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Chapter Two

Atlantis, Present Universe


The sun was dipping over the ocean when Elizabeth and Evan Lorne returned to Atlantis. She stepped out of the Gate with a sense of achievement. The negotiations had gone well and the Leriean Council had given Rodney permission to examine their ZPM.

"McKay is going to be ecstatic," Evan said dryly. "He'll want to go back out right away."

"Probably," Elizabeth replied with a slight smile, and she could imagine Rodney's enthusiasm."Can you really blame him, though?"

"Not really, but—" Evan broke off as he realized how quiet the Gateroom was. "Where is McKay? I thought Sheppard's team would be back by now."

Elizabeth frowned, then called up to the control room. "Sergeant Campbell?"

Chuck shook his head, visibly worried. "They missed their check-in half an hour ago, ma'am. We've tried hailing them, but they aren't answering."

"Maybe they extended their hospitality to Teyla and the others?" Evan asked.

"Colonel Sheppard would have let us know." Elizabeth climbed the steps and entered the Control Room, "and given his team's track record—"

"I'll put my team on standby and alert the Doc." Evan turned to do so. Elizabeth couldn't help but sigh; unfortunately, this was beginning to become a standard operating procedure whenever John's team was late.

"That's odd."

She glanced down at Chuck. "What is it?"

"I'm reading that fluctuation again." The Canadian hit the comm. "Doctor Zelenka—"

"Yes, I see it," Radek replied from his lab. "Where is that coming from?"

"I dunno, Doctor Z. It's definitely originating from the city's systems, but—" Chuck's tone suddenly became alarmed. "Unscheduled off-world activation! It's Doctor McKay's IDC…I think."

"You think?" Elizabeth demanded. "What…never mind. Major—"

Lorne's team and another squad of Marines took up positions in the Gateroom, just as Carson appeared from one of the side hallways with a stretcher and his medical team. The Gate activated, but for a long moment, no one came out of the event horizon. Elizabeth glanced at Chuck. Who looked back at her with a puzzled expression.

Finally, two shadows began to coalesce in the portal, but as soon as they began to emerge, light flashed and blinded everyone in the Gateroom. Elizabeth was forced to turn her face away, but her eyes still watered in reaction. She wiped tears from her face as chaos exploded in the room below her.

"Careful, they've been knocked unconscious," Carson said. He knelt next to John Sheppard's side. "Easy, Colonel, you'll be okay…holy crap!"

"Carson? Are they all right?" Elizabeth flew down the steps, but stopped short at the man sprawled on the Gate Room floor. John Sheppard.

A John Sheppard—his flyaway black hair and silver-rimmed glasses bore a passing resemblance to Radek Zelenka, but he was still recognizable as a version of Sheppard.

Carson scowled at something on his scanner. "We can ask questions later. We need to get 'em to the Infirmary."

Elizabeth nodded and helped the teams move the man's body to a waiting stretcher. More medical personnel poured in with three more stretchers, and Evan Lorne managed to get Teyla onto another one.

"Emergency Quarantine protocol three," Evan said into his mike. "We don't know what happened to them—" Far above Elizabeth, Radek Zelenka swore violently in Czech.

Elizabeth knew that things had been going way too smoothly today."Damn," she muttered, as she ran alongside John's stretcher.

*****

"Who is he?" she asked as she stared at the man lying unconscious in the Infirmary bed. He wore the same fatigues and tac vest the offworld teams wore, but with two noticeable differences. He had different military rank bars on his collar, and it was on the wrong man.

Carson shook his head. "According to our DNA tests, he's Rodney McKay."

Evan stared at McKay's prone form, his face mirroring Elizabeth's utter confusion. "McKay's never been military."

"Not our Rodney, no." Carson gently examined the dogtags around McKay's neck. "Group Captain Meredith R. McKay," he read aloud. "Royal Canadian Air Force. If I remember right, that makes him the equivalent of Colonel Sheppard."

"McKay's a colonel?" Lorne shook his head in disbelief.

Elizabeth shook her head and resisted a grin at Lorne's reaction. That meant this Rodney outranked him, and his reaction to that was priceless. She schooled her face into a concerned expression. "From another universe, Major. And the others?"

Carson inclined his head to an unconscious Teyla Emmagan. She lay there serenely, long lashes against bronze cheeks. Her jacket was the twin of Carson's—the yellow of the Atlantis medical staff. Ronon now sported a shorter version of the dreads, but seemed relatively unchanged. Elizabeth wasn't sure what was more disturbing: Ronon's shorter dreadlocks or John's looking like an Einstein who'd stood too close to a Van De Graph generator.

"Whatever happened to them affected their central nervous systems. Nothing permanent, but I'll keep on eye on 'em till they wake up."

"Let me know when they do." Elizabeth sighed and shook her head. "We need to know where our team is and how to get them back."

Aye." Carson sighed and moved over to the alternate Teyla's side. She seemed almost exactly like his Teyla, except she wore a yellow medical jacket. He didn't recognize the flag patch on her shoulder: a rectangle bisected into two triangles by a black stripe that was outlined in gold. The upper triangle was light green, the lower triangle was light blue. It meant this Teyla was from Earth and not Athos.

Suddenly, a choked cry startled him. A hand shot up and grabbed Elizabeth by the jumped in surprise because McKay's eyes were open. They were the same exact shade of blue, but she could instantly tell that this was not Rodney McKay of her Atlantis. He sat up abruptly, his eyes going wide in shock. She put a hand on McKay's upper arm to steady him. Evan had a hand on his sidearm, but Carson raised a hand to stop him.

"Easy," she said. "You've had quite a shock. Lie back; you need rest."

He didn't resist as she pushed him back onto the pillows. "E-Elizabeth?" he whispered. "Elizabeth? Oh God, what happened? Where am I? You-you can't be here—"

"Carson?" she asked quietly.

He approached McKay's side. "You've had a wee bit of a shock, as Elizabeth told you. Relax, Rodney."

The man stared at her as if she was a ghost. He reached for her hand and she allowed him to take it. "Oh my God," he breathed. "It's you. It's really you." His grip on her wrist tightened. "You're alive, but how is that possible?"

Elizabeth glanced over at Carson, then over at Evan Lorne. Both men were as confused as she was, but she thought she understood. "Rodney—"

The name snapped him out of his stupor. "It's Meredith, not Rodney and what the hell are you doing wearing a lab coat, Carson? Where's Peter?"

The simple question made her heart skip a beat. She tried to make her voice sound normal and failed miserably. "Peter?"

"Doctor Peter Grodin. He's the leader of the Atlantis Expedition—" McKay broke off as he saw her distress, then understanding dawned in his eyes. "This isn't my Atlantis." The captain gazed at Elizabeth and she suddenly noticed he hadn't let go of her wrist. "He's not here, is he?"

"A parallel universe, Mer," an unexpected voice said from behind them. "We must've gotten switched with our counterparts from a parallel universe. Something must've gone wrong when we went through the Gate. Again. Melia's gonna have a fit."

Elizabeth took a deep breath and turned to see the other John Sheppard wide awake. He had propped himself up on one elbow, his eyes narrowed behind the glasses. There was a flicker of emotion as she met his eyes, but it was quickly suppressed. If what Rodney…Meredith, said was true, then…

"Doctor Sheppard, I presume?"

He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "At least some things are consistent between universes, that's a relief. Doctor Elizabeth Weir, Doctor John Sheppard, Chief of Science of another version of Atlantis. Over there is Group Captain Meredith 'don't-call-me-Rodney', our military leader; Specialist Ronon Dex of the Satedan Auxiliary, and Doctor Teyla Emmagan, our CMO."

Sheppard's lazy drawl hadn't changed much, and McKay rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Thanks, Sheppard, I was just getting to that."

Despite herself, Elizabeth had to smile. There were some things that didn't change and snarky McKay and a calmer Sheppard was an obvious constant in the space-time continuum.

"It looks like Doctor Beckett as well." Sheppard looked over at Evan. "Colonel Lorne?"

Evan chuckled. "Just Major, but I'll take the promotion, if you're offering."

"Can't help you there." Sheppard said. He brought his gaze back to Elizabeth. "Are you the expedition leader? Or is Peter around?"

She swallowed hard as she caught Carson's look of sympathy. "No. Peter's dead. He died three years ago."

McKay's eyes softened. "I'm sorry. It must still be hard for you."

She blinked at his words. How does he know about— She managed to recover enough to acknowledge his sad tone. "Thank you, Captain. Meredith. Sorry, it'll take me a while to get used to calling you that. Our McKay goes by Rodney; he hates his first name."

McKay chuckled. "I don't blame him, but it doesn't bother me as much. Ronon, relax." He glanced at Dex, who looked ready to leap out of bed. "We're among friends. Teyla, you all right?"

Elizabeth looked over at their version of Ronon Dex, who glared at her from his infirmary bed. His suspicious expression matched the one she'd expected from her Ronon. Doctor Teyla Emmagan stared at Carson with a mixture of surprise and reluctance. Elizabeth had the feeling that this Teyla was holding herself back from just flinging her arms around Carson in relief. Elizabeth resisted another smile; for his part, Carson tried to avoid Emmagan's eyes as he checked her blood pressure.

"I'm fine, Captain. Just a little disoriented." She frowned and cocked her head to the side, as if listening to some inner voice.

"What is it, lass?" Carson asked gently. "Are you hurt?"

She shook her head, then asked, "Do you hear anything?"

Carson frowned in confusion. "What? I hear nothing."

McKay understood about what she was asking. "You're right, Teyla. I don't hear Her, either."

Evan stared at them. "Her? Her who?"

The captain brought his attention back to Elizabeth. "The City. Atlantis."

"What?"

McKay rolled his eyes. "Another thing that's different. This is gonna be interesting." He refocused on her and shook his head. "It's a long story. I think we've got a lot to talk about, Elizabeth.


Chapter Three

Atlantis, Britgate Universe


There weren't many things that left Rodney McKay speechless, and as a galactic rule, those things didn't follow one another in quick succession in the space of a half hour. Usually, he had time to recover with a snarky remark or a scathing comment.

Not this time. First was the realization that this wasn't Atlantis. If anything, Carson Beckett and Radek Zelenka in military fatigues made that a no-brainer. Then the shock of seeing a dead man alive and well. A man he should have saved, but didn't. A man who had been a friend, and who now sat across from him at the conference table, right where Elizabeth Weir would have been in his universe.

This Grodin looked almost exactly like his now-deceased counterpart, except that he was going silver around the temples. If Peter had lived, he might have aged just as well. Rodney didn't miss the strange look Peter gave him and winced as he realized why. His reaction in the Gateroom must have tipped Peter off that something wasn't quite right, and since then, Peter had kept his distance.

It should have been me on that space station. Three years hadn't softened any of Rodney's guilt, and the sight of Peter's counterpart brought it all back again.

Katie sat next to Rodney with a worried expression. She squeezed his hand in reassurance; he managed a slight smile, but didn't look at her directly. She seemed much like her "real" counterpart, so at least that was consistent. Rodney tried to ignore the sparkling diamond on her left ring finger, but it was like a beacon. He'd wanted to get married someday, and it looked like Group Captain McKay had already acted on it.

"Are you all right? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"I'm not sure if I haven't," he confessed, and winced again. "Sorry. That didn't come out right." He thought, Dammit, this is so awkward. I'm alone in a conference room with a dead man and a woman I'm not sure I'm that much in love with, never mind proposing to her. This is so screwed up.

He hadn't realized he'd said those last five words aloud until Peter said in a deadpan voice, "Believe me, Rodney, this is as awkward for us as it is for you and your team."

Rodney gave him a sharp look. "Since when have you become a mind reader?"

"You might not be Captain McKay, but you both share some of the same characteristics," Peter pointed out, "and there are times when I can tell the difference."

"You're right; I'm not." Rodney bit back his retort when he saw Peter's mouth tighten. The Peter he had known had been slow to anger, but took a long time to calm once he got to that point. Rodney decided it was prudent not to push his luck.

John noticed the tension between Rodney and Peter and decided to quickly change the subject, but before he could open his mouth, another familiar military officer walked into the conference room…who was still completely different from the one he knew. John shot to his feet as Colonel Evan Lorne, USAF, grinned at them from the doorway.

"Colonel Lorne," John said. "You got a promotion."

Lorne chuckled and extended a hand, which John shook. "Doc Grodin warned me about this, but it's still weird seeing you in off-world gear, Colonel. You have to drag our Sheppard out at gunpoint to get him to go through the Gate."

John sighed. The more he heard about his counterpart, the less he liked him. He had to remind himself this was a parallel universe and that people were different here, even himself. Especially himself, it sounded like.

Believe me, he's not quite that bad, Colonel. He's one of the smartest people here and he's saved us more than once.

"Sounds like our McKay," John answered automatically. "I guess he isn't so—" His voice slowed, then stopped as he realized what he was doing. "Wait a minute. Who are you and what're you doing in my head?"

Her laughter was like a pleasant tickle in the corner of his mind. My apologies, Colonel. My name is Melia. You know me as the city herself. I can choose to speak with those who possess the Touch of the Ancients. You hear me more clearly than anyone I have seen, including Captain McKay. Interesting.

"Uh—" He exchanged stunned looks with Rodney, whose expression resembled someone who'd been smacked on the back of the head with a board. Judging from the expression, Rodney might as well have been. Suddenly, John's perception of the City became fuzzy, like a bad satellite reception.

This is how your McKay hears me. His Touch of the Ancients is unnatural, so he cannot hear me well, but enough to understand. Enough came through for him to hear the sarcasm in the tone. And yes, he does tend to be single-minded when it comes to solving a problem, whether it is logistical or scientific.

The dry remark took Rodney off guard, and his mouth dropped open as he glared at Katie. "Excuse me?"

She gave him a confused look. "What? I didn't say anything."

"You just said I was single-minded, and not in a nice tone, either."

She flushed crimson at the accusation before she slowly replied, "No, I didn't."

"You just didn't say, 'Yes, he does tend to be single-minded when it comes to solving a problem'?"

"I didn't say anything, Mere-." She frowned at his angry, defensive tone and visibly tried to control her own voice. "Are you feeling all right?"

"Look, I'm not sick, and I'm not crazy-"

John interrupted before it got too far. "It's not her, Rodney. It's Atlantis. She can talk to people with the ATA Gene, with varying results. Apparently, She likes you a lot to insult you the way She has."

Yes, exactly, She said sweetly.

Rodney sputtered, "Thanks a lot." He glanced at Katie and murmured, "Sorry." Then he rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Now that I know that I'm not certifiably insane—"

Peter smirked. "People with the ATA Gene can hear Her to some degree; the ones with the strongest genes can talk back. Beckett can, as well as our McKay, and Colonel Lorne, for example. Your Atlantis doesn't do the same?"

John shook his head. "I can 'feel' Atlantis, Carson, too-he's a doctor in our universe-but neither of us can actually talk to the City—"

"Wait, you called Atlantis 'Her'. The City's a Her?" Rodney winced as he felt a definite "smack" on the back of his head and John winced in sympathy. Beckett and Lorne tried not to laugh, and failed miserably. Rodney turned indignant. "Hey! What was that for?"

Yes, the City is a "Her". You certainly don't have the niceties like Meredith has. Not all Canadians are polite, like Chuck claims.

He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and snapped, "Well, Chuck Campbell's wrong. Okay, I stand corrected, thank you very much. You didn't have to do that. Ours isn't quite as chatty, so it's a little bit of an adjustment."

Obviously.

Peter laughed and raised up a hand. "I take it She's giving you both a hard time? Don't worry, She's cheeky only to the people she really likes."

"That's comforting," Rodney groused. "It's like having a woman stuck in your head."

Ronon made a sound that could have been coughing, but then again, it might not have. Teyla chuckled, and John glanced over at him with a raised eyebrow. The others gave Rodney strange looks that nearly scuttled John's composure. Rodney gave the ceiling another dirty look. Whatever Atlantis said, John missed it, because apparently, She could be selective to whom She talked.

John wasn't sure if that was necessarily a good thing.

Peter shook his head at Rodney and said, "I will not ask how you know that."

"Good. Don't."

Peter chuckled. "I suppose there are some things that are consistent across parallel universes. As for the ones that aren't, let's start with the basics. Doctor Brown?"

Katie patted Rodney's hand, then explained the differences between her universe and Rodney's. Daniel Jackson was a renowned expert in Celtic and Roman archeology, as opposed to Egyptology, and he translated a codex of runes and ogham to discover what Stonehenge was really used for. The Druids had used it as a worship place, but also as a link to the Ancients, and the SG-1 team in this universe discovered a Stargate cleverly hidden underneath the ring of stones..

Rodney shook his head. "In some weird, convoluted way, that actually makes sense. So the Stargate program's based in the United Kingdom, instead of the States?"

"Yes. Stargate Command is based in Glastonbury, though the Americans also have their own SGC in Colorado."

Peter nodded and continued, "The Expedition's been here for almost four years now, and there are more than fifteen countries represented among its members. Captain Zelenka—" he nodded at the Czech, who nodded back, "—is our chief of Security, a long veteran of the Czech Republic army. Wing Commander Beckett is a member of the Royal Air Force, while Group Captain McKay is from the Royal Canadian Force." He smiled at John's raised eyebrow. "Don't worry, Colonel Lorne makes sure your government is represented, Colonel Sheppard. He's the commanding officer of the Orion."

Rodney's mouth dropped open. "The Orion?"

Lorne nodded. "I've got the Orion, Colonel Ellis commands Apollo, Colonel Carter comands the Hammond,and Colonel Caldwell commands the Daedelus.Four more Asgard-tech ships are due out of Earth's shipyards by the end of the year."

It was John's turn to gape. In his universe, Orion had been destroyed. But here? "Whoa. Eight ships…"

"We need 'em," Beckett said quietly. "I don't know how the Pegasus galaxy is in your universe, but being assigned to Atlantis or Midway could shorten your life expectancy."

Ronon scowled. "The Wraith."

"And the Genii. And the Ori. And the Replicators. We've been building an Alliance with the various Pegasus native people." Beckett glanced at Ronon and the Satedan met his eyes with cool aplomb. "Ronon, the Satedans are one of our strongest allies, second to the Athosians. Your counterpart is our Satedan military liaison."

"I'm…glad to hear that." Ronon struggled to keep a straight face; Teyla reached over and squeezed his shoulder in reassurance. "Where we come from…Sateda fell to the Wraith."

Another uncomfortable silence fell over the room and even Kavanaugh glanced at Ronon with sympathy. Beckett's eyes clouded over with compassion. "Och, I'm sorry to hear that."

"It's all right." Ronon said, though he seemed uncomfortable at the commander's kind words.

By the Ancients. Many planets here have fallen to the Wraith or to the Replicators, but Sateda is not one of them. My condolences to your Ronon Dex. Atlantis—Melia, John reminded himself, She had a name—sounded both disturbed and sympathetic, but there was a definite undertone of anger. Commander Beckett's face became grim, and even Katie's eyes flashed with emotion. That was so odd that Rodney turned to stare at her.

Peter turned his attention to Teyla. "The Head of the Athosian Council is eager to talk and share stories. Doctor Emmagan isn't Athosian, but you are, and I'm sure you'll appreciate her company."

It was Teyla's turn to be speechless. Her eyes flickered over to Beckett for a brief moment before she bowed her head and whispered, "Thank you, Doctor Grodin."

"You're quite welcome. In the meantime, consider yourselves as our guests for as long as you stay." Peter nodded at Beckett. "Commander Beckett, I want you to escort Teyla and Colonel Sheppard to the Athosian quarter of the city. Captain Zelenka, the Satedans have requested help with one of their outposts; take Ronon with you."

Colonel Lorne reached forward and put a hand on Ronon's shoulder. "My next port of call is Sateda. If you want, I can get you there within a few days, if you want to visit."

Ronon hesitated, his expression torn, then he finally nodded. "I'd like that. Thank you."

"I'll let Major Novak know to expect you, then." Lorne glanced at Peter and said, "I've got some supplies for you…if you mind, I'd like to make sure they get down here in one piece."

"Of course, and Doctors Bates and Kusunagi are our experts in Ancient technology. We'll get things sorted out. I assume you'd want to assist them, Rodney?"

Rodney snapped out of the trance he was in.. "Yes, yes, of course. Sorry. This whole situation takes some getting used to." He looked back at Peter with a sad smile."It's good to hear you laugh again, Peter. It's been too long."

Peter watched as the scientist's voice went from sarcastic to serious in the space of a few seconds. He hadn't gotten to be expedition leader without knowing how to read people. Peter put two and two together from what Rodney had already said and shivered at the implication. He decided not to broach the subject; Rodney would speak of it when he was ready.

Instead, he said, "How about we see if we can sort out our Gate problem, shall we?"

*****

Britgate, Genii Homeworld

Acastus Kolya shook his head as he read the report from his spy on Atlantis. It read like one of the tales he'd heard from his mother as a child, fantastic and completely implausible. Yet he'd seen too many things in the Pegasus galaxy to completely discount it, especially since the Atlanteans had come back to claim Atlantis as their own.

He scowled and pushed the paper aside with a finger. Cowen tried not to smirk at the expression on his fellow general's face. The curly-haired Genii was as different from Kolya as could be, both in looks and in temperment, but both came from the same military family.

"Acastus? You look like you've eaten something rotten."

Kolya growled and got up from his desk. "They must have been working on a secret project, right under our noses."

Cowen raised an eyebrow; if the Atlanteans had been doing that, he would have heard something long before now, but he didn't contradict Kolya. "Which means they've unlocked the City's secrets. I thought our agents have put precautions in place to prevent that."

The other man made a dismissive gesture. "Obviously, they weren't enough. We'll acquire those secrets soon enough. I have my agents moving into place as we speak, and Ladon is preparing a strike force to deal the Atlanteans the first blow."

"Ladon Radim?" Cowen scowled at the name. Ladon's star was quickly rising among the Genii military, much too quickly for his tastes. Too ambitious, too wild. He needs to be tamed, supervised. "He's young—"

"—but not untested in battle, and both he and his sister Sora are loyal to the Genii." Kolya laughed at his doubtful expression. "Come now, even you must acknowledge that."

"I don't trust Ladon, or Sora. He's hiding something."

Kolya raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure of that?"

His voice was grudging. "Not yet."

"Until you do, I would keep your suspicions to yourself. We cannot afford division among our people, not when we are so close."

Cowen nodded. Kolya's tone was deadly humorous, and heralded one of his most dangerous moods. The Genii needed Kolya as much as Ladon and Sora. At least the seed of doubt had been planted, to bloom at another time.

"In the meantime, I want you to consult with our Atlantean, um, 'advisor'. I'm sure he'd be more than willing to tell you what you need to know about the City's defenses. All you need to do is tell him how indispensible, how important, he is and he will do whatever you ask."

Cowen made a face. "Pathetic puppy, that's what he is."

"Pathetic, yes, but an invaluable source of information. Once he outlives his usefulness, then you can dispose of him as you see fit. Until that time, he stays."

"Very well. And what about the Wraith?"

Kolya smiled as he halted his pacing in front of Cowen. "Request an audience with our liaison with them and keep him updated on our plans. Unlike the pathetic puppy, that man has great potential."

Cowen shivered at the mention of the Wraith liaison. "I've seen him before, Kolya, and he makes me nervous. I don't even know what his name is."

Kolya chuckled and shrugged. "All you have to do is ask, Cowen. His name is Michael. Michael Kenmore."

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