By Darkman

Rating:  PG for minor violence and language.

Category:  Action/Adventure

Time/Spoilers:  Some Season 3 spoilers.  Takes place somewhere near the end of Season 3 after John and Aeryn's resolution of their relationship problems

Summary:  John and Aeryn run into a strange problem and an even stranger being on a Commerce planet.

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.

Reader's Note:  Italics indicate the character's thoughts

The pulse blast tore a large hole in the masonry of the wall where John Crichton's head had been just microts before.  Crichton was still hearing a ringing in his ears as he looked up into the beautiful eyes of his savior, Aeryn Sun.  She had unceremoniously grabbed and thrown him down just before the blast hit.

"Are you alright?" She asked a little breathlessly.

"Yeah, where did that come from?" John asked as he spit small pieces of stone.

"I don't know.  Lucky I heard the pulse chamber charging or that would have been a direct hit," she said as she drew her pulse pistol.

She noticed that Wynonna was already in John's fist.  Nothing like a few cycles in the Uncharted Territories to improve your survival skills and sharpen your reflexes.

"You know, Sunshine, you would make a helluva defensive safety on someone's football team.  Have we pissed off anyone here that you know of?" John drawled.

She gave John that Erp foolishness look and replied, "No, but that means nothing.  Either of us could have been recognized."

"It seems someone recognized me, anyway," John said, making a wry face.

"I noticed no Peacekeepers or Scarrans," Aeryn replied.  "Stay here, John, while I take a look." 

John grasped her arm and said, "You keep your pretty head down and let me move over here and take a peek."

Aeryn looked at him with concern and said, "John, be careful, OK?  I do not wish to lose you again."

John grinned and said, "Yeah, baby, I know.  I don't want to be lost either.  It's just that my Mama always told me to take care of ladies.  Don't worry, I'll be careful.  After all, this is just a simple Commerce planet."

Aeryn grimaced, "I thought so, too, until thirty microts ago."

Three hours before, Moya had begun to orbit the small Commerce planet.  The crew's initial scans indicated no Peacekeeper presence and since they were in need of supplies, they decided to visit.  The planet was not in the regular shipping lanes and they had little hope of finding anything too sophisticated, but possibly, they could replenish their supply of staples for the galley if nothing else.  Chiana and Rygel decided that the planet was too boring for their tastes and opted to stay aboard Moya.  At first D'Argo was going to stay, but at the last moment changed his mind.

Their landing was uneventful and the three went their separate ways, each with a list of things to find.  John had just hooked up with Aeryn in what passed for a Main Plaza when the shooting started.

Crichton crawled to the corner of the pillar they were behind and eased the right side of his face slowly out until he could see most of the town square.  What he saw confused him.

This doesn't make any sense.  I don't see anyone who looks like a shooter.  As a matter of fact, I don't see anyone at all.  Turning to Aeryn, he whispered, "Most of the shopkeepers have closed their doors and shuttered their windows.  We have to move, we're too exposed here."

"Agreed.  Which way do you suggest?"

"Let's go right.  Keep low and let's move."

They burst from behind the pillar, fully expecting to come under fire again.  When they reached a low wall, they dived behind and looked at each other with surprise.  No shots, no yelling, nothing.  The entire plaza was eerily silent.

Then they heard D'Argo calling,  "Aeryn, John, are you here?  Are either of you injured?  I heard a pulse blast."

They both stepped out shaking their heads.  "No, big guy, we're both fine," John answered.

Aeryn looked around carefully and asked, "Did you see anyone who could have fired upon us?"

D'Argo shook his head and held up a wanted beacon.  "This may offer an explanation."

He set the beacon on the ground and activated it.  A voice unlike any they had ever heard began emanating from the beacon.

"This is unusual.  No visuals, no images," said Aeryn.

"Yeah," John agreed, "This is totally unreal."

Earning him a quizzical glance from both Aeryn and D'Argo and a shrug towards each other.  Being used to his "Erpisms" by now, they still wondered how something tangible could be considered 'unreal,' but neither wanted to ask because his explanations usually made less sense than his original statement.  They focused upon the message that repeated over and over.

"I am willing to pay large amounts of currency for the death of John Crichton, a Human.  This person looks Sebacean and will be traveling with a Sebacean female, a Nebari female, an Interion female, and a Luxan male.  He has proven himself to be resourceful and quite violent when threatened.  This offer is open until proof of Crichton's death can be presented to me.  I can be contacted with an alpha wave message at frequency 1453."

As the message began to repeat each of the crew looked at each other with confusion.  John began with, "This can't be a Peacekeeper message.  Scorpius wants me alive at all costs."

"Yes, John," Aeryn continued.  "I agree that this message cannot come from Scorpius.  Who could possibly want you dead?"

"Perhaps I can answer that question," said a voice from the shadows.

Three pulse weapons immediately focused on the speaker.  Suddenly, D'Argo hissed loudly.  "A Scorvian, here?"  John and Aeryn gripped their weapons tighter.

"Guilty," said the voice as its owner stepped into the light.

Aeryn's focus never wavered, but John openly studied the newcomer. 

"Appears to be feline-evolved," John thought.

The being stood upright and definitely had a tail which switched from side to side. The face had two piercing yellow eyes and a healthy set of fangs.  He was easily as tall as D'Argo and seemed to weigh more than three hundred pounds.  His body rippled with muscle and his movements were fluid and cat-like, strengthening John's first impression of his lineage.  He moved slowly and carefully, acknowledging his exposed position.

"He does like his weapons," John thought as he noticed two pulse pistols strapped to his legs as well as a knife strapped to his arm and what looked like two Samurai swords strapped to his back.

"I believe that this was the responsible party," said the Scorvian holding up the head of a Corlata.  "I watched it take the first shot and managed to prevent a second.  I must be slowing with age," he laughed ruefully.

D'Argo snarled, "How do we know that you were not responsible or working in league with the Corlata?"

"Why would I stand here presenting myself as a target?  I could have easily dispatched all three of you while your attention was elsewhere.  I assure you I am not prepared to be shot today nor are you in any danger from me," replied the Scorvian.  Dropping the head the Scorvian held out his hands and declared, "Actually, I was hired to protect John Crichton."

This caused some consternation among the three friends.  "What are you talking about and who the hell are you anyway?" asked John angrily.

The Scorvian bowed slightly and introduced himself.  "My name is Ch'rall."

His name caused D'Argo to gasp audibly.  "I was mistaken.  This is not just any Scorvian."

This caused Aeryn to ask, "What does that mean?"

"Ch'rall is a mercenary, one of the best.  His reputation is known on Luxa.  Some Luxan mothers use his name to frighten their children into behaving properly.  I hav heard that he never fails at an assignment that he accepts.  If his reputation is factual, then I believe he is being truthful about the earlier shooting," D'Argo replied.

John and Aeryn looked at D'Argo with unspoken questions on their faces.

"According to everything I have heard about Ch'rall, he never kills with a pulse weapon except to protect himself.  If he has been hired as an assassin, he will kill up close.  The stories say that he prefers this method so that his victims see him and know who is sending them to the other side."

"You speak truth, Luxan.  However, it is my code that forbids my killing with a pulse weapon except in self-defense.  I would dishonor myself if I dispatched a being in any other way.  Besides, my way allows me to be close and sure," declared Ch'rall.

Aeryn snorted.  "That is a very inefficient code."

John patted her as if to remind her that she was an ex-Peacekeeper.

"Calm down, Aeryn, remember you aren't in that business anymore," John said.  "OK, hotshot, why don't you start explaining what's going on?"

Ch'rall pointed to a doorway across the square and said, "Certainly.  We would be more comfortable in the drinking establishment, don't you think?"

The bar was like every other area of the planet; nondescript, dirty, and ripe with the smell of unwashed bodies and spilled intoxicants.  Finding a reasonably clean table and brushing off the chairs, the four sat down.  The bartender was a particularly unattractive humanoid sporting a large scar that covered most of the right side of his face.  His sour expression did little to improve his appearance.

"How about some drinks," Ch'rall called after a short wait.

The bartender scowled and sneered,  "We don't keep any waitpersons for long.  They seem to disappear or get hurt during some of our slight disagreements.  So, you'll have to serve yourself.  What'll you have?" 

Everyone decided that Felip nectar would be a fairly safe choice.  John and Ch'rall carried the drinks back to the table where Ch'rall began to explain.

"This beacon has been placed on several Commerce planets in this sector.  The person responsible is my cousin, Sh'nam.  Sh'nam holds you, John Crichton, personally responsible for his defeats in the Ilanic war.  If you had not discovered his operative and thwarted her theft of the Ilanic weapon, his armies would be advancing on Ilan's capital even now.  He has decided to blame you for his flawed battle plans and poorly trained troops to avoid being overthrown.  Surely, you remember Verell and Matala.  Oh, and on a personal note, Matala was Sh'nam's lover."

"Just great, personal and tactical reasons," John moaned.

However, Aeryn quickly noticed a hole in the story and asked tensely "And who is paying you to keep John alive?"

"Let us just say someone who has a great interest in John's continued existence," replied Ch'rall.

"That someone wouldn't be named Scorpius, would he?" John asked quietly.

"Actually, I have heard of Scorpius, but have never met him," said Ch'rall.

"Then who," D'Argo growled intensely.

"Does it really matter?" Ch'rall practically purred.

John pushed his chair back slightly to free his right hand.  "It matters a lot.  The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, if you take my meaning."

The three looked at Ch'rall intently.  "We have been in the Uncharted Territories for three cycles.  The one thing we have noted time and again is that generosity is not practiced here in any large amount," Aeryn murmured.

Ch'rall shrugged and replied, "Your benefactor's name is Jenavian Chatto."

John started visibly, Aeryn gasped slightly, and D'Argo's brow furrowed.

"And why would she wish to keep Crichton alive or care for that matter," he wondered aloud.

"Yeah," replied John.  "Why would a Peacekeeper disruptor want me alive?"

"When Chatto arrives you might ask her," replied Ch'rall.

"What do you mean 'arrives'?  Is she coming here?" John asked tensely.

Aeryn was curious about something else.  "How did you know she was a Peacekeeper disruptor, John?"

Before John began to fashion an answer, Ch'rall moved in a blur.  Simultaneously shoving John with one paw, vaulting the table and pushing Aeryn into D'Argo, he threw a vicious-looking knife towards the bar.  The patron at the bar who had drawn a pistol looked surprised as he examined the hilt of the knife growing from his chest and slid noiselessly to the floor.  Then all hezmana broke loose.

Pulse blasts came from three locations.  John was behind an overturned table returning fire.  D'Argo and Aeryn were behind another table firing in different directions.  Ch'rall vaulted over the bar and moved swiftly towards another bounty hunter.  He dispatched one with two strokes of his sword while throwing the knife he had retrieved into a second.  Aeryn and D'Argo laid down a fusillade and the third alien fell.

When they heard the sound of applause behind them, they spun rapidly and leveled their weapons.

"Well done; very efficient and extremely effective.  I expected as much of Ch'rall, but the rest of you are quite surprising," said Jenavian.

Looking at them appraisingly, she continued.  "Hello, John.  You look surprised to see me again."

"Ex-Officer Sun, Ka D'Argo, that was very impressive."

By way of reply, John stared, Aeryn put on her Peacekeeper face, and D'Argo scowled.  Ch'rall merely nodded.

"I imagine that you never expected to see me again, did you, John?" she continued and laughed.

She walked towards them and John had to admit to himself that she looked quite 'healthy.'  She was dressed in a leather dress with a slit up the side.  The only unfeminine feature was the pulse pistol strapped on her right thigh.  Turning slightly she looked at Ch'rall and asked, "Did you tell them that I had hired you?"

Ch'rall nodded again.

Turning towards John she chuckled and said, "I can just imagine your reaction to that bit of news.  Ch'rall, we are going to talk now.  See that we are not disturbed."

She walked over to a table and sat, indicating that all three could sit and listen to her proposal.  "I'm sure you would like to know why Peacekeeper High Command is interested in keeping you alive," she stated.

John shook his head and said, "I already know.  Unique is always valuable.  Someone said that to me once.  I didn't like it then and I don't like it now."

Aeryn looked at Jenavian and then told John.  "Why don't you listen to the offer anyway?"

This caused John and D'Argo to glance at each other and then stare at Aeryn.  Aeryn merely smiled tightly.

"OK, Jenavian," John replied.  "You went to a lot of trouble to set this up. So talk."

"John, you need to know that High Command is prepared to offer a great deal for your 'cooperation.'  First, every bounty on your head will be removed.  Second, you will receive the same dispensation that Scorpius received.  You will not be considered an 'inferior species' any longer and you will be rewarded handsomely.  Scorpius will be held in check and away from you.  He will no longer threaten you or your friends.  Third, all bounties on your friends will be removed and any charges will be dropped."

"And in return," John drawled.

"In return," Jena replied, "you help the Peacekeepers in the coming war with the Scarrans by sharing the knowledge that helped you destroy a Scarran dreadnought.  Consider, John.  You know what kind of creatures the Scarrans are.  You know that they believe themselves to be the superior species in any universe.  They will exterminate all other species until they are alone in the galaxy."

Expressionless, John looked at her.

"There's two problems with the offer, Jena," he began.  "On my planet we have a saying, 'If you make a deal with the Devil, you lose your soul.'  Peacekeepers are just as bad as Scarrans in my book.  The only difference is appearance.  The goals and objectives are exactly the same as well as the methods.  As far as I am concerned, both Scarrans and Peacekeepers are the Devil."

"What is the second problem, John?" asked Jena.

"The second problem is my confusion over the fact that they sent a disruptor with the offer," John said.  "Call me suspicious, but I sorta wonder what will happen when I say 'Hell, NO'"

Jena smiled and began to move when she noticed some things:  both John and Aeryn had pulse pistols pointed at her, D'Argo's Qualta blade had suddenly wound up pointing at her, and she felt something very cold and exceedingly sharp touching the side of her neck.

"I wouldn't move if I were you," whispered Ch'rall.

Jena stiffened, and then hissed, "What do you think you are doing?"

"What I have been paid to do for the next two weekens.  Keep Crichton alive," Ch'rall replied.

"But I am the one who paid you," Jena spluttered.

"That is of no consequence to me.  Once I accept payment, I fulfill my obligations.  No matter who threatens my charge."

Turning to Crichton Ch'rall said, "Once your leviathan starbursts, the Peacekeepers should not be able to track you.  I would suggest that you leave at once.  I would find a way out that is not very visible."

John smiled and said, "Excellent idea.  Barkeep, is there a way out of here that you use in case of emergencies?"

Noticing two pulse weapons lazily pointing in his direction, the bartender motioned them behind the bar where he opened a panel.  "This leads to the next building which has an exit into an alley.  I've used it many times with much success."

John placed currency in his hand.  "This should cover the drinks and the damage.  There should be a little left over for your trouble."

The trio made their way to the transport pod and back to Moya without incident.  After starburst, Aeryn came to Command with a metal container in her hands.  Setting the container on the Conn, she turned to Crichton and said, "I have an idea to deceive Sh'nam and make him believe he has succeeded."

John stared at the container.  "That isn't what I think it is, is it?" he asked.

Aeryn's eyes glistened as she replied, "Yes, these are the ashes of John Crichton.  I know that he would think that my solution has just the right touch of irony.  We contact Sh'nam and use the ashes to him as proof.  We then collect payment and use the currency to help us on our mission to thwart Scorpius."

"Aeryn, no.  I couldn't let you do that.  I know what these ashes must mean to you," John said.

"Actually, John, he told me of some of your Earth customs.  I was saving these to spread on a green planet, but I think this is a better use for them," Aeryn replied.

"Besides I still have my locket and I placed some of them inside.  I hope you do not think me selfish, but I do not wish to forget him; even though we have each other," she continued. 

Now John's eyes glistened as he said, "I understand and I think he would, too.  Great idea, Aeryn."

Aeryn smiled a trifle sadly, then straightened and looked at John.  "Now, John, we have some unfinished business," she said.  "Come here and look me in the eye while you tell me how you knew Jenavian Chatto was a Peacekeeper disruptor."

John groaned inwardly and thought, "Paybacks are a bitch.  I'm in a lot of trouble."

The End