In all his years with the USAF, this had never happened to John. Sure, he had run into his share of problems: entire villages that came out of nowhere, impassable rivers that swelled overnight, and trucks that broke down a hundred miles from the nearest settlement. Not everything went as planned.
"It's not there."
"What do you mean?" Teyla and Ronon asked at the same time.
"I can't find Atlantis. It's not on the sensors, and I can't get a visual either. It's just not there." John was stumped; there was no way to explain the situation.
"I hate to ask Sheppard, but is this the right planet?" The touch of mocking humor in Ronon's voice made John wonder if he had been taking lesson's from McKay. The scientist was glaringly silent in face of their predicament,
"I'm sure we are on the right planet. Of course we are on the right planet. Atlantis just isn't there." John was indignant. "Maybe the Wraith attacked and they sunk the City." He hadn't even considered the others might be dead until now.
"Can you contact them?" Teyla was as usual the voice of calm in the chaos, the only one who still had her head firmly on her shoulders while they were starting to freak out.
"I already tried that. We should still be able to reach them, even if they sank for some reason. If someone attacked them, the radio could just be down for the moment." John for once didn't know what to do. He reached out to the Jumper, but no unusual readings popped into his mind.
"I can't detect any Wraith in the area and they are not sending a distress call." Somehow John didn't believe the Wraith had attacked without a warning while they were gone. While there was always the possibility, they kept close track of Wraith activity. The last time the Wraith had attacked, they had known weeks in advance.
"It all makes sense." Rodney suddenly proclaimed. They all turned to stare at the scientist. "It makes sense the City isn't here now, it's still on the bottom of the ocean." Rodney grinned widely.
"Still on the bottom on the ocean? Don't you mean again?" John didn't understand what Rodney wanted to tell them.
Rodney jumped to his feet and raced to the front of the Jumper. He pushed John aside and started looking over the controls. "I didn't think it was possible, not even after that happened with the Wraith ship, but now, this makes sense. If we went back in time to before we arrived in Atlantis, the City would naturally still be submerged. We...we can't be here at all."
"Rodney, stop. Take a breath and back up a few steps." John halted the flood of words.
"You are saying that we went back at least fourteen months? So somewhere back home I'm sitting at McMurdo base with no clue about the Stargate program and at the same time I'm here in the Jumper?" John asked, his mind reeling to process what Rodney had said.
"At the moment, the present is still as we know it, but just by being here, we have probably already changed the future in some way. You can't imagine the ramifications of what happened." Rodney groaned.
"You are not the only one who was born with a brain," John snapped. "We have to stay calm now. All this doom-and-gloom isn't going to help anyone."
"Doom-and-gloom? Excuse me, but I'm the only one who has any idea of what you did. This is worse than when you woke up the Wraith."
"What's that got to do with anything?" Rodney was not the person John was going to discuss this topic with. He had made the wrong call and there was no way he could ever undo the damage he had done by awaking the Wraith, but his sleepless nights were none of Rodney's business. The man had just blown up the better part of a solar system.
"Let's just say that you are the poster boy for the American military. The way you saved the Athosians after getting their home burned to the ground?"
"Be careful, Rodney! You are walking a fine line." John had to fight himself hard not to hit Rodney. The man knew how to push his buttons too well.
"Now you are resorting to the caveman tactics. I'm shocked."
John was on Rodney before anyone could stop him. Having a broken arm didn't stop him; he felt no pain at all, as he pushed Rodney against the console.
"I'm telling you this only once Rodney, shut up!"
"What are you going to do to me?" Rodney's lop-sided grin was cold.
"Stop! You will not hurt each other!" Teyla interrupted John's planned acts of violence. She and Ronon pulled John away from Rodney.
John didn't resist them. He meekly followed Teyla into the back of the Jumper and sat down on a bench. Ronon stayed in front, looming over Rodney.
"Are you all right?" You and Dr. McKay have been behaving strangely since we crashed." Teyla didn't mention their fight; all John could detect in her voice was concern.
"I...I don't known. I can't help it. It must be something doing this to us."
"I agree. There is no other explanation. It would be preferable for you to see Dr. Beckett, but as I understand Dr. McKay, this is not possible anymore or it is not yet possible as you rather say."
"We need to get to the bottom of this. We have to stop this, it's getting worse, and I can feel it." John wrapped his good arm carefully around himself, suddenly feeling cold and weak.
"How are you feeling?" Teyla had noticed he was feeling ill and got up searching for something in the storage compartments.
"I'm cold, like the temperature suddenly dropped fifteen degrees. Headache. It all happened just now, after Rodney..." John didn't finish the sentence as Teyla handed him an emergency blanket.
"I'm afraid that is the only one I can find. You should lie down and try to keep warm. I will make some hot tea from one of your ration packs."
"MREs." Teyla never bothered to use the many acronyms of military-speak. John didn't lie down, but he pulled the emergency blanket over his shoulders.
"Rodney." John needed to talk to the scientist.
"I don't think this is a good idea, Sheppard." Ronon was immediately in front of him ready to body-check him.
"I need to talk to Rodney. I'm all right, I promise. I won't do anything." John wished he could be sure of that. "Rodney is the only one who has any clue how to get us out of here. Right?" John smiled with force.
"So you say." Ronon shrugged. "McKay's not feeling well." Ronon moved and John spotted McKay sitting in the pilot's seat, pale and shivering.
"Major, looks like we are screwed this time." Rodney smiled weakly.
"No, we are not. Use that big brain of yours. It all started after we crashed on that damn planet. We must have been exposed to something your gizmo didn't pick up and I'm guessing it's the same thing that threw us back in time. We have to destroy this device before it kills us. I need you to help me come up with a plan quickly, we don't have much time."
Rodney's eyes looked a bit glassy, but he appeared to be following what John was saying.
"Naquadah is virtually indestructible. It's impervious to bullets and explosives. It won't be easy to destroy this box and I don't think we should before we don't know more about what it does." Rodney looked at John with an unsteady gaze, but there was determination in his eyes.
"Look at what it's doing to us. Maybe it will affect Teyla and Ronon in time as well and then we will be screwed. We need to get rid of it now At the SGC, they dumped a Stargate into a sun or something to destroy it, remember? Can we do that?"
"We can't and we won't." Rodney crossed his arms in front of his chest. "If we destroy the box, we will be stranded in the Pegasus Galaxy for the rest of our lives, I don't think you realise that. Even if we found a way to return to Earth, we couldn't without doing unimaginable damage to the future as we know it. What do you think we are going to do?"
"I don't know that yet. Maybe we could contact the Athosians. At least we do know what not to do. The Wraith are asleep at the moment and they will sleep for a few more decades if we are careful and don't make the same mistakes again. But no matter what we do, it beats being dead." There was no good choice, but John would be damned before he gave up.
"I think I might be able to fix this, if I know more about how this device works." Rodney was more careful to state his claim this time, but John still felt reminded of the Arcturus project. "Teyla mentioned the planet with the inscriptions matching the writing you called up from the device with your gene."
"You think the planet was deserted because of something that happened with this device?" Teyla questioned.
"It's a strong possibility. Maybe it's the gene, that's why it's affecting only me and Rodney, but I can feel how it is affecting me and I think you can too, Rodney." John refused to admit his own weakness beyond what was obvious, but he felt like he was walking in the dark, waiting for an unseen monster to attack him.
Rodney didn't respond. He had his arms wrapped tightly around his upper body. John didn't like the pale color of Rodney's skin or the blue tinge of Rodney's lips. The shudders were hard and pronounced, rattling Rodney down to the teeth.
John shook the emergency blanket off his shoulders and pushed it over to Rodney. "Take it. I'll get a blanket from my bedroll."
"Thanks." It was a toneless mutter, but Rodney took the proffered blanket and pulled it firmly around himself.
Ronon had gone to the back and handed Sheppard two blankets.
"Colonel Sheppard is right, we need to do something. You two are getting worse. We can't keep this thing here, so we fly to the mainland and leave it there. We can do what McKay said and figure out a way to turns things back to the way they were." Ronon approached the problem from the practical side. Still, Rodney had an objection.
"We can't do that because it might chance what happens in the future. I think the reason this device affects us is some sort of radiation, which you and Teyla have never heard of, of course, but the point is, we can't leave it on the mainland." Rodney frantically rubbed his arms.
"I know what radiation is," Ronon said with barely suppressed anger.
"Let's all stay calm. We can't let this thing make us turn on each other." For the moment, John didn't feel the boiling rage that he driven him to the point of nearly getting physical with Rodney. "Rodney, you remember that ten thousand year old Wraith?"
"How could I forget? Do you want to remind me of another one of my glorious hours?" Rodney sounded tired.
"No, no, listen to me. I'm getting at something else. Remember how he tried to lock me out of the Jumper using the shield extended outside the Jumper?"
"I get it. You are thinking of pulling the Jumper shield inside the Jumper, as a barrier between us and the device. It's an idea. Of course, we'll be unprotected if anyone shoots at us." John could leave it to Rodney to point out the flaws in his plan. Rodney considered all eventualities.
"The Wraith are in hibernation, we will be safe." Teyla reminded him. Rodney looked up at her, an almost confused expression on his face.
"Oh, yeah, I hadn't thought of that. Right, they are hibernating. We'll be safe." Rodney grinned stupidly.
John reached out a hand to Rodney's shoulder. Rodney's body radiated cold through the blanket. "Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm not sure." Rodney looked wide-eyed at John.
"That's so much not like you. Come on." John took Rodney by the elbow with his good arm. "You are lying down. I'll figure out how to pull in the shield before we freeze to death. How hard can it be?"
"It might not work." Rodney mumbled as John pulled him up. Rodney was limp in his grasp, hardly able to support his own weight.
"Don't worry about it. I'll figure it out. Just concentrate on walking over there."
With Ronon's and Teyla's help, John got Rodney settled on the bench. The effort left him trembling with exhaustion, but he wasn't feeling cold anymore. Moving around had cost him strength, his broken arm hurt but John didn't have the luxury of rest.