Qui Habitat: Five

by Domenika Marzione | art by Ileliberte

"--which is going to go over like a lead balloon, since it will involve change and change is bad by default," Lorne was saying when his phone beeped. He cocked an eyebrow as he pressed the intercom button. "Lorne."

Cam hadn't had to pay much attention at all to the administrative workings of the battalion -- the captains took care of the staff jobs (with the lieutenants rotating through serving as S4, since that was a shit job) and they all did them better than he could. Especially when he'd been spending most of his time either in the Milky Way, en route to or from the Milky Way, or planning what to do when they got back to the Milky Way. Now that those activities had been curtailed, however, Cam had sort of floated around as a supernumerary, filling in where needed but mostly not needed at all. He had a little too much time on his hands these days, even with off-world missions and taking care of the non-marine personnel, and finally said as much to Sheppard, which in turn got him a meeting with Sheppard and Lorne since they both knew who really should be making those decisions.

"Hitman Three is three hours overdue, sir," Lieutenant Patchok's voice came over the intercom. "Requesting authorization to active the SAR team."

Sheppard sat up in his seat -- Lorne's office had really comfy chairs and even Cam was prone to slouch down in them -- and looked concerned. Cam didn't know where Gillick -- call sign Hitman Three -- had gone to or even that anyone had been overdue. He didn't think Sheppard did, either.  

"So authorized, Lieutenant," Lorne replied, looking over at the schedule written out on the dry-erase board on the far wall. It was written in multicolored markers and cramped shorthand, but it was easy enough to read if you knew what you were looking at. Cam mostly did. "Tell Lieutenant Kagan to radio in as soon as he knows what's going on."

"Aye aye, sir."

Lorne sighed as he clicked the intercom off. "Crap."

"I'm guessing we're not looking to rescue Gillick from the clutches of his fangirls," Sheppard said, not smiling.

It was a comment that obviously meant something specific, but Cam didn't know what. He'd never been made to feel unwelcome, but he also hadn't been around long enough to pick up on most of the inside jokes.

"Hitman Three is on Gauhan," Lorne replied and Cam swore he could feel the temperature drop in the room. "Gillick's got the escort job for the research teams."

"Is Jonas with him?" Neither Cam's team nor Sheppard had been back to Gauhan since that first time. Jonas had gone, despite the place still clearly giving him a major case of the creeps, but rather than yank the marines out of their duties and have Cam twiddle his thumbs and listen to his iPod, he'd gone alone as part of the scientific teams.

Lorne shifted over to his computer and typed a few keys. "Charlie Company, Third Platoon," he half-murmured to himself as read off of what was probably the mission log, "Time of departure 0615, mission time eight hours. They are escorting ten civilians from Engineering and Social Sciences, Doctors Selikhova and Perrault as respective leads, three hundred fifty pounds of equipment, and Jonas Quinn along as additional personnel."

"Dammit," Cam sighed. Jonas was a big boy, but he didn't need to be reliving this again. "It's too much to hope that they all lost track of time, right?"

He didn't believe that for a second. The scientists, sure, and Jonas could tune out the rest of the world (and his own needs -- like hunger and sleep) with the best of them. But the marines weren't likely to either accommodate the civilians or be so forgetful.

"Gillick's our best lieutenant," Sheppard replied, standing up. "He's a guy I'd have liked to have had around in case we have to start something big. Kagan's not a bad alternative, but it's not good if someone got the drop on Gillick and his boys. Even less if it's there."

That it was on Gauhan, where it couldn't have been the Wraith... It could be someone like the Genii, of course, or could actually be the Genii -- that they'd gone almost a year without hostilities was the source of morbid humor in Little Tripoli -- but Cam knew what the other two were thinking because it was the same thing he was thinking: our luck has run out.

"I'm sure Matt knows already, but I'll go tell him," Lorne said, looking up from where he was still typing. Cam wasn't comforted per se by the utter calmness in the room, but he could appreciate it. All the more because there was probably going to be a lot of yelling and alarms and noise in their futures. "You going to be in the control room?"

Sheppard nodded. "If this is the shit officially hitting the fan, might as well get a head start." He turned to Cam. "Your marines in the city?"

"Yeah," Cam confirmed. Weapons Three was in one of their sapper classes this week.

"Get 'em on radio," Sheppard told him. "You guys'll be on standby in case we go anywhere."

Cam headed off while Lorne and Sheppard were finalizing more details; unless it was something wacky-but-simple and everyone was waiting patiently on Gauhan for a lift home, this was going to be a long evening. He didn't worry about getting a piece of the action -- Sheppard would take care of him. He also knew from experience that until there was actual intel, it would be a lot of standing around and waiting and speculating and he didn't really need to be around for that. Didn't want to be. The waiting made him crazy enough on his own and he didn't want to have to marinate in everyone else's fears.

He went down the armory, nodding grimly at the marines on ordnance duties as he passed by the machine and repair shops en route to where off-world teams kept their gear. His team had a row of lockers and he went into each in turn, pulling out radios and earpieces and stopping with his hand frozen in front of Jonas's locker because (of course) Jonas's gear was already gone.

Finding his marines was pretty easy; he headed up to the floor with the computer labs and found the one that was set up for use as a classroom. The tone of the room changed completely when he walked in; the civilian engineer teaching the class looked annoyed for half a second at the interruption, but he quickly realized that this wasn't a social call and simply stopped the lesson.

Becanek, Byrd, and Horton followed Cam back out into the hallway.

"What's happening, sir?" Becanek asked, accepting the handful of radios and sorting out whose was whose.

Cam told them, albeit a simplified version. He knew as well as they did that everyone in that classroom was going to want to know what was going on; he just didn't want the rumors to start out any more outrageous than they had to be.

This was the first time they'd been put on standby. Simply because of their relative lack of experience and serendipitous timing, they'd never needed to be on call -- Lorne's team took most of them. (Usually because Sheppard's team was the one causing them.)

"What do we do, sir?" Byrd asked.

"You go back in there and do your best to pay attention, Sergeant," Cam told him. "You know as well as I do that any orders to move out aren't going to be coming right away. Go about your day, just keep your radio on."

"The end is nigh, tune in after the game," Horton muttered.

"Pretty much," Cam agreed. 'Don't think about what could be going on' was an impossible order and he knew it, but what else was he going to say? "Now go get back in there. I don't want you blowing up something important because you were distracted when it was being taught."

Byrd smiled brightly at him. "We're learning how to build stuff, sir. Architectural modeling."

Cam cocked an eyebrow. "Sergeant, I am not sure I want to step across any threshold if you're responsible for the construction of the building around it."

The other two laughed. Byrd being Byrd, however, he wasn't insulted. "Me, neither, sir."

Becanek gave Byrd a shove back toward the classroom door. "If you need us later, sir," he told Cam, "class ends at 1830."

Translation: they wanted to be kept in the loop and expected some sort of update then. Cam was neither unsurprised nor unpleased -- they wanted in on the action, sure, but they were also worried about Jonas.

"I'll keep it in mind, Staff Sergeant."

By the time Cam got to the gate room, there was already a buzz in the air. Sheppard was in Weir's office, Lorne was talking to Lieutenant Patchok on the control room balcony, and the marines on guard duty were looking more on edge than usual.

He climbed the stairs to the concourse slowly, aware that it was still too soon for anything useful to have come back yet; it was a long walk to the village from the stargate. Lorne acknowledged his arrival with a nod as he finished up with Patchok, patting the lieutenant on the arm before moving away to join Cam just outside the control room.

"Waiting's the hardest part," Lorne said with a frown, looking at the quiet stargate.

Cam grunted agreement. "Your boys around?" he asked, mostly to say something and partially out of curiosity. He knew they were in Patchok's platoon, but had never seen then on gate room duty.

"They're around," Lorne confirmed, gesturing vaguely to indicate 'elsewhere'. "Patchok started hiding his ATA-positive marines early on -- if they're on patrol somewhere in the city, it's harder for the engineers to shanghai them. Plus it makes their absence less noticeable when they're off with me."

"Makes sense," Cam replied. He didn't know if Lieutenant Murray made any accommodations for his own three. He was about to say something to that effect when the stargate activated and the alarm for an incoming wormhole sounded as the shield was activated.

Below them, the marines got into position, manning the heavy machine guns and surrounding the gate platform. The marines in the control room and on the catwalk between the control room and Weir's office got into position near-instantly.

The kawoosh was blocked by the shield and everyone, including Cam, held their breath for the long moment before the sergeant at the DHD announced that it was Lieutenant Kagan's IDC.

"Home Base, this is Joker Three," Kagan's voice came through the speakers. "We are one half-klick from Gauhan village at the edge of the shield. Do you copy?"

Sheppard had come out of Weir's office, but gestured for Patchok to answer the radio. "We copy, Joker Three. What've you got?"

"We've got a very quiet village," Kagan replied. "Place is lit up like Christmas, though. Every torch, every lamp, everything that won't burn the village down. Including the dome on top of the church."

"Fuck," Cam bit off and everyone turned to him. "That's their version of the Eye of Sauron. Daran said that it would only be lit 'once the Ancestors had returned.'"

So much for it being wacky-but-simple. Cam ignored the familiar feeling in his stomach, the one he'd last felt standing on the bridge of the Daedalus and hearing that the Jaffa offensive had failed. The one that said that this was the beginning of the end.

"Fuck," Sheppard agreed. He tapped his radio, linking in with the connection to Kagan. "Joker Three, have you seen our missing people?"

"Not yet, sir," Kagan replied. "We haven't breached the shield."

Radio communication had thus far been possible even with the shield in place, but if the Ori were around, then that could change.

"You be careful, Lieutenant," Sheppard exhorted. "If it smells like a trap, back out. We don't need two platoons keeping the locals company. You're there to scout, not to mount a rescue. We need your intel."

"Copy that, sir." Kagan sounded a little disappointed. Cam knew exactly how he felt. So did Sheppard and Cam didn't think either man missed the irony of the order.

"Do your thing and get back to us," Sheppard went on. "You have two hours. Home Base out."

The wormhole closed a moment later and everyone watched. Once it shut down, all of the focus in the control room turned to Sheppard, who realized it.

"Get Doctor McKay up here," Sheppard told Patchok. "Tell him we need whatever they have on the Gauhani shield. And find one of the Ori experts from G-2." He gestured toward Lorne. "Get the usual suspects together. We may need to move a company through the gate within the hour. Colonel Mitchell, why don't you come with me?"

Cam crossed through the control room, avoiding Patchok (now on the phone), and followed Sheppard back to Weir's office. Once inside, he nodded grimly to Weir, who was standing behind her desk.

"Sit down, please," she said to Cam, then looked at Sheppard. "What's going on?"

"Possible bridgehead situation," Sheppard replied, dropping down into his seat heavily. There was nothing casual about him now. Cam knew this side of Sheppard existed, had seen glimpses of it in their interactions back when Cam had been working off of the Daedalus and had read about it in mission reports before he'd ever met the man. But it was different up close, when it was his own people. "We're probably going in tonight."

Weir closed her eyes for a long moment, then opened them and nodded. "So it starts?"

"Apparently," Sheppard agreed ruefully, then turned to Cam. "What are we looking at?"

Cam took a deep breath before replying. He knew that Sheppard and Weir had both read all of the mission reports on the SGC's encounters with the Ori in the Milky Way, but that everyone (including Cam) had expected an invasion fleet and not the sort of missionary incursion that had started the Milky Way's descent into Ori control. And so that's where most of the preliminary planning had focused on. He also knew that he'd be repeating all of this a few times before the night was through, but accepted that Sheppard wanted to have -- needed to have -- a heads-up and refresher so that he wasn't blindsided by anything later. And that he'd want it from a military person and not one of the G-2 types. Which left him.

"Depends, really," Cam admitted, mentally flipping through all of the different scenarios from his own experiences. "If they've got a prior there, our boys are better off than if it's an army of followers. Which is what it sounds like -- if there was an invading force, Kagan would have seen sign of it."

"Whoever thought a prior would be the lesser of two evils?" Weir asked rhetorically.

Cam grimaced his agreement. "The priors seem to be okay with the skeptics at first -- it makes for a better show, so it's not 'submit or die' right off the bat," he went on. "They'd rather convert without bloodshed -- more disciples and better results if they're not doing it through terror. We -- SG-1 -- got let go more than once after we'd formally conceded that a planet had been converted to Origin. They'll probably let Hitman Three go so that they can bear witness to the power of the Ori. At least that's how it worked back home."

Sheppard tilted his head in thought. "How much power do the priors have and what are they willing to use?"

Cam shrugged helplessly. This, too, was in the reports, although most of what was in the reports boiled down to uncertainties and estimations. The bottom line was that they didn't know. "Enough to get the job done. One of them can beat out a platoon of marines if they know what's coming, but I've also taken out priors with only a little help. They're not subtle with what they've got and the prior plague'll take out however many they need."

"Is that likely?" Weir asked. Pandemic was a scary enough concept without the mixed history of dealing with the Ori's version of it. Versions.

"The Gauhani are Ori worshipers already," Cam replied. "The priors don't need to beat them into submission. They can use carrot and not stick, which for all of their violence is their preferred method. That said, what they're likely to do is try what they did against Earth -- infect one of the marines and have him import the plague on his own. Especially if they can modify it beyond what the vaccine can protect against."

Atlantis had had copies of all of the plague research since Orlin had done his thing, Sam had done her thing, Gerak had gone foomp!, and Carolyn had cleaned up the mess. The personnel who'd been on Earth when it had struck were immune and there'd been vaccinations, but from what Cam remembered of the Carolyn's research, the plague had been slightly different in every instance and nobody knew if the vaccinations would work or if even the immune could be passive carriers. There'd been work done since -- Safir had picked up where Carolyn had left off -- but it was still all largely theoretical.

Weir nodded. "We'll have to take precautions for all returning parties," she said. "The vaccine is still untested and while the average citizen of Pegasus has a hardier immune system than someone from the Milky Way, I don't want to take any chances."

"Safir'll be overjoyed," Sheppard muttered. "Planetary quarantine."

"That's why we gave him his own research team," Weir replied with a bit of a smile that mostly had nothing to do with being amused. On the other hand, watching Safir bitch was kind of fun -- as long as it wasn't you he was pissed at.

The back door to Weir's office hissed open and McKay walked in, eyes on his laptop instead of where he was going and Sheppard had to pull in his feet. "Oh," McKay said when he saw Cam sitting where he'd been walking on auto-pilot. "You're here."

Cam gave him his best shit-eating grin. "Nice to see you, too, Doctor."

McKay rolled his eyes and looked around for another seat, finding one on the side of Weir's desk. It was a little further away and he dragged it closer.

"Don't get too comfortable, Rodney," Weir warned. "I think we'll be moving over to the conference room soon."

Soon turned out to be almost two hours later, after Kagan had reported in again. The large conference room was full to overflowing with almost all of the battalion hierarchy plus senior NCOs, the civilian leadership elements, and a contingent from G-2.

"Do we know for certain that there's an Ori presence on Gauhan?" Caldwell asked as soon as Lorne got through the overview of the briefing. "Holy fire in the temple aside, we can all cite examples of everything from Jesus to Elvis appearing and people accepting it."

A snicker around the room, but no genuine laughter.

"Lieutenant Kagan was told that 'a man of great power and sanctity' appeared in Gauhan four nights ago -- their time, which puts it about 0430 Tuesday morning here -- and lit the Beacon of the Ancestors by pointing at it," Lorne replied, reading off of his notes. Lorne, of course, had a yellow pad instead of a laptop because they hadn't run out of paper yet and he was holding out. "The Beacon is about thirty feet up so, no, it's not a fun trick with the Athosian lighters. He then announced that he was the vanguard of the Ancestors and was there to guide them to the path of enlightenment. And he's been preaching what sounds like the Book of Origin from the square in front of the House of Prostration ever since."

"Sounds like a yes," Cam muttered. Next to him, Sheppard made a noise of agreement. Behind them, Polito said something in Latin -- or maybe Ancient; they sounded similar to Cam's ear -- that might have been profound if anyone in earshot could have understood it.

"Did he say 'Ancestors' or is that a paraphrase?" one of the G-2 people asked. Cam thought her name was Mathis.

"It's a quote," Lorne replied. "Kagan requested clarification and was told 'Ancestors'."

"By using the word associated in this galaxy with their arch-rivals," Mathis mused. "They could be staking claim to the inheritance of the Ancients, appropriating the legacy to bolster their own legitimacy."

"The Gauhan use the word indiscriminately when referring to the Ori and the Ancients," another social scientist pointed out. "They don't seem to distinguish between the two peoples or have knowledge such a difference even exists. It could be a specific case of targeted semantics -- taking advantage of the lack of clarity."

"And it's not like the Ori or the priors have ever flat-out lied before," Cam said loudly because the academics were big fans of ignoring what was right in front of them.

"Did Kagan see this person for himself?" Caldwell asked loudly. "Or is this all second-hand?" He was sitting on Sheppard's other side, albeit with a space between them. Both the location and the distance were probably intentional.

"No, sir," Lorne replied with a quirk of his lips that Cam would have thought he'd maybe imagined if he didn't know how proud Lorne and Sheppard were of their junior officers and how quick they were to defend them. Or if Sheppard hadn't twitched next to him. "He couldn't get close enough without getting seen. His intel comes from Consolis, the leader of the Gauhani, who told him to stay hidden and assured him that our people are imprisoned but unharmed."

"And we're trusting him why?" McKay asked from the civilian side of the room. "He worships the Ori. Doesn't he have every reason to lie to us? His gods have returned, haven't they?"

Lorne grimaced. "His gods have shown up -- or at least their messengers have," he agreed. "But the first thing the prior did was start telling everyone that they'd have to start ensuring the survival of Origin by destroying those who don't accept it. And then he took Consolis's wife away."

Cam leaned forward, surprised. "Daran is missing?"

"Daran and the other elders vanished on the third day," Lorne confirmed, looking down at his notes for something. "They were, and I quote, 'brought before the Eternal Flame to be judged as righteous.'"

Cam made a face. "Which means they're going to either get turned into priors or barbecued." Or both because he'd seen more one prior go up in flames.

"Doctor Jackson and Vala Mal Doran both survived the experience intact," Mathis pointed out.

"Jackson and Vala weren't in their own bodies at the time," Cam retorted, annoyed that his own team's AARs were being thrown back at him. He wasn't there for that but he might as well have been from all of the debriefing that had gone on. "And they weren't there to be judged. They were there to be intimidated."

Mathis rolled her eyes, like this was a distinction without a difference.

"I don't remember reading about too many cases where new priors were made so quickly when there was already a prior on the scene," Sheppard said. "They acted fast with Gerak because they couldn't get a prior into Chulak otherwise. That's not the case here. Are we not getting the whole picture or are the Ori changing game plans on us? If it's the latter, what do we have to do adapt? We can't afford to be fighting the last war here."

Various murmurs from around the room because these were all important questions and there'd be no consensus on any answers. Cam caught the quick nod between Sheppard and Lorne, the former letting the latter guide the discussion. Lorne gestured toward one of the G-2 people Cam didn't recognize.

"Elevation to prior has to be treated as a strategic move," the guy said, "but we can't look at it purely from the angle of asset placement in difficult locations, as it was in the case of Gerak. It has also been used as a reward for effective followers, both in strongholds and in newer areas of conquest. Even considering the objections of Consolis --for now accepting his motivations as genuine, we can speak to that assumption later -- we can certainly posit that the elevation of the Gauhani church elders to priorship can be seen as either the establishment of credentials on the part of the original prior or the reward for the Gauhani people adhering to Ori doctrine for millennia. Or both."

"Great," Sheppard sighed, leaning a little toward Cam and looking at him. "Carrots?"

Cam nodded. "By the bushel."

"Getting back to Consolis for a moment," Weir began, "Should we be looking at him as an ally or something less? There are many reasons for him to be aiding Lieutenant Kagan and not all of them require him to actually doubt his own beliefs."

"They took his wife," Caldwell pointed out.

"To make her a prior," Sheppard countered. "Now, granted, priors are not exactly easy on the eyes..."

"He might not know that," Caldwell said. "We don't know that."

Cam bridled. "With all due respect, sir, I don't think I'm wrong here."

"I'm not questioning your experiences, Colonel," Caldwell replied with asperity. "I'm reminding everyone that we are drawing a conclusion from past knowledge that may have no application here. I happen to think you're correct, but until Daran and the others are returned, we don't know. Which in turn makes our character assessment of Consolis based on a supposition. He may simply be wavering in his commitment to the Ori until the safe return of his wife, at which point he will be confirmed in his beliefs. He may be a genuine apostate. Either way, we are relying entirely on an unknown resource for intelligence and that's a very dangerous thing to forget."

"Lieutenant Kagan has sent men into the town to try to verify what Consolis has told him," Lorne said before either Cam or Sheppard could say anything. "But caution costs speed and so, until he's able to do that, what Consolis has given us is what we have."

Kagan was still on Gauhan; he'd checked in and then asked to stay longer, assuring Sheppard that the advantages of keeping constant surveillance outweighed the risks. After a quick conference with Cam, Lorne, and the captains, they'd agreed.

"Do we know where and how they're being held?" Sheppard asked.

"They're being held in a house in the center of town," Lorne answered. "It's guarded, it's got a front door that opens up into the square in front of the church, and the back courtyard is walled off. Kagan's hoping to get a few of his men to the house itself, maybe get inside."

Cam tried to recall the area around the House of Prostration, but didn't remember anything particular -- once you were in that square, you were pretty much drawn to the big old church that dominated it. But he remembered other parts of the village. Gauhani architecture was sturdy -- rocks and mortar and one of his marines had asked about construction materials and he'd tuned it out but now he regretted it because it would be useful now. On the other hand, his marines were in the unit that was as close to combat engineers as Atlantis got (and Horton really was an engineer -- he had a degree from NC A&T to prove it) and would probably be the ones who needed that information in the end, anyway.

"Everyone's alive and being fed," Lorne went on, shrugging because that really meant nothing in context. "Consolis said that Lieutenant Gillick had been taken for questioning at least once, but seemed fine. Which, again, is of relative value."

Since who knew what the prior was doing to Gillick that nobody could see.

"And still means that we need to get in there ASAP," Sheppard said, turning around to look at Polito. "You got anything for us yet, Matt?"

Polito stood, edged past Cam crossed the floor to Lorne, accepting the remote control for the projector. Lorne took the empty seat closest to him as Polito typed some commands on the laptop synced to the projector. The projector whirred to life from standby, the photo of the House of Prostration disappearing in favor of a schematic of the Gauhani town.

"The Gauhani have no standing army," Polito began. "What they have is an irregular militia that, by their own acknowledgement, doesn't train and doesn't have much in the way of weapons beyond pitchforks, butcher's knives, and the odd fowling piece. In other words, they aren't the problem."

Polito's briefback was of a plan that was obviously still in its infancy, but Cam could recognize the soundness of it -- as much as any former pilot could critique a rifleman's strategic designs -- and figured that most of the changes would be cosmetic and not fundamental. It was a standard snatch-and-grab and the marines had done hundreds of them. Granted, none of the sheikhs in Anbar Province had super-powered shields and priors tended to be uncanny with the sixth sense and all in a way that not even the sharpest lookout with a cell phone was, but that didn't mean that all of that practice had been worthless. Cam had gotten in and out of enough prior-held towns and worlds to know that the marines could handle this without it turning into Black Hawk Down.

When it came time for questions, there were many. Caldwell asked about the feasibility of knocking out the shield, which got bounced over to McKay.

"It depends on whether you ever want it to be useful again," he answered, a tone to his voice that Cam recognized and hated. It was McKay's bubble-bursting voice, the one he used when he was going to be just a little bit smug (for McKay-scaled values of smug) when he shot down your good idea. At least Sam had always been slightly apologetic about it. Most of the time. "It's made of almost the same materials we're using to build weapon prototypes. Which, as everyone in uniform here knows well, is pretty simple to blow up since we're currently acquiring it by reducing parts of Atlantis to rubble."

Aggrieved murmuring from the G-2 contingent.

"But?" Sheppard prompted. "There's a but in there, Rodney."

"But we haven't finished figuring out what makes it work," McKay went on. "And it stands to reason that while the walls of Atlantis weren't built to withstand the elements, let alone a Wraith attack, this shield generator was specifically designed to survive both. Opening up the casing should hopefully do the trick -- while also ruining one of the most crucial research projects we have -- but you need to be aware that it might not."

"Brings an extra level of meaning to 'hardening a target,'" Cam muttered to Sheppard, who grimaced in agreement.

"I'm guessing you guys don't know how to just turn the thing off?" Sheppard asked.

McKay rolled his eyes. "I'm going to pretend that you didn't ask that question," he replied. "Because anyone who has spent the last several years in a city where nothing has an on/off switch--"

"Besides me," Sheppard cut in and McKay deflated a little. Cam bit his lip to keep from grinning. So did almost everyone in uniform apart from Caldwell.

"No, we haven't figured out a way to turn it off," McKay sighed.

They were discussing refugees -- in case Consolis or any of the others wanted out of Gauhan -- when Lorne interrupted.

"Lieutenant Kagan has dialed in," he said, then tapped his earpiece. "Patch him through to the conference room."

A beep and a chirp and then Lorne asked. "You with us, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir," Kagan's disembodied voice replied.

"What've you got?" Sheppard leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

"Good news and bad news, sir," Kagan said, then gave them both.

The good news, so to speak, was that Kagan had managed to get a team to the house and, through them, had spoken to Gillick. Gillick had reported that everyone was relatively fine for now, but that the prior had told him that they would not be released until they'd come to accept Origin and that he was expected to convince the others. Kagan said that Gillick had avoided answering most of the questions about what went on during his sessions (plural) with the prior and Kagan was taking that to mean that there'd been either some sort of torture or some more dire threats made that Gillick didn't want to speak of in front of the others. One of Kagan's marines had left a radio with Gillick and they'd set up a time to check in later.

Cam wanted to ask about Jonas, but knew he'd been lumped in with the "relatively fine."

The bad news was sadly familiar: a mysterious illness was sweeping through Gauhan. It had started the day before, but Consolis hadn't thought to mention it because he hadn't imagined a connection until Kagan had brought it up. About a third of the population was ill; some serious, a few not so much. There had already been one death. Kagan hadn't found out about the prior plague until after he'd spoken to Gillick, so while he didn't know for certain whether anyone from Atlantis was affected, both the chance and symptoms of prior plague were things Gillick was aware of and would have mentioned if he'd seen signs.

"Hopefully this means that our vaccine is working," Weir said.

Everyone, including Cam, looked over at Safir, who stared expressionlessly at the projected image of the shield blueprint.

After finishing with Kagan, the meeting lasted another fifteen minutes before finally breaking up into its component parts. The engineers were charged with coming up with alternate ways to disable the shield if conventional explosives didn't do it and the social scientists were released to do whatever the hell they did (which, at this hour, was probably go back to their quarters and watch obscure BBC dramas). The military men were told to break for dinner and report to Little Tripoli's war room in an hour.

Cam radioed his marines on the way to the commissary and told them that Jonas was fine for now.

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17 March, 2007