Actions

Work Header

End of the Universe As We Know It

Work Text:

John tapped his headset, calling Rodney. "Hey! You missed lunch and you're about to miss dinner!"

"Busy!" Rodney sang back.

Now John was intrigued. Rodney had been pretty good about eating meals recently, taking reasonable breaks and keeping his work hours down to less than sixty hours a week. Working all day and into the evening was unusual.

John figured the scientists were onto something hot, so he figured if Rodney wasn't coming to him, he'd come to Rodney. He loaded up a tray with food for both of them, added extra coffee and went off to the labs.

The labs were chaos. It wasn't just Rodney working all day, as far as John could see, everyone was working madly.

"What's up?" John asked.

Rodney looked up. "Oh, good. You brought food." Rodney made grabby motions at the tray John brought.

"I didn't bring enough for everyone," John said. "What's going on?"

"End of the universe," Rodney said, shoveling meatloaf into his mouth.

"What the fuck?" John was stunned.

"Yeah," Rodney agreed. He nodded his head toward the other end of the room. "Miko found it."

"Found what?" John asked.

"Remember Rod?" Rodney asked.

"Obviously," John said, wryly.

Rodney shot him an odd look that John ignored. "Remember that he came here because we were sending exotic particles across an intergalactic bridge to get then out of our universe?" Rodney kept eating.

"Yeah...."

"Well, someone's doing the same thing to us," Rodney said. "And it's too late to stop it. We think."

"You're not sure?" John asked.

Rodney shrugged. "Pretty sure. But that doesn't mean we're not trying. Just not so sure there's anything we can do."

"What about going into the thing like Rod did?" John asked, gesturing with his hand.

"The rift is already approaching the city," Rodney said. "It's gotten too big and even if they were to stop sending the exotic particles now, the cascade effect will continue. Another week and it'll be at the city and it will take us, and the Pegasus galaxy, out completely."

"Out?" John was stunned. "Just... out?"

Rodney stopped eating and really looked at John. John could see the bleakness in his eyes.

"Out," Rodney confirmed. He drank down the coffee.

"So what are you doing?" John asked.

"Everything we can think of," Rodney admitted. "Miko's tracking the particles and the rift. Radek and I are looking to see if there's any way to redirect the particles anywhere else, and everyone else is trolling the Ancient database to see if there's anything there."

John sat, speechless.

"So, back to work," Rodney finished the pudding cup.

"What... what can I do?" John asked.

Rodney considered. "Tell Woolsey, I guess," Rodney replied. "Umm... okay, you can't do much more than send a data burst, we want to save the ZedPM in case someone comes up with a brilliant idea, but I'll get..." Rodney looked around, "I guess Miko can do it since she knows the most about it. I'll get her to put a message together that you can send back to Earth and let them know. Maybe Sam can come up with something."

"Should we go back to Earth?" John asked.

Rodney shook his head. "Sorry, once Pegasus goes, the rift will grow exponentially and take the rest of this universe with it."

"Fuck," was the best John could come up with.

"Miko figures we have about a week to ten days," Rodney said. "The closer we get to the end, the more accurate we'll be about when that will happen. The Milky way should have about another month after that."

"That's cheerful," John observed.

Another shrug. "Not sure there's anything else we can do."

"Fight it out to the end?" John asked.

"Might as well," Rodney said. "Don't want to just give up and die."

"Agreed," John said. "So, what can I do to help?"

"Food," Rodney said promptly. "No one's going to willingly leave here for at least the next couple of days. Most of them will drop first."

"Food I can do," John replied. "Anything else?"

"Not right now," Rodney said. "I gotta..." he waved at the computer he had been working at, "get back."

John picked up the tray and watched as Rodney went back to work.

Debating about where to start, John went to visit Woolsey first.

"McKay says the universe is going to end," John said.

Woolsey looked up from the report he was reading. "Excuse me?"

"Did you read the report about the time we had Rod come and visit?" John asked.

Woolsey thought for a moment. "No," he admitted. "I know that Dr. McKay's sister was involved and that Rod came from another universe before Dr. McKay sent him back."

John dropped into Woolsey's guest chair. "Jeannie discovered some fancy math thing that had potential to build a ZPM. It involved a bridge to another universe and something about exotic particles. Rod came here because we were shifting exotic particles to his universe and it was causing a rift above his Atlantis." John took a deep breath. "Turns out someone is doing the same thing to us."

"Can we just turn it off?" Woolsey asked.

"Evidently not," John replied.

"Can we send someone there?" Woolsey said.

John shrugged. "I thought of that, too. First of all, Rod had a personal shield and was beamed into the anomaly by the Daedalus, and we have neither of those things. And, there's no telling who the other folk are and if they'll even agree to stop."

"That does make sense," Woolsey agreed reluctantly. "How much time do we have and what needs to be done?"

"McKay says a week to ten days," John reported. "And the folk in the lab could use food. They'll work on what they can as long as they can but, well, McKay wasn't optimistic."

"If this is true, then I'd be glad to organize meals for those working in the labs," Woolsey offered. "What do we tell Earth?"

"McKay has Dr. Kusinagi organizing a report to send to Earth," John replied. "Hopefully, that will be sooner than later, not that it makes that much difference."

"We should let everyone know," Woolsey decided. "I'm surprised the rumor mill hasn't started already."

"I think those in the know are too busy to talk and since they haven't taken a break yet, they haven't had a chance to say anything," John mused.

"Most likely," Woolsey agreed. "We should organize the announcement."

"Let's get Teyla and Ronon involved," John suggested. "Unfortunately, they have the best experience in dealing with catastrophes. Maybe they will have some suggestions on handling this with the announcement."

"Good idea," Woolsey said. "And Dr. Bending, he should have some ideas also."

John hadn't even thought of the new psychiatrist the IOA had sent to them. He was a Brit with hands-on experience dealing with combat veterans. Not that John was fond of the psych evaluations they were required to go through, but at least Steve was down-to-earth and worked well with the soldiers on Atlantis.

"Let's get some meals to the labs first," John decided. "That will also give me a chance to discretely round up Teyla and Ronon."

"I'll ask Dr. Bending to join us..." he looked at John, "in an hour?"

"That should work. We don't have time to waste," John said.

John heard Woolsey start to contact the head of the food service to arrange for delivery of coffee and hot meals to the labs as he left the room. He wanted to brief Lorne and Teldy before word got out.

"Lorne? Teldy? Meet me in my office now, please?" John asked over the communicator.

Two yes, sir's came over the comm. Lorne was waiting by the time John got to his office and Teldy came in a minute later.

"What's up?" Lorne asked. "The geeks are all frazzled but no one's talking. McKay has everyone working like there's no tomorrow."

John sighed. This didn't get any easier.

"Lorne, you remember Rod?" John asked. He looked at Teldy, "Before your time."

"I read the mission reports," Teldy smirked.

"Sure, I remember Rod," Lorne replied. "What that got to do with... with whatever's going on?"

"Well, the reason Rod came to visit was because we were sending exotic particles to his universe. Remember?" John prompted.

"I guess," Lorne replied. "I didn't dig into that part of what was going on. Mostly over my head."

"Well, the bottom line is that someone is sending exotic particles to our universe," John said. "McKay and Zelenka are doing what they can but, well, they aren't sure they can stop it."

Teldy paled. "Oh. My. God."

John nodded. "End of our universe."

"That's not going to go over well in some places," Lorne put in.

"Which is why I need the two of you to keep an eye on security," John directed. "Just because the universe is going to end, doesn't mean we want people panicking. I know it's counter-intuitive, but we need to keep people calm and under control."

"Can we get help from Earth?" Teldy asked. "Or just go there?" John noted she didn't call it home.

"McKay says this will take out the entire universe in the end," John said. "We'll be sending them the information but... who knows?"

"What do we do now?" Lorne asked.

"Woolsey's waiting on a meeting with Dr. Kusinagi, she's writing up a report to send back to Earth," John stated. "Then he'll be making an announcement to everyone to let them know what's going on."

"Hope that's soon," Teldy said. "Shit's going to hit the fan before too long."

"I know," John sighed. "Unless McKay or one of his people can pull something out of their ass, we're screwed."

"Who has people back on Earth?" Teldy asked. "Those will be the worst."

"Fuck," John muttered. He hadn't even thought of that. "We don't have the energy in the ZPM to do more than send a databurst. And the Daedalus is Earth-side and can't get here in time."

"You wrangle the geeks," Lorne said. "We'll take care of everyone else."

"As a precaution, lock down the armory," John decided. "Use the foot-hold scenario."

The foot-hold scenario let them lock down the armory to keep the civilians out and only officers with the ATA gene could unlock the space. It was as relatively secure as they could make it without locking themselves out.

"Good idea," Lorne replied. "I'll start there."

"Let's put some security around the labs," John decided. "We don't want anyone going into the labs that doesn't need to be there."

"I'll get a couple of teams on it," Teldy said.

"Okay," John accepted the offer. "Let me know if you need anything."

Lorne and Teldy went off to do what they could, and John went off to round up Teyla and Ronon.

Teyla was easy to find, she was in her quarters with Torren and Kanaan.

"There's a... thing going on," John wasn't sure where to start and wasn't ready to discuss it in front of anyone else. "Need you in a meeting in Woolsey's office."

"Now?" she asked, taking in his grim look.

"I need to get Ronon first," John said. "Half an hour?"

"I will be there," she agreed.

John found Ronon sparring with some Marines.

"Ronon," John called when it was safe to do so.

"Sheppard!" Ronon greeted him. "Come to join us?"

"Sorry, no," John replied. "I need you in a meeting in Woolsey's office. Fifteen minutes."

Ronon looked around at the men he had been sparring with, "Gotta go." He looked at Sheppard, "Quick shower and I'll be there."

"Okay," John agreed. "Don't be late."

Not knowing quite what else to do, John wandered by the lab. He hung back, not wanting to interrupt what might be an important train of thought. He was glad to see the food trays and coffee urn, that meant Woolsey had made good on his offer to make sure the science staff got fed.

He left there and went to Woolsey's office. Bending was seated around the table while Teyla was just arriving. They both looked at him curiously. John shook his head and Teyla nodded understanding.

John sat in his usual seat, it felt odd to not have Rodney next to him. Miko Kusinagi slipped into the empty chair next to John. Ronon came in last.

"Dr. Kusinagi, please explain why we are here," Woolsey began.

"Two days ago, we noticed that there is a significant growth of exotic particles in this universe," she started. "Further study revealed the existence of a rift at the outer edges of this solar system. The rift is growing steadily and will reach Atlantis at some time in the next ten days."

"What will happen when it reaches us?" Teyla asked quietly.

"Essentially, the laws of physics are thrown out the window. Which means entropy and chaos. And the end of the universe," Miko said softly.

John could feel the silence in the room.

"What can we do?" Ronon asked.

"Colonel Sheppard hoped that your experience in dealing with... difficult situations would be helpful to us," Woolsey replied.

John wanted to laugh... only Woolsey could describe the end of the universe as a difficult situation.

Ronon rattled off, "Don't hesitate to tell what you know. Leaving people in the dark is the worst and they will make up worse things. Keep everyone busy doing something that at least looks meaningful."

"Good," Woolsey said, taking notes.

"If there does not seem to be a solution, still keep everyone informed," Teyla added. "But the moment there is hope, do share that."

"That makes sense," Woolsey said. "Unless anything has changed?" He looked at Kusinagi, who shook her head. "Then I will be making the announcement to the rest of the members of the city."

"I've asked Lorne and Teldy to check on anyone who has people on Earth," John added. "People with family or loved ones will be the worst."

"I have some idea of who they might be. Round them up and I'll meet with them," Steven Bending, who had been quiet until this point, put in. "We don't want someone doing stupid at this point."

"Doing stupid?" Teyla looked at him quizzically.

Bending grinned. "Sorry." Then grew serious. "I'm concerned about someone committing suicide or having access to weapons where they can take us all out with them while there's anything resembling hope."

"Lorne has locked down the armory already," John replied. "But there are any number of things readily available that can be used as weapons. Using things at hand as a weapon is one of the skills we teach to everyone. And suicide... well, we have too many balconies to watch to stop someone who is determined."

"The population as a whole is a hardy group," Bending said. "Everyone's been through a basic psych evaluation to get here. But it is hard to predict what any one person will do in a situation like this. It's very different facing an enemy in battle, there's something you can do about that. There's nothing to fight at this point."

"We can only hope that Dr. McKay comes up with an idea," Kusinagi replied.

"Anything else?" Woolsey asked.

"Anyone who does not want to be alone is welcome to join me in the common room," Teyla offered. "There is comfort in being together."

"That's actually a good idea," John put in. "Let's get set for a full evacuation which will both keep people productively busy as well as pull everyone into one place so we can keep an eye out for trouble. Use the common room as a staging area for a potential evacuation."

"Those are good," Bending agreed. "Once I've sorted out the people with families on Earth, I'll join you."

"I'll have food set up there," Woolsey made a note. He looked around, seeing no more comments, he said, "I'll make the announcement next. Dr. Kusinagi, if you could stay for a moment and check the wording of the announcement so I don't make any errors?"

"Certainly," she agreed softly.

"Thank you," Woolsey said to the group. "And good luck."

It wasn't long before Woolsey's voice came over the city announcement system.

Everyone who has signed up for the Atlantis mission is aware that there are perils that cannot be planned for. Dr. McKay and his staff have discovered that another universe is sending exotic particles to our universe. This has placed our entire universe in danger and we are not sure there is a solution.

I have been advised to be totally honest with everyone and I am doing so. If there is no way to stop the transmission of exotic particles to our universe, this universe will end. The current estimate is that we have about a week before that time comes.

There is no going back to Earth. In the end, they will suffer the same fate. I am truly sorry if anyone has family on Earth.

We are implementing the full evacuation protocol, with everyone reporting to the common room as our staging area. Teyla and Dr. Bending will be coordinating tasks from there. Bring only bare essentials with you, we will assign everyone to work teams to gather necessities and keep services running.

Godspeed.

John stood still and let a moment of grief for his family wash over him. He and David had not returned their relationship to the one they had as boys, but they had made something of a start. Now, they'd never have a chance to try.

He shook himself and pushed the emotion down. John had plenty of practice over the years doing just that. His team on Atlantis had been the first time he had become emotionally attached to anyone in a long time. And attached to Rodney in particular... he hadn't done anything about it and now it was too late. For that he was truly sorry.

"Sheppard!" Ronon's voice came over the comm.

"What do you need?" John replied.

"We need to keep folk busy," Ronon said. "I'm going to start everyone on full evacuation protocol Zulu."

They had set up evacuation protocols in case they ever had to evacuate Atlantis. After the Genii invasion, they realized they needed to be better prepared to deal with the possibility of another invasion. Or that something would go wrong in the labs and the city would become too dangerous to live in.

"That works," John agreed. "Get with Lorne and Teldy. Lorne's implemented the foot-hold scenario for the armory. And Teldy's set a couple of teams guarding the labs. Let me know what you need. I'll be in the labs."

"Right," Ronon replied.

Comfortable that Ronon would be helpful to Lorne and Teldy in keeping anyone who was not in the labs busy, John headed to the labs.

It was controlled chaos. John figured most of the scientists had been working for going on forty-eight hours at this point and were starting to run out of steam.

John looked for Zelenka, knowing Rodney wouldn't stop until he dropped but maybe he could get Zelenka to talk some of the other scientists to take a break. He finally found Zelenka in an adjacent lab, working on a computer and muttering to himself.

"Hey!" John said softly, to get his attention.

"Go away!" Zelenka said.

"Listen, some of your folk need a break," John said. "Who can we send to get some down time?"

"McKay will not go," Zelenka finally looked up from his work.

"I know that," John admitted. "But how about someone else? They won't do anyone any good if they drop where they're working."

"Ever the optimist," Zelenka grinned. "Good. Yes, let me think." He tapped at the computer keyboard for a moment. "Okay, I come with you."

With some coaxing, they got a number of the scientists to take a break. Zelenka relentlessly threw some out of the labs, telling them to come back when they were fresh to start again.

"You take a break, too," John put in as they got the Marines to escort the last couple of scientists out.

"I have bed in back of lab," Zelenka nodded. "I'll take a break."

"Be sure!" John said.

"Yes, I know," Zelenka agreed. He sighed. "Is always something."

"It is," John replied.

John made sure the Marines were rotating shifts also.

Knowing he had to set something of an example, John snuck a quick snooze in himself. He didn't want to raid their drug store for anything to keep him awake. He knew it was a limited supply and anything they did have would have to go to the scientists first.

He wandered the areas of the city they were using, making sure to talk to as many people as he could to maintain a presence. He met up with Ronon once, who was going about and doing similar things.

He found Teyla hurrying through the halls, looking for him.

"John!" Teyla called his attention.

John rubbed a hand over his face. He was exhausted, but no more so than anyone else. "What can I do for you?" he asked.

"I was... remembering," Teyla started, hesitantly. "I do not know if it is relevant but I was wondering."

"Go on," John encouraged.

"Do you remember the time we were trapped on the other Daedalus?" she asked.

John looked at her for a moment, following the thought to a logical conclusion. He felt his eyes open wide. "I don't know, but Rodney will," John replied eagerly.

"I have faith that if anyone can do that, Rodney will," she said, eyes alight.

John took a moment to bring his forehead to hers. "Thank you for remembering that," he said softly.

"Go," she said.

John went to the labs with a lighter heart than he had had for days.

"Rodney!" he said as soon as he found the other man.

"Yes, what?" Rodney snapped tiredly.

"Teyla is brilliant," John grinned.

"And so am I," Rodney turned to John and got a curious look on his face. "What?"

"Remember when we got stuck on that alternate Daedalus?" John asked.

Rodney's brow furrowed for a moment and then the look became calculating. He snapped his fingers several times and turned to the lab. "Radek, we have to prep the city for flight!" he called out.

"Will it work?" John demanded.

"It's a thousand times better than any other option we've come up with," Rodney admitted. As he talked to John, his fingers flew over the computer keyboard.

Zelenka came up slowly, showing his exhaustion. "Yes, Rodney, now what?"

"We need to get the city into space so we can get it into subspace," Rodney commanded.

Zelenka stood still for a moment and then got the same look Rodney had just had on his face. "Will it work?" he asked.

"It's the best option we've got," Rodney admitted. "Go for it."

"How much time do we have? And how long before we can get into space?" John asked.

Rodney poked at his computer. "Miko's countdown says we have about seventy two hours," Rodney said. "But the countdown's been escalating. We can't count on more than half of that."

"Okay," John said. "That still gives us some time to prepare."

"We'll have the city ready, Colonel," Zelenka promised. "And having you instead of Carson in the chair will be better."

"So don't go too far," Rodney looked at John.

"Not going to," John said. "But we have some resources we can get together in the next twenty four hours that will probably be useful."

"Whatever," Rodney dismissed, focusing on his computer screen. "Just be ready when I tell you."

"I will," John agreed. He went to find Woolsey.

"We think there's some hope," John said. "Remember the time there was that alternate Daedalus?"

"Yes..." Woolsey said with a tone of cautious consideration.

"Well, Rodney thinks that maybe if we can get the city into space, we can open a hyperspace window and if we're in subspace when the rift passes through here that maybe we could end up in an alternate universe."

"That's... I don't know what that is," Woolsey admitted.

"It's hope," John said. "And it gives us something very productive to do for the next forty eight hours."

"Like what?" Woolsey asked.

"We need to get everyone in the central tower for space travel," John started. "I'm not going to lose anyone this time if the city decides to shrink the shield. Everyone needs to be in as relatively small space as possible."

"That makes sense," Woolsey admitted.

"And we need supplies," John went on. "Anything we can lay our hands on. Food, water, anything we can get. We don't know how long we'll be in space and what we will find when we get there."

"Yes, you're right!" Woolsey understood planning, John knew. Give him something to organize and he was in his element.

"Can you take care of that?" John asked. "I want to send a team to the planet with the kids. Both to see if any of them will come with us and if we can get their ZPM."

"Yes, yes," Woolsey enthused. "That's an excellent idea."

"You start here and I'll get a team going," John directed. "And a second team to see what we can salvage from the Athosian settlement."

"Good," Woolsey said. "Good luck."

John went off, this time with a true purpose.

"Lorne? I need a team to go to M7G-677, the planet of the kids," John called over the comm.

"Sir?" Lorne was understandably confused.

"You and Teldy meet me in my office, ten minutes," John directed.

Both were waiting by the time John got there. He quickly outlined the plan to get Atlantis into space to try to jump to another universe.

"Woolsey will be making the announcement any second now," John said. "But if we can get some of the kids from their planet to come with us and take their ZPM with us, it can't hurt."

"I read that mission report, sir," Teldy put in. "McKay found that most of the power in that ZPM was depleted and depended on the electromagnetic fields of the planet."

John shrugged. "Doesn't matter," he said. "We'll take what we can get. And if we can take some survivors with us, even better."

"How many do we have room for?" Lorne asked.

"At this point, we'll take as many kids as we can get," John admitted. "If we end up in another universe, we'll worry about what to do with everyone then. If we don't make it, it doesn't matter."

"True," Lorne admitted. "We can send SGA-4 and 5. It's a good mix of soft scientists and Marines and I'll make sure they know to get the ZPM."

John turned to Teldy. "And organize a couple of Jumpers to collect whatever you can from the Athosian settlement. Food especially, but belongings, blankets, that sort of thing. We need to pack for a long trip."

"I'll get Teyla to organize people for that," Teldy said. "She'll know who can help the best."

"You have a deadline of twenty four hours from now," John told them. "We need to be in the air in thirty six hours but McKay says the time is iffy. So everyone is back in twenty four hours, no matter whether they've finished what they started or not. People are more important than things.That's a hard deadline."

Lorne and Teldy nodded.

"And everyone settles in the common room in the central tower," John directed. "We lost people the last time the city was in space when the city shrunk the perimeter of the shields without warning. No one wanders away, no matter what the reason."

"That'll be Ronon's job," Lorne said. "He'll explain it and he can enforce it."

"Good idea," John said. "You have a go."

The twenty-four hours passed in a blur. John was vaguely aware of the Jumpers coming and going to the mainland to bring in the rest of the Athosians and whatever else they could bring with them. The Gate dialed a couple of times and he saw Keras at a distance, herding a group of youngsters along. He was glad to see their hands were full and that they were dragging things behind them. They had hopefully brought everything they owned.

He had interrupted Rodney at one point to ask about sending a message to Earth with their idea.

"Huh," he paused. "Okay, a micro-burst only. You can't open the Gate too long, we need the power to get the city in the air."

"That'll do," John agreed. "Maybe the brain trust on Earth can think of something."

"Not sure there is anything, but maybe they can get some people into spaceships," Rodney agreed.

John worked with Woolsey and Miko to put together a message in a databurst to send to Earth. Miko put in the scientific information they had, John added what they were doing to keep as many people as safe as possible.

That sent, John went around making sure everyone knew what was going on and keeping an eye on the people Bending had sedated. Three of the civilians and, interestingly enough, four of the Marines had not taken the news well and the decision was to sedate them rather than try to deal with their concerns and panic. They all had family back on Earth and had expected to be able to go home eventually.

It was the middle of the night when Chuck announced, "Unscheduled Gate activation." A pause for a moment as John hurried to get to the Gate room. "It's Earth! I have a IDC from the SGC."

"What! Open the iris!" John commanded.

By the time John got to the Gate room, there was minor chaos. Stuff was pouring through the Gate, lighter things were literally being thrown through the gate. Pallets of boxes and a handful of people were in the room. The guards on duty were moving what they could but could barely keep up with the flow.

Cameron Mitchell and Vala Mal Doran stepped through the gate. Cam looked up at John and shouted, "Sheppard, get some help, there's more coming through!"

John clicked his comm to the command channel. "Lorne, Teldy. I need as many hands as you can get to help in the Gate room. Earth seems to be sending us a going away present."

There wasn't time to ask questions as they moved more and more boxes and crates away from the gate. Another handful of soldiers came through and, as the gate was about to close, one last person stumbled through as if he had been pushed.

"Walter!" Cam exclaimed.

"General O'Neill pushed me!" he was disgusted. "I wasn't going to go."

Cam turned to John and with a sweeping gesture taking in the stacks around them, "Courtesy of General O'Neill."

"I... I don't know what to say," John stumbled.

"Carter thinks you guys have the best chance of getting through this and he's giving you everything he can," Cam said.

"And I have a present for McKay," Vala held up a case.

"Is that what I think it is?" John asked, stunned.

Vala nodded, eyes dancing. "Earth has time to get the one from the Antarctic, so O'Neill made a unilateral decision to send the one from the SGC to you."

"Let's get it installed," John decided. "We'll work on the rest from there." He looked up to the control center, "Chuck, get Sargent Harriman up to speed."

"Yes, sir," Chuck agreed. "Up here!" He waved to direct Walter up to the control level.

"Good move," Cam said. "Let's get this installed."

The actual installation of the ZPM was a matter of moments. About five seconds after it was in the system, Rodney was on the comm. "What the fuck?"

"Present from Jack O'Neill," John replied. "Go with it and we can explain later."

"Oh, my god. I could kiss the man," Rodney crowed. "Okay, you need to get to the chair room. Now. We're running out of time. Is everyone back?"

"Yes, they are," John said. "Meet you in the chair room." He turned to Cam and Vala, "Sort yourselves back to the common room, you know where it is. We're keeping everyone in one place to make we know where folk are and if we have to reduce the perimeter of the shields, we won't lose anyone."

"Got it," Cam agreed.

John raced to the chair room, arriving before Rodney. He settled into the Chair activating the internal displays and reaching out toward the flight controls. The extra ZPM did make a difference in the efficiency of the systems.

Rodney came clattering into the room but stopped for a moment and stood at John's feet.

John looked up to see worry and... something else on Rodney's face. "John... I... I wanted to say..." Rodney ground to a halt. But John could see his heart in his eyes.

"On the other side," John promised. "There's something I want to tell you, too."

The smile on Rodney's face was answer enough. "Okay, then," Rodney bustled over to the controls. "Power up the drive and get us out of here."

John relaxed into the chair and started the star drive. At times like these he felt closest to the city, almost a part of the entire system. He was the city, rising from the ocean and heading toward the stars.

He faintly heard Rodney's chant of "Go, go, go" as he flew the city and hovered for a valuable minute while the hyperspace window opened. On the sensors, he could see the rift almost reaching out to the city, as if loath to give up a prize.

Then they were in subspace. He heard Rodney whoop "Made it!"

Once the controls were set and everything looked stable, John eased himself out of the system. He sat up and found Rodney beaming at him.

"So far, so good," John said. "Now what?"

"The plan is to ride in subspace for about an hour then to turn on our version of the alternate reality drive," Rodney explained.

"Is that safe? I mean, we don't the city skipping around alternate realities forever," John asked.

"While it's similar to what the drive did that time on the Daedalus, it's only going to give us a small boost toward another universe," Rodney said. Then looked worried for a moment. "We hope."

John didn't think this was the time to tease. "It'll work," he soothed. "What can I do to help?"

"We're hoping your connection to the city will limit the effect and simply shifts us over one dimension," Rodney admitted. "We didn't have a chance to implement the level of control we would have liked. We ran out of time."

"You did good getting us this far," John replied.

"What's this about presents from O'Neill?" Rodney asked.

"Don't quite know what all they sent, but General O'Neill sent a ton of shit through the Gate, including Cam Mitchell, Vala Mal Doran and Walter Harriman, along with a couple squads of Marines," John said. "Vala had the ZPM."

Rodney's eyes got big. "Oh, my god!" He scrambled for this computer. "Was there a databurst?"

"Never got that far," John admitted. "There was so much confusion, not sure if there was or not."

Rodney focused on his computer and said, "Found it!"

"Play it then," John directed. He got up from the Chair and looked over Rodney's shoulder.

Jack O'Neill appeared on the screen.

"Hey! Really kind of hope you're watching this, otherwise Daniel made me do this for nothing." He grinned for a moment. "Listen, Carter says we have at least a month before that rift thing eats us and maybe by then the brain trust on this end can figure something out. But we're looking at doing the subspace thing with what we can get into space as the time gets closer. Hopefully, we'll meet up in another universe. Anyway. Thought you could some help so I sent Mitchell and Vala and whatever Marines would volunteer. I cleaned out some closets to send you whatever I could... food, ammo, things like that. And Carter sent a copy of the info we got from the Asgard. Figured it couldn't hurt." Another shrug. "Good luck."

Rodney started typing on his computer. "Okay, the Asgard stuff must be on a drive somewhere," he groaned. "It's not in the databurst."

"The food and ammo will be helpful," John admitted. "We'll really be on our own... if we make it."

"We'll make it." Rodney sounded convinced.

"Okay, then," John took a deep breath and decided now was better than never. And it might be never. He leaned in toward Rodney, slowly enough to telegraph his intent. "This okay?"

"Oh, finally," Rodney sighed and closed the distance.

As first kisses went, it was awkward and almost chaste. Rodney turned his chair to be able to face John and not have to twist around so much. John put a hand on the side of Rodney's face and put their forehead's together.

"Didn't want to not get to do that," John admitted.

"Oh, don't worry, we're going to do lots more than that before too long," Rodney smiled.

"Looking forward to that," John grinned and he felt his dick a more than interested twitch. Not now! he told it.

"It's a date!" Rodney promised. "Back in the Chair, I think we're about ready to finalize the calculations for the come out."

"Okay," John agreed. He sat back in the Chair and reclined but didn't completely submerge, waiting for Rodney's command.

"When I tell you," Rodney ordered, "I want you to work with the city to come out of hyperspace but you need to nudge the city into jumping realities."

"Nudge? How the fuck do I do that?" John asked.

"Just... help the alternate reality engine along but concentrate on making sure it's just one jump," Rodney was the teeniest bit hesitant.

"One nudge, coming up," John relaxed into the Chair. He found the alternate reality engine online and it felt like barely controlled chaos. It would be too easy to unleash that and now he understood better why it needed the human component to control it. That had probably been the problem with the device that had been on the Daedalus -- the device worked as designed but without a Chair it was missing an important control option.

"Counting down," Rodney warned. "From ten..."

John heard Rodney's voice count down, as he got to three, John concentrated hard on that one jump. When Rodney said "Now" John kicked the city out of hyperspace while encouraging that universe jump.

He knew the city was out of hyperspace and he scanned space around them. The rift was gone but there was a ship on the long range sensors.

"Someone's seen us come out," John reported.

"On it!" Rodney rapped. "Can we cloak?"

John reached for the controls for the cloak and turned it on. The ship on the sensors stayed at the same range, not coming closer, but not going away.

"Did we make it?" John had to ask.

"I think so!" Rodney was slightly smug.

"Now what?" John asked.

"Give me a minute," Rodney said. "I'm hoping there's a planet nearby that we can land on."

"Sounds good," John agreed.

John scanned local space using the city's sensors and found several planets within a couple of light years. He pushed a couple of the more likely candidates to Rodney's computer.

"Thanks," Rodney murmured. He scanned through the options and considered. "This one is within the theoretical livable range," he said. "Head there and then orbit so we can take some readings."

"We can send Lorne out in a Jumper once we get there," John suggested. "That will give you more data."

"Good idea, actually," Rodney agreed. "Let's get into orbit and then work on that."

It took them almost eight hours to get to the planet and it took John a bit of work to keep the city in orbit around the planet. The 'instinct' of the city was to land on a planet and not to stay in orbit.

During that time, John met briefly with Lorne, Teldy and Mitchell both to keep tabs on how everyone else was doing and to plan the evaluation of the planet.

"Lorne, get your team ready, I want you to run a survey on the planet McKay's picked out for us," John said. "You need to run cloaked, we had a ship of some sort on the sensors as we came out of hyperspace and don't want to announce our presence until we get the lay of the land." He considered. "Maybe that should be the lay of this universe."

John suspected Lorne was pleased that he had delegated the planet survey to anyone, much less to him. Lorne had been dropping not always subtle hints for a long time that SGA-1 needed to do less first-contact work and let some of the other teams pick up that load.

"I'm putting Colonel Mitchell on City security," he told them. "Major Teldy, you'll be his number two. You can help get him oriented to what we've been doing and the two of you can make some suggestions about security operations we need to plan for."

"I can do that," Mitchell agreed.

Teldy appeared to accept that decision, and John hoped that they would work well together.

"And don't hesitate to recruit Ronon to help you," John added. He thought for a moment. "And sort through the Marines that came with you. See what skills they have and pair them up with someone who's been here. We don't want any newbies wandering around by themselves."

John realized now that they were really on their own, that he had to take special care of himself and Rodney. While he felt that he was replaceable, he knew Rodney wasn't. Which meant he had to learn to delegate some of the work his team had been doing to others.

"You gave Mitchell the city?" Rodney asked after they had left.

John shrugged. "The man came on a one-way trip, figured he'd need something to do. Since he's not ATA positive, he'll be useful. He shouldn't activate anything accidentally. Once we're settled, we can see about the gene therapy."

"Almost there," Rodney announced.

John sat back down in the Chair, working to find the controls that would let the city establish the orbit they wanted. In the end, they ended up further from planet than they had planned at a Lagrange point in a geo-synchronous orbit. John fretted slightly as Lorne's team took one Jumper while Teldy took another Jumper down to the planet – they had gone in different directions to scan more of the planet at one time. He took advantage of the break to check on everyone else.

"We are doing well," Teyla reported. "We will be better once we can spread out to more space but everyone is being patient."

"Shouldn't be more than another few hours," John told her. "Or at least we hope so. We'll land on this planet unless we find anything big. Looks promising but we do have to check."

"I think everyone understands," Teyla assured him. "There is some nervousness about what we are doing, but we are glad to be alive."

Ronon came up at this point. "You okay, buddy?" John asked.

"Looks good so far," Ronon admitted. "People seemed to be concerned and it would be helpful if you and McKay would talk to them."

"How about if we brief Woolsey and then we promise to talk with everyone once we land the city?" John suggested.

"That would work," Ronon shrugged. "Just need to spread information."

"Send Woolsey to the Chair room while we wait for the Jumpers to come back," John said.

"Will do," Ronon promised.

John wasn't ready to face the members of the city at this point. There were so many things they didn't know yet that he didn't want to frustrate everyone. Woolsey would be better at taking what information they did have and making it sound reasonable.

Rodney had wedged himself into a corner of the room, sitting mostly upright and was dozing when he got back -- John let him sleep for the moment. He remembered the kiss they shared and hoped that promise of later would be as good as he hoped.

Blue eyes looked sleepily up at him. "Everything okay?" Rodney asked.

"Yeah," John said.

He settled next to Rodney and Rodney leaned heavily into him. "Now that the immediate crisis is over, need to sleep," Rodney murmured.

John wrapped an arm around Rodney and pulled him in close. "Go ahead," John whispered. "I've got you."

A contented "mmmm..." was all John got before Rodney fell asleep again. It wasn't the most comfortable place to sleep, but having Rodney next to him like this was worth it.

About half an hour later, Woolsey came to the Chair room and John signaled for silence, hoping to let Rodney sleep some more. John eased him back toward the corner and Rodney grumped slightly at the loss of his comfortable pillow. John got up and took Woolsey into the next room.

"We thought maybe an update from you to everyone would help keep everyone calm," John said. "We need some time to figure out if this planet is habitable."

"I'll do what I can," Woolsey promised. "What do you have?"

"McKay has picked out a planet, not quite at random, and we're doing a survey to see if it's a potential landing spot for the city," John explained. "We have no idea if the first planet will be okay or not. There are a lot of things that can go wrong and I'd rather take some time to survey a couple of planets rather than end up some place we can't escape from."

"Better safe than sorry," Woolsey agreed. "If there's something I can do to help with that, do let me know."

"Until we land, I'd like to keep everyone in one place still," John said. "Again, just to keep everyone safe. And we had a contact on the sensors that definitely was a ship of some sort. The good news means that this universe is populated and that someone in this universe has space travel."

"The bad news is that we don't know what kind of people they are," Woolsey finished for him. "I'll agree that keeping everyone in one place for now makes sense," Woolsey said. "It's not been that long, really, only a few hours at this point, so even if it's a couple more days, we should be all set."

"I don't know where we are on power," John advised. "But we can't hang out here forever. So we will take the first decent planet we find. I've also assigned Colonel Mitchell to city security. He and Major Teldy will be responsible for anything on the city itself."

"I can admit I was glad to see Colonel Mitchell and Ms Mal Doran come through the gate," Woolsey said. "They will be resources that will be helpful. And I'm sure I can find something very useful for Sergeant Harriman to do."

"It's in the data burst, if you haven't looked, but General O'Neill said they'd put whatever vehicles they could into space from Earth," John said. "We'll have to keep an eye out for the possibility they make it to wherever we are. That's more a question for Rodney, though. He'll know if there's a chance they can get to us."

"Good to know," Woolsey admitted. "What else do you want me to let everyone know?"

"That's probably about it for now," John sighed and rubbed his forehead. "We probably should think about an inventory of what we have and what we should be looking for right away. Medicinals are going to be the biggest item, after food. But we need to think about what we'll need to survive. Dr. Weir had some lists that I would think you'd have access to."

"I've seen those lists," Woolsey admitted. "I'll get them out and share them around." He glanced into the Chair room. "How is Dr. McKay doing?"

"He's dozing, but I know it's not what he needs," John admitted. "But he needs to crash for a couple of hours if he can. You can check to make sure the other scientists are getting some rest. Zelenka and Kusinagi in particular, they need some rest and food now since they'll be up and running once Rodney is up."

"I'll set Ms Emmagen on that," Woolsey decided. "She will have the best luck in talking Dr. Zelenka into taking a break."

"Get Ronon to help her," John suggested. "The two of them should be able to manage."

"Yes," Woolsey said. "What else?"

John shrugged. "At this point, the first thing we need to do is find a reasonably safe planet. After that, we'll have to start to make plans."

"Once I've talked to everyone, I'll find Dr. Weir's notes and then outline some ideas of where we should start," Woolsey decided. "We can think about putting teams to work on doing an inventory of what we have."

"When we're ready to land, we'll let you know," John said.

"Tell Dr. McKay that he and his team did a good job," Woolsey said. "Good day to be alive!"

"It sure is," John agreed.

Going back into the Chair room, John found Rodney still sleeping in the corner he had found but it looked damned uncomfortable. John got back down on the floor with him and pulled Rodney close.

"Colonel Sheppard?" Teldy's voice came over the comm.

"Here!" John answered softly.

"I think this planet's a bust," she reported. "The air readings are barely within tolerance and there's too much heavy metal in the water to make it drinkable without a lot of work."

"Okay," John said. "Come on home and we'll go looking for another planet."

Rodney murmured sleepily, "Okay, we'll find another." He moved slowly. "Ow, fuck. Geez, when I was a college student, I slept on the floor of the lab all the time."

"Getting old," John teased.

He poked John in the ribs. "And you're too bony to be much of a pillow," he grinned and then leaned in for a kiss. "But thanks. I needed that."

"Once Lorne and Teldy get back, we'll target another planet and then we both need some food," John said.

It took them a nerve-wracking week to find a planet that would support them that didn't have any obvious dangers. One ideal looking planet already had a significant population in a pre-industrial level of development and they made notes so they could come back later and trade for food, if nothing else.

Another planet in the viability zone from a star had major volcanic activity, they didn't even send the Jumpers out on that one. A couple were faint possibilities but were borderline on air and water quality. Rather than settle, they kept looking.

They finally found a planet that had at least a reasonable environment, no indigenous population and no obvious geological problems. They had to hope that there was nothing dangerous that they didn't find, even after taking two days to conduct a number of additional surveys.

"Okay, ease her down," Rodney encouraged. "If we can land semi-gracefully, that will help not stress some of the outer structures."

"Doing my best," John gritted, his entire focus on finessing the star drives so that the city didn't splash down uncontrollably. Well, the built-in systems would prevent a totally uncontrolled splash down but the more they could ease the city down, the better.

John had a headache by the time Rodney announced, "Down! Shut off the engines!"

Relaxing in the Chair for a moment, John made sure everything was turned off and secure. Then he closed his eyes and let the sounds of Rodney moving around the Chair room wash over him.

"Come on," Rodney urged. "We both need some sleep."

"I need to..." John protested.

"Do nothing," Rodney finished for him. "Mitchell has security in hand and Woolsey will oversee getting folk settled in at least temporary quarters. And nothing important will get done without us."

"Okay, okay," John gave in. The headache was pounding and he was exhausted. "Is there anything to drink?"

Rodney handed him a bottle of water and John looked at it – plastic, going to have to live without a lot of that – and drank it down thirstily. "And a shower," John added. "I could use a shower."

"We can get both, as soon as you get your ass out of that Chair," Rodney teased but held out a hand.

John levered himself up and wobbled for a moment. "Okay, lead on," he directed.

Rodney led John back to his room.

"Wait! Should we be here?" John asked, hesitating in front of Rodney's door.

"I cleared it with Mitchell," Rodney replied. "They have us on the life signs detector and we'll be fine."

John stepped back, away from Rodney. "They're watching?"

"Relax," Rodney said. "Officially, it's a security thing. No one stays alone for the foreseeable future. Need to keep morale up." Rodney grinned briefly. "And there's no one to enforce any regs, so don't worry and get your bony ass in here."

John followed Rodney into the room, toed off his boots and left them in the corner. He followed Rodney into the bathroom and stripped off his clothes. The water was blissfully hot by the time he got in and he let the shower pound on his head and then turned so it worked on his shoulders. John relaxed into the heat of the water.

"Don't fall asleep in there," Rodney warned.

"Two minutes," John called back. He rinsed off and grabbed a towel from the rack. He roughly dried himself off and wrapped the towel around his hips.

Rodney threw him some clothes. "These will do for now," he said. "Sleep first."

John donned the boxers and pulled the t-shirt over his head. He tossed the damp towel back into the bathroom and headed for the bed.

Rodney got into the bed next to him. While they had shared sleeping arrangements before, this was new. John eased next to Rodney and wrapped himself around the other man.

"This okay?" John asked.

"Perfect," Rodney sighed.

Warm from the shower and kept warm by the body next to him, John fell asleep.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Woolsey and Bending stepped up at that point, taking the lead on getting everyone to consider where they were and what needed to be done next. Woolsey had dusted off Elizabeth's survival lists and John suspected that he added to them significantly.

Everyone had an assignment of some sort of another. Even the little kids were given basic tasks and both a day care and a school immediately sprung up. John could see Teyla's hand in that – learning to survive was an important skill and wasn't going to stop even in a new universe. And the kids in Keras' group, as well as some of the older Athosians, needed to learn about reading and writing.

Ronon worked well with Mitchell and Teldy on city security, coming up with plans for defense as well as offense.

Keras helped integrate the young families from his planet among the others. Some of the Earthers were faintly horrified at the young age of some of the mothers, John had heard one of Rodney's scientists mutter about "babies having babies" and knew he'd have to get Bending to work with the anthropologists on some 'cultural understanding.'

John knew it was early yet, that there would be some hard times coming, but he appreciated the thank god we're alive phase and hoped it lasted for a while.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Rodney and Radek were shouting about something incomprehensible in a combination of Czech, French and 'math' that was enough to give John a headache.

Miko walked up to the white board they were standing in front of, calmly erased a line of symbols and carefully wrote a new line. She put down the pen – they'd run out of those soon, John thought idly – and walked back to her workstation.

Rodney looked at the new entry. "Huh."

Radek swore, to himself this time, and said, "She's right."

Miko worked on, an air of smugness the only indictor of what she had just done.

"So?" John asked.

"Yes, there's a gate network out there, we can see the signals," Rodney replied. "We... and yes, I mean Miko... have almost figured out how to get our gate onto that network. Once we run some more simulations, we'll run a test."

"Any idea how long?" John asked.

A shrug. "At least another day," Rodney admitted. "We want to run multiple simulations before we do a test."

"Even then, we put malp-on-a-stick through the gate first," Radek commented.

"I hate that fucking term," Rodney swore. "But we don't have enough electronics to start losing them right away."

"It works," Radek grinned.

"Okay, do you have time for some dinner?" John asked.

"Is it that time already?" Rodney asked. He looked at the time on his computer. "Damn. Hoped to get further along today."

"Just glad to have the time," John said.

"True," Rodney admitted. He set up another simulation and then said, "Sure, I can do dinner."

Everyone ate in the common mess, as much for the company as for the food. The botanists were working feverishly to determine what on the planet was edible to supplement the limited food-stuffs they had with them. Everything had to be checked and all pre-conceived notions had to be double-checked.

After dinner, they checked out the labs and John checked out the city. It had become something of a habit, to check on everyone, be seen without necessarily talking to everyone. If John and Rodney had time to stroll about the city, everything was safe and right.

Back in their room – which to John's surprise and some dismay, everyone took in stride and not even Teldy raised an eyebrow about them being together – John said, "Mitchell says there should be some apartments open soon. We can see if there's something we'd like."

"That would be good," Rodney admitted. "We could have an office or something. Someplace to put all the computers."

"Someplace with a balcony would be nice," John suggested.

"And a bigger bathroom," Rodney added. He moved closer to John. "If we had a bigger bathtub, we could share the tub," he leered.

John closed the distance, "Sounds like a plan." He put his hands on Rodney's hips and they kissed. Soft kisses, ones that said the things neither could put into words.

"Bed for now," Rodney directed.

"Good idea," John agreed.

They stripped and crawled into the bed they had shared since coming to this universe. The sex was good, the comfort even better. In spite of their precarious situation, John slept better now than he had in years.

It was another week before Rodney declared the Gate online. Everyone held their breath at the first dial-up. It connected with a familiar ka-whoosh!

John let out the breath he had been holding.

Radek put the malp-on-a-stick through the gate, held it there for a minute as they watched the feed. A generic video camera, some basic air sensors and a LSD made up the unit.

It was daylight on the other side, and a familiar forest scene showed on the video feed. Radek turned the stick and there was more forest, dirt under the gate and nothing else.

"Looks okay," Rodney declared. "Nothing large in the immediate area around the gate."

John looked at Lorne's team, newly christened SGA-1, suited up for travel. "You have a go!" he told them.

Lorne gave a small salute. They walked through the gate to explore their new universe.