Teyla said the inhabitants of P3X-747 made very interesting weavings. Elizabeth was duly interested, although she suspected, based on long experience, that whatever this team brought home from the planet, it wouldn't be weavings.
It was a pity, really; she'd always been fascinated by weaving - the way it could empower women, bring them together in productive communities, introduce them to market and negotiation. And the products themselves were beautiful, of course.
"Great," Rodney was telling Teyla. "Look, I don't care what your Home Ec teacher told you, textile science isn't real science." Elizabeth sighed and opened her mouth to tone him down a little, but the SGA-1 show was already on its way.
"They also worship the Ancestors," Teyla informed him, with a slight lift of her eyebrow that said she knew she was delivering a killing blow, "and believe their temple was brought there by the Ancients. They call it the Sky Gift."
John and Rodney both stared at her for a long moment, then turned to stare at each other, and Elizabeth could read the conversation they weren't having on their faces: John's face said, Sky Gift? Like something that flies, maybe. In the sky? Rodney's responded, Oh, god, a spaceship. And then they both made identical faces indicating that that would be the coolest thing ever since the last broken, non-functional spaceship they'd found.
She chose to interrupt their mental plans for soaring around space in a glorious Ancient ship before they got to the part where they installed laser guns and a tractor beam. "People," she said, and then, when that didn't work, "John, Rodney."
They focused on her, but she could tell it was an afterthought. Sometimes she wondered if it would be unprofessional to come to a meeting in a low cut top over a push-up bra; then at least she'd get their attention in the vicinity of her face.
"We're at least as interested in the weavings as we are in the Ancient relics. You know our shopping list, and you know our situation." They needed items to convince the IOA that it was worth continuing to pour materiel and personnel into Atlantis and the fight against the Wraith. And with the current board composition, art was almost as useful as technological gadgets - more useful, when you got right down to it, since most Ancient gadgets wouldn't work for the average earth resident even if you could pry them out of Rodney's hands long enough for them to go back on the Daedalus.
They nodded in unison. She nodded back. "All right, then. If the MALP readings look good, you're a go."
McKay renamed P3X-747 Lice Planet five minutes after they hit the main square of Tlu, the town nearest the stargate. "Oh my god," he said, staring at the inhabitants. "Oh my god, have these people never heard of personal hygiene? That's - that's - " He seemed to be at a loss for words.
"Looks itchy," Ronon noted, and Rodney scratched violently.
John had to agree: it did look itchy. But, hey, better than the one place where everyone went naked except for strings of beads (McKay had named that one Playboy Planet, and John had kicked him on the shin and made him explain the reference to Teyla). At least he could look at the residents here without violating several articles of the UMC. "Think of them as penitent Pilgrims, McKay," he advised.
Rodney shook his head wildly. "Doesn't help. Oh my god, so disgusting."
Teyla motioned to them all to stop, and she was frowning. "You must not speak this way where the Vlin can hear you. They view their garb as sacred."
John had a sudden, grim thought. "Teyla, these weavings you mentioned -"
"Yes. They are also made from hair, although not typically from their own. It takes a Vlin years to grow enough hair for a new garment, and so no Vlin would waste his own hair on a weaving."
"Where do they get the hair for weaving, then?" Ronon asked. He sounded worried.
"They trade for it," Teyla said serenely. "And, of course, some of their most precious and lovely weavings are made with the hair and garments of their dead."
McKay almost had a convulsion right there on the street.
John could tell this was going to be a fun mission. "Okay, folks, let's go talk with the hair-shirt people, and be nice. Sky Gift," he reminded McKay, and that seemed to help a little.
"These people don't need a Sky Gift. They need cotton. And, oh, please tell me they wash that hair more often than it looks like they do."
John looked around the square; people were just going about their business, smiling and nodding at the outworlders in their midst, and, yeah, he saw McKay's point. The people with long hair - presumably folks who were just about to get a really nice new outfit - did look awfully greasy.
"The natural oils -" Teyla started, and John shook his head at her: don't make McKay worse. She frowned. "Your people's obsession with personal hygiene is as strange to me as Vlin attire is. Surely it does not matter how other people choose to dress and bathe?"
"Hives," McKay muttered morosely. "Dirt. Parasitic infestation." And that was when he named it Lice Planet.
Thirty minute later, they met Avn a'Tlu'aka, speaker for the city of Tlu. She was a little alarming. It was the expression on her face as she eyed their hair and clothes, and the way she flirted openly with Ronon. "Such an interesting texture that must produce," she said, staring at his hair. And then she blushed slightly as she said, "May I?"
"Sure." Ronon bent over helpfully - Avn was about five feet tall, with about an inch of steel-grey hair on her head and a full-length, long-sleeved dress of grey and black hair covering her body - and Avn gently stroked his hair.
"Oh, my. Very nice," she said. "So very lovely, and I compliment you on your artistic presentation and impressive upkeep. The texture is fabulous, and the depth of color and unusual tone - it will be a great work when it is completed, of that I am sure." She stroked his hair again, and sighed.
"Thanks," Ronon said, and then he looked at John. John wasn't sure what he was asking permission for, but he nodded anyway: go ahead, but proceed with caution. Ronon wasn't the one who usually got them into trouble. "Want one?" Ronon asked, fingering a lock.
Avn's eyes grew wide and she clapped her hands together - seriously, clapped like a little girl, and jumped up and down just a little. It was kind of scary on a woman who looked exactly like John's eleventh-grade English teacher, only without the chalk holder. "Oh, that would be - that would be - oh, my, yes, I would love one, if you can spare it, if it will not compromise the integrity of your work, of course - I would love one, yes."
Ronon said, "No problem." Seconds later, Avn was the possessor of one of Ronon's less noticeable locks ("I will cherish it," she said, stroking it lovingly, and John tried not to be weirded out by that. "It will have a place of honor in the tapestry of my life."), Ronon was sliding his knife back into its sheath, and McKay was about four seconds away from total meltdown: eyes bugged out, hands waving, mouth open, speechless with horror (at least for the moment; history suggested that this state would, unfortunately, not abide). But Avn was clearly totally on their side now, so John gave Ronon a thumbs up and went for it. "So, Avn. We hear you have a Sky Gift."
It turned out that the Vlin held their market in the Sky Gift. "Oh, no, not the common market," Avn said, shocked. "That would be sacrilege. But our trade in materials and finished products - clothing, tapestries, other works of our sacred art - that of course takes place in the temple. Where else?"
"Oh, indeed," Rodney said, looking like he wanted to boil his entire body. "Where else?"
They headed to the Sky Gift market thing, and to John, it didn't look very promising. It was a big enclosed space with lots of skylights - and that itself was a good sign, because he hadn't seen glass anywhere else so far. But otherwise, the floor and walls seemed to be covered with mud, and they were definitely covered with stringy, leafless vines that grew everywhere.
John tried not to notice how much they looked like hair.
Among the vines, and in some cases covered by them, were stalls displaying various examples of the sacred art - small squares in eight kinds of brown, mostly. McKay was evidently solving equidistance problems in his head, to judge by his careful stance as far as possible away from every stall.
"These are very fine tapestries," Teyla said to the holder of the first stall they passed. (John squinted at them; they appeared to him to be, well, rugs. Made of hair. He wasn't getting the fineness at all.) The stall-holder didn't hear her; he was staring, open-mouthed, at Ronon's hair.
"Is it not exquisite?" Avn said to the man.
He nodded. "Oh, yes. Normally I would not expect to see one of such an age in rags - he is well past the age of first shearing, after all -" and here he shot a disbelieving, pitying glance at John, Rodney, and Teyla "- but clearly he is a great artiste; his first garment will be worthy. My compliments to you, sir." And he kissed both his wrists in a gesture that clearly meant something like, Dude, you are so awesome.
Ronon had by this point collected a highly appreciative audience. Stalls everywhere were being abandoned as people came to stare and murmur. Ronon grinned at them and bent down so they could gently stroke his hair.
Avn had another group gathered around her, clearly stunned with envy at her gift. She wasn't letting anyone touch her lock.
John looked around. No one was paying attention to anyone but Ronon and his fabulous, fabulous hair. It was clearly time for Rodney to do his stuff. "McKay," John said, and when that got no response - Rodney was staring around the marketplace like he'd just found the place where lemons come from - he nudged him. And then nudged him a little harder. "McKay. Sky Gift?"
"Oh, oh, right, right." Rodney shook himself all over, like a dog coming out of the water, and reached for his scanner. He turned it, waved it around, and his whole face lit up. "Oh," he said, in breathy tones that sounded suspiciously orgasmic to John, "Oh."
"What?" John wanted in on the orgasmic tones, if possible.
"It's - well, first, it's not a spaceship, I don't want you to get your hopes up. I mean, it definitely flew through space, but this isn't the ship itself. It's probably a module, something small - relatively small, anyway, since obviously we're looking at some serious space, but nothing like a space platform or anything. It probably had limited maneuverability for landing, but that's about it."
John kept the conversation to the important part. "A module. Like a weapons module, maybe?"
"Very possibly." Rodney looked up at John, beaming. "I'm certainly getting dormant signatures from a number of areas in here."
"Dormant. So...out of power?"
"Hmmm." Rodney poked his scanner a bunch of times, reached out, grabbed John by the vest, and said, "Follow me."
"You could just ask me, you know," John said.
"Or we could save time and do it my way, which is obviously the sensible and reasonable choice, since my way is, hey! Guess what? Genius, so - the best way." Rodney was walking and towing John without looking where he was going at all - he was just watching the scanner, and that didn't strike John as genius in a place where so many people were gathering to stare at Ronon like he was the Michelangelo of hair. John forcibly detached himself from Rodney's grasp just as they halted in front of an area that looked much like the rest of the interior of the Sky Gift: muddy, and vine-covered, and sort of hairy.
"Okay, Colonel, do your thing." Rodney made a hand gesture, and John popped an eyebrow at him.
"Your gene thing! Your Ancient mojo thing! Seriously, Colonel, this cannot be that difficult for you. You turn everything else on."
Huh, John thought, filing that one away for later consideration, and turned to the wall. It looked like a native construction, but, well - Sky Gift. Anyone home? he thought at it. There was an answering acknowledgement, kind of a ping in the back of his skull. John knew the procedure now - same thing he did in the lab every Thursday. Hey, do you have power? Affirmative ping. Okay, show me what you've got.
Behind the mud and hair - no, mud and vines - something started to glow.
"Oh, wow," Rodney said, ecstatic. "I'm getting all kinds of power signatures, it's clearly full of juice, and - Colonel, what does it do?"
John probed at it gently with his mind, a process he thought of as being a lot like checking out a small device you didn't know how to use but thought would maybe explode. The tech happily reeled out information for him; John got the feeling it had been dormant a long time.
As soon as he thought that, the device gave him a reading: first activation, 61 clicks ago. Dormancy, 15,405 ims.
"A click, that's -"
"A second and a half, approximately. Okay, more like 1.443 seconds, but good enough for - why?"
"Huh. It was initialized before it landed here, but it's never been on before. I guess they never came back to set it up."
"Yes, fine, history is a fascinating and involving subject, but what. Does. It. Do?"
John probed at it some more, and it supplied all the data it could, which was unfortunately mostly in terms of processing capability and throughput ratios, but it didn't take him too long to figure it out. "I think it's a loom."
"It's - you know, for weaving."
Rodney stared at him blankly, clearly violently disappointed. "It's an Ancient loom," he repeated. "I - why?"
"Well, these people would probably like it. It says it allows deft control of very fine and delicate fibers and can increase the speed of hand weaving more than 7 times. And it's ergonomically correct." John shrugged apologetically. "There were other power sources, right?"
Rodney was still staring at the wall as though it had betrayed him. "Yes, yes," he said, and grabbed John and began to tow him toward the next one.
They found five more looms, a spinning device, and a complete hair-care suite that gave John a vigorous scalp massage and applied some kind of ointment before he could shut it down. And then he had to reactivate it, because McKay thought the ointment smelled citrusy and refused to a) stand within twenty feet of him or b) get back in the jumper with him while he smelled like that. And it wasn't like he could get it off - the Vlin didn't look like they had much in the way of shampoo on hand, for one thing - so John had to engage in a very tedious discussion of chemical formulas over his radio with McKay.
It turned out to be in no way related to citrus.
By the time they got that critical mystery cleared up, Ronon, Teyla, and Avn had caught up with them. "Are you enjoying the market?" Avn asked, looking worried that they were spending their time communing with walls. "Teyla has noted that your leader is most interested in weavings; I would be happy to introduce you to some of my favorite craftspersons."
"Hey, that'd be awesome," John said, over McKay's strenuously mimed objections, and then he forced Ronon and Rodney to walk in front, examining the goods, so he could fall back and have a quick chat with Teyla.
"We found some Ancient stuff in the Sky Gift," he told her. "It's mostly for weaving. And, uh, hair care." He shot her a glance: tell or not?
She considered. "I believe the Vlin would be most grateful for this news. They reacted well to the jumper, and they are in no way hidebound with regard to their art. Avn was telling me that each year they have a symposium to discuss advances in material production and craft techniques."
John nodded. "'Kay. You tell her we've got good news. And send McKay back here." John glanced at Rodney, who looked like he was about to have a coronary from all the close-up encounters with dead guys' hair. Definitely time to pull him out of there.
Rodney let Teyla take his place next to Avn, stomped back to John, and hissed, "Colonel, so help me, the next time we meet bug-eaters I am going to make you have dinner with them for this little prank, oh god, I'm going to shave my head when we get back to Atlantis."
"Sergeant Martinez is the go-to guy for high-and-tights," John told him helpfully.
"I don't want to hear about your military perversions," McKay said loftily.
"It's a haircut, McKay."
"I knew that."
Up ahead, Teyla had finished chatting with Avn, who was once again making little-girl gestures of delight. "Show time," John told Rodney. "Let's show these people what their Sky Gift can do."
The brief demonstration turned into a marathon. After the initial explanation, people began moving vines and mud, and then everyone in the Sky Gift, it seemed, had to witness all the many settings of each item. And more people kept showing up, and then they had to experience the miracles of Ancient hair utilization technology. And then usually they went to get their family, friends, children, and anyone they passed on the street.
Around hour four, John started feeling a little claustrophobic from the press of eager hair-clad, hair-obsessed people, so he figured it was time to get McKay out of there. He found Avn, who was conferring with two women and one man. All three of them were dressed like Avn, in long, floor-length gowns with long sleeves, so John figured they were maybe elders or something.
"So, it's been fun," he told Avn, "but we need to head back home."
"Oh," Avn said, looking downcast. "Must you go immediately? We had hoped to make a gift as a token of our appreciation for all the many blessing you have revealed to us, but it will require several days."
Gifts were Teyla's department, mostly because when John accepted gifts half the time they turned out to be ritual piercings or blessed wedgies or, on P93-939, the honor of fighting in the gladiator pit against actual gladiators, and he seriously did not want to go through any of that again. He waved Teyla over.
Five minutes later, she reported back. "Colonel, they are offering us an unprecedented honor - really, I am quite astonished and touched that they should consider such a thing." She paused, and then seemed to remember who she was talking to. "And we would be well-advised to accept it."
"Well, that kinda depends what it is."
"They are offering to make us each a garment," Teyla said. "They will each donate a certain amount of hair, their own hair; this is an incredible honor, the highest they can offer, and I do not believe they have ever granted it to anyone before." She sounded unnaturally enthused for someone who had just been offered what amounted to a hair shirt, but then, Teyla tended to adapt a little too well to other people's customs.
John considered. He didn't really want a hair shirt. And, also - "McKay will stroke out," John said. "And they'd have to donate a hell of a lot of hair to cover any part of Ronon."
"This is true," Teyla said. "I am concerned that Rodney will be," she paused delicately, "unable to suppress his...reaction."
"It'd take general anesthesia, pretty much."
Teyla considered this, frowning. "Ah. Perhaps I have a solution. If I may?"
John listened, and liked.
SGA-1 came back from P3X-747 without any trade goods or technology, true, but also without any visible wounds, so Elizabeth was prepared to count it a win.
She was a little less enthusiastic about their smug expressions. "So, people - how did it go?"
"We have made an ally," Teyla said. "The Vlin are very positively disposed toward us."
"Yeah," John said. "We checked out the Sky Gift, and it had all kinds of neat stuff in it. They loved it. They loved us. And the science team can study a really high-quality, high-throughput loom any time you think it's worthwhile."
Elizabeth sighed happily; it was so satisfying, making alliances, winning friends in Pegasus. And it was so difficult to do; she relished every victory. "Excellent work, people."
"They are so thankful," Teyla continued, "that they wish to present us with a gift, a representation of their highest and most sacred art. It is a very great honor; they have never before made such a thing for an outsider."
"Oh, wonderful." Elizabeth hoped it was something she could send in an image file back to the IOA.
"And since it must be custom-made for a single person, and as you are our leader, they have offered to make it for you. You will need to visit the planet for measurements, and then for the final presentation. There will be a banquet."
"Marvelous. An excellent opportunity to network and build goodwill," Elizabeth said. One of the hardest parts of being the leader in Atlantis was that she so rarely got to do any diplomatic work. And she was already looking forward to the banquet; off-world cuisine was much more interesting than anything the mess had to offer.
"So, we scheduled you in to go for measurements on Friday," John said. "Lorne'll put together an escort team. And then we'll return in two months for the banquet. And your gift."
The banquet was, indeed, as excellent as Elizabeth had hoped. Avn was a wonderful person: enthusiastic, intelligent, and aware, too, with an impressive grasp of the larger issues in the galaxy. She enjoyed the conversation as much as the food, and was glad she'd come.
Her attire was, as Rodney had warned her, slightly itchy. But it was gorgeous all the same. Possibly she could model it for the IOA, next time they came to visit.