DISCLAIMER: This broadcast is the property of the National Football League and any re-broadcast...OOOPS. The characters and situations in Farscape are not mine, I'm just borrowing them.
TIMEFRAME: Shortly after Jeremiah Crichton. Hint: Aeryn is still upset with John.
ARCHIVING: Go right ahead. As I have said before, since I get only ego satisfaction out of this, it's fine with me. (Secret subliminal message for fanfic archivists: Buy Dad a beer!)
The face I saw behind me in the mirror was straight out of my worst nightmares. All bulging yellow eyes, fangs and claws. He put his hands on my shoulders and twitched the fabric of the cape a bit. "Yes, Lord Peacekeeper, notice the fine drape of the fabric. You are fortunate to have the form to wear such a garment." It was nice to see that salesmen were the same throughout the Universe.
I let people assume I was a Peacekeeper for the most part now. If I explained that I was a human, that got us into a discussion on the differences between humans and Sebaceans and that would stick in people's minds. And it might still be in their minds when the Peacekeepers or bounty hunters asked about us. A pair of loose peacekeepers were a little less memorable.
We had been on the same nameless planet for over a weeken. We had agreed to transport what my translator microbes called either a religious pilgrimage, a college debating team, or possibly a professional sports team to the next planet. But first, they wanted to finish their current debate. Each day their leader came over to talk to Rygel. He would tell Rygel that they still weren't ready and Rygel would insist that we were losing huge amounts of money waiting for them. They seemed to have plenty of money and were happy to pay Rygel, and us, to wait for them. As long as Crais didn't show up, that was fine. As soon as he left, Rygel would be dancing with glee. If you haven't seen a Hynerian dancing with glee, it's indescribable.
Our future passengers, about a hundred strong, were holding their debate in a wooded glen just outside of the town. Zhaan, Chiana and Rygel usually went to watch. Zhaan because she enjoyed the debate, Chiana because none of us trusted her out of Zhaan's sight and Rygel because he hoped to drag the debate out and make more money. D'Argo stayed aboard Moya and fumed about the time we were wasting that could be spent outrunning Crais.
The down side of our new found wealth, was that we were stuck on a planet with almost nothing to spend our money on. The town, as it was called, looked like something out of a Western movie. Hastily slapped together buildings, wooden sidewalks and muddy streets. It contained a population of a few thousand who were here at the crossroads of two minor trade routes to make some money and get off the planet to someplace better as soon as they could. I think it would have been described as unspoiled by an Earth tourist guide. That is, no other tourists. I thought that might also translate as dirty, disorganized and dangerous.
I turned to Aeryn. "How do I look?"
She glanced at me. "That thing makes you look ridiculous, Crichton." Then she glanced away.
I had apologized to Aeryn as soon as I had gotten back from Acquara. She had accepted the apology, but things weren't the same. As strange as our relationship had been, I found that I missed it.
I smiled at her. "You are fortunate to have the form to wear such a garment, Peacekeeper."
She looked like she was about to say something unpleasant. I quickly added, "I just mean you look nice in your new outfit." She had bought a new one-piece coverall. It was all pockets and loops. And it was all black, of course. "Come stand by me, Aeryn. Please?"
She walked over and stood by me, looking in the mirror. I took out a red scarf I had bought and tied it around her neck. I pulled the knot to the side of her neck so the ends hung to the side. Aeryn reached up and centered the knot at her throat. I reached around to move the knot again, but seeing her look, decided against it. "It looks nice, Aeryn. It adds a bit of color to your outfit. Actually, we look a little like the Phantom and Christine."
"And who are they? Friends of yours, or more human references I don't understand?"
"No and yes. They're characters in a musical called the Phantom of the Opera. It's a work of fiction set to music."
That got her attention. To the very short list of things I knew about Aeryn Sun, I had added the fact that she liked music. She had asked me to help her with her Prowler a while ago. The job of Dr. John Crichton was to look at a diagnostic readout and tell her if a yellow light started blinking. After several arns of looking at a blank readout, I got bored. I started singing an old Elvis song and I must have sung it a dozen times with Aeryn right above me in the cockpit. She didn't say a word about the song and eventually we were done and went to dinner. But the next day, having gotten away from the bridge early, I went down to see if Aeryn still needed any help. Just before I entered the hangar, I heard her singing.
Have I told you lately that I love you,
Can I tell you once again somehow,
Have I told you lately that I love you,
Well, Darling, I'm telling you now.
I was amazed to find that Aeryn has a beautiful voice. I came into the hangar, about to congratulate her, when she saw me. She gave me one of her patented Crichton-if-you-ever-mention-this-I'll-make-you-wish-I-killed-you looks and stomped off.
What little I knew about Peacekeeper music was that it was big on how sweet and proper it was to die for the cause, with the occasional song about volunteering to spend a few extra arns on the firing range. I could see where human music might interest Aeryn. So, the next day, being careful to have Zhaan around, I started singing while I worked with Aeryn. Aeryn said nothing, but seemed to pay attention to the songs. I'm sure it wasn't my singing voice she was fascinated by. She even asked a few questions about the meaning of some lyrics.
So, as we stood facing the mirror, I lifted the cape up and enfolded Aeryn in it. She didn't look happy, but she didn't hit me or try to get away and I started singing.
Heightens each sensation,
Darkness stirs and wakes imagination,
Silently the senses abandon their defenses...
I stopped in shock. Someone was singing along with me and it wasn't Aeryn. I tore the cape off and threw it at the salesman. I was out the door with Aeryn right behind me. "It's to the right," I yelled to Aeryn. I ran into the next store and looked wildly around. There on the counter was a creature that looked like a teddy bear crossed with a raccoon. He was about three feet tall and very rotund. He kept singing,
Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams,
Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before.
I took a step and tripped over Aeryn's foot. As she helped me up, she whispered, "Let me do the talking." I saw why, behind the singer was a humanoid that looked like he was constructed out of orange marshmallows.
Aeryn looked at the singer. "I told you, it is a pikadon. This animal is native to the Paarfe system. They have multiple larynxes and a huge lung capacity for their size. In the wild, they use their skill to imitate an entire band of predators to scare their enemies off. Those that are sent off world are taught songs or stories to amuse their owners."
I don't know where Aeryn got that un-Peacekeeperly bit of information, but it impressed me, and the salesman. "Most correct, Honored Peacekeeper. This excellent creature can sing many fine songs that will help you wile away the long hours between the stars."
Aeryn snorted. "Does he know any Peacekeeper music? I didn't recognize that, whatever, he was singing."
Mr. Orange smiled. " As far as I know he knows only those lovely exotic songs from a far away world, but I'm sure you can teach him..."
Aeryn cut him off. "From his markings he's been an adult for some time. We won't be able to teach him any new songs. What is his price?"
Mr. Orange absolutely glowed. He knew a potential customer when he saw one. "I could part with him for a mere 20."
Aeryn grabbed me and headed for the door. "I'm sorry, I thought you were a businessman and would make a reasonable offer. I was obviously mistaken."
I started to complain, but Aeryn twisted my wrist and all that came out of me was a small yelp of pain. Just as well I didn't say anything. Aeryn must have been taking bargaining lessons from Rygel.
Mr. Orange smiled again. "I suppose I could give you a small discount for all the help the Peacekeepers have been to our planet."
Since he was still alive and his town wasn't in ruins, I suspected that the Peacekeepers had never been to this planet, but that started the negotiations. A quarter of an arn later, we were the proud owners of a pikadon for 13. Mr. Orange told us that because of his generosity, he and his wife and many children would doubtlessly soon starve. If you believed that, I'm sure he had a large bridge to sell you. Aeryn replied that by overpaying him, she would be deeply into debt with the loan shark on her ship. Mr. Orange leered at me. I think he thought I was the loan shark and he was imagining how I would collect the interest.
Owning Jukebox wasn't like having a home entertainment center. He could mimic human voices closely enough, and he did all right on strings and woodwinds, less so on percussion instruments and brass. Instead of the full cast and orchestra of The Phantom, he was more like two singers and a small combo. But it was my kind of music.
Just before we left, Aeryn casually asked where he had gotten the pikadon. "From a trading captain who is in port. I don't recall his name, but he resembles you. He's usually over at the bar."
Outside, I put the pikadon down. In spite of his approaching starvation, the shop owner had thrown in some blue and white grapes to feed our new pet. "Here you go, Jukebox. Lunch."
Aeryn gave me a familiar look. "And what is a container for jukes?"
"A jukebox, Aeryn, is a human machine. You put money in and music comes out. With Jukebox, here, you put food in and music comes out. "
"That's not all that comes out when you put food in an animal, Crichton. Be sure you clean up after him. Now let's check the bar and try to find that captain."
She started to down the wooden sidewalk toward the bar, just as Jukebox started on the Eagles.
I like the way your sparkling earrings lay,
Against your skin so brown,
And I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight,
With a billion stars all around.
Aeryn was halfway across the street and glaring at me. I picked Jukebox up and hurried after her. "I know, Jukebox, no earrings, her skin isn't brown and if I tried anything under even one star, she'd probably kill me, but I still miss the old Aeryn."
The bar needed no other name as it was the only game in town, so to speak. It had probably once been a barn from the size and smell. It was not the Star Wars Cantina. No bizarre aliens and no music. Just a lot of shabby, but well armed, humanoids clustered together in groups. Aeryn motioned me towards a booth near the door. "Sit over there and if anyone looks like they know our friend, don't let them get away. And let me do the talking, Crichton. I'll ask the bartender if he knows anyone who has had a pikadon for sale."
That was the old Aeryn: Go over there, don't say anything, but if an armed alien looks like he might once have known Jukebox, keep him from leaving, but again, don't say anything.
As I sat down, I found myself looking at a familiar face. She came over and sat down next to me. "So how are you Commander Crichton. Long time, no see. And, I see you've bought my pikadon. If I'd known you were interested, we could have made a deal."
"Hello, Staanz. So you're the captain who sold the pikadon here in town." Just then, Jukebox started singing.
Hey, hey good lookin'
What you got cookin'
How's about cookin'
Somethin' up with me.
While Jukebox continued with Hank Williams, Staanz put her hand on my knee and started to edge it up my thigh. "You know Commander, I do get lonely...."
The rest of the line was cut off by a muffled shriek from Staanz, followed by, "Officer Sun. I didn't know you were in the vicinity."
Aeryn smiled at Staanz as she sat down at the other end of the booth. Staanz was now between us. "I'm sure you didn't. But how clumsy of me, I seem to have accidentally twisted your finger. Here, let me look at it."
Staanz started edging away from Aeryn, keeping his hands away from her. Then remembered she was edging towards me and decided to stay very quietly between the two of us.
That was my cue for the good cop-bad cop routine. "Now, we don't want to be a problem, Staanz. We just need to know where you got our little friend here. Tell us and we'll be on our way."
Staanz grinned at me. "I wouldn't like people to know that I talk about my customers, you understand. That can be bad for business, even for a garbologist."
One thing about Aeryn, she is the perfect bad cop. She grabbed Staanz's hand and just looked at it.
"Then again, you are friends, right. Almost family. Now you didn't hear this from me, but I got the beast at the camp of Ular of the Traveling People. They have a camp on the big peninsula in the Kabberran Sea. You can't miss it. But remember, I never said a word. You won't tell, right?"
Aeryn let her hand go. "Staanz, don't worry about the Traveling People. If we have to come back to visit you, you won't even think about your fingers."
We loaded ourselves in Aeryn's Prowler and headed for the Kabberran Sea. On the way, Aeryn briefed me. "The Traveling People are thieves and smugglers and anything else that will make them the most money with the least effort. Be careful and let me do the talking, Crichton."
I grinned at Aeryn, "We should have sent Rygel and Chiana. They'd fit right in." I almost got a smile back from Aeryn.
The Uncharted Territories always manages to surprise me. I thought Staanz's ship was the only mobile garbage pile in existence. The Travelling People's ship was even worse. It actually looked like about six ships connected by piles of junk. Aeryn pointed to the people running around on the ground and grinned. "They're trying to hide all of the things they don't want Peacekeepers to see. It's a shame I don't have a squad with me." Ah, Peacekeeper nostalgia.
The Traveling People were very human-like. Every one seemed to be armed and some of their weapons wouldn't have looked out of place on Earth. However, the Traveling People apparently have quite a tradition of hospitality. We sat in a large room in the ship on a threadbare carpet and Ular introduced all of the males to us. The women, while present, weren't introduced. Next, we were served some engine oil with lumps of grease in it. A local delicacy, I'm sure. I took a swallow and tried to look happy. That was a mistake. My cup was promptly filled to the brim again.
Then Aeryn and Ular started a long and insincere conversation. Aeryn asked if the Traveling Peoples' trading was going well. Ular assured her it was and inquired if the Peacekeeper protection of convoys was doing well. Aeryn assured him that pirates, smugglers and other miscreants would soon be a thing of the past in this area. Ular pretended to be thrilled. As Aeryn and Ular talked, I watched the woman sitting next to Ular. It was his wife, I guessed. Now there was a woman who could give Aeryn Sun scowling lessons. She seemed to be particularly interested in me. She glared at me and muttered to another woman behind her. I decided she was probably asking if they still had the recipe for Peacekeepers a jus.
Just then, Jukebox started singing: Suddenly, just for a second, I was back watching Miami Vice on Friday nights.
The sailors and the pilots,
The soldiers and the law,
The payoffs and the rip-offs,
And the things nobody saw,
Doesn't matter if it's heroin, cocaine or hash,
You always carry weapons,
'Cause you always carry cash,
A lot of shady characters,
A lot of dirty deals,
Every name's an alias in case somebody squeals,
It's a losing proposition,
But one you can't refuse,
It's the politics of contraband,
It's smuggler's blues.
The Traveling People didn't recognize the references to Earth in the song, but they knew what it was about. I'm sure they were wondering if the big, bad Peacekeepers had come to put them out of business or muscle in on their business. Hands started to stray near the butts of pistols and rifles shifted positions. Aeryn took it right in stride. "That brings us to our mission here. A reliable informant has told us that this animal was purchased here. We need to know who you got him from."
That should take care of Staanz. Nobody would describe her as a reliable anything.
Ular looked at his people and then smiled. "We did have the animal here. But it was purchased by one of my nephews outside of the Fortress of the Joontan. Normally, I would not send anyone to the Fortress of the Joontan, or any other place of sudden death, but since you are Peacekeepers, I'm sure it will be no problem."
I hoped that didn't mean it would be no problem because someone else'd kill us and leave him in peace, but I was sure that was the case. Then Ular gave us detailed directions on how to get to the Joontan's happy home. For the first time Aeryn looked interested in this mission. Jane Wayne and her comic sidekick were going to call on the local sociopaths. I wondered if Earth was worth this.
Aeryn and Ular started assuring each other that each had enjoyed this little get together. Ular was probably as happy to see a Peacekeeper as he would be to have his feet catch fire. Aeryn probably liked Ular as much as she liked me and Rygel. Suddenly Ular's wife started whispering to him and pointing to me. I was sure she asking him if they had a cooking pot in size 42 long. Ular looked uncertain and whispered back at his wife. She snarled at him and said something the translator microbes didn't catch. She probably needed to know if peacekeepers were high in cholesterol.
Ular gave me a phony smile. "Oh Lord of the Peacekeepers. My wife wishes to talk to you, but it would not be proper for one such as yourself to speak to a mere woman. However, I can speak to you for her, if that is acceptable to you, Sir." I glanced at Aeryn and she didn't look like she was going to explode, so I nodded to Ular.
"Noble Peacekeeper, my wife wishes you to know that Captain Sun is, even for a Peacekeeper, a most beautiful, intelligent and courageous woman. You should be honored that she has chosen you as her mate."
I glanced again at Aeryn. She sat perfectly still and didn't say a word. "Please tell your wife that my life has not been the same since Captain Sun entered it. I doubt if it will ever be the same again. I am reminded every day of how lucky I am to even be near her."
Mrs. Ular had the soul of a romantic poet. She smiled from ear to ear and looked like she was about to cry from joy.
Aeryn and Ular finished their good-byes and we walked back to the Prowler. We were about half way there when Aeryn turned to me, "Crichton..."
I was ready for her, "I know. If I ever tell a soul that you are Mrs. Captain Aeryn Crichton to Ular and the Traveling People, my life will be over. Is that about what you had in mind?" She didn't say a word, but turned and headed for the Prowler.
No sooner had we gotten off the ground and Jukebox started up again. He had gotten some fruit of some sort from the Travelling People and was now in full voice.
Jeremiah was a bullfrog,
He was a good friend of mine,
I never understood a single word he said,
But I helped him drink his wine,
Singing, joy to the world,
All the boys and girls,
Joy to the fishes and the deep blue sea,
Joy to you and me.
"Crichton, what is a bullfrog?"
"It's an aquatic animal, Aeryn. It's about the size of your forearm when his legs are extended, maybe longer."
Aeryn sounded puzzled. "And humans drink wine, alcohol, with these animals?"
"No, actually we don't."
"Then for some reason humans would like to be able to drink alcohol with bullfrogs?"
"No. I don't think any human has ever wished he could drink with a frog." I decided I'd best leave the whole princess kissing the frog thing out of this before Aeryn got even more confused.
"And humans also worry about the happiness of fish, another aquatic animal?"
"Aeryn, the song is just silly. It doesn't mean that people are going to actually do any of the things in the song, it's just funny to humans to think about drinking with frogs and making fish joyful."
"Crichton, humans are..."
"I know Aeryn, humans are the most bizarre creatures you have ever seen."
I could see her stiffen. "I was going to say that humans are quite imaginative." I tried to apologize, but she busied herself with some control an ignored me.
The Fortress of the Joontan was everything I expected. A dark, forbidding castle out of Hollywood by way of Transylvania. I expected to see Count Dracula on the battlements or Kevin Costner trying to sneak in disguised as a peddler. At least a sign saying, "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here."
We marched right up to the gate and Aeryn pounded on it. "Peacekeepers to see the Joontan. Open up, now."
They opened up, now. They were waiting for us. There were four soldiers and a rather obese fellow in a dirty robe. The soldiers were of four different species, and wore four different, but equally shabby uniforms. Their weapons looked as worn as their uniforms. None of the soldiers looked like they could cause Aeryn to work up a sweat, but this was a big fortress and we didn't know how many there were.
I shouldn't have worried. Aeryn was her usual diplomatic self. "I want to see the Joontan, right now, you yotzes." The soldiers looked like they would be happy to do anything to get us out of their hair, but Dirty Robe wasn't buying any.
"Do you have an appointment?" It's nice to know that bureaucrats are the same throughout the Universe. Aeryn advised him she had a written invitation inside the barrel of her pulse pistol. Since she was trying to insert the pulse pistol into his left nostril, he must have had a good view.
Once inside, we turned sharply right and went down a narrow passageway. On the inside wall were firing slits. If we had to leave the way we came, the passageway would be a deathtrap. I mentioned this to Aeryn. She assumed her I-will-now-talk-to-the-human-moron expression. "Of course it has firing slits, Crichton. This is a fortress. What do they have on Earth in fortresses? Slits for showering your enemies with scented blossoms?"
We were led across a courtyard with more dirty, disheveled soldiers loitering about, and into the main building. Inside was the biggest humanoid I had ever seen. He must have been 8 feet tall and weighed at least 500 pounds. He looked human except for two tusks growing out of his lower jaw. We stopped and waited for him to say something. I got the feeling that Tusker would probably not be a brilliant conversationalist.
"Well, get out of the way you dolt. How do you expect me to see my guests?" The voice was female and sounded young. Tusker moved to the side of the room. The Joontan was lounging on what must be her throne. She looked to be about sixteen, with long red hair and bright green eyes. A very well developed sixteen year old. She stood up and approached us. She only gave Aeryn a glance, and stopped in front of me. She was wearing a triangle of cloth tied at one hip, and a rectangle of the same cloth around her neck and hanging to her waist. From the sheerness of the cloth, her movements and the occasional breeze, she left nothing to the imagination. I revised my guess at her age upwards by about twenty years.
Jukebox picked this moment to start up.
If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me,
If I swore you were an angel would you love me like the devil tonight.
If I were dying of thirst would your flowing love come quench me,
If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?
She obviously took the song as an invitation. She walked around me and started exploring me. She looked and touched everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. I looked over at Aeryn hoping for some guidance. Aeryn was ignoring us. I took this to mean that, as a Peacekeeper, I should handle being publicly groped with stoic acceptance. I did the best I could. As Jukebox finished the song, I was getting the impression that the Joontan was probably into whips and chains and abusing wandering humans.
Finally, I growled at her. Well, hanging around Aeryn has given me some useful skills.
The Joontan clapped her hands and smiled like a child on Christmas who has a whole set of new toys to break. "I have never had a Peacekeeper lover, before. This will be a most exciting day and night."
Aeryn interrupted her. "When this day ends you will still not have had a Peacekeeper lover. We're here on business and don't have time to waste. This animal," she pointed to Jukebox, "was sold here. We need to know where you got him from. Tell us and we'll be gone."
I doubt anyone had ever talked to the Joontan like that and certainly not in her own fortress. I found myself praying that the Peacekeepers had a particularly bloodthirsty reputation on this planet. The Joontan looked like she couldn't control her rage for another microt and Aeryn looked bored.
Score one for the Peacekeepers. Joontan stomped back to her throne and slammed herself into it. "Sheeban, where are you, you worthless...."
Old Dirty Robe appeared from behind a pillar. "Yes, Perfection? I exist to obey. You need but command me." There was no doubt who scared Sheeban the most. Then again I saw him watching Aeryn, too.
"Tell these two where that frelling animal came from and get them out of my sight. No, get them out of my sight first, then tell them where you got that beast. Then get back here."
Sheeban didn't look like a happy camper, but he took us into the courtyard and told us that Jukebox had been taken in payment of taxes from a small village on the edge of the Joontan's territory. He gave us directions and then headed back inside. I could still hear the Joontan and didn't envy him.
As soon as we were outside, I stopped Aeryn. "Why didn't you stop the Joontan. She almost had me undressed in there and ,and, and other things."
Aeryn turned on me. She was angry, but she made an obvious effort to calm herself. "And how did it become my responsibility to speak on your behalf? Why didn't you tell the Joontan to stop?"
"Because you're always telling me to let you do the talking. You always have to be in charge, and I always have to be the one following orders."
"Crichton, did I tell you to let me do the talking when we saw the Joontan? Did I say one word that would have led you to believe that you couldn't tell the Joontan to stop any time you wanted? And besides, you looked like you were enjoying it."
Now I was angry. "What! I most certainly was not enjoying it. Not one bit."
"I said you looked like you were enjoying it."
"Well when I'm not enjoying myself, I look exactly like I'm not enjoying myself. Exactly."
Suddenly Aeryn didn't look mad, but I wasn't sure what her expression meant. "Crichton, I'm not an expert on human expressions. I don't know if you're enjoying yourself or not. I don't understand why you say or don't say things. I don't know why you do or don't do the things you do. All I do know is that I have found you perfectly capable of telling a woman that you are sick of her and leaving. I have to assume you could do the same to the Joontan." With that Aeryn turned on her heel and strode to her Prowler.
By the time I got myself and Jukebox to the Prowler, Aeryn had the engine running and we were off the ground before I was in my seat. I tried to apologize to Aeryn again, but she had done something to the engine, and it was so loud she couldn't hear me. I turned to Jukebox. "Would some Sinatra been too much to ask for? Old Blue Eyes? Maybe "Fly Me to the Moon," or "My Kind of Town"? Why that song?" But Jukebox was busy pawing through my pockets looking for food. Not finding any, Jukebox gave me a disgusted, disapproving look and turned away from me. At that moment I knew Jukebox was the female of her species.
The village we were sent to was about as depressing a place as I had seen, on Earth or in the Uncharted Territories. The people were dirty, hungry looking, sickly, dressed in rags and terrified of us. The buildings, if that was the right word, were branches woven together. They didn't look like they would hold out the wind or rain at all.
The village headman approached us. "Peacekeeper Lords, we abase ourselves before you. We have done nothing wrong. We will assist you in all ways. Speak and it is yours."
Aeryn gestured to Jukebox. "We have been told that this creature came from this village. We are trying to find out how he got to this planet."
The headman turned and grabbed a young girl, "Oh worthless imp, you have brought the Peacekeepers to us. You will be punished severely for you actions." The headman turned back to us, "We will punish her severely. You can watch if it pleases you, or if we are too unskilled, you may punish her yourselves."
Aeryn cut him off. "No one will be punished today. Can the girl tell us how she got the animal?"
The girl was pushed forward by the rest of the village. She looked as terrified as the rest of the people, but she was able to tell us she had gotten Jukebox from the crashed ship and agreed to lead us there.
Aeryn walked up behind me. "The ship crashed landed about a third of a cycle ago. It wasn't too badly damaged and the crew was hardly injured. The girl was the first person to get here and became friendly with the crew. She became their guide for the area. One of the crew gave her Jukebox as a gift."
I turned to her and gestured towards the wreckage, "So how did this happen?"
"Sheyangs. They landed and killed the crew. Then they looted the ship of anything of any worth. From what I can see here, and the girl's description, this was a merchant cruiser. A fast, long range, well armed ship, used for opening new trade routes The crew was apparently made up mostly of Delvians and some other long lived species. A perfect crew for a mission that would last for tens of cycles. They would have entered Earth's solar system and monitored your communications and studied you to see if you had any trade possibilities. Apparently, they didn't find Earth attractive. One crewmember apparently liked your music and taught it to Jukebox. If we knew more about the ship, or the crew, or the owners, or ..."
I laughed without much humor. "We can't exactly leave the Uncharted Territories and hope Crais and the rest of the Peacekeepers won't notice us while we play Sam Spade." Aeryn didn't bother to question the Earth cultural reference. "The songs Jukebox knows are at least 20 years old. How fast could this merchant cruiser go?"
Aeryn shrugged. "If I had to guess, I'd say at least four times as fast as Moya."
I laughed again, with no humor. "So, if I take off in Moya for 80 years, and I pick exactly the right direction, I might find myself back home in time to die, if I'm lucky. Thank you Aeryn for the help, but I think we're done. You really have been more of a help than I deserve."
Aeryn actually looked a little embarrassed. "We're shipmates, John. You'd do the same for me and have done as much in the past." And then Aeryn Sun smiled at me. Not her most radiant smile, but a very nice smile, none the less. And she had called me John.
I noticed the little girl was chewing something. Aeryn caught my look. "I gave her the candy you bought for me in town. The food you said tasted a little like chocolate. It was a perfectly proper military decision, Crichton. She assisted us and should be rewarded. The next time we need help from these people, they'll remember this and be more helpful."
It tasted a little like chocolate if you had a good imagination and were desperate, but I hadn't told Aeryn that. "You want us to be on good term with villagers we'll never see again from a planet we'll be leaving soon. These people also believe we're Peacekeepers. So, the next time some Peacekeepers drop by asking questions, you want our friends to be cooperative. Is that it?"
Aeryn tried not to look uncomfortable. "I wouldn't put it that way."
I smiled at Aeryn. "When we get back to town, I'll buy you some more candy. As a matter of fact, I'll take you to dinner tonight to the best restaurant in town."
Aeryn looked severely at me, but I could see the glint in her eyes, "You mean you'll take me to the only restaurant in town. The one that overcharges us for overcooked meat and undercooked vegetables? This is my reward for helping a shipmate. A shipmate who probably would still be admiring himself in that ridiculous cape if I ..."
I let Aeryn talk on as we all got back in the Prowler. Back at the village Aeryn pulled out a case of food cubes she kept in the Prowler and her emergency medical kit and gave them to the headman. I took out my wallet and gave him all the cash I had.
Once we got away from the joyful crowd and back into the Prowler, Aeryn turned to me. "And how are you going to pay for my dinner tonight? You gave all your cash away, Crichton."
"No problemo, Aeryn. I'll get a loan from Rygel. He's always happy to help a fellow shipmate out financially."
Aeryn snorted. "Help you out at the rate of 10% interest per day, you mean. His Lowness will own you inside a weeken."
"You're worth it, Aeryn."
She turned and gave me her Aeryn-lights-up-the-Universe smile. It was nice to have things back to abnormal with Aeryn Sun.
Aeryn didn't get her dinner that night. When we got back, our passengers were ready to start boarding, and it was all Rygel's doing. He had gone to the debate and thrown in a question about transubstantiation of the ethereal, hoping to keep the debate going. Zhaan explained it to me twice, and I still have no idea what that means. But inside five minutes, one side was conceding defeat and both sides hailed Rygel as the greatest philosophical mind in Hynerian history. Hail Prince of the Obvious. Rygel was heartbroken, of course. And a heartbroken Hynerian is indescribable.
By the time I got to done with loading our new passengers and was ready for dinner, Aeryn had gone off on some errand for Pilot. I got a tray of food cubes, a bowl of water and went back to my quarters for Jukebox. I took her to the Terrace and let her eat. As she was starting to sing, I saw Aeryn in the doorway. I motioned for her to come sit by me. Jukebox was doing Elvis.
Are you lonesome tonight,
Do you miss me tonight,
Are you sorry we drifted apart,
Does your memory stray,
To a bright summer day,
When I kissed you and called you Sweetheart?
Aeryn Sun, ex-Peacekeeper and now-fugitive must have been lonesome. She sat beside me, closed her eyes and leaned against my shoulder. John Crichton, ex-IASA astronaut and also a fugitive, was lonesome, too. I put my arm around Aeryn and pulled her to me.
Jukebox finished and started another song. Since it was a duet, I joined in.
Oh, my love, my darling,
I hunger for your touch,
A long lonely time,
And time goes by so slowly,
And time can do so much,
Are you still mine?
I need your love,
I need your love,
God speed your love to me.