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The Three Laws of Arthur C. Clarke (and corollaries thereof)

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They never did figure out what had caused it; it went down in the annals of Atlantis as "one of those things" (in full, "one of those things that had happened to happen"), although McKay and Kavanagh both derided such a label as hopelessly unscientific and separately pulled it out every so often to worry at in their copious free time.

The day in question had begun as usual for Ford: he woke up, ate breakfast, went through a number of training exercises that culminated in letting Teyla hit him with sticks (at its end, as he always did, he resolved to leave the stick-fighting lessons to his CO), ate lunch, suited up, set his hat at a jaunty angle, and met the other three members of Atlantis Recon One in the gateroom.

The day's mission was to a world Teyla called Daunt, which had had trading and sometimes other ties with the Athosians for generations; an aunt or something of Teyla's had married a Daunter and settled down there.

Daunt, once they were standing on it, turned out to be a pleasant world with trees and meadows looking much like trees and meadows on planets all over the galaxy. Both galaxies.

"There was probably an Ancient city around Vancouver hundreds of thousands of years ago," McKay remarked, looking around, "and so they terraformed other planets to look like it."

"Nah, the bits and pieces of the city are probably scattered around under layers of lava and ash around Crater Lake," Sheppard corrected. "Ice Age, remember? These sorts of plants would have been farther south."

Teyla, ignoring both of them, waved at some people doing something in a field full of some sort of vine plants growing on sticks and string.

The Daunters waved back, and then one of them, a small woman with brown skin and off-blonde hair, shouted "TEYLA?" and began running towards them.

"Aunt Kina!" Teyla called, and effortlessly took the lead herself. The two women met in the middle of the path, took each other's shoulders, and bowed their heads to each other, drawing strength from the touch of forehead to forehead.

"Teyla. Teyla. What has happened? Our traders found Athos blasted and devoid of people; the Wraith were abroad again -- I thought you and all Emmagan lost with all our people."

"The Wraith came, yes," Teyla smiled widely, "but nearly all of us were saved by our new friends and allies, who offered us territory in which to live on the world they have claimed as home." She squeezed her aunt's shoulders almost fiercely before lifting her hands to add shape to her speech. "They were cast forth from the fabled Mother-earth of the Ancestors itself into their City, and woke the City of the Ancestors from its long sleep before they came to Athos first of all the thousand worlds."

"We weren't exactly thrown out," McKay muttered in English.

"It saves explaining why we can't go get anyone something from Earth," Sheppard hissed in the same language.

"And I," Teyla blithely ignored her teammates, "in token of that alliance, have myself left my home among Emmagan to live in the Silver City with these men: Major Sheppard, Doctor McKay, and Lieutenant Ford of Ay Arr Wun. AR-1, this is Kina, daughter of Beraan Emmagan, once herself of Emmagan, now Kina jen Sardukann, who left her home among Emmagan on Athos to live as a farmwife of Daunt with Tanor ah Sardukann."

"Pleased to meet you, ma'am," Ford said promptly.

"I--" Kina jen Sardukann began. "I am so -- honored, pleased, grateful -- "

"Oh, no, it was our pleasure," Sheppard said easily. "Teyla was great to us when we first met; all for one and one for all, and all that."

"You do know that doesn't match up, don't you?" McKay demanded.

Ford coughed meaningfully, and Teyla fixed McKay with a Look.

"Uh, delighted," he added quickly. "Any aunt of Teyla's, uh."

Kina did not -- quite -- laugh, but her eyes crinkled up and her mouth twitched.

"Friends of yours?" one of Kina's co-workers asked, ambling up.

"Oh -- forgive me, I'm all at nines and tens today -- Aron, you remember Teyla, Tagan and Torren's little girl, my kinswoman of Emmagan and my people's leader? This is my husband's brother, Aron ah Sardukann..."

And Kina promptly dragged them over to the others working with what appeared to be legumes, introduced them to everyone there, and then hustled the entire team through various fields and into a large square farming compound, making them known to everyone they passed and everyone who came out to meet them -- most of whom all seemed to be named Something ah Sardukann, jen Sardukann, nat Sardukann, or mer Sardukann, and to think that "AR-1" was the same sort of surname.

"We really should be trading," Sheppard finally said.

"Tomorrow, tomorrow," said the old woman who had been introduced as Kina's mother-in-law. "Tonight, you share our meal and rest yourselves under our roof. Come to the Council with the goodwill of Sardukann."

Several of the younger people on the farm began shifting anxiously back and forth, and Ford offered "We brought our own bedding, so we don't really need to put anyone out."

"Nonsense!" announced Kina's father-in-law, who Ford thought looked sort of like Leslie Nielsen and was called, if he remembered correctly, Sardukann ah Sardukann. "You are kin; there is no putting out between kin!"

So AR-1 admired the tapestry Kina and her sisters-in-law were making; helped set the long wooden tables in what appeared to be the farm complex's communal dining room; and pestered whomever could be caught about the farm's sanitary arrangements, the exact contents of dinner, and whether there were any rituals they would be expected to go through, respectively.

Eventually, the farm workers poured in, hung their hats and coats on the wooden pegs driven in all around the room's walls, and took their places at the long benches. Ford politely hung his hat on a peg before joining the rest of AR-1 at Sardukann's table.

Sardukann raised his hands and then darted a glance at Ford.

"Ah... Lieutenant mer AR-1," Kina said cheerfully, "it is considered polite on Daunt to take one's hat off while we address the Ancestors."

"Yes, that's why I took my hat off," Ford said. "It's hanging over there."

Kina and Ford's teammates looked from him to his hat, hanging on a peg next to somebody's shovel bonnet.

"That certainly does appear to be your hat," Teyla said carefully, "but your hat is on your head."

Ford blinked.

He slowly reached a hand up to his head.

Sure enough, his hat was on his head. He blinked, shrugged, and took it off.

Everyone in the dining hall stared at him.

Even more slowly, Ford reached up with his other hand and took off his hat.

The silence was deafening.

Ford put one of the hats on the table next to his napkin and felt at his head, just to make sure.

Hat.

"You know, it's probably going to take you a while to work through five hundred of them," Sheppard remarked, mouth quirking into a smile.

"Aren't they supposed to start getting fancy around four hundred or so?" Ford said, a memory of a procession of red hats spiralling up the black-and-white-page coming vividly to mind as he took off two more of his own hats and stacked them on top of the one on the table.

"Hat 451 had two feathers, and so on," Sheppard said. "Of course, your hat has no feathers, so that might screw up the counting a bit."

"I cannot believe you actually remember that," McKay told him. "No, wait, I can. Oh my God, are you two listening to yourselves? What happens when Ford gets shot at or decapitated or defen-- wait, is it still defenestration if you're pushed off the top of a tower rather than out a window?"

"We are not barbarians," Kina said indignantly. "The Ladonna cover their heads to honor the Ancestors and the Na-amthir would as soon go out without their trousers as without their headscarves, and we do not demand that they do themselves dishonor for our own comfort. Nor do we ask those with injured feet to stand when the rest of us do."

Sardukann cleared his throat, raised his hands again, and boomed "Ancestors! We thank you for the beauty of the day, the ripening of our crops, the health of our people, and especially for the joy you have brought to us and to our daughter Kina with the happy visit of her kinfolk, bearing good news. Grant to us, we beseech you, your good will for us and for our dinner, and in particular to Lieutenant Ford mer AR-1 in his difficulty with his hat. So mote it be!"

"Amen," Ford said dutifully as the rest of the Sardukann household chorused "Make it so!" and sat down.

Dinner on Daunt apparently ran to several kinds of stir-fry, near-chicken and pork sausages, a few other fowl or pork products -- "Bacon," McKay moaned with disturbing intensity, and helped himself to five slices -- some sort of boiled small round grain, and a chilled drink that tasted like iced chamomile tea. It also seemed to be an occasion for fifty conversations at once, and all of AR-1 found themselves fielding questions and explaining that yes, they knew about the Wraith activity, and yes, the City of the Ancestors was at least as wonderful as the stories said, and no, they were not Ancestors themselves, and no, Atlantis was not full of gold and jewels or of gardens where food grew of itself, or they wouldn't be looking to trade for Daunter food, would they?

After dinner, Teyla settled in for a long, comfortable gossip in which she answered all of Kina jen Sardukann's questions about various and sundry people and happenings among the Athosians; Sheppard and McKay debated whether Francesca Annis or Sean Young were hotter, and whether the one movie they'd made together had been awesome or awful; and Ford chatted politely with the older Sardukann women (all of whom commented, at one point or another, that he was such a nice boy) and took off twenty more hats.

"I want a magical hat!" one of the younger boys announced, and clapped one of Ford's discards onto his head. He took it off again and disappointedly felt his bare head.

"Well, at least it doesn't spawn," McKay observed. "That would be bad."

"Exponentially so," Sheppard agreed.

"And anyway, it's hardly magic. Magic is -- "

"Clarke's Law?" Ford offered, and had the rare pleasure of Dr. McKay blinking at him with the startled look of one who has unexpectedly encountered a performing collie. Sheppard, on the other hand, was smiling one of his least sincere smiles.

Eventually, one of Kina's sisters-in-law said she'd show them where they'd sleep that night. The team gathered up candles, their packs, and twenty-five hats and followed her upstairs.

"The sheets and blankets are fresh, of course," the in-law said, gesturing with one arm to the small room and the California-king-size bed, "and there is water in the pitcher, and a chamber pot under each side of the bed. There are extra pillows in the wardrobe there."

"Thank you, ma'am," Sheppard said politely as the three men stared at the very large bed.

"Let us know if you need anything!" Whatever jen Sardukann told them, and trotted off down the hall.

"We brought our sleeping bags," Ford eventually said, throwing the spare hats into a corner by the wardrobe, "so we can let Teyla have the bed."

"There is no need," Teyla said at once. "I have often shared beds with my family, and do not monopolize the blankets." She reached out and pressed lightly on the bed. "It is stuffed with feathers."

"I'm allergic to feathers," McKay promptly said, "and I may have had to share a bed on family vacations in the past but that's an argument against ever doing so in the future, not to mention that I do steal the covers. Jeanie used to kick me until I rolled out of them -- and sometimes out of bed -- and Meg threatened to smother me with a pillow if she ever woke up freezing again."

"Jeanie and Meg, huh?" Sheppard said.

"My sister and my cousin," McKay snapped.

"Would you rather we went out into the hall and let you change first, or go wait for us and then kick us all out?" Ford asked Teyla. He took off another hat and twisted it back and forth in his hands.

"I will trust you to avert your eyes," Teyla said. She threw the hats in her hand into the same corner and began unfastening her vest, and Ford hastily spun around. So did Sheppard.

So, after a kick to the calf and a question of "You're not looking either, Teyla, right?" did McKay.

There was a bit of confusion caused by the fact that apparently Teyla's idea of appropriate sleeping wear was a pair of loose drawstring shorts.

"How did you manage not to notice it before?" McKay asked the air, busying himself with laying Teyla's sleeping bag out on top of Ford's and neatening up the hat piles.

"She wore this... smock... thing when we were sharing a tent!" Ford yelped.

"Yes. It is cold in the sleep sack, and colder still rising from it to take my watch. But in this room, in a bed with others, my shift would be uncomfortably warm."

"Here, I'll sleep in the middle," Sheppard said. "No funny business, all right?"

"No... funny business," Teyla agreed. "Except for that of the hats."

Sheppard snatched a hat off Ford's head and threw it at her. Teyla caught it, bemused, and tossed it back.

"Yes, yes, I realize your latent sleepover instincts are manifesting, but those of us who are not in fact secretly twelve would like to, oh, sleep."

"You're sure you won't join us?" Sheppard lay back in the exact center of the bed, bounced a little to the accompaniment of some creaking, and linked his hands behind his head. "I think they've got actual springs."

"Allergic," McKay said, and humphled himself into his sleeping bag on his makeshift mattress.

Ford turned his hat around so that he could comfortably use his pillow. Apparently, rotating it on his head didn't produce another hat.

"Are all prepared for me to blow out the lights?"

"Sure."

"Go for it."

"I'm taking care of mine," and the wavering circle of light on the ceiling near McKay went out with a snort.

Teyla moved around the room, blowing out the candles on the washstand, windowsill, and night table. "Goodnight, Major," she said as she slipped into bed with a creak. "Goodnight, Doctor. Goodnight, Lieutenant."

"Really, Ford is fine. Or Aiden, if you'd rather. Goodnight, Teyla. Goodnight, sirs."

"Goodnight, John-boy."

"Throw a hat at him, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir."

 

Ford woke up the next morning with a hat over his face, sunlight attempting to stream in through the seams of the hat, his arm and leg hanging off the side of the bed, and somebody crowding him into a narrow strip of it.

He slid out of bed onto four more hats that appeared to have come off sometime during the night and turned around.

Major Sheppard was managing, somehow, to take up about half the bed. The third of it beyond him was fairly evenly split between a small huddle of woman half-naked underneath the quilts and part of an empty sleeping bag, and a large roll of scientist-in-a-sleeping-bag on top of the empty sleeping bag on top of the bedding.

It was too cold to stand around in his sleep shorts for long, so Ford quietly got ready, cleaned, dressed, shed another hat in the process of putting on his shirt, fished out his razor and shaving cream, and then realized that everyone else might prefer to wash up before he got hairs in the basin.

"Rise and shine!" he called.

"Good morning," Teyla answered, sitting up and stretching. "I see your hat is still with you."

"Um, yeah." Ford hastily turned and poured some more water from the pitcher into the stoneware basin, splashing some on his face.

"Are you always this cheerful in the morning?" Sheppard asked without bothering to open his eyes, rolling into the space left by Teyla's warmth as she clambered out over the foot of the bed and dipped a wash-rag into the basin.

"Mmmngawfee," McKay muttered.

"I do not believe I caught that," Teyla remarked to the morning air as she scrubbed her armpits and under her breasts.

"Can I shave when she's done, or does anyone else need to use the sink?" Ford asked.

"I'm up, I'm up," Sheppard muttered. He kicked the quilt over McKay, swung his legs out of bed, and peered out the large window. "Huh. Apparently it's all right to... "

"The Daunter farmers believe that the acid will keep plants from growing on the walls and weakening them," Teyla explained, amused, "and will keep the stones white."

"That would explain the smell," Ford said. "I thought I noticed it yesterday, but I didn't like to say anything."

"What the hell. When in Rome... Teyla, please don't turn around."

"I shall not," she promised, sounding even more amused.

"I won't either, if you want to get dressed," Ford said quickly, stacking the new hats with the rest. Wow, there were thirty-three of them already, leaving him with... lots to go, if it followed the book. He took off five more hats, just to keep things moving along.

"You may shave now," Teyla announced, zipping up her jacket.

"Thanks." Ford patted soap lather onto his jaw, leaving the soap itself for his superior officer.

"Safety razor, Lieutenant?"

"It's kind of hard to find spare batteries out here, sir."

"He has lent it to me several times. The blades are well angled to reach concave areas."

"I suppose that is a good point of its. Still not as easy to sharpen as this, though."

"Is that an Army-issue razor?!"

"Army Air Corps. Belonged to the John Sheppard who flew in World War II."

"Aah! Quilt!" McKay yelped from the bed, thrashed wildly, and managed to lever himself to a semi-sitting position, still wound tight in sleeping bag.

"Good morning, Doctor McKay," Teyla greeted him.

"By back is killid be, by dose is stuffed, by siduses ache, by eyes itch, somewod put a quilt full ob fedders od top ob by face, Fode is actid out his faborite book frob childhood, ad I deed coffee. Wha's good aboudit?"

"Glad to have you with us, too," Sheppard said, scraping down the line of his throat.

"Actually, I was always more fond of On Beyond Zebra! and I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew," Ford corrected mildly, feeling around in the pocket of his vest and at last fishing out his very last clean handkerchief, offering it to McKay. His grandmother had long since been proven right about the need to always carry spares. "My absolute favorite book was probably Call It Courage, though. That book rocked."

"It did," Sheppard agreed. "I was always more a Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet kind of guy myself, but Call It Courage was awesome."

"The farmers here make a drink whose effects are not unlike coffee," Teyla coaxed gently, ignoring them. "If we go down to breakfast, it will be on the table."

 

Breakfast on a Daunt farm seemed to be far more of a help-yourself affair than supper, but there was plenty of dark caffeinated drink (which tasted something like burnt runny hot chocolate), tubs of small-round-grain porridge, and chafing dishes full of chicken-fried fowl and chicken-fried pork.

"This isn't half-bad," Sheppard remarked, dipping his fried tenderloin into his small tub of gravy.

"The food gives us much energy to work," Kina said, "which is good, for storms have damaged our crop. Our harvest will be small this year."

"This whatever-it-is cleared out my nose," McKay remarked, sipping at his fourth cup of the burnt-watery-chocolate. "I bet you could trade it to all sorts of people for more food."

"You should not be drinking it undiluted!" Kina told him, worried. "It will make you ill to your bowels if you drink more than two cups' worth of the concentrate."

"Now you tell me? How ill?"

"Perhaps a few days at most," Teyla told him. "You will drink the thick pink liquid and be well."

"So will this council of yours be willing to trade at all?" Sheppard asked. "If the harvest is as bad as you say?"

"For beans, perhaps," Kina shrugged. "We have a great stock of dried beans."

"If your dealings with the Council go badly," Sardukann had chosen this moment to enter the dining hall, "we of course are willing to lend to kin, but we cannot feed all your people from our own stores."

"Of course not. Never expected it."

"Thank you, elder kinsman," Teyla said politely. "May we ask the loan of a sack in which to put our unexpected hats?"

Various Sardukann relations fetched up two large gunny sacks, and everyone helped put hats in one of them. Ford took off another hat and threw it in on top.

"Thirty-nine," Sheppard said, folding the empty sack over his arm.

Sardukann led the way out of the hall. AR-1 and Kina jen Sardukann exchanged glances and followed.

 

The Council, whatever it was, was apparently an hour's walk away. Kina led the way. Sardukann, being too old to walk in a timely manner, rode in a rickshaw with the sack of hats tied on behind. Teyla, having offered, pulled the rickshaw. Sheppard, also having offered, tried to help with the rickshaw and mostly got in Teyla's way. Ford took off sixty-eight hats while McKay took readings and got edgier and edgier.

"It doesn't make any sense," he grumbled. "Something's causing the hats to exist here and now, and there's some sort of energy when they appear, but for all I can tell about where they're coming from they might be translating themselves from Planet Oozle-ma-Foozle."

"Like in an Asgard teleport beam?"

"I could track a teleport beam. Or the atoms of the air above your head are suddenly, without any detectable input, happening to dissolve their current molecules, transubstantiate into more complicated atoms, form molecular bonds, and fall into an arrangement that perfectly matches that of your original hat. Now, while it's possible that such a thing could happen -- remotely, remotely, remotely possible -- and any prior instances wouldn't affect the possibility of such a thing happening again, the possibility that none of these multiple instances are due to outside influence as the number of occurrences grows higher has an asymptote of zero."

"In English, sir?" Ford said plaintively.

"The air above your head might be turning itself into hats all on its own, and one day everything in Atlantis might decide to start working without a power source, but I wouldn't hold my breath," Sheppard smiled.

"I hate automagical routines," McKay muttered. "Would it have killed the Ancients to comment it out? Not that, say, I'm anywhere near being able to look at the code of whatever's doing this, but in general."

"Do you comment out your routines?" Sheppard wondered.

"My routines -- when I have to write them myself -- make sense."

"In Gatespeech, please?" Teyla said plaintively.

"McKay can't figure out what's causing Ford's Mysterious Multiplying Hats, and he's taking it as a personal insult."

"Some things," Sardukann said wisely, "have no answer."

"There's always an answer," McKay argued. "Sometimes you don't know what it is, and sometimes you can't figure out how to find out the answer, and sometimes you routinely try and approximate something resembling an answer -- and honestly, how anything that can't routinely produce consistently repetible results on matters above the quantum level can call itself a science I'll never understand -- but that doesn't change the fact that the answer's there, if you know how to find it. Do you keep your farmhouse so far away from the village on purpose?"

"Farms do tend to take up a lot of land," Sheppard pointed out, amused, "and it probably makes sense to keep the good farmland clear of urban sprawl."

"And the Wraith's hunger is often satisfied with the inhabitants of only a few farms," Kina said, "so we keep our compounds far from one another, that they may not be tempted."

"So why do you live in a big complex," Ford asked, "rather than in small groups under trees?"

"Especially when you're next to the Stargate," McKay boggled. "Didn't the Wraith stop here before?"

"When last the Wraith came," Sardukann said, "my grandfather's father had married into Terramar, and so escaped the culling of Sardukann. After they had left, he raised his case before the council and was named the Sardukann, and he and his wife and children and cousins born to other houses who were willing to turn and be of Sardukann removed and dwelt in our compound, on the land Sardukann has cultivated for hundreds of years. We have kept our kin-ties up with the other houses, and no Daunter house has been declared dead in five hundred years.

"And now that the Wraith are known to be active, the Council-of-Councils has been deciding whether to move the Ring to its next location earlier than planned."

"Move the Ring?" Sheppard asked.

"The Daunters are known for this," Teyla explained. "Every five or six generations, one steps through the Ring and finds oneself in some other place on Daunt, and must cast about to find a village or farmstead."

"On the world we came from, we have moved ours," Ford offered. "First it was in a place of eternal ice and snow, and then it was moved to a great plain -- "

"Also full of ice and snow," McKay added, "although at least the Siberian snows melted in the summer."

" -- and now we have it in a cave under a mountain, where we can guard it."

Sardukann blinked. "When last we moved ours, we bargained with the Ladonna for the use of their great beasts of burden, called 'cattle,' each of which can draw as much as two or three large pigs. Are there such animals still on the Mother-earth?"

"Yes," Ford said. "We have cows and pigs and elephants and stuff. Are you ready for me to take another hat off?"

"Go for it," McKay said, and then mumbled another imprecation at his scanner. "Even with the tightest aperture time, I can't get a continuous recording at the microlevel."

"None of you seem to be overly worried about this," Kina said. "Has such a thing happened before?"

"Not really," said McKay.

"It's a children's story," Sheppard said. "It's a made-up tale for children. Nothing very bad happens in it, and so far we're pretty much following the story. We can start worrying if something changes."

"Well, the Daunters are reacting more sanely than the people in the story, but that's not exactly something to worry about," Ford said.

"Someone made up a story about a hat that duplicated itself?" Teyla sounded puzzled, but it might have been shortness of breath.

"It was the same poet who made up the thing about the green food Stackhouse and Markham were acting out at breakfast the second day for you guys," Sheppard offered.

"Green food?" Kina asked.

"It was a most instructional tale," Teyla said, and filled the rest of the trip to a small village with a critical analysis of Green Eggs and Ham.

 

The Council building looked something like a Greek temple, in that it had a roof held up by pillars all round and no walls, except for a small internal room. Inside the pillars, there were wide steps down to a central area, where large comfortable-looking chairs were set before the internal room. Five older people were sitting in the chairs. Other people were sitting or standing on the steps, many looking more or less impatient.

"Sardukann, you old rascal!" one of the men in the chairs called. "I didn't think you were planning to make it to Council meetings this season."

"No more I wasn't," Sardukann answered, "but I'm sponsoring kindred outlanders to speak before you, my boy's Kina's niece and her men."

"Really," said one of the women. "Well, I'm eager to hear the news, everyone for the old business is here already, let's call this session to order."

The Council members stood up. So did everybody else.

The Council members took off their hats and held them over their breasts.

"The boy here would," Sardukann said, taking his hat off and holding it over his heart, "but he has a condition preventing him from getting his hat off."

"Oh, dear," said the other Councilwoman, the one holding the hat with flowers. "We have a good healer here, one of the best, he can look at you in the back while we finish hearing this first case."

"I, um, don't think that'll do much good," Ford said.

"He will, however, be grateful for the examination," Teyla said firmly. She balled her right hand into a fist and held it over her heart.

Ford, after a moment of confusion, saw Sheppard salute the Council members and copied him. McKay looked up from his scanner and blinked.

"Ancestorsgrantusgoodwillandclearjudgmentinthisourcouncilmeetingsomoteitbe," said the first Councilwoman.

"Make it so!" everyone chorused, and put any hats they might have been wearing back on.

A grey-haired man with a kindly, patient face sitting near the floor of the court beckoned to Ford, and the lieutenant nervously made his way down to the Council floor and followed the healer into the back room.

The Council was most immediately concerned with what seemed to be the second day of a civil suit about somebody's pig that had gotten loose and caused damage at an adjoining household.

"Cheejeenka!" a loud shout came from the Council's back room.

"Ford?" Sheppard activated his radio.

"Situation under control, sir. Mr. ah Lahkdizol here was just startled."

"What have you unleashed?" the guy who owned the pig demanded, breaking off his speech.

"Contempt!" another Councilman said. "Three measures, Chardiran. You know the rules."

Chardiran made notes with a stick on something that looked like a glazed clipboard and handed it over with a dirty look to one of the people who seemed to be Daunt bureaucracy. He finished his speech rather jerkily as Ford and ah Lahkdizol came back out and waited at the edge of the court, carrying three hats.

The Council members leaned together and waved their hands at each other, occasionally murmuring a low word.

When they straightened, the Councilwoman in the flowered hat announced "Chardiran will repair their pig-shed and pay for the damage to the Terramar garden. Terramar will pay for repairs to the shared fence, and when their sow farrows, Chardiran will buy as many of her piglets as Terramar wishes at prices to be set by the Council. The Council has decided; it is done."

All parties in the case moved back up the steps, muttering in apparently fairly even discontent.

"If you have something to report, ah Lahkdizol?" the Councilman who had greeted Sardukann asked.

"The young man isn't suffering an illness," the healer explained. "He's under a spell." He took Ford's hat off to illustrate.

There was a collective indrawn breath throughout the building.

"Witchcraft or wizardry?" the last Councilmember, the one who had been silent all morning, asked sharply.

"Wizardry," Teyla said at once. "His people, the Atlanteans, are great wizards. Doctor McKay, who has accompanied us -- his title of 'doctor' denotes a master wizard -- "

"A doctorate is on beyond a master's," McKay interrupted her. Sheppard quietly elbowed his shock-reducing tactical vest.

"Forgive me. A leader of wizardry, then -- is the Chief Wizard in Atlantis, and has devoted his study to the arcane discipline of physics."

"Is physics the one about changing things into things?" a small child asked, eyes round.

"No," an older girl said importantly. "Physics is the secrets of stars and the opening of the Ring of the Ancestors and why noise sometimes lags on its way across a long field and all sorts of movement."

"There's nothing secret about physics," McKay began. "It follows directly from observed phenomena -- "

And he proceeded to lecture the startled Daunters on the rudiments of physics, certain natural laws that they might easily observe, the speed of sound relative to the speed of light, the theory of relativity, Newton's laws of motion and Einstein's other modifications of same, Keplerian orbits, and so on, and so forth for the better part of an hour -- at the end of which, if the level of scientific knowledge on Daunt had not been significantly raised, its people were at least ignorant in far greater detail than they had been before.

"Er -- thank you," the lead Councilwoman said. "That was very, ah -- informative. Yes. We will now examine the case of nat Chienar and nat Lahkdizol."

This proved to be an argument between two of the small children over the proper ownership of a large frog-like creature they had caught in a creek. The Council gravely listened to their arguments with as much respect as they had given the pig issue.

"I keep expecting them to announce they're going to chop it in half," Ford confessed, quietly working his way through more hats.

"That is the traditional method, isn't it?" Sheppard grinned.

"Chop it in half?" Kina sounded appalled. "How is it fair to deprive them both of their pet?"

"Or to slay it for a mere human disagreement?" Teyla looked equally shocked.

"No, no," Ford said. "The idea is that the one who says 'Give him to the other one, only please don't kill him!' is the real owner."

"Or, at any rate, the person best suited to have charge of an animal or small child," Sheppard amplified.

"Yes, but how often would someone not?" Teyla asked. "Such a device would only rarely be useful."

"Argh," McKay groaned. "Two hundred hats, and we don't know a thing more than we did after the first one."

"Actually, that last was the two hundred and seventh hat to be taken off."

And after that, finally, Teyla addressed the Council and offered to trade for food.

"Our harvest has been scant enough," the more outspoken of the two Councilwomen said. "Why should we trade some of it with you?"

"We have the ability to lift more weight than several cows could pull," Sheppard said thoughtfully. "I heard something about moving your Stargate?"

"The Ring of the Ancestors," Teyla translated.

"That... might be doable," the Councilwoman in the flowered hat said. "We had such an arrangement with the Ladonna before..."

"If we do it, it'll get done faster," Sheppard pointed out.

"Swiftly enough that our assistance might well be more valuable to you than that of the Ladonna," Teyla added.

"We paid the Ladonna by the hour," the oldest Councilman remarked. "Would such an arrangement be acceptable to the... Atlanteans?"

"For more per hour than you were paying these Ladonna, certainly," Sheppard said.

Teyla casually and unobtrusively toed his ankle, and said "But we shall ask you to pay some more food for people rather than fodder for animals, which also affects our asking price."

"Oh, and if anyone wants to trade some food on a smaller scale right now," Sheppard added, "we have two hundred and forty attractive and size-adjustable hats."

 

Elizabeth always tried to be on the balcony, at least, to greet the returning gate teams.

She had to hurry, a little, when AR-1 called in an hour and a half before their scheduled return; but she was out and leaning over the balcony when they trotted through the gate, pulling two rickshaws loaded with sacks and singing "Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood" in three separate keys, Teyla providing a sort of high wordless descant to one or the other of them here and there.

"I take it it went well," Elizabeth said, her gaze traveling from one smile to the next and stopping at Ford's floppy black cavalier hat with flowing white plume. "Lieutenant..."

"Ma'am," Ford said, and swept the hat off, making an overly melodramatic leg. A floppy black cavalier hat with two flowing white plumes tumbled off as he bowed his head forward, and he straightened up with a floppy black cavalier hat with three flowing plumes on his head.

"Aiden," she said rather blankly.

"They've been doing that since last night." McKay once more sounded irritated. "I couldn't work out what it was with what I had, so if you'll let me borrow him and start working on it now -- "

"Don't I get a say in this?" Ford asked.

McKay favored him with a look reserved for simian anthropoids, small children, and particularly brain-dead minions. "No."

"Number three hundred and fifty-one was a fedora," Sheppard said, "and they started getting fancier from there. Probably because a baseball cap is plainer than a hat with a feather to begin with."

"That! That is the most unscientific -- "

"Have you got a better hypothesis?"

"You're all right?" Elizabeth cut off the John-and-Rodney show. (She wondered, sometimes, about the feasibility of getting them to do it on command. Perhaps, if Atlantis had security tapes, she could get one of the technicians to cut together a best-of album and put it up on the shared server.)

"I'm fine, Dr. Weir," Ford said.

"We conducted a most successful agreement," Teyla said.

"We kind of promised we'd help them move their Stargate in ten days and lend them some workers at harvest," Sheppard explained, "in return for a portion of their grain harvest and some of their seed stock. Also, we traded a hundred and ninety-six of Ford's generated baseball caps for some beans and fruit and leafy green vegetables." He waved an arm at the rickshaws. "The carts were a loaner, though, so we have to bring them with us when we come back."

"Come on," McKay said. "I want to run some tests in a properly monitored environment." A faintly queasy expression crossed his face, and his hands dropped automatically to the vicinity of his abdomen. "That is. In. Uh. Just a second."

 

The testing had made its way through the infirmary (with Carson being even more Scottish than usual in his discombobulation) and McKay's lab (which rapidly proved to be inadequate to contain both people and hats) before moving out onto the South Pier, where Ford could sit on a folding stool Teyla brought out, the scientists could look at readings and discuss them excitedly at the top of their lungs, the Marines could inventory (wildly varying but) ever more elaborate hats into piles and reaffirm the homosocial bonds of the service by indulging in jocular remarks at their lieutenant's expense, and everyone else who cared to miss dinner could get an eyeful.

"Move the Stargate?" Elizabeth returned to the subject quietly. She and Sheppard had taken up a watch in the quiet space the other scientists had left just behind McKay.

"I figure two puddlejumpers should be able to carry it anywhere the Daunters want to put it," Sheppard said. "We can rig up some sort of sling or something."

"And attach it how?" Elizabeth asked. "Rodney?"

"I'm busy."

"Number four hundred and forty-three," Kavanagh announced as he typed, "tall red silk top hat with ribbon hatband, diamond buckle, and bunch of flowers."

McKay glanced at it quickly before pressing his fists into the upper curves of his buttocks, a distressed look on his face.

"Rodney, if you've promised the use of puddlejumpers in an external-cargo carrying capacity, I need to know that we can deliver."

"Talk to him," McKay snapped at Elizabeth, whipping one of his arms away to yank on Zelenka's sleeve. "Be right back. Don't rush through things without me."

"Excuse me?" Zelenka blinked.

"I have a question about the puddlejumpers..." Elizabeth began as McKay trotted back to the nearby transporter for the third time in two hours.

Zelenka lit up and hurried over, narrowly avoiding colliding with his supervisor. They both, first, cast longing looks at where Ford was taking off a red felt hat with an arrangement of flowers and a stuffed bird.

"Nice hat, Lieutenant," Bates said.

"I think my grandma has one like this..." Ford groaned.

 

"Number four hundred and fifty-one -- "

"That looks like the last one in the book," Markham remarked.

"So it does," Stackhouse agreed. "Maybe your count was off?"

"No, the Major counted," McKay said absently. "Hm."

"If it isn't tracking, this could be considerably more dangerous," Kavanagh said. He leaned back a little, but his feet stayed firmly planted where he stood.

"If Atlantis rolled over in the water, we'd have to move into the subbasements," McKay snorted. "While you're theorizing in advance of data, some of us are trying to use the scientific method. Take your hat off."

Teyla and Zelenka stepped forward and carefully lifted the elaborate contraption off.

"Number four hundred and fifty-two," Zelenka observed, relinquishing the burden to Teyla. "White silk turban."

"That is a splendid hat," Elizabeth remarked, looking at #451.

"You can keep it, ma'am," Ford said. "We might run across someone we want to impress." He tried to lift the turban off. It stayed put. "How do you get this thing off?"

"Here," Corporal Kaur said, stepping behind him and guiding his hands to the end of the white fabric, walking him through the first stages of unravelling and then walking around him, rolling the silk up in her hands as he unwound it from his head and revealed a purple silk turban of the same size.

 

After the seven turbans, the hats got more elaborate in stranger ways. There was an upside-down basket with slits for his eyes that tied under his chin --

"Umbrella hat," Miko offered, after McKay and Bates confessed themselves baffled;

-- a hat whose brim was literally the size of a large umbrella and again needed two people to lift off, despite its simple crown with a bow on the hatband; a hat with a pile of false hair on it; a hat with a pile of false hair with a model sailing ship on it; an eagle-feather bonnet with two trails down the back; a hat like a Chinese pagoda; what appeared to be the crown of the United Kingdom, complete with jewels; and a series of taller and taller hats with more and more features.

"Nice naked lady, sir," one of the Marines remarked.

"What naked lady?" Ford asked.

"There is an, apparently anatomically accurate, mannequin halfway up the right side of Number Four Hundred and Ninety-Eight's conglomeration," Kavanagh said, not bothering to look up from his laptop.

"Is this the four hundred and ninety-eighth to be generated, or the four hundred and ninety-eighth to be taken off?" Elizabeth suddenly asked.

Everyone looked at their shoes.

"I was counting his original hat as Number One," Sheppard offered.

"Was it counted in the book?" Ford said. "I can't remember."

Neither could anyone else.

#498 took three marines to remove without breaking anything. #499 was heavier.

"It's a potted lemon tree," McKay said. "That's just wrong."

"If it will grow, we can reserve more of our supply of Vitamin C for you," Annemarie Szujewska remarked.

"What about this calls for a nutritionist?" Kavanagh complained.

Szujewska laughed. "Are you kidding? Everyone's out here."

"Holy shit," Markham said, staring at #500. "Sorry, ma'am."

"That's all right," Elizabeth said absently, staring herself.

"What?" Ford said. He turned his head, carefully, looking at all the people around him.

"It's like all of Las Vegas crammed into one hat," Simpson told him. "Neon lights and glass and metal and spangles and I don't know what."

"That's a woefully inadequate description," Kavanagh said.

"You describe it, then."

"Do I look like someone who works with words for a living?"

"The little ones are all grown up," Zelenka murmured softly. Elizabeth laughed.

"What in the world are you talking about?" McKay demanded. "Okay, okay, attention, everyone! Military-type persons! Take the hat off."

Three marines and Teyla carefully took the hat off and set it down at Ford's feet. It was pretty awesome, Ford noted, and no wonder his neck had been hurting, with all that weight on it.

For a moment he thought -- but he lifted one hand up, and felt a hat brim.

"Oh, my," Beckett breathed.

"Goodness," Elizabeth said.

"That," Zelenka said. "That is -- "

"That," said McKay, "is the Platonic Form of fedoras."

"Cool," said Sheppard. "Lieutenant, may I?"

Ford nodded, and Sheppard very gently lifted the hat from his executive officer's head and held it in front of him.

Ford's grandfather had a hat like that, but this one was both unbattered and -- in proportion somehow, in a way that very few things ever were. It was a quiet, soft grey, with a darker grey hatband, and seemed almost luminous without giving off any actual light. If he'd been the sort of person to think it of articles of clothing, he would have thought, sitting on the South Pier with the sunset breeze blowing through his curls, that the hat was beautiful.

The breeze.

"Oh, hey," Ford said.

"Five hundred plus the original," McKay observed. He nodded once, firmly. "Right."

This appeared to be the crowd's cue to notice Ford's bare head, and half of them raised a ragged cheer.

"I fail to see how this is an accomplishment," Kavanagh snorted.

McKay nodded, and then made a face at himself.

Ford jumped up suddenly. "Where'd we put the first lot?"

"Over there," Teyla told him, blinking in puzzlement as Ford raced over to the pile of black baseball caps.

"Man, I hope we didn't trade it away," Ford said, turning over five caps before seizing on the sixth with an "Aha!"

"Aha?" Stackhouse asked.

"This one's my hat."

"How do you know?" Zelenka asked.

Ford turned the left edge inside out, revealing the name-tape AIDEN FORD ironed into place above the sweatband.

"I've had it since high school," he said cheerfully, and was about to stuff it into a cargo pocket when McKay caught his wrist.

"If that's the original," McKay said, "I need to run tests."

"But my hat," Ford protested.

"Will be returned to you, intact," Zelenka promised him.

"But -- " McKay protested.

"We would not destroy your diploma for analysis, yes?"

Sheppard began giving orders for the transport of hats to one of the empty quarters designated as personal effects storage, and Elizabeth said "When will you have any ideas as to what caused this?"

"Ideas? Now," McKay said. "Dozens of hypotheses. Anything resembling a theory? We'll have to go through all the data before we can even begin to select hypotheses for testing."

"For now," Zelenka said, "I am inclined to believe that even should we discover what triggered the creation of hats, we will still be confounded as to how it did so."

"I'm a little disappointed," Szujewska said. "I was sort of hoping that the last hat would be a ZPM."

"Oh, is that why you were breathing down his neck?" Kavanagh asked.

"You don't think this drained a Z.P.M. somewhere, do you?" McKay demanded.

"So we don't know, and we don't know when we'll know," Elizabeth summed up.

"I guess it was just one of those things that happened to happen," Ford shrugged.

"Lieutenant Ford," McKay said firmly. "I am giving you advance warning now that if you take it into your head to run a zoo, or a circus, or to care for eggs or children dumped on you by strange females, I will make your shower run oobleck."

"Rodney," Elizabeth said.

"Understood, sir," Ford said, and with a last longing look at his hat in Dr. McKay's hand, headed in to see if there was anything left of supper.

There was.

And it was still hot.