TITLE: Sugar and Spice
SPOILERS: Scratch 'N Sniff
DISCLAIMER HAIKU: Though I love them so / And they are fun to play with / I do not own them NOTES: Thanks to FBF for the beta.
"I need to tag a keedva." Chiana stalks through the lobby of the pharmaceutical bar and sweeps aside a brocaded curtain. "Break the coil."
Crichton is stopped by a pleasant Luxan woman with her tankas strapped up into a candelabra shape. He pays the cover charge while he pulls Chiana's phrases apart and puts them back together again. He follows her into the inner chamber.
"Tap a kegger on Spring Break." There's a stage to the left, and a variety of overstuffed furniture clusters in groups, like a posh dinner theatre sponsored by Laz-E-Boy. "Jool told me you guys were gonna stay clean and sober after LoMo."
"Where's the fun in that?" She chooses a nook with two divans and a low table, and shrugs off her long coat. It's cozy, and both divans have a good view of the stage and the door. "Besides, one bad vacation just means I need a good vacation even more."
"Can't argue with that." Their table lamp is shaped like a laughing luxan Buddha, tankas rampant. "You think D'Argo's having as much fun as this little guy?"
Chiana's gasping laugh is worth a hundred lewd jokes.
A waiter nods his head in greeting and kneels. He slides a tray from his shoulder to their table. It looks like a platter of bon-bons, dim sum and nineteenth-century medical equipment. The waiter touches Chiana's knee, then a white dish, then Crichton's knee, then a green dish. A few of the dishes are clear glass, fun for Nebari and Sebacean both.
Chiana leans forward, the tip of her tongue peeking pink. "This." The white bowl is filled with amber spheres the size of jawbreakers. "I haven't had Gai Dzii since I left home."
The waiter passes her the bowl with a bow, and turns to Crichton.
"Got any root beer?"
The waiter proffers a squat vial of milky pink liquid with a green cap.
Crichton shakes his head and pulls out a tile. The waiter gives him iridescent wafers in change. He tips a few onto the waiter's tray. The waiter touches his forehead to the floor, then leaves with the tray.
"Root beer, huh?" He swirls the liquid around in the vial. It looks like a test tube of pearlescent calamine lotion.
Harvey is leaning against the upswept head rest of Chiana's divan, one leg up and his foot swinging. He's wearing a slew of Mardi Gras beads and holding a red plastic cup of beer. "Brewed from the root of common Nygar palms, Luxans use it to calm digestion. In Sebaceans, it stimulates the heart and causes hallucinations."
Crichton mutters, "That'd be redundant."
Harvey shrugs, shoulder plates shifting like a beetle rearranging its wings. He wanders off, presumably to go get titties flashed at him somewhere in Crichton's temporal lobe.
Musicians briefly tune, then launch into a reel. Players skip onto the stage, elaborate costumes flowing and falling off of their painted bodies. "So, Pip. Stimulant, depressant, or snack?"
Chiana lounges back into the cushions and runs a finger around the rim of the bowl. "Mild euphoric." Her tone dares him to comment.
"Just curious, Chi. Fire it up, I'll carry you home."
She holds one between finger and thumb. The structure is less like a gumball, more like a Buckyball, latticed and beaded with tiny drops that catch the light red and gold. She pops it in her mouth, where it seems to melt. She breathes deep and swallows.
He watches her lick her lips. "So what do they taste like?"
She tilts her head, languorous. "I don't know. They make my tongue numb." She shifts to the edge of her divan, feet on the floor and elbows on the table. "I've always wondered, though. You could tell me, Crichton."
"No thanks. I'm the designated driver, remember?" The music slows down, and the players on stage are engaged in either a full-contact opera or a live sex musical. Maybe it's porn with a plot.
She turns the bowl in her fingers, dark nails flashing against the white. "Sebaceans use the ingredients as spices, they won't affect you at all."
Crichton stops playing with the root beer and sets the vial on the table. "You said you had these as a kid?"
Her lips thin, holding back a laugh.
"You're so paranoid all of a sudden." Her smile is wistful and glassy. "You took a mushroom for me once."
"That wasn't exactly a vacation."
"That's my point." She holds it out in her palm. " Come on, even if you were Nebari you're too big to feel just one." It looks like a jeweled model of a pollen grain made from rock candy. "Take it gently, don't crush it."
He takes it, crystalline sharp and awkward in his fingers. "This stuff is more dangerous than Count Chocula."
She comes closer and sits on the table. Her voice is soft. "Set it on your tongue and close your mouth around it. Breathe through your nose as it melts."
He closes his eyes to concentrate. The Buckyball dissolves on his tongue with a sensation like pop rocks, fresh cinnamon burn and peppermint spark. It disappears in a candy floss instant.
He breathes out and the flavor fumigates his head, sweet and smoky. The fragrance is something like weed but more like good barbecue.
He sucks the residue off his tongue, tastes some more.
"So what's it like?"
He feels around himself but nothing's amiss. Same old self, at least until the universe proves otherwise yet again.
He opens his eyes. Chiana's close enough that he can see the seam of grey meeting pink on her bottom lip. "Hand me another one, Pip. This is gonna take some study."
"It's this kind of behaviour that will get us all killed." Jool is decked out in studs and disapproval, her eyes wide.
D'Argo shifts the strap of the heavy bag hanging from his shoulder, nods to Crichton and checks out the stage.
Jool sits down next to Chiana and speaks softly, petting her arm. "We have to take some responsibility for our own safety."
Chiana shakes her off. "And that's why Crichton is with me and D'Argo is with you. So we can have fun without having to shoot anybody."
Jool glares at Crichton, the babysitter debauched by his charge.
"Yeah, be cool Honeybunny. Have a Gai Dzii."
D'Argo whistles. "Gai Dzii, that's expensive."
Crichton moves over to give D'Argo space on the divan. "Say what you will about the weather--and I have--but our money goes pretty far here, at least."
D'Argo sets himself down with a thorough sigh. "Indeed."
By now Jool's voice is thin with anger and fear. "I think you have a death wish."
"One bad party and now you don't want anyone to have any fun. Just go away, Princess."
"We almost died, Chiana. That was not fun. Come with D'Argo and me--"
Chiana shrugs her arm free again. She leans in close to Jool but her voice carries. "Tell me, D'Argo. Does she let you grab that collar of hers or is it just for show?"
D'Argo sighs and lets his head fall forward into his hands.
Jool's blush fans from her cleavage up past the roots of her hair and Crichton thinks he's on a runaway train to TMI land. Jool stands up and plucks D'Argo's arm. "It's too hot in here. We're leaving."
"Yeah." Chiana stands up and gets right in Jool's face like they're on a playground. "Wouldn't want your goodies to spoil in the heat."
Crichton leans over and whispers in D'Argo's ear. "You know they're fighting about you, man."
D'Argo reaches for the root beer and uncaps it. "Apparently that maniac twinned the wrong man."
It's meant as a joke, so Crichton makes a wry face.
"Oh yeah?" Chiana punctuates her challenge with a shove.
"Yeah." Jool bounces right back and grabs her by the bodice, shifting her fingers down the front for a better grip. She gives Chiana a shake at each word for emphasis. "Every time."
"Well, now. Maybe you should prove it to me."
D'Argo pauses with the half-empty vial before his lips. He knows that tone of voice and he knows the argument has shifted gears, even if Jool doesn't realize it yet.
"What the frell is that supposed to mean?" Jool's sarcasm is a whip but the target just smiles and stares at her pretty mouth.
"I mean if you're the better woman," Chiana slips her hands around Jool's hips and jerks her in close to whisper against her lips, "prove it to me."
The color drains from Jool's hair, but not her face or her cleavage.
Crichton chants "Woah, woah, woah..." as if to break it up but he's too quiet and he isn't moving from the couch.
Chiana closes the gap and brushes her lips against Jool's. When Chi turns it into a kiss, Jool draws her head back and glances at D'Argo.
"You don't need his permission, Princess."
The men tense as soon as they see her hair turn red again but they aren't fast enough to stop it from going down.
"Maybe you don't, but I'm not a shameless slut."
Chiana snakes a foot around and hooks Jool behind the knees, pushing her onto the low table in a tumble of red hair and black leather. If it weren't for the collar, Chi might have gone for the throat and crushed it, and if it weren't for the knee jammed under her ribcage. Jool might have broken every glass in the pharm bar.
As it was, the waiter who was about to hand D'Argo a menu of the sumptuous room options and hourly rates wound up signaling the bouncers instead.
The cold drizzle has stopped but water still flows from the roofs to the street. Crichton's mouth feels sticky from the Gai Dzii he helped Chi put down while the bouncers watched. She couldn't take them into the street and she didn't want to leave them behind.
Tangles of cabling dock each shuttered building to its neighbors, and it feels like he and Chiana are evicted ship rats swimming for the safety of the shore. They make their way through the ugly streets to the pod they'd parked arns ago, when the night was young and they felt it.
"Show me the way to go home," Harvey belts out the song, tromping through the water running down the center of the street, "I'm tired and I want to go to bed!"
Water sprays out from each step, but Crichton's used to the thoroughness of the manifestation. Every time he spots a flaw, a lack of echo or a lack of shadow, Harvey goes the extra yard to become a real boy. "I had a little drink about an hour ago, and it went right to my head!"
Chiana's feet trace a random secret path, the rest of her body two steps behind. She stops mid-twirl and steps in front of him, walking backward. "What was it like the first time, when there were those other two of you? Was it any different from this time?"
Drops of mist cling to her hair and the fur trim of her coat. Like a monochrome Gai Dzii, the crimson and gold sugar colors drained out to the aftertaste of pewter.
"What, you mean Spock and Captain Caveman?" Crichton stops, flings his arms out and yodels, "Captain Caaaaaave-maaaaaaaan!"
A window opens high above and there's an angry shout.
Chiana laughs the way she always does when he joins her in getting into trouble. "Feel better?"
"Yeah, I think I'm getting a sugar rush from the Gai-Dzii."
To underscore the opinion, the tenent above throws a bowlful of something into the street, which lands at the edge of where the water flows down the center. Crichton takes a few steps back the way they came to inspect it before it dissolves completely into the flow of rain water. Could be goulash. Could be offal. Either way it's unwanted leftovers and they seem to be walking in the sewer portion of the street.
When he looks back to Chiana, her head tilt travels down her body and her feet barely stay beneath her. He steers her away from the water. He asks her, "What do you mean, 'different'?"
"I've got a theory. Want to hear it?"
"I think that when a person is split, it can't be an even divide. There's no way." She starts walking again, picking up her careening trail where she left off. "My left hand is not like my right. My one ear is higher than the other. There's differences all over me, how could the two of me have been exactly the same?"
He catches the back of her coat to adjust her trajectory. "What do you mean the two of you? Don't tell me we left another Chiana on that rotting--"
"No." She whips around, pulling the coat from his hand. Her eyes are bottomless. "He ate her. Do you want to hear my theory or not?"
The water draining down the center of the sloped street is wide and deep enough to qualify as a creek. It's just the two of them, the burble of the water and the buzz of the sodium streetlamps. "Yeah, uh, go ahead."
"So it's got to be the same with me and her. One of us was a little faster, a little more calculating."
"So you're Mercenary Chi, and the other Chiana was the good girl?"
"Maybe. It can't all be chance, Crichton."
He imagines what the other him must have felt when he scrambled into the safety of the departing pod to find that they already had the requisite John Crichton on board, that in another two microts they would have launched and left him and never come back. He hadn't learned that same lesson until the bastard took off on Talyn, but the other John had already taken the knowledge to heart and he wasn't going to be the expendable John Crichton ever again.
Chiana drifts onto a drain grate that isn't seated properly into the street, stumbles, and self-corrects. "It can't be chance."
At the moment they first saw each other the two men diverged, and it was pure chance which one was standing where.
He takes her by the cuff and pulls her upstream toward the pod, shaking the late night notion that there's another John waiting for them there. "I think it's chance, Pip. I know if I'd had the opportunity, I'd have stolen the other guy's life out from under him, same as he did to me."
She catches his wrist and makes him turn to face her. "He doesn't have your life, Crichton." She looks at him and her smile is a warm soothing place to rest for a moment. "He just boosted your stuff."
"Right. Just my stuff." He steadies her with an arm around her shoulders and keeps watch on the dark areas of the street. "Point being, I think the other Chiana would have done the same thing you did. If it's any consolation."
But he knows it's not a consolation, and that Chiana gave herself a better deal than he gave himself.
"I condemn you, John Crichton...to live." --Scorpius
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