John stared long and hard at the standard issue boots that'd somehow appeared at the end of his outstretched legs. Whoa. He hadn't possessed shoes of any kind in so long now that it was oh so good to see a pair on his sports-socked feet where they oh so rightfully belonged. Plus they were good and worn in not to mention good and loose-laced per his regular goofy defiance that just about everyone had come to expect, especially his dad. And the brother he needed to locate. Dave. If he even existed.
John sighed. It was just some sorry-assed notion in a long line of sorry-assed notions that'd plagued him since he began his career in the air force. Like saving the world. He was working his way up to saving the universe one galaxy at a time.
Still, he wore boots. That somehow felt so right. He just wished he could enjoy being re-shod in peace for once. If only he could ignore everyone around him.
Everyone? Uh… as in people? Actual people? Peopleoids? Yep, he had to concede that much. Even if… even if - all four of those surrounding him in that meadow on some nice sunny planet on some nice sunny day were fucking clowns.
He'd met… he'd met… who was it now… uhm… Galiari Angka and her newborn baby boy… Dulieri? Yeah, Dulieri. That was the kid's name. For some reason he felt he had to remember that piece of intel despite it being marginal. Inconsequential. In the grand scheme of things, that is. Yeah, pretty much. Sad to say, but heck he was a soldier. Shit happened. There would always be collateral damage.
Didn't make anything right.
Yet they were clowns who for a change meant him no harm and even ultimately meant something to him. Even though… even though… they were just any mother on any planet and any newborn baby. Pretty much. Everywoman. Everychild.
He couldn't save them all. Not a chance. He'd watched a culling once, cold and conscience-free. It involved some kind of intense culling beam that'd fascinated him so much he left the safety of his jumper just to go watch the sorry proceedings from the safety of practically nowhere - pissy co-pilot be damned. He earned himself some wrath and death glares that day despite him reminding her he was military. Death glares from…uh… who was it now…
Some other mother?
Thinking about them both hurt his head so John thought instead about polishing his boots. Then he thought about polish in general. For some reason he thought about polishing a clubbing weapon.
Was it a shillelagh?
Not this time around anyways.
A shillelagh was made of wood. A tree branch. His dad always had one on display next to a stuffed grizzly and a set of moose antlers in his drawing room. A souvenir from a business trip to the Emerald Isle alongside an antique Guinness bottle crate full of antique Guinness bottles.
This time around it was a golf club.
Anyways at least both implements clubbed. Did the job intended for them. Unlike him. The true purpose for which he was designed still eluded him. He needed to somehow become that scarecrow for all seasons. Accept his role. His destiny. Of that he had no doubt. What he now doubted though was his stamina and his sanity. He couldn't work out if he was hallucinating or dreaming just now. Either way, he couldn't get any proper handle on reality.
John glowered at the latest clown they'd sent in to piss him off big time in that open field nowhere in particular on Dagan. A P-90-totin' Keystone Kop. John was kneeling in dirt right now glaring at the business end of said P-90, and that was the only reason he kept still and let the other three clowns carry on doing what they were doing to him, and that was strapping his booted ankles to the mechanism of the faulty if not McGyvered descender.
Where was the damn harness?
Like the dumb-assed, self-sacrificing idiot he was he'd managed to get himself 'volunteered' to be the one to investigate the hidden chamber of the Quindosim like he was The Guy, but there was no real need to send him down there headfirst now, was there?
Okay, distinct lack of harness. Just some kind of funky cross-bar. That they'd chained his ankles to.
John presumed that they'd at least have to allow him to have both hands free to sport his own P-90 in case there were bad guys down there. Being armed was the only reason he acted remotely co-operative and contrite just now. Being armed despite going in headfirst would even even the odds a little.
Maybe after whatever was about to go down he could sneakily clamber back up over the bust descender, and somehow take down that weirdo foursome that once was a weirdo threesome. A group of people to whom he once belonged. Or so he erroneously believed. They had all been part of a… team. His team.
Once upon a time.
In a galaxy far, far away.
And girded his loins.
Fool me once…
These clowns who were possibly once his team were making a big deal of tugging and pulling at the straps around his boots, so much so that he almost forgot about his sore wrists and other constant injuries that hurt and stung him both day and night and whatever lay betwixt and between, but there they were giggling and snickering and whispering about something or other as they eyed him up and down as if to assess his reaction or goad him into what exactly? Seemed he was the constant butt of some sad joke that never got old.
Yep, he was somehow back with the whiteface, the tramp, and the harlequin but now there was some other creepy clown thrown in for good measure. Why? For crying out loud! What gives?!
John narrowed his eyes at this latest clown incursion. The Keystone Kop complete with baton was straight out of some old-timey black and white slapstick movie he used to watch with Gramps, because being with Gramps and doing stuff that Gramps did or watching stuff that Gramps watched was way cool back in the day. Unlike spending any time with Dad after Mom passed. Plus Gramps talked about fixed-winged aircraft and some crazy foolhardy guy called Icarus who flew towards the sun on home-made wings, but whenever Gramps mentioned this Icarus, he always looked at him funny.
Gramps. He hadn't thought about Gramps in a long time.
Gramps. Who would pick up a freshly dead bird and wave its wings at him, then tell him nothing truly died. Even after his mom just did.
John asked Gramps to flap Mom's wings some more. Except the wings belonged to a dead bird. Gramps nodded slowly, then threw a paper airplane across his living room into the kitchen or bathroom or basement or whatever room it was, and told John to fly like the wind.
The baton the kop just whacked him on the ass with was now tucked into this kop's belt like it was secondary defense and the P-90 primary. The P-90 was a tad anachronistic to say the least.
"Why are you doing this? To me?"
He had to ask. Like he would get an honest answer. Like he needed to know.
"Because you didn't save me. You didn't even try."
Figured. Just one more bearer of a grudge.
John rolled his head.
"I tried, buddy."
"Not hard enough. Colonel. Sir. You made me mad as hell, Sir. Why didn't you come after me?"
The kop sneered then jabbed the end of the P-90 against John's left temple causing him to wince.
"Sorry, Sir. But you asked for it. Sir. By disrespecting me. Sir. And by not believing in me. Sir, Colonel, Sir!"
The Kop's shoulders stiffened then slumped taking his weapon with, and he did puppy dog eyes that anyone would be envious of including him so that was saying something.
"Why didn't you come after me?! Sir?!"
Because you deliberately ran into a Wraith culling beam, you fucking a-hole!
Something else was way wrong with this picture. It was to do with Aiden Ford and…
…and the whiteface. He knew them both, but not at the same time. They'd met. But one ended up replacing the other so they were never on his team at the same time so speaking of anachronis-
Whoa! Holy shit!
They yanked a chain, and -
-suddenly he was airborne, and – upside-down! – and dangling in mid-air over the entrance to the chamber. What was so wrong with the damn descender that he couldn't be harnessed in a proper fashion or at least be allowed to grip the damn thing with his two bare hands if it was broke or bust in any way like they couldn't fix an essentially all-there piece of equipment and, well, allow him descend like a normal human being? John flailed his arms. His legs weren't going anywhere despite his wanting to kick butt. And they hadn't allowed him a weapon. He'd gambled on that, and lost, but at least his hands were free.
Giggles and snickers turned into cackles. The three clowns who'd tortured him were up to their old tricks plus now there was this new kid on the block. John felt like he was at the bottom of the heap or totem pole or even the bottom of the hill that all the proverbial shit rolled down, and that made his guts turn inside out which was something that even pulling eleven Gs could never do.
John swung around as the four in cahoots clowns lowered him none too gently into some Chamber of Doom though not unlike some Temple of Doom. It grew gloomier by the nanosecond. And spinnier. He'd have to tell…
…that spinnier was a real word.
Not that he generally suffered from vertigo but it was a seriously good thing he hadn't eaten recently otherwise he'd mostly likely puke.
Truth be told he hadn't eaten in days. Or flown. Or run. Or peed. Or crapped.
Yep, his ass was grass.
John awoke to a donkey-squeal of pulleys, which was a sound he reckoned would even wake the undead.
Donkey. Mule. Ass.
His ass was grass? Nope, it was in the air in all its lily-white glory. Bone-chilling air. The deeper he descended, the chillier it became. As for his ankles, he remembered the clowns strapping his boots not his bare feet. But his ankles hurt. He guessed his feet hadn't been booted after all. Yep there he was, descending naked and afraid into the no longer hidden chamber of the Quindosim. Dangling by his bony ankles and unarmed apart from going all tooth and nail on whatever lurked down below.
So why were they descending him? John twisted his body to get a good look up at the newly-formed clown quartet framed and back-lit by the entrance to the chamber. He could read nothing on any of their nasty faces bar scorn.
John sighed, then gasped. He heard a hissing sound.
I hate snakes, Doc! I hate 'em!
No, that wasn't it. He didn't hate snakes. But who was Doc?
John imagined himself gripping some doc's shirt, and waving a fist in his face.
But Lucius needs me!
Buck up, Carson!
The hissing turned to chittering. He knew that sound.
I hate iratus bugs, Doc! I hate 'em!
It was hard to get pissy at the man, but then he remembered. Doctor Carson Beckett was the doctor who'd waterboarded him in the infirmary all those years ago. Or had he? Maybe he'd been sick, and barely able to breathe.
He'd hallucinated. Someone bad had told him he'd been waterboarded by his own doctor, and his team had tortured him. And that someone was…
John had stupidly allowed himself to be kidnapped by the biggest a-hole in the Milky Way. He'd also met Lucius once or twice before. The lunk was a contender for the biggest a-hole in Pegasus, Kolya notwithstanding. He felt contempt for all three of 'em. And perhaps his team had tortured him for a reason.
John gasped in realization. There had been a reason. A valid one.
It was about the boy.
And whoever was up there was not his team. His real team hadn't meant him this degree of harm, he knew that now. But he was still a worm on a hook. With evil clowns above him, and mindless iratus bugs below.
The floor was suddenly lit up by snapped and dropped glowsticks even as the stone slab was being pushed along and shoved back over the entrance. Yep, there were iratus bugs all right. Nothing said iratus bug better than skittering, chittering, leaping up at you, and latching onto your neck like a vampire. And the clowns were sealing him into what was essentially a tomb. Full of iratus bugs which were no better than snakes.
Was he Indy after all?
John wished for Gramps to fend them off for him while he hid under the covers, then take him in his arms, hold him close, and tell him everything would be okay. He could see Gramps in his mind's eye. He had bright green eyes, a permanent tan and leathery skin from a lifetime of being a total beach bum, and a shock of silver hair with cowlicks like his only way, way worse like it was a crime or at least a misdemeanor.
Gramps had been more of a dad to him than, well, Dad.
Gramps smiled knowingly, ruffled his hair from his cowlicks to his bangs, and folded another paper airplane. This time he tossed it out the back door of his beach hut. John watched in awe as it caught on the wind, and soared.
He never spotted where it landed. Back then it didn't matter one bit. So long as it landed somewhere far, far away. In fact John's own particular airplane sought a higher altitude altogether.
So long, Gramps! See ya soon, I guess!
John saluted even as he dangled upside-down over a pit full of scrabbling iratus bugs. He wondered if his residual iratus DNA would save him from being eaten alive or torn limb from limb.