Author's Note: A very special thanks to the always outstanding Lightning Count for contributing a scene to this chapter. Secondly, it was previously pointed out that I'd used an incorrect first name for Major Lorne. That has since been corrected.
Secure IOA Facility
The first two souls through the gate barely registered the transition; they might as well have been stepping out of a car or walking through a front door. It was still an extraordinary experience, even after countless hundreds of excursions through this heavenly portal but at the same time it was familiar, expected, and almost routine if such a thing could ever be called normal. To them it was a means to an end, though for some of their companions it was something else.
"That's still going to take some getting used to." Colonel Paul Fitzgerald exhaled, swiftly checking behind him.
"Forgot something Colonel?" Sam Carter raised a slightly amused eyebrow.
"Just making sure I brought both arms and legs with me." He beamed back, clearly energized by the experience. It was his third trip through the gate which meant while the initial fear had worn off the novelty was still there in full force. Of the seven people to come through the gate only Sam Carter and Daniel Jackson remained unmoved, for the others it was mind blowing.
A week ago this sort of thing happened on TV, on cheap budget knock down TV shows that were played for laughs like the infamous Wormhole X-treme, a show so appalling it had a cult of its own, even among the professionals of the US Army. Fitzgerald took a little bit of guilty pride in his familiarity with such shows, as a kid he had been a big Sci-Fi fan and had been convinced that by the time he grew up he'd be commanding the Starship Enterprise or hanging around with a Wookie best friend. As he got older his priorities had changed, and instead of guiding a fictional starship he dedicated himself to guiding real life men and women of the armed forces.
His childhood of fantasy had given him a strong sense of reality in adulthood, he deliberately picked the Army to keep his feet firmly on the ground and used his natural insightfulness to quickly separate fact from supposition and rapidly develop a plan for every situation. His flexibility and ability to make snap decisions saw him rise quickly through the ranks making major at 32 with the Fourth Infantry Division.
His defining trial had come in Iraq when the 4th had been thrown into heavy fighting in the north of the country, traditionally a heartland of Ba'athists. During the initial push into Tikrit, hometown of Saddam himself, Fitzgerald's unit came under an intense counter attack as Iraqi government forces and militia tried to force the US troops off their sacred ground. The immensely brutal fight saw Fitzgerald assume command of a company scale unit and rather than dig in and weather the storm actively push back, engaging in brutal house to house fighting and completely unbalancing the Iraqis with the unexpected ferocity of his attacks. His expert deployments deceived the Iraqis into thinking his ad hoc company was a much stronger force, and the inspired courage of his men only added to that belief. Fitzgerald successfully tied up the majority of the Iraqi elite over the day long fight, letting other units seize the city with far less than expected casualties.
When Fitzgerald's unit was rotated out his men had barely ten rounds of ammunition left between them.
The unit was given an appropriate citation and Fitzgerald singled out for immediate promotion. Unfortunately while there was no obstacle to giving him a lieutenant colonelcy there were also no vacancies in front line units. Rather than wait for a battalion command to open up Fitzgerald was offered a sideways transfer to intelligence, just a temporary assignment he was told, a way to claim his rank and try something different until a combat command showed up. Unfortunately Fitzgerald became a victim of his own success.
He had a knack for spotting lies, for cutting through the bluster and picking out relevant facts. To Fitzgerald everything was a confession, every blink, every breath, and every bead of sweat that ran down an arm. It all told him something, he didn't even need to ask questions, just wait and let time and guilt do the hard work for him. He was a superlative interrogator and as he established an admirable record in the Sunni Triangle his superiors became reluctant to let him go. To them a good intel officer was worth more than a good battalion commander, and so when a vacancy did finally arrive it was given to another officer. The promotion to full bird colonel barely made up for it.
Never the less he accepted that he had a job to do, one he was exceptionally qualified for, and he took to his new appointment with vigor and passion. He became satisfied with the life he had chosen until one day an Air Force general had introduced himself as Jack O'Neill and told him all that stuff on TV was in fact real, and asked if Fitzgerald wanted to be a part of it. His answer had taken a heartbeat to decide.
His superiors had been reluctant to let him go on temporary duty to NORAD and whatever the Air Force had cooking under Cheyenne. It was wrapped in so much secrecy not even the top brass in Iraq knew what his assignment would be, a fact that encouraged him to accept even more.
He had no idea why he was here on an alien world, but he could guess. They wanted his insight as an interrogator and observer of behavior. He had a bigger mission though. His new job would be as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence for the Fourth. As the divisional G-2, his sole mission would be prepping the men and woman of the division for the new universe they'd be operating in.
The other five men with him were also taken aback by the experience, they hid it well but Fitzgerald could read their body language like a cheap newspaper. He had been joined by a fellow Army officer named Everett Casey whom he had served with for the past six months as part of 4th ID. As a Major attached to G-2, Divisional Intelligence, Casey had often helped Fitzgerald prepare for interrogations, his specialty being signals intelligence and decryption. Casey had provided decoded communications which Fitzgerald had then used to bluff his prisoners into revealing all they knew, and together they made an effective team.
Casey was also a sci-fi fan but for him it was still a current fascination and part of the reason why he had joined signals intelligence. He had a strong mathematical mind and was adept at finding patterns in the most convoluted of chaos. Fitzgerald had been showing him how to apply those ideas to gathering human intelligence, but he still had a way to go yet. He guessed Casey was here for his familiarity with signals technology and linguistics, but as far as Casey himself was concerned travelling to another world was like a dream come true.
The third man was much more guarded; he didn't wear a uniform instead dressing semi-casually in slacks and a sweater. He could have been plucked from a catalogue shoot or a weekend break, but his choice of clothing was far from accidental. His name was Jeff Jenkins and his homely manner was carefully constructed to be entirely unthreatening. He smiled a lot, he had the complexion of a man who enjoyed being outdoors and when he spoke it was in easy rich tones, almost like a lullaby. He also happened to be one of the finest criminal psychologists on the planet and a five times published author of psychiatric text books. He had made his living consulting law enforcement in particularly delicate cases, but after 9/11 had dedicated himself to helping combat the threat of international terrorism.
Jenkins had become a hugely successful cracker of the terrorist mind, breaking suspects not with intimidation but with kindness, giving them the exact opposite treatment detainees had expected. He had foiled several terror plots and was nominally an Agent for the CIA. He was probably the best at keeping his wits about him, accepting the revelation about aliens for what it was, a necessary secret to prevent panic.
The final two new arrivals were back in uniform, the dull khaki of British Number Two dress and the slightly paler hues of the French Army. Major Nick Sheldon seemed to have followed Fitzgerald's line of thought, immediately turning after arrival to see if his uniform was damaged in any way by the travel. His cap bore the rose and wreath of Army Intelligence and his chest held several campaign medals showing he was no stranger to frontline service. His latest assignment had been to the Defence Intelligence Staff, the main coordinated agency that gathered and analyzed data brought in from the various military and security services of the UK.
His French Colleague was Colonel Pierre Herbert, a senior member of the Direction du Renseignement Militaire which served a similar overarching role to the British DIS or American DIA. Herbert was well known both in both French and European Intelligence communities for his skill in using a wide variety of intelligence data to build a complete picture of a given threat. In the past he had used a mix of imagery, radio intercepts and a simple cigarette packet to break into an Algerian terror cell and bring down a plot to release sarin gas into the Paris Metro. When the IOA had asked France to contribute someone to the fledgling IOA intelligence community there was no better choice.
All five had adjusted pretty quickly given the circumstances, accepting the revelations of gate travel and the fact humanity was at war beyond its own solar system. The pressing need for an understanding of the enemies Earth now faced dominated their respective minds to the point where the wonder of this new world was largely consumed by the desire to do what they had to do and use their long practiced skills against this alien foe.
"Here it is, the Beta Site." Colonel Carter announced as the gate shut down, the scattering of light vanishing to be replaced by standard neon tubes overhead. "Doesn't look like much, but trust me, this is a whole new world."
"Which looks a lot like Vancouver." Jackson added. "One of those things."
The blast doors to the concrete gate room cranked open depositing a tough looking man, dressed in the short sleeve tan shirt and crisp blue trousers of the US Marines with close cropped air and the sort of build most associated with lumberjacks. He made straight for the team, nodding to Sam.
"Welcome back Colonel Carter, this everyone?"
"Yes sir." Sam replied. "The IOA Intelligence Community picked these people from across the globe, they're experts in their chosen fields and fully briefed on the current galactic situation."
"Very good." The broad man confirmed, turning to address the arrivals. "I am Colonel Jeremiah Glyndon, United States Marine Corps. I run the J-2 shop for Stargate Command and for the time being I'll be running the IOA Intelligence Committee until we find someone permanent with stars on their shoulder. You are here to conduct an interrogation of two prisoners, one a company-grade level commander of the Ori army, and one Prior of Origin."
That generated a few glances among the new arrivals. They had read the dossiers compiled by Stargate Command on the Priors, a litany of superhuman feats and incredibly powers witnessed first hand by people like Doctor Jackson. To have one in the facility was electrifying.
"The Prior is contained using Colonel Carter's immobilizer, but if you'll come with me we already have the rest of our team prepared." Glyndon informed. "These are the two most valuable intelligence sources we have right now. I don't need to tell you exactly how crucial your expertise is here, and the stakes we're playing for."
They left the gate room and headed through the concrete underground of the base, its standard layout reflecting the facilities beneath Cheyenne Mountain. It was less busy than usual; many of the non essential personnel deployed here had been relocated while the interrogations took place as a security measure. The IOA was taking no chances.
"Both prisoners arrived about seven hours ago." Glyndon related as he lead them through the base. "They both had gunshot wounds which have been treated and they've both been fed. So far that's about it."
"Any indication this could be a trap?" Jackson asked. "Like an albino Trojan Horse?"
"We ran our guests through Tok'ra sensors and a good old fashioned CAT scan." The Marine answered. "Both came up clean. Doctor Felgar is taking apart the Prior's staff in the labs, he asked for you Colonel Carter when you're done with the interrogation."
"Got it Colonel." She nodded her blond head.
"We're going to split into two teams, one for the company commander and one for the Prior." Glyndon said. "Colonel Herbert, Major Sheldon, Major Casey, Mr. Jenkins, you'll be in Room Three with Colonel McNulty. Dr Jackson, Colonel Carter, Colonel Fitzgerald, you'll be with me in Room One."
They entered the detention wing, the increased guard detail checking their clearance and identity thoroughly with a mix of human and alien techniques, then cleared them through.
"We'll have video links between each team if you need them." Colonel Glyndon mentioned. "You people are the best and we need the best. If we lose these sources or turn them against us it could cost countless lives. Do what you do gentlemen, Colonel Carter, and give us something to work with."
The two teams split and headed for their respective rooms. Both interrogation rooms were the same, a plain concrete box with a table and chairs in the centre overlooked by a wide two way mirror. Behind those mirrors sat recording devices and a panel of experts pouring over every comment and inflection. The level of tension was extreme, everyone was on edge with a Prior merely yards away.
Glyndon opened the door to the observation room, the dim light preserving the illusion of opacity in the two way mirror. The room was already occupied by CIA Agent Pollard, the senior interrogator in the SGC and the familiar smooth head of Richard Woolsey. Less familiar was a mustached Air Force Colonel in his short-sleeve blues, all of them utterly focused on the pale faced male sitting unmoving on the other side of the glass.
"Glad you could make it." Woolsey chided. "I swear he can see us behind this mirror."
"Unlikely Mr. Woolsey." The Air Force Colonel shook his head. "With his powers disabled he's just one of us."
"Colonel Edward Albee, DIA." Glyndon introduced. "He'll be sitting in on the interrogation and directing any specific military questions he can."
The new arrivals shook hands.
"I'll also be in there." Agent Pollard confirmed. "But one of the first lessons I was taught in the Agency was a good interrogator needs to know his subject. He has to understand the culture, the meaning, the history. Now I've read up on those things, but the bottom line is I'm not the expert on the Ori." He looked at Jackson. "You are."
"I want you to take the lead Doctor Jackson, establish a dialogue." Pollard said. "Once he's talking Colonel Albee and I will contribute questions but we need to get our foot in the door first, we need him to engage, and you Doctor Jackson are our best shot at that."
He looked through the mirror, the Prior turning his head to the reflective glass, staring right at him.
"You sure he can't see in here?" Woolsey asked again.
"We're sure." Pollard confirmed. "Are you ready for this Doctor Jackson?"
Very slowly he nodded his head, not taking his eyes off the Prior.
"Yeah, I'm ready."
Across the hall Colonel Herbert opened the door to the second observation room.
"Knock knock?" he declared. "Colonel McNulty?"
"Right here, come on in." McNulty gestured. "Terry McNulty, Seventh Rangers."
They made the quick round of introductions, establishing their identities and credentials before looking at their quarry. The prisoner was sat alone in the room with a cloth bag over his head, generally quite still but with occasional twitches.
"There's our man." McNulty informed. "My guys grabbed him fourteen hours ago out of an ambush. We wiped out his company and wounded him but he remained remarkably calm, my gut tells me he knows his business."
"Professional soldier?" Sheldon asked.
"I'd say yes." Jenkins offered. "The position of the shoulders, arch of the back, he's sat at attention. Many cultures use the same physical principle of standing straight to show discipline and a lack of fear, to invite confrontation. Our source isn't confrontational, but his body is preparing itself for stress. He's scared, but he's ready for anything we throw at him."
"When we caught him he was the only one trying to react to the ambush, to organize a break out." McNulty confirmed. "Same thing we would have done, wherever he came from it wasn't some back water hellhole and I'm positive he didn't pick up military sense from the fucking Ori."
"That's common ground." Jenkins noted. "We'll start there."
"We know his name is Torac Lennar but he shut down after that, hasn't said a word since." McNulty spoke. "We've moved him around a bit, kept that bag on his head to deny him basic sensory input and heighten his confusion, I think we're ready."
"Who's handling the interrogation?" Herbert asked.
"One of my people, Captain Tomasselli, he's got a unique insight which should help." The Ranger answered. "And I figure Mr. Jenkins should go in too, we want to show him we're not against him."
"I think that's a good approach." Jenkins agreed. "The Prior will be extremely hostile to questioning, but I think Lennar here will be more forthcoming when we calm him down. When should I start?"
McNulty grinned. "No time like the present."
Daniel Jackson stood in the hallway for a long moment, exhaling a long breath in the cool air, resting his hand on the rough, cold wall.
"Are you sure about this?" Sam asked him quietly. "Are you ready to face another Prior?"
"I'll be fine." He smiled for his friend. "Don't worry about it Sam, I just need a good opening angle."
"I know what you must have felt in the past, with the Ori, when you and Vala…"
"Yes, well, it's all knowledge, all ammunition." Jackson stood straight. "All things I can use to break this guy down."
She rested a caring hand on his shoulder. "Don't let him get to you."
Agent Pollard and Colonel Albee arrived from the observation room, gathering beside Daniel.
"I'll be watching." Sam assured. "Good luck."
She returned to the room and closed the door behind her, standing in the dark.
"You're positive he can't hurt us?" Woolsey asked for the twentieth time.
"Positive, there are four inhibitors all working." Carter related.
"And if they fail?"
"If they fail…" Colonel Glyndon hauled an automatic shotgun up from the floor, landing it on a desk with a clunk. "Then that glass isn't bullet proof."
Carter's breath caught as the door to the chamber opened.
"I hope we're doing the right thing."
The Prior made no movement; he didn't turn his head as the three men entered the room and walked around to sit in front of him. Pollard and Jackson drew up chairs at the opposite side of the plain desk opposite the Prior while Albee propped himself up in a corner of the room watching. The Prior himself had been stripped of his robes and given basic issue orange prisoner garments, his hands cuffed together along with his ankles. He showed absolutely no concern, regarding the new arrivals with mild amusement.
"I don't think you've been officially welcomed yet." Jackson began nonchalantly. "How do you like our little facility?"
The Prior said nothing.
"Could use a little paint, little livening up, but it keeps the rain out." Daniel continued. "It's a good shelter, nice, safe, and secure. The sort of place you don't walk out of unless we say you can walk out of it."
The Prior looked at Jackson, but still remained silent.
"The only way you leave this place is by cooperating, by telling us what we want to know, by answering our questions."
There was no response.
"Your one ticket out of here is to help us, do you understand?"
The Prior leaned forward a little, and then opened his mouth.
"I will help you, which is why I am here. I will help you find the truth you seek."
"If your next sentence includes the word 'Origin' at any point I'm going to be very disappointed at your lack of originality."
The Prior broke a smile.
"If you already know what I am going to say, then we might as well stop this game and go our separate ways."
Jackson leaned back in his chair. "Way I see it we spend the next half hour arguing about the Ori, you say hallowed a lot, I say free will a lot, and we just end up wasting time. Then, after we're done posturing, we get down to the real point of this little chat. How about we just go ahead and skip the starter?"
"As you wish."
"Let me ask you this question then." Daniel locked eyes with the Prior. "What's the point?"
"What's the point?"
"What's the point?" Jackson repeated.
"The point of what exactly?"
"You tell me, I mean you are the Prior here, you have all the answers thanks to your enlightenment. So tell me, what's the point?"
"The point of Origin? The point of existence? The point of what?"
"Just tell me what's the point?"
"The point is to serve the Ori, to worship them, and through continued devotion to ascend alongside them in the afterlife."
"Well that's great, but you see there are one or two flaws." Jackson mentioned calmly. "Like, you know, that slight whiff of bullshit"
"This is nothing unexpected; the unbelievers of this galaxy are frequently stubborn in their acceptance of Origin." The Prior sighed. "Your minds are so cluttered, so narrow, you cannot see the great gift I bring you from the Ori."
"Freedom my wayward child." The Prior smiled indulgently. "Freedom from worry, from thought, from the uncertainties of existence. Origin shows us all where we stand, banishes the fears of our daily lives and makes us strong. Strong enough to overcome everything in our path."
"Like you." The Prior smiled wider. "Doctor Daniel Jackson."
In the room beside them Woolsey frowned. "How does he know Doctor Jackson's name?"
"I don't know." Carter said with unease. "I have a bad feeling about this."
The door to Interrogation Room Three opened with a clang and shut almost immediately after, the sound the only thing Lennar had been aware of for what seemed like an eternity. He strained his ears as footsteps approached, then suddenly the world turned white as the bag was snatched from his head and tossed aside. It took a few moments of blinking for his eyes to adjust, time for two men to sit down opposite him.
"How are you?" A voice asked. "Can I get you food? Water?"
Lennar looked up to his two new companions, an older man in simple clothing and a man in his thirties wearing an obvious military uniform. The uniformed man had olive skin and dark full eyebrows sitting above two almost black eyes that observed Lennar with great depth and reason. Both men had easy body language and did not act threatening, but Lennar wasn't ready to take that for granted.
"Do you need anything?" The plain clothed man asked.
Slowly he nodded. "Water."
The plain dressed man stood and left the room, leaving him with the soldier.
"Torac Lennar? That is your name?"
"My name is Anthony Tomasselli; I'm a captain in the United States Army. You were captured by United States forces openly bearing arms against my nation and my world."
"That's right." Lennar raised his chin. "And I am ready for your worst punishment."
"Punishment?" Tomasselli frowned, furrowing his dark brows. "You misunderstand me Mr. Lennar. On my world warfare is a part of life we have accepted. My people have laws that govern how we wage war based on respect for our opponents. You are my enemy, but you are also a fellow soldier and as such you are protected by the Geneva Convention and the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
"I… do not understand these names."
"It means you will not be tortured or harmed in any way. You will be held in captivity until the war is over, then you will be sent home. That is all."
"As a soldier, you have my word."
The door opened again as the plain clothed man returned with a glass of water.
"There you go, please, drink it, we're in no hurry here."
Lennar carefully raised the glass to his lips, taking a small taste of the water and noting no peculiarities.
"We're not going to poison you." Tomasselli promised. "I gave you my word."
Lennar savored the water, dwelling on its coolness as he drained the glass.
"I'm Jeff Jenkins." The other man introduced. "I'm here to get you out of this place. Now you understand we can't send you home until after the war right? We can't risk you coming back to fight us later."
"Why not just kill me? I can't fight you then?"
"Because we respect life Mr. Lennar." Jenkins said. "We don't believe those who oppose us should be killed or destroyed. We don't believe that only those who agree with us have a right to life. We're not the Ori Mr. Lennar, and you have no need to fear us."
"We've already arranged transport for you." Tomasselli said. "You can be gone in an hour or two; we just want to make sure you are who you say you are."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it appears that you are a unit commander for the Ori, a normal human fighting in their ranks. That's fine, you are a lawful combatant. But we've heard that sometimes a Prior pretends to be a normal human so he can get into one of our bases."
"You can imagine the trouble that would cause." The soldier said firmly. "So before you can go we have to make sure you aren't a Prior."
"Me? A Prior?" Lennar almost laughed. "I am nowhere near that revered!"
"I don't think you are, but we have to make sure, procedure you understand."
Lennar shrugged. "I understand."
"That's the military life for you, always some form to fill out, some rule to follow, must be the same for you right?"
"Once upon a time, but not now."
"Yes, I haven't filed a report since joining the crusade." Lennar stated. "It's not required, we are well provided for."
"Must be a real time saver."
"Has its advantages."
"But you used to file reports before?" Jenkins picked up. "Before the war?"
"My life before Origin is meaningless." Lennar countered.
"None of our days are meaningless." Jenkins smiled. "They all add up, all make us what we are. Sure Origin might define you now, but how have you changed?"
"For the better."
"Really?" Tomasselli raised an eyebrow. "We keep hearing about how good Origin is, but we've never seen it. What changed for you, what was it like before they showed up?"
"You can tell us." Jenkins encouraged. "I mean it is your job, to spread Origin, to tell people what it's like so we'll join. How will we know if you don't tell us?"
Lennar nodded, it made sense and speaking of the past wouldn't mean much in the present.
"Origin saved me. It saved our entire world."
"We were at war with each other; the fighting was bitter, fierce. The nations of my home had always been enemies but this war was different. We had developed since the last conflict, industrialized. This time men were dying by the tens of thousands, landscapes were turned into waste by artillery; the seas were filled with iron warships trying to smash each other."
"You were in one of those armies?"
"One of them." Lennar confirmed. "My nation was small put took great pride in the skill of its soldiers. We put quality above quantity but it didn't matter. Raw recruit or seasoned veteran, you still react the same way when a rifle bullet removes your skull."
He tightened his jaw, forcing past a wave of harsh memories.
"Skill was no match for heavy machine guns, my nation fell and I was taken a prisoner. I was beaten, humiliated and I was due to be executed. But then everything changed."
"The Ori arrived."
"You know who I am." Jackson kept a straight face. "Did you buy my book?"
"I know who you are Daniel, and what you have seen." The Prior stated. "You spoke with the Ori, you sat before them, and yet you still refuse to believe."
"I believe. I believe that the Ori exist, that they wield great power and that they reside on a higher plain of existence. But I do not believe they are gods, and I do not believe in joining them after death."
"Then you are only half way along your path my son, and I am here to help you come to its end."
"I already arrived there and bought the postcard." Jackson shook his head. "Origin is about sharing the truth, so let me share it with you. The truth of Origin is that there is no truth. It's all a lie, a scheme because the Ori need worship to thrive. They aren't gods; they are parasites pretending to be gods. Trust me; I have some experience in this field."
The Prior just smiled. "Your mind is not free Daniel, it is still weighed down by the world you were born into, and by the lies the Alterans fed you. Of course we will join them in ascension; you of all people should know this. You have experienced it."
"It didn't suit me."
"That is because you joined the Alterans, they do not understand the power they have, they refuse to use it. Everywhere people die, wars happen, disasters wipe out millions, the Goa'uld, the Replicators, what else? All of these things claimed countless lives and all of this time the Alterans had the power to stop it. You know this, you saw it. Yet even as billions cried out for help, those most capable of helping did nothing."
"The Alterans vowed not to interfere, not to use their power on this plain for any reason."
"And look what has occurred." The Prior tutted. "Under Origin, none of this would have happened."
He raised his voice.
"Under origin the people are cared for, they are valued. When a world cries for help the Ori respond. When disaster strikes the Ori help. When war comes, the Ori unleash their wrath. Humanity is a scion of the gods, we are their children, and like good parents they protect us."
"Eventually children have to leave the house or risk becoming a fat forty year old living in the basement."
"In time, but the Alterans simply vacated without a second thought, leaving nothing in place to protect you. Look what happened. Millennia of slavery, impoverishment, fear. This is the galaxy the Alterans left you and yet you call us the enemy?"
"The Alterans had their reasons, and the Ori have theirs." Jackson stated. "And their reasons aren't the betterment of all mankind."
"The gods do not share their plans with us." The Prior shook his head. "But see the results Daniel; look at the galaxy you come from, and the one I come from. You know I am right."
"That's the problem, the problem with Origin." Jackson said. "What if we don't want it?"
"What if you prefer to live under the Goa'uld you mean? In this galaxy of chaos?"
"Yes, what if we want chaos? What if that is our choice?"
"It is the wrong choice."
"But it's our choice to make, something the followers of Origin will never understand."
"We understand, we also understand that you are wrong, and for your own good you will accept Origin, even if we have to make you."
"I call that slavery."
"I call it tough love."
Colonel Fitzgerald at once raised an eyebrow.
"I caught it too." Carter echoed. "Since when do Priors watch Oprah?"
"This guy is definitely one of them; we took him in the field." Glyndon confirmed.
"How would he know that phrase?" Woolsey asked. "TV signals haven't reached that far out."
Carter turned away briefly to check the other interview, switching on the intercom to Observation Room Three.
"Colonel McNulty, Colonel Carter here."
"I hear you."
"Colonel, is there anything unusual about your prisoner? Any gestures or phrases that seem out of place?"
"No, not a thing. He's more educated than the other prisoners, sounds like his world was similar to ours about a century ago. I think we've got a lot to work with."
"What about the Prior, when you brought him in did he say anything?"
"Not a word." McNulty informed. "After we bundled him up he was totally silent. He didn't even pray, our other guy did."
"Wouldn't someone that religious, that dedicated to his faith pray for help?" Glyndon asked.
"Only if he wanted help." Fitzgerald considered.
"Problem over there Colonel?" McNulty checked.
"I'll let you know." Carter answered, then closed the line.
"He didn't want to escape." Fitzgerald kept going. "More than that, maybe he actually wanted us to capture him."
"He was taken in a random ambush, how would he know?" Glyndon asked.
"I don't know, but something here isn't adding up." Fitzgerald decided. "And I want to know what."
"That must have been a big deal." Captain Tomasselli whistled. "Giant spaceship dropping out of the sky, guys who can perform miracles walking your streets. Easy to see why you followed them."
"Fact is I didn't buy it, not right away." Lennar said with a shrug. "Not many people did. But when the nation which held me sent a regiment to capture the first Prior to land he just wiped them out. So they sent a division and it took three Priors about ten minutes to kill twenty thousand men. Twenty thousand, I saw it with my own eyes. No weapons, no tricks, just the power of Origin. From that second I was a believer."
"It didn't bother you to see your race beaten like that?"
"These were the soldiers that had just overrun my homeland; I didn't shed a tear, not even when the Ori ship leveled one of their cities in retribution. The day after Origin was declared the official religion of every country and the wars ended. They brought us peace."
"They imposed peace, there is a difference." Tomasselli pointed out.
"Not to my people. Under Origin we were free again, the Priors took over ruling the planet and as long as we followed Origin we were free to live our lives."
"Live by their rules though, as laid down by the Book of Origin right?"
"So not really free, you've just chosen to live by their rules. Or else you'll see your cities burn."
"They prevented my execution, I owe them my life."
"And to pay them back you joined their army." The Captain considered. "You think that was a good idea?"
Lennar nodded. "It was a very good idea, it is my duty."
"To defend Origin by destroying unbelievers?"
"Yes, to stop heretics before they pollute the faithful."
"Doesn't matter to you that these heretics are living beings too? Good, honest people who are no threat to you? Who would happily live and let live with followers of Origin if you didn't threaten them?"
"The Priors say we must…"
"Forget the Priors for a minute." Tomasselli cut him off. "I'm asking you what you think."
"I think the Priors are right."
"Is that a fact?"
"It is, they are speakers of the gods."
"So I guess they never make mistakes then?"
Lennar frowned slightly.
"They are always right, aren't they?" Tomasselli leaned forward a little. "They'd never walk into an ambush, right?"
Lennar did not answer.
"Tell me how you got here Mr. Lennar."
The Ori soldier exhaled. "It is different."
"How is it different? The Prior walked into an ambush, and you knew."
"It is not my place to disagree with a speaker of the Ori."
"But you did disagree didn't you." Tomasselli pressed. "I was part of the unit that engaged you and I know for a fact you attempted to advise the Prior he was wrong, I saw you pointing out directions, suggesting alternate routes that weren't suicidal. You knew Lennar because you, like me, are a professional soldier and the Prior isn't. You knew and he didn't."
"Priors know everything."
"So why did he walk into an ambush? Either he didn't know, or he got your people killed deliberately, which is it?"
"How many of those men were from your world? Your nation?" Tomasselli demanded. "How many were old soldiers? How many knew they were walking into a trap? How many did you serve with before the Ori? How many were your brothers in arms from old wars, men you owed your life to? How many looked at you to save them? To prevent the massacre they knew was coming? How many trusted you to save their lives? Lives lost because of that Prior? How many trusted you? Relied on you? Knew you were right and prayed you would stand up to the Prior? How many are dead because you failed in your responsibilities as an Officer?"
"Enough!" Lennar smashed his hands down on the table. "I couldn't have done anything!"
"But you knew he was wrong!"
"Yes I knew! I knew the Prior was wrong!"
"But you followed him anyway?"
"Yes I followed him! Yes we all did!"
"Why? Why follow him into an ambush?"
"Because if we didn't he'd have crushed our bodies with a thought!"
"You followed him because you were afraid of him! More afraid of his wrath then our bullets?"
"Exactly!" Tomasselli thumped the table. "You followed the Prior because you were afraid of him; you do what he says because you fear punishment, not because you believe! You follow Origin Mr. Lennar because to do otherwise is to invite death. You are slave, a slave of fear forced to fight or to be killed, but what if there was another way out?"
"Have you ever seen a Prior in fury? Have you seen one wipe out thousands of professional soldiers?"
"No, but I have seen one helpless, his powers drained, weak as you or I."
"You wanna see him too?"
"Bottom line is Origin is a lie." Jackson folded his arms. "You people are peddling a lie."
"Origin is very real, as we have demonstrated." The Prior replied. "Frequently and spectacularly."
"We've got this old saying back home. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Jackson stated. "I see a lot of sufficiently advanced technology in the Ori, I don't see divine intervention."
"The powers we possess are given to us directly from the Ori."
"And can be taken away just as easily." Jackson countered. "If it was divine power why can we stop it with a few circuits and energy fields?"
"Because the Ori will it."
"The Ori will the fact that their technology sucks?"
"They have withheld my powers, not you."
"Oh right, so they've forsaken you."
"It is a test."
"Of my Faith."
"Is that so?"
"They have pretended to abandon me to see if I will abandon them. I will not."
"The gods will it."
"And your capture?"
"The gods will it."
"That bullet hole in your shoulder?"
"The gods will it."
"Deus Vult." Jackson stated. "God wills it. You know how many wars that phrase has started, how much pain? How much ignorance? Didn't you ever ask why the gods will it?"
The Prior shook his head. "No."
"The ways of the Ori are not for mortals to understand."
"So you just go on Faith?"
"You kill worlds, slaughter millions, impose Origin on trillions because they tell you to?"
"Because they are gods?"
"Are the Alterans gods?"
The Prior seemed slightly surprised.
"Well are they?" Jackson pressed. "I mean they ascended, they live on the same plain of existence… they were the exact same race…"
"The Alterans are not the same."
"Oh they are, like you said earlier, I should know."
"The Ori are true gods."
"Yet both came from the same place, both ascended in the same way, and both exist in the same form today. If the Ori are gods, so are the Alterans, or if the Alterans are just advanced aliens, so too are the Ori."
"That comment would have been punishable by death."
"So why am I still alive? Why haven't the Ori struck me down?"
"Because it is their will not to."
"It is their will."
"For a speaker of the gods you don't have a lot to say." Jackson shook his head. "How much do you really know? It sounds to me that you don't really understand how this works, and if you don't understand it how do you know its right?"
"What if your faith is wrong?"
"How do you know?"
"Because the book of Origin instructs me."
"Ah yes, I was waiting until we got to this."
"The Book tells us all we need to know. If it is not in there we do not need it."
"Yeah, read the book, bit heavy going." Jackson winced. "Know what stood out? The complete lack of quantifiable facts. Lot of stories, lot of 'thou shalt' in there, not a lot of inarguable truth."
"The truth is all around us. Their power seen in their ships, their words, and their followers."
"Like You." Jackson smiled. "Feeling powerful?"
The Doctor locked eyes with the Prior.
"We have blocked their power Prior, say what you want you know its true, and if we can do that how powerful do you think your gods truly are?"
"The Ori are everywhere, they see and know all."
"Is that so?" Jackson raised an eyebrow. "So try this question."
"Where is your god now?"
"This is a laptop; it's a personal information device." Captain Tomasselli pushed the computer across the table. "It shows live images captured and transmitted from elsewhere. Do you understand this concept? Have you seen it before?"
"I understand." Lennar confirmed.
"Look at the screen, what do you see?"
"I see… I see a Prior, in a room like this one!"
"Do you see he is chained?"
"Also do you recognize his face?"
"He is the one who commanded us on our deployment, who led us to our doom."
"He is being questioned just like you are now, just across the hall, if you don't believe me we can walk over there right now."
He tapped the top of the screen.
"Do you see he is helpless? Do you see that we have stripped him of his powers? That we now control his every option? Do you see the Ori have not rescued him, or given him greater power, or even broken through our countermeasures? We captured him just the same as we captured you, at the same time in the same way. You do see that?"
"Yes…yes I see."
"You see that without their powers the Priors are nothing? They are just like us. We can block their abilities; we can stop them and kill them. They can't rule us by fear or force because we can fight back, neutralize their power, and do whatever we want to them. With no power it's a question of skill and intelligence, and you know as well as I do that the Ori have no concept of how to fight a real war."
"How is this possible?" Lennar asked.
"It is a secret, but I assure you we can do this anytime we meet the Ori in battle. Why do you think the Prior was taken so easily, why do you think he is sitting there right now with nowhere to go?"
Lennar shook his head quietly. "I don't believe it."
"The Ori aren't gods, just very advanced aliens. All they do, they do through technology. That's all, they've had millions of years to perfect their devices, they seem supernatural and they use that appearance, but it's a lie. It can be countered, it can be defeated, and that is no lie. You can see the proof with your own two eyes."
Jenkins joined in.
"You have nothing to fear from this man anymore Lennar." The Agent promised. "He can't do anything anymore, look at him. He is just a man, a man who got your friends killed, who slaughtered countless innocent people and rules millions more through terror. He is just a man, the only thing that elevates him are his crimes. Crimes against us, against your world, against you. Everything he has told you has been a lie, you already knew that but fear prevented you from accepting it. There's no fear anymore Lennar. What does your heart tell you now?"
Lennar looked at the screen, his eyes burning into it.
"Would you follow this man into battle?"
"No." Lennar said.
"Because he is incompetent, he has no idea how to lead men. He doesn't care for the lives under his command."
"Then why do you still follow him now?"
Torac Lennar, a Soldier turned Warrior now finally became a Soldier once again.
Tomasselli nodded respectfully.
"Let's talk about the Ori ground forces."
"The Ori had a good idea, it was diabolically evil, but in a smart way." Doctor Jackson related. "You create your own religion, I mean how many times has that worked, and then get people to join it. Religion is great, it answers all your questions, even though it often doesn't actually say anything specific, and it discourages you from seeking your own answers. Origin is the truth because we say so, and to prove it, here's a rain of toads."
"A rain of toads?" The Prior asked.
"Or a hail of fire, rivers into blood, plague of locusts, pick your apocalypse." Daniel shrugged. "Point is you pull off some grand demonstration, everyone goes 'ooooh' and 'ahhh' and believes only the true gods can do that. And you Priors, you make it happen, instant miracles. Pretty awesome huh?"
"The power of the Ori is such."
"Works great with the pre-renaissance crowd, all those feudal worlds the Goa'uld held down, I bet they love you."
"They are open to the truth of Origin."
"But then you hit a snag. Some worlds aren't feudal; some have a philosophical education, technology of their own. They see you and they understand it isn't divine power, its just advanced technology. Your tricks don't work on them, so you have to be a bit more forceful. You have to invade, and break down that society, destroy its education system, kill anyone who questions you until all you have is one more feudal world. That's your plan for us isn't it?"
"Daniel, the Ori do not wish to destroy Earth."
"That's nice of them. Except it's a lie."
"No, we want to make it better."
Jackson smiled. "This should be fun."
"You have lost your way as many godless societies do."
"Our world isn't godless; we've got plenty of deities' thanks."
"All are false."
"Feel free to bring that idea to Earth, I can arrange for you to address a public rally in down town Baghdad…"
"The unbelievers cannot harm me."
"Of course not. Hey, how's the shoulder?"
"Deus Vult." The Prior cracked a thin smile.
"Nobody on Earth will accept you. They don't want Origin, they have their own faith, or lack of same."
"And where has it left you? Direction less, meandering, wading through your lives seeking some deeper reason for existence that you cannot find? Not just Earth, but Langara, Hebridan, Dakara. You are all of you lost, surrounded by luxuries but missing the truth, the greater meaning. You are lacking purpose, but we can help you find it again."
"By forcing us to join you on pain of death?"
"No Daniel. The Ori know the importance of Earth. You were a cradle, a scion of our race. The Alterans made many mistakes, they left a lot of loose ends across the universe, but we know Earth was the home of the second evolution. That means that your race, your world, is the holiest place in this galaxy for it is the closest place to the gods."
"I feel special."
"Earth will be the centre, elevated." The Prior informed. "You will not be mere followers of Origin, you will be overseers. The people of Earth are special, and you will be given special treatment, special powers. If you follow Origin of your own free will the rewards will be exceptional."
"Powers such as mine, a role administrating lesser worlds, responsibility for ruling whole cities, whole worlds even. Anyone on Earth who accepts Origin will be elevated to a position of great power, and will benefit from all that comes with it. Wealth, privileges, prestige, concubines, worship even. Earth is the seat of the gods in this galaxy, and all who live on it will be treated as demi-gods themselves."
"This guy is seriously fucking good." Fitzgerald said. "I mean seriously, seriously grade A good."
"I think I get it." Woolsey nodded, sharing the insight. "He's changing his pitch."
"All this time the Ori have been about religion, because religion was the overriding thing on most worlds." Fitzgerald announced. "They could use religion to tap into a system that everyone knew, everyone respected, everyone feared."
"Like a preset command structure." Carter mused.
"Exactly, they just made sure the Ori replaced whoever was at the top before, Apophis or whatever." The Colonel ran through. "But that won't fly on Earth; we don't treat religion with that sort of importance anymore. At least not in the countries they need to subvert as a priority."
"The ones with the arsenals and technology to fight them effectively." Glyndon figured.
"Exactly, so they change their pitch, they ditch religion and throw something else our way."
"Greed." Woolsey stated. "Lust for power, the need to be powerful, respected, appreciated. Damn they know us too well."
"Like the ultimate reality show, take a member of the public and instead of elevating them to being a pop star or business executive you make them a fucking god." Fitzgerald exhaled. "Who is going to say no to that? Especially when they can actually do it."
"They can't make all six billion people gods though." Glyndon said. "They don't have that big an empire, do they? And how will they maintain control with so many people running around living the ultimate hedonistic existence?"
"They don't have to; they just have to promise it." Carter said. "Give a few people power and keep the rest waiting until it's too late."
"Or give everyone power and let us kill each other off over petty jealousy and old rivalry." Fitzgerald said. "You want to imagine a thousand Taliban with Prior abilities?"
"Global anarchy." Woolsey said. "They don't need to invade us; they can sit back while we destroy ourselves."
"Do they have the power to do this though? Can they get on Earth and start randomly giving away powers like cereal box toys or is this a bluff?" Colonel Glyndon asked.
"I don't know." Carter opened the door to the observation room. "I'll ask."
"It's a medieval army, but with advanced weapons." Lennar said simply. "They fight like a rabble; professional soldiers slaughter them, which you probably knew."
"Hadn't escaped our notice." Tomasselli nodded. "Why don't people like you offer advice?"
"A few tried, we never saw them again." Lennar said. "We heard they were executed as blasphemers, for questioning the word of a Prior."
"Telling him his tactics were childlike I guess?"
"Probably." Lennar nodded. "And they were right, but there's no move to reform, no move to change."
"Not many religion based cultures want to change, they actively discourage it." Tomasselli said. "Change makes people ask questions, if thinks in the past were wrong enough to be changed does that mean the future is different too? Does that mean when something is wrong it should be changed here and now? Will our children live in different times? It's a threat to their power, especially when people below them know better. So they enforce dogma, even if it costs effectiveness, even if it costs lives."
Lennar nodded. "I think you are right."
"It has happened before. I understand your position Mr. Lennar, there was a time when I trained to be a Holy Man." Tomasselli remarked. "I was going to be a priest, to administer sacraments and lead people in prayer. I understand faith and the way religion works, the power it holds, the hope it gives. It is a beautiful thing, but it is so easy to manipulate, to use for the gain of a few. The Ori are no different, you must have seen this in their ranks."
"I saw it." Lennar confirmed.
"Will you be willing to tell us about Ori weapons? Training techniques? Their logistics train and organization? Command chains?"
"On your world before the Ori you must have appreciated the value of these things, so you must have looked for them in the Ori."
"I did." Lennar nodded. "And I will cooperate. I knew what they were, I knew, but what could I have done?"
"Nothing." Tomasselli nodded. "Nothing until now."
Jenkins stood, smiling genuinely.
"You made a big leap Mr. Lennar, you overcame your fear, you let your reason win through. Not many people let themselves do that, even those who don't have real fears as you did."
"We promise you will be well treated." Tomasselli stood up too. "I'm going to bring in some other people; they will ask you some very specific questions. They want to know about how the Ori army functions."
"Alright." Lennar nodded. "I'll help."
"This is the first step towards giving true freedom to your people." Tomasselli said sincerely, then reached for the door.
"Wait." Lennar said. "Why didn't you become a priest?"
"Yes, what changed? Did you lose your faith?"
Tomasselli shook his head. "No, I still have it. Something happened back home and it showed me that people need two sorts of protection. They need someone to look after their souls, and someone to look after their lives. I decided it was more important to protect their lives today and their souls tomorrow."
Lennar nodded. "I want to tell you something. I need you to understand I'm telling you so you can protect yourselves."
Tomasselli froze. "Go on."
"I will not betray my people; I will not have their blood on my hands."
"Your people destroyed a base recently, an Ori camp with some sort of explosive missiles?"
"Yes, their main base in this sector."
"It wasn't their main base. Their main staging area is on my world. Understand I cannot tell you its location, I will not let you attack it, it is too close to civilians."
"How big is this base?"
"Six hundred thousand warriors."
Tomasselli set his jaw. "Thank you."
"Captain." Lennar continued. "Something else. Just a rumor, but the Ori, they aren't doing this alone."
He looked squarely at both men.
"They have allies in this galaxy."
Carter burst into the room, yanking across a chair to the surprise of the assembled interrogators.
"Colonel…" Pollard began, but didn't finish his sentence.
"Drop the act." Sam demanded, glaring at the Prior. "Who are you?"
"I am a humble messenger of Origin."
"Bullshit!" Carter snapped. "Where are you from? Talk or I let Colonel Kharakov and his pliers finish this talk!"
The Prior raised an eyebrow, then broke into a smile.
"What gave it away?" He asked.
"Tough love." She answered.
"Ah fudge, you spend so much time watching TV you pick up things, ways of speaking. There was a study on the way TV shapes vocabulary on Dr. Phil last week."
"Okay, you're going to tell us how you know these things." Agent Pollard said darkly.
"Why don't you tell him Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter?" The Prior grinned. "How are Teal'c and Jack? Still enjoying Star Wars? More of a Battlestar fan myself."
"Yeah, we already figured out you knew more than you told us." Jackson said. "Like my name at the start of the interrogation."
"You're famous." The Prior said. "It is in part why I'm here. We knew that capturing a Prior would be a big thing, and the SGC would send its foremost expert to interrogate me. That would be you."
"You let yourself be captured so you could have a little chat with me?"
"More or less." The Prior said, then grimaced. "Though the bullet hole was unexpected."
"Why?" Sam asked. "You must have studied us, studied Earth, why?"
"Know thy enemy." The Prior smiled. "I know your weakness. The secret to defeating your world without firing a shot, and I am not the only one."
He peeled off a laugh, confident and mocking in tone.
"What? Did you think we were all like Friar Tuck? Grey pilgrims hobbling around forests until we get sent off to battle? Some of us are privileged to be given greater responsibilities, tasks that require intelligence, forethought, planning."
"A thinking class of Prior." Daniel frowned. "Above blind faith?"
"If you have reason you must know the Ori aren't gods?" Pollard stated forcefully.
"Aren't they?" The Prior asked. "What is a god? Who cares where they started from, it is where they are now that counts, and where we will be too."
"If you know they aren't gods why do you follow them?"
"Isn't it obvious?" The Prior gave them a slightly bemused look. "Because they let me rule planets and burn people who look at me in the wrong way."
Jackson chuckled to himself, weighing up the new information. "So it's a power trip, just like the Goa'uld."
"They needed me, asked me to join them and gave me these abilities if I said yes. The same deal they are going to offer your world."
"Six billion Priors all on one planet? No one could control that."
"It won't be six billion, just a few key individuals, ones in positions of influence, who could rise to rule, to further our goals. Earth is a threat, one that is too costly to invade and too stubborn to convert through preaching. So we need another approach, and we all know it's going to work."
"I think you're wrong." Jackson said simply.
"Now who's relying on false faith?" The Prior chuckled.
"How do you know so much about Earth?" Pollard asked again.
"We have our ways and means." He said. "Not just Earth either, Hebridan, few other places. They'll go the same way, it's already started."
"How?" The Prior smiled. "How much do you trust your allies?"
"Yes, the ones who've sampled your culture, had access to your decision making, been to your world…Oh, and been promised powers akin to godhood by us? You'd be surprising how convincing that is. And Dakara is so nice this time of year…Oops."
"Dakara?" Pollard snatched up. "You've been to Dakara?"
"Hallowed are the Ori."
"Who have you spoken to in the Free Jaffa?"
"Hallowed are the Ori."
"Who is feeding you information?"
"Hallowed are the Ori."
"This is over." Jackson stood up. "For now. We've got plenty to talk about."
"Haven't we just." The prior grinned. "Hallowed are the Ori."
The group walked out of the room, shutting the soundproof door behind them.
"This is bad." Jackson said. "Real bad, we expected the Ori to purge intellectuals, not use them."
"This adds a different dimension to the Priors." Sam agreed. "They don't just blindly follow orders, some of them can think for themselves."
"And he's not a religious fanatic; he's doing it for power and greed." Pollard pointed out. "That actually gives us some leverage. I'll go back in there tomorrow and start taking him apart."
"You think it's true what he said, about the Free Jaffa?" Sam wondered. "Are they in league with the Ori?"
"I don't know." Jackson shook his head. "We need other sources of confirmation, but it would help explain a lot."
"Jack isn't going to like this, when they were fanatics they were one thing, but this is a lot more dangerous." Carter grimaced.
"I'll let him know what we've found." Daniel nodded. "It could just be a giant bluff, he might not have let himself be captured and now he's just messing with us."
"Sowing discord." Pollard understood. "We've got methods for breaking down lies, but now you've got him talking that chat gave me all I need. We'll take it from here."
"Watch out for him." Jackson cautioned. "He's trying to play us, and he's no amateur."
"In this business, neither are we." Pollard answered. "Thanks again Doctor Jackson, we wouldn't have this without you."
Pollard opened the door to the observation room just as Fitzgerald was leaving.
"Well done Colonel." He said in passing. "Hope you got what you were looking for."
"Plenty thanks, ready to start again tomorrow." Fitzgerald agreed. "I doubt he'll give away anymore today."
Pollard confirmed gruffly and went to review the recordings, letting Fitzgerald join his two fellow travelers.
"I'll say it now; this is one hell of a first day."
"Should have seen what mine was like." Jackson exhaled.
"At least you can see now what we're facing Colonel." Carter spoke. "And why we needed your expertise."
"Of course, this is the sort of threat you never imagine facing."
"You seem to be taking it well." Jackson observed.
"It takes a lot to surprise me these days Doctor, years of practice playing cool." He grinned.
"The Teal'c school of dramatic restraint." Daniel smiled. "Sorry, in-joke."
"We need to make a move." Carter reminded her companions. "This new Prior is going to create a lot of ripples, and we're going to have to talk with the Free Jaffa Attaches to see if they've noticed anything suspicious back home."
"Jack's going to be a busy man." Daniel supposed. "Sorry Colonel, looking at the situation I think you'll be part of the SGC for quite a while."
"Not a problem Doctor." Fitzgerald smiled, working out how many more years it was going to be until he got that combat brigade. "We're all prisoners of our talents."
New York City
The Great Lawn of Central Park was both resplendent and a beehive of activity on what was a near-perfect summer day. All of the things you might see in a postcard or a movie were happening on the massively landscaped piece of parkland in the heart of Manhattan. Tall skyscrapers and the gilded penthouse towers of the well-to-do were lit by the radiating sunlight hitting their glass. Families were laying out on blankets as people threw Frisbees, tossed baseballs and enjoyed picnics without a care in the world as singsong voices led a chorus of different languages common to the five boroughs, English and Spanish mostly but a few others thrown in as well. Two individuals stood taking in the site, one completely slack-jawed, the other just appreciating the sights and smells of home.
Major Evan Lorne had known that he'd make it back to Earth eventually, whether through a routine transfer or at least for some extended leave. Like many in the Atlantis expedition, he'd come to be so focused on the job at hand that thoughts of home had receded somewhat, but never fully. Atlantis was beautiful, a wonder that even the hard-bitten military personnel marveled at. But coming home was another matter all together. There was nothing like a gorgeous day back home to take your mind off all the problems off-world.
Lorne hadn't expected to be home anytime soon. He wasn't due for his normal rotation home and there was so much going on back at Earth's Pegasus Galaxy outpost that he hadn't been holding his breath for a trip out. Spots on the Daedalus were limited and the use of the ZPM's for Earth-bound wormholes was strictly rationed. That all changed when he'd been summoned to General Birmingham's office without warning.
"You wanted to see me sir?"
"Yeah Major, step in and shut the door." Lorne stepped in, shutting the door behind him only to see that Sheppard and Doctor Weir were already sitting down. Neither looked particularly concerned. Birmingham motioned for Lorne to grab a seat.
"Thanks for coming down quickly. I know you've been pretty busy with integrating a lot of the new personnel in and still doing some off-world missions with the Colonel."
Lorne sat back in his chair and saw the ambush coming from a mile away, and he was smart enough to know that Birmingham was conscious of his awareness. "It's been busy sir, but it's a good busy. I'd rather have the new personnel and resources than not."
"You're right there. Anyway, we asked you to come by because we have something to discuss with you. A request of sorts. Doctor?"
Weir leaned forward in her seat as Lorne turned in his seat to face her, a sense that he'd been summoned to the principal's office filling him. "Major, we have an odd request for you, and this is something that we emphasize is voluntary in nature. As you know, we've had Sora, our Genii 'guest' you could say, for some time. I say 'guest' because realistically she's no longer a prisoner. She's cooperated fully, given us the information to capture Koyla and expressed an interest in becoming integrated with this expedition and with humanity. Even the General has been impressed."
Lorne looked over to Birmingham, who simply nodded. "That's true, and believe me when I say I was not a fan to start."
"With that in mind, we'd like to start acclimating her to our culture and how we do things. Simply put, we'd like you to take her to Earth for a visit."
Lorne blinked hard. "You want me to take Sora to Earth? Like on a vacation?"
"Yes. We're setting up an itinerary through the SGC. You'd be taking her to a few locations. Washington, New York, Paris. We want her to get the full exposure to our culture and how we live. The SGC and the IOA are becoming enthusiastic about introducing the peoples of other worlds to our planet. They feel, probably correctly, that many alien worlds have gotten a skewed image of us since all they ever saw was an underground bunker of concrete. They're hoping these trips will change that and at the same time engender the same cooperation when we go to Disclosure. It will most likely be a two to three week stay. What do you think?"
Lorne was speechless. He had no personal animus towards Sora. He'd actually been quite impressed with her willingness to learn about the humans of Earth, especially how much she seemed to read every day, from biographies to histories to Jane Austen. Add in the fact that she had a good personality and was not exactly a strain on the eyes and Lorne could see the benefits.
"Let me see. You want me to volunteer for an all-expense paid trip to New York and Paris that involves sight-seeing and nice dinners, in the company of an attractive woman? This is a lot to ask…" Lorne cracked a smile to his superiors. "When do we leave?"
Looking back on the conversation made it even funnier now. The look on his travelling companions face at the moment was even funnier.
"How what? Feel free to pick up your jaw at any time." The look on the young woman's face was priceless and had been there consistently since they arrived on Earth.
"How have you people escaped it?"
Lorne was quiet for a few moments, trying to formulate an answer. "Sheer luck I guess."
"This is more than luck. Your people have been touched somehow. How else do you explain a world like this, devoid of fear of the Wraith? Of imminent death at any moment? No culling, no hives, no plans."
Lorne looked down at the shorter, red haired young woman. She was dressed casually in beige Capri's, sandals and a white sleeveless blouse, all provided by the US Government. In her hand was a latte from Starbucks. Ordering the latte at a nearby shop had been an experience all its own, requiring a lengthy explanation from Lorne about caffeinated beverages.
In all of Lorne's travels while with the SGC, he'd come to the conclusion that most of the universe ran on desperate anxiety. Whether it was human or not, most societies that knew of life beyond their world were scared of the bigger threat, be it Goa'uld, Ori or Wraith. To him it was like the schoolyards of his youth, where just the mere mention of a certain bully could send some crying and make others prepare all sorts of ways to avoid the threat. That is, until someone put the bully in their place. He wondered if interstellar relations were actually that simple in form and scope. The few aliens who'd spent time on Earth outside the glorified bunker that was the SGC tended to fall back on the 'touched' argument that Sora was throwing out. Lorne wasn't buying.
"Sora, I'd say we've just been lucky. There are parts of this world where people don't feel so lucky. I don't know if we've been touched so much as untouched. We've had the luck of ignorant bliss, at least in terms of the wider universe you know."
"Your people can do so much."
"So can yours, if they get the opportunity. It's not so much a matter of us knowing more; its that we've had the chance to learn on our own without having to worry about the things you've had to fear. Our bogymen have been of our own creation."
"What is a bogyman?"
"Sorry, Earth term for an evil spirit. I meant it in terms of the Wraith and others."
"Ah, I see." Sora turned her attention to the massive buildings bordering the park and to the towers in the distance. She batted her eyes in an attempt to play Lorne. "So, what is this 'Empire State Building' you mentioned?"
Lorne chuckled. "Allow me to show you."
As they walked along the path, Sora continued to take in the sights and sounds as if trying not to miss a thing. A small troop of people on ten-speed bikes flew past on the road.
"Doctor Weir said that you were from an area not far from this place."
"That's right. It's about three hours away from here. It's called Pennsylvania."
"Did you like it? Where you came from?"
"It wasn't bad; sometimes boring though."
"Really? How could this be boring?" Sora held up her hands and looked around.
"Sora, not all of my country or this world is like this. Many places are just small cities and towns. This is not typical of everywhere."
"Consider where I come from Evan. I'm sure it would still impress me. Why did you leave it?"
"I was looking to do more with my life and the military seemed like a good challenge. There really wasn't anything to stay home for so I signed up for officer training when I went to college."
"Are people required to serve in the military here? We required it."
"No, it's voluntary here. It was mandatory a long time ago. My dad was drafted into the army for a time. Some countries on Earth still have that."
"It seems so weird to me, a world with so many different independent nations. How do you make it work here?"
"Not well some of the time. There are still wars going on here at anytime."
"I read about Iraq; have you been there?"
Lorne grew quiet. "Yes, a while ago."
Sora saw that Lorne didn't want to talk so she moved on. She watched as two teams of small children played a game with a ball as their parents cheered them on. "What are they playing?"
"It's called soccer." Sora watched as the teams ran back and forth, totally engrossed in their efforts.
"So none of these people know?"
"How will they react?"
"I don't know."