Rating: G. Time Frame: Between one and two cycles after the end of Peacekeeper Wars. Disclaimer: The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co. I have not made any profit off this tale, and I am giving the characters back the way I found them. Deke-Disclaimer: I am not fond of the nickname, Deke. I stubbornly continue to use my own nickname for the kid. When I refer to DJ, I am talking about D’Argo. Test Drivers: PKLibrarian and aeryncrichton. Both of them hold my feet to the fire when it comes to making sure I am faithful to canon. They rock.
Starburst Challenge 37 (hosted by KernilCrash): The “Leviathans By Braille” Challenge asked that the writers tackle describing a leviathan (any leviathan) using any of the senses except sight.
Genesis: Once again, I am mashing two purposes into a single story. In Phantasms, there is a reference to John getting injured as a result of falling off one of the walkways in Pilot's Den. I have always wanted to go back and do a ‘filler’ to expand on that reference. Here it is, together with my ‘Leviathans By Braille’ challenge story.
I hope you enjoy it.
* * * * *
It began with the most normal of events: John taking D’Argo to the Den so he could visit Pilot. Their son had recently become enthralled by the fact that Pilot had four arms, as well as by the non-stop intricacies of running a leviathan. Combined together with D’Argo’s short attention span, it sometimes took nine or ten visits to the Den each day to placate his new-found fascination. They alternated willingly, sharing the treks between them based on who had the least to do at the moment when D’Argo announced that he once again needed to see Pilot. They had quickly fallen into a routine, accepting that it was a phase and that the frequent trips through the tiers would come to an end the moment their son discovered a new obsession.
“You're the one who warned me,” Aeryn Sun said to her husband. “You told me I had to watch out.”
John didn't answer.
“You were afraid I would underestimate how fast he could move. You said no one believes it until they see it happen for the first time. You warned me, you frelling bastard. Why could you not follow your own advice?” Anxiety curdled into anger, lacing her words with fury where she did not intend it. “You warned me,” she repeated, placing emphasis on the first and last words.
The problem had occurred when she finished stowing supplies in one of the cargo bays, and suddenly found herself standing in the middle of one of Moya’s corridors with nothing to do. That type of moment occurred rarely enough that she had spun in a circle, half expecting someone to comm her with a request to start a meal, deal with laundry, find a missing toy, or any one of the myriad demands that raising a family aboard a leviathan placed upon her. The comms had remained silent, and she had taken advantage of the respite by joining John and D’Argo in the Den for an all-too-rare ‘family outing’.
“Hey!” John had called as she ducked through the open doorway. “We're done here. We were just coming to find you.” He turned toward Pilot for no more than half a microt, just long enough to flap a casual wave in his direction before turning back to check on D’Argo. That was all it took.
“Mama!” D’Argo screamed at the same time, and broke into the phenomenally fast run that he had developed only four days earlier, headed straight for one of the narrow walkways.
John had warned her repeatedly.
“He’s hit the Toddler-Moving-At-Warp-Factor-Ten stage,” he had mentioned several days earlier during Last Meal. “You can’t take your eyes off him for a single microt. He goes from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye.”
“No! Stay there!” Aeryn yelled, already moving toward the other end of the walkway. “FREEZE!” she yelled a second time, using the command that sometimes worked when nothing else did.
D’Argo did not freeze.
It all happened so fast.
“NO!” she cried again, this time verging on a scream.
John had recovered from his momentary lapse of attention. He was already moving, far faster than she had ever seen him move before, no more than a motra behind his son and microts too late.
“NO!” Aeryn yelled one more time, seeing what he intended to do. This time the single word did emerge as a scream. “NO! Don't do it!”
Her senses seemed to close in around her, slowing time and blocking out all but a few critical details. Sound, smell, taste and touch were gone, spiraling in toward the center of her body, forming a ball of cold energy near her navel that seemed to feed every bit of focus into vision. She had time to see the way John adjusted his stride in advance so his right foot came down on the edge of the floor, giving him something to push against; the way both arms came forward at the same moment, driving, reaching, lunging, flattening his entire body as though he were launching himself into flight; the way the muscles in his thigh strained against his pants, maximum effort expended, propelling him into empty space.
Aeryn watched, horrified, as his fingers snagged D’Argo’s shirt, snared the wriggling, frantic little body, and saw how he sacrificed everything -- balance, control, the possibility that he might be able to grab onto the edge of the walkway -- by twisting in midair and flinging their child in her direction. It was a gangling toss, a wild, two- handed scoop born of desperation, relying on the spin of his body, awkwardly flailing legs, and an excessive turn of his head in her direction. It guaranteed that when gravity took over from momentum, he wouldn't be able to control any aspect of his fall.
There was time for one more objection -- “No, John!” -- and then she was too busy catching D’Argo to watch as John, already starting to cartwheel, plummeted out of sight.
* * * * *
He dreamed that he was flying. It was an odd dream, unlike any of the surrealistic visions of flying that he had dreamed since he was a child. He remembered those other versions in much the same way that he dreamed them: aimlessly shifting from one equally unrealistic moment to the next, unable to control the wanderings of his mind. Most of them involved sunlight and familiar surroundings: slow-motion soaring, Superman-like with arms outstretched, trying to exert enough mental force to clear the trees behind the house or the jungle gym at the local school yard.
The new version involved darkness, a disorienting lack of gravity, and a sense of dread. Inexplicably, those things did not frighten him. Fear required energy, and he was too tired to worry about the aspects that should have alarmed him. He dreamed of flying with a cold surface beneath his cheek, moist, musky air wafting across his face, and a faintly acrid smell filling his lungs. He floated, not sure which way was up or down, with iron- copper wetness in his mouth and a sharp discomfort radiating from his head and neck. Weightlessness triggered nausea, a sensation of drowning, and the first inkling that he needed to wake up. Then the blackness expanded to fill the inside of his head, and he slept.
* * * * *
The first word was delivered on a shrill upswing with a sharp break in the middle. The second required a long musical trill in the middle, followed by a back-of-the-throat chucking sounding that threatened to strangle her each time Aeryn whispered the small phrase to herself. They chased each other around and around inside her head, repetition turning the sounds into a nonsensical cadence.
It meant ‘very bad’ in Diagnosan.
In many ways, they had been exceptionally lucky. Pilot had announced, “Prepare for emergency starburst” almost before John’s body had come to rest on a walkway several tiers below the Den. He had begun searching for a healing facility the instant John began his suicidal run toward the edge of the platform, and had located an entire enclave of diagnosans in under ten microts. They had also been lucky that they had a force unit of luxans on board. A quarter cycle earlier, Jothee had arranged to use Moya as a floating, migrating transfer station for luxan military personnel and supplies. Moya’s abrupt departure had stranded more than half of the unit aboard the leviathan, including four of their medics.
So there had been trained hands to throw together a hastily constructed platform with padding, blankets and straps; and to carry John to the converted maintenance bay that served as their medical clinic. There had been drugs on board to stop some of the bleeding and prevent swelling. They had stabilized the broken bones, treated him for shock, and checked for internal injuries while Jothee had flown one of the transport pods to the enclave and back as though it was a Prowler. All of which meant that a diagnosan and his translator had been unceremoniously hustled on board Moya in just under four arns.
If it hadn’t been for those factors, Aeryn was sure that John would have died where she found him, crumpled, battered, and bleeding, in the cold and the dark of the neural cavern. She would have been unable to move him without aggravating his injuries, and would have been forced to sit by his side, waiting for the inevitable, while he died.
Instead, the smashed leg had been clucked over several times and then repaired. The pulverized bones in his shoulder had been mended, although not as quickly; the six broken ribs and the punctured lung healed and put back in working order. Bruises began to fade, the frothy crimson-tinged breaths no longer gurgled and bubbled from between deathly pale lips, internal bleeding was stopped.
And each time the diagnosan examined John’s skull, the verdict was the same.
“Re’it gwaallec’tk,” the diagnosan said once again.
“Yes, very bad,” Aeryn said. “I understood it the last ten times you said it. How bad is very bad? What exactly is wrong?” She turned to the creature standing near the foot of the medbed, hoping for a better explanation than she had received the last several times she had asked the question.
This diagnosan had brought along a kalvarian for his translator, which was beyond ludicrous. The translator microbes did not exist that could handle Kalvari. It was an impossibly complex language that overstressed the microbes to the point that they up and died if anyone tried to reprogram them to handle it. Kalvarians were evolved marsupials with two tongues, several sets of vocal chords, and an additional speech organ that provided whistles and clicks similar to a diagnosan’s. Perhaps that was why this healer had a kalvarian for a companion. If so, it had been a poor choice.
The latest attempt at a translation did not go any better than all the rest. The kalvarian’s version of whatever the diagnosan had said came through as pure gibberish.
“You!” Aeryn motioned toward the diagnosan’s furry companion with both hands, herding him toward the door. “You are worse than useless. Leave! Go wait in the hangar bay.”
From the pitch of his voice and number of squeals in the next sentence, Aeryn assumed the kalvarian was protesting. She rested her hand on the butt of her pulse pistol and glared at the creature. He stared back at her for several microts, let out a series of atonal, lethargic-sounding clicks, and then left the chamber.
Aeryn looked toward the ceiling, and addressed the leviathan at large. “Pilot? Can either you or Moya translate Diagnosan?”
“We can do no better than an approximation,” Pilot answered over comms. “Diagnosans have more than six million terms to describe the injuries and afflictions for hundreds of species. Our data stores include no more than a small fraction of their vocabulary.”
“That should be enough. I need an explanation, not an anatomy lesson.” Aeryn spun to face the healer. “What is very bad about John’s head? He was awake and talking for a short time when we brought him up here. What has happened since then?”
“Bleeding and swelling,” Pilot translated. “There was” -- he paused for several microts while the diagnosan continued his musical twittering -- “damage to Crichton’s skull. I believe he is referring to the outside, Aeryn.”
“A fracture?” Aeryn asked. “A skull fracture?”
The diagnosan inclined his head, warbling out another stream of unintelligible information.
“Yes,” Pilot said once the diagnosan had finished speaking. “He says that too much time passed between the injury and when he was able to begin treatment. There was too much pressure inside Crichton’s skull for too long. He believes there will be damage to his brain.”
“How much damage? What kind of damage?”
“He says he cannot be sure. If Crichton’s brain is the same as a sebacean’s, then he will never regain consciousness. If his brain is arranged differently, then --” Pilot stopped.
Aeryn waited, assuming that Pilot was attempting to cope with a word in Diagnosan that refused to be translated into anything that either of them could understand. After ten microts of silence, broken only by the subdued non-stop creak of Pilot operating slides and levers, she began to realize that he had run into a different problem. This was reluctance, not a lack of comprehension.
“Then what, Pilot? If John’s brain is different from a sebacean’s, then what will happen?”
“Then he might regain consciousness, but if he does, he will be blind. The diagnosan says that the visual centers of his brain have been destroyed.”
* * * * *
He dreamed of Aeryn. They were sitting together. He could not tell where they were; it was too dark to make out any landmarks. He knew she was beside him was because he could hear her quiet breathing and smell the special scent that was Officer Aeryn Sun. Wherever she went, a unique amalgam of fragrances floated behind her as though proclaiming to the entire universe, “Aeryn Sun has been here.” It consisted of leather, chakan oil, the hair cleanser that she preferred, the smell that was simply Aeryn, and more recently, the complex aroma of ‘baby’. He could always tell when she was nearby, even when the more overwhelming odor of a leviathan threatened to drown her out.
He did it now, as if to prove that he would always be able to find her by smell alone. He took in a deep breath, and began sorting through the thick influx of scents. There was the mild tang of metal plating, a hint of citrus that meant they were close to one of the air scrubber vents, the less pleasant musky moistness that sometimes wafted up from the lake of bat dren on the lowest tier, a brief electric bite at the back of his throat that came from warm neural circuits, and Aeryn. Breathing her in was like hot apple pie on a cold morning, like the smell of coffee drifting upstairs while he was still in bed; it was freshly laundered sheets that had been dried on a clothes line, the promise of rain on the wind, and the smell of the Christmas tree when it was first brought indoors.
He meant to tell her that she smelled good. He meant to tell her he loved her. He meant to tell her that she was everything wonderful about his past, his present, and his future, all rolled into one.
Aeryn’s disembodied voice floated out of the dark. “You do not always have to be the hero.”
It was too close to an old accusation. Every scent was lost to the salty sting that preceded tears, and in that moment Aeryn as good as disappeared. He wanted tell her he was sorry. He wanted to tell her that he loved her, and that he was there, in the dark, sitting beside her.
He dreamed that he was sitting with Aeryn and that the dream would not let him speak.
* * * * *
Chiana edged into the chamber. She stood without speaking for several microts before sliding forward another cautious motra. “He’s lucky to be alive.”
“Where’s D’Argo?” Aeryn asked. Sitting in one position for so long was giving her a headache. She needed to move, to stretch, to engage in vigorous physical activity, and did not want to leave John’s side for the length of time that it took to visit the waste alcove. She had been sitting beside his bed ever since they had moved him here more than twenty arns ago, waiting, watching, convinced that it was only a matter of time before he opened his eyes and said hello.
“With the sergeants,” Chiana said.
Two of Jothee’s men had willingly taken over child care duties for the day. Older than most of the rest of the soldiers in the unit, each of them had left a wife and several children behind when they had enlisted. They saw their own children in D’Argo, and were delighted to put their parenting skills to use. D’Argo had seldom gotten this much attention over the course of his short life, or his hands on as many tanktas as he had yanked over the last several arns. D’Argo, at least, was having the time of his life.
“Aeryn,” Chiana began again. “You’re lucky he’s --”
“I know. I saw the recordings.”
Several DRDs had been working in the neural plexus. They had caught John’s bludgeoning descent on their scanners, shunted the signals to Moya, and Pilot had merged them into a single, nearly seamless record of every impact.
Aeryn had seen it only once, and then only so she would understand how much damage had been inflicted on John’s body. Once had been more than enough. She had watched with one hand firmly clamped over her mouth through the first hard, crunching impact against a walkway two tiers below the Den. The ricochet had made things worse. It changed John’s trajectory so he missed every solid surface for the next three tiers, picking up too much speed as a result. It might have been better if he had hit every walkway, platform and outcropping on the way down. At least that way he would not have been moving so fast.
The second impact had done most of the damage. Everything after that barely mattered. The limp body had spun away from the platform, bounced off a walkway one tier beneath it, and finally came to rest near the Moya’ s central neural housing eight tiers below the Den. Only then, when the horrific ride was over, did Aeryn release the breath she had been holding in a single, extended, anguished sigh.
“Aeryn, we can’t care for him here,” Chiana said. “We need to find someplace that --”
“No, we don’t.” Aeryn turned to face her. “John is going to wake up, and when he does he is going to be able to see.”
“You don’t know that.” Chiana moved a motra closer, looking wary. “You can’t know that.”
“I can and I do. He’s not sebacean. The diagnosan was wrong.”
“How? How do you know? Why are you so sure?”
Aeryn turned back to the unnaturally still figure lying on the bed. She watched him for several microts, hoping for a twitch of a finger, or for the movement of his eyes beneath the closed eyelids, aching for some sign of normal, sleep-dulled awareness.
“Why are you so sure?” Chiana repeated.
“Because I have no other choice. I have to believe it. Anything else leaves me with nothing.” A lump formed in her throat, threatening to choke off any further explanation.
Chiana skated across the final distance to the bed. She hovered for a moment, made a move as though she was going to sit down on the foot of the bed, and then perched a thin hip on the edge of Aeryn’s seat instead. Aeryn leaned her head on Chiana’s shoulder, finding solace in the warmth and presence of a sympathetic being.
“Hope? Are you talking about hope?” Chiana said.
Aeryn rocked her head against the bony shoulder, unable to speak for several moments. “Hope is not enough this time.”
“What comes after hope?”
She had to think about it for a while, summoning up the certainty that was holding her together, and comparing that sensation against the types of words she might normally use in a situation like this one. In the end, she chose a term she seldom used; a small word that felt unfamiliar on her tongue.
“Faith. I believe in John, and I believe in our future together. I have faith that he is going to wake up.”
Chiana got to her feet. She stood looking down at the inert body on the bed. “Faith is a wonderful theory, Aeryn, but what are you going to do if the diagnosan was right?”
Aeryn closed her eyes, shutting out the possibility. “He was wrong. John is going to wake up, and he will not be blind.”
* * * * *
He was trying to watch a new channel. Something called Aeryn-TV. The sound was okay, but there was something wrong with the picture. All he could get was a test pattern.
They were playing oldies today. It sounded like something out of Leave It To Beaver. The plot involved a mother and a kid, several visitors to the house, and a lot of discussions about what they were having for dinner. Typical 60’s stuff.
The voices had a tendency to merge and wash over him in, like a distant half-heard conversation. He let the syllables run together, not caring if they were swallowed up by the background rumbles and grumbles that never stopped, until there was nothing but the thrum of heavy machinery, the babbling of a child, and the woman’s voice. Outdated programming or not, he loved this stuff.
More noises emerged from the whole, evolving into a rhythmic cacophony that rose and fell in time with the full- body throb of his pulse. The background theme was provided by a hushed susurrence, the way it might have sounded if some great beast were sleeping beside him. Chirps and squeals provided counterpoint exclamations, moving from one side of where he existed to the next, accompanied by the quiet whine of their movements. The faraway clatter of something mechanical, a muted gurgle of liquids surging through pipes, people talking, someone laughing, the slow rumble of a door closing: He lay on his side, feeling no desire to move, and listened to the music of the leviathan.
* * * * *
“Pilot, how much longer?” Aeryn called over the comms.
“Ten arns, Aeryn.”
She was running out of time. In ten arns, Moya would reach the rendezvous point where they had abandoned half of Jothee’s force, and she would lose the two sergeants who were still quite happily taking care of D’Argo twenty arns out of every day. The field medics would disembark as well, leaving her to deal with a young child and a comatose patient by herself. Chiana had been right. She could not care for John aboard Moya.
“You have to wake up, John,” she said to the empty corridor. “You have to wake up soon. We are running out of time.”
She would have two days, three at best, after the luxans departed. After that, she would have to find some place that could provide the type of specialized care that John would need if he was going to survive. Pilot had taken it upon himself to begin searching for such a place.
Even if John did regain consciousness, there was still the matter of the diagnosan’s claims about his vision.
Aeryn came to a stop in the junction of two passageways, trying to envision the challenge that this one tiny portion of Moya would represent to someone who could not see. A leviathan’s corridors did not grow in straight or symmetrical lines. Each tier was different, with hundreds of sectors, ladders, crawlways, and hatches, no two alike. It had taken John nearly two cycles to learn his way around Moya the first time. She could not imagine what it would be like if he had to do it again minus the benefit of sight.
She closed her eyes, and tried it, moving forward cautiously until her outstretched fingers located an internal rib. Hearing helped, as did the faint touch of air against bare skin. She gradually became aware of the nearly sublimal rush of air through the hallways. By turning left and right, testing for the source of the draft, she could align herself so the air was coming straight at her face. Two long steps took her to the next rib. This one was warmer than the last. She ran her hand up the arcing curve and found a light.
Lights were located every other rib. She could tell where the center of the corridor was and when she was approaching a junction by how the air smelled and behaved. Perhaps this would not be as difficult as she thought. Perhaps, with enough time and patience, John could learn his way around the ship as well as he could with vision.
Aeryn stepped away from the rib in order to make sure she wasn’t going to trip over the bottom portion, aligned herself with the center of the hallway, and set out with determination. Ten steps later, she walked straight into a wall.
“Closed door,” she mumbled, disgusted with herself. “Frell.” On the other hand, she had learned something new. Leviathans tasted like a mouthful of blood. She set out again, moving more cautiously.
There were cargo containers, storage bins, and the odd power conduit to trip over, she realized too late. The lights were hung at head level, and were wickedly sharp. A pressure hatch felt much the same as a doorway, and not every chamber had a sensor to unlock it. Much to her dismay and at the cost of several bruises, she discovered that the DRDs had a bad habit of yanking out several motras worth of neural cable to make a repair, and then leaving it strewn across the passageway until they were done. She found a ladder leading down but not up, culminating with a bump on her head, and one doorway that swung opposite to all the others -- out, not in.
It was impossible, she concluded after an arn’s worth of collisions. They could always assign one or more DRDs as guides to lead him from one place to another, but if the diagnosan was right about John’s vision, he would never have full run of the ship again.
And simply finding his way around Moya would never be enough. She could not stand the thought of watching John fumble his way uncertainly from one section of the ship to the next, hands always outstretched. The thought of seeing him that way twisted her intestines until they cramped and sapped the strength from her knees. The John Crichton she had always known barged through Moya with grace, strength, and lithe energy. When disaster struck, which happened too often, John was the one who pounded through the hallways at high speed as though nothing in the universe could stop him.
Aeryn opened her eyes, automatically checking her location. She was four tiers below Quarters, at the far aft end of Moya’s living spaces, one sector to treblin side of the main fore-aft corridor. With her eyes open, she could reach their quarters in eighty microts, possibly less. With her eyes closed, the trip might take several arns and she would probably get lost more than once.
“You have to wake up now, John,” she said to the person lying eighty microts away. “You’re out of time. No more frelling around. It has to be in the next few arns.”
Aeryn jumped. Following so closely on her whispered message to John, Pilot’s query had startled her. Aeryn checked her comms badge, wondering if Pilot had been listening to her erratic progress through the tier. If so, there was a good chance he had learned several new terms -- all of it profanity.
“I have located a … facility. It is not too far from Hyneria, and it seems … quite nice.” He sounded apologetic.
“Thank you, Pilot.” Aeryn started to close the comms.
“Would you like me to contact them?” Pilot said before she could finish the motion.
“No. It won’t be necessary.” She waited this time, assuming that Pilot wasn’t finished.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes.” She thumbed the comms, cutting off any further discussion.
Why was she so certain? Chiana had asked her that question more than once. Aeryn had not been able to explain. Her certainty went beyond need or hope; and it had nothing to do with denial. Her belief was a quiet, steady dynamo located at the base of her skull. She could feel it there if she concentrated hard enough, putting out a strong but gentle energy field that resisted all attempts at penetration. The dynamo worked hardest when the future seemed most bleak; it quieted to a background hum when she held D’Argo at night. It sustained her, gave her strength to get up in the morning, and provided the energy she needed to sit by John’s side arn after arn. It allowed her to laugh when she watched the sergeants playing with D’Argo, and kept her from crying when she woke in the middle of the night, cold and alone.
Faith, she had told Chiana. Faith without evidence, logic, or reason. She had faith in John’s love for her, and that it would be enough to bring him back to her side.
* * * * *
He dreamed a new dream, one that he did not enjoy. Moya had suffered a massive power failure. All of the lights had gone out. He fumbled his way along the corridor, fingers sliding over smooth biomechanoid plating, searching for Aeryn and DJ. He bumped from rung to the next, climbing a giant’s ladder that had been turned on its side. He ricocheted off open doorways, stumbled his way around projections, sieving the darkness with both hands, hunting for his family.
Moya’s internal spaces were a hundred different shades of metallic on his tongue, always warning him a microt too late when he was about to run into something. She reeked of aluminum when he approached a light, copper and brass for burnt conduits. His saliva ran with lead near the ion backwash chamber, stainless steel at the open door to a hangar, cold forged iron when his route took him too close to the latent danger of a pressure hatch.
He came to an exhausted halt, mired in confusion, laid his forehead against Moya’s inner bulkhead, and found a contradiction. She was simultaneously warm and cool against his skin. Cool at first, then warming quickly as she responded to his touch. The metal transferred the heat away as fast as it was generated -- cooling, warming, soft, hard, cold, hot, all at once.
He wanted to tell Moya that she was a marvel, that she was beautiful in the way that only a sentient, space- going pollywog could, and that he loved her. He wanted to tell her that he missed seeing her. The message was never conveyed. He could not remember how to use his voice.
Aeryn was near, as was DJ. He could smell them. Freshly-bathed child, Aeryn’s hair, clean skin, leather, a whiff of something one of them had for dinner, all carried on a gust of ionized air from the atmospheric filtration unit. He loved them so much. He wanted to hold DJ. He wanted to ask Aeryn if she would sit beside him so they could hold their child together and watch him fall asleep. But he could not remember how to use his voice and he could not remember how to turn on the lights.
* * * * *
“We are out of time, John.”
The luxans were leaving. The last of their supplies had been transferred to their ships, the medics were gone, and the last of the enlisted troops were boarding their transports. Everyone was either gone or in the process of leaving except the two sergeants, who were saying long and mournful goodbyes to their temporary foster son, and Jothee.
“Aeryn?” Chiana transmitted over the comms. “They’re about to leave. What do you want to do?”
“Can you watch D’Argo for an arn or two, Chi? I’ll come get him in a little while.”
“That’s not what I meant. I was talking about … about the … the you know what.”
She was referring to the care facility that Pilot had located. Her heart felt like it was about to stop beating. “How long will it take to get there?”
“Pilot says two solar days.”
Logic said they had to set a course for the facility. Faith in John and the aura of certainty that she had built up around her insisted that it would not be necessary. The soldier demanded that she tell Pilot to plot a route to the facility. The part of her that loved John Crichton could not allow it.
“Aeryn?” Chiana said.
“Chiana, could you --”
Admitting that they needed to start toward the care facility felt like she was giving up -- giving up on John, giving up on herself, giving up on their future together, and giving up on everything that she had ever believed in.
“Would you like me to tell Pilot to head that way … you know, just sort of … sort of in that direction but not going there, once Jothee and the others leave?”
Aeryn had to smile. The request was so carefully phrased, delivered with such deliberate nonchalance, undoubtedly mindful of both an incandescent temper and the presence of a pulse pistol hanging in the corner of the chamber. “Yes, that would be good. Thank you, Chiana.”
She turned her attention back toward the bed.
“I was counting on you,” she said to John. “I believed in you.”
He lay without moving, just as he had for the last several days. When the luxan medics had carried him from the medbay and set him gently on his own bed, they had placed him on his right side, careful of the still-fragile area at the back of his skull. There were cushions tucked in all around him, to ensure that he did not roll backward or forward off the bed. His right leg -- the one that had been so badly broken -- was on the bottom where it received the most support and could lie easily. Both hands were tucked in against his chest, as though he were clutching something or someone precious against his body.
Aeryn could have drawn him from memory, if she knew how to draw. She had spent the arns studying him, learning every detail, so that if he moved, if there was even the slightest change in his position, it would not go overlooked: every line, every wrinkle, every detail of his lips, his throat, and his fingers; the way the thermal covers lay across his hips, how far they hung down the side of the bed, exactly how far one portion rose and fell with every breath. And for the first time, she feared that this was the memory of John that she would carry through the cycles until her own death.
“You bastard. I believed in you,” she whispered to him. Tears threatened, pressure building behind her eyes and clogging her nose. She fought them back. “It’s not too late, John. There’s still time, but you have to do it now. Do not let me down.”
John did not answer.
Aeryn got to her feet, wandered around the cell several times, too tired to stretch muscles cramped by arns of sitting in one position, and then resumed her post beside the bed. Her foot hit something metallic. She bent down to retrieve the drinking flask that she had kicked under the bed, turned her head to check on John, and looked into his eyes.
She had once been aboard a ship that had been subjected to a deliberate, preplanned hull breach. One moment her surroundings had been as they should be -- gravity, atmospheric pressure, and lighting were normal -- and the next moment everything had disappeared in a single cataclysmic whoosh. It was as though the outer skin of the ship itself had grown larger, inhaling nothingness to replace the normal atmosphere and setting everything inside adrift. Her vacuum suit, which had clung slackly to her body moments earlier, had puffed out, leaving her suspended inside a momentarily too-large casing. It had been a disorienting experience, ripping her loose from every familiar sensation and setting her adrift in a cloud of small metallic fragments with nothing but the light tug of her safety harness to remind her that she wasn't naked and abandoned.
It felt like that now. Shock tore away the ability to feel her clothes properly. If she had been asked to move or hold something, Aeryn was certain she would find her hands and feet flapping uselessly at the end of arms and legs that had been stretched to ten or twenty motras in length. Sound ceased to function, and for a brief interval, she couldn't remember how to form words.
“Hi there,” she said in a whisper.
John continued to stare. It was a fixed gaze, showing no hint of comprehension or awareness.
“John, are you awake?”
She received nothing but silence and an unwavering blank stare for an answer. Aeryn turned away, unwilling to let John watch her cry even if he was not aware of his surroundings.
“Am I late?” a weak voice rasped behind her.
Moya underwent a second, more severe decompression. This time Aeryn came close to falling off her seat. When she recovered her balance and spun back toward the bed, she was surprised to find that everything in their quarters was still where it belonged … including her husband. John’s head was wobbling slightly on the pillow, and he looked like he was about to fall asleep, but his eyes were locked firmly on her, and he was definitely conscious and processing information.
“Almost. You cut it pretty close.”
“Where’s DJ?” he asked next.
“Running around somewhere,” she said.
“Is he okay?” His breathing was a laborious struggle. It would take some time before the healed tissue and knitted bones returned to normal. Until then, every movement would require conscious effort.
“He's fine. Not even a bruise. I think he enjoyed it.”
A twitch at the side of his mouth might have been a tired smile. “In that case, keep him out of the Den for a while.”
“We are not going to have a repeat of this event. The DRDs are rigging a force net below the Den.” Aeryn moved from the hard-surfaced chair where she had spent so many arns over the past days, to the side of the bed. John’s left hand moved toward her thigh. She took it in hers and held on tight.
“What about me? Am I okay?” John asked.
“You'll live. How do you feel?”
“I’ve got one hell of a headache, there are about eight of you sitting next to me, and if I don’t take a leak in the next sixty seconds, I'm going to have a very embarrassing accident.”
Aeryn stared down at him for several microts, weighing what she knew about John’s injuries against the prospect of inventing an alternative to using the waste alcove. “You can’t,” she said in the end. “We’ll find another way. Your leg --”
“No,” he said, interrupting. “I have not wet the bed since I was five years old. You do not mess with a winning streak like that. Unless you have a thunder jug tucked under the bed, you had better give me a hand.”
Aeryn got to her feet and took several steps back, meaning to take away any offer of assistance out of range. Instead of surrendering, John used the extra room to push himself upright and swing his legs over the side of the bed. His upper body oscillated back and forth several times before he managed to get things under control.
“You’ve got thirty microts to make up your mind. If you don’t help me, I’ll try it on my own … and probably wind up flat on my face on the floor. You choose.”
“You should not be on your feet. John, if you fall and hit your head --”
“Twenty microts. Your choice. You can either help me or watch me do a face plant.”
She did not give in until he tried to get to his feet, and came very close to hitting his head on the floor, just as she had predicted. It did not seem to matter to John that he could not stand up or walk on his own. He dragged himself back on to the bed, spent several microts catching his breath, and was clearly going to try it again. Only then, when she realized that her choices were bad and worse, did she tuck herself in under his arm and help him across the short distance to the waste alcove, lending him both strength and balance.
The short journey exhausted him. Perhaps that told him more about what his body had been through than any of Aeryn’s brief explanations, because once he was back in bed, he asked, “Just how bad was it?”
She considered his question, the devastation that his body had endured even if he was not aware of it, and why he had made the sacrifice. She debated whether to describe the damage: a leg broken in four places, a shoulder so badly smashed that the diagnosan had been forced to examine the other one to figure out how to put it back together, six broken ribs, a collapsed lung, internal bleeding, and a skull fracture that nearly taken him away from her. She weighed that knowledge against how angry she was with him for obstinately ignoring her and insisting that he hobble to the waste alcove, and suddenly found the two elements merging together instead of waging a battle for dominance.
This was the John Crichton she had believed in so fiercely. Pig-headed, opinionated, self-assured to the point of stupidity, and stubborn: these were the qualities that had brought him back to her. Not his compassion or the gentle side of his nature. It was not the humorous, loving, peaceful side of John Crichton that had provided the solid foundation for her faith. It was the mulish, impossible side of him that refused to give up and kept on fighting long after most sentient beings would have surrendered.
“Watergate tapes? Grassy knoll? Jimmy Hoffa’s final resting place?”
“What?” she asked.
“I was wondering if the answer was a national secret. How bad was it, Aeryn? The question isn’t all that difficult.”
Aeryn gazed at him in much the same way she had stared at him for arn after endless arn over the past several days. The difference was not so much that he was looking back at her, but that she was no longer waiting. The past days had been one long held breath, an internal suspension of time. The timepiece of her life had begun ticking again. She could breathe.
John, on the other hand, was looking increasingly exhausted and befuddled. There was a good chance that if she simply waited another few microts, he would fall asleep, which would eliminate the entire issue concerning an answer.
She picked up one of his hands, pressed it to her check, and then kissed the back of his knuckles. The back of his forefinger brushed gently against her cheek. She could think of only one reply that would truly answer the question.