Earth Angel

By Bob Hutchinson (aka UCSBdad)
Copyright 2000

Author's Notes:
Disclaimer and outright denials: None of these characters are owned by me except for a very large, fuzzy freeloader who shall remain nameless.
Rating: PG-17, and no more for language.
Time: Next Thursday at 7:52 AM.
Spoilers: Nary a one.

"Watch it, you stupid bitch. I almost hit you."

"Frell you, eema-hole!"

He waved a finger at me and his ground vehicle sped off, leaving me sprawled against another vehicle stopped by the side of the street. I looked around me. Where was I? I was in some sort of town, but it was completely unfamiliar to me. A black, hard surfaced road ran through the center of the town. A few dozen small, one-story structures made out of wood or some sort of rock lined the street. I could see a few dozen other, smaller wooden structures behind them. I was in a small valley, with hills covered with odd-looking green trees all around the town. But none of it was familiar.

"You okay, Honey?"

I turned and faced a woman. She was slightly shorter than I and perhaps a little older, but still very pretty. She had red hair, brown eyes and was wearing dark green dress with white trim. For some reason, I decided that I could easily defeat her in hand to hand combat if I had to. The clothing looked semi-military. That also seemed important.

"Problems with that asshole, Honey?"

"Male hormones." That was out before I could think. Having said it, I didn't know why.

"Was that your boyfriend?"

"John? No, not John." That, too, was out before I had any idea why I had said it.

"Were you hitchhiking and he got fresh?"

I had no idea what she was talking about, but it sounded reasonable. "Something like that."

"Oh, God. He took off with your stuff. Your purse, bags, whatever. He's on the Interstate by now, and by the time Harris gets his ass in gear, he'll be gone. Do you have anything left?"

I put my hand in my pocket and came out with four rectangular pieces of paper.

"Twenty-seven bucks. That won't get you very far. Want me to call the cops? Maybe they can catch the guy."

Again, I didn't know why, but that seemed like a very bad idea, so I shook my head. "I travel light. All I have is on me. He didn't get anything."

She smiled at me. I had a brief mental flash of another smile, but it was gone before I could make sense out of it. She held out her hand.

"I'm Chris Matthews."

I took her hand and held it for a second. Until that second, I didn't remember my name, but out came, "Aeryn Sun."

"Erin Sun? You don't look Chinese. Native American maybe? Certainly not Irish?"

I had no idea what she was talking about. "I look like my mother, from what I remember of her." Hezmana! Where had that come from.

"Well, Erin Sun, I know what you do look like. You look like you need a cup of coffee."

I glanced at the paper in my hand. Money of some sort?

"Don't worry, Erin. I'm buying. I'm a waitress at the Globe and Anchor, and free coffee for my friends is one of the perks."

We started walking along a walkway and soon came to a small commercial food establishment. Before she opened the door, she turned to me. "Erin, are you a biker?"

I had no idea what a biker was, so I couldn't claim to be one. "No."

She smiled again. She seemed to smile a lot. "Just curious. The leather outfit, you know."

For the first time I really noticed my clothes. Leather vest, leather pants and boots. I shrugged. "I look good in leather."

Chris laughed. That was somehow familiar. "Oh, Honey, you don't look good in leather. You look drop dead gorgeous in leather."

The establishment seemed busy. A voice called out. "Chris? Where have you been? I got nine customers already. Serve Mike his ham and eggs will you?"

The speaker was a short, muscular, dark skinned man in the back. He appeared to be preparing the food. I analyzed him as I had Chris. I could take him in a fight, but he'd be tougher. I still wondered why that was important to me.

Chris poured a cup of a dark fluid and put it in front of me. "You take cream and sugar, Erin?" Before I could answer, she turned to the dark man. "Keep your shirt on, Willie, and you too, Mike." I shook my head at her, since I had no idea if I took cream and sugar. Chris took a plate of food to a man sitting in a small booth by a window. She went back and got the pot she had poured my coffee from and poured some for three other men.

"Willie," one of the men called, "If you keep getting beautiful women in here like Chris and her friend, you'll end up owning the town you'll get so many customers."

Chris glanced over at me. "Erin got dumped here by some low life. Any of you three try to mess with her, and you'll be wearing this coffee. And that doesn't even count what'll happen when her boyfriend John shows up."

The men laughed and didn't seem upset at the threats. Again, the give and take seemed familiar, but I couldn't place it. I drank the coffee. It was bitter, but I found I enjoyed it.

I heard Willie's voice again. "Christ, Chris. Look in the parking lot. An SUV and three cars from the Interstate. We're going to be busy."

By the time I finished the coffee, there were another ten people inside, all of whom seemed to be clamoring for Chris's attention. A man and a woman at the far end of the counter were asking for coffee. Chris was in a discussion on the other end of the diner about something called pesticides in the local vegetables. I picked up the pot and poured coffee for the couple.

Another man called to me. "Hey, honey, me too."

I started to pour for the man, but he stopped me. "Decaf, please."

Hezmana! Decaf? I knew what coffee was, but what was decaf?

He pointed to where I had gotten the pot. "The orange top on the pot is the decaf coffee, okay?"

I managed to serve all the coffee in both pots in no time. Just as I took the pots back to the heating device, a large group of rather strangely dressed young men came in.

Chris stopped by me and smiled. "College students! They probably all want one cup of coffee each and won't tip. Erin, could you be a dear and just clean off those two tables in the back? Pile the plates over there and just wipe the table off with the wash cloth?" I nodded and she handed me a wet cloth. When I was done I saw Willie putting four plates of food onto a little counter.

"Chris. Tables six and two's food is ready." I decided I should help and got to the plates just as Chris did.

"Erin, if you'll help out a little---" I nodded again. "Great. These two plates are for the table in the corner, the two guys with the plaid shirts. Thanks."

Suddenly, I was busy serving. I had no idea what the strange foods were, but the customers took their plates or pointed me to the proper table. Before I knew it several hours had passed and the only two customers were two older men sitting drinking coffee.

"Whew. Morning rush is over, thank God. Erin, come on over. I want you to talk to Willie. "

We walked back into the kitchen. The first thing I noticed were pictures of men in uniform, carrying what I thought must be weapons of some sort. I stopped to look. Somehow, they didn't impress me. But they did make me uneasy. Why was I afraid of soldiers?

"Hello, Erin." I turned to find Willie holding his hand out to me. I took it and he shook my hand. "William Munro, Marine Gunnery Sergeant, Retired, owner and operator of the Globe and Anchor. I spent twenty-six years lusting after some good food. When I retired, I decided to turn my hobby into my business, and here I am." He gestured towards the pictures. "I saw you looking. You in the Corps?"

"No, I was at Edwards." Where or what Edwards was, I had no idea. Hezmana!

"Air Force! Not a pilot were you?"

I almost said yes, but for some reason I said, "No, just a bean counter."

Willie smiled. "The Air Force, they always go first class. If I had some Marines that looked like you--- Well, I didn't. Where are you headed, Erin?"

That was a question I'd love to be able to answer. "Just following the sun."

"I thought from what Chris said you might be going off to meet your boyfriend."

"No. He works for the government. He's overseas, out in the middle of no where. No girlfriends allowed." It sounded good to me. I hoped it made sense.

Willie turned serious. "You never waitressed before, I guess? You really didn't look like you knew what you were doing this morning. "

I shook my head and Willie continued. "I've got a crowd of high school girls who work at dinner time and on weekends, but Chris is my only waitress for breakfast and lunch. Look, if you work for the rest of the day, I'll pay you fifty bucks and feed you. Plus you keep all your tips. That'll give you enough for bus fare to the next big town, and maybe you'll like working here. No bright lights and action, just a little burg in the middle of God's country, but we like it."

I didn't know how much twenty-seven bucks was, but Chris said it wasn't much. Fifty more would help. It took a split second to nod and say okay.

Chris smiled and looked relieved. "Erin, I rent a trailer just down the street. If you'd like, you can sleep on the couch tonight. If you want to work here for a while, we can work out the rent, okay?"

I nodded again. Chris proceeded to brief me on the operation of the diner. I found I didn't know how to operate a cash register, but Chris didn't find that too unusual. I didn't have a clue what the foods on the menu were, but I managed not to ask any embarrassing questions. I did manage to order myself an early lunch. Cheeseburger. I had heard that word before, but where?

About eleven, customers started coming in from the Interstate, which I decided was some sort of transportation artery. No sooner had the lunch crowd left than groups of young people started to come in. They were apparently from the high school where Willie got his other waitresses and was some sort of training facility. I noticed that I evaluated everyone who come in for my ability to defeat them in unarmed combat and discretely checked to see if they had weapons. Why did I do this?

All of a sudden, it was dinnertime. Two young girls came in and took over for Chris and me. I knew what I wanted for dinner and had no trouble ordering it. I knew from the looks I got from Chris and Willie that I had made an odd choice, but it was delicious.

Chris looked at me a little strangely as we left. "Erin, if you eat a whole gallon of chocolate ice cream for dinner every night, you won't keep that figure for John."

I laughed. "I'll be more careful, Chris. I just really, really wanted some chocolate ice cream tonight. You can order for me tomorrow night so I eat right, okay?"

"If I order tomorrow night, Erin, that'll mean you're going to stay."

I thought about it. "Yes, I'm going to stay for a while."

We entered Chris's trailer, which was some sort of semi-mobile dwelling. She immediately turned on some sort of electronic device. Again I was apprehensive. What did this device do?

"Erin, do you like football? My 'Pokes are playing on Monday Night Football. God, and everybody is injured. Their third string quarterback is starting tonight and their best wide receiver still has a cast on his hand and his back up has certified stone hands. Their line is all beat up, too. They'll be lucky to beat anyone this year."

I had only a vague idea what she was talking about and my face must have shown it.

Chris laughed. "Sorry, Erin. I guess the answer to my question is you don't like football."

I smiled back at her. "John likes it." He did, too. How I knew that was a mystery to me.

"Yeah. I never cared for it until I married Mike, my ex. He loved the game. He was a real cowboy, rodeos, you know. Won third place bulldogging at Las Vegas the year after we got married. Best he ever finished. He was doing real good up in Calgary in '95, but he busted his damn leg. Four years ago he dumped me for nineteen-year-old Miss Nevada State Fair. They live in LA now, and I hope they both choke to death on the damn smog. But I'm not bitter, you understand. You don't mind if I watch?"

I had no idea what she had just said. "I'm not going to stop you from doing whatever you want in your own home."

She sat down on the couch and I sat with her. "Erin, do you mind if I get a little personal?"

"No, go ahead."

"This John. Are you guys close, or is he just the best you could come up with on short notice?"

I thought about that, and once again an answer popped out. "We're close. And getting closer."

Chris laughed. "Good. Even after Mike, I'm a romantic at heart. John's a good guy? He doesn't drink or fool around?"

"I've only seen him drink twice and he's had opportunities to fool around, I guess, but he hasn't."

Chris stared at me. "You've seen him drink twice? Twice? Lordy, girl! You marry him at once or I will."

Chris's prediction for her Cowboys was correct. Their quarterback threw the ball to the other team or the ground as often as not, which I soon learned was not the object of the game. The people who ran while carrying the ball did no better. Again, I found myself analyzing the people I was watching on the TV. They had me for sheer strength, but I felt I was faster and had better reflexes. Why did I keep doing that?

Chris kept up a series of moans, complaints and a running commentary on the game that confused me as much as anything. Eventually she turned to me.

"Thirty five to three. I can't watch this anymore. You ever watch the X-Files?"

I shook my head.

"I used to watch it all the time when it was still in first run. I was the biggest 'shipper. I wanted soooo badly for those two to get together. If they'd let them get married in about the third season, they'd still be on today, I bet." She used a small box to change the picture on the television.

The program was fascinating and upsetting. The heroes were part of a group of Earth police who tracked down aliens. Of course, the alien was a disgusting murderer, but somehow I found myself getting very upset by the program. I managed to keep Chris from noticing. She was too busy talking about Scully and Mulder to notice, though. After the X-Files, a program of news came on. I didn't recognize anything happening.

"Okay, Erin. Bed time. I have a spare toothbrush, in case David Duchovny sleeps over, but I guess you can use it."

She took me into a little bathroom and handed some implements to me. I managed to clean my teeth with the odd brush and tube of some sort of cream. It seemed awfully different.

Chris had a bed made up on the couch when I came out. As soon as she saw me, she started giggling. She pointed at my Calvins. "You and John are close. I hope he isn't wearing yours. Not if he lives with a bunch of guys overseas."

I smiled back. "He has his own."

I crawled in bed and Chris turned out the light. For the first time that day, I had a little time to think. I had no real idea who I was or where I was or anything at all about anything around me. How had this happened to me? Did I have a boyfriend named John? Was my name really Aeryn Sun? Why couldn't I remember anything past this morning? I relaxed and then suddenly sat straight up in bed. John Robert Crichton, Jr. That was John. I smiled to myself and drifted off to sleep.

I woke the next morning and started to get dressed. Chris stopped me.

"Hold on, Erin. You'll need to wear a waitress uniform today. The biker leathers look good on you, but they might give the customers the wrong idea. You can wear one of my uniforms."

In a few minutes I had a dress on, just like Chris's. For some reason the dress felt very strange on me, but also familiar. I had an almost memory of myself in a dress. Red? Print? Nothing came to me after the initial memory.

Chris checked me over. "You look great. Your legs are longer than mine, so the skirt shows them off nicely." She stopped for a second. "Erin, you look like that in the morning with no makeup? God, Honey, I'll start eating a gallon of chocolate ice cream for dinner myself."

I wasn't sure what makeup was, so I just nodded. Chris hauled me back into the bathroom and started going through a pile of jars, cases, tubes and other things I couldn't identify.

"We don't have the same coloring, so most of my stuff won't look good on you, but---"

Chris kept talking while putting various things on my face. I tried to remember what she did in case this makeup was necessary to blend in. Finally she stopped and pointed me towards the mirror and smiled.

I looked at myself. My lips were red and my cheeks seemed a little redder. My upper eyelids were much darker and there was a little line of light blue there. I moved closer to the mirror. It was still me, but I looked different. "I like it, Chris. Thanks."

That day at the diner was much like the first one, until afternoon when some high school students came in. I had just served a drink called a coke to a group when I overheard them talk.

"Wooo, doggies, Mickey. She's prettier than those porno girls you look at." That got a laugh from the other young men.

Mickey, laughed too. "Better, she's real and she's right here."

"Not better Mickey. You try waving it at her, she'll twist it right off for you." That got a big laugh too, but I didn't know why.

When I got back to where Chris was standing, I tried to ask her why they were comparing me to a porno girl, what ever that was.

"Oh, we don't have anything like that in this little town, Erin. They're talking about the Internet. Both the high school and the library are online now. Naturally, the young men of the town are burning up the wires looking at dirty pictures instead of doing school work and research like they're supposed to."

That was interesting. "Research? If I needed to do a little research, could I?"

"Sure, Honey. You can see the library from here. After work go and see Carol Beresford. She'll be happy to help you. This being a small town, you won't have to wait for a library card or anything. Hell, this being a small town, Carol probably knows about you already."

And so, after work, I found myself sitting in front of a monitor with a keyboard in front of me. Carol had known who I was and asked a bored young girl to help me with the computer. Now I was ready. I typed in John Robert Crichton, Jr. and pushed enter. I picked the first site that came up. My heart stopped and a ball of ice formed in my stomach.


There was a color picture of John. My John. My boyfriend.

I kept reading about the Farscape module and its unexplained destruction. As I read, I began identifying things. I recognized John's father before I read the caption identifying him. I knew he was one of the few men who had walked on the Moon. I knew I'd see John in an orange flight suit before I found that picture. I knew the flag I'd see on the shoulder of the suit. I could identify the functions of Farscape's controls from a picture of the cockpit. But some things puzzled me. Why didn't I recognize John's best friend, DK? Or his sisters? Why didn't I recognize anything from Cape Canaveral?

I read through all the websites as fast as I could. I covered the period from the Farscape Project's earliest beginnings to the official IASA report on the loss of Farscape. After several hours I knew two things that bothered me. In spite of the official record saying that Farscape had flown in space one time and had been destroyed, I knew I had flown in Farscape. I knew I had flown Farscape, both with John and alone. And, nowhere in all the records I had seen was there mention of a woman named Erin Sun.

"Excuse me, Miss Sun."

I looked up to see the librarian standing by me. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry to bother you. I really see so few people in this town who really seem interested in anything here, but it's almost an hour after our normal closing time. I' m afraid I'll have to ask you to leave."

I apologized to the woman and headed for the door. She stopped me before I got out. "Please, Miss Sun. Feel free to come back any time. Like I said, I'd love to help anyone as interested in anything as you are."

I assured her I'd be back the next evening and left the library. As soon as I started back to the trailer I saw the car following me.

"Evening, Miss Sun. Need a lift home?"

I turned to look at the driver, but the lights blinded me. "No. I can get home just fine, thanks."

"I'm Dan Harris, Miss Sun. I'm the deputy sheriff for this end of the county. I don't like to see attractive young ladies walk home alone late at night. I'm going to follow you to make sure you get home all right, so it'll be easier if you just get in."

I knew, without knowing why, that I didn't want the police around. I also knew that refusing a ride would bring more scrutiny than I wanted. I walked to the passenger side door and got in.

"Seat belt, please Miss Sun."

I saw a strap hanging by the door and put it around my waist.

The vehicle started moving forward. "I don't want you thinking that we have a lot of crime around here or anything. But the Interstate runs right through town. Anyone can drive along, go through the town, commit a crime and be gone before I know about it. And you don't need to sit like you're about to bail out of the car. Like I said, this is a small town. If I so much as patted your butt, my wife would hear about it from at least three people before I finished my shift. Relax."

I relaxed a little and he started asking me where I was from, what I was doing here. All normal questions to ask a newcomer, I suppose. Except he was a policeman and I had no idea what the answers to his questions were. I gave him vague answers and I could tell he was a little suspicious.

Suddenly he swore and turned the vehicle sharply and started talking into a microphone.

"Sorry, Miss Sun. Duane's at it again. Drunk over at Mike's Place and starting trouble. He's a regular, so I'll still be able to take you home in no time." We pulled up in front of a small building with a large red neon sign that identified it as Mike's Place.

In a minute or so the deputy came back out with another man in tow. "Dammit, Duane. Your wife left you 'cause you drink too damn much and start trouble. Just like tonight. You want to hit someone and go off looking for Judy when you get drunk. I'm getting damned tired of this, Duane."

Suddenly a voice called out from behind the two of them. "Hey, Duane left his damned jacket here."

The deputy turned around and Duane hit him. I heard a thunk as his head hit a parked car. Now Duane was headed for me.

"Get out of the car, lady. I don't want to hurt you. I just want to find my Judy."

I slid across the seat and got out on the driver's side, facing Duane. I analyzed the situation in an instant. The deputy was still down. He'd be no help. Duane was overweight and out of shape as well as impaired by alcohol. I pantak jabbed Duane and he fell in a heap.

The man with Duane's jacket arrived at Deputy Harris at the same time I did. We got him to his feet and after a few seconds he insisted he was all right.

"What happened to Duane?"

The other man didn't say a word, so I had to explain it. "He ordered me out of the car so he could go look for Judy, his wife I guess."

Harris nodded. "Ex-wife."

"Just as I was opening the driver's side door, he tripped. Too much alcohol, I'd guess. His head hit the door and he's out cold now."

Harris turned and looked at the other man with an inquisitive stare.

"Don't look at me, Harris. I didn't see a damned thing."

"You had your eyes closed the whole time?"

The man thought for a few seconds. "I guess it did happen just like the lady said."

Harris turned back to me. "Sorry, Miss Sun. I'm going to have to take you to the sub-station and take your statement. I'm gonna see to it that Duane spends some county time for hitting me."

An hour later, Harris drove me up to Chris's trailer. As soon as the car stopped, Chris was outside demanding to know what had happened. We explained and Chris turned on Deputy Harris.

"Harris, you stupid macho-man! How could you put poor Erin in danger like that? She could have been hurt, the poor thing."

Harris left and I managed to settle Chris down and get to bed. I stared at the ceiling and considered what I had learned. In spite of what I had read, I knew John was not dead. I thought about some of the things Chris had said during the X-Files. Could I have been aboard Farscape secretly? Could Farscape's destruction been a cover story? Had I been part of a later rescue or even re-supply mission for whatever Farscape's real mission had been? If I was an astronaut, why was I wandering around Earth with no memory? I had one other thought before I drifted off to sleep that I didn't want to think about. What if I was mentally defective? What if this was all in my mind?

The next couple of workdays passed quickly and I was back at the library each night. Chris was very impressed with my thirst for information. I spent my spare time in the library, reading about the space program and much more. I discovered I now lived in a state called New Mexico and, that as near as I could tell, I had hardly ever heard of any place on Earth. I couldn't find any names or pictures that were familiar. Oh, I found Edwards, which turned out to be an Air Force base where aircraft and sometimes spacecraft were tested. None of it looked familiar, though. But, that could explain how I had met John. But I still could find no record of an astronaut or scientist named Erin Sun.

The next morning, I made an interesting discovery.

"Earth to Erin Sun. Weekend? No work? Free time? Have you been working in a sweatshop somewhere, Erin?"

I lied to Chris. "Of course not. I'm just used to working hard all the time at one thing or another. I just lost track of time."

"Well, Honey. Losing track of time sounds like a plan to me. I'll just lay out in the sun and work on my tan and do absolutely nothing, except listen to some sounds and inhale a little beer. Care to join me?"

I shook my head. "No. I thought I'd go a little ways into the mountains and look around."

"And do a little thinking? Erin, I don't like to pry, but you are a friend. You haven't written to John or asked to call him or anything. Is everything okay?"

"Everything's fine, Chris." I really did hate lying to her. "John and I just have a kind of funny relationship, but that doesn't mean were not close." Strangely, I knew that was true.

Chris looked like she had made some sort of a decision. "Erin, if I'm off base, stop me. I know you say John doesn't drink hardly at all and he doesn't fool around with other women, but does he hit you?"

Another memory. I saw myself hitting and kicking John and knocking him down. I saw surprise and pain on John's face. I kept running that over in my mind.

"Oh, God, Erin. I'm so damned sorry."

I suddenly realized I hadn't said a word and Chris thought John did hit me. "No, Chris. John has never hit me. I'm the one who hit John. It was--- I really didn't--- He didn't really get hurt. I just feel so bad about it." And I did. And worse, I had no idea why I had hit John. Why would I hit the man that I love? The man that I love? The man that I love.

"You hit him?" Suddenly Chris was laughing. "Oh, that's wonderful, Honey. Now Mike, male slimeball that he is, never laid a hand on me, but I've seen plenty of other cowboys throw punches at their wives or girlfriends, or both. Now, if you're going for a walk in the mountains, you'll need a little coffee and some sandwiches for starters."

By the time Chris let me go, I felt ready for anything. I had my boots on, but a pair of Chris's jeans and a heavy plaid shirt. Chris had a woven belt with a canteen, a knife, a little medical pouch and a compass. At the back of the belt was a little pack with a jacket and enough food for about three days. I tried to tell Chris I didn't need all of this.

"Erin, people go into those mountains all the time thinking they're going to take a little walk and they fall and break something or they get lost and somebody finds a few bones in the spring and that's it. Now, you're going to go to the first ridge south of town, right. Cause if you're not back by sundown, I'll be out there looking for you with everybody I can find."

In an hour I was on top of the ridge and looking down on the town. I could see traffic on the Interstate but little movement in the town itself. The rest of the valley was green and quiet. Suddenly a flash of brown below me caught my attention. An animal I identified as a wolf padded by a few hundred yards below. In a few seconds, he was gone and I was alone with my thoughts.

Who and what was I? Was I part of some top-secret program involving John, his father, DK and the rest of the government? Was I John's friend or enemy? I knew I cared for John deeply, but I had this memory of being deeply offended by his very existence when I had beaten him up. Did I start out being his enemy and come to love him? Did I love him or had I just pretended to for my own purposes? No, I loved John. I tried to think why I knew I loved John. Who else had I loved? Parents? I couldn't remember. I had to have parents. Didn't I? Did I love John's father as I would my own father? I didn't think so. Why did I know so little about anything?

I forced my mind to a topic I had been avoiding. I had found the term "delusional" in my research. Unfortunately, it also fit the facts as I knew them. Was I a low level Air Force technician who had seen or briefly met John Crichton and fell in love with a man who hardly knew I existed? Had I built a fantasy world in which John and I were lovers? Did I have "amnesia" because John died and I couldn't face reality? I spent hours on the ridge trying to find answers. I only came to one decision. I wouldn't try to contact the authorities, or John's father or anyone else. I'd figure this out myself.

Suddenly the sun was going down and I had to leave before Chris had the whole town out looking for Erin Sun. I somehow knew that the less attention I drew to myself the better. That, unfortunately, also fit several theories.

Sunday was a day of football and then I was back to work.

Monday afternoon I suddenly noticed that the diner was empty. Not only were there no customers, but Chris and Willie were gone. Sometimes they took breaks out back, but I had never seen them both gone at the same time. I decided I'd better check it out. I had just gotten to the back door when I heard Deputy Harris's voice.

"So what if there are no wants or warrants on Erin Sun? That could be an alias. I tell you that woman is not who she pretends to be. I checked the door on my cruiser where she says Duane hit his head. There's not a mark on it. Duane's head should have bashed in the door. "

Chris snorted. "Bullshit, Harris. You're just pissed because a woman did your job for you. Duane hit his head on the door frame, not the panel. Even Duane's head won't dent the frame."

"Dammit, Willie, give me some help here. Do you want to find out that your new waitress is some kind of psycho killer the hard way?"

"No, Harris. And I don't want to live in a country where the police can just come in and fingerprint anyone and hold them any old time they please. You come up with cause to take Erin in for questioning and I won't say a word. Course, if you don't have real good cause to take her in, I'll say a few words to the lawyer over in Sunnyside. And a lot more to the boys at the VFW post about your boss come election time."

"Harris, I've been living with Erin for more than a week now. Okay, that's a real long time, you can say that. But she's a good person. She's a city girl, I guess and a little out of her element here, but she's okay with me. So just go away, okay."

I heard Harris curse and the engine of his car start up. I ran back inside and positioned myself by the window. I heard my friends come back in. They acted like nothing had happened. I suddenly had a brief, chaotic vision of John and some creatures I couldn't identify. Why did the thought of friends bring that up?

Two days of work and research passed. Late in the afternoon, Chris smiled and pointed at three customers at one of my tables. "Friends of yours, Erin? Maybe one of them's John?"

The three were dressed in black leather, but were nothing like John. Their hair was long and straggly and they had lots of facial hair. They looked none too clean, either.

I stared at Chris. "I hope you're joking?"

Chris laughed. "If those bikers give you any trouble, call me. I'll bring Willie. That usually settles them down."

Bikers! Chris had asked me if I was one the first day I was here. I headed over to them.

"Oh, Mama! You are primo. You ready for a ride with Big Bad Bubba?"

I decided that politeness would do for a start. For a start. "Are you ready to order?"

"Oh, yeah, Honey." Big Bad Bubba slid his hand over my butt. I calmly removed it and placed it on the table.

"Anything from the menu, I meant."

Bubba slid his hand under my skirt and started upwards. Again, I removed his hand. I smiled at him and he smiled back. Then I broke his thumb.

"Aaaaah. You bitch." He threw a punch at me that I blocked and then I jabbed him hard, right under the breastbone. He folded up and slid back into the booth.

The man at he other end of the booth stood and grabbed for me. I avoided him easily and then broke his nose. He sat back down, holding his nose. The third one was jammed into the booth between his two friends. He just looked at me and shook his head.

It took five minutes for Harris to get there. He spent another five minutes talking to all concerned. Finally, he came to me.

"Okay, Miss Sun. Your outlaw bikers are a plumbing supply salesman, an insurance agent and an orthodontist from LA. They have fantasies of being big bad bikers. They also have some new fantasies of their wives finding out about this. But I need you to come down to the sub-station for a statement."

I knew I didn't want to go anywhere with Harris, even if I didn't know why.

I glanced at Chris and Willie, trying to make them understand what I needed.

Willie spoke up. "I'm not sure Miss Sun wants to press charges. She was groped and the boys got as little out of hand. I don't want my place getting a bad rap. Word spreads and it gets all mixed up. Next thing you know, rumor says I'm running some sort of fight club."

"Willie, this is not a civil case. It's a violation of state laws. Or, if those three didn't do anything, then Miss Sun is guilty of assault and battery. She has to come with me."

Willie glared at the deputy. "You know, Harris, suddenly I can't recall a damned thing that happened today. Can you, Chris?"

"Something happened here? Erin, did something happen here?"

I looked past Chris at the three bikers. "I think one of those gentlemen fell and hurt himself and the other gentleman tried to help and ended up hurting himself."

Harris was getting mad. "You want me to run you all in for obstruction of justice? You think I won't."

Willie stood up. He looked bigger and tougher, somehow, than he had before. "I think you won't." With that, he turned and walked back to his kitchen.

Harris glared at Chris and me and stormed out.

Chris walked over to the bikers. "Now, get out of here and don't ever come back and don't ever even think about complaining about your injuries. Otherwise, you're in trouble with me."

The three bikers grinned. "You don't scare us, Mama. Your friend doesn't like cops any better than we do. Now, who's going to pay our medical bills?" the one called Bubba said.

Chris grinned back. "Let's see. Did I get your names and addresses right when I copied them down when you had your little chat with Deputy Harris?" Chris held up her notebook. Bubba snarled and grabbed for it. Chris grabbed his thumb and twisted it.

Bubba screamed and moved as far away from Chris as he could get. "You bitch." He was grimacing in pain and holding his thumb.

"Don't you ever forget it, asshole. We have some sixteen-year-old girls who work here. Maybe a couple could send you some real hot letters thanking you for the good time. I bet your wives would get real curious sooner or later and open one. What do you think?"

As they stood up, Willie came back out from the kitchen, holding a meat cleaver. "You three leaving?"

They were.

I turned to my two friends. "Thanks."

Willie and Chris exchanged glances. Chris spoke. "Erin, are you in any trouble? Is there anything the two of us can do for you? Help you get in touch with John, anything?"

"No, Chris, Willie. I really appreciate what you've done for me. Everything you did, not just today. But, I'll be fine."

Chris didn't believe a word of it and neither did Willie. Neither did I.

Two days later I made another discovery about myself.

"Damn, Erin. This should be the start of fall weather, not the middle of summer. I'm sure glad the old Globe and Anchor is air conditioned."

I nodded. For some reason, I was apprehensive about the heat. Why? If I had been at Edwards Air Force Base, out in the desert, I should be used to this kind of heat. That started the whole argument in my mind about who and what I was.

At quitting time, I walked outside. The heat hit me like nothing I had ever experienced before.

Chris noticed. "You okay, Erin?"

Again, I lied to my friend. "I'm fine, Chris. I'm just not used to the heat, that's all."

But by the end of the two block walk to the trailer, I was noticeably in trouble. I tripped three or four times and fell to my knee once. Chris had to help he the last few feet to the trailer.

"Erin, let me turn the air conditioner on. You just stand right in front of it, okay?"

Chris worked the controls of a machine at the back wall of her tiny bedroom. I sat down on her bed. I felt like I just wanted to lie down and not move.

"Damn it! It's not cooling. It's just blowing hot air." Chris turned to me. "Erin, I've got a couple of fans... God, you look awful." Chris felt my forehead and looked into my eyes.

"Get up, Erin. I'm taking you to the doctor, now."

Somehow I knew I didn't want doctors around me any more than I wanted police. "Chris, don't be silly. I'm just a little tired and the heat got to me a little. Nothing serious. A little rest and I'll be as good as new."

"Erin, no way. I don't like this and I don't like it one damned bit. Now get up, please."

I just shook my head.

"Erin, if it's the money, I'll pay for the doctor. You can pay me back. That'll just mean you'll be here that much longer. Come on, Honey." Chris put her hand on my shoulder.

I shook my head again. "Chris, there's nothing wrong with me a good nights sleep won't cure. Really. And I'm not going to the doctor."

Chris stared at me for a long while and then looked away. "Is John as stubborn as you are, Erin?"

"Every bit."

Chris busied herself putting up two fans, getting me cold drinks from the refrigerator and wrapping some ice cubes in a towel to put on my head. I told Chris I didn't need such babying, but she paid no attention to me. I decided I was glad she paid no attention to me when I found I needed help getting my uniform off. Finally she left me alone to take a nap.

I woke up suddenly. It was dark outside and I was still hot. I had had a terrible dream. In the dream, I had been in Sebacean heat delirium and was sliding into the Living Death. I had kept calling for John to help me, but he didn't come. Then it hit me. As certainly as I knew I loved John, I knew I was not human. I was a Sebacean. I tried to remember something about my life as a Sebacean, but nothing came to me.

Finally, I got up from the bed. I was dressed in my Calvins and a black sports bra. I checked on Chris and found she was sound asleep on the sofa. I went into the bathroom and turned on the light. I quickly stripped and examined myself in the mirror. As far as I could tell, I was the same as Chris. Either I was a crazy human who thought she was an alien, or Sebaceans and humans were alike on the outside. Somehow I knew Sebaceans were different internally, and as usual I didn't know how or why I knew this.

As I returned to the bedroom and lay down on the bed, I heard the wind start blowing. A cold wind. I was safe now, but what else could kill a Sebacean that I didn't know about?

I whispered to myself. "John, I know you're out there and that I'm not crazy. We love each other, so you must be looking for me. Please, John. Find me. Find me soon."

The next day was cool and I easily convinced Chris that I had just been too tired and the heat had gotten to me. After work I went to the library and confirmed my fears. Humans were, to the best of their knowledge, alone in the Universe. There was no nationality, race or ethnic group called Sebaceans anywhere on Earth.

Surprisingly, I felt better. John had somehow managed to leave Earth's solar system and contacted another intelligent race, my race, the Sebaceans. I had fallen in love with him and had returned to Earth with him. But what had happened to the two of us. Had we been arrested? Humans seemed to be afraid of aliens. Had something been done to me to make me forget? Suddenly I had a thought that chilled me. Was John in prison? Was the man I loved waiting, hoping that I would come and rescue him?

The next day, I spent another evening on the Internet. A totally wasted evening I thought as I left the library. What kind of society would advertise where their secret police would keep irreversibly contaminated astronauts. Then I stopped. "Irreversibly contaminated." The phrase was important to me and to John. But why? For the millionth time I cursed my inability to remember exactly who and what I was.

The next day, I was standing by the window of the Globe and Anchor, looking at nothing when a voice interrupted me.

"Excuse me, Miss. Are you Erin Sun?"

I turned and faced the man. I was sure at once that I didn't know him. He was taller than me and thin. He had a lined, leathery face with a white mustache. He was dressed like the local would-be cowboys, but somehow he looked real. He swept off his Stetson when I turned to him.

"I'm Erin Sun. And you are?"

"Bill Breyer, Miss Sun. Some folks call me Old Bill Breyer, but I can't figure out why."

"How can I help you Mr. Breyer?"

He smiled. "You can accept my humble apology, Miss Sun. Folks told me that Willie had a new waitress who was every bit as beautiful as Chris. I naturally said that this was plainly impossible. I said that if two such beautiful women existed, the media would trumpet their existence to the waiting masses. Why, two such women would be the wonder of the age. I opined that a concentration of such beauty in one place would unbalance the very Universe itself. I stated in no uncertain terms that another woman as beautiful as Chris was a logical impossibility and that any sane man would refuse to accept that such was possible. Naturally, I came over at once to see how otherwise sensible men could make such an error. And what do I find? That the very basis of my world view has been shattered. That two perfect women not only exist, but that they share the same tiny patch of Earth. I confess to stand in awe of your beauty, Miss Sun. I can only hope that you can forgive my ignorance and credit it to the fact that I was previously blinded by the beauty of Chris Matthews."

I smiled back at him. "I suppose I can let you get away with it this time, but don't let it happen in the future, okay."

"Okay, Miss Sun. And do allow me to tell you---"

"Do allow me to tell you that you're so full of shit, Bill, that your eyes are brown." Bill turned to find Chris behind him. He strode over to her and lifted her off of her feet and whirled her around.

Chris motioned me over to them. "Erin, this Bill Breyer, and when I say he's a clown, I'm not kidding." That got a laugh from Bill, but I didn't catch the joke.

"Chris, you are cruel to an old man. Now I not only have to convince you to enter holy matrimony with me, I have to do the same with the beautiful Miss Sun and find a place on this Earth where such a union would be allowed."

Chris turned to Bill, very seriously. "I'll miss you, Bill. As crazy as you are, I'll miss you."

It was Bill's turn to look very serious. "Am I going someplace, Chris?"

"You fool around with John Crichton's girl friend over there and you'll be leaving town feet first. That is if Erin doesn't decide to do the job herself. This little girl flattens outlaw bikers and scares off the law without mussing her hair. She won't even notice taking care of the likes of you."

Bill sighed dramatically. "Of course, the best are always taken. I understand Miss Sun that your beau is not around. Do not fear, my raven haired beauty, I shall not take advantage of that. I will chastise the young man for the foolishness of leaving a lady such as yourself alone, however."

Chris turned to me. "Bill was my Dad's best friend and he's been my best friend all my life. Bill this is my new friend, Erin Sun."

Bill smiled and shook my hand. "I'm glad Chris has a new friend. When her ex dumped her, she took it hard. I was afraid she'd end up one of those old spinsters who live in the past."

I could see Chris was embarrassed. She turned to Bill. "And what brings you to town, you old coot?"

"I have decided to shame the metropolis of Taos by bringing the two most beautiful women in the world to their rodeo, thereby exposing their feeble pretensions to civilization."

"You're going to work the rodeo in Taos?"

"Good rodeo clowns are hard to find. Ed Fechtler broke his leg walking down his own stairs last week. So. they called me and I said yes. But I'm not going without my two favorite women in the whole wide world."

Chris smiled. "I think I'd like to see a rodeo again. Erin, I want no arguments from you. I won't live with a city girl any longer. You are about to become a cowgirl, Honey."

"I certainly wouldn't dream of being a city girl in your home, Chris."

Chris put her arm around me. "Good. Because that means one thing, the two best words in the English language. Shop. Ping."

Shop. Ping? Why did a phrase I didn't understand seem so familiar?

Later that evening I looked at myself in a mirror in a mall. A mall turned out to be a large collection of places where commerce was done.

Chris looked over my shoulder. "Black high heeled boots, very tight Levi's, a tight blouse and a black Stetson. Erin Sun, you are the prettiest cowgirl in all of, of the world. Those cowboys out there don't have a chance. Just one thing, though."

Chris reached over and undid the top three buttons of my blouse.

"Much better, Erin."

I immediately started closing them. "Chris, I'm not wearing anything under this blouse. And I am very particular about who sees what's under here."

I left the very top button unbuttoned. "There, much better."

Chris reached back over and undid the second button. "Compromise?"

I sighed. "Okay, but you explain this to John when he shows up."

Chris looked serious. "It's still when John shows up and not if, Erin?"

"I know John. He's probably on his way right now." I hoped I was right.

Saturday night found me at the rodeo. Bill had gotten us tickets in the first row, right by the enclosure from where the animals and their riders entered the arena. Or, as Chris put it, where the dumb animals were ridden by the dumber animals. I had watched some tapes of Chris's ex, Mike, and knew what a rodeo was and what a rodeo clown did. This was not a big rodeo. The prize money wasn't enough to attract first rate talent, but the fact that a lot of locals were involved made up for it in the minds of the fans.

As with the football game, I found myself looking at the contestants with feeling that I could do as well or better than they. That worried me for more than one reason. What might I say or do that seemed perfectly normal to a Sebacean that would instantly mark me as not human. But could I think of one thing that seemed perfectly normal to a Sebacean? No.

I pushed all that out of my mind and watched the rodeo.

Chris yelled into my ear. "Erin, this is Kenny Martinez up next. He's a local boy, just graduated from our high school two years ago. And even if he is too damned young for me, he is cute. His best event is bareback riding, too. Just like Mike. But as long as he stays cute, I won't hold that against him."

Kenny shot out of the chute on his horse. He stayed on for whatever the necessary time was and then disaster struck. Just as another rider was coming to take him off the horse, he slipped. He slid down on the side of the horse and hung dangerously to one side. The horse must have sensed something was wrong since he started trying to kick his rider with his hind and forelegs. Bill ran in to help. A hoof lashed out and caught Bill in the arm. He was thrown between the side of the arena and the horse, and the horse was moving towards Bill, bucking violently up and down.

Before I quite knew what I was doing, I had leaped into the arena and put my shoulder against the horse. Somehow the noise, confusion and danger were familiar. I pushed with all my strength and the horse reared up. I easily avoided his hooves and then reached down and pulled Bill away from the wall.

"Are you okay?" I screamed at Bill.

"I busted my arm and I fell in love, how do you think I am, Erin?"


Before he could reply, a half a dozen men crowded around us. Most carried Bill out of the arena and one helped me back up into the stands. As soon as I got back to my seat, Chris threw her arms around me. I realized I couldn't hear her and then I realized why. Everyone in the arena was screaming. A bright light suddenly hit us both and the screaming got louder.

"Chris, I think I've had enough rodeo for one night. Can we leave?"

"Oh, Erin. When you go to a rodeo, you go to a rodeo. Sure, Honey, I think we'd better leave before you embarrass all the cowboys."

I walked out with Chris holding me up. My experience in the arena hadn't bothered me, but the memories that had suddenly flooded me certainly did. I wasn't just a Sebacean. I was a Sebacean soldier. As Chris walked me across the street I tried to sort out all of the memories I suddenly had. I remembered combat in space. I had piloted a small fighter type spacecraft against similar spacecraft. I remembered fighting aboard a derelict spaceship. I remembered battles on planets that I knew could not be Earth. The two clearest memories were the worst because they were so different. In one, I fired at John at point blank range and he fired back. In the other, John flipped me his pistol and I fired his and mine at a horde of tiny enemies while John used another sort of weapon on them.

"Hey, two beers over here."

I suddenly realized I was sitting in a bar with Chris. "One beer and one coke, please."

"Erin, you need a drink after that. I mean slapping around a couple of bikers is one thing, but a damned horse? "

I knew Chris was trying to help, but the last thing I needed now was to have my senses dulled with alcohol. "Chris, I'm not much of a drinker. I really don't want to lose control or anything, okay?"

"Erin, I do not believe you. I just do not believe you. But you can drink anything you want, girl. I can't believe what you just did."

I sat and tried to organize my new memories. I was a soldier. Was I part of an invasion of Earth? Had I only pretended to love John so I could get him to take me to Earth? Was that why we had shot at each other? Why did I have memories of John and I fighting side by side? Did they come before of after we fought each other? The more I thought, the more I felt that I did love John, but no memories would come that would confirm that. Just the horrible memory of me shooting at the man I loved.

"Miss Sun?"

I glanced up at a young man. A dozen or more young men, and a couple of women, were around him. He looked familiar, but....

"Kenny Martinez, Miss Sun. I was on Arc Light tonight when you saved our butts. I had to come on over and thank you. You ever ride in the rodeo, Miss Sun?"

"No, never." I knew that was true.

Chris spoke up. "Erin is a city girl. I don't think she's even seen a squirrel up close before, let alone a horse."

That got a laugh.

Kenny smiled. "Miss Sun, I was given this tonight, but all of us," he gestured to the men around him, "think this is yours."

He held out a leather belt. On one end was a large buckle. It read "All Round Cowboy Taos Rodeo."

I smiled at Kenny, but I wasn't sure how to react. Chris came to my rescue. "It should say all round cowgirl, but I doubt if you men could get it right." She pulled my old belt out of its loops and put the new one on. "If you boys are nice to Erin, and her good friend Chris, of course, she may just give you a few tips. Little things like how to fight off a gang of outlaw bikers, or tame a savage horse. Why just last night Erin picked up and moved my double wide just so I could get a better view. You cowboys know Erin is a very taken lady? Her boyfriend John wrestles alligators with his hands tied behind his back, and blindfolded. So if you want a little feminine companionship tonight, you're out of luck with Erin, but---" Chris smiled at all the men clustered around us.

Kenny smiled at me. "I know your spoke for, Miss Sun, and Debbie here would remind me if I forgot. But I'd love to have one dance with you."

Dance? "Kenny, call me Erin, please. But I'm really not much of a dancer. I'm afraid..."

"You'll be dancing with the worst dancer in New Mexico, maybe the whole U S of A."

That, I assumed was Debbie. She was a tall, slender and very pretty blonde. She pushed Kenny and me towards the dance floor.

"This way I'll have one less set of boot prints on my feet when Kenny gets me home tonight."

Kenny and I spent three or four minutes bumping into each other or other couples. Finally the music ended and we gratefully walked off the dance floor.

Chris was gone and Debbie took Kenny back. I saw I had a new dance partner.

"Bill, should you be here? You're injured."

Bill looked disgusted. "Woman, you sound just like those doctors. I am constantly amazed at how intelligent people can squander their intellectual gifts and the opportunities provided for them. "Slow down, Bill." "You're not a youngster anymore, Bill." " I can be responsible for you if you don't follow my advice, Bill." Hmph. I'll dance a fine jig on all of their graves, you just wait Erin Sun. You just wait."

I had to laugh. "If you're here for a dance, Bill, I'm afraid I'm not much good." I looked at the floor. The music was much louder and faster than when Kenny and I had danced. I knew I couldn't manage that.

Bill smiled. "Tell the truth, I'm probably no damned good at dancing either. Will you come outside with me for a bit? I want to hear about John. Any man who can attract you is an object of curiosity to me. I vow the young man is unique in this world."

I followed Bill outside, but I found myself somehow bothered by the description of John as unique.

I found that Bill did most of the talking, but that gave me time to think about John. It gave me time to try to assemble a collection of random memories into a coherent picture. And a coherent picture that showed a Sebacean soldier and a human astronaut falling in love. By the time I awoke on the couch in the trailer the next morning, I still didn't have that picture.

Chris was sound asleep and from what I remembered about alcohol and humans, she'd be in bed for a while. I decided to take a walk up into the hills to try to think things out. I took some food, Chris's woven belt and a jacket. I left Chris a note telling her I'd be on the ridge.

I sat and looked at the world around me. If this was typical of Earth, it was a beautiful planet. I started from one premise. I loved John and John loved me. I tried to fit memories of combat, space travel, odd looking beings and strange worlds into some sort of order. I spent almost an hour on why I had no memory of being intimate with John. I couldn't even remember holding his hand or kissing him. When I finally gave up, I had company.

A large black and white cat was sitting quietly watching me. I reached into my pack and pulled out a sandwich. I tried to remember what cats ate, but couldn't. I threw him a little bit of my sandwich. It landed within inches of his nose and he greedily ate it up. For some reason that almost triggered a memory. Some one I knew ate a lot? John? No.

The cat looked at me so I threw him another piece of my sandwich.

"All right, that's enough. I need a little lunch for myself." Of course the cat was going to stay until I fed him some more. I sighed and picked up a small pointed seed-pod laying nearby. I bounced it off of the cat's nose. He turned and I thought he was leaving, but he stood facing away from me with his tail in the air. I looked for another seed-pod.

"Aeryn, whatever you do, don't throw another pinecone."

"John? Is the cat a dangerous animal? Can you kill it?"

"Oh, I don't think we want to kill Pepe Le Pew, Aeryn, but we don't want any displays of affection from him, either."

The cat looked back over his tail at me. Then he made some sort of decision and walked slowly away.

I stood up and turned around. Yes. This was John, the man that I loved. I hoped.

"Nice place Aeryn. Is this where you take your boyfriends to neck?"

"You're John Crichton, human astronaut?"

He smiled. "Right the first time, Aeryn."

I took two steps towards him. "I'm Aeryn Sun, Sebacean soldier."

"Close enough, Aeryn."

I took two more steps and was standing right in front of John. I put both arms around him.

The words poured out of me. "I'm your girlfriend, you're my boyfriend, and you brought me back to Earth---"

"No, Aeryn. That's not right."

I looked up at John's face in shock. I knew how I felt about him. I couldn't have been that wrong.

"No, Aeryn, I mean we're not on Earth. We came here on Moya and found an installation---"

"I am your girlfriend, John, right?"

John laughed. "You are anything you want to be, Sunshine."

I leaned my head against his chest and he continued.

"We found this planet and found it had no people on it, but it did have some sort of machinery still running on it. So we came down to see if there was anything we could use, or maybe something we could sell at the next commerce planet. On the first day, you walked into some kind of a control room and that's the last we saw of you until just now."

"I don't know what this planet is. Some sort of Intergalactic Disneyland, or a training ground for spies, or some sort of a gigantic psych test with no cheese at the end of the maze, or--- I don't know what. This place has hundreds, maybe thousands of places like this. Some of them are Earth, some are Lux, or Delvia, or Hyneria, or God knows where."

"This place effects each of us differently. D'Argo got so disoriented that I had to go in to one "world" and physically carry him out. He's back on Moya keeping an eye out for Scorpius and keeping Rygel from eating us out of house and home. I get headaches like nothing I've ever had after a couple of hours in one of these places. Zhaan gets nauseous and Chiana, of all things, gets the giggles. They're looking in another "world" for you right now. Which reminds me---"

John put what I instantly recognized as a communicator to his lips. "Yo, D'Argo, tell the girls to pack up and go home. Aeryn is here with me. Any sign of the Peacekeepers?"

A gruff voice that I had trouble placing answered. "No, but we can't get out of here fast enough for me. I'll notify Zhaan and Chiana and tell Pilot to prepare to starburst out of here."

"John, I couldn't remember anything when I first got here. I've just been remembering little bits and pieces since." I stood back and looked at John carefully.

"John, do we ever have," I stopped, trying to think how to phrase my question. "Do we ever have, spirited discussions about things?"

John tried to keep from laughing. "Yes, Aeryn. We do argue sometimes."

"I thought so, because I asked you a direct question about whether or not I was your girlfriend and didn't get a yes or no answer. I expect a yes or no answer, Crichton. I take that back. I expect a yes answer and I expect it now. Otherwise...."

John laughed and picked me up and swung me around. "Yes, Sunshine. You're my girlfriend. And I'm you're boyfriend. Okay?"

I nodded and gave John a kiss. He seemed surprised for a second, but only for a second.

John broke the kiss. "Time to go, Aeryn. I have a Jeep and the exit to this place is just on the other side of town. We can be out of here in a couple of microts."

"John, I have to stop and get my things and I have to say good bye to Chris and Bill and Willie."

John stopped and looked at me. "Aeryn, these aren't real people. Do you remember the Earth the Ancients made for us?"

Frell. I was getting confused again. "I sort of remember being with you." I suddenly remembered something important and smiled. "And, I remember us having a beer together and then making love. But I don't remember any Ancients or their Earth. Is that important, John?"

"Just that the Ancients made an Earth and populated it with fake people I had known on Earth. It's different here. I don't see anyone I recognize and I've been looking hard. Maybe if I see a truck driver, I'm seeing a composite of every trucker I've ever seen. I just don't know how they do it and I really don't care. Come on, Aeryn. We have to get out of here."

We were almost to a large ground vehicle when I stopped. "First we get my things and say good bye to my friends. I want you to meet them, John."

"Aeryn. I told you that these are not---"

"You know, Chris asked me if you were as stubborn as I am. I said you were. But I may be more stubborn. We can stand here and argue for, what, hours, days, weeks?"

John turned away from me and got in the Jeep, but I just caught a smile as he turned. "All right, Aeryn. We'll do it your way."

I got into the Jeep with John. "Of course we will John. When we have our little discussions we always make sure that we look carefully at every option and make the best possible decision. Isn't that right?"

John smiled at me. I discovered that I really liked that smile. "I'm glad you're back, Aeryn."

I smiled back. "Me too."

There was no one at the trailer when we got there. I gathered up my things quickly. Then I went into Chris's bedroom to change into my one and only dress. It was a red print dress that I had found somehow familiar. I looked at myself in the mirror. Did John like my legs? I didn't remember him ever complimenting my appearance.

When I came out, John gave a long low whistle. I think that answered my question.

"John, I bet that after last night, Chris is in no mood to make breakfast or lunch for herself. I'll bet she's down at the Globe and Anchor."

I headed for the door and found John standing in my way.

"After last night? Is this anything I should be worried about, Aeryn?"

I gave him as big a smile as I could manage. "Not at all."

We walked into the Globe and Anchor together to find Chris sitting at the counter, working on a cup of black coffee.

"Erin! Oh my God! This is John, isn't it?"

I smiled at Chris and put my arm around John as a reply.

"Willie, Bill, get yourselves out here right now. Erin is here with John."

For the next five minutes or so everyone seemed to be talking at once. Finally Chris smiled at me and turned to John.

"John, I bet you'd just love a big bowl of chocolate ice cream."

John looked stunned and then his eyes lit up. "Chocolate ice cream?"

Chris giggled. "John almost looked as happy when I mentioned ice cream as when he looks at you, Erin. Willie, take our customer to the freezer and let him get creative."

As soon as Willie and Bill had John in the back, Chris turned to me.

"You're leaving, aren't you, Erin."

"'Fraid so, Chris. I'll miss you." Even knowing Chris wasn't real, I meant it.

She threw her arms around me. "I'm going to miss you too, Erin. Now you listen, girl. I could tell how you feel about each other after one glance at the two of you. You don't let this one get away, okay? Tell him you're heading straight to Vegas from here and don't take no for an answer."

John came back out with a huge bowl of ice cream of every flavor. Chris announced I was leaving with my fiancée. She looked very sternly at John and John smiled back at her. Everyone congratulated the two of us, and before I knew it, I was seated with John in the Jeep, headed out of town.

"John, stop for just a second, please. We have to talk."

John looked at me and sighed, but pulled off to the side of the road.

"Was this town, these people, real to you, John? I mean, was it obvious that this wasn't Earth to you?"

"Of course, Aeryn. I knew I was light years away from Earth the whole time. I knew the people were phony all the time. I explained that to you."

I reached out and took John's hand. This was important. I had to ask the right question.

"No, I mean if you were on Earth, would you find a small town like this one? Would you expect to find people in it like the ones you met?"

John thought for a few seconds. "Sure, it seemed pretty real to me, but I knew it wasn't. What's your point?"

"These people were friendly to me. They accepted me at once and wanted to help me, to be kind to me. They went out of their way for me. Even the ones who weren't kind to me were constrained by laws, or at least by the fact that other people stood by me. If there are towns like this on Earth, I could live in one and be happy. If I had the right boyfriend, of course."

John laughed. "You're a long way from living in a small town on Earth, Sunshine. There's the matter of getting rid of the Peacekeepers, creating a wormhole, and a few million other problems, but you have the right boyfriend."

I leaned over and rested my head on John's shoulder. "Okay, just one more question, John."

"What is it?"

"What's this necking I'm supposed to do with my boyfriend?"