(First posted December 14, 2003)
Category: Alternate Universe.
Disclaimer: Not mine. No profit.
Spoilers/Time Frame: No spoilers to speak of because this is AU.
Note to the reader: This is yet another offering in the collection that began with ‘Birthright’. (The other
stories are: ‘Once Upon A Microt’, ‘Tough Love’, and ‘Guy Stuff.) Please keep in mind that ‘Birthright’ was
written before Kansas and Terra Firma aired in the U.S., so it digresses from canon. If something in this story
seems a bit out of whack from what was established in the show, that’s why.
* * * * *
Summer. Heat. The buzz of June bugs rising to a shrill whine and then stopping for no more than ten seconds
before resuming their air raid warning growl. Half a block away he could hear the Bryant’s sprinkler going at it
in a vain attempt to keep their front yard from turning to nicely baked shredded wheat -- that prickly burnt-to-a-
crisp stubble that you can’t walk across in your bare feet without lacerating the bottoms.
Spit, spit, spit, spit, spit … whirrrrrrrrrr.
Summers this far south were getting to be more of a burden than he was willing to tolerate. For the past three
years, he had wrestled with the idea of moving north, but he didn’t want to leave until he could let them know
where to find him. It had been six years since they’d last stopped in.
He wondered if they were dead.
Jack Crichton set the bag down on the walk, took a moment to dry his sweating hands on his pants, then pulled
his soaked shirt away from his skin, seeking some relief from the heat. This time of year it would have been
easier to drive to the store; all he needed to do was hop in the car, crank up the air conditioning, and he could
be there in less than five minutes. Walking the half-mile was something that he did out of pride and pure
stubbornness. He refused to admit that the years were taking their toll, and clung to his routines as though
they were a magic talisman that could stave off the passage of time.
John had been bestowed with such a miracle. He had seen it for himself the last time they had stopped in for a
visit. The Kallamitri cure had been every bit as successful as they’d first hoped. John had just turned fifty that
time -- or as close to it as he could figure out after allowing for wormholes and time jumps and other anomalies
-- and still looked and acted as if he was in his mid-thirties. Aeryn Sun, relying on sebacean genetics rather
than gene manipulation, was unchanged as well. Just as uniquely beautiful, just as strong, poised, and
collected, and just as lethal as the first time he’d met her so many years ago. Only Ian had changed. He was a
grown man, with a wife of his own -- if they called their spouses that. He’d forgotten to ask if they had the
concept of marriage out there in space.
Jack shook his head, picked up the single sack of groceries, and started walking again. For so many years,
he’d worried about John and his band of friends. With the slow passage of time, however, he’d become jealous
in the way that viewers envied television characters. It was a long-distance resentment born of ignorance. He
didn’t know enough about their lives to fill in the blanks, and even to this day tended to cobble together a
romantic vision of what it was like to live among the stars. His mind tended to fill in the missing pieces with
ridiculous visions of exotic alien-fare banquets, laughter, adventure, and love conducted while bounding from
solar system to solar system.
He’d seen the truth for himself. He knew better. Six visits ago -- or was it seven? He was having trouble
remembering details lately. It didn’t matter, he decided. It was the year they’d finally figured out the schematics
of the hetch drive that John had left behind and the first manned ship had taken a quick jaunt to Mars and back
in an afternoon. That had been 2008, maybe … or 2012. It was a multiple of four, he remembered that much.
He rounded the corner, stopped beneath the huge maple to take refuge in the shade for a few minutes, and let
his mind replay the events of that horrific evening. He’d been at the IASA building most of the afternoon, and
had gotten home later than usual, well after dark. The smell should have alerted him the minute he’d stepped
through the door, but he’d been concentrating on the frustration of dealing with bureaucrats, and hadn’t
noticed anything until he walked into the darkened kitchen and slipped on something slick.
When he’d flipped on the light, he had nearly passed out at the sight of that much blood. It was everywhere:
creeping slowly down the sides of the sink, drying on the counters, coating the table, and spattered all over the
floor. For a split second, he had thought someone was playing some sort of sick joke. Then he’d spotted the
heap of bloodstained leather in the corner, and had gone up the stairs without remembering touching a single
Life in space was no treat. The reality had been driven home that night and the following day while he and
Aeryn had waited to see if John and Ian would recover. They had been on the run and had come through to
the one place they prayed their enemies wouldn’t find them. That time it had been Ian who had been grabbed
by the “intergalactic bad guys”, as John had glibly described their latest enemies, and it had been John who
had abandoned all caution and gone in to retrieve his son. The time after that, it had been Aeryn who had
gotten into trouble, and Ian who had knocked his father out and gone after his mother when everyone said
neither would get out alive.
On that first, gory event, it had taken Doctor Stoddard, doddering and all but deaf, who as a young man had
treated John when he was in his early teens, to save them. Sworn to secrecy, he’d stitched, stapled,
bandaged, and administered antibiotics to stave off infection, and then had nearly drained both Aeryn and him
dry of blood for transfusions. Aeryn’s had gone into Ian; every drop that he could spare had gone into John.
Jack smiled as he recalled the ensuing weeks. He’d told IASA he needed a break, and then had arranged to
have groceries delivered. The four of them had tottered about the house for nearly three weeks before any of
them showed any sign of normal levels of energy. It had been a strange, time-suspended interlude from life.
They had fallen into a routine that consisted of hours and hours of naps in front of the television, and activities
no more strenuous than cut-throat games of Scrabble and Monopoly. More than once they’d gotten laughing
so hard that any one of them was liable to faint.
He had gotten used to coming downstairs in the morning and finding John and Aeryn sitting in intertwined on
the couch, doing nothing more than enjoying each other’s company. Ian -- strong, capable, assured, overly
mature Ian, who wore a weapon like he’d been born with it strapped to his leg -- had stumbled across a rerun of
the Muppet Show and had gotten hooked on the wildly colored mayhem. It had been years since he’d last
watched Ian sitting on the carpet, doubled over in laughter, and yet he could still sing the entire opening
credits. They’d all had to listen to the music that many times.
And there had been the quieter, bittersweet moments. Evenings before dinner were often spent lounging on
the back stoop, waiting for their bodies to recover, always knowing that at some point three out of the four
would have to move on. The conversation would run on for hours at a time, and then suddenly lag, silence
falling over the four of them when a stray comment or glance would remind them that this was the exception, not
the rule. Their lives weren’t supposed to consist of peaceful moments like that. It was an anomaly.
He’d almost lost John that time -- and Ian as well -- and yet it had been some of the best weeks of his life.
Jack took a deep breath, and stepped out into the bludgeoning heat of the sunlight. He was eighty-five now,
and didn’t know how much longer he would be able to provide a sanctuary when his son needed it. Livvie was
living in urban Chicago. As much as she’d wanted to stay close, her husband’s work had taken them to
congestion of the city, and there wasn’t anywhere within five miles of their house where a star-hopping couple
could set down a spaceship. Susan and her family were equally inaccessible, living in one of the more densely
populated portions of greater Houston.
He missed the girls with an intensity that was every bit as tangible as the heat radiating up from the concrete
It had been six years since he’d last seen John, the longest interval yet. He was tired, and wanted his son to
come home one more time before he got too old to enjoy their visits. Jack shifted the bag to his left arm, and
rubbed his eyes with his other thumb, trying to erase the sting of self-pity before it turned to tears.
“You’re losin’ it, Jack,” he said to himself. “Pull it together.” A deep breath only served to suck in the over-
heated mid-August air. Too hot and too thick, it felt like he was trying to inhale mud, or possibly something
even more solid than that. “One more,” he mumbled. One more summer here, and then he would move north.
If they hadn’t come back by then, he would be forced to assume they were all dead. He hoped they went out as
a family, loving and fighting together. He prayed that one wouldn’t be left behind to mourn the others, to live
alone always missing a mother or a father … or a son.
The pitiful sting returned, goading a small wet offering loose. Jack took another deep breath, pinched the
bridge of his nose to hide a swipe at the offending tear, and turned up the front walk.
Someone was on the porch. Sitting in the bench swing. Two people.
A few details registered even as he staggered in shock. Jeans. White t-shirts. Sneakers. They’d had time to
change into Earth-disguises this time. Long dark flowing hair, and a familiar swing of her head to flip it behind
“Hi, Dad. Sorry we didn’t call first.”
Groceries hit the walk with a crash. The fizzing escape of beer from broken bottles was lost behind the sound
of laughter and the slam of the front screen door. Ian was standing there, laughing. Then a fourth person
emerged, carrying something.
Jack grabbed at the railing to steady himself, and wondered if the heavy sensation in his chest meant that he
was having a heart attack. It was either that or a level of relief and love unlike anything he’d ever felt in his
Ian came down the steps to meet him halfway. A strong hand steadied him and helped him the rest of the way
up to the porch. “We’d like you to meet someone. This is your great granddaughter -- Leslie Xhalax
MacDougal Sun Crichton.”
“That’s an awful lot of name for such a small person.” His laugh sounded weak even to him. It took three tries
before his hands stopped shaking long enough to take over guardianship of the small gurgling bundle.
She looked as human as the rest of her family. She was perfect. Ian’s dark, neither gray nor blue eyes peered
into his, dark hair so unlike John’s mother wafted about her tiny head, and an as-yet toothless but familiar
Crichton grin greeted his own smile of delight.
Suddenly, he didn’t feel so old and lonely any more.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *