Contains spoilers through second season's "Look at the Princess(3): The Maltese Crichton." Rated PG. No money being made, no harm being done, don't sue, don't scream: and send comments to the author at the email above.
With thanks to Perri for beta'ing, Grace & Dee for comments, and various other people who pointed out I really needed to *finish* a story one of these days.
I learned of my true father on the day the Scarrans tried to kill me.
You understand, it wasn't the first assassination attempt I'd lived through. There were others. I didn't even realize what had happened the first time--- I was too young to understand, and my parents simply told me that there had been an earthquake. I heard about the attempted bombing of the Royal Residence years later, when the poisoning went wrong. For weeks afterward everyone in the palace and capital was discussing past poisonings, assassinations, murders, and assorted political unrest.
Perhaps if I had asked more questions then, the lies might have been revealed earlier. Maybe if I had listened to the whispers about my mother, I would have picked up on the ones about my father.
Then again... probably not. I was never naive --- the Heir to the Throne can not be allowed such a luxury --- but some truths are simply inconceivable. Especially the truths about one's family.
And if the Scarrans had chosen any weapon other than fire, I might have died never questioning the lies.
On my twentieth birthday, I was returning from my family's oceanside retreat in my private shuttle with two friends, four bodyguards, and our two-man flight crew. Later it was determined that during a routine maneuver through the badlands, the internal thermal controls went offline and refused to re-engage, sending the temperature inside the craft up thirty declas within two microts, igniting flammables that had been placed in the interior cargo hold and damaging the automatic flight systems.
A fifteen decla differential within that space of time is enough to send most Sebaceans into shock. A twenty-plus decla differential, occurring that rapidly, will temporarily knock out even the most hardened commando. Thirty declas--- at thirty declas, the victims are already in the first stages of the Living Death, and if treatment is not given within arns, there is no reprieve.
You know most of this already, of course. We learn it in school, at camp, from our families. The Living Death is the stuff of horror stories and cautionary tales. But we try not to think about the details. Of what actually happens to someone caught in the center of a heat blast that leaves their body intact, but already irreparably damaged.
In two microts my friends and protectors were writhing in pain, shaking and unable to breathe, and our pilot couldn't see straight enough to fly. I wasted a precious microt in hysterical terror, unable to understand what was happening, to feel it as they did; still trying to get Thierry to wake up, frantically screaming at Sergeant Hols, begging him to tell me what I should do. When I saw the flames licking at the edges of the door, panic gave way to drummed-in emergency shuttle training.
Disengaging my flight restraints, I ran to the rear of the craft, slamming the doors to seal off the flaming cargo hold as the shuttle jittered and swerved crazily around the sky. That should have been enough. It *should* have vented the heat back to the atmosphere, stopped the fire from spreading, and lowered the temperature to tolerable levels. It should have been enough. It *should* have worked....
But it didn't. I watched the thermostat climb two more declas before I realized that it still wasn't working. You can't imagine what I felt then--- at least I hope you can't. Especially what I felt when I returned to the passenger area, and found that both of my friends and all of the bodyguards were unconscious or panting in pain, their eyes already fixed straight ahead. And the temperature still rising.
The shuttle didn't explode, but that was all I had prevented. Nearly sobbing with fear, I ran back through the shuttle, hit every available button, every emergency release, pulled the levers for the cooling sysem-- and nothing happened. Finally I forced the door on the command bay, and pushed the unconscious captain out of the pilot's chair, then used the comm to call for help.
Flight Control at the capitol city talked me down. They even said I did quite well, for my first flight. But we were still two arns out from the nearest landing strip when I made contact--- and by the time we landed, it was too late.
Thierry and Evela, who had been friends to me since we were little children playing games in the palace gardens. Dependable Sergeant Hols. Officers Rewan, Quon, and Patrel--- all honorable members of my mother's guards. Captain Welex, who had flown for my family for fifty cycles, and Lieutenant Idris, who had just signed on to duty at the palace. All of them had already succumbed to the Living Death.
I was the only one to survive the furnace that my private craft became on that flight. I was the only one to walk away.
To walk. Away.
Can you believe that? I can't, still. Eight people dead, eight people to whom I was honor-bound to give the final death, using the strongest narcotic my family could find, and I walked away from the 'accident' bruised, shaken, sick; but alive. It shouldn't have been possible. I should have been dead. I wanted to be dead, from guilt, from shame.... Heirs to thrones are always targets, but it's something we try not to think about. Like the reality of the Living Death, some truths are too ugly to look in the face. Until you are forced to look into the faces of the dead, and admit the obvious.
Like the truth about myself.
"... fortunate, actually. One could be tempted to think it an act of fate, now."
"Mother! That is *enough*!"
I stopped outside my mother's private chambers, arrested by the rage in her voice. She never, never spoke to Grandmother that way. No one did. My mother deferred to her, rarely challenging her outright. My father avoided confrontations and gently deflected her away from his concerns, but he avoided open defiance as well. Dowager Empress Novia was no one to be trifled with.
"You know you agree with me, Katralla. Just imagine what would have happened if she *were* Tyno's daughter. Even if you'd had another child by now, there's nothing to say that child wouldn't have been in the shuttle with her. In one moment, we would have lost the Heir and the planet, if not for Crichton's genes."
"It doesn't bear thinking of," murmured my father. No. The man I'd *thought* was my father.
I couldn't have heard Grandmother correctly, she couldn't have meant--
"I will *never* be grateful for the poisoning that made John Crichton my only choice. Never, do you hear me? If it hadn't been for that, Lia would have brothers and sisters---"
"Who might have been as silly and hopeless as your brother. Be grateful for what you have, Katralla. An heir who can walk through fire and emerge unscathed." My grandmother sighed. "And since she's significantly more genetically compatible with the opposite sex than *you* were, I'd say that the Royal Family got the best of the situation. And gained a useful survival trait, as well. Who would have thought it?"
"We'll have to come up with a story to conceal the reasons for Lia's survival," my father said, worry coloring his voice. "If anyone suspects why she survived---"
"Why should they? It's not as if anyone knows anything about Crichton's people. They'll think we had extra safety measures on her craft, and that as Heir, she was honor-bound to use them to save herself. Simple."
Simple... nothing was simple, now. I felt my knees buckle and braced myself against the door silently, shaking my head in denial: no. No, no, no....
"And what do we tell Lia?" the Regent demanded. My mother's husband. Not my father.
My mother's voice sounded ragged, but resigned. "The truth. It's far past time, really.... I just never wanted to put this burden on her."
I leaned against the door outside the chamber, and closed my eyes. Why hadn't I imagined this? I wasn't spared by some intervention of my parents, by some wonder-drug or Living Death vaccine given to me years ago. I was... *different*. Why hadn't this occurred to me, when the others died, and I lived? Maybe it was the grief, pain, shock... but whatever the reason, blind denial was no comfort now.
"I still believe this is unnecessary . She need never know at all---"
"Thank you, Mother, but I don't intend to make the same mistakes with my daughter that you made with me and Clavor and I. Whatever lies we tell tomorrow, Lia must know the truth. We owe her that. And we owe it to her father, as well."
Tyno was not my father, and my parents had lied to me for my entire life. I was not normal, I was ... something else. I had survived an assassination attempt that had killed several people I cared about because everything that I was, was a lie.
Can you blame me for running away from this truth?
My mother found me in the gardens.
"Counselor Wraven said that you dispatched your duty very well." My mother regarded me for a moment, then settled herself on the ivory bench next to me with a rustle of skirts.
I shifted to look at her, my hands clasped in my lap, then stared off over the lake. "I didn't drop the syringe with the sleeping agent, if that's what you mean, Mother."
She paused, arrested by something in my voice, studying my face for clues. A tiny frown line formed between her eyes, and her next words were weighted with caution. "We all grieve for their deaths, Lia. But you must not blame yourself for what occurred." I closed my eyes, listened to her voice speed up. "The preliminary investigation clearly points to Scarran sabotage---"
"Why am I alive?" I heard her sharp intake of breath, and clenched my jaw against any weakness. "What was my father? Why was he your only choice?" She didn't answer me, and I finally opened my eyes again, to see the pained regret on her face. "Why didn't you *tell* me?"
No denials, at least. Shock that I knew the truth gave way to acceptance, then a weary guilt. My mother sighed softly, interlacing her fingers and staring off across the surface of the water. "At first... because you were too young to understand. Later, because it didn't seem to matter--- you adored Tyno, and it was all so complicated, and it was in the past...."
"Did you hate him so much that you couldn't tell me about him?" I swallowed, hard. "Was he a Scarran, or some other monster that you were forced to accept---"
"No!" She grabbed my hands, honest horror shredding her careful justifications. "No, oh no, darling, no. Nothing like that. Your father was---" She stopped, shook her head, and then, surprising me, she laughed a little. "He was just ... very different."
"How different?" I was still shaking inside, but I didn't want her to know. "What am I? Do you know---" My voice cracked, and I cleared my throat. "I can't stop wondering--- I keep thinking of Evela, and the others, and wondering why I'm alive. Wondering why I didn't succumb to the Living Death, thinking that if I'd known sooner, I could have saved them---"
"No. You couldn't, Leslia," she said firmly. "Even if you'd known, dearest. There wasn't anything you could have done. This isn't something you could have shared with them, or used to do anything more than you did to save their lives."
"How do you know that? How can you be sure? How can *I* be sure?"
Staring off across the water, my mother slowly told me how I came to be. About her brother Clavor's plots with the Scarrans, and the poisoning of her DNA. Her slow humiliation and growing desperation as it became clear that she was compatible with no one, with not one single Sebacean male on the planet. About her one last chance, a kiss from a stranger, taken more to please Tyno and placate her lover than from any belief it would work.
"John... John was..." Mother frowned, her normal serenity slipping away into something complex. Amusement? Annoyance? Affection? I couldn't tell. "Difficult to describe."
"Different. Difficult." My turn to stare out over the water, my heart sinking. "No wonder Grandmother says I take after my father when I misbehave. That never made any sense before. Father... the Regent is the most circumspect man in the world. My true father must have been a terror if he irritated Grandmother so."
"That's not fair, either---" She stopped speaking abruptly, then rose to her feet, as if suddenly coming to a decision. She held out her hand to me. "Some things are better shown than told. Come."
"To see your father."
"He made this recording right before he went away. We kept it for you--- no one else has seen it."
Tyno--- I couldn't stop thinking of him as my father, even though I knew differently now--- touched the controls on the imaging dais, then stepped away, his shoulders tight with worry but his face as calm as ever.
The truth wasn't being kind to any of us, today. My true father survived three assassination attempts before finally being forced to leave our planet; and no one had seen him since.
"He would have stayed for you if he could have, Lia. It simply wasn't possible. His Human cells wouldn't adapt to allow him to undergo the molecularization process twice. The royal line *had* to be preserved. We tried to come up with the best possible solution. For everyone." Tyno's smile was full of love and old, almost-healed hurt. "And it never made any difference. You are your mother's daughter. That's all that mattered to me."
"I know," I whispered. I only wished it didn't matter to me.
He nodded sharply, then turned toward the door. "We'll be in the family chambers, if you wish to speak with us, after." The door shut behind him without a sound, and I was alone.
Steeling myself, I brushed my fingers over the console, then stepped into the imager, mouth dry with fear and anticipation of what I'd see.
I started at his words, then found myself smiling back at the virtual image of the man smiling gently at me. He *looked* Sebacean; even though they'd told me that, I'd still been half-afraid he'd be a heat-loving Scarran, or some other species that I'd find impossible to identify with, but which would explain the differences in me. Instead, there was merely a handsome man with dark blond hair, younger than I'd expected, wearing dark attire in a style that hadn't been fashionable even a century before. His blue-grey eyes seemed to meet mine, and his image reacted to my presence, even though I knew it couldn't be real; the program took the recording and tracked my reactions, and synthesized the image so that it could react to my movements, even my words, and interact with me if given sufficient data and time.
"Man, you're pretty." I blinked; and he seemed to grin at my expression, then continued speaking, his voice an easy drawl that sounded very different from the usual clipped speech of my people. "I had Tyno age your virtual image again--- I already said good-bye to you at age five or so," he said, his tone wistful as he studied me. "But I got halfway to my ship, and realized I had a few things to say before I left... and I wanted to know what you'd look like, grown up. I wanted to look you in the eye when I talked to you." The slow smile again. One I now recognized from the mirror when I was particularly pleased.
"Pretty. You get that from your mother. Short, though." He chuckled, and I rolled my eyes. "I guess you get that from her, too." John Crichton's expression sobered, and he cocked his head, his voice dropping a little. "Although, you kind of look like my mom, a little. Especially around the mouth."
His voice got huskier, and he swallowed, shaking his head. "She would have loved to have met you, you know. But she died before I even got stuck out in the Uncharted Territories." He met my eyes again, and there was a loneliness there that made my throat hurt. "Your grandfather would have loved to meet you too. He would've been so thrilled..." My father laughed, his voice rusty and a little shaky now, and I clenched my hands into fists. "But there's no chance of that. And I don't even know if I could stand to tell him, or put it in one of my messages to him. He'd hate that he'd never get to meet you."
He looked up from floor and crossed his arms over his chest. His voice steadied. "Humans don't live as long as Sebaceans, darlin'. We can handle desert climates better, and scorching tropical beaches, and we don't die of the Living Death, but that doesn't make us live longer. I hope you don't inherit that from me. I hope you get the full Sebacean lifespan. But you're going to be in suspended animation for eighty cycles anyway. By the time you're born, I'll most likely be dead. And by the time you're old enough to understand any of this, it won't just be likely, it'll be a certainty. No way I'm going to live a hundred years." His mouth twisted wryly. "Although there's enough people trying to kill me as it is that I'll probably die *way* before that. Peacekeepers, alien thugs, a couple of malevolent space entities... Your old man knows how to make friends wherever he goes, baby."
I crossed my arms, hugging myself, trying not to be upset at the idea that I was listening to a ghost. He hadn't come back to visit, or even just to look at me -- not because of politics, or secrets, or lack of interest.... but because he was long dead before I ever knew he existed.
"That's something else I hope you don't get from me. I do hope you're as lucky as I am when it comes to making friends, but not the enemies." He reached out hesitantly, phantom fingers hovering over my cheek. "But then, you're going to be the Empress; it kind of goes with the territory. I hope you're as tough as Katralla, so you can handle it. Gutsy lady, your mom. Just don't get so tough that you're as bad as your grandmother, okay? That's *not* an option. You get like her, and I'll figure out some way to haunt you, I swear it." I choked off a laugh that was half sob at his words, and brushed tears from my eyelashes.
His smile was quieter now, less happy. "I can't say we were in love, baby girl. But I liked your mom. She was smart, and loyal, and strong. If you're anything like her, you'll be one hell of an Empress." He let out a slow breath. "And if you're anything like me, you may not want the job. Sooo.... if you ever need an out, or you just want somewhere to go, somewhere to hide from being a princess for a while--- I asked the Pilot of our Leviathan to check back here when he can, after you're born. Her name's Moya. Great ship. Some of my other friends could still be with them in a hundred cycles, too. They'll take you wherever you want to go. No questions asked."
The tears were flowing down my face by now, and I felt my breath catch as he smiled tenderly at me. "I can't give you anything else. My home planet's on the other side of the galaxy, and everything I own can fit into one flight pod. All I can tell you about your family there is that they're good people, who would love you as much as I do --- your grandfather, your aunts, your uncle D.K. ---and the friends I have here would take care of you if you needed it, as well."
He paused, his voice dropping. "I don't know if I'll ever get married, darlin'. There's someone I care about, but marriage and family--- that might never happen for us. So I don't know if you'll have any great-great nieces and nephews running around this sector in a hundred cycles. But if you do--- or if your brothers or sisters live long enough--- I'll tell them about you. I'll let them know to look out for you, if you need it. I wish I could do more."
"And go with your heart no matter what, okay?" He shrugged his shoulders ruefully. "It worked for your mom. She's with the guy she's supposed to be with. I want to be here for both of you. And I might have loved your mom eventually--- but that isn't what's going to happen." His voice got real quiet, his eyes darkening as he stared at me, hard. "Tyno's your dad. I know he'll take care of you, because of how much he loves Katralla."
"That's it." John Crichton sighed, then chuckled. "Maybe that's too much, I don't know, my friends say I talk a lot, and your mom kind of agreed... I just wanted you to know..." He seemed to fumble for words for the first time, then the virtual image reached for my hands, and I let him take them. They felt real, warm and safe around mine. "I love you, darlin'. If I had a choice... I'd name you Leslie. For my mom."
"I love you too," I answered him, my voice choked with tears. The image put his arms around me and drew me into a hug, holding me tight for a very long time. I had a flash of him hugging my image, a hundred years earlier, and my heart seized up with the thought of all we'd missed.
"Take care of yourself." My father pulled away from me slowly, then brushed my hair out of my face. "You're special, 'Lie. Don't let anyone tell you any different, especially not because of me. Not your grandmother, not the other Sebaceans, not anyone. Okay?" I nodded, and he smiled one last time, and took a step back. "Bye, darlin'."
And the hologram dissolved, leaving me to wipe the tears from my face in the empty room.
A long time later, I made my way to my mother's chambers, and entered without knocking. My parents stopped speaking in mid-sentence, studying me anxiously as I came in, and my grandmother's eyes softened when she saw me.
"Well?" my grandmother asked. "What did you think?"
I looked at Tyno, and took his hand. "I think... that he gave me more than I'll ever be able to repay, when he left. And that I'm glad that mother married you, Father." He squeezed my fingers, his face creasing in an affectionate smile, and I turned back to my mother, whose eyes were sad, though her expression remained calm. "You named me for his mother, as he wished?"
She stirred, and her mouth quirked. "You were named for both your grandmothers, Leslie and Novia. It seemed--- appropriate."
"I'm glad of that." Then I looked at my grandmother thoughtfully. "And that no matter what you thought of him, Novia--- he got the last laugh." She raised an eyebrow at me, surprised at my tone, but I ignored it. "I was conceived because of him. I'm alive now, because of him. And I *am* his daughter. I finally appreciate what that means." I smiled wickedly, and watched Grandmother's eyes narrow. "Just think what I might be capable of, when I ascend the throne..."
"Gods help us," she muttered grimly. I laughed and hugged my parents, then skipped out into the corridor.
I had a call to place to Central Comms. There was a Leviathan named Moya out there, somewhere. And if they ever came back, I wanted to be ready to welcome them. As my father would have wished.