Rating: PG-13. This one is a little bit ugly, so I think a parental check on younger Scapers is a good idea. Disclaimer: The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co. I have not made any profit as a result of writing this tale, other than learning some new lessons about writing. Category/Time Frame: Future Fic. Roughly 3 cycles after the end of PKWars. Test Driver: PKLibrarian, of course. She is always there to ensure that I toe the characterization and credibility lines. Her input was invaluable this time around. Inferno is a far better story as a result of her efforts.
Note to the reader: In one of my earlier stories, Yesterdays and Tomorrows, I began using a nickname for D’Argo (Little D, not the big one). I am playing with the same version of the future Sun-Crichton family in this story, so I am still referring to him by that nickname: DJ.
Gestation: This story is a little unusual for me. I call it a “catharsis fic”. While I am quite happy to acknowledge that events from my life or things I read in magazines often show up in my stories, I do not normally inject portions of my immediate life into the lives of our beloved characters. I have made an exception this time. For too many years, I wasted a lot of energy by carrying something violent, ugly, and ultimately damaging (to me) bottled up inside: Anger. A number of months ago, I finally managed to get the feelings resolved, and at some point after that, I decided to tap into the emotions I had been living with for too long, magnify them by several orders, and express the result in a story.
I hope it was worth the effort.
* * * * *
He had known for a very long time that the rage was there: lurking, no more than half-hidden at the best of times, buried beneath layers of self-restraint, fermenting, waiting for an excuse to break free. He had become the incubator for an indestructible, malevolent parasite that had been destined to take control of his body since the first moment the creature was spawned. That the parasite had been psychic in nature and the malevolence a product of his own fury made little difference; the outcome was no different than if he had spewed forth a monstrous alien entity.
He had hoped that with time, with the slow wheel of the stars across the permanently night sky and the relentless passage of solar days, the more volatile elements would have lost their power to goad him into sporadic displays of unpredictable, frequently unforgivable behavior. Far too late, he realized that it had worked out the other way around. The steady simmering of subdued but sustained anger had seared the damage into his soul. Containing the rage, instead of banishing it, had become a way of life. The warning signs had been there if he had chosen to pay attention to them: the sudden outbursts of anger for no good reason, the explosive zaps of fury that vanished as fast as they appeared, inexplicable reactions to minor problems, random discharges of aimless frustration that targeted anyone unfortunate enough to be close to him when they happened.
The one thing he had not been able to admit to himself was that he did not have it under control.
Anger struck, swept through what he had thought were carefully erected barricades, and hurled him into a conflagration of his own making. He became both burner and the burned, fire and fuel, ignition source and the ongoing inferno inextricably tangled together until he was little more than a searing, soaring, scorching form of fury. Oxygen gave it life, energy gave it momentum. It gained strength, took over what was left of his universe, and exploded into an all-encompassing storm that defied restriction. He reveled in the destruction, reached out with the full limits of his physiology, and lent it power with each breath and joyfully expended movement.
The heat was a living thing, sucking him in, devouring him faster than he could feast on the warmth. He basked in the hot molten spatter, turned his face to catch the sizzling rainfall, sucked in great gulping breaths of overheated cinder-metallic air. The beast billowed from chest to head, a mental crown fire leaping from thought to thought, treetop to treetop, carrying the licking tongues of anger with it, moving faster than reason or self- control could ever hope to race. Another lunge, another exuberant blossom of magma release. Hot charcoal briquette smell, the rank sourness of the underworld thick on his tongue for the length of time it took to suck in a breath, and then gone, driven away by the howling winds of physical effort.
Chest heaving, gulping down oxygen to fuel the flames, finding himself temporarily overwhelmed by the sour cinder smell of summer campfires long gone cold, the scent of exhausted embers shrieking into acrid crystalline shards beneath his boots. The moment passed; movement and purpose returned. He waded into the reeking stench of his past, dipped down with both hands, fingernails scraping across the screeching scream of blackened tree skeletons, raised up the wreckage of his conflagration and battered it back down again. The firestorm was within and without, coursing through his muscles, scouring his sinuses, diving into his lungs -- hot, undeniable, unstoppable, unquenchable.
He wanted it to go on forever. The blazing frenzy would free him, cleanse him, burn away the rotting putrefaction that had been festering for too long. If he could find one more striking flash of incineration, one final stockpile of fuel to feed his personal pyre, he was certain he would emerge purified, forged into something better than what had first waded into the inferno.
His quest ended unexpectedly. There was a flailing grab at his arm, a wrenching pull, the impact of a body slamming into his, and a voice yelling at him to regain his sanity.
“Stop it! John, stop! What are you doing?”
Aeryn parried another wild punch, grabbed his arm with both hands, and pivoting, throwing all of her body weight into the fast movement, flung him down the corridor. Crichton tripped, rolled over several times, made it to his hands and knees just in time to slam up against a bulkhead, and finally slumped to a panting, heaving, gagging stop. He stayed where he was, crouched in the recessed alcove between two of Moya’s ribs, and tried to make some sense of his surroundings.
Aeryn had followed his brief, unplanned flight. She was poised just out of range of an unprovoked attack, squatting on her heels and watching him intently. “Have you lost your mind? What the frell are you doing?”
Still gasping for breath, stunned by both the impact against the wall and his sudden emergence back into a world of sense and sanity, he stayed where he was, trying to remember what he had been doing before Aeryn attacked him.
Somewhere nearby, a child was crying.
“Where’s DJ?” John asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Muoma has him,” Aeryn said. “He was frightened.”
Crichton blinked once in surprise at the thought of the eidelon high priestess assuming guardianship of their son, even if only for an arn; then he thought it over for an additional microt, and began to relax. In the three cycles since Muoma had acquired Yandalao’s knowledge, she had become something more advanced than the priests of Arnessk ever would have expected or could have predicted. She had combined the reawakened abilities of the eidelons with her own deep spirituality, leavened the outcome with the wisdom she had gained during her cycles as one of her culture’s most respected leaders, and had produced a new level of insightful compassion that sometimes rendered her eidelon aura unnecessary. For Muoma, the woman who could bring the most aggressive scarran to a humbled, apologetic stop with a single word, and had one time silenced the arrogant bluster coming from a member of Peacekeeper High Command with nothing more than a look, calming a frightened child was a walk in the park.
Concern for DJ temporarily put to rest, John turned his thoughts back to why he was kneeling in the middle of one of Moya’s corridor feeling like he had just been mugged. He wiped a shaking hand across his face. It came away coated with something vile-smelling and viscous. Shuddering, repulsed by the slick putrid slime dripping from his chin, he yanked the bottom of his shirt out of his pants and scrubbed compulsively at his face until it felt clean. “What’s going on?” he asked when he was finished.
Aeryn moved closer. This time she knelt down alongside him, close enough that her knee was touching one of his. Her hands conducted a fast inventory of his head, shoulders, and arms, then returned to his neck and began a more thorough inspection. Only then, when she had confirmed that he was basically intact, did she answer his question. She started with an almost imperceptible tilt of her head, indicating something behind her, and said, “You tell me.”
John looked past her, toward the spot where he had been standing before Aeryn threw him down the passageway. Four motras away, Scorpius lay in the middle of the corridor, ominously still. The only movement was the slow crawl and drip of the half-breed’s whitish blood, and the wet, gradual migration of something even more sickening creeping out from beneath his head.
As John continued to stare at Scorpius’ body, a number of Moya’s current compliment of passengers rounded the corner at the far end of the tier. The group slowed, jostling and banging into each other for several moments. After a brief pause, they moved forward again, this time more slowly. Four eidelons, two luxans, half a dozen Peacekeepers, and a single scarran: a small portion of the delegation that was currently traveling aboard Moya -- one of the few ships in this sector of space with no allegiance to any of the parties involved -- on their way to the periodic negotiations that were an integral part of the fragile, three-cycle old peace agreement. Scorpius, as arbiter, played a critical role in maintaining the accords.
“I did that?” John asked. On one level, the question didn’t need asking. He wore the proof that he was the one who had beaten Scorpius to a pulp. He was liberally adorned in spattered blood, dripping viscera, and several other oozing fluids, the source of which he did not want to consider. But another portion of his mind needed the confirmation, as though he could not acknowledge that he was capable of this level of savagery unless Aeryn confirmed it. “Aeryn?” he prodded when she didn’t answer.
She was concentrating on her inspection. While he waited, her fingers worked from one side of his left hand to the other, gently probing each knuckle and finger bone before moving on to the next. Bone grated against bone, a sharp metallic jolt that radiated up his forearm. “That's broken,” she said.
“I can tell,” he said. “Answer me.”
Aeryn finished checking his hand, moved up his forearm as far as his elbow, and switched to his other hand before answering. “Yes, you did that.”
“Me and what army?” John said. “I can't beat Scorpius in a fair fight.”
“There’s no such thing as a fair fight,” she said. “Not where Scorpius is involved.”
“You know what I mean.”
Aeryn sat back on her heels, stared at him for several microts, and then looked over her shoulder again, toward the group still gathered in the center of the corridor. John followed the direction of her gaze. It took several moments of searching and more than one glance back at Aeryn before he spotted the object that was holding her attention.
It had taken him close to half a cycle to find the right kind of wood to make it. It had not mattered to him that there was no ruling authority to check it for weight and density; he had wanted it to be as close to what they had on Earth as humanly possible. He had known ahead of time that he would make mistakes, so he had hauled half a transport pod worth of lumber back to Moya. It had taken a full half-cycle to fabricate a lathe to turn it, and another to transform log after log into a pile of shavings until he was satisfied with the results. He had finished polishing it just that morning -- a cycle’s worth of work finally ready to teach DJ about a uniquely American past time.
John had trouble getting air into his lungs. It took several tries before he could speak, and even then it was a close-run contest between producing words and vomiting. “I was going to give it to DJ.”
Aeryn rested a hand on his shoulder and began to rub the back of his neck. The firm rhythmic pressure seemed to be as much to steady herself as it was to relax him. “You didn’t. You hit Scorpius with it.”
A memory crawled out of whatever dark, psychic lair it had chosen to hide in. He remembered winding up, stepping into the swing as though trying for a home run, the impact when he connected. No portion of the sensation had resembled connecting with a fast ball. It had been closer to the time he and some of his friends had tried hitting lines drives with half-grown, undersized watermelons. Initial resilience, the outer skin giving way to bludgeoning force, the sloppy follow through spraying innards over the entire group of laughing, running teens. They had gone swimming afterwards, cleansing themselves of the sticky juice-and-seed entrails.
There was no place to go swimming aboard Moya.
He wanted to say something about how after today he would never be able to teach DJ about baseball and couldn’t find the right words. He could not move beyond the paralyzing thought that DJ had watched the entire beating from the first preemptive strike to the final blow. It was no surprise that his son had been howling in fear.
Compassionate pressure from her hands forced his head away from the group gathered around the motionless, battered and spattered body. Crichton’s eyes lingered even after his head was turned; horrified fascination kept his gaze trapped on that vision of inhumanity for as long as he was able to keep it in view.
This time he looked at Aeryn. “Why the hell didn’t I just shoot him? It would have been quicker and easier.” Winona was right where she belonged, securely clipped into the holster on his thigh.
The comment drew a humorless smile from Aeryn. “I don’t believe this had anything to do with trying to kill him.” She paused, then added, “Do you?”
“I -- I don’t know.” The group around Scorpius had begun to break up. Crichton tried to look in their direction. Firm fingers against his jaw kept his head turned in Aeryn’s direction. “Is he dead?” he asked.
Aeryn’s nonchalant shrug seemed to suggest that she didn’t care about the answer to that question. “That doesn’t matter right now. We have to talk about something more important. John, you’re going to have to explain why you did this. Do you understand? The eidelons, they think you’re --”
He missed the last word. “Say it again. I’m what?”
The word refused to translate. Even after three tries, his microbes weren’t providing an English equivalent. It didn’t matter, though. He had heard the term before, cycles ago, in the most horrific surroundings imaginable. He had learned the word from a half-crazed, disarmed pilot that had survived too many cycles aboard a rotting, dying leviathan.
“Criminally insane.” The syllables emerged in a distorted parody of speech, produced by lips and a tongue that had gone numb from shock. “They think I’m nuts.”
Aeryn scrunched down lower so she could face him eye to eye. She lowered her voice to a sibilant gust of air, quieter than a whisper. “They say they won’t intercede on our behalf unless you convince them you had a good reason for doing this. They won’t protect us, John. They won’t interfere if either side decides you should be imprisoned.”
He watched the subtle play of muscles in her face, interpreting each miniscule shift, adding layer upon layer of meaning to the simple statement.
Too many people living at this end of the universe knew the name John Crichton. Too many power-hungry governments still believed that he held the secret to ultimate power. If the scarrans or the Peacekeepers decided that today’s demonstration of psychotic brutality was sufficient excuse to take him into custody -- effectively putting him at the questionable mercy of those two twisted regimes or any other remorseless autocrat with both a taste for power and the wealth to purchase John Crichton from his captors -- then he and his family would be forced to pack up all their possessions and run. The likelihood that they would ever find another place where they could raise their children in safety was slim. Perpetually hounded, living on nothing but nerves and bad luck, jumping from one disaster to the next, always wary, always wondering where the next attack would come from: He couldn’t do that to his family.
A suspicion he had been harboring for several dozen solar days suddenly seemed of critical importance. He needed to ask a question, needed to hear the answer even if it had little bearing on his decision how to handle the next several arns. “You’re pregnant again … aren’t you?” he whispered.
Aeryn’s fingers were conducting a systematic search pattern from his forehead to his chin, continuing her slow, methodical check for injuries. A thumb stopped next to his right eye. It prodded, a cross between a caress and a cautious touch with more intent behind it. There was the hot ache of bruised flesh, underlain by a needle- sharp spike that radiated outward from wherever her thumb was probing at the moment, signaling that there was a deeper, more serious injury. Scorpius had gotten in more than one or two blows.
“Aeryn, are you pregnant?” he asked again when the silence had stretched out for too long.
The dark hair swung and bounced briefly. A nod. “Yes,” she said.
He did not bother asking if she had released the stasis. It did not matter. He held three lives in his hands now, not two. Three lives, not counting his own, had been forfeited the moment he wound up for his first home-run blow to the side of Scorpius’ head. The weight of that additional life, as well as Aeryn’s, since she would be more vulnerable during her brief pregnancy, settled onto his shoulders. He could just barely envision being on the run with Aeryn at his side and DJ in tow. The three of them might be able to make it on their own if they were forced to leave Moya. They might be able to find a secluded corner of the galaxy, hide, lay low until the name John Crichton no longer meant anything to anyone who mattered, and live out their lives in wary, permanently vigilant peace. The addition of an infant to their family would change everything.
The words didn’t exist to tell Aeryn how badly he had just screwed up their lives. The best he could do was a whispered, “I’m sorry.”
Aeryn’s response was calm, carrying no anger or blame, and left no room for argument. “Don’t be. I understand why this happened. But you’re the only one who can fix it.”
Crichton pried his eyes away from the blue-gray ones that were watching him so intently, and focused instead on the spot four motras down the corridor. The body encased in black leather was gone, as was the small crowd surrounding it. Four eidelons remained: serene, patient, their thoughts hidden behind impassive stares, bodies almost unnaturally still, waiting for some kind of explanation.
Aeryn said, “I can explain it to them, but it won’t be enough. They are going to want to hear it from you. Can you do it? Can you explain to them why you did this?”
The easy, overly-simplistic answer was that he had done it for his son. He had been searching for DJ in an absent-minded fashion, allowing his route through Moya’s corridors to wander as badly as his thoughts, thinking about baseball, about teaching DJ how to throw and catch, about Earth and home and his father and everything that made childhood safe and fun. He had strolled around the corner without a care in the universe to discover Scorpius down on one knee, smiling in his feral, cadaverous way, talking to the boy and about to hand him a shiny object. That was the last thing John remembered clearly. There had been a click inside his head, a furnace-like heat had sprung to life in the center of his chest, and the next thing he knew Aeryn was tossing him halfway across the tier.
“DJ,” he said. “Scorpius was talking to DJ.” Even as he said it, he knew he was explaining the trigger, not the underlying cause.
Aeryn put the problem into words for him. “That won’t be enough. They won’t understand.”
He didn’t need to look at Aeryn in order to know what he would find in her eyes. She knew all too well the sorts of things he would have to tell the eidelons in order to safeguard his family, and she knew what it would cost him. He would have to go all the way back to the beginning. He would need to find the words to explain everything he had been through during his first five cycles in the Uncharted Territories, and how each event had been heaped one on top of another until enough had gone wrong to transform him from mislaid astronaut into terrorist and homicidal psychopath.
Bewilderment, loss, and confusion; heartache, heartbreak, and the ultimate Aurora Chair headache. Death, hunger, and cycles worth of despair; torture, fear, and anguish; starvation, humiliation, and the worst possible kinds of degradation. Every last detail would have to be laid out for the eidelons to examine. He would have to strip himself of his emotional armor, bare each and every psychological scar, stand naked before them, and willingly show them every horrific event he had encountered since the moment he first laid eyes on a leviathan called Moya. He would have to put into words how many times he had failed his friends and family, how he had discarded all the values he had been raised to believe in, and had, in the end, resorted to a threat a million times more horrific than nuclear terrorism in the vain hope that it would broker peace.
And worst of all, he would have to make them understand how Scorpius had been intertwined into each and every one of those events.
He wanted to say that he couldn’t do it. John dropped his gaze to his hands for several microts. When he looked up, Aeryn was still waiting -- patient, confident in her love for him, aware of the price he would have to pay in return for their continued safety. She would go with him without a single complaint if he said he couldn’t do it. Aeryn would pack up all their possessions, say goodbye to Pilot and Moya, and strike out into the unknown stretches of the galaxy with him if that was what he said he had to do.
“I’ll talk to them,” he said.
“Let’s take care of you first.” She nodded toward his broken hand, the least of his injuries.
John flexed his fingers several times before closing his fist tightly. He waited, assessing the level of discomfort, then squeezed harder. The pain flooded up his arm all the way to his shoulder; it cramped the muscles in the back of his neck, knotted his stomach, and flooded his mouth with the taste of burnt sand. It was good. The pain would help. It would distract him, give him something to concentrate on when a different kind of agony urged him to cut his story short and leave the room. He shook his head. “After.”
Aeryn didn’t argue with him. All she asked was, “Do you want me to come with you?”
That decision took longer. He wanted her there with an intensity that would, if he relaxed his control for too long, summon tears. Having Aeryn there, even if only to stand silently in a corner, would lend him strength and keep him focused on why he had to explain the unexplainable. But at the same time, he did not want her to listen to some of the confessions he would have to make over the next several arns. “Yes … and no,” he said.
Aeryn answered that demonstration of indecision with a kiss. It was gentle and yet demanding, full of the promise of the time they would spend together in the cycles that lay ahead and an affirmation of what they had endured in the past. It told him more about how much she loved him than words could ever express. “Which would be better?” she asked.
“I think … no. I don’t want …” He trailed off, searching for the right combination of words to explain why he did not want her there, and afraid she would be hurt because he had said no.
Aeryn smiled at him and confirmed what he had always suspected: that under certain circumstances, she had the ability to read his mind. She struck directly at the heart of what he was having trouble expressing, leaving no room for uncertainty. “You aren’t weak,” she said. “No matter what you have to tell them in order to make them understand, remember this one thing: Nothing you say could ever convince me that you are weak.”
Aeryn rose to her feet in one of her deceptively graceful movements. She paused beside him long enough to bestow a gentle caress on the top of his head, and then turned to leave. “Comm me when you’re done. I’ll be waiting.”
Aeryn would be waiting. No matter what he did, no matter how lunatic or stupid or mindless he behaved, Aeryn would always be waiting for him -- Aeryn and DJ and a second child yet to come. It was enough. That single thought would give him the strength he would require over the next several arns.
Crichton struggled to his feet, feeling the hot cramping evidence all over his body that said Scorpius had not gone down without a fight -- that the battle had not been as one-sided as the outcome had made it appear -- and began his slow journey toward where the eidelons were waiting.