Rodney had forgotten how bright Atlantis is. For over a quarter of a century he's thought in nothing but numbers and equations; colour seeped out of his life with just about everything else. But now, as he walks through the still familiar halls, the silvers, greens and blues seem to be everywhere. He doesn't remember it being this intense before, but he was so busy last time, perhaps he didn't notice. He never has been one to stop and smell the flowers. Even the metaphorical ones.
He makes his way down to the lab they've assigned him, his own lab again, after all this time. Rodney wonders how many favours Lorne had to call in to pull that off. His reputation has pretty much plummeted since he started teaching in community college. He never had time to get that Nobel.
What is it with the regrets today? He's here. After twenty-five years of work and worry and doubt he's finally going to prove beyond a doubt that Rodney McKay is the supreme genius-king-god of the universe.
It would just be nice if someone else knew too.
All the equipment is there. He considers taking a stroll around the city before he starts, finding out how much of the old girl is still intact after the IOA's clumsy management. But there'll be time for sightseeing later. No point in putting things off.
The holographic template is easy enough to create. He considers using his younger self for the image, but he gave up vanity the same time he gave up ironed shirts. At least this way Sheppard will see a little of what Rodney's given up for him, for all of them; someone ought to. Despite everything that's happened to him Rodney never did become a warrior. But he has given his life for his team, the only way he could. He has to believe that's worth something.
Briefly, he thinks about how utterly pissed off Jennifer would be if she could see him now. He ignored her dying wish. That was probably way up on the list of social no-nos. But she knew what she was in for when, in what was undoubtedly the most awkward conversation ever, he told her 'I kind of um, like you? In more than just a friend way I mean . . .' and after letting him ramble on for at least five minutes more than was necessary, she smiled, took his hand and said, 'Rodney, it's okay. I like you too.'
He wonders as he works, just what she'd say were she here. It would be high pitched and loud and very persuasive. He would begin some brilliant defense of his actions, only be drawn off on a tangent, whereupon he would completely forget what he was saying and the whole thing would dissolve in her laughter.
He shuts his eyes for a moment, and because even after all this time he's still a little selfish, he thinks if he could, he'd give it all up right now, for one more argument with her.
No one bothers him, save the odd nosy scientist, and he's created enough pretty charts and graphs on his five superfluous laptops to keep them sufficiently enthralled. Officially he's running tests on the stasis pod, figuring out how to reduce its energy requirements from an incredible drain on the city's power source, to just a normal ZPM guzzling drain. What with the IOA's distaste for offworld missions, getting new power sources has become a bit of a problem for the new management. Power conservation are their watch words.
It takes him nearly four days to finish. Four days during which he doesn't eat or sleep, and coffee seems to be the only fluid his stomach can take. What he lacks in nervous energy, he makes up in focus. His mind works on a level almost entirely separate from his body and despite the strain, he feels better than he has in years.
And then it's finished. The pod stands completed before him; all he has to do is enter.
He could change his mind of course. No one knows what he's doing, save Lorne and Jeannie, and they would probably be relieved. He could go back to Earth and live out the rest of his years in peace. Or the closest thing he'll find to it.
But Atlantis was his life for the short time he had her. Sheppard, Teyla, Ronon, Sam . . . Jennifer, they had made his life so much better. They made him better. The sad truth is that if one of them had been left to him he probably wouldn't be doing this. He'd still be angry over what happened back then, still want to change things, but his ego, massive as it is, normally stops short of changing the universe. Despite appearances, he really never wanted to play God, only to prove that God was actually an infinite series of workable equations that made up the universe. At least to the genius mind such as his own.
But everyone is gone now, everyone who mattered enough to stop him. He isn't dead yet, but he might as well be. Science, numbers and this pod are all that remains.
No more regrets. Time to change things.
He clambers inside the pod, groaning a little as something clicks in his back. As he hits the control his last gleeful thought is just how much this is going to screw with the IOA's power consumption targets.
He watches Sheppard sprint through the gate. They'd had no time for conversation when Rodney woke him from stasis, no time for anything other than a brief wave and a couple of gasping noises from Sheppard that might have been, 'so long Rodney'. Some things never change. He walks to the nearest window, looking out over the sand.
Originally Rodney really had intended to create a simulation of himself. But programming all the possible variables into it, plus enough of himself to make Sheppard listen? Not that easy. How could he write the sum total of his genius into a few limited subroutines? And Sheppard needed his whole genius to get back alive.
Ironically it was Sheppard who gave him the idea. He'd transferred the consciousness of Ava, the freaky non-replicator replicator, into a virtual reality. Rodney had looked for related incidents (the SGC network really wasn't as secure as they thought it was), and realised that the Asgard had quite a knack for transferring human consciousness. Of course he had to recreate the technique on his own, so it took a while, but in the end he managed it.
Like he told Sheppard, his body was dust long ago. His heart probably stopped beating the second the process was finished. 'Waking up' in the Atlantis mainframe was a little weird, but he got the hang of navigating the systems over a decade or so. And then, when he knew exactly what he was doing, he set himself the Atlantis version of an alarm call and went to sleep.
He'd considered telling Sheppard the truth. But Sheppard had that heroic streak and has always been a bit caught up in the 'leave no man behind' mentality. Rodney isn't entirely sure if he still counts as a man, but Teyla had so maybe. It was easier this way. Saved one hell of a conversation.
The shields were weakening under the onslaught of radiation. They'd go any minute and Atlantis and Rodney and the memories of more than one lifetime would be entirely destroyed. But Sheppard was safe and what he knew might save the universe. And Rodney had done that.
Rodney McKay: Saviour of the universe. Not bad for an old man.
The shields are about to fail and Rodney doesn't particularly want to find out what being hit by that much radiation feels like, even as a computer program. Luckily, there's an easier option.
He flicks something in his memory banks and the hellish red dunes cool to a deep sparkling blue. He can hear familiar voices behind him and he knows that all he has to do is turn and they'll all be there.
As the shields finally fail, he thinks off and the universe fades into the laughter of friends and a thousand shades of blue.