He’d done something monstrous today. Something unforgivable. He’d abandoned – betrayed – thousands of his people, left them in the hopeless void of space to be captured or killed by the race that murdered his mother.
And now he was going to sin again, bringing danger and possibly death to the mother of another hybrid child.
But it had to be done.
Pointed black shoes swept forward on autopilot, silent footfalls carrying him steadily through the dark Command Carrier halls, and Scorpius’ long, stiff arms swung loose at his sides as he strode toward the Marauder bay.
A soft-gloved hand rose, trailing gently across the wall of the metallic tunnel in a gesture that was almost a caress, and a sky-blue stare swiftly cataloged the world around him. With the exception of Sikozu, the corridor was eerily empty, and with the way ahead of him safely clear of people, the half-Scarran officer allowed himself to briefly close his eyes.
The darkness sent his mind slipping back through the cycles, to the day when he’d found his mother’s transport pod abandoned to the neglectful care of time. Even now, he could smell the dust, cobwebs and decay, and feel the console sliding beneath his rapt, reverent fingers.
Always easy to get lost in one’s memories.
His clear mental map of the ship allowed him to keep his eyelids down, turning a corner that he knew would be there and watching Sikozu with his ears to avoid running into her. He could feel the weight of her stare on him, wondering why he was walking blind, but to his relief, she didn’t ask. Instead, the two of them walked in silence, leaving him free to linger in this echo of the past.
He wanted to stay there.
In the transport pod, he was innocent, in so many more ways than one. He had crimes behind him, yes, but nothing to rival the actions he had taken since joining the Peacekeepers. He’d been a young man back then, barely grown, with no larger purpose in his mind than to find the parents he’d never met, and discover who he was.
No... who he should be.
He’d known that he could become a monster. A demon, a force to be reckoned with. His defective body no longer restricted him; he had learned to compensate for his weaknesses, and that made him powerful.
Even then, with little more than a small one-person ship to his name, he had sensed in himself the ability to sway the balance of power, and the need to use that potential wisely.
And yet, as he’d wandered through the transport pod, he’d been able to pretend, for just a few microts, that that burden wasn’t his to bear. To imagine life with that vessel as his home, with a mother more gentle and guileless than he’d ever been allowed to be, and a father who was loved, not feared.
A life where he could be like the countless civilian children he’d seen: happy, safe and loved, free of the guilt and terrible knowledge that had destroyed what little innocence he had left and made him what he was.
The Scarrans took that away from him. Tauza broke through that moment of pretense, flooding it with sedative gas and her familiar, horrible voice, and those monsters would do the same and worse to trillions of other people if he failed to stop them.
“We now realize that Sebaceans have no value, even as breeding stock. Instead, the Sebacean race will be... eradicated.”
Eradicated. Because they were worthless as ‘breeding stock’. A conclusion the Scarrans had drawn from their experience with him.
His shortcomings as a genetic experiment had led that powerful, lethal race to target his people for destruction. But he wouldn’t allow them to succeed. He wasn’t one of those civilian children, raised on peace, love and happiness. Nor was he truly a Peacekeeper, reared on blind and mindless obedience, without the freedom of mind to think about tomorrow.
He was something else entirely, something far deadlier than either could ever hope to be.
His eyes opened, and the transport pod was gone, replaced by the harsh reality of the life he had chosen for himself. Of the sacrifices he had made, and the ones he’d demanded of people who lacked the will and the intellect to choose for themselves.
“You are the most repellent of creatures, Scorpius. You weren't born into Peacekeepers. You weren't conscripted against your will. You chose to be one.”
The other man’s words echoed through his mind, and for a strange moment, Scorpius was almost tempted to laugh.
Yes – I chose this. I chose to fight for people who consider me... repellent, and to perform actions that might warrant the accusation. But if you were in my position, would you do any less?
He knew that Crais, and more importantly, John, both considered him evil and merciless. But how many people had died on the Gammak Base, in the Shadow Depository, and during the mad evacuation in the wake of the former captain’s final act?
Was the rift between them really so great?
Both men had been trying to protect the people they cared about. And that was a luxury they were blessed to be able to claim, in a way they failed to appreciate. If Scorpius chose his allies according to who liked him or even who wanted him to live, he would never have stayed his course long enough to be of help to anyone.
Sometimes, there were more important things to worry about than whether or not you trusted or liked the people you needed to defend.
That, it seemed, was the key difference in the way he and John thought. John was capable of acting, and even of sacrificing people, for the greater good. His misguided attempt to protect the universe by destroying the Peacekeeper wormhole project was evidence of that.
But it wasn’t his default thought process.
An image flashed through Scorpius’ mind, the terrified face of a Nebari whose features bore the same shape as Aeryn Sun’s. Aeryn and Chiana, two of the people John loved most, combined into a single mutant whose death was already preordained, and whose sacrifice could save the original Officer Sun.
That day, he’d criticized John’s lack of resolve when the human refused to perform the execution that would save the woman he loved.
In retrospect, perhaps that judgment had been misplaced. John’s resolve was among the strongest he had ever encountered, and he would be remiss if he discounted that.
But it was, by default, focused on specific individuals. John was loyal to the people he cared about – or those who closely resembled them – first, and any greater purpose was subordinate to that. Scorpius was loyal to his purpose first, to the survival of the galaxy’s non-Scarran population, and to individuals within it second.
John’s loyalties were concentrated, easily seen. Scorpius’ were spread so thin that to people like John, they were probably invisible. And unlike the human, he understood that if he didn’t sacrifice a few people now, even if they were people he knew, then they and everyone would die.
A terrible act, and evil if done outside of necessity. But it was necessary, and he couldn’t stop now. If he did, then everyone who had been sacrificed already would have died for nothing.
The colorful flash of Sikozu’s hair caught his eye, and he discretely glanced toward her. Braca’s presence on the bridge flickered through his mind, and now, at last, he felt a hint of a genuine smile.
The crew of Moya didn’t seem to think Scorpius knew the difference between friends and pawns. But what they didn’t realize was that people got to choose which one they were going to be.
Most Peacekeepers he knew were pawns by choice. They didn’t necessarily want to be pawns, or think of themselves as such, but when given the choice they slipped into the role without a second thought.
They did as they were told – no more, no less. If that meant abandoning a person or a cause, so be it.
Friends did not abandon friends. When the Command Carrier was imploding around them, he’d risked incineration to find Braca rather than allow him to perish, and on Arnessk, Braca had contradicted every psychological evaluation he’d ever taken in order to return the favor. Sikozu had tirelessly supported him in the face of her shipmates’ suspicion and hostility, and even in the midst of the Scarran rage-haze that Talikaa had induced, he’d been determined to avenge her and keep her safe.
Friends did not abandon friends, but these pawns would discard and turn on him as readily as he would sacrifice them. When he allowed his mind to fall into the memory, he could still feel their pulse weapons at his back, making his spine crawl and his stomach sink as they escorted him toward Grayza’s Aurora Chair. Some of them had been his former subordinates, people he’d worked with and guided for cycles, and he knew Grayza had reveled in the act of rubbing their betrayal in his face.
Peacekeeper loyalty was a bad joke.
There was no true loyalty among the Peacekeepers, at least none that was sanctioned by High Command. Subordinates swore fealty to their commanding officers, yes, but that could be instantly and legally revoked by a single order from on high. After that, any remaining faithfulness became an act of treason.
He could understand the purpose behind that rule. If an officer went rogue for petty and personal reasons, as Crais had, it was only right that his superiors should retain the ability to confiscate his command.
But Scorpius and his cause were not something to be discarded so lightly. The survival of thousands of species... of tens or hundreds of billions of individuals in each species... the fate of literally trillions of souls rested on his narrow, armored shoulders, and he could not fail. Not even if it meant sacrificing armies. Not even if it meant sacrificing himself.
He had already placed his life’s work and his hard-earned position among the Peacekeepers on that altar, and set it all aflame. High Command had created a powerful structure, one whose strength he’d chosen to use for a time even as they used him in turn. But misguided by Commandant Grayza, it had become self-destructive, and it was time for him to seek other means.
Sometimes, people simply could not be entrusted with their own survival. And loyalty to such people, to such an organization, was useless to him and to the galaxy as a whole.
In his mind, commitment to a cause was a much better guide. And allegiance to him, personally, was tantamount to allegiance to his cause. The two could not be separated. The moment he’d learned of the Scarrans’ plans, as a youth on the brink of adulthood when purpose and identity were still being formed, the two had become one.
He himself had become a slave to that mission, and it had cost him everything he could have had if only he was free from it. He could have played High Command’s game, followed the rules, and made friends among his fellow officers... no, more than that, he could have taken up a life outside the Peacekeepers, free from purity laws and corrupt policies and subtle glares filled with veiled disgust.
But that would have required him to ignore the doom that he knew was coming, to betray his purpose, and ultimately, to condemn his new friends to death.
If the Scarrans won, it wouldn’t matter who he’d spared, who he’d helped, or who he’d loved. The monsters who destroyed his family would kill everyone he cared about, and their blood would be on his hands, because he knew it was coming and had failed to prevent it.
Using his allies to save themselves against their brainwashed will, or joining them as a friend in their suicidal oblivion... it was ironic, that the greatest act of friendship he could offer most people was to forgo their friendship.
At least this way, some of them would survive. Perhaps, if one were to define the term by attentiveness to another’s well-being rather than an emotion, one might even say it was an act of love – to put the Sebaceans’ ability to live above his ability to form a relationship with them. Better that they survive and despise him than care for him and die.
All of this, he knew and accepted. And yet sometimes, especially in moments of recollection like this, a small corner of his psyche chafed against it.
It would be easier if he behaved like some other Peacekeepers he’d known. If he barked orders, kept his distance, and gave them little reason to connect with him personally. But he didn’t.
How many times had he hugged people, set hands on shoulders or lips on foreheads, or otherwise offered gestures which, coming from someone else, might have helped to lay the foundation of a bond? How often had he been polite in the face of anger and dismissal, only to have his patient courtesy thrown back in his face?
Too many times. And yet he kept trying.
He had even tried to form a relationship with John. The thought makes him inwardly shake his head; he’s come to realize that Crichton will never aid him willingly.
He’ll never be the ally Scorpius wanted him to be.
A little over a cycle ago, he’d handed the human a data chip containing excerpts from his file, hoping that if John realized what was at stake, if he understood the depths of cruelty that the Scarrans had inflicted and would inflict again, he would join him wholeheartedly. Not as a pawn who had to be prodded, manipulated and babysat, but as a comrade who would bring his formidable stubbornness and intellect to bear against their mutual enemy.
He should have known it wouldn’t work. John was emotional, plagued by suspicion, trauma and fear, unable to see the difference between the Peacekeepers who worked as hired guns for other species and the Scarrans who would see those species dead. His mental clone had made that clear, and Scorpius should have learned. He had learned, to a clearly inadequate degree.
But if that was the case, why had he offered that data chip, with all its seldom-shared secrets? Why not just accept the level of loyalty that Crichton had seemingly offered him, a nonexistent relationship that would end at the completion of their trade?
Perhaps it was because he was growing tired. It was exhausting, overwhelming, to keep on fighting alone. Giving everything he had and everything he was to his cause, and knowing that if he ceased to be able to use people, so very few of them would continue to fight for him of their own free will. They’d betray and abandon him as they had on Arnessk, and the galaxy would fall.
If only he had more people like Braca and Sikozu. People who didn’t drain his energy by requiring him to constantly manipulate them in order to keep them loyal, but who would support him even if he was at a disadvantage, even if he lost his hold on them.
So few. So tiring.
But at least there were a few.
The Captain and the Kalish had responded to his attempts to create a friendship, so even if his connection to Peacekeeperdom was lost, he still at least had two people in this vast and lonely universe.
He’d have liked to have Crichton, too, but it seemed that the man was a lost cause. Too many sins lay between them, too many mistakes on Scorpius’ part from the time when he believed that he needed only the information and not the man who carried it.
A lost cause indeed, but one he couldn’t do without. So Scorpius would use him, one last time, and hope it was the last time he would have to use anyone to stop the Scarrans once and for all.
Because in the end, the person he used the most harshly was himself.
He was better at surviving it than most. After every trauma, every betrayal, every time when he was forced to endure a situation that would normally send a man to the afterlife, his body and soul found a way to push through and come back for more. And they’d continue to, for as long as it took.
Hopefully not too much longer.
They were nearly at the hangar now, and his mind began to resurface from the murky depths of his past. His eyes flicked toward Sikozu, striding light and confident ahead of him, and his thoughts swept past the present and dared to touch the future.
Maybe soon it could be over. Perhaps someday, he would no longer have a cause, a desperately vital end to demand and justify all of his terrible means.
Maybe someday he would be able to have connections, friendships, relationships that were based on how he and other people treated and felt toward each other, instead of how much they needed each other in order to survive.
Maybe... he could learn how. Tauza had never taught him that. Natira probably wasn’t capable of it, and the Peacekeepers outright forbade it. And the dire necessity of his task had forced him to create alliances at all costs, including the cost of manipulating almost everyone he came across.
If he was honest with himself, he wasn’t sure he knew how to have a relationship without keeping at least one hand on the puppet strings. But maybe he could learn. Sikozu seemed intent on teaching him, with her demands of inclusion and honesty, and as daunting as it was to even consider being so vulnerable, he couldn’t deny that a part of him desired it.
It would be pleasant, to be accepted, wanted and supported by another person’s free will, instead of the relationship depending on his own machinations.
Maybe, after the last Scarran was gone... maybe.
But in the meantime, he couldn’t take that risk. If he failed, it wouldn’t matter what reasons people had for helping him, or what kind of methods he had used; few or none would live to remember them.
And he knew that if he found himself standing over the ruins of countless murdered worlds, he would never be able to justify his failure to act, no matter how many lives his lack of resolve had temporarily spared.
His own life had been spared. Alone among all the Sebacean-Scarran hybrids who had come into being – defenseless infants whom the Scarrans had discarded as callously as he himself had sacrificed trained soldiers – he had survived. At the cost of the life of the one person who might have accepted him without conditions, without a struggle to prove his strength... without manipulation.
Maybe she would have. Maybe she wouldn’t. On this side of the afterlife, he would probably never know whether her pleading for death during his gestation was her way of rejecting him, or if she was trying to spare him the agony she herself was going through, or if she just didn’t care either way as long as the pain could stop.
But he did know two things. One was that assuming the worst of the dead accomplished nothing.
The other was that her sacrifice, and his unique chance at life, would not be wasted. He would give meaning to his painful and costly existence, and to her death along with it.
Through the unjust ordeal that claimed her life, Rylani Jeema Dellos would be the one who birthed her species’ survival. That was Scorpius’ solemn vow, the one that justified all his sins.
He would keep those sins to a minimum, if he could. He’d saved Katoya from the Aurora Chair, spared Zhaan and Stark in the Shadow Depository, and allowed John Crichton to live as he lay on Tocot’s table. The Scarrans he fought against were monsters, violent and pointlessly cruel, and Scorpius was determined that he would never be one himself.
But if a terrible deed would bring him closer to defeating his enemies once and for all, to ending the threat whose weight had been crushing him since he was barely grown, he would perform it without hesitation. If that meant he was hated by the living and dead – if John thought of him as a monster, and if whatever acceptance Rylani might have offered turned instead to fear and disgust – so be it.
It was one more sacrifice he would have to make.
The Marauder’s door opened before him and Scorpius stepped inside, watching as the safety of the hangar gave way to the beautiful lethality of space.
The people he had left behind were probably floating in that vacuum by now, and he refused to hate himself for that. Instead, he used it to steel his will. Self-disgust would not save anyone, but by his efforts, their sacrifice would save everyone.
The stars sped across the window as the Marauder turned, and in the moment before the sky disappeared, Scorpius silently spoke a promise toward it. The deaths he had caused would not be for nothing, and future generations would live to remember them.
Saving trillions of people from a terrible end. In Scorpius’ mind, that justified the means, no matter how terrible they were.
Then the view of the stars was replaced by land, drawing the half-Scarran warrior’s thoughts to the person who waited on that small patch of earth.
If only you could see it, John. If only you could see the universe the way I do, then perhaps you could look past my actions toward our common goal.
But it isn’t so common, is it? My goal is distressingly unique, but yours...
Your goal truly is common. You wish to safeguard the people who care about you, even at the cost of the people who don’t. And I seek to protect people who don’t care about me, even at the cost of some who might.
Does that make me the monster?
A question that would probably never be answered to their mutual satisfaction. But even if the means didn’t satisfy them both, perhaps the end could.
Not to worry, John. I’ll protect you and your friends. In the only way that will be permanently effective, even if it’s the same way you resist.
Perhaps you will thank me someday. In all probability, you won’t. But in the end, you and I are alike enough: when you finally recognize the need, you will take whatever action you deem necessary to fulfill your cause.
You’ll save the people you love and who love you, and in your good fortune, you will be appreciated for your efforts.
But I don’t need to be thanked, or loved. If this mission is my final sacrifice, I don’t need to be remembered fondly.
By whatever means it takes, I will see this through to the end, and that will be enough.