Qui Habitat: Two

by Domenika Marzione | art by Ileliberte

John nodded greetings to the people he passed and found himself a seat near the rear. Past experience had shown that unless it was a holiday or something had happened to bring in a larger than usual crowd, he could normally sit by himself, which was how he preferred it. He came to services every week because his men expected it of him -- there were no atheists in foxholes and very few in Little Tripoli even before the Ori, so while nobody really cared which service he attended, it was very important to the uniformed population that he go to one of them.

He came to the Methodist service because, for better or for worse, it was the catch-all among the English-speaking Christian offerings and because he could get through it without too much uncomfortableness with what he did or didn't believe and what he could or couldn't participate in along with everyone else. He didn't want to sing with the Baptists and he couldn't take communion with the Catholics. He couldn't take communion with the Methodists, either, but there was enough here that he could remember from his youth when he'd gone along with his parents every week because godlessness was also promotionlessness even if you didn't live on base where the chaplains could tell where you weren't on Sunday mornings.

Here in Atlantis, where promotions were on the list of "not forgotten, but we'll deal with it later" issues, attendance was still essentially mandatory for all of the officers, regardless of rank. And so the lieutenants were scattered around the various denominations, Lorne and Armstrong were down in front, Polito and Hanzis were off at the Catholic mass, and Radner and Mitchell were over with the Baptists even though John wasn't sure either of them actually were of that confession.

If the Ori had made any mistake in their thus-far conclusive and comprehensive takeover of the Milky Way, it had been to underestimate the power of faith. Which was both terribly ironic considering their aims and potentially hopeful in terms of fighting them off, but it wasn't without problems for the good guys -- having large segments of the population who'd rather die than betray their god made it easier to save them while also assuring that there'd be fewer to save.

Lorne gave him a smiled greeting as he passed by en route to the more populated area closer to the pulpit, near where Elizabeth was sitting. John didn't know how much of Elizabeth's attendance was for the same reasons as his own and how much could be attributed to the general revivalism that had swept through Atlantis after the Ori had conquered Earth. Lorne had always gone to Sunday services, although John had never considered him a man of strong religious convictions, but Elizabeth rarely had. Even among the civilian population, however, attendance was up -- they'd had to move every denomination's services to bigger rooms in the past few months.

Earth had been among the most stubborn, although there had been many holdouts. From what intel they had gotten over the months that the Daedalus had been operational, they'd been able to establish patterns and predictive elements. Worlds that hadn't had an active Goa'uld presence in the last few centuries had held out longer than those that had been liberated from the snakes by either the Tokra or the Tauri. Worlds that had either never known the Goa'uld or that had been founded by the Goa'uld and then abandoned early on were more resistant -- these being the most likely to have developed their own religions -- and Earth had been the most contentious of them all. Six billion people made it one of the most populous, most advanced, and most hostile environments when it came to imposing doctrine and dogma from without. Not that there hadn't been large swatches of Earth's population that had embraced Origin eagerly and without coercion and had been willing to help convert others (by word or sword). But the majority of the planet had told the Ori that they had made their choice and would rather stick with it, thanks much. Atheists, pagans, and followers of major faiths previously inclined to doctrinal pissing matches all had that in common. And had paid for their determination.

The various social groupings of Atlantis had reacted differently to finding out that they were on the receiving end of a holy war. The military just figured it was the same old shit, different galaxy -- "Hallowed are the Ori" sounded a lot like "Allahu Akhbar" when you were looking at the business end of a weapon pointed at your head. The civilians had reactions that ranged from the impractical to the ignorant to the buckled-down determination of those for whom the message has finally gotten through. The Ori weren't the Goa'uld (driven by ego and lust for power) or the Wraith (driven by hunger), but they were like both in their own ways, using armies of believers like the Goa'uld and treating their quarry as a means to an end like the Wraith.

Within Little Tripoli, where the war with the Ori was openly called "jihad" (it was impolitic to do so among the general population), John and others (even Mitchell) wondered if a decade of fighting the Goa'uld hadn't made the SGC softer targets. The SG teams had had success from the very start with deprogramming the Jaffa -- without Teal'c, there wouldn't even be a Stargate Program. And so, since every military is always fighting the last war, PsyOps had been their first course of action with the Ori. But it had failed, badly, and now they were paying the price. They'd spent weeks analyzing and assessing the fall of the Milky Way, hoping to learn something positive from those lessons beyond "that didn't work." The jury was still out on whether they'd succeeded.

John didn't need to look over to know that it was Caldwell sitting down at the other end of his row, but he did anyway and exchanged a sort of wry grimace with the man. This was their pattern, established erratically over time as the Daedalus was around for a few weeks and then gone for months and representational of the way their relationship had evolved. They sat nearby without sitting together, acknowledging and accepting the other without any sort of overture that would imply or require friendliness. To John's surprise, Caldwell had never pushed to take over command of Atlantis's military (and, this time, he didn't think Elizabeth had anything to do with it), instead he seemed content to serve as advisor, keeping his distance and focusing his efforts on what the Daedalus could do in the fight against he Ori. They'd had friction, of course, but nothing on a level that had John worried (too much) about how things would evolve now that the Daedalus was more scrap than ship. John suspected that Caldwell understood that the time to make his move had passed.

The chaplain walked up to the lectern they used as a pulpit to begin the service with a prayer for those lost and oppressed and John bowed his head.

"I thought you weren't gonna saddle me with the crazies!" Mitchell called out as the wormhole closed behind him. John grinned as he came down the stairs, both at Mitchell's bitching and at the three mud-covered marines doing their best to look chastened and inconspicuous next to Jonas, who, like Mitchell, was only partially covered in mud. "It's like tryin' to walk Great Danes past a barbecue pit."

Mitchell had gotten his medical clearance three days ago and Jonas had been cleared for more than a month. The marines had come from Weapons Company's Third Platoon (logic being that after having been chased off of half of the planets in the galaxy because of Lieutenant Murray's awful luck, they'd be best prepared for off-world activity) and the newly formed team had been given a few days of bonding at the firing range before being handed a softball mission to check out some Ancient toys on a planet they knew to be unoccupied.

"Staff Sergeant," John began, looking at Becanek. "I thought you were under orders to behave yourselves."

Becanek looked very sincere as he replied. "We did, sir. But breaking the Colonel and Mr. Quinn in gently doesn't mean we're going to let them wander around unattended."

"I didn't ask for 'unattended,'" Mitchell groused.

"Welcome to life with marines," John told him. Mitchell didn't sound too annoyed and Becanek didn't sound too unrepentant, so John would be happy to chalk this up to new team follies and the fact that even after many years Lorne was still periodically manhandled by his own team. He'd let them sort it out -- Mitchell and Jonas had enough experience with off-world teams, if not necessarily with leathernecks -- and would only step in if things didn't look like they were resolving on their own.

"And what's this about 'breaking us in gently'?" Mitchell went on, warming to the topic. "I am not a preacher's daughter on prom night. I have been captured and chased by the finest the Milky Way has to offer. And so has Mr. Quinn."

Jonas pursed his lips as if to say that he didn't necessarily consider that résumé material.

"That's the point, sir," Sergeant Horton blurted. "The capture rate of field grade officers in Pegasus is... higher than might be wished."

It was John's turn to frown. Especially after Becanek and Sergeant Byrd nodded agreement.

"So this is your fault," Mitchell accused. "You and Lorne've got them all so traumatized they think they're gonna lose me on the first mission? And don't pretend that I didn't just read all of your AARs."

The marines were giving him that 'see, we were right' look and John was about to attempt a defense of his and Lorne's honors, but he could see Elizabeth approaching in his peripheral vision and knew a strategic withdrawal when he saw one. "Doctor Weir," he turned to greet her.

"Gentlemen," she said with a nod and a smile, oblivious to her role as distraction. "How was your first mission? Apart from muddy, that is."

"The planet's in its rainy season," Jonas explained ruefully, looking down at the muddy trail they'd left on the stargate platform. "Although from the database it seems to be in its rainy season most of the time. Which explains why the Ancients chose it and why there was no indigenous population after the Ancients left -- they took the climate control with them."

The Ancient toys in question had been part of a meteorological research center. The database notes had indicated that the place had been stripped during the war with the Wraith, the resources put toward a more useful purpose, but they were currently desperate enough to try checking it out anyway. John had taken his team to the planet back in the early days of the expedition, but they hadn't gone looking for any Ancient tech because Rodney hadn't been able to get any energy readings. And since there hadn't been any people, either, it had ended up being a very short trip because it had been raining then, too.

"The mission went fine, ma'am," Mitchell added with an easy grin. "We found what we were looking for, but it's deader than Mr. Praline's Norwegian Blue. Mr. Quinn and Sergeant Horton did their best to get everything up and running, but, well, I'm afraid that the Ancient database was right on this one."

Apart from their familiarity with pointy sticks, Becanek's team had been chosen in part because Horton was one of Little Tripoli's resident electronics geniuses. There wasn't anything he couldn't fix among the equipment from Earth -- an invaluable skill now that they had no chance to replace anything -- and he'd apprenticed under Zelenka back in the first year of the expedition, so he knew his way around Ancient tech as well. With Jonas still more familiar with Goa'uld and Ori technology than the sorts the Ancients had left in Pegasus, it was a necessary skill set for an off-world team.

"Even a broken clock is right twice a day," Elizabeth replied, although the joke in Atlantis was that that wasn't really true because of the clocks and time system they used. Not that the Ancient database was as helpful as a broken clock no matter how many hours in the day. "I'm sorry it didn't work out, but I'm glad to see everyone back safely and in good spirits. I'll let you boys go get cleaned up."

Mitchell took the dismissal in the spirit it was intended and herded his team toward the doorway. John turned back to Elizabeth after they went.

"They're okay?" she asked, eyebrow arched meaningfully.

"Yeah," John assured her. "It's an arranged marriage and they still have to learn how to live together, but I think they'll be all right. Mitchell was more upset with them acting like marines than anything about them in particular. Besides, who can stay annoyed at Horton?"

Elizabeth smiled. "True," she agreed. Horton was very popular among the civilians from the initial expedition; he'd fixed something of everyone's at least twice by the time the Siege had rolled around. "Are you going to be around this afternoon?"

John looked at his watch. "Part of it," he replied. "I'm tagging along with the shift change on Mars, but I can put that off if you need me for something."

The marines had started calling M9J-442 (the planet they'd parked most of the non-Earth refugees and anyone else who didn't want to live on either the mainland or in Atlantis) after Earth's neighbor for many reasons, but mostly because it was warm and the dirt was of a color that looked cocoa-like on the ground but red on everything it got on (which was, in fact, everything). It was kind of appropriate -- Mars was where there was supposed to be life off of Earth -- and the name had pretty much become accepted even among the civilians. (Especially because it kept anyone from having to come up with an actual name for the place, a task made nearly impossible by the eclectic mix of residents there.) They kept a platoon of marines there for security -- really, to be the local police and to effect an evacuation in case the Wraith ever showed -- and John and Lorne took turns going out there to inspect and listen to grievances. It was laughably imperialist in some ways and neither of them liked pretending to be a colonial governor, but it was how things had shook out and changing it now seemed more trouble than it was worth.

"It can keep until tomorrow," Elizabeth replied. "Colonel Caldwell has some proposals I'd like to look at with you."

John nodded. This was how they worked; Caldwell's input into the running of Atlantis and its military was filtered through Elizabeth. It wasn't efficient, but it kept Caldwell's suggestions from carrying the weight of an order while also preventing John from rejecting them out of hand just because they weren't orders. Elizabeth only passed on ideas she thought had merit, whether she agreed with them or not, and it was up to John (and his subordinates) to come up with reasons why they should or shouldn't be implemented. Most of Caldwell's ideas were good ones, John could admit, but many of them were developed under the mistaken impression that Atlantis was a more traditional post than she had ever been, even before the Ori.

"Tomorrow, then," John said because Elizabeth still assumed that he'd avoid anything to do with Caldwell at all costs. He only did that some of the time these days.

Various members of his team had tagged along at various times on these 'missions to Mars' -- Rodney to be scientifically nosey, Teyla to get out of Atlantis and to help the refugees adapt -- but Ronon was the only one who went regularly. John never asked why and Ronon never volunteered, but John didn't think either of them considered it a mystery.

Ronon had taken the news of Earth's subjugation with a sort of equanimity that John hadn't expected and perhaps should have. The people of Pegasus as a whole were so completely used to being helpless in the face of their enemies that hearing that Earth was being taken down was maybe more inevitability and less of a shock, which is how it came across for everyone actually from Earth. (Even -- especially -- the ones who'd been in Pegasus longest.) Ronon fought because he didn't know how to surrender, not because he thought he could win -- he hoped he could, of course, but it wasn't an expectation. John wondered, not for the first time, what sort of naïfs Ronon (and Teyla) must have thought them all to be that they actually did expect to go into every fight and emerge a victor. Whatever the answer, Ronon had awkwardly expressed his regret for all of the deaths on Earth and, more feelingly, that nobody in Atlantis could go and fight the menace.

They greeted each other with a nod; both were dressed for combat even though Mars was about as threatening as Ipetia. Less, even. But nobody took any chances anymore. The gate room itself was testament to that -- the guard had been doubled, including the placement of heavy machine guns aimed at the stargate. The SGC had been demolished and its computers wiped and destroyed, but the Ori had to know the address of Atlantis and there was no saying that the shield would be enough to stop them should they try to come through.

The scientists and other civilians waiting to go to Mars were huddled by the stairs, mostly to stay out of the way of the marines on guard duty and the soon-to-be-arriving group. Lieutenant Biswas herded his platoon through the door and into the gate room five minutes before their scheduled departure. Biswas was one of the new arrivals assigned to the now-extant Alpha Company, although after six months, he wasn't so new anymore. He greeted John and Ronon with a grin (that looked more scary than it was; Biswas had come to Atlantis with his jaw sliced open and there'd been a scar) and they waited for the sergeant at the DHD to dial out and send the IDC code -- they had a weak version of a shield on the stargate there, enough to stop bullets and people, but nobody knew if it would stop a Wraith dart and John wasn't about to sacrifice a jumper to find out.

Little Tripoli had been a tense and difficult place to be once the bad news about the Ori had started to trickle in from Earth; the marines had taken out their frustration on each other, mostly, although the friction between them and the civilians they were escorting through the galaxy had also gone up a few notches. Carson and Yoni had mentioned the rise in training-related injuries more than once during staff meetings, although with different levels of exasperation and expectation that things could change.

On the command level, morale had gone from passive maintenance to active caretaking, but this sort of pain wasn't anything that illicit beer and extra time with the high explosives would cure. John thought the marines understood, at least intellectually, that them being on Earth wouldn't have made any difference, that they would have probably ended up among the hundreds of thousands of military dead without changing the course of the fight at all. But that had nothing to do with them wanting to be there, to be on the same planet as their brethren in arms, to preferring try to save their families instead of puttering around in a faraway galaxy trying to keep the Wraith from eating strangers. John understood their frustration, his actual sentiment something between sympathy and wishing he could lead a charge back through the wormhole, but couldn't do anything about it besides promise that they hadn't given up the fight yet.  

Mars was as expected when they arrived -- hot, dusty, and peaceful. The marines at the stargate greeted them with relief; guard duty here was mostly boring and uncomfortable. The biggest threats were inquisitive near-deer, construction accidents, and the odd scientific experiment gone awry -- all of which usually boiled down to the marines getting yelled at about things they couldn't control. John and Ronon parted from the marines and let the civilians hustle ahead; John preferred to make his own tour of inspection rather than get dragged around by eager or vested interests.

Functioning as both refugee colony and scientific outpost, Mars was an entity unto itself -- full wifi access and no indoor plumbing. Most of the refugees from the Milky Way were scientists from Earth, so they'd been given lab space and quarters in Atlantis and a crash course in how to deal with working under Rodney without wishing they'd been left behind for the Ori. But there were also plenty of civilians, not all of whom either wanted to stay in Atlantis or who could be placed meaningfully within the city -- Atlantis simply couldn't function as a welfare state, not when they were still working to replace all of their own resources.

Logistically, it was easier to get material through the stargate than out to the mainland, so development had taken place off-world rather than under the direct auspices of the Athosians. (Teyla was still effectively heading up the de facto Department of Refugee Services, but she was in Atlantis anyway.) The Science Division had taken the opportunity for off-world research -- Life Sciences had a permanent outpost, plus several research teams focusing on explosive materials had moved out here -- and many of the civilian refugees here were working as research assistants and other laborers, in addition to farming and hunting and all of the other activities that went on on planets in either galaxy. The landscape was a combination of pre-fab housing from Earth (the part of town that looked like McMurdo after it rained) and locally procured building materials. There was the beginnings of commercial trading -- tailors, a tavern (the marines were forbidden to do more than buy food there, although John knew that rule was impossible to enforce), and a couple of other places that Lorne said gave Mars more of a Milky Way feel than a Pegasus one -- the Wraith simply hadn't let most civilizations alone long enough (or, if they had, those had been the first ones culled after John had woken them up).

Ronon stayed by John's side as he strolled up the dusty roads toward the village square. There wasn't a government per se; the lieutenant on duty handled most of the arbitrating and making sure everyone did their part to improve the place. (The locals had learned to handle most of their squabbles on their own after Kagan had offered to resolve a property dispute by blowing up the offending building.) Either by coercion or civic pride -- or, mostly likely, a combination of the two, Mars managed to look clean and prosperous despite the red dust. There were children here, more after some of the Pegasus refugees had re-located from the mainland, and they could be heard playing in the distance; John never said anything, but he always noticed that Ronon's head would turn every time their happy cries carried over to them.

Mars wasn't enough to completely erase its origins in galactic genocide, but it was maybe a little bit of hope in a situation where that was in short supply.

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17 March, 2007