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Before and After

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There is a bright flash of light, and she dies.

She cannot see anything, and can barely hear.

“The chemical has invaded every part of her brain,” a man’s voice says. “Synaptic breakdown is at ninety-nine percent. She doesn't have any more time!”

"The chamber is coming online, Doctor," a woman responds.

The man sighs. "All right, then. All we can do now is wait and see."

It’s suddenly cold, and there is a bright flash of light.

Another moment passes, and she finds herself listening to the same two voices again.

"Elizabeth, can you hear me? Elizabeth?"

"It's no use," the man's voice says. "The chemical has completely disrupted all synaptic function carried out by her nanites. Her memory synapses are all but gone—she won’t remember you anymore.”

“I don’t understand,” the woman breathes, her voice soft and unsteady. “The chemical is at negligible levels. Why are the nanites still breaking down?”

She hears tapping, beeping, and scurrying footsteps, feels someone brush by her. “I don’t know. Apparently even negligible levels are too much, and the nanites aren't adapting at all.”

She opens her eyes, sees yellow and green light travel down her body, sees something that might be an image of her on a screen. Who are these people? What’s going on?

The man speaks again. “If our information is correct, even stasis won’t stop the nanites from breaking down. She’ll be dead in minutes.” She watches him turn towards the woman, his expression grave. “If we don't put her in the anti-temporal chamber right now, we never will.”

The woman nods slowly, and takes a moment to gently touch her shoulder. It feels nice. "Yes, but... I know it was my suggestion, but we haven't tested the anti-temporal chamber. Carson, you designed it to affect organic tissue, not nanites, and we don't know if it’ll fully stop the progression of the chemical." She shakes her head. “This wouldn't be the first time I acted too quickly with Elizabeth, not thinking the procedure through!”

"Doctor Keller, we don't have any other choice!" he pleads. "She's already lost over ninety-seven percent of her memory! If we don't do this now, what remains of the Elizabeth we know will be gone forever!"

The woman hesitates, and then nods. "All right. Let's go, then."

“Wait!” He halts, putting his hand out to stop her. “Look at this,” he murmurs, staring at the screen in astonishment. “What the bloody hell? Her cells are already temporally active!”

“How is that possible?” Keller shouts, looking between the screen and her. “We haven’t put her in the anti-temporal chamber yet!”

She feels cold, and then there's another bright flash of light.

"—and I know it's a little late for a Christmas gift, but I wanted to bring you something. You know, just until you’re feeling better and can skip out of this place. You can’t miss the fireworks celebration for New Years we've got planned!"

She blinks a few times, her eyes adjusting to the light. She's somewhere, but she doesn't know exactly where. There's a man in front of her, holding out a small box, and while she's not sure who he is, he seems very familiar.

Another man in the room snorts. “And what will you do when General Caldwell asks where the contraband fireworks came from?”

The first man grins ear to ear. “Caldwell’s the one who got them for me.”

“What?” The second man stares with his mouth agape. “Are you serious?”

“Don’t look so shocked, Rodney. He said he likes a good fireworks show like everyone else... especially since the world didn't end last week.”

Rodney snorts again, shaking his head. “Yes. Because apparently everyone is absolutely thrilled that December 21st came and went, and surprise! The world did not end, and the Mayans were wrong. Big surprise.” He blinks a few times, and narrows his eyes. “Sheppard, you didn't actually buy into that crap, did you?”

“Hey, the Mayans were pretty accurate on a lot of stuff, and they predicted the world was going to end in 2012. So I’ll be glad tomorrow night when we ring in 2013. Just sayin’.”

She looks between the two men and frowns, her head aching. She has no idea what’s going on, no idea who these people are, and no clue what they’re talking about. She stares at the first man, Sheppard, as his eyes settle on her, and she frowns.

"Elizabeth?" He tilts his head and stares at her a moment, his eyes scrunching in concern. "Are you all right?"

Elizabeth? Is that her name? She stares at him for a long moment, confusion washing over her. "What’s going on? Who are you?"

He smiles briefly before he realizes she's not kidding. "It's me, John. Don't you remember?" He sets the small box on the table, taking a step toward her.

The other man is sitting on a table nearby, and laughs heartily. “Nice to see she still has her sense of humor, even after a near-death experience.”

She glances between the two men, her heart pounding in her chest. She can’t piece anything together, at least not anything that makes sense, and squeezes her eyes shut. She remembers hearing about chemicals and nanites, and some sort of chamber, and hasn't the faintest idea what any of that means.

“Rodney, I don’t think she’s kidding,” John says.

Rodney hops to his feet and looms over her where she sits, his eyes soft with concern. For a moment, all she can see is the blue of his shirt before he’s running off into an adjoining room. A moment later he returns with a woman, Keller, the same woman from before.


"I think we've got a problem here," John tells her, his voice unsteady. "She doesn't know us."

Narrowing her eyes, Elizabeth almost falls over herself in her haste to speak, because she does remember this woman. “You’re Doctor Keller.”

The woman smiles, her eyes warming. “Yes, that’s right.” She motions to the other two men. “And this is John Sheppard, and Rodney McKay. You remember them too, right?”

Elizabeth looks between the two men, and the expression spreading across John’s face makes something within her ache. "I'm sorry, I don't know either of you." She frowns suddenly, realizing that her problems are far greater than she’d first realized. “Wait, I... where am I?”

Rodney’s voice is soft. “You’re home. In Atlantis, remember?”

Keller touches her shoulder gently. “What’s the last thing you remember, Elizabeth?”

She frowns, glancing at all the worried faces around her. “I remember you, and another man. You were both arguing about something... an anti-temporal chamber.”

Keller smiles warmly. “Good! I spoke to you about that yesterday.” She paused. “But you don’t remember where you are? Who you are?”

She hesitates. “You called me Elizabeth.”

“Yes, you’re Elizabeth Sheppard. Remember?”

She knows ‘yes’ is the answer they’re expecting, but it’s not the truth. “No. I don’t remember anything.”

“Anything at all?” Keller’s voice is tightening, softer than before.

Elizabeth looks around again, and shakes her head, her heart pounding in her chest. “Nothing.”

John places a gentle hand on hers. “You were exposed to a chemical leak from the power distribution system, and I brought you here, to the Infirmary.”

She shakes her head quickly. “I don’t... I don’t know where that is! I don’t remember anything!”

“All right, calm down. You’re safe and sound,” Keller tells her. “Don’t panic.”

John squeezes her hand gently, and it calms her. She closes her eyes and nods slowly. “I’m all right. I just want answers.”

Rodney turns to Keller, his voice very low. “Well, it’s not unusual for her to just go blank on us, but it’s been a long time since she’s been so confused.”

Keller shook her head. “No, this is more than simple confusion. We've rebuilt too many of her synapses for her to suddenly relapse now. I’ll need to get her underneath a scanner.”

Elizabeth darts her head between all the involved parties, and frowns. "Everyone, please. I'm very confused. Why do I seem to keep jumping from place to place?"

John squeezes her hand again, the touch not as calming. She looks over at this stranger and regards him curiously. “It’s all right, Elizabeth. We’ll figure out what’s going on.”

"Jennifer," Rodney starts, his expression darkening.

She looks equally disturbed. "The chemical... you don't think...?"

"I don't know," he answers, shaking his head. “Not yet.”

“Was plueridia the only chemical leaked?” John asks, turning his face to them. “I know plueridia is fatal, but you said her nanites were taking care of it.”

Keller nods. “They are... or at least they were twenty minutes ago!”

- - - - -

Ten minutes later, there’s an army of medical personnel swarming her and John has been pushed aside. He hasn't left, she can still see him across the room, and while she doesn't know him he is the only familiar face she sees for a while.

“Damn! Her nanites were breaking down the chemical safely, but somehow now the nanites themselves are being broken down by the plueridia!” a man shouts, someone she doesn't know. “Her brain will shut down without those nanites!”

Carson approaches and stares at the nearby screen. “Dear lord, over ninety-five percent of synaptic function in the temporal lobe of her brain has ceased, and the chemical is now spreading throughout her body unhindered.”

“If all the synaptic function in her temporal lobe ceases—.”

”Aye, I know,” Carson cuts her off. “Her memory will be gone forever.”

It’s silent for a moment before Jennifer speaks up. “Carson, the anti-temporal chamber we've been working on—I know we’d intended it heal Elizabeth’s brain to its functionality before she’d been taken by the Replicators, but....” Her voice trails off, her eyes indecisive. “In theory, it may be able to undo the cellular decay caused by the plueridia, and halt the breakdown of the nanites.”

“And preserve her synaptic function,” he adds, his stare distant. “It’s our only option. Get the converted stasis chamber ready!”

Elizabeth’s mind is reeling. She knows she’s heard this before. She remembers.

“Wait,” she croaks, feeling sick, her head pounding, “this... this happened before. You put me in the chamber, it....”

John is there again, right beside her, grasping one of her hands. “It’ll be all right, Elizabeth.”

“Listen,” she pleads, looking at him, “please stop!”

His eyes twitch, an expression of indecision colors his face. “Wait a minute, Doc, are you sure? I thought the whole point of your shiny new stasis chamber was to make it so she didn't need those damn nanites anymore?”

“Look,” Carson tells him, his voice rising. “Those nanites are all that keep her brain functioning properly. We haven’t deactivated them in years past because they preserve her memory, her identity, even if they haven’t been useful in reversing her brain damage. Even under better circumstances, we’d have to leave her nanites active until the anti-temporal treatment had regenerated organic synapses to replace the artificial ones. And even then, the Replicators—.”

John closes his eyes and interrupts him. “I know what Oberoth did to her. You don’t have to remind me.”

Carson reaches out and touches John’s shoulder, his voice softer. “If all her nanites go, she’ll be completely brain dead. And they are almost completely gone, and most of her memory is gone along with them.”

He doesn't open his eyes, but he squeezes Elizabeth’s hand tightly. She can’t help but squeeze back.

“Please,” she says again, looking up at Carson. “You've already put me in the chamber! I remember being there!”

He gently brushes a strand of hair from her face, and she can see in his eyes that he doesn't believe her. “It’ll be all right, love.”

“No!” she shouts, shaking her head. “I’m not crazy! Stop!” She looks back at John, pleading. “Please, believe me.”

John looks torn for an instant, and then his eyes set like steel. “Doc, I don’t think we have her permission anymore. We should stop!”

“She’s not in her bloody right mind, now!”

“She said... she said this happened before! What if there’s more—.”

“Colonel Sheppard, if we don’t do this right now—!”

“I am her next of kin, and you’re not going to do a damn thing until I tell you to!”

She’s cold, freezing cold. She begins to shiver.

“What the—? Her body temperature has dropped two degrees!” There’s a flurry of motion, and Jennifer gasps. “Carson, her cells are temporally active!”

His face blanches. “What?”

“I thought you said she hadn't been in the chamber yet!” John hisses.

“She hasn't!” Carson shouts back, his face contorting.

A bright flash of light engulfs everything.

“So, what do you think, Elizabeth?”

She looks around, bewildered to find herself in a different room, John sitting next to her. She’d try to ask what’s going on, but she’s thinks maybe she’s starting to understand it herself. So instead she asks another question:

”What’s the date?”

He gives her a look. “The date?”

“Yes, the date. What is it?”

He smiles cautiously. “September 5th.”

“And the year?”

He hesitates before answering. “2012.”

She turns the information over in her mind. “More than three months...” Her mind is spinning, but she can remember a few more things than before—it isn't so cloudy.


She turns to face him, realizing this is going to be hard to explain, and even harder to be taken seriously. “John, I need to see Doctor Keller.”

He hesitates, and then nods. “All right.”

- - - - -

“I think I’m traveling backwards through time.”

Doctor Keller stares at her, eyes going wide for a split second. She shares a pained look with John before turning back to her. “Why?”

Elizabeth frowns. “I don’t have all the details because my memory isn't complete, but there was a chemical in my system—plueridia. It was breaking down nanites in my brain, and I was dying. You and Carson wanted to put me in a... an anti-temporal chamber to reverse it, but I believe that something went wrong with the procedure.”

Jennifer gasped.

“I haven’t heard her piece together a statement that long and clear in years,” John says, equally astonished.

“Not only that,” Jennifer murmurs, “but how did you know about the anti-temporal chamber? Carson and I, we... we only came up with the idea for it this morning! We were going to tell you later, so we could hopefully restore your brain to the way it used to be before, and finally deactivate your nanites.”

Elizabeth glances between them. “I just want answers. I was in this anti-temporal chamber, then you and Carson were arguing about whether or not to put me into the chamber, then you suggested that perhaps the chamber could be used to heal me, and now you’re telling me you've only just gotten the idea for the chamber.”

John frowns, looking over at Keller. “You make it sound like you’re living life in reverse.”

Jennifer stared at her, her mouth parted. “Come on, let’s get you underneath that scanner.”

- - - - -

Elizabeth stands before a room of people that, for the most part, she does not recognize.

“It’s as though I came into existence at the moment of my own death without any memories. I've been living my life backwards ever since—jumping progressively to earlier moments in my life, accumulating memories and experiences as I go.”

Rodney, someone that she does recognize, stands and takes over. “And she’s not crazy. She really is going backwards through time.”

John leans forward on the table, his eyes holding hers. “Okay, I've had a brush or two with time travel, but how is this even possible?”

Rodney frowns. “It’s simple, really. At some point in the future, Doctors Keller and Beckett will attempt to save Elizabeth’s life after she comes into direct contact with plueridia, a chemical we’ll apparently start using in the city’s power distribution system. To help her, they will place her in a sort of “anti-time” chamber, a modified stasis chamber they will design to reverse brain damage caused by the Replicators and to ultimately restore her brain to its original functionality. In Elizabeth’s case, they theorized it might be used to reverse the sudden cellular breakdown caused by the chemical and to halt the destruction of her nanites.”

”The problem is,” Jennifer continues, “we were apparently in so much of a hurry that we didn't test the chamber first. The field generated by the anti-temporal chamber reactivated the dormant bridge radiation from last year’s accident.”

“Accident?” Elizabeth interrupts. “What accident?”

Rodney looks pained. “Ah, well, I was conducting research on creating a Zero Point Module using information we’d finally gleaned from the Ancient Database. Something went horribly wrong, long story short, and the entire city was exposed to an exotic form of radiation that we call ‘bridge radiation.’”

“Everyone was inoculated,” Jennifer explains, “but we were all left with trace amounts of bridge radiation in our systems. Apparently, the treatment we will give you in the future reactivates those dormant radiation particles.”

“So why is she going backwards in time?” John asks.

Rodney’s voice is somber. “In a process we don’t quite understand, the interaction between the anti-temporal field and the bridge radiation has somehow removed her from normal space-time. Since the field was designed to restore cellular health to an earlier point in her natural aging process, she’s now jumping backwards through time and getting progressively younger.”

“So how do we stop her?” John asks, his voice agitated.

Rodney frowns. “I don’t think we can. We don’t have all the information we need.”

“If we put her back into an anti-temporal chamber we could use it to eradicate the bridge radiation,” Jennifer explains, “but we don’t know the specific temporal variance of the radiation. The city’s sensors were down at the time.”

Rodney nods. “We’d bombard her with anti-bridge particles until all the bridge radiation was gone, and that should return her to normal space-time with the rest of us. But without the exact temporal variance? We can’t do a thing.”

Elizabeth leans forward, her eyes passing from person to person. She feels more at home than before, as if she knows these people now. “Is it possible that I could determine that information?”

Rodney shrugs. “Maybe, if you happen to jump back to that exact point in time.”

“Well, is there a way to make her?” John asks.

“Maybe... possibly... yes, actually, I think so! If we make another chamber, we might be able to direct where she lands—once.”

Woolsey sits with his hands clasped before him, listening carefully. “If dormant bridge radiation is triggered by contact with an anti-temporal field, are you certain others won’t accidentally be pulled back in time with her? Most of the crew of Atlantis was exposed during the accident.”

Rodney snorts. “The field only extends within the confines of the stasis chamber. So no, no one’s going to get pulled back unless they get in the chamber with her.”

Woolsey nods. “How far back will she go if left untreated? Is it possible she could jump before she became involved in the Stargate program?”

Rodney stares at him, his voice angry. “I don’t think you get it, Mr. Woolsey. She’s not going to stop. She’s going to keep jumping backwards in time until eventually there’ll be no more life to jump back to. When she jumps to a point before her own birth, and I stress when, she’ll cease to exist. She’ll die.”

Elizabeth closes her eyes, pushes away the rising panic that accompanies Rodney’s declaration. “So my death has become my birth.”

“And your birth becomes your death,” John finishes, his own voice unsteady. “Look, how long does she have before she jumps again?”

”There’s no way to know. Could be days, could be minutes.” Rodney shook his head. “I’m pretty sure I can get the chamber ready in a few hours, if Doctor Keller works with me.”

“Do it,” Woolsey says. “And hurry.”

Elizabeth stands and watches as people run from the room, all on a mission to help her. Her heart twists, and she wishes she remembered more of these faces, these people who had dropped everything they’d been working on just to help her.

“Hey, I’ll catch you in a few minutes, okay?” John tells her, his hand on her arm. Running out of the room after Rodney, she just barely hears his voice: “Hey Rodney, I need to talk to you a minute...”

As everyone leaves, Elizabeth moves to Teyla, a woman she doesn't know but has been told is her friend. “Teyla, do you have a moment?”

”Of course, Elizabeth.” Her voice is warm and soft.

“Um,” she falters, “I’m sure I've lived a full life here, in Atlantis, but I don’t remember any of it. Could you help me learn about it while I wait?”

Teyla smiles. “Of course, but... wouldn't you rather John assist you?”

Elizabeth smiles back. “Well, I’m sure he’s busy, and I don’t want to bother him. He’s been with me non-stop since I came here, and—we are friends, right? Him and I? I wish I could remember, but...” She hangs her head. “He’s been very kind to me.”

Teyla hesitates. “John is your husband.”

“Oh.” It doesn't surprise her as much as it should. “That... explains a lot.”

- - - - -

“This must be so very hard for you,” she blurts out when he first enters the room.

He stares at her a moment, his eyes cautious. “What do you mean?”

“We’re married, and I don’t remember our life together.” She holds a picture in her hand, stares at faces she doesn't know. “I don’t remember our wedding day, or the day we met. I am sorry. I know it must be difficult for you.”

”It’s not,” he says, and it’s her turn to stare. “I’m talking to you, really talking to you, for the first time in years. It’s... nice.”

She narrows her eyes. “What do you mean?”

He sits uncomfortably beside her, his hands clasped in his lap. “You don’t remember the Asura—the Replicators, do you?”

"I read about them," she answers, holding out a report in her hand. "Teyla has helped me catch up on my life while you were out."

"Oh, good."

She sighs, running her eyes over the text. "I see that I was captured during a mission to the Replicator homeworld to obtain a Zero Point Module. I had been infected with these... nanites, and they allowed us to gain access to the Asuran Collective."

His eyes grow darker as she narrates the tale. "Yes, that's right. Do you remember anything about it, though?"

She looks over the report again, her eyes registering scary words like "consumed" and "tortured" but nothing comes to mind.

She shakes her head. "No. I'm sorry."

He scoffs. "I'm not. Those are memories you don't want to have."

She smiles. "Maybe, but I'd give anything to remember something. Every time I jump, my memory seems to be clearer. I know I'm in Atlantis, and it's in the Pegasus galaxy. I know that this is my home, but beyond that? I don't remember anything." Her smile fades as she studies his haunted expression. “If I was taken by the Replicators, then how was I rescued?”

He looks away, his eyes impossibly more distant than before. "I wanted to go find you, but I didn't push hard enough. I....” He stops, and shakes his head. “The Replicators told us you were dead. Really, you’d been tortured and put into stasis. Later, after we had defeated the Replicators, a few escaped and found their way here. One claimed to be you--even believed that she was you--but in the end she led the remaining Replicators through the Stargate and away from here, into a trap so they wouldn't harm Atlantis. They were floating near a space gate, but a ship picked them up later, and... they found you, the real you.”

He stops, turning his head away. “I should've never left you. I should never have left you on Asuras.”

She tries with all her might, but she simply cannot remember the things he’s telling her. She reaches out, places her hand on his arm to comfort him. “But you rescued me?”

He looks back to her. “We found you almost three years after you were first taken, in a stasis chamber guarded by two of those Replicators. They weren't too happy to see us, but we fought, and took you back home.”

She frowns. “How did you know it was me? The real me?”

His smile is dark. “You had nanites from an earlier encounter with the Replicators, your telomeres proved you weren't a clone... but mostly, your injuries convinced us.” He falters, his eyes cloudy.

She cannot resist the urge to reach for him, to grasp his hand between hers. She may not remember marrying John, but she can feel affection from him, a tenderness that warms her very spirit and makes her realize that he must love her dearly. Suddenly, it’s very clear to her why she married him.

"John, you couldn't have saved me. Atlantis had to come first."

He was unaffected by her comforts. "When we found you, your brain had suffered extensive damage from where the Replicators forcefully ripped you from their collective. Your memories were there, preserved by the nanites inside of your head, but you were never the same."

She frowns, and begins to piece together things that she's heard. "Is that why everyone is so shocked I can vocalize a coherent thought?"

He smiles faintly at her humor, but it doesn't reach his eyes. "Yeah, something like that."

"Sorry, I shouldn't have said that." She looks away, unsure of what to do. "Hey, maybe if this keeps up, that will never happen?"

"I’d rather you not end up in a time where we can’t help you.” He looks down, shakes his head. “And for a little while, we’ll be able to help you, assuming you don’t skip the previous eight years.”

She squeezes his hand, rubs the pad of her thumb over his skin. "Maybe... my memories will come back. If my brain is working properly again, then isn't possible that the anti-temporal chamber did exactly what it was supposed to do? Heal the brain damage?"

He turns to face her, his eyes focusing on hers. "I honestly hadn't thought of it that way." He turns, an unreadable expression on his face. "Maybe so."

- - - - -

She leans back in the stasis chamber, looking around at the odd additions Rodney has attached in the last few hours. John stands unnecessarily close.

All in all, she’s been here three days now without jumping, but they all know time is not on their side. It has taken Rodney far longer to modify the stasis chamber than he’d originally thought, and every second is a second closer to her next jump.

“Colonel Sheppard,” Rodney calls from across the table. “I understand your concern for Doctor Sheppard makes you feel the need to get in my way. But should I remind you that we’re on a schedule, here?”

“Well, maybe we should look into my idea, then?”

He grits his teeth, his eyes boring holes through John. “Out of the question. We don’t know what caused her memory to fade.”

“She heard Carson saying that her memories were lost when the chemical destroyed her nanites, right?”

“We don’t know that for sure. For all we know the anti-temporal chamber could be the responsible agent. The answer is no.”


Rodney gives him a look, and ignores him. Elizabeth glances between them, wondering what’s going on, but doesn't want to bother them while they’re working.

“Don’t worry about it,” Doctor Keller tells her softly, gently rubbing a patch of skin on her arm with an alcohol wipe. “They always do this.”

Elizabeth can’t help but smile. “I wish I remembered.”

She smiles too. “I’m giving you a mild sedative,” she explains as a needle gently punctures the cleaned skin on her arm. “It should help the process.”

She nods, her eyes settling on John. He’s moved to the other side of the room, a vial of a silvery liquid in his hand. “This is plueridia? The chemical that nearly killed her?”

“Yes,” Jennifer answers him, her thoughts lost in the work. “I wonder whose bright idea it will be to start using a toxic chemical in the power distribution system.”

Rodney’s head snaps in her direction. “Hey! It increases energy flow by forty... percent...” His voice trails off, and he turns back to his work, his voice embarrassed. “Yes, you’re right. It’s a terrible idea to use it.”

Elizabeth closes her eyes, the sedative settling through her quickly. She can feel herself relaxing into the wall, leaning more fully back. “John,” she murmurs softly, because damn it, she’s only been there three days but she feels closer to him than anyone else. He’s the only one who listened to her before, the only one who didn't just assume she was crazy, even in the throws of sickness. He knows her that well, and a part of her craves to know him, too. Maybe it is affection, or maybe she’s just frightened.

There’s a moment’s pause, and then he’s standing beside the chamber again, his hand grasping hers. “I’m here, Elizabeth.”

She doesn't open her eyes. “Tell me how we met.”

He clears his throat, and leans against the side of the chamber. “We met on Earth, in a place called Antarctica. It’s very cold there, nothing but ice and snow as far as the eye can see. We met because I could use Ancient technology. I sat down in the chair, and it activated.”

She doesn't pretend to understand the things he’s talking about, but hopes that once this is all over he’ll explain it all to her. He doesn't offer any more, and she listens to the sound of his breathing instead, listens as he grows... short of breath?

“So,” John asks, his voice strained, “what does she need to do once she gets there?”

She recites it from memory. “I’ll need to find the temporal variance of the bridge radiation that infected me.”

“Don’t forget, it’ll need to be precise,” Rodney adds as he ruffles through glasses and other containers on the table. “If you don’t get a precise reading, then helping you is going to get a lot harder.”

John’s palm is growing moist inside hers, and his breathing grows even more labored. Alarmed, she opens her eyes to see what’s wrong. He’s sweating, leaning heavily against the frame of the chamber, his eyes holding hers.

“Jennifer,” Rodney asks, his voice confused, “where is the sample of Plueridia?”

John’s eye twitches, and her stomach drops.

Jennifer stops, and turns to face Rodney. “Colonel Sheppard was looking at it a moment ago.”

John turns toward Rodney, barely able to stand. As he holds up a small, empty vial, Elizabeth’s sure the look of horror on Rodney’s face is something she’ll remember forever.

“Looking for this?” he grunts, his breathing shaky.

“Oh my god, what did you do?” he murmurs in disbelief. And then, after a moment, “It’s fatal! We don’t have an antidote!”

“Oh, yes we do,” he corrects Rodney, grasping the side of the chamber and managing to stumble in beside Elizabeth. She moves to accommodate him, grasping his shoulders as he collapses against the side of the wall.

“You’re going to be stuck like she is, traveling backwards in time!” he shouts.

“Rodney,” Jennifer stops him, her hand on his shoulder, “it’s too late now. It’s the only way to save him!”

“How convenient for him!”

John sinks against the wall, sliding down to the floor. Elizabeth drops beside him and holds him up against the wall, her heart thundering in her chest.

“Why did you do that?” she hisses, shaking his shoulders in an attempt to keep him awake. “Why?!”

“I,” he murmurs, eyes barely open, “left you... once... won’t do it... again....” He stops, takes a wheezing breath.

“I don’t think he can breathe!” Elizabeth shouts to them.

“Elizabeth,” Rodney says, standing before her, “I’m going to set this thing and go. Since you’re both in the chamber together, you might—might—jump together.”

She squeezes her eyes shut. “I understand!” And just before the chamber closes, she says, “Thank you.”

All is quiet for a moment, and she begins to feel a fierce coldness. John begins to shiver in her arms, and then a bright flash of light engulfs them.