By Laura Folden
"You ready, Aeryn?" John eased the Farscape into position and craned his neck down to peer up at his copilot. <> "Ready."
John studied his instruments. "Pilot, you reading us?"
"Your signal is perfectly clear, Commander."
"Right." He took a deep breath. "Okay."
Aeryn rolled her eyes. "Crichton, let's go already."
"....think he's coming around..."
John groaned and opened his eyes, conscious only of the white-hot mass of pain that was his shoulder and chest.
"Hey, buddy," a familiar male voice filtered down to him through layers of pain-filled fog, "welcome back."
"Where..." His throat was too parched to speak. "Where am I?"
"Bethesda Hospital, son. IASA moved you soon as you were stable."
John stared at the phone. To hear his father's voice again, after all these months. His *real* father's voice. His hands clutched at the arms of the chair, steadying himself against the rising tide of emotions. There'd been days when that thought had kept him from jumping out an airlock; days when the memory of his father had kept him focused on his goal of going home when everything and everyone around him was an enemy...when life had seemed past all hope. His father's voice.
John tried to turn his head toward the voice and couldn't.
They stood there for a long moment, grinning foolishly at each other, before John found himself caught up in DK's hug.
"Jesus, John--" DK choked, "I was still so sure it was a joke--"
"Nope. One hundred percent real me." His face sobered and he pulled back a little. "You came alone, right? You didn't tell anyone?"
"Not a soul. What happened to you? We thought you were dead! And you're--what the hell happened?"
"I'll tell you all about it, I promise. Just not now." John scanned the
crowd around them warily. "Let's not take any chances. Come on."
He reached behind him and grabbed Aeryn's hand again, pulling her forward. "DK, this is Aeryn. Aeryn, my friend DK."
"Yeah." He felt a warm hand touch his own. "I'm here too."
"What's going on? IASA?" He blinked, trying to clear some of the fog from his head.
"Sorry, bud, we had to let the hospital know who you were. The news is out now. 'Astronaut returns from the dead; gets shot in airport.' You made history once again."
John focussed on DK's worried, tired face. "Where's...how's...Aeryn?"
From his vantage point on the airport escalators he saw the running man before Aeryn even became aware of him. Watched in horror as the man glanced over his shoulder and ran headlong into her. Saw her almost go down, recover herself from her stumble and stagger back to her feet. She spun, drawing her gun as she moved, clicking off the safety.
Someone yelled. "She's got a gun!" And the room filled with struggling, screaming people.
DK glanced across at John's father, his mouth turning down at the corners. "I don't know."
John tried to sit up in bed and groaned as pain lanced across his shoulder, his chest. "What do you mean, you don't know!?"
"If anything happens to me, take care of Aeryn, will you? Keep her safe."
DK nodded. "Of course."
His father's warm hand pushed him back down on the bed. "Don't move. You'll only reopen the wound. We almost lost you for good this time, son."
But John wasn't listening. "DK?"
DK shook his head sorrowfully. "All I saw was you, buddy--lying on the floor, bleeding like crazy."
"How long?" John struggled to remember.
The room emptied of people. He reached the bottom and started to run, knowing he was too late, had perhaps always been too late. "Aeryn, no!"
She met his eyes for one brief moment, and in his mind he heard the words she'd spoken so long ago. "They will have to kill me if they come to take me tomorrow."
"You were in intensive care for two days, John."
"Two days." Two days Aeryn had been alone. But they hadn't caught her. He took courage from that fact. "DK, find her, you've got to find her."
"Find who, Commander?" The voice was bright, crisp, feminine.
He hated the sound of it instinctively. "Mom." He said the first thing he could think of.
Dad and DK looked startled, then recovered smoothly. "He's still a little disoriented, Major." Dad said, patting John's hand.
"A little?" The voice was amused. "Nora Crichton died when he was..." a brief pause, the rustle of paper, "about fourteen. Isn't that right?"
John let his eyes drift shut, feigning sleep. He hoped DK and Dad would take the hint and get that woman out of there. He couldn't think enough now to lie convincingly for the inevitable interrogation. Hours of interrogation. He waded back through distant memories of other interrogations he'd been subjected to on the false Earth and made a silent vow. He would *not* be tucked away like some curiosity.
But she hadn't been taken.
He clung to that thought like a lifeline as he actually did begin to drift toward the blessed pain-free oblivion of sleep.
Aeryn remained standing over the old man's body, watching him with cold eyes. "Hurry up, Crichton."
"Yeah, coming," he muttered under his breath, still irrationally furious with her. "Get in the truck."
When he woke again, the pain in his shoulder and chest had eased somewhat, as had his disorientation. "Good afternoon, Commander," the slightly amused feminine voice said.
He craned his head around to look at her. She was blonde, mid-thirties maybe, dressed in a no nonsense business suit. "Who are you?" He demanded rudely.
"Where's Dad and DK?"
"I'm here," DK replied, "I twisted the Colonel's arm and made him go get something to eat. John, this is Sara Michaels."
"How are you feeling, Commander?" Sara asked.
"Better. Who are you, again?"
"Sara Michaels. I work for IASA." She looked at him critically. "You're a rather special case, Commander. Returning a year later without your ship, chasing after some poor woman who was shooting out windows in an airport. Who was she?"
She fired, aiming not to hit either of the cops but to force them to drop their weapons and take cover. The observation window exploded outward into a shower of glass shards. The guards dropped to their knees. She ran.
The guards began climbing to their feet, reaching for their dropped weapons.
"Don't know." He grinned boyishly at her. "Guess I just overreacted when I saw her start shooting. Wanted to help those poor guards."
He barrelled headlong into them, taking both down at once with a football tackle. One of them reached for his gun and he stomped hard on the man's hand, closing his ears to the guard's scream of pain. Aeryn turned back toward him, slowing her flight.
"Run!" He shouted. "Go, now!"
Her perfectly lipsticked mouth turned down at the edges. "Really? How...fascinating. Funny, but the security cameras showed you attacking those guards to save that woman. Camera angles, I suppose?"
She fled. He followed, bolting up the escalator steps two at a time. He jumped over the turnstile, ignoring the shouts of the guards at the upper level. John heard the sharp bang of the gun and ducked instinctively. The hard white floor of the station rose up to meet him, and he felt the breath rush out of him as the bullet entered his flesh. He fought against the blackness and the pain, all the wind knocked out of his lungs.
John kept his face blank. "Must've been."
"Aeryn," his shout was barely a whisper.
She looked away, frowning. "Commander, I'm not your enemy. You've been through an incredible...situation.... It's my job to help you through it. I'll be your liaison with IASA and anyone who wants to see you."
"I'm getting through it just fine on my own."
"Who was she?"
"Look lady, I *told* you I don't know her. I just reacted to the situation. Too much adrenaline."
"Too bad. I'd have loved to have met Aeryn Sun."
John tensed. "How--"
Sara held up a tape recorder and clicked play. His own voice, "I asked Aeryn to come back with me again, Dad. She said no, as usual. I understand why even though she'll never tell me. She doesn't want to be alone and she's afraid that's exactly what she'll be. An alien on a planet full of billions of humans. I don't believe it'll happen that way though. I think you guys'd like her, you and DK, if you can get past her bad ass Peacekeeper act."
The recorder clicked off.
"That wasn't meant for you!" He snarled through clenched teeth.
Sara regarded him calmly. "They'll hear them. Someday." She crossed her legs and leaned back in her chair. "The description you give of Aeryn in an earlier tape matches that of the woman on camera almost exactly. And the gun that blew out the window could be a PeaceKeeper hand gun."
He stared at her. "What do you want?"
"Truth, Commander. Listen to me. You could be facing six balding old men with stars and decorations and guns coming out their ass right now but you've got me." She paused for a second, leaning toward him. "Top military brass, government agencies, reporters, and a fair number of wackos all want to take a crack at you. And her. I'm trying to prevent that. So start talking before Aeryn ends up in a morgue somewhere with a nice little tag attached to her toe."
"How many people believe that woman is Aeryn?"
"Everyone who's heard the tape. They're combing the streets of DC right now. If your little...escapade...hadn't occured in an airport in front of hundreds of people, we'd have a better chance of containing this disaster. As it is, there are atleast twenty news agencies parked outside this hospital."
"Any sign of her?"
"No. Believe me, I'd hear." She shrugged. "Don't know if I'd tell *you* though."
He turned away from her, struggling to get control of his thoughts. Sara Michaels said they were still hunting for her; she was probably okay. Scared but okay. Unless Sara were lying. If they had her tucked away somewhere--if they weren't continuing the search to misdirect the media while they locked her in a glass cage and studied her like some kind of specimen.
John deliberately stifled the flow of his thoughts. He had to accept Sara at face value but keep his eyes open for *any* signs that she wasn't telling the truth. Plots within plots, he thought furiously, lie on top of lie. He didn't put it past any of them.
"I'll leave you to think it over, Commander." Sara said softly. "Just remember that every minute you delay, she's out there alone."
He thought for a long while after she'd left, turning his options over and over in his mind. They knew who Aeryn was--or at least suspected. They had his tapes. They had him.
DK settled in the guest chair near the bed, uncharacteristically silent. He *had* to find her. But it was also a safe bet that if they let him out from under their guard that he was going to be tagged and studied and followed everywhere he went. In finding her, he'd doom her to the very thing he wanted to prevent.
There was only one thing he had that they didn't--something he hoped they might want badly enough to bargain with him. The afternoon drifted by into evening as he lay there and worried. Dad came back in and sat with him too, but he didn't really want to talk. Sara did not return that day and he was glad. He let CNN drone on in the background.
Every hour a picture of his face, of Aeryn's, another retelling of the tale of the astronaut returned from the dead. But no new updates, nothing telling of Aeryn's capture or her death.
He finally slept, conscious of his Dad's presence and taking much comfort from it.
Wheeling and Dealing
Sometime in the middle of the night Aeryn dreamed, and her involuntary movements roused him from his slumber. He rolled toward her. She'd fallen asleep on her belly, her arms stretched up under the pillow and her face turned away from him. John stretched out his hand and rested it on her back, rubbing it comfortingly.
She lifted her head and looked dazedly at him. "Hmmmm?" She breathed. "Nothing. You were dreaming."
"Mm." Her head dropped back onto the mattress. She scooted closer to him, snuggling into the warmth of his body. "Cold."
"Good morning, Commander."
John woke with a start, blinking his eyes against the bright morning sunlight. Sara Michaels walked into his field of view carrying a tray. "They're putting you on solid food today, Commander. Congratulations."
She set the tray down on the hospital table next to him. "That's good news. Even if it is hospital food."
She made a face as she sat gracefully on the edge of the bed. "Did you have a chance to think over what I said yesterday?"
John pushed the tray away. "Yeah."
"First, tell me the truth--did they find her?"
"Well, at least we're past the "I was just rescuing a damsel in distress" stage," she said brightly. "And no, there's still no sign of her."
He breathed a sigh of relief. "All right, lady," he said softly, meeting her eyes, "let's deal."
Sara's eyes widened in surprise. "Deal? What do you have that we could want?"
"I know where the Farscape is. And you've been listening to those tapes so you know that we've modified it with alien technology. Technology that only *I* know. That's got to be worth a lot."
John turned slowly to look back at the Farscape. His ship. "No,." he drawled softly, "we should camouflage it, somehow. Maybe even-maybe even push it into the lake. But what if we need to get back?"
"There's no way back."
His head jerked around toward her, but she was bending over the packs again, her long hair concealing her face.
"And would you be willing to build us another ship of the same design?"
He blinked, caught off guard. "You want to build another Farscape."
"Something like that. Maybe even something bigger."
"Why? One giant leap for mankind? Come on. You're not the type."
"No, because we know now that there's life out there." She frowned, considering him thoughtfully. "You went somewhere for all those months and came back different. Physically and mentally. The life you met out there isn't exactly friendly, Commander, and *I* believe we need to be prepared to meet it."
"So you're hunting her down," he replied bitterly, "the first alien life to come to our planet."
Sara tsked. "Aeryn's not an ambassador and you know it, so don't play that card with me. She's an escaped prisoner, as dangerous and desperate as they come."
"We should get moving," he said, shucking out of his bright orange flightsuit. He folded his suit up and stuffed it into his knapsack. "They shouldn't have seen us, but let's not take chances."
"I agree." She slipped out of her own black suit and wadded it up into a ball. She threw the suit into the back of the Farscape, then began packing guns and knives into her tote. Aeryn started to slip a pistol into her leg holster but he stopped her.
"Can't do that here, Aeryn. It'll attract attention and that's the one thing we don't want."
"I need a weapon."
"She's my friend."
"She's crucial to the survival of life on this planet. We *need* her."
"No," he said, "you need me. I know as much if not more than she does about hech drives at this point."
Sara smiled condescendingly at him. "She knows weapons technology, military strategies, political situations--knowledge potentially more valuable to us than how to fly around in space. When we get there, Commander, we want to know more about them than they do about us, and be better armed."
"Do you want the Farscape or not?"
She nodded decisively. "Yes, we want it. How badly depends on what you're looking for in terms of a deal."
"Get off Aeryn's back."
"Can't do that." She shook her head. "I'm sorry. Next?"
"All right then--I want a house in this area with a laboratory attached for working on the Farscape. I want a generous monthly stipend and access to any resource I need for the project. If DK and Dad are willing I want their help--and by willing I mean you have to *ask* them. Nicely. Most of all I want my freedom. I want to be able to go anywhere and talk to anyone I want." So I can find Aeryn.
She rose from his bed and pushed the food tray back over to him. "I'll see what I can do."
"You do that," he said, "call in some favors if you have to. But without that, no deal."
"Understood." She shut the door firmly behind her.
John breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't much but it was a start. He didn't believe he'd have gotten them off Aeryn's back anyway, but he wanted them to know what he wanted.
The rest of the week passed like a bad dream. Sara came back and informed him curtly that the deal had gone through; arrangements were being made even as they spoke. He spent long hours talking with his Dad, renewing old ties and telling stories of his life in space.
Periodically they were interrupted by doctors or nurses who came to check John's wound, his pulse, his temperature. He scowled at them, slapping their hands away more often than not. They'd argue with him for a while and finally go running off for Sara.
Sara. He was getting sick of Sara. She monitored his every contact. She was there when he awoke in the morning and sometimes when he went to sleep at night.
When she left him alone it was only to arrange for more of the endless stream of interrogators pretending they were here for his own wellbeing. Those interrogators were better than the ones who didn't give a damn about him or, even worse, were flat out suspicious of him. Every waking moment of his life was approved or rejected by Sara. She spent hours observing him, quizzing him, cataloguing his every reaction.
He muttered a few choice words under his breath.
"Yes, Commander?" She looked up from her corner chair. "You said something?"
"Yeah, I said something," he returned waspishly. "I said that I want the hell out of here. Now."
She tilted her head, considering. "That's up to your doctors."
"I'm fine," he sat up slowly, ignoring the twinge of his shoulder. "You know the deal...I get out, I get the house and the lab and a generous spending account. You get the Farscape. Now keep your part of the bargain."
"Keep yours. Where's the ship?"
He slid his legs over the side of the bed, his eyes mocking. "I'll show you. Frell, I'll show you right now, but let me *out*."
Her mouth tightened and she put down her book. "You've been pretty sheltered in here, Commander. You don't know what its really like outside this room."
"I don't care."
"You will." She gazed out the window, considering. "You're not exactly loved by your fellow humans. Those that don't think this is all some kind of hoax or scam--and they're plenty enough, let me tell you--think that you're the alien version of the Antichrist. Somebody," and her eyes promised murder to that particular individual, "leaked the news that you have microbes in your brain. So voila, all the X-Files fans came pouring out of the woodwork yelling about government conspiracies and hostile alien takeovers and calling for your blood. And if you think *they're* bloodthirsty you haven't met Dan Rather or Barbara Walters."
"I don't care," he repeated stubbornly. "Let me out." If it was that bad for him, safe under guard, what was it like for Aeryn, all alone and hunted out there? If they thought that he was an alien, and wanted his death, then they were hunting her too. He mentally chalked up one more strike against her.
"If you insist. I'll go make the arrangements." She rose from her chair and walked to the phone.
But the only place Sara let him go was right up on stage in front of about three hundred reporters. He refused the wheelchair and walked slowly to the microphone. Reporters started shouting all at once and at first he couldn't make himself heard over the din, or see over the bright white flash of the cameras. Sara'd forced him to rehearse every answer but at the end he winged it and just told his story, start to finish.
John talked of D'Argo's qualta blade, unity with Zhaan, Rygel's greediness, Chiana's barbed laughter. He spoke about Pilot and Moya and Moya's pregnancy. He talked of Crais, of the man's obsession with him and the death of his brother. But last of all--without meaning to--he talked about Aeryn. How she'd given up her life for him, her selflessness and courage in battle, her practical sense of humor and tendency to try to fight her way through every situation. He pleaded with them to leave her alone, to accept her, and then finally stumbled to a halt, close to tears.
"Commander? Commander!" The shouting started again all at once.
John pointed at the first reporter he saw, a tall blocky man whose face was somehow familiar. "Commander, will the PeaceKeepers be coming here? Is Aeryn Sun really here to scout out Earth for possible conquest?"
He stared at the man. Hadn't they heard a word? Maybe this guy was a flake. He spat out a sharp retort and took the next question.
"You said they injected you with alien germs..."
"Right. Are these microbes somehow used for mind control? Can Aeryn Sun infect Earth's population?"
John's hands tightened on the podium. The next question was along the same lines, and the next, and the next after that. He finally found himself shouting at them, pleading with them to *listen* to him. These had been his friends, not an advance invasion force. Aeryn was one woman, not something out of some horror movie. At long last Sara stepped forward and concluded the questioning, turning the reporters over to a lanky public relations guy. She rested her hand on John's arm and motioned for him to precede her off stage.
He went in a daze. As soon as he was out of sight of the vultures he stopped and leaned against the wall. Sara approached him, her face furious.
"What the hell was that?" She demanded sharply, grabbing his forearm. "*That* was not what we rehearsed. I *told* you not to talk about Aeryn Sun."
"Go to hell."
"I'm trying to be nice, Commander, but you're not making it easy for me."
"You?" He laughed derisively. "Lady, you probably slapped your own mother on the way out of the womb." He leaned forward aggressively. "I want that house, Sara, and I want it *now*. No more interviews, no more interrogations."
Her eyes flashed dangerously. "I don't think so. We need you, Commander, but you need us even more."
John snorted. "Yeah, right. Even if you do find Aeryn, who's going to translate? Who's going to build the warship you want?"
Sara shook her head. "I know you're not stupid, John Crichton, so don't act like you are. Learning from Aeryn is *my* priority--not everyone's. A lot of the powers that be want her dead--plain and simple. The more you disobey me, the worse I look. The worse I look, the less credible I am. And then your darling Aeryn ends up on a metal table with some greasy coroner salivating over her cold, dead alien body. Got it?"
She stalked away from him but he reached out for her, spun and slammed her up against the wall. "You are one sick bitch," he snarled.
"Yeah, but I've got a job to do. And since for the moment you and I both want Aeryn alive, I'd suggest you start cooperating."
She broke his hold and stalked away from him.
"I want her free, too," he muttered under his breath, watching her stiff retreating back. "Not just alive but caged." He looked back toward the still-shouting mob of reporters. "Hell," he said to himself, rubbing the back of his neck, "I can't even manage that for *myself*."
He followed Sara back to the briefing room, not sure what else to do.
John was standing in the Warehouse on the false Earth. He turned round, confused. The Farscape sat behind him in pieces. He wandered over and picked them up, turning them over and over in his hands. This was wrong. They'd never taken his ship apart.
He shivered, suddenly cold. His breath steamed in the frigid air. That was wrong too. He'd arrived on the false Earth in early summer. John frowned and turned back around.
Aeryn stood behind him in the observation room. She was looking toward him but didn't seem to see him. He started toward her, smiling. Maybe this *was* a false Earth like the last one. Maybe those aliens wanted just to do another test, to be sure if the human reaction they'd gotten from him was correct. If so, then it was time to go home again, because they were letting him see her. He pressed the button to open the door to the observation room. It clicked once but nothing happened. John stared at it puzzled and pushed it again. This time it came off in his hand, crumbling away into little shards.
John knocked on the window to get Aeryn's attention but she didn't hear. He knocked a little louder. "Aeryn, hey Aeryn," he said.
She turned from the window and wandered over to the bench lining one wall. Aeryn folded her legs underneath her and leaned back against the wall, staring into space.
"Aeryn?" She reached into the pack beside her and pulled out her pistol, stroking it, blowing a little dust off it.
John knocked harder. "Come on babe, look at me, we're going home soon I promise. Aeryn? Aeryn!"
She rested her head against the wall and lifted the pistol up with one shaking hand. She placed the pistol in her mouth.
John began to throw himself against the wall, slamming his open palm against the glass. He shouted her name, over and over again. "We're going home! This is another false Earth! Aeryn!"
She looked right at him then. John froze, his face pressed up against the glass and his warm breath fogging her from his view. Her eyes. Her eyes were still alive but seemed dead, beyond the point of despair. He'd never seen eyes that like that. Ever. And they were *her* eyes and he started yelling again but she just kept looking at him and then her finger tightened on the trigger and he woke, trembling, in his bed.
John sat bolt upright, fingers twisting the sweat drenched sheets of the hospital bed. He threw himself over the side, heedless of injury, and bolted out of the room.
"Commander?" The startled security guards assigned to him questioned. He didn't bother to answer, just ran to the door opposite his and burst in. Sara was still awake, patiently going over maps with her staff. She glanced at him, alarmed.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Michaels," the guard apologized behind him, "he just came running out."
She waved the man's explanation away and faced John, her eyes questioning. He didn't speak, just stood there clenching and unclenching his fists. Finally she broached the silence. "Go ahead, Commander."
"Whatever you want," he stammered, "whatever you want--the Farscape, my soul--just get me *out* of here."
Sara scrutinized him for a long moment. Her eyes softened briefly. She touched the shoulder of the man beside her, never taking her eyes off John. "Major, please make sure the house is ready for the Commander and his family. Also check to make sure that the IASA gets a plane ready, and has trucks and equipment in position."
"Yes, Ms. Michaels."
"We'll recover the Farscape first thing tomorrow."
He bent his head in relief, fists still clenched. "Thank you," he replied. Her mouth lifted in a mocking grin. "Don't thank me yet. We can't let you be truly free until we've found Aeryn Sun." She jerked her chin toward a multi-colored map on the wall. "Care to help us?"
Sara sighed and turned away. "Suit yourself." He stood for a moment longer, watching her. They would never stop hunting her.
He pivoted slowly on his heel and walked back over to Aeryn. She watched him wordlessly, then reached out and folded his hand in hers. He sat heavily on the plastic bench beside her and rested his head on her shoulder, sighing heavily.
"Aeryn, everything's perfect."
She snorted, disbelieving, and he laughed. If she didn't believe that, then she'd never swallow the fact that she was the best part of it. Aeryn on Earth. Even in her current dirty, smelly, smudged and disheveled state, she was still beautiful to him. He laughed again and hugged her close.
"I've know I've said it before, Crichton, but you *are* the most bizarre creature."
"Yeah, yeah, babe, I know." He hugged her again. He hesitated. "Aeryn..."
"Hmm?" She zipped her pack and slung it over her shoulder.
"These people won't hurt us. It's going to be fine."
The two hour flight across the country to Michigan and his ship seemed like the longest journey he'd ever taken. Longer than the nerve-wracking flight from where Moya had been to Acquara, longer than his first journey through the wormhole.
John stared sourly at the other passengers. Sara. Suits. Guards. The flight crew. All of them had gawked at him as they passed, trying to appear nonchalant but definitely not succeeding.
Yeah, yeah, I'm a space traveler. I fraternize with aliens. Get *over* it already.
The press had got wind of this too, and the long walk to the jet had been longer with their distant shouts echoing in his ears. Tensions were running high too in John's little group because it seemed they had a leak somewhere high up in the ranks. Sara's eyes flashed fire whenever talk came around to that particular subject.
"Comfy?" Sara asked, coming around to stand just behind him. "Need anything? A blanket or pillow?"
John stuck out one hand and snatched Aeryn's pillow out from under her head.
She yelled happily and went for her pillow, kicking the blankets off the bed as they wrestled. "Give...it...back...!" She panted, tugging on it.
He let her take it back. She pulled away from him, tucking it under her chin.
"Now I'm too hot." She complained.
He rolled on his side, facing her, and propped his head on his hand. "Aeryn,"
he said seriously, "are you happy here on Earth?"
He grunted. "Go away."
Sara's breath hissed, sharp and furious, between her teeth. "Do try and cooperate with the IASA board members, Commander." Sara paused, biting her lip, her tone changing from fury to pleading. "Please."
Pleading? From her? He twisted around to look at her. She seemed sincere, earnest even--the polish for one moment dropped to reveal the genuine emotion underneath.
She lowered her voice to a whisper. "There's a lot of dissension right now, a lot of talk about turning the project back over to the Military. If that happens--"
"I get tucked away in Area 51 for the rest of my life."
She nodded, quick and sharp, and left him.
John spent the rest of the flight smiling until his face hurt and fending off questions from the IASA board members about his journey. Every so often he'd catch Sara's relieved glances in his direction. So, he thought, you've got some stake in this. Somewhere. If I can just find it, I'll have some more room to bargain.
The Spinning Earth
John fidgeted the entire way, turning the situation over and over in his mind, searching for an advantage. Sara on the other hand was unnaturally silent. She kept her nose buried in a book but after a while John noticed she wasn't turning the pages.
"Must be good." He said quietly. "Page 147 that is."
"Page 147. You've been reading it for about thirty minutes now."
The horizon tilted as the plane made a minor course adjustment. Sara's hand tightened on the paperback, crumpling the pages and bending the flimsy spine. John realized that she was trembling.
She looked in his general direction. "What's it like, Commander?"
He blinked, confused. "What's what like?"
"Being up there." Her voice faltered. "Seeing the earth spinning underneath you."
"Amazing. Incredible." He laughed softly at himself, amused. "Better than sex, I thought, my first time out there. Coming home though--that was the best of all. I've had enough of space for six lifetimes."
Sara shifted a little in her seat. Her hands rested in her lap, smoothing the torn book obsessively. "Promise me something. Wait, never mind, that was a stupid thing to say. Never mind. Never mind, okay?"
"Is there something you're not telling me? Because if you're holding anything back--"
She took a deep breath. "No, Commander. Could you...would you...tell me about your first time in space? What it was like?"
Puzzled, he complied, letting the memories take him where they would.
The rush of adrenaline as the shuttle started to shake, knowing that tons of liquid explosive were igniting underneath you. Then the rumbling of the ship grew deeper, the shaking more pronounced. Some great force pressed you back into your seat as the solid rocket boosters fired and the shuttle burst away from the ground in one swift rush. You wanted to yell but you kept your cool. You'd been through this a thousand times in simulation, a hundred thousand times in your imagination.
You kept your breathing shallow and even, fighting against the pressure on your chest, willing yourself not to hyperventilate. After the first time it got easier going up, although the pure adrenaline still surged through your veins. The fear was always present, but you ignored it, knowing that what awaited you was so much more spectacular than you'd imagined.
Suddenly you were floating free, pressure gone, and you knew you'd broken the bounds of the planet. You were there, out in space, hovering between the Earth and Moon and you wanted to dance with the joy of it. But of course you couldn't *do* that in null gravity. And anyway you had systems to check, diagnostics to perform, experiments to run. Before you went back down to the planet.
"I was so tempted to just turn Columbia around and head straight for the moon, just to get there, to see what my dad saw all those years ago. I couldn't of course. I think it was then," he continued, "that I knew I was going to spend my whole life trying to take us farther. Even in space we were still trapped by the planet and I *hated* it. When I got back DK and I dreamed up the Farscape. Still its nothing compared to flying around inside a *living* ship...."
Zhaan's voice came soft and sad over the communicator. "Good luck."
D'Argo, "Take care of yourselves."
John closed his eyes. "Sparky you can have my share of the food. And my spare shoes." The little Hynerian had coveted his shoes since the day he had stepped on board. "Pip, stay safe and keep out of trouble, okay?" There was so much more to say to all of them, but no time to say it.
"Pilot..." Aeryn trailed off.
"You have to go soon, Officer Sun. The wormhole is still deteriorating. Moya and I will miss you both."
"...and the rest, as they say, is history." Sara finished. She opened her book with trembling fingers, uncreasing the pages and wriggling the cover back and forth to straighten it. "Thank you." Bending her head, she seemed to suddenly become engrossed in her reading.
John stood staring at the men and women surrounding his ship. Sara for once was utterly silent, standing motionless by his side. Her eyes gleamed with some intense emotion he couldn't name. He leaned close to her. "They can't get it out through the trees, can they?"
She shook her head. "Not without cutting down half a mile of old growth forest. They might try a helicopter crane. Why'd you land *here*?"
Aeryn opened the cockpit as he powered down the engines and she scrambled out, pausing halfway down to reach for their belongings. She dumped them on the ground and walked to the edge of the clearing, surveying the forest. "Is this Florida?" She spoke over her shoulder to him. "I thought--"
He shook his head, walking over to her. "No, I'm pretty sure this is Michigan. Another part of the country entirely." Then exultation hit him sharp as a knife and he let out another whoop. Home. Well, close enough.... He grabbed her around the waist and slung her around, grinning and laughing. "I'm *home*, really home, I know because I haven't been here." He began to dance around the clearing, still grinning. "Yeah, baby, I am *home*."
He put his arm around Sara's shoulder and leaned in close, whispering intimately into her ear. "I can fly it out."
"Straight up? It's not designed--"
John grinned crookedly. "It is now. Well?"
Her eyes narrowed and she studied him. "What are you up to?"
"Nothing. Boyscout's honor," he said and he meant it. "I just want to fly her again."
Sara shifted on her feet indecisively, darting glances between him and the ship. "All right," she said at long last, "I'll suggest it. Don't be surprised if they don't go for it though."
"You worry about that," he replied sweetly, "now run along and tell them to let me play with my ship. Okay?" He patted her arm encouragingly. "Think you can handle that?"
She bit back a sharp retort and stalked off through the trees to the knot of men in uniform. Sara argued with them for a few minutes, then turned and walked back toward him, followed by one of the men. "Commander, this is Major Joseph Twain."
"Commander." Twain was a dark-haired man in his late 40's or early 50's. Pure military, John thought, studying him. Born Raised and Trained. "Ms. Michaels tells me you can fly that ship out of here and save us all a lot of time and money."
Twain pursed his lips, considering. "I'll be honest--I don't trust you. But that would sure be something to see. So here's what we're going to do. I'll roust up a couple of flyers from a nearby base to escort you and make sure nothing goes wrong. One bad move and they fire. Understood?"
"Oh, and one other thing--pick someone to go with you. You might risk your own ass but you won't take a chance with someone else's. You're just not that kinda guy."
"I *can't*. He thought, staring at the blue glare of the wormhole. I promised her I'd never put her through that. She'd be alone. The last time.... John closed his eyes and swallowed hard. I'm going to grow old and die out here. But I can't ask her to come and I can't take her through without asking and that wormhole is decaying *fast*.
Everything he'd hoped for and had been denied, over and over, was being denied him again. Hot resentment flared. Resentment against his life, his current circumstance. Resentment against Aeryn for being in the wrong place at the wrong time once again. He bit his lip and swallowed that last resentment, burying it deep inside. Without her he wouldn't even be here to try.
At least I know I can make the wormhole--this is the second time, so I'm *sure* it can be done, John tried to console himself. What I've created I can recreate. Even if it takes more cycles out of my life--if it takes me the *rest* of my life--
"If we're going to go, we'd better say our goodbyes now." Aeryn's voice was dry and so quiet he could barely hear her over the pounding of his heart. John forgot to breathe for a long moment. She hadn't just said that. She *couldn't* have just said that.
"Aeryn, think about this," he insisted. "We might not be able to get back."
"Aeryn--" Shut up, John, he thought urgently, shut *up* already. This is your chance. Take it!
"No, I'm not." John's voice sounded bitter to his own ears. "Fair enough." Twain nodded and started back down the hill.
Sara stayed, watching him expectantly, her eyes glinting. "Who are you going to take, Commander?"
"Aeryn, having you here is...is the best part of being home.." He half-smiled at her puzzled look. "I'm serious."
"Dad. If he'll go."
He stared at her. "You thought I was going to take *you*?"
Her eyes narrowed. "No, of course not."
"Then be a good girl and go fetch my Dad." He grinned at her.
"Fetch him yourself." She stalked off, scowling.
Score one for the Lost Astronaut, he thought. The score's still 200 to 1 their favor...but damn that 1 sure felt good.
He stood there casually for a few moments, then sauntered to his dad and DK. The two of them were talking earnestly to one side of the main group. They stopped as soon as he approached. "Dad," John signaled for his attention, "how would you like to be my copilot? Really see what the Farscape can do?"
"I'd love to, son, but how is that possible?"
"I made some arrangements." He gestured up at the approaching planes. "If you're up to it."
Time passed. The Farscape was moved to a hangar in the complex where John and his family and Sara lived. A team of engineers and biologists joined them there every morning. The engineers pored over the alien technology; the biologists took minute samples of Leviathan DNA and muttered among themselves at their exciting new discoveries.
The leaks continued; John was startled each time he saw something they had done or said featured in the 6:00 news. It only happened every few weeks, on average--just enough to keep their work in the public's attention without revealing too much of the IASA's tightly held secrets.
There was still no "official" word about Aeryn, although there were lots of sightings. Most of the sightings occurred in the DC area, but none panned out as a legitimate lead. Time passed, and the IASA security net settled over the area, waiting for Aeryn to make the wrong move that would betray her to their watchful eyes.
John left the house and started walking. He grinned a little to himself as the guards and surveillance teams scrambled to catch up.
He hummed as he walked, pleased at being able to get the drop on his captors for once. He still thought of them that way, even though they'd moved him into a house and essentially shared his living quarters. Temporary living quarters, he corrected himself. As soon as he found Aeryn he'd take her...he'd take her....well, somewhere else. Hawaii, maybe, or Canada. He'd always wanted to see Europe but hadn't yet been. Somewhere they could live their lives in peace.
He rolled on his side, facing her, and propped his head on his hand. "Aeryn," he said seriously, "are you happy here on Earth?"
Her eyes darkened and her grin dropped away. "Ask me tomorrow."
John touched her shoulder with gentle fingers. "I've got a plan."
She sighed, looking at him out of the corners of her eyes. "Another one?"
"Yeah," he replied softly, "my dad's got this cabin...I thought we could fix it up, you know, make it real nice to live in. I could get a job too. I'll never be an astronaut again, but I don't mind. I've had enough of space for two lifetimes." He shrugged, a rueful grin flitting across his sleepy face.
John let himself be distracted by the memory. He knew in his bones that they'd never stop hunting her. He himself was only useful so long as they needed his expertise with the biomechanoid technology. Plans for the new spaceship were being drafted day by day by the ecstatic team of engineers and scientists they'd assigned to him.
He walked onto the main drive and started to jog, enjoying the crunch of dried autumn leaves under his feet. He was going looking for Aeryn. Not to find her--they still watched him too closely--but just to let her know he was looking for her. For whatever that was worth to her. If she could take some comfort from that, he wished to give it.
"Yeah." John slipped his arm around her and continued rubbing her back, taking as much comfort from the contact as he hoped he was giving her. He aimed to kiss her forehead but got a mouthful of damp black hair. She laughed softly and scooted back away from him, taking his half of the blankets with her.
He passed the main gates and waved cheerily at the guards, then turned left onto Massachusetts Avenue and began to walk into the DC city limits. He'd figured from Sara's map that he could cover maybe ten miles before noon, which was when they'd come collect him for his lecture on hech drives. He frowned a little. Noon didn't give him nearly enough time. If he could switch the work schedule to evening then he'd have all day to walk.
This was his first day of many days of searching. Every evening he'd come back, grinning at the exhausted guards, and bolt up to his room to mark his map. Every street he'd been down, crossed or looked sideways at was highlighted with a yellow marker. The first week or two were the toughest--he was more driven than he was really physically capable of handling at that point. But as time went on and he drove himself to keep searching he grew more fit. And the more fit he got, the harder he pushed himself.
He leaned over to whisper to DK, "She's never had chocolate either."
"Wow, no chocolate? You sure?"
"Oh yeah. I had some the last time I was on Earth, but she didn't get to try any."
"Wait, last time you were on Earth? You've been here before now and didn't visit?!" Dk's mouth dropped open.
"No," John replied, absentmindedly pulling Aeryn away from a table where she'd been examining someone else's ice cream sundae, "not exactly. Aeryn, you can't try someone else's food, no, you can't...we'll get you your own, I promise...Anyway, DK, there was this race of aliens who were looking for a home. They recreated Earth out of my memories to see if it was someplace they could go. I uh, I didn't know it was a hoax, not at first." He swallowed hard, looking away from his friend. "I thought leaving there was the hardest thing I've ever done, even though I knew it was fake. I mean...I thought it was everything I'd ever wanted and...it was a fake. A joke."
"Yeah, me too. I keep expecting this not to be real, buddy. That it's all going to disappear, or go away, or just...end up like a really really bad dream."
"It's real, John." DK said sombrely. "Very real."
Aeryn was out there, somewhere.
John rested his arms on the Farscape's wing and sighed wearily. God he was tired. The other members of the team had gone home long ago, called home by wives or family or just plain old exhaustion.
The Farscape shifted a little as Sara slid headfirst into the cockpit, legs balanced precariously on the seat. "And this..." she muttered, "connects to this line here..."
Did the woman never sleep?
"...which connects to...where does it connect to?" She worked her way farther down in. "Come on, where do you go..."
John had to admit she'd surprised him. He'd taken her for a suit, pure and simple, someone whose sole function in life was buying and selling power. But she'd been all over the Farscape from the instant they'd laid eyes on it. Granted she didn't know as much as the engineers, but she knew enough to follow, and she picked it up quickly.
She slid all the way in and turned herself around, coming upright again. Her hand brushed dishevelled hair away from her smudged forehead.
"We," she said decisively, "could use some of those DRD's you talked about, Commander."
"Couldn't figure out where it went?"
She shook her head, frowning. "How did you get it in there in the first place?"
He grinned. "You said it. DRD's. And Aeryn. You don't want to get in her way when she's got her mind set on something."
Sara arched one eyebrow at him. "I thought you said she didn't like scientific...ah...pursuits."
"She doesn't." He rested his head on his arms. "I had to do a *lot* of fast talking."
Sara laughed. "Sounds like you're good at that."
"Yeah." He straightened abruptly, looking intently at her. "What's your deal?"
"I can't figure you out. One minute you're...you're hunting my best friend to her death and the next you're wading through engineering manuals like they're trash romances. I don't get it."
She shrugged. "There's no deal, Commander."
"Hell there isn't. Come on. You owe me."
"Well," she said, leaning on the lip of the cockpit and peering down at him, "I really shouldn't." She hesitated. "What did you want to know?"
"Okay." He thought for a second. "First, why are you involved in all this?" His broad gesture took in the whole lab. "I mean, IASA and me and all of it."
Sara's hand rubbed the side of the ship. "Remember you said that I wasn't the "one giant leap" type? I am. No, I am." She brushed another stray lock of hair behind her ear, looking earnestly at him. "I believe...I guess I believe that space is our next step of evolution."
He snorted. "We haven't been back to the moon in over thirty years."
"Point taken. But--"
"No matter what, Commander, life expands. That's what it *does*, its nature. Life started in the ocean, then went to land and air. Now we've got space." She grinned, her eyes lost in thought. "Think about it. Taking life to its next phase of evolution. This is what we've been bred for--to be the next wave of explorers--its what we do best. *This* is the time, right now, and I get to be part of making it happen."
"But you're hunting Aeryn like some kind of animal, to...to study her."
She shrugged. "We're not going to get there by being nice, Commander. Consider this--maybe, just maybe, I'm the best thing that's going to happen to her. I won't autopsy her, for one thing. Could care less about her biology. I want to *learn* from her. If we're ever going to get this species off the ground we need to know what she knows."
"So she'll live the rest of her life in a glass cage." Unwillingly he recalled his dream of a few weeks ago. "She'd rather be dead."
"I can't help that."
"Yes, you can," he said persuasively. "You *can*. Just...call off the dogs. Let her go."
Sara exhaled. "They're not my dogs. I can't. And even if I could...and no, don't start, I *can't*...how will that help her? If she's not already dead she will be. She'll starve or some wacko will find her or she'll catch some disease. We're the best chance she's got."
"She'd rather die."
Sara threw up her hands, her eyes flashing. "What did you *expect* would happen when you hauled her back here? The two of you would live your life in some quiet little house in the country? Hm? Don't be stupid, Commander. You came back because you wanted to come back and you didn't give a damn about her."
North America floated below him, covered by swirly white cottony clouds. He thought he yelled, waves of pure joy washing through him. "Aeryn!" he yelled again, then gave a huge war whoop. "Aeryn my god it's Earth, it's really Earth."
Her voice was filled with exasperation. "Well, go there, already."
John slammed his hand into the hard metal hull of his ship. "I didn't ask her...she just said we were going! It was *her* decision."
"That's what I can't figure out." She shook her head furiously. "This is not a nice world, Commander, and its not hers, and you're the only one who won't admit it."
"Maybe she..." he trailed off, not willing to pursue the subject any longer, not with Sara. "Second question."
"If I were to help you, could you guarantee she'd be safe? And maybe, one day, free?"
"No guarantees. I wish I could. I honestly do. I'll do everything in my power--I promise you that."
John considered the idea for half a second before rejecting it absolutely. He would do everything he could to help her, but he could never reveal her location. She would rather die than give up her freedom. Even the free life of a fugitive was better than the life of a prisoner. Both of them had learned that lesson too well aboard Moya.
One morning a few weeks after that first walk, John scarfed down his cereal and studied the map of DC. He'd managed to cover a significant part of Northwest without any sign of her.
"I think," he mumbled at his Dad and DK through a mouthful of cereal, "that I'm going to walk Connecticut. She's been there before."
John, Aeryn and DK left the restaurant and started north along Connecticut
Avenue, but hadn't gotten more than a few feet before John insisted they stop.
"Ice cream." John grinned and pointed at the Uptown Scoop sign. "I want ice cream. So does Aeryn, but she doesn't know it yet."
He took some quick gulps of milk.
"Son--" his Dad said, exchanging a worried glance with DK. "Hang on a minute, will you?"
He looked up at them, puzzled. "Love to, but I've got to get going. Connecticut's a pretty long street."
"We've...we've got somewhere else to try first."
DK scrubbed his hand through his dark hair and stared down at his own untouched bowl. "When we, ah, didn't hear anything," he cleared his throat, "we...your dad and I...started calling hospitals. Just--just as a precaution. You know, to be sure, and ah...yesterday...John--"
"What DK's trying to say, son, is that we've been calling the morgues and local hospitals." Jack Crichton laid a gentle hand on his son's shoulder. "Yesterday someone found a Jane Doe matching Aeryn's general description. The body's being transferred to the state medical examiner's office this morning."
John stared at them, stunned into silence.
DK looked over at Jack Crichton worriedly. "We'd just have gone, but--no one knows her better than you, bud. And the body's in pretty bad shape."
"Just turn out the lights, Crichton."
"Not just yet," he said quietly. "There's one question I *do* want you to answer tonight. Why did you agree to come with me?"
She laughed, her eyes lightening perceptibly as her mood shifted for the better. "I don't think you've shut up once since I met you. Ask me tomorrow."
Aeryn scooted closer to him, halting with her face only inches from his.
"You know...Crichton, I really liked that ice cream."
"A lot?" He said, his voice deepening slightly. "A whole lot?" His heart was performing some kind of syncopated latin rhythm in his chest, and he felt slightly breathless.
"Mmm-hmmm," she kissed his shoulder, then looked back up at him. "Only, one thing...."
"That guy said, 'Get a room.' What did he mean?"
John grinned. "Come a little closer, babe. Let me show ya."
Aeryn slid forward the last inch and pressed her lips to his.
I'm going to have to ask her questions more often, he thought hazily as he wrapped his arms around her. Ice cream too. We'll be eating lots of ice cream if this is the response I get....
"No." He croaked. "She's not--I'd know if she's--"
"I hope not, son. I really do."
"It's not true, Commander," Sara said quietly at the foot of the stairs. "We've been checking the morgues ourselves. But this wasn't Aeryn. We tested the body."
John rose to his feet, torn between relief and outrage. "When were you planning to tell me this?"
"If we were sure, then we'd most likely tell you." Sara responded. "But we've already performed the autopsy and the tests are conclusive. Its just a Jane Doe."
He stared at her, aghast. "You're autopsying bodies. You'd cut her *open*. You cut *somebody* open."
She turned away from him, her back stiff. "I needed to be sure. At this point, Commander, its getting harder to keep the powers that be out of my way. Any one of them could decide to start looking for her. That's not counting your average Joe." She glanced back over her shoulder at him before exiting the room. "If she hasn't already starved to death."
John sat heavily back on the wicker chair, resting his head in his hands. He was distantly aware of his Dad's comforting hand on his shoulder. Suddenly he jerked to his feet, shaking them off. "I've got to keep looking, Dad, no matter what." He turned and made his way slowly to the window and gazed outside. "No matter what." He owed her that.
Sara scooped her keys off the kitchen table and gulped the last of her black coffee. "Ready?"
John shook his head. "Not yet I--"
Sara's phone rang. She sighed and pulled it out of her purse.
"So much for plans," he said softly as she flicked it open and hit the on button.
"Yes. Yes. What?" Her face blanched. "Yes, on my way. Northwest. Got it." John stopped eating and watched the rapid changes of emotion cross her face. Sara shut the phone decisively, her face suddenly blank.
"What's going on? Sara?"
"Twain thinks they found her."
"Wh--They...Aeryn?" He was on his feet and halfway to the door. "Where?"
"Nebraska and Connecticut. Some apartment complex."
"Come on!" He grabbed her hand and practically yanked her out the door before another thought occured to him, causing him to freeze. John swallowed hard against the sudden dryness in his own throat. "Sara, um, she's not..."
"No, she's alive."
They ran out to the garage, Sara shouting orders to the security force who were scrambling to follow them. Without thinking John climbed into driver's side, but Sara just tossed him the keys with a curt nod. "Move faster, Commander. I think--"
"What?" He started the Explorer and shifted into drive.
She looked away from him as they peeled out of the garage. "I don't trust Twain."
"You think he'd--"
"I don't know. Take a right at the light. Gut instinct."
He spun the wheel hard and right, screeching through the intersection at the last instant and nearly losing the security team behind them. "So why put him in charge of the hunt..."
Her jaw tightened. "I told you before, they're *not* my dogs. Twain's not even IASA."
John blinked, startled. "Then who is he?"
"'Security Consultant'. That's all they'd tell me. Specialized training." The strain on her face was obvious. John floored the pedal and accelerated through another intersection, nearly sideswiping a green Pontiac.
"Aeryn's in his custody. You promised me she'd be safe!" He said accusingly, swerving around another car.
"These people won't hurt us. It's going to be fine. The last time, with Wilson and Cobb--that wasn't Earth. That was those aliens' way of testing me, by bring out all the bad things they believed might happen. You know that, right?" She looked at him for a long moment, considering, and then nodded.
"She's not in his custody yet. They've surrounded the building and they're evacuating tenants as we speak."
"Frell." John's knuckles whitened from the pressure he applied to the steering wheel. "Jesus, Sara--how many other members of your little playgroup don't you trust?"
She didn't bother to answer, just fumbled open the catch of the purse on her lap and pulled her cellphone back out. She turned it on and tapped the keys for her phone list, then hit speed dial. "This is Sara Michaels, IASA. Hi, Lark, how are you? Can you give me the usual deal? Good." She paused listening. "Yeah. Nebraska and Connecticut. Now."
John watched her out of the corner of his eye as he weaved in and out of traffic. She hung up the phone and dialed another number.
"Left here, Commander, then right at the next stoplight....Hi, Sara Michaels, IASA...is Denise there? I'll hold...."
"What are you doing?" He hissed at her.
"What I did when they found you, Commander. Keeping it public."
John's eyes widened in surprise. "You...you're the leak! Why?" He struggled with the idea. "You could lose your job. Or more."
She shook her head and smiled lopsidedly at him, the phone still held to her ear. "This has never been about my job."
The cessation of the truck engines roused John from his light doze. "Huh?" He stretched, yawning sleepily.
"Sorry, Commander," Sara spoke quietly, "go back to sleep. I'll just be a minute."
The door shut.
John rolled over and peered out his window at sights so familiar they made his heart ache. Florida. Canaveral. He could smell the fresh air, hear the sound of the waves pounding the beach. "Sara?" He called out, uncertain why they had stopped. They weren't near any gas stations, stores, or even the town. "Sara, what's up?"
Frowning, John sat up and got out of the vehicle, walking around to the driver side. Sara was nowhere to be seen on the road, but the beach was blocked from view by a large dune. He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled her name, drawing out the syllables.
Still no answer.
Concerned now, John started down the path to the beach, feet sliding a little on the loose sand. As he came over the top of the dune he caught sight of her standing on the beach staring out over the water. Staring at the Space Shuttle on its launching pad.
"Yo, Sara!" He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled again. She turned her head and nodded acknowledgement of his yell, but remained otherwise motionless.
He walked toward her and stood silently beside her for a minute, gazing at the Shuttle. "Which one is it?" He said finally.
"Discovery. Launching early December. Beautiful, isn't she?"
He laughed out loud. "You *are* a space nut."
"Many astronauts are, Commander. Weren't you?"
"You're an astronaut? Wait, you're telling me that you're...you're an *astronaut*?"
She sighed but didn't take her eyes off of the distant launchpad. "My first flight was supposed to be the mission after yours. But you caused some serious fall out, and it got rescheduled." John kept on staring at her. Sara shrugged. "I've always wanted to go into space. I loved flying planes but I wanted more. My dad encouraged me so much, you know--we'd have tang for breakfast every morning and he even took me on every rollercoaster on the east coast--especially the ones that went upside down." She smiled. "It was the closest thing we had to a simulator."
"And your mom?"
"She left right after I was born." Sara shrugged again. "Never knew her. But anyway--I applied myself to school, worked really hard and got into Harvard on scholarship. Blah blah blah--got accepted into the space program, all that stuff. Then my father got cancer. He said--he made me promise--I would get into space while he was still alive. I almost did."
"For what? Taking a trip across the galaxy?"
"Yeah, you can say that again. I meant I'm sorry about your dad." She brushed her hand across her cheek and he realized with a start that she was crying. "Me too. Stopping here to look at the shuttle was kind of a tradition for us."
"So...how'd you get the job of escorting my sorry ass around the country?"
"After my mission got scrubbed, and Pop died, I guess I got a little obsessed. Every moment I had I studied the Farscape, the trajectory angle, CRC numbers, everything. Grief does strange things. So I'm sort of the resident expert on the matter."
"DK knows Farscape--and they're not sure he can be trusted. I'm their expert on you."
"Yeah. I told you I got a little obsessed. I know *you*. This whole scheme was my idea--and I had to talk pretty fast, believe me. 'If he's really been out there, let's get him to build us another ship.' I pushed it to their greed because that's what they knew best, and to their curiousity a little too. 'IASA gets out there, gets dibs on the planets and resources we find, gets to sell the technology.' So I got pulled from the STS-103 Discovery mission and assigned to you. End of story." She spun on her heel and strode back up the beach toward the truck. "Coming?"
John shook his head, still feeling a little shocked. "Yeah, coming." He followed her up to the dune and stopped there, looking back over his shoulder at the Discovery. One thing still didn't make any sense-- "Sara," he said quietly, reaching out to grip her shoulder. "Why'd you give up your dream of going to space...for this? It was everything you've ever wanted."
"I thought it was everything I ever wanted. Maybe it still is. I haven't given up, Commander, I'm just tired of the lies. I'm still going up there. Sooner than you think--if you'll help me."
He blinked, pieces of a puzzle coming together in his brain. "You're going to fly the new Farscape, aren't you? You're going to try to create another wormhole and fly through it."
She nodded, meeting his startled gaze. "I'm the perfect candidate for this mission, John. No family, no life--nothing except absolute dedication to the goal. I don't care if I do come back, really. Now come on, or we *are* going to be late."
John scrambled around to the passenger side of the truck and hopped in, slamming the door behind him. Sara sat down, shifted the truck into gear and roared back onto the road. He kept staring at her, thoughts tumbling through his head so fast he didn't have time to speak them.
"What?!" She looked at him out of the corner of her eye.
"You don't understand what it's really like out there, Sara. Don't go."
She actually laughed. "The point is finding *out* what its like out there, Commander, not sitting around hiding my head in the sand. Hiding *our* heads in the sand. I'm very willing. It's my destiny."
He scrubbed one hand over his face. "Listen to me. Please. There's no such thing as destiny."
"You can say that? YOU? You crossed the threshold to the other side and came back to make it all possible for the rest of us...and *you're* telling *me* there's no such thing as destiny?"
"Yeah, because if there were such thing as destiny, then Aeryn would be sitting here with me instead of you."
Sara slammed her hand into the steering wheel, her eyes flashing. "Then why the *fuck* did I have to wait? Why did I have to sit there and watch Pop die--knowing that I'd never keep my promise? Because you made more than that possible-- because soon we can take more than just a couple of orbits around this stinking rock. And I'm going, Commander. If I can. If you'll help me."
"When did he die?" John's voice was low, unhappy.
"One month ago, yesterday."
"But that means he was still alive when you were managing me."
"Yes. I told him, too, that I was going up there. Going farther than just around the planet. He...couldn't really understand me, at that point."
John looked out the window. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry. Help me. Stop mooning about your precious Aeryn and *help* me get out there."
"Sara, I was out there, and the best thing I ever did was come home. Doesn't that tell you anything? I got lucky, coming on Moya when I did. What if you end up between planets with no way home? Or in the middle of another space battle, but on the wrong side?"
"I'm not afraid of death."
"Some things are worse than death."
Sara slammed on the truck brakes, yanking the wheel so the truck skidded onto the gravelly shoulder of the road. "You are so goddamned sanctimonious you make my teeth hurt. What's worse than death, Commander? Sitting around waiting to die? Giving up the only life I've ever wanted? I couldn't do it. I hate the scheming, but I don't want to give up that promise."
"Listen to me, please," John pleaded with her, "just listen. The promise you made to your Pop--I understand wanting to prove something to your father. Trust me--I'm a classic example. But I don't want to make this suicide mission possible for you either. Death is not the worst thing--just ask Aeryn." "There is no point to my life if I don't go on this mission. It's my duty, my breeding...everything I was trained for." John closed his eyes, leaning his head hard against the window. "You remind me so much of Aeryn right now that it hurts." "Good. Then maybe you'll make a promise to one of us that you can keep." He flinched as through she'd physically struck him. "Jesus. Jesus, Sara--" Her face crumpled and she covered it with her hands. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that." "All right." John leaned toward her aggressively. "Here's the deal. You stop being such a bitch all the time, you tell me everything--I mean *everything*--right now. And especially you tell me everything you know about Aeryn. Then, maybe, just maybe I might decide to help you."
"If you don't cooperate the military might start gunning for her, you know that."
"I know that. But I can't help her if I don't know what's going on. So spill it. All of it. Or I'm going to become the most uncooperative son of a bitch you ever laid eyes on."
"And I'll tell IASA you're their leak. Least they'll do is make sure you never see the Farscape again. Ever. Hell, I bet you don't even fly a god damned Cessna after that." He thought, I've got your number lady, and I'm sorry but I won't be nice about it. I can't afford to be nice about it.
She took a deep, quavering breath. "What do you want to know?"
"Aeryn." "Okay." She took another deep breath. "They don't have her. You've been told the truth about that. Twain thinks they're getting closer all the time though. She's good. Very good. And she's got help--they can't figure out all of who, but they've got it narrowed down to about a dozen militias or splinter groups across the country."
"She's still in the city though?"
"Yes. I overheard Twain say they think she's trying to stay close to you. That's why they let you go searching without many guards."
"...using me to flush her out of hiding..." he mumbled under his breath, feeling sick to his stomach.
"At the very least, you're keeping her in DC. They hope she'll try to make contact, but so far that hasn't panned out."
"Ah, hell, I've been playing right into their hands, haven't I?"
"The press, the Farscape...they don't care about those?"
"They care about the Farscape, but its less of a priority. They have your tapes, and they don't need the biomechanoid technology to get through the wormhole. That technology just makes getting into space very, very inexpensive. Lucrative, but not top priority."
"And the press?"
"They're part of *my* game. Keeping Aeryn and you in the limelight so they can't hide you away so easily."
"Start driving." John slouched down in the seat, trying to think. So many lies, so many angles....he'd need DK and Dad to get his way out of this one for sure. No way to move...if he contacted Aeryn, he'd be damning her to life under guard. Or worse. If he kept searching, she'd stay in the city. She's got to get out, he thought, panic tainting his thoughts. We're stalemated here--worse than stalemated. This whole planet is the glass cage I dreamed about.
"It's all been a lie, hasn't it, Sara? You never had any control over this."
"No. Yes. I had no control. I just...I had my own agenda. Nothing else mattered."
"Keep him cooperating? Was that it? And you get to fly through the wormhole."
She was silent.
He studied her--the thin, tanned face, the generous mouth turned down at the corners with strong emotion. "How can you live with yourself?"
Sara sucked in air, eyes closing. "I can't. I can't. That's why I told you. I can't do it any more. It's not worth the price--even keeping *that* promise, it's not worth it."
"Little late to discover a soul."
Her fists clenched and she seemed to struggle with herself. "Yes."
That more than anything convinced him she was genuine. "I told you to start driving," he tapped the steering wheel. 'And keep talking." John had to know everything. No room for kindness, no room for mercy. "Now."
"Hey, buddy, welcome back. How was Florida?" DK greeted him with a grin as the truck pulled into the garage. "Kick any ass down there?"
John shook his head. "No, no ass kicking." He glanced over at Sara who was just climbing out of the cab. "DK, you got a minute?"
His friend frowned, looking back and forth between the two of them. Sara's nod was almost imperceptible, but John caught it and wondered. "Sure, John," DK replied. "What's up?"
John jerked his head in the direction of the backyard. "Not here. Let's go in the back." He led the way out , holding the door open for his friend. The air was chilly, the trees bare of leaves. Even the sky seemed gray-ish with the oncoming winter. John shivered and wished he'd brought his coat out with him. They were likely to be talking for a while; DK was not going to *believe* what he'd found out about Sara Michaels.
They halted near the back fence. DK blew on his hands and then stuck them in his pockets. "Cold."
"Yeah," John replied, suddenly not sure how to begin. Just start, he admonished himself. "I need your help. Sara's told me everything."
DK's eyes flickered back to the house. "Everything?" His voice lifted nervously on the last syllable.
"DK," he said quietly as soon as Aeryn's shower started, "I have a huge favor
to ask you."
"If anything happens to me, take care of Aeryn, will you? Keep her safe." DK nodded. "Of course."
"You know what that might mean, don't you?"
"Yeah, I know."
John stared, frozen into stillness. No. No. This can't be happening.
"John," he choked, "you've got to understand--"
"Understand *what*? What did you do? What did you *do*?" John shouted, half incoherent with rage. "No, no, I don't want to know." He grasped DK's shirt in his fists and half-lifted, half-threw him against the fence. "Why?" He leaned close. "God, DK!"
"Love?" John laughed. "No, we're just good friends. Very good friends."
DK eyed him skeptically. "Yeah right. The original Mr. Head-Over-Heels claims to be just friends. I've known you way too long, buddy, and way too well for you to pull one over on me."
"Okay, so I like her. A lot. But we've just never--I've never--" John looked away for a moment, then back at his friend. "I've never had anything to offer her except a life on the run...that is, if the PeaceKeepers didn't catch up with us. I wanted to come home to you guys; she didn't want to. I guess neither of us wanted to deal with all the consequences of being together. If she even feels that way about me."
"You're right though--nothing's ever going to be normal with her around. Are you sure this is the way you want it? Secrecy and hiding and everything?"
"What choice do I have?"
DK leaned toward him, his eyes earnest. "You could go public. Get it all over with in one fell swoop. Then you'd be free--it could be like it used to be. You and me, none of this James Bond crap."
"You barely made it through the night after they removed the bullets--and you were so worried. You didn't need any more stress. I thought--Sara and I thought--"
"Sara's in this for herself and always has been."
"You...you *know*? You know that she's an astronaut, about her dad...all of it?" John shook DK. "Well?"
"Trouble. Yeah, he's definitely trouble. I could tell you some stories that would make your hair stand on end." DK shot a sly glance at John. "We'll figure out this communication thing, Aeryn, and then we'll have ourselves some nice, *long* chats."
Aeryn laughed. "I like him, I think." She said to John.
John translated that, and DK smiled. "The feeling's mutual."
"Yeah," DK replied miserably. "I met Sara right after you went through the wormhole. She's the first person I called after they took you to the hospital. We were afraid they'd lock you away forever."
John clenched his fist and drove it into the younger man's stomach. DK doubled over with a grunt of pain. "You promised me!" John shouted, knocking DK's hands away and driving another punch into his friend's jaw.
A warm hand closed over John's arm. "Son, stop this." His dad drawled quietly. "Stop."
John slowly released DK, stepping back. "I assume you knew, too, Dad."
"About Sara," DK explained, "and her dad. John doesn't know the rest, Colonel."
"Tell me." He met his dad's eyes. "What have you done?" "Inside, son, where we'll be more comfortable. It's cold out here."
"Freeze." John ordered, still trembling on the edge of violence. "Talk to me." Sara stepped out of the back door and hovered there by the entrance, watching them anxiously. "Her too." He pointed at her. "Everyone talking all at once." He turned his hand palm up and crooked his finger, beckoning her over. Sara's feet dragged but she came, slowly, toward them.
"Commander?" She glanced at him, then his Dad and finally DK. Sara gasped.
"You're bleeding!" She fumbled in her coat pocket for a kleenex and dabbed his upper lip. "What happened?"
"Never mind that now," DK said, submitting patiently to her ministrations. "Why did you tell him?"
"Off topic," John muttered, "way off topic." He looked at his dad. "You first."
"No, let me start," said DK. John nodded. DK exhaled heavily, leaning a little on Sara for support. "From the beginning. Your dad got off the plane to bedlam--people shouting about guns and terrorists and who knows what else. Then, there *you* were lying there bleeding. I kept thinking I'd lost you again--one day of having you back and you were gone, dead for sure this time. They got you to the hospital in the nick of time. I was freaked, and the FBI had you locked down tight. We couldn't even get close."
"So he called me," Sara chimed in. "I don't know why."
DK shrugged. "The first thing we figured was we had to keep anyone from taking you away from us. If you survived, I mean. They'd figure out who you were anyway but if we could involve the press, get it public, maybe we could keep it so out in the open that they *couldn't* stick you out in Area 51. Sara started calling tv stations and papers. Your dad let himself be seen, giving credence to the reports that the injured man was, in fact, Commander John Crichton."
Sara shivered, rubbing her arms. DK pulled her closer, putting his arm around her to help keep her warm. She said, "We had lots of time to talk in the emergency room, Commander, before IASA officials arrived. We wanted to keep you free and out of the interrogators hands."
"The easiest way to do that was to convince IASA that you would cooperate with them freely. When we heard those tapes, we realized that Aeryn was the best bargaining chip we had."
John scrubbed one shaking hand across his face, his eyes closing. "Why didn't you tell me this?"
"At first because you were so ill. We didn't want to worry you any more than we had to," said DK.
"Son, you're more stubborn than your mother. You'd never tell anyone about Aeryn--even Sara could see that. But you *had* to--or we'd lose you forever. Again. I couldn't handle that." His dad gripped John's arm tightly. "I thought losing your mother was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. Then I lost you. I couldn't go through that again, not while I had the means to prevent it."
"So you lied to me. Protected me from myself. Let me believe I was helping her when all the time I was just the bait in the trap. Thank God she's too smart to fall for it. I wish to hell I was." They fell silent, not sure what to say. "You--" he pointed one vengeful finger at Sara, "you I can understand. You had a promise to keep, and you thought you could help them at the same time. But you two...I don't think I can ever forgive you." He pivoted on his heel and walked away from them.
John walked for hours, not sure where he was going. Afternoon rolled on into evening; yellow streetlights flickered on. On impulse he hopped onto the metro and rode it to Dupont Circle, needing to be near people. The young ambitious professional crowd slowly became the young bar-hopping crowd as the evening dragged on.
He stopped into a small bar just south of Dupont and pulled a stool up to the bar. The pretty brunette bartender tried to strike up a conversation but he wasn't feeling chatty. His second beer became his third, then his fourth and fifth. He slapped a tip down on the bar to get the bartender's attention. "Another, please," he asked.
"Sure," she smiled, reaching under the bar to hand him another. "You look like you're feeling better."
"Not much," he replied curtly. "But thanks for asking."
John took another long sip. His heart felt dead inside him, barely beating. He took a deep breath, steeling himself against the tide of dark emotion. He had briefly considered escaping but couldn't see how that would help her. At best, they'd tighten the net over the city to find him. At worst, they'd somehow manage to keep tabs on him, and when he found her, they'd find him. His eyes closed and he pictured Aeryn as he'd last seen her.
They parted company in the main hallway near an observation window. John turned back to her a few seconds later, on impulse pressing his dad's puzzle ring on the silver chain into her hands. "Here."
She looked down at it, confused. "This is your good luck charm."
"I'm worried it might set off the metal detectors. Probably not, but...Just hang on to it for a few minutes, okay? Put it around your neck if you get tired of holding it."
"Sure." She shrugged and put it around her neck.
John left her and started up the escalator. He turned about halfway up and looked back at Aeryn watching him leave. Proud, slender, strong, beautiful--all words that described her and at the same time didn't do her justice. Her hair was loose around her shoulders, her blue eyes nervous and a little wary, but filled with warmth for him.
But that memory led places he didn't want to go--seeing her running, pursued by the guards; the crunch of the guard's hand under his foot and the man's scream of pain; the last moments of consciousness as he struggled to yell her name. He shut those thoughts off and thought back to the night before, at the ice cream shop.
"What's that?" She flung out the arm holding the ice cream cone, pointing at a passing helicopter. The chocolate scoop on top wobbled precariously and then slid to the ground with a wet sploosh. "Oh." She looked unhappily at it.
John laughed and switched ice creams with her. "You can have mine, Aeryn."
"Oh, no, Crichton, this is your first taste in a long time. Take it back." "This is your first taste ever."
"What do you mean, no? Aeryn, take it, come on."
"Crichton!" Her eyes flashed. "Take it back!"
John grinned from ear to ear. "Great idea. Aeryn, let me have mine. Here..."
John held both cones in his hands, concentrating furiously. "I better have great timing on this one. Ready?"
John flipped Aeryn's cone upside down on top of his, holding the top scoop balanced there with her cone. "All right...here's the tricky part..."
Slowly, deliberately, John lifted the top cone away from the bottom cone. "Voila!" He grinned triumphantly. "Triple scoop ala Crichton!"
DK chuckled. "Show off."
"Crichton--" Aeryn warned, "I think it's going to--"
Splat. The top scoop landed with another wet sploosh on the pavement. "Aw, crap."
"That was my last one!" She punched his arm, sending his vanilla scoop tumbling to the ground.
"Serves you right." Aeryn snapped.
They glared at each other over the remaining scoop of ice cream. John sighed. "Here you go," he tried to hand over the ice cream cone, but she batted his hand away.
"No. You should have it. Besides," she wrinkled her nose, "it looks funny."
He looked mournfully at the three wet splots of ice cream melting slowly on the tan pavement. "It doesn't look funny, Aeryn," said John, "it's ice cream. It looks just like it's supposed to look. How about this: we share it. I get a lick, you get a lick."
Aeryn considered the idea for a moment before nodding.
"Okay, you first." He passed the cone over, watching expectantly. Aeryn examined it from all angles before taking a tentative bite of the ice cream. She jumped back, startled.
'Cold!" She exclaimed, sucking air in past her teeth.
"No, no, you lick it. Like this." He demonstrated, then handed the cone back to her. "Never bite directly into the ice cream, and don't eat too fast or you'll get a headache."
Aeryn took a quick lick, her eyes wide.
"You like it?" John smiled a pleased, little-boy smile.
Aeryn smiled back. "Yes."
"Are you happy?"
She met his eyes over the top of the ice cream cone. "You are very odd, Crichton."
"You've said that before," he accused, snatching the cone back from her. John took one vengeful taste, then deliberately took another.
"Hey, I've got an idea..." John snatched her hand and put it around the cone, holding it between them.
"A contest. First one to the bottom wins. Ready, set...go!"
Paying for the cones, riding the metro, brushing her teeth--skills that seemed so important for her to learn that seemed so insignificant now in light of all that had happened.
Waking up with her in the morning. Thinking it was the first morning of many to begin that way, and being completely wrong about it.
Two full days and three nights with her on Earth.
It had to end. He still needed his family. He still loved them. They had done what they'd done out of love for him and fear of losing him. Looking at it from their perspective, he didn't know that he could have done any differently. What was done has been done--no changing it. Aeryn's gone. If he was lucky she'd given up on him and sought shelter elsewhere. John mouth turned down at the corners and he took another draught of the bitter ale. The IASA had not found her yet and perhaps they never would.
But neither would he.
Good Luck Charm II
"Frell," He muttered under his breath.
The cute bartender blinked up at him.
"Nothing." He smiled wanly. "Just thinking. Hey, w hat time is it?"
"Kelly," she supplied, stretching out her hand. "And you are?"
"John." He shook her hand. "Nice to meet you. This bar doesn't close soon, does it? Its been a while since I've been to a DC bar."
"Nah, you've got a few hours yet. The metro shuts down around midnight though."
Suddenly she frowned. "Oh, I almost forgot." She reached into her pocket and pulled something out. "Some guy said you dropped this." Kelly lay something down on the bar. "He said if you had any questions he'd be upstairs." She poured a mug for another customer, moving away from him down the bar.
Frowning a little, John moved his beer aside to get a closer look. Something silver glinted. A silver chain...a silver chain with a puzzle ring on the end. His heart stopped beating for one endless moment.
Coming back to life, John scanned the bar frantically for Aeryn. No sign of her. "Kelly!" He jumped off the stool and hurried over to her, cradling the precious ring in the palm of his hand.
"Yeah?" She glanced up at him curiously.
"Who gave this to you? How long ago?"
"Some guy," Kelly shrugged. "About fifteen minutes ago. He went upstairs, remember?"
John took off up the steep stairs, taking them two or three at a time. The narrow stairway opened up to a small room with another bar--unmanned--and a pool table. Behind the table were the doors to the men and ladies' rooms. No one was in the main room. John burst into the men's room, anxiety making him reckless. What if he's gone--
No one in the center. John bent over to peer for feet under the stalls. Please please please--
A heavy weight slammed into him from behind, knocking him headfirst into the sink. The ring flew from his hand, landing with a clink on the dirty bathroom tile. John sank to the floor, clutching his head, seeing stars. Unseen hands lifted him and pinned him against the wall. He smelled rank garlicky breath, and saw a pair of close-set blue eyes. He heard the click of a pistol safety being snapped off and went suddenly, absolutely still.
"Thought you'd come after me." The man grinned sardonically, pressing John harder into the wall. "She asked me just to give you the ring and leave, but I had to see you for myself." Those blue eyes looked him up and down skeptically.
"Aeryn?" John asked, trying to collect his thoughts agains the fuzziness in his brain. "Where is she?"
"Safe enough. You're a hard man to get alone. The Powers have been watching you for weeks."
John met the man's eyes and shivered despite himself. Those close-set eyes had an almost unholy blue gleam. Fanatic.
The muzzle of the pistol pressed against his head. "It'd be a real coup to slip you out right out from underneath Them. Really blow a hole in all Their schemes. Unless," he blinked, looking suddenly crafty, "that's what They want me to do. Maybe this is a trap."
"Why'd she ask you to come here?" John tried to distract the man from his train of thought.
"To give you back the ring."
John took a deep breath. "Please, tell her to keep it. Tell her...tell her to not make contact with me. Can you do that?"
The fanatic sighed, exhaling heavy garlic-laden breath in John's face. "How 'bout I just take you with me?"
"And if they follow us? You're not doing her or you any good by doing that."
The man snorted. "You're with Them."
"No, no...I'm with her. You tell her that. But also tell her--tell her I can't *do* anything without making it worse. She needs to leave the city, get as far away from me as possible. Understand?"
The man considered that. "Yes."
John held his eyes, willing him to reach Aeryn safely with the message. "Tell her...maybe. Someday. "
"I'll tell her." Those blue eyes narrowed with evil intent and John felt the painful blow of the pistol hitting his head. He sagged to his knees, the stars back in force. The man bent to scoop up the puzzle ring and left, the door swinging shut behind him.
"Crichton." A booted foot nudged him, hard, in the ribs. "Crichton, wake up!" He opened his eyes and gazed up at her. "Mmmmm," he groaned tiredly, wanting nothing more than to sleep for a few more arns. Hours, he corrected himself. The foot nudged his ribs again, harder. "Crichton, come on. It's almost sunrise."
"Almost." He closed his eyes but propped himself up against the rough bark of the tree. Frell, his neck hurt. He rubbed it, trying to ease the sore muscles. "We can barely see yet."
"Which means they can't see us." She hesitated, her hard-nosed practicality slipping a little. "I hear something."
His eyes popped open, fully awake. He stood up beside her, holding his
breath, listening with every ounce of his hearing. Soft rushing sound.
Almost like wind, but...rougher. So familiar he almost couldn't place it.
"Cars." He said suddenly. "That's cars, on asphalt. We're near the road."
Aeryn brushed her knotted hair back against one smudged cheek and tucked it behind her ear. Her forehead wrinkled. "We *want* to go to a road?"
"Yeah." He shrugged. "Trust me, Aeryn, I've got a plan." He grinned at her. "Come on, darlin', I'll tell you while we walk." He bent down and scooped up his backpack, then reached out and grabbed her hand. "Time's wasting." They walked hand in hand toward the distant road.
John climbed slowly to his feet and half-walked, half-staggered to the still-swinging door.
John combed his short brown hair in the shower-fogged mirror, humming a sad little tune to himself. One more day he'd been out on the streets and still nothing. Even the amusement of making the surveillance teams jog to keep up with him was wearing thin.
"Nasty looking scar."
John turned slowly, not believing his own ears.
Aeryn crouched against the far wall, watching him warily. She was thinner than he remembered, her face paler. Her long black hair was tangled and dull, and she had a bruise on one cheek. The puzzle ring on its silver chain glinted in the light as she moved.
"Hey," he said softly, crouching down low to be on eye level with her. "I've been looking for you."
"I know. I've seen you." She paused, her face deliberately blank. "Are you with them?"
"No, Aeryn you know that--" He stammered, "I just didn't know how to help you. I thought if we could find you, I could--I mean--" She nodded sharply, once, accepting his answer. Relief rushed through him. "How are you?"
She pushed her tangled hair out of her eyes. "Alive." She looked at the raised scar on his chest. "Glad to see you are, too."
"It was touch and go," he said offhandedly. His eyes darkened, looking at her. "Why are you here? You know that they're probably watching this place."
"They are. I've seen you dozens of times around the city, but--" She shrugged and moved toward him in a low, fluid crouch, deliberately keeping under the window panes and out of sight of any passerby.
He reached out and touched her cheek, reassuring himself that she was real. His eyes closed briefly. "What do you need, Aeryn?"
"Your ship. Help me get it."
"You're leaving." John smothered his instinctive inner protest that it would be fine, that he'd work it out, really he would-- The time for believing that was long past.
He heard a distant echo of Sara's voice: "This is not a nice world, Commander, and it's not hers, and you're the only one who won't admit it." He stifled it firmly. "How are you planning to create the wormhole?"
"I don't know."
She'd need him. She was a good flier but science was *his* specialty. "And if you can't?"
Aeryn pressed her lips together, refusing to answer.
One way or another, she wasn't coming back. If she had to fly that damn ship manually to the moon she wasn't coming back. Cold dread rose inside him, making his heart pound and his fists clench. "Jesus, Aeryn--" he heard himself whisper. A bitter little smile crossed her face. "Will you help me take the ship?"
"Yeah. Yeah." He replied miserably. "Whatever you want, you know that. Is there anything else you need?"
"A warm place to sleep. Your planet is cold at night."
He buried his face in his hands for a brief second then looked back at her. "I can do you one better than a warm bed," he offered quietly, "how about a warm shower?"
While she showered John kept a wary eye on the door and packed her some clean sweatshirts and a pair of longjohns. He picked out a warm turtleneck, sweatshirt and pair of Calvins and placed them on the sink for her when she came out. He also rolled up a pair of socks and an old pair of his jeans for her. He knew the jeans wouldn't fit her but she'd need extra clothes as winter came on. The shower shut off and he sat on the bed in silence, listening to her rustle around the bathroom. After a moment she came out dressed in the sweatshirt and calvins he'd provided.
"Come here," he said, patting the bed. "Let me dry your hair."
She gave him an odd look but obediently sat down beside him, turning her back to him. John lifted a towel to her hair and slowly began to dry it. Aeryn sighed and relaxed a little. "Thank you," she said.
He swallowed. "Don't mention it." They sat for a moment longer in strained silence, neither one wanting really to talk.
"Aeryn.... " He cleared his throat harshly. "Aeryn, where have you been all this time? Do you want to talk about it?"
He accepted that quietly, then, "Why did you come?"
She shifted impatiently on the bed. "I told you. To say goodbye."
"No... no, I mean, originally. Why did you come?"
"Ask me that tomorrow."
"No." He reached around her and placed the towel under her mass of still-damp hair and then tucked it around her shoulders. "Tell me now."
She made a small protesting noise. John closed his eyes, wrapping his arms around her. "Tell me," he insisted.
"I...I saw the look on your face. When you thought that you weren't going to go home because I was there. I thought, frell it, I can't go home anyway, I want to try yours." Her back stiffened. "Here we are."
"Yeah. Here we are." John buried his face in the curve of her shoulder, breathing in the scent of her.
Aeryn looked down shyly through her long lashes. "I said before that I have a lot to blame you for, Crichton. But I don't." She pulled away, then shifted on the bed to face him.
"Do you still trust me?" John said finally.
"Yeah," he said softly, "I'm going to get us out of this, Aeryn, if I can. I pr--"
Aeryn only looked at him, not bothering to respond, and the words dried up in his throat.
"You should sleep now." He said after a long moment, resting his hand on her shoulder. "I'll keep watch."
She nodded and lay back on the bed, pulling the blankets around her. He maneuvered a chair into the corner so he could see both her and the door. John rested the pistol across his lap in easy reach. It wouldn't be much--she'd taken such a horrible risk to come here--but he hoped he'd be able to buy her enough time to get away.
And if she did make it safely out, what then? She'd get the Farscape--if she wasn't captured in the attempt. She'd fly out to space. She'd try to create a wormhole--and if she didn't, she wasn't coming back. They will have to kill me if they come to take me tomorrow.
He'd faced this choice before, and had decided. But then--then, he'd thought that they'd still be on Earth. There had still been hope of someday seeing his father and friends again. If he left with her now, he knew he'd never return. John had thought the first choice was one of the hardest decisions he'd never made, but compared to this one it was easy.
He thought: The one thing I've wanted more than anything else all of our time on Moya. My friends and family and familiar places. My home. And its *killing* her. Even if she stays and survives the winter without getting caught, she'll succumb to the living death by summer. No matter where she goes--one hot day and she's had it. I promised her I'd never let that happen.
Aeryn might be able to make the wormhole on her own. She was damn sure determined to try. He'd stay here, never really having the freedom he'd had before, but he'd be living on Earth. With Dad. DK. A chance to get married, have a real life, eat a cheeseburger when he wanted it, take a walk in the autumn and hear the crunch of the leaves under his feet....but all without her. Without knowing what had happened to her.
The hardest choice he'd ever had to make, and the easiest. Life without Aeryn-- Sara had been right. "What did you *expect* would happen when you hauled her back here? The two of you would live your life in some quiet little house in the country?" John had wanted a normal life again so badly that he couldn't even admit it to himself; had clung to it past the point of hope. But that life--any life--without Aeryn was no life for him at all.
Aeryn lay with her eyes open, staring at the ceiling.
"Sleep," he ordered. "You need it."
She sighed and rolled over to face him. "I'm too tired to sleep."
"Try," he said quietly. "We have a long night ahead of us."
Aeryn blinked. "You'll help me steal the ship tonight then?"
"No. We're getting the hell out of here. Tonight."
"Of all the---Stop, John, just stop, all right? This is your home."
"You ready?" He said finally, ignorning her objection.
"You know that Moya is weeks gone."
"Yeah," he said gruffly, "yeah I know. But that doesn't change if its one or both of us that goes out there."
He sighed. "You won't accept 'because' will you?"
"No." "Then--" he swallowed hard again, pushing back fear. But this was no time to be thinking about day to day concerns. He'd waited weeks to see her. Not just see her. To know she was breathing, her heart beating, her skin still warm.... She was here. Here in front of him.
/Last chance, John. Moment of Truth./
He sat on the bed next to her, frankly a little terrified. "Then--um--" he bent over and told her, softly.
Aeryn's eyes widened in surprise, and then her hand gripped his, fingers twining between his.
"Well? You ready?" He asked at last, not knowing what else to say.
She laughed. "You'll have to ask me that tomorrow, Crichton."
"Deal." He reached out his other hand and she put her free hand into it, letting him pull her off the bed. "Tomorrow. Wherever we end up." He grinned at her, relief sweeping through him, and tugged her into his embrace. She stiffened, a little startled. "Aeryn," he whispered, "that *is* a promise."
He felt the tension go out of her. Aeryn's arms tightened around him. "Ready?" She asked softly.
John held her for a moment longer, simply enjoying the feel of her in his arms. After a moment he released her and sat back, still holding her hand. "Ready."
They walked through the trees for a little over two hours, until it became too dark to see anymore and they risked breaking ankles or legs on the uneven ground. John couldn't be sure that they weren't going in circles. She wanted to put as much distance between them and the landing spot as she could, and he didn't blame her. Still, Aeryn agreed, albeit reluctantly, when he finally called a halt to the march. They lay down in the curve of a huge tree, curled together for warmth.
She slept, but John lay awake for a long, long time, listening to the rustle of the wind through the leaves, the buzzing of insects and myriad other Earth noises he'd never thought he'd hear again. Somewhere in the middle of the night he finally dozed off. He was still smiling.
He had no idea where they were going, or what would happen next. He just knew that they were going there together.
Sara roused Jack and DK shortly before dawn to give them the news. The house would be swarming with military and other powers that be within half an hour, she knew. She wanted to tell them herself.
She took them out to the field behind the house and halted near a small stream. They talked for a while--DK and Jack questioning, Sara quietly explaining. Finally she pressed John's goodbye note into their hands. They left together, grieving.
Sara herself remained outside for a few more moments, enjoying the bright autumn sunshine. She reached into her jacket and pulled out a tape, turning it over thoughtfully in her hands. John had never even suspected that his room had been bugged. Lucky for him that she'd been the one monitoring the equipment last night.
Shortly after John and Aeryn had left the house she'd made a copy of an earlier tape and replaced it for this one, then sat back and waited for the inevitable call. It had come just a few minutes ago, startled military personnel giving her the expected news. John seen entering the lab last night, presumably alone, to work on the ship. The lab bay doors left open. The Farscape gone. And, high above the planet in the darkness of space, satellites had indicated the bloom of a wormhole.
Sara carefully placed the tape on the soft grass, ready to ground it to shards with her bootheel. She hesitated, though, and picked the tape up again and tucked it in her coat pocket. Later--before the inevitable investigation--she'd hide it somewhere safe.
The confessions, the promises, the leaks to the press--all thrown away in one moment. All gone now. I didn't have the heart to do it--after everything I've planned, I couldn't bring myself to capture her. I'm sorry, Dad. I couldn't keep my promise to you. The price was too high.
Sara stared up at the sky, wishing John and Aeryn well. But there was a half-finished space ship waiting for her; she was going to try to salvage her plans. If she could. She would never see the Earth spin beneath her, now, but perhaps someone else would get to live that dream. If she was careful enough, diligent enough, dedicated enough--it could still happen.
Humans were about to become interstellar travelers, and they needed to be prepared. She squared her shoulders.
There was work to be done.
by the Goo Goo Dolls
Comin' down the world turned over
And angels fall without you there
And I go on as you get colder
Or are you someone's prayer
You know the lies they always told you
And the love you never know
What's the things they never showed you
That swallow the light from the sun
Inside your room, yeah
Comin' down the world turned over
And angels fall without you there
And I go on as you get colder
And there's no time left for losin'
When you stand they fall
Comin' down the world turned over
And angels fall without you there
And I go on as you get colder
All because I'm
Comin' down the years turn over
And angels fall without you there
And I'll go on to bring you home and
All because I'm
All because I'm
And I'll become
What you became to me