Interlude 14: What the hell are you doing?!
What followed was possibly the most frustrating two weeks of my life. We had every off world team out there listening for any hint of Michael, or any rumours about prisoners from Atlantis. I personally visited every one of our established allies and trading partners within the first week, asking them to keep their ears open and let us know if they heard anything, no matter how minor it sounded.
When I wasn’t off world following up on leads I was back on Atlantis projecting vibes that said ‘approach at your own risk’. Only Colonel Carter, Lorne and my team ignored them. I was poor company on a mammoth scale ... I had nothing to say unless it was about the search for Sabina and Teyla – what we’d already done, what we were going to do next.
No one tried to placate me, to tell me not to worry and that everything would be all right ... for which I was beyond grateful. I didn’t want pity or positive attitudes in my face ... all I wanted was Sabina and since that didn’t look like happening any time soon I just didn’t want to talk about that stuff.
I was wound so tight it wasn’t a surprise I’d overreact when someone said the wrong thing. It was one of the Gateroom techs and his throw away comment about something completely trivial that set me off.
“I wonder who’ll give the Lieutenant a run for his money now that Sabina’s gone,” I overheard the comment on the last couple of steps up to the Control Room. “She was the best street hockey player we had on our team.”
I had the guy backed up against the wall before he could blink, one forearm pressing into his throat while I held him up by his shirt.
“She’s not gone,” I growled angrily, “and she’s still the best player on your team.”
“Yes ... Sir,” he choked out.
“John!” Rodney rushed up behind me, putting a hand on my shoulder and pulling back sharply. “What the hell are you doing?!”
“This guy was talking like Sabina’s not coming back,” I glanced at Rodney irritably before glaring back at my captive.
“Let him go,” Rodney urged.
“I hear you talked about Sabina like that again, I’ll come back and make you regret it,” I threatened, pushing forward with my arm to get the message across before releasing him.
I was out the door and heading back down the stairs while that guy was still crumpling down to the floor ... and I didn’t feel guilty. I was pissed off with all the delays, with the lack of real leads, with the fact that everything was going too slowly because no one had as much of a stake in this as I did. And I didn’t much care who knew about it.
“John, wait up!” Rodney ran to catch up with me, already panting at the exertion.
“Not now McKay,” I ordered without missing a stride.
“Yes now!” Rodney insisted. “John!”
“What?!” I stopped suddenly, turning to see him skidding to a halt in front of me.
“What was that back there?” Rodney gestured behind him towards the Control Room.
“What do you think it was?” I threw up my hands, turned away and then back again. “What the hell do any of you expect? Do you think this is easy ... waiting days ... hell weeks to find out if my wife is even still alive? I’m this close,” I held up two fingers with no space between them, “this close Rodney to punching my fist through something – every minute of every goddamn day!”
“I know it’s not easy,” Rodney grimaced. “And okay, maybe I don’t really understand what you’re going through but you can’t just go around assaulting the staff for one admittedly stupid comment!”
“I can’t do this Rodney,” I said quietly, my anger disappearing abruptly. “I can’t keep going out there, keeping up the facade that I’m handling this if everyone is back here already treating Sabina like she’s not coming back.”
“No one thinks that!” Rodney protested. I looked at him pointedly, silently reminding him of the comment I’d walked in on. “Okay,” he allowed, “maybe one or two people are thinking in that direction but not the ones who count. Not me.”
“I appreciate that Rodney,” I relented somewhat. “I do but ... something better break soon ... or I will.”
“John,” Rodney looked at me worriedly but I just shook my head.
“It’s okay,” I tried for the classic John Sheppard easy going smile. “Listen, I gotta go admit to Carter that I roughed up one of the Techs. If I still have a job I’ll talk to you later.”
Leaving him standing in the corridor I reversed direction yet again and strode up the steps to Carter’s office.
“Colonel,” I waited in the door for her to respond.
“I was just about to call you up here,” Sam looked at me pointedly, her expression grim.
“You already heard what happened,” I had the grace to look ashamed.
“Yes,” Sam shook her head. “What were you thinking John?”
“I wasn’t,” I admitted. “I just ... he said something ... about Sabina. I reacted before I thought about it. I’m sorry.”
“Well, you’re lucky he doesn’t want to press charges,” Sam said sternly. “Said he deserved it.”
“No he didn’t,” I couldn’t put the blame on anyone but myself.
“No,” Sam agreed simply.
“I’ll talk to him,” I promised. “Apologise, try to come up with something to make amends.”
“Yes you will,” Sam got up from her side of the desk and lent against it. It was a shift that said she wasn’t Colonel Carter, my commanding officer for the moment, but Sam, a concerned friend. “John, do I need to do something here? I can put you on leave, assign you somewhere else ... just tell me what you need.”
“I need my wife back,” I forced the words out around the sudden thickness residing in my throat, “but in the absence of that I need to be working towards finding something that will lead us to her. Please Sam - just let me do my job. I’ll make sure nothing like this happens again.”
“Okay,” Sam nodded, putting a hand on my arm before returning to her seat. “What progress did you make today?”
“Not much,” I admitted. “Got a message from one of our Genii contacts. I’m meeting him on M4S-587 tomorrow morning.”
“Let me know how it goes,” Sam’s tone made it clear that was the end of the conversation. Nodding gratefully I high tailed it out of there.
“Colonel?” I turned from my inspection of the ocean to see Major Lorne standing in the doorway, a hesitant expression on his face. It was well after midnight and I’d believed I was the only one awake in the city, apart from those on duty in the Gateroom.
I’d been thinking about what I’d done ... how close I’d come to losing it completely. Rodney had tried to talk to me again once I’d returned from Sam’s office ... and then sent Ronon to have a go as well when I stubbornly refused to cooperate. Ronon understood though, said he would have done the same in my place. It was a short conversation.
“Major,” I replied, looking back to the sea. “What’re you doing up this late?”
“Couldn’t sleep Sir,” Lorne admitted, walking onto the balcony and taking up a position next to me. Silence reigned for a few minutes before he spoke again. “I heard what happened in the Control Room.”
“You and everyone else in the city,” I said casually.
“I just wanted to tell you Sir that I ... the guys and I haven’t given up on Sabina,” Lorne spoke firmly, his gaze direct. “We won’t give up Sir, no matter how long it takes to bring her and Teyla back.”
“I know. Don’t worry about me Major,” I added.
“Sabina will have my head if I let you do something stupid ... Sir,” Lorne pointed out, the faint hint of a smile on his face.
“Too late for that,” I admitted. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to keep my little lapse to yourself?”
“Wouldn’t do any good Sir,” Lorne chuckled. “Unless you intend to swear the whole city to secrecy.”
“That’s always an option,” I shrugged, leaning my forearms against the railing and peering down to the levels below.
“We are going to find her Sir,” Lorne tried to reassure me, and maybe himself too. I hadn’t missed the fact that he’d been striding around the city in almost as bad a mood as my own since the day Teyla and Sabina had been taken but for the first time I actively considered why.
“You’re not blaming yourself still?” I shot him a glance, frowning when he looked away. “You are! Evan,” my rare use of his first name had his eyes shooting to mine. “Michael set a very careful trap ... he used what he knows of Teyla and there’s no way anyone was going to change what happened. Not you ... and not me.”
“Easy to believe that in my head Sir,” Lorne replied in a low tone. “A little harder to believe it in my heart.
“You know,” I said lightly, “you can call me John off duty ... it’s a little ridiculous to be Siring me when, aside from me, you’re my wife’s best friend and more than a little in love with her.”
Lorne swallowed abruptly, coughing more than once before he got his surprise back under control. “I’m not ‘in love’ with Sabina Sir ... ah John,” he corrected when I raised an eyebrow at him. “I mean, I ah ... of course I love her – but like you love a friend who knows you too well to ...,” stopping, he took a deep breath and then looked at me directly. “I admire Sabina a great deal and you know, if I were lucky enough to meet someone like her I wouldn’t hesitate.”
“I’m surprised she hasn’t tried to match you up with someone already,” I said, amused.
Should I have worried about the closeness that existed between Sabina and Evan? Would Sabina worry about that same closeness existing between Teyla and I? I didn’t think so ... both of us treated all the members of our team as family ... and by extension I knew that Sabina considered Teyla, Ronon and Rodney to be her family too. I’d do that a grave disservice if I didn’t look at her team mates in the same light.
Besides, Evan Lorne had been my 2IC for almost three years. He was a good man ... a good friend ... I wouldn’t have chosen him to look after Sabina out in the field if I hadn’t believed I could trust him with her. That had put him in a difficult position at times ... I knew it wasn’t easy to balance treating Sabina like she was just another team mate with feeling that he’d answer to me on a personal level whenever anything went wrong. I probably should have told him I understood that a long time ago.
“She’s made some noises,” Evan admitted, smiling fondly. “So far I’ve managed to head her off.”
“Or maybe she hasn’t found someone she considers good enough for you,” I returned. “Don’t be thinking you’re safe there Evan ... she’s sneaky.” Slapping his shoulder fondly I turned back to the ocean again. “You should get some sleep – we’re heading out early in the morning.
“Yes Sir,” he replied, leaving the railing and heading for the doors. “John?” I turned again, seeing him standing in the doorway with a concerned expression. “You gonna be alright?”
“For now,” I agreed, not saying the words we both knew would come next ... that if we didn’t find Sabina I wouldn’t be.
Nodding, Evan turned and left me to my solitude. It was strange but after that conversation I did feel a little better.
Our Genii contact had insisted on meeting with me alone at the local tavern ... leaving Major Lorne and his team waiting at the Gate on M4S-587 I headed through the trees towards the village, lost in my thoughts.
A few minutes later I walked through the doors of the village local. The tavern was deserted that early in the day ... finding a seat with a good vantage point on both the exits and the windows I sat down to wait, stretching my legs out in front of me.
An hour past the scheduled time and the guy hadn’t still shown up. Calling it a bust I got up and walked back to the Gate ... not really that surprising given the lead had been Genii and relations always bordered on the weird and unreliable.
“So, how'd it go, sir?” Lorne asked hopefully when I appeared through the trees.
“The Genii contact didn't show up,” I reported.
“Can't say I'm surprised,” Lorne admitted.
“What are you saying, Major?” I said sarcastically. “The Genii can't be trusted?!”
“They did try and kill Doctor McKay and I ... not to mention Harmony,” Lorne reminded me.
“True, true – and normally that's the kind of thing I'd take personally, but Ladon claims he didn't order the hit,” I offered ruefully. “He's trying to get on our good side.”
“You really think they know anything about where Michael took Teyla and Sabina?” Lorne took it all back to the serious.
“Well, they get solid intel,” I returned with a grimace. “Every lead, no matter how thin – remember?”
“Yeah,” Lorne nodded, looking at me for orders. “So what do you wanna do?”
Walking over to the DHD I dialled Atlantis. “Well, I'm gonna go ahead. You stay behind for a few hours; tell me if he shows up.”
“Will do,” Lorne stepped back with a nod.
The kawhoosh shot out, settling into a stable wormhole. I walked through as usual ... and out into Atlantis. And that’s when things took a sharp turn into the bizarre.
Interlude 15: He was old ... geriatric old
The Gateroom was deserted ... there were no lights, no signs of activity and no people. It felt deserted, strange ... and very hot.
“Somebody turn up the heat?” I called out, looking around. “Hello?” I called out again when nobody answered. Deciding to check things out a bit further I walked towards the stairs to the Control Room, looking around to see if I could spot anyone. “If this is a surprise party, it's not my birthday,” I quipped uncertainly, feeling the anxiety beginning to bubble under the surface.
Something was wrong, hugely wrong ... a fact made obvious by the dark and deserted Control Room I walked into at the top of the stairs. Frowning in confusion I activated my headset.
“This is Sheppard. Anyone read?”
There was no reply.
“I repeat, this is Sheppard. Anyone on this channel?”
Still nothing. What the hell was going on here? Spotting the doors leading to the outside balcony I decided to check on the external situation. Only trouble was the door didn’t open automatically like it should have when I approached. Pushing it open manually took more effort that I would have expected, the reason becoming clear when I looked outside.
The light was strange, too red, and a wave of heat hit me as soon as I stepped outside. Where there should have been ocean there was only sand, as far into the distance as I could see, miles and miles of desert sand. Moving to the edge of the balcony I looked down in disbelief. The lower levels of the city were half buried in sand ... it was inconceivable. What could have happened since I’d left that morning to explain this? And where was everyone?
What the hell was I gonna do to fix this one?
Heading back inside I tried to access each of the consoles in the Control Room but very clearly there was no power.
“All right. This isn't good,” I muttered when nothing worked. “The most elaborate practical joke of all time, or I'm in serious trouble here.”
I didn’t expect a response but I got one ... of a sort. My radio came to life with a mix of static and what sounded like a voice, garbled and indistinct. I tapped my headset immediately.
“This is Sheppard. Anyone on this frequency?”
There was another burst of static and then a familiar voice replied.
“Sheppard? Is that really you?”
“McKay,” I felt the relief sweeping over me. Thank God I wasn’t alone after all. I didn’t know what had happened but at least Rodney was still alive and hopefully working on the problem.
“I can't believe it! It actually worked!” Rodney replied incredulously.
“What are you talking about?” I demanded impatiently. “What the hell's going on here?”
“I imagine you're a little confused right now,” Rodney commented. “God! For you, like, what, five minutes has passed?”
“Rodney!” I retorted irritably, not sure what he meant but impatient to find out.
“Look, I need you to describe exactly what you're seeing,” Rodney instructed in a businesslike tone. “Where are you?”
“I'm in the Control Room,” I replied. “It's deserted.”
“I know – is there any power?” Rodney continued. That didn’t reassure me – if he was working on fixing whatever had caused all this, wouldn’t he already know about the power?
“No,” I looked towards the balcony again, remembering the rest of it. “Everything's dead – and, oh yeah, did I tell you the ocean's gone?”
“Sorry, what?” Rodney was confused – finally something I could help with.
“The big blue thing out the window,” I explained. “It's gone. It's – it's – it's a desert – and it's about a hundred and twenty degrees in here.”
“Oh, jeez, the planet must have undergone some serious climate changes,” Rodney exclaimed.
“If you don't start giving me some answers pretty soon here ...,” I let the implied threat stand unspoken at the end of that.
“OK, look, I understand this is hard for you,” Rodney replied. “Just do me a favour and go to the Hologram Room.”
“Why?” I frowned, even more confused. The city was in serious trouble and he wanted me in the Hologram Room? How was that going to help?
“Just do it. Please,” Rodney begged.
Shaking my head I switched on the light on my P-90, setting out at jogging pace. It was a long trip down the back stairs and long dark corridor before I finally arrived at the Hologram Room, a bit puffed out and eager for answers. I’ll admit I was more than a little disappointed that Rodney wasn’t there.
“All right. I'm here,” I announced to the dark and empty room.
“Well, activate the hologram projector,” Rodney said like that should have been obvious.
“There's no power,” I reminded him.
“It's connected to an independent power source,” Rodney revealed. “Don't worry – it will work.”
Stepping up to the console I waved my hand over it uncertainly, not really expecting anything to happen.
“Hey there,” Rodney’s voice from directly behind me had me spinning around in surprise.
Did I say bizarre? At the sight of my friend I moved that along to beyond impossible. It was Rodney, but it wasn’t, at least not the one I’d left on Atlantis that morning. He was old ... geriatric old, complete with wrinkles, grey hair and an old man wardrobe topped off by of all things an old brown cardigan.
He was smiling a welcome and I was thinking Crap!, even as I acknowledged his presence. “Rodney!”
“God, it's good to see you again,” Rodney said, still smiling.
“You're a hologram!” I couldn’t help but point out, even though stating the obvious was usually more his gig.
“No!” Rodney retorted, taking his hands from his pockets to stare at them in pretend disbelief before laughing at his own joke. “Of course! I tapped into the city's internal sensors, so I've got eyes and ears – so to speak. You look good.”
“You look, uh ...,” I touched my fingers to his chest, watching them sink right through him in sick fascination, “... different.”
“That's ‘cause you remember me the way I was,” Rodney said simply.
“What, you mean earlier today?” I retorted irritably.
“Ah, it's funny, you know?” Rodney commented self depreciatingly. “I spent the last twenty five years of my life trying to figure out how to make this work, and I never once thought what I was gonna say to you when you got here.”
“You can start by telling me what the hell's going on here!” I insisted, on the edge of anger ... at a hologram for god’s sake.
“Ah. Right, right,” Rodney acknowledged my demand. “OK. Um, remember that mission report? SG-1 stepped through the Gate. Their wormhole accidentally intersected with a solar flare and they were sent back to 1969.”
“Uh, well, vaguely,” I admitted.
“Well, something similar has just happened to you,” Rodney announced.
“I was sent back in time?” I looked at Rodney for confirmation. Sent back in time wasn’t so bad right? SG1 had made it through that and presumably Rodney knew how they’d done it so I was set.
“Uh, no. In fact, you were sent forward into the future,” Rodney explained.
The future ... just like Sabina. I guess that proved beyond doubt that future travel really was possible, even without the intervention of an Ascended being.
“How far into the future?” I asked worriedly. Given the level of change around the place and the fact that Rodney was really, really old I braced myself for an answer around the fifty year mark.
“Huh, an interesting question – and one that was not easy to figure out,” Rodney shifted into classic smug McKay lecture mode. “I had to determine the exact characteristics of the solar flare in question ...,”
“Rodney!” I interrupted irritably – I didn’t have time for one of his long winded explanations.
“Forty eight thousand years, give or take,” Rodney cut to the chase abruptly.
Maybe I should have let him explain just a little ... the magnitude of that number had my head spinning. “This is a practical joke.” God, please tell me this is a joke!
“No, I'm afraid not,” Rodney admitted sadly. “Freak accident. Sorry.”
“You're telling me I just travelled forty eight thousand years into the future in ten seconds?” I tried to clarify what couldn’t possibly be true, no matter what he said. He was a hologram, not the real Rodney McKay which meant he could be wrong. He had to be wrong.
“I know – it is kind of cool when you think about it, isn't it?” Rodney misunderstood my reaction completely.
“Surfing a thirty foot wave in Waimei is cool,” I returned, feeling myself getting worked up. “Getting married in Vegas was cool.” I was all the way into anger now. “This is not cool!”
“All right, calm down,” Rodney insisted, looking at me worriedly.
And that’s when it hit me ... the entirety of what being so far into the future meant. Focussing all of that on him I began. “If I'm in the future, that means you're, uh ...,” I trailed off, unwilling to put it into words.
“Dead,” Rodney completed, not having any trouble with the concept. “Dead and buried and turned to dust a long, long time ago, along with everyone you ever knew.”
“Don’t give it to me gently Rodney,” I thought sickly. “Just hit me right between the eyes.”
“There's no way of knowing what the state of human civilisation is; whether it even still exists,” Rodney continued to lay down the entire horrible truth. “I mean, we've obviously abandoned the city.”
“Obviously!” I looked at him incredulously.
“There's not enough power for you to gate back to Earth, and without a MALP, going anywhere else would be far too risky,” Rodney didn’t react to my mood. “It is entirely possible that you are the last human being alive.”
The last human alive? That was possibly the saddest thing I’d ever heard. My mind was reeling ... that was the only explanation for why it took me so long to realise something important. The holographic Rodney was the creation of my Rodney ... who'd lived a fair portion of his life beyond the right now ... and who'd hopefully transferred some kind of accounting of that life to the version standing before me.
"Sabina," I asked urgently. "Did we find Sabina?"
"In a manner of speaking," holographic Rodney replied evasively.
"In what manner of speaking?" I demanded impatiently.
"In a manner you're not going to be happy hearing," old Rodney admitted, everything in his manner sending dread streaming through me. And suddenly I didn't want to know ... I wanted to hold on to my hopes that everything had worked out ... at least for a little while longer.
“You're not doing a very good job of cheering me up here,” I pointed out weakly.
“Oh, consider yourself lucky, young man,” Rodney said mildly. “While I was figuring out this plan, I had no way of knowing whether the city would even survive this long.”
“What – what plan?” Now that sounded more like the Rodney I knew ... and it gave me something to focus on.
“I took advantage of some progress in hologram technology to create this simulation,” He chuckled at the idea – obviously that was a story in itself. “I'm able to move anywhere inside the city. I'm fully interactive, and I'm designed to mimic the exact response and appearance of the great Doctor Rodney McKay.”
“Couldn't use anyone else, huh?” I quipped – that was so like Rodney, although I had to admit I’d be freaking out by now if it had been a stranger rather than Rodney’s familiar form.
“Funny,” Rodney chuckled again. “I'm linked to the city's main systems, but I have an independent core drive which is sealed in the foundation of one of the outer buildings – along with a Mark Twelve naqahdah generator and a couple of other key components. It's kind of like a, um, well, what do you say – like a time capsule, so to speak.”
“It's really nice to have company,” I acknowledged half sincerely, “but if what you're saying is true, what good does it do me?”
“Oh, trust me, I wouldn't go to all this trouble just so we could have a chat,” Rodney retorted. “No, no – I'm here to bring you back.” He turned and started to leave the room and then noticed I wasn’t following. “Come on,” he urged.
Bewildered by his strange behaviour I followed none the less. Now that I had a self contained hologram accompanying me the lights came on to light our way, switching off behind us.
“Where are we going?” I asked curiously.
“Stasis chamber,” he revealed.
“Why?” I demanded ... hoping he was going to say to get someone out of there who could help me but suspecting it wouldn’t be that easy.
“To buy some time,” Rodney said evasively.
“Well, that really explains everything!” I complained sarcastically, tired of all the mystery.
“Theoretically, we can send you back exactly the way you got here, using the Gate, the right address and a solar flare,” Rodney covered the basics of what I recalled from that SG1 file. “The only problem is, we're waiting for something very specific – a prominence with exactly the right shape, size, characteristics and relative position in space so that it will interact with the wormhole in exactly the right manner and send you back exactly the right amount of time.”
“And that doesn't happen every day,” I concluded.
“Exactly,” Rodney confirmed.
“How long are we talking about?” The image of Carson frozen in one of those things was fresh in my mind ... in an unpleasant ‘I don’t want that to be me’ kind of way.
“Oh, seven, eight hundred years,” he estimated casually. “A thousand, tops.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” I stopped abruptly and held up a hand in protest. “That's your plan? I'm forty eight thousand years into the future and you wanna put me on ice for another thousand?”
“Tops,” Rodney reiterated as if that would reassure me. It didn’t and I had nothing to say ... just stood there staring at him in disbelief. “We need to be precise. If I don't get you back within two months of the moment you left, then ... it'll be too late.”
"Too late for what?" I thought, not sure I wanted to find out if there was something worse than being hurled 48,000 years into the future.
Interlude 16: Don’t give up John
“Too late?” I looked at him with dawning suspicion, compelled to demand more information. “What the hell's that supposed to mean?”
Rodney sighed, the hint of memories that didn’t seem to be a comfort to him floating over his face. “Things didn't exactly go well for us after your disappearance,” he admitted. “Once I figured out what happened to you, I realised there was nothing we could do. The Air Force pronounced you K.I.A. – gave you a very nice military funeral back on Earth. Obviously the casket was empty but you know, it's the thought that counts. From there ... well, from there things went from bad to worse.”
And then I listened silently as Rodney began to explain what had happened in my absence. We hadn’t found Teyla before she’s gone into labour ... she had the baby and then Michael killed her, taking her son away and using him for his own sick purposes.
I could see the image all too clearly - Teyla lifeless and alone, stretched out on the floor of one of Michael’s hideouts. It wasn’t possible for me to comment right then, not with the grief trying to fight its way out of my chest ... Rodney hadn’t mentioned Sabina yet and after the news about Teyla I didn’t have the guts to ask. In fact I had to do a repeat litany in my head, over and over – “it’s not real, it hasn’t happened yet” just to assure myself there was still something I could do about this because the alterative wasn’t something I could even contemplate.
“I’m so sorry Rodney,” I said sadly ... he was a hologram but it was easy to forget that, to think of him as the real Rodney McKay, the one who'd lived through it. Better that than having to acknowledge that at this point in time it didn’t really matter how any of them had died ... they were all long gone.
“It's not your fault,” Rodney responded to my quiet air of guilt as we made our way towards the Stasis pods.
“I should have been there,” I stated simply.
“And you will be – and knowing the address where we eventually found Teyla, you will be able to get there much quicker,” the extent of Rodney’s plan became clear with that one statement. “You'll save Teyla, save the baby, change the fate of the galaxy.”
“That’s what this is all about?” I asked grimly. “Saving Teyla and the baby?”
“It was the turning point,” Rodney explained. “It was the key to everything. Once Michael had that baby, he was able to complete his research and perfect the hybrids. After that, well, he really kicked things into gear.”
Turns out Teyla not making it wasn’t the worst of the story. Rodney believed that Michael had used what he’d gotten from her son to make his hybrids unbeatable. But Michael didn’t just rely on that – the Wraith had vastly superior numbers so he stepped up the distribution of the Hoffan drug first until the point when the Wraith food supply was beyond repair. He waited until they were weakened by in fighting to bring them to their knees – and wipe out every queen in the galaxy. And then he went back amongst the humans who’d survived the Hoffan sickness and picked the strongest to become his hybrid army. The rest he slaughtered like we’d slaughter a herd of contaminated cattle. Because that’s all the remaining humans were to him – cattle that no longer had a buyer – useless and unwanted.
Rodney was convinced that if I went back and saved Teyla, then Michael wouldn’t be able to perfect his hybrids and the rest of that future wouldn’t happen either. Could one baby really be as important at all that? Michael had already created hybrids before Teyla’s son even existed which made me sceptical but I kept that opinion to myself.
“You haven’t asked me what happened to Sabina yet?” Rodney commented as we continued towards the stasis chambers. “The real Rodney was sure that’d be the first thing you’d want to know.”
“Not yet,” I tried to go for casual but it came out more as desperate, and had Rodney looking at me in concern. “I just ... it’s too much Rodney. Just give me some time okay.”
“Got plenty of that,” Rodney quipped with a smile, leading me around the next corner. We’d have been at the chambers five, ten minutes later if not for the next act of bad luck that descended on me. A corridor blocked off by sand – the corridor we needed to go down.
“Or maybe not,” Rodney commented weakly. “That could be a problem.”
“No, no, that's not a problem,” I insisted. “We'll just find another way around.” Holo-Rodney flickered in and out a few times and he didn’t respond. “Rodney?”
“There is no other way around,” he’d obviously just gone and checked. “The sand has penetrated the lower levels.”
“Forty eight thousand years into the future, you've still got a knack for stating the obvious,” I quipped. “All right, what do we do?”
“I don't know,” Rodney admitted.
“What do you mean, you don't know?” I demanded. He was a computer program – if he didn’t know then who the hell would?
“Well, I wasn't programmed for this variable!” he protested indignantly.
“You said you had twenty five years to work on this plan!” I looked at him pointedly.
“Well, McKay did – and he brilliantly anticipated a lot of potential problems,” holo-Rodney clarified, unable to resist an opportunity for self congratulations – all too reminiscent of the real Rodney. “It's just that, well, this wasn't one of them.”
“All right,” I took over decisively, already heading back up the corridor. “We go up two levels, turn right, there's an outer door. It's only a quarter of a mile across the plaza.”
“You can't do that,” Rodney denied my idea had merit.
“Why not?” I demanded impatiently.
“Not only is it extremely hot out there, but for the last half an hour the barometric pressure has been dropping and the wind speeds have increased significantly,” Rodney gave me the weather report worriedly.
“A storm's coming?” I questioned.
“A sandstorm,” Rodney countered. “Ever been in one of those?”
“As a matter of fact, I have,” I said a bit smugly but come on – Afghanistan? Surely he’d remember that after M1B-129 and the whole ‘I can’t believe you shot me’ debacle!
“Oh. Oh, then, then you know what that means,” Rodney floundered before recovering.
“It's not like we have a lot of options here,” I pointed out.
Not waiting for Rodney’s agreement I turned and headed back the way we’d come. I was tired and hungry and just plain grumpy by the time we’d made it to the part of the outer corridor I was after. Standing at the door I listened to the wind howling outside.
“Sounds pretty nasty out there,” I commented reluctantly.
“The winds are gusting over fifty miles an hour and increasing,” Rodney explained. “Look, the visibility's basically zero. You can't go out there! You're just gonna have to wait it out.”
“For how long?” I asked impatiently.
“Well I don't know. Maybe a couple of hours,” Rodney suggested. Not the answer I needed ... shaking my head wearily I decided the floor looked pretty attractive right then and sat down with my back against the wall.
“Are you hungry?” Rodney asked. “Do you have any food?”
I’d gone on the mission that morning alone which meant I hadn’t stuffed my pockets full of power bars like I usually did when Rodney was along – an action I was regretting right then. Still, no point in admitting that, so I just shook my head in response to his questions.
“Oh. Well, I suppose it doesn't really matter anyways,” he commented. “We'll just wait for the storm to blow over and have you out of here in no time at all.” Thinking some more about that he smiled awkwardly. “Well, you'll actually be here for seven hundred years but you know what I mean.”
“What happened next?” I asked abruptly. “After we found Teyla, after Michael had the Wraith in disarray? There's no way we would have rolled over and let Michael take over the whole galaxy.”
Of course we hadn’t. Rodney told me how Sam had singlehandedly commandeered a new Earth ship, taking it on daring strike and retreat missions to wipe out Michael’s fleet. How she’d been making a serious dent in his defences until he’d set a trap with false intel, surrounded her and disabled the Phoenix. She’d used it to ram one of the Hive ships, setting up a chain reaction that took out all three. And become another empty casket at Arlington.
It bothered me, hearing about Sam sacrificing herself like that ... not with that same rush of personal emotion I’d felt over Teyla because she wasn’t an integral part of my life like Sabina and my team. Still I liked her, admired her guts and determination, respected her leadership. An empty casket at Arlington was hardly the end she’d earned after all her years of service.
Even though he was just a hologram the recounting of so much tragedy seemed too much for Rodney. Pleading the need to check systems he disappeared, leaving me alone with only the howling wind for company.
“Where the hell have you been?” I demanded angrily when he returned too many hours later.
“I was inputting our new solar flare requirements into the long-range sensors,” Rodney reported with a strange expression. “And I found out what happened to the ocean.”
“Well, are you gonna tell me or are you gonna keep it a secret?” I asked when he didn’t immediately reveal the details.
“The sun in this system is dying. It's running out of fuel,” he waited for me to react ... was there some implication I wasn’t getting here?
“Wouldn't that make it colder?” I tried.
“No. As it consumes the heavier elements, it begins to expand. It's basically turning into a red giant.”
“OK, so mystery solved,” I acknowledged. “Let's move on.”
“No, no. You don't get it,” he insisted, sounding more like himself – the doom and gloom version anyway. “This isn't some kind of cyclical climate change. This is – this is a one-way ticket. This planet is going to get hotter and hotter. Eventually the atmosphere is gonna burn off.”
“All right,” I accepted the prognosis. “How long before that happens?”
“It’s impossible to say, but my best estimate is under five hundred years,” Rodney looked at me as if to say ‘now do you get the problem?’
“But you said I'd be in stasis for at least seven hundred,” I played along, pointing out the obvious inconsistency with his estimate.
“Right. So the moment you step out of the stasis chamber, you'll be killed.”
“Rodney, you've gotta think of something!” I insisted, looking at him expectantly.
“I am trying. It's like I said ...” he trailed off miserably.
“You didn't anticipate the variable,” I finished. “I get it.” Thinking quickly gave me a number of questions related to the first idea that came to me. ”All right: can the Mark Twelve power the shields?”
“Theoretically, but there'd never be enough power left over to maintain my systems, the long-range sensors, the stasis chamber,” Rodney said in dismay.
“The city has solar-powered generators, right?” I looked hopeful, the idea taking full shape in my head.
“Yes, which would come in very handy if we were trying to power a couple of electric golf carts,” he retorted sarcastically.
“See, you're still thinking like the old McKay,” I pointed out smugly. “Still sound like him too,” I added internally.
“I can't really help that!” Rodney protested. “Look, what are you saying?”
“The sun's going red giant, right?” I confirmed. “Increased solar energy. The worse it gets, the more power we'll have.”
“Oh my God. That could work!” holo-Rodney said in amazement. “We use the shields to protect the atmosphere.”
“Exactly,” I smiled as he looked at me with new eyes.
“You’re a lot smarter than I ever appreciated aren’t you?” Rodney commented almost sadly.
“It’s all relative,” I countered with a fond grin. “In the shadow of the great Doctor Meredith Rodney McKay I was average.”
“Mensa,” Rodney muttered after a moment’s pause, accessing the files my Rodney had made available to help him.
“Even as a hologram forty eight thousand years in the future he didn’t forget that?” I shook my head in amazement. Diversion aside I knew the time to act had come ... pulling out my scarf I prepared to head out into the sandstorm.
“Listen, we wouldn't be able to power the shield indefinitely, but it would buy us a hundred years or so,” Rodney was still stuck on assessing the plan.
“That's gonna have to do for now,” I looked at him purposefully as I prepared to use the scarf as a mask. “Open up the door.”
“What about the storm?” Rodney reminded me.
“It's been going on for seven hours,” I pointed out. “For all we know, it could go on for days.”
“It'll be dark soon,” Rodney tried again to dissuade me.
“All the more reason to get going,” I said simply. “All I've gotta do is walk in a straight line.”
"You won't be able to see two steps in front of you!" holo-Rodney pointed out the problem with my strategy, his tone incredulous.
“I never said I thought it would be easy,” I acknowledged, rolling my sleeves down to cover as much of my arms and hands as possible. “Look, I haven't eaten. I was hungry on my way back to Atlantis. The longer we wait, the weaker I get.” Pulling the scarf I’d tied around my neck up to cover my nose and mouth put an end to the conversation more effectively than anything else I could have said.
“All right,” Rodney gave up abruptly. “Look, I can't go outside, but I can stay in contact with you over the radio.”
Sunglasses on I walked to the door ... Rodney opened it and I almost had to step back, the wind howled billowing sand into the city. Holding my hands up to protect my face I steeled myself and then resolutely headed out into the storm, just making out the words Rodney called out behind me.
“It's like you said: keep walking in a straight line,” he urged. “When you hit the building on the other side, feel your way to the door. I'll be waiting for you there!”
Only a few steps away from the door and I was totally blind in a swirling mess of abrasive red sand, wind trying to push me back. Inside Atlantis it had been hot but outside the heat was staggering ... I could feel the sweat gathering and the strength draining out of me. If this took too long I was in serious trouble.
“Sheppard. Sheppard, can you hear me?” Rodney’s voice echoed strongly in my ear.
“Yeah, I hear you,” I ground out.
“How're you doing?” Rodney asked nervously.
“How’m I doing?” I thought incredulously. “How the hell did he think I was doing, out here in a sandstorm in the scorching heat?” “Never better!” I retorted aloud.
I’m sure I made an almost comic picture, the way I was bent horizontal against the invisible force of the wind, stumbling and having to push for every step. The first time I fell to my knees it was a struggle to drag myself back up again ... and I knew there’d be more, that each time I went down it’d be harder to get up.
I needed something, a distraction. “Rodney!”
“Yeah, I'm still here,” Rodney answered immediately.
“Tell me about Ronon.” I still wasn’t ready to hear about Sabina – wasn’t sure I could handle whatever had happened to Ronon either, but I had to start somewhere.
“What, now?!” Rodney reacted in surprise.
“Yes, now,” I said firmly. “Talk to me, Rodney.”
“Right. Uh, well, after what happened to you and then Teyla, I guess he didn't feel comfortable on the base anymore,” Rodney began. “He left, went out to fight in his own way.”
That sounded like Ronon, as did the rest of it. Recruiting his own strike force, training them, convincing Sam to give him weapons and supplies. I wasn’t surprised by the conclusion either – sending his men back to the Gate and then staying behind to take out one of Michael’s hybrid making labs was completely in character. Ronon would have pushed and pushed at Michael until he’d have no choice but to take him down – at least Ronon had been able to choose his own ending.
It saddened me that he hadn’t gone on to old age but he was a warrior – he would have wanted to go out fighting. Sharing that end with Todd the Wraith probably wouldn’t have been his first choice but I could see how human and Wraith would have had to unite against a common foe. After all, that was how we’d become allies with Todd in the first place.
“I'm sorry,” Rodney said sadly. “I wish some of these stories had happier endings.”
So did I. Didn’t give me much hope that Sabina had made something of her life after I’d disappeared. My mind wanted to spiral into speculation on how Sabina would have reacted - what she would have been compelled to do ... assuming she'd been in any condition to do something ... "Don't go there John!" I ordered myself.
I’d continued my stumbling progress during his recitation even though I wasn’t sure anymore if I was even heading in the right direction. And I admit it, I was pretty close to just falling down and giving it up as a lost cause. And then I saw her ... standing there a few steps in front of me.
“Sabina?” I croaked out, stumbling towards her.
“Don’t give up John,” I heard her easily even though the wind should have carried her words away from me. And then she turned and walked away.
“Sabina!” I yelled it this time, quickening my pace to catch up to her. “Wait!”
Rodney’s words in my ear were a distance annoyance I could ignore. “Sheppard? Sheppard? Are you still with me?”
Sabina was getting away from me ... I had to hurry or see her disappear into the storm.
“Sheppard?” Rodney called to me again.
“You’re almost there,” Sabina was in front of me suddenly. “Just another step.” She held out her hand to me and waited.
Reaching out for her my hand hit something solid instead. The door I’d been heading for! It slid open and I staggered inside, crashing to the floor face first. I registered the door closing and Rodney’s panicked demands for a response.
“Your biosignature's barely registering! Sheppard!”
I don’t know if that vision of Sabina had been real or not ... what I did know in the moments before I let exhaustion take me away was that I wouldn’t have made it without her.
Interlude 17: You are the hologram system right? Waking up was painful ... my skull hammered out an ache caused by too many hours without food and water, compounded by having the energy sapped out of me by the storm.
Waking up was painful ... my skull hammered out an ache caused by too many hours without food and water, compounded by having the energy sapped out of me by the storm.
Groaning, I lifted my head carefully and looked up. There was Rodney, squatting beside me with a worried expression that immediately cleared to relief when he saw I was awake.
“There you go,” he urged gently. “You can do it.”
I realised how weak I’d gotten when it was an effort to roll over ... lying on my back I pulled down the scarf that was still on my face. “Hullo, Rodney,” I greeted him simply.
“Yeah, I'm still here,” Rodney quipped. “Look, I'd help you up but I'm – I'm, um ....” he gestured vaguely to his holographic body.
The help would have been welcomed but like he said, he wasn’t exactly solid enough to provide that service. My head didn’t like the change to sitting position any more than the rest of me but I got there, leaning dizzily against the wall, waiting for things to shift back into focus
“How long was I out?” I asked curiously.
“All night!” Rodney exclaimed. “You don't look so good. Maybe we should get you to the stasis chamber as soon as possible.”
“Agreed,” I said wearily, sighing before slowing pulling myself to my feet. I began to feel a little better as we made our way the short distance down the corridor to the Stasis Room.
“I've already prepped the solar panels,” Rodney announced as we walked in. “You're good to go.”
“Wait,” I stood before the pod, not ready to become a John Sheppard Popsicle just yet. There were still things I needed to know. “You know, you never told me what happened to you – I mean, in the past,” I started with the easy one first.
“Oh, you don't wanna hear about that,” Rodney protested.
“Well, why not? Obviously you survived,” I pointed out. Surely that meant his story at least would have some happiness in it.
“Only ‘cause I quit,” he admitted.
“Quit what?” I asked in surprise.
“Atlantis, Stargate Command – the whole thing,” he said expansively.
“That doesn't sound like you,” I frowned at the incongruity with what I’d known of my friend. From what I’d heard already the others had met their fates much as I would have predicted ... but not Rodney?
“Yeah, well, we were under new management,” he excused lightly.
“Of course they were,” I thought bitterly, listening incredulously as Rodney began to tell his own tale. The IOA had replaced Samantha Carter with Richard Woolsey? During the height of a major military situation? I could already see which way this was going ... of course they pulled back on helping the natives, contracted everything back to Atlantis and protection of the only gateway back to Earth.
Keller couldn’t take it, couldn’t sit by and watch people suffer and die when she could have helped, or at least eased their suffering a little. She’d had to resign – that wasn’t the surprising thing. No, what was surprising was that Rodney McKay had already fallen for her and followed her back to Earth, quitting his job along with anything that had ever driven him in the process.
They should have had that happy ending back home but it wasn’t to be. Jennifer had been exposed to the Hoffan drug too many times ... only a year back on Earth she developed complications and they found themselves back at the SGC.
There wasn’t a cure. I could imagine how that tormented Rodney, how desperate he would have been to come up with a way to save her. That’s when he came up with the idea to change the timeline – starting with getting me back to Atlantis soon enough to save Teyla. He devoted twenty five years to the task before he finally worked out how to make it happen.
Luckily for all of us Major Lorne had stuck with the Stargate program and was by then a General in charge of the whole place.
"I don't think he ever forgave himself for what happened," Rodney said. "Not the whole time he fought Michael's forces while everything here was turning to crap ... not when they recalled everyone back to Earth and locked out the Atlantis gate address. When I showed up at the SGC with my plan Evan didn't even question me ... just told me to bring you back so we could fix it. The rest you know.”
“Yeah. I guess I've had a tough day, but you've had a tough twenty five years,” I tried to lighten the mood, earning a brief smile from Rodney in return.
“Twenty six actually,” he countered. “It took me another year here on the base to set everything up, get this program working so I’d be ready when you turned up.
“Thank you Rodney,” I said it feelingly, wanting at least some version of him to realise how much his sacrifice had been appreciated. “This, everything you’ve done ... you’ve taken genius to a whole new level.”
“He would have liked that,” holo-Rodney commented fondly.
Story concluded Rodney moved over to the controls and waved a hand over one, releasing a draw full of crystal controls.
“Here,” he instructed. “Take the first crystal. I've loaded all the intel we got on Michael after your disappearance, including the address where we found Teyla.”
I took the crystal, clutching it in my hand for a moment before carefully putting it in my top pocket.
“The place where we found her – it was a warehouse beside two tall towers,” Rodney offered. “Surrounded by three large circular buildings. The room where Teyla was held was near the middle of the warehouse, ground floor three corners in. Should help you recognise it when you get there.”
“Okay,” I said grimly. I hesitated for a moment before speaking again. “Tell me.”
“You mean about Sabina?” He looked at me with questioning, waiting until I’d nodded before continuing. “She escaped,” he began with something I hadn’t been expecting. “Hours before Teyla had the baby she convinced Sabina the only way was for her to make it back to Atlantis and bring help. That way they could give us everything they’d learnt about Michael too.”
“But it didn’t help,” I commented with a frown.
“We were too late,” Rodney confirmed. “She was devastated John ... broken inside because she believed Teyla’s death was directly on her. She’d been holding it together the first few days after we found Teyla – when we still didn’t know what had happened to you. When I worked it out, told her just how far away from us you were, that there was no way we could get you back she went all quiet, shut everything down deep inside. She wasn’t the same after that.” Rodney sighed sadly, glancing at me reluctantly before he went on with the story.
“The funeral back on Earth ... we buried your empty casket at Arlington. God, the expression on her face when they handed her that folded flag! She walked away John ... after the funeral, she just turned around and walked away and she didn’t come back.”
"You let her go it alone?" I asked, angry at the thought that somehow Sabina has been abandoned when she'd needed her friends the most.
"Of course not!" holo-Rodney returned. "She and Lorne practically came to blows at your service because he wouldn't let her shut everyone out. But you know Sabina ... she was so determined ... and she took us all by surprise, leaving so suddenly. Evan searched for her ... God knows for how long, but she did too good a job of staying hidden ... at the time Jennifer and I cut ties with the SGC Lorne still hadn't found her."
“So you don’t know what happened to her after that?” I asked in a low tone.
“Ah,” Rodney hesitated, clearly thinking about whether he should respond. “Okay, I did hear one thing ... about seven and a half months later.” I raised an eyebrow at the specific way he’d described the timing. “She was pregnant John ... must have happened just before Michael took them. She didn’t know ... I’m pretty sure she walked away from Arlington not knowing.”
“She had a baby?” my voice shook ... I felt frozen inside.
“Your baby,” Rodney said insistently. “Your son ... she called him John, came back to the SGC for the birth because of the whole Wraith and Lantean gene thing. Jennifer and I were still off trying to live normal lives – by the time I heard and tried to get in touch she was gone again. I don't know where anyone else from Atlantis was at the time ... just that Sabina and the baby stayed at the SGC only briefly and then she disappeared again.”
“He was okay? They were both okay?” I asked worriedly.
“From what Doctor Lam said, yeah they were – whatever Michael did to her while she was his captive had no effect on your son,” Rodney reassured me. “I didn’t hear anything about her for years ... when I ran into the first major snag trying to work out how to get you back I searched for her myself because I thought she’d be able to help.”
“Did you find her?” I suspected the answer but had to ask the question anyway.
“Not exactly,” Rodney admitted. “She left Earth John ... picked a random gate address when John junior was about five. From what I could work out Sabina picked her time carefully - Lorne and the rest of her team were off world and I guess there wasn't anyone else there at the time to argue with her. The SGC checked for me but so many years later there was no trace of her on that planet ... they didn’t know where she’d gone – no one did.”
“That’s it?” I felt blank inside, devastated that my disappearance had led to so much suffering. The story hadn’t been anything like I’d expected because Sabina being pregnant wasn’t something I could have anticipated.
And then the full meaning hit me in a burst.
Sabina was pregnant ... right now in my time, the time I was hopefully heading back to. She was pregnant and completely unaware of it. I didn’t know what to think, what to feel ... it was too much and all I wanted was to see her because I knew she’d rip away the static in my head and make everything clear again.
“Are you ready to do this?” Rodney let me be for a few moments before speaking gently ... like he thought I might crack if he was too loud.
“You are the hologram system right?” I asked weakly as an idea occurred to me. Perhaps Diamantia could help ... tell me what happened to Sabina after she’d disappeared from Earth.
“I suppose,” Rodney agreed with a puzzled frown at the abrupt change in topic.
“Then ... ah ... Ego quaeso ... um ... regimen ex ... ah ex preteritus!” I bent my head low and drew the words from my memory, hoping they’d work for me like they had for Sabina even though I wasn’t actually standing in the Hologram Room.
“Hello John,” I looked up in startled confusion. Rodney was gone and in his place was someone I wasn’t expecting to see.
She smiled sadly, taking a few steps closer until she could have reached out and touched me.
“That was you, out there in the storm?” I knew it had to be, whether she’d own up to it or not. “You’re really here?”
“It’s me,” she confirmed, “although not quite the way you left me.”
“Ah ... no,” I surged forward unsteadily, the weeks of separation making the sight of her enough to have me almost mute with emotion. Holding out a shaking hand I looked at her pleadingly, desperate for something ... anything to make her real.
“Oh John,” Sabina stepped forward and enfolded me in her embrace ... she was there, physically and in every other way that counted.
“God I missed you,” I muttered into her hair as I clutched her tightly, revelling in how she clung to me in return.
“You missed me?” she pulled away and looked at me incredulously. “Try waiting forty eight thousand years for someone to turn up and then tell me about missing them!”
“I’m sorry,” I apologised even though it was hardly my fault this had happened.
“You have no idea what I had to go through to get here,” Sabina looked sad for a moment, before her expression smoothed and she smiled teasingly. “I said more than once that I’d never give up on you, no matter the circumstances. You just had to find a way to push that to the limit, didn’t you?”
“You ah ... how?” I asked, unable to conceive of the level of patience and commitment that had taken for her to be standing there before me. I felt ... humbled ... and so much in love with her right then that I struggled to contain everything I was feeling.
“It wasn't easy,” Sabina admitted. “Rodney told you what happened as far as he knew... now I’ll tell you the rest.”
Drawing me over to the wall she urged me to sit down, sitting down herself and crossing her legs underneath her. She was wearing one of those robes like I remembered from the Sanctuary ... and she looked good, really, really good.
“Rodney told you I was pregnant when you disappeared,” she began, putting a hand over mine and squeezing firmly. “I didn’t know John ... the whole time with Michael and then back on Earth when everything was going so wrong I never suspected. I guess that was my one piece of luck ... that Ryan survived despite the poor treatment I endured during the first three months.”
“Ryan?” I asked, confused because Rodney had said she’d named him John.
“Yeah – John Ryan Sheppard,” Sabina expanded it out for me. “I was gonna call him John but ... it was really hard without you. The pleasure and the torment of looking at him and seeing you, hearing your name every day. So I used his middle name instead. I tried to make a go of it on Earth but I couldn’t get past the fact that you weren’t gone, that you’d arrive here and be all alone with no way of finding out what happened. I didn’t know about Rodney’s plan and I just ... I couldn’t let it go. So I went to the SGC, asked General Landry if I could go off world. He took pity on me, said it was the least they could do. As soon as Ryan and I arrived at the planet I chose, I dialled another address, and then another after that until I was sure they wouldn’t be able to trace me.”
“Why?” I asked in dismay. “Why would you isolate yourself from everything? You had friends there who could have helped you. Rodney said Evan searched for you ... for years! That you deliberately avoided him and everyone else ... why?”
“Because I had a plan of my own,” Sabina stated, “and I didn’t want to hear any of them telling me it was too far out there, that it wouldn’t work. I couldn’t allow any hint of doubt to enter my mind or it wouldn’t have worked.”
“Ascension,” in a rush it all made sense to me. “You actively sought out a way to Ascend.”
“Made the decision before Ryan was even born,” Sabina admitted. “It wasn’t the life I would have chosen for him but I couldn’t leave him behind on Earth ... he’d inherited pretty much every genetic trait from both of us and I was scared the IOA would find a way to use him. I researched it for months before we left, spoke to Daniel and got every reference to every planet he’d ever seen linked to Ascension. We moved from planet to planet following those leads at first and then others that I came across. Eventually I found a place similar to the Sanctuary but without the time dilation field. Ryan and I settled there and I spent the rest of my life ‘letting go of my burdens’. Eventually I did it – I ascended. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected but it did give me a way to be with you again. All I had to do was wait another forty seven thousand nine hundred and fifty years, give or take a few years.”
“And Ryan?” I asked curiously.
“He missed having a father, having you in his life and the first few years were tough for him,” she admitted. “Over time the atmosphere of the place calmed him and he came to love the sanctuary,” she reassured me. “Settled with a lovely girl there ... and eventually they both ascended too.”
“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” I admitted. “If you ascended why didn’t you just go back to the point before I stepped through that wormhole and tell me not to? We know time travel isn’t beyond the capabilities of an Ascended being.”
“Because you were lost to everyone,” she tried to explain. “That had been my original intention but you were trapped in an instant of time ... even with all my ascended powers I couldn’t reach you, no matter how hard I tried. I soon discovered that while Ascension might be a ticket to still being around 48 thousand years later it didn’t grant me omnipotence or unlimited powers. There were boundaries I couldn’t cross, and not because of the Ascended rules. Diamantia was right in that – my goals were so expansive the others never picked up on them. Me talking to you now isn’t of interest to them because I’m not here to change anything ... just to make sure you didn’t end up alone. Rodney’s the one who’ll fix this and they can’t – they won’t – interfere with that.”
“Wow,” I looked across at her in amazement. “I can’t believe this ... I don’t know what to say.”
“Rodney devoted just as much of his life to the same thing,” she pointed out. “He’ll get you back there, back to the me I was then. And none of this will have happened.”
“And you’re okay with that?” I asked hesitantly.
“More than okay,” she assured me with a smile. “I’ll give up the past forty eight thousand years if it means I get to have the fifty or so I was hoping for with you.”
“All right,” I got up and dusted off my pants, holding out my hands to her. “I’m ready to do this.”
She let me pull her up and into my arms, holding on to me tightly. I just stood there, breathing her in, letting her presence fill the space that had been empty since Michael had whisked her away. I don’t know how she was doing it because she was Ascended but she felt like Sabina to me, exactly the same as before.
“I have to go,” she murmured sadly, leaning back to look into my eyes. “You need Rodney to complete this and he can’t come back until I exit from the hologram system.”
“I’ll see you soon,” I promised, kissing her with everything I had in me. She was smiling when I pulled back ... running her hands up my chest and into my hair she leaned up to kiss me again and then stepped away.
“Be careful what you share when you get back,” she warned seriously. “The strategic stuff, the things we hope to avoid sure. But everything else has to stay here in this future.”
“You want me to keep a secret this big from you?” I asked in surprise.
“This really is me John,” Sabina said with a smile, “and yes, I’m giving you permission to keep everything you’ve learned about the me of this future to yourself. Well obviously you can tell me about the pregnancy because that’s a given, but the rest is no longer important. God forbid you should influence the new future in a way we can’t predict because you shared something you shouldn’t have.”
“Fair enough, but I’m telling you about that military funeral,” I countered decisively. “There is no way I’m letting you live on tender hooks for years waiting for that vision to come true when it already has.”
“Now that I would appreciate,” Sabina agreed. Reaching up she drew my head down to hers, rested her cheek against mine for a few seconds before sighing and letting me go. “See you later John,” she grinned, raised a hand in a careless wave and then was gone. She’d left me with a parting gift though ... my headache and the weariness that had been sitting heavy on me were gone. Her contribution to making sure I had enough left to get back through the gate to Atlantis.
“What was that?” holo-Rodney came back abruptly, frowning in confusion.
“Nothing – just a glitch,” I dismissed lightly. “Let’s get this done.”
Rodney checked the controls, pressed a few buttons and then looked at me. “Okay - we're ready.” The stasis pod came to life at Rodney’s command ... I didn’t hesitate, just stepped inside and turned to face him.
“Now, if this works, I'll be waiting right here when you come out,’ Rodney promised. “I may not have much time to get you through the Gate, but I think we can manage it.”
“And if it doesn't work?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“Well, you won't feel a thing, but basically you just ... won't wake up,” Rodney admitted awkwardly.
“Right,” I shrugged – it wasn’t like I had a choice after all. Thinking quickly I came up with one final question. “Anything else you want to tell me about the future? Sports results, stuff like that?”
“I was never really much of a sports fan,” Rodney reminded me.
“Had to ask,” I looked at him closely, saw the hint of amusement in his expression, and felt marginally better.
“Good luck, John,” he said earnestly.
I nodded, waiting silently for what was coming next. I felt the chill creeping up over me from back to front. And some time in the middle I went to sleep.
Rodney was standing in front of the stasis pod when I awoke.
“Quickly,” he urged. “Power reserves are dangerously low!”
I didn’t have time to think, just react in a sprint from the Stasis Room, up the corridor to the door leading outside. Thankfully with the shield in play there was no sandstorm to grapple with, no oppressive heat to force my way through. Still running hard I made quick time across what used to be the plaza and back inside, up steps, down corridors until I burst out into the Gateroom.
The Stargate was already in motion, lights flashing around the outside as the chevrons locked in the address for Atlantis ... I wasn’t sure how it was possible to make a call to yourself but Rodney assured me it would work.
“Shield collapse is imminent,” Rodney yelled just as the wormhole kawhooshed. I hit the event horizon at a run ...
Interlude 18: Can we go now?
“Shield collapse is imminent,” Rodney yelled just as the wormhole kawhooshed. I hit the event horizon at a run ...
... that continued three seconds later on my exit back into the Gateroom of Atlantis.
Skidding to a halt I noticed the Marines immediately, rifles all trained on me and held my hands out appropriately. “Whoa!”
“John!” Sam exclaimed as she and Rodney made their way down from the Control Room, obviously surprised to see me.
“Colonel!” I grinned, looking around the Gateroom at everyone and everything just as it should be. “It worked! It worked. Rodney, you're a genius.”
“Okay,” Rodney agreed uncertainly, not above accepting the compliment even though he had no idea what I was talking about.
“John, what happened?” Sam asked.
“How much time has gone by?” I demanded.
“You've been missing for twelve days,” Sam revealed.
“And Sabina – is she here?” I could see them all thinking ‘he’d lost it now if he doesn’t remember his wife is missing.’
“No John,” Sam replied gently. “We still haven’t found her or Teyla.”
“Okay,” I looked away, thinking aloud. “Twelve days, twelve days. She’s not here yet so Teyla won't have had her baby either.” Looking back at Sam I acknowledged they all thought I was a little crazy. “Look, I know this sounds kinda weird, but we're on the clock.”
“John, what are you talking about?” Sam asked, confused.
“I know where Sabina is,” I announced boldly ... not strictly true but I was counting on Sabina being with Teyla. There was no way I was allowing any doubt to creep in that the data crystal holo-Rodney had given me would lead to Teyla without Sabina being there too.
Of course that’s when they started treating me like I wasn’t John Sheppard at all.
“Let’s get you to Doctor Keller, have her check you out,” Sam suggested in a carefully reasonable tone.
“Oh, don’t do this,” I protested. “I’m not a Replicator or a clone.”
“Then where have you been for the past twelve days?” Rodney demanded impatiently.
“Okay, this isn’t gonna help convince you I’m not crazy, but here goes,” I launched into an explanation without pause. “I dialled Atlantis from M4S-587, stepped through as usual only I ended up in the future ... forty eight thousand years into the future. Rodney, you created a hologram program to be there when I arrived and to look for a specific kind of solar flare that could send me back here. I was in stasis for seven hundred years before one occurred, enough time that the shields were failing because the sun had gone red giant. But I made it through ... with this,” I held up the data crystal. “Your hologram said it contains details of the location of the planet where they found Teyla in that future plus everything else we need to know to help defeat Michael. We find Teyla, we find Sabina. But we have to hurry because if Teyla has that baby before we get there then she’s dead, and pretty much the rest of us along with her.”
I was almost panting at the end of what was probably the longest spiel I’d ever delivered.
“The Stargate sent you forty eight thousand years into the future?” Rodney zeroed in on that being the most unbelievable part of my story.
“Yes!” I thrust hands through my hair in frustration, raining sand down on the floor around me. “Go and see for yourself – you can do that right?”
“Rodney, go check the Gate logs,” Sam asked thoughtfully. “John, infirmary first and then Isolation Room One ... we’ll talk again there.”
Almost growling in frustration, I manfully tried to reign in my impatience. It was obvious nothing I was gonna say would convince Sam to just believe me ... I would have to work through the entire procedure before I’d have any chance to get out and find Teyla ... and hopefully Sabina too.
"Fine - but let's make this quick," I turned and strode rapidly from the room, leaving them staring after me.
Jennifer gave me the full works on medical tests and then released me to the Isolation Room. She was gracious about it, even commented on how glad she was to see me, but I was still consumed with that same frustration and impatience. For the whole two weeks prior to that wormhole going off course I’d had nothing concrete to follow up. Now I did and protocol was getting in the way of me acting on it and all I could do was pace around angrily, knowing they were watching me from up in the observation room.
When Sam came into the room I jumped right in before she had a chance to say anything.
“We don't have time for this.”
“John, there are procedures we have to follow,” Sam said reasonably. “You know that.”
“I am not a clone,” I bit back insistently. “Is that what you're worried about?”
“No, your medical came back clean, telomeres and all, but there are other things we need to discuss,” Sam explained. “I mean, you have to admit: this is a pretty wild story, even for this place.”
“But that's my whole point!” I said, throwing my hands up irritably. “How could I make this up?”
“Sam,” Rodney’s voice came through over the tannoy loud and clear. “Believe it or not, I found it. It was in the sensor log. It's a solar flare capable of interfering with the wormhole from M4S-587 at exactly the moment that Lorne says he dialled.”
“Well, why didn't the Gate's failsafe prevent the wormhole from locking?” Sam asked.
“Umm, well, we've had a number of glitches since we, uh, last updated the operating system,” Rodney admitted with an awkward uncomfortable edge to his voice.
“Oh, that's what you call a "glitch," huh?!” I retorted incredulously.
“Yes, well, you should know that, uh, I'll be giving Zelenka a stern talking to,” Rodney replied.
“Can we go now?” I looked at Sam hopefully.
“First you’ll need to give me the highlights on what you found out from the future,” Sam replied. “Just anything of strategic or tactical importance so we can hopefully avoid anything unpleasant this time around.”
“Sure,” I agreed, spending as little time as possible filling her in on Michael’s plans and how he managed to achieve them in the future – making it pretty clear heading out to save Teyla and Sabina was of urgent importance.
“Okay John – I’ll fill the others in. Go get cleaned up, then grab your gear,” Sam finally ordered. “I’ll have Lorne and two teams of Marines ready in the Gateroom when you get there.”
“Thanks Colonel,” I jumped up and almost ran from the room.
Back in the quarters I shared with Sabina I hardly took a moment to look around and be glad I was home ... rushing through the first shower I’d had in seven hundred years (yeah, poor joke but sometimes you just have to go there) I ran back into the Gateroom less than ten minutes later.
“Colonel, good to have you back,” Lorne greeted me with a relieved smile.
“Good to be back Major,” I replied, looking over the group of Marines going with us. “Where’s the rest of your team?”
“We were following up a lead off world,” Lorne explained. “Colonel Carter radioed in that you’d returned and ordered me back here. I left the others behind to continue with the mission ... you know, just in case ...,” he trailed off awkwardly.
“In case it turns out I really have lost it this time?” I smiled to let him know I wasn’t offended. “Don’t worry about it Evan ... if I was in your place and got handed such an absurd story I’d have my doubts too.”
“So you were really in the future?” Lorne commented curiously. “How was it?”
“Very, very grim,” I shared that news with a hard look. “Believe me when I say it’s not a place any of us want to end up ... those that survive.”
“Oh,” Lorne looked away, uncomfortable with my intensity, probably wishing he hadn’t asked that question.
The Stargate was already being dialled by the time Ronon and Rodney appeared.
“Sheppard,” Ronon greeted me casually, like it hadn’t been almost two weeks since he’d seen me, but I could tell he was happy I was back.
“Hey buddy,” I replied. “Ready to go get Teyla and Sabina back?”
“Past ready,” Ronon grinned evilly and I suddenly wondered about the last two weeks from his perspective. Should make a note to myself to ask him about it once this was all over.
“Look, um, I know you've already been debriefed about future events – all the things we were hoping to avoid – but there's just one more thing I need to know,” Rodney rushed out the question in a low voice.
“What?” I asked, hoping to put him off.
“Did I still have hair?” Rodney asked with a hopeful look.
“No,” I looked away as I answered. I know it was mean but come on – seven hundred years in stasis – he so deserved that little dig and I’d come clean ... after he’d had time to stew over it. Teasing Rodney made everything feel just that little bit normal ... and I needed that feeling ... needed to take the edge of the anticipatory nerves jangling around inside of me. It was time to focus on what had to be done ... time to go get Sabina and Teyla. And this time nothing was going to stand in my way.
Running a glance over everyone and seeing they were ready to head out I gave the order. “Let's go!”
The gate address holo-Rodney had given me led to a planet with buildings and towers to match his description. The place was huge ... we’d have to split up to cover the ground quickly.
“Lorne, take McKay, search that way,” I ordered, motioning for one of the teams of Marines to go with them. “Ronon, you and the others will be with me. Search every room – let me know if you find anything. Move out.”
We headed into a warehouse beside the two tallest towers in search of the room where Teyla would be found. There were no signs of current occupation, although clearly someone had been living there since the place had been abandoned. When we came to the first junction I motioned for the Marines to go one way while Ronon and I continued alone. It was slow going, searching every corridor and corner for something familiar before moving on. After we’d been going for a few minutes I contacted Rodney to see how they were doing.
“Rodney, you got anything?”
“Hold on,” Rodney replied. A few moments passed and then he was back. “Yeah. Yeah, I've got some kind of a data terminal. Let me see if I can power it up and hack in.”
Ronon and I opened the next door and walked inside ... it looked familiar but not in the way it would if I’d ever been there before. No, I was pretty sure I’d found the right place.
“This is it,” I told Ronon confidently. “This is where they found Teyla.”
“How do you know?” Ronon looked around, not seeing anything to confirm what I knew to be true.
“‘Cause he described it to me,” I said simply.
Ronon acted immediately, racing to the next doorway with a growl, blaster aimed and ready. I followed more cautiously, motioning for us to go in together.
There was nothing there, no sign of Teyla ... should I be thankful for that? No sign of Michael either. The room had been set up though, into some kind of Wraith birthing room, complete with a knife presumably for cutting the cord.
“McKay, we've got something,” I radioed to report.
“What is it?” Rodney sounded somewhat distracted as he replied.
“Michael's twisted version of a maternity ward,” I revealed, looking at what could only be intended as an incubator. “I think we're too early, though, but he's gonna bring her here to have the baby.”
“Hold on. I'm in,” Rodney announced excitedly. “Woah! Jackpot!”
“What've you got?” I queried hopefully.
“I've got everything!” Rodney’s tone made it clear he really couldn’t believe his luck. “I've got Gate addresses, I've got sub-space communication codes. I've even got his research into the hybrids! He's history!”
Before I had the chance to get excited about that he was speaking again, only this time it was doom and gloom Rodney. ”No-no. No-no-no-no-no. What happened?”
Then next thing we heard was the sound of an explosion in the distance, followed quickly by Lorne yelling into his radio.
“Colonel, it's a booby trap!” The building started to shake as if to add weight to that conclusion. “We've gotta get out of here now!”
A large metal beam fell from the roof in front of us, barely missing us. "So much for future knowledge!" I ground out ... the advantage I'd gained from holo-Rodney gone in the first few minutes by events even he couldn't have predicted.
We ran from the room, ducking quickly as more of the ceiling fell in.
“This way,” Ronon yelled, pointing towards the centre of the building.
I followed, keeping track of him through an increasing rain of dust and debris. Everything was groaning and shaking and then the whole building was collapsing. The noise was incredible and there was nowhere to hide ... I could see the walls collapsing in around us, tightening the space with which we had to move. I knew what was coming but there was nothing I could do for myself or for Ronon. When the collapse got to us Ronon and I ducked low and waited to get slammed. I saw the beam heading straight for me but I couldn’t avoid it completely. It was gonna hit hard ... I had about three seconds to pray that somehow I'd get out of this - get another chance to save Sabina ... and then it was lights out John.
Yes, I deliberately sent the rest of Lorne's team somewhere else early on because it seemed in the episode that only Lorne, Rodney, John and Ronon survived the bomb and building collapse and I didn't want to kill Parker and Brown off. I don't use them much but I like them!
Interlude 19: Don’t protest until you hear me out
“John?” Sabina’s voice drew my attention and I turned to smile across at her. We were sitting on our balcony back on Atlantis, both of us gazing out across the ocean at the end of a long day.
“I’m here,” I reached out and drew her hand onto my knee. “This is nice.”
“Yes,” Sabina agreed with a smile. “We should enjoy the peace and quiet while we can. Evan was telling me his nephews are great boys but noisy like you wouldn’t believe.”
“We’ll handle it,” I assured her.
“At least we’ll have the chance to do this together,” Sabina acknowledged. “When I think about what would have happened if you hadn’t been there to rescue us ... I don’t think I ever thanked you enough for that.”
“When I rescued you?” I asked, suddenly confused.
“From Michael silly,” Sabina put her other hand on my chest and pushed lightly. When she took her hand away it was covered in blood. As one we looked down to see a dark red swathe of colour spreading rapidly across my t-shirt.
“John?” Sabina looked at her blood stained hand and then back to me in horror.
“I don’t remember,” I whispered. “I don’t remember rescuing you.”
“That’s because you didn’t,” Aiden Ford stepped out of the ocean in front on me, arms crossed over his chest as he looked at me pityingly. “Just like you never rescued me.”
“Or me,” Elizabeth Weir stepped up beside Aiden. “In fact you’ve been making a bit of a habit out of getting your friends captured and then leaving them out there, haven’t you John?”
I couldn’t speak, doubling up as the pain in my stomach escalated. My vision wavered and shifted back into focus, back into reality.
I was awake, in the collapsed remains of a large building. As I took stock of my situation I registered the heavy metal beam lying at an angle across my chest. The full weight of it wasn’t resting on me directly but it might as well have been for the way its position had me effectively pinned to the ground. That wasn’t the worst of it – my right arm was trapped under something heavy, there was intense pain in my right side I didn’t even want to identify further, and I could almost feel the debris hanging over my head only a few feet above me.
“Sheppard!” Ronon called out. “Hey, buddy.”
“Where are we?” I asked, still disoriented.
“Michael's compound,” Ronon reminded me. “It collapsed on us.”
Everything came back to me in a rush ... Teyla and Sabina! Had we completely ruined our chances of finding them because we’d gotten here too soon? Why hadn’t holo-Rodney been able to give me a better estimate on when the hell I should turn up?!
Trying to shift myself even just a little bit just set off a whole host of pain, the most pressing of which was the agony radiating from my side. I suspected if I could actually shift enough to have a look I’d see something embedded there that really didn’t belong.
Ronon put a steadying hand on my shoulder. “Hey.”
“I think I ...,” I trailed off, hoping that Ronon would pick up what I was trying to say, namely ‘get whatever that is the hell out of me!’.
“Yeah. Hold on,” Ronon urged. “Let me take a look.” I could feel him shifting around beside me but I didn’t pay any attention until he did something to my side that had me crying out at the agony.
“What the hell was that?!” I demanded weakly when the pain had settled to a more manageable level.
“Just a little scrape - no big deal,” Ronon dismissed without giving me the detail ... translated that probably meant something much larger than was healthy. I held in the urge to verbalise the pain again when he started field dressing the wound, focussing instead on what we needed to do to get out of there.
“What about the others?” I asked hopefully.
“I don't know,” Ronon replied. “We got separated.”
“Try ‘em on the radio,” I urged, grateful when he finally finished messing around with the bandages.
I heard the static immediately ... and knew we weren’t going to get any assistance from the others. I refused to even think that might be because they hadn’t survived. Worry over McKay, Lorne ... all the good men I'd led on the mission wouldn't help the situation. Dredging deep I searched for some 'John Sheppard' positivity. "Radios probably got damaged," I said lightly.
"Probably," Ronon agreed.
“Listen, the Daedalus left Atlantis on its way here hours ago,” I reminded Ronon. “We just have to hang on until they get here.”
“We should try to get closer to the surface,” Ronon proposed.
“I’m all for that plan but I don’t think I’m going anywhere,” I nodded down to the beam still blocking any hope I had of sitting up, let along getting out of there.
“Then we’ll just have to move it,” Ronon assessed the beam before moving in and wrapping his arms around the middle. “Ready?”
I nodded, watching as he strained with every muscle to shift it ... without success.
“Both of us?” I looked at him for some indicator he thought it worth a try.
“Tell me when,” Ronon shifted position slightly, poised and ready.
“Okay, one, two, three,” I counted it off. On three we both pushed as hard as we could, with me studiously ignoring the rising pain elsewhere in my body and the fact that I was probably doing further damage with the attempt to get free.
The beam lifted a little but it was just too badly wedged into place and we couldn’t move it.
“Oh, this thing ain't moving,” I said weakly, giving it up as a lost cause.
It had been a while since I'd woken up ... trying not to worry about our people wasn't getting me anywhere. Kind of like someone telling you not to look down and feeling compelled to do it ... the more I tried not to think about it the more I did. “Wonder what happened to the others,” I eventually said.
“I don't know,” Ronon shifted to sit beside me. “It happened pretty quick. I don't think many people made it out.”
“So stupid! Of course the building was booby-trapped. I should have seen that coming,” I was angry at myself for not using what I knew about Michael – not just the Michael we’d confronted but the one who kept multiple compounds operating throughout the galaxy because he was that paranoid about being stopped before his work was finished.
“Yeah, well, none of us did,” Ronon pointed out. “Everyone knew what we were getting into. We all knew how dangerous it was, so don't beat yourself up about it.”
“You need to start thinking about how to crawl your way out of here,” I said in a low, serious tone.
“No way,” Ronon dismissed the idea without even thinking about it.
“I'm serious. You just keep moving up, keep moving the debris, work your way to the surface.”
“I'm not leaving you behind, Sheppard,” Ronon stated firmly.
“Come on. I'm not trying to be a hero here,” I tried a different approach. “It's a selfish thing.”
Rather than answer verbally Ronon shifted around to my right side and muscled a big metal canister off my arm. I tried not to groan as blood rushed back into my hand, carrying a swarm of angry pins and needles with it. Opening and closing my hand a few times I turned back to Ronon.
“I need you to dig a hole so that the rescuers can come down and get me,” I continued with the same ‘you’ll be helping me more if you leave’ argument.
Ronon just ignored me again, turning his attention back to the metal beam. Shifting my head so I could look at it better I realised there was a lot of rubble at the bottom end. The rubble was stopping Ronon from lifting it off me but it was also holding the beam stable enough that I could breathe normally and not get crushed under the weight. Ronon started shifting some of the pieces that seemed most likely to be holding the whole thing down.
“That's the wrong way, chief,” I pointed at irritably, finally forcing a response from Ronon.
“If we get this beam off you, we get you free, we dig ourselves out together,” Ronon offered. “Deal?”
“You ain't gonna listen to me one way or the other, are you?” it wasn’t really a question because we both knew he had no intention of doing what I’d asked.
“Great, deal,” Ronon confirmed nonchalantly and went back to shifting rubble.
He spent a long time trying to clear the bottom end of the beam before insisting that we try to lift it again. Despite all Ronon’s work though we couldn’t lift it enough to get me out, even though we tried more than once.
Ronon was relentless and determined, pushing me on despite my injuries.
After a few attempts I was drifting in a world between fully conscious and about to check out ... probably a combination of the blood I knew I’d been losing steadily since Ronon had messed with the wound in my right side and the fact that I’d used a lot of reserves trying to shift that stupid beam.
“Hey,” Ronon’s voice brought me back to reality abruptly. “Come on, one more try.”
I couldn’t help the groan that escaped at that – tempted to tell him to leave just so I’d get a damn break! “Feeling pretty weak, buddy,” it galled me to admit that I didn’t have another attempt in me.
“You're not quitting on me yet, are you?” Ronon asked lightly.
“No,” I denied before honesty forced me to revise my answer. “Uh, well, I was thinking about it ... I could really do with a nap right about now.”
“That wasn't part of our deal,” Ronon insisted.
Sleeping wasn’t part of our deal? Since when? “You keep adding things to this deal of ours,” I complained.
“All right,” Ronon got back into position for another go at the beam even though he knew I wouldn’t be contributing much. “Ready? One, two, three.”
As with every other attempt the beam lifted a little but not enough. And it occurred to me that perhaps there was another tact I could take to convince him to leave.
“Ronon,” I said intently. “You need to get out of here.”
“Would you leave me if I was stuck under there?” Ronon asked.
“Yes,” I lied without remorse.
“You would not,” Ronon retorted.
“I need you to do something for me buddy,” I said, letting some of the desperation I was feeling leak into my voice. “I need you to get out of here. NO! Don’t protest until you hear me out,” I winced as the shout pulled something painful inside. Ronon looked at me silently, waiting for the rest with arms folded across his chest. “Sabina,” I said softly. “I need you to help Sabina ... the Daedalus will arrive and get me out of here eventually but it may not be soon enough for her and Teyla. It’s up to you to save them now.”
I don’t know what Ronon would have said in reply because a noise from above drew our attention away from the conversation.
“You hear that?” he looked at me hopefully. “Sounds like digging.”
“Yeah,” I listened hard, registering faint sounds of tools moving against rock. “I hear it! I hear it!”
“Hey!” Ronon yelled. “Hey, we're down here!”
“We're coming for you!” an unfamiliar voice called down to us. “Just stay calm!”
“And you were gonna quit!” Ronon looked down at me with a grin.
Our rescuers had been at it a while before I began to feel suspicion stirring inside. Something wasn’t right ... the lack of any familiar voices, conversation just slightly off what it should have been given the situation. I don’t know what it was but it had me thinking about confirming their identities without tipping them off.
“Stay calm! We're almost there,” the same voice called out.
“I'm gonna stop making fun of combat engineers as of today, I promise,” I called up through the ceiling. “Harris up there with you?”
“Yes, he's here,” the man replied. “Don't worry, we'll have you out soon.”
And there it was ... more fuel for my suspicions ... Harris was a member of Atlantis sure but he shouldn’t be up there.
Ronon frowned, knowing something was wrong too. “I thought Harris was on leave until next month,” he commented too quietly for our so called rescuers to hear.
I nodded, thinking there was a slight chance they might have recalled Harris ... I needed something to confirm it without doubt.
“If we get out of here, beer's on me, boys,” I made it jovial and friendly. “What do you like, uh, Duff Beer or Oprah Ale?”
The main guy hesitated over his choice of nonexistent beers before settling on one. “Duff,” came the reply.
“Well, they don't watch The Simpsons or drink beer,” I whispered to Ronon grimly.
“Michael's hybrids?” Ronon suggested. “I bet he was tipped off when the building blew.” Shifting quietly he positioned himself behind my head and picked up his blaster.
“I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted you to leave so you could save Sabina and Teyla!” I bit out angrily. “You should have gotten out of here when you had the chance!”
“Yeah, whatever,” Ronon didn’t seem all that intimidated with my bad mood.
The only option was to stand and defend and for that I needed a weapon ... the only one I had was buried in my holster and I couldn’t shift enough to get to it.
“I can't reach my gun,” I said, still somewhat irritable.
Ronon reached under the beam and pulled the pistol from its holster, cocking it before handing it over. “How do you wanna play this?”
It wasn’t really a choice but still I paused for a moment, hoping for something to occur to me. When nothing did I gave the reply Ronon was expecting. “Shoot until we can't shoot anymore.”
“All right,” Ronon agreed with a smile.
We both looked up at the ceiling, cement dust raining down harder to advertise the fact that Michael’s men were close. Glancing across at Ronon I thought for a moment and then spoke.
“You’ll find Sabina - make sure she's okay, look after her ... if I don’t make it out of this and you do?”
“Sheppard,” Ronon protested the turn in the conversation, glancing over at me before looking up again.
“I need to know you’ll do this Ronon,” I said quietly. “Please.”
It wasn’t that I was discourteous but being in command, being the man I was meant the word ‘please’ didn’t grace my speech very often. When it did people usually paid attention and Ronon was no different. Spearing me with an intent gaze he nodded wordlessly.
“Thanks,” I settled back again, turning my attention back to the battle we were about to face. “Been a pleasure,” I couldn’t help adding.
“Same,” Ronon returned.
We were ready when the ceiling was ripped away revealing two of Michael’s hybrids, one of whom was taking aim with a Wraith stunner. They wanted us alive but I didn’t feel much like accommodating them. We didn’t get to fire a single shot though ... bright white light assailed my eyes and when it cleared Ronon and I were in the infirmary on the Daedalus.
“It’s about time,” Ronon growled, grabbing my arm and helping me over to the nearest bed. The ship shook a couple of times in a familiar way – Wraith weapons fire. Colonel Caldwell would have had to lower the shields to beam us up and whoever was out there was taking the opportunity to get in a few shots.
Jennifer pulled Ronon away so she could get her first look at me and I saw her wince in dismay.
“What have you done to yourself this time Colonel?” she muttered, carefully raising my shirt so she could assess the wound in my side. I tried not to flinch but couldn’t help a pained grimace as she probed the site for whatever reason it was doctors always did that. “I thought we'd lost you there,” Jennifer commented lightly.
“Yeah, well, for a second I thought we'd lost me too,” I admitted. “It's gonna be okay though, right?”
“Yeah,” Jennifer’s words were a welcome relief. “You need some serious work but you should, you know, live to fight another day and all that.”
“So, what's going on?” I asked for an update. “We’re under attack?”
“Yeah. We had to lower the shields to beam you up here,” Jennifer admitted. “It’s Michael’s ship John ... they disabled the hyperdrive but ...”
“We couldn’t properly defend or attack without risking Sabina and Teyla,” I concluded.
“Listen, I’m sure McKay and Colonel Carter will be able to work something out,” Keller reacted to my grim mood by trying to reassure me.
“McKay's alive?” I felt my spirits lift – Ronon and I had carefully refrained from commenting on his chances the whole time we’d been trapped but deep down I hadn’t held out much hope, despite my inner attempts to be positive.
“Yeah,” Jennifer smiled briefly before turning serious again. “Yeah, he and Lorne were the only two to make it out of the rubble.”
Just the four of us out of two teams? My heart dropped ... had my impatience alone caused the deaths of four good Marines? Would it have mattered when we'd turned up there?
Shaking off those dismal thoughts I actively regrouped. Despite our losses things were looking up ... well, relative to the past couple of weeks anyway. Rodney was okay and I wouldn't have to tell Sabina I'd gotten her team leader and friend killled.
But more than that, Sabina was the closest she’d been for the past four weeks. I had to act ... before it all slipped through my fingers again.
“Patch me up,” I ordered. “I need to get back out there.”
“What?” Jennifer looked taken aback. “No-no-no. Look, you will be fine but you're far from it now. You've lost a lot of blood. You need surgery and a transfusion. I mean, this can't wait.”
“Look, Doc, Michael's here,” I started with the obvious. “That means Sabina and Teyla are probably on the ship. I'm too close to sit here and do nothing.”
“You're not gonna be sitting around doing nothing,” Jennifer insisted. “You're gonna be laying here in surgery.”
“Look, there's gotta be ...,” I tried to sit up to make it more convincing.
Crap! It was harder than I thought. Slumping back to the bed two seconds later didn’t exactly lend weight to the argument that I was good to go. Fixing her with an intent look I continued to pursue some kind of solution that would have me up and about. “There's gotta be a quick fix.”
“No!” Jennifer protested again.
“I just need a few hours,” I went for whatever I could get ... temporary was fine – I’d take it and be grateful.
“I'm sorry,” Jennifer said sadly. “I can't.”
She turned to walk away and I couldn’t let it go. I was reaching out to grab her arm before I realised it, gripping tightly enough to transmit some of the emotional stress I was under.
“Michael is up there with my wife,” I gritted out in a near whisper. “My wife Jennifer, and my teammate. I can’t let that go!” I hesitated for a second, and decided Sabina would forgive me under the circumstances. “You don’t know everything ... I didn’t mention it when I was telling Colonel Carter what happened in the future." I glanced around, lowering my voice even more before continuing. "She’s pregnant Jennifer.”
“What?” Jennifer looked surprised. “I mean, I knew you guys were trying but she never said anything.”
“That’s because she doesn’t know herself,” I explained in low tones. “I only know because Rodney’s hologram told me what happened to her after I disappeared and it included a baby. The only way that’s possible is if she’d pregnant right now.”
“I understand your concern John,” Jennifer looked at me, clearly torn between what she knew was right from an emotional sense and what was right medically. “But Sabina wouldn’t want you out there risking further injury. If she were here she’d have you tied down to that bed to stop you and you know it.”
“But she’s not here!” I said forcefully, clamping a hand over my side at the painful reminder that I really shouldn’t be shouting. “She’s not here Jennifer and that’s the problem. I can’t ...,” swallowing emotionally I had to stop before continuing. “She can’t be this close and have us fail again. And Teyla and her son? I had a taste of the future where Michael takes that baby and it was bad Jennifer ... bad for all of us. Rodney used his image for the hologram because pretty much everyone else was gone.”
“John,” Jennifer looked tortured and I knew I nearly had her.
“I can save her, save everyone ... but only with your help,” I deliberately put the pressure on. “I’ve had a chance to rescue a team mate before, and it slipped through my hands. I am not letting that happen again.”
“Okay,” Jennifer gave in suddenly. Grabbing supplies with one hand she turned back to me and cut my shirt away from the wound. She looked angry but she was helping me so I didn’t call her up on it. I sat there stoically as she administered pain relief direct to the site before putting in some temporary stitches and then bandaging everything up tightly. “I’ve stabilised the wound, given you a couple of things to help with the pain and get your body making the most of your decreased blood volume. It should hold you for a couple of hours,” she explained grimly. “But I want you back here the minute this is over ... sooner if the bleeding starts up again.”
“Thanks Jennifer,” I put a hand on her shoulder and waited until she made eye contact.
“As soon as you’re done,” she said again before turning and walking away.
“Was that really necessary?” I turned to see Ronon sitting on the next bed looking at me reproachfully.
“You know it was,” I dismissed lightly, taking the replacement shirt one of the nurses offered me and putting it on very carefully.
“You don’t trust the rest of us to do the job so you go out there so weak you can barely stand straight,” Ronon countered grimly.
“I trust you,” I denied his interpretation of my recent actions. “Listen, if this goes badly and I’m not there I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering what if. What if I’d been there, would it have made a difference? I’d rather live with the consequences of doing it this way.”
“No matter who you hurt in the process?” Ronon questioned sadly.
“I didn’t hurt Jennifer,” I denied heatedly. “You and I both know if she hadn’t wanted to be convinced she wouldn’t have done this – no matter what I said.
“And she’ll have to live with it if you don’t make it because she sent you out there like that,” he gestured to my bowed posture and the hand I was still holding gingerly at my side.
“I’ll be fine,” I insisted. “Are you going with me to talk with Colonel Carter or not?”
Wordlessly he got up and fell into step beside me. I might have damaged my relationship with Jennifer by pushing so hard but I had what I needed. And I had the beginnings of an idea to float past Colonel Carter and Rodney ... just as soon as I found them.
“What do you think Michael will do if we launch an attack?” I asked Ronon as we walked.
“Standard procedure is to launch their Darts,” Ronon replied.
“Which means they have to open their Bay doors,” I glanced at Ronon to see him smiling ... he knew what I had planned and if nothing else, he approved of that.
Stopping a Marine heading down the corridor in the opposite direction I quickly found out that Rodney and Sam were in the Asgard Core Room. Walking with Ronon trailing silently along behind me I got there just in time to hear the tail end of Sam’s suggestion.
“We could launch a 302 attack.”
“That's what I was thinking,” I said as I stopped in the doorway.
“Colonel!” Sam frowned in surprise. “Doctor Keller said you were out of commission.”
“She revised her diagnosis,” I gave that explanation without a shred of guilt but I couldn’t help but put a hand to my side where the mass of pain that was still radiating from inside. I didn’t miss Ronon’s disapproving look nor the concern on both Sam and Rodney’s faces but I chose to ignore it rather than acknowledge it and get into something I couldn’t finish.
“Look, we may have an idea,” I revealed.
“Maybe a way to get Teyla and Sabina back,” Ronon concluded.
We explained the rest and in short order had won Rodney and Sam over, enough that Sam was willing to take the plan to Colonel Caldwell right there and then.
“We need to take out the Cruiser's main weapons,” Sam pointed out. “The easiest way for us to do that right now is launch an attack with 302s.”
“I wouldn't exactly call that "easy",” Caldwell replied. “They'll just send out Darts to intercept them.”
“That's what we're counting on,” Ronon revealed.
“In order to launch the Darts, they'll have to open the Bay doors,” Rodney explained. “If we have a cloaked Jumper in place, a small team should be able to sneak onto the Cruiser undetected.”
“We find Sabina and Teyla, bust them out and blast our way home,” I gave the conclusion confidently.
“As a rule, I like to keep daring rescues down to one a day,” Caldwell quipped with a negative shake of the head.
“Look, the shields are already down to twenty percent,” Sam persisted. “It's just a matter of time before they fail completely.” Caldwell still looked dubious. “They’re over there, Steven, counting on us. I won't take "no" for an answer.”
“All right,” he gave in reluctantly. “Take a cloaked Jumper. Radio us when you're in position.”
Ronon and Rodney left as soon as the words were out of Caldwell’s mouth. I paused, waiting for Sam to acknowledge the Daedalus commander before falling into step beside her.
Jennifer’s medications had kicked in but they couldn’t completely mask the discomfort ... it felt easier to walk if I held my hand against my side but of course walking that way raised the suspicions for Sam again.
“John, what really happened in the Infirmary?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I insisted.
“You’re beyond pale and you’re sweating even though its bloody cold in here,” Sam pointed out succinctly. “You should sit this one out John.”
“I’m fine,” I looked her in the eye with every cell of determination I had in me. “I don’t need to sit this one out.”
Sam seized my arm and pulled me to a stop, scepticism written all over her face. “So you're telling me if I go down there right now and talk to Jennifer, she'll tell me that you're fit for duty?”
“I'm just trying to do a job,” I evaded a direct answer.
“So am I, and part of my job is determining whether or not you're gonna be a liability on this mission,” Sam didn’t pull any punches with that one. A plea to the emotions wouldn’t help me win her over ... the only defence I had was to go on the offensive.
“Colonel, I have more respect for you than any commanding officer I've ever had, but I'm getting on that Jumper, end of story. I'll surrender for court martial when I'm done.”
I didn’t wait for a response, just walked away knowing I was gonna pay for it later but not really caring. Nothing was more important to me right then but getting Sabina and Teyla back.