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Title: Antediluvian
Author: threnodyjones
Pairing: Sheppard/McKay
Rating: PG-13
Recipient: sgamadison
Summary: It was a cube. A big black cube. (15,400 words)
Author's Note: This story has been brought to you by two (2) colds, three (3) bottles of vodka, two (2) incredibly patient mods, one (1) amused boss, Freddie Mercury and my beta-fish cat_77. Merry Christmas sgamadison!




For Dreams of Antediluvia went before
And within the blackest torrents of Earth
Cried out a wildernean Voice:
"Into Legend go I!"


It was a cube, ultimately, that started it all. A big black cube: obsidian in color, shiny and yet still dull, slightly cool to the touch no matter the ambient temperature.

They found it floating in space. It was big. Black metal, the outside scored by impacts with space dirt. They'd managed to get it into one of the Daedalus hanger bays - just barely. It was really big.

"What the hell is it?" John asked. "Other than a big hunk of metal?"

McKay objected to the word metal; Zelenka objected to the word hunk. They'd been discussing the discovery in the conference room. It had shown up on the Daedalus sensor logs about sixteen days out from Atlantis, and something in the readings made several of the science team demand to study it. At that point there had been only drive by sensor readings and a lone, blurry image.

It was the image that caused such a furor and debate amongst the science team. A cube. Not just a cube, but possibly a perfect cube. In the literal middle of nowhere, trapped in the empty space far away from any galactic cluster.

John got the importance of that. He even got the importance of a perfect cube. He just wasn't sure how Zelenka, McKay and the others got 'perfect cube' from 'blurry picture'. Then again, these were the same people taught to decipher secrets of the universe from watching pin pricks of light blink in and out of existence from a series of black and white photographs, so he was willing to extend some faith to them.

John was almost spared the trip out to the great black to look into it, but word had it Rodney and Zelenka nearly came to blows deciding who would get to go with the Daedalus for readings. Ultimately a semi-serious break of a conduit in the southern pier had answered the question. Zelenka and McKay were both required to deal with the fallout, and it eventually left them both able to make the trip. In hindsight, maybe it had been Atlantis registering its own opinion on the situation.

Teyla and Halling decided to use the opportunity to trade with two? three? a sign of early onset dementia or distinct lack of attention span on his part? different planets, and Ronon - the traitor - had opted to go with them. This left John faced with a minimum of 16 peaceful but potentially mind-numbingly boring days. So as the departure day approached he casually invited himself along, garnering a serious discussion from Woolsey, brief, scrunched confusion from McKay and owl-eyed blinks from Zelenka.

Two days later John and four Atlantis scientists boarded the Daedalus.
.

John still didn't know how he felt about the whole thing.
.

It was a cube. A big black cube.
.

John's first view of the object came not from the bridge of the Daedalus, where McKay and Zelenka had become permanent fixtures, but from the abandoned mess hall on the other side of the ship. Extreme hours gave him solitude with food, coffee and dimmed lighting for reading SGC reports and catching up on Earth-centric intelligence. He happened to be looking out the window at the moment they exchanged an aurora-like hyperspace for the dead blackness of space. It was the sudden lack of anything which drew him to the window, searching out any pinpricks of light that would prove they hadn't fallen into a void of nothingness. As his eyes adjusted, details slowly crept into his vision, the barest hints of stars, very, very far away. And then he could make out a tiny section of space without light, growing larger as they sped towards their goal.

He'd been trapped in deep space before, not exactly knowing if he would ever see Atlantis or Earth again, but not believing he wouldn't, either. But his first thought as the object grew bigger and bigger was how desperately alone it was all the way out here, where light was the barest hint of a memory and a cold he couldn't feel was already trying to settle into his bones. There was nothing out here.

Almost nothing.
.

After they'd reached the object, Rodney had gone to the astrometrics lab that Lindsay Novak had had ultimate control over preparing for this trip. She'd been there as he, Radek and Mercer had finished calibrating various instruments the day before. "Looks good," he told her at the end of the day. "Thank you.”

Novak had nodded back. "Let me know if your team needs anything else for this survey."

"Are you going to be here tomorrow?" She was a better than decent engineer, and like the rest of them had fallen into the swing of things and both grown into and out of her position because it was what the role demanded. The Daedalus made enough exploratory endeavors that she'd become a rather good amateur astrophysicist, at least knowing what they'd need and preparing for them.

"I have a partial shift on the bridge. I'll probably be coordinating information flow from your lab and the bridge to Colonels Caldwell and Sheppard."

"I'm pretty sure they will be quite bored," Radek joined, glancing over his terminal to them. "Why did Sheppard come along?"

"Oh please, the better question is how he managed it. It's not like Carter is here anymore." Rodney had his suspicions on both counts, but wasn't going to say anything outside of Ronon and Teyla's presence. "What have we got on the E-M sensor readings?"
.

"Are you sick, because if you're coming down with something, I really don't want to have breakfast with you." Rodney actually hesitated setting his tray down at the table Sheppard was sitting at, because as much as he probably shouldn't care, he didn't want to start feeling shitty at this point just because he had breakfast with a friend.

Sheppard gave him the stink-eye, which convinced Rodney it was probably safe. Apparently he was the only member of the team who believed in sharing the misery when he was sick, so if Sheppard was well enough to glare at him, it most likely wasn't a virus.

"I didn't sleep well. Weird dreams."

Rodney opened a pepper packet and dumped it on his eggs. "What about?"

"Don't remember. I just remember waking up unsettled."

"Well that could have been anything," Rodney replied, shoveling a forkful of food into his mouth. And another.

Sheppard watched him and his lips started to twist with distaste. "Don't let me keep you."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Oh please. We're expecting our first real test results back in about 5 minutes. If you think I'm going to let Zelenka have first crack at them without me, you've lost your mind."

"I'm so glad that after all these years you haven't lost your sense of camaraderie."

Rodney thought the statement would have had more impact if John hadn't yawned in the middle of it. "What time did you get to sleep?"

Sheppard shrugged. "It wasn't getting to sleep. I woke up about 4 hours ago. Never got back to sleep."

Rodney thought about it. "Well, it's not like you have anything else scheduled. You could always try taking a nap. And I mean that seriously," he continued when Sheppard started looking at him like, well, like that. "Because you really don't do so well when you're tired."

"You almost had that whole 'human interaction' thing down for a moment. Better luck next time."

"You know what? See if I ever care about you again." Rodney finished off the mediocre hashbrowns and swallowed the rest of his milk as he stood. "Go read really stupid reports and fall asleep."

Sheppard face twisted into a smirk. "Have a good day at the office, dear."

"I will. Just make sure you have my pipe and slippers ready when I get back."
.

John hated the smell. It was bland and sharp with a sour medicinal/electronic taste that always evoked memories of boredom, pain, and loneliness. Civilian hospitals, for whatever reason - he'd never been able to figure out why - always smelled slightly different, sightly off. He didn't know if it was the clash of home smells mixing with the semi-sterility of overly cleaned surfaces or something else. John walked down the hallway, past the nurses station where a middle aged black woman was making notes on a file.

Third door on the left, past the T-intersection. The door was open and John could faintly hear the steady, quiet beep of monitors. He paused at the threshold, not entirely sure if he wanted to do this, wanted to go in and open up old wounds that had finally started to scab over. He couldn't tell himself it was worth it, but here he was.

He stepped in and for a few moments thought it was going to be an anti-climax. His father had his eyes closed, breathing steady, if vaguely labored.

"Dad?" he asked quietly. He couldn't help resentfully hoping the man didn't open his eyes and he could just turn around and go back home.

"John?"

"Colonel Sheppard, please respond."

John woke with a start, heartbeat pounding faster than normal in his ears. He got up and walked to the comm unit. "Sheppard here."

"Sir, a meeting has been scheduled between senior staff and scientists for 19 hundred hours regarding the cube. I was requested to invite you to the meeting."

John smothered a sigh and cleared the sleep from his eyes. "Thanks for letting me know. I'll be there. Out."

His watch read almost 18:00, so if he was fast he'd be able to get both a shower and dinner before the meeting.
.

"Mind if I join you?" Caldwell had a hand on the chair in front of John, a tray in his other hand.

"Sure. I'm just looking through the latest intel on Goa'uld movement. Doesn't look like they're doing so well."

Caldwell sat and John shifted his tray and notebook to make room for him. They'd kept a loose schedule of sharing at least one meal a day since he'd been on board, first with him updating Caldwell on everything he'd been able to glean from his trip to the future and then Caldwell telling him everything he could about what was going on in the Milky Way.

Their professional relationship had ironed itself out after a fashion, due in no small part to Carter's command of Atlantis. The petty part of John had held on to the fact that he'd been pitted against Caldwell for command of Atlantis and won it pretty much only due to Elizabeth's standing and influence with the IOA, but the more rational part of him had seen over time that Caldwell actually liked commanding the Daedalus. It had gone a long way to soothing John's ego, that and Woolsey's appointment, meaning John was still military commander of Atlantis despite all odds.

He'd made a concerted effort to bury his hatchet with Caldwell - and he knew that his grudge was just that, one-sided and doing him no favors. After a fashion, he supposed his little trip to the future had put it all into perspective for him in a way nothing else had been able to do.

"Any idea what we're going to hear in the meeting?" he asked.

"Something unexpected, most likely. Dr. Novak and Lt. Mercer seemed especially... energized a few hours ago."

"Bouncing off the walls, huh?"

"I think they were trying to be reserved."

Which made him wonder how McKay and Zelenka reacted. He pushed the thought aside since he'd be finding out soon enough. "So do you know anything about this report from the Tok'ra about another system lord trying to consolidate his power?"
.

"Preliminary estimates gage the age of the object to be between 8.3 and 10.6 billion years old. Although admittedly it is difficult to say since there doesn't seem to have been a constant exposure to a source of radiation or decay. Suffice to say, it's very, very, very old."

Rodney was sitting at a right angle to Zelenka, the two of them at the vertex formed by the scientists taking over one corner of the conference table. His proclamation didn't seem to have the effect they'd been going for, though to be fair a few people had straightened in their seats.

"Okay, how about this? This object? Could be older than the entire Pegasus Galaxy." Four people raised their eyebrows, making Rodney feel like he was ready to retire to a nice, quiet life of theoretical pursuit surrounded only by people who could understand the significance of things like this. He looked at Radek and wordlessly turned the meeting over to him. Radek didn't look like he would be thanking him after this meeting.

"Given the apparent stability of the atomic structure, we could possibly be dealing with an unknown element."

"How do you know it's not been decaying?" Sheppard asked and Rodney stifled a wince.

"Do you really think an isotope could manage to naturally decay into a perfect cube?" Radek responded, blankly neutral.

Sheppard didn't look outwardly concerned by the rebuttal, but Rodney was still pretty sure it had smarted. "Okay, probably not. But what about the possibility of an unnatural decay? You've obviously been trying to date the cube based on ambient radiation exposure. I would have assumed that any decay caused by something like that would have had some impact on the surrounding sub-atomic structure."

Rodney thought about it for a moment, frowning. That was actually a decent point. If they used that as a hypothetical basis, then it would mean the object was somehow maintaining an artificial shape, despite no apparent means of doing so. However-

"It could also mean there is some sort of heretofore unknown method of shielding which had been protecting the object."

Rodney looked at Radek, startled. "I... was just about to say that."

"Well of course you were, it's obvious."

Rodney looked at him some more, but Zelenka looked like he was ready to move on. "Right," he said, still feeling a bit unsettled. "So, in addition to this update, what we'd like to request a closer look at the object. As far as we can determine it's inert and not doing anything but floating out here. It would be nice to get some hands testing."

"Have you determined what the object was used for yet?" Caldwell asked. They hadn't lost his attention, at least.

Rodney paused, and he could feel Radek blinking next to him. "We don't know it was used for anything. I mean, sensor readings don't show any conduits or circuits, there's no writing, no emissions. And let's just say that given the probable age, if this was made by anybody every evolutionary biologist in existence will have to reevaluate everything they ever learned or believe."

Caldwell gave them a level look, chin resting against his palm, index finger tapping a slow beat against his temple. But Rodney could tell he was hooked. If there was one thing Rodney had learned to appreciate over the years, it was that Caldwell liked supporting new developments in pretty much every area. His department had been on the receiving end of Caldwell's support of experiments deeming 'not consequential' or 'frivolous' by the IOA enough times that he had learned a soft spoken comment from Caldwell during an otherwise contentious meeting would more often make than break a decision in science's favor.

"Do you think it's safe, Doctor?"

Radek laid down a decisive, "Yes," on the table and Rodney glared at him for a brief second.

"We've been without shields for half the time we've been here and so far nothing has happened, despite the scans and tests. That's the best answer we can give you right now," he said. He saw Sheppard raise an eyebrow, but kept his focus on Caldwell, silently willing him to let them do it.

Caldwell looked at his DO and nodded. "Have Airman Astacio coordinate efforts with the science department to bring the object into bay one." The airman nodded and left the room. "We'll continue the discussion on what we're going to do with the object when the science teams have more information."

Rodney began packing up his stuff as everyone shuffled or strode out of the room. Zelenka left like a bat out of hell and Rodney could see him already speaking with an airman and two of the Daedalus science crew. He started out the door towards them, stopped and poked his head back in through the door. Caldwell was just walking towards him.

"Say, um, I just want to say thanks. For this opportunity. It's really good."

"Just try to make it worthwhile, Doctor."

"Right. Absolutely," he said and headed towards Zelenka to help with the planning.
.

"I'm surprised David was able to get through to you. The government hasn't exactly been helpful in tracking you down. They started ignoring us after a while."

John blatantly ignored the accusation. "Well, it just sort of worked out."

The silence stretched out, long and uncomfortable, until finally, finally John's father broke the awful lull. "Have you been well?"

"Yeah, fine. I've got a good posting. It's just... remote."

"Were you on leave when you got David's call?"

"No." Because he'd never gotten Dave's call. When Dave's call had come it had been shunted aside because John had stopped declaring living relatives after the divorce.

"You've got new scars."

"It's been 13 years, you'd be surprised if I didn't."

"David found out you were a Lieutenant Colonel now. Congratulations." It hit John hard, that his father knew that. He felt himself involuntarily puffing up at the praise before he remembered praise from his father was always double edged at best. He hardened up again, waiting for it, but his father just sighed, a tired, weak exhalation that made him sound so much smaller than John remembered.

A door chime sounded and John sat up. He scrubbed his face, making a disgusted sound that he'd actually fallen asleep. His watch said 10:30, which meant his night was probably shot. In the corridor outside his locked door stood Rodney, with the manic look of wired-exhausted that left his hair scrambled and his cheeks flushed.

John moved aside and took the box handed to him as Rodney walked through and collapsed on the utilitarian chair by the desk.

"I thought you would have been in the hanger bay all night," he said, grabbing a bag of chips from Rodney's box and tossing him the Cheeto's.

"Well, we couldn't just beam it in, so we had to maneuver the Daedalus into position to try and slide it into the bay. Which isn't nearly as easy as it sounds because there's only about a foot of clearance. Zelenka turned into Czechzilla down there, and I've got better things to fight with him over than getting the damned thing into the ship. And I was hungry."

John settled back onto the bed and watched Rodney peck at his snack.

"So what's the real scoop on this thing?" he asked when Rodney didn't seem inclined to talk. In fact, it looked like he was thinking about something pretty serious.

"What? Oh, I don't know. I hate to say it, but you made a pretty good point in the meeting. It's only partially valid now that I've been able to look at the cube up close... what?"

"You called it a cube," John said, not even trying to hide his smirk. Rodney had been adamant and vocal from the beginning that it should be called 'the object' because it wasn't necessarily a cube (even through it was).

"I did not," Rodney replied, looking harassed and betrayed.

"You so did." John cut off the next retort. "You've been able to look at it..."

"Oh, it's got impact scoring on the outside. Nothing at all big, almost certainly space dust. Which is odd, in and of itself. I have to think about it."

John must have still been a bit fuzzy. "Why's it odd?"

"Not exactly a lot of space dust around here. You still sleeping badly?" Rodney got up and moved closer to peer at him.

He shrugged away Rodney's statement. "You caught me napping."

"You were asleep and you still answered the door? Why?"

"Well who else was going to be knocking at this time of night?" Which in retrospect would almost certainly prove to have been the wrong (right?) thing to say because after a long, heartfelt pause with McKay looking at him like he was still trying to figure out the cube, John was suddenly being kissed. The first was quick and felt like it was ill-considered. The second one was... not.

And okay, seriously this time: he hadn't seen this coming. And he would have loved to try and puzzle the whole thing out, but McKay was apparently taking no prisoners, was approaching this from a relentless perspective and wasn't going to give him a chance to discuss anything. A growing part of him chimed in that there really wasn't much to discuss because Rodney really seemed to know what he was doing, and overwhelmed wasn't necessarily a bad thing when things seemed to be headed where they seemed to be headed.

And Rodney felt really good, pressed up against him. Warm and strong and confident.

He surrendered to the inevitable with a noise and a nip to Rodney's lip, and then he was suddenly shoved against the wall, Rodney pressing him in, and no, not warm at all. Hot and hard everything he wanted at the moment. John pressed back against him and Rodney nipped at his throat. "Off," and Jesus he was already panting. "Off. Get your clothes off, goddammit."

And fuck it all, Rodney actually slowed down, the bastard; made John look him in the eye before saying anything.

"Come on." Rodney's voice was raw, like he'd already been screaming for an hour. John vowed to himself then and there he was going to make it happen. Tonight, because Rodney didn't get to surprise him like this without consequences.

"Yeah. Come on." And then it was John's turn to shove Rodney, this time towards the horizontal.
.

John woke up, sore and with a vague sense of relaxation and enervation, Rodney beside him sleeping like always, dead to the world. The clock in his room said it was about that time to get up, and he dithered for a moment, wanting to stay until Rodney woke up. But then, this was Rodney, who had zero sense of passing time and might sleep until noon if nobody called for him.

So: a stretch that pointed out every abused muscle, a trip to the bathroom, and then he was dressed for a morning run. He paused at the door, looking back at McKay, sacked out and snoring on the bed. He walked back leaned over and buzzed his lips to McKay's temple.

"I'm going for a run," he said, not actually expecting a response since, really, Rodney slept like he'd died, if the dead drooled and uttered the occasional snore. But it made him feel better, because this was Rodney, not a one-off. "Breakfast, okay?"

Which made him feel ridiculous, so he turned and walked out as quickly as he could.
.

John's semi-idyllic days of relative lassitude came to an abrupt end two days later with the beep of a long range sensor. While scientists had toiled and crabbed and argued he'd kicked back and watched with amused detachment. After all, it was a big black cube.

He hoped, one day when he'd grown up, he'll have learned better. Of course, in retrospect it could just have been the cube.
.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years
Ithaka, C.P. Cavafy

On screen the Apollo had dropped out of hyperspace and was making a cautious approach towards them.

John tapped his radio. “McKay, get up to the bridge,” he said quietly.

John heard the quiet click as Caldwell flipped the com on. “Apollo, this is the Daedalus. We're surprised to see you out this way.”

Ellis' face appeared on the viewscreen. “Colonel Caldwell. It's good to see you.”

John frowned. Colonel Ellis sounded too reserved, wary. It didn't set right.

“Thank you, Colonel. Has something happened we need to be made aware of?” Caldwell asked with a friendly, serious note to his tone.

“Is everything okay over there, Steven?”

Caldwell's mouth turned down and John wondered if there was another level of interplay going on. He was distracted by Rodney slipping through the doors, but before he could say anything or make a move, Rodney was staring at the viewscreen and then making his way to a terminal where he started typing.

“Everything on our end is fine, Abe. I don't suppose you'd tell us why you made the trip out here.”

The tension was ratcheting up on the bridge. John could practically see it, starting with Caldwell and moving out to the rest of his crew.

A sudden, muted beep echoed across the comm line, and they watched Ellis glance down for a moment before looking back up, a sardonic twist to his lips. “Dr. McKay.”

McKay rolled his chair into the screen's visual. “I'm waiting. Colonel.”

Ellis looked down again, obviously typing from his movements. John moved closer to Rodney's terminal. “What did you do?”

“I sent him authentication codes.”

Caldwell looked at them. “We already did that, Doctor.”

“Don't be ridiculous. I sent the the codes to verify themselves to Atlantis.” Rodney's and Caldwell's terminals suddenly beeped.

“Thank you Colonel Ellis,” Caldwell said at the same time as Rodney started asking questions of the room in general. “Why is the Apollo even out here? They weren't even in the galaxy when we left.”

Ellis still had a worried, discontent look on his face. “Steven, Doctor, the Apollo was sent on SAR when it became determined you couldn't be reached by subspace communication. Atlantis has been trying to reach you for quite some time.”

“But why?” John inserted. “We pretty much just got here.”

There was a quiet, feminine murmur on the Apollo's end and Ellis looked off to the side. Suddenly the screen zoomed out to show more of the bridge. Ronon and Teyla were there, meaning Ellis had taken the time to pick them up before coming out to meet them. Teyla smiled at them through the screen, looking relieved and tense in equal measure.

“John, it has been nearly 45 days since the Daedalus left Atlantis. We have all been greatly concerned for you.”

Rodney startled into movement beside him, fingers suddenly flying over the keyboard rather than randomly pecking through data. John looked over to Caldwell who had the same stunned grimness he was feeling. “I'm sorry, did you say 45 days? We've been gone for less than half that.”

“Been longer, Sheppard,” Ronon rumbled quietly.

Caldwell swung his chair around to face Rodney. “Doctor McKay?”

Rodney was shaking his head. “Sensor logs, internal clocks... Everything is saying 21 days 4 hours since we left Atlantis. I... Radek!” he said, slapping his radio at the same time and he jumped up and headed for the transporters.

“Colonels, if it would be possible, Ronon and I would like to transport to the Daedalus as soon as possible.”

“I'm not entirely sure that would be the best at the moment,” Caldwell replied. “If what you're saying is true, the ship might not be safe.”

“Colonel, Ronon and I are willing to take that chance, however remote it might be.”

“I appreciate that, Teyla, but right now we don't know what vector has caused both us and the ship to lose nearly three weeks. We don't know if it's physical, biological or something else. I'd rather have some assurances before we start moving people in either direction.”

“Very well.” Teyla said, tilting her head in that respectful manner of hers. She focused on John. “John, it is good to see you and Rodney are safe.”

“Thanks, Teyla. I'll talk to you guys soon.” The screen went black again and John turned to Caldwell. “Sir?”

“Colonel, go coordinate with Doctors McKay and Ilsgen. Find out what they need aside from 'time'.”

“On my way.” He walked to the transporter and headed towards the main labs, but McKay wasn't there. “McKay, where are you?” he asked his headset.

“Engineering.”

John heard everybody well before he actually reached them. Somebody from the Daedalus was shouting, “It's just not possible!” and Rodney was yelling back, “Well obviously it is since I'm pretty sure Ellis isn't making this up just to mess with my head!”

John turned the corner and saw Zelenka hunched over a computer screen with a Nordic behemoth he vaguely recognized as Ilsgen. “Rodney, none of our logs are showing any gravitational disturbance which might have caused this. We were clear the entire trip out here.”

“I'm clear over here!” Novak suddenly appeared on the floor, pulling herself out from one of he access tubes.

“Good, I need your help,” Rodney said, and John walked around the first engine to see McKay in the floor in what might have been a compromising position in other circumstances. Novak pushed John out of the way as she managed to get down in the guts of the engine with Rodney.

“Look, there. Is that normal?” he asked. Novak hummed and crawled out far enough to use her pad and stylus. “I know the Asgaard made a lot of adjustments to retrofit the engines, but did they have to make the access points so damned small? It's ridiculous. You're guaranteed a job for life with this.”

“At least until the next engineering rebuild. No, you're clear.”

Rodney sighed and hefted himself out. “Well, I'm cautiously hopeful, though we're still going to have to finish checking the others.”

“What are you guys doing?” John asked as Rodney gave Novak a hand out.

“Making sure the engines weren't the cause of our time loss,” Novak said, not looking up from her pad and typing with her thumb.

“That's possible?” John could have kicked himself for saying that because almost every scientist and engineer turned to stare at him. It was one thing for it to be tacitly understood that he didn't know everything despite getting a lot of what the scientists tossed back and forth between themselves before distilling it to the layman soldiers. It was another thing to slip so egregiously. He thought he faked it pretty well for somebody without the background or schooling to officially keep up with the dozens of post-docs he worked with daily. “Whatever, guys. Listen, what can we be doing to help?”

Ilsgen straightened a bit. “Medical should start researching biological agents. They should be sure to test the people on the other ship as well.”

“Mmm, yes,” Radek added. “If Atlantis was infected first and the Apollo had direct contact, it's always possible.”

“Oh, come on,” Rodney scoffed. “I mean, yes, run the tests if it makes anybody feel better but their sensor logs confirmed it's been 44 days since we left the city. Maybe we should check to make sure the planet didn't get caught in a time dilation field while we're at it.”

John caught Lindsay Novak smothering a smile. Radek wasn't hiding his irritation. “Anything else? For now?” A volley of negatives.

“No, wait!” Rodney yelled as John was turning to leave. “Have Levine start gathering all the physicists in the conference room on Deck 5 - the scientist from Atlantis, not the captain on the bridge. Tell them to start going through the Apollo's short and long range scans and comparing them to the Daedalus readings for the same trip.”

“You got it,” John said, but Rodney had already disappeared behind the second engine with Novak.
.

Six hours later and they still didn't know much more than when they'd started. Neither the Apollo nor the Daedalus had been able to find anything biological or overtly physical causing a discrepancy, and the clocks had remained synced since contact. Teyla and Ronon had been allowed to beam over and given the time they'd settled down for dinner with John.

“We hadn't expected contact with the Daedalus immediately, but we had thought we would receive a long range communication once you had reached your destination,” Teyla said, and John nodded because they had sent just that sort of acknowledgment towards Atlantis when they'd gotten here. “When nothing came we were not immediately alarmed. However as more time passed our concern increased.”

“When did the Apollo come into play?”

“Mr. Woolsey contacted Earth after you'd been gone for 23 days. I gather Stargate Command eventually gave permission to the Apollo to use the ZPM to get to Atlantis as quickly as possible. There had been a delay due to a desire to not divert the Apollo if it wasn't necessary.”

“Where's McKay?” Ronon asked out of the blue.

John rolled his eyes. “Yelling at people, arguing. Right before you guys beamed over he was tearing holes into the theory of the hour which was apparently that we'd managed to travel through a time dilation field out here in the absolute middle of nowhere.”

“Would not the Apollo have traveled through this same field?” Teyla asked.

“That would certainly be one of the counter-theories.”
.

“You know, life would be so much easier if the people I worked with thought for a living instead of leaping to wild conclusions.” Rodney's blunt observation garnered half a room's worth of protests. “Listen, there is absolutely nothing to even suggest what you're saying is true! I mean have we even considered the one thing this ship has come across that's the slightest bit odd?”

Zelenka made a rude noise. “Rodney, the cube – it sits there, it does nothing. Now you are the one making accusations out of nothing.”

“Oh, I'm sorry. And it's more likely to assume that we lost time traveling through hyperspace by some mechanism that is mysteriously gone now?”

“What about an odd curvature of the universe?” somebody piped up. Rodney looked over and saw a woman rubbing at her eyes.

“There you go,” Zelenka said.

“I don't buy it, but at least it's original,” Rodney flung back.

“So you got a sensor reading – one sensor reading, McKay! - that you didn't like. The biologists and medical personnel have proven it's not biological. We have proven it is not the engines or the ship itself that has malfunctioned-”

Rodney glanced at Novak, hoping for at least a modicum of support, but she was busy scribbling something on a pad of bright yellow legal paper.

“-which is what was tasked of us.”

“Apollo is still reporting everything status quo between ship-to-ship and external short range and long range scans,” said Captain Levine. He'd asked to sit in as the military liaison for this particular meeting. “What should I report about threat level?”

Six people started talking at once. Rodney closed his eyes and shook his head, then gave a silent “What the hell?” to Captain Levine, who simply shrugged his shoulders.

“All right!” he shouted and the room quieted again. “I would recommend that we stay here at least another day.” Levine nodded and stood. His departure quickly called an end to the meeting proper which meant the continuation of argument would go on in the form of small talk for at least another 45 minutes. Rodney decided to skip it and see if John and the others were around.

Sheppard answered his door right away.

“Oh my God. That was unbelievable.” Rodney flopped onto John's bed. “Though you might like this. One of the scientists – from the Apollo, I think, because I have no idea who she is – suggested a strange curvature in the universe as the culprit.”

It had the effect Rodney had anticipated and he watched John's eyes light up with intrigue and complex mathematical thoughts. “Cool! I wonder if that could really happen.”

“Oh Jesus, I hope not. It was a pretty interesting thought for a moment, though.” Rodney looked over at John. “Ronon and Teyla came over?”

“Yeah, a few hours ago. They were pretty worried about us, but I let them know it was mostly boring and nothing exciting.”

“Mm. Are we getting together for food later on? Or something?”

John's lips quirked knowingly, but he shook his head. “Teyla turned in early, and Ronon went off by himself.”

“So, more than a quickie?” Rodney asked hopefully. John's eyes started to turn... a bit salacious.

“Maybe,” he said neutrally.
.

“I'm proud of you,” his father said, the words coming out precise and slow as they did when he was earnest. “No matter what I think or have thought about your career and the path you took yourself, I have found I can still be proud of you.”

“You just can't approve of me.”

His father closed his eyes. He looked old and suddenly worn.

“Did you ever need it, John? I know it would have been nice, I know I should have given it to you. I've lived with that wreckage for years. But did you ever really need it?”

And John knew deep down that he hadn't. He knew who he was and he liked it and no amount of approval from anyone could have gotten him to where he was now, right now, in life.

"You know, I really didn't do this as some sort of masochistic, long-term rebellion," he said finally.

His father actually laughed a bit. “I think I figured that out when you reenlisted after you were promoted to Captain.”

“And may I just say how maturely you handled that one, Dad?” John retorted, leaving out most of the bite. Most, not all. He wasn't that big.

John shifted and his elbow bumped into Rodney who jerked and surfaced a bit.

"'Nother one?" he muttered.

"Yeah," John whispered. He breathed out and went back to sleep.

Thirty-three hours later he was on the bridge when Rodney approached him.

“I hear we're about ready to jump to hyperspace,” Rodney said.

“Yeah, Caldwell and Ellis seem mostly satisfied that we're okay so far.”

Rodney gave made an odd noise but didn't dispute it. "And we're taking the cube?"

John knew Rodney still wasn't convinced because he and Ronon had listened to him bitch about it at lunch. Given the circumstances of a return trip, John would have liked knowing the cause as well, but as Caldwell had pointed out over breakfast, if it was something that happened in hyperspace, then it would have to be tested eventually. The Apollo would be leaving 15 minutes before them and they would rendezvous after exactly one hour's flight time.

They all hoped it would be in the same place.

"Yeah."

“Where's Caldwell?” Rodney asked, suddenly changing direction. He sounded honestly curious.

“Office or quarters. He seemed pretty tired this morning, so he might be resting.

Caldwell's operations officer was in the command chair. Ellis appeared on the viewscreen. “Daedalus, the Apollo is ready to jump.”

“Acknowledged, Colonel Ellis. We'll see you in 65 minutes. Daedalus out.” The Major looked at the airman to his right. “Start the clock.”
.


Part Two

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