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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.

<<24 Hour Pass page 1

International Space Station, Event Time +17:30

"And that's it," John said. "The Ancients had managed to reclaim one of their old energy sources, so they offered me the chance to come back home. They constructed the wormhole, but it will remain open for just over twenty-three hours. Then we have to get back, or we're stuck."

Wormholes. A galaxy so far away that their own Milky Way was unknown. A place populated by alien races, full of strange creatures including the living ship Moya that John inhabited. It was a fantastic tale. If he had heard it from anyone else, he would have dismissed it as science fiction or the ravings of a deranged mind.

And yet he was compelled to believe, for here was his son, returned to him after all this time, floating so close he could reach over and touch him.

"What do you mean stuck?" Jack Crichton asked. "Why not come home to stay? You and Aeryn Sun would be welcome."

John shook his head. "No, I know better than that."

"I don't understand," he said, hearing the frustration in his voice. He had only just found his son. How could John speak so calmly of walking out of his life again, in just a few short hours?

"Can I have my life back? Will they give me my old cubicle at IASA? Let me go watch Monday night football with the guys? Golfing with you at dawn? Drive my T-bird down to the air base and borrow an F-16 to get my flight hours in? Is any of that possible?"


"Dad, don't lie to me. Don't lie to yourself. I go down to Earth, and everyone is going to want a piece of me. Whether it's Area 51, or somewhere else, they're going to lock me up and throw away the key. And if Aeryn stayed, she'd be in even more danger."

"It won't be like that," Walter Klein said. "On behalf of the State Department, I can assure you--"

"Don't make promises you can't keep," John said angrily, pushing himself away from the wall, and drifting across the compartment, seemingly at random, although when he checked his spin, he was beside Aeryn Sun.

John tapped his forehead with his index finger. "I've seen things you couldn't imagine. I know the answers to questions our scientists haven't even thought to ask. I've had enough experience being hunted for what's in my brain. I'm not going to let it happen here."

Jack Crichton opened his mouth to argue, and then closed it firmly, as he realized he had no idea what to say.

Hunted for what was in his brain. He didn't think John had meant to let that phrase slip out.

John's stories had described a conflict between the Peacekeepers and his friends on Moya, but he had only touched lightly on any dangers he had encountered.

Yet his friends sent an armed soldier to protect him, and John had developed a sense of caution that bordered on paranoia. And at some point, judging from his earlier outburst, he had learned what it was to kill.

Jack Crichton searched his son's face, finally acknowledging that this was not the same man who had left Earth on that fateful day. There was no trace of boyishness left in John's face. Instead he had new lines of determination, and his blue gaze had a hard-edge to it.

At this moment John reminded him very much of the combat pilots he had known in his Air Force days.

"That's quite a story, Commander Crichton. You've given us all much to think about," Colonel Blackwell said, in an oblique reference to the Earthbound audience who were surely hanging on every word. "Perhaps you and your father would like some time alone?"

"I'd be grateful," John said.

Jack Crichton watched as the others made their way out of the habitat module, until only himself, DK, Aeryn Sun and John remained. No doubt Colonel Blackwell wanted to confer with Mission Control down on Earth, to see their reactions to what they had heard so far, and to find out if they had new instructions for her.

Whatever her motives, he was grateful for this opportunity, even if it was only the illusion of privacy. Alexei Kirillov had taken the portable video camera with him, but there were still the fixed cameras, and the microphones would record their every word. But even an illusion was better than nothing, and without the others present he might finally be able to get through to his son, who now seemed infinitely distant, though he floated only a few feet away.

"What did you mean when you said you were hunted for what was in your mind?" Jack Crichton asked. "Was that the Captain Crais you mentioned?"

"No, Crais wanted revenge because he blamed me for the accident that killed his brother. It took a while, but eventually he changed his mind."

"I don't trust him," Aeryn Sun said.

"I don't trust him either," John said patiently. "But he's too busy running from his own problems to be any threat to us."

"Then who?" Jack Crichton asked.

"The first time I met the Ancients, they put me through hell. Made me think I'd come back home, only to discover they were just playing with my mind," John said with a grimace. "Afterwards they felt sorry for me, so they tried to give me a gift. They knew I needed a wormhole to find my way back here. They weren't willing to give me the answers outright, but they implanted equations in my mind that would serve as a subconscious guide."

"Wormholes? You know how to generate them?" DK asked.

"Not yet," John said. "But I'm close. Closer than any other scientist, in this galaxy or theirs. It makes me special. Unique."

"Hunted," Aeryn Sun added.

"Hunted," John agreed. "Didn't even know I had the equations inside me, till that bastard Scorpius frelled with my mind."

"Scorpius?" Jack Crichton asked. It was not a name John had mentioned earlier.

"Peacekeeper scientist. Brilliant guy, with unfortunate hobbies, like torture and performing brain surgery with an ice pick," John said, attempting a wry smile. As if unconsciously he raised his right hand, and began to rub the back of his neck.

Aeryn Sun reached over and caressed the back of John's head, before capturing his hand in hers. John gave her a grateful smile, and some of the tension left his body.

Jack Crichton realized there was much more to the relationship between the two of them than was covered in the simple word friend.

For his own part, he felt sick and angry at the same time. "Tortured?" he demanded.

"No big deal," John said, dismissing the incident. "It was only a few days before Aeryn brought the cavalry and they broke me out. But Scorpius put me on the Peacekeepers' most wanted list, which drew way too much attention from the Peacekeepers, and from their enemies. For a while there, it seemed like everyone wanted a piece of me."

"So why go back? Why not stay here?" DK asked.

"There I know what I'm up against, and I have my friends to help. The Uncharted Territories is a big place. The odds that they'll find us again are small."

"You have friends here, too. And your family," Jack Crichton pointed out.

"There's another reason. Scorpius has all the wormhole knowledge he picked from my brain, plus his own research. Eventually he's going to figure it out. And when he does, I don't want to give him any reason to come looking for me here," John said.

"Once he has the answer, he has no reason to look for you," Aeryn Sun said.

John turned towards her. "You don't know him the way I do. It's not finished between us. Wormhole equations or not, he'll come looking for me. And I'm not going to give him any excuse to park a Peacekeeper command carrier in Earth orbit. I can't take that chance. You'd do the same if it was your homeworld."

Aeryn Sun looked around the module. "If this is the best of your technology, then I can see why you are afraid. This station doesn't even have a decent gravity field. Your planet is hopelessly primitive. They wouldn't last an arn against a command carrier."

"We're not exactly primitives," DK argued.

"By their standards you are," John said. "But we can work on that. Dad, would you open up that case?"

Jack Crichton swam over to the metal box, which was still tethered to one wall. He opened the case. There were several objects inside.

"There's a silver globe, and a black datacore. That's the thing that looks like a laptop. Pull them out, please," John said, drifting to the middle of the compartment.

Jack Crichton picked up the globe, a silver sphere a little larger than an orange, and the thin black rectangle that did indeed look very much like a laptop computer. As he lifted the datacore, he saw underneath stack of micro-cassettes.

"There's also a bunch of cassette tapes in here," he said.

John nodded. "Yup. Those are for you and DK. Recordings I made back on Moya. I used the data tapes I had on the module, then found a techshop that manufactured duplicates."

He didn't count, but he could see at least two dozen tapes, perhaps more.

"IASA will insist on making copies, but the originals are for you. And, uh," John paused, rubbing his hand along his jaw. "Um, some of those tapes were made on bad days. Days when I just needed to talk to you guys, even if it was only on a tape I didn't think you would ever have a chance to hear. I thought about editing the tapes, but was afraid once I started I'd wind up erasing everything until all you had was a bunch of blank tapes."

He knew he had been given a glimpse into how lonely John must have been, when he had no one to confide his fears to except a tape recorder, and the memory of his friends back home.

"If you made them, I can hear them," Jack Crichton said.

"Toss me the imager, that's the silver ball thing," John said.

Jack tossed it over, and John caught it with one hand, then placed it carefully in the middle of the compartment.

"They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few million words," John said. He gave the ball a squeeze with one hand, and released it.

Directly over the ball, an image appeared, of a burnished copper object against a starfield. It was so real that Jack Crichton drifted over and tried to touch it, only to see the image waver as his hand passed through it.

"Cool," DK observed, drifting closer to get a better view.

"That's Moya. Our ship," John said. "And there's her son Talyn, back when he was a baby."

The image flickered, and this time it showed a creature that looked like a multi-armed, wrinkled turtle, whose head widened into an enormous flat disk.

"That's Pilot, our navigator. And that's Zhaan," John said, as the image of a blue alien came up. "She's a plant."

"A what?" Jack Crichton asked.

"You know, animal, mineral, plant. Zhaan's a plant," John said offhandedly, as if blue people that were actually plants was a common everyday occurrence. "And that's Rygel, and D'Argo, and his son Jothee, and there's Chiana. And that's Stark."

The images flashed by. Some of the creatures, like Chiana and Zhaan looked human, or at least humanoid, while others such as Rygel were clearly alien, and might well have walked off the casting lot of any Hollywood science fiction feature.

Except this wasn't a film, Jack Crichton reminded himself. These beings were real. His son's friends and companions.

The image changed, to show John bent over the engines of the Farscape module, holding something that looked like a welding torch.

"Hey, how did that get on there?" John asked.

"Zhaan's idea," Aeryn Sun replied. "She thought your friends would like images of you as well. Pilot did the programming."

An image appeared of John in his orange flight suit, looking around him in wonder, and Jack guessed it had been taken soon after his arrival on Moya. Other images showed John playing chess with the small frog-like creature called Rygel, and doing something incomprehensible with the blue alien Zhaan, the one he had described as a priest. A religious ceremony? Meditating? It was impossible to tell.

Aeryn Sun appeared as well, standing opposite John in a large empty room. They bowed to each other and then began slowly circling. Aeryn sprang, and they grappled in a seemingly deadly flurry of strikes and blocks, neither having clear advantage. And then, John must have made a mistake, for Aeryn grabbed John by the arm and flipped him over, pinning him to the ground with one foot placed across his throat.

"Hey, why couldn't you show one of the matches I've won?" John complained.

Aeryn smiled. "As soon as you win a match, we can do so."

John turned to DK. "Trust me, I don't always get beaten up by girls. Sometimes I even win."

Martial arts was something John had never had an interest in, or time for, in his former life. It was just another sign how much he had changed.

The final image showed John and his shipmates seated around a large table, which was covered with plates and bowls containing a variety of oddly colored substances. John laughed, appearing happy as he stood up and raised his goblet in a toast.

"Remember that, after our visit to Niskayuna? That was a great party," John said to Aeryn Sun.

"Indeed," Aeryn said. "You out-ate and out-drank everyone, including Rygel."

John grinned.

The final image lingered in the air, and then disappeared.

"That's yours," John said. "You can freeze an image if you touch the globe while it appears. Batteries should be good for a hundred Earth years. Just don't let any of the techs try to open it up."

"Thanks," Jack Crichton said, knowing that simple word was inadequate to describe how he felt. It was interesting to see the pictures of John's companions, but it was the images of his son that he would treasure. He would be eternally grateful to the alien Zhaan for having the forethought to include them.

"The datacore is for DK," John said, swimming over to take the black object from his father, and then handing it to his friend.

"Open it up. All the way, so it's flat," John directed.

DK did so.

"Here is the payoff I promised, for bringing you guys up here," John said.

"FTL?" DK asked, his voice reverent.

"Plans for the hetch drive, yes," John said. "But just having the plans won't be enough. The design is all in there, but the fuel source depends on a couple exotic isotopes. I couldn't remember how common they were on Earth. You may have to do some prospecting out in the asteroid belt to find them."

DK nodded.

"There are a couple of other toys in here," John said. "How to build a gravity manipulation field, for a start. Let you control gravity on this space station, or use it to geometrically reduce the power required to liftoff from Earth."

"Unified field theory? Quantum mechanics?" DK asked. At least someone knew what John was talking about.

"A little of both," John said. "And there's a fusion power source design."

"Cold fusion?"

"No, more like lukewarm. But it's safe and cheap, and will provide plenty of power for the next generation spaceships, until you can get the hetch drive up and running. Here, let me show you how to access the data models," John said, pressing a button on the side of the alien laptop.

An image appeared over the laptop, something that looked to his untrained eye like sentences in an alien alphabet or perhaps equations, followed by a set of three dimensional graphs. Within minutes the boys had their heads bent over the laptop, with DK firing off questions and John doing his best to answer them.

Watching them, he felt for a moment that the past three years had just been a bad dream. What could be more normal than watching DK and John wrangle over ideas, creating scientific breakthroughs as they crafted theories that Jack Crichton knew he would never understand?

John had inherited his love of space from his father, but his gift for science had come from his mother. John had been thrilled when IASA accepted him into the program, for it gave him a chance to satisfy both of his passions. But it was these passions that were his downfall, for they had led to the Farscape project, which had ultimately taken him far from Earth.

For the past three years Jack Crichton had blamed himself for his son's loss. If only he hadn't encouraged John to enter the space program. But merely being an astronaut wasn't enough for John, instead John had to prove himself by designing and testing an entirely new type of spacecraft. He'd been so proud of his son, who had great dreams and the talents to make them come true.

And then it had seemed that John's dreams had cost him his life. And perhaps they had. Not literally, for John was still alive. But there was truth in what John had said, that his old life was gone forever, and could never be reclaimed.

He felt a touch on his shoulder, and looked over to see Aeryn Sun had joined him.

"Your son admires you very much," she said softly.

Jack Crichton glanced across the compartment. John and DK were deep in some technical discussion, and paying no attention to their companions.

"I am proud of him," Jack Crichton said. He could not help wondering at the nature of Aeryn and John's relationship. Were they friends? Lovers? Something in-between? A part of him said that if John wanted him to know he would have told him. But another part wanted to ask, even knowing that any answer would be recorded and replayed a thousand times by the Earthbound analysts.

"He has become a fine warrior," Aeryn Sun commented.

John Crichton frowned.

"This does not please you?"

"My son John was a dreamer. A scientist," he said. "Not a warrior."

He wanted his son back. The John Crichton who had talked of travel to the stars with wonder in his voice. Who had dreamed of great explorations and new discoveries. Who had once said that the thrill of seeing his theories proven right was the greatest feeling in the world.

"I understand. But he had to change to survive. The Uncharted Territories are neither easy nor forgiving," Aeryn Sun said.

And they had cost his son his innocence. He could see it, in John's eyes and in the new lines in his face. Somewhere along the way, John had been hurt, and he had learned what it was to kill. It was a knowledge that Jack would have given anything to have protected his son from.

"He got hurt pretty badly out there, didn't he?" Jack Crichton asked.

Dark eyes regarded him gravely. "Yes," Aeryn Sun said, confirming his worst fears. "As Zhaan would say, there was a time when he lost his center, his sense of who he was. But he found his way back to himself."

Aeryn did not elaborate on what had driven John to that state, and Jack Crichton did not ask. He did not think he could bear to know. Not now.

"Do not worry," Aeryn said, reaching out and touching his arm hesitantly, as if she was unused to making such gestures. "He is still Crichton. Still kind. Still stubborn. Still cares for others far more than is good for him, and tries to help whether they ask for it or not."

"Like yourself?"

"Like me," Aeryn agreed. "I was a Peacekeeper. A warrior. Then my own people condemned me, for having been contaminated by contact with an unclassified alien lifeform. John could have left me to die, but he didn't. He insisted I come with him, and brought me onboard Moya. At first I resented his interference, but eventually I discovered that there was more to life than I had ever believed."

As she offered one of her rare smiles, Jack could see why his son would find her fascinating.

"You care for him," Jack said.

"And he cares for us. Shipmates. Comrades," Aeryn said.

It was less of an answer than he had hoped for, leaving John and Aeryn's precise relationship still murky. But he tried to take comfort in her words, and in the knowledge that John would not be alive today, if it were not for these strange creatures whom he had befriended.

Aeryn tilted her head, and looked at him. "I will tell you the same thing I told the alien who took your form on that false Earth. Do not worry. I will protect John. I will keep him safe," Aeryn Sun promised.

International Space Station, Event Time +18:56

"If I had time I would have programmed more of the theories, rather than just the applications. But you should be okay. You know how I think, you'll be able to figure it out," John said.

DK felt like a kid in a toy shop, or the way Sir Isaac Newton would have felt if someone had handed him a textbook on quantum physics. It would take months, perhaps years to explore all the knowledge that John had placed in this alien laptop. The possibilities were fascinating.

"And don't let yourself be intimidated. The Sebaceans have a head start on us, but they don't know all the answers. They never figured out the Farscape effect, so there's one for our side. Trust your instincts. You'll be fine," John assured him.

"I'd feel better if I had my old science partner," DK said.

"You don't know how often I wished I had you there, to help me figure this stuff out," John said. "But then again I was grateful that I knew you were safe, back home."

Safe. That word again. It was clear that however exciting John's life may have been since he had arrived in that strange galaxy, the word safe was no longer part of his vocabulary.

DK wondered if Jack Crichton realized just how much his son was concealing in his stories of the Uncharted Territories. Hiding the truth, glossing over the bad parts, trying to protect them.

John could fool his father. He had done so in the past. To this day, Jack Crichton still hadn't guessed that the fender-bender that John had been in during college had actually been a fairly serious accident, when the car he had been riding in had been struck head-on by a drunk driver, landing John in the hospital with bruised ribs and a nasty concussion. John hadn't wanted to worry his father, and had glossed over the incident. DK had known better, and had wormed the truth out of him.

After John's mother had died, John and his father had drawn even closer, as they tried to take care of each other. John had never wanted his father to worry, saying that his father had enough to worry about in raising the twins.

Even on that fateful day, it had been DK that John confided his last minute doubts to, doubts that would later seem an eerie premonition. When Colonel Jack had arrived, John had quickly buried his misgivings, and put on a confident face for his father.

John was more than a friend, he was the brother DK had never had. And for over three years now, DK had lived with the thought that he had helped kill him.

"All this time I kept thinking it was my fault," DK confessed. "If only we had known what the meteorological data was trying to tell us. If we'd recognized the radiation wave sooner, and I'd been able to warn you when there was still time to abort. If--"

"Hey," John said, grabbing his shoulder. "It wasn't your fault. It was no one's fault."

"But if we'd only delayed the test for an hour, just long enough to confirm the data, then none of this would have happened."

"You have to stop thinking like that. When I first got to the Uncharted Territories, that's all I could think of. If only I had done this, or if only we hadn't done that. Took me a long time to realize there is no point in second-guessing the past. What's done is done. I was in the right place at the wrong time. A billion to one chance, but there I was."

DK lifted his gaze and looked into John's eyes. There was no trace of the condemnation he had feared to find. "It's not your fault," John repeated.

DK felt the knot inside him begin to loosen.

"It's pretty rough out there, isn't it?" he asked, unwilling to be let off that easily.

John nodded. "It can be. But it can also be wonderful, the way we dreamed of when we were kids. I've watched the double suns rise over Ionna Three, and gone mineral hunting in the rings of a gas giant. I've seen floating cities, and space colonies. I've met aliens of every kind you can imagine, including beings that exist as pure energy, held together by their own consciousness. I've even been close enough to a quantum singularity that I could touch it with my hand."

"A black hole?"

"A black hole," John said with a grin. "Nearly did touch it, and wound up slipping in and out of time for the next day."

Slipping in and out of time. Suddenly he envied John, for all that he had seen and been able to do.

"A part of me wishes I could go with you, but another part knows I'd be scared out of my mind," DK confessed.

"There's that. Sometimes I am scared. But I've learned a lot about myself out there. I've learned that I can be stronger than I ever dreamed I could be."

Indeed it was clear that John had gone through a trial by fire. DK wondered if John realized how much he had grown to resemble his father in these past three years.

"And besides, if I went with you Melissa would kill me," DK said.

"Melissa? Melissa Sullivan from JPL? You still together?"

"Married two years ago. And this spring we're expecting our first," he said, with the idiotic grin he always wore when he thought of his wife and the child to come.

"You? A baby? You lucky bastard," John said. "Congratulations."

"Strange to think of me as a father, I know," DK said. He felt odd, at the realization that his life had continued in a predictable path, while John had been living this strange adventure. "And there's you, coming back to Earth like John Carter, accompanied by the alien princess."

"Princess?" John asked incredulously.

DK nodded towards Aeryn Sun.

The frown on John's face cleared. "Oh, you mean Aeryn. Aeryn's wonderful, but if you want to stay on her good side, be sure to call her a warrior. And don't use the word Princess. That brings up bad memories, for both of us."

"You realize I have no idea what you're talking about," DK said.

"Long story," John said. "Let's just say you ought to be careful who you go around kissing."

International Space Station, Event Time +21:30

Jack Crichton watched as John dipped the spoon into the peanut butter jar, and then withdrew another generous helping. As he tasted it, his expression was one of pure bliss.

Earlier, the rest of the station's personnel had gathered, sharing an impromptu meal. It was crowded, but no one seemed to mind. Even the crew of the X-44 had been recalled, allowed to dock and to come in and meet the visitors.

Aeryn Sun had sampled the peanut butter, but declined a second taste, and had instead eaten one of the packaged meals prepared by the station crew. John had declined all offers, declaring his intention to eat nothing but peanut butter, until he had consumed the entire case that DK had brought from Earth.

The station's crew were polite, but they swarmed around John and Aeryn Sun, finding excuses to be near them, or to engage them in conversation. The six personnel who had taken the translator microbe injections were highly in demand, as translators for the others. The crew offered gifts, taken from the few personal luxuries they had been allowed to bring on station. John refused most of them, but there were a few items he could not resist. A handheld digital media unit which held five hundred books, and thousands of hours of music. A month's supply of coffee. And digital photos of the meeting, and of DK and John's family.

Earth had sent a flurry of messages and instructions. There had been invitations to speak with the President, the Secretary General of the UN, and various other heads of state. John and Aeryn had declined them all. They had also declined IASA's offers to set up media interviews, insisting that they had no time for such things.

John did accept IASA's offer to set up video calls with his sisters Melissa and Ruth. Born a dozen years after John, the twins had been in college when the older brother that they worshipped had seemingly died. They had never had the chance to know John from the perspective of adulthood.

Jack had joined him for the calls, which were both joyous and painfully awkward. Like himself, the girls were thrilled to learn that John was alive, and then bewildered by John's insistence that this was a visit, not a homecoming.

On behalf of the State Department, Walter Klein had repeated his offer of asylum for Aeryn Sun and assured John of his safety. When this offer was refused, it was repeated on behalf of other countries, with the same results.

Hiro Tanaka had asked for and was granted DNA samples from both John and Aeryn Sun. Soon those samples and the recordings would be the only tangible evidence that they had ever been here.

Jack Crichton watched his son with hungry eyes, feeling the time slipping away from them. In less than an hour John planned to leave, and he had yet to find a way to convince him to stay.

His musings were interrupted by Alexei Kirillov, who tapped him on the shoulder.

"Colonel Blackwell would like to see you in the control center," the Russian cosmonaut said.

Jack looked over, to where John was gesturing as he tried to explain something to a fascinated audience of scientists. Aeryn Sun was nowhere to be seen, having accepted an offer to tour the X-44, and discuss flying with the pilot. They would not miss him.

Jack followed Alexei Kirillov into the control center, where he found Colonel Sarah Blackwell stripping off her headset.

"Thanks Alexei," she said. "Give us a minute, would you?"

Alexei Kirillov nodded, and disappeared back towards the main living habitat.

"What's up?" Jack asked.

"That was IASA," Colonel Blackwell said. She lifted her right hand and rubbed the back of her neck, rolling her head to relieve the stiffness.

"And did our friends down below have any useful advice?"

"They had two bits of news. First, the net media have broken the story. They've got the details wrong of course, but at least one news service is saying that an alien spaceship has taken over the space station, and that this is the forerunner to a full-blown invasion. Naturally IASA is denying everything, but it's a mess."

He'd wondered how long it would take for the story to get out. There were simply too many people involved to maintain secrecy. Not when the news was this fantastic. And it wouldn't be long before some news organization put the pieces together and came up with the right answer. After all, landing an attack chopper in a suburban neighborhood might be the fastest way for IASA to retrieve him, but it was not particularly discreet. All someone had to do was realize that Colonel Jack Crichton and Doctor David Kroger were part of the X-44 launch, and they'd connect the dots and find John's name. And then there went any hopes of keeping John's homecoming quiet.

"What else did they have to say?" he asked.

"They strongly suggested that I find some way of convincing Commander Crichton to stay with us past his deadline," Colonel Blackwell said.

"Strongly suggested," Jack Crichton said, echoing the emphasis she had put on the phrase.

Colonel Blackwell's eyes met his. A twenty-year veteran herself, they both knew what it meant when command 'strongly suggested' a course of action. There was no need for her to spell things out.

But to his surprise, she did so.

"Washington has even floated the idea that I should take any means necessary to detain John. In his best interests, of course," she said.

"Of course," he said, feeling a slow anger begin to burn inside. He did not want John to leave. But neither did he want to see John coerced.

"Naturally IASA vetoed the suggestion, and the security advisor in Washington quickly backed down. He claimed he never meant that I should try to use force to keep John here. But it's only a matter of time before the suggestions turn into orders," she said. "As it is, we're lucky the Farscape craft didn't dock with the station. Otherwise they would have ordered me to seize his ship hours ago."

Jack Crichton looked at her, wondering what she would do. He knew Sarah Blackwell only by reputation, but her reputation was good. And John had trusted her, which was a point in her favor.

"And would you?" he asked, knowing he would have to find a way to stop her, should she decide to try and hold John against his will.

"Never," she said. "And I don't care that the recorders are going to pick up that answer, and I'll find myself busted down to a ferry pilot when this whole thing is done. I don't give a damn about what IASA and the government think, they don't own John. He deserves to make his own choices."

"How long do you think we have before they make it an order?" he asked.

"They know the deadline as well as we do," Colonel Blackwell said. "That's why I've instructed Alexei that we're going to have communications problems, beginning now. The recorders will still be on, but we won't acknowledge any transmission from Earth until this is over, one way or another."

Jack knew he was watching a talented officer destroy her career. As soon as IASA realized what she had done, Colonel Blackwell would be summoned to Earth and stripped of her rank. She might even be court-martialed or tried for treason, if she wound up defying a direct order from the President.

"It may not come to that," he said. "I'm still trying to reach him, to convince him that he should stay."

The look Colonel Blackwell gave him was one of pity. "You know the life he would have down there. Is that what you want for your son?"

"So I should just let him leave? Go out of my life, knowing he will never return?" Jack Crichton demanded.

"Try to see this as a gift," Colonel Blackwell said. "Twenty-four hours ago we didn't even know he was alive."

International Space Station, Event Time +22:15

Time was running out. He could almost hear it ticking, as John's deadline approached.

The rest of the station crew had already made their farewells, and returned to their duty stations. Even the contact team had left at Colonel Blackwell's request, joining her in the command module, leaving him, DK, John and Aeryn Sun to make their final farewells in private.

"I know it was selfish of me to come. It might have been easier for you to keep thinking of me as dead," John said. "But I just had to see you one more time, and give myself a chance to let go of my old life."

"You don't have to let go," Jack Crichton said. "There's no reason you can't stay, even if Aeryn Sun chooses to return to her galaxy."

"No," John said.

"If Aeryn wanted to stay, would you?"

"Of course," John said automatically.

"You two are more than friends," Jack Crichton said, stating the obvious.

John turned his head, and smiled wistfully as he caught sight of Aeryn Sun, who was talking with DK. Earlier, Aeryn had resumed her position by the secondary airlock. It could be a coincidence, but Jack had the feeling that she was guarding their exit route, leaving nothing to chance.

"I love her, and I know she loves me," John said, then he turned back to face his father. "Some days that's enough. Some days it's not."

"What do you mean?"

"Not like I can ask her to marry me, and promise her a happily ever after. How can I ask her to share my future, when I'm not even sure I've got one? We could be together for the next forty cycles or it all might be over an arn after we return."

"If it's that uncertain, why not stay here? Even if they do quarantine you at first, at least you'd be safe," Jack Crichton said.

John shook his head. "No. I'm not going to spend my life locked up in a cage. I'd rather take my chances in the Uncharted Territories. We've survived tough spots before, we can do so again. And with luck, someday we'll find a place where Aeryn and I can both be safe."

A part of him wanted to argue, to convince John to stay. But another part of him knew this for a selfish desire. Staying would ease his mind, but would John really be safe? What kind of life would John have, if he stayed on Earth? Even Colonel Blackwell believed John had a right to be wary.

He had to accept the bitter knowledge that he could not protect his son. Could not promise him safety, or bring him home. His influence at IASA, his fame, all the favors he had accumulated over the years, were all useless. Nothing Jack Crichton did or said was going to change the decisions being made on Earth. Already government officials were ready to detain John against his will. And once in custody, it was likely that John would never get out. Or if he did, he would have just exchanged one prison for another. Whenever the story finally broke, John was going to be the most famous man on Earth. The first man to bring back irrefutable proof of alien life, and the knowledge of dozens of alien civilizations. Every scientist, every journalist, every lunatic with a UFO theory was going to want a piece of John. There would be nowhere he could hide, no chance for a normal life.

Jack Crichton closed his eyes, thinking of all the things that he had wanted for his son, things John would now never have. A wife. A family. Awkward steps and teddy bears. Little league games and science projects. Braces and driving lessons. The chance to watch your children grow, until the day you realized they had surpassed you.

He mourned for these things, and he mourned for himself as well, for the grandchildren he would never know, and the son he had thought lost, whom he must now give up all over again.

"Dad, you okay?" John asked.

"I'm fine," Jack Crichton said, opening his eyes. He took his grief, and he willed it away, as he had learned to do years ago. It was not gone, just banished for the moment. But for now, he could not let his emotions rule him. There were still things he needed to do. To say. He would not ruin these last moments while he still had his son. There would be time later to grieve.

He had had three years to learn about regrets, and to remember all the things that should and should not be said.

"I know you feel you can't stay," Jack Crichton said. "And I understand."

"Truly?" John asked, his voice rising in disbelief.

"I understand," Jack Crichton said, putting all the conviction he could muster in his voice. "I'm not happy about it. I wish that we could turn back the clock, and find a way to bring you home safely. But I know that you are doing the right thing, for yourself and for Aeryn."

Sometimes a father needed to lie to his son, to reassure him that the world made sense, that everything would be all right, despite all evidence to the contrary. It was the only comfort he could offer.

"I needed to hear you say that," John said, the misery vanishing from his eyes. "And I don't want you to worry about me. I'm going to be okay. Trust me."

How could he not worry? "It's a father's prerogative to worry, at least a little," Jack Crichton said, knowing he would wonder about John every day for the rest of his life.

"Okay. But try not to worry too much. I'll be fine," John said.

It was a promise John could not possibly make. But he needed his father to believe him, or at least to pretend that he did.

"I know you will. And remember this, you have family back home that love you, and are proud of you," Jack Crichton said.

"Thanks," John said. Anchoring himself with his left hand, he reached out, and wrapped his right arm around his father.

Jack Crichton returned the embrace, wishing he could freeze this moment forever.

"I don't know if it will ever be safe for me to come back. But no matter what happens, I'm still your son," John said. "I'm doing my best to be the man you wanted me to be."

"Just be yourself, that's all I ever asked," Jack Crichton answered, finally releasing his son. "I couldn't be any more proud of you than I already am."

John swallowed hard and nodded, blinking back tears from his eyes. Jack Crichton knew his own eyes were moist as well.

A chime sounded, and both men looked over towards Aeryn Sun.

"It's time," she said.

John pushed himself off from the wall, and drifted across the module, as Jack Crichton followed.

"Brother DK," John said, as he reached the airlock. "You take good care of Melissa and your new family, you hear me?"

"I will. And you take care of yourself. Try to leave a few things for the rest of us to discover, once we reach the stars," DK said with a grin that didn't quite reach his eyes. He reached over and put his hand on John's shoulder. "Stay safe, you hear?"

"I will," John promised.

"Aeryn, it was wonderful to meet you. Take care of our boy and keep John in his place, okay?" DK asked.

"I will remember that John is only a human," she said, with a wicked smile.

A flash of humor, very much at odds with the serious commando persona that she projected. He realized there were unexpected depths to this woman, and wished he'd a chance to get to know her. It was another regret, that he'd add to the long list of regrets this day had brought.

Jack Crichton took her hand in his. "Aeryn Sun, it was an honor and a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I'm only sorry we had so little time. But I am grateful that you came here with John, and happy to know that he has such a good friend," he said. He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead, as if she were one of his daughters.

"The honor was mine," Aeryn Sun said. "John has spoken of you so often I feel I already know of you."

He looked at John, but there was nothing left to say. Or rather there were a thousand things to say, and no time left to say any of them.

"Wish me luck," John finally said.

"Good luck, son," Jack Crichton answered.

John took the tether for the metal box, which now contained the peanut butter DK had brought, along with the gifts from the station crew. Then he opened the airlock door, and Aeryn Sun entered the airlock, one hand on her pulse pistol.

John watched her enter, and then turned back to look at his father.

"Good-bye," he said, and then bit his lip as if to stop whatever else he had meant to say.

Then John turned, and entered the airlock.

Jack Crichton felt his heart drop into his stomach, as he watched his son walk away from him, knowing that he would never see him again. He wanted to reach out, to call him back.

Instead he watched in silence as Aeryn and John donned their helmets, and then checked the glowing telltales on their wristbands. Then he turned to DK.

"Give me a hand with this," he said, grabbing the airlock door. He swung it shut, and DK turned the lever that fastened the locking mechanism. There was a gentle hiss as the seals tightened, and then a few moments later, the sounds of the outer door being opened.

"Let's go up to command," DK suggested.

Jack Crichton shook himself out of his reverie. "Okay," he said.

He followed DK into command, and found Colonel Blackwell and the contact team gathered around the monitors. They made room for him and DK, as he watched the image of Aeryn Sun and John maneuvering over to the Farscape craft.

"No jets," DK said. "Wonder what they are using for propulsion?"

Jack Crichton stared at him, wondering how DK could think of such things at this moment.

It took mere minutes for John and Aeryn Sun to reach the Farscape craft, and to board it.

"Friendship Station this is Farscape One," John's voice crackled over the radio. "Thanks for the hospitality and give my regards to IASA."

"Will do. God speed John Crichton," Colonel Blackwell said, echoing the benediction that NASA had given John Glenn, when he became the first American in space.

It was a fitting blessing, for the first human to venture into another galaxy.

"Thanks. Enjoy the show," John said.

The Farscape craft began to move, at first slowly, and then it began to accelerate. Within seconds it had disappeared from camera range.

"Switching to radar display mapping," Alexei Kirillov said. "Radar on screen one, and Farscape video feed on screen four."

The main screen blinked and then switched to a computer generated picture showing Earth, and the Farscape craft's approximate position and speed. The secondary screen showed images taken from the camera mounted to the front of the Farscape craft.

Jack Crichton watched as the craft completed one orbital rotation in record time, continuing to accelerate throughout. Then it dove into the atmosphere.

There was a flash of blue light and then the monitoring screens went blank.

"We've lost him," Alexei Kirillov said, in an eerie echo of the first Farscape test.

"No. We didn't lose him," Jack Crichton said. This time he knew better. "He's gone, but he's not lost."

For the second time John had traveled through a wormhole, to a distant galaxy. This time by his own choosing, to return to the new life he had made for himself there. And a part of Jack Crichton would always be with his son, in that distant place.


Comments? E-mail the author: NGMA607@aol.com


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