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24 Hour Pass

by Ann Harrington ( aka Annigmatic)

Page 1 of 2

Copyright Notice: Farscape is owned by The Jim Henson company,

Hallmark Entertainment, Nine Network Australia and the Sci-Fi Channel. They own all rights to characters mentioned within this story. I have merely borrowed these characters to play with, and promise to return them in good working order.

Spoilers: All of Season 2, up through "A Clockwork Nebari", plus my best guesses based on psychic insight into future episodes.

Summary: John Crichton returns to Earth.

 

International Space Station Friendship, 23:00 EST, Event Time minus 0:05

"IASA Control, this is Friendship Station, reporting that search program charlie-forty-two has been completed. Preliminary results look good, and you'll get the full package in the next data transmission. I've begun switching over the array for the next search program, and expect to complete calibrations and begin search by zero hundred hours," Mission Specialist Tony Santini said.

"Friendship Station, we copy that. Good work, Tony, you're already eight hours ahead of schedule. Keep this up and you'll get to come home early," Angela Porter said.

A friend from their days together as novice astronauts in training, Angela would be part of the team that replaced his, during the next crew rotation. But that was months away, and for now, she and the rest of her team divided their time between training exercises and taking shifts in space station control.

"Don't worry, there will still be plenty of NEOs for you to find when it's your turn up here," Tony Santini replied. "Friendship out."

He toggled off the radio, and used his right foot to kick off from the comm station, drifting lazily across the compartment. As he approached the bank of monitors, with the ease of long practice he caught the grab bar with his left hand, and brought himself to a slow stop.

His eyes swept across the display screens. All indicators were green, which meant the station's functions were within acceptable operating parameters. Touching the telescope array monitor screen with his free hand, he called up the status menu, and saw that the repositioning was nearly complete. Once finished, he would run calibration tests, and then start the next phase of the search program, as they continued the mapping of near-earth objects.

Tony Santini paused a minute, savoring the peacefulness. The low hum of the electronics and whir of the air circulation system were as familiar to him as his own breathing. He loved this quiet time during the night watch. Everyone else on the space station was asleep, except for Alexei Kirillov, who was in the science module as he encoded the next data transmission. This was as close to being alone as it was possible to get, and he always looked forward to those nights when he had the watch.

Not that he didn't like the rest of the crew. On the contrary, the fourteen member crew had trained for this mission for two years, forging strong bonds. But still, Friendship station was a small place, that fourteen people more than filled. No matter that the station was many times the size of its predecessors, when it came right down to it, it was still a small series of modules that required the crew to work together in very close quarters.

A high-pitched chime sounded, breaking into his reverie. His eyes went at once to the status monitor, and read the blinking message. 'Warning, object detected within 50 kilometers.'

Strange. The radar was designed to guide incoming supply ships, and would also warn of objects in their near vicinity such as communications satellites. But there were no supply ships scheduled, and their orbital path shouldn't bring them near enough to any satellites to trigger a radar alert. And any asteroid or space debris large enough to trigger the radar alert should have been detected long before it got within fifty kilometers.

Seconds later, the chime sounded again, this time louder, and began repeating. His eyes stared at the screen in disbelief. 'Warning, approaching object detected within 15 kilometers.'

Reason told him this was impossible, even as his hand slammed the crew alarm button. Given the speed at which the space station traveled, anything within fifteen kilometers was an immediate threat.

"What's happening?" Alexei Kirillov's voice came over the crew intercom.

Tony toggled open the general crew intercom. "Collision alarm," he reported. "Radar is picking up something in the fifteen kilometer range, but I haven't been able to get a fix on it."

"On my way," Colonel Sarah Blackwell, the space station commander, responded. "Everyone else, suit up and get to your emergency stations."

Tony's hands danced over the radar controls. The data he was seeing made no sense. If this was a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, they should have passed it by now. If it was a piece of space debris, or an asteroid fragment, it should have either impacted with them or disappeared behind them. But instead the object had slowed, and was now point six kilometers from the space station.

There was a crackle of static, and a male voice came over the radio. "Space Station, you copy me?"

"Not now, IASA, we've got our own problems here," Tony said tersely.

"Space Station, this is Commander John Crichton of Farscape One," the voice said. "You've probably picked me up on radar by now."

Tony blinked. He felt a touch on his shoulder, and looked back to see Colonel Sarah Blackwell and Alexei Kirillov had joined him in the command module.

He turned the switch so the radio was broadcast over the intercom, as well as through his headphones.

"Would you repeat that?" Tony asked.

"Space Station, this is Commander John Crichton of Farscape One," the voice said. "Suggest you turn on your external cameras, and since it looks like it's night down there, start waking up the folks down in Canaveral."

He felt a slow anger begin to burn inside. This was someone's idea of a sick joke. John Crichton had been killed over three years ago, when the initial Farscape test had gone horribly wrong. Tony had not known him personally, but he deserved better than to have some stranger make a mockery of his sacrifice.

He looked over to see his own anger reflected on Colonel Blackwell's face, as she said, "This is Colonel Blackwell of Friendship Station. Listen, I don't know who you are, or how you got on this frequency, but--"

"Slow down, Mustang Sally," the voice said, invoking the nickname that had followed Sarah Blackwell around since her days as the first woman to pilot a stealth fighter. "I know this is a surprise, but play along for a minute."

Tony looked down at the status board. "Colonel Blackwell, radar shows the target is now within two hundred meters of the space station, approximately nine-o'clock off the forward telescope array," he said.

Alexei Kirillov had taken his place at the communications console. "External camera activated, and on monitor four," he said.

Their eyes turned to the monitor, as the camera panned the area. A triangular white shape appeared, and was swiftly brought into focus.

Tony swallowed hard.

"I'll be damned," Colonel Blackwell breathed. "Crichton?"

"It's me, alive and kicking, so to speak," Commander John Crichton said.

Tony could hear startled exclamations from the rest of the station's crew, as a dozen voices tried to talk at once, until Colonel Blackwell ordered everyone to silence.

"But how? What happened? Where have you been?" Colonel Blackwell asked.

"Explanations later," Commander Crichton answered. "You got IASA on the line? Tell them to fire up the Farscape One monitoring protocols."

"Already done so," Alexei Kirillov reported. "They've got audio and video on line."

Tony could only imagine the frantic scramble that must be going on down in Canaveral.

Colonel Blackwell toggled off her microphone. "Can we capture it here as well?"

"Feeding the audio signal through this channel. Still working on the video," Alexei said.

"Get it," Colonel Blackwell said. Then she toggled back on her microphone. "Okay Farscape, IASA Mission Control is online."

"Mission Control, this is Farscape One, do you copy?"

"Err, uh, Farscape One, we copy." For the first time Tony could ever remember, Angela Porter sounded flustered.

"Make sure you got the recorders on, because I'm only going to say this once," Commander Crichton instructed.

The central monitor blinked, and went from displaying the image of the Farscape craft to an image of the interior of the cockpit, showing someone who looked very much like the picture of John Crichton that was hung in the main reception area of the IASA headquarters.

"I don't have a lot of time, so here's the deal. You've got six hours to round up Colonel Jack Crichton and Doctor David Kroger, put them on the X-44 space plane, and send them up to the station. And then--"

"Commander, this is Senior Duty Officer Mike Gerard-" a voice interrupted.

"Great, now keep quiet and listen up. You put my Dad and DK on the space plane, send them up, and I'll come in and tell you what happened, and where I've been."

"Crichton, be reasonable," Colonel Blackwell began.

The image of John Crichton shook his head. "Sarah, we do this my way, or not at all. I'm not landing the craft, I'm not negotiating, and in twenty-two point seven Earth hours I'm outta here, and your chance to talk is gone."

John Crichton leaned his head to the right, letting the camera see a second figure seated behind him. It was a woman, with dark hair and dark eyes.

"Erin, wave hello to the nice Earth people," he said.

"Frell jak," the woman said, with a grimace. She did not wave.

"Wasn't Farscape a single person craft?" Tony Santini asked.

No one bothered to answer him.

"IASA, time to dust off the first contact protocols. Send my Dad, DK, the flight crew, and pick two of your own, I don't care who. That's all."

The woman said something indecipherable.

"Right," Crichton said. "Anyone except Cobb, that is. No extra tourists, no weapons, no tricks. Anything looks strange, and I call the whole thing off."

"Commander, you can't expect us to launch in six hours," the duty officer Gerard complained.

"Don't try to bullshit me. The X-44 rescue craft is prepped for a two-hour launch window. Six hours is more than enough time to get my people on board, and get it launched. You send them up so I can talk with them, and I tell y'all where I've been, and give DK the plans for the hetch drive."

"Hetch?" Mike Gerard asked.

"FTL," Commander Crichton said.

Faster than light. It was the holy grail of astrophysics, an impossible dream to some, and a quest pursued with fervent devotion by others. If Crichton had indeed discovered an FTL drive....

"Crichton," Colonel Blackwell said, making his name into a question.

"That's all," Crichton answered. "Got questions play back the tape. I'm not talking again until you tell me you've got my Dad on his way to Canaveral. In the meantime, I always promised myself that one day I'd walk on the moon, and now is as good as time as any."

"But---" the duty officer protested.

The radio went silent, as Crichton shut off his microphone. Alexei Kirillov switched the monitor over to the external camera, just in time to capture the image of the Farscape module disappearing at an unbelievable rate of acceleration.

"Did you see that?" Tony Santini asked. "Nothing can move that fast."

Colonel Blackwell nodded. "Nothing from Earth, that is."

Bayview City, near Homestead, Florida, Event Time +02:45

Jack Crichton awoke to the sound of a helicopter passing overhead. Even before he was fully awake, his mind cataloged the details. A heavy chopper, flying very low. It sounded like military engines, but no sane controller would authorize such a low flight over a residential area. Most likely it was a medical rescue chopper, flying to or from a nearby accident site.

He opened his eyes, and turned to glance at the clock. Glowing green numbers revealed that it was ten of two in the morning. He rolled over and tried to convince himself to go back to sleep. Sleep came harder to him these days than it once had. And this was the second time he had been awakened. There had been that strange phone call just after midnight, when someone had asked his name. Jack Crichton had identified himself, and then the caller had thanked him and hung up. A wrong number, no doubt, but at least the caller had been courteous.

The doorbell rang.

He rolled out of bed, and grabbed his robe. He was halfway down the stairs, as the doorbell rang again.

He flicked on the porch light, and opened the door.

Two Air Force officers, a male major and a female lieutenant, stood on his porch, and behind them in the driveway was a police cruiser.

Jack Crichton swallowed hard. There was only one reason the military sent personal messengers, rather than simply making a telephone call. And yet, that made no sense. His son John had been dead for over three years.

He opened the screen door and stepped out onto the porch, and into the warm Florida night.

"Are you Colonel Crichton? Colonel John Crichton?" asked the major, who was the senior of the two.

"I'm Colonel Jack Crichton. Retired."

The major, whose name tag read Adams, pulled a photo out of his pocket, and compared the picture to the man standing in front of him. Then he nodded.

"Colonel, I need you to get dressed and come with us. Immediately," Major Adams said.

The lieutenant, pulled out a small radio, and spoke into it. "We've got him," she said.

"What is this about?" he asked. It felt surreal, and he was tempted to pinch himself to see if he was still asleep and dreaming. It had been over a decade since he'd retired from the Air Force, more than two years since he'd resigned from IASA. What could they possibly want with him?

"I haven't been briefed on that," Major Adams said. "All I can tell you is that we've got a chopper waiting for you. The chopper will take you to the airport, and from there you're going to Canaveral."

"Canaveral?"

"Sir, we don't have much time," the lieutenant said.

"Of course," he answered. He'd spent enough time in the military to understand that there was a time to ask questions, and a time when all a man could do was salute and follow orders. He may have been retired, but he was still an American.

"Come in," he said, holding the door open.

He went up the stairs, taking them two at a time. As he dressed, his mind turned over a dozen possibilities, each more incredible than the last. But the more he thought, the less sense the situation made. He was an Apollo-era astronaut, who'd joined IASA as a mission consultant, mostly as a way to stay close to John. He was still a hell of a pilot, but it had been nearly twenty years since his last shuttle ride, and he had no special skills or expertise that they'd need in any kind of emergency.

And if something had happened with DK, it would be his family they summoned, not Jack Crichton. Besides, the next test of Farscape Two wasn't for another four months.

He hoped it wouldn't be too long before someone decided to tell him what the heck was going on.

Grabbing his watch and wallet from the dresser, he stuffed the wallet in his back pocket, then slipped the watch on. Moving to the closet he grabbed a small travel case, a ready bag kept always packed, a habit left over from his days in the Air Force.

Less then five minutes after he had climbed them, he came back down the stairs.

"Let's go," he said.

He and Major Adams climbed into the back of the police cruiser, while the lieutenant rode up front. As they left, she spoke into the small radio again, telling someone that their ETA was two minutes.

They drove through the streets of the subdivision. His eyebrows raised in surprise, as they headed towards a small neighborhood park, and then he saw the flashing lights of two police cruisers.

In the center of the soccer field was a black army attack chopper, rotors slowly turning, while police officers kept away the small crowd of curious bystanders.

Jack Crichton took a deep breath, feeling a sudden surge of adrenaline. Whatever was happening, the military was absolutely serious about not wasting any time.

The cruiser drove onto the grass, past the police officers, and drew to a stop a short distance from the chopper. Jack Crichton followed Major Adams over to the chopper.

"This is as far as I go," Major Adams said. He held out his hand. "Good luck to you, sir."

Jack Crichton shook his hand. "Thanks. I may need it."

A sergeant wearing the uniform of the National Guard hopped out of the chopper, as they approached. "I'll take that, sir," he said, grabbing the travel case. "Climb in."

Jack Crichton climbed into the chopper, and took the vacant right seat. The sergeant tossed in the bag, and then climbed in, closing the door behind him.

"Go, go," the sergeant said into his headset, banging his free hand on the door that separated them from the cockpit.

As the helicopter lifted off at a steep angle, Jack Crichton buckled himself in, and the sergeant did the same. The noise of the rotors made it impossible to talk. He was surprised they had sent an attack helicopter, but then again, perhaps they had sent the first chopper they could find with fuel and a flight crew.

Barely fifteen minutes later they landed at Homestead airfield, next to a Learjet that bore no obvious government markings. The helicopter had barely touched down, when the door was opened, this time by an Air Force staff sergeant.

"Colonel, we're your ride," the staff sergeant said.

Jack Crichton walked over towards the aircraft. A man was standing by the stairway. He wore a dark shirt and denim jeans, but his bearing proclaimed his military background.

"Colonel Crichton, I'm Commander Endicott, IASA," he said.

"Commander, what's all this about?"

"As soon as we're airborne, I can fill you in," Commander Endicott said.

Jack nodded, and began climbing the stairs. Commander Endicott followed, and then the staff sergeant who had greeted him, carrying the travel case.

The plane started moving before the staff sergeant had fully closed the door. The tower must have been holding the runway for them, for they taxied directly to it and took off. It was an impressive display of logistics, or of the clout of whomever was behind this.

Jack Crichton watched the runway disappear beneath them.

He turned to Commander Endicott. "You mind telling me what this is all about? What on Earth does IASA need with an old war-horse like myself, and why the rush?"

Commander Endicott reached under his seat and pulled out a small metal briefcase. Opening up the briefcase, he took out something that looked like a slightly larger version of a cell phone.

"Satellite phone," he explained. Then he pressed a key, and held it to his ear. "Commander Endicott. Yes, we're on our way."

He listened for a moment. "Roger," he said.

Then he held out the satellite phone. "If he asks, you can tell him that our ETA in Canaveral is just under one hour. Liftoff will be on schedule."

Jack Crichton took the phone. Then the last work penetrated his consciousness. "Liftoff?"

"Sir," Commander Endicott said, gesturing to the phone.

Jack Crichton raised the phone to his ear. "Colonel Jack Crichton," he said.

"Dad? Dad, it's John."

His mind reeled. It could not be. And yet that voice was so familiar....

"Dad, are you there?"

"I'm here," he said. He squeezed the phone so hard he thought it might break.

"Dad, I know it's hard to understand, but it's really me," John said.

He felt numb. Disbelief warred with a sudden impossible hope. His chest felt tight, and it hurt to breathe.

"Where? How?" he managed to croak out.

"Where is easy. I'm in Farscape, in Earth orbit. How is a long story."

"When are you landing?" No wonder he was being rushed to Canaveral. Suddenly the frantic haste made perfect sense.

"I'm not."

"What do you mean?"

"Dad, this is a visit. Nothing more. If you want to see me, IASA will send you and DK up on the X-44 space plane that's launching in just under three hours. If you don't, I'll understand. But either way, I've got less than twenty hours before I'm gone."

Gone. What was he talking about? "Son, this is crazy," he said.

John laughed. "My life is crazy. But you've got to trust me. I know what I'm doing."

There was a long moment of silence, as Jack Crichton tried to come to grips with the knowledge that the son he had mourned for so long, had returned to him. Alive.

"Will you come?" John asked. In his voice was all the uncertainty of the boy he had once been.

"Of course," Jack Crichton answered.

He would go anywhere, do anything to see his son again. Anything.

Once he saw John, he knew he could convince him to stay.

IASA Mission Briefing Room, Canaveral Space Center, Event Time +05:10

Jack Crichton had been a test pilot, an astronaut and a mission consultant. He had sat through dozens, perhaps hundreds of mission briefings. But this was the strangest briefing he had ever attended.

He and the other three who would be making the trip sat in the front of the room, while Tom Kenyon had gone over the mission plan, and the information they had received so far. Behind them, a team of controllers and mission specialists took notes on their PDA's. Video screens displayed images of the support teams in Houston, Washington DC, and Kaliningrad, all intently listening.

"So to wrap it up, we have a lot of speculation, and very few hard facts," Tom Kenyon said. As the senior IASA manager in Canaveral, it had been his decision to agree to John's demands, and he had convinced the President to authorize the mission. "That may be John Crichton up there. That may be the Farscape One craft. That may even be an alien as his companion. Or this could all be some strange kind of hoax."

"There's something up there, and it didn't come from Earth," said mission specialist Angela Porter, who was the IASA pick for the team. "Rocket, shuttle or space plane, we would have detected a launch."

"So where has John Crichton been for the past three years?" asked Walter Klein, the designated State Department representative. In his late twenties, he was young for this assignment, but perhaps that was an asset. He was still young enough to be excited, whereas a more experienced diplomat would have been quick to see the myriad of things that could go wrong if this truly was a first contact situation.

"We never found any trace of debris. Not a single scrap of metal," Jack Crichton reminded them.

It was one of the reasons why he had had such a hard time accepting John's loss. A piece of scorched metal, a fragment of the module, even a radar trail of debris falling back into the Earth's atmosphere would have given him proof of John's fate. But the lack of debris had left too many questions. As the months had passed, he had tried to convince himself that the lack of debris was a good thing. It meant that the module's destruction had been so complete, that John's death must have been instantaneous. There would have been no time for him to suffer.

Only it seemed he hadn't died after all.

"The craft looks like Farscape One, but clearly it's been modified. Those aren't the engines John and I designed. Not from the images I saw, or from the way that thing moves. They're estimating it made the trip to the moon in minutes. Minutes. Do you know what that means?" DK's eyes shone with excitement, just as they had in the old days. "With that technology, we could reach Mars in days, maybe hours. And then--"

Tom Kenyon cleared his throat.

"Even if that is John Crichton, this could still be a trap. We don't know where he's been, or how he managed to survive. Someone helped him, but just because they helped him doesn't mean they are friendly towards us," Tom Kenyon said. "So I'm giving you all one last chance to back out. No one will think any the less of you, if you choose to stay behind."

"That's my son up there, and nothing is going to stop me from going," Jack Crichton said.

"Me too," DK answered.

"I was going to serve on the space station eventually. This is just a little early, sir," Angela Porter said.

Walter Klein nodded vigorously. "Yes, yes, I'm going. Just hope I don't get sick during the flight."

A space-sick civilian. That was just what they needed to make this bizarre expedition complete.

"Then that's decided. You have a plane to catch. Good luck to you all," Tom Kenyon said.

They rose to their feet, and as they left he shook each of their hands. Behind them, the IASA team members filed out the back of the room, and returned to their duty stations, or to the watchers gallery. No one wanted to miss a single minute of this mission, and Jack Crichton couldn't blame them.

So far, the audience was restricted to essential IASA personnel and a few key government officials in Washington, DC. But it would be impossible to keep the lid on this for long, no matter what story they told the media to cover the emergency scramble to launch the X-44. Sooner or later, there would be a leak, and then the whole world would be asking the same questions that ran through his mind. Was this really John who had returned to them, and if so, where had he been all this time?

Outside the briefing room, an aide waited to escort them. "The bus is waiting outside, to take you to the field," he said.

Jack Crichton caught DK's arm, and pulled him aside, letting Angela Porter and Walter Klein precede them. He waited till they were a few paces ahead, before they began to follow.

"Did you talk to him?" Jack Crichton asked. This was the first chance for him and DK to speak privately. When he had arrived at IASA, he had been taken for a rapid medical check, and then ushered into the briefing, which had already started.

"Yes, sir," DK said.

"DK, it's Jack," he told him.

"Yes, Colonel Jack," DK said. "Must have been after you spoke with him, because he told me you had agreed to make the trip."

Jack Crichton turned to look at DK. "Did he sound... himself?"

DK bit his lower lip. "He sounded like John. And we saw the videos. But---"

So he wasn't the only one who had doubts. Doubts that neither of them had wanted to voice in the conference room, in front of the others. "But since when did John start giving IASA orders? Setting nonnegotiable terms? Refusing to explain anything?"

"It's like he doesn't trust us," DK said. "He didn't tell me anything, except that he's spent the past three years in a galaxy far, far away. And he stole that quote from Star Wars."

"A lot can happen in three years," Jack Crichton said.

"If it has been three years for him," DK answered. "For all we know, his disappearance could be linked to a time dilation effect. From his perspective John may been gone three minutes or thirty years."

DK's enthusiasm for science sometimes ran away with him.

"You saw him. He wasn't thirty years older," Jack Crichton said. But John had looked older than he appeared in the photographs taken on that last day. A few years. Maybe three. Maybe more.

"It's still John," DK said. "You know what he asked me to bring?"

"What?"

"Peanut butter and a stack of micro-cassette tapes."

Jack Crichton laughed, struck by the sudden absurdity of it all. "Peanut butter."

"Yup," DK said, as they reached the lobby and saw the crew transport bus waiting outside. "It's John up there. I know it is. Maybe he doesn't trust us, but I still trust him. It's going be all right."

"I hope so," Jack Crichton said.

International Space Station, Event Time +14:52

Jack Crichton looked at Colonel Sarah Blackwell. "We're ready when you are," he said.

They floated in the main habitat module, along with DK, Angela Porter and Walter Klein. Colonel Blackwell had selected her medical specialist Hiro Tanaka, and the communications specialist Alexei Kirillov to join them, making a total of seven.

The rest of her team would gladly have crowded in with them, but they didn't want to overwhelm John or his mysterious companion.

"Okay folks, you know the drill. Everyone else stays at their station, unless I give a direct order otherwise. Understood?" Colonel Blackwell said.

A chorus of affirmatives drifted over the intercom.

"Let's do this. Alexei, tell our visitors that we're ready," Colonel Blackwell said.

"Farscape, this is Friendship Station," Alexei Kirillov said.

John's voice came over the speakers. "I scanned seven humans on the space plane. Dad, you one of them?"

"I made it," Jack Crichton said. "Me, DK, Mission Specialist Angela Porter from IASA, and Walter Klein from the State Department. Plus a three person flight crew."

"And you give me your word it's safe? No tricks?"

He felt his heart twist as he wondered just what could have happened that had made John so cautious. It was more than mere caution. It was as if he was afraid.

"No tricks," Jack Crichton promised his son.

"The X-44 has cleared off," Colonel Blackwell said. "You can dock Farscape as soon as you are ready."

"No docking," John said. "Expect us at the secondary airlock in two minutes."

"He's going EVA? Is he nuts?" Angela Porter asked.

It was a very good question.

The secondary airlock was just off the habitat module, meant for emergency evacuations to the rescue craft. In just under two minutes there was a metallic Clamk as something banged against the hull, and then the sound of the airlock cycling.

Jack Crichton drifted over, the others tactfully letting him take the lead.

The time it took for the airlock to reach station pressure seemed an eternity.

Then the airlock door opened, and a figure in black stepped out. It took him a moment to recognize John. He realized that somehow he had expected John still to be wearing the orange IASA flight suit.

Instead John wore a skintight suit of a matte black material. In one hand he held a clear glass helmet and a tether attached to a small metal case.

Following John came a second figure, the woman he had seen on the video. She wore a suit identical to John's, with her helmet clipped to a belt loop. She looked even more beautiful than she had on the video. And deadly, for unless he was very much mistaken that was a weapon she held in her hands.

John's eyes met his, and then swept the module, nodding as he recognized DK and Colonel Blackwell.

"It's okay," he said. "Put the pulse rifle away."

The woman said something that seemed all consonants and tongue-clicks.

"Please," John said.

The woman lowered the barrel of the rifle, until it was pointed down, and then attached it to a belt harness. She showed no signs of giving it up.

"Dad?" John asked.

Jack Crichton pushed off, until he crossed the meters that separated them. He grabbed John in a hug, a nearly impossible feat in zero gravity. Only when he touched him, did he finally accept that this was indeed his son, come home.

John returned the embrace, with his free arm. But then, a moment later, he was the first to break free.

"Dad, this is Officer Aeryn Sun, formerly of the Sebacean Peacekeepers."

"Pleased to meet you," Jack Crichton said, puzzled as how to greet her.

Aeryn Sun stuck out her right hand awkwardly, and he took it, as she gave a surprisingly firm handshake.

Aeryn said a phrase, of which he recognized only the word Crichton.

"Aeryn says she's honored to finally meet you," John explained.

"Brother John, you're looking great for a guy who's supposed to be dead," DK said, coming forward and tapping John's shoulder with his fist. DK, at least, had no doubts, for he was grinning ear to ear.

"Still the same sense of humor," John said, with a wry smile. "Aeryn, this is DK, the other half of the Farscape team."

Aeryn Sun nodded, acknowledging the introduction.

"And that's Colonel Blackwell," John said, pointing her out. "She's the space station commander, and the person who taught me how to fly stealth fighters."

"Commander Crichton, welcome back," Colonel Blackwell said. "Aeryn Sun, on behalf of IASA, it is an honor to welcome you aboard."

As Colonel Blackwell introduced the rest of those present, Jack Crichton kept his eyes on his son. John acknowledged each introduction, but he stayed very close to Aeryn Sun, and his expression remained wary. Watchful.

Jack Crichton had had a dozen hours to get used to the idea that his son was still alive. But this was not how he had imagined the reunion would be. John was too quiet. Cautious. Reserved. Something was wrong.

John waited till the introductions were finished. "Colonel, I know you have eleven other persons on this station, plus the three crew out there on the X-44. Tell them for their own safety to stay away from my module. They can take all the pictures you want, but if anyone gets within twenty meters, the module's defenses will take them out. No exceptions, no apologies."

"Understood," Colonel Blackwell said, her voice hardening.

John gave a half-smile, and for a moment he looked the way Jack Crichton remembered him. "I know I'm being difficult, but I do appreciate your letting us borrow your space station for this meeting. And I promise that we'll be out of your hair in a few hours."

Suddenly the pieces came together. John's insistence that this was only a short visit. His excessive caution. His alien companion, and the weapon she carried.

"Son, are you her prisoner?"

Aeryn Sun grinned.

John laughed. "No. Aeryn's a friend. My friends on Moya wouldn't let me do this alone. They claim I have a bad habit of walking into traps."

He wondered just how many times John had walked into a trap, that his friends now called it a habit? And what exactly those traps had consisted of?

Aeryn Sun said something to John.

"That wasn't my fault on the Commerce Planet. It was Rygel's. And I was the one who got us out of that. Eventually," John argued.

"She understands English," Alexei Kirillov observed.

"English, Russian and any other language you can think of," John explained.

"And the rifle?" Jack Crichton asked. "I thought you said no weapons."

"There are six billion of you, and only two of us," John said. "A pulse rifle and a couple of pistols just evens the odds out a little."

For the first time he noticed the object strapped to the outside of John's right thigh, something that could well be a pistol. Aeryn Sun wore a similar weapon on her left leg.

And he didn't like at all the way John had referred to humanity as "you" and not as "us".

He could not comprehend John wearing a sidearm, to what should have been a joyful homecoming. "John, you ever used that thing?"

"I'm a decent shot. Not in Aeryn's league, but I can take care of myself. But if you want to know how many people I've killed, you're going to have to ask," John said flatly.

Suddenly the air was thick with tension. No one said anything, no doubt because they were nearly as shocked as he was. He couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't seem like an accusation.

DK came to his rescue. "Aeryn Sun understands us, and you understand her language. How is this possible? Universal translator, like Star Trek?" he asked, neatly changing the subject.

"Sort of. In their galaxy they have genetically engineered microbes that are injected at birth, and colonize the base of the brain. They act as a translator," John said.

"Microbes? And you had this done?" Hiro Tanaka asked, with the intense curiosity of a medical specialist.

"First thing they did when I got onboard Moya," John said.

Jack Crichton looked at Aeryn Sun. "She looks human," he said.

John shrugged. "Out there they tell me I look like a Sebacean. Small differences, but close enough to pass most visual inspections."

John looked at his father. "You've already earned yourself a stay in quarantine by coming up here," he said. "If you want, I can fix it so you can understand her. But once the microbes are injected, you've got them for the rest of your life. That's going to make the quarantine boys mighty unhappy."

The thought of alien bugs crawling around his brain made him feel queasy. But he could see that this was important to John. And he wanted to know more of the alien woman that John called friend. "I've come this far, no sense stopping now," he said.

In the end, six of them chose to take the injections John offered. Only Hiro Tanaka abstained, explaining that he would remain a neutral control subject.

They drifted into the central area of the main habitat module, spreading out around the circular room. Aeryn Sun took a position near the airlock, across the room from where John floated. John tied the tether of the metal box to a convenient handhold, and then opened it up. Reaching within, he withdrew a narrow silver cylinder, a little longer than his hand. He tossed the cylinder over, and Jack Crichton caught it with one hand.

"Pointy end goes against your skin. Doesn't matter where," he said. "Push the red button once."

Jack Crichton hoped that none of his nervousness showed on his face. He placed the injector against his wrist, and pressed the red button.

He felt a light prick, like a mosquito sting. When he pulled the injector away, a single drop of blood welled up.

"That's it?" he asked.

"That's it," John said.

"How long does it take to work?" he asked.

"Sterkarm click javel click click zhashtl and he looks different than I remembered," Aeryn Sun said.

"What you saw was based on my memories. It's been three cycles here on Earth. He's older," John explained.

"She's speaking English," Jack Crichton said with wonder.

"You understood that?" Alexei Kirillov asked.

"Yes," Jack Crichton said, turning to face Aeryn Sun. "You are my son's friend?"

"Comrades. Friends. Yes," she said.

"I'm next," DK declared, drifting over to take the injector out of Jack Crichton's hand.

24 Hour Pass Page 2>>

 

 

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