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Crashfic / Siren's Song (G) - Starburst Challenge 66
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 11:20:52 AM »
Siren’s Song

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Starburst Challenge 66 (hosted by vinegardog):  Wiles.  The challenge was to write a story where one or more characters employ wiles to get his/her/their way or, alternatively, one or more of the characters are fooled by someone else's wiles. 

Rating:  G.
Spoilers/Time Frame:  Future Fic, set well after PK Wars.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this tale, and I am giving the characters back the way I found them.
Betareader/Test Driver:  None.  Written quickly, poorly edited.  I beg everyone’s forgiveness for any errors, grammatical travesties, or oversights.

I hope you enjoy it. 

   * * * * *


John Crichton craned his neck, attempting to spot Aeryn in the crowd.  After several microts worth of futile scanning, he eased his seat away from the table and slowly got to his feet.  He stretched and adjusted the way his holster sat against his leg, attempting to mask his true intentions.  Across the table, his companion looked up at him.  Her eyes flickered to one side then the other, and a moment later a smile appeared, suggesting that she had seen through the subterfuge. 

“Hush up,” he said, waggling a finger at her.  “I’m going to be in a lot of trouble because of you, so don’t you say a word.”

The smile widened into a grin of delight for several moments, as if his comments had amused her in some way, and then she turned her attention back to the table and what lay on it.   

John scanned the marketplace again, easing up onto his toes from time to time in order to get a better view.  Several dozen microts worth of surveillance yielded the familiar sight of sleekly-restrained, glossy black hair gliding through the crowds of pedestrians.  There was no mistaking that it was Aeryn.  If the hair was not enough to identify the person beneath it, the gait would have clinched it.  No one moved like Aeryn, not even another Peacekeeper.  He had never seen another person, male or female, with the same stride -- smooth, athletic, laden with a subdued aggression that moved people out of her way, possibly without their ever noticing that they had stepped aside.  She could have disguised herself in bulky padding covered with a billowing, shape-smothering sack, and he would still be able to tell that it was Aeryn based on her walk alone. 

“Here she comes,” he said in a half-whisper.  “She is going to kill me.” 

His companion merely grinned.

John stayed on his feet, most of his attention trained on the female sitting across the table but half turned so he could watch Aeryn’s approach.  The fingers of his right hand tapped a light, absentminded staccato against the side of his pulse pistol.  “She is going to kill me,” he repeated, this time quietly enough so no one else could hear. 

It did not take long for Aeryn to reach the table.  All too soon she was ten motras away and almost in sight.  She took three long steps, slid smoothly around a small cluster of people blocking her way, and was in clear view at last.  She spotted John, smiled, and then her gaze slid past him to the table.  For the first time, her stride faltered.  Her right foot hesitated for a moment before landing; the left took even longer.  It took an almost unendurable ten microts for her to cross the final four motras.     

“I thought we talked about this,” she said a little too calmly. 

“We did,” John said.  “This is entirely my fault.  No excuses.  I screwed up, Aeryn.”

“I warned you about this planet and what was on it.”

“Yes, you did.”  He debated whether a hug would defuse the situation, and decided he was more likely to receive a sharply delivered elbow to his ribs or a knee to the groin than forgiveness.   

“This entire economy is based on providing every imaginable type of sensory pleasure,” she said.  “I told you that.”

“I know.  You warned me,” he said. 

“You said you could handle it,” she said before he could offer up an apology or an explanation. 

“I thought I could,” he said.  “I listened.  Honest, I did.  I listened to you, and I really thought I could deal with this.”

Aeryn took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, clearly struggling to contain her temper.  “What did she say to you?”

“The usual,” he said.  “She used her feminine wiles on me.”

“Feminine wiles,” Aeryn repeated as one eyebrow twitched upward.

He risked a quick kiss on her cheek.  “You know me.  I’m a sucker for feminine wiles.”

“That is an understatement.” 

The pair turned as one toward the table where their six-cycle-old daughter, liberally smeared with streaks of the multicolored confection sitting on the table before her, was engaged in an aggressive assault on the largest frozen treat the planet had to offer. The intergalactic version of a banana-split, it undoubtedly contained enough calories to keep his daughter on a sugar-generated high for several arns.  Possibly for several days.         

“You said, ‘I love you, Daddy’, didn’t you?” Aeryn asked her. 

Their daughter shoveled an enormous glob of the sugary delight into her mouth, smiled around it, and nodded enthusiastically.  “I wuv oo ‘addy,” emerged from the overstuffed mouth.   

John beamed down at his syrup-coated child. 

“You are such a sap,” Aeryn said.

John did not try to argue for the simple reason that Aeryn was correct.  When it came to his daughter, he was a lost cause.  She could get him to do almost anything.  She could get him to treat her to any extravagance, give in to the most absurd requests, tolerate her tantrums, forgive her when she misbehaved.  All it took was a smile and the magical four-word incantation. 

“It’s part of being a father,” he said eventually.  “It’s genetic.  Blame the Y-chromosone.”

“Are you ever going to learn how to say no to her?” Aeryn asked.

John decided it was finally safe to try a hug.  He wrapped an arm around Aeryn’s shoulder and pulled her in against his side with caution.  “Not until she’s old enough to start dating.”

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

2
Crashfic / Counterfeit (PG-13) - Starburst Challenge 65
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 11:20:16 AM »
Counterfeit

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Starburst Challenge 65 (hosted by SlapmasterEd):  Clichés.  Old saws. Proverbs. Wise old sayings. Morals to the story. Sayings so hackneyed they've become a punchline. I want you to use one. Pick your favorite (or better yet, your least favorite) and use it for inspiration.

Rating:  PG-13 for a very small amount of sexual innuendo.
Spoilers/Time Frame:  General non-specific Farscape, set some time after PK Wars for the simple reason that John and Aeryn are married.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this tale, and I am giving the characters back the way I found them.
Test Drivers:  I am posting this without first running it past a test driver.  All oversights, errors, and typos are entirely mine. 

Genesis:  Sometimes the most bizarre story possible is the result of taking a comment or sentence altogether too literally.  That’s all I’m going to say.

I hope you enjoy it. 


   * * * * *


Aeryn had caught him looking. 

John Crichton wrenched his gaze away from the woman sitting near the corner of the bar and let it drift around the room, stopping to examine the décor, the six-armed bartender, and several other patrons as though that was what he had been doing all along.  Feigning disinterested curiosity was not easy.  A majority of his concentration was focused on the impending explosion he was certain was percolating several inches away from his right shoulder.  He did not have to turn his head to confirm that she had noticed his enthralled stare.  Aeryn had gone completely still.  It was as though she had disappeared.

No matter where they were, no matter what they were doing, Aeryn was normally a complex amalgam of small body movements and permanent vigilance; she was a never-ending expenditure of energy that he could sense whenever she was nearby.  That aura of energy had become a reassuring constant in his life, similar to the thrum of a generator that was vital to his existence or the rhythmic grumbles of Moya’s internal systems.  As long as it was there, he knew that all was well and he was not in danger of dying.  When it disappeared, he knew his life was at risk. 

The only time Aeryn went entirely still was when he did something that hurt her feelings, which in Aeryn’s case was often the same as making her angry.  When that happened, she often recoiled both physically and emotionally, like an armadillo curling into its protective plating.  The smooth flow of life energy and alertness came to a stop as abruptly as if someone had flipped a switch.  And once that happened, he could seldom predict whether she would eventually relax and uncurl … or explode, flinging damaging shrapnel in all directions.

John devoted several microts to studying a collection of small shiny objects arranged on the wall that might have been a form of alien artwork, still working hard to make it look as though he had been surveying the interior of the building, then cautiously turned his head to the right to check on Aeryn’s reaction.  The level of irritation was always in direct proportion to the attractiveness of the woman who had caught his attention.  Based on that standard, he was in very big trouble.  The woman sitting five motras to his left was nothing short of gorgeous.

He took in a slow breath, braced himself, and turned his head the small additional distance necessary to face Aeryn. 

She was smiling.  John’s stomach knotted for a moment then squirmed; a moment later, a wave of queasiness flooded outward from the center of his body.  He was not sure what the smile meant, but his bowels were already convinced that the best choice was to drop all pretense of dignity and run.  He would have been happier if Aeryn had been angry.  The smile was downright unsettling. 

Before he could figure out how to start a conversation, Aeryn launched right in.  “She is very pretty.”

This was both good and bad.  Good because for once he knew the correct answer; bad because Aeryn continued to smile, possibly more brightly than before.  This had never happened.  It could not mean anything good for him. 

“Who are you talking about?” he said. 

One dark eyebrow quirked upward and stayed there.  If it had gone back down, it would have signaled surprise or uncertainty; it would have meant that he had a ghost of a chance of convincing her that he had not been staring at another woman.  By staying up, the eyebrow told him that he had already been tried, found guilty, convicted, and sentenced.  It invited him to end the anguish by offering a confession. 

He glanced briefly toward the other woman, tried for a nonchalant shrug, and said, “Not my style.  I’m not into blondes.  I prefer a certain brunette.” 

Aeryn leaned forward, looking past him toward the blonde.  “She is extremely attractive,” she said.  “I cannot imagine that the color of her hair would make a difference.” 

John debated whether to look or keep his eyes fixed on Aeryn.  Normally, the right choice in this type of situation was to behave as though every other living creature in the universe was male and that Aeryn was the only female left.  This was not a normal situation, however.  The smile was still firmly in place, and did not seem strained or insincere.  Something was amusing her.  He watched her for several more microts, hoping for a clue how to respond, then slowly turned his head to look at the woman. 

It was a mistake.  She was even more stunning than she had appeared at first glance.  When he had initially spotted her, she had been more buxom than he normally preferred, more voluptuous in a wide-hipped way that he had once liked but that no longer excited him.  On second examination, she was less curvaceous, leaner, tending toward slender rather than well-padded.  Her face had more firmness and character than he remembered, better defined cheekbones, and her eyes had begun to remind him of Lauren Bacall.  In fact, the longer he stared at her, the more beautiful she seemed to become, as though she was transforming into a different person right before his eyes.  He blinked several times then rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger.  When he looked up again, the woman looking back at him was the most striking, elegant female he had ever encountered.  He took in a deep breath, let it out slowly, and told himself silently but very firmly that he preferred Aeryn. 

His body had other ideas.  The familiar surge of warmth and energy in his groin gave him a split microt’s advance warning that a marital catastrophe was about to occur.  He closed his eyes and imagined -- as vividly and realistically as possible -- Aeryn thrusting the muzzle of her pulse pistol into his crotch and pulling the trigger.  Sexual interest faded at a speed that verged on painful.  He let out what he hoped was a silent sigh of relief, and turned to face his wife.     

“What’s going on?” he said.  “What is she?” 

The smile changed.  It shifted from amusement to something laden with an intricately intertwined collection of emotions that made him go weak at the knees for the second time in the space of a few microts.  There was love, respect, admiration, and half a dozen other silent and unidentifiable messages contained in that smile, none of which held any anger. 

“Not many men could do that,” she said, this time so quietly that no one else could hear. 

Aeryn’s hand rested on his knee for a moment before tracing a feathery light touch up the inside of his thigh.  It took him a moment to remember what they were talking about.  “Do what?”

“Look away from her.” 

The enigmatic smile began to make more sense.  Aeryn had known what was occurring from the start.  “Then she is doing something to me.” 

“Not exactly,” Aeryn said.  “You are doing something to her.  She adapts.”

The fragments of information assembled into a coherent whole.  “She adapts to become exactly what I would find most desirable.”

Aeryn inclined her head once, agreeing. 

“Then she ought to look like you,” he said. 

The smile of amusement was back.  “Nice try.” 

“I’m serious,” he said.  “If I stared at her long enough, she would become you.  She is already headed in that direction.” 

Aeryn slid off her seat, brushed a fast kiss across his cheek as she moved past him, and headed toward the woman who had transformed into a thorough merging of Aeryn and Lauren Bacall -- elegant, intelligent, strong-willed, and uniquely attractive. 

“Where are you going?” he called after Aeryn. 

She raised one hand, telling him to wait.  Six long strides later she reached the other female, grabbed her by the hair with one hand, kicked her feet out from under her, and threw her forcefully to the floor. 

“Aeryn, what the frell are you doing?”  John yelled.  He pushed his drink to one side and went after her. 

Before he could take two steps, Aeryn had flipped the woman onto her stomach.  She put one foot on the small of her back, grabbed her by the back of the neck with both hands, and yanked hard.  John braced himself for an ear-splitting scream of pain.  What he heard instead was a repulsive sounding combination that sounded like someone had stepped in knee deep mud and torn their pants at the same time, a wetly squelching ripping noise.  Aeryn shifted her grip down the woman’s back, moved her foot to her buttocks, and pulled again.  Slurping, dripping, tearing … slithering.  The nauseating sequence ended with a sloppy thump.  Something slipped out of the center of the woman’s body and fell to the floor.

John came to a stumbling, horrified stop.  “What the frell is that?”

Aeryn took a step back.  She held what looked like an empty sack, except that it had blonde hair at one end.  “Selgorgian,” she said. 

“Slug.”  Producing the syllable was a challenge.  His voice was thick and guttural, clogged by a strong urge to vomit.  “Revolting, slimy, disgusting looking slug.”  The creature was slithering toward the door, leaving an equally revolting track in its wake.  “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Aeryn tossed the skin to one side.  Several of the bar’s patrons shied away from it, glared at her for several microts, and then went back to their drinks. 

“Why does this not bother them?” John said. 

“The selgorgs are native to this planet,” Aeryn explained, coming to a stop next to him.  “They molt periodically as they grow, so anyone who lives here gets used to finding the skins lying around.” 

“What was it after?  Did it want to” -- he paused for several microts, searching for the best term -- “mate with me?”   

“Probably.”  Aeryn slid her arm through his, and nudged him into motion, headed for the door. 

“Please tell me I’m not genetically compatible with that thing.”  The idea that he might be able to create offspring with the creature was enough to eradicate his interest in sex for the next several cycles. 

“Protein,” she said. 

“Protein!  Do you mean like meat?  It would have eaten me?” 

“No, I mean this type of protein.”  She gave him a quick pat against the front of his pants. 

John looked down at his fly, trying to decipher the wordless portion of the explanation.  He was still envisioning sharp teeth taking chunks out of his body, so it took several microts for her meaning to break through.  “Oh!  That kind of protein.” he said when the pat suddenly made sense.  “Fructose, amino acids, that type of stuff.” 

“That type of stuff,” she echoed, mimicking his tone of voice.  “It is their favorite food source.” 

John shuddered and then stumbled as they went out the door together.  Too much of his attention was focused on what might have happened if Aeryn had not been with him.  He was not paying attention to where his feet were taking him.  “That does it.  I’m never leaving Moya again. There are too many weird, freaky species out here.  Every time I think I have finally learned enough to cope with a quick trip to a planet, someone or something goes out of its way to prove me wrong.” 

They slowed together to let a stream of vehicles pass by, then jogged across the street, heading toward the landing field where they had left the transport pod.  “Does this mean you’ve learned something today?” Aeryn asked once they had slowed to a walk.

“Yes.  Definitely.”  It was payback time.  He knew she wanted him to say more.  Aeryn was waiting for him to explain, and under most circumstances getting him to shut up would have been the challenge.  This was the perfect opportunity for revenge, however; retribution for the enigmatic smile and her unhelpful explanation about the selgorgian’s preferred diet. 

“What lesson did you learn?” Aeryn asked after nearly two hundred microts of silence.  She sounded simultaneously irritated and yet tolerant, as though she was exasperated by what he was doing and at the same time understood why he was doing it and was not taking it to heart.   

“Never judge a slug by its cover?” he said, ending on a deliberate upswing, trying for a joke. 

It was always difficult to tell with Aeryn, but he thought she might have come close to laughing.  Either that or she needed to sneeze.  “Wrong,” she said. 

“Beauty is only skin deep,” he said, trying again. 

Aeryn expression suggested that she was running out of patience and he was fast running out of chances.

“That if I’m going to stare at a woman and get all hot and bothered by how good she looks, I had better make sure I’m looking at you.” 

Aeryn slid her arm around his waist, pulled him tight against her, and nodded once.  He had finally told her what she had been waiting to hear. 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Thank you for reading!

Crash
:dk:
3
Crashfic / Re: Turn Of The Wheel (G) - Starburst Challenge 62
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 11:19:32 AM »
Turn Of The Wheel (continued)


Someone at the far end of the hallway, closest to the junction where the skrimm would emerge from the upper levels, yelled something unintelligible and began to fire.  Return fire from the skrimm hammered into the hallway, ricocheting off walls, whanging and exploding, showering everyone in rock dust and fragments.  Dirt, smoke, and the oily clouds of expended chakan oil began to fill the tunnel.  A figure loomed into sight at the far end of the corridor.  Greshyn began firing.  She did not have to worry that it might be a member of her squad.  Anything more than a motra off the floor would be skrimm.  Pulse fire accelerated.  Balls of energy streaked down the tunnel, all headed for the same point.  There was an enormous flash of light, blinding her for an instant, and then there was another huge hulking shadow, larger and closer than the last. 

“Fire, fire, fire!” someone yelled.  “Increase rate of fire!”

There were energy blasts everywhere, going in all directions.  A scream and an explosion.  A pulse weapon had been hit and had blown up.  Part of the roof caved in.  Another flash of light, another skrimm destroyed, bringing the tally to two.  Greshyn shifted to the left, trying to align her blasts with the position ahead of her, trying to concentrate the energy.  Another scream.  The first position at the head of the corridor was overrun.  The skrimm advanced.  Jek was still beside her, crying in terror but firing steadily despite that.  He got up onto his knees, pulling at the trigger of his rifle as fast as his finger could move, even faster than Greshyn.  She started to tell him to keep his head down.  It was too late.  His body slumped to the floor.  There was nothing above the shoulders. 

The entire tunnel shook. The far end of the corridor disappeared in a cloud of flame, dust, and smoke.  A skrimm wallowed into view, much closer than they had been microts before.  They had blasted through the wall halfway up the corridor from a parallel passageway.  The front positions were now pinned between two masses of skrimm, cut off. 

“Hit it!” Greshyn shouted, forgetting that her battle comms would carry her voice to the rest of the squad.  There were only five positions between the skrimm and the hatch leading to the labs and the rest of the facility.  Everyone concentrated their fire on the lead skrimm.  It died in a flash of light and an explosion.  Greshyn ducked, covering her eyes.  When she looked again, a firing position and the two people behind it was gone, obliterated by the blast.

“Ssezzin!” Olpin yelled.  “Ssezzin!” 

Greshyn stared at where Ssezzin had been, temporarily unable to process that nothing remained of the defensive position or the two people kneeling behind it, and then numbly continued firing.  There was nothing else she could do.  Another skrimm appeared and then another.  They were jammed four and five across, filling the tunnel from side to side.  There were not enough rifles left to kill them. 

“Olpin, fall back!” Greshyn called.  “Fall back!” 

Olpin bolted, headed for Greshyn’s position, and a skrimm charge caught her square in the back.  She flew, tumbled, hit the floor, and suddenly there was nothing but a limp uniform and smoking armor lying against the wall.  It looked as though someone had casually tossed a heap of rags into the corner. 

“Olpin!” Greshyn cried out.  The two syllable scream tore at her throat, lungs, and heart.  She put every bit of her anguish into the drawn out howl, crying out not just for Olpin, but Ssezzin and everything else they had lost over the last several cycles. 

It was over.  She was still firing, as were the other survivors around her, but as far as she was concerned, her life was over.  Ssezzin and Olpin were gone, lost in the space of a few microts.  She gathered her feet under her, preparing to charge the skrimm head on, intending to join her two friends in death.  It would be a joy, a mercy, a delight. 

She jumped to her feet, took a step forward, and was knocked onto her back by an explosion.  The explosions continued.  Not explosions, she realized in a dazed fashion after several microts.  Energy bursts.  Energy releases accompanied by blinding flashes of light.  Perhaps reinforcements had arrived.  The demented flibisks were back inside her chest.  Hope fluttered into life.  Scorpius had managed to find reinforcements. 

It took three tries before she could get her stunned body to roll over onto her stomach.  She squirmed forward, resuming her position behind her mound of debris, and then wriggled upward until she could peer over the top.  The skrimm were dying, just as she had guessed.  She watched, still dazed and more than a little confused, as a streak of colored light swooped out of the ceiling of the tunnel and streaked into the middle of the nearest skrimm.  She was not sure what happened next.  It looked as though the skrimm burst … or exploded … or something.  All along the tunnel the same thing was happening.  The skrimm were being attacked and were dying, some in an intense flash of light, some in magnificent explosions.  Sections of ceiling fell in.  She watched with dismay as an entire segment came down, burying Olpin.  Craters appeared in the floor.  A section of wall crumbled, threatening to bring down everything above it.  The corridor shook and bounced in response to the destruction.  Greshyn clamped her forearms over her ears, hunkered down behind her protective pile of dirt, and spent the time wondering if the entire level was going to collapse. 

After twenty microts of bedlam, the hallway suddenly went quiet.  Greshyn lowered her arms and sat up, not sure what to expect.

“Cease fire.  Do not fire.  I repeat, do not fire,” Scorpius’ voice said over the battle comms.  “All units acknowledge my orders.  All units, secure your weapons.” 

Greshyn keyed her comms.  “Acknowledged.  Secure weapons.  Do not fire.”  She engaged the safety on her weapon, just to be sure it could not go off, and then got to her feet, shaking and confused.  A pitifully small number of other figures were doing the same.  They walked toward her, some stumbling, some stopping to kneel beside fallen comrades.  Greshyn went to where Olpin lay.  Most of her was buried under chunks of ceiling.  Only her head and arm were visible.  Greshyn knelt down and took Olpin’s hand in hers.  It was still warm.  She waited, half expecting her friend to open her eyes, grin up at her, and say, “Would you get this frelling mess off of me?  I need to piss,” as she had on one other occasion. 

Olpin did not open her eyes.  She remained still.  There was no pulse in her wrist.  Greshyn rubbed the heel of one grimy hand across her eyes, scrubbing hard at the sting of tears.  There was a distant boom, the floor shook, and a cloud of dust billowed into the corridor at the far end.  She wondered if more skrimm were advancing, and discovered that she did not care. 

Greshyn’s battle comms crackled for a moment.  “We had to blast our way through a roof fall,” said a voice that was not Scorpius’.  “Coming in now.  Nobody shoot.  We’re the good guys.” 

Footsteps echoed in the distance.  Rubble clattered and squealed against the tunnel surface.  Two figures strode slowly out of the dust and the gloom, sebaceans, one male and one female.  A microt later, more people appeared.  There were several luxans and a small number of nebari.  Greshyn stood up in order to get a better look.  The sebacean male led the way with the female to one side and a scant half step behind.  They were both tall, well built, wore black leather pants and long overcoats, and carried the old style pulse pistols.  They advanced along the corridor cautiously, checking to make sure there were no further threats, but without any overt sign of fear.  They moved in perfect partnership, never bumping into each other, anticipating each others movements, aware of what the other was doing without looking. 

A thought about them niggled at Greshyn, some piece of information from the past that refused to be captured.  It tickled at the back of her mind, suggesting that if she had enough time to sit and think about it, to rummage through her memories, she would know who they were. 

They came to a stop three motras from where Greshyn and the other survivors stood.  The female turned to the small group trailing behind them.  “Clear the entire complex to make sure they got all of the skrimm.  If you find any, do not engage.  Retreat and let us know.  We’ll request another attack to take care of them.  Understood?”

One of the luxans nodded.  “No casualties,” he said.

“We don’t want to lose anyone,” she said.  “We haven’t had any losses yet.  Let’s keep it that way.” 

“We’ll check for wounded,” one of the nebari said. 

The group split up, disappearing into corridors and through the holes that the skrimm had blasted in the walls, spreading out to search for survivors of all types.  Several of the nebari began working their way slowly up the hallway, checking for wounded.  Everyone in the corridor with the exception of Greshyn had at least minor wounds and was escorted toward the surface of the planet.  One hundred microts later, she found herself standing alone except for the two sebaceans. 

“No injuries?” the male said to Greshyn.

“No.”  She looked at where Olpin and Ssezzin lay and did not attempt to explain that she had been fatally injured this day.  She had lost two-thirds of her self.  It was impossible to go on living this way.  The first tears threatened to break loose.  The lump in her throat made it impossible to speak, which was good since if she tried to say something, she was sure she would start screaming. 

The armored door behind her clanged, rattled as the catches were released, and swung open.  Scorpius emerged and walked toward them.  “This is unexpected.” 

“Grasshopper,” said the male.  He tilted his head to one side slightly, acknowledging Scorpius’ presence.  “It’s been a while.” 

Scorpius stepped to one side, to where he could get an unobstructed view of the entire hallway, and surveyed the scenery.  It went on long enough that Greshyn had time to figure out that he was searching for something. 

“Problem?” the stranger asked. 

“There seem to be several people missing.” 

“They’re taking care of your wounded.”

“That’s not what he means,” the female said quietly. 

She had moved closer to the male.  Their bodies were communicating again, sending and receiving small signals, in perfect partnership.  Greshyn felt as though the grief would destroy her.  It threatened to grind her down into insignificant shards that could no longer support life.  She had shared that type of silent communion for so many cycles.  It had bored on telepathy.  Theirs had been three souls so perfectly in harmony that words were frequently not required.  They had simply known what the others were thinking.  Greshyn watched the silent conversation, could not read the messages being transmitted, and ached to have Olpin and Ssezzin by her sides.   

The male’s gaze flicked to the woman at his side, and then back to Scorpius.  Enlightenment struck; it showed in his eyes.  “You’re not talking about reinforcements.  You mean kids.”

Scorpius said, “I heard that you had several offspring.” 

“I’ve been known to do some stupid things in my day,” the male said, “but I draw the line at bringing my children into a war zone.  We left them somewhere safe.”  He made a show of looking Scorpius over from head to foot.  “Some place where you will never get close to them.” 

A new entity had joined them in the now-quiet corridor.  Hatred, thickly interlaced with anger, flooded outward from the male.  For a moment, Greshyn was certain that Scorpius was about to die.  In that instant, in the moment that it took for Greshyn to move one step back to get clear of any pulse weapon fire because she was convinced that Scorpius would be dead within the next microt or two, she realized who had come to their rescue. 

It was the animosity that gave her the critical clue she required; it was the thick aura of dislike emanating from the male that triggered her memory.  It did not matter that everything had happened before she was born.  Once she had learned that her mother had been involved, Greshyn had searched for every bit of information available on the events that had taken place twenty cycles ago. 

Greshyn’s head spun slightly.  It felt like a mild case of oxygen deprivation -- just bad enough so it was difficult to think but not so severe that it would knock her off of her feet.  If someone had told her that Djanca Bruz had intervened on her behalf, it would have been easier to believe.  Everyone she had ever talked to about them was convinced that they were either dead or had left the Uncharted Territories and Peacekeeper-controlled space forever, disappearing into the vastness of deep space in pursuit of peace and a new beginning.  The truth rattled her universe, shook both it and her body to their foundations. 

She was standing within an arm’s length of John Crichton and Aeryn Sun. 

“Why?” Greshyn blurted out before she had a chance to think.  She looked at Scorpius, half expecting him to execute her on the spot for speaking without permission. 

John Crichton’s eyes swiveled in her direction.  “Why you?  Why here?”

Greshyn watched Scorpius for a moment, waiting for some indication whether she should reply or not.  When nothing happened, she said, “Yes.  Why did you save us?”

“Excellent question,” Scorpius said.

“Coincidence,” Crichton said.

“It was the largest gathering of skrimm ships we could locate,” Aeryn Sun said. 

“Demonstration of overwhelming force,” Scorpius said.

Crichton gave him a single nod.  “Send the bastards home with their tails between their legs.” 

“Why help in the first place?” Scorpius asked.  Understanding crept into his expression, and he continued before anyone else could offer an explanation.  “You did not do this for us.  You did it because they were threatening either your family or your home.”

Crichton stared at Scorpius for several microts, a series of emotions flickering by so fast that Greshyn could not catch them all, let alone decipher what he was thinking.  He eventually settled on a single expression that she thought might be a combination of loathing and fear.  A moment later, he looked down at the pulse pistol in his hand, staring at it as though it held the answer to a problem. 

“You cannot shoot him,” Sun said.  “You agreed.”

Crichton turned toward Sun, putting his back to Greshyn.  She had to strain to hear what he was saying.  “He knows too much.  You heard what he just said.  He knows we’re somewhere within range of this planet.” 

“It does not matter,” Sun said.  “After today, he will no longer be a threat.  You were the one who convinced me of that.  Do not shoot him now.  Not after we have gained so much.” 

Crichton stood with his head hanging for several microts, then nodded twice and jammed his pulse pistol into its holster with a vigorous thrust.  He spun back so he was facing both Scorpius and Greshyn.  “You’ve heard of collateral damage?  Call this collateral benefit.  Saving your ass in the process was entirely unintentional.”  He flicked a quick look toward Greshyn.  “Not yours.  We’re glad to help anyone except Nosferatu over there.” 

Scorpius let out a long, hissing exhalation.  “You have developed a weapon.” 

From the first moment she figured out who they were, Greshyn’s attention had been focused entirely on Crichton and Sun, to the exclusion of proper combat readiness.  An entire battalion of skrimm could have marched into the base and she would not have noticed.  She knew that she was captivated by their presence and did not attempt to fight free of her fixation.  She noted every small shift of their bodies, the way they moved, how their coats shifted and fluttered each time they moved, and how they seemed to function as a single entity.  For a short time, she was in the presence of legends come to life, and she wanted to imprint every single microt of the experience permanently on her memory.   

Scorpius’ short comment jolted her out of what felt like a hypnotic spell.  His voice had changed.  It had shifted from his usual casual disinterest to a tone that overflowed with avarice.  The accent was the same, as were his choice of words and relaxed, almost languid delivery. What had changed, and had jerked Greshyn’s attention back to her commanding officer, was the underlying motivation in his voice.  Scorpius either had not bothered or was unable to conceal that he wanted Crichton’s weapon, badly enough that she had no doubt he would stop at nothing to get it.  If he had spoken to her in that tone of voice, she would have been tempted to draw her weapon and shoot him on the spot. 

She began to understand Crichton’s loathing.  Crichton, on the other hand, seemed unbothered by the statement or the tone of voice.  If anything, it had given him strength … or resolve.  Greshyn went back to watching Crichton and Sun, intrigued by their reactions to Scorpius.

“No, I haven’t,” he said.  “I got tired of watching you flail around, throwing other species into the path of the grimms --”

“Skrimm,” Sun said quietly, correcting him. 

Crichton continued as if he hadn’t heard her.  “-- in an attempt to stop them.  I had just about had enough of your Machiavellian bulldren when you deliberately wheeled the grimm advance so it ran over the illonic colonies.  Forty billion people, Scorpius.  Their military couldn’t stand up to the grimms and you knew it ahead of time.  They didn’t have a prayer.  Forty billion illonics wiped out in a matter of solar days, all because of your quest for power.”

“My quest for peace, John.”

“Peace, my ass.  It’s been twenty cycles and you still haven’t figured it out,” Crichton said.  “You still don’t understand that entire civilizations are not chess pieces to be sacrificed like pawns.  Two decades of rubbing shoulders with the eidelons hasn’t been enough to convince you that throwing forty billion living, breathing, innocent people to the wolves won’t buy you peace.” 

“I was not attempting to buy peace with that maneuver, John.  I was after time.  All we need is --”

“All you need is a bigger, badder weapon in order to win the war,” Crichton said, raising his voice to a shout.  “All you need is something worse than wormholes, something that can devour every single living grimm in a single gulp and leave the rest of the universe unscathed.”  He took several steps to one side in order to kick a piece of rubble down the corridor.  “You never learn, do you?  This is who you are and it’s never going to change.  I thought you had finally figured it out when you realized that wormhole weapons weren’t the answer, but you’re back to the same old crap as the first day I had the bad luck to cross paths with you.”

“The Peacekeepers are no longer the force they once were, John.  We cannot win this war by weight of numbers.  The skrimm do not conquer; they annihilate.  We must have superior weapons.”

“No, you don’t need a superior weapon, you demented bastard.  What you need are superior allies.  What you needed was to make friends with the species that consider the grimms --”

“Skrimm,” Scorpius said, correcting him.

“-- a light tasty snack, to be snapped up like party mix.” 

“High Command has approached every species with adequate forces to --”

Crichton waved him into silence.  “Give it up.  You don’t have the right circuits in your head to ever understand this.  The language you speak” -- Crichton stepped close and hammered two rigid fingers into the center of Scorpius’ forehead, indicating that he was referring to the half-breed and no one else -- “doesn’t cover what I’m talking about.  It’s not about adequate forces.  It is about finding the right allies.”

“John, you must give us --”

“I must give you absolutely nothing.  The war is already over.  The skrimm are finished.  The fleet above this planet has been destroyed.  In one or two solar days, they will be falling back to their own territory all along the front.  Any units that do not will be wiped out to the last skrimm.  Listen carefully, Scorpius.  The war is over.  We are going to evacuate this research facility and then we are going to destroy it.  No more big shiny weapons built just for you.  No more fighting.  No more killing billions.”

Greshyn risked another question.  “How?”

Aeryn Sun turned to look at her.  “How are we killing the skrimm?” she asked, verifying the question.

“Yes.” 

“The skrimm are primarily energy.”  Crichton continued to stare at Scorpius, speaking to him instead of Greshyn.  She remained silent. 

“Encased in an organic matrix that can be modified or repaired within microts,” Scorpius said. 

“Which is why they’re impervious to most weapons and so difficult to kill,” Sun said. 

“And the eidelons were no help because no one lives long enough to communicate with a skrimm.  If you see a skrimm, a few microts later, you’re dead,” Crichton said. 

“Yes, yes.” Scorpius grimaced, as if to say that the two were wasting his time.  “We are well aware of these factors.  The research being conducted at this facility was focused on developing a weapon that could destroy the organic elements and dissipate the energy all at once, otherwise the skrimm can re-coalesce its energy and build a new external matrix out of whatever matter is at hand.  You state the obvious, John.” 

Crichton gazed at him for several microts before turning to look at Sun.  “He’s not as bright as everyone thinks.” 

“Or else he does not know about the energy riders,” she said.  “I had never heard of them until you mentioned them as a possibility.” 

“You would think that a guy who gets around the universe as much as he does, sticking his nose into everyone’s business, would have come across them by now.”

She nodded, a faint hint of a smile appearing in the muscles around her eyes.  “You would think so,” she said, agreeing.  “Perhaps he needs to get out more.” 

Crichton gave Sun a quick, glancing kiss, and then addressed Scorpius.  “Grasshopper, brace yourself.  You are about to meet a new species.”  Crichton clapped Scorpius on the shoulder, and then moved past him, headed deeper into the complex.  “Before you do, I have a confession to make.” 

Scorpius turned, watching Crichton’s progress down the corridor, and waited.

Crichton paused beside Greshyn.  “Go,” he said quietly, gesturing toward where the research labs were located.  “You won’t want to stay for what comes next.” 

She hesitated, looking toward Scorpius, her commander.   Sun stepped around Crichton and took Greshyn by the elbow.  “Come with me.  You have no reason to trust us, but just this once you need to ignore your training and simply do what we say.” 

Greshyn looked into the other woman’s eyes and found something there that she had difficulty identifying.  It took several microts to recognize that it was compassion.  She would have identified it more quickly if it had been Olpin or Ssezzin standing next to her, urging her to simply accept their direction without an explanation.  They had loved her.  Coming from a complete stranger, it was impossible to comprehend.  She did not understand why Aeryn Sun cared about her. 

Greshyn stalled for time.  She knew she could solve the puzzle if she were given enough time.  Clearly there was a piece that she had overlooked.  “My friends,” she said, gesturing toward where the bodies were half-hidden under a mound of rubble.  The delaying tactic did not work out as she had planned.  Grief returned in a rush.  She was swamped under a surge of memories, of loving moments that she would never experience again, of two lives wiped out prematurely, of fate turning their lives inside out just when they thought they had the future safely in their grasps.  She could not leave them.  Not yet.  She began to cry.

“What is about to happen here will not damage them,” Sun said.  She did not seem to notice Greshyn’s tears.  “They are at peace.  Come with me now.  We will help you retrieve them later.  There will be plenty of time for that.”  She took Greshyn’s pulse rifle away from her, and gave her another gentle nudge, encouraging her to turn away.

Greshyn allowed herself to be guided and fell in beside Sun, unsettled by her illogical reaction to the reassurances but somehow certain that this was the right thing to do.  Aeryn Sun was a former Peacekeeper soldier, she reasoned.  She had been born on a command carrier, had received the same upbringing and training that Greshyn had received, had become a pilot, had been in combat.  She understood what it meant to lose comrades in battle.  It was that common experience that she was responding to, not compassion.  That made more sense. 

She looked back as Crichton began to speak to Scorpius again. 

“I had to make some sacrifices in order to form the allegiances we needed to stop the grimms,” he said.

“Skrimm,” Scorpius said automatically, then added, “Officer Sun’s comments.  You had to guarantee not to take my life.”     

“Correct.”

Scorpius gave Crichton a leering, cadaverous smile.  “You must have been disappointed.” 

“I’ll get over it.” 

“There were other concessions,” Scorpius said, theorizing.

“Correct again.  One person had to be sacrificed in order to defeat the skrimm.  One,” Crichton said, holding up a single index finger.  “I sacrificed one person, not forty billion.”

“That is math, not morals, John.”

“That is an acceptable loss,” Crichton said.  “Maybe even a benefit to the universe.”

“You are, of course, referring to me,” Scorpius said.

Crichton stepped close to Scorpius.  He tugged at the hardened leather covering the half-breed’s shoulders, settling the wing-like layers into place, then flicked several bits of dust and dirt off of the gleaming cooling suit.  “Yes,” he said once he had finished. 

“I am still alive, John.  And you have already said that you agreed not to take my life.”

Crichton shrugged.  It was a relaxed, uncaring shrug, one that said he was not bothered by whatever was about to take place.  “I agreed that I would not take your life,” he said, emphasizing the second ‘I’.  “But you are right.  You won’t die, although you may wish that you had.”

“If I am not dead, then I will eventually prevail,” Scorpius snarled. 

“Not this time, Scorp.”  Crichton clapped him on the shoulder one more time, and then headed for where Greshyn stood at the end of the corridor, walking more quickly and with more purpose than she had seen him move so far.  “The price I had to pay to get the energy riders to enter into an alliance with us was the opportunity to taste a creature they have never encountered before.  They did not know there was such a thing as a half-sebacean-half-scarran until I mentioned you.  My bad.”

“What do you mean by taste, John?” Scorpius called after him. 

Crichton motioned Greshyn and Sun through the hatch leading to the labs.  He paused, one foot still in the corridor, and yelled loudly in the direction of the ceiling, “Boys!  It’s feeding time.  Come and get it while he’s hot!”

An instant later, the corridor was filled with flickering light, appearing out of the floor, the walls, the ceiling, out of every surface.  Blues, greens, reds, and yellows sailed toward a single point, swooping and diving, racing toward where Scorpius stood abandoned and alone.  Greshyn looked back one last time, toward her commander, toward the spot where Olpin and Ssezzin lay, where they had given up their lives in a futile battle, defending a project that had been a waste of twenty cycles worth of effort.  The patterns of flickering light began to solidify as they approached Scorpius, sorting themselves out into wings and bodies, into dozens of individuals.  The patterns continued to appear, pouring into the tunnel from every imaginable direction, until there were hundreds, possibly thousands crowding together, battling to be the first to reach the black-clad figure, overlapping, merging, racing, eager … hungry. 

“Come,” Sun said, tugging at Greshyn’s arm.  “Come away.”

She turned away then, finally understanding some portion of what was about to happen, but not before the first of the energy riders reached Scorpius.  He lurched, staggered for a moment, and then recovered as one passed through him front to back.  Another struck and he staggered again, this time with a small shuddering vibration added in.  A third flicker of light and energy hit him, and the impact generated a longer, more violent tremor.  He had more trouble staying on his feet.  His eyes widened, he gaped at the thickening cloud closing in around him, and then he looked toward where Crichton continued to stand in the hatchway.  “John,” he said in a croak.  “Please.”

“Goodbye, Scorpius.  Nice knowing you,” Crichton said, and swung the door closed. 

Greshyn stepped around Sun and motioned for the two to follow her, taking the lead for the first time since Crichton’s force had entered the underground base.  Behind her, despite the motras-thick reinforced walls and the heavily armored door, she could hear Scorpius start to scream.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Thank you for reading!

Crash
:dk:

4
Crashfic / Turn Of The Wheel (G) - Starburst Challenge 62
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 11:19:05 AM »
Turn Of The Wheel

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Starburst Challenge 62 (hosted by JJ):  Your mission, should you wish to accept it, is to write a sequel to my SC61 contribution.  It can be fun or dark or angsty.  It can be the same day, the next weeken, or 100 cycles in the future.  The only rules are that your contribution has to include Scorpius and Grayza, even if only walk on parts, the part-Interon boy, and the three cadets Grayza entertains to tea. 

Rating:  G.
Spoilers/Time Frame:  Future Fic.  This story takes place approximately 19 cycles after PKWars, or roughly 8 cycles after JJ’s story, ‘The Vice-Chancellor and The Admiral'. 
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this tale, and I am giving all but one of the canon characters back the way I found them.  One is never going to be the same again.  MWAAAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!!

Test Drivers:  No betareaders.  All errors, omissions, oversights, typos, lousy grammar, and plot holes (if there are any) are all mine.  Written quickly, and slapped up on the board with an abysmal level of review.  I apologize in advance for any errors.

Printer Friendly Version  (34KB .zip file opens to a Word .doc file)
Kindle Version  (Download to your computer and then transfer to your Kindle.)

I hope you enjoy it. 

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Sub-Officer Greshyn Graza had a word stuck in her head.  It marched in place inside her skull, hammering out a steady cadence, drowning out all other thoughts.  The word had been banging out its tempo for several arns, resisting all attempts to banish it from her mind.  It was slowly driving her crazy. 

Vicissitude. 

Vicissitudes of war.  She managed to break into the rhythm long enough to put the word into context.  It meant that things change quickly during conflict.  Some doors open, providing unequalled opportunities for advancement, while others close with the form of finality that can only come from death.  She could not remember when or where she had learned the phrase, or why it had invaded her brain at this particular moment.  It did not apply to her present situation.  The vicissitudes of war had not brought her to this juncture in her life, and the outcome of today’s battle was unlikely to influence her destiny in a way that was beneficial.  She was certain that within an arn, she would be dead. 

Greshyn shifted to one side, trying to find a position where a chunk of rubble was not digging into her hip.  Debris tumbled from the heap, rattled onto the floor.

“Maintain silence!” a voice snarled into the battle comms tucked behind her ear. 

Greshyn let out an inaudible sigh, and focused her attention on the far end of the corridor, doing her best to ignore the fact that she had traded the discomfort of having a fist-sized chunk of rock digging into her hip for something larger and sharper jabbing the side of her thigh.  She squirmed to one side.  That made things worse.  Now both her hip and her thigh were resting on something uncomfortable.  It was though she was under attack from the building itself. 

“They have penetrated the first level,” the voice said into her ear. 

She and her comrades were on the fourth level.  It would not take long for the battle to reach them.  They had less than a quarter arn to live.  All of a sudden, the lumpy, unyielding surface beneath her body no longer mattered. 

A flicker of movement to her right drew her attention.  Olpin was lying on her back, facing away from where the attacking forces would appear, watching Greshyn.  Technically, according to strict interpretation of regulations, Olpin had turned her back on the enemy.  It was a lapse of combat discipline punishable by death.  On the other hand, who the frell cared at this point?  They were all going to be dead soon anyway.  Greshyn shifted her weapon to the crook of her left arm and flicked a hand signal at Olpin with her right. 

“What?” she queried.

“Frell him,” came back. 

Greshyn almost laughed.  Frell Scorpius, their commander and the voice in their battle comms.  The thought summoned giggles, first because it was so disrespectful, and second because the idea was both repulsive and absurd.  Frell the hideous half-scarran abomination whose stupidity and blind ambition had dragged everyone on this base into this tactical disaster. 

“After you,” she sent back. 

Olpin made a rude gesture.   

“Reinforcements coming from the rear,” Scorpius transmitted.  “Hold your fire.”

Up and down the tunnel, heads snapped around, looking behind them, eyes full of cautious hope.  Cautious because it was too much to expect a miracle at this point and yet they all wanted to live, so they clung to the belief for a few moments, the belief that there would be a rescue, a miraculous reprieve, a resolution that would allow them to emerge from this mess alive.  Greshyn was no different.  She watched the massive hatch at the end of the corridor, aching for the heavy, thickly reinforced door to swing aside to reveal an entire battalion of fresh, well-armed troops.  In her minds eye, they were carrying gleaming, unfamiliar weapons; weapons that would make a difference, that would turn certain defeat into victory.  She waited, breath held, wondering where Scorpius had managed to locate reinforcements and how they had gotten into the complex considering that the planet was surrounded by an armada of enemy ships. 

Hope fluttered inside her chest.  It felt as though a half dozen demented flibisks had been turned loose inside her ribcage. 

The door swung open.  Ssezzin let out an impressive string of profanity.  Someone laughed. 

Techs.  Scorpius had issued weapons to the support techs and lower status researchers, and had ordered them into battle. 

“We are going to die,” someone said.

“We were always going to die, you moron,” someone else answered.  “We’re just going to die sooner this way.” 

“Silence!” Scorpius barked again.  “The second level has been taken.”

Greshyn turned her back on the stream of scared-looking techs scrambling through the door and stared down the hallway, wondering for what might have been the thousandth time how they had wound up here, junior officers assigned to defend a remote research laboratory, doomed to fight an unwinnable battle.  They had been the shining stars for so many cycles, the ones who always succeeded, who were promoted the most quickly, envied by all of their peers.  From the time they were junior cadets, their lives had always been full of the promise of advancement.  They had even talked of all three of them eventually making it to High Command.  Despite enduring four cycles of the most hazardous types of duty, she still had moments like this when she could not quite believe that their careers had gone so far astray.  How had they gone from the heights to the depths so quickly?  Where had they gone wrong?

It had not been their recreational preferences.  No one in the Peacekeepers cared if three female officers chose to recreate together.  As long as they did not allow their biological urges to interfere with the performance of their duties, they could frell drannits for all anyone cared.  And their problems had not begun when Ssezzin had initially refused an assigned birthing.  She had gone to her superior and had filed a request for exclusion, precisely as dictated by official protocol, in the same way that hundreds of other females requested exclusions when they wanted to remain on active duty with their units. 

Of course, Ssezzin being Ssezzin -- which was to say that she had a talent for being obstinate to the point of foolishness -- she had taken her resistance one step further.  When her exclusion had been denied, she had failed to appear at the designated time and place for impregnation.  Even that was not unusual, however.  It was one of the few types of insubordination that was tolerated aboard a command carrier.  Command understood that females bred and raised to be soldiers would resist being taken off flight or combat status.  They were accustomed to running into resistance, and there was no stigma attached to it as long as the officer went along quietly when a pair of guards appeared to escort her to the Medical Sector. 

But then Ssezzin had lost the baby.  No testimony from the medical specialists or from Ssezzin had made a dent in Command’s belief that it had been deliberate.  In light of her insubordination prior to her impregnation, her guilt was considered irrefutable.  Command’s decision was rendered quickly, decisively, and without option for an appeal.  Ssezzin was charged with aborting an assigned birthing, found guilty, and demoted from Lieutenant to Sub-Officer.  They skipped right past the option of reducing her to a Flight Officer and assigned her to a ground combat unit instead, throwing away cycles worth of training.  The message was clear.  She would be allowed to give up her life in the service of the Peacekeepers.  It was a slow motion death sentence. 

Her relationship with Greshyn and Olpin had been examined as well.  The verdict was that the three had allowed their feelings for each other to interfere with their duty as Peacekeeper officers.  Their punishment was the same as Ssezzin’s:  demotion to a combat unit. 

Standing before several hundred assembled officers and having her rank insignia torn off had not been half as bad as facing her mother. 

“Imbecile!” the Chancellor had screamed at her while she stood at service stance.  “Twenty cycles of planning, of maneuvering, of watching over the three of you, and you throw it away in an instant!  Over what?  Over the prospect of spending a few solar days putting up with a geometric pregnancy?  I have mentored idiots!” 

“Permission to speak, sir,” she had requested.

“Denied!  There is nothing you can say that can possibly make up for this debacle.  No excuse, no explanation!”  Her mother stalked from one side of the room to the other, hands clenching and unclenching in rage, looking thoroughly deranged.  If it had been anyone other than her mother, Greshyn would have drawn her weapon and assumed a defensive position.  “You have no idea what this has cost me!  You have destroyed everything!” 

“Ssezzin did not --” Greshyn had begun, intending to say that she did not believe her lover had aborted on purpose.

“Silence!” her mother had screeched, and then had gone off on a tirade that had lasted half an arn. 

Far too late to warn her comrades or to do anything differently, she had learned that Ssezzin’s had not been an assigned birthing to fill the combat ranks.  It had been a specific breeding, a blending of genetics with a precise goal in mind.  Ssezzin was related to a former Grand Chancellor, she was a fierce, highly skilled fighter, she was intelligent, and she was gorgeous -- a rare combination of traits that too many high-ranking officers coveted.  It was her genes they had been after.  Someone had wanted a son with the right mixture of looks, intelligence, and abilities that would have allowed him to rise to the top in record time.  The fetus had represented much more than just a potentially brilliant and accomplished Peacekeeper officer.   Unbeknownst to all but a very few individuals, it had been the culmination of several cycles worth of deals, favors, and maneuvering among the highest ranks of the Peacekeeper hierarchy.  Someone very highly place had been covertly attempting to establish a dynasty.  The child was to have been a successor.   

The termination of the pregnancy had toppled the entire secretive structure, which had, in turn, triggered a massive shift in influence and power.  Half a cycle after Greshyn’s demotion, Chancellor Mele-On Grayza was reassigned to an insignificant planet on one of the most distant boundaries of Peacekeeper space.  A quarter cycle later, she disappeared and had not been heard from since.  Officers’ careers were cut short; others ascended.  Scorpius reappeared from a remote and resource-starved facility as if conjured by a magician.  Everyone in a position that dealt directly with the Hynerian Empire was replaced.  There were coups on several dozen planets.  The repercussions from what Greshyn had initially thought was an insignificant event continued for over three cycles.   

None of that had mattered to her at the time.  She and her friends had been coping with their own share of problems.  Stripped of her mother’s covert guardianship and assistance, Greshyn, Olpin, and Ssezzin had resorted to calling in every favor they had garnered in order to get the three of them assigned to the same unit.  It had cost them dearly.  In order to stay together, they had been forced to accept front line positions in the war against a newly encountered species known as the skrimm. 

Over the past four cycles since their demotions, the three of them had survived over a dozen major battles.  Greshyn was not sure how they had made it through so many routs alive.  Every encounter with the skrimm had turned into a crushing defeat.  As far as anyone could tell, the skrimm were impervious to most Peacekeeper weapons, even the latest models.  It took three or four soldiers firing at a single skrimm simultaneously with their most powerful rifles in order to destroy one … which might be why the three of them had lived when so many had died.  They continued to fight as a unit, always watching out for each other, always as a team.     

A body slammed into the barricade beside Greshyn, startling her out of her reverie.  The heavy rifle she carried had snapped into position against her shoulder and was swinging toward the threat before she had time to assess what was going on, instinct and cycles worth of training taking over before her brain had engaged. 

“Friend!” the person said in a shrill, terrified screech.  “Don’t shoot!” 

It was one of the techs.  Greshyn did a fast visual sweep of the entire underground corridor, end to end, and realized that only microts had passed while she was reliving their past.  It had felt more like half an arn.  Techs were still scampering through the open hatch behind her, taking up positions alongside the soldiers who were spread out along what was about to become a long narrow battlefield. 

Greshyn looked for her friends.  No one had moved.  Ssezzin was right where she had been before Greshyn allowed her attention to wander.  She was on the right side of the corridor, three motras ahead of Olpin, hunkered down behind a barricade consisting of large chunks of ferro-ceramic, showing a tech how to charge and arm a pulse rifle.  Ssezzin glanced up, saw Greshyn watching her, grinned, and flicked a series of hand signals at her. 

“Maybe I can throw him out in front of me as a shield,” the hands said. 

“More use than letting him fire that rifle,” Greshyn sent back. 

Ssezzin smiled, and went back to teaching the tech how to use the weapon. Greshyn watched her for several more microts, mourning everything they had been and should have become. 

Ssezzin had been the most beautiful of the trio.  She still was, but only from the left side.  She had lost her right eye in one of their first battles against the skrimm.  Now, the right side of her face was a maze of scars and she wore a cybernetic implant.  Where there once had been an intensely dark blue eye that Greshyn thought was one of the most beautiful things in the universe, there was now a gleaming metallic orb.  She still loved Ssezzin as profoundly as ever.  Nothing could ever change that.  The only difference was that she ached with grief every time that eye looked her way.  She wondered if there was something she could have done differently, if she could have avoided their current situation. 

Ssezzin looked toward her again, raised an eyebrow in question.  “What’s the matter?” the look asked. 

“Nothing.  All’s well,” she sent back with a hand signal. 

A flicker of motion to her right caught her attention.  Olpin, also on the right side of the hallway but closer to Greshyn, sent, “Afraid?”

“No.  Sorry that we’re here.”  She wanted to live.  She wanted to spend tens of cycles with Olpin and Ssezzin, living, laughing, and loving; tumbling about in bed with them, happy and ecstatic, perhaps even growing old together.  She had never dreamed it would end like this.

“Fate,” Olpin signaled.  “We’re together.  All that matters.” 

Some days it felt like it was Ssezzin’s fault that they had ended up here.  On days like today, it simply felt like fate.  Lousy fate, perhaps, but nothing they could have avoided.  The loss of the pregnancy should not have been punished so severely.  Other officers had lost children, some under more suspicious circumstances than Ssezzin.  No one had ever been disciplined this severely.  They had stood at a crossroads of events, and had not known it.  Ssezzin’s assigned birthing had merely been the fulcrum upon which every other event rested.  The scales had tipped, dozens of levers had applied their force upon whatever person or event rested at the far end, and she and Olpin and Ssezzin, standing where all the levers intersected, had been crushed under the combined weight. 

Olpin and Ssezzin were still waiting for her reply.     

“Together.  Always together,” Greshyn sent back.  The other two nodded and went back to making sure the techs crouched beside them knew how to fire their weapons.  Greshyn did the same. 

“Name,” she said the male kneeling beside her.  He was interon, or at least half-interon.  There was a vague, indistinct memory that there had been a sebacean-interon working at the facility, the son of one of the original researchers here. 

“Everyone calls me Jek,” he said. 

“Calls you Jek?”

“Short for something much, much longer.” 

“You can tell the whole thing tomorrow, if we’re still alive,” she said.

He nodded, looking as though he was going to be sick to his stomach. 

“Interon mother,” she said, curious if she had remembered properly.

“Yes.  And yes, I’m the half-breed,” he said, suddenly behaving more aggressively. 

“Hang on to that anger.  You’re going to need it very soon.  Use it.”  She checked his weapon.  He had primed it properly, and the safety protocols had been released correctly.  “Ever fire one before?”

Another nod.  “Just a couple of times though.”  His voice cracked and wavered, and he looked frightened out of his wits.

“That’s good.  That will help.”  She edged up to where she could look over the top of the mound of rubble, and began pointing down the corridor.  “We blew up all the other access tunnels except the one at the end.” 

“That’s where all this came from?”  He pointed toward the heaps of debris that were spaced down the hallway, and the dust that coated every surface. 

“Yes.  The point is that they can only get in here one way, which is at the far end.  It’s a choke point.  Do you understand?”

Jek nodded.

“Our job is to prevent them from reaching the research facility.  At all costs.  The weapons research must not be destroyed.  That research is our only hope of developing a weapon that can defeat the skrimm.  Understand?”

“Yes,” Jek said in a whisper.  “I understand.” 

“Easy, right?  Just keep them out of there.”  She pointed over her shoulder with her thumb. 

“Easy,” he said, agreeing.  After a pause, he whispered, “I was a researcher.  I’m good at it.  I’m smart.  I should be in there, with the others.”  Several tears streaked down his cheeks.   

“Third level has been taken.  Prepare,” Scorpius’ voice said into her ear.

“Two things,” she said to Jek.  “Keep firing even if other people are firing.  It takes four or more of us hitting them simultaneously to kill a skrimm.” 

“Shoot a lot.”  His nod had become frenetic.  It looked as though he could not stop the fast, jerking motion.  “What else?”

“Shoot the skrimm.  Don’t shoot anyone in front of us.  They’re our friends.” 

He struggled to swallow, tried a grin, and then looked like he was going to vomit.  “Got it.” 

Greshyn sent up a prayer to whoever might be paying attention that he would not piss himself in fear.  Battle was bad enough without having to kneel or crawl around in someone else’s urine.  She flattened herself into position against the small hillock of rubble, hugged her rifle to her cheek, took a deep breath, and let it out.  As she exhaled, it began. 

5
Crashfic / Malefactor (R) - Starburst Challenge 60
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 11:17:34 AM »
SC60:  Malefactor

   * * * * *

Starburst Challenge 60 (hosted by vinegardog):  The story should star at least one of our main characters either lying or being lied to and then being caught in the lie or uncovering the liar. 

Rating:   R, for sexually suggestive content.  Most of it is innuendo, but enough text is devoted to how a male body operates that it deserves something more than a PG-13.
Spoilers/Time Frame:  Season 2, not too long after Out Of Their Minds.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this tale, and I am giving the characters back the way I found them.

Test Drivers:  PKLibrarian, Nette, and shester.   I do not like to post a story without letting them take a look at it first.  They are always ready to take a first draft out for a spin, with keen eyes watching for errors and anything that does not ring true or make sense.  Thank you, ladies. 

Genesis:  Click here for a small amount of blather about how this story came into existence.

Printer Friendly Version  (24KB .zip file opens to a Word .doc file)
Kindle Version  (Download to your computer and then transfer to your Kindle.)

I hope you enjoy it. 


   * * * * *

Aeryn Sun wandered into the maintenance bay, thinking more about the recent encounter with the halosians than about the route she was following toward the hangar.  Her thoughts were elsewhere -- revolving in an unfocused manner around what they had learned about Crais and his stewardship of Talyn -- as she picked her way around chunks of electronics from Crichton’s module, leviathan components, testing equipment, and a veritable dumping ground of tools, cabling, and parts.  It was not until she stumbled over a chunk of metal, sending it clattering up against the legs of a workbench, that she emerged from her reverie and began paying more attention to her surroundings. 

“What the frell?”  It was a hushed whisper of disbelief.  She crossed the remaining distance to the prowler at a run. 

It was not where she had left it.  The ship was parked in the usual place, facing in the correct direction, except it was half a motra farther to the right than it had been the previous day.  She always set it down in exactly the same spot.  It had taken half a cycle to determine the best place to leave the prowler; another quarter-cycle worth of practice before she could guarantee that she could land it in precisely the same place every time she set it down.  She knew to a half dench how much room she needed to allow so everyone could get around it without risking a collision or causing damage.  Over the past two cycles her expertise had reached the stage where, if asked, she could have placed the landing struts on three markers the size of crindars without conscious effort.   

She circled the craft several times, double-checking its placement, eliminating any possibility that she had been mistaken.  There was no doubt.  The prowler had been moved, which meant that someone had taken it out of the leviathan.  No one aboard Moya could have lifted off, moved half a motra to one side, and set down again without bashing up against a wall or a pillar.  That meant they had exited the hangar and brought it back in. 

“Chiana!”  The nebari was a thief.  Aeryn had caught her attempting to take the prowler on several occasions.  It was logical to conclude that Chiana had taken the prowler for a flight, undoubtedly to conduct some bit of legally questionable commerce.     

She went up the ladder in a rush, skipping the first two rungs in her hurry.  The canopy was open, just as she always left it.  Everything inside the cockpit appeared normal. There were no signs of abuse or damage.  She leaned in and flipped the power circuits.  Instruments, screens, and readouts came to life.  Every indicator glowed a reassuring steady-amber.  There were no alerts or failure messages, no blinking notifications warning of malfunctions.  Everything was where it belonged; no components were missing.  She punched several controls.  Even the weapons were charged, ready for immediate action in the event that Moya came under attack.   

“That’s all right then,” she said.  “No one has to die today.” 

Aeryn stepped over the edge of the fuselage into the cockpit and lowered herself into the pilot’s seat.  Her feet came to rest several denches short of the pedals.  The flight controls were also out of reach.  The evidence was conclusive; the identity of the culprit easily determined based on the distance between her fingertips and the controls. 

“Crichton!”   

She was up and out of the prowler’s cockpit in one fluid motion.  Getting down the ladder was a fast easy slide to the floor.  She crossed the maintenance bay in a straight line, hurtling over the irregularly shaped obstructions in long strides, and even vaulting over one of the workbenches because it was faster than going around. 

“Pilot!” she said into her comms as she emerged into the corridor.  “Where is Crichton?”

“Unknown.  There is no sign of him on internal scans.” 

“Best guess?” she said.  “Where should I look for him?”

There was a short pause before he answered.  “I believe you should try his quarters.  None of the DRD’s have observed him in any of the other areas he usually frequents.” 

“Not only a thief, a frelling lazy useless thief,” she said under her breath.  If the DRD’s had not seen John in the center chamber or on Command by this time, then there was a good chance he was still sleeping. 

Aeryn slowed to a walk, her headlong charge arrested by a revelation.  She knew where and why John had taken the prowler.  The thought of him sleeping late had provided the critical piece of information.  Moya had passed within sensor-range of a planetoid the preceding day.  Smaller than what most species considered the minimum mass necessary to be considered a planet, yet too large to be termed an asteroid, the entire surface and a significant area underground was devoted to recreation … with a strong emphasis on recreating.  Pilot’s queries had revealed an entire economy supported by a single pair of heavily intertwined industries:  relaxation and frelling. 

Everyone on board had spent several arns debating whether or not it would be safe to linger for a solar day or two.  John had been uncharacteristically reserved.  He had been in favor of spending several days on the undersized planet, but he had not argued as vigorously as she would have expected under those circumstances.  Based on his usual behavior whenever there were females to be frelled or fondled, she had expected him to be halfway to the planet’s surface before anyone else had time to voice an objection.  Instead, he had seemed distracted, disinterested in the outcome of the quarrel.  In the end, the discussion had been cut short by the discovery that there were two Peacekeeper cruisers in orbit.  Their presence had convinced them to move on. 

It was starting to look as though John had a backup plan in mind from the beginning.   

She finished the journey to Quarters in record time, convinced that she would find him sound asleep after the night’s activities. 

“Crichton!” she yelled as she rounded the last corner leading to his cell.

“Yo!” he called back immediately, very definitely awake and alert.  He stuck his head out the farther set of doors leading into his quarters, took one look at her, and began retreating in alarm.  “Uh oh.  What did I do this time?”

She cut in through the first doorway, moving to intercept him.  “You stole my prowler!”

“No way!  I know better than to mess with the Rapier of Death.  You damned near shot me the last time I touched it.  And just for the record, I am not a thief.”  John was backing away from her, sidling along the storage shelves.  He rounded a table sitting in the corner, putting it between them, and came to a halt, apparently satisfied with the flimsy defensive position.   

“You took it,” she said, repeating the accusation.  “Do not lie to me.”

“I’m not lying.  I did not steal your prowler.  What would I do with it if I had?  We haven’t passed a pawn shop in the last two cycles, and it’s not like I’m going to find a branch of Charlie’s Chop Shop at the next solar system where I can sell it for parts.” 

“You know what I mean.  I am not talking about stealing it permanently.  You took it and then brought it back.”  He started to object.  She assumed he was about to offer up another denial, and delivered the killing blow before he could say anything.  “You forgot to adjust the seat.” 

It showed in his eyes first.  He withdrew for several microts, drawing back mentally, indicating that a hasty tactical retreat was underway inside his head.  Then his eyes flicked to one side and back.  A moment later, every bit of skin above his collar turned a mortified shade of red.   

John made a placating gesture, as though he were pushing an object away from his chest with both hands or was signaling her to stop.  “Okay, I borrowed it for a few arns.”

“You stole it in order to go back to that” -- she searched for an appropriate description for the pleasure-fixated planet and its population of professional tralks  -- “oversized brothel!” 

“I borrowed it,” he said, more insistently.  “I brought it back exactly the way it was before I took it.  Better in fact!  I noticed that an energy converter was operating below optimum and adjusted it.  I did not pilfer the prowler, I repaired it.”

“You snuck into the hangar bay, and you took something that does not belong to you.”

“There was no sneaking involved.  I borrowed, Aeryn.  I borrowed it and brought it back in better condition than when I took it.”  He was eyeing the distance to the door to the cell. 

Aeryn moved to one side, cutting off any chance of escape.  “Your own ship is capable of travelling that distance.  Why did you not take your sogkthaich?”

“My what?”  John rubbed his ear with his thumb.  “That didn’t translate.  Try it again.”

Sogkthaich,” she repeated, this time more slowly.

“Still no luck.  What does it mean?”

She thought for several microts.  It was a difficult concept to define.  Sogkthaich was simply sogkthaich.  Every Peacekeeper understood the word.  It did not require a description.  She tried anyway.  “When you are in battle, and a single person is struck by an artillery charge meant to demolish an entire defensive installation, it is the word for what is left of their body.”

“Spam,” he said.  “Revolting, puke-inducing messy bits.”

“Precisely.”

Comprehension turned to outrage as he linked the definition to her original usage of the word.  “My module is not spam!” he yelled.  Before she could repeat the accusation, his expression changed.  His features underwent a subtle series of adjustments that flowed from insight to self-scrutiny to eventual defeat.  “Well … come to think of it … right now it is.  It’s torn apart.  I’ve got components spread out all over the maintenance bay.” 

“I wasn’t talking about that,” Aeryn said.

“I know what you think of the module, Aeryn.  Don’t rub it in.  Besides, you answered your own question.  I didn’t take the module because right now it’s sock-thatch.  I’m in the middle of a rebuild, and I’ve got the entire drive system torn down to scrapple.”
 
John was surveying the cell again, this time concentrating on the route to the farther door.  Aeryn propped her hand on the butt of her pulse pistol, using the implied threat to prevent him from attempting to flee.  “You admit you stole the prowler.  This is a confession.” 

“No way. Even if I did borrow it,” he said, placing a heavy emphasis on the last two words, “it wasn’t intentional!” 

“Not intentional?  You stole it by accident,” she said. 

“Sort of.  It wasn’t my fault.  I couldn’t --”

“Now it is not your fault.  I suppose D’Argo is responsible for you stealing my --”

“Borrowed,” he said, almost yelling the word.  “I borrowed it.”

“So you are saying that if I took your module out for a quick spin around a solar system without asking you first, you would not object?”

He did not reply, not in words anyway.  She could see from his reaction that if their circumstances were reversed, he would object to her requisitioning the module.  Strenuously.  In fact, from the look of discomfort on his face, she was certain he was admitting to himself that he would be furious. 

“Good.  We have settled that you did not borrow my Prowler.  Whose fault is it that you stole it?  Chiana is a thief.  Is it her fault?  Or did Rygel force you to do it?  Pilot, perhaps.” 

“No.  It was --”  He made several confused gestures toward the lower half of his body. 

“It was --”  She copied the flailing of his hands.  “Who, John?  Who are you trying to blame?” 

“Willy.  Jake the Snake, Peter the Pecker, Mr. Happy.  You know” -- he pointed toward his fly -- “the little soldier.  He made me take your prowler.” 

“Your penis made you do it.”

“Yes, fueled by testosterone.”  He seemed to take pride in the absurd claim.  “We’re talking about the male sex drive here, Aeryn.  Reproduction, passing on our genes, survival of the fittest, all that stuff.  It convinces guys to do all sorts of stupid things.  You have no idea what it’s like.”

“I’m not sure I want to.” 

“Aeryn, when you load up” -- he gestured toward the front of his pants again -- “the bunker buster with a couple gallons of high octane hormones, you end up with something that will get a guy out of bed in the middle of the night, grab the keys, start the car, and drive around hunting for good looking women without any input from his brain.  It starts fights for no reason, it will convince us that jumping off a cliff is a good idea if it thinks it will impress a female, and once it gets fixated on the idea that there is even the smallest chance of having sex, it will follow a woman all the way to Argentina and back.  Imagine waking up at three o’clock in the morning to discover that one small piece of your anatomy is driving your car around town, looking for pretty girls, all on its own.  You run out to the store for a gallon of milk, some babe walks by pushing a cart, the small brain decides that the sway of her hips is saying ‘come hither’ and the next thing you know you’re on a bus headed for Cleveland.  We’re not always in control of this thing.”

“Seldom,” she said.

“Probably,” he said agreeably.  “Think of it as luxan hyper-rage that’s been reengineered to search for sex.  We’re totally out of control once it kicks in.  One minute we’re having a polite conversation with our ancient aunt Thelma, who we can’t imagine has any idea that sex even exists, the next moment the neighbor’s bombshell of a daughter walks by in a pair of short shorts, and before we know what’s happening --”  He yanked at his belt with one hand and headed off toward the other side of his quarters in an erratic staggering run, as though something near his waist was dragging him in that direction. 

“And you claim this is why you took --”

“Borrowed!” he said.

“-- my prowler without asking me first,” she finished. 

“Yes.  I got one look at those chicks in the recordings Pilot showed us and the next thing I knew I was touching down on the planet wondering how the hell I’d gotten your permission to take it.  I don’t even remember leaving Moya.”

“Crichton, you are … pathetic.” 

“Of course I’m pathetic.  All guys are pathetic from the instant they hit puberty until the day they die.  It’s part of what makes us guys.” 

“That is not what I mean.  You are the most pathetic liar I have ever known.  A sebacean entering into the final stages of the living death could come up with a more believable excuse.  A greeba worm with advanced brain rot could do better.” 

“Aeryn, I swear --” 

She cut him off.  “Lying is not one of your strong suits, John.  Next time, try telling the truth.  It couldn’t be any worse than this pile of dren.  Better yet, get your mivonks under control, and” -- she raised her voice to a shout -- “never touch my prowler again!” 

He raised his hands in surrender.  “Okay, okay!  I promise.  Never again.” 

Aeryn discovered that she had her pulse pistol half out of the holster.  She slammed it back into place, treated Crichton to a final furious glare, and stalked out of the chamber.  Behind her, she heard what might have been either a long exhalation of relief or Crichton fainting.  Since the noise was not followed by the sound of his body hitting the floor, she assumed it was the former. 

She paused at the first junction of passageways, debating how to spend the remainder of the morning.  After assessing her options for several microts, she turned in the direction of the maintenance bay where she had been headed earlier.  There was still the periodic maintenance to be performed on the prowler.  There was no reason to change her plans.  She took several deep breaths and shrugged her shoulders three or four times, loosening taut muscles, trying to shed the tension that had been building ever since she noticed that the prowler was in the wrong spot.  The confrontation was over.  Crichton had given in.  She was sure he had gotten the message she had been trying to convey.  It was time to let go of her anger and attempt to recover her composure.   

Aeryn thought back to what she had been musing about the first time she entered the maintenance bay.  If she could recapture that sense of calm and fall back into the same drifting, undirected type of introspection she had been engaged in at that time, she was certain she would be able to relax.  She had been thinking about the halosians, and about the effect that a half-cycle’s worth of exposure to Crais’ personality might have had upon Talyn.  She turned her thoughts in that direction and tried to pick up where she had left off. 

It did not work.  Her thoughts kept sliding off in an unwanted direction.  Time and again, she tried to focus on how Crais’ personality and Peacekeeper training might be affecting the young ship’s psychological development; and each time she managed to slide into the almost meditative state of contemplation where she most often achieved valuable insights, she found herself thinking about her short residence inside Crichton’s body instead.  She wrenched her thoughts back to Talyn, only to have it happen again.  She lost track of the junctions and corridors and where she was headed, and seemed to travel back in time.  It was as though the halosian energy beam had just hit Moya for the second time, ripping her out of Rygel and flinging her across the short distance to Crichton.

Her first reaction was one of relief that she was no longer inside Rygel’s body.  That lasted for approximately ten microts.  She knew from the first body transfer that she would need to focus on adjusting to John’s body for a short time.  There were adaptations to be made.  She had to compensate for a number of differences. 

His hearing was more sensitive to certain frequencies than hers, deaf to others.  It turned out that his eyes perceived colors differently than a sebacean’s, no doubt due to his substandard vision.  It was as though she was viewing Moya through a visual filter that was changing the hue of every light and illuminated indicator.  Getting used to the altered appearance of the displays was critical.  Fortunately, her perception shifted almost immediately.  It took longer to adjust to the difference in visual perspective due to the increase in her height.  The distance to the floor appeared greater than what she was accustomed to seeing; familiar objects looked peculiar or misshapen because they were being viewed from a new angle. 

Crichton’s body was heavier, his arms and legs longer, feet and hands larger, to the point that she expected it to be intolerably clumsy and awkward.  Several strides had been enough to teach her that its strength more than compensated for the increase in size.  His body moved gracefully, with an innate balance that was not easily upset.  Its power caught her by surprise.  She knew -- in a premeditated, logical way -- that longer arms and legs, thicker bones, and a male’s greater muscle mass would generate greater force.  That knowledge had been driven into her by cycles worth of combat training, hammered into her awareness by a lifetime’s worth of impacts against cushioned practice mats.  Experiencing that power first hand approached the level of a spiritual encounter; classroom knowledge was transformed into an applied form that she could never have imagined. 

She had barely adjusted to those differences when Rygel, who now possessed her own body, stepped close.  What happened next came as a severe shock. 

John’s body could smell her.  Not the leather that her body wore or the faint odor of chakan oil or the wafting scent of cleanser drifting from her hair.  She discovered that his body was attuned to the smell of Aeryn Sun.  The reaction had been intense and thoroughly visceral.  The body she inhabited behaved as though every tactile receptor had been realigned to pay attention to a single being.  That the consciousness inside the female body belonged to Rygel had no effect on her borrowed body’s response.  The body standing next to her remained Aeryn Sun’s and her Crichton-physiology was fully absorbed in the fact that her shoulder was touching his … to the point of total distraction.  It had taken several microts to regain control of her thoughts. 

Aeryn stopped walking, so deeply immersed in her memories that her feet came to a stop as though that portion of her body had been cut off from her brain.  At the time, she had attributed her lack of mental focus to the shock of switching bodies.  In light of John’s recent claims, she was being forced to reconsider that assumption. 

She recalled how later, once she managed to get away from the others for a short time, she had indulged in some anatomical exploration.  It had been impossible to avoid it.  John had not been wearing any type of undergarment that particular day.  She had inherited the body in that condition.  After an arn of walking and running around Moya, her awareness of the brush of body-warmed leather against various sections of bare skin had reached the point where she could no longer ignore it.  She had ducked into a vacant cell in search of some privacy, and had conducted several experiments, trying to avoid anything that he might notice later.  She had been overwhelmed by the results.  Some outcomes she could have guessed at if there had been time to think it through in advance -- the rapid culmination of her research, for one. 

The consequence she could not have predicted was the explosive rush of hormones and the effect it had on her behavior for the next several arns.  It was as though the strength of her emotions had been supercharged; her reactions to most types of emotional input, no matter how small, had been magnified until they were out of control.  An alarm or a threat, such as the attack by the halosians, resulted in a level of aggression that she found difficult to hammer into submission.  Getting anywhere near Rygel was worse.  It had taken every last bit of mental discipline to keep her mind on their predicament.  The word distraction barely began to describe it.  By the time she resumed her residence inside her own body, she had no idea how Crichton managed to keep his mind on much of anything at all. 

Aeryn strode through the door leading to the maintenance bay and came to a halt.  She gazed at the mayhem strewn from one side of the bay to the other, registering very little of the scenery before her.  Her thoughts remained fixated on her brief habitation of John’s body, and the urges that had been goaded into a rampage by the release of male hormones.  It had been like living in a permanently ravenous body, always seeking more, always ready for another feast of sensations, every waking moment consumed by an overwhelming desire to pursue sexual satiation. 

She nudged an engine component with the toe of her boot, rocking it gently back and forth several times, and came to a new conclusion. 

Perhaps John had not been lying after all. 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Thank you for reading!

Crash
:dk:
6
Crashfic / Make Believe (G) - Starburst Challenge 60
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 11:16:17 AM »
SC60:  Make Believe

   * * * * *

Starburst Challenge 60 (hosted by vinegardog):  The story should star at least one of our main characters either lying or being lied to and then being caught in the lie or uncovering the liar. 

Rating:   G.
Spoilers/Time Frame:  Terra Firma.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this tale, and I am giving the characters back the way I found them.

Test Drivers:  PKLibrarian, Nette, and shester.  They are the best.  Thank you so much, ladies.     

Genesis:  Click here for a small amount of blather about how this story came into existence.

Printer Friendly Version  (26KB .zip file opens to a Word .doc file)
Kindle Version  (Download to your computer and then transfer to your Kindle.)

I hope you enjoy it. 
   

   * * * * *

You wallow in the hot water until you begin to feel like a new species of mammal, one that spends more time in the water than on dry land.  You had taken a shower the previous evening, but that had been a briefer, more businesslike venture, aimed at washing off stink, sweat, and grime before going to bed.  There had been no time for bathing in 1985.  By the time you stepped back onto Moya, you were sticky, dirty, and smelled suspiciously like the town dump the time it caught on fire.  A rank mixture of odors had permeated your skin:  sweat, smoke, salt and some repugnant biological scents from being near the water, all mixed in with the stench from D’Argo’s ship that, against all arguments to the contrary, you insist smells like rotting meat.  You had not needed anyone to tell you that you needed a bath.  The evidence had floated along with you wherever you travelled; an unwelcome companion that left a trail of frowns and scowls in your wake. 

This morning you slosh about for a different reason, lathering and rinsing repeatedly.  Your motivation for lingering has to do with the way the water-warmed tiles feel beneath the soles of your feet, the smell of the soap and shampoo, and the sound of the lather as it slops onto the floor of the shower.  It has to do with the bone-deep sense of peace and relaxation that settles over you as the water drums down on your skull, and the knowledge that you can stay in the shower as long as you like without having to worry that you might be interrupted by a catastrophe or an attack.  This is not about getting clean.  This extended bout of steamy self-indulgence is about playing with the bar of soap, letting it leap out of your hands and catching it the way you did when you were a child, drawing a series of smiley faces in the steam on the shower door, and breathing in fragrances that you have not inhaled in far too long. 

This is about being home. 

It is a soapy, water-logged continuation of a transformation that began the previous day.  It started the moment you slid down the side of the module and stood on the Earth’s surface for the first time in over three cycles.  Your body underwent a peculiar mutation, regressing from a creature that had adapted to living in space into an ordinary human.  The gravity had felt wrong for the first few moments.  Not too strong or too weak.  Simply incorrect, as though the planet’s tilt on its axis or the uneven distribution of the continents was creating a gravitational wobble that threatened to knock you off balance.  Three microts later, a light-headed twisting sensation passed over you, moving from head to foot, as though someone had wrung out your body the way you would a wet rag.  It had squeezed out the fear and the hate and the violence; pain, loss, and heartache had been expunged at the same time.  The invisible force had unwound you, flicked you sharply to remove the remaining droplets of guilt, and when it was over you were John Crichton again.  Human.  Resident of planet Earth. 

After that, Earth’s gravity had felt precisely right.  The sky was the correct shade of blue, the sun the appropriate brightness.  Sounds, smells, the presence of asphalt underfoot, green grass, the constant zip and hum of traffic in the distance, a jet lifting off from a runway, the touch of the breeze, people all around you speaking English, the smell of jet fuel exhaust, birds screeching overhead, internal combustion engines, the distant rhythmic squawk of a car alarm:  for thirty microts or more you were buried under an avalanche of familiar sights and sounds.  Your brain squawked in protest, complained about the radical adjustment to perception, made a brief half-hearted attempt at retreat, and then settled down and began to suck in every detail the way you had once sucked in air after surviving the vacuum of space. 

Every other fact about your life fell away at that moment, leaving you with a single concept to consider.  You were home. 

You were no longer John Crichton, mislaid astronaut. You were not the scourge of the Uncharted Territories, destroyer of gammack bases and shadow depositories; in that instant you left behind all the things that identified you as criminal, fugitive, liar, thief, and murderer.  The weight of the last three cycles fell from your shoulders, you were able to stand up straight, unburdened, and you became a man again.  Scientist, physicist, astronaut, intellectual.

The rest of the evening and periodically throughout the night that small sentence continually interrupted both your waking thoughts and your dreams.  Earth.  You are back on Earth.  Each time you rolled over in your sleep, restless beneath the touch of cotton sheets, disturbed by the familiar comfort of an inner spring mattress, you woke long enough to repeat the words silently inside your head then went back to sleep with the short three-beat cadence dancing in time with your pulse. 

You are home. 

You stand directly beneath the heaviest flow from the shower head for more than two hundred microts, deliberately ignoring the possibility that someone else might have to suffer through a cold shower because of your waste, then finally turn the taps off and step out.  From the amount of steam wafting about the bathroom, you decide you might have overdone it a bit.  The far side of the small room is barely visible.  Trickles of condensation streak the walls, the mirror, and the inside of the window.  This is a little extreme, even for you. 

You stretch to one side and flick the switch for the exhaust fan.  It is a small movement, one you have performed thousands of times in your life, nearly instinctual in its simplicity.  Yet the hum of the exhaust fan sounds extraordinary.  The feel of the towel is the same.  You spend extra time drying off, paying special attention to the warm slide of freshly laundered cotton across your skin, thinking about how the body cloths you use aboard Moya will never have the power to comfort you the way warm terrycloth can.  It holds the memory of summer days spent at the lake, of your mother helping you dry off after you came in soaked from the rain, of hot showers on cold winter days.   

It means that you are home. 

Ultimately, however, a human being can only spend so much time drying off.  There comes a moment when there is no moisture left, and carrying on runs the risk of turning into a different type of comfort and release.  You wrap the towel snugly around your waist -- another of the strange yet achingly familiar moments -- and step into the upstairs hallway. 

Livvie is right outside the bathroom as you open the door.  She jumps, startled, and lets out a small shriek.  Your reaction is far more violent.  You are back inside the bathroom before you know what you are doing and without remembering how it happened.  It feels like teleportation.  One moment you are half a step into the hallway, the next you are slammed up against the wall where the door will provide you with some cover, ready to hit the floor at the first sign of aggression.  Heart pounding, sweating, breath held, with an unpleasant snarl in your stomach and a chill running up your spine. 

Livvie steps into view, one hand on her chest.  “Good lord, you startled me,” she says.  She peers in at you.  “John?  What’s wrong?”

You pry yourself away from the wall, force your lungs to take a breath, and put together what you hope resembles a sheepish grin.  It is a struggle.  Every cell in your body is screaming that you need to check the entire building for threats, find a weapon, make sure that the house is not under attack.  It takes a conscious effort to ignore the internal alarms.  You focus on Livvie, using her presence as an anchor, concentrate on the fact that you scared her almost as badly as you frightened yourself, and repeat the magical mantra.  You are home; all is well.   

“We’re even.  You scared the crap out of me.”  You kiss your index finger then tap it against the tip of her nose, a gesture from a past life.  It does not ease her look of concern.  You add, “What every guy needs:  a welcome home heart attack.” 

It seems to do the trick.  She takes in a deep breath and lets it out in a shaky laugh.   

You try to think of something else to say, hoping to change the subject before she remembers your reaction.  Before you can come up with a new topic, the aroma of coffee and toast wafts up from the kitchen.  Your mouth instantly starts to water.  It has been so long.  You want coffee and toast with an artery-clogging layer of butter.  Cereal, eggs, bacon, sausages, waffles, pancakes smothered in syrup.  Before you can stop to think, the list expands out of control.  Pizza, hamburgers, chocolate, potato chips; turkey with all of the trimmings.  Baked ham with macaroni and cheese, steak smothered in mushrooms and onions, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, fried onions.  Lobster straight out of the pot served with melted butter and corn on the cob.  Home-made biscuits, anything fried in lard, pie a la mode.  In the space of three microts, you dream up a menu that could feed greater Miami for the best part of a week.  You want to gobble down food of every variety until you sink into a permanent carbo-coma. 

Your stomach lets out an extended growl, casting its vote in favor of an orgiastic breakfast.  Livvie glances down at the source of the rumbles and grins.  “Some things haven’t changed.  You are still a human garbage disposal.  I warned Dad to make four times as much as usual.”  The grin fades, transforms into the precursor to a frown.  “Although you didn’t eat as much as I expected last night.  There are a ton of leftovers.” 

“It was a long day,” you say.  “I was tired.  It took the edge off my appetite.” 

You are not being honest.  Fatigue had nothing to do with it.  Despite the ongoing mental celebration that you are back on Earth, your body has its own agenda.  It remains focused on survival.  Every cell from toenails to hair follicles has been quivering at a high level of alert ever since your feet touched the planet.  Almost anything can trigger a reaction:  being out in the open, the color of the sun and the sky, the traffic, the noises and smells, the congestion as you and the others were escorted through the crowds of people who had gathered to gape at the extraterrestrials.  You feel dangerously exposed.  The primitive portions of your genome, the sequences of DNA that kept your caveman ancestors alive, insist that you remain ready for flight.  A satiated body is a slow body.  No one can flee on a full stomach.  Dinner last night had been an unpleasant task, not a pleasure. 

“Uh huh.”  Livvie does not sound like she believes you.  In fact, her tone of voice suggests that you might be lying.

You do not want to explain the source of the problem.  “Olive Oil,” you say, trying to distract her from the deception. 

The old nickname does the trick.  She retaliates by making a grab for the towel.  “Brat,” she says, and lunges again. 

You dodge out of reach, feint to one side, and scoot past her when she commits, one hand clenching the towel tightly in case she manages to snag it from behind.  You make it to your room with modesty intact.  You hold up your hand.  “Hang on a second.”

She will want to follow you and chat while you get dressed.  You understand.  Olivia misses you.  She wants to be close to you, to rediscover what it is like to have a brother, to find out what has happened since you disappeared.  You have not forgotten what it is like.  You used to do the same thing when you had been away at school and came home for a visit.  You wound up following your family wherever they went in the house, chatting through doors, using every available moment to catch up.  The difference now is the sense of desperation and need.  You have not been away at school or living on the other side of the planet.  As far as Olivia is concerned, you have returned from the dead.  If there were two beds in your room, you would have undoubtedly found her sleeping in the other one this morning.  You would not have minded.

“Shorts,” you say, explaining that you want a few microts of privacy while you replace the towel. 

She waves you into your room, and steps out of sight.  You swing the door shut anyway, not sure why it is necessary, and try the top drawer of the bureau.  A variety of underpants lie in orderly, neatly folded ranks.  Your stomach twists into an uncomfortable knot at the sight.  The shorts are yours.  The last time you saw them, they had been in the bureau in your apartment, stuffed hastily and messily into the drawer.  The current arrangement -- tidy and organized -- says that Jack has been here.  You grab the first thing that comes to hand, a pair of boxers.  They fit, although more loosely than you remember.  You are leaner than you were the last time you wore them, kept trim by chaos and strife. 

“Okay.  I’m decent,” you say. 

Olivia enters and plunks herself down on the bed.  She watches as you search through the drawers.  They are filled with the rest of your clothes.  You pull out a pair of jeans and rummage through a collection of shirts until you find one that you like.  The clothes had been in your apartment when you went off on the Farscape mission.  In fact, everything in the bedroom had been in your apartment:  furniture, journals in the bookcase, the pictures that hang on the walls, the clothes in the closet, the childhood toys and mementos that are neatly arranged on the desk and the shelves. 

Your perception of the room shifts.  You realize it is a museum.

“Dad?” you ask, indicating the entire collection with your head.

“Yes.  We all helped, but he was the one who insisted on bringing everything here.  He couldn’t accept that you were gone.”   

You step into the jeans.  The brush of well-washed denim against your legs is a feeling from out of a dream.  Reality collides with several cycles worth of wishful thinking.  You feel lightheaded for several moments as your brain battles to separate tactile input from sensations that you have imagined thousands of times.  Somewhere in the midst of the mental whirlwind, you manage to reflect that putting on a pair of jeans should not make you feel as though you are losing your mind. 

An outburst from Livvie hauls you back to your surroundings with a snap.  “John!  What happened to your leg?” 

You follow her gaze, wondering for a moment what she is talking about.  Then you remember.  You tend to forget that the scar is there.  It is not something that you can see without putting a lot of effort into it.  It is behind you and high enough on your thigh that getting a good look at it involves either a mirror or dislocating your spine … or wrapping your leg around the back of your neck like a contortionist.  Still, you know what it looks like.  You have checked on it several times over the last half cycle by using a mirror.  It has not healed well.  Too much tissue had been ripped away by the brindiss hound, and there had been no opportunity to locate a diagnosan or medical facility until it was far too late to do anything about it.  It is an ugly, gnarled collection of scar tissue, with small outcroppings branching off the main travesty that indicate where the creature’s fangs had sunk the deepest. 

You pull your pants up and then duck into the t-shirt, using the time to search for an answer.  You do not want to tell her you got bit in the ass by a dog.  Itty bitty doggie, you had called it before you knew what you were talking about.  Half a cycle has passed and you still feel like an idiot.  You should have known better.  Nothing ever works out for the best. 

“Accident,” you say, trying to avoid an explanation.  With each additional evasion you are getting closer to an outright lie.  You begin to wish that Olivia would leave you alone. 

“That was no accident.  That looked like a bite mark!”  Livvie is on her feet, trying to get behind you, as if she were trying to get a better look even though you have your pants on.  “That was an enormous bite mark.”  She is not laughing or attempting to make fun of you.  She is horrified. 

You do not know how to explain this without treading dangerously close to being abandoned in space, a dying leviathan, a species that begins the process of harvesting tissue from a sentient being by first exterminating every living creature aboard the ship; Aeryn, heart ache, months of loneliness, a baby.  You try to concentrate on the visible physical evidence instead of the internal emotional devastation, still searching for a suitable answer, and once again your thoughts go awry, derailed by the revelation that with this one exception, all of your scars are on the inside.  It is your soul that has been ravaged and mangled, deformed by the events of the last several cycles.  You wonder how Olivia would react if she could see those invisible wounds, and knew how each one had been created.  You try to imagine how she would respond if she knew about gun battles, arguments, deceit, and betrayal.  Crais, Scorpius … Commandant Mele-On Grayza.   

Your stomach twists in on itself and cramps.  It feels as though a black hole has blossomed into life in your guts.  You are no longer hungry.  The thought of food makes you nauseous.       

You are home, you tell yourself, trying to recapture the blissful sense of peace and relaxation that had existed just five or ten minutes ago.  You are on Earth, about to have breakfast.  You will walk downstairs, just as you have thousands of times over the course of your life, you will pour a cup of coffee, listen to the clatter of the chair against the floor as you pull it out from the table, and you will be home.     

“John, what happened out there?” 

You glance at her.  She is asking about more than the tooth marks in your ass.  She wants to know the whole story.  She wants to know everything.  “Not much.  I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to get back to Earth.  Between that and needing a faster-than-light drive to pick up groceries, I didn’t have much time left over for anything else.” 

“You needed to carry a weapon to do that?” she asks. 

You had stowed your pulse pistol in your gear bag before leaving Moya, partly because you were pretty sure no authority, be it state or federal, was going to issue you a firearms permit for an alien weapon, and partly because you did not want anyone to know that you needed to carry one to survive.  Jack knew, however, from the muzzle end of the relationship. 

“Jack had to bring that up?” you say.

“Dad didn’t say anything about it.  Aeryn was wearing one, and I saw that your pants had marks on them in the same place as hers.” 

She leaves the last piece of the deduction unspoken.  Livvie does not bother saying that she knows the leather on the right thigh of your pants is scuffed and marred because you wear a pulse pistol all the time.  You try to remember when that had happened.  You had refused to carry a weapon at first.  Aeryn and D’Argo had spent a good portion of your first cycle aboard Moya trying to convince you otherwise, and you remember the day you strapped on a holster for the first time.  What you cannot recall was when a pulse pistol had become a standard piece of attire, as essential to the process of getting dressed as the rest of your clothes.

“There are no cops in outer space,” you tell her, hoping it will stave off the need for any further explanation.  You deliberately skip the fact that there are law enforcers, of a sort, and that they are the reason you need a weapon in order to stay alive. 

You head into the closet to see what is available for footwear.  Flip flops, a pair of worn and battered Chuck Taylor high tops, several pairs of shoes ranging from casual to dress, and some blue sneakers.  You grab the sneakers and head back toward the bureau in search of socks. 

You pause by the window, thinking about how you started your day.  Waking to the early-morning racket of birds and the sound of the breeze rustling through the leaves in the trees had been a treat.  Realizing that the crisp cotton sheets had not been a dream and that you were lying in an Earth-style bed with proper pillows had increased your pleasure to a level just short of sexual.  You had laid there for over an arn, telling yourself over and over that you were home, using the tactile reality of sheets and blankets to reinforce the hard-to-believe truth. 

You watch one of the neighbors get into her car, back out of the driveway and disappear down the street, and in that moment -- as you watch one of the most normal, mundane events in an every day life -- the façade that you have been working hard to keep in place is ripped away.  The last twenty-four hours has been a pleasant fiction, a short jaunt into a land of make believe, where it was enjoyable to imagine that John Crichton could resume his place on Earth.  The time for lying to yourself is over. 

To every other soul on this planet, spaceflight is difficult and dangerous.  It takes months of work, multibillion dollar projects, and the efforts of hundreds of people to send someone into space. To you, it is the place where you live.  An afternoon jaunt to an asteroid has become as ordinary as hopping in the car to run out to the store for a quart of milk or a roll of toilet paper.  Bouncing from planet to planet has become a way of life; fleeing across one or more galaxies in search of some peace is standard.  Humanity is not entirely wrong.  Space is dangerous, but not for the reasons they think. 

Too much has changed.  You can never come home.  Not in the way that you want.

Behind you, Livvie says, “This is difficult for you.  I could see last night that you were having trouble adjusting.”   

You do not tell her that you are having trouble adjusting to the fact that you no longer belong on Earth, that in the space of a few microts you have faced up to the fact that you have been kidding yourself.  Being here is sheer luck.  It is a fluke, a quirk in the fabric of space-time that someone else managed to locate, and one that never should have happened.  With a supreme effort, you manage to tear your thoughts away from that truth.  You focus on Olivia, your sister, on how much you love her, and search for the right thing to say. 

She continues before you have a chance to put something together.  “A few minutes ago, when you jumped back into the bathroom, you were reaching for a weapon.” 

“As I recall, you were the one who screamed first.”  You let out a bad imitation of her high-pitched shriek, and flutter your hands near your shoulders, creating a parody of feminine hysterics.  You get a pillow flung at your head in return.  You do it again, squealing a falsetto “EEK!”  This time you are prepared, and duck in plenty of time. 

When the two of you were younger, pillow fights led to wrestling matches, almost without fail.  The habit became so deeply ingrained, it continued well into your teens, long after the age when most brothers and sisters discontinued that sort of thing.  At this point in your lives, it is nearly instinctual.  Thrown pillows always lead to Olivia tackling you and trying to pin you to the floor.  The idea of being trapped in that fashion triggers something feral and violent.  You are across the room, well out of range of an attack, before you realize what you are doing. 

Olivia has not moved.  She is standing near the bed, watching you the way she might eye a complete stranger who has walked into the room without warning.  Perhaps she is right. 

“John, what happened out there?”   

You return to the bed and begin putting on socks and sneakers, using the time to assemble an answer.  Eventually, you say, “Met some friends, found a groovy place to live, explored a bunch of planets, discovered that there were more sentient species out there than George Lucas could hope to stuff into all of his movies combined, and spent the entire three and a half years missing chocolate.”

You do not tell her about being tortured, imprisoned, or raped.  You leave out Aeryn, falling in love, watching her go off with another you, or how John Crichton could die and yet be alive.  There is no reason to mention rejection, grief, loss, or the level of heartache that came from knowing that Aeryn can justify lying to you.  And you certainly will not bring up the existence of a baby that may or may not be John Crichton’s.   
 
Olivia gets up and wanders to the far side of the room, watching you the entire time.  She is making an exceptional effort to be relaxed. 

She can read you like no one else can.  Not Dad, not Susan, not DK … certainly not Aeryn.  The two of you spent too much of your childhood doing things together for her to interpret the messages incorrectly.  She has always spent as much time listening to the silent signals being emitted by your body as she does to your words.  She intercepts what are supposed to be the heavily encrypted messages of muscle shifts, changes in your breathing, what you do with your hands, and the reactions of your pupils, and finds in them an easily decipherable language.  All of which means that there is no doubt in your mind that she knows that you are lying. 

But you can read her as well and what you find in her strained nonchalance is not anger, evasion, or diplomacy.  It is confusion.  You watch carefully as she straightens several books on a shelf, searching for the tiny well-known signals, and finally make out what is bothering her.  She does not recognize the second person in this room.  She came in here expecting to have a conversation with her brother, to share what has happened over the years, to laugh and to rediscover each other.  She has not figured out that a stranger has returned in his place, and she is confused because she does not understand what your body is saying. 

“Liv.” 

The small syllable slips out before you know what you are doing.  You want to tell her a thousand things.  You want to be twelve years old again, and sit together on a branch of a tree where you can tell her your deepest darkest secrets without fear of being overheard.  You want to confide in her, let the events of the past three and a half cycles come pouring out in a torrent, to cry, to have your sister put her arm around your shoulders and tell you it will be all right as she did so many times after you argued with your father.  More than anything else, you want to tell her that Johnny made it back to Earth; that her brother has come home.  You ache for it to be true.  You want to be that person, to know in your heart that you are home, you belong here, and you can stay for the rest of your life.   

Olivia turns to look at you, waiting for something more, and the reality stares out at you, more clearly than before.  Your little sister is searching for her big brother.  She wants the same things you do.  She wants the adult version of having you push her on a swing or helping her climb a tree that is too big for her to scale on her own.  Livvie wants you to come into her room in the middle of a storm, as you did so many times when you were children, and reassure her that the thunder and lightning will not hurt her.  She wants you to take the fear away. 

You search for that person in your memories.  You wade through fragments of your past, gathering up celebrations, joyful moments, and laughter.  You harvest football games, snowball fights, long conversations with friends; dinners with the entire family gathered at the table, arguments about who is supposed to do the dishes, water fights in the kitchen; Christmas, Halloween parties, Thanksgiving, Mom’s birthday.  You sample what it meant to be John Crichton during those moments, add in a dash of teenage recklessness, a sprinkling of childish innocence, and find that you can don the skin of a person who no longer exists.  You turn yourself into a lie.  It is easy.  You slide into the role willingly, because one thing that has not changed is that you will do absolutely anything to keep Livvie happy and safe.  You can make believe long enough to tell her that the thunder will not hurt her. 

It works.  As your transform yourself into the person you used to be, the confusion in her eyes disappears.  She crosses the room in long, confident strides to hug you.  Some reserve remains.  She knows that something is not right.  For the moment, however, she is content with the belief that her brother has reappeared. 

“I had better get downstairs before Dad overcooks the eggs and burns the toast.  He has never learned to cook.”  She gives you a quick kiss on the cheek, and is gone. 

You move several feet to one side, to where you can look in the mirror.  Someone stands there, staring into your eyes as though meeting you for the first time.  He wears jeans and a faded blue t-shirt.  He owns the objects that fill this room.  His hands know the comforting weight of objects common to Earth.  They have never fired a weapon with the intention of killing another being; they have never known cruelty, hatred, or homicidal fury.  You stare into that person’s eyes and decide that you can pretend to be him for a short time.  You can be Johnny again, long enough to convince your family that you are alive and well, and living happily at the other end of the universe. 


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Thank you for reading!

Crash
:dk:
7
Crashfic / Déjà Vu (G)
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 11:14:41 AM »
Déjà Vu
A sequel to Phantasms

     * * * * *

Rating:  G.
Spoilers/Time Frame:  Future Fic.  This story takes place approximately 24 cycles after PK Wars and shortly after Phantasms.  John and Aeryn have three children now:  D’Argo, age 24; Ian, age 17; and Malii’ya, age 14.  This story may be a little baffling unless you have read Yesterdays and Tomorrows and Phantasms (or you may cruise right through it without a problem).  There are several references to events that take place in those stories, and I have not bothered to provide the background in this one. 
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this tale, and I am giving the characters back the way I found them.  Almost.
Deke-Disclaimer:  I am not fond of the nickname Deke.  I stubbornly continue to use my own nickname for the kid.  When I refer to DJ, I am talking about D’Argo Sun-Crichton.
Test Drivers:  PKLibrarian, shester, and Nette took this out for a spin more than once during the construction process.  Their input, as always, was invaluable.     

Genesis:  Click here for a small amount of blather about how this story came into existence. 

Printer Friendly Version (26KB .zip file opens to a Word .doc file)

Kindle Version  (Download to your computer and then transfer to your Kindle.)


I hope you enjoy it. 

     * * * * *

John Crichton was drawn toward the Center Chamber by a familiar series of noises:  the quiet clank of one flask gently striking another, the liquid gurgle of a substance being poured into a vessel, the uncertain rattle of an object being placed on a table.  It was not the collection of sounds that caught his attention and initiated the detour; it was the time of day, and the fact that he would not have expected to hear that particular sequence in the early afternoon.  Less than two arns had passed since their midday meal.  It was a bit early in the day for anyone to be drinking.  He veered away from his original destination and crossed the short distance to the open door, using the microts to run through who might be in the Center Chamber and why they might be there at this particular arn. 

DJ sat at one of the tables, drinking flask in one hand, staring out the view portal.  He did not seem to be looking at anything in particular.  It was a blank, fixed, contemplative stare.   

John picked up the serving container that was sitting in the middle of the table, sniffed, and was treated to a ticklish squirming thump of surprise in the pit of his stomach.  He had expected raslak, fellip nectar, or possibly ornyut, the closest thing to beer he had discovered during the cycles since he arrived at this end of the universe.  The last thing he had expected to encounter was the sharp, slightly acidic scent of prazno.  Prazno was the luxan version of moonshine … or a first class explosive if someone was foolish enough to ignite it.  If raslak was the alcoholic equivalent of a hand grenade, then prazno was a nuclear bomb.  Four moderate-sized flasks of prazno could turn the largest luxan into a drooling, insensible idiot.  It took a great deal less to achieve the same effect with a human.  The only reason to resort to prazno was to wipe out all brain activity for the best part of a solar day.

“Getting started a little early, aren’t you?” he asked his son.

DJ took a large swallow from his flask, let out a strangled sounding cough, and then shrugged. 

John snared a drinking flask from a shelf and poured himself a small measure of the beverage.  “I supposed it’s five o’clock somewhere in the universe.  Cheers.” 

He tapped the rim of his container against the side of DJ’s and then took a cautious sip.  It was like swallowing a cross between liquid oxygen and lava; a burning cold conflagration made its way into his stomach, simultaneously searing and freezing the tissues all the way down.  He counted to ten, all too familiar with how quickly the alcohol would hit his bloodstream, and could feel it begin to infiltrate his brain.  Three more swallows and he would be staggering drunk.  He wondered how much DJ had already consumed. 

“What’s the occasion?” he asked. 

DJ started to raise his flask, preparing to take another swallow.  John caught his wrist, stopping him.  He did not care if DJ drank himself into a stupor.  His son was twenty-four, which was old enough to make his own decisions about the size and longevity of a hangover.  All he cared about was keeping him coherent long enough to find out what was bothering him.  DJ rarely got drunk, and had never resorted to drinking when he was upset.  Alcohol and inebriation were for celebrations, not for drowning his problems.  The fact that he was doing it now meant that something monumental had happened. 

“Let go,” DJ said, tugging against John’s grip.

“Answer my question first.  After that you can drink yourself into a coma.” 

“I don’t want to talk about it.”  DJ allowed John to force his hand back to the table, then went back to staring out the view portal. 

John spent several microts thinking about his son’s personality, his strength of character, his maturity, and how he normally handled problems.  He and Aeryn had raised all of their children to meet difficulties straight on, preferably with cold reason and intelligence but a pulse weapon was also acceptable if all other solutions had failed.  None of their children knew how to run away or hide when life dealt them a lousy hand.  DJ had faced dozens of calamities since he had become an adult, and had met each one of them squarely and with courage, if not entirely calmly.  The prazno could mean only one thing.   

“Where’s Kharli?” he asked.

DJ turned away from him and shook his head. 

“DJ, where is Kharli?” John asked again, this time with more force.

“Packing.  She’s leaving.” 

The announcement rocked him.  John took a sip of his prazno, trying to give himself time to recover from the shock.  It did not help.  All it did was create a larger, mushier tangle inside his head.  “I thought the two of you were talking about getting married.”

“I said we were working on it.”

“That implies moving forward.”

DJ made a fast left-right movement with his head.  It was half denial, half dismissal of John’s comment.  “It implies working on it.  Nothing more.  We ran into some problems.” 

“I guess so.”  He did not know what to say to DJ.  The news was so unexpected, he was floundering. 

When DJ had met Kharli four cycles ago, it had been love at first sight.  The two of them had fit together like two halves of a whole, supporting each other, in harmony a majority of the time, always moving forward and strengthening their relationship even when they were quarreling.  John had expected the pair to have some rough times; every couple did.  But DJ and Kharli had always seemed to take the bad moments in stride; instinctively understanding that hard work forged the strongest bonds, that struggling through the discord together was the price they had to pay in order to spend the rest of their lives with someone they loved.  The two were so in tune with each other, they frequently displayed an instinctive knowledge of the other’s thoughts that bordered on telepathy. 
 
“What the frell happened?” he said after several dozen microts of silence. 

DJ rubbed the heel of his hand against his eyes for several moments then turned so he was facing the view portals again.  He took a deep breath, let it out on a long silent sigh, and shrugged.  “Dunno.” 

“The two of you were fine during the rescue,” John said. 

“I guess.”

“You guess?  Were you or weren’t you?  I thought you and Kharli were completely in sync during that fracas.  You certainly did a better job of planning and execution than your mother and I have ever managed.  You barely needed to communicate with Kharli to keep her air support timed to the assault.  That sounds like teamwork to me.” 

“We’ve been having some small problems for almost half a cycle.  It was right after you and Mom disappeared that the first big cracks showed up,” DJ said.  “Kharli put everything aside until we found the two of you.  Then --”  He shrugged again.

John watched his son, waiting for more, studying what little he could see of DJ’s face.  The young man might have been fighting back tears.  “Cut to the chase.  Why is she leaving?”

It took thirty microts to get an answer.  DJ sat motionless for half that time, staring down at the table, then began flicking one finger against the side of his drinking flask, triggering a quiet chiming metallic ring with each impact.  Finally, just when John began to think he was not going to receive an explanation, DJ said, “Over the past couple of cycles, she has seen what our lives are like.  She says trouble and violence follow us around.” 

John summed it up in two words.  “She’s frightened.”

DJ made a full-body movement that described both uncertainty and agreement.  It was part shrug, part nod, part squirm.  “She’s never scared when we’re in the middle of some dren storm.  She was amazing when we came after you and Mom.  More than half that plan was her idea.  And you know she’s almost as fearless as Mom once the shooting starts.” 

“Shooting makes her feel better.”

DJ nodded.  “Yeah.  Especially if she’s nervous or upset about something.”

“Keep that in mind for when you work this out and eventually have kids.  It can get hazardous during childbirth.” 

The comment drew a twitch of a smile from DJ.  John rubbed his son’s back for a moment, trying to impart some sympathy and understanding through the gesture.  All it did was bring the tears closer to the surface.  DJ spent some time rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand. 

John let the silence stretch out, giving DJ time to get himself under control.  He stared out the view portal, just as DJ had been doing when he had found him, and considered the how the pieces of information fit together.   “She’s worried about your future together.  She’s scared by the prospect of going through the rest of her life like a Crichton.”

“She wants kids.  She looks at us and can’t imagine raising children in the middle of this kind of life.” 

John poured some more prazno into his flask.  He did not intend to drink it.  He needed all his wits intact if he was going to offer DJ any useful advice.  He did it in order to give himself time to think.  After several microts of contemplation, he said, “We’ve had a lot of quiet cycles.”

“And just as many when you and Mom had to worry about all of us getting killed, mangled, or kidnapped.” 

He could not deny it.  Their lives were equal parts tranquility and mayhem.  “True.” 

DJ turned his head just far enough so he could look at his father out of the corner of his eye.  “Kharli has heard the story about when and where I was born.”

John came close to laughing.  “We probably should not have told her about that.  Not a good way to introduce a potential in-law into the family.” 

“Try stopping Mom.  She loves telling how I came into the universe in the middle of a full out war, complete with explosions, aerial bombardments, and a scarran ground assault.”

“In a fountain with Stark,” John added on. 

“Funny how she always leaves that part out.”  A grin flickered into life for several microts. 

John peered down into his drinking container.  It was three quarters full of prazno.  If he tossed it back all at once, he would very likely pass out within a quarter arn.  It was tempting.  DJ’s anguish had rekindled emotions and sensations that he had not felt in close to twenty cycles.  He had lived with the loneliness, uncertainty, and despair for too long when this had happened to him.  If he had been separated from Aeryn for days or even a few weeks, he probably would have forgotten what it felt like by now.  But it had lasted for half a cycle, gradually etching the grief into his soul the way acid could burn so deeply into rock that the pattern would survive for eons.  It was as though the memories and the feelings were encoded on a genetic level, accessible for all time if someone provided the right trigger.  He did not like it.  He had done his best to put the entire thing behind him. 

Beside him, DJ shifted on his seat.  His body language said that he was working up the courage to say something difficult.  The silent struggle dragged John’s attention away from the past and back to his son’s current problem. 

DJ said, “And there’s …”  He dropped his head so his chin rested on his chest, started to speak again, and then shook his head. 

Whatever he was trying to say was even more painful than talking about Kharli’s decision to leave him, John decided.  In a leap of intuition so strong it felt like telepathy, he knew what his son was avoiding.  DJ was the only one of their three surviving children who had been alive at the time of the tragedy.  Ian and Malii’ya knew what had happened, but their knowledge was second hand.  Only DJ had been there.  He alone had suffered alongside his parents, had seen for himself how quickly an innocent life could be extinguished, and carried the emotional scars. 

He finished the sentence that continued to hang, half-finished, over their heads like an impending storm.  “Leslie.”

“Yes.”

John took a deep breath and then let it out slowly, using the physical effort together with the few microts of silence to quell a sudden burst of anger.  The surge of fury was laced with an additional ingredient that might have been panic.  The combination was goading him to do something irrational.  He did not speak until he was sure he had it under control.  Even then, he let each word out with cautious reserve; the simple act of speaking threatened to rupture his self-control.

“Please tell me you did not tell Kharli about that.” 

“No, of course not!  I’m not that stupid.  But …”  Another squirm-shrug and another look of indecision so severe it verged on ‘fatal’. 

“But what happened to her is always there, hidden away in the back of your brain, which makes it difficult to argue with Kharli.”

DJ stuck a finger into his drinking flask and swirled the liquid around several times.  “I can’t tell her she’s wrong.  I cannot look Kharli straight in the eye and tell her that it will all work out okay.  It would be a lie.”

There did not seem to be anything to say after that.  John stared out the view portal, feeling as dark and empty inside as the view that lay before his eyes, and tried to marshal his thoughts into some sort of useful insight or advice.  His emotions kept hijacking the process, heart preempting his brain with ridiculous ease, repeatedly spiraling in on the single unhelpful insight that DJ was his son, his first born.  John ached with the desire to hug DJ, to hold him in his arms, to have him rest his head on his shoulder, and to tell him it would be all right.  But the person sitting next to him was also a grown man:  capable, intelligent, self-assured, and -- despite his recent decision to continue living aboard Moya -- independent.  John shoved his paternal instincts to one side and tried to treat DJ as he would a peer.  For the moment, he needed to view the young man beside him the way he would a depressed drinking buddy. 

He did his best to accomplish just that.  John closed his eyes, and imagined that he was leaning on a bar on Earth with DK on the stool next to him, fall-down drunk and debating deeply philosophical concepts with the profound wisdom that can be comprehended only after consuming too much alcohol.  A swallow of the prazno helped.  The edges of his concentration blurred, as though his brain had been encased in a layer of furry insulation.  It helped him pretend he was in that Earth bar for a few moments; the mild whirling in his brain opened the door to the place where beer-soaked secrets of life were kept hidden. 

He asked the question that he would have asked an inebriated friend as they sat draped over the bar, relying on its stability to keep them from falling off their bar stools.  His mental recreation was so thorough he almost slurred his words, as if he were, in fact, drunk.  It took a conscious effort to speak clearly.  “Do you still love her?”

DJ turned to stare at him.  “Are you serious?”

“I’ll take that as a yes.  Does she love you?”

“I don’t know.  Up until a few arns ago, I would have said she couldn’t live without me the same way I’m not interested in living unless I’m with her.  She claims she still loves me.” 

“But she’s leaving anyway,” John said.

DJ nodded.

“She can’t stay, but she doesn’t want to go.”  The words made his stomach hurt.  More than twenty-four cycles had passed since he had heard them for the first time.  He had spent most of those cycles married to Aeryn, they had raised several children, and the words still carried the power to make him ache with loss.  He knew exactly how DJ felt.  He was sick to his stomach.  It hurt to breathe.  The emptiness in his heart was so intense, it felt as though he was in danger of imploding. 

“I guess,” said DJ.  “I’m so confused at this point, I don’t know what to think.”   

John stood up.  “Get up.”  He grabbed DJ under the arm and pulled him to his feet.  “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” 

John steered him through the door and into the passageway.  “I have the answer.  I know what you need to do.” 

“You plan to share your insight with me?”  DJ pulled his arm loose and stopped walking.  “Where are we going?”

John gave him a small shove in the direction he wanted to go.  “Hangar bay.  You’re going to knock her down and sit on her if that’s what it takes to keep her from leaving.” 

DJ once again came to a stop.  This time he turned to face his father, blocking his way.  “Are you serious?”

“I’m exaggerating a bit, but yes, basically I’m serious.  If that’s what it takes to keep her from leaving, that is what you need to do.”

“Have you forgotten that Kharli grew up with six older brothers?”

“Just because I’m a couple of decades older than you doesn’t mean I’m senile, bucko.  What’s your point?”  John tried to grab DJ’s arm in order to get him moving again. 

DJ danced out of reach.  “The point is that Kharli’s opening move in any fight is to kick her opponent in the balls.  If I attempt to keep her here using physical force, I’m going to wind up with my nuts relocated to a spot closer to my tonsils.” 

John winced at the imagery.  It took a conscious effort to resist the urge to protect his crotch with his hands.  “In that case, your only choice may be to argue it out with her.”

“It might be faster and easier to deal with the kick to the groin.”  DJ walked in a circle several times, scrubbing both hands through his hair.  “We have tried to talk this out, Dad.  Talking doesn’t work.” 

“Then shoot her in the foot or kick her in the crotch before she kicks you or drop a net over her.  All I know is that you cannot allow her to leave without you.  Not like this.  Get your butt down to the hangar bay, park your carcass between her and her ship, and do not move until the two of you have battled this out and reached an agreement.  Stay there and talk and yell at each other and work it out; because if you let her walk away now, like this, you will regret it for the rest of your life.  If you have to go with her, do it.  Pack up everything you own, give your mother and me a hug, and go with her.  Do not let her leave without you.”

John nudged DJ’s shoulder, encouraging him to turn around and resume his journey toward the maintenance bay where Kharli’s ship was stored.  DJ stood his ground.  “She says that’s not the answer.  Kharli thinks the violence follows me around.  She says the problem is that I’m a Crichton.”

“It doesn’t matter what she thinks.  What matters is that the two of you find a solution that keeps you together.  Here or out there, any place in the universe.  I don’t know much, DJ, but the one thing I do know is that if you let her leave without you, both of you will regret it.  So stop her.” 

“Are you sure about this, Dad?  This isn’t the same as what you and Mom went through.”  DJ allowed himself to be turned around and herded into motion. 

“The differences aren’t what matter.  What counts are the parts that are the same.” 

They rounded the final corner leading to the maintenance bay.  Ahead of them, through the open door, John could see Kharli standing beside a small heap of gear bags and cargo containers, looking indecisive.  There was also one other person in the large chamber.   

Aeryn. 

She was coming toward them.  She met them as they passed through the doorway. 

“Go,” she said to DJ.  She gave him a brief caress before nudging him toward Kharli.  “Come talk to us later, after the two of you have worked this out.” 

He took three steps forward then paused, hesitating.  A glance back at Aeryn seemed to banish whatever had brought him to a stop, because he nodded once, as if confirming something to himself, and then hurried into the maintenance bay.  John started to follow.

“Not you.”  Aeryn caught his arm in hers as she moved past him and kept walking.  It jerked him around, abruptly reversing his direction of travel.  “They are going to sort this out on their own.  They don’t need us.”

He disentangled himself from her grasp, got turned around, and matched her stride.  “How can you be so sure they’re going to resolve this?  I seem to recall some other people trying their best under similar circumstances and failing miserably.” 

Aeryn paused long enough to give him a quick kiss.  Initially he thought it was meant as reassurance; but when they broke apart, she was looking at him with what might have been the first glimmer of confusion showing in her eyes.  Aeryn licked her lips several times, head tilted a few degrees to one side suggesting deep contemplation, and then leaned forward to kiss him again, harder and longer.  His theory concerning her motivation shifted from reassurance to a scenario involving passion, privacy, and an absence of clothes. 

It turned out Aeryn had something entirely different on her mind.  “Isn’t it a little early in the day for prazno?”

There were half a dozen smart-assed replies clamoring to be voiced, all having to do with taste tests and each one funnier than the one before.  John glanced at Aeryn before launching in.  Twenty-four cycles of marriage had taught him to test the waters before unleashing a series of what he considered hysterically funny comments.  His precaution paid off.  Several tight muscles around her eyes and at the point of her jaw betrayed her.  She was not as calm and relaxed as she wanted him to believe.  Beneath the composed demeanor, she was worried about her son, and that meant that attempts at humor were not going to be well-received.  “DJ,” he said succinctly, certain that Aeryn could figure out the rest on her own. 

He was not disappointed.  Aeryn nodded once, and then resumed her journey through the leviathan’s tiers. 

John took several long strides to catch up, and then fell in beside her.  “I’m still waiting for an answer.  Why are you so confident they can do a better job of figuring this out than we did?”

“Two reasons.  First, I talked with Kharli.” 

“You’re doing marriage counseling now?  Starting a new career now that your children are grown?” 

Aeryn threaded her arm through his and pulled him close.  After several coordinated steps together, she said, “Mostly I listened.”

“And when you weren’t listening, what did you say to her?”

“That when a person allows fear to rule their life, they make poor decisions.” 

“What else?”

“That was all.”

“That was it?”  John tried to slow down, intending to return to the maintenance bay, concerned about the outcome of the conflict occurring there. 

Aeryn kept her arm firmly linked in his and kept moving, towing him along.  “That was all I needed to say.  Kharli already knew it.  She just needed to hear it from someone other than DJ.” 

John spent some time considering Aeryn’s assessment of Kharli’s mental and emotional state, and her confidence in a happy outcome.  It took him a while.  His thoughts kept branching off in odd directions.  More than once, he found himself wondering if this was his legacy, if having him as a father meant that all three of his children were doomed to experience the same kind of emotional agony and heartache that he had gone through with Aeryn.  He wondered if today’s events would play out a second and third time with Ian and Malii’ya, whether it would be Malii’ya who walked away or if someone she loved would eventually retreat from the relationship out of fear, leaving his little girl heartbroken and in tears.  He began to worry that he had somehow -- unknowingly and unintentionally -- passed on a set of behaviors to DJ that had caused Kharli to pull away.  Despite Aeryn’s optimism, he began to fear that he was the cause of his son’s unhappiness.  In the space of several dozen microts, he went from trying to determine how Aeryn could be so sure that DJ and Kharli could resolve their differences to thinking that he was the ultimate source of the problem. 

“It’s not your fault,” Aeryn said.

It startled him, yanking him out of his self-condemnation more quickly and thoroughly than any logical, rational explanation ever could.  “You’re reading my mind again.  You know I hate when you do that.” 

Aeryn leaned against him more firmly as they walked, letting him know that it had been his body that had given him away.  She had felt the changes in his breathing, his muscle tension, and the way that he moved.  She had interpreted his physical reactions every bit as efficiently as a lie-detector, and then went one step further by managing to intuit what was causing them.   

John pulled his arm loose from hers and looped it around her shoulders, pulling her closer.  Aeryn responded by snaking her arm around his waist, encouraging the embrace.  “I get it,” he said.  “You could feel me getting uptight, but how did you know what I was thinking?”  He figured it out before she could form an answer.  It was obvious.  “You knew because you were thinking the same thing.”

“Not right then,” Aeryn said.  “Earlier, when I found out that Kharli intended to leave.” 

“Immediate flashback,” he said.

“Immediate guilt.”  She was nodding.

“Misplaced guilt.” 

“Drop the guilt,” she said, finishing the progression.

“Okay, so we agree that we’re not terrible parents, that we did not cause this, and I’ll concede without an argument --”

“Wise choice,” Aeryn interjected.

“-- that you are right about what you told Kharli.  You said you had two reasons why you were sure DJ can convince her not to leave him.  What’s the second?”

“DJ is your son.”  She put the emphasis on ‘your’, making it sound as though she had not been involved in bringing DJ into the universe. 

“Is that your way of saying that he is handsome, pure of heart, blindingly intelligent, and loves her so much he’ll do anything to keep them together?” he said.

“No, it means that he is opinionated, pig-headed, and stubborn” -- Aeryn paused for the length of time it took her to give him a vigorous, sideways hug -- “which means that he loves her so much he would have refused to let her leave even if you had not told him to stop her.”

“What makes you think that’s what I told him?”

She tightened the arm that encircled his waist.  “Because it is the right answer.”

He strode along, content to have Aeryn close beside him, feeling as though they were done talking.  Situation successfully resolved.  After several dozen steps, however, some aspect of her tone of voice began to niggle at his subconscious.  The longer he thought about it and went on replaying her final comment in her mind, the more he became convinced that she had been using the inflection to impart a deeper meaning to her words.  John looked across at Aeryn, intending to ask if she had been referring to DJ and Kharli, or their own heartache, strife, and separation more than twenty cycles ago.  She was watching him, the gleam of a smile in her eyes.  The answer he needed was there, waiting for him, clear and unmistakable. 

“They’re going to find a way to resolve their problems.  They’re going to work things out, and then they will live happily ever after,” John said.

“Yes, they will.” 


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Thank you for reading!

Crash
:dk:
8
Crashfic / The Startled Owl (PG) - Starburst Challenge 55
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 11:12:52 AM »
The Startled Owl 

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Starburst Challenge 55 (hosted by JJ):  Make a background story to the "Terra Firma" Episode involving any alien character.  Take them on an adventure on Earth, along with their reactions and the reactions of those around them.  Points if you can make it funny.  Serious bonus points if you can get one of our aliens to name their principal weapon.

Rating:  PG.
Spoilers/Time Frame:  Terra Firma. 
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this tale, and I am giving the characters back the way I found them. 
Test Driver:  Shester took this one out for a quick spin to make sure it would at least run before I posted it.  Thank you so much!  A time crunch prevented me from running this past my usual test driver or giving it a better level of proofing and editing, so all errors, omissions, and typographical errors are my fault. 

Printer Friendly Version (17KB .zip file opens to a Word .doc file)

Kindle Version  (Download to your computer and then transfer to your Kindle.)

Hope you enjoy it.

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John Crichton had agreed to this expedition only because D’Argo had badgered him into it.  A television commercial had led to an intense, extended campaign by the luxan to arrange a visit to a place called The Startled Owl.  It had taken four days to decipher what he was talking about.  It had taken an additional three weeks to beat John down to the point where he was willing to give in.  He had done his best to talk D’Argo out of it, explaining repeatedly why he found the place distasteful, why he did not want to go, why he felt it was a waste of their time.  By the time he offered up his surrender, he had concluded that it was like dealing with a five-year-old.  Every argument against the idea had served to increase D’Argo’s interest, until the only way to get some peace was to give in. 

D’Argo leaned across the table toward him.  “John, this is” -- he looked around the building for several microts, searching for an adjective  -- “magnificent!  I cannot understand why you did not want to come here.” 

“Do you want me to list the reasons?”

“Seriously, John, what is there to not like about this place?”  D’Argo was practically bouncing up and down in his seat.  The similarities to an excited five-year-old were increasing. 

“How about we start with the fact that it’s tacky, chauvinistic, and the flashbacks to when I was being breast fed as an infant ruins my appetite?” 

D’Argo clapped him on the shoulder and burst out laughing.  Heads turned in their direction.  With one or two exceptions, everyone in the building was looking at them.  The good news was that they were a long way from Florida and the herds of paparazzi that followed the alien visitors everywhere they went; the bad news was that John had not been thinking clearly when he selected a location.  At the time, all he had cared about was getting at least half way across the country from the ever-present cameras and anyone who knew him.  He had chosen Tulsa because it was a reasonable distance away from Florida but close enough that it was a quick evening’s jaunt in D’Argo’s ship.  He probably would have done better to choose a major city like New York where tanktas and a qualta rifle would not have drawn a second glance.  From the expressions of the other customers, he was guessing that Tulsa was not a hotbed of multiculturalism.  No one seemed pleased by the presence of a bellowing, laughing alien in a booth near the center of the room.
 
John made a shushing motion with both hands.  “Chill, D’Argo.  I’m getting the sense that we’re not welcome here.  Let’s try the low profile route.”

“John, how can we not be welcome here?  Look at these women.  Look at the way they’re dressed!”  He twisted around to watch one exceptionally well-endowed woman trot toward a table near the front door.  He turned back, tanktas flying in all directions.  “John, this is wonderful.  There are places like this closer to your home, aren’t there?  Can we go to one tomorrow?  Can we go every night as long as we are on Earth?” 

Crichton was rescued from the dilemma of producing an explanation by the arrival of their waitress.  She was young, beautiful, physically fit, and she was dressed in the standard uniform of tight orange shorts and a skimpy white top that strained to cover all the relevant bits of her anatomy.  D’Argo seemed hypnotized by the expanse of skin between the hem of her shirt and the top of her shorts.  Sound and motion had ceased for the moment. 

“My name is Candy,” she said.  “What can I get you --”  She looked at D’Argo, considered for several seconds, and finally tacked, “--boys” onto the end of her sentence.   

“Candy,” D’Argo repeated, rubbing his hands together and grinning at the waitress.  “This is Candy.”

“Don’t!”  John held up a hand in D’Argo’s direction, signaling for a halt.  “Don’t go there.”  He turned his head to look at the young woman.  “Beers.  Make it Bud or whatever you’ve got on tap.  And wings.  Ten for me, a platter of fifty for him.”

She scribbled down their order, looked as though she was going to ask a question, then seemed to reconsider and retreated toward the bar. 

D’Argo leaned to one side to watch her leave, tracking the progress of her orange shorts.  “Do we have to make do with just one, John?  Can we get more than one?  One for you and two for me?  One for you and three for me?  Can we ask them to come home with us?”

“No, you can’t get more than one.  It’s not that kind of place.  I tried to tell you before.  They’re waitresses.  Servicers.  They just bring us food and drink.  They’re not here for … for … for other activities.  They’re not tralks,” he said, resorting to a word he hoped would not be understood by people sitting close enough to overhear them. 

“You are pulling my leg,” D’Argo said.  “John!  Look at the way they are dressed!  Look at that one, John.  Look at her!”  He was starting to bounce up and down in his seat again.  Tanktas began to fly about. 

Crichton placed one hand along the side of his face like a blinder, trying very hard not to look where D’Argo was pointing.  If his friend was this excited about a woman, he was certain what he would see if he turned his head.  “Dude, a little reserve would be good right now.”

Another luxan laugh reverberated around the room.  Diners scowled; several people glared in their direction. 

“John, I thought you enjoyed” -- D’Argo cupped both hands and gestured toward his chest -- “loomas.  There was even that time when you were in Aeryn’s body --” 

Crichton jumped in, interrupting D’Argo before the description could go any further.  “I do like them.  I’m male.  Of course I like them.  I get downright fixated on them at times.  But it matters to me who they are attached to.  This is …”  He looked around at the staff and then shook his head.  “This is sort of like Halloween.  Too much of a good thing rots your teeth, gives you a three-day sugar buzz, and makes you sick to your stomach.”

“Aeryn,” D’Argo said, nodding in understanding.  “This is about Aeryn again.” 

“It’s not just about Aeryn.  It’s about decency, man.  The treat you’re talking about should be explored with one woman, in private.  Having them flying all over a restaurant like this is distracting.  I don’t know where not to look.  I’m constantly afraid something is going to pop out of a shirt and I’m going to get caught staring when it happens.”

Just as the last words came out of his mouth, Candy arrived at their table with their beer.  She glared at Crichton, who was trying to look anywhere but at her shirt, slammed down two mugs of beer, and headed off toward another table. 

“I hate this.  Can we go home yet?” 

A waitress hurried past their booth, headed for a table on the other side of the room.  D’Argo reached out, trying to snare her.  She slapped his hand away and sped on.  He watched her stride away.  “Spirited.  I like that.” 

“Embarrassing.  I can’t stand this.”

“Brighten up,” D’Argo said.

“The phrase is lighten up.”

“Lighten, brighten, it’s the same thing.  You are not with Aeryn right now; I am not with Chiana.  Neither of us knows how long this situation will last.  Take advantage of the moment and enjoy the scenery.”

“If I wanted scenery with my dinner, I’d visit Mount Rushmore.” 

D’Argo grabbed one of the mugs of beer, spun it around so he could grasp it near the top with both hands and raised it off the table.  “You are behaving like an unmated flibisk,” he said.

“No!  Not with a beer!” John yelled, trying to stop him.  It was not the first time he had heard that accusation.  He remembered the ritual that had accompanied it the first time.

D’Argo slammed the mug down against the table top.  Beer erupted.  Foam flew in all directions. 

John shook his head, flicking droplets out of his hair, and mopped a little of the Bud off his shirt with the already damp rectangular drink napkin.  “One word for ya, big guy. Carbonation.”

“That was not what I expected,” D’Argo said, dripping.  “It is supposed to knock any sediment to the bottom of the glass.”  Fizzing streams of beer swirled across the table.  His mug continued to disgorge foam.  The flow was headed, lava-like, toward the edge of the table. 

“Cold filtered,” John said.  “No sediment.”  He wiped several droplets off his nose with the back of his hand. 

Candy and several other waitresses were already headed in their direction, all with towels in their hands and scowls uniformly fixed in place.  Customers in booths all around them were gesturing for assistance.  The Budweiser showers had spread well beyond their booth.  The number of glares aimed in their direction had increased, as had the level of animosity. 

“Sorry,” John said to the clientele at large.  “They don’t have bubbles in outer space.” 

It did not seem to placate anyone.  If anything, the level of antagonism surrounding them was rising.

“We might want to skip the rest of the evening,” he said to D’Argo as he slid back into the booth.  “I think we’re not wanted here.”

D’Argo had drained the remnants of his own beer as well as all of John’s while Candy was mopping up.  Two more were delivered to the table just as Crichton sat down.  D’Argo went through the first in a single long swallow, and then belched.  It was a luxan-sized carbonation burp.  Crichton could remember earthquakes that had been less violent. 

Four young men at a nearby table stood up and began making gestures toward the booth where Crichton and D’Argo were sitting.  Tense muscles, jutting jaws, and clenched fists all told a story of rapidly evaporating tolerance.  They were still at the talking stage, milling about gathering up a sufficient store of outrage and anger to approach the two strangers.  It was only a matter of time, though.  Crichton was certain that it would not take much longer for the foursome -- and any others who decided to join in -- to convince themselves that it was time to get rid of the alien creature and his human companion.   

“D’Argo, can you fire up Lo’la from here?”  The ship was parked in the farthest corner of the parking lot where they hoped no one would walk or drive into the cloaked spacecraft. 

“Why would I want to do that?” D’Argo said.

“Quick get away?” 

D’Argo snorted out a fast commentary about that idea.  “We have not eaten yet!  You ordered food, and I have just begun to enjoy the scenery.  Have a drink!”  He tried to shove the full mug across to John.

“I don’t want to drink.”  He shoved it back.

“Is there something wrong with this beverage?”

“It’s not the beverage.  It’s the aftermath.  I’m afraid I’ll wake up in a window wearing fishnet stockings.” 

D’Argo bellowed out another laugh, and gulped down the contents of the mug.  Another belch rocked the building.   

Not counting the remnants of the initial beer-volcano, D’Argo had just finished his third beer in a matter of minutes.  John spent several seconds contemplating how bad a ride home in a Lo’la could be if there was a drunk pilot at the controls before deliberately closing his mind to the idea.  The possibilities were too hideous to consider.  If he thought it through in advance, he might refuse to board the craft when it was time to leave.  Plus he had other things to worry about.  The foursome at the table had made up their minds.  They were advancing, and reinforcements were on their feet all over the restaurant. 

The tallest and most aggressive looking of the four young men spoke first.  “Time for you to leave.” 

“We don’t like your type here,” a second said.

“We don’t like your type near our women,” said another, looking directly at D’Argo.

“If someone starts playing Dueling Banjos, I am out of here so fast you will never even see the door swing open,” John said.

“Say goodnight,” D’Argo said, replying to the leader of the foursome. 

“That mean you’re leaving?” the first man asked.  All four were now arranged near the end of the booth’s table. 

“No, it means you’re done for the night,” D’Argo said.  There was a single hissing snarl, a single streak of movement, and four loud smacks.  Four bodies crumpled to the floor. 

“A triple ricochet?  One zap, four targets?  How long did it take you to learn that trick?  Is there anything you can’t do with your tongue?” 

“Yes.  It cannot take care of that.”  D’Argo pointed. 

John looked up. The entire population of the restaurant was on its feet. Everyone looked angry, and everyone was moving slowly but inexorably toward where they were sitting.  “Whoops!  Overstayed our welcome.”  He squirmed out of the booth.  D’Argo was on his feet as well.  “Call us a cab.” 

D’Argo spat out a command in luxan.  Within seconds, the howling windstorm scream of a luxan ship powering up began to reverberate outside the building. 

A specific element that had gone into a number of their past escapes occurred to John.  It seemed like overkill in this instance.  “You’re not going to blow a hole in the wall, are you?”

“I thought we would use the door.” 

“Great idea.  After you.  Let me get that for you.”  He yanked it open, stepping well out of D’Argo’s way.  He had been mashed against a wall by the luxan’s mass more than once over the cycles.  It was always an accident, often his own fault, and each time it left him sore and bruised from head to foot for several days.  They did not have time to scrape him off the paneling tonight.  D’Argo rushed past him and disappeared into the dark. 

John paused to look back at the crowd.  A number of men were tending to the four unconscious figures on the floor.  Others were advancing toward the door.  Candy was standing off to one side, a platter with their meal on it perched on one shoulder.   

“You ship overnight express, don’t you?”  He reached into his pocket, peeled several twenties off a small sheaf of bills, tossed them on a table, and then fled into the night.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Thank you for reading!

Crash
:dk:
9
Crashfic / Body Shop (PG-13) - Starburst Challenge 49
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 11:11:06 AM »
Body Shop

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Starburst Challenge 49 (hosted by Michael1812):  "It's life, Jim, but not as we know it."  Have the Moyans encounter new life in whatever form it may be.  Preferably unconventional.  The new form of life must be unknown, never encountered, and weird (what else?).  You must also include in some form plastic surgery, in the sense of alterations. You may also introduce either a subspecies of a known species or a new branch of this same species.

Rating:  PG-13, for some adult-level innuendo.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this tale, and I am giving the characters back the way I found them.
Spoilers/Time Frame:  This story takes place approximately 9 cycles after PK Wars.  It does not contain any comics-canon.  If you are reading the comics, then consider this AU.  John and Aeryn have two children now:  D’Argo and Ian, ages 9 and 2. 
Deke-Disclaimer:  I am not fond of the nickname Deke, which was provided in the comics.  I stubbornly continue to use my own nickname for the kid.  When I refer to DJ, I am talking about D’Argo.
Test Drivers:  PKLibrarian, shester, and Nette.  Shester and Nette got their first glimpse of my standard posting-anxiety.  PKLibrarian provided an outstanding suggestion for improvement.  Thank you, ladies!   

Printer Friendly Version (36KB .zip file opens to a Word .doc file)

I hope you enjoy it. 

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The city did not look like anything John Crichton might have imagined.  When Pilot reported that he had located a planet-sized asteroid dedicated entirely to healers, medical practitioners, and the various industries to support them, Crichton had refrained from making any assumptions about how the metropolitan areas might look.  More than a dozen cycles at this end of the universe had taught him not to make that mistake.  Very few of the planets he had visited had resembled anything that a person from Earth had dreamed up. 

Just the same, he had expected a basic level of hygiene and order.  The presence of medical specialists and healers seemed to imply that the urban areas might in some way resemble Earth-style hospitals or health clinics, at least as far as cleanliness was concerned.  In the two solar days it had taken to reach the asteroid, he had toyed briefly with the idea of blindingly white skyscrapers gleaming in the sun, immaculate inside and out; or of sprawling, holistic, oriental-looking complexes where indoors and outdoors flowed seamlessly from one to the other, tapping into the natural healing energies of the planet. 

What he had not envisioned was a post-apolcalyptic version of Whoville … on steroids.

If an architect had chosen to stretch the wackily rotund, brightly-colored Seuss houses upwards for thirty or forty stories until the sky was no longer visible, the result would have been similar to Crichton’s current surroundings.  The next step would be to cram the buildings in so densely that the streets were a scant two motras wide, reducing the avenues and thoroughfares to cramped, achingly cold, sunless canyons.  Once that was accomplished, every surface needed to be coated with a thick layer of grease, grime, dirt, mold, and trash; laundry had to be hung out to dry on every cable, railing and protuberance; and personal possessions had to be stored haphazardly on balconies, in corners, and so they clogged the narrow alleyways branching off from the wider avenues. 

The only thing left to complete the scene would be people.  Hoards and scores of people, all chattering, yelling, bellowing, screeching, warbling, trilling, or yammering in whatever noise passed for speech.  The pedestrian spaces were overrun by every species that John Crichton had encountered in the Uncharted Territories and three times as many that he had never seen before.  Progress through the streets was a series of collisions, ricocheting from one person to the next, shoving oncoming traffic out of the way or being thrust to one side in return. 

If that were not enough, there did not seem to be a straight line on the entire chunk of rock.  Buildings curved, curled, bulged, bowed, and rippled, both horizontally and vertically.  Doorways, windows, streets, and alleys were wreathed with dingy, battered scrollwork.  Railings bobbed and weaved, and roof lines -- on the rare occasion when they were visible -- looked as though they were either melting or on the verge of caving in.  All of which made navigation a challenge.

John took several long strides to catch up to the person walking in front of him.  He said, “How much farther?” close to Aeryn’s right ear. 

She held up two fingers. 

“Two what?” he yelled over the din of the crowd.  “Buildings, intersections, or two more days of fighting through this mob?”

Aeryn gestured vaguely ahead and to their right.  “Intersections.”

“Are you going to be able to find your way out of here later?” Aeryn’s ability to memorize a route -- either from a map ahead of time or as she traveled it on foot -- never failed to astonish him.  But these were unusual circumstances.  There were no constant reference points, no shadows to suggest a direction of travel, no visual cues in the distance to get them back on track if they got lost. 

“Pilot will be able to guide us,” Aeryn said over her shoulder.

She was just as lost as he was.  If she knew where she was and could get back to the transport pod on her own, she would have said yes.   

“Are you sure this is the right place to come for this?” he asked.  “It doesn’t look like --”

Aeryn stopped walking and turned to face him.  “Like what?”

“Like anything having to do with good health, Aeryn.  This asteroid is the ultimate butt hole of the universe!  Short of a rotting budong full of acid-spewing pustules, we have never been any place worse.  The only thing we’re likely to pick up here is a case of space ebola.”

Aeryn rested her hand on the butt of her pulse pistol, which meant that she was either impatient or irritated or, if he was really unlucky, both.  “We talked this over,” she said. 

“I know, I know.  And it’s taken half a cycle just to find this place.  We agreed that we can’t wait any longer.  It’s too risky.  We agreed that we had to get this done sooner, not later.  Too much depends on it.  I remember the conversation.”  He turned from one side to the other several times, surveying their surroundings, then shook his head.

“But --” she said, prompting him.

“But … good god, Aeryn!  This place is revolting.  It makes Aunty Entity’s Bartertown look like the garden spot of the universe.  Your life or DJ’s or Ian’s could depend on what we’re here to buy.  Are you sure this is the right place for this shopping trip?”

She looked from one end of the street to the other, much as he had moments earlier, and then tilted her head to one side, acknowledging his concern.  “Let’s at least take a look at the building before we decide.  We have come this far.  We might as well take the time to make sure it is as bad as it looks.” 

He gestured over her shoulder, indicating that she should lead the way, and they resumed their battering, jostling journey.  John fixed his eyes on Aeryn’s back, concentrated on staying within one long lunge of being able to catch up to her, and used the free time to think about what had brought them to this asteroid. 

The last cycle and a half had been a difficult one.  Not catastrophic, as some of their cycles had been; merely difficult in terms of medical problems, accidents, and the constant struggle to keep the entire family healthy.  No one had died.  The children had come through the interval without any lasting mental or physical damage, and their lives had finally settled back into as normal a routine as their lives ever got.  But there had been some exceedingly close calls, and they had decided to avoid a repeat of as many of the crises as possible. 

It had started out mildly.  A bump, a bruise, a bloody nose.  All normal for growing children.  Then a cycle and a half ago, DJ had broken his arm.  Ian had contracted an illness that had eerily resembled mumps.  Since John had never had the disease as a child, he had retreated into a self-imposed exile just in case the disease had managed to travel light years across space, leaving Aeryn to cope with a frighteningly sick child.  John was next.  He had pulled a groin muscle that stubbornly refused to heal for close to half a cycle.  Aeryn was too close to a hangar bay when a pressure hatch failed.  Considering how bad it could have been, the consequences were minor:  her left ear had been irreparably damaged, and she was now deaf on that side. 

They had barely recovered from Aeryn’s injury when DJ had come down with appendicitis.  All three of the Sun-Crichton males now had scars on their abdomens.  They had decided to undergo two instances of preventive surgery -- in addition to the surgery to save DJ -- in order to make sure that specific emergency never occurred again.  Aeryn, it turned out, did not have an appendix.  She did have a paraphoral nerve, however, which meant that when Ian contracted a relatively minor disease that had the side effect of causing paraphoral inflammation, Aeryn had been infected as well and had nearly died. 

The series of near-disasters had ended with a freak accident -- a spontaneous chakan oil ignition.  The cartridge had exploded four microts after he had slapped it into Winona, venting all the force out through receptacle located in the butt of the pistol.  The cost had been relatively minor:  the last two fingers on his left hand.  Initially, he had not even noticed that they were gone.  There had been the shock and chaos to deal with first.  He had been focused on making sure the ricochet had not hit anyone and that Moya was not injured.  It was not until Aeryn said, “You’re bleeding” that he had looked down and realized that two of his fingers were missing, gone forever.  There was nothing left to reattach.  They had simply disappeared, vaporized by the explosion. 

Once again, the outcome could have been much worse.  John had been reminding himself of that ever since it happened.  If the cartridge had exploded while it was in storage, it could have caused a leviathan-sized catastrophe.  The discharge could have hit one of the boys or Aeryn.  It could have killed anyone on board.  If it had gone off as he was inserting it, he undoubtedly would have lost his right hand.  Several degrees closer to his body, and it might have struck one of his legs.  Two fingers were a small price to pay considering how bad it could have been.  It had become mantra that he sometimes repeated to himself as frequently as ten or twelve times a day. 

The reminders and the repetition did not help.  He missed those fingers with an intensity that had not faded in the half cycle since he lost them.  Functionally, he seldom noticed that they were missing.  He could still grab things securely, manipulate tools and small objects, and the amputation had been so rapid and thorough that there was no residual pain.  It was the loss of his ring finger that bothered him.  Two cycles after he and Aeryn had been married, John had come across a merchant selling rings engraved with a pattern that resembled his grandmother’s wedding band.  He had bought two of the rings immediately -- one for him and one for Aeryn.  He had worn his ring day and night for seven cycles, and now he would never wear it again.  Not properly.  Not in the way that signified how much he loved Aeryn. 

At moments like this, he did not care that no one else had been hurt or that someone could have died.  All that mattered was that he wanted one of his missing fingers back. 

“You’re moping again.” 

Aeryn had dropped back so she was walking alongside him to his left.  It was one of the very few concessions she had made to her hearing loss.  Whenever she walked beside him, she was always on his left, even though it put her pulse pistol between them where it would be more difficult to get it clear of both their bodies.  He understood how difficult it had been for her to make that adjustment.  It would go against her very nature, violating at least one of her oldest, most deeply seated instincts.   

He slid his arm through hers and pulled her close.  “I am not moping.  I’m an adult.  Adults don’t mope.”

“You were moping.”

“I was not.  I was justifiably depressed over the loss of an object with enormous sentimental value.”

Aeryn placed a finger in her left ear -- the deaf one -- and waggled it several times.  “My microbes translated that as ‘I was moping’.” 

He couldn’t help himself.  He laughed.  “I was not moping.  I was just wishing --”  Completing the sentence was a waste of time.  He had said it too many times over the past half-cycle. 

“-- that you hadn’t lost your fingers.”  Aeryn placed her free hand against the center of his chest and rubbed lightly.  His ring was there, hidden under his shirt, hung from a chain around his neck.  Perversely, the ring itself had survived.  It had been seared by the blast, warped slightly and discolored by the heat, but it had come through the accident with very little damage.

“Wear it on your right hand,” she said.

They had gone over this several dozen times.  John said it anyway.  “It means something entirely different when it’s on my right hand.”

“Not to me,” she said.  “I’ll know what it means.”

He shook his head.  “It’s just not the same if it’s on my right hand, Aeryn.”

“You have explained that more than once.  It’s silly.  The ring is what matters, not where you wear it.” 

“Call me old fashioned.  I can’t do it.  Putting it on my right hand means we’re not together.  I would look down at it, and it would drive me nuts.”

Aeryn smiled.  It was a subdued smile, a mild upward twitch at the corners of her mouth while her eyes and a majority of her attention remained fixated on their surroundings. 

“More nuts than usual,” John said. 

Her smile broadened. 

“You’re hilarious.  Come on.  Let’s get back to the reason why we’re here.”  He looped an arm over her shoulder and they finished their journey in that way, as one entity, shoving their way through the crowds as a single unit.

It did not take them long to reach their destination. 

“This is it.”  Aeryn tugged him to a stop in front of a doorway flanked by two enormous heaps of rotting trash. 

“It just gets better and better.”  He reached past her to wave his hand across a glowing sensor.  A moment later they were inside.  The door slid closed behind them with a sibilant whoosh of air, thudding solidly into place, and the noise from the street came to an abrupt stop.  The interior of the building was cool, clean, and quiet.

“Better,” he said again, this time with approval.   

Aeryn looked over her shoulder at him.  “I assume that means you don’t want to turn back.”   

He gave her a small nudge forward.  “Don’t be a smart ass, lady.  Lead on.  You’re better at figuring out places like this than I am.”

“I’m better at every--”

“Don’t go there,” he said quickly, cutting her off before she could finish.  “Just lead the way.”  He gave her another, more vigorous nudge toward the interior of the building. 

“Was that surrender?” she asked over her shoulder.

“Temporary armistice.  We can argue it out later.” 

A narrow hallway five motras in length opened out onto a single, large, circular room taking up most of the interior space of the building.  The chamber was dimly but adequately lit.  There was enough light to illuminate the entire space and to allow visitors to make out the far side of the room, while the shadows and half-lit gloom created an aura of peace and tranquility.  It was quiet, serene, and positively disorienting after having survived the bedlam that lay outside the building.

The center of the room was empty except for a clear cylinder that Crichton guessed to be forty feet in diameter and several stories in height.  Outside that was bare floor space wide enough for three or four people to walk side-by-side around the perimeter of the room; followed by bare walls.  The wall was interrupted at regular intervals by narrow hallways similar to the one through which they had entered, chopping the outer ring of the building into evenly spaced segments.  There was no sign of a receptionist or any workers, no sign of the industry they had expected to find here.  There were only the empty hallways and the transparent cylinder.

Aeryn took a step to the right.  “Wait here.”

“Stick together,” John countered immediately. 

She gestured behind him.  “All of the hallways look the same.  Stay here so we know which one is the exit.” 

John watched her wander slowly around the outer perimeter of the room.  After several dozen microts the urge to conduct his own investigation became more than he could resist.  He slipped out of his coat, dropped it on the floor to mark where they had come in, and began his own examination of the large chamber, starting with the clear cylinder. 

It was not empty, as he had initially assumed.  As he got closer and his eyes began to adjust to the muted light, he could make out a cloud of polka dots hovering ten feet above his head and extending upward until they disappeared into the shadows.  The polka dots shifted, performed a peculiar migration that was eerily familiar, and then transformed into irregular splotches.  The spots grew rings, turned into multihued leopard’s rosettes suspended in a deep purple transparent background, then realigned themselves into columns and turned into stripes.  The stripes thickened, narrowed, changed color several times, and were replaced by strings of glowing luminescent dots.  The dots increased in size, faded, and turned back into polka dots.   

“Cool chandelier,” he said after watching the sequence several times, and resumed his circuit of the room.  He met Aeryn on the far side.  “Find anything?”

“Not much.  I tried a few of the corridors.  There were doors in some of them, but they were all closed and locked.  No sign of personnel.”

“No doorbell?”

“Not unless that thing is a door bell.”  She pointed toward the huge cylinder. 

John stepped over to it and rapped it twice with his knuckles.  He intended it as a joke.  He expected the flat, dull thunk of knuckles against thick plexiglass.  What he triggered instead was a deep, complex, sonorous tone that filled and refilled the entire building with a harmonious vibration.  It went on for several microts, dying down until there was nothing left but a tickling buzz against their skin.  Then that dwindled away as well.  The entire process took more than fifteen microts.

“Oops.”  John stepped away from the cylinder.

“At least it worked,” Aeryn said.  A third of the way around the room, an individual had emerged from one of the lookalike hallways and was coming toward them.

“A diagnosan.”  John looked at the creature more closely.  There was something wrong with the dimensions.  He blinked several times in an effort to get the perspective to correct itself.  “Not a diagnosan.  What is that?”

The individual approaching them had an oversized head similar to diagnosan’s, the same nasal slits and elongated fingers, and in most ways resembled the healers they had encountered over the cycles.  The major difference was that it was less than half the usual height.  It also lacked the musculature of a full-size diagnosan.  The limbs on this being were spindly.

“Dwarf?” John asked in a whisper.  “Midgetnosan?”

“Subspecies,” Aeryn said in an equally hushed voice.  “They’re called nyrxos.  They cannot intuit disease.  They often serve in some kind of support function.” 

The nyrxo came to a stop two motras away from the couple.  “How to help?” it warbled in the familiar high-pitched diagnosan trill.   

“You can synthesize tissue,” Aeryn said.

“Assured.”

“Sebacean paraphoral tissue,” she said.

“Assured.  Most simple.” 

John handed over three small chips containing tissue samples.  “We need twelve of each.  Frozen.   Don’t mix them together.  Three individuals, twelve tissue grafts for each person.”

This was why they were on the asteroid.  Aeryn had come too close to death from the paraphoral infection she had contracted from Ian. They had been lucky twice in their lifetimes.  The first time, John had managed to get the graft for Aeryn at enormous cost to himself.  The second time, her immune system had managed to fight off the infection.  Just barely.  The need for a stock of tissue grafts was too critical to ignore; the benefits of having a ready supply on board Moya too great.  They had been searching for a non-Peacekeeper facility capable of synthesizing the tissue grafts for half a cycle. 

“Most simple,” the nyrxo said again, nodding its overly large head. 

“How long will it take and how much will it cost?” John asked.  The technology required to synthesize the tissue was relatively simple; the need for this specific type of nerve tissue, and therefore the availability other than at Peacekeeper installations, was exceedingly rare.  This was not going to be cheap. 

“Arn.  Perhaps less,” it said, and then quoted a price that was very close to what they had theorized it might cost -- more than they wanted to pay but less than the sum they had brought with them.

John looked to Aeryn for her input.  She nodded.  There would be no bargaining.  They wanted the tissue too badly. 

He handed over the money.  “Do it.  We’ll wait.” 

The nyrxo inclined its head in a short bow, and departed, disappearing into a different hallway than where it had appeared.  Headed for the appropriate technicians and fabrication lab, John assumed. 

“We have an arn to kill.  Any suggestions?” he asked. 

“There are some pictures over there.”  Aeryn pointed to the far side of the hall.  “You might find some of those interesting.”  She set off around the outer circumference of the room.

He trailed along behind her.  “Pictures?  What kind of pictures?”

“I believe they are examples of some of the work they do here.”  She began peering down each hallway, hunting for the correct one.  “Pilot said they perform a number of highly advanced genetic procedures.  Synthesizing tissue is a minor portion of the business.”

“This doesn’t sound good.  I’m not going to lose my lunch am I?”

“No.  I think you’ll like these.”  Aeryn paused for the sixth time, took an extra step into the narrow corridor to make sure it was the right one, and then beckoned to him.  “In here.” 

She was correct.  The holographs seemed to be a showcase of the types of genetic manipulation or anatomical augmentation that the building’s inhabitants were capable of performing.  A wide range of species, genders, and procedures were on display, ranging from minor adjustments to major physical overhauls. 

“Oh my heavens,” John said, peering at a picture of what had started out as a bipedal anthropoid female, possibly a sebacean.  “She must a believer in quantity over quality.”

“I thought you might like that one.” 

“No way.  Two is enough to keep this southern boy happy.  Any more than that and I don’t know where to put my hands.  I get nervous and confused.”  He moved along the line, examining the various results, not always entirely certain what were normally-occurring genetics and what features were improvements.  “Okay, this is more my style.  How about you have this done?  We’ve got plenty of money left over.  We can pay for it.” 

Aeryn moved back to see what he was pointing at.  “There wouldn’t be room for you in our bed.  The three of us would take up all the space.” 

“We could get a bigger bed,” he said. 

“We could stick with a smaller me.”

“Think of the money we could save on pillows,” John said.  “I could rest my head on one of those.”

“Think of the money you could spend sleeping somewhere else.”

“Party pooper.  Where’s your sense of adventure?”

Aeryn was drifting down the line of photographs, working her way methodically through the entire collection.  She stopped near the far end.  “Okay.  I’ll have it done.”

John’s head snapped around.  “What?  Are you serious?”

“Completely serious.  I’ll have that done if you’ll have this done.”  She pointed. 

He took two bounding, delighted steps toward her and bent in close to get a good look.  “Good god.” 

They both burst out laughing. 

“Where do you suppose he buys his pants?” Aeryn asked.

“Do you know of a species that has three legs?  Maybe he gets them there.” 

John jammed both fists down as far as they would go into his front pockets, pushed hard against the front of his pants, and peered down at the resulting hummock.  “No way.  No frelling way.  Hope you’re not too disappointed.” 

“I’ve always considered you adequate.  I guess I can live with things the way they are.”  She patted the bulge in his pants where he still had his fists thrust into his crotch, stepped around him, and headed back into the central room. 

“Adequate?” John took his hands out of his pockets.  “Just adequate?”

The nyrxo was waiting at the end of the hallway.  “Other services?” it asked.  “Something you see and like?”

“No.  No, thank you,” John said, shaking his head.  “Nothing we like.  We were just window shopping.  There’s nothing in there that we need.”

“Repairs?” the nyrxo asked.  “Defects repaired?  Much can be accomplished.” 

John continued to shake his head.  Aeryn grabbed his shoulder.  Her fingers dug in deep.  “Repairs?” she said.  “What kind of repairs can you do?”

“Many types.  Most,” the nyrxo said. 

“That doesn’t help,” she said.  “Can you repair injuries?  Replace things that have been lost?”

“Many types,” the nyrxo repeated.

“This?  Can you fix this?”  Aeryn grabbed John’s left hand and held it out for the nyrxo to examine.  “There should be five fingers, like mine.  Can you replace the missing fingers?”

The nyrxo peered at John’s hand, front and back, and examined the smooth plane at the end of his palm where the missing digits belonged.  “Other,” he said, gesturing toward John’s right hand.  “Severed or defect?”

“Severed.  Blown into nothingness by an explosion,” John said.

“Assuredly.  Most simple,” the nyrxo said after several more microts of the gentle, probing examination. 

“She has a damaged ear,” John said.  “What about that?  It’s an injury.  A decompression injury.  The right one is okay.  The left needs to be repaired.”

“Most simple.  A quarter-arn each.”

“Seriously?”  The shout echoed around the room.  John cleared his throat and tried it again, more quietly.  He had not meant to yell.  “A quarter of an arn?  That’s all it takes?”

Aeryn had not forgotten that the solution might not be that straightforward and simple.  “Price?”

The nyrxo quoted an amount ten times what they had agreed to pay for the paraphoral tissue.  John’s stomach clenched.  There was no way they could afford that much for what were not life threatening injuries.   For five glorious microts, he had believed that he would get his fingers back.  The dream evaporated as quickly as it had sprung into life. 

Aeryn had not given up.  “Too much.”  She offered a tenth of the fee they had already paid. 

The nyrxo looked as though it was about to cry.  “Theft.  You attempt theft,” it chirruped, and cut its price in half.

They went back and forth for a quarter of an arn, sparring, battling, making offer and counteroffer, while John’s hopes rose and fell in time with the bargaining.  Finally, Aeryn walked away from John and the nyrxo, stood staring at a blank wall for several hundred microts, came back and offered the precise amount that they still carried with them.  It represented the entire surplus they had brought with them in order to purchase the synthesized paraphoral tissue.  It was a make-or-break offer. 

The nyrxo gazed at her for ten long microts, and then bowed its head.  “Accepted.”

John began digging the currency out of his pockets, handing the assortment of credit chips, coins, and markers to Aeryn as he retrieved them.  “How does this work?” he asked while he searched for the last of the money.  “My fingers are gone.  Do you grow new ones in a lab and then reattach them?  Do we have to come back?”

The genetic structure of their bodies would be adjusted to trigger regrowth, the nyrxo explained.  The missing or damaged anatomy would repair on its own.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.”  John jumped in front of Aeryn to prevent her from handing over the currency.  “How does that work?  All I want are two fingers.  I don’t want all the missing bits of my body growing back all of a sudden.  I just went through the joy of having my appendix removed by a Hynerian surgeon who had no idea what he was looking for when he opened me up.  You would not believe the nightmares I’ve had about that bit of medical malpractice.  The last thing I need is for pink, shiny and useless to grow back.”

The nyrxo delivered an explanation laced with untranslatable terms.   

John turned to face Aeryn so the nyrxo was behind him.  It provided a measure of privacy so long as they kept their voices low.  “I got the part about how the regrowth will be pinpointed.  The therapy includes creating a target so the cells will only respond in that part of the body.  Did you get any of that last chunk?  It was mostly gibberish to me.”

Aeryn rubbed her right ear, the one that had done all the work.  “It sounded as though he said that the machine was listening, so it would know where to apply the target.  I assumed he meant that it would be programmed, and that my microbes translated it incorrectly.” 

“What do you think?”

“You mean should we risk it?” she said.

“Yeah.  It sounds like we could be buying either a miracle cure or swamp land in Florida.  I want to believe in the cure, Aeryn.  I really do.  But with our track record, the safe money is on alligators and mud.” 

Aeryn stared over his shoulder at the waiting nyrxo for several microts, then turned her attention back to John.  “We may never get another chance to heal these injuries.  Pilot said that this group has a good reputation.  Everything he learned about them says that they are able to do what they claim they can and that they charge reasonable rates for their services.”

“That sounded like a yes.”  Excitement squirmed in his stomach.  He had wanted to say yes from the first moment.  If the proposed procedure had affected only him, he already would have agreed.  There were two people’s health to consider, however, and their decision would affect at least twice that many.  They had DJ and Ian to think about, as well as how their lives would be disrupted if the genetic repairs did not function as promised.

Aeryn took her time before answering.  “I do not believe Pilot would have told us about them or brought us here unless he trusted that they would synthesize the paraphoral tissue correctly.  He would not risk our lives if he did not feel that these people were trustworthy.”

“That sounded like a yes,” John said.

Her eyes looked squarely into his.  “Yes.  I think it is worth the risk.  And --”  She looked uncertain.

“And?” he said.

“And I would like to be able to hear.  Sometimes I miss things, John.  Important things.  It isn’t safe, and it annoys me when I cannot hear clearly.” 

It was the first time Aeryn had admitted that her hearing loss bothered her.  He had suspected that Aeryn had not adjusted as easily or as completely as her lack of complaints had implied.  She was too volatile whenever she missed a portion of a conversation or found out that she had not heard one of the boys calling to her; her temper was too short where her hearing was concerned.  This was the first time since the accident that she had mentioned her feelings, and now that she had, she looked embarrassed.

He took her hand in his and held on tight for a few moments.  “Let’s get it fixed then.” 

“I would like that.”

John spun around.  “Fire up your machine, Darwin.  Mission Control has given us a green light!  Where do we go, who do we see, what do we do?” 

The currency was handed over, Aeryn shrugged out of her leather coat, and they both shed their pulse weapons.  “Now what?” John said. 

The nyrxo touched what appeared to be a small defect in the wall, a finger-sized depression to the right of one of the hallways.  A small door retracted into the wall revealing a set of indicators and controls.  The lights illuminating the central room dimmed even further and the contents of the central cylinder sprang into view.  It did not contain modern art or an alien chandelier, as John had assumed.  It held a living creature.

It was huge and amorphous, it was primarily transparent, and it undulated and changed colors.  It explained why some of the migrations of spots and dots he had watched earlier had looked strangely familiar:  they were on the surface of a living creature.  His subconscious had recognized the behavior of the patterns even if he had not been consciously aware of what he was observing.  The stripes and spots had been following mathematical rules laid out by the skins of whales, porpoises, manta rays and jellyfish.  A childhood of watching Jacques Cousteau had taught his subconscious a series of laws concerning the movements of those decorations.  His adult brain had been too caught up in assumptions to pay attention.   

The creature was bulb-shaped and elastic -- widest in the middle, narrower at the bottom and top, and constantly changing dimensions.  It towered over them, close to forty feet tall and roughly twenty feet across at its widest point.  Crichton could make out several of its internal organs, dim semi-translucent structures jostling loosely inside a quietly luminescent outer skin.  A ghostly fist of pulsing fibers he translated into a heart.  He found the central nervous system, hanging top to bottom like a feather made of ice.  An oblong bubble a third of the way from the top might have been a stomach.   

It descended.  More details came into view.

“It’s watching us.” John said to Aeryn. 

“Eyes?  Where?”

“On top.  At the base of the … whatever those are.  Are those tentacles or really bad hair?”

“Tentacles, I think.” 

The eyes were two enormous white globes perched haphazardly on top of the pod-shaped body.  There were no eyelids or coverings, giving it a permanent startled expression.  Above the eyes was a cluster of thick, undulating appendages.   Whether they were functional tentacles that could grasp and manipulate or useless floating growths, Crichton did not care to guess. 

The unintelligible part of the nyrxo’s explanation suddenly made sense.  “The machine was listening.” 

“This is the machine,” Aeryn said.  “It’s been listening all along.  Ever since we walked in.” 

“So it knows what we want fixed.  Got it.”  John looked over his shoulder at the nyrxo.  “What do we do?  What happens now?”  It was obvious that the creature in the tank had something to do with the repairs. The question was how it was involved in the process.

The nyrxo touched another control on the wall panel.  A section of the cylinder disappeared.  It appeared to melt, revealing a doorway. 

“Stand in center.  The ki’irkarik” -- he indicated the enormous floating beast -- “will descend.  You will be there.”  He pointed to a cylindrical organ within the creature’s body.  “Relax.  Stand.  It will sample.  Correct defect.  It will rise.  You exit.  Done.” 

John stared in disbelief at the nyrxo for several microts, looked up at the creature in the tank, glanced toward Aeryn, and then looked back at the ki’irkarik.  “No … frelling … way.”

Aeryn bumped him with her shoulder.  “You first.” 

“You have got to be kidding me.  Aeryn, do you realize what that is?  What that … that tube inside its body is?”

“John, I do not care what the opening is for and neither should you.  The question you need to answer is do you want your fingers back?” 

“Of course I want them back!  I’ve been whining about it for half a cycle!  That’s not the point!  Look at what he’s saying we have to do.” 

“If you want your fingers back, stop arguing and get in there.”

“Aeryn, look at that thing.  Just stop being logical and reasonable for a moment and look at it.  The head is up there, at the top of its body.  If the head is at the top, then the opening at the bottom has got to be its --”  He hesitated, searching for a polite term.  “You’re telling me that to perform this medical miracle, I have to climb inside a critter’s exhaust pipe?” 

“It’s an alien.  There is no sign of a mouth.  You have no way of knowing whether this creature even excretes through an opening in its body.  We have paid for this.  Get in there!  Think of it as a not particularly pleasant medical procedure, and get in there.”  She turned him around and shoved him toward the door.

“Okay, okay.  I’m going.”  He made it two steps before spinning back to face her.  “Aeryn, it’s the back end of a living creature!  The garbage chute.  The sewer discharge.  The effluvium exit, the stink hole.  I don’t care how much money we have paid, I am not going to crawl inside --”

“John!”  She grabbed his left hand in both of hers and waved it in front of his eyes.  “Do you want your fingers back?”  She used his own hand to slap the middle of his chest where the ring hung on its chain.  “Do you want to wear this on your left hand again?”

“Yes.  Of course!  You know I do.  That’s not the point!”

“The point is that you need to shut up and get in there.  I understand what you’re saying, John.  I understand basic anatomy.  We have waste funnels aboard Moya.  I know what they are for.  What you need to understand is that none of this matters.  The only thing you need to think about is that if you want your fingers back, you have to go inside there.”

“All right, all right.  I’m going, I’m going.”  He approached the doorway in the side of the cylinder.  “Clothes on or off?” he asked the nyrxo. 

“On.  All as normal.” 

“Will I need to hold my breath?”

“Breathe.  All as normal.  Stand there.”  He pointed toward a mark on the floor in the center of the huge tank.

John took several deep breaths, rubbed his right thumb over the scarred ridge along his left palm several times, and then moved forward until he stood half in and half out of the ki’irkarik’s tank.  “Wait a second!  Why do I have to go first?  If you’re so okay with this, why don’t you go first?” 

Aeryn was right behind him.  She had followed him, anticipating his last minute hesitation and that she would have to coax him inside.  “For a very simple reason.  I don’t want to crawl inside some creature’s eema any more than you do.  I am not going in there until I have seen you do it first.” 

She smiled, gave him a quick kiss, and then gently pushed him through the door.  John did not resist.  He allowed it to happen, knowing that he would end up inside sooner or later.  He looked back at her.  “The things I do for you.”

“The things I do for you.  Don’t forget that I go next,” she said.  Then the cylinder wall solidified behind him, sealing him in. 

He wanted to take his time and investigate; he wanted to edge slowly around outermost section of the tank and examine the ki’irkarik as closely as possible before going to stand on the mark in the middle of the floor.  Crichton wanted time to figure out if the tubular structure inside the creature’s body was the tail end of a digestive tract, as he feared, or served some other purpose.  If the circumstances were different, he would have asked for it to be fed and watched what happened to the snack before agreeing to go through with the genetic procedure.  At the very least, he would have preferred to take some air samples from inside the internal organ to find out exactly what he was getting himself into -- both literally and figuratively. 

All of which was impossible because Aeryn was waiting -- Aeryn and Pilot and the boys and everyone else on board Moya; and Moya herself who was expending energy in order to stay in one place relative to the asteroid.  She could not just park herself in orbit and relax.  The asteroid was not large enough; it did not have enough mass.  He had to get on with it, if not for him then for everyone else. 

“Wake up, John.  Let this all be a dream.  A very bad, very twisted dream.  Worse than usual.”  He rubbed the scars on his left hand one more time, finding strength and purpose in what had become an unconscious habit, and then moved out into the center of the tank to stand on the mark.  “Bring it on.  Slide that big bubba down over my head.”             

As it turned out, he could have relaxed and saved himself the nervous energy.  The process was almost pleasant.  If it hadn’t been for his theories about alien anatomy, he might even have enjoyed it.  The ki’irkarik descended, engulfing John in the internal compartment.  There was room to spare, it was easy to breathe, and it did not smell bad.  He had been in college dorm rooms that had less free space and were far more repulsive.  The walls were smooth, moist without being slick, and resilient.  It was like standing in an organically grown telephone booth. 

After several microts, the compartment filled with mist, gradually thickening to a dense fog.  John swept one hand a short distance, expecting to encounter moisture.  He encountered resistance.  He was not standing in a cloud; he was being surrounded by a finely spun spider’s web.  They began to attach themselves wherever they encountered skin:  grabbing on, testing, tasting.  Probing. 

“Oh crap!” 

He clamped his mouth shut, closed his eyes, and tried to breathe shallowly.  This was how the ki’irkarik did its work.  It was sampling his DNA, examining his genetic structure and making the changes as he stood there, unhurt, engulfed in the creature’s innards.  He spread the three fingers on his left hand wide, silently trying to make the ki’irkarik understand that this was what needed to be repaired; here was where it needed to concentrate.  Not up his nose.  Not in his ears.  Not anywhere else. 

Tiny tickling tendrils drifted across his eyelids, caressed his cheeks, explored the back of his neck, and were gone.  The tide of touches receded.  Ghostly, ethereal waves worked down his arms until only one part of his body remained in the ki’irkarik’s clutches.  His left hand.  John opened his eyes so he could watch, half expecting the missing fingers to appear, built up out of barely visible thread-like beginnings, solidifying, turning into flesh in a matter of microts.  None of that happened.  The ki’irkarik hung on to his hand for eight or ninety microts, then the filaments disappeared and the great beast ascended to the top of its tank. 

The rest of their visit was anti-climatic after that.  The door to the cylinder opened.  He stepped out, Aeryn handed him a cryo-container containing the three dozen paraphoral tissue samples they had purchased, and then he watched her walk calmly to stand on the mark in the center of the ki’irkarik’s enclosure.  She was enveloped, the mist first surrounded her, collected around her left ear, and then she was striding through the doorway to rejoin him. 

“One last question,” John said, looking behind him for the nyrxo.  The small attendant was gone.  “Damn!”

“Problem?”  Aeryn was already buckling her pulse pistol into place.

“I was going to ask how long it would take for this to work.”

She handed his coat and his pulse pistol.  “You could try the door bell again.” 

John looked up at where the ki’irkarik bobbed and undulated near the top of its tank, thought about what the gong-like reverberations might have sounded like to a creature residing inside the huge cylinder, and decided against it.  “Not worth it.  We’ll find out soon enough.”

He shrugged into his coat and then held Aeryn’s for her while she slid into it in a single graceful, sinuous movement.  It was moments like this that he missed wearing his ring the most, moments when Aeryn performed some small, mundane task and turned it into an exquisite moment of coordination and beauty.  These were the times when he wanted to proclaim to the world through the wearing of a metal band that he belonged to her and she belonged to him; that they were one, joined forever, and that her strength, beauty, humor and wisdom enriched his life and asked in turn that he become a better man. 

“You’ve got that look on your face.”  Aeryn rubbed her left ear, driving a thumb hard against the outer area.

“What look?” 

“That ‘I want to throw you on the floor and make love to you right here and now’ look.”  She picked up the cryo-container while he strapped on his pulse pistol, then they looked around them to make sure they had not forgotten everything, and headed for the door.   

“You mean the ‘I’m stupid in love with you’ look?”

“That’s the one.”

“Is that a bad thing?” he asked.  He rubbed his left hand, digging hard with his fingers, trying to ease an itch. 

“No.  I just wanted you to know I saw it.”  She turned around long enough to give him a quick, glancing kiss that landed somewhere near the point of his jaw.  “Thank you.”

They stopped just short of the door.  Once they stepped through, it would be difficult to hold a conversation until they reached the transport pod.  The noise on the street would make all but the most critical communication a waste of time and effort.

“One last thing,” he said to her.  “We never tell the kids about this.  About the critter, I mean. Right?”

“And put up with a variety of childish butt-head jokes for the rest of our lives?  I’m a soldier, John, not a complete idiot.”

He gave her a light shove, encouraging her to go through the door, then braced himself and followed.  It was as bad as he remembered.  Possibly worse.  The number of people had increased, boosting the amount of noise exponentially and turning navigation into a nightmare.  John stayed close to Aeryn’s back, matching her step, aggressively preventing anyone from cutting between them.  He was not concerned about getting lost.  If he got separated from Aeryn, he would hunker down, and rely on her and Pilot to find him.  This was expedience.  By staying close, he increased the odds that they would arrive at the transport pod together, and would not waste any time getting off the asteroid.  He wanted to be gone as quickly as possible. 

The other benefit was that it gave him time to think.  Staying right on Aeryn’s heels was an unthinking process once he was tucked in tight with his stride matched to hers.  He had time to wonder about the ki’irkarik:  whether it was fully sentient, whether it was happy, sad, imprisoned, or bored, or whether it was just one member of a species that made a living performing intricate genetic manipulation.  He thought about his family, and about how they would no longer have to worry about paraphoral injuries, thanks to the contents of the cryo-container.  There was time to ponder about the presence of so many different species on this rock, the amount of filth and deterioration in the city, and to wonder how an asteroid dedicated to health industries could wind up looking like this one.

He rubbed his left hand, driving his thumb in against the truncated bones, trying to stop what was turning into a permanent itch.  A moment later, a different kind of itch sprang into life.  A mental one.  Aeryn was rubbing her ear for the fifth or sixth time since they left the building.  She was pressing her thumb into the hollow beneath her ear, massaging vigorously in much the same way that he was rubbing his hand.  John ran his right thumb over the scars again, this time paying more attention, probing, exploring.  There were two small, hard hummocks where for half a cycle there had been an unnaturally smooth surface.  The lumps were barely discernable.  John rubbed them again to make sure.  He had not been mistaken.  They were definitely there.

After that, he had a new set of questions to consider as he followed close on Aeryn’s heels.  He spent some of the time wondering how long it would take for those two small bumps to grow back into fingers, and about how the reconstruction would progress.  He thought about what he would tell the boys when they noticed, assembling tales that were not outright lies but that did not involve an enormous creature’s back side. 

Best of all, he strode along and watch Aeryn rub her ear.  The sight generated dreams about the days and nights to come, about whispers late at night, hushed laughter in the dark; and about how when he spoke from his heart, Aeryn would not miss a word.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Thank you for reading! 

Crash
:dk:
10
Crashfic / When Fates Collide (G) - Starburst Challenge 34
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 10, 2016, 11:07:21 AM »
Greetings, Scapers!

Once again, I'm playing catchup with a Starburst Challenge.  (If you think this one is late, wait until you see the next one I hope to finish up and post.  It dates back to May 2007!!  :laugh: )

The only thing I would like to say before getting this story underway is that when you start wailing and screaming death threats, remember that I was only doing my best to comply with the challenge.  It has absolutely nothing to do with my penchant for indulging in Kemperitis.  :devil:  If you have any complaints, please send them to ScorpSik. 

Thank you for reading,

Crash
:dk:

<Crash pushes the 'Post' button and then runs for cover>




When Fates Collide

   * * * * *

Starburst Challenge 34 (hosted by ScorpSik):  TOAST!!  The topic is death; specifically, the death of your most beloved character.  Stipulation:  Their death must occur at some point during canon. 

Rating:  G.
Time Frame:  Premiere.
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co.  I have not made any profit off this tale, and I am giving the characters back the way I found them.
Test Driver:  PKLibrarian, as always.  She rocks when it comes to test driving a story, catching mistakes, and burning me in effigy when I write a story like this one.

Genesis:  When I read ScorpSik’s challenge, there was no question who had to die.  The only decision left to be made was WHEN I should kill him off.  To quote Shakespeare:  “If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly."

I hope you enjoy it ... as much as you can enjoy any story where I have to kill off my favorite character.

   * * * * *


“What is the matter with you --”

The orange-clad intruder pauses, looking perplexed, and in that instant whatever he had intended to say is forever lost to a snarl and the sharp impact of flesh against flesh.  The luxan’s tongue lashes out, hitting him squarely on the back of the neck.  He turns, looking even more astonished than before, and then staggers to one side, coughing and struggling for breath, fingers tearing at his throat and the front of his jumpsuit. 

“What have you done?” the delvian asks.  She takes one step forward then backs away as the stranger first drops to his knees and then keels over sideways onto the floor. 

“I tongued him,” the luxan says.  “He will be fine in a couple of arns.”

“This does not resemble a tonguing.  What did you do to him?”  She sinks to her knees, leaving a precautionary two motras between her and the kicking, convulsing figure. 

“Idiot luxan!” the hynerian says.  “We might have been able to use him to bargain with the Peacekeepers.”

“I tongued him!” the luxan yells.  “All it does it knock him out.” 

“Does this look like it’s knocking him out?” the hynerian says.  “He is behaving more like a vacuum damaged greebah worm than an unconscious Peacekeeper.” 

The bucking and flailing accelerates.  Fingernails dig into the purplish, congested skin of his throat, scoring the flesh.  He draws blood.  One foot kicks out repeatedly, scribing a series of dark arcs on the golden floor.  As they watch, the frenzied attempts to draw a breath increase to a crazed level, and then begin to slacken.  He is dying. 

“Histaminic reaction,” the delvian says all of a sudden.  She rises gracefully to her feet, watching their prisoner with dispassionate interest.

“What?” the luxan says. 

“I believe this is a histaminic reaction.”  She looks back and forth between the luxan and the hynerian several times, noting the blank stares, and tries again.  “He is allergic to the toxin.  This is a massive allergic reaction.”

“Can you save him?” the hynerian asks.  “He may still be of some value, even if damaged.”

“When is a Peacekeeper ever of value?” the luxan says with a furious snarl.  “Let alone one that has some sort of genetic deficiency that renders him susceptible to death from a tonguing?”

The figure on the floor lets out an agonized sounding gargle, one heel beats out a brief frantic tattoo against the metallic floor plating, and he is still at last.  After all his thrashing about, the peace is a relief.

“Too late.  He’s dead,” she says. 

All three gaze at the still body, each person’s inner thoughts and reflections tucked securely out of sight from the others.  The silence does not last long. 

“Attention!”  An image of the leviathan’s pilot appears in the clamshell.  “One Prowler has traveled with us through starburst!” 

The delvian is the first to digest the bad news.  “Pilot, why did you not report this the moment we came out of starburst?”

“Moya’s sensors were … adversely affected,” he says, looking inexplicably embarrassed.  “We did not realize that the Prowler had followed us until now.  Its engines seem to be disabled, however.  For the moment, it is drifting.” 

“Block its radio, net it, and bring it aboard,” the luxan says. 

“We can do neither.  Nearly all of Moya’s external transmitter components were damaged during the attack, as well as the docking web.” 

The luxan and the delvian stare at each other, increasing levels of shock and dismay showing with each passing microt. 

“They will find us,” she says in a whisper.  “The Peacekeepers will find us and they will execute us.  They cannot afford to let us live now that we have managed to escape.” 

“Starburst!” the hynerian orders.  “Starburst immediately, Pilot!”

“We cannot.  Moya will not be able to starburst again for at least several arns.”  The Pilot pauses, and then delivers more bad news.  “The Prowler is attempting to establish contact with the command carrier.” 

“Ram it!” the luxan says.  “Ram the Prowler.  Destroy it.”

“Moya could be injured!  The Prowler’s mass is more than sufficient to damage her hull!”

“Pilot!” the luxan bellows.  He hammers on one of the consoles with both fists, smashing flesh against unyielding mechanoid plating, venting his fury in time with his words.  “I order you to ram the Prowler.  Do it now!  Ram it, or do you want to see your precious Moya wearing a control collar again?”

“Ram it!” the hynerian calls, adding his voice to the increasingly strident demands. 

“Pilot, you must ram the Prowler,” the delvian says.  “It is our only hope of stopping that transmission and maintaining our freedom.” 

“Accelerating … now,” the Pilot says. 

The three escaped prisoners watch the forward view portal with varying mixtures of dread and hope in their expressions, watch as the drifting Prowler grows from a minute speck in the distance to an easily discerned rapier shape against the darker black of space and then quickly expands to take up the entire forward view portal.  The floor beneath their feet shudders for an instant, and it is over. 

“Pilot, report,” the delvian says. 

“The cockpit of the Prowler has been torn loose from the rest of the hull.  There are no transmissions” -- he pauses to consult his readouts -- “and no signs of life.  The pilot was not able to establish contact with the command carrier before the impact.” 

“Then we are free,” the delvian breathes. 

“Free,” the luxan agrees, straightening up from one of the Command consoles. 

“Free!  Free!”  The hynerian chortles, guffaws, and then sails out of Command, bellowing out the word “Free!” every few microts.  The jubilant shouts fade off into the distance. 

“I will jettison this waste,” the luxan says, gesturing at the body lying to one side.  “After that we can decide where the Peacekeepers might be least likely to hunt for us.”

The delvian nods, and turns toward the clamshell, focusing her attention on the next stage of their escape.  “Pilot, does Moya know where we are?”

“Of course!  We are … some place else.  I will … get back to you on the specifics.”
 
   * * * * *

The remnants of the Prowler are a gradually migrating cloud of space debris.  Set in motion by the departure of the leviathan, the myriad bits travel together as a group, a school of inanimate metallic fragments, winking and shining dully as they move from one beam of faint starlight to the next.  The pilot’s body, exercising one of the inexplicable quirks of mass and velocity, takes up a different trajectory, setting off on a slow and solitary interstellar pilgrimage, headed toward deepest unoccupied space. 

Her helmet is gone.  It was torn loose in the collision with the leviathan.  Her death was a quick one due to explosive decompression.  There is no outward sign of the internal devastation.  There is no blood, no cuts or bruises; only unnaturally pale skin framed by lustrous black hair.  If it was not for the tiny ice crystals already forming on her skin, she might just as easily have been sleeping.  She drifts, silent and uncaring, headed away from Peacekeeper controlled space. 

Another equally still figure approaches.  The stranger, the dark swelling around his throat reduced to pale normalcy by the cold and the vacuum, sails toward her.  He was set on his journey by the luxan, flung out of a pressure hatch shortly before the leviathan engaged its hetch drive and disappeared into the eternal night.  Chance brings them together for an instant.  They collide, perform a slow-motion pirouette, realigning their separate directions of travel, pause for a moment as if to offer a silent apology for bumping into each other, and continue on their way. 

An orange wrist strap, dangling loose, catches on her chest plate.  They strain in opposite directions, momentum to its best to tear them apart, and then they slowly recoil into each others arms.  A bump, a rebound, a gradual separation that takes them away from each other to the full extent of his reach, and once more they return.  His free arm curls protectively around her body.  It becomes entangled in the breather gear near her waist.  Boot catches boot; a slender gloved hand eases behind him, further merging their bodies; another of the dangling straps on his jumpsuit weaves its way into the maze of her harness.  Her head comes to rest on his shoulder; his leans down so his cheek is pressed against the dark hair. 

Ice crystals build.  The final exhalations of their bodies, the final bit of moisture offered up to the cold emptiness of space, settles around them and freezes, melding them into a single entity for all time.  Stars spring into life, burn brightly for eons, give off one last burst of energy to signal their impending demise, and go dark.  Civilizations rise, flourish, overreach themselves, and descend into ruin.  Species evolve, gain dominance, and disappear.  The galaxies spin inexorably.  And through it all, John Crichton and Aeryn Sun continue their slow silent journey, together forever.


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