... 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.
"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.
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."
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 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.
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.
It was late. With most of her usual command staff incapacitated or missing, she was grouped around the conference table with Lorne and a handful of ranking Marines and medical and scientific staff. One of her hands was locked around a cup of coffee, the fingers trembling slightly from far too much caffeine and not enough sleep.
Lorne cleared his throat. "We can't take a jumper to the planet because of their defensive wall in front of the gate. If we send search teams, they'll have to go on foot."
Elizabeth glanced over at the medical side of the table. "If we send a team through the gate, what are the chances that they'll end up like Sheppard's team?"
Dr. Biro grimaced. "There's no way to know how Sheppard's team was exposed, but I can't say it's impossible. We're still analyzing the compound that we found in their bloodstream, but as I told you before, it's similar to 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate, although not precisely the same."
Lorne whistled. "That's BZ, right?" At Elizabeth's surprised look, the Major explained, "It's a military incapacitating agent. Supposedly used in Bosnia and possibly in Iraq. Messes with your head."
"Technically 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate is an anticholinergic psychomimetic, a very potent one," Biro began, warming to her topic. "It's a muscarinic receptor inhibitor, meaning that the parasympathetic nervous system is --"
Elizabeth held up her hand. "I don't need to know how it works. All I need to know is how it's spread and how dangerous it is."
"If it's like BZ, then it's inhaled or absorbed through the skin," Lorne said.
Elizabeth looked at Biro. The woman lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "We don't have enough of a sample to know for sure, but at this point we're going on the assumption that it's similar to QNB in that it's odorless, colorless, and readily absorbed through the skin. Since we don't know how widespread the environmental contamination on P1R-4P2 is, you'd have to assume that anyone you send is going to be at risk. Enviro suits would protect you, though."
Lorne's mouth twisted. "Have you ever tried to fight in a suit, ma'am?"
"I'm not sending anyone until I can assure their safety," Elizabeth said shortly, making an effort to still her fingers on the coffee cup. She took a drink. It was cold. And every hour Carson and Rodney are on that planet is another hour they're less likely to survive.
Zelenka had been absorbed in his laptop throughout the discussion, but he suddenly burst out with a loud "Aha!" Looking up, he hunched down in his seat when he saw everyone staring at him. "Er, sorry."
Elizabeth set her cup down. "Do you have something?"
"I might." He couldn't contain a grin. "There's another Stargate in the system. It's a spacegate in orbit around one of the planets closer to the sun. It wasn't in the main gate database; it was designed for astronomical observations and the location was stored in one of the other --"
"How far is it from P1R-4P2?"
Zelenka glanced at the laptop again. "At this time of year, considering the relative positions of both gates -- about twelve hours' travel time."
Elizabeth pushed back her chair. "In that case, Major, I want a jumper through that gate as soon as we can scramble a team."
"How could you not know?" he demanded in a fierce whisper, twisting his head around to see where the Commandant was. She was following them a few steps behind, the gun held loosely at her side. "You work with these people; how can you not know what they're like?"
She responded in the same low voice. "Please, Doctor, don't judge us by what you have seen. We are not a bad people, just desperate."
"You gassed us." His memory was still mostly a blank, but bits and pieces were starting to return. He remembered lots of shooting and screaming -- and, also, being attacked by horrible things, giant insects and white-haired monsters and creatures with glowing red eyes. Those parts, he suspected, were probably drug-induced hallucinations, but it was hard to sort out what had actually happened from what the drug had made him see. He also remembered holding his hands against Carson's chest as blood soaked both his sleeves, and he was pretty sure that actually had happened.
"We did not gas you. We attacked the capital and surrounding towns, and you were caught up in it. We were not affected, having dosed ourselves with the antidote beforehand. But my squad found you and your friend, and I realized immediately from your strange uniforms that one of you must be the doctor we had heard about, the one who was visiting the pretender government to lend them medical aid. I saved you in the hopes that you would help us."
"So that you could force us to help you at gunpoint, you mean."
"I did not expect this to happen."
Back to that, then.
Rodney swallowed as Dalan led him back into the operating room. God, to trust her or not. Considering that they were going to find out the truth in a few minutes anyway, what did he have to lose? "You know," he hissed, "I wasn't lying when I said that I wasn't a doctor, back there. I'm not. The doctor is the man in that bed."
Dalan handed him a semi-clean smock. "I know that you are frightened about operating with your memory still so fragmented. But the Commandant is right, your hands will still know what to do --"
"Aren't you listening?" He seized her by the arms, and leaned close so that he could speak without being overheard. "I'm not a doctor! I mean, not that kind of doctor. You're wrong. What made you think I was a doctor in the first place?"
"Because I asked you if you were the doctor when we found you, and you told me that you were. Several times!"
"I'm a doctor, all right -- of astrophysics! Not the cutting-people-open kind of doctor."
"I didn't know there were different kinds of doctors," Dalan said uncertainly.
"Well, maybe not here on Planet Mudhole, but where I come from, yes, there are lots of different kinds. Carson's one kind, the kind you're thinking of. I'm a whole different kind. I've never cut up anybody in my life."
"Is there a problem?" the Commandant inquired.
"No ma'am. He is still doubtful about his ability to operate without his memory." Dalan pushed Rodney back. "You are lying," she whispered.
"Am I? Get me in that room and see what happens. If I don't pass out or throw up on the patient, I'll butcher him in some horrible way. Dalan, this isn't amnesia talking. I still don't remember much, but I do know this -- I am not a doctor. The doctor that you want, the famous Carson Beckett, just had his IV pulled out of his arm by your gentle ministering hands."
Her wide, frightened eyes searched his face. "If you are telling the truth, the Commandant will kill you."
"Yeah, me and probably Carson as well." When Dalan started to shake her head, he grabbed her by the arms again. "You think she won't shoot a sick man if he's no use to her? Are you really that naive?"
"Brigadier --" the Commandant said impatiently.
"Faint," Dalan whispered.
Rodney looked at her in shock. "What?"
"Faint. Just faint. I'll handle it from there."
"Pass out, you mean," he whispered back, but he dutifully let himself go limp, folding up into her arms. She made an oomph sound and staggered under his weight. Oh, for God's sake, I'm not that heavy.
As Dalan lowered him to the floor, he heard boots clomping towards his head. "Now what's happening?" the Commandant demanded.
"I told you that he should not be out of bed yet," Dalan's voice said from somewhere above him. "His fear and agitation has been too much for him. As you can see, he's unconscious."
A boot prodded at him; Rodney forced himself to remain limp. "Should the drug be affecting him this severely? Shouldn't the antidote be working by now? Perhaps there is something else wrong with him." Rodney heard a subtextual Just give me a reason to shoot him, and had to struggle to keep himself from reacting. Luckily Dalan had put him down with his face towards the wall.
"He's from another world," Dalan said. "Who knows how our drugs will affect him? I would like to keep him in the hospital until he wakes up. There may be other unexpected side effects."
"So far, Brigadier, this doctor of yours is not turning out to be very useful."
"You've heard the rumors as well as I have, Commandant. Once he recovers, he will be more than useful. We just need to invest a few days in helping him heal."
"He doesn't have a few days." The Commandant's voice, along with her boot steps, retreated towards the door. "He has until morning. Don't forget, Brigadier, this man was helping the enemy. He's a POW, not a guest, and we can barely feed our own people with winter coming. If he is not capable of carrying out his duties in the morning, I will have him and his friend shot."
As the Commandant's footsteps faded from hearing, Rodney felt Dalan's long hair brush against his head. "Do not move," she whispered, and then there were some footsteps and voices before he felt himself being rolled onto a stretcher. Hey, this is really uncomfortable when you're not unconscious.
He was rolled off onto a bed, and made himself keep his eyes, and mouth, shut through the process of having his boots removed -- though not, thank goodness, his pants -- and a blanket thrown over him. Eventually Dalan leaned over him and murmured, "It's safe now."
Rodney blinked and looked up at a low wooden ceiling. Turning his head to the side, he squinted and saw ...
He sat upright, shoving off the blanket, and threw his legs over the edge of the bed. Carson still looked the same as he had before: mostly dead, except for the shallow rise and fall of his chest.
"It's true, then." Dalan came around to the other side of the bed, and looked down at Carson with wonder and sorrow in her eyes. "He is the doctor we've heard so much about, not you."
"I'm a doctor," Rodney protested. As annoying as her hero-worship had been, it was even more annoying having it transferred elsewhere. "Just not that kind."
Dalan raised her hand and lightly brushed Carson's forehead. She didn't even seem to have heard him. Rodney rolled his eyes. "Okay, playtime's over, now put his IV back in."
Dalan looked up at him sadly, and shook her head. "I cannot. If the Commandant saw --"
"Dalan, come on. He needs it. He's dying! Or so you claim!"
"He will be all right for a while." She sounded defensive, like a child making excuses. "You don't understand, I cannot."
Rodney threw his hands up in the air. "Fine. If you won't help, I'll find someone who will."
He started towards the door; Dalan seized his arm, pulling him back towards the bed. "Are you insane? You'll get yourself shot! And keep your voice down; the guard will hear you."
"Not a prisoner, of course not," he growled, sitting down on the bed sulkily. "You're in a world of denial, aren't you, kid?" When she opened her mouth, he kept going, not giving her a chance to get a word in. "Oh yeah, I can hear what's coming. 'Don't judge my people' and 'We're all so desperate, blah blah.' Whatever." He flopped back on the bed and put his arm over his eyes. When she didn't say anything after a moment, he took his arm away from his eyes and looked over to see her taking Carson's pulse. Worry overcame his frustration. "How is he?"
Dalan pressed her lips together. "Unlike the other people in this room, I am not a doctor," she said tartly. "As I told you earlier, he has internal injuries that no one here knows how to repair. The medical care that the Commandant has ordered withdrawn ... it was only capable of supporting him while his body healed itself. Unless you can do anything, it is simply up to whatever gods you pray to, now."
Rodney locked his hands between his knees. It was insane ... for the first time in his life, he actually wished he had medical skills. If only there were a medical degree hiding somewhere in the fog of his absent memories. But he could tell from his reaction to the hospital that it wasn't something he had any experience with.
"We've got to get him back to my people. They've got the technology to deal with this." He just couldn't remember the name of the place, or where it was. But get him in front of a Stargate ... "Hey, wait!"
Dalan looked up in surprise as Rodney slapped the side of his own head. "What is the matter with you?"
"I had a ... a radio, and a gun. And other stuff. Where's my stuff? The stuff I had when you captured me, Dalan --"
"Rescued you," she protested.
"Whatever! What happened to my -- to our stuff?"
"It was confiscated."
He clapped his hands together. "Great! Get it for me."
Dalan stared at him. "I can't do that!"
"What is the matter with you? Look at him, Dalan!" He pointed at Carson, limp and pale under the sheets. "He's dying, and you and I both know the Commandant's gonna have me shot in the morning when I turn out to know nothing more about medicine than I do now. Don't tell me you're just going to stand there --"
Dalan rose in a quick motion. "I have helped you far more than I should have. I cannot, don't you understand? They will have me shot for aiding you."
She strode past him towards the door. Rodney grabbed her arm. "Hey! Don't you dare leave! I'll -- I'll turn you in!"
Dalan stared in disbelief. "And now you blackmail me? Who do you think they will believe, you or me?" She drew her gun, and he reluctantly released her.
"I hate all of you people."
Dalan's lips twisted in a humorless smile. She vanished out the door, and there was a clunk as it was bolted from the outside.
Rodney stared at it, and then looked around the little room. There were no windows; the only light came from an oil lamp on a table by Carson's bed. He had a brief, wild thought of trying to use the lamp to burn a hole through the wooden walls, but came to his senses when he realized that it was bad enough being trapped in a space the size of a large closet without also setting it on fire.
Wide open spaces...
"You should get a little sleep," Zelenka told her. He looked like death warmed over himself, with his hair even wilder than usual, and dark rings under his eyes.
Elizabeth nodded. A fatigue headache had been pounding at her temples for hours. But rather than her quarters, she headed back to the control room, to see if any luck had been made at contacting the planetary government. Instead, the news was worse.
"We lost the MALP," one of the gate techs told her. "We're not sure exactly when; it was during one of the times when we weren't dialed into the planet."
"What happened to it?"
"As far as we can tell, it either hit a mine, or someone shot it."
Elizabeth sighed, and pinched the bridge of her nose. "So it looks as if the planet's definitely back in the grip of active civil war."
"Apparently, ma'am. Before the MALP went down, though, we found out why we're not reaching anyone over the the local radio frequencies." The gate tech pointed at some blurry patches on a grainy photo. "See? The main transmitters were located here and here, on a hill overlooking the capital. Looks like the rebels took them out when they attacked. It's possible that the rebels are in control now, but even if the government that we originally contracted to trade with still stands, they can't get in touch with us."
Elizabeth couldn't pick out a thing on the photo, so she decided to take his word for it. "Are we still broadcasting on the team's frequency?"
"Yes, ma'am. But without the local radio towers' ability to relay a signal, they won't be able to answer us unless they're fairly close to the gate."
Better and better. Elizabeth wondered if her smile looked as forced as it felt. "Thank you, Sergeant."
The only piece of good news so far came as she headed up to her office. The infirmary wanted her to know that Colonel Sheppard was lucid and wanted to see her.
She arrived at the infirmary, breathless, to find that Sheppard was out of the isolation chamber and sitting on a bed with a nurse checking him over. A Marine hovered nearby.
"Good to see you up and about, John, but ..." She glanced at the Marine, who looked back impassively. "Should you be up and about?"
"They tell me the drug's mostly out of my system. I'm me again." Sheppard gave her a shaky smile. He was very pale, and she could see tremors in his hand when he pushed down the sleeve of his scrubs after the nurse took off the blood pressure cuff. "That is, I remember enough that I know you're on my side."
Elizabeth sat down on the edge of the bed across from his. "How much do you remember?"
"Frustratingly little." He licked his lips, looked around, and smiled gratefully at the nurse when she handed him a paper cup of water. "Bits and pieces. I know who I am, I know where I am, and I know that something went badly wrong on a mission." When he gave her a level look, she saw that his eyes appeared to be back to normal. "Now I need to get back out there."
Elizabeth laughed; it wasn't funny, but she couldn't help it, because it was so John. "You're still recovering from a powerful hallucinogen, and you can barely stand up. I'd say you'll be a guest of the infirmary for a while yet."
The green eyes darkened, and John pushed himself off the bed. "I knew you'd say that, but I'm --"
"Fine? No, John, you aren't."
"Elizabeth, from what they tell me, Rodney and Carson went missing in a war zone. I can't just sit here--"
"If you go out there in your present condition, you'll be a security risk and you know it." Elizabeth leaned forward. "Besides, we can't easily reach the planet at the moment. I'm told that there's a good chance that whatever took out your team is absorbed through the skin, which makes it likely that the area around the gate is at least somewhat contaminated. Lorne's taken a team through another gate in the system, but they're still a number of hours out from the planet."
"Take a jumper to the planet, straight through the gate," Sheppard said immediately.
Elizabeth shook her head. "They have a blockade in the way."
"Blow it up."
"John, we can't just --"
"See, this is why I need to be out there. You're still thinking diplomatically, Elizabeth. This is war. I still don't remember the particulars, but I do know that they attacked us. We were minding our own business on that world, when everyone around us started going crazy and then the shooting began. We have every right to defend ourselves, and we have the right and responsibility to do what it takes to get our people back."
Elizabeth stared him down, but he wouldn't look away. Finally she sat back with a sigh. "All right, how about this. We do this my way ... until the medical staff releases you. Then, if we're still hitting brick walls, you can take what measures you feel are necessary. But, John -- you stay here until they tell you to leave, all right?"
"Elizabeth, every hour that we wait --"
"I know that! I'm not sitting on my hands; I'm doing everything I can to get them back -- without casualties. You've heard what I'm offering you, John, and believe me: it's a lot."
Sheppard sank down onto the edge of the bed, his strength ebbing as anger gave way to worry.
"How are Ronon and Teyla, by the way?" Elizabeth asked.
"Teyla's asleep," Biro said, joining them. "With her smaller body mass, she seems to have taken a bigger dose of the drug than anyone else, so we got her settled down and we're hoping she stays that way. Ronon had to be sedated when he was brought in, and he's still sleeping it off. Basically, though, they're going to be fine."
"And so am I; tell her."
"You're mainly feeling the effects of no sleep and no food." Biro gave his chart a cursory glance. "Any psychological effects, headaches, hallucinations?"
"Nope." At Elizabeth's glower: "All right, yes I have a headache, and I still can't remember much, but that'll go away, right?"
"Good question," Biro said, sounding interested but not very sympathetic.
"So, I can leave, right?"
"Yes, yes, you can leave." She was studying her clipboard, already on to another project. "Light duty, get some sleep, get something to eat, and contact us if you have any strange symptoms."
"Wait ..." Elizabeth said weakly. Carson would never have let him leave. But Carson wasn't here.
John gave her a smug grin and then ruined the effect by almost falling over as he went in search of his pants.
The thought came to Rodney as he was examining the walls of his wooden prison. He went still for a moment, trying to grasp at the elusive thought. Sheppard. Finally, he had a name for the man in his memories with the spiky hair and deceptively lazy grin.
Sheppard. Pilot. Soldier. Pain-in-the-ass.
And there were two other people as well, whose names he could almost remember ... but at a soft moan from Carson, Rodney forgot about them -- again -- and lunged to the side of the bed.
Carson's eyelashes fluttered; Rodney caught a glimpse of blue.
"Oh come on, I know you're awake in there. Come on out. I could use someone to bounce ideas on. You're not Zelenka, you're not even Sheppard, but --"
Carson tried to rasp something out, faintly, and then began coughing. Rodney floundered in mid-ramble, and all he could manage was a "Hey, hey" that came out a lot softer than he intended. Carson was struggling for breath, and each coughing spasm sounded as if it was ripping him apart. Rodney got an arm under his shoulders, going on pure instinct, and lifted him partway.
As the spasms began to calm, Carson's head lolled back against Rodney's shoulder. Rodney could feel the heat in the body leaning against him, but Carson was shivering nonetheless.
"Hey," Rodney said into Carson's hair. How did he get himself in these positions? "Hey, are you in there? Because holding half-naked guys is not really my thing, you know."
There was a soft laugh, then a momentary hitch in Carson's breathing that made Rodney hold his breath, too, afraid that the coughing would start up again. It didn't; Carson swallowed noisily and then whispered, "Don't suppose you have some water about you, do you?"
"Uh..." He looked around the room. Empty. "Just a second. Uh ... need to put you down, sorry."
He eased Carson back down, and took a couple of quick steps to the door, and pounded on it. After a few rounds of pounding, he head a heavy object -- a rifle butt, maybe -- thump back a couple of times. "Shut up in there!"
"Sick man here!" Rodney hollered through the door, undaunted. "We could use some water! Hey! Water! Guard!"
More pounding and yelling got him no results, except for a sore fist. Muttering, he stomped back to Carson's bed, in the process grabbing the pillows off the bed they'd put him on. "Idiots," he muttered. "Asinine ... military ... pigheaded ... make Caldwell look like Mother Teresa ..."
Carson watched him warily from half-lidded eyes as Rodney, still muttering, lifted him up and used the pillows to prop him up. "There. Sitting up ought to help keep you from coughing. See, I do know something about medicine, no matter what Little Miss Perfect thinks."
Carson cleared his throat. "Thanks," he mumbled. "Do I know you?"
"Oh hell." He'd momentarily forgotten -- ha ha -- about the amnesia. "Yeah, you're Carson, I'm Rodney, and we're being held prisoner by crazy people. Oh, and we got our memories wiped out with some sort of drug. Now you know as much I know."
Carson blinked at him, and then at the room, with eyes that were slightly unfocused. "Oh," he murmured.
"Also -- almost forgot the best part -- they're going to kill us in the morning because they think I'm a doctor, but I'm actually not; you're the doctor, except you're in no condition to help fix their voodoo issues. Hence the killing." Rodney gnawed on a fingernail as he studied the walls again.
Carson's head twisted against the pillows, focusing slowly on Rodney. "You forgot that part?" There was a little more animation in his hoarse voice.
"Yes ... I get the idea it's hardly an unusual state of affairs for us. I wish I had my ..." Rodney paused. There was something he always had. Useful thing. Had a screen on it. Couldn't remember the name of it, though. "My stuff," he finished lamely. "And yours. And some guns too, while we're at it."
Carson looked down at his hands, raised one a few inches off the bed and then let it fall back. "Couldn't fire a bloody gun at the moment if my life depended on it."
Rodney frowned at him. "What is wrong with the way you talk?"
"What?" Carson looked blearily baffled.
"If me life depended oon it," Rodney mimicked. "There's something wrong with how you're talking. Oh God, what if it's another side effect of the drug? Do I sound funny?"
Now the look was not only baffled, but irritated. "Aye," Carson said, and Rodney momentarily panicked, because he certainly didn't sound any different to himself. His panic rose another couple of notches when Carson went on, "It's only you, though. Some kind of accent. I sound normal."
"Ohmygod, me too!" Rodney scrubbed his hands through his thinning hair, and then froze as another fragment of memory made itself known. "Wait a minute. You always sound like that."
"Normal? Aye, I should hope so."
"No, like an extra in Braveheart." Rodney frowned. "Braveheart. Mel Gibson in a kilt. Huh. What kind of lives did we lead?"
"I don't know," Carson sighed. "All I know is you have an accent -- American, is it? -- and I'm getting a headache listening to you."
Rodney bristled. "American? What? No! It's Canadian!"
"I don't know!"
There was a brief pause as they calmed down and realized how ridiculous they sounded.
"Anyway." Rodney fidgeted from foot to foot. "Escape plans. I'm, frankly, drawing a blank. Not my area of expertise. I can't exactly remember what my area of expertise is, but I do know it isn't escaping from prison cells. That's Sheppard's thing."
"Would you shut up and let me concentrate?"
A sudden clunk came from the direction of the door. Rodney jumped halfway across the room, ending up positioned between Carson and the door. He wasn't even sure why; it wasn't as if he'd be able to fight off armed soldiers with his bare hands. Still, he stood there, and relaxed only slightly when Dalan came in, alone, carrying a tray.
"I brought some food for you," she said, putting the tray down on Rodney's unused bed.
"That's not what I asked for."
"I'm sorry. It's what I can give." Starting to turn away, she saw that Carson was awake, and froze. He gave her a little smile; she didn't return it.
"Where's your Carson worship when we could use it, huh?" Rodney demanded, reaching cautiously across the tray for the pitcher of water. His hand froze when he saw what was under the folded hand towel beside the pitcher. A loop of black cord was just visible.
Dropping her voice, Dalan said, "It is all I could find of your things. The rest has been scavenged for what we can use."
"No, no ... if our people are looking for us, this is all we will need." Rodney picked up one of the radio headsets and its base unit, and stared at it for a moment, until the proper method of operation came back to him. Hooking it over his ear, he paused. "Where are we? Relative to the Stargate, I mean."
"We are on a hill, overlooking the valley."
Rodney sighed. "Could you be less helpful? Is the Stargate in the valley?"
Dalan frowned slightly at his insult, but let it pass. "Yes."
"Good. As long as we have line of sight on the Stargate, we should be able to call home if they've dialed in to look for us." He paused for a moment, then decided not to waste time figuring out what he knew or how he knew it.
"If you mean what I think you mean by 'line of sight', then you do not have that here. Mount Winterhead conceals our town from the capital below, and the Ring is near the capital."
Rodney paused with his finger on the "talk" button. "Wait. So you can't actually see the gate from here?"
"You can if you climb the mountain. Or go around it."
He let out a long, exasperated sigh. "Then why did you say overlooking when you meant overlooking except for that a big damn mountain in the way?"
"Rodney," Carson said. "The lass is trying to help us."
"No, she's not. She's doing the absolute minimum to assuage her guilty conscience. Isn't that right, Dalan?"
Dalan scowled at him, and didn't answer.
Rodney tried it anyway. "This is McKay calling -- oh, damn it, what is the name of that place? Carson? You don't remember, do you?"
"Never mind. I'm sure it'll come to me. This is McKay. Anybody read me?"
There was no answer but static.
"Damn mountain. Maybe if I could boost the signal ..." He already had the cover off the base unit before he thought to wonder what he was doing, then gave a mental shrug and started unhooking wires.
A sudden pounding on the door made them all jump. Rodney hastily slid the radio under the sheets on Carson's bed, while Dalan ran to the door just as it opened a crack. "Brigadier?" The soldier on the other side gave the two prisoners a wary glance. "You're needed outside."
"Thank you, Armsman." Without a backward glance at the two Atlanteans, Dalan vanished out the door.
After a moment passed without the door opening again, Rodney reached under the sheet for the radio, studiously averting his eyes as he did so. Carson noticed, and started to laugh, but ended up in another coughing fit instead. "Water?" he croaked pitifully, when he could breath.
"Oh. Sorry. Yes." Rodney poured a cup, and then found himself in the uncomfortable position of supporting Carson's head while he drank.
"Oh, that's heaven, that is," Carson murmured, as Rodney let his head back down against the pillows. He opened his eyes and looked up at his companion. "That young lass ... is she on our side, or not?"
"Very good question. I'll let you know if I figure it out." He spread the radio's guts out on the bed. "She's the head of the local chapter of the Carson Beckett fan club, which you'd think would make her a lot more helpful than she has been so far."
"Carson Beckett ... that's me, is it?"
Rodney didn't bother dignifying that with a response. He had cannibalized the other base unit for its battery, leaving them with only one working radio -- but all they had to do was get out a message for help. He twisted together the last of the wires and hooked the headset over his ear once again. "Hey, anybody out there? This is McKay. We could really use a --"
He broke off as the door burst open and two soldiers charged in. The radio was torn from his head; one of them stomped it underfoot.
"Hey, what are you doing?" Rodney demanded as his arms were twisted behind his back. Then he saw to his horror that the other soldier was dragging Carson out of bed. Carson's legs couldn't support his weight; he crumpled and was held up by his arms. He gave a soft cry of pain.
"Let go of him, you bastards!"
"Shut up!" They were both dragged from the room. Rodney struggled, and the soldier slammed his face into the wall. He spun off into a gray haze, and when he started coming back to himself, he found that he was stumbling out the door, still propelled along by his painfully twisted arms. His bare feet sank into the mud; the sharp shock of cold helped clear his head.
It was night. Two moons lit the street with a washed-out white light; streaks of softer yellow light marked the locations of some of the houses around them. Rodney's tormenter let go of him and gave him a hard shove; he fell to his hands and knees in the icy, sucking mud. Carson fell next to him with a wet plop. The doctor was coughing again, a horrible hacking sound; looking over at him, Rodney was horrified to see dark spatters of blood on his lips.
"Sons of bitches ..." He crawled to Carson, tried to lift him out of the mud. Memory slapped at him -- he'd lifted Carson just like this, with blood soaking both his sleeves and running down his legs. "Don't die, don't die," he'd chanted as he'd curled himself over his injured friend, trying to shield him from a deluge of nightmare monsters conjured from the depths of his own mind.
Now here they were again, and Carson was a heavy weight in his lap, and rather than hallucinatory Wraith and demons surrounding him, there were hard-faced men and women with guns. The Commandant strode to the front of the group, pointing a rifle at his head.
"How long have you been in contact with your people?" she demanded.
"What are you talking about?"
She held up a fistful of shattered black plastic and trailing wires. He recognized the broken radio. Looking past the Commandant, he saw that one of the soldiers holding guns on them was Dalan. Her face was pale, but as stern as the others.
He was desperately tempted to shout out her duplicity, to tell her people that she'd helped him. But the words choked him. As she'd told him, she was only trying to survive. They had needed a doctor, and she had done what she'd had to do. If she hadn't taken them prisoner, Carson would probably have bled to death after they'd been gassed and caught up in the fighting in the city.
Instead, he was bleeding to death here, in Rodney's lap. Through the coldness of the mud, Rodney could feel the heat of blood trickling down his legs, soaking through the bandages. Carson's body contorted against him with another spasm of coughing. Rodney cross his arms over Carson's torso, trying to support the doctor's body against the convulsive movement that was doing untold damage to his injuries. Carson seemed to have passed out. His head was tucked against Rodney's arm; his ragged breathing made a small warm patch against Rodney's clammy skin.
"Tell me," the Commandant snarled. "We know that your people have attacked the Stargate. There are reports of explosions there. What do they know? Have you given away our position? Talk!"
Explosions? Frowning, he looked up at her, past her -- and there, against the moons, he saw what could only be another hallucination.
Zelenka shook his head, dividing his attention between the jumper's HUD and the pale, shaky pilot. "There are a lot of life sign readings, but I am not picking up Rodney or Dr. Beckett's subcutaneous transmitters among any of them."
"Wider search pattern, then," Sheppard decided, swinging the jumper around.
In the seat behind him, Elizabeth was silent. She'd argued against this, but Sheppard had stood firm, and she had told him in the infirmary that they'd do it his way. So she'd switched sides, and insisted on coming along, in the hopes of keeping him from doing something suicidally stupid. She had started regretting her decision almost immediately, when he'd lowered the jumper in front of the gate and then started firing drones through the event horizon, shattering the barrier on the other side. A few minutes later, they were aloft in the nighttime skies of P1R-4P2.
"There are some life sign clusters up there, in the foothills of the mountains," Zelenka reported. "I need you to rotate the view on the HUD. Scroll left."
The readout on the screen obligingly changed, and Sheppard rubbed at his temple, wincing. "This is easier with a scientist who's got the gene. Just sayin'..."
"Well, excuse me for my deficient genetics," Zelenka grumbled.
"What are we looking at?" Elizabeth asked, hoping to head off an argument. She stared up at the blurry blue patches on the HUD.
"Towns, I think."
"There are a lot of them."
Zelenka nodded. "This planet had a large population before their war. They are very scattered now, but there are still quite a lot of population centers."
"So you're saying we might be searching for a while," Sheppard said.
"Unless you can widen the field of the HUD without losing signal resolution."
"Hey -- I'm trying--!"
Just then, the radio came to life. The voice was static-blurred but instantly recognizable. "Hey, anybody out there? This is McKay. We could really use a --" Then there was a sudden crash and the voice cut off.
Elizabeth felt her heart leap into her throat.
"McKay?" Sheppard demanded into the radio. "Rodney? Are you reading us? What's your position?"
There was no response. Zelenka pointed up at the HUD. "Colonel, switch to radio frequencies. It should have recorded that signal. I can trace it back to -- yes!" A broad grin broke across his face. "I have their signals! At your nine o'clock."
Elizabeth let out a long sigh, gripping the back of Sheppard's seat as the pilot banked the jumper and brought them down through a thin wisp of cloud. The dark landscape rose up beneath them, starkly laid out in the moonlight, and Elizabeth squinted at the small cluster of lights that was suddenly visible from the front view port.
"There!" Elizabeth stood up, leaning over the back of the pilot's seat. In the moonlight, they could clearly see the armed crowd in the village street, clustered around a huddled figure on the ground. No -- two people.
"Damn it!" Sheppard swore, as several of the people below them swung around and began shooting at the jumper. He banked sharply, taking them up out of range.
Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder, meeting the eyes of the two Marines behind her. They'd come prepared to fight if necessary, but not to fight a small army.
"Aren't we cloaked?" Zelenka asked, leaning towards Sheppard.
"We were," Sheppard snapped, rubbing at his forehead, and Elizabeth realized that the lingering effects of the drug were interfering with his ability to adequately control the jumper's systems. I should have ordered him to stand down. I shouldn't have let him come out here; he's not well enough.
But here they were, and Sheppard was bringing the jumper around for another pass. This time, Elizabeth could tell that they couldn't be seen from below; the soldiers were aiming in random directions, looking wildly up at all corners of the sky.
With exquisite care, Sheppard lowered the jumper directly on top of the group of people in the street. Elizabeth gave a soft gasp when she saw one of them, a woman, stride over to the huddled forms of Rodney and Carson. The woman gripped Rodney by the collar, and, leaning past him, jammed a gun against Carson's neck. Her mouth moved emphatically, but silently. Sheppard flicked a control on his dashboard, and suddenly the strange woman's voice flooded the jumper.
"--watching us? I will kill this man!"
"Can she hear us?" Elizabeth asked softly.
Sheppard's hand hovered over another control. "When I hit this, she can."
Elizabeth nodded to him, and his finger made a quick movement. "This is Dr. Elizabeth Weir of Atlantis. Who am I addressing?"
There was general panic beneath them; to the people in the street, the voice must have come from thin air. Rodney's body sagged in relief or maybe resignation. The woman holding the gun did not flinch. "I am Commandant Farin, leader of the People's Mountain Army. If you can hear me, then know that I will shoot this man if your people do not retreat and return to your world. You may not use your technology to aid our enemies."
Elizabeth's grip tightened on the back of John's seat. "Commandant, we care nothing for your enemies, or for you. Your conflict is of no concern to us. All we want are the two men that you have taken prisoner. Return our people, and I swear to you, we will leave your world. If you do not, we will use whatever force necessary to take them back."
"And if you kill them, we'll kill all of you and burn your village to the ground," Sheppard added.
Elizabeth couldn't say Shut up with all of them listening, so she gave the skin on the back of his neck a quick, hard pinch and hoped he took the hint.
The Commandant got a firm grip on Rodney's shirt and began dragging him backwards through the mud, away from Carson. Elizabeth frowned at the crumpled form of the doctor; she could see, even from here, that he was naked to the waist and the bandages on his chest were stained with blood. If she could have, she would have clawed her way through the windshield to get to him. Instead, all she could do was stand there, holding to the back of Sheppard's seat like a lifeline.
"You can have him back," Commandant Farin called to them. "He is useless to us. But we are keeping the doctor!"
"I told you!" Rodney protested in a voice that was high-pitched and cracking with fear and anger. "I'm not a doctor, you stupid bi--" He cut off with a strangled sound when she pressed the gun into the soft skin under his chin.
"If you will not let us have your doctor, I will make sure no one on your world can, either!"
Elizabeth pointed emphatically to the button on the dashboard until Sheppard hit it, turning off the audio they were broadcasting. "We need a plan," she said.
"Why do they think Rodney is a doctor?" Zelenka mused aloud.
"Who cares?" Sheppard retorted. "Okay. I got a plan."
Elizabeth didn't like the wild look in his eyes, any more than she liked the fine tremors in his hands on the jumper's controls. Still weak and shaky from the drugs, he was straining himself to the utmost. "Let me hear it."
"We stay cloaked, turn the jumper nose-up and lower it on top of her. I'll have to open the hatch at the last minute, or she'll see inside the ship."
Elizabeth stared. "What -- you don't mean crush her? But Rodney's --"
"No," Sheppard said impatiently. "Open the hatch and enclose her in the cloaked jumper. That'll cut her off from her people, and isolate her so that we can attack."
"And then we have crazy woman with hostage inside the jumper," Zelenka said.
"No ... no ... then we drop Bradshaw and Aymes on her." Sheppard's eyes were bright as he looked back at the two Marines.
"What about Carson?" Elizabeth asked.
Sheppard was already maneuvering the jumper; the view panned crazily across the mountains to the sky. "As soon as the hatch opens, Bradshaw, you jump out and go for Carson. Aymes, you need to take out the target. Damn it, why didn't we bring more people!"
This is crazy, Elizabeth thought. I could stop him. But she didn't have anything better, and time was running out for both Carson and Rodney. Still, she was surprised to hear her own voice say to Sgt. Bradshaw, "I'll go with you. Help you get Carson. You might need extra hands."
John looked as if he wanted to argue, but it was taking all his concentration to do the difficult maneuver with the jumper and maintain the cloak. A light sheen of sweat had broken out on his face. With the inertial dampeners and artificial gravity, Elizabeth couldn't even tell that they were vertically oriented, except for the view of stars and moon out the front viewport.
"Aymes, Bradshaw ... Elizabeth," he added reluctantly. "Get to the hatch. You won't feel the planet's gravity 'till you leave the jumper -- I think. As soon as the hatch opens, jump out and go for Carson. Don't look back no matter what; just grab him before they know what's happening and get back here. We have to be very fast; if they all open fire on the jumper, it'll be taking damage." He didn't need to point out what would happen if they opened fire on Elizabeth and Bradshaw.
Elizabeth nodded and scrambled to follow the Marines. She still had the weird feeling that she should be climbing down the jumper, but instead, the floor was perfectly level under her feet. Taking a cue from the Marines, she grabbed hold of the cargo harness beside the hatch.
"Go!" John yelled, and the hatch opened in front of them.
Elizabeth had an instant of extreme disorientation: she was standing on level decking, but the ground rose up vertically in front of her, with Rodney and his captor projecting sideways from it like a tree growing from the side of a cliff. Then Bradshaw jumped, and she followed him, and suddenly the "cliff" smacked her in the face with ice-cold mud, and she gasped, dizzily staggering to her feet as the world rotated around her. Looking to the side -- no, up -- she saw the jumper continuing to descend, blocking off the Commandant from the rest of her people.
Don't look back no matter what.
Bradshaw was already off and running. Elizabeth sprinted after him. The cold mud sucked at her feet, slowing her down. No one was shooting at them; everyone just backed off, staring in shock at the two strangers who had appeared from thin air. Bradshaw grabbed Beckett under the arms, Elizabeth caught hold of a double handful of his pants, and they skidded him along the ground. He was unresisting and limp as a sack of damp laundry, but she didn't dare stop to check for a pulse. From the corner of her eye, Elizabeth saw several people bringing guns to bear on them, but a dark-haired woman barked out, "No! Don't fire! I think they're serious about retaliation!" -- and the guns stopped in midair. Elizabeth thought she caught a hint of a smile on the other woman's lips.
Then Bradshaw gasped, and Elizabeth looked up just in time to see the jumper -- decloaked -- crash into the street end-first with a tremendous, ground-shaking thud, sending a wave of mud cascading over the nearby, astounded onlookers. As the mud pattered to the ground, the splattered jumper was left sticking upright, its nose in the air, like a child's toy dropped by a careless, giant hand.
Its running lights were dark.
From one moment to the next, it shimmered and vanished, and that was when he remembered that the jumpers could be cloaked and wondered why it hadn't been in the first place. Then he choked as a hard hand yanked on his collar and a gun was thrust into his line of vision, angled down at Carson.
"Hey--" Rodney managed.
"Be silent!" the Commandant snarled at him, and she shouted, "Can you hear me, people from another world? I demand that you leave this place! I am not lying to you. Are you listening? Are you watching us? I will kill this man!"
Rodney was half-expecting Sheppard's voice, but he jumped at the sound of Elizabeth's. As he listened to her laying out her demands -- and couldn't help a slight grin, despite his fear, at Sheppard's typically violent caveat -- he realized that he wasn't nearly as surprised as he ought to be, to have them all here. They came for us.
His moment of euphoria vanished when the Commandant hauled him backwards, tearing him away from Carson; he tried to hang on but had to let go. The doctor's head fell back into the mud.
"If you will not let us have your doctor, I will make sure no one on your world can, either!"
Rodney couldn't talk, could barely breathe, with the gun pressing against his throat so hard that it was cutting off his air supply. No one had responded to the Commandant's demands, and he wondered what crazy thing Sheppard was planning now -- because he was, without a doubt, planning something.
When things started happening, they happened very fast. Rodney, his head tilted back, had a gorgeous view of the jumper's hatch opening. Even though he'd seen the effect before, it was still extremely disconcerting to see the interior of the jumper floating in midair -- especially at a 90 degree angle to the ground.
The Commandant looked up with a gasp just as a human body crashed into them and sent Rodney sprawling in the mud. He rolled over and pushed himself up on his hands, to see the Commandant grappling in hand-to-hand combat with an unfamiliar Marine.
"Rodney! Are you all right?"
The voice was Zelenka's. Startled, Rodney looked up; the Czech scientist had just risen from the co-pilot's chair and started down the length of the jumper towards Rodney, his body parallel to the ground. Despite understanding the physics of the jumper's artificial gravity generators , Rodney found it deeply disconcerting to see the jumper's internal gravity at such a wildly different orientation than the planet's.
"Yes, yes, never mind about that. Carson --" Rodney turned to look out through the approximately two-meter gap between the bottom of the jumper and the street. Elizabeth and another Marine were dragging Carson towards the ship.
Above him, Zelenka cried out sharply, "Colonel!" Rodney looked up and caught a split-second glimpse of everything above him, including Zelenka, starting to tumble towards him just as the lights went out.
It seemed like the entire world avalanched down on top of him, all in a wave of mud and sound and vibration. Then everything was still, silent and very nearly pitch-dark, except for a shaft of moonlight filtering down through the jumper's windshield, high above them. Rodney's ears were ringing and his mouth tasted like very unsanitary mud. There was an elbow in the small of his back, with what felt like several hundred pounds of Czech on top of it.
"What the hell happened?" Rodney demanded, spitting mud.
"The Colonel passed out, I think," Zelenka's voice said from atop him.
"Oh well, thank you very much, Sheppard!" Rodney yelled up into the darkness. "Great rescue! One for the record books! Wait -- Radek, what's wrong with him?"
"He was drug--" Zelenka began, but just then a gunshot went off, deafeningly loud in the enclosed space. In the muzzle flash, Rodney caught a glimpse of the Marine staggering backward, a spray of blood flying in the air, and then they were plunged into darkness again.
Hell. They were trapped in here with one very pissed-off enemy soldier; Elizabeth and Carson were trapped outside with an armed mob. And, Rodney realized as more fragments of memory fell into place, he was the only conscious person in the jumper -- or, hell, on the planet -- with an ATA gene.
"Radek, get off me." Without waiting for a response, Rodney shoved, hard; the weight vanished with a loud splash and an equally loud Czech curse. Reaching up, he groped until he caught hold of the cargo netting with mud-slippery hands and began to climb.
Bradshaw suddenly let go of Carson's shoulders, and Elizabeth lunged instinctively to catch him before his head could fall in the mud. Fixated on the jumper, terrified of what might be happening to John and the others inside it, she hadn't even noticed the rebels closing around them with weapons drawn. P90 in hand, Bradshaw stood over Elizabeth and Carson, sweeping the weapon slowly around the circle of rifles pointed at them.
"I have no desire to hurt you." The speaker, the dark-haired woman from before, looked genuinely regretful. "But you cannot be allowed to continue what you are attempting."
Elizabeth had begun to shiver, as the chill of the mud seeped through her pants. She could only imagine how cold Carson must be -- the only thing he wore was a pair of loose pants, and the bandages around his chest were soaked with mud and bright patches of blood. His skin, under her hands, felt as chilly as the air. If we don't get him to Atlantis soon, we won't be rescuing a friend; we'll be recovering a body.
She clenched her teeth against a fresh wave of shudders, and tried to keep her voice calm and level. "We came here peacefully, to recover our missing friends. Believe me, if we had come as enemies, you would have known it. One small ship, such as the one you see here, has the power to destroy your village with a single shot. We asked to have our friends returned to us, and instead, your people attacked them."
The dark-haired woman shook her head. "You are already allied with our enemies. You attacked the barricade at the Ancestors' Ring, destroying it. Then you attack us with your ship, and now you mean to convince us that you come in peace?"
"If we wanted to kill you, you would already be dead. All we want is to leave here with our people."
Carson moaned softly and stirred against Elizabeth's side. She reached down and lightly stroked his muddy hair without taking her eyes off the dark-haired woman's conflicted face. Please listen to me. Please believe me.
Below him, there were scuffling sounds and someone gave a cry of surprise or pain -- he thought it sounded like Zelenka. Then his fingers closed over the back of the pilot's seat, and he let out a soft breath of relief.
Now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, the silvery moonlight filtering in through the jumper's windshield was bright enough that he could make out Sheppard sprawled in the seat, one lanky arm dangling over the side. "Idiot," Rodney muttered, his fingertips brushing Sheppard's neck and relaxing to feel the strong beat of a pulse there. There was no way in hell that he could remove the unconscious pilot from the seat, not without running a very large risk of dropping him down the length of the jumper, so he braced himself between the two seats and leaned over Sheppard to activate the controls. Okay, start, damn you --
As the interior lights came on, the gravity did too, and suddenly he was bracing himself at entirely the wrong angle to the new direction of "down" -- he fell forward onto the console and cracked his chin painfully on a protruding lever. As his head rebounded from that, Sheppard's torso slumped forward on top of him and smushed his face against the console again. At least this time he managed to bring up his hand to catch most of the weight. Pinned between Sheppard and the controls, he cursed softly, and wriggled his way free of the unconscious pilot. Suddenly remembering the life-or-death struggle going on at the other end of the jumper, he looked back along its length -- experiencing another surge of vertigo at the sight of the muddy "floor" rising vertically across the back of the hatch.
Now that the lights were on, Rodney saw Zelenka slumped in the mud next to the apparently unconscious Marine. One hand was pressed against the side of his head; Rodney could see blood on the side of his face. Several feet away, the Commandant held a gun on the two of them. It was obvious even from here that she was totally bewildered as to what was going on -- the lights going off, the jumper falling on top of her, now the lights coming back on again ... it was probably all one step removed from magic for her, but Rodney didn't really care. Any minute now she'd figure out that he was the one in control of the ship, and then her gun would be pointing at him.
He slammed the controls forward. The jumper shuddered and then lifted free, with a great tearing shriek of metal that made Rodney wince. As far as he could tell out of the corner of his eye, the ramp had been crumpled and partly torn off when the weight of the jumper came down on it. Now, as they lifted free, it was tearing the rest of the way off. For an instant it clung to the back of the jumper by a few slowly shearing bolts, and then it came loose. The Commandant flung herself to the side, very nearly avoiding a messy death.
What a shame that would have been, Rodney thought as he guided the damaged jumper to a more conventional, horizontal landing, trying to ignore the fact that he was half-reclining in Sheppard's lap to do so. Due to his awkward angle on the controls, his "landing" of the jumper was really more of a graceless belly flop, but that worked to his advantage as well -- the rebels in the street had to scramble to avoid another cascade of mud.
"What are you people waiting for!" Rodney yelled over the jumper's external speakers.
There was a flurry of activity. Zelenka staggered to his feet and dragged the Marine into the open back of the jumper, while Elizabeth caught hold of Carson and began hauling him towards the ship. The other Marine covered Elizabeth, and Rodney -- amazed and suspicious -- saw that no one in the street opened fire. Dalan merely stood there and watched them retreat, while the others seemed to take their cue from her.
All but one. The Commandant picked herself up out of the mud. "Damn you!" she shouted, and fired wildly into the jumper. Rodney saw it happen in slow motion, but trying to throw himself out of the way was like moving through syrup. One bullet hit the windshield, and a star pattern sprang out from the point of impact. Another shot went spang! off the co-pilot's console in a shower of sparks.
"Rodney, go!" Elizabeth cried as she and the Marine tumbled into the back of the jumper with Carson between them.
He did so, lifting off into the night sky with his chest braced on the pilot's console and his hips across Sheppard's knees. Trying to shift his legs into a more comfortable position, he felt a wave of weak giddiness at the hot slippery wetness where his leg rubbed against the side of Sheppard's seat. Oh my God, I've been shot.
Elizabeth pushed herself up on her elbows and then wished she hadn't, as a wild panorama of rocks and trees spun through her field of vision. Everything had happened so fast that it took her a moment to realize why the scenery was dancing in front of her eyes and her hair was whipping around in a wind that shouldn't have been there. The hatch -- we lost our back door. The jumper did a lazy roll and she got an all-too-close look at a tree, the branches brushing past her face.
"Get farther inside!" Bradshaw shouted. Elizabeth wasn't sure if he was talking to her, or to Zelenka, but both of them grabbed hold of their unconscious charges and dragged them away from the too-close opening.
"Who's flying?" Elizabeth called, looking over her shoulder. From here, she couldn't tell who was in the pilot's chair.
"Well, excuse me for being shot!" came Rodney's voice, sounding panicky.
Elizabeth shrugged quickly out of her jacket and used it to cover Carson; then, hanging onto the side of the jumper, she made her way up to the front. For a moment all she could do was stare at the sight of Rodney, covered with mud from head to foot, sprawled across John's lap as he tried to control the jumper without really being able to get a good grip on the controls.
"What in the world happened in here?"
"Tell you on Atlantis," Rodney gritted between clenched teeth. "Dial the gate, would you? Ow! My leg!"
Elizabeth punched in the gate address and her IDC. Through the cracked windshield, the valley was laid out below them, a panorama in the moonlight. "Rodney, how badly are you hurt?"
"Oh right, because I can stop flying to triage myself -- not!" The gate rushed up at them, and Elizabeth fought the temptation to close her eyes.
"Dr. Weir, this is Atlantis -- we just received your code --"
"Yes, we're coming in with wounded, lower the shield!" she shouted, before the jumper's nose broke the event horizon --
-- and they were emerging in the gate room. Elizabeth caught a glimpse of startled faces staring at the battered, mud-covered jumper before it rose through the ceiling into the jumper bay. Rodney sighed and slumped away from the controls, and Elizabeth remembered John saying that the process was automatic once the ship was in Atlantis.
"Control room, this is Weir. I need a medical team in the jumper bay."
She caught hold of Rodney and helped him into the copilot's chair. He sighed, leaned back and closed his eyes, then opened them again, looking up at her. "How's Carson?"
"I don't know." Elizabeth looked over her shoulder, at Carson on the jumper's floor with Sgt. Bradshaw kneeling next to him. Zelenka had sagged down to the floor beside them. At this point, though, she didn't know what she could do; Bradshaw's first-aid skills were probably better than hers anyway. "How's your leg feeling?"
"Hurts." Rodney's pants leg was soaked with mud and the warm wetness of blood. Elizabeth decided to leave it for the medical staff, and she leaned over to take John's pulse. His skin was cool to the touch, but his heartbeat was strong.
"What happened to him?"
"Dunno. He just fainted and lost control of the jumper."
Just then the medical staff descended on them in a whirlwind of activity. Elizabeth found herself pushed to one side, watching as her injured team members were loaded onto gurneys. Rodney was helped past her, one arm over a nurse's shoulder, limping and protesting about mud and infection and the dangers of walking on an injured limb. He reached out a hand to stop his forward progress, though, when they arrived at Carson's gurney. The doctor was bundled in warming blankets so that only his head showed. IVs snaked underneath the blankets.
Rodney leaned over the injured man, heedless of the mud dripping off his clothing to soak into the white blankets. "Carson? Hey ... Carson?"
Elizabeth came up behind him, unnoticed and quiet. She could see Rodney's mud-splattered face in profile, the long lashes downcast, lips tight as he searched Carson's pale face for a response.
"Excuse me, Dr. McKay. You're in the way." One of the nurses tried to move Rodney out of her path, only to find out what an immovable object he could be when he really wanted to. The look that he gave her made her recoil.
"Rodney." Elizabeth reached out to take his arm gently. "Why don't we get you down to the infirmary and get your leg cleaned up?"
"Yeah," he muttered, not moving. One of his hands came to rest atop the part of the blanket-wrapped bundle where Carson's arm would be.
"Rodney. Come on." Feeling him relaxing against her, she led him away.
Sheppard was awake, but had a washed-out, exhausted look about him. Every so often he made a surreptitious move towards getting out of bed, at which point Ronon would plant an implacable hand on his chest and push him back down.
"How are you all feeling?" Elizabeth asked, dragging up a chair to the foot of Sheppard's bed. She got three dirty looks.
"Hung over," Ronon said shortly.
Sheppard had a sheepish expression. "I, uh ... made a poor showing out there, didn't I?"
Seeing the way that he wasn't quite looking at her, Elizabeth realized that he expected ... what? A demotion? A reassignment to Antarctica? She patted his knee and smiled.
"You found your missing people, John, although next time someone tells you to stay in the infirmary, maybe it would be a good idea to do it."
He gave her a lopsided grin, but she had a feeling that he was going to be beating himself up about this for weeks to come. Hopefully Rodney could talk, or yell, some sense into him. Speaking of whom ... the sound of arguing let her know where to find another of the people she'd come to see -- though not the one she was most worried about.
"-- don't need crutches for a scratch, Rodney."
"It's not a scratch, Radek, it's a gaping hole in my leg! Look!"
"Aargh! My eyes! Odporny!"
"Oh ha ha, Radek, very funny. As if you've never seen a man's shin before."
Elizabeth drew back the curtain, with her eyes shut. "Rodney, are you decent?"
"He is ever?" Zelenka countered.
"Radek thinks that being hit in the head gave him a sense of humor, but he's wrong," Rodney informed her.
Zelenka, with a bandage on the side of his head and looking a bit pale, was sitting on the edge of Rodney's bed. Rodney himself looked reasonably healthy, although in an even worse mood than usual. "Elizabeth, help. I'm being held hostage."
"The medical staff wishes to keep him for an observation period, since Colonel Sheppard has already passed out once," Zelenka told her.
"He fainted," Rodney said with relish. "Let's get our terminology straight here, Radek. And, aside from the gaping leg wound, I'm doing fine. The hillbilly communists gave me their antidote. My memory seems to be intact. Like I said ... fine."
"The last time that Sheppard told me that he was fine, Rodney, he then crashed a puddlejumper on top of you and Zelenka, so I'm perfectly happy to let the medical staff keep you for a while."
There was a sudden, rattling noise behind Elizabeth. She looked around and then did a double take at the sight of Sheppard's bed, rolling along smoothly on its castors, being pushed by Ronon and Teyla. Sheppard looked as if he would have happily sunk through the floor and vanished. Teyla held back the curtain while Ronon gave the bed a final hard shove; it clunked against the wall next to Rodney, who just stared. "And stay there," Ronon informed his mortified-looking team leader.
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.
"Colonel Sheppard will not stay in bed," Teyla explained, breathing heavily. Just the exertion of pushing the bed a couple of yards had worn her out. "We thought that if we moved him here, then he would ..."
"...settle down and stay in bed." Ronon glowered down at Sheppard. "Gonna get some chairs." He ducked out of the curtained area again.
Elizabeth sighed, and sat down on the edge of Sheppard's bed, much as Zelenka was sitting on Rodney's. She really needed to stop even trying to understand or anticipate these people. It was much more interesting, and less stressful, to just watch them do their thing.
At the moment, Sheppard was plucking at his bedsheet and looking everywhere but at the other people in the room. "Er, Rodney ..."
"Oh God," Rodney said, loudly. "Please tell me there isn't some kind of awkward and hopelessly embarrassing apology staggering inappropriately in the direction of this conversation."
"Well, not now," Sheppard retorted snappishly. "Wait just a minute ... was that a butchered Blackadder quote?"
"What is ..." Teyla began, and then shut up quickly, but not before Sheppard started trying to explain it to her.
Elizabeth shifted about until she found a more comfortable position, and lulled by the familiar sound of arguing, she settled in with the rest of them ... to wait.
Carson flinched despite himself. It was hard not to.
"There! I'm sure he moved that time!"
"Rodney, for God's sake, give the man some air." The lazy drawl was both annoyed and indulgent. "If the first thing he sees is an intimate view of your nostrils, he'll lapse into a coma and never come out."
There was a rustling sound from just a little farther away, as of someone shifting position, and a deep, irritated voice grumbled, "If you two keep it up, you'll both be in a coma." This was followed by an immediate smack, and a low growl of, "Teyla, stop it."
"I will stop it when you cease interfering with my ability to sleep."
"Wasn't me that started it. They did."
Eyes still closed, Carson felt a grin tug at the corners of his mouth.
"Colonel! Now he's smiling!"
"Probably laughing at you, McKay."
"I said smiling. Not laughing."
"He's laughing on the inside, then."
As tempting as it was to just keep his eyes shut and drift back to sleep, Carson could feel himself getting more awake, not less. He was also becoming aware of a dull ache every time he inhaled, and an annoying tickle in his throat. On the other hand, opening his eyes would mean giving Rodney satisfaction.
"He's awake, Colonel; he's listening to us just to mock us."
"Well, mocking you is such fun, Rodney; how could he resist?"
"Oh, you're funny, Sheppard. The rapier-sharp wit, it wounds me."
"Would you two shut up?" Ronon demanded
The tickle in his throat finally became too insistent to ignore. A muffled cough turned into an uncontrollable wracking spasm, sinking claws of pain in his chest that seemed likely to tear him apart.
When he'd ridden the tide of pain to its end, he found that arms were holding him upright, and someone had tilted a cup of water to his lips. He sipped -- Slow and easy, he reminded himself -- and then opened his eyes, squinting against the infirmary lights. The person holding the cup of water was Elizabeth, her eyes crinkled with worry as she smiled at him. "Good morning, Carson. We're all glad to see you."
"Morning?" he croaked, stirring.
"Morning, yes, Carson, you know, the thing that comes after night." Rodney's voice came from just above his head, and he realized that it was Rodney's chest he was leaning against. He could see Sheppard out of the corner of his eye, steadying him with a hand on his shoulder. They'd both lunged forward and caught him when he started coughing.
Swallowing, he took a deep breath and steadied his voice enough to ask, "What have you two done with my staff? Chased 'em off, eh? A real nurse might be nice about now -- no offense to you, Elizabeth dear."
"And this is the thanks we get for staying up all night, watching him sweat," Rodney complained. Sheppard gave a snort of laughter. "What? ... Oh. You have the sense of humor of a ten-year-old, don't you?"
"Teyla's gone to find a nurse, Carson," Elizabeth told him, setting the cup of water somewhere out of his line of sight. "Most of your staff has been working around the clock ... things've just now settled down."
Carson's stomach lurched, a host of worst-case scenarios spinning through his hazy brain. Disease, mass injury ... "What ... happened?"
It took Elizabeth a moment to realize why he looked so worried. "Oh! No, I didn't mean ... When John's team came back from P1R-4P2 with the drug in their system, we thought there was some sort of contagion, and then your staff was scrambling to try to figure out what the drug was, so that we could treat it. It turned out that it was largely harmless, though."
"Speak for yourself," Sheppard muttered.
Elizabeth ignored him. "The worst injuries are yours, Carson. One of the Marines was shot rescuing you, but not severely."
"I was shot too," Rodney protested in a peevish voice.
Elizabeth smiled at him, a trifle wearily. "Yes, Rodney, we know."
At that point Teyla came back with not one but three nurses in two, all of whom descended on their startled boss in a flurry of concern. Unlike certain other people's underlings, Carson's people adored him ... sometimes a little too much, when he was on the opposite side of the infirmary bed. On the infrequent occasions in the past when he'd actually managed to get himself hospitalized for one thing or another, he usually ended up checking himself out early just to escape the stifling mothering.
Fortunately in this case, Sheppard's team finally came in handy for something -- they saw his distress and, once he'd gotten another dose of morphine and fresh pillows, chased off the nurses. Carson felt vaguely guilty about it -- after all, the lasses liked taking care of him, and it didn't hurt him to indulge them every once in a while -- but the drugs were taking effect, and he drifted on a warm, pleasant sea of painkiller.
"Oh my God, look at his eyes," Rodney said, sounding disgusted. "They're crossed. What did they give him?"
"The man's recovering from two bullet wounds to the chest." Sheppard sounded lazy, relaxed. "I'd say he's earned the good drugs."
"Nobody gave me the good drugs."
"That's because you got winged with a bullet on the shin, Rodney."
"Hey! I got shot while I was valiantly covering your body with my own after you fainted, Colonel."
"You were doing what with his unconscious body, Rodney?" Teyla sounded drowsy, and perfectly innocent.
A shadow fell across Carson. He blinked and discovered Elizabeth leaning over him. Her hand brushed his forehead. "I need to head back to my office. I'll stop by to visit later, Carson. Get some sleep."
Rodney snorted. "Have you looked at him? I don't think that's going to be a problem."
"You get some sleep too, Rodney." Carson could hear the submerged laughter in Elizabeth's voice. "As you said, you were up all night watching him sweat."
"Oh, ha ha, it must be pick-on-Rodney day again," Rodney grumbled as Elizabeth's quick, clicking footsteps faded.
"Every day is pick-on-Rodney day; you know that." Sheppard's voice was a lazy murmur; he sounded halfway to sleep himself.
"And now you're falling asleep too. What's the deal here? Did someone pipe sleeping gas into the ventilation system while I wasn't looking?" Rodney interrupted himself with a loud yawn; Sheppard laughed sleepily. "Great! Now you've got me doing it!"
There was a low growl, not too far away, and Teyla said, "John, Rodney, Ronon seems quite cross. I believe he is trying to sleep, as am I. Please do not make him come over there."
Something warm was resting against Carson's hand. It had been there for some time; he'd only gradually become aware of it. Sneaking a peek from under the edge of his eyelids, he saw that it was Rodney's hand -- Rodney was leaning on the edge of Carson's bed, with one elbow propped on the bed and his free hand curled up lightly next to Carson's ... just, incidentally, brushing against the back of the other. Rodney wasn't looking at Carson; he was directing a withering glare at the other occupants of the room, marred somewhat by the fact that his head was propped up on his arm and he looked as if he was one step away from falling asleep.
"I'm not the problem here. Sheppard is the problem."
"Mm-hm," Sheppard mumbled. "Blame the sleeping man."
"Sleeping men don't talk, Colonel. You're obviously awake." Pause. "Sheppard. Colonel. Hey! Don't you know it's rude to fall asleep in the middle of a conversation? Teyla, kick him for me, would you?"
Teyla let out a long sigh.
And Carson finally fell asleep himself -- floating away to the sounds of the obnoxious, bickering, loyal family that he trusted more than he could ever find words to say.
odporny - Czech for "disgusting" or "horrible" (according to the Internet, anyway). Sorry about butchering the spelling; there's a little mark over the "y" that I couldn't get my word processor to make.
The Blackadder quote referenced in the infirmary conversation is: "Am I jumping the gun, Baldrick, or are the words 'I have a cunning plan' marching with ill-deserved confidence in the direction of this conversation?" The basic idea of two characters with amnesia who accidentally get their identities flipped is one that had come to me several months ago when I was reading Kodiak Bear Country's excellent story Something Wicked This Way Comes. It wasn't a plot twist in her story, but that's where the inspiration began (although I'd forgotten which story had done it until someone on the sgahc list reminded me).
Go Back to Stories
odporny - Czech for "disgusting" or "horrible" (according to the Internet, anyway). Sorry about butchering the spelling; there's a little mark over the "y" that I couldn't get my word processor to make.
The Blackadder quote referenced in the infirmary conversation is: "Am I jumping the gun, Baldrick, or are the words 'I have a cunning plan' marching with ill-deserved confidence in the direction of this conversation?"
The basic idea of two characters with amnesia who accidentally get their identities flipped is one that had come to me several months ago when I was reading Kodiak Bear Country's excellent story Something Wicked This Way Comes. It wasn't a plot twist in her story, but that's where the inspiration began (although I'd forgotten which story had done it until someone on the sgahc list reminded me).