"What is it, Rodney?"
"Oh, uh, Elizabeth, hi. Listen, we were just -"
"Rodney." Elizabeth's voice was firm; he recognised the tone. "What's going on?"
Rodney took a breath. He had never been good at confession. But Elizabeth was waiting for an answer, and he doubted she would leave without one.
"Okay. You know that machine we were using to try and create zero point energy?"
"The one that nearly destroyed an entire universe?"
"Well ... yes."
"I told you to shut that thing down."
"And we did." Rodney glanced around the room; it would have been too much to ask, he supposed, for anyone to help him out here. "Well, sort of. But Zelenka and I thought we might be able to use it to check for inhabited universes. That way, we could easily avoid the kind of ... thing that happened last time."
"Rodney." A note of warning, now.
"It was Zelenka's idea," he protested. "Sort of. But if we're successful, and we find a planet that isn't inhabited, we could use the machine."
"And produce all the energy that we need."
Rodney sighed. "Yes. It could easily meet our energy requirements. That is, if we're successful."
Elizabeth looked thoughtful, and Rodney held his breath.
"All right?" He looked at her. "All right what?"
"All right, you can use the machine. But only if you can be completely certain that the universe is uninhabited. And I want to be kept informed of all developments."
"All right." Rodney smiled, and looked around the room again. "You heard Dr Weir. Let's do this thing."
"I'm telling you, there's nothing there."
"How can you be certain?"
Rodney rolled his eyes at Zelenka. "Because we've checked. The sensors aren't picking up anything. If there was anyone in there, we'd know about it."
"Yes, I'm sure. Pretty sure."
Zelenka frowned. "How sure?"
Rodney sighed. "Ninety percent sure."
"Okay, ninety-two percent. What does it matter? I'm sure. The universe is uninhabited."
Of course, she would have chosen just that time to come through.
"So you're ..."
"Doctor Meredith McKay," the woman repeated. As Sheppard smiled, Rodney wished desperately he were someplace else.
"Just checking," Sheppard said. He glanced at Rodney, and then back at Meredith.
Yep, really anyplace else would do.
"It's just, this is a side of Rodney we really haven't seen before."
At that, Meredith looked around, and Rodney forced a smile. "Dr Rodney McKay," he said, holding out his hand. "Nice to meet you. I think."
"Well, now that the introductions are finished," Elizabeth interjected, and Rodney could have kissed her. "I'm sure you have a lot of questions, Meredith. But why don't we all grab something to eat, and we can talk about all of this after lunch. I'm sure Rodney would be more than happy to show you around in the meantime."
Meredith smiled, and Rodney almost smiled back, until he remembered who he was smiling at.
"Yes, fine," he said, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. Of course, if she was really him, he doubted it would matter much. "I'd be happy to."
"So, those were your friends?"
Rodney looked over at Meredith, who was walking beside him. "What? Oh, yes."
"They seem nice."
"Colonel Sheppard seemed ... very nice."
"Yes, yes, he's -" Rodney stopped short, glancing at Meredith again. He had seen countless girls look at Sheppard as if he was their own private Captain Kirk; he just never thought he'd see himself look at Sheppard that way.
"No," he protested loudly. "Absolutely not. Besides" - he waved his hand - "don't you have one of him in your own universe?"
Meredith shrugged. "If we do, I haven't met him. He's not on Atlantis."
Rodney frowned. "Really?"
Meredith smiled. "I'd have noticed."
"Ew." Rodney grimaced. "What about Ronon and Teyla?"
"Nope. We have an Elizabeth, though."
"How nice for you."
"You don't like me very much, do you?" Meredith asked. "That's kind of weird."
"It's not that." Rodney started walking again, leading her to the mess hall; Elizabeth's suggestion of lunch hadn't missed him. "You're just not the first ... version of me we've encountered. It's a little unnerving. And, well ..."
"I'm a woman."
"Well, yes, that." Rodney sighed as they reached the cafeteria. "Great. Lemon chicken."
Meredith screwed up her nose; Rodney tried not to notice that she really did look kind of cute. "I'm allergic."
"Really?" He perked up a little. "Me, too."
After an hour of getting to know her - or himself; he still wasn't quite sure which - over lunch, Rodney had to admit that Meredith wasn't all that bad, really. Certainly a lot more bearable than Rod, in any case.
"So I guess ... we should go talk to Elizabeth now?"
Meredith nodded. "I guess so."
"Right." Rodney didn't get up; neither did she. After a minute, he started to pick up his tray, then thought better of it. "I just ... so ... is your middle name Rodney, too?"
"What?" Meredith looked surprised; glancing around (not that it really mattered, now, but it wasn't like he had to advertise it), Rodney leaned across the table, keeping his voice low.
"Your name. Is it Meredith Rodney McKay?"
She looked at him for a moment; and then, suddenly, started laughing.
"No," she said, shaking her head. "It's Rodney Meredith McKay."
There wasn't much he could say to that, really.
"Our parents never even gave us a chance, did they?"
If he had hardly been able to wait to get rid of Rod, Rodney had to admit, he might have been a little disappointed to see Meredith go.
"It was, um ..." Rodney stalled; he was really never good at this kind of thing.
"I know," Meredith said. "Me, too."
He smiled. "Okay, then."
"Yes, okay," Zelenka interrupted, and they both turned to face him. "But if we're going to do this, we really should do it ..."
"Right," Rodney agreed, and almost reluctantly, he stepped away from Meredith. "Now, we've done this before, so there really shouldn't be any problem. Just, um, get in the machine, and we'll take you back to your world."
She nodded. It wasn't like she needed to question him, he supposed; he was going to miss that. "Ready when you are," she said.
"Right, well ... that would be now." He smiled, and Meredith moved towards the machine.
"It was ... enlightening," she said.
And then she was gone.
"She was nice," Elizabeth said later; and Rodney wasn't really sure he wanted to know the meaning of the look she gave him as she said it.
"She was pretty," John said.
Rodney rolled his eyes, but decided it might be better not to comment.
"Very pretty," Teyla agreed.
"She was hot," Rodney corrected. At the looks from the rest of the team, he shook his head. "No, I mean ..."
Eventually, he sighed. "I really hate alternate universes."