At your first meeting, Dr. Elizabeth Weir gives you the quote that will eventually preface the text. You remove it from its context and do not describe the way she led you into the kitchen, hands trembling, to offer you expensive coffee. You do not mention the waver in her voice or the way she stopped suddenly to press her lips together and look away. When Pegasus is finally published, Elizabeth Weir is nothing more than a polished and courageous diplomat poised on the edge of the true final frontier. She is certainly not a woman still grieving, with ragged-edged nails and hair newly-cut to be unfashionably short. She does not have a sound synthesizer in every room that is set to duplicate the sounds of the ocean. She is strong and invincible and undaunted when she tells you:
"There is no real way of telling the story, no way to make the world understand the things we saw and did on the expedition. I can only tell you that it was remarkable and that even the worst days were ultimately worth keeping. I don't think that any of us will ever truly leave Atlantis. The city that we lived in and fought for and loved for all that time . . . we carry that with us. We have no choice."
It is gorgeous in its entirety and once you have typed it in and inserted all the right periods and ellipses, you store the tape away in a safe place to never listen to it again. It took three tries to hear it all through her unsteady breathing, to understand her voice behind its veil of unshed tears. Written down, stripped of weakness, Dr. Weir becomes someone truly beautiful, someone who will deserve all the fame you'll lay at her doorstep.
Dr. McKay never lets you inside his house and instead chooses to shout through his door that there are whole stables full of other dead horses for you to flog, enough for you to set up your own glue factory, and if you think that he is actually going to contribute to your cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-a-screenplay-option account of the expedition, you have another thing coming. Several other things, in fact, all of them deliciously verbose. Dr. McKay talks more than any three of your other interview subjects combined but you later find that he isn't quotable at all. Unlike Dr. Weir, you can't separate his voice from his words. He never comes off as anything other than post-traumatic and lost and irritating, and that isn't the story you want to tell.
Even his insights into the others are pointless. You ask him about Lt. Colonel Sheppard and McKay only says that Sheppard was still in Atlantis. When you contradict him, he says, "My God, did your eyes glaze over when you were studying figurative language at community college?"
You write and edit several beginnings to his chapter, including Dr. Rodney McKay has not seen the ocean in four years, which garners a paragraph of pointless, trite exposition and even Surgery has done much to repair the damage Atlantis's former chief scientist, but in the end, none of it works. You surrender to the inevitable and relegate him to footnotes, important scientific and unintelligible discoveries on the sidelines of a war.
Your average reader will not know that Rodney McKay was on SGA-1 for six years. The public isn't interested in the heroic achievements of scientists on the frontlines, especially when said scientists seem anything but heroic in the aftermath. Besides, what you saw of his face through the frosted glass will not complete the cover art you've already imagined: the premature age-lines have already added ten years and stolen away whatever physical charm he might once have possessed.
People that survive a Wraith feeding should be pitied, not celebrated. Only the fallen need to be remembered. Dr. McKay, too old and too harsh, with all of his useless quotes, might have made an excellent fallen hero, but he is a poor survivor. You see no need to save his tapes.
Lieutenant Aiden Ford was one of the youngest members of the Atlantis expedition and the first to be sent home still moving and breathing. He wears an eyepatch now and one side of his face is as worn and aged as Dr. McKay's, but when he smiles he still seems young. He does not smile often during the interview, and never when you mention his former teammates. Discharge finds him working with his hands and he points out hand-carved tables that will never make the final cut: drug addicts turned carpenters do not move books. You only ask him how he can find the shapes under the wood with his bad eye and he stares at you for a very long time and then says, "I don't wear the patch when I'm working," and "I always work alone."
You write him as an anti-hero, dark and edgy and with track-marks still on his arms. His silence when you mention tbe lieutenant colonel and the others becomes "sullen" and "loaded." There is no room in the narrative for the actual look of pain and shame that he carries wholly on the shriveled side of his face and no way to describe the pictures Aiden Ford keeps of himself on the mantel: the ones were he is still young and strong and untouched.
You sketch his face for the cover. It is the division between good and evil that makes him interesting. He looks dangerous and unpredictable, but still the sort of man who would rescue a damsel in distress.
There's a spin-off somewhere for Aiden Ford and you know that one day he'll get fan mail and pictures of desperate women tucked into envelopes. They will all want to trace the scars on his arms and pull back his eyepatch. They will love him and he will have you to thank for it, and the chapter on Lt. Ford is written quickly, easily, and well.
Dr. Carson Beckett was pleasant but uninspiring. Your flight to Scotland is a business expense, though, so you can afford to make small talk and accept his offer of tea. His brogue thickens when he talks about a retrovirus, gene therapy, and desperate measures. You dismiss most of it: the science will fly over everyone's heads and besides, you aren't penning a medical drama. You want him to see the bigger picture but all he talks about are the people that he saved and the people that he couldn't. Small victories. It isn't exciting enough.
He is so polite, though. He doesn't retreat like Lt. Ford or rage like Dr. McKay, and for that, you treat him kindly. You write only of his successes and erase his failures. His mother will be proud of him and people will smile when they hear his name, his private practice will attract larger numbers.
It's a gift, like the fame you give to Weir, the women you give to Ford, and the anonymity you give to McKay.
If Dr. Beckett still dreams of blood on his hands, it is a shame. But the story is over by now and everyone has already closed the book.
Lt. Colonel John Sheppard has an aquarium in every room of his house and some of them stand as tall as the ceiling. Working out of Cheyenne Mountain and training pilots on the latest shipment of alien craft, the fish tanks are as close as he gets to the ocean. He smiles flawlessly and names the species of fish, one after the other. You stare so long at the tropical fish and at the small, prowling sharks that it takes you an hour to notice that unlike the others, Sheppard keeps no pictures. His shelves are almost carefully unadorned. His apartment is beautiful but blank, it could belong to anyone.
You ask after Teyla Emmagen and he says, "Teyla and Ronon stayed."
But, you say, Atlantis was destroyed. They died?
"They stayed," he says. He is clearly a man in denial and you are editing this already, because definitive loss is so much better than this unending optimism.
Later, you also omit what he says about still staying in touch with Rodney McKay and Aiden Ford. You want him to be a man standing alone against the darkness. Besides, you have downplayed and changed his old teammates so much that you don't even remember why he would want them to stand with him. You leave in his connection to Dr. Weir. It is subtle, like his grief for Teyla Emmagen, like his pretend island created by the aquariums. He is a man in mourning but he seems to have had too many brides and you think that, at his heart, John Sheppard aches the most for his lost city.
There is no romance in that, no sales pitch. No hope.
When you rewind the tapes at home and listen to them again, you don't understand how anyone could talk so much and say so little.
You can almost hear Dr. McKay laughing.
You rewrite the conversation in its entirety. No one will know and no one will care, least of all Sheppard. His face on the cover will be alluring enough to draw readers inside, his heroism extracted from mission reports will be enough to make him credible. Some sacrifices must be made to preserve the spirit of the story itself.
You are billing it as a true story and it is. Truth has no room for contradictions like Sheppard, heroes like McKay, soldiers like Ford, successes like Beckett, and leaders like Weir. With the right pressure, the right techniques, everyone becomes who you need them to be.
They are going to be remembered forever. You can feel it.