Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
A Farscape/ Stargate Atlantis crossover
Diclaimer: I own neither Farscape nor Atlantis. John got lost again and I am simply helping along in his journey. Spoilers: Farscape seasons 1-3 through Dog with Two Bones. Stargate Atlantis general season 3.
Set directly after the end of FS: DwTB
Summary: John Crichton fell down the rabbit hole. Again.
"Screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we'll not fail."
Space. The final frontier.
The final everything.
Black. White. Stars. More black than white. Cold.
Damn it was cold. And John had a vague notion that the black he was seeing had more to do with the hunger and thirst – God, the thirst – and just maybe the fact that he couldn't hear the scrubbers anymore than the lack of anything bigger than space dust outside the module. Huh. Maybe there were dust bunnies.
Easter dust bunnies. Hop of the resurrection!
What John wouldn't give for an egg right now.
Red one under the hibiscus. Black gloved hands crumble the shell. Red stained so deep the white is pink underneath.
Hell, John'd eat it raw. Runny. Liquid. Just one drink, that's all he wanted.
Land was rushing toward him. There was something he was supposed to remember about the atmosphere.
Angles, John, angles. Double, double, toil, and trouble.
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Witches float and witches burn. Of course if they were witches, they would save themselves with magic and no one would ever know.
Landing a ship, not facing the Inquisition.
John pulled up, shallowing his descent so he wouldn't char broil. When he broke into the troposphere, he blinked. That was a lot of land. He couldn't feel his fingers, but he didn't crash. Ha.
Open the hatch.
Oh. Good idea. How did that work, again? Frell it.
He popped the top and felt warmth and fresh air for the first time in eternity. John closed his eyes.
There is water to the north
Just five more minutes.
The water felt good. Sweet. John wasn't sure how he got there. There was grass and a few trees starting to turn into fire. The breeze felt like a caress.
Not going there.
John wasn't sure how there was a planet at all actually.
Oh, yeah. It'd been pretty. Like an iceberg. So where was here?
The map crinkled on the hood of the car and the popup planet didn't want to stay up. Hmmmm. I think we need to find a gas station and ask for directions.
You do that. John rolled over and closed his eyes again. His stomach rumbled, but he almost didn't mind. He watched the dots chase each other behind his eyelids. Maybe one would turn into a star.
He didn't sleep but when he opened his eyes, there was a person leaning over him. Brown hair, brown eyes, brown clothes. Hi. The person took his hand off John's neck and smiled. John remembered that he had to open his mouth to speak. He remembered that he was probably in danger. He remembered that he had a gun. He forgot to care.
When he woke, John had a headache but felt much better anyway. The grit was gone from his eyes and his arms and legs didn't feel like three Gs were pulling them down. He smelled a fire and, oh God, was that meat? His mouth watered at the thought and it didn't take long for him to decide that food was way better than a warm blanket at the moment. If only his feet would work the right way and quit getting caught up in the sheets.
The noise and strangled curses only served to attract attention, however, bringing a young woman into his corner of the tent. She left again without a hello, though. John sniffed his armpit and quickly jerked his head away. No wonder. But then she was back with a bowl, a steaming bowl, and John couldn't help staring. She batted off his attempts to grab the spoon out of her hands and fed him herself. There were words. John didn't pay attention.
Chicken soup. Harvey was wearing an apron and a smug expression. The kitchen around him was white and a mess.
John couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten real meat. They were tiny chunks, and the girl only let him have two before pushing him back. She said something like more later.
His belly was warm. John said, "Thanks."
There was a nap and two more feedings before John had to pee. The girl got the guy who'd found him to help. There were names. Listan and Grogoro. They were Fishtari or something that sounded like it went with tartar sauce. John looked longingly at the fire as they passed, ignoring the curious looks of children and dogs. And everyone else. There was a spit, and what he wouldn't give for a good bar-b-que.
Baked salmon and potato salad. And we should fry pigs feet! The smoke from the grill was tantalizing. John leaned over and took a deep breath and smelled smoked hickory and wosteshere.
Chitlins, John sighed with nostalgia. Cold beer.
His muscles ached from not moving for days, from avoiding a crash landing, and from whatever he'd done since then. Which he didn't think was much besides salivate and sleep. He wondered how long it had been. Do you know?
The grandfather clock struck two in the nursery. Time is relative, John. And your biological clock has a screw loose.
He made it back from the tree with only Grogoro's hand under his elbow. This time he got to sit by the fire and feed himself what Listan gave him, which wasn't much to start with. It was a little awkward, but no one pressed him to talk with his mouth full. He was halfway through and on the road to full when he finally noticed that everyone was sebacean.
He put aside his plate. "Uh, hi." His throat felt better, like it would stay open and work. Listan and Gorgoro smiled, genuine and pleased. The others around smiled, too.
"Hello, stranger," said Listan. Her voice was familiar from before. "You look much better. What's your name?"
John smiled reflexively. He was unknown. He was probably on the far side of the universe. "John."
John was with the Fishtari for two days. Once his voice was outside his head, it was like a cloud lifted. Listan turned out to be Gorgoro's daughter, seventeen, and with room to spare since her brother had been culled. John wasn't sure what that meant but it looked like he was supposed to. From Listan's face, her brother was as good as dead.
Gorgoro didn't have a good answer for where he was. But the food was good, and John was still too exhausted to do much more than sleep and take short walks around the village. Most of the others smiled pleasantly but didn't make a move to talk with him. John didn't have the energy to try to start up conversation.
He found out what 'culling' meant when he was ripped out of dreams of a red wedding into the reality of screaming. And high speed buzzing, and crashing, and Listan rushing in and shouting, "we must run!"
John fumbled for pants and boots and the bundle that were jacket and Winona and raced after her, panting within twenty steps. Adrenaline met the chaos outside and only staved off panic because John figured he was immune to it by now. People were running and screaming and tripping over tent pegs looking for cover in the trees while beams of light swept over and disappeared them. Listan was tugging on his arm to get him to move from the beam moving toward them.
John stared. "You've got to be frelling kidding me." But really, this was him. His brain caught up a second later and he dove with Listan out of the way. The beam followed, and the next thing he knew, he was lying on the floor of a smelly room with a whole lot of other people, including Listan who had tears streaming down her face.
"Ancestors protect us," she whispered. Everyone was whispering, horror written on their faces. Mothers held onto children, husbands tried to shelter them with despair in their eyes.
"Listan. Listan, what's going on?" John crouched beside her and pulled her close. She held on, scared.
"We have been culled." Her fingers gripped his arms painfully. "We have been taken by the Wraith."
"Wraith." That did not sound pleasant.
"The Wraith cull their human herds. They feed on our life." She said, recited really, and then collapsed forward onto him sobbing. "We will die." Did she say human?
I think we should be more concerned with the threat of becoming foodstuffs. Harvey pushed his shopping cart into the frozen food section. You never told me your species has a natural predator.
You mean besides you and Scorpy?
John, really. We're trying to save us all from utter annihilation at the hands of the Scarrens.
John snorted. Looks like I'm going to be a lunchable first. Crackers, cheese, ham. Maybe chocolate. Thinking about food made him hungry. He wondered if humans tasted like chicken.
He didn't get a lot of time to ponder it because there were footsteps in the hall, then the grosteque, Leviathan-like doors opened and white guys with dreads and no faces walked in. There were a lot of them and they had sticks and started dragging a Fishtari woman out. Listan held on tighter and John watched as two men tried to fight only to get knocked back violently. One of the other Wraith grabbed the man closest to him and clawed his chest, and before his eyes, John watched skin turn spotty and thin, wrinkles form and hair fall out and gray. They fed on life, and John was watching as life left the poor man, painfully, awfully, and he'd still be ruined if it ended now.
"Hey!" he shouted. "Hey you!" The Wraith looked at him, and before John really thought about it, he tumbled Winona free from his jacket and shot him in the face. Immediately, two things happened. First, John had a thought that that was probably not the smartest thing he could have done. Second, the other Wraith turned on him and shot him with their sticks. And it hurt like hell. So John passed out. There was screaming in the background.
There was a hand on his chest when he woke. Fingernails were digging through his shirt, five little holes in the fabric. There may have been blood. John didn't open his eyes to check because, the way his week was going, he really didn't want to know. Am I old?
No. He was in an office in a white lab coat, a skeleton on the wall and pictures of human anatomy all over the walls. A top was spinning in the corner. There is a reaction that should be taking place but isn't.
What? John opened his eyes and came face to face with bad breath and white hair. "Whoa! Up close and personal."
This Wraith had a face. With lots of teeth. Scars on his cheeks too, but John was more worried about the more traditional methods of eating people at the moment.
The Wraith growled. "It speaks."
"Uh, yeah." The words had barely left his mouth when other hands grabbed him and flipped him over. His shirt was ripped off and something cut into his back. "Aaaahhhhrhr!" This time John screamed and screamed as fire poured out from between his shoulder blades. Then he lost consciousness, like a light switch flipped off.
When he woke again, John was starting to get pissed off about all the manhandling. I have had it up to here!
John strode into the waiting room in a purple polka dotted patient gown and glared at Harvey.
What'd they do to me?
Harvey stood up with his stethoscope hanging from where his ears would be. They implanted something in your back. The stethoscope was cool where he placed it against the skin that still burned. A transmitter. John twitched away, looked down at himself, and grimaced.
He was back on the planet again. The trees were still turning in the autumn breeze. John was hungry and tired and his back hurt. Most of all he was sick of the universe frelling with him. He sat with his knees propped and his head in his hands for a long time trying to forget that this was reality, and why the hell the Wraith things put a tracker in his back when they couldn't suck the life out of him. For the first time since this all started, John felt the crushing loneliness and the heart ache that went with it. This is what it would have been like, if it hadn't been for Moya way back when. This was what should have happened. He was on the far side of the universe where humans lived and Wraith ate them. No friends, no friendly escaped prisoners, no Aeryn. Just John and the giant rabbit in his head.
He wished he were crazy enough to lie down and never get up again.
But John did get up. And he walked through the grass and fields to where Harvey said his module was. He found the village on the way, deserted, like a ghost town, only the ghosts were on a ship high above him. It was a village frozen in time. Tarps and weaving were still waiting for the morning, ground flour waiting to be baked, balls waiting for small hands and feet. John took what he could – waterskin, rope, candle – feeling like a grave robber but not knowing when he would find food again. He saved Gorgoro and Listan's tent for last.
He looked over the pots and jars of preserves sitting neatly in the large basket by the small fire pit. The bedrolls and blankets where they'd slept, where he'd recovered from almost dying. The bead work that strung from post to post that Listan had worked on while they talked.
"I'm sorry," he whispered and left.
The module was unrecognizable. A blackened egg, cracked in two and incongruent with the bright grass of the field around it. Inside smelt of burnt plastic and twisted metal. Even if he had the tools or parts, John didn't think he could have repaired it. As unfixable as he was lost.
But Harvey didn't have any bright ideas either.
The Wraith did. At least that was what John figured when they came back, beat the crap out of him, and led him to a big circle in the middle of nowhere. One of them hit some things on a smaller thing making machines rumble and a sideways water spout. John was in too much pain to care. So when they threw him through the puddle in the circle, he landed on the other side of somewhere thinking about tweetle beetles to avoid having to make sense of anything.
Harvey was greatly amused and rode the wrong sock-wearing fox for a few hours before John told him to shut up and go away. He tried to take stock, see what he had. He had his jacket, but no shirt, Winona, but no food. He had a whole lot of bruises. He had Harvey, but he wasn't sure that was an asset. He wanted D'argo and his strength, and Chiana, and Pilot, and even Rygel. He wanted Aeryn. God, he wanted her here beside him, calm and solid, a shoulder to cry on. With her he could do this, whatever this was – he looked at the spring flowers on all the trees, the damp path from the circle, this other frelling planet.
"I hate you!" he screamed at the universe. "You think this is funny? You think twisting to see how much it takes to break me is hilarious? Well screw you!"
He pushed himself to his hands and knees. He wouldn't take this sitting down. He wasn't going to be frelled over by a sick universe. He wasn't going to let Aeryn run away from him, not pregnant. He was not going to roll over and be the whipping boy for a bunch of Goths on crack.
John pulled himself the rest of the way to his feet. Slowly, painfully. He'd been left behind before. He knew a little about keeping himself alive in the wilderness. The Boy Scouts were a long time ago but he could tie a knot better than Jimmy Rogers and he sure as hell could light a fire with Winona. Besides there was a road.
He would figure out what was going on with the Wraith and the transmitter, figure out how to make a wormhole to take him home, figure out how to find Moya and Aeryn.
There. Plan. First step. Road.
On the first day, John relearned what he already knew. Walking with bruises was better than moving after they had been sitting for a while. He also learned that not everyone around here was as nice as the Fishtari.
He found a village – houses here instead of tents – whose people met him with pitchforks.
Ding dong, the witch is dead.
Not yet. And they're not midgets.
"That's far enough. What do you want, stranger?" the tallest of the men called out to him as he approached. John raised his hands and put on his best smile.
"Hey. Look, I'm not going to hurt you. I just need some help." He took a step closer.
"What sort of help?" The head honcho remained tense and wary.
"Well, I'm kinda lost," John admitted. "I got caught by the Wraith –" every person flinched and took a step back – "and they threw me through this circle thing to here."
"They let you go?" demanded Honcho. "You are a runner?"
Honcho exchanged a look with the man beside him then strode forward until he was ten feet from where John remained. "Why did the Wraith let you go?" Behind him, the other guy was whispering orders to the boys.
John shrugged. "I have no idea. They caught me with some people who were helping me out. They tried to eat me and when they couldn't, put a transmitter in my back and dumped me here."
Honcho closed his eyes and when they opened they held pity instead of fear. "Then you are not welcome here, Runner. Return through the Ring of the Ancestors. May their blessings be upon you." He gripped his pitchfork and hefted it in warning.
Runner from what? "Hey, wait! Are you saying, they're hunting me?"
Honcho nodded. "It is their way. Now leave us."
Two days later while John was staring at the circle thing wondering how it worked, he learned that Wraith hunted everyone he came into contact with too. John watched from a flowering dogwood as the village burned.
By the end of the first week, John had learned that the Wraith came in ones or twos or threes to hunt him down. He still couldn't figure out the circle thing and had less of an idea about where it might lead if he did, but by the time he killed the third and final Wraith of the second set he was more than ready to skip town. Being hunted had been bad enough when he was on Moya. Now, on the ground with one spare cartridge in his belt and a head shot the only thing that did the trick, John was getting pretty frelling pissed again.
The day he called Sunday, he spent pushing buttons on the mushroom control thing by the circle thing. He and Harvey argued about the round thing in the middle until John finally hit the damn thing only to be surprised when it lit up.
See? You really should trust me more, John.
"Yep. Because I don't have enough things to worry about."
Which is why you need my help.
Oh, because you're always right?
But of course. Harvey showed him his sixth grade report card with straight As.
It all been downhill from there, I'm afraid.
John mentally flipped him off and thought about the universe. Planet to planet travel. He hit seven random buttons and the red one. Hello water spout.
John walked through without flinching.
By the end of the second week – three planets with five total moons – John learned that sanitary medicine and competent doctors were not to be found. That and his transmitter was buried in his muscles right next to his spinal cord, and thanks, he wanted to keep walking.
He didn't stay long at the villages where he tried to get it out. He didn't announce his Runner status to them until he saw the doc either. Two of the villages threw him out when they found out. The last, gave him food, a shirt, and a sharp knife. John left the planets before he could find out their fates.
When he next declared Sunday, he was alone in the woods under a shelter he'd leaned together from deadfall. The day was late summer here, pleasant during the day but humid. He tried his hand at trapping a squirrel but ended up scaring them all away.
That night Harvey roasted marshmallows over a fire in his Cub Scout uniform, Troop 358, while John stared up at the Milky Way. John told him the story of the Monkey's Paw and wondered if the child was his.
The Wraith found him at dawn, cornered him after a half-hearted chase to the other side of the clearing, and wanted to fight hand to hand with their stick stunners. John was going to pull an Indiana Jones until they shot his hand and both Winona and feeling out of it.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me! You want me to fight two of you bare handed?" He'd tried that before with one person, and only his size and surprise had ever given him an advantage for more than two microts. D'argo had put him in a coma. He was on a starvation diet. He couldn't help the laughter, he really couldn't.
John, I really think you should take this a bit more seriously. Harvey rubbed his shoulders in their corner of the black and white boxing ring. In the opposite corner, the Wraith – one with a face – smiled with all his teeth showing. It was really starting to piss him off.
"Fuck this." He crouched in the ready position Aeryn had shown him the one time she'd deigned to teach him Pantak maneuvers.
The bell rang, ding! Oh, dear.
It was over in five microts. Only the Wraith didn't stop pummeling him after the count. They left him alive again so John crawled into his shelter and fantasized about the purple leaves that were better than morphine. It wasn't long till he was imagining Zhaan there to take care of him. "I miss you," he told her through bloody lips.
She smiled sadly. "I am always with you." She smoothed back his hair like his mom used to when he was sick, and John felt his gut ripped away and tears on his face.
I am here, John. Sleep.
By the end of the first month, John learned to love his knife. He used it to notch wood for shelters that would hold together, to scrape against the piece of flint rock he finally found in the mountains where there were caves instead of woods. He used it to fashion the snares he set for small critters that he rarely caught, and to skin the snake that he did catch sunning on a rock. Who knew snake tasted pretty good.
The Wraith still caught up with him if he stayed in one place for more than a few days. When they did, they either disarmed him and beat the crap out of him or eventually got a blast to the head. John's sixth sense about them was getting better – he listened when Harvey told him to listen.
His supply of chakken oil was what worried him. He had one spare cartridge in his belt. One. Sooner rather than later he would need another weapon, and as much as he loved his knife, she wouldn't be enough. He decided to risk a town when he decided to shave his beard. It itched, and a clean face would be more welcome.
Soap and water would help. Harvey pushed him into the bathroom and dumped him clothes and all into the bath with the shower raining from above.
"I'll make an appointment at the spa. Maybe get a massage while I'm at it."
Dead Sea Salts. I hear they're wonderful for you skin.
A little less scruffy looking, John hopped fourteen planets before he found one with a market. He had to be fast before the Wraith got a wiff of him. The circle of the Ancestors was on the edge of a bustling town whose market looked like it came from the Uncharteds, human style. He realized he didn't have any money about the time he smelled bread, and damn that sucked. He'd been eating rodents for weeks and bread smelled like heaven.
"Howdy," he said to the first folks he met who smiled and gave him wary space. Huh. John looked at himself and thought Peacekeeper, and took off his jacket. The linen shirt he'd gotten way back was more off-brown now than off-white but it was relatively clean. That better?
If you call that civilized. Harvey sniffed like an English matron.
Harv, we've been living in the woods. I would call just about anything civilized.
He lifted a fruit from a cart while its owner's back was turned. It was crunchy and tart and the best thing he'd eaten since the snake. The market was mostly a Food World but there were a few wares, mostly cloth and pottery. John didn't get any weird looks. Weird was apparently in.
Between the market and the town proper he found a watering hole where scruffy men and townsfolk swapped news over a keg of what smelled like rotgut. They chattered about the storm season, and the Wraith cullings that were increasing, and the Lanteans who were making as much trouble as they were helping people out. The local equivalent of darts was going on to the side with knives and a lined board on the wall. John wandered over to join them. He watched for a minute before asking, "Hey, what's the stakes?"
He got a few looks up and down, nothing too hostile, and a nod from the last thrower. "What you got?"
"Got my knife." John patted Angelica that was tucked into his belt. The thrower studied him a minute more; John met his eyes and held them despite the smile he kept in place.
"All right." The thrower set five coins on the stool that served as a table.
They played three sets of five throws since that's apparently what you did when throwing knives against the wall. John sucked. After the first two throws, his opponent took mercy on him and told him to take a half step back so the pointy end of the knife would hit the board and not the hilt. He hit it four times. Predictably, he lost and lost bad. Putting a smile on over his embarrassment, he shook the thrower's hand.
"Can I convince you to swap my knife for my coat?" he asked as the next two contestants stepped up.
"I am Jaren, friend . . ." The thrower still held his hand.
"Crichton." John offered his bundled coat for inspection, and Jaren sucked in his breath.
"It is very fine." He fingered the leather shoulders as he shook it out to look it over. After a minute, he looked at John again, up, down, lingering on his face. "One knife is not enough for a coat such as this, friend Crichton," he said. Flipping the jacket over his arm, he reached for a stool and snatched up the coat lying there. It wasn't as long as his Peacekeeper jacket, ending at his knees instead of his ankles, but John felt that it was thicker as he accepted both it and Angelica from Jaren's hands. A tight woolen weave lined the roughly cured hide. "May the blessings of the Ancestors be upon you."
John held his eyes and saw sincerity. "Thank you."
"Practice with your knife, and come again. I'm sure you have an interesting tale to tell." Jaren smiled and clapped him lightly on the shoulder.
"Oh, not that interesting." John shook his head. He wouldn't return. He'd probably condemned all these people to death already. He left the watering hole checking out the pockets of his new coat, and was startled to feel coins in one of the pockets. Three coins. He pulled them out and looked back at Jaren who looked up briefly with a small smile before turning back to his friends.
After John bought bread, fruit, and a knapsack and was heading back to the circle thing, he said, "You know one positive thing about this whole mess, besides no Scorpy on my ass? People look at a guy and see he's in trouble and help out."
We've been kicked out of as many places as we've been welcomed. How is that different?
"I didn't have to sell my soul."
Harvey scratched his chin. But you sold the town.
John hit random combos of six on the 'shroom until one worked. When the spout had settled back he took one last glance at the market and the rooftops beyond.
"I know." He stepped through.
By the end of the second month, John had figured out catching squirrels beyond statistical probability. The trick was in putting his snare on tilted tree branches where the squirrel like things would run up to get into the tree. He figured out ground snares too with a running commentary from Harvey on how amazingly stupid many creatures were. John had a feeling he was talking about him, so he argued back that some of them were smarter than they looked. Unfortunately the argument was loud enough to scare away the squirrels, so there was no meat that day.
Existence was falling into a routine, complete with hobbies and after-school activities. John stuck to nature when he arrived on a new planet. Steered clear of people where he could and left when the Wraith found him. New places he needed shelter, but John tried to spend the nights on planets that were warm. His new coat was warmer than his old one, and he stole a blanket from one village he passed where it was airing on a line. He avoided winter like the plague and left again if it was raining. Wet socks took forever to dry and his feet were already itching. Hunger was a constant companion between the nighttime chill and the difficulty he had hunting. It was better when he passed through farmland so he spent more time on those planets as well.
He practiced throwing Angelica, like Jaren suggested. There were a lot of hours to kill during the day, but John was still surprised at how fast he got better, both in accuracy and consistency. Harvey danced around as Errol Flynn for two weeks while he did until John gave in and made him change into Little John before reenacting the quarterstaff fight. It ended up giving him the idea of really learning to use one, but with no one to practice with except Harvey and trees, he quickly gave it up.
Life was quiet in the wilderness and as he got the hang of surviving until the next Wraith attack, John was starting to get bored. And idle thoughts led to thoughts of Moya, his friends, Aeryn. He wondered if D'argo had found Macton or was still searching, playing out the drama as if he were there watching. He thought about Rygel's quest to reclaim his throne, and Chiana's journey to find her brother, the frog prince and the little princess off on adventures. Mostly he thought about Aeryn and her Merry Men. He thought about the way her hair smelled, the pain in her eyes, the whisper of her voice. He thought about a child growing within her. He remembered kisses and nights, fantasized about taking her to the beach or Disneyworld.
Some days he didn't get up, it hurt so bad. Others he did everything he could to stop thinking. Some days were good. Not many of them.
Some days he thought about wormholes.
It was a little surreal, living as he did on land instead of in the emptiness of space and the songs of the black. Nevertheless, every time he approached the circle thing to move on, he couldn't stop the twisting numbers spinning like a top, too fast to know. When he stepped a hair's breath from the event horizon, he itched for a pen to write down what he felt on his skin in symbols and patterns.
Sometimes he scratched things in the dirt, but there was never enough time to do it all. The Wraith came, woke John by the stillness in the air. Sometimes he slid from wherever was home for the moment and lead them on a merry chase just to run. Sometimes he set up traps when he was feeling particularly creative. One time he shot one when it poked its head in his shelter. More often than not, he ended up in an unfair fight and got the crap beaten out of him. For some reason they kept up the catch and release and never killed him. John still hadn't figured that out.
Training wheels. They practice hunting, and you are easy prey.
"Funny, you never used to say that."
Ah, but I was the trap, not the predator. Ice fields spread beneath Harvey's feet. John shivered and punched him in the face. It felt good enough to do again.
John was getting better; he had better timing, better blocks, better hits. But the Wraith were viciously strong and never stopped coming. Like clockwork.
Some days John slept the sleep of exhaustion. He always woke up sore and bruised and desperately hungry. Some days the pain was too great to sleep and he went off in his head after Aeryn. They were short trips and he almost always ended up telling Harvey another ghost story.
The third month, John learned that the Wraith could throw shadows of themselves. It was creepy and disorienting as hell until Harvey figured out how to tell the difference.
They are projecting the shadows to your brain and redirecting images in your optical cortex. The gravity lab was filled with wires every which way like a 3D spider web with Harvey turning in circles in the center with a flashlight, scanning the walls.
"They're reading my mind?" John spun around, hearing crackles of leaves and sticks all around but unable to pinpoint the source. They were out there. "I am so over this crap!"
Not reading, projecting. But never fear. I'll have the aluminum foil ready in a minute.
"You know I never thought I'd say this, but that sounds like a real good idea. Anytime, would be great. You know, like now."
I know this may come as a surprise, but your mind is not uncomplicated.
"Yeah, Wraith coming!"
Spare me. Half the time you do not even bother to fight. You know what Freud would say about this?
"I do not want to sleep with them."
He vould say, that you haf a very ill developed sense of survival. You subconsciously want to die and sleep with your dead mother.
"I think you want to die and sleep with my mother – and quit bringing my mother up and fix my damn head!"
John still couldn't tell where the gaps were in the circle closing in around him. He could feel time slow down around him the way it always did in a fight.
With the three little words, John knew which shapes and sounds to ignore. He wouldn't have called it a conscious decision, he just knew. Winona was out in a second landing a perfect shot. A body hit the ground.
John spun and fired twice into the other Wraith. "Thanks."
I live here, too.
John checked the oil. Almost empty. Another week and Winona would be useless.
The fourth month, John learned that Harvey liked word games. They played them as they traveled and they traveled a lot with the loss of Winona. John still carried her, his last friend from home strapped securely and tangibly to his thigh. He was pretty good with Angelica now, but hesitant to lose her in a fight.
He was still considered protected game by the Wraith, but each time they caught him was worse than the last. John hurt all over. He started setting up large squirrel snares to catch Wraith. He only caught one and took its stunner, but he hated the weapon. It didn't keep the Wraith down nearly long enough, a tool to capture, not kill, and John wanted the kill. He was getting sick and tired of the Wraith and their dreadlocks and their teeth.
"And what the hell do they need teeth for?" John fumed as he ran for the two giant stones where the trip wire was. The terrain was rough and his ankle hurt like hell. He'd only have a few microts after he stunned the Wraith behind him.
Evolution, my dear Crichton.
"Well evolution has terrible fashion sense!" There they were. John hobbled over the trip wire made from a twist of a Wraith coat. Footsteps pounded behind him, and as he turned to face it, the Wraith ran over the trip wire without tripping. "Frell!" He fired the stunner and got a square hit that slowed the Wraith down enough for John to punch him in the face. Of course, the Wraith struck back. John dodged the first hit, not the next and went flying backward to land on every knarly pebble on the ground. By the time he pushed himself to an elbow there wasn't any time to run.
"Any ideas? 'Cause I'm out." He flopped on his back and stared at the sky until the Wraith loomed above him. "Can we skip the beating me to within an inch of my life?"
The Wraith kicked the stunner out of his hand. John closed his eyes and thought of Aeryn.
"What's a four letter word for 'don't frelling care anymore'?"
The fifth month, John learned that he didn't do smart things when he was drunk. Getting drunk in the first place was pretty stupid. And if he thought about it too hard, which was not the point of getting drunk in the first place, murderous on a large scale.
John also learned that, despite getting his ass kicked on a regular basis, he was actually pretty good in a fight. Many of which he started while bitching about his life to the bottom of his mug of whatever poison he could find. His head was a dark mess of anger and memories. Pain was for the Aurora chair. Exhaustion was for turning into a statue. Hunger was for Keedva Bbq. Homesick was for Moya. And the broken heart was for Aeryn.
Aeryn who'd run off and left him. "And look what happened to me!" The other bar patrons shifted uncomfortably and tried to avoid his eyes. Stubble itched his cheeks and the glimpse in the well earlier showed that he needed a haircut. Maybe a shave to get rid of the fleas. "They come and they come and they come. How do you get rid of them?" he swung around and asked the bartender. "All we had to do was blow up a command carrier to get you off my back." John didn't notice the funny looks when he addressed Harvey.
That's because you took your back to get an implant, John. Let's do Jello shots!
"No. No Jello shots. I'm tired of always doing what you want. We are going to do what I want. And I want to find Aeryn, and my kid, and Aeryn. What the hell she leave me for? Miss Peacekeeper can't deal with you as not you. Fill her up." He shoved his glass at the bartender.
"I think my friend here has had enough." A heavy arm settled on John's shoulders. It took a moment to register and another to shake him off.
"Hey, paws off."
The man was grease slick hair with a bead of sweat on his forehead. He had an oily smile. "Why don't we step outside. Discuss your tab and anything else of vlaue." Snake Oil tapped his fingers on the hilt of a knife tucked into his belt while behind him two others stood carefully nonchalant.
John squinted. "You know I think I done this before. Only they were roofies and me and D ended up in fishnets. I'm pretty sure you're not pretty enough to go outside with."
Tequila shots! Salsa music blared in the background.
"Harvey, would you keep it down! I'm trying to concentrate."
Snake Oil's face had shifted into something John was supposed to recognize. And he did when the fist came flying at his face. Luckily, John had had lots of practice dodging fists, so he did. Angelica came out of nowhere and then he was holding two knives and a body was on the floor.
In the distance, the circle fired up. The top of spinning secrets hummed in counterpoint in the back of John's brain, and for the first time there was a shape. And an itch. John sneezed and heard
the spout burst free. And then the Wraith were there. John stood still and ignored the hell breaking loose, like a rock in a river.
Words came, bubbling up from within. " 'I am afraid to think what I have done; Look on't again I dare not.'" John left the tavern, sober, and hugged his traded coat tight around his body. Culling beams and running people. Screaming to haunt his dreams. Calmly, crying, he walked through the street and down the road to the circle thing. The best place to wait was behind it.
By the end of the sixth month, John couldn't remember why he wasn't talking to Harvey. It had something to do with words exchanged during a drunken argument between them in a black and white pool room from the 1960's. John learned after his month of binge drinking that saturate the brain in enough alcohol and imprints of neural clones in your head get drunk too. And say nasty shit that has you starting a bar fight in your own head. John had a migraine headache for a week straight after that.
The silence between them was deafening as it stretched over the first few days. John was too angry to speak, Harvey too stubborn. But the silence grated and Aeryn and nightmares were all too frequent. John started humming Hotel California just to hear his own voice again, and by the time he got through every Eagles song he knew, Harvey was playing drums.
They didn't speak to each other, but oddly, John felt less alone for the first time since falling out of the sky.
In the seventh month, John used Angelica and Whitney to take on a Wraith and win. He celebrated by declaring Sunday and stealing a loaf of bread before spinning the top to the next planet where he found the nearest stream and went for a swim. The cold water was heaven on his sore muscles.
"So the next part is when the French are attacking." He hummed a phrase quietly. "They're sneaking up." He hummed the next one a bit louder.
Harvey was in Napoleon's enormous hat and uniform with his hand stuck in under the flap. Cannons and soldiers in the blue, white, and red were all around. John got to ride the horse. Charge!
"Then there's the Russian theme, which is them fighting back." He hummed what he could remember and let Harvey fill in the gaps. "You can't hear it in the piece, but it's General Winter and scorched earth that beat him back. Anyway, they fight and fight. St. Petersburg or Moscow, forget which, is pelted by bullets and cannon fire – which is in the overture too."
Blasts all around. Body bits and shrapnel. And screaming, always screaming, until Harvey turned down everything but the orchestra.
"Boom, boom, boom!"
Right on cue!
"The Russians beat them back and Napoleon's off with his tail between his legs."
The battlefield faded to black and the music pounded on, loud, then sweet. Triumphant. John had to catch his breath.
John floated on the water and let the lazy current wash away sweat and blood and tears. "Napoleon was one of the greatest military minds of humankind. The man was brilliant. If you had an army, he was first pick in the draft. But the Russians beat him. They burned their own city to the ground to smoke him out."
Talyn and Crais burned their city.
John smiled sadly at the sun above him. Strange sun. Strange world. But it was all becoming familiar now. It was time to find a place to settle in for the night.
The eighth month, John tried the quarter staff thing again. Three weeks in he could do Errol Flynn's moves with something less than grace. He also looked for paper or a notebook, but couldn't find a pen.
The most surprising thing he did find though was a set of ruins with electricity. Two lights on the floor not made of dirt, wood, or stone. It was pretty cool, but none of the buttons on the walls did anything, so John just spent the night, and dreamed good dreams of Moya and Pilot.
In the morning when the light was better, he didn't recognize any of the symbols on the wall. Whoever they were, they were long gone. "Maybe they could have killed the Wraith."
Maybe the Wraith killed them.
John left the next day, but now that he'd seen the ruins, he saw more on other planets. Not always, but sometimes. It was his new hobby. Hidden by caves, buried by hills, one even out in the open at the top of a mountain. John climbed it just to see what it held. It was a long, rocky climb, with twiggy desert trees hugging the hillside for what little dirt hadn't been blown away by the wind that caressed John's hair. So high up, he felt a freedom he hadn't felt since the last time he'd gone flying just for fun. The view was spectacular. The whole world lay before him.
He couldn't get the door open to the building, but it reminded him of an observatory and John made it to the roof with a bit of creative maneuvering. It was cold and by dusk he could see his breath on the air. That night, he didn't sleep but stared instead at the sky.
Harvey lay beside him, huddled in his sleeping bag. Did you look up at your moon when your father landed on it?
"Yes," John whispered. The stars were so clear here, but it was the two moons that captured his attention, side by side, one full, one gibbous. "1973. Last Apollo mission to the moon. They almost didn't go because of funding cuts. They landed at eleven forty four and I got to stay up late for it."
A haze of long memory misted over them. John smiled when he saw himself sitting raptly in front of the television in his Batman pajamas.
"I was five. And I remember watching it on the tv, some news program going over highlights. They said, 'That's it, the Phoenix has landed.'" John smiled again. "And my mom took my hand and pulled me to the back yard. She pointed up to the moon and said, 'Can you see your father, Johnny? He's up there right now.'
Awe and wonder lit his boy face.
"And for a second I could."
Two moons shone down on him now. The aliens trying to kill him probably thought he was crazy, climbing a mountain. The aliens he loved would have done it with him, bitchin' and complainin' the whole way. Asking why they couldn't fly. They, like Earth, were out there somewhere. John missed them, deeply, desperately, John missed them.
Harvey hummed a little. After a few bars he sang softly: He's the admiral of the ocean, The lone eagle in the sky, He gave me my first sextant, And he taught me how to fly, I saw him through my telescope, On a cloudless night in June, As he rested between voyages, At his beach house on the moon.
John wrapped himself in his blanket and the melody and didn't sleep till dawn.
The ninth month, John ran into a trader and learned a bit about interplanetary politics. Basically, it went like this: there were the Wraith and there were humans. Wraith ate humans, but hibernated for generations with only small cullings occurring here and there. Then a few years back, some dumbass wanted by the Genii woke them up early. Result: all you can eat buffet. The Genii never got explained and there were Lanteans and trade alliances mentioned, but by the time John went one way and the trader the other, he couldn't have spat it back out. John just felt sorry for the poor schmuck who woke the members of the bad dental plan.
He did trade a Wraith stunner for a whetstone. Angelica and Whitney had been tetchy lately, and needed a little sharpening up. The trader didn't have pens though. John had a great piece of cloth he was saving up to write on and the lack of writing implement was frustrating. He'd tried blood, but decided it wasn't worth it and instead dialed planet after planet just to watch the wormholes form. Nothing much shook loose in his head that he could put together so in the end he just sneezed a lot.
When he wasn't staring at the circle thing, fighting Wraith, or arguing Star Wars trivia with Harvey – Han Solo shot first. Period. – he was writing letters in his head. Harvey made fun of him by taking them to Jane Austen England, but John just told him to shove it and put him in a dress with a corset so tight he couldn't speak.
He composed letters to everyone from Moya, and his Dad, filling them in on his little corner of hell. Of squirrels and hares and elephant snares. Of Goths with big teeth, and two knives and one sheath. Of ruins and dead, and the guy in his head. He wrote poetry when he was feeling particularly bored.
Most of the time though, he wrote to Aeryn. He said, I'm sorry. Come rescue me. He told her about the stars and the smell of wormholes, and every lesson he learned that came in handy. He said, I love you. There was no poetry.
He asked what the child was like. If it'd been born with ten fingers and ten toes. He wished he could have been there, could be there, would be there. He wrote his son or daughter, because his or not, Aeryn's child would have been his in every way that mattered if she'd let him. He managed not to write that in the imaginary letter. He thought of stories to tell, family histories, of both blood and adopted. He told him or her about eating snakes and singing songs. He asked, please forgive your father for his sins. Be good, for your mom. I love you, even though I've never met you and probably never will.
When he wrote Aeryn again to tell her he'd written the little tyke, he didn't say goodbye. It was a short letter, just a note really. By the time he signed it, his attention was already back on the stillness around him. Lightly, John drew Whitney and stepped over to where Angelica was lodged in a tree trunk.
They're casting shadows.
John nodded. " 'By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.'"
The Wraith came.