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The Time Zapper

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 ***

"So you see, extraordinarily clever, but I'm afraid it's completely useless." Rodney raised his hands dramatically to emphasize the point. Beside him, he sensed Zelenka rolling his eyes and kicked him under the table.

There was a silence as the other Atlantis Expedition members around the conference table contemplated what Rodney had told them. Carson Beckett scratched his head.

"Hang on," Sheppard said. "Did you just say you can build a time machine?"

"Yes, Colonel. A totally useless time machine, as I said. Janus's notes on the project—extremely cunningly hidden in the database, I might add—were clear. And as we know, he abandoned this project and pursued another line of research, resulting in the far more practical time-traveling jumper which was destroyed by the Wraith with your alternate timeline self on board. You know, the timeline where I drowned heroically trying to rescue people."

"The timeline Old Elizabeth came from, who indeed did rescue us all," Zelenka added. Rodney glared at him.

Woolsey frowned. "But, I'm sorry, Dr. McKay, can you explain again why this machine can't be built?"

"No, no, it can be built perfectly easily," Rodney said impatiently. As usual he was surrounded by the mentally challenged. "The materials are relatively easy to come by. It's basically a modification of beaming or transporter technology."

Woolsey's frown deepened. "Then why–"

"Look," Rodney said, "I'll give it to you in words of one syllable–"

"Aw, Rodney," Sheppard drawled, "be gentle with us."

Teyla put a hand on Sheppard's arm. "Please, John, let us listen."

Rodney sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. "Power drain."

"That's two syllables in power," Sheppard pointed out, tilting his head sardonically. Rodney narrowed his eyes.

"There's too great a power drain to operate the machine?" Lorne, who was sitting beside Sheppard, asked.

Rodney nodded. "Precisely. The power drain's horrendous."

"Dr. Zelenka?" Woolsey said, turning to Zelenka. "Do you concur?"

"Sadly, yes," Zelenka said. "Power usage rises exponentially with every second of operation. Within half a minute the ZPM would be depleted."

"So we could not send a team back in time, for example?" Woolsey asked.

Rodney shook his head. "That's the other annoying thing about this technology of Janus's, which, frankly, should come as no great surprise given the other doozies he managed to cook up." He looked around the room. "It only works one way."

"Leaves you stuck in the past?" Ronon leaned forward and stared fixedly at Rodney.

Teyla put a hand on his arm. "Ronon, no. There would be nothing one man could do, even with foreknowledge." Ronon looked mutinous but didn't reply.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Forget the suicidal gestures; it doesn't work that way. And I mean that literally."

Beside him, Zelenka nodded. "Machine only operates from past to present, not to take anyone or anything into the past. Is not possible to go back, Ronon, even if that were wise."

"Would it take us forward?" Sheppard asked, suddenly intent. He waved a hand. "Like, to gather intel, setting aside the whole power issue."

"Hello, you can't set aside the power issue," Rodney protested. "The power issue's cruc–"

"No, Colonel," Zelenka said. Rodney blew out an annoyed breath. Zelenka shot him a look and Rodney waved an oh, go ahead, knock yourself out hand at him. "It is like this—we think the machine is constrained by physical laws to prevent major alterations to the timeline."

"Our timeline in this timeverse," Rodney added.

Zelenka nodded. "Yes. So we cannot go back and interfere with the past, as that might create a paradox like killing your own mother before she gave birth to you. Things from the past could in theory be brought forward to our present, however, as new things can happen in the present without creating paradoxes."

"Power drain," Rodney sing-songed.

Zelenka grimaced. "Were it not for the power usage, yes. And bringing an object forward in time does not alter this timeline, or create a branching timeline, under certain special circumstances. If the object in the past was unimportant, or was about to be destroyed, to . . ." he thought for a moment, "to not play any further part in the past, then the machine would allow us to bring it forward."

"We think," Rodney said. "Probably."

Zelenka shrugged. "Yes, that is what the math is saying, as far as we can determine."

"So what about the future?" Sheppard asked again.

Zelenka waved a hand. "The fact that the future does not yet exist prevents any movement into the future. Future has not, as it were, solidified into being yet, so the machine can move nothing beyond the present instant."

"It's perfectly clear in Janus's equations, elegant, even," Rodney said. "The present's a wave advancing ever forward, rather like a singularity barrier, but it can't be crossed. It's all expressed via quantum mechanics and mind-bendingly complex n-dimensional calculus, of course."

Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Of course. So we can get stuff from the past and bring it here to the present, but we can't go back in time ourselves, and we can't go forward, like in Back to the Future."

"Oh you just had to bring up that idiotic movie," Rodney said, annoyed. "No, Colonel. No fusion reactors built into muscle cars and powered by lightning strikes, sorry."

Sheppard sighed. "Figured not."

"There is a further problem with the technology," Zelenka said.

"Yes, yes, the accuracy issue." Rodney put his hands flat on the table. "Look, I can see you're all excited, because time travel, who wouldn't be, but this machine really is quite useless. Not only is it a very limited one trick pony which we'd be operating at the cost of draining our ZPM, but there's no way of, of–"

"Adequately identifying objects in the past," Zelenka finished.

"Well, yes, but that's rather oversimplifying it," Rodney said, frowning. "Look, it's linked to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle where you can only know a particle's momentum or its position at any one time. Not both."

Carson screwed up his face, looking pained. "Radek?"

Zelenka shrugged. "If we wanted to identify an object in the past with this machine, we could target a very specific place across a range of times, or a very specific point in time across a wide area, but not have coordinates for both at once. Is no way of accurately locking onto a specific object to retrieve it."

"Hmm." Sheppard scratched his jaw thoughtfully. "So no chance of rescuing that Johnny Cash CD I left on the counter at the Colorado Springs Denny's in July 2004, huh?"

Rodney snorted. "Yeah, like I'd let you deplete the ZPM for that."

"No," Teyla said, sharply focused. "But perhaps for a person? A person in the past who was about to die and thus play no further active part in our timeline?"

There was a stunned silence. "But the power . . . and the targeting problem," Rodney said helplessly.

Woolsey cleared his throat. "Dr. McKay. You said this machine operated in a similar way to Asgard beaming?"

"Yes, well, except that instead of disassembling and reassembling things across purely spatial coordinates, it does the same process using temporal as well as spatial data."

"So could we not use the same system as Asgard beaming does, and lock onto a signal, to solve the targeting issue?" Woolsey leaned forward. "Set the correct time in the past, and use the signal to target the person precisely across a likely area of space."

"What?" Rodney blinked, digesting this. "Hmm." He looked at Zelenka.

"If we–"

"With the–"

"And calibrated the–"

"We'd need to pin down the spatial range," Rodney said.

Zelenka waved a dismissive hand. Child's play.

Rodney turned back to Woolsey. "It might just be possible. There's no end of bugs to be worked out first, but. Yes. Maybe."

"What signal?" Ronon was frowning.

Teyla smiled bleakly at him. "It would be of no help to you or to me, Ronon. The ones we lost did not carry subcutaneous transmitters. Only expedition members are injected with those."

"Christ," Sheppard said, his face shocked. "Elizabeth. Ford."

"No, Colonel, I'm sorry." Woolsey's face was sympathetic but implacable. "To rescue Dr. Weir before she became infected by nanites would be too great a change to the timeline. And we can't rescue her at a later stage, as that problem remains unresolved."

Carson nodded. "Aye, and you know there's no way Aiden would have left his sub-q in place, John. He was far too paranoid for that." Sheppard looked away, tight-lipped.

"I told you the damn machine was a can of worms, even if we had the power to run it," Rodney said miserably. "I mean, when you suggested targeting a transponder signal, my first thought was Gaul and Abrams. But how would we know when to target them? Even if we guessed right and snatched them just before their deaths they'd be life-sucked and about to die horribly anyway, and Gaul was influencing the timeline even after the Wraith had nearly drained him. If he hadn't told me to go, I might not have gotten back to Sheppard in time . . . It's the same for Peter Grodin in the weapons satellite. He was needed there to the very last second."

"Aye, that's a pretty serious flaw in all this," Carson said. "If we rescue people with life-threatening injuries there's a risk we might save their lives but leave them with terrible disabilities. Brain damaged, or quadriplegic."

"What's that?" Ronon asked.

"Paralyzed from the neck down."

Ronon shook his head, grimacing. "Better off dead."

"Many would agree with you," Carson said, "but not all, and how would we make those kinds of decisions? Not everyone had advance medical directives. They weren't mandatory, not even for military personnel."

Rodney's brain was whirling with images and the names of everyone they'd lost. The nanovirus—Wagner, Johnson, Dumais, Hays, Peterson. Well, maybe not Peterson. But the virus. Maybe if they brought them back to a room set up for an intense, localized EMP pulse? Yes, that should work . . .

"Dr. McKay?" Woolsey had that look that meant he'd tried to get Rodney's attention more than once.

"Sorry," Rodney said. "Thinking."

"Yes, there's a great deal to consider. I think we should delegate tasks. I will investigate the medico-legal and ethical issues. Ms. Emmagan, I wonder if you'd assist me?"

"I would be happy to, Mr. Woolsey."

"Dr. Beckett will look into the medical triage and emergency response aspects of rescuing anyone seriously wounded. Involve Dr. Roberts as well." Roberts had replaced Heightmeyer. Rodney bit his lip. Maybe they could . . . but when in her sleep had she died?

"Colonel Sheppard, I wonder if you, Ronon and Major Lorne could draw up casualty lists, triage them as to feasibility and how precisely we can pinpoint time of death. Also, consider the logistics of getting to locations where we may have had losses, regarding the physical aspects of any, ah, extractions. Consult with Drs. McKay and Zelenka regarding how far away from the target the machine could be and still operate." He turned to Rodney. "Would it be a large object when constructed, Dr. McKay?"

"No, not really," Rodney said. "It'd fit in the back of a jumper." He eyed Woolsey sourly. "So that just leaves Zelenka and me with the impossible part of all this. Solving the power drain." Woolsey tilted his head in acknowledgement. 

Ronon got up to go strategize with Lorne and Sheppard. "Stick a sub-q on a ZPM, McKay," he said, grinning back over his shoulder as he left.

"Yes, yes, very droll," Rodney retorted, throwing up his hands. Then he froze, hands in the air. He turned to Zelenka, lowering them slowly. "Couldn't possibly work, surely?"

Zelenka was frowning fiercely. "If ZPM were nearly depleted . . ."

"Yeah, it might not affect the timeline. Maybe set up a retrieval loop?" Rodney grabbed Zelenka and propelled him out the door. "But we wouldn't need signal location for near-present-instant retrievals where the exact position's known. We need to run some tests–"

"–and do the math." Zelenka's eyes widened. "Rodney, if–"

"Yes, yes, I know. A renewable power source. Come on, we've got work to do."

***

"Are you quite sure this is safe?" Woolsey asked nervously, from the observation area at the side of the lab.

"It's our spare ZPM, the one that was nearly depleted, so there's no real risk," Rodney replied, busy with the final calibrations. "Not like we're using it, anyway."

Zelenka caught his eye and went to stand beside Woolsey, partly to distract him from fretting. "How is Colonel Sheppard's team doing with the logistics? Have they identified a possible test subject, for when we are finished with ZPM experimentation and retrieval of Carson's mice?" he asked.

Woolsey grimaced. "The list's shorter than I'd like. Apparently it's very hard to estimate time of death on most missions, where the casualties were killed by Wraith. We certainly don't want to test this technology on someone who might be returned in a . . . non-viable state."

"Ah," Zelenka said. "No, indeed."

"But I believe they have a few candidates where the loss occurred here in the city, rather than off-world where there might still be an active Wraith presence."

Rodney looked up. "Okay, we’re good to go." The positional calibration had turned out to be more complex than they'd first thought. Even when retrieving something from mere seconds back in the past, the planet they were on had raced onward through space at 75,000 miles per hour, slightly faster than Earth traveled around Sol in the Milky Way. That was nearly 21 miles per second. They'd decided to go back in time 10 seconds, so as not to completely deplete their spare ZPM and by then, the past ZPM would be over 200 miles away compared to the machine in the here and now. Rodney grimaced at the sub-q transmitter taped to the side of the ZPM that faced away from Woolsey. If Ronon ever learned about their back-up plan to lock onto the ZPM in the past, they'd never live it down.

He came and stood in the observation area with Zelenka and Woolsey. They were keeping this test run quiet, so as not to get anyone's hopes up.

"Here goes . . . actually quite a lot, but we won't dwell on that," Rodney said, took a deep breath, and hit enter on his pad.

The ZPM on the table, wired up to the machine beside it that he and Zelenka had built to Janus's specifications, began glowing. Then the time transporter beside it—a metal lattice the size and shape of a transporter with the mechanism in its top and base—shot a glowing blue beam downward and an identical ZPM materialized on the low platform inside it. The beam shut off and the old ZPM stopped glowing.

"Oh my freaking . . . " Rodney said shakily. "We did it!" He grabbed Zelenka and they did a kind of dance, hugging and jumping up and down in excitement.

"Er, what did you do, exactly?" Woolsey asked, watching bemusedly.

Rodney flapped a hand at Zelenka and rushed off to check the old ZPM.

Behind him, Zelenka explained. "If we had breached the machine's rules regarding timeline, nothing would have happened. But apparently retrieving a nearly-depleted ZPM from the very recent past when prior ZPM was also near-depleted is not regarded by the machine—or perhaps by the universe—as a significant change to the timeline as it was a small difference and happened very close to the present instant. We had hoped for this outcome, but could not be sure until this test." He patted Woolsey on the arm. "Is most excellent news!"

Rodney double-checked the data on his pad. "Yes, still not fully depleted," he called, "about 1% charge left." He twisted the old ZPM to unfasten it from the base, set it aside and got the retrieved ZPM from the platform inside the machine, then slotted that into the housing. He checked the numbers on his pad again. "Ha!" Rodney turned to Zelenka, grinning broadly. "5% charge! Same as the old ZPM before we used it to retrieve itself. It worked! We're geniuses! Definitely Nobel Prize-worthy!"

Zelenka was beaming. "I know, my friend." His face became mischievous. "We will have to share the prize with Ronon, you know." Rodney waved that away. Ronon'd be happy enough with a thank-you and a new knife.

"Um," Woolsey said, "I'm sorry, but I don't see what's so marvelous about having almost depleted a ZPM that was already almost depleted, only to bring that same almost-depleted ZPM back from the past. How does that help us?

"Because we have tricked the universe into letting us have something for nothing," Zelenka said, looking like a delighted pixie. Rodney was also still grinning; he didn't seem able to stop. This was huge. Zelenka waved a hand at the table where the two ZPMs sat. "We still have old ZPM which is 5% charged. We can do this procedure over and over, and every time we are left with an extra ZPM with 1% charge."

"But I had understood that with less than a 5% charge, ZPMs were of little use, as the city can't run all its functions on a nearly-depleted ZPM. The shield or cloak, the Chair, the long-range scanners . . ." Woolsey frowned at them. "What am I missing?"

"It's the main ZPM power housing that makes all this viable," Rodney explained. "The triple console where ideally three ZPMs are inserted to power the city?" Woolsey nodded. "Well," Rodney continued, "we can't recharge ZPMs—that technology's still way beyond us. But the triple console shares power from the ZPMs it's holding, and it can recharge a depleted ZPM from the others plugged in there. But as we only ever had a finite number of ZPMs before, it was still a zero-sum game."

"Is now zero + 1!" Zelenka said archly. Woolsey shot him a sideways glance, puzzled.

"Yes, there was no point just transferring charge between two or even three semi-depleted ZPMs to make one fully charged ZPM," Rodney went on. "It gained us nothing. But now we have an endless supply of 1% charged ZPMs. We'll just slot them in one after another and transfer that 1% to another ZPM in the triple console."

"And after less than 100 iterations, hey presto, a fully recharged ZPM!" Zelenka finished.

"So once we've recharged all the empty ZPM casings we want," Rodney said, "depleting one of our many fully charged—and now easily rechargeable—ZPMs won't be an issue."

Woolsey sat down heavily on a desk chair. "My God. This is . . . it's more than time travel, it's . . ."

Rodney grinned at Zelenka. "Oh yeah. I'll even tell Sam Carter how to do it, if she sends me some kopi luwak coffee on the next Daedalus run. The SGC has a whole bunch of depleted ZPMs in storage as well, and a triple ZPM power console at the Antarctic base."

"Plus," Zelenka added, more soberly, "they will have people they also wish to retrieve from the past, if we can make that aspect of this whole madcap scheme work. Janet Fraiser, to name but one. Killed suddenly in action and her death recorded with a time-stamp—she would be ideal candidate."

"No, I'm sorry to disappoint you," Woolsey said, shaking his head. "You've been so busy with the ZPM project that I hadn't had time to update you. We've realized that we can only bring back people where their disappearance as well as their death would not significantly affect the timeline. Imagine if Janet Frasier were extracted one second before her fatal injury. In the past, she'd appear to vanish. That would have altered the past by causing confusion and investigations. The film maker would have made a different documentary and we would live in a world where a few people randomly blinked out and disappeared—which we do not. Because the machine vetoes retrievals that alter the timeline, the attempt would fail."

"Oh," Rodney said hollowly, mentally kicking himself. He was better with hard science than imagining human consequences. Heightmeyer's body had been found, so that was one hope lost. The bodies of the nanovirus victims hadn't just disappeared either, damn it. He sighed.

"Perhaps we should settle for an inexhaustible power supply, and not push our luck," Zelenka said quietly.

***

Sam Carter's face on the video link through the open wormhole flickered a little, then steadied.

"Rodney, Radek," she said, shaking her head. "This is amazing. I . . . you've cracked the recharging problem!"

"Yes, well, Janus was the one who designed the machine, obviously. We just applied it," Rodney said, hoping his uncharacteristic modesty was appreciated.

"The IOA are gonna be over the moon," General O'Neill said. His left ear was slightly pixelated but the wry grin on his face came through clearly. "This is exactly why you guys were sent out to Atlantis in the first place—to find technology to help us fight bad guys like the Ori, although we pretty much took care of them by ourselves."

"Sorry we were a little slow coming up with the goods, sir," Sheppard said from across the conference table, leaning back in his chair with a smirk. Rodney sighed. Get Sheppard and O'Neill in the same room, even virtually, and it soon turned into a slouching and drawling contest.

"I apologize for Jack," Daniel Jackson said earnestly. "You've discovered some extraordinary technology and cultures in Pegasus, and I only wish I could–"

O'Neill rolled his eyes. "We've been over this, Daniel." He tilted his head at Sheppard and waved a piece of paper. "I got the list you sent through. You're calling 'em 'retrievals', right?"

"Yessir," Sheppard said, straightening up. "Not as many as we'd first hoped, and nowhere near as many as we'd have liked, but even so—"

"Yeah, a life's a life, so good work, all of you. Eight scientists and twenty-three military personnel, where they were vaporized in explosions or the body was never recovered." O'Neill looked down at the printed report he was holding. "You went back to Doranda," he said.

It wasn't a question, but Rodney felt compelled to reply. "The Gate had been vaporized, so it took a while, but yes, we got Collins." He stared at O'Neill's projected face defensively. "Collins was always the loss that mattered, not five sixths of an uninhabited solar system." It had taken four days there and back from the nearest intact Gate; him, John and the medical team in a jumper, the machine filling half the rear section. A good trip, even so. He'd timed it just right: Collins barely even had first degree burns and he was nearly over those by the time they got home. John had squeezed Rodney's shoulder and smiled, relieved, and Rodney'd realized that Collins' death had weighed on John nearly as much as it had on him.

"Hey," O'Neill said, breaking into Rodney's reverie. "No complaints here. Carter blew up a sun." Sam looked long-suffering and O'Neill grinned. He scanned the list again. "You didn't get the first Dr. Beckett back?"

"No, sir," Sheppard said. "We talked to Carson, I mean, to his clone, and, well, it'd be awkward for him, having a duplicate, and his family think he's long since buried. It's tricky with clones."

"Tell me about it," O'Neill said, making a face. He looked back at the report. "I see you retrieved Markham and Smith and recommended them for a commendation for the defense of Atlantis against that Wraith dart." He nodded in approval. "Good thinking."

For a moment Rodney remembered the scene when Markham had materialized in the TRD—the Temporal Retrieval Device, as Rodney had named the machine. Markham had been confused, one second evading the Wraith dart in a high-speed dogfight between Atlantis's towers, the next second appearing in a lab, years later. Stackhouse had leaped forward and grabbed him, holding on like he never planned to let go, while any military personnel in the room glanced aside and pretended not to notice. Rodney'd looked a question at Sheppard, who'd shaken his head: don't ask.

O'Neill was scratching his head. "So this machine, Carter, we can build one here, I assume?"

Sam beamed. "Oh yes, sir, already got a team on it." She looked back at Sheppard and Woolsey. "Thanks for the logistical information about retrievals. You've done a lot of the hard work for us."

"That name's gotta go, though," O'Neill said lazily, leaning back again. "Can't call it the TRD. That'll never catch on."

Before Rodney could ask why in hell not when it was a temporal retrieval device, Sheppard put his oar in. "Yeah, I call it the Time Zapper," he said, smirking.

"Oh no you don't, you, you–" Rodney spluttered, furious. "You can't call it that! I, it’s my invention—well, Radek's and mine. You don't get to call it—Sam!" he pleaded across three million light years. "Do something!"

Sam blew out her cheeks and shook her head doubtfully. "I dunno, Rodney. It's going to take a hell of a lot of pie to swing this one."

"I'm partial to blueberry," O'Neill said helpfully. "Pie, not cobbler. With a nice pastry lattice on top, y'know, all golden brown and–" The closing wormhole cut him off, leaving Rodney snarling at the blank projection screen.

"Relax, Rodney," Sheppard said. "It's gonna be the TRD. Actually, in the report it's the McKay-Zelenka Temporal Retrieval Device."

Rodney shot him an angry glance. "Not now O'Neill's heard you call it the Time Zapper, it's not."

Sheppard pulled an apologetic face and shrugged.

"Hey, I wanna ask something," Ronon said. "We got lots of charged-up ZPMs now, right?"

"Yes indeed, Ronon. The city is functioning at full capacity," Zelenka said, smiling happily.

Ronon raised an eyebrow. "So Chuck was saying we got a bunch of got new scanners on-line?"

"Yes," Rodney said. "Why?"

Ronon sat back and rubbed his jaw. "You find out stuff about Wraith trackers when you got one in you. I met another Runner, too. He said the same."

"About the trackers?" Sheppard frowned at him. "What about them?"

"The signal stops when the Runner's dead. Saves the Wraith chasing after dead prey." Ronon pulled a face. "No sport in that."

Rodney winced. "So what of it?"

Ronon shrugged. "Wondered if you could scan on that frequency now. Find any runners that're out there. Either we could go get 'em, or if we can't, you could zap 'em back here if their tracker cuts out. Find the signal and latch onto them just before, like you do with the sub-qs."

"Buddy," Sheppard said carefully, "they might've died life-sucked."

Ronon shook his head. "Nah. Wraith make the ones they can't feed on into Runners, like with me. Sure, they kill Runners, but not that way. Mostly they shoot them." He looked away. "Some die by themselves. It's not easy, being a Runner."

Rodney lifted his chin. "Since it was your suggestion that made recharging the ZPMs possible, Ronon, it's the least we can do." He looked at Sheppard. "We could gate through and set transmission relays in places around the galaxy for the scanners, so we don't miss anyone." Sheppard glanced at Woolsey, who nodded.

Ronon looked down at the table. "Thanks," he said gruffly. Teyla put her hand on his arm.

***

Sheppard fussed with Rodney's tac vest in the ready room until he had the straps arranged to his liking. 

"You finished there? Any tighter and I'll pass out like some Victorian girl in a corset," Rodney said acidly.

"You'll be fine." Sheppard clapped him on the shoulder. "You got your new sub-q installed?"

Rodney sighed. "Yes, yes. Jennifer wouldn't have cleared me as mission-ready without it, even though it hurt like a bastard. I think she hit a nerve or a blood vessel or something."

"Worth it, though," Sheppard said breezily, and moved on to check Teyla.

The new model subcutaneous implants transmitted basic life-signs, the better to pinpoint time of death. A little gruesome to think about, but if they needed it, well.

It would change a lot of things, Rodney thought, watching Sheppard and Ronon load their packs up with the scanner relays they were off to deploy, to help look for Runners. If they'd had this technology years ago, Sheppard wouldn't have needed to submit to torture and let Todd almost drain him on camera. He could have killed himself, taken himself out of the picture temporarily until they retrieved him. Ronon had equipped all the Gate teams with small, cunningly concealed knives which, okay, wasn't foolproof, but it was a damn sight better than some idiot's lunatic suggestion that they all get cyanide capsules implanted in their molars. Rodney'd nixed that immediately—it was bad enough risking death by citrus without having something else lethal in his mouth. Not that a stray lemon was likely to kill him these days, or rather, yes, agonizing death by suffocation, but if it wouldn't change the timeline Zelenka'd retrieve him and it'd be like it'd never happened. For him, anyway. He was still going to use an Epi-pen; anaphylaxis sucked.

Rodney followed the others to the jumper bay, musing about Todd, and how if Sheppard had killed himself and been retrieved they'd never have formed their strange blood-brother pact. Then Atlantis would never have allied themselves with Todd against other Wraith, and maybe Rodney wouldn't have cracked the nanovirus coding that had almost killed Jeannie. They couldn't change the past significantly, but with the TRD they'd definitely change the future. Would it be for the better, or for worse?

They could bring people back from the dead now if they acted fast enough that the timeline wasn't affected by a death. It'd be routine in a while for people in peril to wink out of existence in the blink of an eye, and now they knew about the TRD and expected that, disappearing someone in front of their team's eyes wasn't a reason not to do it. Rather, someone vanishing when they were in danger or had been shot would be reassuring, even if it had meant Woolsey needing to get funding for an extra trauma surgery team. He'd get it; Earth owed them, big time. In fact, Rodney thought that discovering an infinite, rechargeable power source and being able to save a lot of people killed suddenly or violently was likely to push the IOA into declassification. The new secrets were just too big to conceal—no government would want to risk the lash back if they withheld those seeming miracles.

Teyla was talking to the Athosians about having sub-qs injected, although some of them—and a few Expedition members—declined to be retrieved on religious grounds. Rodney had little patience with that, since no one was really being brought back from the dead. The TRD hadn't answered any of the big questions about what happened after death, either. People were retrieved from the moment before they died, not afterward.

"C'mon, McKay, let's go find ourselves some Runners," Ronon said, pulling Rodney up the jumper ramp.

"Watch my arm, you great lout," Rodney grumbled, moving forward past Teyla to nab the shotgun seat. "If they're as bad as you, I don't know why we're bothering."

"Yeah, you do," Ronon said easily.

And yes, Rodney did.

Grinning, Sheppard piloted the jumper down into the Gate Room and hovered while the kawoosh settled to a glowing blue disc.

"Well, Colonel," Rodney said, waving a hand at the Gate. "Take us out into an even more uncertain future than ever before."

Sheppard gave him a mock salute and slid the jumper forward into the wormhole. 

***

the end