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Two Hundred and Forty Seconds

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The stasis chambers were very much like the stasis pods on the Aurora. They had a neural interface to help keep a mind stuck in long stasis healthy and active. They could offer many alternate realities, programmed in to simulate normal life and living with varying degrees of accuracy and intellectual challenge. They could draw upon the user’s own memories to help fill in small gaps in scene and substance. Without that intense level of dynamic interface, the machine would spit out dreamscapes as surreal as anything a subconscious could make. Unless you were into dreamscape escapism, the program was a nice sedate alternate reality that could offer problem solving and tasking opportunities to keep the mind fit and alert.

Rodney had often considered using one as an alternative to a traditional vacation. One could step in for three or four minutes and live a whole two weeks on some sunny, white sand Caribbean beach or camping in Yosemite, or Surfing in Hawaii. When he explained it to Sheppard he had pretty much fired back the closest analogy his mind could wrap itself around.

“Like ‘Total Recall’ and the Holodeck combined,” he had said.

“More like ‘Total Recall’ than the Holodeck,” Rodney had explained while trying to hold back the annoyed sigh. “Holodecks are conscious experiences with objects created to fool the individual into believing the scenarios given. This is more like planting the experience into the conscious mind.”

“Yeah, I get it. I wake up and I think my name is Hauser and I have to ‘Get my ass to Mars.’”

“Funny.” Rodney said contemptuously.

When Rodney first discussed the opportunity in a senior staff meeting, he received luke-warm acceptance at best. No one seemed all that excited to take a four minute vacation even though the energy output for it was minimal in comparison to the juggernaut extended stays of other stasis survivors they had known. As it was deemed not all that appealing, the whole idea was dropped. Rodney thought very little about it again.

That is, he didn’t need to think about it again until he got Carson back.

No one else seemed half as excited to get Carson back and that included Carson himself. Once he found out he was only a copy, Carson seemed resigned to relinquish the life he thought he once knew as his own. It seemed as if he felt he didn’t deserve to continue the living of the person everyone else had known as Carson Beckett. But that he was a copy hadn’t mattered to Rodney. Even if he was a clone, he was every bit as much Carson Beckett as Carson Beckett had ever been. And Rodney, for one, was overjoyed to have his best friend back.

Rodney wondered, if Carson had survived, how he would have taken meeting himself. This wasn’t like Rod from another dimension. Rod had been different than Rodney in personality. This Carson was Carson. He was a complete Carson with only a couple of year’s gap in his experiences.

Still, no one else seemed half as excited to get Carson back as Rodney, until they found out they were about to lose him again. That had brought it all home to them. Rodney watched how it affected them all. Sheppard got intense and awkward when he spoke about him. Ronan acted like a stubborn child trying to avoid something that he knew would only break his heart. To have this happen as they were all so very stressed about Teyla and her people seem unnecessarily cruel.

Rodney wondered what Teyla would have thought of having Carson back. She was always so very careful, but also so very caring. He wonder if she would have cried and touched her forehead to Carson’s before they placed him in the chamber.

Rodney had offered Carson the chance to enjoy the neural interface while he was waiting in stasis. Rodney had uploaded a few options he thought Carson would find pleasant. But Carson had only smiled fatalistically and assure Rodney he would be fine. Then he had offered Rodney the chance to truly say goodbye. In that brief moment Rodney remembered the day Carson had died. He had never got a chance to see him again, something he had always taken for granted. He had never had a chance to tell him… everything. On that day, Rodney had experience the numb denial of grief. The day after, when he volunteered to take Carson’s remains home to his mother, he had still been numb. He had shed tears at the funeral only because it hurt him to see Carson’s sweet, little mother so very heartbroken. But she had been surrounded by Carson’s younger brothers. His sympathy and support were superfluous.

It hadn’t hit him until the day after he got back, and Carson was still gone. He would never talk to him again, or make him miserable by forcing him to listen to him brain storm during lunch, or call his work pseudoscience, or make him laugh by pretending not to get the sarcasm thrown at him by Sheppard. Carson would never get to hear everything he had to say.

Rodney still wanted everything, and that moment for a goodbye Carson was offering at the threshold of the stasis chamber was not everything. It couldn’t be. How could fate be so truly twisted as to give him this second chance only to pull it away at the last second?

“Life isn’t fair, Rodney.” He could hear the words play in his mind in Carson’s thoughtful tone. But that day he had made Carson understand, it had to be ‘See ya later.’

Carson had reassured Rodney that he would be fine in stasis, but he didn’t forbid him the opportunity to let him have some neural stimulation. And truth be told, Rodney was overdue for a vacation… even a four minute one.

The stasis gallery had many modules at different states of disrepair and Rodney had tried to fix and prepped several over the past few months just for emergencies. However, there was one, the one that sat back to back with Carson’s on the other side of the gallery wall that he had taken extra special care of. It was easier to combine the two neural nets due to the proximity.

Some thirty miles from Loch Tay, deep in the highlands of Perthshire where the heather flowers grew pinkish purple on the foothills, there was a small rustic cottage near a river that ran to the loch. It looked rustic but Rodney knew that it had all the modern conveniences. It also had all the gear, tackle, supplies and clothing that he and Carson would need for a relaxing fishing vacation. It was perfect. Well, it would be perfect for Carson, Rodney thought as he triple checked the program parameters. He wanted it to be perfect for Carson. Rodney wasn’t much of a fan of fishing and hunting and all those other rugged type activities that most of the boys in his high school class in Calgary were into. It didn’t help that Rodney, although not scrawny, was rather bookish and more into math than bagging elk. His parents had refused to let him or Jennie skip grades although they had been capable and qualified. His father had been more concerned with their social development than their current level of education.

His father had had the best of intentions, of course. Rodney forgave him for it. Rodney smiled to himself as he wondered if Carson would forgive him for having the best intentions. Well, Carson hadn’t really made it clear that he didn’t want the virtual reality.

The program and the chamber were ready. There was a failsafe in place for any emergency. All he had to do was think his safe word and he would come out. It would also cause a break in the simulation for Carson, although he would remain in stasis. It was ten PM on a Sunday evening. No one should need him or miss him for four lousy minutes. He stepped inside and turned about facing outward. He took one last breath before he settled his head back against the neural net sensors. This action keyed the program to begin. The world slowly faded out in a white frosted flash going opaque to nothing.

Then it faded back in with shades of green so vibrant and true, it was incredible. Rodney marveled at the sensory accuracy as he breathed in the fresh, earthy morning air filled with the smells of water, forest, and flowers. He took in one deep breath and smiled. Before him was a little copses, that stretched in a line following the river that flowed back to Loch Tay. Just beyond were green hills patched in vibrant heather finery like the pattern of a lady’s fine dress. The sky was heartbreakingly blue, filled with the puffiest white cloud a person could imagine and the air was crisp like springtime. He breathed it in again feeling more alive than ever he had in any virtual world. He knew that behind him was the cabin.

“Rodney?”

Rodney stilled, hearing that familiar voice just paces behind between him and the cabin. He didn’t sound upset or angry nor did he sound alarmed. The question hung there spoken in Carson’s calm tone. Rodney turned to face him.

Carson stood there, barefoot and wearing the infirmary issue white pajamas. He just stood there, looking at Rodney, unmoving. He frowned in the concerned-Carson way that made his eyes more intense looking.

“Hey,” Rodney said with a small, apologetic wave that never reached past his waist.

“What’s all this, then?”

“Ah… this is a virtual fishing trip!” Rodney announced trying to sound much more cheerful and positive. He clasped his hands together in a gesture of accomplishment as he looked around.

“And you?” Carson asked cautiously.

“Oh no, my friend, not virtual,” he announced proudly. “I’m really here… with you. Well here in the since that my mind is sharing the virtual experience with yours.”

Carson managed to look nonplused and disapproving at the same time. Quite an accomplishment.

“Do you like it?” Rodney said, more to get Carson’s mind off of whatever was making him look like that than anything else. He should have known it wouldn’t work. Carson was not easily distracted.

“Rodney,” he said with a sigh. “You didn’t have to do this for me, I told you. I’ll be fine. Don’t waste any more of the city’s power on me.”

Rodney stood there thinking long and hard about the answer he was about to give Carson. He knew he had to. It was the truth and it meant something to him. He just hoped Carson would understand.

“I didn’t do it all for you…” He faltered on the words. He hated being vulnerable, but he wasn’t the emotional cripple Sheppard could be at times. He forged ahead because he knew he should. “I did it for me too.”
Slowly, a corner of Carson’s mouth lifted into a small smile that lit his eyes and eased away the worried frown. Seeing that, Rodney smiled back, bouncing happily on the balls of his feet. He should have known better. Carson always understood him. He understood him better than anyone in two galaxies.

“Now,” Rodney asked again, “do you like it?”

Carson looked about himself, looking back over his shoulder at the cottage and then past Rodney to the stream and the hills beyond the tree-line.

“Perthshire,” he breathed out as he took it all in.

“I told you I had this already in the data base,” Rodney explained cheerfully. “An extended four day weekend of fishing and relaxing and…”

“Steady on there,” Carson interrupted reprovingly. “Four days? Can you afford to be away from your duties for that long? Last I heard things were pretty bloody dire. I can’t irresponsibly allow the city’s chief scientist go on a four day virtual fishing trip.”

Rodney laughed with a slightly hint of conceit as he approached the man. “That’s the beauty of this virtual fishing trip. It’s only going to take approximately two hundred and forty seconds in real time.”

Carson stood dumbfounded.

“That’s four minutes,” Rodney said with a smile and he patted Carson’s shoulder as he passed. He then marched purposefully towards the cabin. “Are you hungry?” he said as he continued up to the door. “I’m starved!”

“Rodney!” he heard Carson say on the end of a long-suffering sigh.

The cabin door was unlocked and it squeaked ever so slightly on its hinges as Rodney pushed it open. The sound made for a comforting charm effect in the structure. It looked clean and comfortable in the mid-morning light that streamed through the open door and a window off of the main room. There was a plush, over-stuffed sofa upholstered in a calm mocha color with a dark green throw blanket that just begged to be napped on. There were also two nice comfy looking easy chairs situated near a sturdy fire place with a brick mantle and an iron grate and a polished lattice screen. Two ottomans sat before the chairs and side tables with lamps sat close next to them.

A tall brass lamp stood next to the doorway. Rodney reached over to the wall switch and flipped it. Nothing happened.

“Hm…” He flipped it a few more times as Carson reached him standing in the doorway. “Suppose to have electricity…” Rodney muttered.

Carson pushed past him and looked the lamp up and down. He then stooped down and plugged it in to a wall socket. Standing again, Carson flipped the light switch. The light came on. Carson then treated Rodney to a withering look.

“Bloody Genius,” Carson said as he turned to come further in.

Rodney walked in and turned to the kitchenette with its clean counters and small table with space enough for two. The refrigerator looked like an antique with its rounded edges and it front ornament that looked like it belonged on the hood of a Cadillac. It was a pale teal that matched the counters. Rodney grabbed hold of the front handle and yanked to unlatch it. It opened and the light turned on cheerfully over enough food to feed a rugby team. It was fully stocked.

“Yes!” Rodney said gleefully as he surveyed lay of the refrigerator land. He then started grabbing cold-cuts and condiments. With his face still in the fridge, he gestured down the counter with his free hand as he continued to look for more items to build a sandwich.

“I think there is a bread box down there, Carson,” he said with a wave of his hand.

“I think so,” Carson replied. “Yes, there is bread.”

Rodney looked up to see Carson at that end of the counter with an open bread box that held a sliced loaf.

“Excellent!” Rodney exclaimed as he set a tomato down next to the other sandwich fixings.

“Am I about to spend a whole weekend in my bloody pajamas watching you stuff your pie-hole with sandwiches?” Carson complained.

Rodney frowned suddenly. “No. For starters, Doubting Doctor, there are clothes for you in your room,” he pronounced haughtily. “Also, you should find in there all the tackle and gear for a nice fishing vacation. You have a river right outside this front door and hip waders.”

“And what about you, Rodney? You are honestly going to go fishing with me this time. I’ve only asked twice…”

“Five times,” Rodney corrected.

“And you have always said no.”

“Not exactly,” Rodney said.

“Oh, I suppose you told the other me yes once?”

“Well not completely.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“You gave me a two week warning the last time,” Rodney explained.

“Then you said yes,” Carson extrapolated.

“Well, until something else came up,” Rodney replied quickly, trying not to look shame-faced. “Look, that doesn’t matter now, Carson. I want to spend time with you, now. I want to go fishing with you now.”

“You are serious,” Carson said softly.

“Of course I am,” Rodney replied. “I’ve… I really miss you.”

Carson’s expression softened again. “I missed you too. All that time Michael kept me prisoner, I worried about you.”

“Really?” Rodney asked feeling his mouth twist into a little, hopeful smile.

“I wondered if you were keeping a handle on your blood pressure and if you were watching your blood sugar. But now I know that I needn’t have worried.” Carson gave a rueful smile and looked away.

“Hey,” Rodney said in a gentler tone. “Doesn’t matter now. We’re fishing… Have you seen a knife?” He began to open random kitchen drawers. He looked up again in time to see Carson shaking his head with a small tolerant smile.

“I’m going to change,” he said and walked off towards the hall near the main room.

Rodney found a knife in a draw near the sink. “Yeah, you do that.”

~
By the time Carson came back out dressed in a dark gray v neck shirt and jeans, Rodney was nearly finished with his first sandwich and contemplating making a second.
“Are we fishing next?” Rodney asked around a mouth full of cold cut sandwich as Carson came over to the refrigerator.

“No,” he said as he opened the door. “We only just got here. I need a little time to wrap my head around this.” He pulled out a bottled water. “I see we have beer,” he added.

“Yeah,” Rodney replied. “We should have wine and a fully stocked bar too… I thought we should…”

He put down the rest of his sandwich at the table and went to the cabinets. It took only two tries before he pulled open the one jam-pack filled with booze bottles. “See!” he exclaimed.

“Great,” Carson said flatly. “We can get totally bollocks pissed.”

“I just wanted to make sure we had everything and anything we needed to make this a good vacation.”

Carson opened his water and took a drink. “I really do appreciate the effort you put into this Rodney. It’s very nice.”

“Do you want a sandwich?”

“No,” Carson replied. “No thank you. I think I want to go for a walk for a while.”

“Oh, um… do you want…” Rodney rounded the table in an effort to join him.

“No, Rodney, you stay here and finish your sandwich. I’ll be fine.”

~
Rodney did know what to expect when he stepped into the stasis chamber. Well, he knew what to expect technically in the sense of physiological effects and neurological changes, but what to expect from Carson had been a bit of a wild card. He had hoped Carson would be just as glad to see him as he was to see Carson. Watching Carson walk out the door without him had made his heart sink a little.

What did he do wrong? Was it the fishing? He knew Carson had had his heart set on fishing for a giant space trout while they were on Lantea. Were regular ol’ earth trout not as exciting? Maybe it was because this was home for Carson. Maybe he should have made it some place exotic. Maybe it should have been sword fishing in Key West, or fly fishing in Colorado, or ice fishing in the Arctic Circle.

Rodney cleaned up after his meal and went out the door. The afternoon was bright and Carson was nowhere near by. Rodney considered looking for him, but then thought better of it. Carson would be back. In the meantime, Rodney looked around the cottage. He found the out building where the generator chugged on, suppling the house with electricity. It ran on petrol and the tank looked to be over three quarters full. Rodney made a mental note to himself to check it daily. He was certain there was more petrol close by. That had to be a given.

It was mid-afternoon when Carson returned. He walked through the door just as Rodney was trying to assemble a fishing rod. Amazingly enough, he wasn’t doing a great job of it.

“Hey,” Rodney looked up from his task and said.

“Hello,” Carson replied. He then stared at what Rodney was up to. “What are you doing?”

"Hm, well, it would appear to be putting this pole together.”

Carson smiled, then chuckled. “Rather unsuccessfully.”

Rodney frowned as he looked at the tangled mess before him. “It’s a fishing pole. How hard can it be? Especially for someone with an IQ as high as mine?”

“Apparently it’s a down right bastard of an enigma.” Carson came over to the table and sat down across from him. “Put the silly thing down, Rodney.”

Rodney pushed the pole aside with a sober glance at Carson. “Never did get the hang of fishing anyway. Standing with your feet wet waiting for a fish to trap itself on a hook on a string…”

“Then why are you here?” Carson asked. He wasn’t chuckling any more but he wasn’t upset or suspicious either. He just looked at Rodney with that straightforward-Carson-gaze. It was the one gaze Rodney knew came with a side order of thoughtfulness and understanding.

“I told you,” he said simply. “I missed you. You hungry yet? I cut up a tomato and there is lettuce and cheese…”

“No, I’m not hungry yet.” Carson shook his head with a soft smile.

“Ok, um… How was your walk?” Rodney asked, wanting to keep the subject changed.

“It was lovely,” Carson replied. “Just how I remembered it. You know, my da use to take me and my brothers out driving down this way. He was the one who taught me how to fish.”

“Oh, really?”

“We were wee lads at the time. The twins couldn’t even bait their own hooks. I really don’t think da wanted them to try. Dougie was accident prone and Jamie was just ready to indulge accidents….”
Carson stopped and looked at Rodney.

“What?” Rodney blinked as he looked back.

“This is where you interrupt me and tell me you really are not interested in hearing some inane nonsense about my childhood fishing trips.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Rodney protested. “Now if you had launched into that story back on Atlantis while I was trying to think of something important, maybe I would have.”

Carson snorted and started to get up from his seat.

“Wait,” Rodney asked, raising a finger to forestall his departure. “You don’t understand…” he cleared his throat looking a little nervous. “I want to hear what you have to say.”

“Seriously,” Carson looked skeptical but he sat back down. They looked at each other for a moment longer; then Rodney finally spoke.

“I always thought that I would have you around… Then one day I didn’t… It… It changed my life in ways I’m still trying to understand.”

“What is this trip really, Rodney?” Carson asked softly.

“It’s two hundred and forty seconds to feel better,” he said looking Carson directly in the eye. “Are you sure you don’t want something to eat? Because I’m about to start drinking and I think you want me to make you a sandwich while I’m sober.”

“I can make my own sandwich, thank you,” Carson said as he got up from the table. He went to the refrigerator and began to pull out the sandwich ingredient again. “Would you like a beer?”

“Well, since you are right there,” Rodney replied.

Carson pulled out two beers and uncapped them both against the edge of the counter using a swift hit with the heel of his hand.

“You’ll scratch the counters!” Rodney scolded.

“That’s how you open a beer in Aberfeldy,” Carson said with a look of satisfaction. He laughed at Rodney’s appalled expression. “What? Afraid we won’t get the deposit back on the virtual reality rental?”

Carson then deposited an open beer before Rodney. Before Rodney could grab it and get the first sip, Carson was back from the fridge, placing six more unopened beers on the table in a line. He went back to the counter to continue building his sandwich.

Rodney looked back at him. “Won’t those get warm?” He pointed at the neat row of bottles.

“You’ve been hanging around Colonel Sheppard too long. Beer was never meant to be ice cold.”

“You know, it’s not just an American thing. It’s a Canadian thing too.”

“Cellar temperature is the correct coldness of beer,” Carson replied.

“And you expect us to drink those before they go beyond cellar temperature and into room temperature?”

“Aye.”

“You, my friend, are ambitious.”

“Always have been.” Carson turned back to the counter to complete the stacking of his sandwich. “Should I put the sandwich fixing away then?”

Rodney thought about it over a long swallow of beer. “No,” he replied. “I could eat again.”

And Rodney did. They both did. There were many trips to the counter to make another sandwich and Carson slammed open bottle after bottle of beer for the both of them. Meanwhile, Rodney regaled him with Atlantis happenings and mission highlights.

“And how is Jennifer holding up?” Carson asked.

“She’s doing very well,” Rodney replied. “She’s really stepped up to the challenge.”

“I knew she was a good choice the day I interviewed her. Fine lass. Very smart.”

“Yeah, well that last batch we brought in were far better over all,” Rodney commented. “But you knew that.”

“Well tell me somethings I don’t know… like… like how is that thing you had going with Katie Brown?”

Rodney felt his face fall into a frown and he knew that is what stilled Carson in apprehension.

“She’s okay, isn’t she?”

“She’s fine,” Rodney replied, recovering his expression into something more cheery. He cleared his throat and took a long swig of his… third? Maybe forth beer? “We sort of broke it off a little while after you died.”

“That’s too bad. I’m sorry, Rodney.” Carson got up and went to the fridge. When he returned, he lined up six fresh beers before them
.
Rodney looked at the table before them. It was starting to get crowded by more empty bottles than full bottles.

“But you say that as if my death had something to do with it,” Carson said as he took his seat again.

“No!” That was Rodney’s knee jerk response. “Yes… no… yes and no.” He sighed as he thought about what he was saying. Leave it to Carson to cut to the chase. From the first, Rodney felt as if he was really there to face something. He wasn’t sure, but he also felt as if Carson sensed that. It certainly felt as if he had been pushing him to open up and explain himself. Well, maybe it was the beer, but Rodney felt a little ready.

He rubbed his eyes briefly and grabbed a new beer. It wasn’t open. He tried to open it Carson’s way.

“OW!” Rodney pulled his hand back to his chest and stomped a foot as he rode out the pain.

“Rodney,” Carson said patiently and extended a hand toward him silently. Rodney handed Carson his injured hand. Carson looked it over briefly. “Put a cold beer on it,” he suggested. “Now give me the beer.”
“Oh,” Rodney said and handed the unopen bottle over.

With a swift downward slam, Carson had the top off in a jiff. He handed the cold bottle back over.

“Now, you were saying about Katie.”

Rodney sighed as he realized he wasn’t getting out of this one. “The day you died, I was supposed to go fishing with you. I ditched out to spend the day with Katie.”

Carson nodded in understanding.

“You don’t get it yet,” Rodney explain. “It’s worse than that, really.”

“There is nothing wrong with wanting to spend time with a lovely woman like…”

“See, you don’t get it,” Rodney complained. “I sought Katie out and practically begged her to be my excuse. Then I misled her on my intentions.”

“That’s all rot, Rodney. You didn’t do any of that I’m sure.”

“You wound up not going fishing. You stayed and took Dr. Cole’s shift. Then you got blown up.” Rodney took another deep drink.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Caron said softly.

“Might as well have been,” Rodney replied. “When I tried to make good with Katie, I realized I was just doing it out of displaced guilt. The whole thing put a kibosh on any relationship Katie and I had left.”

“I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be,” Rodney said dejectedly. “You weren’t the shumuck who couldn’t make a little time for his best friend in the whole universe… And then I pat myself on the back because I can make the time at last by compacting four days into four minutes.” He put his beer down. “I got so damn lucky, Carson! I got you back.”

Rodney looked away. He couldn’t look into Carson’s intense yet kind gaze anymore.

“It’s pretty complicated.” Rodney heard Carson say. “I’m not the Carson that died, but I know… we wouldn’t want you to feel guilty, not for any of it. Not the change of plans, not the lost relationship, and certainly not for wanting to spend time with me, here and now.”

It was quiet after that as Rodney let Carson’s words sink in.

“Hey,” Carson said, catching his attention again. He stood up from the table. “Let’s go.”

“Where?” Rodney asked.

“Outside. Just come on.”

It was dark out now. Rodney followed Carson out the door. They stepped down from the entryway and out into the clear night. The sky was brilliant with stars. Carson stopped about twenty feet from the cabin and looked up into the sky. Rodney came to stand next to him.

“This is where I learned to dream,” Carson said.

A meteor streaked across the sky leaving a fast burning trail of light.

“It’s a beautiful place,” Rodney said as he watched the stars as they twinkled over the distant hills.

“I’m glad you chose to come share it with me,” Carson said to Rodney.

Rodney looked at him and smiled.