But I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul; and I felt then that I should survive to exhibit what I shall soon cease to be-- a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity, pitiable to others and intolerable to myself. -- Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley
Sheppard had never really been comfortable with the technology. Oh, he'd always done what Rodney asked, and he'd done whatever was necessary. He had never made the faces Carson used to make when Rodney had asked him to help with something so that he had a user while he attended to the specifics of how and what made the newest gadget work.
It had shown, though. John hadn't enjoyed flying the city half as much as Rodney had thought he would. Seriously, a guy who thought flying choppers in Antarctica was so great should have enjoyed that a little more, right? Rodney always thought so, anyway. It wasn't as if he didn't know exactly what it took to use the control chair. He'd rather enjoyed it, actually. All of that power, resting at his fingertips, just waiting for him to put it to proper use.
And he did. He knew how to work it and the more time he spent in and with the chair, the more he learned about the depths of the systems in it. He was sure the city was sentient. It wasn't as if the city welcomed them home; it did. It was deliberate, albeit an act of somewhat sentient coding, but that was what happened when someone created an AI that intelligent with that depth of knowledge at its hands, and then walked away. It either fell apart, or it evolved.
Pegasus was entirely about the evolving.
Rodney understood evolution. It was nothing as simple and ridiculously biological as Darwin had supposed. It was complex and layered, a code that was little more than binary, so simple and yet.
And it was in everything. It was something that he was going to figure out, eventually, no matter what.
No matter how long it took.
He had the time. He had the resources, and the time, the endless, gaping yawn of time. He had the gate, but no signal to Earth. After two tries, he'd stopped trying.
He'd stopped wandering the halls looking for survivors, and he'd started power conservation protocols all on his own. It was just him, and he knew where he went and he knew where he wanted to go, and that was that.
Everyone else was...
He wished he could say that he remembered it. It would make him feel better if he could. There were gaps, though, whole days of which he couldn't quite make sense. He'd gone a little crazy, he thought, because it was all... it was all there, but some of it made no sense. He had found himself wandering from halfway put together system to halfway taken apart one, and he couldn't really remember doing either of those things.
But it was there. His head had started to clear in the last few weeks, and he didn't have much of an urge to go off world by himself, so he stuck to the city. He wandered its familiar halls, murmured to her, controlled the chair, picked up the pieces of half-finished systems to make them whole or at least knitted back together to functionality. He ate. He slept. And he dreamed, bright vivid beautiful dreams of the city bustling with life again.
Of John, alive and well, and Teyla, smiling and serene, and Ronon. Well. Ronon.
Mostly, though, he dreamed of John. He wanted him more than anything, wished for him waking and sleeping, and thought that perhaps it wasn't even him. Perhaps it was Atlantis herself, yearning for John, who must have been a bright spark in the darkness when they stepped through the gate so many years ago. A live wire of a gene, a purity of bloodstream that had probably startled her after thousands of years of nothing. He could feel the edge of an idea, the cusp of a thought, an urge to... bring John back, to fix it all. At first, he'd considered the possibility of a time machine, and he might consider it again, but there was considering and there was doing it.
He could, of course. Janus's research hadn't been purged quite so thoroughly as the Ancients had thought it had been, and Rodney was in all ways brilliant. That was his nature, was who and what he was. He could certainly do it if indeed it could be done... it was just that there were simpler ways.
Rodney wasn't a geneticist. That was all trashy voodoo, things that really varied altogether too much with a lack of precision that Rodney had never liked. It was three parts concentration and knowledge, and one part of amazing luck, one part of magical timing. It was trash, but he understood it at an intellectual level. The body was a series of systems that made up a larger system that was greater than the sum of its parts. He could create that.
The Replicators were that.
And he knew enough. He remembered enough. There were bits and pieces of John everywhere, and if he could get there, if he could start with John and get him right....
Then he could have that city. Work on John, get John right, and everyone else would fall into place after him. Rodney didn't want to say that it was all downhill from there, because it wasn't, and the nuances were important, but if he had John, then working on the rest of the city would be that much easier.
He had a plan.
All he had to do was set things in motion.
With his brain, how hard could it really be?
It was more difficult than even he had first thought. There was very little left of John, just as there was little left of everyone else. Rodney had more of him, though. He'd had opportunities, oh, yes, he had. Hairs on his pillow, dark and forlorn and spiky even in their separation from the head so beloved that had rested there once. Skin left behind on a pair of nail clippers. Sheets still stained with sweat and other fluids that were probably best left unspoken of, but it was there, present, sortable from his own DNA contamination. He was starting small, building bigger, cells and cells on cells and cells, or what passed for cells. He was using augmentation from the chair, and cloning techniques even took out the Asgard, in time. No. No, he'd be careful. Infinite and slow and patient. Impatience had undone him before, the ardent thirst for more more more now now now, and this was infinitely more important, more precious, than any of the things Rodney had so eagerly lusted for before.
He had the time, too, but he wasn't going to dwell on it. He just knew that he had all of that time stretching out in front of him, and nothing to do but rage and panic and mourn, or pull himself together and do. In the end, that was the real telling point.
Rodney McKay was many things; prone to panic, inclined to rage on rare occasion, and oh, mourning had become the thing that had driven him to the brink. He was, however, above all things a man of deeds. He was a man of accomplishments, a man who did what needed to be done, and now, he was also a man with a mission.
He was going to finish recreating John. The only thing he needed was Frankenstein music, a little lightning, and a mob at his doorstep. He needed to work out how he was going to work the personality part. He couldn't leave it entirely up to the city, after all. She knew him from the ground up, code, flesh, gene. Rodney knew him in all of the ways that counted, knew his brilliance, his anger, his commands, his touch.
Between them, they would work everything out just fine.
It was just a matter of... doing it, and it did come back to the art of making a body being very hit and miss, medical voodoo, and how was he supposed to recreate that spark, mimic the first beat of a heart? The movies had it wrong, wrong, wrong, of course, and the creation he had in suspended animation certainly wasn't going to come to life easily, wasn't going to arch up in some ridiculous parody of Mary Shelley. No, he'd have to find a way, and Atlantis loved him.
Atlantis loved John.
It would be there, even if it took days, and it did. It took days and weeks and finally four and a half months, and then it was there and real.
A series of electrical impulses that made a shell, a husk, burst to life. A series of mental inputs through the Artificial world simulators to grow that brain back to something that would be very close to John. Years could be seconds, and he had to work and program that, but he did. As long as he was working, Rodney needed very little by way or rest or down time. He'd always been that way when something important needed to be done, and this was without doubt important.
John was... John was everything, and time had become something Rodney couldn't figure in the least. All of his time went to John, and that was all there was to it. All there was to everything.
If he... if he stopped, if he contemplated the greater picture he was committing his work within, he knew he'd fall apart. He knew that the vast emptiness of the city would eat away at him, the possibility that there was a whole series of dead worlds beyond his reach. He couldn't think about it, so it was easier to focus on loading up the processes for John. It was easier to program in all of the things he remembered -- beauty, yes, but also numbers, and the softness of his mouth, the determination to leave no one behind. Stubbornness, and a faint vicious edge that came out when someone he loved was threatened. Hazel eyes and a ridiculous sense of humor.
He just needed it to process through. All of those pieces that built John, that created John, and then everything he could remember from Atlantis. Putting John through his paces, testing the base programming to see if it was still John, and observing from a distance as he coded.
It was going to work. It had to work. That was all there was to it. And if it didn't work the first time, he'd try again. And again. And again.
He had to get it right.
It didn't work the first time or the second time, but then he wiped John and remembered that his mother had died at an early age, and that seemed to change the direction of the simulations. Another tweak or two, and... He was close. He was so close that it hurt, ached, made him give up food and sleep and bathroom trips when it came down to the wire.
He could remake John. He could.
He had to, because Rodney couldn't bear to be alone any longer. If he did, if he had to face the universe alone, he wasn't... couldn't. Couldn't. It wasn't an option. It wasn't something he could do, not anymore. He wasn't going to be the brave solitary explorer.
But he could create and build and program, and finally he had a John he could wake up.
He had a John that would be perfect.
The stasis pod was unlike any other that they'd seen in their exploration, of course. He'd built it before he had started building John, slow and careful, determined that things would be right. Rodney knew how to make things work, and this was just the same as anything else. It was all physics and math and mechanics, even if the biology that was involved was more complex than Rodney had ever given it credit for being.
If Carson were still alive, he'd shake his hand. After he eventually recreated Carson, he would. But Teyla and Ronon first. His team. His people. His John.
Rodney wasn't even sure how much time had passed. He remembered John dying, everyone dying, and then he didn't remember anything for a very long time. Maybe he'd gone crazy for a while, out of self-defense as much as anything else. He had vague memories of thinking about the process, an idea of how much time it had taken to do this thing or that thing or the other. He couldn't say anything solid or certain about it, though, beyond the stages of what he'd done. Creation, coding, automation. So many things.
If he dwelled, if he thought too hard, he knew he'd lose the thread of what he was doing and fall apart in panic, because Jeannie was dead and John was dead and Elizabeth and Teyla and Ronon and Radek and General O'Neill, and even Caldwell, possibly. Maybe not. There was that ship, ships, and there was no way it would stop at Atlantis to look for him when he shouldn't have even lived.
Rodney leaned back in his chair, and let his fingers linger over the key sequence that would open John's pod.
The command to end stasis fluttered from his fingertips and his mind simultaneously, and the seal on the pod hissed open. A blood-warm swath of gentle steam puffed out, and with it came the awareness of John.
All of Atlantis seemed to hold its breath with him as Rodney rose and moved slowly to see what he had wrought.
"John?" Breathing, lips parted slightly, like he was surfacing through a thick haze, the lingering after effects of the virtual world simulator when there was no knowledge of impending doom or threat on the other side.
"Rrrodney." Slow and rumbling, but yes. Yes. Oh, yes. John knew him, he knew things, and it was perfect, so much better than the first time.
So much better than the last time.
"Wha's goin' on...?"
"It's a long story." Rodney leaned up, stood up, to welcome his old friend back. That he recognized Rodney was perfect, amazing. "C'mon, sit up. I want to be sure you're all right."
"'m zleeby." Mumbled, yes, muttered, a protest that Rodney could remember hearing before, yes, before everyone died, before Atlantis showed him how to recreate their beloved, but perfect. Oh yes.
"It's time to wake up, John. It's been... a long while." He was probably smiling insanely, manically, but John's eyes were fluttering open.
Hazel gold and green and it was John. Rodney's heart was full to bursting, overwhelmed by the sight, and the... the suspicion?
"What's going on here?"
"What do you mean? Do you have any idea how hard and how long I've worked to bring you back?" Rodney didn't pull away, just focused himself on John. "You were dead!"
"Yeah, and you're not Rodney, so what the hell makes you think I'm gonna believe that!?"
It was... it wasn't... No. John was moving, out of the pod, arms and legs uncoordinated and brand new and taking him away. And what he said, it was... it was wrong. It was... He was Rodney. He was M. Rodney McKay, Head of Lantean Science who...
He was Rodney.
"I am Rodney!" He stood up, tired and drained and staring at John. "Who else could have done all of this? Everyone else is dead, John. We, they're all dead." And John had to come back, had to, well, he could chase him down. The look on John's face, though, he wasn't going to be able to forget that. That, or the words that followed.
"You're an abomination."
"I created you. I put you back together, brought you back to life. I..." Rodney shifted, started after John, and then looked down at himself. His hands, his arms, he seemed all right. They were right. Weren't they? They were his. They were....
"You're not Rodney."
John was naked, and up against a wall, and his face, oh, God, his face was twisted with disgust, and Rodney couldn't think. He couldn't remember. He... things were...
"I am Rodney." He insisted it, and stepped closer towards John. "Why do you say I'm not? I managed to bring you back to life -- who else could do that?" Who else but him and Atlantis?
John's laughter was rough and cracked, hysterical, a sound that Rodney never expected to hear from him. Maybe, maybe he had gotten it wrong again after all. Oh, but he had been so close....
"Take a look in a mirror. Whatever you are, it's not McKay."
Oh god... "But I am. I'm Rodney inside, I remember everything, I..." He didn't know where to find a mirror. The Ancients hadn't been very vain.
Broken, bedlamite sounds from John. "No. No, no, not. Not Rodney. Rodney would never, Rodney would know..."
"Rodney would know what?" He reached for John. "Look, I can find you a uniform. We can work on Teyla and Ronon next."
"Don't touch me!" As if Rodney hadn't made him. "Don't touch me!" And it hurt. Oh, God, it hurt to see John push away from him, skitter on those wild, shaking limbs, and he was vomiting in the corner, and yes, there, there was a reflective surface....
"Oh, hell!" Rodney jerked, just twitched, and then he couldn't look away. The metallic sheen of his face, the patchy skin. He wasn't finished. He wasn't complete, a halfway together Replicator want to be, and how could that be? How could it, when he remembered, he remembered so much. He remembered Atlantis around him and the taste of John on his tongue and oh. God. Was that his brain under glass?
"Oh God. Oh God."
"Oh god. I'm, I'm a bad joke, I'm, John, you can help put me back together, I fixed you, you can, please John..."
Except John couldn't. That wasn't what Atlantis had done; it wasn't what she wanted. She wanted John, whole and hardy, even though John was afraid of her, and she'd only brought Rodney back, Rodney who loved her, Rodney who loved John, to give her what she wanted.
"John, please, John..." Rodney turned to him, miserable and hopeful and John couldn't, couldn't, probably wouldn't, and he'd put everyone else back together, piece by piece, and no one would fix him.
No one could fix him.
No one but himself, and how wrong was that? How wrong, and how long had he taken, how long had he worked on John? How long would it take to create a copy of himself, and would she let him?
"I just need to get back into my own body..."
It would just take time, and time, and time, and John laughed on, or perhaps, just perhaps, he wept.