Chapter 4 - Timeline Unraveling

He wanted to say, "Yes." He wanted to ignore all the terrifying consequences that goes with mucking about with timelines which had already made their marks and simply fix things for these people. He desperately wanted to say, "Yes," all the while he was shaking his head in a negative motion.

"I... I can't," he replied with genuine regret.

"But you must!" Stark insisted. "Zhaan... she deserves to live."

"I don't doubt that for one moment, but I'm sorry, no."

"Why not?"

"Because he's lying about being able to travel in time," Aeryn provided what she thought was an obvious answer. "He's just making all that up."

"What reason would he have to do that?"

"My guess is that he just likes hearing himself talk."

"Well, there is that," the Doctor agreed, knowing that he was indeed talking a bit too much. He wished he'd never opened his mouth about being a Time Lord. Mention the fact that you can travel through time to some people and they start getting ideas of how that neat little trick can best benefit them. "However," he added, "everything I've said has been the truth. And yes, I can prove it, but then what? You'd still want me to go back in time and save Zhaan, and I'm sorry but I can't. Well, actually I can, technically speaking. But trust me, it's just not a very good idea."

"Why not?" Stark continued to question him. "You... you just said that you changed history on Crichton's world."

"No, I prevented history from being rewritten. That's different. When I attempt to change things that shouldn't be changed, there are serious repercussions that can reverberate throughout the cosmos. Believe me, Stark, there are people in my own life that I have lost and would love to go back and change their fate. So, so many... but... I have to put my personal desires aside and do what's best for the universe. Do you understand?"

"How can Zhaan's death be best for the universe?"

The Doctor ran his hand through his hair and blew out an exasperated sigh. He could tell that Stark had no intentions of giving up without a fight. He thought quickly of the best way to handle the situation.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but as I understand it, Zhaan was already dying when she went aboard the Pathfinder ship to operate the controls. Is that right?"

Stark's visible steel-blue eye slid from the Doctor over to Aeryn. He probably didn't mean to be accusatory, but it came across that way. The Doctor followed the Banik's gaze and saw Aeryn's tough demeanor crumble as remorse took over. She had to emotionally brace herself before she was able to speak.

"I had died," Aeryn began to explain in a rather timid voice. "Drowned. Zhaan brought me back to life. She entered my mind and soul through a process known as unity. She felt that it was important for me to live...." Her eyes shifted ever so fleetingly in Crichton's direction when she said that. "So she... gave me a gift of spiritual energy, knowing that her own life would be forfeited."

"It appears to me," Jool spoke up, "that if one were truly able to time travel, the best way to save Zhaan would be to prevent Aeryn from drowning in the first place."
 
"Which means," said D'argo, "we'd have to go back to before Crichton's mind was taken over by Scorpius. But then that would mean we never go to that surgical facility, and a certain someone," he gave Jool a look, "would still be frozen in a chamber waiting to be used for spare parts."

"And," Rygel added, "to keep Crichton from being taken over by Scorpius and causing Aeryn to drown, we would have to go back to before Crichton went to the Gammak Base to seek treatment for Aeryn's damaged paraphoral nerve."

"But if he doesn't go to the Gammak Base," Chiana chimed in, "Aeryn would have died back then and Stark would still be rotting away in a prison cell."

"And I never would have met Zhaan," Stark lamented.

"That was a brief lesson in timeline unraveling." The Doctor looked to Crichton. "You're the key to it all, aren't you?" he asked. "You left Earth in your little Farscape module, fell down a wormhole and got yourself tangled up in the lives of all these people."

"Yeah, been screwing things up since the moment I got here. I know a lot of folks would have been much better off if I had just slept in late that morning."

"Well, I don't know about the rest of them," said Chiana as she moved closer to Crichton and placed an arm around his waist, "but I'm sort of glad you came. You saved me from being mind-cleansed by my own people... twice. And you stood up for me when no one else cared... talked the others into letting me stay on board Moya."

"And how many times have I nearly gotten you killed, Pip?"

Chiana responded with a flirtatious smile. "You make things interesting."

"I get people hurt or killed," Crichton grumbled softly. "And Zhaan... if we had just stuck to the plan, she would've been okay."

"What plan is that?" asked the Doctor.

"We were on our way to a planet where we could put Zhaan in the soil so she could heal. You see, Zhaan is a form of plant life."

"Yes, I know. I'm quite familiar with Delvian biological makeup. But did she actually tell you that placing her in soil would restore her health?"

"She said that if she was to survive at all, she needed to be planted in soil," Stark explained.

"And you took that to mean that the soil would help her to heal?

"Of course. What... what else could it have meant?"

The Doctor hated giving bad news, but the confused and expectant faces surrounding him deserved to know the truth. He tugged on his ear and let out a mild groan as he thought of the best way to impart what he knew of the Delvian life cycle.

"All right, it's like this... Delvians indeed are a form of plant life. They have extremely long life spans and some have the ability to share their life-force with others. However, if they are severely injured or become terminally ill, they have two outcomes from which to choose. Either they can simply die or they can choose to be planted in the ground. When Delvians are placed in soil, they behave very much like other flora. In fact it's exactly like planting a tree. They take root, grow branches, sprout leaves and live off the natural elements of their environment. They lose all their normal bipedal features and abilities. Technically speaking, Zhaan would continue to survive, but she would do so as a tree. She would grow tall and blossom for many years to come. But she would never be able to leave that planet and she would never, ever be the same Zhaan that you all know and love.... I'm sorry."

"That... that can't be," said Stark. "Zhaan would have told me."

"No, Stark," Aeryn spoke up. "Zhaan was afraid to tell you. She... she didn't think you would be able to handle the truth."

Stark walked up to Aeryn and stared at her in disbelief. "You knew all along. She told you?"

"When Zhaan and I shared unity, I saw into her mind. I don't remember much of that experience, but I do know that Zhaan was beyond repair and fully expected to meet her goddess. The alternative to her dying was... as he says." Aeryn gave a slight nod towards the Doctor as she finished speaking.

Rygel gently voiced his opinion of the situation. "Stark, Zhaan knew the consequences of her actions when she gave her spirit energy to save Aeryn. She also knew what would happen when she took the controls of the Pathfinder ship. She wanted us all to survive, no matter what it cost her. She would want us to get on with our lives. So I say that we should remember her fondly, celebrate her life, be thankful for her sacrifices and leave it at that."

Stark wasn't quite ready to leave it. He shook his head, rejecting that idea and looked to the Doctor once more as an answer to his unvoiced prayers.

"Maybe... maybe you could just go back to before the two ships collided. If we never collide, that would give me more time to spend with Zhaan."

"Stark, I'm sorry. It's just not a wise move to make. You see, very bad things can happen when you muck about with time. Changing the timeline in order to reverse a person's death -- even for someone as wonderful as Zhaan -- well, that can cause a rip in the fabric of time. And even a tiny tear can cause terrible things to happen all over the universe. Besides, there were other deaths involved as well. The crew of the Pathfinder ship, how many were there?"

"Four," Crichton supplied the answer.

"If the timeline were changed to avoid a collision, then the Pathfinder crew would also survive and that would add an additional four more rips in time."

"Oh, more than that," said Jool.

The Doctor raised his brow at her statement. "What do you mean?"

"When I was left alone with Neeyala, she told me that the entire crew was under strict orders to complete their research and get it back to their planet. She said that if they failed, their families would be executed. Obviously, they failed."

"She told us the same thing," said Aeryn, "but she was probably lying, trying to gain our sympathies so we would give in to her demands to abandon Moya.

The Doctor rushed over to his computer monitor. He pulled his eyeglasses from his pocket and slipped them on before beginning some frantic typing on the keyboard.

"What are you doing?" asked Jool.

"It hasn't been that long since the Pathfinder ship was destroyed. The families may still be alive. I have to see if I can locate them."

"How?" asked Crichton. "You don't even know who they are."

"Not at the moment. But fortunately, the Pathfinders are somewhat like Humans when it comes to the information highway. I just need to zero in to their home-world and link to one of their internet satellites, and...." his voice trailed off as he concentrated on his goal. His fingertips flew across the keyboard as Crichton and Aeryn approached and stood on either side of him, watching his actions.

"What language is that?" asked Aeryn referring to the odd, overlapping geometric symbols she saw both on the monitor screen and on pieces of paper attached to the edges. "My translator microbes can't decipher it."

"It's the language of the Time Lords, and no, it can't be translated," said the Doctor without slowing his work. "Almost got it...." He typed a few more characters and hit the return key. "There!" he exclaimed triumphantly when the jumble of Time Lord symbols were replaced by a new window containing words and graphics in a language that was easily translatable. The Doctor proceeded to type in "wormhole research" in the search bar at the top of the page and instantly received a long list of possibilities. He clicked on the first link in the list and was taken to the Rado Slana Wormhole Exploration and Research page. After scanning through the contents of the first couple of pages on the site, he came upon several photos of the research team.

"That's Neeyala," Crichton pointed out. "She seemed to be the one in charge."

"And these others were on board with her?"

"Yeah, but they're showing an extra one there."

"There could have been an extra one on board," said Rygel, hovering nearby atop his throne chair. "Remember, they did have the ability to make themselves invisible."

"All right. So now we know who they are, let's find out about their families." The Doctor began typing again. "Just need to get past security measures and... drill down to the employee files... and... voila!" A new screen opened up that housed the research facility's confidential information.

"It can't be that easy to hack into their system," said Crichton skeptically.

"Oh, this is child's play for me. Pathfinder technology isn't all that complex. In fact, they're just slightly more technically advanced than Humans. Earth is only about a millennium behind them. So, let's see what we have here."

The Doctor quickly scrolled through multiple pages of information, and after absorbing everything he saw, he announced his findings to his temporary guests. "The families of the research team are all housed on the east wing of the base facility. There are two wives, two husbands, nine children and two barely adult siblings. Neeyala definitely was not lying about the death threats to her family. There's a standing order for all family members to be executed if the research team fails in concluding their mission. Failure includes the inability to obtain data or to successfully transmit collected data. The mission is also deemed a failure if the team does not report in at predetermined intervals. They're do to report in again in 7.22 hours, Earth time."

"But they really wouldn't kill the families now, would they?" asked Chiana. "I mean, what's the point?"

"Incentive for the next team of researchers," the Doctor responded. "This isn't the first team to fail. The scientists are goaded into a situation to either perform well or lose everything they hold dear."

"Can you tell if the families are still alive?"

The Doctor tapped a few keys to bring up that information. "There's no indication that the mission has failed yet, so they're safe for now. But once those in charge don't receive an expected status report.... I'd better get going."

"Going where?" asked Crichton.

"To the Pathfinders' home planet to rescue the families of the researchers."

"Just like that?" asked Rygel. "You're going to run off and maybe get yourself killed for people you've never even met?"

The Doctor shrugged lightly. "It's sort of what I do. That's why I'm here. Bunch of people I didn't know were in trouble so I came to offer assistance. Sorry I wasn't much help. But then maybe I wasn't destined to save Zhaan or the research team. Maybe I was meant to save those families. And to do that, I'm going to have to ask you all to leave now. I have to get going."

Jool was the only one to head towards the exit. When she noted that none of the others had made a move, she turned around and looked at them curiously. "What?" she asked.

The Doctor wondered the same thing. He looked about at the pensive faces that surrounded him. "What?"

"What's your plan?" asked Crichton.

"No plan," said the Doctor as he removed his glasses an slipped them back into his pocket. "I don't do plans. Plans are for... planners. I'm more of a doer. I just... do."

"What are you going to do then?"

"I'm going to...." He took a moment to think about that, then declared, "I am going to... fly my TARDIS to the Pathfinders world, land in the facility where the families live, gather them all together, let them know that their lives are in grave danger and offer to take them to a place of safety." Rather pleased with himself, he grinned and said, "Suppose that is a bit of a plan, isn't it?"

"That's not a plan," Crichton contended. "Well, not much of one anyway. Dude, those people are dangerous. They murder the loved ones of the people they employ, the ones who work their asses off trying to obtain the unobtainable. What do you think they'll do to a total stranger, someone who's sticking his nose into their business? Did you know they can shoot poisonous darts out of their head flaps?"

"Yes, I know that. But I happen to be immune to most toxins. Might sting a bit and I probably shouldn’t operate heavy machinery for a while, but other than that I should be fine."

"You're nuts!" Crichton continued to argue. "You don't even speak their language. They don't use translator microbes. You won't be able to understand each other."

"Don't need microbes. The TARDIS does all my translating for me. Any other objections?"

"What if the facility is heavily guarded?" asked Aeryn.

"What if the families don't believe you're there to help and refuse to go with you?" asked Chiana.

"And even if they do go with you, where's this safe place you plan on taking them?" asked D'argo.

"All right, all right!" The Doctor raised his hands in surrender. "No need to gang up on me." He ruffled his hair in thought as he began to pace back and forth in front of the console. "You see, that's why I don't do plans. You have to work out too many details in advance." He stopped pacing and faced his irritating new acquaintances. "Look, in answer to all of your questions... I'll think of something when the time comes. I always do. Some of my best work comes about when I'm under tremendous pressure. So, thank you for your concern, but please, run along so I can take off."

They all seemed reluctant to leave. He wasn't sure if it was because they were truly concerned for his safety or if it was because they still saw him as an interesting diversion or a possible solution to their own problems. When Stark stepped up to him again, he assumed it would be to continue the plea for rescuing Zhaan. Before the Doctor could voice his objections, the gentle man in the iron mask held up a hand to stop his words.

"I know," he spoke in a subdued tone. "You can't go back an undo what's been done without causing terrible damage elsewhere. I understand that now. And Zhaan would not want others to suffer because of her. I was being selfish. So... thank you... for bringing us Zhaan's message. I know she's gone on to a better place. And also, Doctor, I want to say... good luck. I hope that you are successful with your plan to save the families of those who perished." The masked man leaned in closer to whisper in confidence. "I think it's a very good plan."

The Doctor was both moved and relieved by the man's words. "Thank you, Stark," he replied with a faint smile, then watched as the Banik turned away and headed towards the exit. The other members of Moya's crew slowly followed. Chiana paused at the bottom of the ramp and turned to speak.

"Will you be coming back?"

"Do you want me to?"

"Yeah."

"I'll try... but it may not be possible."

"Yeah," she nodded in understanding, then turned and walked out of the door.

Soon, the only one left was Crichton who stood at the edge of the ramp with hands on hips, biting his bottom lip and shaking his head, unable to figure out his own emotions. The Doctor was his connection to Earth and possibly a ride back home should he survive his half-ass planned encounter with the Pathfinders. If he let the man go now, he'd probably never see him again and therefore never get back to Earth. On the other hand, he had just met the guy and didn't know if anything he said was actually true. The gangly geek with the wild hair could still be part of some kind of elaborate plot by the Peacekeepers or Scarrans or Ancients to get inside his head again. Alien races loved screwing with his brain for whatever reason. Tempting him with a few tiny symbols of home was an easy way to lure him away from the safety of Moya and his friends. But there was something about the man in the pin-striped suit, something totally non-threatening and captivating.

"Crichton?" the Doctor captured his attention. "Mind closing the door on your way out, please?"

"Is this reverse psychiatry? Tell everyone to go away and that you don't need any help so people will feel guilty and volunteer to help you out anyway?"

The Doctor smiled. "You Humans. The way your minds work never cease to amaze me."

"You can't go it alone. You'll walk in there and get yourself killed."

"Well, won't be the first time," the Doctor responded nonchalantly.

"Meaning?"

"Time Lord physique. I don't die. I regenerate. Whole new body."

"You can grow a new body?"

"No, I become a new body. However, parts of my body can grow a new body. Although that was probably just a one time thing, special circumstances and all."

"You really don't make a lot of sense, you know that?"

"No, don't suppose I do." As the Doctor began plotting a course on his navigation system, he glanced over at the Human and said, "You haven't asked me yet."

"Asked you what?"

"If I would take you back to Earth. That did happen to cross your mind, didn't it?"

Crichton shrugged and nodded slightly. "Yeah, it crossed my mind."

"But... you still don't trust me, do you?"

Crichton shook his head and flung his arms out haplessly. "I don't know what to make of you. I've been lied to and made of fool of by so many different alien beings, it's hard to know who I can believe. The only people I feel I can really trust now are all outside that door. And I can't even trust all of them. Definitely have to keep my eye on Rygel and Jool.... But, look, you said you could prove that you're a Time Lord and all. How?"

"By traveling back in time and saying hello. Which I would love to do, but first things first. I really must be going."

"Yeah, whatever, dude." Crichton finally turned away and headed down the short ramp. He paused for a moment in front of the door just before making his exit. "Doctor, if you truly are who you say you are and you're actually running off to do what you claim you're going to do... be careful."
 
"I am, and I will be," the Doctor assured him.

The moment Crichton stepped out of the TARDIS and closed the door, he heard the loud, strange whooping whine of the ship's engine start up. He moved away from the blue box and joined his mates already standing at a safe distance. They all stood and stared in awe as the light atop the box began flashing and the box itself slowly vanished from sight.

"You think he's really going to the Pathfinder planet?" asked D'argo.

"I think that's what he wants us to think," Aeryn replied. "I believe he is up to something. And this," she pulled the sonic screwdriver from her pocket and held it up for inspection, "is probably some sort of tracking device. We should dispose of it and starburst out of this area as soon as --"

"Wait!" Crichton grabbed the screwdriver from her and examined it carefully. "I think... I think I know how this thing works now." He gently twisted one end of the screwdriver to place it on a numbered setting, then walked over to a nearby damaged access panel with severed wires hanging out. "D'argo, come hold these two wires together."

His friend didn't bother to question him, just did as he was told, and looked on curiously as Crichton pointed the blue tip at the meeting point of the wires and pressed a button on the screwdriver. The small tool lit up, made a noise and an instant later, the wires were welded together.

"How did you figure that out?" asked Aeryn.

"The Doctor... he showed me," Crichton replied while staring curiously down at the sonic screwdriver.

"When did he do that?"

"When... when I was a kid." Crichton looked from the screwdriver over to where the TARDIS had once stood. "Aeryn, I just remembered...." He shook his head in utter confusion and said, "I first met the Doctor when I was twelve years old."