Memory

Memoria Est Thesaurus Omnium Rerum E Custos

oOo

John woke in a white haze of dull pain and numbed senses. He blinked slowly, trying to get a clear image as his surroundings took shape in front of his eyes. It took him a few seconds to figure out that it was the ceiling he was staring at. It was a spiral pattern, New Age Stucco like. The ridges of each circle cast large, dark shadows in the dim, warm light, making the ceiling seem painted. John stared, slightly freaked, blinked again, and then looked around.

The bed, with its metal frame and white sheets, was infirmary issue. They looked the same on every base, no matter where. He had an IV needle stuck in his left hand, confirming that he had probably been in an accident.

His right arm was in a cast from his elbow down and two of his fingers of his left hand were splinted. A quick, bold move confirmed it - yes, that he had hit something hard. John was puzzled. Apart from his hands and his head, he found nothing amiss with the rest of his body. Yet he could not recall what had happened. The last he remembered with any degree of certainty was getting off the bus in San Francisco. Mitch had been throwing his belated 30th birthday party and he had invited over a hundred people. Maybe a car had hit him on the way to the party. He had had a beer on the bus, John thought, seeking an explanation somewhere.

John decided to find an answer to his questions and pressed the call button.

He didn't have to wait long for a doctor to appear, but it wasn't Doc Keppler from his base at San Diego, nor any of the infirmary staff. John had never seen the dark-haired man before. The lab coat had identified him as a doctor, but when the stranger approached, John noticed that he was wearing a beige uniform that he didn't recognize.

Alarm bells went off inside his head.

"Colonel Sheppard, I'm glad you are finally awake. How do you feel?" The doctor spoke with a Scottish accent and for a moment, John thought he sounded familiar, but he was sure he didn't know the man.

Feeling confusion and the first traces of fear, John ignored his spinning and aching head and pushed himself to sit up straight in bed to face the stranger head-on. "Who are you?"

John had the uncomfortable feeling that regardless of the situation, without being able to recall what had happened, he was with his back against the wall. He eyed the doctor sharply, waiting for a reply.

"This is worse than I expected." The doctor shook his head. "I'm Dr. Carson Beckett. I'm the chief medical officer, and I'm a friend of yours."

Friend? John was immediately suspicious on hearing such a broad claim from a stranger.

"Are you with the Air Force?" John asked sharply, not sure whether he should believe that this was actually happening. The headache that was starting to intensify to a steady throbbing confirmed that this was unfortunately not a dream.

"No, I'm not. I just..."

Hah! Caught in a lie? There was something wrong with all of this.

"Did Mitch and Dex put you up to this? Is this some prank? Because if it is, it's not funny. Though your accent is," John demanded. He tried to uphold a clam facade, but internally he was close to screaming with panic. He took a deep breath to steady himself and decided to get to the bottom of the matter.

"Please, Colonel Sheppard, calm down," the doctor insisted. He seemed genuinely worried.

"It's Major Sheppard. This still isn't funny." His head ached viciously and he was starting to feel dizzy. He recognized the feeling from a time a few years ago when he had hit his head hard in a chopper crash. That time he had been in a coma for three days. But while he had lost a few days of memory, including the memory of the crash, his recall of the past had largely stayed intact. It had taken him months to shake the headaches and dizzy spells. Now that he felt like a spike was being driven through his brain, John knew he wouldn't last much longer.

"Colonel...Major Sheppard. You had an accident. Right now, you are in the infirmary. I believe your memory has been affected," the doctor with the accent spoke slowly, as if talking to a child. John didn't need patronizing; he needed an explanation because he was starting to panic. This seemed too real. It just wasn't possible. Why was the doctor calling him Colonel Sheppard? He'd just made major last month. At least he thought that had been early June. He wasn't sure about anything.

"What happened?" John had to force himself to focus on the words, but the words came out slightly slurred. He blinked, trying to keep his eyes open.

The doctor was at his side immediately, a penlight in his hand. John knew what was coming, so he didn't resist when the doctor checked the reaction of his pupils with the penlight. It was the first thing that made sense since he had woken up. This doctor acted like a doctor and he seemed genuinely concerned about John's welfare. If his head hadn't ached that much, John wouldn't have been sure this was really happening. Right now, all he wanted was for his head to stop aching.

John must have drifted out for a moment, because suddenly the doctor's insistent voice brought him back to consciousness. "Colonel, I can give you something for the headache now, but I want to run some more tests later. Are you also feeling dizzy, nauseous or disoriented?"

John gave a small nod, trying to lie as still as possible. The prospect of painkillers sounded good right now. He could hear the doctor fumbling with his IV. A few seconds later, a fuzzy warm feeling started spreading through him, dragging him back down asleep.

oOo

The first sense to return was John's hearing as a soft zapping noise penetrated his drugged daze. At first he couldn't place it, but when he opened his eyes and saw the ceiling with its carefully composed spiral patters, he started to remember.

John thought about calling for the doctor again, but he wanted to see what was going on first. The headache that had brought him down the first time he had been awake was dulled to a mild throb, thanks to painkillers, no doubt. Aside from his hands, John hadn't found any other injuries, so he decided to have a look around.

John winced as he pulled out the IV needle, but the wound hardly bled. He pulled his legs over the side of the bed. His head was swimming a bit, but after a few seconds, the dizziness receded. John put his bare feet to the ground and carefully put weight to his legs. Holding one hand to the head of the bed, he was able to remain reasonable steady on his feet.

John wasn't too eager to start exploring in the burgundy scrubs he was wearing, but there were no clothes in sight and it was better than a backless gown any day.

Standing up, John could see the small room was bare, except for his bed and the IV stand. Steadying himself along the wall, he walked towards the door. To his surprise, the door slid open as he came within three feet of it.

Surprised, he stumbled out into the brightly lit corridor. Suddenly, the lights adjusted automatically and dimmed to twilight level. John questioningly gazed up at the ceiling, but there was nothing wrong with the lights. If anything, the corridor looked as strange as the room he had been in. The ceilings were too high for a military base. Patterns of concentric circles covered the ceiling. John had never seen anything like this before, certainly not on an Air Force base. With one hand against the wall, John worked his way along the corridor. He passed doors like the one in the small room, but didn't encounter anyone until he stood in front of a large double door.

John recognized the large room was obviously part of a small infirmary ward, beds lining both walls. A man and a woman, both civilians, occupied two of the beds, and the Scottish doctor was talking to a nurse.

"Colonel Sheppard!" The doctor had noticed John coming in. "You shouldn't be out of bed."

"I wanted to have a look around," John explained. It sounded silly.

The doctor was by his side in an instant. "You should sit down, Colonel." The doctor led him to sit down on the nearest bed. John was gladder to sit down that he was willing to admit, but he needed to know what was going on.

"Are you feeling comfortable enough?" the doctor asked.

"I feel like I hit my head real hard. But please, someone finally tell me what is going on?"

"I need to run some more tests, I'm afraid, before I can give you an answer." The doctor paused, "You were in an accident on your last mission. It seems that your memory was affected."

That John could understand. Head injury. It made sense.

"Can you tell me your name?"

"Major John Sheppard."

"Today's date?" John had been through that routine before.

"No idea. I have the feeling that I have been out a while." John felt uncomfortable with the thought, but he needed an explanation.

"Who's the president?

"Hayes." John had no trouble recalling those facts.

"Your general memory is all right. What is the last you remember?"

"I remember getting off the bus in San Francisco. I was on the way to a party. It was the last weekend of my two weeks of leave. I don't recall ever getting to the party." John shook his head, assuming that he had been hurt after his return to San Diego.

"Do you recall the date of the party?" John wasn't sure why the doctor was asking him. Was he still testing his recall?

"August, the week of the 20th, 2001, of course." For a moment, the doctor looked shocked. Then he caught himself and reverted to a concerned and friendly expression. John had a bad feeling about what he was about to hear.

The doctor pulled up, confirming John's ominous feeling.

"I'm Doctor Carson Beckett. I have known you for the past sixteen months as the CMO of ... this base."

"Sixteen months?" He had lost sixteen months of his life?

"This is difficult for me to tell you, but it is now February 2006." Dr. Beckett looked down.

The news struck down like a blow to the gut. A wave of cold ran over him. "2006. I have lost almost five years. What has happened to me?" John whispered.

"It's complicated. I'm still studying data from scans from you and the others who were on the mission with you, but I haven't figured out what caused your obvious amnesia. I'm sorry." Dr. Beckett sounded torn, but John didn't care.

"That can't be! What are you not telling me?" John hadn't meant to scream this loud, but the shock had transformed into anger at the doctor. Suddenly the two patients from across the room were staring at him. He didn't care.

"Colonel Sheppard, please calm down," Dr. Beckett insisted. "You are displaying some neurological abnormalities that ..."

"Don't call me that! It's Major Sheppard! What have you done to me?" This couldn't happen. The thought kept repeating inside his head. Only the sharp pain that shot through his head like a spike and drove tears to his eyes stopped him abruptly. Everything tuned out, everything except the agonising pain in his head. He felt the hands touching him and heard the voice telling him to relax.

There was a prick and almost immediately the pain dimmed to acceptable levels. John opened his eyes.

Dr. Beckett looked worried and sad as he pulled a blanket over John. "Relax a bit, John."

oOo

It was becoming a familiar pattern - waking up to the cotton wool feeling of sedatives and painkillers. John couldn't tell how much time had passed and wasn't sure whether it was important, but it would have given him some form of hold in a world where he had no control at all.

A blonde woman was sitting in a chair at his bedside. She smiled when she noticed that he was awake.

"Hello John." She put down her book. "I'm Dr. Kate Heightmeyer. I'm a psychologist. Dr. Beckett thought you might want to talk."

John studied her. She was a civilian and for a moment that thought that he might be a mental patient occurred to him

"I think I want to leave," John ventured. He wanted to know whether he was free to go. He wasn't so sure where he expected to go.

"At the moment, it's safer for you to stay here. But I can show you to your quarters if you want to go there for a while. Are you sure you feel well enough?"

John nodded. "Some clothes would be good."

"I'll get you something to wear."

oOo

Fifteen minutes later, John was out of the infirmary, wearing jeans and a black tee shirt. He was following Dr. Heightmeyer down a corridor similar to the one he had seen earlier. She stopped in front of a door and pressed a panel on the side.

"These are your quarters. I'll give you some time alone."

John stepped into the room. His quarters were roomy, compared with the usual on-base accommodations. The furniture looked a bit odd, decidedly modern. There was a bed, a desk, a chair. The room was orderly, but looked lived-in. There was a laptop on his desk. Curious, John switched it on. While waiting for it to power up, he looked around. Obviously he still liked Johnny Cash five years into the future. It wasn't five years from now--now was 2006, John reminded himself.

Surfboard. There was a beach in the area. A Guitar. Had he picked up playing again? He hadn't played since high school.

The telltale chime announced that Windows had booted up. Nothing had changed about that. John sat down in front of his computer. Clearly he had time to play games; he had the icons of Minesweeper, Battleship and Space Invaders on the desktop. Right now that didn't interest him, as he was searching for clues about what he had been doing for the last five years. He opened his e-mail program. To his surprise, there were hardly any messages.

On January 30, he had received a message from Sergeant Simmons about proposed changes in the training schedule. The sergeant asked him to approve.

On February 2, he had received a message from Private Lili Deroche about a movie night showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show. John raised an eyebrow; they had to be stuck in an out-of-the-way place, if that was the only movie available movie for Friday evening movie night.

The sent messages weren't much more revealing as it turned out. John had sent only a few in January and none in February. He scrolled back to December. Not a single Christmas e-mail. John hadn't been on the best of terms with his father the last he recalled and he couldn't imagine that changing any time soon, although his promotion to colonel had probably pleased his father. John assumed he had sent a letter for Christmas if he hadn't gotten leave. Still, didn't he have any friends to send greetings to? John had always stayed in touch with friends, even if it was just a loose contact.

John's gaze fell on two photographs standing on his desk. The first showed him with Mitch and Dex. They were in BDUs, standing in front of a nondescript off-white building. It must have been hot when the picture had been taken; their faces were tanned and still their faces were reddened.

John took the picture out of the frame and turned it around. 'Kabul, March 2002' had been written on the back in pencil. Kabul? John was pretty certain that Kabul was the capital city of Afghanistan.

Somewhere foreign politics must have taken a sharp turn right because John was sure the USAF hadn't sent him to the Middle East on a peacekeeping mission. Looking at the picture of Mitch and Dex on his desk, John felt a twinge of sadness. He didn't used to keep pictures of his two best friends around. He didn't know for certain, but he suspected that they hadn't come back from Afghanistan.

The second picture showed John sitting outside with a group of people. Most of them were wearing dark grey uniforms, but there were some civilians sitting among the group. There was no note on the back of the picture and John wondered where it could have been taken. Smiles were on everyone's faces, drinks appeared to be flowing well from the metal cups on the wooden table. The foliage in the background was deep green, casting shade on part of the picture. Not Afghanistan. It could be anywhere. John studied the people who were so important to him that he had kept a picture of them around. The woman from the infirmary was there, smiling happily. John's eyes narrowed as he regarded the man sitting next to her. His face was turned away from the camera, showing only his profile.

Recognition was a like of flash of lightning shooting through his brain. He had a mission to carry out. Dr. Rodney McKay had to be eliminated.

TBC