Author: toadie
Rating: R
Summary: John Crichton is not the man he thinks he is.
Notes Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.’
- Friedrich Nietzsche 1886
Archiving: Please contact the author for permission.
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Black & White

Part 13

“Congratulations.”

 “What?” John’s head rose from the depths of the stacks of flimsies surrounding him as he sat at the table in one of the many planning rooms of the Republican Fleet Base. All around him his staff was scouring through intelligence data that Gemmell was certain they shouldn’t have been able to access. 

“You haven’t heard?” 

“Obviously not, otherwise I might have a clue what you’re talking about.” 

“You’re a father.” Gemmell waited as he watched Crichton’s face congeal and go pasty gray. “It also seems like your boy takes after you. Not even seven days old and he engineers a coup declaring himself emperor of the Imperium. An amazing feat considering he can’t talk.” 

John felt like his world was snapping into focus even as it was spinning out of control. He was a father. That news alone should have filled him with joy. But the knowledge of who held his son put an end to that. It all made a sick kind of sense now. Nothing had been what it had appeared to be. It had all been a set up from his ‘rescue’ to the attempt on his life. All along he'd thought he was the one manipulating things, and now he has found out that he had, in turn, been manipulated. 

“It’s Winkler isn’t it? He’s declared himself, what? Regent? Temporary emperor? until the boy is old enough to rule in fact as well as name?” 

“Yes. Him as well as most of the members of your High Command. They apparently acted out of loyalty to the Imperium by removing a weak emperor and appointing your child in his place.” 

“Jesus.” John felt drained. He could see the plan now. He even realized that it had been changed since his apparent death. The original would have been for him to take the throne and be Winkler’s puppet. So his death would have been a devastating blow if it hadn’t of been for… “Fuck.” 

“Right from the beginning. Right from the fucking beginning.” John’s voice had started as a whisper but ended in a full-blown roar of anger. He lurched to his feet and scattered the flimsies onto the floor with the sweep of one arm. 

This was far from how he had expected Crichton to react to the news. A joke perhaps or a vicious barb in return. But this display of rage shocked both him and Crichton’s staff, who were by now openly staring at their commander as he stalked about the room, swearing loudly and shouting things that made no sense to anyone. Almost as if he were holding a conversation with someone who was invisible. 

“Give up now John.” Scorpius’s voice whispered in his ear. “You can’t win.” 

“Leave, me, alone, damn it.” John felt his rage running out of control. He needed to hit something, to feel something physical. He drew back his fist and with full force smashed it onto the wall. He kept it pressed hard against it for several seconds before withdrawing it leaving smears of blood behind. Ever since his encounter with Aeryn, Scorpius had been his constant companion; always talking to him, commenting on his thoughts, ideas and even his most secret desires. 

“I can’t John, you know that by now. I’m with you permanently, unless you return to the Uncharted Territories.” He made it all sound so reasonable. Go back and be a hunted criminal. Running from planet to planet, always watching out for danger, never knowing if he would survive that day. It seemed like heaven compared to this. But he had sworn an oath to destroy these things, and he intended to do it.  

“I’m not going back there.” He stated fiercely and loudly, ignoring the worried glances of his staff members. 

“You’ll have no choice in the end John.” That was the one thing John thought he hated most about Scorpius, his calm, assured voice. He always sounded is if he knew more than you did and if their past meetings were anything to go by, he just might. But John knew one thing more than Scorpius and that one thing was enough to start a chase that was still continuing in this room. 

“Crichton?” Gemmell's shout brought him back to his more pressing problem. He glanced around at the trail of destruction he had left and into the pale, worried faces of his staff. 

“What” was his less than dignified response but then nothing about his recent actions could be classed as dignified, or even entirely sane. He flexed his hand and winced, certain he could feel bones grating together. 

“Are you… all right?” Gemmell's question couldn’t have been worse. John reacted to it like a bear poked with a sharp stick. With a red-eyed murderous glare John strode over and leaned towards Gemmell, his face stopping inches away from his. 

“I’m fine. Hey who wouldn’t be in my place? My uncle got me to make a woman I loathe pregnant so that he could overthrow the emperor and put my son in his place.” He stood back now, breathing heavily. The room suddenly seemed too hot.  

“I’m stuck in a region of space where almost everyone knows, not thinks, but knows I’m a mass murderer. My uncle who has just tried to have me killed now rules the only region of space where I might have had a reasonably assassination-free existence.”  

He pulled at his collar and loosened his uniform tunic before removing it totally. “And for our bonus round, we have a race of psychopathic aliens destroying everything in their path for no good reason.” In disgust he threw his jacket onto his vacated chair and stood staring at it. All the while ignoring Scorpius's barbed comment. 

“ahhh?” Gemmell said. It was all he could think of. 

“What? You think I’m crazy? Well surprise, surprise, maybe you’re right. I’ve been chewed up and shat out more times than anyone should be in a dozen lifetimes. And I’m pissed off.” John said softly, his voice barely a whisper. 

Gemmell knew he had to do something to break Crichton out of this mood; and fast. This man controlled enough firepower to destroy a planet in minutes and a fanatical crew willing to follow him through hell if he said that’s where they had to go. 

“Ok so you’ve got the shitty end of the stick. It happens,” he said harshly. He was gratified to see Crichton jerk up startled and glare at him. “Now sit the hell down and try to relax. You said you had a plan and I have backed you as far as I can without knowing it. Now I’m starting to get people breathing down my neck to know what this plan of yours is.” 

For several seconds Crichton merely stared at him. Then he slowly made his way back to his seat. Gemmell pulled up a chair and sat across the table from him, silently, waiting for him to start speaking. 

“Ok it’s really simple. So simple even the idiots running your navy should be able to understand it.” John knew this was unfair but at the moment being fair was the last thing on his mind. He had lost everything now. The only thing he had left was his oath to stop these creatures, but the cost of his plan tore at his soul. “It goes a little something like this. I sneak through Imperial space. I wait find and engage the enemy. I run like hell and hope they follow. I lead them into the biggest fleet of ships ever gathered around earth. And we hope like hell that’s enough to stop them.” He looked up as he finished talking in time to catch the surprise and shock that flickered across Gemmell's face. A small smile settled on his face as Gemmell started to talk, his voice steady but still uncertain. 

“Are you insane? There are billions of people on earth. If your plan fails they are dead and even if it succeeds there's a chance they’ll all die.” Gemmell was quite proud of his even tone as he spoke but judging from the small smile that appeared on Crichton's face his control hadn’t been perfect. 

“There are seven point two billion people on earth. There are over four hundred and seventy billion sentient beings that we know of in this portion of the galaxy. A large chunk of that is human. If we don’t stop these aliens in a decisive manner, they are going to swallow us all piecemeal until they are the only ones left standing.” John leaned back in his chair and stared at the lighting panel above him. In a quiet voice, Gemmell barely heard, he added, “it’s simple math.” 

“But the risk.” 

“Don’t you think I know the risk?" he snapped impatiently. "But in the end it’s going to come down to fire power and that’s on the aliens side. Even with every ship in the Imperial fleet in orbit around earth they would be no match for them. Except for the defense station. With that and its parasite ships, we stand a good chance of stopping them at best and at worst crippling them enough so that you might be able to finish what we started.” 

“And that’s the only way you can think of?” The plan was insane, Gemmell knew this, anyone who even considered it must be insane. But it also might work. Worst of all, Crichton might be right; maybe it was their only chance. But that didn’t make it any less insane. To lead a ruthless enemy to the home world of humanity and unleash it upon a large but unprepared fleet was madness. Neither side could disengage from the other. The aliens because they weren’t able to and the Imperials because to do so would doom Earth. 

“Yes. I know better than anyone how these aliens think. They are relentless. They will keep coming until they choke you with their own dead if they must.” 

“And what do you want us to do” 

“Well you have three choices really. You can stand back and do nothing, which some people will favor but that’s a bad choice. In the end that will cost you more than you believed possible. Your second choice is to join the fight and help to destroy these creatures.” 

“And our third?” 

“Try to stop me and doom yourselves.” 

#

 “You failed and still dare to return?” First Dan’t’an slowly prowled his way around Third O’a’lack. “You have no shame and no honour in your soul. Your ancestors cry out in shame of your actions and failure.” First's voice cracked like a whip. He had gathered all those of rank to watch his shaming and ultimately his execution of Third O’a’lack. 

Third stood stoically, not meeting anyone’s eyes, his posture stiff and subservient. Waves of barely restrained rages flowed from him; everyone watching could feel them like a physical presence. Only First Dan’t’an seemed not to notice them. He continued to harangue Third, trying to provoke any response that he could use as a pretext to end his life with even less dignity than that reserved for one accused of cowardice. 

“Have you nothing to say? Have you nothing you wish to apologise for? Are you so lost to honour you can’t see your shame?” 

Still, Third stood silent. Not moving, not reacting in the slightest. He knew the ritual humiliation as well as any. Often he had been in First’s place, condemning a sub-ordinate. The anger he felt at being treated as such by one he considered an inferior only helped him stoke his anger and steel his resolve. The time would come but not yet. Not quite yet. 

First stopped circling him and reached out his hand, into which the ceremonial daggers were placed. “As one of the blood, counted as a leader of the people. Your death is proscribed in law. I condemn you and sentence you to it. But you have one last chance of an honourable death, a chance to redeem some measure of your soul if you act.” First thrust the dagger towards Third and stood waiting. 

Third remained unmoving. Not even his eyes moved towards the knife. His posture shifted from one of subservience to one of arrogance. First threw the dagger to the floor, the sharp sound of it bouncing off the decking rang out in the silence. 

“See he condemns himself before us! He deserves to die in the most shameful way possible. He so lacks in honour and courage that he ran from vermin. He allowed himself to be trapped by them and his command to be decimated by them.” 

First was now striding about the open area, playing to those watching, his arms wide-spread, his voice echoing in the silence. 

“Fifty ships he left with. Fifty of our most powerful ships. And he brings back barely ten; even those are much in need of repair. We are alone, our resources scarce. Our mission to cleanse the vermin from this space so that we might live in peace is critical. And this one fails us. He fails not only you and I, but our entire race. Our entire history is one of safeguarding our people against all threats and he allows them to escape.” 

First turned swiftly and strode back to where Third stood. Ritually he knelt and took hold of the knife he had discarded earlier. 

“He stood Third among us and failed. For that failure he must die. For he is without honour. And without honour he has no soul. And one without a soul cannot be of the people. He must die.” 

A murmur rose from those watching. This ceremony was ancient and spoke to their blood. The very words seemed to echo eternally through the ages only to be heard now, in this place. 

“Are you ready to die?” 

“No.” 

“Well prepare yourself, for your death comes.” With that First lunged forward with the knife as a shot rang out. First’s body slumped to the ground and the knife slid from his dead hand. Third closed the distance between them and stood over the body, gun in hand. 

“Tradition is a bind. Nothing binds me.” He shouted out, to the shocked onlookers. Never before had something like this happened and they had no idea what to do. With the death of the Second and now the First, that left the Third in command. No one could condemn him or accuse him, for he was supreme in blood and position. 

“I command now. And I command that we return to the attack. We shall crush these vermin into dust. And then scatter it among the stars themselves.” 

He dropped his weapon disdainfully upon the body of the First and turned to leave, ordering the disposal of the ‘garbage’. 

#

Battleship Warlock

Sarasota System

 John hated waiting. If he had a top-ten list of things he hated, the top three places would go to waiting. Over the last week he had managed to find things to distract him but that’s all they were, distractions. When they were over it was back to waiting. 

His ships were powered down inside a nebula to avoid accidental detection while he waited and that just made things worse. The stars had once fascinated John but even these were denied to him inside the nebula. So in the end it always came back to waiting. He knew he could have simply taken his ships into the territory now occupied by the aliens and hope for the best. But that was too dangerous, his people had given him their loyalty and he wouldn’t repay that by taking risks even he knew were foolish. Sometimes in war you had to take risks but they must always be reasoned and calculated. If you gambled big and won, you were a hero, but if you gambled big and lost, then nothing might be left of what you were fighting for. So in the end it all came back to one thing, waiting. 

John sighed and glanced around, grimacing when he saw Aeryn standing to one side of the room staring at him. 

“Is there something I can help you with?” he growled. Ever since she had come aboard she had seemed to be going out of her way to grate on his nerves. Wherever he went, she was close behind. He half expected to see her when he got out of the shower, staring at him with the same flat expression. 

“I’m just following my orders.” 

“To drive me insane?” 

“I was ordered to observe you. To ensure that you followed your own plan and didn’t feel it necessary to do anything the Republic might count as questionable. Commodore Gemmell himself gave me these orders.” 

“This whole plan is questionable Aeryn but it’s also our only chance. I believe that, and I think I have convinced your Commodore Gemmell of that also. He seems to have managed to convince his commanders of that truth as well.” 

Aeryn said nothing in reply and simply continued to stare at him. John shivered slightly and turned his back on her, remembering just how it was she had come to be aboard his ship. 

“They want an observer on your ship.” Gemmell said without preamble as he walked into his office to find John waiting for news on how his presentation of John's plan had gone over. 

“Why? In case I decide to run away? Or bomb a planet for fun if I get bored?” John's voice held a tired note, He was trying to keep his tone light but failing miserably. 

“Something like that… yes.” 

“And if I don’t agree then you’ll not act as we discussed?” Resignation coloured his voice. He knew he had no choice but accept but he was damned if he was going to do it without expressing his distaste for their decision. 

“It is the one condition we ask for our involvement in your plan Crichton. I don’t think it’s that great an imposition.” Gemmell had by now sat behind his desk and slid a folder of flimsies over to John. John picked them up and started to study his proposal to see what areas had raised the most objections. As he had expected it was the use of earth as bait to draw the enemy in. 

“Ok so who is it going to be? Some brain dead drone from your fleet command?” John spoke without raising his head as he studied the minutes of the meeting. Gemmell had been in it for hours. John wished he could have presented his plan himself but as Gemmell had pointed out, his plan stood a good chance of being vetoed just because it was his plan. If he at least let Gemmell present it, there was a chance they might be able to look beyond his name and see the true ramifications of the plan. 

“No, actually they left the choice up to me.” There was something in Gemmell's tone that warned John that what was coming was something he wasn’t going to like very much. 

“Well good for you. So who you pick?” He asked suspicious of the smile that was starting on the face of the man opposite. He knew they disliked one another and for Gemmell to be smiling he knew what was coming wouldn’t be pleasant. 

“Well, I have seen how charming you can be if you want to be Crichton, so I had to pick someone who wouldn’t fall for your glib tongue.” 

“Ah, so the good Captain Ramirez is it? Well at least she’s competent even if she doesn’t like me very much.” John let out a silent sigh of relief. Ramirez might like him about as much as dog shit on her shoe but at least he could work with her. 

“Be serious Crichton. If your plan works out then I’ll be taking my ships into combat. I’m not going to handicap myself by giving you my Flag Captain at such a time.” 

“Then who?” he wrinkled his brow in confusion. There were many people that Gemmell could appoint as an observer. But John knew only a few people and from Gemmell's reaction it had to be someone he knew, but he couldn’t think of anyone he knew connected to Gemmell senior enough for the position that disliked him enough for the beaming grin Gemmell was sporting. 

“Well, at first I thought perhaps one of my staff, but again I felt it best I keep them with me. And then it struck me. I had the perfect candidate right under my nose.” It was all John could do not to lean over the desk and choke the truth from him. He kept a tight reign on his anger though. His plan was going to be implemented with the aid of the Republican Navy, he couldn’t afford to rock the boat at this late stage. 

“Oh?” Suspicion laced John's voice as he waited for the blow he knew was to come. 

“I think you are acquainted with Lieutenant Aeryn Sun?” 

So here he was with his constant shadow; a woman who seemed to hate him to his very core. What made it worse was that for all she knew, he had hidden the greater truths from her. She was a constant reminder of everything he had lost from the very second he had been changed. In that moment he lost her and his innocence. He had never before thought of himself like that but sometimes you never know what you have until it's ripped from you. This is why the truth of his fight with Stammell was a closely guarded secret. He had asked that it be kept quiet and Gemmell had acquiesced much to John’s surprise. 

John glanced over his shoulder and met Aeryn's gaze for an instant before he turned away from her again. 

#

 This was torture for her. He was there and was, for all intents and purposes, her commanding officer. He had made this very clear when she had arrived on this ship. He would stand for no disrespect in front of his crew. If she had a problem she could bring it to him in private.  

His very presence seemed to grate on her nerves. His voice caused muscles in her back to spasm and the sight of him made her hands clench into fists. Yet she stood still and did as she had been ordered. She observed. The first thing she noticed after coming on board was the intense loyalty Crichton seemed to generate in his crew. It was all professional and respectful but she could tell that each and every one of the people she met was in Crichton’s thrall. 

It seemed that this was one aspect that remained of the John she knew. When he made friends he made them for life. And when he made enemies he made dangerous and powerful ones. As she stood and stared at his back she wondered just how many other aspects of John might still remain. 

#

 Fleet Carrier Reprisal

G-458 

“So what? All we do is wait?” Ramirez asked quietly as she stood beside Gemmell. 

“Well we could advertise the fact we have almost the entire Republican Navy parked in a dense asteroid field less than thirty light years from earth in direct contradiction with the one and only treaty we have ever made with the Imperium. But I think that would be a bad idea considering that they have three times our number of ships also parked less than thirty light years away around earth.” She ignored his sarcasm, as she knew just how tense he was. This might be Crichton's plan but it was his recommendation that brought the Fleet to this place. He no longer had control from this point on. Admiral Forrester was in overall command of the operation. 

“I know that. What I meant is shouldn’t we try to get closer? After all, it will take an hour for us to travel that distance and from the little we know of the alien ship capabilities that is just about enough time for them to charge their jump engines and escape.” 

“Well, if all goes according to Crichton's plan, then they won’t try to escape. They’ll see earth as a great big juicy target and an important one from the size of the fleet gathered around it. He expects that they will keep fighting until either they win or are destroyed.” He closed his eyes as he imagined the destruction he was soon going to witness. He could feel that the waiting wasn’t going to last much longer. He just wondered if he would be strong enough to carry the burden of so much death and destruction. 

“It’s a insane plan.” 

“Yes it is. I also believe he is right and it is our only chance. You’ve seen how they fight. All or nothing.” 

#

Scout Cruiser Sentinel

Interion system  

Centurion Arwen Dayton sat on her command chair in her small and cramped bridge. Around her people were moving smoothly, like a precision machine. Moving slightly to let others slip past as they carried out their duties. It was hot all over the ship as most systems were either powered down or running on minimum power. 

Her ship, like its brethren from Crichton's Fleet Carrier, had been overhauled and upgraded using spares from the Warlock class battle cruisers. There sensor capabilities now let them scan vast areas of space for the enemy ships and Crichton had taken advantage of this by spreading them out to form a chain of detector stations along what he thought to be the aliens' most likely route of advance. Twice in the intervening week she had received orders to reposition deeper into what was now considered no-mans land. It was almost time for them to be ordered to move again. 

“Ma’am detecting ships matching known alien classes approaching the system.” 

“Very well, launch probes along their estimated path and refine your information. Comms, contact Cohortach Crichton aboard the Warlock and inform him that we have alien ships heading insystem, numbers unknown at this time. Nav, move us in closer.”   

   

 

 

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