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So Cheap a Death as Saying, "Go"

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"He's wrong," Dr. Zelenka said quietly, in the silence after John had ended radio contact.

Elizabeth swallowed. "About?"

"Wrong about me not being able to understand, and wrong that he can do this."

She didn't want to hear this. Oh, God, she didn't want to hear this. "Are you sure?"

He nodded. "I was sure before, I am still sure now. Dr. Weir. Rodney has been talking about Nobel Prizes to the whole department. He wants to be right. He thinks this will make everything better. It is easy to be sure."

Elizabeth only barely managed not to sit down on the edge of one of the consoles. Someone pushed a chair at her and she sank into it, not looking away from Dr. Zelenka. "And you want to be wrong and you're still sure."

"Yes. Dr. Weir, I am so sor—"

"Not now." She fumbled with her radio. "Major Lorne, please report to the control room." Her voice was almost steady; she was proud of herself. "Quickly."

There was a tense silence.

"Shut down the gate?" Dr. Zelenka suggested. "If they—when they leave the planet, because Rodney is not that stupid a man even when he is determined to be right—they will need to get back quickly. There may not be time to tell us to close it and then to dial."

"Do it." Elizabeth stood and tried to compose herself. People died. Everyone else had to go on. And she had to keep them from falling apart—the military commander and the head of science, God. "Dr. Zelenka, what exactly is going to happen?"

"Preliminary results indicated a, the possibility of an explosion, if it were not shut down—which would itself kill whoever attempted it, possibly before they succeeded."

"The facility?"

He looked at her in silent, eloquent pain.

"The city?"

"The…at the very least, the planet, Dr. Weir. Perhaps more."

Elizabeth sat down again, hard. "The planet?"

"This was never supposed to happen! Use of our own universe to power—"

"Dr. Weir?" Some distant corner of her brain was noting tiny details to keep her from screaming: the texture of the console by her face, the very faint echo off the perfectly-smooth walls, the fact that Major Lorne had just said both syllables of "doctor"—she must look like absolute hell.

"Major." She stood, again, hoping this time it would stick. "We have a problem. Dr. Zelenka believes that Col. Sheppard and Dr. McKay are—that Project Arcturus was abandoned because it could not be used safely."

Major Lorne did something strange with his eyebrows. "I heard Dr. McKay said it was safe."

"Rodney is wrong! He is not God, he does not get to rewrite physics to work for him." Dr. Zelenka sounded like she felt, like he was ready to start screaming in helpless frustration. "Yes, he has saved us all many times, but he is wrong this time."

In a way it had to be worse for him—to have the knowledge, the background, and to have it all be ignored. Rodney had insulted him, nobody else seemed ready to believe him—even she hadn't, at first, and when she had it was probably more because she had had misgivings in the first place. It was easier thinking about other people's problems, right now.

"Do you want me to go after them, Dr. Weir?" Major Lorne asked her.

"I cannot authorize that," Elizabeth said. Her voice sounded flat and dead even to her own ears. "Too dangerous. Dr. Zelenka thinks that the planet—the entire planet, yes—could be destroyed within moments after the test starts." She looked around for a clock, and found none. "Which is probably any time now. If Col. Sheppard and Dr. McKay do not return or report within—say—an hour…"

She hesitated there, and Dr. Zelenka picked up on that. "Less. I would say half an hour at most. Maybe less."

"Within half an hour." Elizabeth swallowed again, tasting fear and grief and guilt. "I am going to have to assume that they, that they were unable to escape the planet in time." Or unwilling, she added, mentally, wishing they'd never gone, she'd never let them go, or at least that it were anyone but Rodney with his impossible confidence.

"Missing, presumed dead?" Major Lorne asked, not quite gently but closer than she'd ever heard him before. She must really look like utter hell—she had to stop that.

"I—yes. And, in the meantime, I want you to…" She looked from him to Dr. Zelenka, trying to look confident and encouraging and in-control. "The two of you ran the city while we were on Earth. Go over anything you need to in order to prepare to do it again. This is going to be hard enough if…it's necessary, even without there being a gap."

Major Lorne nodded, something that suggested a salute; Dr. Zelenka said, "Do you need anything else?"

"I have to figure out what to say," she said numbly. "If they don't come back. I'll have to make an announcement. How do you write a memorial for those two?"

Dr. Zelenka's hand hovered over her shoulder, as if he wasn't sure whether he could—or, no, she realized, whether she needed him to—but when she looked up, he must have seen something in her face, some echo of the numb freefall she felt, because he brought it down for just a second, warm and solid, and then let her go.

"They've survived everything else," Major Lorne said, either not noticing or pretending not to notice.

"Right," Elizabeth said. "Thank you. Now. Please. Go do whatever it is you need to." She went to her office without waiting to see where they left to, wrapping herself in all the calm she could manage as she hurried through the halls—there were people, none of them should know anything was wrong yet—and only let her control crack for an instant, once she was in her office and the door was closed, when she let herself sob, just once, grief and fear and I told them they could go.

Then she sat down and started writing, resting her other hand on her shoulder—her fingers felt cold, but it was still touch—blinking, blinking, denying the tears.

It is with great sorrow that I need to tell you that we have lost two more of our people. Col. Sheppard and Dr. McKay suffered an accident offworld, trying to find a way to make all of our lives better. Both of them have saved us, separately and together, over and over since we came to Atlantis. We owe them all our gratitude and our admiration, and I deeply wish that this could have happened any other way.

"Dr. Weir?"

Sgt. Wolfe, presumably radioing from the gateroom. She fumbled with her radio, clicked it on, and said "Yes?" Her voice was thin, but she doubted he'd comment.

"The gate just opened. It's Jumper One's IDC."

Elizabeth knocked over her chair as she ran for the door. "Keep me updated, Sergeant."

"Yes, Dr. Weir." And, a few seconds later, "It's Jumper One!" Muffled cheering floated through the radio, and through the hall itself. Elizabeth's knees went weak with relief. If the jumper was there, they were both safe—Rodney couldn't fly it worth a damn, and John would never have left him behind.

Right. They were alive. Now she could go kill them.