Chapter 10

Linea

Returning to Linea was an experience that John actually relished. The air was so much fresher and the sun was hanging high in a blue, cloud free sky. After shutting down and securing the prowler, he stopped for a moment to turn his face toward the sun and closed his eyes. With the bustling city up ahead and the sounds of crafts landing and taking off, he briefly felt transported back to Earth; to a day where he had been sitting on the hood of his car outside the landing strips of the local airport, eyes closed, while he listened to the engines of the incoming and outgoing planes.

Only for a moment this place felt like home. Before he could submerge himself in wishful thinking that was destined to kill his mood, he shook the feeling and opened his eyes to the alien landscape again. Whatever might happen, he was stuck out here for good. There was no way he could go back home with the PKs breathing down his neck and Scorpy knowing where he lived.

He picked up the bag that held the box of tapes, the tape recorder and the specs and headed back into Linea's capital. There was a woman and her child waiting for him there and he wanted to get back to them as soon as possible.

His eagerness to see them both again was overshadowed by his inability to deny the underlying tension. Somehow, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was about to happen, but he couldn't decide if it was good or bad. There was just that tense feeling in the pit of his stomach and it once again made him think of his dad and what he had said on that fateful day of Farscape 1's first launch. "Rattlers," he muttered.

While he hurried through town toward the medical facility, he couldn't help thinking about the irony of this whole experience. Whenever he had imagined aliens as a child, it had been in the image of all the sci-fi flicks he had watched and all the books he had read. And it had always, always been on Earth. They would come to Earth, either to take over or to make contact. They would look humanoid or like nothing he'd ever seen before. Movies like 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' and 'It Came From Outer Space' came to mind and he couldn't help grinning at the childlike naivete of those feature films. But they hadn't been that far off the mark. It was just the idea that aliens had to be either good or bad that made him chuckle to himself now. He had met them now, those aliens, on their turf, and they were just as complex and confusing as any human being he had ever met, be they similar in appearance to humans or not. Just because they were smarter than humans didn't mean that they behaved much differently.

With such heavy thoughts on his mind, he entered the med facility and took the fastest way up to the third floor, which among other things contained the hatchery. The door was open and he spotted two nurses going over the other artificial wombs, no doubt checking the state of the infants inside.

He stepped inside, his gaze trailing over the other babies waiting to be born and he could not stop himself from marveling at the oddness of being able to watch unborn children grow. It probably wouldn't matter how many years he spent out here, he would still be surprised about the advanced science and alien customs he encountered.

Finally, his gaze settled on Aeryn, who was sitting on her chair next to the artificial womb, her eyes on the baby floating inside. As he watched her, he realized something important about her expression. It had changed to a softer, more open and definitely more vulnerable one and it made him feel both concerned and elated. Aeryn would be able to love this child, to shower this little baby girl with affection. Probably not in the manner that some human females were capable of, but he was sure that the kid would grow up feeling the warmth of her mother's affection. At the same time, he couldn't help seeing the dangers that lay in this. Aeryn had opened up before, to the other John, and she had been shot down with a goddamn cannon. If anything were to happen to this kid, intentional or otherwise, Aeryn's frail emotional state might be her downfall. One thing he knew for certain was that if this child were to die for some reason, he would lose her for good. There was no way in hell that she would open up the gates again if that happened.

His own thoughts disturbed him and brought him to a jerking halt halfway through the room. It was not like him to see the dark side of life, to imagine the worst-case scenario. So why was he doing it now? Aeryn was fine, the baby was fine and there was nothing indicating that either would have to suffer any kind of emotional breakdown or anything else. So why worry about it?

"Because, sad to say, John, it's a rather real option," Harvey whispered in his ear.

John made a face. 'Shut up,' he thought back at the voice in his head, closed his eyes briefly and pushed it all aside. How did the old saying go? Don't cross your bridges before you get to them? Well, that was sound advice.

Having regained his center, he started forward again and first stopped on the other side of the artificial womb. To his immediate surprise, Aeryn hadn't noticed him yet. Her eyes were still locked on the baby. John glanced down at the bubble and couldn't help smiling a little. "Has she grown since I left?" he asked.

Aeryn raised her head a little and looked over at him, her expression not much changed. "You haven't been gone that long," she countered, not missing a beat.

With a grin, he stepped around the machine that kept Aeryn's baby alive and took up position behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders. "I know," he agreed and eyed the tiny creature floating in the liquid. "She just looks bigger."

Aeryn shifted a little, not away from him but rather backwards so the back of her head touched the center of his chest. "Did you find what you were after?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said and tightened his grip on her shoulders a little. "Furlow wasn't happy about it, but she handed it over."

"So, now you can rebuild your module and take us to wherever Moya went," Aeryn stated, but then leaned her head back and glanced up at him. "How are we going to know where Moya went?" she asked.

If she had slapped him with a restraining order, he wouldn't have been more surprised. "Uh ..." he tried and trailed off. He had no idea where Moya had gone. It was a thought that had crossed his mind before, but he hadn't counted on her realizing this. Once again, he was surprised by her insight. "Well ..." he tried again, but came up with little else to say.

"I assume you think that if you open up a wormhole, it will take us to wherever Moya went, right?" she asked, her eyes dark. "Is that how wormholes work? They abide by your will?"

The sarcasm in her voice was hard to miss and it made him flinch; but only for a second. This was the old Aeryn rearing her head again, the one that loved to tear down his ideas. "Okay, so I haven't thought it through," he admitted a little defensively. "That doesn't mean we can't find them."

"I'm just wondering how you will do it," Aeryn said. "I mean, when you opened up that wormhole that brought you here, were you aiming at going to the Uncharted Territories or ... was it just a random shot? And what about ..."

"All right already. I get the point. I screwed up," he interrupted her, feeling a little ticked off. "I have no idea where Moya went. All we can really do is ... well ... take the jump and see what happens."

Aeryn rose and turned around to face him, her expression giving away all too clearly what she thought of that idea. "So, we just take random jumps through wormholes to Cholok knows where in the universe and hope to spot Moya in the process?" she asked and folded her arms over her chest.

John knew her well enough by now to be able to read her fairly well and she wasn't happy. But her state of mind about his present idea wasn't what was foremost on his mind. "What's all this we-business?" he asked, a little confused.

"Oh, I'm coming with you. There isn't much I can do here anyway. The child will not be ready to leave the womb for another few monans and I do not intend to sit around and watch it grow. It just grows too frelling slowly for that," she replied. "Besides, I don't think it would be very wise to let you go on this fahrbot trip of yours alone. You'll only get yourself killed or captured or Cholok knows what else."

Despite the fact that he was happy to hear she would be coming with him, he couldn't help being a little annoyed at her continued lack of faith in his abilities. "Thank you so much for that vote of confidence, Aeryn. I can take care of myself. I don't need a baby-sitter," he replied tersely.

Aeryn's expression revealed quite clearly that she was confused by that term. "Baby-sitter?" she asked, stunned. "What kind of barbaric customs do you humans have?" Now she sounded downright angry.

"Barbaric?" John countered. "What's barbaric about a baby-sitter?"

Aeryn just stared at him in a way that made him wonder what she was thinking. She looked halfway repulsed. "You actually sit on your babies?"

For a moment, John felt as if time had come to a screeching halt while her words settled in. Then he snorted with stifled laughter. "What?" he asked. "We don't sit on our babies," he added and started laughing. It had never occurred to him before that the word could be mistaken for something other than what it was. "A baby-sitter sits with the baby," he continued, "not on it."

Her expression had turned a little sinister when he laughed at her, but then she made a face. "That's a relief," she said and shook her head lightly.

That sense of unreality which had started to assail him ever since he had been able to unlock the wormhole technology hidden in his mind once again reared its head and he couldn't help a chuckle. Talk about a misunderstanding.

***

Aeryn stood very still while John tried to bargain with the tech who was in possession of one of the many parts that John needed to rebuild his module. The alien wasn't very forthcoming and John was, to Aeryn's great surprise, seemingly running out of patience.

"Look, I don't think it's asking too much that you lower your price just a bit. I am desperate for that part, okay?" John insisted, a slight edge to his voice.

Aeryn eyed the dark-skinned, slender creature with its countless, coarse bristles and bulging eyes and tried to remember what that species was called. John had asked her to let him do the talking since he didn't want her to go all PK on the dealers, as he had put it, so she left him to it for the moment.

The alien's eyes swivelled around to briefly focus on her before the creature turned its attention back to the frustrated human. "Then you pay price," it insisted in a squeaky, high-pitched voice.

John sighed. "Look, you're the only one on this damned planet who has that part and I need it. But I can't afford to pay for this overpriced junk you're selling, okay? Just give me a break."

"You need part, you pay price," the alien insisted.

Having had enough of watching John waste his breath on beings who only understood one approach, Aeryn grabbed John's arm and stepped closer while pulling her pulse pistol. "You will lower your price to half of what you ask or I will put some fist-sized holes in you, slime-oozer," she said in a sugary tone of voice.

The being's eyes swivelled to the weapon and all its bristles started moving at once. "Half price is fine," it agreed without delay and handed the device over to John.

John stuffed it into a bag he had brought for the purpose and glanced at Aeryn, who gave him a look back. When was he going to learn that he couldn't move through this galaxy without dealing out some punches? She would have thought he had learned that after dealing with Scorpius, but obviously he forgot as fast as he learned.

While they walked away from the stand in search of the next item on his list, John sighed heavily. "You don't have to say it," he said.

"Say what?" she asked, well aware what he was talking about; he was unhappy about her interference. She just saw no need to rub it in. There would be plenty of time for that later.

"That you told me so," he confessed. "All right, so being nice doesn't always get you there, but ..." he tried, but she cut him off.

"Being nice doesn't get you anything in this galaxy, John. I thought you'd figured that out by now," she said. "Peacekeepers may not be ... what did you call it? ... diplomatic, but they get the job done. And sometimes showing a little force is better than haggling. We do not have endless amounts of time."

"I know," he said. "I know. It's just ... I'd rather try the nice approach before I pull a weapon on someone. Sometimes nice is better, Aeryn."

"Maybe," she admitted. "But not now. We do not have time to be nice."

***

Earth

D'Argo eyed Jack Crichton with a certain amount of suspicion, but then again the Luxan had to admit to himself that he regarded John with much of the same suspicion even now. Humans were, in his humble opinion, plain fahrbot and needed both guidance and a firm hand most of the time. These frellnicks had proven his assumption right by turning on Moya's crew without delay and even though he knew of Jack Crichton, he didn't trust him.

"I believe I have assured your freedom by forcing the General into submission with these actions," Jack explained after having told them how he had saved them from becoming permanent fixtures in a place he called Area 51. "Your presence here is now public knowledge and they can't just spirit you away and pretend nothing happened. The General knows that and that's as far as it goes."

D'Argo growled a little and turned his attention to Derek, who was cowering beside Jack with the distinct smell of fear about him. What D'Argo had to say didn't come easy, but Chiana had repeatedly reminded him to maintain his calm and not get tinked because of what had happened. "Tell him that we appreciate his help, but we cannot stay on this world even a moment longer. It is not safe for us," he snarled at Derek, who seemed to shrink a little more.

Derek relayed this information to Jack, who turned his attention fully toward D'Argo. "Please," he said, raising both hands in a deprecating gesture so much like John would have that it made D'Argo a little uneasy, "I realize that you have been treated unjustly and I wish I could force the General to give you a formal apology for that, but truth be told, I'm doubtful he'll do that. But you are safe now. I give you my word."

For a moment the tall Luxan eyed Jack, then glanced at Chiana and Jool who stood apart from each other a few steps from him. "His word," he snorted.

Chiana immediately stepped up to him and eased against him. "D'Argo, remember what I said?" she cooed, intent on keeping him calm. "They said they were sorry. Besides, there's no where to go. They don't know how to get off their own planet, let alone halfway across the universe. We might as well stick around here for a bit. Maybe something will turn up."

"We would be better off on Moya," D'Argo disagreed and snorted again, sending Jack a dark glare. "I don't care if he is Crichton's father. His word means nothing to me."

"D'Argo," Chiana tried again.

D'Argo testily pushed her away from him and turned to face Jack. "We are not animals. We will not be detained again. If we are to stay here, that must be clear to all. And we will leave at the slightest indication of any hostility," he said, waving a finger at Jack, who stared at him with a slight frown.

Derek quickly translated what D'Argo had just said and Jack nodded. "I assure you that you will be perfectly safe for now. Maybe we can help you find your way back to where you came from. Somehow," he replied. "But ... I need to know about my son. Is he alive? Do you know where he is?"

Chiana took the lead on that one. "Yeah, he's alive. Last time we saw him, at least. With John, there's no telling what kind of dren he gets himself into, though," she said and sauntered a step forward, a smile playing over her lips. "But he always finds a way out of it," she added and placed a hand on Jack's chest.

Jack just stood there and stared at her for a moment while Derek translated what she said, but then he reached up and gently but firmly removed her hand. "But he's not with you?" he asked, directing his question to D'Argo.

The Luxan could not help but appreciate the fact that Jack, like John before him, turned Chiana's passes down, something which no doubt hurt the Nebari. But despite all that had transpired between himself and Chiana, he was still jealous of her attentions toward other men. "No, he is not," he confirmed. "But I am quite certain that he is all right. John seems to be very lucky."

Again Derek translated and Jack's expression settled into a more relaxed one. "Thank you," he said and then shook his head lightly. "I can't believe this. This is ..." he began, but trailed off and shook his head again.

"Unbelievable?" Derek asked with a slight smile.

"As it is for us," Rygel inserted. "This confinement has made us very hungry. Can you arrange for some food to be brought to us?" he asked on, directing his question to Derek.

"Yeah, sure, I'll see to it right away. And again, guys, I'm sorry. I ... if I had known sooner, I would have told you. I just hope you'll stay a bit. There's so much you should see," Derek replied with a smile. "Come on. Let's get back to your quarters," he added and led the way.

Rygel hovered closer to D'Argo. "Doesn't it seem like we got out of this a little too easily?" he asked quietly.

D'Argo settled for an inarticulate grunt and followed Derek and Jack without checking if the others were with him.

***

Linea

The hangar was dank and semi-dark, the smell of lubricants and cleaners strong in the air. A single cone of light hit the half-finished hull of a smallish pod, glittering white and silver. Aeryn lay casually draped over the finished part of it, one hand supporting her head, while watching John work on the interior with single-minded determination.

"Flip the switch, would you?" he asked, his head still inside the engine of the pod. "Let's see if this baby will come to life."

Aeryn reached inside the open cockpit and flipped the required switch with no visible change. She briefly frowned at John when he looked up at her and made a face.

"No go?" he asked and she shook her head. "Damn, I thought I had it," he added and dove back into the engine. "How hard can it be?"

"Hard enough, as it would seem," she commented and flipped the switch back into its original position. "Hungry yet?" she asked after a moment.

"Nope," he countered and kept on tinkering with the module.

Aeryn sighed and slipped off the pod, landing securely on her feet. "This is frelling boring," she muttered and slipped around the front to take a look at what he was doing. "When are you going to build the phase stabilizer?" she asked.

John paused, and then glanced up at her with a frown. "The what?" he asked.

Aeryn arched an eyebrow. "The wormhole-thingy," she said, using his term for it.

John straightened and dried his hands on a rag. "Why are you calling it that?"

"That's what you call it," she said.

"No, why are you calling it a phase stabilizer," he corrected her.

"That's what ... " she began, but trailed off again when she realized how used to him she had become, so comfortable that she couldn't even distinguish between the two any more. "That's what the other John called it," she finally said. She knew how he felt about this topic, but she just figured he would have to get over it eventually.

"Is that so?" he asked, his expression tensing. "Well, I'll build it when I'm done with the module," he added and returned his attention to the pod.

"When are you going to stop being so frelling upset about this?" she asked and leaned her hip against the nose of the module.

"When you stop frelling talking about it," he countered, not looking up at her.

With a sigh, she let her head drop a little. "He's no threat, you know," she said quietly.

John remained silent and continued working on his module.

Finding that the fun had gone out of this discussion, Aeryn reached a hand out and brushed her fingers through his hair. For once, he didn't pull back like he had all the other times when she had attempted to mollify him after mentioning the other him.

"John," she tried, but he still didn't respond, just kept on doing whatever it was he did to try and make the module work. With another sigh, she let her hand drop and pushed away from the module. "This is not the way I imagined my life would be," she said, not really sure why she felt the need to talk about this. "This is not the way I hoped it would be," she added and briefly glanced back at John, who was still working on the module like an obsessed man.

"But, then again, I had nothing to base such hopes on, back then. My only hopes were what all other Peacekeepers hoped for too. To rise in rank, to perhaps become someone important. But the only thing I really wanted was to fly prowlers for the rest of my life." She snorted with bitterness. "How's that for ambitious?"

"You had dreams. That's the important issue," he commented and kept on working. "Doesn't matter what they're about, as long as you have them."

Aeryn turned back to watch him work and admired the sight of him bending over that frelling module. She smirked at her own thoughts and wondered when someone's exterior had become that interesting. "I had no idea what was out there, John," she confessed. "I didn't care either. It was an easier life. I was part of the elite and I was ... content."

John straightened up and turned around to face her. "But you weren't happy," he stated.

"Happiness was irrelevant. Happiness is fleeting. You can't be happy all the time," she contradicted him. "Besides, if you were happy all the time, you wouldn't know you were happy, would you?"

He eyed her for a moment, his expression oddly placid. Then he blinked and returned his attention to the module. "Happy," he muttered. "It's like a distant dream these days." With a sigh, he returned to what he was doing.

Aeryn walked back to him and leaned closer to get a look at the innards of the module. In the process she slipped a hand onto the small of his back and curled her fingers inwards. It was a strangely innocent movement, but it sure had gotten the other John going. And the result was rather surprising. He jerked upwards, banging the back of his head against the edge of the module, and cursed loudly, one hand pressed against the impact site. "Ow," he grumbled, rubbing the back of his head before turning his attention to her. "What the hell was that?" he asked aggressively.

Aeryn gave him an innocent look. "What? I just touched your back. I'm not supposed to do that?" she asked.

He frowned a little, his expression contemplative. "Do it again," he suggested.

Aeryn barely managed to keep a smirk at bay. They had been together for awhile now, had slept in the same frelling bed every night, but that had been as far as it had gone. Painfully aware of the distance between them, they had both kept to their individual sides of the bed and never touched except for the time when she had been drugged after Les-lee's birth.

While she had been standing there, watching him tinker with his module, she had suddenly felt an overwhelming need to be near him again. And she knew that he wouldn't make the first move. He was afraid of chasing her away. Well, she was going to show this frelling human a thing or two about what she wanted. Without delay, she eased against him, pushing him back against the module, and slipped both hands behind him and curled her fingers against the small of his back, extracting a definite sound of surprise from him. He inhaled sharply, his eyes widening a little.

It once again proved to her that the two Crichtons had been one. They responded in the same way. Smiling vaguely, she slipped her fingers down under the waistline of his pants. "How about releasing a little tension?" she asked in a low tone of voice.

His immediate reply was to stare at her. Then he slipped his arms around her too, his hands touching her only lightly. "Are you high?" he asked cautiously, suspicion in his eyes.

She couldn't help smiling at that. Deciding to test his determination, she pursed her lips. "What's the matter, Crichton? Don't you want to?" she asked and started to pull back.

Before she got very far, he tightened his grip around her, pulling her back in. "Oh no you don't," he admonished her. "We're not going to play this little game."

With a purr, she pressed against him. "Then what the frell are you waiting for?" she whispered and sank her teeth into his jawline just hard enough to make him twitch.

***

With something of an effort, John pulled his T-shirt back on and sent a cautious glance toward Aeryn when she zipped up her vest and squatted down to tighten the straps on her boots. He felt a little weak at the knees and more than a little uncertain about what had just happened. Well, he knew what had happened, of course. He just didn't understand Aeryn's timing.

Maybe this was what she had said it was and nothing more. But to him, releasing tension didn't rate as high as being close to her. Hell, nothing in this universe rated as high as being close to her. So maybe he was putting much more importance into this than she was and that could only lead to one thing.

Before he could finish that thought, she rose, turned around and gave him a smile. But she said nothing. Instead, she picked up her gun belt and strapped it around her hips. John eyed her for a moment, then shook his head slightly and returned his attention to the module. "Are you sticking around?" he asked without looking at her. He still had no idea where they stood right now and what this little escapade meant.

"Of course," she said and slipped up behind him, wrapping her arms around him. "Let's finish this frelling pod of yours so we can find the others," she added, her breath hot on his neck.

For the briefest of moments, he closed his eyes and leaned backward just a fraction of an inch. It seemed that they had overcome their all-time low and moved up and beyond it and there was nothing out there more important to him than this brief and frail moment. Wrapping his arms over hers, he allowed himself the few seconds of peace this gave him and hoped desperately that things would not revert back to the arm's-length distance between them.

"Let's get to work then," he finally said and patted her right hand. The vacuum was almost instant when she let go of him and he had to control himself to not swirl around to check if she was there. Almost as if she had read his mind and wanted to reassure him, she put a hand on his shoulder and leaned in to take a closer look again.

"That's tech-work, you know," she stated with a small smile.

"Yeah, it is," he agreed and gave her a smile back. "You wanna make something of it?"

His teasing tone of voice made her smile widen. "Maybe later," she said and slipped her hand down his back.

***

It took one more weeken before John was finally ready to test-fly his new module. Aeryn wasn't too sure that she liked the idea though. She hadn't been totally convinced about the other pod's ability to stay airborne, but John kept insisting that everything would be fine. He just needed to make sure that everything was working the way it was supposed to.

"Well, everything seems to check out," he finally said after having double-checked the function of every single instrument. Glancing at her, he gave her a quick smile. "You wanna come?"

"Are you fahrbot?" she asked. "I'm not a crash-test-dummy." She wasn't entirely sure what that word meant, but she had a fairly good idea and he had used it on occasion about just this event.

John grinned. "Yeah, I'm fahrbot all right," he agreed and ran his gaze over the module again. "Magra fahrbot."

Aeryn grinned. "Just test-fly that frelling pod so we can find the others."

"You don't want to be alone with me?" he asked and winked at her.

She shook her head and pushed him toward the pod. "I'm afraid you'll infect me with your fahrbot ideas, human. I'm a Peacekeeper after all," she said, mocking him. It was a standing joke between them.

"In that case I think you've been irreversibly contaminated a long time ago, Officer Sun," he replied. "I'll just take her out for a quick spin, see how she handles."

Unable to stop herself, she slapped his behind. "Handle this," she told him and backed up. He gave her a crooked grin before slipping into the pod and closing the canopy. "And come back in one piece," she added under her breath. "Fly safe," she called out as the pod took off and rose into the air with startling speed. He had modified certain parts of it and it was those modifications that she worried about.

Putting her headset on, she watched the pod until it disappeared from sight. But she could still hear him and he was definitely having a good time up there. "John, can you hear me?"

"Sure can," he replied, a slight twang to his voice. "How's it look from down there?"

"I wouldn't know. You're out of sight," she said. "Everything working all right?"

"Yup. She handles like a well-trained pup. So much smoother than the first one. I can even do spins and rolls in the atmosphere."

Aeryn smiled. He sounded happy and she realized that it had been quite a while since she had heard that sound in his voice. "I knew you could do it," she said, knowing how important it was to him to have his ego boosted at times. "Now, get back down here. We've got a few things to take care of before we take off."

"Give me a few microts here. I'll be down in a jiffy," he replied.

With a slight frown, Aeryn stared up at the sky, waiting for the module to come into view, while she tried to figure out what the word 'jiffy' might mean. Just when she had decided to ask him about it, the module turned up and landed easily not too far from where she stood waiting.

John popped the canopy open and hoisted himself out of the module with a grin on his lips. "How's that for a landing?" he asked.

"Quite good for someone who hasn't put in that much flight time," she replied. Giving compliments still wasn't her strong suite, but John had assured her several times that she was getting better at it. And she figured it was worth it to see that smile on his lips. He came over and wrapped his arm around her and she couldn't help smiling back at him. Since she had initiated their little encounter a weeken ago, he hadn't let a chance slip to touch her. And she had to admit that she appreciated it too.

"Why, thank you. That even sounded sincere," he mocked her.

Grabbing his behind with both hands, she made a face. "Probably because I was being sincere," she said and pulled him a little closer. "As it were, all we need to do now is stock up on foodcubes and water and get on our way. But I want to drop by the med facility before we leave."

"Of course. Can't leave without saying bye-bye to our little bundle of joy," John agreed, his cheeks a hectic red. Aeryn couldn't help wondering if it was because of her touch or how the module had handled. Either way, she knew it would be evening before they would leave.

***