AUTHOR'S NOTE: Please be advised that this story was written and posted a full three weeks before the air date for HUMAN REACTION. Any similarities between the two stories is pure serendipitous coincidence; any discrepancies are purely the fault of the author of this piece. Can I help it if great minds think alike ......?
"Pilot, you're sure about those readings?"
"As sure as I can be. This phenomenon has never been very well documented. But according to everything available in Moya's data banks, yes, it is accurate."
John scanned the data one more time, as if trying to convince himself he really was reading it correctly. A wormhole - a stable wormhole. And right here in front of them. He could feel the grin starting, despite the 'rattlers' in his stomach. Now to find out where it went ...... He murmured something under his breath that Pilot barely caught and couldn't make any sense of, and laughed.
"Thanks, Pilot. Log and save this, and make sure the coordinates are recorded. I'll be back soon." John exited at a near-run, and his whoop of delight echoed in the corridor. Pilot just shook his head over the vagaries of humankind, or at least this representative of it, and did as requested.
A few minutes later, Aeryn's voice came over the intercom. "Pilot, have you seen Crichton?"
"Yes, he was just here, but he left. He said something about jumping down a rabbit hole .... "
In the Farscape, John hovered at the mouth of the wormhole, trying to steady his breathing. Calm down, man, your fillings are starting to shake loose. Just take it easy .... oh, frell that! Let's ROCK! He pushed the engines to maximum and slammed into the vortex.
And entered, for what seemed an eternity, a nightmare realm, hell on a bad acid trip. Swirling around him, disorienting, frightening, seeming to pull him in all directions. Demons shrilled at him, reached inside him, and he bit back a scream....
.... as he came out the other side, into quiet, star-spattered space, black and silver and so calm. That calm seeped in and enveloped him, and he drank in the vast expanse before him.
Then he saw it, distant but clear, blue and green covered by wisps of clouds. He flew in closer for a better look. It wasn't his imagination. His sight blurred suddenly, and he realized he was crying. He was unwilling to blink the tears back , for fear that the vision in front of him would disappear, become a mirage. But it stayed, serene and beckoning. He gave awe-filled, tentative voice to the myriad emotions inside him, and they coalesced into one word:
"And of what interest is this wormhole to us? It's your home on the other side, not ours." Rygel, as usual, was bored with any discussion that didn't center around him.
"Rygel, behave yourself," Zhaan admonished, fixing him with a stern glare. The Hynerian subsided, and Zhaan continued, "What is it that you need from us, John?"
"I'm asking you all to buy me some time -- a few arns -- for a visit home, to tell my family that I'm alive."
There was a murmur of disbelief from his shipmates. Aeryn felt her mouth drop open and closed it with a snap, then asked, "A visit? You have a chance to go home - to stay - and you're not taking it?"
"I very nearly did - man, you'll never know just how close I came to waving this place goodbye in my rearview! But I couldn't - for three reasons.
"First, there's Crais. I'm at least part of the reason he's still after the rest of you - he might have given up the chase if he didn't want my head so bad. As long as he's out there, whether I'm with you or not, you won't ever be safe. He's just crazy enough right now to take you out for spite. I helped get him on your ass, it's my job to help get him off. Someone told me once - you don't desert an ally in battle." John met D'Argo's eyes, and watched surprise, then a slight smile form on the big Luxan's face.
"Second," he continued, "you've all been looking for home for a lot longer than I have. Maybe the reason I got slingshotted here was to help you find your way there. " He grinned ruefully. "I'd sure like to think it was more than Someone's idea of a big cosmic joke.... The wormhole is there, Moya has the coordinates, and Earth isn't going anywhere. At least, I hope it's not. Humans being what they are, I'm not sure they won't blow themselves to hell before I get back again. But I'll chance it.
"And third, and maybe most important - I have a tab to settle up. Zhaan, I owe you my life, literally. You saved me from Maldis. It cost you your priesthood, and almost cost you your sanity. I've made a downpayment on that debt, but I still have a way to go." Zhaan looked away, and John thought he saw a glimmer of tears in the Delvian's eyes. "D'Argo, you've always backed me up when I needed you, even when you thought I was acting like a - what did you call me? - a higher brain function deficient lifeform." D'Argo shook his head. "Rygel, you've negotiated us out of some really sticky situations - and into a few of them, too." The Hynerian snorted, but looked pleased - at least John thought he did; it was a bit hard to tell with him. "Aeryn, you went against everything you were ever taught and stood up for me with Crais. That took more courage than I thought could be possible." Aeryn looked away, pride and sadness warring on her face. "Pilot, Moya, without you I'd be a space popsicle somewhere, if not dissected on a table in Crais' lab. I owe all of you, big time. And I pay what I owe.
"What I'm asking for is a lot, under the circumstances. We're out here, no cover, and pretty much defenseless. If you can give me eight arns, that will be enough. And everyone has to agree to it. Zhaan?"
The priestess didn't hesitate. "Of course, John."
"Thank you. D'Argo?"
"You are asking us to take a big chance," the Luxan said, frowning.
"I know, but think of this: If you had a chance to find your son, and tell him you were alive, and that you loved him, what would you be willing to ask?"
D'Argo was silent for a long moment, then he nodded. "Agreed. But eight arns, no more."
"Good enough. Aeryn?"
"Well, it's a foolish risk, but since we're so close, I suppose it's all right," she said, trying to act disinterested and failing utterly.
John grinned, then turned to Rygel. "What about you, your Eminence?"
Rygel opened his mouth to veto the whole idea, then felt the weight of three other gazes on him. "Oh, all right," he blustered after a moment. "If you have to, I don't suppose we can stop you. But if we get retaken by the Peacekeepers while you're gone, I hope you can sleep nights!"
"Very gracious. Pilot, Moya, you're in on this, too, maybe even more than the rest of us. If you say no, I stay put. How about it?"
"Crichton, Moya says she has misgivings, but since she is beginning a family of her own, she believes she knows how you feel. She says yes."
John released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Thank you, all of you. I'll make it as fast as I can. Now, Aeryn, from you I need a really big favor."
"What?" she asked, immediately suspicious.
John couldn't suppress a grin. "I've got a hot date - can I borrow the Mustang?"
"Now, are you sure you can handle this?" Aeryn demanded, a worry frown growing deeper by the second between her blue eyes. "Because if you bring it back damaged in any way .... "
"I know, I know, you'll rip off my arms and beat me to death with 'em. Relax, you're a good teacher, and I'm a good student. I'll take good care of it, and hopefully it'll take good care of me."
"You were lucky the last time, you know. You could get halfway in and that thing could collapse on you."
"Well, look at it this way," John said, settling himself in the cockpit, "if that happens, you'll have me out of your hair permanently."
"Yes, but you'll be taking my ship with you!"
"Consider it a trade-off." Since time as John knew it didn't really exist out here, wearing a wristwatch had become more a matter of habit than anything else, but he felt semi-naked without it. He set the alarm function for seven hours. "Cinderella will be back home before the coach becomes a pumpkin again, promise. See you in a few."
Aeryn laid a surprisingly gently hand on his arm. "Just .... be careful, all right?"
John looked into her eyes, saw the concern, and knew it wasn't all for the prowler. She's come so far, he thought, it's really gonna be something to see how much farther she goes. "I'll do my best. You take care of things on this end, and I'll be back soon." He got his helmet in place, slid the canopy forward and watched Aeryn as she climbed down and left the landing bay. Please God, let me come back to see it.....
As he neared Earth, John activated the cloaking function on the prowler, This had been the main reason he had wanted to borrow Aeryn's ship in the first place - to be able to slip in and out unseen by Earth radar seemed like a really good idea. The last thing he needed was a couple of nukes aimed in his direction.
As far as where to land the craft, he knew of a patch of woods not too far from his old home, perhaps a half mile up the road. There was a clearing in the middle of it, and he and D.K. had spent many a summer night camped out in it, gazing up at the stars and making plans to visit them.
John smiled at the memory. D.K., brother in all but blood - the smartest move John had ever made in his life was pulling Jimmy Sorenson off him in a schoolyard fight back when they were both eight. Jimmy was twice D.K.'s size, but the smaller boy had been putting up a really good fight. It wasn't quite good enough, and he was getting the crap kicked out of him when John added his muscle to the fray. Jimmy was sent home with a bloody nose and the beginnings of a black eye, and John took D.K. home with him. They had missed the bus, so they walked and got to know each other. Along the way, John discovered that his new friend had no family to speak of - he had just moved into town, his mother wasn't very well, and his father had 'some problems'. The 'problems' turned out to be alcoholism and a tendency to use fists instead of words to make a point.
Nora Crichton fussed over her son's friend like a mother hen over a chick, got him cleaned and patched up, and got him a shirt and pants that John had outgrown to replace the ones that had been torn in the fight. They fit nearly perfectly. She called his mother and told her gently but firmly that D.K. would be staying to supper and spending the night. From that day on, he was an unofficial member of the Crichton clan, and John couldn't have been happier.
The clearing was isolated - the nearest house was the Crichton place, and the closest from there nearly a mile up the road in the other direction. John landed the prowler smoothly, shut down the engines, deactivated the cloaking, and climbed out. He shed the flight suit, put it in the back of the prowler, and headed up the road, reveling in the late afternoon sun and familiar sounds of birds.
He saw the house from the road, a bit more in need of a new paint job than the last time he'd seen it, but still the most beautiful sight he could imagine. There was Dad's truck - he refused to trade it in and get a newer model. He always said it was because the trade-in value wasn't squat, but John knew how much he loved that old Ford, babying it through every mechanical illness and fit of pique. It gleamed bright blue in the driveway, polished to a gloss, not a speck of rust on it anywhere.
John remembered when Mom had teased Dad about loving the truck more than her, saying she was going to file for divorce and name the truck as co-respondent. His reply - that at least the truck wouldn't ask for alimony if he got rid of it - nearly got him a frying pan upside the head. Then Mom saw the grin in Dad's eyes and started to laugh. It was the first time John had seen his parents kiss, and he knew, even as young as he was, that this was the way it was supposed to be between two people in love. It was a lesson he never forgot.
He mounted the steps to the front porch, tested the doorknob, and found to his surprise that the door was unlocked. Dad was a stickler for that - even when someone was home, the front door remained locked. No one could walk in unannounced. Mom and John were alone a good bit, and he worried for their safety. An alarm bell rang at the back of his mind, and he tried to ignore it, thinking it was an overactive imagination.
He walked into the entryway, and saw the living room blinds were drawn - another bad sign. Blinds were never drawn until it truly began to get dark out - that was his mother's rule, one that Dad always enforced. The last time he remembered the blinds drawn during the day was for a brief time, after his mother died. Dad had been doing his best to cope with the loss of the only woman he'd ever loved, but sometimes the outside world was just too much to deal with, so he simply shut it out for a few hours. The darkness lifted after a while, and life went on, and the blinds went up and stayed up.
Now they were drawn tightly against the invasion of the sun. John, worry plain on his face now, walked into the living room. The TV was on, but the volume was low, making little more than a quiet hum in the background. He walked around to the front of the sofa, and there was his father, stretched out on his back, hands folded over his stomach. John froze for a moment, watching him intently, praying without words that everything was all right. The steady breathing told him what he needed to know. But the alarm bells were really clanging now - John had never, in his life, seen his father asleep on the sofa. Jack Crichton had fought insomnia his entire life, and never napped during the day no matter how tired he was.
John's heart was in his throat as he knelt next to the sofa and watched his father. Jack Crichton had aged visibly since the last time his son had seen him - his hair was grayer, and there were new lines in his face. I haven't been gone that long .... have I? There was a newspaper on the floor and John glanced at the date. His mental calendar was accurate. He looked back at his father's sleeping face.
God, Dad, did I do this to you? Tears welled up unbidden and spilled down his face, wiped away with a trembling hand. I'm so sorry ....
Jack Crichton began to stir, and John fought the tears back. He did not want that to be his father's first sight of him. Several deep breaths, and he finally managed something that would pass for a smile on a good day. Under the circumstances it was the best he could hope for.
The face that Jack saw as he came up from slumber didn't particularly surprise him - he'd seen it often in his sleep, and sometimes shortly after waking, but after the first blink or two it always vanished. This time it didn't -- the short brown hair, the mutable blue-green eyes, the even features all stayed right where they were. And there was a voice laced with tears despite the smile: "Hi , Dad."
It took Jack a moment to find his own voice, and it came out in a barely audible whisper full of disbelief battling with hope. "J-John?" He tried again, and it came out stronger, the hope winning. "John?'
"Yeah, Dad, it's me."
The next thing John knew, he was enfolded in a bear hug, and he hung on for dear life, needing to make a memory that would last forever. He could feel his father's shoulders trembling , and suspected the older man was weeping silently, but he didn't want to pull away to see. He closed his eyes and let the love and joy wash over him.
After a long moment, Jack released his son, and John sat next to him on the sofa. Jack placed his hands on John's shoulders and looked at him searchingly, feeling the bone and solid muscle beneath his hands, and his brain still tried to deny the evidence of his other senses. "But... how ..." He shook his head and smiled. "Never mind, it doesn't matter right now. You really are here? I'm not dreaming again?"
The 'again' tore at John's heart, and he covered impending tears with a shaky grin. "If you are, it's one helluva dream, because I'm having it with you. As to how - well, that's a long story." I have to tell him sometime, might as well get it over with now. "And I haven't got a lot of time to tell it." At his father's puzzled look, John continued, "I'm not here to stay, Dad. I've only got a few hours."
"Well, that's part of the long story, and it's one I'd like D.K. to hear, too. Can you get him over here?"
"Actually, he might be on his way here now. He said something about stopping by this afternoon. I'll see if I can catch him at work. You know, you're being pretty mysterious, son."
"I know, Dad, and I don't mean to be. It's just that there's a lot to tell, and I know there's going to be a lot of questions, and if I don't have to go through it all twice, it'll save some time. And time is what I don't have a lot of right now. You'll understand when you hear the whole story. Bear with me on this, okay?"
"All right." Jack crossed the room to the phone, and John took a tour of the living room, fixing things in his mind so he would never forget them again. His memories of home were starting to get hazy, and he never wanted to lose them.
On the mantlepiece over the fireplace were a collection of assorted photos in frames. Some were older, some more recent. In one side of a book-style frame was a photo of John's mother Nora. On the other side was a photo from a few years ago of John, D.K. and Jack, taken by John's uncle shortly before the two younger men had started to work for IASA. He picked up the frame, running a gentle fingertip around the contours of his mother's face. So long ago .....
"She was beautiful, wasn't she?"
John looked over his shoulder to see his father looking at his wife's picture. "Yeah, she was," John agreed. He hesitated for a moment, then asked, "I always wanted to know - why didn't you ever remarry, Dad? I know you could have if you'd wanted to. Why didn't you want to?"
Jack was silent for a long moment, then said, "John, if you're lucky in this life, you find one person to really connect with. Sometimes you know right away, sometimes it sneaks up on you, but however it happens, you know it's forever. That person is the other half of you, and if you lose that person, you can never really be whole again. It makes life a little lonely sometimes, but I wouldn't change it. That's the way it was with your mother and me. From the minute we met, we knew we were two halves of the same whole. I thought for a while you found that with Alexandra, and I know how much it hurt you when she left, but maybe that just wasn't meant to be."
"Maybe not." John had put up a good front until he saw Alex off at the airport that last day, wishing her well and kissing her goodbye. Then several hours later Jack and D.K. had gone looking for him, hitting nearly every bar in town before finding him, drunker than he'd ever been and trying to pick a fight with a biker who had nearly six inches and fifty pounds on him. When Jack stepped between them, John took a swing at him. Jack took him out with one punch, D.K. apologized to the biker, and they took John home to sleep it off. John had the hangover from hell and a bruise on his jaw the next day, and didn't speak to either of them for nearly a week. But he finally got over his anger, and while he never forgot Alex, the pain receded and disappeared after a time. "Is it okay if I take these pictures with me?"
"Of course. I don't need a picture to remember her - or you." John slid the small frame into the inside pocket of his vest. "D.K.'s not at the office, I left him a message to call if he comes back. Like I said, though, he's probably on his way here...."
There was a sound of crunching gravel from outside, then the slam of a car door, and Jack grinned. "Speak of the devil, and look who shows up. Right on time, too."
A moment later, the door opened, and a familiar voice called, "Hey, Colonel, did you know you left the front door .... " The voice faded as John turned around to face his friend. D.K. stood stock still for a moment, color draining from his face in shock. He had no voice at all for a moment, then he finally breathed, "Holy God...."
"Not God, buddy, just me," John said softly, coming toward him.
"Oh, man .... " The bag DK was carrying hit the floor, and he nearly followed it . John leaped forward and got an arm around him just as his knees began to buckle. John and Jack maneuvered D.K. onto the sofa with John telling him, "Whoa, take it easy, man, don't pass out on me now!"
D.K. just stared at his friend as if he were seeing a ghost. But you could put your hand through a ghost - at least that was the way it always was in the movies. This 'ghost' felt pretty damn solid. It couldn't be, but it was, it had to be .... "John? You're.... but .... I thought .... how .... "
"C'mon, D.K.," John said, torn between laughter and tears, "you graduated top of your class at M.I.T. I know you can do better than that. Take a deep breath and calm down. I'm not going to disappear."
D.K. did as he was told, then tried again. "But the module - it disappeared - where'd it go? Where'd you go? And how did you get back here?"
"Well, like I told Dad, it's a long story, and since we're short on time, you're going to get the Reader's Digest condensed version." John sat in the chair next to the sofa, Jack settled in next to D.K., and the tale of the odyssey to 'somewhere else' began. John summarized as much as he could, but the telling still took more time than he would have liked. "So I borrowed the prowler, came back through the wormhole, and here I am. I'll fill you in on some details in a little bit, but I have a huge favor to ask first."
"Anything, you name it," Jack said.
"Could we get something to eat? I'm starving! You would not believe what passes for food out there. I've been dreaming of a pizza with everything on it for weeks now."
"You got it, bro! One garbage pizza, coming up!" D.K. could be counted on to know every fast food takeout franchise in the area, and have all the phone numbers catalogued in his head. "Found a new place last week that has killer pepperoni and the best sweet Italian sausage in the world. And the waitress - oh, yeah....." John and Jack exchanged amused looks behind D.K.'s back as he headed for the phone.
"I wonder what he'll think of the pizza if the waitress turns him down for a date," John said, grinning.
"You were wondering that, too? Well, I guess we'll find out just how good it is - or isn't. "
"Okay, it'll be here in about half an hour, " D.K. said, settling back in on the sofa. "So what was this about being short on time? You got a plane to catch or something?"
"Yeah, in a way, I do. I have to get back to Moya - that's the ship I've been on - in a couple hours. I hope I'll be able to come back soon, since I have a roadmap now, but right now, my staying is a really bad idea."
"You still haven't really said why, son. My God, you've been where no one from this world has ever gone. I can see why you'd want to go back, but why so soon?"
"First, you know the military mindset better than anyone. If IASA knows I'm here
they'll pull me in, and I'll spend the next six months in debriefing. After that, I'll spend the rest of my life as a glorified lab rat. Not to mention what they'll do to the ship I came in. That at least has to go back before I can come home to stay. The longer I stay, the higher the chances are of them finding out.
"And," John paused a moment, trying to figure out a gentle way to say it, and not finding one, "I've got a maniac after me who wants me dead in the worst way - literally. As long as Captain Crais is out there, my shipmates are in danger."
"Why is this ... Crais after you?"
"I killed his brother. Our ships collided when I came out of the wormhole. It was an accident, and I did everything I could to prevent it, but Crais' brother is dead, and he won't or can't believe that I didn't mean to do it. He's truly crazy, Dad - I've tried to reason with him, and all that got me was getting the shit kicked out of me. So I have to find another way to stop him. And it's not something I'm looking forward to, believe me. I have to go back to stop him, then I can come home. You're the one who taught me about responsibility, Dad. I know you understand that."
Jack nodded, a soft smile on his face. "Yes, I do, and it looks like I taught you well."
"Well, I'm not happy about it, but I understand why you have to go back, " D.K. said. "I'm just glad you're back, even if it's just for a little while. Now I can stop .... " He fell silent, becoming suddenly fascinated by the pattern in the throw rug under the coffee table.
"D.K., stop what?" John coaxed gently after a moment. "Talk to me, buddy."
D.K. looked up at his friend, and the pain in his gaze broke John's heart. "You don't know how many times I went over the data from the flight, trying to see what I did wrong. I knew it had to be something I miscalculated, something I didn't factor in, something I did that...that .... " His voice dissolved into tears, and he buried his face in his hands.
John slid off the chair, knelt next to his friend, and held him tightly, waiting for the wave to recede. After a moment, the tears slowed, then stopped. John loosened his hold and slid his hands up to rest on D.K.'s shoulders. "D.K., look at me." It took a moment, but the smaller man finally looked up. "Listen to what I say now, and I mean really listen. Nothing, repeat, nothing, you could have done would have changed what happened. It was a freak accident, a one in a million shot, and there was no way in hell you could have factored anything in to allow for that. You did not do this to me. Do you understand?"
D.K. swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes."
"All right." John rose and returned to the chair. "And it's not all that bad out there, really - when I'm not getting shot at, or beat up, or having flame spit at me, or something else unpleasant. I wish you could see the view from the terrace. It's like walking in space without a suit to block the view. A flat, open deck, nothing but stars as far as you can see, closed in by a force field I can't even begin to understand. I've been to some amazing places - Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury and the rest of them don't know the half of it. It's like the guy said - it's not only stranger than you imagine, it's stranger than you can imagine.
"Take Moya, for instance. I mean, a living ship - that's enough to blow you out of the water right there! And she's pregnant. There's going to be a little Moya ... well, not so little, I guess. That's incredible.
"And my shipmates are pretty amazing, too. I'm not gonna say I understand them most of the time - hell, they could say the same about me, I guess - but they're all good people who've been through a lot.
"Pilot's bonded to Moya, he doesn't really have any life apart from her, and it still turns my stomach when I think about his arm, but he just accepts what happened and keeps on keeping on. He's probably the most 'alien' one of the bunch, but he could give Job a run for his money in the patience department. And sometimes I even envy him a little, his link with Moya. I can see where that would be worth giving up a lot for.
"Rygel - I have to admit I don't much like the little weasel most of the time. I can see why his cousin dumped him off the throne. But if even half of what he says is true, no one deserves the hell he's been through in his life.
"D'Argo's family was destroyed by Peacekeepers - considering how much I look like them, I'm surprised he didn't just space me out the nearest airlock the minute he saw me. He's tough, and he's hotheaded, but he's also one of the most honorable men I think I've ever met. He's accepted me as an ally, if not a friend yet, and I'm proud of that. I wish you two could meet, Dad - I think you'd get along great.
"Zhaan I may never totally figure out - she's been around for over eight hundred years, and I have the feeling she's got more secrets than the CIA. I know a few of them, but it's like turning a sapphire in the light - every time you think you've seen all the facets, another one flashes at you. And the colors haven't always been pretty. I've seen what she can do, good and bad, and sometimes I'm not sure just which scares me worse.
"And Aeryn - she used to be one of Crais' officers, and now she's working with us. She's had her whole world, everything she knows, ripped out from under her, and she's dealing with it a whole lot better than I ever could. She was born and raised to be a soldier, and she's discovering how much more she can be. She's finding out she's smarter than she ever thought she was, and she can kick anyone's ass, including mine. That's a lethal combination in anybody's book." John grinned. "And I've gotta admit, she's not exactly hard on the eyes, either."
D.K. laughed. "Good thing you didn't bring her with you. I'd probably hit on her."
"Got news for you, buddy - you hit on her if she didn't want you do, she'd hit back - hard. You'd be spitting teeth for a week!"
Jack said, "I have to go upstairs for a minute. The pizza should be here soon. Why don't you boys go into the kitchen and I'll be right in."
D.K. and John went through the swinging door into the kitchen. D.K. got out plates and napkins, and John rummaged in the refrigerator for a moment, coming out with a can in his hand and a grin on his face. "Ah-hah! Knew I'd find one! Lord only knows how long it's been in there, but no one ever touched those but me."
D.K. looked at the can and grimaced. "Diet Dr. Pepper? I can see why. You're not really going to drink that with the pizza, are you? I'd hate to see good food ruined like that."
"Hey, indulge me, okay?" John popped the tab on the can and took a long swig, savoring the sweetness. "Man, I missed that! C'mon, let's sit down."
They settled in at the table, and John's face went deadly serious, with a tinge of worry. "How's Dad been, D.K.?"
D.K. shook his head. "Not good. At first, when there was still some hope that you were coming back, he was holding it together okay - well, as okay as could be expected anyway. Then as time went on, and especially here lately, he's been shutting himself off from everybody. I've been checking on him a lot, probably making him nuts, but I've been afraid to leave him for too long a stretch at a time. I've been scared of what I'll find the next time I come back."
John went suddenly cold. "You don't think he would have .... "
"No, never, it's not in him to do that. But it's been like watching a clock wind down and not having the key to start it back up." D.K. smiled. "I think maybe today you brought the key. I'm willing to bet he'll be all right now. I'm hoping he'll get back to being more like the guy that scared the crap out of me when I brought home that B minus in trig."
John grinned. "Oh, yeah, the winter of Barbara Zubansky. I remember that. Yeah, he wasn't real thrilled."
"My dad couldn't have cared less, but the colonel - he took a look at that card, and I thought sure for a minute there he was gonna rip me a new one!"
"Consider yourself lucky - if it'd been my report card, he'd have done it! And putting the fear of the colonel into you did the trick, didn't it? It was back up to an A again the next semester."
"I didn't dare bring home anything less - I'd've had to join the Foreign Legion or something to hide from him."
"Trust me, bud, he'd have found you."
The door swung open, and Jack came in, carrying a large flat box. "So what are you two yakking about in here?"
D.K. and John exchanged a glance, and John said, "Trigonometry grades and girls named Barbara. And man, does that smell good!
"Well, don't let it get cold, dig in."
John detached a thick slice of the pie, bit into it, and his eyes closed. "That," he said, after the bite went down into a grateful stomach, "is a wet dream with cheese!"
D.K.'s voice cut through the blissful haze as if from a distance. "Uh, John? Should we just leave the two of you alone for a while?"
John opened his eyes to the amused expressions on his companions' faces, and felt himself blush furiously. Bad enough to say something like that in front of your best friend, but in front of your old man - jeez! "Well, now that I've thoroughly embarrassed myself, are you two just going to sit there, or are you going to eat?"
"Oh, come on. You used to be able to handle a pizza this size on your own."
" 'Used to' is the operative term here. My stomach's not used to this stuff anymore. If I hurl all over the prowler's cockpit, I don't even want to think what Aeryn would do to me. So come on, help me out with this."
The others needed no further urging, and within a few minutes the box was empty of everything except a couple scraps of crust and some grease stains. "That was terrific," John said as he gathered up the box and napkins and D.K. cleared away the plates. "Beats the hell out of food cubes, I'm telling you. I don't know what those are made of, I'm not sure I want to know, but I swear they all taste alike. Kinda like tofu crossed with sponge rubber. So come on, you two, get me caught up here. What's been happening while I've been gone?"
"Well, I guess we can start with your memorial service," D.K. said, amazed to find himself grinning. "You'd have been proud, John - everybody was there, even that jerkoff from engineering that kept sniffing around trying to figure out what we were doing on the Farscape. You couldn't throw a brick without hitting a general or two, and it don't think it was all photo-op time either. And about a week later, I got out the schematics for the module, and I went back to work. I knew you'd kick my ass if I didn't get it together and get busy again. "
"Damn straight I would have!"
"It was hard, but I kept at it, and I think I've got some really good modifications for the next version. Next time you come back, I'll show them to you, see what you think."
"I bet they're great - you always were the idea man. That's something I wanted to talk to both of you about. You need to keep working on the new Farscape, and Dad, I need you to help him with it."
"Me? I can tinker, but I can't design. What could I do?"
"D.K.'s the builder. You're the pilot. You're going to need to pick each other's brains to make it work again. And it did work - it worked by accident, but by God it worked! I want it to work again. Who knows? Maybe I'll see you out there one day soon. Promise me you'll work together."
"If that's what you want, son, we'll do it. All right, D.K.?"
"Works for me, Colonel. Just don't get to ragging me too bad about the way my desk looks, okay? It's a mess, but I know where everything is on it. "
"I'll do my best."
"Good enough." John's face grew thoughtful. "I wish to God I could take both of you back with me, but the kind of life I'm leading right now, I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy some days, let alone the two people I love best in the world. I'm used to it - hell, I think I'm even starting to like it, how's that for sick? - but I'd never ask you to share it. Someday, maybe, but not yet. If anything ever happened to either of you, I ... man, I don't even want to think about that. " John glanced at his watch and sighed. "And I'm going to have to head back. I need some travel time. "
"John?" D.K. asked almost shyly. "D'you suppose I could see this prowler of yours? Sounds like a kick-ass piece of machinery. And it might just give me some more ideas."
John laughed. "I don't know if you'll understand the mechanics of it any better than I do, but sure, I'd love for you to see it. Care to give us a lift in the truck, Dad?"
A few minutes later the three of them were at the clearing, and D.K. was swarming all over the prowler, as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. "This is amazing! Man, I wish I'd brought something to write with!"
"Hang on a minute, I think I've got a pad and pen in the glove compartment," Jack said, heading toward the truck.
When he was out of earshot, John said, "D.K., do me a favor."
"I know I don't really have to ask, but - look after him for me. I think you're right, I think he's going to be okay now, but keep an eye on him anyway. He'll never admit it, but he needs you."
"That's okay, I need him, too. But I'll never take your place."
"Who says you have to? You've had your own place since the day I dragged you home. That's why he landed on you about your grades, and pushed you to take that scholarship to M.I.T., and generally did the dad thing with you. "
"I know. I didn't like it much at the time, but I do know what he was doing. He just wanted the best for me, and I'll always love him for that. I'll look after him as much as he'll let me, but he can be ornery as hell sometimes."
"Don't I know it. Do the best you can."
"Okay. Now, what does this thing do?"
Jack reappeared after a couple minutes with the pad and pen, and D.K. scribbled notes furiously for a few minutes as the other two looked on. Jack was fascinated - a veteran pilot, he'd seen some pretty sophisticated aircraft. But even he had never seen anything like this vehicle, and the grin on his face made John's heart sing. His father was going to be all right .
Finally D.K. slowed down, tearing the sheets off the pad and handing the pad and pen back to Jack. "That should keep me busy for the next few months. This is way cool, John! Thanks so much." He gave them both a grin. "I - ah -- I think I'm gonna wait over by the truck." He gave John a hug. ""Bye, buddy, and take care of yourself out there. Come back soon."
"I'll try." D.K. headed toward the truck, smiling and looking over the notes in his hand.
"I don't remember the last time I've seen him so happy," Jack said.
"Hey, it's not every day an engineer gets to play with a ship from somewhere else. He's in hog heaven. Keep an eye on him for me, Dad, will you? You know the kind of trouble he can get into if you don't rein him in now and then."
"Oh, yeah. Seems to me I had to bail him out of it a time or two. Every time I look at him, I see you, and I see the potential that could have been wasted, and thank God wasn't. He's made me mad more than once, but he's never disappointed me. Neither have you." Jack hesitated for a moment, then continued, " I don't know if I ever really told you that - guess I always just figured you knew. Then after you .... well, I wished to hell I'd had more time."
"I think I always knew, Dad, even if I was too stubborn to see it sometimes."
Jack smiled. "Stubborn runs in the family, son - on both sides. I swear, there were times when your mother would take a notion into her head, and you couldn't shake it loose with a jackhammer. And I can be just as bad. Guess I can't fault you for what you inherited." He reached into the prowler and pulled out the flight suit. "You'd better get ready."
Jack helped his son into the flight suit and made an unnecessary adjustment on the collar. "That looks fine on you, John. Oh, almost forgot." He reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small box, handing it to John.
"What's this?" John asked as he began to open it.
"No, don't open it till you get back to your ship. That's an order."
Now who's being mysterious? "Yes, sir." John slipped the box into a pocket on the flight suit. "God, I hate to leave."
"You come back when you can, we'll be here. In the meantime, you have a job to do. Get out there and do it. Show 'em what the Crichton men are made of."
"I will." Jack pulled his son in for one last embrace, then stepped back, drew himself up to full attention, and snapped a salute, one officer to another.
John was stunned for a second, unable to move. Jack Crichton's respect was something that was not given easily - it had to be earned. Any last lingering doubt John may have had about his father's feelings vanished forever in that instant. He returned the salute, pride glowing in his eyes. Not trusting his voice to speak out loud, he mouthed the words, "Thank you."
Jack turned and walked out of the clearing, and John watched him go "God, K'halenn, whoever's listening out there, please keep them safe for me," he whispered. Then he climbed into the prowler, kicked the cloaking on, and began the journey back.
Once out of earth radar range, John turned off the cloaking and aimed toward the wormhole. Even knowing what to expect inside it, he still had to fight down a feeling of dread, as if he was waiting for his luck to run out any second and be lost forever. But the stability held once again, and he came out the far end of the wormhole to see Moya, shimmering in the starlight. She truly was an incredible vessel, and he was a very lucky man to get the chance to live on her. Maybe things did work out the way they were supposed to, even if you couldn't see it at the time. He smiled and took the prowler in.
John guided the prowler into the landing bay and glided to a smooth stop. A couple of the DRDs were doing minor maintenance in the bay, and one waved its antennae at him. "Hey, little fella, how ya doin'?" John grinned. All things considered, if he had to be stuck in the uncharted territories, there were worse places to be.
John started to undo his flight suit, then remembered the box in his pocket. He reached down, pulled it out and opened it. A medal winked up at him, and John's breath caught in his throat. His father had been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal after his second moon walk, and John had been present at the ceremony. His mother had helped him read the words on the commendation: 'for exceptionally meritorious service to the United States while assigned to a joint activity in a position of unique and great responsibility'. John didn't know what all the big words meant, but he knew it was a great honor, and was so proud of his father he didn't stop grinning all day.
And now the medal winked up at him in the light of the landing bay, the gold circle with the spread eagle suspended from the blue, gold and red ribbon. John just stared at it in amazement for a moment, then his heart swelled with pride and gratitude. Closing his eyes, he whispered, "I haven't earned this yet, Dad, but I will. Swear to God I will." He opened his eyes and looked at the medal for another moment, then closed the box and carried it in his hand as he headed for command.
He walked into command to find D'Argo arguing with Rygel. The Hynerian was hovering just out of D'Argo's reach. "So are we supposed to remain here until he deigns to grace us with his presence? Who knows where he is? I say we leave now before anything happens."
D'Argo growled, and if looks could kill Rygel and his floater would have been a molten mass on the floor. "I said we would wait eight arns. We will wait!"
"And just who gives a vorkel's backside what you have to say, Luxan? He's always been a waste of air and food cubes, and we'd be better off without him. We're targets sitting out here - why are we putting ourselves at risk for him?"
D'Argo made a grab for the floater, and Rygel flew nearly to the ceiling. "Ha! You've tried that before, and it didn't work the last time either! Now is anyone else going to come to their senses and take us out of here?"
Aeryn and Zhaan started to protest, and John interrupted, laughing. "Whoa, hold the phone, big guy, Elvis is in the building. Gotta say one thing about this place --life around here is never dull. "
"Well, you certainly took your time!" Aeryn snapped, the irritation in her voice belied by the relief in her eyes.
"Hey, you all agreed eight arns, and I made it back, didn't I? Okay, so I cut it a little close, but I'm here, and now we can leave."
"How was your visit, John?" Zhaan asked. "Was your family well?"
"Great - fantastic - better than Dutch apple pie." John knew he was grinning like a fool, but he couldn't stop himself. "I'll fill you all in later, but .... "
Pilot's image shimmered in. "Sorry to interrupt, Crichton, but you should all know that the sensors are picking up the signature of a Peacekeeper vessel. A command carrier."
John's grin vanished. "Crais?" He crossed to the ops console, setting the box with the medal on the edge of it."
"The ship is at too great a distance to determine that at this point."
"See? I told you we waited too long!" Rygel fretted.
"It does not matter who it is! It is a command carrier, that is enough," D'Argo said. "Pilot, take us out of here, now!"
"No, Pilot, wait!" John overrode the Luxan, and the big warrior stared at him in frank disbelief. John's mind was racing at light speed, and the thoughts were making him colder by the nanomoment. "The wormhole - if they find it, they can use it, just like I did. And Earth - oh, God, if they get through to Earth! After what we've seen, after what they did to Skykar .... "
"Skykar had no defenses. Your world is fairly primitive, but surely your military.... " Aeryn began.
"Would put up a good fight, but how many people would die in the process?" He felt the panic rising in him. "And if that cruiser brings in reinforcements, my world is dead! My people are dead! My fam - " He broke off, unable to even contemplate the horror of that thought. He clamped down on it, hard, and pushed it firmly to a corner of his mind. "We have to close the wormhole."
"An explosion should disrupt the stability enough to make it collapse, but it would take a pretty good-sized one. "
"That's impossible!" D'Argo said. "Moya has no weapons, nothing capable of generating that kind of power."
John's hands were gripping the edge of the console so tightly his knuckles were white. He knew the solution to the problem, and he would cheerfully have sold his soul to have it come out differently. "Moya doesn't ... but I do. Pilot, how long till we're in range of their weapons?"
"At current rate of speed, 540 microns."
Twelve minutes - if the carrier didn't speed up. "All right, Pilot, tell Moya to get ready to starburst on my signal. We're going to have to make a break, and we'll have to make it fast." He headed for the door, and the set of his jaw made Aeryn nervous in a way she couldn't define.
"John, what are you going to do?" He didn't answer. "John?"
He stopped at the doorway and looked back at her. The raw pain in his eyes made her flinch. In a voice she barely recognized he said, "Earn it."
In the maintenance bay John looked at the Farscape, his 'baby' that he'd spent nearly every waking hour for two years getting off the ground. He felt tears stinging his eyes, but he took a deep breath and forced himself to run on autopilot. If he allowed himself to think about what he was doing, his resolve would vanish and he'd never be able to finish. And he had to - Dad and D.K. were counting on him.
The new biomechanoid additions to the Farscape had given the module some unique capabilities. It essentially now had a 'brain' - it could be programmed to take off, fly and land autonomously without any pilot involvement. The theory was that, if the occupants were injured or otherwise incapacitated, the ship could get them to their destination safely once coordinates were programmed into the 'brain'.
And the retrofitted engines were far more powerful than the old ones, but they did have one drawback. If they were run at full power for more than a specified amount of time, the plasma cores would rupture and the whole module would go up like a small nova. Full power was meant only for short term emergency bursts. A slight fraction of a reduction in power was all that was needed to keep them running safely for an indefinite period, and the danger zone was clearly marked and alarmed. John had once timed the interval between running the engines and the alarm warning as 180 microns, and Pilot had told him there was a lapse of about 45 microns between alarm and overload, according to the specs.
John worked feverishly, acutely aware of every micron that ticked by. He had Pilot read off the coordinates of the wormhole's entrance to him, and did some rapid calculations. It was going to be cutting it very close but there was no choice. He programmed the 'brain' and listened as the engines powered up with a quiet hum. He set them for full power, jumped out, and watched his dream take off, the shining white bird that had served him so well. And it would serve him one last time.
He watched as the module headed unerringly toward the wormhole, and Pilot's voice broke in. "Crichton, the command carrier is now close enough to identify. It is Captain Crais' vessel, and it is increasing speed. It is now hech nine .... ten .... eleven. We will be within range of their weapons within 45 microns."
C'mon baby, make it in, he pleaded silently. He watched the module enter the wormhole, then felt the ship rock. Crais wasn't waiting to get into range, he was trying target practice now, and it was close enough to be felt. He yelled into his comlink, "Everybody hang on to something. All right, Pilot, NOW!"
Moya starburst just as the first full volley from the carrier came toward them. Her defense shields held, but the double impact slammed John to the floor of the maintenance bay, giving his skull a good crack. He was stunned and disoriented for a moment, then as full consciousness came back, so did full knowledge of what he had done. The wave of bleak desolation flooded over him, and he buried his face in his arms, too shattered even for tears.
Aeryn came to the maintenance bay after asking Pilot for John's location, and found him full length on the floor. "John, are you all .... oh, no!" she breathed as she saw the blank spot where the Farscape had stood.
She knelt next to him and was almost afraid to touch him, he was so still. "John, are you injured?" No response, and she felt the worry build to panic. She took him by the shoulder. "Crichton, answer me!"
John raised his head and slowly sat up. Aeryn felt the relief wash over her, then saw the blank numb stare in the blue-green eyes that looked past her to the empty space in the bay. "Crichton, look at me," she demanded, keeping her voice as steely as she could. "Look at me!"
He obeyed slowly, but there was no recognition, nothing but the gaze of a man who had looked into hell and found his heart there. Aeryn took him by the shoulders and shook him. "Crichton, wake up!"
He blinked and actually saw her for the first time. His mouth moved, but no words came out for a moment. Then finally he whispered, "I wish I could, Aeryn. Jesus, God, I wish I could ..... "
Some time later, safely away from the Peacekeepers, Pilot contacted John in his quarters. "I checked the coordinates as you requested, Crichton. There does not appear to be any sign of the anomaly left in that area."
"Thank you, Pilot." John sat on his bunk, looking at the photos he brought from home, tracing the lines of the faces he'd probably never see again. He tried not to think about it, but the ache renewed itself with each breath he took. Dear God, how it hurt ....
"May I come in?" said a voice from the doorway.
He looked up to see Aeryn, and hesitated a moment before saying, "Yeah, sure."
The door slid aside and she entered with a small box in her hand. "I found this on the floor in command. It must have landed there when we starburst. I couldn't help opening it. Is it a decoration of some sort?"
"Yeah, my dad's."
"Is he a soldier?"
"Sort of. He's a pilot in our military, like I am ... was."
"Is that him in the picture?" John nodded and handed the frame to her. She smiled softly. "You look very like him, you know. And this is your mother? And the friend you told me about?" He nodded again, not trusting himself to speak. Aeryn put the box on the bedside table next to John and looked at the photos again. "So was it worth it?"
Was it? His future a cipher, his dream up in flames, and his only way home destroyed. Then he thought of the faces of those he loved, thought of the sights, sounds and smells of his home. Dad and D.K. were safe now, and so was Earth. In the great cosmic scale, it more than evened out.
"Yes," he said after a long moment. "Yes, it was."
Aeryn handed him back the frame. "Then consider it a tradeoff."
He looked up and saw the neutral expression in her blue eyes. Well, I suppose it would be asking a lot of her to actually understand .....
Aeryn turned to leave, then said over her shoulder, "Not that it makes it any easier."
John watched her go with a look of wonder on his face. "I stand corrected."