|In Vino, Veritas|
|Published on 2006-12-30||Email To Friend Print Version
D’Argo stopped just inside the door to Command. “John.”
There was no answer from Crichton, who didn’t even look up from the navigation console.
“John!” he called, in a louder voice.
“Go away, D’Argo, I’m busy.”
D’Argo crossed the room in three long strides and planted himself in front of his human friend. “John! Chiana has commed you three times. It’s very rude not to answer her.”
Crichton looked up at last and with a bark of laughter said, “Look who’s talkin’ about not being rude to Chiana!”
D’Argo growled, and Crichton shook his head by way of apology. “Look, D, I told the girls when they started planning this shindig that I was going to be busy!”
“Busy doing what? You haven’t even asked us to stop for a wormhole in two weekens! You’re not doing anything that you can’t leave for a while, John.”
“I need to wash my hair!” he snapped.
Ignoring that bit of typical Crichton nonsense, D’Argo put his hands on his hips and pointed out, “The girls have worked very hard for you.”
John crossed his arms and glared. “I didn’t ask them to. Did you hear me ask?”
With a glare of his own, D’Argo warned, “Don’t make me tongue you.”
Crichton sighed and dropped his arms to his side. He took one last look at the data he’d been studying, and scowled. “Fine,” he said, looking back up at the Luxan. “Fine. Let’s go get this party over with.”
“Paklet Rakolto festival,” D’Argo corrected, nudging him towards the door. “It will be fun. There will be intoxicants. Lots of them.”
“D,” John said, “Jool has been researching this thing up the yin yang. There will be speeches. Lots of them. I’m just saying,” he added maliciously, as he turned and headed for the center chamber.
“Frell,” D’Argo grumbled, following behind him. Why hadn’t he realized that?
* * * * * * * *
Jool and Chiana weren’t quite finished setting up the requisite Nine Stations on the dining table, but they both looked up when Crichton and D’Argo entered the center chamber. Crichton didn’t look very enthusiastic about being there, which was more than a little annoying, because they were doing this in the first place to cheer the human up. He’d been morose at best since Aeryn and his twin had left on Talyn, and his attitude had only gotten worse since their encounter with the late wormhole scientist, Linfer. Chiana said he could use a good beating, or a good frell, one or the other, but Jool took a more mature approach to problems, and suggested a celebration she’d learned about in multicultural studies and had always though sounded like fun. Since Crichton was making them both crazy, perhaps the first thing they’d ever had in common, in the end Chi had agreed to try the rakolto ceremony.
Jool threw a glance at her helper. “Can you finish setting up the libations?” Chi nodded, a little too enthusiastically, Jool thought, which probably meant she was planning on sneaking some samples ahead of the ritual, but at least letting the Nebari do the last of the preparations gave Jool a few microts to speak to Crichton. Perhaps she could convince him to participate willingly. “Be sure to match the drinks to their corresponding gods,” she tossed over her shoulder at Chi. She tuned out the Nebari’s muttered complaints about the reminder, focusing instead on Crichton, who scowled.
D’Argo wisely went over to help Chiana as Jool approached, leaving the human alone. She smiled encouragingly and gestured towards the table with her hands. “Look, Crichton! We’ve got everything we need to celebrate the Paklet Rakolto Festival! Isn’t it wonderful? It’s the perfect thing to cheer y—er, cheer us all up!”
He looked over at the table, took in the half-motra tall images of Paklet’s nine Rakolto Gods (not one Rakolto Goddess, imagine!), evenly space around the table with flowers and a candle at each place, and said, “Looks like someone’s been downloading off the Internet.”
Displeased with his tone, Jool frowned at him. “Pilot helped me print the appropriate images from Moya’s data banks. Each god has his own special wine associated with him for the Festival. Look,” she said, grabbing Crichton by the hand and dragging him across to the first station. He came without too much resistance, which she supposed was something. “This is Serrano,” she told him, pointing out the image of a tall, heavy-looking being who bore a slight resemblance to a Delvian, having brightly colored skin that was covered on the face and head with a delicate design of tiny geometric shapes.
Crichton stood looking at the image. Fortunately, the Paklets were a deep maroon color, not blue, and of course Serrano was actually quite fat, so the picture shouldn’t make him think of Zhaan, and indeed, he made no comment on the Paklet’s appearance. “So, he’s the patron saint of fellip nectar?”
Leave it to Crichton to notice that detail! “No,” she said, defensively. “His wine is called rano. But you can’t find rano anywhere but on Paklet Prime, which we are nowhere near, so we improvised!”
Crichton snorted and ambled to the station for the next god. He looked at Jool inquiringly.
Determined to hang onto her dignity and impart a little information whether Crichton wanted to learn anything or not, she explained that this god was called Bucio. She rattled off the names of the other seven gods as well. “And yes, we did have to improvise on their wines as well. But the important part of the Festival is the ceremony.”
“We each have a cup,” she said, snatching one off the table and handing it to him. “We begin there, with Serrano, and I read a prayer for peace. Then I pour each of us some rano – fellip nectar,” she acknowledged, as he opened his mouth to challenge her, and then continued, “and we drink it. Then we move on to Bucio, and repeat, except his prayer is for joy. And so on, and so on. And we keep going around the table as long as there is wine left in the bottles.”
Crichton looked at the stations and observed, “Some of that is raslak. You said some of it is actual wine?” When she nodded, he shook his head. “And some is fellip nectar. We’re going to get pretty blitzed mixing our liquors like that.”
Jool quirked her mouth into a smile. “No doubt.”
Crichton actually smiled back. “Well, then, let’s get to it.”
Jool sent Chiana a triumphant grin, and went to fetch her notes.
* * * * * * * *
Partway through the second circuit of the stations, Jool dissolved in giggles trying to get through the required prayer for Minos. At that point, the four participants gave up any semblance of following the prescribed ritual, and just concentrated on drinking. Crichton lagged a step behind as they moved from station to station, taking turns filling each other’s cups and tossing back whatever intoxicant presented itself, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t drinking.
D’Argo and Jool were roaring with laughter over spilled raslak when Chiana sidled up to Crichton and leered. “This ends in an orgy, you know.”
Crichton stared at her, a bit befuddled, which was just how she wanted him. He squinted at her and asked cautiously, “What?”
Before answering, Chi moved in a little closer and reached one hand behind his head, stroking the hair on the back of his neck. “The Paklet Rakolto ceremony,” she purred. “It ends with everyone taking off their clothes and frelling.”
He shook his head, apparently oblivious to her fingers.
“It’s true! That’s really how it goes! Jool said we should skip that part, but I say it’s not a proper celebration unless we do the whole thing!”
“If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, huh?” he enunciated carefully, peering at her.
Chi grinned. “Yeah, that’s it.” Encouraged by his response, her free hand reached slyly for his crotch.
With more dexterity than she’d expected, he intercepted, pulling her other hand from behind his head at the same time. Tinked, she yanked her hands away. They stood staring at each other for a long moment, and then Crichton said, “You and me, Pip, not going to happen.”
She set her feet and lifted her chin defiantly. “Why not?”
“Reason number 2,” he said, holding up one finger, “D’Argo.”
“He’s got no say in what I do,” she sniffed. “We’re not together.”
Crichton shook his head again. He was doing an awful lot of that. “Doesn’t matter whether he’s got a right to it or not. Point is, he cares, and he’s my friend.” After a pause, he added, “You know what reason number 1 is. Don’t make me say it.”
Exasperated, she snapped, “Has she got you by the mivonks all the way from Talyn? Frell, Crichton, you got an itch, you need to scratch it once in a while! It wouldn’t mean anything.”
After a very long pause, he said, “With a chick I picked up in a bar, it wouldn’t mean anything. You and me...that would mean something.” He turned away and looked at the ceiling.
Chiana stared at him, totally shocked. He must be way drunker than she’d thought! He couldn’t possibly mean that like it sounded...and if he did, she definitely didn’t want to be getting involved! She wasn’t stupid – he’d always love Aeryn, no matter what, and no way she was getting in the middle of that. She hopped around to where she could see his face, jaw clenched, eyes closed. “Crichton?”
He opened his eyes and satisfied himself that Jool and D’Argo weren’t in earshot. Actually, considering how focused those two were on pouring raslak down each other’s throats, they could have been standing right there and not heard anything. Crichton grimaced and looked Chiana in the eye. “Look,” he began, and then hesitated. “You got your problems with relationships,” he said, “I got mine. I think that’s pretty obvious.”
She was just intoxicated enough to nod in agreement.
Crichton continued. “We don’t deal with our problems anywhere near the same way.”
She frowned at him, head cocked, until she realized he was talking about her frelling Jothee. Stung, she snapped, “Is that what you think I’m offering? A chance to get back at Aeryn for running off and leaving you here?”
Crichton held his hands up in placation. “No. No, no, no.” He shook his head again. “That’s not what I meant!”
She glared at him and when he didn’t continue, she prompted, “Well, what, what did you mean, huh?”
He scratched his head, and finally said, “Just that I’ve got some kinda crazy relationship going with Aeryn, even though she’s not here right now.” He thumped himself in the chest. “I feel it in here, Pip.” He took a deep breath. “And much as I think you and I might have a really fine tumble together—“ He swayed slightly and Chi reached out to help him catch his balance. He grinned at her ruefully. “That’s assuming I’m not so plastered I’m going to puke or fall asleep in the next 100 microts.”
She searched his eyes for a long time and decided not to point out that Aeryn wasn’t alone on Talyn. It wasn’t like he didn’t know that.... “You love her that much?”
He sighed. “I do.”
“Never going to get you in my bed, am I?”
He laughed then. “Well, they say ‘never say never,’ but....”
She made one last try. “You can’t tell me you don’t get horny.” She glanced meaningfully at his crotch, which was, in fact, bulging.
He blushed, which was really attractive, and said, “I have two hands, Chi, I can handle it.” He replayed what he’d just said in his own head, and his face got even redder before he burst out laughing. “I have had way more than enough to drink.”
Chi came to a decision and shook her head. “No, you haven’t. Come on,” she said, dragging him grimly back towards one of Jool’s fahrbot stations. Getting Crichton out of those leather pants and into her was going to have to wait for another time, another set of circumstances. But at least they could get dren-faced together. Okay, more dren-faced....
Abruptly, he stopped dead and pulled her up short, too. She looked up at him, puzzled, and he bent down and gave her a big, sloppy, raslak-flavored kiss. “For what it’s worth, Chiana, if things were different....”
Suddenly furious, she planted her hands in the center of his chest and gave him a shove. He staggered a bit and while he was regaining his balance, she hissed, “It’s not worth dren, Crichton! I’m not frelling Gilina, mooning over you! You don’t want sex, that’s fine. Just don’t go telling me how it would be if things were different!”
Crichton blinked in the silence when she finished, and Chiana blinked back, and they both simultaneously remembered Jool and D’Argo, and looked over to see if they had an audience. Fortunately, their shipmates had pulled up chairs in front of the Rakolto God Serrano, and were snoring away, heads down on the table.
Crichton cleared his throat and hastily changed the subject. “That’s disrespectful.”
“They shouldn’t be asleep! The ceremony’s not done till the wine’s gone, right?”
Chiana let her anger evaporate. He couldn’t help being male.... After a few microts, she gave him a lopsided smile and agreed with his observation. “That’s what Jool said.”
“Well, we should go finish it up. It’s our duty.”
Chiana considered. If they were drinking, they wouldn’t be talking. They’d already said enough things that were probably better left unsaid! And who knew, if they finished the ceremony, maybe they’d get some peace, or joy, or whatever it was the Paklet Rakolto gods promised their followers. She shrugged. “Sure.” With a giggle, she added, “We can hold it over Jool for ages!”
Crichton started to shake his head, but stopped very quickly, looking like he just might puke after all. He composed himself and raised an imaginary toast. “To the Paklevs!”
“To the Paklevs,” she snickered, letting him have his joke.
Holding each other upright, they went back to the table to search for bottles that still needed draining....