As planets went, Ingardeia seemed boring. They walked from the Stargate to the nearest settlement, slowly because of rough terrain and a light drizzle that never stopped and made everything damp – uniform, footwear, hair, and even weapons. There was nothing much to see; the trees were ordinary enough, there were low hills but no mountains and no spectacular views, and because of the rain whatever birds or mammals might have been around were sensibly hidden in whatever dry corners they could find.
When they reached what passed for civilisation, a town that announced itself as Garveira, they introduced themselves and found the ruling elders, at least, had heard of Atlantis and of Teyla’s attempts to set up trading agreements. Nobody was very interested, and it turned out they had little or nothing to trade. There were crops, but nothing that wouldn’t grow elsewhere. There was light industry but the Ingardeians didn’t manufacture anything that couldn’t easily be made by any group, almost anywhere. There were scientists, who were only slightly behind those of Atlantis in their research and thinking, but that meant they had nothing to offer other than their actual research skills and none of them apparently wanted to leave the planet, even temporarily.
The accommodation was reasonably comfortable: single rooms with adequate en suite facilities and soft beds. The food was substantial if somewhat tasteless, and the cooks seemed to understand Rodney’s strictures about citrus. They gathered that Ingardeia didn’t have citrus or any citrus lookalikes, just as it didn’t have much in the way of spices or garlic or anything that might provide distinctive flavour.
Teyla wanted to continue the negotiations even when the others were itching to return to Atlantis.
‘We haven’t gone through everything yet,’ she pointed out. ‘And there might be youngsters who would welcome the chance to study or train with us.’
‘Not if they’re as dull as their parents,’ muttered Rodney, and Ronon nodded. John tried to keep an open mind as leader of the expedition but really, Ingardeia had nothing to recommend it, nothing to trade, and nothing to entice them to stay.
‘I think we should go,’ he said, ignoring the looks of relief shown by Rodney and Ronon and the look of frustration shown by Teyla. It was his decision, after all, and he hadn’t allowed the others to influence him. Only his own absolute boredom.
So at dinner that evening, dinner in the main hall of the settlement, where most of the people ate at least once a day, he announced that they would be leaving in the morning but would keep in touch.
‘No.’ It was only one word but it was said by Elder Jose and it sounded very final indeed.
‘I’m afraid we’ve decided,’ said John, trying for a happy medium between apology and firmness.
‘So have we,’ said Elder Jose, and without warning the team found themselves handcuffed, bound with ankle-chains that permitted but restricted movement, and marched off to their quarters which remained comfortable but now had guards on every door and bars that snapped into place on the windows as they entered their rooms.
Elder Jose spoke to them through some kind of intercom system that fed into every space, even the bathrooms. ‘We’re sorry to treat you as prisoners. We had hoped to negotiate your cooperation but we can’t risk you leaving before we use you in our trials. There are microphones in your rooms so if you want to say anything, please just speak normally and we will all hear you.’
‘Trials? What kind of trials, and why haven’t you mentioned them so far?’ John was feeling irritated, both by the behaviour of their hosts and by his own laxity. He had allowed them all to let their guard down and be complacent, assuming a friendly atmosphere. He knew the irritation coloured his voice but didn’t much care. The ankle chains had been removed but not the handcuffs and there was no longer any pretence of friendship.
‘We are trialling some drugs based on one of our plants,’ came the response. ‘We need to use people who are not members of our immediate community. We were going to send to Ambereia, the next city, but you are here and they are there; they’re two moon phases away and you’re right here with us.’
‘What kind of plant? Why can’t we take samples and research everything for you? You did understand the bit about us having a biology research team, didn’t you?’ John had no desire for any of them to be guinea pigs in some old-fashioned research.
‘We understood,’ said Jose, ‘but we heard you saying we had nothing you needed, so we have no bargaining power. We do, however, have you.’ They must, thought John, have been listening to everything they said all along. Again, he wanted to hit himself over the head for not seeing through the apparent pleasantness.
‘I’m sure we can find something,’ was Teyla’s contribution.
‘In time, maybe, but meanwhile, here you are, and we intend to make use of you. You won’t be permanently harmed, and we will gain a great deal of knowledge.’
‘So what is this plant?’ Rodney, as the scientist of the team, clearly felt obliged to ask the question that had already been put but not answered. John hoped the reply would lead them to something already researched on Atlantis or even by the Athosians or Satedans. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
The plants are the root vegetables you’ve had at almost every meal,’ said a new voice, possibly that of Manel, the chief scientist who had been talking to Rodney on a daily basis during their week’s stay. ‘But we’ve had some strange results from their flower pollen when people have been harvesting them, and we’ve been looking into possibilities, both with a view to counteracting those results and perhaps creating new drugs.’
‘Pollen?’ Rodney and Teyla spoke at once.
‘Yes, the people picking the crop this year reacted oddly. There was a bumper harvest and they were exposed to more pollen than usual. The roots are lifted just as the flowers bloom, you see.’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Rodney, ‘but what are these odd effects and why would we be the right people to act as some kind of control group?’ John could hear Rodney’s frustration and was half glad he was not alone in feeling annoyed. In fact, annoyed was a mild term for how he felt about both the handcuffs and the proposed trials.
‘The people who labour to bring the crops in,’ said another new voice, one that sounded like Edo, the leader of the farmers’ co-operative, ‘are mostly young women and teenagers. The teenagers fell into what appeared to be an uncontrollable sexual frenzy, partnering with whoever was nearest, and then of course feeling extreme remorse later. The women were not affected, but we assume that’s because they are expected to satisfy their husbands and so had plenty of opportunity to sate their unnatural desires.’ John heard Teyla gasp at the poorly concealed misogyny.
‘So what is it you expect of us?’ It was Ronon who asked, fairly calmly. ‘We’re not teenagers, we’re not farm workers, and we’re not even inhabitants of Ingardeia. I don’t see how we can help you.’
‘Only our teenagers are unmarried,’ said Manel. ‘So to have adults who are also unmarried will at least let us know whether the effects are universal or confined to youngsters. If the latter, we can stop teenagers harvesting while the pollen count is high. We can ask more young married women to step into their place. We’ve done that anyway, for this year, but we need to know what to do in future.’ Rodney was spluttering, and John was trying hard not to laugh, though the enormity of the plan wasn’t really funny.
‘So what we intend,’ Manel went on, ‘is to bring quantities of pollen to you. We’ll make sure you have access to each other, in pairs. There won’t be any lasting effects. All our young people have recovered.’
‘And the pollen,’ added Edo, will be collected and brought by adult men, who, even if accidentally exposed, have women at home ready and willing to satisfy t
‘You have no single adults?’ Ronon sounded seriously surprised.
‘No,’ said Elder Jose. ‘It is not allowed. If anyone fails to choose a husband or wife they are subject to an arranged marriage. If they refuse that, they are cast out of the community. There may be a few people like that living in the woods but we are not in contact with them.’ He sounded certain and self-satisfied. John thought briefly that he would not like to live in this society, then thought at some length that they were, in fact, living in it, and being controlled by it. Weapons would be no use against pollen. It wasn’t as if they could refrain from breathing. ‘And of course,’ Jose went on, ‘the affected teenagers will be married to others who were affected so that they can’t criticise their partners.’
‘I’ve read stories about fictional encounters with sex pollen,’ said John. ‘I always thought they were stupid, but you seem to have found the real thing. I suppose there’s no way we can refuse to participate.’
‘No,’ said Jose. It was, John reflected, one of the elder’s favourite words.
Teyla was led into Ronon’s room. Teyla said for the benefit of John and Rodney that their handcuffs remained in place but were loosened slightly. Teyla had time to ask what they intended then John heard her sharp intake of breath.
‘Stuff in the air from the vents,’ said Ronon. ‘We’re breathing a kind of dust.’ He coughed then coughed again.
‘This is boring,’ Teyla declared. ‘I feel tempted to hug Ronon just to get some kind of reaction out of our captors.’
‘Oh no you don’t,’ growled Ronon, and John heard scuffling as the pair apparently moved as far apart as Ronon could arrange in the small room. The coughing continued.
‘No result,’ declared Manel after perhaps half an hour had elapsed. ‘We thought you were the most likely couple but we were wrong. We’ll try again.’
Before anyone could say anything, Teyla was brought to Rodney and the whole process started again. When the pollen was blown into the room, Rodney immediately started to sneeze.
‘Someone stop this,’ he said, between explosions. ‘You said no permanent harm but this is definitely temporary harm and it’s making me feel ill. For all I know, it could be permanent.’ Silence. Teyla could then be heard murmuring soothing but inaudible words to Rodney. ‘It’s all very well for you,’ he almost shouted. ‘You aren’t sneezing yourself stupid. What if I turn out to be as allergic to this stuff as I am to citrus?’ It didn’t, reflected John, sound remotely romantic or sexual. He hoped Rodney would not turn out to be allergic to the pollen beyond sneezing. There was nothing he could do to help his team member and friend.
‘No result.’ Manel sounded annoyed this time but Teyla was soon brought to John. They glared at each other. Although Teyla was attractive John had no intention of having any kind of liaison with a team member, pollen-directed or not. And by the look on her face, Teyla agreed whole-heartedly. Neither of them coughed or sneezed when pollen filled the room and in that sense it was the most boring of the trials.
‘No result,’ Manel said eventually. ‘What is it with you people ?’
‘Has it occurred to you that we are not Ingardeians so might have a slightly different physical make-up, and that we might well have commitments back on Atlantis that would stop us coupling with partners here?’ Rodney was trying to sound formal and scientific but succeeded in adding a whining note to what he said.
‘Teyla has commitments.’ John spoke musingly. ‘Her relationship with Kanaan might make her off–limits. She won’t react to us, and so we might well not react to her. A sort of keep off sign.’
‘In that case,’ said Manel, ‘at least we know that it’s unmarried or at least uncommitted youngsters we need to worry about.’ He sounded convinced by the theory. Then he continued. ‘But there’s another aspect to the trial. We said the teenagers partnered with whoever was nearest and that included people of their own gender. Naturally they were almost overcome with shame and contrition afterwards. We gather from what we’ve heard that perversions are common on Atlantis so we need to check out same gender pairings.’
John raised an eyebrow. Not that a microphone would pick that up, but he had to assume there were also cameras in the rooms. First of all, same gender relationships weren’t considered perversions. Even the USA had admitted that recently, and as for Rodney’s Canada... Secondly, he wouldn’t have called them ‘common’, even on Atlantis. But as he considered the matter he heard Ronon expostulate angrily as Rodney was taken into his room. Then there was a great deal of sneezing on Rodney’s part and coughing on Ronon’s as the pollen was introduced...
‘No result.’ Manel was beginning to sound exasperated. He had obviously hoped this would work.
John braced himself for what would follow. Sure enough, Rodney was brought into his room. He wondered how he could refrain from reacting to the pollen if it was indeed a sexual stimulant. He found Rodney wildly attractive but he was a team member, a friend, a colleague. Even a pollen stimulated relationship would amount to something non-consensual and would be unforgivable. Unforgivable by everyone’s standard but particularly by his own.
He sympathised with Rodney’s sneezing when the pollen started to cloud the room’s air. He wanted to hug him, to make him feel better and less alone, but even a hug might be misinterpreted either by Rodney or by the Ingardeians. So he folded his arms, cleared his throat a couple of times, and waited. He felt no compulsion of any kind. But would he? Would he know if he was artificially controlled, corralled into sex against his better judgement? He would never, in his right mind, consider non-consensual or even dubiously consensual sex with anyone at all, let alone someone for whom he had feelings. But might the pollen take over?
Rodney was a quivering mass of sneezes on the bed. John sat on the room’s single chair and did the only thing he could. He waited. He felt quite desperate about the situation. Secretly, he adored Rodney, but would never say so, initially whilst DADT was in force and more recently because Rodney was a team member. He watched his beloved sneeze, and felt bereft because he could offer no comfort for the streaming eyes and obvious discomfort.
Half an hour later, Rodney was led away and Ronon was brought to John. John could admit to being intrigued. He felt no attraction whatsoever to the Satedan. Would the pollen change that? Apart from Ronon’s need to cough when the pollen filled the air yet again there was nothing. No irresistible pull, thank goodness, on the part of either of them. Or, if Ronon felt anything, he was certainly controlled enough not to act on it. John simply spent half an hour feeling bored. It wasn’t as though they wanted to chat, since the Ingardeians could hear every word.
‘No results.’ Manel was clearly desperately disappointed.
They were taken back to the main hall and their cuffs were removed. Elder Jose was not particularly apologetic and nor did he return their weapons which had been taken from them when they had been led to their rooms.
‘So you were no use to us after all,’ was all he said.
‘We’ll have to send to Ambereia,’ said Manel, gloomily.
‘And until then, we’ll have to keep the teenagers away from the pollen,’ said Edo, equally gloomily.
The team said little as they were escorted to the stargate. There didn’t seem much point to telling the Ingardeians Atlantis was unlikely to trade with them in future whatever they found. It had to be as clear as daylight. Though that was perhaps not, John thought, the best comparison. After all, daylight here was clouded with the light rain that never stopped. He felt sorry for the rebels against arranged marriage, the ones living in the woods. He felt sorry for whatever fauna the planet had – there must be a lot of soggy fur and feathers and a lot of non-hunting and non-flying days.
They dialled out, careful to shield Rodney, the one dialling, from the curious stares of their escort. Atlantis wasn’t a secret among the trading worlds, but they could do without surprise visits or requests from this one.
‘You’re sure you don’t have teenagers you could send?’
John wondered why Jose even asked. And yes, they had teenagers in that some of the military were under twenty, but he satisfied himself with a resounding, ‘No’. There were a few Athosian teenagers too, of course, but Jose hadn’t asked and John wouldn’t mention them.
‘At least,’ said Manel, handing him a large packet, ‘let your biologists have a look at this stuff and let us know what they find.’ The yearning in his voice was palpable. John assumed the packet contained pollen and was equally sure he’d have it inspected by everything up to and including bomb detectors before anyone on Atlantis opened it. But he took it. It might be worth looking into.
And then they were through, Ronon bringing up the rear and looking sufficiently menacing that none of the Ingardeians dared try to follow until it was too late. Maybe they wouldn’t have done, anyway. Maybe they were all happy with their sad damp planet and their sad dull society with its sad attitudes to women and to sex.
The packet turned out to be innocent of anything but pollen. It was handed over to the biologists with a few heartfelt words of caution. There were uncommitted members of that team and some of them were quite young.
Elizabeth was furious. ‘They could have asked for volunteers, at the very least,’ she said, fuming. ‘How dare they treat my ambassadors that way?’
‘Because we were there,’ said John. ‘I think they knew they’d get few volunteers, even from their sister city.’
‘They need our trade,’ said Teyla, always willing to find reasons to see the best in anyone.
‘Not if I can help it,’ said Elizabeth, and John concurred.
Parrish didn’t take long to report on the pollen. ‘It might work,’ he said. ‘There’s a mild aphrodisiac effect. But I would think their teenagers simply decided to blame that for casting off their inhibitions. Nobody with any sense would be forced into anything. However, it has, as I said, a slight effect and if anyone wants to try it...’
John insisted that Parrish should keep the pollen safe. ‘We have no idea,’ he said, ‘whether it might also predispose people to ultra-conformity, a dislike of flavoursome food, or homophobic tendencies.’
‘Have you experienced anything like that?’ Parrish was curious but amused.
‘Not really,’ said John. ‘Though to be honest it was hard to re-adapt our taste-buds to our normal food after the bland stuff we were served there. The thing is, any mild effects might easily exacerbate latent tendencies, so until you’ve done some more research I’d rather you didn’t release the pollen for general consumption. Besides, we don’t exactly have much of it. I would think wine and chocolate would be a better bet for anyone wanting to create a romantic or seductive atmosphere.’
He thought hard about what he’d said, and watched the other members of his team for any signs of changes or exaggerations to their personalities. He thought Teyla and Ronon were totally unaffected. Rodney, on the other hand, was still sneezing occasionally, and on one or two occasions John caught him casting longing glances. Or did he? Was he imagining it? Was this just the product of wanting something he couldn’t have?
He discussed the idea of a long-term effect with Becket and Parrish, careful to keep the entire conversation along very general lines. It was possible, of course, that they saw through his protestations of ‘what if?’ and ‘a friend needs to know’ but at least he could claim he had admitted nothing. Then, satisfied that he was not under the influence of anything, and that Rodney probably wasn’t either, he continued to watch his friend.
There were definite glances. He tried to argue with himself that he should do nothing because he was in a sense Rodney’s team leader. But then common sense told him Rodney was the colony’s chief scientist and not a member of the military contingent. He spent a few nights letting this argument rage in his subconscious and was tired and short tempered at work during the day. Common sense won.
He waited for the next Daedalus delivery and collected the wine and chocolates he’d ordered, smiling smugly to himself as he took his acquisitions to his quarters. He would take his own advice and use tried and tested earth routes to seduction.
There’d been a delivery of DVDs, too, and he grabbed a few he thought Rodney would enjoy. At dinner he brought conversation around to the fact that on earth it was now apparently more usual to stream new films or shows, but that DVDs were thankfully still available for personnel in another galaxy.
‘I picked up a few from the Daedalus this time,’ he admitted. Then he asked Rodney what he would like to see and fixed a date for watching in his quarters. Except that whilst it was a definite date, Rodney had no idea it was a romantic date. John hoped he wasn’t wrong, that Rodney would be receptive to his advances. Oh well, if not, there were the wine and chocolate to enjoy as well as the films. He didn’t think Rodney would turn down chocolate even if he then refused any more film dates.
The evening in question came both too quickly and too slowly. John felt like an awkward schoolboy on a first date but he forced himself to put the wine and chocolates on the coffee table and put one of the DVDs into the slot at the side of his TV screen. The chocolates (he had asked for the most romantic selection available and didn’t care that he would be thought to be wooing one of the female colonists) were in a deep red box, two layers of heart shaped sweets, marzipan in dark chocolate, cherries and kirsch in white chocolate, and solid milk chocolate pieces. He had, of course, specified nothing with even a hint of citrus. The wine was a Rioja, and he thought it was at just the right temperature. The DVD was a romantic comedy that sounded light and amusing.
There was a knock at the door, late, but not extraordinarily late. Just late enough to have John biting his nails with nerves. If Rodney realised and didn’t even turn up, how would he face him next time the team went offworld? And if he didn’t realise, and did arrive, could John overcome his nerves and make a real attempt at seduction?
Rodney didn’t seem to realise he was late, didn’t seem to realise anything, John thought, and just sat easily and comfortably on the couch opposite the screen. Then he noticed the wine and chocolates and did a kind of Rodney double-take. He looked up at John, a slight flush making him look quite adorable in John’s eyes.
‘For me?’ he asked, then corrected himself. ‘For us?’
‘I don’t see anyone else around here,’ said John, grinning. He had already opened the wine and now he poured it into two beautiful glasses that had accompanied it in its presentation box. Rodney opened the chocolates, his eyes wide with pleasure. Maybe John could bring about that reaction later, to a different kind of pleasure. He watched Rodney taste a chocolate and hoped...
‘Parrish didn’t give you any of that sex pollen, did he?’ Rodney looked around, as if he might see a dish of pollen alongside the luxuries on the table. ‘I know I’m not sneezing but you might have sniffed some. Only,’ he added, ‘I wouldn’t like to be seduced under the influence of pollen, even with chocolate, which is one of my favourite things.’ He was blushing as he spoke but John heaved a mental sigh of relief hearing the desire behind what he said.
‘It wouldn’t have worked anyway,’ he told him. ‘It only worked on the uncommitted, and then only to a very mild extent. I should think those teenagers on Ingardeia thought it was their birthdays and other celebrations all rolled into one. They could do what they could never do normally and then blame the pollen.’
‘But it didn’t work for us.’ Rodney could sometimes be quite obtuse for a scientist, but usually only in respect of social situations. John found the trait endearing.
‘It couldn’t work with Teyla because she’s committed already,’ said John. ‘It couldn’t work with me, either, because I was already committed.’
‘Oh?’ said Rodney, and then, ‘Oh!’ as it dawned on him what John might be implying.
‘I did wonder,’ John said, ‘about you and Ronon. I know he doesn’t have anyone.’
‘But I do,’ said Rodney, softly. ‘And did, ever since we met in Antarctica.’
‘We’ve been wasting time, then,’ said John, putting a proprietary arm around Rodney’s shoulders, finally allowed to give the hug he’d wanted to give on the sad planet.
‘It’ll be good making up for it, though,’ said Rodney, or rather, that was what John thought he meant to say. The end of the short sentence was muffled by their kiss.
They finished the wine, eventually, though the interruptions for kisses were frequent and they gorged on chocolate, some of which (the solid milk variety) John licked from Rodney’s chest and some of which (the marzipan sort) Rodney fed to John in tiny seductive bites. They discovered that kirsch flavoured kisses were delightful. The DVD languished in its slot but there would be more film dates. And not a grain of pollen in sight.