Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 2170 words.
Notes: Gen, for neuralclone, based on the icon I'm using for this post.
Summary: “Do you ever forget stuff, Gene? Stuff that you should by rights know?”
He first noticed it happening on a Tuesday. He’d been midway through a sentence, was about to quote a statistic to Chris, when the number vanished off the tip of his tongue. Chris stared at him with a mixture of confusion and eagerness to please, and Sam made something up that may or may not have been right. It didn’t worry him, he didn’t think about it much, it was only later in the day, when he’d been about to tell Annie about one of the teachers he’d had in secondary school and yet couldn’t recall their name or what they looked like, that he really put it in context.
He frowned quietly to himself for half an hour, trying hard to remember, not just that teacher, but any of them. He must have had teachers, he knows he went to secondary school, and yet, now that he was thinking about it, he couldn’t recall a single thing. Not the smell of the corridors, nor the ring of the lunch bell, nor the people he’d interacted with day in, day out.
He gave it until Thursday before he started to panic about it. He planted himself on the settee in Gene’s office, finding the cigarette smoke curling around his head oddly soothing. Sam picked at his nails and tried to think of the right words to express his thoughts. He’d been good with words once, he felt sure of it.
“Do you ever forget stuff, Gene? Stuff that you should by rights know?”
“I sometimes forget not to let you into my office, so I guess the answer’s a yes,” Gene replied, but he glanced Sam’s way with the frown Sam had come to associate with concern.
“I think I’m forgetting who I was. It’s like --- I know there’s a room in my head filled with trivia from my past, but it’s been bricked up and papered over, masked from the world forever.”
“Just because you sometimes act like an Ebenezer, doesn’t mean you need to go through the slings and arrows he’d encounter. Not yet, at any rate.”
Sam worried his lower lip and then stood. “You’re right. It’s been a stressful week. I’m overreacting.” He gave Gene a small, insincere smile. “Thanks.”
He walked out of the office and to the men’s room, determined to put his fears behind him. But as he stared in the mirror, he noticed he had a small scar bisecting his right eyebrow. He had no idea how he’d got that, not even a glimmer of one. He had scars he could never heal, because he didn’t know their origin, and it terrified him.
If the previous week could be considered stressful, the next needed every appropriate superlative to join in as a descriptor. Sam was sure now, positive he was losing it. He just didn’t know what ‘it’ was. He’d buy ingredients for recipes he didn’t know he knew, had a keen understanding that no one else in the station would consider making food that used spices procured from an Asian Grocer, unless they were Asian themselves (and that was a very short list of Ashwin Nayar, who cleaned the cars.) He hummed tunes other people would frown at, mentioned a television show no one else had seen, couldn’t fathom why he felt the need to ask Annie to help him with his banking. Couldn’t tell Ray his all-time favourite United player. Kept trying to say a name that felt tacked to the tip of his tongue. There, but not there at the same time.
He searched his flat for answers and came out with bags full of rubbish. He stayed behind late one night --- didn’t know why he felt the need to stay late, but did --- called Hyde and asked for his records. He was met with stony silence that couldn’t be interpreted as anything but refusal.
“I’m not who I think I am,” Sam muttered to himself. “I don’t have a past.”
He hadn’t known Gene was standing behind him at the time.
“Not this again,” Gene said. He perched on the edge of Sam’s desk and peered down at him as if trying to fit his pieces together, match colours and lines, make a whole man.
“I don’t know anything,” Sam replied, eyes wide. He couldn’t work up the stamina to pretend everything was okay. “I thought I did, once. I thought I knew where I’d come from, why I was the way I was.”
Instead of telling him he was imagining it, Gene quizzed him. “Have you smashed into any doors lately? Been knobbed by a knobble-kneed bastard?”
Sam’s throat constricted and he tried to think, tried to remember.
“I don’t know,” he said, finally. “What is a person without their memories? How can they be real? We’re the products of our experiences. If my flat’s to be believed, I’ve never had any. I can recall the last seven months, but beyond that’s a blur, so what am I? A child? A robot? A shell.”
Gene narrowed his eyes, still assessing. “You’re a man who needs to go to hospital.”
Sam recoiled. Felt like he was ready to punch. “I don’t think, I’m not sure --- no. What if I don’t want to know the truth? What if I’ve forgotten for a reason?”
“The truth. Now, there’s a novel concept,” Gene snorted. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes. But I don’t know why.”
“You didn’t trust me at first,” Gene stated. “That’s something that grew the more we were forced to rely upon each other. You wouldn’t’ve trusted me with a ten foot bargepole when we first met, rightly assuming I’d knock you into the canal.”
“And why would you do that?”
“Because you were an obnoxious twerp who’d no concept of his own inferiority.”
“And why was I like that?”
“Your mother never taught you any manners, I expect,” Gene said dismissively. He seemed to think about it, quirked an eyebrow. “I don’t know, Sammy-boy.”
“This is the problem. I’ve been asking people, Gene, and they know only marginally more about me than I do. And I wouldn’t necessarily agree with everything they say.”
“But you trust me,” Gene reiterated.
“Yeah. Even sometimes when I think I probably shouldn’t,” Sam said, shaking his head slightly.
“Sounds familiar.” Gene tapped his fingers against Sam’s temple. “Trust me that it’s a good idea we get this sorted.”
Sam swallowed thickly. “If you really think so. You didn’t seem so concerned before.”
“I think I’m learning to take more stock by fear. We can thank you for that.”
The hospital was eerily silent. Sam sat next to Gene, filling out forms, trying not to think about the cold pit in his stomach. Trying not to think at all. He handed the clipboard over to Gene after three frustrating minutes.
“Can’t answer half of these.”
Gene pushed his lips forward, immersed in thought, as he ran his eyes down the list. “It’s funny. You think you know someone and in some ways you do, better than you know yourself. But in others...” he trailed off, almost pressing his pen to the page, but stopping part way through. “I know exactly how you’re gonna react if I refer to my local shopkeeper as the happy paki, but I don’t know where you got that brand of poe-faced priggishness.”
“What good are you, then?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
Sam sighed. “Yes. I suppose you are. My mind has left the building and you’re still here.”
Gene continued to sound defensive. “I wouldn’t leave you in this state.”
“How do you know?”
“I remember you. I remember everything about you, from your two brands of cigarettes, to the songs you’ve played on your radio late at night, to things we’ve said and things we haven’t said. And that’s a comfort, I won’t deny it, but it isn’t right.”
“No. It’s all or nothing, isn’t it? Always has been, with you.” Gene flung the clipboard on the nearest chair. “There’s something you should know.”
Sam blinked, waited. Something in Gene’s demeanour was unsettling him, an awkwardness that spoke of betrayal. “What is it?”
“You used to talk about the future. Haven’t for the past month and a half, so I assumed you’d got over whatever damage your car crash gave you, you remember that, don’t you?” Gene avoided looking at Sam, but directed his question with a little head tilt. Sam nodded, knowing Gene would see it in his peripheral vision. “But I’m not sure that’s it.”
“What’s so wrong about talking about the future? We all make goals.”
“It wasn’t like that. You’d act like you’d been there. Say you knew things you couldn’t possibly know. Sometimes seemed to. Do you remember Ruth? Blonde, mixed up with that Morton brothers business?”
“Yeah, of course I do.”
“Do you remember saying she was your mother?”
Sam snorted. “You’ve been pulling my leg, haven’t you? Yeah, play Puck with the amnesia victim. Classy, Gene. I haven’t lost everything, you know. I can spot a lie.”
“I’m serious. And so were you. I don’t know the truth about you, Sam, only that what you used to believe couldn’t possibly be true.”
Sam’s heart seemed to fly into his throat and he thought he was going to sick up all over the pale green floor tiles. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
“I wish I were.”
Sam balled his fists up tight, rocked forward in his chair. “So, you’ve been keeping this from me.”
Gene sounded small, confused. He laid a hand on Sam’s forearm, gave it a rub. “I thought you were getting better.”
“And now we’re here, and I could be put in a straitjacket.”
“I wouldn’t let that happen.”
Sam rounded on Gene, threw his hand off with a dramatic gesture. “I wish I could believe you, but it turns out, I shouldn’t even do the one thing I’ve been clinging onto.”
“Don’t fault me for trying to be your protector. I was only doing what was right by you. It’s why we’re here.”
“Oh yeah? You’ll be happy with a cure for my convenient memory-loss, even if it means I go back to being crazy?”
“You’re not crazy. You’re just... Sam.”
“Nice description there. Points for full use of your colourful fucking vocabulary,” Sam said as he stood, tensely, every muscle in his body taut. “If it’s not obvious to you and your simple mind, I’m not staying. I think I’ll take the silence over the madness.”
“Don’t be a fool as well as an arrogant prick. Find out what’s wrong. Then least you’ll have one answer.”
“I already have one. It’s fuck you.”
Sam made to storm off, but stopped abruptly as Gene planted a hand on his wrist and yanked him back. He almost toppled to the floor.
“I’m gonna apologise to you,” Gene said. “And then you’re gonna be a good little boy and do exactly what Uncle Genie tells you to do. So, first, I am sorry for omitting information, Sam. It was wrong. I did the wrong thing and I admit it. I should’ve told you all of this when you approached me the other day. Second, sit your arse down, shut the hell up, and stop being such a melodramatic Jessie. You make Liberace look restrained.”
Sam sucked in a deep breath and very nearly began punching Gene in the head, but he curtailed his instincts in time and sat sullenly, glaring at his knees.
“Stay,” Gene commanded. “I’m gonna give these papers to the nurse and then we’re gonna wait some more for you to get seen to. And after that, if you’re very lucky, I’ll hold your hand as some doctor shoves his up your jacksy.”
“I’m not sure that’s how standard medical examinations involving brain damage go,” Sam retorted, defying Gene’s order to be quiet just to be defiant.
“The little you know,” Gene said. He squeezed Sam’s wrist in an action Sam guessed was meant to indicate some kind of camaraderie.
Sam thought of running off as Gene’s back was turned, but there didn’t seem much point now. His anger had defused and transformed back into confusion, intermingling with a sense of dread. Questions pounded at the back of his eyes, assailing him from all sides. He continually felt nauseated and had no idea how to stop feeling this way. Everything Gene had told him made him feel his life would be considerably easier if he remained in the dark. After asking countless questions, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be told the answers. If this was a test, he’d be happy to fail.
When Gene returned, he couldn’t quite bring himself to participate in what was clearly intended to be light-hearted banter. Every word came out as a single syllable, even the ones that were usually more.
The nurse walked over eventually and stood close, fixing Sam with a calm, professional smile. Her glance wavered towards Gene almost imperceptibly.
“Doctor Morgan will see you now, Mr Williams. Sore head, is it? I’m sure he’ll fix you up just fine.”