Title: Circumventing Causality

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: As a many-year veteran of the Stargate program, Rodney wasn't very impressed with John Connor's tidings of woe. He'd seen worse. 2300 words.

Spoilers: All of Stargate Atlantis; general Season 1 for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Notes: For ladyyueh, who also asked for Rodney and John, SGA/T:SCC, with the prompt "Principles of Time Travel". Set post-finale for SGA, and ignores most of the second season of the Sarah Connor Chronicles.

"Fate is nothing but the deeds committed in a prior state of existence."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"No, no, no! That's so wrong, I don't even have the words to describe how wrong you are, and I know more about temporal physics than anyone else on the planet! Well- almost anyone; Colonel Carter might- but never mind, you obviously haven't talked to her about this either, or you wouldn't still be sitting here trying to tell me that you have to blow up my city for the good of all mankind."

Rodney took a deep breath, trying to calm down; he could practically feel his blood pressure spiking. But he was pretty sure the anger was justified in this case. This kid, this teenager with the carefully slouchy haircut and grunge-style clothes that completely failed to disguise the too-adult intensity burning at the back of his eyes, had snuck onto Atlantis with the help of some kind of artificial not-quite-Replicator and very nearly succeeded in triggering the Ancient city's self-destruct device.

He'd claimed he would have left enough time for everyone to get away. Of course, Rodney would have been able to dismantle it given any kind of window to work in, which the kid should know if he'd made it to Atlantis in the first place, so he really shouldn't have bothered trying float such a transparent lie past the smartest man in the city. And his rationale for his actions was even worse: that it had to be done to stop an apocalyptic 'Judgment Day' from arriving.

As a many-year veteran of the Stargate program, though, Rodney wasn't very impressed with Mr. Connor's tidings of woe. He'd seen worse. More than once. And likely would again, when the morons in charge of the IOA finally cleared the city for travel back to Pegasus. Sadly, Rodney was pretty sure Connor really did believe what he was saying- an assurance that had more to do with the fact that the observed universe was exactly that fucked than with any trust in the kid's sanity or morals.

A world-spanning cyborg rebellion? Replicators much? It wasn't even original.

"I didn't need to be taught about it, I've lived it!" Connor spluttered, leaning forward a little over the interview table between them.

"Yes, yes, that's obvious- there's no way you're older than a teenager, no matter what your official records say," Rodney scoffed. The kid's mother's history had given him a moment of pause, when the SGC had turned up her time in the Pescadero State Hospital for the Criminally Insane- but a little astute observation, combined with entirely too much experience on the front lines of another war for humanity's survival, had made it all too easy to read between the lines. "Who in this room hasn't run across time travel before? That's not the point. The point is, whoever the hell is in charge of your strategy is an idiot."

"Not the point?" Connor's jaw dropped a little, and he threw a strange glance at Rodney's forearms before continuing indignantly. "But you're not Resistance- and Cameron said you're not metal. Who are you guys? And what are you talking about? You don't know anything about me."

About me, the kid said, when Rodney asked about strategy- and he still showed no signs of doubting himself, or of guilt, or of real fear. Rodney shook his head, reminded just a bit of another John in his determined martyr mode- but he doubted even Sheppard had been that cocksure, egocentric, and willing to sacrifice anything for his goals at such a tender age. Experience? Indoctrination? Both? However he'd come by it, Connor had a real messiah complex, and Rodney had seen too many of those- mostly since 'gating to Pegasus- to believe he had much chance of making a dent in such a canonized worldview. But he had to try. The next bomb might not have a McKay nearby to defuse it.

"I know more than enough to know you're never going to succeed this way," Rodney scowled at him. "Say you'd managed to blow up the city. Then what? On to the next computer system that might potentially evolve into an artificial intelligence? The next brilliant mind that might have cured cancer, or built a satellite to defend our world from space? I have news for you- no matter how many hydras' heads you chop off, more are always going to grow back in their place."

"And I'll be there- or someone will be- to chop off every one of those," Connor said, jabbing an emphatic finger at the table.

"You're fooling yourself if you think that's even possible," Rodney replied, frustrated. "How many soldiers are you going to send back- or forward- in time? How many are they going to send to stop your soldiers, as soon as they notice what you've done?"

Connor gritted his teeth. "As many as it takes," he said. "We will stop Skynet."

"You just keep telling yourself that," Rodney snorted. "Time isn't a möbius strip for you to play with, you know. Every time you send someone through time, you're not fixing your timeline- you're splintering off a new one that runs in parallel to the original. Alternate realities. It infuriates me to think that my reality, the one I'm living in right now, might depend in some small way on something some deluded alternate version of you has done. Because it isn't you. You know that, right? You're living a life that is the result of what some John Connor before you tried to make happen. How do you even know one of them hasn't already stopped Judgment Day from coming?"

Connor turned his head away, making an aggravated noise. He opened his mouth, then closed it again; then shook his head and turned his gaze back to Rodney. His eyes were intent and focused; he was deadly serious, and Rodney was reminded of Sheppard again as he took a deep breath and answered. "Because I'm still here," he said.

Rodney narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean by that?" he demanded.

Now it was Connor's turn to snort. "Nevermind. It's just- you say time isn't a möbius strip. That there's no circular causality. I sure hope you're right. My mother likes to say there's no fate but what we make. But no matter what we change, I seem to always end up leading the war against Skynet. Well, a John Connor, at least, even if I'm not exactly the right one. John Connor always gives Kyle Reese his mother's picture as a good luck charm, and then sends him back in time to protect her. John Connor always reprograms the things that kill his people and sends them back as his own bodyguards. And every time I meet someone else from the future, or some thing else, they all tell me the same things. The date may change, even whether or not we're winning the war might change, but Judgment Day always comes. How many previous timelines do you think led up to this one? If any of them hadn't ended in disaster, would I be sitting here talking to you?"

"It only takes one," Rodney insisted. "But you're right, it probably won't be this one. And let me tell you why. I'm not even a soldier, and I can tell that fighting your war this way is an absolutely self-defeating proposition. Picking off individual targets, defending people one at a time- those are delaying tactics. Guerrilla fighting, meant to keep the enemy at bay until someone on your side comes up with a finishing move or enough troops to win via overwhelming force." It would be hard not to know that, after years and years of living the struggle against the Wraith. "And maybe the first Connor thought that time travel would be that finishing move. I can certainly see how he might. But it wasn't, because the other side had it, too. So what else do you have up your sleeve?"

Connor spluttered a little, trying to assemble a response. "I- there's Cameron-"

"Who doesn't count, because she started out as one of them. She's a defector, and there are certainly enemies still out there that know her exact capabilities. You don't have any other finishing moves in the works, and you certainly don't have numbers."

The kid set his jaw and waved the argument away, giving up on trying to convince Rodney in return. "That doesn't mean I'm going to just give up! Some people never do."

Rodney sighed. "You can say that again. But that's not the point, either."

"Then what is the point?" Connor objected. "I mean, if you really want to sit here and talk me to death until Cameron breaks free and finds me, be my guest, but-"

At that point, Woolsey must have decided Rodney had had enough time to talk the kid around, because the door opened and Sheppard came into the room. Connor's eyes lingered on him suspiciously; Sheppard returned the favor, approaching to loom menacingly just out of arm's reach.

"As entertaining as this impromptu attempt to threaten Rodney is, I think you're still underestimating us," Sheppard said, mildly. "Your Cameron won't get free, because she's being held by technology several generations more advanced than she is. And that's part of your problem, right there. You can't hold back scientific advancement. And given your skillset, I fail to see why you would even try. Why aren't you programming a counter-Skynet? Why aren't you creating a supervirus to infect any A.I. that tries to take over a nuclear launch site? Why aren't you finding scientists to build you weapons that will destroy the damned things? You've seen this place; you think we can't do it? Why aren't you building dikes instead of sticking your fingers in a leaky dam?"

Connor glared up at him. "And how am I supposed to trust anybody? Tell me that. Every time we try, someone else gets killed. Or tries to kill us. And that's if they even believe us. And aren't a cyborg themselves. Even without that risk, we're supposed to approach the government knowing the FBI still wants to arrest my mom for Miles Dyson's death? I would just end up right back where I am now."

He hadn't touched the programming questions; and probably wouldn't, if Rodney had judged his prickly ego correctly. He wouldn't want to admit that he might be, possibly, just a little bit wrong. Of course, he was, possibly, just a little bit justified as well- Rodney remembered the sick feeling in his gut when Caldwell had turned out to be infested with a Goa'uld, and the tension in the city before everyone else had been swept for possible infiltration by the arrogant symbiotic species.

"Maybe, and maybe not," Sheppard replied, mildly. "But we'll never know now, will we? Because you aren't leaving this city."

"You can't hold me here!" Connor objected, bristling with anger.

"Well, we could release you to the authorities," Sheppard shrugged. "Of course, we'd keep your pet robot. We could learn a lot from her, I'm sure; and maybe you won't ever have to be that John Connor, after all."

"What- no! You can't do that to Cameron!"

"Why not? She's just a robot, right?" Rodney needled him.

"But- she- I have a responsibility to her," Connor faltered.

Sheppard had clearly anticipated that reaction; no surprise, after all the times he'd honored a deal with the Wraith he'd once shared a Genii prison with. "Oh, we'd plug her brain into some kind of artificial happy reality, don't worry; we've done something like that before. But we'd be idiots not to take her body apart and analyze her construction." He paused then, just long enough to let Connor stew a little, and smiled blandly at him. "Or, you could do the smart thing and work with our scientists, you and her both, to fill us in on everything we should know. You needed an advantage? Well, you've got one, whether you want it or not. Be smart."

Rodney raised an eyebrow at the offer; Sheppard raised one back, then turned back to the kid. Well. Either the girl robot's existence had been enough to raise flags all the way up to Homeworld, or some other proof of the Connors' prophecies had turned up while Connor and Rodney were talking, but either way... huh.

This could get interesting, Rodney thought, watching the kid bite his lip, clearly tempted by the offer.

"But you're military," he hedged. Apparently, that was a sticking point.

"Personally? Yeah. Collectively? We're run by a civilian oversight committee," Sheppard shrugged. "If that matters."

"I want to talk to my mother," Connor finally said, crossing his arms in front of him.

"Naturally," Sheppard's creepy-polite smile made another appearance. Then he pulled a mobile phone from his pocket- probably doctored by Radek- and slid it across the table.

Connor took it, swallowed, then flipped it open and dialed. When someone answered, he hesitated, then gave some kind of code and started speaking in low-voiced Spanish.

"Time travel, huh?" Sheppard muttered under his breath. "The you in the future I got sent to never mentioned any cyborg apocalypse."

"Neither did Cassie Frasier in the future SG-1 briefly visited," Rodney shrugged. "But you know how many other futures we've lost to the Wraith, the Goa'uld, the Ori, or even the Aschen. Maybe the 'first' robot apocalypse was in response to one of their invasions. Who knows. Regardless, it'll be nice to get a crack at advanced technology we can actually reverse engineer." It wouldn't be that easy, of course; they'd have to carefully manage their new 'recruits', but still.

"Exactly," Sheppard said, brushing a hand over the holster at his hip.

Then they turned their attention back to Connor, and waited for his answer.