Elizabeth knew she was going to lose the game of checkers because there was no way Carson was going to let her win, not with the stakes being so high. If she won, the physician would have to fork over a shot glass full of his aged malt Scotch, and although she was the strategist, he was highly possessive of that new bottle. The one bottle he’d brought with him from Earth on the original trip through the gate had been broken into after they’d survived the Wraith siege against Atlantis.
The gate sounded – a moment later the technician verified that it was Rodney’s code coming through. She concluded the game quickly, and now owed Carson a neck rub, redeemable at any time.
Rodney, Teyla and Ronon came through the massive portal. A moment later, it shut down. Unease flowed through Elizabeth. Where was John?
Carson followed her quick descent down the wide stairs to where she quickly confronted the trio, all of whom had the oddest expressions on their faces.
“Where is Colonel Sheppard?” she asked cautiously.
“Um, he’s going to be staying on Blanat for about two weeks,” said Rodney, who quickly turned to his companions, who nodded their heads in agreement.
Carson crossed his arms. “Why?”
“There was an incident,” said Rodney. He flashed a smile but it really wasn’t working.
Elizabeth knew that something not very good had occurred – and her mind was filling with visions of botched negotiations, or the wrong word said to the wrong person – yet this could not be a true disaster because Ronon looked totally nonplussed at the situation. Had Sheppard been in a dire situation, the Satedan would not have left his side.
“The colonel is basically fine,” added Rodney. “Except he’s locked up.”
Oh god, Sheppard was in jail!? Elizabeth knew the whole trading mission had been too good to be true.
Teyla frowned. “Rodney, you know that is not true,” she countered. “He can come and go as he pleases.”
“Please,” snorted Rodney. “As if they’re going to let him wander around like that, and besides, he’s got no clot-- Oh wait!” The scientist patted down his vest pockets, withdrawing a small notepad. “Ah, we need to send a few things back. Let’s see, surgical gloves, plastic bags, Sergeant Carstairs’ iPod, and oh, Elizabeth, in about two weeks, there aren’t any missions scheduled that are purely scientific but are definitely off-world?”
“Coward.” Ronon had a devilish grin on his face.
“Excuse me, live coward,” defended Rodney uncomfortably. I didn’t see Sheppard threatening to hug you!”
“That’s it,” interrupted Elizabeth, her eyes narrowing and all humor vanishing from her voice. “All of you, into the briefing room. I want a full rundown of just what’s going on.”
Over the years, he’d learned a few things that you never did. Never hold onto a hand grenade past the allotted count. Never walk in front of a speeding military supply truck, and never, repeat never, utter aloud the words, “Can it get any worse?” because by doing that, you tempt fate and rain down the vengeance of some unknown god who goes “oh look, an idiot.”
At least his team hadn’t abandoned him on the trek back to civilization, albeit everybody kept judiciously upwind of him. He wasn’t about to go back through the gate covered in what looked and felt like cement dust and a sheet. He felt like the victim of a college hazing gone bad.
Rodney was still keeping his distance, making sure that Ronon was always somewhere between him and Sheppard, yet the initial anger Sheppard had experienced had evaporated and now he just felt crappy, which was an exceedingly bad pun considering what he knew still was mashed into his hair. But, at least Rodney wasn’t making any bad jokes about it, so if letting McKay think he was going to get the hug of death – that had been a cruel threat to make – so be it.
But right now tormenting Canadian scientists for bad timing was the least of his worries. Getting to a shower to wash off the stench was his number one priority.
They arrived at a small warehouse type structure, and it took Sheppard a moment to realize they’d deviated off the path they’d originally taken to the village and were in a whole new area that looked pretty isolated.
That’s how distracted he’d become with the stench and the awful feeling of unmentionable monkey excrement sliding slowly down his neck.
“You can stay here.” Wallas pointed her arm at the building. It was then that Sheppard looked around. Where the hell had the Minister and his wife gotten to?
“Stay?” inquired Teyla.
“Ten days probably,” the shorter woman replied. "It will take at least that long for the smell to dissipate." She swung open the door and turned on the light. McKay was the first to peer in. “How… charming.”
And he'd really had no choice. His team practically revolted at the idea of him returning to Atlantis. Rodney muttered something about fumigating the gateroom and Teyla was talking about fleeing to the mainland. After his team compared him to every malodorous thing they could think of, Sheppard just threw up his arms in defeat. Everybody backed off several more feet, no doubt scared he'd splatter them with something disgusting.
Unfortunately the accommodations were … sparse. The room that had not at all impressed McKay was about 20' x 30' in size, with rough concrete type flooring, thick wooden walls that reached up about seven feet before they turned into glass windows that connected to the ceiling. All the windows were covered with thick wire gridwork.
Oh, the windows could be opened with some pulley things so it was possible to get a nice breeze going through, and vent out the stench. It was a storeroom for crops, hence the protective window coverings to keep out the local wildlife. Luckily the crops wouldn't be harvested for another several weeks so he could bunk down there.
Oh yes, how lucky for him. He then discovered that the white gunk they'd dumped on him didn't do a thing to rid him of the smell; it was just to mask the stench until they could get him here. It would take a while to wash it all off. Wallas showed him the shower off to the side in another smaller room. Too bad it didn't have a tub but at least it had running water and cold and hot knobs, and heck, he'd certainly used more primitive facilities on Earth.
And, Wallas added drolly as one of her aides dragged in what looked like old metal lawn furniture, anything he touched would get contaminated with the smell, even after he showered so… He'd have to make do with what the smell could be scorched off of - hence, the wrought iron chaise lounge piece of furniture.
Any clothing he wore would also have to be destroyed and in situations like this, they just 'made do.' Ronon chuckled when Sheppard was told he'd have to 'make do' with sheets until the smell disappeared. Ten days wrapped in nothing but a sheet?!
The humiliation factor just continued to escalate. Once he was settled in - which took about five minutes to hand him sheets, be told to lock the door from the inside at night and that he shouldn't keep the windows open at night either, Wallas left. Ten minutes later his team decided to escape too, saying there was nothing they could do as they backed away. At least he got Teyla's radio set (which Rodney wrapped in a plastic bag he had tucked away in his vest pocket) before they left. He also managed to snag the few PowerBars they had on hand, because he knew he wasn’t going to be going into town for lunch, that’s for sure.
As the days dragged on, he noticed several things. The stench was slowly dissipating. The constant showers did help a bit even if the soap was a bit on the rough side. The discoloration all over his body from the stupid berries also faded faster if he sat out in the sun, at which time he discovered that the sheets they provided him weren't exactly the sturdiest. When Elizabeth came to visit the next day and he began pacing around outside griping about the whole sorry mess, she stared at him oddly for a moment, then began studying the grass with intense interest. She asked him if he remembered the infamous photograph of Princess Diana. He had no idea what she was talking about, until she pointed out he should really not stand with the strong sun behind him as it really left little to the imagination. As if the berry stains hadn't left him red enough like some bad Jackson Pollack painting, the embarrassment just added to it as he went back into the room and wrapped two more sheets around himself.
But at least she'd brought Cartstairs’ iPod, so he could entertain himself with music. It was rumored the sergeant had one of the biggest music collections on Atlantis stuffed away on that little device. She'd left pretty quickly - lasted only 15 minutes but might have stayed longer if the wind hadn't shifted.
And that was the last he'd seen of her. In fact, now that he had a radio and they established regular call-in times to check on him, nobody was keen on actually visiting him. Rodney was still under the delusion he'd be killed or worse, while Teyla and Ronon were more than content to just talk over the radio. Beckett came by just once in order to check on the bump on his head from the ‘pistol whipping’ which was nothing more than a nasty bruise. The physician had left pretty quickly, muttering some homegrown Scottish imprecations under his breath.
Talk about being a pariah!
Until the night time hours, that is. It hadn't taken long to understand why he needed to shut the glass windows, even if the temperatures were just fine. The damned Lenguons had found out where he was sequestered. First, they’d try to rattle the door off its hinges. When that failed, they’d climb up the outside walls and peer down through the windows. It was a few of the creatures at first, reaching their furry little arms through the grids and trying in vain to rip through the metal, but after two days he felt like that character in the old horror movie, The Last Man on Earth,, where vampires came each night to incessantly demand the hero come outside and join them. The Lenguons would just make this pathetic keening noise which instead drove him to drag the chaise lounge thing into the bathroom and lock himself in there for the rest of the night.
It had been unfortunate timing that he'd been on the radio with Elizabeth and the rest of the team for an impromptu briefing the next day when Wallas came by with some food. It was sort of drop and run as even though she was accustomed to the smell, it didn't mean she liked it. So he asked her what the hell the Lenguons were doing every night, and why the leader kept banging his head on the glass and staring at him. Wallas almost snickered, then politely explained that the leader was a she and that when the pack had initiated him into the clan, they'd also marked him as a potential mate for their leader. That’s why they’d been ‘chewing’ on his toes. An incredulous howl of "the monkey's got the hots for him?" echoed over the radio. He'd forgotten to turn the damn thing off! There was some discussion he couldn't make out, then everybody back in Atlantis’ briefing room burst out laughing. "You are so dead, Rodney!" he snapped, shutting off the radio.
After that, he limited his contact with Atlantis to once a day, because he got tired of everybody asking how his new ‘girlfriend’ was doing. Thank God that Carstairs had good taste in music as the mournful Johnny Cash ballads set his mood perfectly at that point.
Sheppard shrugged the dark gray jacket over the black T-shirt, so grateful to be back in uniform again. He'd gotten darned tired of schlepping around with just a sheet between him and the elements. It was on the ninth day that Wallas had come by, sniffed at him, left and come back with a few other folk he'd never seen before, who also sniffed at him. He felt like a piece of cheese in a supermarket! Instead, they proclaimed him clean and he could go home. Finally! It wasn’t as though he could really tell any more as he was sure the wretched stench had destroyed his sense of smell.
Lorne had shown up with a new uniform in hand, which Sheppard grabbed, went inside and quickly changed into. Damn, he'd also forgotten what shoes felt like. He was so used to walking around barefoot in the dirt. Another reason he'd been taking a lot of showers.
Sheppard also managed, with a smile and one or two idle threats, to get Lorne to spill the beans on any gossip back on Atlantis. It didn't sound like Elizabeth had said anything about the regrettable sheet incident. Thank God.
Even though the walk back to the gate was in broad daylight and the Lenguon were nocturnal, Sheppard still cast a wary eye at the trees. Despite the time that had passed, the attack was still fresh in his mind and he didn’t intend to get stripped down to his birthday suit by some amorous little creature and her minions.
In hindsight, it was a pretty ingenious system. The parks weren’t there just for beauty. They were the Orthron version of a distant early warning system, a demilitarized zone and instead of land mines, they had Lenguons, roving hordes of extremely territorial and in some cases, highly possessive little primates. What they lacked in size they made up in sheer numbers. Wallas had explained that the hills were filled with probably thousands of them. And that’s why the paths were so meandering. A straight path from the gate to the village would take a lot less time, but it was also through the woods and Lenguon territory. He never did find out what happened to the other people who’d been attacked, and for some reason, he really didn’t want to know. He figured they might have gone nuts as the animals had been clinging to the windows until dawn broke that very morning.
Fortunately Sheppard was able to pass along his good-byes and thanks to an Orthron aide, thus avoiding some drawn-out farewells from the Minister, who anyway had done all his communication via an unlucky young aide who would drop by once every day or so.
When he stepped through the gate, his very first thought was that he was in Atlantis and those blasted Lenguons were on another planet a million miles away. When the blue vortex closed behind him, he heaved a sigh of welcome relief. Home, safe, soft bed, no prying eyes gawking at him from above all night.
Elizabeth came down the steps that led down from the control center, and seconds later his team arrived. They all stopped several feet away, and he would have thought that Lorne having brought him back was proof enough he was 'clean.' Everybody was eyeing him with a healthy amount of suspicion, but it all dissolved when Teyla came up first, giving him a brief hug. "It is good to see you back, John."
"Hey, you don't stink anymore."
Leave it to Ronon to get to the crux of the matter.
Rodney wrinkled his nose slightly. "Well, you look and smell a lot better."
"Glad I meet with your stamp of approval," Sheppard remarked dryly. He noticed that the distance Rodney was maintaining had more to do with the other matter rather than offensive smells. "Um, about the clearing and the, uh…" Sheppard sort of waved his hand
"Uh, yeah," muttered Rodney, looking down in feigned interest at the datapad in his hands.
"Well, you know…" added Sheppard, stuffing his hands in his pants pockets.
"Temporary insanity." Rodney nodded emphatically, then shrugged his shoulders. "Okay, that's settled."
“Yup,” agreed Sheppard happily. He didn't care if Elizabeth practically rolled her eyes at their bizarre conversation. Neither man was really big at public apologies.
“Must be nice to come back to sheets with higher thread counts,” Elizabeth said rather innocently.
Sheppard felt his mouth go dry, panic nibble at his mind, but did his best to just smile lazily. “Uh yeah, you could say that.”
“That’s good.” Elizabeth arched one eyebrow. “We’ll have a briefing at 1500 hours for a mission in three days.”
Sheppard just nodded and she departed without another word. He sighed inwardly in relief and hoped that was the end of that. Rodney came up beside him, looking suspiciously at both Weir and then Sheppard. “What was that about?”
“They need fabric softener,” Sheppard decided to say, which seemed to satisfy McKay, at least for the moment. "Look, I'm just going to head to my room for a sec, then go down and grab some, uh…" Out of habit, he looked down at his wrist, but it was bare. He'd lost the watch they'd given him to track time for the calls from Atlantis. He'd accidentally left it outside and the Lenguons had snatched it during the night. It was probably in a hundred pieces by now.
"Lunch," supplied Rodney helpfully.
"Yup, grab some lunch." Sheppard grinned, thinking about grilled cheese sandwiches and other food he’d found he missed rather sorely during his absence. "Meet you guys down there?"
Everybody nodded. As he headed back to his room, he savored the fact that he was in a city surrounded by water with no trees, and definitely no wildlife. He ran across a number of personnel along the way who just nodded or said hello or, better yet, completely ignored him.
However, the whole damned fiasco was now in the past. He flicked on the lights as he entered his room.
There on his bed, nestled in front of his pillows, was a stuffed toy monkey with its arms wrapped around a large red paper heart, on which someone had scrawled in big bold letters ‘I miss you!’
Yes, it was going to be a very long three days until he went off-world again.
*This story was 'ripped from the headlines' - http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_1886722.html?menu=news.quirkies.animaltales