The Shame of It
John Sheppard kept his face in his hands, not wanting to look at Elizabeth.
He could hear Dr. Elizabeth Weir sigh at the head of the conference table. "John," she said. "It was my assumption that lieutenant colonels in the Air Force do not hide their faces."
Through the cracks in his fingers, he saw her glare at the man beside him. "Or scientists with multiple doctorates." He could see McKay shake his head.
"Gentlemen," she said, sounding amused. "It's very, very obvious that something has happened to you. I've already heard part of the story from Ronon and Teyla. Dr. Beckett has checked you over. You are healthy for your—condition."
John looked up, alarmed. "He wouldn't. We aren't—"
Elizabeth snorted. "Sorry, John, poor choice of words."
"Some diplomat you are," he muttered.
"What?" she said, amused. "I didn't hear you." She leaned back. "I want to hear your report from your point of view." She stared at the two of them. "And I need to see your faces."
"Must we?" Rodney whined.
"Yes," she said definitely. "You must."
They reluctantly dropped their hands. "Well, John was the one who started it," Rodney said.
"I don't care—" Elizabeth started.
"I meant literally," Rodney said.
John inclined his head. "The ATA gene."
Elizabeth sighed again. "John, start from the beginning."
"Rodney," John said, walking down what he laughingly called a path, leading Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla. "After last week when your sister was here, I thought you might want to take a little more of a rest."
"I did." Rodney said, pushing some branches out of his way. "I really wanted to hole up in my lab and figure a few things out."
"So what changed?"
Rodney sighed. "Dr. Beckett."
"He convinced me that if I didn't get out of the lab and come back out here, I would never get back out here."
"He convinced you," Ronon said.
"Yes, he convinced me," Rodney said. "I do respond to logic, you know."
"He threatened to kiss you again, didn't he?" John said, remembering the time that Lt. Laura Cadman had shared a body with Rodney.
"No." The word ended on an upward note. He wiped his hand across his mouth. "Am I ever going to live that down?"
Sheppard snickered. "So? You've never said how it was.'
"I don't remember."
Sheppard said a rude word.
Ronon smiled. "Did you get a wittle bitty beard burn?" he said.
Rodney glared at him. "It could have been worse," he said, his face turning red.
"Yeah," Ronon said. "You could have kissed me."
Teyla rolled her eyes. "I thought it was—rather romantic."
"Of course you would," Rodney said.
"Why," Teyla said.
"Because." Rodney shut his mouth.
Teyla looked at him dangerously, and John reflected that Rodney had better shut up—now. "Because I'm a girl?"
"No," Rodney said in a tiny voice.
John laughed. "A girl who can beat you up with both hands tied behind her back? Rodney, you had better stop while you're behind." He smiled. "By the way, I told Jeannie about what happened. She said she wished someone had taken pictures."
"What is this, 'beat up on Rodney' day?" Rodney said. "Ha, ha. I'm laughing. And I can't believe that you told my sister." He looked down at his Ancient scanner. "The power source is over in that direction."
John smiled, but decided to drop the razzing. "Are you seeing any more signs of occupation? Anything more than the one power source?"
"Occupation? No. Power source? Maybe. It keeps fading in and out." The word was chopped off, then Rodney sighed. "When we were back on Atlantis, it seemed incredibly strong."
"No. The power source."
"Oh. Just another kilometer."
They walked on in silence. "So why couldn't the Ancients build things closer to their Stargates?" John finally said.
"Oh, I don't know," Rodney said. "Maybe they were all health nuts? Had to get their three kilometer walk in every day?"
"Maybe," Ronon said. "It was too dangerous to leave their power source close to the Stargate."
"What would you know about it, Conan?" Rodney asked.
Ronon looked at him questioningly, then at John. "Movie reference. I'll show you later."
Ronon shrugged. "I was in the Satedon military. I learned a few tactics."
"I've seen some of those," Rodney muttered.
"Rodney, relax," John said.
"You started it."
John started to retort, then shut his mouth. "You're right. I did start it." He walked on. "I didn't realize that kissing Carson was quite the traumatic event that it apparently was." He tried to keep his voice from being too snarky.
"Drop it, okay?"
"Okay." John walked on a little further. "For now," he couldn't help adding.
In another few minutes, they were in front of a building. "Is this it?" John said.
"A little further," Rodney said, looking at his instrument.
The walking became a little easier. Soon, it was clear that they were in a city that was being reclaimed by the forest. They became somber, glancing from side to side. John shivered slightly and wondered if they were traveling through an abandoned city—or a graveyard.
He seemed a bit oblivious to the creepy surroundings, which was somewhat unusual. "It's just ahead." He adjusted his instruments. "I'm actually reading two sources. One of them seems to be at eighty percent, the other is fifty percent. That one is right ahead. The other is another two kilometers.
"We'll check the near one first." John walked on. "So why didn't they take their ZPMs with them?"
"Maybe they were culled? And the survivors decided it wasn't worth taking?" Rodney said. "How would I know?"
John looked around. Yes, these were definitely city blocks, but they seemed much older than the city of Atlantis. He looked around. Were these housing structures? And did Lanteans have any stores? How did they get food? How did they get clothing? Did they have Targets? Or did they go someplace like Tunics 'r' us?
"Here," Rodney said.
They stopped before a blocky-looking building, which, compared to the rest of the architecture, seemed almost plain. John stared at it. It seemed innocuous enough. "So what is it, their local power plant?"
Rodney looked it up and down. "I have no idea. There was a sign here, but the writing has faded. I can't read it."
John glanced at it. Rodney was right. "I get the impression that this whole city is older than Atlantis." He went up the path and opened the door. The lights came on. "This looks for all the world like a doctor's waiting room." The team trooped in behind him.
"You're right," McKay said as he looked around. "I hate waiting rooms."
John examined the tables. "No copies of Good Housekeeping, though." He shrugged and pushed through another door to face a hallway filled with doors. He walked to the nearest and peered in. "Exam tables and chairs. This was a doctor's office."
"I've never heard that Ancients had doctor's offices," McKay said. "At least, like what we have at home."
"We have healers," Teyla said. "I would think that any people would have to have some kind of doctors."
"But apart from the plague—" McKay said.
"Which is a big but—" John said.
"They seemed to have been an amazingly healthy people," McKay finished.
"They were very advanced," Teyla said.
"So they would probably need very few doctors," John said. "McKay, is the power source here?"
"Down here," McKay said. He strode to the end of the hall and opened the door, then stood at the entrance. John walked swiftly behind him with his gun pointed into the room.
"Rodney," John said. "You know you don't just open a door in a strange situation. You have to learn to do some reconnaissance first."
"But the power source." McKay looked down at his instrument. "It's a Zed PM, but it's fluctuating." He moved into the center of the room. "It must run this machine."
"Rodney—" John looked around the room. It seemed to be bare, except for a large boxy thing on one side. Something that looked like a shower door was open, but the room was too big for a shower. "What does this machine do? Looks like one of those 1960s movie computers."
"Do I look like I know?" McKay strode up to it, examining it up and down. There seemed to be openings in all of the walls, pointing to the center of the shower room.
John rolled his eyes and stepped in swiftly behind him, meaning to push him out. "Well, Rodney, you're the closest thing we have to an expert here. It's logical that I would ask you. Now, will you get out of here until we know—"
The door shut.
John stared at it. "Rodney, I have a bad feeling …"
Rodney whirled, looked at the closed door, and started pounding on it. John, trying to get out of his way, stumbled against the machine.
A beam shot out of the ceiling, bathing the two men in light, then suddenly shut off. The lights blinked out for a second, then came back on. The door opened.
The two outside the room stared at the two inside the room. Teyla opened her mouth. Ronon's eyebrows lifted.
"That was weird," John started to say. "I don't feel any different."
The lights went out again. He started to reach for his flashlight …
Then he collapsed. Before he blacked out, he could feel Rodney collapsing against him. Then he knew nothing.
John woke up in the infirmary. His eyes focused slowly. The first thing he noticed was that his head was strapped down. As he tried to lift his hand to unstrap his head, he noticed that all of his extremities were strapped down. Additionally, he appeared to have an unexpected weight on his chest.
He lifted his eyebrows. What had happened?
"Hey." Well, that came out higher than he thought it would. He cleared his throat. "Hey, anyone there?" he said lower.
"Er," Rodney said.
John shifted his eyes to the right. The infirmary curtains were closed, but Rodney's voice came from behind the curtain.
Dr. Beckett appeared. He opened the curtain slightly so that he could see both sides at once. "Gentlemen," he said, glancing to either side, with an odd look on his face.
"What's with the straps?" John said. "What happened?"
"I remember the building with the power source," Rodney said.
John's eyebrows drew together. Was Rodney's voice a little higher than usual?
"John stumbled against a machine and the lights went out."
Carson nodded. "Ronon and Teyla said that a machine scanned you, then you disappeared for about two seconds."
John blinked. "The lights blacked out, then came back on."
"You disappeared," Carson said, definitively. He drew in a breath. "But when you came back, you were—different."
"I don't feel any different," Rodney said. "Except that my chest feels heavy. And …"
Carson swallowed. "There's no easy way to tell you, but I didn't want you to find out for yourselves."
John closed his eyes. "We look different, don't we? What? Are we old? Do we have fangs and claws now?" He still remembered being bitten by the Eratus bug. "I don't feel like I did when the Eratus bug bit me."
"What?" Rodney said. He sounded a bit panicked.
"You are both healthy. And human." John started to interrupt, and Carson raised a hand. "Let me finish. After you collapsed, Ronon and Teyla brought you back as far as they could, then Ronon ran ahead and called for a medical team. We came and picked you up and brought you back here. Radek was along, because Ronon didn't want to tell us the problem. Just when we got to the Stargate, Wraith darts appeared. We barely got through in time. Teyla said that she could feel a Wraith ship in orbit. And Radek confirmed it."
"Okay," John said slowly. "You got us back safely and we can't go to the planet right away. We're healthy and we're human. So why do you have us tied down?"
Carson bit his lip. "There's no easy way to say this. You're both female."
John blinked. "What?" His voice rose. He swallowed.
"I've kept you under sedation while I've done physical and genetic scans." Carson sighed. "Whatever this was, it did a thorough job. Not only are your genitalia different—" John's hand came up automatically to touch that portion of his body, but was stopped by the restraints—"but your pelvic structure is wider, your breasts are bigger, your Adam's apples are much less prominent, your chins are narrower, and your brow ridges are small. Your hands and feet are a smaller, too." He said that all in a rush. "Your genes are even double X instead of XY."
Rodney made a strangled noise. John looked at the curtain. "You're joking, right? Any minute now, Radek is going to come out with a video camera, right? We're going to be on Funniest Home Videos."
Carson chewed his lip. "Other than that, you are both completely healthy. We also kept you sedated because we were afraid the shock might …"
"I want to see—" John was about to say "a mirror,"—"Rodney."
Carson nodded, then pushed the curtain open. He loosened John's head strap, then Rodney's. Slowly, they both turned their heads to look at one another.
Actually, Rodney didn't look a whole lot different. The eyes were the same. The eyebrows were maybe a little thinner. The nose and chin were smaller, and his neck was thinner. His hair was a bit longer—not long, but to the bottom of his earlobes, and, of course, his hairline had moved forward. John's eyes drifted downward. No Adam's apple, right. Then lower. "Woah."
"Hey," Rodney said. "Up on the face, Bucky." John saw his eyes drift down and stay there. "Wow."
"Hey, yourself." John almost hated to ask. "What do I look like?"
"Like—yourself. And a bit like a combination of Elizabeth and Sigourney Weaver. Um, I hate to say this, but you're pretty." Rodney closed his eyes. "What do I look like?"
"Not like Elizabeth." He looked at Rodney. "Like you. But not like a man. No beard. Better skin. More hair. I mean, nobody would mistake you for a man." He saw Rodney wince. "But you do look a lot like … like your sister. Cute."
Carson looked from one to the other. "I must let you know that you are both on a mild sedative."
"I thought I felt a little calm about this. And Rodney isn't climbing the walls. Yet. That will be later."
"You're right," Rodney said.
John opened his eyes. "I am?"
"I'm about ready to override the sedative and start to scream." Tears trickled down Rodney's face.
John looked at the ceiling. "For heaven's sake, don't cry."
"I can't help it."
"Oh, geez," John said.
"If it helps, he's probably right," Carson said. "Your testosterone levels are down; your estrogen levels are up. Rodney is a scientist, trained to be more open-minded about things than you, John, a warrior."
"Are you saying I have more testosterone than Rodney?"
John heard a strangled choke behind Carson. He looked beyond him. "Teyla?"
"I do not believe you," she said, rounding a corner, followed by Ronon. "You're now both female and you're still trying to find out who has the biggest …" She started sputtering.
Ronon smiled. "Who's the biggest man? I am."
John smiled. "He's got us there."
Rodney cocked his head. "Brain is still better than brawn, Chewie."
John felt a sudden shock. "Is there anyone else out there? You didn't invite the base in, did you?"
"It's just us here," Carson said.
"A few people saw you coming in. Radek. Elizabeth. The rescue team," Ronon said. "We didn't parade you around the base, showing off your breasts, if that's what you're asking."
John winced. "Thanks, Ronon. I think."
"There's one thing you're not mentioning," Rodney said. "Is there any fix?"
"There's nothing wrong with you," Teyla said.
John stared at her. "Carson?"
"I would say that the best chance for reversal is back in that room," Carson said.
"Which is on a Wraith planet. Great."
"I haven't had a chance to study it, of course, but my theory is that the room was meant for those people who were born transgendered."
"Huh?" John said. He thought a minute. "Oh. But I was happy the way I was."
"Ronon and Teyla said you saw rooms. My guess is that if you had seen more of that building, you would have found therapy rooms and so on. According to Rodney's notes —"
"When did Rodney take notes?"
"I multitask well," Rodney said.
"These buildings predate Ascension, and they were people, after all—maybe with fewer health and psychological problems, but people nonetheless. More than likely, most gender assignments were determined before birth and were fixed then, but maybe they couldn't catch everybody." Carson looked at the both of you. "You just happened to literally stumble onto the last step to fixing one of their genetic wrongs. And you did it without any psychological or physical preparation."
Rodney glared over at John. "Really."
"Hey," John said. "You pushed me when you were trying to get out of that room."
"But it was your gene that—"
"You have the ATA gene, too."
"Gentleman," Carson said. "Let's try to fix this thing, not play the blame game."
"The second problem is," Ronon said. "Right before you collapsed, the lights literally went out. Then the Wraith came."
"Radek said that the power source had been depleted," Carson said. "Otherwise we would have tried to stick you back in after we checked you out here."
John blinked. "That's a … problem."
"You have to find another Zed PM to reverse the process. And get past the Wraith."
"We have to shop for batteries in order to be male again?" John thought of the problems they had finding usable ZPMs. "Well, there is that other power source."
"Which is on the planet along with the Wraith," Teyla said.
"Oh, shit," Rodney said.
"Exactly," John moaned.
"What I don't get," Elizabeth said, after they finished their story, "is why you're covering your faces instead of your …" She looked down.
"They're that noticeable?" Rodney said, in a small voice.
"Oh, yes." Elizabeth said. "Neither of you are small—ladies."
They both looked at each other and crossed their arms across their chests.
Elizabeth closed her eyes. "Gentlemen, I am not dressing you in burqas. Put your hands on the table. You're dressed fine." She looked critically at them. "We may have to issue you new uniforms, though."
"I don't like the brassiere Carson made me wear," John said.
"Most women don't," Elizabeth said. "Brassieres provide a service. Live with it." She sighed. "Think of it as a jock strap for the chest, if that helps."
"Not really," John said.
They both sighed.
"Carson tells me that neither of you want to go back to work. I have talked to both of your colleagues and have explained the situation. I have also explained the situation to Stargate Command, and the Daedelus is coming to see if they can chase the Wraith off of M54-Z23. It will take them three weeks to get here."
She looked at both of them in turn. "We are all adults, and your colleagues assure me that they have no problem with working with you in your—altered conditions. But we need to get you shrinking violets out of your rooms!" Her voice rose. "Boys, you either have to work or get shipped back to Earth with the Daedelus. And I don't think either of you want that."
John could feel his face pale. "No."
"I don't want to see my sister," Rodney started. "She was hard enough on me."
"So—you are going back to work?"
John thought of something. "I do need to do some work with Teyla before I go on a mission."
"Training. I've done a little, but I need to find a new way of fighting."
Elizabeth looked at him. "Oh? Oh. The upper body strength. You should be all right. According to Carson, you're still stronger than most women."
"I'd feel better about it."
"I thought you had already been working with Teyla on no-strength scenarios," Elizabeth said. "After all, none of us are any match for a Wraith."
"I have. I just want to—make sure."
"Dr. Weir," came a communication from outside.
"Yes, Carson," Elizabeth said.
"Could you send our gentlemen back down to me? I just remembered something I should prescribe for them."
Elizabeth's eyes narrowed. "As long as it's not sedatives, go for it."
"I'm not taking those pills."
The two voices combined so that John could barely hear himself talk.
"We're not going to do anything. Why would we need birth control pills?"
Carson looked at them mildly. "If you remain this way, do you two fellows really want to have a period?"
"A period what?" Rodney said.
John rubbed his forehead. "Ah, shit."
"Rodney, for Pete's sake, you do have a sister."
"Menstrual period? Bleeding? Do you remember the very few times that Teyla couldn't come along?"
"Almost every woman on the base is on the three month pill," Carson said. "I'm going to put you on that. There may be, of course, side-effects, but I'm betting that they will be minimal." He handed them each a pack. "I'm also going to hand each of you these. You'll probably have at least one period."
He handed each of them paper bags. John peered into the bag, then got a disgusted look on his face. "Pads?"
"The instructions are in the bag."
Rodney looked at the Doctor. "Carson, you are enjoying this, aren't you?"
Dr. Beckett had a neutral expression on his face. He stared at him, then broke out into a grin. "Sorry. I'm trying to remain professional, but it's just too hard."
"Go ahead. I'm man enough to take it," John said, then blushed as Carson broke out into a laugh.
Carson suppressed it rapidly. "I'm sorry. We're in unknown territory here. I do need to keep watch on both of you, because we have absolutely no idea what preparations the Ancients made for this transformation. We do know it has to do with the Ancient transport technology."
Rodney nodded. "That makes sense."
John thought he knew what Rodney meant, but he had to say something. "It does?"
"To put it at kindergarten level, the Stargates and the transports here in Atlantis take us apart, store us, and put us back together again at the molecular level. It would be relatively simple for the Ancients to store a pattern, analyze it, and put us back together with just these few genetic changes.
"But," Carson continued, "was it a one time transformation? Did they take hormones to start the process? And, more importantly, is it a permanent process? After all, you were both raised males, and you both think of yourself as males."
"Of course," Rodney said.
"Yeah," John said, then smiled at Rodney. "I thought you told me once that you played with Barbies."
Rodney growled. "That was only to find out how they were put together. And I was three."
"I'd love to keep you here, under observation," Carson said. "But I don't think that would be good for you, mentally."
Rodney crossed his arms over his chest.
"I've recommended to Dr. Heightmeyer that you be allowed to go on missions."
"Oh, jeez," John looked at Rodney. "I forgot that the shrink would want to see us."
"I've already talked to her. She agrees with me that until we know whether your condition is permanent, you should go back to work." He sighed. "But if you feel you need to talk, she says that her door is always open. She's allowing me to talk to you because of our common gender."
John pursed his lips. "So to speak."
"You know," Carson said. "You're beautiful when you do that."
John glared at him. "Oh, great bedside manner, Dr. McCoy."
"Radek," Rodney grunted as he slipped into the laboratory. The other scientists looked up, then back at their computers.
"Rodney," Radek said. He looked at Rodney warily. "How are you feeling?"
"Oh, like I've been torn apart and put back together badly." Rodney grunted. "You?"
"Fine." He turned to his computer. "I've been working on power sources."
Rodney straightened up. "Any leads yet?"
"No other Zed PMs so far."
Rodney exhaled. "There must be more out there. Well, I'll just have to get to work and find some." He bent over his computer.
Radek stared at him, said "Well, that's back to normal," and started swearing under his breath in Czech.
"Huh?" Rodney said, not looking up from his computer. The others in the room grinned at each other and went back to work.
"Colonel?" Major Lorne said as he and John walked down into the hall.
"Yes, Lorne," John said.
"You wanted me to tell you if you made a mistake, sir," Lorne said reluctantly.
"Yes." John tensed up.
"Out with it,"
"You just about walked into the men's bathroom."
John glanced up. The inhabitants of Atlantis had very few communal bathrooms, and what few there were had been co-ed. One of the first things the humans did was to put dividers in the communal bathrooms. This, John reflected, made a great deal of sense at the time, even though there were no open urinals in the station. Now, it was just annoying.
"Major," he said. "I have probably seen the private parts of each of our male servicemen on the station at one point or another. I don't consider that to be the high point of our stay here on Atlantis. If I didn't pay any attention then, what makes you think I'm going to look now?"
Major Lorne chewed his lip. "Sir, I think we both know the situation has changed. A few of the men have expressed concerns. The servicewomen I've talked to, however, have not cared which bathroom you use."
"So in order to spare our men's tender sensibilities, I should use the women's bathroom." John lowered his voice. "Don't you think I have trouble using the bathroom? I keep forgetting …" his voice dropped off, and he didn't continue "to sit down."
"Sir, when you put it that way." Lorne's face was a confliction of emotions.
"Situation noted." John sighed. "I will use the bathroom in my quarters. As painful as it is." He walked on. "Which means I'll have to leave soon to find my bathroom. Are there any other problems?"
"Lt. Kim is pregnant."
John stopped and faced Lorne. "Major, are you trying to torture me?"
"No, sir. I'm reporting a fact. Lt. Kim, on her downtime on Earth, apparently forgot to take protection when she was with her husband. She wishes to take maternity leave and leave with the Daedelus."
John sighed and rolled his eyes. "Granted." He walked on. "You are enjoying this, though, aren't you?"
"No, sir." But Lorne had a twinkle in his eye. They came to a door. "After you, sir."
John raised his eyebrows, then walked through the door. He looked down the hall, then cocked his head. "Lorne," he said, puzzled. "Was that wall panel always that color red?"
Lorne walked up to it and stared at it. "Huh?"
"I don't seem to remember it being that color red." John shook his head. "I know, it sounds weird."
Lorne shrugged. "It looks just the same to me."
"Huh. Colors seem to be brighter now." He shrugged. "Carry on. I think I need to see Dr. Beckett. I think there's something wrong with my eyesight."
"Carson," John said, as he entered the room. "Could I talk to you?"
"Of course," Dr. Beckett said.
"My eyes seem to see more colors. Reds seem to be brighter, and I'm seeing different hues."
"Interesting." Dr. Beckett raised his eyebrows.
"There's nothing wrong with you, if that's what you're asking. It just sounds like you might have Tetrachromatic vision." Carson stared at him. "Fascinating."
John winced. "Is that bad?"
"Oh! No. No." He looked at John's eyes, as if he could see something in them. "Most men have three cones in their eyes to distinguish colors. There are various studies that suggest that a few more women have four cones in their retinas, and, therefore, can see many more colors." He shrugged. "Men were the hunters, and therefore, their vision worked better in far distance. Women tend to see things closer easier. You've never noticed this before?"
John sighed. "Well, I knew my ex-wife was picky about her shades of the curtains and I always thought she was exaggerating. I hate to agree with her, but I guess she wasn't exaggerating."
"Probably not," Carson said. He hesitated. "I know this won't go anyplace, but can I write a paper on you?"
"You are, anyway, aren't you?"
"Not of that sort. I really think you should record your experiences as to what you notice is different."
"Besides the obvious, you mean."
"Of course. I would organize it."
"I guess." He smiled at Carson. "That top-secret part is a bitch, huh?"
Carson sighed. "You'll never know."
Elizabeth looked at the team around the table. "John, Rodney, Ronon, Teyla. I know it's been a long couple of weeks, and you've performed your missions admirably, despite your troubles. This should be a simple trading mission—Teyla has heard from her sources that the Sen home world has heard of a power source. If it's a ZPM, we can use it, and we'll trade them for the information."
"And, since we can't get back to the Ancient city yet—" John started.
"We always need new Zed PMs," Rodney said.
"Trust me, when the Daedelus comes, their first order of business will be to get you two back to normal." Elizabeth leaned forward. "While I, of course believe that you can overcome any challenges, including being changed into females, the orders from above are to change you back as soon as possible. They seem to think you would be more effective in your proper gender."
John slitted his eyes to look at her. "Thank you, I think."
"Not my words, John."
"I do not know much about the Sen. This is a world I have not been to, but some of our trade partners have successfully traded there." Teyla looked at each of the people around the table. "I could not get much more information out of my contacts. The man just smiled and said I'd find it interesting."
"Why doesn't this give me confidence?" Rodney said into the table.
"I suggest that you leave tomorrow after a good night's sleep," said Elizabeth
Rodney stared at her. "I haven't had a good night's sleep since this has happened." He looked down. "These are driving me nuts."
"I hear you, brother," John said. He looked down, also. "Why did the Ancients have to build them so big?"
Ronon started giggling. John had never heard Ronon giggle before. "Could have been you in that room, buddy. I'd like to see your reaction. Probably you would have gotten giant bazoombas."
"John," Elizabeth said, putting her head in her hands and glancing at Teyla. "I don't think this experience is bringing out the best in you."
John hung his head. "Sorry. I've been a little crabby lately, for some reason."
Teyla and Elizabeth looked at each other and smiled.
"I'm ready to take my harem through the Stargate," Ronon called out.
"Ha, ha," Rodney said. "Very funny."
"Where have you heard of harems?" John said.
"I have my sources."
John sighed. "Could have been anybody, then." He glanced at Rodney. "You realize that we're never going to live this down."
"Just as long as we don't tell Jeannie," Rodney said out of the side of his mouth.
John pulled at his P-90. It just wasn't hanging right. He pulled everything around, then just decided to let it be.
"Are you ready?" Elizabeth said from the control room.
John waved. "As we'll ever be," he muttered.
"John. You'll be fine," Teyla said.
"I appreciate that, Teyla," John said.
The Stargate kawooshed into life, and they stepped through.
The other side of the gate was a little colder, and John shivered involuntarily. He glanced around. Like so many planets he visited, this one reminded him of the Northwest. "I don't see anybody waiting for us."
"My source said that they have a settlement down the path."
"Okay." He hitched the P-90 over his shoulder.
Rodney sighed. "Just once, I'd like to have a settlement closer to the Stargate." He followed after Ronon and John.
After about a kilometer, Ronon stopped. "We're being surrounded."
John pulled out his P-90, pointing it toward the ground. "I thought your sources said that these people wanted to trade with us."
"They did," Teyla said softly. She looked from side to side and raised her voice. "We come from the Tamoc people. They have told us you are willing to trade for information."
Twenty forms emerged from the bushes. John saw some flashes of light, then the path faded away.
John woke suddenly. "Jeez," he said, closing his eyes against the sudden headache. He tested his hands. Yes, they were tied behind him. His legs were tied, also, tightly, by someone who knew what they were doing.
He glanced around. He, Rodney, and Teyla were in the same cage. Or was it a cage? No, it was a barn stall. Ronon was missing. His only assumption—and he rolled his eyes at the thought—was that they had sorted them by gender. He looked down at his breasts. Well, he couldn't blame them.
The aliens, he meant. He could blame the breasts.
Of course, all of his weapons were gone.
Teyla's eyes popped open. "John. I am sorry," she said quietly. "I should have found out more about these people."
"Don't worry about it. Obviously, your sources were misled."
"Ya think?" Rodney said, his eyes still closed. "Anybody have anything for a headache?"
"Yeah," John said. "In my backpack. Oh, and I don't know where that is and I'm tied up, so—"
"Yeah," Rodney said. "I figured." He opened his eyes. "Where's Ronon?"
"Probably in the guy's cell."
"Oh. Yeah. So what are we doing here?"
John looked around. The natives had apparently hit him with some sort of stun gun, yet where they were stashed seemed to be some sort of rustic barn. He took a big sniff. Yep, some sort of animal had been here not long ago, but, thankfully, the local equivalent of hay seemed to be clean and fresh. He rolled over. The barn seemed to be built with a rough sort of nail, not the sort of technology that would create a stun gun.
"Where the hell are we?" he muttered to himself. He saw Rodney open his mouth. "That was rhetorical."
Suddenly, a loud voice rang out. "Ronon?" John called out. He noticed his voice was getting higher the louder he got, and he winced.
"Yeah," Ronon growled.
"You tied up, too?"
"Yeah. Why'd they put you over there?"
"We're in the women's section." He heard a noise. "Stop laughing."
"Can you see anything?"
"Naw. All I see is barn."
"Yeah, me, too." He heard the door open, and bright light shone in. "Ah."
"You're awake," said a female voice.
"Obviously," John said. He looked up. The voice belonged to a middle aged woman, dressed in a simple red gown that appeared vaguely renaissancey and a sort of maroon in color. "Are you the leader here?"
"I am. My name is Retta."
"Retta," Teyla said. "I am Teyla of the Athosians. The Tamocs said that you were willing to trade and may have power sources. We can trade medicine, food, weaponry against the Wraith …"
Retta laughed bitterly. "As you can see, we've already had some encounters with the Wraith."
"Then why capture us? Why shoot us?"
"I have my reasons." She frowned, folded her arms and regarded the trio, then glanced over to the side. John presumed that Ronon was on the other side. "I was told that the Lantean team consisted of three males and one female, and—" she looked to Ronon "—I do not believe that you are Colonel John Sheppard or Dr. Rodney McKay."
"Sorry," Ronon said. "I'm Ronon."
"John and Rodney," John said, "are out with the flu." Rodney glanced at him sharply. "This is Jeannie Miller, a civilian, and I'm Major Nancy Sheppard." Rodney blinked. "No relation to John."
"It's odd that you would send out …"
"Female soldiers," John said. "Not in our society." He neglected to say that it still was a rarity in his society, and he resolved to look closer at the situation—if and when they got back. "You are the leader here?"
"Isn't it unusual that you are the leader?"
Retta inclined her head. "We have found that it is generally more efficient to leave our men to the defense and heavy lifting, while we govern the home and fields."
John remembered something he had noted as he was shot. "Where are your men?"
She closed her mouth.
Teyla poked him with her foot. John shut up, but reflected that they were captured by all women. Where were the men?
"So. What are you going to do with us?"
Retta kept studying him intensely. Then she closed her eyes and sighed. "I can't do it." She strode in and cut the bonds of John, Rodney, and Teyla. "I can't turn over other women to him."
John sat up and rubbed his feet. They were asleep. "To who?"
She ignored him. "We have to get you out of here. I've already signaled them. We have to hide you." She looked the three of them up and down. "We'll hide you amongst us."
Rodney blinked. "I'm not sure I care where this is going."
"Do you have clothes that will fit us?"
Retta nodded. "We do. Follow me."
John hung back. "Wait a minute. What about Ronon?"
Ronon looked up and Retta frowned. "Our men are gone. We do need a hostage."
"Someone is holding your men hostage, and you were hoping to trade John and Rodney for them," John said.
"Yes." She flushed. "I believe his name is Michael."
John rolled his eyes. "Oh."
"I'll stay," Ronon said.
"No," John said. "You're coming with us."
"I'm a little hard to hide here," Ronon insisted, "and you'll be here, ready to rescue me. I'm staying."
John grinned. "Well, now that you put it that way …"
"Go," Ronon said. "Besides, I want to see your disguises."
"We'll be back," Teyla promised.
Retta led them down a back path to a group of woman. "I couldn't do it," she said to the ladies. "I left the man. Do you have clothing to disguise them?" A couple of women nodded and moved off.
John looked around. They were all wearing dresses. He gave a helpless glance to Teyla. "Must we?"
"We need to help these people, don't we?" Teyla smiled grimly. "I think you can wear a dress for that." She followed the ladies. "I'll help you."
"This is worse than the brassiere," John muttered. He was wearing a black bodice over a light colored chemise, with a dark blue skirt that covered his distinctive uniform boots. "I'm feeling pinched. I'm also feeling a bit exposed." He tried pulling the chemise up, and Teyla slapped his hand.
"You need to look like the ladies," she hissed.
"Easy for you to say. This blouse is cold!" Rodney said. He was dressed in a light blue bodice and a black chemise. "Why in the hell do these ladies wear these? How do they do anything?"
Teyla was dressed in her own top, but in a red skirt. "And you wonder why ladies started wearing slacks."
"I didn't say that."
"You did. I heard you."
He looked contrite. "Oh. You heard that."
"Ro—Jeannie, you know that Teyla hears everything."
Rodney ignored that. "Can we just stay in the hut?"
"No." John folded his fatigues with a sigh and placed them in a chest, as Retta had instructed. When someone came for them, he intended to ask for his weapons. He wished that he had a Wraith stunner with him, but, technically, this was supposed to have been a trading mission.
Love those trading missions. Seems like most of them went awry.
Another lady appeared at the door. She looked them up and down. "I am Canda. Retta sent me to guide you to the clearing where Michael will land." She smiled. "You look very nice. You should wear dresses more often."
John swallowed. "Dresses aren't the standard uniform where we come from."
"We need our supplies. Our weapons."
"I have brought your supplies. I have taken them out of the bags you brought." She handed him a cloth bag. "Retta has hidden your weapons. I don't know where they are. Please. Follow me, or we'll be late."
She led them through the forest to a small clearing. "This is where Michael lands his craft."
"How did he capture the men?" John said.
"Most of our men were out hunting naiwdeer when Michael used beams to take them." She shook her head. "Some of the beams were culling beams, others were not." She looked sad. "We were culled almost three years ago. I lost my husband then."
"I'm sorry," John said. "Jeannie?"
Rodney was musing over what Canda had said. "He has a Wraith ship and one other. How?"
"I don't know, but we are going to find out."
They walked up to the back of a large group of women. In the front of the crowd, Ronon stood, his hands obviously still tied. John saw no children; he supposed that they were somewhere in the care of others. Teyla's sources had estimated almost 2,000 people spread around the Stargate at a pre-industrial level. "Where are your children?"
"We sent them away to other settlements," Canda said. "Michael was not interested in children."
John looked around. He guessed there were almost two hundred women in the crowd. "Can I ask—why you don't you fight Michael? He certainly doesn't have a lot of people with him. You could overpower him easily."
Canda looked shocked. "Women don't fight. We take care of the children and the house and the fields. Besides, he has our men."
"I have found," Teyla said, "that our society functions when the jobs are allotted to those who are best suited. For example, I am a trader and a fighter."
Canda looked at her with a strange expression on her face. "But that's not our way …" she fell silent and looked up.
Eight darts descended from the clouds and touched down in the clearing and the Wraiths got out—half Wraiths. Even from this distance, John could tell that the first one out was Michael. Michael raised his voice to carry over the crowd. "Do you have the team from Atlantis?"
Retta stood firm and looked him in the face. "They only sent one person. He says his name is Ronon."
Michael looked skeptically at her. "Atlantis sends out teams of four."
"The other three stayed at the gate and escaped back through to Atlantis," Ronon said. "John and Rodney are deathly ill. Teyla is with the Athosians. They sent me to get the power source we thought you had." He glared at Retta, who stared back at him levelly. "I do expect backup at any moment."
Michael laughed. "You're joking."
"I didn't think he'd buy it," John muttered. "But at least he doesn't think we're here."
"I think they're around here."
"Okay, I'm wrong," John muttered.
Michael studied the crowd, then looked at his companions. "Find them."
The men strode through the crowd, scattering the women roughly. One of the Wraiths—who John immediately dubbed "Severus" because of his long black hair—stared directly at him, then turned away. Then he turned back and looked at Teyla.
"This one has Wraith blood!"
Teyla grabbed a branch and started to swing at him, but Severus grabbed it easily and pulled it away. Teyla glared at him. John and Rodney tried to back into the crowd, but the crowd was pushing them forward.
Michael dragged Ronon to Teyla. "You lied to me."
Ronon smiled and shrugged. "It was worth a try." He deliberately didn't look at John and Rodney.
Michael looked around. "And where Teyla is …."
He looked straight at John and Rodney, looked away, then looked back. A puzzled expression came over his face. "These two are from Atlantis," he said.
"How can you tell?" another half-Wraith said. John named him "Draco."
Michael snorted. "The hair. Their hair is short. All of the other women's hair is long." He pulled up John's dress. "And the boots." He looked at the two of them, puzzled. "Who are you?"
John kept his lips shut and his head down. He knew he didn't look a lot like he did when he was a man, but if he opened his mouth …
Michael glanced them up and down. "Put them in a cabin. I will question them later. Do not think that this insolence will go unpunished."
Severus and Draco and two others—John logically called them Crabbe and Goyle—pointed a gun at them and motioned the four away. The other two Wraiths pointed their guns at the crowd. The women backed away from them. Michael grabbed Retta's arm and dragged her away.
"Where is he taking her?" John demanded.
"Be quiet," Severus said. "The female of your species talk too much. Our Queen …" he fell silent.
Ronon snorted. John reflected that this group of Wraith didn't have a queen any more. Even Rodney got a little smirk on his face. John nodded at the other three to acquiesce.
They headed toward a small cottage. Severus pushed them in and slammed the door, staying outside. In the cabin was a small table, a couple of chairs, a bed in the corner, and a chamber pot beside the bed. As soon as the door was closed, John turned the bag upside down. "Let's see what they did leave us." A few MREs and a bag of menstrual pads fell out, along with their medicine.
John looked at the pads. "R—Nancy?"
Rodney looked mutinous. "I started, okay? And you haven't, I take it."
John felt a twinge in the bottom of his stomach, then a stronger twinge. "Oh. Oh, shit."
"It generally does happen that way," Teyla said. "Ladies often synch."
"Carson assured me that this one will be light," Rodney said, with a disgusted look on his face.
John felt a strong pain. "You're sure." He sighed. "Give me one of those and some Tylenol, okay? And everybody turn around."
"You pull the adhesive and put it on your underwear the long way," Rodney said helpfully as they turned.
John growled. "I was married, remember?" He placed the pad quickly, then turned around. "Is there anything else useful in the bag?"
Rodney and Ronon inspected them carefully. "Not a thing," Rodney said. "Unless you can make weapons out of MREs." He snapped his fingers. "Oh, yeah, they already are."
"Only if we can get our enemies to eat them." John sighed. "Okay, let's spitball some theories."
"The men are aboard the Hive ship," Ronon said.
"Yes." John went to the window and looked out. Another human/Wraith hybrid looked back at him. "We could probably still escape and get back to the gate."
"Which would save our hides, but not these people," Ronon said. "I doubt if their lives are worth much if we escape."
"You heard Retta and Canda," Teyla said. "The division of labor between men and women seems to be exaggerated on this planet. They govern the home and the fields. They will not fight." She pursed her lips.
"Then exactly who shot us?" John said.
"Anything will fight when cornered," Ronon said.
"But not if they feel it would threaten their men," Teyla said. "They're cornered, but they feel they have no choice."
"We're making a lot of assumptions here," John said. "Perhaps they're a community of Wraith worshippers."
Teyla was shaking her head. "You probably weren't looking at the women as closely as I was," she said. "They're scared. They're determined, but they're scared."
John inclined his head. "You're the diplomat. You see things I don't see." He looked at each of the team in turn. "Any other ideas?"
They each shook their heads.
John glanced at his watch. "We have four hours before the next sign in." He looked at the bed. "I'll take the floor. We might as well sleep for a while."
He sat down against the wall. Rodney sighed and sat next to him. Teyla looked at Ronon, then looked at the bed. "Hey, it's too small for me." He sat across the cottage, then stared at John.
"What!" John finally said.
"Could you pull your top up a little more?"
John looked down and blushed. "Oh. Sorry." What a pain this was. Ronon had seen his bare chest before, but never in this fashion. Hell, he had never seen his bare chest before like this. If this had been on someone else, he would be ogling, too, and he would have said the very same thing.
He looked around. The cottage, for what it was, looked extremely comfortable. It didn't seem to be just a place to hide from the rain, there were knickknacks on the walls, along with hooks for more practical instruments—he supposed brooms and such-forth. Rather than being dark, like most medieval homes, this one had glass in the windows to let in light, and shutters inside, he guessed, to keep out the cold. More 17th and 18th centuryish, he supposed.
There were native flowers on the table and a quilt on the bed. Actually, very comfy. Not like his quarters.
Gradually, he became tired of looking at the cabin. He closed his eyes.
But he couldn't sleep. It was about the first time he had had in the past few days to truly think about what had happened to him. Most of the time had been spent in various adjustments—like fitting his uniforms to his new body, check-ups with Carson, training sessions with Teyla, and various other administrative duties. On his off-time, he tried to occupy his mind with movies. He actually hadn't sat down to think what this change would mean to him.
Well, now was the time.
He understood that transgendered people had always felt that they were born with the wrong body. The problem with his situation is that he was male, had always been male with a male mindset, and had never considered what it would be like to be female. It certainly wasn't anything he desired.
Yet here he was.
The new body worked; there wasn't any doubt about it. He couldn't do as many pull-ups as before, but in many ways, it was just the same. They had contacted Stargate Command, and General O'Neill had assured him that his position was safe. He would have to deal with periods, but, on the other hand—he grinned to himself—General O'Neill said that at least he wouldn't have to worry about his prostate.
And he wouldn't have to worry about being kicked in the balls. Any other injuries he had received from Teyla were manageable.
But this still wasn't the way that he had planned to live his life. He wanted to be a father, not a mother. He still wanted to marry a female, not a male.
This was the body he had, but he hoped this wasn't the body he kept.
He grinned. At least he didn't really have a family to worry about. He hadn't talked to his father or his brother in years. He realized then, if this change was permanent—and the Stargate program remained secret—he would never be able to talk to any of them again. After all, it wasn't like he could walk up to the front door and introduce himself as John. Not on Earth as it was now.
He wasn't sure how he felt about that.
Hopefully, presuming that they got out of this, they would be able to change back.
He knew Rodney hadn't had a chance to look at the machine, but Rodney had said that it didn't make any sense that the ZPM had blown out just like that. After all, ZPM were supposed to last for thousands of years. Well, who knows, maybe this one was that old. Or maybe this was an inferior ZPM, made by an inferior manufacturer. He smiled to himself. He was getting silly.
He actually had asked about borrowing Atlantis' ZPM, but nobody had gone for that. So here they were, captured by another enemy, and no ZPM in sight. Well, hopefully, when this was finished, they'd find a fully loaded ZPM, they'd get back to the planet, and everything would go back to normal. Even if it took years.
And, in the meantime, he'd just have to be the best he could be. He settled back against the wall. After an hour of fruitless effort to sleep, he gave up, opened his eyes, and sighed. Three pairs of eyes were focused on him. "Can't sleep either, huh?"
"Actually," Rodney said, "it's been about four hours. I spent the time thinking about the latest coding that Atlantis needs while the three of you slept."
"R—Jeannie," Ronon said. "I heard you snoring."
"No, I didn't."
"Snore, or fall asleep?" John said.
"Neither," Rodney said.
The door opened. Draco strode in and handed communications devices to the team. He kept Ronon's to put in his own ear.
"No tricks," he growled.
"How did you know?"
"Michael knew you had been here a day and knew your check-in was right about now."
John raised an eyebrow and looked at his watch. "Good theory. He's right." He handed it to Teyla. "Actually, the check-in is generally handled by Teyla. They analyze our voice prints." Hopefully, Draco wouldn't realize that this wasn't strictly correct.
The device came to life. "Atlantis to Away Team."
Teyla pushed the button. "Yes, Atlantis. This is Teyla. I am here with Jeannie Miller, Major Nancy Sheppard, and Ronon Dex. Do you confirm my voice print?"
There was a hesitation. Elizabeth Weir came on. "Yes. Yes, Teyla, we do."
"There is a situation here. Nancy will take it from here."
She looked at Sheppard. He pushed his button. "This is Major Sheppard."
"Yes, Nancy," Elizabeth said. "What is your situation?"
"We are the—guests of Michael and his Wraith buddies. They will exchange us for Colonel Sheppard, Rodney McKay, and Dr. Beckett. I've already explained to them that John and Rodney are very, very ill and can't be moved."
"I see," Elizabeth said. "I can possibly see their interest in Carson, but what are their interests in John and Rodney?"
"I really don't know." He looked at Draco, whose face remained impassive. "Revenge? Test subjects? Does he want them for tea and crumpets?" He sighed and turned back to the communications. "Maybe he just wants to talk to them for old times sake. I really don't know." John put as much sincerity into those words as possible.
"Have you seen Michael?"
"Yes," John said. "But there's another complication. The men on this planet are being held hostage on Michael's ship."
John hoped she did. "I would really hate for you to send Carson and the boys, but I really don't see anyway out of the situation."
"I will talk to Carson and get back to you."
"Thank you, Elizabeth."
"You're welcome, Nancy. Expect our next communication in a few minutes."
John looked at the Wraith. "Well, Draco, here we sit. You want to get Severus in here?" The Wraith looked puzzled. "He's outside, right?"
"He is listening to the communication with Michael."
"Ah." Which was not what John wanted to say—"oh, shit" was more like it. If Michael listened to the communications, then he had probably already guessed. Or maybe not. After all, his voice was higher. At the very least, he would know that they were lying about something, and that would put the hostages at risk.
He had a thought. Oh, God, he was going to hate himself in the morning for this and the thought was about ready to turn his stomach. But it was a plan, and it was the only plan he had. He hoped that there was just enough human in this half Wraith to make this worth the while. He closed his eyes, then opened them. Pulled down his chemise to the maximum that he could. "It's getting hot in here," he said to Draco. "Don't you think?" He winked back at his team, so hopefully they wouldn't think that he had lost his marbles.
"I hadn't noticed," Draco said, but his eyes drifted down to the cleavage.
Interesting. John had wondered about the hybrids. He approached the Wraith. "I understand that the Wraith have very few females aboard their ships. I don't imagine there are many female Wraith-human hybrids."
Draco seemed fascinated by John's cleavage. "None. Very few females are born. Only one or two out of twenty become queens. The rest are either turned into drones or killed."
"That's fascinating. Actually, that's kind of hot." John let his voice lower into a purr as he approached closer and closer. His breasts touched Draco's chest. Now where was that …?
There. With a quick movement, he pulled out the combat knife he had noticed hanging on the Wraith's belt and drew it hard across Draco's throat. He went down with a gurgle, staring wide-eyed at John. "Don't look at my cleavage," he muttered.
"You—you," Rodney said.
"Yes, me," John muttered.
"You just slit …"
"Him or us, Rodney," John said. He suspected this would bother him later, but he grabbed the communications device, tossed it to a grinning Ronon, then headed out the door. The other Wraith—Crabbe, he thought—was headed toward the door of the hut, and John threw his knife through his chest. The Wraith went down, and John pulled it out and slit this one's throat, also.
Retta was heading up the path, bringing food. Her face was bruised, and she looked—well, beaten seemed to be the best word. She dropped it, startled.
"We need our weapons," John said. The woman gaped down at the guard and hesitated. "We plan to rescue your men," John said. "But there is a risk."
She looked at the blood staining John's shirt, then came to a decision. "There is always a risk. But we can't fight."
"Can't or won't?"
"We can't fight. They're too strong."
John said a rude word. "Lady, strength doesn't make a difference. If I can fight and Teyla can fight, you can fight."
McKay looked down. "What about me?"
Ronon growled. "You never did really fight."
"Hey," McKay said.
"The point is that we outnumber the Wraith. I think." John went up to Retta and put his hands on her shoulders. "Are there any more on this planet?"
Retta sighed. "I don't know. I've only seen the ones that you've seen." She walked down the path. They followed. Then she stopped.
"Where are the weapons?" John said.
"I'm sorry; I can't take the risk,"
"She really can't," said a familiar voice.
"Michael," John sighed.
"Sheppard," Michael said, walking out of the bushes, followed by Severus. He looked down. "You are John Sheppard." He looked at John's face, then started laughing.
John rolled his eyes. "And they say that Wraith don't have a sense of humor. Wraiths have a vile sense of humor."
"Must be the human in me," Michael said, sobering. "Rodney. You've never looked better."
Rodney curled his lip. "Gee, thanks."
Retta glanced from Michael to John. "I thought you said that we were looking for men."
"Apparently, I was mistaken," Michael said. "These will do."
"So. How did you get a ship?" John asked.
"You're not the only one with Ancient genes." Michael looked meaningfully at Retta.
"There is a legend," she said slowly. "That we are descended from the Ancients."
"I wouldn't spread that one around," John said.
"My friends and I found an Ancient ship, then we found this planet." Michael shrugged.
"And one plus one …" John said.
"But. They don't have any experience flying Ancient ships. You do," Michael pointed out.
"I see. I guess." John looked Michael up and down. "And Carson?"
"We've had some deaths because of the retrovirus."
"Weir to Major Sheppard," his communications device broke in. "We have Carson in the control room."
"Sheppard here. The situation has changed. I'm here with our friend, Michael, and he knows our names."
He could almost hear Elizabeth sigh. "What does he want?"
"Oh, you know, the moon, the stars, the secret to the retrovirus, you know, all of that."
"I see." Her voice faded for a minute. "Carson is ready to come through, but he forgot something. He'll be right back. Please hold."
Michael cocked an eyebrow at the Atlantis team.
"He forgot something," Rodney muttered. "I'm telling you, when I get hold of Carson, I'm going to …"
They heard distant fire from the direction of the Stargate.
"Elizabeth?" John said.
She came back, sounding happy. "I would suggest that you look up."
A jumper uncloaked overhead. Major Lorne waved from the window.
John took the weapons from Michael, and Ronon took the weapons from Severus, none too gently. "But Elizabeth, we still have the problem of the planet's men."
He could hear the smile in her voice. "Give me some credit, John. I actually managed a deux ex machina."
"Huh?" F-302s zoomed over them. "Oh."
"We were able to divert the Daedelus to your planet."
"Really," John said. "Nice to see."
"Colonel Sheppard," a familiar voice came over their communicator.
"Yes, Colonel Caldwell."
"The Wraith are dealt with. We have located the hostages and are beaming them down now." Caldwell sounded amused.
"Your voice is music to my ears, Colonel."
"I'll see you shortly."
Ronon grabbed the communications device. "You might want to have a camera with you, Colonel."
"I've taken pictures," Major Lorne cut in.
John started sputtering. "I'm going to demote you when you get back."
"I'm only taking pictures for the mission report, Colonel," Major Lorne said innocently. "At the command of Dr. Weir."
John was distracted by the beam-down process, then turned back at a sudden movement from Michael and Severus. When he turned, Retta and Rodney were being held by the two Wraith, and John could tell that it wouldn't take much for either of them to twist the hostages neck. "Jeez, Michael, will you give it a break? You're defeated!"
"I will let them go if you let us go."
"You know I can't do that."
Suddenly, Rodney twisted in Severus' arms and kneed his crotch. Severus went down. In the distraction, Retta broke free. Michael disappeared into the woods. John attempted to follow, but was caught by one of the men who beamed down.
"Let the men do that," the man said.
"Let me go!" he growled, and wrested himself out of the surprised man's arms. He pulled up his skirts and caught up with Michael just to see him disappear into a dart and take off.
"Daedelus," John said. "Michael just took off in a dart. Do you have a lock?"
"We're still beaming men down. No, we don't have a lock." A silence followed. "He's gone."
"Shit!" John swore, then walked back to the village.
The man who had caught him stared at him, then at Retta's urging, stepped forward. "I'm sorry. I wasn't aware that you were the ones …"
"Who defended your village?"
"Yes. On our planet, we do not let …"
John curled his lip. "Your women fight. Yes, I've heard. But, you see, they were the ones who captured us."
"How could they?" another man said. "They don't know …"
"It doesn't take much when you're desperate. They are strong—stronger than you are," John said. "After all, they and they alone captured us. You had to be rescued."
They looked desperately at Ronon. "Don't look at me," he said. "Colonel Sheppard," he pointed, "is my commanding officer, and Teyla beats my butt in every training session I have with her."
The man stared up at him.
"Do I look like a pushover?" Ronon growled.
"Easy, Chewie," John said. "Don't scare them."
The barest grin came on his face.
"Speaking for the women," Retta said. "We would like to be trained to defend ourselves and our children, should this happen again." One of the men started to protest, and she stared him down. "My husband, I will not obey."
"We would be happy to give you some elementary lessons," Teyla said. She stared hard at John.
John closed his eyes, then opened them. "Elizabeth," he said, just about sighing. "We're being asked to remain a few days to help train these ladies."
"John," she said seriously. "I truly think that would be an excellent idea, but the final decision is yours."
"I'd also like you to send Lt. Hughes, Master Sergeant Wagner, Major Hall, and Sergeant Kauffman to help train these people. You remember that McKay and I are scheduled to go back to Earth."
"Ah, yes. All female." Elizabeth said. "Agreed. We will contact you when the Daedelus reaches Atlantis."
"And I can hardly wait," Caldwell broke in. "To see the pictures—um, the mission report. We'll be going now, then."
"Thank you, Colonel," John said. He wanted to say more, but didn't dare.
Rodney was glaring at him. "It won't hurt you to stay a couple of days, Jeannie," John said.
"Why did Michael call you Rodney?" Retta asked.
"Rodney's my—" he continued to glare at John. "—brother. Michael's treatment has made him confused." He sighed.
"Yes," John said. "Now, about that training…"
John heard the wolf whistles as he stepped through the Stargate.
Rodney, beside him, rolled his eyes.
"I'll have you know," he said loudly, lifting his skirts as he went down the ramp. "That I may not be in uniform, but I am still in charge."
"John," Elizabeth said. "Why aren't you in uniform?"
"I am afraid I insisted," Teyla said. "They seemed disappointed when John and Rodney mentioned getting back into uniform. The ladies wanted them to keep the dresses."
"And the necklaces?"
"Gifts from the men," Rodney said. "Which I don't plan to keep."
Carson approached, grinning, offering his arms. "Well, if you ladies would like to be escorted to Sickbay before you go back to the city of the Ancients …"
"We'll follow you, Carson."
"Wait," Rodney said. "Why do you need us in Sickbay?"
"I need to make sure you're healthy before you get changed back," Carson said, innocently. He turned to Elizabeth. "Besides," he said sotto voce, "I want to make sure they're not pregnant."
John woke up in Sickbay on the Daedalus and immediately checked his face. Adam's apple? Check. Start of a beard. Check. His hand drifted down to his crotch. Check. He sighed.
"You back to normal, too?" Rodney said, from the other bed.
John peered over at him. "Good to see your ugly mug, finally." He put his hands behind his head.
"Ah," Carson said. "You're awake."
"Are we back to normal?"
Carson grinned. "Completely. Of course, there is one thing …"
"Well, there is that horn in the middle of your foreheads …"
They both clapped their hands to their foreheads, then glared at Carson.
"You know, Carson," John said, "we're not tied down. We could …"
"You know," Carson said, with a thoughtful look on his face, "Come to think of it, you don't look too good. I'm sure you must need a full physical when we get back to Atlantis."
"You wouldn't," Rodney said.
John grinned and laid back. Everything was back to normal. All was right with the world.
At least for today.