"Human on the Half Shell - Director's Cut"
by newscaper 8/22/02
--------

Crichton returned to his and Aeryn's quarters, the fatigue he should have felt from the long trading expedition having been erased by the excitement of his final purchase.

He kicked off his boots and ditched his other gear. He lay down on the bunk to try and relax a bit while waiting for the other transport pod. In spite of himself he mentally replayed his discovery of a couple arns ago...

He and Chiana were making one last pass through the bazaar before taking the first loaded transport back up to Moya.

He was spending more time watching to see if Chiana snurched anything than in shopping for himself when a delicious smell wafting on the breeze provided a welcome distraction.

"Hey, Pip, do you smell that?"

"What?"

"THAT! Somebody is cooking with *chocolate*! I've gotta find it."

Chiana shook her head indulgently and stayed in the jeweler's booth, no doubt thinking he was just up to some more of his usual Erp nonsense. Lord knows she'd heard him rhapsodize about chocolate before. He turned and ran through the nearby stalls trying to find the source of the mesmerizing, half-forgotten odor. He was salivating as he stumbled across the right vendor.

The alien's booth was filled with all sorts of open containers simmering over open flames. Crichton realized on closer inspection many of them stunk with an industrial smell, but nothing distracted him from the blessed chocolate until he found the right stack of yellow painted metal cans with a can of what looked just like chocolate syrup bubbling as the display. It was bound to happen sooner or later in a whole universe brewing organics.

"Can I try this?" he asked the vendor, giddy with anticipation. The alien looked at him blankly, making the not-so-common hand sign indicating he was a member of one of those rare species for whom translator microbes didn't work. He eagerly improvised by pointing at the display then to his open mouth, running his hand down to his stomach and rubbing it, all the while waggling his eyebrows Groucho style.

Yes! The alien gestured assent. From an adjacent jar John took a small stick apparently intended for dipping and dunked it in the concoction. He blew on it to cool it down, closed his eyes, and tasted. Pure ambrosia. This was it! For once the Wheel had turned in his favor.

John looked around the stall for a more attractive container to serve it from and settled on a smaller, pretty crystal jar. He was so eager to get back upstairs ahead of Aeryn that he thrust a pile of currency at the vendor without haggling. He then caught Chiana and practically dragged her back to the transport.

On the flight back up he tried to explain his find to the Nebari, but he wasn't going to let her sample any until after Aeryn did. He racked his brains for some way to use it in a compatible dish then inspiration struck. Who said it had to be used on food? In the monens since he and Aeryn had finally worked things out he'd been delighted to discover how deep her seldom seen playful streak went. Even now she normally repressed it in public, but behind closed doors, watch out!

In his enthusiasm for his new plan he almost spilled the beans to Chiana about the human concept of edible body paint. Fortunately he bit his tongue just in time and changed the subject. No matter how much fun they had with it there would be hell to pay if Aeryn thought he'd told Chiana about their little games. Hell, she'd almost skinned him alive a couple weekens ago when Chiana made that crack about him "interrogating" Aeryn in front of her. She felt betrayed thinking he must have bragged to the girl about playing "PeaceKeeper and Prisoner" and Aeryn's preference for a role-reversal. He had to talk until he was blue in the face, but he proved his innocence to her satisfaction. He also deflected Aeryn's wrath from Chiana, convincing her that the remark was innocent, but that didn't stop him from going to the Nebari and warning her against spying. He told her next time he'd turn Aeryn loose and in general read her the Riot Act. But with Chiana that only lasted about 24 arns...

Lying on the bunk, he was finally able to forget his anticipation and relax.

John bolted to his feet as Aeryn strode into the room unannounced. For an instant Crichton wondered why Pilot had failed to notify him of her return as asked, but then he dismissed that line of thought. There were much more important things at hand.

They embraced in greeting and exchanged a few warm kisses until John broke away, squatted to rummage through his coat on the floor. He stood up, holding a small decanter and said, "Taste this, baby. It's not Hagen Das, not Godiva, not Toblerone not even a plain old Hershey bar but it'll do. It's the closest damned thing I've found to chocolate syrup out here, but I'm afraid sundaes and shakes are out -- no ice cream."

He removed the lid and held it up for her, "Try it." He dipped his finger and held it out for her to taste.

She licked it off oh-so-slowly with a "Mmmmmm...", then rubbed up against him. He slyly asked, "You up for some fingerpainting?"

She continued rubbing and took her time answering. "I don't know. Why don't you go make me a chocolate ice cream cone instead? I'm sure you can think of a substitute," she suggested.

Playing catch-up with the rest of his body, Crichton snapped to attention. "Yes Ma'am!" Mama Crichton's boy didn't have to be told twice -- he could take a hint!

He went in to the tiny bathroom to wash off. He dried carefully and slathered on a good thick coat of the chocolate stuff. As he screwed the lid back on the container he felt a strange sensation. It had changed from looking all wet to a hard matte finish.

Intrigued he leaned over and rapped it lightly on the edge of the metal basin with one hand.

Tink, tink, tink.

He started laughing loudly.

"Oh babe..." he gasped "Never in a million years ... you guys out here in the Uncharteds invented Magic Shell too? Get in here." He kept laughing as she squeezed into the confined space with him.

At her puzzled look he started to explain the physics of the Dairy Queen dipped cone and how this Magic Shell stuff solved a problem of the phase change from liquid to solid at room temperature and...

"Shut up, John. I've got better things to do than talk".

"Yes ma'am again!"

His heavy breathing became the only sound in the small room.

Then ... "Uh, Aeryn, is any of it coming off?"

"I don't think so. The flavor is fading."

"Oh shit", John said and he turned back to the sink.

"Let me see." Aeryn spun him back around. Before he could object she grabbed with both hands and gave a yank with a twist.

"OWWWWW! Stop that! The hide's gonna come off it first," he warned her. "It's tender down there. You can't just snatch it off quick like a BandAid."

"Well maybe it will just fall off as the swelling goes down."

"You mean like a snake shedding its skin? I'd rather keep mine thank you. Er, plus I'm not sure that's going to happen. I ... uh ... I think that it shrunk a little as it hardened, constricting the blood flow."

He turned around to the sink again, wet a towel, and tried to wipe it off. No dice. As he tried to subdue his rising panic, she shoved his hands aside and tried the nail brush.

Whisk, whisk, whisk, whisk.

"No luck" she remarked and surprised him by turning on a blast of steaming hot water directed right on it.

"GAWD!" he bawled and jumped back like a scalded cat, banging into the back wall in the cramped closet and almost falling over. "What in hell did you do that for? Are you trying to blanch it?"

"Sorry" she answered contritely and helped him back up. "I thought that heat might expand the coating, loosening it so I could remove it."

He countered angrily, "Or sudden expansion might just rip off all the skin at once. It's already stretched pretty thin you know. Magic my ass, that stuff has adhered."

Having vented he calmed down some. She was just trying to help after all -- there was no one he'd rather have at his back in battle. Now how to make sure she got it through her skull? 'That's it!' he thought to himself and grinned.

He spoke in her language, "Look, you're treating this like just another tactical problem, right."

"Of course."

"I know you're probably not used to it but the Rules of Engagement for this little exercise place top priority on minimizing collateral damage. Got it?"

"Affirmative," she nodded, grinning back in understanding.

"Well no more talk of hot and cold, no more expanding or contracting, at least for now." The thought of raw tissue and shredded nerve endings left him queasy.

"Well that leaves only chemical or mechanical means and somehow I don't think you're ready for acids yet", she reasoned. "Come back out into the room."

He heard the zing of metal sliding on metal as he shambled out the door following her.

She turned and he stopped in his tracks.

"Aeryn, just what are you doing with your Rambo signature-series PK commando knife?"

"I just want to see if the shell can be cut. I won't cut too deep, I promise."

"Honey, I must love you. Just remember the name's John Crichton, not John Bobbit." He looked past her at the far wall, afraid to look at the razor sharp steel as she walked over and kneeled.

"Hold still, John." A pause. "Nothing. The blade just skitters off when I try to cut. I'm going to see if I can shave any material off."

He winced at that image and covered his face with his hands. "Well don't whittle yourself an Arkansas toothpick. The dentics do just great..."

He was interrupted by a faint sound sort of like fingernails on a blackboard. She stopped just as he peeked to see what in hell was going on.

"That's a waste of time, too, I'm afraid," she said.

Aeryn turned the knife over to the serrated back edge.
"Look at the wall again" she directed. He felt jerks and tugs accompanied by a sawing sound like one of those lumberjack contests.

John raised his voice over the grating sounds, "All this friction is really making me hot."

Aeryn absently grunted approval as she continued to work on the problem.

John clarified, "Aeryn, uh, bad hot... you're not trying to start a fire indian-style are you, Tonto? Paleface want no part of weinie roast."

"Oh, sorry, I didn't realize," as she sheathed the knife and stood up.

Aeryn went over to her pile of gear, and John heard the sound of creaking leather. She turned around with her gunbelt in her hands and drew the pulse pistol from the holster, reversing it in her grip as she approached

He licked his lips.
"Babe, I don't see any bad guys in need of a pistol-whipping in here."

"I just want to see if I can crack it with a dead blow."

"Darlin', I'd never say 'dead' was your style. OK, just don't miss. The Vienna Boys Choir is a long, LONG way from here."

She gave him a reassuring smooch and said, "I promise. Lay it on the edge of the counter here."

He did as requested without further complaint but had to add nervously, "I think I'll look the other way again" and studied the some of the exposed conduits and channels in the ceiling.

She started gingerly with a few light taps then progressed to outright hammering, the clangs growing in loudness and frequency. John Henry would be proud. Crichton prayed the shell didn't suddenly disintegrate into shrapnel without warning. He was just about to interrupt when the impacts stopped.

"Frell this", she said in irritation.

John looked back down at her. She had turned the pistol around again and looked like she might want to shoot something.

He flinched at the clicking sounds as she adjusted the pulse intensity.

"C'mon, Aeryn, you can put the pistol away now."

"Don't be silly. It's on the lowest setting."

John really got uptight, sweat pouring, voice rising in pitch as she aimed down *there*, "No way, honey, now THAT is where I draw the line! You..."

C-R-A-C-K! a flash of yellow light.

John's heart started beating again as he realized there was no mind-destroying pain, no stench of charred flesh, no cauterized stump.

"Next time you have GOT to warn me. I just near had a heart attack."

Aeryn, engrossed by the results of her little test replied "I just noticed this hardened flake where some dripped off your finger earlier. See it's still in one piece, hardly marked at all while the countertop is substantially scorched, even melted around it. Hmmm ... we might be able to improvise light body armor and shielding from this. I don't think the PKs know anything about this material. I'll have to get D'Argo in here to see if the Luxans are aware of it. We'll have to experiment with full power pulse fire then..." She was acting like she'd forgotten about his predicament.

"Earth to Aeryn." No reaction. She was still muttering to herself in thought. Louder, "Uh, MOYA to Aeryn!"

She glanced up at him, still distracted by her discovery.

"Fascinating I'm sure, Miss Commando, but your big breakthrough in battletech will just have to wait. THIS armor plating has got to come off NOW!"
That old familiar ache had ceased being pleasant several minutes ago, and he didn't know what he'd do when two bottles of fellip nectar finished working their way through his system. He shivered with trepidation at the thought.

Thankfully, she got back with the program. Aeryn re-holstered her pistol and set it down. "You're right of course. Now let me see the container."

Pilot commed "John? Aeryn? Moya has detected pulse weapon fire in your vicinity. Is everything...?"

John interrupted a little too loudly, scared Pilot might find out, "Not now , Pilot! We're pretty frellin' busy right now. Adios."

"Are you sur..."

"I *said* 'Adios'," he cut him off.

"Where is it?" Aeryn repeated.
He pointed to the crystal jar visible on the sink in the bathroom.
She clarified, "No not that one I hope. Did it originally come in something with a label of some sort?"

Crichton shuffled over to his bag, pants still around his ankles and retrieved the UT's version of a one-pint paint can, handing it to Aeryn to inspect.

Aeryn reddened slightly as she read the label. She looked back up at him.
"Oh, you brainless drannit."

John paled. "Aeryn? See that symbol right there? It's supposed to be perfectly safe."

"You poor fool, that means 'Non-toxic if accidentally ingested'."

His mind raced as he lamented, "Oh shit. I didn't ask for the MSDS and the app notes. Hell, I thought it was FOOD for Christ's sake!"

Couldn't things be easy just once?

She continued reading the label for him "'Epoxy patch coating, low cure temperature, sets in seconds. Self-hardening. Pleasant odor.' See this?" she pointed to the tiny alien script along the bottom edge of the can.
"'Safe for use on food preparation surfaces and food handling equipment.' It is NOT a condiment."

So his perfect human blue eyes were inferior after all.
"I'm feeling faint."

"Here, lay on the bed." She disentangled his trouser legs and then ran some water to wet a small cloth that she gave him. "Put this over your eyes. Maybe we can find some sort of solvent that will be safe for your skin. Let me think a microt."

Just then Jool bustled in breathlessly carrying her med-kit.
"What's the problem Aeryn? Chiana said you two urgently needed me."

John didn't snatch the sheet up quite fast enough for his taste.
"Chiana?!? Dammittohell, Aeryn, if she's been spying again I swear I'll..."

"Not now, John. I'll take care of the trelk later. Right now I think Jool might be useful. I'm running out of ideas."

Aeryn pointed at the sheet and commanded, "Let her examine you."

"No way. Maybe she can figure something out just by reading the ingredients on the can."

"Show her John. Not just the can. Show her *it*," she insisted. "Jool's the closest thing we have to a chemist ... or a doctor for that matter."

She mercilessly snatched away the satiny golden sheet and threw it in the corner. He squealed like a girl and sat up, clutching at the shards of his dignity. Aeryn just glared at him, brooking no further argument.

After a microt, knowing he was in serious need of help, desperately missing Zhaan, and recognizing defeat when he saw it, Crichton pulled away his shielding hands and used them to place the small wet cloth back over his face as he lay back again. Maybe it wouldn't be so humiliating if he didn't have to watch.

Jool gasped then sniffed delicately "I've never encountered an ... injury ... like this before. I..."

"JUST FIX IT!" John yelled and the Interon jumped. Aeryn got her the can and calmly explained the situation and began describing all the things she had tried in vain while the Interon's jaw dropped closer to the floor. Jool then asked a million questions, many of them extremely awkward ones from John's point of view.

Aeryn became impatient with her continued dithering. "Look closer, Jool." The Interon hesitated primly, and Aeryn grabbed her by the shoulder forcing her down so firmly her nose bumped him, making them both start.

"Here. Down near the base. Does that look like a hairline crack to you? I didn't think we made a dent in it. Perhaps we can exploit it..."

Just at the point John was deciding two sets of long hair tickling his thighs really were unbearable and not at all like Penthouse Letters, D'Argo burst into the room, Qualta blade drawn for battle.

"What happened?" he demanded his voice trailing off as he took in the scene before him, everyone frozen for a split-microt in surprise before the two women shot upright as if jolted by an electric shock.

The stunned Luxan continued, "Pilot said he detected a ... uh ... a weapons discharge." He did another double-take at the scene, John too paralyzed with embarrassment to cover himself effectively.

"I guess he just forgot to say what kind," D'Argo roared and then guffawed so hard he was crying. He gestured, "I thought we might be facing a bigger threat!"

After a couple of squeaks and a nervous titter, Jool let loose herself and joined him with her eardrum-piercing, shrieking laughter. John thought it was almost as bad as her metal melting scream of terror.

Aeryn interrupted loudly, "IT IS NOT", a single snort, "FUNNY!" She tried to give them her best "shut up or else" evil-eye glare for John's benefit, but it wasn't entirely convincing. So much for loyalty...

Still dying of embarrassment, he weakly tried to find the small cloth that had been over his eyes. Aeryn found it and helped him cover the family jewels as the howls filling the former cell faded.

Suddenly they heard the approaching patter of running feet that ended with Chiana sliding to a halt in the open doorway.

"What's up, guys?"

Aeryn and John both shouted "GET OUT!" over a fresh round of raucous laughter as the Nebari ducked back out of sight. Aeryn ran over to the doorway make sure she was really gone, "AND STAY OUT!"


D'Argo's comm badge chirped.
Pilot asked, "Was everything alright D'Argo? I have not heard from you."
A DRD entered, staying just inside the open doorway.

D'argo replied, under John's glare, "Everything's fine, under control." An aside for him, "Pilot asked me to check on the discharge. He said you sounded 'agitated' when he called you." He ended with a snort, "Now I can see why."

"Who fired the pulse weapon?" Pilot asked for clarification.

Aeryn spoke this time, "I did, Pilot. We were just experimenting with an epoxy coating that has extreme resistance to damage."

Pilot mulled this, "Interesting. What coating, where?"

D"Argo chuckled, unable to resist, "On Crichton's, ah, 'docking probe'."

"On the Farscape Module? I did not know it had that capability."

John hissed to get the laughing Luxan's attention and made the "Cut!" motion , hand slicing across his neck. Shut the hell up! He opened his mouth to lie in reply, but D'Argo beat him to it.

"It's on Crichton!" More chuckles.

"I'm afraid I do not understand the anatomical metaphor."

Aeryn cut to the chase, "Pilot, it's on Crichton's genitals."

Oh God, John thought, killed by friendly fire.

"Was there an accident? How did it get there?"

D'Argo was just too tickled. "John put it on there himself!"

Helpless as the conversation spiraled totally out of control, John buried his head under the pillow. He would have disappeared under the deck plates if he could.

Pilot continued cluelessly, "That does not sound like standard first aid technique for humanoids. Why would he do such a thing? "

John prayed no one would take the bait. Yes! Even D'Argo kept his mouth shut this time, hesitant to cross this final line.

Jool, catty, blasted right through it, "It was no accident. Apparently he thought Aeryn would like the taste." She snickered.

Aeryn glared at her while John groaned. Please, please make it stop.

Blessed silence from Pilot as he digested this new datum.

Thank you Lord, John prayed in gratitude.

No such luck, Pilot took it to the bitter end. "Officer Sun, if my limited understanding of Sebacean biology is correct, the activity implied by Joolushka could never possibly result in the successful fertilization of one of your eggs."

This finally embarrassed Aeryn, but only a little, as she opened her mouth to explain in further detail to John's horror.

He erupted. "GODDAMMIT PILOT! It was just supposed to be FUN! Enough with the twenty questions already!"

"I am not a mammal after all so perhaps that is why I still do not fully understand. Joolushka..."

"ARRRRRGGHHHH!!" and he buried his head under the pillow again.

"I am sorry, Commander." Pilot closed the channel.

"Don't be angry at him, John. It is completely outside his frame of reference." Insult to injury, Aeryn was taking up for Pilot ?!?

Back on the problem at hand, Jool offered, "We may just have to take him back down to the planet. We should be able to get back soon; I think Pilot just broke orbit after you got back."

John wilted further at this prospect -- except for the part that needed to most. At this rate he'd soon have nothing left private in this half of the galaxy, neither his parts nor his thoughts.

But perhaps it was better to get this nightmare over with.

Pilot commed again with a change of subject. "Talyn is tucked in close. Prepare for starburst." Moya began rumbling as John started screaming "NO! NO! NOOOO!"

Everything lurched as the ship jumped. Moya shuddered as they reentered normal space.

"Pilot! Why the hell did you do that?" John asked angrily with a sinking feeling in his stomach.

Aeryn calmly asked, "We may need to return Crichton to the commerce planet for treatment. How long until Moya can starburst again, Pilot?"

Pilot answered, "I am sorry, but it was our next scheduled starburst, and no one told us to cancel it."

John was incredulous, "Like you didn't figure me getting bronzed was a problem?!?"

Pilot ignored his outburst. "Aeryn, it will be at least eight arns before Moya will be ready to return." He paused. "Do you mind if I keep this comm channel open continuously with a DRD? I may be able to provide some assistance."

"Yes. Thank you for your concern, Pilot", she agreed.

From under the pillow John saw the yellow maintenance bot park in the corner for the duration. He tried to crawl inside the mattress in misery. No way he could last that long. Yeah, Pilot had already "helped" more than enough.

The swelling was getting worse, the pain really starting to ache. John curled up in the fetal position. His bare rump was hanging out for all to see, but he didn't hardly give a damn anymore. For once thinking of his modesty, Aeryn retrieved the sheet she'd torn away earlier and draped it over him.

Chiana chose that moment to stick her head in again "What about...?" But Aeryn yelled, "Don't try me!" and she retreated again. John heard her shouting back tartly from far down the corridor. "I know when I'm not wanted. I'll be in the galley when you need me! You will!"

Jool summarized characteristics of what they needed, a very strong cleaner or solvent that was nonetheless designed to be safe for skin. She dismissed almost everything in Zhaan's apothecary out of hand as being too strong or simply irrelevant. They were stymied.

Somewhat resigned, John was willing to consider an option he'd utterly dismissed earlier:
"Aeryn, the pain from the swelling is really starting to kill me. It's time to revisit your first idea."

Aeryn "Expansion from heat?"

John "No, con..."

"Contraction!" she interrupted, finishing the thought for him. She turned to the others "You two. We need an ice pack."

D'Argo commed the Nebari, "Chiana, are you still in the galley?" No answer. "Chiana?"

She finally replied with an attitude, "So you need me after all. Yeah, I'm here."

"Crichton needs some ice for the swelling. " No response.

"Please, Chiana", Aeryn asked less than graciously.

"OK ... since it's for him. I'm on the way."

Sooner than expected, she raced into the room and smugly presented the ice to John with a flourish.

Instead of one of those little rubber ice pack thingies like grandma used it was like one of those big bags from the Circle K you'd fill up your ice chest with before heading to the beach.

"Thanks, Pip." He dreaded what he was about to do as he re-wrapped the sheet into a half-assed toga.

Crichton rose up off the bed, slipped the bag of ice under the sheet and straddled it, gritting his teeth as he settled back down with a groan. Body tensed, he hissed to no one in particular, "I'll never laugh again at anybody recovering from a vasectomy, I swear."

D'Argo slyly glanced at Aeryn, put an arm over his shoulder in support, and earnestly sympathized.
"John, my friend, a few monens ago you only thought you had blue balls."

He pulled back laughing uproariously, immensely pleased with himself, ever the life of the party. It was just one more indignity to John, but he winced for Aeryn's sake. Trying to look anywhere but at the Sebacean, Jool was shrieking in eardrum puncturing laughter again.

"OOF!" D'Argo's mirth ended with Aeryn's fist buried in his gut, knocking the wind out of him. Jool cut short with a squawk as she saw the murder in Aeryn's eyes.

Aeryn turned to Chiana, who had enough sense to bite her lip instead of laughing, and sternly said, "Thank you for the ice. You may leave now." It was clearly an order and not permission.

Pilot interjected, "She..."

Chiana got in a parting shot at the only safe target as she exited.
"Serves you right, big fella."

"Get out!" D'Argo gasped, doing his best to snarl.

"But Ka D'Argo..."

"Forget it, Pilot," D'Argo replied forcefully. "She's served her purpose." He finally had most of his breath back.

Satisfied, Aeryn came around and straddled the bed, scooting up behind John.
He confided to her, "Well at least the guys on Talyn aren't here to see it all this dren."

Pilot spoke up again, "Commander, perhaps I should..."

Crais entered the room swaggering, surveying the scene of the crime with an amused look on his face. "Pilot thought I might be of assistance since we have the most similar anatomy and physiology."

John yelled in frustration "Pilot!" Aeryn's buddy or not, he was definitely on the all-time shit list now and climbing fast. "Does Rygel know too?"

"We were most discreet." Pilot actually sounded contrite.

John tried to count his blessings. Rygel would certainly find out soon enough, but it was less likely he'd be chuckling to himself for the next few months for no apparent reason. And at least Crais had missed out on the most sordid details.

Crais smirked, "I think I can help. Pilot replayed your entire conversation for me on the transport so I have been fully briefed."

John wondered which god-like alien had placed this curse on him.

The smug bastard obviously felt that the superiority of Sebacean manhood had been overwhelmingly vindicated. John saw all the respect and clout won by his twin Sir John, Hero of Dam-Ba-Da and Scourge of the Scarran Menace, washed away by a tidal wave of scandal. That lucky SOB was probably spinning even faster than usual in his orbiting grave.

Miserable, he payed scant attention as the others kicked out various ideas, most of D'Argo's presumably comical, none useful.

"I've got something!" John looked up at Jool who was holding the "chocolate" can in her hand again. "I'm pretty sure these symbols here mean that this will dissolve in various acids." He quailed, not seeing any utility in this information.

Aeryn forged on, "Jool, what do we have in the way of potentially useful chemicals, acids, on board?"

Jool mentally reviewed her inventory in Zhann's lab. "Hydrochloric acid? Sulfuric acid ? Nitric acid?"

John answered this time, "No, No, and NO!" He slumped again. It was hopeless.

Jool replied, "I don't know what else to do." She came over, kneeled and peeked under the sheet again.

"I bet that's the only way you can get your hands on a real man, Princess," Chiana mouthed off from the doorway where she'd apparently been spying again. Stepping a pace into the room she greeted the renegade captain before Jool could react.
"Whatcha doin' Crais? Still tryin' to figure out how the competition beat ya?" She turned toward the others, "You know guys, I've got..."

Crais was totally blind-sided, obviously hit where it hurt. The self-satisfied look of superiority was briefly knocked off his face, replaced by indignation.

"GET OUT!" he shouted. "AND STAY OUT!" Jool added shrilly,

Chiana retreated again.

John said, "The clock is ticking people. I think my kidneys just finished with those bottles of nectar. A ruptured bladder is serious business."

The pressure was turning to pain.

Aeryn asked Jool if she could surgically drain the built-up fluid based on her schooling. She nervously replied, "I... I ... think so. But I've never actually inserted a catheter the normal way outside of simulations. Let me think a microt about the best way to do a bypass."

John groaned with even more reason now. The debutante was a medical dilettante. No more options though.

"I don't care. Just knock me out and do it."

"It will have to be a topical anesthetic. I need you conscious to guide me since I'm not that familiar with your anatomy," she glanced at nervously at Aeryn, "I mean that of your species."

John felt his stomach drop to his knees, only a single nervous whimper squeaking out. A moment later Jool brightened, "I've got it!"

"An epidural?" There's hope!

"No - a less invasive technique. It will be easier than I first thought."

Dashed again, dammit. Queasy on top of the growing pain, John figured he stood a great chance of fainting, making drugs moot anyway. Oh God please, let this all be a nightmare.

"I'm losing it! I don't know how much longer I can stand it!"

Aeryn ordered, "Hurry up, Jool!"

Jool had D'Argo round up some boxes that they arranged in front of John. He spread his legs, feet up on boxes, while she sat front and center on the third. He was exposed to half of the room, but the sheet on his knees meant he didn't have to watch. At least there was easy access to the pipes, he tried to cheer himself. Just like his old T-Bird up on the rack - except he could feel the draft.

"Do you know what you look like?" D'Argo was snickering again

"A groundcar?"

"No... like you're about to give birth!" This got a rise out of everybody present but the DRDs.

John lay back against Aeryn and tried to ignore D'argo as Jool opened her kit. He could see it just past his shrouded right knee. She laid out a couple of squeeze bulbs he hoped were an anesthetic and an antiseptic, gloves, a surgical drape and a collection of individually wrapped instruments. No way in hell he could watch the operation. He'd answer questions, but Crais would have to earn his keep.

"You're up, Crais! You know this kind of hardware so you have to assist her."

Ever confident, the captain nodded and came over where Jool was preparing, directly in front of him.

"Great gods man! What have you done to yourself?" Crais recoiled a couple steps aghast; it was his first real good, up-close-and-personal look.

John tried to make light of it. "What's the matter? Frostbite blue not your color?".
The newly squeamish captain advanced again in sickly fascination to his station, clearly not wanting to retreat before the inferior human.

D'Argo popped John's bubble. "Actually I'd call it swollen purple!" There was more jolly laughter at his expense, even Aeryn quaking ever so slightly behind him. He groaned at the image - it had been a while since he'd dared take a look -- and complained to Aeryn, "Why do some people always have to be so literal?"

"Crichton," Jool called for his full attention.

He raised up his head for a better look. Seemed she was stuck trying to choose between two perfectly recognizable scalpels, one in each hand. The wicked blades were still in the sterile plastic. Bet that's just what she looked like trying to pick up a new lipstick at the makeup counter, he thought.

She caught his eye. "Does it matter which bladder I lance first?"

Aeryn flinched behind him, and it suddenly clicked.

"HOLD IT!!" he bellowed in terror and bolted upright, grabbing to protect himself. His abdomen quivered with obscure muscles trying to suck the boys up to safety. He rearranged the sheet and sputtered, "Your anatomy classes didn't cover BALLS ?!?" She looked puzzled. "Mivonks?" he explained. No more words would come out, stunned as he was by the near miss.

"Please, allow me," Crais intruded with an oily smile, only too happy to be here for this. He spoke up to be heard over D'Argo's paroxysms of laughter.

"Jool, unlike Interon males, Sebacean, Human, and..." a glance toward the warrior pounding the wall with tears running down his face, "... Luxan males' gonads are suspended outside the abdominal wall for thermal regulation. They are most... sensitive. The bladder is in the usual location in the interior." The captain was enjoying this entirely too much for John's taste.

He added for John's benefit, "See? My presence here has been invaluable." Damn, there was that smug look again. If he'd been out cold, Crichton wondered just when, or if, the sonuvabitch would have spoken up. Aeryn could not have seen from her spot behind him. As if reading his mind, Crais got a shit-eating grin like that president, Bill something-or-other, the scandal-ridden one with whom Crichton had never expected to be able to sympathize.

Chagrined, Jool started re-packing her kit while D'Argo kept chuckling to himself as he examined the walls.

Even though his stomach hurt John decided he had no choice. "Now that we've got that settled, Jool, get your toys back out. We have to go on. I'm really about to pop with this pressure." He felt like a death row inmate headed for the chair.

Crais interrupted, "No! Wait...wait... the pressure may be a good thing." He'd been looking thoughtful.

John yelped, "Good ?!?"

Crais wickedly affirmed, "Yes, this is very good indeed." Apparently no form of degradation was too much for Crichton in his book.

He continued, "I assume we are similar enough. Our liquid waste is mildly acidic. It may help weaken the bond."

"The uric acid like in piss?" John tried to get him to clarify.

"Piss?" Pilot broke in puzzled, no doubt because his plumbing was radically different.

"Yes, piss," Crais confirmed triumphantly.

"Piss," Jool repeated in disgusted surprise.

"Piss!" D'Argo bellowed and laughed some more, guessing what was coming.

"Piss," John groaned, knowing what he had to do.

Crais elaborated, "The pent-up pressure of the warm acidic solution may also help separate the skin from the shell. But you should hold back until the separation begins naturally as a result of shrinkage."

John had a quick flash of George Costanza then of raw skin; he cringed, not sure which was worse. He had to PEE in the damned thing to get it off!

"Better get a bucket, " D'Argo offered, and he called Chiana again to bring one up. Jool returned to John the bag of ice on which he sat again; he pretended not to notice as she wiped her hands on her skirt in distaste.

John gave an experimental push and told Aeryn, "Stage fright's bad enough, but everything is still swelled shut."

Crais butted in, "The ice should help with that. Remember, wait until you feel it start to separate. Blow if you have to, to help keep control." He demonstrated, huffing and puffing like a Lamaze coach.

John leaned back against her, and they waited for the ice to work its brutal magic so the floodgates could open.

The ice finally started to relieve the swelling enough. Separation started with a small tear.

"Damn, that stings!"

"Now, Crichton, now! Push. Push!" Crais urged him on.

"Ain't no pushing required," John replied, voice tight as he let go.

Nothing happened at first. It took a painful moment but hydraulic pressure enhanced by even more processed fellip nectar overcame the clenched muscles.

But there was no relief, no joy in Mudville. The back-pressure was killing him as the Magic Shell continued to resist. He broke into a cold sweat, shivered and a moan escaped.

Then...
"Hey guys. I think something's happening. It's getting warm." Perked up by the prospect of progress, he pulled out the sack of ice and threw it on the floor. Good riddance to the damned thing.

"Let me examine you again."

D'Argo and Crais closed in for a better view out of morbid male curiosity as Doctor Jool pulled back the sheet to inspect his progress.

"Get out of the way, Crais!" snarled Rygel from the captain's comm badge, "I can't frelling see!"

Crais kicked at the DRD dogging his ankles with the upraised camera, but it scurried off to the side. Pilot's DRD was still over by the wall. John closed his eyes and sighed in defeat, his humiliation complete. He never noticed when the hacked DRD had entered.

Rygel wasn't through with him yet - he must have seen his reaction. "You didn't think I'd miss this spectacle did you, Crichton? So far this little comedy has been worthy of my Royal Theater Company!" he chortled.

John opened his eyes. The DRD was repositioned for a better viewing angle, but he resolved to ignore it. "Just keep quiet and stay the hell out of the way." He was simply too frelling tired to make a proper issue of it, and what Rygel had probably already seen was damning enough.

Jool remained focused on the task at hand. "I don't see anything yet. Wait..." She leaned in even closer to inspect the hairline crack Aeryn had pointed out earlier. The others squeezed in to better see.

She pointed excitedly. "Hey Aeryn! Come look. That hairline crack is..."

* psssstt *

The widened crack sprayed Jool and Crais in the face, fine droplets on their skin and hair like toxic dew. They froze in silent horror until their eyes met and they screamed in mutual revulsion at what they saw mirrored on the other. Spitting, both of them darted for the bathroom where they jammed in the narrow doorway, each fighting to be the first to enter.

D'Argo roared again in laughter at their misfortune, his big frame shaking so hard it looked like a convulsion, but his gape-mouthed merriment was cut short. Impatient now that the end finally lay in sight, John gave a big push.

The much abused Magic Shell missile exploded on liftoff, and the rocketing nosecone ricocheted off D'Argo's forehead. Piss-propelled shrapnel rained on him from head to toe, and the high-pressure golden stream hosed him down. Still rooted in place by shock, the big Luxan was bug-eyed, drenched from the top of his head to the tips of his tenkas, which were dripping yellow on to the floor. His clothes were wet with runnels of the warm liquid.

John, quivering with exhausted relief, thought D'Argo looked for all the world like Carrie at the prom.

In spite of the embarrassment he wanted to laugh at his friend's dumbstruck expression, but fortunately he was still too sore to really get himself in trouble.

Still sobbing about her violation after quickly rinsing her hair, Jool returned with an armload of towels. She tossed a couple over the growing puddle on the floor, half-reluctantly threw one at John, and handed the others to D'Argo and to Crais who'd followed her back out.

The usually fastidious captain was trying in vain to regain his composure, acting as if this were an everyday occurrence. John couldn't resist the opportunity for a little more payback.
"Like water off a duck's back, eh Crais?"

The microbes must've worked. The farm-raised captain glared back, about to burst, but said nothing. He couldn't -- it had all been his damned idea after all.

Chiana sauntered in with the bucket just as they were toweling off. "Where do you want this?" Unaware of what transpired but realizing she'd missed the big show, she noted their soggy condition.

"What happened? You guys just come from the pool?" She wrinkled her nose, "And by the way, what's that smell?"

John sat up straighter in amusement. Gotta see this.

D'Argo was shaking with repressed rage as he put the towel over his head and dried his tenkas. He replied disgustedly, "Actually it was more like a shower. We got pissed on by Crichton because Crais had this frelling brilliant idea that the acid in piss might do the trick." It looked to John like anything could set him off.

Chiana rubbed it in, "I was trying to help out, but you kept chasing me away. Ordinary vinegar also has a weak acid, and there've been a couple of great big jugs of the stuff down in the galley the whole frelling time."
"Serves all of you right," she ended in a huff.

The room was silent but for the sound of three towels hitting the floor.

"Uh oh..." Her eyes widened as it dawned on her she'd probably pushed him over the brink. She giggled once then darted from the room, off like a shot.

"CHIANA!" D'Argo bellowed in full hyper-rage and charged after her with the outraged Jool and Crais not far behind.

The expressions on all of their faces made the whole awful business worth it to John. Well, ...almost. He began laughing, and Aeryn joined him.

Pilot was concerned, "But it's not her fault. She tried to assist you but was never allowed."

John gasped, "Don't worry about it Pilot. They won't catch Pip."

It really was priceless. Tired, sore, and chafed, he collapsed howling back into Aeryn's arms.

For once, John Crichton had the last laugh.

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He who laughs last laughs loudest. -- Ancient Erp Proverb, Author Unknown



EPILOGUE

Over in Command aboard Talyn, Rygel suffered a final wheeze as the intons faded, and he climbed back onto the thronesled from which he'd fallen while laughing hysterically. He maneuvered over to the comm panel, punched off the large display and snatched out the vidchip which he held aloft victoriously.

"Now that's what I call a keeper!"

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He who truly laughs last laughs loudest of all. - Dominar Rygel XVI of Hyneria