Author: Toadie
Rating: PG-13
Notes: This is the sequel to Black and White
Summary: Every action has a consequence.
Part: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |
 

 

 

The sky above John was a deep, pure blue. Pure but for the fingers of dark smoke that seemed to point accusingly at him as he lay on his back staring at the sky. He didn’t want to sit up, because he knew what he would see. A burning city. A city he set burning.

The small hill he sat on was far enough from the city that he could still, with some straining make out people running about yet far enough that he couldn’t hear what they seemed to be shouting. Not that he needed to hear it. He already knew.

“Victory in death.”

Seemed a stupid creed to John. What victory was there in death? Death was the final surrender, nothing victorious about it.

He groaned as he sat up, his ribs grating in his chest, the pain almost overwhelming at first but gradually fading to a persistent gnawing.

He pulled his pulse pistol from his holster and checked it for what seemed the thousandth time, always finding exactly the same thing: he was out of chakan oil and without it his pulse pistol was about as useful as a target painted on his chest.

So here he was. Injured and stranded on an alien world, alone with no hope of rescue.

His life just seemed to take one turn after the other, none of them good. He found friends but was about to lose them to their desire to return home. He found love but lost it to himself, never to regain it before being left behind by it also. He lost his home and his remaining friends, leaving him… here. Perhaps he made the wrong move being the one to leave before they left him, but it was the easiest choice, something he could effect, be in control of. He regretted not saying goodbye, regretted just leaving.

And here was not anywhere near where he wanted to be.

When he first got here it seemed to be a refuge for him, a place where he could get himself together and think. It was days before he realized that he was walking through a powder keg waiting for a spark. Once he did, he tried to keep himself to himself, avoid contact with all but those he had to. It had seemed a reasonable plan at the time. How was he supposed to know that it was the spark that was missing?

Suspicious behavior in a Sebacean obviously made him a Peacekeeper. And if he was a peacekeeper on this planet, acting suspiciously… Why that could only mean that the ruling government was going to hire the Peacekeepers to put down the growing opposition movement. His presence was just the proof they needed. And they grabbed it with both hands, it and him with it.

The came for him at night, dozens of the opposition’s staunchest supporters, or hired thugs depending on your viewpoint. The flaming torches they carried were a nice touch John had thought. What was it with mobs and flaming torches? He would have thought that was a purely human notion but perhaps it was more universal than he knew.

He had watched them coming with a sick kind of certainty that they were coming for him. After all, he knew it was his destiny now to be the universe’s whipping boy. So what else could he expect when he saw a armed mob (including flaming torches) approaching the building he had his lodgings in.

So he had done the only thing that made sense. He cut and run. Pausing to get his stuff together didn’t take any time.  He just grabbed his jacket and was out the door in microts. Now that he thought of it, since there was only one door and all the windows were on the front of the building where the mob was approaching, running out of the building pistol in hand probably wasn’t the best move to make. The running part yes, the pistol in hand, no.

As soon as they saw him coming out armed, seemingly attacking them, they opened fire. John managed to duck back into the room as weapons of vast variety fired at him. From pulse pistols to what sounded like machine guns. Windows smashed, the room became thick with dust and still the firing went on. It took John several microts to realize that they had stopped firing at him, though.

With great action he poked his head through the shattered remains of the door and gaped in surprise before getting back into cover. In the street there seemed to be a mini-war taking place, on one side the opposition supporters and on the other the supporters of the government. The firing went on for arns. Sometimes getting closer sometimes almost fading away almost completely. Smoke now hung heavily in the air, the stench of things burning that shouldn’t, the sweet rancid smell of burnt flesh was also readily identifiable in the air, almost thick enough to cause John to gag.

Finally, John decided it was time to move. He had been still long enough, enough of a target. If he could, he’d get to the spaceport and get the hell out of Dodge. He cursed himself for staying so far from the spaceport. He cursed himself for the sentimentality that had made him stay at a place that reminded him of better times with the crew, with Aeryn.

So he ran through a city in convulsions. Fire gutted building stood with pristine untouched buildings on each side. Entire rows of buildings with their glass lying shattered in the streets. The most surprising thing to John was the noise. It wasn’t what he expected. Occasionally you could hear a comprehensible word amongst it, but mostly it was just a roar, like the sea but carrying much more menace and threat.

It also seemed that if you weren’t part of a mob then you were a target.  He had watched men, woman and children being attacked for no other reason than they could be. He had even watched one particularly unfortunate male being attacked by a mob, beaten to a pulp only to stagger to his feet once they had left to be shot by paramilitaries as they chased the mob that had beaten him up in the first place.

The city was chaos incarnate. Each side attacking and killing each other and anyone else who came into their reach indiscriminately. So far John had been lucky avoiding detection but his luck ran out as he turned one corner to find himself nose to nose with a mob of about twenty individuals, all armed and all as surprised as he. With a yell John threw himself back, clawing at his leg to free his pistol from his leg holster. It took only microts for him to pull it free and aim, so fast had he reacted that he was still falling when he fired the first shot, taking a man in the chest and felling him instantly. This action seemed to shock the others out of their stupor and they quickly returned fire as John hit the ground and scrambled for cover. This particular group seemed armed with projectile weapons rather than any plasma weapons, which was something to be thankful for. Something not to be thankful for was that they were all armed to the teeth and there was at least twenty of them left.

He crouched behind the cover of a ground car, cursing life, the universe and everything in it. He just couldn’t catch a single break. So he returned fire, watching and hoping for a chance, a possibility for escape without being injured. But it just seemed less and less likely as the ground car shook from repeated impact of the projectiles.  Without exposing himself to their fire, he raised his pulse pistol above his head and started to pump the trigger. Shot after shot exploded from the pistol as he fired at random down the street hoping that they might decide he was too much trouble and go looking for someone else.

The fire seemed to slacken then picked up in pace once again. Only… the ground car no longer shook from impacts. Gingerly he eased himself into a position where he could view the street with minimal risk to his own skin.

His mob was under attack itself now. Obviously the intensity of their firing had raised the curiosity of another wandering group of armed individuals, and just as obviously these two groups didn’t like one another.

Under the cover of this he decided that retreat was indeed the better part of valor and slowly, trying not to draw attention to himself, he slinked off down the street trying to put as much distance as possible between himself and the street battle. He cursed as he stopped to get his bearings in a quiet street. This little detour had taken him away from the spaceport and his ship.

Now he knew whatever passed for a god or gods in the uncharted territories really were pissed at him. Every time he started towards his ship and the safety that it represented, something happened to block his way. Burning building falling and blocking the streets, gun fights that rolled across his path forcing him to retreat and take shelter, or worst of all the paramilitaries. They were what were passing for a police force on this planet and they only seemed to know one response. Fire on sight.

Now he thought about it, he could see how stupid he had been. The peace of this planet wasn’t one of contentment rather it was the peace of the sword or as in this case, the peace of a heavily armed regime willing to use that firepower to gain what it wanted.

In the end he realized he had no choice. The area around the spaceport seemed to be where the bulk of the fighting was going on, where the paramilitaries had been barracked and where most of the stream of displaced innocents had come from. He wasn’t going to get there anytime soon, at least not as directly as he had hoped.

He found it hard to believe how quickly the city had descended into anarchy. How in less than two arns the city had gone from peaceful to a ghostly mocking echo of itself. Much of the city seemed in flames now, and with no one fighting the fires, they had gotten out of control completely. They would burn now until they had nothing left to burn and even once the flames had gone, there would be the lingering danger of them flaming up at any chance they were given.

He was distantly worried for his ship. There was pretty much nothing that could harm it in the uncharted territories but you never knew just what could happen. But it was on its own for now, just like he was.

He blamed his distraction of his ship for what happened next. He had been standing in the shadows of a burnt out building, considering his options, when he heard a crack like a gunshot. Instinctively he threw himself to the ground searching for the source of the noise. It was only microts later when he regained consciousness that he realized what it had been. The building he was sheltering against had finally succumbed to the ravages of the fire and collapsed in on itself… mostly. Large chucks had broken off and fallen into the alley. Fallen onto John.

It was only when he tried to move that he truly felt the pain. Before, laying still, it had seemed nothing, inconsequential to his reality. Now it became his reality. Lances of pure pain shot from his side, spearing every organ on their way to his brain. He shuddered and tried to hunch up, as if to constrain the pain. This just made matters worse for him. With supreme effort of will he made his tense muscles relax and he began to take stock of his injuries.

Slowly he checked himself, his arms seemed fine, at least free of broken bones. They felt heavy, swollen and reluctant to obey but they did, grudgingly. Everything major still seemed to be attached as well as all his appendages. John had been inordinately lucky, when throwing himself to the ground he had actually probably saved his own life. He had instinctually moved from his old position and found what cover he could in a prone position, that’s what had saved his life, all around him large chucks of building material hand rained, the largest of all falling short of where he lay but unfortunately for him the slightly smaller chucks could reach him and did. All around him they lay but only one had made a glancing contact, breaking his ribs of his left side.

With effort John pulled himself to his feet. He needed to get out of the city and deal with his injuries.  Perhaps he could travel around the outside of the city and attempt to gain entrance from the other side in a day or so once things had calmed down slightly… if they ever calmed down.

So that brought him to this small hill overlooking the city as a whole. Day had broken hours before, making it dangerous to travel just incase the violence had spread out of the city.           

#

Aeryn stood alone on the observation deck staring down on the planet Moya orbited. John was there, or at least his ship was. Human technology, being unique in the uncharted territories, stood out like a Luxan at a PeaceKeeper review. Or at least it did when it wasn’t trying to hide, then it was all but invisible.

This planet was so far from anywhere Aeryn was amazed they had found it, found him. She still couldn’t quite believe he left without saying a word. He had been there one solar day then gone the next. Apparently he had gone and said goodbye to Pilot, asked that he not alert anyone to his leaving and being the creature he is, Pilot respected John’s wishes.

At first they were all shocked that he had just gone, everyone but Chiana and Jool. They were the only ones that truly welcomed them both back wholeheartedly, which was odd since they had never even met Jool before returning to Moya.

It had taken monens for John and Aeryn to track down Moya and rejoin her crew. Until then they had been stuck together on the Scout Cruiser, the two of them alone. At first it had been merely tense but as time passed it became almost petty. They tried to avoid each other as much as possible, but the ship was small even if it was designed of carry a crew of twelve. They craved the company of others but only had one another, so the desires to remain apart while staying in close contact was having its toll on their nerves and when they finally tracked Moya down, their return wasn’t what they thought it would be.

So much had changed in her time away from Moya, Zhann dead, Stark gone and Jool. She didn’t like Jool. Something about her seemed to grate on Aeryn's nerves. Perhaps it was her whiney attitude or her proclamations of superiority over the others on the ship, but there was just something.

D’Argo had been his usual standoffish self. If anything even more than normal. It had been weekens before she realized that he blamed John for Zhann's death. That D’Argo felt that John had deliberately abandoned them to their fate of escaped criminals on one of the most hotly pursued ships in the Uncharted Territories. They had been seen with the Humans and the humans had attacked the PeaceKeepers.

Normally D’Argo would have celebrated this fact but the impact it had on his life and that of his shipmates caused him to revise his opinions on many things, humans especially. John faired badly each time he tried to talk to D’Argo, badly enough that he stopped trying. Which Aeryn viewed as both a minor miracle and worryingly out of character, or at least she did now. At the time it had just been a relief to be away from John and amongst others.

John withdrew from life aboard Moya more and more. He avoided meal times as he knew she and D’Argo would be there. He took maintenance tasks that only required one person to complete and always as far from anyone as he could. Chiana had seen what he was doing and talked to Aeryn about it, trying to enlist her help. Aeryn refused to listen. Eventually Chiana teamed up with Jool to try to include John, one of them always seemed to be with him talking to him, making him smile and laugh.

That made her avoid him even more, hearing him laughing quietly with one of the girls made her angry and she didn’t know why. The more she avoided him the more she saw him in the company of Jool or Chiana. The final act was when she had seen him exiting Jool's chamber one morning, too early for it to be innocent. This had prompted her to talk to him, or if she were honest talk at him. Loudly. He had just stood there, an amused smile on his face that never reached his eyes. Listening to her accuse and abuse. Simply letting her attack him until she exhausted her knowledge of the vernacular.

When she paused for a breath he shook his head and turned his back on her, walking away much to her astonishment. That didn’t last long, soon anger swallowed it and consumed all reason. If before she was avoiding him now she made no bones about it, leaving whenever he entered the room, pointedly not mentioning him to the others.

A few sharp comments to Jool created an interestingly defensive reaction from D’Argo. So she dropped some blatant suggestions to D’Argo about Jool and Crichton. They fell flat, failing to provoke any reaction beyond amusement in D’Argo and outrage in Jool. She stood speechless before flouncing out of the room with barely a scathing glance at Aeryn.

It seemed many of her suppositions about John were wrong and she knew she owed him an apology but not then, she would sleep on it and speak to him in the morning. But she didn’t manage to apologize because he had left arns earlier, leaving only the barest of hints as to where he was going from his talk with Pilot and his recorded messages to Jool and Chiana.

They seemed devastated at his leaving. Blaming her for it, as if she controlled John’s actions. She refused to be blamed for causing him to leave but Jool and Chiana were vociferous in their accusations to the point she simply agreed with them to get them to shut up. D’Argo was quite happy to be rid of John, seeing him as a risk they didn’t need to take but the girls out voted him and as Aeryn refused to be drawn into the discussion, Pilot and Moya were given the last say. Should they go after Crichton or not?

So here they were, looking down at the city they knew he was in, or at the very least had been in, and they could do nothing. As they were about to leave Pilot informed them of the unrest on in the city, Jool and Chiana were all for going anyway but Pilot showed them imagery of what was happening below and their arguments dried up swiftly.

They went to command and watched for arns as the images become more and more violent, more obscene in nature. Chaos had been unleashed on this planet, brother against brother, politics no longer the focus for most of the people, simple revenge and survival were their motivations now.

One by one they drifted out of command, until only Chiana and Aeryn were left watching. With a sigh Chiana got to her feet and walked to the screen touching it for a microt before leaving, never once even looking in Aeryn's direction. Aeryn watched her leave before she too walked to the screen, standing mere denches from it. She rested her head against it before turning and leaving command, pausing only to turn off the screen. She wandered the empty corridors for a while and eventually found herself on the observation deck. She could see the city unassisted from space, a bright beacon of light just before the terminator. It would be dawn there in a matter of microts.

From space it looked simply like a weak light but Aeryn knew the size of the fire it would take to be seen from space, half the city had to be on fire for it to be so plain. They would be going soon, hoping the worst of the excesses of violence would dissipate in the light. Then they faced the task of finding Crichton if he were still in the city, if he was still alive. 

She didn’t know why she felt as if her stomach was clenched, she didn’t know why she felt hot and cold at the same time. All she knew was that finding John would be a hard and dangerous task, and once they found him, things were going to change. Life was never so Black and White, she knew that now.

Part 2

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