Ray of Smoke
by Tassos

Disclaimer: It's okay, you can say it: "Tassos owns Farscape." There, that wasn't so bad, was it? And you thought lying was hard, pfft!

Rating: PG - swearing and sexual innuendo
Category: Future Fic / Drama / Alternate Universe after Fractures
Spoilers: Seasons 1-3 up to and including Fractures
Additional Notes: 1) Talyn and Crais are still alive and kicking ass
2) Jool came back from her dig to live on Moya
3) Microbes let you understand a language as if you spent a year learning a second language - the sounds are still foreign, the meaning is not
4) There was a disaster in Houston so all the important space stuff happens at Canaveral (just go with me here)
5) This story is self beta read

Thank you's to: All Feedbackers who kept my spirits up, my parents for not laughing in my face, my sister for grammar checking, and all my wonderful friends who supported me throughout the year while I wrote this brain tumor.

Summary: Eight cycles in the future, an accidental starburst sends Moya to Earth, only John's not aboard... Extras include: humor, culture clash, political intrigue, family angst, and a decision that will tear John apart.

Dedication: À la belle France qui a changé ma vie.

Ray of Smoke
Part 1: A Distant Encounter of the Third Kind
Chapter 1: What the Frell?

D'argo awoke with a grunt of surprise as a solid weight landed on his chest. His hand automatically reached for his knife before his brain kicked in and opened his eyes. A fuzzy face hovered denches away from his own. The warrior relaxed and closed his eyes with a sigh, hoping he was dreaming. But when he reopened them, the grinning face of six-year-old Rhia was still two denches from his nose. Black hair, blue eyes, and crooked smile, the Human-Sebacean half-breed presented the face of purest innocence.

"Morning, D'argo," the little girl giggled.

"Good morning, Rhia," D'argo rumbled softly, glancing at the chronometer which told him it was definitely way too early to be awake. Why Rhia thought that every day merited a chat in the last hours of ship's night was one of the universe's great mysteries - one that D'argo wished was solved so he could go back to sleep. "Aren't you supposed to be with Chiana for two more days?"

"She's asleep," Rhia told him matter of factly. D'argo stared blankly at her as he tried to follow her logic. Hadn't he just been asleep? "She said yesterday if I woke her early again I'd have to take a bath," the girl explained, eyes momentarily going wide at the horror of clean water. The Luxan couldn't help but smile.

"What makes you think I won't send you to the same fate," he growled playfully, making a face. "Or worse, wash your hair?" Rhia rewarded him with a giggle - not intimidated in the least by the man who could reduce his cowering enemies to tears - and then broke into screeching laugher as his fingers attacked her ticklish sides. She tried to squirm away but D'argo held her tight, tickling under her chin and arms while he laughed with her. So he was a big softie at heart, D'argo mentally shrugged, he could think of worse things to be.

After a few minutes, he let up and rolled Rhia to his side, tucking the blanket around her as she caught her breath. A giggle escaped every few minutes as she snuggled closer and D'argo smiled remembering when Jothee had been Rhia's age in those precious years when his life had been perfect. Lolhaan lying beside him when he woke to the sun streaming through the window, the smell of fresh earth with a trace of spice drifting on the breeze. Jothee in the next room innocent and unscarred.

"D'argo?" Rhia interrupted his bittersweet musings. Halfway back to sleep, he looked down at his goddaughter who was twirling the corner of the blanket around her fingers. All traces of laughter were gone from her face. "When will Mama and Daddy come home?" she asked.

D'argo sighed and ran a calloused palm over her hair as if it would soothe away her fears. Why did she have to ask that now? "After we get the refugees to Imosa we're going to pick them up with the next lot. Another monen, maybe," he gave her the longer estimate. The truth as usual.

John and Aeryn decided early on that the best protection they could give their children in this harsh universe was knowledge. Thus every question was answered as truthfully as possible. They and the rest of the crew tried to shelter them from the worst if they could, but it was not always easy. Already, Rhia had known hunger, seen her mother kill an intruder, and spirited herself, her little brother and Chiana's adopted child to a safe room near Moya's starburst chamber where the ship herself could protect them if necessary. She knew where to kick
or stick a knife in an attacker before disappearing into Moya's crawl spaces that the children played in daily, and where Rygel hid most of his food reserves.

D'argo watched Rhia absorb the information as she continued to twist on the blanket, wishing with all his being that her childhood didn't have to be like this. But the UT's were hardly accommodating. It was unfair and cruel and no way to raise a child, but what choice did they have if they wanted to survive? Crichton called it the Law of the Jungle, though D'argo had never quite figured out what a forest had to do with it.

"I wish they didn't have to go," Rhia sighed.

"I know little one," the Luxan rubbed her arm, "I know. But Crais needs their help for this pickup. If all goes well they won't have to leave again for a long time."

"What if it doesn't? Will they come back?" her voice dropped to a whisper.

D'argo sighed again, wondering how to answer. Rhia knew that John, Aeryn, Crais and his small crew were going against the odds to a planet deep inside Scarran occupied territory. What she didn't know was that there was also a new base planet-side outfitted for wormhole and weapons research that Crais needed her parents' help to destroy.

Even though the Scarran-Peacekeeper war had started shortly after Seth was born three cycles ago, wormholes hadn't been developed to a useful degree until just the last cycle. The Scarrans' research and development had been far behind that of the PK's seven cycles earlier when John and Aeryn, with the help of Crais and Talyn, had obliterated Scorpius and his scientists. Since then they had waged a guerrilla war against all wormhole tech and it had consequently been slow to re-emerge.

"I can't make any promises," D'argo began, "but I'll tell you this. You are a part of your parents and they are a part of you and Seth. If you have faith in them as I do, that they will return safely, then they will know and it will help them come back unharmed."

"You think they'll really come back?" Rhia twisted to face him, hope shining in her deep, blue eyes.

"Yes, I do," answered D'argo seriously. He'd kill them himself if they didn't and broke her heart.

They settled into a sleepy silence then, Rhia satisfied for the moment; both of them lulled by Moya's gentle hum back into dreamland, where the good guys always won.


D'argo was almost back to sleep when Pilot's voice burst over his comm.

"D'argo." His voice was agitated. "D'argo wake up."

"I'm up, Pilot," the Luxan rubbed his eyes. What he wouldn't give for a full night's sleep. "What's wrong?" He gently shifted the sleeping child so he could sit up. Rhia's eyes slit open a moment before she rolled over to go back to sleep. D'argo envied her the luxury as he listened to the ship's navigator.

"Moya senses something that could be a command carrier but with their new jamming signal, we can't be certain," Pilot told him.

Frell. The jolt of bad news banished all thought of rest. "Who's in command?" the Luxan asked rising. He looked around briefly for his clothes, checked Rhia again and noted with satisfaction the red splattered DRD by his door - Rhia's sentinel whom she'd ingeniously named Speckles.

"Filalla," Pilot continued as D'argo hurriedly dressed. "He checked the readings and agrees."

"I'll be right there. Wake the others." D'argo stormed out of his quarters as quietly as possible. Frelling Peacekeepers. Could be worse, he consoled himself bitterly, could be a Scarren dreadnaught. The thought was less than comforting; carrier or dreadnaught, they would still have more firepower than Moya did.

Less than a hundred microts later, D'argo stood with the rest of Moya's crew, all save Chiana who was with the children, around the strategy table listening to Pilot repeat his information.

"Can we starburst?" demanded Rygel when the navigator had finished from the clamshell. To Pilot's affirmative, he added, "Then let's get the frell out of here before they know we're here."

"They might already know that we are here," Filalla said somberly. He was a rather short alien with three bony legs side by side instead of two. His skin was pale, clammy, and hairless giving him a ghostly appearance at odds with his rather forceful nature. In another life he'd been a free trader until war and circumstance had landed him on Moya. D'argo found him to be a taller, more companionable version of Rygel most of the time, but like the slug, he had his moments.

"All the more reason to starburst away as soon as possible," said D'argo. He looked around the table at the group that was for once in agreement by their mutual hate of the Peacekeeprs.

"I'm not objecting," Jool said impatiently when his eyes lighted on her.

A moment later, Pilot's voice echoed throughout the leviathan to the ship's 10 000 passengers, warning them of the immanent starburst.


Rhia awoke at Pilot's announcement, the words slowly seeping meaning into her fuzzy brain. She remembered D'argo leaving when Pilot called the first time because it had gotten colder without him, but she didn't remember why. Before she had time to puzzle it out, she heard Chiana calling her name and so went back to the Nebari's quarters half a tier away.

"Why are we starbursting?" she asked as she crawled onto the bed next to Chiana. Rhia didn't like starburst much: weird things happened either before, during, or after. She glanced around the gold room warily, looking for signs of imminent disaster, and with relief didn't find any. The Nebari held her adopted son, Essor, in her lap and Seth lay asleep on Essor's bed in the corner, curled into a wad of limbs and blankets.

"Peacekeeper patrol," Chiana answered shortly as the familiar buzz and lurch of starburst slid them between dimensions. Rhia felt her stomach knot up and heard a faint ringing in her ears, side affects of the incompatible space between, then the slight jolt as Moya returned to normal space.

"There," said Chiana smiling to reassure Essor who was even more sensitive to starburst than Rhia. He was just a baby, two and a half, with jet-black skin covered by a pale pink fuzz that was a little thicker on his head. He didn't look anything like his species who were pale brown with white fuzz, but Rhia liked Essor's colors better. His people said he was bad luck just because he was born the day the Peacekeepers attacked their planet. When Chiana heard him crying, about to be ceremonially brained by the other refugees they'd picked up, she had immediately rescued him.

Dad said motherhood had snuck up on her favorite aunt, but Rhia didn't know what that meant. Chiana had found Essor and since his parents didn't want him, it was only right Chiana keep him. Though Rhia had been put out at the time because it was one less person to play with since her stupid brother had just been born too. And the stupid refugees kept trying to kill each other so no one else could play either. But then the pirates had attacked, and she had to watch Essor and Seth and Pilot like a grownup, so she forgave them.

As she watched Chiana and Essor, Rhia missed Mama and Dad more than ever. She hated it when they had to leave. It wasn't fair. Rhia was about to ask Chiana when they'd be home when, all of a sudden, Essor screamed and Moya lurched again into a starburst that shouldn't have been possible. This one lasted longer and made Rhia feel more like a scrap of flattened, wrung out laundry than a three dimensional being. Several long microts after Rhia thought she couldn't stand it any longer, she was snapped back into normal space. Essor was still screaming.

"Pilot!" Chiana shouted, simultaneously cooing and trying to soothe her son. Rhia lay gasping for breath beside her, scared and confused. Across the room, Seth stared wide-eyed from the other bed, completely awake now. "What the frell just happened?"

"Neither Moya nor I know what happened," Pilot answered though Rhia thought his voice didn't sound quite right. "Something...pushed us back into starburst. Moya's reserves are gone; she can barely maintain stability!"

"Is she all right?" Medri's voice asked.

"It will take several days at least for her strength to begin to replenish," Pilot said.

"How many?" asked D'argo.

"Unknown. And I don't know how far off course we are either. Moya's outer senses are acting... strange."

"Are we safe?" that was Rygel.

There was a pause. "It appears that no one is firing on us," Pilot finally said.

The comms went silent. Rhia looked to Chiana who was rocking Essor and murmuring quietly in his ear. "Are we in trouble?" she asked quietly.

Chiana looked up and smiled. "Probably no more than usual. Come on, let's get some breakfast while we still can."

Shivering slightly, Rhia slid off the bed and went to her pile of clothes on the shelf. If Chiana said not to worry, she wasn't going to worry. Strange things always happened after starburst, she reminded herself to quell the rattlers flopping in her belly, and until one of the adults needed to have a Talk with her, Rhia wasn't going to be afraid. But it was still hard.

Nevertheless, two hundred microts later, more important things came up than weird starburts.

" 'Ia!! You got it yestaday!" Seth wailed, holding on tightly to one half of the blue plate. Rhia's blue plate. The one she had painted. The one she had to *share*, now cause Seth's plate got melted.

Rhia risked a brief glance at the adults to see if her cause would be championed. Today, only Jool and Medri joined Chiana and the floorfleas - Dad said they couldn't be 'rugrats' without rugs - for breakfast. Essor was firmly attached around Chiana's neck as she and yellow spotted, pale green Medri pretended to help Jool fix the ellka roots. For the moment, none of them were paying attention.

"No, you did! It's my turn today!" Rhia, grasping the other half with her right hand, started to pry her brother's fingers up one by one. Just 'cause he was the youngest, everything had to be *his* way.

"But you *a'ways* get it! It's *my* turn!" Seth plopped his fingers right back down. " 'Ia, let go!"

"But it's *my* turn!"

Suddenly the plate was plucked from their scrabbling fingers. Rhia looked up and saw Jool with the painted, metal plate and a displeased expression on her face. "It doesn't matter what color plate you eat off of, the food still tastes the same," she told them briskly, then turned and handed them both plain gray dishes.

"But the blue plate's *my* plate!" Rhia whined, turning up the injured innocence.

"Then next time you'll think twice before sticking Seth's plate in the oven," said Jool. "Now sit down. The roots are almost done."

But it was *her* plate, Rhia thought angrily. "It's your fault," she whispered to Seth as they walked to their places at the table.

"Is not!"

"Is too!"

"Is not!"

"Hey, that's enough!" said Jool loudly, but impassioned by the righteousness of their causes, neither one of them listened.

"Is too!" Rhia yelled.

"Is not!" Seth screamed back.

"Is too!"

"Not another word or you'll both be spending the next weeken with Rygel!" Chiana shouted.

They shut up. Rygel was never any fun. And he smelled funny which would make them smell funny which would mean a bath every day, a fate worse than losing the blue plate. Rhia glowered at Chiana and slumped over her ugly, plain, *gray* plate, depressed. Food never tasted as good on the gray ones, no matter what the grownups said.

It was so unfair! Everyone always wanted to stop Rhia from having any fun. Sometimes her aunts and uncles would play with her or Seth but something *always* came up that would take them away after only a little while. Rhia liked it best when she got to help fix Moya's systems, or when Mama played Escape the Intruder, or when Dad told stories.

But most of the time she had to play alone or with the boys. And that wasn't as fun sometimes because they always messed everything up. Rhia had made friends with some of the refugee children on earlier runs, but they always had to leave eventually, and sometimes their parents didn't want their children talking with her because she was Sebacean. Dad had tried to explain that the Peacekeepers had hurt them and they had lost their homes and were now afraid, but Rhia didn't really understand. She had never done anything to them, so why should they hate her? She remembered one irate mother had knocked her down with a walking stick and called her the plague of the universe. Rhia had never gone back.

Her sad thoughts were interrupted when the three adults sat down at the table, Jool between Rhia and her brother, and Chiana and Medri on either side of Essor across from them.

"When a' we getting new food?" Seth asked when Jool dished boiled ellka roots onto his plate. Rhia regarded her own boiled roots with distaste, wondering when the last was that she had eaten anything different. They'd had scallips and tenga meat when Mom and Dad had left just after a supply run a monen ago. But when they had to feed 10 000 people, food vanished quickly. It seemed like the grownups were always talking about food: how long it would last, when they needed more, how much was left.

Rhia picked up a boiled root with her fingers. They really weren't that bad, and unlike other foods they were easy to cook different ways so there was a little variety. They looked like shriveled tongues when they were boiled and had a slight crunch to them. It wasn't until she popped the root in her mouth that Rhia noticed the Significant Looks the three adults were exchanging.

"As soon as we reach the next commerce planet," Medri finally replied to Seth's question.

"Oh," Seth stared at the root in his hand then took a bite and chewed. "When's that?" he asked through a mouthful.

"Soon we hope," said Chiana.

"But Moya's sick," said Rhia remembering Pilot's 'wrong' voice.

"Not sick, just tired," Medri shook his head. "She should be fine in a couple days. Pilot says she just needs rest right now."

"I like 'em betta with sauce," said Seth, ignoring this last exchange.

"Which sauce? The red or the orange?" asked Chiana.

"Red, Chi!" Seth looked up and grinned. Flecks of white mush decorated his gums and lips.

Chiana grinned back; the red sauce was the one she made. "You have exquisite taste, young sir!" she told him in her best imitation of Rygel. Seth giggled.

Jealous of the attention Rhia said, "I like the red, too."

"And what's wrong with my orange sauce?" Jool demanded. "It's much better with these roots than that other muck."

" 'Muck'?!" Chiana sat up straighter, her eyes flashing dangerously. "You're calling *my* cooking 'muck'?!"

"You call it 'cooking'?"

Chiana threw a root at her, eliciting a surprised shriek from the Interion. "I can cook anything in this universe, princess, unlike *some* people who don't know which end of a carren bird to stuff!"

Jool answered with an ellka root of her own, hitting Chiana square in the face. Rhia giggled at the Nebari's outraged expression and joined in the fun.

"Rhia!" said Chiana in surprise when the second root hit her shoulder. Then the food fight began in earnest. Roots flew across the table thick and fast, some landing on their marks, others whizzing by to bounce off the walls. Rhia squealed as one hit her arm, clammy and warm, and immediately threw it back across the table, giggling again at Medri's yelp of surprise. She liked this game.

But, much to the kids' disappointment, it ended all to soon when Rygel's voice crackled over the comms. "D'argo, anybody, get down here! They're trying to kill me, the yotzes!"

There was a moment of startled silence in the center chamber before the three grownups surged to their feet. Rhia sighed. Another game ruined by the refugees. She watched sadly as Medri ran out with Jool following close on his heels. Chi dropped to a knee and gave Essor a quick hug before turning her deep black eyes to Rhia.

"I want you three to stay here and start cleaning up, all right?" she looked in turn at Seth and Essor before moving back to Rhia. The little girl already knew what she was going to say. "If anything happens -"

"Disappear into the access conduits," Rhia finished, desperately hoping it wouldn't come to that. Echoes of the two days the floorfleas had spent hiding from a refugee mob that had taken over Moya filled her head and made her belly flop.

"Good girl." Chiana dropped a quick kiss on her forehead then ran out to help save Rygel. Again.


On his way to the upper cargo bay, Medri took a detour by his quarters to pick up his pulse rifle. Like most of Moya's crew, he already had a pulse pistol strapped to his thigh, but he'd learned the hard way that one could never have too many weapons when dealing with the refugees. He barely glanced at the weapon as he snatched it from the shelf in his sparse quarters before dashing back down the corridor.

D'argo met him at the junction of the main tier and from the set of his jaw, he was far from happy. "I hate it when this happens," the warrior growled.

Medri gave him a sardonic grin. "Our thanks for saving their sorry asses in the first place." D'argo barely glanced at him as Rygel's agitated voice interrupted.

"Help! They're climbing the walls!! Pilot send in some DRDs, anything!" The dominar's voice was almost drowned by the shouting in the background.

"I'm afraid they've incapacitated the DRDs already present," said Pilot.

"Rygel, we're almost there. Just avoid them for a few more microts," said D'argo.

"That's easy for you to say, you brute. Just make sure you have lots of weapons! Ahhhhggg!! You yotz!!"

By unspoken agreement, Medri and D'argo increased their pace. Jool was waiting at the cargo bay doors when they arrived. From the other side, they heard the shouting and screaming of hundreds of angry voices demanding food and control of the ship. So far the refugees hadn't made it through the locked door or discovered the access conduits that, though blocked, would succumb to a nimble tech or thief.

Medri put his ear to the door while D'argo checked in with the other three members of the crew still on the way. He heard too much shouting for there to be one mob leader; it was too disjointed. The spotted young man shook his head at the irony of the situation. He, who had been a professional at inciting mass riots against the Blue Government on his homeworld, was now desperately trying to stop one.

"Chiana and Filalla are almost here, Emmerit's still three tiers away," D'argo informed him as he rejoined the other two. Jool was nervous, her eyes slightly larger than normal, and D'argo looked on the verge of hyper rage. All three of them had their weapons primed.

"They're not organized yet," Medri said, nodding at the door over his shoulder. "If we hit now, we can probably stop it before it gets nasty."

"Just the three of us?" Jool squeaked. "There's almost four hundred people in there. I could make a sleep agent..."

"Because that worked *so* well last time," D'argo cut in.

"We have to go now!" Medri repeated, his whole body taught with tension. He let out a slow breath when D'argo nodded in agreement.

"Filalla," D'argo said into his comm, "you and Chiana will have to hold the hallway." He checked to make sure they were ready, then said, "Pilot, open the door."

"We need a better plan than this!" Jool moaned, even as she shifted her grip on her rifle. Medri shook his head at her, marveling at the Interion's duality. Always the first one to advocate reason and talking out conflict, she nonetheless had a vicious streak that could lay an enemy low. "Why am I always the first one in!" But her whining was constant.

"Shut up and scream!" D'argo told her.

The oval door swung open onto every rebel's dream: a mob of angry people just waiting to explode. Most of the cloth partitions that separated sleeping places had been knocked down, bars and whatever other furniture they could find had been broken into makeshift weapons.

"The door! To the door!" one of the rose skinned, red-eyed Hedogens shouted hysterically, pointing. There was a surge as half the refugees turned, even as other voices shouted, "No! No! Stop! This isn't right!" Above and to the left, Rygel floated on his throne-sled, dodging missiles and the three Hedogens who'd climbed up a pile of crates after him.

All this Medri and his crewmates took in in a microt, before instantly bursting into action. Jool screamed, doubling over the mob with the metal melting sound even as Medri dropped the mob leader and D'argo the three after Rygel in quick, deadly succession. The silence was absolute when Jool finally closed her mouth. The Hedogens, many still grasping their ears, stared jaw-dropped at first their fallen leader then the three, armed aliens by door. Medri couldn't help but grin in pride. No one would be taking over the ship today.

"Well it's about time!" Rygel snapped as he zoomed down to them. "What took you so long?!"

D'argo darted a glance at the dominar, weapon still trained one the silent crowd, then asked, "What happened?"

"I was simply informing their frelling council of the situation when that idiot," he pointed at the male Medri shot, "started shouting about a Peacekeeper conspiracy and tried to kill me."

The crowd shifted uncomfortably under the crew's combined glare like guilty children, so lost and scared that Medri couldn't help but feel for them a little. It was little wonder they were scared and scrabbling for some kind of control. Fled onto an unknown ship that had appeared out of nowhere when their homes were being shelled by the Peacekeepers - or Scarrens, he couldn't remember which - families lost, only the clothes on their backs and the memories of a civilization now broken, and headed for a foreign planet. And worse, their precarious fate entrusted to a small, mismatched group of aliens, two of them Sebacean, with more legend around them than truth. Medri saw the fear of the uncertain in their sad red eyes, fear of losing what precious little was left they had to live for.

"Why are you starving us?" a woman's voice quavered from the middle of the mob. Medri couldn't see from whom, but the question echoed in the faces of the others.

"Oh, right. We just give them food 'cause we want to watch them not eat it," Chiana's sarcasm announced her presence behind them.

"Where are you taking us? What happened in starburst?" the questions kept pouring out desperately, louder and louder until Medri thought his eardrums would explode. "You better tell us!" one young male near the front shouted,
shaking his fist. His skin was two shades darker red than those around him, making him stand out. "You better tell us or -"

"Or you'll what?" Medri shouted back suddenly angry at their threats. Yes, they were scared, they might have lost their home, but damned if he was going to let them take his and get them all killed by the first PK's who showed up. These people had been rockbound their whole lives and didn't have a frelling clue what they risked to keep them alive. "Take over the ship? A leviathan you have no idea how to run with a Pilot that will be against you? And then what? Pick up all the food that's just *floating* in the middle of space?" Medri stared the youth until the Hedogen broke away, then swept his eyes over the rest of the mob. They gaped back, eyes calmer and no longer in the frenzy of incited passion and fear. They were listening to him. Good, they needed a reality check. "We've been transporting refugees to safety for cycles with more success than failure. We know the Uncharted Territories. Now we can do this two ways. You can do like a handful of refugee groups did before, and *try* to take over the ship..."

"But that didn't work out so well for them," Chiana piped up grinning evilly.

"Ahh, the screams as we flushed them out of the airlock, hmm, hmmm, hm," Rygel chuckled, closing his eyes as if to savor the 'memory'. Though knowing Rygel, it was probably one of his daydreams.

The Hedogens shuffled nervously, not liking the sound of option one. "Or," Medri continued, "we can inform your council of what's going on, so they can tell you - wait, wasn't that just what Rygel was trying to do when you attacked him?"

"We don't like being attacked," D'argo added with just enough menace in his voice to cause the crowd to pull into itself, away from the bodies on the floor. "Now if you prefer to do it our way, let Rygel talk to your council and the rest of you go back to what you were doing." Grudgingly it seemed, the Hedogens dispersed, leaving Moya's crew at the door.

"That was close," Jool sighed, letting her rifle dangle loosely from her fingers.

"Frelling idiots," Medri groused. "Think they can just make it on their own."

Emmerit nodded in agreement and slid her pistol back into its holster. "I'm getting too old for this," she said and Medri couldn't help but snort in dry amusement with the others. However old Emmerit claimed to be, she was still as spry as a youth.

"Come on," said D'argo. "We better go check on the other groups before they try to kill us too."

"I am not staying here without a bodyguard!" Rygel interrupted the general move towards the oval door.

"Rygel -" D'argo started, but Medri laid a restraining hand on his arm.

"I'll stay. It'll remind them that we're the ones in control here."

D'argo nodded once. "Fine. When you're done tell Pilot. We still have a lot of repairs to do." The Luxan turned and followed Emmerit, Jool, and Filalla out the door. Chiana however sidled up to Medri.

"You were magnificent - reminded me of the first time we met," she whispered, though much to Medri's disappointment that's all she did. With a wink and smile that dropped Medri's spots four shades of yellow, the Nebari slowly turned and left the cargo bay.

"Medri!" Dren, he couldn't wait till D'argo took the kids.

"I'm coming, Ryg." Reluctantly he turned away from Chiana's retreating backside and followed the floating dominar.

Chapter 2: What the Hell?

The Earth was beautiful. Commander Jason Klee never tired of the view. Every time he passed a window, he always took a moment to look at the blue and white orb, floating so innocently outside the International Space Station's window. From 400 kilometers up, she looked so peaceful, as if the bubbling conflicts on her surface were no more annoying than a couple of itches that would soon go away.

Jason smiled to himself as his thoughts turned poetic and pushed off the wall under the window of the crew's common room towards the hatch that led to the rest of the station. Time to pull his head out of the clouds so to speak, and start thinking about the telescope realignment at 15:00.

"Hey, Jason."

"Hi, Eric," Jason reached his right hand to the wall to avoid a collision with his incoming German engineer. "I didn't catch you at breakfast. Any more problems sleeping?" he asked.

The black haired man waved a dismissing hand. "No. Becky gave me half of a sleeping pill. Once I was asleep I was fine."

"Good," Jason smiled. "Wouldn't want you to conk out while you're EVA."

"Not likely," Eric answered, giving a push and floating to his locker nearby. "No way in hell I'm missing a minute - "

"Commander Klee, could you please come to the command cell," Rita Masson's voice issued through the Space Station's intercom system. Jason exchanged a puzzled look with Eric as he pushed himself toward the communications panel on the opposite wall.

"Klee here, in the crew quarters. What's the problem?"

There was a pause then Rita said, "I'm not sure but you really need to see this."

"I'm on my way." With a last glance at Eric, Jason kicked himself through the hatch at a faster than safe speed, legs trailing behind him like Superman flying through a maze. Within two minutes he was in the command cell with a hand on the bulkhead keeping him oriented 'upright' in the zero G.

"What's going on?" he asked the rooms two occupants, Rita in front of the main panel that controlled most of the stations external functions, and Brian Santi plastered to the window above on the right.

Rita turned away from the radar, her expression calm and professional, though Jason thought he saw a glitter in her eyes that might or might not have been her heart thumping a thousand times too fast. "Take a look at this," she said, moving aside and pointing at the radar. A rather large blip flashed periodically where there shouldn't have been a blip. Jason stared at the monitor, mind blanking out for a second. Despite his poetic tendencies, Jason was a scientist through and through, a scientist who knew that the radar should have spotted something that large well before it got between the orbits of Earth and Venus. He was about to ask if there had been any problems recently with the equipment when Brian let out a surprised gasp.

"I see something," the youngest member of the station's crew breathed. Rita and Jason immediately joined him at the window. "It's about 15 degrees below the horizontal. Gold." It took a moment for Jason to find it, a gold star slightly larger than those glittering diamond.

"What the hell is it?" asked Rita. Stunned, no one answered.

Snapping back to himself, the practical side of Jason took charge. Shoving back into the open area he began giving orders. "Ok, first thing, Rita, alert the crew. Second, get every instrument we have tracking that thing. Brian, I want you to get a line down to Canaveral and Houston. Rita, what time did that thing appear?"

"13:18," she answered switching on the station's intercom.

Jason barely heard her alerting the crew. His mind was racing, asking questions, wondering what that speck of gold was. 376 AD, July 4th 1776, December 7th 1941, September 11th 2001, 13:18 April 5th 2010. Jason had feeling this was another date he wasn't going to forget.


The small workroom on the third floor of the Shepherd Building was abuzz with activity when the call came in. In fact, the small group of engineers and two astronauts barely looked up when the phone rang. They had more pressing matters to worry about, like how much farther the Slingshot Maneuver would take the manned Farscape III carrying enough fuel to get home, and how much exactly 'enough' was. But when DK, the leader of the Farscape Project, let out a strangled "WHAT?!" all movement and conversation ceased.

"Are you serious?" DK said into the phone then glanced up at his team who were listening hard. "We'll be right over!" he finally said and hung up. At first he didn't say anything, just stared back at his waiting colleagues with a slightly stunned expression on his face. "Something," he took a deep breath. "Something showed up on the Space Station radar about half an hour ago. Something big between Earth and Venus. ISS got a visual. It's big and gold and not natural." Suddenly there was a huge grin on his face. "We've been invited to the SSC."

The Farscape team stared back. "Oh my God!" breathed Yora Maganova. A minute later the workroom was empty, a fluttering piece of paper drifted to the floor in the wake of the excited scientists.


"So you're telling me that the Saudis are getting ready to pull out?" President Landers regarded the three serious men facing him. Two of them wore the dress uniforms of generals, the third on the right was in a dark gray suit. None of them were smiling.

Sighing, the president stood and crossed the Oval Office to his desk to stretch his legs. Just what they needed right now, one of their Muslim nations to back out of the treaty. If Saudi Arabia didn't sign there was no way Pakistan would.

"So, Andrew, what's your take on this?" he asked his Secretary of State. Leaning against the desk, he rubbed his eyes under the rim of his glasses. A couple of Excedrin would have been really good about five minutes ago.

The man in the gray suit, flipped through the folder on his lap and pulled out a piece of paper, but before he could open his mouth the phone rang. Hissing in annoyance, Landers reached behind himself for the phone and answered.

"This better be good," he snapped.

"Sorry to disturb you, Mr. President," Landers' aide said, the customary apology a tad too excited, "but the director of IASA, Phil Oursler, is on line two."


"Um, I-ASA, sir. The space program went international around the turn of the century."

"Oh. What the hell does he want that can't wait till later?"

"He asked to tell you himself, sir. Trust me, you want to take this."

"I want to take this?" Landers was skeptical.

"You *want* to take this," his aide repeated. Great.

"Fine. Thanks." Sighing again, Landers shifted on the desk so he could reach the buttons on the phone. "Excuse me, gentlemen, this will only take a minute," he said to the waiting men. He glanced at the clock on the wall as Oursler introduced himself: 1:53. Damn, he'd missed lunch again.

"Mr. President," Oursler intoned once they finished with the pleasantries, "the International Space Station picked up a signal on radar between the orbits of Venus and Earth at 1:18 today. They got a confirmed sighting."

Landers knew he was missing something important here, other than the Saudis that is. "And?"

"Mr. President, we think we have an alien ship out there."

Maybe his sanity too. "A what?"


Space Station Control was in a state of controlled chaos that had perhaps sprung a few leaks at the seams. In addition to the team on watch, support teams had been called in to help monitor and analyze the data pouring into the room from the Space Station, the satellites, and the various space observation centers around the globe, as precious little of it as there was.

DK glanced around the busy room then back to the central monitor that held the image of the golden ship. Truth was, whether they were needed or not, no one in the room could stay away. Not with *that* out there. Waiting.

"DK, you're drooling," his friend and colleague Yora Maganova came up and pressed a cup of coffee into his hand.

"Bite me," he smiled down at the petite brunette, the remarkable young woman who had revived the Farscape Project five years after John had flown his last mission.

"Much as I'd like to, I actually came to tell you the briefing starts at three. Tony wants us there," she said lightly.

"Government finally show up?"

"Brass, bigwigs, and butter knuckles," Yora grinned. At DK's puzzle look she added, "something my dad used to say."

" 'Butter knuckles'?" DK asked chuckling.

"You know, butter their knuckles and the rings slip right off," Yora told him with a pantomime. "Come on, we don't want to be late."

Still grinning, DK followed Yora to the large conference room upstairs that was already packed to the gills. Every seat was taken and chairs had been added on the sides. Half of the Maroon team who'd been on watch, various engineers and astronauts, government suits, and the First Contact Team filled every available space. Commander Klee from the Space Station and Peter Clark from the main SETI dishes in the Caribbean were both on the computer screen at the end of the table.

The briefing revealed very little information about their unknown visitors, and none of it was new for over half of the audience. At 13:18 one of the Space Station's cameras picked up a flash of light. Two point four seconds later the gold ship appeared on radar on the Space Station, in the SSC, and on various other space monitoring stations in the Western Hemisphere. Since its mysterious arrival the ship had been drifting about halfway between the orbits of Venus and Earth but no signals had yet been sent.

"So now the question is," said Tony Prow, Maroon Team's Flight Director who was running the show, "what do we do now?"

"Isn't that obvious?" asked Jeremy Seymore, head of the First Contact Team. "We follow first contact procedure and send them the prime number signal!" DK smiled at his enthusiasm, and he wasn't the only one. Hell, half the people in the room wanted to get right to the talking.

The government men, and one woman DK noted, looked less than thrilled. "How do we know they aren't a threat to us?" one of them asked.

"We don't," was Jeremy's bubbling reply. "It could be another Independence Day scenario for all we know. But they could be peaceful. And we'll never know unless we contact them. I've spent the last hour talking to the other members of the First Contact Commission all over the world and that's our recommendation."

"Besides, how would we stop an attack from space anyway?" one of the other engineers DK didn't know spoke up reasonably. "We have no global defense system. Our best bet is to establish ourselves as a peaceful planet."

DK heard a couple of derisive snorts from the background at the last comment, and sadly enough had to agree. He could see it now: yes, Mr. Alien were peaceful. We only like to kill members of our *own* species who are different from us. God, when had he gotten so cynical?

"What choice do we have?" Daniel Bradley, one of the astronauts, added. "They're gonna notice us sooner or later. Make me feel better if we contact them while they're still a ways out." Others murmured in agreement.

The government types didn't really put up much of an argument; they probably hadn't been planning on shutting Earth's figurative mouth anyway. A few more minutes of discussion and several international telephone calls later, 16:00 was set for the PNS transmission, giving them just under an hour. DK left then with a dozen others wanting to get a good seat in the control room, leaving the haggling over who would represent Earth for her first contact with an alien race.

"So, you having kittens yet?" Yora joined him in the hallway. DK laughed and let loose some of the tension he hadn't realized had built up in his system.

" 'Rattlers' is what the colonel used to say," he smiled thinking of John's dad. "It's just real all of a sudden, you know?" He looked intently at his friend and from the gleam in her eye knew that she understood what he couldn't quite say. Aliens. God, John would have loved this. Mixed in with the thrill of the discovery, DK felt a twinge of regret and pain that his friend wasn't here to share this with.


Sometimes Shannon Lucas hated her job. Take this morning for instance. She'd woken up with the knowledge that because of a minor in geology and a difference in opinion with her boss, she had been reassigned as WWSK6's new IASA correspondent. In newscaster's lingo, she was Sleeping on Canaveral, the most unsought after assignment there was. IASA, like NASA before, kept an open channel for the media, the catch was that her boss thought one had to actually be on site to listen to the minding numbing, incomprehensible conversation between the geeks in Space Station Control and the braver geeks in the actual Space Station. So it was no wonder that sometimes Shannon hated her job.

Then there was now when she couldn't stop thanking whatever bad luck she had that got her posted to this - former - journalistic wasteland. Shannon had struck gold. Or rather the Space Station's radar had. Shannon had returned from a rather late lunch to find the Kennedy Space Center in an uproar and it hadn't taken her long to figure out why.

The story had actually broken about around two o'clock, when the White House and State Department suddenly started making calls to the UN, NSA, and the EU. Shannon had only been too happy to confirm the rumors flying around Washington.

"You ready to go?" her cameraman asked from the other side of the tripod. Shannon grinned at him and straightened her shoulders.

"Anytime, David," she answered.

David started the countdown with his left hand while Shannon smiled broadly for the camera, waiting for the little voice in her ear that would tell her when to speak. She didn't have long to wait. "And now we take you live to Shannon Lucas at the Kennedy Space Center."

"Thanks Debra," said Shannon to the anchor in Orlando. "I'm standing just outside the Kennedy Space Center, home of Space Station Control where less than three hours ago, at 1:18 PM, the International Space Station reported an unidentified object between the orbits of Earth and Venus on radar. Since then, reports have been coming in from monitoring sites all over the nation confirming the presence of an alien craft. As we speak, the International First Contact Commission is transmitting the Prime Number Sequence to the alien ship in an effort to establish peaceful contact. The sequence is composed of prime numbers, which are the numbers that are only divisible by one and themselves and a mathematical truth that the alien ship should recognize. Representatives from the State Department and the United Nations are standing by for a return signal."

"When will know the outcome of the signal?"

"No one knows for certain," Shannon reported. "Because of the distances involved, there will be at least a thirty second delay between transmission and reception of the signal. Now all we can do is wait."

"Thank you Shannon. We will definitely check back with you later," Debra's voice switched off and David stopped rolling film.

Shannon glanced back at the building where all the excitement was taking place. The parking lot was already filled with news vans and staff stuck on the outside with no space left in the pressroom. Waiting.

Chapter 3: Isn't that...?

Chiana twisted the bolt as tightly as she could, trying to ignore Filalla's cursing in the background. He was pretty tenacious when it came to swearing, inventing new and rather creative insults in about fifteen languages that the prudish microbes refused to translate. Of course, there were only a few Chiana didn't know. But as dirty as her mouth was, the Nebari did have her limits as to how much she could listen too.

"Just break the frelling thing already!" she snapped then grunted as at last the bolt crunched against the backing, assuring that the cable wouldn't slip out again anytime soon.

"I thought the point was to *repair* Moya's fried circuits," Filalla snapped back snidely. "How can I do that if my tools are broken?"

"Since you're doing such a wonderful job not hurting yourself," Chiana retorted, finally turning from the panel she'd been working on. She stood on one side of the neural nexus, extra fiberwire littered the floor around her feet. Filalla was working two panels to the left separating melted wires with a sort of heated knife that was doing more damage to him than the wires.

The three-legged man glared at her, blisters bright blue on his pale, unlucky fingers. "I'd like to see you do better," he retorted.

Chiana rolled her eyes and turned back to her cables that would, hopefully, with Filalla's wires straightened out, get Moya's external sensors at least functioning. She heard a plastic crackle behind her as Fil inspected the diagram of what his melted mess should look like, then the buzz of the hot knife as he got back to work.

"Goddamned gazonian wiskerbot!!"

Chiana just shook her head and focused on the cables. There was just no changing some people. Thus the Nebari suffered through Filalla's indelicate language as they repaired the relay. After securing the last cable, she stepped over to see how he was coming along.

"You know," Fil interrupted his tirade when he noticed her over his shoulder. "When I first came on Moya I knew less than a welnitz about tech work. Now look at me, better than my own frelling mechanics," he chuckled dryly. He pulled back and looked at the diagram again. "I just have to switch a couple connections and I think we'll have it." He looked over his shoulder at Chiana and grinned in sudden pride. "Kinda fun isn't it?" he said. The Nebari just rolled her eyes.

A few microts later the relay was fixed. Or so Chiana hoped. "Pilot? We think we got the first array put back together. Moya picking up anything?"

"Yes," came Pilot's answer over the comm. "It is weak but more than we had before."

"Any idea where we are?" Fil asked as he sat down on the ledge that surrounded the central ladder, pulling his leftmost leg up under his arms.

"A solar system. Possibly planets. You'll have to repair at least the second array before Moya can get stronger readings."

"We're on it, Pilot," Filalla sighed and rose. Chiana helped him move their equipment to the next two panels. The second array didn't take nearly as long as the first to fix, which made Chiana happy because she only had to listen to Filalla swear for half the time. One would think three-legs would have gotten the hang of the hot knife by now, but no, he was still burning himself as if he *wanted* the blisters. Although Chiana thought it was more to have something to yell at than anything.

"Ok, Pilot," she called when they'd finished. Fil inspected his poor hands while they waited for Pilot's response. "You better have Jool look at those," she told him earning herself another glare. But before he could reply with a suitably scathing remark, Pilot came back.

"Moya's readings are much clearer now," he said. "We're in a solar system between two planets."

"And?" Jool's voice floated over the comms, impatient as usual.

"One of them appears habitated," their navigator offered.

Habitated. Chiana glanced at Filalla seeing her worry reflected in his face. "Any idea where we are?" he asked again.

"I've been going over the vectors from the starburst, but it will take a while longer to find our relative position. Moya is still...unsettled."

"I'm almost finished with tier sixteen," Medri's voice echoed over the comm - he was probably the inside a wall. "Chi, if you go ahead and start on the third relay, we'll probably be done at the same time."

"Pilot, what about that planet?" D'argo broke in. "Any sign of Scarren or PK activity?"

"Moya is having trouble sorting through the signals. Wait..." said Pilot. He paused and there was silence. Chiana found herself holding her breath, just knowing she didn't want to hear him say it because - "There's...one signal that is... aimed at us!" - it was always bad news.

"Frell!" the Nebari joined the chorus. "Defense screen!" D'argo yelled, catalyzing Chiana and Filalla into action on the opposite side of the neural nexus.


"Pilot, does the signal have words with it?" D'argo demanded even as he and Jool got to work powering up the defense screen in command. Of course, until Chiana and Filalla plugged it into Moya, it was useless.

"No, it is a series of tones...audio only," Pilot told him from the clamshell. A moment later, a repetitive beeping echoed through the room: "...beep beep beep...beep beep beep beep beep... beep beep beep beep beep beep beep..."

"They get longer then start short again," Pilot said over the mechanical tones.

"I do not like the sound of that," Jool said. D'argo couldn't agree more. Frantically, he tried to get his fingers to move faster connecting wires, cursing in ancient Luxan when he realized he'd wired the pattern of an older model. Like all the defense screens they'd gone through over the cycles, this one had been scavenged from a defunct vessel and was, as John noted, in remarkably better shape then many of their previous ones. And as Aeryn had pointed out, that wasn't saying much.

"Can we see what's trying to kill us yet?" the Luxan asked, redoing the circuits.

"You'll have to do it from command," Pilot told him. "The signal is coming from the planet's surface." Jool immediately rushed over to the right-hand consol, and a microt later, a fuzzy picture formed on the view screen.

"Defense screen's hooked up," Chiana panted over the comm. D'argo flipped on the power and felt the hum as the screen spluttered to dubious life around them. Feeling slightly better, the Luxan finally took a look at the cause of his heart attacks, and blinked. Hadn't he been here before?

"Haven't we been here before?" he asked Jool who gave him a strange look that clearly meant no. D'argo shook his head, maybe it was just him. But...

"There has been no change in the signal," said Pilot.

And then D'argo thought he had it, but the name slipped away again. He'd been a prisoner there with Rygel. A long time ago. Aeryn had been there too; they'd gone after John...Frell.

"Rygel, can you come up to command?" he said impatiently, both hoping and dreading he was right. "We have the planet on visual."

Filalla and Chiana were actually the first to arrive, the Nebari stopping dead in her tracks when she saw the planet. D'argo glanced back and saw her open her mouth twice and raise a hesitant finger.

"Isn't that...?"

"Crichton's planet," Rygel breathed coming up behind her, eyes wide in surprise.

"WHAT?" Filalla and Jool exclaimed together, looking back and forth among the three.

"What what?" asked Emmerit pushing past the stunned Nebari who was still gaping at the little planet. D'argo couldn't blame her, since he felt the same way. John had practically given up searching for his homeworld cycles ago when he'd gone after Scorpius, destroying the very technology that could take him home. And now here they were. Wherever here was.

"Pilot, how long till Moya can get us the frell away from here?!" Rygel demanded.

"Our situation has not greatly changed," Pilot informed them.

"Then we have no choice. We're almost out of food," said Emmerit. D'argo turned with the others to stare at her.

"No choice?! They imprisoned me!" Rygel sputtered.

"Frell," D'argo muttered. Just once, he wanted an option that wasn't likely to be fatal. "Chiana, are they going to kill us?"

The pale woman shrugged her shoulders. "My heaving gut says I'm still in shock."

"If it's trade with them or starve, I'm for trading," said Jool. "Besides we still don't know if that frelling signal is targeting us or just their concept of music."

"That's not music," said Filalla.

"Have you heard John sing?" Jool replied.

"All for finding out if were going to be atomized? Good," D'argo cut in, not giving anyone a chance to reply; Rygel's protests were quickly clamped off by Chiana's hand over his mouth. "Pilot, let's talk to them."

"Just a moment. I have to reconfigure the transmission for their... systems." There was a pause, then Pilot looked up. "Moya is connected to the source of the signal."

D'argo turned to the blue planet on the viewscreen and said in his commanding voice, "I am Ka D'argo of the Leviathan Moya. What is the meaning of the signal directed at us?"

"So much for diplomacy," he heard Jool mutter behind him. D'argo glared at her - frell diplomacy, that was Rygel's job.

They waited in nervous silence for a reply. Microts stretched out longer and longer until time itself seemed on the point of breaking. Erp stared back at them, mocking their helplessness against a primitive planet.


"I don't know!" she snapped back.

"Attention," said Pilot. "We are receiving return audio and visual." A microt later a crackling image clarified on the viewscreen revealing three Humans in coats and white shirts. All three appeared male, the two on the sides rather reserved, but the central one was clearly excited.

"Hello," said the one in the middle. "Welcome to Earth." A big smile plastered itself across his face and, tension broken, D'argo had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. "I'm afraid we don't understand your language but we are willing to attempt communication if you have the means to do so. If you can understand me now, please nod your head." He stopped. D'argo swore.

"Frelling perfect!" he shook his head and growled with pent up frustration. "Pilot-"

"Transmission is terminated," the purple image informed him.

"What do we do now?" asked Filalla, his legs disturbingly braided as he leaned against the strategy table.

"Since they can't understand us, I say forget the planet and get the frell out of here."

"We could send a probe with microbes to the surface," suggested Pilot, ignoring the dominar without effort.

D'argo shook his head. "They'd see it as a threat. From what John's told us, the Humans probably can't hurt us, but it's been ten cycles..."

"And they'd never trade with us then," added Emmerit.

"Not like we can trade now," said Jool bitterly from her perch on the table beside Fil. "Without John we have no one who can speak their barbaric language." And there was the problem. D'argo looked from the Interion's slumped frame to Chiana and Filalla shaking their heads, to Emmerit, then Pilot.

"Hey," Medri's voice broke the silence over the comms. "We finished sealing the compression hatches. We still being targeted?"

"We're not sure," Fil answered. "They can't understand us. You might want to come up here."

They heard Medri sigh. "Right."

"I still say we should-"

"Shut up!" several voices shouted at Rygel causing him to pull back in his thronesled. It really was two bad the Ancients hadn't actually dissected the little slug.

"Hey," Medri's voice popped back. "Rhia wants to know if she still has to take a bath today."

Chiana hissed in annoyance. "Yes, the little mongrel has-" She stopped. The Nebari had a strange look on her face, head tilted in that way of hers that said she was up to something.

"What?" asked D'argo.

"Rhia can speak Human."

Chapter 4: Did she say...?

It had been ten minutes. Ten long minutes since the aliens had finally responded to the prime number sequence. Ten minutes since the thirty second exchange that currently had about a hundred scientists debating translating computer programs, universal translators and other off-the-wall guesses from literature and the movies. But even as he argued against Star Trek's solution, DK couldn't help but wonder if they'd accidentally started an intergalactic incident by somehow pissing off the tentacled alien. He didn't seem like the type of creature you wanted to anger, and who knew what kind of cultural taboo they'd accidentally committed.

"Heads up! We've got incoming!" someone called across the room. The SSC went silent as everyone turned toward the central screen that once again flickered to life with the visage of the tanned and tattooed alien they'd seen before. He rumbled a few words in an almost electronic growl, then a new voice followed. In English.

"Hello." The voice was light and high like a child's. "Dargo says to tell you that I'm gonna translate for him since you don't have microbes." American accent.

DK didn't know whether to be shocked and outraged or shocked and disappointed - was this all some elaborate hoax? And from the shell-shocked expressions on everyone else's faces, he wasn't the only one feeling completely flabbergasted. There was a whispered conversation bouncing back and forth between the communications, radar, and flight director's stations that suddenly ended with all parties involved staring at the screen in renewed awe. A moment later, Jeremy as designated spokesman addressed the aliens.

"Welcome to Earth," he said remarkably composed.

"The signal's coming from that ship!" Dan Bemear whispered to DK and Yora. The two scientists momentarily tuned out the official conversation to get the scoop that was running like fire though the room. "There's no doubt about it."

"So how come they speak English?" Yora whispered back, clearly excited.

Dan shrugged. "I guess were gonna find out." They glanced back to the screen in time to hear Jeremy ask that very same question.

The alien growled something and looked like it was ready to bite someone's head off. There was a moment's silence before the translator spoke again. "I'm not supposed to say that," it whispered. Another voice spoke in the background, different form the first one and much easier on the ears. The alien on the screen sighed and looked to the side, then spoke again, and this time the translator put it into English right away.

"He says that how I speak your language is too complicated to explain, and it's not important anyway. His name's Ka Dargo, and he wants to know what that first signal you sent was."

"The signal was the prime number sequence," Jeremy answered surprised. "It was our attempt at communication, to show you that we are peaceful and wanted to talk."

There were more alien murmurings in the background that Dargo stopped with another sharp sentence and a glare over his shoulder. The transmission only showed the alien's head so they couldn't see who he was talking to. Curiouser and curiouser.

"I guess mathematics isn't as universal as we thought," Yora whispered. DK could only nod his agreement as they listened to the rest of the conversation unfold between Jeremy, the alien, and the mysterious translator.

"So it's not going to kill us?" the translator interpreted.

"No. We have no intention of harming you."

"What about your government?"

"Our governments are only interested in peaceful contact."

There was a spate of yet another alien language in the background and several others including the one on the screen yelling in unison. The English speaker didn't translate. DK exchanged a look with Yora and Dan. This was absolutely nothing like Star Trek.

"Um," Jeremy sounded hesitant for the first time. "May I ask what your intentions are here concerning Earth?"

"Our intentions are to trade," the translator waited for Dargo to continue. "We need food and have currency to pay for it. Will that be possible?"

"Just like Columbus coming to America," Yora murmured in the ensuing silence.

"And us just like the Indians thinking they were benevolent gods," DK added with a wry smile. "Sure hope history doesn't repeat itself." The thought was sobering in an already tense situation. He exchanged another look with his friend, but neither of them said anything more.

"I'm sure we can come to an agreement," Jeremy finally responded.

"Good. When will you have a supplier ready to negotiate?" The aliens got right to the point, throwing Jeremy off balance.

"Uh... we'll have to get back with you on that," he stammered. "Will you be landing?"

"Only to pick up our supplies. It's safer that way."

"Very well," said Jeremy, his tone indicating he was far from satisfied. In fact, no one in the room was satisfied. Here were the Earth's first aliens and what did they want to do? Trade. Period. With as little contact with them as possible. It wasn't supposed to be like this! And even as he thought it, DK knew he was acting like a spoiled five year old instead of the forty-five year old scientist he was. Intellectually, he knew that different cultures never trusted each other when they suddenly stumbled onto one another; he had only to look at Earth's rocky history to see the evidence of that. But in his heart it was all wrong, twisted.

"We'll contact you again in four arns," the translator went on, and Dargo started to move away.

Jeremy spoke in a rush, "What's an arn?!!"

"It's time, 3 000 microts." Dargo added something else and the translator giggled, much to everyone's surprise. It was the first time the light voice had distinguished itself as another distinct being. "No, that's not right. It's 'one missi*ss*ippi one.' That's a microt."

The room went still, hardly a person dared breathe.

" 'Mississippi'?" asked Jeremy hoarsely.

The alien growled again, the translator said, "Four arns," and then they were gone.

Definitely not Star Trek.


"What did he mean, they're not releasing the tapes?" Shannon asked a fellow journalist in outrage as they left the very brief press conference. "The people have a right to know what's going on, dammit! I hate the government with their self righteous 'national security'!"

"And don't you just love how the US government is telling an international agency what to do?" her new friend said.

"I swear if this is another conspiracy..." Shannon shook her head. The government really had no clue sometimes. Didn't they realize that by withholding the tapes of the first alien contact they were making the situation worse? So they wanted to analyze the close encounter, but Shannon couldn't help but wonder if that "analyzing" was really doctoring. It would just be like the government to stage this whole thing to refocus attention away from the failing situation in the Middle East. There was a '90's movie about something like that, funny but definitely scary.

"I wouldn't worry about conspiracies. Not with all of us here," the journalist told her with a vicious smile. Shannon grinned back. There was absolutely nothing the press couldn't ferret out eventually, and with something this big... Oh yeah, the truth was coming out.


"Dan, we're dying over here!" DK whined into the speaker phone on the desk. Due to the flood of government people called to Canaveral, only relevant personnel were allowed into the briefing room. Unfortunately, the Farscape team didn't qualify and was thus shunted back to their building to wait for someone to call. 'Someone' turned out to be Dan Bemear who needed some of their statistical data.

"DK, we still don't really know anything. Besides, aren't you supposed to be figuring out how the hell they got here in the first place?"

"From a flash of light? You've got to be kidding me. Come on, what's going on?" DK glanced around at his anxious colleagues who were huddled around the phone like freezing men and women to a fire.

"Right now it's just a bunch of guesses," Dan told him, voice nonetheless eager to share. "That red stuff that appeared we think is some sort of communications device, though why it's still there we have no idea. Some general thinks they're listening in to our satellite communications to get a feel for us."

"So it's not a shield like we first thought?"

"Come on, DK. The thing appeared a good fifteen minutes after we sent the signal. If they thought it was a threat they would have put it up earlier. And they contacted us just after they did. Besides the thing has so many shifting holes it would be useless as a shield."

"Okay, okay. What else?" DK ran a hand through his hair, grinning at Yora across from him. The petite woman flashed her teeth back, a smile echoed by the others.

"No one thinks it's military," Dan continued. "So far it's not aggressive - "

DK groaned. "We *know* that, Dan. What about the language thing and the English?"

"Man, know one knows about the English speaker. Pretty X-Files if you ask me. But the running theory on the languages is that those microbes they mentioned are a type of Babble Fish."

"Hitchhiker's Guide?"

"Yeah. Something else doing all the work. That's all we've got down here, DK. Now do I get some help?"

"I don't know, what do you think guys?" he asked the rest of the team.

"It's pretty sketchy," said Jeff.

"Not a lot to go on at all," added Yora.

"Guys..." Dan moaned. "This is not funny."

Over the mild laughter, DK soothed their harried informant. "I'll deliver the files personally."

Chapter 5: Can I ask a question?

When D'argo had asked Rhia to translate for the Humans, she had been all excited and happy. She was getting to do *grownup* work, with her father's people no less. And even though she was disappointed that she could only say what D'argo said, she was still excited and maybe a little nervous. Now, arns later, she was bored.

She'd been translating for Rygel almost three arns and nothing had happened. The Humans had been very suspicious at first, wanting all these questions answered before they agreed to trade. Rygel basically told them they wouldn't get answers unless they traded, and wouldn't answers be a much more valuable currency. At least that's what she thought he meant. She didn't understand half of what he said and eventually had given up when her head started to hurt.

The Humans took forever to agree. Then they disagreed again when they found out they needed food for 10 000 people and it had taken another forever to get them closer to agreeing once more. In the middle of Rhia's stomach she felt a hole of disappointment in the Humans. They were unbelievably dumb. Didn't they see they were on a *leviathan* and had no weapons to hurt them, even if they wanted to? All the talk about invasion forces and motivations and weapons was like they thought they were *Peacekeepers* and made the ellka roots roll in Rhia's belly with the wrongness.

"You haven't given us much reassurance," the Human on the screen said. Rhia had long since forgotten his name.

"Species have traded for millennia without trusting each other," Rygel answered through Rhia. "What makes this any different? You deliver food, we deliver information."

"How do we know you'll deliver?"

"How do we know you won't capture us and dissect us for your own perverse curiosity?" Rygel countered. "It's a risk we are willing to take. This is a trade agreement. You send us an offer and we will send you a counter offer."

"Rygel?" Chiana burst over the comms. "You haven't said anything about Rhia have you?" she asked agitated.

"Excuse me a moment," said Rygel and Rhia quickly did, slightly frightened. The Human was surprised but simply nodded.

"Don't tell them about Rhia," the Nebari said.

"Why not? It's her planet," asked Rygel.

"I've just got a feeling, all right? Don't tell them."

Rhia felt cold. Chiana's feelings always came true, even if half the time she didn't know what they meant. To have one about her...that was scary. The look Rygel shot her gave her the shivers. If Rygel was worried...

More than a little frightened, the little girl followed Rygel back into the negotiations, almost freezing when the topic shifted to her.

"One question, as an act of good faith," the Human began.

"Very well. Then you will trade with us?" asked Rygel.

"Yes, then we will trade and allow you to land to pick up your supplies. We want to know about your translator. How does he know our language? Is he Human?"

Rhia held her breath, but Rygel paused only a moment before speaking. Rhia stared at him but at his prompting repeated his answer, uncomfortable in the third person. "The translator is of a very rare species that can easily reproduce alien languages with the help of the microbes. We merely had her study some transmissions from the planet and she learned the sounds."

The Human looked thoughtful, then asked, "Can she speak your language?"

Rygel looked at her. "I certainly hope so. Do you think you can try?"

And Rhia wondered if she could. She knew she could switch between complete Human and complete Sebacean if she wanted to, she just *did* it, though most of the time it was a mixture of the two sets of sounds. Maybe if she just picked Hynerion like she picked Human or Sebacean in her head it would do the same thing.

So she tried it. "I want to speak Hynerion." And it worked; the sounds came out like Rygel sounds.

"Oh my God," said the Human, clearly as impresses as Rhia was herself.

It had worked! Grinning, Rhia was no longer scared or puzzled or anything except very proud of herself. From Rygel's pleased smile that he actually shared with her, she'd done good.

"I assume we can expect your first list of bargaining questions within the solar day?" Rhia translated, her voice bubbly.

"Uh, yeah, yes," the Human answered.

Rygel had a few more instructions to relay but it didn't take long. As soon as the Human disappeared from the screen, Rhia slid off the table and ran to find the nearest person to shout her success.


"Pilot, are you sure I'm supposed to open this? It's not moving," said D'argo. He tried again but the cover wouldn't budge. Frustrated, he hit it hard with a growl, wishing he had been closer to the refugees than Medri so he could be talking to them instead. Possibly hitting.

"Yes, D'argo," Pilot's voice was more than a little strained. "If the DRD's could open it they would. Now stop interrupting!"

"Fine, fine," D'argo muttered. He knew better than to push Pilot when he was touchy. The Humans had finally agreed to a set of questions that was much shorter than their first list but still way too long for the crew's taste. Since it fell mainly to him and Jool to answer them, it was no wonder the purple lug was in a bad mood.

He glanced around the cramped space of this particular section in irritation, wishing, not for the first time, that John were there to take care of this mess. Of course, he'd probably be complicating things with the Humans beyond repair, but Moya would at least be in one functioning piece.

Now where was that tool with the funny edging? Pawing through the box, he didn't see it. He must of left it in the other box in the main corridor. He cursed again: the closest way out was too small and the largest too far. "Seth," he called. "Seth!" There was silence in the somber corridor. Did he dare ask Pilot where the boy had disappeared to? "Seth!" No, too dangerous.

Thankfully he didn't have to wait long; a faint "coming" echoed down from the right with the three cycle old just behind, blue striped DRD in tow. Running awkwardly on chubby legs, the kid nearly crashed into the toolbox before D'argo leaned to catch him. Giggles mixed with Seth's panting, drew an amused sigh from the Luxan.

"Hey Seth," D'argo said setting him upright. He squatted down further so they were eye to eye. "Can you find the tool with the bumpy edge and claws like this on the end?" He curved his fingers to show him.

"The Pincha Bee'le?" Seth asked, a puzzled expression marring his forehead. D'argo had no idea what he was talking about.

"Yes," he answered and watched with envy as the little boy crawled through the tiny opening by the floor normally reserved for DRDs. A few minutes later he was back, correct tool grasped tightly with both hands.

"What's a 'pincher beetle'?" D'argo asked, hefting it and applying it to the covering.

"'Swhat Dad calls it." Trust John to name the frelling thing something incomprehensible.

Seth watched squatted on his heels absolutely fascinated as D'argo worked. It took several tries to get the claws, or pinchers depending on how one thought, to take hold of the metal but eventually he pried the cover off. Inside was a mess of wire and fiber that smelled of fried circuits. Both D'argo and Seth recoiled, more than happy to leave the rest of the repairs to the DRDs. Seth helped him pack up the toolbox and push it through the opening, boy following. The Luxan sighed and began the long crawl back to his exit about fifty metras up the conduit.

When finally he emerged, hands and knees aching, both Medri and Seth were there to greet him, the former smiling just a tad to broadly. D'argo glared, but Medri only grinned wider.

"I talked with the Hedogens, the friendly groups that is, and explained what's going on," the spotted man began as they turned back toward the toolboxes. "They're willing to help with the pick-up. And I'll make sure they won't to kill us before arming them."

"I can help, Med'i!" Seth piped up. "I can!"

"Not this time," D'argo scooped him up. "You have to grow a little more first."

"But I'm a big boy now!" Seth protested.

"And it's time for big boys to go to bed."

"No! I'm not ti'ed!" Seth wriggled and managed to get free of D'argo's large arms, slipping down on the opposite side from Medri. Within microts he had disappeared into the walls. D'argo and Medri stared at each other a moment before turning to the opening that foiled their size.

"How does he do that?" the Luxan wondered aloud.

Medri just shrugged. "They're still Chiana's problem."

"Still your problem too?" D'argo grinned evilly, referring to bedtimes of a different sort.

The pointed glare Medri gave him was not amused. "Frell off!"

"Now there's an idea." He laughed when his spotted crewmate turned his back on him and stormed down Moya's corridor. Served him right for escaping the cramped access conduit. And since Seth was indeed Chiana's problem, the Luxan headed for the den to see how Pilot and Jool were doing with those Human questions.

Chapter 6: Do You Want Fries With That?

"I want precautions in place!" Landers snapped into the phone. "These are aliens, and I don't care what they've said, I am not trusting them as far as I can throw that ship of theirs."

"Yes, Mr. President," the IASA White house correspondent replied. "We are being very careful - "

"I don't want careful, I want secure. So you *listen* to what my security advisor has to say, understand?"

"Sir, this is an international operation - "

"That is landing on United Sates soil. I want zero problems and zero fatalities. So you *will* take the necessary precautions Giller tells you to. Or do I have to have a little chat with Congress about the budget?"

"Mr. President, the IASA treaty - "

"Treaties can be renegotiated." Landers snapped. Everybody hated big government, but whose fault would it be when the shit hit the fan? "Look, Locher, I'm not doing this to spite IASA. There are serious security considerations here, and it's my job to make sure that no one gets hurt by these aliens."

"Yes, sir. I just feel that Giller is handling this the wrong way. Greeting them with an army is not going to generate any feelings of goodwill."

"All right. I'll talk to him about disguising the army. Would that make you feel better?"

"Yes. In that case, I think we would be able to fully cooperate."

"Good. It was nice talking to you."

"Thank you, sir." Locher hung up and Landers sighed. What a mess. The First Contact Commission had agreed to trade, and now it was up to him to make sure everything ran smoothly. Meanwhile, the rest of the world was falling apart.


Jack sat riveted in front of his television. He hadn't moved for over an hour, mesmerized by the incredible scene coming from just thirty miles away. Aliens walking on the Earth. Jack Crichton, veteran astronaut and moon walker was still pinching himself.

The aliens were here to pick up their shipment of army rations bought and paid for with the answers to some 500 questions on every subject imaginable, from engineering to religion. IASA put the list up on their website with an email address for suggestions. Over three million questions had been sent in over a fourteen hour period. Many were duplicates asking about human abductions and other sensationalist things, many of which never made the final cut. Answers apparently started streaming in from the ship as soon as the first shuttle craft landed.

The aliens were a sight to see. There were six of them loading the crates onto two shuttles that switched out every twenty minutes or so. There was the tall, tentacled one from the first transmission with a sword strapped to his back. Another was pale green with yellow, leopard-like spots and long, dread locked, yellow hair. The other four were the same type with pale pink skin, red eyes, red brown hair, but no discernable chin. All wore clothes in varying styles and except for Dargo, all carried black rifle like weapons.

Two of the Red Eyes stood on top of the shuttle at all times, jumping from one to the other as the shuttles switched, keeping a watch on the people standing the requisite five hundred yards away. The other four were loading the supplies by manually orienting the large crates so that the shuttle lift could pick them up. The pilots expertly maneuvered the shuttles so their grunt work was minimized.

Jack shook his head in amazement as the camera showed a close-up of the tentacled alien, new questions popping into his head. Why was the captain or leader loading the supplies? Why would he risk himself if the aliens were so worried about security?

He watched as the alien bent over one of the crates. The newscaster stating the obvious for lack of anything constructive to say, "The alien Dargo is inspecting the crate." Jack sat forward, his interest piqued. It was the first time the alien had looked closely at a crate since he'd cracked open the first one to verify its contents.

"He is sniffing? Yes, he appears to be sniffing the crate," the newscaster reported. Jack hit the mute button to shut the idiot up. Anyone with eyes could tell he was sniffing the damn thing. The green, leopard alien came over and stood beside him, and for the first time Jack could see the side arm strapped to his thigh. He shook his head to something Dargo said then leaned forward and knocked on the side of the crate. The two continued their scrutiny around the side but then stopped all of a sudden, exchanging a look and carefully backing away. Dargo said something, paused, then said something else. The green alien waved his hand toward the crate with a mocking smile before backing up even further to where the Red Eyes waited with frank anxiety. Cautiously, Mr. Tentacles opened the crate and pulled out something roughly rectangular. After a moment Jack recognized it for a bomb.

So apparently did the alien, for he launched it into the air, drawing his sword over his shoulder at the same time. The camera was following the soaring bomb when a ball of red energy overtook it, exploding on impact in a flash of bright sparks that would rival any Fourth of July fireworks. Panning back down, the camera showed Dargo holding his sword to his shoulder like a rifle. Once more he spoke to empty air, the ship Jack guessed, tension evident in all of the aliens. Dargo and the green one relaxed first, seemingly satisfied, but the Red Eyes remained on edge as they began to reload the shuttle.

It was then that Jack realized he'd been holding his breath. He relaxed back into the couch, relieved but confused. Who had planted that bomb? The government? One of those religious groups? Another set of terrorists? What did it mean? What would the aliens do? Why weren't they more upset about it? That was perhaps the most disturbing thing, that they kept on working as if they encountered assassination attempts all the time, as if they knew there were no more threats. Though they did seem to be working faster now.

Once again the retired astronaut thought of his son. He wished John were watching this with him, talking a mile a minute, spouting theories and the latest IASA gossip. He wished John could have been there for the success of the Farscape II, the International Space Station finally going on line, Melanie's wedding, four nephews, Monday Night Football, predawn fishing trips, and a million other things Jack had never thought to treasure so closely. Now John was missing one of his dreams come true: alien contact on Earth.

The phone rang, interrupting Jack's melodramatic thoughts. On the TV, another shuttle landed with more Red Eyes and an alien with three legs who immediately launched into a conversation with Dargo and Mr. Green with Yellow Spots. Worried after all.

"Hello?" Jack answered the phone after the third ring.

"Hey, Dad, it's me." His oldest daughter Lisa. She lived an hour south of Jack with her husband and two boys. Ever since John had died, she'd taken it upon herself to keep an eye on him. "You watching the aliens?"

"Yes, I am," Jack said. "Calling to check up on me?"

"Who me? Never," she denied with a smile in her voice. "But since you brought it up, how are you doing?"

"I'm fine Lise," he said patiently. "I'm not going to croak from watching TV."

"Watching TV and mourning John."

"And why do you say that?" Jack sometimes thought Lisa was just like Leslie, psychic powers and all.

"Because I've been doing the same thing since I tuned in." And apparently a little telepathy.

Jack sighed. Most days he only felt the ache of healed loss when he thought about his son. Then there were the days that were nothing but reminders that left a trail of fire. The Farscape II mission had been the worst of those. Today was somewhere in between.

"I'm doing okay," he finally said, realizing it was true even as he did. "You don't have to worry. DK's been by two or three times since we made contact... You didn't by any chance tell him to check up on me, did you?"

"No, no, by the time I got a hold of him he was already on the way over," Lisa replied smugly, and Jack couldn't help but smile.

"Can't even go to the bathroom by myself without someone wanting a progress report," he groused good naturedly.

"Dad, you're only seventy. You still have five years before bathroom reports are mandatory. Until then I'm sure you can handle your zipper."

"Thanks so much for your confidence!"

Lisa laughed. "So what do you think?"

"About what?" Jack asked, used to the subject changing without a road map.

"The aliens, of course."

"Of course," he smiled and watched the screen a long moment. There were two groups now loading the shuttles as fast as they could. They'd be finished soon and then gone forever. "A part of me still doesn't believe it," he finally said. "I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop. The rest of me is...It's like I'm walking on the moon again. Though I never imagined it like this."

"Like what?"

"All this. Trading. Supplies for information, armed and afraid of us. Whenever I thought of possible life out there...I thought they would be better than this."

"Star Trek not Star Wars?"

It was Jack's turn to chuckle. "I guess." Lisa didn't say anything more. Two of the Red Eyes were speaking with the green one. From what he'd seen here and from the released excerpts from the tapes of the other contacts, there were at least six different alien races on that ship. Six different races living and working together yet not trusting the new species. Jack probably wouldn't trust humans either if he'd been listening in to the planet's communications for the last couple of days. The news hadn't been very positive since they'd arrived, which was sad because the Earth had so much more to offer. Despite all the problems, there were a lot of good people in the world.

"I miss him," he broke the silence finally. "John would have loved this."

"I bet he's watching now, explaining his theories to all the other angels," said Lisa.

They shared the silence then, letting the phone bill run up as they watched the final crate be loaded, and the aliens board their shuttles that gracefully ascended into the heavens.

End Part 1