Chapter 19

He had slept for ages; or at least that was how it felt to him. When he finally woke up, he did so with a start, confused about his surroundings, the fear of being late lacing through him. But then he glanced around him, around this cabin he was in, and felt the softness of the mattress beneath him and the sweet scent of recycled air that was being perfumed to keep it from going stale, and his heartbeat slowed down to normal again. The yacht. They were aboard Linea's Pride, and he didn't have to get up and go to work for Kelmar; ever again.

A smile slipped over his lips as he pulled his legs over the side of the bed and planted his bare feet on soft plush covering the floor. He had no idea how long he had slept, only knew that he was alone, that Aeryn had left the cabin, and that alone was a reason to smile. She was back, regaining her strength bit by bit, and it was just about the best feeling he'd had in a good long while.

Ignoring the fact that he was wearing nothing but his pants, he padded over to the door, which opened when he approached it, and he stepped out into the corridor, which was also carpeted with nothing but plush, ankle deep and softer than silk. After taking a moment to orient himself, he turned and headed toward the cockpit, where he found Aeryn sitting on the pilot's seat, her bare feet resting on the edge of the guidance console, a cup of some kind of steaming hot liquid in her hand resting on the arm of the chair. She was staring out at the stars and had seemingly not noticed him.

"Hey," he said, leaned in and kissed the top of her head.

She smiled, but didn't look at him, a clear indication that she had been aware of his presence long before he had seen her. "This feels right," she said and finally did glance up at him. "Did you sleep well?"

With a grin, he dropped down on the co pilot's chair and leaned back into the rather heavy upholstery. "Yeah. I could get used to this. How about you?" he asked back, his eyes on the stars.

"I slept. And then I couldn't sleep any more. I've been asleep for seven monans," she said and turned her head so she could watch him instead. "I lost all sense of what was important, John."

He nodded, reached across the space between the seats and took the cup away from her. Taking a whiff of the contents, he frowned, tasted it and grumbled with appreciation. "Tastes a bit like Ovaltine," he commented and grinned crookedly when she frowned. "It's ... a sweet drink we have on Earth. You should have tried it while we were there. Maybe next time," he added and turned the chair a little to better face her. "What you lost, Aeryn, is something no woman anywhere, of any race, should ever have to lose."

"And yet I did," she countered, her expression sad. "And I felt responsible. I still do," she added and sighed lightly.

John stared down into the cup for a moment, suddenly wondering if what he had done after Aeryn had lapsed into catatonia had been something he should have told her even then. "But you're not to blame," he said and glanced over at her. "I am."

That made her frown. "How could you be to blame?" she asked, confused by this statement. "You weren't there when this child was conceived. How could you possibly have anything to do with her death?"

"Well ... technically speaking, it was the other John," he said. "Flawed DNA," he added and shook his head lightly. "If it makes you feel any better, I wouldn't have been able to have kids with anyone. So, you see, there's absolutely nothing wrong with you. It was all my fault."

"Your fault?" she asked again, but then shook her head. "No, John, it was nobodies fault. We are not responsible for our DNA. I don't know who is, but we are not," she added. "It's not like you knew. Either of you."

"Well, that's true," he agreed with a cynical little smile. "Doesn't make up for the fact that you have suffered more than anybody should ever have to," he continued and gave her a sideways glance.

"I have let the pain control me, contrary to everything I have learned as a Peacekeeper," she said and made a face. "Of course, we learned to handle physical pain. Mental pain was never addressed."

"Guess it's kinda hard to suffer from mental distress when you never get attached to anyone, huh?" he asked and she nodded, lost in thought. "What do Peacekeepers do with people who are ... you know ... a couple of cans short of a six pack?"

Aeryn frowned at him. "What does that mean?" she asked back.

It made him grin. He continuously forgot that she didn't understand most of his sayings. "Crazy, wacko, not all there. You know? A screw loose, dead from the neck up, magra fahrbot," he explained.

She eyed him for a moment, that same expression on her face that he had seen so many times before when he said something that made no sense to her, and then she shrugged lightly. "Depends. If it's because of a chemical imbalance, it will be corrected and that individual will be rehabilitated. If it's ... genetic and it can't be fixed, they ..."

"... put that person out of his or her misery, huh?" he finished for her and she nodded. "Well, great," he muttered and leaned his head back against the seat. "Good thing this could be fixed then. Otherwise you would have had to take me to the vet for that final injection."

Again she glanced at him, a slight frown furrowing her brow. "What do you mean, it could be fixed?"

He made a face. "Not in the kid, unfortunately. But in me," he replied and refrained from elaborating further. He figured she realized the rest.

Aeryn leaned forward a little, her attention fully on him. "When did you get it fixed?" she asked, her tone a little tense. "And how?"

John kept staring out at the stars, that feeling rising in him again. It was the same feeling he'd had when he had returned to the med facility, distressed because Aeryn had shut down on him and they didn't have any more money, and he had handed over their last remaining currency to the doctor while asking for advice on how to handle her catatonia. It was the same feeling of a tight, ice cold ball in the pit of his stomach, which made him feel slightly nauseous. The same feeling which had made him beg for that injection for reasons he couldn't readily explain now. It had been some kind of desperate attempt to restore some kind of order to the universe. He had intended to tell her about it, but things had happened so quickly and they hadn't had anywhere to stay at first and it hadn't really crossed his mind again since. Not until now. "Right after you shut down on me," he finally said and shrugged. "It wasn't nothing a little Sebacean DNA couldn't fix anyway."

"Sebacean?" she asked and slipped to the front of the seat, now perching on the very edge of it. "You allowed them to inject you with Sebacean DNA?" she asked, incredulous.

"It's no big deal, Aeryn. It doesn't make any difference on any other level. I just felt the need to fix something. And that I could fix. Or rather the doctor could," he said and turned his head to face her. "That things went from bad to worse after that was something I had no control over. I did the best I could, tried to keep us alive and sheltered. And I think I managed that fairly well."

She blinked, her expression still one of stunned surprise. "You did that," she agreed. "But ... why would you do that to yourself? Why would you even consider it?"

He couldn't stop a somewhat helpless laugh to escape him at that. "Isn't it obvious?" he asked, but she shook her head. "As I said, I needed to fix something and that was a one hundred percent guaranteed solution. And it didn't cost anything," he tried to explain while leaning forward a little. Once again, he settled his gaze on the stars. "I just needed to feel in control of something, anything, no matter how small it was. And I sure as hell wasn't in control of a damned thing apart from that."

"So you allowed that medic to contaminate you with Sebacean DNA," she stated.

Again, he laughed. He couldn't help it. Old habits died hard, it seemed. "I don't consider it a contamination, Aeryn. I consider it a solution to a problem I didn't want to have. I was kind of ... hoping, I guess, that if the chance ever presented itself again, it wouldn't be a problem. I sure as hell didn't want you to have to go through that again."

She stared at him, her expression rather fluent at the point as if she wasn't entirely sure how to respond. "You did that for me?" she asked, her tone full of confusion.

Looking over at her, he wondered why it was such a big deal to her. "Of course," he replied.

At that, she reached a hand out to him and he grabbed it, giving it a squeeze. "You are fahrbot, John Crichton. Magra fahrbot," she stated and shook her head.

A little embarrassed, he looked away and cleared his throat. "Yeah, well, you know me. I've had my brain fried one time too many," he replied with a snide grin. "Let's find Moya, shall we?" he added.

Aeryn smirked. "All right. Let's go home," she said.

***

On Moya

Backlit by the raging inferno of a ancient star about to go supernova, an event which would take mere microts in the star's lifetime, but was still hundreds of cycles away in the Sebacean time frame, Aeryn sat on Moya's terrace and watched the stars. She stared at the orange glow of the dying star and wondered if they were conscious things. That thought made her smile vaguely. This was such a Crichton way of looking at things. There was irony in that as well. That man, that frelling alien, had exerted such an impact on her life, and all the lives he touched, that his mere name had become a meaningful explanation of everything strange and different.

Her eyes ran over the extensive array of worlds glittering in the complete blackness of space while her mind drifted and hitched its way through recent events. There were so many things she still had to learn, so many emotions she still didn't know how to handle. But one thing she had learned and that was that losing someone, anyone, wasn't something she should burry. It was something she had to think through, something she had to come to terms with. If John was right, and according to himself he had experience in this area, the pain would ebb away and leave good memories. But how could she have good memories of a child that had died in her arms only an arn after its birth?

With a sigh, she closed her eyes and leaned her head back against Moya's hull. John claimed that using her imagination would give her peace of mind. She wasn't entirely sure how it worked, but she was willing to try.

Before her mind's eye, space dissolved and the backdrop became a meadow with a house in the distance, a definite Earth setting. She smiled to herself. Never before had she imagined 'home' as anything other than a ship. It had never occurred to her that she might live on a planet some day, but here she was, standing on this meadow, looking at a house she knew was hers. And on that meadow, not too far from where she was standing, a little girl with pitch black hair and fair skin was wandering through the tall grasses, picking flowers and singing to herself. She was dressed in a black overall and her hair was pulled back from her perfect little face and, even at this distance, Aeryn knew her eyes were blue.

The girl straightened, her right arm cradling an array of multi colored flowers, and gazed up at the sky for a moment. Then she turned her head and spotted Aeryn. Her expression erupted in a smile and she dropped the flowers to rush toward Aeryn, who caught her and lifted her up in stretched arms, feeling a smile spreading over her own lips. Her little girl, beautiful, perfect in every way, and she was happy to see her.

The scene dissolved and Aeryn opened her eyes again with a strange sensation surging through her like an electric current. That image of that perfect little girl had burnt itself into her heart and she would never, ever lose that again. Maybe it was the image of herself as a child, but she was certain that Les lee would have looked like that and it was both a wonderful and terribly sad feeling which knotted her guts into a tight little ball.

Once again, she gazed up at the dying star and had to admit that John had, once again, been right. For an inferior species with the wits of a slow child, he sure was intelligent sometimes. While she sat there, contemplating her past, dreaming of one of many possible futures, the ghost of her dead child, bigger now, faded into existence before her. Even with her eyes open, she could daydream. The girl, old enough to fly a prowler, stood before her with a soft look in her eyes and a vague smile on her lips. And she looked so much like her father. Aeryn could see John in her in a way that made her own smile sad. This was an image of yesterday, another ghost living in her mind.

The girl looked so real that Aeryn reached out to touch her, to caress that blooming cheek, but before her fingers could make contact the image dissolved into stardust like glittering golden rain and vanished again.

Not for the first time did Aeryn wonder about her emotional state when it came to Les lee. She had been so far down in the dumps, as John called it, that she hadn't cared if she lived or died. The only thing she had been able to think was that she should never, ever feel anything again. Feeling was equal to pain and she'd had enough pain in her life to last many lifetimes. But, as he had pointed out to her, there were good aspects to feelings. Aspects which might eventually make up for the pain.

Rubbing both hands over her face, Aeryn sighed deeply. What was the purpose of sitting here, dreaming about something that would never be? Again, she leaned her head back against the hull of Moya and for the first time ever thought she could feel the hum going through Moya, that hum that Zhaan had spoken of at one point.

She allowed herself to feel it, to take it in, and realized that this creature, which served them as home and companion, was really, truly alive. It was sometimes hard to think of a being like Moya as something with feelings and a life, but of course leviathans were living beings. Moya had proven that on many occasions, no less so than when she herself had conceived a child.

Turning her head, Aeryn pressed her right ear against the hull and listened to Moya's voice. "We have something in common, you and I," she whispered to the living ship. "We have both lost our children." She rose then and took a few steps toward the center of the terrace. "What do you think, Moya? Will there be other children?"

Whether it was her imagination or reality, she thought she felt the deck shudder beneath her feet and she couldn't help smiling a little. She interpreted that feeling as a positive reply. "For you maybe. For me ..." For the first time in a long time, Aeryn felt hope again. "Maybe," she added and tilted her head back to gaze up at the dying star.

THE END