We Programmed People

Weird shit. Ever since I got out here to the other side of the galaxy from home, it's been nothing but weird shit. I've been mind-frelled, cloned, brainwashed, and dumped into other people's bodies. Someone even made a video game of my life (and then tried to trap me in it.) But this is possibly the weirdest it's gotten.

Because I'm getting the strangest notion that I'm not the man I used to be.

See, I am the Wormhole Guy. For months -- years, even (and can I ask, why does everyone around here call a "year" a "cycle"? A cycle of what? Is it based on someone's planetary revolution, and if so, whose? 'Cause I'm having a hard time imagining that the Scarrans and the Sebaceans ever managed to get together to agree on anything, including how long a year is and whose planet they should use for a reference.), I have had pretty much everyone in the galaxy hunting me down because of the understanding of wormholes that an alien who looked rather like my dad, if my dad was a giant bug, planted in my head without my knowledge or consent. From Scorpy, who was the first guy to figure out that I knew how to manipulate wormholes even before I figured it out, to the Scarrans, Peacekeepers, and everyone in between, everyone has wanted a piece of what was in my head.

So now I've decided to look out for Number One. Pick a side, let someone else have the headache of protecting me. Independence didn't get me much but dead, tortured and mind-frelled, so I figured I'd get a job working for The Man and stop worrying my pretty little head about where my next meal was coming from or how I could avoid starting a war. Because, to be honest, what's my motivation? What have any of these civilizations done for me that I should get myself killed trying to not start a war?

I picked Staleek because it would piss Scorpy off royally, and with the wormhole to Earth shut down, I didn't need to worry about the Scarrans invading Earth. So they're xenophobic giant lizards with sauna rays in their palms; I haven't noticed the Peacekeepers actually being all that good at, y'know, bringing peace. If I'm gonna sell myself, might as well be to the Scarrans; I can see what the Peacekeepers do to even their own by looking at

That's funny, I forgot what I was thinking of.

I do that a lot lately. Lose my train of thought.

Anyway, here's the problem. I'm pretty sure I have all the equations right, but I haven't had any luck generating a wormhole lately. Yeah, it's more an art than a science, and I've been under some stress, but really I should have been able to make one. Didn't I use to be able to do this stuff all the time?

I'm pretty sure I could. I mean, I even made that one wormhole to another reality so I could rescue

It's a problem because the Scarrans expect me to be able to put out, you know? There's not much point letting them protect me if I can't do what they want to protect me for. If I've really lost it, if I'm useless, I should just go home and let myself be protected by

And I'm wondering if someone's done something to my head. Again. The Ancients or Einstein or something. Because I know all this stuff about wormholes, but when I try to put it in practice, somehow it doesn't exactly work. And I keep having these thoughts I blank out and then I can't remember what I was thinking about. Seems like some kind of mind-frell going on, and I need to get to the bottom of it. The last time I was having blackouts like this, it turned out Harvey was taking over my brain, and that ended up with

Almost had it! I almost managed to keep the thought. "Ended up with blank dying", was what I was thinking. Except, blank? (I'm pretty sure I didn't really think the word blank, I just mean that whatever I was thinking, I've blanked on it.)

Who was dying?

Frell it. Staleek needs me to try to replicate the last wormhole experiment.

Another day, another failed experiment. I don't know why I can't seem to do this anymore.

I bend over my equations, totally focused on finding my math error, because there's gotta be one in here someplace. But just as I think to myself I should take a break and back off, maybe go for a walk or take a nap and it'll come to me, I hear a snippet of conversation behind me.

"You swore he would be a perfect replica! You said he would have all the knowledge of the original!"

It's Staleek yelling at Mayuzu, a Kalish technician who's been hanging around me a lot, checking up on my progress and bringing me snacks. I kind of like Mayuzu -- she's a lot less arrogant than Sikozu, and she keeps her hair short, not in weird spikes that make her head look like a satellite -- so I start listening, because if Staleek is going to hurt her I'm going to intervene.

"The knowledge you wanted from him was encrypted," she says, sounding nervous but not panicked. "If it had been so easy to get it from a copy, Scorpius would have done it a long time ago, and then you would already have it."

Scorpius? Encrypted knowledge? Was there someone else Scorpy was going after who had encrypted knowledge? Sounds like they're talking about me, although that wouldn't make any sense because I'm not a copy

--and for a moment I remember the other me, and the two of us arguing about which one of us was the copy, and we were both insisting that of course we weren't the copy, even though obviously one of us had to be, and I start to wonder if I would even know it if I were a copy

--and then my mind drifts to the other me taking off on Talyn with

What was I just thinking about?

I look down at my equations. I'm completely lost. What was I just doing a moment ago?

Ah, frell it, it's probably not that important.

I look down at my equations, and it suddenly hits me what I was leaving out. I scrawl a few notes, recheck my work, and stand up. "I think I've got it!"

"Bring up the generators!" Staleek shouts.

I give my equations over to the technicians, who fire up the engines and calibrate the field lenses in just the way required to open a wormhole. And the energies fire from the front of the ship, and a wormhole opens, a radiant blue gateway so beautiful it almost hurts to look at it.

And then, before Staleek has even had time to order the probe released the wormhole shuts, and vanishes.

"Crichton! Why did the wormhole close?" he demands.

I look through my equations. "There must be something off here. I'm going to have to go through these and find the error, maybe run a few tests."

"How long did the wormhole stay open?" he asks one of the technicians.

"Seven microts, my lord," the tech says.

Staleek smiles. It looks kind of like a T-rex grinning at you. There we go, that's my new name for Emperor Staleek -- Barney the Dinosaur. "That should be enough. How soon can we run the next test?"

"Another 20 arns, my lord. The generators need to build up a charge again."

"That will be enough. Crichton, go back to your quarters and revise your work. It would be best if we can create a stable wormhole but it isn't necessary."

As I leave I hear him saying, "Into Peacekeeper territory, maximum hetch!"

In my room, I puzzle over the equations for a while until the door buzzes. "Come in," I say, because what else am I gonna say? It's not like I haven't noticed I'm living with giant scary lizards with guns and heat rays in their hands, who like to hurt people like me for shits and giggles.

But it's Mayuzu. "Congratulations on solving your wormhole puzzle, John Crichton," she says.

"It's still not completely solved. I've gotta be able to keep the aperture open for more than a few microts if we're gonna use them in transit."

"What you've made will be more than effective as a weapon, however. Do you remember destroying a dreadnaught with a wormhole in the heart of a sun?"

"That wasn't me. That was the other guy. I do remember hearing about it, though why are you laughing?"

"You remember many things that happened to 'another guy', John Crichton. Tell me, what do you remember of Officer Aeryn Sun?"

For a moment I think "who?"

And then I remember. Like withdrawing from lakka, except much, much worse, because lakka root never actually made me forget any facts -- it just blocked my ability to remember my emotions. A flood of memories drowns me, and as I gasp for breath, I realize that every time I've forgotten what I was thinking in the past few days it was Aeryn I was thinking of.

Aeryn, Aeryn, Aeryn. How could I possibly have forgotten you? Where are you? What happened to you?

"You people frelled with my head," I breathe. "I knew it. I knew it!"

Mayuzu nods, looking apologetic. Not that apologies really work in a situation like this. "When we created you, we found we had to edit your memories of your Peacekeeper lover, or it would be impossible to maintain your loyalty to Staleek and the Scarrans. You kept remembering what the Scarrans did to her."

And I'm remembering it right now. I remember them kidnapping her, replacing her with a bioloid, torturing her, planning to rip our baby out of her womb and kill her. Shit. I thought I was spitting in Scorpy's face by working with the Scarrans, but I forgot that I teamed up with him myself to save Aeryn. That I let him kill Harvey to protect her. That I shot someone who was her and Chiana at the same time to get the information I needed to find her, risked being lost in an unrealized reality, risked everything, and here I am without her, working for the guys who tortured and tried to kill her, and what for? The people who want to rain death on her kind, and as much as they suck they're still her people and the Scarrans would kill her without thinking, and I'm working for them?

"You brainwashed me."

"Not exactly." Mayuzu sits on the wall the way Sputnik used to, as if gravity doesn't exactly apply to her. "We created you. There was only so much we could do to modify your mind and memories without damaging the wormhole knowledge Staleek wanted, but you were programmed, not brainwashed."

Where's the baby, Aeryn?

I remember that now. I remember asking her, over and over. And she couldn't answer the question. So I shot her in the head. And gears and wires popped out.

"I'm a bioloid." It isn't a question. I wish it was. But I know the answer before Mayuzu nods her head.

"We copied you while Crichton -- the real Crichton -- was here on the decimator."

I get up and pace. Doesn't actually do me any good, but it makes me feel very slightly better. Funny -- it's actually almost a relief to hear I'm a bioloid, that I'm a copy. When I was sure that I wasn't a copy, it felt as unfair as all frell that he got to go off with Aeryn and I was left behind. I was as good as he was; it was the luck of the draw, which one of us got to be with her. But now, it's almost a relief. It doesn't matter so much that I don't have Aeryn, that I don't even know where she is, that the Scarrans frelled with my head and made me completely forget her for I don't know how long. She's probably with the real me, as safe as either of us ever were together.

"So why are you telling me this now?"

"You know the Scarrans enslaved us," she says softly. "The real John Crichton traveled with a Kalish. You used us in your plot to escape Katratzi. You know we don't serve willingly."

That always seemed to be variable depending on the particular Kalish you were asking, but I don't point that out to her. "So what? You expect sympathy from me for making me as a copy, erasing the memories that give my life meaning, and tricking me -- or programming me, whatever -- into working for the bozos who have repeatedly tried to kill me?"

"I don't expect any sympathy of any kind from you," she says. "But you have unlocked at least part of the wormhole knowledge John Crichton possesses. I could not allow you to use that for the Scarrans' benefit without breaking your programming and letting you freely choose what you will do with it, as you would have done if you were the real Crichton."

"And what stops Staleek from getting a Kalish who'll play nice for longer than you will to frell up my head again? Or make another copy? I don't know whether that bioloid generator is digital or analog, but frankly if I were making one of those things I'd have a hard drive to store the copy to instead of making you dub it like a VCR tape."

"I have no idea what that means."

I sigh. "What stops him from making another copy? Or re-programming me?"

"He cannot make another copy without recapturing the original. But there is nothing to stop him from reprogramming you once he learns you have broken your programming. Bioloids are reprogrammed all the time." She jumps down off the wall. "Your Kalish friend, Sikozu, was reprogrammed."

"Was reprogrammed by who? To do what? Does Scorpy know about this?"

"He left her to die on the world where John Crichton's child was born, so I would presume he found out. She was a bioloid copy of the original Sikozu, modified to make her a better resistance fighter, and the Scarrans found an opportunity to capture and reprogram her. She believed she was serving them as a spy because they had promised to free us -- as if they ever would. She never saw the contradiction in her own thoughts, because she had been reprogrammed not to. Bioloids are all vulnerable to this type of attack."

So if Staleek ever finds out that I know what he's up to and that I hate his guts, it had better be the last thing he ever finds out. "Do you know are the real John and Aeryn safe? Was the baby born?" Was it a boy or a girl? Is he or she healthy? What's the baby's name? Where's Aeryn now? Where is our baby?

"I don't know where they are, or if they're safe. The child was born, a boy. Apparently they named him D'Argo."

I grin. D'Argo's probably thrilled to have a namesake. I can just imagine him playing the doting uncle, too.

I wish I would have a chance to see our kid, but technically it's not actually my child, and after I shot a bioloid of Aeryn in the head I strongly suspect that neither the real me nor Aeryn would be all that safe for me to meet up with. It doesn't matter. I already know what I have to do, anyway.

As long as I exist, I can be reprogrammed to destroy everyone I ever loved. If I destroy myself alone, then the enemies that created me are going to go after the real me, and that threatens Aeryn and our son. There's really only one thing I can do.

I wonder if Mayuzu knows what she's just done.

"Staleek's gonna want me to be his performing bear in the morning," I say. "You got anywhere you can be that isn't here before then?"

She shakes her head. "I have no family any more, John Crichton. The Scarrans have killed them all. Whatever you must do, you needn't be concerned for what happens to me."

So she does know, then. "Well, then. I guess you'll be sharing front row seats with me and Emperor Barney at a really cool fireworks show tomorrow."

She nods. "Just don't destroy the universe, John Crichton."

Did the other me threaten to do that? In theory wormholes can do shit like that. In practice I wouldn't begin to know how to do it. But I know how to set the controls for the heart of the sun, and that's all I need.

"Not planning on it," I say, and turn back to my equations. "I've got work to do for tomorrow. If you've got anyone you care about to go spend the night with, I'd suggest you go do that."

"I have no one any more." She smiles, and it reminds me of one of Scorpy's smiles, except with more dental hygiene. But it's in her eyes, the same as him. The same as me, now. Revenge is all any of us have left. "But I will leave you to your work."

Revenge, and protecting the people I love, even though they don't even know I exist. Because I'm not real, I'm a programmed copy of myself, and this is all I can do for them, all I can do for myself.

As she leaves, I sing to myself while I work out my equations. "The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire! We don't need no water, let the motherfucker burn!"

Yeah. Burn, baby, burn. Disco inferno.

Gonna be quite a show tomorrow.