Smoke still clouds the sky over the village like a contained storm cloud, but no more fires have been lit and the ones that had already been extinguished by Kenmore’s telekinetic outburst have had their enflamed victims already put out and pulled into the village to be sought to and treated by their fellow villagers.
Teyla cradles the freshly clean baby in her arms, bouncing the infant, and cooing for calm the way a mother does as Ronon washes the arm of the little girl, now fully conscious, sitting up on the edge of the table and watching Ronon gently wipe the wet cloth over her skin. Without looking up, Ronon asks…
“So are you going to tell me what happened or do I have to wait for Sheppard to get back?”
Teyla glances at him then returns her attention to the baby.
“There was a…misunderstanding,” she answers simply.
“There was no misunderstanding,” Shiana interjects.
Teyla and Ronon look back at the doorway where Shiana had been pacing and waiting. Now she was stopped and staring at them. Ronon thought the low grumble of his voice and Teyla’s own naturally soft voice had been enough to keep his question a private conversation.
“You have overstepped your bounds once again,” Shiana rebukes them.
“We were saving lives,” Teyla tells her.
Shiana gestures at the children.
“You call this saving?”
Ronon and Teyla glance at each other then look down at the baby still wrapped in his distressed blanket, now sleeping peacefully, then at the girl, still in her blue nightdress the color of a robin’s egg, who looks just as bewildered as they do. They glance at each other once more then look back at Shiana. Yes, they do. Shiana sees the confusion in their eyes.
“Give her to me,” she demands.
She charges forward, her outfit suddenly making her look like a ruffled peacock, and yanks the little girl off the table. Ronon steps forward, but Teyla hisses at him; he looks up at her, she shakes her head, and Ronon, against his better judgment, lets Shiana drag the girl away from him. But as soon as Shiana reaches the door, McKay rushes in and runs right into her and the girl.
“Watch out, we’re coming in with more,” he warns them, completely oblivious to the tension permeating the environment of the hut and how, behind him, Shiana looked like her eyes could spit daggers at all of them.
“How many more,” Teyla asks.
“Ten and that’s just how many we figured we could fit in here.”
Teyla and Ronon don’t like the sound of that.
“How many more,” Teyla repeats. The firmness in her voice implying that Rodney has to give her an exact answer this time.
McKay steps aside and starts letting in people carrying others in. Some on stretchers made from whatever materials could be scrounged together in such a short time, mostly what Teyla could identify as a broken down wheelbarrow. Some just by hand, in fireman carriers and forming flesh and bone and muscle stretchers with their own arms. He looks back at her. His expression is not good.
“In that first pile, thirty-five and we’ve pulled fifteen out of the second pile so far. So overall fifty.”
Teyla and Ronon exchange glances as Shiana watches the survivors be carried in. Slack jawed and wide eyed, she looks absolutely horrified at the sight infront of her. Villager after burned villager being brought in right under her nose. The ozone smell of burnt air still clinging to their clothes and the ripe stench of burned flesh still fresh on their bodies.
“What have you done,” she gasps.
Rodney looks back at her, “What? Isn’t it obvious? We are saving people here.” He doesn’t understand how the question could even be asked.
He looks to Ronon and Teyla for an answer when Shiana goes berserk. She starts frantically grabbing with her free hand at random people being carried in. First an old man, not even conscious, on a human stretcher then a young woman in a peasant’s field clothes that reminded Teyla and Rodney of the Geniis’ agrarian clothing brought in on a stretcher made from a stretch of hide and the straighter parts of what must once have been a broken wooden wagon. Ronon and Teyla stand back trying not to physically intervene in what was a tribal leader’s right to protect her people no matter how bizarre and crazed a scene it looked to be, but feeling that they might have to soon. If the fires had either minorly injured the people or not injured them at all, their frenzied leader may well do so.
“You’re not saving them,” Shiana starts screaming, “Let them go. Put them down. You have no right.”
Suddenly the click of a zat gun springing to life sounds as its cobra reminiscent tip nestles into the dark hair at the back of Shiana’s head and right up against the pale skin of her scalp. She freezes. They all do.
“Neither do you,” comes the growl of Kenmore’s voice, low and lethal.
There’s a moment of silence as Teyla looks on with wide eyes. Rodney’s just as frozen in his spot as Shiana is, afraid his breathing will trigger a catastrophic chain of events between the two hot-headed women. And Ronon looks back and forth between this village’s leader and the SGC member he’s forced to work with, ready to jump in. The villagers that were carrying in the injured are scared and cowering before the standoff like frightened prey afraid that any sudden movement on their parts might draw the predators’ attention to them.
“Now let go of the girl and everyone else,” Kenmore orders slowly, clearly.
The villagers look to their leader. Her dark eyes narrow with an all too indulgent smile.
“Or what,” she taunts, “You will play leader of this galaxy again? Exact the punishment you think is best?”
“No. I’ll just make sure you can’t hurt your people again.”
That riles Shiana. She turns her head, the bridge of her nose ramming right up against the tip of the zat’nikatel gun. She still hasn’t let go of the little girl’s arm and it’s clear Kenmore would have to follow through on her threat in order for the tribeswoman to do so. Ronon’s eyes go to Kenmore. She’ll do it. She’ll actually do it. His muscles tense.
“I am not hurting them.”
“The bonfires say otherwise.”
“You have no authority here,” Shiana snarls, “You are not their leader. You serve no one.”
“I serve the people. Not the corrupt politicians.”
Oh, that one got under Shiana’s skin…
“You would know a lot about corruption,” her lips curl back in a mocking smile that reveals her teeth.
“Enough to know I’m looking at it,” Kenmore growls evenly.
“You are looking in a mirror,” Shiana tells her sounding like a viper about to strike.
“Bite me Alice.”
Kenmore’s finger slips down to the zat’s trigger and Ronon braces to jump into the fray when the shout comes, loud, clear and commanding…
Like a good soldier, her finger slips back out of range of the zat’s trigger and she shuts the gun back down into its coiled sleeping snake position. She lowers her weapon, she doesn’t holster it, but she does lower it. Ronon’s tension doesn’t ease. Sheppard steps into the room and takes up position directly in between the two combative women. He addresses Kenmore, face to face, first.
“What is going on here,” he asks her, his voice losing none of its edge.
Kenmore looks her commanding officer in the eye.
“The Queen of Hearts decided off with everyone’s head.”
Sheppard gave her a look accompanied with a sigh he squelched for the sake of the company they found themselves in then he turns and looks over at Shiana.
“What is going on here is once again you are destroying peoples’ lives with your actions,” the woman starts in again before Sheppard can even get his jaw moving to open his mouth up.
Looks like John takes that one to heart. Kenmore looks past him, at Shiana.
“And what are you, the Destroying Angel,” she retorts.
“Lieutenant,” Sheppard warns.
Kenmore rolls her eyes at the back of his head and walks out. Sheppard feels the rush of air from the hut’s door flap being left to drop after her on the back of his legs. He addresses Shiana, turning finally to face her full on.
“I have informed my superior of the situation.”
“Good, then you will leave shortly,” Shiana cuts him off sharply.
Sheppard takes a moment before answering again.
“He instructs me to provide your people with whatever help you need,” he informs her.
“Then you will be leaving shortly,” she repeats.
Sheppard stifles another frustrated sigh and tries to smile, “He instructs me to stay and provide your people with whatever help you need.”
“If you will not leave, then you provide no help at all,” she tells him.
Shiana finally lets go of the little girl and storms out of the hut. Sheppard watches her go and stays there looking at the hut’s entrance for a moment—Aw hell, this is gonna suck, isn’t it?—then he turns and escorts the little girl back to the table as he gestures for the other villagers to put the people their carrying down where they could and continue bringing in all the other injured still waiting outside to be brought in. Ronon hefts the little girl gently back up onto the table and Teyla resumes tending to the baby, cradling it in her arms and bouncing as she swayed from side to side like she did to calm her own infant son when he had been this age.
“How many more are coming,” she calmly asks.
“Lorne’s getting his team ready as we speak. They should be coming through the gate any moment now. I told them the directions to get here. Jennifer’s getting her team together and they should be coming through with Lorne. Woolsey’s considering whether or not to call in Carson and Stackhouse’s team, but I told him to hold off on it considering how everything is going so far. I didn’t want too many of us here swarming the place and pushing the locals out of the way.”
“How’s he doing,” Sheppard continues.
Sheppard looks down at the little girl.
“And…how are you?”
The little girl looks up at him, but remains silent. He thought he had a charming expression on. Sheppard looks to Ronon, Don’t I have a charming expression on?
“As far as I can tell she’s fine too,” his Satedan friend tells him, without giving John the slightest hint about whether or not he had a friendly face.
Suddenly the little girl jumps off the table and bolts past Sheppard and underneath the body of another wounded man as he was being carried in and she was gone. John watches the entrance clear of the casualty and his help for a moment.
“Perhaps it is simply the trauma of what has happened to her,” Teyla tries to soothe.
“I hope,” he says. But he knew her comfort hadn’t worked on him, if Shiana acting like that could inspire even one child that they had saved and treated with nothing but kindness to run from them in terror, what was her antagonism going to do to the rest of her people, the ones that weren’t harmed by the fires but had helped her make them?
He turns back to his two teammates.
“Well then,” Sheppard continues, “Teyla, I want you to go help find the survivors’ families. Start with this little guy.” He takes a moment to wiggle his finger playfully in the baby’s amused face as Teyla nods. “Ronon, I want you to meet Lorne and Keller at the gate. I know I already told them the way here, but they might need some more help carrying all of Keller’s stuff.” Ronon nods. “I’ve already got Rodney using the lifesigns detector to help get as many of the victims out of the bonfires as we possibly can. Some of the villagers are helping us right now, but I don’t know how long that will last so,” he sighs, “I’m gonna try and smooth things over with Shiana,” Teyla gives him a look, “I know, I know.”
“And what about Kenmore,” Ronon asks.
“Apparently she’s applying as much medical attention to the survivors as she can. And that’s a good thing,” Sheppard adds quickly, “I want to keep her as far away from Shiana as possible.”
Teyla nods, “I believe that is for the best. But Shiana may be walking among her people, especially the wounded.”
Leave it to her to give voice to the warning. But…
“I already thought of that. That’s why I told Rodney to keep Kenmore bouncing around from bonfire to bonfire with him and when we’re sure we’ve got the living out of there, I’m going to rely on you,” he points at Ronon, “to keep her bouncing from person to person,” Ronon doesn’t look happy about it but he nods anyway and right now John was taking anything on his side he could get, “And with any luck we might just make it through this.”
Ronon walks forward to help the next villager just walking in with another villager flung over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. Teyla and Sheppard head over to the entrance too and stand aside as Ronon leans down and flings one of the injured man’s arms around Ronon’s neck, relieving the carrier of half of his burden. The Satedan helps direct the man to where they can relieve themselves of their burden when another villager comes walking in cradling another child that looks to be about three years old. She’s barely responsive and dusted in soot. Sheppard’s eyes linger on her face and her slitted eyes. She was so small and cherubically angelic, but in her little white dress that looked like a burned christening gown, she looked more like a fallen angel to him. Cast down from Heaven to Hell by some unseen madness. His fist clenches by his side. For the first time, John feels like what Lieutenant Kenmore did was absolutely acceptable and he’d fight in defense of it every step of the way either against Woolsey or Shiana. When the villager and child are clear, Teyla and Sheppard walk out.
* * *
Outside in the slowly brightening of day, the smoke was slowly starting to clear from the vivid blue and nearly cloudless skies above, Teyla immediately walks up to the nearest villager and begins asking him about the baby in her arms. Sheppard smiles, he could always count on Teyla. Her calm head, nice voice, manners, and above all else her good name among many worlds. For those characteristics alone, he normally left this sort of political—God he couldn’t even bring himself to think of the damn word in his own mind—thing to her. But today he couldn’t do that, even on trial his face more than the rest of his teams’ was the face Shiana put on Atlantis. He slips on his sunglasses and heads further into the village. Today he had to play politics himself, and God he hated politics. Every soldier did, or at least ever soldier that was in his mind a real soldier and not a career soldier trying to rise through the ranks to some sort of cushy congressional or senate seat some day. He strongly fought off the urge to violently shudder in physical revulsion.
Along the way he sees Kenmore on her hands and knees administering CPR to a villager, looked to be a middle-aged man so badly burned and scorched that he had to have been pulled from the core of one of the lit bonfires. Sheppard stops in his tracks and watches for a few tense seconds before the man suddenly gags and begins hoarsely coughing. John puts the foot of his that had instinctively risen to run in her direction back on the dry soil of the village’s main avenue. The Lieutenant helps the man lift up his head and hands him a wooden ladle of water from a half-barrel bucket a foot away from them. As the revived man drinks deeply, undoubtedly from a parched throat, and sputtering the entire time, likely due to his desperation for something cool and refreshing and life giving, the Lieutenant takes a piece of cloth out of her pant’s pocket, dunks a small tip of it, perhaps just the size of the fingertip underneath it, into the pail of water she’d taken the ladle out of, wrings it as much as she can between her pinching fingertips, then begins to wipe as much of the man’s face clean as his extensive wounds will allow her to. Even from here, John could see her pucker her lips together in something akin to a gently blowing kiss the sort he remembered his mother blowing into his face when he was child and she was applying a damp cold cloth to his feverish forehead. It was funny how tender, how maternal she could be with people who weren’t them.
Sheppard starts walking again. It wasn’t that hard to find Shiana, he could hear her screaming her head off about Atlantis’ involvement here from inside a hut that was far bigger than any of the other’s he’d seen so far; in particular, she was screaming about his team…and Kenmore.
“They must be stopped! We are the people of this village! We are the people of this world!”
If anything, the woman was a riveting orator. Sheppard removes his sunglasses and ducks underneath the large hut’s deeply overhanging grass thatch and passes through its open doorway, carefully ducking underneath the bent lip of the door flap pinned up by a pretty decent sized wooden nail.
The place is packed, looks like Shiana called a makeshift town hall in the last few seconds since he’d last seen her. Perhaps she was a helluvalot more than just a good speaker. Damn she’s quick. Sheppard angles around the back of the crowd, following the perimeter of the oval-shaped hut until he could get a clear view of Shiana holding court in the center of the room. And the crowd’s given her plenty of that to work with, John figured they’ve given her a diameter of at least, what, two feet on either side of her plus say a foot for the woman’s width proper, five feet.
“They do not know what we have suffered. They don’t care what they are responsible for.” She took a moment to compose herself in her circle of clear floor space. John presumed she was trying to quell a vivid recollection of watching her family being incinerated by the Replicator’s right in front of her eyes. “We have lost many,” her voice was still loud but shaking with the emotion she had fought to keep from overwhelming her a moment ago; now she used it to power her speech, “There is not a single one of us here who has not suffered that.” Many heads in the crowd bobbed at this. “We have been left behind by the Wraith,” more nodding, “by these so-called Replicators with their weapons of light,” even more heads nodding, “and we have been left behind by disease,” emphatic nodding. “Brought by him!”
She points accusingly at Sheppard, all eyes turn to him. He pales. He hadn’t realized she’d seen him come in. And the crowd in front of him parts and exposes a path to him to the rest of the room. Sheppard swallows hard. And he thought he could smooth this over.
“By Atlantis,” Shiana roars. “Once again they have brought death and destruction to us, to our people!”
She addresses the crowd, her fervor bolstered by his presence and the attention she’s drawn to it, to how out of place he is among her and her people.
“Will we allow them to do this to us? Will we allow them to do this to us again?”
The crowd cheers to her rallying cry; she was a one-person wrecking crew to Atlantean goodwill. Quickly, John realizes he’s in a room full of people cheering for his butt to be thrown back through the Stargate to Atlantis. And that was probably the nice thought they were having about getting rid of him. He glances over at the crowd and sees a few raised pitchforks, actual pitchforks. They started out with the torches and now they’ve broken out the pitchforks too. John wasn’t liking where this was headed; he’d seen Frankenstein before, it was one of his favorite movies and he remembered that it didn’t work out well for the monster in the end. He had to put a stop to this fast. He cautiously steps down the path still opened to him and steps out into the open the crowd has created for Shiana. He turns around to take in the crowd surrounding him, coming to rest on their passionate leader. Her elegant chest heaving with intense shallow breathes. Her whole defiant body seething at him, daring him. John held her gaze for a moment then returned his attention back to the crowd.
“We are simply here to help you,” he announced.
Murmurs of dissent ripple through the crowd. Oh boy.
“And with that in mind, I have been instructed to tell you that more of us are coming here.”
The murmur becomes a full out cry of derision. Sheppard holds up his hands to try and shush them down.
“It is…it is only one other team…and a medical unit…We are only here to help you.”
“You have to be instructed to help us,” Shiana latched on to that fact and John immediately regretted his word usage, “You have been instructed to invade us.”
Sheppard shoots her a glance. It hadn’t been the way he’d figure she’d use those words against him, maybe ‘How dare it have to be you were instructed to help us’, but not invasion. He goes back to addressing the crowd.
“We are not invading you,” he tries to explain, “we are simply trying to provide medical assistance as per our alliance last year.” Good, good, emphasize that.
Shiana glares at him.
“That alliance was not my choice. I found you guilty.”
Damn, but at least there was an opening now for him to help himself here…
“And yet we’re still here helping you,” he says to her, turning to face her with a somewhat lopsided smile and casually playful demeanor that he hoped would be perceived just as charming and good naturedly intentioned as he meant it to be. This was a peacekeeping mission after all. Humanitarian.
“And yet you are still here trying to tell us how to live our lives.”
Damn it, she turned it against him again!
“At least you still have your lives,” John snaps. Oops, bad move…
Shiana turns on him.
“You call this living?!”
John stays silent. Her vehemence so palpable he thought he might have had to take a step back from her when she turned, but he’d fought the urge.
She gestures around the hut, to her people, “What is there to live for?! More of this? More death?”
John looks out at the crowd again and all the faces looking back at him. And he sees the one that can prove his point better than he could ever say it. He gestures at a child with a dirty face in the front row. The boy was maybe nine years-old and wearing a jacket made of a thick woven dark blue wool and thick woven beige pants with a taupe linen peasant shirt, all so worn and torn he looked like an extra from Oliver Twist.
“He looks worth living for and I bet there’s a lot more where he came from.” The bonfires had ravaged more than just the bodies in the piles. John looks at Shiana and she looks like she could spit venom in his face. He goes back to addressing the crowd and it looks like they might actually be on his side for once. “Like I said, more of my people are coming. Just show us how and we will help everyone we can,” he gestures at the door, his extended hand palm-side up. The open offering made.
The villagers take a moment to look at each other. Then the murmurs start again. John’s stomach catches, but he keeps up the showing of his good intentions, Atlantis’s good intentions. Then the villagers begin to file out the door, telling each other what further supplies or elements John’s team might need. Local medicinal treatments that perhaps Atlantis’s doctors would not know of or about. John nods to himself. Inside, he can actually feel his body breathe a sigh of relief. And thanked his lucky stars that the sigh didn’t physically show. Apparently this politics thing wasn’t as bad as he had originally thought. He looks over at Shiana with a smile, one of his confident, even more charming ones…But he didn’t remember her ever looking quite this lethal before. His smile deadens.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she growls at him.
John stays silent. A little afraid to speak.
“I will stop you from destroying more of my people.”
She stamps out.
His eyes follow her wake. In the bright light from outside, her silhouette seems to warble like it’s actually exuding the heat from the fires.
And once again, he lets the mask of a smile drop away from his face, John thought he could smooth this over.