Play Smart For The Home Team
"Here's the mess, ma'am," said the airman, holding open the door for Rory. "After you."
Rory stepped into the cafeteria, conscious that the airman followed her. General Landry had instructed the man to "show her around" but to Rory it felt like being jailed.Not jail,
she corrected as she picked up a tray. Jail was never this dark, surrounded by concrete and pipes and people in camouflage.
The police holding cell had never made Rory feel so trapped.
She hesitated in the line, not sure if she even wanted to eat at all. Behind her, a couple of military men clattered flatware onto trays, looking at her impatiently.Hold your head high, kid, you're a Gilmore,
Lorelai's voice echoed in Rory's mind. Rory tightened her grip on her tray as she looked at the men.
"Please, go ahead of me," Rory said.
One of the men gave her a cheeky grin. "Sure thing, ma'am." His accent slurred the words into slow molasses, shore thang, maaam
As he squeezed past Rory in line, he gave her a stage whisper, "The Mac 'n Cheese is the best thing they got."
His buddy hit him on the shoulder.
"Thank you," Rory said with a smile and a flicker of eyelid, coquettish without meaning to be and it made her nervous, that she couldn't stop being Emily Gilmore's granddaughter this far underground.
When the line was clear ahead of her, she set a plate of Mac n' Cheese next to her fork.
The rest of the line was just like it had been at Chilton; sandwiches and salads, then drinks and desserts. The line ended abruptly at condiments. Rory looked around. Was she supposed to pay? Was there a card swiper somewhere she couldn't see? Would they ask her to leave the mountain if she didn't pay for her food?
She took a step into the seating area, then another. No noise sounded, no protests from the food line staff. Wondering if she would ever feel like a grown up, Rory turned her attention to finding a seat. The seating area was crowded, people at every table talking to each other, ignoring her completely.
Rory didn't understand herself. She had flown across the country on the half-believable words of an Air Force General, had done some math that had made another general freak out, and now all she could think about was not being able to find a place to sit in the cafeteria.
Some days, she had Lorelai's sense when it came to short term priorities.
Something caught her eye. In the far corner of the room, next to a sandy-haired man sat Vala, motioning Rory over. Although technically Vala wasn't 'motioning' so much as bouncing up and down, waving her hands in a vague approximation of semaphore. Hoping the gesture was one of welcome, Rory slipped through the tables to the other side of the room.
"Good, you saw me," Vala said when Rory was in earshot. "Come, sit. I'm bored."
"I won't be bothering you?" Rory asked. Manners were important, after all, even this far underground.
Vala waved her hand towards the man, who, Rory noted, was ignoring Vala in favor of an old book. "Daniel is unavailable at the moment and would like you to leave a message," she said. "You can entertain me."
Rory slid into the seat offered. "Thank you."
Vala put her elbows on the table, smiling expectantly. "Now, tell me what a dazzling urbanite such as yourself is doing in this rustic setting."
Rory dipped her spoon into her dinner, thinking hard. "Is that from Blazing Saddles?"
"I have no idea. I discovered a page on Daniel's computer with movie quotes and I use them for conversation openers with your people. It works marvelously, especially with the strapping young airmen."
The man at the table blinked hard, looking up. "You're not supposed to be on my computer," he snapped at the woman, then he spotted Rory. "Oh. Hi."
"Hello," Rory said.
"How long have you been here?" He closed his book. "I'm sorry. I'm Dr. Daniel Jackson."
"Rory Gilmore," Rory said.
"Yes, yes, I told her all about you," Vala said to Daniel. "We were talking about me--"
"You're the one who thinks the Ancients made me smart?" Rory said quickly, before she lost her nerve.
The look Daniel shot at Vala could only be described as annoyed. "From what Jack described, it's a possibility that we need to examine."
"Oh." Rory tasted her dinner. To her surprise, it was even better than Luke's. "What are the Ancients?"
Daniel blinked. He opened his mouth to answer, then hesitated. "Your security clearance..."
"Daniel, be nice," Vala said, punching him in the arm. "The poor girl might be related to Rodney McKay, she needs a bit of good news."
The man smiled at Rory apologetically. "Jack said you'd be cleared tomorrow for the full story."
"Oh. That's... yeah. Never mind, I'm new to this whole security clearance." Rory set down her spoon. She would not cry. She was stronger than this, damn it. She could wait until the next day to learn what was going on... if they even let her know then.
Still, the lump in her throat was making it hard to breathe.
"There there," Vala said. She patted Rory's arm awkwardly. "It's not so bad to be related to Rodney McKay. His sister seems to have avoided killing him over the years."
"Sister?" Rory asked. "He has a sister?"
"She--" There was a loud thunk under the table, and Vala glared at Daniel. "Don't kick me, that's not classified!" She turned back to Rory. "She's lovely, almost as smart as Rodney is, at least that's what he said. Personally I think he's threatened by a superior intellect in someone younger than him. He's just going to love
An aunt. Somewhere out there, Rory might have an aunt, someone smart, someone lovely.
"And since I think I might be shot if I tell you any more about anything, you need to tell me about you."
Rory sipped her coffee. Definitely not as good as at Luke's. "There's not much to tell."
"Liar," Vala pouted. "You've got this entire base in an uproar--"
"She exaggerates," Daniel interrupted.
"--Everyone except Daniel who has his head shoved so far up his--"
"--Books that he'd never notice a naked woman walk through the dining room--"
"Trust me, Vala, we all saw it and there's no need to do that ever again."
"--So tell your tale, darling. How did you end up at Stargate Command?"
Rory's tongue stilled. Stargate Command?
It would tally with all the badges around the place, which read "SGC", but what on earth was a Stargate?
She filed the word away into her mind, to think on later. "I was looking at some physics papers by Rodney McKay--"
"Before that," Vala interrupted. "Back to the beginning. Any interesting life experiences, if you've ever been married, do you believe in extraterrestrial life forms--"
This time, the 'thunk' under the table was much louder.
Vala winced. "That sort of thing."
Rory thought back to the papers she'd seen in the infirmary, and an idea sparked in her imagination. Nothing fully formed, not yet. But growing.
"Um, well, I went to Yale. My best friend's in a band. And when I was sixteen I went to a debutante ball."
"Sounds fascinating," Vala said, leaning on the table. "What's a debutante?"
There it was again, that strange lilt in the woman's voice, something just a little odd in her words.
"It's a coming out party."
Vala's eyes grew wide and she shushed Rory. "That's not allowed down here!" she said.
Daniel closed his eyes. "What's not allowed, Vala?" he asked with the familiar tone of long suffering.
"Coming out! I heard--"
"She doesn't mean coming out
, coming out. A debutante ball is a variety of coming-of-age ceremony undertaken by American Protestant upper-middle classes for their daughters," Daniel explained.
"We dressed in white ball gowns and were paraded around by our fathers, then we had to do a silly dance," Rory added.
"Ah," Vala said, nodding sagely. "Auctioning the daughters off for sale."
"Not exactly--" Daniel tried to say, but Vala held up her hands.
"I've been around, Daniel, I know how these things always end. Human culture really is the same across-- well, everywhere." She looked at Rory. "You were telling us how you were auctioned off at sixteen."
Rory, who had been listening to the conversation with an odd sense of familiarity, swallowed her mouthful. It was insane and wacky and just like being home. "They put me on the block but there were no takers," she said. "My mother was supposed to have gone through the same thing at my age, but there was a glitch in the plans."
"Rodney McKay apparently knocked her up."
Vala accepted that without batting an eyelash, but Daniel frowned. "Your mother was sixteen?"
"How old do you think McKay is?" Vala interjected. "Now shush, Rory's telling me all about your quaint Earth customs."
The phrase Earth customs
wouldn't have set off any alarm bells in Rory's head, except for the way Daniel winced. Interesting.
Not that she believed in aliens, of course, but maybe Vala was just as crazy as everyone back home thought about Rory. Then what's a Stargate? And why would Dr. Lee have papers about intergalactic travels?
Rory tapped her spoon against her plate. "Have you ever heard of a banana split?"
Vala raised her eyebrows. "It sounds painful."
"Not if you're doing it right." Emboldened by the conversation, Rory flashed Vala a smile.
Daniel choked on his coffee.~~~
Rory stared up at the concrete ceiling of her borrowed room. Vala had convinced the kitchen staff to make a triple-sized banana split, and somehow Rory had been roped into eating half of it. She hadn't felt this ill since Lorelai's last movie night.
"And now I can't sleep."
The words were swallowed by the concrete walls and the soft light and the miles of earth pressing down on her. The pressure made it easier to concentrate.
Staring but not seeing, Rory laid her points of consideration out in her mind. Wormhole physics. Intergalactic travel. Thermodynamics.
Vala's queries of 'Earth customs'.
Something Ancient that could make a person smarter.
Dr. Lee's reaction to her comments about zero point energy.
Zero point energy.
Rory sat bolt upright on her bed, mouth hanging open. "You have got to be kidding me!"
She scrambled to her feet and was at the door in an instant. She yanked the door open and found herself staring at a startled guard.
"Stargates?" Rory demanded.
The man nodded once, looking confused.
Rory shut her door again. That morning, she'd been eating french toast in Luke's Diner in Stars Hollow, and now she was miles underground, surrounded by military personnel and, in Vala's case, someone who was possibly from another world.
And she couldn't even call Lorelai to tell her about it!
Letting out a frustrated growl, Rory stalked over to her backpack. She had a pad of paper in there, and a handful of physics papers on wormholes were saved on her laptop. Every detail of Dr. Lee's papers still danced in her head. Stargates
Rory pulled out her pen. She was going to figure out if wormhole travel was actually possible if it killed her.~~~
"You look like crap."
Rory bent over her cup of coffee. "Sugar hangover. No sleep. Need coffee."
Vala, bright-eyed and pigtailed, bounced along the set of metal shutters built into a wall, and came to rest in the chair next to Rory at the big briefing room table. "Why no sleep?"
Wondering who she would have to bribe to get for a coffee IV drip, Rory stabbed her pen at the sheaf of papers in front of her. "I was working."
Vala craned her neck to look at the pages. "Sam was never this grumpy after an all-nighter," she said. "What were you working on?"
"Trying to prove the feasibility of intergalactic wormhole travel, seeing as how we're at Stargate Command," Rory said. It came out crankier than she would have liked, but it was too early for polite conversation.
"And?" came a voice from the side of the room. Jack O'Neill came hopping up the steps, followed by a very tall, very muscular black man. "How did it all come out?"
Light spun lazily around Jack, and Rory turned her eyes away from the glare. "Leaving out how
you'd focus zero point energy, it would be the only way to open a wormhole across the distance between two galaxies."
Vala held up her hands. "I didn't say a thing to her!" she said quickly.
"I know," Jack said. "There was a reason Daniel was hanging out with you all night."
Vala's jaw dropped. "I'm shocked! I'm hurt! You distrust me that much--"
"Yada yada," Jack said. "I told you she was this smart, Hank."
"You did indeed." General Landry came into the room, followed by Dr. Lam. "Shall we all be seated? Where's Dr. Jackson?"
"Here," Daniel said as he hurried into the room, narrowly missing a collision with Jack. "Sorry I'm late."
"Not a problem, Dr. Jackson." General Landry waited until everyone was seated around the big table. "Well, Ms. Gilmore, I believe you've met everyone here except for Teal'c."
The big man, with an odd gold marking on his forehead, inclined his head in Rory's direction. She gave him a tiny wave before picking up her coffee cup to keep her hands occupied.
"First off, Ms. Gilmore, your security clearance has been expanded," the general continued. "Which will make this conversation a little easier."
Rory eyed the man. "What conversation? About intergalactic wormhole travel?"
"Actually," Dr. Lam said, "There's something first that you need to know."
"The DNA results came back."
Rory set her coffee cup back on the table so quickly she sloshed liquid onto her notes. "And?"
The woman smiled slightly at Rory. "Your DNA is a match with Dr. McKay's. He is your biological father."
"He's..." Rory pressed her hands into her lap. "You're sure?"
It was ridiculous. They'd just given her what she wanted, proof that Rodney McKay was her father, and she was already trying to find a flaw in their logic. It had been too easy. If you call this easy.
"We ran a second comparison with Jeannie Miller's DNA as well," Dr. Lam was saying. "She's Dr. McKay's sister, and was recently at the SGC for medical treatment. Everything falls in line with the proper genetic relationships."
Rory could barely hear the doctor over the pounding in her head. She had a father again, and an aunt.
And now she had to find a way to explain this to Lorelai.
The thought threw cold water over Rory's confused mental processes. She took a deep breath and looked up to see everyone staring at her. "Sorry."
"It's all right," General Landry said. "There's more."
This time, Daniel spoke up. "To summarize an extremely long story," he said, "Millions of years ago, an alien race we call the Ancients came to Earth. They built an intergalactic network of Stargates, a method of traveling between star systems and even galaxies. They left Earth about million years ago. We discovered Earth's Stargate buried at Giza and took up where they left off, exploring our galaxy and others."
"Which is part of why we're having this conversation," General Landry continued. He stood up and walked to the wall, pressing a button built into the concrete. The metal shutters began to rise. Unbidden, Rory pushed out of her chair and walked slowly to the windows.
The windows revealed a large stone ring, covered with carvings and crystals, surrounded by machinery. The scale of the thing, the potential, was breathtaking.
Rory just stared.
"So, what do you think?" Jack asked, coming to stand beside her.
A dozen responses drifted through Rory's head, wanting to acknowledge the scale and gravity of the situation. Instead, she asked, "You brought me to the set of Wormhole X-Treme?"
Behind them, Vala started laughing.
"No," Jack snapped. "Wormhole X-Treme was based on us."
"Oh." Rory stared at the Stargate a little longer. "Wait, on who?"
"Us." Jack gestured over his shoulder.
Rory stared up at him. The corner of her mouth twitched. "Which one were you?"
"He's Colonel Danning," Vala contributed. "Daniel, you owe me ten dollars."
"No, I don't." Daniel joined Jack and Rory by the window. "Look, Ms. Gilmore, I know this is a lot to take in--"
"Do you use the Stargate for primarily interstellar or intergalactic travel?" Rory interrupted. "Do you actually have
access to zero point energy? How were you able to contain the energy?"
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look. "Oh yeah, she's fine," Jack said. "Dr. Lee will give you the big grand tour of the science stuff later on."
Rory wrapped her arms around her stomach. "Really?" she whispered. Light moved carefully around the Stargate, not splintering as light should
. She wanted to know more.
She needed more
"Sure thing." Jack went back to his chair. "So, Doc, is there anything else? About her brain?"
Dr. Lam opened up her laptop. A screen on the far wall came to life. "Yesterday while Ms. Gilmore was working with Dr. Lee, we monitored her synaptic activity." A colorful brain scan appeared on the wall screen.
"And?" Jack asked, exuding boredom.
"While her synaptic activity was slightly higher than an average person, there was no spike in her brain waves when she had her epiphany about zero point energy."
"So she's normal?"
Dr. Lam hesitated. "There is no evidence of intervention by the Ancients, but we can't be sure if there was any initial intervention continuing to Ms. Gilmore's recent rise in mathematical skill."
"So they may have meddled or not," Jack stated.
"We can't be sure."
"Great," Jack said, clapping his hands. "She'll stay this way?"
"I can't see why not--"
"Good." Jack pushed some paper towards Rory. "Do you want a job here? Being smart for the home team?"
"You mean we get to keep her?" Vala asked, perking up.
"She's not a puppy, Vala!"
"Yes, Daniel, I know that." Vala grabbed the papers. "They're giving you a signing bonus? I didn't get a signing bonus!"
General Landry yanked the papers out of Vala's hands. "Ms. Gilmore, if you could please sit down. At this point, I think you need the slightly longer version of Earth's history with the Stargate Program."
Rory didn't move. "Where is Rodney McKay?"
A shiver of stillness covered the table. Rory's much-abused stomach flipped over. What was so wrong, that no one would tell her?
Vala was giving everyone a strange look. "Honestly," she muttered. "It's like this--"
"Vala, don't," Daniel said. "Ms. Gilmore, after the Ancients left Earth, they took their city, Atlantis, to the Pegasus Galaxy. Your father is one of the original Atlantis Expedition members that left Earth over three years ago."
Rory ran her hands along the glass of the window separating her from the Stargate. "He's in another galaxy."
"In the lost city of Atlantis. And they got there through a... wormhole."
Any answer they might have had for her was lost as loud alarms sounded. People began to rush into the Stargate room. "Unscheduled off-world activation!" came over a loudspeaker. "General Landry, report to the control room."
General Landry was on his feet and halfway down the stairs when the anonymous voice sounded. Rory pressed her hand to the glass, unable to do anything more than stare as the orange crystals on the Stargate lit up at once.
An explosion of unstable energy gathered at the edges of the Stargate, then punched into the room before settling back to a flat, rippling event horizon.
A metal shield swirled over the event horizon for a moment, then retracted and a group dressed in military camouflage walked through the event horizon.
People were walking through a stable wormhole
miles underneath Cheyenne Mountain in the middle of Colorado, and such miracles happened every day. Rory's father had done the same thing to go to another galaxy, to a city of legend and myth.Atlantis.
Dimly, Rory was aware that she was not the only one at the window. Jack, Daniel, Vala and even the forbidding Teal'c all stood by the glass at her side, looking down at the event horizon.
Twenty-four hours ago, Rory had been sweeping up broken glass in the diner, waiting to gather a seventy-seven cent tip from beside Kirk's plate.
Now, everything she had ever wanted, the entire galaxy
, was laid out at her feet.
She tried to feel elated or happy, but all she could concentrate on the joint sensations of too much coffee and too little sleep churning in her stomach.
"I think I'm going to be sick."
"Yeah," Jack commiserated. "Sunday morning briefings affect me the same way."