Life on Mars & A for Alpha

by Domenika Marzione

Life on Mars

The first refugees come from Galar.

"Not the planet we would have picked if we were making a list of worlds most likely to benefit from our blood and treasure," Colonel Mitchell says with a shrug when he briefs Elizabeth. "But the Ori are making stranger bedfellows. They work hard, though, and they can use our toys with only a little training."

The Galarans become lab assistants, nurse practitioners, cooks, and tailors.

Rodney, to Elizabeth's surprise, treats the arrivals to his departments as gifts and not burdens. "It's like having grad students," he explains cheerfully over a working lunch, seemingly the only kind they ever have any more. "They can handle the basic stuff, which allows everyone else to focus on the more complex projects. When they've done enough servitude, we can pat them on the back, give them a poofy hat, and then dump three times the work on them and expect it done in half the time."

The Galarans in the kitchens and laundries are those whose most meaningful skill before Atlantis had been survival; not everyone came from the academies or the hospitals. Some Atlantis's new residents used to be artists and teachers and civil servants and Elizabeth is still trying to figure out how to accommodate their backgrounds with Atlantis's needs. She may be trying too hard -- Carson tells her that they cannot sacrifice the morale of the many to accomodate the possibly bruised dignity of a few and Yoni Safir pointedly reminds her that the situation is not unique to Atlantis, that the surplus of Russian émigrés in Israel could mean concert violinists turn into bus drivers and nuclear physicists become plumbers in order to have a place in a free society.

"We have physicists as plumbers," Rodney says. "And triple doctorates as pit crew for the jumpers. This is a sanctuary, not Paradise Island."

"At least we let them live in the city," John says, not looking up from his french fries. "We make the Pegasus refugees stay in the backyard."

Nobody has anything to say to that.

Elizabeth is grateful that Teyla is not at the lunch and horrified that she feels that way. She schedules a meeting with Teyla for that afternoon, seeking both advice and absolution -- have they really been so blindly colonialist in their choices? Teyla assures her that nobody has been offended, that the people of this galaxy are grateful for Atlantis's generosity and, if anything, must accustom themselves to even the notion of another society offering protection from the Wraith. If the people from Earth's galaxy are ignorant of the Wraith and unable to subsist on their own, then it would be cruel to force them to do so anyway just to avoid the impression of favoritism.

It is the answer Elizabeth wants to hear -- that Teyla has not been seething privately -- but not for the right reasons.

When the next group of refugees arrive, Elizabeth welcomes them, feeds them, and gently explains that while they will be given time to adjust and recover, everyone must eventually find a place either within the city work force or out on the mainland. Not everyone is from planets as advanced as Galar; Atlantis suddenly has a trade labor force and unskilled workers when the joke used to be that "unskilled" meant anyone without a doctorate.

Economics has taken the same kind of existential beating that every other discipline has suffered and Atlantis isn't prepared for such a shift in demographics -- there used to be either scientists or military and now they've got half a dozen strata where there used to be just two. Their simple economy, subsidized by Earth, is no longer simple and no longer subsidized. There isn't a lot of griping about allocation of resources or social status because the shock of war is still immediate, but this accommodation will not last forever.

Elizabeth spends hours caucusing with the social scientists, trying to come up with a rule set that can guide them in this uncertain present and unknown future. And then trying again after the military contingent pokes holes in their trial balloons, repeating over and over that Atlantis cannot expand past the point the marines can effectively protect them.

As frustrating as these sessions are, as much as Elizabeth would like to say that John and Lorne and the captains are being too conservative and too unwilling to think creatively in a situation where the only solutions exist outside of the box, she can't simplify like that. Atlantis is not just a sanctuary from the Ori -- they are also a target of the Wraith. Who are not inclined to give Atlantis a break to reorganize and who cannot, under any circumstance, learn that they are importing people from the Milky Way. It won't be a secret they can keep forever -- the Genii picked up soon enough when they got back in contact with Earth the first time -- but it is one that they must necessarily keep for as long as possible.

M9J-442 doesn't look like much at first -- the marines call it Mars because of the reddish dusty dirt -- but it grows into something that looks more promising than a shanty town. Which is essentially what it is, although Elizabeth eventually stops being so ashamed of it as Teyla's pride grows in the project she is helping supervise.

Beyond the dry plains by the stargate, there are grassy fields that Botany assures them will produce good crops once cultivated and ample supplies of fresh water and hardwood and near-deer. The farming will take time to develop, but pre-fab housing -- shipped to Pegasus years ago for reasons nobody ever learned -- and the quickly-rising wood-and-mud buildings allow them to move people out to settle the place right away.

Initially, the only people on Mars are the ones responsible for developing it -- laborers and engineers -- and the marines who serve as police and protectors beyond that afforded by the jury-rigged shield over the stargate. But then Life Sciences asks for permission to base an outpost there so that they can do the sort of long-term studies that are impossible with the marine-escorted day trips they're used to. And then Engineering wants to build one as well, something about needing workspace away from Atlantis's energy fields -- Elizabeth couldn't even follow Radek's dumbed-down explanation. And soon the civil engineers are re-designing the irrigation and sewage plans to accommodate a larger permanent and commuter population.

"We've gone and done what NASA couldn't," John announces as he walks into her office one afternoon. "We've settled Mars."

A for Alpha

The call from the control room came at 0345, a shocked Lieutenant Paik telling him that they had an incoming wormhole from the Milky Way with a valid IDC and refugees. By the time John makes it down there five minutes later, the gate room is full of scientists, piles of equipment crates, and -- perhaps most importantly -- marines.

Not all of the marines are in good working order, however, but Paik has apparently called down to Medical and there are doctors and gurneys pushing their way in from the north doorway. A marine covered in dirt and blood maneuvers his way past the crates and dumbstruck civilians to John.

"Alpha Company, First Atlantis Battalion, reporting for duty, sir," he says, saluting. "I'm Captain Armstrong, sir. I don't know if you remember me."

John returns the salute. He had met Ryan Armstrong a few times, back at the SGC when they were still trying to get the battalion stood up. But that was almost three years ago and the man in front of him doesn't look much like the squared-away marine in a service uniform John only vaguely remembers.

"This isn't how we wanted to get Alpha Company," he says, extending a hand to Armstrong, who shakes it. "But welcome aboard."

"Thank you sir," Armstrong replies with a complicated expression. "Frankly, I'm a little surprised we made it. Just let us know where we'll be bivouacking, we'll drop off our gear, and we're ready where you need us."

John chuffs a sad laugh as he looks around for either Lorne or Elizabeth, preferably both. He doesn't want to have to deal with all of the civilians and gear by himself. "Stand down, Captain. It's oh-dark-thirty here and all we're going to do tonight is get everyone fed and quartered. How many marines did you bring?"

"Eighty-five, sir," Armstrong replies, obviously relieved. John doesn't know what kind of a fight it took to get this group to a stargate, let alone one that could dial Pegasus, but it was clearly a major one. "Plus two corpsmen. We've got forty-one civilians from Earth, three from Orban. We started out with more of everyone, I'm afraid, but getting to the gate was harder than we'd anticipated."

John nods. "You did well," he says, meaning it. He doesn't know what the original numbers were, but there's no sense of defeat here, even among the wounded and scared.

"Colonel?" John looks up toward Elizabeth's voice. She's moving through the control room toward the top of the steps, apparently having stopped off in her office first. She doesn't look like she was woken up at four in the morning.

He waits for her to descend, then introduces her to Armstrong. The guy's exhausted and this'll save him one iteration of his story. Elizabeth greets him with due solemnity and then starts asking the practical questions -- how, who, what, why. The how turns out to be blind luck -- an experimental energy source that turned out to actually work.

"Most of the civilians were part of Colonel Carter's tech groups, ma'am," Armstrong explains. "They're doing real high level work. We'd been hiding them on Kheb, but the Ori found us. Didn't even land -- just started bombing from upper atmo."

The urgent cases have been whisked off to Medical and the walking wounded are being herded toward the door, so the gate room is starting to thin out to merely 'very overcrowded' from 'mosh pit.' John finds Lorne in the sea of humanity and gestures for him to join them.

"So you dialed Atlantis?" Elizabeth asks, surprised. "That's quite a leap of faith in your charges, captain."

John's surprised, too -- desperate times call for desperate measures and he has survived more than his own fair share of long shots, but he's curious why Armstrong would try for a Hail Mary pass when a simple handoff to another planet would do. Getting to the stargate in the first place was obviously the bigger problem.

Armstrong grimaces, then looks behind him. The only other person in proximity is Lorne, who joins them with a nod.

"I had a standing order that the scientists weren't to fall into Ori hands, ma'am," he says, waiting for the realization to hit Elizabeth's face. When it does, he gives her a sad shrug. "That doohickey of theirs was nowhere near ready for testing. I owed it to them and to my marines to let them try to beat the odds. And they did."

John looks at Lorne, who grimaces back. Neither of them is shocked. Nor, for that matter, is Elizabeth and John feels worse for that than his own unfazed reaction.

"Well, then, Captain, I'm all the more glad you're here," she tells Armstrong seriously.

There's a clatter by the stargate and they all look over, but whatever it was has been resolved without incident. The uninjured civilians are sitting on the crates, waiting to be packed away like their equipment while the marines stand uneasily at rest.

"I'm also going to suggest that we leave any other discussions until the morning, when everyone is rested and comfortable," Elizabeth goes on. John suspects that Armstrong and maybe his lieutenants are the only ones who know about the SGC's order, about how close they'd come to having to kill their own people. The debriefs in the morning are going to be complicated. "Colonel, Major, I assume there's room in Little Tripoli to accommodate our newest citizens?"

"Rooms'll be a little dusty, ma'am, but we can get everyone racked out right away," Lorne replies.

The barracks have entire floors that are unoccupied, which is usually a recipe for mischief among the leathernecks. John knows that Polito is floating around somewhere and he'll probably have marines swabbing decks already.

"Very good," Elizabeth says with a small smile. "Captain, why don't you introduce me to a few of the scientists so that we can do them the same favor and then I'll let you take care of your marines."

Armstrong leads Elizabeth off and John turns to Lorne.

"Hell of a thing," Lorne says, shaking his head. John wonders if he's thinking about when they got Reletti back. He nods in agreement.

McKay and Zelenka have both been woken up and are already talking to the scientists and directing marines -- not the new ones -- to bring the crates down to Engineering's domain. The crash of another dropped crate draws everyone's attention.

"If that energy thing of theirs works," Lorne begins, then trails off. He doesn't need to finish the thought aloud. If it works, then it could mean so many things. It could maybe even turn the tide against the Ori -- or against the Wraith. It could allow them to better protect Atlantis or it could even allow them to help free Earth. But John hasn't spent the last few years around Rodney and not picked up on how just because something beat the odds to work once doesn't mean that it'll work again.

"Yeah." He comes down the last two steps and pats Lorne on the shoulder as he moves past him. "C'mon. Let's go put our boys to bed. We've got a long day tomorrow."


feed me on LJ?

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5 April, 2008