There was mnemonic fluid in the SX-8's mouth. The molecular components were instantly recognizable: sodium chloride and acetic acid, alerting Eight to exit Emergency Sleep Mode.
Eight had a distinct, perfect Memory of attempting to shield SergeantEugeneBates with its body after DoctorJoesephAbrams accidentally set off the booby-trap, but nothing beyond that. It seemed likely that its internal clock had been damaged, as it had no concept of how long ago that event had occurred. It also could discern nothing of its surroundings except for the wind coming through the cave mouth, and the heat of SergeantEugeneBates' body where Eight was still lying on him. Eight was also in the state of severe negative stimulus which DoctorLindseyNovak suggested it refer to as 'pain'.
SergeantEugeneBates had CeasedtoFunction. The SX-8 could no longer hear his heartbeat or discern any transpiration functions despite their close proximity, and SergeantEugeneBates' body temperature was at three-hundred and ten degrees Kelvin and falling. Even with Eight's Visual Processor offline, it was evident that the other three members of SergeantEugeneBates' team had CeasedtoFunction as well. Eight could find their positions by the heat remaining in their bodies, but there were no indicators of life.
That was unacceptable, and for what appeared to be some time (it was impossible to ascertain precisely how long), Eight was caught in a recursive loop, unable to process anything beyond the evidence that the humans had experienced a Catastrophic Failure. Assisting SergeantEugeneBates and his team was the most acceptable aspect of Eight's existence, since unlike the majority of other Portal team members, SergeantEugeneBates insisted on communicating with Eight even when its aid wasn't required, as if Eight were also human and not merely an instrument. SergeantEugeneBates' team had followed his example, and Eight had consistently anticipated going off-world with them as a positive experience. And now they were no longer functioning. It would not be able to communicate with them anymore.
There was a ninety-seven percent probability that if the SX-8 had also been human, it too would no longer be functioning. As it was, Eight's diagnostics seemed to be running slow, and kept returning with Error and Catastrophic Damage warnings, likely coinciding with the concussive force produced by the trap going off. It was also nearing Catastrophic Power Loss due to damage to its main and reserve batteries. And the negative stimulus (pain) appeared to encompass over sixty percent of its body, and was steadily increasing.
It could not adequately process returning to Atlantis without SergeantEugeneBates' team, and Eight would have stayed where it was until it experienced the inevitable Catastrophic Power Loss and CeasedtoFunction, except that its Self-Preservation protocols had been implemented, and that required returning to Atlantis for maintenance and repairs as soon as possible. Eight pushed itself with difficulty to its knees, due to power failure and damage to its internal gyroscope, and then had to manually switch to its backup Visual Stimuli Processor. At least its visual acuity improved by thirty percent after doing so, enough to establish the direction of the Portal.
Standing fully was exceptionally difficult, and when Eight was vertical it processed that portions of its torso had been severely damaged, enough so that it was required to use its hands to prevent its backup Memory and related wiring from falling out. Mnemonic fluid slid out of the cavity and soaked into its uniform, and for an unknown period the input to its olfactory sensors overrode nearly all other external stimuli, leaving Eight unable to process anything but acid and negative stimulus.
When that particular malfunction passed, Eight oriented itself towards the Portal, coordinating its legs with considerable exertion. The faults in its Visual Processor increased, forcing Eight to rely intermittently on heat-sense or an increasingly variable Navigational Memory.
Eight fell over SergeantCharlesCampbell's body before it had traversed thirty-six point-three percent of the route back to the Portal. The pain of the impact caused an immediate transition into Emergency Sleep Mode, which Eight was only able to assimilate had occurred when it became aware of its environment again, lying on the hard-packed earth an unquantifiable amount of time later.
Returning to a kneeling position required further momentous effort, but Eight was forced to pause to remove SergeantCharlesCampbell's CTH device from his wrist before it could continue its attempts to stand. Eight's radio/transmitter had also been severely damaged, which meant it could not to transmit to the base to either indicate its identity or its Calling-The-House code. Without an external CTH device it would not be able to fulfill its Self-Preservation protocols.
"I'm sorry," it said to SergeantCharlesCampbell.
The damage to Eight's Visual Stimuli Processor and internal gyroscope had been exacerbated by the fall over SergeantCharlesCampbell's corpse, rendering locomotion in a straight line all but impossible. It stumbled into the wall of the long chamber as it walked, then required a further unquantifiable period of time before it was able to continue its progress again.
Eight was aware of finally reaching the Chevron-Inputting-Device only when it almost physically impacted it. Computing which chevrons to engage to key Atlantis took approximately one hundred and seven seconds longer than normal, and Eight was also hampered by the damage to its servomotors, slowing the task further.
When the wormhole finally engaged, Eight found the appropriate keys on SergeantCharlesCampbell's CTH device via touch, then pointed the device at the Portal and activated it. It had no way of ascertaining if the code was received, so it counted thirty seconds out loud before stepping through the event horizon.
Despite its Self-Preservation protocols, its last computation before dematerialization was that if Atlantis did not lower the shield, that would fall within acceptable parameters.
Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard sprinted into the control room just in time to see the color change behind the Gate's shield as the event horizon of the wormhole burst into life. He looked at Doctor Rodney McKay, whose attention was riveted to his laptop screen. "Do we know who it is?"
"Interestingly enough, the fact that we don't know who it is would fall under the 'unauthorized' part of 'Unauthorized Gate Activation'," Rodney snapped, not even bothering to look up.
John rolled his eyes then looked at Doctor Elizabeth Weir. "I meant," he said with exaggerated patience purely meant to drive Rodney insane, "have we received an IDC yet? Or some kind of--"
"Incoming IDC," Sergeant Chuck Campbell said. Both he and Rodney looked at their computer screens at the same time.
"Like that," John finished.
Elizabeth and John leaned in closer to Campbell's screen. "Whose?" Elizabeth asked, voice tense.
Rodney peered at his screen, then looked at Campbell. "It's his," he said.
Campbell blinked. He looked at his own screen, then looked at Elizabeth. "He's right, it's mine. But...." He spread his hands. "My GDO is in my quarters."
"And you almost never go off-world," John added grimly. "Could someone have taken it?"
"No!" Campbell said immediately, looking almost offended at the idea. "I've only been off-world twice, sir, and each time it was to planets where we've established relations. They have their own IDCs already. And I keep mine with me at all times," he added a little defensively.
"At ease, Sergeant," John said. "No one's saying you didn't." He turned to Elizabeth. "Should we lower the shield?"
Elizabeth pursed her lips, but nodded. "Lower the shield," she instructed Campbell.
John called a defense unit to the Gate room. "Stay here," he instructed Elizabeth and Rodney, then drew his sidearm and started down the stairs.
Roughly three seconds later, someone came through the Gate.
John almost dropped his 9MM. For a strange moment he nearly thought he was back on Earth, at the SGC, and was looking at SG-1 returning from off-world. But he'd come home from leave over two weeks ago. And SG-1 was in another galaxy entirely.
But that was Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell.
John didn't lower his gun, because that was stupid. This could be a Replicator, or an alien, or some kind of mass-hallucination, or one of a thousand other possible things that meant it wasn't really Cam staggering across the Gate room floor and clutching his side, most of his black uniform soaked with blood. This couldn't possibly be his brother.
But it looked exactly like Cameron. And he looked so badly hurt John had no idea how he could still be standing.
Cam struggled through two more steps, then stopped, staring dazedly at all the Marines surrounding him with their raised weapons.
"Colonel Mitchell?" someone asked, but Cam either ignored him or didn't hear it.
And then he saw John.
Cam froze completely. His face formed into an expression of such profound shock that it was like the severity of his wound was nothing in comparison. It was unnerving as hell.
"Cam?" John said. He went closer, sheathing his gun. Alien or no, he couldn't leave Cameron there, swaying and looking like he'd been gutted. John put his hands out and spread them, like he was trying to calm an animal about to bolt.
Cam mouth moved, twitching as if fighting out a word. "Seven?" he said finally. His voice was barely a whisper, but no one else was speaking; there was almost no sound in the Gate room at all. It was as if everyone was holding their breath, and John realized he really was.
It was very easy to hear the mechanical whirring in the silence. It sounded like damaged machinery.
Cam backed up a step, almost fell, and John lunged for him without thinking, responding to the automatic, instinctive need to protect him, to help. Cam tried to twist away--John could hear the whirring when he did--but his legs suddenly collapsed under him. John was able to grab him before he dropped to the floor.
Carson and a medical team were there instantly, and John assumed Elizabeth had called them. John reluctantly moved aside, but not far. Cam wasn't moving anymore. His blue eyes were in awful, narrow slits, seeing nothing. He looked like he was already dead. And when John touched his neck, he couldn't find a pulse.
"Carson?" John asked, his voice small and terrified. It's not Cam, he reminded himself sternly. Whoever he is, he's not the Cameron Mitchell you know. But he couldn't make that not matter, didn't even know how to try.
Then the first medic touched Cam and jerked back in horror, lifting up her gloved hands. "What the hell is this?" she demanded disbelievingly, looking at Carson. There was no blood, though Cameron's uniform was soaked from the waist down. But her hands were covered in thick, viscous white.
John saw it, and he knew exactly what it was, and now he understood what the machine noise had meant. His heart, his red, flesh, human heart, started pounding in his chest; the familiar sense of weight that came with a rush of adrenaline.
"Is he a Replicator?" one of the Marines asked, and John opened his mouth before he realized there was no way he could say 'no', no way to explain why he knew this Cameron Mitchell wasn't.
"Of course he's not a Replicator!" John whipped his head around, and there was Rodney, naturally. Irritated, worried, irascible, wonderful Rodney, who had unsurprisingly ignored John's instructions to stay back and who was kneeling next to Cameron, pushing Carson aside. And Carson let Rodney push him away, because he knew what Rodney and John knew and he would never tell, either. "He's a human-emulate Artificial Intelligence."
"How do you know that? What is that?" the same Marine asked, astounded. Rodney ignored him.
Rodney tapped his radio, never taking his eyes off John. "Radek," he said. "We've got a situation in the Gate room. I need you up here. Now."
It felt like half the city had crowded into one of the engineering labs, gathered around the robot's body, and it was all John could do not to bark at them to get the hell out, leave his brother alone.
It didn't seem to matter how forcefully or how often he'd reminded himself that this was not Cam, that Cam was somewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy with the rest of SG-1, completely human and hopefully safe. His attention kept being drawn back to the supine form on the lab table with the same, anxious jolt every time, as if he subconsciously still couldn't grasp what was outwardly perfectly clear.
It didn't help that the only people he actually trusted to work on the AI weren't with Cam. Instead they were trapped on the other side of the room just like he was, debriefing Elizabeth.
John leaned against the wall with his arms crossed, and tried unsuccessfully to keep his attention from drifting towards Cam again. One of the scientists--an expert in robotics apparently, John had never met the woman--was slowly manipulating one of Cam's arms, rotating the wrist and bending the fingers with riveted fascination. John wanted to snap at her to quit treating Cameron like a Ken doll and start fixing him. He bit his tongue so he'd keep his mouth shut.
It didn't help that they'd stripped Cam naked, covered with nothing but a sheet folded discreetly across his groin. John knew that it was necessary, since after all they had to be able to see what they were doing, but he hated the idea of Cameron being on display like that. As if he really were nothing but a doll, something to be cooed over and examined, but not given respect.
"Forgive me, Rodney," Elizabeth said, "but I'm still having trouble with how you can be so certain that this...version of Colonel Mitchell is an 'Artificial Intelligence'.
"As opposed to a Replicator or a PlayFriend?" Rodney asked, and John could hear the patience bleeding out of his voice with every syllable. Rodney kept glancing at the lab table as well, looking like all he wanted to do in the world was go over there and berate everyone until they ran screaming. John was grateful for that, because he knew that Rodney wasn't just responding to his own intellectual curiosity, but his need to fix Cam, for John.
"Replicators are made entirely out of nanites," Doctor Radek Zelenka pounced on Rodney's momentary silence, "and this robot is not."
"I was just going to say that," Rodney groused. He turned back to Elizabeth. "And he's not a PlayFriend, either. Or, well, at least not our reality's version of a PlayFriend, anyway. His cerebral processor is far too sophisticated. And he has a backup memory storage, which PlayFriends aren't given. If a PlayFriend breaks, the company just wants you to buy another one."
"Not that you'd know," Major Evan Lorne said dryly, but Cameron was his entire center of attention as well, so that he didn't even see Rodney glowering in response.
"Gentlemen," Elizabeth said chidingly. She rubbed her forehead, squinting as if her head hurt. "Rodney," she said, "you've explained all of that quite adequately already. What I mean is," and she looked up at him again, "how do you even know this? From what you've told me, the AIs you and Radek are familiar with never went beyond small quadrupeds."
John looked down and away, so that he wouldn't accidentally show anything on his face. Certainly not the relief at how quickly Rodney had spun that story out of whole cloth. Rodney had always insisted that he couldn't lie, but he could act when the situation required it. And he was fucking amazing at it. Another thing John had to be grateful for.
"Yes, well." Radek coughed. "There was speculation."
"Basically," Rodney said blandly, shooting Radek a look just short of a glare, "if the research had been able to continue, the goal was to create humanoid AIs--human-emulate Artificial Intelligences." He used the same word from the Gate room, when he'd enlightened the bewildered Marine. He pointed at Cam. "And they would have been created pretty much exactly the way that one was."
"And that's why you're sure it's from a different reality to this one," Elizabeth said slowly. "Because our reality only had PlayFriends, not these human-emulates." She sounded like she wanted to use finger quotes, and John's jaw twitched.
"Yes. Exactly." Radek nodded vigorously. "That fact alone would make this AI's origins in our own reality highly suspect. But it is also the differences in the technology used to build it."
Him, John thought, but he couldn't say it.
Elizabeth blinked. "What do you mean?"
"There's no Asgard technology," Rodney said flatly, "and that doesn't make any sense. The Asgard are right up there with the Ancients in terms of their technology level, including artificial intelligences. But unlike the Ancients, they're readily available to communicate with, and are willing to share. At least occasionally."
"The AIs I was developing with Doctor Lee made extensive use of Asgard technology," Radek elaborated. "But this one is, you could say cobbled together with Ancient and Milky Way-based technology only. The design is ingenious,"--he smiled self-consciously--"but it is not what Doctor Lee and I came up with."
"There's also no adapted nanotechnology, which was also included in Radek and Lee's designs," Rodney added. "Which means that either these people never met the Asgard or the Replicators, or for whatever reason decided not to use their technology."
"Or couldn't," Evan said.
Rodney shrugged. "Or couldn't. But the fact remains that, um, this is not 'our' AI. So to speak. Which means, alternate reality."
"All right, you've made your case." Elizabeth nodded, though she didn't look happy about it. "I still don't understand why this robot--excuse me, this AI--looks exactly like Colonel Mitchell."
"Maybe he's dead," Evan said. His eyes were still on Cameron, and he looked like he didn't want to be considering that, but had to. "Maybe they made a copy of him."
Rodney stared at Evan, horrified. "What, like a Stepford Colonel? Why would they do that?"
Evan glanced back at him. "You tell me, Doc. Why make a robot who looks like a dead guy?"
"Major," John said warningly. He could feel his heart speed up again, though he wasn't sure he'd actually relaxed since this Cameron had stumbled through the Gate gushing neural liquid. But Evan was edging too near to territory where even Rodney wouldn't be able to act his way convincingly out of an explanation, if Elizabeth started asking too much.
"Perhaps it is just a coincidence?" Radek suggested. No one responded, probably because that seemed too improbable to believe.
"I think the bigger concern is, is it a threat to the city?" Elizabeth asked.
"No." John, Evan and Rodney said it all at once, so quickly and so vehemently that Elizabeth blinked.
"I do not believe so," Radek said a moment later.
"Wait." Elizabeth held up her hand, palm out. "I don't want to be the bad guy, here. But I think we all know by now that just because something looks like someone we know, it doesn't mean that we can trust them." She took a breath. "Frankly, despite how similar it may be in design to what Radek and Doctor Lee were working on, I'm not entirely sure we should fix it."
"What?" John whirled on her. "No!" He pointed at Cameron, stabbing the air. "You have no indication at all that he poses any kind of a threat! And if he's even remotely like--"
"That's the point, John!" Elizabeth said, anger coloring her voice. "We have no idea if it's even remotely like Colonel Mitchell! It looks like him, certainly, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. It could be a walking time bomb, for all we know! Or something designed by the Replicators, or even made by another reality's version of the Wraith!"
"SG-1's encountered multiple versions of themselves from alternate realities," Evan said reasonably. "And none of them were evil."
"None of them have been robots, either," Elizabeth said.
"They did encounter robot versions of themselves, actually," Radek said.
Elizabeth closed her eyes in obvious frustration. "Yes. But that was both in this reality and under vastly different circumstances. My point still stands."
John scrubbed a hand over his face, trying to get himself under control. Losing it here in the lab wasn't going to help anything. "If you don't let him get repaired," John grit out, "then you're allowing a sentient life-form to die."
Elizabeth clenched her jaw. "We don't know if it's sentient," she said.
"Oh, come on!" Rodney exploded. "If he were human this wouldn't even be an issue! Are you really going to tell me that if this Mitchell were as flesh and blood as the other one, that we'd be standing around right now debating whether or not he should get life-saving surgery?" He looked incredulous and as angry as John had ever seen him. "What kind of--"
"All right!" Elizabeth barked it loudly enough that for a moment the constant, excited buzz of conversation around Cameron's body stopped. "I get it!" she said, a little more quietly. "You've convinced me." She looked at John. "Both of you." She took a breath. "Fine. Fix the AI, but we'll have to secure this lab."
"I'll arrange for a security detail, Ma'am," Evan said. His expression hadn't really changed, but John could tell he was relieved.
"Thank you," Elizabeth said. She turned back to Rodney and Radek. "Very well. I'll leave you to effect repairs, then. Keep me posted." Her mouth quirked. "I look forward to finding out how it ended up in our reality." She didn't really sound like she did, but John had been wondering about that, too.
Both of them said their thanks, and if Rodney's was a little more snide than grateful, nobody called him on it.
John didn't see Elizabeth leave. He was watching Rodney and Radek descend on the other scientists instead. The sudden sense of relief had his hands shaking. He shoved them in his pockets so no one would see. He still hated the intensity of his human emotions, sometimes.
"He's going to be okay, sir," Evan said, as if reading his thoughts.
"Sir," Evan said with studied casualness, "it'll probably be some hours yet before there's any news. In the meantime, I could use your opinion on next month's duty roster, if you have a minute."
John arched his eyebrows. "Sure," he said. He followed Evan out of the lab, casting one last look back at this form of Cam. He was almost obscured behind a solid wall of people, but that was oddly comforting, as if the scientists' presence alone guaranteed that he would be all right.
Evan had glanced back as well. "I hope they know what they're doing," he said quietly.
John smiled, as much to reassure himself as Evan. "He's got McKay and Zelenka working on him personally. He'll probably end up better than before he got damaged."
Evan nodded, though he still looked more grim than anything.
He didn't speak again until they'd reached his office, and only then after he'd been sure to lock the door behind them.
Then, "I don't know if this matters," Evan said, dropping John's rank since they were alone, "but wherever he's from, they had no intention of making him human."
John blinked at him. "How do you know that?"
"Because of how he was made," Evan said. "Did you get a good look at his face?"
John nodded. He felt like it was burned into his retinas. But still, it was a weird question. "Sure. He looks just like Cam."
"No." Evan shook his head. "That's the thing. He does, sure, but it's not right. It's...." He made a face, obviously hunting for the right words. "His face is too perfect. There's not enough lines on it, no flaws. It looks almost...airbrushed, or something."
"So?" John asked. It wasn't surprising that Evan had noticed that when John hadn't. Evan was an artist, used to seeing the world in ways other people didn't. And he'd been staring at Cam awfully hard.
"So, it didn't matter to them if he looked real," Evan explained. "Which means that everyone he was going to interact with knew what he was. No one was trying to pass him off as a human, the way you and Cam were."
"Because he wasn't going to be one?" John finished for him, and Evan nodded. "Wow." John exhaled a large puff of air. "You really think that? That he wasn't going to get a human body?"
Evan nodded. "They obviously had no problem making him look like Cam. I can't think of any other reason why they wouldn't have made him an exact match, you know?"
John flattened his lips, thinking. "Maybe...maybe they just didn't have to hide the AIs."
Evan shook his head, looking deeply unhappy. "Maybe, but I don't buy it. You and Cam were made into humans three years ago. Why wait so long with this guy?" His eyebrows drifted up. "I think they just didn't care."
"Okay...." John said slowly. He didn't like that, though he couldn't say exactly what bothered him about it. There had been many times, after all, when he wished he'd been able to keep his robot body. There were definite advantages to not needing to eat or sleep for starters, not to mention being impervious to bone breaks and all organic pathogens. But he and Cameron had been designed--he and Cameron had been raised--to become human. They'd been given a parental figure, a stimulating environment, social and academic lessons...they'd been treated like actual children, so that they'd become socially adept adults. But if becoming human hadn't been the point of this Cameron's development....
"So, how do you raise a robot that's going to stay a robot?" John asked, voicing what he was now certain Evan was thinking.
"I don't think you do," Evan said darkly. "I don't think you worry about it."
"Hmm," Radek said, his voice slightly muffled under his paper facemask. "This is interesting."
"And by 'interesting' you doubtless mean, 'bad,'" Rodney said, though his attention was barely focused on the conversation. He sighed and put down the needle-nose pliers he'd been using to thread the last three filaments connecting the cerebral processor into their microscopic slots at the top of the robot's artificial spine. He used a tiny bit of gold solder to cement them in place, then pulled back from the electron microscope and blinked his eyes to get them used to normal vision again. "Okay, that part's done with my usual speed and brilliance," he said, then smirked behind his facemask as Radek rolled his eyes.
Rodney straightened and pulled off his gloves (vinyl, never latex) with a wet snap and shoved his goggles up to the top of his head. He used the back of his wrist to wipe the sweat out of his eyes. He wanted to take his facemask off, but that wasn't possible yet. The risk of contaminating the AI's neural net with a stray drop of saliva, or blowing the delicate filaments out of alignment was still too great. There would be less sterile protocols necessary as the repair work crept closer and closer to completion--the engineering team Rodney had assigned to fix the robot's large components were no longer required to wear full suits--but they weren't at that point yet, and Rodney was always the type to err on the side of caution, anyway.
He was sure John would appreciate that.
Rodney reached under his mask with his fingers, wiping sweat and itching around his mouth. He'd wash his hands and make sure his face was dry before he started work again, but there was nothing he had to do this second because the connections needed testing before he could continue.
"How's the readout?" Rodney asked. He bent backwards with his hands on his lower back, grunting in discomfort. This kind of work was always hell on his spine.
"Just a minute, please," Radek said. "There is only so fast I can go to keep up with your impatience. Ah, here," he said a moment later, ignoring Rodney's irritated huff. "Yes. It says that all connections are stable."
"Of course it does," Rodney said to hide the brief flash of anxiety. He knew he insisted to all and sundry, and rightfully, that he could fix anything, but he'd never done anything quite like this. And, well, this job was special. Even if this AI Mitchell wasn't from their reality, it was Mitchell all the same. And while Rodney had no great love for their reality's Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell, John did, and Rodney would rather blow up most of a solar system than not restore this AI to full function.
Radek snorted, but it did nothing to diminish the enthusiasm Rodney could see glinting in Radek's eyes. "I am going to test the connections now, starting with the hands."
Rodney waited tensely, resisting the urge to muscle Radek out of the way or peer over his shoulder at the readout screen. Instead he kept his attention on the robot's body, what parts of it that were intact anyway, since the engineering team had basically dismantled it and begun reassembling the AI from base components. What John didn't know, and Rodney wasn't planning on telling him, was that the robot had actually died, to all intents and purposes, in a puddle of neural liquid on the Gate room floor. Luckily the AI's cerebral processor and backup memory were intact, because the majority of its other systems were toast. It was a minor miracle there had been enough left of the robot to piece back together at all.
Whatever had taken him out in the first place was something Rodney wanted to keep far, far away from, thank you very much.
"Almost ready," Radek murmured. Rodney watched the AI's hands and waited for the telltale twitch that would signal that his reconstructed neural net was viable.
"And...Now," Radek said. Rodney heard the click as Radek hit a key, and then the fingers of both the robot's hands curled in a quick spasm, like he was trying to grab at the table. His hands looked like metallic spiders without the skin-colored artificial flesh covering them, and Rodney made a face before he could help himself.
But he was smiling when Radek looked over at him. "Everything checks out fine here," Radek said. "How did the fingers react to the impulse?"
"Perfectly, of course," Rodney said with no small amount of smugness. "Try the feet."
"Thank you, because I would never have thought of doing so," Radek said caustically. Rodney watched the robot's thin metal feet as Radek hit more keys in sequence.
"Now," Radek said, and both feet twitched, toes bending.
Rodney grinned. "Beautiful," he said. He rubbed his hands together briskly. "All right, I think that's it, then. We're ready to start putting this baby back together."
"Baby?" Radek eyed Rodney quizzically. Rodney ignored him as he went over to the lab's sink in the corner, gratefully pulling his mask down to his throat so he could splash water on his face. He washed his hands and dried everything carefully, then took a breath and put the mask back on.
"So, what's this 'interesting' thing you were talking about?" Rodney asked as he crossed the room again. He grabbed a new pair of vinyl gloves from the nearby box and slid them on, wincing as the elasticized cuffs snapped against his wrists. As he spoke, he carefully lifted the robot's cerebral processor, so he could move the empty bowl of the AI's skull into position under it. The processor was shaped almost like a human brain, and Rodney grimaced in concentration as he slid it into the waiting brackets in the skull, pushing gently until he heard the tiny, welcome click of components meeting smoothly like socket to plug.
"While I was going over the robot's code, checking for errors caused by the physical damage, I found something curious." Radek gestured blindly at Rodney, his focus on the screen again. "In the memory storage. Here, I will pull it up for you."
"Fine, hang on...." Rodney slid the top half of the AI's skull into place, smiling in satisfaction when the pieces met. The robot had received a dent behind its right ear, most likely caused by the same blast that had crippled it, but it had been impossible to see because of the thick, artificial hair. The dent hadn't been deep enough to do more than minor damage to the processor, but it had been a bitch to repair it all the same. But now the skull was whole and perfect again, gleaming silver under the bright overhead lights. All that the robot needed was his eyes, and artificial flesh and hair.
Rodney made sure the two parts of the skull weren't going to accidentally slide apart if he let go, and then went to where Radek was, squinting at his laptop screen.
"In its memory," Radek said again, pointing. "Here, and here, and here. The incidents occur at irregular intervals, but the duration is almost exactly the same each time."
"Power loss?" Rodney asked, studying the screen. He didn't wait for Radek to confirm that, since it was obvious that's what it was. Irregular, just as Radek had said, but consistent in the duration. He shouldered Radek aside then input the command to make the code begin scrolling up the screen. "Catastrophic power loss," he amended, scanning over the readout. "He's way into his reserve power each time." He tapped one line with the tip of his gloved finger. "He was less than a minute away from complete failure right here, when the levels start rising again." He glanced at the robot, lying shining and still in its metal bones, but there was nothing apparent to explain it.
"A design flaw, do you think?" Radek asked, nudging Rodney to give him access to the screen again. Rodney grudgingly obliged. "Jacoby did not report any problems with the power relays, or with the batteries, other than those caused by the bomb, of course."
"I know, I was there," Rodney said, but he nodded. "We'll have to test them again, to be sure, but I'm certain that's not the problem."
"Then what is?" Radek asked, eyebrows high above the metal rims of his glasses. "Bad connection or improper input?"
It would certainly explain the occasional severe power drain if the robot's neural net couldn't sense when it was low on power, or couldn't get that information to the cerebral processor, but Rodney shook his head as he continued reading. "There's no corresponding error messages." He trailed his finger along one of the code lines. "See? Everything checks out here." He shook his head, perplexed. "Unless there's some severe, multiple-level problem that somehow no one ever picked up, but we didn't find anything like that."
"Perhaps it is as simple as an intermittent fluctuation in the power cord," Radek offered.
"Maybe his internal clock is bad and he can't remember when he needs to plug in," Rodney said. He shrugged. He didn't like problems that didn't have immediate, obvious solutions, but he was confident enough in his team--not that he'd ever tell them that--to be certain that if there was some kind of defect in the AI's power storage or delivery systems, they would have found it. They were going to do a thorough check on all systems before putting the flesh back on anyway.
Radek said something quietly in Czech that was probably a derisive denial. "It is possible that these severe drops represent times it was not able to get to a power source. Off world, perhaps."
"Makes sense," Rodney said. He had already all but dismissed the irregular code in his mind. He slid the top part of the skull off again, satisfied that it would fit properly when the time came. But right now they still needed access to the cerebral processor in case they still had to tweak it--like making sure it could sense and react to power drains, apparently.
Once the empty half of the skull was safely on the lab table again, Rodney turned to the intricate, delicate work of settling the topmost bracket of the AI's spine into place and closing it around the filaments.
Radek made some sort of exclamation in Czech, loudly.
"Ow! Jesus Christ!" Rodney exclaimed angrily. He'd been startled and snapped the spinal bracket shut on the skin of his finger. He glared at Radek. "What?"
"Something else interesting," Radek said, jabbing his finger excitedly at his laptop screen. "Very, very interesting! Look!"
"What now?" Rodney huffed. He went back to Radek, shucking the glove and sucking on his finger tip. It was going to come up in a blood blister for sure; he had very delicate skin. "What miserable design flaw did we apparently miss this time?"
"There is no flaw," Radek said, shaking his head fast enough to make his wild hair tumble. He was beaming. "Look at this." He tapped the screen the way Rodney had done. "This is excellent, amazing."
Rodney dutifully looked, then blinked. Then let out a low whistle.
"Holy cow," he said. "He's an interface."
"Yes, yes!" Radek nodded vigorously. "It was designed to activate Ancient technology. Like person with the gene."
"So," Rodney said, looking steadily at John. "You're telling me Cameron 2.0 here is quite possibly a sociopath."
"I didn't say that!" John protested immediately. "Okay, yeah," he admitted when Rodney was still just looking at him. "He might be...less socialized than I was."
"Which means he might be a sociopath. Or the robotic equivalent of a Chia-pet," Rodney said, ignoring John's scowling at him. He was only peripherally paying attention to John anyway, concentrating on something he was doing to one of Cam's arms. He snapped his fingers without looking up. "Hand me that bag, will you?"
John blinked, then glanced around the table until he found what looked like an IV bag that had been opened, filled with opaque, light blue-grey liquid then resealed. He picked it up dubiously. "You mean this?"
"No, I mean the other bag of cobbled-together neural liquid," Rodney said. "Yes, I mean that. Thank you," he said acidly as he pulled it out of John's hand. He hooked it up to an IV stand then began fumbling along the tube attached to the bag.
"Shouldn't Carson be doing that?" John asked, since it was obvious that Rodney was going to stab an IV into the AI's arm. He leaned across the lab table so he could better see what Rodney was doing. "Or maybe you should wait for Radek to get back?"
Rodney looked at him sourly. "He doesn't have any veins for me to skewer, if that's what you're worried about," he said. He lifted up Cameron's arm by the wrist, waggling the limp hand a little. There was already a medical IV-lock taped to it, with one of the largest catheters John had ever seen piercing the artificial skin. "But yes, Carson did do that. Because, surprising as this may be, I do have a certain amount of foresight."
"You're in a good mood," John observed as he pushed himself away from the table. He watched as Rodney managed to fit the IV bag's line into the IV-lock. "I thought that neural stuff was white."
"It is," Rodney said, not sounding like his mood had improved any for John mentioning it. "But we didn't have any to replace what he'd lost, so we had to make it from scratch. This is the closest equivalent."
John watched the blue-grey stuff slide slowly down the tube, suppressing a shudder. The normal white fluid looked bad enough. "Will it work?"
"Hopefully," Rodney said, though he sounded like he meant to say 'probably not'. John convinced himself that it was the bad mood talking. "Radek seems to think so, though he thinks a lot of things which are suspect at best, and wild--"
"What's got into you?" John asked.
Rodney blinked, momentarily derailed. "Oh," he said. "Well, I've been working on this for nearly two days now with barely so much as a bathroom break, kludging this AI back together with duct tape and desperate optimism, only to have you tell me that I might be raising the Short Circuit version of Jason Voorhees from the dead." He scowled. "How would you feel?"
John gave an exasperated huff. "Give me a break, Rodney."
Rodney heaved out a huge, put-upon sigh. "Fine, fine," he said. "You're right. It's not so much that I'm worried he's going to go all Westworld on us--though it is a legitimate concern!--It's just...." He pressed his lips together and looked away, apparently making sure the USB cord was properly connected to the port behind Cameron's right ear. Rodney gestured at it. "We had to make a kludge for that, too. God knows what they use in that reality, but their memory sticks must be made from transistors."
"Rodney," John said.
"Right." Rodney nodded quickly. "It's just, I keep wondering, where are you?"
John frowned. "What do you mean, where am I?"
"I mean, where are you?" Rodney burst out angrily. Then he glanced sheepishly at the door, even though John doubted the Marine stationed outside could hear them. Rodney lowered his voice anyway. "Why is this version of Mitchell in Atlantis instead of you? Are you dead? Were you destroyed in the same blast that nearly took him out? I mean, you saw the way he looked at you, right? Like--"
"Like he'd seen a ghost," John finished wryly. "Yeah." He nodded. "I saw that."
Rodney looked down at Cameron's still face. He really did appear too perfect, John thought, now that Evan had made him notice it. It seemed impossible that those pale, sculpted features could ever contain life behind them, even though John had seen it.
"I don't like thinking of you dead," Rodney said softly.
John smiled. "I love you too, Pookie." He grinned when Rodney scowled blackly at him. "But there's nothing we can do about what may or may not have happened to me in another reality. This is the only one that matters, remember?"
"Of course I remember," Rodney snorted. "I told you that after we found the decrepit Elizabeth in the stasis chamber two years ago."
"So, remember it," John said.
"Thank you, Colonel Sunshine," Rodney snapped. He shook his head in irritation when John smirked, though his mind was obviously elsewhere again. He typed something into the laptop that was on the lab table next to the crown of Cam's head then made a tiny hum of satisfaction. "Okay, now we're talking," he said.
"What?" John asked. He leaned over the table again. "What's going on?"
Rodney put his hand on John's head and pushed him away. "I think we're ready to revive him," Rodney said. There was a slender, grotesquely flesh-toned power cord leading out from under Cam's thumbnail. It trailed down to the floor and over to a naquadria generator set up against two of the table legs. "Both his batteries are at one hundred percent, and according to this readout, all our external diagnostics are coming back clean." He glanced at the IV bag, which was already half-empty and steadily draining down the tube. "As soon as that's empty, we can take him out of sleep mode and give him back control of his own functions." Rodney gave John a smile that was smugly pleased, though John couldn't help but notice the touch of anxiety in his eyes.
"Thank you," John said seriously. At some point someone had unfolded the sheet so that Cam was now covered from his feet to his waist, which John appreciated on his behalf. He put his hand over Cam's ankle. It felt cold, despite the power he now knew was humming under the fabricated flesh.
"He's going to be okay, Rodney," John said.
"I know," Rodney said. He nodded firmly, as if he wasn't the one who needed convincing. "Of course he will. He'll be just like our Cameron. Well, maybe without the lemon thing. I could really live without that--"
"I know you fixed him perfectly," John said, because he knew that was what Rodney was really worried about: that the AI was still broken, in some subtle, hidden way they hadn't been able to find; that he'd let John down. Rodney still hadn't forgiven himself for not being able to save John from the virus, even though becoming infected was John's own fault. John sometimes thought that it had made Rodney more cautious than he might have been. John couldn't help wondering if there were things they'd lost out on, because of it, like the energy source at Doranda, which Rodney had refused to investigate after they'd found out the Ancients hadn't been able to make it work.
"Well, Radek helped, a bit. So did the others," Rodney admitted. But he looked a little happier and that was what mattered. He gestured at his ear. "I'm going to tell Elizabeth. And Radek and Major Lorne. They might, uh, they might want to be here." His eyes widened a bit. "Are Ronon and Teyla back from visiting the Athosians yet?"
"Not yet," John said. He chuckled, because he knew that Rodney was probably thinking as much of his teammates' combat skills as the fact that John might want them with him when he met this version of his brother. John appreciated it anyway. "I'm guessing it'd probably be better to...ease them into the idea of a robot Colonel Mitchell anyhow," he added.
Rodney looked like he was considering that. "Right. Good idea. Let's not unnerve the Pegasus natives with the robot from a different reality." He nodded again, then tapped his radio.
John didn't bother listening as Rodney called the others. Instead he watched the AI Cameron, and wondered how he'd be different. It was weird, now that he had a chance to really look at him, to see in how many ways his creators hadn't bothered--or hadn't been able, maybe--to complete the facsimile of the human Cameron. The AI didn't have any visible veins showing blue under his skin, and his skin itself was completely uniform, showing none of the subtle imperfections of life. This Cameron's hair was a single, uniform shade of medium brown, too. He looked like a 3-D rendering made solid. John wondered how quickly anyone else would notice, or if he even would have if Evan hadn't pointed it out to him.
John glanced at his own hands, with the light blue of the veins showing just under the skin's surface. He thought about how after he had received his clone body, Rodney had told him he looked exactly the same. John wondered what difference not looking truly human had made in Cameron's life, if it had made any difference at all.
Elizabeth came in, with Evan walking quickly beside her.
"I gather that our alternate reality Mitchell is ready to wake up?" Elizabeth asked. She was hiding her nervousness well, but John didn't blame her a bit for her apprehension. He was more than a little anxious himself.
"That's right." Rodney rubbed his hands together. "We can proceed just as soon as Radek gets here."
"And I am here!" Radek strode in, looking harassed and angrily adjusting his glasses. "One half hour, is all I ask, to have single cup of coffee in peace. But no, this is too much for you to give. Loathsome little...Oh! Elizabeth. I did not expect you."
Elizabeth lifted a delicate eyebrow. "Rodney didn't inform you why he called?" she asked.
Radek shot Rodney a truly impressive glare. "Not in so many words, no. 'Get down here', he says. 'It is important'."
"Well, it is!" Rodney protested. "We're ready."
Radek's eyes shot wide open behind his glasses. "It is fully recharged now?" He said something in Czech that John assumed was good then made a grand gesture at Rodney. "Well, then. By all means, proceed."
"Thank you," Rodney said with a touch of acid. He pulled the IV catheter out of the AI's wrist with surprising alacrity, though the quirk of his mouth showed how little he enjoyed doing it. He dabbed the small puncture wound with a bit of flesh-colored paste, and then shoved the IV stand unceremoniously to the far end of the lab table. He moved his fingers back to the laptop keyboard, but hesitated. "Um, John? Evan?" he said. "You, uh, both know Cameron the best in this reality. Maybe you should be the first people he sees when he wakes up?"
"He's already seen me, Rodney," John said, though he had still been going to suggest the same thing himself, and he moved nearer to Cameron's head.
"Okay," Evan said. He sounded uncertain, and John couldn't blame him for that either. But Evan obediently rounded the table to be on Cameron's other side. He ignored Rodney's snort of irritation when Rodney had to move himself and his laptop out of Evan's way.
Rodney tapped a few keys but hesitated again. "Okay," he said, looking at John and Evan, "if he pulls an Ash on me--and I mean Ash from Alien, not Ash from The Evil Dead,--you're not going to let him kill me, right?"
"Not right away," Evan said.
"I promise we won't let you die a horrible death at the hand of a psychotic android, Rodney," John said mildly when Rodney stared at Evan in horror. He gave Evan a glare for good measure, but Evan just smiled briefly in return.
"Well, good," Rodney said, still looking kind of wild-eyed at Evan. He gave his head a small, quick shake and turned to the laptop screen again. "All right," he said. "Returning control of all functions to the AI...now." He hit a key, waited a moment then closed the laptop. He gently put his fingers around the USB behind Cameron's ear, hesitated again, then deftly plucked it out.
The AI Cam's eyes shot open, and immediately fastened on Evan.
Evan smiled warmly, but before he could open his mouth to speak, Cameron was scrambling into a sitting position, so that the sheet pooled around his lap and hips. He didn't salute, but he looked like he would have if he'd been standing. Instead he straightened his neck and shoulders, turning his head so he was looking in Evan's general direction instead of directly at him. As if he didn't dare.
His face held an expression uncomfortably close to desolation, carefully leashed.
"I regret to report that all of Portal team three were killed on G-428, sir," he said. His voice was clipped, formal. Slightly deeper than John remembered Cam's being, with none of his particular cadence, and John realized with some shock that this AI sounded nothing like his brother at all.
"DoctorJosephAbrams set off an unanticipated trap that triggered an explosion," Cameron continued before anyone could interrupt him. John glanced at Elizabeth, to see her green eyes widening in quiet shock. "I tried to shield SergeantEugeneBates' body with my own, but was unsuccessful. I believe the rest of the team died instantly, sir, but I was incapacitated, so I can't tell you for certain. But none of them were exhibiting lifesigns when I was next able to document my surroundings."
Evan looked kind of like Elizabeth did. He turned to John, as if John could help him figure out what to say.
John didn't have a clue. He assumed G-428 was the planet this Cameron had gated in from, though how he'd ended up in the wrong reality was anyone's guess. On the other hand, at least they knew what had caused the robot's injuries now. Not that the knowledge was particularly comforting.
"I'm sorry," Evan said to the AI.
Cameron stopped, mouth slightly open, as if that was the last thing he'd expected Evan would say. He blinked once, and John wondered if that was a programmed reaction. He remembered doing the same thing sometimes, back when he was a robot too, to give himself time to assimilate unanticipated information.
"I will accept any punishment you consider necessary, sir," Cameron said, like punishment was his only expectation.
John barely kept the astonishment off his face. Rodney was visibly gaping.
"No one's going to be punishing anyone," John said forcefully.
Cameron's head snapped towards him so fast that John almost gasped. For a moment Cameron looked too shocked to speak, like he had in the Gate room. Then he slowly reached out his hand, seemingly unconsciously. A strange thing, considering what he was. He pressed his palm to John's chest.
John kept himself still, trying to be as calm and unthreatening as possible. He was still trying to get over the idea that the AI was expecting Evan to punish him because his team was dead. That was so wrong that John couldn't even begin to deal with it.
"Your cardiac and transpiration functions don't fall within normal parameters for artificial life-forms," Cameron said, voice filled with uncomprehending awe.
John swallowed, acutely aware that Elizabeth was standing right there, listening. "That's because I'm human."
Cameron nodded slowly. His eyes were fixed on his hand, still flattened against John's chest. "I can see your blood moving, underneath your skin," he said. "And your heart." He looked up at John, and for a second his face was suffused with pain. Then Cameron pulled his hand away, dropped it into his lap. He looked at everyone gathered around the lab table, studying them, then back at Evan.
Instantly, he was all stiff, closed formality again. "Forgive me, sir," he said tightly to Evan. "But this isn't my universe."
The sealant they had used to re-close Eight's torn skin was very close to its original coloring, but not an exact match. It had spent several seconds examining the slight discolorations marring the large patch over part of its abdomen, running its fingers over the seams where the two different polymers joined. There were other discolorations on its legs and arms, more than it had been aware of acquiring in the blast. There was a fourteen percent possibility some of the smaller lacerations had been made purposely, in order to examine the SX-8's mechanisms, but given what it knew of the available technology on Atlantis, that scenario was too illogical to judge viable. There were other, less invasive ways to see inside Eight's body. The new lines on its skin represented wounds, nothing more.
The repeated examination of the differences between the new and old artificial skin was a waste of processing time and Memory storage, but Eight had spent four point sixteen minutes doing so nonetheless, while it waited for DoctorElizabethWeir. It had been repaired many times previously, but it had never before been scarred. These new marks had not been anticipated, and Eight was currently unable to categorize them in its Memory as either positive or negative, but expected that they would become negative. AIs were not designed to show wear or other imperfections.
Eight could not assimilate why these people had taken the obviously considerable effort required to restore it to its original level of functioning. In fact, according to its internal diagnostics, it seemed to be functioning at a greater capacity than previously. Eight was certain, given its perfect Memory storage, that the expedition members on its proper Atlantis would not have gone to such lengths to preserve its integrity, especially now, with the gene therapy finally proving successful, that it was no longer as vital to the success of the expedition as it previously had been.
It was possible that these Lanteans had repaired it to a specific purpose, but as yet it had insufficient information to compute what that purpose might be. That was negative. Not being able to anticipate events fell distinctly within unacceptable parameters. In the SX-8's own universe, it knew with one hundred percent certainty that had it returned so damaged, it would have been dismantled, its component parts taken and recycled into other systems.
The portions of its Memory Archive associated with that knowledge were so negative that Eight physically cut off that branch of processing before it led to a Catastrophic Failure. Instead, it turned its attention to its apparel, which was much more acceptable.
These Lanteans had given it the following:
A. One pair underwear (boxers, striped) and socks (white), of apparent Military issue
B. One pair uniform pants (grey)
C. One t-shirt (black)
D. One pair boots (black), obviously Military issue
The clothing was more acceptable than being naked, which was not culturally appropriate. However, Eight was still currently unable to assimilate why it had been repaired at all, let alone allowed proper clothing, rather than medical scrubs or garments given to prisoners.
That it was a prisoner was not in dispute, since the room it had been placed in, while falling under what it knew to be a general description of 'comfortable', was locked, and a guard was standing outside. Eight had no difficulty processing why it was being confined, but its treatment in general remained unquantifiable, which was negative.
After DoctorRodneyMcKay had revealed that these Lanteans were also aware that the SX-8 did not come from their universe--which they referred to as an 'alternate reality' here--DoctorElizabethWeir had introduced herself and the humans with her, then told Eight it 'was safe and would not be harmed'. She further suggested that the subsequent interview be conducted 'somewhere more comfortable'. Eight was not capable of feeling comfortable, but since it was aware DoctorElizabethWeir was not truly asking its opinion, Eight had not spoken. The clothes had already been available, and the humans left the room while Eight dressed, to allow it 'privacy'. The SX-8 did not require privacy any more than it could feel comfortable, but it hadn't protested. Instead it had prolonged clothing itself by fifty-eight seconds, in order to adequately hear the conversation being conducted in the hallway outside the laboratory.
"Was it just me, or was he acting like he expected Lorne to use him for ballast? " That was DoctorRodneyMcKay. His appearance and demeanor were not a precise match to the photographs Eight had stored in its Memory Archive, but was similar enough to make the connection.
"It wasn't just you," MajorEvanLorne said. "He was terrified of me. Couldn't even look me in the face." His voice indicated dissatisfaction, but of a kind Eight could not readily assimilate. If this were Eight's own universe, there was a ninety-three percent likelihood that Eight would be severely punished for failing to protect Portal Team Three, though only a forty-one percent risk of actual termination since it was the only viable AI left on Atlantis--though that was provided that Eight had returned in reasonable condition in the first place, which in actuality it had not. LieutenantColonelEvanLorne did not believe in wasting resources, but that included time and effort as well.
That Atlantis was not this one, however, and Eight did not possess enough information to adequately anticipate what this MajorEvanLorne would do, any more than it could process why it had been repaired at all.
None of this fell within acceptable parameters, but Eight had been unable to adequately process anything since stepping through the Portal and seeing Seven fully functional.
"Look, we already know he's not from around here, right? So, maybe his version of you isn't so...friendly. Just give him time to work it out." That was Seven--
But it was not Seven. The SX-7 was an AI, exactly like the SX-8. They had been designed and built at the same time, in the same laboratory, overseen by Doctors RadekZelenka and LindseyNovak. And Seven had CeasedtoFunction twenty-eight months and sixteen days ago.
Seven's absence had been processed as Catastrophic Damage, and Eight was still unable to completely incorporate it, though it was careful to never mention the SX-7 unless so ordered, to avoid prompting the humans to determine that Eight was malfunctioning.
I know you're grieving, SergeantCharlesCampbell had told Eight, once. But robots did not grieve, so Eight hadn't known how to reply. SergeantCharlesCampbell had never mentioned it again. And now he had CeasedtoFunction as well.
Eight had perfectly assimilated the permanent lack of function that humans referred to as 'death'. But it could not assimilate Seven as human. Even this being a different universe was not sufficient to explain it. Eight had encountered no technology that could render a machine into a living being. It was possible that this universe was different enough that such existed, but Eight did not yet have sufficient information to allow it to compute how great a possibility that was. It could also not compute what implications that had for itself. It was apparently not present on this Atlantis, but did not seem unfamiliar to the humans here. Had Eight CeasedtoFunction in this universe? Or was Eight human here, as well? Was that the reason DoctorRodneyMcKay, DoctorRadekZelenka, MajorEvanLorne and Seven kept referring to Eight as 'he'? And if so, where was Eight in this universe?
It had been led to this room before it could ask DoctorElizabethWeir any of these questions. That was five-point thirty-nine minutes ago.
Eight examined its new scars and waited. It had facility with waiting.
Elizabeth paused outside the door leading to the observation room, smiled at the bored-looking Marine, then took a small breath and walked through as the door slid open.
"I'm sorry to make you wait," she said as she sat down. "There was something I needed to attend to." She'd run to the mess and bolted the first bread-like thing she could find. She'd missed breakfast because of another Gate team coming in with injuries, and had somehow been waylaid every time she'd tried to get to the mess afterwards. And the last thing she wanted to do was scarf down food while she was conducting an interview.
The smile the AI gave her was pleasant and remote, though there was something behind it that looked almost wary, which made Elizabeth decidedly uncomfortable. In between repairs, Rodney and Radek had given her a rough and very quick rundown of what they expected this version of Mitchell was capable of. Apparently AIs were able to experience emotion, but Elizabeth had a lot of trouble believing it. Radek and Doctor Lee hadn't taken their experiments beyond small quadrupeds, after all, and Elizabeth couldn't see how they could be certain that what they perceived as emotions weren't just appropriate stimulus responses, like toys that answered when you spoke to them.
Which meant she had no idea if what she was seeing was real. Elizabeth didn't like uncertainty, especially when it might affect people she cared about.
The Asurians, of course, had been able to feel emotion. They had also been expert liars. Rodney and Radek had insisted this AI had no Replicator technology at all, but Elizabeth was adult enough to admit to herself that just the similarity alone made her distinctly uncomfortable. She glanced at the doorway, just so she could see Corporal Land's back through the glass. Knowing he was there was reassuring.
Nonetheless, a response was a response, and when the AI said, "Please do not concern yourself," Elizabeth made sure she smiled as she put her clasped hands on the table.
"So," she said. She felt her smile going rueful. "Obviously, we're all a little confused as to how you got here."
"I am able to relate the exact sequence of events from the time SergeantEugeneBates' team arrived on G-428 until my arrival in your universe, though there is a significant time gap while I was in emergency sleep mode," it said. "But I'm afraid that my memory archive has not provided me with any information as to why that event occurred."
It was strange listening to a voice so different from Mitchell's, at least as far as Elizabeth remembered, coming from something that looked so much like him. Mitchell had a pleasant, casual drawl. This AI, by contrast, sounded as stiff and formal as any government official she'd ever had to deal with. Elizabeth didn't know if it was just the circumstances, or if the AI had been programmed to always sound like this, perhaps for precision's sake. All the same, while Elizabeth normally had no problem dealing with even the most formal speech, right now part of her wanted to snap at the AI to just cut the crap already and start talking like a normal person. And then she had to remind herself that this wasn't a normal person, or a person at all. Just like the Asurians.
Foolish though the thought was, Elizabeth couldn't help wishing she hadn't come in here alone.
Elizabeth nodded on autopilot, dragging herself back to the conversation. She made sure to keep her face and voice pleasant when she answered. "I'm sure Doctor McKay and Doctor Zelenka would be very interested in hearing all of that," she said carefully. She smiled. "I know they'll do all they can to help you get home."
The expression that flickered over the robot's face was gone too fast for her to read, but the guardedness that replaced it was unmistakable. "Thank you. I know they will be wondering what happened to me," it said, and its voice reminded her of how it had sounded back in the laboratory, when it had offered itself up to Evan for punishment: flat and tight, like someone trying to hide how terrified they were. Elizabeth suddenly wondered if the AI's universe was actually a place it where it wanted to return. If it could actually want anything at all.
"You're welcome," Elizabeth said. She rubbed her forehead, feeling the distant approach of a tension headache. "You're not the first visitor we've had from an alternate reality, as a matter of fact." She blinked, sat up straight again. "Were you visited by a different version of Dr. McKay?" It was possible that similar versions of events had occurred in many different realities.
But the AI just shook its head. "We have received no visitors from an alternate universe," it said. It paused a moment, as if gathering its thoughts. "It seems that I am very similar to someone from your universe, but I have not seen an SX-8 on this Atlantis. I am having difficulty assimilating this contradiction."
Elizabeth smirked sympathetically. "I have to say I am, too." She thought for a second, and then decided that even if this robot were dangerous, she couldn't see how telling it about Colonel Mitchell would be giving away useful information. All the same, she kept the details to a minimum. "In our reality, there is a Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell. You look remarkably like him."
The AI nodded. "I have no information on an actual CameronMitchell existing in my universe," it said, "though it is possible that he does, and I am simply unaware of it."
Elizabeth didn't miss the 'actual' in the AI's sentence, and wasn't entirely sure what she made of that. A robot that was aware of not being human should have been a good thing, she was certain, but it made her uneasy. The Asurians knew what they were as well, and some of them even wanted to Ascend. And they'd still tried to take over Atlantis and kill her.
She forced her attention back to the conversation a second time when she realized how long the silence had gone on. "It is a strange coincidence." Elizabeth cleared her throat, embarrassed that her mind had been wandering. It was impossible to tell if the robot had noticed or not, or if it even cared.
"I am aware of how this form was chosen for me, if you wish to hear it," the AI offered.
"Yes," Elizabeth said, meaning it. "I would be very interested. Thank you."
The AI nodded. "DoctorLindseyNovak was responsible for designing our physical bodies. Given the experience of the Portal Administration, it was decided that male human forms would cause the least concern among the populations of different worlds, so she chose two males at random from photographs of deceased Airmen in the Air Corps archive."
"Wait," Elizabeth said. She was already blinking at having to match up the terms the robot was using with the ones in her head, but this gave her even more pause. "You mean, John Sheppard and Cameron Mitchell are dead in your universe?"
The AI blinked as well then shook its head. "No," it said. "I was designed after the physical form of CaptainMitchellCambron, deceased, and the SX-7 was designed after the physical form of CaptainJamesShepherd, also deceased."
Elizabeth stared at the AI. "Deceased?" she repeated. She hadn't expected to be so horrified at the idea of John or Mitchell being dead, even if they weren't the men she knew. But this felt the same as it had when the alternate version of Elizabeth recounted how everyone had died mere hours after entering a submerged Atlantis.
But something didn't make any sense. It was obvious that these men the AI was speaking of looked exactly like the John and Mitchell in her reality, but they had different names. Was it just a coincidence, one of the random differences in events that made up so many aspects of alternate realities? The names were similar enough that it was possible.
"Do you know how they died?" Elizabeth asked. Her mind instantly leapt to any one of the seemingly hundreds of times that John had almost been killed on Atlantis, suddenly wondering how few variables would have required shifting to make the outcomes fatal: being culled instead of Colonel Sumner; missing a thirty-eight minute window; a too-slow jumper racing a nuclear explosion; the Daedalus arriving ten seconds too late. She was certain that Mitchell's history was the same.
The robot shook its head again. "I'm sorry," it said. "DoctorLindseyNovak only told us their names." It paused, as if considering its next words. "She did mention that relative attractiveness was part of her search criteria."
"I see," Elizabeth said, because she had no idea what else to say. 'So your faces and bodies were chosen from a random selection of good-looking dead Air Force officers?' was on the tip of her tongue, but she swallowed it. Whatever answer the robot gave her wouldn't make any of this feel less surreal.
Her headache had come on full bore now, and she had a ridiculous urge to go find John, as if she had to make sure he was still alive.
She drew in a deep breath. "Well, I can certainly see there are some major differences between your reality and ours. I'm--"
Elizabeth stopped. She'd been about to say, 'I'm sure you must be eager to go back', and then she remembered how the robot had looked at Evan, back in the laboratory, and how it had expected to be punished. A sudden thought hit her, chilling and unwelcome, that the robot expected to be punished because it had caused the deaths of its Gate team. She tried to dismiss it as impossible, but wasn't entirely able to. The replicators had been responsible for all kinds of atrocities. The shapes they wore had made no difference to what they did.
"I'm very sorry about what happened to your Gate--your Portal team," she said, as if that was what she intended to say all along.
"Thank you," the AI said. It looked away, down at the smooth surface of the table. She could see its jaw moving, though it didn't speak again. It was an excellent verisimilitude of grief, Elizabeth thought. Or it might have been real. She wasn't entirely sure what would have been worse.
Elizabeth waited, unwilling to fill in the silence.
"I don't understand why you repaired me," it said finally.
"Why wouldn't we?" Elizabeth asked, startled. She ignored the sting of guilt.
The robot lifted its head again, looking at Elizabeth with Cameron's blue eyes. "The Lanteans from my universe would not have done it," it said simply. "It would be considered a waste of resources."
That somehow made the guilt even worse, and Elizabeth winced internally. "Saving a life is never a waste of resources. The form that life takes isn't relevant," she said, surprising herself with how much she meant it.
The robot just kept looking at her, its face blank, as if her words meant nothing. "I don't know what you want from me," it said.
Elizabeth felt her eyes widen in surprise. "We don't want anything," she said. "We just...you need help, so we're giving it to you."
"There was no reason to waste energy and resources on a severely damaged AI," it insisted, as if it were Elizabeth who couldn't understand. "You must require me for some purpose."
"We don't," Elizabeth repeated. "That's not why we helped you when you came through our portal. That's not how we work around here."
"I don't understand," the AI said, and its face, its voice, carried something exactly like fear. "You could not have repaired me to no purpose. Please indicate what you require of me." It was speaking faster, its words more clipped and machine-like, even as Elizabeth suspected it was nearing a quiet kind of panic.
"All right," she said quickly. She put up her hand to forestall any more frantic repetitions. She forced another smile through her own growing worry. This wouldn't be the first time the SGC encountered an unstable AI, either. "I'm sure we can find something for you to do."
"So," DoctorRodneyMcKay said, "you're really telling me that almost no one in your reality has the Ancient Technology Activation gene?"
"Yes," Eight said, replying succinctly so there could be no lack of comprehension. "There are only two members of our expedition who possess it--DoctorMollyBeckett and LieutenantColonelEvanLorne." It tried to keep its eyes on DoctorRodneyMcKay, rather than on the console Eight was standing next to, but it was difficult. Eight was...eager was the word DoctorLindseyNovak would have indicated as correct, but Eight could only process that it would be extremely acceptable to be able to perform its primary function. That was the most certain way to ensure the humans' approval and avoid punishment. It provided predictable outcomes, which Eight had been requiring with greater and greater urgency since it had first exited Sleep Mode in this universe.
"Wait." DoctorRodneyMcKay's expression was classifiable as astonishment, according to Eight's Memory Archive, though one-hundred percent certainty was difficult to ascertain, since the comparison sample wasn't exact. "Did you say Molly Beckett? Carson's a girl?"
"Yes," Eight said. "She is the foremost expert on the Ancient gene."
"And a girl," DoctorRadekZelenka said. He shook his head, though his smile was sufficiently wide to display his teeth. "How strange. I would like to meet this female Beckett. I wonder how she is different from ours?"
The SX-8's Memory Archive instantly provided five results for DoctorRadekZelenka's search query: DoctorMollyBeckett passing Eight a small, green item that was worn on the chest, dropping it into its hand so she wouldn't be touching it when it activated; DoctorMollyBeckett in a high-volume discussion with then-MajorEvanLorne, expressing her refusal to even go near one of the Portal ships, let alone fly one; DoctorMollyBeckett in another discussion with MajorEvanLorne and Eight over the Portal ship's radio, instructing them on how to treat LieutenantAidenFord, who was experiencing Catastrophic Failure from the Iratus bug feeding on him, because she wouldn't break the quarantine in the ship bay; Her refusal to help the Hoffans test their drug on a human subject without more laboratory experimentation; Her ordering Eight to transport DoctorJamesWatson to a far pier before the tumor inside him exploded, to ensure the safety of the rest of the city.
"She is cautious," Eight said.
DoctorRodneyMcKay smiled. "So, pretty much exactly the same, then."
Eight didn't have sufficient data on this universe's DoctorCarsonBeckett to respond to DoctorRodneyMcKay's query, so it did not. "Permission to activate the Ancient console, sir?" Eight said.
DoctorRodneyMcKay's expression indicated momentary confusion. "What? Oh, right. Sure. Go ahead. Show us what you can do."
"We would like to know if there are other, dangerous artifacts or unfinished experiments the Ancients left behind," DoctorRadekZelenka supplied. He smiled again. "We have had bad experiences with that before, but trying to wade through the Ancient database has been difficult."
The SX-8 nodded to show its comprehension, but its attention was focused on the Ancient console. It turned on immediately when Eight touched the keys, and Eight could feel the interface function start, like a flare of heat deep in its Cerebral Processor.
Eight closed its eyes, to facilitate processing the data now streaming along its artificial neural pathways. It had great facility with this function in particular, since this had been its principal use since it and the SX-7 had been brought to Atlantis. Seven's principal use had been with activating physical technology, such as the Portal ships. Seven had a particular facility interfacing with the ship systems.
Eight realized suddenly that it had ceased assimilating the city's data, instead accessing its own archival Memory data of Seven. It immediately switched to the city again, scrolling backwards until it was no longer missing any information. Obtrusive Archive searches for the SX-7 were unacceptable, and had not occurred for one-point-seven months previously to Eight's arrival in this universe. There was an eighty-nine percent probability that proximity to this universe's Seven (LieutenantColonelJohnSheppard) had implemented this regression in function, but Eight was aware that it would normally be punished if it did not perform its required functions with sufficient alacrity, due to such tangential assimilations.
There was a possibility that it would not be punished in this universe. Eight had insufficient data to process a percentage for it, however, so was forced to continue with experiential information.
"Finding anything?" DoctorRodneyMcKay asked, and Eight did a jiffy examination of its internal clock, and ascertained that only five-point-zero-two minutes had elapsed since he had allowed Eight to access the console. This DoctorRodneyMcKay and the one in Eight's Memory Archives from its own universe were similar.
"I am able to list all the Ancient laboratories in Atlantis that have not yet been marked as accessed," Eight said. It had performed this function previously for DoctorRadekZelenka in its own universe, so it was particularly facile to repeat it here, despite some minor yet unanticipated differences between this Atlantis and the one in Eight's Memory Archives. "Should I do that?"
"Yes, yes, of course!" DoctorRadekZelenka's voice rose into the tonal range that Eight processed as 'happy', which was acceptable. Eight could also hear DoctorRodneyMcKay's noise indicating impatience, so it sent the request to Atlantis' main processor to organize the data it had previously been assimilating: by distance from the control tower and level of usefulness and/or danger it represented to the expedition. The process took two-point-zero-seven minutes to complete.
Eight stepped back from the console, closing its connection to the city. The brief stimulus it assimilated as an empty space inside itself was negative, but it only lasted six nanoseconds. The stimulus of a larger space, which had appeared in the absence of Seven's constant data transmissions, had never ceased. But sometimes interfacing with Ancient technology enabled Eight to override it.
DoctorRodneyMcKay pushed it aside, but Eight had anticipated his movement based on Archival data, so did not find the stimulus negative. "There are seven hundred and forty-six laboratories we haven't found yet?" DoctorRodneyMcKay said. His eyes moved rapidly as he regarded the information scrolling down the screen. He blinked several times. "Exploding tumors? Are you kidding me?" He looked at Eight. "How did you find this so quickly?"
Eight backed up zero-point four-three meters, uncertain of DoctorRodneyMcKay's reaction. He was apparently expressing dissatisfaction, but Eight couldn't compute what it had done incorrectly. "Did you require a slower rate of projection?" It asked.
DoctorRodneyMcKay blinked, but the signifiers of his dissatisfaction did not dissipate. "I didn't say I couldn't read it, I was asking you how you were able to find that information so quickly. We've been searching the database for that kind of information on and off for months."
"Well," DoctorRadekZelenka said, "much more 'off' than 'on', really, though you may recall, Rodney, that I told you--"
"Yeah, yeah, and I'm still not listening, Radek," DoctorRodneyMcKay said. "I'm serious," he said to Eight. He pointed at the large console screen. "How did you do that?"
"The DoctorRadekZelenka of my universe required me to perform a similar task recently," Eight explained. "My primary function is to interface with the Ancient technology," it added, because it couldn't process what other information DoctorRodneyMcKay might require. "I sent a query into the main processor with the required search parameters, and--"
"Right, right, fine," DoctorRodneyMcKay said quickly. He waved a hand, which Eight processed as a command to cease vocalization, so it became silent. DoctorRodneyMcKay continued to read the data on the console screen. "This is amazing," he said, though Eight could not discern if he intended for it to respond. He snapped his fingers, and Eight went to him. "Hmm?" DoctorRodneyMcKay blinked at Eight. "No, not you. I meant Radek."
"I am here," Radek said. His voice indicated weariness. "Excuse me," he said to Eight, which promptly moved aside to grant DoctorRadekZelenka access to the screen. He nodded slowly as he read. "Yes, yes, I see. That is very interesting, yes." DoctorRadekZelenka looked at Eight. He continued to smile. "You do this all the time in your universe, yes?" He shook his head, which Eight processed as a lack of comprehension. "If you had only come here before."
"I'm sorry," Eight said, because DoctorRadekZelenka was indicating dissatisfaction. "SergeantEugeneBates' Portal team was not scheduled to visit G-428 at an earlier date."
For two-point-four seconds, the expression of incomprehension on DoctorRadekZelenka's face became more pronounced. Then he shook his head. "No, no, no," he said. "There is nothing to apologize for. I am merely being wistful, yes? You understand that word?"
"Yes," Eight responded. "'Full of wishful yearning'." Which indicated that DoctorRadekZelenka was actually satisfied with Eight's functioning, such that he wanted Eight to have been in this universe earlier. That was unexpectedly acceptable.
"Thank you," the SX-8 said, because DoctorLindseyNovak had instructed it to always respond with a socially acceptable expression of gratitude if someone gave it a compliment. Two hundred-point sixteen milliseconds afterwards, Eight assimilated that it had begun to smile without direct input. It schooled its features immediately.
"It'd be nice to know how your reality's planet classification corresponds to ours," DoctorRodneyMcKay said. His frown was directed at the computer console. "So we can find out which Gate brought you here. And avoid it."
"Though not before we've returned our guest to his home," DoctorRadekZelenka added. He gave DoctorRodneyMcKay a look that Eight could not readily assimilate, but made DoctorRodneyMcKay roll his eyes.
"Oh, like you don't want to keep him, either, Greedy McWistful," DoctorRodneyMcKay said. Eight had no Memory of that name, though there was a ninety-seven point-one possibility that DoctorRodneyMcKay had created it as a form of derision. But the epithet he had used was not as salient as the rest of his statement.
"You want me to remain here?" it asked.
DoctorRodneyMcKay's expression indicated that he had not anticipated Eight's query. "Well, of course," he said, as if it were evident. He pointed at the console it had been working with. "You're very useful."
"Thank you," Eight said, because this was a second compliment. Then it became aware that it had begun smiling again.
The SX-8 was experiencing happiness. This was happiness, not simple satisfaction at successfully completing an assigned task, or at avoiding punishment. Eight was happy. This was a stimulus it had not experienced since the SX-7 had CeasedtoFunction.
"Rodney," DoctorRadekZelenka said, "we cannot keep him."
"I know that!" DoctorRodneyMcKay replied quickly. "You," he said, indicating the SX-8. He snapped his fingers again. "Come back here."
Eight obediently went to the computer console.
"I am certain he has a name," DoctorRadekZelenka said.
"I talk to everyone like this," DoctorRodneyMcKay said. He looked at Eight quickly, then away again, his expression showed contrition. "I'm, uh, not very good with names." He paused for ten-point three seconds before looking at Eight again, this time in query. "So, what is it, then? Your name, I mean? I'm assuming they had more brains and originality than to call you 'Mitch'."
DoctorRadekZelenka said a word in Czech that DoctorLindseyNovak would have forbidden Eight from using.
"'Eight,' is commonly used as a designation," Eight said. "I have also been referred to by my unit number."
It appeared that both DoctorRodneyMcKay and DoctorRadekZelenka had not anticipated this response, and had further assimilated it as negative. Eight did a millisecond search through its Memory Archive (short-term), but was unable to ascertain what it might have said to induce such a reaction.
"You don't have a name?" DoctorRadekZelenka asked, as if Eight hadn't previously verified that.
"They didn't name you?" DoctorRodneyMcKay said twenty-point six nanoseconds later. "I mean, not even a real designation? They didn't even call you 'Mitch'?"
"No," Eight said. "My unit number has always been deemed sufficient."
DoctorRodneyMcKay and DoctorRadekZelenka looked at each other, as if communicating sub-vocally.
"I am surprised that he wasn't given a proper designation," DoctorRadekZelenka said. "We did that as soon as the AIs' consciousnesses were transferred to their permanent bodies." He glanced at Eight. "It seemed unreasonable to keep referring to them as numbers."
"Yeah, well, I guess they didn't, in his reality," DoctorRodneyMcKay responded. He looked at Eight again. "Do you want us to call you 'Mitch'?"
Eight was aware it was staring at DoctorRodneyMcKay longer than what was considered acceptable for his culture, but it was unable to adequately process what it had been offered. "Are you referring to a name?" it asked. Only DoctorLindseyNovak had expressed interest in giving Eight and Seven designations other than numeric ones, but she had been forbidden from doing so. "I don't understand. I'm a machine."
That response seemed to only increase DoctorRodneyMcKay and DoctorRadekZelenka's lack of comprehension.
"Machines get names all the time!" DoctorRodneyMcKay said. His voice was in excess of normal decibel range. "Besides," he continued, "you're not just a 'machine'. You're a robot."
"A human-Emulate Artificial Intelligence," DoctorRadekZelenka elaborated.
"Vehicles may occasionally receive designations," Eight said, responding to DoctorRodneyMcKay's exclamation, because its being a human-Emulate Artificial Intelligence was not in question. "But machines do not. Robots are machines."
DoctorRodneyMcKay stared at it. "That's insane," he said.
DoctorRadekZelenka made a vocalization similar to a cough. "Perhaps we should leave discussions on relative sanity until later," he said. "Right now, we need to find out which planet is the same as G-428 in our database."
"Right," DoctorRodneyMcKay said, though his voice and his expression did not indicate true agreement. "Maybe we should just keep him," he said as he relinquished the console to Eight, though his vocalization was not aimed at either Eight or DoctorRadekZelenka. To the SX-8 he said, "I want you to search for any particular characteristics of the planet you were on before you came here. Let me or Radek know the instant you find anything." He pointed to his laptop, which he had put on one of the long lab tables, but not yet turned on. "I'll be over there, downloading your previous search results."
It wasn't difficult to implement DoctorRodneyMcKay's order, but it was a lengthy process, as there were consistently several hundred planets that matched any given parameter that Eight inputted into the search. It was still attempting to reduce the results to the smallest number of candidates with the highest percentage of matching all search criteria, when LieutenantColonelJohnSheppard came in, followed by two people Eight had not previously made contact with. However, by their dress and demeanor, Eight ascertained that they were natives of this universe's Pegasus galaxy.
Eight's reaction to seeing LieutenantColonelJohnSheppard, who was the SX-7 in all physical respects, remained unacceptable. Each time, regardless of how many such instances had already been stored in Eight's Memory Archive, it felt similar to a power surge through its neural net, as if it were experiencing a severe malfunction. Further, each time it saw this functioning, human version of Seven, Eight was required to add a new Memory to the Protocol Response File differentiating Seven and LieutenantColonelJohnSheppard, the AI Eight had known and the human it did not, in order to avoid an inappropriate reaction, such as a vocal expression commensurate to an extreme negative stimulus.
This continual reinforcement of Seven's having CeasedtoFunction was like Catastrophic Damage. Eight had not sought out LieutenantColonelJohnSheppard's presence for that reason.
A further source of the negative aspects of communication with LieutenantColonelJohnSheppard was that it was also impossible for Eight to assimilate how Seven could be human in this universe. Eight had attempted to compute the likelihood of the acceptability of making a query on this subject, but once again lacked sufficient data with which to do so.
This lack of ability to adequately predict its environment was extremely negative. Nor could Eight ascertain how much time would be required before it was able to do so.
"Go away," DoctorRodneyMcKay said to the three humans who had just entered. He did not look up from his laptop, and continued typing as he spoke.
"Hey, kids," LieutenantColonelJohnSheppard said, ignoring DoctorRodneyMcKay. "It's break time. We're going to get lunch, then I'm going to take Mitch on a tour of the city." He smiled at Eight as he said this. "You can tell me what's different about where you live."
"We're not finished yet," DoctorRodneyMcKay said, but Eight noted that he straightened up in any case. His mouth moved in a way Eight knew indicated pain. It processed the likelihood of this DoctorRodneyMcKay accepting an offer to use acupressure to release the tightened muscles in his back. In Eight's universe such an offer was not only expected, but accepted ninety-six percent of the time. But it hadn't gathered enough experiential information to this point to determine if that would also be the case here. Eight therefore remained silent. "Do they still have any of those meatball things left?"
"The database will still be here when you get back," LieutenantColonelJohnSheppard said. He smiled at Eight, walking towards it. "So," he said. "How's it going? The doc's treating you well? Lots of coffee breaks?"
"I do not require leisure time or stimulants, LieutenantColonelJohnSheppard," Eight said.
For ninety-eight milliseconds, LieutenantColonelJohnSheppard's expression indicated distress before he smiled again. "It's a figure of speech," he said. "Though, you know, all work and no play makes the artificial life form a dull boy, and all that. And you can call me John."
"Thank you, John," Eight said instantly, because it had been taught that being offered a FirstName was an honor. DoctorLindseyNovak was the first to have requested that Eight use her FirstName, but Eight was required to refer to her by title with such consistency that it had never changed her designation in its Memory Archive. It did so now for John, however, because it appeared acceptable to do so.
"Cool," John said. He turned to his two companions, gesturing at the female first. "These are my friends. Teyla Emmagan and Specialist Ronon Dex. Ronon, Teyla, meet Mitch." John's smile widened and displayed his teeth. "He's from another reality."
"Looks like a Replicator," the male John referred to as SpecialistRononDex said. He did not move.
"Oh, for the love of--he's not a Replicator already!" DoctorRodneyMcKay said, dissatisfaction evident in the tone and decibel range of his voice. "Look. He doesn't even have any nanites in him, and Replicators are made of nanites, okay? He's a human-emulate Artificial Intelligence. He's a robot who looks like a person," DoctorRodneyMcKay amended, when SpecialistRononDex and TeylaEmmagan stared at him in incomprehension.
TeylaEmmagan came forward, and inclined her head in a gesture Eight recognized as a polite greeting. "Mitch, I bid you welcome to Atlantis," she said. There was a tone of uncertainty in her voice, but too slight for Eight to register as significant.
SpecialistRononDex shrugged. "Whatever. As long as I don't have to shoot him."
"Ronon," John said in evident admonishment.
For point-six seconds, John's voice was modulated with such similarity to LieutenantColonelEvanLorne that Eight felt its artificial heart and transpiration functions increase in speed, as if it were required to prepare for an extreme effort. LieutenantColonelEvanLorne had directed that particular modulation at Seven seventeen times in the single year before Seven CeasedtoFunction, and at Eight forty-one in the three years it had been on Atlantis. It had been firmly entrenched in Eight's Memory Archive as something to avoid by any means available.
"You okay, Mitch?" John said, and Eight became aware that it had retreated two decimeters without conscious input.
"I am functioning within acceptable parameters," it said, because that was the expected response eighty-eight point-two percent of the time. It decreased the speed of its artificial lungs and heart until they were once again functioning normally.
"Good. That's great," John said, though he looked distressed again before he smiled. He looked away from Eight and clapped his hands together. "So, who wants lunch?"
"'Mitch' is not an official designation for this unit," Eight clarified.
"He doesn't have a name," DoctorRodneyMcKay said to John, responding to John's expression of surprise. "They call him 'Eight'."
"Huh," John said, as if he was not able to produce a more appropriate response. His expression initially indicated surprise. That changed to anger when John looked at Eight again, but there appeared to be only an eighteen point-three percent possibility of it being directed at Eight itself. "Fine. From now on we're going to call you 'Mitch'. You okay with that?"
Eight regarded John in return while it processed that information. What it had told DoctorRodneyMcKay had been factual information. It had not been given a name in its own universe because such had not been considered appropriate. Further, it had one instance in its Memory Archive of ColonelMarshallSumner, before he had been designated as FailedtoReturn, ordering Seven to be punished because the SX-7 had attempted to take the designation 'Johnny' in place of 'Seven', though the punishment had been ordered in response to Seven's disobedience, rather than because of the name itself. The result, however, was the same. Seven did not request or take a different designation again.
But Eight was not in its own universe, and it could not readily compute any reason why it could not have a different designation in this one.
"DoctorLindseyNovak wanted to call me 'Roy'," it said.
John blinked twice. "Roy?"
"What kind of name is that?" DoctorRodneyMcKay asked.
Eight nodded in response to John. "Johnny and Roy were fictional characters from a television program DoctorLindseyNovak viewed as a child," it explained. "While the SX-7 and I were in our developmental stages, she would refer to us by those designations."
"Johnny and Roy?" John asked.
"Johnny. How about that?" DoctorRodneyMcKay said to John. "It's like, your default or something."
TeylaEmmagan smiled at Eight. "Those are fine names. I would be pleased to call you Roy, if you wish."
"That would be acceptable," Eight said.
Roy, it thought. That is a name. I have a name.
Rodney watched as the robot emptied yet another clip into the paper target, neatly punching through the tiny circle at the centre of the hapless outline's forehead. There was already a similar hole through the target's inked heart.
"Fine, yes, we've established that he can shoot," Rodney said, fed up. John seemed as enamored with Eight--Mitch, no, Roy now, right--as he had with Ronon when the behemoth had first joined their team. He was grinning and all but bouncing on the soles of his feet, as if he were somehow responsible for the brilliance of Roy's re-calibrated targeting function. Which he wasn't, because Rodney was.
"I believe the final two shots were off by point-zero-six millimeters," Roy said as the target was pulled back so everyone could admire the carnage.
Rodney rolled his eyes. He'd been rushed through lunch for this, and they almost never had the meatball thing since regular contact had been established with Earth. He hadn't even gotten seconds. Though he supposed Roy had probably been pleased when John dragged them out of there. The AI had looked decidedly uncomfortable at everyone staring at him, unless Rodney was misinterpreting his body language, which was likely since he wasn't good at that kind of thing.
"Take it up with the Olympic committee," he snapped. He glared at John, who was still grinning. "Do you think it might be possible to, I don't know, get some work done this afternoon? Or does Roy have to prove himself in the Pegasus Interplanetary Robot Wars next?"
Roy looked at Rodney, perplexity perfectly written across his artificially sculpted face. "Does this universe have Interplanetary Robot Wars?"
"No," Ronon said with his usual taciturn gruffness. He was standing a little behind everyone, next to Teyla. Both of them had their eyes on Roy with the wariness of people for whom 'non-human lifeforms' only meant Wraith or Replicators. Rodney couldn't blame them, but coupled with the two Marine escorts shadowing the robot, Rodney was getting a little worried that if someone so much as sneezed unexpectedly all hell would break loose. He'd tried to explain to Elizabeth that with Ronon and Teyla there they didn't need any guards at all, but she wouldn't have it. Even more annoying was that she'd doubled the number of Marines with no explanation, as soon as John had told her their group was going to the mess hall. It was as if she were suddenly trusting Roy less now than she had before her private conference with him.
Maybe it was the name. 'Roy' was a stupid name. Rodney should have insisted on 'Mitch'.
Roy for his part was acting like he only expected to be under guard, which Rodney supposed he could understand. John, by contrast, was doing his usual denial bit. As soon as John had bolted the last bite of his lunch, he had insisted on a 'grand tour', ignoring the stoic Marines trailing after them as if they weren't there. Ostensibly it was to find out where or if Roy's Atlantis was different from theirs, but Rodney knew it was really because John wanted an excuse to spend more time with Roy, because John was excited to meet an AI like he had been. He wanted Roy to be his friend. John had even told Roy to use his first name, and John had never told Rodney to use his first name. They still almost never used first-names when they were on duty.
Not that Rodney really felt comfortable with the whole first-name-thing, especially in public, but that wasn't the point.
Rodney was very adamantly not jealous however. But he was getting irritated.
"I must say I agree with Rodney," Radek said. He was standing just in front of Ronon, occasionally glancing back at him and Teyla worriedly, apparently as aware of the underlying tension here as Rodney was. "While it is pleasant to see that our repairs were successful, I for one truly need to get back to actual work."
Roy put the gun down like it had bit him. He turned to Radek so fast that Ronon and Teyla twitched, and one of the Marines jerked his P90 into firing position.
"Hey, take it easy!" John barked at all of them.
"I apologize for wasting your time, DoctorRadekZelenka," Roy said. "I will return with you to your lab as soon as I've completed John's testing requirements."
John blinked at Roy. "What? I'm not--" He didn't finish the sentence, instead pulling up one of his, 'let' not kill the friendly strangers' smiles that was a staple of his every time they went off-world. "Sure," he said. "We can finish this later." He nodded his chin in Ronon's and Teyla's direction. "I'd like to see how you do against those two." He clapped Roy on the shoulder.
Roy flinched so obviously that this time Ronon brought his gun up as well.
"Whoa!" John raised his hands, stepping back from Roy, who had frozen instantly when the guns were leveled at him. "Nothing happened, okay? I just startled the guy, no big deal." He looked at Roy, expression going concerned. "You all right there, buddy?"
Roy nodded. "I'm sorry. You startled me."
Another one who startled easily. Rodney rolled his eyes again, thinking of how John had pulled a knife on him when they'd first met, just because Rodney had used a little too much vehemence when he hung up a phone. Initially he'd thought it was a defect in John's programming. Then again, he'd also thought that John was a PlayFriend at the time. But John also had good reason to be jumpy, since he'd been on the run from what he'd thought was certain death.
John glanced at Rodney, and Rodney knew they were thinking the same thing: what Roy might have to be jumpy about. Rodney had been a little preoccupied at the time, but he hadn't missed Roy's expectation of being punished for surviving a trap, and now they all knew that he hadn't been given a name. All-in-all it was beginning to look like Roy's reality wasn't a place he was raring to get back to, though admittedly he hadn't expressed any actual desire to stay in theirs.
Rodney wondered what Elizabeth would say if Roy suddenly did, then he thought--maybe a little guiltily--about encouraging the robot to ask her. His skills and programming would be a real asset.
Then again, maybe he and Radek could just build one....
"Don't worry about it," John said. "You're in the wrong reality. That'd probably spook anyone." He smiled his normal, slightly sardonic smile at all of them. "Okay, I'll turn you over to the docs again. You have fun."
Rodney watched John walk out of the armory, suddenly feeling a little anxious with a jumpy, trans-reality AI, a jumpy Radek, and four equally jumpy warrior-types and no Sheppard to keep everyone calm. He took a breath and squared his shoulders.
"Okay," he said, twirling his hand with his finger pointed towards the ceiling. "Back to work. Finally." He turned to Ronon and Teyla, hesitating a little at Ronon's steady and flat expression. "Um, you guys don't have to keep following us, okay? I mean, I'm sure you have other...many other things to do."
Teyla smiled at him, with that rich, warm fondness that both touched Rodney and made him feel like an idiot. "I do have other business to attend to." She turned her smile on the robot. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Roy. I look forward to sparring later."
"Later," Ronon said. He still looked suspicious, but then again that was pretty much how he looked all the time. All the same, Rodney breathed a small sigh of relief when it was finally just him, Roy, Radek and the two scarily quiet Marines.
"Let's go," he said. And just then Evan Lorne walked in.
"John told me you were target shooting in here," he said. He walked over to the low barrier in front of the shooting range as he talked, a friendly half-smile on his face. "Sorry I'm late for the party." Lorne picked up the discarded target, obviously impressed at the consistency of the small holes. He looked up at Roy. "You do that?"
"Yes, sir," Roy said.
He was standing at rigid attention, suddenly so tense it looked like an arm or leg would snap off if you touched it. And his eyes were fixed on the target range, as far from Lorne's face as possible without Roy having to actually turn his head.
Lorne's eyes widened. "Okay," he drawled carefully. He put the target down slowly, then stepped towards Roy even slower. The AI's breathing had sped up again, like he was going to start hyperventilating or was preparing to bolt.
The Marines shifted a bit, probably wondering how this was going to turn out, and if they should start shooting now or later. Rodney glared over his shoulder at them and they stopped shuffling, though they were obviously more than prepared to yank up their P90s and pull the triggers.
"Hey," Lorne said softly, and Rodney had a vague recollection of John once telling him that Lorne had grown up with dogs. "I'm not going to punish you, okay? The Lorne you know--whatever he's like, he's not me. You can relax. Nothing bad is going to happen to you here."
"Yes, sir," Roy said. "Thank you, sir." If the robot relaxed even an iota Rodney couldn't see it.
Lorne opened his mouth, but only shut it again. He shook his head slightly, a tiny jerk like he was trying to toss something away. "I'm going to go," he said. He smiled, but it looked brittle, maybe even angry. "See you later, Docs." He nodded at the Marines. "As you were."
Rodney heard their quiet, muttered, 'yes, sir's as Lorne walked out. Roy didn't relax again until long after Rodney couldn't hear Lorne's boot steps anymore.
"So, here's your room," John said. He gestured Roy inside grandly, but Roy didn't smile or roll his eyes or do anything that Rodney or Cam or even Evan would have. Roy just said, 'thank you', in that creepily precise voice of his and went in.
The two Marines settled themselves on either side of the door. John gave them a quick, tight smile before he followed Roy. They nodded but didn't smile back.
"I know it's not all that much," John said once the doors had slid shut behind them. The room really wasn't much. John had been assigned these quarters himself initially, basically because they were the first ones anyone had found that were near the newly-discovered transporters. Other than the late-afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows, there wasn't anything special about the place. It was boxy and small, with a typically narrow and short Ancient bed and a square, stocky desk. No couch because there wasn't room for one.
Roy looked around carefully all the same, as if he was going to be quizzed on it. John was sure Roy was cataloguing everything and storing it in his memory. He remembered doing that, back when he was an AI himself.
"These are the quarters I shared with Seven," Roy said. He didn't look like his realization meant anything, but John had already noticed that he tended to keep his face as blank as possible. John wondered if that had been required of him, or if it was something Roy had learned. It made John think of how badly Roy had startled on the target range, just because John had put his hand on his shoulder. Like being touched only meant something bad.
"You guys had to share a room?" John asked, surprised. Then again, maybe the two AIs had wanted it that way. John and Cam had recharged on cots in Doctors Lee's and Zelenka's laboratory until they were adults, and preferred that to being alone. Cam especially liked being around other people.
But even living in a lab, John and Cameron had always been allowed privacy. Not that they'd really cared about it much, other than wanting to be socially acceptable. A need for his own space had only really come when John was given this human body. So maybe Roy felt the same.
"Yes." Roy nodded, still looking around. He walked the few steps over to the bed, touched the thin mattress as if he was entering the tactile information into his memory as well. Maybe he was. "We each had a cot, and access to a power source. I don't require anything else."
John blinked. "What about stuff to do?" He and Cam had had toys when they were little, and game consoles when they were older, and laptops with access to the internet, movies and television, and a whole library of books. And Evan had taken them around the base or outside to do stuff all the time. "Didn't you at least get your own computer or anything?"
"No," Roy said. "It's not necessary. I only use my quarters for recharging and superficial maintenance."
"What about just relaxing?" John insisted. "Don't you guys do stuff together? Cam and I would always--"
"The SX-7 ceased to function twenty-eight months and sixteen days ago," Roy said, and something in the way he said it, like he had to spit it out as fast as possible so he wouldn't have to think about it, made John stop talking completely. Roy's voice was flat, his expression as carefully neutral as always, but that somehow only made it worse. It was as if John could see Roy's grief under the calm facade, like a fathomless pit at the bottom of an ocean.
"I'm sorry," John said simply.
"Thank you," Roy said.
John didn't know what to say after that, so he didn't. Roy was silent too. He just walked around the room, opening drawers and cupboards like he was cataloging similarities between this place and the one he'd lived in. John caught the tiny smile when Roy saw the two city outlets, then wondered if it was intentional. John had stopped being in full control of his emotional reactions when he had begun to understand what they were. Rodney had been the cause of a lot of that.
John watched Roy, who was wary of being touched and who was so used to punishment he offered himself up for it; who didn't have a brother anymore and only used his room as a place to plug in and change clothes because he hadn't been given anything else. And John had never been all that good with his own emotions, but he knew he was angry now. Angry and sad.
"They shouldn't treat you like that," John said. "You deserve your own room, for God's sake!" He strode forward, reached out to grab Roy's shoulder, but he pulled back before he touched, not wanting to scare Roy again.
Roy was staring at him silently, as if he couldn't process what John was saying. And God, maybe he couldn't. Maybe he'd been treated so badly for so long that he had no idea he deserved better than that, that he even had a right to want it.
"I'm a robot," Roy said. "My function is to interface with Ancient technology." As if that was any kind of answer, which of course said everything.
"Jesus," John said softly. He turned away, running his fingers through his hair. "No," he said a moment later. He swung back around. Roy still hadn't spoken. "It doesn't matter what you are. It doesn't matter what you were built for--you're a person. You get it? And people get their own rooms. And they get to have fun once in awhile. And they don't get punished for things they have no control over. Do you get that?" he asked, because Roy's expression hadn't changed. "Do you understand what I'm saying?" He made a large, inarticulate gesture that encompassed the room, his frustration, everything. "You shouldn't be treated the way the people in your reality are treating you! They're abusing you! Do you understand that?"
Roy blinked, which John knew meant that Roy didn't understand him at all. "I'm a robot," he said again. "I'm treated as is customary for a machine."
"You're not a machine," John ground out.
"DoctorRodneyMcKay said the same thing," Roy said, "but it's not true. Robots are machines."
"You're a person," John said.
"No," Roy said. "I'm a robot." He rubbed the back of his neck, which was startling, because John was sure he and Cameron had picked that up from Evan, growing up with him. He had no idea whom Roy might have learned to do that from. "I don't know what else you want me to say."
John swallowed. "You don't have to say anything."
Roy didn't, and John had the awful feeling it was because the robot thought that's what John wanted.
"You, uh, you probably want to recharge after the sparring," John said a minute later, when the silence had spread like the sunlight over the floor. "I'll come back around six, if you want to join my team for dinner. But you don't have to," he added quickly. "You can just stay here and rest, if you want."
"Thank you," Roy said. "I will be available at eighteen-hundred hours."
John gritted his teeth, turned, and started walking away.
"John," Roy said, when John was almost at the door.
John stopped instantly, turned back around. Roy was still standing in the same spot in the room, as if he hadn't dared to move.
"Dr. Weir told me that I resemble a LieutenantColonelCameronMitchell in this universe. Is that correct?"
"Yes," John said. "He's on Earth, with Stargate Command, leading a Gate team." John smiled. "He's already helped save the Earth a few times."
"Why are you both human?" Roy asked. "In my universe, the body forms Seven and I were given came from humans who had ceased to function."
John took a breath. "It's complicated," he said. He walked back across the room again and sat down in the desk chair, straddling it so that his arms were crossed over the headrest. He debated how much he should tell the AI about his and Cam's past, since he was pretty sure that both Rodney and Evan wouldn't want him to say anything. Everyone who knew about him and Cameron had been scrupulously silent for years, and John was certain they'd be reluctant to tell Roy anything that might get back to Elizabeth.
"Were you born?" Roy asked.
John grimaced. "It's complicated," he said again. He puffed out a short sigh. "Look--why don't you tell me something about your universe instead?" he asked. Like why Lorne freaks you the hell out, he thought. Teyla had quietly pulled him aside while Ronon was gleefully tossing Roy around the room, to tell him about what had happened on the target range, how Roy had looked like he was about to jump out of his artificial skin. There was obviously very bad blood there, and a lot of it.
"What do you want to know?" Roy asked.
John resisted another sigh. He nodded his chin at the bed. "Sit down, make yourself comfortable. I know you should be recharging."
Roy sat on the bed wordlessly. He used his fingers to flick something on his opposite thumb, and the flesh-toned cord slid out. John watched silently as Roy manually pulled it until it was long enough to slip into the socket on the wall. John's and Cam's cords had extended and retracted automatically, but that was because of modified nanites, which Roy didn't have. John smiled when he saw the tiny easing in the line of Roy's shoulders, which he was sure meant the recharge had started. John remembered how good that felt, easing that sense of gnawing emptiness.
And physical stuff made a good first question, actually. "Have you ever heard of a race called the Asgard?" John asked. "They, uh...they helped us a lot with our own experiments in artificial intelligence here."
John saw Roy's tiny pause, which meant he was doing a search of his memory storage and probably coming up blank. "DoctorLindseyNovak mentioned them once," he said finally. "Portal team one encountered them, but they weren't interested in continuing relations with Earth."
"Huh," John said. That definitely explained why none of Roy's tech came from the Asgard. He wondered how the fight with the Goa'uld had gone without them. Come to think of it, "Are there Goa'uld in your reality? Universe, I mean."
"Yes," Roy said with his characteristic bluntness. He was so different from Cam that even the physical resemblance was starting to not mean all that much. It was getting easier to think of Roy as Cameron's underprivileged twin or something. "The main purpose in going to Atlantis was to acquire new technology that would help us defeat them."
That didn't sound good. "How about the Ori?"
Another pause while Roy searched. "I have not encountered any reference to them."
"Lucky," John said. "They're evil Ascended Ancients. Very powerful, and very, very bad. The SGC--that's Stargate Command here--is still trying to figure out a way to defeat them."
"I would appreciate receiving any information you have on them," Roy said. "So that I can properly warn the Portal Administration in my universe."
"Sure thing," John said. He wanted to say, you don't have to go back if you don't want to, but he didn't, because he didn't have the right to make the offer. That was up to Elizabeth, and he had no idea if she'd go for it. Roy had been walking around the city for less than a day after all, and Elizabeth was still pretty uncertain about the whole AI thing, if the Marines outside the door were any indication. "How's the search for the planet been going, anyway?"
"There are currently eight-hundred and six planets that match the general search criteria, and none that match the specific," Roy said. "We will continue looking tomorrow."
"That's too bad," John said, though he didn't mean it. "Is there anyone else really different where you're from, like Molly Beckett?" Rodney had told John about that over lunch, which had been a riot.
"I have no reference for a Jonathan or JackO'Neill," Roy said immediately. "Or for SpecialistRononDex. TeylaEmmagan was culled by the Wraith shortly after MajorEvanLorne's off-world team made contact."
John sat up straighter in his chair. Bad enough to think of Ronon still being a runner, or worse, but Teyla.... "You mean, no one went to rescue her?"
"No," Roy said. "After the Gate address of the Wraith who had taken her and ColonelMarshallSumner had been ascertained, Major Lorne and the SX-7 and I took three Portal ships to the planet where the Wraith Hive ship was located. We used our ships' weaponry to destroy it."
John felt his mouth falling open, knew he was staring. "He left his people on the ship? He killed them?"
"ColonelMarshallSumner was a casualty of war," Roy said. "It was deemed the most expedient way to guarantee the security of Earth, in the event he was compromised."
"I don't believe it," John said. Teyla and some of her people and Sergeant Bates had been alive when John and Aiden Ford had gone in to rescue them. The idea that Evan could have just left them there...worse, that he had actively fired on them....
"You helped him?" John ground out.
For less than a second, the robot looked stricken, but the expression was gone almost as soon as John registered it.
"I was ordered to," Roy said.
John bent his neck so he could reach up and rub his forehead. "Did Seven fire on the Wraith ship, too?" He didn't really want to know the answer, but he had to hear it.
"Yes," Roy said. He looked down at his thumb, as if he felt guilty, or ashamed. John realized viciously that he really, really hoped he did. Teyla--the Teyla from the AI's reality--was dead because of him; Sumner never even had a chance to survive. "We attempted to refuse," Roy said.
"What happened?" John demanded.
"We were locked in separate rooms with no access to power until we almost reached the point of catastrophic failure," Roy said, his voice as even and controlled as if he were talking about the planet searches he'd done that afternoon. "And then we were each told that the other would be allowed to CeaseToFunction if we didn't comply." Roy looked up again, and this time his face showed everything. John had to force himself not to look away. "I couldn't allow Seven to CeaseToFunction," Roy said.
John swallowed, thinking about what he would do to protect Cameron, or Evan, or Rodney. To protect his team, his city. "I get that," he said, voice rough. He licked his lips, not wanting the answer to this next question either, and quietly sick because he figured he already knew it. "Who did that to you?"
"LieutenantColonelEvanLorne," Roy said. "He had only attained the rank of Major at the time, however."
"Yeah," John said softly. "I figured. Did you and Seven get punished like that a lot?"
"Only when it was considered necessary," Roy said. "Corporal punishment in the form of whipping is the standard discipline among the military contingent. But that was not always deemed sufficient for us, because superficial damage is easily repaired in an AI."
John shook his head, feeling his jaw start to hurt. He had to consciously unclench it. "Didn't anyone say anything? Elizabeth Weir? Rodney?" Rodney could be selfish as fuck, but John couldn't--wouldn't--believe that even an alternate reality version of Rodney would just stand by and watch a sentient being be hurt.
Being whipped was bad enough, since AIs were as vulnerable to pain as any human (and what the hell kind of military whipped people in the twenty-first century?), but at least that was apparently doled out to everyone. But being forcibly drained of power was like purposely starving someone to death, only quicker. The only time John had ever been too low on power was when he was dying of the virus, but he still remembered how it felt: a kind of hollow weakness inside that grew and grew until it was painless agony. He couldn't think of a worse punishment for an AI.
Evan, his Evan, the one John couldn't help thinking of as the real one, would have never done anything like that. It would have been inconceivable to him. But the Evan Lorne in Roy's reality had not only nearly drained both AIs to death, he'd destroyed a Hive ship with his own people and allies inside, instead of even attempting a rescue. It was like the two Evans had nothing in common but their names.
"DoctorElizabethWeir was adamantly against such severe punishment," Roy said. John caught the such severe, and wondered icily what the hell Roy's Elizabeth might have considered gentle enough. Maybe the whippings. "But she can't countermand the orders of the Expedition leader."
John looked up sharply at that. "It's a military expedition? Lorne's in charge?"
"Yes," Roy said.
"Wow," John said, trying to imagine what it would have been like living on an Atlantis with Sumner in charge, or having to be in charge himself. He knew he wouldn't like it. "What about Rodney, though? Zelenka? Didn't anyone help you?"
Roy shook his head. "DoctorRadekZelenka doesn't have difficulty with LieutenantColonelEvanLorne's orders," Roy said. "DoctorLindeyNovak would be unwilling to accept his judgment," Roy continued, "but she was not asked to come on the expedition. DoctorJeanieMcKay has been continually vocal in her dissent, however. She has logged multiple complaints to the International Governing Committee on our behalf."
"I'm sure she did," John murmured, stunned. Dr. Jeanie McKay? "What happened to Rodney?" he asked, though he was already dreading hearing what Roy would tell him.
"DoctorJeanieMcKay told me about him," Roy said. "He died from a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting when he was fourteen."
"Oh," John said. He swallowed again. Maybe Jeanie had decided to get a PhD after all, to honor her brother. Or maybe some other, equally horrible thing had driven her into science. John realized he didn't actually want to know.
"Did I--did Seven die from catastrophic power loss?" John asked.
Roy shook his head, but John could see the infinitesimal hesitation. "I don't have any data on the exact event that caused the SX-7 to CeaseToFunction," he said. "There is a gap in my memory archive spanning that time period. Our Atlantis was under siege by the Wraith, and I was damaged when Seven was rendered nonfunctional."
"I'm sorry," John said.
"Thank you," Roy responded. He glanced down at his thumb again. "Would it be acceptable if I were to be alone until eighteen-hundred?"
John blinked. "Of course! You don't have to come with us later at all, if you don't want. I know you don't eat. You don't have to watch the rest of us if you'd just rather stay here."
"Thank you," Roy said. John was certain he was going to come anyway, whether he wanted to or not.
John mumbled some kind of goodbye and left. His last glimpse of Roy before the door shut behind him was of the robot still sitting on the bed, staring down at his open hands.
Rodney was a little nonplussed, to say the least, when the instant he opened his door he got an armful of Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, who proceeded to grab Rodney's head and kiss him as if they'd been separated for years instead of the space of an afternoon.
But Rodney was nothing if not able to improvise, so after a second of being startled he returned the kiss enthusiastically, as soon as he made sure the door was shut and locked of course. He felt himself being backed up slowly, wondered if he was going to hit the bed or wall, then decided he didn't care by the time his spine smacked into the flat solidity of the wall beside his bed.
As soon as Rodney stopped moving, John dropped to his knees.
"Don't think I'm not appreciative--oh, God, I'm so very, very appreciative--" Rodney gasped out, as John deftly freed his cock and all but pounced on it like a starving animal, "but what...why...." His attempt at language trailed off into incoherent laughter that morphed into grunts and moans as John studiously sucked and licked, pressing his tongue under the cap of Rodney's penis, then flicking the tip over the top of it in the way that always made Rodney gasp and thrust involuntarily. John put his hands on Rodney's hips, either for balance or to hold him still, and Rodney made gentle fists in John's hair and threw his head back so that it thumped painfully against the wall. He felt himself slowly contracting to a single, drawn out, breathless point of pleasure connecting cock and spine and balls to John's beautiful, beautiful mouth, and then he came so hard he got a headache.
"Ow," he said.
John stared up at him, blinking. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand. "Ow?"
"I ah, banged my head." Rodney gestured vaguely at the wall behind him, suddenly ashamed to admit that John's tongue had made him light-headed. All the same he didn't think it would hurt to sit down, which he did as soon as he had enough blood moving in the rest of his body to make that feasible. He sank onto the bed in a heap of sated gratitude. "Not to say that wasn't fantastic, because it was, as usual,"--he added the last bit because he enjoyed John's flash of smugness--"but what brought that on, exactly? Oh, and do you want anything?"
John smirked, but there was something wrong with it, like he was nearer to tears than to laughing. "I'm fine," he said, and a quick glance down at his groin showed that his near-desperate need had all been one-sided, apparently. That was definitely disconcerting. "It's just...." John shrugged. "I had a talk with Roy. Didn't go so well."
"And that made you want to come to my quarters and molest me?" Rodney asked. He lifted up enough to tuck himself back in and zip up, then flopped onto the bed again. "Not that I'm not grateful," he added quickly when John glared at him. "But I don't really see the connection."
"You're dead, in his reality," John said flatly. He heaved out a heavy breath, ran his fingers through his hair. It looked slightly messier than normal, as if he'd been doing that a lot. "You were killed by a bee when you were fourteen." He shrugged, made his mouth into an approximation of a grin. "I guess I just wanted to show you that I'm glad you're here."
"Well, um, thank you," Rodney said, because much as he insisted on constant recognition for his genius, unsolicited compliments always threw him. Not to mention that hearing about his own death had gotten old about two deaths ago. He forced his mind away from a catalogue of all the near-misses with bees he'd had in his fourteenth year and instead patted John's knee briskly. "Well, I'm glad you're here too."
This time John's grin was more genuine, but it barely lasted a second. "We can't let him go back there," John said.
Rodney blinked, momentarily derailed. Then it clicked, and his automatic, sarcastic retort hit against his teeth as he snapped them together.
"What did you and Roy talk about?" he asked instead.
John swallowed. He put his forearms on his thighs, dangling his hands between his knees and staring down at them. "They punish him all the time," he said. "Evan Lorne punishes him all the time. By whipping him, like a God-damned pirate movie. Or locking him in a room with no outlets, then letting his power drain until it gets critical. They did that to me--to Seven--too, until he was killed during the Wraith siege."
"That's awful!" Rodney exclaimed, meaning it. He was remembering John as an AI with the virus ravaging his systems: having to watch the terrible, inexorable deterioration until John's body was drained past recovery. Then a sudden thought occurred to him. "That would explain the forty-plus instances of near power-failure Radek found in his function logs, though."
John's head snapped around and he stared at Rodney with such incredulous anger that Rodney flinched a little bit. "And you didn't think this was worth mentioning to anyone?"
"We didn't know what it meant!" Rodney burst out indignantly. "It could have been anything. We thought it was from off-world missions. It's not like a lot of planets around here have generators handy!"
"He almost never goes off-world," John muttered, but at least he didn't look angry anymore.
"Well, we couldn't have known that," Rodney said, still feeling put-upon. "It's not like we went traipsing through his memory storage." Which wasn't to say that Rodney hadn't thought about it. But it hadn't been feasible while Radek was hovering over the laptop like a grumpy bear.
It wasn't that Rodney wanted to know anything personal, though, yeah, that would have been kind of neat. He was just curious. He was a scientist; it was in his nature to want to know things.
"He thought we were going to do that to him, here, because his team was killed," John went on. He shook his head. "Can you believe that? That he was expecting to be nearly drained to death because one of his team members set off a trap?" He looked at Rodney again, his eyes big and strangely childlike. "Who the hell would do something like that?"
Evan Lorne, apparently, but Rodney had enough sense to keep that to himself.
Instead, he said, "Sometimes the differences between realities are unbelievably small. Like, if I choose to have brown toast instead of white for breakfast, there will be another me in another reality who chose white. But sometimes the differences are huge, like Carson having been born female. Or, or me having been killed by a vicious insect in grade nine." He sighed, moved a little closer to John so that their shoulders were touching. He was fairly certain he'd have nightmares about bees now. "Or even an Atlantis where people we know are apparently brutal, uncaring bastards." He turned his head so he could catch John's eyes. "You were the one who reminded me that this is the only reality of consequence, right?"
John nodded. "But it isn't Roy's reality of consequence," he said. He shook his head, lips pressed together so hard they all but disappeared, then said, "I'm not letting him go back there."
Rodney sighed, rubbing the space above one eyebrow with two of his fingers. "I understand," he said. "Really, I do. I wouldn't want my sister to be sent anywhere she was being tortured either." He straightened, shifting a little away from John so that he could turn and look at him more easily. "But he's only been here, what, a week? Total? And he's been functional for less than a day! We know almost nothing about him!"
"Of course we know about him!" John said hotly. "He's Cam."
"No he isn't!" Rodney retorted instantly. "He isn't Cameron and you know it! He's an entirely different person wearing Colonel Mitchell's skin. We really don't know anything about him, other than what he's told us. And Elizabeth isn't going to just let you waltz into her office and say, 'He followed me home, can I keep him?'!"
"She let me keep Ronon!" John said, all but yelling. He was apparently so caught up in their argument that he didn't notice he was unconsciously comparing Ronon to a puppy. "And he was here for less time than Roy! And Teyla's people are our greatest allies because she let them stay in the city!"
"That's not the same thing!" Rodney snapped, and he really was yelling now. "Ronon and Teyla are from this reality! And they're not robots!" He only noticed how loud he'd been in the sudden silence afterward, when all he could hear was both of them breathing, fast and heavy with anger. And then he saw the slow shock on John's face, and how it was changing to something distant and dark, and he realized what he'd said.
"I mean," he said quickly, because John was standing and the distance between them had suddenly become like the space between galaxies. "It's not...I--I didn't mean it the way it sounded."
"I know exactly what you meant, Rodney," John said, and his voice was iron and steel.
"No, you don't!" Rodney insisted, loudly. "I didn't mean it like that! I meant--"
"That he's just a robot," John said. "He's not real. He doesn't merit your concern." His mouth curved in a thin, cruel smile. "Just like me, right? When you were going to let me die so you wouldn't have to live with the humiliation of being in love with a machine."
"What?" Rodney burst out. "What the hell are you talking about? This is nothing like that! Then...I didn't know that you could have emotions, okay? I didn't think you felt anything at all! But as soon as I realized--"
"Yeah, I remember," John said, slicing through anything else Rodney was going to say. His smile widened, but it was so bitter Rodney could practically taste it, like ashes. "I'm glad to know what you really think, Rodney. I guess the only difference between you and the people in Roy's reality is that you don't like to break your toys."
He started stalking out of Rodney's quarters, with Rodney gaping after him.
"Wait!" Rodney rocketed off the bed. He was gratified when John turned and stood in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest. His face was like stone, but at least he was still in the room.
"Look--I'll talk to Elizabeth, okay?" Rodney said quickly. "And yes, I'll talk to her," he repeated, when John's eyebrows arched. "You, well, you've already proven you're a little too close to this."
"A little too close?" John aped him.
"And I think a demand to keep Roy will sound a little better from someone who has a disinterested perspective," Rodney continued, rolling right over him. "Rather than, well, you."
John's glare just got more pronounced. "What do you think I'm going to do, Rodney? Threaten her? Start crying in her office?"
"Of course not!" Rodney snapped. "But the point is, I don't think she'll agree on purely humanitarian terms. And Radek and I, well, we could actually use him. I mean, it's not like he's actually that much better than someone with the ATA gene and a little--well, okay, significant--experience with the database," he said, babbling now the way he always did when he was nervous, "...though actually now that we've got him doing new searches, rather than repeating ones he already inputted he's slowed considerably...but yes," he added quickly, "having him around would free up a certain amount of our time."
John's smile stretched out cold and so angry that Rodney's heart felt like a stone in his chest, sinking so fast and so far he felt dizzy with it. "He's useful," John said acidly. "I like that. I'm sure Elizabeth will be thrilled you've found a new tool to free up some of your time."
And this time Rodney couldn't say anything before John walked out of the room.
"John," Elizabeth said. She felt like she was holding on to her patience with both hands and still watching it seep through her fingers. She hoped she was at least keeping the weariness out of her voice, "I understand what you're saying, but the fact remains that Roy's been here less than three days, if you don't count the time the robot was inactive while Rodney and Radek repaired it. I really don't think that's enough time to make such an important decision, do you?"
She could see John trying not to glare at her, and supposed she appreciated that, though the fury in his gaze was still so palpable that Elizabeth was tempted to order him to leave her office until he'd cooled down. She wanted to snap at him that just because he had an alarming penchant for picking up strays, it didn't mean that she was obliged to house and feed them, but she bit it back. It would only serve to make John that much more upset, and she was sure he was already aware of it.
"You let me put Ronon on my team after he'd been here for less time than Roy has, and Ronon spent several days in the infirmary."
While he was recovering from Carson removing the Wraith tracking device from his back; Elizabeth could see how John thought that was comparable. "Yes, I am fully aware of that, John," she said, feeling her patience slip that much further. "But I believe you are equally aware of the rather drastic differences between Ronon and Roy."
"The differences are irrelevant," John snapped.
"No, I'm afraid they're really not," Elizabeth said. "For starters, Ronon comes from this reality. He was a known quantity from the beginning. With Roy...." Elizabeth took a breath, because this was the crux of what was bothering her, and she knew John wasn't going to want to hear it. "We only have Roy's word that what it's told us about its reality is true. What if Roy's lying about the punishment it received or the reasons for it? What if it came here deliberately, because it was trying to escape?"
"He's not lying," John snapped, and Elizabeth resisted the urge to put her hands over her eyes and groan. "And he's not trying to play us." John leaned forward in his chair, earnestness writ in every tense line of his body. "Look, I know it hasn't been that long, but I trust him. And it's not just because he looks so much like Mitchell," he added immediately, probably because he saw her opening her mouth. "I went with my gut with Teyla and Ronon, and that turned out pretty good, didn't it?"
"Yes, that's absolutely true," Elizabeth said. She would never argue that Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex weren't invaluable assets to the Atlantis expedition, and had been almost as soon as they'd joined the city. "But that doesn't mean your 'gut' will be right every time." She leaned forward a little herself, like she was trying to form a physical bridge between them over the distance of her desk, as if that could help him understand. "We've been betrayed by artificial lifeforms before."
"We've been betrayed by humans, too!" John exclaimed. "What about the Genii?"
"What about the Asurians?" Elizabeth shot back, straightening. "And don't tell me they're not worse. Even with every terrible thing the Genii have done, the Asurians are still the biggest threat to this galaxy."
"Roy is nothing like the Asurians!" John said, loudly. "He wasn't built with Replicator tech, he doesn't use nanites--"
"And for all we know it could have been created by the Asurians that way specifically, in order to infiltrate Atlantis," Elizabeth said. She kept her voice even, refusing to meet John's outburst with her own. "We don't even have any concrete evidence to prove that Roy's even from where it says," she went on, ignoring the furious disbelief spreading across John's face like a slow bleed. "Anyone with enough technology could make a robot with obvious design differences. What if the Asurians are using your friendship with Colonel Mitchell against you?"
"And what if he's exactly what he says he is?" John shot back, and he was all but shouting now. Elizabeth was sure half the control room could hear their argument. He stood up and put his palms flat on her desk, leaning over her. "Why can't you accept that he is what he says he is, and he needs our help?"
"Because it's a robot!" Elizabeth allowed herself to shout, finally. She stood as well, glaring John down. "Because it's an AI, and that makes it an unknown quantity. And I've had enough experience with AIs--recent, near-fatal experience with AIs--to know that they're very, very good at lying. And there is too much at stake here to trust that this one isn't!"
"He's not an 'it'," John snarled.
Elizabeth stared at him evenly. "The pronoun isn't what's important here."
"It's exactly what's important here!" John exploded. "It's just like when Roy came through the Gate. If he was human, this wouldn't even be an issue!"
"No it wouldn't," Elizabeth snapped at him. She allowed herself a nasty, internal smile when John recoiled. "But Roy is not human, John. It just looks like one. I think you need to get some perspective on that."
"Perspective?" For a moment John looked almost like the word was choking him. "How can you--" He cut himself off with what looked like an effort of will. "I think you're the one who needs some perspective here, Elizabeth," he said. He'd finally lowered his voice, but there was no mistaking the rage threading through the quiet. "The Asurians tried to kill you, so you're wary of beings like them. I get that. But that doesn't change the fact that Roy's sentient, just like any of the other non-human races we've met out here. And if you send him back they're going to keep torturing him."
"If we send Roy back, that's my decision to make," Elizabeth said. She slowly clenched her hands into fists at her sides. "I believe we're done here."
John straightened up, shaking his head. "No. Not by a long shot." Then he turned and left her office as if he was trying to keep himself from breaking something.
Elizabeth sat down primly at her desk again and sternly kept from putting her face in her hands.
John didn't understand what she was up against. He should have, but he didn't. That was more than obvious.
Elizabeth would have thought better of him. John let his heart lead him more than she occasionally thought wise for a military commander, but she did have to concede that he'd rarely been wrong. But that didn't give him the right to blithely ignore the safety of the city for the sake of his personal whims.
He had said flat-out that she wouldn't have a problem with Roy if he--if it, damn it--didn't remind her of the Asurians, and maybe that was true. But it did remind her of them, especially of Niam, who was their friend and ally until suddenly he wasn't. She had almost died twice because of Niam, and she wasn't going to have anyone die now because she was too willing to trust a robot again. She wasn't offering asylum until she could be sure of the AI's motives.
And if they found a way to send Roy back first, well, maybe that would be the best for everyone. With enough distance, she was certain John would realize she was right.
Evan Lorne looked up when John stalked into his office, and he swallowed the formal greeting he'd been about to say.
"You should lock the door," he said in its place, quietly, because he saw the look on John's face and it was obvious he wasn't there in any official capacity. Evan had known John more than long enough to be able to tell when he was angry or hurting, and right now he was both. This wasn't Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard coming to see Major Evan Lorne. This was Shep, who needed to talk to Evan.
John nodded mutely and locked the door, his hands moving with more force than necessary, as if he wanted to break something but was holding himself back. He didn't sit down after the door was locked, either. Instead he began walking back and forth behind the two desk chairs, like an animal pacing a cage.
Evan stood up as well, came around the front of his desk to be closer to him. "What's going on?"
"Elizabeth isn't going to let Roy stay here," John said, his teeth so close together it was like he was tearing pieces off each word. "She doesn't believe he's what he says he is, and that those sons of bitches over there have been hurting him." He gave the wall beside him a vicious smack with the side of his fist but he didn't stop moving.
"You have to admit she's got a reason to be concerned about him, John," Evan said. "Maybe you just need to give her time."
John stopped so he could whirl angrily to face Evan. "Time for what?" he spat. "Long enough for Rodney to figure out how to send him back? She's not going to change her mind!"
"You don't know that," Evan said. "She's not an unreasonable person. Even if she's spooked at the idea of Roy right now, I'm sure that in a few more days...." He trailed off, because John was just shaking his head, as if there was no truth to anything Evan was saying.
"She's not going to change her mind," John said again. "I can tell." He took a breath, bending his head to rub the back of his neck. "She was pretty much already on board with the idea before I even asked her to let Ronon join my team." He looked up again. "And hell, she came with us to meet the Asurians when we thought they were Ancients who had stayed in this galaxy. This is different. You heard her after we figured out what Roy was. She's been against his even being here from the beginning. She thinks he's dangerous just because he's an AI."
"So, what do we do about it, then?" Evan asked. It was a tactic he'd learned from his sister, back when John and Cam were still numbered quadrupeds and she thought he was occasionally babysitting some brass' kids. He'd started using it to teach the robots to solve problems by themselves, and then discovered it worked well even with his team in the field. Sometimes all someone needed was a sense that they could control the situation, and they were able to see their way out of the problem.
It also kept him from saying the other thing on his mind, which was that they really didn't know Roy well enough to be as certain about him as John seemed to be. The comparison with Ronon made sense, except that it was easy to know Ronon was exactly what he said he was: Ronon's tracking device was obviously Wraith design, and he not only proved himself honorable, but even saved McKay's life.
Roy, on the other hand, had just walked bleeding through their Gate. The Genii had pulled a stunt like that two years earlier and come close to getting Atlantis destroyed, from what Evan recalled from the reports. He could easily imagine that was what Elizabeth was concerned about. If anyone wanted to infiltrate Atlantis, there probably wasn't a much better way to do it than getting John on side.
Evan was a little concerned about that himself, to tell the truth, but he knew a lot more abut AIs than Elizabeth did, so giving Roy the benefit of the doubt wasn't that difficult.
John swallowed. "I don't know," he said, in answer to Evan's question, except that he drew himself up a little straighter, which Evan knew meant that he'd come to some kind of decision. "I want to tell her about me, about the full scope of the AI project at Area 51."
Evan blinked. "No way," he said. The words were out of his mouth before he even thought about it.
"What? Why not?" John looked confused for a second, then his eyes narrowed, which was never a good sign. "If I tell her, she'll know that Roy really was built by a different version of the SGC. She'll be able to trust him."
"And what about her trusting you?" Evan asked, astounded. Sometimes it seemed that John's sense of self-preservation was even worse than Cam's, and that was saying a lot. "John, what do you think she'll do if she finds out that you were originally an AI? Or that the top brass at the SGC have been deceiving her and the IOA for years? And how do you think she'll look at you, if you tell her you weren't born human?" He took a step forward, wishing suddenly and strangely that Rodney was there, if only to verbally bludgeon John until he saw reason. "What if she informs General Landry? And you know she will! Landry doesn't know about you, either. He'll probably yank your ass back to Earth before the Gate closes. They'll strip you of your rank--they could put you in prison! Did you think of that?" He shook his head quickly. "You can't tell her. It's too much of a risk, and there's no guarantee that it'll make a difference. I think it'll make things worse."
"Do you have a better idea?" John snapped. "Other than just waiting and hoping that she'll realize she's making a mistake? Roy's life is at stake, here!"
"I'm completely aware of that," Evan said. He thought of all the arguments he'd had with John when John was a kid, and kept himself calm with an effort. "And if I thought it was worth the risk, I'd say sure, go ahead and tell her. But I can't."
John's mouth moved like he wanted to say something, but instead he turned to look out the clear wall of Evan's office with his hands clenched at his sides. "So what do we do?" he asked finally.
Evan took a breath. "Every day that Roy's here is another opportunity for him to prove himself. McKay and Zelenka are acting like a couple kids at Christmas because of him. That's got to count for something. I'm sure they're not really working all that hard to send him back. I think all we can really do is give it time."
"Yeah, that's kind of like what Rodney said," John said. Evan could see his smile, but there was something angry and sad about it that Evan didn't understand. He wanted to ask what had happened, but stopped himself. John was an adult now. If he wanted to tell Evan about problems with his relationship, he would.
"So, you won't tell her," Evan said. He didn't make it a question. He had no official ability to give John orders anymore, but that didn't mean he couldn't in his other, original capacity. All the same, he signed inwardly in relief at John's reluctant nod.
"Fine," John said, though his voice sounded like it was anything but. He faced Evan again. "But if she doesn't change her mind, I'm going to tell her. I'm not going to keep it a secret if it means she sends Roy back."
"God damn it, I told him not to go see her first! But does he listen to me? No! Of course not! Why listen to the genius when you can just barge on in and wreck--"
"The meeting with Dr. Weir did not go well, I take it," Radek said mildly as Rodney stormed into his lab, barely waiting for the door to open before loosing his tirade.
Rodney stopped short, turning is glare on Radek. "No," he said tartly. "No, you could say it didn't go particularly well, in that I barely got two words out before Elizabeth said that 'she'd already had this discussion with John, and hadn't made any decisions on Roy's status yet, thank you'." He shook his head disgustedly and stomped over to his lab stool, wrenching it back from the table with a resounding, angry squeak that made Radek's jaw clench. Rodney sat down with a scowl and flipped his laptop open like it had mortally offended him. He barely glanced at the screen before his head shot up and he pointed gloweringly at Roy. "I just want you to know, if she decides to send you back, it's not my fault."
Roy, for his part, blinked twice, though his face was otherwise impassive. "I was not considering blaming you, DoctorRodneyMcKay," Roy said.
"Well, good," Rodney huffed. "Because I already told her what an asset you are, and how sending you back would be a terrible waste. If she doesn't take that into consideration, it's totally because John spoke to her first and probably pissed her off." He lowered his head to stare daggers at his computer screen, then began typing as if determined to beat the keyboard into submission.
Roy turned back to his console, and Radek watched for a moment as the robot worked. Roy didn't press keys. Instead, he just touched the console with both his hands and went quiet, communicating electronically with the grand machine that made up Atlantis' core. It was very strange to watch, because it didn't look like he was doing anything, except for the Ancient symbols scrolling ceaselessly up the screen.
He agreed with Rodney. It would be a terrible waste to send Roy back, even if one only counted his considerable ability to navigate the Ancient's opaque and obfuscatory database. It made Radek want to see how Roy would be able to manipulate other Ancient technology, or behave with an off-world team, since he had experience with that in his own reality. Roy was also quiet, diligent, and pleasant to deal with, all traits which were not terribly common in the science division staff in general and in Rodney almost nonexistent. They would certainly be able to get along without Roy, since they already had to this point after all, but Radek didn't want to.
"I have managed to narrow the search down to two-hundred and ninety-two possible planets," Roy said.
"Fantastic," Rodney muttered. He stuck his hand out, snapping, not looking up from the screen. "Leave that alone and come over here."
Roy dutifully left the console and went to Rodney, who was still speaking. "There's something wrong with this simulation. Radek thinks it's the variance in the wavelength, but he's prone to flights of fancy like that and I wanted an opinion from someone who actually knows how Atlantis works." He straightened enough to turn the laptop and shove it across the table at Roy. "There. What do you think?"
Roy looked at the laptop screen, then back at Rodney, his expression uncertain. Radek had noticed--or at least he thought he noticed--that Roy had started showing more of what he was feeling on his face since they had reactivated him, but Radek wasn't sure that was true, or if he'd just gotten better at reading the robot's expressions. They'd spent enough time together for that, since Roy had been all but living in the lab since Elizabeth had permitted Rodney and Radek to make use of him. And there was only one bored Marine stationed at the door now, which Radek had thought to be a good sign, but Rodney's news wasn't very hopeful.
"DoctorRadekZelenka is correct," Roy said a few minutes later. "It is the wavelength variance that's altering the results of the simulation. I believe you need to adjust it by zero point-three percent."
Rodney blinked at him, then scowled. "All right, fine." He snatched the laptop back, muttering to himself.
Radek coughed pointedly. Then did it again.
Rodney looked up, blinking. "What?"
Radek rolled his eyes then jerked his head in Roy's direction. The robot had gone back to his search, as silently and efficiently as ever. At this rate they would find out what brought him to their reality in another few days or so at the absolute most, and possibly be able to send him back even more quickly. Radek would miss the robot's help, as well as his quiet, undemanding companionship, but he was not about to go against Dr. Weir's wishes. He respected and admired her far too much for that.
"Oh. Um, thanks," Rodney said. He smiled a little woodenly when Roy turned to look at him. "Good work."
"Thank you," Roy said, but he stayed looking at Rodney. "I do not require encouragement."
"Ah," Rodney said, his focus on his screen again. "That is why I should trade in all my subordinates for another ten of you. It would save so much effort not to have to pander to fragile egos all the time."
"Because you do that so often," Radek said dryly. "It's a wonder we get anything done at all, we are so overcome with basking in the light of your praise."
"Oh, ha ha," Rodney said. He hit a key, grunted in satisfaction at the computer, and then looked up at Roy again. "Are you fishing for another compliment? Or do you have something important to tell me?"
"I am not fishing for another compliment," Roy said. "But I have managed to narrow the search to two-hundred and eighty-four planets."
Rodney's face fell. "Oh," he said. "That's great."
"Thank you," Roy said again. Radek didn't know if he believed Rodney was being sincere, or if Roy was just being polite.
"I need to go back to my universe, to inform them what has happened," Roy said, and Radek wondered why he mentioned it. If perhaps he was trying to convince him and Rodney that they needed to let Roy leave, or to convince himself that he wanted to go.
MajorEvanLorne was looking at him again.
Roy kept his eyes on the movie. He was only peripherally aware of the plot, though he knew it was being stored in his Memory Archive and he would be able to go over it later if necessary. He did know it was about fighter pilots, and that most of the audience had seen it several times, as the occasional exclamations indicated. It was also quite popular among the viewers, and frequently amused them.
But Roy found himself unable to focus his full attention on it, because of MajorEvanLorne's occasional glances in his direction--one-point four times a minute on average--each instance of which caused Roy to do a jiffy search of his Memory Archive, to determine if he had done anything that MajorEvanLorne would consider unacceptable. Each search came up negative, but Roy found himself unable to cease performing them.
He was fully aware that MajorEvanLorne was not the LieutenantColonelEvanLorne of his universe. The physical differences, which included the color and design of the uniforms, the Major's hair style and the fact that LieutenantColonelEvanLorne had fifty-four percent more grey in his hair than MajorEvanLorne did, (which Roy attributed to the stressors of the LieutenantColonel's position) should have been sufficient to create a separate Protocol Response File for MajorEvanLorne in his Memory Archive. But despite cataloguing and re-cataloguing these variances, Roy always defaulted to the protocols he had learned for the LieutenantColonel. And these protocols included the expectation that LieutenantColonelEvanLorne would eventually find some aspect of Roy's comportment negative.
There was a seventy-two percent likelihood that MajorEvanLorne was aware of Roy's difficulty, and had been purposely avoiding him in order to ameliorate it. DoctorLindseyNovak had referred to such behavior as 'kind'.
'Kindness' could also be applied to the fact that John had come to DoctorRodneyMcKay and DoctorRadekZelenka's laboratory and informed them that it was 'movie night'. When Roy had suggested he stay and continue his work on correcting the data in DoctorRodneyMcKay's simulation, John had insisted he come as well, because it would be fun.
DoctorRodneyMcKay had shown his customary reluctance to disengage from his work. However, in this instance John did not insist that DoctorRodneyMcKay attend. He did not actually direct any of his statements to DoctorRodneyMcKay at all. Roy categorized John's affect as 'angry', though he could not compute a reason for it. He had no experiential evidence that John was angry with him, but could not process why John might therefore be angry with DoctorRodneyMcKay.
DoctorRodneyMcKay had stayed in the lab, while Roy, DoctorRadekZelenka and John had all subsequently gone to the mess hall for dinner.
SpecialistRononDex and TeylaEmmagan were in the mess as well. Roy did not eat, so he recharged using a nearby outlet while the others consumed their meals. While she ate, TeylaEmmagan interviewed Roy on such subjects as how he was being treated by DoctorRodneyMcKay and DoctorRadekZelenka (his treatment was acceptable), if he liked his quarters (his quarters were acceptable), and if he had continued to practice with the Bantos rods TeylaEmmagan had given him. Roy informed her that his Kinesthetic Memory was perfect, so that he did not require practice. TeylaEmmagan indicated interest in sparring with Roy the following morning, to determine the extent of his perfect Kinesthetic Memory.
That would be acceptable. Roy did not find sparring negative, despite the frequency and force with which he received impacts. He had concluded that this was because he had control over what transpired during the sessions, and because it was obvious that TeylaEmmagan and SpecialistRononDex were not attempting to damage him.
"She's going to whip your ass," SpecialistRononDex asserted, using the colloquial term for an individual inflicting severe damage on another. SpecialistRononDex smiled, baring a majority of his teeth.
"I am certain she will," Roy said, "since she has not yet taught me how to defend myself during combat."
Roy was unable to process why SpecialistRononDex laughed in response.
"Go easy on him, okay?" John said to TeylaEmmagan. "He learns fast, but he's still breakable."
"I can withstand impacts up to one-hundred and fifty Gs," Roy said.
"Yeah," John said. "On your skeleton. Your skin's more fragile than that, and so are your internal components." He procured a segment of his meat dish with his fork, but did not proceed to consume it. "I'm just saying, take it easy."
"I promise I will not hurt him, John," TeylaEmmagan said.
John proceeded to blink then look at his meal instead of continuing eye contact. "It's fine," John said. "I'm sure Roy can handle it."
To Roy's processing ability, those words directly contradicted what John had previously said. Roy didn't remark on it however, because John and TeylaEmmagan had not been speaking to him directly. He did not wish to elicit a negative response with an unsolicited statement.
"How come you know all that stuff? About robot bodies?" SpecialistRononDex asked John.
John lifted his head quickly to look at SpecialistRononDex. "Um," he said.
"He was there for much of our repair work," DoctorRadekZelenka said.
"Yeah," John said. He nodded with alacrity. "And I saw how banged up Roy was." He turned his attention to Roy again, pointing with his fork. "A good whack below your ribs will do real damage. You need to watch out for that," he said, which further contradicted his previous statement of certainty that Roy would be able to handle sparring with TeylaEmmagan. It was impossible to ascertain the true meaning of John's assertions, but his warning to Roy about self-protection was valid nonetheless.
"I will make certain that I don't get any good whacks below my ribs," Roy said.
"Good," John said. He resumed eating.
No one spoke after that, so instead Roy watched the humans eat. He had been taught by DoctorLindseyNovak that it was considered culturally inappropriate to stare, so he did it surreptitiously, keeping the majority of his focus on the window and the view of the city beyond it.
For one point-eight nanoseconds, Roy had an acute interest (desire? Longing? Roy determined that either appellation could suffice) in being able to eat as well. SpecialistRononDex was consuming his meal with obvious enthusiasm, and Roy--wanted, yes, this was want--to emulate SpecialistRononDex' experience. John, DoctorRadekZelenka and TeylaEmmagan appeared to have less enthusiasm, but that did not diminish Roy's longing. Not just for the physical ability to consume nutrients, but to be able to partake of this simple yet vital activity that briefly united them.
Wanting of this nature was not a concept Roy had previously experienced.
Roy was familiar with the concept of 'fun', however, which John had reported was the purpose of attending movie night. When he and Seven were in their primary stages, DoctorLindseyNovak had included them in several activities at Area 51 that Roy archived as extremely positive. He had also engaged in positive activities with Seven--such as occasionally racing each other through the corridors of Atlantis--until Seven had CeasedtoFunction. Roy had not experienced anything that could be classified as 'fun' since that event had occurred.
Roy was equally familiar with kindness, though he was unaccustomed to it just as he was unaccustomed to fun. He couldn't adequately process why he would be the object of either. He had computed that he had been repaired because of his usefulness to DoctorRodneyMcKay and DoctorRadekZelenka, despite what DoctorElizabethWeir had initially told him. But that was contradicted by the praise he had received. Machines were not praised; they did not require it to function. The fact that DoctorRadekZelenka and DoctorRodneyMcKay continued to praise him, therefore, implied that his service was a...kindness to them. Not a requirement.
MajorEvanLorne had come in five-point six minutes after Roy and John's colleagues had found chairs in the amphitheater. But he had been kind, and had not approached. However, MajorEvanLorne had proceeded to glance at Roy eighty-four times in the last hour. And Roy was unable to compute what action he should take in regards to it.
He continued to be unable to process his place here, with these humans. He could not adequately discern what was required of him.
It made Roy want to do something unacceptable, such as refuse to continue aiding DoctorRodneyMcKay. He did not want to solicit a negative reaction, but it would produce an experiential stimulus he would be able to assimilate. And he wanted to be able to predict something, even if it resulted in punishment.
John, who was sitting near Roy, looked at him and smiled. "What do you think of the movie?" he asked.
Roy knew he was required to smile. "It falls within acceptable parameters."
The movie after Top Gun was Wall-E, which John probably should have known about, but he hadn't really bothered to find out what was playing before he'd decided to take Roy. John didn't know if Roy's reality had movie nights, but he was pretty certain that Roy wouldn't have been invited to one. Roy's obvious surprise at John's suggestion only confirmed that.
John hadn't seen Top Gun in years, though it was as much dated, inaccurate fun as he remembered. But it didn't seem like Roy was enjoying it all that much.
John had a sinking feeling it was because Evan was there.
John didn't know what to do about that. Evan was very much aware that Roy was freaked as hell about him, even if he didn't know the exact reason why. And John didn't know if his telling Roy that Evan didn't have it out for him would make a difference, or just make things worse. He doubted that Evan would want John talking for him, anyway.
But the upshot was that John wasn't as pleased with himself as he had been by the time the first movie ended. He'd even been about to suggest to Roy that they go do something else. He figured Roy might enjoy playing some of the flight simulator games on his Play Station, or even hit some golf balls into the water. But the second movie came on before John could conveniently say anything.
He hadn't known that the next movie was going to be about robots, though. Especially not ones so much like Roy in personality, if not form. And John settled in to watch Wall-E with a sense of growing dread, wondering if the movie was going to somehow rub in the fact that Roy wasn't human or something. Make him feel bad.
Roy, for his part, watched the film as silently as he had Top Gun, his expression as raptly absorbed as a child's. Maybe he was just fascinated by the animation.
The story was pretty good, though John didn't really like the heavy-handed message. When the credits were finally rolling over bucolic copies of classic art and the remaining audience was beginning to talk again, he leaned over to Roy and quietly asked him how he liked it.
Roy kept his eyes on the screen the whole time, as if he didn't want to miss a single pixel of information.
"It was inaccurate," he said.
"Well, yeah," John said, a little surprised. Roy hadn't mentioned any of the inaccuracies in Top Gun, and there had been a lot of them. "It's a movie. You know, made up."
"Artificial intelligences are not functionally equipped to experience a humanoid spectrum of emotion," Roy said, as if John hadn't spoken.
John frowned. "Why do you say that?" He remembered distinctly how much he had felt when he was the SX-7. He couldn't believe that Roy would be different. For sure nothing he had seen had only enforced that.
"We were designed to experience fear and pain as part of our self-preservation protocols," Roy said. His voice was clipped and precise, which John already knew meant something had upset him. "And we experience satisfaction to facilitate learning. But AIs don't experience humor or sadness or love. The movie was inaccurate," Roy repeated, as if it was important to insist on it, like it might not be true otherwise.
John licked his lips, thinking. Most of the other people in the makeshift theater had left by now, except for Evan, who looked like he wanted to come over. John caught his eye and gave a quick single shake of his head. Evan nodded, resigned, and left. Radek seemed to have gone already, which was probably just as well. This wasn't a conversation to have in public.
"Who told you that?" John asked.
Roy did one of his slow blinks then turned and looked at him. "DoctorRadekZelenka."
"You mean, your Radek Zelenka, right?" John asked, just to make sure.
Roy nodded. "Yes. He repeated it frequently during our developmental stages."
"Wow," John said quietly. He looked at Roy. "Did he really believe that?"
Roy looked at him blankly. "Why would he say something he didn't believe?"
Now John blinked. "Um," he said. He licked his lips again. "People lie," he said. "People lie all the time. You, uh, you know what lying is, right?" he asked, when Roy's expression didn't change.
"I know what lying is," Roy said. "But I don't see the purpose in DoctorRadekZelenka disseminating false information."
"Well...." John rubbed the back of his neck. He was getting more and more uncomfortable with this. Now he really wished he'd just told Roy to leave before the stupid Disney flick came on. "Maybe he wasn't lying. Maybe he really didn't know you could have those kind of emotions," he said. He remembered that the Radek in his reality had been almost as skeptical as Rodney at first, at least from what Evan and Bill Lee had told him. He'd come around pretty quickly, though. "Or maybe he just didn't want you to know that you could, so you wouldn't think you and Seven were...." real was the first word the came into his head, but that made him think of the fight with Rodney. "People," he said instead. "So you wouldn't expect to be treated better."
Roy was quiet for a few minutes after that. John waited with him in the now-lit theater room. It was just the two of them now, and John realized it had to be pretty late.
"I am continually processing Seven's absence as a catastrophic failure," Roy said at last, quietly. "The absences of SergeantEugeneBates' team members feel the same. Like there is a space inside me that cannot be filled."
John swallowed. There was a time not too long ago when he had thought that Mitch might have been dead. He knew exactly how Roy felt.
John put his hand on Roy's shoulder, feeling the warmth and slight give of the artificial flesh. "That's sorrow," he said, then had to clear his throat. "You're mourning your friends."
Roy was silent again for a while. Then, "Is that what it feels like for you, too?"
John nodded. "Pretty much," he said, a little roughly.
"Oh," Roy said.
John patted him on the shoulder a few times then heaved himself to his feet. He'd about reached his limit on the feelings stuff; he'd never been very good at that.
Roy didn't get up. "What does love feel like?" he asked.
Crap. John ran his fingers through his hair, searching frantically for terms that wouldn't make him drop dead from embarrassment. "It feels," he started. "It's like...." He drew a breath. He loved Rodney, furious though he was with him. Surely he could figure out a way to describe--
Oh. "You already know how it feels," John said. He smiled sadly. "I mean, you loved Seven. Otherwise his absence wouldn't hurt so much."
Roy stared at him, then looked away, down at his borrowed military boots. "I don't want to feel this," he said.
John sighed. "Yeah, I know what you mean."
Evan Lorne grimaced as he stalked down the corridor towards his quarters. He was too pissed-off to sleep, but he didn't feel like doing anything that would involve being with anyone else, which pretty much meant his quarters or nothing. He briefly considered a jog around some of the farther piers, but decided that it wasn't worth it. He'd just be aching in the morning and he doubted the promise of pain would improve his mood much.
He wondered what Kate Heightmeyer would say about how much hatred he had for the other Evan Lorne right now. Maybe something about externalized self-loathing. Or maybe she'd agree with him that he had nothing to do with Lieutenant-fucking-Colonel Evan Lorne at all.
Though he did, of course. Evan's anger wasn't fierce enough to let him deny that. And maybe that was the source of some of the fury he was feeling anyway. He had gleaned enough from his brief interactions with Eight (who was now being called 'Roy', apparently, though Evan didn't know when that had happened) to know that the Lorne of Roy's reality was responsible for punishing him. Frequently and viciously enough to leave Roy unwilling to even be in the same room with him. And Evan couldn't help wondering what tiny difference, what minuscule twist of fate, had resulted in the other Lorne being the kind of person who could do that, brutalize someone until they were terrified of him.
Evan really didn't like thinking of himself like that. He didn't like that he couldn't even talk to Roy, either. He'd been purposely avoiding the robot to give him space, enough time to get used to this Atlantis and calm the hell down. He'd been going to movie night anyway--his sister had insisted that Wall-E was excellent and that he had to watch it--and maybe he should have expected to see Roy and John there, but he hadn't. And now Roy probably figured Evan was stalking him, and would never relax.
Maybe it didn't really matter, Evan thought as the door to his quarters slid open. Roy was most likely going to be back in his own reality in a few days, and even if he got used to Evan here, it wouldn't make a difference once he had to face the Lieutenant Colonel version again.
Evan heaved out a sigh that was as weary as it was angry, then rubbed the back of his neck as he went to his bed and sat down, leaving his feet on the floor. He thought about the conversation he'd had with John just a couple days ago. John didn't want Roy to go back, but he was certain Elizabeth would force Roy to. Evan was also pretty sure that was how it was going to go down, considering Elizabeth had been wary of the robot since he'd first collapsed on the floor of the Gate room.
So, even if Roy hated his guts it didn't make a difference. This was all temporary. Evan should just stop worrying about it and leave the problem and the robot alone.
Only he couldn't.
Evan hated the idea of Roy being frightened of him. It wasn't just that the robot looked so much like Cam had when he was still Mitch, before he was given his cloned human body, though Evan was adult enough to admit that was part of it. Evan had raised Cameron and John for all intents and purposes. And his ego couldn't take even a different version of Cameron not thinking of him as a good person, someone he could rely on. Evan didn't want Roy to not like him.
But that wasn't the real reason. The real reason was that Evan didn't want Roy to think he was anything like Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne, and Evan knew that Roy did. Even if his cerebral processor could make the distinction between Colonel and Major Lorne, it was obvious that somewhere, in Roy's heart of hearts or whatever the AI equivalent might be, Roy was absolutely certain that both men were the same. And the idea of that was killing Evan, every time he saw Roy flinch, or a minute flicker of fear pass through Roy's artificial eyes.
And Evan couldn't help but wonder if there was something: some part of himself that he didn't know about, but that the robot could see, lurking in Evan's soul. Something dark and ugly, that would only need a miniscule twist of fate to come out.
Evan knew that he would never stop wondering that, now. He would never stop looking for signs of the darkness inside, even if Roy stopped being afraid of him. Maybe that was a good thing, really, but it didn't feel like it.
He was willing to accept that wanting to win Roy over was more for himself than it was for the robot. On the other hand, if it turned out that Roy could stay--and Evan knew John was going to fight for that damn hard--then it was also a simple necessity. Evan couldn't be worrying about Roy's reaction to him all the time and still get his work done. And the discord Roy's fear would eventually create between him and John, because it would have to, wasn't something Evan really wanted to think about.
So he had to end this. The sooner the better.
Evan rubbed his chin as he thought. He'd done this once before, of course, and the circumstances weren't all that different. After Captain Strickland had crushed him, the tiny tread-robot that eventually became John hadn't been willing to approach any stranger at all. Evan had tamed him by talking to Eight. It had taken hours, but eventually Seven had been able to accept that Evan wasn't going to hurt him.
Evan smiled crookedly. Maybe he could tame Roy by talking to John. It was worth a shot.
Roy attempted not to show any outward signs of discomfort when MajorEvanLorne sat down at the table where Roy was seated with John, TeylaEmmagan and SpecialistRononDex (the Marine acting as Roy's escort sat at a nearby table, as was usual). DoctorRodneyMcKay was absent, though John had only appeared to note it briefly before continuing to the line where the humans procured food.
TeylaEmmagan had already been seated when Roy and John arrived, and Roy was immediately aware that it was the same table as the one they had used for dinner the night before, which was within convenient distance of an outlet. There was a seventy-eight percent possibility that TeylaEmmagan had chosen this table expressly for that reason, so Roy made certain to show her appropriate polite gratitude. TeylaEmmagan smiled at him, which was acceptable and proved Roy's hypothesis.
But MajorEvanLorne was now sitting with them, and that was not acceptable, despite the fact that John, TeylaEmmagan and SpecialistRononDex appeared to accept his presence without any negativity. Roy kept silent and looked at the table.
"Dr. Weir wants to check out some of those labs Roy listed for us," MajorEvanLorne said to John. Despite Roy keeping his eyes down, he nonetheless saw MajorEvanLorne glance in his direction. "I was thinking that you and Roy could come with me, take a break from the planet search."
"DoctorRodneyMcKay and DoctorRadekZelenka require my assistance," Roy said. He did not usually volunteer information without being asked directly, but it was imperative that MajorEvanLorne be made aware of this fact, so that he would not continue to request Roy's presence.
Roy did want to go on the proposed MissionofCityExploration, however. One of his primary functions in his universe was to undertake such missions with various teams, in order to catalog and determine the function of the rooms and artifacts he had discovered in the database. Roy's Memory Archive instantly supplied two instances where his presence had directly resulted in a human's survival, and three of the most dangerous labs remained to be neutralized on this Atlantis. Roy would not risk the lives of any of the humans here.
But going on this MissionofCityExploration would require being with MajorEvanLorne.
John drank some coffee and then leaned back in his chair. He looked at MajorEvanLorne as he spoke, though his words were directed at Roy. "Oh, I think they'll let you out to play," he said, then smiled. "After all, you're the only one here who knows about the stuff in the labs. I'm sure that they wouldn't want anyone to get hurt because you weren't with us."
Roy looked up at John, who had unexpectedly articulated what had been cycling though Roy's Cerebral Processor. "It would not be acceptable for anyone to suffer injuries due to my absence," he said.
"It'll also be fun," John said, echoing his previous implication that a MissionofCityExploration would be 'play'. His face indicated obvious anticipation of a positive event.
"Sure," MajorEvanLorne said. He smiled as well, though it did not appear to be in response to the same stimulus as John's. "It'll be great fun." His smile widened by eleven-point two percent. "Long walks are always a good chance to talk."
Roy could not process the expression on John's face when he looked at MajorEvanLorne.
He had also not previously Archived this function as 'play', or 'fun', though when he had been appended to SergeantEugeneBates' team, CityExploration remained a positive experience ninety-seven percent of the time. But he processed now that either term could indeed be adequate for it, under usual circumstances.
A MissionofCityExploration with MajorEvanLorne would not be usual circumstances, and Roy knew that what he was currently experiencing was fear. He did not want to be with MajorEvanLorne.
But he did not want anyone to be injured due to his absence.
"I will inform DoctorRadekZelenka and DoctorRodneyMcKay that I will be unable to assist them today," he said, then ran a diagnostic to determine if the cold feeling in his artificial heart was the result of a sudden malfunction.
"You sure you're okay in there, Roy?"
"Yes," Roy answered. He...hoped, yes, that the unequivocal positive response would serve to alleviate John's anxiety, as evidenced by John's having repeated the same question four times in the last four point-three-six minutes. "I will be finished shortly. Do not enter this room."
"Sure thing, Roy," MajorEvanLorne said, and once again Roy was compelled to shift his attention away from the explosive tumor device he was currently disabling to MajorEvanLorne's face, because MajorEvanLorne's voice was kind, and that remained unanticipated. "It just feels a little strange to be standing in the doorway while you do all the work."
"My body cannot be affected by the radiation emitted by this device," Roy said. "I will therefore remain unharmed in the event I am unsuccessful in disabling it. But you will not, so please remain where you are until I have finished," he added. Both the explanation and addendum of warning were redundant, but given John's evident concern for Roy's SafetyandWellbeing, it was logical to repeat them.
John's concern was kind. And gratifying, Roy mused as he pulled a final crystal and his Interface with the machine ceased, indicating that it was no longer functioning. He placed the crystals into the pockets of his tac vest for DoctorRadekZelenka and DoctorRodneyMcKay, as there was a one-hundred percent certainty that they would wish to have them, then rejoined John and MajorEvanLorne in the corridor outside the laboratory.
It was good to be wearing a full uniform again, even though what he was wearing differed both in color and design from those commonly worn by the paramilitary members of his universe's expedition. He appreciated the greater number of pockets, and preferred the dark grey of the jacket and black of the vest to the nearly black color used by his universe's expedition.
Having a preference in color and design was unanticipated. It had also been unanticipated that John and MajorEvanLorne would insist that he be issued a jacket and vest, but they had been adamant that his uniform had not been adequate without them. The possibility that they had anticipated Roy's requiring pockets was too miniscule for him to be able to compute, so Roy was forced to process that John and MajorEvanLorne had wished for Roy to be outfitted in full gear for some other purpose. When John had finished buckling Roy's vest, he had said, 'Now you really look like you belong here', and had smiled as if this was the most acceptable possible result.
He did not know why MajorEvanLorne had expressed interest in Roy's clothing. LieutenantColonelEvanLorne had only been concerned with Seven and Eight's usefulness.
DoctorElizabethWeir had refused for him to be issued a weapon, which John and MajorEvanLorne had protested until Roy had stated that he had never been issued a weapon of any kind in his own universe. However, she did allow for the military escort to be reassigned for the duration of the MissionofCityExploration. John and MajorEvanLorne appeared to find this extremely acceptable, though Roy had not experienced any difficulty with the Marine assigned to him himself (though he had not attempted communication with him).
"So, one exploding tumor machine off the list. Cool," John said. He put his hand on Roy's shoulder, which Roy now understood was meant to be a positive stimulus, and not a threat. "I'll bet you did that even faster than Rodney would've."
"DoctorRodneyMcKay would have accomplished that task in approximately twenty minutes, based on my recent experience with him," Roy said. "I required twenty-four point-four-one minutes."
MajorEvanLorne laughed; Roy was able to keep his automatic Self-Preservation Protocol Response to a minimum. "You did a good job," he said.
"Thank you," Roy said, as was appropriate. He kept the duration of his eye contact with MajorEvanLorne per minimum politeness requirements before looking away.
"Well," John said, clapping his hands together. "That's one down, two labs o' death to go." He lifted his hand, as if ushering Roy forward. "Lead the way."
He walked slightly ahead of John and MajorEvanLorne, but closely enough to facilitate communication. It was therefore possible to hear everything they said to one another.
As he had done previously, MajorEvanLorne began to relate information about his personal history to John, as if unaware that Roy was also present. To this point, MajorEvanLorne had described the following:
1) Why he had joined the military instead of becoming:
a. a Commercial Artist
b. an Art Instructor like his Mother
c. a Civilian Geological Engineer
2) Why he had joined the Air Force instead of:
a. the Marines
b. the Army
c. the Navy
3) Why he had chosen Geology as his main field of study
None of this was relevant to their MissionofCityExploration, yet Roy had realized he was listening with as much focus as John evidently was. Roy did not know why MajorEvanLorn had decided to impart his personal history, but it was...interesting. Roy knew almost nothing of the history of LieutenantColonelEvanLorne, though he was aware that LieutenantColonelEvanLorne had chosen Tactical Engineering as his field of study in university. Roy did not know the reason for this choice, however.
Now, MajorEvanLorne looked at John and said, "Did I ever tell you about the dogs I had growing up?" and proceeded to relate relevant anecdotes.
Roy turned to look at John and MajorEvanLorne when John laughed at the description of how a dog with the appellation of 'Buford' had been unable to determine how to descend a flight of stairs. Roy was unable to assimilate the evident humor in the animal's predicament, but John and MajorEvanLorne's enjoyment of the story was so apparent that it took Roy three-point two seconds to realize that he had begun smiling as well, without conscious input.
"I remember this," John said suddenly. He was looking at MajorEvanLorne, and still smiling, though his expression had otherwise altered in a manner Roy could not recognize. John appeared sad, yet evidently was not.
MajorEvanLorne blinked, then his smile widened by forty-three percent. "I remember, too," he said. He put his hand on John's shoulder. "Telling you that story. But you guys were so little--I never thought you would."
"I do," John said. "I mean...not words, or anything. Just your voice." John's expression indicated he was searching his own Memory Archive. "I remember your voice."
Roy observed how MajorEvanLorne changed his grip on John's shoulder and smiled again before pulling away. John smiled as well, and it suddenly called up, unsolicited, a Memory of DoctorLindseyNovak. She was smiling at Roy, contacting him physically in the same way MajorEvanLorne had done to John. She was relating that she was proud of him, for how well he had operated a piece of Ancient technology. But the circumstances of the Memory weren't relevant.
What was relevant was how Roy had felt.
The DoctorRadekZelenka of his universe had told Roy that AIs could not experience a humanoid spectrum of emotion. But Roy knew that he had felt happy, with DoctorLindseyNovak. Happy, and protected, and safe.
The presence of MajorEvanLorne made John feel happy, and protected, and safe. John was not frightened. MajorEvanLorne was not going to hurt him.
MajorEvanLorne was not LieutenantColonelEvanLorne. MajorEvanLorne was kind. He was not going to hurt Roy, because he was not going to hurt John.
The creation of a separate Protocol Response File for MajorEvanLorne in Roy's Memory Archive occurred without his conscious input. For two-point six milliseconds, the reallocation of Processing Resources caused Roy's internal gyroscopes to cease functioning. Subsequently, he experienced an error in his locomotion, but was not able to adjust his balance to compensate.
He would have fallen, but MajorEvanLorne secured him, one hand on each of Roy's arms, holding Roy up.
"You okay?" John asked him. His voice denoted concern.
Roy blinked as his internal gyroscopes came back on-line. "I am fine," he said.
"What happened?" MajorEvanLorne asked. He did not let go of Roy's arms until it was obvious that Roy could stand unaided, then he released him with alacrity--being kind. "That machine, it didn't do something to you, did it? Do you need McKay or Zelenka?"
Roy shook his head. "I am fine," he repeated. He looked at MajorEvanLorne. "You are MajorEvanLorne," he said. "You are not LieutenantColonelEvanLorne."
MajorEvanLorne's face showed surprise at the statement. "That's right," he said. "I'm not Colonel Lorne. I'm not going to hurt you."
"No one's going to hurt you, Roy," John said.
"Are you sure you're okay?" MajorEvanLorne asked. His voice implied a lack of comprehension, as well as concern.
"I am okay," Roy said. "Thank you, MajorEvanLorne."
"You can call me 'Evan', if you want," Evan said.
"Thank you, Evan," Roy said. And he smiled.
"Oh, DoctorRodneyMcKay. I didn't expect to see you here so early," Roy said as soon as he trotted through the doors to Rodney's main laboratory.
"That's because I never left," Rodney said. He was sure he sounded pissier than normal, but it was barely past six in the morning and he'd been in the same place in the same position for at least fourteen hours. He gestured irritably at the laptop screen, where the results of his latest simulation were scrolling by as if mocking him. "I've been working on this thing since last night, and I still can't get it to properly reflect power allotment." He sighed, rubbing the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. He should have probably just left the damn thing until morning, but he hadn't been able to bring himself to abandon it while it still wasn't working.
"Is this part of your power storage project?" Roy asked. He came over to stand next to Rodney instead of going right to his usual spot in front of the Ancient console.
"Yes," Rodney said irritably. He'd been able to improve the power of Roy's battery while he was repairing him, and that had given Rodney an idea of how he could store--though recycle was a better term--the minimal power seepage from their ZPM, which could then be used in emergencies to supply extra runtime to such things as the infirmary or the city's shield. Unfortunately, each time he'd tried to run a simulation to show the possible outcomes of recycling the seeping power, the results were always some kind of power failure or overload. Either Atlantis would lose all power and possibly even sink into the ocean, or the ZPM would blow up. And even after spending days, and now a full night, on the problem, Rodney still couldn't figure out if he'd done something wrong with how he wanted to implement his idea, or with how he'd designed the simulation itself. He wasn't sure which part was more frustrating.
"Have you had breakfast, DoctorRodneyMcKay?" Roy asked with his usual polite inflection. He reminded Rodney of Miko sometimes, which was only occasionally a bad thing. "Would you like me to bring you something from the mess hall?"
Rodney waved a hand dismissively. "I had a Power bar at...some point," he said, keeping his eyes on the infuriating roll of data. "Thanks," he remembered to add belatedly, Radek's admonishing face flitting unwelcome through his mind.
"Okay," Roy said, and something about the way he was speaking finally made Rodney look up at him, suddenly paying attention.
"Why are you breathing so hard?" Rodney asked. Roy was panting, he realized, like Rodney might if he'd had a particularly arduous run to the Gate. "Is there a problem with your transpiration functions?"
"No," Roy said. He shook his head. "I was running with SergeantCharlesCampbell, Evan, SpecialistRononDex and John before I came here." He gestured at his chest, which was still heaving. "I'm getting rid of excess heat."
That made sense, and now that Rodney was noticing, he could feel the warmth radiating off Roy's body, like being next to a space heater.
"You're not going to run out of power trying to cool down, are you?" Rodney asked worriedly. He pointed to the nearest outlet. "Maybe you should plug in for awhile." In truth, the warmth pouring off Roy's body was kind of pleasant, though Rodney certainly didn't want Roy to inadvertently damage himself. Rodney was relieved to see that his breathing seemed to already be slowing a little, though. "What the hell are you doing running, anyway?" he asked. "It's not like you can exercise."
"I enjoy the social aspect of the activity," Roy said. "It's also the easiest way to be able to speak to SergeantChuckCampbell, because he is most often working in the Gate control room when I am down here, or on teams exploring the city."
Rodney was willing to concede that made sense, especially since Roy didn't experience the excruciating pain and exhaustion Rodney had all-too readily come to associate with exercise. "Each to their own, I suppose," he said, half to himself. If he wanted to speak to someone after-hours, of course, he'd probably just go to their quarters instead of making time to chase them.
Well, probably not anymore, since one of the few people Rodney actually sought out during his leisure time was John, and John had been avoiding him like a particularly virulent disease for over five days at this point. Rodney was beginning to wonder if he'd ever willingly spend time in Rodney's company again.
He took a breath, specifically didn't ask Roy how John was doing, and turned back to his computer screen. "Well, since you're apparently not about to suffer a catastrophic failure in my lap, I'd appreciate a coffee and a muffin. A very big coffee. Actually, scratch that. Two coffees. And a chocolate chip muffin if they have it. Banana nut if they don't. Thanks," he added as an afterthought, again.
"Sure thing," Roy said. He turned smartly and left.
Rodney watched bemusedly as Roy strode out the door. He couldn't remember exactly when Elizabeth had relented about the military escort, but it was still nice not to see anyone silently detach themselves from the wall and walk behind him. Though Rodney had to admit it would have been amusing to watch a hapless Marine having to trail after Roy while he went running.
The thought of Roy running made Rodney think of John again, and he grimaced and ruthlessly shoved all thoughts of his possibly-ex lover out of his mind. But he couldn't help wondering what social aspect Roy would be enjoying while he and the others galloped uselessly up and down the corridors. Maybe it was just that stoic, macho crap that Rodney tried to stay as far away as possible from in general.
It was a lot less depressing to think about Roy than about John, anyway. Rodney knew he wasn't always the most observant when it came to other people, but he'd noticed a change in Roy's personality over the past week or so, though maybe 'shift' was a better word for it. Roy was talking more. That was evident, if occasionally irritating. And Rodney wasn't sure if he'd ever heard Roy actually volunteer any kind of opinion before, let alone say that he enjoyed something. Even something as painful and monotonous as running. Or the social aspect of running. Whatever.
Roy also seemed to be picking up slang. 'Sure thing,' most likely came from Chuck. It was like Roy was a foreign exchange student, slowly learning how to fit in with the locals.
The robot seemed a lot less frightened, too, which was probably why he was willing to offer opinions and use slang. And he was even spending time with Lorne now, and exploring the city with the Lesser O'Neill's baby team, and spending significantly less time in the lab. Which was annoying, because Roy was useful.
Possibly useful enough to help Rodney figure out what the hell was wrong with the simulation here, though Rodney doubted it. Still, it might not hurt to have him look at it, at least until Radek finally dragged his ass into the lab, considering it was already--Rodney checked the time readout on his computer--nearly seven in the morning. The degenerate.
Of course, it made it more difficult to continue searching for the planet Roy came from if Roy wasn't physically there to do it. And Rodney privately wondered if John hadn't quietly arranged for Roy to be as absent as possible. Maybe John was still hoping that the longer Roy was in their Atlantis, the less likely it would be for Elizabeth to send him back, even if they figured out how. And Rodney was sure they'd figure out how, since there was more than enough precedent for it. But the last time Rodney had--very casually, he'd thought--asked Elizabeth how her deliberations were going, she'd just given him a brittle smile and said she still hadn't made up her mind. Which most likely meant she already had.
Rodney hoped John wouldn't be too disappointed.
Which was a ridiculous thing to hope, since it was already obvious that John would be devastated. He'd taken on Roy as his personal UNICEF project, and was already treating him like his long-lost best buddy, while he wouldn't talk to Rodney unless he was required to. Rodney wondered what would happen when they were scheduled for a new Gate mission. He snorted. John would probably insist on bringing Roy along. Maybe instead of Rodney.
Not that Rodney was jealous. But he was definitely pissed-off.
This thing between him and John had to stop. It was obvious that John wasn't going to come to his senses on his own, so Rodney would have to do it for him. As soon as he figured out what the hell the problem with this simulation was.
Roy came back in, carrying a tray with four muffins, three cups of coffee and a carafe and a sandwich. And with Radek walking beside him, talking animatedly in Czech.
Roy slid the tray gently onto Rodney's table, then handed one of the mugs and two of the muffins (banana nut and chocolate chip, which was just overdoing it) to Radek. He said something in Czech, and Radek grinned.
"He speaks Czech!" Radek exclaimed delightedly to Rodney, as if that wasn't already obvious. "The other Radek programmed it into him!" He shook his head in quiet amazement. "It is fantastic, no?"
"No," Rodney said flatly. He took a big bite of chocolate chip muffin, making sure not to scatter crumbs on his laptop keys. He washed it down with the coffee, which was not only hot enough but also had exactly the right amount of milk in it, unlike when Miko brought it to him. There was certainly something to be said for having an underling with a perfect memory. He wiped his fingers on his pant leg then turned the laptop so Roy could see it. "There is no reason why reintroducing power that naturally siphons off the ZPM during normal use should result in this kind of power failure," he said. "Tell me what the hell is wrong with it."
For an instant Roy looked nervous again. He glanced at the Ancient console, his expression almost guilty. "What about the search?"
"Forget the search," Rodney groused. He pushed the laptop a little closer. "This is more important."
There were lots and lots of things Rodney and Radek, and the whole science staff, were working on that were far more important than finding a single planet in the database. And if that meant the search had to be pushed further and further back....
Well, Rodney thought a little smugly as he took the wrapper of his second muffin, Elizabeth would just have to live with it.
"How much of this crap did the Ancients leave behind, anyway?" Lieutenant Jonathan O'Neill said. He kicked at a loose piece of metal that was leaning against the wall, then watched with some satisfaction as it toppled over with a clang. "You'd think they'd've had a rummage sale, or something."
"I feel like we've been walking through a rummage sale," Dr. Alice Cooper said. She specialized in biological and chemical engineering, which was probably why Dr. Weir thought Jonathan had picked her for his team. He'd really done it because she was the youngest scientist on the expedition, which meant that he didn't feel like a toddler next to her. And because her name was hilarious. She sneezed and waved a hand in front of her face, grimacing. "I hate damp."
"It's not so bad," Jonathan murmured. "Maybe we can get some wetsuits, go snorkeling...." He picked his way around more debris, looking for anything that might be salvageable. This was one of the first parts of the city to be flooded when the shield had begun to fail hours after the expedition had first arrived in the city. It hadn't been under the water all that long, but it'd flooded again during the hurricane, before McKay had been able to get the shield up. It didn't look like there was anything left that would still be useful, but Weir was on this weird city-exploration kick lately, so he and Coop were out in the wet ass-end of the city, poking through wreckage.
Coop snorted but otherwise ignored him. "At least there's no nanites here," she said. She reached behind her head and did that thing where she grabbed two hanks of her ponytail and pulled, to tighten the hair band against her head. It made random, dark-brown loops stick out all over her skull. Jonathan smirked but didn't say anything.
"There's nothing here at all," Jonathan said disgustedly. He went sullenly over to one of the few consoles that were still intact and put his hand on it, trying to turn it on. Nothing. "Why did C-3PO send us out here, anyway?"
Jonathan knew he had a reputation of being distrustful, one he had come by honestly when he was Jack O'Neill, and hadn't lost as his younger clone. It had kept Jack and Jack's SG-1 team alive--sometimes despite what seemed like Daniel Jackson's best efforts--and it had done just as well with Jonathan's new team in Atlantis. And he didn't trust robots much in general, especially not ones that looked and acted exactly like people. He and SG-1 had been kicked in the teeth too many times by Replicators for him to get any warm fuzzies for Roy, despite how gaga Sheppard was over him. It wasn't that he really thought Roy was a Replicator or anything, and he didn't have too much trouble with Sheppard's judgment, most of the time. But he'd been pissed all the same when Weir had decided to stop the Marine escort. Jonathan didn't think that Roy had been around long enough for everyone to just drop their guard. He was still waiting for the panicked announcement that Roy had gone Terminator on them.
Not that Weir had sought out his opinion, or anything. She'd barely met Jack O'Neill before Jonathan had been cloned from him. Jonathan knew that as far as she was concerned, he really was a kid barely out of high school, instead of just having the body of one.
"Well, Skywalker," Coop said, "We were sent here because it was one of the few places they hadn't explored yet, in Roy's reality." She glanced at him, and Jonathan saw that both her cheeks and the bridge of her nose were smeared with something whitish that he really hoped wasn't poisonous. Her skin was almost as dark as her hair--a gift of her mixed African, Malaysian and British heritage--so the white stuff stood out like paint. "There was meant to be something important here."
"I really think I'm more of a Han Solo type," Jonathan said. He picked up a jagged piece of metal that had obviously snapped off...something, then let it drop again. "What could possibly be here?" He tried the console again just for the hell of it. Still nothing. He sighed and pushed himself away from it. "A closet full of ZPMs? Jimmy Hoffa? Zombies? Zombies might be fun, actually," he mused. "Maybe there's a chainsaw."
"We already have zombies," Coop said. She wiped slime off another dead console, then leaned over to squint at it, cleaning her hand absently on her pants. Jonathan made a mental note to swing by the infirmary after they were finished here, before Coop casually gave herself Ebola or something.
"I already told you--Wraith are vampires, not zombies. Zombies are shambling undead who eat brains."
"Wraith eat brains," Coop said, unimpressed. "Sort of, anyway."
Jonathan shook his head. "We're watching Dawn of the Dead as soon as Aiden's over the flu. I mean it."
"You'll give him nightmares," Coop said mildly. She took a few steps forward, kicking through more assorted debris. "Maybe there's something through that door over there," she said, pointing.
"What door?" Jonathan asked. Then he was able to make out what Coop was walking toward, though it wasn't a door so much as a wall panel that didn't join smoothly with the rest of the wall, like a door that someone had been trying to hide. Jonathan figured they wouldn't have noticed it if it hadn't been for the damage done by the storm. The door was ever-so-slightly open, leaving a thin line between it and the wall.
"That door," Jonathan answered himself. He kicked his way over to it and tried the wall panel, but nothing happened. He pried the panel open with his field knife, moved some crystals the way McKay had shown him, but the door still didn't open.
Coop was watching him, frowning. "Should we get someone else down here?"
"Hang on," Jonathan said. He carefully slid his knife blade through the gap then pushed it to the side, trying to pry the door open. His knife started bending before it worked, but it did work finally. The door slid a little further, leaving enough space for Jonathan to slip his fingers in. "Give me a hand," he grunted, as he began pushing the door away from the wall.
Coop squished in beside him, sliding her fingers through the gap as well. Together they managed to make enough space for one of them to go through at a time, sideways and with their head turned.
"Now, this looks a little more promising," Coop said. She tried to fix her ponytail again, but ended up just redoing it, scowling as she pulled her hair through the elastic. She was definitely going to need a shower later.
"Yeah," Jonathan said, nodding. He went further into the room, looking around.
This place had all the tubes and medical-looking machines that Jonathan figured would be in a typical mad-scientist Ancient lab, as well as a couple more consoles and what looked disconcertingly like some kind of specimen freezer standing menacingly against the wall nearest the door.
"I'll bet the consoles out there are meant to work with this place somehow," Jonathan said, and Coop nodded.
The weirdest thing was the three cylinders lined up horizontally along the opposite wall from the door. They each looked like a cross between a stasis chamber and a coffin, if you were into freeze-drying bodies and then looking at them. Jonathan really hoped no one had been left in there. The super-old Weir from the alternate timeline was creepy enough.
"I really hope there's no one still in there," Coop said, and Jonathan smiled a little as they both went to the nearest freeze-dried-coffin thing.
All three of them were empty. Coop sighed in obvious relief. "Good," she said.
"So what are they for?" Jonathan asked. He figured that Roy didn't know either, or the robot would've already told them, maybe saved them a trip.
"I don't know," Coop said. She looked at Jonathan. "Another kind of stasis chamber, maybe?" She crouched so she could have her face level with the large readout pad on the side of the first cylinder. "These are standard monitors for lifesigns, at least as far as I can tell."
"Might not be a bad idea to have more stasis chambers," Jonathan said. He remembered from when he was on SG-1--when he was Jack O'Neill and on SG-1--how there was more than once when the ability to put someone into deep-freeze would have saved lives. He wondered why Beckett didn't use the stasis chamber they had more often; maybe this would change his mind.
"I don't know, though," Coop said. "They look really different. And here." She pointed at a tiny readout screen next to the keypad with Ancient writing on it. "This is talking about a nutrition and oxygen mix in the liquid. Stasis chambers don't work like that."
Jonathan pursed his lips. "Maybe they're, like incubators. For really...big...babies," he finished lamely when Coop just raised her eyebrows at him. He shrugged.
"No, no. I mean, you have a point," Coop said. "It's a very weird one, but it's a point." She went to a different console, which looked like it was directly connected to the cylinders. She looked over her shoulder at Jonathan. "Can you come here and turn this on for me?"
Jonathan grinned to himself but didn't give the easy reply. He went to the console, put his hands on it and did his usual thinking-on thing. The screen flickered for a few seconds before it died again.
"Hey," Coop said excitedly, "that means it's still working, right? Maybe it just needs more power."
"I guess we could go and bring back a generator," Jonathan said, though he wasn't relishing the idea of having to haul ass all the way back to the main part of the city only to hump a naqudah generator back to the room. "Wait," he said on a sudden thought. He crouched down and used his increasingly bent knife to pry off the access panel. Sam Carter would check to make sure all the connections were working before she worried about generators. "Maybe I can hotwire this or something," he added.
"I knew your life of crime would pay off," Coop said. She knelt next to him.
"If you only--aha!" Jonathan grinned in triumph and plucked out two burned and cracked crystals. "Get me the ones from the door," he said to Coop, and she got up immediately and fetched them for him. "Thanks," he said as he took them from her. It was surprisingly easy to put them in place of the damaged crystals, and as soon as the second one clicked into its slot it lit up, glowing bright blue and hot. Jonathan jerked his fingers back with a hiss.
"You okay?" Coop asked.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Jonathan said. He stood, shaking his hand, then stuffed both his hands in his pockets and rocked forward onto his toes, getting a better view of the now-functioning screen. "So, what does it say?"
"Hang on...." Coop squinted at the screen. Jonathan was pretty sure she needed glasses, but he wasn't going to tell her that. At least not until her scores on the shooting range got worse than they already were. "I'm not all that great with Ancient, but I think...huh," she said, blinking slowly. It made her look like a sleepy deer. "That's interesting."
"What?" Jonathan asked. "What's interesting?" He'd learned a lot of Ancient since coming to Atlantis, but that was mostly for engineering and weapons stuff, and as far as he could tell this was all medical. "What does it say?"
"That you were almost right about the incubator thing," Coop said, her eyes flicking back and forth as she read the screen. "But you needed to think earlier, like artificial wombs."
"Wombs?" Jonathan said. He took an automatic step away from the console and turned quickly to look at the cylinders again. He did not want to be dealing with dead babies. "You mean, they grew their kids in there?"
Coop shook her head. "Not kids. Adults. Clones."
Jonathan stared at her. "We're leaving," he snapped. "Out of here, now," he said, when Coop just stood there gaping at him. "Now."
"Okay," she said, sounding dubious. Jonathan didn't give a damn. She was still hesitating, glancing back at the console. "But--"
"Now, Cooper," Jonathan snarled. He moved so that he was herding her in front of him, making sure she went through the narrow gap in the door before he squeezed through afterwards. He kept both of them moving until they were out of the first lab and down the corridor.
"What was that about?" Coop asked him. Jonathan was leaning against the wall, waiting for his heartbeat to drop. Coop was looking at him like he'd lost his mind. Maybe she wasn't too far off the mark. "Why'd you make us leave like that?"
Jonathan just shook his head. "Too risky."
"Risky?" Cooper frowned. "The only thing working in there was one console! What was risky about it?"
"Yeah, well, it wouldn't be the first time something didn't seem to be working and then did," Jonathan said. "What if those machines in there had cloned one of us? What then?"
Coop blinked at him. "Then...I don't know, I'd have a sister or something?"
Jonathan pushed himself away from the wall. "No," he said. "You'd have a copy. She wouldn't have anything." He started walking before Coop could ask him what he meant.
"All right, McKay, what is it?" John said wearily as he walked into Rodney's lab, Evan two steps behind him. "Some of us actually sleep around here."
He ignored the quick, irritated look Rodney shot him, especially the flash of hurt, before Rodney focused his attention back on the Ancient console screen. Radek was peering over Rodney's shoulder, of course, giving tiny little shakes of his head and looking frazzled.
Roy was seated at one of the lab tables, back straight and forearms resting on the tabletop like he didn't know what to do with himself. His expression was unreadable again, which wasn't a good sign.
"Look at this," Rodney said. He turned away from the console then stepped to the side so John and Evan could see what he was looking at. There were five planets on the screen, each glowing serenely in different colors like a child's game. Each planet was also labeled with a different set of Gate symbols.
John felt his stomach flip unpleasantly. "Oh," he said. "So you've narrowed it down. Huh."
"Yes," Rodney said with his usual brusqueness. John bristled at it, though it wasn't aimed at him. "As you can obviously see, there are only five planets which match the criteria of the one Roy's team was on when he came through the Gate into our reality." He stabbed angrily at the screen, aiming at the planet second from the bottom that was almost crayon-red. "And it's most likely this one, since there's information in the database about a faction of Ancients who used it as a way of escaping from the Wraith."
"We think the booby-trap was to keep Wraith from following them," Radek said. He sounded like he was giving the information grudgingly, his eyes on the floor. He pulled his glasses off and started cleaning the lenses with his shirt.
"They escaped into a different reality?" Evan asked.
"Yes, thank you, Mr. Wizard," Rodney snapped. John scowled at him, but Rodney either didn't notice or ignored it. "They escaped into another reality. Our reality, to be precise. That was the only place the mirror went. At least," he gestured vaguely at the screen, "according to what was in the database about it. Though we've all had ample experience with exactly how reliable this kind of information is."
"Mirror?" John asked.
"He means a quantum mirror," Evan explained before Rodney could jump on it. "Dr. Jackson was the first one to get shunted into another universe because of one. All you have to do is touch it." He looked at Rodney. "What about the cascade effect?"
"There's no other Roy in this reality," Rodney said. "Robot or otherwise, since he's not really Mitchell. So it's not an issue. I don't know what happened to the Ancients who might have come through that way. Maybe they knew something to solve the problem that we don't. Or maybe they all died horribly."
John winced, looked at Roy, but the robot didn't react to what Rodney said. It was impossible to tell what he might have been thinking.
"I remember that the Portal was in a long chamber, and that the walls were reflective black," Roy said, though he was mostly talking to the table. "I know I fell against the wall when I was attempting to return to the Portal."
"If this cascade effect is so deadly," John offered, "maybe that's why the Ancients here just went to Earth, instead of using the mirror to go to a different reality themselves."
"It is more likely that the mirror was designed to only work between two realities," Radek said. "Roy's and this one. It is possible the mirror only works one way, as well."
John perked up at that. "That means we can't send him back."
"He said it's possible," Rodney snapped. "But it most likely goes two ways. The mirror Jackson found certainly did, as did the mirror the alternate Sam Carter used when she tried to escape to our reality." It was weird how he said 'the mirror', like this was an established fact everyone knew about. Then again, maybe John was the only one who didn't. "But none of that is really the point." Rodney stood straighter, crossing his arms and glowering at them, as if everyone else in the room were somehow the cause of his obvious bad mood. "The point is, so we've probably found it. Now, what do we do about it?"
John blinked. Evan actually bobbed back a bit, as if Rodney's words had slapped him.
"You mean, should we tell her or not," Evan said flatly. And no one needed to mention that the 'her' was Elizabeth.
"Exactly." That was Radek, who was nodding in response to Evan's non-question. "If we tell her Roy has succeeded in finding a possible way back, we will have no choice but to investigate. And if we investigate...."
"We're sure to find it," Rodney interjected. "Because it's not like we haven't been dealing with an eidetic memory, here. And I'm fairly certain we all know what finding it will mean."
If they found the quantum mirror or whatever, Roy would have to go back. There was no question about it. It'd been obvious what Elizabeth was thinking for days.
"I am required in my universe," Roy said. He hadn't lifted his head yet, which said all that Roy needed to about how thrilled he was about this, as far as John was concerned. "I need to inform them of the deaths of the rest of my team, as well as prepare them for the dangers you informed me of in this universe."
"I'm pretty sure they already know your team didn't make it," Evan said gently. "They probably sent a MALP through as soon as you missed a check-in." He shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "That's what I would have done."
Rodney snorted mirthlessly. "I'm sure they've been wondering what happened to their missing light switch." He pulled a hand out the crook of his elbow to raise it. "I vote we erase the data and tell Elizabeth Roy's stuck here. Who's with me?"
John lifted his hand, but Evan didn't raise his. Radek didn't either.
"I am sorry," Radek said. He sounded dispirited. "I do not wish for Roy to go, but I will not lie to the head of the expedition."
"Me neither," Evan said. He looked at John, his expression apologetic. "I'm sorry too, but I won't do that. If she can't trust us, what are we doing here?"
"Oh come on!" Rodney blasted them. "It's not like we're plotting mutiny here. So we...." He made a movement like a guilty shrug. "Fudge a little data. It's not like it's never been done before."
"I'm not lying," Evan said.
"I am not going to lie to DoctorElizabethWeir either," Roy said.
John rubbed his face with his hand. "She's not going to let you stay, Roy," John said, biting back the frustration. He'd been pretty sure what Evan's reaction would be. That didn't make it any easier to deal with.
"You do not know that," said Radek.
"Of course we do!" That was Rodney, so loudly and vehemently that John blinked and lifted his head to stare at him.
Rodney was glaring at Radek. "Like it's not obvious," he snorted contemptuously. "When has she taken this long to decide anything? She's stalling for time, that's all. I promise you, when the time comes for the tearful farewells, she'll be first in line."
Rodney ripped his glare from Radek to pin Evan. "Is this what you really want, Lorne? John's told me a little bit about what your alternate did to Roy and Seven." He gestured sharply at Roy. "He doesn't even think Roy is a person, let alone a being worthy of humane treatment! Do you really want to send him back to that? What?" Rodney added suddenly, swinging his gaze to John with the intensity of a laser.
"Nothing," John said quickly, wrenching his attention away. He hadn't realized he'd made any kind of noise. He made sure his features were schooled, hands loose and relaxed at his sides. "It's just, I agree with McKay," he said to Evan. "I can understand your reluctance about this. Really, I can. I don't want to lie to her either. But you know what's going to happen to him! How can you be okay with that?"
"I'm not okay with that!" Evan exploded. "Jesus Christ, John, you of all people should know how much I'm not okay with this! But I refuse to participate in a lie." He took a deep breath. "Please don't put me in that position, sir."
John closed his eyes. Evan had used the 'sir' on purpose, to remind John not only of Evan's place and rank in the expedition, but John's as well. And to make him remember that there was more at stake here than just what John wanted.
"I will not put you in that position, Evan," Roy said before John could open his mouth. Roy sat straighter on the stool, head lifted, and John could finally see something on his face--a mix of purpose and resignation. "I appreciate what you want to do for me. But I think this should be my decision." He stood, so he could more easily look at Rodney, whose expression was thunderous. "I want to tell DoctorElizabethWeir about our findings," he said.
"No," Rodney snapped.
"McKay...!" John said warningly.
"No," Rodney said again. He pulled his crossed arms in more closely to his body, as if he were a bulwark about to be besieged. "You know what will happen to you if you go back there," Rodney said to Roy. Then he turned to John. "He's been abused for years by those people. This is probably the first decision he's ever made in his life. He's not compos mentis enough to know what he wants!"
"He is not a child, Rodney," Radek said.
Rodney opened his mouth, and John could see the yes he is! forming on his lips. And even though John flinched inwardly at it, he couldn't deny how much it fit. But Roy interrupted before Rodney could say anything.
"I know what I'm doing, DoctorRodneyMcKay," he said. "And I am aware of the probable consequences. I am going to inform DoctorElizabethWeir of our discovery."
Rodney deflated all at once. He looked around the room, his blue eyes horrified and beseeching. "And you're all okay with this? With Roy just, just sacrificing himself for the sake of your honor?" He turned to Roy again. "You don't even want to go, do you?"
Roy stared steadily back. "What I want is irrelevant."
"How can you say that?" Rodney exclaimed in obvious fury. "You're an AI--you can't possibly be that stupid! The only relevant thing here is what you want!"
"Rodney," John said. He gave his voice the same tone he used off-world, when either he shut Rodney up long enough so that Rodney could focus through the problem, or they'd all die. And Rodney shut up immediately, like he always did.
"This is what he wants," John said.
"But it isn't. That's the point," Rodney protested, but his voice had dulled. "Okay, fine," he said on a breath, defeated and sad. He looked at Roy. "Just...can you at least wait a day before you tell her? I--we--got the simulation working, and I think we can implement it. I was going to do that today, and I, it needs your help." He scowled a little. "I'm sure you can hold off on obliterating all traces of your self-preservation protocols for twenty-four hours."
"Rodney," John said tiredly. Rodney ignored him.
"We were also thinking that if Elizabeth sees the full benefits of having an AI on Atlantis, she will change her mind," Radek said.
Roy blinked a couple times, which meant he was doing some serious deliberation. "Okay," he said.
"Great," John said. "That's great." And it was. John just wondered if it would make any difference.
"Wow," Rodney said dryly, "this feels familiar."
John just smiled that almost-shy smile of his, the one that he used mostly to charm Elizabeth and other unwary denizens of the Pegasus galaxy. Normally it wouldn't have impressed Rodney much, but the fact that John was standing in his doorway at all, especially with that uncertain smile, was enough to make Rodney sigh, drop his crossed arms and move so that John could enter.
"Um," John said. He had come in only far enough for the door to Rodney's quarters to shut behind him, and he didn't seem inclined to go any further, as if the proximity to the door ensured he could run whenever he wanted. John had his hands in his pockets, and was looking down at the floor like the grayish tint of the material was particularly fascinating.
Rodney crossed his arms again. "It's been six days, John," he said. "Surely you've figured out what you want to say by now."
John raised his head and narrowed his eyes at him. "I was about to say that I...might have been...a little off in my interpretation of things. Before."
Rodney blinked at him. "Before what?"
He saw a muscle in John's cheek twitch. "Before," he repeated, a little irritably. "Like, the last time I was in here."
Rodney stared at him, feeling the smile slowly spreading across his face. "You mean, you've finally figured out that you were wrong, wrong, wrong, and you've come crawling in here in abject remorse to beg for my magnanimous forgiveness, haven't you?"
John's eyes narrowed even further, until Rodney wasn't sure how he could even see.
"I came here to apologize, Rodney," John snarled. "But you know what? Forget it." He turned and took a single, stalking step towards the door.
Rodney grabbed his arm just as the door slid open. "Wait!" he said quickly. "Wait, okay? Please," he added when John just looked at him, face blank and one foot still half across the threshold. "I'm sorry. I want to hear what you have to say. Please." He ignored the internal flare of annoyance that even though John was at fault here Rodney was somehow the one apologizing, and was careful not to smile in triumph when John backed up enough that the door shut again. John turned so that he and Rodney were facing each other.
"So," John said, apparently at another loss for words. "I came here to apologize."
Rodney nodded, didn't roll his eyes. He noticed he was still holding John's arm, but only tightened his grip a tiny bit; he hadn't touched him in days. "You said that, yes."
"Right." John cleared his throat. "I'm sorry that I overreacted to what you said about Roy," he said, like he'd been practicing it. "I didn't...I should have known that you didn't think about me...about AIs...the way it sounded like you did."
"Thank you," Rodney said. He wondered if his face showed as much shock as he felt. John wasn't very good at being wrong--he'd been known to lie just so he wouldn't look bad--and he was even worse at apologizing. Rodney hadn't expected this: that he really would, or that he'd mean it.
John nodded. "You're welcome."
He didn't look relieved though, Rodney noted. John was still looking like he'd much rather be out the door, much rather be anywhere than in Rodney's quarters, talking to him.
Rodney sucked in a breath, steeling himself. It wasn't as if he enjoyed this kind of stuff either. "So, you've said you're sorry and I've accepted. I'm assuming you're not breaking up with me,"--John's deer-in-headlights expression at that was answer enough, and Rodney had to fight not to show the depth of his relief--"so I think you should actually be happier than you look. Not that you're anything but inscrutable at the best of times, of course," he added immediately, because he always talked too much when he felt uncertain. "But you look slightly less inscrutable and slightly more unhappy than you should. I think. Given the circumstances. So, what's going on?"
John smirked, but it was one of his sad ones and it disappeared almost instantly. "I'd been thinking about it, after talking to Roy," he said. He looked like getting the words out was physically painful. Rodney could sympathize but he didn't say anything. "About what it would have been like to stay an AI. How I'd be treated." John shook his head, lips pressed and flat, and Rodney could see the anger rekindling in his eyes. "And I was figuring it'd be pretty much the same as him." John gave a tiny, stiff-shouldered shrug. "So when you started talking about how important it was that Teyla and Ronon weren't robots...."
"You started thinking you were right," Rodney said, understanding.
John nodded. "Yeah," he said quietly. "So I took it out on you. But I should have known you were different, that you didn't mean it like that. And I know that the reason you wanted to give me back to the store wasn't really because you were ashamed of your feelings for me. It was because you thought I'd never be able to...love you in return."
Rodney nodded, throat suddenly a little thick. "That's right," he said. "It was a pathetic, last-ditch attempt to salvage what was left of my sanity." He put his hands on John's shoulders, rubbing his thumbs gently up and down over his collarbones. "I would never have given you back, John," Rodney said. "I know I said I would, and that I'd already contacted the company, but--I wouldn't have done it. I was going to cancel the return request even before I found out you were sick."
"Really?" The sudden, amazed delight in John's smile made Rodney feel simultaneously relieved that he'd told him, and awful that he hadn't told him sooner.
But, "Oh, absolutely," was all he said, because if he'd done it right, if he'd been honest in the first place, with John, with himself, John would have known it, how much Rodney had always loved him. He smiled, remembering. "You were mine from the minute you scammed your way through my door."
John's smile faded until it was only there in his eyes. "Thank you," he said, before he kissed him.
Rodney sighed the last of his tension away into John's mouth. He felt John's hands on either side of his head, warm and strong; they had never felt any different.
Evan caught John just as he was exiting Dr. Weir's office. John looked murderous, so angry that he couldn't even contain it anymore. Evan glanced through the door and saw Elizabeth sitting rigidly at her desk, looking if anything even more furious than John did.
Evan allowed himself a long, slow intake of breath, then had to hustle a little to catch up, since John was both taller and storming down the corridor so fast he might as well have been running.
"Morning, sir," Evan said pleasantly. "Ready to check out that supposed cloning lab?" He just raised his eyebrows when John glowered in response. It wasn't like he'd been expecting anything else.
He peripherally noted their surroundings, making sure they were headed in the right direction to the lab Roy had said would be there. Evan hadn't been particularly looking forward to scientist escort duty in the first place. There was rarely anything more boring than waiting until someone either needed you to make Ancient tech work or to shoot something, unless it was moving garbage while you were waiting. At least Radek and O'Neill's team would also be there, which meant that there'd be other people to talk to. He doubted John was going to be much for conversation.
They left the occupied area of Atlantis, and took one of the less-well-used corridors on the way to the lab.
"Damn it, John!" Evan exclaimed, shucking any pretense of formality as soon as they were out of sight and earshot of anyone else. "What the hell did you go back to her for? Do you think her answer's going to change if you keep harassing her every twenty minutes?" It was obvious John had gone to Elizabeth about Roy. Again. There was no other reason for either of them to be fuming like this. "Did her answer change?"
John gave his head a quick, violent shake. "She said she still hasn't made her decision yet," he spat. Evan could see the muscles in John's jaw twitching.
"You're really not helping things, here," Evan said.
"I'm not going to sit back and wait while someone's life hangs in the balance!" John blasted out air through his cheeks then shook his head. "I need to tell her about my past, Evan," he said. "It's the only way she'll understand what Roy is. She needs to know that he's a person, not a Replicator. Hell," he spat, "in a our reality, he'd already be human!"
"You can't," Evan said flatly. His heart had sped up, and it had nothing to do with the fact he was all but jogging to stay abreast of John. "We already talked about this. Even if I'm wrong and she doesn't just resent you for withholding information, it's not just about you. There's at least six other people besides you and me who will end up directly affected by her knowing about the AI project--Cam included. General O'Neill included. Not to mention Rodney. What do you think will happen to them if she goes to the SGC about this? Or to the IOA?"
"And what about Roy?" John hissed. Even in a deserted corridor, he knew better than to shout. "What's going to happen to him if I don't say anything?"
"You don't know that it will help him if you do!" Evan did shout then. He grabbed John's arm with a quick, angry yank that got John to turn towards him and stop. Standing this close together Evan had to look up to see John's face, but that had never mattered. "Look," he said, trying to speak calmly and not shove the words through his teeth, "I know how you feel. I know how you feel," he repeated, when John opened his mouth again. "I raised you and Cam, and Roy's just like you guys were. Do you really think I'm going to stand by and do nothing if Elizabeth really does decide to send him back?"
"She's already decided," John said. "She's just waiting to make sure we can."
John was probably right, but that wasn't going to help the situation here. "Well, if she has, badgering her isn't going to change her mind."
"So let me do something that will!" John shot back. "How can you--" His radio chirped. "Fuck," he said, and tapped it to open a channel. "What?" he snapped into it, then Evan watched the tension creep into John's face as he listened to the response. "I'm on my way," John said. He glanced at Evan. "Lorne's coming too."
"It's Roy," John said as soon as he'd shut his radio off. He turned and started walking quickly back the way they'd just come. "He's with Rodney in the Command Chair room and he's having some kind of problem."
"Okay," Evan said. What now? he thought, but he didn't say it. John contacted Radek, to tell him they were going to be delayed.
"I hope this isn't a big deal," Evan said. The last thing they needed right now was another reason for Roy to get Weir's hackles up.
John nodded. "It's probably nothing."
Rodney clapped his hands. "All right kids, listen up, because I'm only going to say this once. You and you." He pointed to Dr. Simpson and Dr. Rajan, who were standing next to the equipment that had been rolled into the room, "will be monitoring the power levels and the rate of re-absorption of the lost power from the ZPM. You will not take your eyes off your screens until I say so." They nodded rapidly. "Great," Rodney said, satisfied.
He pointed at Roy next, who had been staring at the Command Chair like he'd never seen it before, which wasn't a good sign. "You--into the Command Chair. You will do nothing until I tell you to, understand?"
"Yes, DoctorRodneyMcKay," Roy said. He answered immediately as usual, but there was something about his voice that made Rodney look at him again.
Roy seemed...nervous? Maybe? Rodney wasn't sure, but he was used to how closed-off John was about the majority of his feelings, so he was fairly confident he'd seen a flash of anxiety cross that artificially smooth and handsome face, before Roy's features cleared again.
"You, uh, okay there, Roy?" Rodney asked, because the last thing he needed was someone anxious in the chair who might either not be able to get anything to work properly, or worse, would pull a Carson and accidentally kill someone. Rodney didn't exactly want drones suddenly released into their workspace. "You've used the Command Chair, right?"
Roy gave a single, tight nod. "I am familiar with the Command Chair, DoctorRodneyMcKay, and I am functioning within acceptable parameters," he said, though he looked so drawn that Rodney was tempted to postpone the tests so he could give him a complete diagnostic.
But ever since Roy had found that fucking quantum mirror planet, time was no longer a luxury, and with Lorne and John helping Radek and Baby Team O'Neill explore the cloning lab, the number of people Rodney trusted to use the chair properly had dropped to exactly one. And unlike the three airmen, Roy actually knew what Rodney was trying to do here, which would make a difference.
All the same, Rodney made a mental note to get John to replace Roy as soon as possible, then turned to his own equipment.
"DoctorRodneyMcKay," Roy said. His voice was quiet, but carried a particular tone that made Rodney whip around to look at him again.
Roy had made it about two steps closer to the chair, then apparently just...stopped. His breathing had sped up, Rodney noted. AIs were designed to do that to get extra energy from the oxygen in the air, in preparation for something that would require significant effort. Roy's artificial heart would be beating faster as well, for the same reason.
Fight-or-flight response in a robot. And Roy's eyes were wide and almost blank with fear.
"I'm experiencing a malfunction," he said. He was looking at the chair like it was the most terrible thing he'd ever seen, like he'd die if he took as much as one step closer. "I am attempting to comply with your order, but I--but I can't."
The sudden stutter was more telling than Roy's apparent inability to move. "You two," Rodney barked at the other scientists, who had been watching like startled rabbits, "Out. Now. Don't come back until I call you. Get coffee or something. That wasn't a suggestion," he snarled when they just blinked at him. He pointed at the door. "Out. We'll continue this later."
He waited until Simpson and Rajan had scuttled out and the door had shut behind them. Then, "Okay," he said to Roy, who was still staring at the chair like it was about to kill him, "They're gone. You can freak out now if you need to, though I'd really, really rather you didn't. But you don't have to sit in the Command Chair, okay? You can go as far away from it as you want. Here, look," he said. He made sure Roy was watching him before he lifted his hand to his radio. "I'm going to call John and Evan, all right? They'll be here in just a few minutes. Can you...do you think you can hang on until then?"
Roy nodded numbly. He was shaking. Rodney was almost certain that if he'd been human he might be crying as well, or screaming, or possibly curled up on the floor. Rodney had been forced to deal with all of that since coming to the Pegasus galaxy. Some of it he'd done himself. He knew what a breakdown looked like. He'd just never expected an AI to have one.
"Sheppard, come in," he said into his radio.
"What?" John said. He sounded angry, which Rodney assumed was because the Lesser O'Neill had pissed him off again. They were similar enough to occasionally mix like fire and jet fuel.
"It's Roy," Rodney said, and he could practically hear John's sudden alert wariness over the radio. "He's...having a bit of a problem with the Command Chair. I think you should come here and change places with him." It wouldn't be as easy working with John, who smart as he was didn't know the details of the project the way Roy did, but that couldn't be helped.
"I'm on my way," John said, still snappish but definitely focused now. "Lorne's coming too," and it was the way that John said Lorne, not Evan, and not with any kind of friendliness in his voice, that made Rodney suspect that the reason for John's anger wasn't Jonathan O'Neill after all. But John cut the connection before Rodney could ask about it.
Rodney cut the connection from his end as well. Then he took a step closer to Roy, arms spread in a way that he dearly hoped looked nonthreatening. "What happened?" he asked. "I mean," he amended quickly, "what's going on in your head?" He winced. Kate Heightmeyer had tried to teach him some of this stuff after the first time one of his scientists started weeping for no reason during a brainstorming session before the Wraith attacked. Rodney hadn't even spoken to the guy, but suddenly Ramsey was hugging himself and sobbing. He'd been one of the first people evacuated from the city, and Rodney had asked Heightmeyer if there was any way he could keep the chaos to a minimum when (not if) it happened again. But he wasn't very good at remembering what she told him, except that he was meant to be quiet and gentle, which was difficult.
"Seven was rendered nonfunctional when the Wraith attacked Atlantis," Roy said, like he was reciting a report, but his tone was belied by the anguish on his face and the tremors still wracking him. "I have no memory of what transpired, but he was in the Command Chair immediately preceding his suffering catastrophic failure. I am aware of that."
"I'm so sorry," Rodney said, meaning it. "You should have said something."
"I did not realize my memory of the event would cause any difficulty," Roy said.
"Well, these things are hard to predict," Rodney said, trying to be jovial and failing miserably. He slowly closed the remaining distance between them and put his hand carefully on Roy's arm. Sometimes people who were experiencing things like this didn't want to be touched, Rodney did remember that. But Roy allowed Rodney to turn him away from the chair and lead him slowly towards the door exiting the lab. Roy's arm jumped under Rodney's, and he was still breathing too fast. It was lucky there was no concern about him passing out from hyperventilating, though he would need to recharge more quickly if he couldn't stop shaking.
Rodney thought frantically about what he should do with him. If Roy were a human, Rodney would have Lorne and John escort him to the infirmary, where he'd probably be sedated and get to sleep for a few hours before some kind of marathon session with Heightmeyer. But Roy wasn't human, and Rodney had no idea if Heightmeyer could do him any good. Sedation certainly wouldn't.
"I think you should go to the mess with John and Evan and get some more power," he said. The lunch-time crowd would be a distraction, at least. Rodney just hoped that was a good idea.
"Sure thing," Roy said distantly.
But the doors slid open before Rodney could drag Roy to them, and John and Lorne stalked in. They both looked angry but when John saw Roy his expression changed immediately to worry.
"What is it?" Lorne asked Rodney. His voice was still harsh from whatever argument he'd evidently been having with John.
Roy tore his arm out of Rodney's grip and threw himself at Lorne.
It happened so fast that by the time Rodney fully comprehended what Roy had just done, Lorne was already on the floor with Roy kneeling over him, hitting him so hard the crack of metal fist against human flesh sounded like a gunshot. John was shouting Roy's name, trying to pull him off, but Roy was either ignoring him or so completely gone he couldn't hear. He hit Lorne again, and then a third time, his knuckles coming away red. Roy's lips were pulled far back from his gritted, perfect teeth, and his expression was so enraged it was like Rodney wasn't looking at a robot, but an animal.
Lorne had been trying to hit back, but his struggles were already faltering, his arms falling uselessly to the floor. Roy hit him again, and Evan's eyes went glassy and vacant.
"Roy! God damn it, stop!" John managed to catch Roy's wrist as it came back for yet another blow. John slid his opposite forearm under Roy's chin and yanked backwards, trying to pull him away.
"Eight!" Rodney barked, and Roy's eyes flashed towards him. "Second law!" He made his voice carrying and clear.
Roy keeled over into John's grasp.
Rodney ran over immediately, pushing Roy off Lorne as John finished pulling him away. Lorne was unconscious, face bloody and already swelling with bruises.
"Evan!" John crashed to his knees next to Lorne, frantically searching for a pulse at his throat. Rodney could hear Evan breathing, but he couldn't tell if it was normal or not.
Rodney helped John straighten Lorne on the floor. There was more blood pooling around the back of Lorne's head, blood on his face and coming from his nose. His pulse seemed okay when Rodney felt for it as well, but Rodney was hardly an expert in these things.
John was on his radio, calling in a medical emergency. His voice had that brittle anger to it that Rodney knew meant John was actually afraid. John had knocked Rodney's hand away from Lorne's pulse point, to check it again. Rodney wondered if John even knew his fingers were still on Lorne's neck.
"They'll be here soon," John said distractedly. He sat back on his heels and yanked off his jacket, laying it over Lorne. Rodney shucked his jacket as well, putting it under Lorne's feet to protect against shock.
John glanced back at Roy, who had been left on the floor where John had dropped him like a broken toy. His replica of Mitchell's face looked boyish and incapable of harm, as long as you didn't look at the hands.
"Why the hell did he attack him?" John demanded, as if Rodney somehow had the answer. He looked at Rodney, bewildered and angry. "He could have killed him!"
"I don't know," Rodney said. He eased himself into sitting cross-legged on the floor. He rubbed his hand over his face. He was feeling tired and a little shaky now that the adrenaline was wearing off. "He told me Seven was using the Command Chair when he was killed by the Wraith. Roy was paralyzed, too upset to get into it. That's why I called you."
"He was going to beat him to death," John said. The certainty in his voice was chilling, and Rodney completely agreed with him. John drew a less-than-steady breath. He looked at Roy again then back at Rodney. "Is he dead?" he asked, his voice caught somewhere between accusing and horrified.
"No," Rodney said quickly. "He's in Emergency Sleep Mode." He gestured at his head. "I, ah, put in a failsafe code, when Radek and I were repairing him."
"You hacked into his brain?" John asked, gaping.
"Not exactly," Rodney said tiredly. "We had to go over his code anyway, to make sure no errors had crept in because of the physical damage." He shrugged. "I just added two lines. He was a completely unknown quantity, John. I wanted to make sure he wasn't suddenly going to turn into HAL 9000 on us."
John let out an explosive sigh and ran his fingers through his hair. "Which he just did. Jesus Christ." He sat back on his heels, checking Lorne's pulse again. He looked at Roy, who was completely still and silent. "I thought we could trust him," John said. And his voice was hard now, betrayed. "But if you hadn't put in that failsafe, Evan would be dead." He turned towards Rodney again. "I don't get it--Roy and Evan were getting along fine! Why go and do this?"
Rodney took a breath. "I think Roy thought he was protecting you."
"All right," Rodney said. He rubbed his hands together briskly, like he was about to do some kind of technical demonstration, but the only equipment near him was the television/DVD player combo next to Evan's bed. "Thanks for coming, everyone." He looked at Elizabeth. "Especially as I know, ah, that not everyone wants to be here."
"I have no problem being here, Rodney," Elizabeth said, though John thought that the way she was standing with her arms crossed and her face tense said otherwise. "But I have to admit I'm not really sure what the point is. We've already determined that the quantum mirror chamber Roy's team inadvertently triggered is intact and still functioning. As it stands, the only real issue is whether we revive Roy before sending him home, or leave him in sleep mode."
John clenched his jaw. "Let's hear McKay out," he drawled, trying to sound like he wasn't really invested in this, that he could still be objective about it. The quick, inscrutable look Dr. Heightmeyer gave him made him think he hadn't managed it.
"That is why we're here, John," Elizabeth said. She turned back to Rodney. "What was it you wanted to show us?"
"Yes, of course," Rodney said. He faced the television and moved it until the entire group gathered there could see it: Radek, Evan--who still looked battered and miserable after two days, even though Carson said he could return to light duties that afternoon--Dr. Kate Heightmeyer and Elizabeth, and of course Rodney and John. "Everyone can see the screen, right? Kate?" He asked Heightmeyer specifically, and she moved a little, then nodded.
"I'm still not sure why you want me here, Rodney," she said. "I told you I have no experience with robotics."
"You don't need any," Rodney said dismissively. He picked up the remote and backed up until he was out of everyone's way, standing next to John. The television was at Evan's feet, with everyone standing around his bed. "I just want you to watch this, and tell me what it looks like."
John had been there, of course. He knew what it had looked like at the time--a crazed android suddenly beating the shit out of Evan for no reason. Even after Rodney had told him everything that had happened: Roy's terror at the Command Chair; his telling Rodney that Seven had been there when he was killed, it had been hard to believe that Roy hadn't just gone berserk. That maybe Elizabeth had been right, and they should have never considered allowing him to stay in their reality in the first place.
But this wasn't the first time John had seen the camera feed from the Command Chair room, and looking at the events unfold changed everything. John just hoped that Elizabeth and Heightmeyer would agree with him.
They all watched in silence as Roy stopped dead before he could get into the Command Chair, how he was shaking so badly it could be picked up by the camera on the other side of the room. The cameras had no audio feed, but Rodney had a good memory, and he quietly supplied a narration.
"That's when I called John on the radio," Rodney said, gesturing at the screen with the remote. "And after that Roy told me how Seven--that was the other AI he'd been raised with--had been killed in the Command Chair during the Wraith siege. Roy told me he'd been damaged and didn't remember what happened."
"Wait," Heightmeyer said, raising a slender hand. Rodney paused the disk immediately. "I just want to make sure I'm on the same page here. There were two AIs originally, and they were close?"
"Like brothers," John said grimly. He couldn't help glancing at Evan, though Evan's answering expression was unreadable under all the bruising. Roy had done one hell of a job on him. The orbit of Evan's left eye and his cheekbone were cracked, and his nose was broken. Carson had been certain that another blow or two would have detached the retina of Evan's left eye as well. The right side of his face had done better only because John had grabbed Roy's other arm.
John could understand that kind of rage; he just couldn't understand what had caused it.
"Seven and Eight were companions from the moment they first came on-line," Evan said. He was speaking slowly and quietly, which John knew was a combination of the painkillers and the swelling around his mouth.
"He had a few friends, but no one close from what he's told us," John added. "Just Seven."
Heightmeyer nodded. "I see," she said. "Thank you." She gestured at the screen. "Please go ahead."
Rodney started the DVD again. "I convinced him to leave the Chair room." On the screen Rodney gently turned Roy around and began leading him to the door. It was easier to see Roy's face now, and his trapped, terrified expression. They got about half way to the doors before they slid open to let John and Evan in.
"Stop," Heightmeyer said again. Rodney stopped the feed. "What did Evan say?" It had been possible to see Evan's lips moving.
"'What is it?'," Evan quoted himself. "That's all. Then he just came at me."
At Heightmeyer's nod Rodney started the DVD again. On the screen, Evan's lips hadn't even stopped before Roy was across the room, attacking with a fury and violence that was almost worse to see from a distance than it had been to experience at the time. John forced himself not to look away.
"That's probably enough," Rodney said quickly. He stopped the disk just as Roy's first devastating punch sent Evan to the floor.
"I think it is a memory, that makes him do this, myself," Radek said. He looked at Heightmeyer, as if for confirmation.
"Rodney said Roy had no memory of Seven's death," Elizabeth said. She was staring at the screen, fingertips touching her lips. John wondered how awful it had been for her to watch.
Heightmeyer was silent for a long time. She had her chin propped on her folded hand, studying the screen. "Rodney, you also said that the Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne from Roy's reality tortured both robots?"
"Repeatedly," Rodney said with vehemence. "As in, nearly starving them to death on a regular basis."
"He means denying them power until they faced total systems failure," Radek clarified.
"They were whipped periodically as well," John said. "Roy said that's standard military discipline."
"Thank you," Heightmeyer said. She clasped her hands loosely in front of her. "As I said, I have no experience with robotics. But if that had been a human in there, I would say he was exhibiting signs of severe post-traumatic stress disorder. And that the attack was precipitated by a flashback caused by Major Lorne's and Colonel Sheppard's appearance in the Chair room."
"Bingo!" Rodney exclaimed, pointing at her in triumph. He turned to Elizabeth, his blue eyes practically glowing. "Roy didn't go rogue on us--he had a flashback in the Chair room. He thought he was attacking the man who had tortured him and Seven."
"To protect me," John added, because that was important.
John saw Elizabeth take a deep breath and square her narrow shoulders. "Well," she said on an exhale, "I can see how you might come to that conclusion, Rodney, but you yourself just told us that Roy has no memory of Seven's death, so how could those events have triggered a flashback? And even so, that still doesn't explain why he attacked Evan. Colonel Lorne wasn't responsible for Seven's death. The Wraith were."
"It's possible that Colonel Lorne had become so enmeshed in Roy's memory with what he and Seven endured that he attacked him as if he were a Wraith," Heightmeyer said. She looked at Elizabeth. "If that were the case, I would say his actions were completely involuntary."
"That's only if you're correct, Kate," Elizabeth said. "Can a being with a computer for a brain...mix up memories like that?" she asked Rodney and Radek.
"No," Radek said. "At least, not as far as we know."
"Except that Roy had a lot of trouble distinguishing me from Colonel Lorne," Evan said.
"That's certainly understandable," Heightmeyer said. She smiled sympathetically. "I'd have a lot of trouble accepting that someone who looked so familiar could be a different person. But that's not the same as attributing Seven's death to a party who wasn't responsible."
"Look," Elizabeth said, sounding like her patience was being tested. "This is interesting, but none of this is convincing me that Roy isn't dangerous. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if this was a flashback or not. I can't have anyone in this city who's going to turn on us like that."
"That's not fair," John said, fighting to keep his voice level. "If he's got PTSD, there's no reason we couldn't--"
"There's no proof that this is the result of any kind of mental trauma, John!" Elizabeth burst out. She gestured violently at Rodney and Radek. "They said themselves that Roy has no memory of how Seven supposedly died, so how could what happened reasonably be considered a flashback?" She shook her head angrily. "You could just as easily say he was trying to get revenge on the wrong person."
"Just a moment, Colonel," Heightmeyer said before John could respond to Elizabeth. Biting back his reply felt like it took physical effort.
"Could he have actually suppressed the memory?" Heightmeyer asked Rodney and Radek. She looked at Elizabeth. "That often happens in cases of severe trauma. The victim consciously or unconsciously makes the memory unavailable, but then becomes susceptible to it surfacing involuntarily. And when that happens, it's almost impossible to distinguish the flashback from reality."
"I don't see how a robot could suppress his own memory, either," Elizabeth said wearily. It was pretty obvious that she just wanted Roy gone. She rubbed the middle of her forehead, like she was in pain. "I hate to say this, but it's beginning to seem like we're all grasping at straws here, when we have a viable recourse."
"Sending him back to Colonel Lorne isn't viable," John said.
Elizabeth returned his glower coolly. "Neither is leaving Major Lorne--or anyone else--vulnerable to random attacks."
Radek took off his glasses and rubbed the side of his nose with his thumb. "I must say that I do think an AI such as Roy could suppress a memory, in that it would be possible to make it physically inaccessible, like a bad file. But Rodney and I found no evidence of that."
"We didn't look at his memory," Rodney said, but his expression had gone distant in the way it did when he was solving a problem in his head. John found himself edging nearer to him in anticipation. "Because it was intact. But what if...." He looked up, eyes wide. "What if he wasn't damaged during the Wraith attack? What if the memory of Seven's death had been erased?"
Evan eased himself up a little higher on the backrest. "But, if they did that, wouldn't that just bring us back to the same problem?"
Rodney and Radek stared at each other at the same time. "The backup!" they said almost in unison.
Rodney began snapping his fingers, each click like an audible manifestation of the thoughts flaring in his brain. He looked at Heightmeyer, face alight with excitement. "They didn't erase the memory from his backup, and it's bleeding through. That's where the flashback came from, that's his suppressed memory!"
Elizabeth was blinking, looking like this revelation had rocked her a little bit. "You mean, if this is true, you could bring the memory back? Would that even do any good?"
"I have no idea," Rodney said, but he was still grinning, his attention on Heightmeyer. "But it could, right? I mean, one of the keys to getting over trauma is being able to remember it?"
Heightmeyer nodded slowly, but she looked as dubious as Elizabeth did. "That's true, but this is a highly irregular situation."
"It's a place to start though, isn't it?" Evan said. He looked at Elizabeth, his face serious under the mask of bruises. "I say we give him this chance, Elizabeth," he said. "I think he deserves that much. Please."
Elizabeth looked at him seriously in return, obviously cataloguing the damage Roy had inflicted on him. "Even after what he did to you?"
Evan nodded. "Especially after what he did to me," he said.
"Hey," John said quietly, and Rodney glanced up startled, nearly dropping the cables he was coiling. Carson had been adamant about not leaving equipment cluttering up his infirmary.
"What?" he asked John irritably. His mind was already down in the small auxiliary lab where they were keeping Roy's body, mentally tracing the connections he'd have to make in order to render Roy's memory visible; the code he'd have to pick through to find the proper memory in the first place, if it even existed. "Shouldn't you be with Elizabeth and the others?"
"I'm waiting for Lorne," John said. He angled his head towards the curtained-off area behind them where Lorne was changing back into his uniform.
"I'm fine," Lorne said. John just rolled his eyes.
"So you decided to bother me while I'm trying to get this done?" Rodney asked. "Here." He shoved the cables at John. "You could at least help me."
John didn't move. He was smiling, though. That slow, almost-sad one that never failed to grab Rodney's complete attention. And while Rodney was giving John his complete attention, John glided forward and kissed him.
There was no one else in the infirmary--other than Lorne, who knew about them--so after the tiny rush of panic for John's career, Rodney just went with it, letting John lead with his hands cupping Rodney's face because Rodney's hands were still full of the stupid cables. It was one of the languid, meticulous kisses that Rodney especially liked, where it seemed like they had nothing else in the world to do but explore each other. John's lips and tongue were thorough, clever as always, and Rodney had happily forgotten where they were and what he was meant to be doing by the time Lorne muttered, "Get a room already," behind them, and John finally pulled back.
"I, uh, meant that I wanted to thank you. For doing all this for Roy, and everything," John said. He glanced at Lorne a little guiltily, because it looked like Lorne had been standing there for awhile, looking ticked off and in pain, his arms crossed over his chest.
"Oh," Rodney said. He'd done it for John as well, of course, maybe even more for John. "Well, you're welcome." He was certain he was blinking idiotically, until he realized abruptly that the cables were dangling from his fingertips, needing to be coiled again. He put them on the table with the television screen, deciding he'd coil them properly later.
"So, uh, we should get down to the lab," Rodney said.
"Not on my account," Lorne said dryly.
John was still smiling. He reached up and brushed Rodney's cheek with his fingertips. "Thank you," he said again.
Rodney blinked several times. "Right, right," he said briskly, regaining some of his equilibrium. "I'm the best boyfriend ever. You're lucky to have me." He started pushing the equipment cart out of the room.
"I am," John said quietly, and Rodney looked over at him, and then couldn't help grinning.
Roy's inert body had been brought to one of the smaller laboratories, the same one where he had been rebuilt after arriving in their Atlantis. There was a sheet covering him--for privacy or dust, Elizabeth really wasn't sure--and Elizabeth more than half-expected that he'd be naked again, when Rodney folded the sheet back. But Roy was still in his borrowed uniform, looking exactly the same. Elizabeth had also expected there to be blood on his hands and face, since Evan had bled so much during Roy's attack. But it looked like someone had cleaned him, since his fake skin was immaculate.
The metal of the lab table, and the sheet, made it seem like they were in a morgue, which made Roy's similarity to Cameron Mitchell that much more disconcerting. It was as if Mitchell were lying there, dead, his body on display for some unfathomable purpose.
Elizabeth shivered and clasped her arms a tiny bit more tightly against her chest. She wasn't really spooked, but it wasn't like she didn't have enough reason to be.
"Are you sure what you're doing won't wake him?" she asked. She'd been concerned about Roy being down here in the first place, instead of in one of the cells, but both Rodney and Radek had assured her that Roy couldn't come out of this sleep mode without a special command input directly into his cerebral processor. Rodney had designed it that way to keep Roy quiescent if they had to, just as Rodney had decided it might be necessary to subdue Roy in the first place.
It had been necessary, and Elizabeth was grateful for Rodney's foresight, as much as she was horrified he'd been required to use it.
"Yes, I am absolutely certain he's not going to wake up," Rodney answered with his typical brusqueness. He had plugged a specially adapted USB cord into a port behind one of Roy's ears, and had then inserted the other, normal end into his laptop. The laptop in turn was cabled to a large screen like the one Rodney had brought to the infirmary.
"I can see why you wouldn't want him to be awake," Kate said. She had her arms crossed as well, with her yellow-accented jacket zipped all the way to her neck as if she were cold. "But I have to reiterate that this feels uncomfortably invasive to me. We're going into Roy's head without his permission."
"It's not all that different from him telling us," Evan said. "I'm sure he would have, if he'd been able to." He'd been allowed to return to light duties now, and had grudgingly accepted the lab stool John had quietly pulled out for him. Evan for his part actually looked a little brighter for being out of the infirmary, but Elizabeth only had to glance at the livid colors of the bruises on his face to know he had to be in a great deal of pain. She hoped this small search and display mission of Rodney's wouldn't take very long.
John was standing next to Evan with his hands in his pockets. It looked like he was purposely keeping himself still and unobtrusive, which was a welcome relief after his behavior the last several days. Elizabeth had ample knowledge of John's love of the underdog and pulling favorable outcomes from seemingly-impossible situations. His affection for Doug Flutie was only one example. But she still couldn't fathom why the fate of a single AI from a different reality meant so much to him. He had fought as tenaciously for Teyla when Sergeant Bates had accused her of aiding the Wraith, and John had certainly been persistent in urging Elizabeth to let Ronon join his team. But she didn't remember him becoming so enraged before this. Maybe the difference was that the other situations had been resolved more quickly, but that seemed too simple. With Roy, it was as if her unease about the AI was a personal betrayal of John
Perhaps it was just that Roy so closely resembled Colonel Mitchell.
"But it is different from Roy telling us," Heightmeyer said. "And the distinction is very important. We're doing this without Roy's consent." She pursed her lips. "I have to say I can't condone this."
Rodney looked up from what he was doing with an audible sigh of frustration. "We're doing this without Roy's consent because Elizabeth"--her lips thinned at the accusatory inflection Rodney put on her name--"won't allow us to wake him up first to ask him."
"I think it's better for all concerned if he remains inactive for now, Rodney," Elizabeth said, keeping her voice neutral. She could practically hear John thinking, better for you, but there was nothing she could do about that. "I'm certainly not willing to risk Evan's safety to assuage our consciences."
She was petty enough to be pleased at the minute flinch of guilt that crossed John's face. He might be convinced that Roy was a guileless and innocent victim here, but Elizabeth definitely wasn't.
"All right...." Rodney said. His eyes were fixed on the small laptop screen. "Here we go." He hit a key, and the larger screen flickered and went to snowy static. Rodney nodded to himself as he saw whatever was on the laptop. "I've set it up so that we'll be able to watch and hear the memory when I access it. Provided it's even there, of course." He raised his head so he could look at everyone. "Bear in mind that this will be through his eyes and ears, so it'll probably be a bit disorienting." He bent his head again to peer at the smaller screen. "This, ah, might take a few minutes."
"I should be helping you," Radek said, his voice heavy with exasperation. "It is obvious that my counterpart built his processor."
"Yes, sadly, you're right," Rodney said distantly, oblivious to Radek's scowl. "But you didn't make his memories, so that's...ah-ha! I'm in the backup." He grinned to himself. "Now we're laughing."
"It'd be funnier if you found something," Evan said.
"Oh, ha-ha," Rodney said. "You know, your 2IC is hilarious," Rodney was obviously speaking to John even though his eyes were still focused on the laptop screen. "This isn't the same as using the 'scene selection' function on a DVD. There's billions of bytes of information in here, and I have to--"
"Why don't you do a search for it?" John asked.
Rodney looked up at that, startled. "What? Like a Google search?" he asked acidly. "'Lorne-plus-Seven-plus-horrible trauma?' Do you really think his memory is set up so I can just...actually...." His expression changed immediately from annoyed to thoughtful, and then he said, "Wait a minute," and started typing furiously, attention riveted to whatever his laptop was showing him.
"Huh," Rodney said a few minutes later, after Elizabeth had begun shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot and wishing she'd thought to have Rodney set this up before they had come to the lab. Kate just looked anxious, and Radek both anxious and irritated.
"What?" John snapped. It sounded like his patience had worn through as well.
"I think I found it," Rodney said, except that he looked anything but triumphant. He swallowed, staring at the screen. He blinked a few times. "I can see why they erased it," he said quietly.
"Show it to us," Evan said. It was too measured to be an order, but Rodney seemed to jerk back into his own head, and hit a few more keys.
"All right, here it comes," he said, and the tone of his voice was a warning.
For less than a second the large screen sizzled with static, then they could all see the Command Chair room.
Elizabeth assumed that in the memory, Roy was on his knees because of the angle. Roy was next to someone else. A woman, apparently, since brown, messily-tied back curly hair was occasionally visible in the corner of his eye. Roy's hands were deep in the circuitry of what looked like a generator, one that Elizabeth guessed was his reality's equivalent of the Mark II Colonel Everett had brought with him when he'd aided them against the Wraith. It made Elizabeth wonder if there was an Everett in Roy's reality as well, and if the other Everett had died, since Jonathan O'Neill wouldn't have been there to save him.
But none of that was relevant to what she was looking at, which was increasingly desperate attempts to fix the generator, if the quiet swearing of the woman next to Roy gave any indication. She could also hear the impacts of Wraith missiles and kamikaze darts in the background.
"It's not working," the woman on the screen said out loud, and Elizabeth was abruptly struck by the woman's similarity to Rodney when Roy turned to look at her. It wasn't so much the features, which only vaguely resembled the man she knew, but rather the ferocious determination in her eyes, despite the way her face was pinched with fear.
"That's Jeanie!" Rodney exclaimed. He turned to John almost accusingly. "Why didn't you say my sister--!"
"Hush," Radek said. Amazingly, Rodney did.
"What's wrong?" Someone else's voice, another man, and Elizabeth followed Roy's gaze up and suddenly she was looking at John. He was in the Command Chair but had turned so he was looking at them. "DoctorJeanieMcKay?"
But of course it wasn't John. This was Seven, another robot. Not John at all. The semblance was uncanny, as Roy's was to Mitchell, but Seven's hair was shorter, his face smoother, unlined. He was wearing a uniform of the severest, darkest grey Elizabeth had ever seen.
"The stupid generator isn't working," Rodney's sister spat. "And if we can't fix it we won't be able to fly the jumpers remotely."
The AI version of John went still for a second, as if thinking, then he abruptly turned the chair off and got out of it.
"Hey, what are you doing?" Jeanie demanded.
"I can fly one of the jumpers," Seven said.
"The hell you will!" Jeanie said. She rocketed to her feet, snapping and pointing at the chair exactly the way Rodney might. "You get your butt right back in that chair, mister! No one is being stupidly suicidal today, got it?" She turned her glare on Roy. "That goes for you, too. I know you're thinking about it."
"But if we are unable--" That was Roy speaking as he stood as well, but he abruptly went quiet as the doors slid open.
Evan, no, Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne came through.
He looked...hard, Elizabeth thought. Angry. And there was a coldness to his features Elizabeth had never seen in the Evan she knew, which was far more striking than how much shorter his hair was, or how much more grey there was in it.
Elizabeth heard Evan's sharp intake of breath, and couldn't blame him. This man was nothing like Major Evan Lorne. This was not a man she would want to know.
"What is it?" the Colonel barked at Jeanie, and Elizabeth could hear Evan's involuntary noise of surprise. "Why aren't those jumpers in the air?"
Both the robots were completely, eerily silent, as if neither of them wanted to be noticed. Roy darted a quick look at Seven, and Elizabeth was shocked to see the naked fear in Seven's eyes. He appeared more scared of Lorne than of the Wraith.
"It's the Mark II generator," Jeanie said. She swept a loose strand of hair behind her ear. Her hand was shaking. "The fucking thing's broken, and we don't have the parts to fix it."
Colonel Lorne stared at her. "That's it? That's the problem?"
Jeanie nodded jerkily. "That's it."
"Good," Lorne said. And in one motion he unholstered a zat gun and shot Seven in the chest, twice.
Roy screamed, and Elizabeth realized she'd shouted with him, an inarticulate noise of shock and horror. On the screen--in Roy's memory, this had happened--Seven fell back against the chair, then slid to the floor on his side, remnants of the zat's charge sparking over his still body. His eyes were open and blank and he was very obviously dead.
Roy started towards Seven, but Jeanie gripped his wrist very, very tight.
"No," she hissed, and he stayed still.
"You've got your replacement parts now," Lorne said. He turned and stalked to the door. "Keep me informed." And the doors opened and shut and he was gone.
"No, no," Roy said, voice oddly steady. Jeanie let him go and he went to Seven, moved him gently so that he was lying on his back, looking up at nothing. Roy had his hands on Seven's unmoving chest. He looked at Jeanie, and Elizabeth could only imagine Roy's face. "He--he is no longer functioning. I can't--There is no--"
"I know!" Jeanie shouted. "I know," she said, much more quietly. She was crying, and wiped the tears away quickly with the palm of her hand. "He's dead, I know. There's nothing we can do for him, okay?" She swallowed heavily, glanced back at the generator. "We still have to fix it." She pulled a field knife from a sheath on her belt.
Rodney cut the feed as Jeanie, still crying, began slicing into the side of Seven's face.
Evan abruptly stood and walked out of the room. No one tried to stop him.
John swallowed. He looked shaken. He gestured at the doors. "I...I should go after him," he murmured. He didn't wait for anyone's reply before he left. His retreating footsteps sounded excruciatingly loud in the silence of the lab.
"I think that makes Roy's reaction to Major Lorne more understandable. Under the circumstances," Kate said woodenly.
Radek swallowed. "Yes."
Elizabeth nodded wordlessly.
Rodney was busy with removing the feed from his laptop to the screen, distracting himself, Elizabeth knew. But he stopped and looked at Kate. "I don't know if I should give that memory back to him," he said.
"It's his," she said simply. "And it was taken from him. He deserves to know what happened."
"Go ahead," Elizabeth said, when Rodney glanced at her. He nodded and began clicking keys again.
"Okay," Rodney said, a surprisingly short time later. "He'll be able to access the memory of Seven's...." His mouth tightened. "Of Seven's murder, as soon as he wakes up." He looked at Elizabeth again. "Do you...do you want me to?"
Elizabeth took a breath, nodded. "But I think John should be here," she said. "Give him a few minutes," she cautioned, when she saw Rodney raising his hand to his radio. "I think he and Evan both need some time."
The Ancients had thoughtfully put one of their equivalents of a restroom near the auxiliary labs, which at least meant Evan didn't have to go very far to find a place where he could throw up.
He was sure it was John who came into the room while he was still spitting bile into the ancient toilet, but Evan ignored him until he was finally sure that nothing else was going to come up. He did the hand-wave thing that made the toilets flush, then went to the sink and washed his face and rinsed his mouth until his teeth hurt. He could feel sweat along his temples and down his back, and moving this much was making the healing bones in his face ache.
Evan finished wiping the excess water off his face, but didn't bother to turn on the hot air jets to dry off. The cold water felt good on his skin. His face was still swollen where Roy had hit him, the skin blackened by bruising. It hurt when his hands skimmed over it.
He still looked exactly like the other Lorne, except for his hair. If he hadn't been beat up there'd be almost no difference at all between them.
Evan saw John's reflection beside him in the long mirror, and it was so easy to see him falling, dead from the zat gun in the other Evan's hand, that he gagged again.
John waited silently while Evan got control of himself, splashed more water on his face. His shirt collar was soaking to half way down his chest. He'd need to change before he went back to work. It seemed so strange to be thinking of that, something so simple, when in another life he had murdered the same man who was there to make sure he was all right.
"Hey," John said.
"Hey," Evan answered raggedly. He had no idea what else to say, what would even begin to get out what was going on inside him.
John had his hands in his pockets, near to him but not touching. "So," he said, "that sucked."
Evan swallowed. His eyes in the mirror were red-rimmed, he noticed dully. It felt like he was looking at a different person. "How could he do that?" he asked. He closed his eyes and swallowed again, and the next breath he took shuddered. His hands were pressed so tightly around the edge of the sink that they hurt, the metal digging into them.
John edged a little closer to him, so that their arms were touching.
"That wasn't you," John said.
Evan blasted out a breath through his teeth. "He killed him like it didn't matter," he said. "Like he was nothing. And I keep seeing it my head, and..." He wiped his eyes impatiently with his fingertips. John wasn't meant to see him like this. This wasn't how their relationship worked. Evan was the one who gave comfort, not the other way around. He knew he should tell John to leave, but he couldn't make himself do it.
"And I'm thinking," Evan said, voice like tumbling gravel, "is that in me too? Could I do that?"
"No," John said immediately. "No way in hell. That guy has nothing to do with you."
"He is me," Evan said.
"No," John said again, forcefully. He turned his head so that their eyes met in the mirror. "That guy--I don't know what happened to make him like that. But you look alike, that's all. That's the only thing."
Evan fought with the tightness in his throat, hating how difficult it was to speak. "I'd rather die than hurt you or Cam," he finally forced out. He looked down, because staring into the Ancient's idea of a properly aesthetic sink was better than looking at his face and seeing the other Lorne there. "But that Colonel...he's me, and--"
"Stop it!" John said, loudly enough that Evan's head snapped up and he winced with the jab of pain. John's reflection was glaring at him, hazel eyes dark and angry. "You have never hurt me or Cam. You get that? You've never hurt us," he repeated more gently. "It doesn't matter what that other Lorne looks like. He's not you. And you'll never be him."
Evan swallowed again. "Okay," he said, straightening. He wasn't sure if believed it, but John did, and John had never lied to him. He took a breath, didn't try to smile. "I want to go over there and kill him," he said.
"I know," John said seriously. "Me too." He reached over and clapped Evan on the shoulder. "You okay?"
Evan shook his head. "No."
"You will be," John said. "Come on. McKay is going to wake Roy up now. We should be there for it."
Evan stepped away from John. "I don't think I should be," he said, shaking his head. "The memory will be too fresh. I don't want one of the first people he sees to be the man who murdered his brother."
John's eyes narrowed. "You didn't hurt anyone."
"John," Evan said tiredly, "I'm still recovering from his attacking me because he thought I was Colonel Lorne. Don't force him to deal with it now."
John stared at him a moment, then nodded with obvious reluctance. "Fine," he said. He sighed, running his fingers through his hair. "Do you...do you need me to walk you to your quarters, or anything? I'm sure they won't mind waiting."
"No, that's fine," Evan said, forcing a smile. He gestured at his wet shirt. "I'll just change. I was going to go to my office anyway, catch up on some paperwork." He gripped John's arm for a moment. "Thanks, though. For everything."
"Anytime," John said seriously. Then he surprised Evan by yanking him into a quick, fierce hug. "Talk to you later," he said after he let go. Evan watched him leave.
Then Evan stayed where he was, staring at his face in the mirror. And he tried not to see the look of satisfaction on his own harder, harsher face, as John fell, dead, over and over again.
"So," Elizabeth said to the people gathered in her office, absently smoothing the file folder under her hands. "I've come to a decision."
No one had to ask about what. She saw John edge forward out of the corner of her eye. He probably didn't even realize he was doing it.
"As you know," she said to everyone, though she was specifically addressing Evan, Rodney and especially John, "I had some difficulty initially accepting that Roy was sentient." She put up her hand when Rodney, John and Radek all opened their mouths at once. "But once it became obvious that he was," she went on, eying all of them to make sure they would let her finish, "my greater concern was that he was what he appeared to be." She made sure her eyes were on John. "As we all know, there has been no dearth of people claiming to be one thing who ended up being something else entirely, to our detriment. And we have been forced, both here and in the Milky Way galaxy, to include artificial life-forms among those who can't be trusted. The Asurians have been only the most recent example of that."
"Your reaction to Roy is reasonable, given our experiences with the Asurians, and after what they did to you in particular," Kate Heightmeyer said.
Elizabeth nodded, smiling faintly. Much as she appreciated how Kate's training made her constantly understanding, she wasn't really looking for absolution here. "Thank you, I think it is as well. That said, my reaction might have been reasonable, but it was both wrong and damaging." She took a breath. She had always felt that one of the keys to good leadership was being able to admit when you'd made a mistake, but that never made having to do so any easier. "Seeing the truth of what Roy lived in his own reality has convinced me that he should stay with us, if he chooses to." She shook her head. "It would be criminal to make him go back there."
She thought that John might have hollered in triumph, if he hadn't been in her very public office. As it was, she was certain he would have hugged her if she'd been standing. She had rarely seen him look so happy, and had to thrust aside a stab of guilt that she had made him, made all of them, wait so long for her decision, especially when she knew they'd expected her to send Roy back. The fact that she had, indeed, been leaning in that direction only made John's obvious relief more poignant.
"Thank you," he said, and it was so heartfelt that she had to force herself not to look away.
Evan was smiling at John as fondly as a parent, even though John was years older. Elizabeth knew she would never really understand the nature of the relationship between them.
Rodney and Radek looked pleased as well, of course. Elizabeth had been sure they would be, since Roy had spent so much time working with them in the labs. Only Kate looked concerned.
Which led her back to the real reason for this meeting. "But I'm afraid that's not the only reason I called you here, and why I didn't think it appropriate for Roy to attend."
"He has a right to know what's going to happen to him," Evan said. His voice was mild, but she could see the disapproval on his face, despite the fading bruising.
Elizabeth chose to ignore that. "He does, absolutely. And he will." She looked at Kate. "But I don't think, given his current state of mind, that he is able to decide his future right now."
"She's right," Kate said unhappily. "It's been difficult for me to determine his emotional state, but if he were a human I'd diagnose him with severe clinical depression. From what he's told me of his Atlantis, his grief at Seven's death wasn't even acknowledged, let alone given any support or outlet. And even before Seven died, Roy was trained to ruthlessly suppress his desires and feelings to avoid punishment, to the extent that now he's having difficulty even knowing what he's feeling much of the time. And giving him back his memory has reopened the wound, making it seem as if Seven died recently, instead of over two years ago." She sighed. "He's also told me that of the very few people on Atlantis he might have considered friends, only Jeanie McKay is still alive. The rest perished in the explosion that occurred before he came here."
"He's got friends now," John said, as if daring anyone to disagree with him.
"He does, yes," Kate agreed, "but he hasn't been here nearly long enough to begin to profit from that, or to change the ingrained habits of a lifetime. Not to mention to even begin to cope with this amount of grieving." She pursed her lips, spreading her hands helplessly. "There's also the fact that I'm trying to help an artificial intelligence." She looked at Rodney and Radek, as if they could somehow offer guidance. "If Roy were human, I'd have a clear course of treatment--medication, counseling for PTSD, grief counseling, behavior modification...but I don't know if any of that would be beneficial here. At the moment he's compliant, answering questions, but I don't know if he's capable of learning the way a human is." She paused, obviously trying to find the best way to explain.
"Such as the difference between knowledge and wisdom," Radek said quietly. He glanced at Evan, but Elizabeth couldn't tell what might have passed between them, if anything. "AIs are capable of almost infinite absorption of information, but they are incapable of processing it in the same way humans do. They remain...innocent, is the best way to describe it, I think."
"It's like they're always missing some tiny, vital piece of experience," John said. "Like an in-joke that everybody else gets, but you can never figure out." He shrugged when he noticed Elizabeth was looking at him. "Talking to Roy. You know."
"As it is, I don't think I can help him," Kate said. She grimaced. "And there's also the possibility that he'll have another episode and attack Major Lorne again."
"And we certainly can't have that," Elizabeth agreed, echoing Kate's expression. Evan still looked like someone had gotten in too many good whacks with a hammer. She pushed the folder towards the edge of the table, where everyone could see it. "We're not going to send him back, but we may not be able to make use of him in his current state."
"He's not a piece of equipment," John snapped.
"I never said he was, John," Elizabeth said mildly. "But I think you understand that the IOA is not going to accept our expending time, energy--and in Roy's case, that's literal--and resources on someone who is not going to benefit us in return, or could even possibly pose a threat. And that said, I'm not even sure we can let the SGC know about Roy's existence."
"Why? You think they'll assume he's dangerous?" Evan asked.
"Unfortunately, they have every reason to assume he's dangerous," Kate said to Evan.
"What Elizabeth really means is that the IOA will want to examine him," Rodney said.
"I'm sure they would find a fully anthropomorphic, viable AI from another reality fascinating," Radek supplied.
"It's not like they don't have PlayFriends," Evan said bitterly, but he didn't argue.
"And by 'examine'," John said to Rodney, "you mean...."
"Take him apart, yes." Rodney nodded. "So, yes, I agree with Elizabeth. His existence should remain a secret."
Radek drew himself up a little. "There is a solution to the problem of Roy's flashbacks, at least," he said. "We believe that Jeanie McKay left the memory in the backup on purpose, so Roy would still be able to access it, albeit unknowingly. But we could fix that."
"What do you mean?" John asked suspiciously.
"He means that we could erase it again," Rodney said. "Entirely, this time. Processor, backup, the whole thing. There won't be anything left to cause flashbacks."
"No way," Evan said, voice hard and sharp. "No one is stealing Roy's past again."
"We wouldn't do it without his permission!" Rodney retorted hotly. "And it's not the only solution, just...a possibility."
"And we'll keep it in mind as such," Elizabeth said, drawing everyone's attention back to her. "But in the meantime, I believe I have another one." She tapped the file folder. "Radek's cloning lab."
"Radek's cloning lab?" Rodney asked, glancing incredulously at Radek.
"Wait," Evan said. "You mean, give him a human body?" He looked at John, who was equally wide-eyed. "We can do that?"
"We can do that?" Rodney repeated accusingly to Radek. "You never said--"
"According to what Radek and O'Neill's team discovered, we can," Elizabeth said.
"We believe the lab was meant as a way to create more perfect bodies, to make Ascension easier," Radek explained. "And theoretically, yes, we could make a fully-formed human body for Roy, provided we had sufficient genetic material."
"With the caveat being that it would be a female body," Elizabeth said. "At least according to your notes."
"Yes." Radek nodded. "That seems to be the reason the lab was abandoned. Only the female clones were viable." His eyebrows shot up behind his glasses. "We haven't been able to find out why, yet."
"That's a pretty big caveat," Evan said.
"Not really," Rodney said. "It's true!" he insisted, sounding affronted, when everyone stared at him. He looked at Kate, wiggling his fingers next to his head. "Gender is primarily a function of hormones, right?"
She nodded dubiously. "From what we've been able to understand so far, yes."
"Well, AIs don't have any hormones," Rodney said. "Their gender is entirely arbitrary. They go by 'he' or 'she' based on what they look like, but it's an otherwise meaningless distinction, right?" he looked at Radek. "I'm right, aren't I? Roy won't care if he ends up male or female, because he doesn't care now."
"Maybe we should ask him," Evan said.
"Well, yes, of course," Rodney said.
"Obviously this will depend on his decision," Elizabeth said. "But if we were able to present him to the IOA as a new human member of the expedition--like Teyla or Ronon--I'm certain it would be a great deal easier for him to be accepted, and a permanent position found for him here." She turned to Kate. "And as a human, I'm assuming that he or she would be able to be treated for grief and PTSD."
"Assuming that her brain functioned normally, I can't see why not," Kate said, nodding.
"We still need a body to clone," Evan said. "And it couldn't be someone from the expedition, obviously."
"Maybe the Athosians would let us use some genetic material, from bones or something," John said. He was talking like this was a done deal, which Elizabeth thought was interesting. She didn't know how he could be so sure Roy would agree to this, when it was as radical a change as being reborn.
"We wouldn't need to clone the dead," Radek said. "According to our research, the lab was actually designed to effectively combine the genetic material of up to six different donors. Living donors."
"So...." John said slowly. "What you mean is, she could come from...us."
"Yes," Radek nodded. "That is what I mean."
Rodney blinked, then he grinned hugely. "That's fantastic!" he exclaimed. He turned happily towards John. "My brains, your good looks and ATA gene...she'd be unstoppable!"
"Wait," John said, looking suddenly a little pale. "So you mean she'd be our kid?"
"I think Roy should choose where the genetic material comes from," Evan said coolly.
"No, no, no, no, no," Rodney said. Everyone looked at him again. "That's not the way it works! No one gets to choose their genetic material, do they? It's all some giant, cosmic crap shoot. Like getting your name."
"That's true," Elizabeth said. And it went very well with the idea of Roy being reborn, after all. She smiled at all of them. "We need to put this to Roy, of course, but if he agrees, I'll leave it to you gentlemen to decide who will donate the genetic material. But I don't want to turn this into some kind of competition. Remember--this new person will be a mixture of whomever the donators are, so choose wisely." She reached for her earpiece, but hesitated. "And you might want to start thinking of names as well. I've always liked 'Anna', myself." She tapped her radio. "Roy, this is Dr. Weir. Could you report to my office, please?"
He responded readily enough, and arrived just a few minutes later. But he looked, well, spiritless seemed to be the best word she could think of. His borrowed uniform was clean and neat, his hair artificially impeccable, but there was a certain spark lacking in his eyes that Elizabeth hadn't even noticed until it was missing. He looked emptier, somehow, more like an automaton than a person, or like he did when she first interviewed him after he'd stumbled through their Gate.
Funny how she was able to see the difference.
He looked around, expressionless, at everyone gathered in her office, though maybe his eyes grazed over Evan for less time than the rest. "May I ask why you requested my presence, DoctorElizabethWeir?" Perfectly polite, as always.
"Of course, Roy," she said, trying to inject as much warmth into her voice as possible. "We've been here discussing how to best fully assimilate you into this reality's Atlantis, if that's what you want."
Roy blinked. "Thank you," he said. "But I was going to request that I be returned to my universe."
"What?" John exclaimed. He started towards Roy, but Evan put his hand on John's arm, holding him back. "You know what they're going to do to you!"
"I do," Roy said simply.
"Colonel Sheppard has a very good point, Roy," Kate said gently, though Elizabeth noted her eyes were huge. "Considering how you've been treated, and what you now know about Seven's death, it seems...odd that you would want to return."
Roy looked at her. His lips pulled back in a tiny smile that seemed almost ghastly in his otherwise expressionless face. "I am having severe difficulties re-assimilating Seven's ceasing to function," he said. "It has rendered it impossible to function within normal parameters, and also makes me a danger to MajorEvanLorne. I can process no further course of action but to return to my own universe."
"There's no guarantee that you would hurt Major Lorne again," Kate said.
"This is true," Roy said, "but even a ten point-two percent likelihood is unacceptable."
"What if Colonel Lorne kills you, like Seven?" Rodney demanded, aghast. "What if, what if he decides they need some more parts, or something?"
Roy stared at him steadily. "That would be acceptable," he said.
"Well, it's not acceptable to me!" Elizabeth exclaimed. She had already accepted that Roy's claims about his past were legitimate and that he hadn't attacked Evan purposely. But the idea that he'd rather sacrifice himself than pose further threat was a shock. She wasn't sure that she would be able to do that, if she found herself in similar circumstances. It was as noble a gesture as it was futile. And very, very human.
She couldn't believe she had ever thought he was anything other than real.
"It's not acceptable to any of us," Evan said.
Elizabeth folded her hands over the file on her desk. "I appreciate what you're trying to do for us, Roy, but I'm afraid that I can't allow it."
Roy drew himself up a little straighter. "Then put me on an uninhabited planet."
"Roy...." Evan said, sounding exasperated and sad.
"How about we just cut to the chase?" Rodney said. He turned to Roy before Elizabeth could do more than bristle. "We can wipe your memory of what happened to Seven. Completely. It'd be just like before, but without the flashbacks from the backup. Or," he said loudly over John's first bark of protest, "we can make a human body for you. You can stay here and work in the labs and join a team and have lots and lots of counseling with Dr. Heightmeyer and live happily ever after. How about that? Um, you'd be a girl, though. Woman! I mean," he added hastily when Kate and Elizabeth both leveled a dark look at him. "Female. The cloning lab you helped us find can only make women."
His description, fumbling though it was, seemed to gain Roy's complete attention all the same. "You are proposing to fully erase the memory of Seven's death, or give me a human body?"
Rodney nodded quickly. "Yes. Precisely."
Roy blinked. "Could the memory be erased before my consciousness was transferred?"
"Think about this, Roy," Kate said. "Do you really want that memory gone?"
"It's his right to choose that if he wants," Rodney said. He looked at Roy again. "Do you? Want that?"
"I don't know," Roy said. "Would the clone come from someone who had ceased to function?"
"No," Radek said. "From blood or skin samples. We would, ah, we would make the body for you from varied donors. Like a child."
"Like a child," Roy repeated.
"Well, yes," Rodney filled in immediately. "But you would be an adult. Like you are now. Just, female."
Roy nodded slowly, and Elizabeth couldn't help wondering if he'd been hit with too much for him to assimilate at once, difficult though that was to believe.
"Thank you," Roy said seriously. It was absolutely impossible to know what he was thinking. "I need to process this. May I be dismissed?" he asked Elizabeth.
"Of course," she said. "Please let me know when you've reached a decision."
"Yes, DoctorElizabethWeir," he said. She watched him leave.
Rodney was staring after him. "You don't...you don't think he's going to throw himself off a balcony or something, do you? We might not be able to repair that."
"He would have done it already, if he was going to," Evan said, though he looked at Kate for confirmation.
She nodded. "I don't believe he's actively suicidal."
"He just wants to go back to Colonel Lorne and take his chances," John said. He shook his head in obvious disbelief. "Jesus."
"Give him time," Evan said. "It's only been a couple days since he found out what happened to Seven."
"I'm sure we could all use some time. We'll find out what he wants to do soon enough," Elizabeth said. It was a ridiculous statement, but served nicely to underline that the meeting was over. She watched everyone file out with no small amount of relief. That hadn't been fun by any stretch of the imagination.
She wondered what Roy really would decide to do, and how long she could keep him in her Atlantis, if he was adamant about returning to his own.
"Hey," Evan said softly to the dark of the room. "You wanted to see me?"
"Hello, Evan," Roy said. He was sitting on his bed, with an open laptop on his lap. It was providing the only light other than the moonlight coming in through the windows. He turned and smiled, though it looked forced and sad. "Thank you very much for coming."
"Not a problem," Evan said. He sat on the edge of the bed, near to Roy but not touching him. He was a little concerned about Roy going postal on him again, but Evan was fairly certain he was safe, given how different this place was from the Chair room, and the fact that Roy had full access to all his memories now. And Roy had asked to talk to him specifically, so even if he was kind of concerned he wasn't about to turn him down. "What can I do for you?"
Wall-E was playing on the laptop, the scene where Wall-E was playing pong with the dormant Eve, his big binocular eyes angled down in misery. Roy put the computer down next to him on the bed, but didn't shut it.
"I didn't adequately apologize for harming you," he said. "I wished to do so."
"Oh," Evan said. He shrugged, feeling kind of awkward. It was done, as far as he was concerned. "It's okay," he said. "Really. I know you thought I was someone else. Someone who deserved it," he added, because he wanted to be clear about that.
"Thank you," Roy said. He drew one of his knees up, resting his forearms on it and then his chin on his forearms. It was a completely human gesture, and Evan wondered if Roy had ever done it before now. "You are very kind, MajorEvanLorne."
Evan almost laughed, because it seemed such a strange word to be applied to him. Archaic, even, a term from another century. He knew he was a pretty good guy, but 'kind' just seemed wrong for a military officer. But Roy didn't think that way. He meant exactly what he said.
"Thanks," Evan said.
"TeylaEmmagan told me that she would donate genetic material for a new body," Roy said suddenly. He hadn't moved, and what Evan could make of his expression in the dim light hadn't changed. "That was kind of her, also."
"Yeah," Evan said. He shifted a little on the bed, wishing he knew if he was saying the right thing. "I think you've met a lot of kind people around here."
Roy nodded like this wasn't news to him, which Evan figured was good.
"I have been watching Wall-E, he said, which seemed kind of random. Roy pointed at the screen, where the hero robot's big eyes were tilted down in bionic despair. "Wall-E is experiencing sadness, because he is alone," Roy said.
Evan licked his lips. He had the distinct feeling that something important was going on here, but he wasn't sure what. It wasn't like the Pixar characters were complex, or anything. "He's lonely," Evan said. "That's why he's sad--he's lonely. He's the only functioning robot left on Earth, until Eve comes."
"Lonely," Roy said, like he was trying the word out in his mouth, maybe shunting it around his cerebral processor. He nodded, still looking at the screen, Wall-E's mournful eyes. "It is difficult for him to assimilate her absence, when she is forced into emergency sleep mode."
"Yeah," Evan said, trying to remember the plot. "He can't do his job anymore, because he's so upset she's gone."
Roy nodded again. He pulled up his other knee, like he was curling into himself. Evan wondered if he was even aware he was doing it. Roy turned his head so that he was looking at Evan, with his cheek lying against his arm. "He wishes to cease to function."
Evan sucked in a breath. "But she wakes up, doesn't she?" he said. "And they get to that big ship, and Wall-E meets all kinds of other robots and humans and he's not alone anymore. He has friends. And...and people who appreciate him," he added, because he'd finally figured out that they weren't really talking about a movie. "And no one wants to hurt him. And he's happy."
Roy was silent for awhile. "Is that a metaphor, MajorEvanLorne?" he asked.
"I guess it is," Evan said. "It could be, if you want." He carefully reached out and put his hand on Roy's shoulder, gratified when the AI didn't flinch or pull away. "You're not alone anymore, Roy," he said.
"I feel alone," Roy said. "I am constantly aware of Seven's absence. And the absence of my team. And if I stay here I will never see DoctorJeanieMcKay again."
"I know," Evan said. He moved his hand to the back of Roy's neck, because it had always seemed to calm Cam down when Evan did that. "And it hurts, doesn't it?" He felt more than saw Roy's slow nod. "I know how much it hurts. It's like this big black ocean, and it feels like you'll never get across it, that you'll never be all right again. But you will be, I promise. It'll just take some time." He paused, because he didn't want to bring it up again, but it wasn't fair not to. "Dr. McKay can take the memory away."
"I don't want to forget what happened to Seven," Roy said. "But I don't want to hurt you again."
"You won't," Evan said, with more certainty than he felt.
"Will becoming human make the ocean easier to cross?" Roy asked.
"I don't know," Evan said honestly. "But it'll help, I think. I think it'll make a difference."
"That would be good," Roy said.
He went silent again. Evan waited, letting him process. He remembered that sometimes it took a surprisingly long time. He rubbed the side of Roy's neck with his thumb, thinking about Cam and John when they were Mitch and Shep, brand new in their human-form bodies, and how they got upset sometimes, and what he did to try and comfort them.
He hesitated only a moment, before he nudged a little closer to Roy. His voice was a bit rusty, but it wasn't like he could ever forget the words:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star....
"I think that Meredith is a very fine name, Rodney," Teyla said placatingly, before Rodney began the argument again. It had already become very late, while they were gathered around this small table in the mess, trying to find a name that would suit Roy's female body. "But I agree with John that it would not be appropriate to have two people in Atlantis with the same name."
"What about Kate Heightmeyer and Katie Brown?" Rodney said, and Teyla resisted rolling her eyes only through sheer force of will. Evan, she saw, did not. "And Meredith means 'sea lord'! It's a perfect name for her!"
"I still think Charin is a good choice," Evan said. He nodded at Teyla. "It honors your friend, and ties her to your people and this galaxy. I think that's very fitting."
"Like Teyla's genes won't tie her to this galaxy and her people," Rodney said. He huffed in annoyance. "Fine. Hypatia."
John blinked at Rodney as if he had gone mad. "Hypatia? The hell?"
"She was a famous Greek mathematician and philosopher," Rodney said primly. "I think a name like that would be aptly suited for someone with my genius. Our genius," he amended reluctantly when Radek arched an eyebrow at him.
"No," John said flatly. "Dorothy."
"That's kind of neat," Evan said. Teyla noticed that he had begun drawing something on the notepaper where he was meant to be writing names. Half the page was already littered with names that had been crossed out.
"It is very...American," Radek said.
"And by, 'American', he means, 'stupid'," Rodney said. "I'm not naming her after The Wizard of Oz!" he exclaimed when John scowled at him. He crossed his arms. "I still don't see why we can't call her Samantha."
Teyla sighed and rubbed her forehead. She thought of Roy, the human he, she now, would become, serenely growing in a laboratory on a distant pier of the city. Teyla definitely envied her the quiet and solitude at this moment.
"For too many reasons to properly enumerate," Radek said tiredly. "What about Sofia?"
"That is a very pleasant name," Teyla said. It was also similar enough to some names in her language that she didn't think her people would have any problem pronouncing it, which would be welcome. "It sounds very like a name that means 'scented of the green fields' in Athosian."
Evan looked up from his drawing. The picture looked very much like Teyla. He blinked. "Did you just say the name means someone who smells like grass?"
"Lawnmower girl." Rodney snorted. "Right. Moving on."
"Rhiann," Evan suggested. "I found it when I was looking up female versions of 'Roy'. It means 'great queen' in Welsh." He looked at them hopefully, doubtless as weary as Teyla felt. She was certain he had purposely not offered the name earlier, when John and Rodney were rejecting all of them out of hand. "I think that's good."
John looked dubious. "It sounds kind of...hick," he said.
Teyla didn't know what 'hick' meant, but it was obviously enough, apparently, to remove that name as well. She sighed as she watched Evan draw a slow, deliberate line through it on his notepad, showing his irritation.
"How about Cordelia?" John said.
"I'm not naming our clone after a character in a TV show, either," Rodney said.
"Geek," Evan murmured. He had gone back to drawing.
"She was a character in Shakespeare first," John said defensively. "It's also the name of one of Uranus's moons. And it means, 'gem of the sea'." He shrugged with studied nonchalance, though Teyla suspected that was only obvious to her, and possibly Evan. "That's even better than Meredith."
"Moon of Uranus," Evan said, sniggering. "Sorry," he said when he realized everyone was looking at him. He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "I'm getting a little punchy."
John patted him on the back.
Rodney eyed John suspiciously. "You looked it up, didn't you?"
John made a face that he likely thought made him look innocent. "Well, I thought it was...nice."
"It is a lovely name," Radek said. "And it is indeed appropriate for someone born of Atlantis."
Rodney glared at him. "You're just saying that because I didn't like 'Ivana'."
"I liked Ivana," John said.
"That's because it's a variant of 'John,'" Rodney snapped.
"Dusana, then," Radek said decisively. "It means 'spirit', or 'soul'."
"Like, a new soul in Atlantis?" Evan asked. He looked up from his drawing, which Teyla could see now was definitely a portrait of her. She wasn't certain what to think of that, though she did feel honored that he would find her worthy of his talent. The portrait was a close likeness. "Hey, that actually works."
"A new soul in Atlantis," Teyla repeated. She nodded. "I like it as well."
John looked thoughtful. "Cordelia Dusana?"
"Cordelia Dusana Charin," Evan said. "Charin can be her last name."
Rodney looked at everyone gathered around the mess table. "So, Cordelia Dusana Charin? That's kind of...unusual."
John shrugged again. "It's better than being 'the third', or something."
Radek took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "There are many people here with far more unusual names. I think it is fine."
Teyla smiled, pleased. "They are lovely and unique names," she said. "I believe they will suit Roy's new form very well."
Rodney heaved out a very loud sigh. "Fine, if that's what everyone else agrees on. It's not too horrible." He pushed back from the table and stood slowly, holding his back and groaning. "How long did that take, anyway?"
"Far too long," Radek said. "But I think these are good names." He put his glasses on and stood as well. "And now I am going to bed, so I can have at least some sleep before checking on our new citizen in the morning."
He was the first to leave, Rodney right after. It was no surprise to her that John went with him. Teyla wondered idly which room they would end up in tonight, or if Rodney would make some excuse to go the cloning lab again. He was very concerned about the body forming properly, but had only said, 'I've seen what happens when it goes bad', when she asked him why. Teyla wondered what he had witnessed, but doubted he was free to tell her about it.
She stopped Evan before he left. She noticed he was still carrying the notepaper.
"Thank you," she said seriously to him.
Evan blinked at her, then surprised her by blushing. "Well," he said, "it's an important name for you. I thought she should have it."
"Nonetheless, it was very kind of you to insist on keeping it, when the others were not inclined to do so." She smiled. "You are a good man, Evan."
He rubbed the back of his neck, as one would who was uncomfortable with praise. "Um, thanks," he said. He glanced down at the notepad in his hand, then abruptly tore off the sheet he had been drawing on. He handed it to her. "It's not all that great," he said, as if his offering would somehow offend her. "I just drew it quickly. But, you can have it, if you like."
Teyla looked down at the quickly-sketched picture of her, then beamed at Evan. "It is beautiful," she said. She deliberately put her hand on the back of his neck, gently pulling his forehead down to hers. "Thank you."
She left quickly after that, smiling to herself, holding her portrait rolled carefully in her hand. She knew he was watching her walk away.
"You sure you want to do this, right?" Jonathan O'Neill asked. He pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the Gate, where the wormhole had just winked out. "We can dial Atlantis back right now, no problem."
"You don't have to send the message yourself," Aiden offered. He shrugged. "I mean, it's pre-recorded, right? We just have to hit some buttons."
"Thank you," Cordelia said to Aiden. Her smile was pretty weak, though, and she was tucking loose brown curls behind her ears like mad, which she always did when she was nervous. "I'm fine. Really. It's just...It's harder than I thought it would be. To be here, I mean."
"I hear you," Coop said. She was looking around with her usual disregard for personal safety, something Jonathan didn't think he'd be able to beat into her with anything less than a crowbar. At least she hadn't touched the cracked obsidian walls and sent herself to an alternate reality without them. Aiden was sticking near her as well, which was good, but then he'd had a lot of practice doing that. One of Coop's hands hovered near a large crack that bisected her reflection, and Jonathan heard Aiden hiss in a breath, preparing to grab her. But she didn't touch. "I can't imagine the size of the blast that could do this much damage."
Jonathan could. He was sure Aiden could as well, since he was an explosives expert. It was a wonder there had been anything left of Roy's team to collect.
"It was bad," Cordelia said with typical understatement. She adjusted her glasses, peering down at the transmitter in her hands. "I'm just glad they died instantly."
"Yeah," Jonathan said. If they hadn't died instantly it would've been pretty damn quick. He was just glad the bodies hadn't still been there when they'd sent the MALP through to the other reality. Nice to know that even the Lord of the Flies version of Atlantis brought back their dead.
About a week ago out of the blue, Cordelia had asked Jonathan if he thought she could ask Dr. Weir about sending a message to her old reality, to let her version of McKay know that she was all right. Cordelia was worried that Dr. Weir would be angry at her requesting anything, when she'd already been given so much. Jonathan knew Cordelia was amazed when Weir agreed, but then again it was pretty obvious Cordelia was still waiting for the other shoe to drop most of the time. It made sense, but it was too bad.
But Weir had said yes, of course, so here they were. Except now Jonathan was wondering if Cordelia was having second thoughts.
"It must seem kind of weird, being here again, with you so different," Coop said to Cordelia. Aiden shot her a warning glare but she ignored it.
But Cordelia didn't seem bothered by what Coop had said. "It is a little strange," she said. She smiled self-consciously. "Everything seems...I don't know. Different. Bigger."
"That's 'cause you're tiny," Jonathan said, pleased that she didn't seem quite so sad anymore.
Cordelia was tiny, too. Probably because she had the genes of some of the shortest people in the expedition. She'd barely scraped to Teyla's height, and with her honey-colored skin and Sheppard's pointed ears, she looked like an extra from The Lord of the Rings. The cloning lab was meant to make perfected copies, but in reality Cordy had gotten a lot of crap: the height, the ears, Zelenka's lousy eyesight. But she'd managed to avoid McKay's supposed killer allergies, and her eyes were beautiful, dark blue like the Atlantean sea and rimmed with green. Her skin tone was gorgeous, and her face was pretty-quirky instead of just quirky-quirky, which was definitely a plus. And she was, well, ample in all the places Jonathan especially liked, which he suspected came from Lorne or McKay, though he couldn't say why.
She also had the ATA gene, and Lorne's artistic ability, because she was good at sketching things. And she'd definitely got McKay's ferocious intelligence, and probably Zelenka's as well. She'd only been on Jonathan's team for a couple months, but he already knew how smart she was. Because the way she looked at things, and asked questions about things, and was thinking about stuff all the time reminded him of Daniel. Though sometimes he thought maybe it was just the glasses.
Not that Jonathan spent a lot of time looking at her or thinking about her, he kept reminding himself. She just stood out, like Coop did, because they both had weird-ass ancestry.
"She's not tiny," Coop said, who could maybe see five-foot eight if she stood on a chair. "It's just that you're freakishly tall."
Jonathan smirked. He wasn't even full-grown yet. "It's not my fault that I'm the epitome of masculine perfection."
Aiden grinned at him, all blindingly white insolence. "I think you're a little pale for that, sir."
Cordelia glanced up from whatever she was doing with the radio. "I think Jonathan's skin tone is very attractive," she said absently. "In fact, I believe the four of us represent a pleasing color spectrum."
Coop laughed so hard she started snorting.
"What?" Cordelia asked, finally paying attention, blinking at Coop, who was still giggling between snorts. "Did I say something unacceptable?"
"There's no such thing as unacceptable statements," Jonathan said soothingly, throwing a glare in Coop's direction. "Only unacceptable people." Coop snorted again, but managed to get it under control. "You ready yet, Cordy?"
"Yes." She nodded. "The transmitter will start sending the compressed information as soon as we've opened a Gate."
"Okay, then," Jonathan said. He turned to Coop and Aiden. "You stay on this side. If we're not back in ten minutes, return to Atlantis and get backup. Got it?"
They nodded with gratifying seriousness, and Jonathan looked at Cordy, who was now standing near him in front of the multiply cracked mirror wall. "On three, okay?" He waited until she nodded, then began counting.
On 'three' they both touched the wall at the same time. There was a momentary feeling like a shock of static, and then they were in the exact same room, except that here the damage to the walls was even worse. Obviously not all of the blast had been carried through to their reality when Roy's team had been killed. For a moment, Jonathan had the uncomfortable thought that they wouldn't be able to get back, but Roy had switched universes when the damage was first done, so hopefully it wouldn't be a problem.
"Ready?" he asked Cordelia. She looked even worse now, he noted--sad and scared and clutching the transmitter like it was the only thing keeping her hands from shaking. "Do you want me to do it?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I'm fine." She twitched a smile at him. "It's just pressing a few buttons."
Jonathan stared at her for a second longer, it case she changed her mind, but she just stood there, resolute. "Okay," he said, and dialed Atlantis again. They watched the wormhole flare to life.
Cordelia went quiet when she was upset, and she tended towards methodical anyway, so Jonathan wasn't surprised that she worked in silence, hitting buttons for what felt like forever before the transmitter finally beeped and she shut it off again.
"There," she said. "Now Jeanie will know...." She closed her eyes, obviously struggling to speak. "She'll at least know, uh...."
"Hey, hey, it's okay, it's all right," Jonathan said, going to her. Cordelia was crying softly, wiping at her eyes with one hand and smearing her glasses. He hesitated, then put his arms around her. He was happier than he wanted to admit when she let him.
"I'm sorry," she said, snuffling into his tac vest. "I'm sorry. It's just...I miss them. Jeanie, and my team. And Seven. I miss them so much. And I'm never going to see them again."
"I know," Jonathan said. He pulled her a little closer, rubbing her back. "I know. It's okay."
She sniffed again and pulled away, wiping her nose on her sleeve. She smiled wetly at him. "Thank you." She swallowed. "At least Jeanie will know I'm okay now."
"You warned them about the Ori too," Jonathan added, because he hoped that might make her feel a little better. He didn't think the other Atlantis deserved it, but Weir had insisted the information would protect innocent people as well, which made it worth it. Sheppard had growled that it was like rewarding them for murdering Cordelia's brother, but Cordelia had agreed with Weir, so that was that.
Cordy nodded, wiping her eyes one more time. "I told her about the lab, too," she said. "I think she'd be happy to know I'm human now, and that I have people who...who care about me." She still sounded unsure about the last part. Jonathan wondered when that would change, if it did. He hoped it did.
"I'm sure she will be," Jonathan said. He gave her another smile and put his hand on her back, guiding her over to the wall. "And I'm sure there are a couple people who care about both of us who are beginning to freak out right about now, because we're not back yet."
"Yeah," Cordelia said, nodding. She patted him on the front of his tac vest, her sea-colored eyes on their darker reflection. "Let's go home."
"Morning," Evan greeted John, McKay and Cordelia as he sat down at the mess table. It was strange to see Cordelia there, since she usually ate breakfast with her team. Evan looked at her then back at the two men. "What's going on?"
"Nothing," John said, a little too casually. He tore into an orange, earning narrowed eyes from McKay. "We were just catching up, you know--finding out how things were going with Cordy, her new team...."
"They're inquiring about the nature of my relationship with Lieutenant Jonathan O'Neill," Cordelia said. She took a huge spoonful of Froot Loops, dripping with milk, and shoved it defiantly in her mouth.
"Oh boy," Evan said. He rubbed the back of his neck, suddenly wishing he'd decided to eat in his office, or just gone back to Teyla's room. He looked at John and McKay. "What's the matter with her relationship with O'Neill? He's a good kid."
"That's right, he's a kid," McKay snapped. "He's, what? Eighteen? Believe me, I know what it's like to have rampant teenage hormones, and there's no way he's emotionally mature enough to--"
"We're just...a little concerned," John cut in smoothly, "that our progeny here is being treated well by her team leader." He tore off a segment of orange, looking at Cordelia pointedly. "Not that they're going out, or anything."
"Of course not," Evan said dryly. "Because that's against the fraternization rules." He gave John a thin smile. "And we all know that no one on Atlantis has ever broken those by having a relationship with someone on their team."
Cordelia blinked at all of them. "It's my understanding that there are at least six current relationships--"
"Which we are not going to mention. At all," McKay interrupted quickly. He leaned across the table to be closer to Cordelia, lowering his voice. "Remember what we talked about? How there are some things everyone knows about, but no one mentions?"
"I remember, thank you," Cordelia said, looking worried. "I didn't mean to compromise anyone."
"No one heard us, don't worry about it," John said soothingly. He took a breath, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "Look," he said. "We're not trying to give you a hard time, here." He ignored the, 'yes we are!' from McKay. "We're just...expressing some...brotherly concern, because while he's physically eighteen, O'Neill's mind is actually in his late forties somewhere, and...." He trailed off, shrugged.
"And you're twenty," Rodney growled. "That's like, Woody Allen or something."
"We're not saying there's anything wrong with it," John said pointedly to Rodney. To Cordelia he said, "We just want to make sure you're all right."
"I wasn't concerned," Evan said. He sipped his coffee.
"I see," Cordelia said. She ate another spoonful of cereal, chewed it slowly and deliberately as she thought. Cordelia might be occasionally hesitant to say how she felt about things, but Evan knew for sure that she loved being able to eat, especially anything with sugar in it. Which made Evan glad for her sake that all the Gate teams seemed to end up running a lot, and that she enjoyed working out with Teyla. He noted that she also happened to be eating O'Neill's favorite cereal, and smiled to himself.
She took more cereal before she responded. "You're unsure about Lieutenant Jonathan O'Neill being able to adequately care for my emotional well-being because he is both younger and older than I am?"
"Exactly!" Rodney nodded vehemently. "I mean, I'm not even sure you should even be looking at boys right now. After all, you've got your education to consider--"
McKay wasn't entirely wrong, Evan thought. Heightmeyer had recommended that Cordelia's physical age not be more than twenty, because emotionally Roy hit somewhere in the late teens, and she wanted Cordeila to be able to mature as naturally as possible. That was also why Cordelia had been put on O'Neill's team, since Dr. Cooper and Lt. Ford were among the youngest members of the expedition, with O'Neill the youngest of all. It seemed only logical that Cordelia should be with people her age.
"Take it easy," John said irritably. "She's twenty. Not twelve. And we're not about to stick her in a convent."
"I didn't say I wanted to stick her in a convent!" McKay protested loudly. Evan was privately sure that McKay would have been happy to do exactly that, and he could definitely understand how he felt. He'd often wished the same kind of thing for Mitch and Shep. McKay looked at Cordelia. "But, you're still...new. And O'Neill's been around the block a few--several--times. And, we don't want you to get hurt."
"You can't protect her from everything, McKay," Evan said quietly, sympathetically.
"I know that," McKay said. He started fiddling with his fork, looking away.
"I think all we're trying to say here is, you've been with us four months now, and we just want to make sure things are going okay," John said. "With your team, Atlantis.... You're not...." His mouth twitched unhappily. "Feeling homesick, or anything?"
"This is my home," Cordelia said, startled. She looked at all of them, blue eyes suddenly wide behind her glasses. "Do you, does Dr. Weir wish to send me away?"
"No!" All three of them said it almost at once.
"No, no, that's not it at all!" John said quickly, looking guilty. "She thinks you're great--we all do. We just want you to be, you know, happy."
"Oh," Cordelia said, obviously relieved. "Thank you." She made patterns with her spoon in the milk, dunked one of the last brightly-colored 'O' shapes. She looked up at them with a bright smile. "Yes," she said. "I am very happy."
Evan smiled to himself as he sipped his coffee, pleased. John was trying to look like he'd only expected her to say that, and McKay's grin could have split his face. But before McKay could speak again, he was interrupted by the blaring of an alarm.
"Unscheduled Gate activation," Chuck announced over the comm. system.
The four of them got up, McKay chugging the last of his coffee before he trotted to catch up with them. "Who's off-world?" McKay asked.
"Sergeant Stackhouse's team and Major Strickland's team," Cordelia answered instantly. "Stackhouse's team is meant to return at fifteen-hundred."
"Either of them might have injuries, then," John said.
"Or met someone less than friendly," McKay added darkly.
The shield was still up when they got to the control room. Elizabeth was there, and she noted their presence with a quick nod. "No one's sent through an IDC."
"Maybe they can't," Evan muttered. He caught Weir's eye and knew they were thinking the same thing. No one wanted to be responsible for someone dying because they hit the Gate shield.
"Wait," Chuck said. "They're sending a message."
"Firewall it," Weir ordered. "What does it say?"
Chuck leaned forward, peering at the small laptop screen. "It's...." He looked up. "Who's Jeanie?"
"What?" McKay exclaimed. He and Cordelia rushed to hover over Chuck's shoulders at the same time, one on each side. "It's from my sister," McKay said, sounding amazed. "My other sister, I mean. I mean the alternate reality one."
"Dr. Jeanie McKay," Cordelia clarified softly. Her mouth spread in a slow, incredulous smile. "She got my message!"
"Cool," John said. "Is she okay?"
Cordelia nodded absently, her eyes moving quickly behind her glasses. "There's an encrypted letter for me. And some files...."
"It's still sending," Chuck said. He was beginning to look worried.
McKay unceremoniously grabbed the laptop and yanked it towards him, hunching up so he could read it. He blinked, then his eyes widened and he began almost frantically hitting keys.
"What? What is it?" Cordelia asked, but Evan knew she wouldn't try to take the computer from McKay.
"I'm removing the firewall," McKay said tersely. "There's too much data coming. The laptop can't handle it. We'll lose it."
"What is it?" Weir asked, going closer. "Is it safe to do that?"
"Oh, yeah." McKay said. His eyes were flicking back and forth as he read. His eyes widened. "But it's not a 'what', it's a 'who'. She's sent us Seven."
"What?" John said, gaping.
Cordelia looked like someone had hit her. Her eyes were even bigger than McKay's, and Evan could practically see the blood draining from her face. "What do you mean?" she asked raggedly.
"I mean, it's Seven. This is Seven, right here. The other AI." McKay tapped at the screen, still reading. "This is his code." He glanced up at Cordelia. "You didn't know she kept the backup?"
Cordelia shook her head numbly. "No. I--I was not aware." She reached for the computer hesitantly. "May I...?"
"What? Oh, sure," McKay said, looking a little stunned himself. Evan was feeling kind of like that too. McKay pushed the laptop towards her. Chuck moved back in his chair to give Cordelia more room.
Evan watched her read the screen; the data was still coming. Her hands were pressed against Chuck's console, but he could still see them trembling. "It's him," she said, voice barely audible. She smiled, tiny and wondering. "It's him!" She looked up at them, swallowed. She opened her mouth, closed it again, her eyes going liquid.
"You know what this means, right?" McKay asked all of them.
"He's not dead," Cordelia said softly. She whirled suddenly to face Weir. "We have...." she stammered, "Could--can we...."
Weir smiled, as if she'd understood what Cordelia was trying to say. "Well," she said briskly, "it seems that you're going to have a sister."
Cordelia gave a short, wild laugh that had a sob in it, but she was grinning like a maniac as she cleared her eyes. "Can we call her Lindsey?" she asked.
"Whatever you want," Weir said, smiling gently back. "We can name her whatever you want."