Wet Behind The Ears
(First posted March 9, 2007)
Rating:  G.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made
any profit from this story … possibly the opposite, considering the cost of paper and ink cartridges (for
proofreading) these days.    
Time Frame:  A week or two after the end of PKWars.    
Test Driver:  PKLibrarian.  I wasn't as tough on her as I was the last few stories.  She came through the
process unscathed for a change.

3rd Starburst Challenge (hosted by guider): Your task is to come up with a story in which the religious or
spiritual beliefs or rituals of one of the major characters (or one of the major races) is central to the tale.

*  *  *  *  *

With the exception of several challenges unique to caring for a newborn while living aboard a space ship,
fatherhood was shaping up much the way John Crichton had always imagined.  As expected, being a parent
consisted of enduring arns of his son’s crying, impressive amounts of toxic biological waste, midnight feedings,
a steady stream of diapers that needed to be washed, and very little sleep.  

The first three items didn’t surprise him.  He had done his fair share of watching over young cousins or
neighbors during his teens on Earth, which meant that he remembered the ear-shattering shrieks with painful
clarity, and the various types of hazardous waste that an infant was capable of producing were engraved on his
memory for all time.  John had also overheard enough stories about middle-of-the-night meals that he had
been sufficiently prepared for his role in the breastfeeding process.  As far as he was concerned, the rules
were simple:  Never fall back to sleep while Aeryn was awake; be as helpful as possible considering that there
was very little he could do aside from fetching burp cloths and making sure Aeryn was warm and comfortable;
and never ever snap at her when she was tired and impatient.  He had already learned that snarling at a
sleep-deprived, ex-Peacekeeper wife and mother was the fastest way imaginable to find himself holding a
hungry, unhappy child while Aeryn very deliberately disappeared for an arn or two.  

The diaper situation he had misjudged completely.  The sheer volume of material that needed to be laundered
on a daily basis was rapidly turning into a reeking, mountainous problem.  Leviathans had not been designed
with daycare in mind.  Moya’s complex system of sluice troughs and reclamation chambers were capable of
handling adult-generated types of waste, the occasional load of dirty laundry, and that was about it.  As far as
John could tell, no one on this end of the universe had come up with an Uncharted Territories version of a
Maytag washer and dryer.  When he asked Aeryn how clothes were cleaned when she was growing up on the
command carrier, she treated him to one of her trademark ‘Prowler pilots don’t do that kind of labor’ stares, and
stalked off without a word.  

His pursuit of a solution led to an extensive inspection of Moya’s fluidic and waste systems; followed by arns of
contemplation about how an Earth-style washer and dryer worked, a scavenger hunt for the parts he had
decided he would need, and half a solar day spent brainstorming with Pilot.  Two solar days of tinkering and
swearing had converted several different sized cargo containers, some motors, a pump, a metra or two of pipes
and tubing, and two sacrificial DRDs into a rudimentary front-loading combination washer and dryer.  To his
dismay and the raucous amusement of everyone who had gathered to watch, the inaugural run of the Crichton
Cleaning Service had transformed a load of soiled diapers into an enormous wad of shredded fibers.  An
additional two day marathon of modifications and non-stop fiddling had, in the end, yielded their first load of
spotlessly clean, dryer-warm diapers.  

The entire endeavor, while more than worth the effort, had been at the expense of sleep.  By the time John
shoveled their third load of laundry into the cargo-container inner drum, added some cleanser, latched the
door, and slapped the activation switch, he had been awake for the best part of three days straight.  So when
he woke from an unplanned, unintentional nap to discover that Aeryn had relieved him of his scheduled
baby-sitting duties, he didn’t question the baby’s absence for a single microt.  He murmured out a heart-felt,
grateful, “God bless you, woman,” pulled the covers over his head, and went back to sleep.  

Paradise didn’t last long.  He was yanked out of blissful unconsciousness after what felt like no more than a few
microts.  

“JOHN!  Wake up!”  

The thermal sheet and thicker insulation layers disappeared in a single, startling jerk.  Crichton sat up,
bewildered, thick-headed from the combination of exhaustion and being hauled out abruptly of a deep sleep,
feeling as though he had contracted an advanced and incurable case of amnesia.  Several microts passed
before he remembered where he was and what he was supposed to be doing at that moment -- namely
sleeping.  Aeryn was hovering over him, her entire body emitting sharp spikes of alarm.  

“What?” he asked.  “What’s the matter?

“Where’s D’Argo?”  She tossed the jumble of bedding into an empty corner of the cell.  

He started to say, “Dead, on Quajaga,” but caught himself before he could commit that particular mistake.  His
brain continued to trundle along somewhere between ‘slow’ and ‘dead stop’.  “DJ,” he managed instead,
differentiating between the Big D and Little D.  

“Yes, DJ!”  Aeryn grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.  “Wake up!  Where is DJ?  Pilot doesn’t have
him.  Neither does Chiana.  I checked the microt I found you asleep.  Where is he?”

That jerked him from nearly senseless to full alert in a single, unpleasant lurch of his stomach.  “I thought you
took him.  I dozed off; he was gone when I woke.  I assumed you’d taken him.”  He was on his feet without any
conscious recall of making the transition from lying down to upright; chilled, sweating, and panicked all at once.  
“He can’t crawl yet; he’s too little.  Oh god, someone took him.”  

“PILOT!” they yelled together.  

“Pilot, has someone docked with Moya?” Aeryn continued alone.  “Who came aboard?”

John spent half a microt debating whether to grab his pants and boots.  Even at the worst of times, he didn’t
usually dash about Moya clad in nothing more than a t-shirt, and black trunks.  Finding DJ was more important
than taking the time to pull on footwear or clothing, he decided.  Pausing just long enough to snatch his pulse
pistol out of its holster, he followed Aeryn into the corridor at a slapping, barefooted run.  

“No one has docked with Moya,” Pilot’s voice was saying over the comms.  “There are no ships within her
sensor range.  We have detected nothing out of the ordinary for several solar days.”  

“Cloaked, then,” John said.  “Stealth trajectory or something like that.”  He waved Aeryn to the left, waited for
her nod, indicating that she knew they were splitting up, then banked to the right.  “DJ is missing, Pilot!  Close
all hangar doors.  Lock Moya up tight!”  

Guilt was combining with shock and fatigue to form a new emotion that felt like a heart attack.  The unpleasant
sensation continued to spread, compounding with each additional microt that ticked by, transforming into a
nightmarish level of confusion and disbelief.  He didn’t know where to start looking for DJ.  A single thought was
derailing his attempts to make sense of what was happening:  This disaster was his fault.  

Once again, he had allowed himself to become fixated on one task to the exclusion of everything else …
including good sense.  They could have muddled by washing diapers by hand for a few more solar days.  
Driving himself to the brink of exhaustion in pursuit of a home-grown washing machine had been irresponsible.  
Not confessing that he was having difficulty staying awake was irresponsible.  Falling asleep with DJ in his arms
was irresponsible.  Not checking with Aeryn the instant he discovered that DJ had disappeared was criminally
stupid.   

This entire mess was his fault.  

John stumbled to a halt in the junction of two corridors, and couldn’t decide which way to turn.  No portion of
DJ’s disappearance made any sense.  Racing to the hangar bays felt like a waste of time, and charging from
airlock to airlock was equally futile.  In the absence of at least one clue to suggest who might have taken their
child, he couldn’t form a theory, let alone a plan.  

“This can’t be happening.  It’s all a bad dream,” he said.  “Someone tell me this is a dream.”  

“Shut up and keep searching,” Aeryn’s voice snapped.    

He hadn’t even realized he had grabbed his comms badge.  It was clutched in his left fist, unnoticed despite the
fact that its edges were biting deep into his palm.  That discovery only served to add another layer of
surrealism to the situation.  Two longs steps carried him to the side of the corridor.  Without hesitation, John
bashed his forehead against one of Moya’s plated internal ribs, testing to make sure he was awake.  It felt
exactly the way it was supposed to -- it hurt.  He wasn’t dreaming.  

“Aeryn?” he called over the comms.

“Search now.  Apologize later,” she answered.

Aeryn was running.  He could hear her boots pounding through Moya’s corridors each time she transmitted a
comment.  She wasn’t standing, frozen, guilt-ridden, in the junction of two corridors.  Crichton turned in a circle,
trying to choose a direction.  He needed to follow orders.  He needed to do what Aeryn was doing, and start
searching for his son.  

Pilot’s voice stopped him before he could take a step.  “Commander.”   

“What?  Where do I go?”  He assumed Pilot wouldn’t be calling him unless he had found some clue where DJ
had been taken.  

“I suggest you try the central sluice chamber.”

“Sluice chamber!”  He ignored the fact that Pilot’s suggestion didn’t make a lick of sense, spun in the correct
direction, and took off.  At this point, following Aeryn’s and Pilot’s orders was all he had left.  “Aeryn!”

“I heard.  You’re closer.  Move it!”

“Moving,” he said, put his head down, and accelerated.  

It took fewer than twenty microts to traverse the tier, find a ladder, scramble down two levels, and sprint the final
distance toward the sluice chamber.  

As he approached the door, he could begin to make out a single voice over the slap of his feet and the
pounding of his pulse in his ears.  Rygel was inside the chamber, chanting, and whatever the midget monarch
was saying, the words were consistently defeating Crichton’s translator microbes.  In yet another bizarre twist to
an already nightmarish situation, it sounded as though the hynerian was repeating, “Rub a dub dub” in a
drifting monotone.  The rhythmic, entrancing syllables were interspersed by a noise that Crichton recognized as
the sound DJ made whenever he emitted slobbering burbles.  His son was either engaged in the most prolific
generation of spit bubbles any human had ever witnessed … or Rygel had the infant’s head under water.

John let out a wordless yell of alarm, and accelerated to a flat out panicked run.  He skidded around the corner
at the doorway, nearly fell over in his haste, caught his footing at the last moment, and ran full tilt into Rygel’s
throne sled.  The abandoned chair, hovering close to the floor, caught him just below the knees.  Crichton
twisted awkwardly, fighting for balance, caught one foot behind the other, and went flying headlong.  He hit
hard, ignored the impact, let his momentum roll him over several times, and came back to his feet in a flailing
rush.  One more bounding step carried him into the sluice trough.

He snatched the baby out of the dominar’s hands, paused just long enough to make sure his child was all right,
and then turned his anxiety on the hynerian.  “Rygel, you freakazoid fruit loop!  What the hell are you doing with
my son?” he bellowed.  DJ let out an unhappy wail.  Crichton lowered his voice, and continued, every bit as
furious but more quietly.  “You whack job, have you lost your frelling mind?”   

“No, I haven’t,” Rygel said, glaring at John.  “And at least I had one to start with.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Rygel’s impending answer was interrupted by Aeryn’s arrival.  She rounded the corner at a run, neatly dodged
the floating throne sled, and slowed to a stop.  Her pulse pistol slid into its holster with an anti-climatic slither of
metal against leather.  “Explain,” she ordered.  

Rygel focused an angry scowl in John’s direction.  “As Dominar, I at least took the time to learn a few facts
before accusing one of my subjects of a crime,” he said.  “For all the cycles you’ve spent here, you still insist on
spending most of your time running about in total ignorance.  You’re not just a fool, Crichton.  You’re an
uneducated fool.”

“That’s a given.  Everyone knows I’m an idiot,” John said, accepting the criticism easily.  “Stop stating the
obvious and explain.”

“I’m performing a Hynerian ritual.”  

“What ritual?  The drown John and Aeryn’s son ritual?”  

“I wasn’t drowning him.  I would never hurt him.  Look at him.  Does he look like I have mistreated him?”

John looked down at the child cradled in the crook of his arm.  DJ didn’t look damaged.  He didn’t even look
upset.  If anything, now that the yelling had stopped, the baby looked healthy, moist, recently bathed and
delighted to be at the center of all the noise and attention.  He kicked both feet several times, gurgled up at his
father, and stuffed the fingers of one hand into his mouth.  Common sense waged a brief battle against the
massive load of adrenalin that had been dumped into Crichton’s bloodstream over the past tenth of an arn …
and lost the contest.  The fight-or-flight hormone had recovered from his initial mindless panic, gotten itself
sorted out inside his body, and had clearly decided that ‘fight’ was in order.  He desperately needed to yell or
hit, or to slam someone or something into a wall.  Rygel seemed like an appropriate target for his mounting
rage.

Aeryn stepped up to the edge of the sluice trough.  She put her hand on John’s arm, cutting off another furious
outburst before it could get started.  “What ritual, Rygel?” she asked.  

“The Rite of --”  The sentence ended in an extended bout of indecipherable Hynerian.  Once again, it sounded
as though he was chanting, “Rub a dub dub.”  

John looked toward Aeryn, hoping her translator microbes had fared better than his.  Dark eyebrows quirked
upward; she shrugged.  John turned back to Rygel.  “The Rite Of A Frog And A Kid In A Tub.  Fan-frelling-
tastic!  Except that doesn’t tell us anything.  Rygel, spit it out.  What were you doing with the bambino, and why
didn’t you simply ask us first?  And” -- he raised his gaze toward the ceiling, yelling to the room at large -- “why
the hell didn’t Pilot tell us about this the first moment we began to freak out of our minds?”

“Don’t blame Pilot.  I made him promise not to tell,” Rygel said.  “I was afraid you would say no, so I didn’t ask
for your permission.”  

“Pilot told us where to find him as soon as he realized we were upset,” Aeryn said quietly.  

John took in a deep breath and then let it out slowly, wrestling to get his need for violence under control.  
“Okay, Pilot doesn’t get executed today.  You, Rygel, on the other hand, had better start making some sense in
a hurry or you’re dead meat.”  

“I was performing an ancient Hynerian ceremony.  It is supposed to be conducted four solar days after a child is
born.  I didn’t dare take him before now.”

“Wise choice,” Aeryn interjected.  “It probably saved your life.”  

“Focus, Rygel,” John said.  “Get to the point.”  

“Our religious sects believe that each child must be presented to our gods, that they might be acknowledged as
sentient creatures.  Only then will they be watched over and protected.”  The hynerian’s eyebrows flexed
upward as he regained some of his habitual confidence.

“You want D’Argo to be protected by the hynerian water gods,” John said.  “You don’t strike me as a religious
mumbo-jumbo kind of a guy, Rygel.”  

“I’m not.”  The earbrows began to droop again.  “Not usually.  This is different.”

“Why different?  Different how?” John asked.

“It is different because of your lives, because of everything that has happened since the day the two of you
met.  This little one will need every bit of help he can get in order to survive to maturation.  I wanted to perform
the rites and then return him to you without you knowing what I had done, but your assumption that his life was
in danger is exactly why you should take my advice.”  Rygel’s stare shifted between the parents several times
before finally coming to rest on John.  “You think you understand life here, Crichton, but you don’t.  Not yet.  
You are still an ignorant fool, and your son faces dangers that you cannot imagine.  But take him.  Take him
away, and spend the rest of your cycles praying that he never needs the assistance of the Hynerian gods.”  

The sluice chamber was silent except for the quiet slap and slosh of tiny wavelets against the side of the
trough.  John turned to face Aeryn, hoping he would find some insight there.  She was staring at Rygel:  calm,
apparently unfazed by the recent alarm, and thoroughly unreadable.  

Behind him, Rygel broke the silence.  “If Zhaan had asked to perform this ceremony, would you have hesitated
for a single microt?  No, you wouldn’t have.  You never once questioned the existence of her goddess.”

“No, I never questioned that Zhaan believed in her goddess,” John said, turning around.  “That’s the whole
point.  It’s the idea of you serving as our intermediary that’s got me nervous.”

He was lying.  It wasn’t the thought of Rygel performing a hynerian religious rite over his son that had his
stomach doing acrobatic flip-flops.  It was the possibility that Rygel was correct, that DJ would need more than
the protection of his parents and a small measure of good luck in order to survive to adulthood.  And it was
result of something else, something he had been trying hard to ignore for a good portion of the last four
cycles.  

The rapidly expanding nest of rattlers in his gut were feeding off the knowledge that the odds of a solar flare
occurring at the precise moment he guided the Farscape module into orbit around the Earth and that his entry
vector into the atmosphere was at exactly the right time, angle and place to open a wormhole were so slim as to
be negligible.  Add in the conversation he’d had with Aeryn one peaceful evening after Last Meal, when she
had mentioned that it was nearly impossible for the pilot of a small spacecraft like the Prowler to time its
trajectory accurately enough to ride a leviathan’s wake through starburst, and he was left with two choices.  
Either Aeryn’s presence a motra to his left was the most blindingly absurd example of dumb luck … or they had
been brought together at the fancy of an unknown, unseen intelligence.  

And there was no way to quantify the size of the coincidence that it had been this specific woman who wound up
inside the cell with him that first day aboard Moya.  It could have just as easily been a male Peacekeeper, or
some regulation-bound, unimaginative female with a collection of habits or opinions he detested.  But it had
been Officer Aeryn Sun, the woman he loved so much he sometimes felt as though the molecules in his body
underwent a transmutation every time she walked into the room.   

John wasn’t comfortable with the thought that a god had intervened in his life.  All through high school and
college, he had deliberately surrounded himself with science, forming a view of the universe and life in general
that hinged on observable, measurable parameters.  He had been forced to toss most of what he had learned
during those years right out the door the day he had arrived in the Uncharted Territories.  Despite that, he had
clung to science as his route to making sense of his new universe, always seeking out the logical, demonstrable
answers.   

He never questioned his beliefs during the horrific moments in his life.  Torture, violence, death, and despair
never triggered the queasy uneasiness that said he might not be traipsing through the universe unobserved by
a higher power, after all.  It was in the peaceful moments that he most frequently found himself questioning how
or why his life had taken the mind-boggling detour that had led him to his current existence.  Waking up in the
middle of the night to find Aeryn snuggled in against his back; stubbing his toe on her boots because he still
hadn’t adjusted to where she preferred to leave them; finding her underclothes mixed in with his on the shelves;
watching her feed or bathe D’Argo -- these were the moments when he stopped breathing, held himself very
still, and wondered if someone was watching over him.  

John looked down at the helpless creature cradled in his arms, was greeted by a wide-mouthed, blissfully
innocent, thoroughly toothless grin, and discovered that the decision whether to let Rygel continue was an easy
one.  Taking his eyes off that smile required a conscious effort.  When he finally managed to turn his head
toward Aeryn, seeking her approval, she was staring steadily at him, waiting for his reaction.  He shrugged,
canting his head to one side, silently asking her for her permission, and received an infinitesimal nod in return.  

“Okay,” he said, preparing to transfer DJ into the arms of the half-submerged hynerian.  “Finish the rites.”

“No,” Rygel said, backing away.  

“You go through all this, and then --” John began.

“Not that way,” Rygel continued, ignoring the half-finished protest.  “I should not be the one to hold him.  When
the ceremony is done correctly, the parents hold the child together.”

“In here?” John asked.  “All of us in the water together?”

“Yes.”

Aeryn had begun unfastening her boots the moment she gave John her silent consent.  By the time John had
confirmed that everyone was going to wind up in the sluice trough, she had already stepped out of them,
removed her pulse pistol, and begun unfastening her pants.  A moment later, leather slithered to the floor.  
Aeryn stepped over the humped edge of the pool without a single word.  

“Kneel facing each other,” Rygel instructed.  “Hold the child between you.  You must join together in order to
introduce your child to the gods.”  

Feeling as though he was casting reason to the winds at the same instant he arranged to purchase liability
insurance for his son, John slopped to his knees and then shuffled around until he was facing Aeryn.  
Together, they followed Rygel’s instructions, making small adjustments until their family was arranged as he
wanted.  They ended up with their foreheads almost touching, D’Argo lying enfolded in their arms between their
two bodies, in much the same way he had come into the universe.  They remained silent while Rygel chanted
the ancient invocations, fumbled their way through the responses in Hynerian when they were instructed,
hoisted their son four times toward an imagined Hynerian sun, and then, with all of their hands hovering
nervously in case he began to sink, they carefully set D’Argo afloat in the warm waters of the sluice trough in
order to complete the ceremony.  

Most of it felt right.  At the very least, it felt as though they were hedging their bets rather than carelessly
tossing away an opportunity to ensure their son’s future safety.  There was only one portion of the process that
bothered John.  Throughout the entire ritual, in spite of his best efforts to take the rites seriously and no matter
how hard he tried to sort out a translation, it still sounded like Rygel was singing, “Rub a dub dub.”  


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