Chapter One: Deserted
The sand reached on forever, itching its way through his socks. Miles and miles of it. Colonel Sheppard checked his watched then titled his head back to look at the sky. The sun was centred over him, despite it being three in the morning.
“Something’s definitely not right…” he muttered, ripping his left breast pocket open. Inside he fished out a small compass. He watched the delicate, red tipped point for a moment as it hovered on its liquid bed. Gradually, it began to whirl, first to the left and then a little to the right. With a sigh, he returned the useless object and instead unhooked his water flask and took a swig.
Wiping his mouth, he checked the view behind him. White sand dunes peaked in silent waves and through them a straggling trail of his footprints, winding over invisible slopes. The Stargate was almost too far away to reach. He would have to turn back within the hour if he had any intention of returning to it – the little good that would do. The DHD was unresponsive, stranding him wherever here was. He was positive that he had dialled Atlantis, but where was it?
10 000 years ago – Atlantis
“It’s going to work,” repeated Rodney, watching a couple of marines step through the wormhole. The familiar watery glow of the wormhole evaporated as Rodney pushed his chair back, hands settled on his knees. “They will place my time manipulation device on the Stargate Sheppard’s due to use, and then all we can do is wait.”
“Ten thousand years?” Lorne could not grasp that length of time, or how this plan possibly helped them. “Dr. Mckay, we’re not going to live that long.”
“Well, you might not,” said Rodney, getting up. “But some of us have a plan.”
“Red Dwarf?” Colonel Samantha Carter crossed her arms irritably in front of her some time later. She and Rodney were in his lab, standing around an Ancient piece of technology. “That’s your plan?”
“That’s my plan,” said Rodney, proudly. “What, you don’t like my plan?”
Sam ran a hand over the Ancient machine. It was tall, slender and covered in a thick layer of oily dust. “If it works -”
“When,” Rodney clarified.
“All right, when it works, I think the outcome is a stroke of genius.”
The grin on Mckay’s face competed with the sun.
“However,” and it was a very serious, ‘however’. “Aren’t you forgetting about something?”
Mckay looked at the device, went through the plan once more in his head and then frowned. “No…”
“What about us, Rodney? We’re all still going to die, including you.”
“I ah -” Rodney did the math quickly. “I hadn’t thought of it that way…”
“Whichever way you choose to sell it, we’ve still got to wait out the ten thousand years until Colonel Sheppard gets your helpful information.”
“Technically, he should be well on his way in doing that right now.”
“Not for us.”
“What? It doesn’t matter, it’s not like we’re going to remember…” Mckay paused, as if considering something. “Oh,” he deflated visibly, “this is like one of those scifi movies where one time line totally vanishes from existence for the good of the main one. Bugger!” Mckay looked at the device, and then back to Sam. “I’m the unimportant alternate Rodney! This means I’m going to actually die, doesn’t it?”
“It’s taken you forty years to work out that you’re going to die?”
“Ha ha… Not existing is different to dying.”
Sam shrugged. “I have a feeling it’s happened to me before.”
Mckay raised his eyebrow and Sam nodded. “Yeah, my too,” he admitted finally. “I just never thought that I’d be the one doing the ‘not existing’ bit.”
“Non-existent or not, you’ve still got work to do.”
“We actually,” Mckay rubbed the grime off the interface section of the device with his sleeve. “I need help with your backward holographic memory display algorithms.”
“Yes, it seems they’re too obscure for Zelenka so…”
Sam rolled her eyes. “Right, well – I’ll inform the rest of the expedition that the universe is no longer interested in them and then I’ll clear a hole in my schedule for you.”
“Better make that ‘gaping void’…”
“You heard the news?” Zelenka’s breath intook sharply as Dr. Keller redressed his burnt hand. Most of the infirmary was quiet, its patients heavily medicated or busy reading.
Keller shook her head, figuring there was some new gossip about the base that she was not aware of.
“We’re part of an alternate time line,” he said quickly, almost excited. “According to Rodney, when his plan has finished it’ll be as if we never existed.”
Jennifer frowned. “What are you talking about? Maybe I should re-think that painkiller dosage.”
“No, no – I’m fine. Ow.”
“Alternate time line?”
“It’s brilliant really,” continued Zelenka, holding up his now dressed hands. “You see, in this time line the human race is destroyed and Colonel Sheppard is sent ten thousand years into the future. Nothing we can do about that – we’re already totally screwed. Rodney’s going to turn himself into a hologram so that he can send Colonel Sheppard the necessary information to prevent all this from happening, save humanity and set the time line right. The only drawback is that once he fixes the time line, we become obsolete, so to speak.”
Dr. Keller wondered why he seemed so pleased. “That’s awful… How many people know?”
“I think I’m going to give the SGC a call, request a couple of psychs.”
“What for?” said the Czech, sliding off the bed and putting on his jacket. Keller simply turned and shook her head in disbelief.
Atlantis – Ten thousand years into the future
Colonel Sheppard sat on a sand ridge, arms spread either side for support with his hands resting in the cool sand beneath the scorching layer. It was a mirage. There was no other possible explanation.
Ahead, the spikes of a ruined city stuck out from the sand. Their bases had been eaten away by wind blown sand and the once beautiful windows scored until opaque. Atlantis was submerged again, almost completely buried below the sand.
“Impossible,” repeated John, taking his sun glasses off. The glare was powerful, ripping through his retinas until he was forced to block it out again. He should have gone back to the Stargate. Something drastic had gone wrong with the journey, Rodney would know. With no other option, he slid down the sand, unable to stand on its steep decline.
With the last of his water gone, Colonel Sheppard navigated the final slope of sand. He landed on the watch tower at the East Peer and managed to stop himself before falling off its roof and plunging the several hundred metres to wharf.
Finding the man hole where the dune met the roof, he pried it open and lowered himself into it. He felt the cold air first. Dry, cold, stale air. Beneath his feet he found a thick layer of mummified sea grass that powderised as he walked over it. The city must have sunk before the dunes rolled in meaning that whatever happened, happened a long time ago.
The banisters to the service transporter were coated by ancient molluscs – long dead. Their hard, white shells snapped of as he ran his hands over them, plummeting the four floors to the Seaman’s level. They too became dust, plastered like spider lilies across the tiles.
The transporter was dead. Colonel Sheppard had expected as much. The corridors themselves were dark wherever the windows were covered by sand, forcing him to burn battery light with his travel torch.
As he passed through the East Pier’s interior, John checked as many of the rooms as he could. A lot of them were locked, their doors sealed tight with cement-like residue. A few he managed to pry open. Their contents were disappointing. Decomposed furniture littered their floors and occasionally they were filled with broken equipment, toppled and damaged beyond repair. So far, he had seen no sign of Earth technology, but he allowed for the fact that its presence would be unlikely in this part of the city.
Colonel Sheppard travelled through the city, rather than over it. He had trouble navigating several of the more narrow passageways as they were filled with coral growths. There were times when he was forced to shoot his way through, coughing as the calcium rich dust showered him.
He had been in the city for several hours now, and was yet to see any sign of life. There were no messages etched onto the walls, or skeletal bodies for him to bury. Atlantis was simply deserted.
Chapter Two: A Job To Do
Ronan shook his heavy dread locks. “I don’t get it,” he said, barely noticing Keller’s light hands stitching up his forearm.
“Neither do I really,” she replied, trying to be gentle with a stitch that was determined to stick. “I’m only repeating what Zelenka told me.”
“You got to pull it harder,” instructed Ronan, grabbing the thread and yanking it through his skin. “I exist…” said the Satedan, finally. “How can we not exist?”
“Apparently we won’t exist – but we do now… I guess it’s a time paradox thing, I don’t know. Physics was never really my strong point.”
“Well doc, if you don’t understand, I don’t know how you expect me to.”
“You mean, you’re fine with this?”
“I still don’t get what I’m supposed to be ‘not fine’ about.” Ronan swivelled on the bed and rolled up his leather pants so that Dr. Keller could attend to the gaping wound dripping all over her floor.
“Heavy box. Colonel Carter made me help transport some new science equipment.”
“I’m proud of you.”
“Ronan paused for a moment, enjoying the doc’s smile before he said, “This one’s a sparing accident.” He took off his shirt carefully to show a gash across his chest where a combat knife had sliced through his flesh.
Keller could not help but note that it looked dramatically worse than his noble injury, but she patched it all the same.
“Rodney, you have got to do something. Rumours are running through this place like lightening down energy conduits. You’re going to have to give a speech – tell them what’s going on.” Carter folded her arms sternly across her chest. Her hair looked unkept and the veins in her eyes had started to run red. An untouched cup of coffee was busy creating a watermark on a pile of complex notes. Next to it, Rodney spied a half eaten energy bar – apparently unwanted.
“What? No… I got like F-minus in public speaking.”
“Don’t eat that Rodney,” she wrestled her lunch away from him, but handed it back when she saw a fresh bite mark. “And you can’t get an F-minus in anything.”
“Sam, seriously, I’m rubbish at this sort of thing. I”d probably drive people to suicide.”
Colonel Carter considered this, admitting that there was some truth in that statement. “Well then you’re going to have to explain it better to me so that I can give your speech.”
“Rodney was already half way out the door. “But I’m busy saving the alternate me…”
For the first time since the expedition had arrived in Atlantis four years ago, all of its inhabitants squeezed themselves into the embarkation area, waiting for their boss to appear on the balcony.
Colonel Carter was seated at her desk, about to stand up. She shuffled a few hand written notes as she talked with the head scientist, Dr. Rodney Mckay. Something was drastically wrong, this much the general population had been able to work out. Though their hastily created rumours leapt from supermassive black holes to a calamity on Earth, very few had guessed the truth.
Dr. Zelenka stood on the balcony, trying in vain to hush the restless crowd. Lorne, strangely distant beside him, stared out the window at the ocean. It was a calm view, peaceful even. The water was blissfully unaware of its new status as ‘soon to be non-existent’. Major Lorne wished he was the water.
“You’re not nervous?” whispered the Czech, clutching the railing. “Major?”
“Me?” started Lorne, suddenly hearing the scientist.
“You don’t look nervous.”
“Why would I be nervous?” he replied, readjusting his P90. “I’m fucking terrified.”
Zelenka looked hesitantly at the crowd, “You don’t think…”
“No,” he smiled, also examining the frightened faces below. “I mean, this whole thing is just so weird. I don’t know what to think.”
“Perhaps it best not to think at all.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” smiled Lorne, stepping away. Dr. Mckay had just exited the Colonel’s office with a drawn look on his face. “Think it’s show time Radek,” he said quietly.
Zelenka nodded, and yelled at the crowd again. A second later Colonel Carter was beside him, nudging him aside with a nervous smile. The crowd hushed instantly, and suddenly the ocean could be heard lapping gently against the city.
Sam’s hands persisted to shake, so she held onto the railing to mask their movement. The tone of her voice she could not control. Its first notes were hesitant, almost lost in the silence.
“I’m not sure how to tell you this, so I’m just going to go right ahead and say it.” She glanced down at her notes, but the moment she tried to read them the words disappeared in a shaky blur. With a quick glance to the Stargate behind – the instrument that had set into motion all the important events in her life, she continued. “We are all part of an alternate time line, one in which humanity has no future. Events that cannot be undone have given us no choice in this matter. Believe me when I say that we therefore had no choice but to implement this line of action.”
The crowd turned to each other, whispering. Zelenka raised his hands and they quietened.
“Just under eight hours ago,” Colonel Carter continued, “a time distortion device we attached to an offworld gate sent Colonel John Sheppard ten thousand years into the future. For reasons that I will write down for you in full, this was the smallest leap we were able to achieve with our current level of technology. We did this – without his knowledge, so that we could leave a message for him in the future containing the information he needs to save our past.
“We have an unknown amount of time to help him. It could be a day, it might be a decade but when he completes his mission he will fix this time line and our actions here will be little more than a dream, remembered only by him. Difficult as it is to grasp, time will reset without us. We will not remember what is done here, but what we do will save every life, including our own.
“Our enemies are in control of a weapon of unimaginable power. It is partly our own fault, as it is a weapon we had the chance to destroy many years back but chose not to for fear of our aggressors.” Privately, Sam knew that part of the blame rested securely on her own shoulders – had she only insisted the machine be destroyed after its use on the Ori, this never could have happened. “They will use it against us, but we do not know when. We must help Colonel Sheppard stop this from happening – to do this, we must find out exactly what transpired so that he can correct our mistakes.
“I’m sure you have questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Each person will be given time alone with someone trained in this area of physics so that you can understand what is happening. As for what you do now, go about your lives. There is a lot of death on the horizon, but we do not have time to grieve. All of its sadness will be undone, so I need you all to focus, and do your jobs. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Atlantis – 10 000 years in the future
On his way to the central tower, Colonel Sheppard passed through an impressive stretch of corridor spanning the gap between buildings. It was lined with windows on both sides. To his left was a stunning view of an endless desert caught in an impossibly slow ocean of waves. On the right, tonnes of sand particles were compressed onto the glass, cracking it in places. IF he was very lucky, the structure would remain steady until he reached the other side.
The corridor met the Control Tower on the eighth level. John didn’t know what he had been expecting, but whatever it was, he didn’t find it. The level was as empty as the outer city, though better preserved. There were no remnants of the ocean or badly damaged rooms. In fact, most of the doors he tested slid open easily enough to reveal more of the same nothingness.
With no real plan, he made his way to the gate room. Climbing the many staircases became a struggle and not even the cool darkness of the sealed shaft stopped the sweat from soaking his clothing.
Finally at the top, John pried the door to the tower level open and fell to the ground panting. That wasn’t very smart, he told himself firmly. If he continued on liek this, he’d die of dehydration before the sun set. In which case we should probably get moving.
John nodded to himself, and slowly stood up.
Laptops, dozens of them – were scattered over the floor and on the Atlantian equipment. Some of them were broken, others looked fine.
Sheppard made his way over to one sitting on the floor. It looked intact so he knelt down and swept a fine layer of dust off its lid. The grey substance stuck persistently to his hands as if it were electrostatically charged. he tried rubbing it off on his shirt, but most of it mixed with his sweat and formed an unpleasant residue.
Ignoring it, John opened the laptop and pressed the power button. It was an insanely long shot, but the little ocmputer beeped into life and began boot up protocol. Not daring to move it, John made himself comfortable on the floor.
After an agonising wait, it displayed a login screen.
Shit… It wanted a login name and password. John searched the computer for any identifying marks. If he knew who’s it was… “Tammin Chi,” grinned John, running his finger over a faded label on the edge on the laptop. “Easy…”
Sheppard typed in, ‘chitsga3041′ and Gr3353LighT1n6’ and the computer happily began loading the desktop.
ERROR – COMPUTER SHUT DOWN INCORRECTLY Would you like to resume your session?
John rolled his eyes. ‘YES’
Atlantis – 10 000 years ago
“Wake up Rodney.”
Tammin entered Rodney’s lab, prodding him and the other dozen or so scientists curled up in corners asleep.
“But I want to sleep,” he mumbled into his sleeve.
“I know,” she replied, removing someone else’s paperwork from her section of the desk. “That’s why I’m waking you up, to tell you to go to bed.”
“That’s just cruel,” he yawned, before falling sound asleep.
“Rodney,” she poked him significantly harder, causing him to yelp. “You’re in my chair.” A loud snore echoed through the lab. “Whatever…” she sighed, sniffing a flask of coffee.
Hurried feet and a quick knock at the lab door snapped her attention away from the complex proof. “Major?” she queried, seeing his concerned expression.
“Message from Colonel Carter to Dr. Mckay,” he started in between heavy breaths.
Tammin turned around and managed to wake Rodney.
“What is it?” he said, sitting up.
“Dr. Mckay, Colonel Carter asked me to bring you this.” Major Lorne stepped quickly into the lab and handed Mckay a portable electronic device.
Rodney tapped the screen a few times and then stopped breathing.
“Rodney?” Tammin watched him nervously. “Rodney what is it?”