Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: John once again gets in over his head and the rest of Moya's little band of outlaws has to rush to his rescue. But things are not as easy as they seem -- like always -- and the future seems a little bleak for Moya's gang.

Scorpius' new Gamak Base
Uncharted Territories

Scorpius regarded the flow of data as it scrolled by on the screen before him, his expression tense, his eyes never leaving the readouts. His new Gamak Base was teeming with activity around him, techs and soldiers alike moving through the base on a constantly rotating schedule, but he had sense for none of it. All he could focus on were the rows and rows of data once again being run through the descrambler in an attempt to extract it in its entirety. This process had run three times already, annoying in its repetitiveness and frustrating to the extreme because it yielded no result.

Test upon test had been conducted, using the extracted information from the chip removed from Crichton's brain and it contained all the information about wormhole technology that Scorpius had sought for so long, first on his own and then when he had realized the gem that Crichton had hidden away in his mind. He would have been satisfied with the outcome too, if there hadn't been an unexpected glitch in the data. Five percent of it was so heavily encrypted that none of the techs and other on-site personnel had been able to decipher it.

Staring intently at the screen, he tried to determine if the decryption had worked this time, experience telling him that it had not. And the mere thought of another failure made him sneer hatefully. "It's all there," he muttered darkly, his eyes never leaving the display. "The whole thing. All of it. And I can not access it."

Once again, the flow of data stopped at exactly the same spot as before and Scorpius found that he had actually been holding his breath in anticipation, allowing himself the futile hope that it would work this time. Sneering in frustration, he turned his head and looked over at the tech closest to him who was also the head of the project.

With a nervous glance at his superior, the tech cleared his throat. "Same problem again, Sir," he said, his tone wavering.

Scorpius continued to glare at him, sensing the man's fear and relishing it. "Has any of it been decrypted?" he asked, his anger growing. There was so little of the data missing to complete the calculations and it had turned out to be essential to the whole setup.

"We'll know in a few microts, Sir," the tech said, sweat building on his brow. "The system is analyzing it now."

For a moment the room fell silent, all present waiting in complete silence for the outcome. They all knew how important Scorpius considered this information to be and none of them wanted to be at the receiving end of his wrath if it turned out that the decryption-process once again had not worked.

The system beeped and a computerized voice announced the outcome. "Ninety-five percent completion."

The tech froze, unable to act, not daring to even glance at his superior. Scorpius stepped closer, his expression tense, his eyes going from the tech to the readout and back again. "What exactly does that mean?" Scorpius asked and put a hand on the tech's shoulder, feeling him tense beneath his grip. His voice was forcibly calm, but his grip on the man's shoulder was anything but.

The tech blinked, then swallowed hard, flinching under the urgent grip. "It means, Sir, that the five percent of the data, which is the core, is still encrypted. I will restart the decryption of the data again immediately."

Scorpius growled, his Scarran part having no tolerance at all for the failure, his fingers digging into the unfortunate tech's shoulder with enough force to nearly break the bones beneath. "Do so. Inform me the microt you know if it worked. I will be in my quarters." With that, he released the tech's shoulder and turned to leave, but hesitated a microt. Glancing back at the tech, his anger still prominent, he gave the man a dark look. "Pray that it works," he warned, then strode out of the room, leaving a very shaky tech behind.


With long, even strides, Scorpius walked back toward his quarters, aware that if he didn't calm down, he would have an accident. But it was so hard to remain calm when failure stared him in the face. The frustration was the worst, knowing that the data was there, but that he just couldn't do anything with it until it was decrypted. And decrypting is was essential. It would not be long before the Scarrans decided to launch a massive attack on Peacekeeper territories and he already knew the outcome of such an attack. Sebaceans would be wiped out along with any other sentient life form in the galaxy.

"Time to act," he growled to himself as he stepped into his quarters. His nurse and second assistant looked up when he stepped in and rose immediately. He settled on his favorite chair and allowed her to change the cooling rod in his head before taking further action. Then he pressed the com button on the table in front of him. "Lt. Braca. A moment of your time, please."

Braca turned up microts later, his very apparent nervousness telling Scorpius that he knew of the renewed failure to decrypt the data. "Sir," he said, standing at attention.

"I take it you have heard of our continued inability to decipher the remaining data?" Scorpius asked, calmer than he had been in awhile. He always calmed down when he found a solution to his problems. And he had one in mind right now. Braca nodded in response to his question. "Well, it would seem that there is only one solution to this ... predicament," he added, focusing on Braca. He knew how much Peacekeepers despised half-breeds like himself and it always brought a smile to his face that he was the one standing between their territories and the Scarrans. Braca was eying him with a mixture of fascination and repulsion which always made Scorpius wonder which would win in the end. Braca was a good little soldier, always obeying orders, doing what he could to second-guess Scorpius. And he usually got away with it, too, which was the only reason for that Scorpius had forgiven him for some obvious blunders in the past.

"And what is that, Sir?" Braca asked.

Scorpius steepled his fingers and gently tapped his chin with his index fingers. "We must recapture Crichton," he said in an almost soft tone of voice, a far-away look in his eyes. But the thought of the continued failure to unlock the data made his temperature rise once again. Returning his attention to his second in command, he eyed Lt. Braca for a moment. "Hire bounty hunters. As many as you can. And alert all Peacekeeper vessels in the area," he said, his calm tone belying how he felt inside. "We will bring John Crichton back to us. We must if we are ever to succeed in our endeavor to master wormholes. And we will succeed, Lt. Braca. I will not tolerate another failure. Time is no longer on our side. We must act."

Lt. Braca saluted. "Sir," he said and hurried off to carry out the order.

Scorpius smiled rather fondly to himself, completely calm again. "Yes, John," he said quietly to himself, "you will provide me with the answers I need. One way or another."


Aboard Moya
Somewhere in the Uncharted Territories

After nearly a month of nothing going on, John was getting a little bored. They had been on several worlds, met several new species he hadn't seen before, and Aeryn had introduced him to something she called a slabbernack. The word alone had made him cautious. A slabbernack, as it had turned out, was a very potent drink, and to his great joy it had tasted almost like whiskey. He had gotten awfully drunk and Aeryn had spent the majority of the following sleep cycle trying to help him feel better. With Zhaan gone, none of the others knew which plants she had used to overcome the annoying side effects that came with over-indulgence of alcoholic beverages and they had been clean out of Nashtin cleansing pills. So John had been reduced to throwing his guts up all night with Aeryn standing by to help him. He hadn't gotten much pity from her – not that he had expected it – but it had helped just to have her around.

They hadn't come across any Peacekeepers for a good long while and John figured they should count their blessings while they could. But lately, he'd had that gnat-in-the-ear feeling again. The chip was out of his head, but Harvey – Scorpius' neural-clone – was still there, acting like a beacon whenever there was trouble brewing. It left John teetering on the edge most of the time, a fact that he had somehow managed to conceal from his friends.

The maintenance bay was quiet, remote and big. Whenever he felt troubled about something, wether he could define it or not, that was where he went to cool off; away from the others and out of hearing rang.

Standing perfectly still, he stared at the wall no more than five paces away, focusing fully on the game he was trying to play. The ball in his hands wasn't as round as it should have been and the texture did not feel right, but it was flexible and bounced easily and that was all he needed right then.

"This is such a waste of time, John," Harvey whispered in his ear.

John could see him from the corner of his eyes, but refused to acknowledge him right then. Instead, he dribbled the ball and stared at the wall.

"Oh, come on, John. Why don't you listen to me for a change? What would it hurt?" Harvey asked, casually leaning against a workbench.

"Get lost, leatherface," John growled. Narrowing his eyes a little, he dribbled the ball a bit more, never taking his eyes off the circle he had painted on the wall about eight feet off the floor. Then he lifted the ball up over his head, aimed and threw it, hitting the circle dead center. "And he scores. The crowd goes wild," he cheered himself on, his tone somewhat wavering. The ball bounced off the wall, hit the floor twice and bounced right back into his hands. He dribbled it a few times again, then bounced it off the wall again and barely managed to sidestep the busy little DRD scuttling past his feet. "Hey, watch where you're going, Blue," he told the electronic critter and grinned halfheartedly when it twittered, turning one woeful antennae in his direction.

"Are you having fun?"

The mocking tone of Aeryn's voice made him turn around with a mixture of embarrassment and expectancy, hoping she hadn't heard him talking to Harvey. The look that she gave him made him grin, though. It wasn't the usual what-is-that-frelling-human-doing-now kind of look. Or the one he hated the most, which was concern for his mental stability. It was more like a I-wonder-what-he's-up-to look. He liked that a lot better than the others. "Yeah, I am," he agreed and dribbled the ball a few times, noting that she was watching him intently. She had that tenseness about her that he usually associated with her being fed up with the inactivity that came from being cooped up on Moya for longer periods of time with nothing to do. "You look about ready to go stir-crazy, baby. What's up?" he asked, once again admiring her firm and well-trained form. She was something of a knock-out in his opinion. Both metaphorically and literally.

Aeryn regarded him thoughtfully for a moment. "Nothing. I just happened to hear your ... uh ... one-sided dialogue here," she said, then glanced up at the circle on the wall. "Is this some kind of ... Earth-game?"

He started tossing the ball from hand to hand and took a step closer to her. "Yeah," he agreed. "It's called basketball. There should be a hoop up there. And this ball should be ... well ... rounder. But it's the general idea that counts."

Aeryn glanced at the ball in his hands, then looked up at the circle on the wall again. "What is it about?" she asked.

For a second, John just stared at her, wondering if she could and would learn to play. It was getting a little one-sided, playing by himself all the time, and she seemed to have a beneficial influence on his state of mind, too. Harvey had disappeared the second she turned up. "Well, the basic idea is to get the ball through the hoop. Or hit the circle in this case. There are usually two teams ... or two players in this case ... and the one who doesn't have the ball has to try and stop the other from hitting the circle. Very simple."

Aeryn eyed him for a moment, her expression a little bland. "Sounds simple," she agreed. Clasping her hands in front of her, she stepped forward. "So, show me how it's played," she suggested.

Surprise didn't even begin to cover how that made him feel. He was downright delighted at the prospect of sharing this with her. "Really?" he asked, his voice tinged with disbelief.

Aeryn nodded with a challenging smile. "It sounds like something I might enjoy," she told him. "It's a team sport, isn't it? So, let's play. Winner takes all."

"Winner takes all, huh?" he asked, grinning expectantly, thinking of a few things he'd like to 'take' right now. That might not be what she had in mind, though, so he figured he would leave it up to her to decide. "What's the prize?"

"Hmm ... I could think of a few things ... unless you've got something in mind already?" she replied and stepped closer, leaving a mere hands breadth between them.

He had dropped the ball in favor of her and slipped his arms around her, locking his hands behind her back. "Oh, I could think of a few things too," he admitted with a grin and pulled her a little closer.

Aeryn grinned back. "All right. These are the rules. You teach me how to play. We play ... two games. If we each win one, we do what we usually do. If you win, I'll do anything you say. If I win, the same goes. Are you game?"

To him it sounded mostly like he would be in over his head again, but this time around he didn't mind the implications. As a matter of fact he was curious to find out what she had in mind. "What could you possibly do that you haven't done already?" he asked, a cheeky gleam in his eyes. For the time being, he had forgotten about Harvey and his previous preoccupation.

"Oh, you haven't seen everything yet," she promised him with a half mocking, half dangerous look in her eyes. "So, are you game? Or are you ... what is that word? ... chicken?"

That made him chuckle. Her Earth-metaphors were getting better and better all the time and it amused him to no end that she adopted his way of speaking much more than he had adopted hers. "Oh, I'm game. I may even let you win just to see what you've got in mind."

"No," she objected. "And don't even try to cheat. I'll know. If you do, you get nothing," she told him, slipped her arms around him and pulled him in tight. "And you know I'll know if you try to cheat."

Chewing his lower lip, he continued to grin at her. "Wouldn't dream of cheating," he replied and kissed the tip of her nose.

So, he taught her to play basketball, making up the rules as he went along and, as it occurred, she liked it. It was competitive, fast, and good exercise. What he hadn't counted on was her speed. He compensated for it by being taller and they ended up on the floor, when he stopped her from winning the final game by tackling her and pulling her down on top of him.

Out of breath, Aeryn eyed him for a second, and then touched his lower lip with the tip of one finger, running it over the sensitive skin. "We both win," she told him and kissed his chin.

"Looks like it," he replied, equally out of breath. "But, damn, that was fun," he added with a grin. He so enjoyed it whenever he could remind himself of things from Earth in a good way, but it was rare that any of his shipmates went along with whatever he was doing.

"Oh, get a room," Jool snapped, having turned up in the doorway.

They both glanced over at her. "What's your problem, Princess? Getting a little lonely there?" John asked her with a big grin. It was always a hoot to tease her. She could fly into a rage over nothing and he had yet to experience her holding a grudge because of it. It was usually quickly forgotten. Besides, he just couldn't stop himself right then. The situation just asked for a bit of fun.

"Lonely? If I do, I certainly wouldn't get lonely for a lesser life form such as you," Jool spat, aggravated by his words. With a snort of contempt, she turned and stalked away, muttering to herself.

Aeryn smiled and shook her head. "What is her problem, anyway? We were here first."

"She's just spoiled. Used to getting her own way," he replied and returned his attention to her. "That could have been something you could have said," he added. Aeryn's eyes narrowed dangerously and she punching him on the shoulder, managing to put quite a bit of force into it despite her rather awkward position. "Ouch," he yelped, grabbed her wrist and forced her hand back. "No fair," he complained. "I didn't mean now. I meant before." To keep her from commenting, he kissed her. "Now, where were we?" he then asked.

She sneered briefly, looking a little dissatisfied. "I believe we were both winners and ... well ... if you behave yourself, caveman, I may be persuaded to give you a little taste of what I can do," she said in a mocking tone of voice. "But only if you avoid insulting me again."

It had previously occurred to him that she was using more and more Earth-terms, phrases and words he kept throwing about at random. With no small amount of surprise, he had also realized that she – unlike D'Argo and Chiana – knew how to use them properly, too. There was the odd glitch, but mostly she seemed to know what they meant. He gave her a mockingly annoyed look. "Caveman? Who are you calling a caveman?" he demanded and rolled them over so she was beneath him. "I do believe I've got the upper hand here, baby. So, surrender or I'll tickle you into oblivion," he threatened.

"Tickle?" she asked, having no idea what that meant, and then frowned at him. "Don't look at me like that, John," she warned.

Grinning, he poked her side lightly, making her jerk. "That's tickling," he told her and poked her again.

"Stop it, John," she told him, trying halfheartedly to push him off her. "I'm warning you. It's not funny."

"Oh yeah? What are you going to do to me if I don't stop?" he asked and poked her again, grinning widely when she let out a snort of laughter.

That did it for him. He started tickling her mercilessly, making her twist and squirm beneath him, sputtering with laughter. "John, no," she begged between gasps of air. "Stop it," she laughed. "Stop. Right now."

"I'm sorry, but there must be something wrong with my translator microbes. I just can't seem to understand what you're saying," he claimed and continued for a moment longer.

"STOP," she laughed and forced his hands away from her mid-section, displaying her superior strength. Breathing hard, she blinked the tears away from her eyes. "You're frelled, John," she told him and raised her head from the floor to kiss him. "You know that, don't you?"

"Yeah, you keep reminding me," he replied and kissed her in return.

"What are you two up to?"

John closed his eyes with a groan and decided it might be time to relocate to more private quarters. Then he glanced over at D'Argo, who stood in the doorway, looking somewhat annoyed. "Nothing. We're just ... playing a game," he replied with a sideways glance at Aeryn, who was grinning at him.

"A game?" D'Argo asked, frowning deeply. "It sounded very much like you were trying to kill her," he added, glancing at Aeryn to make sure nothing of the sort had happened.

"No, D'Argo," Aeryn inserted. "It was just a game."

"See?" John said and got off her. "Besides, I doubt I could kill her. She'd sweep the floor with me first," he added and got up, giving her a hand. Both Aeryn and D'Argo gave him those strange looks again and John merely shrugged. What could he say? If they didn't understand that term, he wasn't going to explain it.

Aeryn straightened her vest, then gave D'Argo a look. "No harm done. Thanks for worrying though," she said and smiled.

The Luxan made a face and withdrew again, muttering under his breath as he left.


For a long, breathless moment, they just stood there side by side, staring at the open door, then John suddenly began to chuckle. "He actually thought I was trying to kill you," he said.

Aeryn considered the idea funny too, but settled for a somehow docile smile. "Well, maybe we should withdraw to more private surroundings," she suggested and winked at him when he stopped laughing and gave her a surprised look.

"Why, Officer Sun, it's the middle of the day," he said, mock surprise in his voice.

Aeryn eyed him for a moment, then hooked her fingers into his belt and pulled him closer. "So? When has that ever stopped anyone?" she wanted to know. With a wicked look in her eyes, she pulled his t-shirt out of his pants and slipped a hand up under it, raking her nails over his skin as she went.

John inhaled sharply and slipped his arms around her again. "Damn!" he exclaimed. "If I had known that tickling did this to you, I'd have done it a lot sooner."

"You are so frelling weird, you know that?" she asked him and kissed his chin. "Let's go," she added, slipped out of his arms and backed up to the door. "Or aren't you up to it?"

That made him snort with contempt. "I am always up to it," he claimed.

She had to admit to herself that she was rather enjoying this totally shameless behavior they were both displaying at the moment. There was something intoxicating about behaving like spoiled brats in the middle of everything. She felt the surge of old familiar feelings she had been forced to subdue as a child, feelings which had made her feel like pulling a joke on someone and then run away. That was mostly how she felt at that very microt. Giving him a grin, she backed up another step. "Well, what are you waiting for? Last one to my chamber is a ... uh ... rotten egg," she said and took off, knowing full well that he couldn't keep up with her when she started running.

John didn't have to be told twice. He started after her, nearly catching her several times until they ended up in her chamber and he tackled her down on the bed. "Gotcha," he exclaimed, a little out of breath.

"Rotten egg," she replied and laughed when he playfully poked her side again. "No, not again," she squealed when he started tickling her again. "No more. I surrender. I give up. Stop it, John," she insisted, pushing his hands away from her again.

Instead, he settled for kissing her. "For a Peacekeeper chick, you sure give up easily," he claimed, his hands finding their way under her vest.

"That depends on who's questioning me," she replied in a breathy voice.

Raising his head, he smiled at her for a microt, and then his eyes started roaming over her face, her neck, her chest. "Hold still," he suddenly said, raising a hand while staring at something just above her left breast.

"What?" she asked with a frown, glancing down herself without seeing anything worth noting.

Without further ado, he pulled the zipper of her vest down and pealed the leather away from her skin, his eyes still on the same spot. "I think I just found a sweet spot," he replied and attacked her with his lips, making her squirm with delight. She was just getting into it when he suddenly raised his head again, his expression unexpectedly tense, a faraway look in his eyes.

Aeryn frowned up at him. "What's the matter?" she asked, a feeling of concern rising in her when he blinked rapidly, pushed back and sat up, his tense expression evolving into downright concern.

"John?" she tried again and sat up too, pulling her vest back together, her gaze never leaving his face. "What's wrong?"

Nervously licking his lips, John rocked back a bit and swallowed hard. "Nothing's wrong," he claimed and got off the bed, turning his back on her as he rose.

Aeryn got off the bed too, already deeply worried by this turn of events. She was certain it had nothing to do with her, but she couldn't figure out what it might be. Tentatively at first, since old memories died hard, she slipped her arms around him from behind. She knew he'd had some trouble since that frelling chip had been pulled out of his brain, but he hadn't let on about it, which had made her believe that he had the situation under control. Obviously, though, he didn't. Not any more, at least. "Are you hearing voices again?" she asked quietly, going for the only explanation she could come up with.

Her question caused him to tense up in her arms and she knew right then that she had hit a nerve. "No," he claimed a little too quickly. "I ... just ..."

She pressed her cheek against his back, suppressing her own growing fears in an effort to comfort him. "Tell me the truth, John. You don't like it when others lie to you. And I don't like it either," she told him.

Dropping his head, he sighed heavily. "It's that frelling clone," he mumbled. "He keeps popping into my mind all the time. I can't ..."

Aeryn's arms tightened around him. "Put him away, John. You can do that. You've done it before. Just push him out of your thoughts. Be strong."

He wrapped his arms over hers. "I tried. I ... I can't ..." he stammered, then turned around in her arms and wrapped his around her, hugging her tightly to him. "I don't ever wanna hurt you again," he whispered somewhat hoarsely.

"You won't," she assured him. "The chip was the control device. Not the clone, John. The chip is out. He can't hurt you."

"I don't know," he whispered, uncertain.

"But I do. You're stronger than this, John," she insisted and leaned back a little to face him. Wrapping her hands around his face, she stared into his eyes. "You can beat him."

He inhaled deeply, never taking his eyes off her, and slowly started to calm down again. "He's bugging me," he confessed. "It doesn't matter what I do, he just pops up and starts bugging me."

"Then bug him back," Aeryn replied and smiled a little. "You're good at bugging others."

That, in turn, made him smile. "Are you saying that you mind?" he asked her and wrapped his hands around her face. "I thought you liked it."

Aeryn smiled back, a little tentatively at first. "Have you ever heard of anyone who likes to be bugged?" she wanted to know and pushed him backward until he sat down on the bed. "Let's get back to business," she added. It was essential to get his mind off that frelling clone right now. The sooner the better.

"How can you think about sex now?" he asked her, looking a little flustered all of a sudden. "Aeryn, I'm not at all geared up for this right now, okay? I'm ... I still can't ..."

She stopped him by kissing him, then straddled his lap. "Listen to me, okay?" she demanded, forcing him to look at her by wrapping her hands around his face again and raising it a little. "There is a reason for that recreation is encouraged among Peacekeepers, John. It has a certain effect. And the goal of that effect is to release tension. You're very tense right now. Go with your instincts."

He frowned a little, fiddling with the front of her vest for a moment. "My instincts tell me to pound the hell out of something," he said after a moment and gave her an uncertain look.

"Then do that. I'll join you. I'll teach you how to do the pentak jab. You can beat the frell out of the dummy in the training area. But you must release that tension or it will eat you alive," she said, hoping that her insistence would motivate him. He kept fiddling with her vest, but there was a slight smile on his lips now. "What are you smiling at?" she wanted to know, keeping her tone as light as she could.

He shook his head and closed his eyes briefly, then finally looked up to meet her eyes. "I was just thinking about this girl I used to know on Earth. It was the night before I was to start working on the Farscape project," he said and chuckled halfheartedly.

Aeryn smiled a little. This was what she wanted. To get him to think of other things. But she had to admit that she did feel a sting of jealousy when he mentioned this other girl. "What about it?" she asked, hoping he wouldn't plunge into a description of his relationship with this female.

He shrugged. "Well, I guess I was kinda tense and she sort of initiated ... you know," he said, looking a little uncertain. "I just figured it would be better if I went running instead. A little fresh air, a lot of exercise. Would do me good, you know? She got miffed at me and I ended up spending the majority of the night trying to calm her down again. And that certainly didn't help me the day after." Looking up to meet her eyes, he smiled. "She would never have encouraged me to take my frustration out on a dummy," he added.

"Well, physical exercise is very good when you're frustrated. And if you feel the need to beat the frell out of something, do it as an exercise. It hones your skills in defending yourself at the same time," she explained, unable not to relish the fact that he seemed to prefer her to that female. "Besides, this is not about me. This is about you," she added and got up. Reaching a hand out to him, she gave him a smile. "Come on. Let's beat the frell out of that dummy."

He grinned as he took her hand and got up. "I feel better already," he admitted.