scherryzade: (cherry)
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Title: Semper Fi with a Zat: Chasing Wraith and Killing Time with the Marines of Atlantis
Rating: G
Character: Ensemble, OCs
Disclaimer: Not mine (except the mistakes, although some of those may have been gleaned from Wiki-P, because I don't know nothing about firearms), no harm meant.
Summary: To mark the 10th anniversary of the declassification of the Stargate program, we bring you extracts from Ed Lawrence's 2014 New York Times bestseller Semper Fi with a Zat: Chasing Wraith and Killing Time with the Marines of Atlantis, originally posted on HuffPo in 2012-3 as 'Despatches from Pegasus', when Lawrence was embedded with the Atlantis expedition. We republish here Lawrence's introduction to the recent anniversary edition.
A/N: ...I wrote the bulk of this in 2009. It was intended as the introduction to a Big Bang story that I'm still trying to write, and which has ended up going in a slightly different direction. The Ed Lawrence who wrote this is not the same Ed Lawrence who I've sent to Atlantis in Despatches from Pegasus, and I'm still working out how much of that is due to what happens, or if it's not quite the same story...
I'm posting this now, because damned if I'm gonna let the tenth anniversary of the show that brought me into fandom pass without posting something.

Semper Fi with a Zat: Chasing Wraith and Killing Time with the Marines of Atlantis

Introduction to the 10th anniversary edition.

This is a weapon of war. It's meant to kill the enemy.

Lieutenant General Jonathon J. 'Jack' O'Neill on the FN P90, the personal defense weapon carried by most SGC military personnel (attrib.)

The title of this book is somewhat misleading. In the immediate aftermath of the declassification of the Stargate program, the alien novelty and straightforward brutality of the Goa'uld zat'nik'tel or 'zat' seared itself into the public conciousness. My publisher decided the title Semper Fi with a Zat would evoke both the stalwart patriotism embodied by the USMC motto, and the uncanny mysteries still surrounding the SGC. I pointed out that, although the zat was adopted as a standard firearm by SGC personnel in the Milky Way, it had never been widely used by the Atlantis expedition. The publisher's decision was final, however, and the title stood. (The book was published as Per Mare Per Stellae in the UK, a riff on the Royal Marine motto 'Per Mare Per Terram', although the RAF motto 'Per Ardua Ad Astra' - 'Through adversity to the Stars' - might seem more apt).

Inevitably, once the book reached Atlantis, my inbox immediately filled with irate messages from the men and women with whom I had spent so much time in the city and the wider Pegasus Galaxy. "Man, I'm disappointed in you," said Corporal Timothy Addes, calling from his mother's home in Boston, on leave from the city to go to his sister's wedding. "Zats are for pussies. I wouldn't go anywhere in Pegasus without my P90."

The P90 is the weapon of choice for the Marines of the Atlantis expedition. A selective fire personal defense weapon designed for close-range defensive combat, the FN-P90 is widely used on Earth by both military and law enforcement personnel. Compact in form, versatile in usage, blunt and utilitarian in appearance, it is as un-science-fictional a weapon as one can imagine. Compared to the weapons of their enemies, the P90 is unsophisticated, a weapon of brute force alone. But it has kept the Marines alive for the better part of two decades, in the face of superior firepower and an enemy nigh impossible to kill. "They're not pretty," says Lieutenant Colonel Anne Teldy, Atlantis' current military commander, "but they get the job done."

The Marines call them Wraithkillers.

When HBO approached me about optioning the book for television a few months after it was published, it became clear that this was the name that caught their eye. With the broadcast of the HBO miniseries Wraithkillers in 2015, the epithet started to be applied equally to the weapon and the Marines who wield it. Unfortunately, this coincided with the peak of the backlash against the SGC. Where Semper Fi with a Zat balanced otherness with patriotism, Wraithkillers only served to emphasise the uncompromising tactics of the Atlantis expedition's war against the Wraith.

Luckily for me, the enlisted Marines were better pleased to be labelled killers than suffer the implication that they would use, as one Marine put it, "some snake-assed pepper-spray ray gun". But to dismiss the Marines of Atlantis as killers alone is to do a disservice to both the Marines, and the Atlantis expedition itself.

It has been pointed out that the SGC's continued success in the war against the Wraith is largely due to the advantages afforded them by the Ancient and Asgard technology reverse engineered and built into the SGC's warships. In the grand scheme of things, it is the battles won by the Daedalus, the Apollo, the General Hammond, and latterly the Athos and the Sateda, alongside the ships of our allies the Travellers, and the starship city herself, that will determine the outcome of the war.

But the success of the Atlantis expedition is not counted in the number of hive ships destroyed. It is easy to forget, watching footage of the Wraith, or reading about the actions carried out in the name of Homeworld Security, that the Pegasus mission was originally conceived primarily as a scientific expedition. And in the years following declassification, so much of the science published by the SGC and the IOA was intangible, unfathomable - it is only now that we are starting to see the practical applications of that science on Earth. The great strides now being taken in gene therapy, energy production and ecological restoration all have their roots in the work of the SGC's science division, and more particularly in the science undertaken in Atlantis.

The continued safety of the city's scientists is the work of the Marines assigned to protect them, both 'offworld' and when the city is threatened. The success of the Atlantis expedition depends on the Marines and their P90s.

They are not heroes as the SGC would have us see them, stepping through the Stargate with square jaws held high - they are entirely human, and often flawed. They are foul-mouthed and quick-tempered, or arrogant and, in some cases, insufferable in their self-belief. They have little time for the home they left behind, the debates and hand-wringing over the war against the Wraith and the allegiances of convenience forged with 'primitive' cultures in Pegasus. They are here to do a job.

The Wraithkillers may not be pretty, but they get the job done.

They do their job in a galaxy 3 million light years from home, fighting an enemy that sees them as cattle while they struggle to uncover the technology of an ancient race that abandoned humans millenia ago. If they are flawed, they are also fearless. These are the men and women of Atlantis: they face death with a smile and a hard, black wit, and they are loyal to each other and the city with a fierceness I'd never before encountered. The motto of the SGC apes Virgil's 'Sic itur ad astra', but in Atlantis it is the Marines' 'Semper Fidelis' that rings true.
Edward Lawrence, New Athos, July 2024


Good Lord, has it really been ten years? Although I didn't start watching SGA until it was into its fourth year, so for me it hasn't...
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