Feedback: Please do.
Rating: I'm guessing mild R for language.
Spoilers: *Major spoilers for 3.19-3.22*
Summary: Two enemies stranded on a dead world.
Disclaimer: Not mine, just borrowing.
Thanks: to Maayan for the beta.
Notes #1: I dig up just about the oldest contrived plotline in fanficdom and kick at its rotting corpse. I'm sorry. This wouldn't let me alone until I wrote it.
Notes #2: I don't think it's ever been established beyond question that Scorpius requires the thermal regulator suit and cooling rods to survive. In fact, if he was dead meat without them, it makes it difficult to see how he could've lived past his escape from the Scarrans and his time wandering the universe until he could acquire them.
It took Crichton 16 arns to come within range of a planet that could support him, carefully conserving his remaining fuel. By that time, it wasn't fuel that was the problem, it was air. Each breath was a struggle that seemed to put little to no oxygen into his lungs, and staying conscious was a chore. But he needed to last a little while longer yet; negotiate the remaining distance to the planet and then down through the atmosphere to a safe landing on its surface.
It seemed woefully optimistic.
He'd done this before, on Acquara, no less strained and wrung out after so many consecutive arns of enforced wakefulness drifting in space, although somewhat less confused. Back then, he'd known Aeryn and the others had left him, as sick of him as he'd been of them, even if he had later discovered he was wrong.
He hadn't a clue what the frell had happened, this time. Except that, if there was a higher power somewhere up there, their sense of humour was even more twisted than three cycles in the Uncharted Territories had made his own.
Struggling for breath and exhausted beyond all belief, he lost it for a moment coming down through the atmosphere to the planet's surface, and blinked his way back to consciousness at the helm of a module already irredeemably out of control. He was still on course for the planet's single small landmass, and not about to land in the middle of the ocean, but that was about the only dubious bright point he could determine.
Wrestling at the controls bought a modicum of manoeuvrability approximately ten microts before impact with the imminent ground and he struggled to bring the module's nose up-
Something in his left wrist wasn't quite as it should be, and his head felt hellish, but he was nonetheless in better condition than Farscape 1. There seemed to be nothing in his immediate vicinity but dust, which there was in quantity, so he threw dust on the fires to put them out. It might have helped, but he wasn't sure whether the fires wouldn't have died on their own anyway in the time it took.
He was left standing next to the embers and tasting the bitter knowledge that he had nothing - no allies, no supplies, no hope of reaching either. Not even any real idea of where he was. It wasn't quite Acquara all over again. Acquara had, after all, been inhabited. From the looks of this planet, there was nobody here.
Scarred, brown land viewed from space now presented itself as dust-plains around him, dirty brown-grey from horizon to horizon. The sky was vomit yellow, banded closer to the ground by a brownish tinge from the dust particles the wind tossed around the air. He was breathing them in. They scoured his throat raw and he hoped they contained no chemical traces damaging to his respiratory system. Ending the day coughing up blood would be just the icing on the cake.
It was cold, too, though he'd been colder on the ice planet. But even the ice planet'd had shelter.
On his approach, there'd been the pitted texture of mountainous, rocky land over to the north-east. He'd lost his bearings in the crash and couldn't say for sure which direction that was, now. With the circuits of his module fried, he'd be risking hypothermia remaining exposed out here for the time it'd take to retrieve the information from the computer, if such a retrieval was even possible. More likely he'd be wasting his time for no gain. No, if he was going to leave the module, he'd have to go find out what was available in this place, if there was anything out there. If he marked his bearings well, he could always come back to the module later. It was no good to him as it was, without fuel, without the parts and tools he needed to fix it up.
He could be stuck on this planet a long, long time. Or not long at all.
He wasn't sure which option he'd prefer.
He salvaged what he could from the module, which wasn't much. Anything perishable was charred black, and there hadn't been a lot to start with, he hadn't planned on any planetside excursions. The Peacekeeper medkit thankfully survived, in its fire-resistant casing, and it contained about two dozen of the tasteless, chewy PK ration blocks as well as medical equipment. He couldn't do much for his wrist beyond administer painkillers. It was swollen, black with bruising in places. He thought he might have a cracked bone in there, but if so the bone wasn't displaced, there was nothing else to be done with no likely material for an improvised splint handy, he'd just have to be careful.
By the time he was setting off across the dust plains towards what he hoped was the north-east, the sun he couldn't even see in all the airborne dust was sinking inexorably towards the alien night.
Tired as he was, he could not afford rest. Wouldn't get any worth a damn anyhow, out here with the wind raking dust across his exposed skin. He buckled his Peacekeeper jacket and gloves down closer, but the stuff had a way of insinuating itself through the tiniest gaps. He breathed through bandages taken from the medkit and wound across his nose and mouth.
He walked through the darkness for what felt like a couple of cycles. By the time the day broke again he was dead on his feet, and the motion of keeping moving had become automatic, every next step powered by instinct not thought. Thoughts were slowed economically to about one every arn.
No predators had tried to attack during the night... he'd heard no noises, no interruption in the howl of the winds and the rattle of the shifting dust. Not a blessing: a disguised damnation. If there was no life on this planet, he wasn't going to survive on it long. Starvation was a problem Wynona couldn't address.
He couldn't keep walking forever. But he didn't think he would survive a collapse, out here. If he stopped moving he'd never move again.
And - a thought more disturbing than dying alone in this place - maybe the Peacekeepers would find him here. Moya had not travelled so very far from the last position of the command carrier to the leviathan burial grounds. They might still be within the limits of the range evacuees could've reached in whatever pods or ships they'd been able to get to before the carrier's destruction.
The sun, a jaundiced yellow blur lacking any particular shape or definition, emerged above the dust cover at its apex for a couple of arns around midday. By that time his senses were dulled almost to non-functioning and the landscape around him, which had been growing more rugged and rocky for some arns with barely any recognition from his numbed brain, became a forest of jutting, steep-angled strata. A deep cave off his path offered a shelter he only just remained conscious enough to crawl inside and he collapsed into unconsciousness barely four feet beyond its mouth, just out of the reach of the wind.
Dripping water woke him, or rather was the first thing he registered upon waking for the sound must've been there all along. He made it to hands and knees and crawled, giving chase to the noise. The cave carried back and down some way, and at the very back water collected in the rock, dripping down through the overlying strata to form a tiny pool in a smoothly eroded niche.
He pulled down the gauze covering his mouth and scooped up water in his palm. He barely had the restraint to sniff at it and taste experimentally with only the tip of his tongue before swallowing it down. It smelled and tasted all right, but he wasn't too sure he could've done any differently even if it hadn't. His mouth was dry and raw beyond speech and he hurt with the need for fluid.
When he left the cave he took with him what water he could, emptying out some tubes and containers in the medkit that were no use to him as a non-sebacean and that hopefully shouldn't have ill effects either if any residue tainted the water. He had to fight the temptation to stay in the cave. There was nothing there for him except a few extra day's guaranteed survival, and he had to continue while he could in hope of more long-term gain. Maybe it was Harvey's dogged yen for life whispering in his ear, but then Harvey had been very quiet in the days since Scorpius' destruction.
The shape of the landscape outside surprised him, he didn't remember stumbling through it before he'd slept. For a couple of arns after waking he couldn't even remember whether it had been day or night, to make a reliable stab at how long he'd slept, but the memory came back sluggishly as the day wore on. It wasn't as though there was a huge amount of difference between the two states in this place anyway, in terms of either temperature or visibility, although he hadn't liked the sound of the milling dust in the eerie darkness.
He screwed up his eyes to squint into the distance. Yes, the land was rising, ahead - mountains, crags and chasms of dark, malevolent rock with a sheen and hardness like flint. Inhospitable, but so much less so by comparison with the flat wasteland expanse he'd been travelling over for the past forever.
He could handle anything but emptiness.
It was true, he thought, reflecting on that. John Crichton had never been alone for very long, even in an unfamiliar world where everything was alien to him as he was to them. He found people. He needed people.
He'd thought he'd felt alone on Moya these past months. He'd been wrong.
Shucking the pointless thoughts - was he likely ever to see any of those people again anyway? - he continued onwards, negotiating perilous rocky slopes and passes, his boots sliding and catching on the rock underfoot which seemed by turn as though polished and as serrated as a knife. Once, he fell on his injured wrist, and after that he pressed on with his left arm held up against his chest, his jacket fastened over it.
As the day wore on - it must have been soon after sunrise when he'd woken or he'd have encountered night again by now - the distant dust-hazy mountain peaks resolved into a clearer picture. He was rising above the dust clouds; there was much less matter in the air, to the point where he could take the gauze from his mouth and breathe normally. The lack of visual obstruction and the closing of the distance between them allowed him for the first time to pick out structures which didn't look natural, rested among the far peaks.
Another cave offered shelter for the night, though no more water. He'd used up half his store. He continued the next day keeping his eyes peeled for more and trying to conserve what little remained.
The distant shapes were towers, he knew by sunset of that day. Grand towers and massive buildings. Civilisation. He wondered how long it would be before he might see any people from the city.
He still hadn't found water. He slept in a crack in the rock with his good arm crooked around his head as pitiful protection against the wind.
The next day, his every joint stiff with pain, he drew close enough to see that the towers were in ruins.
As evening drew into night, he traversed a steep pass along the remains of what had once been a roadway, and reached the outskirts of the dead city.
There was nothing alive here.
The shells of buildings were bulky shapes rising at the edge of his vision as he walked the empty streets of the city. The ever-persistent wind picked at his clothes and hair, but there was only a little dust in it, although the air tasted like muddy aniseed on his tongue. The ground underfoot was covered over with a material like concrete, cracked in places. The deep cracks led down to the dry soil and tough rock of the planet's natural terrain.
Crichton knew he was a dead man. This place had been abandoned too long and the things he needed for survival would long since have rotted away. As for technical equipment, the tools and parts necessary to fix Farscape 1, this didn't appear to be a city built by a civilisation which would've used such things.
Despite his exhaustion, he did not feel like ducking inside one of the ruined buildings to sleep. He was more interested in the ruins than rest, and distrusted the idea of sleeping in this place without knowledge of what was surrounding him. But the ruins, it seemed, stretched for miles. He kept going anyway.
He'd walked arns through the darkness by the time he saw the glint of orange-gold glow through the tattered spires of crumbling stonework, and left the main streets to investigate.
He crossed ground which had once been the interiors of houses, climbed over knee-high walls which had once been three or more times his own height, ducked through surviving gaps of windows and doorways, their breakable and organic parts gone. He drew Wynona as he grew close enough to determine that the glow was indeed a fire.
The lessons of his time in the Uncharted Territories were responsible for the caution which held him back from walking straight out, unarmed, to greet whoever it was there who made him not alone in this place. He hugged the shadows provided by a fragment of wall that broke off just above his own head-height.
He was glad he had, when he saw the flames glinting off the shape of a Peacekeeper prowler.
The small spacecraft did not look very damaged, especially considering it must've had the bad luck to come down through the twisted spires of the city. He couldn't see its pilot. They didn't, anyway, interest him as much as the prowler did.
Holding Wynona up before him, he stepped cautiously out into the cleared area of the little camp. It was sheltered from the wind by the walls around it, and a fragment of ceiling covered a corner where someone had evidently been sleeping. One of the thermal blankets from the standard PK planetside kits lay there, rumpled from use.
Crichton ducked inside the cockpit of the prowler, letting Wynona lead. He found it empty. Some of the controls responded under his hands, the computer lighting up. Planetary scans whirled across a small screen. No wonder whoever'd landed here had stayed right where they hit down. This city was the only sign of habitation on the planet. There was nothing - absolutely nothing - else. He'd been lucky he'd picked the right direction to walk from his own crash site.
It looked, on the display, an unbelievably vast distance for him to have come on foot, ill-supplied, injured. He powered the computer down and turned around.
Wynona rose lightning-quick in his grasp as he saw the shadow-figure waiting behind him. He squinted, unable to make out anything beyond 'humanoid'. Not far from his own height and build. No weapon that he could see, its hands were empty and there was no obvious bulge of a rifle at shoulder or a pistol at hip.
An unarmed PK soldier he could handle. He didn't bother to talk, didn't know if any sound would come out from the mess of his throat and besides, Wynona could do his talking for him just fine. The figure was already raising both hands up to the level of its shoulders, palms displayed harmlessly flat and empty.
He jerked Wynona, twice, in the direction of the fire. The PK pilot again got the message, backing away into the circle of the firelight. Crichton followed.
His feet glued themselves to the ground mid-step as the orange light flickered off the face of his companion and his heart near froze in recognition. Black leather face-mask over bone-white flesh stretched and pitted like a weeken old corpse. All-over black encounter suit cut to oddly insect-like design. Surprise in the peculiarly ordinary blue eyes looking out from that monstrosity as they in turn recognised him.
"You-" The growl that erupted from those bared grey lips was not recognisable as sebacean, and barely recognisable as a voice.
One thing you could say about Scorpius: freak, amoral, torturer as he was, he wasn't a madman. In fact, for a creature looking like something twisted from a bad nightmare Scorpy'd always seemed scarily sane, at times even reasonable - polite and cultured, often; that was Grasshopper's shield. But there was little trace of any of that in his eyes now.
After escaping the dying command carrier, he must've come to this world a few days before Crichton had.
"Damn, but the universe has a sick sense of humour!" Crichton said. His voice was a croak at the back of his abused throat.
Scorpius wasn't listening, though. "You-" he hissed again. Ignoring Wynona, who - damn it! - had actually lowered slightly in that instant of recognition, he flung himself across the space between them. Crichton tried to back away, to raise Wynona to shoot, but his back hit the side of the prowler, throwing him off-balance. Scorpius tackled him, sending Wynona arching out of his hand, crushing him back against the prowler. His stomach and the arm supported inside his jacket caught the brunt of the impact, and he folded, legs crumbling beneath him, unable to offer any defence against the half-scarran.
His vision was hazy at the edges. Scorpius' hands were on his throat. With just one usable hand, he didn't bother trying to break the grip directly, but rammed a knee up between Scorpy's legs.
Obviously half-scarran-half-sebaceans weren't too dissimilar to most other males in that department. Scorpius rolled aside with an inarticulate moan. Crichton staggered to his feet, breathing still a struggle from the hybrid's initial strike.
He looked around for Wynona, but she must've fallen under the prowler. Scorpius was climbing to his feet.
Now that he had chance to notice, Scorpius wasn't looking too great - over a weeken of being trapped alone on some dead planet had frelled with his body as well as his scientist's mind and he looked weak to the point of collapse.
There'd been a time Crichton might've met the sight of his enemy so incapacitated with glee, and given their history of torture, manipulation and invasive surgery, even after the events on the command carrier he should feel more than this, this bone deep weariness, at the sight of his adversary. But Crichton had destroyed the wormhole project and it hadn't been a victory, only a necessity. Scorpius too had had an agenda he would make sacrifices for, of his own flesh, of his allies', of his enemies'. They were not so unalike, after all. Understanding was a bitch.
Still, when Scorpius lunged at him again there was no question of not fighting back.
Not that it did any good. Scorpius was powered by an insane rage that overrode his physical fragility. Crichton absorbed a succession of blows that stole his breath and most of his consciousness before finally his head snapped back against the ground and a loose piece of rubble impacted hard against the spot which had been tender since the crash.
He couldn't have been out more than a few hundred microts. Waking again at all was unexpected. He slumped on his back on the ground, and the back of his head felt sticky and sore. The arm hugged against his chest ached nastily, but the bones still seemed straight. His side ached: bruised ribs, to top things off.
Not feeling much like moving, he rolled his head slowly to the side, following the direction of sounds.
Over by the downed prowler, Scorpius had broken open the medkit and was scoffing PK rations as though he hadn't eaten in a weeken. Maybe he hadn't. In any case, the hybrid was well distracted, and if Crichton was to live to fight another day he had to get away now, because he was in no condition to fight Scorpius again, especially when - yes, Wynona lay just inches from the medkit, within his adversary's easy reach.
Gritting his teeth, he crawled towards a gap in the crumbled walls. Hoisted himself over, down a larger drop than expected on the other side. Landed heavily and clenched his jaw tight shut against a cry.
He pushed himself up and staggered away through the maze of ruins. The world spun in circles and he had trouble keeping his feet. In a compromise between distance and exhaustion, he hid inside an almost-whole room only reachable through a second room, and curled up behind rubble in a crook in the wall that might've been a fireplace.
Unconsciousness claimed him even as his head touched down on the stone.
There was a voice in the wind which found its way even into the narrow space of his hiding place. Faint - the wind almost pulled it to pieces before it bore the sound to his ears - but nonetheless there. It was his name that it called.
'Crichton... John Crichton...'
He wondered why the wind would be calling him.
'You'll die out here alone, John...'
He knew that was true. It was already happening. He'd slowed it down some, this last weeken, but it was a process that'd begun with the crash - no, with Moya's disappearance even before that. Maybe even earlier - on the ice planet, in the Aurora Chair, back when the first wormhole appeared off Earth and sucked him down into Hell. He'd been a dead man walking for three cycles. About time he realised it and reverted to a corpse.
'Let me help you, Crichton...'
That one had been nearer. Close enough to recognise the voice and he wasn't hearing things in the wind, it was real, it was Scorpius' voice. Grasshopper was looking for him.
Go to hell, Scorpy.
He didn't realise at once that he'd said it aloud, and when he did he didn't especially care. Scorpius could torture a corpse all he liked to get it to talk about wormholes, but it never would, and it wouldn't feel so much as a damn twinge along the way either.
It was probably only a few hundred microts of semi-conscious drifting later that the black and white figure loomed over him, but for all he knew it could have been arns. Days.
"You don't look well, John." The voice sounded almost cheerful. Like Harvey at his giddiest, almost, the happy soldier on the monochrome battlefield. He'd never seen the real Scorpius like that. Maybe it was Harvey - but an indignant voice from some corner of his mind snapped out brusquely that it wasn't.
Crichton blinked his eyes fully open. Scorpius, on the other hand, did look well. Considerably better than when he'd last seen the hybrid. Starving - he'd been starving. Crichton remembered with anger why he wasn't starving anymore. Bastard. Out in this empty desolation of a world, it felt like a greater offence than the Aurora Chair and the chip put together.
It was daytime again. He noted the information without interest, and shut his eyes back down over the insipid daylight. The view wasn't one he wanted to see.
A leather-clad hand slapped his face. "Come on, John. You're slipping away. I didn't think you would give up this easily. I've brought food. Water."
He would've ignored him, but Harvey took over. Harvey was determined not to be a corpse. The clone nibbled at his resolve until he forced his eyes open again, his head up and his back straight, simply to quiet the irritating frelnik.
"Why the hell would you help me?" he asked with difficulty.
Scorpy's smile had a concerned cast to it, now. "We need to work together. John, neither of us alone has all the components for survival in this environment. The days that have passed since our last meeting have proven that to me, if not to you - but I let your current condition speak for itself, on that issue. If I let you die, I will surely perish here. I cannot repair the damage to my prowler alone. I don't imagine you'd be here as you are unless your module had suffered a similar mishap. Together we may yet stand a chance. Alone, separate, fighting, dead... there is no chance at all."
"Didn't seem to stop you before."
The smile slipped entirely. "Which I regret. I was not in my own mind, before. I had been here... a number of days, without supplies."
"Right. So now you're playing allies again. 'Til the next time you decide to play at beat the crap out of John Crichton, the universe's favourite punch-bag, instead."
Scorpius' growl was sheer irritation. They both knew that had been his fatal error. He'd lost control - and lost control. And trust. And the benefit of the doubt Crichton had almost been ready to accord him.
"No, hold on a microt, I know what this is about!" He tried to get his legs under him, suddenly panicked, but they sagged and refused to hold his weight, depositing him back down in the corner with his back and one shoulder against hard stone walls, one shoulder against rubble, and Scorpius standing dead-centre in the only route out from his hidey hole and self-inflicted trap. "Your Peacekeeper buddies, they'll be looking for you, they're probably on their way right now. This is just a ploy to keep me on hand 'til they arrive to pick up the both of us. If you think I'm going back as a prisoner-"
"Hush, John. My allies are my allies no longer, thanks to your actions." The hybrid's voice descended into a decidedly un-sebacean snarl. "Grazer is unlikely to expend any effort searching for me, and my closer allies have not the clout to sway the decision, nor the resources to search themselves."
"Yeah, poor old Braca. Bet he's cold and lonely without you."
Scorpius controlled his temper and succeeded in merely looking amused and painfully tolerant, as of a disobedient child or pet. "Do we have an alliance, or do each of us die?" he insisted. "And, if I may point out, you will surely be the first."
Crichton nodded slowly. He hated to admit it, but Scorpy was right; they were out of alternate options. He remembered again the feeling of relief at seeing that fire lighting up the lonely darkness, and of knowing he wasn't alone. Damn it. Anyone else, not Scorpius... there was a kind of appalling symmetry somewhere in finding Scorpius, here. "Oh, hell. I'm gonna regret this. I know it."
"Living to regret it," Grasshopper said, "Is rather the point." He handed Crichton a ration square that was from his own damn medkit, and a beaker of water that wasn't, and the smile resurfaced, almost a smirk. "I told you before that our fates were intertwined, John. Perhaps now you no longer disbelieve me."
Scorpius watched with a predator's easy patience while he ate and drank the hybrid's peace offerings. The water tasted gritty, like everything on this damned planet, but it'd kept his adversary alive for over a weeken and he needed it. He drank it down without complaint.
"How long-?" he asked hoarsely. Since the fight, he meant. It had been night, now it was day. He'd been near the edge of delirium, if not over it.
Scorpy understood. "Four, five arns. It's about an arn since dawn. I'd begun to despair of finding you alive. I assure you, had I been in my right mind, I would never have gone so far."
"Yeah?" Call him sceptical, but Crichton understood the hybrid's obsession for revenge. He'd had Harvey in his head for the last two cycles, how could he not? He'd destroyed Scorpius, and... the man had a right to revenge. He supposed. As much as he'd had. The command carrier hadn't been an act of revenge. No, that was still hanging over them. He wondered, did two debts of arterial blood cancel each other out?
Scorpy contemplated him shrewdly. "Perhaps I would have been tempted, but in this case survival outweighs retribution. Unlike the scarrans, you are not worth dying for. We're both civilised beings, you and I. Men of science. We both know there are other options than conflict."
Crichton nodded slowly. "I'll buy that."
"Good. I am not a man of violence. Merely one of necessity."
"I know that." I know you believe that. When you got down to it, most people believed that. It was where you drew the line that mattered. One man's priorities, as they said. Was revenge necessity or luxury?
Scorpius returned the nod and bent down, helping him to stand. Truce or no, he would have shied from the hybrid's touch, then and as the half-scarran helped him back to the camp, but Scorpy was trying to play nice and didn't seem to get that his one-time torturer's helping hands weren't helping. His efforts to pull away were dismissed as irrational bravado or delirium.
When they reached their destination, Scorpy 'hmmed' over his head injury and cleaned and splinted his damn arm. As the water washed away the dust and dirt, the wormhole equations that'd been obscured underneath were revealed, adhering to his skin as though tattooed there. Their effect on Scorpius was nothing short of hypnotic.
He didn't mention his ribs. Nurse Scorpy was freakin' disturbing. His ribs could keep on aching.
He'd have found it unsettling, too, the consideration with which the hybrid helped him to the sheltered corner of the camp and covered him over with the PK blanket to sleep. Except he was so used to being half-frozen that the simple, stupid luxury of the thermal covering left him too choked up with gratitude to care.
In spite of all, waking up still felt a whole lot better than it had for some time. He was even, goddamn it, almost warm under the thermal blanket. Too long spent chilled, on the outer edges of survival; it was a wonder hypothermia hadn't done him in before now.
Couldn't get too comfortable, 'specially realising how much the blanket smelled of Scorpy. It made him faintly sick to have slept in it, where the hybrid must've lain these past nights. A little too intimate sharing, that. Frell survival and necessity. He shucked the offending blanket off and unsteadily stood up.
"Scorp? Grasshopper?" The hybrid was tinkering with the workings of the prowler, Wynona lying amongst the tools beside him.
Dizziness reminded Crichton things weren't a hundred percent a-ok just yet as he moved too quickly toward the prowler. He managed to stay on his feet, but settled for remaining where he was. Scorpius' head emerged from the interior of the prowler's workings, and Crichton's hand automatically wandered to the empty holster at his side. Fingers scraped against the battered leather of his PK pants instead of the pulse pistol's familiar grip. Damn. Too many reflexes... It was only after Scorpius that he'd started carrying a gun at all times, and that wasn't a consequence of the chip. Scorpius didn't carry a gun. Never had, that he could recall seeing. Maybe the hybrid considered shooting enemies to be too crude - or too quick.
"John Crichton," Scorpius said, sounding pleased. "You slept longer than I expected. Come, we need to get to work. You're far more familiar with basic tech operations than I am."
Crichton wondered if that was implied insult or simple statement of fact. He settled on the latter - Scorpy wouldn't have needed field skills for some time, at his level, if he'd ever had prowler training at all. He nodded acquiescence, but took a diversion over to the water canister first, his steps careful and measured. His balance was none too good, but improving by the microt. Water helped his dry throat sufficiently to attempt a sentence.
"Where'd you find the water?"
Scorpius seemed surprised that was his first question. Well, this place reduced them to the basics. "There are wells dotted around the city. I sank a canister from the prowler down one on a length of rope. The water was so far down, the rope was just long enough to reach it. A little shorter and you would have found only my corpse here. No doubt you would have preferred that."
"Actually, no." He negated automatically, then gave himself pause to wonder at that instinctive denial. He looked away. "I found some water in a cave. Had to leave most of it, nothing to carry it in. Seems the only stuff worth a damn on this planet is underground. And little enough of that. The surface - just miles of rock and dust. And sea, I saw the oceans from space. God knows how far we are from the coast here, though."
"Just so. I've done some extensive scans of the surface of this landmass using the prowler's surviving computer systems - as you saw. There is nothing left here."
"Nothing left but us." Crichton sighed. His gaze ventured back to Scorpy. "How about the wood for the fire, where'd that come from?"
A shrug. "Around the ruins. Only small, scattered pieces, much of it decaying - but I've had a lot of time to look."
"Do you know what happened here? It looks like this place has been nuked."
"Planet-Breakers," Scorpius said. "The Peacekeepers used to use them, oh - well beyond a hundred cycles ago now. An inaccurate name, they did nothing to the planet itself. Only the organic matter on the surface was destroyed by the radiation pulses." He reached down and trailed a hand through the grey dust covering the ground, lifted a handful of grains, let it run back down through his open fingers. "This is all that remains of the population, animal or vegetable, of this unfortunate world."
Crichton blanched. He'd been breathing the dust in for days; was coated in it, could taste it in his mouth.
"Other rock matter and inorganic debris as well, I should think," Scorpius added, amused. "I shouldn't like to guess at the relative proportions. Don't look so shocked, John. There must have been a reason the Peacekeepers saw fit to have this planet destroyed."
"There's always a reason. Doesn't mean there's an excuse - any excuse, for this."
"What's the matter with the prowler?"
A glint in Scorpy's eye. "Finally, down to business. As quick to ask what isn't the matter with it. By the time I decided to leave the command carrier after all, this was the only craft of any kind within my reach. Scheduled for maintenance. I had to take a chance. Chance turned out that the navigational system was badly scrambled and the drive was hanging on by a thread. It was excessive luck that I succeeded in locating this planet and manoeuvring into a safe landing. Although I was beginning to think it bad luck, until you turned up here." There was a certain hollowness in the hybrid's eyes that Crichton could sympathise with. He wondered if starvation had been included among the scarrans' imaginative torture of their breeding experiment or if it'd been a new torment for Scorpy. It wasn't, unfortunately, beyond the limits of his own Uncharted Territories experiences.
"I crash landed. About four, five solar days after leaving the command carrier," he explained.
Scorpy's head crooked in interest. "You escaped the carrier? So your presence here is... unrelated to the evacuation?"
"Yeah. Something... happened to Moya. I was out in the module at the time." And let's not mention that wormhole to Scorpy; that's one subject I'd rather avoid.
"Unfortunate. I had wondered where your allies were. So we must both look out for ourselves now - and, temporarily, each other. We should get to work." Scorpius didn't ask what had happened to Moya, correctly interpreting that he wouldn't have evaded elaborating on the issue if he had any intention of telling the hybrid.
"All right." He stepped forward and leaned against the side of the prowler, squaring up to his adversary - ally. "But if we're working together, I want Wynona back. That's not negotiable."
"The pulse pistol - my damn gun. Wynona."
The hybrid handed it over with a disconcerting lack of concern, looking amused. "A gesture of goodwill, John."
"You don't know the meaning of the word." Suspiciously, Crichton checked the cartridge. Everything looked in order. He sighed and blasted a loose stone on the floor several yards away. Satisfied but still confused, he returned Wynona to her holster. What did Scorpy hope to gain by agreeing so easily to arm him?
His trust. Oh yeah, that again. He'd almost had it before, for a short crazy time on the command carrier - the hybrid's history with the scarrans had shocked him into empathy, a calculated manipulation in retrospect - before frelling it up by kicking the shit out of him. How far did Scorpy mean to stretch it this time?
Scorpius didn't carry a gun because a half-scarran was stronger, faster and meaner than most things likely to be encountered in a PK science project officer's day-to-day duties, and because if you had a gun, you tended to assume an advantage to those who didn't. Which put you at a significant disadvantage if this wasn't the case. Plus, he could handily absorb a pulse pistol blast or two with no long-term ill effects.
Well... so long as I know.
John Crichton carried a gun because if any silly bastards decided they were going to shoot at him, he was sure as hell going to shoot back, and because he was pretty damn good with it, two cycles down the line, for a guy who'd spent much of his life talking his way out of trouble.
But talking had worked, most of that first cycle. Now, the pulse pistol was his first instinct, more often than not.
Scorpius... was a better talker than he'd ever been. Scorpius had convinced the fascist racial-purity-paranoid Peacekeepers to accept a half-scarran into their ranks. Maybe Scorpius didn't carry a gun out of a preference to keep the reflex to talk rather than shoot...
Round and round and round. His head hurt. Crichton scowled and chewed at the base of his thumb.
"Right." He slapped the side of the prowler, eliciting from it a hollow, dull clang. If Scorpy could play nice, so could he. "Let's take a look at this baby."
The prowler, it turned out, wasn't worth much as scrap metal. The battered rustbucket could've been due maintenance since before Crichton had ever left Earth. He'd thought Peacekeepers took better care of their ships. It was obvious why nobody else had taken this one in the evacuation.
"I'm surprised you flew this two metras," he told Scorpius after he'd gone over the drive. He remembered his own terrifying flight in the module. Scorpy'd had to come longer and further than he had. "I'm surprised you flew it two feet."
"I didn't have many options." He sounded a little testy, there. "Can we get it working? I'm not sure I have all the parts for the repair, but if your module is here, perhaps there would be enough to salvage."
Crichton nodded slowly. "I think we can get it working - enough to take us to the next planet on, at any rate, and it's gotta be a better option than this one. But you're right, we will need to cannibalise my module for this. Problem is, I'm not sure what was damaged in the crash, and it's a hell of a long way to have to go to find out."
"We have little choice."
"Uh-huh. None at all, no debate there. Just so long as you know it could all be for nothing."
Scorpius gave a petulant little growl and sank into depressed silence. Crichton gave the guidance systems a once over. "How far?" the hybrid asked eventually.
"Took me about four planetary days to get here. Not sure how long a day is here, mind."
He took that in. He hadn't had a working shipboard computer. Then again, that could've been a blessing. If he'd known how far he'd have to travel to reach a city that was dead anyway, he might well have stayed with the module. In his ignorance, he'd had hope. Scorpius had spent over a weeken sitting here with nothing.
The guidance systems were so screwed it would be easier to rip them out and replace them entirely. He figured maybe if the ones in the module weren't too badly fried... but his optimism that he'd survive thanks to Scorpy's deal - albeit with the bitterest of tastes in his mouth - was fading rapidly.
"Four days there and four back." Scorpy's tongue chased nervously over grey lips. "Plus the time for the work on both craft extra. Can we make it? Will the rations last? The water? How long can your species go without?"
"Two, three days maybe. Not much more than that. Longer with plenty of water but without food."
A nod. "In that respect we are not dissimilar." Scorpius looked pensive, as though keeping something back.
"So - eight days, maybe nine. Plus however long it takes to find another planet. It's gonna be cutting it close with the rations."
The hybrid nodded, his expression bleak.
They left in the dark, soon as they'd got everything together. Waiting for dawn or allowing themselves time for rest first would've been redundant. Scorpius carried the thermal blanket bundled as a sack around as much of the ancient firewood as it would hold, Crichton carried a PK backpack from the prowler that contained everything else - water, rations, medkit, some PK gizmos he presumed Scorpy knew how to use.
He hoped he could remember the way.
He didn't want to do this, back and forth and back again. He'd covered this ground already, and it had almost killed him. He supposed that, going forward, it was sometimes necessary to go back. If he'd had Chiana's visions, maybe he could have known which components would be important, and he could have carried them with him before. But then, Chiana's vision didn't tell her all the details reliably. Backtracking, he supposed, was a part of life.
He wondered what that old woman on Moya thought she saw, and whether she'd really done him any favours with her hints and shadows. Any lessons she'd had to teach were taught too late. A couple of cycles too late, probably. Too jazzed about getting back to his family on Earth to think about the consequences to the new one he'd made out here. Did it cut D'Argo and Chiana and the rest, that he expended so much energy trying to get away from them?
If he got a second chance, a chance to go back, if he got out of this alive and managed to find them again, he'd do it right next time around.
'Oh, yeah?' said a cynical little voice in his head that might or might not have been Harvey.
Scorpius walked beside him silently through the ruins, and he was both glad for the company and glad it didn't speak. Jagged battlements of crumbled wall hemmed them in on either side of the street, and with every step forward the darkness ahead swallowed them up anew. He could see Scorpy's white face, but the rest of the hybrid melted into the darkness, his encounter suit lost against the surrounding black. In PK leathers, Crichton knew he must surely appear much the same, their differences blurred by the night.
Unsettled, he quickened his stride. Scorpy continued to pace him without comment. Harvey shifted inside his head and whispered something facetious on the subject of his mind's inherent irrationality.
"And who'd be surprised at that, eh? It's got you in there to contend with, for a start."
Scorpy's white face was turned his way, its expression one of mild enquiry. He realised he'd spoken or at least muttered aloud.
"Talking to anyone in particular, John?"
He wanted to smash his fist into the middle of Scorpius' amusement. He resisted. "No. Yeah. You. The other one." He tapped the side of his head.
Scorpius looked fascinated. "It's still there? You... talk to it?"
"Only when I can't avoid it. Most of the time he just sits quiet inside my skull. We have an arrangement."
"Most remarkable. That was an unexpected side effect."
He couldn't tell if Scorpius was pleased or disturbed to find there was a largely benign copy of him inside his enemy's brain. Either way, Crichton didn't want to talk about it. He increased his pace again, and gained some childish satisfaction when Scorpy's stride faltered and the hybrid had to struggle to catch up.
They walked as far as they dared before tiredness forced them to collapse, and settled some arns after dawn into a minimally damaged structure at the very edge of the city. A square hole that'd once upon a time been a window faced out over the rocky terrain in the direction of their journey, and Scorpius stared through it in trepidation at the unfriendly country that lay ahead.
"The easy part's over," Crichton told him. "Tomorrow - this evening - the real work starts."
A scowl told him this information was not altogether appreciated.
"How's the encounter suit holding up, anyway, Grasshopper? You're not gonna collapse on me, are you? No offence, but I don't think I could carry you halfway across this continent with a cracked arm even if I wanted to."
"My thermal regulator suit is fine, John."
He held up both hands open-palmed, fielding the hybrid's irritation. They ate together and slept, the single blanket divided into two unspoken and distinct provinces. Scorpius slept on top of it, having no need for warmth, but seeming to appreciate the barrier it provided between the hard stone floor. Crichton huddled underneath his half, and was profoundly weirded out when he woke almost touching the hybrid through the thin material at his back, warmer than he had been in days thanks to the other's ferocious body heat. Scorpius, who apparently had little to no conception of personal space anyway, seemed oblivious to the closeness.
The brown-yellow cast of the sky, visible through the square window-space, registered no difference in most of the arns between sunrise and sunfall, but he imagined it was early afternoon. He couldn't see the anaemic sun. He woke Scorpius with a nudge of his foot and made a point of being ready to go by the time the half-scarran was staggering tiredly upright.
"Up and at 'em, soldier. Time we blew this joint."
Scorpius' beleaguered feral snarl was almost worth the whole damn visit. Grasshopper wasn't a morning person.
The wind hit them with its full force the instant they stepped beyond the confines of the city with its comparatively sheltered streets. Scorpius' lips were drawn back with the effort of walking into it, revealing sharp scarran teeth and bone-white gums not discernibly different in shade to the teeth. Crichton reflected that at least it was at their backs this time, and only then realised he'd been walking into the wind for all that long, four-day journey. Had that been instinct working, or the subconscious, stubborn will to take the most challenging course offered?
He knew which dad would've said. Or Aeryn.
Maybe it was just as well he'd never get to introduce those two. Once they got together and started swapping notes on him... damn it. Why'd he have to start thinking about her again?
Sometimes it was better to have an enemy around than a friend. Scorpius didn't pester him about his grim introspection over the next several arns as D'Argo or Chiana would've, as they negotiated a half-remembered confusion of rocky passes and pathways. When he finally did speak it was to tell Scorpy about how he'd not found any shelter last time he'd come this way, but maybe they'd strike it luckier this time. "So keep your eyes peeled."
Scorpius merely nodded. The hybrid never commented on his Earth-isms. Was that testament to how thoroughly Scorpy had picked through the scans of his frelled-over brain in their various formats, or simply to how well he extrapolated meaning from context?
They kept pressing onward 'til walking another step was close to impossible. Scorpius, tougher than himself, went off after a few hundred microts' rest to scout the immediate area, and came back resigned. "Nothing but bare rock, too hard to wear into caves. We might as well stay here as anywhere."
They rested only a few arns, before continuing on while darkness still blanketed the harsh landscape. Scorpius dug a stimulant from the medkit and used it on himself. Crichton, wary of sebacean drugs on his own not-even-half-sebacean physiology, resisted temptation until he could barely stand up on his own several arns later. The drug made him feel light-headed, but otherwise worked as advertised.
He'd realised some arns ago that he no longer recognised any of the features of the land they walked through. Well, he hadn't expected to be able to track the same route he'd come by all the way, though he'd hoped they wouldn't miss the only source of water he knew of out in this dead wasteland. He had his worries, too, about finding the module again, but if Scorpy was right about the function of one of those little PK gizmos they'd brought along, all they had to do was get within the general vicinity of the module and they should be able to detect it.
It had to have been drawing to late afternoon when Scorpy pulled them both into the shelter of a shallow cave. Crichton had steadily been losing track, and didn't remember getting there when he woke up. Didn't even try until after he'd staggered to the mouth of the cave and heaved up the meagre contents of his stomach. Another frelling sebacean drug reaction. Shouldn't have touched the stimulants. Or maybe they'd been worth it; they'd bought him several arns of travel he wouldn't have managed otherwise, after all.
The ration squares tasted pretty much the same coming up as going down. Maybe even improved the taste, a little.
"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, at Scorpy's frown as he came back into the cave. "You're prob'ly enjoying this, right?"
"On the contrary, I know all too well the inconveniences of living in a world ill-tailored to your physiology," the hybrid replied easily. "If you're feeling better, John, we should continue. The food and water are low. I should like to find the other cave you mentioned by the end of today. We may well have a problem if we don't."
Crichton nodded, not trusting himself to speak; opening his mouth caused him to retch again. He managed to swallow down more water than he probably should and didn't bother risking more rations. It would likely only end up a waste of time and food. The liquid settled his stomach some, at least.
He managed not to flinch away from the grip of Scorpius' hand on his elbow. Without that support he might not even be on his feet.
They'd started out around early evening, according to Scorpy. He wasn't sure how long he'd been passed out. If they'd lost time, they had to make up for it. He proceeded determinedly. After a couple of arns the nausea disappeared and Scorpy was the one who was faltering, more often than not, as they finally reached the altitudes where the dust-clouds perpetually milled.
"This is intolerable, John." His voice was ripped to a thin thread by the wind, and he had to spit out a mouthful of dust after.
"Yeah. Well, m'afraid there's at least another day of this ahead, even allowing for finding the module without any trouble. And even with your detector doohickey, in this we could be within twenty feet of it and keep walking 'round in circles without noticing it." Crichton spat dust too. Opening the mouth was a risky business, here. Already the stuff coated the back of his throat.
They reached the edge of the dust plains proper by sundown. The cave he'd used before eluded them, though they looked. They found a different cave for shelter, but no water.
In the morning, they drank the last of the water they'd carried with them, and pressed on.
The module didn't prove as difficult to find as he'd feared with Scorpy's Peacekeeper metal detector. The distance from the edge of the dust plains to the little spacecraft was shorter than he remembered, but even so by the time they reached it he felt wrung out, dry and brittle, his throat raw and his eyes stinging furiously from the barrage of wind-borne particles.
"Clearly a landing with finesse, John," Scorpius remarked, as they surveyed the module's corpse.
"I had no fuel and I couldn't breathe. You try it."
In a little over a weeken, the scouring wind had abraded the white-painted exterior of Farscape 1 to a dull, scarred metal hulk. It sparked a new, distinct ache in Crichton's chest, higher up than the sore ribs - the work of half a dozen years of his former life on Earth, the centre of his remaining connection to home in all his three years away, now an unsalvageable wreck.
Yet they had to salvage something from it, or they were dead.
He pulled up the hatch, pushing away the dust that had piled up against the module's side. The inside was a burned out shell, worse than he'd remembered. He'd been fairly spacey after the crash, shock and oxygen deprivation. The ache in his chest intensified and his hopes sank further.
There was still Furlow's module out there somewhere, wherever Moya was, assuming Moya was still in one piece. A copy, not the same as the original, but then maybe he shouldn't be one to concern himself with such issues.
The Ancients had gone to the other Crichton, after all.
"This doesn't look promising."
"No, Grasshopper, it does not." He leaned inside and brushed blackened ashes from the controls, let out a breath he'd not realised he'd been holding as he discovered much of what he saw to be due to a thin covering of ash particles settled over the module's interior. Shucking off the pack from his shoulders, he emptied it out on the ground, sending the contents tumbling through the dust, and took the tools he needed. "Guess I better find out just how screwed we are," he said, climbing into the cockpit and brushing aside ash with sweeps of his leather-clad arm.
His examination of the module, punctuated by frequent cursing, ended with him deciding to frell this for a game of soldiers and simply ripping out the entire navigational bank to haul back. The other parts the prowler needed were simple mechanical components, no problem, but he feared that even with both the prowler's and module's navigational systems, he still wouldn't be able to produce a complete working unit. And though he'd had plenty of practice splicing together different technologies, there was always a chance something beyond his control would simply prove incompatible and screw the whole deal.
It was with little hope that he left the module a second and final time, and they began the journey back.
A waste of time, he thought, dragging one foot before the other in the same endlessly repetitive motion he was so frelling tired of. For all they'd been able to salvage, they might as well have starved to death in comparative comfort back at Base Camp Alpha. That was redundant now, though, because they weren't going to be able to make it back to even attempt repairing the prowler - because they weren't going to last through the next damn day. They needed water. The wind was picking up. He was beginning to fear that the wind-direction he used as a guide had changed its bearing minutely as he progressed, leading him to drift off-course: he was sure they should have reached the rockier terrain before now.
It was starting to get dark. He trusted that to be a consequence of the setting sun rather than his own greying vision. He could hear Scorpius panting for water like a stranded fish, audible even over the winds, and he'd filled his veins about half an arn ago with a quantity of the sebacean stimulant that was going to make him sick as a dog when he came down off it, if it didn't kill him.
Scorpius stumbled at his side. Scorpius had used the stimulant too, but it didn't seem to be doing him any good. Crichton suspected him of lying about the status of his encounter suit. The hybrid's pace was getting slower by the microt. How dependent was he on that suit, on the cooling rods? Crichton knew from Scorpy's files that he hadn't always had them. Mama-scarran had tried to teach him endurance, to manage without, and the bastard hadn't damn well died a good few times he should've done. Scorpy was tougher than he let on. But, another stumble a few hundred microts later - almost a fall - and it was clear he wasn't going to be able to continue unaided. Crichton offered him a shoulder with faint disbelief.
Harvey hissed irritably inside his brain.
"Carrying him along greatly decreases our chances of survival. Leave him here. He'd have left you," the clone told him.
"No, he wouldn't, he needs me to fix his damn prowler."
"But you don't need him to fix the prowler. You don't need him at all. You can take the prowler and go. If you persist in helping him - your enemy, no less - then you'll die out here with him. You joined forces because you couldn't survive alone. Now, since you cannot survive together, it is crucial that you leave this alliance behind." Harvey was marching beside him, dressed in full desert gear, one arm held up against the wind despite the fact that his unreal form progressed through it unimpeded.
"I wouldn't have survived this long if he hadn't held to his side of the bargain," Crichton said slowly. He didn't want to be persuaded by Harvey, but this was not D'Argo, his friend, who was on the line now. It was the enemy who'd cost him uncountable tortured sleepless nights and damn near cost him his sanity as well - and he was just so tired. Persuasion was... possible.
"Pssh." A throwing-away flick of the clone's gloved hand. "A bargain that suits him. He needs you. You do not need him. Scorpius is a creature of logic, John. He would hardly expect you to help him, needlessly, at the cost of your life, though he might well delight in taking you down with him if you choose to foolishly follow the letter of your deal and show him this revolting compassion." Harvey spat out the final word with disgust.
"It doesn't bother you that you used to be him? Sort of."
"It matters not one whit when measured against my personal survival. Nor anything else. I owe nothing to Scorpius except the wretched state of my existence within your own deficient brain."
"Still, it's kinda twisted, Harv."
Harvey growled his Scorpius growl.
Crichton sighed. "I think we've been over this territory before, you know? It's a tempting idea, but for the moment I think I'll just keep trying to get both of us - sorry, the three of us - out of this alive."
"He'll only betray you if by some miracle you do."
He brandished a finger at the clone. "Harvey? Stow it. We'll talk again later."
"We assuredly will, John. This isn't over." Harvey retreated with a snarl into whatever recesses of Crichton's brain he hid out in when he was pissed.
Scorpius, leaning heavily on his shoulder, moaned semi-incoherently and almost fell. His weight dragged Crichton to his knees before he could catch them both. "Damn it, Grasshopper, I swear you're not worth this," he said through gritted teeth, dragging them both back to standing. "Even your own damn neural clone wants to leave you for the birds. And I honestly have no freakin' clue why I'm not agreeing with him."
He almost walked past the cave when finally they stumbled upon it; hadn't expected to find it when they'd drifted so far off course. But he must've walked a longer route around on that first journey, his senses hadn't played him false after all.
A momentary fear that it wasn't in fact the same cave subsided as he hauled himself and his burden inside. The rock walls cut off the constant rattle of the dusty wind and the drip of water became audible in the resulting hush. Scorpy sank down against the cave wall with a semi-conscious groan when he relaxed his grip on the hybrid's arm, and Crichton didn't spare him another glance as he staggered to the small pool at the back of the cave.
The water tasted fresh and clean, much more so than he remembered. Life and hope in liquid form.
He stifled his impulse to overindulge and left off still thirsty. Only then did he remove the weight of the pack from his shoulders. It felt like he'd been lugging half a house around in there. He took Scorpy a refilled canister and slapped at the half-scarran's face, his own weariness and dawning nausea making him none too gentle about it. "C'mon, Grasshopper. Feed time, damn it."
Scorpius regained his senses enough to drink, and Crichton thrust the canister into his hands and staggered to the mouth of the cave as the stimulants abruptly came back to haunt him. Got there just in time to fall to hands and knees before the floodgates opened.
There was more dust in there than anything else, and it felt like liquid sandpaper on his throat coming up. He kept his head down as the world spiralled crazily around. There was nothing left in his stomach to throw up, but that didn't stop it from keeping on trying.
"John?" A weak, worried croak from Scorpy offered at least something else to divert his attention.
"'S nothing," he managed. "Just the damn drugs. Knew I'd end up paying for it when I took 'em. Worry about yourself, Grasshopper. What the frell's the matter with your encounter suit anyhow that you're so touchy over?" A couple of panted breaths steadied him and he delicately stood up and, leaning against the wall, turned to face the half-scarran.
Scorpius' expression veered between pained listlessness and affront. "For the first fifteen cycles of my life I had nothing but the deficiencies of my body's conflicting physiological imperatives. I do not require this suit or these... modifications in order to survive."
"Oh, yeah?" Crichton eyed him sceptically. Grasshopper looked like shit. The sheen of moisture across his face was especially worrying - losing water out here was not good, their bodies were down on that as it was - but even more so was the fact that it was gently steaming.
"Yes, John. But... under these conditions, that might as well be true. The pain... saps my strength. And that, I can ill afford, here."
"And you didn't think it might be a good idea to mention this problem a little earlier?"
"Why? There was nothing to be done even if I had. It would make no difference in any way to what we had to do, and your awareness or lack thereof was immaterial. It was a necessary risk." Another shiver of nausea sent Crichton back to his knees. Head to the ground, moaning into his sleeve, he heard Scorpius add, "As much as your own current slow poisoning of yourself with meds ill-suited to your physiology is a necessary risk. Would you care to argue the point further?"
"All right, all right, I concede your point." He forced his head up to face the half-scarran. He was appalled to find himself shaking all over, uncontrollable shudders running through his body and making a mockery of balance. He decided to forgo attempting to stand for a while longer. "We're both just about at the end of it, that much is clear enough. Can you continue?"
"Can I not?" Scorpius shot back. "The alternative is death."
"Yeah, well - thing is, all this struggling, all this pain... It's kind of weird, when you were willing to throw in the towel back on the command carrier. Seems to me, neither of us has all that much to live for if we do get out of this mess. It would be quicker, quieter, easier, to stop now, huh?"
"Would you stop? John Crichton, destroyer of worlds, give up and lie down to die?" Scorpius' voice was at its most alien sneer.
"No-" Denial before thought, before realisation that his subconscious, barriers battered down, had spat out the truth.
There'd been an instant on the command carrier when he, too, hadn't been all that sure he wanted to survive. Because he was done, it was over, and he could finish like the other guy and not have to go back to face the desolation behind Aeryn's eyes or the grinding uncertainties of what was to come next... he'd known at least subconsciously, even then, that she was going to leave him, that the others were going to leave too, and that he couldn't go home. Because John Crichton pulled the plug on the wormhole project and watched the lines between torturer and victim blur and fragment through his enemy's eyes and he wasn't sure he wanted to be a man who could live with himself after that.
He'd faced down that choice again, drifting alone in the module. It would've been easy to let go and not allow himself the slim hope he'd find a planet or another ship before his oxygen ran out. Hope was more dangerous, more powerful, than he'd ever realised. You could run on it for three cycles without ever realising you were running on nothing.
Making the decision to survive, back then, he hadn't imagined he'd have to fight so hard for that survival. Still, what you had to fight for you valued all the more for it, and he had no more illusions about not wanting to live.
Did Scorpy feel like that? He and Grasshopper were both discards from their adoptive families now.
There was a dark time in his memory, none too clear, when he hadn't been able to look in a mirror without seeing Scorpius. Now, he looked at Scorpius and saw a mirror.
"You're trying to talk yourself into leaving me here." Scorpy's voice was soft, and had something in it which sounded unsettlingly like respect.
It wasn't drug reaction that made Crichton shudder then, not that anybody would've been able to tell the difference. Was that what it took to get respect from Scorpy? Somewhere at the back of his brain, Harvey was laughing his frelling head off.
"I'm not. It's just - I do understand, you know. You had to make your way alone in an unfamiliar world, an alien among aliens. Different from... everyone. You had to sweat blood to get them to accept you. Now, that's all gone and you have to start over. And you don't know if you can."
That silenced Scorpius for several microts. When he finally spoke, it was in his most silken and cultured voice, the one Crichton trusted least. "It's ironic. We're so very alike, you and I."
Crichton had no reply to that. He turned away, unable to look at Scorpy's death-mask of a face a moment longer, and dragged himself to the back of the cave. Drank more water. It abated his sickness marginally.
Behind him, Scorpius sighed. "It vexes, doesn't it? No, of course it does. Do you think you're the only one? I - despise this alliance, Crichton. You've damned all our fates. You have destroyed everything I worked to achieve."
Fury overriding nausea, Crichton turned on him, one finger brandished, pointing in anger to punctuate his words with sharp, none-too-steady jabs through the air. "What do you want, Scorp? You want an apology? Since it's a minor miracle there's enough left of me to be talking to you now, I'd suggest you reconsider taking the moral high ground here."
Taken aback by his vehemence, the half-scarran pressed his lips into a thin line and retreated into silence. After several microts of quiet you couldn't have cut with a pulse blast, Crichton returned to drinking.
He took his time over swallowing about as much water as seemed wise for his stomach to handle at present, then wearily collapsed against the cave wall opposite Scorpius. The half-scarran was asleep, but even in sleep his breathing hadn't lost it's uncomfortable, pained hitch.
"Yeah," Crichton said under his breath. "Yeah, Grasshopper. We screwed each other over real good."
Morning came far too quickly and the dawn woke him. His sleep was too light for genuine rest, maybe his body's reaction to an instinctive bone-deep knowledge that it was getting to the point where if he slept too heavy he might never find his way back to consciousness.
He woke, checked for Wynona at his side, checked her cartridge, blinked sleep out of his eyes. At that point instinct kicked off, its routine start-up program complete, and a shred of consciousness kicked in. He got up, shook Scorpy awake, refilled all the water canisters from the pool, and they set out again.
The strength of the wind had increased again and seemed to be picking up all the more by the arn, wrapping around them in fury and hurling dust at their exposed faces, biting down even through leather to chap the skin underneath. Scorpius managed three or four arns with gritty determination before Crichton was supporting his ugly carcass again. Crichton held off using the stimulants as long as he might but gave into necessity in the end, as he'd known he'd have to. The onset of night saw him pulling Scorpy into a niche in a rock face that couldn't rightfully be called a cave, shoving a water canister into his hands, and digging another dose of stimulant out of the medkit for himself.
"What are you doing?" Scorpius spluttered as the needle went in, too late to argue.
Tight-lipped, Crichton finished the injection and replaced the equipment in the pack before answering. He'd done some hard thinking about the way things were going that day, though wrapping his brain around anything was not easy when the drugs and the elements and the grinding ache of exhaustion tended to fragment thought. "Simple, Scorpy. You get enough rest so you can continue, I'll wake you up in a couple of arns, and after that we're going to walk and keep on walking 'til we hit that city. Hell, you're the king of endurance and I've got a shitload of PK drugs. We either do it this way or we die. Things are getting steadily worse out here; we don't have enough time for anything else. I can't risk the time that letting myself come down off the meds would cost us."
He finished lightly, almost flippant. Scorpius regarded him a moment before nodding acceptance. "You're quite right, John. Let's hope it doesn't kill you."
Considering they were both dead if he kicked it, the hybrid sounded unreasonably cheerful.
He suspected his veins of having more stimulant in them than blood, his heart pumping the poisonous PK concoction through his body. He didn't want to be in his body when it finally wore off and his freaky reaction kicked in. That was a delight inevitably awaiting him, assuming it didn't kill him as Scorpius had so helpfully suggested. He had a feeling that consecutive doses would be harmful even to the sebaceans the drug was designed for.
He should be used to this endless walking by now. The drag of Scorpy's weight on his arm. At least the uncomfortable closeness ensured that he wasn't cold, the half-scarran's ferocious, over-active body heat suffusing his leather coat where they touched shoulders. It felt like standing next to the ancient open bar radiator he remembered from his childhood, a fire-hazard monstrosity that belched enough heat to start you toasting if you stayed in front of it too long.
It'd been two days back to the prowler when they'd set out after his determined proclamation, and he wasn't sure how long that translated to now. Night might've come round and he not noticed, it was possible. He was measuring time only by the next dose of stimulant, but couldn't remember how many he'd run through thus far. He'd let Scorpy rest for a couple of arns because the half-scarran passed out on his feet; the stimulants were no use to him, his raging physiology burned them up before they could have any effect.
Crichton was able to glimpse the city skyline in the distance, now, nestled among the hills. But he thought they were still further away than he'd been the very first time he saw it, and he could only pick it out from so far away because he knew it was there.
Two days back to the prowler. No, less than two, more than one. I think. Hell, it better be less. I can't carry him for two more days like I carried him the last two. How many arns, if we don't stop again?
How many more arns can I keep going? He isn't the only one here dying by inches.
Each next step melted into the next. Harvey's voice battered at his mental defences as his physical strength was drawn away from him in progressive fragments the size of each current step. An aggressive Harvey twittering 'leave him, leave him, leave him' in an endless litany.
He remembered the bright fire and smoke of the splintering command carrier. Standing next to Farscape 1, facing Scorpy across a gaping chasm rent through the fabric of the ship. The defeat of who-knew how many cycles of dreams and planning and sincere if vengeful good intentions, all reduced to embers in the hybrid's eyes. Intending to die, no energy left even to take his destroyer down with him.
I owe him.
The agony of the Aurora Chair, like worms crawling through the soft tissue of his brain, Scorpius looking on in curious scientific detachment. The helpless, blank fear of losing his sanity by degrees while Aeryn and the others watched him crack up, their faith in him gradually undermined and disintegrated, until the final betrayal. Aeryn dead. Scorpius leering over him and leaving him to die lobotomised on a surgeon's table.
I owe him nothing.
In the circumstances, nobody - nobody - could blame him for leaving Scorpius here to rot. Hell, a saint would've left him, and John Crichton was no saint.
Would he be John Crichton any more, though, if he left him? Clone or copy, at the end of the day it was what you did that mattered. He believed that. But the other had died a damn hero, and didn't that make him by default the screw-up? Everything sure seemed to point that way so far. If actions defined self, abandoning Scorpius now would be the last bolt in the coffin of the guy who'd left Earth on Farscape 1.
"So why should you care?" Harvey asked. "If you're not John Crichton, what does it matter? He's already dead to Aeryn, might as well be dead to the universe."
So nail me down-
He got about a dozen steps that time before retracing his path and shouldering his enemy once more. Passed it off again as an accident, not that he couldn't see the awareness of the truth in Scorpy's eyes.
Frell him, though. No, fuck him. Fuck him sideways. He'd understand all too perfectly the logic of Crichton leaving him here to die. Necessity, and all that shit. Compassion was a soft emotion you couldn't afford, not in the Uncharted Territories, not when you were on the run, not when you were fighting a war.
Without compassion, Chiana would be dead or mind-frelled, Aeryn executed as irreversibly contaminated, Jool still a popsicle in a damn box. Without them, who knew where he'd be right now. Who knew what Scorpius might become, some day, if he lived? Hell, maybe he'd save the galaxy from the scarrans without wormholes after all.
Compassion, not necessity. Forgiveness, not revenge.
He'd had a job to do, and fate made him a man who could do it. Not the other one, the other'd had it easy; he got the scarrans, got Aeryn, got easy answers, a hero's death and no consequences he had to live with. He - he got the other's discards, and Scorpius, and a choice of letting the Peacekeepers gain wormhole technology weighed against fifty thousand sebacean lives, and he chose. He had to live with what he'd been prepared to do. Talyn and Crais didn't sacrifice themselves for him and the others from Moya - no, they sacrificed themselves for the command carrier's Peacekeeper crew. Crichton would've done what he had to.
But it was over now, and time to change anew. Go back, re-tread, re-build. He could start by doing the opposite of whatever Harvey advised. "My way will sustain you..." the neuro-clone had said, and he'd claimed it didn't, but it had for a while. And he'd let it, hadn't had much choice with the chip in his brain. But he had a choice now, to stand back and take a look at this creature he'd become, who woke to each new day with his first thought to check for Wynona at his side. Surely the fugitive mindset made its own fugitives at least as much as it protected, a self-fulfilling paranoia, and he wasn't soldier, or mercenary, or criminal, or rebel. Commando, Peacekeeper, or sebacean. He didn't have to absorb the misconceptions of others into himself. He could just be - himself. John Crichton. The only one, now. The only one ever, to most of the people he was likely to encounter in the rest of this big universe.
He forced his head up to meet the gaze of the angry figure marching beside him, his manic energy as he pranced around marking him distinct from Scorpius, who couldn't even stand up without help just now.
"Cool it, Harvey," he said. "I know you're scared, but this isn't going to get us out of here any easier. I'm not leaving him. The decision's made. All you can do about it - is distract me."
Night came round eventually, unless he'd missed it before in which case night came round again. Voices drifted to his ears, of familiar figures walking beside him through the darkness - not Harvey, who was in a sulk, and not Scorpius, who was beyond talking.
"Hey, old man... You know, I've got a surprise waiting for you when you get home - all ready to unwrap. You better not be late. You better not..."
Exotic grey sensuality and too much desire; her scent spurred him forward, quickening his steps despite the fact he knew she was too swift for him, too far beyond his reach.
"Though a warrior does not fear death, he does not surrender easy to it while breath remains. Fight on, my friend, my ally. You have the heart of a warrior, though you hold your drink like a juvenile peddak..."
Taciturn luxan, so many contradictions contained within that big frame; arguments and an excess of fellip nectar and at least one night with an ominous memory gap. The words made him laugh and lent him strength, his burdens lightening as his shoulders shook.
"Not tired already? Any raw Peacekeeper recruit could have done twice the distance. In half the time. Pick your feet up, Crich-ton..."
That was Aeryn, the old Aeryn, the one not yet familiar enough with emotional pain to be swallowed whole by it, and he was glad because he wasn't sure he could face the other one again, just now. This one - always so sure he wasn't trying as hard as he could; he renewed his efforts to please her, and discovered she was right.
"Innocent Crichton... I should not wish fate to reunite us quite so soon, John..."
Blue, flowing grace, steel strength sheathed in soft wisdom. He was shocked enough to call after her, to reach for her, but a masked figure leaned in over her shoulder to snatch her away with a Starkly manic, knowing grin.
Guilt kept him moving onwards; she'd died for him. This shouldn't be Zhaan's legacy, nonetheless it was.
"We have not always been friends, yet we have gone into battle together, you and I, though you do not remember the most of it. Be steadfast, John Crichton."
Dark captain's dress uniform and the aura of death. Hard voice, hard words, harsh memories of enmity and betrayal, and all the proof he'd ever need that people could change, and change again.
He followed Crais doggedly through the night.
He never registered the transition from uneven rock to paved street underfoot, didn't notice until Scorpius regained his senses enough to point it out.
It took two days, with a marathon run of PK-stimulant induced vomiting thrown in, to get the prowler operational. On the second day they ran out of rations, but it was immaterial by then. The limited oxygen supply of the prowler would fail them long before starvation could kill them. The mounting wind crumbled stonework and cement from the more tenuous ruins around their camp, and they made their last repairs under fire from the fragments it hurled at them. They finally lifted off, again battling the wind, which threatened to smash them back down amongst the ruins until they gained the upper reaches of the atmosphere.
A large merchant vessel picked them up twenty arns out, responding cagily to their distress signal. Even after their assertions that they weren't Peacekeeper - "But how could we be? We're not even sebacean; you can sure as hell tell he isn't, and you can lock me in a room and turn the heat up if want you to be sure about me. You know what those cats are like about aliens." - but mercenaries contracted out by the PK's, the captain gave them passage in the brig and happily threw them off-ship at the next commerce planet along. And charged them for three solar days' board, travel and medical treatment. Luckily, Scorpy had a few credit lines that weren't affiliated with the Peacekeepers.
The merchant vessel shucked them out in the prowler from outside planetary orbit, and let them make their own way down, apparently unwilling to be seen by any of their contacts to harbour maybe-Peacekeepers. Crichton supposed that, all things considered, the captain had been uncommonly kind not to simply space them and have done with. He piloted the prowler through the atmosphere - Scorpy's flying was worse than Chiana's - and set them down at a landing and maintenance pad within the planet's commercial centre. An unfathomable list of instructions and regulations was auto-broadcast across their comm as they touched ground.
He killed the engine and looked out over the landing pad. The concrete, steel and glass hellhole stretching before them, darkness at the edges of the pad punctuated by the occasional neon flicker of a bar or brothel, dingy sky above greying towards night, looked like a little slice of heaven after the past two weekens.
He darted a glance back to Scorpius. The hybrid's expression was unreadable. All his muscles tensed. Well... even if Scorpius still held some authority with the Peacekeepers, it was clear the PK's themselves had no authority on this world. "Well, Grasshopper," he said, reaching up to boost open the hatch above their heads. "Looks like we've reached the end of the line."
"Yes, John. I cannot thank you for saving my life. It is... a gesture I am not sure I will ever comprehend." The warning in that voice reached Crichton's brain a microt too late. Before he could turn around, something hard and narrow pressed against his spine. "But I don't think we'll be parting company just yet."
His hand strayed to his side to affirm Wynona was indeed gone. Scorpy must've palmed her while he was bringing the prowler down. Frell, frell, frell. He closed his eyes, let out a slow breath. Wynona tickled one of his patchwork of bruises a little too eagerly and he tried not to wince. Unfaithful, girl. "Necessity, yeah?"
"Always. You are all that remains of my wormhole project. The scarrans-"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. The scarrans, the bogeymen, I know the tune, Scorp."
"They must still be stopped, and nobody knows them as well as I."
He opened his eyes again, shook his head and craned his neck around as far as it would go. Met Scorpius face to face. Literally. Their noses practically touched. "Scorpy. Grasshopper. Skeletor. Read my lips. I've no love of the scarrans. Hell, good luck to you on that one. But you'd defeat this evil by unleashing a bigger one, opening a Pandora's box nobody could close again. The scarrans may be powerful, but they're finite. This power encompasses worlds and destroys them in the blink of an eye. It doesn't matter whether I believe you'd only use it to beat back the scarrans. I saw on the command carrier just how shaky your authority among those people is. You couldn't keep this weapon from people like Grazer if you did want to. The wormhole technology stays where it is." He tapped the side of his head with his balled fist.
"The box is already open, John. It's already too late to shut the lid down, we can only use it first to eliminate them. The scarrans know what can be done and they won't be satisfied until they succeed. Even if you would not yield the wormhole technology to us, your continued freedom would be a threat to us. If the scarrans were to capture you again, knowing what they have, we should all be lost - if we cannot use this knowledge we must at least control it, which means by extension controlling you."
Wynona gnawed at his back. Scorpius' breathing was agitated; probably running down his improvised cooling rods from the merchant ship too fast. Guy with his problem should learn not to get so hyped. Crichton took a deliberately slow, measured breath. "I," a brief falter, "dealt with the scarrans. The only one with an obsession about the contents of my head now is you. Suggestion, Scorp: forget about wormholes, find a new plan. One that doesn't involve me. This one's a dead end. Write it off. I don't care what you do to the scarrans, but wormhole technology has... become my responsibility, and you're not going to get it from me." He paused, turned, took Wynona from Scorpius' hand. He didn't notice whether or not the half-scarran actually pressed down on the trigger, not that it would've made any difference if he had. "Especially not by pointing an empty gun at me."
While Scorpius stared, he reached once again for the hatch and swung it up. Standing inside the prowler's cockpit, he holstered Wynona and looked down at Scorpius - a little regretfully, a little angrily. Too much hope it had been, then, to turn this enemy into an ally.
"I guess you were wrong, Scorp," he said. "We're not alike. We're just so unalike, we meet up at the opposite ends."
He climbed down from the prowler, careful not to take his eyes off Scorpius. His feet firm on solid ground, he hesitated a microt with his hands still gripped on the side of the prowler, glanced frowning back to the adversary he'd stunned beyond speech. "All this effort you've expended after the scarrans since you escaped them. Are those bastards really worth it? Don't you ever wonder if you're wasted on them?"
Scorpius mustered no reply save a low growl. Scorpius had stopped seeing anything but vengeance a long time ago. Loosing his grip on the prowler, Crichton backed away, feeling the hybrid's gaze following him across the landing pad. Back to their old pattern of distrust, he kept looking over his shoulder right up to the moment he ducked out of sight in the shadows of a tall, narrow street.
After a few arns spent running about the town conspicuously, laying as many false trails as possible, he doubled back to the landing pad. He wasn't surprised to see Scorpy's prowler still there and he not in it. He hadn't expected the hybrid to give up so easily. Scorpius could have fun chasing around after phantoms.
Having nothing with which to trade, Crichton secured passage on the earliest outbound ship that would take him on as crew, by luck finding an exploratory vessel that was not only okay with having someone who looked like a Peacekeeper sign up, but enthusiastic. The crew were all of a diminutive, unthreatening alien race he hadn't encountered before, and the captain apparently figured that such a fearsome creature should be able to chase off any number of would-be pirates. Crichton didn't disillusion him, and accepted his role as hired muscle gracefully. First evade Scorpius, and amass some credit so he could start looking for the others, for Aeryn, for Moya. Information didn't come cheap.
The ship wasn't due to leave for three arns. Longer than he'd wanted to stay on-planet, but he could deal with it. He told Captain Shortstuff he was going over into the town to fetch a few things and would be back in time for their departure. But if his CO came along - scarran half-breed bastard, you couldn't miss him - and discovered he'd planned to ship out with them, they wouldn't get their PK bodyguard, so they should tell him Crichton had been there asking but had left again. That vague truth should be good enough to pass by Scorpius.
He headed back into the town and spent his three arns laying more false trails for Scorpy, with only one near-miss when he saw the hybrid walking into a bar across the street.
On his way back to the pad, he caught a glimpse of himself reflected in the glassy window of a closed up store. The guy in the reflection was hollow-eyed, skin the pallor of sickness under wind-burned rawness. The bruises Scorpius had put there on the command carrier had completely gone, replaced by new ones - from the crash, from Scorpy, from falls on the hard rock, who knew? Even those were already fading, except the marks which only looked like bruising around his eyes. He looked like he'd fought a war. Well... hadn't he?
The other guy was too thin. He'd lost so much weight these last two weekens. A curious moment of double-vision; unsettling, unreal. For a moment it seemed he was staring at the other John, Aeryn's John, recorded in his memory blue limned, dying. But no, it was only himself in the reflection, and he wasn't dying. That wasn't his roll of the dice. He'd survived, and he'd keep on surviving, no more wishing to trade places with a dead man.
He was so damned tired of being two, in some form or other. So many echoes, so much of him left in pieces all over the universe. He grimaced at the haggard reflection.
His ship was leaving in five hundred microts. With finality, he turned and walked away from the glass - and the figure behind it, he turned and walked away too.