John stared at the object before him. It made no sense. How could it be here? How could it be on Moya in the middle of the Uncharted Territories? The others sat near him, staring at the object as it sat on a table. They were equally mystified.
It was a perfectly ordinary cardboard box.
"John, I don't understand," said Aeryn, pulse rifle aimed at the box should it become a threat. "I thought humans couldn't come out this far."
"They can't Aeryn. This is a human-made cardboard box. It shouldn't be here. I have no idea why it would be."
D'Argo spoke up, "The scanner indicated that there were no explosives inside." He lay down the scanner on the table. "However, I do not trust the scanner in this case. You yourself said that it shouldn't be here, so let's correct that mistake." He reached for his Qualta blade.
John stood and waved his hands at D'Argo to make him stop. "Whoa, MacLeod! This isn't time to play Highlander! Just because it's a mystery doesn't mean it's a threat."
As usual, D'Argo had no clue whoever this "MacLeod" was, or what this "Highlander" game was. He let it pass because to do otherwise when John made no sense was to invite mental problems. As D'Argo lowered the blade, John relaxed.
"All we do know for certain is that it apparently appeared out of nowhere on this tabletop." John furrowed his brow. "We don't know where it's from or why it's here."
"And you said that the writing on the side is in your language? Ing-litch?" asked Zhaan.
"Eng-LISH." John corrected. He tapped his forefinger against the box, indicating the scrawled writing that appeared to be written in black marker. "And yes, it is. It says, 'To the Farscape characters with much love, the fans.' I don't know why it may be referring to my module crew as 'characters' or who these 'fans' are, but my curiosity's piqued."
"Mine isn't, unless it's food." This was from Rygel.
"Or money," quipped Chiana, staring at the box with interest.
John walked over to the box and turned, facing them. "I say we open the box. If you guys want to leave the room or something while I do this, you can."
They all shook their heads. "Ohh-kay", muttered John. "We're not interested in what's behind Door No. 3, Monty. We'll go for what's in the box." He pulled at the tape and managed to tear it along the top flaps of the box. Yanking, he was able to open it. He stared at the contents in shock. "Well, there's something I never expected to see out here."
Shoveling out a bunch of Styrofoam "snow," he pulled out a letter and what was apparently some kind of inventory list. Rygel grabbed some of the Styrofoam and asked John. "Is this white stuff edible?" Hope was evident in his voice.
Rolling his eyes, John replied, "I don't know, Fluffy. There's a biodegradable version of that stuff, but I don't know if that's it. It's called 'Styrofoam' by the way. It's used as a packing material to keep the contents from being damaged."
Rygel sniffed the nugget of Styrofoam in his small, pudgy hand. Then, he popped it into his mouth. Hacking, he managed to swallow the thing. Making a face, he remarked, "Dren! That's even worse than food cubes!"
John fought a grin, and Aeryn reached for the box. "The frell with all this dren! What's in..." She stopped in shock, seeing one of the contents shift and slide out of the Styrofoam into view. Stunned, she began mouthing words, but it took a few seconds for the sound to come out. "It's-it's... It's a small statue of me!"
"They're called 'action figures', Aeryn. People buy them so their kids can play with them."
"And they're kept in little packages like these, with the back-board and clear display area around the 'action figure'?" She looked at him oddly.
John shrugged and nodded, "Yup."
She shook her head at him. "Yours is a very strange species."
He hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his pants and squared his shoulders. "It's all part of our charm, Aeryn."
"Whoever said you're charming?" she sallied at him. He blew her a raspberry.
"Anyhoo, these action figures can come in multiple versions. Aeryn's, for example, has its hair falling down to its shoulders. Later on, another version of Aeryn's might have its hair tied up in back."
Aeryn stared at him, incredulously. "You mean they can change one miniscule thing about the figure, and humans buy another one simply because it has a different hairstyle?'
"Or they can have you wearing different clothes. That's merchandising for ya."
Aeryn shook her head in amazement. Then, she asked softly, "They won't, uhm... they won't make a version of me wearing Calvin's underwear, will they?"
John chuckled. "Nope. Not that I'd mind too terribly much, but that would probably be considered inappropriate."
Aeryn released a breath in relief.
"Anyway, there's a bunch of these action figures in here, and they all look like you guys. Lemme read this letter. 'To the Farscape gang! We, the devoted fans of your show, have decided to send you guys some free copies of your figures to thank you for being a part of such a good sci-fi show." John frowned at this, beginning to suspect something. He continued, "These toys are to be released soon to the general public, but we wanted to give you the first stab at them."
While he read the letter, the assorted members of the Moya crew began reaching into the box and grabbing their respective action figures. Zhaan looked up from hers and asked, "I'm probably going to regret this, but can you explain what the letter meant?"
"Well," drawled John, "as near as I can tell, these fans think that we're all characters in a TV show. What these action figures represent are the show's creator's efforts to make more money by something we call 'merchandising'. "
D'Argo scowled, "So the creators of this 'show' make little statues of us? How do they know what we look like? Or where we are, for that matter?"
"It's a TV show, D'Argo. The creators essentially determine what happens to us. They know all this stuff because someone dreamed it up and wrote about it."
"You mean they control what happens to us!?", growled D'Argo, rising again. He looked to be on the verge of hyper-rage.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Calm down, Mr. Self-control! This 'show' may just be the fictional representation of our reality. It may exist in a whole other universe or something. These creators may not control what happens to us. Maybe we determine our own destiny, and these adventures or whatever appear in the mind of someone from this alternate universe and he writes them down."
D'Argo gritted his teeth and reluctantly sat. "Anyway, the concept is largely human and the writing is in English, so I would guess that the show is made by humans."
Rygel shuddered. "Now there is a truly frightening thought. Our exploits chronicled by another one of you." He grimaced.
John grinned. "To know us is to love us." Rygel almost appeared to have a heart attack at that, and John laughed.
D'Argo pointed to the front of his character's container and asked, "Can you read what that says?"
"Sure," replied John. "It says 'Farscape'."
D'Argo looked at him. "You mean to tell me that this 'TV show' that we are all characters in is named after your piece-of-dren ship?"
"Why? Why not name it 'Moya'? After all, we'd probably get more use out of her than your little primitive module."
John shrugged. "Maybe they wanted to name it after the human element of the show. Y'know, to give the human audience something familiar to relate to."
D'Argo studied the figure and the implements next to it. He pointed to them. "And what is all this? I recognize a pitiful attempt to duplicate my Qualta blade, but what's all this other dren?"
"Wellll... The package says that the long, red, stick-like thing is your stun-tongue. The figure you have has an opening in its mouth and I think you put the stun-tongue there. I guess they couldn't find a way of putting an extendable version in your mouth."
Aeryn showed John hers. "I can see the so-called 'pulse rifle' that comes with mine, but what about my Prowler?"
John looked at the inventory list, and said, "It's in here somewhere. 'Aeryn's Peacekeeper Prowler..." He rummaged in the box, and pulled out a smaller box. It showed a toy Prowler with a John figure standing near it and Aeryn's figure sat in the cockpit. He pulled it out and handed it to her.
They began opening the packages that the figures came in, and figures and accessories clattered on the tabletop. John looked at his and muttered, "They didn't make me tall enough." Flipping over the package, he read what was written on the back. It was apparently some kind of history file for his character. Turning to the others, he asked them. "Okay, so what did all your figures have as accessories?"
Zhaan looked up, "Mine seems to only have that glass mask that you broke."
Chiana glanced at him. "Mine seems to have some lock picks or something, but the skin's all light green."
John walked over to her and looked. Sure enough, the 'skin' part of the figure was painted a greenish color. He recognized that shade and tapped his comm-badge. "Pilot!"
"Yes, John?" Pilot's image solidified in one of the hologram projection nodes.
"Turn off the lights for this room."
"Are you sure that's wise?" The others seemed to agree with the question.
"Yes." The lights dimmed.
Chiana's face was visible in the luminescence that came from her figure. It took a second for it to sink in.
"What the frell is this? I glow in the dark? I GLOW IN THE DARK? What kind of thief glows in the dark? And stop laughing, John!"
John had covered his mouth and was losing his battle to repress his laughter. Oh, it was too damn funny. John tapped his badge again. "Pilot, --hee hee--Pilot, bring back the--hee hee-bring back the lights." The lights came up, and the luminescence faded.
John turned to Rygel, still grinning, and asked, "So, your Royalness, what stuff were you outfitted with?"
Rygel spoke in a low voice. "I have a hover-throne. And, um..."
"What, what, what?" pestered John impatiently.
"I got something that looks disturbingly like food cubes." He looked offended.
The others began to snicker, and even Zhaan couldn't entirely repress a grin. "They look like a mold of some sort of animal droppings." John rushed over to look, and stifled a chuckle. The food cubes were made into one amorphous mass and did indeed look like a pile of crap.
Rygel looked forlorn. "Of all the things that could've been used to show my greatness, why did they have to choose these frelling awful food cubes?" He popped the mass into his mouth and swallowed. Grimacing with distaste, he said, "Well, at least one thing about them is accurate. They taste as horrid as their namesake." He shuddered.
John leaned against the table, laughing his ass off. The others watched him, as he lost his composure and fought to regain it. Zhaan pointed to the bottom of her character. "Why do they all have holes in their feet and in their backs?"
"That's to attach it to things like playsets and stuff. The playsets usually have these little pegs in them that the holes are to be fit on."
She nodded and Rygel spoke up. "My hover-throne seems to have one of these pegs you mentioned, John. But I hate the placement."
"Oh, why is that?"
"Because the frelling thing seems to be designed to get shoved right up my figure's, um, fundament."
"You mean that the peg has to get forced up your ass?" John lost it again. As his laughter subsided, his face was red and tears were in his eyes. "Well that's a change. Usually they put the peg for vehicles in the back."
"Ugh! How horrid!" exclaimed the Dominar. "Stabbed in the backside or in the back!"
"Stop it, stop it!" cried John, laughing again.
D'Argo looked at his figure with disgust. "I am unsatisfied with mine. The 'tongue' keeps on falling out." He demonstrated and the red stun-tongue clattered to the table as a result. "Also, this lever in the back seems to make mine have some kind of spasm." He flicked the lever, and his figure's arms jerked outward.
John was losing the battle against laughter again. "I think that's its way of imitating you attacking someone." D'Argo looked at him in disbelief. Then, turning to Zhaan, he threw his arms forward in imitation of the figure's movements. Zhaan started giggling madly.
"D'Argo's the GI Joe with the kung fu grip!" said John, laughing again.
"Mine has an equally ridiculous 'kong food grip'." Aeryn said.
"And mine keeps falling over." Chiana complained.
"Yeah, I know. These things never have been really stable. Without the pegs, you can't get them to stand without looking constipated."
Aeryn looked up at him with exasperation, putting down the Prowler box she had been examining. "What I cannot understand at all is the fact that people buy these things if they have these flaws. Especially if the flaws are as well known as you indicate."
John shrugged. "I dunno. People just do."
She shook her head. "Your race needs help, John."
Aeryn opened the Prowler box and looked inside, scrutinizing the contents. There was a cellophane bag containing black plastic parts. She pulled out the bag and tore it open. She dumped the parts onto the table, causing some of the others to pick up their figures and stuff. She found what looked like a pamphlet of some kind.
"Those are the instructions, Aeryn." John supplied.
She looked at him in irritation. "Yes, I figured that out for myself, John. Unfortunately, they're written in your incomprehensible tongue."
John came over and she handed the instructions to him. He scanned the pamphlet, muttering to himself. "Enjoy roaming the Uncharted Territories with the sleek Prowler flown by yada yada yada... The coolest in Peacekeeper design whoop-de-doo... Some assembly required, swell... blah blah blah blah-de-blah." He looked at the parts and picked up a small piece of paper. He showed it to Aeryn.
"These are the stickers for it," he explained. "If a toy ship has little symbols or whatever, the toy makers usually make little stickers with the symbols on it."
Aeryn grabbed at the stickers and began working one loose with her fingernail.
As she occupied herself with the stickers, John picked up his own action figure and held it. He had no weapons, just a small recorder and a helmet to go over the figure's head. I guess they wanted this John to get his ass kicked a lot, too. He looked at the figure's face and wondered, does my grin really look that doofy?
Suddenly remembering, John started digging in the box again and pulled out another medium box. Turning it over in his hands, he read the front. "Pilot's Chamber Playset." Of course he'd get a playset, he can't move apart from Moya. He'd need his own playset. He tapped his comm-badge and called for Pilot.
"This mysterious package has an action figure for you too. I'll bring it on down and show it to you."
"Really. Well, thank you."
John left the others to their toys.
Pilot was manipulating the controls on his console when John entered the chamber with the box under his arm. Pilot looked up.
"Is that what the mystery is all about? These miniature figures of each crew member?" asked Pilot.
"Apparently. The box came outta nowhere, and we're still trying to understand what the damn thing is all about. Still, since there doesn't seem to be any obvious threat, we're just sort of going along with it. Just accepting it, y'know."
"On this ship, that's almost a requirement."
John laughed. "That's truer than I'd like to admit."
John placed the box on the floor near Pilot's console, and opened it. Taking out the plastic bag full of pieces, he started trying to put the thing together. Pilot watched in interest as John attached the Pilot part to the base of the playset. With that done, he began inserting the consoles into their appropriate slots.
Pilot looked down at the open bag and picked it up with one claw. Examining the contents while he monitored Moya, he saw what looked like a bunch of little DRD's. Since he couldn't hold the small little toys with his claws, he attempted to dump the lot of them on the floor. Parts of console, the sticker sheet, and the entire compliment of DRD's spilled out.
Pilot examined the little replicas and noticed that not one of them was capable of actually doing anything. John noticed where he was looking and said, "Probably just for window dressing, big guy."
"Decoration. To make the chamber look more real."
Pilot looked at his replica, which was now attached to the console base. "They didn't get my good side."
John laughed. "Yeah, I know. They never do."
Pilot picked up the empty box the playset had come in. "This doesn't have the entire chamber built, just my console and the immediate area around it."
"There's always somethin'." John picked up the sticker sheet and began applying them to the console surface of the playset. When he finished, he handed the entire playset to Pilot with a flourish.
"Whatever that means."
Pilot gingerly grasped the playset, carefully holding its bottom edges in two of his claws. Fortunately, everything seemed to be attached to everything else. Using another claw, he moved the arms of his figure and imitated the motions of running the ship. He seemed to be totally engrossed.
Looking up, he spoke to John. "Well, this is a very kind gift that I have received from absolute strangers. Thank you for bringing it down here, John. Would you please put it where all the other so-called action figures are? I cannot use it while I am monitoring Moya right now, but perhaps you could bring it to me during a quiet time."
"Sure, no sweat." John picked up the playset with all its pieces and walked out.
Pilot continued to operate Moya. He felt strangely moved by the "playset." It was as if someone had made a statue to commemorate him. No one had ever done that before for him or any other Pilot. He was deeply touched by the gesture, as oddly as its circumstances seemed.
John returned to the room with the others and watched in amusement. Aeryn had finished her Prowler toy and was busy examining it. D'Argo finally had managed to make the stun-tongue attachment stay put, and appeared rather pleased with himself. Chiana sat glumly, muttering to herself about glowing in the dark. Zhaan seemed to be attempting to make her figure sit in that meditative position that she used. Rygel had wound up the wheels on the bottom of his toy's hover-throne and had watched it roll across the table to fall on the floor.
Everyone seemed to be having a good ol' time. John went over to the box and reached in for the last object. It was a small box that advertised a "Farscape Communications Badge." Apparently, the badge was the size of the real ones, but it had a series of prerecorded messages that you could listen to by pressing a button at the bottom. "Hear Ka D'Argo as he speaks like a warrior. Or listen to the tough-as-nails Aeryn Sun when she makes it clear who's the boss."
There seemed to be responses for all the crew. John opened the battery compartment on back of the badge and inserted the two AA's that came in the box. Snapping it shut, he pressed the button.
"Warrior to warrior, I swear one day I will kill you." The quality of the recording was so-so, but that was unmistakably D'Argo.
D'Argo looked at the toy badge. "What the frell is that for?"
"It's made to look like our comm-badges, D'Argo. You press this button, and it plays a message featuring one of you guys." John replied.
D'Argo placed his figure in the center of the table, moving it's arms in what looked like an attack stance. "Play it again, John." John pressed the button.
"One Miphippippi... two Miphippippi..." uttered the box.
"What!?" roared D'Argo.
The others tried in various ways not to laugh, and D'Argo turned red with embarrassment. Reining in his hyper-rage, he simply shrugged. Aeryn placed her toy on the table with a similar stance and urged John to press the button again.
"She gives me a woody," said Aeryn's voice from the box. She sighed. Turning to John in exasperation, she accused, "You made it say that on purpose, John."
"No, I didn't, Strawberry Shortcake. It just says something at random." To illustrate, he pushed the button again.
"You are the most bizarre creature I have ever met." The box had chosen Aeryn again.
"See?" asked John.
She nodded and said, "While I don't understand the point of that thing, I do agree with the sentiment. You are strange, John. Your race becomes even more difficult to understand as time passes."
John began pressing the button, listening to the random shuffle of responses voiced by each member of the crew.
"Yes, mother." Press. "Mud is... mud." Press. "Did you say Crichton has an idea?" followed by Delvian swear words. Press. "Moya knows exactly where we are. We're... someplace else. I'll get back to you on the specifics." Press. "I did wash it...well, I think I did." Press. "I don't 'snurch', I procure,"
"Well, I do." Rygel spoke up.
Press. "Soft, yes. Weak, no." Press. "Boy, was Spielberg ever wrong." Press. "Get ready for immediate Starburst!" Press. D'Argo's long swearing rant when they had encountered the Sheyang." Press. "You can be more." Press. "Choose your alliances carefully."
John put the toy badge on the table and said, "Well, since you all are busy playing with yourselves, I'm gonna bunk out. G'night, or whatever it is now."
He headed for his quarters.
Later on, John was walking through some darkened corridors of Moya, musing about the unbelievably weird day they'd all had. The action figures came out of nowhere and John really didn't know what to think about them. It had been a bizarre day even for this crew.
He paused, listening. Was that a voice he heard?
"No, that's still not right." Aeryn, soft. It was coming from her quarters. He moved as quietly as he could toward her open door. Peeking around the corner, he was greeted with an unexpected tableau.
Aeryn was dressed in her black top and the white Calvins that he knew were his. He didn't mind because she looked a hell of a lot better in them than he did, anyway. He stared, mesmerized, at the white cotton as it clung to her butt. He held his breath.
She moved, and looked down at something on a small table near her bed. John tried to see past her, but he couldn't. She was blocking the way. Not that this was a problem, because he had found that Aeryn was very easy on his eyes. He saw her reach down and make an adjustment to whatever it was on the table. Then, she stepped back slightly to look at it from a long view, and he got a glimpse of it.
It was Aeryn's action figure. It was standing on the desk with the toy pulse rifle in one hand. She had been posing it, trying to figure out which stance looked best. She reached down again, and moved the pulse rifle arm upwards just a tad. "That's almost right. Still doesn't look quite badass enough."
Then she picked up the Prowler toy and began making firing noises.
John grinned in the darkness and crept away, listening to her critique her toy figure.