Prompt: “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.”—Isaac Asimov
Word Count: ~10,000
Warnings: Overt and/or implied character death of AU versions of characters. Fairly dark—do not read if you want happy and fluffy.
Summary: In her last moments, Teyla Emmagen's memories flash back through the path that brought her here, through her discovery of her own identity and the gradual unspooling of the dark and monstrous truth behind the Stargate Program.
Spoilers/Timeline: Though an AU, reflects canon events and characters from all seasons. Draws on SG-1 canon as well.
A/N: Because there aren't enough Earthside AUs starring Teyla (I'm looking at you, Vegas).
My name is Teyla Emmagen, also known on this world as Emma Parker, and I have six minutes to live.
“I want to die in my happiest moment,” Teyla announced once, back when she was still Emma. Her parents tittered a little nervously and told her that was too morbid a thought for an eleven-year-old to have.
Teyla did not think of it as morbid. In fact, the idea struck her as transcendent, a glorious way of cheating the world any last moments of pain and indignity. A way to win.
Of course, she did not realize back then that not all little girls had the nightmares she did, the monsters that burned and tore through her brain as she slept, the fire and death that scorched her until she did not even realize she had woken screaming, the sheets tangled around her until she was trapped, trapped, with the acrid taste of smoke still stinging the back of her throat and the deafening thunder of the apocalypse ringing in her ears—
“It's only a dream,” Celise Parker would murmur, holding her daughter close and rubbing her back rhythmically, lovingly, until Teyla's shrieks turned to shudders and then finally calmed, even if, when she closed her eyes, she still saw fire, still felt fear.
She never told her mother that her presence had never made the nightmares go away. But then, she never would have imagined that the monsters in her nightmares were real, or that her parents had known it, or that she would end up dying trapped in a concrete bunker twenty floors underground, watching small red LED numbers count inexorably down to that final flash while wondering if anything she had done here had made the slightest bit of difference.
It certainly wasn't her happiest moment. The best she could hope was that there would be no pain.
But I cannot die without first letting the humans of this world know what their governments have done.
Teyla had never had a defining moment in which she knew she wanted to go into international relations. Instead, her whole life she had simply followed what came most naturally to her, reaching out, exploring the world, understanding its peoples. It had always been such an intrinsic part of her that she did not realize she had chosen a career until she already had one.
“Diplomat!” she cried suddenly, giddily, the alcohol from perhaps three too many beers bubbling through her veins and making her giggly. “I've decided. That is what I want to be when I grow up!”
Her best friend Eileen Ling, also slightly drunk at that point, laughed for about six minutes. “Teyla,” she hiccuped when she could finally speak, “Seeing as how tonight's celebration is for our acceptance into the Foreign Service—” she leaned forward to clink her bottle against Teyla's, “—I think it's a little late to have just made that decision!”
It was then that Teyla realized it had never been a choice, not really. It was the soul of who she was.
Never in her wildest dreams had she expected she might one day end up negotiating with not just the governments of other countries, but those of other planets.
And never in her wildest nightmares had she thought she might turn against her own.
I must warn that what I am sending now, all the evidence we have gathered—this is not even the whole story. There is much more.
“You do not even know the whole of it!” Teyla shouted, more out of control than she ever would have believed herself capable of being. Her vision was whiting out around the edges; she felt a sudden, visceral need to slap this man across the face. She, who had always been the peacemaker, the mediator who strove to encourage all sides to calmness, had, bare moments ago, barged furiously into the director's own office accusing him of genocide and torture and oppression and some things even worse.
Ernie had blanched at her words until his face was pasty, the odd freckle standing out like a spatter of paint. He was standing behind his desk chair, gripping the leather so tightly that his knuckles had turned white, almost as if he were holding himself up from falling. He looked so desperately out of his depth that she might have felt pity for him had the circumstances been different. She had felt pity for him when she had first entered here, when she had first met this unsure young redheaded man in an ill-fitting uniform who had stepped into shoes far too large for him and who still looked uncomfortably dazed to have the title of Director on his nameplate. “Call me Ernie. Dr. Littlefield is my mother,” he'd told Teyla hastily when she had addressed him formally, and she was experienced enough to know that it was insecurity and not a desire for familiarity that prompted the invitation.
None of that excused him, however. None of that made up for the fact that he should have known— that he was culpable for everything. This was his job, his command; he was, ultimately, the one responsible, and his pathetic lack of knowledge of what had been going on under him had cost billions of people their lives and freedom. Nothing in the entire universe existed that could excuse him from that. He should have known.
That day, the day she finally forced him to face it, to look at everything his own men and women had been perpetrating and see—he broke down completely. “But I can't—I don't know how . . .” he pleaded, almost sobbing. “Please—please, Dr. Parker, tell me what to do—I don't know what to do . . .”
Teyla had just discovered that she was Emmagen, not Parker, and never Emma, and his words infuriated her until she had to clench her fists to keep from reaching out to throttle him. The idea that he, a man who had been inculcated into the Stargate program since infancy, who should have known, was asking her, a woman who had only been drawn into all this mere months ago—that it was somehow her responsibility to fix everything—it was as if he expected her to have the perfect solution, and then to comfort him and and pat him on the head and tell him it wasn't his fault because he didn't know and oh, that's okay, everything will be all right now—it made her blood boil. She was not here to give him absolution, she did not have the magic solution for him that would allow him to erase all that he had done with one sweeping good deed, and the fact that he could expect any of that of her—it festered in her, ugly and hateful.
Poor Ernie—she didn't think she had completely let go of that rage towards him until he was gazing up at her as he lay bleeding out on the concrete floor, his eyes already filming over with death, and murmured hopefully, “I finally did okay, huh?”
The rigid rationalist in Teyla knew he had done no more than he should have, but that thought was nowhere in her mind as she squeezed his hand and whispered, “Yes, Ernie, you did well,” as her vision blurred with tears.
It saddened her to think that he would not be remembered for his final heroic, human act, but only as an incompetent politician who was the disappointing son of two luminaries.
I know you will not want to believe any of this. I implore you, dig as deeply as you need to: doubt what I am saying, verify it, find the truth behind it, and then find the truth behind that truth.
“He's a terrorist we captured attempting to sabotage the SGC,” Elizabeth explained calmly.
Teyla nodded, unmoved, as the man behind the force shield lunged towards them with a roar, before rebounding against the barrier in a crackle of blue fire. He was clearly insane—insane and completely savage, with his ragged, filthy clothes, matted dreadlocks, and snarling visage. His eyes burned with hatred and violence, and disturbed Teyla not a whit. She had met with terrorists before. They always thought they served some vital higher purpose, but invariably saw the world through a skewed lens, one that did not permit coexistence with the rest of humankind.
She was a diplomat, someone who made a living in understanding humanity. It never occurred to her to question such first impressions as judgmental. It did not occur to her to question them at all. After all, she was one of the open-minded ones, wasn't she? She had no need to question assumptions, because she wasn't the type of person who made them.
In fact, she would have put the hostile prisoner from her mind with yesterday's news, would never have thought on him again, if some part of her had not needed to ask, from the only other person from the Pegasus Galaxy in the mountain besides herself—she needed to ask about where she had come from. That yearning she had felt since she was small, since she had felt so different all the way back in elementary school—she needed to know. However reluctantly, she had to speak to him.
Before questioning him she dawned her coolest diplomatic mask, conscious that she would give very little credence to anything he said, desirous only of the small tidbits of unessential information he might drop about her origins so far away. She wasn't even sure what she expected to find in this conversation, only that she sought some connection that was missing, and this might be a small step towards discovering it.
She did not expect that once she got him to talk to her in a civilized manner that he would be able to plant such insidious doubts in her so easily.
“You don't want to listen to me? Don't. Find out for yourself, then come back.”
“Sometimes it is difficult to see the whole picture,” Teyla tried to reason with him. “I abhor violence, but using military force in response to terrorist activities, for example, is understandable.” She kept her voice very even.
He snorted. “Yeah. Terrorists. Farmers and merchants trying to live their own lives. That's terrorism.”
She shook her head. “It is impossible. My people—”
“Your people are a handful of scattered refugees who get turned away from the camps because they welcomed the invaders. Your people are dead.”
Teyla schooled her face to stillness. “I meant Earth. The United States government in large part controls the Stargate Program, and we have certain ethics we hold ourselves to. Even—especially—our military forces. It may not be that way in Pegasus, but it's in our laws. It is part of what makes us the country we are.” And it had to stay true. If that truth was shattered—without that, her whole life was nothing.
He looked at her in disbelief. “Didn't think you were naïve.”
“I am not.” Certain truths she had to believe in, for her own sanity.
“You're telling me that never once has your government crossed the line? Made you question? Not once?”
Her slight hesitation was enough for him. “Go find out for yourself.” His voice was disgusted. “Then come back and tell me they're still your people.”
The Stargate Program alone is difficult to conceive: travel to other worlds, meeting people from other galaxies. What wonder and knowledge it could have brought us.
Ever since Teyla was small, she had wondered about her birth parents. About where she was from. In her curiosity she had begged information from her mother and father.
“It was a closed adoption,” they lied. “Your father was still in the Air Force then, and they had a special program for overseas adoptions.” That part was true, in a way.
“At least tell me what country I am from!” Teyla cried, frustrated.
“Why should it matter? We love you,” was their vague response, leaving Teyla completely unfulfilled.
She wasn't sure herself why it mattered so much. Why it mattered that she always felt different at school—she was always the odd, exotic one, an outsider with any group with her brown skin and smooth reddish hair and her strange, overly articulate way of speaking that seemed to take over whenever she wasn't paying attention. Why it mattered that when the teacher assigned projects on the countries of their heritage in fifth grade, she had a blank, a hole, where that identity should be, and that it didn't make it any better when the teacher said kindly, “Well, Emma dear, just pick whichever country you'd like.” Why it mattered that she didn't know. The only answer her mother would give was that she thought Teyla had come from somewhere in Africa.
“Africa where? It has over fifty countries,” Teyla pointed out a little testily.
“Emma, stop worrying your head about this,” her mother scolded.
For the elementary school project she chose Tanzania, feeling it was as alien as any other country. Then in high school, she began going by Teyla—her middle name, her birth name. The name her parents had chosen not to call her because they feared it was too unusual, that she would be mocked.
She was mocked, a little bit. But she held her head high and was Teyla.
Somehow, she thought things would be better going into international relations—not that she felt her life was bad, exactly, only that she felt alone. Cultural understanding, even if it wasn't of her own culture, seemed to fill that void somewhat, and without even thinking about it, she assumed that her colleagues, too, would be more unconsciously understanding, that at a conference with people of every color in the human race, she would not feel like an alien.
“May I say, ma'am—you speak English remarkably well. Almost no accent,” said the porter in the elevator politely, at the hotel hosting the one of the first international conferences she attended as an intern.
Teyla grit her teeth into what she hoped passed for a gracious smile, and responded with forced pleasantness, “I hope so. I'm part of the American delegation.”
Watching the porter's face bloom into the color of a tomato and listening to him try to stammer an apology was almost entertaining enough to make up for it. Almost.
It wasn't as if he was the first or the last, however, and some were colleagues instead of hotel staff. Teyla eventually realized that most people, in State or not, were clueless, even if they made a career out of pretending not to be. Teyla might have sulked—and did sometimes, at certain three o'clock in the mornings after particularly hard days—but instead she and Eileen ended up inventing a drinking game about it. (Eileen was a third-generation ABC with absolutely zero interest in her heritage, and she had it worse at some conferences than Teyla did. “One drink if they assume I speak Chinese. Two if they actually address me in Chinese expecting me to understand it. Three if it's Japanese. Zero if they assume I'm a foreign delegate—that's too easy.”)
It struck Teyla as ironic sometimes that finding out she was literally an alien had helped her fill the hole in her identity that had so often made her feel alienated. She thought of all the Stargate could have brought them, in culture and diversity and knowledge and richness. Would that it could have meant that.
I recall the amazement I felt when I first saw the Stargate in action—I mourn that such a short time later I discovered all that Earth had used it for.
It was Elizabeth who had broken The News to her—that was how she thought of it, with capital letters—only three months ago. Three months? It seemed a lifetime.
“Dr. Parker,” Elizabeth had called warmly, there in the lobby of the Mumbai embassy.
Teyla's first thought was that Elizabeth was here on business and they had simply run into each other. State was relatively tight-knit; such meetings were not uncommon.
And then five minutes into exchanging pleasantries, just after they had relaxed into slight informality, Teyla inquired about Elizabeth's business in India.
The taller woman hesitated a moment. “Actually, Teyla, I came to see you.” She slid a packet from her briefcase and held it out. “You're being recalled. I'm here to escort you back to the U.S..”
“But—my assignment here—”
Elizabeth looked like she was trying to conceal a smile. “Trust me, Teyla, this is not a reprimand. You're needed for something far more important.”
Teyla felt like making a million protests: the situation here was sensitive; she was on a high-level assignment that had already consumed months of fancy footwork and gaining of trust; she was holding dozens of delicate loose ends together right now and to leave—besides, she didn't want to leave her job here unfinished—
But she had been with State long enough to know that her skills were theirs to delegate where they wished, and if Elizabeth handed her orders telling her she had somewhere more important to be, then she had somewhere more important to be, and her own opinions on the matter were unimportant. (It felt peculiarly like when a Tibetan teenager in Sichuan had looked her in the eyes and asked fiercely, in perfect English, “Do you agree with the President? Do you think Tibet should be free?” No one's life had been at stake, but to that day she'd had few experiences in which it was as difficult to do her duty and protect governmental solidarity.)
So she swallowed her protests and flew home with Elizabeth. Their time on the plane was little but stilted niceties; both women's thoughts were of whatever was lying in wait for them. Teyla found herself more and more mystified: Elizabeth fetching her in person mid-assignment, a nondisclosure agreement that she could not even finish reading half of by the time they landed, a destination that was not D.C. but instead a military base in Colorado . . . this was something enormous. Still, however, she thought she was being brought in as an ambassador, as a negotiator, in some professional capacity. After all, her achievements in the field had not been minor, and perhaps her friendly acquaintance with Elizabeth had opened a door somewhere. She never dreamed it was going to turn personal.
She met the general and Director Littlefield, and still no one told her exactly what was going on. “You have to see it to believe it,” said the general with a small smile.
“That's what I told her,” said Elizabeth. “If you're ready now, Teyla, I'll take you down to Level 28, show you what this is all about.”
Elizabeth was wrong. She saw it, and still did not believe it.
The Stargate Program? Travel to other worlds—other galaxies? A clandestine operation the United States government had been helping to run for over fifty years?
Over fifty years. And nobody had known—nobody had suspected this great larger truth, that they were one small part of such a vast larger fabric of the universe.
“There's more,” said Elizabeth quietly. “This might be difficult, Teyla, but . . .” She hesitated. “Teyla, you yourself are from another world.”
Africa. She felt like laughing.
“I know this must be a lot to take in right now . . .” Elizabeth started.
“No—no.” Strange emotions were sweeping her—lightheaded hilarity, a strong desire to weep, but more than anything, a queer feeling of something fitting into place that had long been missing. Of feeling whole. Somehow, somehow she did not even find it difficult to believe. Somehow it felt right.
“That's not all,” said Elizabeth.
The people of Earth should have been told about the Stargate Program long ago. Perhaps if you had, perhaps if more eyes had been on the decisions of Earth's leaders, a greater perspective—perhaps not all would have transpired as it did.
After all that had happened, it seemed petty that she had been so angry about it. But she had. All of it—the secret interplanetary program, the knowledge, the sheer vastness of it, and why were they bringing her into it? Because she had a gene, a gene they could use.
It had felt so right, a moment ago, when Elizabeth had revealed that piece of her. The idea that she might never have known except for some freak genetic occurrence—this was her past, her heritage, possibly even family, and no one had told her, even her parents, because it had all been classified, and now the only reason she was finding out was that she had a gene they needed to help them with some of the technology they were reverse engineering?
“Are there others like me?” she asked Elizabeth suddenly.
“Other children from Pegasus, who have no idea.”
Elizabeth frowned. “I wouldn't know. All I was told is that your father was a refugee.”
“If I did not have this Wraith gene, would I ever have known?”
Elizabeth's frown deepened. “I don't know. Teyla, I'm not the person who makes those decisions.”
The dodging of responsibility irritated her. “But you can have an opinion, can't you?” The serious eyes of a Tibetan teenager mocked her. Do you want Tibet to be free?
“Teyla, look. You'll have to take this up with Director Littlefield.”
She took a calming breath. “I shall.”
It might have been simple oversight. She might have been the only refugee child; perhaps there was no system in place. But it smacked of the government bureaucracy she was only too familiar with, the paper pushers' idea that they knew what was best for the conglomerate without thinking what was best for individual people. And it occurred to her to wonder why the Stargate was classified in the first place.
Looking back, that might have been her first warning sign.
The men and women of the Stargate Program did not set out to do evil. In looking out for what was best for Earth, they lost their way.
“We didn't mean for this to happen,” the general whispered brokenly during that last meeting, the sounds of gunfire and muffled explosions making the mountain tremble around them and the alarms wailing repetitively throughout. “It wasn't supposed to be this way.”
Teyla was startled. She had the sudden, horrible realization that they might have been wrong, that, military leader of the SGC notwithstanding, General Carter might have been someone they could have swayed to their cause, not simply someone to be removed from their way.
“How can you say that?” Teyla hissed harshly, the unfamiliar bulk of the gun trembling in her hands. “Everything you did—how can you say that?”
“It's easy to lose your way.” The general was crying. She reached up and rubbed away the tears. “Sometimes it was orders. Sometimes we thought we had to. And then eventually . . . it's easy to lose your way.”
Teyla's hands tightened. The metal of the grip dug into her palms. “That's not an excuse.”
Teyla could feel tears of rage and hurt starting the clog up behind her eyes and nose and had to stop this now. “I need access to the computer system.”
The general blanched. “No. I can't. That's treason.”
“Against whom? The people that gave those orders?”
General Carter looked down for a long moment. Then she said, almost too quietly to hear, “All right.”
She stood. “You know, Dr. Parker—you remind me of someone, a friend I once had. I think . . . I think if he had been here, I might . . . things might have been different.”
“What happened to him?” asked Teyla, in spite of herself.
She almost smiled. “He died. One too many times.”
In protecting Earth, they strayed into tactics they never would have considered otherwise, that never should have been considered under any circumstance, and adaptation inured them to their own atrocities until they lost sight of what they were doing.
“Are you Michael?” Teyla asked softly, not even sure why she was here.
The man—if he was a man—gave something like a sibilant hiss. “Do not call me that name.”
“What would you like to be called, then?” The man made a noise something like a laugh. Ronon Dex had called him Michael—that and “one of your government's many dirty little secrets.” Teyla took a breath. “My name is Teyla. I was born in the Pegasus Galaxy.”
“Really,” the man murmured mockingly. “Well, that's not the right name either, now is it? 'Pegasus' is what Earth people call it.” He rose and approached the glass, and Teyla felt herself fighting the urge to step backwards. His eyes were yellow serpent's eyes, alien and arresting. “Your mind.” He reached out, placed one palm against the glass that separated them. “Your mind is different. More . . . open.” He smiled at her toothily. “If your Earth friends did not have so many chemicals coursing through my veins, I believe we might have a . . . connection.”
“I'm here to ask what was done to you.”
“What was done to me?” That mocking lilt was still in his slow, smooth words. “Don't you mean, what was done to all of us?”
“You mean, your people?”
“My race.” His face contorted in disgust. “Your people have a word for what you did. I believe they call it . . . genocide.”
“My understanding is that you were consuming our people as a food source, and that you would not negotiate, even when we offered a way to modify your digestive needs.”
“Oh, yes. That's right. Do you know what their method of negotiating was, Teyla?” He drew out her name mockingly. “Do you?” She stayed silent. “Oh, they offered genetic modification. Of course, there was abduction involved. And experimentation. And it wasn't so much offered as, oh, what's the word? Forced.”
Teyla couldn't quite breathe. “You're saying your people were experimented on?”
“Experimented on, our memories and personalities wiped out of us, turned into spineless humans . . . thousands of us. Whom your precious Earth friends then dropped a nuclear device on when their experiment went awry.”
Teyla was suddenly sweating, her heart hammering painfully against her ribs. “I don't believe you. If what you say is true, why would you still be alive?”
“If I weren't alive, Teyla . . . whom would they have to continue their experiments on?” He smiled at her again, frightening, predatory. “Be careful . . . you are special, too . . . you might wake up in a lab just like this one . . .”
Teyla did not show emotion during a negotiation when she did not mean to. She had always been good at that. Always.
Until today. She turned abruptly, slowing her steps as she walked away, trying to breathe, wondering if Dex could have been right.
Once the tides of battle turned in their favor, fear of what had come before, of the dangers they had so recently fought against, made becoming the oppressors the easiest way of ensuring it would not happen again.
Four years of college, a PhD, and decades traveling to all corners of the world with the Foreign Service, which had included being at postings that had buildings torn apart by bombs while she was in them and a fourteen-hour hostage crises on the wrong end of the gun, had not prepared Teyla for hiking through marshlands alone and in the dark on another planet in search of a nebulous connection to a group of intergalactic rebels. Yet that was where she found herself.
Or at least, she was hiking through the marshlands for a short time. Then she was lying on her back in them, head ringing and wondering what had hit her.
“Get up,” said a hostile voice.
Teyla got up, slowly, trying to show she was not a threat. Her eyes widened slightly when she saw her attacker was a girl, a blonde girl with curly ringlets and a very mean-looking clunker of a gun.
“What do you want?” the girl demanded.
“I'm not here to fight,” Teyla started cautiously.
“'Cause you can't,” scoffed the girl. “Unless you've got backup, I could kill you with my little finger.”
It was probably true. The more she looked at this girl, the more she gave the signs of being a trained soldier, not just a talker. She could probably take Teyla down in three seconds flat if they fought.
Teyla had no intention of fighting. “Ronon Dex sent me.”
“Ronon? He's alive?” To Teyla's surprise, the girl blushed, two red spots of color on her fair cheeks. Then she immediately turned suspicious. “How do you know Ronon? Where is he?”
Teyla was fairly sure she had guaranteed herself at least safe passage, and she wasn't going to answer any more questions at gunpoint. “Let me come inside and sit down. I will tell you everything.”
“I thought the Wraith were your enemies for centuries,” Teyla said cautiously, once she and Sora were on speaking terms at a table in an underground hold. Sora had not offered refreshment, but Teyla figured there was only so far she could push some things. Being Athosian apparently counted for very little most places in Pegasus; being from Earth counted enough to get you shot.
“They were,” said Sora defiantly. “We were working on nuclear devices to rid them from the galaxy once and for all.”
“Wipe them all out?” said Teyla, slightly aghast. “With nuclear weapons?”
Sora shrugged. “It's mostly what the Earthers did anyway. That and a few nastier things. Who knew that once they won they'd be worse than the Wraith.”
“How so?” probed Teyla.
“The Wraith limited our technology so we couldn't rise up against them. The Earthers, or the Tau'ri as the people in their galaxy call them—they do the same thing, only better.”
“They limit your technology?”
“Apparently no one's going to be a threat to Earth ever again. They quoted some things at us about nuclear proliferation and said they wouldn't allow us to continue our research because they couldn't countenance other planets having nuclear weapons that might threaten Earth. Of course, they have them. But we can't arm ourselves.”
“Nuclear weapons are not the best invention every conceived of anyway,” tried Teyla.
“That's not the point!” cried Sora. “We're a sovereign planet! They came in here from another galaxy and think they can tell us what we can and can't do, just because they have bigger guns? Does that seem right to you? That's not a negotiation of nuclear détente, Teyla. That's coercion by force.” She stood up and started pacing, a lioness trapped in a cage. “Then a few years ago Earth helped engineer a coup on our world that overthrew our leaders. Does that sound like a benevolent force to you? In the power vacuum, or society has been too dysfunctional even to think about advancing science. Ladon Radim and I have been holding our people together with spit and twine.”
Teyla thought immediately of Vietnam, of Ngo Ding Diem, and wished she hadn't. And how many others had she heard of over the years, puppets set up for American interests? It had always been distasteful, but it had never seemed so wrong before. Was she seeing things differently because she somehow felt it was personal? Was she that kind of person, who could not empathize with a situation unless it was personal? This had been her career her whole life, for God's sake!
It struck Teyla suddenly that she was believing this. Believing her government was capable of everything Sora and Dex were saying. And that scared her more than she could say.
“Not to mention that they won't let any of us into the City of the Ancestors. Our Ancestors. The technology there—but no, if we started to understand it we could use it against them, couldn't we? Oh, and of course every season people from Earth come and demand some or our crops.” Along with pride and fury, Sora's tone was filled with bitterness. “They need the food, they say, and they call it fair trade. Well, we need our own food, too, and it's not quite a trade when you aren't able to say no and they choose what to give you in return.”
The most horrible part of it was that Teyla could see it happening. If they did have a food shortage on Earth, then finding another source, making sure that source negotiated “fairly,” at least how you saw it—that was heroic. Making sure other planets did not have nuclear weapons to threaten them with—that was protecting Earth, just as limiting other countries' ability to develop nuclear technology had protected the United States. Ensuring that other governments were friendly to their planet, even if it meant using certain leverage to get them that way—well, Teyla was not naïve.
“Earth is a tyrant,” declared Sora. “And we're going to reclaim our freedom.”
Protecting Earth had for so long been the only goal that it continued to be the only goal.
Teyla knelt and touched the barren sand, sorrow washing through her. This had been a green space, once, she knew. Or at least, she thought she knew. Doubts still plagued her—perhaps this place had always been desolate. Perhaps it was all lies, all wrong. She did not know whom to believe.
A slight noise made her look up in surprise—nothing else could be moving in this wasteland. And yet . . .
Teyla stood slowly, blinking. A large wolf stood not twenty feet away, regarding her.
The tableau held for a long handful of seconds. Finally the rising wind made itself known, biting into Teyla and stinging her eyes with the fine dust it carried and ruffling the wolf's fur. The creature took no notice; it simply remained very still, staring at Teyla arrestingly.
Teyla sighed and wrapped her coat around herself more closely. “You are beautiful,” she murmured to the wolf.
It took a few steps forward, almost hesitantly.
“What happened here?” Teyla mused. “Was this truly a green world? And how have you survived it?”
The wolf leaped up and spun oddly sideways. Teyla felt herself stumbling backwards, eyes widening in shock. Where the wolf had been was a woman, a very alien-looking woman, in coarse clothes and a face that was a symmetrical mass of gill flaps.
“Are you Teyla?” she said, her voice distant and businesslike. “I was told you would come here.”
Teyla felt oddly as if she were in a dream, one of those dreams in which she found herself in the middle of a tense negotiation with no idea what was going on or even who the sides were. “I am Teyla,” she said cautiously.
“My name is T'akaya,” said the woman.
“I am pleased to meet you,” said Teyla slowly.
T'akaya evaluated her for a moment, then said, “This was my world.”
“What happened here?” asked Teyla softly.
“The people from Earth wished to use the ke in their wars,” said T'akaya stiffly. “Our friends the Salish were the people of this world, and denied them. We . . . tried to defend them when the Earth people came to steal it.” She paused, then added, just as baldly, “We failed.”
“This . . . this ke, it was something valuable your people had?” asked Teyla. She was trying to understand, trying to find all sides, what other sides there could be.
“It was of our world,” T'akaya said. “The Earth people had another name for it. It came from the mountains, and we scattered it in the river for the Salish people. Those from the SGC came and demanded more. They wished to destroy our mountains with their mining, and when the Salish refused them, they came anyway.”
PXY-887—the planet that had supplied the valuable trinium metal for the war effort against the Goa'uld. That was all the records had said, Teyla remembered. Was it all true?
“Their word was nothing,” spat T'akaya. “We were a powerful people. We took many of them for their evil deeds, but more and more came, and they overpowered us. And our friends the Salish—” She looked away suddenly. “We had protected them from the Goa'uld. We tried to keep them from fighting against the Earth people. But they were stubborn, and wished to help, and—it was not even a battle.”
“I'm sorry,” murmured Teyla. It was so little, but what else could she say?
T'akaya looked back at her with sudden ferocity. “My people are gone. The Salish are gone. With my last breath I will destroy Earth and all who wrought this upon us.”
Other planets were ours to do with as we wished. Imperialism by right of technology.
“You can't tell me you didn't see that,” Teyla hissed at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth glanced back towards the Taranians. “Teyla, you of all people know that some things are unavoidable when you occupy a position of strength.”
Teyla took a breath. The stark fear in the Taranian leader's eyes was still flashing through her mind; it had been like a jolt to her system. “You also can't call a negotiation fair when the other side is so fearful we are going to wipe them out that they agree to anything!” She tried to keep her voice low.
“What do you want me to say, Teyla?” Elizabeth's face was closed. “Of course it's not fair. How could we possibly make it fair? We're negotiating mainly with agrarian societies and we have modern technology. What would you have us do, melt down every technological advantage Earth possesses so that we can all be on a level playing field?” She gave a small smile. “Teyla, this may only be your third off-world negotiation, but you have years of experience working with other countries on behalf of the United States. You know there's an inevitable power imbalance.”
Oh, she knew. And always before, it had seemed an ace on her side. The subtlest sign could remind the people she was speaking with of the power America had to wield. It had always seemed a clever move before, a chess play to be proud of, a slick and neat maneuver that would bring the other side around to agree with the Good Guys. Because that's who they were, wasn't it? Wasn't it?
“We're as fair as we can be,” Elizabeth told her with finality. “We always offer equitable trade in return for what they give us. We're not cheating people, Teyla.”
“And what if they choose not to give us anything?”
“Of course we would try to convince them otherwise, but ultimately that would be their decision.”
Their decision. Their decision, while knowing everything that Earth was capable of. It had not sat well with Teyla, and she had let it go that day, stayed quiet in the face of Elizabeth's logic.
It was only later that she found out that such a “decision” became beyond farcical when the other side knew that others who had chosen wrong had had their resources taken by force, without even the charade of equitable trade.
Perhaps some people didn't know. That was Teyla's first thought later when she learned T'akaya's story, before she had even learned about Michael and the fate of the Wraith. Perhaps people like Elizabeth had had the truth hidden from them, and perhaps if enough people knew enough—
Two words. Two words about PXY-887, that was all Teyla got out before Elizabeth turned her face away. “We were at war, Teyla. The Goa'uld would have enslaved everyone on Earth. Everyone. Is that what you would have wanted?”
“We could have found another way,” said Teyla quietly, fiercely.
“Who knows?” Elizabeth shook her head. “We wouldn't have done it unless it was absolutely necessary, but the trinium was a turning point for us. It was a . . . a lesser evil.”
Teyla was incredulous. “A 'lesser evil?' Raping another world of its resources? And then what happened when its people fought back?”
“I know what happened.” And not just from T'akaya herself. Truth was a slippery thing, but could never be erased completely. “I want you to tell me it was a lesser evil, Dr. Weir.”
Elizabeth was silent for a moment. “We didn't know—”
“That they would discover what the SGC was planning? That they were capable of fighting back? Tell me that is not what you were about to say!”
“What happened was unfortunate. The intention was never to harm anyone, but our people—they had to protect themselves. We never meant—we did not mean it to turn out as it did.”
“Please tell me.” Teyla was rarely sarcastic, but she could feel fury building in her, a deep anger she had rarely felt before, and her words had gone cold and hard and alien until she barely recognized her own voice. “Tell me that Earth tried to steal a world's resources, and when that world turned out to be capable of fighting us, we wiped out their people—you tell me that was self-defense.”
“It was not what we meant to happen,” said Elizabeth again, and Teyla looked at her face and saw a stranger.
How long had she known Elizabeth? And she had always liked her—they had been a couple years apart at the same university, had interned together, had even worked together on occasion since both going their separate ways in government. Even back in school, everyone had known Elizabeth was going to go far. Some had reacted to her with jealousy, but Teyla had always respected her.
And if Elizabeth Weir could justify away such crimes against another people, then everyone here was likely to be doing the same. It was at that moment that Teyla started to have the desperate fear that she could not fight this from within the SGC. She suddenly saw herself trying futilely to wage a campaign of words and change . . . how could she expect the people across Pegasus and the Milky Way to sit quietly and wait for their freedom while the bureaucracy weighted the merits of her arguments against their own rationalizations? She already had a sinking suspicion which would come up short.
She might have a choice to make as well.
And that is how the people of Earth so easily became the invading aliens that every summer movie scares us with: the aliens whose fiery death is met with cheers as the heroes return victorious. Well, Earth is that alien force now, and the plucky heroes defying it are labeled terrorists and summarily condemned.
“You will be invaluable,” T'akaya told her, her current disguise that of a beautiful dark-skinned woman. “You are in the SGC. You have access. They trust you.”
Not for long, the way she had been asking questions, Teyla thought. “What do you want me to do?” she asked cautiously.
“We've got to deprive the serpent of its head,” declared Sora, spinning her knife point menacingly on the table.
“She's right,” said Larrin. “The Tau'ri have ships, but destroy the SGC, and they will be blinded enough for us to make a definitive move.”
“I am not sure violence—” began Teyla.
“Sister, what did you think this is?” Larrin demanded. She reached over to swipe Sora's knife, tossing it casually in one hand while tilting her chair back on two legs. “This isn't some sort of acknowledge-the-badness-and-you-get-a-co
The man next to Larrin—the one Teyla was still confused about whether he was one or two people—held up a hand to her and spoke in his deeper voice, the one she thought was called Jolinar. “You do not understand, Teyla Emmagen. We have been planning our move against the Tau'ri for many years. This was not a decision we came to lightly.” He hesitated. “My people worked for centuries to end the tyranny of the Goa'uld. Many of us hoped to join our forces with the Tau'ri in the fight against them. Then the SGC engineered a virus that murdered us as well as them, and attacked across the galaxy with it. Only six of us are left now, out of our entire people.”
Teyla felt numb. How many stories had she heard or discovered in the past few weeks, so many so much worse than that? How many?
“Well said, Jolinar,” said Ladon. “So, Teyla. Are you with us? Or are you against us?”
“They are my people,” Teyla said slowly.
“No, they aren't,” Sora spat contemptuously. “They stole you. We're your people.”
Teyla shook her head. “No. They are my people. But you are in the right.” She felt like crying. “I will help you.”
I am sending this with one plea: do not stand for it. The governments of Earth cannot continue their tyranny, their occupation, their raping of other worlds if the people rise up against it. And I know you will.
The base was shuddering around her, making her skid into the walls, as if she were drunk and her brain was not quite sending the right signals to her feet. Was the whole mountain coming down already? Not yet, not yet . . .
The alarms were blaring so loudly that Teyla felt suffocated by the noise, with the stamp of military boots running and the staccato blasts of gunfire faint in the background. Focus. She had to focus. She had scant minutes before she had to reach the Level 20 lab, and what she was doing now was not part of the plan.
She staggered around the corner and felt herself flying backwards, her feet leaving the ground in utter helplessness as she was flung backwards against the corridor wall, a huge hand to her throat. She tried to gasp a word, but everything was reeling—
Abruptly she could breathe again, and Ronon Dex was setting her down, the snarl that had been on his face relaxing into dangerous featurelessness. “Dr. Parker.”
“Teyla,” she corrected. It was absurd that she should care about that at this particular time, but it felt utterly wrong for Ronon Dex to defer to her at all, even by title. “I came down here . . . to rescue you . . .” She peeked down the corridor—it was a trail of bodies in military uniform, some lying at unnatural angles, most too still. She looked away.
“Got out,” Dex said tersely. “Power failed, so did their shield.”
She felt like she should say something. But even after all of this, he seemed too alien, too unreachable—someone whose world she would never touch, no matter how she might try.
“Gotta move,” said Dex, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her along with him. She winced automatically away from his violent touch, but he did not even feel it, just pulling her rapidly along down the corridor, her steps a stumbling run to match his long strides.
Her own urgency suddenly crashed down on her. “I have to get to the computer lab. Fast. Level 20.”
Dex abruptly changed direction, and Teyla wondered when he'd had time or opportunity to know his way around the SGC at all. She pulled weakly against his grip again. “No. Let me go. You need to get out. The base—the mountain is going to come down.”
He might have grunted, but he kept going, dragging her along with him.
Teyla remembered the reaction when she had brought up trying to rescue Dex at all. “You won't have time,” Sora told her stridently, unarguably, when Teyla had made the suggestion. “That's not the mission.”
“Isn't he a friend?” Teyla demanded, stunned at the other woman's coldness. “He's one of you!”
Sora had flushed and turned away to look at the floorplans of the SGC that were spread out on the table. “He'd understand. He knows what our priorities have to be.”
As Teyla crouched behind a corner where Ronon Dex had shoved her, flinching as it sounded like he took out six men by himself to clear their way to the lab, she realized that she had not understood until that moment what Sora had meant. Sora and Dex, T'akaya and Teal'c, Jolinar and Martouf—every single one of them had given themselves over entirely. They saw their lives as nothing compared to their cause, the great cause of restoring freedom to their worlds.
It was a strength of conviction that Teyla had always believed she herself possessed, and now that she saw the depths of it, she could not help but feel a twinge of yearning envy—even as she heard men being torn apart by violence, even as the knowledge twisted her heart, deep down, that nobody still in the mountain was going to have time to get back out alive—even throughout everything that was happening, she wanted to be part of that cause, wanted to make a difference in their fight. It had become her fight, and no matter how small a part she had played, she found she was proud of dying for it.
She only had one last action to take.
Because even after all of this, I do, still, believe in humanity.
“You cannot attack the civilians of Earth!” Teyla shouted.
“Look, we might not have a choice,” Sora insisted. “If we take the war to their people, they'll be forced to defend.”
“Earth's people don't even know about the existence of the Stargate,” Teyla argued. “It's only a few people in government who have made all the decisions!”
“And those people might pay attention if—”
“Teyla Emmagen is right,” cut in a large, bald man. Teyla couldn't remember his name; she had not met him at her first clandestine meeting of rebels. “If we attack the citizens, we will be no better than the Goa'uld or the Tau'ri themselves.”
That stung, that Earth ranked with the worst of the oppressors.
“Teal'c may have a point,” put in Ladon thoughtfully, ignoring Sora's stare of betrayal. “Perhaps if we reveal their precious Stargate Program to the world at large, they'll have a lot more to worry about back at home.”
“And the people should know,” put in Teyla softly. “They should.”
I believe we are better than this. And yes, I say “we”—for even though I was not born on this world, in the end, I find I think of Earth as my home.
“You're a traitor to your country and your planet.”
Teyla was still trembling from what had just happened, trying not to see Ronon Dex disappearing behind the rabid gang of marines, hear the crack of bone and the shouts of human pain and Dex's roar of “GO!” as he was overwhelmed by his attackers, flinging them from him like a human hurricane but still only one man and it would not be enough and he was being overwhelmed and Teyla could not wait to see more, fleeing madly down the maze of corridors only to be stopped here, not five doors down from the lab. She raised her shaking hands slowly, breath heaving, wondering if it had all been for naught.
“Colonel Mitchell,” she croaked.
“Dr. Parker.” His gun hand was steady, but his expression was cracked, betrayed. “Why?”
“Because I'm not a traitor,” Teyla got out, her voice shaking only slightly. “Because I believe in what our country stands for. What we're supposed to stand for.” She started to let her hands drift down. “Please, Colonel. Let me by.”
“You know I can't do that.”
Heart hammering, Teyla took one step forward. The world seemed to be mired in molasses.
“I will shoot you!” Now his hand was trembling
“No, you won't,” said Teyla, clinging to the hope that it might be true.
It all happened very fast. Colonel Mitchell's face tightened in final resolution, and Teyla knew her gamble had lost, that his oath and loyalty to country and world were too strong, and that she was about to die. Her body locked up and froze, a deer caught in the headlights of an onrushing car—
And at that moment Ronon Dex barreled into Mitchell with a roar; sound and light exploded and Teyla ducked down, hands flying up to protect herself, but it was already over.
She used the wall to help pull herself back up, her hand sliding slickly against the concrete. Mitchell was lying still, his eyes staring upward sightlessly. Dex was coughing weakly on the floor beside him, a growing crimson pool expanding slowly and inexorably around him.
She stumbled over, kneeling beside him. “I thought—I thought you were dead,” she got out, her breath catching on the words in something like hysteria.
“Not . . . yet,” Dex murmured. He reached up and pushed at her shoulder weakly. Even dying, he was still surprisingly strong, enough that his motion knocked her off balance slightly, leaving her shoulder sticky with his blood. “Go.”
Breath choking her, Teyla staggered clumsily up, tried to reorient. She was close now, close, but she felt almost as if she were in a nightmare, that nothing was real. She couldn't remember for a moment where the lab was, though the reason she had chosen that workstation was specifically because that lab was one of the places she'd spent the most time in while working here.
She could hear the sounds of fighting getting closer and stumbled forward in a panic. There—around the corner, third door on the right. She had found it, she was here—
She dashed in, slamming and locking the door before slumping against it for a moment, shuddering, almost spent. She needed to stop, to breathe—but she couldn't; she had no time.
Quickly she set her last charge—it would reach the naquadah storage a level down, and though that explosion still wouldn't reach the Stargate, if Ladon and T'akaya had done their parts . . . well, she would never know. The countdown flashed on, cold digital red: eight minutes left.
It was less time than she had thought she would have here, but she only had one last task to do. Armed with General Carter's codes, she sat down and began to work, fast. The less classified files she'd had in place for some time, but now she added every other piece of evidence she could. Her file transfer queue built up, but the SGC computers were quick, and in minutes it would all be done. Teyla's hands rested tensely against the keyboard as she watched each progress bar reach one hundred percent, one after another. Everything was almost finished. Everything had almost begun.
It seemed unreal. How had they gotten here? How?
She remembered how often she had wondered, in frustration, how violence began. What prompted people to do such horrible things. Now she recalled the Taranian leader's fear, T'akaya's fury, Michael's hatred, Dex's vengeful conviction. Elizabeth's defensiveness, General Carter's remorse, Ernie's panicked guilt. Sora's proud contempt and Kolya's ruthless violence. Who was she to say what oppression was? And once recognized, would it ever have been possible for her to stand by and not fight it? She was an American and a citizen of Earth, and as far as she was concerned, that meant that she would be the one to rise against injustice, even if that injustice came from her own people.
Six minutes left. Teyla began to type. “My name is Teyla Emmagen . . .”
I will be dead soon, but in these last moments, I find I want to be proud to be of Earth. As our people wander the stars, I want us to be able to meet the people of other planets and hold our heads high.
“When you're on the street, don't let them know you're American,” Teyla was advised before one assignment. “Say you're Canadian. Everyone likes the Canadians.”
It was not the first time she'd heard such advice, but it was the first time a superior had given it so blatantly, and the whole thing smacked of wrongness to Teyla. “If our foreign brethren hate us so much, if America means something so terrible to them, then perhaps America needs to stand for something different.”
“Aww, you know how it is, Parker. Things are way more complicated than that. People on the street don't see that. They can't see the big picture.”
Or perhaps, Teyla thought, the people on the street had a perspective they had lost.
“Don't say we're from Earth,” Elizabeth told Teyla before her second off-world mission.
She might have done more for change, all those years in State. Maybe then that same Tibetan teenager would not have haunted her with guilt for so long, a symbol of all she had swallowed, all she had stood by and publicly condoned because it was her job and her government. In a way she was as guilty as Ernie had been.
She glanced again at the red LEDs that counted down to her death, and felt her adrenaline-fueled panic receding until she was almost numb, numb and calm. And strangely, despite the violence, despite the friends and allies who had died today—on both sides—she felt no guilt for what she had done here, only pride. A pride that she had had some small part in this battle for what was right that so many others had already lived and died for. “I finally did okay, too, Ernie,” she whispered. “I finally did something.” She suddenly saw the countdown as not being towards her death, but instead towards the freedom that so many in two galaxies fought for.
And perhaps in a few years, one of her people—a person of Earth—would be able to walk on the soil of another world, without a military escort, and proclaim, “I am from Earth,” and be welcomed.
Please make that happen. Make us proud again. It is up to you now.