Privately, Jeannie is trying to decide where on the continuum of strangeness this particular incident falls. The sudden appearance of her brother's double from an alternate reality is certainly stranger than the fact that he lives and works in a different galaxy, but less strange than the fact his boyfriend his a ten thousand year old alien. That much is obvious. The problem, however, is one of degree, and though she supposes it doesn't really matter, it helps restore some sense of control to the situation.
From her position on the balcony, she sees the door to the Observation Room below open and John walk through. Quickly, she leans over and presses the speaker controls.
"Hey Rodney," she hears him say, as casual as casual can be.
"Hi," her brother's doppelgänger replies, clearly confused.
"You don't know who I am, d'you?"
"Not a clue."
Jeannie's heart breaks a little at this news. This might not be 'her' Mer, but he's still some version of her brother and she can't imagine any that might stand a chance of being happy without some version of John in his life.
"I suspected as much. If some version of me was still around in your universe, he'd be here right now, not you, that's for sure."
"Who are you anyway?"
"The exact details aren't important," John says, spinning one of the chairs around so that it's back faces the other Mer before straddling it. "But people call me Colonel Sheppard. I'm the acting Head of the Atlantis Expedition."
The other Mer's head falls. "Then Elizabeth is dead in this universe too."
"For about two months now." He somehow manages to keep all the pain he knows he feels on the subject out of his voice, making Doctor Weir's death seem like nothing more than a particularly notable statistic. Not for the first time, it makes Jeannie wonder how much she actually knows about John even now that she's been read on to the truth about what he really is.
If anyone really knows.
"It's been nearly a year on our end. She and several others were captured by the Genii during Ladon Radhim's coup. She was able to negotiate for their release, but died in an attack on the base before she could return through the Gate herself."
"Ladon's coup was peaceful here."
"That's something, at least."
"So who's in charge of 'Lantis where you're from if it's not Elizabeta? Colonel Sumner? Colonel Caldwell?"
"Richard Woolsey, actually. Sumner took over after we first encountered the Wraith, but he died trying to break the siege on our Atlantis that happened about a year-and-a-half ago. Elizabeth was back in charge after that, but after she died the reigns fell to me." He sighs wearily. "Luckily we finally made contact with Earth five months ago. The IOA put Woolsey in charge then. The man's an utter buffoon, but he knows his job and, frankly, I'd rather it be him in the hot seat than me."
Real sympathy creeps onto John's carefully calculated mask of breezy indifference. "Can't say I blame you. The amount of paperwork alone this place somehow manages to generate is insane."
"That's true in every universe, I'd imagine."
"Probably. Which I guess brings us back to the original question of: what on Lantea are you doing here?"
"As I told me - your version of me," the other Mer says, crossing his arms, "'your' little matter bridge just so happens to be tearing 'my' universe apart."
"Yeah, funnily enough, I got that part," the Colonel says dryly, slipping back into his lackadaisical facade. "But it's a lot easier to send a message across universes than it is to send a full-grown person. Which begs the other question of: why 'else' are you here?"
Jeannie blinks. It's obvious that the only reason this Mer is here is to stop them from destroying his universe. What other reason 'could' he have for being here? Shouldn't that be enough?
"I told you-"
"A sad story," John finishes for him, rapping his knuckles against the metal back of his chair. "But, y'see, I know my Rodney. Very well, in fact. And I figure that, no matter what universe a Rodney McKay originates from, some things are going to be the same across the board. Like the whole citrus thing. And fact that he would never take on a mission like this unless, one, there was some way for him to get back and, two, something far more valuable than the safety of a single universe at stake."
The amiable smile the alternate Mer has been wearing since his arrival slides right off his face. He recrosses his arms on his chest and seems to sink into himself. Guiltily. Nervously. Worriedly.
"I thought so. What is it?" he asks gently, as if this Rodney were some skittish animal and not a danger to Atlantis - something, Jeannie's come to discover, John usually would have dealt with far more definitively by now. "You figured that building this bridge meant that we had ZPMs to spare? 'Cause, from the sound of things, your guys' universe hasn't been as lucky as ours. Let me guess: your SG-1 didn't find the ZPM in Egypt, did they? And you definitely don't have the ATLAS Device to recharge the ones you found in the city."
The other Mer, quite white now, shakes his head, as if he doesn't quite trust himself to speak.
"Don't worry," John smiles at him - and it's a warms smile. A genuine smile. One that reaches his eyes and brightens his whole face. "I'm not going to throw you in the brig or anything. If it were my Atlantis, I'd probably have tried the exact same thing.
"So, tell you what, I'm going to get my Rodney to give you the plans for our ATLAS Device before we send you back where you belong. But, fair warning, you try anything that might hurt this Atlantis and it won't matter that you're someone's version of Rodney McKay. I 'will' stop you, by whatever means necessary."
The threat doesn't seem to phase this Mer as much as the offer of help. "Why? Why are you doing this? Why would you help me?"
John shrugs. "'Cause. You're trying to save Atlantis. I can understand that. I've done a lot a stupid things trying to save mine. Maybe not as stupid as squeezing my way through to a parallel universe, but up there." He rises from his chair and toes it back into place. "Nice talking with you."
And, without further ado, John walks out, possibly the only one watching who has the slightest idea what just happened.
"This is weird."
Rodney gives him a disgruntled look. "You cannot possibly tell me that your whole über-liberal, ultra-advanced alien upbringing prepared you to encounter copies of people you know from alternate universes."
Snapping his fingers, "See," he interrupts. "Exactly. It's weird."
Iohannes closes the copy of 'The Journal of Number Theory' he's been paging through and places it in his lap, using a finger to hold his place. "But he's not your copy, Rodney. He's just a guy who's been through a lot of the same things you have, but who is essentially a different person."
"We have the same DNA. The same schooling. The exact same life history until we stepped foot on Atlantis - and believe you me, we compared notes extensively while you've been up here, ordering bullets and potatoes for the Expedition, or whatever it is you do when you lock yourself away in your office up here. The first difference we found is that, where 'I' found you half-dead in the Control Chair, 'he' found a city already on the surface, ZedPMs completely drained."
"So I heard."
"And that doesn't bother you?"
"That his Atlantis is probably dead? Of course it does." The very idea of it makes him sick to his stomach, in ways that are less lunch-related than they are the all-encompassing need to use his Ascended powers to tear a hole between universes and fix whatever it is that went wrong in that one. "But there's nothing I can do about it," he tells himself, despite the fact that it may very well be a lie. "I can only control the things that I can control - and I'm barely treading water as is trying to stay on top of all of it. I just have to hope that whatever's left of her is being taken care of by whoever's there to do so. For all I know, she was never sentient in that universe at all, so I never became 'pastor', which is why I didn't stay."
"You do realise that you're probably dead in that universe."
"I lead a dangerous life. I'm probably dead in a lot of universes."
"Well, that's reassuring," Rodney huffs, giving up the pretence of still paying any attention to his tablet at all and tossing it on the coffee table. He sags against the couch, sliding towards Iohannes until their shoulders press together.
The touch is grounding. He leans into it gladly. "It wasn't supposed to be."
Rodney's fingers drum against the sliver of cushion between their legs. "You know, most the time I really don't care that you're an Ancient, but something you're just so... alien."
"You're the alien," he says, letting his left hand slip of his thigh and tangle with Rodney's right.
"Speaking of aliens... We've still not finished season five of 'Wormhole X-treme' yet, and I'm pretty sure the one where I show up is coming up soon."
"So you're okay with someone playing you on TV, but not with your real life duplicate from an alternate universe showing up? I gotta tell you, Rodney, that's kinda messed up."
"No, the fact that 'you' think it's okay is messed up. What you should be thinking about is how awesome it is they got that guy from the new 'Battlestar Galactica' to play me, and who they might get to play you if they can convince the networks to do an Atlantis spin-off."
"I dunno. Watching actors playing us on TV? 'That' would be weird."
"Your definition of weird is what's weird.," Rodney says, squeezing his hand for a second before sliding off the couch. "So, what do you say? Want to see if we can make it to the me-episode before we're interrupted?"
"D'you even have to ask?"
"So how does this work?" John asks, eying the setup wearily. It quite literally looks like one of those children's toys one always sees in science museums - the plasma lamps that cause everyone's hair to stand on end when they touch it - hooked up to about nine miles of wire and no less than a hundred sensors, controls, and monitors.
Jeannie chews her lower lip nervously. She doesn't like this. She doesn't like this at all.
Mer - her Mer - rubs his hands together eagerly. "It's simple. We need to reverse the bridge long enough to send the other me back through and then close it down completely. The problem is that both reversing and shutting off the bridge is going to need massive amounts of energy, the sort which border on the edge of what the ZedPMs are able to provide. And, while we do have the ATLAS Device, I don't want to run down a ZedPM unless we have no other choice, just in case something goes wrong.
"But," he adds, jabbing a finger John's way, "we have Your Ascended-ness, who is essentially a self-replenishing seven exavolt battery."
"Gee, thanks Rodney."
"An incredibly attractive seven exavolt battery? What do you want? It's the truth. You can provide more immediate power than the ZedPM can and you can provide additional monitoring to the system. And all you've got to do is place your hands on this thing here and pour a little bit of power into it."
"Just?" Jeannie scoffs, stepping forward, no longer able to hold her tongue. "Maybe I'm just the newbie here, but to me it seems like there's a more than significant chance that John could get pulled into the other universe if he tries this."
"A zero point zero zero three chance. Hardly significant at all."
"If I understand this correctly - and correct me if I don't, - all this power John has access to is part of John himself - it's part of this whole Ascension business, which I still don't understand. So instead of being powering this setup with zero point energy, we're going to be powering it with straight up pieces of John, meaning that the danger is closer to thirty percent he's going to get pulled into the other universe, if not sixty."
"Huh," John says. "Well, that doesn't sound so bad."
She looks at him askance. "Sixty percent chance of being sucked into an alternate universe doesn't sound so bad to you?"
John shrugs. "We've tackled worse odds."
It's true too. Mer's not gone into great detail about everything that's happened since he came to Atlantis, but his friend (friend!) Carson had filled her in as best he could. From Wraith sieges to Replicator attacks, they 'had' faced worse odds than this, but Jeannie sees no reason to push their luck.
"You're insane," the other Mer announces.
The Colonel shrugs again. "That's not a possibility I've dicounted yet."
Her Mer hits him over the back of the head. "You're a moron, that's what you are. Now can we get this show on the road? Every second we waste here is another second an alternate Atlantis is closer to destruction."
"And it's official," John snorts. "The Alteran propensity for melodramatics 'is' contagious."
"And who's fault is that, hmmm?"
John raises one eyebrow as if to say, "Touché."
Jeannie coughs less than discreetly.
Her Mer's hands rub together again. "Yes, yes, show on the road. John, if you don't mind? And other me, if you'd just get into place..."
The alternate Mer steps into the chamber.
John grasps the plasma lamp-like device gently hands, muttering something that sounds suspiciously like, "Here goes nothing," under his breath.
For a moment, nothing happens. Then a low-pitched tone fills the room, quietly at first and then raising in pitch and intensity as a pure, impossibly white light pours from John's hands and fills the plasma lamp. The bars on the exterior of the bridge chamber start to spin and, before long, have gained such speed that Jeannie cannot make out the path of any individual bar. Instead, they seem to blur into a single wall of silvery, white-hot metal.
The light pulses around the chamber. Once. Twice. Three times. The bars whirl to a stop as the light fades, but the tone remains, now a high-pitched whine that is rising out of the range of human hearing.
Jeannie rubs her ears and catches Mer doing the same as he checks the chamber: His alternate is gone. All the sensor readings indicate the bridge is closed.
She turns to check on John-
-who has fallen to his knees, clutching at his ears.
"John," she calls, but it's obvious he cannot her when he starts when she appears at his side.
Meer's next to her in an instant. "John," he says, hands flying to his boyfriend's shoulders. "John? What happened? Are you alright? 'Es valens? Quid accidit?'"
John blinks rabidly, but even after he stops his eyes seem oddly unable to focus.
"'Iohannes, me paenitent, puto esse valens. Non est periculum.'"
The Ancient's eyes dart to Mer, possibly because he recognises his own language, but more likely because it's Mer. And then, oddly enough, he smiles. "I'm fine," he says, lowering his hands. They come away covered in blood, but a quick second later it disappears, as does the trickle of it that had been coming out of both his ears. "It's just that 'Lantis appears to be a 'meretrix' in every universe."
"You talked to the other universe's Atlantis?"
"More like she shouted really loud in hopes I'd hear."
"What did she say?"
John climbs to his feet. "She told me what happened to my people in her universe; about what happened to their version of me."