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Return To Sender

Part One

by Ann Harrington (aka Annigmatic)

Return To Sender Part Two>>

 

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"

Summary: Scorpius makes John an offer he can't refuse

Searing heat blistered his fingertips and John Crichton dropped the plasma-welder with a startled curse. It clanged off the floor of the shuttle bay, as John shook his hand trying to ease the stinging pain.
"John, you aren't paying attention. You need to focus," a soft voice said.
John Crichton did not turn around. He knew that there was no one to see. The voice was his torment, his alone.
He fixed his gaze on the left wing of the Farscape module. How long had he been here? He didn't even remember coming down to the shuttle bay, or deciding that it was time to repair the micro-meteor punctures that the craft had received during his last trip. And yet he must have done so, for the holes were neatly welded, and running his hand along the wing he could find no flaws.
Not that he would trust to his own eyesight and sense of touch. He would let the DRDs do a proper scan in a moment.
"You need to be careful, John," the voice reminded him.
Crichton said nothing. Sometimes, if he ignored it, the voice went away. Other times it did not. At least it was only a voice this time, easier to deny than the visual hallucinations.
Why did it have to be Scorpius that he heard and saw in these visions? Why couldn't he be one of the people who saw Elvis, or a six-foot rabbit?
"Because you're not afraid of a six-foot rabbit," he said aloud. And he was afraid of Scorpius. Or more specifically of what Scorpius would do to him, if he was ever recaptured. John had survived a few days in Scorpius's care. Barely. Even now, memories of the time he had spent in the Aurora chair were enough to make his stomach knot, and a cold sweat run down his back. John could not face that. Not again. He would take his own life before it came to that.
And yet his fear of Scorpius was an old one, still present but now it shared space with a new fear. Slowly but inexorably, John was losing his grip on reality.
It was not just the hallucinations, the conversations he had with someone that no one else could see or hear. Gaps were appearing in his memory, times when he had no idea where he had been, or what he had been doing. Like today. He remembered morning and breakfast, Rygel droning on about his favorite Hynerian delicacies. It seemed like moments ago that he had stood up, leaving his uneaten rations for Rygel to finish. But his chronometer showed that it was now deep into the night, or the sleep cycle as the others called it. Where had those missing hours gone? Where had he been? And what had he been doing?
Since his precipitous arrival on Moya, Crichton had worked hard to prove his worth, and to gain the acceptance of the crew. They had learned to trust him, and he had learned to value their friendship. Now all that was coming apart.
It was becoming harder to hide his growing weakness from his friends. He knew Aeryn suspected something. He had even told her some of it, when he had to explain why he had nearly killed her with a shot meant for someone who was only a hallucination. And Zhaan was quiet, but her eyes saw far more than she said. Many times he thought about asking her for help, remembering the unity they had once shared. Yet each time something inside him stopped him, before he could frame the words.
Perhaps it was that he already knew there was nothing she could do to help him. No one could. Confessing his fears would only hasten the day when his condition would be discovered, and the crew would be forced to act.
And so he had learned not to start when he heard a voice that could not be there, or saw visions that no one else did, and a dozen other ways to cover up the fact that John Crichton was no longer in control of himself. What choice did he have? Should he summon the crew and confess to them?
He could see it now, everyone gathered in the common room as he said "Guess what? Turns out Aeryn was right after all. Humans don't do well in space. I'm cracking up. Sorry for the inconvenience."
And if he confessed, what would they do? They were his friends, but they could not save him from himself. Sooner or later, his friends would have to act, as much for their own protection as his.
Would they banish him from Moya, leaving him to make his way alone? Or would they lock him in a cell, watching helplessly and he slipped deeper into madness? Would someone have the compassion to end his life, when there was nothing of John Crichton left?
He knew his time was running out. He had days, perhaps a week at most, but no more than that before someone, probably Zhaan or Aeryn, summoned the nerve to confront him. He could no longer hide the signs of what was happening to him, for the mental stress was taking its toll on his body. He had to force himself to eat, but still he was losing weight. And his face was drawn from lack of sleep, though that, too, was a mystery. Most nights he spent a full sleep cycle in his bed, and yet he woke each morning nearly as tired as he had been the night before.
Two days ago Zhaan had offered him a concoction to help him sleep, mentioning that she had heard him cry out the night before in his sleep. And yet he had no memory of that dream, or of any dreams in these past days, and this troubled him. Somehow not being able to recall his dreams was more frightening than any nightmare could be. It was as if there was another piece of him that was slipping out of his grasp, a part of him lost forever.
"Commander Crichton?" Pilot's voice came over the comm.
"Yeah Pilot? What's up?"
"I am receiving a very odd communication signal," Pilot said. There was a pause. "At least I *think* it may be a signal."
"From a ship?" Crichton hazarded a guess. It could not be from a planet or a base. They were deep in the Uncharted Territories, far from any solar system. Or at least they had been, last time he had noticed. And a ship meant the potential for danger.
"No, Moya does not sense a ship anywhere. And yet there is this signal," Pilot said. "It is really most odd."
The tension that had gripped him began to fade. It was an anomaly. A mystery, nothing more.
"Can you play it for me?" he asked.
"Certainly," Pilot said.
There was a series of tones, pulses of uneven length. Like the old Morse code, except these were of different pitches, almost musical. The signal ran for about ten seconds, paused and then repeated.
"Is that it?"
"Yes," Pilot said. "The signal just repeats over and over again, on very low frequency communication waves. Similar to those of your module."
"You mean radio," John corrected him. "Then there's no need to worry. That signal could have been sent yesterday or a thousand years ago. Radio waves can travel forever in space."
"Are you certain?" Radio waves were far outside of Pilot's experience, almost as much as a telegraph would have been. A primitive form of communication, when compared with Sebacean technology.
"No," John said. He was no longer certain of anything. "But if I'm wrong, you'll be the first to know. No need to wake the others, but to be on the safe side, why don't you ask Moya to run the deep range scans every ahn for the next day."
"Very well," Pilot said.
There was a brief click, and John knew that the communication channel had been closed. There had been something strangely familiar about that musical signal. It repeated over and over again in his head, as if it were one of those annoying radio jingles. He shook his head to clear it, but the odd tune persisted.
A moment later he moved back to the Farscape module. At his touch the canopy opened, and he climbed inside. As if in a dream he saw his right hand move to the communications board, tuning to the emergency frequency, and then flipping the communications toggle on. He donned the headset, carefully preserved although not used since he had left Earth and IASA behind.
The module had its own communications system, one that was not monitored by Pilot. This was somehow important, and yet the thought disappeared almost as soon as it had formed.
"This is Commander John Crichton of Farscape One," he said, his voice flat and calm as if this was just another routine transmission.
"John, I am pleased you received my message. We need to talk," Scorpius's voice crackled through the headset.
He should have felt surprise, but somehow he did not. And unlike the soft voiced hallucination which tormented him, John had the feeling that this imperfect, scratchy communication was the real thing.
"Where are you?" he asked.
"Close. Very close indeed. In a few microts the Leviathan will have fallen into my trap. You will be surrounded by ships from my command carrier."
His heart sped up. They were in danger. He needed to warn Pilot and the others. A small part of him screamed that he needed to summon help, but it was drowned out by whatever was controlling him.
"So why are you telling me this?" It was foolish for Scorpius to tip his hand like this. There was still time for Moya to starburst and escape. That is if this was really Scorpius and not just the newest variety of his hallucinations.
"I am telling you this because you have a choice, John. Stay where you are, and the Leviathan will be captured, and you and all your friends will become my prisoners. Whether you surrender peacefully or risk your lives in some foolish attack, in the end it will be the same."
He felt sick as he realized his long nightmare might finally be coming true. Prisoner of Scorpius. It did not bear thinking about. "You said I had a choice," Crichton said, struggling to keep his voice calm.
"I have no interest in the others, only in you. You can choose to surrender yourself, and I will promise to let the Leviathan leave unhindered. Your sacrifice for their safety."
It was a trap. It had to be. And yet---
"How can I trust you? And why would I be so crazy as to give myself up, so you can put me through the hell of that damn chair again?" His voice cracked.
His right hand shook and he clenched it into a fist, grateful that Scorpius could not see him. There was no need to let Scorpius know how much he frightened John.
"I have never lied to you, John," Scorpius said. "Surrender and keep your friends safe. Or try to preserve your own life, and you damn then all. Time is running out. In the end, you know there is only one choice to make."
There was a burst of static and then the radio went silent.
John stripped the headset off. It wasn't real. It was just another hallucination. It had to be, he told himself.
What if it wasn't? He had promised himself he would never be taken alive by Scorpius. To surrender himself willingly went against every instinct, every fiber of his damaged soul. And yet, could he bear the alternative? What would it mean if Aeryn or Chiana or the rest were Scorpius' prisoners as well? Did he have the right to subject any of them to the horrors that he had endured?
Scorpius was interested in one thing only. Wormhole technology. Crichton had this knowledge, his friends did not. To Scorpius, Moya's crew was useful only as bait or as hostages. It was possible indeed that Scorpius might keep his word and let them go free, once he had what he wanted. Even Crais had confirmed that Scorpius had no interest in Moya or any of her passengers. Only Crichton himself drew this relentless pursuit.
His life for theirs. It was almost the same bargain Crais had tried to make with him, when John had been Scorpius's captive. Strange to think that back then he had been afraid of dying at Crais's hands, not realizing that in a short time a quick death would seem preferable to the pain of having his mind ripped apart by Scorpius's infernal device.
But the bargain Crais offered had been a bluff, and Crichton had seen through Crais's lies, before was forced to make the impossible choice between protecting Gilina or savings his friends.
Scorpius would not make the same mistakes that Crais had. He would not have made his offer, unless he was certain that John would have no choice but to accept.
Moya lurched and the engines protested suddenly and then fell uncharacteristically silent.
"Commander Crichton! Moya's short-range sensors have detected a squadron of Peacekeepers. They just appeared, out of nowhere, and are moving to surround us."
"Can we starburst?" Crichton asked.
"No, we can not escape them," Pilot said. "I have summoned the others, they are on their way to the command center."
"John, where the frell are you?" Aeryn's voice came through the comm. "We need you up here. Now."
A sense of fatalistic calm descended over him, washing away the fear. He made no movement to leave the module.
"Pilot, keep looking," John said. "There ought to be a command carrier around there somewhere."
"A command carrier?" Aeryn asked.
John did not respond. He hit the button that lowered the canopy, and his hands began the familiar ritual of bringing the module to life. A small part of him noticed that his hands had stopped shaking, now that he had made his decision.
Scorpius knew him, almost as well as he knew himself. In the end, there had been only one choice he could make.
His hands continued to move, skipping most of the normal preflight checklist. There was no need for safety precautions. It would not be a long trip.
The engine sequencers ran through their cycle, and the module came to life.
"Commander Crichton, what are you doing?" Pilot asked.
"Pilot, tell Moya she has a dozen microts to open the shuttle bay door, or I am going to open it for her," John said. He had made his decision, now he needed to implement it. Swiftly. Before he lost his nerve, or his friends tried to stop him.
"John, what are you thinking? This is no time for foolish games," Ka D'Argo said.
Aeryn said nothing. If he was right, even now she was making her way to the shuttle bay at a dead run, preferring direct confrontation. But she would not get her wish. Not today.
John aimed the Farscape module at the closed doors, and placed his hand on the control throttle, letting power begin to trickle through the craft. Slowly it began to move. "This is going to leave a big hole," he warned.
At the last possible instant, the doors slid apart, and the Farscape module slipped out into the blackness of space.
A prowler swept by, close enough so he could see the face of the Peacekeeper pilot, and then the craft continued on. His eyes followed its path, and he saw it was one of many that were circling Moya, holding her hostage like an atom surrounded by particles. Every direction was closed off. There was nowhere for her to go, no escape for the ship or its crew.
John picked a direction at random, and accelerated. The module was modified, but it was not nearly as fast as a prowler, or for that matter, a command carrier. It was useless to think of escape, merely of ending this quickly. He would find the carrier, or the carrier would find him. Either way, the end would be the same.
"John, what do you hope to accomplish?" Zhaan asked, in cool tones of reason.
"A trade," he said. "Scorpius gets what he wants, and you and Moya get to go free."
"John, don't be stupid. You can't bargain with such a creature. Return at once," Aeryn said, her voice sharp edged with concern. "We will find a way out of this, but only if we all stick together."
An hour ago he would have given anything to hear such reassurances, but now they were too late. Aeryn, once so pragmatic, was indulging in foolish optimism if she thought there was indeed any chance of avoiding this fate. Once John had possessed such an optimism himself, but it had fallen away, another casualty of his experiences in these past months.
The Farscape module passed between two prowlers and slipped through the outer shell of the blockade. No one tried to stop him, or to follow him. So Scorpius was that confident of John's compliance. And why not? They had not seen the trap coming until it had sprung. No doubt he had planned John's capture with equal efficiency.
"I would have left the ship anyway," John said, trying to explain. "Aeryn, you know that. The hallucinations are getting worse. I no longer know what is real and what is not. My being there was a danger.... to all of you."
"John, we trust you," Aeryn said.
"How can you, when I can not trust myself?" Even now, he did not know if his sacrifice was an act of courage or just another sign that he had descended into madness.
John could hear the sounds of the crew arguing, and someone was shouting his name, but he refused to listen. His throat was tight and his eyes wet with unshed tears, as he left behind his friends, and the ship that he had started to think of as his home. Leaving them hurt, with a pain that was almost physical. Would they ever understand why he had done this? Would they ever forgive him?
"Do one thing for me. Starburst, the moment the fighter screen breaks," John said. He closed his eyes for a moment and prayed to the Goddess that Zhaan served that Scorpius would honor his bargain, and let his friends go free. John's sacrifice had to mean something.
The module vibrated slightly and then changed direction. So the carrier's crew had found him, and was now using its capture field to haul in their prize. He took a deep breath, as he realized that in a few moments he would be face to face with the one person he feared most.
The alien module settled gently onto the hangar floor, and as the docking bay doors slid closed, Scorpius felt satisfaction, mingled with a tinge of relief.
He had planned this operation carefully, considering every possible variation, until nothing was left to chance. And yet in the past Crichton had shown himself a wild card, who found the one contingency that no one had considered. But this time he had met his match. Scorpius had offered the bait, and Crichton had fallen into his trap.
He had known from the start that there was no way to take the Leviathan by force and still guarantee Crichton's safety. For while the neuro-chip should be able to prevent Crichton from suicide, it would not be able to stop him and his companions from an act of desperation that would lead to all of their deaths.
Nor could the chip prevent one of Crichton's companions from killing him, taking his life in a misguided attempt at mercy. No, trying to take Crichton by force was too risky. Instead, he had offered Crichton the one thing he could not refuse, the chance to save the lives of his friends.
Still he was puzzled. Three days ago, Crichton, acting under the chip's control, had sent a signal, indicating the experiment was to be terminated. But it had not given the code that would indicate that Crichton had succeeded in discovering the secrets of wormhole technology, leaving him to wonder at the reason for the summons.
Why now? What threat had the neuro-chip perceived, that required putting an end to the charade of freedom that Crichton had enjoyed for these past months?
There was no movement or sign of life from inside the module, and yet the scans had confirmed that Crichton was alive and inside. A hundred microts passed, and just as he was about to order his guards to open the module, the clear canopy raised, and Crichton's face appeared.
His eyes searched the room, until his gaze fell on Scorpius. Then Crichton pushed himself out of the seat, and climbed out of the capsule.
Scorpius signaled the guards to stay in their positions at the door, and as Crichton descended, he crossed the few meters that separated them. He was intrigued by the craft that until now he had seen only through Crichton's memories. Unique, the only vessel known to have traveled through a wormhole. And yet the craft was a minor treasure, compared to the creature that piloted it.
As Crichton's feet touched the floor, he paused for a moment, laying both hands flat on the sides of the craft, and pressing his forehead against it, as if somehow he drew strength from the vessel. Then he pushed away, and turned around.
"You've got what you wanted. Now let Moya go free," he said, fixing Scorpius' gaze with his own.
Few Sebaceans dared return his gaze, for they were afraid of him, and what he could do to them. Crichton had more reason than any to be afraid, and yet he caught and held Scorpius' stare, unyielding.
Such courage had to be respected.
"I have already recalled my ships," Scorpius said. "And yet the Leviathan lingers. Perhaps your friends harbor some foolish thoughts of rescue."

Crichton shook his head. "They know better than that."
"See for yourself," Scorpius replied, waving his hand towards the communications console on the nearby wall.
Crichton, after one look at Scorpius, crossed over to the wall, where the console screen displayed the image of the Leviathan, and the retreating ships.
"I have kept my word," Scorpius said, coming to stand behind the human.
At the sound of his voice, Crichton flinched. An unusual reaction, or perhaps not, given the fear that Crichton was trying so hard to hide. Still he was beginning to suspect that there was something wrong, some subtle clue or sign that he had overlooked.
Crichton touched his comm badge, apparently not even considering that Scorpius could block any transmission. But he was curious to hear what Crichton had to say, and waited.
"Pilot, what the frell are you doing? Why haven't you starburst?" Crichton demanded.
"John, we--" a female began.
"No," Crichton interrupted. "This is not the time to be stupid. Think of Jothee. Think of Talyn. Think of yourselves, damn it, but get the frell out of here. Now!"
Crichton turned the communicator off. An instant later, the screen image began to brighten, until the Leviathan turned incandescent, and then vanished.
It was as Scorpius had planned. He had no need for the Leviathan or any of its crew, save as a means of gaining Crichton's trust.
Crichton stared at the screen for a long moment, and swallowed hard. His shoulders sagged, and as he turned back to face his captor, the strength seemed to drain out of his body, as if, too, had vanished with his friends. He leaned back against the wall, as if he needed its support.
The eyes that met his were dull. He realized that Crichton had used all of his courage and strength to carry him to this moment. Now that his friends were safe, Crichton could no longer ignore his own vulnerability.
Scorpius did not like what he saw. His mind registered the changes in Crichton's appearance, since he had last seen the human on the Royal Planet. Crichton had lost mass since then, the borrowed Peacekeeper's uniform hanging loosely on his frame. And his face was drawn with fatigue, and with something that hid behind his restless eyes, that now would not keep still.
"What did you mean when you told your friends the hallucinations were getting worse?" Scorpius asked.
Crichton laughed, a harsh sound without true mirth. "You made a bad bargain. Damaged goods. Humans don't take well to having their minds frelled with. Ever since Gammak base I've been hearing voices, seeing things that weren't there. Won't be long now before Mama Crichton's boy becomes a permanent resident of the loony bin."
The reference was obscure, but the meaning came through. And the Scarran heritage that gave him the ability to detect lies, told him that John Crichton indeed believed that he was going mad.
Many Scarrans could read and control minds, but Scorpius could only perceive thought patterns. This was enough to worry him. Crichton's thought patterns were jumbled, chaotic, a mind under great stress, on the verge of tearing itself apart. He probed deeper, sensing confusion, despair, and overwhelming fear that was not quite panic.
"What is it you see in your visions?"
Crichton pressed his lips together, and shook his head, this time careful to avoid Scorpius's gaze.
A mystery then. So be it. He would let Crichton have the illusion of his secrets. Once Scorpius accessed the neuro-chip, it would tell him what he wanted to know.
Crichton straightened up, pushing himself away from the wall. "Let's get this over with," he said. "You might as well save your questions for the chair."
Scorpius shook his head. "There is no need to fear the Aurora chair," he said. "It has already proven itself ineffective. We both know it will not give us the knowledge we seek."
He had looked forward to matching wits with his adversary, but that would have to wait. Crichton could barely stand, and he needed to know what had happened that had driven the human to this state. Now.
"You are exhausted. You need to rest," he said.
"Tell me something I don't know," Crichton replied, the sarcasm coming automatically to his lips. And yet his expression revealed his confusion, as his fears warred with the desperate hope that he might indeed be spared the torments of the Aurora chair.
It had never been his intention to make Crichton suffer. The Aurora Chair had simply been the most efficient means of extracting information. And indeed it had proven effective, for it had uncovered knowledge that Crichton himself did not know he possessed. It was Crichton's own stubborn refusal to yield that had turned what could have been simply an unpleasant experience into unbearable agony.
Once he realized that the knowledge Crichton held could not be extracted by the chair, Scorpius had released him, placing his faith in the neuro-chip, and in Crichton's own intelligence and determination to discover the wormhole technology that would lead him back to his home world.
And now that chip had summoned Scorpius, to protect Crichton when it was clear that Crichton could no longer protect himself. It was ironic that the enemy Crichton most feared was also the one person who could save him, and preserve his sanity.
"John, you have nothing to fear," Scorpius promised, slowly reaching his right hand into his belt case, and withdrawing the medi-injector.
Crichton was too valuable to risk harming. Wormhole technology would tip the balance of power in favor of whomever held the secret. Such a man could rule the universe, if he chose.
Scorpius would keep Crichton safe... and in time would control him.
As the injector crossed into Crichton's line of sight, he stepped sideways, but Scorpius had expected this, and grabbed Crichton with his left arm, pinning him the wall. Crichton struggled, but he was no match for Scorpius's strength. With his right hand he pressed the medi-injector against the human's neck, and injected the drug.
His face was only inches from Crichton's, and he could almost taste the human's overwhelming despair. "A sedative, nothing more. When you are rested, we will talk."
"Talk." Crichton repeated. "Yeah, right."
"Talk," Scorpius affirmed. He held Crichton in place, watching as the consciousness faded from his eyes, and his muscles turned limp, until Crichton's head lolled to one side and fell forward. Only then did he signal for the guards to come, and to carry Crichton to the quarters that had long awaited his arrival.
The task of taming Crichton would not be easy. But Scorpius had the advantage of the neuro-chip, and of years of experience in interrogating prisoners. Crichton was obviously anticipating torture, whether mental or physical. It would be interesting to see how he reacted when he realized that Scorpius had something quite different planned for him.
####

 

Return To Sender Part Two>>

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