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Fool's Gold at the End of Gravity's Rainbow (The Tarnish Transmutation)

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She bears her scars without complaint.

 

The sky is blue, always blue. Illuminated by the single sun’s zenith, it sometimes reminds her of Zhaan’s cerulean hue, that vibrant glow of radiant skin. At other times it is Chiana she thinks of instead, in the pale grey haze of dawn over the water. Aeryn herself prefers to keep to the deep shadows of midnight, where the inky expanse of night sky fades seamlessly into space. Standing under the eons-old light of countless stars in this unfamiliar galaxy, she cannot help but think of John, can’t stop herself from once again hearing the nonsensical words of a child's song crooned laughingly (lovingly) in her ear.

Twinkle-toes, he teased her once, early in that first cycle when every word that fell from his mouth (so very many) had translated as little more than gibberish. She’d shrugged him off and stomped away in her boots, curt and brusque; suspicious of his good humor, suspecting he’d made her the dupe of some incomprehensible Human absurdity. Now, as she has every evening since her return to Earth, she raises her face to cold moonlight and twinkling starlight, closes her eyes and deliberately recalls John’s face: the crinkles of his mouth and brow, the flash of white teeth in his grin, the gleam lurking behind blue eyes (alluring, dangerous) when she didn't (couldn't) look away.

They've come so far since then. They've been through so much, together; now she understands what he meant.

Now she feels the same way... now she is alone.

 


Every scar tells a story; but not every scar is visible.

 

Sometimes the sky seems stuck in grey, gloomy and brooding; the air is thick not with humidity but foreboding. Sometimes the sun doesn’t rise, as if it has been swallowed up by a smothering haze of cloud and smoke and is too feeble to break free. Aeryn waits - patiently at first, then anxiously. Her gut knots with impending dread, but there’s nothing to do except go on. She is just as entangled and powerless.

(She refuses to believe the wait is in vain. Something went wrong, something must have gone wrong. It's John after all, she knows how his Plans go; but he promised to return, and he will. He will.)

Outwardly composed, she presents a calm face to the rest of John's world; but night after night she lies awake in his father's house as the relentless wind churns the leaves, sends them rustling every which way like a mirror of her own tumultuous thoughts. Later, still sleepless, she listens as the gusts and gales rise and fall in timbre and tenor, whistling (shrieking, howling) through the cracks and crevices in the roof of the secure building where she’s been forcibly relocated. Fists clenched, Aeryn turns a deaf ear, sets her jaw, swallows the mounting frustration and rage. When the wind finally dies, however, there is still no reprieve. The guards' radios constantly shatter the silence with bursts of crackling static and hollow, echoing voices; the measured tread of the ever-present patrol rings through the corridor beyond her (locked) door and ensures that she won’t ever sleep long or well, even if she could.

Aeryn is no stranger to military tactics. She knows that sleep deprivation is only just the first of many tools at the enemy's disposal.

 


A thin gash remains where cold steel penetrated deep.

 

At first They keep their distance, waiting and watching, always watching. Jack reassures her that everything will be fine, that the Right People are in charge, that John will come home soon (again). Every morning, Jack pats Aeryn on the shoulder (awkwardly, self-consciously), kisses Olivia on the cheek, and is driven off to meet with various government officials about The Situation. Day in, day out, Jack never gives up hope.

Aeryn wears jeans and t-shirts, watches television and grows re-accustomed to Earth food, though she never enjoys it. She avoids popcorn and ice cream and bar-be-que, and beer, though she will eat and drink almost anything else. She doesn’t know if They find her appetites to be scientifically significant; she can’t bring herself to care.

One evening, almost half a cycle into Aeryn's vigil, the sleek black car fails to arrive with the twilight. One day, like his son, Jack simply doesn’t return.

Aeryn wakes up from a concussion with a bruised jaw, four throbbing, broken fingers (the grip of her gun hand will never be the same) and the grim certainty that it’s only a matter of time before observation becomes experimentation. They've taken her (but not without a fight, she thinks with vicious satisfaction) and hidden her away from public view, buried her alive in an underground concrete bunker.

They study her medical records, comparing tests and data from her initial visit (permitted reluctantly, but agreed-to nonetheless) with the multitude of new samples obtained without any pretense of informed consent. They study her: what she eats and drinks, how she moves and breathes. They cut her hair and fingernails and toenails and swab inside her mouth. They draw blood and other fluids: urine, sweat, saliva, even tears. They sedate her - a paralytic, she is awake and aware throughout every procedure - and insert long needles into her joints, siphon the very marrow from her bones, cut away layers of skin and muscle and tissue in small neat squares. When Aeryn can clench her fingers (hurts) and control her limbs once more (hurts), she objects. Violently. Again.

Her hands are cold. She can no longer make a fist of her left, while the right trembles uncontrollably (bloodied, broken). The shaking could be due solely to the sudden influx of biochemicals, flooding her body in reaction to the shock and pain... but Aeryn doubts it.

At first, They take care to keep the damage to a minimum.

 


Four distorted circles square the curve of her belly.

 

Impossibly, unbelievably, unimaginably – somehow, she is still pregnant.

But she will never be a mother to this baby, never hold her child. She feels the inescapable surety in every abused fiber of her being. She suppresses even the faintest glimmer of hope, grinds it ruthlessly into dust because the (inevitable) loss is something she cannot face without flinching, no matter how ambivalent her feelings.

Aeryn screws her eyes shut and concentrates fiercely on the spiraling geometric patterns behind her eyelids. She does not think of John’s face, the dumbfounded expression he’d worn as he touched her waist, oh so tentatively, two callused fingers barely brushing leather and skin. She does not think about names, or Pilot and Moya hesitantly presenting plans to grow an infant-safe cot in the chamber adjoining her quarters. She does not think about the gently protruding swell of her abdomen, of what will not come to pass.

(Dreams, however, lie outside the iron grip of her control. In them, she and John snuggle with their daughter, munching popcorn and watching ridiculous movies or Sesame Street. In others, Aeryn comes home from a day spent at Canaveral with the thrill of flight still singing in her veins and is promptly ambushed by her husband and son, swept off her feet and tickled within a dench of her life. In all of her dreams, they are unimaginably happy.)

John’s devastated expression – if he was here. If he was here she wouldn’t be in this frelling cell… No. The aching emptiness to come, in her belly, in her heart. Her body reduced (returned) to a functional machine without animation, lacking any spark of vitality; an automaton. A void, empty of any and all life. No.

Living (existing) in the aftermath… she can’t do that. Not again.

 



Warm fingers soothe marred flesh. They mark defeat, victory, battles recorded in skin and bone.

 

She will never fly again; she is Earth-bound.

She will never be free again; Earth will not risk it.

Aeryn never submits. Twice, she nearly manages an escape. The first attempt leaves her stunned, bruised and battered, shoved roughly back into her room but only marginally worse for wear.

Her second foray is meticulously planned over the weeks her body requires to heal. It's a simple strategy (cover of darkness, soundless ambush, the weapon of her bare hands) which yields devastating results: a trail of lifeless Human bodies throughout the complex. When They take her down the second time, she loses teeth (rifle-butt swung full-force into her mouth) and cracks her lower spine (heavy booted kick from an enraged soldier who's lost a comrade). Soon after, They shift her from the windowless concrete-and-steel "secure" room to an empty, clear-walled cube. It is the ultimate in containment units, with remotely activated door locks and a separate ventilation system for easy gassing of non-compliant subjects. Aeryn is left shackled, wrists and feet, with nothing but lightweight pants torn at the knees and the bloodstained t-shirt on her back.

As much as she is able, within her realm of control, she refuses to play her assigned role of alien on display. Of course, she is the alien on display, so when They poke her with a stick, she growls and shows her claws. Without fail They gape and film, record and annotate, safe behind bulletproof walls and with the comfort of a deeply-instilled xenophobia and its accompanying superiority complex.

She stops talking. There’s no point, when nobody listens.

Aeryn's mind, though, remains her own private place, despite the intrusions of MRI and PET and CAT and EEG. As weeks turn to months turn to years (as monens turn to cycles), Aeryn retreats to that inner sanctuary more and more often. Eventually, she stops wondering if the Peacekeepers and Scarrans are still killing each other on the other side of the destroyed wormhole. She stops worrying about the friends (yes, she can call them that now, there’s no danger to them any longer) she left behind, about the life she left behind. She stops endlessly second-guessing if the tradeoff was worth it, if their failed mission here at least accomplished something worthwhile back there, in a properly realized Reality. Aeryn stops dreaming of flight, and endeavors with single-minded determination to forget space itself.

She never stops thinking of John. She never lets herself question why he hasn’t come back.

 


Memories of pain are kissed away. She is whole, and without blemish.

 

Sebaceans live longer than Humans. Cycle follows cycle; government powers wax and wane.

A screaming comes across the sky.*

Sudden panic disrupts the dull tedium of everyday routine. The scientists point and babble and congregate together, as if there could truly be safety in numbers. The soldiers consult their computers and target their weapons (still laughably antiquated by Peacekeeper standards, despite the infusion of Crichton-esque knowledge) and when a single small craft breaks the cloud-cover, their shoulders slump ludicrously in perverse disappointment.

"Never judge a book by its cover," Aeryn whispers, vaguely pleased to be able to recall one of Crichton's inane Human expressions suitable for the occasion. She slides down to huddle with her back against the wall in the innermost corner, and waits a little longer.

There is an ominous rumble. It is followed by minor explosion, a mushrooming blanket of smoke and the pervasive smell of scorched metal and synthetics. When the air clears, there is a crumbling, half-melted pile of rubble and slag where the outer wall used to be.

Aeryn lifts her forehead from her knees and freezes. After a microt, she clears her throat. "About time you showed up." Her voice is rough with disuse, but she can and will blame the acrid smoke for that and the tears that glitter precariously at the ends of her eyelashes.

 

***

 

Earth is tainted for John, now. Even if it hadn’t been, Aeryn thinks, he has nothing to keep him here; no one. Jack, Olivia, Susan, Bobby – they are all just memories, photographs and references in history instead of flesh and blood and family. Everyone who is left (the entire populace of Earth) is afraid of him and the power he wields, the allies who stand by his side. Earth fears him and hates him and those who don't immediately start trying to curry favor want nothing more than for John Crichton to go away and this time, to never, ever, ever come back.

John seems more than willing to oblige.

Aeryn has no idea how long it’s been for him, how many iterations of innumerable unrealized realities he's had to endure to get back to this precise ripple in space-time. John has new scars, though, and walks with a slight limp. He’s never been graceful but his balance is distinctly ungainly when he clambers through the ruins of her prison.

His eyes flicker over her face and then slide away in silent admission of deeply-buried secrets and shame, an exquisitely painful past. She’s sure he recognizes the similar tell-tale marks that trauma has left on her body; who knows what he can read of what's left of her heart. At his reappearance, it had fluttered so strangely in her chest.

He leads her out into sunshine and hands her up, ever so carefully, into the pod – new model, a sleek hybrid, fusion of Peacekeeper tech and Leviathan practicality. "I’ve found a place," he says softly, his own voice far from steady as his forefinger strokes her wrist in a feather-light caress, tracing the purple bruise left by heavy cuffs closed tightly against her skin. "Let me take you to a galaxy far, far away."

Despite her relief she slants him a suspicious glance; one side of his mouth quirks upward in a weary twist of almost-a-smile. She scowls at him, suspecting another of his silly references; he huffs and leans in to nuzzle her cheek, the curve of her ear near the still-dark fall of her hair. One warm hand slides around her waist, John's palm flat against her belly. Her breath catches.

"It’s a Technicolor world," he murmurs. "Bright yellow sun, blue skies with deep purple edges. Oz-green – that’s Wizard of Oz, you haven’t seen it, that’s okay, we can watch it together – green sand, green waves. Blue sea oats swaying in the breeze... has And they lived happily ever after written all over it."

She doubts the blue grass can possibly rival the color of his eyes.