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Part Six

 

 

by Ann Harrington (aka Annigmatic)

 

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

  •  

    Part VI

    When had unwilling cooperation become active collaboration? Crichton did not know. He could not remember making a conscious decision, yet at some point he had crossed the line.

    Had it been the first time he had answered Scorpius's questions about his research? The moment when he had agreed to look at the technical data? Or had it been even before, from the first instant he had accepted Scorpius's ultimatum, and surrendered himself?

    It did not really matter. He had chosen this path, and he would continue to follow it. He had thrown himself into the research, finding in the unwavering pursuit of knowledge the focus he needed to preserve his sanity, and his sense of self.

    Scorpius had been right about one thing. Until Crichton unlocked the riddle of wormhole travel, he had no hope of returning home. He had to have faith in himself, and in his own abilities. He could solve this riddle, if he persevered. And then somehow he would find an opportunity to free himself, and to make his way home.

    Scorpius had promised that he would release him, once he had no further use for him. But Crichton knew better than to trust such a promise. His value would only increase once he had solved the wormhole equations. Scorpius would not let his prisoner go free, lest he choose to share his knowledge with others.

    And he had gained more knowledge than perhaps even Scorpius had expected. It had taken him days, but he had crafted a program that searched the records of the distant spiral galaxy. Over a thousand stars had met the parameters he had specified, and he had forced himself to dispassionately examine each record in turn, as the program showed approximate distance, directional vectors, and the locations and classes of the nearest neighboring stars.

    Record six hundred and thirty-five had been the solar system. His solar system. Earth. He finally knew where home was. Now all he had to do was figure out how to get there.

     

    "The command carrier has arrived in the Hecbal system," Scorpius announced, as he entered Crichton's quarters. "Is the test plan finished?"

    "Almost," Crichton said absentmindedly, his attention focused on the screen before him.

    "Why the delay?" They had already agreed to the basics of the experiment days ago, when they had selected this system for the trials. All that was missing was for Crichton to supply the final equations that would determine the vectors used for the test flight.

    Equations that held the key to the experiment.

    Crichton swiveled around in his chair, affecting a deliberately casual pose. "Because I won't finish it until you agree to let me fly the test."

    "That is out of the question," Scorpius answered automatically.

    "Why?"

    "I should think the answer would be obvious." Was Crichton being purposefully obtuse?

    "What is the problem? The module isn't fast enough to outrun your ships, and anyway, where could I run to?"

    "And if you are successful in creating a wormhole?"

    "Isn't that the point? Say I manage to create a wormhole. Even if the module does go through it, you'll still have what you want. You'll know exactly how I did it, and how to recreate the phenomenon. If not, test is over, you bring me back on board, and nothing has changed."

    "Do you think the test will be successful?" Was this the reason that Crichton had withheld the final equations? A last chance to bargain, before he gave Scorpius the answers they both sought?

    "No," Crichton said, shaking his head. "The simulation models look good, but I think we're still missing something. That's why I want to be there firsthand, to see for myself what we've got."

    He had thought this a ploy, the latest attempt by Crichton to win his freedom, but his truth sense told him Crichton did not expect the test to succeed. And yet still the human bargained for this opportunity.

    He realized that a part of Crichton still needed to believe that he was a pilot and explorer. He was not yet ready to accept that his life, indeed everything that made him who he was, was now under Scorpius's control. It was the same part of Crichton that cherished the illusion that he might someday break free and return to his homeworld.

    Scorpius could afford to indulge his illusions, for they played right into his hands. Crichton's foolish hopes fueled his passionate drive to unlock the secret of wormhole technology, for this was his only way home.

    He would allow Crichton to fly the test in the module. Let him think that he had gained a small victory, never realizing that Scorpius had already defeated him in every way that mattered.

     

    "Okay, I'm in position," Crichton's voice announced over the communicator. "Ready to initiate test sequence on your mark."

    Scorpius turned his gaze to the woman who stood by his side at the main console.

    The technician nodded. "Sir, all stations report readiness," Chief Technician Finivar said. "Sensor platforms are in place, and the observation craft have taken up their positions."

    "We have full tracking telemetry on the module?" Scorpius asked.

    "Yes, sir. And the command overrides have been tested and verified," Chief Technician Finivar said, anticipating his next question.

    Scorpius looked at the view-screen which was displaying the image of the Hecbal binary system. On the upper right of the screen was the primary sun, an epsilon class yellow-orange star. On the lower left was the second star, an ancient white dwarf.

    In between them, a blinking red dot indicated the position of Crichton's module near the barycenter, the point around which the two stars orbited. The plan was to test the wormhole theory by having Crichton fly a carefully calculated flight path towards this gravitationally unique point, so he intersected the point at the same time as the electromagnetic radiation wave.

    If wormholes were indeed an electromagnetic phenomenon, as Crichton theorized, the test should yield some interesting results. Perhaps not an actual wormhole, but it would certainly increase their understanding of the magnetic shear effects associated with solar flares.

    When Crichton had offered up this plan to test his theory, he had pointed out that uninhabited binary star systems were common, but solar flares were impossible to predict. Still he reasoned that given enough time, probability dictated the likelihood of a solar flare event.

    Scorpius had surprised the human by suggesting that there was no need to wait. A solar flare could be artificially induced, using a nova-class bomb. Weapons that he had, in fact, already obtained from the Peacekeeper supply base, anticipating their need.

    From there it had taken but a few days to select a suitable system and design the test protocols.

    Yesterday had been spent testing the nova-class bombs, calculating the precise speed and impact vector needed to induce a flare in the primary sun. After studying yesterday's test results, this morning Crichton had suggested one minor modification to the trajectory, which Scorpius had reviewed and approved.

    An unfortunate side-effect of this experiment was that Crichton now knew enough about the design and capabilities of the nova-class bombs to get them both executed. There was only one penalty for sharing state secrets, and that was death. But it was an acceptable risk, considering the end goal which he pursued.

    "You may begin," Scorpius said.

    The chief technician began the countdown. "The test begins at the mark, in five, four, three, two, one, execute."

    Precisely on signal, the weapons drone launched the nova bomb towards the primary sun.

    "Impact in thirty microts," a technician announced.

    Scorpius kept his eyes on the screen. As the bomb struck, there was a bright flash, and then the sun began ejecting a stream of bright yellow matter from the corona, just as it had in the previous tests.

    Only this time the ejection did not end in mere microts, instead it continued, growing in size, as the faint ribbon of matter became a stream.

    "Oh dren," Crichton said, with remarkable calm. "Houston, we've got a problem."

    On the command carrier, alarms were beginning to sound.

    "Sir, this appears to be an uncontrolled eruption," Chief Technician Finivar said.

    "I can see that," Scorpius snapped. The technical displays confirmed what his eyes were telling him. This eruption was already two orders of magnitude larger than in the earlier tests, and it was continuing to grow.

    "Crichton, abort and return now," Scorpius instructed, feeling rising concern. How could this have happened?

    "Way ahead of you, boss man," came Crichton's flippant reply. "Time to get the hell out of here before we all get fried."

    And indeed, Scorpius could see that the module was already changing course, turning on a tight parabolic arc that would bring the module back to the carrier at maximum velocity.

    In the distance, the sun continued to erupt.

    Scorpius rose from his seat, unable to stay still any longer.

    "Prepare for maximum acceleration out of this system, once the module is aboard," Scorpius instructed Lieutenant Braca. A solar flare of this magnitude would destroy the sensor platforms, and might well damage the scientific instruments on the command carrier. Prudence dictated retreat.

    "Hold on. Something is happening," Crichton said.

    Scorpius looked back at the viewscreen. There, at the barycenter, was a faint shimmer of light. Even as he gazed, it coalesced into a ring shape, and then began to solidify.

    "I don't believe it. He's done it. He's actually done it," Lieutenant Braca exclaimed.

    They were witnessing the formation of a wormhole.

    "Yes," Scorpius said. "But apparently it has missed your attention that our prisoner has changed course and is using this opportunity to try to escape."

    Lieutenant Braca swallowed nervously.

    "Crichton, return at once," Scorpius commanded.

    Crichton made no move to comply. Instead he continued on his new course, turning towards the phenomenon.

    "There's something strange---" Crichton began.

    Scorpius pressed the switch which controlled Crichton's collar.

    "No!" Crichton protested, as the sedative was injected into his bloodstream.

    "Retrieve our errant scientist," Scorpius said. "Now."

    "Yes, sir," Lieutenant Braca said.

    Scorpius crossed back to the monitoring station. One screen displayed telemetry from the module, showing that Crichton was even now slipping into unconsciousness. The other screen displayed the module's course and speed, which remained constant.

    "Stark?" Crichton whispered.

    Scorpius's unease deepened. Crichton should not have been able to speak. And why would he utter the name of his former cellmate, someone Crichton's own memories told him was dead?

    "The module is not responding to our overrides," the navigation officer reported. "Radiation from the solar flare must be interfering with our signal."

    "Then try again. Find a way to boost the signal, and get that module back," Scorpius ordered. His voice was cool, but there was no mistaking the threat.

    Around him, the technicians and officers worked frantically.

    Only Chief Technician Finivar remained calm. "We've lost all telemetry from the module, and are unable to contact the prowlers. Sir."

    Behind him, on the screen, the flare continued to grow.

     

    Crichton's fingers danced on the navigation keypad as he entered the course change. With his left hand he pushed forward on the throttle, increasing acceleration. His right hand reached for the toggles that would turn on the auxiliary boosters. But his hand froze, as his eyes swept over the instrument panel. The readings were crazy, in some cases off the charts, and in other cases cycling wildly.

    "Hold on. Something is happening," Crichton said.

    He raised his head and looked out the viewscreen toward the barycenter. There he saw a faint glowing shimmer where reason told him no light should be.

    He eased back on the throttle and began to turn towards the strange phenomenon.

    "There's something strange---"

    "Crichton, return at once," Scorpius commanded.

    Crichton ignored him, intent on the phenomenon. Was that a ring shape? Indeed it was, and even before his eyes it shifted in hue from white to yellow to the dazzling blue that marked the portion of a wormhole that could be perceived by the human eye.

    He felt a sharp prick in his neck.

    "No!" he objected, but it was already too late, as the drug took control of him. He felt himself falling, falling endlessly into the blackness that was softer than the star-filled skies.

    As he tumbled down towards oblivion, he heard someone call his name.

    "Stark?" he whispered.

    He could not see Stark, but he could feel his presence, in the same way that you know the unseen hand on your shoulder belongs to an old friend, even before you turn to look.

    "John Crichton," came Stark's reply.

    It was Stark. Strange. So this was what it was to be dead. Somehow he had expected something else. He had always thought that even if his death seemed instantaneous to observers, that there would be a moment when he realized he was about to die. An instant for him to accept the inevitable, before it occurred.

    But he had made the transition without warning. Without realizing the extent of his danger, until it was too late. He did not even know how he had died. Or why he felt so strange, so disconnected from everything. There was no grief, no anger, not even sorrow. Just a passing thought on how odd it was that his life had come to an end now, after everything else that he had survived.

    And the knowledge that Scorpius was going to be furious that Crichton had finally found a way to escape him.

    His mind began to drift.

    "Crichton, you are not dead," Stark said. "You are still alive."

    "Then why are you here?"

    "I did not die. The Plokavians destroyed my body, but they could not destroy my energy form."

    "Really?"

    "In this form I can speak only the truth," Stark said, and his words carried the all the kindness that he had shown so long ago when he tried to ease Crichton's pain during their imprisonment.

    "I'm glad for you," Crichton said. "I never meant---"

    When they were interrogated by the Plokavians he had tried to protect Talyn with his testimony. Despite his weapons Talyn was still very much a child, in need of protection and guidance. But he had never meant for Stark to sacrifice himself to save them.

    "I know," Stark said. "Be at peace with what happened, for I am at peace now. Far more so than I was in my physical form, when I still carried the hatred for the Peacekeepers within me."

    "But where are we? And how can I be talking to you?"

    "This is a moment outside of time," Stark said. "Without a physical connection I could not reach your conscious mind, so I had to wait until that moment when your mind was in transition between the physical world and the dream world."

    "I'm in a real jam. Scorpy's got me, and this time I don't think I can break free," Crichton confessed.

    "This, too, I know," Stark said. "And I know you feel helpless, but I have come, with the help of the Ancients, to offer you a choice."

    "The Ancients?"

    "As with my race, the Ancients also share a dual nature, able to travel between the physical and the energy planes. I encountered them soon after I made my transition."

    "Did they play their games with you, too?" Crichton asked, remembering his own encounter with the Ancients. The Ancients had used him, making him believe he had returned to Earth, just so they could use his mind to test the reactions of humans to alien visitors. It had been a gut-wrenching experience, made all the worse when he realized that none of it had been real. Not Earth. Not his Dad. Nothing except himself and his friends from Moya.

    "The being I met was one who knew of you as well. He was intrigued that I had encountered you, but dismayed to discover that the knowledge they had gifted you with had made you a target for imprisonment and torture."

    Many times he had cursed the Ancients for implanting the wormhole equations in his mind. And yet deep inside him, he knew it had been meant as a kindness.

    "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition," Crichton said, after a long pause.

    He felt Stark's puzzlement.

    "Not their fault," Crichton elaborated. "If anyone is to blame, it is Scorpius."

    "John, you have a choice," Stark said. "You can leave this place and return to your body. Your module will be picked up by the command carrier, and all will be as before."

    "And what's behind door number two?"

    "The phenomenon you saw was the beginning of a wormhole formation. An unstable wormhole, but one that may endure long enough to let you leave this place."

    There was an instant of impossible hope. "Will it take me home? Back to Earth?"

    "No. It is too unstable for that. It can only take you a short distance, but that should be enough to escape Scorpius," Stark answered.

    Even as his hopes crashed, he told himself that he had known that such a thing was impossible. If Stark had known a way to send John home, he would have told him at once.

    "The wormhole will take you away from here, to another part of this galaxy. With luck, it may take you to a place where you will find help," Stark said.

    And if he was unlucky, it would land him into the vast emptiness of space, where he would die a slow death as his life-support systems failed.

    "The decision is yours," Stark said. "I can make no promises. Even the Ancients were not certain if the wormhole would be stable enough for you to traverse it, or if it would break up prematurely, destroying you and your module."

    "It's time to roll the dice. Let's do it," Crichton said.

    There was no hesitation in his reply. He might never have another chance to escape Scorpius's control. It was worth any risk.

    "The Ancients have given me the navigational vectors you must enter into your module's guidance system," Stark said.

    "That's going to be a problem. When we leave here, my body is going to be unconscious, isn't it?" Crichton asked.

    "Normally, yes. But not if you keep your mind focused on the link with me. Let me share your thoughts, and we can do this together."

    "Will I see you again?" Crichton asked.

    "Who can tell what the future holds?"

    There was one thing more he had to say, while he still could. "Stark, whatever happens, thanks. You've been a good friend, and I'm grateful."

    "Your friendship saved my life," Stark said. "I will not forget you, John Crichton."

    His decision was made. It was time.

    "I'm ready," Crichton said.

    He looked deep within himself, emptying his mind of distractions, banishing doubts and worries, until he found the calm center as Zhaan had taught him to do. He held himself suspended in that center for a moment, until he was joined by the glowing luminescence that he remembered from his earlier sharing with Stark.

    Stark's spirit touched his, and then they merged, filling Crichton with an energy that made him feel vibrantly alive, as if every good part of him now shone brighter and truer.

    And then he was falling again, into the blackness, his spirit body replaced by leaden clay. His own will was insufficient, but as he drew on Stark's power slowly he opened his eyes, and he raised his right hand. It took both of their combined wills to force his hand to type in the navigational commands.

    He pressed execute, and the navigational system blinked green, signifying it had accepted the course changes. There was a brief moment of exhausted satisfaction, and then once more he was alone, and falling into the darkness.

    Into that darkness came a familiar voice.

    "John, you can flee but you can not escape me. A part of you will always be mine. Always," Scorpius promised.

    And then the darkness devoured him and he knew no more.

     

    The crew of the command carrier continued their frantic efforts, but Scorpius knew with chilling certainty that it was already too late, as Crichton's module changed course, and accelerated towards the wormhole. Impossible. Crichton should have been unconscious. And yet somehow he had defeated the collar and the drugs. Somehow, he was still flying that craft, aiming it directly into the wormhole.

    As the module approached, the proto-wormhole began to collapse in on itself, torn apart by the very gravitational forces that had created it.

    "No," Scorpius said. The wormhole was unstable. Surely Crichton could see that. Entering the wormhole meant almost certain death.

    Perhaps that was what Crichton intended, for he showed no hesitation in his flight path. Scorpius clenched his fists in impotent rage as the module entered the wormhole and disappeared.

    Microts later, the first of the prowler escorts followed Crichton into the wormhole. There was a brilliant flash of light, and then the wormhole collapsed and disappeared.

    There was a moment of absolute silence on the command carrier, as the crew held their collective breaths, waiting to see how Scorpius would react to the loss of his prize.

    "The radiation wave will reach this ship in five hundred microts," Chief Technician Finivar announced.

    "Take the carrier out of this system, to deka point five range," Scorpius ordered. The powerful electromagnetic radiation wave could well destroy the carrier's instruments, and all of the data that they had just recorded. And he could not take that risk.

    Not now. Not when that data was all that he had left of the experiment.

    As the Hecbal system vanished in the distance, Scorpius turned to Lieutenant Braca. "We will return to the system once the flare event has subsided, to conduct further analysis. In the meantime, you will send a message to all Peacekeeper bases and commands. Instruct them to scan for the module's tracking device, and to notify me at once if they receive the signal, or a communication from the prowler's pilot."

    "But sir, you can not believe Crichton survived?" Lieutenant Braca asked. "We all saw the wormhole's implosion."

    "I thought you would have learned by now not to underestimate Commander Crichton," Scorpius replied, his voice soft with menace. He had been merciful once before, when Braca had underestimated Crichton's will to survive, and had let the human escape from his grasp. The lieutenant should know better than to expect a second reprieve.

    Lieutenant Braca nodded jerkily. "Of course, sir. I will send the message at once."

    Scorpius returned to his seat, idly drumming his fingers on the arm rest.

    The failure was not Lieutenant Braca's alone. Scorpius, too, had underestimated Crichton. Or, rather, he had not realized how true Crichton remained to his original character. A scientist, yes, but also an explorer. Crichton had said it himself. He was an astronaut, accustomed to taking incredible risks in the pursuit of knowledge. Even before the wormhole had appeared, Crichton had chosen to stay and observe the phenomenon, despite the evident danger.

    He did not know how Crichton had managed to defeat the collar, and remain conscious so he could continue to fly the module. Nor did he know if this was a carefully planned scheme, or simply Crichton taking advantage of the opportunity that he had been presented with.

    In the end, Crichton had chosen to trust in his luck. And he would need luck, for the module had life support for only a few days. Even if Crichton successfully traversed the wormhole and managed to escape the pursuing prowler, he would have to exit near a starship or planetary system, or he would not live to enjoy his escape.

    Deep inside, with a certainty that went beyond logic, Scorpius knew that Crichton was alive, and that he would survive. Somehow. Scorpius had faith in his prisoner's ingenuity, and in the luck that had sustained him so far. Crichton may have escaped his control, but it was a temporary setback. The wormhole was too unstable to have carried the human far from this region. Eventually he would be recaptured.

    Then Scorpius would show Crichton that he was indeed nothing more than Scorpius's possession, and that there would be no escape for the human. Ever.

    ####

     

    Part VII, the conclusion of this story>>

     

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