(First posted March 18, 2005)
Category: Lightweight, ‘just-because-I-felt-like-it’ fic. This story is the result of my brain getting hung up on a
single line from an episode in Season 1. (You’ll know what that line is when you see it.)
Disclaimer: Despite my frequent use (and abuse) of them, the universe and characters of Farscape never
have been and never will be mine. I have not profited from writing this story beyond the obvious benefit of
getting the Youses Muses Gang to vacate my house. (They tend to eat all the food, which gets expensive.)
Spoilers/Time Frame: This takes place some time shortly after Thank God It’s Friday Again.
Test Drivers/Betareaders: Posting a story without running it past a beta-reader is a bit like jumping off a cliff
into a lake without first checking to see what is under the surface of the water. You never know how things are
going to turn out, there may be nasty things hidden from sight, and if you get it wrong, everything comes to a
stop with one heck of a jolt. (It’s kind of like the rock climber’s saying: It’s not the fall that kills you -- it’s the
sudden stop at the bottom.) And, after having said all that, sometimes we just go ahead and do the risky thing
anyway. So if there are errors or oversights in this story, or if it just doesn’t come across the way it’s supposed
to, it’s my own frelling fault … twice over.
* * * * *
Aeryn Sun stalked into the Center Chamber, looked around at the individuals who were working their way
through various stages of the Midday Meal, and treated the entire multi-species group to an angry scowl. The
glower promised physical violence in response to even the most innocuous comment and effectively brought all
conversation to an abrupt stop.
Zhaan gave her a cautious, benign smile and asked, “Is there a problem, Aeryn?”
“Crichton!” Aeryn said, as though the two syllables were explanation enough.
“What has he done now?” Rygel asked through a mouthful of foodcubes. “I haven’t heard an explosion in days,
so he can’t be attempting to learn about Moya’s systems again.”
“He’s done frelling nothing!” Aeryn said, making a fast, frustrated gesture with both hands. “That’s the
problem! He said he would help me with that adjustment to the Prowler’s nav system and he never showed up.”
D’Argo let out a rumbling, sarcastic laugh. “I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but I think he is becoming even
less useful with each passing day.”
“Not possible,” Rygel said. “There is no room left on the bottom of the scale.”
Zhaan made a placating, pushing gesture with both hands, and then looked toward Aeryn. “I’m sure he has a
good reason for not meeting you. It is not like Crichton to simply not show up when he agreed to be there.
What did he say when you asked him?”
Aeryn looked toward the corridor as though Crichton might magically appear in the doorway, and then
shrugged and joined the rest of the group at the table. “I haven’t been able to find him. He isn’t answering his
“Probably hiding again,” D’Argo said. “Give him three solar days to appear. That’s what it took last time.”
Aeryn glared suspiciously at the luxan, one eyebrow performing a gradual, quizzical levitation. The adjustment
modified her expression from anger to a less potentially explosive form of aggravated curiosity. “Does he have
a reason to be hiding?” she asked finally.
“Not from me,” D’Argo said.
Aeryn relaxed and began assembling a meal from the meager rations spread out across the table. “If he is
hiding for some other reason, then his time is up.”
The Center Chamber went quiet as the message sank in. Zhaan was the first to break the silence. “When is
the last time any of you saw him?”
Aeryn answered, “I just told you. The last time I saw him was three solar days ago at First Meal. That was
when he agreed to help me with the Prowler.”
Rygel waved a stubby hand in the air. “I saw him on his bed two solar days ago. It was the middle of the day
and he was sleeping. Lazy creature. Trying to teach him to survive here is a waste of our time and effort, if
you ask me.”
D’Argo spared a microt to snarl, “No one asked you!” at the hynerian, and then turned to answer Zhaan.
“Crichton hasn’t joined us for a meal in the past two days. I assumed he was sulking for some reason known
only to him.”
Aeryn jabbed a food cube in D’Argo’s general direction before tossing it into her mouth. “He’s probably hiding
because you threatened to kill him again. When did you last promise to slit his throat with your Qualta blade?
Or maybe you used that other wonderfully barbaric luxan threat that you like so much -- the one about pulling
his intestines out through some opening in his body.”
“Neither!” D’Argo said, followed by an annoyed hiss. “And Crichton scares too easily. I walked by his cell on
the way to Command the other morning. All I did was startle him by coming around the corner when he didn’t
expect it and he went into some sort of fit. His entire species is deficient.”
“What sort of fit?” Zhaan asked. “Perhaps this has something to do with why he’s missing.”
“Like this.” D’Argo went into an extended performance that consisted of bulging eyes, a gaping mouth, and a
series of gulps, wheezes, and coughs. The reenactment ended with a deep gargling noise similar to the one
Moya made when one of her amnexus drains became clogged and she disgorged the blockage back into
whatever chamber had created the problem. Aeryn grimaced and pushed her tray away, no longer hungry.
“That sounds like the Luxan excuse for a love sonnet,” Rygel said.
“Pilot,” Zhaan called over a rapidly escalating Luxan-Hynerian argument, “where is Crichton?”
“Unknown. There is no sign of him in his quarters, and neither the DRDs nor the internal sensors are currently
detecting his presence.”
Aeryn got to her feet. For the first time since she had entered the chamber, she began to look concerned
about Crichton’s absence. “That pathetic ship of his is still in the maintenance bay. I was just down there. It
hasn’t been moved.”
“Pilot,” Zhaan called again, “would the internal sensors detect his body if he were dead or injured?”
“Crichton!” Aeryn shouted over her comms at the same time that Zhaan was getting an answer from Pilot.
“Crichton, where are you?” There was no answer. “Frell,” she said after several more microts passed without a
response. She turned toward Zhaan. “What did Pilot say?”
“It would depend on what section of the ship Crichton is in,” Zhaan said, relaying the answer she had received.
“As you already know, the internal sensors do not cover all tiers and chambers. If he is lying unconscious in
one of those areas --” She spread her hands, letting the gesture finish the thought for her.
Aeryn headed for the door at a run. “If his ship is here, then he hasn’t left Moya. He must be injured.”
Rygel, having ended the meaningless squabble with D’Argo by the simple expedient of turning his back on the
luxan and leaving the table, floated closer to Zhaan, and said, “Or he’s managed to get lost and simply forgot to
take his comms with him.”
Aeryn came to a skidding halt half a motra from the doorway. Everyone else stopped talking long enough to
consider this newest possibility. What the Dominar had just described had happened several times during the
first days Crichton had been on board the leviathan.
It was D’Argo who shook his head and discarded the suggestion. “No. He knows his way around Moya now.
He hasn’t gotten lost in well over three ten-days. The last time it happened, he knew enough to find a ladder
and start climbing until he reached Tier One, and then worked his way back down to a spot he recognized.
Aeryn is correct -- he must be injured.”
“Or off sulking over some imagined insult,” Aeryn said.
“Not for three solar days,” Zhaan said. She held up a hand, stilling Rygel’s open-mouthed, impending
objection. “Or even two days. Crichton may sometimes be impatient with the way we treat him, but given the
chance, he always regains his temper quickly. We should find him and make sure he’s all right.”
“We should finish our meal first and then search for him,” D’Argo grumbled.
Aeryn crossed the Center Chamber in three long strides and slapped the luxan’s meal tray into a corner. A
brief hailstorm of food cubes made a moist pattering against the walls and floor. She leaned across the table
until her nose was no more than four denches from D’Argo’s, and said, “There. You are done with your meal.
Now you can help the rest of us find Crichton. The sooner we find out what’s happened to him, the sooner we
can all resume our usual activities.”
D’Argo’s eyes flickered past her for a microt and then returned to stare into hers with a hint of triumph in his
expression. “In that case, we can go about our business and since I wasn’t finished with my meal, you can get
me more to eat.”
It took Aeryn a microt to realize what he was saying. Comprehension was followed by a fast spin toward the
door. Crichton was standing there, one shoulder leaning against the edge of rounded opening, looking more
disheveled and pathetic than he had the first day she had met him. “Where the frell have you been?” Aeryn
demanded, straightening up. “You said you would help me with that nav refit today.”
“You don’t want to know the details of where I’ve been.” He turned his attention from Aeryn to Zhaan and
addressed the delvian. “I’ve contracted the intergalactic version of intestinal creeping crud.”
Zhaan summed up Crichton’s unlaced boots, wrinkled pants, sweat stained t-shirt, mussed hair, and his pasty,
sweating complexion before anyone else managed to figure out what he was saying, and was on her feet
immediately. “What are your symptoms?”
“My guts are doing their best to crawl out of my body by any means possible, I haven’t been able to eat
anything in a couple days, and I think I’m pregnant by a space alien.” He raised his shirt, revealing a rounded,
protruding stomach that did, in fact, look as though he had somehow been impregnated at some point.
“I assume that human males do not carry the young,” Zhaan said. She was beside Crichton, running one hand
over his distended stomach.
Crichton managed to look both exhausted from the mysterious affliction and horrified at Zhaan’s suggestion.
“No! Definitely not! We don’t have the right stuff inside for that. But --” He broke off and looked around at his
“But what, Crichton?” Zhaan asked. “You need to tell me what is happening if I am to determine what sort of
malady this is.”
He jerked his head toward where Aeryn, D’Argo, and Rygel were watching the impromptu examination, and then
looked down at Zhaan. She was on her knees in front of him, cautiously prodding his stomach. “Can we finish
this somewhere else? The peanut gallery doesn’t need to know the status of my digestive tract.”
“If this is contagious, they have the right to know what you have contracted. What have you omitted? Has this
caused vomiting?” Zhaan asked.
“Puking is the only thing I haven’t been doing over the past few days.”
“Then what else? What haven’t you told us?”
After an additional ten five microts of hesitation, John shrugged his surrender and said, “Whatever is causing
this is … it’s sort of … I think it’s alive. It feels like something is moving around in there and it is the most
horrible sensation I have ever felt in my entire life. Whatever it is, you have to get it out, Zhaan. Now! I don’t
care what it takes. Just get it out of there before it hatches and explodes out of the middle of my chest!”
“Some sort of parasite,” the delvian theorized.
“All we’ve had to eat for days are food cubes!” D’Argo said. “There isn’t a parasite in existence that would
choose to infest food cubes.”
“It could have come from something we ingested on a planet,” Aeryn said. “If Crichton has become infected,
then it’s likely the rest of us have as well. He never touches anything unless one of us eats it first.”
“Aside from a mild case of indigestion, which I assume is the result of consuming this foul excuse for rations,
I feel fine,” came from Rygel.
Aeryn spared Rygel a fast grimace and a shake of her head. “Your body turns tannot root into chakan oil.
I doubt there is an organism in existence that can survive your digestive tract. It’s the rest of us who have to
worry about this.”
“What about you?” John asked Zhaan. “Aren’t you worried about contracting Magrazuma’s ultimate revenge?
What if this is transmitted by contact?”
“My species is not susceptible to the sorts of parasitic infestations that would affect the rest of you. The
possibility of cross-contamination is negligible, John.” Zhaan straightened up, her probing of Crichton’s
stomach completed. “I can’t make a competent determination here.” She took John by the arm and steered
him into the corridor. “The scanner in the maintenance bay should be able to tell us what is causing this.
Once I know the nature of the problem, I’m confident I’ll be able to formulate a cure.”
“Would that be before or after this thing eats out my brain and takes over my body?”
“Preferably before,” she said with a small laugh.
“After,” Rygel said at the same time. “It might be an improvement.”
Crichton wheeled around, forcing the hynerian to swerve in order to avoid a collision. For the first time since he
had appeared in the doorway to the Center Chamber, he exhibited some energy. “No way are you coming with
us, Buckwheat! I am not going to put up with your running commentary on the internal components of my body
while Zhaan figures this out. I’m tired, I’m sick, I feel like I’m going to die, I just spent the best part of two solar
days sitting,” -- he paused, considering Aeryn’s and D’Argo’s presence for several microts -- “the past couple
of days within crawling distance of the waste alcove in my cell, and I don’t have the energy to put up with your
crap. The three of you stay here. Zhaan can comm you with the bad news … or good news if it turns out I’m
going to die.”
“No!” Aeryn and D’Argo said together.
Aeryn continued alone. “If you have infected the rest of us with a disease, we have the right to know what it is
as soon as possible. We’re coming. Aside from that, you look like you’re about to fall down. Zhaan may need
us to carry you to the maintenance bay.”
John expended another four microts staring at the pair of warriors who were standing side-by-side with similar
mildly concerned frowns, and gave in without an argument. “Whatever. But not Rygel. One moderate sized
release from the Flatulator over there, and I stand a good chance of hurling all over the inside of the
maintenance bay. He stays here.” He turned and stumbled after Zhaan.
Aeryn and D’Argo exchanged glances. “That was too easy,” she said. “Crichton never gives in that quickly.”
“He must be sicker than he looks,” D’Argo said. “We’d better stay with him in case he falls down after all.”
Aeryn turned to face the Dominar. “Rygel, you stay here. No arguments.”
“But --” the hynerian began.
“No!” Aeryn said impatiently. She turned and hurried after Crichton and Zhaan.
“But --” Rygel tried again.
“Crichton is correct,” D’Argo said in a low growl. “One release from you and we will all have to endure the
added stench of his stomach contents being spewed all over Moya’s maintenance bay. You stay here.”
Without bothering to check if he had convinced Rygel, he too hurried off in the same direction the others had
“But I was going to say that I believe I know what’s wrong with him,” Rygel said, earbrows drooping in dejection.
“But no one ever listens to me.” He wheeled his chair around and reentered the Center Chamber. Viewing the
remains of the meal, he suddenly looked happier. “On the other hand, now there is more for me.”
* * * * *
Despite Aeryn’s gloomy prediction, Crichton made it to the maintenance bay without a problem, albeit more
slowly than usual. Zhaan had the scanner powered up and waiting for him by the time he rounded the corner
with Aeryn and D’Argo trailing along behind him. He circled the apparatus several times, eyeing the unfamiliar
components and the various displays. “You’re not going to have to put me in the deep freeze like Aeryn did to
Rygel, are you?” he asked.
“Would it make a difference I did?” Zhaan asked in return. She made several adjustments to the controls.
“Several hundred microts ago you told me that you didn’t care what it took to cure whatever is wrong with you.
Have you changed your mind?”
“I’m worried about what portion of my body Aeryn might take it into her head to snap off once you’ve turned me
into a John-cicle. Living or dying isn’t going to matter if I thaw out with certain bits missing.”
Zhaan laughed. “I’m glad to see that your sense of humor hasn’t suffered from whatever is bothering you.
Freezing shouldn’t be necessary unless the contents of your stomach are explosive. Stand here, John.” She
pointed to a spot in front of the scanner.
“Who’s making jokes? I was serious,” he muttered under his breath, but followed her instructions anyway.
The scan was over in a matter of microts. It took several more moments before the holo-imaging system began
weaving together a representation of Crichton’s midsection, working from the outside inward, performing a
painless, virtual dissection of his body. Zhaan watched intently, leaning closer once it began mapping out his
“By the Goddess,” she breathed after several microts. “You didn’t.”
“Didn’t what? What did I do now?” he asked, trying to see around her. “What’s wrong with me?”
“Surely someone warned you, Crichton. This could have been fatal! If you had waited any longer, it would
have been fatal.”
“What? What’s causing this?” He managed to crane his neck far enough to the side to peer around Zhaan.
Before he could make any sense of the display, D’Argo and Aeryn shouldered him aside and leaned in close to
the holo-image, blocking his view. After several microts of study, all three straightened up and turned as one to
look at him.
“Crichton, you are an idiot!” Aeryn said first.
“Would someone tell me what I am supposed to have done?” John yelled.
“I told you!” D’Argo bellowed. “Never … swallow … the dentic! You ate one!”
“No, no, no, no!” John shook his head vehemently. “I did not eat a dentic! You startled the crap out of me the
other morning and I damned near inhaled the damned worm! I was lucky it went down my throat instead of my
windpipe. What’s the problem? I just digested it like everything else I dump into my stomach. Right?” He
looked around at the others. "Right?"
Zhaan was already at the workbench that held her apothecary and supply of herbs, selecting various vials and
materials. “No, John. Dentics can survive even the most inhospitable environment. They thrive on bacteria
and substances we would normally consider poisonous. That’s why it is so important never to swallow one.”
“D’Argo didn’t explain that part. He just said never swallow it. I figured it was because they were tough to get a
hold of or something.” He looked down at his distended stomach. “So what have I got? A two hundred pound
dentic in there? Am I going to give birth to a bouncing baby monster worm?”
“Here, drink this.” Zhaan handed him a container half-full of a thick, greenish sludge.
Crichton checked on his audience first. Aeryn and D’Argo were standing to one side, both with their arms
folded across their chests, looking as though they were watching a particularly inept warrior who had just
managed to wound himself with his own weapon. Fortunately they weren’t saying anything. Once he had
confirmed that the heckling had drawn to at least a temporary halt, he turned his attention to the flask and its
contents. He started by sniffing it. “God, it smells like a compost heap.”
Zhaan gave his hand an upward nudge. “Drink it, John. All of it.”
“What’s it do?” He chugged down a portion of the mixture. “Oh god. That’s … awful. It not only smells like a
compost heap, it tastes like a compost heap.”
“The first thing a dentic does after being swallowed is consume all the bacteria in your stomach, with the sort of
results you might expect.”
“I know that part all too well, Zhaan. Do not get more than six feet from the waste alcove, do
not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars, do not bother pulling up your pants,” John chanted, and then
choked down more of the thick liquid.
“After all the bacteria have been consumed, a dentic will begin feeding on every bit of food it can locate in your
digestive tract …”
“Which would explain why I feel like I’ve been on a hunger strike,” John said between swallows.
“Once it is well fed, it begins to multiply.”
Crichton gagged, choked, and spewed a spattering mouthful of liquid across several square motras of the
floor. “It’s breeding inside me? That’s what I’ve been feeling?” He stumbled to one side, holding his stomach
with his free hand. “Oh god. Vomiting is the one thing these little bastards haven’t put me through so far, but I
think I’m about to puke.”
“That’s why your stomach is swollen. Keep drinking, John.”
“This cannot be happening. I cannot be the breeding ground for a colony of squirming dropouts from dental
college. Please tell me this is a bad dream.”
Ignoring his groans of dismay, Zhaan gestured toward the flask in his hand. “Drink all of it.”
“What’s this do?” He closed his eyes, chugged the rest of it, and then fumbled the container down onto the top
of the workbench.
“How do you feel now?” Zhaan asked.
“You mean aside from the fact that I’d like to die?”
“Yes, aside from that.”
He stood still for several moments, looking increasingly thoughtful. “Better. They aren’t moving around as
much. Yeah, better. What was that stuff?”
“Poison,” Zhaan said.
“POISON?!” he yelled incredulously. “You poisoned me? That’s your idea of a cure?”
A bubbling Delvian laugh brought his screams to an abrupt halt. “It is poisonous only to dentics, Crichton. The
combination of plant alkaloids in that mixture is one of the few things that will kill a dentic. In most species, it
works quickly without damaging the host. They should all be dead in a few more microts.”
“Most species,” John muttered. “And what if my species isn’t lucky enough to be on the correct list?”
“It is harmless to Sebaceans. You should be all right. Come on.” Carrying another drinking container in one
hand, she gestured toward the corridor with the other.
“Where are we going?” He looked over his shoulder. D’Argo and Aeryn were still trailing along. “And why do
Statler and Waldorf have to come with us?”
“We’re going to your quarters. I believe you’ll be better off there for the next few arns, and Aeryn and D’Argo
are coming because there is no reason why they shouldn’t. I’m sure they are simply concerned about your
welfare. In addition, you may require their assistance before this is over.”
John’s snort of disbelief came at the same time as the two barking laughs behind him. He glanced behind him
again. After viewing his escorts for several microts, he said, “I guess I should thank my lucky stars there isn’t
an intergalactic version of America’s Funniest Home Videos out here. At least that way I don’t have to worry
about them following me around with a video camera.”
“Whatever that means, John,” Zhaan said. “Here we are.” The foursome turned the corner and entered John’s
quarters as a group. The delvian guided him toward his bunk, and then handed him a second drinking
container, smaller than the first one. “Drink this.”
John reacted the same way as he had with the first portion of the cure. He stuck his nose into the top of the
flask and took a hesitant sniff. He smiled, took a small sip, swallowed, and then sucked the remainder down in
a hurry. “Chocolate! It’s the first thing I’ve run into out here that tastes even remotely like chocolate!” He
handed the empty container to Zhaan. “Can I have seconds?”
“I doubt you will want a second serving of this. How do you feel?”
All three of his companions were watching him closely. John looked around at them, increasingly nervous as a
result of their profound level of interest, and then let out a quiet belch. “Not bad. A little overly full maybe, but
I’m feeling a lot better now that the bait farm has stopped moving around. How am I supposed to feel?”
“I had to drink some of that stuff once. It took me all of ten microts,” Aeryn said. She looked toward D’Argo.
“How about you?”
“I lasted no more than twelve.” He looked toward Zhaan. “I believe Delvians, as a species, are fortunate
enough to never require this particular cure. How long has it been?”
“Nine microts,” Zhaan said, and then continued counting. “Ten, eleven, twelve …”
“Amazing,” Aeryn said. “We have finally discovered something that Crichton can do better than the rest of us.”
“What am I doing better than the rest of … of … uh oh.” John turned a light-green shade of pasty white and
began easing toward the waste alcove. “What exactly was that stuff anyway?”
Zhaan interrupted her counting to explain, “The dead dentics must be purged from your body, John. Otherwise
they putrefy inside your stomach and create a particularly virulent toxin. You would be dead in a matter of
arns. Nineteen, twenty. This is quite remarkable.”
“Oh god,” John groaned in a voice that had become thick and guttural. He had one hand over his mouth while
the other was holding his stomach. “I don’t like the sound of purged.” With one more half-strangled groan, he
spun around and bolted toward the waste alcove.
“Twenty-six microts,” Zhaan said. “I was beginning to think I got the mixture wrong.”
From inside the waste alcove came the sounds of a horrendously sick human violently ejecting the contents of
his stomach. After several microts of unpleasant noises, the coughing and retching came to a stop. “Oh …
God! Zhaan, that is … that is … that cannot have just come from inside my body!” he called. “That’s …
“That’s what happens when you swallow a dentic,” Aeryn yelled back at him.
Crichton appeared in the doorway. He was pale and sweating, but looked happier than he had just an arn
earlier. “I’m never cleaning my teeth ever again.” He took a step toward his bed.
Zhaan caught him before he could move any further. “No, John. You aren’t going to want to leave the waste
alcove just yet. This is going to take a while.”
“A while! How long is a … oh no.” He whirled and bolted out of sight.
“Someone will have to stay with him until this is over in order to make sure he’s all right.” Zhaan looked toward
Aeryn. “You and he have formed a friendship …”
“No!” Aeryn said.
“My dear, someone --”
“Someone else will have to stay! I am not going to stay in his quarters and listen to that” -- she gestured toward
where they could hear Crichton being explosively sick to his stomach -- “for the next several arns! What about
him?” She jabbed a hand in D’Argo’s direction. “He was the one who taught Crichton about dentics without
warning him that this could happen! D’Argo should be the one who has to stay.”
“No, no, no no!” the luxan protested, both hands waving an accompanying denial. “Listening to those sorts of
noises makes me spew as well. Unless you want to clean up after both of us, I am not staying.” D’Argo headed
for the door with Aeryn on his heels.
“Then we all stay,” Zhaan called after them. “In a way, we are all responsible for not adequately teaching
Crichton about these sorts of dangers, therefore we should all remain here until we are certain that he is well
on the way to a full recovery.”
“Zhaan! No!” came the simultaneous protests.
“Yes. Sit. It shouldn’t take more than five or six arns for him to clear the latest of the dentics from his digestive
“I’ll spew,” D’Argo said, slumping down onto Crichton’s bed.
Aeryn perched on the top of the storage shelves and glared in the general direction of the waste alcove. “He
took longer than anyone in the history of the known universe to respond to the emetic. How do we know he
won’t set a new record for this as well?”
The sounds of another bout of vomiting drifted out to them. This time even Zhaan grimaced in response to the
unpleasant serenade. “We must be …”
“Patient?” Aeryn asked.
“Hopeful,” Zhaan said. “We must be hopeful that he does not require a great deal of time.”
* * * * *
Crichton wandered into the maintenance bay, one hand full of foodcubes and the other holding the largest
drinking flask they had on board. Stepping over and around several pieces of equipment, he made his way
toward the Prowler and the steady stream of Sebacean that was coming from somewhere close to the sleek
craft. Since most of the soliloquy was getting past his microbes without being translated, he assumed it was a
fluent stream of cursing. The fact that it was coming from Aeryn provided some insight into a side of her
personality he hadn’t had an opportunity to see yet: the side that knew how to swear like a space-going sailor.
“Hey!” he yelled.
The swearing stopped and Aeryn appeared in the cockpit. “I didn’t expect to see you out of bed so soon,” she
said. “Most species would require at least two or three solar days to recover from what you went through. One
night’s rest is remarkable. How are you feeling?”
“Like a newly flushed radiator, which is to say that I’ve been cleaned out from stem to … um … never mind to
where. I feel better than I expected.” He gestured with the foodcubes and the flask. “Zhaan says once I catch
up on meals, I should be fine.”
Aeryn slid down the Prowler’s ladder, landing lightly enough that it made no sound. She ducked under the
nose and opened an access panel on the far side. All that showed of her was the lower half of her legs.
Crichton squatted down, admiring as much of the view as he could see.
“You were foolish not to say anything when you swallowed the dentic, Crichton. It is not a pleasant way to die,”
her disembodied voice said.
“Starving to death, you mean?”
Aeryn crouched down where she could see him, peering under the belly of the Prowler. “You would not have
survived long enough to starve. Dentics will eat anything, Crichton. They are useful and serve their purpose
because they are never allowed to feed to the point that they can begin to grow and breed, but until someone
discovered that they could be put to beneficial use, dentics were used as a method of assassination.”
“I’m not getting your point,” he said, after which he jammed half a dozen foodcubes into his mouth and began
Ducking under the Prowler, Aeryn walked over to John and squatted down beside him, turning one of the larger
laser probes over and over in her hands. “Once they reach a certain stage, dentics will eat anything in order to
stay alive … anything at all. You were very close to that stage. The scans showed that they had consumed
every last bit of matter in your digestive tract. They would have begun feasting on something else very soon.”
Crichton struggled to swallow his mouthful of food cubes and looked down at his stomach. “I hadn’t eaten
anything in two days,” he mumbled through a mouthful of crumbs.
“That may have slowed the process down. If you had eaten, they would have bred faster and you would be
dead by now. Why the frell didn’t you say anything when you swallowed it?”
Straightening up, Crichton wandered over to a workbench and hopped up to sit on it. “Aeryn, you and D’Argo
bust my chops about every single one of my mistakes.”
“Your mistakes can get any one of us killed. You have to learn, and you have to learn quickly.”
“Yes! Learn, Aeryn! That doesn’t mean get my ass busted every time I do something because I don’t know the
difference between right and wrong. The two of you let me blunder around and then stomp on me when I screw
up. That’s not teaching me. It’s standing around doing diddly squat until I make a mistake, and then rubbing
my nose in it. After enough of that sort of hazing, it gets easier not to ask than to have to wade through all
your ridicule just to get an answer, which is why I didn’t say anything this time. If someone gets killed because I
screw up, part of it is going to be your fault.”
She got to her feet as well, and wandered away from him. Still with her back turned, she asked, “If I agree that
you have a point, and this doesn’t mean that I am agreeing, then what do you propose as a solution?”
Aeryn turned around, looking suspicious. “What kind of deal?”
John hopped down from his perch on the work bench and went over to stand next to her. “You stop treating me
like the village idiot and show me how some of the things work around this oversized cross between an aircraft
carrier and a pollywog, and I’ll teach you how to learn on your own.”
Suspicion morphed rapidly into anger. “I know how to learn!”
“Damn right, you know how to learn. I know you can learn, Aeryn. I’m talking about a different way of learning
though. It’s –-” He stopped to think for several moments, then continued, “It’s like what you did when you
figured out what was wrong with Rygel. How did that feel inside your head?”
She shrugged and looked embarrassed. “Pilot helped.”
“I heard a little about that. Answer the question though. How did it feel inside your head when you were trying
to figure out what had happened to the Hynerian hydrogen bomb?”
“Unpleasant. Unfamiliar. I didn’t like it.”
“Until it was over and you had figured it out,” he said, prompting her.
“That’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about. You felt like that because you weren’t ever taught how to
learn something new all by yourself. I’m trying to say that there are others ways to learn than being
bludgeoned over the head when it’s too late.” John paced a short distance across the maintenance bay,
absentmindedly rubbing his stomach. “Look, this is the way you’ve been taught things all your life, Aeryn.
I understand that you’re putting me through the same sort of training you’ve always been given.”
“Which is?” she asked, interrupting him.
“You’re used to field strategy exercises, which only test your ability to apply known techniques to new situations,
after which you get punished if you screw up.” He made another circuit around the maintenance bay, energized
and thinking hard at the same time. “You were never taught how to learn,” he said, putting stress on the word
“I don’t see a difference.” Aeryn shook her head. “This is a waste of time.”
“Wait! Let me try to explain it another way.” When she didn’t leave, he took it as permission to make another
attempt. “You want me to help you reprogram the nav systems in the hotrod, right? How do you think I figured
out how they work? I’ve never seen any of that stuff before, Aeryn! They didn’t offer Intergalactic Programming
101 at MIT! I just stick my nose in there and see what’s attached to what. No one showed me how it functions.
I teach myself.”
Her tone, when she answered, was speculative. “I assumed it was similar to what you had in your ship.”
“Not even close.” John waited, giving her time to work it out.
“Instead of teaching me how to adjust the nav system, you are proposing to teach me how to teach myself how
it works,” she said.
He pointed at her with both forefingers. “You got it.”
Aeryn was beside the Prowler again, looking toward the cockpit with a quiet sort of eagerness in her eyes. She
turned to look at John, the enthusiasm cooling under the weight of suspicion. “And what do you want in
He ran a thumb along his lower lip, and then scratched his head for a moment. “Two things. First, you stop
busting my butt every time I botch something up that I don’t know jack about.”
“You can’t expect me to do anything about D’Argo,” she said.
“I’ll take care of D’Argo on my own. He’s my problem, not yours.”
She nodded. “All right. I agree. What is the second thing?”
“There are skills I need to survive around here that I can’t pick up on my own. You agree to teach me those
sorts of things, preferably without shooting me in the process.” Crichton took a long drink out of the flask, put
the cap back on it, and waited for her reply.
Aeryn watched him for several microts, her head tilted to one side. “Give me an example.”
“You can start by teaching me how to fly the transport pod.”
She spun away from him with a frustrated, “Oh, for frell’s sake!”
He went after her, gesturing with both arms, his voice rising with each additional segment of his argument.
“What? You think I can’t learn? I can learn how not to eat a dentic, how not to lock myself into my own quarters
by accident, how not to frell up the internal comms for the entire ship because I was trying to reset my comms,
and best of all, I can learn how to do things with the nav systems of your currently useless dragster parked over
there that you don’t have a clue how to adjust when we jump from one part of the galaxy to the next. Why is
learning to fly the transport any different?”
She turned on him, forcing him to back up several steps in a hurry. “Because if you make a mistake while I’m
attempting to teach you, we both die.”
“No shit, Aeryn. According to you and D’Argo, nine-tenths of the things I do every day can get us killed. This
won’t be any different. Is it a deal or not?”
She looked between Crichton and the Prowler several times, gray-blue eyes examining invisible facets of what
he was proposing. “The ability to adapting to fast changing conditions would provide a tactical advantage,” she
said at last.
He grinned, both eyebrows raised in cheerful inquiry. “That sounded sort of like a yes. Was it a yes? Do we
have a deal?”
“Yes, we have a deal, Crichton.”
He hooted and bounded across the maintenance bay, headed for a workbench covered in testing equipment
and tools. Snatching up half a dozen tools, he ran to the Prowler and scrambled up the ladder, shouting,
“Johnny is enrolled in Driver’s Ed! Come on. I’ll show you how to figure out how this bad boy nav system
works. It’s a good place to start the learning lessons because it’s really one of the simplest systems you’ve
ever seen. It’s a beautifully designed system, Aeryn. You should be proud of the Peacekeepers who thought
She went up the ladder right behind him. Five microts later they were both jammed into the cockpit, heads
together, Aeryn listening intently as John explained how to begin the mystifying process of learning something
entirely new on her own.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *