Finally the light from the sun is shining down on the village. The smoke from the bonfires have become so diluted in the sky, they look like color-tinged whisps of cloud. Pale ghosts of their darker selves. The scent of burning humanity still clinging to the air in the slight breezes that blow from the direction of the piles of dead, but there are also breezes gliding through from down the hills and funneled into the village from the valley. It’s fresh and pure and with enough of it, it might eventually be able to blow the stink out and cleanse the air around them. Sheppard walks back through the village. The peaceful serenity from above fully reveals the sobriety of below. Now the streets are lined with bodies. Some being tended to. Some not. He’d never seen a mass triage like this before despite all his years in the Air Force and despite all of the refugees they’ve helped in the aftermaths from Wraith cullings…and the rampage of the Hoffan virus through the Pegasus Galaxy. Kenmore is hovering over one with Lorne beside her. Sheppard walks over to them.
“How’s he doing?”
Kenmore doesn’t answer Sheppard. She just picks up her things and moves on as Lorne takes over.
“Just a little smoke inhalation, Sir,” Lorne tells his commanding officer, “His pants are a little scorched but otherwise he’s fine.”
Sheppard nods then looks after Kenmore and the words slip out of his mouth before he can stop them.
“What is her problem?”
Lorne looks up at her too then returns to getting his middle-aged patient comfortable.
“She gets it from her mom,” he says.
Sheppard looks down at him, “Her mom?”
“Yeah, before her mom became a professor, she was an Army nurse. Chief Nurse at a MASH unit actually. Urs picked up a lot from her.”
“Like not talking to people,” Sheppard asks returning his eyes to the Lieutenant’s fleeting back.
“Actually yeah,” Sheppard looks down at him again, “In triages, you never say more than you need to. You don’t waste time. She debriefed me so I could debrief you.”
“And what about all the other times?”
Another villager rushes over, much younger than the patient but her urgency, her distress is welling tears in her bright, already red eyes. A family member perhaps or at least someone who cared like one, maybe wanted to be one. Lorne gives her a quick tutorial in continuing the man’s care then stands up. He dusts the dirt and ash off of his pants.
“Urs is Urs,” Lorne says.
Then the Major rushes on up the line of wounded, switching his dirty latex gloves out for a fresh pair, then falling to his knees beside Kenmore as she tends to another victim. There’s a brief exchange and Lorne takes over taking care of that villager as Kenmore moves on once again. Sheppard’s eyes follow her as he slowly walks up the lane, sort of following her himself. She goes through person after person, switching out gloves with every new patient. She falls to her knees either beside the villager or in front of them, talks to them which is a gentle gesture he’s never seen from her before (frankly didn’t know she was capable of), starts their treatment then as soon as someone else comes over, be they fellow villager, fellow soldier, or medic, she hands over control to them, and moves on down the line.
Sheppard glances to the opposite side of the lane, Keller’s doing the same thing going up the right side. In fact, Kenmore is outpacing their good Doctor. Perhaps that showed Kenmore’s messy medical attention, but…
Sheppard casually coasts over to Kenmore’s sideline of wounded and kneels down beside an elderly woman lying on the ground, her hands wrapped in bandages up to her elbows and a kerchief wrapped over her head. She looked like a fire-ravaged babushka. He starts to examine her hands; she wakes up at his touch, ginger as it was. She starts to babble at him, low and mumbling and a mile a minute.
“Easy, easy. It’s okay,” he shushes her, “I’m just checking…they’re fine. You’re fine. You’re going to be okay.”
That seems to comfort her. John takes the next few moments to help the lady carefully lay back down what little she had lifted herself up in her panicked state at Sheppard’s presence. In the matter of a few flutters of her aging eyelids and grayed eyelashes, she drifts back into a medicinally induced sleep, waiting on the ground for more help, perhaps family to arrive. Slowly Sheppard stands up and leaves the old woman to the comfort of her slumber.
He continues on down this side of the lane and stops at the side of another villager. A teenage boy this time, maybe seventeen, sixteen, it was hard to tell underneath all the dirt and grime of near death. Again, the villager’s hands were wrapped up to his elbows. He was sitting up, though, against the front of another hut, holding up his bandaged arms like any burn victim is instructed to when their medical staff is overwhelmed and needed elsewhere. It wasn’t so much ‘Physician, heal thy self’ as ‘burn victim, hold these up till help comes back for you’. This time the kid was conscious enough to talk with John. Although he didn’t really understand most of what the kid was saying through his trauma-induced broken English, but the Colonel did get that the boy was being taken care of…and well. The young villager even let John examine his wounds. John didn’t want to mess with the neatly, frankly expertly, wrapped strips of gauze too much, but he did just enough to cause himself to nod at them then wish the kid well with a gentle clap to the side of the kid’s shoulder then get to his feet and continue on.
…the more it was looking like Kenmore being messy was the wrong thought. Dammit, she’s good. And perhaps, that was Sheppard’s problem with her and her problem with him. They’re both good. And there’s a reason you don’t see two chiefs in one tribe.
On the other side of the lane, McKay covered in soot and sweat walks up to Doctor Jennifer Keller, Atlantis’s Chief of Medicine, and kneels beside her.
“How many is that now,” she asks him.
“Three hundred and counting. She’s trying to wipe out the whole village.”
Rodney stands up and surveys around them. The bodies weren’t stacked up like driftwood so much as spread around and lining the village’s avenues like freakishly morbid lampposts. Keller looks down at her patient. A forty-five year-old scruffy man, he reminded Jennifer of a photo of a man she’d seen in one of Atlantis’s old records from a village that Teyla had known because of a friend of her father’s named Orin. And he was fully conscious and watching Keller’s face as she focuses on the burns on his fingertips. But she’s still fully aware that he’s watching her…and listening to them.
“Rodney, we’re here to help these people. Not to pass judgment,” she says politely. Her bright blue eyes glittering as she smiles down at her patient.
“Yeah…but three hundred, I mean come on. You know in the first few piles we recovered just a few handfuls of people, but the further and further we went on, it went from handfuls we were pulling out to dozens, literally dozens. It looks like she initially threw people in with some amount of discretion, but the more bonfires were apparently required, the more she just started throwing in anyone and everyone she could get her hands on.”
“Rodney,” his girlfriend urgently scolded with a hiss.
“Well it’s true,” he scoffs, looking down at her. And for once he notices the man, Jennifer’s patient, staring up at him as well as Jennifer, who was looking entirely unhappy with Rodney.
“Oh…well, I’m sure your friends and family will be fine, are fine.”
Neither the patient’s nor Jennifer’s demeanors change.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine…too. You’re in good hands. Really very good.”
McKay goes back to looking around, his usual escape for an ‘I’ve stepped in it’ moment like this one. He notices Sheppard standing in the middle of the lane looking up it. Just standing there…looking, like he was simply dumbstruck by what he was seeing up ahead of him. Rodney decides to walk over to the Colonel, an even better escape than just looking away was walking away. Once Rodney’s standing next to Sheppard, the theoretical astrophysicist follows the Colonel’s line of vision up the lane to Lieutenant Kenmore as she continues to triage the people Rodney managed to fish out of Hell with part of Lorne’s team’s help.
“What is it?”
“You know I’ve never really seen her be so nice…I mean for her. Her Mom taught her this, did you know that?”
“No,” McKay admits, but then again he’s never bothered to ask the Lieutenant about her personal life, whether past or present—then again, he’s never bothered to ask anyone about their personal lives, past or present, before either, “but Jennifer says she’s not that bad at it either. From what she’s been checking, Kenmore’s diagnoses have been fairly accurate.” Oh wait, there was that one time with Ronon’s scars, but that was when Rodney had been ascending and found out that the Ascension would probably kill him, but he always considered that a sort of out-of-body experience or at least a deathbed confessional sort of thing, so, either way, it technically didn’t count.
Sheppard looks at him, “Checking?”
“Yeah, Kenmore’s already gone up that side,” McKay gestures at Keller’s side of the lane, “now she’s going down this side. Jennifer’s just double-checking the treatments and providing some more detailed medical attention, but, for the most part, she’s just double-checking what Kenmore’s already done.”
Sheppard looks back at Kenmore, even more shocked than he had been before.
* * *
Night settles in on the village nestled at the bottom of a valley as the sun, ironically blood red at sunset, finally disappears completely beneath the far distant horizon of the hills stretched out beyond the village’s safety. Leaving only a blood trail of ruby light to stain the remaining cloud cover and give way to the star-dotted black skyscape of the space beyond the planet’s atmosphere.
The streets of the village are dark, but there are lanterns guarding either side of the huts’ doors, casting bulbs of golden light onto the soil of the main avenue. The warm echoes of the same golden light permeates the huts’ well lit interiors as each one is filled to capacity with casualties and medical teams, Atlantis personnel, or villagers tending to them all. They’re careful to avoid the strings of lights that looked like old carriage lanterns dangling from the bound thatch ceiling, they keep low to gain precious seconds with their patient’s care that might have been wasted standing up and lowering down.
Sheppard walks out of a hut. Teyla walks up to him from further down the street.
“Well that’s the last of them,” he tells her.
Teyla nods at him as Ronon walks up to them from across the way.
“Jennifer is just tending to her last patient and Rodney is checking the bonfires again with Major Lorne and his team just to be sure that we have everyone safe,” she tells them.
“Good. Shiana’s a couple huts down,” Sheppard gestures up the lane, “holding court. And Kenmore,” he looks to Ronon with the question.
Ronon twists and points with his gun back behind him across the avenue. They see Kenmore wandering into the shadows of an alleyway in between huts, the lanterns don’t cast their light into the village’s alleyways. They glance at each other then walk silently over to the alleyway’s entrance and peer in from the safe cover of the side of one of the huts.
Kenmore walks halfway down the alleyway then stops. She checks in the window of the hut to her left, everyone’s distracted. Then she looks up the alley, no one, and down it, Sheppard and the others shrink back out of sight, no one. After a few seconds, when they think Kenmore believes she’s safe, Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon cautiously peer back into the alley again. Kenmore puts a hand on her hip as she reaches into her pant’s pocket, pulls out a standard-issue handheld radio, and waits. The others exchange looks with each other. Suddenly the radio crackles…
“Okay, you’re clear,” Lorne’s voice tells her.
Teyla looks over and raises her eyebrows at Sheppard. Yeah, he wasn’t sure he liked this, the idea of a conspiracy being afoot underneath their noses anymore than she did. How would he, they be able to trust Lor…
“Hi Mommy,” comes the bright happy voice of Michael Junior, Kenmore’s five-year old son.
Their eyes shoot back to the radio.
Kenmore immediately breaks into a smile. She hits the trigger and holds the radio up to her mouth…
“Hi Honey,” she greets warmly, “How’s your day been?” She releases the trigger and sits down on the set of crates acting like a bench underneath the window she had looked in.
“It was cool,” Michael exclaims, “First Uncle Lorie took me to see those spaceships again, I begged him to take me to see the spaceships again. And this time,” the boy gave a dramatic pause, “he let me go inside!”
Kenmore bowed her head, staring at the ground and her smile transforming into a grin. That would be her son, just as eternally mesmerized by things that fly as she was. Especially if there was any way possible to pretend you were Darth Vader’s wingman, but that was just her personal imaginary preference.
“It was amazing! It lit up when I got in there. All the buttons. Even its window.”
Kenmore’s smile flits for a second, breaking away into an expression of hurt and worry, but it recovers for her child’s sake even though he isn’t here to see it. She acts like he somehow could have heard it through the radio, although the device is only set to receive right now, not transmit.
“And what else did he show you today,” Kenmore asks carefully, still sounding happy although even Sheppard could hear the tinge of caution in her voice.
“Then he took me to see the place where they keep the underwater spaceships.”
“Really, they have underwater spaceships here?”
“It was cool. They have just as many ships underwater.”
“Well that’s good to know, Sweety.”
“I wanted to swim to one, but Uncle Lorie told me no. He said the water’s too cold.”
Kenmore grins again, “And what did you do after that?”
“Then we had lunch in the mess hall. I had chicken steak. It was sooo yummy, Mommy.”
Kenmore shakes her head, almost laughing to herself. Her son always did have a taste for food that was only one skip away from an MRE. He got that from her and his father, Kenmore likes MREs and her husband always liked cafeteria food, especially the hospital stuff. She could shiver sometimes at those plates.
“And then Uncle Lorie got called away,” Michael finished, “So he left me with his friend named Doctor Zebra and guess what Mommy?”
“What,” Kenmore plays along, knowing exactly who her little boy was talking about. That would be Zelenka, not Zebra.
“His first name is Radish,” little Michael’s voice relishes.
John jolts with a silent laugh, his eyes dipping down to the ground for a moment. That would be Radek…Not that Doctor Radish Zebra, brilliant scientist and engineer, didn’t have a nice ring to it either.
“Really,” Kenmore asks playfully, “I don’t remember anyone named Radish, I’ll have to recheck the personnel files.”
There was a slight pause then…
“Mum,” the little voice asked sounding sad.
“Are you coming home tonight?”
John and the others peer further into the alley. Let alone was it startling that Michael had referred to Atlantis as ‘home,’ but it was just the fact of the son’s question being put to his mother.
Kenmore looks down at the ground again. Sheppard watches her every feature intently. Her eyes dart subtly from side to side, searching the soil, analyzing its pattern of ridges and the small pebbles scattered throughout it. The muscles in her neck and shoulders slightly tightened. Her mouth slack and her lips quivering just enough to let Sheppard know that she was fighting the urge to bite her lower lip. Then she holds down the radio’s transmitting button…
“No, no, Honey, Mommy’s not. It’s,” she sighs, “it’s pretty bad over here. A lot of people are hurt and need our help. Look, you stick close to this Doctor Radish. If Uncle Lorie trusts him,” she hesitates then, “so do I.”
John glances at Ronon and Teyla. Well that’s one in her favor at least, they all liked Doctor Radek Zelenka.
“And Michael,” Kenmore continues, “if you see or hear Mister Woolsey anywhere around you, you run and hide. Do you hear me? You run and hide.”
John stared back at the ground. Oh that wasn’t good. He looks back down the alley.
“Yes, Mommy, I will,” came Michael’s reply. He actually sounded kind of happy the way only a child can with that sort of information.
“See you later alligator,” Kenmore smiles at the contraption in her hand.
“After while crocodile,” her son giggled.
“Mommy loves you.”
“I love you too Mommy.”
Then Michael made a kissing sound over the radio and Kenmore kissed the air in between her lips and the radio as well. John glances over at Teyla, she was keeping her eyes intently on the ground. Using a radio and the Stargate to wish her son good night in case she got held over on a mission just like she was now, she’d have to remember that one. Suddenly Radek’s voice came over Kenmore’s radio, his Czech accent thick…
“I will keep an eye on your son, Lieutenant.”
“Thank you, Doctor. Oh, and Doctor, you do understand I’m trusting you with my son, don’t you?”
“I understand, Lieutenant.”
Kenmore nods at her radio as if Zelenka could see it.
“Very well then, I love you Michael, Kenmore out.”
She releases the radio’s transmitting button then takes a moment to sigh and rub the bridge of her nose. For the first time, Sheppard notices how stressed the Lieutenant looks. This had gotten to all of them, but perhaps this was getting to her the most. After all, she was the one who sensed all those people in the bonfires and she had personally pulled those first two kids out. Then she’d gone all around the village tending to every casualty, so John had found out from talking to those that were either tending to the casualties now or had been. Then the Lieutenant slips the radio back into her pants pocket, stands up, and starts to head back out of the alleyway…towards Sheppard, Ronon, and Teyla. The trio dash back over to their original positions in front of the one hut and act casual. Seconds later Kenmore walks out of the alleyway and starts down the left side of the road. Sheppard, Ronon, and Teyla exchange glances.
“Come on Lurch,” Kenmore calls out, without looking at them, “we’ve still got a couple of huts to go.”
Teyla and Sheppard breathe a sigh of relief, but Ronon glares at Sheppard like Am I supposed to put up with that? Sheppard shrugs at his friend. For now, they needed to play nicey nice with Shiana and right now that meant keeping Kenmore as far away from the village leader as possible. Besides, it also meant that she hadn’t seen them. So, for now, that meant Yes, you really are supposed to put up with that. With a lopsided smile meant to smooth things over, Sheppard gestures after Kenmore. Ronon’s glare deepens and he rolls his eyes at his friend, but he does as asked and follows Kenmore. Teyla aims a very careful look at Sheppard, perhaps it was not so good to keep making Ronon be the one to guard Lieutenant Kenmore.
* * *
Chuck shuts down the gate then looks up beside him at Radek leaning over the console and keeping his eyes focused on the now dark gate in the darkened gateroom below. They both were trying very hard not to look over at the boy sitting at a nearby console with one of the other late-night technicians. Dialing out to the planet without Woolsey’s permission or knowledge had been an entirely illegal stunt in Atlantis…but it had been at Major Lorne’s urging and they all trusted Lorne. But then with Lieutenant Kenmore warning her son to hide from Woolsey, this had all become much more complicated than the very heinous crime of unauthorized gate activity. Zelenka finally sighs and looks over at the little boy sitting on the lap of the blonde-haired technician, pointing to various controls and the woman telling him beside his grinning face what each one did.
“I will erase the control logs personally. It will be as a though this never happened.”
Chuck keeps looking at the scientist. Leaving the question unsaid, but Radek knew him well enough to know what Chuck was thinking…
“I will say there was a rather costly energy fluctuation. No one will be the wiser.”
Chuck nods beside him and turns his eyes also to the distant boy.
* * *
Teyla is explaining things to a panicked female patient, maybe in her mid-twenties, lying on a military-issue sleeping bag on top of a standard-issue cot as another SGC soldier examines her burns for any early signs of healing or infection. The woman seems to be calming down at Teyla’s tender touch and tender voice, while Sheppard gets debriefed by one of Keller’s nurses on the status of the dozen or so other people crammed into the hut. When she’s done, Sheppard nods at her and she moves on to another soldier behind him on the far side of the hut flagging her down about his patient, a middle-aged woman lying on another sleeping bag and cot combo, not conscious. With the woman successfully eased, Teyla stands up and, ducking a lantern, walks over to him.
“Everything seems to be going well here. Everyone’s either sedated or calm,” Sheppard tells her pretty much what she had already known.
Teyla looks around.
“Indeed,” she nods.
“Well then, shall we move on,” he asks. They had at least five more huts to go before they themselves could take a rest. Teyla nods with a demure smile and sigh that made it plain she was ready to be done with the huts as quickly as possible and they exit the hut.
Sheppard and Teyla step out onto the village’s main avenue and continue down it. Major Evan Lorne is heading up it with Rodney by his side. At the sight of them, Sheppard and Teyla stop and wait for the two men to walk up to them.
“Were there anymore survivors?”
Lorne shakes his head at his commanding officer, “No, Sir. McKay and I went through every stack three times.”
“If there were survivors, we didn’t get to them in time.”
Sheppard acknowledges Rodney with a silent nod. God, that was a crappy thought. Hearing people rummaging through the piles, getting to others but not getting to you, and passing away waiting and hoping for help to get to you next. Ronon and Kenmore walk out of the hut just ahead of them. Ronon takes the opportunity and walks over to their group as Kenmore moves on to the next hut.
“How’s it going with you guys,” John asks him.
“Fine. The villagers are either sleeping or getting more treatment.”
“And Kenmore,” John asks.
Ronon fixes his friend with a very steely look, the one that asked ‘Can I shoot her yet?’ without saying any words. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Sheppard knew. As Lorne had put it, Kenmore is Kenmore. And Sheppard was more and more finding out what ‘Kenmore’ meant exactly. Ronon turns and looks back behind him at the Lieutenant walking towards the next hut. She staggers for a moment then goes down. Holy crap! Sheppard and the others bolt for her. Lorne outpaces them all and falls to his knees beside his friend.
“Urs,” he asks, suddenly flashing back to screaming for her life as he dug her unconscious body out from beneath the rubble of the half a warehouse wall that had fallen on her, “Ursula?”
She wasn’t responding. He rolls her over and puts his hand against her throat. Sheppard turns to Ronon as Rodney whips out his lifesigns detector, kneels down beside Kenmore, and starts scanning her with it.
“I thought you said nothing had happened,” Sheppard hisses at Ronon, pissed.
“It didn’t. I checked people, she checked people. That was it.”
Sheppard turns to Teyla, “Has anybody reported an infection?”
“Did anybody report any of the villagers having a disease? Something that could be communicable in any way?”
“No,” Teyla repeats, “None at all. They have said nothing save for the injuries they sustained in the fires.”
“Wait, wait, stop,” McKay spoke up suddenly, putting his hand out in the air signaling for them to ease up, “Don’t treat her.”
Lorne looked horrified, “Why not?”
“What is it Rodney,” Sheppard asks.
“She’s asleep,” Rodney tells them.
“What,” Sheppard asks, caught off guard by the answer.
Rodney comes to his feet and hands the detector to Sheppard, “Look. There’s no sign of infection or contagions of any sort. She simply passed out…from exhaustion. It does show that.”
Sheppard looks the detector’s findings over for a moment then glances beneath his view of the detector down at Kenmore. He frowns.
“Okay, let’s get her inside and get her on a bed,” he orders.
Lorne and McKay start to get the Lieutenant up.