Rodney glared at his image in the mirror. His hair was ... blue. No matter how he twisted and turned, asked Atlantis to raise or dim the lights, his hair remained blue. There was only one option, whether he liked the thought of revealing his sky-blue hair to the general populace. So he left his quarters, hurrying off to find Carson.
Three hours later (and perhaps not so coincidentally nine days after Atlantis had splashed down on their newest home, a planet designated as P3X 89), after he'd donated even more vials of his precious blood to the vampire in the Infirmary who claimed to still be his best friend, Rodney had stomped out, seeing dozens of people with hair in varying shades of blue (including one slouchy, inky-blue spiked-hair Colonel leaning against the wall, pretending to be nonchalant) crowding the waiting room, apparently all infected overnight as Atlantis must have been subjected to some undeniably alien influence since their return. But Carson and his staff didn't have a clue why. After drawing blood, they'd also plucked several hairs from every patient's head for further study.
Two days later, Carson was no closer to knowing why nearly 20% of the city's population had been affected throughout every segment and occupation, though Dr. Nicholas Farnham, the newly-assigned base psychologist, apparently had a theory. But, first, he needed to call a private meeting with the heads of the Military and Science divisions. Nicholas rubbed his temples, sensing the beginning of a bad headache coming on, as he waited for Col. Sheppard and Dr. McKay to arrive.
it was up to him to decide how to discuss his personal theory regarding the emergency with his colleagues. It wouldn't have been such a hardship, though still a delicate matter, had the changes that had occurred only two days ago not been physical and outwardly visible.
Farnham moved his hands from his temples to run through his short, sensibly-trimmed brown ... well, not brown any longer, as he was now sporting pale blue hair. His movements halted once he heard a chime followed by the sound of his door swooshing open. He acknowledged his visitors as he rose.
"Please, gentlemen, take a seat."
Rodney looked puzzled on top of his default irate mood. "Why are we the only ones here? Where's Carson ... or Richard, for that matter?"
Nicholas sighed. "I've asked only the two of you as we three are the only heads...." His face flushed as he contemplated his unintentional double meaning. "As I was saying, I thought it prudent to discuss the matter only with the base's leaders who seem to have been affected. Despite Mr. Woolsey's pestering and Dr. Beckett's dismay at not finding a direct physical link to the transformations, I wanted to discuss my theory without involving anyone else who wouldn't understand, especially as I am invoking an override to several clauses that would normally protect an individual's privacy in health matters."
John's eyes narrowed. "Understand what, exactly?"
Nicholas took a deep breath before answering. "How a physical manifestation has suddenly become a defining physical indicator of one's sexual orientation, with the exact shade approximating one's placement on the Kinsey or other more precise scales." He ran a hand through his hair. "I know that my pale blue hair corresponds to a primarily heterosexual orientation though I have had some same-sex attraction in my life. I presume that your hair's clear, morning sky hue, Dr. McKay, relates to a more equal attraction to both women and men while you, Colonel, whose hair is a striking ink-blue, are attracted to men exclusively."
John continued to stare without uttering a word, but Rodney's mouth dropped in astonishment. "What? Are you kidding? He's 'Kirk'! There is no way he could be gay!"
John's reaction was swift as he slapped his own thigh in irritation. "Rodney, will you just shut up for once in your life! Or should I just go around calling you an equal-opportunity slut who conveniently forgets to tell his girlfriends and fiancées about straddling the fence?"
Any sound of Rodney's additional protestations ceased immediately, though his lips were still moving.
John nodded stiffly at Nicholas's question. "You're right. Despite an early marriage – though I hope we're still friends after the disruptions at my dad's funeral – it was plain to me that my ... interests lay on the opposite end of the spectrum. But I wanted to fly so much that I tamped down those feelings and concentrated on the job and its duties."
Nicholas nodded. "Still, it's a good thing you haven't had to face such gut-wrenching decisions for a few years ever since the regulations changed. But, if you're wondering, even if the administration were to change, forcing people to take refuge behind closet doors, it won't have any effect here on Atlantis, as all SGC-affiliated personnel are covered by a separate uniform code of conduct administered by the IOA."
John's stiff posture morphed into his more casual slouch. "So, why are we here, exactly?"
While he waited for the emergency staff meeting to come to order, Nicholas observed the department heads and their 2ICs with interest. There were several people whose hair also showed a range of blue hues beyond the Colonel and McKay. Dr. McKay was currently pestering a flustered and worn-out Dr. Carson Beckett whose hair was still its natural colour.
His time of contemplation came to an abrupt end with the clanking sound of the massive doors swinging shut as the current head of the expedition, Richard Woolsey, strode to the table.
All chatter ceased as everyone turned to face Woolsey. "Thank you all for attending. We are facing a matter of unprecedented significance, even if the physical manifestations are confined only to Atlantis and its current physical location." He glanced around him, seeing worried but calm faces. "Dr. Beckett, would you please reveal your findings?"
"Aye. My people tested the blood of all those affected, as well as several samples from others to serve as a control group. Everyone affected showed changes only to the hair on their heads and not to any other facial or body hair. I'm looking forward to the return of Ms. Emmagen and Specialist Dex and both their families from New New Athos, to see whether they've shown any changes, especially as they have visited Earth several times." Carson waved his hand in the direction of Nicholas. "Using the guidelines issued by Dr. Farnham, offering everyone affected the protection of the SGC when personnel are rotated back to Earth, I asked them to confirm their ... ah ... sexual orientation. As I anticipated, hair colour did match each individual's self-assessment."
There was an immediate crescendo of sound as everyone began speaking and gesturing. The sharp rap of a gavel striking the table brought a sudden halt to the unruliness. Its wielder spoke. "Thank you, Doctor. Have you implemented any measures to indicate whether this is a permanent change or if it can be reversed?"
"Aye, Mr. Woolsey, I used those of my own staff who'd been affected as guinea pigs. I sent teams to two separate trading partners. They remained for several days, but there was no change in their hair colour. I dinna know whether staying longer might have made any difference, but I needed my people back here to take care of our own. Nurse Leilani Okada, upon her return, cut off and donated her long hair for more testing. We used a number of hair dyes to see whether the blue colour could be bleached or covered. It canna be done, not even with the most intense chemical formulas."
Richard stared up at the ceiling for a long moment before he addressed Carson's report. "The problem, people, is that this is far more wide-reaching than a mere case of outward appearance. We already have a heavily affected population – currently around 20% - on this base. We need to think about the repercussions when we transfer people in and out from the Milky Way. We'll need to get consent from every single individual – even visiting dignitaries - that their sexual preferences may be revealed and exposed if they remain on Atlantis for longer than a week."
Rodney's spite-filled mutter interrupted him. "There's a few homophobic Neanderthals I'd love to invite here, just to see if they're as pure and straight as they publicly insist."
"Dr. McKay, as much as you might relish a situation where hypocrites are mocked in public, this affects our operations here, right now. Do you have any idea of how this happened? Should we inform the SGC and IOA that we'll be moving again?"
Rodney snapped his fingers. "I knew there was something odd in the particles being emitted by the two suns in this system but never anticipated that they'd affect us on a genetic level, if that's how it's happening. I'd always taken the purely scientific approach that orientation was biological, based on structural differences in the brain, but this seems to be so refined – considering how precise the colours have been so far – that it must be on a cellular level."
Carson jumped in, hearing the opening. "Perhaps we can test our theories back on Earth. If the SGC can harvest a hair plug from several volunteers whose orientation is no secret, so we don't have to worry about privacy or consent protocols, we'll know if the results will reveal a colour change based on the radiation exposure, as per Dr. McKay's assessment. But, really, I'd also like it if we could get duplicate samples preserved and shipped to us so we can evaluate the evidence ourselves under optimal conditions for observation. Even though we won't be using human subjects, we know that hair can be a repository for various elements, many of them toxic. I hope the fact it is no longer connected to its various owners will be irrelevant."
Rodney waved his hands, returning the focus of the room's occupants back to him. "Before I was interrupted, I wanted to say that we shouldn't just move to another planet in Pegasus for this single reason. The Science division looked at multiple factors when choosing. We're much closer to the Milky Way here. The planet is not wracked by extreme weather, so we don't have to worry about epic storms besieging the city. There are abundant flora and fauna that pose no risk to human populations, for which I am personally grateful. With the threat of the Wraith nearly eliminated, there's been a surge in population growth on many worlds, and an encouraging increase in people wanting to repopulate previously culled worlds. So we wouldn't want to interfere by settling on a world that is a source of still-vivid memories to its original inhabitants. Or one that is less than ideal, so was never populated."
"All valid points, Dr. McKay. If you – and everyone present here – can provide me with data from your departments, I'll send our final report to the SGC and recommendations to the IOA in two days' time."
Nicholas raised a hand to prevent Richard from dismissing the meeting just yet. "Mr. Woolsey, we also have the issue of how we should address this development to our own people. Those who were affected, then tested and interviewed, know why we believe they have blue hair. But the general population does not. So far, I haven't heard of any gossip except for the usual rumblings of Pegasus being weird. By the time we're ready to send a transmission to Earth, I will have prepared my recommendations for informing everyone on Atlantis."
Richard's response was efficient. "Agreed."
As the meeting broke up, with people moving out of the conference room, John and Rodney stayed behind, still sitting at the table.
John was the first to speak. "Listen, McKay, I don't like the fact that Teyla and Ronon weren't here, even though they were off planet. How about a Team meeting to get the Pegasus input when they return?"
Rodney nodded. "You're right. Kirsan Fever isn't the only thing that's happened to us just because we're not from this Galaxy. But I wonder how they'll take it, once we reveal just why our hair's changed."
John smirked. "You really think they didn't know about us?"
Rodney sputtered in outrage. "Why should they? I didn't know about you."
John's left eyebrow rose. "Are you sure about that, pal, or is it that you didn't want confirmation of what you suspected?"
Rodney sighed. "Look, I didn't want to suspect what I suspected. It would have made our interactions ... complicated. That's not something I want to discuss now while we still have our daily schedules to fulfill. If you're up for it, we can do our beer-on-the-pier thing. Say 1900 hours. I'll bring the beer. You bring dinner."
It was a beautiful night out on their pier. Once again, Rodney was grateful they'd landed on this world. He'd already spread out the blanket on which he'd set the beer cooler. He was feeling unexpectedly light-hearted, as if he really had nothing to lose with this latest physical manifestation. After all, he wasn't going to "Ascend or Die" or revert to the state of a babbling infant before the "Die" imperative kicked in. He was as healthy as he allowed Carson to determine. To be completely honest, he was relieved that he'd broken up with Jennifer when Atlantis had been on Earth. Even if he'd been willing to overlook his divided attractions, she deserved to have someone who only had eyes for her.
A few minutes later, Rodney heard John's familiar footsteps approaching. John dropped two large insulated bags down onto the blanket before sinking down with his usual ease.
Rodney scowled. "Why don't your knees creak like a normal person's?"
John shook his head. "Rodney, I am a normal person – okay, maybe genetically a slightly superior model. But I work out even if all I do is attend Teyla's stretching classes. Guaranteed 100% meditation free. You really oughtta come to a couple of them. She's really popular with the female contingent."
"Do I look like someone who needs the inducement of female bodies to exercise?" Rodney's voice sounded weary.
John shrugged his shoulders. "Dunno. In fact, now I feel I know less about you than I thought I did."
"Just because you now know I'm bi."
"Well, I figured you might have been exaggerating your attraction to blonde hair and big boobs. To throw people off. Especially when I'm getting the idea that you've also been attracted to my big brain."
"Aren't you jumping to conclusions, Sheppard?"
"Am I? Why would you be so jealous whenever I've attracted the attentions of a strange woman or even a man? And you can't seem to let go of the rude 'Kirk' comments ... which you are going to stop from now on. Right?"
"Yeah, yeah. No more 'Kirk' references. Anyway, what's for dinner?"
John opened both bags, revealing two wrapped plates whose aromas promised roast chicken, mashed tormack with gravy, and green beans. For a while both men concentrated on eating while the food was still hot. Roast chicken, courtesy of the chicken coops they'd erected in an empty exterior lab with access to both sunlight and fresh air, was a popular dinner item for which they didn't have to find a Pegasus substitute. When the city flew back to Atlantis, it had been crammed with many of the comforts of Earth, even if Earth no longer meant home automatically to many.
Finally, having eaten more than their bodies required – but the food had been an emotional treat – they leaned back to look at the skyline. Rodney broke the silence. "Listen, I don't want to sound ridiculous, but does any of this turning blue sound familiar? Seems like something I heard decades ago."
"Maybe because it was something you heard decades ago. At least I did. It was like a popular gay fantasy, thinking that, if everyone who wasn't straight turned blue, homophobia would cease to exist." John sighed, feeling old and defeated. "God, how naïve was that?"
Rodney turned to him. "Not naïve at all. Just hopeful to live in a world without assholes. Well, a different kind of asshole."
John waved a hand lazily above him. "Nah, you're not an asshole, Rodney. You're a tyrant!"
"Oh, well. That's better." Rodney waved his own hand above him, looking at it intently. "At least our skin didn't turn blue. I'm perfectly okay with having blue hair, even when I return to Earth from time to time. I can imagine how much more impressive my Nobel acceptance speech will be, especially as the blue hair would really upset the people in charge of appearance and protocol. They'd have a fit when told the colour couldn't be dyed away."
"I guess I can't complain either. I'd rather have this cool hair than look like a stupid Smurf!"
"I don't think you'd look like a stupid Smurf. An elf, maybe, but not a Smurf."
John batted his arm down to swat at Rodney's abdomen. "Enough with the elf ears. No 'Kirk' and no pointy ears."
Rodney huffed. "Well, if I can't offer editorial content, then what can I do?"
"How about inviting me over for dessert? I know you have a supply of decadent chocolate and coffee."
"Okay, okay. Chocolate and coffee are on me. And, in the interest of getting to know each other better, allow me to introduce myself. How do you do? I'm blue."
"Hey, good one, buddy. I'm blue, too. Shall we?" As he stood up easily, again without his knees announcing the fact, he offered Rodney a helping hand.
The two men stuffed the debris of their picnic dinner into the empty cooler, folded up the blanket, and made their way back to the populated areas of the city, their city. John was wondering how freaked out O'Neill would be when he heard about this latest Atlantis idiosyncrasy, but then reasoned that at least he'd be relieved they hadn't been taken over by the Goa'uld. Or any other egoistic assholes.
Rodney was cackling with raucous glee at his own future reveal to Jeannie – once there was an officially sanctioned explanation – and that it might just be enough to make her stop comparing him to Sheppard. When John stopped long enough to frown in confusion, Rodney motioned for him to keep walking. "It's not important. But the thought of having five whole minutes in her presence without being ridiculed would be better than a year's coffee supply."
"Hey, let me talk to her first and I'll guarantee you she'll never ridicule you again. At least not when it involves your looks compared to mine."
Rodney looked startled. "You'd do that for me?"
"Sure thing. I'd rather you share that coffee with me instead."
"Deal. You get my sister off my back and I'll share all of my worldly goods with you."
John's smile was dazzling. "All of them? Huh. In that case, I'll have to start checking your math for you."
Their shoulders brushed as they continued their walk back to Rodney's quarters in companionable silence. If their fingers happened to twine once or twice along the route, it must have been a trick of the light. Or shadows. Or that rare occurrence when one blue is in perfect harmony with another blue.