Disclaimer: Farscape belongs to Jim Henson Co., Number Nine Australia and Sci-Fi Channel. No copyright infringement is intended.
Rating: PG for profanity.
Timeline: The majority of this was written prior to "Nerve", and the mere thought of overhauling it to make it fit the timeline properly nearly prompted a migraine. Thus, it is intended to take place after "A Bug's Life" but before "Nerve" (i.e., if "Nerve" never had to happen). More or less.
Spoilers: the whole first season.
Author's notes: I couldn't have done this without my always helpful beta readers Sarah and Paula, both of whom use their RL background so effectively to keep me honest. Feedback is appreciated and can be sent to me at email@example.com.
The first thing John Crichton realized as consciousness returned was that his mouth tasted like dren-if dren had the taste and texture of rotting food cubes. He searched his dim awareness for the cause, but was distracted by the sound of voices murmuring nearby. Who was in his quarters, and more importantly, why? And why was waking up so difficult this morning? He tried to roll over into a more comfortable position that would usher him back to the oblivion of unconsciousness, but protests from sore muscles stopped him. What kind of trouble had he gotten himself into this time? It was vaguely disturbing that he could not remember. His musing was interrupted by a bright light briefly shining into his recently pried-open left eye. An instant later his right eye was similarly assaulted.
"Hey, Zhaan, cut it out," he croaked, turning his face away from the prodding hand. He cracked his eyes open to find blurry forms in front of him. Several rapid blinks coaxed enough tears back into his eyes to allow him to focus, revealing two humanoid shapes. Sebacean shapes, in fact. A woman and a man. Shit. He scanned his room uneasily, looking for some clue of where he was, how he got there, and the best possibility for escape. Nothing obvious jumped out. The room was spartan and smelled strongly of disinfectant. There was a window on the far wall, but draperies blocked the view. He couldn't even tell if it was night or day, or if there was a night or day to be noted. The man, who was dressed in dark clothes that did not adequately cover his bulk, glanced at him impassively then retreated to stand in front of the room's one door.
Crichton returned his gaze to the woman, who wore a white lab coat covering a uniform of some sort. "Where am I?" he demanded, sitting up carefully. "What did you do with the others?"
"Calm down, Commander Crichton. You're safe."
Aw, hell. They knew his name. He was really in trouble now. He drew his legs towards his chest and pressed his body against the wall behind him, ignoring the aches that radiated through his body with his movement. "Who are you people? Peacekeepers?" They weren't dressed like Peacekeepers, but who else could they be?
The woman stepped closer, so she stood near the side of his bed. Crichton reflexively balled himself tighter, and the woman backed off slightly, surprise evident in her chestnut brown eyes. "My name is Dr. Kanaar. Your module malfunctioned during orbital maneuvers, and you nearly burned up in the atmosphere. Took you for quite a ride, but you managed to stabilize your dive before losing consciousness."
Something about the way she spoke seemed out of place, but he couldn't put his finger on it. "My module…." He looked at her in confusion. Had he crash landed on some remote Sebacean colony? He relaxed fractionally. At least they weren't aiming pulse rifles at him, for once.
"Your module was recovered, and from what I've heard, the Farscape is doing better than its pilot. You were unconscious for nearly two days."
Two days? If he'd been here-wherever that was-for two days, then where were the others? Had they tried to rescue him? Did he need rescuing? "Am I a prisoner here?"
The doctor's eyes gleamed with amusement. "Of course not, Commander. You're free to go when I'm satisfied that you're fit." Crichton eyed the silent, burly man standing by the door. Dr. Kanaar followed his gaze. "Mr. Hysni is here for security purposes. To ensure your safety."
Crichton regarded the security man skeptically. One thing his time in the Uncharted Territories had ingrained in him was to take all information from unknown sources with a large grain of salt. A salt-lick, even. Well, if the Sebacean doctor was to be believed, at least his module was relatively undamaged. He shuddered to think of what repairing it would cost this time. Finding replacement parts for Aeryn's Prowler was difficult enough… Aeryn. Had she been flying copilot when he hit the apparently unexpected turbulence?
"Is my copilot okay? Is she here, too?"
Dr. Kanaar frowned at him. "Commander, it was a solo mission." She paused, then continued more uncertainly. "What is the last thing you remember before losing consciousness?"
Crichton felt an uneasy stirring in his stomach. Something here didn't add up. He regarded his room and its occupants again, this time more carefully. His eyes fell upon the badge clipped to Dr. Kanaar's lapel, and he realized with sudden disorientation that he could read the name printed in 20-point block letters. His world did a rapid one-eighty. "Earth," he half-gasped, half-whispered. The doctor's lips pursed slightly, but she said nothing.
"Where am I? What hospital?" he asked, his tone urgent.
"You're in the infirmary at Edwards Air Force Base."
Okay, Earth. Humans, not Sebaceans. His heart stood down its adrenaline panic, and he relaxed a bit more, tucking his legs back under the covers as he tried to make sense of the situation. How the hell did he get here? The doctor had mentioned his module-something must have gone wrong. But where was Moya? On the other side of an opportune wormhole? And why wasn't Aeryn here with him? Would he have left without her if he had the chance to go home for real? He didn't think so. He had once told her that he would never leave her, and he meant it. What if she had come with him and IASA had figured out that she wasn't human? His heart resumed its double-time march. God, please let her be safe, wherever she was. Aeryn might have escaped before they captured her, he reasoned, but if anything happened to her…. He felt his throat constrict at the thought. He was already responsible for screwing up her life, now he could be responsible for her death… or worse. He shuddered.
Of course, this could be yet another simulation, he realized. Or maybe he had finally lost it for good and this was some sort of homesick delusion. Then why did he feel like crap in his own delusion?
Something nudged at his consciousness, momentarily interrupting his brooding. Something still wasn't right. The doctor had said 'orbital maneuvers'. What did she mean by that? If he had been trying to land, he certainly wouldn't have engaged in
'orbital maneuvers'. Not with the biomechanoid add-ons that enhanced the module. He only used those maneuvers when he was studying wormhole formation. An unlikely thought materialized among the cacophony in his mind, demanding a spotlight. Before he knew it, another question escaped his lips.
"What's the date?"
"I believe that these are questions I should be asking you, Commander Crichton." Her expression was stern, but a hint of amusement touched her eyes.
"Forget the neuro exam, doc," Crichton replied testily. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to keep his impatience under control. Pissing the doctor off wouldn't get him anywhere. "Obviously I'm going to fail it, so please just answer my question," he requested through clenched teeth.
The doctor conceded with a slight nod. "March 7."
March 7. Three days after the launch if the year was 1999. He wasn't entirely certain how much time had passed since he unwittingly became the unofficial Earth ambassador to the Uncharted Territories, but he knew it was slightly less than a full 'cycle', which he estimated as about four-fifths of an Earth solar year.
"1999." He had meant it to be a question, but even as he said it he knew it was a statement of fact.
The doctor's mouth twitched slightly, either in puzzlement or concern, but she nodded confirmation.
What the hell was going on?
Crichton evaded the doctor's further questions and feigned fatigue to encourage her departure. He needed time to think, to figure out what was real.
Unfortunately, two hours of turning it around in his mind didn't bring clarity or enlightenment, and his brain felt like it had completed the spin cycle in a washing machine. He needed more information to determine if this was another simulation or if he had finally, once and for all, gone around the bend. It was even money at this point.
A knock at the door was a welcome interruption. At this point he would rather sit through Dr. Kanaar's poking and prodding even if he wasn't certain how to answer her questions without raising her suspicions. Simulation or delusion, he didn't need a trip to the locked floor with the padded rooms. At least, he didn't think so.
"Welcome back, son."
"Dad!" For an instant, the jumble of thoughts churning inside his head quieted and his breath caught in his throat. Crichton tried to remind himself not to get his hopes up, especially after the last time, but he couldn't suppress the sudden exhilaration he felt in seeing his father again.
"You gave us quite a scare," Colonel Crichton remarked, crossing the room to embrace his son.
"Oh God, Dad. I missed you so much," the younger Crichton replied, hugging his father fiercely. 'Not real,' whispered a voice at the back of his mind. Crichton ignored it, letting himself be momentarily enveloped by the illusion that he was home.
Colonel Crichton chuckled. "It hasn't even been a week, son. You were never this glad to see me after a whole semester in college."
"I know, Dad. It just… seemed longer." He released his father and blinked back tears.
"Hey, it's okay, son. You're home now."
"Home," he repeated, still trying to make sense of it. If only it really were.
"DK wanted to come with me," his father continued, "but the brass want him to get started analyzing the data from the flight recorder right away. Plus, they asked him to handle the press."
"DK agreed to do press conferences?" Crichton asked, incredulous, forgetting his own confusion for a moment. "He hates public speaking. He used to break out in a cold sweat every day before speech class."
"Well, from what I hear, the press loves him. If astrophysics doesn't work out, he's got a promising career in public relations."
A comfortable pause fell on the conversation as father and son took stock of each other. Colonel Crichton's smile faded slightly, and his expression grew serious. "How are you doing, son?"
"I'm fine, Dad, really. Guess I got thrown around a little up there. Nothing serious."
Colonel Crichton raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
"I know you're worried, Dad, but I feel fine. Okay, I'm a little sore here and there, but it's nothing to worry about."
"I talked to your doctor a little while ago. She said you were pretty disoriented when you woke up."
"Yeah, I guess I was."
"Still having trouble remembering the flight?"
Crichton regarded his father, deciding how to answer. He needed information, and he had to trust someone to get it. He paused, searching for the best way to explain. Everything he reviewed in his mind sounded equally nuts. Finally, he replied, "My memory's fine. I just remember it… differently."
"When I began the slingshot maneuver, I hit some kind of electromagnetic wave, right?"
"Yeah, a solar flare most likely."
"And that's when I lost control of my module and began the dive."
"Yes, that's our best guess. We'll know more once DK has had a chance to look at the flight recorder data."
"That's not what happened, Dad." Crichton bit his lip. 'Here goes nothing,' he mused silently. "When I hit the EM wave at the apex of the slingshot, I opened up some kind of wormhole. My module got sucked into it, and after a ride that made 'Twister' look like a spring breeze, the Farscape and I were deposited somewhere-well, I don't exactly know where-but somewhere far from here. Dad, I've been trying to find a way home for nearly a year."
The elder Crichton shook his head. "A year? But-"
"Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, but, I don't know… it…." Crichton shrugged, at a loss for words. How the hell could he convince his father that he wasn't out of his mind when it didn't even make sense to him? "It was real," he affirmed, his voice almost a whisper.
Colonel Crichton shifted uncomfortably. "You're home now, John," he replied after a pause.
Crichton sighed. "You don't believe me."
"It's not that, son. I believe that you believe it. It's just that it's…."
"Unbelievable?" he offered.
"I guess you could put it that way," his father replied, clasping a hand on Crichton's arm and squeezing it lightly. "John, we only lost radio contact with the module for a short time, and satellite tracking was maintained throughout."
"I know, Dad. It doesn't make sense to me, either." He hesitated, uncertain about how to continue. "I don't know what's real anymore. My memories from Moya-that was the ship that rescued me-feel as real to me as my memories of growing up. What I can't remember is how I got back here."
"What is the last thing you do remember?"
Crichton considered for a moment, sifting through the confusion in his mind. "I was on Moya, eating dinner in the mess with the rest of the crew." He paused, allowing the memory to play in his mind before recounting it. "It was a real dinner for once, not one that was square-shaped." He smiled as his father's features quirked in confusion. How many times had his human expressions engendered a similar look on his Moya crewmates?
"Never mind," Crichton continued. "It's not important." He paused again, trying to find his place. "It was quiet-I remember that much. Quieter than it's been in a while. We had had a really close call with a bunch of commandos and a virus that qualified for Mensa, so after that we were all glad to catch our breath. Everybody was in pretty good spirits, especially Aeryn." He smiled as he recalled his favorite Sebacean. "She was telling the others how I had crossed-wired the hetch drive controls in the Farscape's console and nearly electrocuted myself. Oh, she was plenty concerned for me at the time, but she was all 'that human nonsense' in front of the others," Crichton continued, mimicking his shipmate. "I had a brilliant comeback planned, but… I don't know. I don't remember anything after that."
Colonel Crichton sat silently for a moment, absorbing what his son had just told him. Crichton was about to say something to fill the void when his father spoke.
"Sounds like a very vivid dream."
"It wasn't a dream, Dad," he replied, frustrated. "My subconscious could never come up with some of the things I've seen out there. It was-is-real. I know it sounds crazy. It sounds crazy to me. But trust me, this is beyond even my wildest dreams."
"I know it feels real to you, John. But you've been unconscious for two days, and before that, you were shaken around pretty violently. They still don't know the effects of zero-g on human physiology. Isn't it possible that what you remember never really happened?"
"I guess it's possible, Dad. But I'm not ready to write off the last nine months of my life as a dream. Not until I have some proof, something that will make sense to me. Something that…
"Hey, Dad," Crichton said, switching gears mid-thought as an idea grabbed him. "Do you still speak any Greek?"
"A little. I'm a bit rusty, though. Why?"
Crichton smiled. "Because I don't. Say something. Anything."
Colonel Crichton looked at him doubtfully, but complied. "Ela, re. Tikanes? S'arapoh."
Nothing. The words sounded foreign and had no meaning. "Say it again."
His father repeated the phrase, but still nothing. Crichton's heart sank.
"What was that about?"
"My last hope, I guess. When I came aboard Moya, they injected me with alien microbes that colonize in the brain and translate alien languages for the host. That's how I could understand everybody. But they aren't there anymore. I couldn't understand you."
"I'm sorry, son."
After twenty-four hours of observation, Dr. Kanaar released Crichton with a clean bill of health. Her tests concluded that he harbored no alien microbes-translator or otherwise. He returned to Florida with his father, recounting as much of his Moya experience as he could during the cross-country flight. He didn't know if his father was simply humoring him, but after a while the elder Crichton seemed enthralled by the narrative. "Well, no matter the origin of these experiences, you've had yourself quite an adventure," he remarked upon landing in Orlando. "Son, even if these memories aren't real, at least not in the sense that you experienced them first-hand, they are a part of you."
After wading through the crowd of reporters and curious on-lookers that had gathered to get a glimpse at the recently returned astronaut, Crichton and his father headed towards Cape Canaveral. Crichton opened the passenger-side window and reveled in the feel of the cool spring wind over his face as he and his father sped down the Beeline Expressway towards the Cape. Despite the demonstration denying the existence of his translator microbes, Crichton had insisted on seeing the Farscape to convince himself of the truth. He didn't know what it would prove, and when Colonel Crichton dropped him off at the Kennedy Space Center hangar, he approached the damaged pod with equal parts anticipation and dread.
The module contained no evidence of alien technology. No hetch drive. No biomechanoid add-ons. He even found the small IASA bag packed with a spare change of clothes that he and DK had jokingly stowed for the "long trip home" after the Farscape successfully proved their slingshot theory. Crichton unzipped the bag and fingered the grey tee-shirt and white boxers absently, remembering how handy his facetious foresight had been. At least until Aeryn had swiped the boxers. He smiled, this time in memory of her dressed in them as sleepwear. Underneath the clothes, Crichton found his tape recorder. He pressed the play button, a tiny glimmer of hope rising in the back of his mind, but the tape was empty. He carefully placed the recorder back, folding the clothes on top of it, his smile fading as he returned the bag to the module.
"Guess you didn't get to use those this time, huh?" boomed DK's voice behind him.
"You'd be surprised, Bro," Crichton replied, turning to greet his friend, who was standing on the other side of the bay. Crichton watched as DK hurried across the hangar to join him at the module. "Good to see you," he said as he hugged his friend tightly.
"Yeah, your dad told me about your adventure."
Crichton searched his friend's expression, trying to decide how to proceed. "So, are you going to haul me to the funny farm?" Crichton asked tentatively, only half-joking. He didn't want his best friend in the world to think that he was a loon.
"Can't blame a guy for what he dreams while he's unconscious," DK replied. "I'm just glad you're okay."
"Yeah, I guess I am," he said slowly, shaking his head. He might be confused as hell, but all things considering, he was "okay". At least for now. "It's good to be home," he added as an afterthought, the truth sinking in slowly. He was home. Why did it feel so strange to him, then?
DK grinned devilishly. "I think I can sneak out for a few hours. You want a beer?"
"What I want, DK, is a nice, juicy hamburger. And a tall milkshake with an extra scoop of ice cream in it. Delusion or not, I feel like I haven't had real food in nine months."
DK drove Crichton down the coast to Coco Beach, pulling up to a beachside café. The parking lot was crowded with Jeeps, small SUV's, and compact Japanese cars with license plates representing nearly every state from the Midwest to the Southeast, evidence of the influx of spring-breakers. Crichton sensed DK's amusement as he ordered a hamburger with everything on it, a chili cheese dog, fries, a large coke and a chocolate milkshake. "Hey, I'm hungry, okay?" he said defensively. DK ordered only a beer, announcing that he would have plenty to eat with Crichton's leftovers. When the food was ready, the pair carried the trays to a sandy table on the beach, kicking their shoes off as they sat down. Crichton repeated his story as he wolfed his food down. When he finished his binge, leaving very little for DK to scavenge, Crichton ordered a beer and continued telling his story as the sun began its descent to the horizon behind the beach.
"My favorite part is when you hid from the big guy with tentacles for three days after he left the ship," DK noted as Crichton finished.
"D'Argo. And you would have done the same thing if nearly seven feet of Luxan were after you in a hyper-rage. Did I tell you what he could do with his tongue?"
"I'm sure the more interesting story is how you know what he can do with his tongue," DK replied quickly, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Crichton rolled his eyes, remembering his first lesson in Luxan tongue physiology. "I wouldn't know. I was unconscious at the time." That prompted more eyebrow waggling, but DK wisely decided to leave it at that. Both men took a long draw from their drinks and watched the tide recede.
"So, who's this Aeryn?"
"What do you mean? I told you, she's the Sebacean Peacekeeper who…"
"No, I mean, what's the deal with her? And you?"
"What do you mean?" Crichton repeated. He had edited a few of the more personal details from his narrative.
"I've known you twenty-five years, Bro. You obviously have a thing for her."
Crichton considered denying it, but decided against it. "Yeah, I guess I do. Did. Will? Jeez, this is so confusing," Crichton said, laughing. More seriously, he added, "I never thought I'd be here without her." He sipped his beer again. "I can't tell you how many times I dreamed about coming home. After a while, I always imagined bringing her with me. Because of me, she's got nowhere else to go. She could easily pass for human, just like everybody always thought I was Sebacean. I wanted to show her Earth, introduce her to ice cream sundaes, rock-n-roll, sunsets on the beach, rock-climbing, Christmas, and all that jazz.
"I realized it would be dangerous, especially after our experience with the false Earth, and if I couldn't figure out a way to bring her with me safely, I don't think I would have come home at all. Or at least, I wouldn't have stayed."
"That serious, huh?"
"I don't know. I'll never know, now," Crichton said, anger and frustration creeping into his tone. He kicked some sand with a bare foot and watched the pale pink light of the sunset reflected in the surf. "She doesn't even exist," he added quietly, the realization more painful than he would have imagined.
DK dropped Crichton off at his small flat long after the sun had set. Crichton had lived there for three years, ever since he had moved to Florida to work on the Farscape project. It was longer than he could recall living in any one place, even as a child, and it felt like home to him. Now it seemed unreal to walk around his apartment after all these months. In some part of his mind, Crichton had accepted the fact that he would never see this place again. He had been missing too long.
He put his keys down on the table near the door and picked up the picture of his mother that was sitting there, flipping the overhead light on as an afterthought. For months he had wished for some memento of his family, like the crystal D'Argo had sealed under his flesh for safekeeping. He looked at the image of his mother, noting absently that the frame had barely gathered a thin layer of dust in his absence, further evidence that his time on Moya was just his imagination working overtime. It didn't make it feel any less real. It didn't make him miss the others less, either.
He set the photograph down and wandered through the rest of the flat, eventually finding his way to his bedroom. 'I should be happy to be home,' Crichton mused as he regarded his haggard reflection in the mirror over his dresser. He was happy to see his dad and DK, and it was nice to be one among billions again, rather than the lone human in some God-forsaken end of the universe. But home wasn't the same anymore. Something had changed in him, even if his experience wasn't real. It shouldn't matter, but somehow it did.
He opened a dresser drawer at random and smiled as he found his stock of blue jeans. Boy, he had missed those. He looked down at the IASA khakis he wore, remembering how he had ruined them during his quarter cycle on Acquara. After that, he had been relegated to wearing the Peacekeeper civvies he could find on board or on commerce planets. Nothing he had scavenged or bought was ever as soft or as comfortable as good ol' Earth cotton. He smoothed his hand over the material once before tucking the jeans back in the drawer.
Crichton picked his way around several stacks of unread journal articles and half-completed projects that colonized his bedroom floor until he stood in front of the sliding glass door. He pulled the shades open and unlocked the latch, padding onto his small balcony. He sat heavily on a lawn chair and propped his feet against the railing, inspecting the starscape that seemed out of place in its familiarity. How many times had he dreamt of lounging on this very balcony watching the constellations of Earth march overhead? Night in his dreamland was always perfectly clear with no moon or light pollution from nearby Orlando to obscure his view of the Milky Way directly overhead. He would awake each morning with a renewed sense of homesickness and the nagging question of whether Moya was even traveling among the pale swath of light he had spied in his dreaming mind's eye.
Now he felt the same sensation in reverse. He studied the stars above and wondered where Moya was. 'In my mind,' Crichton reminded himself, frowning. Suddenly stargazing wasn't so appealing. He stepped back inside and sat on his bed, an unaccustomed indecisiveness settling over him. He sat there for seconds or minutes, he couldn't tell which, feeling the solitude of his surroundings. It was an alien sensation, and it darkened his mood further. Finally, he crawled under the covers, not bothering to remove or even change his clothes, allowing the oblivion of sleep to claim him once again.
Aeryn's eyes fell on Crichton's still form as she entered the cargo bay that Zhaan had converted to serve as her lab, apothecary, and infirmary. "How is he?"
"The same, I'm afraid," replied the blue-skinned ex-priestess from her workspace on the other side of the room. "Did you bring the samples I requested?"
Aeryn glanced once more at Crichton before striding to Zhaan with her cargo. "Here it is. Everything Crichton ate during dinner," she said, hoisting the container on the table. "I wasn't sure about the tivla grain, but D'Argo thinks he remembers seeing it on Crichton's plate."
"Thank you, dear."
"What do you need the samples for, anyway? I thought the electrical discharge from the module was responsible." Aeryn inquired, watching as Zhaan catalogued the food samples Aeryn had found.
"I am not so sure. I believe he was actually unharmed by the incident. Frankly, I have no idea what is causing his condition, but I've ruled out electrocution. That's why I need the samples. To rule out a toxic or infectious agent."
Zhaan stored the container of samples and called up a holographic image of Crichton's nervous system. "Something is inhibiting a bundle of nerve cells located in the upper regions of his brainstem," she commented, highlighting the specified area on the hologram.
"Is it life-threatening?"
"Not as such. At least, not at present. The inhibition is affecting the part of his brain responsible for waking arousal, but so far his autonomic functions such as respiration, which have nerve centers in close proximity, have been spared," she continued, pointing out a different, larger area just below the affected one.
"Can it spread to those regions?" Aeryn asked, repressing a surge of alarm.
"I don't know," replied Zhaan grimly, looking down. "I know so little about his physiology," she continued, frustration creeping into her tone. "There are parallels to Sebacean neurophysiology, but overlooking the differences between the two may be fatal for him." She pressed a sequence of controls on the top of the scanner, and the image of Crichton's nervous system faded from the holographic field. Zhaan sighed and met Aeryn's eyes again. "The only good news I can offer is that there appears to be no damage to any neural regions. The process that is affecting him is not damaging, at least so far. It has merely changed the dynamic balance of his nerve cells."
Aeryn digested the information. "Is there anything you can do for him?" she asked, biting her lip.
"I have been attempting to modify a Sebacean neural stimulant, which should assist him in regaining consciousness. There are risks, however," Zhaan warned. "It may induce a seizure if I cannot contain its effects. Alternatively, it could overstimulate his heart if the solution infiltrates the lower portion of the brain stem. The injection process should limit the stimulant's exposure, but any margin of error could be fatal or at least very damaging."
"And what will happen if you don't administer the stimulant?"
"He could remain in this state indefinitely, or the process could spread and inhibit his vital functions. Conversely, whatever is causing the inhibition could be neutralized by his immune system, and John could regain consciousness on his own. There is simply no way to know."
Aeryn walked to Crichton's bedside and impulsively touched his face. She was relieved to find that it felt warm and alive. His expression appeared somewhat troubled, with furrowed eyebrows that induced tiny lines on his forehead. His eyes seemed to dance under closed eyelids.
"Do it," she said with a resolve that belied her fears. 'It's what he would want', she reasoned inwardly.
Zhaan nodded. "The preparation is nearly ready."
Aeryn returned her gaze to the human and settled down in a chair next to the bed. It was the same bed where she had recuperated from her injuries following the incident with Larraq. She absently rubbed the healing skin as she remembered. Crichton had been there when she had regained consciousness, and hopefully she would be able to 'return the favor' as he would say. "Back at you baby," she whispered, her lips quirking into a hint of a smile. Why humans would call each other 'baby'-and not intend it as an insult-was puzzling, but he had said it with warmth. Further translation was unnecessary.
Zhaan approached with a vial and fine gauge tubing that Aeryn recognized as surgical equipment. She set both items on a nearby table and then eased into a sterile gown.
"I must inject the serum into the affected areas directly," Zhaan explained as she turned Crichton to his side and created a sterile field around the vertebrae of his neck. Aeryn helped her ease the human over so that he rested comfortably on his stomach. "Microscopic biomechanoid probes will direct the catheter through the vasculature to the affected areas," she continued, feeding the tubing under his skin. It began moving on its own power.
Aeryn watched the catheter's progress on the holographic projection, unable to quell her growing anxiety. 'No time for second thoughts now,' she admonished. The probe relayed a single tone when it acquired the targeted area. Zhaan uttered something in melodic Delvian that did not translate, probably a prayer, then injected the contents of the vial into the catheter. The probe quickly withdrew and the women rolled Crichton on his back again.
"It's done," Zhaan reported. Aeryn watched Crichton carefully as the other woman reviewed his condition on her monitors.
"Anything?" Aeryn asked anxiously.
"His heart rate and neuroelectrical discharges are within tolerance," Zhaan announced, relief evident. "It may take several microts for the serum to take effect."
Aeryn looked at Crichton again, noting with some alarm that his eyes were no longer moving under their lids as they were previously. "Zhaan, what's wrong?"
"His vital functions are still registering as normal."
Aeryn took a deep breath and continued to watch for further changes. The quality of his breathing slowly changed, becoming more shallow and frequent. Aeryn stood and glanced excitedly at Zhaan. "I think it's working!"
"Yes, I'm starting to see activity in the target area."
"Crichton, can you hear me? You need to wake up." Aeryn spoke softly but urgently. He mumbled something she could not understand and tried to roll over. "Come on, Crichton. Don't go back to sleep. You need to wake up," she repeated, gripping his shoulder.
He seemed to respond to her voice. Slowly, his eyes opened and he blinked. "Aeryn," he said groggily. "What are you doing here?" He smiled for a microt, then his features transformed into a mask of confusion and fear. "What am I doing here?" he asked, trying to sit up. His eyes as they met hers looked almost panicked.
"Easy, John," she said, catching him and helping him into a sitting position. "You're safe. You're in Zhaan's apothecary," Aeryn said as Zhaan joined her.
"On Moya," Crichton added.
"Yes, on Moya," Aeryn replied, worry clenching in her gut. Zhaan had said that whatever was happening to him had not damaged his nervous system, but something was clearly wrong. She looked at the Delvian expectantly.
"John, you've been unconscious for the past two arns," Zhaan said, running her scanner over his body. "Do you remember collapsing in the mess?"
Crichton looked from one to the other, his confused expression deepening. "Yes, I remember being in the mess. Aeryn was giving me a hard time about my module."
A small sigh of relief escaped Aeryn's lips. At least his memory was unaffected.
"But I remember a hell of a lot more after that." He shook his head and cradled it in his hands. "This isn't happening," he muttered. "This can't be happening," he added, raising his voice. "You don't even exist. This is all in my head! Why can't you leave me alone?"
Aeryn was taken aback by the intensity of his words, and his hurt, scared expression gripped her.
"Of course, we're real, John," Zhaan soothed. "You've had a shock to your nervous system. Your memory of the past cycle might have been temporarily affected, but-"
"I remember the past nine months, Zhaan," he interrupted. "Moya, Crais, running for our lives every other day. That, I remember." He looked down, his expression transformed when he met Zhaan's eyes again. "Problem is, it never happened." Aeryn recognized his tone of voice. It was the one he used when his back was against the wall. She had heard the same tone shortly before he trained a gun on her when they were on the false Earth. "I never went through that wormhole. Hell, it's still 1999. It wasn't… was… wasn't…."
"John!" Aeryn shouted as Crichton swayed dangerously. She caught him and lowered him back into the bed. He blinked several times, fear crystallizing in the blue depths of his eyes. He met her gaze, struggling to stay conscious.
"Real," he gasped as unconsciousness claimed him.
"Frell," Aeryn whispered. She looked at Zhaan questioningly.
Zhaan checked several displays. "His vitals are within safe limits, but activity in the target area is minimal. We failed," she added, looking down miserably.
Crichton woke to insistent buzzing from his front doorbell. He looked around tentatively, reassuring himself that he was, indeed, on Earth. March 8-no, March 9, 1999. It was just a dream.
The doorbell rang again. "I'm coming," Crichton shouted, his voice slurred with sleep. "Gimme a minute." He removed the covers and reached for his robe, belatedly realizing that he had slept in his clothes. He stood and stretched, straightening his rumpled outfit as he did so.
'God, what a dream,' he mused as he headed for the door. It almost felt real. It tore him up to see Aeryn again. She had looked concerned-afraid, even. 'Just a dream,' he reminded himself. Just a dream. He turned the lock and opened the door.
"Forget our breakfast date?" asked DK from the other side of the threshold.
"I guess I forgot to set my alarm," he replied sheepishly, letting his friend inside. "Just give me a minute to shower and change."
"Please. You look like hell." DK's smile took the sting out of his words.
"Hey, give a man a break. I just woke up," Crichton replied in mock indignation as he padded into the bathroom. He stripped and threw his discarded khakis at DK in retaliation.
A shower and a shave made Crichton feel human again, but his dream lingered in his mind. Usually he couldn't remember more than brief fragments of his dreams, but this latest dream-just like his Moya 'memories'-had an odd linear quality about it. He could recall every last detail, from the faint, sweet smell of Aeryn as she leaned over him to the colors reflected in Zhaan's slightly iridescent scrubs. 'John, you've been unconscious for the past two arns. Do you remember collapsing in the mess?' He could even remember the musical sound of Zhaan's dialect prior to translation. His recollection was vivid, as if he really had experienced it a short while ago.
Crichton dried off and wrapped the towel around his waist. He opened his closet and examined his wardrobe, eventually choosing a pale green button-up twill shirt that was soft as chamois and his favorite pair of jeans. DK pointed to a loud Hawaiian shirt that Crichton had bought for a costume party last year as an alternative. Crichton made a face and finished buttoning the shirt he had chosen. He reached for his tool belt to complete the outfit, momentarily forgetting that his terrestrial dress code did not require one. Instead, he collected his wallet and keys, placing them in their appropriate pockets. "You ready to go? I'm starving?" he asked, shaking off his momentary disorientation.
"How can you possibly be hungry after last night?"
"I'm just getting warmed up, Bro," he retorted with a grin, forcibly putting his false past out of his mind. It was March 9, 1999 and John Crichton, astronaut, had plenty of Earthly living to do.
Crichton and DK stopped at the roadside diner they frequented every Thursday morning for breakfast. It was only Tuesday, but DK agreed that Crichton's safe return was call for celebration with greasy diner breakfast food. They sat at their usual table and ordered without looking at the menu.
"You've been awfully quiet, John," said DK after their food had arrived. His expression as he watched Crichton plow his way through scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, toast, orange juice, and coffee was a mixture of what appeared to be awe and disgust.
Crichton finished chewing and took a swig of orange juice. "My momma taught me not to talk with my mouth full."
"That never stopped you before," DK replied, grinning. "Seriously, though, you look a little out of it. Everything okay?"
"It's just this dream I had last night," Crichton reluctantly admitted. Despite his efforts to dispel thoughts of his false memories, they continued to intrude.
DK sat back against the booth bench. "About Moya."
"Yeah. It was only for a few minutes, but it really shook me up." He paused, trying to put a finger on what was so unsettling. "They seemed, I don't know, alarmed or something. Zhaan told me I'd been unconscious. I woke up in her lab with Aeryn standing over me. For one second, I was so happy to see her. Then I realized it wasn't real and it was like those feelings were snatched away. Like I was a kid who just found out that there's no such thing as Santa Claus." He considered his analogy momentarily, realizing the absurdity of comparing the beautiful ex-Peacekeeper to an elderly gentleman dressed in fuzzy red whose girth was compared to a 'bowl full of jelly'. He smiled at the thought. "Anyway, I guess it kind of wigged me out a little."
"Hey, it's all right, John," DK assured him, his voice warm and understanding. "It's just going to take some time to get used to. I'm just glad you're here with us now." After a brief pause he added, "I don't know what I would have done if you had disappeared through a wormhole. I was scared enough when the Farscape started to dive."
Crichton smiled. "Yeah, me too. God, I missed you, bud."
The waitress cleared away Crichton's plates, whistling in surprise at his appetite. "And he still manages to keep his boyish figure," she teased, placing the check on the table.
Crichton was about to defend himself when something familiar on the waitress's uniform caught his attention. He stood suddenly, leaning towards her to get a better view of it.
"Where did you get this?" he demanded, pointing at the waitress's nametag, which identified her as Maria.
Maria backed off, and DK placed a restraining hand on Crichton's wrist. "Take it easy, John. It's just her nametag. It's the same one she wears every Thursday when we have breakfast."
"No, I've seen this somewhere else." He looked at the startled waitress and schooled his own features so he came across less like a deranged lunatic. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," he apologized, his voice much softer and controlled. "Can I see your nameplate for a minute?"
Maria looked at him, then at DK, who nodded slightly as if to say 'my friend wasn't recently released from a mental institution, really.' She, in turn, nodded and unclipped the tag from her uniform.
Crichton held the pin in his closed hand, feeling its mass, then he opened his palm to inspect it. Except for the name embossed in the center section, it was identical to the comm badge he and the others had worn. "We had these on Moya," Crichton commented, handing the badge to DK. "They were keyed to the internal comm system."
DK handed the nameplate back to Maria, who seemed relieved to go. "John, your subconscious is playing tricks with you, that's all. Take the badge out of context and voila, you have a communicator. You probably never consciously noticed her nametag before."
Crichton considered DK's reasoning. It had some merit. Why would he have noticed it before? It was an inconsequential detail. "You're right, DK. Thanks for the reality check."
"Anytime, Bro. You ready to hit the road, or do you need a forklift to get up? Either way, we've got a load of data waiting for us at the Cape."
Aeryn strode purposefully towards Pilot's chamber. She didn't have any pressing need to go there, but she found that Pilot's presence comforted her and learning more about Moya's functions distracted her.
"Good day, Officer Sun," Pilot said in greeting.
"Hello, Pilot," she answered, approaching his station. "Anything to report?" She could have easily retrieved such information from any console in command, and both she and Pilot knew it.
"All systems functioning within acceptable limits." He looked up from his controls and met her eyes, his four limbs instinctively responding as necessary to the ship's needs. "How is Commander Crichton today?" he asked with evident concern.
"Still no change," she replied, propping herself against the edge of his console. From her position she could follow Pilot's intricate movements across Moya's hundreds of controls. At some intuitive level, the pattern of knobs, dials, and disks made sense to her.
Pilot bobbed his head, a gesture Aeryn understood as sorrow. His eyes returned to tracking the console, but Aeryn knew that some part of his multitasking mind was trained on her.
"Has Zhaan learned more about his condition?" he asked as he swiveled his body to allow his outermost limb access to a far control.
"Yes, but I'm not sure how useful the information will be. Apparently something Crichton ate is producing a toxic reaction in his nervous system."
"But how can that be? Food brought aboard for consumption is carefully screened for toxins. Moya and I would never allow any crew member to ingest tainted food," Pilot remarked, alarmed.
"There wasn't a toxin for you or Moya to identify," she responded, her tone as comforting as possible. She hadn't meant to accuse Pilot, even indirectly. "The substance that affected him is normally inert, but Zhaan believes that a protein unique to his physiology catalyzed it and allowed it to transform into a toxic agent," Aeryn continued, a small part of her smiling at the fact that she not only understood the explanation Zhaan had given her, but could also relay it intelligently to another being. Sure, she had had to look up 'catalyze' in Moya's data stores, and some of the more obscure details escaped her, but it was quite a change from her abilities only one cycle ago. Crichton would be pleased by her progress.
"Will Zhaan be able to fashion an antidote to counteract the effects?"
"I don't know. She was working on it when I left, but I don't think she had found much success. The problem is that Crichton's condition will begin deteriorating soon if she can't find an answer. It's already been ninety-two arns since he lost consciousness."
Pilot's clawed hands momentarily paused their swift dance over the controls. "How long does he have before his condition becomes critical?"
"Unknown. Whatever is affecting Crichton is altering his sleep-wake cycles somehow. Zhaan explained it to me, but I'm not a tech," she admitted. Aeryn sighed, trying to remember Zhaan's explanation. "I think she said that the process is inhibiting sleep while artificially maintaining a dream state."
"He is unconscious but unable to engage in sleep?"
"Exactly," she replied, relieved that Pilot understood what she was trying to say. "Zhaan says his pattern of brain activity is actually quite similar to waking. If she cannot find a way to induce a sleep state, the process could begin causing localized damage to Crichton's nervous system in as few as twenty more arns. Unfortunately, she can't be certain how his nervous system might react. Crichton may have more time, or he may begin to decline sooner than expected." She bowed her head and sighed in frustration. There was not enough information to formulate an attack-even one that did not involve pulse rifles. She stood up and began pacing in front of Pilot's console, suddenly feeling suffocated by the lack of options.
"There are times when one's best contribution during a crisis is to place trust in others."
Aeryn glared at Pilot, whose head was cocked gently to the side, a tentative expression on his face. She softened her own features, realizing that Pilot was simply trying to be helpful. Pilot had often put his faith in the crew to help Moya in ways he could not, rooted as he was to the living ship. "I can't sit here idly while Crichton slips away," she explained, frustration welling. "But there's nothing for me to fight. I have nothing to contribute." She slumped against Pilot's console, her anger and frustration transforming to an unaccustomed guilt and fear. She preferred anger and even frustration to either of the latter emotions. They energized her and gave her focus. But there was no immediate goal to focus upon, no action that required her energy. She despised her feeling of helplessness.
She shook her head, trying to physically dislodge her morose thoughts. She stole a quick glance at Pilot, who appeared busy with his controls. She knew better, realizing that the strange purple alien with four arms understood her need to introspect without interruption. How had he come to know her so well?
Crichton would also appreciate her need to reflect, but he would probably bother her to share her thoughts until she did so, just to shut him up. Secretly, she appreciated the effort because he made her think about possibilities she had never considered important. Outwardly, she maintained her annoyed front. Better to keep him at a distance. The very fact that she had emotions to introspect was his fault, she realized, feeling her anger resurface. He was responsible for making her experience all these strange feelings, and if he were to die and leave her with them-alone, with no one to sort through them-she was going to stalk him into the afterlife that humans believed in and torture him in a manner worthy of his crime.
"Torture," she said aloud as an idea interrupted her internal tirade. She turned to Pilot, who looked up in surprise at her non-sequitor. "Pilot, as a prison transport, Moya has a complete supply of interrogation equipment, right?"
Pilot's eyes widened fractionally as one hand tapped several controls in rapid succession. "Tier seven, aft section holding quarters," he confirmed.
"Contact Zhaan," Aeryn urged, breaking into a jog. "Let her know I may have something to help," she shouted over her shoulder as she sprinted out of Pilot's chamber towards tier seven.
Zhaan eyed the clear vial critically and sighed. The many arns spent working to find a solution were taking their toll on the 800-cycle-old Delvian, Aeryn noted inwardly. Her spot pattern seemed dull and her normally luminous eyes had a defeated look to them. Everybody seemed to share the same expression, actually, even Rygel, who hovered a foot above Crichton's bedside. D'Argo stood to his side, probably to ensure that the Hynerian stayed out of trouble-and out of Crichton's possessions. Even Chiana had followed the others to Zhaan's lab, folding herself into a corner to watch the proceedings from a distance. Aeryn idly wondered what the young Nebari's stake in the matter was.
"It could work to counteract the effect of the toxin in the short term, but it will not produce any permanent change to eliminate the toxin. Once the drug wears off, John will return to his current condition. The difficulty is that certain vital cells have been transformed to produce the toxin, and they cannot be removed safely."
"But printeka will allow him to enter the sleep state, right? It was designed to deprive access to the dream state while leaving sleep otherwise unaffected."
"How does an ex-Peacekeeper know so much about medication effects?" asked Chiana from her corner.
"Because it's not medicine," replied Rygel, his eyes downcast on Crichton's still form. "It's used for torture." He spat out the last word with quiet fury. "At first you don't understand the effect, even think that the mighty Peacekeepers may have lost their touch. Within a weeken the madness begins to take hold, and each arn is more agonizing than the one before," he recounted quietly, involuntarily shuddering at the memory.
"All sentient beings require some amount of time in a dream state," Aeryn explained. "Without it, the mind cannot sustain itself." At times she found Rygel's presence a nuisance, but even he did not deserve the ravages of printeka. She allowed the ex-dominar a sort of grudging respect for his endurance.
"If we use the drug in a low enough dose, we may be able to induce a sleep state. It would remove the immediate danger to his system and perhaps allow us time to find a more suitable solution," Zhaan said, plugging the vial into the scanner. "I am wary about using it on a long-term basis, but it should work to offset the immediate danger. It is a very good idea, Aeryn." Zhaan's eyes charged back to life as she evaluated the drug's concentration and calculated the appropriate dosage.
Aeryn walked back to Crichton's bed, taking a place between D'Argo and Rygel. Crichton's face looked pale, the lines she noticed previously more deeply engrained. "Stay with us a little while longer, John," she whispered, running the side of her thumb over his eyebrow. If either D'Argo or Rygel noticed the gesture, neither was willing to comment on it. Her fingers traced his cheekbone lightly, then she rested her hand loosely on top of his.
Zhaan shook the vial vigorously as she approached the other side of Crichton's bed. No sterile clothes this time, no surgical equipment. Just a simple injector. Aeryn recalled her last experience trying to revive Crichton with an injector. When it broke, she was forced to rely on a 'low tech' human method of resuscitation to revive him. She blushed, remembering how her realization that she did not want to die alone had led to a sweet moment of desperate passion. At least until D'Argo had rescued them. She threw a sidelong glance at the Luxan, who seemed wrapped up in his own thoughts. Part of her regretted the timing of his rescue.
Zhaan inserted the clear vial into the injector, tapping it once to insure its stability. She adjusted the dosage and straightened Crichton's arm so that the inside of his elbow faced her, placing the instrument over the large vein near the surface. A brief hiss and the medicine was forced into his circulation 'for better or worse' as Crichton would say. Aeryn watched Crichton's eyes, looking for their nearly perpetual movement, which apparently reflected the dream state in humans, to slow. After about one hundred microts, it did so, his blue eyes surfacing from beneath their lids for a brief moment.
"Sleep now," Aeryn intoned softly. Crichton's eyes scanned the others before rolling back behind closed-and thankfully still-lids.
'Oh God, not again.' Crichton didn't need to open his eyes to know where he was. Moya's background hum was distinctive, and he could faintly make out the squeak of a nearby DRD. He sighed.
Somebody up there was having fun at his expense. After three months on Earth, why would his subconscious bring him back to Moya again? Sure, his memories of the time he had spent aboard the giant leviathan stubbornly clung, refusing to fade as others had predicted. But he had moved on, returned to the land of the living once and for all. He and DK had almost finished crunching the data from the failed Farscape mission, and he had repaired the damage his module had incurred during the ill-fated test flight. He was working on a proposal for another Farscape orbital flight, creating precautions against the effects of stray EM pulses and other improbable eventualities. Hell, he'd even worked off the eight pounds he'd gained as a result of his binge-fest following his safe return to Earth. All was right in his universe, and he'd even come to terms with the fact that his otherworldly memories were not real, even if he couldn't shake them.
And now this. Another dream. Not like his usual dreams, which were disjointed and fragmented. No, this was like his previous nightmare, when he woke up in Zhaan's lab. It had that same impossible sense of reality, even though his mind knew it was not.
He opened his eyes slightly, testing the illumination. As expected, he was in Zhaan's lab again, a gold shimmering blanket covering him. He sat up slowly, blinking to adjust his eyes to the dim lighting. Nothing hurt per se, but his body felt weak and stiff. He worked a kink out of his neck carefully, spotting Aeryn curled up in a chair a several meters away. He smiled as he watched her sleep, her lips slightly parted as she breathed softly. No unseemly snoring for the proper Officer Sun.
He slid off the bed, his knees momentarily buckling under his weight. "Woah," he muttered in surprise, steadying himself against the bed. He took a tentative step towards Aeryn, wobbling slightly when he released his grip from the bed, but gaining confidence as he closed the distance between them. He stopped a foot from her position, suddenly uncertain. The normally vibrant ex-Peacekeeper looked pale, as if someone had blanched her skin of the remnants of its pinkness. The clothes she usually wore with military crispness were rumpled, and several strands of hair had escaped her ponytail. Dark shadows circled her eyes, and her forehead was creased in worry. She looked miserable. He wondered briefly what kind of crisis they were running from this time, and what Aeryn Sun was doing snoozing on a chair in Zhaan's lab if the proverbial shit was hitting the fan.
He crouched in front of her, uncertain. She looked exhausted and he hated to wake her, but he was curious about what was going on. Impulsively, he tucked the loose hairs behind her ear, his finger lingering over her smooth skin. She stirred slightly, her eyes opening sleepily. When they met his gaze, she started violently, jerking backwards in her chair.
"Crichton!" Her wide-eyed expression greeted him with astonishment. Some of the color returned to her cheeks.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up. You look like you could use the sleep."
She actually chuckled for an instant in response, then tapped her comm badge. "Zhaan, Crichton's awake. Tell the others."
Zhaan's sleep-thick voice replied, "I'll be there as soon as I can. How is he?"
"Awake and walking, actually," she said, a note of surprise still present in her voice.
"I'm fine, Zhaan. Take your time," Crichton replied into Aeryn's comm link. People talking about him as if he wasn't there made him uncomfortable.
Aeryn glanced at a readout on the console to her left. "Seventeen arns." She looked at him critically. "How long do humans typically sleep?"
"Typically? About eight hours, I guess. Nine arns," he corrected, remembering that an arn was somewhat less than an hour. "I usually get six on a good day, though."
She looked up, as if mentally calculating. "Hopefully it's enough. Zhaan will have a better idea."
"A better idea of what, Aeryn? What the hell is going on? Why is everybody so concerned about my condition?" Dream or no dream, he hated being in the dark.
"Do you remember waking up here four days ago?"
"Four days ago? I remember waking up here, but it was more like twelve weeks-weekens ago."
She pursed her lips in a very human-looking expression of skepticism. "You were disoriented. You probably still are." She paused, as if not entirely convinced, but continued before he could protest. "Your body had a toxic reaction to something you ate four days ago."
Crichton considered her statement for a moment before replying. "Back in the mess, when you were teasing me about nearly frying myself in my module?"
She nodded. If the timing wasn't consistent, at least the order of his memories was.
"The toxin inhibits your sleep, causing you to dream continuously."
He laughed out loud. Everything about his life was suddenly so absurd. "Aeryn, the only dreaming I'm doing is right now."
Aeryn's eyes widened for an instant, then narrowed in confusion. "You're not dreaming, John," she replied, touching his face lightly. "Not anymore." Her cool fingers barely grazed his skin, somehow leaving warm traces in their wake. They were gone an instant later.
"Yes, I am," he asserted. "Moya, you, all of this, I made it up," he continued, sweeping his arms in a gesture to encompass everything. "It was just a dream or a delusion induced by the dive Farscape 1 and I took when we hit the radiation wave. That's all." Explaining a delusion to itself was giving Crichton a headache.
Aeryn blinked and withdrew from his space, leaning back in her chair. "You were home."
"Yeah. Home. I never left it."
Aeryn eyes reflected sadness, something he'd rarely seen in them before. It was directed at him. "Then you will have to learn the truth for yourself," she replied cryptically, more to herself than to him.
Crichton frowned. He had expected her to vehemently deny it. Weren't fantasies self-perpetuating? "You're not going to try to convince me that this is real?" He was almost disappointed.
"And what could I do to prove reality to you?" she flared suddenly, standing. More quietly she added, "This reality cannot compare to the fantasy of being home, of never having left the ones you love, of never having hurt them." She paused, steeling herself with a deep breath. Suddenly, she looked very tired. "Here, you are dying. The dream state will deprive your body of the rest it needs and destroy your nervous system bit by bit, but we don't know how to stop it, at least not permanently. When this 'dream' of yours ends, you will return to your previous state until we can purge the toxin from you, or until the toxin kills you." She shook her head slightly, the movement exaggerated in her thick ponytail. "That is the reality, Crichton, and I don't blame you if you don't want to accept it." With that, she turned and left, her footfalls echoing behind her.
Crichton wandered through the giant leviathan's corridors following where his feet led. He didn't have a destination in mind but felt an overwhelming compulsion to stay in motion.
Convincing Zhaan to let him leave the lab had not been easy. The woman gave new meaning to the expression 'argue until you're blue in the face'. Zhaan had explained the finer points of his toxic reaction in excruciating detail, trying to communicate the gravity of his situation to him, but in the end there was no good reason for her to keep him under lock and key in the lab. The Peacekeeper drug would wear off and he would start 'dreaming' again. Frankly, as far as he was concerned the verdict was still out on the nature of this reality, but his condition appeared stable enough. At least his physical condition.
Crichton stopped and sagged against a bulkhead, his body apparently not accustomed to exertion. The warmth of the wall against his back was momentarily disconcerting but strangely familiar. He straightened up and scanned the hall, realizing that he hadn't kept track of where he was going. Hell, he couldn't even guess which tier he was on. He could always call Pilot, but he wasn't ready to be found yet and asking directions would be an affront to his masculinity.
After a quick glance in each direction, Crichton picked a corridor and set off again, this time keeping a closer watch on his surroundings. The ship was enormous, but still limited. Eventually he would run into something-or someone-he recognized. In the very least he might find a level-riser that would get him to more familiar territory.
"Familiar territory," he scoffed. The thought struck him as immensely humorous. When he first came through the wormhole, the curving architecture that characterized nearly every surface on Moya had seemed so alien. Now he almost found the curve of her mottled tan walls soothing, even comfortable. When had Moya come to feel like… home? 'This isn't real,' he reminded himself. Or was it? Part of him wanted to believe Aeryn-a large part of him, actually-but he was getting sick of people redefining reality for him. First Earth, now Moya. His mind couldn't take the acrobatics.
"And how am I supposed to prove this isn't a dream?" he asked aloud, addressing the walls of the corridor. "Sure, I'm a scientist, but hell, reality is usually a given," he continued, raising his voice. He had already tried the old standby of pinching himself, but all he had to show for it was an ugly bruise. He'd even considered an idea he had once heard on television: read an unfamiliar tongue-twister aloud as fast as possible. It was an elegant solution-he would fail in a dream because he couldn't make up the words fast enough-except Moya was fresh out of English verse books containing tongue-twisters. Which left him what? His gut feeling? How could he trust his gut when all he felt was nausea? Seized by a sudden need to keep moving, he broke into a jog. Perhaps he could outrun his train of thought.
After what felt like an eternity of running, he found himself in front of the maintenance bay and skidded to a halt, panting. Hesitating briefly, he stepped around the thick wedge-shaped door, spotting his module behind Aeryn's Prowler. Even from a distance he could see sooty char marks from his last not-so-successful attempt at upgrading the Farscape's biomechanoid technology.
"Hey, girl. Did you miss me?" he asked, patting his module on the nose as he inspected the damage. The burns were mostly cosmetic, but he couldn't be sure how badly he had fried the hetch drive without a much closer look. Sighing, he rummaged a handful of rags from a nearby workbench and tossed them onto the bench next to his module. Grabbing the can of cleaning solution, he selected one of the rags and poured the cleaner over it. Scrubbing the char from the Farscape's hull would be appropriately numbing work, just what the doctor ordered. Anything that kept his mind from wandering to places he wasn't quite ready to face. He swept his gaze critically over the hull of his module and started scouring a particularly charred section beneath the cockpit.
"Why anyone would lavish such attention on a lost cause is beyond me."
Crichton turned to find Aeryn Sun standing behind him, her arms crossed. A faint smile lit up her face, taking the bite out of her words. He couldn't help smiling back despite his dark mood. His instinct was to tell her to get lost. Instead, he tossed her a rag, which she caught with her trademark lightning-fast reflexes.
"Help out or shut up," he muttered, trying to sound annoyed but failing.
She applied cleanser to the rag and began working on a section adjacent to where he was scrubbing. Her hands moved quickly and efficiently over the fuselage, the stains melting away in the wake of her elbow grease. She might tease him about his module, but she did understand his attachment to it and perhaps even respected it.
"I hear I have you to thank for saving my life," he said, breaking the comfortable silence. "Again," he added.
She bowed her head slightly, but continued to work. "For what good it will do. The printeka does nothing to reverse your condition."
"But it buys me time, Aeryn." It surprised him how modest the ex-Peacekeeper was about her non-military accomplishments. "It was good thinking." He stopped the movement of her hands with his, carefully removing the rag from her grip and taking her hands in his. He wanted to make sure he had her full attention. "Thank you," he said, meeting her eyes.
After a beat she replied, "You're welcome." She let her hands fall but did not move her gaze from his.
"Crichton, are you… all right?"
He regarded the Sebacean woman carefully. She held herself tensely, as if she was uncertain. "Zhaan says my condition is stable enough."
"I know. I talked to her. But you seem… preoccupied. Earlier, you were wandering around the ship…"
"Wait a minute, you were following me?" he interrupted, annoyed both that she had intruded on his private wandering and that he had not detected her presence. "I don't need a babysitter, Aeryn."
"I wasn't… babysitting, whatever that is," she replied, snatching the rag from his hand and scouring the hull with added vigor. "I was worried about you," she continued, her voice softer. "We all are."
"I appreciate your concern, but I'm fine."
"Are you?" she asked, pinning him again with her clear blue gaze. "Is that why you were running all over Moya? Because you're fine?"
"Look, I don't want to talk about it right now," he replied, returning his attention to a problematic char mark.
"No, you want to run away from it."
He faced her again. "I am not running away from it. I'm just handling it in my own way, Aeryn."
"Yes, by running away," she remarked. "You can't outrun it, John."
"So suddenly you're the expert?"
"On suppressing feelings? I suppose that I am." She scrubbed a new burn absently. "I know that it never works completely. A certain human showed me that sooner or later you have to sort your feelings through."
"Later is fine with me."
"Fine," she said, her sharp tone suggesting otherwise. She applied more cleanser to her rag and continued working.
"Fine," he replied, only partially relieved to find an out to the conversation. He felt badly about shutting her out, especially since he had forced her to talk on so many other occasions when she would have sooner breathed vacuum than discuss her feelings. He peered at her from the corner of his eyes, watching the rhythmic movements of her muscular arms as they attacked each soot mark. She was probably right that he needed to talk, but how could he explain what he was going through when he didn't understand it himself? It was disconcerting to have the tables turned on him like this.
A hint of a smile played across her lips, and he realized he had been caught looking. He reached over and grabbed the cleanser from the workbench at her side, smiling as a peace offering as he invaded her space. "I'm sorry I'm being such a grouch, Aeryn. I've just got a lot on my mind right now."
"Do you still think you're dreaming?" she asked.
Crichton laughed out loud. She must have overheard him ranting in the corridor earlier. "You don't give up easily, do you?"
"Of course not. Do you still think you're dreaming?" she repeated.
He set the can of cleanser down and rubbed his hands on his stiff black pants to dry them. "I don't know what I think anymore," he replied finally. "There I was, zipping across the Uncharted Territories, bazillions of light years away from Earth aboard a very pregnant living ship and sharing space with a bunch of aliens-and it didn't even seem strange to me anymore." He turned from Aeryn and faced his module, running a hand over the cool metal. "Then I woke up in a hospital on Earth and they told me I had never left, that everything I remember was just an incredibly vivid and psychedelic near-death experience. There was no evidence I'd ever left the Earth's orbit-my module was untouched, there were no microbes in my brain, and I didn't even have the scars I had earned from getting beaten up every other day on this side of the galaxy. Still, when my dad told me that Moya and everything that happened was just a dream, I thought, 'No way, I could never come up with the stuff I've seen out there.' I don't know what scares me more-the idea that this isn't all in my head, or the possibility that it is." He turned and met her eyes again. "Are you just a figment of my imagination? Are my feelings real even if you aren't?"
"I am real," she replied, her voice almost a whisper. "As real as you are."
"Are you?" he asked, a hint of desperation creeping into his tone. The cleaning solvent was starting to make him feel dizzy. "Are you as real as this rag?"
Aeryn examined the rag with a puzzled look, but said nothing.
"This was the t-shirt I was wearing when I came through the wormhole. Remember? When you beat me up?" He chuckled involuntarily, an odd giddiness enfolding him. "I wore it out and salvaged it for scrap material."
"So?" she asked, confusion etching deeper into her features.
"I was wearing this shirt yesterday! On Earth!" he answered, waving the rag in front of his face. He took a shaky step towards her. "So is it real or is it Memorex?" he demanded, swaying as he gestured.
"Crichton!" Aeryn shouted as his legs buckled underneath him. She caught him before his knees hit the ground, hoisting him to his feet as she positioned herself under his arm to provide support. "Come on, we have to get you back to Zhaan's lab."
"I'm going back, aren't I?" he asked as the world started to fade around the edges.
She glanced at him as she continued to half-drag him toward the corridor. "Stay with me, Crichton," she urged.
"You're real? You promise? This is real?" He wanted to trust her. He wanted to believe her.
She stopped and met his gaze. "I'm not a part of your imagination. I wish I could tell you that you're going home, but I can't."
"Then make sure it's only a short visit, okay?" he managed before losing consciousness.
Crichton inhaled a deep breath, tasting the sea breeze before exhaling slowly. Two more breaths in the same manner, in time with the pounding surf, then he attempted the combination Aeryn had taught him. Round kick, reverse side kick, elbow strike, back fist, and finally an axe kick to finish off the imaginary opponent if he or she were still standing. The reverse kick always gave him trouble- Aeryn had once commented that he had the balance of a troffer beast, which apparently was a grave insult- and he could never execute the sequence with the speed and agility of the formidable Officer Sun. What she lacked in bulk she made up for in technique, battle smarts, and determination. He hoped to never have to face her in a physical fight again.
He hadn't performed the workout he had learned from Aeryn since he first woke up on Earth. For three months he had tried to distance himself from his memories of Moya, hoping to dispel them and move on with his life. Besides, it hadn't seemed necessary to stay in fighting form. He had never needed to hone his self-defense skills prior to his trip through the wormhole. But if his life was indeed on that side of the universe, better to stay battle-ready. Sure, he wasn't exercising his body-his real body-but perhaps the workout would serve to keep his mind sharp. In any case, the familiarity of what had once been his daily exercise routine comforted him.
Crichton switched sides, finding his left approach as clumsy as his right-side attempts. Working out in the sand didn't help either. It was softer than Aeryn's Peacekeeper mats when he fell, but the sand grains shifted frequently under his bare toes, providing only minimal support when he pivoted or rotated. He cleared a small area of loose sand with his foot, finding a more packed surface underneath. He planted his feet in a deep stance then executed the troublesome reverse kick in excruciating slow motion, his muscles protesting as he held the kick extended. A few tourists gawked at him as they passed, but he ignored them. He withdrew the kick and rotated back to his original position, changing his stance to attempt the same technique on the other side.
He was going to miss the beach when-and if-the others found a way to reverse the effect of the toxin he had accidentally ingested. As fugitives, they had not had many opportunities to kick back and relax. He would also miss eating familiar, non-square foods. He longed to bring a few things back with him to Moya-a stash of chocolate, blue jeans, extra tapes and batteries, pen and paper, and photographs of his family and DK. But it wasn't real. This Earth didn't exist any more than the reconstructed version of Australia he had crash-landed into several months ago. Somewhere the real Jack Crichton and DK still mourned him.
Perhaps he should feel surprised or upset by his revelation, but he realized that his complacency had merely been self-protection. Ignorance was bliss, after all, especially when it allowed him to be home, even for a short time. What would three months on 'Earth' have been like knowing it wasn't real? What would it be like if it took Zhaan and the others considerable time to find an antidote? His last three months in dreamland had only translated to a few days aboard Moya.
The thought made him shudder. Perhaps it was better not to know. Crichton unleashed a kick at full speed and followed it with another on the opposite side. After five solid repetitions on each side, he attempted the combination again with some improvement. He could probably use it against an opponent who had recently chugged a six-pack.
"Jeez, remind me not to piss you off," DK remarked, approaching Crichton's practice area. "Where'd you learn to do that?"
"Once upon a delusion, Bro," Crichton replied, stretching his quad muscle as he turned to face his friend.
DK crooked his eyebrows in confusion. "You mean Moya?" he asked.
Crichton nodded. He wasn't sure how much to tell his friend. On the one hand, he hated the feeling of being alone-alone in the truth of what was happening to him. But at the same time, how would this DK react to the truth? "I think Aeryn got tired of having to protect me, so she taught me how to fight for myself and last more than thirty seconds with an opponent."
"You haven't talked about Moya in about two months," DK noted, his voice neutral.
"I know. It seems too… weird," he replied as he reached for his towel and water bottle in his workout bag.
"The memories haven't faded at all, have they?" Crichton recognized the look of comprehension spreading across his friend's face.
"Nope. I mean, they still seem like any memory from a few months ago," he said, dousing himself with water before taking a long swig.
"And that routine you were practicing… you remember all the moves she taught you?" DK asked with a note of incredulity.
"I'm a little rusty. I haven't worked out since… you know."
"Wow! That's some dream! I wish I could learn martial arts in a dream."
Crichton took a deep breath, biting his lip before continuing. "DK, what if it… isn't. Wasn't," he corrected.
"Wasn't what? Wasn't a dream?" he asked.
"Come on, John. We've been through this already. What's going on?"
"I had another dream last week."
"Like before? When you scared that poor waitress at the truck stop?"
"Yep. This time I was back for over a day. They told me that I'm dying from a really nasty case of food poisoning, which is why I'm here. According to them, this is the dream, and if I stay here, it'll kill me."
"And you believe them? You believe what these creatures in your nightmares told you? It was a dream! You said so yourself."
"I know it sounds crazy, DK, but I checked it out. It's true."
"Checked it out? What do you mean?"
"I went to the library this morning. I wanted to look up some information about human neuroanatomy and the neurophysiology of sleep. I took an introductory neuro course in college, so I thought maybe I'd be able to wade through a medical text or something. I figured anything I could find might help Zhaan figure out how to fix what's wrong if they are able to bring me back again."
"So, how did that prove anything?"
"DK, the books I flipped through had almost no information in them. When was the last time you read an anatomy book with hardly any structures labeled?"
"Maybe it was just a mistake? Maybe it was the wrong book?"
"I had the same thought, so I flipped through other books. The physics and math books seemed normal enough, but many of lit books were nonsensical. And the German-English dictionary I found was blank except for isolated words from the song 'Oh Christmas Tree'!"
DK pursed his lips, an expression he wore anytime he was faced with a difficult physics problem. Crichton could practically see the gears churning in his friend's head as he tried to find a reasonable explanation for Crichton's observations.
"Look, I know it sounds crazy, Bro, but it's not. I'm not. I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure out, but I think I did my best to avoid looking for answers. You think I don't want this to be real?"
DK met Crichton's eyes silently.
"How would you feel if you'd been fooled into thinking you were home after being trapped on the other side of the universe for the past year?"
"I… I don't know." DK looked lost, as if someone had ripped the rug of reality from underneath him. Crichton was more than familiar with that sensation. Perhaps he shouldn't have shared so much with DK. "But it can't be true. There has to be an explanation," DK reasoned.
"You're probably right. I shouldn't have brought it up at all," Crichton said, back-pedaling. "Just don't tell Dad about this conversation, okay? I don't want him to worry about me."
DK seemed to relax a little. "Okay. But maybe you should consider talking to someone, you know, to help you sort through all this?"
"No way, DK. I'm fine, really."
"Okay," DK replied, not sounding convinced.
An uncomfortable pause settled over their conversation. As a distraction, Crichton reached into his workout bag and pulled out two hand targets. "If you're gonna interrupt my workout, Bro, the least you could do is help me out," he said, smiling as he tossed the two square-shaped pads to his friend.
DK caught one of the targets but fumbled the other one, knocking it to the ground. "Okay, but only if you teach me that move you were doing earlier," he replied, dusting the sand off the dropped target.
"You've got to be joking!" Crichton groaned theatrically. "You're the one person in any part of the universe I could still beat in a fight and you want me to teach you my moves? No way!"
"Oh yeah?" DK replied, feigning indignation. "May I remind you who beat up Billy Ballard in the sixth grade?"
"No, the other time."
"No, in the cafeteria. Remember?"
"Oh, you mean when you accidentally tripped and knocked him over?"
"That was a calculated lunge," DK corrected. "The pudding cup on his head was just the icing on the cake."
"Dude, you needed stitches after his payback."
"Yeah, but it was worth it."
Crichton rolled his eyes. "You're hopeless. Just hold the targets at chest level, okay? When I'm done we'll go for a beer. Deal?"
"Deal. But only if you're buying."
Crichton grinned and punched one of the targets. It may not be real, but he enjoyed his friend's company nonetheless. If he was going to be dreaming for a while yet, he may as well take the opportunity to enjoy the perks of being home.
Aeryn crumbled a food cube and absently chewed a small fragment of it as she stared out the window at the far end of the mess. The others had fixed plates of fresh foods, preferring to avoid manufactured cubes while their supplies were plenty, but Aeryn didn't want to enjoy her meal. She wasn't particularly hungry, but the shared dinner was important for airing crew issues and maintaining unity. Skipping it in order to sulk was not acceptable, and a part of her didn't want to let the others see how much Crichton's continued absence, now eight solar days long, was affecting her.
Pilot checked in after everyone was seated, as was his custom. "How is Commander Crichton this evening?" he asked.
"I'm afraid his condition is worsening," Zhaan answered quietly. "The insulation around his nerve cells is starting to break down, interrupting the flow of impulses from his brain to his body. If the toxic effects are not contained, it could lead to systemic disruption, and I'm not certain I would be able to repair the damage."
D'Argo's expression darkened. "What kind of damage?"
"Well, it would depend on the area that was affected. The greatest concentration of toxin is in the region of his brain stem, which means his vital functions are vulnerable."
"How long until the damage is irreversible?" Aeryn asked, not quite able to stop herself from inquiring, but not certain that she wanted to know the answer.
"No more than fifty-five arns if his metabolism remains stable," Zhaan replied reluctantly.
An uneasy lull settled over the crew. After several microts, Pilot broke the silence by updating Moya's status, his voice unusually monotonous and his eyes recessed completely in their stalks. Pilot's grief was palpable to her even in the holographic image projected on the receiver. Although Crichton did not share a genetic bond with Pilot as she did, Aeryn knew that Pilot valued the human's friendship. The others saw the four-limbed alien as a servicer, but Crichton considered him a comrade and trusted ally.
When Pilot finished his report, his image winked out, leaving them alone with their food. As she scanned the expressions of her fellow shipmates, Aeryn realized that Crichton's illness was affecting all of them like a gaping hole in their shared experience. The human contributed more than they gave him credit for, not only in performing on-board duties, but also in keeping the crew grounded. Each meal they shared while Crichton continued to waste away in Zhaan's lab served to remind them of what their life would be like if they could not find a way to reverse the effects of the toxin that was holding their friend hostage. The others ate their meal in silence, taking no obvious enjoyment from the fresh food stores.
Nobody except the gluttonous ex-dominar, who let nothing as trivial as a crew member's impending demise diminish his appetite. Aeryn sighed in disgust as she watched the Hynerian gnaw on sinewy meat from an oversized bone. A partially eaten fruit from the edge of his crowded plate caught her attention. She reached across the table and plucked it off of his tray.
"Hey!" Rygel grunted in protest, his mouth still full. "Get your own frelling fruit, Peacekeeper."
"What are you doing with this, Your Eminence?" she asked, holding the sticky purple produce in front of his face.
"Trying to keep from starving to death," he snapped making an attempt to snatch the fruit away. Aeryn retracted her hand with healthy Peacekeeper reflexes.
"This is the fruit that caused Crichton's illness."
"Well, I'm not sick, so what's your problem?" he asked, edging back from the table to remain out of her reach. "Just because everybody else is too afraid to eat them, it doesn't mean they have to go to waste," he reasoned.
"Do you ever think of anything but your stomach, Your Sliminess?" Chiana hissed before Aeryn could retort.
Zhaan's eyes were wide, an expression Aeryn associated with worry in the Delvian female. "Rygel, you didn't eat the last of the fruit did you? I need to save the remainder for samples."
Aeryn studied Zhaan carefully. "Why do you need further samples? I thought you had isolated the toxin."
Zhaan sighed. "So had I. But I am having difficulty replicating the effect."
"What does that mean?" D'Argo asked, casting his plate aside.
"I don't know how the fruit John ingested caused him to have this reaction. Nobody else who ate the fruit experienced any ill effects, so I assumed that some unique molecule indigenous to his species had acted to catalyze an otherwise harmless compound found naturally in the fruit," Zhaan explained. "But so far nothing that I have isolated in John's system reacts with the fruit in any way."
"Which leaves what?" D'Argo demanded.
"I'm not sure. I am running out of alternatives quickly."
"Are you certain the fruit is responsible?" Aeryn asked, feeling her stomach sink. They didn't have much to work with before, but at least they had a theory. Were they completely in the dark with Crichton's time running out? "Maybe there is some other cause-"
"It has to be the fruit," Zhaan interrupted before Aeryn could complete her thought. "The chemical signature is too similar to be a coincidence. Somehow it transformed cells in John's body to create the toxin that is poisoning him. What I don't understand is how it produced this reaction. I cannot replicate this step in any of my simulations." Zhaan paused and briefly cast her eyes upon her mostly untouched food. "Without understanding that, I have no hope of synthesizing an effective and safe countermeasure." Zhaan sighed again and peeled a section of the fruit from where it still sat in Aeryn's hand.
"Looks so harmless," D'Argo observed.
"Didn't taste half bad, either," Rygel grumbled.
Zhaan squeezed the pouch-like fruit section lightly, causing the violet-colored fluid inside to migrate to the other side. "Crichton called it a 'purple'," she said smiling.
"Yes," Aeryn replied, remembering the conversation. "He said it was similar to an Earth fruit called an 'orange' and decided to call it a 'purple'," she added. With everything that had happened, she had forgotten the discussion.
Zhaan twisted the fruit slightly, rupturing the pouch on a seam. A small dot of purple fluid escaped. "What are you doing to Crichton and why weren't the rest of us affected?" she asked the tiny purple droplet.
"What about the combination of foods he ate?" D'Argo asked. "Perhaps a unique-"
"I tried every combination he ate as well as a few he probably didn't," Zhaan interrupted with obvious frustration.
"And you're certain it's not something indigenous to his own system, like Rygel's reaction to tannot root was?" Aeryn pressed.
"Not as far as I can tell. I have mashed more of these 'purples' into pulp over the last weeken than I care to think about," Zhaan complained, crushing the fruit section in her hand as an illustration. Dark juice dripped down the Delvian's arm, slightly staining her cuff. "So far, all in vain."
Chiana ticked her head sideways, observing the remains of the fruit in Zhaan's hand. Her large black eyes widened slightly as something caught her attention. With a deft motion, she removed one of the spongy green seeds that was wedged in a piece of pulp and held it between her thumb and forefinger. She cocked her head to the other side. "What about the seeds?"
Zhaan quirked her non-existent brow in confusion. "What do you mean, Chiana?"
"Crichton never eats the seeds unless they're too small to pick out," she explained with a small, short laugh.
"I never noticed that," Aeryn commented. She reviewed her memories of the night he lost consciousness but realized that she had not been paying attention to such details. Obviously the young Nebari had.
"He said he didn't need the added 'roughage' in his diet," Chiana continued, repeating the curious human term untranslated. "Does that help?"
Zhaan plucked another seed from the pulpy remains and scrutinized it. "I ate the seeds." Her gaze shifted to the Luxan. "And you, D'Argo?"
"I thought they were tasty."
Aeryn tried to visualize her memory of that dinner, discovering that she hadn't even bothered to inspect the fruit after peeling and sectioning it. "I ate them," she replied as Zhaan eyed her.
"Don't look at me! I never touched the fruit!" Chiana reported.
Zhaan jumped to her feet and headed for the refrigeration unit, her dinner forgotten. She gathered an armload of purples. "I'll be in my lab if anybody needs me," she called, walking briskly from the mess with her light blue dress snapping behind her.
"Zhaan, any updates to report?" D'Argo's gruff voice sounded over the comm without preamble.
Zhaan glanced at the timepiece on the counter, noting that D'Argo must have just started his shift in command. Had three arns passed already? She sighed and lifted her sleeve to her mouth. "I was able to replicate the original reaction successfully once I removed the seeds from the fruit specimen. I'm fairly confident that a substance within the seed will effectively inhibit further toxin production," she replied, happy to have some good news to report for once. What little good news she had.
D'Argo must have detected a note of doubt in her voice. "But?" he prompted.
She smiled in spite of herself. "But it isn't a counter-toxin. Once the antidote halts the toxin production, his own system will have to purge the poison still circulating in his blood."
"How long will it take?"
"I'm not certain. We will just have to, as John would say, cross our fingers." At least, those of the crew who had fingers. Giddily, she imagined Pilot trying to follow the human's imperative. She shook her head, annoyed with her lack of focus. When all this was over, she would require a good night's sleep, intensive meditation, and a long walk on a planet with strong solar radiation in order to regain her balance. Until then, John needed her undivided attention.
"Understood," D'Argo responded, then cut the connection.
Zhaan lowered her arm and braced herself against the counter as she drew a deep breath into her lungs and down through her pores. She released it slowly, feeling her tension melt away. Now she had an immediate goal to pursue, and better yet, a means to attain it. All she had to do was find the resources within her to keep going.
A prickle of guilt gnawed at the edge of her mind. So much time wasted because she had overlooked a simple possibility. Her assumption that the human's unique physiology was responsible had blinded her to equally plausible alternatives. Now John was perched on the edge of deterioration, and she had little time to right her short-sightedness.
'Now is not the time for recriminations,' she reminded herself sternly. No matter how she came to be in her present circumstances, her friend's time was running out quickly.
"Chiana, hand me a borer, please." The Nebari passed her the small drill-like tool and continued stirring the solution in front of her. With a deft motion, Zhaan inserted it at the base of the seed, forming a small hole. She then held the seed against the side of the collection bowl and pressed it with a pestle, her efforts yielding several drops of thick, amber fluid.
Zhaan had been surprised when Chiana had offered her assistance. She was initially wary of the youth's motives, still mistrustful following her involvement in releasing the intellent virus. But in the end Zhaan had accepted, realizing that an extra pair of hands could hasten the process of creating an antidote. Besides, she could not ignore the concern etched in the other woman's face. John was probably the closest thing to a friend that Chiana had onboard Moya, and she looked up to the human unabashedly. Even more surprising-and perhaps somewhat worrisome-was Chiana's facility with chemistry.
"It's no different from cooking," Chiana had remarked with a slight tic of her head after Zhaan had explained what she needed the Nebari to do. Once started, Chiana required minimal supervision to follow through with her appointed task, leaving Zhaan free to concentrate on extracting the active substance from the seeds she had harvested.
Also in attendance was Aeryn, who stalked back and forth between Crichton's bedside and the scanner, monitoring his condition. The Sebacean had erected a mask of disciplined detachment, but she could not camouflage the play of emotion that broadcast from her eyes every time she observed Crichton-fear, anger, helplessness, frustration, guilt, concern, and love. Zhaan didn't need the experience and power of a tenth-level P'au to empathize with the ex-Peacekeeper's struggle to reconcile feelings she barely understood. Zhaan had requested that Aeryn monitor his condition despite the fact that she could have easily preset the scanner to alert her of any suspicious changes in his vital signs. Aeryn needed to contribute in some way, and her vigilance to the human's condition allowed Zhaan to devote her full attention to the task at hand.
Zhaan extracted oil from the final two seeds, then placed the discarded husks in a separate bowl in case she needed them later. Carefully, she collected the viscous fluid and injected it into a small vial. She placed the vial inside the scanner and inspected the holographic images it projected. The extract was pure enough for maximal effectiveness, but it would have to be supplemented with the solution Chiana was concocting to ensure that it activated properly once in the human's bloodstream. Zhaan removed the vial and held it up to the light source. Such an unassuming substance had protected the rest of them from John's fate.
"Chiana, how long until the solution is ready?"
"Almost done, mother," she replied, her smile off-setting her sarcasm.
John's fate. Aeryn had told her that in his continual dream, John had returned to Earth believing that his experiences on Moya were not real. Was it such a bad fate for him to die believing that he was home? Zhaan contemplated her memory of their shared Unity and decided that the human would not find comfort in the illusion of home.
"There. All done," Chiana announced. She inserted her beaker into the scanner as Zhaan had and smiled as the readings scrolled across the projection. "Will that work?"
Zhaan nodded as she studied the figures. "Yes, Chiana. I believe so. Thank you for your assistance."
Chiana's gaze drifted to Crichton. "Just help him, okay?" she said as she handed the beaker to Zhaan and rotated her shoulders back into a posture that was uniquely Chiana's.
Zhaan measured a portion of the grey liquid that Chiana had brewed and added it to the seed extract, shaking the vial to blend the two ingredients. Combined, the mixture took on a slightly green tint. Satisfied, Zhaan fished out the injector left behind by the previous Peacekeeper tenants and calibrated it.
"How is he?" Zhaan asked Aeryn as she approached Crichton's bedside, Chiana following close behind.
"His vitals are steady, but his brain activity is becoming more erratic." The worried ex-Peacekeeper pointed to the readings on the monitor.
Zhaan inspected the readout, careful to keep her expression neutral. Crichton's neural pattern was still consistent with REM-the term Crichton used to describe the human dream state-but the short, tight waveforms were peppered with occasional sharp spikes of activity that were distinct from the patterns she had previously observed. "I don't believe it's anything to be alarmed about," Zhaan replied carefully, attempting to project as much confidence and assurance as possible. Treatment was John's only option, and there was no need to scare Aeryn or Chiana over uncertainties.
"Right, then. Are you ready to proceed?" Aeryn asked.
"Yes. Once I inject the countermeasure, I will monitor his neurological condition from the console." Zhaan tapped the communicator on her wrist as the two other women moved to stand on either side of Crichton's bed. "Pilot, tell the others that we are beginning."
Pilot's image appeared on the curved monitor. "Certainly. Do you require any further assistance, Zhaan?"
"No thank you, Pilot. We're fine."
"Thank you, Pilot," she replied as his image faded from the viewer.
Mouthing a prayer to the goddess, Zhaan nudged Crichton's chin upward, exposing the large artery on his neck, its faint pulsing barely visible to her underneath the human's translucent skin. She then turned his head away from her and located the vein that ran along side the artery, positioning the injector above it as she completed her prayer. She wondered briefly if she should also send a prayer to the human's god, but she didn't know if it would be appropriate coming from one of her species. Instead she placed the device on its mark and squeezed its trigger. A quick hiss administered the seed extract directly into Crichton's circulatory system. Zhaan turned the scanner's monitor to face her, searching for any change in his status. Aeryn and Chiana watched the human for any indication that the countermeasure was having an effect.
"Any changes?" asked Chiana, her dark eyes wide.
"Nothing yet," Zhaan replied, glancing up from her monitor to look at John. "Vital functions are still steady and strong."
"What now?" Aeryn asked, her words clipped and abrupt.
"We wait and hope that we are in time," Zhaan replied, wishing she felt as calm as her voice sounded. "It may take a while before the toxin is reduced enough for us to see the neurological change," she reasoned.
A hundred microts passed uneventfully. Chiana looked over Zhaan's shoulder and watched the monitor while Aeryn plucked at her vest nervously. Almost two hundred microts after the injection, Crichton moaned and suddenly stiffened. After a moment, his joints slackened and he began shuddering.
"What's happening?" Aeryn demanded, her voice laced with fear.
"Neurological functions are spiking in all areas!" Zhaan reported, willing herself to stay calm as a slight panic rose in her throat. The human's shuddering intensified, his body twitching in disjointed waves. Zhaan inspected the readings on the scanner, trying to discern the cause of the human's reaction. Something in the extract was preventing his brain from controlling neural activity, causing impulses to fire at random. "He's having a seizure," she surmised, snapping to full alert. "Aeryn, make sure he doesn't fall off the table, but don't restrain him otherwise." Zhaan fumbled through her apothecary, locating an herb extract that would neutralize the reaction and efficiently drew the appropriate dosage into the injector. "Help me hold his head," she directed as she approached the bed.
Aeryn complied, careful to avoid the human's jerking arms. Zhaan quickly administered the countermeasure and both women backed away fractionally to allow the human more freedom of motion. Within microts his thrashing subsided and his breathing eased. Zhaan sighed, allowing her body to relax slightly against the bed. "I think that's done it." She checked the scanner's readout. "His neural functions are returning to REM patterns," she confirmed. The curious spike-shaped waveforms Aeryn detected previously were still present, but diminishing somewhat.
Aeryn brushed her hand against Crichton's forehead and stroked his hair. "Come back to us, John," she murmured. Looking up at Zhaan she asked, "When will we know if this has worked?"
"I'm afraid I cannot answer that question," she admitted. "Even if the countermeasure is effective in stopping the production of additional toxin, his body must flush itself of the existing toxin on its own. We've done everything we can for him, now. The rest is up to him."
Crichton sat on the incline of the beach, nearly out of reach from the tide. Occasionally a renegade wave would wash over his legs, the late June surf almost as warm as bath water. He dug his feet deeper into the sand, enjoying the gritty feel of it between his toes. Leaning back, he stretched his arms wide and inhaled the salt air deeply, memorizing every sensation.
"Thought I'd find you here," sounded a familiar voice from behind him.
Crichton angled his head backwards slightly, making eye contact. "Hey, Dad."
"Mind if I join you?"
"Not at all," he replied, sitting up. He patted the sand next to him. "Take a seat."
The elder Crichton lowered himself to the sand at his son's side. Together they watched sea gulls dive for dinner as the shadows elongated in the golden late-afternoon sun.
"Heard you went out flying today."
"Yeah, just logging some flight time so they don't take away my wings," Crichton drawled nonchalantly.
"There's nothing like screaming across the sky at thirty-five thousand feet with the cockpit all to yourself," Colonel Crichton marveled.
"Yeah," John agreed, feeling his enthusiasm return as he remembered his flight. "There is no comparison." The flight had been exhilarating. There was something about atmospheric flying that made it more thrilling than any maneuver he had ever attempted in space-except possibly his trip through the wormhole. Maybe the struggle against gravity made flying through the sky more visceral. He had always wondered what it would be like to fly Aeryn's Prowler through an atmosphere, but so far the ex-Peacekeeper had never let him pilot her precious fighter near anything he could crash into.
"I used to get my best thinking done up there," Colonel Crichton continued.
John turned and faced his father. He knew a fishing expedition when he heard one. He looked at him expectantly, as if to say 'spit it out'.
"DK told me he had an interesting conversation with you last week."
Crichton groaned. It was bad enough that in this dreamland, his best friend was wigging out on him, but now his father was worried, too. "DK's got a big mouth," he grumbled.
"Now, don't go blaming DK. He was worried about you, and I threatened to court-martial him if he didn't tell me." His father paused for a beat. "What's going on, son?"
The younger Crichton dug his feet deeper into the wet silt, patting a mound of loose sand on top of them. He was suddenly reminded of the times that he and DK had buried each other up to the neck when they played at the beach. He met his father's eyes again. "I can feel myself slipping away, Dad," he admitted, his tone even. "I don't know if I'm dying or just returning to the land of the living, but either way I won't be here much longer."
"You're convinced this isn't real."
It wasn't a question, but Crichton answered it as if it were. "Yeah, Dad. I wish it was real, but it's not." He absently doodled in the sand covering his feet. "God, I can't even begin to describe how weird my life has become. It was such a relief to get my old life back, just for a while. I could wake up in the morning without the weight of knowing that I was dead to you and DK. But I can't just hit the reset button, Dad. This isn't who I am anymore. I miss you and DK more than anything, and I hope someday to find my way home for real. But this isn't it."
The elder Crichton watched the surf impassively. After a long pause he responded, "Sounds like you've made quite a life for yourself out there, son."
John studied his father's expression. "You believe me? Just like that? You don't think I'm crazy?"
"I believe you believe it," he replied. "I also know that you haven't been the same since you went up this spring-not as happy, not as optimistic, not as… innocent. A father can tell." Colonel Crichton scooped up a handful of sand and watched it drift away as he released it into the gentle breeze. "I see you when you look up at the those stars at night, longing, and I wonder what you left behind up there. It doesn't make sense, but I know my son."
Crichton regarded his father, a small part of him wondering if his mind's image reflected the man he knew on Earth or some version of what he wanted to see. It didn't really matter, he mused. Distracting himself from his cynicism, he inspected his sand doodle, noting that it resembled the profile of a DRD. He added eye stalks and a gripper claw. "I really freaked DK out, didn't I?" he asked, changing the subject as he continued drawing in the sand.
Colonel Crichton chuckled. "He mentioned something about heading to the library to prove you wrong."
"I wish I could show you my life on Moya, Dad. Hell, I wish I could somehow let you know that I am still alive."
"You will, son. Some day."
"I hope so," Crichton replied, using the flat blade of his hand to bulldoze sand against his ankles.
"Are you sorry, John? That you're here?"
"Sorry?" he asked, considering. "I don't know. At first I was so confused, especially after going back to Moya the first time. I didn't know what was real, and I didn't know what I wanted to be real." He pushed more sand against his legs, packing it down.
"Then after I realized that it wasn't real, I was upset-angry, I guess-that I had deceived myself." He chuckled ruefully. "Now I guess I look at it like an extended vacation from Moya. One I might not survive," he added darkly. "Sure, it's not real, but it's pretty close. Besides, when was the last time I got to drink a milkshake?" He smiled, remembering the smooth, cool taste of the shake he had had with lunch this afternoon.
"But then I think of what I'm putting my friends through on Moya," he continued, his smile vanishing. "God, Aeryn looked like hell when I saw her."
"This Aeryn, she's somebody special to you, isn't she?"
"Yeah, she is," he admitted. He remembered Aeryn's encounter with his 'father' on the false Earth. "I wish you could meet her. I think you'd like her, Dad. You'd say she has 'vim and vigor'."
"Sounds like your mother."
"Well, only if Mom could take out Arnold Schwarzenegger without breaking a sweat."
Crichton heard his father's answering laugh just as his body convulsed sharply.
A wave of dizziness engulfed him.
"John?" This voice was female and very concerned. Aeryn?
"Is it working?" asked another voice.
The surf roared loudly in his ears. Or was it his heartbeat? He couldn't tell anymore. He opened his eyes, wondering when he had closed them. His father peered anxiously down at him where he lay sprawled in the sand. A warm wave lapped over his now exposed feet.
"I'm okay, Dad," he gasped, sitting up.
"Are you sure, son?" his father asked, reaching an arm out to help steady him.
"Just a little dizzy," he replied, closing his eyes as the world spun around him.
"What just happened?"
Crichton opened his eyes and shook his head, trying to clear it. "I was just about to ask you the same question."
"You zoned out for a moment, then you collapsed into the sand." His father's concern was etched in lines around the corners of his eyes. "I kept calling your name, but you didn't respond."
"I think I was back on Moya for a few seconds," he replied slowly, realization dawning as his dizziness intensified. "I think my time here is almost up, Dad." Crichton's vision darkened around the edges. His father's hand suddenly gripped his arm again, supporting him. Crichton clung to him like a lifeline. "I love you, Dad. I wish I could…"
"I know son. Concentrate on surviving and making a life for yourself out there. We'll be fine back home." His father's voice seemed far away.
"God, I miss you so much." He could feel the blackness threatening to overcome him again. He fought to remain conscious.
"Son, I'm always with you. In your thoughts, in your memory, in your heart. I'm here if you need me."
"Dad?" Crichton shouted as his world darkened like a shade being drawn. A warm tingling spread from the tips of his fingers and toes to the center of his body.
"John, can you hear me?" sounded a voice distinct from the ringing in his ears. A rhythmic hum replaced the sound of surf. He felt a warm hand enclosing his, and he grasped it clumsily.
"That's it, John." A trail of warmth tickled his face.
"Aeryn?" he croaked, his throat raw. He tasted blood from a small gash in his tongue. He opened his eyes to find three pairs of alien eyes-two blue and one black-staring back at him.
"Welcome back," Chiana said, relief spilling from her voice. Next to her, Aeryn smiled broadly. He must have returned from the dead to earn such a brilliant Aeryn Sun smile. Across the bed, Zhaan bowed her head and drew her hands alongside it in a motion Crichton recognized as the Delvian version of crossing oneself.
He managed a weak smile in response. "God, I hurt all over," he complained as sensation flooded him. "What the hell happened to me?"
"Shhh, don't talk, John," Zhaan implored. He tried to sit up, but she restrained him gently. "We've purged the poison from your system, but you need to rest now."
"I'm here to stay this time? For good?" he asked.
Aeryn's lips quirked into a half-smile and she squeezed his hand lightly. "As long as you continue to meet your daily recommended dosage of roughage," she replied cryptically.
"He must sleep now," Zhaan said, steering the other two women away.
He held his grip on Aeryn's hand. "Please stay." He was afraid that if he shut his eyes again, she would be gone.
She looked at Zhaan, who nodded wordlessly. "Don't worry, John. I'll be here when you wake," she assured him, brushing the backs of her fingers against his cheek, her touch soothing. "You need to sleep now."
He met her eyes and fought to keep his own open, but succumbed to his exhaustion after only a few seconds, Aeryn's image chasing him into a dreamless sleep.
"Well, Dad, I'm back on Moya again, although I guess I never left," Crichton began, cradling his IASA voice recorder near his mouth. Even the feel of the small machine whirring in his hand brought a small measure of comfort, and his 'talks' with his father and best friend often helped him cope when he felt lost, as he did now.
He sat in the mess lounging across the top of a shelf beneath one of the large triangular viewports, his plate of food cubes untouched on the table behind him. They still had some fresh supplies on board, but Crichton decided that it would be wise to avoid the local delicacies for a while. He leaned against a bulkhead and gazed at the random pattern of stars as he continued his recording. "Things will return to normal soon-well what passes for normal in these parts, anyway-but Zhaan has me on injured reserve for another ten arns. That's about half a day to us Earthlings. She's afraid I'm going to have another seizure, so no excitement, no work shifts, and especially no maintenance duty unless I want another round of the shakes, rattles, and rolls." He chuckled ruefully.
"So now I'm bored. And exhausted," he added. "After about a week of lying in bed dreaming, I'm too tired to even think straight," he said, shaking his head. "But there's this little part of me that won't let me sleep, no matter how tired I feel. I don't know. Maybe I'm afraid of where I might wake up this time. But I guess it's still better than being dead."
Crichton shifted the recorder to his left hand and groped around on the shelf underneath him with his right, eventually closing his hand around a small dark fruit. He tossed it lightly in the air and bounced it off the inside of his elbow before catching it again. He opened his palm and inspected the object it held.
"A small purple orange did all this to me, Dad. Thanks to it, I almost got a one-way trip to the home of my dreams. It wasn't exactly Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Present, but it was some trip. Over three months on dream-Earth passed in barely a week here. At least I know what's real, now. That was the worst part, I think. Not knowing. Not being able to let go."
He ran his fingers over the fruit's smooth, dark skin. The others had taken to calling it a 'purple', each using the color name indigenous to his or her own language. The name was appropriate: except for the coloring, the fruit could easily pass for an Earth orange. "It's funny, Dad. If I close my eyes, I could imagine that this little thing is a clementine or a tangerine. Even the taste is similar to what I remember." He closed his hand over the purple, squeezing it slightly. "This is the first food I've found in this end of the galaxy that vaguely resembled something from home. I even had visions of fresh squeezed... purple juice to wash down my morning food cubes." Crichton smiled slightly at the image, but couldn't help feeling a tinge of bitterness at the same time. "I guess I ended up with more than I bargained for nostalgia-wise," he concluded with a smirk.
"Next time you crave nostalgia, at least eat the seeds."
Crichton clicked his recorder off and turned in the direction of the voice. Aeryn stepped out of the shadow of the entrance, a hint of amusement dancing in her dark blue eyes. "Hey," he said in greeting.
"Mind if I join you?" she asked as she reached for a metal cup above the refrigeration unit. She poured herself a glass of k'toulsa, the Peacekeeper equivalent of coffee that was served cold rather than hot. Sebaceans obviously did not crave hot, caffeinated beverages.
"I could use the company," he replied impulsively. Actually, he had wanted to be alone, but her appearance in the doorway seemed to change that. She had that effect on him sometimes.
Aeryn collected her cup and the pitcher of k'toulsa and approached him, regarding the purple in his hand and the forgotten food cubes still on the dining table. "You weren't seriously considering eating that, were you?" she asked with a crooked eyebrow. "There are better ways to relieve your homesickness, Crichton," she admonished.
"Don't worry, Mom. I'm not going to eat it. I just wanted to... I don't know. I needed to see it, to hold it in my hand..." he stammered. "To make sure..."
"To make sure it's real?" she asked as she folded herself into the opposite corner of the window's alcove. Once seated, she stretched her legs out to one side so that her boots sat under his outer thigh, and she rested her legs against his. She leaned over to deposit the pitcher of Peacekeeper iced coffee on the shelf below her and held her cup in both hands.
"Yeah, I guess so," he said with a small smile. When had Aeryn become so perceptive of anything that did not involve aggression? "Three and a half months on Earth, all because I picked the seeds out of my fruit? I guess I should count my blessings. Most food poisoning I've heard of involves puking your guts out for a week."
"John, you almost died," she reminded him quietly, her eyes intent on the fluid inside her cup.
Crichton balanced the purple on his knee and reached over to remove one of her hands from her cup, squeezing it. He waited until the Sebacean looked at him before he replied. "But I didn't, did I? I almost lost my mind, sure." He released her hand and picked up the purple again, studying it. "There is a God up there, Aeryn, and he has a very sick sense of humor," he continued bitterly.
"Some say that loss is the hardest emotion to deal with," she remarked, glancing out of the window at the starscape.
Crichton felt the ends of his mouth form into a small smile in spite of his dark mood as he recognized his own words. "Do they, Officer Sun? I thought that showing pain was a sign of weakness on your world," he retorted, his tone harsher than he intended.
"We're not on my world, John, and you are not a Peacekeeper." She sipped her drink. "Besides, you're not very good at hiding your feelings."
He couldn't argue with that. "I'm not in the mood to talk about it, Aeryn."
"No, you would prefer to talk to someone who can't answer you," she replied, indicating the recorder still clenched in his left hand.
Crichton opened his mouth to disagree with her, but found he didn't have anything to counter her words. He had the distinct notion that he would soon be tasting a large dose of his own medicine. "And how does our resident Peacekeeper suggest I deal with my emotions?"
She flinched slightly at his sarcastic tone. "You could start by telling me what's really bothering you."
"What's bothering me? I think that's obvious," he replied petulantly, refusing to meet her eyes.
"I don't think that it is. Yes, you're upset because of the dream. You're upset because you went home, again, and it wasn't real, again. But there's something else bothering you, isn't there?"
He looked up and stared wide-eyed in astonishment. Was this the same bad-assed, feelings-are-for-wimps Peacekeeper who'd accidentally hitched her way on-board not even a year ago? She smiled slightly, as if she knew she had breached his defenses. He sighed and shook his head, trying to gather the jumble of his thoughts.
"In my dream, I got to pick up where my life left off when I went through the wormhole: no Crais, no fire-spitting froggies, no psychopathic non-corporeal vampires, no commune of blue people with a loose grip on reality, and no intellent viruses. The only Peacekeepers were those appointed by the UN in the Balkans and pulse rifles were only used in scifi movies. There was no Uncharted Territories, no pregnant leviathans, no Luxan hyper-rage." More quietly, he added, "No you." He swallowed over a small lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. "My best friend and I were just a couple of rocket scientists trying to solve the mystery of space travel, and our biggest worries were funding grants and IASA politics.
"And you know what I found out?" he asked, raising his voice. "I don't fit in there any more. I'm not the same person who took Farscape 1 into orbit to prove a theory." He stared blankly out the window, his exhaustion suddenly weighing on him like an anvil. "I've seen too much."
"Did you expect to be the same?" she asked, her head cocked slightly to one side.
"It's not that. I know I've changed. I couldn't have survived out here if I hadn't." He paused, trying to put his vague fears into words. He remembered his dad's words on the beach shortly before he returned: A father can tell. "But when I go back home, if I find a way home, what if I don't fit in there any more? What if I've changed too much?" He tucked his recorder back into its pouch on his belt and spread his left hand over the warm surface of the window. "What if the more that Moya becomes home to me, the less my real one can be?" He faced her again, almost pleading with her. "What happens when this place is no longer alien, and I miss it when it's gone?" In a rush, he swung his legs over hers and pivoted so that his back was to the stars. "Where is my home then?" he whispered.
Aeryn put her cup down and turned so that she sat by his side, their shoulders touching. "What was that human expression you used once? 'Home is where the heart is?'"
Crichton snorted to cover his surprise. He made a mental note to ask D'Argo if all Sebaceans had photographic memories. He considered her question as the silence between them stretched. "What if my heart is in two places?" he ventured.
She looked at him, questioning.
"When I was home, all I could think about was how empty I felt knowing this place wasn't real. I finally got my wish, my 'dream-come-true' you could say, and all I could do was mope because I wasn't here. Talk about pathetic," he scoffed.
Crichton took one of her pale hands in his, palm facing up as he traced the lines that ran across it with his other hand. "I thought about you, wondering if you were real or not, hoping that you existed somewhere even if Moya was just a delusion." He glanced sidelong at her face. Her gaze was transfixed on their joined hands. "I couldn't stand to think that you weren't out there happily dominating the lesser races."
She made a face. "I don't think I could go back and pick up that life, either."
"Even if you could go back before Moya and start over again minus the 'irreversibly contaminated' part?"
Her eyes searched his for a moment. "Our lives are not in the past, John. None of us could go back, not that way. Not even D'Argo, I think. I suppose we are all 'irreversibly contaminated'," she added with a smile.
He turned her hand over and laced his fingers between hers. "Irreversibly contaminated, huh?"
"Then what happens down the road, if I ever make it to Earth?"
"I think you will construct your future, on your own terms," she replied. "It seems that it's rarely what we expect, anyway."
He turned to face her completely. "When did you get so smart, Aeryn Sun?" he marveled.
"I believe it started when I began associating with lower life forms," she answered, squeezing his hand.
Crichton laughed, feeling his dark mood abating. "Thanks, Aeryn," he said, releasing her hand and touching the side of her face as he rose to his feet. He stood there for a moment, frozen by his ambivalence. As tired as he was, a large part of him longed to continue sitting in the deserted dining hall with Aeryn, watching the stars and philosophizing. Another part of him dreaded the thought of closing his eyes to this world for fear of waking up somewhere else.
"You should sleep," she prompted, with a twinge of regret. "Zhaan said that returning to your regular sleep rhythms would help you reorient to life aboard Moya."
"I'm not tired," he lied, still unable to move. "I'm not so sure I want to sleep right now."
Aeryn stood and positioned herself directly in front of him. "Are you afraid?" she asked with no hint of challenge or reproach.
"I little, I guess," he admitted. "I can't help but worry that if I close my eyes again..."
She put a finger to his lips, silencing him. "Moya will be here and so will I." She turned and walked towards the door. "Come on," she urged, offering her hand.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Yeah, Aeryn, right behind you," he replied, taking her hand.
They walked in silence to his quarters, his exhaustion weighing heavier with each step. When they arrived, Aeryn deftly entered his lock code and ushered him inside. He briefly wondered how she had learned his code, but he wasn't certain he wanted to know. Besides, he didn't have the energy to press the issue. Crichton removed his tool belt and hung it across one of the spines of the improvised "coat rack" that stood near his door. He swiped the door control with a lazy movement, then crossed the room to stand in front of Aeryn, who regarded him with an unreadable expression. As on many other occasions, he wished that he could read the Sebacean woman better.
"Thank you," he said after a moment.
"For what?" she asked, looking up at him.
"I don't know. For taking care of me. For making sure that the bed bugs don't bite and all that," he replied, not bothering to edit the human expression.
"Is that what I'm doing?" Amusement drew her words out, making them sound like a drawl.
"Well, I'm not so afraid anymore," he commented as he leaned into her space so that his face was barely an inch from hers. He placed a hand on her shoulder, brushing the bare skin lightly with his thumb.
"You're welcome, then," she answered, touching her forehead to his. He closed his eyes as an electric warmth coursed through his body from the point of contact, momentarily energizing him. Brief seconds later they parted, leaving him slightly dizzy.
"You need to sleep now, John," she said, capturing the hand that rested on her shoulder and leading him to his bed. He sat down and she crouched in front of him, helping him remove his boots. "I'll show you a new exercise routine tomorrow before the morning meal, but only if you rest now," she promised as she pulled one boot off and started on the other. Under other circumstances he might have found the image of Aeryn undressing him for bed… intriguing, but right now his exhaustion was overwhelming.
"What if I dream?" he asked as he swung his feet into bed and maneuvered under the cover. &&&&&&Aeryn sat on the bed beside him. "Then you dream. But when you wake again, it will be in this place," she replied, brushing the short hair near his temples with her fingertips. Her light touch soothed him, making it increasingly difficult to keep his eyes open. "Stop fighting it, John. Sleep." He felt her pull the blanket to cover his shoulders.
"Pleasant dreams," she whispered as he slipped into oblivion again.
~ Epilogue ~
"Hey, buddy," sounded a familiar voice in the mist.
A part of Crichton's mind registered that leviathans were rarely misty, but it didn't set off any of the usual alarms in his mind. He found himself in the maintenance bay staring at Aeryn's Prowler and his now-clean module behind it. A figure jumped from the canopy of Farscape 1 and landed with a less than graceful thud. "DK?"
"Wow, Bro, this is pretty sweet," his friend enthused as he took a slow circuit around the Prowler. "I'll bet she's ten times sexier in the air than she is on the ground."
"DK, what the hell are you doing here?" he asked, feeling impatient.
"Just visiting," he replied, not taking his eyes off the alien fighter. "I hear that this baby's pilot is pretty hot, too."
"I'm dreaming again, aren't I?" he asked, a knot of fear swelling in the pit of his stomach.
DK climbed on top of the Prowler's wing, peering inside the cockpit. "Yeah, a dream," he answered distractedly as he hunted for a better view. "Damn, what kind of tinting grade do these Peacekeepers use on their glass?" he muttered in frustration.
"I don't think it's glass," Crichton noted as he climbed up the opposite side and released the canopy.
"Thanks, Bro." DK dropped into the cockpit and scanned the controls, running his fingers over the Sebacean markings. "An engineer's nirvana," he marveled.
"DK, I really need some straight answers here," Crichton pressed, annoyed. His friend continued to examine the cockpit, unperturbed by Crichton's tone. "Is this some sort of relapse? Is this dream like the other one?"
DK looked at his friend and grinned. "Relax, John. You're not dying." He returned to studying the controls. Out of nowhere he produced a full-sized notebook and began sketching. "What does this one do?" he asked, pointing to a red triangular control.
"Don't touch that-" The rest of Crichton's warning was drowned out by a loud roar, which ended abruptly with a spray of sparks. "That activates the hetch drive, and it gets cranky if the engines aren't already engaged," he explained, batting smoke out of his eyes. Aeryn was going to kill him if DK fried the Prowler's hetch drive.
"Whoops, sorry!" DK climbed out of the cockpit and jumped to the ground. Crichton lowered himself from the Prowler wing and followed his friend as he headed for the module.
DK whistled in appreciation. "Love what you've done with her, John."
"I had to fix her up with biomechanoid technology after I ran out of fuel," he explained, unable to resist feeling a touch of pride for his upgraded module. His friend's enthusiasm was contagious.
DK inspected one of the biomechanoid appendages and squatted underneath the module to see how it was connected. "Is this part of the same drive that was on the other craft. What did you call it? Hetch drive?"
"Yeah. Careful, DK. There might be a live wire still active under there," he warned. "I had a minor snafu with incompatible alien technology before I was laid up and I haven't had a chance to fix it yet."
"But it works? I mean, usually?"
"Yeah. She's now faster than anything we have back home, and she can even escape planetary gravity in most places. I use her on supply runs sometimes, but Moya's transports are more practical and a lot less conspicuous."
"It's unbelievable what you've done with her, man. She's still the Farscape module we designed, but now she can do all these things we never even dreamed about. She's the best of both worlds."
"The others think she's an odd antique," Crichton groused. "Top of the line Earth tech, but out here she's nothing but a primitive."
"Maybe so, but she's adapting," DK noted, looking at his friend pointedly.
Crichton realized suddenly that they weren't talking about his module anymore. "Yeah, I guess so."
"Promise me one thing, John."
"Sure, DK. What?"
"Bring her back in one piece. I can't wait to see how she's changed."
"I'll do my best, Bro," he replied, a strange sense of peace washing over him.
"And bring that other one with you while you're at it. I'd love to see her in action," he added.
Crichton started to answer, but his friend was no longer there.
Another voice echoed in his mind. "Crichton?" He looked around but couldn't locate its source. "John?"
He opened his eyes to find Aeryn's worried face hovering above his. She smiled. "Good morning."
Crichton scanned the room, recognizing his few belongings. His room. He looked back at Aeryn, still disoriented.
"I promised to wake you so we could exercise," she reminded him. She leaned back to allow him clearance but remained squatting at his bedside.
Crichton sat up in bed, pushing the gold blanket aside. "I'm home."
"As I said you would be when you woke up," she replied, her expression softening for a moment as she touched his face lightly. "Come on," she urged, standing up. "Get dressed so we have time to complete our workout before the morning meal." She eyed him critically. "Unless you'd prefer to languish in bed all day," she added, her harsh tone belied by a flash of a smile.
"I think I've had enough of laying in bed," he answered truthfully.
"Good," she shot back and headed towards the door. "I'm glad you're back," she said tentatively over her shoulder as she activated the door control.
Crichton smiled. "It's good to be back where I belong."