Time Frame: After Identity (Season 5 Episode 18)
* * *Chapter One: Look, Don't Touch
"And what's rule one in Janus's lab?"
Jennifer Keller crossed her arms over her chest. Taking a deep breath, she uncrossed and forced them to her sides. Your boyfriend is concerned for you, Keller, and for good reason. Don't bite his head off. Her lips curled into a deliberate smile. "It's sweet of you to worry, Rodney, but I won't make the same mistake again."
Rodney McKay tried to affect a stern demeanor, but his bunched-up eyebrows and thinly compressed lips were too comical a sight for her to be intimidated. And his words came out more like a whine than the serious rebuke he intended them to be. Members of his staff might wither under his glare and sharp tongue, but they made her want to laugh.
"Jennifer, you nearly died."
"Someone would have handled that device eventually, and whoever did would've switched places with Neeva. It could have been you."
"I wish it had been," he grumbled.
"Fancy spending time as a woman, McKay?" She rested a hand on her hip.
"What? Jen, no, I—"
"You would have freaked."
Rodney snorted. "And I suppose you were the picture of calm throughout?"
They had maintained eye contact during their exchange, a challenging sparkle in her balmy browns, concern and annoyance in his bright blues. Now, her eyes fell. Being trapped in another woman's body stirred a lot of emotions in Jennifer; calm wasn't among them. Nor was she as ready to joke about her ordeal as she assumed, not if the fingers tracing the puckered flesh of her bullet wound were any indication.
The sound of a groan brought her attention back to Rodney. "Oh, honey, I didn't think." He pulled her into his arms and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Trust me to make flirting depressing."
She rewarded his remark with shallow laughter, then returned his hug before he could break it. A quick kiss, and she pulled away, shooting him a dazzling smile.
"Good. Now, then, what's rule one?"
Her jaw dropped. "Seriously?"
* * *
"What does this one do?"
"Erects a forcefield. Outsiders can see in, insiders can't see out."
"Creates solid light constructs."
"So...holograms you can touch..." Jennifer's eyes lit up. "Like on a holodeck?"
Rodney smiled indulgently. "Far more rudimentary, and that one's only a prototype. We'd need a dozen or more production models to create anything close to a very, very small holosuite. And the power consumption would drain a ZedPM within minutes."
"I was more of a DS9 fan."
"Hard to believe you liked a show with no cute blonds." She smiled to signal it was a joke, but his eyes were locked on his tablet computer.
"I know. I almost stopped watching TNG when they killed off Tasha Yar. Did for a while when they got rid of Wesley Crusher."
"Tell me you did not like Wesley Crusher. No one liked Wesley Crusher. Wil Wheaton didn't like Wesley Crusher."
Rodney jammed a thumb into his chest as he glanced up. "Hello—young, disaffected genius not taken seriously by his peer group. Wesley Crusher was who I wanted to be."
"But you were..." She did the calculation. "Eighteen, nineteen when TNG premiered."
"Fine, he's who I wished I was at fifteen."
"I bet you still wish you were Wesley Crusher."
He let out an exasperated sigh. "Have you been taking lessons from Sheppard? Because you're very good at mocking me."
"Nope, we disaffected geniuses need to develop coping mechanisms for our social awkwardness. You have your arrogance." She bumped shoulders with him. "I have my teasing."
"Jennifer, as amusing as these jokes at my expense undoubtedly are, I do have serious work to do."
"Then find me some new medical marvel to play with, and I'll—" She paused at his glare. "Find me some new medical marvel to look at from a distance and not touch, and I'll let you work undisturbed."
"Janus wasn't a medical researcher."
Jennifer threw up her hands.
"Hey, you're the one who wanted to spend time with me, and—" At her glare, he amended, "And of course I want to spend time with you, too. Tell you what, let's take a look at this. It's nothing medical, but it might just be a marvel."
Taking her elbow, Rodney led her to a workstation at the far side of the lab. Atop it, set an aluminum case. He popped the latches and raised the lid on an interior that looked empty until Jennifer's eyes adjusted. The item inside was the same color as the dark foam nestled around it.
Rodney pulled on a thick orange glove which Jennifer recognized as part of an environmental suit. "It gets pretty hot when it's been plugged in a while," he explained, sliding the artifact—a perfect cube so intensely black it gleamed—out of the foam and guiding it carefully into a slot on the console that seemed to be made for it. The cube glowed briefly as he snapped the case shut and bent to deposit it on the floor, and then darkened again by the time he stood up. "So, what do you think?"
Jennifer shrugged. "It's nice, very symmetrical. I don't know that I'd describe it as 'marvelous.'"
"I would." His expression was positively hangdog.
She took pity. "Perhaps if you explained what it is..."
"Right, of course." Rodney smacked his forehead. "Jennifer, if our readings are correct, then this cube is an actual black body."
"I'll assume we're not talking biology."
"Physics." His eyebrows were bunched-up in that unintentionally comical way again.
Jennifer thought he was really going to lay into her, and she placed both hands on her hips to strike a confrontational pose. She'd give as good as she got. McKay, though—she always thought of him as McKay when they argued—surprised her by closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. Just like that the tension melted away.
"Black bodies absorb one hundred percent of all electromagnetic radiation they touch." Rodney—yep, he was Rodney again—continued as if nothing had happened. "They're the theoretical cornerstone of quantum mechanics, theoretical because they don't exist in nature. No one on Earth has been able to manufacture one. The closest we've ever come is coating an object in a nickel-phosphorous alloy called super-black developed in the UK, and it has a point four percent reflection rate. Japanese scientists are working on something with carbon nanotubes, but I doubt it will pan out...What?"
"You're smiling through one of my physics lectures. Something must be up."
"You were going to yell at me."
"First of all, no, I wasn't. Second, why would that make you smile?"
"Because you were going to yell, and you stopped. Because you love me."
"Which is precisely why I wouldn't yell at you." His voice raised a few octaves. "You're not one of those addle-brained dimwits the IOA insists on staffing my department with. You're—"
A grin spread across her face. "Now you're yelling at me about how you weren't going to yell at me."
"I'm not yell—" Rodney was right. As Jennifer's lips claimed his, he was no longer yelling.
Nor was he thinking.
As the cube retracted into the console and a forcefield surrounded it.
As the temperature in the lab rose and the lights dimmed.
As the cube's color shifted from black to violet, from violet to red, red to white, to blue.
And he did not notice the voice of expedition leader Richard Woolsey over his earwig inquiring about the massive power spike that sensors had detected in Janus's lab. This last item he failed to notice because for Rodney, and for Jennifer, everything had already gone black.
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