(First posted April 3, 2012)
Spoilers/Time Frame: Terra Firma.
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.
Test Drivers: PKLibrarian, Nette, and shester. They are the best. Thank you so much, ladies.
Starburst Challenge 60 (hosted by vinegardog): The story should star at least one of our main characters
either lying or being lied to and then being caught in the lie or uncovering the liar.
I hope you enjoy it.
* * * * *
You wallow in the hot water until you begin to feel like a new species of mammal, one that spends more time in
the water than on dry land. You had taken a shower the previous evening, but that had been a briefer, more
businesslike venture, aimed at washing off stink, sweat, and grime before going to bed. There had been no
time for bathing in 1985. By the time you stepped back onto Moya, you were sticky, dirty, and smelled
suspiciously like the town dump the time it caught on fire. A rank mixture of odors had permeated your skin:
sweat, smoke, salt and some repugnant biological scents from being near the water, all mixed in with the stench
from D’Argo’s ship that, against all arguments to the contrary, you insist smells like rotting meat. You had not
needed anyone to tell you that you needed a bath. The evidence had floated along with you wherever you
travelled; an unwelcome companion that left a trail of frowns and scowls in your wake.
This morning you slosh about for a different reason, lathering and rinsing repeatedly. Your motivation for
lingering has to do with the way the water-warmed tiles feel beneath the soles of your feet, the smell of the soap
and shampoo, and the sound of the lather as it slops onto the floor of the shower. It has to do with the
bone-deep sense of peace and relaxation that settles over you as the water drums down on your skull, and the
knowledge that you can stay in the shower as long as you like without having to worry that you might be
interrupted by a catastrophe or an attack. This is not about getting clean. This extended bout of steamy
self-indulgence is about playing with the bar of soap, letting it leap out of your hands and catching it the way
you did when you were a child, drawing a series of smiley faces in the steam on the shower door, and breathing
in fragrances that you have not inhaled in far too long.
This is about being home.
It is a soapy, water-logged continuation of a transformation that began the previous day. It started the moment
you slid down the side of the module and stood on the Earth’s surface for the first time in over three cycles.
Your body underwent a peculiar mutation, regressing from a creature that had adapted to living in space into
an ordinary human. The gravity had felt wrong for the first few moments. Not too strong or too weak. Simply
incorrect, as though the planet’s tilt on its axis or the uneven distribution of the continents was creating a
gravitational wobble that threatened to knock you off balance. Three microts later, a light-headed twisting
sensation passed over you, moving from head to foot, as though someone had wrung out your body the way
you would a wet rag. It had squeezed out the fear and the hate and the violence; pain, loss, and heartache
had been expunged at the same time. The invisible force had unwound you, flicked you sharply to remove the
remaining droplets of guilt, and when it was over you were John Crichton again. Human. Resident of planet
After that, Earth’s gravity had felt precisely right. The sky was the correct shade of blue, the sun the
appropriate brightness. Sounds, smells, the presence of asphalt underfoot, green grass, the constant zip and
hum of traffic in the distance, a jet lifting off from a runway, the touch of the breeze, people all around you
speaking English, the smell of jet fuel exhaust, birds screeching overhead, internal combustion engines, the
distant rhythmic squawk of a car alarm: for thirty microts or more you were buried under an avalanche of
familiar sights and sounds. Your brain squawked in protest, complained about the radical adjustment to
perception, made a brief half-hearted attempt at retreat, and then settled down and began to suck in every
detail the way you had once sucked in air after surviving the vacuum of space.
Every other fact about your life fell away at that moment, leaving you with a single concept to consider. You
You were no longer John Crichton, mislaid astronaut. You were not the scourge of the Uncharted Territories,
destroyer of gammack bases and shadow depositories; in that instant you left behind all the things that
identified you as criminal, fugitive, liar, thief, and murderer. The weight of the last three cycles fell from your
shoulders, you were able to stand up straight, unburdened, and you became a man again. Scientist, physicist,
The rest of the evening and periodically throughout the night that small sentence continually interrupted both
your waking thoughts and your dreams. Earth. You are back on Earth. Each time you rolled over in your
sleep, restless beneath the touch of cotton sheets, disturbed by the familiar comfort of an inner spring
mattress, you woke long enough to repeat the words silently inside your head then went back to sleep with the
short three-beat cadence dancing in time with your pulse.
You are home.
You stand directly beneath the heaviest flow from the shower head for more than two hundred microts,
deliberately ignoring the possibility that someone else might have to suffer through a cold shower because of
your waste, then finally turn the taps off and step out. From the amount of steam wafting about the bathroom,
you decide you might have overdone it a bit. The far side of the small room is barely visible. Trickles of
condensation streak the walls, the mirror, and the inside of the window. This is a little extreme, even for you.
You stretch to one side and flick the switch for the exhaust fan. It is a small movement, one you have
performed thousands of times in your life, nearly instinctual in its simplicity. Yet the hum of the exhaust fan
sounds extraordinary. The feel of the towel is the same. You spend extra time drying off, paying special
attention to the warm slide of freshly laundered cotton across your skin, thinking about how the body cloths you
use aboard Moya will never have the power to comfort you the way warm terrycloth can. It holds the memory of
summer days spent at the lake, of your mother helping you dry off after you came in soaked from the rain, of
hot showers on cold winter days.
It means that you are home.
Ultimately, however, a human being can only spend so much time drying off. There comes a moment when
there is no moisture left, and carrying on runs the risk of turning into a different type of comfort and release.
You wrap the towel snugly around your waist -- another of the strange yet achingly familiar moments -- and step
into the upstairs hallway.
Livvie is right outside the bathroom as you open the door. She jumps, startled, and lets out a small shriek.
Your reaction is far more violent. You are back inside the bathroom before you know what you are doing and
without remembering how it happened. It feels like teleportation. One moment you are half a step into the
hallway, the next you are slammed up against the wall where the door will provide you with some cover, ready to
hit the floor at the first sign of aggression. Heart pounding, sweating, breath held, with an unpleasant snarl in
your stomach and a chill running up your spine.
Livvie steps into view, one hand on her chest. “Good lord, you startled me,” she says. She peers in at you.
“John? What’s wrong?”
You pry yourself away from the wall, force your lungs to take a breath, and put together what you hope
resembles a sheepish grin. It is a struggle. Every cell in your body is screaming that you need to check the
entire building for threats, find a weapon, make sure that the house is not under attack. It takes a conscious
effort to ignore the internal alarms. You focus on Livvie, using her presence as an anchor, concentrate on the
fact that you scared her almost as badly as you frightened yourself, and repeat the magical mantra. You are
home; all is well.
“We’re even. You scared the crap out of me.” You kiss your index finger then tap it against the tip of her nose,
a gesture from a past life. It does not ease her look of concern. You add, “What every guy needs: a welcome
home heart attack.”
It seems to do the trick. She takes in a deep breath and lets it out in a shaky laugh.
You try to think of something else to say, hoping to change the subject before she remembers your reaction.
Before you can come up with a new topic, the aroma of coffee and toast wafts up from the kitchen. Your mouth
instantly starts to water. It has been so long. You want coffee and toast with an artery-clogging layer of butter.
Cereal, eggs, bacon, sausages, waffles, pancakes smothered in syrup. Before you can stop to think, the list
expands out of control. Pizza, hamburgers, chocolate, potato chips; turkey with all of the trimmings. Baked
ham with macaroni and cheese, steak smothered in mushrooms and onions, roasted chicken, mashed
potatoes, fried onions. Lobster straight out of the pot served with melted butter and corn on the cob.
Home-made biscuits, anything fried in lard, pie a la mode. In the space of three microts, you dream up a menu
that could feed greater Miami for the best part of a week. You want to gobble down food of every variety until
you sink into a permanent carbo-coma.
Your stomach lets out an extended growl, casting its vote in favor of an orgiastic breakfast. Livvie glances
down at the source of the rumbles and grins. “Some things haven’t changed. You are still a human garbage
disposal. I warned Dad to make four times as much as usual.” The grin fades, transforms into the precursor to
a frown. “Although you didn’t eat as much as I expected last night. There are a ton of leftovers.”
“It was a long day,” you say. “I was tired. It took the edge off my appetite.”
You are not being honest. Fatigue had nothing to do with it. Despite the ongoing mental celebration that you
are back on Earth, your body has its own agenda. It remains focused on survival. Every cell from toenails to
hair follicles has been quivering at a high level of alert ever since your feet touched the planet. Almost
anything can trigger a reaction: being out in the open, the color of the sun and the sky, the traffic, the noises
and smells, the congestion as you and the others were escorted through the crowds of people who had
gathered to gape at the extraterrestrials. You feel dangerously exposed. The primitive portions of your
genome, the sequences of DNA that kept your caveman ancestors alive, insist that you remain ready for flight.
A satiated body is a slow body. No one can flee on a full stomach. Dinner last night had been an unpleasant
task, not a pleasure.
“Uh huh.” Livvie does not sound like she believes you. In fact, her tone of voice suggests that you might be
You do not want to explain the source of the problem. “Olive Oil,” you say, trying to distract her from the
The old nickname does the trick. She retaliates by making a grab for the towel. “Brat,” she says, and lunges
You dodge out of reach, feint to one side, and scoot past her when she commits, one hand clenching the towel
tightly in case she manages to snag it from behind. You make it to your room with modesty intact. You hold up
your hand. “Hang on a second.”
She will want to follow you and chat while you get dressed. You understand. Olivia misses you. She wants to
be close to you, to rediscover what it is like to have a brother, to find out what has happened since you
disappeared. You have not forgotten what it is like. You used to do the same thing when you had been away
at school and came home for a visit. You wound up following your family wherever they went in the house,
chatting through doors, using every available moment to catch up. The difference now is the sense of
desperation and need. You have not been away at school or living on the other side of the planet. As far as
Olivia is concerned, you have returned from the dead. If there were two beds in your room, you would have
undoubtedly found her sleeping in the other one this morning. You would not have minded.
“Shorts,” you say, explaining that you want a few microts of privacy while you replace the towel.
She waves you into your room, and steps out of sight. You swing the door shut anyway, not sure why it is
necessary, and try the top drawer of the bureau. A variety of underpants lie in orderly, neatly folded ranks.
Your stomach twists into an uncomfortable knot at the sight. The shorts are yours. The last time you saw
them, they had been in the bureau in your apartment, stuffed hastily and messily into the drawer. The current
arrangement -- tidy and organized -- says that Jack has been here. You grab the first thing that comes to
hand, a pair of boxers. They fit, although more loosely than you remember. You are leaner than you were the
last time you wore them, kept trim by chaos and strife.
“Okay. I’m decent,” you say.
Olivia enters and plunks herself down on the bed. She watches as you search through the drawers. They are
filled with the rest of your clothes. You pull out a pair of jeans and rummage through a collection of shirts until
you find one that you like. The clothes had been in your apartment when you went off on the Farscape
mission. In fact, everything in the bedroom had been in your apartment: furniture, journals in the bookcase,
the pictures that hang on the walls, the clothes in the closet, the childhood toys and mementos that are neatly
arranged on the desk and the shelves.
Your perception of the room shifts. You realize it is a museum.
“Dad?” you ask, indicating the entire collection with your head.
“Yes. We all helped, but he was the one who insisted on bringing everything here. He couldn’t accept that you
You step into the jeans. The brush of well-washed denim against your legs is a feeling from out of a dream.
Reality collides with several cycles worth of wishful thinking. You feel lightheaded for several moments as your
brain battles to separate tactile input from sensations that you have imagined thousands of times. Somewhere
in the midst of the mental whirlwind, you manage to reflect that putting on a pair of jeans should not make you
feel as though you are losing your mind.
An outburst from Livvie hauls you back to your surroundings with a snap. “John! What happened to your
You follow her gaze, wondering for a moment what she is talking about. Then you remember. You tend to
forget that the scar is there. It is not something that you can see without putting a lot of effort into it. It is
behind you and high enough on your thigh that getting a good look at it involves either a mirror or dislocating
your spine … or wrapping your leg around the back of your neck like a contortionist. Still, you know what it
looks like. You have checked on it several times over the last half cycle by using a mirror. It has not healed
well. Too much tissue had been ripped away by the brindiss hound, and there had been no opportunity to
locate a diagnosan or medical facility until it was far too late to do anything about it. It is an ugly, gnarled
collection of scar tissue, with small outcroppings branching off the main travesty that indicate where the
creature’s fangs had sunk the deepest.
You pull your pants up and then duck into the t-shirt, using the time to search for an answer. You do not want
to tell her you got bit in the ass by a dog. Itty bitty doggie, you had called it before you knew what you were
talking about. Half a cycle has passed and you still feel like an idiot. You should have known better. Nothing
ever works out for the best.
“Accident,” you say, trying to avoid an explanation. With each additional evasion you are getting closer to an
outright lie. You begin to wish that Olivia would leave you alone.
“That was no accident. That looked like a bite mark!” Livvie is on her feet, trying to get behind you, as if she
were trying to get a better look even though you have your pants on. “That was an enormous bite mark.” She
is not laughing or attempting to make fun of you. She is horrified.
You do not know how to explain this without treading dangerously close to being abandoned in space, a dying
leviathan, a species that begins the process of harvesting tissue from a sentient being by first exterminating
every living creature aboard the ship; Aeryn, heart ache, months of loneliness, a baby. You try to concentrate
on the visible physical evidence instead of the internal emotional devastation, still searching for a suitable
answer, and once again your thoughts go awry, derailed by the revelation that with this one exception, all of
your scars are on the inside. It is your soul that has been ravaged and mangled, deformed by the events of the
last several cycles. You wonder how Olivia would react if she could see those invisible wounds, and knew how
each one had been created. You try to imagine how she would respond if she knew about gun battles,
arguments, deceit, and betrayal. Crais, Scorpius … Commandant Mele-On Grayza.
Your stomach twists in on itself and cramps. It feels as though a black hole has blossomed into life in your
guts. You are no longer hungry. The thought of food makes you nauseous.
You are home, you tell yourself, trying to recapture the blissful sense of peace and relaxation that had existed
just five or ten minutes ago. You are on Earth, about to have breakfast. You will walk downstairs, just as you
have thousands of times over the course of your life, you will pour a cup of coffee, listen to the clatter of the
chair against the floor as you pull it out from the table, and you will be home.
“John, what happened out there?”
You glance at her. She is asking about more than the tooth marks in your ass. She wants to know the whole
story. She wants to know everything. “Not much. I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to get back to
Earth. Between that and needing a faster-than-light drive to pick up groceries, I didn’t have much time left over
for anything else.”
“You needed to carry a weapon to do that?” she asks.
You had stowed your pulse pistol in your gear bag before leaving Moya, partly because you were pretty sure
no authority, be it state or federal, was going to issue you a firearms permit for an alien weapon, and partly
because you did not want anyone to know that you needed to carry one to survive. Jack knew, however, from
the muzzle end of the relationship.
“Jack had to bring that up?” you say.
“Dad didn’t say anything about it. Aeryn was wearing one, and I saw that your pants had marks on them in the
same place as hers.”
She leaves the last piece of the deduction unspoken. Livvie does not bother saying that she knows the leather
on the right thigh of your pants is scuffed and marred because you wear a pulse pistol all the time. You try to
remember when that had happened. You had refused to carry a weapon at first. Aeryn and D’Argo had spent
a good portion of your first cycle aboard Moya trying to convince you otherwise, and you remember the day you
strapped on a holster for the first time. What you cannot recall was when a pulse pistol had become a standard
piece of attire, as essential to the process of getting dressed as the rest of your clothes.
“There are no cops in outer space,” you tell her, hoping it will stave off the need for any further explanation.
You deliberately skip the fact that there are law enforcers, of a sort, and that they are the reason you need a
weapon in order to stay alive.
You head into the closet to see what is available for footwear. Flip flops, a pair of worn and battered Chuck
Taylor high tops, several pairs of shoes ranging from casual to dress, and some blue sneakers. You grab the
sneakers and head back toward the bureau in search of socks.
You pause by the window, thinking about how you started your day. Waking to the early-morning racket of
birds and the sound of the breeze rustling through the leaves in the trees had been a treat. Realizing that the
crisp cotton sheets had not been a dream and that you were lying in an Earth-style bed with proper pillows had
increased your pleasure to a level just short of sexual. You had laid there for over an arn, telling yourself over
and over that you were home, using the tactile reality of sheets and blankets to reinforce the hard-to-believe
You watch one of the neighbors get into her car, back out of the driveway and disappear down the street, and
in that moment -- as you watch one of the most normal, mundane events in an every day life -- the façade that
you have been working hard to keep in place is ripped away. The last twenty-four hours has been a pleasant
fiction, a short jaunt into a land of make believe, where it was enjoyable to imagine that John Crichton could
resume his place on Earth. The time for lying to yourself is over.
To every other soul on this planet, spaceflight is difficult and dangerous. It takes months of work, multibillion
dollar projects, and the efforts of hundreds of people to send someone into space. To you, it is the place where
you live. An afternoon jaunt to an asteroid has become as ordinary as hopping in the car to run out to the
store for a quart of milk or a roll of toilet paper. Bouncing from planet to planet has become a way of life;
fleeing across one or more galaxies in search of some peace is standard. Humanity is not entirely wrong.
Space is dangerous, but not for the reasons they think.
Too much has changed. You can never come home. Not in the way that you want.
Behind you, Livvie says, “This is difficult for you. I could see last night that you were having trouble adjusting.”
You do not tell her that you are having trouble adjusting to the fact that you no longer belong on Earth, that in
the space of a few microts you have faced up to the fact that you have been kidding yourself. Being here is
sheer luck. It is a fluke, a quirk in the fabric of space-time that someone else managed to locate, and one that
never should have happened. With a supreme effort, you manage to tear your thoughts away from that truth.
You focus on Olivia, your sister, on how much you love her, and search for the right thing to say.
She continues before you have a chance to put something together. “A few minutes ago, when you jumped
back into the bathroom, you were reaching for a weapon.”
“As I recall, you were the one who screamed first.” You let out a bad imitation of her high-pitched shriek, and
flutter your hands near your shoulders, creating a parody of feminine hysterics. You get a pillow flung at your
head in return. You do it again, squealing a falsetto “EEK!” This time you are prepared, and duck in plenty of
When the two of you were younger, pillow fights led to wrestling matches, almost without fail. The habit became
so deeply ingrained, it continued well into your teens, long after the age when most brothers and sisters
discontinued that sort of thing. At this point in your lives, it is nearly instinctual. Thrown pillows always lead to
Olivia tackling you and trying to pin you to the floor. The idea of being trapped in that fashion triggers
something feral and violent. You are across the room, well out of range of an attack, before you realize what
you are doing.
Olivia has not moved. She is standing near the bed, watching you the way she might eye a complete stranger
who has walked into the room without warning. Perhaps she is right.
“John, what happened out there?”
You return to the bed and begin putting on socks and sneakers, using the time to assemble an answer.
Eventually, you say, “Met some friends, found a groovy place to live, explored a bunch of planets, discovered
that there were more sentient species out there than George Lucas could hope to stuff into all of his movies
combined, and spent the entire three and a half years missing chocolate.”
You do not tell her about being tortured, imprisoned, or raped. You leave out Aeryn, falling in love, watching
her go off with another you, or how John Crichton could die and yet be alive. There is no reason to mention
rejection, grief, loss, or the level of heartache that came from knowing that Aeryn can justify lying to you. And
you certainly will not bring up the existence of a baby that may or may not be John Crichton’s.
Olivia gets up and wanders to the far side of the room, watching you the entire time. She is making an
exceptional effort to be relaxed.
She can read you like no one else can. Not Dad, not Susan, not DK … certainly not Aeryn. The two of you
spent too much of your childhood doing things together for her to interpret the messages incorrectly. She has
always spent as much time listening to the silent signals being emitted by your body as she does to your
words. She intercepts what are supposed to be the heavily encrypted messages of muscle shifts, changes in
your breathing, what you do with your hands, and the reactions of your pupils, and finds in them an easily
decipherable language. All of which means that there is no doubt in your mind that she knows that you are
But you can read her as well and what you find in her strained nonchalance is not anger, evasion, or
diplomacy. It is confusion. You watch carefully as she straightens several books on a shelf, searching for the
tiny well-known signals, and finally make out what is bothering her. She does not recognize the second person
in this room. She came in here expecting to have a conversation with her brother, to share what has happened
over the years, to laugh and to rediscover each other. She has not figured out that a stranger has returned in
his place, and she is confused because she does not understand what your body is saying.
The small syllable slips out before you know what you are doing. You want to tell her a thousand things. You
want to be twelve years old again, and sit together on a branch of a tree where you can tell her your deepest
darkest secrets without fear of being overheard. You want to confide in her, let the events of the past three
and a half cycles come pouring out in a torrent, to cry, to have your sister put her arm around your shoulders
and tell you it will be all right as she did so many times after you argued with your father. More than anything
else, you want to tell her that Johnny made it back to Earth; that her brother has come home. You ache for it to
be true. You want to be that person, to know in your heart that you are home, you belong here, and you can
stay for the rest of your life.
Olivia turns to look at you, waiting for something more, and the reality stares out at you, more clearly than
before. Your little sister is searching for her big brother. She wants the same things you do. She wants the
adult version of having you push her on a swing or helping her climb a tree that is too big for her to scale on
her own. Livvie wants you to come into her room in the middle of a storm, as you did so many times when you
were children, and reassure her that the thunder and lightning will not hurt her. She wants you to take the fear
You search for that person in your memories. You wade through fragments of your past, gathering up
celebrations, joyful moments, and laughter. You harvest football games, snowball fights, long conversations
with friends; dinners with the entire family gathered at the table, arguments about who is supposed to do the
dishes, water fights in the kitchen; Christmas, Halloween parties, Thanksgiving, Mom’s birthday. You sample
what it meant to be John Crichton during those moments, add in a dash of teenage recklessness, a sprinkling
of childish innocence, and find that you can don the skin of a person who no longer exists. You turn yourself
into a lie. It is easy. You slide into the role willingly, because one thing that has not changed is that you will do
absolutely anything to keep Livvie happy and safe. You can make believe long enough to tell her that the
thunder will not hurt her.
It works. As your transform yourself into the person you used to be, the confusion in her eyes disappears. She
crosses the room in long, confident strides to hug you. Some reserve remains. She knows that something is
not right. For the moment, however, she is content with the belief that her brother has reappeared.
“I had better get downstairs before Dad overcooks the eggs and burns the toast. He has never learned to
cook.” She gives you a quick kiss on the cheek, and is gone.
You move several feet to one side, to where you can look in the mirror. Someone stands there, staring into
your eyes as though meeting you for the first time. He wears jeans and a faded blue t-shirt. He owns the
objects that fill this room. His hands know the comforting weight of objects common to Earth. They have never
fired a weapon with the intention of killing another being; they have never known cruelty, hatred, or homicidal
fury. You stare into that person’s eyes and decide that you can pretend to be him for a short time. You can be
Johnny again, long enough to convince your family that you are alive and well, and living happily at the other
end of the universe.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *