Characters: Mainly Rodney and Carson, with some Elizabeth and Sheppard, and smatterings of the others.
Season/spoilers: Small "Phantoms" reference.
Summary: Half the team came back drugged and incoherent; the other half never came back at all. Rodney and Carson are lost on a world in the grip of civil war.
This is unbeta'd, so please let me know if you notice any glaring errors. I'll have it up on ff.net a little later.
... and then it all went horribly wrong.
This was the mantra of Sheppard's mission reports. Elizabeth laughed about it sometimes, when horribly wrong meant that Ronon had accidentally ingested something that turned him Smurf-blue, or Rodney had gotten himself engaged to a tribal chief's daughter by touching the wrong artifact. It was even starting to become funny, in an annoying kind of way, when they lost yet another puddlejumper -- she'd heard of a betting pool among the engineers, every time they fixed a jumper, on how long it would take Sheppard to break it.
But it wasn't funny when the team came stumbling through the gate from P1R-4P2, an hour late for their check-in, screaming and covered with blood, missing two of their team members.
The first thing Sheppard did was strafe the upper balconies of the gateroom with P90 fire. The gate techs and Elizabeth flung themselves under the consoles, but his aim was wildly off -- and when did Sheppard ever miss a target? He was shouting something, but Elizabeth couldn't hear what it was, not over Teyla's shrieking. Teyla didn't have a gun; she was clawing at her body, at her face and hair, screaming as if she were being flayed alive.
Ronon didn't make a sound; he just slumped down onto the floor, staring at nothing. His shirt was torn halfway off, and his hands were red to the elbows.
Of McKay or Beckett, there was no sign.
By the time Elizabeth made her way to the gateroom floor, calling for a medical team, the Marines had already disarmed Sheppard, and Teyla had curled up into a ball with her hands buried in her hair, whimpering. Ronon just stared off into space, but as she approached, Elizabeth could see that he was rocking back and forth, very slightly. This unnerved her even worse than Teyla and Sheppard's incoherence.
Sheppard was arguing with the Marines in a loud, slurred, too-rapid voice. "... got them all, all of them, dead -- they had some kind of thing like a bazooka, I've never seen it before, and --"
"John!" She was relieved to see his head swivel in her direction. He was somewhat responsive, at least. "John, what happened? Where are Carson and Rodney?"
"Dead," he said, and her stomach plunged and just kept falling, until his next words brought an abrupt halt to her burgeoning grief -- "All of them, my whole team, dead."
Someone had died, obviously -- he was splattered with blood from head to foot, and she didn't think it was his own. He was muddy and scratched up as if he'd run through a forest, but the only obvious signs of injury on him were a myriad of tiny scratches on his face and hands. Yet still, there was all that blood -- on his face, his clothes, even in his hair.
"John," she said quietly, holding out her hands, "Teyla and Ronon are sitting right over there. Where are Carson and Rodney?"
"Dead," he breathed. His eyes were huge -- no, she realized, it was the pupils, so dilated that none of the green was visible. "Dead -- they shot Carson in the chest -- took off Teyla's head with some kind of automatic weapon ... God, she was standing so close to me ..."
Elizabeth tapped her radio and stepped back. "I want a quarantine on the gateroom, and immediate isolation procedures for Sheppard's team and anyone who's had contact with them."
"Atlantis would've gone into lockdown if they'd brought a pathogen back through the gate with them, ma'am," one of the techs reported.
"Assuming it's something Atlantis recognizes, Sergeant." And it could be anything -- radiation, an intoxicant, a Wraith device like the one they'd found on M1B-129, spores, nanobots ... God, anything.
The medical team arrived at a run, scrambling into isolation suits on the move, and Elizabeth got out of the way. Teyla, who had begun sobbing, was rolled onto a gurney, while Ronon allowed himself to be roused to his feet and led away, docile as a child. John struggled, and it finally took three marines to hold him while he was strapped down, screaming. "No -- I won't let you -- Why! Just for God's sake, tell me why you killed them!" His voice, hoarse from shouting, broke on the last word, and Elizabeth turned away.
One of the nurses tapped on her arm. "Is that -- is that all of --"
"Yes." She knew what she was being asked. Did Carson come back? And the answer, as they could both see, was no.
The nurse swallowed. She looked very young through the plastic face shield of the isolation suit. "I'll need you to come to the infirmary for a checkup as well, Dr. Weir."
"I know. One minute, please." Looking up at the control room, she ordered, "Dial P1R-4P2 and broadcast a radio call for Doctors Beckett and McKay. If they don't respond, I want a MALP sent through, but nothing manned. No more of our people are going to set foot on that planet, in a suit or puddlejumper or otherwise, until we understand what happened to Sheppard's team."
Trying not to imagine the worst, Elizabeth allowed herself to be led away.
The first thing he was aware of was a stabbing pain in his head, like a knife digging into his temples.
"Carson?" a woman's voice asked. "Carson Beckett? How are you feeling?"
He opened his eyes automatically at the sound, then squeezed them shut as a sharp stab of light ratcheted his headache up about ten notches.
"Sorry." There was a rustle, and the red haze behind his eyelids dimmed. "I forgot about your eyes. It's all right; I closed the shutters. You can open your eyes now."
He blinked cautiously and squinted. The first thing he managed to make out in the dim room was a woman with long, dark hair sitting at his bedside. He tried to decide if he knew her, but couldn't see her well enough to tell. His vision was blurred; he blinked, blinked again, but he still couldn't make out more than vague shapes.
"Where --" he began, and then broke off, coughing. The woman reached quickly for something outside his field of vision, and he felt a hand under his shoulders, gently lifting him so that she could tilt a cup of water to his lips.
"Better?" she asked, letting him back down against rough-feeling pillows. He risked moving his head in a slight nod.
As his still-blurred vision began to adjust to the dim light, he saw that the walls were made of wood, draped with a few simple tapestries woven in sunset colors -- gold and blue and brown. At the sight of the softly colored patterns, something flitted through his memory, there and gone.
"You should sleep," the dark-haired woman told him. "You have been ill."
He tried to remember if that was true, but his brain was sluggish, unresponsive. Like his eyes, like his body ... like his hands. For some reason this terrified him.
"Go to sleep," the woman told him again, leaning over him. Some buried part of his brain protested Danger, Will Robinson! but his body's exhaustion was more powerful than fear, and he felt himself fading, haunted by a terror that he could not name. Somewhere on the cusp of sleep, he almost managed to put a name to it. I wasn't alone. Friends -- team -- Where are my ...? And then he slept.
It was useless to stay in the infirmary, Elizabeth told herself. The team were in isolation, although she herself had been cleared to return to duty, and she'd agreed with the medical staff that visitors were very emphatically not a good idea right now.
There was something disturbing about the infirmary without Carson, anyway. Not that it didn't run smoothly in his absence; Carson was a good administrator and his people were efficient and well-trained. But in a crisis, Elizabeth hadn't realized how much she relied on having him there -- how much it relaxed her to have the test results from the team's latest misadventure delivered with Carson's warmth rather than the clipped and official tones of one of the other ranking medical staff.
The gateroom was quiet and subdued; the gate was active, shimmering, a pool of blue light. Looking down at the area in front of it, Elizabeth saw that all signs of the team's sudden arrival had been cleaned away; the floor gleamed where mud and blood had streaked it earlier.
She shivered. Some of that blood could belong to Carson and Rodney.
"Dr. Weir? We're getting MALP telemetry now."
"On screen, Sergeant."
The staticky images that appeared on the gateroom screens were recognizable, barely, as the planet where her flagship team had escorted Dr. Beckett and a crateful of basic medical supplies some hours earlier. The hills in the background were still brightly patterned with autumn colors, and through the stone barricade in front of the Stargate -- designed to keep out Wraith darts and enemy ships -- some of the buildings she remembered seeing before were still intact.
Some of them.
Elizabeth drew in a deep breath and let it out, gazing at the ruins where a small, thriving town had stood only hours earlier. On the grainy broadcast, it was difficult to pick out bodies from pieces of rubble, but she could see black washes in the streets that could only be blood. Here and there, massacred livestock lay still in the autumn mud.
"Wraith?" she asked softly.
"There's no way that darts could have come through the gate, ma'am, and the long-range sensors show no sign of a hiveship in the area. We assume that it was a rebel strike."
"They told us the rebels had been wiped out months ago." She forcibly straightened her hands from the fists that had begun to ball against her thighs. "We were promised that our people would be safe, that they only needed medical supplies."
No one in the gateroom responded. After a moment Elizabeth asked, "Have you tried contacting the provisional government?"
The gate tech nodded. "We've been broadcasting on their frequency as well as on the radio frequency used by the gate teams. No one has responded. We can only assume that the rebels have taken out the capital."
And deployed heaven knew what biological weapon against the city ... and her team. These people had been at least as advanced as those on Hoff, before a civil war had devastated their planet and decimated their population.
Elizabeth could feel the skin around her eyes tightening. "Never again," she said softly, coldly. "Never again do we send medical aid to a planet in the throes of a civil war. I don't care if they tell us the rebels have been wiped out and there haven't been hostilities in months. I don't care how loudly Carson argues for it the next time. I don't care if it was the right thing to do, and I don't care what it says about me that I'm not willing to do it the next time someone asks. Never again."
She was still staring at the devastation on the MALP's grainy images when her radio crackled. "Dr. Weir? This is Khalid in the infirmary."
She tapped her headset. "Yes, go ahead."
"Colonel Sheppard is awake, ma'am. You wanted to be informed."
"Yes, thank you. I'm on my way." She left the gateroom at a trot. "Has he said anything about the whereabouts of the others yet?"
"No ma'am. In fact ..." There was a pause, and then the technician continued. "He doesn't seem to remember anything, ma'am, including his own name."
Nightmares chased him back to consciousness. He was massively uncomfortable -- a dull ache thudded behind his temples, his mouth felt fuzzy, and he really had to pee. But for a few minutes he lay still, eyes shut, not daring to move. It was the fear of a child, hiding beneath the covers from the terrors in the dark.
Where am I? Who am I?
His fingers explored the homespun sheets underneath him, lightly stroking across their roughness. The sensation helped to ground him, as he realized with growing terror that he didn't remember ... anything.
Carson. There had been a woman, and she had said his name was Carson. Carson Beckett. He clung to that, because he didn't have anything else to cling to. Trying to search his memories only got him a worse headache and a fuzzy recollection of ... running?
And blood. Not his own.
His eyes snapped open at that, and he sat up instinctively, then groaned and swallowed, clutching at his head. The room wavered around him, but stabilized after a moment. Once things settled down, he risked a look around.
Wooden walls, hung with tapestries in muted blue and gold and brown -- again, a vague sense of familiarity skittered around the edges of his mind, but he couldn't pin it down. As he squinted longer at the walls, he realized that the place had a run-down, shabby look about it. The boards were rough and unpainted, the edges of the tapestries threadbare and stained. The room was furnished with nothing more than the bed upon which he lay and small table beside it. The single window was shuttered; a candle on the table lit the room dimly, though even that small amount of light made him blink.
Beside the candle, there was a pitcher of water on the bedside table, and a heavy pewter mug. His thirst returned with the force of a sledgehammer, and he leaned over to pour himself a cupful with slightly shaking hands. He paused for just a moment, worrying about alien microbes in the water -- and then wondering with equal conviction why he was so convinced that he was a stranger to this place, when he couldn't remember anything.
The water was warm, and tasted coppery on his tongue. He drained two mugs, before his bladder reminded him of his body's other needs. Pushing himself out of bed, he found that he could stand, although his legs were shaky and weak. He was wearing a loose shift of the same rough material as the sheets. There was no familiarity to it; he did not remember wearing clothes like this before. On the other hand, he didn't remember much of anything.
Feeling like an old man, he shuffled across the floor -- But I'm only thirty-eight! came one of those flashes of memory, and he hung onto it as it tried to go skittering away on him again. Thirty-eight -- and thirty-eight what he had no idea, but it was one more tiny piece of information about himself that he hadn't had before. That made precisely two things about himself that he knew: his age, and his name.
As he reached for the heavy wooden door, it swung suddenly inward, and sunlight fell across him, stinging his eyes. A dark-haired woman froze in the door way. He caught a glimpse of a heavy wooden bar that had been lifted free of the door, and realized that he'd been locked in and would not have been able to leave in any case. Then the woman was pushing him backwards.
"Doctor, you should not be out of bed! You are still quite ill."
Doctor. Yes, that sounded right. "I have to use the --" He broke off, feeling himself flush. I don't think I'm very good with women. Not like -- And a name hovered somewhere just out of reach, a quick flash of a lazy grin and disheveled dark hair, and then that was gone along with everything else.
It was a little comforting to see her blush, too. "Oh." She leaned behind her and said something to someone out of sight. Carson caught a glimpse of a mud-splattered military uniform, and that was the first time he realized that the dark-haired woman was wearing military fatigues as well.
"They are bringing clothing for you, Doctor," she told him, gently but firmly pushing him back into the room. "It is very dangerous outside. You must never go anywhere without an escort. We are at war, you see."
"Yes, that's all very well and good, but I need to --" Embarrassment was starting to take a backseat to the fact that peeing all over himself would be a lot more embarrassing.
A set of folded clothing was handed in through the door, and the woman gave it to Carson. "I am Brigadier Dalan, by the way, Doctor. I've told you my name before, but the drug would have probably made you forget."
He looked up sharply, from the clothing he'd been shaking out. "Drug?"
"Yes, our enemies --" She shook her head. "No, anything I tell you now will probably not be fully retained. We have given you the antidote, and you should recover swiftly, with adequate sleep. For the moment, get dressed, and wear these." She pressed something into his hand. He looked down at a one-piece, smoked-glass shield with a headband to hold it in place. This world's equivalent of sunglasses? he wondered.
When he looked up, Dalan was still standing there impatiently. "Uh ... are you going to leave?"
"Why?" she asked.
"So that I can get dressed?"
"Why would I leave for that?"
His thoughts were still muddled; he couldn't get a grip on anything long enough to explain. "Because I -- because you -- because I can't take my clothes off in front of a ..."
"Your people must have very strange taboos," she mused. "Very well, tap on the door when you are done. And do not forget to cover your eyes. The drug will make you very sensitive to light for a while."
"What drug?" he called anxiously after her. But she was gone.
He dressed in the fatigues and boots that she had give him, slid the sunglasses over his head and tapped on the door. It cracked open and Dalan smiled at him. "That was very quick; you are recovering quite well."
"Yes, well, I really have to --"
"I know. This way."
She took him by the hand -- he tried at first to pull away, but she was insistent. An armed guard shadowed them as she led him down a narrow, muddy street lined with small, ramshackle wooden houses.
He tried to look around as much as possible, absorbing everything, though he had to squint his eyes against light that seemed too bright even through the smoked glass. The air was cold and sharp, the mud sucked at his boots, and the colors of autumn were bright on the hills overhanging the little town. The town itself -- if you could call it that -- had a hasty, temporary look to it. The houses were all one story, each one barely the size of a decent bedroom, and no attempt had been made to smooth the logs on the outside.
Armed men and women tramped past them. Dalan, too, wore a gun on her hip and carried another slung across her back. Carson saw only a few children, as quiet and serious as the adults. One kid who didn't look more than nine or ten was carrying a gun slung casually on his back -- the stock nearly dragged in the mud.
Dalan led him to a long wooden building, apparently one of the few in this town that was more than a couple of meters wide. "Here, you may refresh yourself and clean up within." She looked a bit apologetic. "I'm sorry we can't provide better accommodations. I'm sure you're used to more than this."
He had no idea what he was used to, so he just let himself into the building, disturbed to notice that his guard followed close behind -- though Dalan, at least, remained outside. Expecting outhouse pits, he was very much surprised to see a row of showers, all of them fed by two broad pipes that led across the ceiling. The showers had no privacy curtains, and several of them were occupied by -- oh dear -- both men and women of various ages. None of them even looked up when he came in. No wonder Dalan had found his request for privacy odd. Looking away, cheeks flaming, he hurried across the room to a series of wooden stalls. At least they had privacy for that. He was surprised all over again to find that the stalls, while constructed outhouse-style, were very clean with no smell. Peering cautiously down the dark hole, he discovered why: there was running water just beneath. The building had been constructed atop a creek or river. Primitive, he thought, but effective.
He used the facilities, worried again by the shakiness of his hands. I use my hands. I need my hands. There was a very visceral fear to the idea of losing his fine motor control, as if he'd be useless without it.
The guard was waiting outside the stall for him, but didn't acknowledge him in any way. He washed up at a wide communal sink with a row of valves to control the hot and cold water separately. This fascinated him briefly -- the design of the valves, the use of very rudimentary metalworking skills that nonetheless created an efficient and simple system for running water. He found himself wondering how it was pressurized. Gravity feed off the hills, maybe? He tried to contemplate how such a system would be designed in the absence of pumps or electrical equipment, starting to draw plans in his head, but his brain couldn't seem to hold onto a thought for more than a few seconds, and he lost the thread of what he'd been working on. Instead, he stared at himself in the dingy and distorted mirrors over the sink, seeking familiarity and disturbed that he could not find it. Carson, he told himself. Carson is my name. Dr. Carson Beckett. The dilated blue eyes in the mirror stared back, without recognition.
Just how badly was his memory screwed up, anyway?
He still felt dazed, sleepy and slow. With any luck, the memory loss and difficulty concentrating was only temporary, a side effect of whatever drug he'd been given. At least he wasn't terrified. It was hard to get emotions of any kind past the haze in his head, aside from a certain, distant worry and concern. Not all of the concern was for himself, he realized. He still had the worrisome conviction that he had not been alone.
When he stepped out into the muddy street -- followed by his ever-present, heavily armed shadow -- he discovered Dalan in the throes of an argument with an older, hard-faced woman, her graying hair pulled back in a tight braid.
"-- is useless, Brigadier, a waste of food we cannot spare," the older woman was saying in a low, harsh voice. "Every dose of painkiller we use on him will be one we won't have for our own --"
"I know that, I know," Dalan interrupted her. "But you weren't there, you didn't see how Dr. Beckett tried to protect him. If we want Dr. Beckett's help at all, we cannot --"
She broke off abruptly, seeing Carson standing in the doorway of the shower building. The older woman stepped back, watching them both with a cold, suspicious look.
"You're talking about my team, aren't you?" Carson wished that he could feel something, anything, past the fog clouding his mind. He should be terrified, or angry, or something. Instead he was only mildly curious. "Where are they?"
Dalan looked to the older woman, but got no response, so she turned to him with a sigh. "There was only one with you," she said. "If others came through the Ring with you, they were probably killed in the fighting."
Killed. He tried to understand this, but it only echoed in the hollowness inside him, where his memories should have been. Someone survived, though. He tried to hold onto that, as he'd held to his name earlier. "Is he -- she -- are they okay?"
The older woman made a harsh sound in her throat. "No, a lost cause is more like it. And a waste of resources we can't spare."
Dalan looked frightened, desperate. "Commandant, we are a compassionate people" -- she stressed the word more than Carson would have liked -- "and we would not have left a stranger to die. Besides, Carson is a doctor. We should let him see his friend; he may be able to help."
"If Carson is well enough to perform surgery, we have other cases much more critical."
Carson looked back and forth between them, confused and lost and scared. The only thing keeping him from full-blown panic, he thought, was the drug-haze weighing him down. He felt as if a soft gray curtain separated him from the world. But even through that barrier, concern managed to thrust a dull blade. "If there's a friend of mine here, can I see him? Please?"
"Commandant ..." Dalan's look was pleading.
The woman gave a sharp nod. "Take him to his friend, Brigadier. But I am very serious -- I will not see one of our own lives lost to spare the life of a stranger."
"Yes ma'am," Dalan murmured, and she gripped Carson's arm. "This way, Doctor."
Looking back at the armed guard who continued to follow them, Carson asked plaintively, "What's happening? Am I a prisoner?"
"You are an honored guest," Dalan said firmly, guiding him around a mudhole in what passed for a road here. "We had heard that our enemies had captured the famous Doctor Beckett, so we rescued you when we attacked the capital."
"Famous now, am I?" There was a quick twist in his chest, a kind of irritation he couldn't explain.
"Oh yes, the word has spread through many of the trading peoples. We have heard that you can perform miracles. I do not believe in the miracles, but a doctor .. that we do need." Her lips compressed to a pale line. "We lost most of our medical personnel when the provisional government's forces destroyed our base of operations, some months ago. They have no ethics, our enemies -- they killed the injured and the healthy alike, and gunned down unarmed nurses in the hallways."
Fighting, yes -- there had been fighting. He remembered something attacking him, dark things with red eyes burning like coals in their heads, tentacles wrapping around him ... he shuddered, raising a hand to his head.
Dalan caught at his elbow. "Doctor? Are you well?"
"I don't know," he murmured, shaking, trying to reconcile the insanity of his memories with the perfectly ordinary world around him. He lowered his hand and half-expected to see blood on it. He remembered pressing his hand to someone's chest, and his own voice repeating, over and over: Don't die don't die don't die ...
"Your memories will be very muddled for a while, because of the drug. They should return to you within a few days." Dalan's eyes were soft, sympathetic. "I am sorry it has happened this way, Doctor. Please do not think ill of us for this."
There was a sarcastic response on the back of his tongue; he managed not to say anything. So, they had a Carson cult on this world. Too bad they'd acquired a doctor with no memories of how to fix people, then, wasn't it?
Dalan paused at the door to another building about the size of the bathhouse. It was windowless and forbidding, set right up against the side of a hill, with four guards flanking the one narrow door.
Carson tilted his head back to look up at the building, still itching to release his frustrations in words. "Well, this has 'prison' written all over it."
"It was once used as such, but it is a hospital now. We no longer keep prisoners of war; we cannot afford to feed them. " She led him inside.
It was a hospital, so he should have felt at home -- but if anything, he felt even more fear battering its way past the drug's enforced serenity. There were dark stains on the floor and exhausted-looking people in fatigues with similar dark stains who hurried past without acknowledging him. Dalan opened the door onto a long room with narrow beds divided by curtains. Swallowing, he followed her, trying not to look right or left, trying not to listen to the moans of pain or notice the reek of disinfectant, blood and urine.
"You will help these people, Doctor, when you are well," Dalan said softly, and there was a tense urgency in her voice. Her hand still rested on his arm, more in a proprietary than friendly kind of way, and he felt her fingers tighten slightly. "For your sake and your friend's sake, you must."
So I am a prisoner, then. He tried to seek within himself for the compassion that he knew he must feel, as a doctor for the wounded, but instead he just felt faintly nauseous from the smell.
There was a closed door at the far end of the room, with a guard standing in front of it. Dalan nodded to him, and led Carson through. He realized that he was hanging back, afraid of what he would see. Don't die don't die don't die ...
But no blood or gaping chest wound greeted him, just a pale, dark-haired man asleep in a bed with an IV in his arm. The sight of the IV startled him, once again reminding him that these people were less primitive than they looked.
"Something is broken inside him," Dalan told him quietly. "We don't have the knowledge to heal it. Surely you do."
Except right now, he wouldn't even have known his own name if they hadn't told him.
Steadying him with a hand on his arm, Dalan added, "Only a few minutes, Doctor. You should not be up and about too much yet; it will slow your recovery."
She was right; he felt sick and shaky from more than just the suffering around him. Still, he shook her off and approached the bed. Something in his stomach tightened and constricted as he looked down at the pale face of a stranger who was nonetheless somehow familiar.
Don't die don't die ... There had been so much blood.
The stranger's face was whiter than the sheets; the slight rise and fall of his bandage-swathed chest was the only sign that he lived.
"I'm Carson Beckett," Carson said, under his breath, "and you are?" As he'd tried to map the name Carson onto his face in the mirror, so he studied the stranger's face, trying to find the name that went with those elusively familiar features. Nothing would come, nothing but his own name.
Carson reached out hesitantly to touch the familiar stranger's hand, feeling a bit weird about it, but needing some tangible assurance that this wasn't another dream. The fingers were cold, but they twitched in his hand, and curled slowly into a loose fist.
He sat down on the edge of the bed, watching the familiar-yet-unfamiliar features twitch in the grip of a dream. Remembering vague snatches of his own nightmares, he suspected that it wasn't a pleasant dream.
The other man made a soft whimpering sound in his sleep.
"Hey." Carson leaned forward, touching the pale face lightly. The stranger's skin was cool beneath his hand. The eyes flickered partly open; he caught a glimpse of irises as blue as his own, with the pupils dilated so that the blue was just a slim ring like a crescent moon. The stranger turned his face into Carson's hand, and closed his eyes, drifting into a quieter sleep as though the touch had comforted him.
Being a doctor, surely he'd done that sort of thing many times before. But there was no familiarity, just a strange warm feeling in his stomach -- satisfaction and embarrassment all at once.
"Doctor, you should go," Dalan said softly.
He slid off the bed with a last squeeze to the cold fingers. The hand moved, slightly, as if questing after him. Carson forced himself not to look over his shoulder as he was led away.
Behind him, Dalan said softly, "No matter what the Commandant says, when you are recovered I am prepared to give you an opportunity to perform surgery on your friend if it will help him. We don't wish to force you to help our people; we want this to be mutually beneficial. We do not want your friend to die. All we want is for you to use your medical skills to help us."
Carson didn't answer. At the very idea of cutting open another human being, his mouth had gone dry and his legs went shaky and weak.
Because he didn't remember how.
The isolation area was nearly dark, and Elizabeth paused outside, confused and wondering if there had been some sort of miscommunication.
"The light hurts their eyes," Dr. Biro explained, brusquely, in passing. "We think it's a side effect of the toxin -- it dilates the pupils severely."
"Toxin?" Elizabeth turned to follow her. "Do we know what's causing this, then?"
The pathologist paused, turning back to her with an obvious air of impatience. "We've found a compound in their bloodstream. General effects on the body seem to be similar to 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate, but with a few unique properties of its own. Fascinating, actually. Like QNB, it's probably spread as an odorless aerosol or absorbed through the skin, but they've been decontaminated, so it's safe to go in. Now if you'll excuse me?"
This was all delivered at a rapid clip with little inflection; Elizabeth blinked. "Just one more minute, doctor, I'm sorry. Is it hurting them? I mean, will we be looking at lasting damage from this?"
"Not if it's as similar to QNB as it seems; it's more of an intoxicant than a poison. They're disoriented and there seems to be significant memory impairment, much more so than is usually seen with QNB, leading me to think the neural uptake of the drug is different. But I have more tests to carry out before I'll know for sure." Biro cleared her throat, fidgeting and obviously eager to be off and about her investigations.
Elizabeth nodded to her, and the woman was immediately gone. Taking a deep breath, she found a nurse to let her into the isolation room.
After the retrovirus incident with Sheppard, the Atlantis expedition had taken a cue from the SGC and converted several former storerooms off the infirmary into temporary isolation chambers. They were more intended to contain delusional or homicidal patients than to stop the spread of disease; when it came to pathogens, they weren't much more secure than the rest of the infirmary. But they were useful to prevent dangerous patients from harming others ... a situation which seemed to come up all too often in the Pegasus Galaxy.
Elizabeth paused as the door closed behind her, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dim light. It took her a few moments to be able to make out the bed across the small room, with Sheppard sitting on it, his back against the wall. He was loosely restrained, giving him enough freedom of movement to change positions or sit up. Still, he had one arm awkwardly folded back in order to sit in the position he'd chosen.
"That doesn't look very comfortable," Elizabeth said quietly, crossing the room to him.
His eyes were dark holes in his face, staring at the opposite wall. He spoke in a low monotone. "John Sheppard, Lieutenant Colonel, serial number --"
"Well, they told me you didn't even know who you were, so this is encouraging." She tried to smile, but it probably came out as false as it felt.
He rattled off his serial number and then started at the beginning again. "John Sheppard, Lieutenant Colonel --"
"John." Elizabeth moved in front of him, trying to get his attention. "It's me, Elizabeth. You know me."
His head swung towards her. His face was flushed, his eyes still frightfully dilated. However, he seemed more coherent than he had been in the gateroom. He was focused on her and, as far as she could tell, seemed to be present in the here-and-now. "I want to see my men."
"You mean Ronon and Teyla? They're fine. Well, as fine as any of you are right now. You've been given a drug, John. Do you remember that?"
He just stared at her, flatly. The lack of reaction was frightening. If John truly believed himself captured, she would have expected anger and struggle. Maybe he'd done that earlier; maybe that was why they had restrained him.
"John, we need to know what happened on that planet. Two of our people are still missing. Two of your friends. Rodney and Carson. Do you know what happened to them?"
"I don't know who you people are, and I don't know what you've done with my ..." Confusion flickered in his eyes for a moment. "... with my men, but you won't get any information out of me."
"You're not a prisoner. You're among friends."
His lips quirked in a sarcastic, sideways smile. "Then why don't I remember you?"
She tried not to let it sting -- either the words or the distrust in his voice. "Because you've been drugged."
"So you claim," Sheppard snapped. He tried to cross his arms and then looked down in surprise as he remembered the restraints. His hands were shaking; he folded them down out of sight with a sharp angry movement, reminding Elizabeth uncomfortably of the way he'd self-consciously tried to conceal his changed flesh from her, when the Iratus transformation had been affecting him.
His obstinacy made her want to laugh; and then those moments of vulnerability made her want to cry. She didn't know how to reach him. "John, you know you can't remember anything; why do you think that might be?"
His eyes went past her and focused on the wall again. "John Sheppard. Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force..."
Elizabeth clasped her hands, steadying herself. She relied on Sheppard, and she always forgot how much, until something like this happened ... which was all too often around here. "John, if you remember something -- anything, no matter how small -- please have someone call me. I'll let the medical staff know that if you ask to see me, no matter what you need, even if I leave instructions not to be disturbed, they'll come and get me. All right?"
She turned her back on his steady litany and tapped lightly on the door. The nurse let her out. "Are you all right, ma'am?"
"Yes, I'm fine." And if she said it often enough, maybe it would be true. "What is he seeing, do you know?"
"Actually, as far as we can tell, he's seeing his actual surroundings; the drug is wearing off, and he's mostly lucid now. But he doesn't remember how he got here or where he is, and he's convinced himself that he's a prisoner."
Elizabeth sighed. That was John, all right. On the other hand, waking up locked in an unfamiliar room and tied to a bed, surrounded by people he didn't remember who claimed to know him ... it wasn't an unreasonable assumption to make. "What about Ronon and Teyla?"
Ronon was still unconscious -- they'd had to sedate him -- but Teyla turned out to be awake and much more cooperative than Sheppard. She was unrestrained and sitting cross-legged on her bed when Elizabeth entered, plucking nervously at the blanket. "Hello," she greeted Elizabeth, with a quizzically polite smile.
"Hello, Teyla. I'm Elizabeth. Do you remember me?"
A line appeared between Teyla's brows. "I ... feel as if I should. But I cannot. I am sorry. The medical people told me that I was given a drug that took away my memory."
"Yes, that's right." Temporarily. Please, let it be temporary. "Do you remember anything at all?"
"Every once in a while I see little flashes of things I cannot name. I have been told my name is Teyla, and this seems correct." Her gaze dropped. "I have also been told that my friends Rodney and Carson are missing, and that the things I cannot remember may help others to find them. I have searched my memory, but I cannot recall anything helpful. The things I do remember are..." The puzzled frown was back, and this time Elizabeth saw fear in the dilated eyes. "Terrible things. Creatures out of nightmare. Insects, eating me alive. I am sorry ..." She put her hands to her head, trembling.
"It's all right," Elizabeth soothed. She sat down beside the shivering woman on the bed and, hesitantly, laid a hand on her back.
Teyla's whisper was broken. "I am sorry. Sorry."
"There's nothing to be sorry for." She almost preferred John's defiance; a frightened, cowering Teyla was not something she'd ever thought she would see. As she rubbed between Teyla's shoulder blades, she realized that she was no longer expecting to recover Beckett and Rodney alive. If they were this badly affected, and lost on a world at war ... the thought terrified her.
In a bed in a hospital on P1R-4P2, the man who was part patient and part prisoner slept, deeply, with the drugs that controlled his pain holding him under in the nightmare world of the hallucinogen. Dreams without escape.
His head turned against the pillow, as if questing for the friendly touch that had been there and gone. The nurses left him alone; there was no one to comfort him or draw him out of the everlasting nightmare.
He dreamed of friends, but always in his dreams, they died. Their lives were in his hands, and he was too slow, always too slow. He dreamed of a man with a lazy smile and laughing green eyes. He'd almost killed that man, but he had been forgiven for it, and in the depths of his delirium he saw all the many other ways that it could have ended.
The drug brought out the guilt that he buried in his waking moments, brought it to full and vivid life. Tears welled in his closed eyes, soaking away into the coarse fabric of the pillow. No one was there to see.
Elsewhere in the town, Carson awoke with a jolt from nightmares of his own. The particulars of the dream that had awakened him slipped away as awareness returned, sliding like mist between his grasping fingers. He was left with the memory of blood on his hands, and the knowledge that he had dreamed of people he knew, friends whose identities were lost to him.
He could still remember the feeling of the stranger's face turning into his hand ... the oddly warm feeling of knowing that he was trusted that much.
Anxiety ate at him. He paced, nervous and jittery and shaking, until a clatter at the door made him jump.
Dalan entered, carrying a tray; the door was closed and locked behind her. She set the tray on the bedside table. "I brought food for you, Doctor."
His stomach rolled at the thought of food, particularly when he saw what was available. There was a bowl of some sort of thick, unpleasantly chunky stew, and a piece of hard bread. "Doesn't look much like food." He wasn't sure if this inability to keep his thoughts to himself was a side effect of the drug, but it seemed to be getting worse as the drug wore off, not better. He felt a little more coherent than he had earlier. Sharper.
"I realize it is not what you're used to, but you must get your strength back." Dalan sat down on the bed, and watched him as he poked at the stew with the bread. "The Commandant expects that you will begin helping in the hospital tonight."
This got rid of what little appetite he'd had. Carson laid down the bread. "I don't know if it helps to say this, but I have no idea how to do anything that she wants me to do. I can't remember a thing."
"It should come back to you when you are there," Dalan said. "Usually the drug works that way. People recover from it more quickly when they have familiar surroundings and do things that are familiar to them."
"Well, since familiar surroundings don't really seem to be a possibility --" he glanced up at the wooden walls "-- how about you let me see my friend again?"
"You can see him when you are at the hospital tonight."
Not exactly the result he was hoping for.
Dusk was falling as Dalan escorted him out into the muddy street. She gave him a coat; it was too big for him, and stained with what he really, really hoped was oil or mud. He rolled up the sleeves, stumbling in the ill-fitting boots as he followed Dalan towards the hospital.
The town was almost totally dark. The shutters blocked most of the light from the houses; only small glimmers escaped, where the shutters were warped or poorly made. Soldiers moved silently past them in the twilight.
"You're rebels," Carson said finally, as a dim memory surfaced. Political strife and a shipment of medical supplies ...
"Freedom fighters," Dalan corrected him.
She was silent after that, until they reached the hospital. As the guards let them inside, she spoke again. "I have hoped to meet you since my people first heard of you from our trading partners, the Hoffans."
Hoff. Something familiar there. "Oh?" he asked absently, looking around at his surroundings in the hopes that some sort of latent medical knowledge would be jarred loose.
"Yes. I used to dream of being a doctor, when I was a girl. Then the war came, and I was given a gun instead--"
"How interesting." Rather than the patients, he found himself staring at the naked water pipes running down the length of the corridor, similar to the setup in the shower room. From the look of things, Dalan's people appeared to use the hot water pipes for dual purposes -- not just hot water, but central heating as well. He wondered what sort of boiler they had. Considering the obviously unplanned and temporary nature of the town, it couldn't be too complicated --
"-- me, Doctor?"
"Huh?" He looked down from the water pipes at Dalan's hopeful face.
"I asked if you would teach me medicine, since you will be staying with us."
He stopped in his tracks in the middle of the hallway. "Now, wait a minute; who said we were staying?"
Dalan frowned. "Considering our desperate need for doctors, I think the Commandant will make it worth your while to stay."
"You mean she won't let me leave."
Her frown deepened. "You are not a prisoner, Doctor."
"Oh really? The fact that I'm kept in a locked room and have no choice about helping you people would seem to suggest otherwise."
"We will not force you to do anything! I would think you would want to help us, after all that you've seen here."
He rolled his eyes. "Listen, it's not that I don't feel sorry for you people. It's just that I have no stake whatsoever in this war of yours, and I just want to get myself and my friend back to -- wherever we came from. I'm sure our people are looking for us."
"Your people probably think that you are dead," Dalan said. "Our intelligence reports that no one has come through the Ring since yesterday."
That gave him a weird, clutching sensation in the pit of his stomach -- a hurt, abandoned feeling. But the hurt and surprise let him know that he did have people out there who cared where he went. They just couldn't come for some reason. That worried him. Again he had the nagging fear that there had been more of them than just two. Could the others be dead, as Dalan had said? He hated the thought of having lost friends he couldn't even remember.
"Dalan, how long is my memory going to be like this? It's driving me crazy, and I still don't think I can do anything for you people, even if I wanted to, when I can't even tell a spleen from a scalpel."
She looked puzzled at the unfamiliar terminology, but answered readily. "Usually the worst of it will be gone in a couple of days. You may have minor problems for another few days beyond that, and it is likely that your memories of things that happened while you were in the grip of the drug will never fully return. But it is not permanent."
Some of the knot in his stomach unclenched. He hadn't realized how deeply he'd feared that his memories would never come back.
Carson stiffened at the Commandant's voice. The woman strode down the corridor towards them. "Excellent, Brigadier. Bring him this way."
Carson planted his feet. "I want to see my friend."
"You can see your friend later. First you earn your keep." She patted the butt of the rifle she carried and then pointed to a door along the corridor.
"Not a prisoner, huh?" Carson demanded of Dalan, as he was herded through the door.
On the other side, he stopped in his tracks. There were a row of sinks along the wall, and a curtain sealed off the back part of the room. His eyes were drawn in horror to the blood stains on the floor.
I'm going to have to perform surgery, and I don't remember how.
The Commandant crowded him from behind, forcing him forward. "A young man was just brought in with severe bleeding. We are afraid his leg may need to be amputated. If you are as skilled as our reports claim, then perhaps you can save his leg -- or at least see him safely through the amputation."
As he was guided towards the sinks, Carson found himself babbling in terror. "I can't do this! I don't remember how to do this! You can't make me do this!"
"This is your famous doctor?" the Commandant inquired over his head.
Dalan, of course, immediately flew to his defense. "He is still sick from the drug! He can't remember anything and he needs to rest. You should not have expected him to begin his duties so soon after we gassed the city."
Now flattened against the row of sinks, Carson gave Dalan a sideways glare. "You guys drugged us, huh? Why doesn't that surprise me?"
Dalan looked away, a flush rising into her cheeks.
"Even if he doesn't remember details, his hands will still know what to do." The Commandant strode forward and grabbed Carson by the arm in a painful grip.
"Ow! Stop that!"
"Be silent." She dragged him out into the hallway. "You have one purpose for being alive, Doctor. If you won't do what we want, then maybe a demonstration is in order."
"A demonstration -- wait, what?"
Protesting, he was dragged into the room full of patients where Dalan had brought him earlier. Horror rose in his throat, choking him. "No, wait -- no, please don't --"
The Commandant whipped open the door leading into the private chamber at the end of the room, and then closed it behind them. "Ma'am, this is not necessary," Dalan protested. "He will help us willingly. He only needs time --"
"I think he needs to understand the consequences of his refusal to help us." The Commandant released Carson and pushed him back; he staggered into Dalan, who steadied him. Drawing her snub-nosed pistol, she stepped forward and placed it against the forehead of the man in the bed.
"No!" Carson jumped forward, not even realizing what he was going to do until his fingers were curled around the muzzle of the gun, covering the end and forcing it away.
The Commandant struck him across the face. He stumbled, releasing the gun. Behind him, he heard Dalan gasp. "Commandant, this is not necessary --"
"It is most necessary." The Commandant lowered the pistol to point, once again, towards the man in the bed. "When we found you, Doctor, he was badly injured and despite your delirium, you tried to cover him with your own body, protecting him. We kept him alive as a bargaining chip in case you refused to cooperate with us. That is his only function; he is otherwise useless. We need doctors, not baggage carriers or scientists or whatever he is." To Dalan, she said, "Disconnect the IV."
Scientists. Through the screaming panic in Carson's mind, something seized on that. The man in the bed was a scientist. Not that this was terribly useful at the moment.
A scientist ... no, wait ...
Medicine is about as much a science as voodoo.
Dalan was wide-eyed and pale. "Commandant, this is not --"
"That's a direct order, Brigadier."
Swallowing, the woman edged around Carson and pressed her thumb against the back of the patient's hand, pulling out the catheter in his vein.
"You don't have to do this." Panic tightened Carson's voice to a squeak. And his brain was still scurrying around the scientist idea like a mouse in a cage.
... A mouse retrovirus?
... I'm surprised you're so eager to volunteer for this, Rodney...
His eyes flew wide open.
Dalan had disconnected the IV and rolled up the line with slow, reluctant motions. Now she was watching the Commandant, her eyes still large and dark. She studiously refused to look at either of the men.
The Commandant touched the gun lightly to the patient's forehead. "Now, your friend will not receive medical care until you help us. Without it, he will quickly die. Does that make your decision easier, Doctor?"
Oh bloody hell, his brain said in a pseudo-Scottish brogue.
Somehow, in the confusion of whatever had happened, Dalan and her people had gotten the two of them confused. He wasn't Carson. The man in the bed was Carson, the doctor that they all thought he was.
His name was Rodney McKay.
No wonder he hadn't been able to figure anything out. He'd been trying to force himself to remember things that he never could have remembered in the first place.
"Oh dear," he said aloud.
The Commandant smiled. "Does that mean you will help us?"
"No, it just means I'm ... basically screwed, that's all." He waved his hand at the man in the bed -- Carson -- trying not to focus on how still and pale he was, or on the gun pressed against his forehead. You can talk your way out of this one, McKay. It's not that hard; the truth's on your side, after all. "That's your doctor, right there. I'm not Carson. That's Carson. I can't -- I haven't -- I don't --"
"Do you not understand that your friend's life is slipping away? The IV was providing fluids to replace those he'd lost, and pain medication to keep him sedated and comfortable. Soon he will wake up in a great deal of pain. If we continue withholding medical care, he will die. Do you understand now, Doctor?"
Rodney couldn't speak. He felt bile rise in his throat.
The Commandant nodded to Dalan. "Take him back to the surgery. See how he does now that he understands what is at stake."
Shaking, Rodney let her lead him out the door, for once keeping his mouth under control -- in part because he thought that if he opened it, he'd probably throw up. The only reason either of them were still alive was because of his alleged usefulness as a doctor -- an irony that he wasn't about to examine in depth at the moment. If he actually did convince them that he wasn't a doctor, and therefore that the only doctor around was not in a condition to operate on anybody, they'd probably both be killed.
Maybe I can pretend to be a doctor. Carson can do it. It can't be that hard.
The sight of the other patients outside the curtained-off area -- bandaged, bloody, in pain -- made him swallow back a fresh wave of sickness.
We are both SO dead.
Continued in Part Two.