Author Topic: First Rites (PG) - 12th Starburst Challenge  (Read 610 times)

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Offline KernilCrash

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First Rites (PG) - 12th Starburst Challenge
« on: June 10, 2016, 10:58:45 AM »
First Rites

* * * * *

Starburst Challenge 12 (hosted by BetanSurvey on November 30, 2006):  Since we are coming up on a multitude of holidays, I figure that is an appropriate enough theme.  So:  the celebration of a holiday.  The catch:  If at all possible have the holiday be from anywhere other than Earth.  Or if you don’t feel up to making up holidays, how about an Earth holiday celebrated in a very nontraditional manner.  Even inadvertently nontraditional.  Please not too tragic and/or depressing -- at least give me a happy ending.   

Rating:  PG -- for a smattering of Earth-based profanity.
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’ll do my best to give the characters back the way I found them.     
Time Frame:  Future Fic.  Set approximately 11 years after the end of Peacekeeper Wars.
Test Driver:  PKLibrarian.

Printer Friendly Word 6.0 version (.zip file)

Note to the reader:  I am once again playing with the Sun-Crichton family that I first conjured up in Yesterdays and Tomorrows, and who have begun making regular appearances in many of my future fics.  John and Aeryn have three children now:  DJ (short for D’Argo Junior), age 11; Ian, 4, and a daughter, Malii’ya, who is 1. 

Since I'm running a magnificent TWO years late with this particular Starburst Challenge, I hope you find it worth the effort. ;) 

Thank you for reading.


* * * * *

John Crichton’s day had started out badly, had relentlessly gotten worse with each passing arn, and had culminated in what he was convinced was a disaster.  When he weighed the sequence of events against just how bad he knew his life could get, the day’s events seemed insignificant:  no one had died or been injured, they had not been attacked by the latest in a long string of intergalactic bad guys wandering around this end of the universe, every member of the ship’s current complement was healthy and happy, and with one singular exception, Moya was operating at close to optimum.  Just the same, even after telling himself repeatedly that he was getting upset over something trivial, he could not remember feeling this desolate in a very long time.

“Pilot, are you absolutely sure there’s no sign of it?” he called over the comms. 

“You have asked this question numerous times in the last two arns, Commander,” Pilot answered.  “There has been no change in the results of our search.  I would have notified you immediately if something had showed up on the external scans.” 

John rested his hands on his hips, hung his head so he was staring at the toes of his boots, and wandered several steps further into the hangar bay.  He did not need to look up to envision the scenery before him.  The view was astonishingly anti-climatic considering the devastation it had inflicted on his emotions.  There were no tears in the bulkhead plating, no frayed power conduits showering sparks in every direction, no holes or dents or even scuffs in the flooring.  The huge cavern was merely empty, possibly as clean as the day Moya had been born.  He couldn’t remember ever seeing any of the leviathan’s hangar bays so gleamingly pristine.  If a stranger had wandered into the massive chamber at that moment, he couldn’t have been blamed if he assumed that every square dench of the hangar had been cleaned and polished by an army of DRDs numbering in the hundreds. 

Crichton spun around to face the huge doors leading to the maintenance bay.  “It could not have just disappeared, Pilot.  Did you check for --”

Pilot interrupted before Crichton could finish his request, repeating a list he had chanted more than half a dozen times in the last arn alone.  “Ceramics, biomechanoid components, unusual metallic echoes, atypical spectrum feedbacks, unusual energy variables, gravitational displacements,” the disembodied voice said.  “Yes, Commander, I have run several dozen scans, both short and long range, utilizing all of Moya’s external sensors, without success.  There is no sign of it.  And since we do not know which way it went, any search pattern we institute could just as easily take us in the wrong direction as the right one.  Moya and I are very sorry, but we are not inclined --”

“No.”  John waved one hand in the general direction of the Den, dismissing the remainder of Pilot’s explanation.  “No, you’re right.  It isn’t worth expending any of Moya’s time or energy hunting.  But damn it, Pilot, it couldn’t have just disappeared!!”  He went from a listless acceptance of the verdict to energized denial in the space of a microt.  “Even when my Mom threw out my Captain America collection when I was in high school, I managed to get them back.  Granted, following the garbage truck’s route for six blocks, and getting them to let me dig through the trash wasn’t the best way I can think of to spend an afternoon, and it took five days and about twenty showers before anyone was willing to stand downwind of me, but they were there!  All we have to do is calculate a probable trajectory, and backtrack --”

“Commander Crichton.”  The tone of disapproval in Pilot’s voice brought John’s desperate suggestions to a halt. 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I get it.”  He scrubbed at his hair with one hand for several microts, other hand still propped on his hip, and then wandered back into the center of the hangar bay.  “I need to get over it.  It’s gone and I’m never getting it back.  Tell Moya I understand it wasn’t anything she could have prevented.”

“I will convey your message,” came the quiet, morose answer, and then the comms went silent. 

“Shit.”  Crichton kicked at thin air, which did nothing to relieve his frustration, and paced out another useless circuit of the hangar bay.  He knew there were other things he should be doing at that moment, and couldn’t get himself to leave.  “Shit, shit, shit, shit,” he chanted to the empty hangar bay.  “Someone please pinch me and tell me this did not happen!” 

The Farscape module was gone, swept into space by an as-yet unexplained malfunction that had decompressed the entire hangar bay in a single, explosive leviathan belch so large that everyone aboard her had felt and heard the resulting shockwave.  Also gone were an assortment of damaged cargo containers, a heap of discarded machinery, and a sakmar or two of useless detritus that had built up over the past several cycles.  The module had been parked in that particular hangar bay solely because -- despite all his objections otherwise -- Aeryn had insisted that it belonged with the rest of the garbage. 

John had spent half the afternoon telling himself that it was stupid to mourn the loss of an object he rarely touched anymore.  He had not flown the module since Ian was born except to move it from one of the more frequently used hangar bays to this one; and he had not bothered to even look at it in well over a cycle.  The part of his psyche in charge of acting like an adult was insisting that he should be thankful that Moya had not been injured by the explosive decompression.  The other portion of his brain was acting like a spoiled brat. 

“Get over it, John,” he said to himself.  “Just get over it!”     

But he couldn’t.  The module had been more than a beloved antique hotrod gathering dust in the corner of the garage.  It was a symbol of his past, a reminder of how he had gotten here and everything that he and Aeryn had been through during their first cycles together, good and bad.  There had been a horrendous half a cycle when DJ was five when Crichton had toyed with the idea of pursuing wormholes again.  He had spent a good portion of that interval longing to find a new route back to Earth; wishing he could go home for a visit, talk things over with his father, and possibly even leave his life in the Uncharted Territories behind.  That phase had eventually passed, however, and the module had sat in one spot, abandoned, ever since.  Grieving over the loss of an object he barely took notice of anymore felt childish and immature. 

“Well, maybe I feel like throwing a temper tantrum!” he yelled to the walls of the hangar bay.  “So there!”  John unleashed one last furious kick, turned, and walked away from the emptiness. 

It wasn’t just the loss of the module that had him acting like a heat-stressed sebacean.  The entire day had been one relatively insignificant disaster after another.  It had started the moment he had gotten out of the shower and discovered he was out of clean underwear.  He could have sworn there had been a tidy stack of shorts sitting on a shelf in his quarters when he stumbled past that spot on his way into the waste alcove; but when he emerged, dripping wet, that particular niche was empty.  The pair he had kicked into the corner had disappeared as well, no doubt hauled off toward the dirty clothes heap by one of the DRDs. 

Under normal circumstances he did not mind going commando.  There were times when it was an advantage.  It had taken just one pregnancy after the one that produced DJ for John to learn that when a female Peacekeeper was carrying a fetus in stasis, her hormones sometimes went berserk for a while.  In Aeryn’s case, her appetite for sex became nothing short of ravenous for the best part of a quarter cycle.  When Aeryn was in that stage of a pregnancy, the less he wore below the waist, the better.  If it weren’t for the children and a certain basic level of modesty, he would have considered it a reasonable expedient to walk around without any pants on at all.  He remembered a time when he could not imagine ever getting tired of having sex with Aeryn.  By the time they released the stasis on Malii’ya, he had gone so far as to ask Aeryn if sebaceans believed some form of contraception.

His current situation had none of those advantages, and a myriad of drawbacks.  Aeryn was not pregnant, which precluded frequent, wild, exuberant intercourse conducted anywhere they thought the children would not find them; and the pants he normally wore when he had nothing on underneath had disappeared along with his shorts.  The pair he was wearing were creased in uncomfortable places, stiff with age, and too tight.  The amount of chafe he had suffered in a single day was approaching ‘damaging’.  If he did not find his usual pants or some shorts by the end of the day, their recent discussions about birth control were going to become irrelevant. 

His day had not improved since the initial clothing debacle.  When he scuttled across the corridor to see if his supply of clean shorts had wound up in one of the boys’ rooms by mistake, the doors to the cell he shared with Aeryn had malfunctioned.  The grates had closed behind him and jammed shut, leaving him standing in the middle of the passageway wearing nothing but a towel.  Fortunately, DJ was at an age where every mechanical object aboard Moya was at risk of being dismantled.  There was an extensive array of tools strewn haphazardly around his cell.  One hundred microts later, John was safely inside his own quarters, although still without any shorts. 

The list of mishaps had continued to grow.  Both of his bootlaces had snapped, and he was out of replacements.  Every clean shirt in his quarters turned out to be either Aeryn’s or Ian’s.  Once he managed to find a thread-bare cast off that he had intended to turn into rags, and finished dressing, the doors to his cell were once again jammed shut, this time locking him inside.  In a combination of luck and laziness, he had left the tools he needed to free himself inside his own cell, instead of returning them to DJ’s.  By that time, Aeryn and the kids had finished First Meal, which meant that he had to eat breakfast alone.  An arn later, he ran into a slick of some nearly frictionless substance at the top of an incline in one of Moya’s corridors.  The result was an embarrassing but painless slide on his butt down to the next lower tier, culminating with a magnificent crash into a stack of more than a hundred small, rubbery containers.  Since no one had been in the corridor to witness his ignominious descent, he cleaned up the slick, restacked the containers, and made a mental note to mention the mysterious, viscous puddle to Pilot the next time he had a reason to visit the Den.   

Doors failed to open, his comms refused to work at the most inopportune moments, he could not find tools he thought he had put away, and what he thought was a container of the thick gelatinous grease they used to seal some of Moya’s internal pressure fittings had turned out to be a bucket of rotting fungus.  It wasn’t until he had already stuck his hand in the horrid mess that he realized it was the wrong color.  John assumed it was another of Ian’s so-called laboratory experiments, which the youngster tended to leave lying around the ship wherever and whenever he lost interest in his latest repulsive concoction, and did not give it another thought.

By the time Moya belched the module into the great unknown, he had spent the entire day coping with mysterious malfunctions, cleaning up messes left by his children, hunting for objects that had gone missing, and repairing door mechanisms that refused to work.  It was on days like this that he most often indulged in a highly infrequent spell of wishing he could return to Earth, even if only for a few hours.  He would have quite happily traded the entire day for an afternoon spent doing his taxes.     

“Can I go back to bed and start over?” John asked the walls.   

“John?  Where are you?” 

The voice, coming so close on the heels of his yelled query, startled him.  It took a moment to assemble a reply.  He called, “A couple junctions aft of the sluice chamber, Aeryn,” and decided not to explain that he was hunting for his underpants.  “What’s up?” 

“We’re about to sit down for Last Meal,” she said over the comms.  “Did you want to join us, or are you working on something?”

“I’m on my way!”  There was no aspect of his life aboard Moya that could lift his spirits as quickly as spending time with his entire family.  He could not have asked for a better way to restore his mood than joining Aeryn and the children at mealtime.   

It took no more than a hundred microts for him to make his way to the Center Chamber.  As expected, Aeryn had waited for him.  There were four meals laid out on the table in preparation for his arrival, but she and the boys had not begun eating yet.  DJ and Ian were keeping themselves busy by attempting to hang eating utensils from their noses, while Aeryn was just getting settled on her seat with Malii’ya tucked in against her side perched on one thigh.  John brushed a hurried, poorly aimed kiss across Aeryn’s cheek, leaning over her shoulder in order to reach his target, and then slid into his usual place at the center of the table. 

“Thanks.  I needed this.  It’s been one of those days,” he said as he tried to get comfortable.  His pants required two hard tugs on the crotch before they could be convinced to stop creasing in an extremely uncomfortable spot. 

“Problems?  I mean other than --”  Aeryn made a vague gesture with her hand that John interpreted to mean the module, not his below-the-table feud with his pants.  “You know,” she finished. 

“Just an all around crummy day.  Better now that I’m with the four of you though.”  He glanced around at his family, felt the day’s problems drain away the way fouled water disappears down a recently unclogged drain, and turned his attention to his dinner, hoping for some alien equivalent of meat and potatoes.  Aeryn knew that he preferred some combination of protein and a carbohydrate source at dinner.  He took it on faith that she knew how upset he was about losing the module, which meant there was a good chance she had prepared one of his favorites as a form of compensation. 

He wasn’t that lucky. 

His dinner was moving.

John stared down at a mound of what he had first assumed to be some kind of alien-produced whole wheat pasta coated with an outer-space equivalent of an herbed marinara sauce.  On closer examination, it was not nearly as appetizing as spaghetti, the speckles that he had originally though were herbs looked suspiciously like something that might have come out of the rear end of a worm, and the entire collection was surging, alternately expanding and contracting.  It took all of his willpower to keep from gagging. 

“Do you not want it?” Aeryn asked after several microts worth of silence. 

“It’s not that.  It’s just that …”  Some of the outermost strands of his dinner were engaged in a slow migration toward the edge of the plate.  He flipped one piece back into the middle before it could escape onto the table, took a deep breath, and forged into what he knew was highly dangerous territory.  “Aeryn, honey … it’s moving.”

“Is that a problem?” 

As he had feared, she sounded angry.  For a former soldier who still, on occasion, wolfed down cycles-old preserved battle rations like they were haute cuisine, Aeryn could be incredibly sensitive about food preparation.  Out of sight beneath the table, John thumped his thigh with a fist, hoping that his entire day would turn out to be a horrendous dream and he would wake up to find clean underwear where it belonged, a dusty and battered module sitting in the hangar bay, and something else on his plate. 

Another bit of ‘pasta’ made a break for freedom.  John herded it back toward its companions. 

“No, not a problem,” he said, striving for the type of careless tone that would defuse the impending dark-haired explosion seated less than a motra to his left.  “I just wasn’t really in the mood for gagh.” 

Gagh,” she repeated.  “I’ve never heard of gagh.  This isn’t gagh.”

“Klingon dish.  Always best when served fresh.”     
A furrow appeared between Aeryn’s eyebrows, warning him that his attempt at placating her had failed.  The possibility of a Sun-detonation was growing more likely with each passing microt.  “This is a delicacy that cannot be found anywhere other than in this sector of space, John.  I went to a lot of trouble to obtain some.  But if you don’t want it --”  She reached for his plate. 

“No!”  He pulled his dinner away from her outstretched hand.  “No, it’s fine, honey.  Really.  I’m always up for trying something new.  You know that.” 
One corner of Aeryn’s mouth twitched upward -- in irritation, John assumed -- and then she ducked her head to check on how Malii’ya was progressing with her own dinner of mashed vegetables and finely diced grolack. 

Matrimonial disaster barely averted, John took a firmer grip on his utensil and braced himself for what would have to come next if he wanted to maintain peace at the dinner table.  Knowing that his meal was a highly valued delicacy did not make it any more appetizing.  If anything, it had become more active while they were talking.  It now resembled a container full of freshly dug earthworms more suitable as fishing bait than as a meal.  John bit back a “yuck”, coaxed some of the lively food onto his utensil, and then glanced around at his family in order to determine if he was supposed to chew first or just toss them down while they were still squirming. 

No one else was eating.   

DJ was intent on keeping the perimeter of worms on his plate from expanding outward, fastidiously nudging individuals back into place one by one; and Ian was trying to tie several worms into a longer chain.  The knots were untying themselves as quickly as he could form new ones.  Aeryn was not eating either.  She was busy keeping the wriggling bits of her dinner out of Malii’ya’s reach.  As a matter of fact, the only person who seemed interested in putting a worm in her mouth was his 1-cycle-old daughter, which did not prove anything since she had recently reached an age where she would submit anything she could get her hands on to an investigatory taste test.

John looked back at his sons.  Both boys were watching him, eagerly waiting for something to happen.  When he noticed John looking at him, DJ’s expression shifted from glee to panic, and then to what might have been divine inspiration.  His right arm jerked convulsively to one side, knocking his utensil to the floor.  “Oops,” he said, and disappeared under the table. 

Ian was more blatant about it.  His eyes widened, he looked at his brother’s empty seat, and then he picked up his utensil and deliberately dropped it on the floor.  “Oops,” he said, and disappeared from sight as well.  Unattended, two collections of worms began a steady exodus outward from their respective plates.  Giggles emerged from beneath the table.   

John threw his own utensil down on the table, pushed his plate away from him, and turned to face Aeryn.  “Funny.  Very funny.  Boys, get back up here.  Fun’s over.” 

DJ and Ian reappeared, both red-faced and grinning.  Aeryn pushed her plate out into the middle of the table as well, putting it out of Malii’ya’s reach.  The toddler stretched, more interested in the lively food than her own meal. 

John took in a breath, preparing to quash a burst of anger, and found a wry form of mild amusement instead.  The three people old enough to enjoy the practical joke all appeared so pleased with themselves.  It was impossible to get mad when faced by that highly-delighted threesome.  They had teamed up on him in the same way that he and Aeryn had sometimes worked together to plan special events or surprises for the boys, and they had suckered him in beautifully.  Their satisfaction was well deserved.  And it was his own fault, really.  He was the one who had taught his family about surprise birthday parties, Christmas gifts, and Halloween pranks, although the dates for the holidays were at best an approximation.  If he was going to blame someone for the dinner-table prank, he would have to choose himself. 

John let out a deep breath that he hadn’t been aware he was holding, and felt the precursor to a grin tug at his mouth.  The day’s frustrations evaporated in the space of a microt.  He felt all the mishaps, malfunctions, and minor disasters retreat into nothingness, and for the first time since he got out of the shower earlier that morning, he started to relax. 

Then something occurred to him.  It felt as though someone flipped a large switch inside his head, illuminating a scene that up until then had been hidden in the shadows.  “This was you!” he said, pointing at DJ and Ian.  “The whole day!  All of it!”  Another of the day’s event shifted into place, became part of the larger whole.  “Where’s the module?  Please tell me that was another of your pranks.” 

“It’s in Maintenance Bay Four, Dad!” DJ said.  “It’s behind that stack of cargo containers in the corner.” 
“You moved it?”

DJ nodded vigorously.  “I was careful, Dad.  Honest!  Pilot helped and I was extra careful to make sure it didn’t get damaged.” 

“And that bucket of fungus this morning?”

“That was mine!” Ian yelled cheerfully. 

“And my clothes?”

By this time, both boys were bouncing up and down with excitement.  They poured out two simultaneous, thoroughly garbled tales of practical jokes and how they had enlisted Pilot in their schemes. 
John looked back and forth between his two sons as they babbled out their descriptions of what they had been doing all day, assessing their combined personalities and abilities.  Ian had not done much of the planning; that much was obvious.  His idea of ‘subtle’ was to dump an entire bucket of marjoules in his older brother’s bed, which was exactly what he had done a quarter cycle ago.  If Ian had plotted out the day’s events, every single practical joke would have been on the same level as the bucket full of fungus. 

Crichton’s gaze swung back to his first-born, who was still beaming over the fact that he had flown the module by himself without causing any damage and who was busy taking credit for thinking up most of the day’s mechanical malfunctions.  His mother’s son when it came to strategy and execution, DJ was more than capable of planning and pulling off most of the day’s pranks, but John was certain he would not have dared to include the deception involving the module if he was acting on his own.  From the time he was six, DJ had shown an adult-like reverence for his father’s space craft.  He would not have touched it, let alone moved and hidden it, without receiving permission first. 

“It was you,” John said, turning toward Aeryn.  “You’re the mastermind behind all of this.” 
Aeryn’s look of calm equanimity barely flickered.  One eyebrow twitched upward for half a microt, and then settled back into place.  “You’re forgetting that --”

“-- soldiers don’t have a sense of humor,” he finished for her.  “Uh huh.  Sure, Aeryn.”  He paused for a split microt before adding, “NOT!  As much as you’d like me to believe the boys were behind this, I sense a more skilled hand at subterfuge guiding them.  Left to themselves, their idea of being sneaky is to flush jellifan paste down the waste funnel, and then wait for Moya’s incinerator to ignite it.  No, you put them up to this.” 

“She didn't force us, Dad!  It was missions!” Ian blurted out.  “We got to do missions.” 

“Missions,” John repeated.  He was having some difficulty figuring out what a ‘mission’ to steal all his underwear would entail aside from his children running into his quarters, grabbing a pile of shorts, and fleeing before they were discovered. 

DJ took over, sounding even more excited than his younger brother.  He ticked off the elements on his fingers as he listed what sort of preparation had gone into their missions.  “You have to have adequate surveillance, knowledge of the target, chart a stealth approach, coordinate movement of your ground forces, and, if at all possible, you should have a diversion ready in case your opponent does something unexpected.”

“Missions,” John said again, this time nodding his understanding.  “You’re teaching them to run covert ops.” 

The muscles at the corners of Aeryn’s mouth were twitching.  “Someone has to teach them strategy and tactics.” 

“By stealing my underwear,” he said. 

She was having trouble keeping the smile under control.  Aeryn turned away from him for several moments, one hand clasped over her mouth.  When she turned back, her mouth had settled down, but her face was red, there were tears in her eyes, and her breathing was erratic. 

“Okay.  I admit it.  It was pretty funny.  Just tell me what I did to earn this.  Is this Intergalactic Bag-On-Dad Day or something?  What’s the event?”
Aeryn handed Malii’ya to John, then began clearing the table of wayward worms and retrieving their real dinner from the warmer unit, providing an explanation as she worked her way around the table.  “This morning we passed into a sector of space that we have never traveled through since I met you.” 

“And the only people who live here are practical jokers,” John said. 

Aeryn gave him the quiet smile that said he was being absurd.  “There is a tradition, hundreds of cycles old, that when a person passes through this sector for the first time, everyone else on board plays tricks on them.”

“A rite of passage,” John said, nodding.  “Like when sailors passed around Cape Horn for the first time.  How come I got to be the butt of all this hilarity?  Why not you?”

“I’ve been here before.” 

Aeryn put a fresh plate down in front of him.  This time it held sokrans and pronga sinew, two of his favorites.  It seemed that the practical jokes had come to an end.  “Why not the kids?  They would have loved it.”

“They are not adults,” she said, as if it were the most reasonable explanation in the universe.

John pointed his eating utensil first at DJ and then at Ian.  “Remember that for when you’re older.  Count on coming back this way when you’re grown up.”  The boys grinned at him and then at each other, obviously happy with the idea that they would be on the receiving end of the pranks some day. 

“Just answer me two questions,” John said. 

“I’ll try,” Aeryn said. 

“So I know where to bring the kids in a few cycles, what’s the name of this chunk of the galaxy?”

“This is the Realm of the Ha’abril.” 

“The Ha’abril,” John repeated slowly.  “So this first time rite of passage thing is called --”   He did not dare say it.

“-- the First of Ha’abril,” Aeryn finished for him.

John dropped his head into his hands and shook it from side to side several times.  Some things never changed no matter where you were in the universe.

“That was only one question,” Aeryn said.  “What was the other one?” 

He raised his head so he was looking at her.  “Aeryn, my love, my dearest wife … ”

“Yes?” she said.

“Where did you hide my damned underwear?”   

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Happiness is not a destination.  It is a method of life. -- Burton Hills
Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain. -- Vivian Greene