Actions

Work Header

Periapsis

Work Text:

Periapsis (definition): The point at which an orbiting object is closest to the body it is orbiting

 

 

1. Valles Marineris

95.32% carbon dioxide. 2.7% nitrogen. 1.6% argon. 0.13% oxygen. 0.08% carbon monoxide. 

Norman Jayden gets on a plane and leaves D.C. The plane ascends 35,000 feet, and Norman Jayden cracks open a small packet of peanuts that he washes down with bottled mineral water. ARI is tucked securely beside his body. He's in first class, surrounded by men in three-piece suits and women in monochrome pencil skirts, but there's a fairly suburban-looking boy and his mother sitting behind him. The boy keeps on kicking his chair. Halfway through the flight, Norman Jayden leans over the seat and looks at the boy from behind his intimidating shades. "Can you cut that out?" he asks.

The mother apologizes profusely. The boy scowls.

There's an in-flight movie. There's a flight attendant with a polite smile. There's a magazine with glossy photos of Bangkok and Madrid, and Norman's skin suddenly feels as cold as ice dripping off a winter window, like someone is running a finger over him and trying to trace ghostly patterns. He takes a deep breath, tries to ignore the boy's rebellious last kick against his seat, and focuses on the case that lies ahead of him. Origami Killer. Drowned bodies. Orchids.

There are patterns to be found in everything. There is sense to be made of even the most disparate of facts. Norman is a profiler, and as such he has concrete belief in the reality of categories. People may be complex, but even their complexities can be dissected into forms, shapes, tastes. If you know how to do it.

And this is how Norman would dissect himself: FBI agent, profiler, good son, gamer, addict, a bit lost.

 

2. Iron(III) Oxide

The night after he examines the crime scene, he dreams about train tracks. Where he grew up, in a small fishing town in Maine where the air was permeated with the persistent tang of salt, there were train tracks that ran behind his house. He would lie in bed at night and listen to their rumble, imagining the vibration of it through his bones. He used to play games with his older brother, daring each other to lie down on the tracks, and their mother, when she found out, used to yell at them for being so careless. 

Then one day they were careless, more so than usual, and Norman didn't have an older brother anymore, and his mother's eyes were sunken crevices of weary flesh, and there were funeral lilies mixing with the salt on the grave. This is how Norman learned to be precise, to be meticulous. To not take risks.

Except he hasn't been so good about that, has he?

 

3. Stochastic Process

He may be a druggie, but at least he's a government-sanctioned druggie. He didn't pick up the triptocaine in any back alley deal, the kind he saw some of his roommates brag about during college when Norman was too busy studying for his psych finals. No, his superior put the triptocaine right in his hand and said, "You might want to take this. To counteract ARI."

The way she said it, she made it sound like the ARI was a person. This is ARI, that's Barbara, that's Red William. Norman thought it was odd in the beginning; he added it to the growing list of his colleagues' mental quirks that he should probably keep an eye on. But in the end, she was right. ARI is like another person plugged directly into his brain, an efficient and pervasive helper, a voice formulating data systems and cold comfort on the nights when Norman turns over the bodies of young boys drowned in rain.

He reflects on the name sometimes. ARI. Added Reality Interface. What exactly is added reality? How can a virtual device add to reality? But he realizes the answer some few months later when he starts to hallucinate tanks and bombs and the violent rush of an unstoppable train -- there are things you'd rather not be real, and ARI can wipe those away for you. It can shift how you think about the world, shift and manipulate and transform. ARI can be realer than you are.

 

4. Hesperian Epoch

Norman Jayden is a good person. It sounds trite when his job is what it is, but he holds to that goal. He will try to be the best person he can, under the circumstances, and if that means calling Blake and his doggerel tendencies into question, so be it. Blake's an asshole anyway. Norman's got no respect for him or his methods. It's like Godzilla running through Tokyo trying to find a sugar cube. No finesse at all.

"You've got to think," Norman explains, tapping his head. "You've got to get into the mind of the killer. Try to understand what they would do."

"If you can think like a serial killer, there's something the fuck wrong with you," Blake says.

 

5. Cryosphere 

3,396.2 ± 0.1 km
3,376.2 ± 0.1 km
0.005 89 ± 0.000 15
144,798,500 km2
1.6318 × 1011 km3
6.4185 × 1023 kg
3.9335 ± 0.0004 g/cm³
3.711 m/s²
5.027 km/s
1.025 957 day
24.622 9 h
868.22 km/h (241.17 m/s)
25.19°
21 h 10 min 44 s
317.681 43°
52.886 50°

Ethan Mars is not the killer.

 

6. Phobos and Deimos

His hand is shaking. It's shaking so badly. 

The world spins.

Axial tilt. 

 

7. Triple Point

And maybe that's the ultimate goal one day. To condition his body to live inside ARI. To be the perfect blend of man and machine. Norman can set off fires inside the ARI program, can explode hydrogen bombs and destroy entire makeshift cities, and then he can open his eyes and tell Charlene that he needs to make an appointment with the chief. He gets a thrill out of it, but it also makes him angry at times because what's the point, you know? What's the point of throwing balls against imaginary bricks when there are people dying and parents falling apart and the rain, the goddamn rain, won't it stop. 

And then Ethan Mars looks up over an interrogation table, as battered and haunted as anything Norman has seen outside of war, and Norman's thoughts blur.

 

8. Serpentinite

"It's always the things you love that will kill you," his mother once said. "Oh my sweet darling."

 

9. Thermal Inertia

He's on Mars.

No, really, he's on Mars. 

Ethan's hands are in his hair and his mouth is wet and bloody on his, and they're falling back against the wall and Norman's hands shake as he undoes the ragged remainders of Ethan's belt. It's not like he's never had sex before, there was that time in Chicago, but it's not often, and he's never -- that is -- he can't --

Ethan's eyes are beautifully feral, and he gasps desperately as Norman gets on his knees.

Hey, sorry about your son, here's a blowjob.

Norman chokes and fumbles with the unfamiliar weight. His fingers curl restlessly on Ethan's hips, digging in bruises and regrets. But then he gets a rhythm going. Ethan groans his name, and just like that, Norman's nerve endings burn him alive.

 

10. Orbital Eccentricity

"Have you ever--" Ethan asks softly as they lie in bed among the wreck of the cheap motel sheets.

"I wanted to," Norman confesses.

 

11. The Bad Ending

These are the ways he dies: by pole, by grinding metal teeth, by punch, by kick, by gunshot, by strangulation, by bulldozer, by stab, by blood loss, by triptocaine, by his own irreparable recklessness.

What's frightening is that ARI tells him all beforehand.

It even lays it out in a graph.

 

12. The Good Ending

There's a schoolyard. There's a father waiting for his son by the swings.

Norman never catches the plane back to D.C. He gets the ticket but he tears it up and throws the pieces in the garbage. He places the glasses and the glove beside it, and after some hesitation, the vial of triptocaine. His hands shake but he takes a refreshing shower. He calls his doctor and his therapist, in that order. He eats a chicken breast sandwich. And then in the afternoon, when the leaves are turning yellow and the all the kids are running around like monkeys because school's over, he walks up to the waiting father and hands him a warm cup of coffee. "Hey," he says, and Ethan Mars smiles at him in thanks.