Disclaimer: as usual, not my characters, not my universe. Just my fun, as well as my sweat and tears.
Thanks to: begun in January 2003 and only finished nearly three years later, this was a difficult birth if there ever was one. At irregular intervals I went to a variety of places on the net and whined about what I had taken to calling the Frankenstein Fic (because I had to cut it apart and put it back together so many times to make it work). A number of nice people offered their help, and did help at various stages of the process. Among them were Eva (EMPorter) and Kernezelda, who both read and commented on early versions of this monster. I'm sure there were others, but I've changed countries, computers and e-mail programs several times since, and so can't reconstruct whose hands this went through in its long gestation period. Thanks to everyone, though.
As always, profound and heartfelt thanks go to Scapekid, my marvellous beta who is always right. (She is!)
Note: spot the Douglas Adams references! There's at least five of them!
"Family, old friends – seeing them again feels so normal."
- John, in 'Terra Firma'
"I keep waiting for something to happen, and when it doesn't happen, I have to remind myself that that's normal."
- John, in 'A Constellation of Doubt'
"Hanging up Christmas decorations... it's supposed to make everything normal."
- John, in 'Terra Firma'
"A ship full of aliens becomes so normal."
- John, in 'Won't Get Fooled Again'
It should be easy.
It's never easy.
I've come home from the Gammak Base. I've come home from the Shadow Depository. I've come home from the Command Carrier and I've come home from Arnessk. I've come home from Elack, and from Moya, and from the Leviathan of the Living Dead. Almost four years now I've been coming home from the Twilight Zone. Every day in my daydreams, every night in my sleep, I've been coming home.
Only this time, it's real.
And the first thing I could think of doing was pointing a gun at Dad's face.
John Crichton, space desperado. Earth beware, 'cause he shoots faster than his shadow.
Home: oversaturated colours – sky, grass, the sea. Sun daring me to take it for granted. A whole frelling week of Kodak moments.
Tears would blur places and people and things for split-seconds in the beginning. Earth, blue sky, the one and only sun; jeans, TV, pizza and car exhaust. Familiar-unfamiliar. Something lurking behind the relief of seeing everybody alive and well.
Normal is the new strange.
So Liv took Chiana shopping, and Aeryn took Dad through the Cassini Division, and Carolyn took me to the seaside (and had the wisdom and good grace to let me go). And I had a disagreement with Dad, and too little time with DK. And we had a big Christmas tree and I had a dose of laka now and then and we tried to forget the security bozos in their suits all around the house and pretended everything could be normal again. And everything was just fine and dandy.
I felt dazed. Still do, and I don't know if it's all due to Grandma's little helpers.
There's guilt, that old acquaintance. Some sadness, too, of a resigned sort. As if a part of my mind just goes 'yeah, figures.'
And it does. It figures. Story of my life. I know that something is wrong when the universe stops trying to kill me or my friends, stops trying to wrench the heart from my chest or the brain from my skull. It always returns its attention to me with a vengeance.
Maybe I'm being paranoid. But then, as they say, just 'cause you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. Sooner or later they get everybody.
DK they got sooner.
Weird critter. Not that that means much nowadays. Big, green, smooth moves, nasty claws. D evaporated it, so we can't ask it to take us to its leader. Never mind - there are so many people out for my head these days, I don't really care whose henchmen are trying to blow my brains out at any particular point in time.
We make a point of not mentioning the Command Carrier, or the Gammak Base, or the Dreadnought in the presence of my family. Not sure how they would take to the idea that I've become a terrorist. Sorta. The Osama Bin Laden of the Uncharted Territories, only with better reasons. (And a higher body count. God help me.)
Then again, these days I mostly feel like the man who got nailed to a tree for telling everybody how great it would be if people were nice to each other for a change.
Maybe my life would have gone differently if I had thought to bring a towel. Maybe one day I'll find God's final message to His creation on some distant planet, in mountain-high letters of fire. I sure could do with an apology of universal proportions. But then, the way things have been going, I guess I'd find it imprinted on my own brain. After all, everybody else seems to have left their footprints there already.
DK loved that book.
So, of course Dad and Olivia were badly shaken. Who wouldn't be? Shaken by the alien wrecking our home, shaken by the gun fight in the living room. Shaken by having an actual spacecraft shoot at an actual monster through the french doors.
Shock is the normal reaction to shootings under the Christmas tree, I suppose.
I'm not good at normal anymore.
D'Argo parked Lo'la'; came in through the shattered doors, haltingly told us about DK. Big D, big softie under that gruff warrior shell, afraid to deal me yet another blow. Tentacles drooping with sorrow.
Seeing my Dad and Olivia fall apart. Seeing the pity, incongruous still, on Aeryn's face. Chi watching me with huge dark eyes. Security personnel swarming into the house, shouting at me, shouting at each other, waving flashlights like they expected them to turn into lightsabers.
I think I just turned and went down to the sea. Sat down on the clammy pier, and kinda froze. Time passed, I don't know how much. Then D'Argo was there, somewhere behind. A shuffle and a low voice. I got up and turned and told him I was okay.
And I was.
That was the scariest thing.
It's four, maybe five a.m. now and there's a soft wind blowing in through the new hole in the wall, playing in the Christmas decorations. They wanted us to move to a 'safe house' but I refused, and Dad and Livvy followed my lead. There are no safe houses. (Houses... planets.) I told them we should be safe enough now. It's the truth, after a fashion.
Aeryn, Chi and D'Argo are outside, patrolling, as much to give me privacy as to avert any further threat. Dad leans in the corner of the couch. If anything shocks me tonight it's seeing him look so frail. An old man. Livvy is slumped against him, looking for all the world like the little girl I remember, only lacking a thumb in her mouth.
We talked, sort of. I couldn't bullshit my way out of this, so I gave them the truth - some of it. A little. As much as I could; as little as I could get away with. Their world's clean and simple. I don't want to contaminate it.
Then, they fell asleep, right here in the living room. Strength in numbers, I suppose. Or maybe their instincts tell them that I can protect them.
That used to be Dad's job, back before he became an old man.
First day home, Livvy caught me strapping on my gun in the morning, coming to call me down for breakfast. I hadn't been thinking; it's become automatized, like shaving, or brushing your teeth. Though that has become as strange as the 24-hour day.
Memory kicking in: the strangeness, the revulsion; then, familiarity. The solidity of Winona in my hands, a creepy kinda comfort. Frell, I named my gun. Viewed from here, from the undeniable, real ground of Earth, from inside a pair of blue jeans and a shirt that isn't made from some stuff almost-but-not-entirely-unlike cotton, that seems slightly surreal.
I haven't quite reached the stage yet where you make notches in the grip – one Scarran, two, three, four, five, sixteen PKs, one Gammak Base.
Guns. Small, big, bigger, huge; unglamourous tools of survival. Pressure of Winona's holster against my thigh; too familiar weight of her bigger sisters on a strap over the shoulder. Too, too familiar. Matte black; cool; confined power released at the press of a finger. It feels good. It shouldn't, but it does. Safer to be on this side of the muzzle. Behind, not in front.
That morning, I met Liv's eyes across the abyss; saw the confusion there. Tried to make light of it; came down unarmed, wearing blue jeans and a flannel shirt like a long-shed skin, like a Halloween costume.
Look, Mom, I'm Human.
I remember Earth. Remember remembering Earth. Blue brilliance against a backdrop of deepest black: the most beautiful thing in the universe.
It always worked. Well, as long as Granny kept her grubby fingers out of it, that is. It didn't matter where I was. My quarters, a cell on the Gammak base, the royal bedroom. I'd curl up in a foetal position, switch off Leviathan noises, Stark's smell, fear of death or torture, and go home. It was easy. Close my eyes, and poof. There I was. Home. Sun, Kodak moments and all.
I would land near Dad's house, or I would stop by the ISS and hitch a ride down to Canaveral. Dad and Olivia and DK would be waiting there, and we'd be nervous and happy and we'd embrace and we'd cry. And then we'd talk for a day and a night and a day, and everything would come all right.
In those dreams I would stare up at the sun like a castaway getting his first peek at dry land. I would feel earth under my feet, the Earth under my feet, and I'd feel myself rooted deeply like a tree. The connection is there, it is real: with every cell of my body I feel the planet claiming me. This is home, in a way that Moya can never be.
And yet, everything's wrong.
Echoing up from somewhere dark and deep: Tell me, John. What did you expect?
He's not here, really. That's one uninvited guest I did not bring home to Earth.
They say you can never go home, meaning, you can't go back to the past. Well, maybe that's true for normal people. But I've been there. And maybe by going where I shouldn't have gone I made the prediction true. You can't go home again. Compounded errors. Tiny details. The universe is a piece of clockwork, and who knows what cogs I've damaged. Maybe I frelled up space and time subtly and irreparably.
Case in point: Buffy seems to have acquired a teenage sister while I was gone.
Maybe this really is not my Earth. Maybe I am E.T., and there's no way of phoning home.
Maybe a part of me got killed when Scorpy stuck his anti-clone cone in me. Maybe Harvey was a twisted part of my subconscious. Maybe I needed Harvey.
Maybe I'm insane: insane still, insane again; mind slowly tilting, or perhaps it's reality that's tilting, you can never be sure. Yes. Harvey's presence tilted me at an angle to reality, and I haven't quite tilted back. Perhaps I never will.
Or perhaps I simply died of radiation poisoning, about a year ago. Another thing I can never, never tell Dad.
I never did give my messages in a bottle to Dad, or DK or Liv. Somewhere along the way they stopped being messages and turned into a way for me to get a grip when I felt I was losing it. A way of dealing with all the crap as best I could, in the absence of the years and years of therapy an Earth psychiatrist would probably prescribe. All things considered, I think I did fine. I only attempted to fry my own brains one single time. I'm not sitting in some dark corner drooling, banging my head against the wall. I'm alive, I can speak coherently, I'm fairly rational most of the time. Hell, I even returned home.
Then, of course, there's the drug thing.
There. I think that is the first time I've written that down. I've gotten really good at having secrets from myself, but it doesn't seem to be a healthy habit. So let's practise being honest with myself for a moment. Just for the sake of mental hygiene.
Okay. Here it comes. Come on, you can write it down.
Hi. I'm John Crichton, and I'm a laka addict.
Jeez, I don't even need Harvey to act like a nutcase.
For a moment, acknowledging that I may have a 'drug problem' seemed like a dramatic step, but now I'm beginning to feel ridiculous. I can't even bring myself to take it seriously enough to remove the quotation marks. Turning my 'drug problem' into a drug problem would really be giving it far too much credit. I've been through worse. Much worse. Astronomically much worse.
Anyway, my laka habit is just a way of dealing with my Aeryn habit. Much more destructive, that. What I really need is Aeryn Addicts Anonymous. A method for dealing with that stomach-churning, heart-wrenching longing to see those gray eyes smile. A way of exorcising her from my thoughts.
Until I find that, a double dose of laka will do.
D'Argo blew our unwelcome visitor to kingdom come right through the wall hanging Susan brought Mom and Dad from Mexico. Living room looks like a war zone. It's fitting - welcome, even. It proves that the past four years of my life haven't been some freak accident or nightmare. No; this Christmas is a resounding confirmation that my life was meant to be a sad fuck-up of a B-movie writer's acid trip.
Funny thing. As a child, that's what I imagined life would be like when I was grown-up and an astronaut. Heroes and rebels and evil empires. George Lucas has a lot to answer for. Later, Dad's sober idealism supplanted the dreams of high adventure. Space became the domain of engineers and scientists. I learned to dream humbler.
Then, the Farscape experiment. And suddenly there I was, long grown out of my dreams, a scientist in a world that needed a Captain Kirk. Better yet, a Han Solo.
But there is no thrill in being shot at, only a nerve-wracking, heart-thudding rush of adrenaline that nobody in their right mind would seek. There's no gothic romance in being imprisoned by the Evil Scientist, pretty damn little heroism in enduring torture, no comforting sense of a fulfilled destiny in death. Life in the Uncharted Territories shows you your place, as effectively as the Total Perspective Vortex: You Are Here, And You Don't Matter. Deal.
Which usually means: run.
So we run. It seeps into the soul, eventually. You learn not to form close attachments. Learn to distrust people and places. Learn to sleep lightly, do a survey of the room upon entering, never sit with your back to the door. Learn to appear big and mean; learn to be big and mean. Always keep on the move.
If you do that long enough, it becomes ingrained. You live like a hunted animal, you become a hunted animal. Driven by instinct and adrenaline and raw fear. You lose the ability to live in peace, in safety. Lose the ability to believe in peace and safety, maybe.
But that's all fine. Running's great. Running keeps you busy, keeps your mind occupied. Keeps your mind off the things you'd rather not think about; things like how it feels to be down on the floor, shaking and drooling, knowing that it is only a matter of time until you will tell him all that you know and then some. Things like how it feels to put the gun to your head and not be able to pull the trigger because he's inside you and he won't let you. Things like watching the ice break, and the water close over her, and feeling your own lungs fill to burst, trying to breathe for her, insanely. Things like feeling cold hands run over your body and getting a hard on despite hating every microt of it; things like being used and being betrayed by your own faithless body, and the need to wash, wash, wash afterwards, only you can't wash it off 'cause it's not on your skin, it's deeper down, and you can't wash it off, can't -
And what happened then? Then,
I think I
asleep and she
must have woken and come over and read part of that last paragraph and she must have made a sound of some sort cause I wake and
dark with something like understanding,
ugly with something like dread,
looking at me.
So I say, you shouldn't read other people's diaries, and she says, you read mine, and I say, yes, when we were both kids and our secrets weren't the sort that would make you wake up screaming in the middle of the night.
(Though I sleep fine. Sorta.)
"What was it like, out there? Really?"
Her voice and her face brook no argument, no evasion. He takes a look at Jack, asleep still on the sofa. Motions for her to follow him outside and makes a point of taking his journal. He does not want to be found out again tonight.
Out in the hall he slides down the wall to sit on the floor. They seemed to do that a lot on Moya, sit on the floor. Maybe it was the furniture that was not entirely made for Human, Sebacean, Delvian, Luxan or Nebari bodies. Maybe they needed to feel closer to Moya sometimes - her warmth underneath, behind, above, a giant womb they all sometimes needed to feel they could crawl back into.
Here, floors are cold, not welcoming.
Liv sits close; trying to bridge a gap that is not physical. He knows she is looking at him but he cannot look back. He can feel the truth in his eyes and he does not want her to see it. He has to guard what there is left of it. Guard her from what there is left of it.
Only his name, spoken in that voice which is so like their mother's. One word, but it contains his entire life in this house, all his years here with her, from her birth to the day he left.
He looks up; has to. Looks at her, and she looks into him like their mother used to do, and, like her, sees far too much.
"Everything you can imagine," he says, with a voice so dry it could crack and crumble. "Everything you're afraid of. It all happened."
Torture. Insanity. Rape. The killing, killing, killing. The words are precise but they are too small to contain his truths. So,
"Everything," he says.
It'll have to do.
Liv does not ask for details. This is as close as she will ever come to understanding him now. When he looks at her again she is crying, soundlessly and very steadily.
He looks away again but words start dripping out.
"But that's not it, Liv. That's not it at all."
It is not? He listens to himself, surprised, stumbling upon revelation at 5 a.m., half asleep and half in shock.
"That's not it. People who're deformed by what they've done... what's been done to them... are a dime a dozen. Even here on Earth. Even here in the good old U.S. of A. You get your PTSD cases and your war vets and your mass murderers. I'm not that special."
She takes a sharp breath. Too much information. Tired, he has lost his grip, for just one moment, and let a piece of his reality slip into hers. But there is no way he can stop now. Furiously, feverishly, he is finding words, discovering a truth or making it up, in a house whose cold floors tell him he does not belong.
"It's the universe. Living in this universe. It's always bigger, and stranger, and more dangerous than you think. Than you can imagine. And there's no such thing as safety, no guarantees. And no such thing as innocence."
And then, suddenly, he is speaking about beauty. He does not know how he got there from the terror and the awe. Or perhaps he does: it is the same thing. The brilliance of the stars that promises you everything, and the unimaginable blackness that owes you nothing: you do not get the one without the other.
He speaks and he speaks, until the stars and suns and nebulas are in there with them - whirling, circling, being born and dying - until he knows she can see them, too.
"You're in love," she says, quietly stunned.
He reflects on that for a moment, thinks of all the mind-blowing wonder, thinks of all the pain, and it is true.
"It's not a very healthy relationship, I guess," he says.
"And when did that ever matter?" she snorts. Perceptiveness and dry humour; like every girlfriend talk he ever had with his little sister. So normal, even though this time they are discussing his abusive relationship with the universe.
It feels like coming home.
And so he cannot help but grin as he replies, "no, I guess it doesn't." Cannot help but grin although he is sad and he knows she is sadder because they both know that he has to go, and will not return.
"You're leaving." she says.
Not because of Scarrans, or wormholes, or assassins in the night, but for the stars; for skies of unimagined colours, dark and brilliant, for the pulse of a living ship in his ears, and the knowledge that every moment can be the last.
"Tomorrow," he says.
"Susan won't get here in time," she says.
"No," he says.
She does not cry, does not protest or berate him, and that makes it worse. So he takes her hand, holds her hand, holds her gaze.
"It's okay," he says. Trying to make it mean so much more.
Then they just sit. At some point the door opens, and an alien looks in on them. At some point, their father starts snoring, ever so softly. At some point the sun begins to rise outside and a red patch of light falls on the wall.
January 2003 – January 2006