Epilogue

"Just get him out of here, Major, and don't bring him back until he's able to behave himself." Sheppard raised an eyebrow at Beckett's exasperated outburst and stifled a grin. Beckett himself was smiling broadly behind McKay's back as the physicist sat grumpily in a wheelchair and tried unsuccessfully to scratch at his left leg through a cast.

"Rodney! Leave it!" If Sheppard hadn't known better he would have been seriously alarmed by Beckett's angry shout but he was fully aware that it was relief and not anger that coloured the Doctor's words. Sheppard had been present throughout the first few days that Rodney had lain in the infirmary, hardly moving, as the infection that started in his legs had raged through his body. Neither Sheppard nor Beckett had slept much during that time, one or both of them remaining constantly at McKay's side, until Beckett had cautiously declared him out of danger. For several days after that McKay had been uncharacteristically quiet, submitting to a barrage of tests without a murmur and barely responding to his concerned visitors. But, gradually, he had returned to his annoying self and for the last few days had been making the infirmary staff's lives a misery with his constant demands for attention.

"OK, Doc." Sheppard stepped behind the wheelchair and started to push Rodney towards the door. "I promise to have him back by bedtime." A nearby medic failed to contain a snort of amusement, producing an indignant growl from McKay.

"Don't treat me like a child, Major." Sheppard felt that Rodney's words would have carried more weight if he hadn't still been trying to scratch through his cast.

"Then stop behaving like one." Resisting the urge to ruffle Rodney's hair, Sheppard continued to push him out into the corridor and away from the infirmary. "Where to?" He asked as soon as they were clear of the room.

Rodney considered the question for a moment. "First stop, coffee - then take me to Zelenka."

Xx oOo xX

"Careful, Major!" Rodney hastily held the mug of steaming coffee at arms length as it threatened to spill its contents into his lap.

"Well, if you'd waited until we got here before you tried to drink it..."

Zelenka looked up from his bench as McKay and Sheppard appeared at his door. He had heard the two men bickering for quite a distance before they had finally arrived and had used the time to arrange a selection of items on his workbench.

"Rodney. It's good to see you out and about. You are feeling better now I trust?" Zelenka flashed McKay a quick smile as Sheppard rolled his eyes behind Rodney's back. Zelenka had been genuinely pleased to see the recent improvement in Rodney's health but was well aware that soon everyone was going to suffer from his enforced immobility.

"Oh, yeah, I'm just fine." Rodney's voice dripped sarcasm. "I'm stuck in this thing until my cast comes off," He smacked his hand into the armrest of his wheelchair, sending another small tidal-wave through his coffee, "But other than that…"

Zelenka let the tirade pass and casually stepped away from his bench, revealing the two dismantled spheres that lay on it. Instantly Rodney's face lit up with interest, his complaints forgotten.

"What have you got?" McKay leaned avidly forward, his eyes darting over the metal objects.

Zelenka pulled up a stool and sat next to McKay. "Working with what you have already told me, I think I know what happened." He looked up at Rodney's keen expression. "As you know, the spheres are basically storage devices - active matrix memory modules - keeping the mind safe while shutting down the body."

"Yes, yes." McKay cut in impatiently. "Get to the good part."

Zelenka caught Sheppard's eye and grinned; the Major was obviously enjoying watching McKay's enthusiasm.

"I believe that 'your' sphere had developed a fault. It separated the mind from the body, yes, but failed to store it correctly, resulting in your 'ghost-like' state. The people in the cave probably knew this, which may be why it was not being used when you found it." Zelenka paused, thoughtfully.

"I can understand that. Being a 'ghost' isn't something anyone would choose." McKay's quiet voice made Zelenka look up and he saw again the signs of ill health that had recently started to fade from Rodney's face.

"Of course," Zelenka said sympathetically. "And I imagine that if they had used it, after a few hundred years it would have become quite unbearable."

"A few hundred years? The people in that cave had only been dead for a couple of weeks." Sheppard said in a surprised tone. He had come to stand beside McKay, casually resting his hand on Rodney's shoulder.

"That is true, Major, but they had been in stasis for at least five hundred years. When the roof fell and damaged the spheres it somehow initiated the wake-up process. Unfortunately, the procedure was interrupted; their bodies were revived, but their minds were never returned and they died without ever re-awakening." Zelenka picked up a twisted metal fragment from his bench and turned it over in his hand. "It was quite a while before I realised that it was a two-part process. The mind can only be safely restored into a living body." He smiled to himself as a thought struck him. "You must get the hardware up and running before installing the software."

"You could have warned us about that, Doc." Sheppard's wry smile took the sting from the reproach but Zelenka remembered the panic in Sheppard's voice when he thought that the rescue had failed.

"Yes, Major, I'm sorry. I did not expect it to take quite so long." Zelenka smiled apologetically back at Sheppard and carefully replaced the fragment on the bench.

"But each time before that I just woke up." Zelenka could hear the strain in Rodney's voice and replied tentatively.

"I think I know why. Water was seeping through your sphere and it shorted out the failsafe, so that your body was revived and your mind restored in the same instant." He hesitated before continuing. "The shock to your consciousness must have been considerable. I am amazed that you survived."

Sheppard's dry voice broke the uneasy silence that followed. "I always knew your mighty ego would come in useful one day, Rodney."

McKay turned in his chair to scowl at Sheppard. "Thank you, Major."

Zelenka could see that Sheppard's teasing had the desired effect on McKay when his dark mood passed and was replaced by typical McKay-like annoyance. He looked over and tried to catch Sheppard's eye, but the Major was grinning impishly down at McKay's glare.

Turning his back to the Major with an exasperated sigh, McKay asked. "What about the other spheres?" He leaned across the bench and picked up the memory module of the damaged sphere.

Zelenka replied. "As you yourself saw, four of the spheres were already badly damaged when you found the cave and, from what we can now tell, are almost totally destroyed. However, the one we have here, the one that Major Sheppard retrieved, seems to have most of its components intact."

McKay looked appraisingly at the fragment in his hand. "If what you are saying is right, there could still be a consciousness in here."

"That is also my conclusion, but, without a body to restore it into I don't see how ..."

Xx oOo xX

Sheppard looked back from the doorway at the two scientists, heads together, as they discussed the possibility of contacting the stored mind. The idea was fascinating, but he'd quickly become lost in the technical jargon. He would return later for Rodney, but, for now, he was happy to leave him engrossed in work.

As he headed back towards his own quarters he could hear McKay's voice, raised in impatience. Things were getting back to normal.

End