So I love long fic. And Mira is terrific at long-form stuff, she doesn't post much in the way of short things, snapshots or drabbles. I guess it makes sense that in this case, when she does, that she posts them in a themed group. The theme is memory, forgetting. I think these were written for a challenge. These are lovely and chilling in turn, and invoke the underlying stories without actually spelling them out - the best sort of short fic.
Word Count: 2,275 So the stories are thematically similar, but hugely different. I thought about treating them as separate works, but I think the contrasts between them, grouped together as they are, actually add to the reader's enjoyment. So I'm almost thinking of them as a single story, veering in structure. They're grouped longest to shortest, and that adds to the punch as well - you meander through the longest, sink through the middle, and are punched fast by the final, shortest part.
"It's Colonel Sheppard's IDC," the gate technician said in Elizabeth's earpiece. Chuck, namelessly invoked. Hi Chuck!
"Lower the shield," she responded, and rose to watch the eruption of the event horizon. I like the idea of Elizabeth, watchful from her office, standing vigil of a sort. It's a sort of low tension of responsibility when members of the expedition are in the field, relieved a little as they return. I'm not sure (increasingly) if I really believe it of canon Elizabeth, if she entirely gets it. But she should. She should be exactly like this. Major Lorne stood next to her as John, Teyla, and Ronon strolled across the threshold into the gateroom. I also like that Lorne, as the second in command, is there, on duty. They appeared relaxed and pleased. Oh man, if that isn't a red flag, I don't know what is. Lorne looked at Elizabeth.
"Colonel Sheppard," she called down to him. "Where is Rodney?"
"I dunno," he said, smiling up at her. "Who's Rodney?" Oh, John. Complacency? The red flag might as well be on fire.
A couple of Marines standing down and several of the technicians laughed; even Elizabeth smiled. "I don't know who Rodney is, either," she said. "For all his apparent openness, I do believe he has hidden depths. But I wasn't speaking metaphorically. Did he stay on P2X-355?" So the only reasonable option is that Sheppard's joking - of course. And it fits Elizabeth's character that she indulges him in the joke. It fits canonically - her attitude toward him, the way he gets away with murder? Makes me crazy. But that's just me.
"No, what?" John looked at Teyla and Ronon. "Who?" After an awkward pause, John said, "Maybe we should take this to your office." And verification that something weird is up.
"Excellent idea," Elizabeth said. "Major?"
"Yes, ma'am." Lorne looked worried, Elizabeth thought, as did the technician who'd notified her. "Colonel?"
They filed into Elizabeth's office, John perching on the side of her desk as he so often did. Sexetary. Teyla sat, her back straighter than any piano teacher's, Elizabeth thought not for the first time, and Ronon stood next to her. After an awkward silence, Elizabeth said, "Rodney?" I like the description of their postures. And the stillness in those postures - they are missing something, the frenetic movement that Rodney adds to the team. John's fake relaxation, Teyla's formality, Ronon's readiness for escape. When Rodney is there, he modifies and distracts, fills in the gaps. Covers for them, almost.
John shrugged. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth, but I'm not sure what you mean."
"You're not -- Teyla, Ronon, where is Doctor McKay?"
Teyla raised her eyebrows, Ronon shrugged, and Lorne tapped his earpiece. "Doctor Beckett, to Doctor Weir's office, and hurry." He rested his hand on the butt of his Beretta. Elizabeth saw John's eyes follow the major's hand, and then look into her face. John's realization that he's being, subtly, classed as a threat.
"Ah, who is this Rodney?" he asked mildly, but Elizabeth wasn't fooled. She saw the subtle change in his posture and the clench of his jaw. "Why do you think we know where he is?" He's angry. People who he classes as allies suspecting him of anything is a betrayal.
"John, he's your teammate, and your friend. Your closest friend in Atlantis."
"I think I know who my friends are, and I don't know anyone named Rodney, back on Earth or here in Atlantis." He stood, moving slowly, raising his hands to appease Lorne. He's discarding the fake relaxation. He can't maintain it in this situation. But this also puts him into position for anything, to face a threat, even though he is acknowledging Lorne's control of the situation as it stands.
"John," Elizabeth said helplessly. "Wait, wait." She scrabbled through her desk drawers until she found the photo of Rodney that Teyla and Ronon had brought her last year from 177. Hee! The awesome wanted poster. "You know him, John. You've known him for years. You taught him to fly the puddlejumpers, and to shoot a gun, and to take care of himself in the field."
John took the photo and studied it, frowning, shaking his head, then handing it to Teyla. Ronon leaned over her shoulder, also shaking his head. "I am sorry, Elizabeth, but I do not know this man," Teyla said. "Yet you claim he was a member of our team?" The thing is, even though you feel them drawing together in this scene, backing each other up, they are still granting Elizabeth her authority. It's good - it's how it should be.
"Elizabeth, Major, I came as quickly as I could," Carson gasped. "Who's injured. Where's Rodney? Let's go, Colonel." Oh, Carson. Too many questions.
"Doctor Beckett, you need to check out the colonel, Teyla, and Ronon," Lorne said. "Doctor Weir, I'm going to take a team back to the planet to look for Doctor McKay." He tapped his earpiece again. "Lieutenant Cadman, come to Doctor Weir's office on the double." I like that Lorne steps up, into the command slot. Sheppard has been compromised, somehow, and that's appropriate.
"Major," Carson started, but Elizabeth interrupted him. Carson is curious, and also, reasonably, concerned. I do buy that Rodney and Carson are friends, but in that work way. Not pals, but colleagues who like each other. Carson's over-empathetic, and prone to panic. He needs to be derailed here.
"Go, Major. Carson and Laura will take care of things here. Bring Rodney home."
"Yes, ma'am." Elizabeth watched as Lorne glared at his CO. Dude. This makes me think that Lorne has a case of hero-worship, that he feels personally betrayed by Sheppard not being 100%, somehow.
Laura entered the office followed by two marines from the gateroom. Lorne said, "Cadman, Millhouse, Schulman, the colonel and his team are compromised. Keep a close eye on them. Escort them to the infirmary so Doctor Beckett can take care of them."
"Major, we are not compromised," John snapped. Defensive is, of course, Sheppard's natural reaction. What they've told him, accused him of, goes against everything he believes about himself. Also, he thinks they're crazy, making up some guy who doesn't exist. Sheppard + people he doesn't agree with who are telling him what to do? Bad news.
"John, I'm sorry, but you are," Elizabeth said. "Please don't . . . " She trained off, unsure what she was asking him not to do. Not to be compromised, not to be different. Not to forget Rodney. This is so sad.
Lorne stalked out of the room, giving Cadman a look that made her straighten up. "Ma'am, where's Rodney?" she asked. I like the idea of Cadman as annoyingly affectionate toward Rodney. Like the kind of younger sibling who lives to make you crazy.
"Major Lorne is going to get him. His team appears to have forgotten his existence." Laura's mouth fell open and the marines stared at John, gripping their weapons more firmly. What makes this more dramatic is the idea of team. And the idea that Sheppard's team is an entity in itself - erasing one of them and watching the hole that's left just close over? It's a horror.
"Kinda hard to forget Rodney," Laura murmured, but she kept her eyes on the colonel. Yeah. There's a level of insubordination in every last one of the members of the expedition's military contingent. From the top down, they are all individual thinkers, but they all value the whole. It makes them all simultaneously hugely loyal and open-minded, mentally flexible, but simultaneously suspicious of everyone. All of Sheppard's people reflect his attitudes, to a point.
Elizabeth gazed at them all in turn: her flagship team, their guards, and beyond them the technicians and engineers watching through her windows. She knew she wore the same worried expression on her face that they did. She took a deep breath. "John. Colonel, please accompany Doctor Beckett to the infirmary. Doctor Beckett, I'd like to begin debriefing the team en route." Making this a mystery with no clear enemy or hard threat in sight means everyone is sort of at the same level of alarm.
"Of course, Elizabeth. Laura?"
"Schulman," Laura said standing back. John had trained Elizabeth to use a handgun as well as a semi-automatic, so she knew Laura had the safety off her Glock. I really like this detail. It makes sense, and it also shows the trust Sheppard has in the civilians, that he thinks they should be made capable of handling themselves. It's the sort of thing that I would never believe of the people who the SGC has tried to replace him with - Caldwell and Everett both have seemed to hold a strong belief that the military are there to fill that role. Schulman and Millhouse did, too. John studied them for a long moment; Elizabeth discovered she was holding her breath. Then he carefully set his weapons on her desk, moving slowly. Teyla followed suit, and finally Ronon, though Elizabeth knew they'd have to strip search Ronon to find all his weapons. At least he'd made a gesture toward disarmament. Sheppard has a choice here, about whether he should trust people who he may actually think are the ones compromised. But as much as it's a confusing situation, they aren't openly threatening the team - just showing preparedness. There's a feeling that he could have gone either way here, which feels right. And, in this situation, the team functions as a whole.
"Well," Carson said, clapping his hands together and startling Elizabeth. "Let's go, then, shall we?" Carson's pushing for a state of normalcy that isn't really possible. But it's still a relief.
A ship of fools, Elizabeth thought, trailing after them. She wasn't sure how she felt, seeing John so quiet and blank. Was this what he was like without Rodney? Or was he drugged? What would Carson find? What would Lorne? This is a creepy insight. Yes, Rodney humanizes John. He makes him react, instead of allowing him to stand aloof.
She sighed, and hoped for the best.
Nearly three hours later, she still didn't have an answer. Carson's people were running tests on the team's blood and urine, and even sequencing their DNA. He spoke quietly to her in his cramped office. "I can't say for sure," he told her, scrubbing his hands with an alcohol wipe, "but I think it's them. They just don't remember Rodney." The story doesn't quite voice the concern that they might not be the real team until this point, where it verifies that they are. It isn't something that Elizabeth had seriously considered, but the implication is that it was something that everyone else thought might be possible.
"How is that possible?"
"Well, there are a lot of different kinds of amnesia. I can't find any trace of a head injury to any of them, and it seems unlikely that an illness could strike all three of them so quickly and all at once. But this is the Pegasus Galaxy, and we have seen some strange things." He threw the wipe away. "We should --"
"Offworld activation," the gate technician announced. Elizabeth and Carson looked at each other before hurrying to the gateroom. "Major Lorne's IDC."
"Lower the shield," Elizabeth gasped as they reached the bank of consoles. When the vortex subsided, Lorne and three others appeared from the fluctuating puddle.
"No Rodney," Carson murmured.
"What did you learn, Major," Elizabeth called down to them.
"About what?" Lorne said, looking up at her. Oh dear.
"Rodney. Doctor McKay. Did you see him? Hear of him?"
Lorne looked at his teammates. "I'm sorry, ma'am. Who?"
"Oh, crap," Carson said, and Elizabeth agreed. I like that Carson is the one to crack here.
"Send a MALP through," she told the technicians who'd gathered, staring in bewilderment at her. "No one else goes to P2X-355. Maybe it's something in the atmosphere, or maybe there are inhabitants. Major," she said to Lorne as he approached her. "Did you meet anyone on the planet?"
"Yes, ma'am. There's a small village not far from the gate. We talked to the indigs, but they're pretty badly off. I don't think there's anything to trade for there." So they thought they were on a trading mission, coming back blandly empty-handed. The same way Sheppard's team did.
"Me, too," Elizabeth said, slipping behind Laura. Her head ached, and her stomach twisted uncomfortably. She could hardly catch her breath. "Okay, we'll send the MALP through. We'll talk through it to the villagers. If we have to, we'll send a team through in full hazmat gear." She took a shaky breath. "Carson?" Outlining Elizabeth's reaction underlines the fact that this is where it's getting creepy. Sheppard's team only forgot Rodney. Lorne's team forgot Rodney and the whole purpose of their mission to the planet (yes, it's sort of part-and-parcel, but only sort of, I think.)
"We need to take air samples. No one should go through until we've tested it."
"Doctor Weir," Lorne started, but Elizabeth held up her hand. "I don't want to hear it, Major. We sent you there to retrieve our Chief Science Officer, Doctor Rodney McKay. And now you've never heard of him."
"Yes, ma'am," he said faintly, frowning. "I don't think I do know him. Is he new? Did he come on the Daedalus?" I like Lorne's non-confrontational bafflement, here. There's no tension in it. He's very different from Sheppard, who bristles and throws up walls any time his actions are called into question.
"Come on, Major," Laura said, gesturing with her weapon.
Elizabeth pressed her back against the wall to let them by. "What are we going to do, Carson?"
"I'm going to run more tests. Maybe Biro has some ideas. My Laura's a bright girl. She'll figure something out." Aw. 'My Laura'. I also like the way Carson doesn't defensively say that he'll figure it out - he sees the expedition as a team.
Elizabeth nodded, and watched him hurry away. She tapped her earpiece. "Doctor Zelenka? Please come to my office right away. There's -- there's a problem."
"I am coming," his voice said, and she felt unreasonably comforted. Radek was solid, and smart, and kind. He'd help her figure something out. I am fond of her sidebar assessment of Radek. I like the way she assesses everyone in this, really - how she relies on them all, and is off-balance as each of them is tugged away from the problem by their odd amnesia.
Rodney said, "Oh for -- no, that wrench, you moron. I can't believe I'm fixing plumbing for you. I suppose the fact that it's Ancient plumbing should mean something, but really. For this I got a doctorate in physics?" And Mira lets Rodney do the exposition. He's good at it, after all.
"We apologize, Doctor McKay," Sh said. He thought it was Sh, at least; it could have been Th, or maybe Ph. "Were we capable of repairing these equipment, we would." The names are alien, obviously so, but McKay's reaction to them is the same as to any name - he has better things to do than keep people's names straight, though he puzzles a bit, just as mildly annoyed by his own confusion as he was early in S1, when he couldn't get Zelenka's name right. It's endearing.
Rodney liked their fractured way of speaking; it reminded him of Siberia, and that reminded him that he was no longer in Siberia, and that made him happy, so he grunted and went back to work. Hee. Very matter-of-fact. And there's no audience, so no point to freaking out over anything in the situation. "There," he said, heaving a sigh and wiping his face on his tee-shirt. "That is it. Time to go home." Also, I do think Rodney, as hungry as he is for recognition, is happy with gratitude and the satisfaction of a job well done. In the short-term, at least.
"Oh, Doctor McKay, we wish you to remain with us!" Sh said, and the others nodded frantically.
Rodney smiled. They did seem to like him, and they fed him well, and admired his work, but he missed Zelenka and Sheppard and Elizabeth and Carson and Teyla and even Ronon, and he really missed jello and fried chicken and the special sauce from M3X-963 for ribs. The Pegasus galaxy offers improvements on some things, I suppose. "Thank you," he said, knowing he was beaming at them in pride and delight at being recognized for the genius he was. "It's been swell, and I'll be back, but right now? I just want to go home." So before, I took Rodney's lack of freak-out for granted. But now I think it becomes clear that there's a real possibility that his behavior or perceptions have been altered as well.
"Please," they cried, but he ignored them. They were a smallish people, and virtually identical with their pale faces and bald heads bobbing. When he'd packed up his laptop and velcroed it to his backpack, he began working his way through them. They clutched his sleeves and sighed and moaned, and behind him, a wailing rose. "You must stay, you must," Sh cried. "You cannot go back, you cannot leave us!" It isn't clear if they are outwardly human or not.
Really eerie, he thought, trying not to grimace at the noise. "Thank you, excuse me, sorry, yes, thanks," he said, pushing through them. None came higher than his shoulder, and they all had bare feet; his trainer-clad feet were so much larger than theirs that he was afraid he'd tread on someone.
He took nearly forty minutes to reach the stargate, and his head throbbed when he reached the DHD. The entire city had turned out to see him off, many sobbing and all hindering his progress. "I'm sorry," he repeated, "but really, you don't need me. You've managed this long, and so much is repaired. You'll be fine. Just keep hiding from the Wraith." Their wailing increased in volume until he wanted to put his hands over his ears. He pressed the address of Atlantis and then entered his IDC. "Come on, come on," he muttered. The stargate boiled open and he walked through, not turning to watch the people he was leaving behind. They are physically unable to stop him, which makes me think that whatever happened initially was pretty stealthy.
"Jesus, it's good to be home," he said, and stopped. Everyone in the gateroom stared at him, and he stared up the muzzle of the marine's weapons. "Uh, is there a problem? Why didn't you contact me?" So Rodney also has the idea that all was well with being alone on the planet, repairing their plumbing.
"Who are you and why are you using Colonel Sheppard's team's IDC?" Elizabeth demanded in a cold voice. It's a shock, after being in her POV for the first half, to see that she's fallen as well.
"Who? Oh, ha ha, is it Halloween? April Fools? I forget these holidays." I think it says a lot about the trust that members of the expedition hold each other in that the first reaction in both halves of this story to the hostility is that it's a joke. A subtle shift of the guards around him made him take a step backwards. Except Rodney has no trust for random military personnel, not if they don't include familiar faces. "Ah, Elizabeth, it's me, Rodney. Remember? I save your as-- I save your life on a regular basis?" Oh, Rodney. I wish he didn't define himself by his value to the expedition. But it's completely in character.
She shook her head. Sheppard trotted into the gateroom, slowed, and studied Rodney. "Thank god," Rodney said. "Look, Colonel, what's going on?"
"You know me?" Sheppard asked.
"Uh, that would be yes," Rodney said, trying not to snap. "This isn't funny, Sheppard. Elizabeth, it's not like you to joke about shit like this. Everybody, just put down the guns and let me go to my quarters." And desperately retreating back into the idea that it's all a joke.
"You think you have quarters here? How did you get our gate address? Do you work for the Genii?" Oh, John. You and your suspicion of outsiders.
"No! Fuck, this isn't funny! Look, look," he spread his arms, "for God's sake, it's me. Rodney McKay, doctor of astrophysics, premier expert in wormhole physics, and, by the way, a close friend of yours." Poor Rodney.
Sheppard glanced up at Elizabeth, who shook her head. Rodney saw she'd been joined by Teyla and Lorne, and behind Sheppard he saw Ronon walking toward them. And it's all suddenly so menacing, in a way that it wasn't when only nameless marines were arrayed against him.
"Look, check the database," Rodney said, increasingly frightened. "I'm in it, I was part of the first expedition, I came through the gate with you, I knew Ford, I, I . . ." The frantic fragments of Rodney's dialog work really well here.
"We'll check the database, all right," Sheppard said. "But first? You're going to visit a nice little holding cell." Okay. Sheppard scares me sometimes. Rodney is in a really bad position here, by default an enemy.
"Holding cell," Rodney murmured. "Holding cell." He turned to look at the empty gate behind him. "Those little freaks," he said. And Rodney figures it all out. For all the good it will do him.
Word Count: 4,037
"This is a first," Rodney said, looking around the conference table. Since the three stories are grouped together, starting this one with Rodney in place is almost jarring - but in a good way. It gives you a screenwipe/reset.
John nodded. Everyone was present and seated, even Rodney and Radek, who were notoriously late to staff meetings, except Elizabeth, who was never late to staff meetings. There was an awkward silence, and then half of them tapped their earpieces simultaneously. John cleared his throat and glared, then said, "Elizabeth? Isn't today Tuesday?" I like the idea of John glaring to establish his right to be the guy who actually uses the radio. And I also like the idea that the people in the meeting are all pushy and self-motivated enough to have simultaneously started to contact her without waiting for discussion or permission.
No answer. He stood up, the sound of scraping chair legs echoing in the conference room. "Carson, Lorne, come with me. We'll be right back." He's covering the right bases in the people he chooses for backup. It could be a medical issue or a security issue, but in any case, Elizabeth, as the person in command, deserves the dignity of having her privacy breached by a limited number of people, and only people of the highest possible rank.
He led the way through the Operations Center and down the corridor to Elizabeth's quarters. The doors slid open obediently for him. "Elizabeth?" he called, hesitating. That her quarters are so close to operations makes sense, and is awful in a very absolute ruler/weighty responsibility sort of way. God, she must be tired. All the time.
Behind him, Carson said, "Elizabeth, this is Carson. I'm coming in, dear." I kind of hate the way Carson uses endearments. Yes, it's in character, and yes, it's an attempt at bedside manner, all that 'lad' and 'love' and 'dear'. It makes me nuts - but I suspect it is my issue, as I don't even like it when doctors call me by my first name without asking first. He pushed past John, who looked at Lorne's worried face. Behind Lorne was Radek, which didn't surprise John; what did surprise him was that none of the others had followed as well. Huh. Yeah, maybe. I think Radek is a good call to follow, in case there's an engineering issue. And I think you wouldn't want a crowd parading down to see if Elizabeth overslept or whatever. I like to think Rodney made everyone else stay in the conference room, but rolled his eyes at Radek, who was fidgeting with worry, then said, "Oh, fine. Go see if the door jammed or whatever." And then Radek runs all the way to Weir's quarters. But, you know, with subtlety. Because he is carrying a very secret torch.
Carson made a soft sound and knelt suddenly; John hurried to his side. On the far side of the couch Elizabeth had arranged as a divider between her living and sleeping areas, she lay sprawled awkwardly, unconscious. "She struck her head," Carson murmured, showing his bloody fingers to John.
"Medical team to Doctor Weir's quarters," John said into his mic. Lorne handed Carson a damp face cloth; pale pink, so presumably taken from Elizabeth's bathroom and not something he carried with him. This bit, with Lorne and the face cloth? Shows how freaked John is. His focus has narrowed to the blood on Carson's fingertips, to Elizabeth on the floor - he doesn't even register Lorne (and presumably Zelenka) in the room.
When Elizabeth was settled in the infirmary and Beckett and Biro running tests on her, John re-convened the staff meeting. "Technically, I believe I'm in command," Rodney said, but John just said, "Yeah, probably, but right now let's get through this agenda as quickly as we can," which they did. Yes, of course Rodney would pipe up with that. But even for him, it's just noise, an expected gripe keeping things on an even keel.
Sighing with relief as Radek finished describing the problems his engineers had run into with the desalinization plant, John shuffled the papers in front of him to catch everyone's attention. "Okay," he said. "Rodney's right; he's the highest ranking civilian in Atlantis, which means in Elizabeth's absence, he's in charge. However, precedent has been set that Teyla assumes that responsibility, and since Rodney is, as he likes to remind us, indispensable in the labs, I'm going to ask Teyla to take over again. Would you? Mind?" Yeah. As much as, according to protocol, Rodney is in charge, Teyla is a better choice.
"Of course not. I will do whatever I can to help while Elizabeth recovers."
"Thank you, Teyla. Rodney, you okay with this?"
Rodney waved his hand magnanimously. "Yes, yes, especially with Radek so busy right now. But Teyla, I want you to know that I'm there for you, any time, day or night." Oh, Rodney. Reminding everyone of how important and indispensable you are. And insecure.
John managed not to roll his eyes, but he was impressed with Teyla's grace. "Thank you, Rodney. I will not hesitate to contact you if required." Sometimes I think Teyla should be in charge all of the time. She's a better diplomat than all the rest of them put together.
"Okay," John said again. "This isn't a military situation -- as far as we know. Carson thinks Elizabeth fell, but he doesn't know whether she just slipped or if, if something happened." Stroke, Carson had said quietly to John. Ischemic or hemorrhagic. That's why the medical team was looking inside Elizabeth's head with every tool at their disposal. John saw no need to mention the possibility aloud; this group was sophisticated enough to know the possibilities without being told. This is a good note - it's exposition for the reader, but also a reminder of the capabilities of the members of the expedition. Rodney, despite his bluster, was wide eyed and biting his lower lip, and John remembered that he'd known Elizabeth a long time. Radek had stumbled through his presentation, and Lorne looked a bit green. Teyla was her usual imperturbable self, though John thought her mouth was tighter than usual. Ronon obviously wanted to run from the conference room. This is nice, a quick list of how everyone is a little off-balance, all in character.
Well, John felt a bit like running away, too, he admitted to himself. The SGC and IOA wouldn't officially permit an Athosian to head the expedition, and Rodney couldn't be spared permanently, nor would he be chosen -- he was indispensable in the labs, but he wasn't much loved on Earth. They'd send someone else or, worse, put Caldwell in charge. Yeah. This is something that they have only glancingly looked at on the show, but that I would like to see more of. The SGC/IOA believes they know what is right for the expedition, and the expedition believes they know what is best for their situation, and those two things are poles apart.
He sighed. "That's all, unless . . ." No one spoke. "Teyla, Rodney, Lorne, would you stay behind?" The others took that as the dismissal it was and left quietly, not talking among themselves as they usually did. "Lorne, I'm going to be spending a lot of my time with Carson and Elizabeth, so most of the burden will fall on you, at least for a few days."
"Not a problem, sir."
"I know, but thank you anyway. Rodney, I know you're good friends with Elizabeth --" I like that John doesn't take Lorne for granted, here. That's good leadership, I think.
"She and Simon used to have me over for the holidays," Rodney interrupted, sounding sad and unlike himself. "I'd like to stay with her, too, but Radek really is overworked right now."
"That's all right. But she'll want familiar faces around her when she wakes up."
Rodney actually reddened at John's words, and John thought again how desperate Rodney could be for approval and acceptance. He ran his fingers through his hair, and then turned to Teyla. Oh man, yes. This whole exchange is so Rodney. Setting his value as equal to the work he can produce, discounting his social value, and getting flustered at anyone pointing out the possibility that he could have a social value. And John's sympathetic, but he's hardly a social genius either. I like the way he is rumpling his hair as a transition. It's like he's covering his head, ducking out of the whole uncomfortable exchange.
"It is all right, John," she said calmly. "The staff know me and are accustomed to working with me. But we need to make an announcement, and I believe you should. You are not only the ranking military person, but Elizabeth's friend." Teyla = clear thinker extraordinaire.
He nodded. "I will, right away. Just -- thanks. There's no one else, Teyla." Rodney didn't dispute his statement. Rodney's still thrown, I think. "All right. Let's hear what Beckett has to say, and then get back to work."
"Well, there's good news and bad," Carson told them, crammed into his tiny office. Ronon was already there when John arrived with the others. I like that Ronon was hovering in the infirmary already. He hasn't got a place in the chain of command, and he is desperately attached to the people who have given him a place to belong, even if he does tend to keep himself a little aloof, standing at the edges. "The good news is there's no sign of a stroke. No embolism, no hemorrhaging, nothing at all. My best guess at the moment is that she slipped and fell, striking her head against the little table next to her sofa. We bandaged her head, and had to shave a bit of her hair, so she'll be cross as two sticks at us, no doubt."
"Bad news, bad news," Rodney said, and John saw him suppress a finger snap. Rodney reining in his physical expression here is very effective.
"Yes, I'm coming to that, Rodney. The bad news is she still hasn't woken up, and the longer she's unconscious . . ." He sighed and scratched his stubbly jaw. Carson is overworked and tense even before this - it's too early for this to be a newly skipped shave.
"Is she in a coma?" Rodney asked anxiously.
"Well, technically a coma is just a state of profound unconsciousness, so, yes, but Rodney, no, you mustn't --" Carson took Rodney's arm and tugged him gently. John put his hand on Rodney's shoulder. "It's all right, man. You know I wouldn't lie to you." Rodney's suspicion of medicine means he throws medical terms around in a panic just like those of us who aren't geniuses. Things he doesn't understand frighten him, so even though Carson defining 'coma' is a little pedantic and could be snarky, it's what Rodney needs to hear. Carson and John both touch Rodney, grounding him - it tells you how close he is to full-blown panic without actually ever saying it.
Rodney nodded, silent for once.
"Go on," John said.
"There's no sign, and I repeat, no sign of any brain damage. We are monitoring Elizabeth, keeping her hydrated and comfortable. There's absolutely no reason to believe she won't wake up. Maybe in a few minutes, maybe in a few hours. But from the state of the wound, we know she was there for some time, maybe hours.
"Now. It is well-known that many people in an unconscious state are still aware of their surroundings. So I ask you visit with her, hold her hand, chat with her. If you have to cry, please let someone else take your place. And I'd like there to be shifts, so someone is with her at all times." This is good. Non-judgmental and informative, giving people something to do so they don't have to feel helpless. This is how I would like to see Carson.
"I'll work up a spreadsheet, put it on the server, so people can sign up. I know that one gate technician has a crush on her," Rodney said, looking more cheerful. "He'll sign up." Chuck? Does Chuck have a crush? Okay, sorry. I have a crush on Chuck. I also have a crush on spreadsheets in fic.
"Probably everyone will, and that's a good idea, Rodney. I'll include it in my announcement." John looked around, studying their faces. Before he could say anything more, Lorne said, "I'll take the first shift, Colonel, if that's all right."
"Uh, yeah," he started, and Lorne squeezed past Rodney, Carson following him. Lorne volunteering first takes John totally by surprise. I think everyone who potentially has a crush on Elizabeth actually has a crush in this story, which is great. It makes them all so sweet. Ronon had already slipped away. John wondered if he needed to worry about him, too.
Rodney looked after them, and said, "I'll get that spreadsheet up," and then only John and Teyla remained.
She rested her hand on his. "Elizabeth will be fine," she promised, her eyes large and sincere, as if she somehow knew. Well, she knows what John needs to hear.
"Let's go write that announcement," he said. "I'll send it out on email as well." I like that he opts for her help in writing the announcement. He is acknowledging that she has a skill-set that he doesn't, and also showing his trust and reliance on her.
John signed up for the midnight to oh-two-hundred shift with Elizabeth, replacing Radek, whose eyes were red. Poor Radek. "Get some sleep," John told him firmly. "We don't need you here in the infirmary, too."
Radek nodded sadly and left. John settled next to Elizabeth's bed. He opened War and Peace and began on the first page. "Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes." Very in character. I mean, what would John say otherwise? Something about his feelings? About friendship? We all know he can't do that.
Carson was right: Elizabeth didn't remain unconscious, but she was down a lot longer than John was comfortable with. Though everyone in Atlantis wanted to sit with her, so many that Rodney changed the length of the shifts from two hours to thirty minutes, John spent a lot more time than his fair share with her. He made sure her companions remained cheerful and upbeat, and escorted Miko out of the infirmary and to Rodney to comfort when her voice began quavering as she stroked Elizabeth's hand. Rodney glared at him, but he hugged Miko and led her into a crowd of scientists, all murmuring encouraging words. Oh, Miko. Oh, Rodney, for bristling defensively on Miko's behalf. Oh, John, for hovering over Elizabeth even when it isn't your shift.
John was meeting with Lorne when Elizabeth finally woke. Carson called them to the infirmary over a private channel, and the tone in his voice frightened John so much that he and Lorne jogged there, nearly crashing into Carson who was pacing at the doorway. "Teyla's with her, and Laura. Give them a minute."
"Why? What's wrong? Carson?" John asked, and steered him into his office, Lorne at their heels.
"I'm not sure, but she doesn't remember us, she doesn't remember anything," Carson said, wringing his hands, his accent so thick John had trouble following him. The way Carson's distress is manifest is just right. Over empathetic and transparent.
Lorne said, "What does she remember?"
"School. Her family. She wants her mother. Oh," and Carson took a deep breath, calming himself. "It's a form of amnesia, and like the coma, it should pass quickly. But it's very distressing to see Doctor Weir in this state." And Carson gets a grip. He can be capable. Of course.
Lorne and John looked at each other, and John leaned against the door behind him. Nothing to do but wait for Teyla to fetch them. Deferring to Teyla's judgment again.
Several long tedious minutes passed while Carson fidgeted, finally sitting at his desk and typing into his laptop. Lorne paced. John tried to be still, breathing slowly. Cadman pushed through the privacy curtain around Elizabeth's bed. She hesitated when she saw her superior officers, but went into Carson's office and shut the door behind her. Another moment passed before they emerged. Cadman's straddling the personal and the professional here in a way that has to be pretty uncomfortable for her.
"Lieutenant?" John said.
"She's awake, and she's calmed down. She keeps asking for her parents, though."
"I'm not sure I understand," Lorne said, and John was grateful because neither did he. Lorne is totally the go-to guy again here. He has to know that Sheppard isn't going to want to tip his hand to a subordinate, so he steps up.
"She seems to think, well, she told us this was 1977. She thinks she's eleven years old, and in the hospital in DC, having her tonsils out."
"Oh my god," Lorne murmured. Yeah. Eleven is just about the most awkward possible age she could think she is. Younger, and she wouldn't question what was up; older, and she might have a chance of understanding.
Carson tapped his earpiece. "Kate, please come to the infirmary right away. It's urgent, so -- Yes, that's lovely. Thank you."
"She thinks she's eleven," John repeated. "Carson? How often does this happen?"
"Well, it's my first experience, but I have read about such things. My best guess it will pass in a few hours, but I'll feel better if you ask Kate that, since there's no physical reason for this." Nice deferral and acknowledgement of professional limitations. It's something that is occasionally lacking in the show.
Teyla called, "John? Will you come here?"
Lorne started to follow but stopped, watching John sadly. "Next," John murmured to him, and slipped behind the curtain. Lorne has the sadness of unrequited love. Erm. Unrequited crush?
Elizabeth actually looked younger to John. Her eyes were wide, and it was obvious she'd been crying. She clung to Teyla's hand. "Don't go," she whispered, and her voice was higher and softer than John was accustomed to hearing from her.
"Of course not," Teyla said, stroking Elizabeth's hair. "This is John. He is a friend, a good friend. He will help take care of you."
"I want my own dad," Elizabeth said, ducking her head. I like her categorization of John as somebody's dad, based on his age.
"I am sorry, but as I told her, he cannot come right now. Right now, we will care for you. I promise you are safe here." Teyla is absolutely the right person to communicate comfort in this situation.
Elizabeth nodded, and sniffled. John realized he didn't know the first thing about little girls. In all honesty, he didn't know much about grown women, but even less about girls. Awesome. Go John's self-awareness! He gave her his best grin, the one he saved for anxious natives. "Hi," he said, and held out his hand. "I'm John."
She studied him through the hair hanging across her eyes. "Hi," she said softly. Teyla nudged her, and she shook John's hand. Teyla's prompt for Elizabeth to be polite is a sort of reassurance, too - a boundary, of the sort that kids expect from their elders to keep them safe.
"Oh my god, I just heard," Rodney said, flinging back the curtain. "What the hell have you done, Carson? You really do have a mail-order medical degree, don't you." Rodney McKay, force of nature.
"Hey," Cadman said, outraged. Cadman, Carson's knight in shining armor.
John turned to push Rodney back, but he was bending over Elizabeth, not touching her but looking straight into her eyes. "Mary Elizabeth, it's good to see you again." Formal, but just the way you would talk to an eleven year old in a hospital bed. Nicely done.
"Hi," Elizabeth said. "I'm sorry. I don't remember you." She stared at Rodney, her eyes even wider. "Do you know my dad?" Rodney's behavior pushes Elizabeth into company manners as well. Gives her a structure for her behavior that she understands.
"I do. I've had dinner with him at your house. I know your mum, and I know your sisters. I know all the Marys." It's like a password, his knowledge of her family.
Elizabeth beamed at him. "You look like daddy," she announced. "Kind of."
"Yeah, you've told me that before," Rodney said ruefully. "It's the hair," he said in an aside to John, who knew he was staring open mouthed at Rodney. "What? I told you, she and Simon used to have me to their home for holiday dinners. I met everybody, including Mary Elizabeth's parents and sisters and their husbands and about fifty rugrats." And Rodney slips into place as a surrogate parent, without losing characterization.
"Mary Elizabeth?" John said faintly.
"Yeah, they're all Mary Something. Uh, Mary Angela's the oldest, right?" Elizabeth nodded, smiling up at Rodney. She let go of Teyla and took his hand. "Then Mary Bridget, Mary Claire, and then you, Mary Elizabeth?"
"What happened to Mary D?" John asked him.
Rodney frowned at him, leaned over and whispered, "She died in infancy. I always think of her as Mary Death."
"Rodney," John said, but Elizabeth tugged at his hand. Oh, come on, John. You should have known not to ask if you didn't want the answer.
"I had my tonsils out," she said proudly.
"I know, and now you get -- ice cream! But you have to share with me," he added. John watched as Rodney extracted a small cardboard container of ice cream wrapped in saran, and a wooden spoon. "It's just vanilla," he apologized. "Not much of a selection." Rodney McKay is a genius. Yes, he's not great socially, and he doubts himself. But this is a situation he can parse out as a problem, even though it is all interpersonal, and solve. He totally nails it, and I find that believable.
"Rodney, could I speak with you in private?" John asked, and pulled him away, Rodney looking longingly at the ice cream. "What the hell?" John hates feeling out of the loop, I think.
"I told you I knew Elizabeth. Her family calls her Mary Elizabeth, and they're all Mary. If they'd had any boys, they'd probably be named Mary, too. Carson, how long's this gonna last?" John asks for an explanation and gets white noise. I don't know what he expected to get, though.
"Ah, well, I don't know, Rodney. Probably not long. Will you stay with her, keep her calm? That will help, I think. Oh, Kate, thank God."
"I'm sorry, Carson; it took a bit longer to get away. Everyone is saying that Elizabeth has woken up?"
John sighed, and went back to Elizabeth, leaving Carson explaining things to Kate and Rodney. Elizabeth looked happy now, eating her ice cream, sucking on the wooden spoon with the same enthusiasm he'd seen Rodney apply. "Mary Death," he murmured, shaking his head. Teyla smiled up at him. "Who knew Rodney was an angel of compassion?" he asked her, but she only raised an eyebrow. Teyla expects more of everyone than they show on the surface; John expects less. Rodney is mostly surface, so actually John expects a lot, but he didn't expect this.
"We'll keep her in the infirmary for another day. If she hasn't recovered her memories by then, I think she should move in with one of the women," Carson said behind him.
"I'll re-schedule so I can spend an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening with her," Kate said. "And obviously Rodney should spend a good deal of time with her." They all looked at Rodney.
"Well, of course I will. It'll only be a few hours, right Carson? Or a day at most?" Rodney is doom and gloom if it's his own diagnosis, but hopeful on the behalf of others. I think because he relies so much on the people around him, even though he would never put it in words.
Carson spread his hands, but Kate answered. "We hope so, but there's no way to know. These things take their own time."
"Well, that's all very good, but I have work, and I remind you that Elizabeth has work, but not Mary Elizabeth. What's going to happen when we get a call from the SGC? Or when the Daedalus returns? They're going to want to ship her back to Earth. I don't think any of us want that, and I know that Elizabeth wouldn't want that." Yes. Closing ranks against the threat of the SGC/IOA.
John nodded. Rodney was right. This had to end soon or they'd lose her, and that he couldn't face. "All right. I'll send out another email and make another announcement. I won't say much, just that she's awake and recovering, and that Teyla remains in charge. No one needs to know about the amnesia."
"Kate says everybody already knows," Rodney pointed out.
"Unfounded rumors," John said firmly. Rodney shrugged.
Rodney was right, of course; everyone already knew. People always knew, even when they didn't know, and if what they knew wasn't true, it didn't much matter. That was the nature of enclosed environments, and John had learned that decades ago. For the first few days, he stonewalled anyone daring enough to ask him outright, but then Carson called another meeting. Again, they left Elizabeth's chair vacant. John sat on one side of it and Rodney on the other. It's a small community. I almost think they'd be better off quietly admitting it, letting everyone feel like they had a part of keeping the secret. Of course, it only takes one well-meaning person who thinks she would be better off treated on Earth.
"She hasn't changed," Rodney said bluntly to Kate as soon as she was seated. "Why not?"
"I don't know," Kate said calmly. "There is no time schedule for this sort of thing --"
"So you've said. I'm spending most of my time with her, more than you are, pretending to be a friend of her father's. Well, not pretending; I like her dad just fine, but she's not Mary Elizabeth anymore, and she hasn't been in a long time."
"I know, Rodney, and you're wonderful with her. Frankly, I'm surprised how secure she feels with you. Your feelings about children are well known." Rodney sees Kate as in charge of the situation, and therefore responsible for it having gone on for so long.
"Elizabeth is not a child!" he snapped, and looked around the table. "She isn't, and we shouldn't be treating her like one. She's a brave woman, but she's afraid, we're all afraid. We need to tell her."
"I don't think that would be wise," Kate started.
"Frankly, I don't care what you think," Rodney said. Right. From his perspective, Kate has had her chance to fix things, and has failed. Her expertise has proven invalid.
"Rodney, that's enough," John and Carson said at the same time.
Carson continued. "Her health is good. Her blood pressure, her EKG, even her EEG, matches all tests prior to her accident. The only reason I can see for her not, not knowing who she is is psychological."
Rodney snorted and crossed his arms. Ronon looked angry. Radek polished his glasses.
"I think Rodney's given us the reason," Kate said to him. "She's afraid. We're all afraid. I believe she is suffering from hysterical post-traumatic amnesia at this point, a defense mechanism. And I believe she will recover only when she feels safe again."
"You're going to send her to Earth," John said, and crossed his arms, realizing he was mirroring Rodney's posture. John, Radek, Ronon, Rodney - they all see this as a break in the ranks, as a betrayal.
"John, lad, I know you don't want this, but she'll get the best care in two galaxies back in the SGC's hospitals. She'll have her family and friends around her."
"Her family and friends are here," Rodney said, and John nodded.
Ronon said, "She belongs with us." Everyone stared at him. "She does." That Ronon doesn't say anything else gives his opinion even more weight.
"I'm sorry," Carson said. "I really am. But as Chief Medical Officer of this expedition, I am, after consulting with Doctor Heightmeyer, arranging for the return of Elizabeth to Earth."
"Shit," Rodney muttered. Okay, Rodney is angry and disagrees, but I like that he doesn't challenge Carson's authority.
"Please, Carson, Kate," John said. He swallowed, trying to gather his thoughts. "Think what that will mean to the expedition. To the future of Atlantis. You must know there's a good chance that Caldwell will replace Elizabeth and this will become a military operation. I know neither of you wants that. John isn't challenging their authority either, though he is arguing his position.
"I'm military, and Lorne's military, but we know Atlantis is . . . different. We're different. Ronon and Teyla -- what will happen to them? You know they won't let Teyla continue, not matter how good a job she's done. And."
He stopped abruptly. No use sharing his fear that the SGC would send him back to Earth, too, without Elizabeth's pressure to keep him here. Lorne would stay, but John? He stared at the table top under his hands and saw his sweaty fingerprints. Elizabeth, here, is the lynchpin of the whole structure of the expedition. The changes might not be bad if she was gone, but there is a pretty high risk that they would be.
After an uncomfortable pause, Kate said, "John, I understand and share your fears. But my first concern, and I'm sure your first concern, is for Elizabeth's well-being. And for that, we must turn to Earth."
John looked at Carson. "I'm sorry. I don't want to do this. Elizabeth is my friend, too."
Everyone burst out talking at once, arguing with them, John was relieved to hear. Rodney was loudest, but Lorne spoke earnestly and at length. "We all know each other's secrets," he said, not meeting John's eyes. "We know that she has no, uh, no significant other on Earth. She isn't close to her sisters; Rodney can tell you that. Ronon's right. Doctor Weir belongs here, with us." The 'not meeting John's eyes' is very telling and very vague at the same time. It's like bring your own secret for the reader. Perfect.
Radek said, "She has been comfortable here, yes? Even in this state? There is no reason to upset her. Think what the journey to Earth would be like for her." I like the way that the arguments are human, not based in expertise or position.
Even Teyla contributed. "We are her closest friends, and we understand what has happened to her. If she needs to feel safe, let me take her to the encampment. You know Halling loves her, as do many of my people."
"She'd be safer in Atlantis," Radek pointed out.
"Doctor Heightmeyer said she needs to feel safer. On the mainland, she will be away from the tensions of every gate mission. Doctor Zelenka, you will notify us if your long-range sensors find any dangers," Radek nodded vigorously at this, "and as always, we will evacuate to Atlantis." I also like the way that they're all willing to hear each other out, reach a consensus.
"I'll spend time there, too," Rodney said. "It's only twenty minutes by jumper. I need flying time anyway, according to the colonel. Major Lorne can take Zelenka, Beckett can take Cadman, and John can take whats-his-face in the gateroom. Hee! The other pilots can rotate. We'll have someone on the mainland every day for her. Kate, you can go. We'll just make it part of our schedules."
John tried to hide his grateful smile, but Rodney caught his eye and held it. Carson said, "I'm uncomfortable with this, but I do understand. If Kate has no objection, we'll try it for a limited time. But limited. She must get better soon, or I won't hesitate to contact the SGC myself." Carson and Kate allow themselves to be talked around. Because they are part of the whole.
"Thank you, Carson," John said. "Thank you, everyone."
"I'll get back to Elizabeth," Rodney said, standing. "No telling what that demon Cadman has been telling her."
"Rodney, I've asked you not to refer to Laura as that demon," Carson said, but Rodney was already out the door and down the corridor. Carson sighed. "That man will be the death of me, I just know it." Bluster to return the conversation to normalcy.
John ignored him. He felt like Rodney, anxious to return to Elizabeth's side, but he saw that Lorne was, too. "Go," he told his 2IC, and Lorne went. "I'll make up a flight schedule," he said to the others.
He wondered how long this would last. How long would Carson and Kate permit Elizabeth to live in peace and quiet, surrounded by people who loved her? If he were Elizabeth, he might not be anxious to remember, either.
Except he would, he knew. He stopped outside the conference room, resting against the railing, and looked down at the gate. Fewer than three years ago, he had no idea such a thing existed, or could exist, and now here he was, the military commander of a civilian expedition in another galaxy. He loved this place, and he knew Elizabeth did, too. She was just on a kind of vacation, he thought. A little respite from so many bad things. But she'd come back to them. She'd come home to them. She just needed a little break. He doesn't begrudge her this at all. But he will if she stays gone. Someone, somewhere, once said in a piece of meta that John would cheerfully set himself on fire to keep the city safe, and that he's sincerely baffled and not a little offended when everyone else doesn't do the same (I'm paraphrasing, of course). And I think that makes sense. And I think we see it here.
He patted the railings and strode toward the gate technician with the crush on Elizabeth. He'd take him to the mainland, later this week. Elizabeth would like that.
Word Count: 217
Ronon helped her up, steadying her, and then stepped back to stand with Teyla. Elizabeth looked around the mess hall at all the familiar faces. Fewer than three hundred people remained; her intro to anthropology class had had more students than there were current inhabitants of Atlantis. The way this scene starts it takes a moment to figure out that they aren't in the middle of some crisis, but rather in an assembly in the mess. I like that, the vertigo of time/place/situation. And, just like the beginning of the last story, this one starts with the person who was in crisis at the end of the previous tale, giving the reader a quick, startling screenwipe.
Over their years here in Atlantis, some odd relationships had formed. Not far from the table Elizabeth stood on, Carson had one arm around Laura's waist, and behind them, Lorne stood next to Radek. Others were in groups of three and, in one case she knew of, four. I like the way that people have broken into families made up of teams, colleagues, brothers at arms. Siege-intimacy, everyone gathering the support that they require, giving what they can, caring for each other.
To her left, arms identically folded across their chests, Rodney and John looked up at her. She nodded at them, and they smiled tightly, giving her courage.
She took a deep breath. "Well, it's done," she announced, and the room fell instantly silent. "We have refused to answer attempts to communicate from the SGC and now from the Daedalus. Radek tells me they are overhead, but Rodney's cloak holds, and we are invisible. Yow.
"This decision is irrevocable. We will not permit Earth to import their wars to Atlantis, to taint this galaxy with the Milky Way's woes. We are, once again, on are own. Double yow.
"We are better off alone," she said, studying each face, looking for fear or indecision. "Better off forgotten." I have a soft-spot for lost colony stories approximately a mile wide. I love the inferences here, building on the idea already presented that Earth doesn't know what's best for the expedition, that the expedition, a group of extraordinary people, has grown beyond what they were. That they've been forged into something new. A society that needs to strike out on its own.
(if you got through this, and wish to comment on my commentary, please feel free to do so here.)