Heaven's Gate - Part 2

“Frell you, Crichton!!” Aeryn raged.  The last of her hopes for some sort of reconciliation with him evaporated
as the starfield stabilized outside the craft.  “That wasn’t what I meant.  All we need is some time and privacy.  
We can work this out.”  

“Shit.”  John hissed the word, drawing it out into an extended whisper.  He shut down the engines with a series
of fast, slapping impacts against the control surfaces, then banged his fist angrily against the plating of the
console.  “Chill out, you just got your wish.”  

“What do you mean?”  She stepped closer, scanning the readouts next to his elbow with the ease born of a
thousand such moments.  “This isn’t where Moya agreed to meet me,” she concluded.  

“No shit.”  John unlatched the swivel base of his seat and spun around to look up at her.  “We just hit one of
those funky little bumps in the road I told you about.”  

“Bumps?”  She remembered his explanation as to why the rhotarri engines would never succeed commercially.  
“Where did we wind up?  How far off course are we?”  

“Beats the hell out of me.  You figure it out.  I’m going to take a walk.”  An angry thrust of his arms propelled him
out of the pilot’s seat, leaving the chair spinning lazily on its base as he ducked through the hatch and slammed
it shut behind him.  Aeryn considered going after him to continue the aborted discussion, but their current
situation was a result of John’s unwillingness to discuss anything with her and it looked as though badgering
him would only do more harm.  She slid into the abandoned seat, and began scanning the readouts, trying to
get a fix on their position.  

*  *  *  *  *

Crichton stood in a corner at the rear of the cargo area, staring blindly at the inner bulkhead.  He hadn’t
intended to come back here -- it was unheated and the temperature was probably only a degree or two above
freezing -- but it was where he had ended up when his feet had stopped moving.  Every muscle in his body was
screaming at him to get out of the ship, to get away, to run, to escape from the relationship that promised him
more emotional discomfort than he could afford.  Meanwhile, his heart was urging him to turn around and walk
back into the cockpit to be with Aeryn.  His body had won the battle long enough to drive him back here, but
he’d run out of space all too soon.  

His current situation was his own fault.  Aeryn’s gentle persistence, her trick to get him alone and her quiet vow
that she still loved him had all combined to convince him that there was still such a thing as ‘hope’.  There had
been something in the cockpit that first day that he’d mistaken as fate, so he’d lowered his guard and
deliberately set out on this three-week cruise.  He hadn’t bargained on the fear that stole into him every time he
looked at her.  The primeval part of him -- the caveman genes that knew about surviving long enough to
evolve, the part of him that had taken precedence during the first half-cycle of his exile when he’d been
struggling to survive -- dictated that he protect himself from her, and he couldn’t figure out how to override the
instinct.  

The hatch at the front of the small cargo bay creaked open, letting out a soft metallic whine as it eased open
slowly  “John,” she called hesitantly.  

Her voice could still generate chills up his spine; that much hadn’t changed.  There was a part of him that didn’t
want to answer, begging for an immature silence, but there were only three sections to the ship and his location
was pretty much a foregone conclusion.  

“Back here,” he answered, moving out of his corner.  She stepped around the environmental units, moving
carefully through the narrow alley between the floor to ceiling atmospheric scrubbers, and her appearance
generated the visceral pang that clobbered him every time he saw her.  “You’re beautiful,” he whispered past a
sudden tightness in his throat.  She came to a stop, a smile appearing despite her obvious surprise.  John
stepped to one side, maneuvering so that a storage bin stood between them, completing the transition before
he could even consider what he was doing.  He leaned on it, striving to look like he was simply resting instead
of taking up a defensive position.  

“Did you figure out where we are?”  

“We’re on the far side of the Veldan System, a little less than twelve solar days from Moya, approaching from
the opposite direction.”  She looked around the cargo bay, assessing their supplies.  “Do we have enough food
and fuel for the extra six days?”  

“Food and fuel, yes.  We’re short on water.  We’ll have to settle for being filthy by the time we get to Moya.  I’ll
reset the purification system to start taking drinking water out of the supply for the shower.”  John scrubbed at
his hair and then shook his head.  “We’re exactly opposite Moya from where we were before, aren’t we?”  

“Yes, it’s almost a perfect reciprocal course.”  She stepped to one side so he could move past her, heading
toward the tangle of machinery that took care of their environment.  

“You realize we may have theoretically passed right through Moya, don’t you?  We should have waved hello on
the way through,” John suggested, and Aeryn gave him a small shove from behind, telling him she knew better
than to believe it.  

He’d been working with Gallenn posing as the nondescript mechanic for nearly a cycle, shuffling about in dusty
coveralls, watching the transient crews come and go from the spaceport with the care of a fugitive but without
the nearly psychotic level of wariness that had controlled his life the first half-cycle he’d been on the run.  If
someone had asked him, John would have said that his reflexes and his reactions had returned to normal,
relaxing to merely paranoid instead of pathologically high-strung.  But Aeryn’s unexpected contact, thrusting
him forward without warning, triggered a vicious physical reaction, rolling forward on an unpleasant wave of
memories.    He swung around as his elbow came up to shoulder level, preparing to lash back at head height.  
He saw her surprised look as he pivoted, and tried to stop, but the strike was already well on its way, flashing
straight toward her face.  

Aeryn smiled as she nudged John forward, pleased by a return of the senseless jokes that had flowed from him
even during the worst of times.  She saw his rear foot plant, recognized the signs of an impending attack, and
began a weight shift that would keep her clear even as she struggled with her disbelief.  John wouldn’t do that,
he had never been that jumpy … he’d never been that quick.  The strike that was designed to maim slowed at
the last microt, his eyes widening with shock as his turn put more force behind the intended impact even as he
tried to stop it.  His hesitation gave her the extra time she needed to slide under the strike:  turning, sliding in
close, pivot, grapple, wrap the arm, other arm reaching behind to upset his center of gravity.  

Klyo-feltras.”  The name of the maneuver emerged in a grunt as she set her hip and knocked him off his feet.  
The combat technique worked best on an opponent already in motion, and John’s greater height translated into
leverage that she could use to her benefit.  It was designed to bring the opponent’s head to the ground first,
using weight and acceleration to crush the back of the skull, and Aeryn found herself desperately trying to
break the momentum even as John was headed for the metal deck plates.  

“Hang on to me!” she yelled as they went down together, both fighting to recover their balance, and flipped him
far enough over that she landed beneath him.  

“Frell,” she gasped, feeling squashed.  His head had landed squarely on her stomach.  “Are you all right?”  

John didn’t answer.  She scrambled out from under him, trying to lay him down slowly while checking him for
damage.  He wasn’t breathing, but his eyes were open and he was making a series of odd faces.  

“What should I do?” she yelled at him, hands hovering.  John shook his head, but he hadn’t begun breathing.  
The mind-clogging precursors to panic interfered as she tried to remember his archaic assisted breathing
technique, her memory diverted by the single thought that she may have fatally injured him.  

A long whistling breath ended her worries.  John wheezed and pulled in a second breath.  “What does --” he
hauled in more air, “-- cryo trelkez mean?  Frozen chicken?”  

Klyo-feltras,” she corrected.  “It’s the name of a combat technique and it translates roughly as ‘skull flattener’.”  
She helped him sit up.  “Are you hurt?  You weren’t breathing.”  

“Knocked the wind out of me when I hit the floor.”  Aeryn shook her head when the explanation didn’t make any
sense, watching in concern as he continued to wheeze.  “Good whallop like that can stun the diaphragm.  
Doesn’t last long so it makes up for it by being very unpleasant.”  They staggered to their feet together and
stumbled toward the cockpit.  “You’ve never had that happen?”  

“I’ve never heard of it happening to a sebacean.  Lie down for a microt,” she ordered, steering him into the
living quarters.  John went willingly but settled for sitting on the edge of the bunk, hunched over as he waited for
his body to recover from the impact.  He glanced at her stare and looked away, studying the contents of the
cabin.  She followed the direction of his gaze as he examined the shelves and their contents, her gear bag
sitting in a corner with her spare clothing and weapons showing where it gaped open, his own gear strewn in an
untidy collection along the wall at the foot of the bed.  He looked everywhere except at her.  

“Sorry,” he offered at last, “I don’t know why I did that.”  Aeryn realized that his spikey reticence was the result
of embarrassment rather than another of his uncommunicative sulks.  His unjustified reaction was making him
uncomfortable.     

“We both over-reacted,” she offered in return.  He’d tried to stop it, communicating more clearly than words that
his reaction hadn’t been intentional.  “You’re not injured,” she checked again.  

“No, you did good.  That was a nice rollercoaster ride.  How ‘bout you?  You took the brunt of that fall.”  

“No damage,” she answered despite the warm spots on her back and her ribs that warned of bruises to come
from where she’d cushioned his fall.  John was staring at something in her bag, and she tried to think what
might be there that would draw his interest.  He’d always been more interested in what was inside her clothing
than the garments themselves.  He shoved himself off the bunk, and reached into the jumble.  He came up with
the empty boot scabbard for the discarded knife, turning to face her as he examined it.  

“I noticed you weren’t carrying it anymore.  Did you drop it somewhere on this enormous spaceship and couldn’t
find it?”  The mild sarcasm came through clearly as he held the leather sheath out toward her.  Any truthful
answer would sound either patronizing or paranoid, she decided, electing not to answer him at all.  “What
happened to it, Aeryn?”  

“It’s gone.”  

“Because of me,” he stated.  She waited for his next response, the small cabin very quiet all of a sudden.  
“Because of me?” he repeated with a different intonation.  

“Yes.”

“Afraid for me or afraid of me.”  

“I couldn’t decide and it didn’t matter.  Spacing it seemed like the best choice.  And afraid is too strong a word.  
I was concerned.”  

John tossed the useless object back into her bag and sat down, staring at empty wall this time.  “This is no
good.  I don’t want you to be afraid.  You shouldn’t be afraid just because I’m around.”  

“John, the only thing I’m afraid of is losing you.  I told you that fourteen solar days ago.  Over the last cycle I
chased down more rumors, more false hopes, and more dead ends than a person could expect to find in a
single lifetime.  I left you because of fear and it was the wrong decision.  I won’t let myself be afraid when I’m
with you any more.”

“How did you find me?” he asked, continuing to stare at the wall.  

“I was about to give up,” she confessed.  “Every rumor said that John Crichton was dead.  Then I heard about a
mechanic who could repair almost anything and told incomprehensible jokes.”  

“You came out here looking for someone because they told jokes?”  John finally turned to look at her, his
disbelief apparent even as he gently mocked her.  Aeryn spread her hands to the sides and shrugged.  He
scratched lightly at his chin for several microts, then got to his feet.  “I’ll reset that distillation unit to get more
drinking water.  Why don’t you get us started toward Moya?”  He was gone before she could answer, leaving
her literally with her mouth open, her next comment stalled by his fast change in mood and subsequent
disappearance.  

Aeryn wandered slowly into the cockpit, considering his swings from tenderness to anger and back again.  The
day they’d tricked him into fleeing in this ship, he’d been arguing vehemently one microt, and sliding down to sit
on the floor in defeat the next, as much as admitting that he still loved her.  Anger and silence had reigned
since then, interjected with rare moments like the one in the cargo bay when he’d said she was beautiful.  She
recognized the signs of inner turmoil, closely resembling her own endless days of indecision more than a cycle
ago, and didn’t know how to help him resolve the conflict.  

The cushions of the padded pilot’s seat sighed as she slumped into them, adding a voice to her own silent
exhalation.  She resigned herself to another twelve days spent trying to get through to him.  The control panels
lit up, a flickering sequential illumination as deft fingers flicked control surfaces without the guidance of her
thoughts.  Enduring his behavior would be worth it as long as it achieved something in the end, but even that
outcome was uncertain.  

Her inner musings came to a stop when one of the displays didn’t react correctly.  Aeryn stared at the readout
for the microts it took to focus her concentration on her task, then she reviewed all of the panel’s settings.  
“Frell,” she muttered and shut everything down, starting over and paying attention this time.  It came up the
same.  The drive system wasn’t receiving power.  

“John!  Did you pull the power relays for some reason?” she yelled back through the open hatch.  

“No, they’re still secured in place.  Pulling those out is your specialty,” he yelled back.  “Problem?”  

“A small detail,” she called, thinking that he was playing some sort of trick.  “The fuel cells show normal, but I
don’t show any power being transferred to the hetch drive.”  She waited for the next part of his joke.    

John popped into sight in the short corridor, moving quickly toward the cockpit.  “That’s a hell of a small detail,”
he said, leaning over her shoulder.  The dirt smeared fingers danced across the controls, but the readout
tracking the power reaching the hetch drive still read zero.  “Crap.  I’ll check the relay circuitry first.”  

“You didn’t do this,” Aeryn challenged, feeling concerned for the first time.  

“Hell no.  Stay here and tell me if anything changes.”  He ducked through the hatch and disappeared.  
“Anything?” his voice yelled several microts later.  Aeryn called back a negative then waited through a series of
thumps and clangs.  “Shut everything down, Aeryn.  I think I know what’s wrong.”  

She did as he asked, then went to join him in the back of the craft.  When she got there, John had
disappeared.  Aeryn checked behind what little machinery stood in the bay then glanced into the living
quarters, the only other area of the ship, but he wasn’t there either.  The situation took on a nightmarish
surrealism.  There was nowhere for him to go, but she was suddenly alone on a crippled ship.  She was about
to yell his name when she spotted the bottoms of his tan boots hanging out of an access hatch in the side of
the ship, right about where the nacelles for the rhotarri drive were located on the outside of the hull.  

“What have you found?” she asked, watching the feet shift as John squirmed in the tight fit.  The explanation
emerged from the opening sufficiently muffled that her microbes refused to translate the phrase.  Aeryn peered
into the confined space where he was working, trying to pick out any detail that would tell her what he was
doing, but it was too dark.  She took a deep breath as her impatience threatened to turn into anger, the
constant low-key stress of the past days robbing her of the ability to cope with the anything unexpected in a
rational manner.  Five quick steps took her away from where John was working, using the motion and the small
distance to get herself under control.    

“I found the problem.”  John slid out of the access tunnel, glancing at where she was pacing.  He scratched his
earlobe with a single finger, leaving a smear of grease in its wake, and studied his boots for several microts.  
“When I installed the new drive system I decided it would be easier to patch the power cables into the ones
leading to the hetch drive instead of running a new set all the way from the fuel cells.  There are junctions with
switching circuits in there and they’re frozen.”  

Aeryn watched the awkward stiff movements, thinking that it resembled inexplicable embarrassment.  She
decided to ignore it in favor of solving their problem.  “Frozen like ice or frozen as in they won’t move?”  

“The second.  They’re set to shunt power to the rhotarri drive,” he nodded toward the engine nacelle, “and I
think we really don’t want to try that trick again.”  

“Can you fix it?” she asked.  The jerky stance settled unmistakably into embarrassment.  “You can’t fix this, can
you?” she attacked him.  

“I can fix it,” he protested.  “It’s easy to repair, but I kind of took another shortcut when I did that part as well.”  
John continued his explanation, “It’s just that I have to do it from the outside of the ship.  I didn’t bother creating
access from inside because I never thought I’d use this crate for anything other than test flights.”

It was his series of compromises that was causing the problem, she realized.  His look of discomfort was
stemming from the choices he’d made when he built the prototype, but there was another component to the
slumped stance that she hadn’t accounted for yet.  “Please tell me you have a spacesuit onboard,” she asked,
testing to see if that was the additional problem.

“I do, but it’s not a maintenance suit so it doesn’t have an oxygen scrubber.  I’ll have to do this in two or three
tries, depending on how fast I can move and how long the air in the suit lasts.”  He slid around her, angling
toward the airlock in the back of the ship.  “It’s not a tough job.  I’ll pull the cabling loose and connect it back
into a permanent connection with the hetch drive.”  

Aeryn looked into the storage compartment as John began pulling the baggy black suit on over his coveralls.  It
was empty.  “Where are the other suits?”  He merely shook his head and shrugged the shoulders of the one-
piece suit into place.  “No others?” she asked in disbelief.  She was beginning to understand why he’d looked
so uncomfortable.  The failure of the hetch drive was revealing a widespread carelessness, the unassociated
factors combining into a sum that could have been lethal on any one of his test flights.  She watched him
secure his gloves and seal the suit, considering what would have driven John to become so reckless.  He’d
been rash or even hasty at times, but never so mindlessly negligent of basic safety precautions.

“I wasn’t exactly given the chance to stock this boat before departure,” he defended himself.  He slid a safety
harness over the sagging fabric.  “The lifeline is on an autoreel.  If anything happens, hit that big switch over
there,” he pointed to a large button beside the airlock door, “and it will yank me inside.”  The seal around the
bottom of his helmet snapped closed with a loud clack, he picked up a fistful of tools, and then the airlock door
slid shut behind him.  

*  *  *  *  *

Crichton leaned further into the junction between the drive nacelle and the ship, struggling to attach the power
cable to the circuit feeding the hetch drive.  His safety line tugged him away from his goal and he yanked at it
angrily, frustration goading him into a foolish response.  The fast motion flipped a loop of cable toward him and
he fended it off, but his yank had also pulled him away from the junction that was his goal.  His vision blurred
slightly as he sighed in annoyance with himself, the momentary lightheadedness telling him that he needed to
recharge the oxygen in his suit.  

“Thirty microts,” he murmured, pulling himself back into the workspace.  Thirty microts and he could be done
and this would be over.  He tried to make the connection again, but his hands were shaking violently and the
cabling missed by a wide margin.  “Steady,” he coached himself and tried again.  

The first repair had gone smoothly, but the one thing he hadn’t confessed to Aeryn before leaving the ship was
that the suit’s heater was damaged.  It had been on his list of things to be taken care of, but he hadn’t intended
to use this ship ever again, so the item had slid to the bottom of his priorities.  His two short stays in the airlock
to renew his oxygen supply hadn’t been enough to warm him significantly, and going all the way inside would
have wasted more of the ship’s air supply, so he’d chosen to keep working despite the increasing cold.  It had
been a bad choice.  

“Suck it up,” he told himself, and his numb fingers responded by letting the splicer tool slip out of his grasp.  
“Fuck!”  He lunged after it, successfully capturing the critical item, but his feet flipped over his head in
response, threatening to pull him away from the nacelle again.  “Just do it, John.  Then you can get some hot
cocoa.”  He twisted the control for the suit heater again, trying to goad a little more warmth out of it, and pulled
himself back into the cramped space.  

“Is everything all right out there?”  Aeryn’s voice blared into the comms in his helmet, making him jump.  She’d
been checking on him at regular intervals; her call shouldn’t have startled him.  He took a deep breath to
steady himself, ignoring the odd sparkling that fizzed across his vision for several microts.  

John flipped the comms channel open and tried to control his chattering teeth before answering.  “Almost
done.  I’m reattaching the ssssecond cable now.”  He cursed mentally as his shuddering breath turned the one
word into a hissing stutter.  The cable slid into place and he yanked himself forward, jamming it securely into
the receiver.  “J-j-just securing it now.  Give me a mi … crot.”  His thumb refused to flip the switch on the splicing
tool.  

“What’s the matter?” she barked into the comms.  “You don’t sound right.”  

“Little cold,” he squeezed out against the escalating shivers.  “Finishing now.  I’m fine.”  The splicer sputtered
into life, energy arcing brightly in the dark, illuminating his target as he worked.  Aeryn was calling to him, her
voice indistinct as he focused all of his attention on making the connection.  She was saying something about
the autoreel as he wedged his hand against a support stanchion to steady the shaking.  

“No!  Almost … d-d-done,” he yelled, afraid she would yank him in before he finished.  

The splicer flickered out, slipped loose and spun away from him.  He watched without moving as it ricocheted off
the interior of the nacelle plating, spun past his head and disappeared into space.  “Bye,” he called to it, feeling
a little silly, and returned his attention to the power cable.  Two tugs confirmed that it was secured, and he
pushed himself out of the hatch.  The panel was clipped to one side of the opening.  It would have to be
unclipped, fitted into place and secured.  He stared dumbly at it, finally remembering that it would not affect the
hetch drive if he didn’t close the hole.  

“Fuggit,” he declared, and kicked himself toward the airlock.  

John watched with mild surprise as the ship sailed away from him instead of passing alongside as he’d
intended, wondering if his sense of direction was that bad or if Aeryn was leaving without him.  He came to the
end of his tether with a hard snap against his harness, creating a painful jolt from skull to heels, then began to
spin as he headed back toward the ship.  “Incoming!” he called as he got closer, trying to spot the airlock.  But
the darkness and the stars seemed to have gotten inside his helmet, creeping in along with the cold, and he
never felt it when he collided with the hull and began another trip to the end of his safety line.  


                                                                          * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Part 1                                                                                                                                                                                                 Part 3
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