McKay Ex Machina

 

By Patricia

 

EMAIL: Patricia

 

 

PROLOGUE:

 

 

Ka-BOOM! The Universe roared with a bone-jarring thunder and blinding whiteness exploded everywhere. Mere seconds - or an eternity - passed and the flare dispersed leaving reverberations that were mere memory of sound rather than actual noise. Inky blackness and static were all that remained...

 

PART I

 

Somewhere in the Pegasus Galaxy a stargate flared for the second time in less than twelve hours seeming to immediately expel a 'Lantean gateship - the first visitors to the system in over fifteen thousand years. Inside the small ship seven of the eight occupants were crowded into the smaller front section all eager to see the quiescent white dwarf star around which orbited the observation platform that had summoned them. Ronon Dex was the lone member of the team who showed no interest in the dead star, his innate curiosity having been long ago quashed and supplanted by wary distrust of all new situations. He frowned at the scientists and soldiers and pushed his way back to the rear compartment eager to be apart from the press of other people.

 

"Stop crowding me!" Chief Scientist, Dr. Rodney McKay, snapped back at the bodies pushing in around him where he sat at the right front seat of the puddlejumper.

 

"Okay, kids, everyone back to your seats," Colonel John Sheppard ordered before any real animosity or conflict could break out. "We're heading to the station, now." The small bright ember that had once been a G type star slid to the left, out of view as John brought the Jumper to bear on the observatory.

 

With soft conversation, everyone filed back to their places in the rear compartment and Ronon returned to his preferred seat up front. "Huh," he grunted, nodding at the object spinning in place before them, "That doesn't look like anything the Ancestors built."

 

"Yes of course because they only had one style of architecture for the whole of their existence -" McKay said.

 

"Rodney, play nice," John admonished the scientist who hadn't even lifted his head from his study of his own laptop.

 

"Right, sorry." He did look up then and gazed at the silvery white space station. "This thing is old even for them. Styles change. Surely even on Sateda -"

 

"Ok," John cut him off again, ready to deflect any further possible insults to Ronon's world or culture. But it wasn't necessary. He could see that McKay's attention had already been snagged by something on his monitor.

 

"It's online  and -" he waved his hand as if that added more to the explanation. At the same moment, the Jumper's HUD activated.

 

"- And acknowledging us. Acknowledging the Jumper, anyway," John finished for him.

 

"Bay doors are opening on the other side of the platform - the other side of the wheel part." And again hands gestured in the air, possibly miming flying the jumper around to the other side. He paused and squinted, head tilted in consideration. "It looks a lot like the space station in Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey.'"

 

"Well, it's a good design."

 

"Except this is a little more... I don't know... blobby." It did seem to have extra parts stuck on almost like afterthoughts, or maybe extra funding coming after initial plans had been finalized. Or something. Rodney shook his head and looked back down at his laptop screen. He poked at a key. "I hope this thing has... Ah. Yes. Artificial gravity is coming online now."

 

The silvery space station now almost filled the windshield's view, blocking out the darkness of space behind it.  "The station is taking over the landing," John reported. But his hands remained on the controls just in case something untoward should happen and he needed to take back control. Rodney didn't answer, his attention remaining fixed on his laptop's monitor. Behind them came only the softest of terse conversation, not even loud enough to distinguish between speakers. In this almost silence, the small ship entered the not very large space station.

 

A gasp from behind emphasized John's "We're in and wow that was close." It had seemed as if they almost skimmed the edges of the bay opening. "Bay is closing," he read from the HUD.

 

"And the station is repressurizing and lights are up." Rodney paused but still didn't look up. "Ok... ok... And now, life support is online." Now he grinned up at Sheppard with excited anticipation. "Right. Ready. Let's go!" He jumped from his seat and moved back to the rear compartment.

 

They hadn't brought a lot of  equipment with them on this mission, only the standard gear and Rodney's usual collection of tools, crystals, extra battery for his laptop, and other miscellaneous goodies he deemed necessary for the successful completion of  any scientific mission. And most of it would remain in the Jumper, anyway for this first excursion within the station. Only McKay and the two engineers he'd brought along donned their heavy packs. John followed, arms folded across his chest while he waited for the scientists to be ready. He then signaled for everyone's attention. "Heads up, everyone." He waited til they all had their attention on him. "There will be no wandering." He stared meaningfully at McKay and the engineers. "We have no idea how safe or not this place is. After all, it called us because it needs something fixed."

 

"Attended to," Rodney muttered a correction.

 

John shot him a wry expression. "Either way it's an unknown and those do have the nasty tendency of biting us in the ass."

 

"True enough," Rodney acknowledged. "Let's go already."

 

John gave the entire company a final visual inspection before lowering the Jumper's ramp. He nodded to the marine sergeant and corpsman who exited first, weapons at the ready, alert and expectant. They both turned outward as they descended the ramp, taking in the whole of the unexpectedly small hangar bay.

 

"Clear!" they each sang out, almost in unison.

 

McKay surged forward at that. "Of course it's clear," he grumbled, "The life signs detector already told us that." But he lurched to a halt as Sheppard grabbed the pack on his back and yanked him backwards.

 

"And of course there's no such thing as an automated defense system."

 

"Oh, well -"

 

"Rein in some of that enthusiasm, McKay."

 

"Yes, yes, can we go now?" The scientist twisted himself free easily.

 

"Stay together," Sheppard enunciated loudly for everyone's benefit

 

The bay was obviously empty aside from their Jumper and there was only one internal access, a simple door that slid sideways into the wall at the group's approach. This led directly into a fairly wide but otherwise featureless corridor which led both right and left.

 

"Which way, McKay?"

 

Rodney didn't even look up from his scanner. "Left about six hundred meters then right into one of the ..." he grimaced "... spokes. That leads directly to the hub which is where the main controls are."

 

John nodded again to the marine sergeant, "Delaney, take point. Ronon, you're on our six. Everybody else, stick together."

 

They moved quickly down the corridor accompanied by the sounds of their own footfalls and the faint hiss of the ventilation system. There was no conversation to distract any of them. The passageway was continuously lit from behind recessed frosted panels placed at several meter intervals. None were dark. For a facility as old as this one claimed to be, support systems seemed to be in remarkably good working order. No one could doubt the Ancients built their structures to last.

 

"Here!" McKay called out unnecessarily as they came up on a vertical oval shaped access portal. One of the soldiers, the broad shouldered Sgt. Delaney, looked back at his commanding officer, who was blocking the scientist's path.

 

"Go ahead, Sergeant," Sheppard said, still keeping himself between McKay and the door.

 

The marine waved his hand in front of what appeared to be a small sensor very like the ones on Atlantis' doorways and it opened without any fuss, lights coming up on the other side at the same time. Rodney leaned around the soldiers to peer inside. He took a step back. "It's... a little narrow," he observed uncertainly.

 

John shrugged. "Well, it's wider than a submarine's passageway."

 

Rodney's head snapped around, "And you would know from all the subs the Air Force has--"

 

The pilot laughed, "I've been to Groton; anyone can play tourist."

 

Delaney and Morales, an Fleet Marine Force Hospital Corpsman on his first Atlantis assignment, exchanged long suffering, but silent, looks of amusement.

 

The Russian software engineer, Valeri Zaikin, squeezed in to peer over his boss' head. "You're right Colonel, this is a piece of cake, Rodney."

 

"Lemon cake," McKay grumbled back. Then he huffed in determined resignation, "Well, it doesn't matter. This is the way we have to go." He jiggled the scanner in emphasis, as if the fault they had to take this route was the machine's. His expression clearly saying: so it would be tight - single file all the way. But not impossible. It wasn't as if someone could get stuck.

 

"The order will be Sgt. Delaney, me, Dr. McKay, Ms. Emmagen, Dr. Shaltiel, Dr. Zaikin, Corpsman Morales, Specialist Dex." Sheppard listed the order before anyone (Rodney) could shove his way in first. He waited for their nods of understanding then stepped aside and gestured to the opening. "Sergeant," he invited casually.

 

Everyone obediently filed through the doorway in the prescribed order and they moved along the narrow featureless tube with Delaney setting a cautious, yet not terribly slow, pace. Even with Rodney situated behind him, by the time they reached the halfway point, John sensed the man's rising distress and one or two of Teyla's soft words of concerned encouragement. At least he could spare McKay some embarrassment.

           

By the time they reached the end and John could hear the quick shallow breaths of the  battled phobia but still insisted on having Delaney enter first and give an all clear before allowing the rest of them to follow.  He turned to observe Rodney passing through noting he was wide-eyed and pale, his jaw clenched hard enough to ache. "Rodney--?"

 

McKay swallowed twice before managing a deep breath. "This is it," he confirmed without acknowledging his team leader's concern.

 

Bright lighting illuminated a large curved console with a bank of three dark flat screens arrayed in front of the single central chair. Around the periphery of the room several narrow tables seemed to have been extruded seamlessly from the wall, each with two accompanying chairs which were fixed to the floor. It was, however, the central console that commanded Rodney's attention and he strode directly to it already fixed on his work. "Valeri, give me your laptop. Let's start by downloading the data archive," he organized even as he settled himself in the chair.

 

"Is that why the thing phoned home?" John asked as Zaikin obediently handed over a thin laptop already trailing an interface cable.

 

"No." Rodney glanced up briefly at John. "This observatory hasn't been active since about two thousand years before the Ancients last left Pegasus."

 

"What?!" Instinctively Sheppard shifted his grip on his P90 as if he suddenly expected something to attack them imminently.

 

"Standby mode, apparently," McKay continued blithely as he continued working. "A White Dwarf is essentially nothing more than a very dense, cooling briquette." He paused to read something first on one of the console screens and then on Zaikin's laptop screen. "Of course I am simplifying here. It's not just radiative cooling..." He trailed off as his attention was distracted by something on the console screen. He typed on the laptop, looked back up at the console and muttered "good, good," to himself or possibly the keyboard. "Earth's sun is about four point six billion years old," his voice resumed its earlier lecture mode volume. "And it's just through half its main sequence lifetime." He waved a hand as he explained, "It will end as a red giant and then stellar winds will strip the outer envelope away leaving pretty much what we have here - a collapsed naked stellar core losing its heat (in four stages) to the surrounding space."

 

"Oh."

 

"Yes, 'oh.' It would be far more interesting if -- oh!" He cut himself off this time. The engineers both followed his gaze to the leftmost monitor.

 

"'Oh?'" The extra quotes John added were obvious.

 

"Last year something collided with the star. The station woke up for that."

 

"And?"

 

"It's been online since and its memory buffers are full."

 

"So that's why it called?"

 

"Apparently." McKay was sounding distracted again, his attention now so focused on his work that it didn't seem he would add anything more.

 

Valeri Zaikin, a man in his early fifties and with a lifetime of experience that made him one of the more reliable and flexible of Rodney's scientists looked up at Sheppard. "It should have dumped memory directly to a receiving computer on Atlantis but it seems that machine is no longer in service," he explained.

 

"Ah, so nothing catastrophic, then." John really wanted a quiet, uneventful mission.

 

"Depends on your definition of catastrophic," the other engineer declared. John knew that she had served in the Israeli armed forces and that made her a strong candidate for further off-world missions. Which was why she was off-world now after only a few months as part of the Atlantis expedition. "For this machine," she patted the console affectionately, "perhaps having its memory constipated with nowhere to send it is catastrophic."

 

"Colonel, stop pestering my people." McKay deigned to re-enter the conversation. "It's a nice sized station, why don't you military guys go explore. We're going to be here a while." At Sheppard's hesitation he added, "We didn't see any life signs and there's no reason to think there might be Wraith hibernating here." He paused to consider his words, then added, "Unless it'll convince you to go look for them."

 

"Not funny, McKay."

 

"Not meant to be, Sheppard."

 

"So... a while is how long?"

 

"Hours. We have to download the whole archive, reset the buffers after those are cleared." His hands waved about, emphasizing the huge amount of work ahead of them.

 

"Come on, Sheppard. I like his idea." Ronon encouraged hopefully. Sheppard knew he really hated standing around without good reason if there was a chance to be more active.

 

Sheppard thought about it. He rather liked the idea. "Teyla, I'm sorry, but I'm going to ask you and Morales to stay here just in case there are hibernating Wraith or something else dangerous." He wasn't about to leave McKay and his people unguarded. "Delaney, you're with Specialist Dex and me." Teyla was patient and quite capable of bending Rodney to her will when she really wanted without a whole lot of fuss. Rodney was rather old-fashionedly gentlemanly that way. John was pretty sure that only Teyla and Morales noticed them leave.

 

"Well. That's interesting," McKay muttered to himself twenty minutes later. He looked up. "Where's Sheppard?"

 

"Exploring, sir," Morales answered from his chosen post leaning against the wall near the entryway. "As you suggested."

 

"What is interesting, Rodney?" Teyla asked. She was seated at one of the chairs by the odd tables. The chairs swiveled and so she was able to keep her eyes on everything simply by turning in place.

 

"I've found some encrypted - strongly encrypted - files. Valeri, you stay with the archive transfer; Leah, you have the transient memory dump. I'm going to look into these. They're on a different server." He engaged his radio, "Sheppard, I'm going to have to change locations," he announced even as he readjusted his pack in anticipation of a hike.

 

"Why?" Came back clearly enough in his ear.

 

"I found references to some encrypted files on another server. " He pulled out his life signs detector. "It's almost directly opposite where you are now. Have you been there yet?"

 

"No. Teyla, do you copy?"

 

"I am listening, John." They all were. Everyone had their radios live and on the same channel.

 

"Go with him. Keep him out of trouble. Morales, you stay with Doctors Shaltiel and Zaikin."

 

A chorus of "Yes sir" and "Very well, John," reassured him. Mostly.

 

"It's an older bridge," Rodney explained as he and Teyla passed back into the narrow spoke.  "Smaller, they must have used it while building the main part here." He was focused on the scanner and almost didn't recognize the tightness of the passageway this time. Teyla  murmured a sound that was meant to imply that she was paying attention to him, but she was really more intent on their progress and the possibility that if his attention strayed from its focus he might need some encouragement to keep from panicking. "I suppose it's possible the earlier structure was more sound - although really, the whole station has to be sound I mean --"

 

Ka-BOOM!

 

The sound reverberated and the station shuddered. Light flared then disappeared completely. Everyone's radios filled with the shocked oaths of several languages. 

 

"Rodney!" John yelled

 

"I don't know! Shut up! Everybody shut up!" he yelled, breathless and disoriented. "Ow."

 

"Rodney? Teyla?"

 

"We're fine, John."

 

"Morales, report."

 

"Everyone's good here, sir. A bit knocked about."

 

"We've lost power though," Zaikin reported.

 

"Probably power's down everywhere." Sheppard replied. "Rodney?"

 

"No. No, it's not down everywhere. The small bridge is still up."

 

"Separate power systems?" Shaltiel mused. "Or backup?"

 

"I'll know when we get there," McKay answered.

 

"That sucked," Ronon editorialized.

 

"Don't everyone turn on your flashlights. We might need to conserve batteries," Sheppard advised. "Rodney, we need power. Ronon and I are trapped in a very small room. And I don't hear the ventilation going."

 

"Shouldn't there have been some sort of backup power?" One of the marines - Rodney wasn't sure which - was asking.

 

"Yes," Shaltiel replied after a moment. "I can't tell yet why it didn't."

 

Rodney stopped in the mid-motion of getting his flashlight out of a side pocket of his pack. "I thought there was no power?"

 

"My laptop is fine and it seems to be able to access the dump buffers, so I am looking to see what else I can connect to.  Valeri is doing the same, but he was knocked off his feet and lost his earpiece so can't report."

 

"All right. Teyla and I are on our way..." he was already striding forward confident in his assumption that his companion was right behind him, "...to the small bridge. We'll see what we can do when we get there. First thing is to get air system going again. And anything else of life support that has been shut off."

 

"Interesting that we still have gravity, Rodney." Leah pointed out.

 

"Small favors and all that."

 

"People, if air supply is limited maybe so should the chatter be. " Sheppard gave a shot at mild subtlety.

 

"Good point," Rodney agreed. "I'll report again when we get there."

 

Now he did start to run, Teyla beside him. They careened off the curved walls now and again but sped up each time until Rodney skidded to a halt before one more unremarkable door. He passed his hand before the panel not really expecting it to open. When it did, he muttered, "I don't like this," but entered anyway. Fairly dim lighting revealed a short passage. This part of the platform would have been a small extension inside the wheel looking not unlike a bulb between a pair of spokes. He'd seen it on the schematics but hadn't given it much thought at the time.

 

"You can do this, Rodney," Teyla encouraged mistaking his hesitation for the phobia he often declared.

 

"Of course I can," he replied distractedly. "I just don't care for the coincidence." He pushed himself into the small airlock - because that's what it was - or had been once upon a time back when - would there be air on the other side of the --

 

"Rodney?" Teyla's questioning voice directly behind him and her hand on his shoulder jarred him from his near panic. He swiped his hand in front of the sensor and this door opened with a small, telling, hiss. There hadn't been air before; there was air now. He strode in and the lights came up at his presence. The room was small, somewhat trapezoidal in shape and dominated by... a Chair. Not completely unlike the one on Atlantis. But not quite the same either. This one didn't wait for someone to sit down; it was already glowing. Invitingly so, in fact.

 

He jerked to a stop tearing his eyes from the Chair to scan the rest of the room. There were closed cabinets along the right and back walls, and a small, unassuming (and dark) workstation off to his left that faced inward toward the Chair. "We might need that on," he said and he interrupted his rush to the chair to quickly pull his laptop from its secure place at his back, the disconcerting rip of releasing Velcro reflecting his haste. He hunched over the top of the station and when that revealed nothing useful, he moved to kneel behind it ignoring  Teyla's shadowing him. He ran his fingers over the casing, making a satisfied huff when he found the thin cracks of a panel. "Teyla, hand me a screwdriver," he ordered, gesturing vaguely at his pack on the floor in front of the workstation. He did not take his eyes or right hand off the newly discovered panel.

 

A moment later, the pommel of a small screwdriver was shoved towards him. "Thanks," he said but didn't look away. Then he gently shoved the working end between the bottom crevice, first one corner, rocking back and forth til it made a pop sound then he did the same to the other side and the whole cover snapped off.

 

"Is that how it is supposed to come off?" Teyla asked with a grimace.

 

"Certainly not. But we're in a hurry here." He dropped the small tool with no second thought and twisted his head to peer inside. "Nothing unusual," he announced and a few moments of quick handiwork had his laptop linked to the alien machine. He lifted himself back to his feet and carried the laptop back to the front of the workstation, setting it rather precariously on a somewhat flat surface clear of any controls. He booted it up under his companion's silent scrutiny and started typing quickly. Several windows came up at his command and they all seemed to wait.

 

He moved his attention to the Ancient console.

 

"Hey guys, are you there yet?" Sheppard's unexpectedly breathy voice came over both radios.

 

"Yes, sorry, working," Rodney snapped back.

 

"We are here, Colonel." Teyla's response was much calmer. "Dr. McKay is connecting his computer to the Ancestor's." And as the Ancient machine came alive with windows upon windows of arcane and unreadable text, she added, "And he has turned both on."

 

"Rodney," Sheppard's voice insisted, "is that --"

 

"Safe?" Rodney interrupted. "Yes, I've got virus protection and this workstation is not too different from some of the older ones on Atlantis." He stood up, arching his back quickly. "Now shut up and let me work. You don't sound like you have much air left. Don't answer!" He flicked his radio off and gestured for Teyla to do the same. "I can't do anything from here," he said.

 

"The Chair?" She was quick, he'd give her that.

 

"Yeah. It's their only chance."

 

"Rodney! Wait, it might not be safe." But he wasn't listening and she wasn't fast enough or near enough or perhaps just hadn't expected him to just jump onto the Chair without checking it out first. But that's what he did, pulling off the cumbersome vest in record time, and she couldn't stop him.

 

"Oh," he said softly as his head and back touched the glowing blue chair back. 

 

"Rodney?" But a flash at the corner of her eye had her turning toward the console McKay had indicated and by the time she turned back, a translucent shell had swallowed both her teammate and the Chair. She hit her radio, "Colonel--"

 

"Great job on the ventilation," Sheppard interrupted.

 

"Colonel there is a problem," Teyla said carefully as she walked slowly around the enclosed structure. "Dr. McKay is... trapped. We found a Chair as on Atlantis and when he sat down it encapsulated him."

 

"Of course he did," Sheppard groaned. "What do you mean by "encapsulated?" Force field?"

 

"No." Teyla walked up to the enclosure and rapped her knuckles on it. "It is hard and almost transparent." Her eyes narrowed as she tried to make out details within. "His eyes are closed but he is breathing. I do not know if he is conscious, though." She leaned closer, aware of a shout that sounded too distant to be Sheppard. Ronon, then. "John?"

 

"He's doing something, Teyla, Ronon heard something click in or near the door..."

 

Teyla was about to respond but Rodney jerked suddenly, his neck arching up away from the Chair, then he shuddered, his eyes snapping open briefly, a look of shock and then... He disappeared.

 

Teyla shouted, Sheppard and a myriad of other voices, the others who had been silently listening, all of them were talking at once, asking questions she could not answer. "He's gone," she cried out. "He's gone!"

 

PART II

 

He screamed. Or imagined he did because he didn't actually hear anything. Or feel anything beyond an overwhelming confusion of incoherent sensation. Hot, cold, hungry, purple -- it was all meaningless and he was drowning! Drowning!

 

Or suffocating. Because he was fairly certain he couldn't feel himself breathing, Not breathing, not seeing, not hearing, not... anything? Well, I'm still thinking, that's a plus. He would have laughed - maybe he did - if he'd had a voice. But it would have been a hysterical sound he was sure. Take stock, he ordered himself, You are a genius, start thinking stop reacting. Wait...

 

Was that light? Color? Had he seen something break through the nothing that wasn't even darkness? Was this what people who had never known sight sensed? An indefinable nothing that was neither dark nor white?

 

Something flashed. Behind him? Huh? I can see behind me? And was that a sound? "Sheppard" he wanted to yell, he meant to yell but without a voice there was no sound, no scream and besides John Sheppard, Ronon Dex and everyone else were trapped in an Ancient space observatory!

 

Oh. Right...

 

Again something somewhere flashed and something he thought might be sound and something else that might have been scent or taste or touch... But really weren't... And time had stopped or at least the sensation of it had. That was more certain than anything else he'd ever felt.

 

Timeless? A-ascended?!

 

**********************************************

 

"Teyla! Teyla! Everyone else shut up!" John's scowl etched deep lines in his face.

 

Lights glared brightly. Air circulated, Ronon was over by the door that wouldn't respond to him even though a small blue light let them know it wasn't locked any more.  "It won't open for me," Ronon reported, his voice controlled.

 

The voices had quieted, at once. John moved to the door and it opened at his demand without hesitation. "Teyla, are you all right?" he asked even as he passed into the hall. "We're coming to you. Everyone else stay where you are." He didn't jog down the hall, he ran, pulling out the lifesigns detector at the same time, Ronon and Delaney keeping pace with him.

 

"Sir," Morales interrupted, "As a field medi--"

 

"Yeah... Ok..." It was hard to talk and run at full speed through the curving hallway.  He slowed to talk but didn't stop. "Corpsman. I'm sending Delaney back but you wait til he gets there then meet us  --"

 

"It won't matter, Colonel," Teyla finally spoke again, her voice low and suffering; remorseful. "I am well but Dr. McKay is missing. A medical officer will not make any difference to either of us."

 

"Doesn't matter. Delaney, get back there." The Sergeant took off without waiting for further discussion. "Morales, meet us at the secondary bridge after he gets back to you. You know where it is?"

 

"Yes sir, Dr Shaltiel pulled up a site map."

 

"Good. Out." He and Ronon took off again. "Disappeared" could mean almost anything from totally incinerated to transported to another room. Only no lifesign other than the remaining seven showed on the detector, so it was unlikely that McKay was merely transported anywhere on board the observatory. That didn't leave very many possibilities and none that came immediately to mind were particularly encouraging.

 

In the few minutes it took for him and Ronon to get to the smaller bridge, several discouraging scenarios had played themselves out in his mind. The foremost was some kind of booby trap by the Wraith or Asurans. But he doubted either of those were aware of this platform. They passed through the short narrow tunnel and found Morales had gotten there just before them. He was taking the pulse and other vitals of an annoyed looking and reluctant Athosian.

 

"John! I am fine!"

 

"She probably is, Corpsman," the senior officer acknowledged.

 

"Yes sir, she is, but I hadn't anything else to do and it never hurts to be sure."

 

"Teyla, what happened exactly?" He watched as Ronon circled the room before coming to the enshrouded Chair and stopping.

 

"He connected his computer to the Ancient computer before sitting down in the Chair. He was anxious to free you and Ronon and the Sergeant and I believe he thought that he could do so using the Chair." She turned away to look back at the seemingly empty Ancient utility, making a futile gesture at it. "It trapped him but he was not concerned. The power was restored and you were freed. Before he could do anything else he suffered a moment of pain and shock, and then he... disappeared."

 

"No flash like the Daedelus' transporters." This was a statement not a question because Teyla would have recognized and reported a standard transporter effect.

 

"No."

 

Ronon was bent over til his face almost touched the encapsulating shell. "No residue inside there. He didn't burn up," he announced as he straightened. "Can't tell anything else, though."

 

Teyla was frowning. "Would not enough heat burn..." she hesitated, clearly choosing her words carefully, "...a person's body so that there is nothing left?"

 

Sheppard shook his head. "No. There's always some ash; it's not possible to convert all the material of an object to energy and that's what burning is doing." He'd known that even the one time Rodney had reminded him in irritated tones that implied this was something even a fourth grader should know.

 

"Entropy," Corpsman Morales muttered half to himself.

 

"Exactly," John replied. "So he had to have been transported somewhere."

 

******************************************************

 

Floating, sinking drifting... Or maybe not?

 

Adapt. I almost(?) ascended before in my own universe... universe... uni...verse,verse,verse...

 

Echo... Without sound? Am I an idiot! No sound but thoughts! Thoughts that were his and not-his and familiar and alien because not all of them were even him and not all of them were even human... Though none of them were Ancient.

 

Idiots all of the thoughts that were most like him and several that were not judged that species almost at the same moment. And yes, "moment" because he felt "before" and "after" or at the very least a definition of it and as long as he did that there was existence.

 

The drowning stopped. He wasn't breathing but then he didn't need to. He wasn't alive in the normal sense - in any sense - came 427 wry responses not all of whom were "him."

 

Now this is ascension, 221,239 thoughts blared as one.

 

As one. By the Gods we do not belong here! One of the notRodneys screamed in panic. That mind was simple and unstable, confused, afraid and how the hell had it gotten here anyway?

 

Hush, 53 other, gentler, minds responded. Hush. Think. Observe... Why am I - are we - am I I I I... here...?

 

Here where the rules of physics are not understood though surely they rule as elsewhere and the rules are the same even if the constants are not. Except here there are no constants that we know because those are for the universes with their stochastic eccentricities and their folded or not dimensions that are the fabric of the individual universes and...

 

It's music! Each strand of universes shares certain constants that are equal - or should be. Like a chord with harmonics, a specific wavelength blended with variable harmonics...

 

Each universe defined by a unique color-note-flavor-scent-texture... Mine and mine and mine and ... Ascension. The Ancients had no clue. Not if they were still stuck in their own tiny little Universe. One among countless - more than a googol-plex - universes that make up the Multiverse...

 

I ...

 

It all made sense now. Understanding made everything go suddenly clear, the flooding, drowning of panic evaporated. The twining strands of threaded universes floated - existed - wrapped, warped, bobbed gently in the nothingness of inter-universe not-vacuum. He/She/It - I - floated between all the universes. I was the inter-universe not-vacuum medium.

 

Oh.

 

*************************************************

 

"What is this?" Sheppard walked over to the ever changing displays hanging above the single console dragging everyone's attention with him, even Ronon who hadn't stopped frowning at the seemingly empty Chair.

 

"Rodney brought it to life when he connected his own computer to it. He thought at first that he could free you using that console." She moved to stand beside him, following his gaze as it swept from the laptop display to the console's. "Do you understand what it is saying?"

 

Sheppard looked at her with a faint expression of surprise. "Isn't that Ancient?" He pointed to the scrolling lines of incomprehensible text on the console display. Rodney's laptop only showed dancing graphs that switched from one to another with headache inducing rapidity.

 

"It might be but it is not a form that I can read. Perhaps like those of your world they shared a text system for a multiplicity of languages."

 

"Colonel, Sheppard!" Zaikin's deeper voice vied for attention, apparently he'd found and reseated his earpiece. "Let us come and have a look. If Rodney's laptop is connected to the Ancient console there might be something Leah or I recognize."

 

"Have you checked to see if anything from this station is coming to yours?"

 

"We have," the Russian engineer replied, "and we find the two systems are in no way connected."

 

"They might as well be on different planets," his Israeli colleague added.

 

"Can you safely leave whatever it was Rodney had you doing?" Sheppard asked thoughtfully.

 

Soft whispers in a language he didn't understand floated over the radios. "They're arguing about it," Delaney reported in a voice that might have allowed for some amusement had the circumstances been different. "In French."

 

"Ok, look, Rodney's machine is not speaking English or Ancient. It's all graphs and spectra and whatnot --"

 

"Then it should be Valeri - Dr. Zaikin - who goes," Shaltiel decided with only the slightest hint of defeat. "I will take care of things here."

 

"Hold on!" Sheppard had more orders. "Dr. Zaikin will wait for Specialist Dex to come and escort him here." He nodded to the Satedan who immediately took off without a word.

 

"That is well," Zaikin acknowledged. "Will give us time to make some precautions-" Someone whispered something "-take some precautions with equipment."

 

**********************************************

 

The ther of the Multiverse was aware, suddenly, inexplicably, impossibly aware... Of self. There was thought where before had been ... nothing. Existence was made all the more powerful and poignant because there was Self.

 

The universes of the multiverse remained unchanged and unaware, each made up of the fundamental principles of physics, each with its own characteristics, glow, tone, shade, nuance. History. Nothing for the ther to appropriately become involved with - even if a large and noisy, whiny, conscience was trying to prompt otherwise. ther next became aware of something that was not ther but rather should have belonged inside one or more of the universes. Machine. Built rather than naturally formed. It was not aware but it was attempting communication. With the ther.

 

Full Ascension. Complete abrogation of self. Plural. The Machine belonged to a people that existed in three forms in sixteen universes and yet had so devolved that they were incapable of understanding this Machine that their ancestors had built. One of those forms believed themselves either ascended or as gods to other beings of their universes. Make that fifteen universes - the last of the Ori in one of them just annihilated its species. Time moved in the universes even if it was only barely defined for the ther. The ther understood that all that made it sentient, aware, were the many souls - selfs - that the Machine had summoned and that had unilaterally, even single-mindedly, merged and completed the greatest Ascension.  The ther needed but the flash of a thought to consider and reject the idea of destroying the Ori and all the enemies of all its original forms. Such destruction could easily result in the destruction of entire universes and The ther had no right to do that.

 

Instead the ther swept its full attention to the Machine. The Machine, a merged product of 356,294,128 universes, was not in harmony. Out of all those universes, only 784,206 of them managed to create and deploy a stable product. That's an exceedingly small percentage and it meant that the merged product was dominated by the unstable machines. Because the instabilities of the majority of the machines were undamped the ensuing negative effects increased and the stable products became less and less able to adapt to these effects. The severity had finally reached a critical level and the Machine, both more and less than its designers anticipated, put out a call for creator intervention. Out of all those universes, only fifteen had any form of the builders still in existence and none of them had answered the call.

 

The ther knew that it was the nature of systems to generally degrade and instabilities to grow and it was quite impressive that the Machine had lasted as it had done. In any case a decision was made.

 

The ther was not at fault but it was responsible.

 

*********************************************

 

Valeri Zaikin was very fit but between the bulky pack on his back and the speed at which he and his escort, the long legged Ronon Dex, were hurrying, he found himself panting for breath, sweat plastering his thick blond curls to his scalp, and wondering if maybe he wasn't too old for this after all. Dex spared him a glance and slid to a stop just long enough to maneuver the pack off the scientist, drape it over one shoulder and resume their race.

 

"Gotta hurry," Dex rumbled as he picked up speed.

 

"I'm no good to Rodney - Dr. McKay - if I have coronary," Valeri grumbled back breathlessly, though in truth he wanted to hurry even faster. He actually liked Rodney, finding the younger scientist both brilliant and amusingly acerbic (aside from that one occasion he had been on the receiving end of his boss' ire). But even if he hadn't cared for him it would have gone against his principles to drag his feet when another was in danger.

 

Without a word, Dex let him catch his breath while they maneuvered their way through the last narrow corridor and Valeri was quietly grateful for that. Inside the small room, he spared a single curious glance for the enclosed Chair but went directly to the console and McKay's busy laptop. He studied it for a moment, hand to his chin unconsciously taking the classic pose of someone deep in thought. Dex moved back to peer through the translucent enclosing material while Colonel Sheppard forced himself to give the scientist some time to figure out some solution - or at least some answers - by not standing close and peering over his shoulder. He didn't take any more time to see what the other two people in the room were doing. "Telemetry, perhaps," he muttered to himself. He tapped a key. A small window popped up and he leaned forward, almost nose to monitor. His face lit up. "He has translation program running in background, I think." He typed in something and the window responded then disappeared and the rest of the windows suddenly displayed a dizzying array of data that at least used roman numerals. "These are telemetry. EEG, ECG, a few others. I do not know what are acceptable values, but given that there are values, he is clearly alive." He looked up at the anxious face of the American Air Force officer and added a somber and unhelpful, "Somewhere," that would forestall further questioning.

 

****************************************

 

The ther turned the fullness of its awareness on the wound that was the malfunctioning Machine, forcibly ripping it apart into its 356,294,128 versions fighting against the energy depleting resistance of this unnatural act and almost blindly shoving each broken or dormant splinter towards its own one of the 356,294,128 universes of origin.

 

*****************************************

 

John Sheppard felt his patience crashing against his resolve while he watched the engineer working, reading and frowning at the vibrant and dancing streams of words, numbers, and graphs flickering on McKay's laptop screen. He wanted to rejoice at the news that Rodney was still alive, but seeing that where the scientist was alive at was unknown still, prevented any sort of rejoicing. Although the sigh from Teyla told him she, at least, was hopeful. "None of that data tells you where he might be?" he directed to Zaikin.

 

The man looked up at him again. "Not reliably."

 

"Ok, and unreliably?"

 

"Not in our universe."

 

"A parallel universe?"

 

The man grimaced and closed his eyes as if in pain. "Not in any universe."

 

"Huh?" came from Ronon.

 

"I do not... Perhaps imagine that universes are like stars - no... crystals - embedded in their matrix. This is not actually correct but serves well enough as analogy. So apparently Rodney is also embedded in matrix." He winced again. It truly was a horrible and vastly wrong analogy.

 

"It is possible to exist outside a universe?" Teyla asked. She moved closer to the Chair tentatively resting her hand on the enclosing surface.

 

"I would not have thought it was," Zaikin replied.

 

"I don't care about theory, Doctor. Trace McKay's location from that telemetry." Sheppard gestured at the shifting images.

 

"I can't." The engineer shook his head. "It is not a signal I can follow. If I were less educated I would say it appears by magic."

 

Sheppard's reply was some sort of incomprehensible strangled sound that even he didn't feel like trying to figure out. Except some of it, at least, was angry frustration.

 

Before anyone could say anything else, however, a light whoosh of air being displaced preceded a breeze from the table side of the room where Corpsman Morales was standing. "What the --?"

 

Everyone turned abruptly toward the interruption only to stare at a mangled contraption sitting on one of the tables. It wasn't smoking; it wasn't dusty or dirty or scarred. It wasn't pretty either which made Sheppard wonder if it was truly a device of the Ancients despite the telltale crystals he could see through the open top. "Doc? You got any idea what that is?"

 

Zaikin turned to look at him, eyebrows raised, "I hope that is rhetorical question because I have not seen anything like it before."

 

The device made a sound like the engine of a car cooling after just being parked. Morales clutched his nine mil and took another step backward.

 

"Is it gonna explode?" Ronon asked as he aimed his blaster while everyone else stepped backwards as well.

 

Sheppard looked at Zaikin who shrugged. "It doesn't appear to be doing anything. Colonel, may I?" He reached for the life signs detector.  The colonel handed it over without hesitation and merely watched the engineer make adjustments as Rodney often did to change what kinds of signals it would report on. It didn't take long and then he was shaking his head. "Whatever it was built to be it is nothing more than scrap now. Nothing working and no residual radiation - except some heat, probably frictional from being..." here he paused while his expression became vaguely unsettled, "...moved from wherever it was to here."

 

"So, it's not going to explode?" Ronon seemed disappointed.

 

"It is not going to explode," Zaikin assured him.

 

"Good." The blaster was swung back to its holster.

 

Teyla had not moved away from her position near the Chair but she had refocused her attention to the machine when it appeared. "Is it possible Rodney sent it to us?"

 

"I hope not; if it was meant to tell us where he is..." John shook his head morosely.

 

Zaikin had moved in to inspect the broken device but he looked up then. "It is not communications equipment. I do not recognize anything of this."

 

"How about if it were fixed?"

 

Zaikin sighed loudly. "I could try reconstructing it but without any knowledge my attempt is all guess work."

 

"Perhaps what it is, is less important than simply that it is," Teyla interrupted thoughtfully.

 

"What do you mean?" Sheppard asked.

 

"If Rodney sent this, then it is perhaps a sign that he knows how to come back to us."

 

*****************************************

 

Every one of the universes accepted the intrusion and all aspect of the Machine was gone leaving The ther completely alone with itself. The first to be split from the Whole was the one being that didn't belong, the one for whom the journey had created nothing more than terror. It was the 53 minds which had elected to support that one which sent it back to its home.

 

I could remain. That thought shattered the wholeness into the individuals that had comprised it; hundreds of thousands of thoughts flew in all directions, careening into each other and quickly becoming a miasma of nonsense. There was little control and that was hard won. 46,203 of the minds were sufficiently advanced to effect some control over their own and a few others' trajectories. It was a hard battle against panic and resistance getting each mind back to the correct Universe.

 

A thought that was Rodney felt himself flung away from the miasma.

 

*****************************************

 

Blind, deaf and numb. Rodney couldn't even hear himself breathe. Maybe he wasn't breathing. Maybe he hadn't been cast back into his Universe after all, but was still floating in the matrix between Universes. Something sharp pressed against him making him aware of his arm which had just been skewered and, alien voices that told him, no, he wasn't between universes, but neither was he in his own Universe.

 

He screamed but no recognizable sound issued forth.

 

 

PART III

 

"John!" Teyla gasped, jerking backward from the enclosed Ancient artifact. Everyone spun towards her - and it - expectantly.  But it was not Rodney McKay inside. The canopy retracted and a not quite human giant, drunkenly sat up, her squinting blue eyes casting about with an emotion that was clearly bewildered concern. She was oddly clothed in ragged tunic and mismatched trousers, one sock and no footwear. Her lips parted as if she was about to speak but instead her eyes rolled up and back. Apparently it was all too much and she collapsed backward.

 

Teyla moved forward at once, beckoning the medically trained Morales when he did not move quickly enough. "Come, she has clearly fainted," she admonished.

 

"We don't know that," Sheppard started to argue. He and Ronon and the marine medic had all reacted by training various weapons at the Chair and its occupant.

 

"Ah, well, I think it's probably pretty likely," the Corpsman admitted as, under Teyla's intractable  glare, he holstered his gun and went for his medical gear instead. Ronon kept his blaster trained on the figure not taking any chances with a being who outsized even him by a more than respectable amount.

 

Morales treated the alien woman as he would a human woman, taking vitals from the same places he would anyone else. "I don't know what's normal for her, obviously, but if she was homo sapiens hers would be a fine strong pulse."

 

"Maybe you should move away from her," Ronon suggested. "Might not be as unconscious as you think."

 

But the alien missed her cue and remained motionless.

 

Valeri Zaikin had moved back to McKay's laptop, silently focused on the ever changing telemetry. He looked up with a frown. "This is still Rodney's telemetry, not hers," he reported.

 

"That's... Ok that's..." Sheppard didn't want to say how damned peculiar this whole thing was. "How can you tell?"

 

"The labels identify subject as Rodney-not-here."

 

"So somewhere else someone else is getting her data but they have Rodney instead."

 

"Possibly." Zaikin looked apologetic. "It is huge assumption to think they have only switched places, given that there could be multiple universes involved..." He trailed off with a shrug.

 

"We don't need it to be more complicated, Doc," Sheppard replied.

 

"Can we send her back?" Teyla asked the scientist. "She no more belongs here than Rodney does anywhere else. Her people will be very concerned."

 

"Her pulse is slowing," Morales reported. "I don't know why; she isn't wounded. Maybe at home with the infirmary's equipment we could figure this out. But here, with only my limited gear and Ancient equipment I'm not qualified on, I can't." He straightened up from his patient, a grim expression on his face.

 

Zaikin shook his head. "I don't know how Rodney went from here to begin with. I was not here to see--" He broke off sharply and immediately refocused his attention to Rodney's laptop, muttering softly, urgently, in Russian.

 

"What? What?" Sheppard was not inclined to be patient.

 

"Historical telemetry. Everything is recorded. I am going back to see readings made at the time Rodney was taken."

 

"Which will help us get him back, how?" Sheppard kept his P90 trained on the unconscious alien even as his eyes flicked back and forth from her to the scientist and back again.

 

Zaikin gave a great sigh. "I don't know yet."

 

*****************************************

 

He went from senseless to being poked, prodded and pierced by things unknown, every touch sending sharp jolts of pain to define him. Stop, stop, stop! His desperate pleas made no difference. Move away, away!  STOP!

 

A single rumbling sound overtook the others and there was silence, sweet silence, and a cessation of all assault leaving nothing but emptiness. No dark, no light. Just... nothing.  No ther.  No self that is all encompassing. No self except the small single Rodney-ish "me." In the wrong universe. If nothing else, that he knew by the overwhelming wrongness of every sensation ripping through him.

 

A flash of light off to the side drew his attention, but there was nothing.  A soft click echoed but it was sense more than sound. Neurons firing, a distant pedantic part of him identified.  Not that it made anything more reasonable, or more clear. But the assault had stopped --  though nothing else replaced it. No sensations now but the fading recollection of pain. I want to leave. There was no response. None at all. He was alone. Alone and small and insignificant and unable to touch the multiverse - TRAPPED who knew where in some piddling universe that was not his own! Out, out, out OUT!

 

Sss, sss, ssss....

 

What was that?

 

Sss.

 

A single pinpoint - pin prick touch and he jerked back. No, don't!

 

Sss, the wrong universe said, followed by the earlier faint rumble. He curled in on himself just in case that meant he was going to be assaulted again.

 

Sss. Sss, sss. Rumble. Rumble louder. S! Sharply.

 

Silence. Then another rumble long and accentuated with chuffing puffs and terse gargles.

 

Sss, sss? Sss, ssss, sss, ssss-sssss, sss!

 

Silence.

 

Flashes of his own firing neurons distracted him.

 

The attack resumed and he shoved and flailed and tried to hide or get away or anything that would stop the blanketing agony.

 

Home, he desperately, silently pleaded. Send me back to the ther.

 

Something Ancient responded then. Not in words, of course, but the sensation was familiar. Almost comforting.

 

Send me back to the ther.

 

*****************************************

 

"Telemetry initiated the moment he interfaced with the Chair --" Zaikin was explaining without looking up from the laptop.

 

"So, before he got us released," Sheppard acknowledged with a nod.

 

"Yes, and though I am no expert in medicine it is obvious from abrupt telemetry change  when he was ... drugged, perhaps and then removed..."

 

"From the Universe," Ronon added as if such a thing was beyond belief.

 

"Well, why not? We have experienced moving from one alternate reality to another," Sheppard reminded him. He'd read the SGC reports on Quantum Mirrors but as Ronon hadn't experienced them first hand, knew bringing them up as evidence would not be convincing.

 

Ronon grunted and pretended to be entirely focused on the still apparently unconscious alien woman in the Chair.

 

"Yes, well, he is not here, is he? And she --" Zaikin waved a hand vaguely at their insensate visitor, "--very certainly is."

 

"Sir, you want me to try to interpret the telemetry?" Morales suggested to his CO from where he was still bent over the alien.  "I can't do anything for her."

 

Zaikin shrugged, but Sheppard gave him a decisive nod. "Yeah, maybe you'll recognize something."

 

Morales joined the engineer at the laptop but Sheppard, Ronon, and Teyla kept their attnetion on the alien as if anticipating her awakening to be anything but tranquil.  After a few minutes the corpsman ventured a report. "Sir, there are definite abrupt changes in Dr. Mckay's stats that I think we can attribute to the Ancient equipment's ... "

 

"Intervention," Zaikin supplied, then gestured for the marine to continue his report.

 

Morales nodded. "Intervention. Then the readings change again, not quite as sudden but they keep changing and some of them are not all all within accepted normal parameters." He looked pained.

 

"They don't show him dying, do they?" Sheppard asked.

 

"No sir. At the moment, his pulse and respiration are racing - as if he was scared - flight or fight. There was a drug administered before transfer but I believe it's already flushed or broken down. I don't know what it is but if I had to guess it probably helped smooth out going from our Universe to wherever he got to."

 

"Why? We've gone from one Universe to another without drugs before." He frowned in consternation; what didn't he know that he should have?

 

Zaikin looked up from the laptop with growing awe and horror. "But being between Universes cannot be the same, Colonel. It is not existence as any living creature will ever have experienced it. If Rodney is returned the same way he went, he will pass through the region between Universes where physics is not as we encounter in any of the universes." He stopped and took a deep breath to sigh. "Each Universe is made up of matter and energy and how they interact relates to how we sense everything. In between is what? Maybe Leah - Dr. Shaltiel - will have some ideas to expound, but I do not like to advance an idea that is only my imagination." Both men heard the Israeli scientist mutter something over the radios about this not being the time while Zaikin continued with a supposition. "The drug that was administered, perhaps it was meant to aid in adapting to an environment we are not designed for."

 

"And without it; what? He'll die?" Ronon asked before Sheppard could and with a ferocity Sheppard would have better hidden.

 

"I can't even guess."

 

John Sheppard swore curtly.

 

"And without closer study of the equipment itself, I have no idea how the transfer was made with or without drugs."

 

"The return of the other equipment cannot tell you?" Teyla asked.

 

The engineer shook his head. "It did not initiate its own transfer; it was sent. But how this was done, there is no way to tell without taking all this -" he waved an arm to encompass the Chair and everything connected to it "-apart. I am sure Leah would help but we would refuse to do anything that might leave Dr. McKay stranded."

 

"That's not an option," Sheppard growled softly. "Dammit!" But he wasn't swearing at the engineer.

 

And with that, the Chair enclosed its occupant once more.

 

*****************************************

 

The ther no longer existed and he was out of time and out of space and out of his mind. Rodney knew immediately that he had made a terrible error.   Realization brought nothing but a white-out of terror and incomprehensible agony. Where was the Ascension from before? He'd had it before why could he not reach that state now? He was not meant to be here. No one was meant to be here! If he'd had a voice it would have been screaming his throat raw.

 

Home! Home! Home!

 

Yet, a distant part of him remembered what it was like; knew without doubt that he could again attain this state if he could but quiet the panic of the id and empower the cognizance of the ego and the understanding of the superego. He was a genius! He had almost ascended once before!

 

He had been ther once before!

 

I can be ther again!

 

No. Home! NOW!

 

Still interfaced with the Ancient equipment he gave an order that was instantly obeyed. Reality shifted once again. A firm support pressed against his back, but it felt wrong - it hurt! The air hurt, breathing hurt and a terrible noise was making his ears ring and his head throb. This couldn't be home!

 

The interface retracted with a succinct report that he was, indeed, in the correct Universe. No room or time for argument.

 

And then he was attacked and restrained and he knew that wasn't right - he wasn't home. Home was the  ther.

 

He fought back even after being stabbed. He writhed and punched and kicked and flailed and nothing helped he was held down and he was getting weaker and weaker and...

 

Then nothing any more.

 

*****************************************

 

"Doc?!"

 

Zaikin snapped back to the laptop readouts. "I don't know!"

 

"Dr Mckay's stats are out of sight!" Morales reported sharply and slightly frantic.

 

Zaikin's response was too soft to make out any words but the tone was frustrated and angry.

 

The Universe took a breath and in that space of time, an unidentified alien was replaced with the Meredith Rodney McKay who belonged there. The translucent shell slid away--

 

"Rodney!" Teyla was at his side before anyone else reacted.

 

A strangled cry and flailing limbs struck out and she almost didn't dodge quickly enough. Ronon was there by then and he didn't try to escape the wildly swinging limbs but rather launched himself onto the other man pinning him against the still reclining Chair. Morales was there next and he had a loaded syringe in hand. "Hold him still; give me an arm," he ordered. Teyla and Sheppard both jumped in to hold McKay in place and expose a pale bicep. "Don't let him go, this isn't instantaneous," he warned.

 

"What did you give him?" Sheppard asked. He had leveraged himself on top of his friend's legs while Teyla and Ronon each lay over an arm. There was blood spattered on skin and cloth but no obviously gushing wound.

 

"Benadryl, sir. It has a sedating effect and Dr. McKay is well known to be particularly susceptible to it. But it'll take a few minutes to kick in." Even though the scientist wasn't yet quiescent, he did his best to find the source of the bleeding and deal with it.  McKay twitched, but weakly and no one's hold even shifted. Either he was giving up or the sedation was taking effect, but Morales wasn't going to wait.

 

They stayed locked in this tableau, Morales focused on McKay's injuries and reactions, McKay's teammates sprawled over him so as to keep him immobilized. The only person who might have felt free to move around was Zaikin and he had his attention on the laptop and on a soft conversation he was holding with Shaltiel who was waiting with Sergeant Delaney back at the main bridge. That pair had been mostly silent while the drama played out. Shaltiel had necessarily to keep her attention on both data transfers and Delaney was no slouch when it came to guarding his civilian. That didn't mean they weren't concerned and now that things were quiet Zaikin was answering their questions for details and conferring with Shaltiel about the now finished stellar data dump. The archive transfer was about two thirds finished and neither engineer would have bet they'd get to see it finished if it was deemed necessary to get McKay home quickly.

 

Finally McKay was motionless. Asleep or unconscious and either state was something of a respite now. "Sir, now, while he's mostly pliable, might be the best time to get Dr. McKay back to the 'jumper." Morales knew of the scientist's claustrophobia.

 

"He asleep or unconscious?" Ronon asked gruffly.

 

"Asleep," the medic told him. "There is a chance he could wake any time and I wouldn't want to guarantee that he wouldn't panic again. Actually, I'd guess there's more going on then just panic." This last was directed to his commanding officer.

 

Sheppard gave a nod and turned to Zaikin. "Doc, can you pack it up and get ready? We need to go." Though he could see the engineer already disconnecting a cord in anticipation of the order. Teyla was right there reaching to take the first cord to coil it for packing while the scientist moved on to the next task. Ronon scooped up McKay into an armed carry under the medic's scrutiny leaving John gathering up any of their gear that might have otherwise been inadvertently left behind. Working efficiently had them ready in less than three minutes.

 

"Teyla, take the point. Dr. Zaikin next. I'll take our six." Morales didn't need any orders to know that his job would be to help Ronon maneuver himself and McKay through the narrow airlocks and passageways.  "Delaney, Shaltiel, start packing it up, we're on our way back." He knew they'd been listening, but didn't want to leave any room for misunderstanding. He was not surprised by the Israeli scientist's long suffering sigh but was pleased that she didn't put up any argument. She definitely had field potential.

 

*****************************************

 

Soundless flashes of incandescence snapped in rapid succession, pulling him from some possible dream or nightmare or half formed thought. A wild sea tossed him about and he writhed, intending to swim against it. Firm restraints encumbered him, enveloping him with claustrophobia inducing strength. Deep sounds resonated that might have been speech but made no sense.

 

Sense. Sense!  Of course nothing made sense he wasn't where he was meant to be. He should have been immersed in that matrix that embeds the Multiverse. He was meant for that! All that he is was meant for that.

 

No, he reminded himself, no, I had to come back, make it all right... I belong here.

 

I belong here...

 

Except it didn't feel right at all.

 

Mk.... stp't...

 

Rdn... Rdn...cm...n.........stl

 

Words. Words. Are you talking to me? I don't understand! Why don't I understand? Let me go!

 

If he was in the right place, he should see and hear his team mates and the Ancient bridge. It was so wrong.

 

"Rodney-" a distorted whisper?

 

"Teyla?"

 

"I'm right here, Rodney. Can you open your eyes?"

 

He wasn't sure but when something that might have been her face swam before him he knew he had managed to acquiesce to her request.

 

Teyla. "Teyla." His voice sounded wrong; whispery, green, rough. He felt his eyelids scrape down over his corneas. It hurt.

 

"Ok, buddy, we're gonna get you home now." John Sheppard's voice came from somewhere. "But you have to be still, ok? Ronon's gonna carry you back, 'cause I don't think you can walk on your own."

 

Ok. "Ok." They were going to take him away from his way back... No. They were going to take him home, where he belonged.  It all went wrong then, pain exploding and the universe tilted turning his insides out and he would have vomited if his body had remembered how.  He could only cry out in a way that sounded alien to his own ears.

 

"Corpsman, what's going  on?"

 

"I don't know, sir, it's not the Benadryl." an unfamiliar voice responded but Rodney had no desire to look.

 

"Is it possible traveling from universe to universe as he did is responsible?" This was a voice that belonged in a lab.

 

"I don't know," the unfamiliar voice replied again. Was that concern in the tone?

 

Someone grunted. "He's being still. Let's move."

 

Ronon, of course.

 

It hurt, all the swaying and stabbing and, underneath that, pins and needles, but he was drifting and he pushed himself - his thoughts, anyway - to meet the emptiness he was drifting towards. They were going to take him home.

 

*****************************************

 

John Sheppard watched Teyla and Zaikin round a curve and disappear from sight. He hadn't disengaged the connection with the pair in the main bridge, but he hadn't checked in with them since they'd emerged from the spoke that lead to the Chair bridge. "Sergeant, how are things coming? We'll be at your spoke in about three minutes."

 

"Packed up and on our way, sir," the marine's voice came back.

 

"We will have to come back if we want to get everything we did not have time for," Shaltiel added.

 

"We'll see, Doctor. Both of you head back to the 'jumper. Don't wait for us."

 

"Yes sir," resounded over the radios from both voices.

 

It was six hundred meters from the spoke that lead to the main bridge back to the entry for the jumper bay, Sheppard remembered. Then get everything and everyone secured and then they could go home. If only it would be that easy, he hoped. And why shouldn't it be, now? There really wasn't anyone else here and there were no populated planets in this system. No one was playing with the station's equipment and said station was not in any danger of breaking down. 

 

No problems; McKay was out of it again - probably asleep - everyone kept moving quickly and without comment, even Zaikin who was obviously out of breath. He could see Teyla's  hand on his arm so she was keeping track of him. John knew she'd slow the pace if she thought the older man couldn't handle it. It's why he trusted her to take point and set the pace.

 

He looked at the LSD and noted that Delaney and Shaltiel were in the hall well ahead of them and even as he watched he saw them veer to the right into what had to be the landing bay. Good, he wouldn't have to wait for them.

 

Just a little farther... And there was the entry for the bay, the door sliding open as Zaikin and Teyla approached. 

 

Inside, Delaney and Shaltiel were waiting at the 'jumper, loaded down with all the gear that had still been in the main control room. Neither had the gene so it was left to Sheppard to get the ship's ramp lowered. When he did, it was Morales and Ronon who went first, bringing a now totally unresponsive Rodney McKay in and laying him down on one of the benches.  Morales immediately re-examined his patient, finishing only after everyone else was on board.

 

"Corpsman, is he ready for transport?" Sheppard called back when the various shuffling noises of everyone getting into place had ceased. He noted Shaltiel in the co-pilot's seat beside him. It was a good call to give Morales more room in back with Rodney and his probably hovering team mates.

 

"Yes sir, but I sure would feel better if this bucket had seatbelts."

 

"We don't usually need 'em, Morales." Sheppard replied as he brought the 'jumper's power online.

 

"Sir. But I'll stay right here with Dr. McKay just in case."

 

Sheppard called up the HUD and was now asking the station to open the bay doors and release them back out to space. There was no sound and they were facing the wrong way, but according to the HUD, the station was now open to space.  Nor was there any lurch, no real sensation of motion, but the inside wall was definitely moving away. Or, more correctly, the 'jumper was being slowly ejected from its parking space.

 

Five minutes later, the 'jumper was on its own. John piloted it back towards the waiting space gate. Now, no one was interested in star gazing, only in getting back to Atlantis.  He dialed the gate and sent his IDC immediately.

 

"Atlantis Control here, you're clear to--"

 

"We need a medical team to meet us in the bay - with a gurney." He didn't wait for acknowledgment but sent the ship straight into the wormhole.

 

PART IV

 

Warm, soft, protected. Don't wake up. Warm, soft... Rodney knew it was too late as soon as he identified the comforting sensations. He was awake, now.

 

"Hey buddy." John Sheppard's voice, and there was a light squeeze of his fingers by the strong, callused hand. He meant to squeeze back but he wasn't certain he had. Besides, he was busy trying to make his vision focus.

 

Hi. Rodney frowned at the lack of sound. "Hh." He tried again with slightly more success and then felt the smooth slide of a plastic spoon against his mouth. Ice chips. Ahhh. Felt good. "Hi." He managed at last. But he still couldn't focus.

 

"It is good to have you back." Teyla's voice came from somewhere, followed by an even more distant grunt that had to be Ronon.

 

"Hi... Teyla. Ronon."

 

"I guess that's enough, guys. I think he's falling asleep on us." Sheppard again. And, oh yes, he was right; Rodney pulled the warm, soft respite of sleep around himself.

 

The next time Rodney woke up he was alone except for a sleeping John Sheppard uncomfortably sprawled in a chair next to his bed. At least, he thought it was Sheppard. He still couldn't focus his vision properly. "John? John, wake up, please."

 

"Mph? ... Oh. Hey, Rodney." The Colonel winced as he moved into a possibly more comfortable sprawl and then leaned forward. "What's up?"

 

"What's going on?"

 

"What do you remember?"

 

Rodney waved a hand dismissively. "Everything, of course. Well, a lot of it. I don't remember coming back to Atlantis." All that talking made his throat spasm and he coughed, managing barely to swallow a few sips when Sheppard handed him a cup of water.

 

"Well, then, you can tell me the parts I don't know. Like, where the hell were you when you weren't on the station?"

 

Now it was Rodney's turn to wince. "That... That was..." amazing, was what he wanted to say, "interesting. And unexpected. I had to get you guys out and the Chair was the only way. I didn't know it was going to send me somewhere else."

 

"Was it a trap?"

 

"Can't you wait for my written report?" He really didn't want to talk about it.

 

"Dr. Zaikin said you were between universes. Or something like that and Dr. Shaltiel - and Radek - agree."

 

"Something like that, yes."

 

"Okay, Rodney."

 

"John, I'm tired and ... a little confused and I don't feel well."

 

"I know Rodney. You gave us quite a scare, first disappearing and then... You were out of your mind."

 

I still am I think. Rodney didn't admit out loud. But he winced at the tone of his friend's voice.

 

"It's been over a week since you were last lucid!"

 

"I'm sorry John. I didn't expect anything - I thought it was just an earlier version of our own Control Chair."

 

He closed his eyes with definite purpose. He was tired, and confused, and he felt somehow discombobulated, disconnected from everything. If Carson was around he might have considered talking to him about it. But then again, probably not.

 

Sheppard was talking to him again but now the voice was nothing more than a low, quiet, unintelligible drone that Rodney used to ease himself back to sleep.

 

A few days of quiet boredom after that, Rodney's halfhearted complaining got him released to light duty. This essentially meant no off world missions and a shorter working day, both of which suited him perfectly well.  It meant he had time to figure things out in the undisturbed privacy of his own room. He could not stand to be around other people, to listen to their voices and look into their faces. He needed to know why it very literally caused him pain to be touched. And more importantly, why he still could not reconnect to his own Universe and yes, this was his own Universe; there was no doubt of that.

 

He gasped. The very act of these thoughts made him breathless with panic. Would there forever be no place for him except the matrix between Universes? Maybe holing up in his room wasn't such a great idea. Maybe he was thinking too much. That elicited a short mirthless laugh from him. "Rodney McKay is nothing without thinking," he said aloud of and to himself.

 

The sound of his door chime drove his panic outward. He jumped up from where he'd been sitting on the edge of his bed. "What?"

 

"Rodney, you did not come to our session." Teyla's voice on the other side of the door was at once accusatory and concerned.

 

"I don't feel well enough to get hit by your sticks, thank you," he called back, even as he edged farther away from the door.

 

"But I agreed to only lead you through meditation, Rodney. Do you not remember, this?"

 

"Oh." No, he didn't remember. He thought the door open and Teyla walked through, the concern that had just tinted her voice far more obviously expressed with her features. "I... I think I forgot. That's not like me, to forget like that. Is it?"

 

Now she smiled but it was more kind than amused. "You only forget what you do not wish to recall," she said, thinking of the times when he was "too busy and forgot" to appear at appointments he would rather not have to deal with.

 

"I've been distracted," he averred, one hand waving as if waving away said distraction.

 

"I know," she nodded. "Meditation will not hurt you and may help, Rodney."

 

"Teyla..." He started and paused. She was silent, head cocked to one side patiently waiting for him to continue. He sighed and tried again. "It might make things worse, Teyla. Meditation helped me almost ascend." He stopped. He had to think, to get the words right, to let her know without giving away too much. His hands were washing over one another and he couldn't make them stop.  "It was a lot like ascension," he whispered. "Being between the universes, a hell of a lot like ascension."

 

"Are you... are you afraid that you will ascend without meaning to?" She asked at last.

 

"I am afraid I will mean to." He cringed at his own unanticipated honesty.

 

She nodded slowly. "I see."

 

"Perhaps I shouldn't-" He waved the rest of the unspoken sentence to her.

 

"No, Rodney. It is even more urgent that you meditate for you must decide what you want."

 

"I know what I want."

 

Her only reply was a lifted eyebrow that relayed more clearly than words her doubt.

 

He sighed and gestured for her to lead the way.

 

They ended up in Teyla's rooms; a suite of rooms now that she had Kanaan and Torren in Atlantis but they were not about and he didn't ask. Partly out of shame that maybe he should have known if they were away or if Kanaan had left in order to give Rodney and Teyla privacy. They both settled onto the carpeted floor, face to face, folded knees only a few centimeters apart, smoking incense between them.

 

Teyla exhorted Rodney to breathe deeply. "Think about the act of inhalation, slowly, slowly..." her voice murmured just loud enough to impinge on his senses. "Now exhale. Slowly purposefully. Compress your stomach... and diaphragm..."

 

He stopped listening to the words and concentrated on the slow rhythm, on the cyclical act of breathing in and then even more slowly, out. He really didn't think it was going to work, but he obeyed her patient instructions because he didn't really want to hurt Teyla's feelings. She meant well.

 

His thoughts listed without direction, coming forth and folding back. Images and sensations flared and fled and he let them, did not call them back nor concentrate attention to any of them. 

 

Some immeasurable time later, he was overcome by a sense of freedom which he recognized only at noticing the absence of sensation.  He did not feel his knees or back or the floor beneath him. There was not only no pain or discomfort but no hunger or thirst, nor fear, nor curiosity - and though that was something that perhaps he should have felt as a loss he did not. Atlantis was there with him or possibly in him. He felt the city's systems running smoothly except where they were not running at all. He sensed a puddlejumper was approaching the city, its left drive pod slightly out of synch with the right. Someone had just turned on the big ovens in the mess hall kitchen...

 

Then he felt more than merely the presence of machines. He felt life, both cognizant and instinctive.

 

Life was all around; on the planet, under the ocean, in the sky. And farther away there was a collection of life and minds, alien minds and the brilliant flare of knowledge that revealed another like himself; one who had been the ther. One who did not belong here and with this one were others of an alien people and they did not belong here!

 

They were coming straight for Atlantis.

 

The city's klaxons screamed their alert at Rodney's panic stricken insistence.

 

Rodney lurched suddenly and he was back in Atlantis, in Teyla's living room, the klaxon blaring its alarm and his head seeming about to explode. He snapped open his eyes to find Teyla looking back at him with wide eyed confusion and steely determination. "We're about to be invaded!" he yelled over the alarms as he scrambled gracelessly to his feet. "We have to tell Sheppard. They're cloaked I think. It's my fault!"

 

He ran out, Atlantis' doors responding immediately to his unspoken commands. Teyla ran after him, easily catching up and pacing him. "Rodney-"

 

Rodney remembered his radio then, but he wasn't wearing it. He did hear Teyla speaking in hers but his blood was rushing so loudly he couldn't make sense of her words. He hoped she was telling Sheppard about the invasion. He felt her tug on his arm then and he stumbled and almost had to stop.

 

"Rodney!" She was yelling. "Where are you going?"

 

Wasn't it obvious? "Chair room. We need to see through their cloak and I'll need the chair to do that," he yelled back.

 

He heard her relay that to Sheppard? Woolsey?

 

Then she tugged on his sleeve again and he jerked to a halt.

 

"Stop that!"

 

The klaxons' noise ceased suddenly and Teyla stopped shouting. "Dr. Zelenka can do that with John's help. Mr. Woolsey wants you in the Control Room."

 

He skidded to a halt. "What? Why?"

 

"Mr. Woolsey asks that you reprogram the long range sensors instead."

 

Oh. That did make sense, a lot more sense really... "Of course..." he struggled to find something more to say that wouldn't make him seem foolish - or more foolish, he didn't want to consider that.

 

"Rodney?"

 

"Yes, the Control Room. Are you coming?" He started running again, the revised destination changing the path of his sprint.

 

By the time they arrived, he was breathless but already thinking about how he could reprogram the long range sensors to see the until-now invisible would-be invaders. Sheppard was already there leaning over Campbell's shoulder to peer along with him at readings from essentially blind sensors.

 

"Dr. McKay what is this about?" Woolsey demanded.

 

"Teyla told you - I heard her - didn't she tell you? We are being invaded!"

 

Whatever ships they were using had some technology that didn't emit anything the Ancient sensors were sensitive to. Well, they wouldn't would they? Given that the invaders came from a universe with physical constants very different from the ones here.  "They are from another Universe. Nothing like ours. Nothing - Our sensors don't see them!"

 

Sheppard looked worried. "Then make them see, Rodney. Can you do that?"

 

Rodney frowned. Could he? Did he even need to? But of course, the others needed to know for themselves. He rushed over to the appropriate station and shoved the nonplussed technician (and her chair) posted there out of the way. He leaned over and opened the files he'd need and immediately began looking them over, aware of the tension in the room and the determination from the cohort of ships-- "Oh!" he breathed and slowly straightened up from the uncomfortable hunched position he'd had to take.

 

"Dr. McKay? Is there a problem?" Woolsey's concern buzzed in his ear.

 

"What? Oh. Yes. About thirty-two of them getting closer every minute --"

 

"Why have you stopped working?"

 

Rodney blinked and with a start looked back at the console where he had paused in the middle of a line of code. "Right. Yes. I can't... I don't need..." He stopped again wholly aware of an alien mind he knew from the ther.

 

"McKay, how much time do we have?" That was Sheppard and he sounded like he was under water. "Rodney? McKay!" Someone was jerking his shoulder.

 

"Time...? Oh... No more than a few hours really."

 

"Where did they come from?" someone else asked and he really wasn't listening.

 

Another universe. But his thoughts were elsewhere and he stopped hearing their babbling, anyway. Yes, this was his fault and it would be up to him, M. Rodney McKay (forget the irrelevant PhD.s), to remedy this travesty. We don't need sensors. I know your distance and how long it will take you to get here.

 

You don't have to die with these others. You were part of me once.

 

No. We, you and I, were part of a greater whole that was more than any of us alone. And wasn't that distressingly Liberal Arts.

 

No matter now. We are here -- and Rodney understood "here" to mean many more Universes than his own Universe alone.

 

Why?

 

Because you exist.

 

What? Your Universe isn't big enough for you?

 

I can bring us anywhere in any Universe. We choose to conquer them all.

 

That's a hell of a universal concept. Rodney groused. Anyway, I'm not going to let you do this.  He thought of something else, something that might (if he were very lucky) be a deterrent. You have to know the Wraith are here.

 

They will not trouble us. Insects are meant to be squashed.

 

Insects have a disturbing tendency to be prolific and these are no different.

 

Nonetheless they are inconsequential.

 

As we are?

 

Yes.

 

This changed everything. Or nothing. But Rodney knew there was no way he was going to let anyone here get killed because of his own misadventure. 

 

It wasn't exactly like Ascension. "It's not Ascension, " he said, whispered with as much force as breathless epiphany would allow. He looked down at the Ancient screen rather than face anyone else. He closed his eyes and, knowing exactly what he wanted, shoved himself back to the place between Universes...

 

...and just as he expected he wasn't alone. There was one other spread among the void and he spread himself as well.

 

Two alone became one with a schism of thought and intention. Two alone became one fighting with itself; domination impossible like this. The ∆ther tore itself apart.

 

Rodney took the 32 ships and flung them out of his Universe and back into their own.

 

Please, I don't want to hurt anyone. Rodney warned the Other.

 

There was no response but the Other grabbed his ships and the cohort that had been sent to yet another Universe.

 

Don't

 

Rodney didn't really want to be someone who could murder an entire species of being.  But he couldn't hesitate now. He merged himself again with the Other and the ther, as whole as it could be again, flung the ships into a lifeless Universe.

 

Again, the ther turned on itself, exploding into two incompatible thoughts without form or substance, and for a moment even thought was all but extinguished.

 

Rodney grabbed another cohort from yet another Universe and sent them home. Then he pushed into the Other and they merged again.

 

The ther, was unstable. It trembled, it vibrated, it heaved and the components rent apart. And Rodney grabbed another set of cohorts from where they didn't belong and sent them home. And then he plowed into the Other, the distracted Other because of course his people had to be confused, disoriented and angry and so on his case! And again the ∆ther formed.

 

And again the ther tore into itself, this time at Rodney's own instigation. He wasn't going to give his opponent any time to think!

 

I gave you a chance.

 

They were apart again and almost without thinking Rodney had another cohort suddenly returned home.

 

I will give you none.

 

Rodney felt the Other's intent to move him. He spread himself throughout the void. The Other merged with him. The ther ripped into shreds of emotion and thought. Rodney embraced his foe and flung them both into a random Universe onto a not quite random planet. A hot, dry desert spread out all around from horizon to horizon.

 

He was himself, if somewhat torn and bloodied and missing boots (had he removed them in Teyla's room?) and jacket. the Other was a woman, as ragged as he and not quite as inhuman as he'd imagined.

 

She glared at him from a 7 foot tall body, greyish blond hair in a short cut, her feet as bare as his (6 toes!) her hands clenched in huge six-fingered fists. Like him, she wore the remains of a uniform. She cursed (or so it seemed) and lunged right at him.

 

He screamed (back) and dodged, diving sideways. Neither of them was armed but she was a good deal bigger than he was and just as determined.  He rolled and felt her kick just graze his face sending sharp agony through his cheek and into his eyes. He scrambled to his feet just in time to take a punch to the gut. He bent double, wheezing. This was not going to end well.

 

He looked up and saw her about to strike once more but instead of trying to dodge, he threw himself at her and grabbed her about her waist.

 

Home.

 

He brought them back to the void.

 

*****************************************

 

"It's not Ascension" Rodney had murmured just before he disappeared leaving stunned chaos behind.

 

"Crap!" Sheppard swore at once realizing what his friend had done.

 

"Colonel! Are they still out there?" Woolsey asked.

 

"He must think so, but we still don't see anything."

 

"He never said where they are, either, or how far away," Campbell reminded them morosely.

 

"He said thirty-two. Thirty-two ships of unknown size and power," Teyla reminded them.

 

"We'll just have to prepare as if we could see them." Woolsey decided. "We'll have to bring the shields on. And in the meantime perhaps Dr. Zelenka and his people can figure out what to look for." Although even he realized that was not very likely given that they didn't even know what it was they were blind to!

 

Sheppard nodded and put his soldiers on alert while Woolsey contacted Zelenka, in charge since Dr McKay had been confined to the infirmary.

 

*****************************************

 

Home was the matrix embedding the multiverse where he was at least as powerful as she and where he had a chance to defeat this plan of multiverse domination someone in her government had thought was a good idea.

 

It wasn't my idea. She revealed even as she dodged his next attempt at merging.

 

Then why are you helping?

 

I am following the orders of my leaders. Don't you do the same?

 

Not when they're idiotic! He surged to her but both of them had learned how to avoid the other now.

 

Yours must be a very chaotic society.

 

He didn't respond to that. Instead, You're losing. I've thrown a lot of your ships back home. I bet they're pretty mad.

 

She didn't answer. Instead she made an attempt to pass another cohort from one Universe to his again.

 

Oh yeah, and confused. There's some poor gunnery officer shooting at the enemy and all of a sudden he's somewhere else shooting at nothing!

 

He felt anger, hers, as he grabbed the invaders just as they materialized near Atlantis and shoved them back near her homeworld.

 

Oh wait, now he'll be shooting at his own world!

 

She swore at him.

 

I put them out of range. Unlike you I am not a bloodthirsty monster. I don't want to kill your children!

 

He sensed her confusion and distress and took the time to return more of the invaders to their own Universe. Of course she noticed, her superiors had to be berating her and possibly even threatening her.

 

What if we leave your Universe alone?

 

Do you think I'm the only one capable of throwing you out?

 

Yes.

 

Wrong. They just didn't see you but I'll tell them you're coming and they'll be ready even if they can't fight you here.

 

Wait. She had a point. He was the only one fighting her. So he was right too, the others had no idea they were being invaded. Not even the other Rodneys?!

 

He stilled.

 

That couldn't be right. Had he been the only one to almost ascend and come back? Had the others died or chosen to ascend and not return? Had the rest never gone near the damnable machine? And what about the others of her kind?

 

We chose not to invade our own alternates.

 

And none of them are trying the same thing as you?

 

Now she was as uncertain as he. Where were her counterparts? 

 

He cast out a narrow query. Who are you? Are you alone? The query echoed, who and who and who and he found an answer that didn't surprise him after all.

 

She slammed into him then and copying his earlier example transported both of them to a Universe. Her Universe, apparently. Or one of them.

 

The Chair room on the station here was exactly the same as the one in his Universe - at least enough that he wouldn't have been able to tell them apart. This room was full of people bending over someone ensconced in the chair - which, interestingly had no cover. The air was thick and musty. And he was surrounded by very surprised looking giants.

 

He looked for the exit but just as he found and pivoted toward it, they got their wits back and he was tackled to the floor, his head resounding solidly against the metal plating and pain greying out awareness.

 

Hearing came back first, and then pain which caused him to moan before he could think about it. He was hauled up to his feet but not released. Strong hands clamped his biceps to keep him in place. The aliens - well ok, here he was the alien - were loudly arguing. The Other was sitting up in the Chair which seemed a lot smaller with her in it. The space was crowded and most of the men and women were clearly soldiers who only took orders rather than give them. Their faces were mildly expectant and maybe a little curious.

 

One of the aliens shouted harshly and pointed at him and one of the guards holding him gave him a perfunctory shake.

 

"Hey! Stop that!"

 

They won't understand you.

 

Why did you bring me here? What are you going to do?

 

You will be interrogated and then most likely killed. How did you sense us in your Universe?

 

The room was silent now; clearly they all knew she was talking to him and whichever of them was her superior was waiting for the answers.

 

He looked at her and shook his head. Home. He moved himself back to the void.

 

She would try to follow but she had to interface with the Chair and he hoped that would give him enough time.

 

The matrix was empty except for Rodney McKay. He had less than a few nanoseconds to reach into her Universe and remove the crystals that made it possible for travel to the void. He crushed them and returned the dust to scatter between the stars.  They were trapped. He looked in on their closest alternate Universes and saw that not a single one other of them had made that same decision.

 

He then returned every cohort, every ship, back to their own Universe to places where they would do no harm but would still be among their people and, if need be, rescued. He was neither a monster nor vindictive.

 

He floated in peace and quiet and was instantly bored.

 

Home...

 

Turned out to be his lab and it must have been night time because it was dark and quiet. He wished he'd thought to be more specific and land in the infirmary. Everything hurt and he felt the warm moisture of his own blood. He'd inconveniently forgot about being beat up. Moreover, the air around him was cold and he felt weak and nauseous and where the hell were the intruder alerts when you wanted them?

 

He passed out, totally unaware that there was an alert paging security who were reporting to Sheppard. About a dozen people scurried into his lab within a few minutes of his coalescing and collapsing there. Orders were given, medics called and very soon after that Rodney McKay was tucked up in an infirmary bed, wires and tubes and lines feeding from him to various machines and bags of fluids his body desperately needed.

 

By the time he was ready to awaken, most of these were gone. His team mates had come and gone and come again in shifts. When he did finally shift and open his eyes it was John Sheppard sitting at his bedside. Wordlessly, the Colonel held a glass of water with a straw for him to sip from. Which he did, gratefully. Then he sank back down and closing his eyes murmured, "Just wait for the written report this time. You'll love it."

EPILOGUE   

 

Rodney McKay sat on the edge of his bed. Things were back to normal. At least outwardly and to everyone else. He knew better of course. things would never be normal again. He would always have a connection to the matrix and it was only because of his choosing to come back from the single moment of Ascension that this was so.

 

There was no one he could talk to about this responsibility; or about the draw of being all-powerful in that unique way. There was no one he wanted to discuss it with. Yet it sat heavily on his mind and had made him introspective of late so that even Ronon had noticed. So tonight he was hosting a team movie night.

 

He got up and straightened his clothing and when the door chime sounded, he pasted on a smile to greet his team and pretend things were better than they had ever been.

 

End