CRICHTON AGONISTES
By Darkman
Rating: PG
Category: Short Story, Alternative Universe when Season 4 starts
Time/Spoilers: Spoilers from Season 3 final 4.
Summary: How Season 4 might start
Disclaimer: I don't own them, didn't create them, and certainly don't profit from them. Wish I did or had. I promise that I'll put them back where I found them.  Henson & Co., Sci-Fi, Channel 9 Australia, etc own the rights to Farscape and its characters.  The others are all mine. 

Credits: Beginning Poem:  First two stanzas of "Ashes of Life" by Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Poem within the text is original.  Many thanks to my patient and kind beta readers, Banshae and Janeway!

Reader's note:  Italics within the story indicate a character's thoughts

Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
Eat I must, and sleep I will, -- and would that night were here!
But ah! -- to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
Would that it were day again! -- with twilight near!

Love has gone and left me and I don't know what to do;
This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
But all the things that I begin I leave before I'm through, --
There's little use in anything as far as I can see.

He stood in the shower and let the water beat down on him, his thoughts drifting.  He had worked hard clearing a blockage in one of the waste vents and he looked and smelled like it.  His existence over the past seven months was one of physically difficult, mind-numbing maintenance tasks and that suited him just fine.  Anything that would busy his hands and shut off his mind was his prescription to avoid brooding and loneliness.  Exhaustion was an ally and he embraced it with the fervor of a drowning man grasping a life preserver.  His down time was spent maintaining his module and redrawing the symbols and equations on his hand and arm, since they washed away with every cleansing.

There were others aboard this vessel to be sure, but he found that he couldn't summon the energy to forge lasting relationships with this group.  He assumed they were smugglers or some such since they avoided regular shipping lanes and only visited smaller, out of the way Commerce planets.  Those visits were brief and occurred only when the galley needed to be re-supplied.  They never spent longer than two or three hours planet side on any trip and Crichton wasn't interested in seeing the sights or exploring.  He just wanted to be left alone to submerge himself in numbness, the better to avoid painful thoughts and memories.  The time passed and his pain did not lessen.  The best he could do was to divert himself for a while until pesky memories broke into his routine when he least expected them.  The smallest thing could set off a flood of unwanted emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.  Lord knows he fought hard to suppress his loss, but he would find tears in his eyes at the most unexpected times.  He thought he hid his grief well; however, he was only fooling himself.

Since his five new shipmates included two Delvians, his feelings were no secret to any of them.  They knew he suffered and did their best to ignore his lapses.  They all admired his skill with repair although some of his habits struck them as quite odd indeed.  None of them had ever encountered a Sebacean who argued with himself as if he were actually speaking to some one else.  They all understood laughter and jokes, but his were extremely confusing and caused their translator microbes to hesitate often.  All in all, they were glad to have him aboard for his mechanical skills, even though they found themselves shaking their heads at his comments on more than one occasion.

He finished his shower and stood before his mirror as if in a trance.  Unwanted memories came and they were never pleasant.  He was suddenly in his module again.  Floating alone in the void!  Low on fuel and air!  Only Harvey to keep him company, for God's sake!  Friends gone on personal quests!  Moya swallowed by a wormhole!  Aeryn saying goodbye for the first and probably last time!

His words before she left tasted like ashes: "Aeryn, if you do this, we'll never see each other again."  Looks like I was right.  That's a helluva note.  He grinned humorlessly.

He wondered when the symptoms of oxygen deprivation would appear.  Recalling his history lessons about other space flights, he remembered the Apollo mission threatened by carbon dioxide narcosis when their oxygen scrubbers began to fail.  Chuckling softly, he thought of the solution they found by virtually building a scrubber out of odds and ends found on the ship. He knew he wouldn't be that lucky.  He already felt the pressure building in his chest as his lungs fought to squeeze oxygen from the stale air.  Harvey was panicking and fighting along with him to stay alive just a moment longer.

Should he struggle or just let nature take its course?  He had told Aeryn that he was "so much better off dead" and now it appeared he had predicted his future.  Dying alone with no one but an apparition to keep him company was galling.  "At least he had Aeryn," he thought bitterly.  He was resigned to the fact that he would never see her face or those of his friends again.  Throwing his head back, he waited for the gasping and the pain to start, as he knew they would.  His training had covered all of the ways space could kill a man and this was one of the worst. He would die like a fish on land, futilely gasping for air and drowning in a gas that his lungs could not use.  He knew his mind would start struggling and his thinking would become fuzzy and irrational.

He wasn't surprised as the images came: his Dad handing him his good luck charm, Aeryn pinning him to the deck, his mother stroking his brow and trying to comfort him as she lay dying, Scorpius leering at him as he sat in the Aurora chair, Aeryn holding the vial of compatibility serum, Zhaan with a playful smile on her face as he realized she was a plant, Aeryn kissing him in this very module, the destruction of the carrier, the thwarting of Scorpius, Aeryn saying goodbye.

Closing his eyes, he savored every memory, knowing that he had done more living in a short time than most did in two lifetimes.  His mind flashed with the wonderful sights he had seen: planets, moons, stars, and different races.  His destiny seemed a blessing and a curse: to see and experience what he had was a true blessing, but to die before recounting it was a curse that caused bile to rise in his throat.  Finding the woman whom he loved "beyond hope" was a blessing.  Losing her forever brought tears to his eyes.  I lost her to death and then to my twin.  Now I've come full circle and I lose her to death again. 

He raged against the unfairness and hopelessness of it all.  He struck the canopy and watched the blood slowly well from his knuckles disinterestedly.  Soon the pain will go away.  Ah, Aeryn, why couldn't you trust me just one more time?  What did you think I would do?

Of course, he knew what she thought and he knew she was right.  If he had known, he would have forced himself into her Prowler or forced her to stay.  Either way, she couldn't accept it.  She was afraid of the resentment he might feel towards the child or her.  She was afraid of him and his reaction.  She wanted to solve her problem like she solved all her other problems before he came along; she wished to do for herself.  When you come right down to it, she's as stubborn as I am.  The thought gave him little solace.

A darker thought struck him suddenly.  What if she aborts the baby?  She's going to be with renegades who have no use for infants or women with infants.  Suddenly, he was more afraid than he had ever been.  "Oh, God, please don't let her do that," he prayed fervently.  "She should know that I would love and accept the child.  No matter what."

Harvey was an incessant buzzing in his ear that he had been able to ignore.  However, now his insistence became overwhelming and John let him into his consciousness.  Harvey shook him violently and began slapping his cheek.

"Focus, John.  We can't stay here," Harvey said.

"Yeah, well, if you have any bright ideas, you'd better start talking.  I'm fresh out," he gasped.

"I suggest you look out there and tell me what you see."

"Harv, there's nothing out there, just like the last time I looked."

"Not true, John.  Something is there now.  Get cracking."

When he looked where Harvey was indicating, he thought for a moment Moya was back, but he knew that was impossible.  He thought he must have been hallucinating, his mind giving him hope where none existed. Rubbing his eyes in disbelief, he looked at the Leviathan with doubt.  Some part of his mind still functioned and noted that this Leviathan had come out of Starburst and no wormholes were in sight.  This Leviathan wasn't Moya.  Somehow, she looked older and more tattered.  He felt his ship shudder and begin moving toward a docking bay.  Using the docking web.  It's déjà vu all over again. 

He still thought he was seeing things as his module was drawn into the hold. When his ship came to rest, he decided that he would open his canopy and die quickly in the vacuum of space.  After all, this was all a hallucination, wasn't it?  When the canopy released, he was met with clean, fresh air and he breathed greedily. Maybe I'm not dead after all. 

While he was gasping and choking, he became aware of a voice.  It sounded like it was ordering him to get out of his ship.  As his senses returned, the order was repeated.  "Leave any weapons on your craft and get out slowly with your hands where I can see them," the voice repeated.  He slowly raised his hands and began to stand.  As his eyes began to focus again, he noticed the owner of the voice with a pulse rifle pointed directly at him.  The man was Sebacean and wore remnants of a Peacekeeper uniform, but he was definitely not part of any army.  Unshaven and disheveled with a large brace on his right knee, he kept the weapon steady as Crichton climbed to the deck.  A Delvian male and a Luxan female stood beside him, each pointing weapons of their own.

As his feet hit the deck, the Sebacean ordered him to lie on the deck facedown.  He did so slowly and carefully, trying not to startle them into shooting him.  Once they hear my name, they'll probably shoot me anyway or just turn me over to the Peacekeepers. 

"Then lie to them, John.  Make up a name, but don't tell them you're John Crichton," Harvey whispered in his ear.

"Who are you and what manner of craft is this?" The Sebacean demanded as he prodded John with the barrel of his rifle.

"The craft is experimental.  I was testing it from a Leviathan which Starburst and left me out here.  The Pilot's last transmission seemed to indicate some sort of control problem that he couldn't handle.  The next thing I knew I was hanging out here all alone.  I'm glad you guys showed up," John said using his most engaging smile.

The rifle prodded again.  "You still haven't told me your name."

"My name is Tridon, but everybody calls me Butch," John replied, holding his breath.

"Who do you work for, Butch?  Wouldn't be the Peacekeepers, would it?"

Something told John to expand on his lie and quickly.  "No, actually I'm an independent scientist funded by people who found my theories intriguing.  They sent me out here to test them in case they didn't work."

"I see.  And what about the Leviathan you say you were on.  Was she a Peacekeeper vessel?"

"No.  She was a free ship that my employers had use of, but don't ask me how because I don't know."

"Stay there and don't move.  Tral, D'Riba, look over his vessel and check for any armaments," the leader instructed the other two who moved towards the module carefully.

Turning back to Crichton, the leader said, "My name is Maldon and I am the captain of this freighter.  Do you have any experience in maintaining a Leviathan or any skills that might make you useful?  We don't waste space for dead weight or useless cargo.  If you do and we find nothing suspicious on your vessel, we may be able to broker a deal for your transport."

"May I get up now?" John started to rise, but Maldon pressed the rifle barrel into his cheek.

"Guess not," John muttered.

"What have you found?" Maldon asked impatiently.

"This ship is no threat," the Delvian replied.

"Only a pulse pistol," the female Luxan added.

The pressure disappeared from John's cheek and he was lifted roughly to his feet.  He slowly turned to face the three with a slight grin.  He acknowledged the other two with a nod.  The Delvian, Tral, returned his nod.  D'Riba simply studied him closely and silently.

"Well," said Maldon impatiently.  "Can you maintain a Leviathan or do we drop you at the nearest Commerce planet?"

John thought about it and answered with a nod.  "Yes, I helped maintain the other Leviathan and I guess I was useful since her problems weren't too numerous to deal with."

"Good," replied Maldon.  "How long were you stranded out here?"

"Long enough to start breathing extremely stale air."

"We noticed.  Well, let's get you a berth and get you settled in," said Maldon as he turned towards a passageway.  "Follow me."

He shook himself and came back to the present.  That encounter occurred more than seven months ago and John indeed settled in.  He helped at every opportunity and even skipped meals to help maintain the aging Leviathan.  He learned that besides Tral and D'Riba, there were two more crewmembers.  One was Tral's mate and the ship's medic, Loran, and the other was a taciturn Sebacean named Gril, who served as the cook for the crew.  John made himself as indispensable as possible so that he could keep traveling and get lost.  He wanted to be as lost as he felt without his friends and Aeryn, not to mention avoiding the assorted enemies made during his stay in the Uncharteds.

He talked to the female pilot, which the others found amusing since they considered her and the Leviathan as nothing more than servicers.  He learned the ship's name was Tona and that she had once been used by the Peacekeepers until considered too old to carry out their commands.  He visited Pilot often and forged a friendship of sorts.  He listened and learned a lot. 

One day when John was visiting, she surprised him by starting to tell her story.  John held his breath and listened.  He really wanted to know.

"Tona and I were captured by the Peacekeepers over one hundred cycles ago," she began.  "When they put the control collar on, I thought we would die.  Tona hated it because of the pain and begged me to do something, but there was nothing I could do.  So we finally complied."

She glanced at Crichton and noticed him listening raptly, so she continued.  "We carried cargo and prisoners alike throughout Peacekeeper space.  After twenty cycles, Tona began to show her age and our masters were displeased.  They hurt us over and over in an attempt to make us move faster, but we couldn't.  Tona couldn't.  I heard them talking about decommissioning us and I knew what that meant.  We were very afraid."

"What happened to change their minds?"

"A quirk of fate spared us both.  Maldon worked for the Peacekeepers in an advisory role and he was related to the Officer commanding Tona.  I'm not sure what happened between them, but one day the Peacekeepers left and Maldon brought the other four aboard.  They have been our crew for twelve cycles and we accept them.  Tona and I certainly prefer them to Peacekeepers."

John got to his feet and patted her on one of her arms.  "I can imagine," he murmured.  "I do have one question."

"What is it?'

"Are all your species named Pilot?"

"Actually we are all called Pilot because we are unique when we are bonded to a Leviathan.  Our true names are very hard for the translator microbes."

"What is your true name?"

Crichton heard what sounded to be twelve consonants with deep exhalations between some of them.  He actually laughed for the first time in months.  "I see what you mean," he chuckled.  "I'll just call you Milady if that's alright with you."

"Certainly.  Does the name have some special significance to you?"

"No, you just have a regal bearing and the name seems to fit."

"Thank you, Butch.  Tona and I both thank you for taking the time to visit.  We find it most gratifying."

"It is my pleasure, Milady, and tell Tona when you get a chance."

As he left her chamber, he heard her say, "She already knows."

John joined the others in the galley and asked Maldon how he had come to be aboard Tona.  Maldon bragged that he had won Tona in a card game with a drunken Peacekeeper Captain who was too lazy to decommission her according to regulations.  D'Riba and Maldon appeared to have some sort of relationship, but John wasn't interested in that.  All he cared about was flying deeper and deeper into the Uncharted Territories and being anonymous.

He slept little and when he did, his dreams were troubling.  He saw Aeryn fighting without him.  He saw her laughing and carousing with her Peacekeeper friends.  He saw her dying with wounds too terrible to describe.  He missed her so much that his weight dropped and he became razor thin.  Even Gril commented that he should eat more often or risk getting sick.  Loran checked on him often and gave him herbs to help him sleep deeper, but the dreams and the agony of Aeryn's loss continued to weigh upon him.  He could think of nothing but her and his lost friends.

He continually replayed his last conversation with Aeryn over and over.  Each had demanded from the other a vow that could not be kept.  They both knew it and the knowing drove them apart.  He wondered if he could have said or done anything differently.  He grimaced as he realized that anything he might have said wouldn't have changed her mind.  He heard the old woman's words ringing in his ears, "Aeryn is with child.  Her time. Her world."  Yeah, well, you can't say I'm not giving her time, but I don't know if I can survive the time in between.

Since his dreams were so troubling, he tried to put off sleeping until he was exhausted.  Even when he did, the dreams came and he moaned and tossed in his sleep.  He always woke up tired and irritable, but he put all his energy into working on the ship and used his spare time to work on his module.  He was slightly surprised that none of this crew even bothered to ask him about his module.  Probably think it's a frelling piece of dren, just like Aeryn did.  The thought caused pain to shoot through his stomach and an ache to fill his chest.  No matter how much pain he felt, he still hoped against all odds that they would meet again.  A snippet of a poem ran through his mind over and over:

I see my true love's face

 Whenever I close my eyes.

With numb fingers I can trace

The pain that within me lies.

She has gone and left me

With a void within my heart

And I know that I will never be

Complete when we're apart.

After dropping by John's quarters during one sleep cycle, Loran slipped into bed with Tral.  She shook her head absently when he asked how 'Tridon' was doing.  "I am worried about him," she said.  "His illness seems more spiritual than physical, yet he will not allow me to treat him.  He says he does not trust sharing Unity with me because he's had too many people sift through his brain to suit him, but he didn't explain what he meant."

"Do you think he will die?" Tral asked in a slightly worried tone.

"I do not know.  I noticed a strange thing when I stopped in, however."

"What?"

"His hands were clenched around two objects.  In one hand he had a lock of black hair, very long."

"And in the other?"

"A badge or coin of some kind, but I couldn't tell.  I am going to tell Maldon that we need shore leave and insist that Tridon come with us when we visit the next Commerce planet.  Maybe the feel of a planet beneath his feet will help him in some way."

Her mate responded by stroking her forehead.  "You are a good medical, my dearest.  You should be a diagnosan."

She smiled in response and snuggled into his arms as they fell asleep.

Maldon agreed with her assessment about shore leave and after consulting with the pilot, he found a small Commerce planet within three solar days travel.  Butch was a valuable crewmember now and he could ill afford to lose him at this point in their journey.

Crichton argued that he was fine, but the others finally convinced him that going ashore would be for the best.  His heart wasn't in it, but he agreed just to keep them from worrying so much.  He had some new acquaintances and he wanted to keep them happy and unsuspicious.  He definitely wanted to stay on this boat for as long as he could.  He put on a hooded cloak and some gloves since Milady reported a harsh climate and ran for the shuttle.

Aeryn was bored and irritated.  When she left Moya to find the renegade Peacekeeper group, she had no inkling that they wouldn't accept her at face value.  After a brief stop at a medical facility, she had traced the group to a planet in a nearby system where she finally made contact with an emissary for the group.  She waited for two solar days on the planet before the group even sent him and before their conversation was three minutes old, she realized that earning their trust was going to be harder than she thought.  To say that he was skeptical was an understatement.

The man was hard-bitten and lean with piercing gray eyes.  He was cautious and revealed little about the group's activities or current missions.  Aeryn found herself becoming annoyed by his circuitous way of speaking about the group and finally interrupted him in the middle of one of his lengthy discourses.

"Look, you say you have heard of me and you wish recruits.  I am here, so let's get on with it.  I have been searching for you for the last five monens and I am ready to give you my support."

"I'm afraid it isn't that easy 'Officer' Sun.  We have indeed heard of you and we know that you have spent at least three cycles in the company of a group of aliens.  We know you were deemed irreversibly contaminated by your Captain and escaped custody with their assistance.  Since then, you have been involved with the destruction of a Shadow Depository and a Gammak Base, but we are very concerned with the rumors about your involvement with a non-Sebacean male.  We may be renegades, but we still follow our training and fraternization with other species is not something we practice or approve of at all."

"You're telling me that you broke away from the Peacekeepers but continue to believe their propaganda?" She asked incredulously.

"Their 'propaganda' as you call it keeps the Sebacean race pure.  We may have disavowed the leadership of the Peacekeepers, but there are some things that we still believe.  If you have recreated with an alien, how do we trust you?"

"You are in need of a trained pilot and commando.  My skills are excellent and I wish to fight with you.  My personal life should be none of your concern."

"If you wish to join us, every facet of your life is our concern.  How do we know that you wouldn't betray us as you did your previous commander?  How do we know that you aren't a spy for Central Command trying to earn your way back into their good graces by infiltrating our group?  How do we know that you wouldn't desert us if your alien friends needed you again?"

Aeryn shook her head and began to speak through clenched teeth.  "The man I had a 'relationship' with is dead.  My friends have left on quests of their own.  This is my quest.  I wish to help remake the Peacekeepers into what they were hundreds of cycles ago.  When they were formed, the Peacekeepers protected and helped other species as well as other Sebaceans who wished to live in peace.  Over the cycles, their leadership grew corrupt and they lost their purpose and their nobility.  I want to help rectify that."

"Very noble sentiments, Officer!  However, we don't accept just anyone who comes to us.  We haven't survived for this long by trusting strangers, even if they have impressive reputations such as yours.  You will have to prove yourself before you are welcome with us."

"And how do I do that?" Aeryn snapped.

"I will discuss your request with our leader.  I'm sure he can give you a task which would prove your worthiness."

"When will I hear from you again?"

"I will contact you in a solar day."  He turned and melted into the darkness, leaving Aeryn frustrated and more than a little disillusioned.

Good to his word, he appeared at her door the next evening.  After he entered, he studied her carefully and then announced how she would prove herself.

"There are two beings on this planet whom we suspect of being Scarran agents.  Our leader wishes you to follow them and report their activities.  You can do this with one of our communication devices."  He handed her a comm unit.

"What am I to do if they leave the planet?"

"Why, follow them of course.  No matter where they go, we wish to be apprised of their meetings and their contacts.  We want a running commentary of their every movement."

Aeryn was a commando and desired action.  However, this mission was nothing more than simple surveillance and she found it boring and a little demeaning.  She had followed the two from planet to planet and dutifully reported their actions.  She spent her evenings in a backwater saloon that the aliens frequented on this particular Commerce planet and she was getting very tired of rebuffing lonely males while pretending to be something she was not.

Ironically, with the passage of time she found herself thinking of Crichton more and more.  She slowly resolved the conflict within herself and knew that the John Crichton she left on Moya was someone she longed to be with again.  She was also stubborn enough to continue her work for the renegades, no matter how boring it was.  She truly believed what she told the emissary and was bound and determined to prove her worth in order to reach her personal goals.  She just wished John were here to share her task with her.  As much as she hated to admit it, she missed him terribly and worried for his safety.

With a large sigh, she noted that the two she was observing were about to enter the bar again.  She knew she attracted attention when she went there, but there was nothing else she could do if she wished to keep them in sight.  I wasn't bred for this type of duty.  I just hope I don't have to shoot someone this time.

After wandering around in the markets and finding nothing of interest, John decided that a fellip nectar might be nice, so he wandered down a side street until he found a drinking establishment.  The bar he chose was in a rundown section of the city and catered to the rougher element of the Commerce planet.  Dingy, poorly lit, and selling cheap drinks, the place was staffed by a bored bartender and two harried waitpersons of indeterminate age.  The patrons were used to strange comings and goings, but bitter experience had taught them to exercise caution and be watchful.  When John entered the bar wearing his cloak, he felt every set of eyes in the place appraise him.  Since his features were effectively hidden, he didn't figure to be recognized, but he was still cautious and kept his hood up.

The bulge under his cloak at the thigh caused some of the patrons to study him nervously.  Whether they reacted out of guilt or fear, who could say?  All they knew was that he appeared to be alone and took a seat at the end of the bar where he could watch the patrons and the door at the same time.  From experience, they knew that no one did this unless they were being followed, meeting someone or expecting trouble.  Sometimes the choice of a distant barstool meant all three.

He raised a gloved hand and signaled the bartender, who slowly slid down the bar to take his order.  The more observant thought that his choice of intoxicant might possibly give them some clue to his identity.  They were disappointed when the bartender returned with a bottle of fellip nectar.  Fellip nectar was a common beverage and cheaper than most.  In fact, many of them were drinking it.

The stranger sat and drank quietly, but everyone was sure he missed no movement or entrance from his perch.  Time passed and the patrons began to relax slightly.  Every time someone entered, they noted him studying the person carefully before returning to his drink.  When the dark-haired Sebacean female entered, her bearing, manner and long black leather coat caused many to dismiss her as a Peacekeeper on shore leave, but she wore no uniform or insignia of rank which some newcomers to the bar found puzzling.  If any had been watching the man at the end of the bar, they would have thought him paralyzed in mid-drink, his glass suspended before him and forgotten.  However, the woman ignored everyone and went to a table toward the back.

"Another boring evening fending off unwanted advances and watching those two fools get dren-faced," she thought as she entered.  Her focus was on the two and she ignored all others as she took up her accustomed seat at the rear table.

The bartender watched as she took up a strategic position at a table where she could see the entire room.  There she is.  Right on time, just like every night for the past monen.  I wonder what her story is and why she sits alone.  He shook himself from his reverie long enough to fill her order for fellip nectar before the waitperson even got to the bar.  He watched with amusement as the adjustment of her pistol caused some of the more timid patrons decide they had important business elsewhere.  A number of them stood and shrugged on their coats, hastening to leave quickly and quietly.

The regulars dismissed the women's presence with a headshake since she had been coming to the bar for quite some time.  Besides, almost everyone in the bar wore some type of weapon.  On this planet and in this place, being unarmed was quite hazardous to one's health and continued existence.

John thought to approach her immediately, but caution won out.  "She may be on a mission," he thought.  "I don't want to put her in danger."

The bartender studied her again.  He had mentally named her 'The Ice Princess' after he had watched her rebuff one potential suitor after another on her visits.  She wore her long black hair in a loose battle braid, just as she always did.  The bartender had seen many things in his years on this backwater planet and his experience and intuition told him that someone might try to get friendly with her again.  He smiled as he filled her order for another fellip nectar and pictured what would happen then.   His main function was to sell intoxicants, but her reaction to unwanted advances might break the monotony of his routine.  He never interfered because he needed a little entertainment and she had shown on many occasions that she was more than able to take care of herself.  He simply watched and mentally made bets with himself as to who would be the unlucky one tonight.  He busily polished glasses that had seen better times and waited for the fun to start.

Time passed slowly and the crowd thinned out.  Soon the man at the bar and the woman were the only ones remaining, save for two extremely intoxicated 'miners' with reminders of careless moments etched on their faces.  Both of them had been drinking steadily and quietly appraising the woman.  They had noted her appearance with suspicion earlier since they had noticed her more than once observing their movements.  They discussed her more openly and loudly as the raslak flowed, knowing that she could hear their comments and hoping for some acknowledgement.

Finally, the more aggressive of the two decided that he might just get lucky tonight since she was obviously some sort of Sebacean tralk.  He staggered slightly as he rose from his seat and approached the woman.  She didn't even glance at him as he stood beside her table.  Behind the bar, the bartender smiled to himself.  He is in for a rude surprise.  The Ice Princess takes no prisoners.

"Mind if I join you?" the miner asked with a slight slurring of his speech.

The dark-haired woman appraised him with cold, grayish-blue eyes before replying flatly, "I don't wish to be bothered."

"Come on, sweetie.  We know you've been watching us.  You don't know what you're missing," he cajoled as he steadied himself with a chair.

"Nor do I wish to.  Just leave me alone."

Her voice carried no tone of request, just the slightest note of disdain.  Her eyes cut through the miner and awakened a feeling of uneasiness through his intoxicated haze.

"What's the matter?  Too good to drink with a miner?" he responded angrily.

"I choose my drinking companions on my own terms.  You don't meet the standard," she said in a frigid tone as her hand moved towards her weapon.

The miner began to splutter and thought about reaching for her, but the pistol pointed at his midsection changed his mind.  He began to back away, immediately contrite and mumbling apologies.  The other miner stood and the two stumbled out of the bar muttering to themselves to save face.

Aeryn mentally kicked herself for being too obvious with her surveillance.  She decided to let the two have a sizable head start before following again.  This planet is too confined for this type of operation.  There should be at least two others here so that I don't attract attention like that.  Hopefully, those two will decide that this was all a coincidence. 

While she was lost in thought, she noticed a slight movement out of the corner of her eye.  She groaned to herself as the man at the end of the bar started her way.  Frell!  Here comes another drunken fool.  I'll probably have to shoot this one just to keep up appearances.

John had watched the conversation quietly.  He was more afraid now than he had ever been.  He didn't know if enough time had passed.  He wondered if Aeryn had found a new life and had no desire to see him again.  He felt his palms begin to sweat as he quietly pondered his next move.  "I can't let the woman I love walk out my life again when we're this close," he decided.  "I have to know if the old woman was telling the truth and I have to know if she thinks of me at all."  He gathered his courage and slipped silently off his stool and began the longest journey of his life.

The bartender thought that the fun was over for the night, but John's movement attracted his attention.  He smiled slightly to himself as the hooded figure approached the woman with slow, hesitating steps.  He was pleased that the entertainment was not over, but from the look on the woman's face he wagered he would be mopping up blood before the night was over.

The man stopped and began to reach for something in his pocket with a trembling hand.  The woman shifted in her seat slightly and studied him with narrowed eyes, her pistol ready and her eyes trying to pierce the shadows of his hood.  The bartender watched the man slowly withdraw his hand from his cloak and saw a coin or a badge fly into the air to fall on the table in front of the woman.  He strained to hear the man's words.

John pulled the badge from his pocket slowly and flipped it into the air.  He never took his eyes from Aeryn as the coin tumbled lazily.  Aeryn and the others watched it fly slowly up and descend to land on her table.  His voice broke as he said only two words, "Fate, Aeryn."

The servers and the bartender watched in amazement as the woman's eyes widened in shock and surprise.  They saw waves of emotions washing over her and marveled that such a small thing would cause her to shudder so violently.  They watched as The Ice Princess melted before their very eyes, her frozen façade disappearing and a smile beginning to form on her lips.  She wiped moisture from her eyes as she looked at the man.  She stood as he drew the hood back from his face and they saw tears glistening on his cheeks as well.  Their eyes locked on one another and it was as if no one and nothing else existed in the galaxy save these two.

They took short hesitating steps toward each other like the steps of a toddler just learning to walk and afraid to trust the strength of its new legs.  Her hand rose to touch his cheek and he placed his hand against her face fitting her jaw into his palm. 

"You look like you haven't been eating or sleeping well."

"I told you I have trouble with the time in-between.  I guess it shows."

"What are you doing here, John?"

"Having a quiet drink before going back to my ship," he replied as he stepped away to appraise her coolly.  "You look well, in fact you look like you've lost a little weight."

"We meet again after more than half a cycle and all you want to discuss is my weight?" Aeryn asked with surprise.

"Well, I heard that you were pregnant, Aeryn.  Shouldn't you be showing a little or are gestation cycles different out here?"

Aeryn recoiled in shock.  "How did you know?  I wasn't even sure."

"The old woman told me.  She told me a lot of things.  What did you do to the baby, Aeryn?"

Aeryn lowered her eyes momentarily, and then looked directly into John's.  "I didn't give birth."

John's face contorted angrily as he grabbed her wrist.  "Did you abort the child?" His voice was almost a snarl.

Aeryn shook her head emphatically and jerked free.  "No, I would not do that to our, uh, my child.  Neither would I want her growing up in a crèche as I did," she whispered vehemently.

"So what did that leave?"

"I found a diagnosan on a medical planet and selected a surrogate mother.  The surrogate was placed in cryosuspension and will not be revived until I return to the planet.  The threat from Scarrans, Nebari and Peacekeepers will not affect her.  Bringing our child into this situation would endanger both her and us.  You know that. "

"Yes, I do.  So where do we go from here?"

"You could join us."

"I could, but what would I do?  I'm not a Peacekeeper or an assassin.  There have already been enough deaths because of wormholes and me.  I would be in the way in a commando unit and I don't want that.  I don't want anyone else dying because of me."

"You could learn.  I could teach you."

"Aeryn, you're looking at this situation as if your quest were the only important thing.  You don't understand and I wonder if you ever have.  Don't you know I feel guilty about every death I've caused even when they couldn't be avoided?  I live with guilt every day.  I even feel guilty about the enemies I've killed.  I don't like who I've become and I'm not going down that road anymore.  I refuse to become a deep space Rambo just so we can be together."

"I can't leave now, they are beginning to trust me."

"I know.  So it looks like we're right back where we were before you came into this bar.  When you're ready, I'll be out there.  I will always love you and our child, but I can't do what you want.  You want me to become something I find repellant and I just can't."  John turned toward the door and began walking.

"Are you giving up?"

Her question stopped him and he slowly turned.  "On what?  This is what you want, not me.  You always do what you want to do.  You haven't considered one thing that I've wanted since he died.  Don't forget, I'm just the copy."

His words made her wince and tears began to form.  "So this is it," she cried.  "You leave?  And for this, I backed you against Scorpius?"

"I haven't forgotten.  It's just that I don't see any other option right now and neither will you when you think about it.  After all, you left me on Moya.  I'll tell you what, keep the coin.  Toss it when you're ready.  We'll have to keep trusting fate until then.  Goodbye, Aeryn Sun.  Fly safe."

John left the bar and slowly walked back to the transport pod, hoping to hear her call after him.  He knew she wouldn't and his heart was leaden while his stomach churned.  He wanted to go back and drag her away with him.  Knowing she wouldn't come caused him to double over in agony.  He retched twice before climbing unsteadily into the pod and returning to Tona.

Had he stayed, he would have heard the words he longed to hear again.  After he was gone, Aeryn stood with tears streaming down her cheeks.  She could not leave when she was so close to acceptance, so all she could do was cry.

Her whispered gossamer words floated toward the door, but John was too far away to hear.

"I love you, John Crichton.  I will find you again."  She turned, picked up the coin, and left.

THE END