Zero Sum Game

Lt. Phillips found Dr. Summers sitting alone in the woods outside the entrance to the NORAD tunnel. She tended to disappear into those woods as often as she could after the siege of Atlantis had been lifted. No one at the SGC had said a word about it, but many of them knew that Dawn had been responsible. Their weekly gate connection to Atlantis had failed to establish, and then Dr. Summers had gone into a trance for a few minutes. When she came out of it, she had nothing to say, and an hour later she completely shut down on herself. They re-established their connection to Atlantis, and learned about the destruction of the attacking Wraith fleet. Dr. Summers said nothing. She just disappeared into herself. She still did her job, efficiently providing translations of archaic texts, but without her normal effervescence.

She had been depressed ever since that day, but she refused to talk about it. Every so often, she'd get even more depressed, and disappear for an hour or two. Reports from Pegasus indicated that her bouts of depression corresponded with the destruction of more Wraith hives.

"It's not your fault," said Lt Phillips.

"It isn't?" asked Dawn. "Then whose fault is it?"

"The Wraith's," said Phillips. "They started this. They're the ones who can stop this."

"But they won't stop," said Dawn.

"That's their lookout," said Phillips.

"It's so stupid," said Dawn. "It shouldn't be this way."

"We have to live in the world we have, not the one we think it should be."

"What if you have the power to reshape the world?" asked Dawn. "What if you *can* make it the way you think it should be?"

"Hmm?" asked Phillips.

"I can exterminate the Wraith," said Dawn. "I can kill every vampire and demon on this planet. I know about a guy who's beating his wife in the apartment building I'm living in.

"I've reported him to the cops, but his wife refuses to press charges. What should I do about that? I can hurt him. I can make him drop dead, I can turn him into a bloody smear on the street, or I can just make him disappear. I have the power to destroy anyone I want to destroy. Destruction is easy. Creation is hard. How do I create in her the will to stand up for herself?"

"I don't know," said Phillips. "Maybe you just have to give her the opportunity to find that inside herself."

"But what if it's not there?" asked Dawn. "I can't make that sort of thing appear overnight. She is what she is. I can't change that."

"Can't you?" asked Phillips.

"Not without changing who she is," said Dawn, "and if I did that, would I be any better than him? Sure, she wouldn't suffer the pain, but I'd still be changing her against her will. I'd be destroying who she is, to make someone more to my liking."

"You don't want to play God," said Phillips.

Dawn grimaced. "Been there. Done that."

Phillips was more disturbed by that than he wanted to admit. "What do you mean?"

"I've been a God," said Dawn. "I've found the seeds of life on a world, and watched their growth. I've planted seeds on other worlds, and nurtured them. I have created life capable of contemplating the cosmos, and wondering if it had a creator. I have been worshiped."

"And what did you do?" asked Phillips.

"I never even noticed it," said Dawn. "It's only in retrospect, after living a life as a human, that I can recognize it for what it was. If the orchids in a greenhouse started to worship their gardener, would she ever become aware of it? Would she choose to breed a flower that paid her homage, over a flower that showed a new colour that she'd never seen before? I'd choose the new colour. I nurtured diversity. I didn't care if I was worshiped. I never even noticed. I was tending a garden. The Universe is a beautiful garden. I was trying to make it better."

"All gardens have weeds," said Phillips, "and sometimes you need to prune."

"A weed is just some plant growing where you don't want it," said Dawn. "To a wheat farmer, a rose bush in the middle of his wheat field, is a weed, but I was never that sort of gardener. I think maybe I was more of a park ranger: trying to keep a diverse ecosystem running, with minimal interference. Beauty wasn't in things growing the way I wanted them to: it was in the surprising things I'd find, that I never expected."

"And the Wraith?" asked Phillips.

"They are a blight," said Dawn. "A fungus living off the tissue of the humans in the Pegasus Galaxy."

"So they need to be exterminated."

"Not exterminated," said Dawn. "But they do need to be…pruned, and we really need to stop switching back and forth between our metaphors. The Wraith can't be allowed to swell their population any further. There are already too many of them in Pegasus: if they're allowed to grow even more numerous, it will be a catastrophe, not just for Humanity, but for the Wraith. The Wraith need people to survive. If Humanity goes extinct, so do the Wraith. If they make it through to this galaxy it will open a whole new feeding ground for them, allowing an explosive growth in their population, followed by a corresponding crash. In the long term, it won't be good for either of us."

"Us?" asked Phillips.

Dawn shrugged. "Dawn Summers might be a small part of what I am, but I do think of her as the most important part. I chose to return myself to this form. I still think of myself as human…The Key has vast knowledge and power, but Dawn has more intelligence. I want the universe to go on with Humanity taking a big part in it." Dawn shrugged. "I'm prejudiced that way."

"And the Wraith?" asked Phillips.

"They have their part to play too," said Dawn. "If there's one thing I've learned over the last few billion years: Life isn't a zero sum game."

"What do you mean?"

"You know about zero sum games, don't you?"

"A game were there's a loser for every winner."

"Yeah, but not all games work that way," said Dawn. "Some games can have multiple winners. If everyone plays the game right, they can all win. Trying to be the only winner will mess things up for everyone. In the long run, anyone who tries to do that won't just eliminate their competition, they'll eliminate themselves as well. The true winners are the ones who find a way for *everyone* to win.

"If the Wraith want to thrive, we have to thrive as well. We have to come to an accommodation of some sort."

"And if we can't?" asked Phillips.

"If it comes down to them, or us, I'll choose us," said Dawn, "but then, will I be any better than them?"

"You've already given them more consideration, in this conversation, than I've ever heard of them giving us."

"So, you're saying I could be worse?"

"No, I'm saying you're better," said Phillips. He smiled at her. "You aren't playing one against the other. You're trying to find a way for both of us to thrive."

"I don't know if I can," said Dawn.

"And yet, you try," said Phillips. "That puts you head and shoulders above most of the creatures I've met who call themselves gods."

"I'm not a god," said Dawn, "I'm just me."

"And that's what sets you above all those other poseurs," said David. "You're just yourself." He leaned forward and kissed her.

Dawn was surprised for a moment, not knowing how to react, but after a second, she started to kiss him back. She lost herself in the Kiss. She had billions of years of memories, but they were memories of being alone. She had kissed other people, but they had only been kissing Dawn. Some of them had only been kissing a girl, hoping that the kiss would lead to sex, and procreation, as a billion years of evolution had programmed into them. David was the first person who had ever kissed Dawn, and the Key, knowing that they were kissing both. Dawn lost herself in the moment, kissing David back.