In Elizabeth Weir's experience, any mission debriefing that began with John Sheppard trying to look innocent, Rodney McKay fidgeting, Teyla Emmagen looking vaguely apologetic and Ronon Dex maintaining a stoic silence was pretty much guaranteed not to end well.
Major Lorne didn't look like he'd be much help either.
Neither did Carson, for that matter.
Steeling her resolve, Elizabeth fixed a penetrating gaze on each member of the Atlantis expedition's 'flagship team' in succession and then cautiously repeated the abbreviated report they'd given her back in the gateroom.
"So... the mission was 'eventful', but everything is now 'fine'?"
Rodney squirmed under her gaze, but he was the only one. "Yes, yes. They're quite happy for trade and 'cultural exchange' to take place." He did his standard finger quotes to convey exactly what he thought of cultural exchange as a mission objective. "But more importantly, they gave the go ahead for us to send a science team to investigate those energy readings I told you about. So, everything's good, right?"
Elizabeth nodded tentatively. It would seem that they had been granted what she had asked them to negotiate for and the news of energy readings of possibly Ancient origin was an unexpected bonus, but Rodney's whole demeanour radiated evasiveness. A Klaxon screaming POTENTIAL INTERPLANETARY RELATIONS DISASTER blared through her head.
"And what about the 'events' that occurred during the mission? Events that could have put our trade agreement in doubt, perhaps?"
John cleared his throat. "Well, there might have been a slight misunderstanding or two, after a certain incident, but we saved their precious ass in the end and that's really what counts."
"You saved their ass?"
"Well, we got them a new one, anyway."
Elizabeth blinked. She had a decade's worth of experience in high-powered brinkmanship and they had once again managed to get her to blink first. And what was worse, she found that she now had to ask the question that he was obviously setting her up for.
"You got the people of M4S-291 a new ass? You're going to have to elaborate for me, Colonel."
A half-smirk momentarily lit John Sheppard's face before his features resettled into a 'just the facts, ma'am' military expression, but surprisingly, it was Rodney who once again jumped in with an attempt to explain.
"Well, you see, it all started when I detected some quite distinctive energy readings which were in what I thought was some kind of zoo or something. I mean, there in the middle of their city was this stone building with livestock in it. What was I supposed to think?"
Elizabeth looked over to John. "Not a zoo, then?"
"Not a zoo," he confirmed. "More like a temple."
Her gaze swung back sharply because Rodney and organised religion were always a potentially explosive combination. "What did you do to their temple?"
"I didn't do anything to their temple!" He protested indignantly, but his voice became noticeably quieter as he added, "I was just trying to help out, move some of the, y'know, livestock to a safer place while I took the readings."
"He groped their ass," John explained in that 'helpful' way of his that wasn't really helpful at all.
"I beg your pardon?"
Thankfully, Teyla then stepped in with some information that was actually helpful. "It was an eroye'e - a creature which appears to resemble an animal native to your own planet apparently named an ass or a donkey."
John nodded. "Except the asses on M4S-291 have this shaggy fur, probably because of all the ice and snow and stuff."
Teyla gave him a look of strained patience. "The people there call their world Ye'oolabab, but yes, the eroye'e are known for their thick fur. In fact, the longer and thicker their coat of fur, the more highly they are prized."
"They have an industry in trading the fur of these eroye'e?" Elizabeth asked, still trying to get a handle on the situation.
"No! To the people of Ye'oolabab, the eroye'e are sacred. I have been told that some Earth cultures believe certain creatures to be sacred and harming them is seen as a desecration."
Suddenly, Elizabeth could see just how very badly this may have gone. "Rodney! What did you do to the eroye'e?"
"Nothing! Someone needed to move their ass before it got hurt!"
"Hurt by what?"
"The falling stones that I... er... dislodged when I was climbing up onto some altar thingy to try and get a clearer reading. Well, the dumb ass just stood there! It was nearly brained by a falling rock! So, I had to get it out of the way and I just sort of nudged it with my foot."
"He kicked their ass," John volunteered. Elizabeth could have strangled him.
Rodney just got more defensive. "I did not! It was a very gentle nudge. It's not my fault the stubborn ass wouldn't move!"
Ronon chose that moment to speak, apparently deciding that his team mate deserved a bit more support than he was currently getting. "He didn't have a choice. He had to drag their ass out of there or it would have died anyway."
"Yeah, but he could have been a bit more careful about it," John pointed out. "I think what really made them mad was the way he jerked their ass around."
Rodney exploded into hand-waving exasperation. "Hello! Dodging falling boulders! Need to immediately haul ass? Ring any bells with you?"
Elizabeth found that she had to resort to some hand-waving of her own. "Okay, okay! I get it! You moved the animal and offended them. What did any of you then do to try make amends and/or save the situation?"
The three male members of the team were conspicuously silenced by that. Teyla once again spoke up as the lone voice of reason. "Unfortunately, the particular eroye'e that Dr McKay was forced to remove from danger was an animal of advanced years and one of particular significance to the people of Ye'oolabab."
"It was apparently a wise ass," said John, who apparently really didn't know when he should just shut up and let Teyla do the talking.
"To quote Shakespeare," Rodney raised an index finger in a lofty intellectual manner, "the law in an ass on M4S-291."
"That's Dickens, actually." Elizabeth told him flatly.
"Really?" He was visibly crestfallen.
"Yes." Elizabeth forced herself not to sigh, as she turned back to Teyla. "Could you please explain to me, in an adult manner, what the boys here are trying to say?"
Teyla spoke solemnly. "That particular eroye'e was considered especially blessed and used in ceremonies dispensing justice. When the most learned amongst the people of Ye'oolabab cannot agree in a dispute, the final decision is left to the eroye'e."
Elizabeth couldn't quite work out the logistics of that. "How?"
Unfortunately, that left John another opening that he couldn't resist. "They put their ass on the line."
Teyla glared at him (without visible effect). "They have a ceremonial room with a dividing line in the middle. Each side of the line would represent each side of the dispute. The eroye'e would enter the room through a door which is on that line and the side that it went to was deemed to be righteous in the dispute. But only very rare eroye'e are believed to be suitable for this ceremony and this one had been the only such creature seen in many years. It was old and of poor health and did not react well to sudden violent movement. It collapsed immediately after Rodney 'moved' it and even Carson could not save it."
Elizabeth turned to Carson who looked as though he was trying to make himself invisible in a corner of the room, but then he stepped forward with a shrug. "I'm no vet, but all of the animal's organ systems were already failing due to sheer old age. It was oedematous due to heart failure and liver failure. The trauma seemed to induce some sort of intestinal paralysis which caused severe bloating in less than hour... It did sorta make their ass look fat."
Elizabeth closed her eyes in frustration. Was there no one with a Y chromosome that she could trust to take this seriously?
"So, I take it that the creature died?"
"Yeah," said John, "which caused this huge legal and political crisis. They blamed Rodney because, well, he busted their ass and that's pretty much a hanging offence as far as they're concerned. The only way to fix things was to find another smart ass. Y'know, to replace it, but, as Teyla said, the type they wanted is pretty rare, so we found ourselves in desperate need of ass."
Elizabeth was determined to get to end of this mission debriefing without screaming, but it was going to be a close run thing. "And they were willing to trust you with finding a new sacred eroye'e? How would you even know what to look for?"
"There is a ceremony to help find the successor," Teyla explained. "It involves the people properly farewelling the dead eroye'e."
"They have to kiss their ass goodbye," Rodney offered and then quailed under Elizabeth's glare. "No, I mean that literally."
John stepped in again. "Yeah, and then they did a full on reading of the entrails thing and apparently what they pulled out of their ass - I mean, literally - was that we had to travel to over icy mountains, to a far distant valley, basically the ass end of nowhere, to get the shaggiest white ass we could find. I didn't think it was worth trekking all that way on foot, so I called Lorne to bring a jumper."
He flicked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate the major who was standing behind him.
"It's not every day that your CO calls you and asks for a jumper so he can go cruising for some ass," Lorne said with a straight face. Damn him.
"But they wouldn't let Rodney go with us," John continued, as if the major hadn't spoken. "Apparently, because of the way he treated the old ass, they thought he was unworthy of the quest or something - probably thought he wouldn't know the right ass from a hole in the ground. Which is a bit ironic, really, because we actually found the ass in a hole in the ground. But anyway, they also probably didn't want to risk Rodney escaping justice, if we didn't find the new ass."
Elizabeth desperately hoped that their story was almost done. "So, you found them a new ceremonial ass, I mean eroye'e, and then they were satisfied that you had made amends?"
Elizabeth closed her eyes and drew on her last inner reserves of strength to see this through to the end. "What happened next?"
"Well, after they had the ceremony to say goodbye to the old ass, they wanted to have another ceremony to welcome the new ass. While we'd been away, they had skinned the old ass and some high priest guy dressed up in it so he could greet the new one - like ass to ass, y'know?" John paused briefly, but finally realising that he was reaching her last nerve, quickly continued on. "Anyway, the guy's wearing this headdress thing made out of the ears and mane of the ass, an asshat (literally) and he's acting like an ass (once again, literally) and then he turns to us and tells us that we have to go and light a fire up their ass."
This time he did pause, certain that Elizabeth would question this statement. She was quite proud of the controlled calm with which she said. "Please go on."
"Well, it turns out that they have this big ass ice statue just outside the main settlement. Really! It's a huge sculpture of an ass made out of ice that stands about 200 feet high and in its head there is a hollow area where they light a torch to signal for everyone from far and wide to come and meet the new holy ass. How they do that without melting the ass's head is beyond me."
Teyla spoke up again, strangely seeming less reticent about it than earlier on. "Carrying the flame to the head of the sculpture is very hazardous due to the height and the slippery surface of the ice. Falling could be fatal."
John nodded vigorously. "Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'what crawled up your ass and died?'."
"And because Dr McKay was the one who committed the original act of sacrilege and Colonel Sheppard is the leader of our team, they were the ones who were required to take it up the..."
"Don't say it!" John and Rodney chorused, in the sort of unison usually only found in Japanese cartoons, and Teyla raised her eyebrows at Elizabeth. Elizabeth gave her a look that promised to buy her a drink, if they both survived this.
"So they had us out there at the a-... er... at the crack of dawn." Rodney apparently wasn't as prepared to push the ass-joke envelope as far as John, who in turn gave him a look of disdain at this cowardice. "And Sheppard's right, lighting a fire in that thing was asking for disaster. So, I got some solar reflector panels out of Lorne's jumper and we carried them up to the head of the ass instead."
"We carried them?" John asked indignantly. "I seem to remember doing all the carrying while you made pathetic excuses about almost falling every step of the way."
"I'm an ideas man, not a pack mule."
"Anyway, I suppose the priest guys didn't care who carried what." John grinned viciously. "They still had a Rod up their ass."
Rodney aimed a thermonuclear glare at him. "Not to mention a coc-"
"Rodney!" Elizabeth was a hair's breadth from exploding herself.
"-ky brain-dead military twit who needed my help to set the panels the right place, even if I didn't actually carry them."
"He's right," Ronon offered. "Those panel things really did need to be put in exactly right place or it wouldn't have worked."
Knowing she would probably regret it, but just hoping this would all soon be over, Elizabeth found herself asking, "What wouldn't have worked?"
"Well, as he said, they had us out there just before dawn," John began.
"And Rodney put the solar panels in the eyes of the thing which face East," Carson added.
"It was a thing of beauty," said Lorne, in a tone of reverence.
Even Teyla admitted, "It did look very impressive."
"Yeah," said Ronon.
Rodney preened. "I am a genius."
Elizabeth looked back at John in sheer disbelief. "You're not telling me...?"
He grinned triumphantly. "Yeah, thanks to Rodney's solar reflection panels, the people of M4S-291 now think the sun shines out of their ass."
And you betcha ass that's the end of this fic!