The mini-disc slots into the laptop without any difficulty. It's apparent that the future Rodney had been careful to use compatible technologies. Fortunately, he'd also chosen one of his personal favorites for the password, circa now. After all, there wouldn't have been much sense in sending back information that was encrypted and inaccessible. A few clicks and a video starts, a familiar face fills most of the screen and immediately begins to speak in an equally familiar cadence.
"Hello, me. If you're watching this, it means your John made it back. That's good because now you'll save Teyla and avert the many deaths that would have resulted if he hadn't. The thing is, he'll be dead in fifteen days unless you stop it. And twenty-six days later, you'll have to fix things again or face losing him in a stupid accident. Then after that...well, you get the picture. There's a spreadsheet included on this disk with all the details we've collected so that you can add your own notes when the moron inevitably manages to kill himself again. I've also included what you need to find him in the future and send him back with the updates. After all, why waste years of your life on the research when it's already been done."
The face on the recording quite logically matches the one that greeted John in the future. There are no extra lines around the blue eyes or across the broad forehead, no grey hair, nothing to indicate that version had aged more than a year or two past today. John had reported that the hologram Rodney had been fuzzy with the details, only giving John the bare minimum he needed to avoid getting caught in an explosion at the warehouse where they'd find Teyla. After that had been revealed, the hologram had been very insistent that John keep the disk a secret and deliver it to Rodney and no one else, claiming John's foreknowledge of events could compromise the future if not handled with care.
"That said, here's the important part. Tell him you love him, you idiot. Don't waste any more time wondering if he's interested, because I can assure you that he is very interested. However, he'll never make the first move. Don't keep putting it off because you think it'll interfere with what you need to do because, statistically speaking, the odds are that eventually you won't make it back...and then in your branch there'll be no hologram waiting and John will end up dying alone forty-eight thousand years in the future...and it'll be too late for both of you, too late to try to get it right in a new branch."
The face on the screen looks haunted, as if the future has already delivered the worst.
"Don't...don't make the mistake of thinking you can wrap John up in the Pegasus equivalent of cotton wool to keep him safe. It'll never happen, and you'll lose your chance to grab something approximating happiness until he...he.... Just try not to worry so much about the future that you forget to live in the now. Damn, that sounds like something off a motivational calendar, doesn't it? Still, that doesn't mean it's not valid. Gather ye rosebuds or, in your case, John."
The eyes soften with memory, the corner of his mouth twitches up for a brief moment before he's serious again.
"Oh, one last very important thing. Never...and I mean never tell the future John the transfer process for the hologram killed you and make sure you keep the spreadsheet hidden from the present John. That information was how you nearly lost him permanently at least one time and maybe more, the asinine self-sacrificing fool. You can talk at him until you're blue in the face, but he never seems to understand why 'going on to live a full life' without him will never happen, and then he'll either try to hide or destroy the disk when he comes back."
A worried frown crinkles the face, a sad inevitability touches the eyes.
" Of course, there's always the possibility that John's watching this message and we're already screwed for this set of branches. Obviously, we have no idea how many times that's happened before now, because it effectively rewinds us to the beginning and it'll take us years and dozens of loops to get back here. So John, if it is you watching, please don't try to stop us. You have to know that saving you, any version of you is worth it, that living without you is...is...I...I need to go."
For a moment, the knock on the door seems to be an echo from the future but, when the screen goes to black, it suddenly becomes obvious that the noise belongs to the present. The disk is tucked safely inside a pocket before the door slides open with a thought.
"Can I come in? I...I wanted to talk to you."
John fingers the disk in his pocket as he looks at Rodney standing just inside his door, watches the fidgeting man who will dedicate his life to keeping John alive as long as he can, whether or not he has the information on the disk at his disposal. John could try to stop the cycle, but unless Rodney dies before he can sacrifice himself to the machine, it isn't going to happen. Inevitably, that genius brain of his is going to reason out that he'd changed the future once, so he can keep on changing it...until he gets it right. In a way, they're both on that hellbound train he'd read about when he was a kid, riding through time until Rodney finds the perfect moment to freeze, to declare they'd had enough and there'd be no more branches.
He can't stop the train, but he can throw a switch and change tracks. He'll hand Rodney the disk and he'll tell Rodney that he knows and that the next message sent back has to change so that the next John will understand the goal and the one after that and so on. All those Rodneys and Johns will follow the script and they'll record the messages together, making it a little further each time, until finally they'll both appear as holograms to the future John, wrinkled and bent, together until the end.
That's what he'll do, right after he makes the first move.