unwilling cooperation become active collaboration? Crichton did
not know. He could not remember making a conscious decision, yet
at some point he had crossed the line.
Had it been
the first time he had answered Scorpius's questions about his
research? The moment when he had agreed to look at the technical
data? Or had it been even before, from the first instant he had
accepted Scorpius's ultimatum, and surrendered himself?
It did not
really matter. He had chosen this path, and he would continue
to follow it. He had thrown himself into the research, finding
in the unwavering pursuit of knowledge the focus he needed to
preserve his sanity, and his sense of self.
had been right about one thing. Until Crichton unlocked the riddle
of wormhole travel, he had no hope of returning home. He had to
have faith in himself, and in his own abilities. He could solve
this riddle, if he persevered. And then somehow he would find
an opportunity to free himself, and to make his way home.
had promised that he would release him, once he had no further
use for him. But Crichton knew better than to trust such a promise.
His value would only increase once he had solved the wormhole
equations. Scorpius would not let his prisoner go free, lest he
choose to share his knowledge with others.
And he had
gained more knowledge than perhaps even Scorpius had expected.
It had taken him days, but he had crafted a program that searched
the records of the distant spiral galaxy. Over a thousand stars
had met the parameters he had specified, and he had forced himself
to dispassionately examine each record in turn, as the program
showed approximate distance, directional vectors, and the locations
and classes of the nearest neighboring stars.
hundred and thirty-five had been the solar system. His solar system.
Earth. He finally knew where home was. Now all he had to do was
figure out how to get there.
carrier has arrived in the Hecbal system," Scorpius announced,
as he entered Crichton's quarters. "Is the test plan finished?"
Crichton said absentmindedly, his attention focused on the screen
delay?" They had already agreed to the basics of the experiment
days ago, when they had selected this system for the trials. All
that was missing was for Crichton to supply the final equations
that would determine the vectors used for the test flight.
that held the key to the experiment.
swiveled around in his chair, affecting a deliberately casual
pose. "Because I won't finish it until you agree to let me fly
out of the question," Scorpius answered automatically.
think the answer would be obvious." Was Crichton being purposefully
the problem? The module isn't fast enough to outrun your ships,
and anyway, where could I run to?"
"And if you
are successful in creating a wormhole?"
the point? Say I manage to create a wormhole. Even if the module
does go through it, you'll still have what you want. You'll know
exactly how I did it, and how to recreate the phenomenon. If not,
test is over, you bring me back on board, and nothing has changed."
"Do you think
the test will be successful?" Was this the reason that Crichton
had withheld the final equations? A last chance to bargain, before
he gave Scorpius the answers they both sought?
said, shaking his head. "The simulation models look good, but
I think we're still missing something. That's why I want to be
there firsthand, to see for myself what we've got."
He had thought
this a ploy, the latest attempt by Crichton to win his freedom,
but his truth sense told him Crichton did not expect the test
to succeed. And yet still the human bargained for this opportunity.
that a part of Crichton still needed to believe that he was a
pilot and explorer. He was not yet ready to accept that his life,
indeed everything that made him who he was, was now under Scorpius's
control. It was the same part of Crichton that cherished the illusion
that he might someday break free and return to his homeworld.
could afford to indulge his illusions, for they played right into
his hands. Crichton's foolish hopes fueled his passionate drive
to unlock the secret of wormhole technology, for this was his
only way home.
allow Crichton to fly the test in the module. Let him think that
he had gained a small victory, never realizing that Scorpius had
already defeated him in every way that mattered.
in position," Crichton's voice announced over the communicator.
"Ready to initiate test sequence on your mark."
turned his gaze to the woman who stood by his side at the main
nodded. "Sir, all stations report readiness," Chief Technician
Finivar said. "Sensor platforms are in place, and the observation
craft have taken up their positions."
full tracking telemetry on the module?" Scorpius asked.
And the command overrides have been tested and verified," Chief
Technician Finivar said, anticipating his next question.
looked at the view-screen which was displaying the image of the
Hecbal binary system. On the upper right of the screen was the
primary sun, an epsilon class yellow-orange star. On the lower
left was the second star, an ancient white dwarf.
them, a blinking red dot indicated the position of Crichton's
module near the barycenter, the point around which the two stars
orbited. The plan was to test the wormhole theory by having Crichton
fly a carefully calculated flight path towards this gravitationally
unique point, so he intersected the point at the same time as
the electromagnetic radiation wave.
were indeed an electromagnetic phenomenon, as Crichton theorized,
the test should yield some interesting results. Perhaps not an
actual wormhole, but it would certainly increase their understanding
of the magnetic shear effects associated with solar flares.
had offered up this plan to test his theory, he had pointed out
that uninhabited binary star systems were common, but solar flares
were impossible to predict. Still he reasoned that given enough
time, probability dictated the likelihood of a solar flare event.
had surprised the human by suggesting that there was no need to
wait. A solar flare could be artificially induced, using a nova-class
bomb. Weapons that he had, in fact, already obtained from the
Peacekeeper supply base, anticipating their need.
it had taken but a few days to select a suitable system and design
the test protocols.
had been spent testing the nova-class bombs, calculating the precise
speed and impact vector needed to induce a flare in the primary
sun. After studying yesterday's test results, this morning Crichton
had suggested one minor modification to the trajectory, which
Scorpius had reviewed and approved.
side-effect of this experiment was that Crichton now knew enough
about the design and capabilities of the nova-class bombs to get
them both executed. There was only one penalty for sharing state
secrets, and that was death. But it was an acceptable risk, considering
the end goal which he pursued.
begin," Scorpius said.
technician began the countdown. "The test begins at the mark,
in five, four, three, two, one, execute."
on signal, the weapons drone launched the nova bomb towards the
thirty microts," a technician announced.
kept his eyes on the screen. As the bomb struck, there was a bright
flash, and then the sun began ejecting a stream of bright yellow
matter from the corona, just as it had in the previous tests.
time the ejection did not end in mere microts, instead it continued,
growing in size, as the faint ribbon of matter became a stream.
Crichton said, with remarkable calm. "Houston, we've got a problem."
On the command
carrier, alarms were beginning to sound.
appears to be an uncontrolled eruption," Chief Technician Finivar
"I can see
that," Scorpius snapped. The technical displays confirmed what
his eyes were telling him. This eruption was already two orders
of magnitude larger than in the earlier tests, and it was continuing
abort and return now," Scorpius instructed, feeling rising concern.
How could this have happened?
of you, boss man," came Crichton's flippant reply. "Time to get
the hell out of here before we all get fried."
Scorpius could see that the module was already changing course,
turning on a tight parabolic arc that would bring the module back
to the carrier at maximum velocity.
In the distance,
the sun continued to erupt.
rose from his seat, unable to stay still any longer.
for maximum acceleration out of this system, once the module is
aboard," Scorpius instructed Lieutenant Braca. A solar flare of
this magnitude would destroy the sensor platforms, and might well
damage the scientific instruments on the command carrier. Prudence
Something is happening," Crichton said.
looked back at the viewscreen. There, at the barycenter, was a
faint shimmer of light. Even as he gazed, it coalesced into a
ring shape, and then began to solidify.
believe it. He's done it. He's actually done it," Lieutenant Braca
witnessing the formation of a wormhole.
said. "But apparently it has missed your attention that our prisoner
has changed course and is using this opportunity to try to escape."
Braca swallowed nervously.
return at once," Scorpius commanded.
made no move to comply. Instead he continued on his new course,
turning towards the phenomenon.
something strange---" Crichton began.
pressed the switch which controlled Crichton's collar.
protested, as the sedative was injected into his bloodstream.
our errant scientist," Scorpius said. "Now."
Lieutenant Braca said.
crossed back to the monitoring station. One screen displayed telemetry
from the module, showing that Crichton was even now slipping into
unconsciousness. The other screen displayed the module's course
and speed, which remained constant.
unease deepened. Crichton should not have been able to speak.
And why would he utter the name of his former cellmate, someone
Crichton's own memories told him was dead?
is not responding to our overrides," the navigation officer reported.
"Radiation from the solar flare must be interfering with our signal."
again. Find a way to boost the signal, and get that module back,"
Scorpius ordered. His voice was cool, but there was no mistaking
the technicians and officers worked frantically.
Technician Finivar remained calm. "We've lost all telemetry from
the module, and are unable to contact the prowlers. Sir."
on the screen, the flare continued to grow.
fingers danced on the navigation keypad as he entered the course
change. With his left hand he pushed forward on the throttle,
increasing acceleration. His right hand reached for the toggles
that would turn on the auxiliary boosters. But his hand froze,
as his eyes swept over the instrument panel. The readings were
crazy, in some cases off the charts, and in other cases cycling
Something is happening," Crichton said.
his head and looked out the viewscreen toward the barycenter.
There he saw a faint glowing shimmer where reason told him no
light should be.
back on the throttle and began to turn towards the strange phenomenon.
return at once," Scorpius commanded.
ignored him, intent on the phenomenon. Was that a ring shape?
Indeed it was, and even before his eyes it shifted in hue from
white to yellow to the dazzling blue that marked the portion of
a wormhole that could be perceived by the human eye.
He felt a
sharp prick in his neck.
objected, but it was already too late, as the drug took control
of him. He felt himself falling, falling endlessly into the blackness
that was softer than the star-filled skies.
As he tumbled
down towards oblivion, he heard someone call his name.
not see Stark, but he could feel his presence, in the same way
that you know the unseen hand on your shoulder belongs to an old
friend, even before you turn to look.
came Stark's reply.
Stark. Strange. So this was what it was to be dead. Somehow he
had expected something else. He had always thought that even if
his death seemed instantaneous to observers, that there would
be a moment when he realized he was about to die. An instant for
him to accept the inevitable, before it occurred.
But he had
made the transition without warning. Without realizing the extent
of his danger, until it was too late. He did not even know how
he had died. Or why he felt so strange, so disconnected from everything.
There was no grief, no anger, not even sorrow. Just a passing
thought on how odd it was that his life had come to an end now,
after everything else that he had survived.
And the knowledge
that Scorpius was going to be furious that Crichton had finally
found a way to escape him.
began to drift.
you are not dead," Stark said. "You are still alive."
are you here?"
"I did not
die. The Plokavians destroyed my body, but they could not destroy
my energy form."
form I can speak only the truth," Stark said, and his words carried
the all the kindness that he had shown so long ago when he tried
to ease Crichton's pain during their imprisonment.
for you," Crichton said. "I never meant---"
were interrogated by the Plokavians he had tried to protect Talyn
with his testimony. Despite his weapons Talyn was still very much
a child, in need of protection and guidance. But he had never
meant for Stark to sacrifice himself to save them.
Stark said. "Be at peace with what happened, for I am at peace
now. Far more so than I was in my physical form, when I still
carried the hatred for the Peacekeepers within me."
are we? And how can I be talking to you?"
a moment outside of time," Stark said. "Without a physical connection
I could not reach your conscious mind, so I had to wait until
that moment when your mind was in transition between the physical
world and the dream world."
"I'm in a
real jam. Scorpy's got me, and this time I don't think I can break
free," Crichton confessed.
I know," Stark said. "And I know you feel helpless, but I have
come, with the help of the Ancients, to offer you a choice."
my race, the Ancients also share a dual nature, able to travel
between the physical and the energy planes. I encountered them
soon after I made my transition."
play their games with you, too?" Crichton asked, remembering his
own encounter with the Ancients. The Ancients had used him, making
him believe he had returned to Earth, just so they could use his
mind to test the reactions of humans to alien visitors. It had
been a gut-wrenching experience, made all the worse when he realized
that none of it had been real. Not Earth. Not his Dad. Nothing
except himself and his friends from Moya.
I met was one who knew of you as well. He was intrigued that I
had encountered you, but dismayed to discover that the knowledge
they had gifted you with had made you a target for imprisonment
he had cursed the Ancients for implanting the wormhole equations
in his mind. And yet deep inside him, he knew it had been meant
as a kindness.
"No one expects
the Spanish Inquisition," Crichton said, after a long pause.
He felt Stark's
fault," Crichton elaborated. "If anyone is to blame, it is Scorpius."
have a choice," Stark said. "You can leave this place and return
to your body. Your module will be picked up by the command carrier,
and all will be as before."
behind door number two?"
you saw was the beginning of a wormhole formation. An unstable
wormhole, but one that may endure long enough to let you leave
an instant of impossible hope. "Will it take me home? Back to
"No. It is
too unstable for that. It can only take you a short distance,
but that should be enough to escape Scorpius," Stark answered.
Even as his
hopes crashed, he told himself that he had known that such a thing
was impossible. If Stark had known a way to send John home, he
would have told him at once.
will take you away from here, to another part of this galaxy.
With luck, it may take you to a place where you will find help,"
And if he
was unlucky, it would land him into the vast emptiness of space,
where he would die a slow death as his life-support systems failed.
is yours," Stark said. "I can make no promises. Even the Ancients
were not certain if the wormhole would be stable enough for you
to traverse it, or if it would break up prematurely, destroying
you and your module."
to roll the dice. Let's do it," Crichton said.
no hesitation in his reply. He might never have another chance
to escape Scorpius's control. It was worth any risk.
have given me the navigational vectors you must enter into your
module's guidance system," Stark said.
to be a problem. When we leave here, my body is going to be unconscious,
isn't it?" Crichton asked.
yes. But not if you keep your mind focused on the link with me.
Let me share your thoughts, and we can do this together."
"Will I see
you again?" Crichton asked.
tell what the future holds?"
one thing more he had to say, while he still could. "Stark, whatever
happens, thanks. You've been a good friend, and I'm grateful."
saved my life," Stark said. "I will not forget you, John Crichton."
was made. It was time.
deep within himself, emptying his mind of distractions, banishing
doubts and worries, until he found the calm center as Zhaan had
taught him to do. He held himself suspended in that center for
a moment, until he was joined by the glowing luminescence that
he remembered from his earlier sharing with Stark.
touched his, and then they merged, filling Crichton with an energy
that made him feel vibrantly alive, as if every good part of him
now shone brighter and truer.
he was falling again, into the blackness, his spirit body replaced
by leaden clay. His own will was insufficient, but as he drew
on Stark's power slowly he opened his eyes, and he raised his
right hand. It took both of their combined wills to force his
hand to type in the navigational commands.
execute, and the navigational system blinked green, signifying
it had accepted the course changes. There was a brief moment of
exhausted satisfaction, and then once more he was alone, and falling
into the darkness.
darkness came a familiar voice.
can flee but you can not escape me. A part of you will always
be mine. Always," Scorpius promised.
the darkness devoured him and he knew no more.
of the command carrier continued their frantic efforts, but Scorpius
knew with chilling certainty that it was already too late, as
Crichton's module changed course, and accelerated towards the
wormhole. Impossible. Crichton should have been unconscious. And
yet somehow he had defeated the collar and the drugs. Somehow,
he was still flying that craft, aiming it directly into the wormhole.
As the module
approached, the proto-wormhole began to collapse in on itself,
torn apart by the very gravitational forces that had created it.
said. The wormhole was unstable. Surely Crichton could see that.
Entering the wormhole meant almost certain death.
was what Crichton intended, for he showed no hesitation in his
flight path. Scorpius clenched his fists in impotent rage as the
module entered the wormhole and disappeared.
the first of the prowler escorts followed Crichton into the wormhole.
There was a brilliant flash of light, and then the wormhole collapsed
a moment of absolute silence on the command carrier, as the crew
held their collective breaths, waiting to see how Scorpius would
react to the loss of his prize.
wave will reach this ship in five hundred microts," Chief Technician
carrier out of this system, to deka point five range," Scorpius
ordered. The powerful electromagnetic radiation wave could well
destroy the carrier's instruments, and all of the data that they
had just recorded. And he could not take that risk.
Not when that data was all that he had left of the experiment.
As the Hecbal
system vanished in the distance, Scorpius turned to Lieutenant
Braca. "We will return to the system once the flare event has
subsided, to conduct further analysis. In the meantime, you will
send a message to all Peacekeeper bases and commands. Instruct
them to scan for the module's tracking device, and to notify me
at once if they receive the signal, or a communication from the
you can not believe Crichton survived?" Lieutenant Braca asked.
"We all saw the wormhole's implosion."
you would have learned by now not to underestimate Commander Crichton,"
Scorpius replied, his voice soft with menace. He had been merciful
once before, when Braca had underestimated Crichton's will to
survive, and had let the human escape from his grasp. The lieutenant
should know better than to expect a second reprieve.
Braca nodded jerkily. "Of course, sir. I will send the message
returned to his seat, idly drumming his fingers on the arm rest.
was not Lieutenant Braca's alone. Scorpius, too, had underestimated
Crichton. Or, rather, he had not realized how true Crichton remained
to his original character. A scientist, yes, but also an explorer.
Crichton had said it himself. He was an astronaut, accustomed
to taking incredible risks in the pursuit of knowledge. Even before
the wormhole had appeared, Crichton had chosen to stay and observe
the phenomenon, despite the evident danger.
He did not
know how Crichton had managed to defeat the collar, and remain
conscious so he could continue to fly the module. Nor did he know
if this was a carefully planned scheme, or simply Crichton taking
advantage of the opportunity that he had been presented with.
In the end,
Crichton had chosen to trust in his luck. And he would need luck,
for the module had life support for only a few days. Even if Crichton
successfully traversed the wormhole and managed to escape the
pursuing prowler, he would have to exit near a starship or planetary
system, or he would not live to enjoy his escape.
with a certainty that went beyond logic, Scorpius knew that Crichton
was alive, and that he would survive. Somehow. Scorpius had faith
in his prisoner's ingenuity, and in the luck that had sustained
him so far. Crichton may have escaped his control, but it was
a temporary setback. The wormhole was too unstable to have carried
the human far from this region. Eventually he would be recaptured.
would show Crichton that he was indeed nothing more than Scorpius's
possession, and that there would be no escape for the human. Ever.