The gate opened.
“Raise the shield,” Carter ordered.
The Atlantis gateroom went tense as Chuck complied. This new world of theirs, this New Lantea, was still strange. Stranger still was the knowledge that they no longer had control over who knew their new address. Sheppard trusted the Athosians to disseminate that information. The Athosians waited until the city was repaired and declared safe then gave that information to select Wanderers who were known to act as living maps. Now there was no way to keep the information quiet and Sam Carter didn't like it.
Colonel Carter was shaping up to be a much stricter leader than Elizabeth ever was.
Chuck announced an IDC. It was the Athosians.
Carter sighed heavily. The entire gateroom watched as she hesitated. Thankfully she wasn't alone.
“Lower the shield,” Sheppard ordered.
Carter glanced coldly at him as Chuck complied just in time for the little girl to step through. She stopped at the threshold and looked around, her eyes darting about chaotically in a manner that marked her as a Wanderer. Finally those eyes landed on Sheppard and she grinned, padding up to him. She handed him a heavy paper envelope tied with red wax and string.
Sheppard took the envelope. “Thank you,” he said. The girl giggled and looked down before becoming distracted and she sat on the gateroom steps to trace the Ancient writing etched into the steps.
The envelope was a familiar make. The Genii used this type of paper and the wax seal crest of the Radim family was now familiar to most of the expedition. Sheppard held it up for Carter's perusal.
“We should take this to the conference room,” Carter said.
“We need to call a meeting, don't we,” Sheppard realized.
“You need to read it,” the girl said, not looking up.
“I gathered that,” Sheppard said. “That's why we're going to have a meeting.”
“I need to make sure you read it.”
“I assure you, we'll read it,” Carter said.
The girl looked up, face stern and her eyes not quite meeting theirs. “I need to make sure you read it because I need to bring your answer back,” she said. “I can't know it's a real answer unless I know you've read it.”
Sheppard sighed and pulled the string on the envelope, breaking the wax seal. The girl picked up one of the red shards of dried wax and put it in a pouch on her skirt. Sheppard pretended not to notice and pulled the delicate light blue paper from its drab brown envelope. He suddenly knew what this was and he did not look forward to it.
The Genii threw boring balls with no music and strange mandatory costuming that made Teyla angry and disallowed Rodney the right to wear pants. And now they were formally invited to another one to welcome their new leader Colonel Carter. Or to size her up as an opponent. With the Genii it could be either one or even both. To be fair, this all could have been a ploy to make sure the Athosian-spread address was correct.
“We'll go,” Sheppard said.
“To what?” Carter demanded.
“We'll go,” Sheppard said again, enunciating carefully.
The girl looked up, her eyes focused on Sheppard's distinctly pointed ears. Then her eyes moved to Carter's distinctly human ears and her annoyance at being left out of the loop. Then back to Sheppard. “Okay,” she said. The girl stood up and padded over to Chuck. “Dial Genia Tertius,” she ordered.
Chuck looked back at Carter and Sheppard. Sheppard nodded. “Dial Genia,” Carter growled, glaring at him.
Chuck turned away and dialed the gate. Symbols flashed on the console and the gate until the wormhole opened with a splash and the little girl padded through.
And then it was over and Sheppard stood on the gateroom floor holding a Genii invitation while Colonel Carter glared at him and called a staff meeting.
This was shaping up to be a bad day.
Atlantis was out of hand.
To be fair to Colonel Carter's leadership, it began out of hand. Not even a few months in the Genii took advantage of the situation and looted a book bound in red leather, the so-called Red Book, a copy of The Silmarillion. It was supposed to be fiction. It really was. Even when Dr. Weir decided it was safer for everyone involved to go along with the Genii misunderstanding, to pretend The Silmarillion was a holy text from Earth, it was supposed to be fiction.
It was funny when it was fiction. Colonel Carter enjoyed the opportunity to play, forwarding General O'Neill's joke packages full of Tolkien books and finding bearded engineers to pad the expedition with 'dwarves'. But then they found Ancients who had pointed ears and long hair and inhuman grace and now the ATA-active were developing those same features. The 'dwarven' engineers sang to their projects as they grew replacement crystals through methods thought lost in the half-indecipherable database. Dr. McKay had furry hobbit feet and his hair was curling, though he insisted this was a pre-existing condition and had nothing to do with his month spent AWOL on Scrinia with his wife and husband.
It wasn't funny anymore. It was out of hand.
Colonel Sheppard and Major Lorne both had pointed ears, though Lorne could still pass for human if he tried. Dr. Carson Beckett's ears were more subtle, or maybe he hid them better under his lengthening hair. Dr. McKay padded in barefoot, the curly blond-red hair on his feet as thick as the hair on his head. Dr. Zelenka followed him; he thankfully still looked normal but he called his bearded engineers his 'dwarrow' as though this were all normal, even desirable. Teyla and Ronon came last, they were Pegasus natives and therefore seemed immune to this 'Tolkienization' of the expedition.
It was supposed to be a joke. It was supposed to be a way of teasing the expedition for a situation they allowed themselves to get into. 'Ha ha, you have to act like elves', that sort of thing. They weren't supposed to be elves.
“I heard the Genii sent a Wanderer through the gate,” Teyla began.
“They did,” Sheppard said, still holding the delicate blue invitation.
“Not another one,” Rodney groaned.
“Another what?” Carter demanded. “What did you agree to?”
“Relax, it's a party,” Sheppard said.
“A really boring party,” Lorne supplied.
“Ah'll stay behin' this time,” Carson said helpfully.
“You stay behind every time,” Zelenka said.
“Maybe we can rotate,” Rodney suggested. “You can go and be denied pants this time. I promise, none of the scientists in attendance wear pants. I don't think we're allowed.”
“Gentlemen,” Carter called. The conference room went quiet. “Do we trust this invitation? It was carried in by a child.”
“Oh, a Wanderer sent it?” Teyla asked. “Not a simple courier? Or a message left with my people? Then the invitation must be serious. It would be a grave insult to ignore this.”
“What is a 'Wanderer'?” Carter asked.
“Autistic kid,” Sheppard said. “The Genii use them as spies. And they used the blue paper with the red wax.”
“The red wax?” Ronon asked. “Never even seen the red wax.”
Carter hoped Sheppard was messing with her. But if he was then Ronon and Teyla must be in on the joke as well since they seemed to take this all far too seriously. That left her with the sinking feeling that he was also serious and that meant she had no idea what this galaxy was really like. Reports would never be enough.
“Who do the Genii expect to attend?” Teyla asked.
Sheppard read from the paper. “Myself, Rodney, Sam, you and Ronon, and a 'full retinue' of engineers, advisers, scientists, and soldiers. They mention allowing ceremonial weapons and ask that we bring a skilled master for demonstration.”
“They want sword dancing?” Lorne asked. “Why?”
“They want us to bring the entertainment, hmm?” Rodney asked, contemplating.
“Bad idea, Rodney,” Sheppard warned.
“Just because they're afraid of music doesn't mean I can't bring my own.”
Carter dropped into her seat. It appeared she wasn't going to regain control of this situation. “When is it?” she asked.
Sheppard did the calculations in his head, converting the Genii time system to New Lantean and then to Earth and back. “About six days,” he said. Then he amended. “Five day-night cycles. 1500 hours on what you still call Saturday.”
“On Saturday,” Carter said, emphasizing the word. As though that should have been Sheppard's first thought, not this strange conversion to New Lantea's 27 and a half hour days. And there was no reason New Lantea shouldn't keep Earth's days of the week.
“Saturday,” Sheppard allowed. “They'll provide the costuming, as usual. Oh, hey, this is new. 'In light of recent information and events, we encourage our guests to decorate their hair as they so choose.' Wonder what brought that on.”
Carter pointedly glanced at Sheppard and his wild hair that fell far past regulation length, threatening to cascade past his shoulders. Lorne was less bad, though he seemed to be testing the regulations on hair length as well as he had to keep tucking stray hairs back behind his ears. She might have an idea. The Tolkien books were quite clear how elves viewed their hair.
“That means no pants,” Rodney muttered.
“Relax, you can bring other scientists to suffer as you do,” Lorne said cheerfully. “I volunteer to stay behind.”
“Traitor,” Sheppard muttered.
Carter sighed. It appeared they were invited to a ball and there was nothing she could do about it.