to put all of the 'Origineers' on Nirai and blow the place up, the other half was still somewhat incredulous, not willing to believe that Langara's very existence was at risk. The Ori worshipers were crazy, a determined kind of crazy, but still just crazy and for all the talk of cleansing Langara of its non-believers, outside of the tragedies of Nirai they were still little more than aggravating nuisances.

It was six weeks between hearing the news from Hebridan and the first Ori warship appearing over Langara's skies.

Accept Origin and all would be forgiven, they were told by Fenal. Reject it and all would be destroyed.

Jonas was with the JRC when they decided to fight. Everyone knew that the war was lost before it was begun, but while there were some -- many -- who were willing to entertain surrender to save themselves and their people, the rest knew that the Ori were not making idle threats and that to give in without even a token resistance would be the same as sentencing Langara to death.

He felt no conflict and no guilt as he gave testimony on their ability to use their naquadria weaponry on the Ori; his purpose all along had been to ensure that Langara tried to save itself and it was.

They had materials for six naquadria bombs and managed to launch five of them; none of them did any damage to the Ori warships. The bombing commenced the next day, massive amounts of troops landing in the rubble of the three national capitals by nightfall on the fourth day. The Langaran Defense Forces were already there and, supplemented by local police and impromptu militias, ground fighting began.

Jonas acquired a rifle and joined a militia on the fifth day of ground warfare; the JRC had been effectively destroyed on the second day of bombing and each attempt to rebuild from its remainder had fallen in turn. There was no longer any real planetary leadership and the rump of the Kelownan national government could not fill the void. There was nothing left to do but fight in the streets.

The Ori armies in Kelowna were moving west to east and so Jonas and Zina's apartment, at the eastern edge of the city, was still intact and mostly safe. They turned it into a hospital and shelter; Zina had been a Terranian army nurse during the last war and had immediately torn up her fancy dresses and their tablecloths to use as bandages. Their building was full of refugees and orphaned children and when Jonas could return home to rest, he fell asleep to the sounds of grief and pain.

Langara's war torn history meant that every man had had to fight for his nation at one point; anyone who could still hold a rifle was given one and expected to use it. But the fact was that they were outnumbered, out-supplied, and facing an opponent that had no thought to spare either person or place. Langara could not win a war of attrition and the Ori commanders seemed to understand that. After a few weeks of increasingly sporadic fighting, the armies stopped blowing up everything they saw and started rounding up whoever'd been lucky enough to survive.

Jonas, captured in a firefight near the Elx River Bridge, wasn't sure if it was good luck or bad.

He was marched to an internment camp, really the remainder of a sports field that had been fenced and picketed. The Ori soldiers made no attempt to segregate men and women or combatants versus non-combatants; they were left on their own with no real shelter, minimally adequate sanitation, and not much in the way of food. Jonas spent his first day lying on his back on the ground (he'd been slightly wounded in the battle and the long march to the camp had only made it worse) and the next three making circuits of the pitch looking for familiar faces -- Zina's above all others -- and trying to get a feel for the place.

"They grab people," Sara, a colleague from the university, told him on the fourth day. "At random, I think. They march them away and we never see them again. The rumor is that everyone is given a choice -- accept Origin or die. If you accept Origin, you go to the education camp. If you don't.... Either way, nobody comes back here."

He never saw Sara again after the sixth day, never knowing her choice (although he suspected she'd chosen to live). On the fifteenth day, he escaped the camp. It wasn't that hard and he wasn't alone when he did it, but it took time to orchestrate. The Ori soldiers weren't as disciplined as the Langaran forces -- others had pointed out and Jonas had agreed that their occupiers probably hadn't seen actual combat before attacking this galaxy and possibly this planet -- and they certainly weren't as professional as the military Jonas had seen on Earth, but they had their rhythms and routines as any army did and, once those were established, it was just a matter of working within them to get free.

There were nine of them who'd escaped together, three Langaran soldiers, two who'd been in the Federation forces before Unification, and the other three had been in one of the impromptu militias out in one of the further suburbs. None of them save Jonas were familiar with the neighborhood that surrounded the camp, so he ended up the leader almost by default. They moved by darkness, foraging for food and clothing and weapons among the rubble. The city of Kelowna was shockingly destroyed; Jonas was surprised both at the damage and that he hadn't noticed it before -- there hadn't been much shelling during his captivity.

The city was also shockingly quiet, even during the day when they hid and slept, and positively silent at night. Troops moved through the streets at all hours, easily avoided because they were not quiet and, more importantly, weren't looking (or looking well) for anyone. They seemed to have collected everyone; Jonas had been afraid that they'd be stumbling across corpses left and right, but they weren't. There were many bodies, usually in awful states of decomposition, but not in the sort of numbers that they'd expected. The Ori apparently really did want to give Langara a second chance to consider their fate.

Jonas had known his fate since long ago; he'd die before accepting the Ori as his gods.

Not knowing where to go and with no real plan in mind, Jonas had led his band toward the university. Depending on whether the Ori commanders had already organized any kind of collection of intelligence and local resources and whether they'd gotten as far as the university, there were things in his labs and his office that could be of use. To whom was another question, but getting them away from where the Ori could find them was a victory unto itself.

"What are we looking for?" Vin asked as they carefully climbed a mound of rubble where the south staircase of the Science building used to be. The university had taken several direct hits, but otherwise hadn't been touched.

"Blueprints, surveys, chemicals, naquadria," Jonas replied, trying not to throw up as he passed the rotting corpse of someone he'd once worked with. The university had shut down once the war had begun, but only in the sense that classes had ceased. Most of the faculty and students had left to go defend their homes and families, but many -- Jonas included -- had stayed behind because their work was relevant to the war effort. These were the ones who'd been killed in the bombings and the faces, as much as they could be recognized, were all ones Jonas knew. "Anything we can use, some stuff we can hold on to in case we can get it to someone who can help us."

He'd chosen Vin to accompany him because Vin was agile, strong, and not prone to stupid questions. The others were either serving as lookouts or on the other side of the campus foraging through what remained of the ancient dining hall and attached kitchens.

"I'm not sure anyone can help us."

Jonas suspected Vin was right, but he still held out hope that one of the SGC's ships would appear in the sky or that a team would beam down with a plan and a promise that more help was on the way. It wasn't the sort of hope that left him disappointed when these things consistently failed to occur, but instead just something to work toward when he had no other purpose other than survival and finding Zina.

"That may be so," he agreed, trying to orient himself in the destroyed corridor. "But if someone does show up, I'd like to be able to say that we've been doing more than just taking in the sights."

His lab, thankfully, was at the other side of the building from the end that had taken the hit. Thankfully, since he'd had enough naquadria stored there to turn Kelowna into dust with enough initial energy. Which might have been a mercy, but not one Jonas would have been happy inadvertently administering. They'd brought rucksacks with them and Jonas moved from cabinet to cabinet handing items for Vin to pack away; the blast had shaken things up but not really overturned anything, so finding what he needed was quick work. Vin took the full rucks back down to where Carin was waiting and returned with empty ones; they weren't going to take more than they could carry, but they could carry extra for a little while and Jonas would destroy the rest.

Back when he'd been committing espionage by collecting intelligence on Langara's naquadria production cycle, he'd kept it all in a hidden safe in his office. Zina and Alva had wanted him to hide it at home, but he'd refused -- at home it looked like treason, but at work it looked like something at least feasibly professionally related. Also, with his memory, he didn't need to have it before him to make use of it. He took the plans and surveys now trade them should they get through the stargate -- their next goal -- or destroy them if they couldn't, but the same held true now: he still knew where the naquadria veins were and where they were deepest, how far Kelowna had gotten in terms of tapping and refining its reserves, and how the processing plants had been designed and to what purpose. The production and storage facilities were useless now, even if they were intact, and there wasn't enough refined naquadah to build any more bombs. But there were caches of lower-grade ore, the kind of 'dirty' naquadria they used for experiments and in generators. It could be weaponized as-is or it could be refined elsewhere, but the acquisition itself would be a victory of sorts because it meant that the Ori didn't have it.

Cleaning out the lab took the better part of an hour and the scavenging of the rest of the building the better part of three; after Vin took the last supplies away -- chemicals Jonas hoped to distill into both antiseptic and firebomb fuel -- he left a trail of two chemicals that by themselves were perfectly innocuous but when combined with each other and then with the the minerals in the recently exposed building materials would become highly flammable and, if ignited, would create a harsh salt precipitate. So he struck a light with two pieces of flint, set the place afire, and salted the earth.

His band, which had increased by four courtesy of stumbling on to a family hidden in a sewer overflow tunnel, spent the night making bombs and medical supplies.

The detour to the university had been fruitful on all fronts -- food, supplies, the naquadria -- but it had only ever been a detour. The plan all along had been to get to the stargate, see if it was still functional and, if it was, to hold it for as long as possible. In the camp, Jonas had been thinking of evacuations, but that was before he'd realized that there was hardly anyone to help to freedom. Now, he was just thinking of going for help, trading the naquadria for it if necessary, and continuing the fight here with whoever would stay.

Consensus among their group was that the stargate would be either heavily defended or destroyed; Jonas didn't disagree, but the fact was that Fenal hadn't come through it the first time and the Ori ships hadn't needed it and there was a chance that maybe they hadn't even found it yet. Years ago, there had been talk of moving the stargate to a more accessible location than a basement, but doing so had required more expertise than they'd possessed -- lifting the stargate itself would have required massive demolition and reconstruction, plus the rewiring of the DHD -- and so, without any real urgency, the talk had never progressed to making a plan. Jonas could ruefully appreciate the benefits of the inefficiency of bureaucracy because while Kelowna was seemingly mostly razed, unless someone had directed the Ori to it, then there was no reason for them to have stumbled upon the stargate by accident.

They spent two days and nights watching the building, counting the patrols and seeing where the lights came on after nightfall. There were a lot of soldiers in the area, which was not unexpected as this had been the seat of both the national and planetary government, but it was a manageable amount and regular in their appearances. There was little activity after dark; the occupiers had set up a small base a couple of blocks away, in the Courts building -- it was built of harder stone and had weathered the bombing better than anything else in the area -- and apart from regularly spaced patrols, there was no other movement of man or beast.

"They don't know," Carin finally announced, saying aloud what they'd all decided but none had put voice to.

Jonas nodded, aware that nobody but Vin could see him. "We'll go tonight."

Three hours into trying -- and failing -- to find a path through the rubble that would grant them access to a stairwell that went down to the basement, Jonas wondered if maybe they did know and had just not bothered to unbury the thing yet. But then Carin found a service entrance and, after hours of careful work to minimize noise,  they unblocked it. Once underground, Jonas closed his eyes and imagined the building as it had been and where the stargate should be in relation to where they were standing.

The building itself was in such shambles that they'd worried that the sublevels would be collapsed, but they weren't. There was damage, to be sure, and the odd cave-in from above, but apart from the overwhelming feeling that everything was about to come down on their heads, finding the stargate was a painless process. The room itself was partially collapsed with chunks of marble flooring from the level above resting atop destroyed furniture, but the DHD had been spared. The cabinet with the radios the SGC had given them to be able to call Earth had not been as lucky, however, although they eventually found one that worked.

"What do we do?" Neal asked, dusting off the DHD with unnecessary care. None of the others had ever seen the stargate, let alone been through it.

"We go for help," Jonas replied, crossing over to him. His first plan was to dial Earth, since that place would be safe even if nowhere else was. But part of the reason they would be safe was that they took precautions, so he had come up with alternate addresses -- maybe try Dakara, see if Teal'c would vouch for them -- if they wouldn't drop the shield on Earth.

He made sure everyone was clear of the back-blast before dialing.

"Hello?" he said into the radio. "This is Jonas Quinn calling from Langara. Do you copy?"

A long wait.

"Langara, please present your IDC," a voice with an Earth accent replied.

"Can I give it orally? We don't have a working GDO."

He could cobble one together from the broken pieces, but hopefully he wouldn't have to.

"Affirmative, Langara," the voice said after another long pause. "Proceed with transmission."

Jonas rattled off his own IDC, not the general one for Langara.

"IDC confirmed, Mister Quinn. It's safe to pass."

Jonas went through first after making sure that everyone would follow. Sam Carter was waiting at the bottom of the ramp for him, a warm expression on her face, although he didn't miss the larger-than-usual complement of SFs with their fingers on their rifle triggers waiting nearby.

"We heard," Sam said, hugging him carefully. "I'm sorry. I'm glad you're safe."

"Thank you," he said, his voice a little less steady than he'd have liked. He had shut down so many parts of himself over the last few weeks, ignored -- or tried to ignore -- everything that wasn't immediately relevant to the fighting. Being treated as Jonas, as a person who'd survived a horrible tragedy, hit him hard. "But I'm not staying."

He ignored her questioning look, focusing his attention on where General Landry, Daniel, Colonel Mitchell, and Vala were coming through the door. Jonas greeted them and introduced those who'd come with him, making sure to point out that Yan and his family were genuine refugees who'd need help resettling somewhere safe.

"Of course," Daniel said, forgetting as usual that he didn't speak for the SGC. "But what do you mean that you're not staying?"

"We have to go back to fight," Carin answered for him. "Our families and our people are still there. We have come here to ask for help. Or to buy it."

"How about we sit down and talk about this," Landry said in a friendly tone that nonetheless brooked no argument. "Why don't you let SG-1 here take you down to the infirmary to get looked over and the commissary to get some food -- I expect you folks haven't had a decent meal in a while -- and then we'll have our chat. Fifteen hundred work?"

Jonas looked at the clock on the wall. It was 12:26.

"We'll have 'em there with bells on their toes, sir," Mitchell said.

An airman asked Yan and his family to follow him and they looked back at Jonas, terrified, but he smiled and nodded and gestured that they should do so. Their part of this was done and he wished them peace and safety wherever they ended up.

Sam and Daniel asked questions as they made their way to the infirmary, sticking to the events of the last few weeks -- and months -- without addressing whether the Langarans would be going back. The quizzing ceased when they got to the infirmary and Doctor Lam ordered them all into showers "because it's impossible to tell the bruises from the dirt," but picked up again afterward. They were given clean SGC uniforms, examined -- none of them were badly injured, just worn, tired, and roughly treated from more than two months of privation and abuse -- and led to the commissary, which was full because it was lunchtime here at the Mountain. People looked up curiously, but didn't stare; Jonas imagined there were too many refugees stumbling through to be remarkable.

They ate hungrily; it had been weeks since they'd tried to actually cook anything and, with the power out in much of Kelowna since the first phase of the war, refrigeration had effectively ended with it.

"Whatever cans or jars we came across, stale bread, dried fruit where we could find it," Vin answered when asked what they'd been subsisting on. "Dug up gardens in the suburbs. Ate an entire siltar plant once."

"Kind of like rosemary," Jonas explained when Daniel looked at him questioningly. Daniel made a face of disgust.

By the time they were finished, it was close enough to the meeting time with Landry that they went back upstairs. The conference room had more chairs than the last time Jonas had seen it, so they all fit comfortably around the large table.

They went through the story again, from the beginning and in a more time-ordered fashion, guided by Sam and Daniel's and Mitchell's questions. Jonas did most of the talking, at least early on, because he was the only one who could speak to what the JRC had been thinking and he had a fuller comprehension of both the Ori situation as a galactic crisis as well as the threat Fenal had presented from the beginning. Once they got to the part where the war had begun, however, it became a fuller story, everyone contributing what they'd seen or heard or heard about, being careful to distinguish between second-hand stories and second-hand rumors.

"And you want to go back to this," Landry prompted once they caught up to the present.

The others started to bridle, but Jonas understood the question, remembered General Hammond asking similar ones of SG-1. He wasn't questioning their judgment, more getting a sense of how well they'd thought anything through.

"We don't believe the situation there is settled," Jonas replied loudly, over the din of his colleagues' protests. Everyone else quieted down. "The occupation's hold hasn't been tested. We don't know how many refugees are still out there, what kind of resistance has been building in other parts of the planet, whether they know exactly what they're sitting on. We can't leave Langara to its fate."

"Understood," Landry said with a nod. "We want to help you, Jonas. We do. But before any details get discussed, we need you to understand that we've got about two dozen open fronts already, some of these places where the Ori haven't arrived yet, some of these strategic locations that would put the entire galaxy at risk should they fall into Ori hands."

Jonas felt nauseated, like he was about to vomit everything he'd eaten in the commissary. "So you're going to offer us nothing."

"No," Landry retorted, sounding frustrated. "What I'm saying is that we're not going to be able to offer you as much help as we could have otherwise. The galaxy's going to hell, son. We're sitting here watching them come closer and closer and brushing aside everything we've thrown at them so far. We want to help you, just as you helped us when you were with SG-1. But we can't drop everything to try to yank Langara from the Ori, not without putting a lot more people at risk."

"Is Langara not a strategic location?" Carin asked. She looked both heartbroken and murderous. "What of the naquadria that will fall into Ori hands? Will that not imperil millions more?"

"The Ori don't care about the naquadria," Sam said. "They don't think they need it and they may be right."

"They're not here to scavenge for resources," Daniel added. "They're not like the Goa'uld in that way. This isn't about conquest for pride or power or showing off. They don't think they're genetically superior or that we're born slaves. All that matters is that we don't accept the Ori as gods. If we change our minds on that, then we are as brothers to them. If we don't, then everything we are must be destroyed."

Mitchell's watch beeped in the silence that followed. "Sorry, sir," he said, addressing Landry. He stood and gestured over his shoulder, toward the stairs. "I gotta go beg for aircraft. Strike group's gonna be five paper planes and a frisbee...."

Landry grimaced at him and shooed him off. Mitchell nodded at Jonas and turned to go.

In Landry's office, Walter stood waiting for the next event on the general's busy calendar.

"Listen," Landry said, standing up. Everyone else except Daniel rose, too. "I can't so much as offer up a zat without talking it over with General O'Neill. He'll be in tomorrow morning, we'll have a sit-down, figure out what you need and what we can spare. We won't send you home empty handed. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a lot to do."

Everyone had a lot to do, really. Jonas and his colleagues were uninvited-if-welcome guests that had disrupted everyone's schedule. They were given a row of four rooms, one with four, one with three, and then two singles, and told that they were free to go down to the gym and rec center or up to the commissary when they were ready to eat again and, of course, the infirmary if necessary. Jonas thanked the airmen, but he rather thought they'd all sleep -- it was midday on Kelowna and they'd been up for two days already.

Vin assigned the rooms, giving Carin one of the singles for the rare chance at privacy and Jonas the other. "They want to talk to you without us," he said when Jonas protested the arrangement. "We'll be fine."

Jonas didn't think Vin was wrong, but he was rather in the mood to make the SGC people work for it -- let them make their apologies and awkwardly exclude the others. Vin, whose patience began where Jonas's ended, had seen that clearly enough.

So, instead, he went to his quarters -- identical to the one he'd had when he was in residence here -- and fell asleep on top of the covers. He was woken up what felt like a second later by a knock on the door, but a quick glance at the digital clock on the wall said five hours had passed. Scrambling to his feet and rubbing at his face, Jonas opened the door to find Daniel and Jack O'Neill.

"General," he said by way of greeting. "I thought you weren't going to be in until tomorrow."

"I bailed on a meeting and took an earlier flight," O'Neill said, gesturing past Jonas with his chin. "Can we come in?"

Jonas stepped aside and followed them into the room. Daniel was holding a box of donuts and a carrier of coffee cups, which he put down on the small table. O'Neill sat down heavily; he looked older and more beaten down than the last time Jonas had seen him. He supposed they all did.

"We can help you gather up refugees," O'Neill began, opening up the donut box and peering inside. Daniel handed him a napkin and he put it on the table in front of him without looking up. "Send a team or two, make sure you and your group have something to fight back with. But we can't give you enough to launch a full-scale insurgency. We don't have those kinds of resources anymore."

Jonas sat down across from O'Neill, who took a donut and turned the box around for Jonas. Daniel sorted out the coffees.

"We're losing the galaxy," O'Neill went on as Daniel handed over the little packets of cream. "We're winning a few battles but we're losing the war. It's not something we like to say out loud, but there it is."

Looking over the donuts, Jonas took one at random. He understood what this was, more or less, and accepted that these people that he'd once called colleagues and maybe even friends were trying, in their own way, to apologize. What he didn't know was whether or not he could accept it or offer forgiveness.

"We underestimated them," Daniel said, coffee cup cradled in both hands. "We've spent a decade deprogramming Goa'uld worshipers and figured that it would be a similar task with the Ori, but it's not. The Ori theology is beautifully constructed, consistent in a way that few organized religions are, and nearly impossible to destroy on the rhetorical level. The Ori laid the framework for a very ordered and peaceful and rewarding daily life complemented with not only justification for ruthless violence in their gods' name, but also expectations that it will be committed if required... We've seen similar on Earth, but..."

"But we learned then that the only way to stop people who don't care if they die is to kill them all and that's impossible," O'Neill finished. He broke off a piece of donut and ate it. "Fact is, we can't talk the Ori down and we're having a hell of a time shooting them down. They have numbers we can't match, guns we can't match, and superior logistics and troop transport networks. This 'prior plague' is forcing surrenders before a shot even gets fired. And we're getting to the point where we have to start considering at what point we pull our resources in to prepare for the assault on Earth. We're not going to stop them before they get here."

Jonas ate his donut -- chocolate crème -- instead of saying anything because he wasn't sure how to express what he was feeling without sounding as angry and despairing as he was. The SGC had set itself up, by intent or not, as the protector of the galaxy. The Asgard were more powerful, sure, but they weren't always around and they worked on a larger scale. If you had a problem, you didn't call the Asgard, you called the Tau'ri. The SGC was always acting out of self-interest, but sometimes that interest was so nebulous and so seemingly small that it was easy to forget that and pretend that they were acting out of benevolence and generosity. He'd seen this when he'd been on SG-1. But he'd forgotten since then and now, when he'd come to the Tau'ri to seek a favor that did not align with their self-interest, he was being reminded. He wasn't sure who he was even angry at for the rebuff, himself or them, however earnestly it was being handled.

"If this had been three months ago, would you have helped?" he finally asked.

"We're not not helping now, Quinn," O'Neill sighed. "But yes, if Langara had been one of the first invaded, then you'd have gotten more than we're offering now."

"We were," Jonas said, contemplating the plastic lid on his coffee cup.

"I know."

The rest of the meeting was discussing what sorts of weapons Jonas wanted, how effective any kind of refugee extraction would be, and the background that would help O'Neill and Landry decide what would be offered in the public session tomorrow. Daniel left part of the way through; Jonas suspected he'd been there to make sure no arguments broke out.

"You and your people will be welcome here when it's over," O'Neill said, meaning the refugee collecting. "We'd be happy to have you."

"I abandoned Langara once before," Jonas replied. "I don't see myself doing it again."

O'Neill shook his head, getting up and collecting the papers he'd brought with him. "You of all people should understand that your best chance of saving Langara may be to fight the Ori on another battlefield."

"That may be so," Jonas agreed. "But my wife is on Langara, General."

A bitter smile from O'Neill. "I've heard that one before."

After O'Neill left, Jonas thought the sugar and the discussion would keep him awake, but it didn't. He fell asleep for another few hours, only to be woken up by another knock on the door. It was Vin.

"Did they come?" he asked.

Jonas nodded.

"So they won't help us," Vin said sourly. "You would have come straight to us if they had said 'yes.'"

Vin had been skeptical of what sort of reception they were going to get on Earth; after the last two months of occupation and a decade spent in the pre-Unification Terranian army, Vin was a little short of optimism when it came to the generosity of others.

"They'll give us supplies and send people to help us collect refugees," Jonas replied, not denying Vin's conclusion. "They've offered us sanctuary here after it's over."

"It's not nothing," Vin allowed with a shrug.

"But it's not enough," Jonas said.

"It's not," Vin agreed. "Let's go eat."

The commissary was empty and quiet -- too early for the dinner break of the overnight shift, too late for anyone who worked during the day -- and they pushed three tables together to make one large one that they could all sit around. There was more available than Jonas remembered there being from midnight snack runs during his time on Earth; one of the kitchen staff explained that there were more people working longer hours and coming back from off-world and cooking schedules had been adjusted accordingly.

With all of them together, Jonas explained what they should expect from the SGC tomorrow. He didn't speak in specifics, just explained that it was likely that they would only get help for refugees. There wasn't much grumbling apart from Carin's bitter asides, so they moved on to what they should do once they returned to Langara. It had seemed pointless to put much thought toward future plans when they weren't sure if they'd live to see the stargate, let alone get through it, and if they'd been able to secure aid, then their plans would have changed anyway.

"We need to get out past Kelowna City," Vin said. "We don't even know what they're doing in the countryside, let alone in Terrania and whatever's left of the Federation."

"Do you think we'll be able to get a spaceship from them?" Carin asked. Spaceships were mostly fantastical to everyone -- the typical Langaran knew of the fleets of the Ori and Goa'uld and been deeply impressed, but they were also mostly uncomprehending of the limitations of various types. "Or a plane?"

Traveling overland would be slow without access to the high-speed trains and they'd still need to find a ship once they hit the coast, one that could cross oceans as the Federation had several island states besides Nirai.

"I don't know," Jonas said. "I don't think so. They don't have many small transport ships -- they have small fighters and large carriers and not much in between."

There was a chance that they could get a captured Goa'uld vessel -- a cargo carrier or, even better, an Al'kesh -- but Jonas rather suspected that those were all either spoken for or destroyed already. Mitchell had left the meeting to scrounge for fighters and those were, relatively, more plentiful.

"A plane won't do us any good," Senar said around bites of stew. "The Ori patrol the skies. A spaceship won't do us any good, either, if it can't be hidden."

They stayed in the commissary for a while after eating. The alternative was to pile into one of the rooms, which would be cramped, and going up to the surface was impossible. With everything that had happened that day, the irregular bouts of sleep after so long without any, the food, the air, the way everything was familiar and yet not, Jonas felt deeply disassociated and very brittle. He could see that the others were faring no better. He'd never have imagined physical safety to be tangible like this or, if it felt like anything, to not be soft and comfortable. And yet when he stood up, it was all he could do to not hold on because it felt like his world was teetering.

Eventually they went back to their rooms as the commissary began to fill up with night shifters on meal break.

The meeting the next day, back in the conference room, was an extension of what O'Neill had told him the night before. They had already tried to oust the Ori from five worlds, using different methods, and had failed dismally each time. The loss of life, Landry said darkly, had been unacceptable enough to make them extremely hesitant to sponsor a sixth attempt.

"For the time being, the most valuable of what we can offer you is weapons training and a crash course in Ori technology," Landry went on. "Understanding what they have and how it works may prove more valuable than extra bodies or extra guns."

A skeptical rumble from Carin, who Jonas knew was pretty sure that there wasn't a single problem that couldn't be solved by the application of more firepower.

"We're working on technology that can neutralize the priors' powers," Sam spoke up, smiling a little when Jonas and even Carin leaned forward a little. "It's still rough and we're definitely getting mixed success at best, but it's something."

"Get rid of the priors and then we're only down to being vastly outnumbered and outgunned," Mitchell said wryly. "But, hey, at least that means they have to shoot us to kill us."

"Actually, Jonas," Sam went on, "if you're willing, I think you'd be a great help with that project. Do you remember that bug problem from P9X-391?"

It took a moment for Jonas to jar his memory to think of anything before, but he did. "Yes," he replied slowly, his mind pulling together scenarios where that device could have applications. "You're using interdimensional visibility?"

"Not per se," Sam allowed, "but we've gone back to that technology to adapt it...." she trailed off, realizing that Landry was frowning at her. "I'll explain it to you afterward."

"Right, so that's covered," Landry sighed. "Mister Quinn, while you're off doing that, your colleagues can get caught up on what's in our arsenal beyond Earth firearms, which are similar to your own. Most of what we have is Goa'uld,, but we've got some others that might suit your purposes as well."

Jonas could sense Vin shifting uncomfortably next to him, so he spoke before anyone else did. "General, we're grateful for everything you're offering us, please don't get us wrong. But we're a little unsure of the time frame here. Langara's teetering by a thread and I'm not sure we have time to 'train up' for a mission that won't be definable until we're there."

A few days might not help them overthrow the Ori, but it might mean the difference between having and losing access to the stargate or possibly being slaughtered once they went through.

"We understand," Landry said, not unkindly. "But we also understand that we're looking at a pretty crappy return on investment if we just hand you a few staff weapons, pat you on the back, and send you through the stargate with some of our people."

Jonas nodded. He knew there'd be conditions on the SGC's generosity and, as far as those went, this was pretty reasonable. And yet...

"We've got an op next week," O'Neill said and Jonas turned to face him. "If we can pull it off without too much damage, it'll be able to get us some materiel and people we'd really like to save. We can't offer you anything we're going to need for that, but once it's over, we'll have a lot more to share. It's six days and I think we can more than make the wait worth your while."

Jonas looked over at Carin and Vin, since he'd need their support to convince the others of whatever he decided. Carin looked uncomfortable, which Jonas took to mean that she knew that they'd be better served by staying. Vin gave him a tiny nod.

"Okay, then."

The meeting wrapped up shortly thereafter. Sam had a mission to go on, but told him to stop by her lab at 1300; Jonas and his team followed Mitchell down to the armory level, where he reacquainted himself with both Earth and Goa'uld weaponry while his team saw them in action for the first time.

"These are beautiful," Senar said, holding up a P-90. Compared to the latest (last) Langaran firearms standards, these rifles were tiny and accurate and much easier to use and use for longer durations. They'd had very limited weaponry during their march to the stargate; they'd run low on ammunition for their handguns and had had to cannibalize parts of rifles just to have three working ones.

"I think these will be of more use," Carin said, holding up a staff weapon. "No maintenance, greater stopping power..."

"... and no way to hide the fact that you're carrying one," Vin finished with a frown.

"Let me show you the zat," one of the airmen giving the lessons offered with a sly grin.

When 1300 came, Jonas left his team in good spirits and well on to their learning curve. It was good to hear laughter and teasing, to see what these men (and woman) might have been like before the world had ended. It wouldn't last, but for the time being... maybe this was an unstated part of O'Neill's promise that the wait would be beneficial.

He ran into Teal'c -- literally -- en route to Sam's office.

"It is good to see you again, Jonas Quinn," Teal'c said once Jonas had picked himself up off the floor. "Although the circumstances are not what we would wish them to be."

Jonas already knew that the Jaffa were in no better straits than most of the galaxy and that Teal'c was back on Earth only to coordinate the Jaffa's part in O'Neill's plan. "This isn't how I'd imagined our big reunion," he agreed.

Teal'c not being a fan of small talk and Jonas being late, the rest of the conversation was mercifully short.

Sam was waiting for him when he arrived, cautiously enthusiastic to share her research with him.

"I don't want to seem like I'm focusing on the bright side," she said after she'd explained the basics of Ori technology and how Jonas could be of great use because of his experience with Ancient tech, to which it related. "I'm glad to have you take a crack at this stuff, but I don't want you to think that I'm so caught up in it that I've forgotten why you're here."

"You're not," Jonas assured. Sam was Sam and even as the years had changed her -- changed them all -- she was still a good person. She was passionate about her work, as ever, and if there were moments when her enthusiasm might shine too brightly... Earth had been attacked many times, but it had never actually lost. She hadn't been touched by that darkness and Jonas honestly hoped that she never would be. "And a little bright side isn't the worst thing in the world. I'd pretty much forgotten it existed."
Sam gave him a nod and a grimace and Jonas was suspecting another hug, but then she turned to point to the device they'd been playing with. "If you turn it over, you should recognize the layout of the plates with respect to the capacitor."

The next four days were more of the same -- Jonas spent some time with his team doing weapons training, then he joined Sam in the labs, where she'd set him up with his own space and a notebook, while the others were corralled by the Intelligence officers for both a detailed account of the scene on the ground on Langara as they'd left it as well as a chance to get them better versed on the galaxy as it had been and was. Jonas reunited with his team in the evenings, when they'd compare notes and Jonas found himself re-explaining certain events and ideas apart from the Earth-focused context in which they'd been introduced. Vin in particular was curious about the galaxy beyond Langara and asked Jonas to elaborate on things he'd heard earlier on the day.

Jonas was aware of how the others, Vin and Carin included, were treating him differently than how they'd interacted on Langara. Back home, they'd all been essentially equals -- fugitives from the Ori and fighters on the losing side of a war brought together by circumstance -- and if Jonas had been more of a guiding force, it had been because his expertise was most relevant to their situation. His authority had been by agreement only and hadn't extended to any area where his knowledge did not trump everyone else's. But here on Earth, some semblance of the pre-war order had reasserted itself. The others had known that Jonas had once been a member of the JRC and had held a position of power on Langara until it fell, but it hadn't mattered before here and now, where Jonas could ask favors of another planet's leadership (even if the SGC was not really any kind of leadership on Earth) and where it was altogether obvious that he'd led a life very different from the typical Langaran.

"Why did you give this up?" Vin asked on their fifth night on Earth, when it was just the two of them, everyone else having gone off to bed or to the gym.

"Exile's not what it's cracked up to be," he replied with a shrug. It wasn't the whole answer, but it was far from wrong. "I loved seeing the galaxy, but I never stopped missing home. I wanted Kelowna to be safe, I wanted what would become Langara to exist and to become great...."

"You didn't fail it, you know," Vin said and Jonas looked up sharply. "Langara didn't fall because of anything you did or didn't do."

"I know that," Jonas said. He did. He had had his moments (weeks) of doubt, but having seen the scope of the Ori's hold on the galaxy and he'd come to terms, at least intellectually, with the fact that even if he'd detonated all the naquadria he had on Nirai, the Ori still would have come and the only difference would be that Fenal wouldn't have led the parade.

"You forget it sometimes," Vin said, standing up. "I'm going to bed."

On the sixth day, there was a palpable change in the air of the Mountain. Tense, anticipatory, unafraid. The SGC was going to war. It was an attack on a planet held by the Ori, but the hope wasn't to recapture it ("It'd be nice," Mitchell said. "Won't turn it down if they offer it to us. But that's not why we're going.") but instead to raid the planet and rescue as many as they could.

"Should we offer to help?" Carin had asked. "We can call it practice for Langara."

Jonas had told her that if they'd wanted their help, the generals would have asked for it. He did float the suggestion by Sam, but she said that it was a very streamlined operation with everyone attached there for a specific task. Neither she nor Daniel were going, for instance, but she said that if Vin and the others wanted to go down to the infirmary to get more training, she was sure Dr. Lam and her staff wouldn't mind. The Langarans had gotten some basic lessons in field medicine and how to use the SGC's kits; Senar had proven adept enough to have decided that he would be their medic once they returned home and nobody had argued with him. Senar did in fact go down to the infirmary, but the rest followed Jonas back to where Sam had set him up and got another lesson in Ori technology. He wasn't going to teach them anything fancy, just more of what they'd been getting all week -- how Ori weapons worked and why their locks made a weird noise before disengaging and so forth. Ori tech was beautiful in its own way, but that wasn't relevant now.

The mission was slated to take ten hours; nobody thought it would actually take that long, but they'd needed to put down something and, maybe, if everything went extremely well, they'd need it all. They didn't, of course, but O'Neill, when Jonas saw him, looked satisfied. Not pleased, since there'd been many casualties and they'd lost two ships and damaged five others, but content that whatever they'd gotten had been worth the price paid.

The next morning, the Intelligence section started planning the mission to Langara.

"Ideally, we'd like to build a force on the ground," Major Benoit began as they waited for an airman to get the relevant map of Langara up on the screen. "Evacuate the young, old, and infirm and turn the rest into a militia. When we've had success, that's how we've done it."

"Ideally," O'Neill repeated sourly. "What about practically?"

"While our intelligence on Kelowna City itself is superb," Benoit continued, "and lends itself to insurgency-building, we're somewhat less prepared for what we'll face in Terrania and the Andari Federation territories. It is a reasonable assumption based on intel acquired before intra-planetary communications failed that the Andari states closest to Nirai -- Balonth and Circar especially -- are effectively lost. We can have Odyssey scan for population centers in those areas and see if anything promising comes up, but dedicating any ground assets would be an effective waste of resources."

Tal, who came from a small town on Circar's sandy shores, pushed back from the table and closed his eyes.

"Terrania will probably be in the best shape of the three nations," Benoit went on, "since while it saw its own invasion force, it's neither the seat of Langaran power nor the Ori foothold. It's our recommendation that we focus our refugee efforts in Terrania's major population centers, with Kelowna as the secondary target. Kelowna in turn will be the primary with respect to building a sustainable force on the planet, as the ability to control the stargate will prove essential."

Benoit paused and looked to Jonas, waiting for either acceptance or counter-argument. His team had discussed this at length and he'd had other conversations with Carin and Vin; everything Major Benoit was saying had been drawn from what they'd told him. But it still hurt to hear it reported back after having been filtered through the algorithms of superior firepower and manpower that the SGC and its allies could bring to bear.

Jonas nodded.

The initial meeting took hours; the overview brief segued into more detailed intelligence discussions, logistics and munitions requirements and expectations, and most especially personnel recommendations. The military men who'd sat not at the table but in chairs forming a loose orbit around it turned out to be SG team commanders, most Air Force but a few Marines, from which the Langara force would be drawn. These men asked specific questions of both Benoit and the Langarans while Landry and O'Neill asked more big-picture questions and both Sam and Mitchell contributed technical and air support knowledge. Daniel showed up near the end, dusty and dressed in desert-style flowing robes as if he'd just come back from off-world, and the marine officer next to Sam stood up so he could sit.

"The Tagreans will accept the Langaran refugees," he said once he'd drained Mitchell's unprotected water bottle.

"There was no place with water that would take us?" Carin asked warily.

"Tagrea's got plenty of water," Daniel assured. "It's mostly urban, probably a couple of decades ahead of Langara technology-wise, but it's similar enough that nobody will feel completely lost. Believe me, they thought I was dressed strangely, too."

Tagrea had not been his only stop, in other words, and everyone left it at that.

"Well that was a whole lot easier than last time," O'Neill muttered.
 
The meeting broke up shortly thereafter, with everyone charged with formulating their proposals or whatever it was that went into planning a large-scale action, and would reconvene at the same time tomorrow. Jonas wasn't sure what he and the other Langarans were supposed to do in the interim; they were all eager to return home and, with the prospect of doing so very close and yet so far away, there was a little irritability setting in.

Before Jonas could make any plans or suggestions, though, Teal'c approached.

"It has been suggested that I bring you and your team to Dakara," he said. "That it would be beneficial for the Jaffa who will be going to Langara to meet some of its citizens and, in turn, for your people to meet those who would come to their planet's aid."

Jonas fought back a wry grin; the Jaffa had been deploying to foreign worlds for millennia without knowing or caring about who lived there and Teal'c knew he knew that. This was about the Langarans, although whether it was meant to cure boredom or any perceived ingratitude, he didn't know.

"Sure," he said. "I'm the only one who has been off-world before this and I think getting to see the sky would do wonders for morale."

"Indeed," Teal'c replied, enough of an expression on his face for Jonas to see that he didn't think he was pulling anything over on anyone.

The others were intrigued -- and relieved -- at the idea of traveling off-world. That it would be to a planet that Jonas had never seen seemed to make it all the better; it was not one more thing that Jonas was an old hand at.

Sam, upon finding out that he was going, gave him a device to try out. "It's a disruptor for Ori rifles based on an EMP emitter, so there's no way I can set it off here," she explained. "It's tuned so that it won't disrupt any of the Jaffa's weaponry or tech, so it's safe to test there. And between your people and the Jaffa, you've got a good sample size to work with."

Teal'c gave him a raised eyebrow when he showed up in the gate room with an extra duffel bag, but said nothing.

Dakara was dry and sunny and surprisingly not as hot as it looked. They were met by Bra'tac, who probably stunned the Langaran contingent with his effusiveness, but his curiosity about them and Langara put them at ease. He seemed completely unsurprised that Jonas was carrying equipment to run a test and promised to recruit volunteers after they ate. They got a tour of the still-nascent government of the Free Jaffa, which included the tale of Gerak and how close they'd come to losing everything to the Ori.

"They will come soon," Bra'tac said with a shrug when Vin asked why the Ori had not attacked them yet after failing to win them over peacefully. "They will come with their ships and their weapons and we will fight them. They may be more powerful than the Goa'uld, but they understand us no better. They can destroy this place--" he waved his arms grandly to indicate the cool cave network, "-- but they don't see that this is just a symbol. Dakara is our home because we need a place to get our messages delivered, but the true home of the Free Jaffa is here--" he beat his chest with a closed fist "-- and so long as our hearts beat, the Ori cannot take it from us if we do not give it freely first."

Jonas found himself smiling. Maybe this, too, was why they'd been sent here by the SGC.

The meal was pleasant and plentiful; the Jaffa present tended to fall closer to Teal'c's introspection than Bra'tac's extroversion, but there were still questions to be asked and answered, mostly details about Langara that might be deemed useful for the coming fight.

The testing of the disruptor took up most of the afternoon; the Jaffa had a stockpile of captured Ori weapons and didn't seem to care if the test damaged them permanently. The Langarans were given practice time with them first; Jonas still found their rifles unwieldy and a little heavy, but they were easy to aim and effortless to fire. The early rounds of testing were utter failures; Sam had explained how far she'd gotten and why she hadn't been able to get any further and Jonas could see why and, maybe, how to circumvent that roadblock. The Jaffa testers were all young men and women, none of them old enough to be done with their training, and thus had limitless patience to keep going with what was essentially a very destructive toy. The Langarans, however, felt obligated to start giving Jonas grief as the sun moved closer to the horizon and there was still no visible progress.

When half of the weapons suddenly stopped working, however, the sarcasm and heckling stopped.

They returned to Earth early-evening Mountain Time and were bombarded with questions even before the wormhole closed. Most were regarding clarifications of details of the Langara briefing, but Sam was there too, not quite standing on her toes in anticipation.

"So?"

"Not yet," Carin answered before Jonas could say anything. "But he says he can fix it. Of course, he had been saying that for four hours before anything worked, so take that for what it's worth."

Sam stifled a laugh. "So noted."

"I figured out a way to get around the interference problem," he said with a shrug, watching Carin walk off, Tal in tow, speaking animatedly to one of the airmen. "I'd have tried to fix it there, but I didn't bring anything to solder with and the Jaffa tools are..." he trailed off, making a face.

Sam nodded knowingly. "They're battle axes when you need a scalpel. You'll have to show me what you did later."

The next morning, they reconvened in the conference room. The various elements reported back on what they'd come up with and how any of it could be put into practice. For the first seventy-two hours (which would be more than three days on Langara, but not that much more as to be confusing), they would have the services of the Odyssey, which could perform immediate evacuations and relocations as well as other invaluable services. After that, they'd have to rely on three Al'kesh and as many cargo vessels. The mission wasn't open-ended -- seventy-two hours was really the upper limit as far as expectations went -- and it was made very clear that support would be drastically reduced should SGC commanders deem Langara a lost cause.

"We need to bring back more than we lose," Landry said. "We understand that your priorities are different than ours and, to the extent that we can accommodate that, we will. But we cannot and will not expend human capital on a wish and a dream."

After the meeting broke up, Jonas gathered the Langarans in his room.

"It's more than I thought we'd get," Vin said, sitting down on the foot of the bed. "Warships, fighters, members of many nations..."

"All of whom can pack up and go whenever they don't want to fight anymore," Tal said sourly. He'd never really gotten over hearing that the SGC wasn't even going to try for the eastern Andari states. Carin said that he'd been hoping that the Tau'ri would be different, that when the Langarans had spoken among themselves about Circar and Balonth, it had simply been old Kelownan and Terranian prejudices -- Circar had suffered greatly during its period as a Terranian protectorate. He'd been sullen and withdrawn yesterday and today and Jonas might have said something to him, but Carin had waved him off. The two of them were the only Andari among their group and he'd deferred to her judgment.

"They don't have to help us at all," Senar pointed out. "None of them save the Tau'ri had any stake in Langara before and it's not like they're hoping to re-open the mines."

By the following day, materiel and humanitarian supplies were already being loaded on to the Odyssey; airmen were pushing trolleys through the stargate to the planet serving as a staging area. They'd leave for Langara tomorrow.

That evening, Jonas went down to Sam's lab. "Oh!" she exclaimed, since he'd surprised her. "Are you here to show me what you did to the disruptor? I think I've got it, but I'd like to see how you came up with it."

"Of course," he agreed. "But that's not why I'm here."

With Sam looking on curiously, he unshouldered his backpack and pulled out a messy cloth-wrapped bundle. Setting it on the table, he began to carefully undo the knots.

"Is that what I think it is?" Sam asked.

"I wasn't sure what kind of reception we'd get," Jonas began, attention focused on the knots, which really weren't that complicated. "I was sure you'd help us somehow, but I also knew we'd been near the bottom of your priority list and with the Ori all over the place, we probably weren't moving up the list very far."

"Jonas--"

"We used almost everything we had against the Ori," he continued, getting the penultimate layer of cloth off of the bundle. "This was what was left over in my lab at the university. It's not very refined -- don't need it to be, really, and this way, the students didn't accidentally incinerate the planet. But it's high-grade enough and you can refine it further, depending on what you want it for."

"You don't have to pay for our help, Jonas," Sam said, placing her hands over his to still them. "I'm sorry we can't do more for Langara, but we're not holding back because it's not valuable enough to us. You're our friend. We'd have tried our best no matter what."

"I know," Jonas said, ignoring the time when he really hadn't. "I'm... this is probably goodbye, Sam."

"Don't talk like that," she said, although she didn't try to contradict him. "We'll come through in the end, even if it takes a while, and I expect to see you standing there when that happens."

He unwrapped the last cloth, revealing the padded container that held the naquadria. He opened it and Sam whistled.

"That's a lot of naquadria," she said.

"Use it well," he told her. "Goodbye, Sam. Thank you."

She kissed his cheek. "Go find your wife, Jonas. I want to meet her."

The Langarans split up on the staging planet, mostly according to national lines so that they would be most useful; Jonas ended up with the native Kelownans and Carin, who had been living in Kelowna when Langara had fallen; Vin took the Terranians and Tal. They were assigned to different Al'keshes and, knowing they might not see each other again, the parting was meaningful.

Most of the insertions would be by cloaked Al'kesh, except for the Jaffa element, which would be transported directly to the stargate to establish control there and work outward, creating a perimeter zone. The Al'keshes would first do reconnaissance and then drop off their passengers where they could be useful. All of them were wearing radios and tracker beacons so that they could be found by the orbiting Odyssey.

It was night when they arrived in the air over Kelowna. Jonas was up on the bridge with Colonel Porter, the commander of the marine-staffed SG-3, and the Jaffa pilots. The skyline was dark except for what looked like bonfires and between that and the destruction, Jonas had a hard time placing them until he saw the ruined spire of the cathedral. "Head southwest," he said. "The camp where I was interned should be up ahead in a minute."

The camp had been crowded and more people were being added when Jonas had escaped, but that had been almost a month ago and he wasn't sure what would be left. The Jaffa pilot told them that there were indeed people there and Porter told them to find a place to let them off. Jonas went back to where the rest of SG-3 and his own team were waiting, telling them what was happening and to gear up.

The Al'kesh let them off in Noor Park, which was about a ten minute walk from the stadium. The stench of death hit them the minute they cleared the park.

"They're not letting anyone bury the bodies," Gunnery Sergeant Kamber said. "Either it's 'cause there're too many of them or because they still need to send messages."

"Hopefully it's the latter," Porter said, turning to Jonas. "Which way?"

They avoided two patrols as they made their way to the stadium, circling around to the very point where Jonas and the others had escaped what felt like a lifetime ago. They made their way through the collapsed stands and passageways, killing three guards, and to the edge of what had once been the playing field but was now part shanty town and part zoo. It smelled foul, but thankfully not of corpses, just of humanity packed too close together with insufficient sanitation. Makeshift tents had been constructed, although there were still many sitting and lying down in open spaces. The stadium's lamps were lit, but many were broken and the light they provided was weak and distant.

Carin started running, crouched down and carefully, toward the first tent. Rather than call after her, Jonas gave chase, Gunny Kamber and Colonel Porter behind him and the rest ordered to stay back. She reached the first tent and, flashlight out, she pulled back the flap, turned the flashlight on, and shone it on the first face she found.

"Hallowed are the Ori," a woman said tremulously, making it sound like a question instead of an affirmation. "Hallowed are the Ori," the others in the tent echoed, no more sure.

"Have you turned your back on the One God?" Carin asked in an angry whisper. "Given up eternity? For these false gods?"

The woman started to cry, realizing that they were not Ori guards. "He who hath made the darkness and the light shall dwell above them for all eternity and shall welcome all who pray sincerely for His grace."

"Do you?"

"With all my heart," the woman whispered, crying harder. "With all my heart."

"Then follow us out of here and be quiet," Carin said harshly.

They waited for the family -- a woman and five children, at least one of them definitely not hers -- to get up and then they scurried with them back to where the others were waiting. Once safely hidden by the stands, they pressed the woman for information. This was a 're-education' camp, a place for everyone who'd agreed to worship the Ori. They would not be freed from here until they had proven that their agreement hadn't been an expediency -- they had to show some kind of genuine belief. The most obvious liars, Tara said, had already been killed, as had everyone who'd rejected the initial offer.

"Thousands," Tara said in a choked whisper, cradling the youngest child. "Tens of thousands. They marched us past the bodies."

The people in the stadium now came from Kelowna City and its outlying suburbs; there had been collection camps all over the country, but the survivors were being pooled as the numbers shrank. Tara had heard from another internee that there were other camps like this one between here and Syrali, Kelowna's second-largest city.

"You have to hurry," Tara implored. "They're taking the children to raise as their own. The ones who were separated from their parents or orphaned first, then the ones they'd made orphans themselves, now it's the child of anyone they don't think is learning fast enough."

"Your kids are safe, ma'am," Gunny Kamber assured. He was holding a girl of maybe seven in his arms as she cried into his neck.

Tara tried to laugh, but choked. "None of them are mine by blood. I was a coward and agreed to worship the Ori and on the way to this camp met up with a woman and her daughter," she said, gesturing to the girl in Kamber's arms. "She'd agreed just to save her child, but was taken away for not believing and I said that Anna was mine so that they'd leave her. I've been collecting them ever since. I don't know how they haven't caught on and taken them all from me."

"Well, they've lost their chance," Porter said. "We're getting you and everyone else out of here tonight."

Senar and Sergeant Brown set up a collection point with the Odyssey, getting coordinates so that the ship could transport whatever was in a fixed area without needing homing beacons to lock on to, while Porter ordered the other teams waiting aboard the Odyssey to beam down and prepare to take the stadium. While Porter orchestrated the assault, asking Tara for details about guards and weapons she'd seen, Jonas gestured that he was going to take people back out to direct them to the collection point.  Carin, Jonas, Dan, Eron, and Sergeant Lisak split up into two groups, going to tents and seeing who was willing to flee. It bothered him a little to be rescuing those who'd chosen to save their skins, but he knew it was an irrational reaction; if it hadn't been for his own stubbornness and that he was married to a devout woman, he'd have been right there with them. He was no more interested in the One God now than before Fenal had ever appeared in Nirai.

Most everyone they approached wept with relief; a very few declined the offer either out of fear or out of the stirrings of genuine conversion. Jonas stunned the neophyte Ori worshipers with his zat, not wanting them to raise any alarm, and figured the scared would change their mind once the marine assault commenced. The raid started with a barrage from the Al'kesh, which wiped out the part of the stadium where the soldiers were garrisoned, and from there it got noisy and chaotic and Jonas wasn't very sure what was going on in the stands, just that Porter wanted him to make sure everyone who was getting out was gotten out. It felt like it took forever, but when it was over it felt like no time had passed even as his watch said it was more than three hours since they'd encountered Tara.

"They said more than six hundred, Jonas," Carin said almost giddily when she him. Her voice raw and hoarse from shouting. "I know it's nothing compared to those who are already dead, but... I thought we'd be too late. I didn't think we'd save this many total, let alone in our first hours back."

"We did well tonight," he agreed, handing over his water bottle for her to drink. He felt a little elated, too, because his expectations had been the same as Carin's. "But what was that with the being offended on behalf of the One God? You don't even believe in the One God."

Carin was from the part of the Federation that worshiped as the Terranians did; Carin had the same gods Zina did, although she didn't seem to take them as seriously as Zina.

"She looked Kelownan," Carin replied with a shrug, draining the bottle. "You folk are all about oaths to your god, divine retribution, and all that."

News from the other groups, when they got it, was similarly good. The Jaffa had secured the stargate and were pushing out, establishing a safe area in the capitol district and allowing the Odyssey to bounce the refugees there for transit to Tangrea. Joining the Kelownan refugees were hundreds more from Terrania; the occupation wasn't as far along there and Vin's team had found an internment camp near the capital that was still processing inmates. Well over a thousand were saved in one night and the mood, when everyone finally returned to the Odyssey for some much-needed rest, was cautiously upbeat.

"Gotta admit," Mitchell said as they sat in the commissary, half-asleep over their food, "this was more than we'd hoped for in total, let alone so quickly. We've had real bad luck on the more advanced worlds; the Ori usually opt for overkill on the initial strike, so they flatten the big cities and take out most of the population before they get a chance to convert anyone."

Langara was closer to Earth in terms of demographic concentration than most of the other industrialized planets in the galaxy; the urban areas were very densely populated, but most of the planet did not live in the big cities.

Intelligence people were interviewing the refugees, updating maps and getting a picture of what was happening around the globe, and Mitchell assured Jonas that there'd be a ton of new information for them in a few hours, so they might as well sleep before then. "That, or we doze off during their presentation."

Jonas promised he'd get some sleep, but first he went down to the area where the Odyssey's crew had set up the 'war room' for the Langaran operation. The interrogators processing the refugees on Tangea were collecting names and photos and Jonas wanted to know if Zina had been one of the ones they'd rescued. He hadn't seen all of the faces, so it was possible. Zina's name wasn't on the list of refugees, nor was her face in the directory of photos, but the sergeant working on the database told him that they were getting updates only every two hours and the staff on Tangea was hours, possibly days, away from completing any kind of roster.

"The SGC is sending more people out there, sir," he explained. "Nobody was expecting this many rescued and the interviews take a while. But I'll flag her name for you, sir, and if she comes up on either list, I'll find a way to let you know."

The other list was the roster of the known dead. It was, by far, the longer of the two lists and Jonas was grateful that Zina's name wasn't there yet, either.

Six hours later, they were sitting in the cramped side room next to where the Intelligence people were still processing data from the refugees. The briefing was less informative than confirming what they'd already known or suspected; the Ori had interned into camps everyone who'd survived the initial war phase, sorted the prospective believers from those who outright refused, sending the former to consolidated indoctrination camps and the latter to their deaths.

"The processing rates are about 65% for Kelowna, 40% for Terrania and the Andari state of Pagronne, which is the western-most state and closest to Terrania, and effectively 100% for the rest of the Federation territory," the briefing officer said. Jonas had no idea how they'd come up with those numbers or if they were accurate. "The conversation rate, for lack of a better way of putting it, is slightly higher in Terrania than Kelowna. The number of fatalities is higher in Terrania, but percentage-wise it comes out about even due to the differences in population size. We have no reliable data for the Andari Federation, but we're estimating 70% fatality rate based on intel from the small numbers of eastern Andari refugees we picked up from the camp in Terrania."

"So we're looking at a holocaust that would make Hitler feel like an underachiever," Mitchell said.

"Pretty much, sir," the briefing officer -- Jonas missed his name -- agreed ruefully. "Especially since the Ori aren't actually here to kill everyone."

The Intelligence section had generated a new map of Langara, done up to indicate 'processing' and conversion rates. There were dots and icons to indicate processing camps, indoctrination camps (occasionally, as with Kelowna, the same place reused), last-seen sites of parked Ori warships, and other militarily significant targets. There were arguments to be made both for hitting the processing camps with the fewest remaining internees as well as the indoctrination camps with the largest populations, all of which in turn had to be weighed against which could be reasonably achieved considering that the Ori weren't going to be oblivious forever, if they had not already clued in to the fact that there had been raids.

"Our window of effective operation has rarely exceeded seventy-two hours," Major Benoit had warned at the start of the tactical and strategic discussions back on Earth. "That's more than enough time for the local Ori command to begin COIN operations and the galactic command to bring in reinforcements to support their on-planet forces. Realistically, however, our effectiveness drops precipitously after the 36-hour mark."

They'd planned accordingly, but in the end, they did not have seventy-two hours. Just as the SGC had been getting better at staging raids and collecting refugees, so the Ori had gotten better at realizing what the Tau'ri were up to. It took them less than thirty hours to bring in another carrier group to hunt for the Odyssey, which they knew was out there somewhere, and for the forces already on Langara to re-start their search-and-destroy missions. The processing camps were put on an accelerated pace and the indoctrination camps were reinforced with numbers that the SG teams just couldn't engage with any hope of success, even with their own reinforcements -- Langarans who'd been processed on Tangea but who'd chosen to return to Langara to help liberate others. They had to improvise and change courses mid-execution, requiring the Odyssey to juggle multiple transporter requests while it evaded its own dangers.

It was at the 53-hour mark that Mitchell, the operational mission commander, declared that they'd hit the wall. They'd lost the equivalent of an entire SG-team plus significant losses to the admittedly under-armed Langaran irregulars. The Odyssey was still undiscovered for now, but more than two Earth days of battle posture and the constant flow of refugees and supplies was taxing their resources to the point that evasion was now their only option; they couldn't risk an encounter. They'd made attempts on more than half of their primary targets, collected more than three thousand refugees, and it was now, Mitchell said, time to take a pause.

"We're exhausted, our supplies are exhausted, the Odyssey's getting exhausted..." Mitchell trailed off.

"We lose the Odyssey in less than twenty hours!" Jonas pointed out. He hadn't been back to the ship except to be bounced somewhere else since the first night; none of them had. He'd been living out of his pack and whatever he found, sleeping uneasily in hiding spots and constantly moving.

"We're going to lose her a lot faster than that if she takes a direct hit," Mitchell returned. "Between the cloak and the transporter usage, she doesn't have enough juice left to push shields to even 75% for longer than a few minutes. Odyssey's a carrier, not a warship, no matter how we use her. She can't take on an Ori armada with just some 302s and a couple of Al'kesh to support her."

Jonas looked around. He was in eastern Kelowna, closer to Terrania than to the stargate in Kelowna City. It was a gap area, at the far edges of what were two regional Ori commands, and there were still a few remote villages where people were still at large because the prior-led armies hadn't gotten this far to blanket the area. He couldn't leave them here to their own devices.

"It's just a pause, Jonas," Mitchell said when Jonas didn't reply. Mitchell was somewhere in Terrania, near Pagronne Jonas thought. "We'll give the Odyssey a break to recharge her batteries, give us a break to recharge ours, then pick up again."

Jonas was prepared to argue, to point out that it would be too tempting to write Langara off with no stake on the ground anymore, when there was a new voice over the radio.

"Gentlemen," Colonel Emerson broke in, "I'm sorry to have to report that we've gotten word from the SGC that Belote's been attacked. We're needed for an immediate evacuation of all survivors."

Jonas had no idea what was on Belote or even where it was. Mitchell must have sensed that.

"It's a planet we've been using for a whole mess of things," Mitchell explained, frustration in his voice. "Refugee camps, remote science bases, armory, staging area, you name it. We've got thousands of people there and God knows how much equipment and materiel."

In other words, there was no way Jonas could justify asking that the Odyssey stay.

"There's a convoy forming up to protect the Odyssey," Emerson went on, "but we'll need to break orbit soon to meet it. I can give you two hours, tops."

Two hours was not enough time for Jonas to do anything.

"We have two missions that will need some time," Mitchell said. "Leave SG-3 and Vin Tarcotte's team. Everyone else can be pulled in now."

Jonas unclipped his tracker beacon, attaching it instead to a leaf on the tree he was standing next to.  

"Give me thirty minutes," he said.

Back on Earth, he'd been given a subcutaneous transmitter, an additional locator beacon that would remain inactive until necessary. "You're really high on the list of people we don't want falling in to Ori hands," Dr. Lam had told him.

Now, he ran from where he'd been hiding, at the top of a hill in a copse of trees, down and through the weird rock formations caused by the seismic activity in the area, and onto the plain until he reached the fields. Sugarcane grew here, dense and tall, and he waded in, making sure he didn't leave a path of broken plants behind him. After a few minutes, at a spot picked totally at random, he dropped down and pulled out the blanket he'd been issued as part of his pack. It was supposed to shield him from Ori sensors, but it had the (normally unfortunate) side effect of hiding him from the Odyssey's as well. It was dark, non-reflective, and lightweight enough to not be a burden while also not being prone to fluttering in a breeze. He looked at his watch, saw that his half-hour was nearly up, carefully tucked the blanket in all around himself, and waited.

"Ready, Jonas?" Mitchell's voice on the radio in his ear. "Quinn?"

Mitchell called him again, then warned that they were going to beam him up ready or not because everyone else was aboard who was coming aboard and they had to go.

"What the fuck, Quinn?" Mitchell asked after another couple of minutes, presumably after his tracking beacon had been retrieved without him. "We don't have time for this. I know you want to stay, but we can't. We're running out of things we can do here and we need to get to Belote. Don't condemn them to die, Jonas. We've activated your tracker, which is not showing up. You've got thirty minutes to do what you need to do or change your mind before we break orbit to go join the convoy. This is not how we do things, Jonas. This is not how you say 'thank you.'"

Jonas wanted to apologize, maybe even explain himself, but he knew Mitchell would be sending people down to his position and any radio transmission would give away his position. Instead, he half-dozed, listening to his radio as Mitchell tried to cajole him into revealing himself and the remnant of SG-3 -- Sergeant Brown having been killed the day before -- tried to find him on the ground.

He waited an extra hour after Mitchell's final warning, knowing that the Odyssey would have had to have left by now to head to Belote, before emerging from his sweaty hideout. Re-packing the blanket, he checked the sun's position and headed north. There were a handful of villages starting a few kilometers ahead and he hoped to find them and, from there, the villagers if they were not still in their homes.

He stayed off the road at first, but then figured that there was no point -- the Ori army bases were so far from here that even an aerial patrol was unlikely. So he stayed near the side, partially to avoid getting run over by a passing car and mostly to be able to dive into the sugar cane in case he heard something overhead.

The first village, called Konut on his map, appeared in the distance near sunset. Footsore and heartsore, he was stumbling a little by the time he got there. Konut was a moderately sized town for this part of Kelowna, maybe a few hundred people if the farmhouses outside the town itself were included. It looked abandoned, the stores shuttered and no lights anywhere, but Jonas didn't think that the place had actually been abandoned. Towns in this region had stood up to the Terranians when they'd invaded sixty years ago and those folks' grandparents had fought off the Terranian settlers, too, when this had been frontier territory. They weren't going anywhere -- maybe not even after Jonas explained what was going on all over the planet.

The click of a cocking rifle was a familiar sound and Jonas froze, slowly moving his hands away from his body and turning to face the noise.

"My name is Jonas Quinn," he told the maybe dozen armed men who were standing there. It was hard to see with the light in his eyes and the darkness beyond it. He squinted against the flashlight, moving to raise his hand to block his eyes but then stopping when the men took it as a threatening gesture. "I've come to warn you that the Ori armies are coming."

"We know they're coming," one of the men said in the broad accent of eastern Kelowna. "How do we know you aren't one of 'em?"

"You don't," Jonas admitted. "But the Ori armies don't send scouts and they don't travel alone. Only priors do and I think you can tell that I'm not one of them."

Fenal had been ugly, made hideous by her transformation into a prior. The other priors he'd seen on Langara hadn't been quite as badly scarred, but Fenal would have been the only one anyone in these parts would have seen -- her pictures had been all over the newspapers when she'd visited the JRC. The radio reports had made her sound even worse.

"Jonas Quinn," another man said, sounding suspicious. "Couldn't you have come up with a more plausible name? Not one we'd know?"

It was all Jonas could do not to roll his eyes. "I could have, but it's my name and it hadn't crossed my mind that I'd be famous enough to impersonate."

In Kelowna City, everyone had known who he was, but he'd traveled in relatively small circles -- politicians, university faculty -- where everyone knew everyone (or of everyone) and that had made such a feat unremarkable. It hadn't really dawned on him until the war had begun that he'd been known beyond his little world.

"You're the one from the JRC?"

"A lifetime ago, yeah," Jonas confirmed. The light on his face moved up and down his body.

"It's him, I think," another voice said. "Remember his face in the paper. When there still was a paper."

The light stayed at his feet and Jonas blinked to get re-adjusted to the darkness.  

"You come all the way from the City?" someone asked him.

"By way of a few other places," Jonas replied. "Would it be too much to ask if we could move this to someplace with a seat and a drink of water? It's been a long couple of days."

They brought him inside what looked like a restaurant, lighting lamps although the place was obviously wired for electricity, and making sure none of the light escaped the heavy curtains over the windows. One of the men got him a large glass of water and he sat down to drink it. It was refilled and he emptied it again -- he'd finished his canteen before fleeing the SGC mission and hadn't seen any convenient places to refill it since.

"How long have you been without news from the outside?" he asked when his glass had been refilled a second time.

One of the men, dressed in a policeman's uniform, exhaled loudly. "Power's been out what, six weeks? Lambert came back from Thandon about a week after that... Five weeks, maybe."

Jonas couldn't help but laugh and the men, now identifiable as police and a few who were probably among the town leaders, stared at him. "Then you don't know that this is the last bastion of freedom on Langara."

He ended up explaining everything from the collapse of the JRC through the liberation of the indoctrination camp on the Terrania/Pagronne border Carin had helped effect that morning. It took him two more glasses of water and the rest of his energy.

Someone brought him a plate of food, fried eggs and sausage, fried chunks of the local potato, a couple of pieces of fruit in slices. He thanked the cook immediately, but it took him a minute to remember to lift the fork and actually begin to eat. He was tired, in both body and spirit.

The Konutians let him eat, some staying with him and others came and went. It sounded like they were either gathering people or giving orders to evacuate or maybe both. He'd come here thinking to tell them to flee, but he wasn't sure where they'd go that would be safe. Or at least safer than here.

"They coming before dawn?" one of the policemen asked Jonas.

He shook his head no. "Not unless they come by ship," he replied, gesturing up to indicate the sky.

"In which case we're in a bad way no matter what," the policeman said with a nod. "Orton here'll put you up for the night. Tomorrow morning we'll bring everyone together and figure out what we're going to do."

Orton turned out to be the man who'd brought him food, the owner of the restaurant. "Got an extra room upstairs," he said.

"Much obliged," Jonas told him.

After everyone else left, Orton took a candle and showed him to the stairs and then through the shabby-but-neat apartment above.

"You're dead on your feet," Orton said, gesturing to the bed. "I suspect you'll be the only one sleeping tonight, though."

"I'm sorry," Jonas said, sitting clumsily at the foot of the bed.

"Normally, I'd say there was nothing you could've done about it," Orton said, a crooked smile playing on his lips. "But since you used to be JRC and all, maybe you could've. Still, you came all the way out here to warn us and that's not nothing. I'll wake you in the morning."

Jonas took off his boots, socks, and shirt and fell back on the bed. The next thing he knew, there was a hand on his shoulder shaking him awake. There was light on the other side of the curtains; it was already past dawn.

"Town meeting's in an hour," Orton said. "Shower works, but cold water only. I can grab some firewood if that's--"

"That's fine," Jonas assured, rubbing his face and sitting up. "Thank you."

The shower wasn't that cold; the cistern was on the roof and the sun had warmed it enough to take the worst of the chill off. Jonas took the opportunity to rinse some of his extra clothes and then made it back downstairs where Orton made them breakfast before they headed off to the meeting. It was outdoors, at what was probably the public theater, and it was packed. Orton took a seat in the audience, but Jonas knew he had to go up to the front.

The meeting, run by the mayor, Garvey, with frequent elaborations from Jonas, was long. There was no good way to break the news that the entire planet was occupied by a force that had already slaughtered most of the people and would be working through the rest in due course. Or that they'd missed their chance at evacuation. Or that there might not be any more help coming any time soon. Or ever.

There were many in the audience who wanted to evacuate to the hills beyond the town and wait the occupation out, even after hearing that it might be years. "Our grandparents held off the Terranians," one of them said.

"This army's ten times the population of Terrania," Garvey returned. "We don't have enough ammunition for that."

Everyone seemed to want to know what Jonas thought, but Jonas wasn't sure what to say. Melting into the hills, at least short-term, would not be the worst idea. The army was definitely going to show sooner or later and, maybe, if they found nothing, they'd leave. Jonas wasn't overly optimistic about them actually turning around and going away, but this place had survived as long as it had because it was out of the way and an administrative hinterland -- the Ori being no different than the Kelownan central government in that regard -- and if they could at least stave off a massive occupying force, then maybe they could make a life by avoiding the lighter patrols. The alternatives were to either fight (they'd be slaughtered), submit, or flee to somewhere else entirely.

There were wilder suggestions, too, like trying to get to Bardos, which was a small island in the ocean off the coast of Kelowna, too rocky and too far from land to have any kind of permanent settlements.

"Could we make it to the stargate?"

Jonas made a face. By himself, the walk back to Kelowna City would take weeks. A parade of people, even without worrying about things like Ori patrols or who had control of the stargate, would take months. "Not likely."

"We could just do what they ask," someone said. "If we go along with them, don't fight, maybe they'll be reasonable."

"Doesn't sound like these Ori are anything close to reasonable," Garvey replied. But there was murmuring and Jonas knew that the idea had traction. Maybe there was even merit to the idea -- if the Ori were met by a welcoming committee instead of a naquadria bomb, maybe they'd be more merciful.

As the meeting wound down -- or, rather, in circles as nobody was prepared to leave before making a decision and no decision could be made, Jonas looked around for Dar, who was the chief constable in the town. "How far is it to the next village?" he asked.

Dar told him, explaining that it would be a day's walk or four hours on a bicycle; there were fuel shortages already and finding a car was out of the question. "Why?"

"I need to warn them," Jonas explained. "The corridor from here to the sea is all that's left."

With the argument still going round in the theater, Jonas got a bicycle and a guide named Everett, the most junior policeman. Jonas gathered his things from Orton's and they set off.

"What are you going to do when they come, Counselor Quinn?" Everett asked during a break before they scaled a mountain pass. Jonas had told him that the honorific was really not necessary and, under the circumstances, extremely ironic, but Everett wouldn't call him by his first name.

"Depends where I am," Jonas answered. "But I'm not going to bow down before them wherever that is."

Everett got him as far as the next town, Kansen, and to the mayor. From there, Jonas repeated the same scene as in Konut, except without being held at gunpoint first. They took it no better, raised many of the same arguments for staying or going or bowing down before the Ori, and Jonas again refused to make their decision for them. He suggested they send someone to Konut to coordinate any joint defenses or evacuations, and that he'd return there himself after going on to the last town, Meron, which was on the sea. He ended up staying the night in Kansen because it would take too long to travel and he'd get there well after dark. In the morning, he set out once more.

Meron was a glorified fishing village, never graduating to city status despite its river and sea access because the geography of the Kelownan coast made it easier for commercial shipping and vacation cruises to bypass the large bay in which it was located and make port further east and west. It was also completely deserted.

Jonas arrived with the sun high in the sky, tired from the bike ride up the hills that overlooked Meron even though it had all been downhill to the coast from there. He could tell from a distance that there was no movement and that all of the boats were gone from the bay, but figured it was like Konut in that they were hiding from strangers. Except that when he finally pedaled into town, there really was nothing going on. There were chains with padlocks on some doors, but all of them were closed and when Jonas knocked on a few, there was never an answer. He looked in the windows that were uncurtained and could see no signs of life.

"Well, I guess that makes it easier," he said to no one in particular. It made sense that Meron would have known what was going on and the two inland villages had not; Meron was no well-to-do port city, but they'd still have gotten news and visitors from up and down the coast.

Not relishing either the bike ride uphill or the return to Kansen, he decided to look around for a place to rest for a while, maybe to find something to eat that had been left behind. He tried doors until he found one that was unlocked and went inside. It was clean and while there were obviously things missing, it was a surprisingly orderly flight. The water was still running, so he cleaned himself up, found some canned food to eat, and was debating whether to stay the night here before heading back to Kansen when there was a shadow in the doorway. He reached for the pistol still at his waist.

"You should come with me," an old woman said calmly, as if she were used to stumbling upon armed, shirtless men eating beans out of a tin in a stranger's home. Or maybe her home. "We have a meal, all of us still here. We eat together so we don't forget what it's like to have people about."

"Where is everyone?" Jonas asked, putting his pistol back in its holster and putting down the tin of beans. His shirt was too far away to reach.

"Fled up the coast," the woman answered, gesturing vaguely west. "Hoping to outrun those Ori."

"How long have they been gone?"

"Two weeks, I think, but I'm afraid I've started to lose track of time," she said with a wry frown. "Nobody rings the church bell anymore and the shops don't open, so it's hard to remember when one week ends and another begins. I tried to keep track on the calendar at first, but then I think I skipped a day and then I decided that it really didn't matter. Time will go on until the Ori come."

She introduced herself as Gerta and asked his name, where he'd come from and why he'd ended up in Meron. He answered truthfully as he got his shirt and put on his socks and boots and gathered his pack. When they stepped outside, he went to get the bicycle, but Gerta told him that it would be safe where it was. "You're the first person we've seen since everyone left and there's no one here who'd be inclined to take it."

"Why didn't you go?" Jonas asked as she led him down the street. He offered to take her arm, but she declined with a headshake.

"I'm old," she said with a shrug. "I'm too old to live life on the run. I never liked going out in the boats. Strange, I suppose, living here sixty years. But I'm from the highlands originally and I'd never seen the sea until my husband brought me here. Didn't much like what I saw."

"What are you going to do when the Ori come?" Jonas asked.

"I'll see," Gerta said, sounding like she'd thought about it -- and that she'd been asked many times before. "I'll listen to what they have to say and if I like it, then maybe I'll sit in their church. If I don't, well, they can do with me whatever they want. I'm old and I've got no one left here who'd miss me."

Jonas had known this woman fifteen minutes and he was fairly sure that he would indeed miss her.

The communal meal was two blocks over, outside at a long table full of food. There were a dozen people there, all but three of whom were Gerta's age or older and two of those were clearly severely retarded. The last was a man about the age Jonas's father would have been if he were still alive and it turned out that the young woman was his daughter.

"She gets into a terrible panic in boats," Efraim explained. "There was no way she'd be able to travel with the others. So I sent my wife and our other children and, the One God willing, they'll be safe."

Jonas kept his silence; there was no point in telling anyone here just how bad things were in the rest of Langara or that the evacuees' chances were slim to none. They knew the Ori armies would come here, understood the choice they faced, and had all, more or less, made their decisions. In the meantime, they cobbled together an existence. Efraim took are of the fishing and heavy labor, his daughter Ada and Keef, the teenaged boy, were capable of directed work like gardening and cooking and cleaning, and the senior citizen portion of the population did what they could. Jonas didn't ask where Keef's parents were or why he hadn't been taken along.

The meal was friendly and Jonas, as the only visitor in three weeks, was peppered with questions. He was vague where he had to be, but admitted that things were very bad in the cities and that the Federation had taken the worst of it. But the war turned out to be only a small part of the conversation. Keef asked if he'd ever seen a spaceship and Jonas let himself be drawn into telling stories of riding in different spaceships and even visiting other worlds. He suspected the adults thought he was making things up, but Keef's and Ada's excitement and curiosity were clearly appreciated. This was a very sad life here, Jonas understood. They were waiting for a doom that they couldn't, for whatever reason, outrun and he suspected that that was no less depressing than the uncertainty of everyone else, even if the conditions were nicer.

Efraim had a working car and offered to drive him back to Kansen the next morning. Jonas agreed and Ada got very excited about the prospect of having someone else to wash and cook for, even for one day.

It was foggy and damp when Efraim picked him up from the house he'd slept in overnight. Ada and Keef were in the car, too -- "they love riding around in it and I can't usually find an excuse to drive them anywhere" -- and Keef helped him tie the bicycle to the rear. Efraim had asked Jonas to keep Meron's abandonment quiet, since he didn't want anyone from Kansen knowing -- he couldn't defend the town against poachers and while they were doing all right with supplies now, it would be hard to manage if things were stolen. Jonas gave his word and, when asked by Kansen's mayor if he should contact Meron the way he'd done with Konut, Jonas told him no, that they were well into their own preparations and not inclined to cooperate.

"They've always been like that," was the disgusted reply. "Always on their own for their own, nobody else."

Jonas bicycled back to Konut with some of the Kansen aldermen; the two towns were going to combine resources, although they hadn't yet decided to what end. They were going to stay and fight, Jonas thought, and while part of him wanted to stay and help, he wasn't sure if he was ready to watch the resultant slaughter. And dying to defend the last bit of free Langara would get him no closer to finding Zina.

He stayed two days with Orton and then took off with fresh supplies, clean clothes, and the hollow feeling that came with bidding farewell to people who didn't understand how little time they had left. His plan, such as it was, was to head back to Kelowna City. Zina would be there if she were anywhere; the Ori hadn't been moving people from the cities. He honestly didn't know if she was still alive; his instinct was that she would have told the Ori soldiers to go fuck themselves and paid the cost for her unbowing refusal. But sometimes he thought she might have held out, gone along for as long as it took to find him, and that she was in one of the indoctrination camps waiting for that moment. He didn't know how much of that was wishful thinking or just a coping mechanism to get him through this nightmare that his life had become. He loved her as he'd never loved anyone before, but there was no magical thread that connected them and while he could close his eyes and see her face and hear her voice, her brave words were only ones he imagined for her.

The bicycle lasted him two weeks along his haphazard route from the northeastern shores southwest to the heart of Kelowna, but eventually he ditched it because he was moving into more populous territory, closer to army garrisons, and he could no longer justify staying on the roads. He moved south for a couple of weeks to avoid getting too close to the cities and towns that dotted the transportation routes and then to avoid having to get too close to Syrali; Zina wouldn't be in the camp there as it was already receiving people from all over central Kelowna. If anything, they'd be moving people west. Even from a distance he could see Syrali lit up at night, some actual lights and most holy fires. It made the place look foreboding, which was appropriate but sad nonetheless. There was a railroad line that ran from the southern end of Syrali to Kelowna City's eastern reaches; it was for commercial shipping and it would probably be safe to follow and it would also allow for easier passage through the mountains that ran between Kelowna's two largest cities. In a car, he was a long day's drive away. By foot, it would take more than a week if he wanted to be careful.

When Mitchell had been talking of pausing operations, he'd been clear that they would resume them, even if they were less effective than before and had fewer resources to support them. But it had been more than a month since he'd abandoned the SGC mission, even by Earth time, and there'd been no return. His subcutaneous tracker had been uncovered the entire time and they wouldn't have even needed to land to find him; he had no doubts that pulling him in for a dressing-down would've been at the top of everyone's list. But there'd been no angry recall, no suddenly-appearing teammates past or present. Nothing.

Langara had been left to its fate.

Jonas wondered what Carin and Vin and the others thought, whether they were angry or resigned or had simply given Langara up as lost. Or even if they were still alive. There had been seven of them left when he'd defected -- Tal had gone off on his own almost from the start and Elev had died during one of the Terranian raids -- and they could all be gone by now. A month was a long time when the galaxy was falling apart and, while he didn't think about it too often, Jonas knew that other worlds were mirroring Langara right now. He felt bad for them, but they were elsewhere and he was here and he vacillated between anger and resignation and cold fury that his world had been left with only him to stand for it.

The empty towns and villages he skirted were both mockery and inspiration. This far from the main battlefields, the destruction was smaller-scale although by no means minor. There were, at least, no bodies lying in the streets although there were signs that they once had been.

He was caught by a patrol in some tiny hamlet that was a distant suburb of Kelowna City; he'd gone in to the wealthy village to get food and maybe some extra clothes -- it was getting colder with the turn of seasons and the southward direction and his own were starting to fray and tatter. He got himself trapped in a house, given up by a pitcher he'd dropped on a stone floor, and while he'd managed not to get himself killed in the resulting firefight with the soldiers, he'd been no match for the prior.

He remembered little of his actual capture, a gap of unknown duration lay between his seeing the prior and the swift kick to his ribs that woke him, face down, on a cold floor.

"Welcome, Jonas Quinn," a woman said in an almost musical voice as he struggled to push himself to sitting, if not standing. The soldier who'd kicked him did nothing to help.  "We have been waiting for you."

He was expecting a prior, but instead he was faced with a beautiful young woman in splendid, colorful robes. He looked around and didn't recognize his surroundings, nor the crowd who watched him. He stood up, stumbling, unwilling to be seen humbled before an Ori queen.

"You are in the Cathedral of Nirai," the young woman went on. "Re-consecrated, of course."

"Only place you left standing," he said quietly. His head pounded like he'd been drinking too much the night before.

"The only place that saw the light of Origin for what it was," she countered. She'd been seated on a throne -- he had no idea if it had once been part of the bishop's furniture -- but now she stood, skirts rustling quietly as she did. "Which brings us back to what to do with you."

"Not interested, thanks."

"I think you are interested," she said. "It's why you didn't leave with the others, why you came back in the first place."

He shook his head. "That had nothing to do with you and your carnival. At least not beyond getting it to move on."

She laughed, a beautiful sound despite everything, and stepped gracefully off the small dais, walking slowly toward him so that each footfall echoed uniquely. "If ever there were a religion tailor-made for the agnostic Jonas Quinn, it would be Origin. What other faith rewards learning for its own sake, cherishes intellectual brilliance as its own achievement instead of punishing it, seeks to aid its followers in whatever quest for knowledge they seek instead of forbidding curiosity lest their fragile godhoods be revealed for the lies they are? You've always followed the Light, Jonas. From Kelowna to Earth and throughout this galaxy and then back here; you just didn't recognize it for what it was."

"So you know I've seen this act before. The Goa'uld, remember?"

A delicate hand waved his words away and she smiled at him, girlishly, like she had a secret she knew he'd love to hear. "The Goa'uld were parasites who paid the price for their pretensions. We are ascendant and unstoppable because the Ori are the true gods. Look around you, Jonas. Where are Tevi and your One God now?"

Tevi was the Terranians' god of protection and safety. He'd stood taller than the others on Zina's altar.

A well-appointed soldier came in, made a bow, and approached the young woman, speaking quickly and quietly by her ear. She nodded, said something back, and he departed as silently as he'd arrived. "You must be tired from your journey and you are most certainly the worse for wear," she said with a gracious smile. Whatever she'd been told hadn't ruffled her feathers. "We shall continue this conversation later."

He was half-led, half-dragged from the hall to a cell in the basement, presumably a monastic cell before it had become a prison. Inside was a dressed mattress, a set of folded clothes, a pitcher and basin, and a tray of food. And a Book of Origin, written in Kelownan.

He was in the cell for three days and nights -- he could tell the passage of time by the tiny window near the ceiling -- with regular food, no abuse, and not a single word spoken to him by anyone. He slept for most of it, but ate, washed, exercised, and read the Book the rest of the time. He'd read it last year, when Fenal had first shown up, and remembered it all, but so much had happened in between then and now that a refresher couldn't hurt. The Ori worshipers he'd met were very big on precise quotations.

On the fourth day, the cell door opened up not at a mealtime. "The Orici wishes to speak to you," one of the guards said.

It wasn't until they'd climbed back up to the throne room that he'd realized that the pretty woman was the Orici.

"When you have let the light of Origin into your heart, Jonas, I may even let you call me Adria," she said with a sweet smile.

The conversation was essentially a repeat of the first one, with slight variations allowed for Jonas's refreshed ability to quote chapter and verse and the Orici's insistence on confusing his eidetic memory with latent belief in the soundness of Origin.

This went on for four days to no decisive end or, in Jonas's opinion, to any real purpose. But on the fourth day, the Orici did not end their session with her usual assurance that his conversion would be assured at some point in the indeterminate future.

"Tomorrow," she said. "Tomorrow we shall have a breakthrough, I think."

When he was returned to his cell, he was not alone when the door locked behind him.

"Jonas!" Zina cried out, jumping to her feet from where she'd been sitting on the mattress and racing into his arms. He held her as she wept, not bothering to wipe away his own tears. Finally, as she was winding down, he pulled away far enough to get a good look at her without letting go. She was a mess from her crying jag, but otherwise looked good. Thinner, a little too much so, but healthy and clean and not like she'd been plucked from one of the squalid camps -- at least not recently. She was dressed in foreign clothes and, regaining her composure a little, she picked at the puffy sleeve of her dress.

"I feel like the character in an old play," she said, trying to smile. "The women on the ships wear clothes like these."

"You were on the ships?" Jonas asked, surprised.

Zina nodded. "I don't know how long. It was weeks, though. They have entire cities on board -- families and children. Oh, Jonas, they've stolen so many of Langara's children!"

"I know," he said, kissing her forehead. "Do you know why you were taken to the ship instead of a camp? Or did they do that with a lot of people?"

She led him back to the mattress and sat down, waiting for him to join her before answering. "They took me from a camp. Just me. I didn't know why, but I suspected it was because of you. They never said your name, never asked me if I knew where you were -- I didn't even know you were alive! -- but I couldn't think of any other reason. They want to use me against you."

"Yeah," he agreed, feeling nauseated just at the notion. He'd done so much to find her and now he almost wished he hadn't.

"Well," she said, taking his hand in her smaller ones, "we'll just have to come up with some way around that."

They spent hours sitting together, holding each other and telling the stories of their time apart. The last time they'd seen each other, it had been in passing a couple of days before Jonas had been captured near the Elx River. He'd never known when their neighborhood had come under Ori control or if she'd even been there when it had (she had been, along with the other doctors and nurses who'd stayed with the wounded). He told her about his escape from the camp and to the stargate and that he'd returned with Tau'ri assistance. Mindful of the possibility of prying ears, he also understood that he wasn't saying anything that the Orici didn't already know -- she'd confirmed during their chats that she was aware of everything he'd done since his return to Langara.

A tiny part of his mind wondered if Zina could be a double agent, if they could have turned her, but he put the thought out of his head with disgust. He loved her too much and trusted her too much to want to consider it at all, but on the more practical side, she didn't press him for any information that would help the Ori -- she asked him no questions about what he'd done on Earth or how the SGC was faring or even who had helped him on Langara. He considered it just as intentional on her part as his own omissions were -- Zina was not incurious by any stretch of the definition.

When the guards turned the lights out, they prepared for bed. Jonas assumed they'd either talk or sleep, but Zina had other ideas.

"Let them listen," she said when he protested. "Let them take movies if they have the technology. They've locked two married people in a dark room together with a bed as the only furniture. We haven't seen each other in months, we didn't even know the other was still alive, and I want to. You never used to care back in my apartment on Grace Street."

"That was just your nosy neighbor," Jonas pointed out half-heartedly. He wasn't really that interested in saying no.

The next morning, as they dressed for the day, he came to a decision.

"You should kill me," he said.

"What?!?!" Zina turned and stared at him, hands still in the intricate tangle she was making of her hair. "Did you go mad in the night, Jonas? Why would you even think of such a thing?"

"They're going to threaten me with your life, Zina," he explained, sitting down. He'd spent half of the night thinking about this, about how they could possibly emerge from this unscathed. He'd failed to come up with anything else. "They're going to make me betray everything and everyone to save you."

He'd been wondering ever since his capture why they were bothering. They should have killed him after the first time he'd refused to bow down before the Ori. But they hadn't. Instead they'd tried to convince him and, when that had failed, they'd moved on to compulsion.

"They'd been tracking me for months," he went on when Zina didn't say anything. "They were watching my every move and didn't step in even when I was helping thousands of their future disciples escape. And then they found you and took you so that they'd have something to use for leverage. This arrest now wasn't random and it wasn't good fortune on their part -- at least not all of it. They need something from me and there are only a few guesses as to what it could be."

There was nothing here that would let him do the deed himself. He couldn't cut himself with a spoon and there was no place to hang from.

"Jonas," Zina sighed, finishing with her hair and crossing the room to where he sat on the mattress. She knelt down across from him, her skirts billowing out to cover his feet, and reached out with her hand to cup his cheek. "Just because it's a horrible choice doesn't mean you don't know the right answer."

"Zina!" He pulled away. "Do you--"

"Also," she went on, ignoring his protest, "it's extremely selfish of you. You can't possibly think that I'd willingly help you commit suicide. Or, gods forbid, murder you. And, beyond the little drama in this cell, you can't save Langara if you're dead."

"So I should just let them kill you?"

Zina was tearing up now, but she smiled. "I'm supposed to be dead already," she said simply. "I'd made my peace with that in the camps. I'd stick it out as long as I could, hoping to find you, but not to the point where I actually had to swear to anything. I knew you'd understand -- you wouldn't like it, but you'd understand."

She shifted so that she was sitting next to him on the mattress.

"That time would have been long past if I were anyone but your wife," she went on. "I'm a pawn here. I've understood that since they brought me to their ship. And that left me two choices: play the part they assigned me or make the most of this awful situation and see that everything isn't lost. My everything is you and Langara, Jonas. Don't screw up my attempt at being a big, brave hero."

They sat there in silence for a while. Zina looped her hand around his arm and leaned her head on his shoulder and they sat. He was reeling, struck by Zina's seeming acceptance of the situation and her part in it.

"They're not going to make it easy on either of us," he said. "They're cruel for its own sake."

"I know," Zina replied, not moving. "I saw it in the camps. We're not people to them, not until we take their gods in earnest. Until then, they're just cleaning up a polluted world and we're the garbage."

"I don't want to be responsible for your death."

Zina picked her head up and looked at him pointedly. "So you'd rather I kill you?"

He rolled his eyes to acknowledge the illogic of it. Not illogic -- unfairness.

"It won't be your fault," Zina said, resettling her head on his shoulder. "None of this is your fault. Not this here, not the last months, not the Ori on Langara at all."

He chuffed a laugh and thought of Vin, wherever he was. "I've been told that before."

"You obviously didn't listen," Zina replied. "You don't believe it."

"Got told that, too."

"For a man who forgets nothing, you have terrible retention skills," she said. "We're going to have to work on that in whatever time we've got left."

He thought of Gerta and Efraim and the others in Meron, waiting patiently for their bitter end. He'd initially thought that Zina would have been frustrated by them, by their resignation. But he'd thought wrong. Or at least he'd failed to recognize acceptance when presented with it. It grated on him nonetheless -- not because he'd been wrong, but that Zina was accepting. She should have been angry at him, angry at the situation, desperate to live. But she wasn't.

The guards came for them both after lunch. The Orici, thankfully, didn't pretend that this was anything but what it was.

"I've tried to be reasonable, Jonas," the Orici said with a frustrated sigh as she descended from the dais. Today she was dressed in brilliant crimson, orange, and gold. The colors of blood and fire. "I've tried to explain to you how much the Ori have to offer you, how rewarding obedience to them would be -- rewarding in ways that you would appreciate best. But I was sounding the wrong note, wasn't I?"

The Orici had been standing in front of him, but then she turned and made a slow circuit around Zina, her bright, reflective skirts contrasting against Zina's dull blue and gray ones. Zina stood impassively, or at least pretending to such.

"Here's the deal," the Orici began, coming to stand in front of Jonas again. "Accept the Ori as the gods they are and serve them willingly, or she dies. Painfully. While you watch."

Jonas might have smiled or laughed, he wasn't sure. But whatever he did, it got a reaction from the Orici.

"Do you doubt my words?"

"No," he answered simply. "But I'm not sure how this plays out. If I drop down and say 'Hallowed are the Ori' and, somehow, you think I mean it, what about Zina? She's not interested and you're not in the habit of accepting firm refusals."

The Orici smiled. "Firm refusals, no. But the Ori can be... gracious in their leniency. We can give her time to change her mind."

"How much time do I have?"

"A week," the Orici said after a moment's pause. She looked at Zina thoughtfully and then at Jonas. "Hasty decisions are always regretted and this is not one that should be given anything less than full consideration. The choice cannot be unmade, after all."

Jonas looked at Zina, who looked back with so much in her eyes, until the Orici came between them.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked. He knew, more or less, but he wanted to fully appreciate what was at stake. He wanted Zina to hear what was at risk. "Why not send us on our merry way back to where you stick all of the other non-believers?"

A disappointed sigh from the Orici, who made a face of disgust. "I've been trying to maintain some semblance of decency and decorum in what is truly a sordid situation," she said. "But if you'd like to be coarse about it, we can: we feel that you are too valuable to be a victim of your own gross stupidity."

The Orici moved so that she stood in front of her throne. "We are, contrary to popular belief, not interested in genocide. But it is most difficult to offer mercy and grace and freedom when so many agitate against the truth. The galaxy will be ours whether or not you help us, but it would save time and lives if you did."

When they got back to their cell, Zina went to the far corner from the door and sat down on the floor in the same position she used to pray in. There was no altar, but Jonas knew that wasn't strictly necessary. He left her to do her thing, going to the mattress and sitting down. He closed his eyes and reviewed the 'conversation' with the Orici and how that changed any of the calculations he'd already made.

The Ori wanted him to help them destroy Earth, which he'd more or less assumed -- they certainly didn't need him for anything related to Langara. There was no other resistance organized enough or powerful enough to even register as a threat to the Ori save the one spearheaded, however haphazardly, by the SGC. And with the Orici aware that he knew his way around the galaxy, that he'd know likely allies and hiding places and even tactics, he'd be an invaluable resource if they could only just harness him -- by making him trade information for Zina's continued life. The Orici had presented it like a one-time deal, but it wasn't. It would be endless extortion until either they got what they wanted or until he had nothing left to give.

He was still angry at the SGC for abandoning Langara as lost when there were still people to save and when so many were still willing to fight their occupiers -- with a little time and training, there could have been a meaningful resistance. But he wasn't angry enough to hand them, and by extension the billions on Earth, over to the Ori for slaughter. It would doom the galaxy forever. He just wasn't sure he was ready to pay the price to keep that from happening. He'd considered stringing them along with little bits of innocuous information, details that wouldn't directly imperil Earth or its forces, but he had no way of knowing which details really were innocuous -- he hadn't known that Belote was a key world; he could accidentally send the Ori to another crucial outpost -- and he wasn't sure what they'd do with the extra time. Trapped in a cell and moved only under heavy guards, escape was unlikely, especially the both of them together and it was unlikely that either of them would be trusted enough to be moved somewhere that made it less of a longshot. All the more so with no one to help them either on Langara or anywhere else.

Fingertips on his cheek and he opened his eyes to see Zina. "You're crying," she said.

"Thinking," he corrected, as if they were mutually exclusive.

"Not much to think about," she said wryly. "It's the same lousy options as before. Unless you're thinking of a way to spirit us out of here, in which case I'll leave you to it."

She made a move to sit back, but instead he pulled her forward so that she fell against his chest. "I'd give anything for that now."

The tracker was still in his shoulder, but there was nobody to look for it.

"What were you thinking about?" Zina asked into his neck.

"About whether I could bluff our way out of this," he answered.

"It would be a dangerous game," she said, shifting so that her legs lay across his. "Giving them little lies when all they want is the truth... The Ori are like toddlers. They want what they want when they want it. They don't take 'no' well. They don't take 'later' well. And then they throw tantrums when their instant gratification is delayed. They want worshipers, but they really need a nursemaid. And a spanking."

Jonas smiled despite himself.

"It would also be a dangerous game because of its precondition," Zina went on, beating gently on his chest with her fist to make sure he was paying attention to her warning. "The first step is that you accept the Ori as gods. Jonas, I'm not sure you even know how to do that, let alone fake doing it well enough to pass muster."

"I respect your gods," he protested.

"You respect my belief in them," she returned. "That's not the same thing. And it's even worse with the Ori because you know they're not really gods. You get a look on your face when you know you're being lied to; this would require much more than hiding that dimpled smirk."

"If it would save your life, I'd manage." He kissed her hair.

"I don't want you sacrificing the galaxy to buy me a stay of execution," she said after they'd been quiet a moment. "It sounds so ridiculous to say, but it's the truth. If you give them what they want, even by accident, you won't save my life. The Ori will destroy the rest of the resistance, take over the galaxy, and then kill me for being an unbeliever. The Orici has got it all wrong. You wouldn't be saving lives, especially not mine."

He thought the Orici was actually right, but for a past phase of the war and not the current one. At the start of things, the SGC had probably gotten more people killed by trying to get them to stand up to the Ori than if they'd let the planets fall without a protest. Daniel had admitted as much. But now, when the only planets left still free were the ones who weren't interested in Origin, the only lives saved by betraying them would be those of the Ori soldiers who'd have to fight and die to win the worlds for their greedy masters. And Jonas was manifestly uninterested in their welfare.

"Why are you so level-headed about this?" he asked. "Why are you calm when I'm falling apart?"

He almost asked why she was so willing to leave him behind, but thought better of it.

There was no answer for a while and he wondered if she hadn't heard his unasked question anyway.

"I've had weeks to grieve," she finally said. "Months, even. Once the war began, once it was obvious we'd lost, I knew my time was limited. First in the camp, then on the ship... Once I understood that this was when and where it would happen? I cried, I begged the gods, I offered them things in trade that were not mine to offer, and when they refused my plea, I tried to accept it. I was angry, believe me. But I have made my peace with this slowly, over time, and not without pain. I'm calm now only because this isn't a surprise to me."

The week passed too quickly. Nobody summoned them and they saw only the guard who brought their meals and retrieved their tray. They stayed entwined with each other, talking, sleeping, making love, crying. They had one argument, started by Jonas because he'd started suggesting ways to get around the Orici's conditions and Zina had told him to let it go and he'd refused.  On the last night, after Zina had dozed off, Jonas pondered smothering her himself to save her whatever pain the Orici would inflict. He'd be no less responsible for her death either way. But in the end he didn't; it would be taking her own choice away from her and he'd hate himself all the more for that.

"I want you to promise me three things," Zina said later that morning. She'd done her hair carefully, a complicated design similar to what she'd worn on their wedding day, and was now brushing the wrinkles out of her dress. "Jonas?"

"I'm listening," he assured, although he found it hard to concentrate on anything.

"First, I want you to remember me as I am now--" she gestured to her face and body "--and not as how I end up. I know it's going to be horrible and--" she broke off, on the verge of tears, and took a deep breath while shooing him away. "I know you don't forget anything, but please remember me looking happy and healthy. Okay?"

He nodded, knowing that that would be hard, at least for the first while. The Orici hadn't been making an idle threat.

"Second," she went on, ticking off the number on her fingers, "I want you to find happiness where you can. With whomever you can. I don't want you being one of those widowers who stay faithful to a ghost they're sure would get angry if they so much as looked at another woman. You've got enough personality quirks and don't need another. And I'm not the vengeful spirit type. If you see an opportunity, go for it. Just... not before next week."

He laughed, even though it came out as mostly sob. "I can't even think about that," he told her. "Definitely not by next week."

"That's fine," she agreed, wiping away her own tears. "But that's not fine in a year or so. Something in your life besides science equipment and guns, okay?"

She was planning on him having a long future in a time of peace and he couldn't make himself tell her that he didn't see that happening.

"Third, and this is the one that's going to require the most work, I want you to pray for me."

He looked up at her and she smiled. "I know -- I'm about to meet my end because we won't bow before some false gods and here I am asking you to pray. It doesn't have to be to your One God, you're obviously not very attached to him. It doesn't have to be to mine. It better not be to the Ori. But I want you to find a god -- or gods -- you're willing to have faith in. You've always had an awfully limited concept of the divine; I want you to open your mind a little and maybe your heart. Will you at least try?"

"How can I not?" he asked. "But I'm pretty sure I've never felt more godless than I do today."

"And that is precisely why I'm making it a final request," she said, leaning forward to kiss his forehead.

The guards came after a lunch neither of them could eat.

"I think the last of my courage just ran out," Zina whispered as they were walking up the stairs. Jonas took her hand in his and glared at the guard who looked to separate them.

The Orici was waiting for them and stood as they entered.

"I had so hoped that time together would make you reconsider," she sighed. She was wearing the same robes as the previous week, standing in the sunshine cloaked in fire and blood. "This is not what we wanted. This is not what you want. There is no reason for this tragedy to take place."

Jonas looked over at Zina, who stood, terrified, between two guards. She was crying, tears running down her cheeks, and it was all he could do not to fall to his knees and shout out "Hallowed are the Ori."

"Don't you dare," she whispered.

He felt it first as a prickle, like standing too close to a generator or just before lightning stuck, and then it grew so that it felt like every limb had fallen asleep at once. He tried to move but couldn't. Across the room, Zina must have felt the same thing; her eyes were wide with surprise and fear. She was saying something, but while he could see her lips move, he couldn't hear the words.

The Orici stood between them. "Let it be done."

The fire started at the hem of Zina's dress, a perfect ring around her, and stayed there for what felt like forever before starting its slow climb up the full skirts. Zina was crying harder now, but she was still speaking, never stopping, and it was a little louder now, loud enough that Jonas could tell that she was praying in Terranian.

"You can stop this whenever you want, Jonas," the Orici said in an encouraging voice. "This doesn't have to happen."

Zina screamed the first time the flames touched skin and Jonas thought he might have as well. He was completely unaware of anything but what was happening to Zina. He might have begged or pleaded or cried out Zina's name, but whatever he did or said, none of it was "Hallowed are the Ori" because the nightmare didn't stop.

He knew he closed his eyes at some point because he felt a firm grip on his chin and his eyelids forced open. "No," the Orici hissed. "You will watch."

Zina cried out for him, the only word he could make out as she shrieked in agony. His eyes started to blur from tears he couldn't blink away; it was too small a mercy.

When it was over, the Orici let him go from her spell and he fell to the ground, unwilling and unable to stand, and vomited.

"We can restore her," the Orici said in his ear as he knelt in a heap. "We can undo it all, bring her back. All you have to do is accept the truth."

"No," he whispered. "No."

He was half-dragged from the hall, leaving behind the ash and bone that had once been his beautiful wife, and tossed into his cell.

The next days were lost in a haze of grief and guilt. He slept badly and woke screaming -- every time he closed his eyes, all he could see was Zina burning; he forced himself to eat and then threw it back up; he was dragged before the Orici and offered to have Zina restored to him if he'd only agree that the Ori were gods. He wasn't sure how long it went on -- maybe four days, maybe more. But then one day, on his way back down the stairs from his audience with the Orici, one of his guards stumbled and dropped his weapon and, in the crush of the narrow staircase, Jonas felt himself snapped back into place. He pushed the crouching guard into his companion, decked the third holding his other arm, and ran from the fourth, who chose to fire his weapon rather than take a flying leap over the others. He fled down the stairs, turning off at the main level instead of continuing on to his basement cell... and made it only a few steps as the nave had been transformed into some kind of administrative or command post full of military.

There were eight who escorted him back up to the Orici.

"You're ready to be moved, then," was all she said.

His new home was on one of the carriers; he was given an expansive room with large windows and luxurious appointments. It looked like a suite at the gaudy hotel he'd once stayed in in Syrali, not like a prison. But a prison it was. He was not locked in, instead kept under constant surveillance by a team of minders, two men and two women who took turns sitting in his room and just outside it. They didn't initiate conversations, but would speak when spoken to -- although rarely anything but the usual Ori pap -- and were permanently, nauseatingly pleasant no matter how angry or frustrated he got. He was free to take meals in the common hall and go for as many walks as he liked so long as his minders came, too. He took many walks, mostly at what passed for night on a spaceship so there'd be fewer people staring at him, and tried to learn the layout of the ship and how it all worked.

The carriers were floating cities, something he'd known since the beginning, but he'd underestimated how much they were like cities -- there were families on board, women and children and toys and none of them seemed to be aware that their husbands and brothers and sons were outside slaughtering millions of people. Or if they knew, they didn't care.

"We must cleanse the world of impurities," A (he knew their names, but just called them by letters derived from their original order of appearance) said. She made it sound like changing bed linen. "Those who deny the truth are obstacles to enlightenment."

Jonas avoided theology when he could. He stared out of windows, took his walks, tried to watch and learn from any piece of equipment or weaponry that he could observe, and exercised. He was still waking himself up from nightmares, but C and D, the ones usually around when he slept never asked him who Zina was or what had happened to her. They never asked anything at all except for the time B came in to find him prying a panel off the wall to see if he could get a look at the circuitry beneath.

"What are you doing?"

"Alleviating boredom," Jonas answered, not looking up from where he had gotten an edge up high enough to slip his fingers underneath. He'd been working on the panels in the bathroom, which were of different construction, but there was only so much time he could dedicate to that at any one point and it was a small sample size in terms of what he'd found underneath.

"Idle hands create only mischief," B said sternly. "Please do not continue."

"You're going to have to work a little harder than that," Jonas replied, feeling around for the next joint pin.

He'd gotten the entire panel off and was examining the wiring by the time B returned with a quartet of soldiers.

"If you're bored," the commander he'd been escorted to said, "you should occupy yourself by reading the Book and contemplating its wisdom and how it can be applied to your own life."

Jonas laughed, a little hysterically to his own ears. "I've learned all the lessons it has to teach me."

He started at the beginning of the Book and got through five chapters before the commander had him escorted back to his room, shouting out the verses all the way. They were a spectacle, him and his guards, with the shocked passersby unsure if he was ecstatic with new love for the Ori or simply mad. Jonas was sure it wasn't the first, but he was beginning to wonder about the second.

The panel was back in place when he returned to his room. So was A, sitting quietly at the small table with her needlepoint. He went straight back to the panel, getting it off more quickly this time because he knew how it attached, and then the next one.

This time, he earned himself a visit to the Orici.

"You are becoming a disruption," she said.

"So do something about it." He meant it as a challenge, not caring about the consequences. They were no longer on Langara and he could no longer help her; he felt a bit remorseful for that -- for failing his world, for letting Zina's sacrifice be even the slightest bit for naught -- but not enough to care about what happened to him.

"I was hoping to avoid this," the Orici sighed. "Or at the very least delay it until we were planet-side."

Jonas found himself on his knees before he could even formulate any kind of response. He felt the same tingling as before, but tried again with no avail to move his arms and legs. Unlike last time, his head was also immobilized and he couldn't look down or around, couldn't look at anything but the Orici.

He felt the warmth of fire.

Slow, at his knees and along his shins, warmth that became heat that became excruciating. He was sweating, his eyes were tearing, and he had blood in his mouth from biting his tongue to keep from screaming. The heat and pain moved up, increasing in intensity, and finally he screamed because it was that or black out. Higher it climbed and he wondered if this was how Zina had felt at the end, but then he could think of nothing but the pain and just let go, dimly aware that he was still crying out.

And then it stopped.

The Orici looked at him smugly. "I will not foul my chambers with the ashes from your polluted form," she said as he gasped for air... that did not smell of fire or burned flesh.

He looked down, realized he could move, and scrambled to his feet, unsteady as a colt. There wasn't so much as a singe mark on him, even though he still felt the pain of being burned all through his legs.

"We will do this again -- for real," she promised him with a small smile. "We will have a nice talk. And you will finally give me the answers I want to hear."

"Burn me as you did Zina," he told her, his voice hoarse from shouting. "The Ori aren't gods."

The Orici laughed, like he'd made a witty joke. "I'm done trying to teach you the error of your ways," she said. "I'm just going to take by force what I'd hoped you'd grant me in friendship."

When he was returned to his quarters, A was still there.

"How long until we get where we're going?" he asked her, peeling off his sweat-soaked shirt and balling it in his fist. He knew it would make her uncomfortable to see him standing there half-naked and he was feeling a little powerless and petty.

"Two days," she answered, head averted. She stood. "I shall return when you are changed."

She swapped places with B, who gave Jonas a rueful frown and sat down heavily. Jonas went off to shower.

He took long showers on the carrier, partially to make up for the weeks of sponge baths from a basin in his cell and mostly because it was the only place he had any privacy. Today, he spent extra time examining his not-burned flesh, which still hurt when the hot water hit it, and trying to come up with some sort of plan for the next two days. He wasn't afraid of dying as Zina had, but he was afraid that he'd break first. Whatever was going on in the galaxy, Earth hadn't been defeated yet or else the Orici wouldn't still be interested in whatever was in his head.

"I'm going to get something to eat and then take a walk," he told B once he was dry and dressed again.

His first days on the carrier had been spent walking almost constantly; he'd been restless after being in a cell for so long and eager to test the boundaries of his invisible leash and hadn't wanted to be alone with his thoughts. So he'd walked for hours, doing circuits on each deck, and they'd let him so long as he didn't walk too far ahead of his minders. He'd learned the layout of the carrier, how to tell whether you were headed fore or aft, and how some of the basic systems worked. He'd also learned that, like any other space or sea ship, Ori carriers needed constant maintenance and had large crews dedicated to upkeep and repair. He'd watched the crews, trying to pick up anything he could about what they were fixing and how, and his minders had generally let him so long as he neither interfered nor asked questions. He did the same now, watching a crew of five attempt to diagnose and repair some aspect of the air filtration system. They were being careful and not taking anything offline, which Jonas took to mean that they couldn't, which in turn meant that this was a part essential for the life support of the entire ship. He wasn't sure how useful that would be, especially running out of time as he was, but it wasn't unimportant. And, judging by A and B's complete disinterest in either the repairs or his own attention to them, they had no idea.

He walked the entire length of the ship, taking note of what else was being fixed and how the mood of the people changed or not as they approached their destination. They'd made stops before, occasionally staying in orbit in space but usually entering the planet's atmosphere. (He hadn't recognized any of the planets they'd visited, at least not positively.) Depending on whether the purpose was warlike or because the Orici had business to attend to, the atmosphere changed from content to a preparatory kind of tense. Tonight, he noticed the energy level was up and people were moving with more purpose. There were men carrying bits of armor around, which wasn't unusual in that repairs were made and drills were scheduled even in transit, but there were more of them and the armor was being carried differently. This was going to be a planetary assault, not a royal visit.

Which might mean that Jonas had more than two days before his torture appointment, but probably not much more than that. The Orici might wait for the main fighting to be over to take him outside and burn him to death, but she didn't have to wait for total submission.

The next day was the same, except for his panel-related adventures and their various consequences. C and D, apparently having been warned of his misadventures, had been more vigilant than usual, but he'd slept for most of their shift -- actually slept, which he hadn't done in so long he'd almost forgotten the feeling of waking up refreshed instead of groggy. A and B accompanied him on three separate walks around the ship (air filter taken care of, unexplained power fluctuations on the port side of the second residential deck, a couple of water leaks), but on the third trip they forbade him from going down to the deck that had the great halls -- giant spaces that were used for special prostration sessions (there were smaller ones on each deck) or, in this case, for troop formations.

They arrived early on the second day, spending a few hours in orbit for reasons that Jonas was not going to get the answers for before breaking orbit and heading down to the planet's upper atmosphere. Jonas could see well enough from his window and could tell that the planet was pre-industrial, which only meant that it would be over faster. The carrier circled over population centers for a while, and while he was in the wrong part of the ship to see the carrier firing, he knew from the smoke and fires below that it was. There were spaceships in the air, a few Al'kesh and some others that he couldn't recognize and Jonas rode the surge of hope that came with realizing that this planet was being defended by others, maybe (probably?) including the SGC, before tamping it back down. The SGC weren't the only resistance forces and, even if it was them out there, there was no reason for them to think to remotely activate his tracker. Or even to be interested in rescuing him should they know he was there.

The carrier landed and he could watch the divisions march off to begin the ground component of the war. There was nothing to do but wait, since he was never allowed to wander around the ship while the soldiers were away at war.

It took longer than he'd originally expected, but he'd ruminated on that while he waited and realized that this was probably one of those deceptively tricky planets that only looked like a push-over -- maybe they were like Langara and had some powerful natural resource that had been harnessed by either the Goa'uld or one of the other 'great races' or maybe they had excellent defenses -- otherwise, the Ori probably wouldn't have saved it until near the end. A frequent sprinkling of hamlets and a pyramid to the Goa'uld didn't require at least two Ori carriers and should have been over by the end of the second day at the maximum. But it was four days before the soldiers started returning in shifts and two days after that that Jonas was escorted to a cargo carrier and flown to wherever the Orici had chosen to park her throne.

Having breathed only the carrier's filtered and recycled air for the last month-plus, the humidity of the planet was refreshing. At least until the point when the sun rose high enough to make it sultry and uncomfortable. He was put in a makeshift cell on an upper floor of what had most definitely been a Goa'uld temple once upon a time. Which made him wonder why they weren't putting him in a real cell, since he'd never heard of a Goa'uld structure larger than an outhouse that didn't have a prison in it. But he wasn't, instead simply left in a large, bare room with lots of sun through unglassed windows and a complement of guards to make sure he didn't go anywhere. Including out the window; he was at least ten stories up and it would have been suicide to jump. Something his guards were clearly aware of as a possibility; they stirred every time he got too close and pulled him back the one time he tried to lean out and look around.

He wasn't sure how long he'd be here; the Orici was, for better or for worse, very good about following through on her promises in a timely fashion. It turned out to be one day; he was summoned early the following morning after an uncomfortable night trying to doze on the dusty stone floor.

"In the interest of fairness, I'll give you one last chance," she said. Today was a blue dress, he noticed idly. Not her usual outfit for burning people. "Accept the Ori as true gods or die."

"The Ori aren't gods," he replied. "They're just a race of beings who've let their abilities go to their heads. I'm not worshiping crazy people just because they're non-corporeal."

The Orici smiled. "Are you trying to bait me, Jonas? Hope that I'll smite you for your outrageous blasphemy before we get to the interactive learning portion of the program? You'll have to work harder than that. I've heard an amazing breadth of invective during the course of this campaign. You aren't even trying."

"Wasn't aiming for witty banter," he said jauntily. The imminence of it all was oddly invigorating. He was going to die, there was nothing to stop it from happening, and he felt almost giddy with the knowledge. The Orici had already taken everything from him that had ever mattered and, on the verge of losing the rest, he felt free. "Was hoping to avoid it, actually. If you'd like, we can go straight to the part where you burn me alive."

"Very well," she said as he felt his knees buckle and the by-now familiar buzzing in his limbs. "Where is the Tau'ri stargate?"

Jonas smiled. "On Earth. Next question?"

"Jokes won't make this go any faster, Jonas," she said, looking unamused. "In fact, it'll make it take longer, since I'll have to ask the same questions over again and make sure you're alive to answer them. Where on Earth is the Tau'ri stargate?"

"I have to admit," he said, "that you guys can't find stargates absolutely puzzles me. That much naquadah and in such an unsubtle form and you can't find it without directions. Didn't your cousins build the things?"

He could feel heat along his shins and knees, as he had last time, but he knew it was real today. It wasn't hot enough to burn, but it was warm enough to serve as a warning.

"Where is the stargate, Jonas?"

He smiled. Absolutely out of nowhere, an old nursery rhyme popped into his head, one about a prince who went looking for porridge all over his kingdom and he started singing it, low and to himself.

The Orici, all traces of humor gone, asked again. And again.

With each refusal to answer, the warmth became heat became embers became flame. He started reciting the Kelownan alphabet, then the Terranian, then the Andari. He had to concentrate on them, focusing on trying to see each letter in his mind, as the pain grew in intensity. He could smell his own flesh burning and the sweet smell made him choke. The pain was no longer localized; his entire body sang with it and he screamed. He tried to imagine a letter, Kelownan or Terranian or English or Ancient and he couldn't, couldn't think of anything but the pain and of Zina. He saw her death in his mind with a clarity he'd not been able to muster at any point since it happened. And then he saw nothing but red.

"Answer me, Jonas, and this all stops," the Orici said. He didn't know how she'd gotten so close, didn't care. He told himself to hold out just ten more seconds and then he'd tell. Ten more seconds and he might have told, but he couldn't speak, couldn't breathe, couldn't think clearly enough to stop screaming long enough to gasp for air. The pain was everywhere and everything.

And then it was nothing.

"Jonas? Jonas, are you awake?"

Groggy, he turned toward Zina and tried to open his eyes, which felt glued together. "What's the matter?" he meant to ask, since she sounded worried, but he couldn't get more than the first syllable out and then was glad he didn't because it wasn't Zina. It was Sam Carter.

He felt his heart break anew.

"Hey," Sam said, face an image of concern. "You were beginning to worry us."

"Beginning?" O'Neill asked sarcastically from somewhere out of Jonas's field of vision. "We passed that point months ago."

Sam told him he was on Earth, at the SGC, that he'd been mostly healed by a Goa'uld device, although there'd still be some scarring, that they'd found him by accident when SG-16 had stormed the temple with a local resistance force, that he'd been beamed aboard the Daedalus still on fire and he'd nearly died from shock, that he'd been out a week even after both Vala and Sam had done their best with the Goa'uld device. He had to be retold all of this twice, as he fell back asleep the first time and got interrupted the second time by Carin rushing in to the infirmary, blowing by the nurses and nearly flattening Dr. Lam, just so she could threaten to kill him herself next time he pulled a stunt like that.

He was besieged by visitors, at least that's what it felt like, and ended up asking Dr. Lam for an early release just to get away from everyone. Not that he phrased it like that. She understood anyway and told him he could have a furlough during the day, but to report back at 1800 and she'd make her decision then.

The Mountain was not a good place to wander idly, but he managed by staying clear of the floors with the team rooms and far away from the gate room and Landry's office. He had no destination in mind, no goal beyond making himself a harder target to hit, but was completely unsurprised to find himself at Teal'c's door.

"What did you do when you realized Apophis wasn't a god?" he asked when Teal'c invited him in. It wasn't the question he'd necessarily wanted to ask, but it seemed better than 'what do you do when you've lost everything you believe in?'

"Sit," Teal'c said, gesturing to the rug on the floor. The candles around the room were already half-lit. Jonas did. Teal'c lit the rest and joined him on the floor.

During his stint on SG-1, he'd tried joining Teal'c in a Kelnorim session, mostly because it had been novel and because Teal'c had invited him and because he'd wanted so very badly to make a good impression when O'Neill still openly resented him and nothing else was going well. He'd never had any luck with meditation before and he hadn't then. His mind had been all over the place, fidgeting while his body couldn't. It had felt like misery.

This time, it felt like peace.

He didn't know how long they were sitting there, but it ultimately didn't matter. When there was a knock on the door and Teal'c rose to answer it, Jonas stayed where he was, enjoying the stillness within.

"Hey," Mitchell began. "You busy? I was thinking we'd move that coordinating meet.... oh. Sorry. Didn't realize I was interrupting. You really need a 'do not disturb' sign on the door when you're Kelnoriming."

"We can meet now if that is your preference," Teal'c said.

Jonas opened his eyes, exhaled and prepared to stand.

"You do not have to leave, Jonas Quinn," Teal'c said, holding out his hand in a halt gesture. "Take what time you need."

Behind Teal'c, Mitchell leaned forward; he wouldn't have seen Jonas from the door. "Hey, Quinn," he said. "Crap. I am so getting you a sign."

Jonas stood up and waved to acknowledge Mitchell. They hadn't really spoken since his return beyond the perfunctory bedside 'welcome home.'

"I'm good," he told Teal'c. "I should get going anyway. If I don't eat something, Dr. Lam's never going to let me out."

A deep nod from Teal'c and Jonas smiled (grimaced, maybe) at Mitchell as he passed him on his way out the door.

"Hey," Mitchell said, grabbing his arm as he moved by. "I just... We didn't part well back then. I was angry at you because I didn't want you risking our operation by ending up an Ori prisoner, but the fact is any of us would have done the same thing if it had been our home planet. So I'm sorry for forgetting that. And I'm sorry it wasn't enough."

Jonas wasn't sure if he was ready to think about all of that yet, but it was a heartfelt apology from Mitchell, so he took a deep breath and nodded. "Thanks. And, for what it's worth, I'm sorry for risking another mission doing it."

Mitchell nodded. "Go eat. Carolyn'll have you for dinner if she finds out you skipped lunch."

Jonas went up the commissary, picked at his food enough to make a dent, and then continued his wandering. He debated going down to the labs, but he'd probably run into Sam and she'd want to talk and so he ended up walking over to Astronomy and sat in the dark room with the hemisphere screen hanging from the ceiling and watched the stars.  

Dr. Lam released him but told him that he was going to need a psych evaluation before they'd let him go either to the surface or through a wormhole, so they scheduled one for three days hence. He'd been assigned quarters already, that much he knew, but he didn't know where and Dr. Lam ended up having to call Master Sergeant Jefferson, who was Walter when Walter wasn't on duty.

He'd been assigned the same quarters he'd lived in during his time on SG-1. On the table were a trio of meditation candles, a lighter, a roll of tape, and a handwritten sign that said "Kelnorim in Progress: Do Not Disturb."

The debriefing began at nine the next morning. It was a smaller group than Jonas expected; Generals O'Neill and Landry, SG-1, Major Benoit from Intelligence, Carin (wearing an SGC uniform with SG-19's patch on her arm), Colonel Porter from SG-3, and Colonel Zernhoff of SG-16. Jonas asked if Vin could join them and was told that he'd been killed three weeks ago on P2C-257; the SGC had lost a dozen SG-team members in twice as many days.

"Oh," was all Jonas could say.

He started at the beginning, which was his decision to go AWOL. Nobody really dwelt on that past Landry extracting a promise from him not to do it again. He only made it up to his capture in southwestern Kelowna by the time they broke for lunch because he'd told the stories of Orton and Gerta and Efraim and it hit him that they were all either dead now or in the indoctrination camps learning to hate.

Once O'Neill called a break, Carin grabbed him before anyone else could and dragged him off to the commissary, picking a two-person table that couldn't easily be added to. She told him about Vin and his death, about the others in their band (a few dead, the others working with the ever-growing refugee population), about how angry and hurt and jealous they'd all been when Jonas had disappeared. She told him about her first time to the surface and how sometimes she thought Earth looked like how Langara might have been if the three nations hadn't spent the last three millennia trying to destroy each other. She told him about SG-19 and how she wished she'd been with them before the Ori came because every time she went through the wormhole to a new world, it was all wondrous and special -- until the incoming fire started.

"I used to hate the Ori for destroying Langara and all it was and could have been," she said, stabbing viciously at a chunk of watermelon. "Now I hate them for so much else, too. They've come and killed potential -- the whole concept died with the first prior."

She didn't ask him about any part of his story coming up. She didn't ask him if he'd found Zina.

"Eat," she told him. "I get the feeling you're not going to be in the mood to later."

He ate.

The rest of the story was... difficult. It turned out that Daniel and Vala were well acquainted with the Orici -- Vala said she'd birthed her, which Jonas didn't take literally until the whole business had been explained -- and her single-mindedness. He told them that the Ori had been watching him, had held Zina as blackmail, how she'd refused to let him entertain the idea of saving her, how she'd died and he'd watched. He told them of the Orici's offer, but left out his own pain, which was irrelevant to the story. He told them of his time on the carrier, how he'd learned enough about its functioning to possibly be useful to the SGC, and what he knew of their stops and the battle for PX3-595. He told them of his fake immolation on board the carrier and then the real thing a week later.

"So it seems we owe you a debt of gratitude," Landry said when he stopped talking. "But I don't think it's one we could ever repay."

Carin was right; he didn't feel like eating afterward. He went for a long walk and then back to his room and was debating whether to try meditating again when there was a knock on the door.

"Hi," Sam said bashfully. She was holding a large crate. "You up for dealing with other people?"

The crate contained some food -- milk, bread, yogurt, a large container of tropical fruit salad -- along with a tablet computer and a cardboard box full of junk.

Of the tablet, Sam explained wryly that he didn't have his security clearance back yet, so it was just full of ebooks, movies, and a few games. Of the junk, she explained that it was all Ori junk. "Parts, odds and ends, a few small gadgets. I'm not sure how much will be familiar to you, but you might want to play around with it."

Jonas put the food in the small refrigerator, the tablet on his nightstand, and left the box of junk where it was.

"I'm sorry for everything you went through," Sam said when he'd returned to where she was standing by the table. "I've been doing this for more than a decade and I can't even imagine what that was like. Zina sounds like she was an amazing woman and I guess we all owe our lives to her. And to you."

"She was amazing," Jonas agreed. "I'm sorry I don't have a picture of her to show you."

He was, deeply. Zina lived only in his memory now -- there was no one else left who'd ever seen her or met her. If he died, it would be as if she never were.

"Me, too," Sam said. "But you have one in your head, right?"

Before his own immolation, whenever he'd thought of Zina, even when he'd tried hard to picture her from their life before the Ori, he inevitably flashed back to her gruesome end. But since then, even in the hazy dreams of his recovery, he only ever saw her healthy and alive and smiling.

"Yeah."

"I've got to go," Sam said, gesturing over her shoulder. "But if you're bored tomorrow, come down to the labs. I'll hook you up."

"What about my security clearance?" he asked.

Sam waved her hand as if to dismiss the question like smoke. "That's paperwork. You're you."

At least one of them was sure.

He did go down to the labs the next morning. Sam had set aside a whole room for him, currently cluttered with projects and debris that others had abandoned and they hadn't yet cleared away. "I was going to offer it to you after the Langara mission," she said with a shrug. "I knew Cam wasn't going to let you just disappear into the fog once it was over. But you did and so it got used for storage. Take a look around -- everything's labeled -- and see if there's anything that interests you. Nobody'll bother you."

Nobody did, at least until the afternoon, when Daniel stopped by.

"The extension is listed wrong," he said, gesturing to the phone on the wall. "I won't tell anyone."

Jonas had spent the day sorting and cleaning. He didn't mind the busywork; it kept him from thinking about anything too much. The abandoned projects were of varying interest and he'd set aside a few that he thought he might like to work on once he'd gotten up to speed.

"What do you need?" Jonas asked, since he didn't think Daniel was stopping by just to chat. They'd been connected since the beginning, which was different than having a connection, but that difference was fading as years and events brought them more in sync. That said, if Sam and Teal'c were his friends, Daniel was still more just someone he had an increasing amount in common with.

"Some follow-up questions from yesterday's debrief," Daniel replied. "If that's okay with you. I know Major Benoit's going to have a million technical questions, but..."

Jonas shrugged. He'd known that there would be more questions; he'd seen too much to be covered in a single day's storytelling. "Sure."

Daniel's questions were about people, mostly. About the villagers Jonas had warned before the Ori had arrived, about the people in the camps before they'd been freed, about life on the carrier and the social structure as he'd witnessed it. "If we're ever going to have any luck de-programming people, especially those who were forced converts, we need to understand how their lives were changed beyond the obvious ways. What, if anything, they're getting out of Ori worship beyond 'not dying', how Ori worship affects things like familial relationships and community ties. And so forth and so on. With the Goa'uld, it was pretty straightforward, but the Ori have a much more developed theology that they've tied into everything from self-worth to commercial dealings. Not only have we had no luck converting the people brought over from their home galaxy, but we're doing a crap job with people from here who've been under Ori control for any extended duration."

Jonas remembered the notes and files he'd read during his last stay on Earth. "Deserts bloom and the Goa'uld are gone forever and there's peace and order and prosperity," he said. "It's hard to argue with paradise."

A grunt of acknowledgement from Daniel. "What I don't understand is why people from places that suffered most are among the most stubborn. Places that were hit early, just by a single prior, and converted, sure. They've seen more blessing than curse. But otherwise?"

"It's easier to forget what happened," Jonas said. "It's easier to believe that everyone suffered for a reason, that the priors are right and those who died deserved it because they were 'impediments.' Because the alternative is that you're collaborating with a horrible enemy for your own personal gain. Even if that gain is just 'staying alive,' it's more than those who chose to die got. Nobody wants to think that they chose the less honorable option."

The last sounded uncomfortably close to self-examination and Jonas frowned because Daniel had clearly picked up on that.

"Survival's not always the less honorable option," he said.

"No," Jonas agreed. "But when you feel guilty, for whatever reason, however unjustified, it certainly seems like it is."

Daniel gave him a look that clearly indicated that they were both far too experienced to be talking in abstracts like this.

"You're staying, right?" Daniel asked. "I think everyone's assuming that you will. But they assumed last time and, well."

"I haven't thought about it," Jonas replied. "I'm certainly acting like I plan to, but that's more just me doing what everyone tells me to do and going along with the already-made plans because I don't have my own. But I have nowhere else to go and I can't think of anywhere else that I have the potential to do as much."

He almost said 'do as much good,' but that seemed a little ambitious.

"Think about it," Daniel said, standing up. He pushed the stool he'd been sitting on back under the table. "It's not home, but it can be a home. At least until the Ori finish with the rest of the galaxy and come here, at which point everything's up for grabs."

Nobody at the SGC talked about that much, at least in front of Jonas.

"I will," Jonas promised.

His psych evaluation the next day was as unintentionally hilarious as he'd expected, but apparently laughing uproariously at being asked if he thought his experiences had changed him any was not a sign of mental instability and so he was restored to his old security clearance -- the one he'd held with SG-1, not the lower one he'd had once he'd returned to Langara.

There was no talk of putting him on an off-world team and Jonas didn't ask for a place; he wasn't ready. He spent his days in the lab, learning everything he could about Ori tech, learning more about Ancient tech -- with his clearance came knowledge of the existence of the Atlantis station and its work -- and trying to get used to having freedom and friends. He meditated with Teal'c, collaborated with Sam, and got marched, along with Daniel and Vala, to the range by Mitchell because Cam thought their marksmanship skills perished at a higher rate than 'normal' people. He took his long walks on the surface, which annoyed both the SFs on garrison guard duty and people who were looking for him downstairs, but everyone got used to it in short order and that's why Carin knew to look for him by the grassy area in the southern part of the base when she wanted to go out to eat. Trying not to laugh at Landry's flustering when he'd realized that two Langarans had gone out into Colorado Springs without any Earth personnel to accompany them (nothing had happened to out them as aliens; Carin had picked up enough Earth mannerisms and jargon to pass), Jonas realized that he was much more alive in his skin than he had been in a long time.

feed me on LJ?


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26 July, 2008