|John Crichton Was Here|
by LeatherGirl, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
About John Crichton Was Here
Disclaimer: I do not own Farscape or anything associated with Farscape.
Rating: R for sexual content and language
NOTE: This is a portion of the “Pathways” Project. My job was to write the life story of John Crichton. I hope I have done justice. Also, I am establishing that John was born in 1966 just to make things easier for the time line that this story follows. I’m also going to say that a few things may contradict what has been said on the show…if so, I am sorry for that. I couldn’t catch everything!
Thanks to PKBarb for beta reading my story!! And also thanks to Aeryn Q for creating this project!
“And see that cloudy band across the sky?” Jack Crichton pointed out to his son. The middle-aged man knelt before his five-year-old son and pointed high into the heavenly star-studded night sky. The little blonde boy nodded, his mouth hung open in slight awe and fascination. He stared on at the stars, gazing as his father spoke of ancient mythologies.
“Yeah.” John spoke in a barely audible whisper.
“That’s the Milky Way.” Jack Crichton stated, glancing at his son’s perfect face, looking for a reaction. He got the one he expected. John smiled, his blue eyes twinkling brighter than the stars above. Father and son remained silent for several moments, observing the beauty of a North Carolina evening.
“Where’s the North Star, Daddy?” John asked, his sentences just now beginning to sound more complex and grown-up.
Jack looked up to the sky, placed his arms on his son’s shoulders, and shifted him to look towards the northern hemisphere of the sky.
“Well, let’s see. There’s Minor Canus, see?”
John nodded, eager to learn more.
“Right there. At the tip…”
“Jack, it’s two hours past John’s bed time! You better get him to bed or he’ll be one cranky Crichton in the morning!” Mrs. Crichton called from the screened porch behind them. Jack squeezed John’s shoulders and glanced back towards the small house and smiled.
“We’re on our way, dear.” Jack groaned. John looked to his father in the darkened night, and saw him wink an eye. He giggled softly. He sensed he wasn’t supposed to be doing what he was doing, but he loved it all just the same. The stars always seemed to captivate his father on clear, brisk evenings. And they now captivated John as well.
“I wanna know more!” John urged his father. Jack let out a tired laugh and lowered his head.
“Well son, I think we’ve had quite a lesson for the evening. Let’s tune in tomorrow night, for the chronicles of Crichton and Crichton. I think we’ll even get a sneak peak at the Pleiades Meteor Shower.” Jack announced with a deep, booming voice. He wriggled his fingers over John’s sides, instantly causing the child to cave in towards him, giggling and squirming to get away. John laughed giddily as his father scooped him up in his arms, twirled him around, and hoisted him up onto his shoulders. John laughed and reached towards the heavens above, wishing that he would someday, follow in his father’s footsteps.
Hundreds of colorful Legos piled into a corner on the living room floor were temporarily forgotten. Full glasses of lemonade stood on a nearby coffee table, beading in the humid heat of July. A jet somewhere high above droned into the still atmosphere.
Leslie Crichton and her relatives leaned forward towards the family television with eagerness and hidden fear. Both she and her sister sat on the edge of a sticky vinyl couch. Grandma McDougall sat on the other side of the very pregnant Leslie, holding her hand tightly. Grandpa Crichton sat on the wooden rocking chair nearby, the wood screeching as he leaned forward, with a glint of pride in his eye. DK stood nearby, fiddling with a thruster on his homemade Lego version of a miniature space shuttle. John stood in front of a small television set, the colors on the screen dull and flickering. He turned the volume up on the side of the TV, not even having to be asked to. He knew what was going on. Daddy was going to the moon.
“Astronauts Trent McDonald, John Ulrich, and Jack Crichton have reached their final destination around three-thirty this afternoon aboard the Independence Module. A broadcast will be coming shortly from Canaveral to show us the three Americans walking on the moon, playing golf, and observing the American Flag planted there six years earlier by famous astronaut Neil Armstrong. This is the second such mission to the moon where three astronauts will venture onto the surface to collect data for further research on Earth.” A news anchor reported with a dramatic voice on the television set. John barely paid attention to the words or the worry on his mother’s face behind him. He was impatiently waiting to see his father on the TV screen.
DK finally looked up to watch as well, temporarily forgetting his own shuttle when he saw a real one shooting into the atmosphere on the TV screen. The footage of the flight earlier that week had been replayed so many times that both he and John had memorized everything that had been said or shown in the footage. They both mouthed the words as a voice announced the lift off of the latest mission to the moon.
The footage was suddenly interrupted and on came a very alien world that viewed cold and still. An American flag stood stiff and tall amongst the grayish landscape; two astronauts stood nearby at attention, saluting their flag. John and DK followed suit, saluting the television set. They then realized that one of the astronauts was John’s father. DK screeched, jumping up and down and pointing with excitement. John stood in awe, his entire body tingling with excitement. He viewed his father slowly move with ease towards the camera. He waited patiently. His father moved closer, so close one could view the entire Independence Module within the black globe of the helmet masking his face. The only way for John to truly know it was his father was the simple nametag stitched onto his suit. IASA Jack Crichton, Independence. John continued to wait.
Finally, John saw what he was waiting for. His father saluted the camera, then turned to his co-astronaut, who handed him a two iron. Jack slowly placed a small orange golf ball, with the IASA logo and the three astronaut’s signatures scribbled onto it, onto a small rise in the moon’s surface beside his feet. Jack took a few practice swings to get used to the low-gravity. He then looked to the camera and nodded. John smiled as well as his Grandpa behind him. Jack then took a huge swing, forcing as much weight into the swing as he possibly could. The golf ball was struck with small force, flying high into the blackness above the astronauts and disappearing forever into the moonscape before them. Jack and his co-astronaut gave each other a quick high-five and then the television transmission was ended. The news anchor reappeared and began to recap the day’s events.
John’s family leaned back with relief, releasing small laughs and sighs. They patted each other reassuringly. All was well. Jack had realized his dream and had now become one of the fortunate few who had ever taken step on another heavenly body. DK and John jumped around the living room, screeching and replaying the event in their minds. Aunt Rue turned off the television and she helped Leslie up from the couch. John’s grandparents stood up as well and all of the adults headed into the kitchen for iced tea.
“Space Chase!” DK cried, tapping John on the shoulder and running out of the room towards the back yard of John’s house. John scowled and quickly ran after his friend. DK had always been his best friend and John could barely remember the first time they had met. This was because both he and DK had been infants at the time.
“DK, come back here!” John demanded, running through the opened back patio door. He entered into the small backyard, which was fenced in by six-foot aged wood planks on all sides. The yard was barely as big as the small yellow house John had lived in since he was born. He glanced around at the prickly rose bushes edging the house to his left and right. DK would have to be insane to be hiding in those. John continued to glance around. There was the tire sandbox and the two relatively new Tonka Trucks resting in muddy sand puddles. No DK. There was the weedy vegetable garden beyond the rusty old trellis. But since his mom had become more pregnant with the twins, she had abandoned the garden all together. No DK. There was the tall willow tree just beyond the sandbox. John’s dad had been building a tree house in there but IASA missions often got in the way. John narrowed his eyes. The wispy green-leaved branches: a perfect screen to hide behind. John crept closer to the willow.
DK had crawled pretty far up into the mangled branches of the willow tree. John could already see his red sneakers as he broke through the screen of branches. He wanted the element of surprise but found DK had already been watching him from the moment he stepped foot into the yard. DK laughed at the top of his lungs. He revealed a small stick of lumber with a large ball of crumpled aluminum foil wrapped around the end of it.
“Kapow!” DK cried.
John instantly grabbed his chest and stumbled backwards a few feet. He began to gasp for air. He stared at DK with bewildered eyes and proceeded to fall to the ground, his feet bouncing up into the air before resting back onto the ground with the rest of his body. He lay still, posed in the most dead-looking position he could recall from the comic books and cartoons.
DK crawled down from the willow, clinging onto his homemade version of a gun. He briskly walked over to John and rose up his weapon once more.
“Do you surrender?” DK asked seriously, one eye closed for “better focus”. John let one eye open and looked to DK seriously for a moment. He then opened them both and jumped up to be in his friend’s face.
“I was dead, already, what more could you want from me? Bugs to start crawling out of my eyes and ears? My guts to pour out with alien creatures inside? Come on, DK. I was dead!” John said.
“Hey, aliens don’t die easy, remember?” DK pointed out. “Issue 22 shows that one clearly, remember?”
John shook his head.
“DK, you read those things way too much. Come on, let’s…” John began but was suddenly interrupted.
“JOHN! DK! Get in the house now!” Aunt Rue’s frantic voice called out. A moment later, John’s grandmother called out as well.
“Your mom’s going to have her baby…come on, boys!”
John and DK instantly looked to each other with excitement, then fear.
“She’s not due until…” DK began.
“Three weeks!” John finished. The boys widened their eyes at each other and then raced into the chaotic household.
John could not sleep. His head was resting on his grandma’s bony shoulder. A clock on the wall nearby seemed to be ticking very loudly. He looked to his grandpa, seated across from them in the hospital waiting room. He was fast asleep…snoring strangely. Aunt Rue was in with his mother, helping her through the difficult labor. DK had gone home, his parents not wanting him to stay at the hospital too late.
“I suppose I could try reaching IASA again.” Grandma McDougall replied tiredly, picking John up and placing him in the hard chair beside her. She smiled at him as he looked up to her worried face, rubbing his eyes in exhaustion. “Dear, you should really try to get some sleep. You’re up way past your bedtime.”
“Gamma…I wanna stay up. Momma needs me.” John said in a small, whiney voice.
“I’m sorry John, you can’t see your mother right now, all right? Just promise me you’ll try to get some sleep.” Grandma McDougall forced a smile to comfort him.
“No!” John argued, growing crankier by the minute. Grandma McDougall was obviously strained as it was. Her shoulders lowered and John could truly sense that something wasn’t right. John’s mother had carried almost to term once before, losing a fetus, a female, just a couple years earlier. John knew there was concern this time…not only was his mother pregnant with twins, she was too early to deliver…or at least that’s what the doctor had said earlier that evening.
Grandma McDougall faced John and tightened her lips for a moment. John could see she was trying not to cry. She didn’t want to frighten him. He was too young to understand…the adults always assumed this.
“We just have to…have to wait for the wheel, dear.” Grandma McDougall stated with exhaustion and then repeated herself. “Wait for the wheel.”
John frowned at her but didn’t bother to ask her what she meant. He wouldn’t know for quite some time, as she would often say it in the future. Grandma McDougall then stood up, stretched and slowly headed out of the waiting room to find a public phone. John glanced over to his Grandpa who was still fast asleep and still snoring. He then looked to the clock. His gaze then fell onto the small end stand on the other side of Grandma’s chair. A small table lamp illuminated several magazines sprawled across the surface. John leaned over to take a closer look.
A Hunters Magazine, Life, Good HouseKeeping, Reader’s Digest, TIME, Ranger Rick. John took another glance at the TIME magazine. He hopped over to the chair beside the end stand and took the magazine from the pile. His eyes brightened at the sight of the cover. Three astronauts posed in their IASA flight suits. Their helmets were held in their right arms. The three men were smiling proudly. John ran a finger across the face of the man on the left. His father. Why did he have to see his father more often than not on television and in magazines than in real life? John read the words sprawled across the bottom of the magazine cover. “One small step…leads to one giant mission”. John could never really understand what they meant by it. And he didn’t really care. He threw the magazine down onto the floor in front of him and growled at it. His grandpa instantly awoke with a start.
“Huh? What? I said no sugar!” Grandpa Crichton exclaimed in surprise. Both his hands were grasped to the sides of the armchair he was seated on. His gaze focused onto John, then to the mangled magazine on the floor between them. John frowned at his grandpa and crossed his arms.
Grandpa leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and looked at John. He then scooped up the TIME magazine and unwrinkled the mangled cover. He gazed at it with a hint of pride in his eyes then looked to John with a knowing expression. He placed the TIME magazine onto the end stand near John and resumed his position.
“Your dad loves you and your mother very much. But you’ve got to understand, Junior. He’s realizing his dream. He’s on the moon, for Christ’s Sake. He was going to stay home, take care of your mother…but not only would I have given him a swift kick in the, well you know…your mother would have as well. Please understand this Junior. A man has his family…and he has his dream. Sometimes the priorities get a little mixed up…ah, what am I saying? You’re an eight year old.” Grandpa Crichton stated and then stopped himself. Once again, John was being underestimated.
“I’m EIGHT and A HALF years old and I DO know what you’re saying.” John snared back. “Daddy likes being in outer space more than he likes being with me or mommy.”
Grandpa Crichton looked shocked by this statement and his soft, caring expression turned cold. John felt a note of fear strike his body. His face drained of color.
“Your father cares so much for you he’d die for you, your mother, and those twins inside of her! He loves you all. Don’t you ever forget that, John. Ever!” Grandpa said, pointing a crooked finger at the child.
John wanted to cry. He wanted to scream. He wanted his mother to be okay. He wanted his father to be there. He looked to his Grandpa, his chin trembling.
“I…I’m sorry, grandpa.” John stated in a small trembling voice. Grandpa Crichton’s expression instantly became soft again and he realized John’s turmoil. He stood up and took a seat beside the boy and wrapped a strong, warm arm around his shoulders and drew him in for a hug. John finally began to sob. Grandpa Crichton swayed back and forth, comforting his grandson. Grandma McDougall entered back into the waiting room and paused. She smiled at Grandpa Crichton and sat down across from them. She leaned forward and patted John on his back as he quieted down. He had his face buried into his grandfather’s shoulder and did not bother to look at her.
“He’ll be all right.” Grandpa Crichton stated. Grandma McDougall smiled. A nurse came towards them, her face bright with a smile. Grandma McDougall stood as Grandpa Crichton nudged John to pay attention. They all looked to the nurse expectantly.
“Is she…” Grandma McDougall feared to finish her question. The nurse smiled to her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Mrs. Crichton just delivered two beautiful healthy girls. You can go see her now if you’d like.” The nurse stated cheerfully.
“They’re okay? She’s okay?” Grandpa Crichton asked hurriedly.
“They’re all fine.”
“You hear that, Junior? Everyone’s going to be okay!” Grandpa Crichton squeezed John with a hug. John smiled through his tears and jumped onto the floor.
“Let’s go!” John grabbed both his grandparents’ hands and tugged them forward. The nurse then turned and led the group down a hallway, towards the maternity ward.
After passing through several pale green hallways, the group finally arrived at Leslie Crichton’s room. The large heavy door opened slowly, revealing the room within. Leslie was resting in her hospital bed. John ran instantly to his mother’s side to see the newborns. One baby was wrapped in a soft pink blanket, sleeping in Leslie’s arms. The other was fast asleep in a baby cart nearby. Grandma McDougall instantly scooped up her new granddaughter and cooed at her as she slept. Grandpa Crichton looked on with a twinkle in his eye. Leslie blinked tiredly at them, smiling more brightly than ever before. She wrapped a free arm around John and hugged him close, kissing him on the forehead as he looked at his new sisters in awe.
Aunt Rue then entered into the room, with a coffee in her hand. She smiled at everyone and then engaged in a conversation with the grandparents. John looked up to his mother and smiled at her sweetly.
“You’ve been crying, hon. Everything’s okay. Your sisters are fine.” Leslie assured him softly. John breathed in the powdery fresh smell of the environment around him and continued to smile.
“I love you mommy.” John said. Leslie let out a happy laugh and squeezed John’s shoulder.
“I love you too John.”
The baby in her arms stirred lightly but continued to sleep. John whispered to his mother. “Can I hold her?”
“Sure you can…be careful of her head….” Leslie stated, handing her daughter over to John. John nodded knowingly and expertly held onto his new sister and smiled. He viewed her perfect small face, reddened but quite beautiful. John looked back to his mother, who was gazing on with pride and joy.
“What’s her name? What’s both of their names?”
The others in the room finally turned their attention to Leslie and John and waited for the answer. Leslie looked out the window, towards the small crescent of the moon in the night sky with a longing expression. She then looked back to the others.
“This is Jessica.” Leslie said, motioning towards the baby in John’s arms. “And this is Jennifer.” Leslie motioned to the baby in her own mother’s arms.
“Jess and Jenn…I like it.” John answered. The others laughed and the commotion continued. John had instantly fallen in love with his sisters. He rocked Jessica in his arms. He looked once more to his mother and noticed her sadly staring into the night sky, observing the glowing moon as it began to sink beneath the treetops outside. Jack Crichton once again had missed an important family milestone.
A small sliver of light spilled into his room. John cracked an eye open, his vision trying to adjust in the light against darkness. John glanced at the lunar glow-in-the-dark clock in his room and saw that it was only 4:00 AM. John threw his comforter over his head and turned onto his other side.
The light grew stronger, then lessened as John heard the door to his room open and close. He then heard footsteps heading towards his bed.
“Ow!” A hushed voice cried. John recognized that voice. He sprung up in his bed. The lights switched on in his room and both he and the person within squinted their eyes. John then saw his father standing near the light switch. Jack was looking at the small IASA toy shuttle lying on the floor that he had stubbed his toe into.
“Dad!” John exclaimed. He jumped out of bed and wrapped his arms around his father’s waist.
“Shhh.” Jack urged John to be quiet. The twins and his mother were both fast asleep and he wanted to keep it that way. Not even they knew he was home yet.
“You’re home!” John exclaimed in a loud whisper.
“I know I promised you I’d be home on your birthday…” Jack began and John lowered his head, remembering the disappointment he had felt just the day before when his father had not shown for his birthday once again.
“I turned ten dad…TEN. You said you’d be there.” John stated, looking at his father’s feet.
“I know son, I know.” Jack stated with a hint of guilt in his voice. He then knelt to be face to face with John. He placed both hands on his son’s shoulders and gained eye contact with the boy.
“Let’s go fishing.”
Sawyer’s Mill was a place John had often gone with his father…when the famous astronaut was home. It was a secret place, known only to the locals of the town where the Crichton family currently lived.
As the old blue Chevy rounded the last wooded bend, John could fully view the abandoned mill near the shore of Gully’s Lake. The water was smooth and still. A foggy mist shrouded most of the opposite shoreline. John breathed in the cool air and relished it. He looked to his dad. Jack parked the truck beside the mill and climbed out of the vehicle. John followed suit. Jack lifted a tackle box and two fishing rods out of the back of the truck and handed one fishing rod to John as he came around to retrieve it.
“Was the moon this silent?” John pondered as he and his father headed towards the sandy shoreline. A few leaves bristled in the woods nearby, telling of a small creature in the brush. The two ignored it and made themselves comfortable at the water’s edge. Jack prepared the bait and then answered.
“Yep.” Jack stated simply. He then continued on. “You know all about the moon, son. You’ve asked me so many questions my ears are going to fall off. Bait your line before the fish decide to go downstream.”
John giggled and did as he was told. Soon the two had their fishing lines in the water, waiting patiently for a bite.
“Are you going to be here to go see Star Wars with me? DK and I are going next weekend. It’s supposed to be big. Real big.” John said of the movie coming to theaters that weekend. Jack remained silent for a moment to think but John already knew the answer. He yawned. It was quite early in the morning to be up. Jack let out a tired sigh.
“Son, I just don’t know.” Jack noticed John’s shoulders droop. He knew all too well that his son was often disappointed in him for his no-shows.
“Don’t you miss us?” John laid on the guilt trip. Jack glanced at his son for a moment. He couldn’t believe how straight forward his son was being.
“If I didn’t, I would be in a warm, comfortable bed at home right now, wouldn’t I? Or at IASA headquarters for that matter. John, of course I miss you guys. I’m a very wanted man. I can’t get away from the job that easily, you have to understand.” Jack reasoned. John knew better. He shook his head.
“So when mom was having difficulties delivering the twins, you couldn’t get away? Or when I had nightmares, you couldn’t simply reassure that everything was going to be okay, and that you weren’t going to blow up on the way to the moon?” John argued back. He kept his gaze on the water, afraid to look directly at his father. Jack lowered his fishing rod and looked at John with bewilderment.
“Where did all this come from?”
“Dad.” John said in a tone of cynicism.
“All right. I know, I know. We need to talk about this. Lay down the law.” Jack replied guiltily. John felt guilty as well. He knew his father loved his job and his family. The two were equal and there was no way he could give up either one of them.
“You have to be here for our birthdays from now on…and all holidays.” John bargained. He took a side-glance towards his father to see him grin.
“You’re good, son. You’re real good. Birthdays and holidays it is.”
“That’s not all.” John surprised his father. Jack raised an eyebrow and looked over at him.
“You have to promise me that you’ll never miss another important day in our lives ever again. Promise.” John said, staring at his dad with his large blue eyes. Jack hated it when his son looked at him like that.
“There’s no such thing as can’t.” John looked back to the water before them.
“Where’d you learn that?” Jack inquired curiously, turning his full attention to John rather than the fish.
“And what else did Grandpa have to say?” Jack asked, not expecting an answer.
“That you’re stubborn.” John said matter-of-factly. He grinned then and looked to his dad. Jack was grinning as well.
“Yep. More stubborn than a donkey.” John repeated his grandfather’s words, or so he thought. Jack released a hearty laugh and shook his head.
“My old man always has a way with words. Look, John, I can’t apologize enough for not being around as much as I should. You should know by now that with my kind of job, family time just isn’t as valued. I work for our country, for our planet, in striving towards the next step into space and beyond. Just think son…someday we’ll be walking on Mars, too.” Jack stated. John began to drown his father out. He didn’t want to hear anything about work or space or even the moon. He just wanted to fish…with his dad.
Something tugged on his line. John thought it was debris underwater at first. But then there was another tug. And then another. His body tingled with excitement and he reeled in the line, tugging back.
“I got one! I got one!” John exclaimed. Jack immediately dropped his line and wrapped his warm rough hands around John’s helping to reel in the fighting fish underwater. The fish began to surface, splashing its fins about. John was ecstatic.
“Reel it in nice and easy.” Jack coached his son. John did so with ease. Jack was visually impressed. John smiled. His father tried to handle the wriggling fish but John instantly stepped him aside.
“I can do it.” He stated simply. He took the hook out from the fish’s mouth and gazed at it in awe. He then placed it into the cooler his father had placed beside the tackle box.
“What kind of fish is it, dad?” John asked, still in awe.
“A trout, son. Good job…I’m proud of you.” Jack said and John instantly knew his father was speaking on higher levels than just catching a small trout. John looked to his father and smiled.
Silence fell between the two as they resumed fishing. They observed the sun’s first light finally easing its way through the morning fog. A glorious golden luminescence upon everything around them reminded the two that early mornings like this were to be treasured, and often witnessed by only the lucky few.
“What are rattlers?” John asked suddenly.
“That was out of the blue.” Jack replied with a snort and then addressed the issue. “Rattlers…well they’re the thing that tickles your stomach when you’re nervous…when something big is about to happen and you don’t know the outcome.”
“Do you get them a lot?” John asked.
“Every time I go up.” Jack replied. “Why?”
“I just wanna know in case I get them someday.”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s to trust your intuition…your rattlers. Remember that John…it’s what got me through my first EVA and even walking on the moon. Well, that, guts, and the seat of my flight suit.” Jack chuckled. John remained serious.
“Let’s do this more often.”
“We will, son, we will.”
John then stayed quiet for the rest of the morning. He and Jack finally decided it was time to head back, before mom and the twins awoke. John relished the morning they had shared together on the day after his tenth birthday. He knew it would be a rare treasure to hold dear to his heart. The rattlers in his stomach told him so.
Satisfied but muffled moans filled the moonlit evening at Tuller Point. An old rusted four-by-four sat in the brush, shaking up and down. The moans continued for a few more moments, both male and female in origin. Finally, the moans stopped. And so did the shaking. All that could be heard were the few croaks of the occasional frog in the water nearby.
A strictly naked John rested up against the hub in the back of the truck, his mouth open ajar. Karen Shaw, his girlfriend of two months rested on the opposite end, a satisfied smile spread across her face. John’s eyes met hers. They both smiled at each other. But they still had to catch their breath before going at it again.
“Wow.” Karen responded.
“Ditto.” John replied.
It was a first time for both teenagers. John had promised Karen that if he had gotten his license earlier that day, they would both celebrate in a very special way. Needless to say, his parents didn’t have to drive him that evening.
“Got a game tomorrow night?” Karen tried to make small talk. John wanted to roll his eyes. So the movies were right. The women always had to talk after having sex. He couldn’t wait to tell DK.
“Yeah.” John responded, still catching his breath. Nonetheless, he gazed at his girlfriend’s naked body, especially her young perky breasts and relished in the moment. He could already feel the excitement pumping down below.
“I’ll be there front and center.” Karen smiled at him and suddenly tickled his leg with her bare toes. John laughed and reached over to tickle her under her knee. Karen giggled relentlessly and John grasped her torso into a hug. Karen relaxed in his hold and leaned against his chest. John brushed her hair with his hand and gazed off into nothingness. Karen noticed the silence. She leaned through the opened windows in the back of the truck and turned on the radio. “Every Breath You Take” was currently playing. Karen smiled, rocking slightly to the music. John groaned.
“What?” Karen asked.
“This song is about a stalker…why would anyone like it?” John asked.
“It is not! The guy is serious about it. He’s in love and he’ll always be there, watching…over her.” Karen tried to make sense of the music. She giggled, realizing John was somewhat right. She allowed the tune to progress and then switched off the radio when the song was finally over. There was silence between the two once again. She caught John looking up into the blanket of twinkling stars above them.
“Nervous?” Karen asked. John was momentarily confused.
“Karen, this is my…our first time…”
“No! No, I meant about the game tomorrow.” Karen laughed. She rubbed her hand against his bare chest. “There’s going to be scouts, aren’t there?”
“Yeah. I’m not nervous though.” John lied, already feeling the rattlers in his stomach turn on full force.
“You’re so brave.” Karen stated in awe.
“I know.” John stated proudly. Karen giggled.
“That was fantastic.” Karen said after another long pause. John had to agree. He never knew sex could be this good.
“You were great.” John replied. “Did it hurt?”
“A little…but that was nothing compared to how I felt once we got going.” Karen said seriously but with a warm smile. She gazed up into John’s eyes and remained staring at him for a few more moments. John was slightly weary of her gaze. He didn’t need a serious relationship now. He just wanted to have a good time. He hoped that the feeling was mutual.
“Good.” John smiled.
“John? Is your dad going to be at the game?” Karen asked, knowing how Jack Crichton was often not around in his son’s life. She pressed the issue lightly.
“No.” John answered, his face turning dark. He knew his father would kill him for taking the truck; especially the very day he got his license. Not to mention the reason John took the truck or what he did in that truck. John was feeling quite rebellious that evening. And he didn’t want to talk about his father.
“I know your dad is…” Karen started to say.
“You know what Karen? I’m feeling a little tired. Maybe we should call it…” Karen interrupted John. She straightened to face him with a stern expression. John relished her long wavy golden curls of hair falling about her face. He was still sexually excited.
“John. I know you and your father don’t exactly see eye to eye. But you have to realize he’s doing the best he can to be around for you and your sisters. You’ve got to believe me when I say that.” Karen stated. “You trust me, don’t you?”
John remained silent. He actually had to think about that one. Sure they’d been together for two months, but how well did he really know this woman? She was simply trying to run his life, just like everyone else in the entire universe. John didn’t like it.
“Karen…I don’t know what I think right now. I just want to have fun, you know?” John said and then leaned in playfully, trying to catch her lips on his own. Karen leaned back, with a side-glance. She placed a hand on his chest.
“John, do you trust me?” Karen asked. She leaned in, teasing him with her gaze and her nakedness. John shook his head. She wasn’t playing fair.
“Yes, baby. I trust you with all my heart.” John then leaned in and kissed Karen, pushing her back onto the blanket in the flatbed until they were both lying horizontal. John then reinserted himself. Karen moaned. The shaking commenced once again.
The next morning, after John had dropped Karen off at her house, John arrived at his house, to see once again that his father’s government owned SUV was not in the driveway. He parked the old Chevy and ran into the house, ready to devour anything and everything his mother probably had prepared for breakfast. Hubble, John’s trusty young Beagle, greeted him at the door. John patted the excited dog down and traveled into the kitchen.
Leslie was standing in the kitchen, her arms on her hips. She was angry. John avoided her gaze and directed himself to the fridge. He proceeded to take out a carton of milk and drink directly from the carton to the last drop. He then threw the carton as if it were a football, directly into the wastebasket at his mother’s side. He was a quarterback after all. John gave his mother the most charming smile he could. Hubble rushed in behind him and sat at his feet, looking at Leslie with almost the same expression.
“Not only were you a little late in coming home last night, your dear neighbor Mr. Dearborn complained about a certain group of young boys wrapping Syran wrap around his cat and his Toyota. And they egged all his windows and they left a flaming bag of dog shit on the doorstep. Care to enlighten me?” Mrs. Crichton asked, her eyes gazing at John with both disappointment and anger. She expected this from a teenager but not her son. Her son was special. He was more responsible than this.
“Look, ma, a bunch of guys and I got together to have a little fun, that’s all.” John laughed, trying to make his lie seem even more believable. The laughter died in his throat as he saw the angered expression on his mother’s face darken. She was really angry this time. John gulped. A million excuses passed through his mind. Unfortunately, he had already used them all.
“Mr. Dearborn called the cops! You’re lucky you weren’t home. You better have a good alibi if he decides to press charges.” Leslie stated, shaking a finger at John. John avoided her gaze, almost clenching his teeth. His alibi could save him…but it could also kill him.
“Everything will be a-okay, ma. I swear. I’m going to go call DK, and then head on to practice. The game’s at seven tonight, remember? Play-offs.” John said, once again sticking his nose into the fridge. Hubble did so as well, looking for a treat. John grabbed a cold Snickers Bar and a burnt piece of bacon. He patted Hubble’s head and closed the door, giving the dog the slice of bacon. Leslie seemed to relax then. But John could still sense she wasn’t completely relaxed. He straightened and gazed at his mother for a moment.
She was very beautiful. Long curly locks of golden blonde hair; a smooth, fair complexion; a slim figure…no wonder his dad fell in love with her over and over again. Or so he had told John.
“You’re father’s not going to make it.” Leslie said, knowing already the consequences of her statement.
John dropped the Snickers bar. His mouth dropped open as well. He looked to his mother with extreme disappointment. She already knew what was coming.
“I know you’re disappointed John, but please…” Leslie began. Too late. John began to rant. He kicked the chair of the table beside them with force. The chair fell to the ground between them and John clenched his fists. His face grew red. His mother looked at him with a tense expression; but she felt she had to allow him to throw his tantrum. She felt the same way deep inside and he knew it.
“Why?” John exclaimed loudly. “Why does he do this to us? Why mom?”
“Because he’s going to save the universe.” A small voice replied from behind them. John and Leslie turned to see Jenn in the doorway, staring at the two with wide eyes. She was clutching her small teddy bear that her father had gotten the twins from his last visit to Houston.
Leslie took a deep breath and glanced at John. He knew that glance. He had to settle down or he would scare his sisters. Jess soon appeared behind Jenn. Hubble walked over to the girls and sat at their feet, begging for a tummy rub. Jenn immediately bent over to fulfill Hubble’s wishes. Jess stared on, daring John to say another word that would spite their father.
“I…I’m sorry mom. Really, I am. I’m just…I can’t…” John tried to explain. Leslie smiled sweetly and nodded with understanding. She reached out her arm. John came to her and hugged her tightly. She cried out and he released her. She then looked to the bulging muscles developing on his shoulders and arms and smiled even brighter.
“My, you sure have grown, dear. You’re stronger than your father, I believe! I love you and don’t ever forget that.” Leslie said and then turned to her daughters as well. “And I love you girls too. You are all my dearest, sweetest little angels. Nothing you do can ever change that, you hear?”
All three nodded in response, feeling loved and needed all at once. Leslie smiled to herself and changed the subject.
“Who wants omelets?” Leslie asked. Everyone cried out at once. Even Hubble howled. Leslie laughed and turned back to her kitchen work as the twins made themselves comfortable in the breakfast nook of the kitchen. John leaned up against the fridge, observing his family with a small smile. Leslie looked back to him and returned the smile. John wanted this moment to last forever.
“Congratulations class of 1984!” The high school principal announced. Suddenly, a hundred and thirty-five black tasseled squares flew into the air, followed by a hundred and thirty-five shouts of joy. The teenagers had finally graduated from high school. It seemed like this day would never have arrived. And now it was finally here and they were free from their high school reins…and soon, their parents’ reins.
John remembered sighting his parents side by side in the crowd, as well as his sisters, as he came up to accept a scholarship to attend MIT. It had been the college of choice for both him and DK. They were both to pursue astronomical sciences. His father had never looked more proud.
The rest was pretty much a blur for John. More people than he ever knew congratulated him on his last exit out of the high school. He met up with DK in the school parking lot and they both ripped off their robes, revealing their usual t-shirt and jeans. Styled for the times, anyway. They quickly did their hair in the rear view mirrors of John’s graduation present, a polished red 1962 Thunderbird classic. John loved the car to death. He wouldn’t even let DK drive it.
The men’s girlfriends would be joining them in a moment. From there, the group would head to North Point Beach to party until they could party no more. There would be plenty of booze, girls, and good times. John and DK were ecstatic.
“I can’t believe we’re outta high school…finally! And we’ve both been accepted to MIT…damn we’re good!” DK exclaimed as he combed through his already perfect hairstyle. He had to make it perfect. Or Charlene wouldn’t be too happy. John laughed and patted his friend on the back.
“Charlene and Shelly won’t be out for another half hour…they’re girls remember? They take forever just to fix themselves up before a date.” John laughed. His smile suddenly faded. DK took notice and followed his friend’s gaze towards the entrance to the high school auditorium. Standing in the doorway were four muscular men, looking rather pissed off. John gulped and DK leaned up against the car nervously.
“Crap, what do they want now?” DK asked fearfully. John shook his head. He was sick of being pummeled by these bullies since junior high. Enough was enough. They were adults now. The four men approached John and DK and stood before them.
“Now that we’ve all graduated, why don’t we call a truce, eh Crichton?” Barry, the head honcho tried to bargain. John looked to DK and laughed. DK nervously observed his friend and laughed too, trying to read into his expression. John then turned back to Barry and slammed his right fist into his face. Barry teetered back a few steps before falling to the ground. He grabbed his nose, which began to bleed profusely.
“Nice hit.” DK observed.
“Thanks.” John answered and was immediately grabbed by his collar by a second man in the group. DK gulped.
John was raised off the ground as the goon who held him glared at him. Another man grabbed DK and pressed his head against the hood of John’s car. The last man helped Barry up and all glared at the two imbeciles before them.
“What the fuck was that for?” Barry asked with a nasally voice. He held his nose, hoping not to bleed all over his good shirt. DK temporarily struggled against the man holding him down but stopped as the man increased his pressure on him.
“You know what that was for. Julie Brasko. And physics lab. And DK’s little mishaps in physics lab. Every fucking thing you’ve ever tormented us about. You had that one coming.” John glared into Barry’s angered expression.
“Yeah?” Barry challenged but then said nothing further. He couldn’t think of a damned thing to retaliate with. John laughed at this. He could see the man’s wheels turning. His friends were just as silent. They all began to look scared.
“What the hell.” One man said and swung his fist towards John. DK shouted and blocked the punch, unfortunately with his chest. The man’s fist slammed into his chest, sending DK to the ground. John widened his eyes as the other two lunged forward to attack him. From the ground, DK grabbed onto Barry’s feet, trying to help John out. But to no avail. The brawl was too big to stop by just the two of them.
“Stop it!” A frantic female’s voice cried out as John was hit in the forehead by someone’s fist. John tried to defend himself but was pinned down. DK was in the same situation beside him on the ground. John then caught a glance of his girlfriend approaching in high heels, big hair, and a short skirt. He pondered briefly what attracted him to her in the first place. Sex. John was slammed in the face by another fist. His vision blurred.
“Stop it, leave them alone!” Another voice called out. The girl’s screaming brought attention to the brawl. Parents, teachers, and students piling out of the auditorium took note of the fight and ran to help. Barry and his friends took note and immediately ran from the scene, leaving John and DK on the ground.
Charlene and Shelly ran to John and DK and helped the beaten graduates up. They looked over the bruises and scrapes on their boyfriends. Shelly hit John on the chest angrily after she was satisfied he wasn’t hurt too badly. Charlene followed suit with DK. Both men looked to the ground in embarrassment. The few onlookers who had noticed the fight had stopped turned away once they saw the interaction between the women and the beaten men.
“What the hell was that all about?” Charlene demanded to know.
DK looked to John with one bruised eye and felt like laughing. John had a scrape across his cheek and his bottom lip was cracked open. He smiled back. They then wrapped their arms around their girlfriends and helped them into John’s Thunderbird.
“That’s history now, girls. Just sit back and relax. We’re gonna have ourselves a PAR-TAY!” John exclaimed. He hopped into the driver’s seat, not bothering with the door. DK did the same and John revved up the engine. He then slammed his foot on the accelerator, screeching the tires and racing out of the parking lot. The four would never return to that high school again.
John was quite handsome in his dark suit. But his mood was somber. He and his family were about to attend a funeral. The third death that year. First, Great-Uncle Clement had passed away from natural causes. John had barely known the man on his father’s side. Second, Hubble had been hit by a car on the road in front of the house. John had cried for that dog. Actually cried. No other being in his entire life besides his father would sit outside every night, regardless of temperature, to watch the stars. Hubble had been a loyal, faithful dog. But the third death had really topped it all off. Grandma McDougall had fallen ill just six months earlier.
Her illness had been quite a shock to the Crichton family. No one had expected it. The cancer came so suddenly, so swiftly, that Grandma McDougall barely struggled with the disease at all. Brain cancer. The worst cancer John could ever imagine. Taking away one’s memories, emotions, even senses…one by one until there was nothing left. It sickened John to the core. And it hurt him even more to see his mother mourn Grandma. Leslie and Grandma McDougall had always been close. Now that she was dead…Leslie had John, the twins, and Jack. In that order.
John circled the table in the family living room once more. Nothing looked too appetizing. He was a strong young man in his first year at MIT. John felt guilty just being at school away from home half of the time. There was Aunt Rue’s special Jell-O, jiggling in all its glory. John remembered him and his sisters taking bets on what made the Jell-O jiggle like it did. They never did find out what Aunt Rue would put in the disgusting dessert. Leslie had always thrown it out before they could dissect it.
With all the deaths, all the pressures, John was struggling through his freshman year. He had been honored to find out he had been accepted there. He was already following in his father’s footsteps and that frightened his mother. But he had to prove to them all that he could be successful, and still be there for those most important to him. He had already met the one woman he hoped would be his future wife. Alex O’Connor. John smiled at the thought of the young blonde beauty. His thoughts were aptly disrupted as his two sisters approached him at the food table.
They were gorgeous as well, dressed in matching blue slim dresses that outlined their amazing figures. The entire family had always been blessed with good looks. John smiled warmly at his sisters and put an arm around each of them to comfort them. They laid their heads on his shoulders and remained so for quite a long time.
“It’s going to be all right. I’ll always be here for you both, you know that don’t you? I love you.” John said, knowing that this was a rare statement from the older brother who often scoffed at his sisters. They had always been too young, too immature for him to hang out with them. But now that they were growing older, especially John, they knew that they needed to stick together and give each other support.
“What’s going to happen now?” Jenn asked quietly. John could tell she had been crying. He rubbed her shoulder.
“Everything’s going to be all right, trust me.” John reassured the girls. Jess sniffled.
“How do we know that?” Jess asked, her voice trembling. John felt like crying himself. He caught sight of his mother, sitting alone on the family couch, gazing sorrowfully at a half-empty glass of Brandy slush. Where was his dad now? Mingling with relatives.
A week before, when Grandma McDougall was passing on, Jack had been called away to help out at the Mission Control Center in Cape Canaveral. Leslie was angry. She wouldn’t talk to him for nearly the entire week after. The funeral had been tense between the two. John prayed that everything would be all right. He praised his mother for all the crap she had to put up with. And hoped that he would never fall in the footsteps of his father…in the way of family life.
“As long as we’re all together, safe and sound…everything will always be okay. I promise.” John said. He saw his father suddenly appear in the doorway. John glared at his father, instantly feeling guilty for doing so. But he was young and rebellious. He cared only to hurt his father as much as his father had hurt him, his mom, and his sisters. Jack looked down guiltily and then turned to his wife to comfort her.
Later that evening, John found himself at the local bar. He drank until he couldn’t see straight. He stumbled towards the pay phone and dialed his home number. Half way through, he stopped. What was he thinking? His parents wouldn’t come down to pick him up. He shouldn’t burden them in the first place. John then dialed DK’s number. The phone rang. It rang thirteen times. John slammed the phone down on the hook and looked around at the thinning crowd. He leaned heavily on the phone for a moment before stumbling back to the bar.
“Hey, I need a ride.” John said to the bartender, who was barely listening. The loud country music playing in the bar didn’t help him either. John raised his voice. “HEY! I need a ride!”
The bartender still didn’t respond. John slammed a fist onto the counter. A few people nearby noticed, but were far too wasted to really care. John shook his head and held out his hand. His fingers were stationary…or as stationary as he wanted them to be. He could drive. He knew he could. He was John Crichton, son of Jack Crichton…famous astronaut, caring father...the best of the best.
“I’m John Crichton. I can do anything.” John said out loud with a slur. A drunk to his left began to laugh loudly at his statement. John ignored him. He stood, or rather swayed and faced the exit of the bar. He took a deep breath and stepped forward. A hand slammed into his chest, causing John to stumble back onto the bar stool he had been sitting on. He tried to focus his eyes on the person who had stopped him. Three Alex O’Conner’s swirled before him. He smiled. She didn’t.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Alex demanded to know, her arms crossed. The bartender asked her if she wanted a drink. Her glare was more than enough for him to back off. She turned her attention back to John.
“What do you mean?” John asked slowly, his mind becoming groggy from all the alcohol he had consumed. Alex began to yell at him. For everything he was doing to his family, to her, and to himself. John could barely recall a word she was saying. He was far too wasted. The next thing he knew, Alex was driving him down a dark lonely highway. Her silence was actually soothing. John rested his head against the headrest and felt his consciousness slowly slipping away. Alex spoke up once again.
“John, what’ s wrong with you? You have so much potential. You’re such a beautiful, caring person. Why destroy yourself and those around you like this? Why?” Alex demanded an answer. She looked over to John, waiting. John raised his swimming head slowly and stared at Alex momentarily. He gazed at her beauty and then struggled to focus on the white and yellow lines in front of them. There was a deer. It was all so sudden, John couldn’t even process what he saw standing right in front of them. He didn’t even hear Alex scream. He only saw that frightened deer, lit up by their headlights. They had been so close that he swore he could see the fright in its eyes. Alex swerved and then there was more light. Car headlights. Right in front of them. John could barely scream before they hit.
Like a gentle transformation from one dream plane to the next, John realized he was cold. Extremely cold. And he was lying in a pool of liquid littered with broken shards of glass. His chest and head screamed in pain. He felt light-headed. He realized why. He was trapped within the turned car he had been riding in. John became frantic and searched for Alex. She was lying on the ground near the driver’s side, as if she had just pulled herself out from the mangled vehicle. John smelled burned rubber and could see flashing yellow light. He looked back to Alex. She seemed aware of everything, and better off than he felt. Alex looked to John worriedly. Actually, she looked frightened. She reached towards him. John began to panic and realized he wasn’t as well off as he thought. Everything went black.
John heard beeping beside him. It was pissing him off. Constant beeping. Why couldn’t someone turn it off? His body ached all over. His chest was wrapped in something tight and restraining and there was what felt like a patch on his forehead. His head was swimming…worse than the night before. Was this all a dream?
John opened his eyes. He regretted that motion from the start. Not only was there bright light in the room, his ever so elusive father was standing above him with the most disappointed, angry expression in the entire history the two shared together. John looked to see if there was anyone else in the curtained area and found he was alone with his father. John felt like throwing up.
“You better god damned count your lucky stars son.” Jack growled. John closed his eyes, hoping his father would think he had passed out. No such luck. John felt a twinge of pain begin to resonate in his brain. Let the migraines begin. He moaned and rolled his head to his side. He opened his eyes once more to see his father once again. Why wouldn’t he go away?
“Alex is fine, thanks for asking. She’s worried sick about you…and so are your mother and your sisters. What the hell were you thinking, getting wasted? You’d probably be worse off if you had driven.” Jack scolded his son. John groaned. He was in severe pain. His father didn’t care. He deserved to suffer for at least a few moments. Receiving a phone call at three AM was the worst thing a parent could ever experience.
John allowed a tear to form in his eye. He even allowed it to go further, trickling down his cheek. His father saw this and instantly calmed. He began to feel an incredible overwhelming emotion of love for his son. He had almost lost him that day. He wasn’t about to experience that again. No parent should ever outlive his child. Jack hugged John the best he could without hurting him. John began to cry even more. He couldn’t stop the emotions. He hadn’t shown this much emotion since his dog died. Finally, he had a chance to release that emotion and feel no shame.
Jack held onto his son for quite a while, allowing him to grieve. Alex arrived as John began to quiet down. Her right arm was in a sling and she had a few bruises on her face. But other than that, she had escaped serious injury. The accident wouldn’t have happened if he only had stayed home. It was a kick in the ass but John knew he had had it coming. He raised a sore arm up and Alex grasped it gratefully. She kissed him on the forehead. Jack stepped away to give the two some privacy. Alex gazed at John with a saddened, worried expression. It scared the shit out of John. He smiled to try and comfort her.
“How’s the car?” John asked.
“Better off than you.” Alex laughed shortly, releasing some built up stress. John didn’t bother to laugh; he knew it would hurt too much.
“That was the worst thing I’ve ever been through.” John responded.
“But we had each other, didn’t we?” Alex assured John. He titled his head as best he could. She was right. His love for her grew stronger than ever.
“Come here.” John urged her in a weak voice. Alex leaned forward, waiting to hear what he had to say. John instead planted a long, warm kiss on her forehead. Alex smiled and then proceeded to kiss John on the lips. The two remained together for a few more minutes, until a doctor cleared his throat behind them.
“Ahem. I need to check on my patient now.” The doctor said with a smile.
Alex smiled sheepishly back. She waved to John and then disappeared behind the curtain as the doctor pulled it in front of her. John smiled, watching her disappear. Things were going to get better. He had to believe that.
At the impressive young age of twenty-four years, John had finally begun to realize his dream. He was about to graduate from MIT with a doctorate in Cosmic Theory. John was going to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an astronaut. The young man sat on the dark porch of the family cabin in the lonely woods of Northern Maine. He and his grandfather were observing the early morning sky long after everyone else had gone to bed.
“You want to know the difference between an astronaut and an astronomer?” Grandpa Crichton stated into the silence of the night.
“Sure…what?” John inquired, his gaze never leaving the stars sparkling above.
“An astronaut gets ulcers and an astronomer gets hemorrhoids.” Grandpa Crichton waited for a response from his grandson with a large smile on his aged face.
“Ah, Grandpa!” John groaned in disgust. He looked down from the stars and gave his grandpa a look.
“Seriously, seriously…an astronomer never leaves this planet…he studies the past and seems content with that. The heavens above mystify him and call to him to look upon them day after day through fancy government eyeglasses just to discover that the seventeenth moon they just discovered off of Jupiter was really a dust spot on the lens. It’s lunacy, Junior. Pure lunacy.”
“So why’d you settle for that? Why didn’t you become an astronaut, later on in life?” John asked curiously, turning his full attention to his grandfather. Grandpa Crichton remained silent, contemplating an answer. He rocked in his rocking chair against the wooden floorboards of the cabin. John stood away from the pole he had been leaning on and for the first time, truly noticed the saddened look in his grandfather’s eyes. Being an astronaut had been his dream.
“Since I’d been a boy, I had always wondered what it would be like just for a second to be above our planet’s atmosphere…out in space. Be inches from the cold vacuum of space behind the thin wall of steel, plastic, and god knows what else. See more stars and planets than one could ever see on the clearest night on Earth. I wanted to be able to reach out and touch the darkness that has riddled the minds of humans since the beginning of time. All I wanted was a simple trip into space. Junior, that was science fiction back then. You want to know why I never became an astronaut? I’ll tell you why. I was too god damned old by the time Russia got her first satellite up and I was too god damned old by the time the US finally got their asses in gear and got our own satellite up there. I was a scientist needed on the ground. I was shit out of luck.” Grandpa Crichton stated with bitterness.
John did not like the tone of his voice. But he understood him completely. And he felt almost as if Grandpa Crichton was jealous of his son’s success as well as the future steps his grandson was taking to become an astronaut himself. John took a seat on the swinging chair beside his grandpa on the porch. He reached over, patted him on the shoulder, and stared off into the darkened woods on the family’s property.
“Hey, it’s never too late, old man. I hear they’re booking tickets to Mars on ebay.” John joked. He waited for a response. When hearing none, he looked over to his grandpa to see a large smile plastered on his face. A tear was threatening to spill over onto his left cheek.
“I could not be more proud of you and your father, Junior. As I’ve said before…live life with no regrets. Or there’s nothing left worth living.” Grandpa Crichton stated wisely.
John nodded his head. He smiled at his grandpa and the two became silent for several more minutes. The stars twinkled, the hardwood leaves whooshed in the wind, and the calming lapping of water struck the shore in the distance. The world was at peace.
“When do you graduate?”
“Twenty three days, four hours and thirty five minutes, and fifty-six seconds.” John rolled off the numbers. Grandpa Crichton let out a huge throaty laugh and shook his head.
“You’re worse than your father.”
“Hey…at least I didn’t get caught with a twelve pack behind the labs at MIT with three girls and a can of spray paint.” John pointed out. Grandpa Crichton released another hearty laugh.
“And were you not caught as well, doing that stunt with DK and Alex with the lasers on campus not too long ago? You’re lucky you got away with more than your own ass still intact.” Grandpa Crichton reminded John. John wrinkled his brow.
“If DK’d been a little quicker on his feet….”
“Just be lucky they’re still letting you graduate.” Grandpa Crichton said. He then turned his head to look back to his grandson. “How are you and Alex?”
“She thinks I’m stubborn.”
“Stubborn? You? A Crichton? Nooooo…Ha! We’re all stubborn…it runs in the blood. What makes it worse is adding McDougall to the mix. Your mother is almost as stubborn as your father and they made the mistake of passing it on to you.”
It was John’s turn to laugh this time. He chuckled for a while, the laugh slowly dying in his throat as he became serious again.
“Grandpa?” John asked; his gaze trained on the sky.
“I’m proud of you too.”
John sat at the kitchen table, across from his mother, admiring her as she shucked some peas from the garden. She smiled, relishing the calm silence between the two. Their days spent together were now growing few and far between.
“How was DK’s graduation party?” Leslie asked with a smile. She looked to John with a knowing expression. She knew her son could be a party animal. She loved it. She wanted him to enjoy and experience life for all it was.
John let out a wild laugh and scooped up a red cherry from the bowl on the center of the table. He bit it off the stem and enjoyed its sweetness before answering.
“Let’s just say DK won’t be happy to see it’s a nice bright day out.” John swiped his hands together and winked at his mother. Leslie shook her head.
“You’re well on your own now. How’s the apartment hunting by the way? Your father spotted a great little place near Anderson’s Market on fourth…”
“Ma, I don’t need him helping me out. I’m twenty four years old, I think I can handle it.” John paused. “Sides, Alex already found us a place. It’s pretty close to headquarters. Nice neighborhood…lots of night life.”
Leslie looked up to John and tilted her head. John smiled and laughed. Leslie shook her head once more and shook a finger at John.
“You just keep kidding me like that, boy. I can still whoop your ass.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it mother…”
A shriek behind them disrupted their conversation. John barely had time to look when a pair of hands grabbed his shoulders and pushed down. Jessica leaned over and shoved a card in John’s face. She was grinning from ear to ear. John slowly smiled, realizing what she was so excited about. Leslie caught on as well.
“I got my license!” Jessica shrieked.
“Congratulations dear!” Leslie held out her arms and Jessica came to her mother for a quick hug. John observed her license and laughed. Jessica reached for it but he wouldn’t allow her to have it back.
“Nice picture!” John snorted. Leslie gave him another look. John eventually gave the license back to his exasperated sister. She then rushed towards the hall connecting to the kitchen.
“Wait a minute! Where are you going?” Leslie called after her.
“A friend’s place.” Came the answer. John rolled his eyes and looked to his mother. They both knew each other’s thoughts.
“She’ll be fine mom. You survived my teenage years. You can survive theirs. By the way, where’s Jenn anyway?” John asked. He popped another cherry into his mouth.
“At a friend’s place. Ah, I see.” John finished his mother’s sentence. She nodded her head and continued on with her work.
“Excited about IASA?” Leslie asked, changing the subject. John had been avoiding this topic since he had found out he had gotten a job there. Both he and DK would once again be side by side…this time for a nine to five job.
“Sure.” John answered simply. He knew how his mother felt. First her husband and now her son.
“You’ll be working with your father on occasion.”
“You’ll be working with people who admire your father.”
“You’ll be under some pretty extreme pressure to live up to his name.”
John remained silent. That statement was his life. And his mother knew it.
“I’m sorry John.” Leslie stated, looking to him with a sincere expression. She then smiled warmly and patted him on the knee.
“It’s okay mom. You worked with him for twenty years. How’d you stand it?” John asked with a smirk. Leslie tilted her head at him.
“Hey, we would never have met if I hadn’t accepted a job there. Just count your lucky stars boy. You and your sisters would have never come to be if it weren’t for us.” Leslie laughed. John laughed as well but then grew silent. He observed his mother once again shucking the peas. She would occasionally glance over at him, wondering what was passing through his thoughts. After his silence had become too unsettling for Leslie, she pushed aside the peas and leaned forward. John took notice.
“You’re never this quiet.” Leslie said with concern.
“Mom…do you ever stop and wish that a single moment in your life could last forever?” John asked seriously, looking directly into his mother’s eyes. Leslie leaned back slightly, gaining a sudden unsettled feeling within.
“All the time, dear. Every time I look at you and your sisters, I wish we could all stay the same age and the same way we are forever and ever. Why?” Leslie asked, trying to get to the bottom of her son’s seriousness.
“Instinct…intuition. Dad’s infamous rattlers. I don’t know. I just…whenever I get that feeling, I know that the moment is too good to be true and I should appreciate it while I can.” John looked to Leslie, trying to see if he had made any sense. “You know?”
Leslie tried to read her son’s expression. John could already see the fear creeping into her eyes. She didn’t like what he was getting at. At that moment, the front door in the other room swung open.
“I’m home!” Jack called out. Leslie smiled as best she could to her son and patted her hair to make sure no extra strands had fallen from her braid. She then sat up to meet her husband as he came into the kitchen.
Leslie and Jack hugged each other for quite a while. He had just gotten back from IASA headquarters after a five-week intensive training session. Leslie was used to these long periods away from her husband but nonetheless missed him. She didn’t want to let go. With his profession, neither knew when which moment would be their last together. John watched his parents in silence. He loved watching his parents together. They had the most solid, loving relationship he had ever witnessed between two people in his entire life. Jack kissed Leslie firmly on the lips. John cleared his throat. Jack turned and patted his son on the shoulder firmly.
“Oh, sorry son! What are you doing here?”
“Jack!” Leslie said and slapped him on the chest. Jack laughed and kept an arm wrapped around Leslie’s shoulders. John stood up from his chair to face his parents.
“Just on my way out, actually.” John replied. “By the way, you’ll be happy to know that now both twins have their licenses and they’re already out terrorizing the town.”
Jack smiled brightly and shook his head.
“As long as they’re back by midnight.” Jack replied truthfully.
“Midnight!? I always had to be back by eleven when I was their age!”
“Name one time you ever obeyed that curfew! Why don’t you stay for dinner, John?” Leslie said and then turned to the kitchen to start making dinner.
“Alex and I have a date.”
“Oh.” Leslie winked at her husband. Jack shook his head. John then headed out of the kitchen, with his father following him to the front door.
“Bye mom!” John called out and turned to face his father. Jack was looking at him with a proud expression.
“We’re going to finally get to work together. I’m very proud that you got accepted into IASA. Congratulations, son.” Jack said, patting John on the arm briefly. John remained still.
“I know, Dad, I know.” John stated and then left.
It had started as a single idea. John had simply witnessed a falling meteor streak across the evening sky. That’s when the idea hit him. He was with DK, on a small beach near DK’s new place. The two had been discussing the great “What ifs” of the universe. That, and talking about Star Trek had a little influence in the matter. DK had mentioned something about how he and John could make a difference in the future of space travel. Then the idea began to spur into something even greater.
“What do we call this idea? What do we go to the big guys with, John? They’re gonna think we’re talking complete science fiction, Star Trek. They’ll laugh in our faces.” DK pondered.
“Well let’s see. We’re going to go unconventional and use the Earth’s gravitational pull to sling shot a craft forward into outer space, thus accelerating that craft into unprecedented interstellar speeds. Why should that sound so incredulous?” John replied in sarcasm.
“We need a name, John. A code. Something like the ‘Sling Shot Project’. I don’t know. Something different.” DK said.
“Let’s see…a name…a name.” John thought out loud.
“Star….” DK began but couldn’t think of anything more to add.
“Space…” John began as well but stopped.
“How far do you think we can travel with this theory, anyway?” DK pondered. John remained silent and then snapped his fingers.
“Farscape!” John exclaimed.
He and DK looked to each other with excitement dancing in their eyes. Now they just needed the funding, too.
They gained support for the idea and soon, their very own employer, IASA granted them the ultimate wish. The two were approved a hanger in which to work on the project, while immersed on much more important matters, of course. And the government allowed them a grant.
The huge hanger awed John every time he stepped into it. John had been working at IASA for nearly a year now, along side DK. John had already been into space once and what a ride it had been! His adrenalin had been racing the entire time. He felt like he was finally making some headway towards becoming his own man, stepping out of his father’s ever-present shadow. DK had remained on the ground, becoming quite the respected meteorological scientist.
Alex walked up behind John and tickled him in the sides. John jumped in surprise and he and DK turned to face her. She was smiling from ear to ear. John gave her a firm kiss on the lips and held his hand out at the empty hanger before them.
“This is it.” John stated. He and DK looked giddy. Alex shook her head.
“This is where you’re going to build this thing, huh?” Alex stated, somewhat unimpressed. John appeared not to be offended and wrapped his arm around Alex’s waist.
DK slipped a Pez candy into his mouth and dreamily looked around the empty hanger before them. John let out a laugh as he observed the Pez dispenser. DK took note.
“Hey, I’ve got all the Star Wars characters now…even Chewy!”
“Damn! You’re obsessed!”
“No I’m not!” DK said in defense.
“You’ve got every single dispenser they’ve ever created, DK, you are obsessed.” Alex joined in.
“John, we should go. Dinner’s at six.” Alex pulled on John’s collar. John looked to DK.
“Hey, I’m sorry man. I’ve gotta go.”
“I know. I know. Happy Anniversary by the way guys!” DK smiled.
John and Alex began to walk to her jeep in the parking lot nearby. She tucked her hand into his back pocket while he slid his hand over her butt.
“We really need to set him up with someone.” Alex laughed.
“No, no. Don’t do that, Alex. He’s had enough heartbreak for a while. Give him some time. He’ll find someone.” John ushered her. He then stepped over to the driver’s side and opened the door for her. She gave him a loving look and then climbed in. She leaned across the passenger seat and opened the passenger side door for John. He walked around the jeep and climbed in. The two gave each other a kiss and then headed off for a night of pleasure.
Later that evening, after dinner, John and Alex rested in the comfortable bed in her apartment. They were wrapped in each other’s arms, relishing in the sweet silence between them.
“John?” Alex replied.
“Yeah?” John said. He reached over the side of the bed to pick up a small black box he had been waiting to reveal. The ring nestled inside glinted in the surrounding candlelight. He then turned back to Alex to wait and see what she had to say.
“I’ve been approached with an opportunity.”
John stopped. An opportunity? Where was this conversation headed?
“What’s that dear?”
“I’m been offered a job at Stanford.” Alex said and bit her lip, waiting to see how John would react. She could see something change in his expression, but couldn’t read it.
“But I’ve got my job at IASA, Alex. We can’t be in both places at once.” John stated. Alex took a deep breath.
“I’m taking the job, John. I can’t pass this up.” Alex responded and John shifted away from her slightly. He looked crushed. “I’m sorry John.”
“Yeah...not as sorry as I am.” John replied and pushed the ring under the bed on his side.
John and DK stepped into the living room of John’s parents’ house. There was no one there. There hadn’t been anyone in the kitchen either. John wrinkled his brow and DK shrugged his shoulders.
“Mom?” John called out.
“Out here John.” His mother’s voice replied. John looked back to DK and then ventured down the hall towards the backyard. They stepped outside to find Leslie resting on the swinging chair on the back porch. She had a box of tissues by her side and she was currently blowing her nose with one tissue. She smiled at the boys. DK took a seat on a nearby lounge chair while John took a seat beside his mother on the swinging chair.
“Hey ma.” DK greeted Leslie.
“Got another cold?” John asked.
“Lately, it seems I’m getting every cold under the sun.” Leslie replied with annoyance. “What are you boys up to?”
“We’ve been racking our brains trying to design the module. A grant fell through. IASA isn’t so interested anymore…” John replied.
“And John and Alex broke up.” DK blurted out. John gave him a look as Leslie turned to him.
“For good?” Leslie looked to John in surprise. John drooped his shoulders and rolled his head to one side.
“If accepting a job at Stanford doesn’t say ‘see ya honey’, then I don’t know what does…” John’s voice trailed off.
“Oh, John. I’m so sorry.” Leslie said sorrowfully and gave her son a quick hug.
“It’s okay mom, really. It wasn’t meant to be, that’s all.” John reassured her. Leslie gave him a look but then turned her attention back to their project.
“Are you guys giving up on me?”
“Support is minimal, funding is nonexistent, and the idea ain’t looking so genius anymore.” DK pointed out. John nodded in agreement.
“DK, John. You can never give up on this. This is something so incredible…so important. You cannot let a few bad things hamper your spirits. You have to keep moving. Did your father quit when he was turned down the chance to be one of the first to walk on the moon? No. He went on to venture onto the moon on a second mission that nearly went haywire and he came out to be an American hero.” Leslie preached.
DK smiled at Leslie’s stubbornness. John sighed.
“We’re not giving up…we’re….”
“What?” Leslie asked, waiting for an answer. She knew John would shut up then. She looked at him knowingly. “I know you, John and I know you, DK. You both are exceptionally bright young men with potential. You’re just frustrated, that’s all. Take a break. Catch a few waves. Do something or you’re both going to drive me insane every time you come over here with your tails tucked between your legs.”
John and DK looked to each other. She was right. She was always right.
Leslie coughed for a moment and then lowered her head. John grew concerned as well as DK. They leaned forward.
“Are you all right mom? Maybe you should go inside…” John began, grabbing his mother’s arm. She shook her head and looked up with a forced smile. John sensed something was hiding behind that smile.
“I’m all right. I just got a little light-headed, that’s all.” Leslie replied. She then tried to stand. John refused to let her do it alone and helped her up. DK stepped to her other side and both men assisted her inside to the living room. They helped her sit down on the couch.
“Nasty bug going around, huh?” DK commented. Leslie chuckled and proceeded to lie down on the couch. She was looking slightly pale. John watched his mother carefully, observing for the first time how skinny she had become in recent months.
“We’re going to let you rest now, mom. We’ll figure things out.” John assured his mother. She was already growing sleepy. She nodded. John bent over and planted a kiss on her cheek. She smiled and the two men then turned and left the room.
Once outside, DK looked back at the house and then to John as they climbed into John’s Thunderbird.
“Your mom doesn’t look too good, John.” DK stated.
“I know, DK. I know.” John simply stated. DK began to sense that John had known for quite some time.
“Where’s your dad?” DK asked. John gave DK a side-glance.
“You already know the answer to that one.” John replied with a sense of anger in his eyes and voice.
“When was she diagnosed?” DK asked right out. John paused, the keys in his hand just an inch from the ignition. He lowered his hand and dared not look at his friend as he answered.
“Last week. A malignant tumor in her ovary.” John said in a small voice. He then turned to DK with curiosity. “How did you know?”
“My grandma died from cancer two years ago, remember?” DK answered reluctantly. John let out a breath and started up the car. DK watched his friend fight back the worry. Things were already tough as it was.
John and DK had been basically engaged in small talk the entire afternoon. John had been through some rough times in the past few months. His mother had become worse and the cancer had spread. John tried not to let it show, but DK knew his friend was scared. DK did all that he could to ease the tension that had built up between them. Humor had been the only thing keeping them sane.
“Yeah, so I was driving past the store and there she was. On a bike in her bikini. I almost ran the light.” DK was saying. He fussed around with some electrical wires in a metal casing.
John laughed as he sat on a craft in the hanger the two had been working in. It was a small laugh. But it was a laugh.
“I was staring at her and she was staring at me. We go another block without incident. Then, there’s a hot dog stand.”
“A hot dog stand?” John said, slightly confused. Where was DK going with this story?
“Yeah. So I’m driving along and I look over just in time to see Tina smack into that stand. Hot dogs, ketchup, you name it: it was flying through the air. I pulled over immediately to see if she was okay. The guy that owned the stand was screaming at her and then at me. She was okay but covered with relish. I couldn’t help it. I laughed in her face. She slapped me. I walked away and drove away. Last time I ever saw her. But I had some mustard on my face so I didn’t leave empty-handed!” DK laughed. John laughed as well. Not as hard as DK, but it was still better than before.
“How long were you two together anyway?” John pondered.
“Two months.” DK responded.
“Damn.” John said, impressed.
The two then became silent. John allowed his thoughts to wonder while DK struggled to think of another funny story to tell. He came up with nothing. He continued work on the wiring. John continued to stare off in the distance, thinking.
“That’s it.” DK said, looking at his work with growing excitement building within.
“That’s it?” John asked, unable to believe his friend. He jumped down and slid off the top of the craft. He ran his fingers across the smooth white surface and began to smile. The first time in a long time, since DK could remember. He watched John and smiled brightly. He couldn’t be more proud of their work.
“Well, she’s almost finished, technically. There’s a few extra components we need to test and re-test…but…ah …she’s finished, my friend.” DK beamed. He stared at the craft with pride. “Ain’t she a beaut?”
John was still in awe. He looked to his friend then back to the dream he and DK had struggled to bring to life for so long.
“Hello, Farscape One.” John said in a small, mystified voice.
“Well?” DK asked. John looked over to him with a questioning expression. “Well, aren’t you going to get inside?”
John turned back to the module, looking at it as if it were a limited edition Porsche. He smiled back at DK and proceeded to climb into the opened cockpit. As he settled into the custom-sized seat, John mouthed an “ooh” and gazed over the controls of the module. Only now did he truly realize that all the set backs, all the doubts, all the negative speculation…everything led up to this point. It had all paid off. Their dream was finally coming true. Farscape One was going to fly…and proceed to prove a theory thought to be completely off the wall by every respected scientist, government official, and average street person on the face of the planet. If everything went the way John and DK planned it.
“Man, you should see the look on your face right now…it’s hilarious!” DK burst out laughing. John began to laugh too. A good, hearty laugh. The two best friends laughed uncontrollably with tears forming in their eyes for several minutes.
A man walked into the hangar and approached them. His expression was serious and it did not change despite the laughter from John and DK.
DK noticed the man and stifled his laughter, barely.
“Yes?” He asked. The man looked to him and then directed his gaze to John. John stopped laughing and climbed out of the cockpit to greet the man.
“Hey, need something?” John asked, placing his hands on his hips. DK joined him at his side.
“John Crichton?” The man asked.
John nodded. The man handed him a cell phone and then walked away. John looked to DK with a confused look, receiving one back and then put the phone to his ear.
Silence. Then a strange noise.
“John, John it’s me.” A familiar voice stated slowly. It was heavy with sorrow. John felt a bad feeling begin to stir in his stomach. He glanced to DK with worry. DK reflected the glance.
“Dad?” John asked with question, unsure whether it was his father or not.
“It’s me son, I’m with your mother.”
His voice was distant. A twinge of fear struck John’s body.
“She’s asking for you.”
“She’s what?” John asked, unsure if he wanted to hear the answer. There was an extremely long pause.
“She’s dying.” His father’s voice cracked.
“Oh god…” John instantaneously felt numb as the phone slipped out of his hand. He immediately raced for the door. DK called out after him but his friend didn’t appear to hear him. John was already too far for DK to catch up.
Three hours. That’s how far it was from IASA headquarters to the hospital where his mother was dying. Three hours. John glanced at the clock on the dashboard of his car and allowed his foot to press harder on the accelerator. 3:47 PM. He could make it; he knew he could. Mom had to hang on. The last time he had seen her was nearly a month earlier. She hadn’t been as sick then. He actually thought she was going to get better. 3:49 PM.
A Cadillac cut in front of him on the freeway. John slammed on his breaks as well as the horn. The confused driver sped up slightly as they both passed a U-Haul. The Cadillac inched into the other lane and John slammed the pedal down to the floor. He didn’t even bother giving the driver a symbol of his thanks. He didn’t even check to see if there were any cops waiting to pounce. He kept going faster. The mid-day sun was beginning to create mirages on the heated highway, making it even more difficult for John to correctly judge the traffic in front of him. He glanced at the clock once more. 3:55 PM. It had to be slow.
His heart was pounding so loudly in his chest that he had to switch on the radio, just to drown it out. Nothing good. He switched to another channel. “Every Breath You Take” was in mid-song. John slammed his fist into the radio and it shut off. He drove the car on, his knuckles becoming white from gripping the steering wheel so hard. His eyes slid to the clock. 4:56 PM. He passed a sign stating his destination was only 74 miles away. He was making good time. Hang in there, mom.
John allowed his mind to travel. After John and DK finally had begun to work on their dream, Farscape One, Leslie had become ill. She went to several different doctors, none of whom knew what was wrong. She collapsed at work one day. This time, they found the tumor. She had cancer. The disease wasn’t slow in its advance. Before John could take it all in, his mother’s health was staggering. She became too weak to leave her bed. That’s when John’s father had decided to take six months leave off of work. John was about to do so himself, giving up the chance of using another grant and working on the Farscape project. Leslie insisted he follow his dream…there was no time like the present. John was trapped between a rock and a hard place. He could spend the last six months of his mother’s life enjoying her presence, or away working on something that could benefit all of mankind. He chose the latter option only because his parents wanted their children not to experience the horrible disease first hand. They tried to spare their children. Jessica and Jennifer stayed away at college. John worked on Farscape One. Leslie inched closer to death.
John glanced at the clock once more. 5:13 PM. Damn! He had to get there sooner. Somewhere deep inside, he knew time was running out. He could feel his mother slipping away already.
“Don’t do this to me mom.” John muttered between clenched teeth. He drove on, the traffic becoming heavier as he entered into the city. Rush hour. Rats in a maze. John gritted his teeth and raced his car around several other cars spaced too closely for the average sane person to weave about. A few fingers and honked horns greeted him as he passed them by. John barely noticed. 5:26 PM. He was so close he could see the top levels of the hospital from his position on the freeway. He spotted his exit and skimmed across three lanes, nearly nicking the tail of a semi as he exited off the freeway. John raced onto the streets, his heart beginning to pump even harder. He was sweating. Hang on mom.
After the longest ride of his life, John made it to the entrance to the hospital. He didn’t even bother finding a parking spot. He didn’t care. One parking ticket was worth the last few minutes he could have with his mother. John raced past the receptionist’s desk to the bank of elevators. He slammed a hand onto the button to go up. A couple nearby looked at him as if he were insane. John glanced at the numbers above the elevators with sweat pouring down his face. Floor 4. Floor 8. Floor 12. Floor 9. They were all going up. John let out a frustrated growl and spotted a stairwell. He’d been to this hospital once before, the first time he had visited his mother. That was a month ago. Too long a time to go without seeing one’s own mother. John raced to the stairwell and began to ascend. Floor 7: Cancer Therapy Ward. Why the hell did they call it that anyway? No therapy was going to help…or at least that was how John felt. He chugged up the stairs, growing tired. He couldn’t give up. His mother needed him.
Finally, the black painted numbers he had been looking for appeared at the top of the next set of stairs. John raced up and entered into the hallway. A nurse’s station was bustling with activity before him. He got a few strange looks. He glanced to his left, then to his right. He almost looked back to the left when he spotted his father down to the right. John raced up to him and stopped short. His two innocent sisters were huddled together against the wall, crying. John looked to his Dad, seeing tears in his own father’s eyes as well. His heart stopped cold.
“Dad…” John gulped, feeling a lump form in his throat. Jack clenched his lips together before saying a word. He then placed his hands on John’s drooping shoulders and looked him straight in the eye.
John felt as if all the air had been knocked out of his lungs. He felt dizzy. He shook his head lightly.
The door to a room nearby was open. John couldn’t see in but leaned closer to see anyway. Jack pushed him back slightly. John looked back to his dad.
“No.” John denied his statement. Jack blinked, not expecting this from his son.
“She died at 5:13…she’s gone, son.” Jack tried to convince John. John shook his head. Jack’s grip loosened and John stepped away from his father and past his mourning sisters. He walked steadily towards the room.
Rounding the corner of the doorway, John entered the room and saw his mother lying peacefully on a flat hospital bed. The monitors surrounding her had been turned off. Her face was slightly pale. She didn’t look dead to John.
His feet felt like lead: impossible to command forward. John could already feel himself losing all control inside. He couldn’t handle this. He arrived at his mother’s bedside and gently picked up her hand. It was still a little warm. John brought her hand up to his face and brushed her hand against his cheek. Tears began to float in his eyes. He looked to her silent face, begging for her to open her eyes. She couldn’t be dead. It wasn’t possible.
John gently placed her hand back onto the bed sheet it had been resting upon. He backed away slightly. He shook his head. He couldn’t handle it any longer. He turned and fled from the room, past his father, past his grieving sisters, past the nurse’s station, and out the exit.
John made it down to the ground level of the hospital and ran out the front doors. He searched around and saw to his surprise, that his car was still parked near the entrance. John briskly walked to his car and prepared to get in.
“John! John, wait up!” Jack cried out from the entrance. He rushed over and grabbed his son’s arm. John shook off his father’s grip and tried to get into his car. Jack once again grabbed John’s arm with more force this time. He turned his son to face him. John was struggling not to allow his emotions to overtake him. Jack could see this, making it all the more painful.
“It’s okay.” Jack tried to calm his son. John’s head began to drop down in defeat.
“It’s not okay.” John argued. He glared at his father. Those blue eyes burned with anger.
“It’ll be okay.” Jack argued back. John let out a laugh, gaining a look of concern from his father.
“I’m just like you.”
“What do you mean?” Jack asked, completely confused. John shook his head, looking up at the hazy sky and then to his father with tears hovering in his eyes.
“I wasn’t there.” John said, looking directly into his father’s eyes, intending for his statement to ring true in more than one sense. Jack gulped hard. He released his grip on John’s arm and allowed John to get into his car. The engine roared and then the tires spun before John accelerated the car away. Jack looked to the sky as the tears began to overwhelm him. He hoped his wife was looking down on them all that very moment.
John tightened the bolt even more around the fuel panel of his module. He had just successfully flown the Farscape One high above through the atmosphere for its first test flight. The bolt seemed to be jammed. John slammed his wrench against the bolt. He felt somewhat relieved. Stress from getting this project up and running had taken its toll on him. He looked exhausted. He hadn’t slept or eaten reasonably since longer than he could remember. Or wanted to remember. John tried to tighten the bolt some more. Nothing. He slammed the wrench down on it even harder. A spark flew. John backed away quickly. When nothing happened. He let out a held breath and approached the module once more.
“Hey, give it a rest.” DK stated from behind him. John let out a sigh and turned to face his friend. DK stood before John with concern. John didn’t like the look and turned back to the module.
“John.” DK stated in an angered tone. John’s shoulders tensed. He turned once more to glare at DK.
“We don’t have time, DK. We have to take her up for another test flight and if I don’t get her fixed in time….”
“I’ll take care of it, John. Just…go home and get some sleep, will ya?” DK shook his head and took the wrench from John’s hand. John looked into DK’s eyes and felt uneasy at the concern DK projected back.
John began to walk away. DK turned and called after him. John turned once more and looked at DK with exhaustion beginning to draw into the lines on his face.
“I’m here if you need me, all right?” DK said with sincerity.
John smiled briefly and nodded his head. He appreciated DK’s intentions. He just wished everyone would back off and give him some space. Today was the anniversary. Two years ago, his mother passed away. Two long years. What made it worse was that somebody else dear to John was dying now. Grandpa Crichton.
“Oh John?” DK called out as John got to the exit. He looked to DK.
“Thanksgiving dinner still a go?” DK asked with a grin. John gave him a smile.
“Yeah.” John answered and then stepped out the door.
The fifteen-minute drive home to his house was almost eventless. John nearly fell asleep at the wheel one time. He parked his Thunderbird in the driveway and didn’t even bother to take the keys out of the ignition. He dragged himself into the house and stopped dead in his tracks. His father was sitting in the living room, just staring at the television, which was turned off. John rubbed his face with his hands and entered into the small living room to see what his father wanted.
“Dad…how did you get in….” John began and came to face his father. Jack was looking pretty misty-eyed. John took a deep breath and sat down on the couch beside his dad and shifted himself so he could face his father. Jack looked to John.
“Your grandpa isn’t going to make it to Christmas.” Jack announced. John swallowed hard. He knew this already. He just didn’t want to acknowledge it.
“Dad, are you okay?” John asked.
“No son.” Jack replied.
“It’ll be okay, Dad.” John tried to comfort him. Jack turned to John with an angered expression. John lowered his head. He was too exhausted for another fight.
“Don’t you tell me it’s going to be okay! Life has been hell since Leslie died. I can barely stand a day at work. It hurts to look at you and your sisters because you remind me of her. Then dad has to get sick. It won’t be okay.” Jack barked. That sparked something within John. He looked up and gained eye contact with his father. His own eyes were burning with anger.
“You were never around to begin with. Maybe if you had put your family first, you wouldn’t have missed out on some of the best times of our lives. You could have enjoyed being with us when it counted.” John bit at each word. Jack abruptly stood, with John following suit. The two stood before each other, fueled by anger that had long been building within.
“My work was so important to me, you know that. Your mother knew that. She respected it. Why couldn’t you?” Jack yelled into John’s face. John’s nostrils flared.
“Respect? How can you talk about respect? You weren’t there when I fell from the tree house and broke my arm, were you? You weren’t there when the twins graduated from high school, were you? You weren’t there when Grandma McDougall passed away and mom was hurting. You weren’t even there for my graduation from MIT. Don’t even begin to try to gain pity from me.” John yelled.
“And you weren’t there when your mother died.” Jack bit back. John immediately shut up. He shook his head.
“That’s not fair.” John spoke in a low voice. His blue eyes burned with hatred.
“Neither is blaming me for everything that goes wrong in your life.” Jack replied honestly.
Both men became silent. They glared at each other, trying to think of something worse to say to the other.
“You never come over to visit anymore.” Jack said.
“I don’t feel welcome.” John replied.
“What is your problem, besides seeing me as a failure for a father?” Jack angrily urged an answer.
“I live in a motherfucking shadow. All my life. I’ve never been able to be my own person. I’ve always been the son of Jack Crichton, Astronaut, savior of the fucking universe. I’m sick of it. I am good at what I do. I love my work, I love my life, and I love my family. You want to know what I hate? I hate your legacy.” John explained in a harsh voice.
Jack opened his mouth to reply but shut it. He didn’t know how to respond. He had never considered this point of view.
John shook his head. He then proceeded to walk out of the living room. Jack began to chase after him. John got to his car when his father finally caught up to him. John swirled around and faced his father. Jack stopped in his tracks.
“DO NOT even try to calm me down, Jack.” John stated with an icy expression. Jack grew angrier than ever. He slapped his son and stunned him.
“Never talk to your father like that. You may never know how much I care about you and your sisters. I would die for each and every one of you.” Jack said. He then backed away to allow John to get into his Thunderbird. John prepared to start up his car and paused to look at his father. He was trying to read his expression, to see if he really had meant what he had said. John then started the car and backed out of the driveway. He was too angry to resolve the fight just now. Harsh words had been exchanged and left un-forgiven. John then drove away, leaving his stunned father standing in his own driveway.
John had directed his car to his favorite bar. But somehow, he ended up driving to the Hospice Center where his Grandpa was currently staying. Grandpa Crichton had always been a comfort to John in times of need. And John knew he needed to see him before something happened…like with his mother. Jack had been right. John did blame his father for everything.
John turned into the Hospice Center parking lot and parked his car. His stomach was fluttering. He dreaded visiting sick people. They always died after he went to see them.
Somehow, John dragged himself to room 313, where his Grandpa was currently residing. He opened the door to see the old bugger sitting upright in his hospital bed, laughing at the Three Stooges playing on the television set stationed in the upper corner of the room. There was an IV attached to his arm and a breathing tube had been stationed into his nostrils. For as pale as the old man looked, he outwardly appeared his old jolly self. John cleared his throat as he came into the room. Grandpa Crichton turned and smiled, clicking off the television set.
“John! What a surprise! Come to see if I’m stiff yet?” Grandpa joked. John shook his head and took a seat next to his Grandpa. Always the comedian.
“I know I haven’t visited in a while and I’m sorry for that. I’ve been completely immersed in Farscape One.” John tried to explain. He glanced at his Grandpa to see him smiling knowingly.
“You don’t have to give me any excuses, boy. I know them all too well.” Grandpa Crichton began to cough. John tensed. His grandpa coughed quite hard for several more seconds and then became quiet. “How far are you on her anyway?”
John smiled, realizing his Grandpa wouldn’t be giving him too much hell today.
“We’re on the second test flight. I wish you could see her Grandpa. Especially when we take her up there for the actual mission.” John entwined his fingers together and brought them to his mouth. He looked off dreamily.
“You look like hell.” Grandpa Crichton observed.
“So do you.” John joked back. Grandpa Crichton nodded.
“What are you really doing here? I know you Junior. You don’t go to hospitals just to see the nurses.” Grandpa Crichton tried to ease the truth out of his grandson. John looked to his Grandpa and wondered just briefly how the old man had gotten so wise.
“Dad and I got in a fight. Not just a little one, either. A huge one.” John replied.
“I figured as much. You always come to me for advice.”
Grandpa Crichton began another bought of coughing. John felt uneasy, wondering if he was doing the right thing. He almost kicked himself for that last thought. Of course he was doing the right thing. Grandpa Crichton lowered his bed so he could lie down more comfortably.
“Tell me, Junior. What do you want for your future?” Grandpa Crichton asked.
John became silent. He hadn’t expected that question. He had to actually think for a moment.
“A wife. Kids. Happiness. Success with Farscape One.” John replied.
“You don’t want much, do you?” Grandpa Crichton laughed, nearly beginning another coughing fit.
“More than anything…my dad to be there to enjoy it with me.” John added. He looked to his Grandpa and received a look back. He had revealed the truth behind all that was bothering him. The deaths that had plagued the Crichton family in the past years had been bountiful. It was time things changed. Life needed to be simple again, like it once was so long ago. Unfortunately, both realized life could only get more complicated.
“John, you’ve got to realize. Everything you have before you is what you are gifted with. You just have to know how to use it. How to cherish it while its there. Understand?” Grandpa advised. John could never stop being amazed by the amount of wisdom this man had to share.
“Do you still gaze at the stars wishing you could be up there, exploring them?” John asked after a short pause between the two. Grandpa Crichton shifted his head and thought hard.
“Honestly, I was always too damned chicken to go up there in the first place. Ha! I have no regrets, Junior. Remember what I’ve always told you…live life with no regrets or it just won’t be worth living.” Grandpa Crichton said and then looked to the ceiling. “I’ve lived a full life. And loved every minute of it.”
“Grandpa…I don’t know where to go from here. What do I do?” John asked. Grandpa Crichton looked over to John with exhaustion playing onto his face. John hated seeing the paleness, the exhaustion, the pain.
“Never give up, Junior. Never.” Grandpa Crichton stated weakly. He then began to grow drowsy. John realized it was time to leave. He smiled at his Grandpa and patted him on the shoulder before leaving.
“I love ya Grandpa.” John whispered. Grandpa didn’t open his eyes.
“I love you to, Junior.” Grandpa Crichton whispered back.
John smiled. He then left the room. It was time he made some changes in his life. Starting with apologizing.
John arrived back at the hanger just in time to catch DK finishing up repairs on Farscape One. He took a seat on a large crate behind DK. DK set down his tools and took a seat next to John, gazing at him with the usual friendly concern.
“I’m sorry, DK.” John said, looking down at his feet. He then looked to DK with sincerity in his eyes. DK smiled and shook his head. A Crichton apologizing was like the presence of aliens on Earth being announced all over the world. Shocking.
“You don’t need to apologize.” DK replied, with a look in his eyes telling John how true his words were.
“Well, I shouldn’t have tried being such a hard-ass to you. And dad, and my sisters, and…”
“Don’t worry about it. You guys are all going through some tough times right now. I’m just trying to be there when you need me, that’s all. I just wish I could do more.” DK responded.
“Unfortunately, DK…there isn’t anything you or I can do.” John replied. The two became silent.
“She’s working perfectly now.” DK blurted out, growing excited for the Farscape Project all over again. The two stood and approached the module to touch her cool surface with pride. All the hard work, all their dreaming, and all the setbacks…everything led up to this beautiful machine. And it all had come up from a single idea on a silent night three years earlier.
“Do you realize we’ve done nothing but work on this project for three years?” John stated. DK nodded.
“I can’t wait to see what she’ll do once we get her into outer space.” DK stated.
“It’ll be phenomenal.” John guessed.
A man called into the hanger for John at that moment. He already could sense a sickening feeling settle into his stomach. There was a phone call once again. John was beginning to wish he carried a cell phone around with him more often. Then again, if this was a repeat of when his mother died….
John looked to DK and DK looked to John. The two then walked together to the man waiting for John at the opened door to the hanger. He handed him a cellular phone and John looked nervously to DK.
“Yes?” John said into the phone. He remained silent for a moment, listening to the voice on the other end. DK looked to him expectantly, hoping it was just another call from the IASA headquarters.
“Yeah. Ok. Thanks. Bye.” John said and hung up. He looked to DK, obviously a little more rattled than before. DK knew instantly. Grandpa Crichton had died.
“It’s okay, DK. I’m going to go and meet my dad at the Hospice Center. We’re going to get some plans finalized and then see when Jenn and Jess can get away from classes.” John replied, nodding his head. John’s heart was shredding into pieces inside. He tried to be stable for his friend. Somehow, though, John felt somewhat more at peace with his Grandpa’s passing. It wasn’t as hard this time. Was it because he had just spoken with him…said things that needed to be said?
“I’ll be here.” DK said.
“I know.” John turned to leave and paused. He looked back to DK. “Christmas is still on, right?”
DK laughed and nodded. John gave him a smile and then left.
The flat horizon beyond the silhouette of the shuttle on Cape Canaveral’s landing pad was glowing. A sudden sliver of golden light began to sneak upwards onto the horizon. John hugged himself in the coolness of the early morning. He leaned on his faithful Thunderbird and watched the sunrise with a million thoughts racing through his mind. His stomach was rattling. This was the day.
Everything in his entire life led up to this point. All the struggles, all the successes…everything. Most thought he was setting out to prove to the world that he could be his own hero. Not just be the son of the hero. The real truth to his mission was to prove a theory and to prove to himself that he could to anything if he applied himself. And he had already done that. Farscape One was going to launch in just under eight hours.
John had broken quarantine to be here, to witness this sunrise. Something deep inside had told him that this would be the last. He prayed, no he begged to the powers that be for his family to be spared any pain. They couldn’t withstand any more heartache.
Sure space travel was relatively safe nowadays, despite setbacks like the Challenger explosion and Apollo 13’s mishaps. But John had confidence in this mission. It was routine in a sense. He was simply going to be shuttled to the outer reaches of Earth’s atmosphere where his module would be released. He would then pilot the module around the Earth, using its gravity and his speed to catapult him into the outer stretches of space at speeds never before achieved by mankind. A new milestone would be set in the history of humans. First step, the moon...next, Mars…with only perhaps a days worth of travel to get there.
John thought back through the four difficult years that he and DK had devoted to creating this dream. It was time to do something to make all that work worth it.
John arrived at IASA headquarters just in time to be scolded by his superiors. He met up with his sisters who were anxious to share lunch with him.
“Cafeteria food, come on, John! We can make sculptures like when we were kids!” Jenn exclaimed, pulling on John’s arm. Jess pulled on his other arm.
“Come on, we haven’t had much time to spend with you, John, please?” Jess begged.
John smiled at his sisters and allowed them to pull him into the cafeteria.
“Fine. But I’m not too hungry. If I throw up…let’s just say I don’t want to see my lunch floating around me when I get into space.” John joked.
A horde of flashes suddenly blinded John and his sisters. Somehow, the press had snuck into the cafeteria. John shielded his eyes and gathered his stunned sisters. He looked angrily at the cameras and rushed his sisters into an adjoining hallway to get away. IASA security immediately came in to rid of the problem.
“Guess that’s out of the question.” John said. “Sorry about that girls.”
“It’s all right, John. We survived dad’s success, we can survive yours.” Jenn giggled. John admired the girls. They never seemed too bothered by the success and attention the men in the family had always received.
“Hey, I’ve really gotta go now. Launch is in like…two hours.” John said, glancing at Jess’s watch. He let the girls go and they stood together before him. They became serious and each gave him a hug in turn. John released a breath and smiled at them.
“Why do girls have to be so dramatic?” John tried to joke. The girls smiled sweetly at him. He smiled back.
“We love you.” Jess stated.
“Be careful and good luck.” Jenn replied.
“I’ll be right back.” John said with a wink and turned away one last time from his sisters. The girls turned as well, to meet others in a personal room where they would be able to view the lift off.
The rattlers in his stomach were growing worse.
John encountered his father in the hall as he made his way to the shuttle platform for last minute checks. Jack was gleaming proudly at his son. John was glad that everything had been resolved between the two by now. He could never have forgiven himself if he hadn’t resolved things immediately after Grandpa Crichton’s funeral.
Jack held out a silver ring suspended on a silver chain. John opened his palm and allowed his father to place it into his hand. He squeezed John’s hand shut and gained eye contact with him. John remembered every word his father had spoken to him then. But what he wanted to remember most was the fact that his father had been so proud. His eyes had been sparkling with pride.
John encountered DK in the control room. DK was excited, but not as serious as John was about the whole experiment to prove his theory. John thought it best not to say much. He hugged DK, patted him on the back and left his best friend to guide his way once he arrived in space. John walked to the shuttle with personnel behind him. His stomach was full blaring with rattlers. He imagined his father standing in a window, his eyes filled with pride, his heart pumping with adrenalin, and his stomach just as jittery as John’s. He imagined his sisters sitting in the observation tower, excited and exuberant. Most likely even telling other observers of embarrassing young John Crichton stories. He imagined DK standing by the computer monitors, his stomach shredding with ulcers and his mind buzzing with last minute alterations. John then imagined his mother, somewhere out there, beaming down with pride. He prayed he wouldn’t be joining her too soon. He wasn’t ready to give up on life just yet.
As John traveled through the towering glass hall leading into the shuttle high above the ground, he observed the normally overlooked pleasures of the world around him. The bright blue sky…not even a cloud to hamper it this fine day. A few white gliding sea gulls squawking above the swamps nearby. The green vegetation spread out on either side of Cape Canaveral. The deep blue ocean off in the distance. The conveniences of mankind all about…from the cars in the paved parking lot to the monstrous billion dollar shuttle before him. Why was he being so sentimental all of a sudden? John shook his head and cleared his mind. He was excited. Four years brought him here to this point. He better enjoy it.
John situated himself in the shuttle, hoping that the module suspended underneath the cockpit of the shuttle was fine. The few other astronauts who would be assisting him on this mission were already in the cockpit. They greeted John with salutes. John felt giddy. He saluted them back and was helped into his seat. A technician belted him in and nodded to him. John could see the honor in the man’s eyes and felt a twinge of uneasiness. He hadn’t realized that he had already surpassed his father’s legendary status. They were already in awe of him.
His radio crackled, disrupting his thoughts. John nearly jumped and tuned in.
“Ready Commander Crichton?” Commander Crichton. John loved that title.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” John replied into his radio transmitter.
Before he knew it, the shuttle began to roar and rattle all around him. John’s stomach was swirling but at the same time, his adrenalin was pumping. This was nearly the best part of being an astronaut. All that power beneath him was making him light headed. He was ecstatic.
John was lifted off into space. He was on a verge of an entirely new point in his life. He was about to find out how extreme that point would be. Moments after the shuttle established orbit, John was already making his way back to where his module was. He passed by a window in the shuttle to watch the rocket thrusters be dumped back to Earth. John was in awe at the sight. As the thrusters quickly diminished into nothingness as they fell away from him, he viewed the brightened hemisphere of his home against the black canvas of stars. He had witnessed Earth from space before, but never really truly taken a moment to look.
“Are you set Commander?” A voice asked over the radio transmissions. John nearly forgot about the radio in his helmet and nodded his head with a laugh.
“I’m on my way, sir.” John replied.
He then took a brief look back to Earth. Damn she was beautiful from up there. John turned to his module. Another beautiful sight. He opened the hatch and climbed in. He switched on all systems. He checked and re-checked all functions. Everything was a go. John was as giddy as a child at Christmas.
The shuttle opened up above him and a long arm began to move the module upwards, out of the shuttle. John released the module’s hold on the shuttle and was finally free in space. The drifting feeling was almost frightening. He shifted in his module and spoke into his radio.
“Canaveral, this is Farscape One. I am free and flying. Are you there Momma bear?” John asked. He could already envision all the people down on that blue planet gazing at their television sets or listening to their radios or even watching via internet connection. They were as eager to witness this event, as John was to complete it.
“Oh yeah Farscape, reading you loud and clear.” DK responded. John smiled for he could tell from DK’s voice that his friend was smiling from ear to ear.
John initiated the ignition sequence and the shuttle began to shake as it raced forward. The adrenalin began to pump faster within John. Then the rattlers kicked in. DK began to shout excitedly on the radio. John’s father even joined in. John couldn’t hear them as the radio began to break up. He suddenly saw a blue flash before him and his heart stopped cold. John experienced a small flash of his life pass through his mind. He gulped hard and felt the shuttle being pulled into this swirling blue mass.
This was it. His life was about to change forever.
Hey, the rest you know!