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PROLOGUE

"Rodney." Lorne paused, and reached back to brace himself on the chair. "You're talking about altering the timeline here."

Well...yeah. Wasn't that the point?

"Changing history," the general continued, "changing...everything. You really think either of us has the right to make that call?"

"Let's cut to the chase," Rodney retorted, drawing on his (infinite) well of bitterness and determination that had fueled him through twenty-five long years. "You saw what happened in Pegasus. You know what's happening here. You really think that's the way its supposed to be?"

Lorne sighed deeply and leaned his elbows on the desk, clenching his hands in front of his face for a long moment in thought.

"All right."

Rodney sighed deeply. Finally. Another step closer.

"But on one condition."

"Name it."

"I want you to have a backup plan in case it doesn't work out like you expect."

Backup plan?

Of course he had a backup plan.

One thing life (Pegasus) had taught him was to never engage the enemy without at least one, preferably several.

Of course there were backup plans. Hell, his backup plans had backups. (He could probably even list them all in alphabetical order.)

After all, if he was going to mess with the timeline this much...well, what was a little bit more?


A is for ATA (A is for Android)

Sam figured she was the most surprised one there when the...thing-that-was-Sheppard (they had to find something shorter, no way was she putting that in a report every time she had to refer to, well, the...thing-that-was-Sheppard-but-really-wasn't -- which really was worse and could her brain stop now? jeez) approached the conference room doors.

And they opened.

Right.

Thinking quickly, because the doors weren't a definitive test no way in hell, she turned to Rodney. "Rodney, do you have a device on you?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Can I have a category one please?" At least in that category, they were relatively harmless. Nightlight kind of harmless.

He nodded and tossed one her way. Which she took and immediately tossed to the...thing. There. That was shorter. "Here. Catch."

And it lit up.

Brightly.

Sheppard-level brightly.

Right.

She looked over at Rodney and immediately felt a bit better about her shock. Okay then. Maybe she wasn't the most surprised one here.


B is for Biometric Failure

"Sheppard!"

The hologram startled when the Colonel's body fell through the door/wall.

And stayed there. On the floor.

Not moving.

Right.

Sensors. Check the sensors. Now.

Not good. This is not good. "Your biosignature's barely registering! Sheppard!" he blurted out, more to hear himself speak after centuries (more, it's always more) of being alone than for any real need.

Actually, he could hardly detect them at all.

"Oh God."

The hologram stared down at the crumpled form of Sheppard. Right. Okay. This was...unexpected. (But never unplanned for.)

Health. Check his health. Again. Right. Biosign status...not registering. At all.

He frowned and swore softly.

Okay. Obviously what he needed to do was either 1) move Sheppard into the recovery position (that was supposed to help, right?), or 2) move him to an area where he had better signal, 3) get him to the stasis pod now dammit, or better yet, 4) all of the above.

But he was a hologram. Touching was...verboten in his current state.

Well. Okay then. If that was all the problem was...

He swore again and vanished. Time to initiate backup plan T (for either tactile or touched-in-the-head, he'd never quite been able to decide) it was.


C is for CPR (C is for Conference Room)

He (it?) hesitated a long moment. "I'm afraid I have to report that despite extensive CPR, Colonel Sheppard was unable to revived." He dipped a hand into one of the pockets in the uniform and retrieved something metal that clinked quietly.

The mood around the table sank.


D is for Dog Tags (D is for Debrief)

Sam reached out, her hands shaking, to take the dog-tags sitting so innocuously on the table. Dammit it all to hell. (And she couldn't even blame the universe for this.) Never before had she so hated having the top job. "I--- What happened?"

The 'droid paused. "I'm to tell you that while I might not be the Sheppard you wanted or needed... I am the one you've got."

She narrowed her eyes. "You said that. Earlier."

He nodded. "It bears repeating." He took a breath. "I landed in an Atlantis 48,000 years in the future. Solar flare meet wormhole equals time travel thing."

"Wait, who told you that?"

"Rodney. He had a hologram set up to welcome me, explained the whole thing..."


E is for End of the Line

The stasis ended, not with a whimper (petering out and a gradual awakening) but with a bang.

His world went from darkness and silence to heat-red-fire-pain in an instant.

Just like they'd talked about. The sun was dying. Atlantis was dying.

Time to go.


F is for Final Steps

Rodney, bless him, was waiting for him. "You'll have to run. I've cleared the way as much as I can. You have a minute. Tops."

"But what about---"

"There's no time. Go!"

He went.


G is for 'Gate (G is for Genius)

He bolted through the gate, spreading his arms to the waiting MPs as an indication to hold fire. It worked! He was back in Atlantis. "Rodney, you're a genius!"

"And you're not Sheppard," blurted said genius.

"Who are you and what did you do with him?" ordered Sam, halting her descent on the stairs.

"What are you?" said Zelenka, pushing his glasses up with a finger. "Is maybe better question."

Oh. Right. The 'droid thing. "I can explain."


I is for Identity Transfer

The hologram lead the android toward the device that would make this all possible. It had to, now that they'd come to this.

Thank goodness he'd planned for this. "Put him in the left one, and step in to the right. I'll activate it from here. All going well, there'll be time to retrieve him before you step through." Maybe. (He'd ran the calculations, though. With the sun going nova at the rate it was... Well. Yeah. Maybe a fiery funeral would be a kindness.)

"Very well."

He stood by, a solemn witness as the android carried out his instructions, preparing the device for one final transfer.

At the last moment, the 'droid hesitated. And turned round to face him.

"Will it hurt?"

Oh. Out of all the simulations he'd run, he hadn't really planned for that. "I don't believe so," he said, voice firm. After all, Sheppard was...not here and the 'droid was...just a blank slate.

It'd be fine.

It had to be fine.


P is for Politics (P is for Pretend)

"What are you?" said Zelenka. "Is maybe better question."

"I can explain." The android paused and tilted his/it's head, a totally human gesture that looked out of place...and reminded her eerily of Sheppard, if the uniform wasn't enough. The 'droid's answer, though, was chilling. "I'm not the Sheppard you should've had... But I am the one you've got."

"Explain," said Sam, her voice icy cold steel.

"Out here?" asked the robot, raised its eyebrows, gesturing faintly to the gathering crowd.

Sam huffed. Outmaneuvered politically by a robot that's pretending to be Sheppard. Right. Now I know the world's ending. "Fine. Conference room. Now."

She let the 'droid go ahead. No better time to test for the ATA gene's presence, after all.


S is for Stasis (S is for Sheppard)

The hologram stared at the droid -- no, at Sheppard. If this was going to work...it had to be real.

"Do you have the data crystal?"

It--- he nodded and patted his chest. "Right here."

Dammit, even the inflection was the same. Proceed as you meant to go on, McKay. He lifted his chin. "Fine. Now if this works, I'll be here waiting when you come out. We won't have much time to get you through the gate, but...I think we can manage it."

"And if it doesn't work?"

"Well, you won't feel a thing." He shrugged a little. "Basically, you won't wake up." Neither of them would, actually, but that was a detail he didn't feel inclined to share.


T is for Tactile (T is for Touched in the Head)

He knew by the time he got the android to the location where Sheppard was lying that it was going to be too late. Too long without a heartbeat in this heat does things to a body.

But he had to try. He had to.

That's what this whole crazy thing was about, right? The long shot in the dark. The one shot in a thousand.

"Commence CPR."

He counted off the timing, forcing himself to focus on the beat.

Still, every second he'd check the BioSignature Sensor.

Nothing.

Always nothing.

"I'm going to call it," he eventually said, his holographic heart heavy.

Just as well he'd planned for this too.


U is for Uniform

The hologram stared at the android, then down at the...uh, body at their feet. "You're going to have to take the uniform as well." He hadn't been able to plan for everything, after all, and it wasn't like there'd been stores of that exact uniform lying around 25 years later.

"Are you..."

"Yes. I'm sure."


EPILOGUE

Rodney stared at his creation in the stasis chamber.

It had been hard, smuggling it in to Atlantis. Ostensibly it had been his "one personal item" for the trip. But then he'd also had the naquadah generators and the holographic interface to transport as well. (And it was kinda hard to hide a body shaped item...)

Thank goodness for friends in high places. And low places.

As far as backup plans went...even he had to admit that his plans were a little...convoluted. But it was so damn hard to plan for every variable both 48,000 years in the future and 25 years in the past.

If push came to shove, and they needed all those plans... He sighed to himself and turned and walked away.

Better to have and not need, than need and not have.


EPILOGUE II

Colonel Sam Carter stared for a moment at the android pacing around the conference room. If she dared to look past the pale face, past the obvious mechanical limbs...yes, she could see it.

She could see the humanity in the movements.

She could see Sheppard...whatever remained of him.

The question was, did she trust it (him, did she trust him) enough? Enough to go forward with the obvious op?

She stepped forward and cleared her throat. "Normally, I get a feeling that this is where I'd make a statement about medical clearing you. But you've got a crazily wild tale, even for this place."

"That's my whole point," he (it? God, when would the questions stop?) gestured. "How could I make this up?"

"Sam!" Rodney's voice came over the command channel piped into the conference room. "Believe it or not, I found it! It's in the sensor log. It's a solar flare capable of interfering with a wormhole from M4S-587 at the moment that Lorne says he dialed."

"Well why didn't the gate's fail-safe prevent the wormhole from locking?"

"Well, we've, uh, had a number of, uh, glitches since we last, uh, updated the operating system."

John snorted and glared at the ceiling through to where Rodney stood at the command center. "Well that's what you call a glitch, huh?"

Obviously thrown off guard (or maybe he was used to it) by the quick retort, Rodney fired back, "Well, uh, obviously I'll be giving Zelenka a stiff talking talking to."

She breathed out, somehow soothed by the John and Rodney show. And then suddenly realized what she'd called the 'droid.

John.

She'd called it John.

He bit his lip and raised his chin as he turned to her, a gesture so quintessentially Sheppard that it took her breath. "Look, let me go on this mission. Let me at least try to get Teyla back. If I fail...no harm no foul, right?"

Just go with it, Sam. Just this once. "All right. You have a go."