blue flamingos

Diplomacy, Light Years From Home

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis

Category/Rated: Gen, PG

Year/Length: 2008/ ~4926 words

Pairing: Sam Carter (Lorne)

Spoilers: spoilers for season 4

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: Sam's first off-world trip in Pegasus, or at least her first in which she's required to be the leader rather than just another soldier on a rescue, is to M3H 419, known to the locals as Haptra.

Author's Notes: For [info]14valentines Day 7: Sexual Assault

Beta: by [info]domtheknight

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.


Sam's first off-world trip in Pegasus, or at least her first in which she's required to be the leader rather than just another soldier on a rescue, is to M3H 419, known to the locals as Haptra.

"They're nice people," Major Lorne assures her in the briefing. "Pretty advanced, for Pegasus, and they seem to like us." He gives her a wry smile, which Sam interprets as meaning for a change - it's not the first time she's had it pointed out to her that the native people of the galaxy mostly aren't all that keen on the expedition members.

"That's good to hear," she says. "Any particular reason you need me along on this?"

She's sure it's in the briefing memo she got, but she was planning to read it this morning, before the meeting, and ran out of time when a water pipe exploded and she got caught up in helping to arrange the clean-up.

"Dr Weir usually comes along – uh, came along," Lorne explains, wincing slightly at the slip. Sam ignores it – she's sure there are going to be plenty more of those in the next couple of months. "She helped resolve a pretty major dispute there when we first met them and they usually want to honor her when we go back. We accepted the invitation before..."

"Before the Replicators attacked," Sam finishes. She's fairly certain her face doesn't show what she's thinking, or at least she hopes it doesn't, since what she's thinking is that they won't be too happy to hear that the person whom they regularly honor is missing-presumed-dead. On the other hand, it's not like she doesn't have plenty of experience from Atlantis of being the unpopular replacement. She wonders if she'll get another fruit basket, and if she'll have a better idea of what to say this time if she does.

"Yes, ma'am," Lorne says, picking up the briefing again. "My team will be accompanying you, just in case anything goes wrong, but we don't expect that it will. Like I said, they're nice people."

"Great," Sam says, pulling up a smile, and hopes they won't turn out to be nice like the Genii seemed nice.


She's late getting to the gate-room, which is just a great impression to make on Lorne and his team, but, despite McKay's tendency to go racing off with Sheppard without even telling her they're going, the rest of the science division seem to believe that they have to mention every little problem to her, and she hasn't figured out yet how to discourage them from doing so, or from expecting her to do something about it. Not for the first time, she wishes that Dr Weir was around to give her some advice, even though, of course, she wouldn't need it if Dr Weir was.

"Sorry," she says, adjusting her thigh holster. It feels good to be back in field uniform after the last few weeks in office wear. General Landry assured her that the population of the city would be less likely to think of her as a military leader, or there to takeover from Colonel Sheppard, if she wasn't wearing a uniform, but she still hasn't adjusted to it.

"No problem," Lorne says. He gives her uniform a look and steps closer, dropping his voice. "It might be best if you weren't armed, ma'am. Only the Haptrans are used to us being led by a civilian, and they might take it the wrong way if we turn up with someone wearing a weapon."

The Haptrans, Sam knows from the briefing memo she finally managed to read over a very late dinner last night, are a generally peaceful people. For a second, she imagines them taking her being armed as a sign that there's been a violent coup of some kind in the city. She tells herself she's being paranoid but... well, Colonel Sheppard once got taken captive by a woman who wanted to breed gene-bearing babies with him. She's not sure there's such a thing as paranoia in Pegasus, since it seems that everyone really is out to get them.

"Of course," she says. She unfastens her holster and holds it and her P-90 out to one of the Marines who's stepped forward. "See that they're locked away in the armory, please?"

"Yes, ma'am," he says.

"Right." Sam takes a deep breath. "Lead the way, Major."

Haptra, when they step through the gate, looks like a dozen worlds that she's stepped onto in the Milky Way – a space of empty grass in front of the gate, then a line of trees with a path leading through the middle of them. It's not until the wormhole shuts down that she hears a faint hum in the air.

"What's that noise?" she asks Lorne, who gives her a quick smile.

"Hold on one minute." He points towards the trees, but Sam can't see anything there but, well, trees. She remembers, when she first joined SG-1, being really disappointed by how much like Earth most of the animals and plants on other worlds were. Not that she wanted to run into ten foot rabbits or man-eating trees, but some days, especially on unpopulated planets, it had been hard to remember that she was even on a different planet.

The hum is getting louder, and all four members of Lorne's team are turned expectantly to the trees. They're not looking at the trees, though, Sam realizes, but at the air above them, and she looks up just in time to see a small red craft, not unlike a helicopter, coming over the trees towards them.

"When you said fairly advanced," she says to Lorne, over the hum that's rapidly turning into the beat of propellers, "You neglected to mention that you meant 'has flight capabilities'."

"Sorry, ma'am," Lorne says, not looking it at all. "Thought you might appreciate the surprise."

And really, Sam can't argue with that, because while she's never had the all-encompassing love for flight that a lot of her Air Force colleagues have, she still loves to be up in the air, looking down at the tiny world beneath her, and alien helicopters are something she never managed to encounter with SG-1. It's nice to know that the universe, even if she is in another galaxy, can still surprise her.

"Atlantis party, right?" the pilot asks, leaning out of the open door once he's landed the bird. "Right on time, like always. Hop in."

He's apparently got experience of flying, if the 'like always' is anything to go by, so maybe it's the helicopter, not the pilot, but it's not the smoothest ride Sam's ever had (neither is it the bumpiest, but that's only because she's been in combat planes under enemy fire), and she's grateful that the trip is a short one.

They land in the middle of a wide open square surrounded by tall gray buildings with hardly any windows. She assumes that they're factories or storage buildings of some kind as the chopper flies over, but when they land, there are children playing between the buildings and what look like fenced off gardens attached to them.

Sergeant Reed sees her looking. "They believe that the Wraith are less likely to come if they can't see into the buildings, ma'am," he explains.

Sam opens her mouth to inquire further because, really, how can a society that's built helicopters believe something so completely illogical, especially when they're clearly happy to be outside, where the Wraith don't even need to look in to see them. She doesn't get the chance though, because Lorne says, "Ma'am," gesturing to a tall woman maybe ten years younger than Sam, who's heading towards them, flanked by another woman and a man, both of them older. They're all dressed in black boots, black leggings and loose, flowing tunics, the lead woman's bright green, the other two's slightly paler red, and the woman has a thin silver circlet threaded through her loose black hair.

Sam immediately feels underdressed in her off-world uniform, and wonders if these people will even believe she's the leader of the city.

Major Lorne steps forward, and the woman takes both of his hands between hers, bowing her head slightly. Lorne mirrors the gesture until their foreheads are almost touching, at which point she looks up and kisses him briefly on each cheek. "Major Evan, it's a great pleasure to see you again on our world. It has been many days."

"The pleasure's all ours, Lady Gadrej," Lorne says. "You might remember my team?"

"As if I could forget them," Gadrej says, nodding to them over Lorne's shoulder as she releases his hands. The three of them nod back, as clearly a part of a formal greeting ritual as the words must be. "And I see you have brought someone new to meet with us. You do us a great honor."

"You do us the honor by allowing us to visit your world," Lorne says, and, God, if this is what he's like when he breaks out the diplomacy, Sam really wonders why he's not doing all of their first contact missions, all the time. "Allow me to introduce you to Colonel Samantha Carter."

Gadrej takes both of Sam's hands like she did with Lorne, but she doesn't bow her head, just looks at Sam. She's a couple of inches taller than Sam and Sam tilts her head slightly to meet her eyes. "Colonel Samantha. Welcome to Haptra. I am Lady Gadrej, the current leader of the Haptrans, and these are my consorts, Lady Nhilla and Lord Sharrock." They both incline their heads to her and Sam smiles back. Consorts. Right. She reminds herself that in future it's obviously not a good idea to assume that her and Lorne's ideas of what's relevant information actually gibe all that well.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," she says, hoping that Lorne's briefing memo didn't leave out anything about introductory rituals.

Gadrej frowns slightly. "Perhaps I am confused, as you have many more ranks than we do in Haptra, but I was under the impression that 'Colonel' was superior to 'Major'. I seem to recall you mentioning that you served under a Colonel John, Major."

"No, you remember right," Lorne assures her. "Colonel, uh, Samantha isn't a member of my team."

"I see," Gadrej says, still holding Sam's hands, still frowning. Sam feels the uneasy sensation that things are slipping out of the control that she remembers well from SG-1. "Has Colonel John been replaced?"

"No." Lorne comes close enough to touch her arm, but doesn't. "Perhaps we could speak in private, and I can explain?"

Gadrej looks between her and Lorne and the rest of the team, then nods. "Very well. Perhaps your team would like to accompany Sharrock to the main hall? There are many there who will be happy to see them again."

"I'm sure they'd love to," Lorne says. He looks at Reed, who nods, touching his face near his ear piece.

Gadrej nods. "You and Colonel Samantha come with us. We keep a small office in the shuttle building."

Gadrej and Nhilla lead them towards one of the other buildings, walking with their arms linked and their heads close together, murmuring too low for Sam to catch the words. She looks round instead, picking out the paths between the houses, and orienting herself for the stargate, just in case this goes horribly wrong and they have to run for their lives, since she doesn't want to add theft of the shuttle-chopper to any hypothetical list of crimes. She also notices the men in black tunics strolling casually along in parallel to their little group.

"Lady Gadrej's personal guards," Lorne mutters. "They go everywhere with her."

"Great," Sam says. It makes sense, and of course she technically has her own, in the shape of Lorne and his team, but it still doesn't help her to relax.

"They're not armed," Lorne adds, like this is going to make her feel better.

The office Gadrej and Nhilla lead them into reminds her strongly of one of the SGC conference rooms, if they were smaller and came decorated with tapestries in rich primary colors. "They show Gadrej's achievements before she became leader," Nhilla says, catching Sam looking at them. "When her successor is elected in two years, that person's achievements will be chronicled instead."

"I see," Sam says. It seems like a lot of work to do for every leader, but the Haptrans elect their leaders for a ten year period, so maybe it seems a proportionate amount of work to them.

"Please," Gadrej says, taking the largest of the chairs. "Take a seat." Nhilla sits on the right side of the table to her, and Sam joins Lorne opposite Gadrej. "I assume this has something to do with why Dr Elizabeth isn't with you today," Gadrej says, her voice losing some of its formality.

Lorne nods solemnly. "Our city came under attack from a species that we call the Replicators," he explains. "I don't think they would have come to Haptra before, but basically they're very intelligent replicants of human beings. In the defense of the city, Dr Elizabeth sacrificed herself to the Replicators in order to ensure our continued survival." It's the agreed upon version of the truth that they've been telling to all of Atlantis' trading partners, but Sam still feels uncomfortable listening to it.

"She's dead?" Gadrej asks.

"We're not sure," Lorne says, shifting uncomfortably. "She was taken by them, but we don't know yet if she's still alive. We're still hoping."

"I see," Gadrej says. "And Colonel Samantha?"

"The Colonel is leading our people now," Lorne says.

"Is that not confusing?" Nhilla asks. "To have your ultimate leader be of the same rank as your military commander? I was under the impression that Colonel John reported to Dr Elizabeth."

"He did," Sam says, cutting in before Lorne can say anything. "In Colonel, uh, John's case, we use Colonel instead of his full title of Lieutenant Colonel. My rank is above his, just Colonel, but actually, I'm not really there as a military person. I'm a doctor as well."

"Like Dr Elizabeth," Nhilla says, nodding in understanding.

"In a different field, but yes, like Dr Elizabeth."

"Then we welcome you to Haptra as the leader of Atlantis," Gadrej says. She takes a deep breath. "Though I'm sure you understand when I say that I hope we will be seeing Dr Elizabeth again."

"Of course." Sam risks a sympathetic smile. "Believe me, I am too."

"She will be missed," Gadrej adds. "She was a well-known figure to many on Haptra."

"We're honored that she remains in the memory of your people," Lorne says smoothly, getting a small smile from Gadrej.

"As she will in the future." Gadrej hesitates. "I wonder if we might ask a small favor of you, Colonel Samantha."

"Uh." Sam looks at Lorne, who shrugs slightly. No help there, then. "If I can do it, I'll certainly try," she compromises.

"It's only a small thing, but our people have always admired the Atlanteans for placing their leadership in the hands of a civilian, despite the large number of military personnel living there. As you say you also hold the position of doctor, like Dr Elizabeth, perhaps you would allow us to call you by this title while on Haptra."

Sam's hardly ever been called doctor – she was already in the Air Force when she got her PhD, and most people she's met have known this. As long as she remembers to answer to it, she can't see a problem. "Of course that's fine," she says. She hesitates, wondering if she should mention that most people call her Sam, not Samantha, but decides that might seem too familiar.

"That is well, Dr Samantha," Gadrej says. "Major Evan, would it be too much of an imposition for me to ask you to accompany Dr Samantha to the main hall alone? Please say if it would, I can request an escort be sent from the city."

"It's no trouble," Lorne assures her. "I think I know the way well enough by now."

"Thank you," Gadrej says, nodding to both of them in dismissal.

Following Lorne out of the little office, Sam glances back for a moment, and see Nhilla crouched by Gadrej's side, holding her, both of them weeping. She feels about an inch high.

"Maybe I should have stayed in the city, let you tell her without me there," she suggests to Lorne as they walk down the path between two of the high buildings. They still look odd to her eyes, so much wall with so few windows.

"Nah, it's better like this," Lorne says. "They like you. Honest."

Sam's not at all sure he's right about that, but some days she wonders if anyone in the galaxy even accepts her, never mind likes her, and it's nice to think that someone out here does. "I'll take your word for it," she says.


They have, it turns out, been invited to attend the Haptrans bi-annual version of what amounts to a state dinner, but with the guests coming from different planets rather than different countries, and Sam's pleased to see that none of the other people in the main hall are any more dressed up than her and Lorne's team. She doesn't know much about state dinners, something she's sure is going to change now she's the leader of Atlantis, but she's pretty sure that turning up in the wrong clothes is a fairly major social faux pas, and she doesn't want to be the person responsible for destroying relations with a friendly people who like them.

"Everything go okay with Lady Gadrej?" Dr Parrish asks when Lorne and Sam find the rest of the team lurking in a corner, each of them holding a small, intricately cut glass.

"No problem. She's pretty upset about Dr Weir, but she liked the Colonel." Lorne tips her a quick grin, and Sam finds herself smiling back. "She asked that Colonel Carter be introduced as Doctor instead, though – keep up our liberal, civilian-led image."

Everyone nods; Sam's sure it's far from the strangest thing they've been asked to do off-world. "Colonel, Dr Weir and I usually split up at these things, so maybe I could leave Sergeant Reed with you, and Dr Parrish and Sergeant Henderson will come with me?"

Sam's not sure whether to be offended that she's being left with arguably the most qualified of Lorne's team, should she need defending (Sergeant Henderson only came to Atlantis when the expedition returned after the Ancients' brief stay in the city, and Dr Parrish, while sweet and fairly clued in, is still a civilian), or touched that he's concerned for her well-being. Since he's been generally nice to her, she goes with touched. "That's fine. I'm sure Sergeant Reed and I will be able to keep ourselves out of trouble until the dinner starts."

Both Reed and Henderson wince, and Reed says, "I wish you hadn't said that, ma'am. Bad things happen to us when people say things like that."

"Bad things happen when *you* say that," Parrish corrects. "You two are like bad luck magnets. The only person worse is Colonel Sheppard."

"Okay," Lorne says, a little louder than necessary. "Save the in-fighting for when we're back in Atlantis, and try not to offend anyone who doesn't already hate us."

"What about the people who do?" Reed asks.

"Knock yourselves out," Lorne tells him. He half-turns away, then turns back. "Not literally."


Social functions on Haptra, it turns out, really aren't all that different from the social functions Sam had to attend back on Earth. There are fewer people who recognize her from her work, and she's definitely not as dressed up as she would be (for which she takes a moment to be silently grateful for – she's never understood why dress uniforms for women include heels), but other than that, the only major difference is that she gets introduced to leaders who see her as their equal.

Because, in terms of status at least, she is.

A number of them express regret for the loss of Dr Weir, of course – apparently, there's a serious diplomatic network going on in Pegasus, which probably shouldn't surprise her but still does – but they're polite, and don't seem to be gathering intel for an attack on the city when they ask her what she thinks of Atlantis, and of Pegasus in general. Once or twice, Reed steps in with a ten-second potted biography of the person approaching them, but it goes, as far as Sam can tell, surprisingly well. Or maybe not that surprisingly – she's been to enough diplomatic functions with SG-1 that something ought to have rubbed off.

She sees Gadrej and Nhilla come in after the better part of an hour, but she doesn't have chance to speak to them again before a large bell is rung and everyone starts heading towards a door at the far end of the hall.

"Dinner time," Reed says with a grin.

Sam smiles back. "I take it the food's good here?"

"Yes, ma'am," he says. "The Haptrans can do amazing things with a vegetable."

"I'm sure they can," Sam says diplomatically. She's sure the sergeant doesn't mean that the way it sounds, but she really can't help the places her mind goes, and it's more than a little disturbing.

"Having fun, Colonel?" Lorne asks, coming up next to her as they tag onto the end of the crowd moving through the door.

"Yes, actually," Sam says. "I'm pretty sure Sergeant Reed's kept me from causing any inter-planetary incidents."

"Good to know. We usually let Colonel Sheppard's team take care of doing that." His expression is solemn, but his eyes are laughing, so Sam smiles back. It's not like what he's saying isn't true – Sheppard's team does seem to be involved in a disproportionately high number of problems off-world compared to the other teams.

"Lets us keep our reputation as the daring rescuers," Parrish adds.

"Excuse me?" Reed asks, leaning round Sam to raise his eyebrows at Parrish. "Where's this us coming from – you usually get left on Atlantis."

"I'll remember that next time you get captured in sentient vines –" Parrish starts, and Lorne holds up a hand.

"I thought we agreed to play nicely together while we're accompanying Colonel Carter," he says, looking between the two of them. Behind her, Sam hears Henderson making a noise somewhere between a laugh and a cough.

"Don't stop on my account," she says.

Lorne gives her a pained look. "No, please do stop, on anyone's account."

"Sorry, sir," Reed says, subsiding. Parrish just rolls his eyes, but they pass through the door before he can say anything else.

Sam's not sure what she was expecting – something like the state dinner scene in The American President, maybe, with perfectly arranged tables and a viciously formal seating plan, maybe even a string quartet. Of course, she shouldn't be surprised to learn that, on a planet where no-one even dresses up for these things, it's a lot less formal, with long wooden benches running the length of the room, places unlabelled, the bare minimum of plates and utensils at each. There's a small table at the head of the room with three chairs, but other than that, she could pretty much be in a base dining hall somewhere kind of remote.

"The Haptrans don't believe in unnecessary formality," Lorne says. "Or in forcing you to sit with a bunch of strangers while you have dinner. They think it's bad for the digestion."

Sam's totally behind that – there's nothing worse than being forced into polite conversation with a group of people you've never met before and will likely never meet again while you're trying to enjoy a nice meal. "I see. Did Dr Weir – what did she usually do?"

"Sometimes she'd get invited to sit with someone, and she'd usually accept. It's normal for people to bring the other members of their party to sit with them."

"Probably because most of them are here as guards, like us," Henderson puts in.

"All right. Well, we didn't get any offers, so unless you did –" Lorne shakes his head. Maybe it isn't considered proper to extend an offer to anyone other than the leader. "Then I suggest we sit here," she finishes, pointing to a nearby bench that's currently half empty but being approached by several other parties, most of whom Sam hasn't met yet.

"After you," Lorne says.

When they take their seats, a young man with a large jug comes along the table, filling all the mugs with a dark blue liquid. Sam sniffs hers cautiously; it smells of something that might be blueberries, or related to blueberries at least, with a familiar under-current of alcohol.

"It's safe to drink," Parrish assures her. "The Haptrans actually have a fascinating process for producing alcoholic beverages without resorting to any of the methods currently most commonly in use on Earth –"

"You won't get drunk on a couple of glasses," Lorne assures her, cutting Parrish off with a quick, apologetic smile. "Especially not with food."

Sam takes a sip and finds she's glad to hear this, because the drink, whatever it is, tastes amazing, just the right mix of sweet and spicy, but cool where she'd expect anything spiced to be warm.

At the top table, Gadrej stands up and clears her throat for silence. "Honored friends," she says, her voice carrying easily through the large room. "May I take this opportunity to welcome you to Haptra for the evening. It is a great pleasure, as always, to see so many of you here, and looking so well." She looks down at the table for a moment, then back up, her eyes skating over her guests, before settling on Sam and her people. "Before we begin our feast, I must take a moment for something of which I am sure many of you have already become aware this evening. The people of Atlantis have a new leader, Dr Samantha, whom I am certain many of you have met. I am confident that Dr Samantha will lead her people with the wisdom and grace that their previous leader showed, and we welcome her to our world without reserve or hesitation.

"None-the-less, I would ask you all to take a moment to remember the first leader of the people of Atlantis, Dr Elizabeth. Not only was she an accomplished and fair leader, she is also a person of great regard amongst the Haptrans for her part in bringing about the resolution of an unpleasant dispute within our people. I also like to consider Dr Elizabeth a personal friend to myself and my consorts, and so I ask for you to take a moment to hope for her swift and safe return from those who currently have her, and to wish for her presence amongst us once more at our next gathering."

She bows her head, as do many of the guests, Sam included, and a heavy silence falls over the hall.

It lasts for a long moment, then Gadrej looks up again, smiling broadly at the entire room. "And now, my friends, our chefs have been laboring hard in the kitchens for many days. Please enjoy their efforts."

The noise level goes up so fast that Sam can hardly believe the silence even happened. She looks round the room, trying to see signs of the loss that Gadrej spoke of, that Atlantis is still feeling, but there's nothing. People are refilling each others mugs with purple wine, leaning back in their chairs to talk to people seated at the next table, and eagerly passing along the large serving dishes that have appeared at the ends of each table.

"It's Pegasus," Lorne says with a shrug when she turns back. "They've turned 'live life to the fullest' into an art form."

"So I see," Sam says. Even Gadrej is laughing, Nhilla and Sharrock smiling on either side of her.

"Ma'am?" Reed asks, holding out the serving dish.

"Thank you," Sam says, accepting it. A woman seated behind her tilts back until she's practically leaning against Sam, then taps her shoulder.

"You must be Dr Samantha from Atlantis," she says when Sam turns round. "We haven't met yet, but it's an absolute pleasure to meet you. I'm Galastni, from Frembur."

"Nice to meet you," Sam says, twisting round further so she can shake the woman's hand.

"Oh, you too, you too," Galastni assures her. "Take some food before your men have it all. I've met them before, I know what they're like." She gives Lorne's team a wave. "Hello boys."

They all mutter greetings in return, their eyes on their plates, and Galastni catches Sam's eye, her expression clearly saying men!. Sam smiles back, and takes a spoonful of something vaguely stew-like from the serving dish, and thinks that, actually, maybe the Pegasus way of doing things isn't going to be quite as daunting as she was expecting.

Plus, Sergeant Reed turns out to be right – the Haptrans really can do amazing things with just vegetables, none of them half as alarming as she was fearing.

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