TJ crammed two fingers deep into his mouth and gnawed while he wandered Moya's command deck. Every once in a while, the toddler looked back at his mother and whimpered.
Aeryn sighed. "I can't make it better, TJ," she told her son. "You just have to wait until the rest of those teeth are through. It will stop hurting then."
Although the baby seemed perfectly healthy at a cycle and a half of age, Aeryn, John and Jool all worried about his unique Human/Sebacean/Pilot genetic heritage, and thought it was safer to avoid medication unless necessary.
"You could try some ice," Rygel advised, looking up from the missives from Hyneria that he was studying. "That seemed to help last time he was teething."
Bless you Rygel, Aeryn thought, but didn't say. Her brain wasn't working well. She'd been up the last several nights with the baby – Wouldn't you know he'd cut his frelling molars while John was away? – and she'd forgotten there was something she could do to ease his pain. What she did say was, "Keep an eye on the readouts, then, right?"
"Yes," the Hynerian said, keeping things as simple as she did.
"Come on, TJ," Aeryn said, picking him up and kissing the top of his head. "Let's go to the galley and find you something cold to chew on, okay? Maybe that will make your teeth feel better."
She was rewarded with a smile from him. "Chew," he said, the word barely understandable around the finger he was twisting in his mouth. "Teef."
Aeryn smiled and settled him on her hip. She moved off as briskly as if she were making rounds or starting a 2-day march.
But before they got halfway to the galley, two competing voices came over the comms.
"There's something happening just off our course," growled Rygel, and Chiana yelled, "There's a ship! Someone needs help!"
"Rygel, you first!" Aeryn commanded, all thoughts of the galley and ice forgotten. "What do you see?"
"Pilot says it's a wormhole," Rygel reported from command.
Frell. "Chiana? Do you know something specific?"
"No," the Nebari reported promptly. "I just saw a ship coming out of some disturbance in space. I guess it could be a wormhole. But they were in trouble."
Pilot spoke up directly. "There is a ship emerging from the wormhole," he said. "It appears to be having difficulty with its propulsion unit."
"Scarran? Pathfinder?" Aeryn asked.
"Unknown configuration," Pilot responded. "But it is small, no larger than a prowler. And I detect no weapons."
Aeryn made the decision then. "Deploy the docking web, Pilot! Chiana, Jool, meet me in the docking bay!" She slid TJ from her hip to the front of her, and he put his head on her shoulder and his arms around her neck so she could run, left hand holding him close, right hand with her pulse pistol drawn, ready to fire.
Just outside the docking bay, she stopped to open the door to a small bolthole. She set her weapon on the floor and pried her son from around her neck. "Okay, TJ, time to play hide," she told him, setting him down. "You wait here and be very quiet. Mama will be back soon."
The child reached his hands for her and screwed up his face as if he was going to cry, but when Aeryn whispered, "You be brave, all right? I need you to be brave for a little while," he stuck his fingers back into his mouth and settled on the floor, picking up a soft toy that was part of the room's provisions.
Aeryn heaved a sigh of relief, closed the door, snatched up her pulse pistol, and charged into the docking bay just as the docking web lowered the alien ship to the floor. The propulsion unit, whatever it was, did sound like it was malfunctioning. It was rough and full of hesitation. The pilots seemed to have some sense, though, because they shut it down once they were on the floor of the docking bay.
With the propulsion shut down, Aeryn walked closer to the ship. The closer she got to it, the more unhappy she got – because she could swear the frelling thing was from Earth!
* * * * * * *
It didn't exactly look like John's module, but it wasn't that different, either. It had that same aerodynamic shape, as if designed primarily for flying in an atmosphere, the same flat dark underside, the smooth, white upper portion. . . . Judging by the windows and the hatches, it carried at least a two-man crew, seated side by side. Aeryn couldn't read the markings on the nose, but she recognized the letters, and the IASA symbol.
Aeryn's first thought was that it was frelling inconvenient for an Earth ship to pop in when John was off with D'Argo. He could have reassured the pilots, who were likely to be frightened and therefore likely to do something stupid. Her second thought was that he would be thrilled to meet them, the first humans he'd seen in five cycles. . . . She didn't let her thoughts go further than that.
She stood in the shadows and held her pulse pistol steady as the hatches popped and two figures in very familiar orange jumpsuits climbed out of the cockpit and jumped to the deck. They apparently hadn't noticed her yet, as one ducked under the ship to join the other. Aeryn waited, observing them while they made a quick check of their craft and began to look around.
One of them, shorter than John and with brilliant red hair, caught sight of her, and his eyes widened. She imagined she was quite a sight, in her leathers and her ponytail, pointing a weapon at them. Even John had recognized a pulse pistol as a weapon the first time he saw one. The man with the red hair hit his fellow pilot on the arm, and the other man whirled around.
It was a toss-up who was more surprised, the gray-haired man who found himself looking down the wrong end of a gun, or Aeryn, who found herself looking into the distinctive features of John's father, Jack Crichton.
"Frell!" she whispered, her blood turning to ice water. She was suddenly very afraid that something had happened to John. Someone had captured him, pulled the image of his father from his mind, sent these people here to capture her, or TJ, or even Rygel, whom they were trying to help regain his throne. Or maybe it was the Ancients again. The Ancients always meant trouble for John, and for her. She took a deep breath, set her jaw, and tightened her grip on her weapon.
At that moment, Chiana and Jool came skidding in. They responded to Aeryn's stance first and aimed the weapons they had been carrying, then actually looked at their guests.
The two men exchanged nervous glances as they now found themselves facing three weapons instead of just one. They held their hands out in front of them, and the older man said, "We come in peace. We don't mean any harm."
Aeryn stared at them, trying to decide what to do.
The two men looked at each other again and started to edge forward.
"Don't move!" announced Jool, waving her gun at them.
The pilots spoke to each other in low tones. "Did you understand that?" the younger pilot said to his companion.
"I'd say the meaning was clear enough," the one who wore Jack Crichton's face replied. He spoke up again. "Look, we're kinda lost here. I'm Jack," he said, touching his chest. Then he pointed to his companion and continued, "This is Ron, and. . . and you have no idea what I'm saying, do you?"
Aeryn was still lost in thought, and Chiana, with an annoyed glance at her, answered, "Of course we can understand you, you frellnik! Honestly, Aeryn, can we just lock them up or something?"
Aeryn finally shook herself out of the spell caused by the face and the voice. Still, she ignored her shipmates and addressed the men in front of her. "Do you understand me?"
Before anyone could answer, a sharp wail came from outside the docking bay. "Is TJ in the hole?" Chiana asked.
Aeryn nodded and said, "He'll be fine."
The two men looked puzzled by the sound, which grew steadily louder.
"Aeryn," Jool began diffidently, "Don't you think you should go get him? We could lock them up first."
"He's safer where he is," Aeryn snapped.
As the baby's wails grew even louder, Chiana said, "Frell you, Aeryn," and stomped off.
While she was gone, Aeryn continued her interrogation, ascertaining that the two men appeared not to have translator microbes. Apparently they assumed that since they couldn't understand the women, the women couldn't understand them.
The two men had a whispered conversation, easily overheard by Aeryn and Jool.
The younger man said, shaking his head, "I don't know where we are, but I have never seen so much leather and legs!"
Jack grinned slightly and said, "I know what you mean. I keep thinking we've stumbled into 'Cat Women of the Moon.'"
The one called Ron looked at Aeryn and Jool and said, "The dark-haired one is nervous."
"Yeah, but she looks like she could handle a weapon in her sleep. And she seems to be in charge. I don't know what's going on here, but we need to be careful. A nervous opponent is a dangerous opponent," said Jack.
Chiana walked in then with the sobbing toddler, and the two men's eyes went wide again, looking back and forth between the women, trying to figure out which one the child belonged to.
Aeryn refused to let herself look at her son, trying not to give away any information. She snapped, "Chiana, I told you he was safer where he was!"
"He's in pain!" Chiana snapped back, trying to comfort the baby. "He wants his mother."
At the word 'mother,' TJ flung himself towards Aeryn sobbing, "Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma. . . ."
Chiana was barely able to hang onto him, and Aeryn gave up the fight. "Don't take your guns off them," she said to both Chiana and Jool. She holstered her own weapon and took her son from the Nebari, stepping back a few paces so that her armed shipmates were between her child and the newcomers. Then she turned her attention to TJ, whispering comfort, brushing damp tendrils of dark hair out of his eyes, kissing the top of his head. She gave him a knuckle to chew on, and he settled down quickly and laid his head on her shoulder, sniffling.
Chiana looked smugly satisfied with herself, and Jack Crichton leaned over to his co-pilot and whispered, "Ah. That's what's going on with her. It's mama bear protecting her cub. . . ."
That sounded so much like John that Aeryn almost decided to believe in him. If she closed her eyes and concentrated, she realized she could hear the distinctive cadence of English under the translation provided by the microbes in her brain.
Jool had been waiting patiently, but had finally had enough. "Look, Aeryn, I know you want to be cautious, but why are we standing here pointing weapons at these people? They're obviously not Peacekeepers," she said. "They don't have weapons, they don't even have translator microbes. And their ship looks more like. . . . Frell," she announced, her eyes going wide, as the similarity to Crichton's module hit her.
Chiana finally looked at the men a little more closely. . . . Sebacean-looking, orange flight suit. . .funny blue and white patch. . . . She exchanged a chagrined look with Aeryn. "Human? From Earth?"
Jack and Ron looked alarmed at hearing the words for their species and their planet, unmistakable among the gibberish being spoken by these three apparently alien women.
"If they're real," Aeryn sighed.
"Why wouldn't they be real?" Chi asked.
"That one," Aeryn said, pointing with an accusing finger, "looks exactly like Jack Crichton."
The two humans took a step backwards, a look of serious alarm crossing Jack's face.
"Crichton's father? Are you sure?" Chiana asked
"Yes." Aeryn's face was stone cold, even as she continued to rock and soothe the baby.
Chiana winced, remembering Aeryn's tales of the times she had met an alien wearing the face of Jack Crichton. But she decided it was time to cut the tension in the room. "Aeryn," she said, "I understand why you're worried. But we're scaring the Hezmana out of the humans, which kinda makes it seem like they're real."
Aeryn took a deep breath and shifted TJ in her arms. Well, it was either shoot them, lock them up, or provisionally trust them. Chiana was right. The two humans seemed nearly as bewildered as John had been when she'd first met him.
She made the decision and nodded. "All right. We'll trust them, for now. We need to find out how they got here, and why."
Holstering her weapon, Jool called out, "Pilot, could you please send a DRD down here with translator microbes for two."
The humans flinched as Pilot's disembodied voice replied, "It is already on its way, Joolushko."
* * * * * * *
"You would think," John groused, "that members of Sparky's loyal underground would be in a bigger hurry to meet with us." He and D'Argo were sharing a tiny room in the capital city of one of the secondary planets of the Hynerian Empire.
They'd been waiting for two solar days to be contacted by someone from the growing underground movement that aimed to restore ex-Dominar Rygel XVI to the throne of Hyneria. The underground was getting near to ready to launch a series of coordinated attacks designed to topple the usurper Bishan from his already shaky throne. John and D'Argo were here to show good faith, to demonstrate that The Great Crichton and D'Argo were indeed involved and were prepared to appear along with Rygel once the way to the throne was clear. So far no one had been in touch.
D'Argo snorted. "I don't know, John, I'm beginning to get bad vides about this."
"Vibes," John corrected absently, pulling the window coverings back and looking out onto the busy street below. He wasn't exactly getting bad vibes, but he was getting tired of the confinement. He made up his mind and slapped D'Argo on the arm. "Come on, D, let's get out of here and do something!"
Equally stircrazy, D'Argo grunted his assent. "Fine by me. If the RugRats show up, they can leave a note."
John stifled the amusement he always felt whenever anyone used the name he had coined for Rygel's army. "Rygel's Underground" led to "RUG" led to "RugRats". . . . Everyone on Moya used it, even Rygel. "Damn straight they can," he said. This was basically just a confirmation meeting, though they also had a recorded message from Rygel to deliver. It was up to the Hynerians to make the first move.
D'Argo nodded decisively and opened the door. John edged around the beds and followed him out.
Once on the street they chose a direction at random and started walking with no goal in mind, just to stretch their legs. Thank goodness the larger portion of the population of this planet was not Hynerian, or the two of them would have been tripping over the diminutive creatures, or dodging sleds owned by wealthier individuals. As it was, human and Luxan mixed into the crowd without attracting attention.
The question was, what to do, where to go. If this had been a commerce planet, they could have used the time to shop for repair parts or weapons or foodstuffs. But this was a boringly civilized planet, and their hotel was in the downtown business area.
Cycles ago, before the Uncharted Territories had changed him, John would have enjoyed just seeing the city, looking at the architecture, storing it all up to tell his dad or his sisters about it when he got home. But Aeryn, bless her little soldier's heart, wouldn't care at all that the curvy spires on that building there appeared to defy gravity, or that the walls of the headquarters of the Royal Hynerian Bank appeared to be encrusted with precious gems. Truth be told, he didn't much care anymore himself. His world had both widened and narrowed, since he'd left the confines of his homeworld. He still loved space, his scientific curiosity would never dim, and he seemed doomed to be involved in one grand political movement after another – but the only things that really mattered any more were his family, and his friends. He hated being away from Aeryn and his son.
Lordy, he was getting broody in his old age, John thought. Enough of this! "Hey, D'Arg," he said impulsively, "Let's see what's in there!"
D'Argo followed John's eye towards what appeared to be a shopping area of some sort. Creatures of all kinds were emerging carrying packages of all sorts and containers that smelled like hot cooked food. "Why not?" the Luxan said, and they entered the building.
They drifted along, looking in shops and idly scanning the crowd for interesting faces, until John spotted a toy store. "Come on!" he said. "Help me find something to bring back to TJ!" He was trying to find something that they didn't already have on Moya in one form or another, when a shelf of small figures caught his eye. "Oh my god! Look at this!" he called to D'Argo. "This is perfect!"
"A Hynerian god?" D'Argo asked, coming over to see what John had found. "Do humans consider such things appropriate for children?"
"No, no, look at it! It's Dominar Bishan." He'd picked up one of the hollow plasticene figures to check that his assumption about its texture was correct, and he squeezed it to be sure it wasn't too hard or the edges too sharp.
D'Argo looked at him in bewilderment.
"What does TJ do with anything you give him right now?" John asked, a laugh building beneath the surface.
"He puts them in his mouth, he's teething. What does that—" D'Argo broke out in a huge guffaw. "Can you imagine Rygel's reaction to that?"
"Maybe we should get him one, too! Otherwise TJ may have trouble keeping it!"
They laughed themselves silly while John paid for the two figures and impulsively grabbed a sturdy book with pictures of flying critters off the counter as well.
Back in the mall, John found that just carrying the bag with the items he'd chosen for his son helped continue the lighthearted mood. He suddenly remembered his father returning from his many trips away from home with packages in tow. Not just bribes for the children, he realized now – touchstones for a lonely man away from his family. "You know, D'Argo," he said aloud, " I understand my father a lot better now."
D'Argo started to reply, but they were interrupted when the RugRats finally made contact.
* * * * * * *
Jool had left them to go see how Rygel was doing on command, and the rest of the group, Aeryn, Chiana, Jack and Ron, were now in the galley, seated around the table. Chiana had found some ice for TJ, and he was sitting in her lap, chewing.
"How do you know about Earth? And how do you know my name?" Jack Crichton asked abruptly, as Aeryn applied John's adage, "You can catch more flies with fellip nectar than you can with a pulse rifle," rather literally and set bottles of the mild alcoholic beverage in front of all of them.
The tone of Jack's voice stopped just short of a demand, and it was near enough to John's voice for Aeryn to detect a note of fear. She dropped into her chair, using the time to think. If John were here, he'd have had his arms wrapped around his dad in a reassuring hug before anyone knew he was moving. And he wouldn't want his dad left in suspense any longer than necessary, not about him, anyway. She chewed on her lower lip for a microt, and then cocked her head sideways. "Your son John is a member of this crew." Everything else could wait for John's return.
Jack looked at her as if she had sprouted two heads. "John is alive?"
"Yes," said Aeryn. "He's. . . .he's. . . .he will be so happy to see you after all this time," she said awkwardly.
Jack's eyes filled with tears he tried hard to blink back. "He's here? Where is he?" he asked, looking around the galley as if John might be hiding behind one of the counters or underneath the table.
Ron reached out and touched Jack on the arm, but Jack shook his head sharply. Stay out of this, was the clear meaning.
Aeryn regretted her decision to tell him without John there to back up her statement. But there was nothing she could do about it now. "I'm sorry," she said. "John is away right now, on a mission."
Jack sat back as if he had been slapped.
"He's away, huh?" Ron said angrily. "That's pretty damned convenient!"
Aeryn fixed Ron with a glare, and he glared at her in return, but clamped his jaw shut.
She turned her attention back to Jack. "You cannot imagine how deeply I wish he were here right now, for his sake as well as yours," she told him. "But I am not lying to you. John is a part of this crew, he is alive and well, and he will be back aboard this vessel in a few solar days."
"How do I know," said Jack, "that John has ever truly been here? Maybe you've been monitoring our news broadcasts and heard about him that way. Maybe you just want us to let our guard down."
Aeryn thought for a minute. She could see in his eyes that he wanted to believe her. She wondered what she could say. "Just before John left Earth, you gave him a ring. A special ring. For luck." She saw Jack nod, which was good, but of course, John didn't have the ring any more. "He gave it to a friend when they were about to do something very dangerous to protect this ship and its crew."
Jack blinked, thinking about that. "Did it work?" he asked at last.
Trying to break the tension, Chiana began cheerfully, "Oh, yeah, it worked great! John and D'Argo made it through that just fine. In fact, he's with D'Argo—" She broke off when TJ unceremoniously dumped the remains of his ice on the table and squirmed out of her grasp, climbing to the floor.
Jack Crichton's eyes followed the baby's movements, giving him time to compose himself.
Glancing at her son, Aeryn told Chiana, "Let him go, he'll be all right." TJ headed for the cupboard of cookpots he knew he was allowed to play with, and Aeryn's mouth twitched when Chiana cringed in anticipation of the racket she expected him to make.
"About John. . . ." Jack began, clearly beginning to allow himself to hope that he would see his son again for the first time since John had disappeared. As his friend's mood changed, Ron visibly relaxed, leaning back and draping his arms over the back of his chair.
"Look," Aeryn told the two humans, "I know you must have a lot of questions, especially about John. And John will answer everything when he gets back. But right now, there's a wormhole out there, and we need to know exactly what you have to do with it, and if it poses a threat to this ship."
Jack looked at her for a moment, a balky frown on his face, and she could almost see the soldier debating giving her only his name, rank and serial number. "Okay," he said at last. "I can see you're a practical woman. You want to know if we're a threat. We're not. If you have any kind of scanners like they have in the movies, you know we don't have any weapons. This mission is an experiment in wormhole travel, nothing more."
"There are no enemies on your tail, no threats?" Aeryn asked. "No one is following you?"
"No," said Jack firmly, wincing as TJ pulled several pots off a shelf and banged them onto the floor.
Ignoring the noise, Aeryn continued, "Then what is wrong with your module? How was it damaged?"
Ron answered this one. "I'm not rightly sure," he told her. "It might have been the wormhole, and it might just be there's something in the design that's not quite right, or something shook itself loose. I'm going to have to take a look at it when everything cools down."
"We really appreciate you taking us in," Jack said. "We'd have been dead if you hadn't been here."
That was exactly what was bothering Aeryn – that these men from John's homeworld had conveniently landed right on their doorstep. "How did you get here?"
Ron and Jack exchanged looks as if she'd suddenly lost her mind. "Through the wormhole," Jack said.
"No, no," said Chiana, "she means how did you get here? It's pretty frelling amazing that you came through right where Moya was."
"Luck," Ron said with a grin. "Well, luck and a lot of hard work. After John disappeared, my buddy Jack here put everything he had into getting the funding to continue John's research, and to expand on it. We call it Project Crichton. If it wasn't for Jack, we would never have gotten the money, and of course, Jack did it for John. For John's work. It seemed likely that something in his original experiment must have triggered the wormhole that kil—that swallowed him."
"So you created a wormhole and just flew blindly into it." Humans, Aeryn thought in a mixture of annoyance and awe.
"Well, not completely blindly," said Jack proudly. "We didn't know what shape the Farscape One module would be in, if it survived at all, but we tried to create a wormhole with an affinity for it, based on our best guesses of what the gravitational and magnetic stresses would do to the metals. We didn't know if it would work, but I guess we were successful."
"And if you'd found the module broken, and John's desiccated body inside?" Aeryn asked, appalled at the folly.
Jack looked at her quizzically, unsure what the strained tone of her voice meant. "Then at least I would have known," he said softly.
Ron spoke up again, nodding his head sharply sideways at Jack. "He bullied us all into agreeing to let him fly the mission. It was good publicity, he said. 'Geriatric astronaut leads the search for his missing son!'" He laughed. "Just think about the publicity when we get home and say we found him!"
"Doctor Livingstone, I presume," Jack began. He broke off when TJ walked up and put a pan in his lap. "Well, hello there, little guy," he said to the child. "Are you cooking?"
TJ picked the pan up and held it out to Jack. "Fwy!" he commanded. "Go gak!"
Jack looked to Aeryn, who smiled. "I think he wants you to cook. He likes fried grolak," she said. "But he only ate a little while ago."
"Well, sport, your mom says no," Jack said, picking the baby up to soften the rejection.
TJ sat for a moment, pan still in hand but forgotten, examining the new face. He reached up and touched Jack's gray hair, patting it awkwardly. The human endured the mauling patiently, and after a moment, TJ favored his mother with a triumphant smile, though she couldn't have said why.
She couldn't have said why she wasn't terrified to see her child seated in a stranger's lap, either, a potential hostage. But she wasn't. She must have trusted he was safe. At the same time, she wasn't prepared to give up her trump card, the information that her child was a grandson Jack Crichton hadn't known existed.
When TJ moved his hand over to pat Jack's face, the human opened his mouth and pretended to bite TJ's fingers. The baby giggled and announced loudly, "Da!" Then he abruptly turned his small body around and slid down to the floor, toddling off.
Jack's eyes took on the light of speculation, and Aeryn's heart sank. She could tell Chiana had the same recollection of John playing "I'm going to eat you up!" with his son.
When the child was a few steps away, Jack said, "Hey! Teejay!"
Aeryn was sure that he was going to say something about the boy's father, and she could sense Chi stiffen defensively beside her, but when TJ turned around, Jack only told him, "You forgot your pan!"
TJ came back and got the pan, then promptly dropped it on the floor with a loud bang and wandered off again to root through the cupboards.
Jack watched him thoughtfully. "Kids seem to be the same all over. He's just like my granddaughter back on Earth." He paused, and when Aeryn didn't reply, he shrugged and continued, "She takes her mother's kitchen apart regularly."
Looking Jack in the eye, Aeryn said non-commitally, "Does she?"
He nodded. "Yep," he smiled. "She does."
"I think it's the noise TJ likes," Chiana said, cutting in, as the baby took two metal lids and banged them together.
Taking the hint, Aeryn said, "Chiana, maybe you can keep an eye on TJ for me, and I'll take Jack and Ron back to the docking bay to look at their ship." She looked at the humans for their reactions. "It will be quieter there, I'm sure."
"Well," Ron drawled, "I *would* like to take a look at her. See if there's any external damage. The engines are probably still too warm to open up right now, though."
Jack nodded. "Maybe you can tell me more about John while we walk," he said. "What he's been doing."
Aeryn smiled to cover the minefield of things she didn't want to tell him about, not without John here. "Of course," she said as they stood up and headed for the door, leaving their untouched fellip nectar behind. It was going to be a very long three days until John and D'Argo returned.
* * * * * * *
"Ah, there you are," said the Hynerian grandly. He was riding a sled, and accompanied by two tall, grim-looking Ranideans who were posing as his bodyguards. "I believe we were supposed to meet at the other end of the plaza!" He looked for all the world like a wealthy local businessman, but since John and D'Argo had met with one of the "bodyguards" before, it seemed a safe bet he was their contact with the underground.
"Uh, were we?" asked John, going along with the missed rendezvous premise. He twisted his head behind him and looked up and down the concourse. "I thought it was this end."
"We must have gotten turned around," D'Argo added. "We've been shopping for souvenirs," he continued, working in the opportunity for Tolgar, the rebel they had met before, to work in the code phrase.
"The Jumilla gems from the Marjan province are extremely beautiful. You should be sure to see them before you finish your shopping," he said.
John grunted at the reptilian-looking Ranidean and said, "We'll be sure to do that."
Formalities out of the way, Tolgar ushered the group back out onto the crowded streets, explaining in a low voice that they would take a walk through the city's famous water gardens, ostensibly on their way to a business meeting in one of the large office towers. The outdoor attraction would provide the opportunity to talk without being overheard.
As they walked through the gates, John stopped dead, awed in spite of his earlier blasé attitude. The water garden covered an area at least as large as a football field. It was composed of all manner of stone, supporting waterfalls and fountains ranging from the diminutive – no more than Rygel's height – to falls more than five stories high. Mist was everywhere, and the roar was astounding – but the overall effect was astonishing. "I'd hate to have their water bill," he deadpanned.
D'Argo ignored him out of long habit, but the three RugRats stared at him as if they should have understood his comment. John considered explaining, but just waved his hand at them and said, "Ah, never mind."
As they began to walk along the winding paths through the water sculptures, human and Luxan found that the acoustics of the place actually made conversation possible on the designated walkways.
The Hynerian patriots, as they thought of themselves, confirmed that they were within a few solar days, a weeken at most, of launching their simultaneous attacks against Bishan's few remaining supporters. They then expected to place the usurper under arrest without any opposition.
"We should have no trouble taking control," the frog-like Syrius told them calmly from where he rode, nearly at their head height. "Bishan has worn out his welcome through many, many cycles of brutal oppression. There will be a clear path for Rygel the XVI to return and resume his rightful place on the throne."
"We do not need to know the details," D'Argo pointed out. "It's better if we don't."
"Just make sure we know where and when, and we'll bring His Eminence," John agreed as they walked along.
"Did you bring the recording?" Tolgar asked.
"Yep," John said, pulling a vid chip out of his pocket and holding it on edge between two fingers.
The second Ranidean, who hadn't been introduced for security's sake, was appalled. "You have it with you?"
"Better than leaving it in our hotel room, don't you think?" D'Argo growled.
Syrius floated over and took the recording out of John's hands. "So, this is my grandfather's vid chip, eh?" he said.
"Sparky is your grandfather?" John said, startled into using the irreverent nickname he'd been avoiding when dealing with Rygel's loyal subjects. Despite all of Rygel's stories about his many, many offspring, it had never occurred to any of them on Moya that he might have descendents.
"Yes indeed," the Hynerian said proudly. "I've never met him, of course, but my father has told me stories."
"We could tell you stories," D'Argo began, but he stopped talking when a brilliant rainbow effect diverted them all. As they walked the angle of the sun changed, and so did the colors.
The beauty made them careless, and when they rounded the corner of a fountain with a base taller even than D'Argo, they were surprised to find two damp-looking white-furred Iridians standing in the path.
They reminded John of upright, albino opossums that had been caught in a sprinkler, but what really attracted his attention was the pulse pistols they were pointing at the party of conspirators. "Shi—" he began, and reached for Winona.
The taller of the two rodents let off a quick blast at their feet. At least, they hoped that he'd been aiming for their feet. If that was an accident, they were probably in trouble.
"The chip, please," the critter said, whiskers twitching. "We're not interested in you, but I'm sure Dominar Bishan's people will pay handsomely for that recording."
Ah, frell it, John thought, go for the unpredictable. Before anyone else could make a move, he snatched the vid chip from Syrius' hands, pulled one of the hollow plasticene figures of Bishan out of the bag he was carrying and shoved the chip through a hole in the bottom of the little idol. He tossed the figure underhand to D'Argo without looking to see that he caught it, and simultaneously dropped the bag onto Syrius's sled.
"Hey, Big D!" he called urgently, as a group of schoolchildren, apparently on a tour of the water gardens, appeared from the direction they had come in. "Toss it back here!"
D'Argo complied, though the look on his face suggested he thought Crichton was completely fahrbot.
The Iridians twitched in fury as the group of children swarmed by, but refrained from waving their guns around.
Taking advantage of the chaos, John tossed the figure of Bishan to Tolgar, who promptly tossed it back, while the would-be thieves tried to keep their eyes on the moving target.
John caught D'Argo's eye and nodded imperceptibly towards the second of Syrius's bodyguards. Then he tossed the figure once again to his Luxan friend, this time in an overhand throw that only the human recognized as a football pass.
The children were nearly past them, and out of the corner of his eye, John could see the Iridians beginning to lose patience with the lunacy. He gave D'Argo his "hurry up!" look.
When the Luxan tossed the figure towards his designated target, John leaped to intercept, "fumbled," and the figure flew towards the Hynerian's sled and landed back in the bag with a thud. John landed on his knees next to the sled.
One of the would-be robbers moved in and waved his pulse pistol in John's face. "The vid chip. Now!" he demanded.
With a great show of reluctance, John reached into the bag and came up with the figure of Bishan in his hand.
"Give it to me!" the opossum said shrilly. "Now!"
John looked down at the figure in his hand with great sorrow. He sighed. "All right, you've got the gun," he said, and reluctantly held his hand out.
The Iridian thief snatched the figure out of John's hand, and he and his companion turned tail and ran as fast as they could.
D'Argo stepped over and gave John a hand up. "You switched it," he said gruffly. "Didn't you?"
John widened his eyes in a huge self-satisfied grin and he nodded yes.
The Luxan shook his head, and John casually reached into the bag and pulled out the second figure. Holding Dominar Bishan in one hand, he slung the bag over his other shoulder and said, "I think we better go. I can get the chip out with some tweezers or something when we're someplace safer." He started down the path in the direction the children had gone, holding the plasticene figure up to his ear and rattling it contentedly.
D'Argo and three very annoyed RugRats followed him.
"Is he always like that?" Tolgar asked D'Argo.
"Yes," the Luxan replied briefly.
"I didn't realize he was insane."
"Insane, Human, it's all the same," D'Argo told him. "But his plans usually work. The crazier the better."
"Well, take him home and keep an eye on him," Rygel's grandson said. "We're counting on you two to bring the new Dominar. We're banking on your reputation."
"I believe," D'Argo told him, "that you have just seen that reputation demonstrated."
* * * * * * *
Aeryn woke up to a cheerful sing-song sound in the bed next to her. She was wearing one of John's T-shirts and a pair of his underwear. She rolled over and propped her head up on one hand, focusing her eyes on her son, who was sitting next to her dismantling the toy he'd brought to bed with him the night before. "Well, you seem to be feeling better," she said with a smile. "I think we both slept all night, didn't we?"
TJ gave his mother a goofy grin and handed her a piece of the shape puzzle in his hand. She took it from him and continued to examine him with satisfaction. His new teeth were finally most of the way through his gums, and consequently, he had slept soundly. Aeryn had gotten her first good night's sleep in nearly a weeken, and the whole universe was looking brighter to her.
She reached out and brushed the baby's hair out of his face. He pulled his head out of her reach, then put his thumb on his chin. "Do you have any idea how much you look like your father when you do that?" Aeryn said, smiling. Truth be told, TJ had her raven hair, but otherwise, his features were those of John Crichton.
No wonder Jack Crichton kept dropping not-so-veiled hints about TJ's parentage.
She wondered why she had been so reluctant to confirm what he suspected. "Lack of sleep," she snorted. "Your brain turns off and your emotions rule! No wonder Peacekeepers keep breeding and soldiering separate!"
TJ looked at her curiously. "Peek?" he asked, handing her another piece of his toy.
"Never mind," she told him. "That's the only thing they did that made sense. And I doubt your father would agree even with that."
The boy looked up sharply towards the door. "Da?" he asked hopefully.
"Today, I think," Aeryn told him. "They're supposed to be back today. Which means back in your own room tonight," she smiled. "Come on, then, let's get ourselves dressed, and we'll go have breakfast. Pilot must have let us sleep in."
TJ slid off the bed, trailing brightly-colored shape pieces and made a dash for the door. "Go gak!" he said. "Eat!"
"Not yet," she said, grabbing him from behind and pulling him to her chest. She told him, "Clothes first." Before he could start pulling things from her drawers, she'd stripped and dressed him, and changed her own clothes. She didn't bother pulling her hair back into her customary ponytail.
"Go gak now," she told him, and they headed for the galley, TJ alternately walking and running short bursts.
They weren't as late as she'd feared. Everyone was still eating breakfast, and Rygel hadn't had time to finish off the leftovers, so she was able to conjure up plates for the two of them quickly.
It didn't hurt her good mood any that during breakfast Pilot informed the group that he had received the anticipated signal from John and D'Argo, and that they expected to rendezvous with Moya later that day.
Chiana was happily looking forward to having D'Argo back in her bed, and Rygel was anxious for news of the meeting with his followers. It was going to be an interesting day. The humans had become used to Chiana, Jool and even Rygel and Pilot, but Aeryn suspected D'Argo would be a stretch, if the presence of the long-presumed-dead John Crichton didn't overwhelm them. Jack was already showing signs of nervousness, and Ron was trying to divert him.
In unspoken agreement with Ron, after the meal Aeryn suggested that she and the humans continue to work on the humans' ship, as they had been doing for the past two days. Ron had worked heavily with the Earth engineers on the project and understood the design fairly well. Aeryn had cycles of experience with John's module, and was his principal assistant. Jack, primarily a pilot, contributed what he could when he could, and spent time getting to know TJ, under the guise of keeping the baby out of harm's way.
Because it was easier than avoiding questions she didn't want to answer, since the humans had arrived Aeryn had been telling stories about John's early monens on Moya, and time spent working on his Farscape module. The simple things, the easy things. Today, helping Ron replace and reconnect one of the fuel lines which had apparently been damaged in their rough passage through the wormhole, she was explaining how John had taught her how to do tech work, maintenance on her prowler.
She leaned forward to hand a tool to Ron, and saw out of the corner of her eye that Jack was looking at her once again with conjecture in his eyes. Now what? The human walked towards her, and from his slow, deliberate movement, so much like his son's when he was determined to get an answer, she knew he wasn't going to let it go.
Jack stood in front of her, looking her up and down. For a brief moment, he glanced back at TJ, who was happily playing with some magnets on a piece of sheet metal. "Are you and John. . . ." he began, trailing off as if trying to find the right word.
Aeryn knew the difficulty. She had it herself. But she wasn't about to help him because she was still hoping he would wait for John.
But his jaw was set in a way that looked all too familiar, and when she didn't respond, he asked finally, "Are you together?"
Aeryn gave him a rueful smile. She might have been considering confirming his suspicions about TJ, but there were so many other things she didn't want to get into. "It's up to John to tell you these things. Pilot says he'll be here soon."
Three days of frustration and wondering finally got the better of him. "Aeryn, that baby is the spitting image of John as a little guy, except John's hair was lighter. If my son is his father, I deserve to know!"
"TJ has my hair," she said stubbornly. But then she shook her head and relented. "He is your grandson," she told him.
Jack looked at her for a moment, oozing the satisfaction of having her admit what he had suspected from the first day. "Was that so hard to say?" he asked gently.
Aeryn looked back at him, thinking, before saying, "John would have wanted to see the expression on your face when you found out. It's been hard for him, not being able to share the good things with you."
Jack found her phrasing, with its unspoken hint of bad things, oddly unsettling, but he let her explanation go without comment. "How are the repairs coming?"
Gratefully, she gave him a rundown on what still needed to be done.
* * * * * * *
With nothing to do while D'Argo piloted his ancient Luxan ship on the final leg of their trip back to Moya, John was becoming antsy. He couldn't stand doing nothing, but this ship's insistence on DNA activation meant he was reduced to a passenger whether he liked it or not. He finally reached behind him for his duffle and removed the plasticene figure of Rygel's rival, Bishan.
D'Argo spared him a sympathetic glance when he started tossing the figure from hand to hand. "I'm sure TJ will enjoy that," the big Luxan told his friend.
"Too bad we lost the other one," John said. "Ryg is going to want one to pull the eyebrows off of, or something. . . ."
D'Argo's rough grunt came out more like a laugh. "Do you really think the RugRats will be able to keep those thieves from alerting Bishan to the plans?"
John shrugged and tossed the figure again. "The possums? Who knows? They said they had them in protective custody before we left."
"They will probably kill them," D'Argo warned. "That is the practical thing to do."
The human sighed, knowing his friend was probably right. "Well, there's nothing we can do about that."
They were silent for a few microts. "I'm really going to be glad to get back to Moya," John said. "I can't believe how much I miss Aeryn and the kid."
"I can," D'Argo told him. "You're lucky to have them."
"Lucky beyond belief," John said, remembering both D'Argo's own lost family, and the despair he'd felt when Aeryn had left him after the raid that destroyed Scorpius' command carrier.
Enough. He was getting broody again. Cut the crap, John, he thought. The past is the past. He shook his head to clear the gloom and punched D'Argo on the arm. "Well, hell, I bet Chiana's got plans for you for tonight. . . ."
"Oh, like Aeryn doesn't have plans for you?" D'Argo responded in kind, equally glad for the diversion.
They snickered at each other for a few moments until something in the distant blackness of space caught John's attention. "Hey, D," he said, pointing. "What's that? That's not Moya, is it? 'Cos something's really wrong if it is."
D'Argo looked out the front viewscreen, at a twinkling blue light, and then down at his instruments. "No," he said decisively. "It is near Moya, but it is not Moya."
Fidgety, John called up the comm channel and tried to reach Pilot even though they were just barely in range. They had just made a static-laced connection when John looked back at the mysterious object again, and everything clicked.
"What the—" John began. He punched the comm controls and yelled, "Pilot! That's a wormhole out there! What's happening? Is everyone okay?"
Pilot's voice crackled over the comm. "Everything is fine, Commander, we are not in any difficulty."
"Not in any difficulty," John muttered under his breath. "Aeryn!" he called. "Aeryn, is everything okay there?"
In the maintenance bay, his query came through on Aeryn's comm. Jack looked up, taken aback by the voice he hadn't heard in five years. "John?" he mouthed, looking at her.
Aeryn broke into a huge grin despite the stress in John's voice. "Everything's fine, John! Truly."
"Truly?" he asked, still alarmed.
"Truly," she promised him. "We have visitors I know you'll want to see. Just come on in, and I'll meet you in the docking bay."
"Hell," John muttered under his breath, but, at least somewhat reassured by the tone of her voice, he only said, "If you say so, Babe. We'll be there as soon as D'Argo can land this tin can."
Aeryn smiled again and rounded up Jack, Ron and TJ and headed for the docking bay.
* * * * * * *
"You wait here," Aeryn told the humans in a tone that allowed no argument. She pointed to the side of the docking bay, near the door and a fenced-off area that they had set up for TJ's protection when they were working in the bay.
Chiana came bounding into the room at that point. "Pilot says they're coming in!"
"Yes," said Aeryn, double-checking that TJ was safely corralled in his play area.
Jack made a move to pick up the child, but Aeryn stopped him. "No. Not until John believes you're you."
"I'm his father," Jack said, as if that was enough.
"You are his father," Aeryn agreed. "And he thinks you're on the other side of the galaxy, not here on Moya waiting for him."
"And wormholes are a big issue," Chiana added helpfully. "He won't like it."
Jack and Ron exchanged a look, full, once again, of the concerns they'd buried while they waited to see if Jack's son was truly a part of this very odd group. In the end, Jack took a deep breath and nodded sharply at Aeryn. "All right," he said quietly.
When the docking web let D'Argo's ship to the floor, Chiana kept herself back with the humans while Aeryn walked forward to meet the arrivals.
Aeryn could imagine John standing impatiently at the airlock inside the ship, waiting for the door to cycle. Her mouth twitched in amused anticipation of a typical Crichton entrance, and she ran her fingers through her hair as she stood at the base of the ramp, waiting nervously for him.
Sure enough, John came barreling down the ramp with a worried scowl on his face, Winona in one hand, duffle in the other, eyes scanning the bay. When he saw Aeryn standing there calmly, her own pulse pistol holstered, he paused and put Winona away, without actually locking the holster.
"Hey," he said, cocking his head.
"Hey yourself," she replied, smiling.
Without any further thought, he dropped the duffle he was carrying and pulled her to him. He wrapped his arms around her, burying his head in her hair. She wrapped her arms around him in return, squeezing him tight. Reassured, John lifted his head up and slid his hands to hold her upper arms. He began a barrage of worried questions. "You said visitors, did they come through the wormhole? Where does it go? Where is—"
Aeryn stopped his talking with her fingers on his lips. When he looked at her, she removed her hand from his mouth and drew her face slowly towards his, replacing her fingers with her lips. She teased his lips open with the tip of her tongue and then pressed her mouth firmly to his.
John closed his eyes, wrapped his fingers in her hair, and surrendered to the power of the kiss. He came up smiling and a good deal calmer when she finally released him. "What did I do to deserve that?" he breathed. "I'd like to make sure to do it again!"
"You came back," she told him, patting him on the chest, and lest he misunderstand and think she had been afraid he wouldn't come back, she added, "I've missed you. And," she continued, "I'm really glad to be able to hand these visitors over to you."
D'Argo chose that moment to arrive at the bottom of the ramp. He, too, was carrying a duffle over his shoulder, but dropped it quickly when he spotted Chiana running towards him. Chi leaped up, wrapping her legs around his waist, and threw her arms around his neck. "You're back!" she exclaimed.
The Luxan twirled Chiana around briefly, and then set her down. "I'm glad to see you, too," he said. "But what is this about visitors?"
Aeryn and Chiana exchanged a glance, and then Aeryn said, looking back at John, "Actually, we have two humans on board."
John stared at her. "….What?!" He whirled around, looking to see where the visitors were.
Ron stepped out into the light from where he and Jack had been standing on the sidelines, observing the reunions. "Hello, Commander Crichton," he said.
John looked at him quizzically. "Do I know you?"
"We met a couple of times, at IASA functions," Ron said. "You were dressed a little differently."
John looked down at his clothes. He'd been wearing the leather and T-shirt for so long now, he hardly remembered wearing anything else. He shrugged. "Well, this is practical," he said. "I'm sorry, I don't remember you," he added.
"I didn't think you would," Ron drawled. "But I think you might know my co-pilot."
Jack made his move then, stepping out from behind his partner.
John stood stock still, totally stunned. He blinked several times, but that was the only sign of life on his face.
Ron stayed where he was, while Jack walked towards John. He finally stopped about two feet from his son and whispered, "John?"
At the sound of his father's voice, John's hand moved to hover over his pulse pistol, and he turned to Aeryn, questions written all over his face.
Before she locked eyes with John, Aeryn saw the look of hurt surprise cross his father's face as the human realized that John didn't trust him any more than she had when she first recognized him three days before. Another bitter legacy of five cycles in the UTs. She found her eyes brimming with tears, and bit her lower lip to avoid actually crying. "He is real," she told John simply.
He studied her face for a moment, measuring, and then looked back at Jack. "Dad?" he whispered, reaching out tentatively to touch Jack's arm, as if afraid the man was an apparition that would vanish at any moment.
"I've come a long way to see you, Son," Jack said, his voice cracking with emotion.
It was enough. John's eyes filled with tears and he closed the distance between himself and his father, wrapping him in a bear hug. Jack, too, was near tears, as he wrapped his arms around John in return. Neither father nor son noticed when the others in the bay quietly melted away, giving them their privacy.
"I, uh, I was supposed to say, 'Dr. Livingstone, I presume,' if we found you," Jack said, trying to keep from being overwhelmed by the fact that his son was right there, in front of him, alive – after five years of believing him dead.
John took a deep breath, and began shakily, "Where did you come from?" Then realization struck him, and he demanded, "Is that wormhole yours? When did you come through?"
"Three days ago."
"Three – why is it still open?!"
Jack replied sheepishly, "We don't know how to close it. We thought we'd do a little exploring and then be able to turn right around and go back. But the ship was damaged. We're making good progress, though, Aeryn's been helping a lot."
"You opened a wormhole you didn't know how to close?" John demanded, appalled. "Of all the stupid. . . ." He looked at his father's face, and stopped. "I'm sorry Dad. It's just there's a lot of bad guys out here, and I've been busting my butt trying to keep them from finding Earth." He rubbed his hands over his face, trying to make all this feel real.
TJ's childish voice rang through the docking bay. "Da!" he called. "Dada! Out!"
John's eyes immediately went to the child in his play area. TJ was trying to get to his father, climbing on the fence that they'd set up to create his corral. John grinned and said to his own dad, "Just a minute."
In a few quick strides, John crossed the bay and plucked the child off of the fence, tossing him lightly in the air a couple of times before hugging him. "Hey, TJ, how's it goin' man? What have you and Mommy been doing while I was gone?"
"Teef! Ow!" said TJ, sticking a finger in his mouth.
"Oh, man, that's no fun, is it? Hey," John said, snapping his fingers. "I brought you something!" He carried his son back to where he'd left his duffle, and knelt down with the boy still in his arms and opened the bag. Extracting the figure of Bishan with his free hand, he offered it to TJ.
"Pah-key!" TJ announced excitedly, grabbing the figure in his two small hands and holding it up in front of him.
John laughed. "It looks like Sparky, doesn't it?" he said. "But this isn't Sparky, TJ, it's Sparky's evil cousin! You know, the Wicked Witch of the West."
The toddler giggled, and promptly gratified his father by absentmindedly gnawing on the head of the plasticene figure.
John kissed the top of his son's head and then smoothed out his hair. Feeling solidly grounded in his world again, he walked back to his father, who had been watching his every move. "So, I take it you've met your grandson?"
"M'pah!" TJ gobbled around the head of Hyneria's soon-to-be ex-ruler.
* * * * * * *
The Crichton men, including young TJ, were back in the maintenance bay. John wanted a look at the ship that had brought two more humans from Earth to the Uncharted Territories, and both he and his father had been happy to postpone discussion of more emotional issues.
D'Argo had taken it upon himself to brief Rygel on the results of their trip, and Chiana left with him, whispering not-so-subtle suggestions about what they could do when he was done with the Dominar-in-exile. After a brief look at Jack, Ron wandered off in search of Jool, claiming a headache.
Aeryn accompanied John and his father, and took TJ from John when they arrived in the bay, settling the child on her hip. "You two go look at the ship," she told John, squeezing his hand lightly. "I'm sure there's something TJ and I can do over here," she added, indicating the far side of the room.
"He's too young to learn how to clean a pulse pistol," John teased.
Aeryn's eyes glittered with amusement, but she flicked the back of her free hand into his stomach anyway. "I know that, John," she deadpanned. "Even in the Peacekeepers, you have to be at least three cycles old before you're allowed to handle pulse weapons."
Jack looked as if he wasn't entirely sure she was joking, but John's face was twisted up with the effort not to laugh. "Well, all right then," he said when he could finally get words out. "We'll be over looking at what the best minds on Earth have come up with!"
She nodded briskly, gave Jack a cautious smile, and then turned and took TJ across the room to find something to play with.
Having climbed up onto the ship, John was surprised at how familiar it was, and how "alien" at the same time. "Earth is like a dream to me now, sometimes," he remarked to the bay at large as he leaned over and examined the dual cockpit. "I can't even remember what it was like to live there."
His father, standing near by on the floor of the bay, looked at him sharply. "You'll get used to it again in no time," he said.
John's head came out of the cockpit in a hurry. He looked over to where Aeryn was keeping TJ out of mischief, and once he concluded she hadn't heard the comment, he turned his attention to his father. "I'm not going back, Dad."
Jack looked at him in disbelief. "What are you talking about? Of course you are."
"No I'm not, Dad. I can't."
Jack Crichton set his jaw and glared at his son. "John, there's an awful lot going on around here that I don't understand. Are you going to enlighten me?"
"Like what?" John asked, stalling for time as he tried to figure out what he wanted to say to this man he had missed so much, had wanted to tell so many things to.
"Well, for one thing, Aeryn only just admitted the boy is yours this morning. That baby looks just like you, but she wouldn't tell me anything! Now what is up with that? I was beginning to think you two were on the run from an irate husband."
"Dad!" John was torn between being hurt at the accusation and laughing his eema off, even attempting to picture Aeryn running away from some redneck husband toting a shotgun. "Didn't you raise me better than that?" he said.
"You want to tell me why your…wife?....was so evasive?"
John glanced over to where Aeryn was sitting cross-legged, back straight, helping TJ make designs with magnets, designs that looked suspiciously like troop deployment patterns. His eyes glowed with contentment. "We're not exactly legal," he said, turning back to his father, "but we've definitely passed the 'til death do us part' test." Taking a breath he said, "Dad, I'm sure you scared the crap out of her when you showed up. She recognized you right off, didn't she?"
John sighed. "I didn't have your photo in my wallet when I flew into space, Dad. She's seen a simulated version of you more than once, and it's been bad news every time." He hesitated for a minute and then added, "Aeryn was born and bred a soldier, Dad, she's one tough woman, but she has been to hell and back because of me."
While Jack digested this, John ran his hand through his hair. "Have you seen what I've done with my Farscape module?" he asked abruptly.
Jack shook his head. "No. I didn't know it was here," he said, puzzled at the shift in topic.
"Let's go look at it," John said. "Come on." He nodded towards the doorway to the docking bay.
Jack's frown eased into understanding. "Sure, Son," he said, and followed John back into the docking bay.
They settled themselves on the floor in front of the Farscape One module, John touching it as a talisman, for strength.
Jack stayed quiet and waited for John to talk.
John rubbed his thumb over his chin, and finally spoke. "I did a really stupid thing, Dad. I didn't mean to do it, and I suppose it wasn't really my fault, but it happened. I got myself twinned a while back, split into two people." John paused and looked up at his father, face screwed up in question, wondering what his dad was thinking.
Jack blinked at him, a look of blank incomprehension on his face. "Twinned?" he asked finally. "What, like cloned?"
John sighed. "It's complicated, Dad. I don't think I can explain it to this day. Two perfect copies, right down to the memories and the DNA. We were two of the same guy. And the other me, the other John Crichton, he was as much your son as I am. And he….died." He couldn't stop himself from glancing back through the doorway where he knew Aeryn was.
Jack's eyes followed his son's gaze, but he waited for John to continue.
"He, uh, he died keeping some really bad guys from getting a really badass weapon. He was a hero, Dad, and he missed you as much as I have." He paused, blinking away the moisture that appeared in his eyes. "I promised myself, if I ever got to talk to you, the two most important things I had to tell you were that I'm okay, I have a life here, and a family that means everything to me. And that your other son, the other me, he died a hero. And he never stopped thinking about going home."
Jack looked at him, his face an unreadable mask. "You were….close?"
John shook his head and bit his lip. "I hardly knew him," he said, "except that we both wanted the same life. We got separated almost right away, the crew got split up for a while."
This time it was Jack who looked through the door. "That was one of those times your wi…Aeryn… met 'me'?"
John took a deep breath. "These guys, they call themselves the 'Ancients,' they pulled your picture out of my brain the first time we met, and they've used it to talk to me a few times . . . . And the last time they showed up . . . he died."
John's father cocked his head to the side and looked at his son, gray eyes piercing. "You're seriously telling me that you had a . . .a . . . twin?"
"Radiation poisoning. He sacrificed himself to keep the biggest baddies out here from getting their hands on a wormhole weapon," John explained briefly.
John's smile was tinged with regret. He cocked his head to one side and said simply, "She loves John Crichton. John Crichton died in her arms. It took a long time for her to get over it."
Jack looked like he wanted to ask a lot of questions, but couldn't quite bring himself to do it. "Okay," he said carefully, "I guess I can see why I might be persona non grata, at least at first glance. . . ."
"You do not know the half of it, Dad," John said, finally launching into a carefully edited version of his first few years in the Uncharted Territories, including his descent into madness under the influence of Scorpius' neural chip, and Aeryn's death at his hands. "And just about all of it can be traced directly to these guys sticking wormhole knowledge I didn't ask for into my brain," he ended. "Trust me, they are not popular in our family."
Jack looked down at the floor, took a deep breath. He ran his fingers through his hair and then said, finally, "John, forgive me if I don't understand, but how can you not want to come home? This seems like a horrible place. I look at you, and I see. . . . I don't know what horrors I see in your eyes. . . ." He took another breath. "I remember exactly – exactly," he emphasized, "what you looked like, that morning when I walked with you out to the shuttle launch pad. The nervousness in your eyes – and also the excitement." His eyes glistened with moisture. "And I look at you now, and I see . . . I see a man who's aged way more than five years. A man who lives in an armed camp, and who jokes about teaching his toddler son to shoot."
"It's not an armed camp, Dad," John said gently, tears in his own eyes. "It's just . . . .well, kinda like the Old West, you know? You have to be your own law sometimes, and especially your own protection. We're friends, we're a family here on Moya, but you never know when trouble is going to come knocking. You just have to be prepared." John cocked his head. "You get used to it, it's not so bad. Hell, it's kinda like being in 'Star Wars.' Without the lightsabers." He cracked a smile, and looked to see if his father was getting it at all. "Beyond all the horrors, and there *are* horrors," he acknowledged, "there are wonders here, too. It's a pretty amazing place." He looked beyond his father into the maintenance bay. "And I have Aeryn, and TJ. Nothing else matters."
Jack seemed to see the truth of the last statement, anyway, and lightened up and said, "What kind of a name is Teejay, anyway? Is that some sort of alien name?"
John laughed. "It's his initials, Dad. 'T.' 'J.' He's named for Aeryn's dad, and you, 'Talyn John Crichton.'"
Jack's eyes widened at this information. "Well, he's awfully cute," he said. "Your sisters would love to meet him. You know Mary has a little girl just about TJ's age."
"No," John said softly. "I didn't know."
"Come home with us, Son. Please. Bring your family. Just come."
John shook his head. "I can't. For the same reason that you and Ron have to get your ship fixed and get yourselves the hell out of Dodge."
It was odd to have his father look at him the way his alien friends did when he talked. John continued, "Too many extremely unfriendly people are interested in following me back to Earth, or finding their own way there. I don't dare lead them back home – and your wormhole is a blazing beacon even without me as the extra added value. I need to send you back through it and shut it down, the sooner the better."
Jack started to balk, but at that moment, TJ came running into the room chasing a DRD, Aeryn following behind him. John looked up at her and smiled.
"How are you two doing, then?" Aeryn asked.
"Good, we're doing good," John said, happy for the distraction.
Sensing the tension in the room, Aeryn said, "Well, Jool says it's time for dinner. I was just going to get TJ cleaned up. Shall I meet you in the galley?"
"Yeah, that's good Babe," John said. "We'll be there."
"Right," she said, herding TJ back into the corridors. "Come on, time to get ready to eat," she told him briskly as she scooped him up and headed down the corridor in measured strides.
John stretched and stood up. Jack stood up also and the two men looked at each other for a few moments. Finally Jack said, "We're not through talking about you coming home."
"We can talk," John agreed, heading for the galley. "But it's pretty much a no-brainer. I stay here, Earth is safe. I go back to Earth, big nasty critters with even nastier weapons follow me, Earth is toast."
The set of Jack's jaw matched John's, but somehow they both knew that for the first time in their lives, the son was going to win the argument.
* * * * * * *
"Can I have some more of….whatever that is?" Jack asked, pointing at a platter heaped high with vegetables. The table was full of the results of Jool's efforts in the galley, ably assisted by Ron. Besides the vegetables, there was grolak, a smoked plovik haunch they had been saving for a special meal, and three or four kinds of fruit. None of the colors or shapes looked familiar to the humans.
"Never ask what anything is," John told his father with a laugh. "First rule of dining in the Uncharted Territories." He leaned forward to reach the requested platter and pass it around.
"Unless it's Hynerian marjools, of course," Rygel said regally from across the table. "One should always know if one is being offered marjools."
"John fries everything when he cooks, so it all tastes the same anyway," Chiana sniffed. "No delicacy!"
"Hey," John began indignantly.
"Well, you do," laughed Aeryn, who was sitting next to him. She reached for a glass of water to wash down her food.
"All right, all right, I guess I do," he admitted. "That's how I learned to cook, right Dad?"
Watching the interplay, Jack was surprised at being addressed directly. It took him a moment before he replied, "Of course, Son, there's nothing like good old Southern cooking. Your mother always said your Aunt Ruth would fry jello."
John laughed at the remembrance. "She did say that, didn't she? I'd forgotten that completely."
TJ was seated between his father and his grandfather. John had cut some chunks of the vegetable stew into bite-sized pieces and put them on a plate for him, along with some fried grolak. He was alternately eating and sliding things around on his plate with his fingers. He had only recently mastered the art of drinking from a cup, and John occasionally glanced over to make sure he hadn't poured all of his juice down the front of his shirt.
"Well," D'Argo said after a few moments of silence while everyone concentrated on the food, "grolak is definitely best done fried, and Chiana makes the best grolak on this ship."
Chiana, on D'Argo's left, raised her eyebrows and smirked at him. "That's not the only thing I do best," she purred.
"Pip," John said, nodding his head sharply in the direction of their guests.
Chiana smiled and turned to the humans and said, "Sorry. Bad habit."
Ron looked up from his plate to smile at Chiana, glanced briefly at D'Argo, and apparently decided against whatever he had intended to say to the Nebari. "So, D'Argo," he said instead. "That ship of yours looks pretty amazing. A lot different from the other ships here."
"Mm-hmmh," D'Argo said, mouth full of food. "It's an ancient Luxan ship."
"It's keyed to his DNA," Jool put in, reaching for the plate of grolak. "No one else can fly it."
Ron whistled and said, "Whoa, Jack, I know some pilots back home who'd like that, don't you?"
Jack smiled and nodded. "Yeah, I've known some pilots to get real attached to their craft."
"No one flies John's module but him," Aeryn said.
John looked at her and smiled. "And you," he added.
"All right, occasionally I've flown it," she admitted. "But it's very primitive." The tone of her voice made it very clear she was teasing. Her attention was distracted by TJ. "John!" she said sharply, nodding towards the child. He had evidently finished with his food, and had turned himself sideways on his chair and was trying to slide down to the floor.
"Hey, sport," John said. "Hold on there, we gotta get you cleaned up first." He pushed his own chair back and stood up, grabbing TJ around the waist with both hands. John carried his son over to the sink and washed and dried his hands and face, then put him down on the floor.
While John went back to the table to remove TJ's plate, the boy went to the corner where they kept a toy basket. He'd carried his new prize, the figure of Bishan, with him when he came for dinner, and had dropped it in the basket when he arrived; no toys were allowed at the table during meals. Now, he retrieved it and wandered around the room, talking happily to himself.
The adults continued talking and eating until Rygel got a look at what the boy was playing with. "Young man!" he called in a commanding voice. "What have you got there? Bring it here!"
John and D'Argo exchanged glances, and let the game proceed.
TJ came over to where Rygel floated on his thronesled and held out the figure. "Pah-key!" he announced.
The Hynerian looked at the figure closely to see if TJ had covered it with drool, and when he saw that it appeared to be dry, he took it from the child. "Thank you, TJ," he said gravely, and examined the figure closely. Eyes narrowed, he looked at John. "You brought this?" he asked. "Bishan?" His voice rose in anger.
John shrugged. "I thought it would make a great teething toy," he said innocently.
Rygel looked back and forth between John and D'Argo, and then back down at TJ, who was reaching for his toy. His mouth widened into a huge grin, and he handed the figure back to the toddler in a grand sweeping gesture, saying, "Teethe away, my boy, teethe away."
TJ promptly stuck Bishan's head into his mouth.
There was another pause in the conversation, during which platters were passed and several people, including Jool and Aeryn, put their plates in the sink.
When she got back to her seat, Jool looked over at Ron and said, "So, how are the repairs on your ship coming?"
"I think we've just about got it," he said, "maybe a few more hours of work to make sure all the connections are right and the one patch we made will hold, and then we're good to go."
"Then what?" asked Rygel, taking a break from picking over the marjools on his plate.
"What do you mean, then what?" asked John. "They go through the wormhole, I close it, Earth is safe, end of story."
Rygel laughed. "I've spent the last five cycles with you, Crichton. Don't expect me to believe a planet full of you is going to turn its back on the way out of their little backwater solar system just on the say-so of a couple of rocket jockeys like these two."
John knew it was true even without looking at his father's face, or Ron's, and his heart sank. Without thinking he said to Rygel, "Then I'll just have to go and make them listen! I'll destroy the project if I have to, I've done it before."
Aeryn's jaw set, and her eyes filled with tears she tried to hide, but before she or Jack or Ron could react, Jool shook her head and said, "No. They know it can be done. The evidence is right in front of their eyes at this very microt. If they're anything like you at all, Crichton, they'll just rebuild."
John's shoulders slumped in defeat. "And they get eaten by the Scarrans. Or worse."
"Oh, it's worse than that, Crichton," Rygel told him. "Whoever comes in using the wormholes they create, will simply take the technology from them. And then the Scarrans, or worse, have wormhole technology."
There was a sudden silence. Ron and Jack looked appalled, if slightly confused.
Aeryn took a deep breath and announced into the silence, "Then we'll just have to find a way to protect them."
John's gaze locked on hers then, full of surprise and apology for screwing up her life yet again with wormholes.
"It's not so hard to defend one planet," she said firmly, head held high. "If we go to Earth and position ourselves in front of their end of any wormholes they open, we can catch any invaders as they come through."
John shook his head slowly and reached his hand into her lap to squeeze hers tightly. "No, Babe, it's okay. We can't do it ourselves."
Apparently unsettled by the tension in the room, TJ came over and tried to climb up into his mother's lap. Eyes still on John, Aeryn helped the child up and absently gave him a hug, hoping he would sit quietly.
"John is right," D'Argo added to the discussion. "It needs a small fleet, and an organized defense plan."
"And we don't have a fleet," Chiana said.
"But Sparky does," John said slowly, and all eyes in the room turned to Rygel. "Or will have soon."
"You owe us that much, Rygel," Aeryn told him, expecting an argument.
Rygel didn't bother to deny it. "Once I'm settled back on my throne," he said slowly, "I might be able to spare a squadron for defense of Earth. It would be in Hyneria's best interest that no one take this technology from them."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, time out," said Jack, tapping the fingertips of one hand with the palm of the other in the American "time out" gesture and looking around the table. "No matter how pure your motives, you can't just come flying in with a fleet of aliens. It will look like an invasion, and I'm sure John will back me up on this, humans will *not* react well to that!"
"He's right," John said reluctantly. "It's going to take some persuasion for Earth to accept the idea that there's even anyone out here at all, much less anyone that's a threat. If we just walk with in a couple of destroyers, they'll think we're the bad guys."
They all sat quietly for a few microts, thinking. TJ squirmed out of Aeryn's lap and back down onto the floor. He seemed unsure of where to go, and sat down at her feet.
D'Argo cleared his throat reluctantly. "There's also the issue of the humans extending their wormhole abilities to include the phase displacement weapon the other John made…."
John closed his eyes, not believing that he was finding himself back at square one with the threat of wormhole technology. "The Ancients said you shouldn't have it till you can develop it yourself. Well, they did develop it themselves," he said, nodding at Jack and Ron and by extension their entire planet. "Maybe that means they can use it wisely."
Aeryn took a deep breath and said, "Maybe you should talk to the Ancients."
John looked at her in shock.
"They might have some advice," she said softly.
"And they might decide to destroy Earth themselves and eliminate the problem," John replied, equally softly.
Ron interrupted. "I don't understand half of what you all are talking about," he said, "but I don't think you have to do anything right this minute." When everyone looked at him, he continued, "This is a prototype, a test mission. IASA's not going to be sending a fleet out to the stars any time soon!"
"He's right," Jack agreed. "There's not another mission scheduled for at least a year. We built in a delay to analyze all the data. We," and here he looked over at Ron, "can stretch that out for at least another year beyond that."
"And your engines were damaged in the first flight," John said, perking up. "That means a redesign and probably building a whole new ship before the next test."
"Exactly," said Jack. "Besides, they're going to be so stunned when we come back with evidence of extraterrestrial life, they're going to sit on their hands for years."
"What proof?" John asked curiously. "Won't it just be your word that you've been kidnapped by a bunch of little green men?"
"What, and end up locked up in the loony bin?" Ron said. "Nah, I'm sure we got some good automatic data on this ship when we first came through the wormhole, and I spent some of this afternoon taking photos. This was an exploratory mission, remember? We had lots of film. I want to take some photos of you all later, if you don't mind." Ron gestured to include the entire table. When no one objected, he smiled his thanks.
"Won't they be frightened that the wormhole didn't close after you left?" Aeryn asked suddenly, and John quietly squeezed her hand again.
Ron looked at her shrewdly, and said, "Yeah, you're right. Especially when we tell them there are people out here who could be a threat, they're going to want to know how to shut the next one down before they open it."
Rygel cleared his throat and entered the conversation again. "Assuming that Bishan is overthrown as planned, it will still be a few cycles before I have consolidated my position well enough to send a defensive fleet in any case. There is time for diplomatic overtures to let your government understand the potential threat, and understand what it is we offer."
"That makes sense," John said, breathing deeply. "It looks like we have some time to figure out how to handle this." He looked at Aeryn again and added, "We can decide what to do about outside advice, too."
She smiled at him wistfully and nodded.
"But we still need to get you two out of here tomorrow," John announced. "The longer that wormhole is open, the more likely it is someone will find it."
Jack nodded reluctant agreement. "I think I'm beginning to understand a little of what it's like here," he said. "It's your world," he told his son. "I'll accept your assessment."
At that moment TJ came up to Jack and thrust the saliva-covered figure of Bishan at Jack. "M'pah!" he said loudly. "See! Bish!"
Jack picked him up and looked at John and Aeryn. "I'm going to miss this little guy, though," he said.
John looked questioningly at Aeryn, who nodded slightly. "Well," he said, keeping his voice casual, "if we get things sorted out and it's safe, maybe we can come for a visit."
"That," Jack told him, "would be nice."
* * * * * * *
John was unsure what had awakened him. A sound, perhaps real, perhaps imagined. By the tenor of the light coming from the corridor, it was still sometime during Moya's night cycle, though it might have been nearly morning. He closed his eyes again and enjoyed being home, back in his own bed, with Aeryn. After their private welcome home celebration the night before, she had draped herself possessively across him and fallen asleep. She was still there, head on his chest, arm and leg pinning him to the bed as if she'd never let him go again. He kissed the top of her head and smiled.
Just when he thought he might doze off again, he definitely heard a noise from the doorway. He heard a throat clear, and then his father's voice called softly, "John? Are you awake, Son?"
John sighed. He didn't answer, not wanting to wake Aeryn, but he carefully extricated himself from her embrace. He pulled the covers over her and, stifling a groan, rooted around on the floor for his shorts.
He padded across the room stretching stiff limbs and pulled the privacy curtain back far enough to reveal his father's form, standing awkwardly in front of the cell door. "Hey, Dad. What's up?" he asked. "Usually it's TJ who gets me out of bed in the morning."
Jack stood for a moment, looking at the floor as if trying to decide what to say. Finally he lifted his head. "Can we talk?"
John looked back at Aeryn's still-sleeping form, then back at his father. "Let me get some clothes on, we can take a walk."
Guessing this might be a long conversation, John used the facilities, washed up, and tossed on some clothes. As he ran his fingers through his hair to smooth it down, he glanced once again at Aeryn. He saw that she was awake, lying on her side with her head propped up on a folded pillow, watching him contentedly. He walked over and sat down on the bed next to her. "Mornin', Babe," he smiled, running his hand over her dark hair and down her arm, coming to rest on her hip.
She stretched lazily under his caress, and smiled back at him. "You're up early," she said. "Where are you going?"
He nodded towards the door with a rueful smile. "My dad."
"He's not going to try and tie you up and drag you back to Earth is he?" she teased, sliding her hand under the edge of his T-shirt and running her fingers over his stomach, smiling at the sharp intake of his breath.
"You will be the first to know if I need someone to watch my back," John said, leaning down to kiss her. "Or my front," he added, as he pulled away reluctantly and sat back up.
Aeryn laughed and told him, "Go on. Talk while you have the chance."
"I love you," he smiled.
She laughed again, then widened her eyes menacingly, and told him, "Go!"
"Okay, okay, I'm going," he agreed. He took a deep breath and got up and headed out into the corridor.
Jack had obviously been pacing back and forth. When he heard the noise of John opening the grillwork door, he stopped and turned around to face his son.
John nodded his head sharply down the corridor. "Come on, let's take a walk. I'll show you something."
"Sure, John," his father said, and they took off side by side, in slow matching strides. When they'd walked a little distance down the corridor, Jack said, "I, uh, didn't mean to get you out of bed. I hope I didn't interrupt anything. I, uh, know how it is when you get back from a trip," he said, a little embarrassed, but when John quickly said, "No, we were sleeping," Jack plunged on. "She's got an intense beauty, your Aeryn. I wasn't at all sure what to make of her at first. Now that you're here, I can see she obviously missed you very much. She's a different woman when you're around. And sexy as hell, too."
Taken aback to be spoken to man-to-man instead of father-to-son, John struggled to cover his surprise. "I am one lucky son of a bitch," he agreed.
John led them up one level to the next tier, and they continued walking.
"John, you always were a magnet for the girls," Jack said, looking back and forth around the corridor, rather than at his son. "I remember your high school senior prom. You had, what, half a dozen girls calling night and day, hoping you'd ask them to the dance?" He looked at John.
John blushed at the memory.
His father continued, "You never lacked for dates, and I'm sure you got laid plenty when you got older."
Embarrassed, John said, "Are you going somewhere with this? 'Cos it's really weird to be having this locker room conversation here with you…."
Jack snorted. "Yes, I suppose it is weird at that. I've had all kinds of conversations with you in my mind these past five years, but I never did treat you like an adult in real life, did I? No, don't let's argue about it, I was going somewhere with my rather indelicate reminiscences…." He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. "There were always women in your life, John, but there was never one who completed you, made you more than you were. Never one you wanted to spend your life with. Your mother and I thought, for a while, that Alex…."
John shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah, well, so did I."
"I always hoped you'd find someone. When you….died….when I thought you were dead, that was one of the things that grieved me the most. That you hadn't had someone in your life who meant to you, what your mother meant to me. That there was no one left behind to grieve for you, crazy as that probably sounds."
Jack lapsed into silence, and John kept them heading up, through the levels.
Frustrated, John said finally, "What did you want to say, Dad?"
"I never thought I'd find you here, John. In my heart, I believed you were dead. I think I came on this mission to put your ghost to rest. But here you are. Not only are you alive, you've got this amazing woman you obviously adore, and a beautiful, happy child . . . everything I ever wanted for you, but probably never told you. We never talked much about anything except your work, what you could accomplish. 'Make me proud, Boy….'" Jack shook his head, voice full of regret.
Moved, John stopped and turned and faced his father. "I don't think," he said, blinking back the moisture in his eyes, "that we were that different from most fathers and sons. You just don't…talk…about the things that matter. But I always knew, Dad," he said, taking a deep breath before finishing, "that you loved me. And having TJ… I know it's trite, but it's true, Dad. I really do understand you a lot better than I did back then."
Jack smiled at that. "I always thought you would make a great father. Something else I didn't tell you…. If I never see you again – "
John tried to interrupt, but Jack continued on.
"If I never see you again, I want you to know how thrilled I am to have been able to see you with your son. You're so comfortable with him, in a way I never was with any of you kids. It's the most important thing you can ever do with your life, John, and I am so proud of you."
John stared at his father for a few microts, eyes shining, then clapped his dad on the arm, and said, "Come on. I still have something to show you."
They continued upwards, towards the uppermost levels of Moya. John could see the puzzlement in his father’s expression, but he gave no explanation. And Jack didn’t ask, just followed quietly. When they reached the entrance to the terrace, John paused.
"Do you remember, the day I left?" he asked. "You told me that every man has a chance to be his own kind of hero."
Jack looked at him and nodded.
"Well, I've tried to do that, Dad. Not really to be a hero, but just to do what's right, to do the best I can. And it's a hard life here, sometimes, and I've made mistakes….but I know I've done my best with what I've been dealt, and I have my family, and my friends, and I do my best for them, too. It's not such a bad life."
"No. I guess it's not such a bad life at all."
"And there are wonders here," John said, opening the door to the terrace and ushering his father into the huge transparent-domed room.
Jack stopped dead, overwhelmed by the brilliant pinpoints of starlight against the deep blackness of space that surrounded them in this place. He turned around in a circle, looking at the unfamiliar constellations, and the swirling wormhole that hovered next to Moya.
"Come out here in the center," John said. "The effect is most amazing from the middle."
Jack followed his son to the middle of the room, and they both sat down on the floor. They gazed into space for a while without speaking, each lost in his thoughts.
"I come here to think sometimes," John finally said. "Or just to remind myself that I'm really in space. I live in space. All the time. It is so beautiful."
"You can't go home." It was a statement, not a question.
"I can't go home." John's voice was tinged with regret. "Not to stay." He scooted himself around until the wormhole filled his vision. "But I hope, after our discussion yesterday, that I will be able to come and visit you, and the girls, and DK…." Ah, getting maudlin again, John…. "You would not believe what I would give for a chocolate bar or a Diet Mountain Dew!" he grinned.
"Well, I'll be sure to lay in a supply," Jack said, matching John's light tone.
"That's good, Dad," John said softly. He took one more look around the dome at the stars, then looked back at his father. "I guess we'd better go get some breakfast," he said. "We have to get you home."
Jack searched his son's eyes for one long moment, and then nodded. "Yes. You have a wormhole to close."
The two helped each other up, and wordlessly headed down to the galley.
* * * * * * *
Ron and Jack had made a final check of the repairs to their ship, with help from John, who needed to keep his hands and his mind busy. They ran through the preflight checklist, as best they could in this non-IASA environment, and there seemed to be nothing to prevent them from leaving the sanctuary of Moya's docking bay and returning to Earth.
Aeryn and TJ joined John and his father in the docking bay for farewells. Ron was waiting in the cockpit of the Earth ship, and the rest of Moya's crew had said their goodbyes earlier and left docking bay to give John and his father some privacy. Aeryn carried both the child, and a small box that John had removed from a storage locker earlier in the day.
"Hey, TJ," said Jack, holding his arms out to the boy. "Come and give your grandpa a kiss, okay?"
TJ reached for him, and Aeryn handed him over. The baby planted a wet kiss on his grandfather's cheek, and beamed back at his parents.
Jack kissed the top of TJ's head. "Wish I could see you grow up," he whispered. "But I'm glad I got to meet you."
John cleared his throat to be able to talk around the lump that had formed as he looked at his son sitting in his father's arms. "Try to hang onto some of those photos Ron took, huh? You know they're going to get buried under a ton of red tape."
Jack smiled broadly. "Don't you worry. I've got one roll stashed away. They'll never find it."
"Just be careful where you get it developed, huh?" John said, grinning back. "I'd hate to show up and find you in jail!"
"I'll be fine," Jack assured him.
"I've got something I've been saving for you," John said. He glanced over at Aeryn, and she handed the box she'd been holding to Jack.
Jack took the container in his free hand. Unable to open it because of TJ, he looked at John and asked, "What is it?"
John took a deep breath. "Tapes. Not too many. The first year I was here, I used the flight tape recorder I had on the Farscape module to tape a kind of diary for you." He looked up toward the ceiling of the docking bay for a moment. "Turn 'em in, or keep 'em," he said, looking back at his father. "Whatever makes sense to you." He looked over at Aeryn briefly, and she smiled at him. He looked back at his dad. "But take them with a grain of salt. I was new here."
Jack examined the box in his hand, then looked back at his son, standing with the woman he loved. "I'll keep that in mind," he said. He turned his attention back to TJ. "Well, young fellow, I guess I've gotta go."
"M'pah go," TJ said.
"Yes, M'pah go," Jack said, smiling. He put TJ down on the floor, and looked at Aeryn. "Goodbye, Aeryn Sun," he said. "I'm more glad to have met you than you can possibly know."
"We don't say goodbye in our family," Aeryn said, eyes full of tears.
John's father frowned at her, not understanding.
She searched for the right words, and finally said, "Goodbyes are final."
Jack nodded slowly. "Then, take care of my son," he told her.
"That, I can promise you," she said, smiling through her tears.
Jack reached out a hand to John then, and John pulled him into an awkward embrace. "Take care of yourself, Dad," he said. "Tell the girls I love them and I miss them."
"You know I will, Son," Jack told him, letting go of John and backing off just a bit. "You take care of your family."
John nodded, not trusting himself to speak. The two men gazed at each other for a long moment, and then John smiled.
Jack smiled in return. "I'd better go," he said, and turned away.
"M'pah go," said TJ, wrapping himself around John's leg.
John reach down and tousled his son's dark hair, but never took his eyes off his father until Jack disappeared into his spacecraft. The windows were too small to allow him to be seen from the outside.
As the ship left the docking bay, John turned to Aeryn and leaned forward to rest his forehead on hers, eyes closed, drawing strength from her as he silently counted off the microts needed to be sure the ship had made it through to Earth space. Finally he backed off slightly and said, "I, uh, I'd better go close that wormhole."
Aeryn took his face in her hands, and kissed him gently. "You go do what you have to do. We'll be here when you get back," she told him firmly.
John smiled then, shaking off the melancholy. He twirled a strand of Aeryn's hair in his fingers, and twisted his mouth in a suggestive grin. "I'll only be a few microts."
Aeryn patted his chest, grinned back, and told him, looking pointedly down at TJ, "It's the middle of the day."
"I'm sure Chiana will take him."
"Go," she said with mock exasperation, bending down and picking TJ up.
John grinned at her, patted his son on the arm, then turned and walked to his module.
Aeryn watched him walk to the ship, but didn't wait to see him leave the bay. She headed down the corridor to see if Chiana was busy.
TJ stretched one hand in the general direction his father had gone and asked, "Da go?"
"No," Aeryn told him with a smile. "Da will be right back."