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This is fanfic. I don't own any of these characters (save one) or anything else having to do with 'Farscape'.
Rated PG-13 / mild R - depending on how graphic you picture things to be
Spoilers: minor ones for "Premiere," "They've Got a Secret," "DNA Mad Scientist" & "Family Ties"
Notes: This is set some indeterminate time in the Farscape future. I wrote this after getting requests to expand on "Alternate Universe Short #1," most of which has been recycled here. Like 'AUS#1' some of what's here is based on personal experience. Yeah, it's shippy, but that's not the point.
Thanks to my beta readers: Kare (powrhug), Elisabeth (fallen_angel66) & Kara Stern
Archiving: If you want it - just ask me.
John Crichton was in a blue funk. His up and down relationship with Aeryn Sun had taken a sudden plunge once again. She had been studiously avoiding him now for almost two weeks.
No explanations, no nothing - as usual, he thought to himself as he sat on Moya's terrace, staring at the stars. One day she's the loving, passionate companion, the next she's the Ice Princess with a Pulse Rifle. I don't think I'll ever understand her.
He heard the door opening and closing behind him. The heavy footsteps gave the intruder's identity away.
"Hey, big guy," he said to D'Argo, not bothering to turn around.
"Am I disturbing you?"
"Nah, not really. Pull up a seat if you feel like it."
Sometimes I don't know what I'd do without you, D'Argo, he mused as the imposing Luxan sat down beside him. He had learned that, once given, this Luxan's friendship was as unwavering and wholehearted as his warrior's allegiance. Aside from the fact D'Argo had saved his life more times than he could count, John had come, oddly enough, to rely on his advice regarding women, or, more precisely, one Sebacean woman. Aeryn and D'Argo's murdered wife Lo'Laan's shared heritage had helped strengthen the bond between them in more ways than he had ever imagined it could.
"She's avoiding you again, isn't she?"
"Yep. Roger that."
D'Argo shook his head. There seemed to be no end to Crichton's human slang. He doubted he would ever grasp even a tiny fraction of it. But his friend was in pain, so he would overlook this bizarre comment about Roger, whoever he was.
"I was working with her down in the maintenance bay yesterday. She is not looking well. Rygel tells me that his inventory of our food stores indicates that someone has not been eating much for the last two weekans. That is how long this current spat has been going on, am I right?"
"Yeah. But it's not like our little Peacekeeper to skip meals, no matter what's troubling her. You said she didn't look well?"
"She seemed even paler than usual. Her scent was different. She also complained that the smell of the compound we were using to lubricate the joints of the pressure suits we were working on made her nauseous. It has never done that before. She even excused herself at one point and I believe she went to the nearest waste processor and threw up. I could still smell it on her when she returned. She denied it, of course." D'Argo looked John in the eye. "Frankly, I am worried about her."
"Did you ask Zhaan if Aeryn's been to see her about anything?"
"Yes, and that's why I came looking for you. Zhaan said she couldn't discuss it with me. She looked concerned. I believe you need to find out what is bothering Aeryn before it gets any worse. You know how she is about hiding ailments and injuries. I don't think these symptoms and her avoiding you are a mere coincidence."
"Thanks for the info, good buddy," John said as he rose to leave. "Pilot, where's Aeryn right now?"
"She has asked me not to give you that information if you request it," his disembodied voice answered.
"C'mon Pilot, we're worried about her. Where is she?"
There was a brief silence.
"Aeryn is in her quarters with Zhaan at present. Please do not tell her I gave you this information."
"O.k., Pilot, it'll just be our little secret, thanks," John answered as he left the terrace.
He hurried to Aeryn's room, concerned that she might leave before he got there. He arrived to find her hunched over the waste receptacle, coughing and spitting. Zhaan was leaning over her, holding her long hair up away from her face.
"John!" Zhaan exclaimed, seeing him in the doorway.
"Tell him to go away!" Aeryn demanded before her body heaved again.
John ignored her and came over to take Zhaan's place. Together they helped Aeryn up and led her to her bunk. Her skin was covered in a thin sheen of sweat that plastered strands of her hair to her face. He also noted that she was trembling as Zhaan wrapped her in a blanket.
He knelt down beside her and gently brushed some of the hair from her face. Her eyes seemed to be pleading as she looked at him. She looks frightened, he thought.
He turned to Zhaan. "I've never seen her like this before. What's wrong with her? Is it serious?"
"No, John, we don't think it's serious," Zhaan answered. "It comes and goes. Aeryn should get better over the next few weekans."
Weekans? What the hell is up?
"See," she added. "Her color is already beginning to come back after that last episode." Indeed, John noted, Aeryn was already looking better. She had also stopped shaking and managed a wan smile as she reached over and took one of his hands in hers.
"I'll be alright in a few microts," she told him weakly.
"But you still haven't told me why she's sick," John said to Zhaan.
Aeryn and Zhaan looked one another in the eye for a moment, something John realized he had never seen them do before. "He should know," Zhaan told her. Aeryn nodded.
"John, Aeryn is pregnant."
John's mind raced. He suddenly felt faint and sat down on the floor. He caught his reflection in a panel on the wall - a rather stunned looking man returned his stare.
"H... h... how..." he stuttered.
"I guess my contraceptive implant gave out prematurely," Aeryn told him.
"How long have you known?" he asked.
"Aeryn came to see me two weekans ago after her first bout of sickness," Zhaan answered.
John could only sit there, dumbfounded.
"I think I'll leave you two alone for a while," Zhaan said, exiting with her usual grace. "Call me if you need me, Aeryn... or John."
After a few minutes John finally found the muscular stability to sit up by Aeryn's side. He looked down at her prone form. So vulnerable, he thought. He realized with a start that he had never thought of Aeryn in that way before. I guess a lot of things are about to change.
"Aeryn... I... I don't know what to say."
"Say you're happy about it. I am," she said, smiling broadly at him.
"You are?" There was a tone of disbelief in his voice that turned her expression serious.
"Yes, I am, John. Please tell me you are too."
"That's all I needed to hear. If you're happy, then I'm ecstatic."
Her smile returned. He's always thinking about me; caring about me, about what I want.
He took one of her hands in his and kissed it. "And I love you, Aeryn Sun. Now please tell me why you've been hiding from me since you found out."
"Aeryn," he cajoled. "No more walls, remember? You promised me."
She brought his hand to her cheek. "At first I wasn't sure I wanted it. Then I was worried you'd be angry with me... that you wouldn't want it, or me anymore. I know it wasn't rational. I know you love me but I was still so scared. I also didn't want you to see how sick I've been. I didn't want to hurt you."
"Hurt me? How?"
"I thought that if you knew why I was sick you'd blame yourself and feel guilty." She sat up and looked down at him. "It is your fault, after all," she said, feigning anger.
"And you're right, I do feel sorta guilty about it," he responded, surprised by his own feelings. He rose to sit beside her and put an arm around her. "I wish I could be the one who's sick instead of you."
"You males get all the breaks," she said, still pretending to be irritated. "But thank you for being so sympathetic," she added, kissing him on the cheek. "I'm sorry for being such a piece of dren about this."
"That's o.k. Back on Earth pregnant women are known for being overly emotional."
She smacked him on the shoulder. "Thanks a lot."
She paused for a moment, looking at him thoughtfully. "I guess my secret's out."
"I think it's safe to say that everyone on board will know within an arn," he answered with a chuckle. "D'Argo will be so thrilled."
She rested her head on his shoulder and they sat holding each other silently for a while, simply enjoying being together once again. Eventually Aeryn noted the bemused look on his face. "What are you thinking about?" she asked.
"What are we going to do about diapers?"
"Diapers? What are diapers?"
"Aeryn, what do you know about infants?"
"Almost nothing. I'm a soldier, not a nursery tech."
Oh, boy. This is going to be interesting.
Eventually John left Aeryn to get some rest and headed down to Command. He felt as though he were floating, not walking. Zhaan and D'Argo were there when he arrived. As he expected, the Luxan gave him one of his crushing bear hugs as he entered.
"John, this is wonderful news!" he exclaimed, beaming. "You will make an excellent father."
That his friend could be so happy for him when the circumstances must be reminding him of his own son's absence brought a lump to John's throat. "Thanks, big guy," he managed to choke out.
D'Argo's expression turned serious and he said, "You know what this says about how much she loves you, don't you?" He paused for a moment, now clearly trying to keep his own emotions in check. "For a Sebacean woman to bear a child for a non-Sebacean..."
"I know, D'Argo," John answered, not needing him to finish. "She says she wants it. I guess that's more Sebacean brainwashing she's managed to jettison - just like Lo'Laan did."
"And, John," he said, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Your life is no longer your own."
It's been quite a day, John mused as he watched Aeryn get ready for bed. One of the best days we've ever had on Moya... Hell, one of the best days I've ever had - period.
Aeryn turned out the light by the bed and slid in beside him. She nuzzled his neck as she hugged him tightly and whispered "I love you." After a moment she continued, "Thank you for coming after me today. I missed you so."
"Heck, D'Argo was worried about you. What else could I do?" She didn't have to see his smile in the dark to know it was there.
"You're going to be a father," she said liltingly.
"I know. My head is still spinning just thinking about it. It's exciting and terrifying and a whole bunch of other things all at the same time."
"I feel the same way. I have this little life growing inside me."
"I can't even begin to imagine what it's like for you - what it's going to be like for you. I'm just an innocent bystander by comparison."
"I wouldn't exactly call you innocent," she chuckled. "Have you always wanted to have a family?"
"Yeah, I suppose I have. I've never really given it much thought, though. I guess I'd better now." He kissed her. "What about you?"
"Do you think it's strange that a Peacekeeper would want a family?"
"It doesn't surprise me that you do, Aeryn. Not after seeing you with Talyn. But the thought still crossed my mind. And I suppose little Peacekeepers have to come from somewhere."
Aeryn laughed and then turned serious. "The Peacekeepers go to great lengths to make sure their soldiers in the field don't have children. They start drumming the importance of it into us at a very early age. They discourage the idea of having a family at every opportunity. But I know that deep down many of us want them. My parents obviously did. And over the cycles enough of my friends, women and men, told me that they did too. It's in our nature. I'm no different. In the back of my mind I've always wanted a child."
She fell silent for a moment and then continued, "When Zhaan told me the test results I was shocked. I was angry at myself for being careless, even though there was no way I could have known the implant had failed. A big part of me started screaming all those Peacekeeper ideas at me. But another part of me reminded me how so many of my friends had told me they wanted children; how I want them... and how my parents wanted me.
"I asked Zhaan about aborting it. She asked if I was really sure about it. Again a part of me wanted to say yes, but another part was thrilled at the idea of having a child - our child. So I told her no, I wasn't sure, and she told me to take some time to decide about what I really wanted."
"What made up your mind for you?"
"As you said, little Peacekeepers have to come from somewhere. Many of us do have children, just not many of the front line troops like I was. It doesn't stop them from being good soldiers, so why should it stop me? Being pregnant will interfere with my training and workouts, but it isn't forever. I see now that being a mother will not change everything else I am. And I realize now just how lucky I am to have this chance." She kissed him. "And I'm lucky I've got you to share it all with."
Zhaan walked into the medical bay to find John and Aeryn examining the physiology database.
"I see Pilot's given you access to the medical files," she noted. "Find anything useful?"
"No, not really," John answered. "Certainly nothing like 'What to Expect When You've Got a Pregnant Sebacean on Your Hands' or anything like that. The database is so geared to military field medicine that I think its almost useless. We have found a small file on labor and delivery, though, that should come in handy."
"And, of course, there's nothing on human fetal development or human-Sebacean hybrids," Aeryn added. "We're stuck with what little John knows on the human front. But then we already knew that."
"Yeah, where's George Clooney when you really need him?" John quipped, eliciting the usual puzzled looks from his crewmates. "It looks like we're going to have to pick D'Argo's brains clean for what he can remember about Lo'Laan's pregnancy," he continued. Both Zhaan and Aeryn gave him looks of distaste. "What? What'd I say now?"
"Never mind," Aeryn chided him. "We've also found what we think might be an area for concern."
"What is it?" asked Zhaan.
"Well, the database says that the average Sebacean pregnancy is on the order of 43 to 45 weekans long. John tells me that's longer than a human pregnancy."
"But," John continued, "It also tells us that the average Sebacean newborn is slightly smaller than what I think the average human's is."
"That's not surprising, John," Zhaan concluded. "If you're a typical specimen of your species then Sebacean metabolism would appear to be generally slower than human, so it's not unexpected that their fetal development would be slower as well. But I do see the problem. If Aeryn delivers when the baby reaches a normal size for a Sebacean then it may be born prematurely."
"And if she carries it to an average Sebacean term it may be too big for her to have normally," John finished for her.
"There is nothing we can do about the prematurity issue, I'm afraid," said Zhaan. "We don't have the equipment or resources for dealing with it. Perhaps we'll have to find a planet that does and make sure to be in its vicinity when the baby comes."
"What about the opposite problem?" John asked. "Do we have what would be necessary to deliver the baby by Caesarian?"
"Caesarian. Ummm... You know... Cutting Aeryn open and taking the baby out."
Aeryn's eyes grew wide at the idea. The possibility had never occurred to her.
"That's a common enough procedure. Is there information on it in this file you mentioned?" asked Zhaan.
"Yeah, there is. It's the first thing I looked for in it."
"I'll have to review it to see if I'd be comfortable doing it in an emergency. In any case, we've got a small stockpile of Aeryn's blood on hand should we need it for such an operation."
Aeryn laughed. "That was supposed to be for in case I got wounded again. But then I guess cutting me open certainly would qualify," she said, self-consciously putting a hand over her womb.
"Perhaps this would be a good time to begin discussing birthing customs with the two of you," Zhaan said, trying to change subjects away from the overtly frightening.
"What do you mean?" Aeryn asked.
"I assume you'll want me there to assist as necessary," Zhaan answered. "But beyond that I do not know what either of you would be comfortable with. For example, where do you want to have the baby? Here? Or would you prefer your quarters?"
"My quarters?" Aeryn asked. "You are kidding?"
"That settles that then," John remarked. "Here is where we'll have it."
"John, is it customary for a human male to be present at his child's birth?" Zhaan then asked.
"It varies. In my culture it wasn't the custom until relatively recently. I'll do whatever Aeryn wants," he said, looking over at her.
"I don't want you there," she answered pointedly. Both John and Zhaan gave her looks of surprise, and, in John's case, hurt. "No... it's... it's not that I don't want you there," she stammered. "It's just that I don't want you to see me like... like... Oh, dren..." she said, averting her face from them.
"Aeryn," John said, putting his arm around her, "You don't have to worry about your image with me, remember? Besides, there's not much that's harder than giving birth. I want to be there. I want to help you through it."
"Alright. If it makes you happy. And I suppose I'll need the help, won't I?"
"I won't bother to ask if you want anyone else there, then," Zhaan said with a smile. "However, I would like to have someone there to assist me if absolutely necessary. Would you be more comfortable with D'Argo, Rygel or Chiana?"
"What makes you think any of them would be willing?" Aeryn asked.
"They've each already agreed to help if I ask them to."
"Do you really think you'll need help?" Aeryn asked, a hint of plaintiveness creeping into her voice. "As far as I'm concerned the fewer people there the better."
"I don't know if I'll need help. I just want your approval beforehand in case I do. They won't be there unless I call on them."
John and Aeryn looked at each other. "We're gonna have to think about it." he said.
Pilot was busy conducting his usual system checks when he noticed her come into his chamber. "Hello, Aeryn Sun," he called out.
"Hello, Pilot," she answered, moving to stand in front of him. She leaned over the control panel. "Mind if I join you?"
"Not at all. I was wondering when I would see you next. I have missed your company."
Aeryn raised an eyebrow at that. It was an odd admission for Pilot to make. "John and I have been very busy. And I guess otherwise I've been trying to keep to myself."
"That is not surprising, given your condition. One's thoughts are apt to turn inward at times like this. Allow me to extend my congratulations." He looked at her in the way Aeryn had come to recognized as sympathy. "You are well?"
"I'm feeling a little better, thanks."
"I am pleased to hear it." He paused, considering her. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"No, I just wanted to see you... and get as far away as I could from everybody else for a while."
"You are unhappy with the others?"
"No, not really. I'm just beginning to get tired of the way they've been treating me."
Aeryn recognized the look of surprise. "They have been mistreating you?"
"No," she laughed. "It's just the opposite. They're acting as if I've suddenly become helpless and fragile. Me - a Peacekeeper - fragile? Helpless? They hover around me, waiting on me - always asking if I need anything - always asking how I am... even Rygel and Chiana. Frell, you just did it. It's getting on my nerves," she finished, her anger flaring.
"I can understand that. I have experienced a similar behavior during Moya's pregnancies. You in particular were always inquiring as to her and the baby's condition."
Now he's laughing at me, Aeryn noted, her rage dissipating as Pilot bobbed his head slightly at her.
"It is also probably the case," he continued, "that communal animals such as the six of you have an instinctual drive to protect and care for those who are bearing the community's young - just as I am driven to protect and care for Moya, her child and the crew."
"That may explain it, but it doesn't make me feel any better about it."
"I did not claim that it would."
Aeryn laughed again. "Zhaan was asking us the other day who we'd be willing to let assist her if she needs help when the baby's born."
"And who did you select?"
"We haven't decided yet." She looked up at him. "I find myself wishing you could be there. I think John does too." She smiled as his arms came to a halt and he settled back. That really surprised him, she thought happily.
"I am... flattered... but I have to ask why you feel this way."
"You mean besides the fact that you're our friend?" If I didn't know better I'd say he's embarrassed. Well, maybe he is.
"No one has ever devoted himself to us as selflessly as you have, Pilot. We know you'd do everything in your power to help us. You've done it so often before."
"Please be assured that if I can help in any way, I will."
"That's what I meant. You don't even have to tell us that. We know."
Aeryn couldn't remember the last time she had seen him at a loss for words.
"And by the way," she said, coming around to stand beside him, "Is it just my imagination or have there been more DRDs in my vicinity lately?"
"I just wanted to ensure that all was well with you." She raised an eyebrow at him. "They are only monitoring your vital signs, not observing you."
"You're monitoring... me," she responded, trying to sound indignant instead of bursting out laughing at his predicament.
"I did not mean to violate your privacy. I will stop the monitoring if you wish."
"It's alright, Pilot," she answered with a smile. "This is a risky environment. If you didn't do it John would probably just ask you to behind my back. If it puts your minds at ease I'll tolerate it."
She is already changing her attitudes towards what is best for her child instead of what she would prefer, Pilot thought. Before, she would have been irate to learn I was watching her. The maternal instinct is as strong in her as it is in Moya. But then, I already should have surmised that from how she was with Talyn.
"As you wish, Aeryn Sun," he said, turning back to his duties.
John was keeping watch in Command as D'Argo walked in. "You're alone!" the Luxan remarked teasingly. "This is the first time I've seen you without her in days."
"Yeah, she's keeping watch after me and decided that hanging out up here being bored for that long was not something she felt like doing. I think she went down to see Pilot."
"Sometimes I think she loves him as much if not more than she loves you," D'Argo said with a grin. "I would be jealous if were you."
John chuckled. "She's always had a warm place in her heart for our big purple friend, but then so have I. I think she was originally fascinated by his selfless devotion to duty."
"Being a Peacekeeper, that is something she can understand."
"Yeah, but in Pilot's case he's completely devoted to helping others, not killing them. I think that was something of a revelation for her. And ever since what happened with Namtar..." John stopped as D'Argo hung his head.
"Sorry, big guy. I know how much that still bothers you."
"It does, but I wouldn't hesitate to do it again."
"And I think I understand why a bit better now."
D'Argo looked at him questioningly. "Really? A part of you has never forgiven us for that."
"I'm not saying I forgive you... not that it's my place to anyway. I just think I understand your motivation a lot better all of a sudden. I'm beginning to really understand what you feel towards your son, your desperation to get home to him, to protect him."
D'Argo smiled. "I told you your life was no longer your own."
"I just never realized until now just how visceral the feelings are. They're overwhelming. And it's not like I feel I have any choice about them either."
"It's scary, isn't it?"
"Damn right. I find myself worrying about that baby all the time."
"Then you are already a good father, just as I said you would be."
"If you didn't love or want to protect the child, or weren't always thinking about nurturing and caring for it, what sort of father would you be then?"
"Aeryn, please, just stay here on Moya."
"Don't be silly, John. They need me along. I always go down to commerce planets."
"Yeah, but now you're pregnant."
"And that makes me useless somehow?"
"That's not what I meant."
"I know. I'll be fine. I can take care of myself. Besides, Caio is one of the most advanced planets we've ever visited. I don't think there's anything to worry about. And, besides, Zhaan wants to take me to one of their medical facilities to see if they have anything that might help us. This may be a place we'll be able to come back to if the baby or I need help."
She's got you there, John.
"John..." she purred in his ear, as she ran a finger slowly down his back.
She felt him pull away slightly. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing. I'm just tired, that's all."
"You've been tired a lot lately," she said, a slight peevishness in her voice.
"I know. There's been a lot to do."
"Is there something the matter? You're acting as if you don't want me."
He rolled over to face her in the darkness. "It's not that... God, no."
"I... I just feel a little weird about it, that's all."
"Yeah... I mean... It's not just the two of us here anymore. It makes me feel kind of... strange."
He wasn't quite sure how he felt about Aeryn's laughing.
"And I know it isn't logical, but I'm worried I might hurt someone."
"You are a bizarre man, John Crichton."
"I'm not so sure about that," he answered, reaching out to touch one of her breasts lightly. Now it was her turn to flinch. "Still sore?"
"Yes, they even bothered me a little just walking around today."
"Then maybe you can understand my reluctance a bit better then."
"I don't mind putting up with a little pain."
"Well, I do - especially when it's yours."
Always thinking about me.
"Alright," she said with amusement. "You're off the hook... tonight."
John sat nervously as Zhaan ran the medical scanner over Aeryn.
This is silly, he thought. Everything has been fine since Aeryn stopped barfing all the time. Why am I so on edge?
Because a million things can go wrong, that's why, he answered himself.
"Nothing's coming up on the scanner as I run it over Aeryn," Zhaan announced. "Now let's concentrate on our little friend," she added, focusing her scans over Aeryn's abdomen.
They all stared intently at the projections that appeared on the viewer. This is just like an ultrasound, John thought as he looked at the ghostly images.
"This is harder than I thought it would be," Zhaan said. "I can't seem to... Ah, there."
They all were transfixed by the image before them. The baby's head was clearly evident. John even imagined he could make out some of the face. O.k. Zhaan, run through the inventory, he thought, mentally crossing his fingers.
"Cranium looks good," she began, "head and brain seem well formed." She moved the scanner slightly. "Arms... Hands... Fingers... Spine looks good." She paused. "Do you want to know the baby's sex?"
"Um... Sure," John said.
"No!" Aeryn objected sharply, surprising Zhaan and John.
Aeryn could see their questioning looks. "It's been illegal for Sebaceans to know a child's sex before birth for a long, long time," she said. "It's a cultural thing. There used to be problems because there was such a strong preference for girls."
"But legalities and terminating the pregnancy because of the baby's gender aren't issues here," Zhaan reminded her.
"I know. I just want to follow tradition. The baby's supposed to be a surprise."
Aeryn - tradition? Those aren't words I usually put together, Zhaan and John both mused.
"Alright, then," Zhaan said. "Close your eyes for a moment while I finish the scan. It will be my secret." John thought he could hear a distinct note of gloating in her voice.
Presently she said, "You can open them now. Everything looks fine."
Great, John thought. Everything's there and where it belongs. He was surprised by the strength of his feeling of relief.
"A what?" asked Rygel indignantly.
"John called it a baby 'shower,'" Zhaan repeated. "It's a gathering of the parents' closest friends when gifts for the unborn child are given."
"They expect us to give them gifts just because they went and reproduced?" the Hynerian harrumphed.
"We have a similar tradition in my culture," D'Argo told him gruffly.
"And in mine," Chiana put in.
"Besides, Rygel, neither John nor Aeryn asked me to arrange this," Zhaan informed him. "I merely asked him what the human custom was. It's supposed to be a surprise."
"So keep your big mouth shut about it, toad," Chiana told him. "It's not going to be until just before the baby comes."
Rygel exited the mess, still grumbling.
"He'll give them something," D'Argo predicted. "He'll complain about it, but, being the Dominar, he'll also try to make sure his gift is the best. He's going to have hard time, though, I've been working on my gift to the child for some time."
"John! John, wake up!"
"John!" She was shaking his arm.
Aeryn... excited... baby.
He sat up, fully alert. "What? What?"
Aeryn was lying next to him as usual, a wide smile on her face.
He looked at her through bleary eyes. "This better be important."
"I just felt it!"
"I felt it move. I'm sure that's what it was this time. It was so strange."
"If I tell it to go back to sleep then can I?" he asked, smiling back at her.
"You're not going down there!" John said adamantly. "Commerce planets can be dangerous."
"I've always gone down to commerce planets," Aeryn repeated angrily. "D'Argo's going with Rygel, and I'm going with Zhaan and Chiana. You can come with us if you want."
"I'd just feel better if you stayed here. You're getting too far along. I'll go with Zhaan - alone."
"You? With a pulse rifle? I want my child to have a father, not bits of one."
I swear she's never gonna let me live that down. I'd been here, what, a couple months?
"Aeryn, please," he pleaded softly.
"John, I have to go."
"Why? Give me one really good reason."
"I need new clothes. I can barely get into what I've got now. Even my boots are getting tight."
"Put your hand there," Aeryn said, pointing to a spot on what used to be her washboard stomach.
"I don't feel anything," John answered.
"Not there, here," she said as she moved his hand over slightly. "Press in a little. Don't be afraid."
John noticed a tiny ripple under his fingers.
"Did you feel it?"
"Yeah... That's our baby."
The look of wonder on his face delighted her.
"Chiana, talk to me," John said, his voice full of apprehension. "I'm on my way down there."
"One of the DRDs got underfoot as we were walking along and Aeryn tripped trying to avoid it! She landed flat on her face!"
Shit, John thought, as he ran towards them. Pregnant Women + Falls = Bad News.
"John, I'm alright. It was nothing," Aeryn said as she sat up. "I was just a little clumsy, that's all."
"Don't move until Zhaan and I get there."
"Whatever you say," she answered with resigned irritation.
She looked at Chiana, who had dropped to her knees to help her, and saw the concerned and frightened look on the young Nebari's face. "Don't worry. I'm fine. I just wish I knew where my center of gravity was from day to day. D'Argo warned us that the baby would start to grow a lot faster after I got past the half-cycle point. The fact it's moving around doesn't help, either. And I won't even bother to mention that my joints are loosening and my feet are swelling."
Just then John came charging down the corridor. "Zhaan should be here in a minute," he said, out of breath. "How are you feeling?"
Aeryn saw the look of worry and shock in his eyes. "I'm fine. Really. Calm down." His expression didn't change. My words are lost on him until Zhaan reinforces them.
Finally, Zhaan arrived and gave her a clean bill of health.
"Can I get up now?" she asked testily.
John reached down to help her up. "Let's go back to your quarters so you can get some rest."
"Rest? I don't need rest. I was going to show Chiana how to do some maintenance on one of the transports. I can't get into the crawlspace to do it myself anymore."
"Aeryn, I think it would be good for you to take it easy for a while."
"You're the one who needs to take it easy, Crichton."
"Perhaps we should leave you two to discuss this in private," Zhaan observed. "Come along, Chiana."
"Yeah, the repairs can wait. I wasn't looking forward to doing them anyway."
Aeryn's expression became angrier as she watched them leave. "What is the matter with you?" she spat at him. "It was nothing. Why did you have to go and make a big deal out of it? Now everyone's going to start treating me like I'm even more fragile than they already have been. I told you not to do anything to encourage them!"
"It just scared me, that's all," he said apologetically. "Falls are one of those things you hear horror stories about with pregnant women."
"I appreciate the concern, John," she said, her tone and expression softening. "But I need you to keep a level head in case something bad really does happen."
"You're right. I'm sorry. I guess I feel guilty for not having been here."
"Like that would have stopped me tripping over my own feet?" she said with a smile. "You can't be everywhere or do everything you'd like to to protect me, you know." Her smile widened. "As if I need you to protect me."
"Well what do you expect now that you can't even walk properly anymore?"
She didn't know whether to give him a hug or a pantak jab. She settled on the former.
"Now I've got to go help Chiana with the transport. We're going to need it soon."
They were sitting together on the terrace, just as they had been wont to do frequently of late. John sat behind Aeryn with his arms around her and both of them had their hands on her belly, feeling the baby kick and spin.
"The Blob's busy tonight," he observed.
"I wish you wouldn't call it that. It's not a blob. I'm very aware of its arms and legs these days. Not to mention its head when it smacks into one of my kidneys or something."
John winced at the thought. Yeah, we men do get all the breaks sometimes... but there are times I'd give anything to be experiencing what she is.
"Well, then, what should I call it?"
"I haven't decided yet."
"Don't I get a say in this?"
"I told you before, it's the Sebacean tradition for the mother to name the child."
"When did you become so concerned with tradition? According to tradition this child shouldn't even exist."
She stiffened slightly.
"I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."
"It's alright. It is the truth, after all. In fact, I think that's part of why I'm now more conscious of my traditions. I've gone against several major ones. Maybe now I'm trying to make up for it a little." She relaxed back into his arms. "I am what I am and our traditions are part of that. Don't hold it against me that I choose to keep the ones I like. Be proud of me for disposing of the ones I don't."
"You know the list of things I'm proud of you for is a very, very long one," he said as he kissed the back of her head.
They sat in silence again for a while before John said, "Tell me more about this Naming tradition."
"The Naming is a very old ritual. After the baby's born the custom is for the parents to take it outdoors, together with their friends and their families. The mother whispers the child's name into its ear and then holds it up to the sun. She then says the name out loud so the sun, the father and everyone else can hear it."
"Why the sun?"
"I haven't a clue. Perhaps it has to do with the light being the source of all life. I guess here on Moya we'll have to make do with the terrace and all the stars."
"Is that the way they did it on the command carrier?"
"They didn't do it on the command carrier. You were given a name by your mother at birth and that was that. The only times I've ever seen Namings were in vids. My first one will be my own."
Silence again descended until John inquired, "So, is that all there is to this Naming thing?"
"No. The tradition is for the child to have the father's family name. I'm having a hard time coming up with something that goes with 'Crichton,'" she said playfully.
"Thanks a lot."
"I'm joking. The child is often named after a close friend, usually one who is no longer alive. As I was a Peacekeeper I have plenty of candidates to choose from," she said, her tone suddenly somewhat bitter.
"So who was the original Aeryn?"
"I don't know that there was one. My mother was a commando, like I was. I'm sure she had plenty of dead comrades as well. But I was taken from her before I was old enough to ever have asked about my name," she said, her chin lowered to her chest.
More resentment, John thought. This whole business is bringing up a lot of bad memories for her.
"And all I've ever known about my father is his name and that he's a Peacekeeper," she added, a tear running down her face. "I can't even tell you if he's alive or dead. My mother never said anything about him. The one thing I know is that she loved him, just like I love you."
She turned to face John. "Promise me again you'll never leave me - that you'll never leave our child."
"I promise," he answered, hugging her as tightly as he dared.
"Surprise!" they all shouted as John and Aeryn arrived in the mess for dinner.
"I should never have introduced them to the concept of surprise parties," John said to her as he surveyed the oddly decorated room. "This is all a little too Dali-esque for my tastes. Chiana must have done it."
"I think it's wonderful," Aeryn replied, as she moved to sit in the place D'Argo directed her towards.
As John sat down beside her, Chiana brought out a large tray of food for them. "Zhaan and I prepared this for you. Eat now. Gifts later," she giggled. "We promise that tonight there'll be no green food cubes, John."
"But I like the green ones," Aeryn replied, feigning disappointment.
After the meal D'Argo brought out three boxes and set them before the guests of honor. "There are more gifts than these, but they're a start," he informed them.
"Largest or smallest first?" Aeryn asked John.
"The largest, of course."
"That's from me," Zhaan told them as they opened it. Inside they found several baby's blankets, all made of a shimmering material against which the room's lights cast ever shifting rainbows of color.
"Did you make these?" Aeryn asked.
"Yes. I purchased the material ages ago. I was saving it for something special. Pilot suggested the idea to me."
"These are great. Thank you!" John said, as he handed Aeryn the second box.
"That is from me," announced Pilot, much to their surprise. "I hope you find them useful."
Aeryn opened the box to find a neat row of three comm badges, two of which were an unusual silver color, while the third was the familiar gold.
"Comm badges?" she asked.
"They have been modified to perform a function along the lines of a device John described to me recently called a 'baby monitor,'" Pilot explained. "The badges have all been adjusted to an independent comm frequency. The gold badge is to be placed in the infant's vicinity. It can only broadcast, not receive. The silver units are for the two of you. They can only receive the special frequency. They can also be used to communicate solely with each other."
"Cool! Portable baby monitors and personal cell phones all in one." John said. "Thank you, Pilot. I'm sure they'll come in handy for alerting Aeryn for those late night feedings."
She gave him a dirty look. "Just remember you're the one who's going to get the baby and bring it to me, and then take it back to bed when we're done."
Everyone but John found her retort amusing. "Now for the last box," he said, trying to change the subject.
"No, no. Not yet," Rygel said. "I'd like you to open that at the end."
"Alright then, who and what's next?"
"I suppose I am," said D'Argo. "I'll be right back." He stepped out of the room as everyone exchanged puzzled glances. The Luxan returned carrying an ornately carved wooden crib. "I worked on this on and off for about half a cycle," he said as he set it down. "I made one much like it for Jothee. I hope it serves you well."
"D'Argo, it's beautiful," Aeryn said, clearly moved. "Thank you."
"Wow, I don't know what to say," added John.
"Then wait, there's more. I've made this so that it can be bolted securely to the floor of the child's room. And, with Pilot's help, I've also installed this," he said, turning the crib over to reveal a small metal box on it's underside. "It's a miniature damping and retaining field generator similar to the one used on the terrace. I've equipped it with a motion sensor so that if Moya makes any violent movements the field will activate and keep the baby from being tossed around dangerously. There's also a small alarm that will sound if the field activates. The 'baby monitor' will easily pick it up," he said, turning the crib back over, "especially if you mount it here in the bracket I've provided for it."
Aeryn laughed and clapped her hands. "You've thought of everything, D'Argo!"
"Really, big guy. Who would have ever thought to put the Leviathan equivalent of air bags on a crib?"
D'Argo's smile pleased John to no end. It must have been painful to make that. Everything about it must have reminded him of Jothee. But his love for his son is built into it, isn't it? Or is it his love for us? Or both? Both. Definitely.
"So, now then, Rygel, I assume this is from you," said Aeryn, picking up the last box.
"Actually, it's from Rygel and me," Chiana corrected him. "He supplied the materials but I made it."
This should be interesting, Aeryn mused.
Before she had a chance to open the box Rygel added, "Everyone was talking about the traditions in their culture as we planned this little event - about how they all seem to have an occasion like this one for the expected arrival. In the Hynerian Empire, however, we do things a little differently. Before a birth we give the mother a gift. This is for you, Aeryn Sun."
Aeryn gasped when she saw the contents of the box. She held it up for everyone to see. It was a heavy gold necklace with a large white gem as its centerpiece. "Rygel, isn't this stone from one of your chains of office?" she asked.
"Yes, but it has no historical or sentimental value," he said unconvincingly. "I'll replace it easily when I get back to Hyneria."
"And where did you get the gold from?" John asked.
"You remember those big electric motors we found last cycle in one of the disused cargo holds? They were full of all sorts of precious metals. Where do you think all those little goodies we've had since then came from? We've still got quite a bit left, too, I might add. If D'Argo hadn't helped me recover it I'd have had it all to myself. We've been keeping it a secret for its safekeeping in case we get raided. Don't even think of asking us where it's hidden."
"But, Rygel, you sold those motors to a group of Sheyangs for a very handsome price," Zhaan reminded him.
"Is it my fault they were too stupid to check to see whether the motors had been stripped down first?" Rygel asked as everyone laughed. "What was that human phrase you taught me, John? Caveat Emptor? Buyer beware indeed," he chuckled.
"Chiana, this is beautiful work," Zhaan added, examining the necklace closely as she put it on Aeryn.
"Thanks. I guess I've picked up a bit about metalwork in learning how to make keys and whatnot. Pilot and the DRDs helped me. I really needed it when I was working on the platinum for the jewel's mounting and the thread."
"Pilot, is there any gift here you didn't have a claw in?" Aeryn asked.
"I assure you that I had nothing to do with the rest of Chiana and Rygel's gift."
"The rest of the gift?" John asked in surprise.
"Yes," Rygel answered. "As I said the Hynerian tradition is to give the mother a gift before the young arrive. We give the offspring gifts afterwards. But, as the human tradition is to not wait until after the birth, I suppose I can give you the second part of the gift now. After all, you'll need it." He started his throne towards the door. "Follow me."
Everyone but Chiana looked at each other as they walked down the corridor, wondering what Rygel was up to. He took them to a small cell near where John and D'Argo were preparing rooms for the new family.
"I've been talking with Zhaan about the sorts of things a young human or Sebacean needs to have a comfortable existence. I think you'll find everything you need here," he said turning on the light. The cell contained shelves filled with various fabric items. "Again, it was Chiana who actually set all this up. In this case she also chose most of the items."
"Let's see," said John in amazement. "Towels, sheets, blankets, diapers... Rygel this is fantastic!"
"What are these bolts of cloth for?" asked Aeryn.
"To make clothes for the baby," answered Chiana. "I hope you like what I picked out."
"Rygel, I... I really don't know what to say," John stammered. "What possessed you to do all this, you greedy old packrat?"
"Just remember that D'Argo's not the only one on this ship besides you with offspring... and I haven't seen mine for over 130 cycles," he answered as he sailed out into the corridor.
"But, John, I've decided that I don't want to move my quarters," Aeryn complained.
"Aeryn, D'Argo and I have spent the last three weekans getting our new rooms ready. At least come and see them."
"I have no problems with having larger quarters for the three of us. I just want a space of my own where I can go to be alone."
John was taken aback. "Since when have you wanted to be alone?"
"Ever since I became pregnant, I haven't had any time alone at all. The baby's always been with me. You've never been far away. And everyone else insists on hovering around me all the time. I'm happy that you and I are setting up a home together, but I know the baby's going to be a lot of work. I'd just like to still have somewhere where I can go when I need to relax and just be with myself. And I know it sounds terrible but I'd like that place to be as far from everyone else as I can get it. My quarters now would do just fine for that."
"Aeryn," he said, pulling her to him, "It's not terrible that you want that. I sympathize completely with what you're saying."
"And I guess I finally understand what you mean when you say that you need some 'space' or 'air.'"
"Then I suppose you'll agree with me that it would be good if we could both use your room as a little quiet retreat."
"But if I use it for that, how can I share it with you?"
"Somehow I think that, for the foreseeable future at least, one of us is always going to have a certain someone in tow at all times," he said. "Whoever that is won't be able to use the room as a getaway."
She smiled at him. "Thank you for understanding."
"I also think it might be a good idea to keep a bed there for those times when we can con someone into babysitting for us."
"Mmmm... I like that idea."
"Are you coming, John?" Aeryn asked as she stood in the mess doorway.
"Sorry, no morning walk for me today. I gotta go help D'Argo do some stuff on the transports."
"I'll come with you!" Chiana said cheerfully.
"Alright," Aeryn responded, somewhat surprised. "Let's go."
They hadn't gone far when Chiana began a rapid-fire assault of questions about the baby. Finally, Aeryn came to a stop and raised a hand to quiet her.
"You really want to know what it's like?" she asked.
"Yes," Chiana answered eagerly.
"Then keep your eyes right here," Aeryn instructed her, pointing to a spot just above her navel. Chiana watched as a small bulge repeatedly appeared and disappeared there.
"Oh my gods... What's it doing?"
"That's the baby's foot pushing against me. Here, feel for yourself," she said as she took Chiana's hand and brought it towards her belly.
Chiana jerked her hand away. "No... I can't," she said, seemingly embarrassed.
"It's alright Chiana," Aeryn said soothingly, amused by the usually brash Nebari's response. "Go ahead."
Aeryn's never let me near her before, Chiana thought nervously. She reached her hand out slowly and gently placed it on the spot where the baby's kicks could be seen. Her eyes lit up and her mouth gaped as she felt the baby move. She kept looking back and forth from her hand to Aeryn's smiling face.
That's just how John looked the first time he felt the baby moving.
Chiana finally pulled her hand away. "That was so amazing!"
"I know. That's what it's like... amazing."
"Aeryn, would you mind terribly if I asked you to roll over?"
"John, you know this is the only position I feel even remotely comfortable in anymore. What's the problem anyway?" she asked, suppressing a giggle.
"I think you know. The kid's got the hiccups again. It's getting a little tiring after half an arn against my back."
"Actually the hiccups have been going on for at least two arns. Think how I feel," she said as the baby lurched again.
"That does it. Tomorrow night I'm sleeping on that side of the bed."
"In your dreams."
"Well?" asked Aeryn. "What do the tests show?"
"The news is very promising," Zhaan replied. "They show that the baby's kidneys, lungs and heart are mature enough to sustain it. I believe our worries about prematurity are over. Also, my scan today confirms that the baby's head is in the correct position and is engaged in your pelvis, so I doubt it's going anywhere but down from here on out."
John let out an audible sigh of relief. "And you're confident the tests are reliable?"
"Pilot supervised the DRDs personally. If he believes the analyses were executed correctly I think we can as well."
"Now what about the other possibility?" Aeryn asked nervously. "I really don't relish the idea of being operated on."
"Well, as we now know the baby is viable, we can induce labor at any time."
"Sick as I am of being pregnant, I'd prefer to let nature take its course as much as possible."
"I agree. I think that is the wisest course. The question is how long should we be willing to wait. You're already past the length of the average human pregnancy."
"I think I may have an answer to that," John said. "I've been running some models with Pilot's help, based on the Sebacean physiology database and your scans of Aeryn and the baby. The main thing we concluded was that Aeryn is a bit larger than the average Sebacean woman, and so, not surprisingly, is her pelvis. That gives us a little more breathing room."
"But what do the models actually predict?" asked Zhaan.
"Pilot's determined some parameters that it would be best not to let the baby exceed before its born. Looking at the situation conservatively, he estimates that the baby should be born within the next two weekans to ensure a normal delivery. After that it gets risky. We also need to measure the baby's head every two or three days to ensure its within our growth projections."
"So, you're saying we should wait for two weekans and then induce?" asked Aeryn, trying to get a simple, straightforward answer.
"Yeah, that seems the prudent course of inaction."
"And what about Caio?" Aeryn inquired.
"Well, fortunately enough, I don't think we'll be needing their facilities," Zhaan answered. "However, the rest of us have agreed to go there again in a few days as we need to make a commerce stop anyway. Tonight we'll starburst to within a short starburst's distance of there. We'll wait for a few days and then move on to the planet. After we're done with the supply run we'll return to the holding point and travel in a circular course around Caio. That way we can get there quickly if we need to when the baby comes without being in one place too long."
"Sounds good," John said. "I think we've covered all the bases as best we can."
"I just want it to be over already," concluded Aeryn. "I've been pregnant longer than a Leviathan."
"I thought that, on the whole, you've enjoyed being pregnant. Am I mistaken?" asked Zhaan.
"No. I've loved it, really - having this little one growing inside me. But now it's just seems I'm uncomfortable and awkward all the time. And I've always been worried, even a little frightened, by the prospect of labor - especially of all the things that can go wrong."
"Those are very typical feelings, Aeryn," Zhaan reassured her. "The task is a daunting one, and it is fraught with dangers. But it is also a perfectly natural process."
"Well, I'm not worried or scared anymore. After all this time I'm actually looking forward to it. I'm more than ready to have this baby."
"Sounds like nature's way of getting you mentally prepared for what's ahead," concluded John, as Zhaan nodded in agreement.
"That was wonderful, John," Aeryn said as she snuggled as close to him as her roundness would allow. "Still find it 'weird?'"
"Well, sort of... Hey!" he exclaimed as he pulled away from her.
"What's the matter?" she asked, as she saw him wiping his chest in the dim light.
"You're leaking again."
She looked down and noted the small white beads on her nipples.
"Sor-ry!" she said sarcastically.
"Are you ready to leave yet?" John asked, entering their new bedroom.
"Leave? I'm not going anywhere," Aeryn said as she hauled herself up out of her chair.
"You're not coming down to the commerce planet with us?"
"No! Look at me! I'm enormous! I can barely get around, let alone wield a pulse rifle."
"It's Caio, again, remember? You won't need any weapons."
Aeryn smiled at him. "I thought you'd be happy I'm finally staying put."
"I am," he said, returning the smile. "I just wanted to rub it in a little."
If I could move fast enough I'd belt him.
With everyone else making the commerce run, Aeryn waddled down to visit Pilot.
"How are you, Pilot?" she asked as she came alongside him.
"I am well."
There was a short silence.
"Aren't you going to ask me how I am?"
"I was under the distinct impression that you were decidedly tired of being asked that question."
"So," Pilot then continued, "How are you feeling?"
He paused from his activities and looked down at her. "That is... understandable."
She laughed and he added, "I must also say that I still find your wearing a dress unusual."
"So do I, but I've found that just draping something over my belly is the easiest and most comfortable way to dress now."
He noticed a brief grimace pass over her face.
"Are you quite sure you're alright?"
"I'm having contractions. They've been happening on and off for a while now. My body's practicing for the big event - strengthening itself."
"I see. Like those isometric exercises you do."
"Essentially, yes. They've been a little stronger and more frequent today. Walking around the ship helps me feel better when I'm having them. That's how I ended up here."
"Not because you enjoy my company?" he said, waggling his head slightly.
"That's right, Pilot. I loathe coming to see you. That's why I do it more than anyone else."
He waggled his head some more.
"Actually, I did feel a bit bored and lonely. John often walks with me and so, believe it or not, does Chiana."
"Yes. She's fascinated with my being pregnant. She wants to know every little detail, good and bad."
"I suppose that is not surprising for a young woman like her. Someday she will probably have children of her own."
"The funny thing is I find I actually enjoy talking to her about it. It's not like we've ever been close in any way before, but she's been very enthusiastic and supportive. I guess I've finally gotten a peek at some of what John sees in her. Deep inside her there still seems to be a little girl - one that never really got to be a child in the first place." A look of sadness came over her face for a moment. "I never realized it before, but that's something we have in common. I never got to be a child, either."
"At least you now have the chance to experience childhood with your own offspring. In watching Moya's daughter I am often reminded of my own youth. You can still have a happy childhood."
She looked up at him and smiled. "Thank you, Pilot. I look forward to it."
"So, who did you decide to have assist Zhaan?"
"John and I had several long talks about that. We decided that Rygel just wasn't big enough to be much use and if he managed to be any help he would never let us forget it."
Pilot waggled again.
"And, as much as trust him and care about him, I just wasn't comfortable with the idea of D'Argo watching me have a baby. I don't think John was either. I think that part of me just doesn't want any males there besides John. Childbirth is a time for women. It's part of our glory, not men's."
"So that means you picked Chiana."
"Yes. I'm still a little surprised by it myself, but she's proven herself to me over the last quarter cycle or so. She'll be there from beginning to end, making sure the little things get done."
She looked up at him thoughtfully. "And you'll be there too, of course."
"I will have at least three DRDs there at all times to assist in whatever way I can. It is my duty as Moya's Pilot."
"Is that all it is? Duty?"
He fell silent.
"You're very concerned about this child, aren't you? And I think I know why. Part of you is inside me. And that means you're part of my child as well."
"Yes. I admit that that is part of the reason for my interest in your baby. Please do not hold it against me."
"Why would I ever do that?" she asked, genuinely puzzled.
"I am here to serve you, not myself... or even a small part of myself."
"Don't sell yourself short. You'll make a wonderful uncle."
"I am honored just to be considered for such a role in your child's life."
"You're one of the best friends I've ever had, Pilot. I'm the one who - unnnh!"
"Aeryn? Are you alright?" he asked anxiously as she nearly doubled over. He extended one of his arms for her to brace herself on. She came up, panting and her face slightly flushed.
"That was... different," she finally managed. "I've never had one anywhere near that strong before. Could you start timing the contractions for me, Pilot? I think that something may be happening."
"Here, give me that!" John snapped as he took a box from Chiana and piled it into the transport.
"Is it my imagination or is he a little short-tempered today?" D'Argo asked.
"Yes, and we all know why too, don't we?" Chiana replied. "Someone's in a hur-ry to get ba-ack!" she said in a teasing sing-song voice. "I can't blame you, though, John. I'm surprised you came at all."
"There were a few small things we needed to get. The rest of you are busy enough down here without me dumping the list on you. And Aeryn's fine. First babies usually don't come quickly or easily, either. If she goes into labor we should have plenty of time to get back. I also just wanted to get out of the house for a while."
"Well, we should be ready to go in two or three arns - four at the most," predicted D'Argo. "Just relax and enjoy this place. I wish we came across more like it."
"Yeah, it is nice, but I don't know how I feel about an advanced society that still has shopping malls, though," John replied. "Convenient though they've been."
"Yeah, Pilot," he replied, touching his comm badge.
"I believe you and Zhaan should return to Moya at once."
John's heart accelerated at that. "Why? What's up? Let me talk to Aeryn!"
"John!" she said. "Something's happening, but I'm not sure exactly what."
"What do you mean? Are you having contractions?"
"Yes, but they're not very regular and their strength isn't steady. They're all over the place."
He touched his comm badge again. "Zhaan, are you getting this?"
"Yes, John," she replied. "Aeryn, how long has this been going on for?"
"About two arns."
"It sounds like false labor, but it's really too soon to tell."
There was a sudden gasp from Pilot.
"Sorry about that, Pilot," Aeryn said apologetically.
"Sorry for what?" John asked anxiously.
"Umm... My water just broke. It's quite a mess."
"I would image you never expected to see me dressed like this," Zhaan observed as she entered the medical bay. Both Aeryn and John had to smile. Zhaan had changed from her usual garments into one of the Peacekeeper medic uniforms that had been left behind when they seized Moya. "This is more functional and appropriate attire for the situation. Besides, this could get a little messy. I wouldn't want to ruin any of my own clothes," she added.
"And it adds a certain air of professionalism to the proceedings," John joked.
"So how is our mother-to-be?"
"Give me a moment and I'll tell... Unh!" Aeryn responded as another contraction hit her.
Zhaan waited as John timed the contraction and then asked. "So, how long was that and how far apart are they now?"
"That one lasted almost 30 microts and they're coming about every 250 microts now. Aeryn says they really picked up in the last half an arn before we got back."
"They're getting steadily stronger now too," she added.
"This sounds very promising," Zhaan concluded. "Let me get some gloves on and I'll see how you're progressing." A moment later she reported, "Full effacement, about 2 hentas dilation. You're definitely in labor!"
"But it's going to be a while?" John asked.
"Yes. It's going to be a while. Try to rest as much as you can Aeryn. I'll even dim the lights so you can get some sleep if you can. You too John."
"I think for now I'd like to get up and walk around for a while," Aeryn said just before the next contraction hit.
Chiana entered the medical bay dressed, not surprisingly, exactly as Zhaan was. She found John walking Aeryn slowly around the room. "I brought you both something to drink" she said. "There are also some food cubes if you want," she added as she pulled some drapes shut over the door to the corridor. "You like my new curtains?" she said with her usual head tilt and short laugh. "I thought you'd like the privacy."
"Yes, Chiana, thank you very much," Aeryn told her.
"I also asked Pilot to post a couple DRDs in the hallway to keep Rygel and D'Argo away. Otherwise I think they'd park right outside and eavesdrop. They're anxious to see how everything turns out."
"Aren't we all?" Zhaan asked.
"I think I'd like to walk in the corridor for a while," Aeryn announced. "I'm getting tired of going in circles in here."
John and Chiana led Aeryn out into the corridor, each with a hand holding one of her upper arms firmly.
"How much further down here did you put the DRD?" John asked.
"It should be at the junction."
They arrived to find the DRD studiously watching Rygel and D'Argo sitting on the floor.
"Hello boys," Aeryn said.
"How are you doing?" asked D'Argo.
"So far, so good. But it's not coming any time soon. There's no point in you sitting here. It's getting very late. Go to your quarters and get some..." Aeryn trailed off as a contraction began. "...sleep," she concluded as it finished.
"Any news?" Rygel asked as D'Argo strode into the mess to get some breakfast.
"No. I asked Zhaan to contact us the moment there was," the Luxan answered as he sat down.
"I hate this waiting. Even though I've done it dozens of times, I still hate it. And this time the child isn't even mine!"
"I feel the same way. I'm almost as anxious as I was when Jothee was born."
"Hopefully this will all be over soon. It's been almost 12 arns already. Did Lo'Laan take this long?"
"Much longer. It was a difficult birth. I only wish I had been there with her."
"You weren't there?"
"No. The Luxan tradition is for the father to stand guard outside the door."
"Stand guard? Whatever for?"
"In ancient times a warrior's enemies would sometimes try to kill his offspring. Standing guard during a birth became such a strong tradition that it's continued well past any need for it."
"Then I'm surprised you did it. I would have thought you'd have wanted to be with her."
"I did, but Lo'Laan insisted. She wanted us to follow all Luxan customs."
"It must have been very difficult to stand there like that. The tradition for the Dominar is for him to be well away from births. But then, Hynerian females have their children with much less effort than Sebaceans apparently do."
"Then they're very fortunate."
"John... John... Wake up," Zhaan whispered in his ear.
He sat up groggily. "Did I fall asleep?"
"Yes, for about four arns," Aeryn told him. "The scans were wrong. I had triplets."
The three women laughed at him. "Got you good there, John," Chiana gloated.
"Ha-Ha. Very funny." He turned to Aeryn. "I am so sorry."
"Don't be," she replied. "Zhaan gave me something to ease the pain and I've been dozing a bit too, believe it or not. Now we'll both be rested up for what's to come."
"Which will be when do you think?" he asked Zhaan.
"Not much longer John. Aeryn's almost fully dilated now. What I gave her actually slowed the labor down so she could rest a little. When it wears off fully in about another arn Aeryn should go into transition almost immediately."
"Wait, now that's like the hardest part, right?"
"Yes. Things will be changing drastically very soon."
"That was good, Aeryn," Zhaan said as her patient relaxed as the contraction ended. "We're nearly there."
John and Chiana gently lowered Aeryn back into the reclining position she rested in between pushes. John gave her a little to drink as Chiana mopped her forehead and straightened her hair out of her eyes.
"How are you feeling?" John asked her.
"I'm starting to feel really tired. This is harder than I ever imagined it being."
"We're almost there," he reassured her. "We can even see the top of the baby's head between pushes now."
"I feel the next one coming," Aeryn announced.
John and Chiana again helped Aeryn into a more upright position as the contraction began.
"One Mississippi, two Mississippi," John began to count as Aeryn held her breath and bore down as hard as she possibly could. "Nine Mississippi, ten Mississippi. O.k. breathe." John counted out three deep breaths for her and then started over.
"Aaaah!" Aeryn cried out as the contraction ended.
"Just one or two more," Zhaan said hopefully.
Aeryn slumped down for a few moments and then said, "Here it comes..."
"Ready Chiana?" John asked. She nodded. "O.k. up..."
"Alright Aeryn really big push!" Zhaan said. A few seconds later she added, "The baby's crowning... There! Relax for a moment Aeryn. Don't push."
John looked down to see the baby's head had fully emerged and that Zhaan was checking to ensure the umbilical cord was not around its neck before Aeryn pushed again. She then began to suction the child's mouth and nose clean.
He was surprised by the sudden surge of adrenalin and excitement that coursed through him. THIS IS IT!!
"Alright, Aeryn, push gently," Zhaan requested. "I don't want you to shoot the baby across the room."
Aeryn grimaced and the baby's shoulders slowly emerged; and, then, suddenly, it was out. The child gave a short cry as Zhaan cradled it.
"It's a girl!"
Chiana handed John a surgical scissors as Zhaan tied off the umbilical cord. "Here, cut it."
Why did I ever agree to do this? he thought.
John gulped. "Alright, here goes."
After he had cut the cord and the baby had been wrapped in a blanket, he handed the newborn to her mother. Aeryn looked at her child with a tired but joyous expression.
"John, isn't she the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?"
"Yes, along with her mother," he said as he bent down to kiss her.
Later in the evening Zhaan walked back down to the medical bay to check on Aeryn and the baby before turning in for the night. She arrived to find Chiana leaning up against the door, looking into the darkened room. She came up behind the Nebari and saw that John had moved a gurney against Aeryn's bed. The couple were asleep with their daughter snuggled between them.
"I see all appears well here," she whispered. "You should go to sleep too, Chiana. You must be exhausted."
"I am. I'll go soon."
"Good night then," Zhaan said as she turned to leave.
A quiet sniff brought her attention back to Chiana. Only then did she notice the trails left by tears on her cheeks.
"Are you alright?" she asked, coming back up behind her.
"Yes, I'm just feeling a little sorry for myself. That's all."
"May I ask why?"
"Look at them - they're a family. There's so much love there. You can see it even when they're asleep. I guess I'm a little envious."
"You are young yet."
"You don't understand. It's not Aeryn I'm jealous of. It's the baby."
"Did your parents not love you?"
"Nebari have a strange way of showing it," she answered without taking her eyes off the sleeping trio.
Zhaan put her arm around Chiana's shoulders. "They are not the only family on Moya, my dear."
Chiana leaned back into her and smiled. "Thank you, mother."
Zhaan laughed quietly. "You haven't called me that in some time."
"And this time it wasn't an insult, either."
"They're all waiting for us on the terrace," John told Aeryn. "Are you sure you're up to walking all that way?"
"John, give it a rest. I had the baby yesterday, not an arn ago. I'll be fine. I am fine."
"O.k., o.k. I believe you. Jeez."
"How do I look?"
John could not remember Aeryn ever asking him that.
She was attired in a way he had never seen her dress before. She wore a flowing red robe that she had asked Zhaan to procure for her on Caio, and her long dark hair was decorated with flowers from plants that Chiana had somehow managed to get for her at the same time. Around her neck she wore Rygel and Chiana's gift. But the thing that struck John the most was the look on her face. She was radiant.
"Well?" she persisted.
"You're perfect," he finally responded, bringing further delight to her eyes.
"Is she all wrapped up in one of Zhaan's blankets and ready to go?"
"Yep. Here she is," he said as he handed the bundle to Aeryn. "She's also fast asleep."
"Fine, then. Let's go."
"O.k.," he said, starting out the door.
"John," she said, hesitating.
She pulled him to her and put her free arm around him. "I love you."
"I love you too," he replied, hugging her and the baby.
"So, have you finally decided on a name?" John asked as they neared the terrace.
"Yes. It was the boy's name I had trouble with. Since I've already used my father's, I never really did settle on one. Lucky you," she said, looking down at her daughter. "I actually decided on the girl's name a long, long time ago - cycles before I met you."
The admission startled John. "Who was she?"
"She was someone I knew when I was a cadet. We were best friends for cycles. She died in a training accident when we were sixteen. Another pilot was at fault." She looked over at John. "You settled that score for me, thank you very much."
"Yes, it was Tauvo Crais. Weren't you ever curious why I never held it against you that you killed someone in my regiment, even by accident?"
"No, I never really thought about it."
"Then don't. This ceremony is all about welcoming new life," she said as they arrived.
Aeryn hesitated as the door opened. "You first," she said with a mischievous grin. "We're the two who have to make the grand entrance after all, not you."
They were all there, she noted as she stood in the doorway, with wide smiles on their faces, arranged around the circle of lights in the terrace floor. The presence of the DRDs confirmed for her that even Moya and Pilot were with them. And somewhere nearby Moya's youngest child was probably cavorting around her mother. Just as this one will be soon enough, Aeryn thought. John stood just outside the circle, waiting to close it after she passed into its center.
Aeryn stepped out onto the terrace and gasped. John... This is your doing.
She had half expected to see the planet Caio hanging among the stars when she entered. Instead Moya had moved far away from the planet and a little closer to its sun, which now blazed gloriously at the sky's zenith, banishing all else from view.
She walked forward and joined them in their circle. "Thank you for coming here and welcoming our daughter. We've all seen a great deal of death and destruction in our travels together. Today, though, we once again have a new life to celebrate - a piece of the future."
She looked at each of her friends, making sure to catch their gaze for a moment. Zhaan - already crying, she observed. Or has she ever stopped? D'Argo - sadness and joy in his face. Lo'Laan did not do this for him but followed his customs instead. Chiana - acting like the big sister. She's been a surprising helper. Rygel - we've always ignored his having a family. Not any more...
"John and I both owe our lives to each of you many times over. Without you our little girl would not be here today. If anything should ever happen to us I ask each of you to protect her, nurture her, give her your knowledge and wisdom, and fill her heart with our memory."
Aeryn stepped into the center of the circle.
She looked down at the bundle in her arms. The baby was awake now, looking at her mother with huge, deep blue eyes.
Aeryn turned to face John, and saw his eyes gleaming with tears. "I am Aeryn Sun," she said, beginning the simple ritual. "This is my daughter, the issue of my flesh." She looked John in the eye and held the baby out towards him. "Do you, John Crichton, acknowledge her as your daughter, the issue of your flesh?"
"Yes, I do," he replied.
Aeryn brought the child to her face and whispered in her ear. She looked up at the sun shining overhead, feeling its gentle warmth on her face. Slowly she raised the baby above her head.
"This is Asharah Crichton," she said, a tear running down her face. She brought the girl back down and hugged her tightly.
"May she have a long and happy life."