Standing on the edge of the woods, at the edge of a landslide-born dead drop below, Sheppard’s team and Kenmore stare at the scene that lies before them. Down below in a massive clearing bordered on the right by dozens of huts indicating a village and all around by the tree-saturated hills are groups of dozens of people gathered around five giant randomly placed bonfires. Some of the people gathered are walking up to the fires carrying large limp bundles in their hands. Both Kenmore and Sheppard have seen it at least a dozen times before they joined the SGC and they needn’t have fought either in Iraq or Afghanistan to remember the way those particular bundles overflowed limply beyond the arms that tenderly carried them to their final destinations: dead bodies. The carriers of the dead toss their bundles onto the fires, already piled high and spilling onto the ground around their bases. Three of the fires are lit. Their bizarrely golden flames crowning their piles like ordained volcanoes and spewing curls of acrid black smoke into the air. While one of the remaining two bonfires is just starting to cough up whisps of grey trimmed in white smoke, undoubtedly a fire being rebuilt over the remains of an old one like a cannibalistic phoenix, the other bonfire still remains unlit, not smoking, and still being built. Fresh and new, a disgusting play on the idea of pure.
“My God,” Rodney gasps.
“It must be their dead from the Hoffan plague,” John says. And another vivid memory of Afghanistan arises from long buried shadows in his mind. It started out like all of his usual memories of that battlefield: the blackened shadow silhouette of his helicopter gliding over the desert sands towards a hostile city, the rotor blades moving so fast they simply appeared as a greyed blur circling the dark reflection of the chopper’s main body. Then he’d see a far off pillar of smoke, small. Just starting to pale around it’s edges, meaning it was burning itself out and whatever threat there had been was long gone. But still interesting enough for him to dip his helicopter a little closer to the surface in order to get a better look as he approached and passed by. He’d thought what he was seeing was a burning out humvee dying a fiery death…until he got up close…and realized it was a bunch of bodies piled together and rigormortis had set in. Afghani “mass graves,” someone had told him once that’s what they were nicknamed. The people were too scared to go out into the open and stay there long enough to bury their dead properly so they just piled the bodies together and set them on fire so at least the wildlife couldn’t get at their loved ones or diseases coming from decay. They were afraid the soldiers would pick them off if they spent any more time on a funeral than that…or if the soldiers didn’t, the Taliban might.
…And flaming dog bodies lying beside the abandoned roads, the Taliban would use those as bombs. Lure sympathetic soldiers, like John, in and detonate. John liked dogs, had a puppy when he was little until his…Dad had “accidentally” ran over the little thing after he and John had had a fight. John couldn’t help but feel “accident” had had nothing to do with it. They had gotten into a fight over the puppy’s care and John’s Dad ended up backing over the little two month-old Golden Retriever. The old man tried to apologize…but John had been too distraught and wouldn’t have anything to do with him. John’s mother had been just as distraught as John had and spent the rest of the day consoling him. Spent the rest of the next two weeks consoling him, actually.
His Dad bought him another puppy, but it just wasn’t the same. John played with it for a couple of months, but ended up giving the baby Weimaraner to his brother. It had always been more of Dave’s puppy than John’s, they both played with it even though it had been a gift to John but it just wasn’t John’s puppy…He’d never forgiven his father for running over Twinkie. Yet another thing on a long list of things that had come between John and his father and stayed there until the old man’s death.
At the funeral, Dave had made some snarky, mean-ass dig about John only showing up to know if he’d gotten any money in the will; it had caught John off guard then but now he remembered his father making some equally snarky, mean-ass comment to John when he gave him Snickers about how John damn well better like the dog because of how much it cost to replace the dog he’d ran over. Why had it always seemed to be about money with those two? Maybe that’s why John never got along with them, they never saw anything beyond the dollar signs…Silently, he wished they could see this.
“They must have run out of room to bury them,” Teyla speaks up and the thought comes to her as a feeling. If her own people had been exposed like the rest of the Pegasus Galaxy had, this might also have been their fates. Suddenly she was very thankful for them being turned into hybrids from Wraith-hybrid Michael Kenmore’s experimentation or killed outright by him and his followers. She never thought, what was her friends’ expression, ‘in a million years’ that she would be grateful for that.
Everyone continues to survey the scene below in grim sobriety…except for Kenmore. The look of horror and panic on her face is still there and it’s growing in intensity. She’s practically becoming distraught.
“No,” she begs.
Sheppard looks at her. He could understand the feeling, but it wasn’t their call.
“It’s their burial rites, Kenmore,” he tells her softly, seeing if that could calm her down any. It hadn’t when his CO had tried it on him that first week in Afghanistan, after flying by that pillar of smoke, but it might here, it was worth a try.
Kenmore’s distress increases. She yells…
Both she and the team are too far away for the people below to hear her. Two men walk out of one of the village’s huts directly bordering the bonfire’s clearing with torches in their hands. The crowds part for the men to make their ways. They walk over to the unlit non-smoking pile of bodies. Kenmore panics.
Sheppard loses patience with her. Annoying the team was one thing, being distraught by the scene was one thing, but disrupting the funeral rites of another culture was something very different and very insulting to him. You don’t go around telling other people how you think their loved ones should be buried.
“Kenmore,” he snaps.
The men toss their torches on the unlit bonfire.
“Stop!” Her voice takes on a bizarre, rapid echo like her voice alone was trying to break the sound barrier with as much chaotic speed as possible. As she yells, Kenmore spreads her arms out as if she’s shoving people out of her way, shoving the men away.
Suddenly the flames from the bonfires shoot out from their piles like the flares of an exploding firework and engulf random people standing around them. The flames of the torches suddenly shoot back and engulf their carriers. The enflamed start screaming and staggering desperately away from the piles, flailing. Their blazing arms extended away from the rest of their bodies. From this distance they looked like miniature Wicker Men coming to life to horrify the masses. The whole crowd is thrown into chaos and confusion. Some villagers flew the scene, screaming in mortal terror and the seeming magic of the terrible moment; others somehow managed to stay in their mournful spots surrounding the bonfires, acting as though nothing had happened, that there was nothing bizarre going on around them.
The team stares in shock at Kenmore and shocked at what the Lieutenant’s uncontrollable Ancient powers have managed to do again. Kenmore doesn’t wait for them to come to their senses enough to tell her about it though. She runs over the edge of the crest and slides for a few feet down the landslide slope of the hill then switches to her other foot and slides further still, going back and forth from left foot to right foot skiing in her combat boots down the rest of the slide. At the bottom, Kenmore barely manages to scramble to her feet in time to stop her butt from hitting the ground and she runs for the still unlit pile of bodies. She shoves villagers frozen in place by grief out of her way. Then one of the engulfed torchbearers stumbles and flails towards her. Kenmore stands aside with her hands up in surrender and lets the screaming man go past her then continues her run towards the bonfire.
Kenmore falls to her knees at its edge. She looks the pile of bodies over for a horrified moment then dives into it, pulling body after body aside. Suddenly she finds what she’s been searching for: a little red-haired girl that looks to be about seven, maybe eight or nine years-old wearing a light blue nightgown scorched and torn and just as covered in dirt and soot as the rest of the pile’s occupants. Kenmore pulls the little girl from the pile and uncovers the body of an infant, maybe three or four months old, lying swaddled in a dirty white blanket underneath the arm of some other body underneath the girl. Kenmore pulls the infant from the pile as well and drags the two children a few feet from its edge.
As she leans over the bodies, the first of the team joins her. McKay falls to his knees across from Kenmore and right beside the baby. Kenmore checks the little girl’s throat.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing,” he asks, aghast at such a hideous show of arrogance. Never, in a million years, would even he be so arrogant enough to storm into the middle of a funeral and start telling people how to bury their families and friends. The arrogance of it. The brashness of it. The hypocri—
“She’s still alive,” Kenmore yells at him.
“What,” he gapes.
She leans across the little girl and checks the baby in front of McKay. A slight tilt to the baby’s head and Kenmore leans further over to the infant, clamps her mouth over its mouth and nose, and, as gently as she possibly can while as breathless as she is, exhales. Suddenly she reels back. Whatever seal smoke had created in the child’s throat is broken and the baby starts shuddering with its cries. McKay stares down at it.
“Oh my God.”
Kenmore reels her body back to tending the girl, who’s still unresponsive. Finally the rest of Rodney’s team catches up to them, apparently Rodney’s propensity for arrogance lead him to shove people out of his way without consideration for their well-being and allowed him speed while the others’ propensity for politeness had staggered themselves. Teyla and Sheppard fall to their knees at the feet of the girl and baby. They stare down at the survivors.
“Doctor McKay, go back to the jumper and get the medical kit,” Kenmore orders.
“I’ll do it,” Teyla offers in a rush of voice and breath.
The Athosian reaches out to Ronon as she scrambles to her feet. He helps her up and she runs back through the crowd towards the hill and their jumper. Hopefully her kindness towards strangers would not be so forgiving this time. Seconds were precious and minutes were gold.
“What can I do,” McKay asks now that his original task has been stripped of him by a far speedier teammate.
“There’s more out there,” Kenmore tells him as she tends to the girl, “Get them out of the piles.”
Kenmore puts her ear close to the girl’s lips and looks down her body. The girl’s chest moves up and down slightly, barely perceptibly, but it was moving. Thank God. McKay looks behind him at the smoldering and non-smoldering piles then he looks back at Kenmore.
“How,” he was dumbfounded. He wasn’t like Kenmore. There wasn’t any half-Ancient DNA in him that would allow him to ESP out the living from the dead…And there were piles of burning bodies…there were bodies inches away from him…and, and…Good God, the smell.
Kenmore slowly looks up from the girl at him.
“Get a life signs detector,” she snaps. Wasn’t it obvious?
Kenmore turns her attention back to the girl.
“I don’t have one,” McKay tells her. The smell.
Kenmore looks back up at him again. She knew the situation was mind blowing, she’d been on peacekeeping missions in hideously abused countries before, but really?
“Then go back to the jumper and get one!”
McKay struggles to his feet and runs in the same direction Teyla had. Sheppard had tried to help him up, but McKay ignored him; the first trickles of panic were setting in.
Kenmore goes back to the little girl. She pats the girl’s cheek a couple of times. The girl stirs. Kenmore finally allows herself to exhale in relief.
Quickly she gathers up the screaming baby and puts the infant on the girl’s chest. She wraps the girl’s arms around the baby. Then she gathers up both survivors and strongly stands up, cradling them in her arms. Sheppard stands up with her and looks back at the piles. She said there were more in there, how many more?
Kenmore starts to head towards the nearest hut. Ronon and Sheppard follow behind her. But it was like traversing a disturbing forest. The villagers that have stood by this entire time in a state of what Sheppard hoped was numb bereavement remain frozen in some sort of time that obviously Sheppard, Ronon, Kenmore, and Rodney and Teyla aren’t trapped by. No one is parting for the Lieutenant to get her young casualties to some safe shelter where they could get better medical attention than raw, in-the-moment, battlefield expertise. She has to shove her way through every hole she can find that might be big enough for her and her precious load to get through, but, without knowing even vaguely what the kids’ injuries are beyond smoke inhalation and exposure, Kenmore doesn’t push too hard. She doesn’t want to, but she’s got to get these kids the hell out of this Hell. Sheppard glances over at Ronon. Ronon does the same. Then Sheppard looks back out at the throngs of unmoving human trees in front of Kenmore and the children and yells…
“Out of the way! Make a hole!”
“Move,” Ronon bellows. Slowly but surely, some of the crowd begins to shift, snapped out of their ice by the Satedan’s bombastic grumble like the preceding earthquake of a volcano before it erupts.
As they yell for the crowd to give Kenmore room and whoever doesn’t move, Kenmore pushes through, someone from the back of the crowd pushes towards them. Suddenly a woman shoves two people out of her way and stands in front of Kenmore, forcing the Lieutenant to stop. She was the same height as Sheppard, although the only time John had ever met her she had been sitting on what he would call a throne which had been big enough to hide any sense or hint of her height. She was wearing the same outfit the first time he’d met her. A burgundy suede corset accented with gilt filigreed thread designed to look like lace with cap sleeves and a chin-high, stiff collar of the same burgundy suede but free of the fine thread. The interior of the collar was trimmed in short peacock blue feathers, so brilliant against the burgundy gemstones of the choker necklace with dangling strings wrapped so elegantly around her throat by a strip of suede of the same color. The suede appeared again wrapped around her biceps, the short blue feathers blooming from their bottoms like the petals of a flower. And the suede appears again in the woman’s long voluminous skirt slipping out from underneath her top and complimented with a trellis of pearls sewn together to form a falling pattern of tiny, graceful flowers leading a path down to her pretty feet on complimentary tan leather heels and held in place by the heels’ tan leather straps. Her whole stunning form framed by a cape of beautifully painted, translucent material attached somewhere at her back, where the cap sleeves end and the corset begins perhaps, and a headdress of the same burgundy gemstones as the choker, pearls, and gold crowning her gorgeous raven haired head; she dressed like a queen amongst the peasantry. The three SG members look on the fuming face and figure of Shiana, the woman who had put Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and his team, as representative of the entire Atlantis Expedition, on trial for crimes against the humans of the Pegasus Galaxy a year ago and had also been the only judging member of the tribunal to find Sheppard, his team, and the people they represented absolutely guilty.
“What did you do,” she accuses Sheppard.
“I didn’t do anything.”
A sour smile crosses the woman’s lips, simpering her gorgeously exotic face.
“Isn’t that what you always do, start things that you cannot possibly finish and then leave others to suffer and die in your wake?”
Ronon glances at Sheppard.
“And do you always sacrifice your living with your dead? ‘Cause if you do Lady,” Kenmore readjusts the heft of the two children in her arms, “You’re doing a bang up job.”
The Lieutenant shoves past Shiana and continues to make her way to the hut her adrenaline had selected. Shiana, slack-jawed at the way someone would so blatantly treat her like that, watches Kenmore’s back for a moment then turns her head to glare back at Sheppard and Ronon. Clearly these people of Atlantis had no idea how to treat others properly, she waits for Colonel Sheppard’s apology on behalf of one of his subjects. The two men exchange looks with each other then they too move past the leader of one of the Tribes of Santhal.