Qui Habitat: Seven

by Domenika Marzione | art by Ileliberte

"What does 'litter urgent' mean?" Jonas asked, not looking up from where he and Horton were messing around with the generator.

Across from Cam, at the other side of their illuminated area, Byrd and Becanek froze for a moment. The call for the evac had come over the command network, so neither Becanek nor Horton (Byrd having given up his radio to Jonas after the fourth time Cam had had to pass on a question) would have heard.

"It means that someone's hurt very badly, sir," Becanek finally said. "That they'll probably die if they don't get proper medical treatment within an hour."

Jonas, who'd been kind of half-present since his recovery, looked up at Cam with an expression Cam couldn't read before they all turned to follow the sound of a jumper racing from the TOC toward the village, flying low and fast.

"It's for Lieutenant Gillick," Cam said quietly after it had passed.

"Fuck," Byrd sighed. "At least we found him."

They'd been lucky with casualties so far; this was the third time that the ambulance jumper had had to go out and the last two had been for injuries classified as "priority" injuries and not anything more serious.

Cam understood why it was important that his team be where they were, that they had done good work already and that a ZPM was a prize beyond anything they had hoped for. But he knew that his marines wished that they were in the town and Cam didn't necessarily feel differently. He also knew that there was only so much he could have done considering his relative lack of ground combat experience, but nobody in uniform wanted to stand around and hear the noise of combat and not be a part of it. They'd heard the gunfire in the distance and saw the town light up with the fires and explosions and Cam could follow everything on his radio and it all felt a little too much like being on the sidelines. Even -- especially -- after they'd gotten Jonas back.

Noise nearby and Cam snapped out of his reverie. Byrd and Becanek were already in position, rifles unslung, but it was just the squad of marines Lorne had sent forward to help them dig up the ZPM and get the shield generator back to the stargate. Staff Sergeant Brandeis reported for duty and had his marines setting up the hydraulic lift they'd brought in no time.

On the command net, Lorne was telling Sheppard that Weir had allowed them to bring Gillick back to Atlantis straightaway. When they'd been going over the medical evacuation part of the mission planning, they'd decided that everyone going to Gauhan would be quarantined on the gamma site before returning to the city and that they'd set up a field hospital there accordingly. Nobody knew if the vaccines for the prior plague would work and while pretty much everyone in Atlantis was either vaccinated or had already been exposed, there was no point in taking chances with a disease that could travel through the air. Safir's infectious diseases team had set up there (Safir was here, though, back at the TOC) and they'd do whatever tests they needed before moving people back to Atlantis.

But Gillick was litter-urgent, the first and hopefully only such case, and so there'd be an isolation room and the best emergency care the Pegasus galaxy could provide waiting for him. Cam offered up a little prayer as he heard the jumper fly back toward the stargate.

A little bit later Horton, freed from having to crouch awkwardly and straddle the hole they'd dug to get at the generator, rolled his neck and it popped loudly. "I think a litter'll hold it, sir," he said, gesturing behind him.

"If it'll hold Ortilla and Booger, it'll hold anything," Brandeis added, and then explained to Cam that Booger was Sergeant Beauregard of Bravo Company's Second Platoon, just in case Cam thought that they were talking about really big snots. He loved that the marines all treated him like an idiot.

It was going to take a while before Brandeis could test his assertion, however; like the world's most stubborn potato, the generator clung to the ground through a network of wires and tubes (or the Ancient equivalent of such) that Jonas hadn't the foggiest idea the purpose of when Cam asked. The marines worked their shovels around the base, digging out new mechanical roots and clearing the clay-like dirt as the lift creaked and groaned and the engine whined its displeasure. It was a sight, but not one Cam could get close to -- the marines weren't letting him anywhere near, were only letting Jonas come close since he was a scientific type, and so he had nothing to do but work the perimeter with the others and listen to the radio.

The battle was mostly over, at least it sounded like it. The marines had rounded up most of the Gauhani, killed two more priors, and were on the look out for two more -- including the original one. The population was mostly violent and the marines had flexicuffed almost everyone because of that, which was not ideal but certainly better than having to use more standard riot control methods.

Lorne asked Cam if he had a time estimate on getting the generator and the ZPM loose. Cam asked Jonas, who pursed his lips and said maybe an hour. Cam passed the information on to Lorne.

"Are you seeing any traffic out there?" Lorne asked.

Cam shook his head, even though he knew Lorne couldn't see him. "Not a hare," he replied. "Should we be expecting any?"

"Depends," Lorne said. "There's been flight from the town, but we have no idea in what direction. And there are still two loose priors, but I don't think they'll be running too far."

The generator site was between the town and the stargate, but well off of the road. Which meant that they had a far greater chance of running into someone trained in fieldcraft than a fearful civilian running from an invading force. Cam didn't think a prior was a likelihood, either, but weirder stuff had happened.

"We'll keep our eyes peeled," Cam promised.

The first footsteps they heard were not fleeing Ori worshipers, however. It was Ronon leading Consolis and a ragged parade of Gauhani resistors, most of whom were children.

"Safer this way," Ronon said with a shrug when Cam came up to him. Ronon had been carrying a woman like a bride over a threshold, which wasn't the easiest way to bring a weight over a distance and Ronon wasn't the kind to choose someone's dignity over a fireman's carry. But Cam had realized why Ronon had chosen that method when he'd gently put her down -- she was pregnant.

Cam couldn't argue about the route, so he instead pulled everyone not essential to either security or unearthing the generator toward settling the refugees. There were a few adults, mostly younger ones who nonetheless looked just as ready to drop as the children, and more than a dozen kids and babies. Everyone was coughing, the children were whimpering and crying, and Cam felt overwhelmed for a moment by both the déjà vu and the shift from being so far away from the events to having the consequences landing in his lap. He might not be such an expert on MOUT, but shepherding refugees from the Ori had been his work for almost a year. He radioed Lorne to tell him that they could use some help, then started giving orders.

Staff Sergeant Brandeis was put to organizing the children, as much as miserable, terrified children could be organized. Through cajoling and guiding the shellshocked kids by hand, Brandeis got them sitting in a small circle, like they were going to play duck, duck, goose. Cam had Sergeant Rigler fetching canteens and helping the kids drink. Hydration had been a problem in past prior plague epidemics, The adults were given canteens as well and one of the other sergeants was tearing up a clean cloth he'd pulled from somewhere to let them give water to the babies, so Cam stepped back and let the marines do their job.

"Their parents are dead or dying," Consolis said and Cam turned to him. He looked far older than the last time Cam had seen him. "The sickness moved so quickly. It was the only comfort I could offer, that their children would not live under such a hateful rule."

Cam nodded, unsure of what to say. "I'm sorry," is what he did say, since that was usually good. "About Daran, about all of this."

Consolis shook his head. "You warned us as best you could. There was no way for you to say or us to believe that everything we valued in our culture was deviant to that which spawned it."

Consolis was right, but that both of them accepted that the Ori had brought this on didn't make it any better. Consolis had lost his wife and his world and Cam knew that this wasn't the end of things, just the beginning.

One of the women started a coughing jag, a wracking fit that left her unable to breathe and unable to hold the infant in her arms. Cam rushed over and took the baby before it could be dropped as Jonas tended to the woman; their eyes met for a moment and Jonas gave him a look that made it clear that he'd hoped he'd seen the last of this scenario, too.

The baby boy was squalling, loud peals of misery, and Cam stood up and put him against his shoulder and rubbed his back. He murmured to it, the sort of meaningless blather that got said to babies who just wanted to hear a soothing voice, and then walked back toward Consolis, who was moving among the adults, speaking to them quietly.

"Don't you worry about falling ill yourself?" Consolis asked, gesturing to the baby, who'd quieted to whimpering. Cam had consoled a lot of infants over the last year. "Ronon brought us here and promised that we would not spread the illness to you, but I don't understand how. It only spared those who accepted the Ori and you are most certainly not among them."

"Once you get the plague, you're immune to it if you can survive it," Cam explained, grimacing slightly as Consolis reacted in realization. "Everyone else got the vaccine. We weren't sure it would work, but apparently it is."

Cam wasn't sure Consolis knew what a vaccine was, but it became a moot point once Doctor Safir and three marines showed up bearing supplies. Cam explained who Safir was as they watched him move from person to person, triaging as he went. Safir issued sharp orders to the marines, but he was gentle with the refugees and even smiling with the children. It was like watching someone else and not the cantankerous man Cam had interacted with.

As Safir worked, Cam thought that the tension level of their camp dropped a few notches; professionalism always gave confidence. Not that they'd been unprofessional before, but they'd been swamped and Safir's obvious competence (and three assistants) let everyone else fall back into roles they were better suited to perform. (Except for Byrd, who when he wasn't bird-dogging Ancient technology was the team's resident mother hen.) Becanek was handling security and Brandeis was back to the excavation and, between them, they had all of the marines gainfully employed. Ronon was on the periphery of the site, staying out of the floodlights but a presence nonetheless. Jonas had accepted a juice packet from one of the marine orderly-types and was sitting by himself near the hydraulic lift, looking a little lost, and Cam watched him for a long second before moving on.

Safir came over to look at the now-sleeping baby. Cam leaned forward to shift the infant to his hands. "Any word on Gillick?" he asked. Not that Cam thought that he had missed any word coming over the command net, but maybe Safir had heard something from being around the TOC or from one of the doctors in the ambulance jumper.

"Only that he'd arrived safely," Safir said with a grimace, not looking up from the baby. "But Aaron Gillick is nothing if not sturdy and that will help him through this."

From anyone else, that might have been a platitude.

Safir wiped a trace of a tear from the boy's cheek. "He's going to wake up famished," he said with what might have been a smile. Cam had thought Lorne had been playing him when he'd said that Safir was good with kids. "There will be a jumper soon that will take everyone to the gamma site."

On the assumption that the assault force would be quarantined for a few hours and that there would be refugees, food and water had been part of the gear brought to the gamma site.

Cam shifted the baby back to his shoulder and reached out with his free hand as Safir turned to go. "Doc?"

Safir turned back, eyebrow raised in question.

"Can you take a look at Jonas, please?" Cam asked in a low voice. "He said he was fine, but he was still a prisoner a few hours ago."

A nod in return and then Safir turned away again. Cam didn't think that any medicine could fix most of what was affecting Jonas, but he'd be damned if he let him hide any sort of physical damage. Jonas had come back to them brittle and angry, upset with himself and pissed at the situation and not doing a very good job of keeping himself from taking it out on anyone else. Cam had let him be, partially out of relief and mostly because he'd seen this reaction from Jonas before and knew that the lashing out would be over quickly. It was and the marines had quietly gone back to fussing over Jonas and he'd let them. They were a team again.

Cam deposited the sleeping baby with one of the Gauhani adults -- he got the impression that while some of the children belonged to some of the grownups, most of the collection was mix-and-match -- and wandered over to check in with Horton.

"I think we're just going to cut all of the protuberances, sir," Horton said, gesturing toward the expanding network of tubes and crap coming out of the generator. "We've got enough of a sample for the engineers back home to figure out what they are and it's starting to look like we're digging up someone's irrigation network."

"Are you sure we don't need all of the pipes?" Cam asked. "I don't want McKay on our asses for six months because we left something behind. And by 'our' I mean 'mine.'"

Horton, who'd been working with McKay on and off for three years and knew exactly what they'd be in for, grinned. "No, sir. The generator itself is the business end. Best I can figure is that the underground wiring is for something that's not here anymore. It may have been a power grid for a village back in the Ancients' days -- this shield is some pretty fancy stuff, but it doesn't need an entire ZPM to run."

Cam nodded, but he had no way of knowing if Horton was right or just wild guessing. He was spared having to confess by someone calling his name.

It took him a minute to realize that it was Ronon. "What is it?" he asked into his radio.

"Company," Ronon replied, this time using his own radio.

"Another refugee?"

"We took everyone who could move on their own," Ronon answered.

Cam sighed. They'd gotten to the Gauhani relatively early on in the indoctrination process, so while the majority was pretty rabid there were still bound to be a few cases of second thoughts sweeping through the population. Especially once it was explained that the Ori were false gods and oh, by the way, we're not going to be too nice to the folks who are still bent on killing. But Cam had been following the battle's progress on the radio and knew that the marines in the town hadn't gotten to that part of the game plan yet. "Do you want help?"

"I can handle it," Ronon said, sounding insulted to Cam's ear.

"I'm sure you can," he replied. "But keep that blaster of yours set on stun. He's worth more hogtied than barbecued right now."

There was no reply and Cam really hoped that that meant that Ronon wasn't arguing with him rather than that Ronon wasn't listening to him. Sheppard spoke whatever language Ronon used, but Cam sure as hell didn't. (He was still working on the whole Marine-to-English thing.) In anticipation of either result, Cam went over to Becanek and told him that Ronon was off intercepting a possible assailant and might need an extra pair of flexicuffs. Judging by Becanek's expression, the staff sergeant wasn't sure if they would be necessary, but trudged off in the direction Cam pointed him toward with an "aye aye, sir."

The two returned about five minutes later. They stayed outside of the camp's light, Becanek calling Cam over the radio to tell them that they were back. Cam found Consolis, who was still circulating among his people, and guided him to where Becanek said they'd be, which was by the giant tree just north of their site.

Becanek turned his covered flashlight on the captive's face. He was a young man, probably in his twenties, and he was bloodied and unconscious.

Consolis sighed heavily. "That is Alnor," he said. "He is a butcher's apprentice."

Which was exactly the sort of religious fanatic you wanted running around loose in the dark. Although it was already edging toward first light; the nights on Gauhan were ridiculously short this time of year.

"He was carrying these," Ronon said, holding out two massive knives so that they'd be visible in Becanek's flashlight. The red of the covering filter made the blades look more threatening than they already were. Cam didn't think Consolis missed the blood already on the blade.

"He was one of the first to embrace the... extreme wishes of the prior," Consolis said. "He volunteered to raise an army to cleanse the universe of unbelievers."

"Great," Cam murmured. "I'm guessing not a candidate for rehabilitation."

"Probably not, sir," Becanek agreed dryly. "What should we do with him?"

Cam looked at the horizon. It would be a couple of hours until sun-up, if they were still here that long. "Tie him to the tree, I guess. And gag him."

It wasn't ideal, but Cam didn't know what else to do with the guy. There would be a jumper to take the Gauhani to the gamma site soon, but throwing him in with them wasn't an option even if there would be marines there. Consolis didn't seem to object, but Cam didn't want to read anything into his acquiescence just yet.

On the way back to the site, Lorne radioed that the jumper for the refugees was en route. When it landed two minutes later, Cam was unsurprised to see Teyla helping the marines load the Gauhani into the ship.

Safir stayed behind, both for space considerations -- the jumper was pretty crowded, even with the kids sitting on laps -- and to deal with any more plague incidences. There hadn't been any reports of marines falling sick, but Cam doubted that any of the marines would self-report while there was still action in the town, not unless they were seriously ill.

There was some back-and-forth with Lorne about whether Safir should stay with them since the generator site was closer to the town or whether he should go back to the TOC since if he had to get anywhere fast, he'd be going by jumper anyway. Judging from the discussion, Cam thought Safir had probably been getting bored and restless at the TOC and Lorne knew it. In the end, however, Safir took his three assistants and went back to the TOC since he hadn't brought what he needed to go poking around the corpses of those who'd died of the plague.

"He's not really going to go play with the dead bodies, sir, is he?" Byrd asked, face scrunched up, after Safir and his crew left.

"'Fraid so, Sergeant," Cam replied. "Although I am pretty sure that he was not using 'play' in the literal sense of the word."

At least he hoped so.

The sky was just starting to lighten a little, from black to dark blue, as Horton and the marines finished cutting the generator free of its network of 'protuberances', a process that involved a circular saw, a blow torch, and a lot of grunting marines. Jonas, having been relegated to pointing and answering questions and thus not involved in the disentangling and hoisting, came over to where Cam was taking a break between circuits around the perimeter of their camp.

"What's next?" he asked, looking at the horizon in the direction of the town. The sky was brighter there, courtesy of the fires that were starting to burn out of control. Cam had been listening to his radio as best he could over the ruckus the generator extraction was making and knew that the search for the missing priors was being hampered by the blazes and that the marines were starting to pull back into sections of the town that were not yet on fire.

"The marines finish rounding up the indigs, find the priors, do a headcount, and pull out," Cam replied. That had been the plan, more or less oversimplified. "Or was that one of those existential questions?"

Jonas gave him a wry smile. "Both, I guess," he sighed. "It not like we've been on vacation since we got to Pegasus, but.... "

"But it was nice remembering that once upon a time, we'd done something besides fight the Ori?" Cam finished, since he was pretty sure that's where Jonas had been going. They weren't thoughts he hadn't had before.

"Yeah," Jonas agreed. "I wish I could stop feeling guilty for thinking that."

Me, too, Cam didn't say. Didn't think he had to. Survivor's guilt was probably the single best reason Heightmeyer's appointment book was still full even past the first anniversary of Robler Rock. That they were in a galaxy where there was still an implacable foe that didn't even offer the option of submission almost didn't matter, not in the relative safety of Atlantis and her growing dominions. Nor, frankly, did the mainland full of refugees from the Wraith -- everyone felt bad for Ronon and Teyla and the losses they'd incurred, but in the darkest parts of their Earth hearts, they had expected a better fate for such an advanced civilization as they were.

Like everything else brought to Gauhan, the generator was packed up and sent to the gamma site. Cam, back at the TOC after they'd closed out the site, had gone to the jumper to better follow the action, but had had to retreat outside for a moment rather than be overheard laughing at McKay's inadvertently broadcasted argument with Weir over the delivery of the generator to Atlantis. It was one of the few highlights of the morning.

Cam and Ronon caught a lift with Safir after daybreak, meeting up with Sheppard and taking a tour of the smoldering town as they wended their way to where the Gauhani citizens were effectively penned in the large market square. It was depressing to see the whitewashed stone turned black with ash or, on occasion, red-brown with drying blood. There were knocked-over benches, destroyed storefronts and homes, the occasional collapsed wall, and other signs of a fight that hadn't been as lopsided as the results looked.

The market square, however, had remained untouched by fire or any real destruction -- the shop where he'd been given ice cream still had its picture window intact, rows of sweets on display -- but there was no mistaking the bitter undercurrent of malevolence swirling around. On the other side of Sheppard, Ronon was almost hyper-alert, flexing his fingers and looking around like he expected something to break out at any moment. Cam idly wondered if Ronon had ever seen this sort of thing before coming to Atlantis -- one human force subjugating another -- or if it had always been man-against-Wraith.

They caught up with Polito, who was being both watched after and attended by his first sergeant.

"We have no idea how many people we're missing," Polito admitted, gesturing with the pencil in his hand toward the crowd milling in the square. Most had settled in what were presumably family groups and there were children dozing on their mothers' laps. It was a far cry from the scene he'd beheld earlier and Cam hardened his heart a little; these children were healthy and most of them hadn't lost at least one parent last night. "We're still tracking down the dead and wounded so we can count them against the fled."

"You got mine?" Cam asked. Alnor-the-knife-wielding-butcher's-apprentice had been handed over to the marines, who'd brought him back here.

Ronon looked over with an expression that Cam took to mean that he'd have preferred the prisoner be referred to as his.

"Yes, sir," Polito replied with an amused look. "He's off with one of the corpsmen -- tried biting his way out his flexicuffs."

"Sounds like my boy," Cam agreed. Sheppard shook his head.

"At least they're not surrendering and then detonating," Polito said. "Although I think some of them would if they could."

In Cam's experience, martyrdom was both a really big and an inconsequential problem with the Ori followers. They didn't have the same sort of concept of a paradise awaiting them that Earth types were used to among martyrs of any flavor, so the urge to suicide for their cause wasn't as great (priors were a different story; they lived to die). On the other hand, they were damned quick to be heedless of their own safety when it came to enforcing the submit-or-die part of the Ori creed.

Cam wandered a bit -- not too far -- as Sheppard and Polito talked with Lorne over the radio about replacing the marines; Kagan's platoon had been out for two days and everyone else had been up all night fighting and the Gauhani population wasn't going to be dealt with right away. Cam was tired, too, but not the sort of fatigued that went with combat. He'd volunteer to hang out if Sheppard needed a senior officer around.

In the meanwhile, he started walked down one of the streets, stopping in front of a tavern not too far from the square. The door was open, which was a little odd because every other door on the street had been closed. He was inclined to consider it just one of those things -- if he were going to break into some place during a riot, the local taproom was certainly high on the list -- until he heard a noise inside.

He took a step back and asked Polito over the radio if the streets leading from the market had been swept.

"Yes, sir," Polito replied. "Did you find something?"

"Maybe a mouse in the tavern," he answered, "Maybe bigger than a mouse. I'm going to go have a look-see."

"I'll send someone in case it's bigger than a mouse, sir," Polito said.

"Much appreciated," Cam said as he approached the doorway again. The door was open enough that he could get through without opening it further; he did and then, taking advantage of a little vestibule before the main room, he closed his eyes for a second to get them accustomed to the relative darkness inside.

There was nobody in the main room of the tavern. The room itself was undisturbed -- all of the tables in the right place, all of the chairs pushed in -- and Cam could see behind the bar as he entered. He was about to concede that maybe it had been a mouse (and wouldn't that be great to tell the marines undoubtedly running over to save him from some fanatical Ori) when he heard noise coming from above him. Someone walking around upstairs.

There was an archway leading to a stairwell on the far side of the bar and Cam crossed to it carefully, crouching down at the end of the bar so he could take a peek in case there was a look-out at the bottom of the stairs. There wasn't, so he moved to the stairwell, 9mm raised in case there was someone at the top. Safe again, so he climbed the stairs, slowly at first until he realized that going slow was making them creak louder, so he ran up the rest, careful to take light steps. The upstairs was probably the home of the tavern owner and Cam cursed to himself as he had to clear each room by himself. There were a million places to hide in each one, but he'd heard footsteps at the front of the building, so he went there after more cursory checks of the first rooms.

In the last room, a bedroom, there was a ladder and an open trap door. So much for subtlety. The ladder could be climbed one-handed so he could keep his pistol out, but Cam still took a deep breath before he stuck his head through the hole. This wasn't the time he took one in the head, though, so instead he saw the mouse he'd been chasing. It was a man and he was looking to be Gauhan's Lee Harvey Oswald and that really would put a crappy topper on the day. He was kneeling at the edge of the roof, an old rifle aimed in the direction of the market square.

Cam sighed to himself, climbed up the rest of the ladder, and silently crossed the roof until he was just far enough away from the man to avoid getting nailed if he swung around with what looked like (upon closer inspection) one of the muskets Cam used to see at the Civil War museums. From what he remembered about muskets, there were half a dozen steps involved in firing one and judging by the materials still on the ground, the would-be shooter hadn't gotten around to any of them. There was a ramrod on the ground and what Cam figured were gunpowder cartridges.

He had put the safety on his pistol when he'd climbed the ladder, but he took it off now and cocked it. The man before him started, but didn't turn around.

"Muzzle-loading musket's an awfully inaccurate weapon," Cam said, all friendly-like. "Now I'm gonna assume you know how to work that baby and so I'll wager that you can hit something. But I think we both know that the odds aren't good that it'll be what you're aiming at. Me, on the other hand, I've got myself a 9mm pistol and while these babies don't have the stopping power of a nice .45, I'm willing to bet I can still splatter your brainpan like an egg from this distance. Wanna take me up on that wager or are you just going to put your hands on your head?"

"Those who reject the path to enlightenment must be destroyed," the man said, not moving.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Cam sighed, because this was rapidly descending from Dirty Harry Callahan cool to Just Another Wacky Fanatic. "Hallowed are the Ori and all that jazz. Put the pop gun down."

Cam heard the marines join him on the rooftop, but didn't take his eyes off of the would-be gunman. They approached carefully, wrestled the musket away and cuffed the Gauhani man without too much fuss, and presented him to Cam like a gift.

"Well, let's take him back and put him with the others," Cam told them. He followed them downstairs -- the marines were relatively solicitous and didn't let the man fall all the way to the bedroom floor from the roof -- and back to the market square. Sheppard and Polito watched their approach.

"That very nearly wasn't very funny," Sheppard said after the marines had taken the man away.

"I think we'll step up the sweeps through the town, sir," Polito said, signaling to one of the lieutenants. "Go for a staggered relief in place instead of sequential."

Sheppard gestured as if to say that he was leaving this entirely up to Polito, who started organizing with Lorne on the radio and Lieutenant Patchok in person.

Cam and Sheppard both ended up going out with patrols (and Ronon, too, but only after they'd left because he'd gone wandering on his own) with the understanding that when the squads were relieved, they would follow them to the gamma site. The early results were in from those already there -- it didn't seem like anyone who'd got the vaccine was displaying any signs of plague. Which meant that the quarantine should be relatively short, at least in theory. If McKay was still waiting on that generator, the quarantine might get shortened further still. Three cheers for the demanding, cranky guy.

Cam hadn't realized he'd maybe fallen asleep until he was woken up by Jonas laughing in the hallway.

"That bad?" Jonas asked as he sat down in the chair across from Cam's desk, banana in one hand and coffee mug in the other. Cam sat up with a groan, rolling his neck and shoulders and thus nearly knocking over the coffee that Jonas had brought for him. Along with the still-warm donuts that left powdered sugar and oil on Cam's fingers as he scarfed them down.

"Thanks," Cam said as he washed everything down with a slug of coffee. It wasn't Earth coffee, but it tasted close enough and (through processes nobody dared ask about) it had caffeine and so it was what everyone lived on. He looked at his watch; it was a half-hour later than he remembered it being and twenty minutes before they had to be down in the briefing room. Again. "And not so much 'bad' as that I think I've hit my saturation point. Ain't nothin' else gonna fit in the shotglass that is my brain."

Jonas, mouth full of banana, nodded in sympathy, which Cam might have gotten annoyed by if Jonas hadn't brought him coffee and donuts. Jonas read voraciously and remembered everything and tended to forget that other people couldn't, which meant that his sympathy was completely false.

"At least the lieutenants seem to have some grasp of the English language," Cam went on, since Jonas was still chewing. "Kagan's got a career as a novelist if the marine thing doesn't work out."

Since he was detailing all of his recon work before the mission, Kagan's AAR had read in part like a spy novel -- albeit a spy novel with a lot of acronyms and jargon and different spelling for two of the Gauhani priors than what everyone else was using. But it had been entertaining and, considering how much paperwork they'd been generating and trying to absorb in the past few days, it still counted as a high point.

"Did you read McKay's?" Jonas asked, having swallowed.

Cam gave him a look. "I skimmed the first paragraph, understood maybe four words, and then went on."

In truth, he probably would have skipped it even if he'd understood ten words; McKay's report had nothing to do with the action on Gauhan. It was instead a thesis on the nature of the shield and Cam had learned long ago to stick to the parts that told him what he had to do and not wonder at the nuts and bolts of things. Either Engineering could get it to work again or they couldn't, they'd be reproducing for use on other worlds or they wouldn't, and Cam would find out those answers in due course.

"I read yours, though," Cam added. He'd understood a bit more of that -- Jonas was more used to writing for laymen than McKay (or Sam, for that matter, but Sam hadn't ever really expected anyone to understand her technical evaluations). Plus Cam had actually been there for much of what Jonas was recounting and thus could translate long paragraphs of details and measurements and energy outputs into 'this is where Jonas and Horton nearly blew us up by putting the crystals in backward to see what would happen if they did.'

There'd been a few paragraphs in Jonas's report on his capture, captivity, and rescue, too. Cam read those -- the words and between the lines -- because he'd never get the story out of Jonas.

"McKay's got some interesting theories," Jonas went on, looking mournfully at the empty banana skin. Which was purple, since those kinds were apparently easier to grow on the planet they were currently using for tropical crops. They were tasty and sweeter than most of what the King Soopers had ever had, but they also never quite stopped reminding Cam that they weren't on Earth anymore. Despite the fact that Jonas had assured him that purple and red bananas grew on Earth. ("Why do you know these things?")

"About?" Cam asked, since he'd realized he'd been thinking too hard about bananas.

"The detection mechanisms of the shield," Jonas replied, perking up. "If he's right, then we've got some amazing avenues of exploration in terms of defending Pegasus from the Wraith -- and possibly an Ori armada."

Cam raised his eyebrows. "Do you think he's right?"

Jonas shrugged and took a sip of his coffee. "Either he's right or he's completely insane," he said. "Personally, I'm hoping for 'right'. He's got access to far too many dangerous materials to be a mad genius."

On that note, it was time to head over to the meeting.

The overview took less and less time each iteration; by this point, everyone could repeat the salient points of Operation Gabriel like a mantra, from the successful rescue of all hostages to the planned destruction of the DHD on Gauhan when they'd finished trying to convince the people there that the Ori were just snake oil salesmen.

There was still an element among the rank and file (and some officers) to salt the earth there, that effectively isolating the planet without either shield or convenient means of escape wasn't enough, but Cam wasn't on that boat just yet. His reasoning for not wanting to drop a nuke on Gauhan (emptied or not) was that he wasn't sure it would do anything besides waste fissionable material. Besides, then they'd have to find another planet to store the ones who were there now. The people still left on Gauhan were the hardest of the hard cases, the wackos like Alnor-the-knife-wielding-butcher's-apprentice who were thus far refusing to give up the Ori as gods despite concerted attempts at deprogramming including Consolis's heartbreaking pleas. Cam really didn't pity them and understood that they were taking a risk by leaving them behind. But the real risk of leaving them there came from them being re-armed and helped out by the Ori and if that were to happen, then Cam figured they'd have much bigger problems to worry about.

The biggest problem remaining was that they still didn't know how the original prior had gotten to Gauhan, whether he'd used the stargate and, if so, where was he dialing in from? Not Earth, they didn't think. Even if the SGC hadn't been cratered along with the rest of NORAD, the Pegasus addresses in the SGC files hadn't included Gauhan. The priors -- Daran and the others -- had spoken of Gauhan as a holy place, which could have been Everywhere-is-Holy-to-Us bullshit but the choice of planet was both just a little too random and not-random-at-all for anyone to quite believe that.

The nerds over in G-2 had been working on the story of Valtinus-the-Ancient-Heretic, but the Ancients, to nobody's surprise, had been very thorough in purging direct references to him from the database. G-2 had gotten a little further by trying from the Gauhan angle -- Consolis had been very helpful, apparently, translating texts and explaining bits of Gauhani lore -- and then working back from there to the Ancient database. Valtinus may have built the shield and if he did that, then he might have left some other gifts in place. But, like the best booby traps, Cam (and everyone else) suspected that they wouldn't find anything until it bit them on the ass.

The meeting ended with a medical update. While everyone knew that Sergeant Ricardi wasn't going anywhere until his compound fracture healed and Gillick was still sedated to let him ride out the worst of the pain, it was a pretty big sigh of relief to find out that the two marines who'd come down with plague-like symptoms were not, in fact, afflicted with prior plague and just had bad cases of the garden variety bronchitis that had been going through Little Tripoli. The vaccine seemed to be doing its job despite Safir's findings that the strain of prior plague that had hit Gauhan had been an especially virulent one, perhaps specially crafted to be more effective on the hardy Pegasus immune system.

"When are we going to get good news that doesn't come with a giant But attached to it?" Cam asked as they filed out of the briefing room.  

"It happens," Jonas protested. Cam gave him a challenging look because he was quite sure that Jonas would be hard-pressed to actually give an example if asked.

"It's usually bad news that just looks good by comparison," Cam said instead, walking quickly to catch up to Sheppard so they could get on the transporter together. He was sure Sheppard was heading to the commissary; they had run over on the meeting and Sheppard tended to be like him with the snack-before-eat-later routine. Nothing like the growling stomach of the CO to cut short an endless digression. "'No prior plague in Atlantis' is just the silver lining on 'acute bronchitis running rampant among the marines.'"

"On the other hand," Sheppard said, waving his hands over the crystals, "'Acute bronchitis running rampant among the marines' gets us a very quiet peanut gallery. Or was I the only one to notice the lack of just-out-of-earshot commentary from the rear two rows?"

The last few rows of the briefing room were the domain of the lieutenants and senior NCOs, all of whom were pretty sure that they had better ideas than their superiors. But between the attention devoted to cough drops and tea and the laryngitis that seemed to follow the hacking cough, however, it had been unusually quiet.

They exited the transporter near the commissary, noisy for it being actual lunchtime for the rest of the city. Thankfully, it was near the end of the busy period and the lines were short.

"Can you do something about banning the word 'surprise' from the menu?" Cam asked Sheppard as he accepted a tray from Jonas. "I'm as much an omnivore as anyone else with dog tags, but a man's got to have his limits and we are in another galaxy."

"Also, it's redundant," Jonas added with a moue of distaste.

From what Cam had been told, once upon a time the kitchen staff had been marines and Atlantis had been fed a narrow range of options with a wide range of edibility. Since he'd been here, though, the kitchens were the domains of civilians -- some from Earth, most from other planets in the Milky Way, a few from Pegasus -- and between the changeover in staff and the switch to entirely Pegasus-based food sources, there was no guarantee that anyone would be able to identify anything but the salads. Ingredients familiar and not were thrown together in combinations that were usually tasty and even occasionally recognizable -- lasagna was a standard, even allowing for everyone's take on it -- but the hot foods line still tended to be a kind of choose-your-own-adventure.

Sheppard shook his head and smiled as some kind of sautéed green was dropped on to his tray. "I lost control of that once we eliminated KP," he said. "I've asked Doctor Weir, but all I've ever gotten in return is an offer to have the menus put online."

Cam was prepared to let Sheppard go his own way once they were through the line -- enough tables were clearing out that there wasn't a press for space -- but he gestured with his head for them to follow, so they did. Or at least Cam did; Jonas saw one of his scientist buddies and peeled off.

Sheppard led Cam to a table where Teyla was sitting with Ronon. Greetings all around and the men got to eating -- Teyla was picking at her roll delicately like a bird, although Cam had seen her eat like a real person enough times to know that she was just picking so as to have something to do while they shoveled in food.

"Are you up for a practice later today?" Sheppard asked Teyla after the gorging part of the meal was over. "I'm going to be spending the afternoon getting beaten up verbally; might as well get the bruises to go with it."

Ronon snorted a laugh.

"It's not that funny," Sheppard told him sourly.

"Yes it is," Ronon assured him.

Cam smiled. It reminded him both of what he missed with SG-1 and what he was still building with his own team here. Things were getting a lot better; they were still learning each other's mannerisms and tendencies, finding a way around the inequalities of rank, but they were definitely coming to a détente. They weren't yet Lorne's team, would never be Sheppard's (and, despite the current bonhomie, Cam was a little glad of that), but they were going their own way. And Cam was good with that.

What he was less good with -- or, rather, what he was pretty good with and just depressed him -- was spending the afternoon playing liaison to the Gauhani refugees. Consolis felt most at ease with him, so Weir had made Cam point-man. Answering questions was an involved process because it was actually up to him to get what Consolis needed to know -- everything from "where can I get another blanket?" to "will we be able to visit Gauhan ever again?" was Cam's responsibility, plus more usual sorts of duties like getting updates from Medical on the status of the plague victims (all but two of whom were making decent recoveries; one adult and one baby were touch-and-go) and making sure everyone had food and clothes and wasn't getting lost in the city. The joke about the last was that Cam was probably the last person to rely on for direction in the city.

The Atlantis command was involving Consolis in the decisions regarding the fate of his people, but Cam figured that both sides understood the limits of that partnership. Consolis displayed a rare grace in this weird limbo between liberated and imprisoned -- he didn't begrudge anyone's suspicion, but he refused to cater to it, either. Cam didn't think there was anyone in Atlantis who remained unimpressed by him.

Consolis had spent a lot of time in G-2 learning about the Ancients and the Ori and it wasn't unusual for Cam to find him with red eyes and wiping away tears. With all of the crises of faith that had come with the Ori's attack on Earth, Cam couldn't imagine having his beliefs ripped away from him like the Gauhani had. Consolis was trying to figure out what had happened as well as what should happen and that was a responsibility Cam prayed he'd never have to see among his own people.

Today's activities were no different and, by the time he wished Consolis a good evening and headed back to Little Tripoli to get some target practice in with his team (the marines went to the range with their platoon, but were always a little too enthusiastic to come shooting with Cam and Jonas), he was almost looking forward to getting mocked for his groupings.

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17 March, 2007