Qui Habitat:Prologue

story by Domenika Marzione | art by Ileliberte

Psalm 91 (Vulgate: Psalm 90)
Qui habitat in abscondito Excelsi in umbraculo Domini commorabitur
dicens Domino spes mea et fortitudo mea Deus meus confidam in eum
quia ipse liberabit te de laqueo venantium de morte insidiarum
in scapulis suis obumbrabit tibi et sub alis eius sperabis
scutum et protectio veritas eius non timebis a timore nocturno
a sagitta volante per diem a peste in tenebris ambulante a morsu insanientis meridie
cadent a latere tuo mille et decem milia a dextris tuis ad te autem non adpropinquabit
verumtamen oculis tuis videbis et ultionem impiorum cernes
tu enim es Domine spes mea Excelsum posuisti habitaculum tuum
non accedet ad te malum et lepra non adpropinquabit tabernaculo tuo
quia angelis suis mandabit de te ut custodiant te in omnibus viis tuis
in manibus portabunt te ne forte offendat ad lapidem pes tuus
super aspidem et basiliscum calcabis conculcabis leonem et draconem
quoniam mihi adhesit et liberabo eum exaltabo eum quoniam cognovit nomen meum
invocabit me et exaudiam eum cum ipso ero in tribulatione eruam eum et glorificabo
longitudine dierum implebo illum et ostendam ei salutare meum

Six Months Ago

"-- a little inconvenient."

Elizabeth took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Rodney, I'm sure Colonel Sheppard isn't trying to make your life more difficult."

An off-world mission proposed by Engineering had been rejected three times by succeeding ranks of military officer, starting with Captain Polito and ending with John, who had apparently rejected it on the basis that no amendments had been made from earlier versions and he trusted the judgment of his junior officers.

"No, he's not trying," Rodney agreed easily, losing none of his irritation. "It's just a side effect."

Things had been tense for months in Atlantis, ever since it became clear that the Ori were winning, taking over the Milky Way galaxy with increasing momentum and decreasing opposition. There had been hard choices made and harsh words spoken; in the end, however, it wasn't the contingency plans and the rationing schedules and the possible necessity of shifting research emphasis from exploration to self-sufficiency that was causing the most friction. It was the fact that they were light years (and one wormhole) away from a home that could be lost -- would be lost, barring a miracle -- and they were unable to do anything but wait and wonder. It was bringing out the worst in everyone, herself included.

"I'm going to tell you the same thing I'm going to tell Little Tripoli," she said with as much patience as she could muster. "The name of the game is 'compromise.' You know this, Rodney. If you want them to give a little, you have to be prepared to give a little, too. Especially now."

She knew Rodney knew this. She knew John knew this, too. It was that the two of them were arguing past each other -- again. John and Rodney were as much a terror working against each other as they were working together against her.

"I don't see why we have to give anything here," Rodney retorted. "This is the sort of mission that wouldn't have even required a full escort before. Even with the -- somewhat overbearing -- new system, this is still a mission where I'd be comfortable letting the personnel go out without an escort at all. And don't think I haven't considered it."

It was mostly bluster, of course, but perhaps not entirely. Rodney was neither feckless nor foolhardy, even as his time on Earth had... not necessarily made him braver, but had made him less risk-averse.

"The marines aren't comfortable with their ability to protect the science team with the logistical requirements put forth," she said instead of challenging Rodney's dare, not wanting to risk him actually following through. The marines would never let him, but it would still result in a spectacle she wanted to avoid. "You want to have your people in the best position to do their jobs and that's what Colonel Sheppard wants, too."

The simple fact was that John would have readily approved the mission if there'd been even the merest appearance of going along to get along on the part of Engineering; he often went out of his way -- out of his marines' way -- to get Rodney what he needed. All John wanted in return was some visible sign of cooperation... and Rodney, firmly believing in the importance of the mission, had refused to give in on any point.

Rodney was winding up to protest some more, but Elizabeth held up her hand. "Listen, Rodney," she said a little louder than she needed to in the quiet office. "All you have to do is pack one or two fewer cases of equipment and I'm pretty sure the proposal will get approved. There has to be something on that manifest that isn't so very crucial that it can't wait until a follow-up mission."

Elizabeth knew the course of this argument like she had once known the Beltway back in DC, the roundabouts and jughandle turns that involved driving a long distance to go a short way. And so it was that when it came time to revisit her reactions and emotions of this afternoon (something she would do far more often than she'd like) she would remember that they were somewhere between the first and second parts of Rodney's response, right around where Rodney was revising history so that he'd emerged the victor, when everything ended. Even if they hadn't realized it at the time.

She had stopped reacting to the alarm for an incoming wormhole long ago, shortly after the stargate had been turned from vault door into a revolving one by the importation of hundreds of marines and scientists eager to get in and out of the city. First she'd stopped running down the stairs to greet the arrivals, then she'd stopped getting up to go watch from the catwalk outside of her office, and finally she'd stopped hearing the blaring alarm at all. And so she hadn't shifted her attention from Rodney until Lieutenant Osgeny appeared in the doorway, looking pale for reasons that had nothing to do with his recent injuries.

"Ma'am," he began, a stiff nod at the door, waiting for her to allow him entry. She did and he stepped forward. "Doctor Weir, Doctor McKay. We've received an encrypted message from Earth."

Once confidence had started to slip back in the Milky Way, once it had become obvious that this fight wasn't going to go the way of previous ones, there had been quiet decisions made regarding emergency protocols. What to do if various crucial events occurred -- if the Odyssey or Daedalus were destroyed, if the SGC had to be abandoned (or destroyed by either the Ori or their own hands; they were not going to let the Mountain fall into enemy possession), if the regular lines of communication between Earth and Atlantis were severed, if Earth fell.

The doomsday protocols (Elizabeth refused to give them the privilege of capitalization either in her emails or in her mind) were mostly military in theme and execution -- rally points, evacuations, the gathering of resources (men and munitions), attempts to contact allies, the order of importance of the destruction of crucial technology -- and among them were ways to warn Pegasus that the fight had been lost.

Rodney had at first been smug that Sam Carter had proposed following his actions for when Atlantis had been besieged: when everything else failed, a compressed message would be sent from Earth. It would require using all of the naquadriah and naquadah generators at Cheyenne Mountain and it would probably brown out the entirety of El Paso County, but it had a better chance of working than any of the other last-ditch proposals. (Certainly after the Odyssey had been destroyed by the Ori and the rushed-into-service Apollo copenhagened by the Jaffa.)

That a message from Earth was coming now meant only one thing: Earth was about to surrender to the Ori.

There was a moment between Osgeny's words and when Rodney stood up. Elizabeth, numb with the news as well, stood as well. "Thank you, Lieutenant," she said. "Please summon senior staff for a command meeting in twenty minutes."

With an "aye aye, ma'am," Osgeny made his obeisance and left.

"Oh, god." Rodney looked at her, heartbreakingly lost in a way she hadn't seen him since the news about his sister, his argument with John forgotten completely. And then the man who'd solved so many impossible puzzles reappeared. "I'd better go get started on what came through. Sam and I never discussed what sort of encryption she'd use and it's probably so compact that it's virtually solid... Sam. Do you think--"

"I don't know," she replied. SG-1 had been effectively disbanded since before Teal'c had been killed and while they saw Colonel Mitchell during the Daedalus's infrequent visits, they hadn't had direct contact with Sam Carter in months. There was a good chance that Sam was dead and that someone else had sent the message. But she didn't want to say as much even though she knew Rodney was clearly already assuming it as fact.

Rodney was good in a crisis, far better than he realized, but only when he could be distracted from his own panic and that was a near thing right now. John's preferred method of handling that was to annoy Rodney into focusing outward, but that wasn't Elizabeth's style -- she went for his ego. "Do you need to call someone to help you with the decryption?"

That had the predicted effect and Rodney snapped back to himself. "No, I'll be fine," he scoffed. "Carter is more brilliant than the rest of them put together and she designed the delivery mechanism. I'm probably the only one who can do this."

She raised her eyebrows in a "well, then do it" gesture and he departed, already barking into his radio.

Once he was gone, Elizabeth sat back down and allowed herself a moment to grieve because while Rodney needed hope to function, she herself had learned to go without. And, for better or for worse, it was her job to assume the worst and plan accordingly.

Present Day

"But you can't!"

John gave the irate archaeologist a raised eyebrow. "I'm pretty sure I can, Doctor Brigham," he replied mildly, gesturing for the waiting marines to commence with their destruction. Lieutenant Murray's marines had rigged a series of small charges that would bring down the wall -- and probably the roof as well -- of the small building across the road from where John was standing with a few incensed members of Social Sciences and several wheeled carts. "This entire sector was cleared for repurposing."

"Repurposing" being the euphemism of choice for the process of making use of whatever they had to hand. It had been something they'd been doing all along -- John's first quarters had been someone's office back in the day and Medical had once been some kind of lecture hall, and so forth and so on -- but not on this scale and not to this kind of purpose.

Part of him agreed with Brigham and the others that destroying parts of Atlantis because they weren't going to be using them any time soon was depressing and fatalist and a little bit shameful. Especially since he could feel what this change was doing to Atlantis. (It wasn't, contrary to what the Social Science types in G-2 were saying, like cutting off a limb. It was more like getting a bad haircut, but that was a distinction G-2 was unwilling to make.)

But the part of him that wished there were another way apart from having to destroy bits of Atlantis wasn't the part of him that was the military commander of the largest free outpost left in the fight against the Ori.

Necessity was the mother of more than invention.

"But why this building?" Brigham asked. "If we systematically destroy everything to do with the arts, then what sort of civilization will we be preserving?"

John didn't roll his eyes, although he wanted to. Very much. They'd heard that argument a lot from G-2 over the last few months -- and not just about the planned demolition of one part of one level of a five-story music conservatory. Elizabeth was usually the one to deal with the protests, since John (or anyone else in uniform) had no patience to explain anything to academics so divorced from the reality of the situation. She joked that they must be doing a pretty good job of securing Atlantis if the people were more concerned with the aesthetics of their defense than the defense itself, but John didn't think she found it any less frustrating. She was just better at smiling through it and she didn't actually carry a gun.

"If the Ori or the Wraith show up, Doctor," John replied, "then they're going to destroy the place anyway. We picked this building because it's made of the same material as the other sources we're using. Your people had a week's notice to complete your work on it. I think that's more than fair."

He had three meetings today and was in no mood for more palliating.

They'd taken pictures and video and there'd be a virtual recreation of the entire building done soon (because Social Sciences was that afraid that, having taken one wall, the military would soon take the entire building). It was far more compromise than was necessary considering that G-2 hadn't even put the building on their to-do list until it had been slated for repurposing.

Brigham was turning an unflattering shade of beet and John might have been impressed if he hadn't been watching Rodney have temper tantrums for the last three years. But he had and so he wasn't and thus he could turn away and tap his radio and warn Lieutenant Paik in the control room that explosions were imminent and not to get concerned.

The wall came down as planned, leaving the roof intact -- or intact enough that the marines weren't worried about it coming down on top of them -- and Brigham and the others were left to fuss after the marines as they loaded the carts with rubble. The carts would be brought down to the kilns, melted down, and re-formed into the latest prototypes of the firearms Engineering's Munitions Task Force had come up with. The MTF was part sci-fi and part mad scientist and was everyone's favorite meeting to schedule on the officer level and the marines were still (far too) enthusiastic about doing live fire tests even after some early mishaps. Rodney, the chief mad scientist, loved the MTF like his child and ruled over it with an iron fist, micromanaging to the last detail. It was exactly how everyone imagined Rodney as a parent to be like.

John followed the first of the carts back toward the transporter; he was only out at the site long enough to spare Murray the worst of the bitching. He waited for the marines to go first, then took the transporter up to where he'd be closest to the control room.

"What's the word, Lieutenant?" he asked as he entered, neatly dodging Doctor Caughlin, who as usual was not watching where he was going. "Major Lorne's team back yet?"

Paik stood up smartly, but did not bother boss-buttoning the FreeCell up on his laptop screen. "No, sir," the lieutenant replied. "But they've got another hour before they're overdue."

John nodded. Lorne had taken his team and a couple of doctors off to a planet with which they were exchanging medical care for food. It wasn't a high-risk mission for anything but boredom (and some disgusting stuff and Safir yelling at you). But Lorne had copies of the meeting agenda and would cough up a copy without comment and thus John was hoping he'd have been back early so that he could get one. But he wasn't, so John nodded at Paik and left him to his FreeCell, heading over toward Elizabeth's office.

"The demolition went well," John announced as he entered. "At least from the point of the non-human explosions. The wall came down, the roof didn't, and Doctor Brigham is going to file a formal complaint. In iambic pentameter."

Elizabeth looked up with a small smile. "I look forward to reading it, then." The smile disappeared as she gestured toward her laptop screen. "It'll be more entertaining than this."

Pretty much everyone in Atlantis had gone through the Book of Origin by this point -- the marines had some game where they added "in bed" to all of the aphorisms -- but Elizabeth was one of the people who had to read it for more than informational purposes. Social Sciences could -- and was -- distracted by any perceived threat to Ancient culture, but most of their work these days was on dissecting Ori theology and trying to come up with some sort of answer to it, or at least some sort of understanding of it.

As important as it was, however, it was also terribly dull work and John made a sympathetic face. "Hollow are the Ori."

"Hollow are the Ori," Elizabeth agreed. "But rhetorically sound are the Ori, too."

It was generally accepted in Atlantis that the problem with Origin -- and thus with combating its spread -- was that the faultless means were paired with an unredeemable end. Take away the homicidal tendencies and there was actually a lot to like. Which in turn made it hard to argue with the Book of Origin itself, since it mostly just told you to be nice to everyone else, appreciate knowledge, and Do Unto Others and you'll get rewarded. With the added bonus that the miracles could be reproduced on demand by convenient Priors for the skeptics.

Origin had not come easily to Earth -- at best guess, well over a billion people had fallen beneath the sword rather than accept the Ori -- and the trickle of intel they got now indicated that the numbers were still climbing. The tolls hadn't been as bad on most other worlds -- the Jaffa had taken a big hit, but most everyone else had taken little convincing (i.e., one collective near-death experience) to exchange their fallen Goa'uld gods for the Ori. What everyone worried about now was that Pegasus was next on the hit list -- it's not like the bad guys didn't know where it was -- and that the Ori would come in and take over without a shot being fired from anywhere but Atlantis. It's not like the Ancients had done such a bang-up job of inspiring loyalty and all the Ori had to do was eradicate the Wraith, which everyone assumed was on their agenda anyway -- the Ori wouldn't want anyone eating their energy sources.

"The Daedalus should be back next week," John said. "Maybe they'll bring back a theologian this time."

Like something out of a World War Two spy novel -- except with spaceships as blockade-runners instead of submarines or rowboats -- the Daedalus slipped between the two galaxies, a movable hub for the gathering of both intelligence and refugees. They'd 'exchanged' a flight of X-302s for a couple of jumpers to facilitate extractions and John tried not to think about what sort of choice they were offering the survivors -- come to Pegasus and run the chance of getting eaten by the Wraith or stay in the Milky Way and risk losing your immortal soul.

The refugees were an eclectic set, both very much like and very much unlike the folks they rescued from the Wraith here in Pegasus. Ordinary villagers, scientists (the SGC had apparently gone to some effort to hide and then try to evacuate some of Earth's best and brightest), warriors of various stripes (Earth and not). Their reactions ranged from relief to the sort of numb quiet of people who'd just found out that (a) there were aliens and (b) the aliens thought they were gods and should be worshiped as such.

Elizabeth grimaced. "I'd love the help, but I'd love the intel and some smuggled weapons even more."

In the beginning, raids on Earth had been relatively easy and pretty productive -- they knew the coordinates for every country's weapons caches -- including nukes, the SGC's stores, hell they'd even emptied out a couple of supermarkets. But that had been before the second stargate had been discovered and destroyed and the Ori had taken to patrolling the vicinity around the planet with a zero-tolerance policy for visitors. As a result, the Daedalus could no longer get close enough to use its transporter beams and strategy had been adjusted accordingly. They still held out hope for HVT -- the rest of SG-1, say, or anyone else with a working knowledge of Ori technology -- but the big prizes were coming further and further apart.

"Speaking of, I should probably go bug Rodney about the prototypes," John said, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb. It would only piss Rodney off, of course, but it kept him from taking out his frustrations on his subordinates. And, since the supply of fresh scientists was dwindling, John could chalk up getting yelled at by Rodney as a kind of resource conservation.

A smile from Elizabeth, which was a secondary objective since she really didn't do it that much anymore, and he left.

Lorne's team called in ten minutes after their scheduled return time; Sergeant Suarez announced that the team would be late returning after one of the local women had gone into labor with triplets ("so far, sir; it could be more") and John resigned himself to an afternoon of carefully cultivated blank looks and taking good notes so that Lorne would know what he'd have to fix when he got back.

Three days later, the first of the new prototypes was ready for preliminary testing, which it failed but Rodney seemed unperturbed because he knew why.

Five days later, the second batch of prototypes partially failed and the success of the few was held up against the fact that Sergeant Munoz nearly lost an eye and did lose most of the skin on his right arm.

Seven days later, Sergeant Munoz's injuries were nearly forgotten when Atlantis received an emergency message from one of the X-302s attached to the Daedalus saying that the ship had come out of an encounter with an Ori vessel on the not-winning end and had lost most of her critical systems along with more than twenty crew.

They had always known that the risks the Daedalus ran by being so visible were too high for her to continue indefinitely without something happening. She was slower, more weakly defended, and less powerfully armed than the ships that were sent after her and while Caldwell had proven himself an able captain and a brilliant tactician in largely uncharted waters, it couldn't last. David could beat Goliath once, but not indefinitely. And so when the time came, it was met with surprise, but not shock.

That the Daedalus had survived an encounter with an Ori warship at all had seemed like a minor miracle (until they saw her, at which point it was upgraded to major), so it didn't hit them until later on, after the funerals and the damage assessments, just how much things would have to change with no effective means of either transport or communication with the Milky Way. Gone were their (admittedly limited) resupply sources, their ability to gather refugees and information, and, through all of that, their only chance at an advance warning of when the Ori had set their sights on Pegasus.

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17 March, 2007