PERCEPTION
By Darkman
Rating: PG for language
Category: Short Story
Time/Spoilers: Some spoilers from Season 3 final 4.
Summary: AU for Season 4
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.  Any others are all mine.  Many thanks to Janeway, my patient and kind beta reader.

How long does a minute last?  Any physicist, chemist, or mathematician will tell you that a minute is sixty seconds, no more, no less.  Analytical physicists will begin to explain seconds in terms of cesium fountain atomic clocks and describe in glowing terms how accurately time can be measured.  They will talk in terms of the vibration of cesium atoms and resonance frequencies.  Of course, laypersons will have their eyes glaze over very quickly.  The concept of time and its measurement is something only a scientist fully appreciates.  Ah, but the perception of time is a totally different story.  Perception is purely a matter of the brain and that makes all the difference.

Perception depends on the situation.  How long does a minute last?  Think torture, loneliness, a firefight or drowning.  Conversely, think orgasm, foreplay or joy.  Think kissing your mate.  Sometimes a minute seems like eternity; other times it's almost like it didn't happen.  Perception and circumstance make all the difference.

She came awake, immediately alert with weapon in hand.  She lay motionless and studied the darkness surrounding her for a hint of what had awakened her.  Finally, she began to relax as she realized it must have been a dream.  Normally she didn't dream, so this was an anomaly.  The wisps of sleep were completely gone from her mind, so she sighed, holstered her pistol, and decided to visit the ship's galley for a cup of challan tea.  Since it was late watch, she wasn't surprised to find the passageways deserted.  As she was mixing the tea and warming the water, she heard a soft footfall behind her.  Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Duron entering.

"Mind if I join you, Sun.  I'm having trouble sleeping, too."

"I thought Black Ghosts could sleep anywhere and anytime," she chided.

"Well, it's been a long time since I was one of them and I can't seem to get comfortable," he grimaced.

Duron had come to the group as one of the most decorated special ops warriors in Peacekeeper annals.  He had aged gracefully and well.  His silver hair and firm body belied his real age, which Aeryn guessed to be more than ninety cycles.  She based her guess on the stories she had heard of his exploits from the others, knowing that most of them occurred before she was born.  He had a confident air about him with no trace of arrogance and Aeryn found him comfortable to be around.  In her first few missions with the group, she had seen his skills firsthand and found them quite impressive.  He was a master of disguise as well as an excellent tactician with well-honed fighting instincts.  She both respected and emulated him and went out of her way to accompany him on missions every chance she got.

"What's keeping you awake, Duron?  We don't have any missions coming up, do we?"  She tried to keep the hopeful tone from her voice, but he noticed it anyway.

"Ah, Sun.  Always the eager one, aren't you?  I hate to dash your hopes, but the only thing interrupting my sleep cycle is my age not last minute planning."

"You're not that old," she smiled.

"I'm old enough to be your father and then some, Officer.  The water is hot enough.  Let's have our tea and quit discussing such delicate topics, shall we?" He returned her smile with a glitter in his eyes.

They both sat and drank silently for a time, each nursing their tea and enjoying an easy camaraderie.  Aeryn had missed this type of companionship aboard Moya until she began to fit in and found it again quickly aboard Talyn with John.  The thought brought a slight glistening to her eyes that Duron was quick to notice.

"What's the matter, Sun?  Are you finding my company that upsetting?"

Aeryn shook her head slightly.  "No, not at all.  I was just remembering a past life."

Duron's eyes bored through her.  He was the most perceptive man she had ever met save one and he proved it again with his comment.

"More likely a past love.  How did you lose him?"

"Radiation poisoning took him from me on a Chilnak-forsaken planet while he was being a hero again," she blurted before she could catch herself.  She was afraid Duron would take her admission as a sign of her weakness, but he seemed unperturbed.

"When did it happen?"

"It has been almost a cycle since he died."

"We are talking about the infamous John Crichton, aren't we?"

Seeing her nod, he continued, "Yes, we knew of you and Crichton, but he had a hand in destroying Scorpius' carrier more recently than that.  How could he have died that long ago?"

"It's a long story, Duron, and slightly unbelievable.  I don't wish to bore you."

Sensing that she didn't wish to talk, Duron relented.  "I'm never bored, Sun.  If you want to talk about it some time, let me know," he smiled.

After a brief pause, he looked at her and gently asked, "Have you ever wondered how I became a member of our group?"

Aeryn nodded her head and raised a quizzical eyebrow.  She was very curious about Duron's presence here and hoped to find out just what had driven him from the Peacekeepers.  She listened carefully to every story shared by the group, but had heard no mention of this.  She flushed slightly at the thought of being one of the few who knew Duron's story.

"Everyone has wondered about that."

He nodded and his eyes took on a faraway look as he remembered.  His voice shook slightly as he began.

"Twenty cycles ago I was at the pinnacle of the Black Ghosts.  I had everything a soldier could wish for: countless successful missions, decorations too numerous to count, respect of peers and superiors, and a name that was whispered in fear by Peacekeeper enemies.  Then I made a mistake that cost me everything."  Pausing, his eyes pinning Aeryn, he whispered, "I fell in love."

"Tura was a tech on a leviathan and I met her by chance when I put in for repairs.  You may have noticed that Black Ghosts don't stand much on ceremony.  Peacekeepers who assist us are allies.  She was no different in that respect.  My attitude and arrogance was the beginning of my downfall.  She was different and I felt it.  I enjoyed her company and I began to banter with her, even though techs and other castes are forbidden to fraternize.  I had leave time coming so I spent it close to my ship.  I saw her every day and we spoke of innocuous things, but she attracted me in a mysterious way and I knew she felt the same."  He smiled gently at the memory.

"Since we talked every day, it soon became difficult for us to hide our feelings from each other.  Of course, we were violating Peacekeeper regulations, but I was a highly decorated special ops officer and I thought I was untouchable.  Every day we became closer and finally we could not stand the tension anymore.  We began meeting in out of the way places aboard the carrier and our hearts soared.  She was like an intoxicant, Sun.  We couldn't get enough of each other."  He shook his head sadly as he remembered.

"Eventually, my executive officer discovered our indiscretion and reported it to High Command.  Their choice was simple, an insignificant tech or the most vaunted Black Ghost in the Directorate.  Orders came down and she was tried before a tribunal and sentenced to the living death.  High Command ordained that I be forced to watch as it took her.  It was the most horrible thing I have seen before or since."  He shuddered slightly at the memory.

He paused and took a swallow of his tea.  Aeryn could see wetness in his eyes and the trembling of his shoulders.  She reached across and gently placed her hand on his.  When he looked up, she saw his eyes harden into anthracite and his voice stopped shaking.

"They gave me options then.  Can you guess what they were?"

"I think so.  You could either leave her in that state until she died or kill her out of mercy."

Duron nodded then said with a contemptuous snort, "It seems they wished to make an example of me to show everyone that no Peacekeeper is above regulations.  I was forced to release her in front of my team.  To a person, each member agreed with High Command and they let me know it.  Their disdain was evident.  They acted like I had betrayed them.  I can still hear their sneers and jibes."  He sighed and took a swallow of tea.

"Letting me live was their biggest mistake.  After I had done what I had to do, the grief was almost too much to bear.  For five solar days, I was confined to quarters awaiting my court marshal when rage broke through to replace my grief.  I swore to bring down High Command any way I could.  I easily killed my guards and went on a rampage.  That day every witness to my act of "mercy" died.  I was a killing machine, Sun.  Nothing could stop me and no one could hide.  I murdered old comrades-in-arms as well as every officer who sat on the tribunal.  I saved my 'XO' until last and I savored his screams as he died in agony.  Then I stole a Prowler and made my way to this group.  I have been here ever since."

She watched him carefully because it seemed that he had more to say.  She wasn't disappointed.

"I see what you are thinking and the answer is no, Sun.  There hasn't been an arn since that time when I haven't thought of Tura.  I would die a happy man to have just one more microt with her.  High Command destroyed us.  It is just taking me longer to die.  She will be with me forever, even on the other side."

Duron smiled faintly.  "Thank you for listening to the ramblings of an old man, Officer.  I can see that this Crichton is not far from your thoughts, either.  Don't worry, Sun.  Things have a way of working out if fortune smiles on you."

He stifled a yawn.  "It seems the tea has had the desired effect.  Good rest, Sun."

"Good rest, Duron, and thank you for trusting me enough to tell your story."

"Don't forget that I am willing to hear yours at any time."

After he left, Aeryn refilled her cup and began to think.  She remembered bits and pieces of her dream, quick glimpses, and stark images.  She was on Moya, talking to John.  Their last conversation was imprinted on her heart and their words to each other stung, especially his belief that they would never see each other again.  She had left him, again.  Could he forgive that?  He had forgiven her twice, but would he do it again? 

Could he love her after he discovered what she had to do to John's child?  She really didn't have much choice in the matter.  Would he understand that?  The child would grow to adulthood loved and protected, but he would never know his true parents.  The group wanted her with them, but they could not care for a child so arrangements had been made for him to be raised by Sebaceans on a colony planet. 

She found herself thinking of him more often.  Shaking her head, she realized that she actually missed him.  She hadn't lied to him, she did love John Crichton and she knew that despite his protestations to the contrary that he was the same man she loved now and would always love.  He was the man she had fallen in love with even before the twinning.  She smiled at the irony.  "Maybe it isn't too late for me after all," she thought as she made her way to her chamber.

__________________________________________________________________________________

The Nebari assassin knelt in the shadows of the roof, waiting to take her position at the parapet overlooking the town plaza.  She felt a small tug of pride as she caressed her weapon.  An experimental weapon forged from Nebari science and she had been selected for its first use.  The weapon fired a projectile using compressed gas as an accelerant.  No one would be able to see a muzzle flash and the weapon operated almost without sound.  She was confident that she could get off several rounds without detection.

She shook herself mentally as her training stepped on her small sense of pride and quelled it completely.  She worked for the greater good and there was no room for personal feelings, no matter how slight.  Her training and experience made this mission fairly simple and she was positive of success.  Shoot the target from one-tenth of a metra.  Throughout her entire familiarization with the weapon, she could not recall a miss.  Of course, her masters had seen to it that all of her misses were washed from her memory like small stains from clothing, but she couldn't know that.  She also had false memories of success implanted by her masters that made her the quintessential killer: no guilt, no memory of failure, and no emotion to get in the way.  The unforeseen problem was the other memories.

The niggling doubt in the back of her mind resurfaced like a small ache, causing her to shake her head with annoyance.  "Sebaceans look so much alike," she thought.  She had holoimages of her targets and every time she looked at them, she felt an itch within her mind because the image of the female was familiar.  She shook her head as another memory surfaced, competing with the calm inserted into her brain.  She saw herself talking to two Sebaceans, one male and one female.  The female was the one in the image she studied, but her mind again shook off the memory and her mission for the greater good struggled to become her focus.

She seemed to hear the male talking to her and calling her 'Pip.'  Her name wasn't Pip and for the life of her, she couldn't remember any name other than the one her masters used.  "My name is Bri'the," she muttered through clenched teeth.  "I am the best and I will prove it soon."

She began to check her weapon again, but the perception of being somewhere else and someone else wouldn't go away.  She called upon her training and went into a fugue state, awakening somewhat later refreshed and with a clear mind.  Her mission was her focus once again.

Her masters had impressed upon her the importance of killing both the Sebacean female and the former Black Ghost.  The two had thwarted her masters' plans one time too many and were becoming a major irritant.  The female had appeared from nowhere, joining the band of renegades bent on reestablishing the Peacekeepers as a force to be respected, not feared.  Her impact had been immediate, especially on the behavior of the former Black Ghost.  The group became more selective with their targets and more efficient with their strikes.  Suddenly, they were a force to be reckoned with and all of their raids were successful and crippling.

Bri'the's masters were infuriated and she was summoned to rectify the problem.  At least that was her perception, but like all of her perceptions, it was false.  She had been captured on a commerce planet soon after leaving D'Argo's vessel.  Her captors used their mental cleansing techniques so that in her mind she became someone else with quite different skills than she had used before.  What they had not factored into their equations was the remnant of the Energy Rider and its effect on the young Nebari's mind.

Chiana didn't realize that her masters were not the Nebari.  True, her handler was Nebari, but he worked for the Scarrans.  It was their mind-cleansing effects and illusions that she fought.  The Scarrans' arrogance was total and they had no idea that their brainwashed assassin was fighting to regain control of her own mind.

The fugue state had helped briefly, but now her memory was being flooded with other images.  She saw a Luxan, a Delvian, a Hynerian, a leviathan in brief stroboscopic flashes.  Her implanted memories of killing from the shadows overlapped these others and she felt like her head would explode soon if some resolution wasn't reached.   She felt a trickle of liquid down the side of her face and her hand was bright blue with her blood when she brought it to her eyes.  She was actually hitting her head against the wall trying to make sense of what she was seeing.  Suddenly her memory returned with such force that she reeled. 

She looked around her in confusion.  "How did I get here," she wondered.  "And what am I doing with this weapon?"

Her thoughts whirled as she looked at the holoimages in her hand and the weapon by her side.  Suddenly, she knew who she was and what had happened to her.  She steadied herself and leaned heavily against the wall, shaking her head to clear it.

"My name is Chiana and I don't kill my friends," she whispered and began looking for a way off the roof.

Before she could completely recover, a rough hand grabbed her shoulder and spun her to look into the face of her handler.  The Nebari male looked deeply into her eyes and disappointment clouded his face briefly.

"I told them that your energy readings were not within the correct parameters," he said softly.

Her agile mind formulated a quick plan that began with her pushing him away.  "What are you doing here, Taldis?  I've never needed your help before and I don't need it now," she responded in a calm tone she did not feel.  "Haven't I performed every assignment to perfection?"

Taldis was suspicious, but he wasn't entirely sure that his mind control was still affecting her.  He had tests designed for just this eventuality and began to use them.

"What is your name?"

"Dren," Chiana thought.  "I've never been good at tests."  She decided to continue the bluff until an opportunity presented itself, so she answered softly, "My name is Bri'the, as you well know."

"Good and your mission?"

Chiana held up the holoimages.  "Kill these two Sebaceans when they arrive on the planet."

"Why?"

"For the greater good and those are my orders."

"Do you remember your mission on Aldar 4?"

Chiana's mind was furiously multitasking and she was having trouble separating the illusion from the reality, but a memory sprang forth.  "Yes, of course, I killed a Peacekeeper emissary using a poisoned blade."

"What about your mission on Centi?"

"You know I had no mission on that planet.  My mission was on the planet's third moon and I killed a Luxan female with a Morlian spider to make it look accidental."

Taldis' suspicions waned and he began to turn away.  Chiana quickly grabbed her weapon and struck him.  He fell noiselessly and she turned to run, but froze when she saw a huge Scarran observing her from the shadows.  False perceptions sometimes prove to be salvation.  Without thinking, she shot him where he stood.  Even his thick skin didn't save him as his head exploded messily.

"Frell," she screamed and ran to the parapet, not even pausing to wipe his blood away.  She knew that these two weren't the only ones altering her mind and she had to get away quickly.  As she reached the parapet and became visible to the persons in the market below, pieces of stone began exploding around her.  The armed group of Sebaceans below had seen her and wasn't taking chances.  They had survived a long time with quick reactions.  When you see a figure in a strategic position holding a weapon, you shoot and to hezmana with the consequences.

Chiana dived behind the wall and thought furiously.  She knew the Sebaceans might stop firing if she threw her weapon over the side.  However, she didn't like the idea of being unarmed and at the mercy of the Scarrans or Taldis.  "How in the hezmana do I get myself in these spots?" She yelled to herself. Looking first to see if anyone was coming across the roof toward her, she began to crawl away from the edge and started looking for an exit.  "There has to be another way off this roof," she muttered.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Aeryn was the first to spot the figure on the roof.  She yelled a warning to her team and sought cover while laying down withering fire to cover them.  She dived into a doorway and Duron followed closely.  They both knew that someone had to get on that roof to recover strategic advantage.  Nodding his way, she took off at a dead run toward the side of the building where she had seen a door earlier.  She reached the door without incident, threw it open, and began to make her way to the roof.  Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Duron covering her from below.

She reached the roof and threw open the door.  Seeing a Nebari female on the ground and a Nebari male standing over her with a knife poised to make a killing blow, she shot him without hesitation.  As he fell, she took three quick steps, trained her weapon on the prone figure, and kicked the weapon on the ground out of her reach.  Only then did she look at her target and surprise eased her finger from the trigger.

"Chiana?"  Aeryn spoke as she knelt beside the girl.  "Chiana, are you alright?"

Chiana awoke to see a familiar face hovering above hers.  Without hesitation, she grabbed Aeryn by the throat and began to draw a blade from her boot.  She screamed as a different boot slammed down on her wrist and the muzzle of a pulse rifle slammed into her brow.  Duron had arrived.

Aeryn shook off Chiana's hand and quickly put some distance between them.  She glanced at Duron with a puzzled look.

"I don't understand, Duron.  This is Chiana, one of my old shipmates from Moya."

"She appears to be having mental difficulties.  Perhaps the Scarrans and this dead Nebari have something to do with this."  Removing his boot from Chiana's wrist he picked up the blade and studied her closely.

"Explain yourself, girl.  Why did you attack Sun?"

"For the greater good!  I am Bri'the and my mission is to kill the two of you.  No, wait."

Chiana's eyes lost focus and she shook her head repeatedly.  Glancing at the two Sebaceans standing over her, she wailed, "What the hezmana have they done to me?  I won't kill my friends.  Aeryn, please help me.  I don't know who I am anymore."  With that, she lost consciousness.

She came awake suddenly.  Her eyes darted around the unfamiliar surroundings.  She was lashed to the bed and a cool compress was on her forehead.  As she began to struggle, a soft hand pushed her back gently and she recognized Aeryn.

"How long have I been this way?"

"Oh, at least two arns.  We thought the best way to avoid injury to anyone was to secure you to the bed, just in case you had trouble with your identity again."

"Do you know what I was going to do on that rooftop?"

"You told us.  We searched the Nebari and the Scarran and found a number of data chips.  The mind cleansing technique they used on you was very sophisticated.  Do you know who was to be your next assignment?"

Seeing Chiana's shake of the head, Aeryn continued, "You were going to be assigned to kill Crichton and then D'Argo.  After those missions, they were going to terminate you."

Tears sprang to Chiana's eyes as the full import of Aeryn's words struck her.  "How could they control me that well?  I almost killed you.  I'm still having doubts about which of my memories are actually true.  Did I kill anyone or was it all implanted?"

Aeryn shook her head, "No, Chiana, you didn't assassinate anyone.  The chips we found outlined their methods.  You were an experiment.  If their techniques had succeeded with you, their plan was to create a small army of assassins who would kill their friends without remorse.  Of course, those victims would be selected strategic targets selected to weaken resistance before a Scarran invasion.  Actually, the plan was quite efficient and almost too sophisticated for Scarrans."

Chiana nodded agreement.  "I think the Nebari were playing a large part in this.  Scarrans aren't that subtle.  Did a medical tech examine me?"

Aeryn nodded.  "He thinks you'll be going through identity flashes for awhile, but now that you're away from their 'treatments' you should recover quickly."

"What if I don't?"

Chiana's eyes flicked toward the door as Duron answered, "Then you'll be a threat to everyone you come into contact with, especially your old shipmates."

"Well, since I have no idea where any of them are, there shouldn't be too great of a problem.  Did the tapes you found give any indication of where D'Argo or Crichton are?"

Aeryn shook her head.  "D'Argo has been spotted off and on, but they had no real information about his location."

"What about Crichton?"

Aeryn bit her lip and slowly shook her head.  "It seems that Crichton has not been seen for monens.  The chips suggest that he might be dead already."

As Aeryn hung her head and fought back tears, Chiana shook her head vehemently.  "No way is he dead.  He's just found a good hiding place."

She turned her head toward Duron and pleaded, "Please let me go and I'll go find him.  He may be well hidden, but I can find anyone if I want to.  I'm sure he needs help by now."

Duron nodded and Aeryn loosened her restraints.  She sat up and chafed her arms and ankles.  Her eyes bored into Aeryn's as she asked, "Are you coming?"

"I'm not ready."

"Suit yourself, but I love John and I'm going to find him or die trying."  She jumped off the table and walked to the door.

Before she left, she looked at Aeryn one last time.  Aeryn sat quietly, showing no emotion.

"I've said it once and I'll say it again, even though you don't want to hear it, Aeryn.  If you let him get away again, you're nothing more than a coward.  At least I know who I love."

With that, Chiana spun and left the room leaving Aeryn looking helplessly at Duron.

END