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Unascended -- Elizabeth's flashbacks

One of the things I'm enjoying most about working on Unascended (Stargate Atlantis Legacy book 7) is Elizabeth's flashbacks. It's fascinating to explore the experiences that have made her the person she is when she first appears on SG-1. My own DC background is very much to the fore here. Elizabeth came up in progressive NGOs, and I myself am the former executive director of a national progressive NGO, as well as having spent years in other positions at NGOs. I've known many people in her position, and imagining Elizabeth Weir in the places I know with the people I knew is no stretch at all! I know what she'd wear, where she'd grab lunch, how she'd fit the norm and how she'd break it. Imagining the very precise chain of events that leads her to that fateful meeting in a car with Senator Kinsey and then to Atlantis is very fulfilling.

I thought I'd share a small flashback section, looking back twenty years to her beginnings. I'd love to hear what you think!



"Come in, Ms. Weir."

Elizabeth took a deep breath and pushed open the door of the senator's office in the Dirksen Building. It was very seventies, with orange carpet and bucket chairs, which seemed behind the times in this brave new world. The Cold War was over and even the New York Times had proclaimed the End of History.

But for her it was a beginning, a highly competitive internship on the Hill with the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In the first ten weeks she'd done the usual things -- answering the phone when irate constituents called, stuffing envelopes, printing nametags for various events. She'd gone to committee hearings, standing among the other young people in their black suits listening to testimony which, for the most part, was unenlightening. She'd eaten in the Senate cafeteria and once she'd seen Senator Kennedy looking just like he did on tv. Oh, and she'd checked in Tipper Gore at a luncheon and had refrained from saying a word about rock music lyrics.

None of these things used her degree, but that wasn't to be expected at this point. And then she'd been asked to write this white paper -- an actual white paper to be read by Senator Nunn about the situation in the Former Yugoslav Republic! She'd put fifty hours into it in four days, and Elizabeth could say with all confidence it was her best work. It was the best thing she'd ever done. Now he wanted to talk to her about it. Her palms were sweating as she opened the office door.

"Come on in, Ms. Weir," he said from behind his desk. He was middle aged, affable, looking more like a high school chemistry teacher than a senator. Mild-mannered, her mother would have said, meaning it as a compliment. He had an aww-shucks Georgia drawl and glasses. He gestured to one of the two visitors chairs, a nightmare in orange naugahide that must have been the height of fashion about twenty years ago.

"Senator Nunn. It's a pleasure, sir." She stuck out a hand with what she hoped was moxie and firmness.

He shook it, then sat back down. Her paper was open in front of him. "So how's DC treating you?"

"It's great," Elizabeth said. "I like it very much. But since I went to Georgetown, I already know my way around."

"Of course you do." He glanced down at the typewritten pages. "An excellent school."

"Yes," Elizabeth said. The excellence of Georgetown was a nice, safe subject.

"I'd like to talk to you about this white paper," he said slowly, turning one page. "Your analysis of the situation in Bosnia."

"Yes, senator." She caught herself before she added, that's what it is, yes, you've correctly identified this white paper. That was smart ass. She was smart, not smart ass.

He touched his glasses, peering at the page. "You attribute the situation to militarism."

And now was her chance to score, to make a mark. "Senator, disarmament is the only possible…."

He glanced up, his voice mild. "Ms. Weir, no one is a greater champion of disarmament than I am. In fact, if you're familiar with my record, you know that I am one of the primary designers of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to dismantle weapons of mass destruction." He closed the white paper. "And this paper is a load of malarkey. If you're attributing what's going on in the Former Yugoslav Republic to militarism, you are missing about the last thousand years of European history. I suggest you dig a little deeper." He tossed the paper back to her across the desk. "Ever been there? Ever met any Croats or Serbs or Bosnians? Ever read any Serbian poetry, any Croatian novels? Do you have any insights deeper than rehashing previous analysis?"

Elizabeth opened her mouth and then shut it again, her face burning.

"You've done just what they trained you to do in college -- dig up some sources and cite them. But this is the real world. Anybody can look up some statistics. The point of writing white papers is to inform -- to provide new and insightful synthesis of what's going on. It's a big world, Ms. Weir. I rely on my staff to keep me informed of what's going on all over the world independently of the US military and independent of what the State Department chooses to share with my committee. And that means actually telling me something I don't know. Tell me why."

"Why?"

"Tell me why, Ms. Weir. I can read what leaders say in the Washington Post. I want to know why. I want to know who's thinking what, and what the cultural background behind it is. I want to know what buttons we're punching, what narratives we're stepping into, what stories we're playing from their point of view. Do you understand?"

"Yes, senator." And she did. She'd never in her life felt embarrassment so acute, but she knew what he meant. No one had ever asked it of her before. "Everyone has a narrative, a story that says what they think is going on, and that's based on their culture and their heritage."

"And we need to know what it is, and what role we're playing in their story. We already know what role they play in ours." He tapped on the edge of her paper. "You've got a fine mind, Ms. Weir. But I expect people have told you that."

"Yes," she said.

"Have you got a fine heart?"

Elizabeth opened her mouth and shut it again.

"The center of diplomacy is understanding, and understanding is built on compassion. You have to want to get the other guy. You have to put yourself in his shoes, no matter how unpleasant those shoes may be. You have to see where he's coming from. We like to treat politics like it's rational, but it's not. Hell, anyone who's ever worked for a campaign knows it's not! People vote based on how they feel about the candidates and the issues. People go to war over how they feel, not over what's rational. Rational self-interest is all very well, but don't count on it to move things your way. Not when pride is involved. Pride, history, belief, prejudice, hope -- those are a lot more powerful than rational self-interest." He nodded down at the paper. "You've got some ideas. But you need more than that. You need to understand the data you're looking at. You need to see what it means. What are you planning to do next year?"

Elizabeth blinked at the abrupt change of topic. "I'm planning to apply for graduate work at Yale," she said.

"Don't." Senator Nunn smiled. "Get out in the field. Go to Bosnia. Go to Somalia. You've got all the academic credentials to come back later, but for now get out there. See what it's really like, what refugees are really like, what war is. You can't campaign for disarmament if you don't know what war is. Get out of the box and have some experiences. See if your heart is as good as your mind." He pushed his chair back from his desk. "This town is full of young people who think they know things. Be one who actually does."

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Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
angelsallfire
Jan. 9th, 2014 05:09 pm (UTC)
"a fine heart" :D
jo_graham
Jan. 9th, 2014 07:15 pm (UTC)
A fine heart indeed! :)

Senator Nunn is a real person, too.
selki
Jan. 10th, 2014 04:22 am (UTC)
I've only seen a couple of Atlantis episodes and haven't read the books ("don't bite off more than I can chew"), but I read this b/c of your teaser -- and I loved the look at Senator Nunn.
jo_graham
Jan. 10th, 2014 08:55 pm (UTC)
Oh good! I don't know if I'll be able to keep Senator Nunn as himself. Stargate has tended to thinly disguise real people (Vice President Cheney became Vice President Kinsey, a noted antagonist of Elizabeth Weir, for example.) So I may wind up having to make him Senator Priest or something....
m_nivalis
Jan. 10th, 2014 10:21 pm (UTC)
Senator Monk, surely?
Shawn Edwards
Jan. 10th, 2014 03:52 am (UTC)
Oh, maaaaan! A chance to finally get into Elizabeth Weir's head. I can not wait to read this:). Reading this we can tell just where she is coming from. And where she is going...
jo_graham
Jan. 10th, 2014 08:53 pm (UTC)
I am enjoying writing this so much! I'm glad you like it!
kickstand75
Jan. 10th, 2014 09:04 pm (UTC)
Nice. We just started an SGA re-watch. Finished up with season 1 and it's easy to see, she did acquire that "fine heart". I had forgotten all about her negotiation with the Genii for the bombs in the season 1 finale. Looking forward to more Elizabeth insights.

Oh, p.s. Sent you a PM. I know sometimes LJ is crap with notifications. :)
jo_graham
Jan. 11th, 2014 11:13 am (UTC)
I'm going to start the Siege arc over again soon. That's one of my favorite runs of episodes. And oh yes, a fine heart! That's one of the strongest things about Elizabeth.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )