By now, everyone in the infirmary knows I've tendered my resignation. I'll miss the adventure and excitement here, but I no longer think I can work with Carson Beckett. Oh, he's a good man in many ways. He's a caring physician, and I've seen him bring patients back from the brink of death. But today I saw a different side of him, and it scared the hell out of me.
I once told John Sheppard that after the Holocaust the only people my father felt bitterness towards were the ordinary German citizens. That's only partially true. I found out several years after he died that he had been one of the few to pass through Mengele's laboratories and survive. He therefore couldn't forgive the scholars, the learned men and women, either. Doctors, scientists, professionals who should have known better than to succumb to the seduction of Nazi propaganda. No doubt many felt that they were doing the best thing for their own people. And so they put the tools of medicine and science to work trying to find the easiest path to genocide, since the ends would invariably justify the means.
I have to wonder. Is that so different from what we're doing here? Are we trying to change Wraith back into humans, or are we trying to find the easiest way to destroy them? And for John, does the question even matter any more?
I first became uneasy when I overheard Carson in the infirmary talking to Weir and Sheppard about the young Wraith girl. As he discussed her physiology, his eyes lit up with the excitement of discovery. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it raised my hackles anyway. Maybe it was the way in which he referred to her, very clinically detached. By the time he offhandedly indicated his desire to work with a "cooperative test subject", my mental alarm bells were ringing furiously.
I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, though, so I approached him as he was preparing to go offworld. "Carson, do you have a minute?"
"Sure. What's on your mind, son?" When I hesitated, he looked concerned and waved me into his office. "Is everything all right, then?"
I wasn't quite sure how to say it, but I gave it a try. "I couldn't help but overhear you talking about a Wraith child. What's going on?"
Carson grinned, looking excited again. "It's really quite fascinatin', actually. We don't know all that much about the life cycle of the Wraith, but it seems like it may have two distinct phases: the child form, which can exist on actual food, and the adult form, which needs to feed on humans to survive. I won't know much more until I get there, but from what Colonel Sheppard tells me, this young Wraith has gone for several years without feeding on anyone! Apparently a serum her father developed is inhibiting that aspect of the metabolism..."
Carson would make a good medical school professor. He enjoys lecturing and teaching things to people, and can't help but transmit his own enthusiasm. However, it wasn't helpful at that moment. When he paused to take a breath, I jumped in. "You're taking the retrovirus with you? I thought it wasn't ready yet."
"Oh, it's not. But if it is the serum that's helping this Wraith to avoid feeding, it's possible that we could incorporate part of its chemical structure into the retrovirus's genetic code. Why do you ask? I didn't think you were interested in molecular genetics."
I forced a smile of my own. "I'm not. I think it's horribly boring stuff. I was just a little worried, that's all. You might be putting yourself in danger if you use an untested delivery system." Not exactly the truth, but it would do.
"Och, I appreciate your concern, Steve. No, like I said, the virus is far from ready for human trials. The most I'll be doing is conducting some tests with fresh blood and tissue samples. It's a pity, though, that we won't be able to bring her back with us." Before I could say anything regarding my concerns about ethical experimentation, Carson patted me on the back and walked towards the door.
To quote the wise Han Solo, I had a very bad feeling about this.
John, Carson, and the others were away on that planet for over 12 hours. Not a very long time, but long enough for me to do some hard thinking. I felt personally betrayed, and I wasn't quite sure why. Maybe it was because I thought that, as medics, we should be noncombatants in the war against the Wraith. Maybe it was also because Carson had listened so compassionately to the story of my family's experience in Nazi Germany, yet was trying to tinker with the very genes of the enemy. That hit just a little too close to home.
Whatever the reason, I was furious by the time I got paged to the gateroom to meet the incoming team. The rest of the staff gave me a wide berth as I gathered supplies and barked out orders. They were probably inwardly cursing the prima donna surgeon. Too bad for them.
As usual, the team looked harried when they came through the gate. Rodney appeared dazed, Ronon was helping Teyla walk, and John had blood streaming down one arm. Carson looked devastated, and I noticed he had returned with one fewer supply case than he left with. It seemed that things hadn't gone very well.
Then Carson shook himself and took control of the scene. He motioned to Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon to walk ahead of us to the infirmary and then tried to get a protesting John to lie down on one of the gurneys. Stubborn as always, John was not thrilled with the idea, and he complied with ill grace. Bitched the entire way to the infirmary, too. I listened to his complaining with half an ear as Carson filled me in on what had happened.
When we arrived, Carson starting working on John while I supervised the post-mission exams for Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla. Rodney's papercut was not life-threatening, so I shooed him out to get some rest. I told Teyla she needed to stay for at least a few hours of observation after her injury and snagged one of the other docs to deal with it. Ronon simply disappeared, probably to deplete more of our food supply.
That left John. I listened in the background while he and Carson discussed John's disappearing wound. While John was distracted, Carson snuck in a few blood samples and said they'd be ready later in the day. After trading barbs with the CMO, John decided to leave.
From the look Carson gave me, he knew I was upset. "All right, Steve. What's on your mind?"
I took deep breaths for a few seconds, not entirely trusting my voice. "What the hell happened down there?" I finally ground out. "You said the damn thing wasn't going to be used!"
"It shouldn't have been," Carson said quietly. "Ellia took matters into her own hands, and I think I can understand why she did it."
"Oh, so she has a name now."
"What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded.
"It means why did you even tell them about it to begin with?" I snapped. "You yourself said you didn't want to get anyone's hopes up. Did you secretly want to see what would happen in an intact subject?"
"What the devil's gotten into you, lad?" he breathed, dismayed.
"What's gotten into me? It might have something to do with seeing you play mad scientist so soon after seeing McKay play mad scientist! He probably has you beat since he destroyed a few planets, but if you keep tinkering with Wraith DNA something almost as bad is bound to occur. It may already have started! Wounds don't just heal themselves for no reason."
"Well, forgive me for tryin' to do some good! Both for the people of this galaxy who are getting culled and for those miserable Wraith sods themselves! And I did NOT secretly want the girl to play guinea pig. How can you even say that?" If anything, Carson now looked even worse than before. He was trembling slightly and his eyes were haunted. But it was like a dam had burst in me and all of the pain of watching my father was boiling out. For the rest of his life, he was terrified of doctors and refused to seek any medical care. It killed him in the end, when a colon cancer that could have been easily detected spread throughout his entire body.
"You were practically salivating at the chance to study a live Wraith who wasn't going to try to suck the life out you. Did you even bother to ask her if she was willing?" I asked grimly.
"Aye, of course I did! Both she and her father agreed. The poor girl hated what she was becoming. My God, you're making me sound like some kind of monster!"
"No, you're not a monster," I sighed. "But... damn it, Carson, this could blow up in our faces! Didn't you learn your lesson after Hoff?"
I knew as soon as I spoke that I had gone one step too far. Carson stopped shaking, and his face became eerily calm. I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but he's a very tactile person. He's always patting people on the back or slapping them on the shoulder. Well, this time I thought he was going to hit me.
"How dare you?" he almost whispered. "Don't think for one moment that I'm not going to have to live with Hoff for the rest of my life. That drug killed thousands. So, just maybe, I'd like to atone for my role in one of the biggest mass murders in history! This retrovirus, if we can get it to work, has the potential to end the culling of millions! Maybe that will allow me to finally get some peace."
I tried to interrupt, but he plowed right on, his voice starting to rise. "And if we're really lucky, we might be able to use a derivative of this to help Lieutenant Ford. Let's not forget that he practically shot his way out of my infirmary!" I didn't miss Carson's use of the word 'my' instead of 'our.' "He should have been restrained and sedated, but I got careless and now he's running around this galaxy with an addled brain doing God knows what! So what the bloody hell gives you the right to judge?"
I remembered from when he appointed me 2IC that Carson had a self-critical streak the size of the Mississippi. Our shouting match was undoubtedly feeding it, but for the moment I didn't really care. "I'll tell you what gives me the right. One day Josef Mengele decided that he wanted to observe every detail of what happened when the human body starved. So they stopped giving food to my father. To this day, I have no idea what made them stop the experiment in the middle, but he survived. Never trusted doctors again, but wanted his only son to become one." I shook my head and continued in a lower voice. "I never did figure that one out."
"I didn't know that," Carson said quietly.
"No, you didn't," I agreed in a conversational tone. "But it doesn't really matter. I am hereby tendering my resignation, effective immediately."
He looked stunned as I removed my lab coat and pitched it across the room into a laundry bag. "I'm not accepting your resignation," he said as I started to leave the infirmary. "You need to cool down a bit, son. You're not thinking straight." But I just ignored him and walked out.
Of course, it didn't end there. From the infirmary, I walked back to my quarters in a daze. I'm not usually that impetuous, and I was beginning to wonder if I had somehow overreacted. Then I remembered the scientific thrill in Carson's eyes juxtaposed with the fear in John Sheppard's, and felt confident that I'd made the right choice.
I looked around the large room that had become my home during the last year. I probably wouldn't take very much back to Earth with me. Other than religious items such as the mezzuzah on my doorpost, most of my stuff could be easily replaced. A lot of it wouldn't make it past the security screeners, anyway.
I knew that I should start packing, but didn't have the energy to do it and probably couldn't have concentrated. The chirp of the earpiece that I had forgotten to remove was therefore a welcome distraction. A voice on the other end informed all medical personnel that there would be a briefing in one hour to discuss the situation with Colonel Sheppard. We would find that pertinent data emailed to us, and we were requested to familiarize ourselves with it.
I was torn. Although I had resigned and wanted nothing more to do with the fiasco that was the retrovirus, I respected John a great deal. We didn't know each other well, but had occasionally crossed paths in the cafeteria when both of us were pulling late nights. And furthermore, he never forgot my name like Rodney did.
In the end, my sense of responsibility won out. As long as I was still in this city, I had a duty to my patients. So I sat down at the computer and pulled up the material. It was even worse than I had imagined. I had thought that the virus would simply kill John. Instead, it was transforming him.
If it were me, I wasn't sure which fate I would prefer.
Carson had learned of the changes John was undergoing when he saw the scaly patch on John's arm. But they had apparently started even earlier than that. First, John had outrun and outlasted Ronon Dex. (Rumor had it that Ronon was quite pissed about it, had doubled his training routines, and wanted a rematch.) John had also literally beat Teyla at stick fighting with one hand behind his back. Then he gave her an intense, passionate kiss.
To say that this was out of character for John was an understatement.
At the moment, John was stable after a dose of antiretrovirals. From the looks of it, Carson had tried one of the anti-AIDS regimens. I had to admit that it was a good idea. If the virus mutated, he could switch to another regimen. Maybe that would buy enough time to figure out how to eradicate it permanently.
The medical briefing was predictable. The combined years of education in that room probably exceeded a millenium, and when you get that many highly-educated egos in one place at the same time there are bound to be intellectual pissing contests. But we came up with something that has at least a chance of working.
I think Carson was surprised to see me there. He stared for a few seconds, then gave me a curt nod. There was a look of gratitude in his eyes, though, as he returned to his previous conversation with one of our infectious disease specialists.
I sat down at the end of one of the rows on his right, next to Dr. Biro. I know I've joked about her ghoulish tendencies, but I actually happen to like her. She did part of her training at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and has definitely seen some weird things during her career. Unfortunately, we especially needed that today. Her own research focuses on virally induced mutations that lead to cancer. We needed that today, too.
The guy sitting on the other side of Dr. Biro obviously felt that he needed to prove something. I think he's new; I've certainly never seen him before. She shot down an idea of his involving complete blood replacement (rightly so -- it never would have worked), and he got into a huff about it. Tried to poke holes in her stem cell theory, but that's what we ended up going with. Dr. Biro's oncology experience had indeed been useful; we were going to use altered stem cells as guided missiles to attack the virus, much like some of the new cancer drugs attacked tumor cells.
As Carson wrapped up the briefing, it occurred to me that this was yet another experimental treatment of his. Logically, then, I should be feeling equally outraged as I had with Ellia. Instead, I was desperate for it to work. Was this how the girl had felt? It was something to think about... later.
As the scientists were filing out of the room, Major Lorne walked in and drew Carson aside. I could hear part of their conversation. Lorne was saying, "Are you sure?"
"No, but I think it's his only chance. We don't have time to explore other options, as Elizabeth reminded me."
Lorne shrugged. "It's your call; I'll back whatever you suggest. But Dr. Weir's going to be a hard sell."
"Aye. I'll handle it, though." Lorne left, and Carson turned to me. "Problem, Dr. Schwartz?" he asked coolly.
My tone matched his. "You'll be needing someone to take over in the infirmary when you're offworld." It wasn't a question.
"I would be willing to do that."
"Sorry, but I can't let you. You've resigned, after all. It's a liability issue, you understand," he said sarcastically.
Since I had come this far, I might as well go all the way. "For the duration of this emergency," I ground out. "I'll temporarily withdraw my resignation. For Sheppard's sake."
Carson turned his piercing stare on me. I don't know what he was looking for, but he obviously found it. "All right, doctor. I'll expect you back on duty in the infirmary in one hour." His expression softened for a minute, and I thought he was going to say something, but he left without another word.