Author: Karl W
Rating: PG
Archiving: Please inquire.  ©2002
Challenge: Use the phrase: "What's that on your nose?"

The blood red of the foliage was almost assaulting to the eyes, yet it reminded him of fall in new England. It brought with it the sudden memories of his days in school on the bank of the Charles River. The placid river reflecting from its banks further mimicked the nearly violent colors of fall. He had become aware for some time that the usual pangs of home had been growing more and more distant. This scared him more than being out here. Was all that he was now gone? 

The spherical blood red leaves floated down slowly from the towering trees like a child’s balloons. The black tortured trees had taken hold in the most unusual places in the cavernous city. He had on occasion needed to climb over one as he made his way. When the slightest wind blew, the small spherical leaves would loft in the air for arns it seemed before slowly drifting back to the surface.  

This empty world had been the perfect resting place following all they had been through. He walked the long narrow bridge that extended from one shattered tower to the next. The remnants of the empty city itself were still amazing. The glass and stone buildings that remained had an organic look. It was as if they had been grown from the raw materials of glass and stone and crystal. Just a few years ago he would have stopped and studied each of them in turn, but not now, not today. They were heading home. Moya had returned from her feeding at a local gas giant. They had collected more supplies than they could ever need. But as Rygel has said on more occasions than he would like to remember, “If we have it, we will find use for it.” As much as he hated the little slug, there was a wisdom in him that had saved them on occasion.  

They had made camp on the ramparts of a local landing port or what was left of one. The huge structure sat like a giant stone and glass mushroom on the edge of a meandering river that cut its way through the expansive city. They had chosen it as the base because it provided a defensive position. He had trusted without question Aeryn’s evaluation but the eight-story spiral ramp that they traversed every day was a workout.  

His mind drifted further to Aeryn. John poked through his pockets in search of Granny’s little freeze-dried mind numbing insect extracts. He inhaled deeply. All the memories were there but the cold pain of loss dissolved. John looked at the little black ball. He was using it more. It was dulling the pain less. He hoped Granny’s jaunt into the hills would bear fruit in finding the ingredients to extend the virtues of the little inhalant. He shifted his thinking away from that prospect of the drug’s effect wearing off.  

At the top of the spiral ramp he stopped, his chest heaving from the workout. Running on Moya helped but with the two trad heavier gravity of this world, this was a real work out. He surveyed the area. 

At the center of the huge pad was a small stone building. It had been burnt out in the attack of the city. To one side three large insect like transports lay in charred ruins. Two appeared to have been just sitting there in the attack; the third had obviously crashed back to the surface. Its face was buried deeply into the platform, landing gear flailed out like a bug splattered on the windshield of his pickup. Just beyond it were the two transport pods from Moya and Aeryn's prowler. A large gray tarp suspended between the pods. The tarp, or camonet as Aeryn called it, surface continually changed to mimic its surroundings. As the mild breeze caused the camonet to ripple in the air its outer surface changed to mach the surroundings. The Peacekeepers think of everything. 

“Home sweet home.” He walked slowly back to their encampment. He was the first back. He chimed his com. Nothing but static. Aeryn said that it was one of the tell-tale signs of a Peacekeeper invasion. Before an attack Peacekeeper’s would fire off scrambling transponders deep into the planet’s crust, using the planet itself as a giant resonator, subsequently jamming all radiant signals. Just the thing necessary to send planetary defenses off balance. 

Since his arrival, this place made John feel constantly ill at ease but he could not put his finger on the feeling gnawing at him. At first he thought is was because Scorpius was still in his cell back on Moya. Or the strange way Rygel had been insistent on staying on Moya once they entered orbit of this nameless world.  

But he knew none of that was the cause. It was not until today, during his scavenging travels deep to the Spinward direction of the city that he realized what had been bothering him about this place. It was an older section, one that he did not know. He was walking up a deserted street whose buildings were far closer to his scale.  

Before him in a small ravaged park was a damaged holographic statue of a humanoid woman. She was dressed in elaborate gold robes reminiscent of a Roman senator. Her iridescent green eyes blindly looked down the street to his direction. Incongruously, a warm ethereal expression greeted the ruins of the city beyond. Earth!  

This city represented all that he feared of his quest to return home. The Peacekeepers so easily devastated this world – what hope would Earth have? The heaviness returned, as did the thought of the statue staring out with such serene warmth at the frigid husk of a ruined world. 

John was startled by a sound from the encampment. He quickly pulled his gun and moved to the edge of the blockhouse at the center of the landing field, peering around. Standing near the pile of dren they had collected was a small silhouette under the tarp. The unannounced guest was busily digging through the modest stash. 

“Freeze!” John yelled, feeling foolish for using the cliché. 

The small form climbed over the pile to its far side as John sprinted into the camp.  

“I mean… Stop! Don’t move! Whatever!” 

It was only then that he realized that their visitor was a child, a young boy to be precise. The boy stood at the other end of the pile, hands raised into the air. His small chest heaved from fear. His eyes gazed at the ground.  

“Frell!” John whispered. He changed his tone, softening it; his edge was gone at the site of the scared child. “OK…OK…take it easy, buddy. It’s going to be alright.”  

The boy flinched at John’s words. His head moved slightly from one side to the other. It was obvious he was surveying possible escape routes, but they were blocked by the two transports. 

John holstered his gun. “I am not going to hurt you.”  

This was the first being they had encountered. They had seen herds of animals walking slowly throughout the city, grazing on the long blood red grasses that grew amidst the wreckage.  

John folded his arms and turned to the side. “Take what you want and go.”  

The boy did not look at him. He climbed over the pile with great expertise and sprinted to the ramp way, not even glancing at John as he passed.  

John watched the kid disappear down the ramp way. “Just keeps get-in better and better.”  

John sat down on the landing strut of the closest transport and watched the red spherical leaves blow in small spirals across the landing grid. The remains of the city beyond stretched to the horizon.   

He was tired. He leaned back and stared at the ravaged spires of the unnamed city. John had sat there for over an arn before he decided he needed to eat. He pulled open the food locker and chose a package of crackers. He grinned as he looked at them. When you’re hungry they do matter.  

Suddenly he realized he wasn’t alone. He turned slowly. Near the burnt out building at the center of the landing deck stood his small visitor. The boy obviously found John of interest.  

John made his movements slow and deliberate.  

“You hungry?” he yelled, louder then he had planned.  

The boy moved back out of view. John scratched his head with the packet of crackers.  

“Frell it! This ain’t no daycare.” He turned back to the food locker. Pulling a cylinder of water he walked back over to the landing strut and sat down glancing back at the boy who was now in full view.  

John continued to ignore him. He heard footsteps. John looked back and saw the boy standing just inside the overhanging tarp.  

“Hey, how you doing?” John smiled slightly at the silent boy. Now that he was able to get a good look at him, the boy seemed in relatively good condition. Perhaps a little thin and in need of a good washing but other than that he seemed no worse for wear considering his environment. John’s suspicions were accurate. He had meet a Vladic once before. This child’s piercing green eyes were the same. It hurt to just to look into them, yet, as with his previous encounter, John felt an undeniable urge to look into them. The act seemed to stir something primal, something that his conscious brain could not control.  

As he had learned with his last encounter with Vladics, they had the ability to induce what they called Rapture to sedate their prey. But he also knew that the ability was only developed in adult Vladics. His thoughts drifted back to Enra, one of the few allies. She had been out of contact for well over a cycle.  

John slowly moved to gesture at the boy. “Vladic… right?” 

The boy’s sad expression changed to a slightly to a puzzled look.  

He knew why the boy was puzzled. “Ah…No… Me human, not Sebacean, I only play one Peacekeeper on TV.” John smiled again but the boy’s frown returned. 

“Look. I am not a Peacekeeper. I am not here to hurt you or anyone else.” The boy’s expression did not change.  

John surveyed the area. “You alone? Where are your folks?” The boy did not answer. His eyes trained back on the deck plate in front of them. 

“What’s your name?” John asked feeling second tide of sadness just looking at the kid. 

“Nomari Erruck Radic…” the boy spoke slowly and softly. 

John smiled again finding a flicker of hope from the boy’s response. He shifted, getting a bit closer. Immediately the boy stepped back. John stopped. “OK sorry… No fast moves… I get it.” He raised his package of crackers. “Its nice to meet you, Nomari. I am John Crichton.”  

“Erruck…” the boy paused. “Nomari is my clan.” Again looking up at John, the sadness seemed to deepen. 

“That’s right… Sorry. I am still trying to catch up on all the rules and dren. It is nice to meet you, Erruck.”  The boy said nothing else and looked back down at the ground.  

“So what can I do for you?” John sat back on the landing strut of the transport pod trying to seem less threatening. 

The boy’s staring continued. He did not react. John looked around the camp for something that might interest the boy. He stood slowly and walked over to the pile of stuff they had collected. “Anything here you want?” 

“No.” the boy said softly. 

“Well. What are you looking for?” John asked in a matching soft tone. 

“Nothing.” The boy shrugged slightly. 

“Ah I see…” John moved back to the landing strut once again, taking slow deliberate steps. “Sounds like you and I have more in common then I thought.” 

The boy finally looked up at him the puzzled expression returned.  

“Cheer up bud… things can always get worse.” Now John found that the boy’s sorrow was spreading. OK, enough of this. Lighten up, Johnny boy! 

John searched the ground for one of the red spherical leaves that continued to blow around everywhere on this world. He scooped up three and stood a good distance back from the boy. John attempted to juggle the small red spheres. He did so poorly at first. But was able to keep two of the small red spheres in the air. He looked down at his young visitor and for the first time the slightest glimmer of a smile appeared on his grimy face.  

John lost his concentration and the two spheres fell from his hands. He reached down, picking up three more. Turning away from the boy he puncture one of the red spherical leaves and stuck it to his noise. he started juggling the other two and slowly turned to face the boy. The child erupted in laughter. It lifted his own spirits as well.  

He took his attention from his juggling as the boy’s laughter faded. Once again John was drawn to his alien eyes. John heard the voice but was unable to react to the familiar soft tone. He knew the voice but refused to acknowledge it. The boy’s green eyes were now almost black. John struggled at first he knew what was happening. The child had captured him in the rapture. This could not be happening but as consciousness faded, the strange voice in his mind grew stronger.  

Sleep… It will be all right… It’s ok, Johnny, go back to sleep. No one is going to hurt you. John lost consciousness to the reassuring sounds of his mother’s voice. 

Chiana shifted the large sack from one shoulder to the other as she and Sikozu walked up the ramp way. She marveled at how Sikozu was able to carry a load twice the weight of hers and still move effortlessly. 

Sikozu stopped, facing back down the spiral ramp way. “Do you think we should wait for her?” 

“Granny? That old frellnic! No. We will be lucky if she is on the second floor by now.” Chiana started trudging up the ramp. “It figures… we land on the only place that doesn’t have level risers.” 

“This location was not my suggestion. Aeryn Sun demanded that we land in a defendable position.” Sikozu stated with an air of defiance. “Besides, if it were up to me , I would have remained on Moya.” 

Chiana dropped her bag. “That was not going to happen.” 

Sikozu placed her own bag on the ramp and walked back to Chi. “I am aware that you and your shipmates do not trust me.”  

Chiana laughed. “I don’t trust anyone and especially not you.” She dipped slightly, keeping her gaze on Sikozu. “What do you see in him?” 

“Who?” She asked. “You mean Scorpius?” 

She laughed. “We have similar interests. He… unlike you… can appreciate my intelligence.” 

Chiana picked up her sack and started back up the ramp. She turned back with out stopping her stride. “Take a friendly warning… He is dangerous!” 

Sikozu quickly caught up to Chiana with two leaps. “I can handle Scorpius.”  

Chiana continued her climb. “Sure… Give it time. You’ll see. I thought you were supposed to be so much smarter then the rest of us?”  

Sikozu was about to answer when they reached the landing platform. Chiana paused only long enough to drop her bags then ran past Sikozu toward their encampment.  

She halted over the body of John Crichton. He did not move as he lay on his back, pulse gun still in its holster. Chiana stooped over him, waiting anxiously for movement. He was breathing.  

“What’s that on his nose?” Sikozu questioned. 

One of the strange red ball leaves clung to the tip of John’s nose. Chiana popped it off and smelled it. “I don’t think they would cause this. I mean I don’t think…’ 

“No. There are no trace chemicals in the local fauna that would be considered toxins.” 

“No. Something else must have happened to him.” Sikozu pulled the crude peacekeeper scanner from her satchel. She scanned the area. “Nothing. No insects. No animals.” She turned the device onto John.  

“He shows no signs of injury. It would appear he is sleeping.” She lowered the scanner.  

Chiana stood still holding the red sphere. She rolled it between her fingers. “No. Something is not right.” 

“The scanner might be crude but it doesn’t lie.” Sikozu responded calmly. “He’s taking a nap!” She added sarcastically. 

“Listen, frell your techno chat, Red! Look at him. He’s not…” 

“Girls! Girls!  Will you keep it down…” John raised his hand to his temples as if that would stop his head from spinning. 

Chiana placed her hand on his shoulder. “Crichton are you ok? What happened!”  

“Shhhh, Chi, please my head is spinning bad enough… He tried to open his eyes but it made the dizziness worse.  

“Are you ill?  Sikozu asked in an almost clinical fashion.  

“Don’t worry, Sputnik, I ain't gonna hurl on your fine Versace boots.” He now had both hands over his eyes trying to rub the dizziness away. 

Chiana dipped closer “What happened?” 

“I was paid a visit by a local.” John found the dizziness fading as he concentrated on not moving. 

“Local?” Sikozu questioned. “There are no bio signs of indigenous people. We scanned the planet completely before leaving Moya.” 

“Well the scans are wrong!” A jab of pain and dizziness erupted with his debate. 

“Highly unlikely.” Sikozu countered as if his questioning the data was a personal assault. 

“We’ve got to round up Aeryn and Granny and get back to Moya. It’s not safe, there might be more…” 

Chiana stepped back from John, looking around the encampment. “Who are they?” 

“Chi, this is Carnival…Casival or what ever it’s called. No wonder Dominar Pain-in-the-ass didn’t want to come down. He knew it the moment we arrived. But the little slug wouldn’t spill it!” 

Sikozu lowered herself to one knee. “I am not familiar with this world?”  

Chiana looked up at her mocking her tone. “The brains fall short on this one.”  She smiled. “This is Casival… one time home of a race called Vladics.” She shifted back to John. “They were exterminated by the Peacekeepers over ten cycles ago.” 

“Vladics! You mean as in live feeders?” Quickly Sikozu stood looking cautiously about. “I have seen one once and that was enough.” She adjusted the scanner but still showed no signs of life. 

“Relax the one I met couldn’t be more then seven or eight." 

“Moya's sensors must be in error.” She continued to scan the area.  

John sat up slowly. “Jesus! Well it could have been worse.” 

“How so?” Chiana's head bobbed with the question. 

“He could have killed me.” 

Chiana moved closer and pulled the collar from his neck. The two crescent shape cuts were evident. The area of the extraction point was already turning purple. “Well I would say to rest now old man. It looks like he made a good size withdrawal.” 

“Great… just what I wanted to be… a walking blood bank.” Chiana held him for a moment before laying him back on the decking. 

Chiana held the red sphere that had been on John’s nose. “Why was this on your nose?” 

“Just trying to entertain the locals. I guess they didn’t like my act.” John slipped once again from consciousness. The next time John Crichton would awake they would be deep in what was known as tormented space.  


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