Author's Notes:

Two AU's that run side-by-side but don't panic if you don't normally read them. Both are close to canon. One more so than the other.

And it's death fiction. Of at least four major characters. But four major characters also live as Linear is about the survivors.

Rating: T for some bad language

Disclaimer: I don't own SGA. I'm sure that in an alternate reality, I do and we're all, at this very moment, waiting in anticipation for Season 6...


Linear

The Natural Law of Inertia: Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it. Sir Isaac Newton.

Prologue

There was a police cordon round the car. Fifty or so metres radius. Blue and white tape that flapped and fluttered noisily in the brisk sea breeze. Taking in a section of the parking lot and the higher part of the beach. That held a couple of dozen bystanders back. Though like the cop guarding this perimeter constantly told them... there really was nothing to see... so... go home...

There was really nothing to see... except Colonel Sheppard's battered old wagon...

A Suburu Forrester, Radek had thought the Colonel had told him once... though makes and models meant nothing to Radek, and that hadn't changed even after eight months back on Earth. As long as a car gets him from A to B, he is happy enough...

A forensic team wearing white coveralls were crawling on hands and knees. Inching forward slowly, fine tooth combing the ground close around the vehicle.

A photographer was busy in another area.

Nearby stood the blackened shell of a building. The remains of the surf shack assumed Radek. The faint smell of soot and burnt plastic mingled with that of the rotted seaweed thrown up on the shoreline and drifted through the open window to the backseat of Lennox's car where Radek sat and waited.

He was nervous. He was always nervous around Lennox, the man from the IOA, who... 'fixed' everything for them. And also... Radek had done something... so terribly illegal... He's in such deep trouble... He's certain he's in such deep, deep trouble...

He caught his reflection in the rear view mirror. (The driver who remained at the wheel was watching him?) And saw that his face looked pale and shaken. Not good. But understandable, he thought...

He had been shown the note.

'Radek. I'm leaving. Thanks. John.' Sealed in it's plastic forensic bag.

And Lennox had asked him to confirm that it was actually the Colonel's handwriting. And Radek had said that he thought so.

And Lennox had pointed out that it was rather short and abrupt. But that was the Colonel's way. Radek would not have expected any different... no flourishes... no embellishment...

And Lennox had said there was evidence of other fingerprints on the note, that were not Sheppard's.

And the backdoor lock at Sheppard's home had been tampered with. And the neighbours had said that they thought they had heard the intruders' alarm at some point during the previous evening.

'You think that I murdered him?' Radek had asked horrified.

'No... no... but just for the record, when did you see him last?'

'In the hotel... immediately before your meeting with him, I think?'

'When you accessed-'

'-Yes! Yes! It was wrong of me to do that! I know! Please!' And Radek had offered Lennox his wrists. And Lennox's eyebrows had gone up in surprise. 'For the handcuffs?' Radek had explained. 'For the arrest? I am guilty!' And the confession of hacking into the IOA computer systems had seemed to take some of the weight off the Czech's mind.

'No. There's no need for that,' Lennox had said, hiding a smirk, 'though a day spent with our guys putting new security protocols in place wouldn't go amiss.'

Radek watched as Lennox finished talking to two other suited men at the corner of the cordon. Lennox then turned and beckoned for Radek to get out of the car.

Radek quickly did so, joining Lennox at his side. He has learned that you do not mess with Lennox.

"So, what do you think? He would take his own life?" asked Lennox. And this was horrible, thought Radek. That Lennox would be relieved if Radek said yes. Because 'no' meant that Colonel Sheppard had been abducted. And there were too many implications then... Trust... or someone... had their hands on him... and access to Stargate intel.

Though the mystery was... clothes and belongings were gone from the house... though not papers... and no cash had been withdrawn from Sheppard's account, or credit cards used, since Sheppard had last been seen... when he'd given Lennox's men the slip... when he'd apparently given Lennox's men the run around... deliberately moving quickly from one area to another before they'd the opportunity to track him... And the car... found abandoned here... with no record of a taxi or a rental being hired from the parking lot... with no record of calls made from Sheppard's phone... And then... the signal from Sheppard's transmitter had suddenly stopped... though Lennox had wondered if that was due to the effects of water... the ocean...

And Radek looked out to the ice blue sea, the air catching at his unruly hair. He squinted against the dazzle of sunlight off the waves. A chopper hovered some half mile out and then sped off again to carry out another sweep of the area... looking for a clue... and Radek shivered... or a body...

"I don't know... Mr. Lennox... You wish for an opinion from me? I don't know..."

"He was depressed? He'd been drinking? There was an empty bottle found on the tide line... of course, it needn't mean anything..." Lennox's tie flapped over his shoulder, teased by the wind and he straightened it, and he fastened the buttons of his suit jacket to hold the tie in place. And he ran a hand through his own hair. And to Radek this was sad. That Lennox was adjusting his clothing in this manner... was concerned about his appearance this way... and did not seem to care what fate had befallen the Colonel.

"He was definitely here though," continued Lennox. "We're sure of it. This is the last spot his transmitter was picked up from. Someone else didn't just drive the car here, to throw us off the scent. There are footprints all over the area, right down to the water's edge, that match his shoe size... that are the same as those on police records. There's no indication of any struggle, at the house or here, though everything's all confused with other beach visitors. Was he meeting someone? I dunno... I always had him down as a bit of a loner... We've asked for witnesses to come forward. So far... nothing... except a couple who thought they saw him... but it was dark... they couldn't be certain..."

And Radek shook his head. "I have no idea or ideas, Mr. Lennox... I am sorry... I am so sorry... I would not wish for the Colonel to come to any harm but... I have no solution to offer..."

-oAo-

Chapter One

Alternate Reality I.

Rodney drinks beer now.

He's sure he never did. Sheppard says otherwise. But Rodney can't remember. Not since that time when he had the virus that affected his brain. Not all his memory came back. Jenny used to say it was pretty damn selective like funny how he never remembered that Tuesday was his allocated laundry day and she had to go down to the machines on Wednesday with two loads when it was hers… though that doesn't matter now that they're married...

She doesn't like him drinking… smelling of the stuff… but it's a man's thing that Rodney does with Sheppard… sometimes with Ronon too when he's not busy chasing after Amelia… They get out on the pier and they're just good buddies… They say things they wouldn't normally say…

'Red skies in the evening are really quite beautiful, you know…' observes Rodney.

'Yeah...'

Well, perhaps Sheppard hasn't quite got the hang of the conversation part yet…

'Yeah? That's all?'

'What d'yer want me to say?' he drawls, not in the least bit concerned about Rodney's complaint.

'Well, something more than just yeah! Perhaps if you read something other than back copies of Marvel and Surfing Today, you might be able to participate more...'

But he's coming along… perhaps the beer helps loosen things up a little… And these times are important for Rodney. Sometimes he just needs a sounding board to bounce off the ideas that he has. He knows that Sheppard is actually mathematically gifted and understands half the scientific theory that Rodney knew twenty years ago… And he knows its important for Sheppard too… to be appreciated for more than just a body guard to a scientist… and Rodney is quite happy to discuss football, American football at that, if that the way Sheppard wants things to go… and… they've always been friends… it just gets said now... no... not said… feltexpressed ... simply in the act of sharing a beer or two…

And... apart from sunsets... there are those occasions when their conversations can get quite deep, but he knows that Sheppard will keep up, will put his own slant on things, but even then… you'll only hear the tip of the iceberg stuff... the other nine tenths are held inside. Rodney will just gush his ideas out and hope that something will prove significant…

And he's always surprised how much of an iceberg person Sheppard is… no... no… not cold… not cold… anything but… What you actually get to know is that the tip. There is so much more below the surface. With Rodney, what you see (or hear) is what you get… and you usually 'get' a lot of it... he knows that… he knows his faults… and its one of them... if you don't like it… well, leave would be good advice… He's prepared to change… but only to a degree… there are limits… he'll only ever be able to do so much…

Sheppard would move the Universe.

So it's an honour to be allowed into the inner sanctum, as it were. Rodney knows that drinking beer on the pier, was once something Sheppard usually did in solitude… to get his own thoughts straight…

Sometimes they say nothing… and… that's ok too… if he can sense that Sheppard is ok with that… then that's ok…

Sometimes it's boring to say nothing...

"Life is a line. Discuss," said Rodney, one day.

"What? What brought this on, Rodney?"

"Oh... I dunno... something somebody said earlier and it reminded me of a philosophy tutor I once had... first semester as a freshman... well, not what they said exactly... how they said it... this tutor had a rather large nose, you see... and every time they had a cold-"

"-I don't want to hear this." And Sheppard pulls a face, before drinking more beer.

"Oh... no... well, 'Life is a line. Discuss.' was an essay she set."

"She?"

"Yes... so it made the large nose more unfortunate-"

"-I still don't want to hear..."

"Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against people with big noses... it just... sorta made her memorable... that's all. Anyway, the essay demanded a discourse on determinism... every event is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurences. You know... A leading to B. B leading to C. Logic. And I can't remember now, how I argued the point, but, you know... I was just thinking, life never runs in a straight line, does it? Lines sort of suggest, you know... smooth... easy... and life never is..."

"Being a little pessimistic here, aren't we, Rodney? What about waves? Life definitely comes in waves. You often get a whole load of crap just dumped on you on the low points of those waves, true. But… you can surf the crest of a wave and life feels... well... cool."

"Oh... you think?" and he watches Sheppard sip at his beer, surprised at this degree of forthcomingness. "No. A wave isn't a line. A line by its mathematical definition is a straight curve."

"No bendy bits?"

"No."

"Well, it looks that way when you draw it on paper. A wave looks like a line."

"You're confusing things..." says Rodney irritably. Or was that the beer confusing things? Or him? Whatever... Everything was in danger of getting all mixed up here... philosophy... maths... science... feelings...

"Life can be a line... Straight as an arrow... you aim for things..." and Sheppard raises a hand and points out to sea with four fingers, closing an eye, squinting, as if really seeking a target, "but don't always hit the mark..."

"But what about... Life as a circle? Beginning meets the end. The dust to dust, ashes to ashes thing."

And Sheppard considers that but makes no comment.

And they're quiet. And drink more beer. And think more thoughts. Though they're getting kinda of fuzzy round the edges now and not making any real sense... and Rodney has trouble following them... even though they're his own thoughts...

After a while, Sheppard coughs. Awkward with what he's about to say. "If we're all living these so called lines... then, here... now... us two... we're on two straight lines... side by side..."

"Parallel."

"Yeah. Like a railway track."

"Well, technically two railway tracks."

"But then that's four straight lines."

"Ok... four straight lines... what's your point?"

"They never touch. Close. But never touch..." Stretching from infinity. To infinity. "And in life... well, we all do... sorta... touch... overlap..."

"Carrying on with your railway analogy... if you have a junction... one joins the other..."

"But then the line breaks..."

"Before one line can curve over... to become one... Now hold that thought…" and Rodney extends a finger upwards... expecting some sort of Eureka moment... but... no... its gone... the alcohol is softening Rodney's brain cells by now... and they've gone all sort of gooey and comfy and cushiony... and the relevance of the thought is lost... eluding him... so... he drinks more beer...

-oAo-

A.R. II.

Sheppard skids into the Control Room.

"It's bad," says Rodney. Calmly. He's doing calm while his fingers are flicking over a keyboard, checking data. His eyes say different. He glances up at Sheppard. His eyes say different. Deep down everyone's panicking. And it isn't exactly surprising when the city has just been rocked by the explosion that took out Jumper Three coming in to land.

"How far out?"

"Ten minutes!" warns Chuck.

"Crap!" says Sheppard, frowning. "How'd they get so close without us seeing?" Not that it matters now…

"And those scouts have definitely gone?" The two small unidentifiable craft that launched missiles at Harper and Ferguson. Two more letters of regret to send back home…

"Yes. Probably back to the mother ship," fills in Rodney. And he's making this seem so routine. But this isn't a drill.

"One of Elizabeth's aliens?" asks Woolsey. When the Replicator, Elizabeth had said there were other species out there... somewhere in Pegasus.

"Well, I'm not about to let them come close enough to ask! I'm in the Chair Room. Let me know when they're in range!"

"Yeah, you're on-line and good to go," affirms Rodney, with a dismissive wave of a hand, scarcely looking up from his console.

"We'll be starting evacuation of all non-essential personnel to the Alpha Site immediately?" asks Amelia and she slams the alarm button before Woolsey has a chance to numbly nod back.

It's not said, but ten minutes isn't nearly long enough.

"And Woolsey?" yells Sheppard as he off across the landing, "you need to get Lorne, Teyla, Ronon, all in position!… You know… just in case…" Though John hopes it's not possible. That these guys could manage to send in actual personnel… soldiers… robots… bug eyed green monsters… whatever… But Atlantis has no idea what they're up against. And it's happened before. When Daniel Jackson was here last… " And send me up a jacket and rifle!" He might as well be prepared too.

And Woolsey seems to jerk himself out of his state of shock and he jumps straight to it, a hand tapping on his earpiece.

Ronon's there already.

"Sheppard?"

John just nods as he passes. He doesn't need to say anything. Ronon understands. They're in deep shit and they might not come through this…

He's running up a flight of stairs to the Chair Room, two at a time, swinging round the corner banisters for impetus. Splitting up a group of marines hurrying the other way. It'll all be ok. Everyone knows their places. Their duty. He knows that. It'll be ok.

He's breathless when he's at the door. And he's shaking. He really is shaking. It has to be adrenalin. But he hasn't sat in the Chair for an awful long time. Rodney always bawls at him. It's inaccessible. There's no power. There's no time. It's fucking broken. But now… it's ok. It's gonna be ok.

He settles back in the Chair just as Rodney says 'seven minutes' in his count down. Of course, these guys could start shooting or whatever it is they're planning before then. He's certain they will. They'll be expecting retaliation from Atlantis after what's happened to the Jumper.

But Woolsey comes over the earpiece. "We shouldn't try contacting them first?"

And he knows how Woolsey is thinking. That they might need to keep damage to a minimum. Because they can't get everyone out. That they could buy time.

"I think we're beyond talking it over nicely somehow, don't you?" He doesn't mean to be sarcastic. He knows that Woolsey means well. Woolsey's just got to trust that John can take them out first. And if that fails, that the shield will hold. That they'll have enough drones. That they have enough power. That these guys haven't got superior weapons. It'll be ok… not too many things stacked up against them then...

He leans the Chair back. Waiting for Rodney's go ahead. He closes his eyes. He relaxes. His breathing slows. His heart stops racing. It's always like this for him. He's seen other guys. Carson included. Tense right up. But its never been like that for John. The blue seems to take him. He becomes a part of the blue light. He's absorbed. He becomes the city's eyes and ears…

He sees dark space beyond… stars…

He sees a darker shadow against the dark… no words… no thoughts… he just knows… the darker shadow means threat…

"Six minutes," says Rodney.

Sheppard fires anyway.

The drones seem to leave his arms, his hands, as gleaming lights. He is in blue light. He and Atlantis are pure blue light sending out lines of destruction to the dark shadow.

He jerks with the impact. He's gone with the drones, spinning, piercing space, guiding, showing, feeling the way.

And he doesn't need Rodney to give him a damage assessment.

Nothing happened.

He opens his eyes quickly, breaking the contact.

"They have shields?" he yells into his earpiece.

"No... not exactly..."

"Rodney! They either do or they don't!"

"There's a shield... it's patchy... I think they're relying on some form of armour... something that's close to impenetrable... but... keep with the hitting… its already weakening! One place in particular... sending you vid now." And a screen bursts into life above Sheppard's head. The space ship. Itself like a giant drone. "We're picking up energy readings.. that are off the scale... their subspace drive... or... But…"

"Or? But? Rodney!" Make sense...

And Rodney's talking his fastest ever now because time is running out… "Or they have an impulse weapon... But they're using power to accelerate. My guess is they mean to get to their weapons range a whole lot sooner before firing, before allowing us to cut through their armour!"

"They mean to get closer? What are they going to do? Throw stones at us?" No. All indications are that they mean to board Atlantis.

"We're ready with our own shields if…you… don't… finish… them…" trails off Rodney…a tremor… the first time there's any sign of worry in the scientist's voice… he's getting good though… five years back and he would have been in full panic mode by now…

Ok.

And John closes his eyes and concentrates once more. Again and again the drones hit that one target. He's not so relaxed now. Effort like hitting the leather punch bag over and over, waiting for that split, that one split to open…

And then a noise… a high pitched grinding… he flinches… a bang… and he flinches again… the city… himself… no longer in blue light… purple through to red… a second… a second only… everything is red… blood red… deeper… darker red… black… veins and arteries trailing off… a memory… not his memory… Sam's… Atlantis is showing him… towers falling… blue lightning striking at towers… another bang… a rumbling… a feel of static in the air… his head feels like its going to explode… all this stuff in his head… and the noise again… unfamiliar... he can't place it...

He's stays with Atlantis… he stays with her… because... because she's dying… she knows she's dying… she's screaming at him… that's the noise Atlantis makes when she's dying… and Rodney is screaming at him too… or just plain screaming… but he can't listen to the two of them… the grinding, screeching are her cries for help… and he can't do anything… the banging continues… the black against the red pulsates and continues… the lightning… the images in his head of masonry falling… of guys running for cover continues… the lightning… realization… the alien weapon… a bolt of blue shooting out from the vessel… like Oberoth's weapon… and its slicing into Atlantis… cutting into her…

And then Rodney… "Sheppard! Sheppard! It's broken through our shield! It's targeting the Chair! Get the hell out of there! Now! Now! Now!"

…cutting, slicing through to the Chair room… and his world is blue again… sheer blue… and the noise is deafening… grinding, grating, banging into his very skull… the room seems to move… no… it is moving… black cracks that claw across the surfaces… the floor, tsunami like, suddenly heaves up before the beam… and the Chair and Sheppard are pushed up on the wave of rubble… the beam catches at the armrest and he screams a scream that can't be heard as he's thrown out the Chair by the blast… as the ceiling caves in… and its wipe out… twisting, fighting for hold and air… in an ocean solid with dirt and dust and grit… and its all still now… but the wave holds him down tight… and its pain now… red pain that fills his head… shoots down his back… his arms… his legs… not Atlantis' pain… his own… and it ends... and the world goes silent…

-oAo-