There was no real question about it: Sgt. O'Bryant's team was entirely to blame.
And the majority of the blame could be heaped at the blue-clad feet of his botanist, Dr. Carol Redeker. Carol was the one with three iPods. The one with the glossy picture in her wallet, which she insisted on carrying around with her at all times. The one who had not only managed to bring blue suede pumps to the Pegasus Galaxy, but wore them in the lab.
Carol Redeker, who was only in her mid-thirties, had technically been born twenty years too late for her massive unrequited crush on Elvis Presley. But this had not stopped her from using the lab's printer to print out enough pictures of the King's face to paper her quarters with them. It had also not stopped her from introducing Elvis's music to the inhabitants of M37-8R2, partly in the interests of furthering intergalactic peace, but mainly because she got bored while waiting for the geologists to finish collecting rock samples, and the natives were curious about her iPod.
Ultimately, this would lead to Dr. Weir making a rule about introducing other planets to Earth's pop culture. But not before SGA-1 found out the hard way about Dr. Carol Redeker's little foray into the fun and rewarding realm of cultural exchange.
"... should be a fairly simple in-and-out," Sheppard was saying as they walked towards the gate. "O'Bryant and his crew were there six months ago and from all reports, it's just a very simple farming world. Pleasant, friendly people. Their crops should be ripe now, and they were very happy about the idea of trading with us once harvest season came."
"They've probably been culled by now," Rodney muttered gloomily. "Or the Genii have enslaved them. Or they are the Genii. Haven't you noticed by now that it's always the peaceful farming worlds where things really go bad for us?"
"Don't borrow trouble, Rodney." Sheppard grinned at him as they stepped into the blue circle of the gate.
A moment later, Sheppard stumbled and caught himself on the far side of the gate, and looked around. He forgot to move, so when Rodney came through an instant later, he collided with Sheppard's back.
"Honestly! What's wrong with you? No consideration for other people ... oh, my."
They were both still standing there when Ronon and Teyla smacked into them. Teyla bounced off of Sheppard; Ronon collided with McKay and sent the scientist stumbling a few steps forward.
Teyla looked at the poleaxed expressions on the faces of the Earth humans, then looked around at their surroundings. "I believe that we have come in the middle of some sort of religious ceremony," she said with interest.
"You could say that," Sheppard murmured, and sidled up to McKay. "Hey, Rodney ... just what, exactly, did O'Bryant's team give these people in trade, do you know?"
Rodney snorted. "I didn't read the reports. That's your area. But, while I'm not an anthropologist either, I'd venture a guess that we're not looking at one of their simple, quaint folk traditions here ... unless the universe does have a sense of humor."
It was morning on M37-8R2, crisp and dewy and beautiful, with the sun just high enough to gleam through the lower branches of the trees. A ring of standing stones surrounded the Stargate. O'Bryant's report had said that it was the site of the villagers' worship ceremonies, the sort of place where you could imagine Druids in ancient England greeting the dawn.
Despite the idyllic dawn and the pink-tinged clouds drifting above the forest, Sheppard was not exactly getting a druidic vibe off the place at the moment. Maybe it was the twenty-foot-high tapestries hanging from all the standing stones, featuring larger-than-life embroidered images of Elvis Presley holding a weird, two-necked, guitar-like instrument. Or maybe it had to do with the crowd of Elvises thronging the area around the gate. There were several hundred of them, Sheppard guessed -- men, women and children, all wearing variations on the basic Elvis jumpsuit, only made of rough brown homespun cloth. Their hair was cut shortish and plumped up on top of their heads into a crude approximation of Elvis's pompadour. The women even appeared to be wearing fake sideburns.
And as if all that wasn't enough, they were singing ... or had been singing when Sheppard's team first came through the gate, though now most of them had gone quiet except for a few off-key strains of "Hound Dog" echoing from somewhere in the back of the crowd. As the four Atlanteans stood and stared at the crowd, and the crowd stared back at them, the last holdouts fell silent. There were a few embarrassed-sounding coughs and somewhere a baby began to cry.
Ronon leaned over and muttered to Sheppard, "Think they're dangerous?"
"I ... don't know." He had enough trouble figuring out Elvis impersonators on Earth, let alone having to deal with the Pegasus Galaxy version.
Ronon didn't seem appeased. His hand hovered near his gun as a tall, lanky Elvis with a blond pompadour called out, "They have come through the sacred Ring!"
"The Ring through which the King will return to us," several others agreed.
"But they are not the Presley!" a woman shouted.
There were cries of "Sacrilege!" and "Defilement!" A ripple passed through the crowd.
"Rodney," Sheppard said out of the corner of his mouth, "dial the gate."
"Dialing," Rodney agreed with a trapped, desperate look.
As he started hitting symbols, the blond Elvis shouted, "They have disrupted our morning Presley worship and now they are trying to escape! Stop them! Capture them!"
The crowd surged forward in a great rush. Ronon promptly drew his gun and began stunning people, while Teyla pulled out her sticks. Rodney stopped dialing, because the area in front of the Stargate was quickly being swamped with people and he couldn't create a wormhole without vaporizing some of them in the event horizon. He gave Sheppard a wide-eyed look of panic and tried to climb on top of the DHD as a mob of female Elvises surrounded him.
"Folks! We're not your enemies!" Sheppard held up his .9mm in one hand, holding the other one open. "Back off! We only fight to defend ourselves, but I'm not joking --" Then he was borne down in a sea of Elvises. Something stung his arm and a wave of blackness washed over him.
As he passed out, the thought crossed his mind that he was going to have to put "attacked by Elvis impersonators" in his official report, and he didn't look forward to explaining that to Stargate Command.
Sheppard woke up with a splitting headache and something soft pressing against his face. Blinking his eyes, he raised his head, swallowing against a wave of dizziness. The soft thing turned out to be Teyla's leg. He and Teyla and Rodney were all in a heap, and all bound hand and foot. Sheppard stared at them until he was sure they were both breathing, then looked around for Ronon, quickly locating the still shape standing next to a window.
They were inside some kind of hut. It would have been a perfectly ordinary hut, just like any other hut in any other village on any other world in the Pegasus Galaxy, except for the pictograms drawn all over the walls ... pictograms which crudely, but clearly, depicted various forms of Elvis Presley. Elvis singing; Elvis playing something which was definitely not a guitar; Elvis in profile; Elvis in silhouette.
"Hey, Ronon?" Sheppard rasped out. The former Runner turned his head away from the window. "You are ... seeing all this, right?"
Ronon gave him a flat look and went back to staring out the window.
Sheppard wriggled a little, and then realized that Ronon was free. "Hey, they didn't tie you?"
Another look. "Of course they tied me." His fingers waggled; a glint of metal flashed and vanished.
Oh. "Were you planning to free the rest of us anytime soon?"
"Wanted to wait 'till you were awake, just in case our captors come back. I can't carry all three of you. Maybe two, but not three."
He crouched down by Sheppard and slit the ropes with quick slices of the razor-sharp knife. Teyla and Rodney were beginning to moan as they regained consciousness as well. At a gesture from Sheppard, Ronon freed their teammates and then returned to the window. Sheppard patted himself down and found that their belongings had been taken -- vests, weapons, everything.
"Oh God, my head," Rodney groaned, attempting to sit up. "Were we gassed, or --" He broke off, catching sight of the painted walls. "Uh ... everyone else is seeing this, right?"
"That's what Sheppard said," Ronon commented from the window.
"You and Dr. McKay are reacting very strangely to this world," Teyla agreed, propping herself up on shaky arms.
"In answer to your question, Rodney, I think we were injected with something." Sheppard chose to ignore Teyla's comment for the moment, because he didn't relish explaining Elvis Presley and pop-singer fandom to the offworlders ... especially since he was still trying to figure out how that particular cult had made its way to the Pegasus Galaxy. He pulled up his sleeve, looking for the place where he'd felt something sting him, and located a red mark. He rubbed at it; the area around it was numb.
"Injections?" Rodney demanded suspiciously. "Seems a bit sophisticated for a primitive tribe, hm? Remind you of anybody, the Genii for example?"
Ronon turned to look at them. "More like pricked than injected. They were using these little darts. I've seen a number of worlds with something similar."
"Poison darts, oh no ..." Rodney started desperately checking himself over for holes. "What if I'm allergic? There could be long-term side effects. I'm very sensitive to drugs. I always get the side effects ... all of them ..."
"You'll be fine, Rodney." Sheppard got up stiffly and shuffled over to join Ronon at the window, still a bit unsteady on his legs.
The window had no glass and looked out upon a fairly typical village scene ... typical, that is, aside from the paintings of Elvis on the walls of all the small, shabby houses, and the large wooden statue of Elvis that was just visible in the village square. Beyond the Elvis statue, the fields began. The sun was high, and most of the village's population appeared to be out there, cutting grain with hand tools and tying it into bundles. The sounds of their singing drifting to John's ears. It wasn't at all strange, in Sheppard's experience, to see a group of villagers singing while they worked; what was unusual was for the song to be "Jailhouse Rock".
He would definitely need to have a long talk with Sgt. O'Bryant about proper mission procedure when he got back to Atlantis. Still ... he and his team had displayed Earth technology and discussed Earth customs on dozens of planets and never come back to find the whole world had been taken over with a Ferris-wheel-worshipping cult. What had O'Bryant told these people?
Peering along the side of the building, he could just catch sight of several guards outside their door. While being guarded by Elvis clones tended to take a lot of the threat out of the situation, he noticed that they were armed ... albeit with swords and farm implements, but very sharp-looking farm implements.
"I can take 'em," Ronon murmured. "Just give the word."
"Nobody's taking anybody yet. They haven't hurt us so far --"
"Aside from poisoning us, you mean?" came Rodney's plaintive voice from near the floor.
Sheppard ignored him. "-- and I don't want to start breaking limbs and shooting people until we figure out what's going on. Six months ago, they were friendly and willing to trade. I don't want to make enemies out of these people if there's another way."
Ronon snorted. "Knew I shoulda just thrown you over my shoulder and run for it while you were asleep."
"Colonel Sheppard is right." Stretching and shaking off the effects of the drug, Teyla joined them at the window. "We may still be able to trade with them if we can resolve this misunderstanding."
"While the irony of this role reversal is not lost on me, what with Sheppard wanting to make peace treaties and me arguing for a military solution ... I say we clock 'em and get out of here." Rodney staggered to his feet, dragging his hands across his face. "This planet gives me the creeps. All I want to do is get out of here before I end up as crazy as they are."
Sheppard couldn't really argue with that. Still, he could imagine the conversation with Weir: And tell me again why you shot twelve people on M37-8R2, John? ... Well, because they were dressed like Elvis, Elizabeth. You would have done it too.
"I'm not ready to start a fight yet, and that's final." He looked around. "On the other hand, I'm not opposed to sneaking out, if anyone can find a way out of here."
Ronon shook his head. "Walls are stone. Door's heavy, and barred." He tapped the frame of the window. "We could probably fit though here, but it leads right out into the street in front of the guards."
Sheppard pointed to another, smaller window at the back of the hut. It was really more of an air slit, right up at the top of the wall where the ceiling came down. "What about that?"
Rodney squinted at it. "No way in hell most of us can fit through there, but Teyla might be able to."
"Teyla?" Sheppard turned to her.
"It would be a tight fit, but I might be able to make it," she conceded. "But I cannot leave you here..."
"I'd rather have one of us free than none of us. Just go back to the gate, report to Elizabeth and have her send a team with a Puddlejumper. If the gate's too well guarded, see if you can circle around when night falls and let us out."
"Sheppard, they're farmers," Ronon said impatiently. "We could probably fight the whole village to a standstill. Let's just leave."
Sheppard waved a hand out the window. "There are hundreds of religious fanatics out there; are you nuts? At the very least, it'll be a bloodbath on their end, and all they have to do is hit us with more of their little darts to take us down. Give Teyla a boost up to the window."
Ronon glowered at him, but moved to help Teyla. The window turned out to be a tight fit, even for her lithe body, but with some grunting and struggling she managed to wriggle through. "I will either bring a rescue party or come back at dark," she told them, and then dropped lightly to the ground outside and was gone.
Rodney joined Sheppard at the window, and frowned for a moment at the Elvises in the street. "You know, I realize that we're supposed to be the second evolution of the human form, but I find it stretches credibility just a tad to believe that we're also the second evolution of Elvis Presley."
"Maybe the tabloids are right and Elvis really was kidnapped by aliens ... namely, the Asgard."
Rodney stared at him. "What really bothers me is that my brain didn't immediately reject that explanation as wildly improbable. I think I need a long vacation from this galaxy."
Sheppard snorted and shook his head. "Don't we all. No ... I can't believe that O'Bryant wouldn't have mentioned this in his reports. It's a trifle hard to miss. This has got to be new, since the last time they were here. What I can't figure out is how."
Rodney looked thoughtful and did a contemplative hand-twirling sort of motion. "Say ... O'Bryant doesn't by any chance have Dr. Redeker on his team, does he?"
"Not now, but he used to. Probably still did at this time. Why?"
Rodney dropped his hand and stared at his friend. "What do you mean, why? Have you ever talked to the woman? She's Elvis-crazy. Completely loony. Genuinely believes that his death was a cover-up and that he's still alive out there somewhere. Never mind that the man would probably be in his eighties by now -- she honestly thinks that he's going to succumb to her womanly charms someday. She seems quiet and polite at first, but once you get to know her ... well, thankfully, she's in botany so I don't have to talk to her very often. Most of what I've heard is secondhand from Dr. Brown, and it's enough to keep me far, far away from her."
Sheppard blinked at him, then looked out the window. The field hands had switched to a mournful rendition of "Kentucky Rain". "So Dr. Redeker visits this planet, and six months later everyone believes that Elvis is going to return to them through the Stargate ... bit of a coincidence, don't you think?"
"When we get back to Atlantis, I'm having a long talk with Dr. Redeker in a soundproof room," Rodney said grimly.
"And I intend to have a little chat with O'Bryant about mission procedure." Sheppard groaned and ran his hands through his hair. "The SGC has conduct rules about religion, you know. Nobody's supposed to go through the Stargate and, say, try to convert the locals to Catholicism. I don't think the thought ever occurred to anybody that someone might try to start an Elvis cult on another planet, though."
"Well, that's the story of our lives, isn't it? If it's too unlikely, improbable or bizarre that anyone might think it could possibly happen, it'll happen to us."
Sheppard grinned crookedly and was saved from having to answer by Ronon's return. "Teyla's off," he said shortly, and flicked a glance out the window. "You sure you don't want me to --"
"They don't look like they can fight; I think we --"
"I said no, Ronon."
As the day wore on, boredom began to set in ... along with a hearty lack of appreciation for Elvis's music. These people seemed to sing no matter what they were doing -- working in the field, fetching water, just walking down the street. And there were only so many times you could hear "Blue Christmas", sung off-key by people who messed up most of the words, before the idea of breaking heads and running for the Stargate started sounding good.
"Ha! I win again." Using a piece of chalk, Rodney and Sheppard were playing tic-tac-toe on the floor; they'd covered the entire area under Teyla's window with small grids.
"That makes ... what's the score again?"
"Three hundred and seventy-four to two. Now do you believe me that tic-tac-toe can be beaten with strategy?"
"Obviously your strategy's not unbeatable, Rodney, because you haven't won every game."
"Only because you distracted me by yelling 'Look, Rodney, Ronon's standing on his head!' and then trying to rub out my X's."
"Made you look, though."
Rodney rolled his eyes and marked another X with a flourish. "Ha! Three hundred seventy-five to two. Give up yet?"
"I believe in underdog victories, Rodney."
"The phrase 'glutton for punishment' comes to mind here." Rodney marked off another grid. "Say, shouldn't Teyla be back with a rescue party by now?"
Sheppard glanced in the general direction the Athosian had gone. "She must've had trouble getting to the Stargate."
They both looked up at the sound of the door being unbarred, Ronon heaving a huge sigh of relief and giving his teammates a baleful glare. Outside, the sun was setting, and the crowd of Elvises outside the door were holding torches and farm implements. Pitchforks and torches ... mob ... this didn't bode well. The frontmost Elvises took a few steps backwards upon seeing that their prisoners had managed to untie themselves.
Sheppard raised his hands and tried to look harmless. "Hi, folks. It seems that we've had a little misunderstanding --"
"Heretics!" snapped the Elvis in front, a short dark-haired man. "You have defiled the sacred place of the Presley. What do you have to say for yourselves?"
Sheppard wished that Teyla was here, and wondered where exactly she'd gotten off to. Talking to lunatics was more her area than his.
"Look, we're strangers, we didn't mean to tromp all over your idiotic customs or whatever we did, and all we want is to -- Ow, Sheppard, that hurt!"
... and anything was better than letting Rodney talk.
"What? I was apologizing!" Rodney growled under his breath, rubbing his side where Sheppard had elbowed him.
Elvises with sickles, scythes and small blowguns began to crowd into the room. The three of them were jostled on all sides and herded out into the street. Ronon leaned his head down to Sheppard's level. "Now?" he whispered in what he probably thought was an undertone.
"No!" They were outnumbered about sixty to one. Half the Elvises in town (or, Sheppard wondered, should it be Elvii?) seemed to have come out to accompany them on an impromptu parade to the edge of town. The sun had set completely and the flickering light of the torches gave everything a lurid glow.
"Dare we assume they're just showing us out of their town and intend to let us go?" Rodney speculated hopefully.
"You should've let me take 'em out earlier," Ronon muttered.
He was probably right, and that didn't make Sheppard feel any better. They would have had to climb out the window one at a time in order to attack their guards, then had to fight their way out of town, and he hadn't liked those odds, still didn't -- but the current odds were a whole lot worse.
The crowd had begun a low, ominous chant. True, it was "(I Wanna Be) Your Teddy Bear", but when it was being sung by a couple hundred Elvises carrying pitchforks and torches, the sense of menace was palpable.
Sheppard could feel Rodney practically pressed against his side, trying to hide between the two better fighters. "I feel like I've died and gone to a Tim Burton version of Hell," Rodney whimpered.
"I say we fight," Ronon growled.
"Wait until there's an opening," Sheppard muttered. "We can't fight them all. Even you can't fight them all."
Ronon made a low sound in his throat that indicated he thought different, but he deferred to Sheppard's leadership.
Borne along by a sea of Elvii, they were swept to the ring of standing stones surrounding the Stargate. If half the townsfolk were in the crowd escorting them, the other half must be here. Torchlight lit the area up almost as bright as day.
Sheppard's eyes were drawn immediately to something new: a wooden platform that had been erected between two of the standing stones. His eyes were further drawn to the crude wooden altar, draped with white cloths encrusted with sparkly bits of quartz in lieu of rhinestones.
"Oh no," Rodney murmured in a voice halfway between a laugh and a sob.
There was really no question of fighting their way free at the moment -- they were surrounded by so many Elvis impersonators that they could barely move. Rough hands seized them and dragged them up a set of rickety wooden steps to stop beside the altar. Sheppard noticed out of the corner of his eye that the white cloths, though clean, bore suspicious dark stains.
Rodney had begun shivering. Sheppard kicked him gently. "Be ready to run," he whispered.
Wide eyes turned to him with almost pathetic hope. "Do you have a plan?"
"No." Rodney's face fell, and Sheppard went on, "But I'm sure as heck not going to stand here and let them kill us all, you got it?"
The short Elvis had also mounted the impromptu stage, and raised a hand to quiet the chanting. "People of Graceland!" he announced, and Sheppard clenched his jaw to contain a completely inappropriate burst of laughter. "You see before you the heretics who have defiled the sacred Place of the Presley and intruded upon the morning worship services! This travesty will not go unpunished! Since being introduced to the one true path of the Presley, we have tried to follow the Way of the King, to walk in the blue suede shoes of He Who Wears the Rhinestones ..."
As he droned on, Sheppard noticed a small, dark-skinned Elvis at the front of the crowd, pressed up against the stage by the crush of people behind him ... behind her. She was waving her arms at him, trying to get his attention. Sheppard's eyes widened. "Teyla?"
Seeing his look of stunned recognition, Teyla smiled. Sheppard just stared. She'd piled her hair on top of her head and greased it into place, as the rest of the Elvises did, and a clearly stolen jumpsuit hung baggily on her slender frame. Around her torso, she wore a bulky sling, of the sort that women sometimes use to carry babies -- Sheppard had seen a number of other women in the village carrying their children that way. Teyla's sling contained a large, blanket-wrapped bundle.
Rodney noticed Sheppard's distraction. "What's the matter with you? You do realize they're about to kill ..." He saw Teyla and trailed off. "Ah."
Teyla gave him a little wave and then reached into her bundle, pulling out a couple of .9mm's and Ronon's big gun. Rodney's eyes got huge, and Sheppard just grinned. She'd found their guns!
At the front of the stage, the head Elvis seemed to be winding up to his big finale. "... and in the name of the holy family -- Elvis, Priscilla and Lisa Marie -- we shall return their blood to the soil and appease the wrath of the King ..."
Teyla laid the guns on the surface of the stage and gave each one a hard thrust, sending them spinning across the rough wooden planks. Ronon stooped in one swift motion and seized his weapon. Sheppard grabbed his .9mm and, a moment later, the P90 that Teyla sent after it. Rodney just stood there until Sheppard shoved a gun into his hands.
Their guards were reacting with shock, but didn't get a chance to do more -- between a few blasts of Ronon's gun on its stun setting, plus Sheppard's hand-to-hand skills, the captives were quickly free. Sheppard spun around and fired on the head Elvis, shooting him in the shoulder. The Elvis fell to his knees and stared at him.
Ronon flicked his gun from stun to "obliterate" and shot the altar, which disintegrated and showered them all with wood chips.
None of the Elvises moved or made a sound. The crowd was frozen in shock.
"Now listen," Sheppard shouted. "We're going to walk over to the Stargate -- er, the Ring -- and dial out. Anyone tries to stop us, we kill them -- got it? We're not trying to pick a fight, but you people are making it very difficult for us. Now get out of the way!"
The crowd fell back, clearing a path to the Stargate. Teyla joined them as they jumped down from the stage and fell into step behind Sheppard. He noticed that she also had their vests and Rodney's laptop in her sling.
"Nice work, Teyla," he murmured out of the corner of his mouth.
"I was unable to reach the Stargate, Colonel; as you can see, it has been very busy up here all day. Instead, I went back to the village and found where they had taken our supplies, as well as obtaining some of the local clothing for myself to blend in. I intended to free you after dark, but found that you had been taken here instead. I feared that I was too late."
"Your timing was perfect as always." They'd reached the gate, and Rodney didn't need any prompting to dial as hastily as he could. As the event horizon collapsed, Sheppard tapped his radio. "Atlantis, this is Colonel Sheppard."
Elizabeth's voice came back: "John? We were getting worried about you; you're overdue for your check-in. Did something go wrong?"
"Oh, you could say that." Sheppard glanced at his team. From the set look on Rodney's face, he wouldn't want to be Carol Redeker over the next few days. "We're coming through now, and I want the shield up and the gate shut down as soon as the four of us are in the gateroom."
"Do you need a medical team standing by?"
"Surprisingly, no, although we'll probably head down to the infirmary for a once-over after we debrief." Turning back, he gestured to the others to precede him through the gate, and backed away from the Elvis crowd with his P90 held in front of him. "Well, folks, it's been ... different." And then, because he couldn't resist: "I'll be sure and say hi to Elvis for you on the other side."
As they stepped through, he heard Teyla asking Ronon, "What do you suppose a Presley is, anyway?" Then the cold light of the Stargate took him away.