Major spoilers for "A Human Reaction."
"Frank Kokonis! I dated your sister!" Crichton yelled and bolted away from her across the square.
Aeryn closed her eyes. Alone. He's leaving me alone. She couldn't think, couldn't breathe.
"Miss?" The old man tugged on her arm. "Miss, you okay?" His voice was filled with quiet concern.
She opened her eyes and nodded as her survival training took over where her brain was dizzy with confusion and terror. The human had already heard her speak but in the excitement he might not have noticed the language. She hoped.
"Come here, sit down," he led her over to a bench. "I'll just go and call the police. You sure you're okay?"
Police. That was one thing that couldn't happen, not if she was to live. Aeryn glanced around at the public square. She couldn't stay out in the open like this either. Aeryn shook her head vehemently.
"I know, I know...I was scared too when he pulled that gun on you." The old man patted her hand reassuringly. "I'll call the police for you--it'll just be a minute."
Aeryn glanced around the square again. No one was looking. Even Frank Kokonis was still watching Crichton's distant retreating back, his mouth open. She clenched her fist and slammed it up into the old man's chin, efficiently knocking him out. She should kill him--he could describe her, and surely would--but he'd been kind. Kind, because he'd believed her to be human; kind, like Crichton had been kind.
Her lips tightened as terror began to overwhelm her.
She blocked out his name, kicked off her horrible Earth shoes and dragged the old man's body behind his stand. Aeryn knelt down and rifled through his pockets, looking for anything that might help her. She pulled out a leather carrycase of some kind and rifled through it. Not much she could use, here--some plastic cards that reminded her of the ones Cobb had carried. Those she kept. Lots of rectangular green pieces of paper....not having any idea what those were, she tossed them aside. They fluttered in the breeze and began to blow away. Pictures. Odd pieces of metal on a plastic ring. She tossed them aside, too.
Nothing. Nothing except the cards, and those were for an old man, not a young woman. No help for it. She tucked the cards into the bodice of her dress and stood up. Still, no one looking. Aeryn stepped back into her shoes and began the endless walk away from the square. Her body trembled with the urgency to run, run like Crichton had run, but that would surely draw attention to her. She had to trust Crichton that these strange clothes helped her blend in with other Earth women.
Why? He'd started shouting, then he'd drawn his gun on her. Then he'd left.
Aeryn almost bolted then, but stopped instead, dead in the square. She clenched her fists, fighting her own panic. Run, and she was dead.
I'm dead anyway. The thought rose implacably to the surface of her mind. Aeryn began to walk again, forcing rigid control.
She crossed the square and entered the maze of streets and buildings. She walked for what felt like forever, jumping at every movement, every shadow. Human people passed her, crowds of humans, hordes of them. They took no notice of her. Everyone--the young mother with her baby, the two children playing on the streetcorner, the old men sitting on the bench--all ignored her. They were so much like her, and so different. If they knew what she was...maybe they did know what she was. Maybe they were waiting for her on every corner, in every alley, toying with her. She was alone on a planet full of billions of humans, and every single one of them was an enemy.
The panic surged up and she lost it.
She darted into a building and skidded to a halt on the slick floors inside. The lighting was harsh, metallic. One of the humans approached her, eyes questioning. A man in a uniform, but not one she recognized. She swung out at him, and darted left into another hallway, hearing distant shouts behind her.
Someone stepped out of another room. Aeryn slammed into him, taking him out, and kept running. Her shoes came off and she left them strewn behind her. Somewhere there had to be a place with no human people. Somewhere. Another hallway, another, and another, completely lost now, hearing more humans in pursuit. Bounding down a staircase three steps at a time. Into an alcove. Out a heavy metal door. Outside again. Aeryn couldn't slow her forward momentum and slammed into a stone wall right in front of her.
Her fingers curled on the rough stone and she stood there, gasping for air, her face pressed into cold stone.
A hand brushed her shoulder. "Aeryn Sun?"
Aeryn blinked slowly, turning herself around so her back was to the wall. She still couldn't breathe. She readied herself to fight.
The metal door banged open and three humans piled out, two males and one female. The man in front of her turned to them, placing himself between her and them. Aeryn focussed on a blue-clad back and white hair. "It's okay," the man said to the others, "I'll take it from here."
The three nodded and left.
Aeryn struggled to contain her panic. "John's father."
He nodded, smiling compassionately down at her. "Are you all right? Where's John?" His hand squeezed her shoulder comfortingly.
John. She closed her eyes. "He...he left. He said that he knew everything, that there was nothing new here. Then he ran."
John's father frowned. "He's quicker than we thought."
"What?" She looked up at him, startled.
"Nothing. I...wish I could understand what you're saying. Come on, Aeryn Sun, let's get you somewhere safe and then we'll figure things out." With his arm still around her shoulder, he turned and drew her slowly out into the street. Aeryn pulled back a little, but he shushed her comfortingly. "I'll take care of you, and we'll find John. I promise."
Take care of her? He could be part of the military. Why fight when they could lead her like a lamb to the slaughter? She pushed him away and stood straight. Aeryn met his gaze, determined. "Are you with them? Or with me?" The same question she'd asked Crichton so many many arns ago.
He shook his head, still clearly not understanding her. "I won't turn you in to the military, Aeryn Sun, or imprison you. I give you my word."
She couldn't bring herself to trust him, but she couldn't see that she had any other options. She nodded tersely and followed him out onto the street, keeping her eyes open for anything suspicious.
John's dad stepped out into the street and signalled a yellow vehicle, which pulled over to the curb next to them. He said something to the driver, then got inside and slid across the seat, motioning for Aeryn to follow.
She did so warily. He reached across her and shut the door. "This is a cab," he said softly, "I'll pay this man and he'll drive us to a hotel."
"Hotel?" She repeated the unfamiliar word.
"A safe place where we can stay."
She nodded and turned away to look out the window. The cab spun smartly away from the curb and forced its way into traffic. Aeryn held tightly to the doorhandle, hunched over as far away from both of them as she could get.
"Is she all right?" The driver's rough voice startled her.
John's father nodded. "She's fine. She's just not feeling well."
The driver met her eyes in the mirror. She turned away from him and pressed her face into the glass. So this was Earth, she thought. Crowded. Sunny, today. The sun and shadows drew slow patterns over her face and hands as the cab moved rapidly through the streets toward their destination. She liked the rain too, the way it ran into her hair and down her face, the way it tasted.
Aeryn pressed her lips together, refusing the thought. She'd given up on "if only's" a long time ago. There was only now, this moment, and staying free and alive. Those were the only things that mattered.
The vehicle drove into a semi-circular road in front of a large building. "We're here," the driver announced, startling Aeryn from her reverie.
John's father got out of the vehicle and came around to Aeryn's side, opening it for her. She stepped out onto the pavement, feeling sharp gravel bite painfully into her heels. He saw her wince and glanced down. "We'll be off this road shortly, I promise," he smiled, "and I'll get you some shoes if I can."
He reached through the window of the vehicle and handed the driver some of those green rectangular pieces of paper.
"What were those?" She asked curiously as the driver sped off.
Aeryn remembered the money she'd tossed away in the square and almost laughed. Despite all those endless hours listening to Crichton drone on about Earth, she really didn't know anything about this world.
His father though--his father was exactly like he'd described. She looked at him and saw John in his eyes--the ingenuous look, the way he wore his heart on his sleeve, his slow way of talking and the way he always tried to take care of her even when she didn't want his help.
She smiled tremulously at his back as he led her into the lobby of the building. They walked over to a large desk where several humans were busy at various tasks. They were all dressed in the same colors, like some kind of uniform, but they didn't look military at all. One was a very old woman, and two were very young men, and one man was middle aged, dumpy and balding. That one squinted a lot.
"May I help you?" The squinty-eyed one asked John's father.
"Yes, I'd like a room for the night." He glanced back at Aeryn. "The best room you've got."
"That would be our presidential suite, sir."
"Double beds?" "Two bedrooms, sir, one for you and one for your daughter." The man nodded at Aeryn.
John's father cleared his throat. "That's fine." He wrote something on a piece of paper for the squinty-eyed man and handed over more of that money. The man handed him two plastic cards in exchange.
"Do you have any bags you'd like taken up?"
"No. May we go on up?"
"Yes, sir, whenever you'd like." The squinty-eyed man smiled at Aeryn, who was trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.
John's father put his arm around Aeryn's shoulders and led her through the hotel lobby. Aeryn gawked openly...the large crystal lamp hanging over the main room, the people, the rich red patterned carpets...all of it was new to her, and fascinating. She mentally contrasted the riot of colors with the sombre black, tan and red of her home on the Peacekeeper Command carrier, or even Moya's tan and gold interior.
The red carpet was fuzzy and soft. She paused to dig her toes deep into the texture, smiling in delight at the softness. John's father led her into a small room. The door shut behind him and the room vibrated slightly. Aeryn jumped.
"It's an elevator," he said soothingly, "it takes us up to our room."
She nodded and pretended it hadn't bothered her. The panic was still there, floating just beneath the surface. She couldn't--she wouldn't--give in. She promised herself.
The vibration stopped with a gentle thump and the door slid open. She stepped out into the hallway and followed John's father's tall back down a few corridors to their room. He pushed the plastic card into the slot and then turned the door handle. He preceded her inside, tossing the key on a desk.
Aeryn gaped openly at the room. Large floor-to-ceiling windows covered one entire wall. The main room was sunken a step or two below the entrance hall. The furniture was filled with a long, plush couch, a large black box, and a plush chair the same color as the couch. She ran her hand lightly over the couch fabric, delighting in the feel.
She then wandered over to the window and stared out. Her hand lifted and pushed against the glass. Sea birds called and drifted on the air. From up here, she could see the whole city spread out before her and the pure blue ocean beyond. Aeryn smiled, entranced with the view. So this is Earth. John, it is beautiful.
Her eyes closed against the sudden rush of tears. Beautiful and deadly.
"Are you hungry?" his soft voice asked her.
She nodded. Aeryn wasn't hungry, but it was better to eat now while she could. Anything could happen in the next few arns, and she had to be prepared.
"I'll order room service for you."
He shook his head, seeming to understand the gist of her question. "They'll bring food up for us. You're probably not too familiar with Earth cuisine yet... trust me to order for you?"
"Cheeseburger and fries sound good?"
Aeryn shrugged, face still plastered against the window. "Beer."
John's father smiled. "John's had time to show you a few things. Do you want to go out on the balcony?" He walked over to her. She watched in fascination as he pressed a few levers on the glass window and slid it back. She stepped out slowly onto the little cement platform outside the window. It was blocked in by waist high iron bars. There was a chair outside too.
Aeryn stepped over to the bars and peered straight down, then jumped back. That elevator had taken them very high up. She gazed down at the tiny little people far below, then back out at the horizon and the city. Wind played with her long hair.
John's father was saying something inside the room. She turned and saw him speaking into a beige device. That must be a communicator of some sort. She tensed. Was he calling the military?
He smiled reassuringly at her and rested the device back on its holder. "Food should be up shortly," he said.
He walked over to her and rested his hands on the iron bars of the balcony. "Aeryn Sun..." he hesitated.
"Aeryn," she said, "just Aeryn."
He blinked slowly, then smiled. "You can call me Jack." He hesitated again. "Aeryn...we'll find John, I promise. He'll be fine."
"He left me." She whispered. "He must have had a good reason. He's never--" She blinked back tears. "He's never let me down before. Ever."
"John is a good man."
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. The betrayal had cut her deeper than she could ever express to anyone, and the concern for him cut her too.
They stood in silence for a moment, watching the birds drift through the currents of wind.
Someone knocked on the door.
Aeryn spun around, crouching low and ready for action. Jack rested a hand briefly on her shoulder and walked to the door. She tensed, despairing at her lack of weapon.
"Who is it?" Jack called.
"Room service, sir." A young male voice spoke.
Aeryn growled low in her throat, deepening her crouch. They'd never take her without a fight.
Jack opened the door and spoke briefly with whoever was outside.
"If you'll step aside sir," the voice said, "I'll bring the tray into the room."
Jack glanced at Aeryn and shook his head. "No, son, I'll take it in myself, but thank you." More of the green paper exchanged hands and Jack brought the wheeled cart into the room and shut the door behind him.
Aeryn sidled over to the door and bolted it like she'd seen him do earlier. Then she sniffed. "Smells good," she said. Her stomach rumbled. "I'm hungrier than I thought."
Jack lifted the silver cover off the tray and showed her the food. "You'll eat on the balcony." It was both question and statement.
Aeryn reached for the tall brown bottle next to the tray. Beer! She twisted the cap off on her forearm like Crichton'd taught her and lifted the bottle. "Down the hatch!"
Jack laughed. "He *has* been teaching you a few things."
She noticed the knife and fork next to the tray and grabbed the knife, testing its sharpness on her finger and wincing when it drew blood. Not nearly sharp enough, and she'd give her left arm for a pulse rifle, but she'd make do with everything she could get. Aeryn tucked the knife under her arm and grabbed for the tray of food.
Jack followed her out to the balcony. Aeryn lowered herself to the ground and placed the tray beside her. The knife she rested on her lap, in easy reach should she need it. Peacekeeper training told her that she was cornered up here, in this room, on this terrace, but for the moment she didn't care. She needed to be close to the sky and wind and sun.
She bit into the cheeseburger then gasped, startled.
"Hot," she muttered, sucking air in through her teeth. She took another swig of beer to ease the pain.
"Aeryn," Jack hesitated, "I'm going to go look for John. You stay here. All right?"
She watched him somberly, then nodded.
His fingers brushed her cheek like John's always did when he wanted to comfort her. "You'll be all right, Aeryn Sun, I promise. No one will harm you."
She met his gaze. Aeryn believed that he meant what he said. But John had meant what he said when he promised her she'd fit in here on Earth.
He rose from his crouch and was gone. She watched the door shut behind him with a click. And then, finally, she was alone. Aeryn shoved the tray of food away from her, suddenly not hungry anymore.
She crawled over to the balcony chair and sat down, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. Then, finally, she let go of all the terror and allowed herself to cry. She sobbed for what felt like arns, ashamed of herself but unable to stop.
Finally, her tears done, she drifted into sleep, one hand trailing over the arm of the chair as if she were reaching for something.
The door to the room opened with a soft click but Aeryn, still sleeping, was oblivious. Three figures entered the room and stepped softly down into the sunken living room.
"He said she'd be here." D'Argo growled. "It could be a trap."
"Yotz to this," Rygel announced, "I'll wait outside where its safe." He turned his hoverchair around and exited the room.
"She's here. He...I trust him." John looked away from the Luxan's penetrating gaze. "They didn't harm any of us." He paused, forcing himself to add, "Physically."
"You check that room," D'Argo pointed left, "I'll check this one."
"No..." John shook his head, "Look, the door to the balcony's open. I bet she's there." The two started for the balcony but John reached out and pressed his hand on D'Argo's chest, stopping him. "Uh, can you let me handle this one, big guy?"
John stepped slowly out onto the balcony, blinking against the harsh afternoon sunlight. The remains of a cold cheeseburger and fries lay discarded on a silver tray, next to a half-empty bottle of beer. He let his gaze drift over to her.
She was asleep in the lounge chair, feet curled up under her like a child's, her cheek resting on her outstretched arm. His breath caught in her throat.
Slowly, cautiously, he eased himself down next to her. "Aeryn," he said, "hey, Aeryn, wake up." His hand brushed her cheek. "Aeryn?"
She came awake with a start, hand clutching at the knife on her lap.
"Hey, hey...it's just me."
John watched the swirl and flicker of emotion riot across her delicate face and then her eyes darkened as she shut him out.
"Yeah, Aeryn, its me. You okay?"
She was silent for a moment. "Fine." She said then, softly. "You?"
He knew that that was the only way she'd ever ask him to tell her what had happened, and why. But he couldn't answer her, not yet, with the pain of finding out this was not Earth still cutting him so deep. "Fine." he said brusquely. "You ready to go?"
Aeryn stared up at him in astonishment. "Go where?"
He sighed, his eyes closing. "It... this isn't Earth, Aeryn. And Rygel's not dead, and D'Argo's waiting impatiently for us back in the room."
Aeryn spun in her chair and peered back into the living room, a grin of astonished delight leaping to her face when she saw D'Argo pacing there. The grin faded as quickly as it came when she turned back to John.
He pressed his face against her hand, not wanting to speak. "Aliens created this from my memory. It was a test to see if they would fit in on Earth. That's why I freaked out--I realized that I recognized everyone and everything. I figured out it was some kind of hoax."
She was silent for a moment. Then-- "That's what you thought when you ran. That I was a hoax too."
He sighed. "Yes."
Aeryn bit her lip. "The sunlight, and the rain, and the birds?"
"Hoax...hoax...hoax." His fingers gripped hers. "God, Aeryn, I can't believe it...it's so real."
"Is your father...this father that I met...like your real father?"
"Mmmm-hmmm," he said, agreeing. "Until I ripped off his chest and saw that he was some kind of alien."
Aeryn blinked. "I'm sorry, John."
"You're sorry? For what?" He looked up at her, resting his chin on her hand.
"I know what its like to lose a home." She thought of her panic in the streets at the millions of alien faces. "To be alone among people who... who aren't your own kind in a place you don't understand."
He kissed her fingertips. "I left you."
He heard the acceptance and forgiveness in her voice with a kind of wonder. "Aeryn--"
He rose from his position on the ground and leaned toward her. He hesitated for a moment, not sure if she was going to refuse. If she did, he wouldn't blame her. John pulled her close and kissed her softly.
"Crichton! Aeryn! Can we get out of here?" D'Argo growled from inside the room.
John pulled back and smiled at her. "Guess it's time to go."
"Yeah." Aeryn rose awkwardly to her feet and stepped over to the balcony. She leaned on the railing and peered out at the horizon. "I will miss this."
"That--" she gestured, including all of the horizon, "but most of all the rain, I think. And your father."
He folded her hand in his larger one and they left together.
The balcony door remained open, blowing in the breeze, for a few arns after they'd left. Then it seemed to grow hazy, indistinct, and finally disappear.
The alien who'd masqueraded as John's father turned away. They would continue their search for a home. Someday, he hoped they would find one. He hoped John did too, and Aeryn, and all the crew of Moya. He stood for a moment longer to watch it fade, sun and wind and sky fading into the memory from which it came.