Author's Notes: I've never written any Farscape fiction before but I received a plot bunny courteousy of Rehatha who suggested a crossover story based on the Farscape episode "Self Inflicted Wounds" in which a main character dies. But instead of having the Doctor arrive just in time to save the day, I decided to have him show up a little late.
Chapter 1 - The Goddess
He'd had himself a hot shower, a change of clothes, a bite to eat and a nice cup of tea. An hour and 26 minutes after leaving Donna behind to resume her ordinary life, the Doctor settled himself beneath the floor grating under the console to perform some engine maintenance. There was nothing that really needed repair, but checking the wiring and making simple modifications was a way to get his mind off recent events. Unfortunately, it wasn't working very well. Every time he tried to focus on the fine adjustments he was making to delicate machinery, his mind would drift off to that scene on the beach, watching Rose kiss his alternate self. Then, as soon as he shook that image out of his head, it was replaced with the one of Donna's tear-stained face as she begged him not to take away her memories. He blew out a deep sigh as he forced himself to think of something completely trivial and unrelated. Movies that were based on novels versus movies with original screenplays came to mind first. Popular songs that had been recorded by more than one artist was another topic, followed by every TV program that had ever been produced and aired at least once. As all that useless data flowed through his mind, he realized that all his thoughts were of Earth, and that very soon thoughts of Earth would lead him invariably back to what he didn't want to think about.
He seriously needed a major distraction. Thankfully, the TARDIS had just come up with one. The sudden loud beeping of a mauve alert both startled and excited him. He quickly scampered from beneath the grating and began checking the computer for the details of the incoming emergency transmission. He got his first shock when he saw the location from which the signal was being broadcasted. It came from inside a class two wormhole. "What?" As he zeroed in further to the signal, he determined that it emanated from two space ships molecularly bonded together. "What?!" And furthermore, one of the ships was alive! "WHAT?!!" He instantly checked and rechecked his findings. "But that's imp..." He was going to say "impossible," but he felt that he should simply chuck that word from his vocabulary. He had witnessed far too much in the past few years to blindly assume that anything was impossible. A planet held stationary in front of a black hole had been an impossibility; entire planets being stolen from their orbits, and Rose returning from a sealed off alternate universe.... All of those events and more had been impossible under the old rules of science. He needed to keep an open mind and presume from now on that all things were possible.
He plotted a course to intercept the troubled spaceships and began formulating a plan to separate and get them out of the wormhole safely. When he was near enough for visual confirmation, he stared open mouthed at the sight. The smaller of the two vessels he recognized as a Pathfinder exploration ship. Pathfinders wasn’t actually the specie’s name but rather a description of their mission in life. They were a highly intelligent race with a colorful, fishlike appearance. They seemed to believe that there was a better existence for them elsewhere in time and space and spent a good deal of their resources searching for it. They were basically peaceful but could easily show aggression if provoked and were able to kill by shooting poison darts from their gill flaps.
The other ship involved in the collision turned out to be a leviathan, a slightly whale-shaped creature considered to be a distant relative to the TARDIS. It was comparable to a chimpanzee's relationship to humans. Although leviathans were capable of space flight and housing passengers, they were never meant to handle the stress of wormhole travel. The fact that this one had entered a wormhole without being torn apart was amazing enough, but it had gone a step further and survived being skewered through the bow by the Pathfinder ship.
Before the Doctor could decide on the best way to render aid, he noted a new set of readings on the monitor. There was a sharp increase in power signifying that the Pathfinder's generator had reached full optimization and the leviathan was initiating starburst. "No, don't!" he warned. But of course, his warning was too late and too far away to be of any use. He knew what was about to happen. The two ships were about to separate, but without the proper precautions in place, either one or both were likely to be destroyed in the process.
Within a matter of seconds, the Pathfinder ship began to pulsate and move cleanly through the leviathan without leaving any noticeable wounds. Once in the clear, the Pathfinder ship suddenly exploded, creating a fluctuating energy surge within the wormhole that rocked the TARDIS, knocking the Doctor off his feet and causing him to bang his head on the grating floor. It wasn't enough to knock him unconscious, but it did give him a sore bump on the back of his skull. If Donna, Martha or Rose had been around, he would have milked the slight injury for all it was worth.
Once he got to his feet and viewed the screen again, there was no sign of the leviathan. He quickly did a scan and breathed a small sigh of relief when he finally located it. The living ship had reached the safety of open space and appeared to be completely out of danger. The doctor felt rather let down, having come so far and then being deprived of the opportunity to offer assistance. He only hoped that there had been no passengers aboard the ship that had exploded. He considered boarding the leviathan just to meet the crew and find out how and why they had ended up in such a predicament in the first place. Also, the leviathan had probably suffered some internal injuries, for which he could offer aid. He probably should go check to make sure the crew and ship were well enough to manage on their own.
His hand hovered over the landing control, a feeling of uncertainty making him hesitate. His mind wandered back to the events that had transpired within the last 24 hours. Lives had been lost, enemies destroyed, friends left behind and tears had been shed. He had been ready for a new adventure to cheer him up but now he was afraid that the most exciting part of this one had already come and gone. All that was probably left was for the crew to lick their wounds and continue on with their lives. He wasn't any good at that sort of thing. If there was nothing left for him to do but help clean up the mess, he really didn't want to bother getting involved. The ship wasn't sending out any distress calls, so he could assume that the crew was probably just fine on their own.
As the Doctor began to input coordinates for a random course, something unusual caught his attention. A golden mist began to waft its way through the closed entrance doors of the TARDIS. The word "impossible" leapt instantly to mind, replaced quickly by automatic curiosity. The mist became a bright glow as it grew in size and density until it formed the semi-transparent figure of a woman. She was statuesque and stunningly beautiful, with delicate, seemingly hand-painted white markings on her forehead, nose and cheeks. Her soulful eyes were white in color, her smile serene and engaging. She hovered several feet above the floor, dressed in a silky, hooded robe which flowed about as if gently blown by an invisible breeze. She was a goddess. No other description would suffice.
Utterly intrigued, the Doctor stepped forward and asked, "Who are you?"
The goddess gave a small bow in greeting, pressing her hands together as if in prayer. When she spoke, her voice was whisper soft, yet every word could be clearly heard.
"I am Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan. I come to you in peace."
"Hello, Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan. I am the Doctor. I also come in peace." The Doctor returned both the greeting and bow in kind, then inquired, "Exactly what ARE you?"
"I was once a Delvian priest. My body fell ill and this, my spirit has now been set free."
"I see. So you're..." Dead was the word he was thinking, but decided there was no point in saying it out loud. "Ooh, Delvian. I haven't come across any Delvians in... oh... long time. Lovely shade of blue, your people are, by the way, and with such beautiful markings." The spirit simply smiled and canted her head slightly in a gesture of acknowledgment. "So... what brings you aboard my ship?"
"I was curious as to what could be inside this strange, little box." She quickly took in her surroundings, then focused again on the Doctor. "I did not expect all this."
"Yeah, it's a wee bit bigger on the inside."
"How is it possible?"
"A little elfin magic," the Doctor replied flippantly.
"Elves live in a hollow tree and..." the Doctor waved the comment away and said, "Sorry, that was a joke there. Never mind. Truth is it's very scientific and extremely complicated to explain. Anyway... I picked up a distress beacon on my monitor and came to see if I could help. Unfortunately, I got here a bit too late. I don’t suppose you know what all happened."
"I do." Zhaan descended closer to the floor so that the Doctor would not have to strain his neck looking up at her. "A Pathfinder ship carrying a group of researchers studying wormholes collided with the ship I was on, a leviathan named Moya. I don’t understand the why or how such a thing occurred, but once joined, apparently only one ship could endure the separation."
"I have to admit I’m quite surprised that the leviathan survived."
"Moya," Zhaan reminded him of the leviathan’s name. “Yes, there was much concern that she would not survive. The Pathfinders wanted us to abandon her, but I for one could not. Moya is... was my home and her crew my family. We came together as escaped prisoners, outcasts and lost lambs. Over time, a special bond grew. Enemies became allies, brothers, sisters and lovers. I consider them my children."
"One big happy family, then?"
"Not always. There has been pain, tears and death. But we carried on as a family should. And despite the Pathfinders attempts at sabotage and manipulation, my family came together and did what was needed in order to save our home."
"And what became of the Pathfinders?”
"They were all killed before the ship was destroyed. They died either by accident or as a result of self-preservation."
The Doctor wasn’t very happy at hearing lives had been loss, and felt a sense of guilt that he had not arrived earlier. “Were you on the Pathfinder ship when it exploded?" the Doctor asked, already suspecting he knew the answer.
"Someone had to operate the controls in order to initiate the separation of the two ships."
"And you volunteered because of your illness," the Doctor surmised.
"Yes. I had little precious time remaining of my life. Still, saying good-bye to my dear ones was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Leaving them behind to suffer despair and guilt over my departure -- that is my truest regret."
"You could go to them now, couldn't you? Speak with them again just as you're speaking to me?"
"I have tried. Apparently, I am beyond their ability to sense me. But your mind is responsive. You are able to see and hear a great deal. May I ask, what are you exactly?"
"I am unfamiliar."
"Yeah, well, I'm a very long way from home."
"So is my dearest Crichton. I fear he will be the most affected by my death. So caring, always wanting to do the right thing but having so much go all wrong. He blames himself for what happened. His obsession with wormhole knowledge placed us in the path of danger. Perhaps you can help him to heal?"
The Doctor's immediate attention had been on the fact that someone besides the Pathfinders was obsessed with wormhole technology. This Crichton fellow obviously didn't know what he was doing and had just caused a terrifying disaster. The Doctor furrowed his eyebrows in confusion when Zhaan's question about healing seeped into his brain. "Beg pardon? What was that last part?"
"I said, perhaps you can help Crichton to heal. You are a doctor, are you not?"
"I am 'The' Doctor and a healer of sorts. But emotional pain...." The Doctor folded his arms across his chest as he shook his head and admitted, "Sorry, not my forte."
"You came all this way to help, and now you choose not to?"
"I came all this way to separate the two ships and to hopefully save lives. Sadly, I'm too late for either, so...."
"You would turn your back on those in need?"
"It's not that I don't want to help. I do! But... I'm just not very good at that sort of thing. Give me something mechanical, mathematical... I'm a wiz at physics. Separate two ships melded together inside a wormhole, THAT I can handle. But emotional stuff, I'm pure rubbish. I'd probably end up making things worse." He became increasingly flustered as he tried to make excuses why he couldn’t help with emotional trauma. "And besides, I... um... I...."
Zhaan moved closer to the Doctor and reached out her hand to caress his cheek. She realized as she sought to make contact that her touch no longer had substance. Still, the energy she emitted left behind a mild tingle that the Doctor responded to with a tiny shiver. The golden spirit smiled softly as she noted the surprise on the Doctor's face. "Don't be afraid," she whispered to him.
"I'm not," the Doctor responded too quickly and not at all convincingly.
"Of me, no. But I see fear in your eyes, and great sadness."
The Doctor took a few steps back, away from her featherlike touch and her searching eyes. She could see straight into his soul and he found it a tad unnerving. He moved over to the console and pretended to study the data on a monitor. "I've...had some losses recently. But no one died," he was quick to add.
"But you have been left all alone," Zhaan guessed correctly.
"Yeah, well...it's for the best all around. No big deal."
"And you fear growing close to others only to lose them."
He considered lying to her for just an instant, but figured she would be able to see the real truth anyway. Still unable to make eye contact, he shrugged with nonchalance and replied, "Yeah, something like that. But I'm sure I'm just going through a phase. I just need a little time to... um... to...."
He looked up at her then and found himself drawn in to a pair of understanding eyes and a compassionate smile. He gave a simple nod in response, then decided to change the subject.
"So, what about you? Where... what becomes of you now?"
"The light of my goddess beckons me. I will follow wherever it may lead. I paused only to see that my children had nothing to fear from the contents of this box."
The Doctor offered up a disarming grin, "No, they've nothing to fear from me."
"I thought as much. Your kindness is apparent."
"I shall leave you now," said Zhaan as she began to drift backwards towards the door. "And if you should happen to find your way aboard Moya, please tell my sweet, darling children that together they are strong. They should look after one another, and they should remain a family. And let them know that wherever I am, they will remain always in my heart. As will you, dear Doctor."
The Doctor didn't know how to respond verbally, so he merely nodded in silence. He followed the spirit as far as the top of the doorway incline, then stood and watched as Zhaan dissolved into a mist of gold and light and seeped back through the normally impenetrable entrance doors. Once his company had completely vanished, the Doctor stood and stared longingly at the darkened doorway. He wish he had met her when she had been flesh and blood. He could tell that she would have made a wonderful companion. Not that he would have invited her to travel with him, of course. He was through with that. Besides, he would surely have lost her as he had the others one way or another. Still, he wished that she could have stayed a bit longer. That had been far too brief of a distraction. He turned away from the door and walked back over to the console. Pressing a few buttons on the keyboard, he was able to easily zero in to the location of the injured leviathan, and with the turn of a knob, he was on his way to meet the sweet, darling children of Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan.
Chapter 2: Who's Harvey?
The Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS and into the Leviathan's darkened cargo bay. As he roamed through the empty corridors searching for signs of life, he noted the damage done throughout the ship. Access panels had been forced open and cables had been purposely damaged. It was surprising the ship still possessed the power needed to starburst when it did. The crew had obviously performed some fancy footwork to keep Moya going despite all obstacles. He stopped to place a hand on the wall and sought to make mental contact with her. It was very similar to conversing with the TARDIS, and the main impulse that came across was the Leviathan's pain and fear of being further hurt.
"Moya, it's okay, girl," he spoke to her softly. "I'm not here to harm you. I'm the Doctor. I'm here to help. Zhaan sent me. She wanted me to make sure her family was okay." At those words, he heard and felt the ship softly sigh. "I'm so sorry I didn't make it here sooner. Probably could have prevented all this. But I'll do what I can to help make it better. You have my word."
The Doctor patted the wall reassuringly, then began walking again. As he turned a corner, he came upon what had to be one of the smallest crew members aboard the ship. He stooped down and waved his hand in greeting.
"Hello there. Moya send you to check me out?"
It was a Diagnostic Repair Drone , better known as a DRD. The little, yellow bug-shaped robot appeared to study him with its two light probe antennae. It extended its utility arm and pointed what was probably a scanner at him. After a quick inspection, it made a few beeping sounds then turned around and headed down the corridor. The Doctor stood back up and began to follow.
"By all means, take me to your leader."
A few twists and turns later, the guiding DRD stopped in front of an open doorway. It turned towards the doctor for a moment waiting for him to catch up, then pointed its utility arm towards the opened door as if suggesting the visitor enter the area.
"In here?" the Doctor asked as he peered inside the semi-darkened room. He received one beep from the robot, then it turned and headed back the way it had come. The Doctor stepped slowly inside, thankful that the door didn't slam shut behind him. He felt relieved that he had not been just lead into a prison cell. As he glanced about, he saw shelves lined with incense and candles, plus a large selection of bottles and vessels containing a variety of herbs and potions. As he moved around a table, he saw an open closet area housing several long robes, scarves and a few pairs of slippers. He recognized one heavy, very colorful robe as the type worn by Delvian priests. He realized that he was in Zhaan's room. There was a mirror just off to the side where he caught a glimpse of movement behind him. He spun around quickly and found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.
"Who the frell are you and what are you doing aboard this ship?" came the low growl of the gun's owner.
The Doctor raised his hands in surrender and looked past the barrel of the pulse pistol to the six-foot tall man dressed in a black T-shirt, leather vest and pants with a grim and deadly expression on his face. "Hello," the Time Lord replied in his most disarming voice, "there's really no need for that. I'm unarmed and completely harmless." He thought about that statement and shrugged. "Well, not completely harmless. I have been known to...." Destroy entire worlds with little more than a sonic screwdriver, he thought to himself but decided he shouldn't make that particular confession out loud. "Never mind. I assure you, I come in peace."
"You're a Peacekeeper?"
"I do try to keep the peace wherever I go, but I'm afraid it doesn't always work out."
The holder of the gun lowered it slightly as he looked the Doctor up and down, just barely able to make out the pinstripes of his suit in the dim light. "You're out of uniform."
"Oh, I don't do uniforms," the Doctor professed as he tucked his hands inside his pockets and struck a nonchalant pose. "Strictly suit and ties for me. Except for the occasional weekends and casual Fridays when I dump the tie and long-sleeve shirts for a bit more relaxed look."
The gun was raised to his head again as the person holding it began to lose patience. "I'm not going to ask again. Who the frell are you and what are you doing on this ship?"
"I'm the Doctor. Zhaan sent me."
The gunman cocked his head curiously. "Zhaan?"
"Yes. Or rather her spirit. I met Zhaan's spirit right after the Pathfinder ship exploded. She wanted me to look in on her family to make sure you guys were all right. And who might you be?"
"Captain James T. Kirk."
"Pleased to meet you, Captain Kirk. Do you mind?" The Doctor nodded towards the gun, wanting it safely redirected away from his head. "I assure you I'm unarmed and mean you no.... Wait... did you say Captain James T. Kirk?" The Doctor questioned, realizing the significance of the name. "Were your parents Trekkies? Oh, I love Star Trek. I have the entire collection on micro disc."
The gun lowered completely as the man claiming to be Captain Kirk lifted his chin and eyed the tall, slim fellow in the pin-striped suit with less trepidation. An uneasy frown stretched across his face as he shook his head in disgust and holstered his pistol.
"Not funny, Harvey."
"I said, it's not funny. I'm not in the mood for your games, Harvey, so go away."
"I'm sorry. I think you may have me confused with someone else. I'm the Doctor, not Harvey, whoever he is."
"Whatever," the gunman sighed and turned away with sudden disinterest. He walked over to the bed where he lay down and flung an arm across his face to cover his eyes.
The Doctor cautiously approached and silently studied his new acquaintance for a moment. "You must be Crichton," he surmised, but received no type of response in return. "Zhaan said that you might be the most upset over her death," the Doctor continued. "She said that you felt responsible for the collision."
"Just had to get that wormhole data," Crichton confessed ruefully. "They're not like busses. You miss one, there's not another one coming in just a few minutes. It was suppose to have been just a quick flyby, thirty minutes tops to record data, then straight off to that planet to put Zhaan in soil so she could get better. Not sure what went wrong. Maybe we got a little too close and just got sucked in. Next thing you know... Pathfinder ship came out of nowhere."
"So you didn't purposely fly into the wormhole?"
"Of course not. I could do that with my Farscape module, but I would never have tried to fly Moya through that. She's not built for it."
"So, it really wasn't your fault then."
"Wish I could believe that. I've done nothing but screw up since I left Earth."
"When was that? What year?"
Crichton blew out a deep sigh and said, "Go away, Harve. I'm not in the mood."
"I told you, I'm not Harvey. I'm the Doctor."
Crichton moved his arm away from his eyes to look up at what he considered to be a new variation of his imaginary nemesis. He had to admit to himself that the image of the man in front of him looked nothing like Harvey who had always held the appearance of the half-Scarran Scorpius. Why Harvey would suddenly change into something completely human and not at all intimidating was a bit perplexing.
"You're a doctor now?"
"A doctor of sorts, but it's more my name than my profession."
"Right." Crichton folded his arms beneath his head and crossed his ankles in a more relaxed position on the bed. "Well, at least you're a lot less scary looking than Harvey."
"Thank you.... So, exactly who is Harvey?"
"You don't know who Harvey is?"
"Well, I have known some Harveys in my time and it's possible I might know your Harvey. But you'll have to narrow it down for me."
Crichton stared up at the Doctor for a moment, considering just who or what he was. He claimed to be a doctor of sorts and that Zhaan had sent him to help. Perhaps he was the opposite of Harvey. Whereas Harvey had only been interested in obtaining wormhole knowledge and passing it along to Scorpius, this new visual element seemed more interested in his mental well-being. Perhaps it was his mind's way of dealing with Zhaan's death and the oppressive guilt he felt over her loss. He saw the lips move and heard the voice question him once again in a very calm and soothing voice. "Tell me, Crichton, who's Harvey?"
Crichton rested his hands on his chest and focused his eyes on the ceiling as he spoke. "Harvey is the remnants of a neural implant Scorpius stuck in my head to retrieve the wormhole information that the Ancients placed in my mind without my knowledge. People just love to mess around in my brain. Don't know what the big attraction is. Guess cause I'm the only Earth man in the entire galaxy. On one hand they all think I'm inferior and on the other hand, they seem to all think I got what it takes to master wormholes. That frelling neural implant wormed it's way through my brain searching for something buried so deep I didn't even have a clue it was there. Then it took over my thoughts, made me hurt people I cared about, made me kill...." Crichton's voice trailed off, not wanting to go into details about that last part. After a moment of silence, he cleared his throat and continued telling his story. "Scorpius removed the implant and I thought Harvey went with it. But, he stayed behind or got trapped inside my head. He can be a pain in the ass at times because he doesn't really like me and he knows I hate him. But he can also be helpful. I can bounce ideas off him, ask for advice. It's weird. I thought I could control him, have him come out only when I wanted him to, but... guess that's not the case anymore."
"I take it only you can see or hear him?"
"That's why I named him Harvey, after the 6 foot tall, invisible rabbit in an old movie from Earth."
"That Harvey!" the Doctor exclaimed. "Now I get it. Jimmy Stewart starred. Loved that movie. Harvey was Elwood P. Dowd's giant pooka friend that no one else could see, so his family tried to have him committed to a mental...." The Doctor paused, suddenly realizing what it all meant. "Wait, wait, wait! You believe I'm a variation of Harvey, don't you? You think I'm a pooka, that I'm not real."
The truth was obvious in the despondent eyes of the poor soul in front of him. Crichton's mind had been fractured to the point he couldn't tell reality from fantasy. He was a man far from home, victimized by alien technology and left to pick up the pieces on his own. It still remained a mystery why the Ancients would have chosen him to impart wormhole technology especially against his will. There had to be something very special in this human, something that the Ancients saw immediately and something Zhaan felt needed to be nurtured and protected.
Crichton kept his eyes on the ceiling. There was no point in responding to the Doctor's recent comments. Or perhaps there was. Apparently, his mind was trying to analyze itself. Still, it wasn't really necessary to answer aloud. The thing that was a part of his mind would know what he was thinking anyway without him having to verbalize it. "I am real," he heard it say. "You can touch me if you like. See for yourself." Crichton glanced over at him, recalling their first unpleasant meeting when Harvey had come forward to help save him from the Scarran who had been using him for experimentation. Even though Harvey lived only inside the walls of his mind, Crichton could still touch him. They'd had a good fist fight recently which had felt quite real.
Crichton sat up slightly, turned onto his side and propped his head on his opened palm. "So, Doctor, you said Zhaan sent you?"
The Doctor withdrew his right hand which had been offered out for contact. He leaned against a nearby column and folded his arms across his chest. "Yes. She thought that I might be able to help you heal emotionally. I tried to tell her that I'm rubbish at this stuff, but... well, she just seemed to think so highly of you and the rest of your group -- by the way, where are the others?"
Crichton gave a minor shrug. "Wherever I'm not. Don't think anyone wants to be around me now."
"You think they blame you for what happened?"
"Of course they blame me. Even I blame me. This amazing ship nearly destroyed, beautiful Zhaan.... She believed my life was more important than hers. Don't know where she got that stupid idea."
"Doesn't matter where she got the idea. The question is, are you just going to lie there, wallow in your own self-pity and do nothing with the gift she's given you?"
"What's there to do?"
"To start, Moya looks like she's in dire need of repairs."
That was the first sensible thing his abstract mind had come up with so far. Of course, Moya needed repairs. They had done just the minimum to keep life support going and engines online. There was so much more needed to be done that it had felt overwhelming and virtually impossible to get a handle on. Everyone had drifted off to different parts of the ship to mourn Zhaan and deal with their grief in their own way. Crichton sat up, took in a deep breath, and shook off his despair.
"You're right, Slim Jim. Need to stop moping around, feeling sorry for myself and start looking after Moya."
Crichton stood up, ignoring the Doctor's confusion over his new nickname, and headed out of the room. He didn't seem to notice or care if his imaginary friend trailed him or not. The Doctor followed as far as the entrance to Zhaan's room, then merely stood in the doorway trying to decide if he had actually done enough or if he should stick with Crichton a bit longer. If nothing else, he should probably seek out the other crew members. Hopefully, the rest of them would not assume he was merely a figment of their imagination. Before he could decide which direction to take next, he heard a deep, male voice booming over the intercom. "Aeryn, Crichton, Chiana come to the forward storage bay, now! There's something strange going on here."
"Oh, I bet I know what that's about," the Doctor mused. He saw Crichton near the end of the corridor do a sudden u-turn and began running full speed in the opposite direction, passing by him without a second glance. "Oooh, running!" the Doctor grinned with anticipation. "I love running." He took after Crichton, easily matching his fast stride and already knowing where they were heading. Undoubtedly, the TARDIS had just been discovered and an investigation of its appearance and intent was underway. The Doctor stopped just short of the doorway of the storage bay. Considering the unfriendly welcoming he had received from Crichton, he decided to take a moment to gage the mentality of the rest of the crew from a safe distance. He peered around the corner of the opened door and saw his beloved TARDIS surrounded by a small group of aliens, each representing a different species.
The pretty, young, gray girl he recognized as a Nebari, a race of aliens that were considered to be the ultimate control freaks. With the Nebari, you either conformed or they would make you conform. Standing next to the young Nebari in a protective stance was a Luxan, holding a long, pointy weapon at the ready. Luxans were a warrior race not normally known for playing well with others. On the opposite side of the TARDIS was a slender, dark-haired, attractive woman who appeared to be very much human. The Doctor knew that looks could be deceiving. He himself was always being mistaken for a human. The possibly human woman had a fierce expression on her face as she stood with her gun drawn and pointed cautiously at the TARDIS. Floating several feet above the floor on a small, motorized throne was a Hynerian, a self-indulgent, amphibian race that enjoyed the finer things in life.
The Doctor smiled to himself, totally amazed at the variety of species present, knowing that they had come together as strangers and ended up a tight knit family. They may have been temporarily driven apart due to the events of Zhaan's death, but they had quickly put away their own personal problems and banded together to rally against the perceived threat of an unknown entity. He folded his arms and leaned against the edge of the door to listen to the crew's reaction to the strange, blue box in their midst.
"What the frell...?" was Crichton's response. Not quite as wary as the others, he was the only one willing to walk up and make contact with the box. He ran his hand along one edge and asked, "Where did this come from?"
"Was hoping you knew," said the Luxan. "Rygel discovered it while sneaking around looking for his secret food stash."
"I wasn't sneaking," said Rygel indignantly. "Crichton, these symbols at the top, they look like some of the writing on your space module."
Crichton stared up at the words at the top of the blue box and shook his head in confusion. "Police Call Box?" He stepped back and took a good look at the box. "This looks like one of those old-fashioned telephone booths from the sixties over in England."
"Are you saying that this thing is from Earth?" asked the dark-haired female.
"I don't know. Maybe it was aboard the Pathfinder ship and somehow got left behind when we separated."
"Maybe it's some kind of weird escape pod holding their research," the Nebari suggested. "Something they want their people to find."
"Then we should get rid of it right away," the Hynerian spoke up. "Drag it to the nearest hatch and shove it out."
The Doctor didn't like where the conversation was headed. He decided it was time to make his presence known. Just as he was about to step inside the room, he heard the voice of a female mumbling angrily as she came from just around the corridor behind him. "Where is everyone? No one cares if I --"
The voice abruptly stopped as its owner, a red-headed female of an unfamiliar species came face to face with a tall, slim stranger. The Doctor put on a big smile and held out his hand to shake. Before he could utter his friendly greeting, the redhead opened her mouth wide and let out an ear splitting scream. The Doctor covered his ears as the scream became steadily louder and higher pitched. The shrill screech pierced through his hands and into his skull causing unbearable pain. He dropped to his knees in agony, his senses completely overwhelmed by the dizzying noise. By the time the screaming had finally stopped, the Doctor lay unconscious on the floor of the living ship surrounded by its confused, alarmed and well-armed crew.
Chapter 3 - Little Blue Box
As he began to regain consciousness, the Doctor's ears still buzzed with faint echoes of the scream which had nearly taken his head off and left him wishing he didn't even have one at the moment. The fierce pain in his skull had receded to a dull ache, but that was far less worrying than his inability to move a muscle. He discovered that his limbs were numb and unresponsive. It was hard to believe that he had become totally incapacitated by what amounted to a loud screech. As he lay immobile on the cold, hard floor, he came to realize that he was not alone. He sensed two people kneeling on either side of him. Two pair of hands roamed over his body, one set seemed concerned with his physical condition, checking his vital signs; while the other set was apparently patting him down searching for weapons or identification.
"All I am saying is that you should have told someone about him," said a somewhat stern, female voice.
The voice that responded belonged to Crichton, who was trying to get a fix on a pulse as he spoke. "Aeryn, I told you, I didn't think he was real. He knew about Star Trek. No one in this universe knows about Star Trek unless they've been messing around with my brain or they currently reside inside my head. So when I meet a tall, skinny guy with a British accent in a pinstripe suit who guesses my parents were Trekkies and claims that the spirit of Zhaan sent him, yeah, I'm gonna naturally assume he comes from the same neighborhood as that pain-in-the-ass Harvey." Crichton finally finished his rant just as he came to a conclusion about the unconscious man next to him. "Well, he still has a pulse but it has kind of a funky beat to it."
Aeryn's search of the Doctor's jacket pocket led her to find the sonic screwdriver. She held it up and speculated, "Some sort of communication device? Looks too small for a weapon."
She passed it across to Crichton who gave it the once-over. "Looks like a penlight." He twisted it and pressed what looked like a button. The thing lit up with a bright blue light at one end and made a buzzing sound.
"What did you just do?" Aeryn asked in mild alarm.
"Nothing... I hope." The little gizmo seemed to have done nothing other than light up and make noise. Considering the target the light had hit, Crichton couldn't help but worry just a bit and mumbled to himself, "Why do I get the feeling I may have just sterilized myself?"
"Be more careful," Aeryn warned. "Just because something doesn't look very dangerous, doesn't mean it isn't."
"Yes, ma'am," Crichton replied obediently as he set the questionable penlight aside and began checking out some of the other items Aeryn had discovered. Among them were a pair of eyeglasses, a toothbrush, a key, and a bi-fold wallet. He opened the wallet and read the information printed on the business card inside. "Dr. John Smith, Psychiatrist. Specializing in Family and Grievance Counseling." Crichton closed the bi-fold and stared down at the Doctor with a more critical eye. "Can't be."
"Can't be what?"
All the clues were leading in one direction, but Crichton wasn't quite ready to accept it. He decided to do one more check first and pulled off one of the Doctor's shoes. Following a quick inspection of the inside label, Crichton shook his head in amazement and announced, "He's from Earth."
"How can you tell?"
"Besides being a shrink, knowing about Star Trek, needing to wear glasses and brush his teeth the old fashioned way...." Crichton held up one of the red, hi-top sneakers and said, "Made in China. I used to own several pairs when I was growing up. He must have come through the wormhole like I did."
"But how? Where's his spacecraft?"
"I don't know. Maybe the Pathfinders scooped him up somehow. That's called a stethoscope," Crichton told Aeryn when he saw her pull it from the Doctor's jacket pocket and stare at it curiously. "You can listen to his heartbeat with it. Stick those tips in your ears and place the other end on his chest." He indicated with hand gestures as to what to do.
"Primitive," Aeryn mumbled at using the instrument, but tried it out anyway. After a moment she asked, "All people from Earth have only one heart, right?"
"This man has two."
"What? Let me see that." Crichton took the stethoscope from her and listened for himself. "This doesn't make sense," he said afterwards.
"It would explain why Jool's scream caused him to pass out. He's an alien being with an auditory and nervous system that is either extremely sensitive to sound or simply inferior to everyone else aboard Moya."
"I'd have to go with the more sensitive to sound theory," the Doctor suddenly spoke up.
Both Aeryn and Crichton were startled into instant combat mode. They stood quickly, stepped back, drew their guns and aimed them at the man still lying down on the floor with his eyes closed.
"And you really don't need to point weapons at me," the Doctor grimaced wearily, instinctively knowing that they were. "You've already established that I'm unarmed. Although I do possess a quick tongue, devastating charm and razor-sharp wit. But even if I did have something more deadly, all you'd have to do is have the young lady with the flaming red hair scream at me again. But please don't do that, because I'm not so sure I'd survive another one of those encounters. Blimey, but I haven't had this bad of a reaction to anything since I was bitten by a Venetian river mole and was given its mucus extract as a cure. Truly the most foul tasting stuff you can ever imagine, but works quite effectively." The Doctor opened his eyes at last and flexed his hand in front of his face. "Oh good. I'm getting feeling back into my limbs. I was beginning to worry." His gaze shifted to Aeryn as if finally noticing her. "Oh, hello. I'm the Doctor. And you are?"
She hesitated before replying, then eventually decided there was no harm in doing so. "Aeryn Sun."
"Aeryn Sun. Ah, such a lovely name for a lovely person still holding a gun on me. I plan to sit up now. I'd appreciate it if no one shoots me."
Crichton was the first to holster his weapon and Aeryn followed suit, keeping her hand on the butt of the weapon just in case.
"Little trouble with trust issues I see." The Doctor slowly eased himself up into a sitting position. He wasn't completely back to normal but he was quickly getting there. "Mind if I..." he pointed to his shoe and other items that had been removed from his body. After receiving a simple nod from both his captors, he made quick work of slipping back on his shoe and gathering up his belongings. He stuffed everything back into their proper place, then got to his feet. Upon standing, he found his head swimming slightly. He teetered for a brief moment before finding his balance again.
"You okay?" Crichton asked, seemingly ready to catch the man in the pin-striped suit should he happen to topple over.
"Fine. Almost. Just a little shaky still. Thanks for asking. So, you were saying, I'm the only one so adversely affected by that particular vocalization?"
"Yeah. So far. All the rest of us just find it really annoying. You have a metal plate or something inside your head?"
"Her scream can melt metal."
"Really? What species is she?"
"Hmh, just when I thought I'd already met every race of alien there is, up pops a new one. Oh well." The Doctor patted his breast pocket for one item in particular. "I seem to be missing my... oh, there it is." He spotted the sonic screwdriver on the floor next to Crichton's foot and pointed at it. "Don't think I should bend over just yet. Do you mind?"
Crichton picked it up, but didn't hand it over. "What is this exactly?"
"A sonic screwdriver."
"A sonic what?"
"Screwdriver. You know, for loosening and tightening screws. Also doubles as a bottle opener, a light source, temperature gauge and a few other useful gadgets. Not a dangerous weapon in the least, but like all tools, some care should be taken while handling."
"I uh... well, I accidentally turned it on while aimed at my...." Crichton pointed to his crotch.
"Really?" The Doctor briefly dropped his eyes down to the area in question and asked, "Any screws down there?"
"Good, then there's no need to worry about anything falling off then. Can I have it back?"
Crichton started to hand it over but Aeryn quickly intercepted, snatching it away and stashing the screwdriver into one of the pockets of her leather pants. "You might get it back when you leave," she explained to their visitor in a voice that let him know the matter was not negotiable.
"Still with the not trusting," the Doctor mumbled.
"No, I don't trust you," Aeryn fired back. "We trusted the last group of aliens we met and things did not go well."
"I'm very sorry about that, and I agree, there is no reason at all for you to trust me. But if a reason should come along... I hope you will." Actually, he hoped that there would never come a time when she would have to place her trust in him. Many of the beings he met -- especially females -- trusted him instinctively. He had gained the full trust of most of his companions with little more than a smile or touch of his hand. Unfortunately, people who trusted him often got hurt or killed. So, it was probably a good thing that the woman in front of him did not give in so quickly to his charms.
"You're not Human but you've been to Earth, haven't you?" asked Crichton, drawing the Doctor's attention away from Aeryn.
"Yes. Go there all the time. In fact, just came from dropping some friends off."
"Where's your ship?" a female voice spoke up from behind him.
The Doctor turned around to address the person speaking, but was startled to see that it was the redhead with the lethal scream. "Oh, you! You're not going to scream again, are you?"
"I only scream when I'm upset or frightened. You startled me."
"I'll be sure not to do it again. What is your name?"
"Joolushko Tunai Fenta Hoovalis," she replied with a superior air.
"My, but that's a mouthful. Well, Joolushko Tunai Fenta Hoovalis, despite our initial encounter, it's a pleasure to meet you. And lovely as your full name is, mind if I just call you Jool?"
Pleased that the interesting new alien with the pleasant smile was able to pronounce her entire name properly, Jool gave a curt nod of her head, indicating permission to use the shortened version. "Yes, that will be acceptable."
"Thank you," The Doctor replied courteously. He noted the Hynerian in his hover chair, directly behind Jool. "And you are?"
"Dominar Rygel the 16th."
"Ooh, royalty. It's an honor, Dominar." The Doctor gave a slight bow, winning over Rygel immediately with his show of respect.
"And that's D'argo and Chiana," Crichton pointed to the other crew members standing a few feet away looking on with interest. "And now that we have the introductions out of the way, maybe you'd like to answer a few more questions."
"Of course, ask me anything."
"What is your species and how did you get on board Moya?" asked Aeryn.
"I am a Time Lord. I'm from a time and galaxy far, far away and as I explained to Crichton earlier -- who by now realizes that I am not a vivid construct of his overactive imagination -- I picked up your distress beacon and came to see if I could be of assistance. I arrived just in time to see the two ships pull apart from one another, and the ensuing explosion. Too late to be of service, I was about to leave when this golden mist came aboard my ship and turned into the person you all know as Zhaan. We had a brief chat and she suggested that I pay you all a little visit and make sure things are good. So, I'm here. I arrived on Moya via the TARDIS, my ship, that blue box sitting right over there."
"You're claiming that blue box is some sort of spacecraft?" Rygel laughed.
"I know from the outside it doesn't look like much but looks can be deceiving. There's actually a cloaking device in place to disguise its true appearance."
"Right," Crichton huffed. "He's got the Millennium Falcon stuffed inside that box."
"More like your Leviathan, actually. I'll show you." The Doctor brushed past them and walked over to where his TARDIS was parked. He had to stop when D'argo, the nearly seven-foot-tall Luxan stepped directly into his path. With arms crossed and a scowl on his face, the alien looked quite menacing. "Hello, big fellow. D'argo, was it? Would you care to see the inside of my ship? I'm positive you'll be quite impressed."
The Luxan did not budge, only continued to hover with his silent and threatening glare. As the Doctor tried to think of something to say that would get the giant to move, someone new caught his attention.
"Is it true about Zhaan?" came a soft-spoken male voice from behind him. "You saw her?"
The Doctor turned around to see a man, humanoid in appearance but wearing a metal mask that covered half of his face. His hands were clasped together in prayer like anticipation and his one visible eye showed an equal amount of hopefulness and sadness.
"Yes, it's true. What is your name?"
"Stark. I was Zhaan's spiritual partner." He stepped closer to the Doctor and timidly touched his arm. "Tell me, did she mention where she was going?"
"I don't think she knew exactly. She just said that the light of her goddess beckoned and that she would follow it. But before she went she wanted to make sure that I was no danger to any of you. That's why she came aboard my ship, to check me out." His eyes moved from Stark to the other crew members who surrounded him. "I'm sure she would have found some way to warn you if she had considered me a threat. She referred to all of you as her children. Told me that you had began as prisoners, outcasts and lost lambs, but that over time you had grown into a family. And she asked that I give you all a message. She doesn't want any of you to blame each other or blame yourself for her death." He looked knowingly at Crichton with those last few words, noting the guilty expression which had covered the Human's face at the mention of Zhaan's name. "It's not your fault," the Doctor reiterated, but he could tell that Crichton disagreed.
"What else did Zhaan say?" asked Stark.
"She said that together you are strong... a family. She wishes for you to stay together and to continue looking out for one another. And she wanted you to know that wherever she goes, that her dear, sweet children will remain in her heart always."
The silence that followed was contemplative and respectful. It was apparent that all believed him. The silence was eventually broken by Chiana as she nudged the big Luxan out of the way.
"That thing's really a spaceship?" she asked with a gesture towards the TARDIS.
"Yes. Would you like to see inside?"
She nodded, giving him the go ahead to approach the TARDIS unimpeded. He paused in front of the door, stuck the key into the lock and turned it. After pushing the door open, he stepped back out of the way, smiled knowingly and gestured for her to enter. A little hesitantly, Chiana stepped through the door, only to back out a second later, both her eyes and mouth open wide in disbelief.
"That's...it's...that's not... possible!" she sputtered.
Stark was the next to check it out. He stuck his head just inside the door and proclaimed in utter awe, "It's...a miracle!"
The remaining crew members were thoroughly intrigued and one by one ventured inside where they stood wide-eyed and virtually speechless at the sight of the cavernous interior of the little blue box. The Doctor stood on the ramp near the entrance amused by the reactions of his visitors. He always loved that moment when he first brought someone new on board the TARDIS and witnessed the amazement on their faces when they were introduced to his ship which was so much bigger on the inside. They gazed about in disbelief, then smiled and laughed at the absurdity of it all.
"Wow! Man, oh man, would you look at this!" Crichton exclaimed gleefully. "This is.... this is..." his voice trailed off because his mind couldn't come up with a suitable description.
"Impossible...." Aeryn finished the sentence with the only word that came instantly to mind.
"It's drad!" Chiana added with a big grin. "The dradest! How does it work? How do you get all this inside what's outside?"
"It's rather difficult to explain but let's just say that when you stepped through the doors of the TARDIS, you stepped into a different dimension."
"Okay, different dimension, I get that," said Crichton. "But how did you create a different dimension inside a telephone booth?"
"Well, one, it's not a telephone booth; it's a police call box, which is similar in that there is a telephone attached but it's on the outside. The inside was meant to temporarily hold prisoners until transport could arrive. And two, it's not actually a police call box. It's only disguised as a police call box so as not to draw unwanted attention, which unfortunately doesn't quite work well in all situations. The chameleon circuit is broken, and yes, I could repair it so the ship can transform into something more appropriate, but I've grown quite fond of --"
"Okay, okay, whatever," Crichton waved off the rambling explanation. "The question is, how did you get this dimension inside the little blue box?"
The Doctor ran his hand through his spiky, wild hair and let out a weary sigh. "I'm sorry, it's very complicated, and your Earth brain is very tiny -- no offense -- so you really wouldn't understand."
Crichton did take offense though he tried not to let it show despite the smirks of his fellow crewmates. "Hey, my Earth brain may not be gigantic, but I am a scientist. I even designed and built my own space module."
The Doctor scratched behind his ear as he took in this new information. "Oh, well, I suppose that's something. All right, I'll give it a try. The simplest way for you to understand it would be for you to take everything you know about space travel, time dilation, and the universe in general, then multiply that by forty-two."
"Yes. Forty-two gives you the answer to pretty much everything in life if you know when and how to apply it in your calculations. By the way, speaking of Earth, you're an awfully long way from home. What year are you from?"
"I launched from Earth in March of 1999."
"What did you do, fall down a wormhole?"
"What makes you say that?" asked Aeryn stepping forward, suspicion growing on her face.
"Because that's the only way he could have gotten this far out into the universe. Space travel on Earth was still pretty much in its infancy in 1999, just barely able to make it to the moon and back. Hold on, wait a minute, wait a minute. Crichton... I know that name. You're the famous American astronaut, Jack Crichton."
"Nope, that's my dad."
"Oh, son of Jack Crichton." The Doctor searched the vast cache of Earth knowledge inside his brain and came up with another name. "John Crichton... and the Farscape One project, of course. Oh, that was a bit of brilliant work you did on that slingshot theory. Inadvertently brewed yourself up a wormhole, didn't you?"
"What, are you saying my slingshot actually created that wormhole?"
"Your attempt to slingshot created it. Course there were other factors involved, position of the sun and moon, solar flares, relative time in space, and undoubtedly a forty-two was somewhere in the equation."
"How is it you know so much about Crichton?" Aeryn asked, her distrust of the Doctor growing by the second.
"He's from Earth," the Doctor replied casually, "my adopted planet. I know all there is to know about the history of Earth. And it's future for that matter."
"How could you possibly know about a planet's future?" D'argo questioned.
"I'm a Time Lord. I did mention that, didn't I? It's not just my title, but my profession as well."
"What, are you saying that you're the Lord of Time?" asked Crichton. "You can control it or something?"
"No one can control time, but one can travel through it and have an effect on future events. I patrol time. I travel forwards and back making sure events play out as they should."
"You can change things that have happened in the past?" asked Rygel.
"Technically speaking. But mainly I prevent things from almost happening in the past."
"That doesn't make any sense," said Crichton.
"Oh, how to explain?" The Doctor rubbed his hand along the base of his neck as he pondered a way to make himself understood. "All right, a bit of ancient history. Back in the year AD 79 in the city of Pompeii, an alien race called Pyroviles known for turning their victims into stone, invaded Earth and killed off all the Humans."
"That never happened."
"It nearly did. I prevented it."
"Yeah, right," Crichton rolled his eyes and grunted in disbelief.
"The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was not a natural occurrence. I caused the Pyroviles' escape pod to explode within the base of the mountain. An estimated twenty thousand men, women and children died from the ensuing lava and ash that the volcano spewed forth. It was either twenty thousand lives lost that day or billions upon billions enslaved, turned to stone and murdered in the years to come. I love Earth. Even with all its flawed, tiny-brained Humans. I do what I have to do to protect it. The history that you know is due to my preventive maintenance."
As unbelievable as it sounded, Crichton couldn't help but take the Time Lord seriously. There was solemn honesty in the man's eyes when he confessed to causing the deaths of twenty thousand people in order to preserve the planet he loved. The other person who totally believe in the Doctor was Stark. He had been quietly standing near the doorway listening to every word, taking it all in. "He can save Zhaan, he can save Zhaan," he mumbled to himself, then stepped forward and spoke up clearly. "Doctor, you can do it, can't you? You can go back in time and save Zhaan."
All eyes turned towards the Doctor. Not everyone was convinced that he was indeed who and what he claimed to be, but the hope of bringing back their beloved Zhaan was something that couldn't be ignored. If there was the slightest possibility to go back and rescue her, they were all for it. Of course, the Doctor had the ability to travel back in time to prevent Zhaan's death, to prevent the collision of the two ships and even to prevent Crichton from ever ending up as a passenger aboard Moya. The big question was, should he?
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."
"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?"
"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.
"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."
Chapter 5: Plan B
"Crichton," Rygel groused, "I realize that your brain is inferior, but how could you have completely forgotten meeting that man until this very microt?"
"I don't know. He said he could prove he was telling the truth by going back in time and saying, 'Hello'. It didn't make any sense to me before, but now, I think that's exactly what he just did."
"So he travelled back to when you were a child and showed you how to use that welder?" questioned D'argo dubiously.
"Sonic screwdriver," Crichton corrected him. "And yeah, he was a substitute teacher for my science class one day. The dude looked exactly the same as he does now, shoes, clothes, hair... everything. I remember working on a miniature rocket and the wires had somehow become detached. He pulled this thing out of his pocket and showed me the setting for soldering wires."
"Wait. How could he have shown you that screwdriver when you were a kid if he left it here with you now when he went back to the past?" asked Chiana.
"Well, maybe it's not the same one. Heck, it's a screwdriver," Crichton shrugged. "He's probably got a drawer full of 'em."
Aeryn sighed and rolled her eyes with mild skepticism. "Crichton, are you sure you're actually remembering that and not just --"
"Going nuts? I don't know, but it seems pretty real. Oh wow!" Crichton exclaimed as another recollection came to mind. "I just remembered something else. Halloween!"
"What or who is Halloween?" asked Jool.
"On my planet there's this holiday where kids dress up in costumes and go through the neighborhood collecting candy and treats. It's the one time of year that everybody can walk around looking like anything they wanted to and nobody would think anything weird was going on. The one day on Earth that D'argo would be considered cool."
"And what would I be considered the rest of the time?"
"Creepy. No offense."
"So what about this Halloween?" asked Jool.
"I remember a few months after the rocket incident, the Doctor paid me another visit on Halloween. He showed up at my front door dressed the same as before but he had this kid with him. Everyone assumed it was just an elaborate mask, a makeup job like what they do in the movies, but now I know... she was real. She was a Pathfinder. Said her name was Vidalia or Veyama -- something like that."
"He took a Pathfinder back in time to meet you as a child?" asked Aeryn. "Why would he do that?"
"So I could remember it now. He probably knew he wouldn't be able to make it back here, but he wanted me to know that he had saved those families."
"Mmm," said Rygel as his ears perked up in response to a certain sound. "Somehow I believe there's more to it than that."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't you hear it?" Rygel asked as he gazed towards the ceiling.
"Crichton's hearing is as poor as his eyesight," said D'argo, also looking up and about as though he heard something.
"Hey, just 'cause I don't have bat hearing..." Crichton's words trailed off as his inferior Human ears finally picked up the sound his companions had already sensed.
The weird noise that had announced the departure of the blue box, now heralded its return. There was a slight disturbance in the air as the Tardis began to emerge out of nothingness and appeared virtually in the same spot as before. As it fully materialized, the noise faded away and the pulsing light on top went dark. Moya's crew stood and waited for the door to open. It did so very slowly, pulling back just a crack and allowing a face to peer out cautiously. The initial flash of blue skin made several hearts skip a beat as the thought of Zhaan's return filled everyone's mind. But the blue was the wrong shade and the height was obviously too short to be their beloved Zhaan. The door opened fully to reveal a young Pathfinder female. She stood in silence and stared fearfully out at the strange aliens in the room. A Human-looking hand settled on her right shoulder and gave her a comforting squeeze. She looked up at the Doctor and was encouraged by his warm smile.
"Go on," he spoke to her softly. "It's okay."
The young girl took in a nervous breath before stepping out of the Tardis and walking alongside the Doctor towards the group of aliens. She took hold of his hand for extra security as they came to a stop within a short distance of Moya's crew.
"Introductions," said the Doctor as he presented his new companion. "This is Veyadad, the younglin daughter of Pathfinder Neeyala." He proceeded to point out and name all the strange new aliens to her. "That's the lovely but distrusting, Aeryn Sun and the somewhat scary but probably very nice, D'argo. Then we have the lovely Chiana, the equally lovely Joolushko Tunai Fenta Hovalis, Jool for short; the very spiritual Stark, the royalty of Dominar Rygel the 16th, and this somewhat starry-eyed fellow I believe you already know."
Crichton shook his head while grinning broadly, too much in awe to even speak. Apparently, Veyadad recognized him as well as she stared at him with wide eyes, her head canted to the side in wonderment.
"John-ny?" the younglin inquired.
"Yeah. I'm... I'm Johnny. John."
She looked him up and down and marveled, "You have grown!"
"And you haven't. You look exactly the same as you did when I was twelve. Man, this is blowing my mind." He looked to the Doctor and asked, "How is it I'm just now remembering meeting you when I was a kid?"
"Well, you didn't remember because technically it didn't happen until after I met you as an adult."
"But... that doesn't make any sense! If I met you when I was a kid, then I should have had that memory all along."
"Yeah, you would think so, wouldn't you? But, you see time doesn't necessarily follow a straight line. It can bounce around a bit. Have you ever experienced déjà vu, the sense that something has already happened before?"
"Yeah, a few times."
"See, prime example of time bouncing about. So how long have I been gone?"
"Not long. Less than ten microts."
"Microts to minutes," the Doctor took a nanosecond to calculate the time. "Oh, good. That's good. Plenty of time then."
"How did it go with the Pathfinders?" asked Stark. "Were you able to save everyone?"
"Not yet. It's sort of an ongoing process."
"Explain," said Aeryn.
"Well, the families all reside in a small cluster of homes on one end of the research base. I landed the Tardis in the communal playground area, and began knocking on doors. Only one door, actually, the home of Kreetago's family. His lovely wife answered, but unfortunately, much like Jool there, she startles quite easily at the sight of a strange alien face. And though her scream was not a hazard to my health, her poisonous bristles were. She darted me in the chest and slammed the door in my face before I was able to utter a single word. I found I had a slight problem breathing. One of the bristles had pierced my right heart, which allowed the toxin to race through my system quite rapidly."
"Thought you said you were immune to the poison," said D'argo.
"Most poisons, yes, but still, there can be some slight adverse effects until I'm able to purge it from my system. At any rate, I saw her peering out the window at me while apparently making communication with the local authorities. I'd forgotten that in general they are not a race that automatically embraces other species."
"Yes, they made it quite clear that they did not care to socialize with any of us," said Rygel.
"They are pretty much an isolated race and would prefer to keep it that way. When I saw she was calling for help I decided to head back to the safety the Tardis to rethink my approach. I made it as far as the door, when I became increasingly dizzy and collapsed. That's when this younglin came along." The Doctor smiled down at Veyadad as he gently patted her hairless head. "Not only is she inquisitive, brave, and caring, she's also highly intelligent. She helped me into the Tardis where I was able to fully recover after a few minutes, then I sat her down and explained to her everything that's happened."
Her mother was dead was the first thing that entered Crichton's mind. The sense of guilt that accompanied that thought weighed heavily in his heart. He knelt down on one knee so the child would not have to strain to look up at him. "I'm sorry about your mother, Veyadad. Neeyala... she did her best to complete her mission and get back home to you. But... things just...." His voice faltered as he lowered his gaze to the floor. He wasn't sure what he could possibly say to the child that could make the loss of her parent less painful. He looked up in surprise as the child reached out and placed a consoling hand on his shoulder.
"My mela knew that her work was dangerous," said Veyadad solemnly. "She said that wormhole travel was unpredictable and that there was always the possibility that something could go wrong and she might not return to us. My family and I understood this and prepared for this uncertainty. The important thing now is to save the others from execution and to rid my planet of the Scarrans."
"Scarrans?" several of Moya's crew spoke at the same time with the same shock to their voices.
"I take it you've heard of them?" said the Doctor looking about and gauging everyone's reaction.
Crichton stood up straight and nodded his head. "Yeah, we've had a couple of close encounters. What are they doing on the Pathfinder world?”
"Apparently, pulling strings. I don't have all the details yet, but Veyadad overheard her parents discussing it. Tell them what you told me, luv."
"Once, when I was suppose to be sleeping, I heard my beduas talking. My mela was upset. She did not want to tell my eada what was wrong. She said that she had been ordered to secrecy, but she did not like keeping such important news from my eada. She told him that aliens had come to the research lab. She called them Scarrans. She said that they were very large and fierce creatures. She said that they would kill us all if she did not obey them. Then she said... they would destroy our whole world if they did not get what they wanted."
"They're after the wormhole technology," Crichton speculated.
"That's my assumption as well," the Doctor agreed. "They don't want to put forth the effort themselves, they just want to reap the benefits of someone else's hard work. I thought it was a bit odd that the Pathfinders were ordering the executions of their own scientists. Of course, there was the possibility that someone with power had gotten a little carried away, but it just didn't feel right. The Scarrans obviously have a powerful hold over them."
"And that's why you've come back here," said Aeryn. "You're looking for help to get rid of them."
"Yes, I am," said the Doctor as he pulled out a pair of 3D glasses with white frames. He slipped them on and casually turned his head in different directions as he continued to speak. "The Pathfinders don't have much in the way of weaponry. They mostly depend on their poisonous bristles as their best line of defense. Unfortunately for them, the hide of a Scarran is too tough for the bristles to penetrate which makes them virtually impervious. They may as well be tossing dentics at them."
"Even my qualta blade has trouble piercing their skin," said D'argo.
"Mmh, just as well," the Doctor murmured, a bit distracted as he looked all around the cargo bay, apparently fascinated by the view with his 3D glasses on. "I'm not interested in maiming or killing anyone. Just want to make them play nice or go home."
"And how do you figure on doing that?" questioned Rygel. "By asking politely?"
"I always do," the Doctor replied, continuing his search amongst the storage crates. "Doesn't work as often as it should, I'm afraid. Still, it's worth a try."
"What are you looking for?" asked Chiana. If she had been expecting a simple reply, she was out of luck. The Doctor glanced briefly in her direction, still wearing his 3D glasses, then began the rather long explanation of his quest.
"When we were going over the researchers' files, it was noted that there were five members on the team, but Crichton said there were only four on board. Dominar Rygel pointed out that they had the ability to turn invisible, so that got me thinking. I went back and checked the records, and indeed, five members were on board the ship when it launched. Their last scheduled report verified that all members were accounted for. It's possible the fifth member was killed instantly when the ships collided, or he immediately went into hiding as a precaution or protocol."
"So you're looking around for someone who's completely invisible," Crichton surmised. "And I'm guessing those funky glasses are not just a bold fashion statement."
"They're multi-dimensional spectrometers. Let's me see if there's any spacial electromagnetic radiation floating about. Unfortunately, I'm not picking up anything."
"Yo! Pilot," Crichton spoke out to the often unseen but always present pilot of the ship.
"Yes, Commander?" Pilot's voice came from the overhead sound system.
"Have you been following any of this?"
"I have. And may I say, Moya seems quite taken with the Doctor. She said that he spoke to her in her own language."
"You speak Leviathan?" asked Stark.
"Only the basics."
"Pilot," Crichton took over the conversation again, "are you picking up any signs of that missing researcher?"
"I'm sorry, Commander, but due to extensive damages, Moya's scanning functions are severely limited at present."
"So, it's on to Plan B," said the Doctor as he pulled off his glasses and placed them back into his pocket. "Aren't you impressed that I have a Plan B?" he asked Crichton.
"Depends on what it is."
"Not what... who." The Doctor moved to stand behind Veyadad and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Didn't you wander why I took Veyadad back in time to meet you?"
"I figured it was because you wanted to prove to me you could travel in time and that you had rescued those families."
"Actually, the first visit was to prove I could time travel. The second visit... well that was to prove I could time travel as well. Only I was proving it to this younglin here. She didn't quite believe everything I told her in the beginning. And I seriously needed her to believe and trust in me because I'll require her help to get through to the others. Speaking of which... Pilot, it's the Doctor. I need to ask a small favor of you."
"What is it you require, Doctor?"
"I'd like to make an announcement that can be heard throughout the ship."
"That, I can do. Go right ahead."
"Engineer Lastren. This is the Doctor speaking. I know you can hear me and understand what I'm saying. Your world is in danger from the Scarrans. I need your help to save not only your family, but your entire planet from possible annihilation. Please make your whereabouts known now."
Everyone looked around expectantly and waited for the missing Pathfinder to come forward, but nothing could be heard other than the natural sounds produced by Moya. After a reasonable amount of time, the Doctor leaned down and whispered to Veyadad, "Why don't you give it a try."
The girl nodded and spoke out confidently. "Engineer Lastren, this is Veyadad. Pathfinder Neeyala is my -- was my mela. You recognize my voice, yes? We have met on occasion. You know what the Doctor says is true. We have to save our families. We have to stop the Scarrans. The Doctor says he can do it, but he needs your help. Please, Lastren, let me know if you can hear me."
Again they waited, but there was still no indication that Lastren was aboard the ship. Just as the Doctor was about to have Veyadad try again, a soft, timid voice spoke up from behind him.
"It... it was my fault," Lastren admitted sadly.
The Doctor turned to look but saw no one. That didn't stop him from responding. "No, it wasn't. It was an accident. No one is to blame."
"You hear something?" asked Crichton, looking to the empty spot where the Time Lord's gaze was focused upon.
"It's Lastren," the Doctor replied while getting out his 3D glasses and slipping them back on. "Apparently, you can't hear him because he's still out of phase." With his glasses in place, the Time Lord was able to make out the glowing outline of molecules surrounding the Pathfinder standing a few feet away. "There you are. It's all right. You can show yourself now. No one will hurt you."
"Without my ship, I cannot reverse this process," Lastren explained his predicament.
"Oh, well maybe I can help." The Doctor reached into his inside pocket and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. He aimed it at the outline of molecules but nothing happened. "Oops, forgot. Older model. This one doesn't work so well." He looked to Crichton and saw what he really needed still in the man's hand. "Mind if I have that back now?" Crichton turned over the screwdriver without a second thought and watched as the Time Lord aimed the object seemingly at thin air. A flash of blue and a whirling sound later, the invisible Lastren gradually came into view. "There we are. Much better," said the Doctor as he put away his glasses and both screwdrivers.
The alien was about Crichton's height and weight, his coloring a mix of light shades of blue and green. His expression was one of sorrow and guilt. He seemed to find it hard to look into the faces of those surrounding him.
"Forgive me, Veyadad," he spoke softly, keeping his head down. "It is my fault that your mela has perished."
"The Doctor said it was an accident."
"Yes. But, it was an accident that I caused."
"What did you do?" asked Aeryn, her voice tinged with suspicion.
"Does it really matter now?" the Doctor replied, wanting to move on to more important matters. Lastren, however, felt the need to get things off his chest so he responded to the question.
"I performed an experiment of my own design. It was an experiment that I had no authorization to attempt, but I was certain it would more efficiently gather the results we sought. But my calculations were incorrect, causing an abnormal fluctuation within the wormhole. It became unstable, flared outward and pulled this ship inside, directly into our path. All that has happened... it is my doing."
"You!" Chiana cried out angrily. "It's your fault. Zhaan's dead and it's all your fault!" She started to launch an attack with her bare hands, but D'argo quickly intercepted, lifting the Nebari off her feet and holding her in a tight embrace to keep her from assaulting the Pathfinder.
The Doctor stepped in front of Lastren, further protecting him from the wild, gray girl struggling to get loose while spewing obscenities. "Chiana, wait... just...." the Doctor attempted to calm her down with gentle persuasion, but quickly realized he needed to take a different approach. "Chiana, stop it!" He used his "Oncoming Storm" voice, the one that demanded instant attention, respect and obedience. Gone was his meek, carefree attitude and in its place was a stern expression with piercing, dark eyes. Even though his reprimand had been directed solely towards the Nebari, everyone in the room took heed, surprised by the booming volume of his voice and the unmistakable authority it carried. Chiana instantly halted her rampage, although still held in D'argo's grasp. The Doctor spoke in an even temper, his voice returned to a normal level. "We do not need to fight amongst ourselves," he told her. "Lastren is already punishing himself for what happened. I doubt anything you say or do could possibly make him feel worse."
The Doctor turned around to face Lastren and placed a comforting hand upon the forlorned alien's shoulder. "Look at me." Once eye contact was made, the Doctor spoke softly to the distraught man. "You made a costly error in judgement, and unfortunately some lives were lost. But what's done is done. That's in the past. We have to think about the present now. Other lives are waiting in the balance so this is very important. I need you to tell me everything you know about the Scarrans on your planet."
What Lastren knew about the Scarrans proved to be fairly significant. There were six that he had seen in the research lab, but possibly more were stationed elsewhere. The leader was named Niwek, an entrepreneur seeking wormhole knowledge that he could take back to his world and sell to the highest bidder. Besides having a sizable arsenal of firearms, the Scarrans had brought with them several small canisters containing a deadly biological toxin designed specifically to infect Lastren's people. Exposure would cause swelling in their gills blocking off air intake and resulting in suffocation in a matter of minutes. The Scarrans had already proven the effectiveness of the compound on the families of the previous research team. They claimed to have enough of the poison on hand to decimate a tenth of the population and would do so if the wormhole technology they sought was not soon forthcoming.
Once Lastren had offered up every detail he could think of, the Doctor patted his shoulder and thanked him. "All right, now that I know what I'm up against, the first thing I need to do is get you and Veyadad back home. We can gather your families together and get you all to safety. Then I'll go have a talk with the Scarrans."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Crichton waved his arms in a wild motion to stop the Doctor from herding the Pathfinders towards the Tardis. "Wait. You... you're saying you're going to go talk to the Scarrans?"
"Yes. Talk to them, see if I can't persuade them to leave these people alone."
"You can not be serious!"
"Why can't I?"
"Let's do a quick review, okay?" Crichton threw his arm around the Doctor's shoulders and walked him off to the side a few feet away from the others.
"Review? Review what?"
"Your plans, such as they are. When you first came aboard Moya, you planned to help us out in some way, right?"
"Yes, but you actually seem to have everything under control, so --"
"No, I'm not finished." Crichton held up a hand to silence his new buddy. The Doctor snapped his mouth shut and begrudgingly allowed the Human to continue. "So, you come on board and next thing you know, you're flat on your ass out cold because a startled Barbie doll screamed at you."
"Yes, but you have to admit that was a very unusually high-pitched --"
"And then," Crichton continued his own line of thought, "you went to the Pathfinder world with a plan to rescue some folks, but you had to abandon that idea because a frightened housewife shot you in the heart with a poisonous dart. You starting to see a pattern here, Mr. Wizard?"
"Well..." First of all, his name wasn't Mr. Wizard, and secondly, he didn't really care to discuss the other matter, so he merely responded with, "What's your point?"
"My point is, Slim, you basically got your ass kicked twice by females who are technically the good guys. Now you're talking about going up against Scarrans, giant lizards with long, sharp claws, built-in body armor, the ability to fry your brain with their body heat or squeeze the life out of you with their Kung-fu grip. And I happen to know first hand, they've got technology that can get inside your head and make you think whatever the hell they want you to think. You see where I'm going with this, Doc?
"I take it, that's your roundabout way of saying that the Scarrans may not be receptive to alien intervention. I agree. But I still have to try."
"And get yourself killed in the process?"
"Believe it or not, I have faced bigger, meaner and smarter adversaries all on my own and survived the encounter. The Sycorax for example -- not all that smart actually -- but large and aggressive like the Scarrans. I faced down a whole ship full in nothing more than borrowed jim-jams and a bathrobe. Mind you, it wasn't all talk though. I had to battle their leader in a sword fight. He managed to cut off my right hand but since I was in the early stages of regeneration, I was able to regrow another one."
"The point is, I stood up to the Sycorax all on my own and convinced them to behave themselves."
"But Rose Tyler was with you, right?" Veyadad asked. Both the Doctor and Crichton turned to look at the child. "Or was it Donna Noble?" She stepped forward, trying to recall the names and stories the Time Lord had told her during their trip to Earth. He had rambled on and on about companions and adventures, although much of what he'd said had made little sense. At first there had been joy in his eyes and excitement in his voice, but after a while his expression had turned grim and his voice sounded sad. The one thing Veyadad had gleamed from his words was that others had been very brave and had helped him to stand against terrible enemies. "Always, there was someone by your side, you said. Some were killed or damaged or lost. And you felt responsible, so you said, 'Never again.'"
The Doctor felt exposed by the girl's words. He hadn't realized that he had revealed so much to her or that she had even comprehended what he'd been blabbering on about. He found it hard to look into her eyes, so the floor was where he focused as he tried to gather his thoughts. There was no denying he had said those things. No denying that defeating his enemies usually meant that someone had stood steadfastly by his side, or at least in his corner rooting for him to win. It was hard to remember the last time he had actually faced any type of serious threat all on his own. "You know what I think, Doc?" Crichton's voice broke through his self-absorbed thoughts. The Human stood directly in front of him with his hands on his hips, eyeing him intently.
Crichton glanced around at his friends for a moment, then looked back at the Doctor. "I believe that a lot of people are going to die if something isn't done to stop the Scarrans. Not only are they a threat to the Pathfinder world, but once they get their hands on wormhole technology, they'll use it to dominate every other planet out there. You claim you can stop them. I don't know why, but for some reason, I believe you can. You've got the smarts, you've got the guts, and you've got a cool ride...." Crichton placed a hand on the Doctor's shoulder as he added, "I just don't think that's enough. You need backup. Even Superman needed someone to flick away that piece of kryptonite holding him down. Know what I mean?"
The Doctor nodded solemnly, knowing exactly what the Human meant. He opened his mouth to speak but wasn't able to make anything come out. He wanted to assure everyone that he had the situation well under control and that he could save the planet and the day with nothing more than his quick wit and a sonic screwdriver. In reality, he always seemed to need someone to provide a brilliant idea or simple diversion, to push a button, pull a trigger, or die in his stead. Quite often, just like Superman, he found himself crippled by a small piece of kryptonite, and needed someone to rescue him so that he could rescue everyone else.
The Doctor's inability to contradict his words told Crichton everything he needed to know. "That's what I figured." He gently slapped the Doctor's arm and said, "All-l-righty then! Let's get this show on the road. I'm going with you."
Chapter 6 - Right Place, Wrong Time
The Time Lord knew he would be wasting his breath trying to talk the Human out of accompanying him. Crichton was one of those hero types, much like many of the Doctor's brave, loyal companions and acquaintances that had been willing to risk their lives to save others. His help would probably prove to be invaluable and his presence might just insure a successful win over the bad guys.
"All right, you can come with me if you like, but first, you may want to go grab a jacket or coat," the Doctor told him. "You might find the weather there a bit chilly."
"Just give me two minutes." As he turned away from the Doctor, Crichton was startled to find himself facing Aeryn, who was obviously not pleased with his hasty decision.
"John, may I have a word?"
Crichton looked over his shoulder at the Doctor and said, "Make that five minutes."
"No problem. Take your time. I'll just go ready the TARDIS for departure. I'll wait for you inside."
As the Doctor guided Veyadad and Lastren into the TARDIS, Crichton turned his full attention to Aeryn. He could tell by the scowl on her face that he was in big trouble.
"What the frell do you think you're doing?" she hissed angrily.
"Scarrans! You're actually thinking of running off to face Scarrans?"
"Aeryn, I --"
"You do recall the time a Scarran captured and tortured you to the brink of death trying to get wormhole information?"
"Yes, but --"
"You do know that they would like nothing better than another chance to dissect your brain and --"
"Aeryn, STOP!" Crichton's voice boomed loudly, startling her slightly while successfully cutting off her tirade. Once he saw that he had her attention, he lowered his voice as much as possible to keep their conversation private. "Yes, I know that it's risky and overall a bad idea, but the Doctor should not have to face the Scarrans alone."
"And how do you know that this is not just some sort of elaborate scheme that he, the Scarrans or someone else has come up with to lure you into a trap?"
"Aeryn, the man travels in time. He's already proven that to me."
"And according to that Pathfinder child, he also gets the people who help him, seriously hurt or killed. Zhaan did not sacrifice herself just so you could immediately run off and get yourself abducted by Scarrans or worse."
Crichton respected the fact that the gentle Delvian had given her life so that they all could survive, but that did not mean that he should live his life inside a plastic bubble. "Zhaan..." he started, then paused for a moment, trying to find the right way to express himself. "Zhaan would not expect me to sit here on my butt while the Scarrans kill innocent people and threaten the rest of the universe."
"And what exactly do you think you can do to stop them?"
"I don't know exactly. I just know that the Doctor shouldn't go it alone. It's a gut feeling I have and I can't explain it."
"Are you certain it has nothing to do with him having the ability to take you back to Earth?"
That was a question he wasn't prepared to answer. He glanced around, noting the other crew members had obviously heard and were apparently very interested in his response. Crichton heaved a sigh and turned his attention back to Aeryn.
"Okay, I'll admit it, the thought has crossed my mind. The Doctor and his TARDIS may be my one and only chance to ever get back home. It's pretty much all I've wanted since I got here, and to be perfectly honest, maybe everyone would be better off with me gone. Too many people have already died because of me. But, whether or not I can hitch a ride back to Earth, is not the issue now. The Scarrans enslaving innocent people and looking to get their claws on wormhole technology, that's the problem we need to focus on."
Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor watched the scene unfold on his computer monitor. There was no sound, but he had no problems reading lips and body language. He could easily surmise that Crichton was still determined to accompany him to the Pathfinder world. He could also tell that the distrusting Aeryn Sun was not happy about the decision. Crichton apparently got in the last word, then turned and walked away, leaving a somewhat stunned Aeryn to stare at his retreating back. It took a moment for her to become unfrozen and she quickly trailed after him. The Doctor turned off the monitor then looked to Veyadad who had come to stand beside him. He smiled down at her and said, "Why don't you go sit down next to Lastren and hold on tight."
"Are we about to depart?"
"Yes, we are," the Doctor replied as he began to turn knobs and push buttons on the console in preparation.
"Are we not going to wait for John Crichton?"
"I was thinking that maybe it's not such a good idea for him to come after all."
"You are going to leave him without explanation?"
"I'm doing him a favor. Trust me, it's much better for everyone this way."
"You ask me to trust you and at the same time you prove that you cannot be trusted."
"No, no, you can trust me," said the Doctor as he turned to face the child, reaching out to place his hands on her shoulders. When she took a step away from him, he halted his approach. "You have to understand, Veyadad, I'm doing this for his own good. I told you before that people who travel with me often end up getting hurt in some way. I'm merely trying to spare him that."
"You told him he could go with us. You should not run away without a word of farewell. He has put his trust in you. It will make him feel bad to know you have deceived him."
The Doctor sighed deeply in resignation. "Oh-h-h, you're right, you're right. You are absolutely right. Wouldn't be right to just... sneak off. Sorry, it's an old and very bad habit of mine."
"You should not let it happen again."
"Yes, luv, I will do my best, all right?" Veyadad nodded and allowed the Doctor to put an arm around her shoulders. "Good." The Doctor glanced over at Lastren who had been sitting on the jump-seat, silently listening and watching. "Oh, I have a thought. Do either one of you have a cellphone?"
"Cellphone?" both responded with confusion.
"Sorry, I keep thinking in Earth speak. You probably call it something else. Do you have some sort of personal communication device that you use to talk to your people back home?"
"A communication link," Lastren replied. "Yes, I have such a link." He raised the right sleeve of his tunic and displayed a watch-like, silver band circling his wrist.
"That's great! Then we can transmit a message now and alert your family members to the danger they face."
"No, it is useless," Lastren lamented as he attempted to activate it by pressing a tiny button. "It was affected by the phase generator on the ship when I went into hiding. Even if we were within range of my planet, it would do no good."
"Oh, out of phase and out of range, that's no problem," said the Doctor as he pulled out his sonic screwdriver. "I can give it a bit of a tweak. Let's have a look." Lastren removed the communicator from his wrist and handed it to the Doctor. "Ahh, it's like a newfangled Dick Tracy two-way, radio wristwatch... in 3D."
Lastren tried to make sense of the Doctor's quickly spoken words. "Dick Tracy... 3D... what?"
"Dick Tracy. Comic book police detective. He had this really cool bidirectional communicator, somewhat similar to this. Although Dick Tracy was merely a fictional character with a fictional gadget, I find it rather fascinating that someone would imagine the existence of such a device decades before it was even practical to produce.
"You speak oddly."
"Yes, so I've been told."
While the Doctor contemplated the complexities of returning the radio to its previous working state and rigging it to carry a signal through the distance of space and time, a knock on the TARDIS door alerted him to another issue.
"That will be Johnny!" Veyadad exclaimed as she raced to the door. "I will let him in."
Before the Doctor could get out a protest, the girl was already opening the door, allowing Crichton entry. Now wearing a leather jacket and carrying a travel bag, he smiled down at her. "Hey, Squirt."
"My name is not Squirt."
"I know. But you remind me of someone named Squirt."
The Doctor absently placed both his sonic screwdriver and Lastren's communicator in his pocket as he went to greet his latest guest. "Um, Crichton... I'm afraid there's been --
"A change of plans," Aeryn announced as she barged through the door, also wearing a leather jacket, carrying a travel bag along with a pulse rifle slung over her shoulder. "I'm going with you."
"You heard me. Crichton is determined to watch your back for you. So I'm going to watch his."
"No, that's not necessary." When Aeryn stared daggers at him, the Doctor took a step back and attempted to further explain himself. "What I mean to say is that... I think it's best that neither of you come with me. It could be very dangerous and I'd rather not be responsible for your safety."
"Look, Doc, we've already been through all that. You're not facing the Scarrans alone."
"No, really, I can handle the Scarrans."
"You're just one man, Doc. And you may talk a good game, but you're full of crap."
"Be that as it may, I still can't let you go. It's just too dangerous."
Crichton cocked his head and studied the Doctor curiously. "You know something, don't you?"
"I know it's dangerous."
"No, I mean, you travel back and forth in time. You knew all about my past. I'm guessing you know my future too. What happens if I go with you?"
The Doctor shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. "I don't know. I mean, yes, I have seen your future -- and it's quite an interesting one, but what I've seen is much further on down the line. I couldn't say how you got to that point. I don't know if it's because you decided to go with me or if it's because I talked you into staying aboard Moya."
"Well, couldn't you just pop into the future right quick and check it out?"
"That would be cheating. Besides, it's not good to know one's future. It could cause you to make decisions you probably should not, which could end up altering the future that should have been. Time is... peculiar that way. Sleep in late one day and you miss out on falling down a wormhole and ending up a billion light years from home. Make a left turn at a corner instead of going right and your life becomes something totally unimaginable. Come with me now or stay aboard Moya... one of those choices will lead you to the future I've seen. I'm just not sure which one it is."
"So, in other words," Crichton theorized, "whatever decision I make now will lead to the future you've already seen for me."
"What? Possibly? You just said --"
"Time offers infinite possibilities. Your future is based on the road you choose at any given point in your lifetime."
"But my future has already been written. You've already seen it."
"I've seen one possibility for your future, yes."
"Is Aeryn there?"
"I can't give out any details. I don't want to influence your decision one way or the other."
"We have already made our decision," Aeryn pointed out. "And if you turn us away, then it is you who will cause our future to alter. Is that not correct?"
"Well... technically --"
"Your concern should not be based upon your ability to keep us safe, but on whether or not you can truly defeat the Scarrans without aid."
"Well, I'm not looking to defeat them so much as just talk them out of --"
Aeryn stepped up quickly and very close to the Doctor, causing him to lean back just a bit, unsure of her intentions. "In simple terms," she spoke in an authoritative manner, "can you defeat the Scarrans without assistance? Yes or no?"
The Doctor opened his mouth to offer up a lie, the needed response to keep the two on board Moya and perhaps save their lives. But as four pairs of eyes bored into his soul, he was forced to tell the truth. "Odds are... I might find myself in need of a small amount of assistance."
"Then it's settled," said Aeryn as she stepped away, giving the Doctor back his personal space.
"All right, all right! You can go. But I don't like weapons on board my ship."
"Understood," said Aeryn as she marched past the Time Lord towards the console, with no intentions of parting with her weapons. "Come on! Let's get this show on the road."
"She's rather bossy," the Doctor muttered to Crichton.
"Yeah. Kind of scary and sexy at the same time," came the whispered reply.
"If you say so," the Doctor mumbled as he quickly closed the door. He trotted over to the console and spoke to his new passengers. "Put your gear down and find something to hold on to."
"Hold on to?" asked Crichton as he placed his bag down next to a column.
"The ship shakes a lot," Veyadad explained while the Doctor began the process of starting up the TARDIS.
"John, Aeryn," D'argo's voice, came through the coms, "can you hear me in there?"
"Yeah, Big D, I got you."
"You sure you don't need me to come along?"
"Thanks, D'argo, but we're good. We'll probably be back in a few microts."
"We'll be waiting. Be careful. All of you."
"Ready?" asked the Doctor, his hand on the brake release. Seeing nods all around, he released the brake, causing the TARDIS to jerk into motion and giving his passengers a reason to hold on tight to anything they could.
"Yo, Slim!" Crichton yelled out to the Doctor over the noise of the TARDIS engine, "You ever heard about stabilizers?"
"Stabilizers? You mean for a smoother ride?"
"What would be the fun in that?" The Doctor ran around the console, flipped a few switches, turned a wheel, and at one point, banged something with a mallet. The seemingly out of control ship came to a sudden but bumpy stop. Both Crichton and Veyadad laughed at the roller-coaster like ride, while Aeryn and Lastren seemed both appalled and terrified.
"Dude, at least get some shock absorbers," Crichton grinned as he released his death grip on one of the support columns.
"Yes, I suppose I really should take the time to do that. But it's so hard to find spare parts that fit the TARDIS. And forget about finding a good mechanic."
"I know what you mean. I have the same problem with my Farscape module."
"If you two are finished talking ships," Aeryn interrupted, "may we get on with what we came here for."
"Right! Of course. Lastren, Veyadad, go gather up your families and bring them here. They will be safe inside the TARDIS. Then, the three of us," he spoke to Aeryn and Crichton, "can go talk to the Scarrans."
"You honestly believe that you can talk the Scarrans into leaving these people alone?" asked Aeryn.
"Oh, I can be very persuasive." When Aeryn gave him a dubious look, the Doctor added, "With some people."
"Doctor," Veyadad called to him from the opened doorway. "Come look."
The Doctor jogged over and with one look uttered the word, "Oops."
"Oops?" asked Crichton at his side. "What oops? Are we at the wrong place?"
"Right place, wrong time."
"It was daylight when we left," said Veyadad. "Now it's nighttime.
The TARDIS was parked in the same communal playground as before. Instead of the light from an orange sun, the brightness of two moons provided illumination over the small neighborhood of one-story, metallic homes. Glancing up into the sky and charting the celestial bodies, the Doctor estimated the time difference. "We are six hours later than we should be. That's assuming we're still in the same day... or year."
"You don't know what year we're in?" asked Crichton.
"Time travel isn't as easy as it looks. There are a lot of computations involved, as well as atmospheric conditions, vortex anomalies and whether or not the TARDIS is in a good mood. Doesn't take much to throw us minutes or even years off course."
"And you're just now telling us this," said Aeryn, not pleased in the least that the Time Lord had kept that bit of information to himself.
"Oh, would that have affected your decision to tag along?" the Doctor snidely responded.
"So-o-o," Crichton interrupted what he feared might turn into a heated argument, "how do we find out when we are?"
"We can ask my eada!" said Veyadad as she ran off towards her home located just beyond the playground, a very short distance away.
"Of course, we can just as her eada... her, um... dad." The Doctor thought about that for a split nano-second, the memory of Rose being missing for a year and feared dead by her loved ones came instantly to mind. "Oh, no, don't! Wait!" the Doctor tried to stop her but his reflexes were no match for the excited and quick-footed younglin. She was at her door almost before he got the words out. "Lastren!" the Doctor turned and called to his other guest only to find the Pathfinder standing directly behind him on the ramp. "Oh, there you are. Listen, it's probably best if you go check things out. See how much time has passed since Veyadad went traveling with me and since contact was made with your ship. Let everyone know that you've got alien visitors with you and that we mean them no harm. Tell them that we --"
A child's high pitched scream cut the Doctor's instructions short. He dashed out of the TARDIS without caring if anyone was following him or not. He ran across the grassy yard, traversed the three steps to the landing in one leap and burst through the partially opened door. He quickly looked around the room, noticing the upturned furnishings and damaged personal belongings scattered all about. "Veyadad?" he called out but received no response. He heard a whimpering sound coming from a connecting room, and went to investigate. In what was probably the family room, the Doctor found Veyadad sitting on the floor cradling a small, furry, lifeless creature in her lap. It looked similar to a rabbit but with short ears and a pig-like snout, obviously a well-loved pet. Tears flowed from Veyadad's eyes as she stroked the head of the tiny animal.
"Kiag is dead," the child sobbed softly. "I found him on the floor. His head was turned the wrong way."
The Doctor quickly glanced about for signs of possible danger but saw nothing obvious. He stooped down next to Veyadad and patted the child's back with one hand while checking on her pet's condition with the other. A swift examination of the animal told him that the creature's neck had been snapped and that it had only been dead a short time. The body was still fairly warm and pliable.
"Doctor?" Crichton called softly from the opened doorway.
"Someone killed her pet."
"The place looks like a tornado hit it. But I'm guessing it was probably Scarrans."
"That would be my guess as well. Either looking for something, or just plain messy."
"We are too late," said Lastren as he arrived on the scene. "The Scarrans have taken the others."
"We have to go back!" said Veyadad excitedly. "Doctor, we have to go back in time and save them."
"Oh, Veyadad," the Doctor let out a reluctant sigh. "That might not be such a good idea."
"But you promised! You promised that you would save us all from the Scarrans. We have to go back in time and stop them from taking everyone and killing Kiag."
That was the thing about kids, if you made them a promise, they very well expected you to keep it. That was something he really needed to stop doing, making promises. Far too often he was pure rubbish when it came to fulfilling them. This had been one promise he had fully intended to keep, but one minor miscalculation on his part or an internal hiccup by the TARDIS had drastically changed everything.
The Doctor looked to Lastren for a possible solution to the problem at hand. "You said the others were taken. Where would the Scarrans have taken them?"
"To the main building, perhaps to the lower level of the laboratory. There are enclosures where we have housed experimental animals in the past. When I was chosen for the wormhole project, I was taken there and shown the family members of the previous team." Lastren started to continue with the story, but as his gaze fell upon Veyadad, wiping her tears, he decided it best not to reveal any further details while in her presence.
The Doctor easily picked up on the man's concerns and turned his attention to the child. "Veyadad, where does Kiag normally sleep?"
"He has a bed in my room."
"I tell you what, why don't you go ahead and put Kiag in his bed, make sure he's all comfortable. We'll be leaving soon to sort this all out. All right?"
Veyadad nodded, believing that everything would soon be back to normal. The Doctor helped the child to her feet and walked with her as far as her bedroom door. After she entered, he closed the door and kept his voice low as he spoke to Lastren.
"You were saying about being shown the families of the previous team?"
"Yes. I saw the mate and two daughters of the one who once held my position. They were placed in an airtight cell. I was made to watch through a protective window as a toxic gas was released. It did not last very long, but they suffered greatly in that short span before succumbing to the effects. I was told that if I failed in my mission, the same fate would await my younger brother and sister."
"All right, so it would seem that they wait until they have a new team in place before harming the families. That should give us plenty of time."
"I don't know about that," said Lastren. "When I was chosen for the team, there was no prior knowledge. I was woken in the middle of the night and brought here by transport without time to even pack my belongings."
"Oh, that's not good."
"Perhaps it would be best if we get back on board the TARDIS and travel to the correct time as planned?"
"I'd like to. I really would, but first I need to find out what's happened to everyone. If anyone has been put to death already...."
Lastren nodded sadly. "I understand. I heard your conversation earlier. You can damage time and space by changing events such as that."
"So," Crichton spoke up, "how do we find out if they're all still alive? Just go peep through the windows or something?"
The Doctor thought of a better solution as he pulled his sonic screwdriver and Lastren's communicator from his pocket. "Your communication device... would any of the others have one?"
"All but the very young. If the Scarrans did not think to take them away, that is."
"Keep your fingers crossed and hold on to that thought," said the Time Lord as he pointed his screwdriver at the communicator. After exposing it to a few seconds of blue light, whirling noise and giving it a solid thump with the other end of the screwdriver, the Doctor handed it back. "Try it now."
Lastren's expression was dubious but he gave it a try anyway, instantly surprised by the tiny light that indicated it was operational. "It works!"
"So, go ahead and see if you can contact --" The Doctor's words were cut off by the sound of Veyadad screaming out his name. "Oh no," he grimaced, "not another dead pet. I'll go see to her while you make the call."
Crichton stayed with Lastren while the Doctor went into the bedroom to check on Veyadad. There was good news in store as Lastren was able to contact his younger brother, Goren. He was informed that all the other family members were alive and well and being held in the storage compartment of a transport vehicle not far away. Things were looking up, that is until the Doctor came back out of the bedroom. His hands were held up high in surrender as he was followed by a seven-foot tall Scarran holding a weapon in one hand while his other hand was clasped loosely about Veyadad's neck.
Crichton instinctively reached for the pulse pistol strapped to his right thigh, but his hand was halted by one simple word whispered by the Doctor. "Don't."
The Human raised his hands in defeat as he uttered a one word response, "Frell."
Chapter 7 - The Deal
The Scarran kept his hand loosely draped about Veyadad's neck, knowing that keeping the child close was the best way to control the movements of the adult aliens. "Your weapon, Peacekeeper" he hissed at Crichton. "Disarm it slowly and place it on the floor.
"I'm not a Peacekeeper," said Crichton as he carried out the order, removing the Chakkan oil cartridge from his pulse pistol.
"You wear the clothes of a Peacekeeper, you carry a Peacekeeper weapon...."
"I picked them up at a yard sale," Crichton replied as he stood up from placing both his gun and its ammunition on the floor.
"In there," the Scarran motioned with his weapon for the entire group to head into the main entry room. "Sit," he commanded when they had reached an area with a seating bench big enough for the three adults. The three men sat while the Scarran kept Veyadad standing close in front of him.
"Well, this is pleasant," said the Doctor. "We can sit and chat for a bit."
The Scarran lifted his hand briefly from Veyadad's neck to activate the communication device attached to his shoulder harness. "Commander Niwek, Shegwon here."
"Shegwon, tell me you have located the missing child."
"I have, Commander. She returned to her home as anticipated."
"Good, bring her in and place her with the others."
"Commander, the child did not arrive alone. There are two Sebaceans and a Pathfinder male with her."
"They claim not to be," said Shegwon in response to the question and to Crichton's negative head shake.
"We're travelers," the Doctor spoke up. "Just out randomly exploring the universe."
"How is it they are there?" the Commander asked. "I have received no reports of spacecrafts entering the atmosphere."
"Well, you wouldn't," said the Doctor. "But it really doesn't matter how we arrived. What matters is that we're here and we happen to know what you're up to on this planet. You're holding the family members of the wormhole exploration crew hostages and threatening to release a deadly toxin among the population. I can't allow you to do that so I think we should meet face to face and discuss the matter."
It was obvious that the Commander was intrigued by the Doctor's bravado. There was momentary silence on the other end of the comm, then the deep voice of the Scarran leader asked, "Who are you?"
"I'm the Doctor. And you are Commander Niwek, was it?"
"I ask the questions! Shegwon, bring the Sebaceans to me and place the others in the containment area."
"Understood, Commander." Shegwon waved his weapon at the adults, indicating for them to head towards the entrance.
As they walked out of the door, Crichton kept his voice low as he spoke to the Doctor. "You sure it was a smart thing to do telling him all that?"
"It got us a personal invitation, didn't it?"
"Silence!" Shegwon hissed. "Walk that way," he pointed out a direction that would take them right past the TARDIS. "Do not attempt to escape. I will kill the child first."
"No need for threats. We won't try anything," the Doctor assured him. "Promise. I'm looking forward to meeting your leader. Get this whole matter all sorted out."
They walked on in silence after that. As they passed within a few feet of the brightly lit TARDIS, Crichton gave the Doctor a worrying glance, but the Time Lord only smiled knowingly. The Scarran paused for a moment after passing the TARDIS and looked back as though he caught sight of something from the corner of his eye. Apparently, he decided that there was nothing out of the ordinary and continued on. Hiding behind the TARDIS, Aeryn held her breath until she heard the footsteps of the group move away from her position. She was very tempted to go on the attack. If the Scarran's hide was not so difficult to penetrate, she could easily pick him off with one well-placed shot of her pulse rifle. But killing a Scarran was not so simple and the fact that he held the child so close to his body made it unwise to attempt a gun fight. Aeryn had no choice but to keep her distance and wait for a better opportunity to launch a rescue. She silently cursed the Doctor and Crichton for being so stubborn and careless, then proceeded to stealthily follow their trail.
After confining Lastren and Veyadad in the basement with their families, the Doctor and Crichton were escorted by Shegwon to the top floor of the research building and into an office occupied by the Scarran leader. Their hands were bound behind their backs and they were made to kneel down on the floor awaiting the Commander's attention. The leader of the Scarran troop stood with his back to them, his reflection visible in the dark-tinted glass of the large window that looked out over the twinkling lights of the city's distant skyline. The Commander was just as tall and muscular as Shegwon, but his head had a markedly different shape. There appeared to be a significant genetic deviation between the leader and his mercenaries. Unlike Shegwon and the other guards around whose jaws and nose were elongated and somewhat horse-shaped, the Commander's features were flatter and more human-like. He was still just as ugly and scary looking, thought Crichton, but at least his facial expressions were easier to read. He finally turned to face them, sniffed the air and frowned as though their scent offended his senses. He stepped closer and looked Crichton over first, noticing his Peacekeeper leathers which seemed to make his frown grow deeper. He then shifted his gaze to the Doctor and was slightly taken aback by the being's bright eyes and cheerful, wide grin.
"Hello, there! I'm the Doctor. And you must be Niwek."
"Commander Niwek. How did you get to this planet? Why were you with the child?"
"I was just out roaming the universe in my spaceship when I picked up a distress signal. When I reached the location, I found that two ships had collided. The Pathfinder ship was destroyed and one survivor remained."
"You lie. The child was not on board that ship."
"No, not her. Lastren, the engineer."
"Lastren?" Niwek cast a questioning eye towards Shegwon. "Lastren was the Pathfinder you brought in with the child? Why was I not informed?"
"I did not know," Shegwon shrugged sheepishly. "They... all look the same to me."
"Lastren may have saved some of the research. What else did you think was not important to tell me?"
Shegwon seemed reluctant to speak but thought it best to report what he had overheard. "There was strange talk. I was in hiding when they came into the home. I heard the child ask if they could travel back in time to prevent her family from being taken. I did not think she meant anything by it, but now...."
"Well, you know, kids say the darndest things," said the Doctor. "In fact, Veyadad told me about you lot threatening to kill the people of this planet if you didn't get your hands, or claws on their wormhole research."
"The people on this planet mean nothing to me. If they wish to live, then they will give me what I seek."
"In that case, I will have to stop you."
Niwek grunted. "You, stop me? You are nothing more than an insect. I could snap your neck in an instant."
"Oh, but you won't."
"Because there is much you don't know about me. You don't know how I got here or if there are others waiting to launch an attack if I don't report back. Perhaps I have a plan already in progress to take you and your troop down. I could you know."
"I will see." The Commander raised his right hand within inches of the Doctor's face and released a blast of heat that would have caused most other beings insufferable pain. For the Time Lord, however, it was no worse than a bit of steam from a hot cup of tea.
"Ooh, that tickles a bit," said the Doctor with a twitch of his nose.
Niwek stared at the Doctor in amazement, unable to understand why he had no reaction to the mind probing, heat blast. Sebaceans were not known for their tolerance to heat, which meant that the being before him was not Sebacean or that he had some form of immunity that protected him. The Commander looked to the other pale-skinned being and decided to test his powers on him. As the heat poured from Niwek's palm, the reaction was quite different. Crichton arched his neck, threw his head back and groaned in pain as the heat penetrated his skull and began to disrupt his thought patterns.
"Peacekeeper, what is your mission on this planet?" Niwek demanded to know.
"I'm... not a Peacekeeper." Crichton began, the mind probing heat ensuring that he spoke only the truth. "We came here to stop you from harming the Pathfinders and stealing their wormhole technology."
"How do you plan to stop me?"
"No plan," Crichton hissed in agony. "The Doctor... figured he could talk you into playing nice."
"Stop it!" the Doctor cried out. "You're hurting him. Please, stop! I can tell you what you want to know. You don't have to use torture."
The Scarran lowered his hand, pleased with the fact that it worked but somewhat perplexed by the information it garnered. He watched as Crichton nearly keeled over from the pain and exertion of the mind probe. He then looked to the Doctor and said, "You are not Sebacean. What is your species?"
"I'm a Time Lord."
"How is it you arrived here so soon after the destruction of the research vessel was detected? According to their last reported location, it would take at least two monens at maximum speed to return here. You made the trip in a matter of arns. Explain how it is so."
The Time Lord could envision the cogs working in Niwek's mind. The earlier mention of time travel and now the mention of his species' name had the Scarran putting two and two together. He might not be smart enough to comprehend the workings of wormholes, but he was obviously bright enough to figure out that they possessed the potential for expediting space travel. The Doctor silently debated the pros and cons of confessing his knowledge and ability to harness time and space. He'd had no qualms discussing the matter among Moya's crew and Veyadad, but he knew that the Scarrans would want to exploit his knowledge and technology for their own gain. Apparently, he had taken too long to answer because Niwek raised his hand to Crichton again to get the answers he sought."
"How did you get to this planet?"
"TARDIS," Crichton responded through clenched teeth, fighting through the pain of the mind probe. "The Doctor's spaceship."
"You flew through the wormhole?"
"Not sure how he did it. Just... disappeared from one place and time and reappeared in another. Only the Doctor understands how it works."
"Please, leave him alone," the Doctor pleaded. "He doesn't really know anything."
Niwek turned off the heat projection and lowered his hand again. "I want to know all about your spaceship."
"Right. Okay. Well, it's bigger on the inside, it's a tad rundown and the old girl can sometimes be a bit temperamental, but most times--"
"Is it a time machine?"
"Time machine," the Doctor frowned "Oh, she doesn't really like to be called that. Time ship is more appropriate. Well, time and relative dimension in space to be more exact. TARDIS for short."
"Where is it?"
"Oh, just parked down at the end of the road there."
Niwek looked to Shegwon who shook his head and said, "It must be cloaked. I saw no ship."
"Are there others of your kind around?"
"No. Not anymore."
Niwek didn't believe that so he started to get the facts from Crichton again.
"I'm telling you the truth!" the Doctor insisted. "You've never heard of Time Lords, right? There's a good reason for it. Look, I know you're intrigued by this whole time travel thing, so if you'd like to go for a ride, I'd love to have you on board. We could go now. You, me, Shegwon and the rest of the gang."
Niwek was suspicious of the offer. This Time Lord definitely had something he wanted, a machine that could traverse time and space. But what was more important was the technology behind the machine. If he allowed the Doctor back onto his ship, it might allow him a chance to escape and take the technology with him. He might also find a way to make good on his intentions to help the Pathfinders. Niwek needed to keep the Time Lord close and under his full control.
"You will give me the designs to your TARDIS and teach me your time travel technology."
"Or...? There's usually an, 'or' after a statement like that."
"You are intelligent enough to figure that out, but if you must hear the words, give me what I want or I will release the toxin and every Pathfinder on this world will be exterminated."
The Doctor's eyes closed involuntarily at that word. It automatically sent chills up and down his spine. But he needed to hear it, needed to have something to keep him motivated and focused on saving lives. He opened his eyes, looked up at the Scarran and spoke calmly.
"What you're asking for is impossible. The TARDIS was not designed, it was grown, and it is the last of its kind. And as for my time travel technology, it would take several of your life-spans to learn all that you would need to know."
"I think you lie."
"Of course you do. But it's the truth. Now, what I can offer you, however, is the wormhole technology you've been seeking through the Pathfinders. I could teach you all that you have ever wanted to know about wormholes but didn't know who to ask.... providing certain conditions are met."
"No, Doctor, you can't --" Crichton tried to object but the Doctor ignored him and continued on with his conditions for trading wormhole secrets.
"The conditions being that my friend here is released unharmed along with the Pathfinders you currently hold as prisoners. You must destroy the toxin you had planned to release upon the population and agree to never obtain any more of it or do anything whatsoever to harm this planet or its people. You and your group must leave this planet and never return. And whatever I teach you about wormholes, you must promise not to use for military purposes, personal gain, evil intent or anything that will lead to dire consequences. Only use it for doing good and saving lives, but for the most part, try not to use it at all." The Doctor glanced over at Crichton and asked, "Did I leave anything out?"
"Yeah, the part about not making you their tech support slave or killing you after they have what they want."
"Ooh, good point." The Doctor addressed Niwek again. "Right, what he said. I will not become your prisoner or slave. I will not be threatened or harmed in any way, and after I have taught you all I can, I will be free to go with no further obligations to you and yours. Deal?"
The Commander stood menacingly over the Doctor and growled, "You do not give orders. You will give me what I want or this one," he said, pointing to Crichton, "will be made to suffer, as well as all the others."
Instead of cowering as the alien had expected him to do, the Doctor suddenly rose up off his knees and stared the Scarran fiercely in the eyes. "Obviously, you don't know a good deal when you hear one," he spoke in a low but assertive voice. "I strongly suggest that you take the offer I made, because if you don't, and you continue to threaten the lives of others, I will have no choice but to destroy you. And before you go assuming that a puny, Sebacean-looking alien such as myself can't carry out that objective, just stop and ask yourself this... if I know the workings of wormholes and time travel and can also withstand the blast from your little built-in heat ray, what else am I capable of doing."
It was fleeting and almost imperceptible given the Scarran's leathery skin and natural scowl, but both the Doctor and Crichton caught the glimmer of fear in Niwek's expression. It seemed that he was about to give in and make the deal, but his attention was drawn by Shegwon to the right of them who canted his head slightly awaiting his leader's decision. Niwek realized that bowing to the Doctor's demands would lower his status in the eyes of his minions. He could not allow himself to appear weak or in the least bit intimidated by the skinny and pale, thin-skinned creature in front of him. In response to the Doctor's words, the Commander pushed him back down onto his knees with one hand while aiming another blast of crippling heat at Crichton's head.
"No, don't!" the Doctor pleaded as he watched Crichton spasm in pain. His plea went unheeded and the assault went on much longer than before. This was not done for interrogation purposes, but rather the infliction of pain for the pure pleasure of it. Tears began to stream down Crichton's cheeks as he screamed continuously. "Stop it!" the Doctor tried again. "Please stop it! All right, all right! I'll do it your way. Whatever you say. Just stop hurting him!"
Niwek lowered his hand slowly, finally ending the bombardment of heat. Crichton collapsed to the floor writhing and moaning in agony. The Commander ignored the fallen man and instead reached down to grab the Doctor by his necktie and pull him to his feet. He leaned forward so that he was almost nose to nose with the Time Lord.
"This is the deal, Doctor. You do as I say, or everyone suffers. Understood?"
The Doctor knew when to swallow his pride and give up. He nodded and whispered his acceptance of the new terms. "Yes."
Niwek straightened up to his full height and sneered down at the Doctor. "Good. We will now go to the research laboratory and you will show me how knowledgeable you are about wormhole technology. Any objections, Time Lord?"
"No," said the Doctor respectfully, his eyes drifting from the Scarran to catch a glimpse of the Human lying on the floor in an awkwardly twisted position. With his hands bound behind his back and the pain lancing through his brain, Crichton was unable to pick himself up.
The Commander followed the Doctor's gaze and asked, "What is his name?"
"Arthur Dent," the Doctor softly replied. He knew that lying to the Scarran might come back to bite him in the arse, but he felt it was important to protect Crichton's identity for as long as he could.
"Shegwon, take Arthur Dent below and place him with the others."
"And bring Lastren to research lab one. He has work to do."
"As you command," Shegwon replied dutifully as he pulled a wobbly Crichton roughly to his feet.
"Careful, please," said the Doctor, then looked to Niwek seeking pity. "Please."
Niwek gave Shegwon a small nod and said, "Cause him no more harm without my orders."
"Understood." Shegwon wrapped an arm around Crichton's waist to help support his weight and aid him in walking.
As Shegwon and Crichton went down one hallway, Niwek took the Doctor in the opposite direction. Research lab one was where raw data was analyzed. There were panels of flashing lights with beeping noises, and several large monitors displaying three-dimensional graphs of wormhole activity. Upon entering the room, Niwek turned the Doctor around and removed the bindings from his wrists. He then proceeded to point out the two Pathfinder technicians poring over a plethora of complex data on their computer screens. Vanitem, a young female and Rivortus, an older male, kept their heads down and eyes on their work as the Doctor approached and looked over their shoulders.
"Hello there, I'm the Doctor," he introduced himself.
"They will not understand your words," Niwek explained. "They do not have translator microbes implanted. We have none to inject them with, but they have managed to learn some of our language over time."
"Oh, I don't rely on translator microbes myself," said the Doctor. "I speak a vast number of languages. What's that you're working on then, Vanitem?" he asked the mostly green colored female."
She finally turned away from her work to look at him, and was obviously surprised by his pink skin, the wild tufts of fur extruding from his head and his odd attire. She looked from him to Niwek and back again.
"It's okay," said the Doctor. "I'm here to help. We'll give the Scarrans what they want as quickly as possible so they will leave you and your people in peace. All right?" He received only a simple, wide-eyed nod from her. "Good. So, let's start by speeding up the data processing a bit, shall we?" The Doctor gently nudged Vanitem aside to get to her keyboard, then began typing in a few paragraphs of code. After he hit the enter key, the screen went blank for a second, then suddenly the data started racing across the screen four times as fast as it had before.
"How did you do that?" asked Vanitem, highly impressed.
"Oh, just added a special little algorithm to strip out unnecessary repetition and other stuff that slows things down."
"You understand the data?" asked Niwek who had been standing nearby and watching the Doctor's actions.
"Mmm, it's a bit rudimentary. The math is off by at least forty-two percent. Won't be easy, but with some major tweaking, and a nice cup of tea, I believe I can at least have the plans ready for a two-tier generator stabilizer by this time tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? The Pathfinders have been working on that for over a cycle. You are saying that you can complete it in a few arns?"
"With proper assistance, yes. These two, of course, and I'm sure Engineer Lastren would be a tremendous help. Also, my Sebacean friend fancies himself a bit of a scientist. Perhaps after he's had some rest --"
"How do I know I can trust you not to sabotage the work already done?"
"Well, I could have done so just now if I wanted to. But, I know that you will harm my friend and the Pathfinders if I try anything so stupid."
"You are correct."
"Then you've nothing to worry about. I won't do anything that will endanger innocent lives."
At least he hoped he wouldn't do anything to endanger their lives. But he was well aware of his track record. Something drastic would probably have to be done to stop the Scarrans. And someone innocent would probably end up paying the price. He'd do his best to keep the casualties down to zero but he knew he could not make himself any promises. He would take it slow and really think things through before jumping into action. Lives hung in the balance, the fate of a planet rested in his hands, and the future of an entire galaxy depended on him getting John Crichton out alive and back on board Moya. "Right then. Best get started."
Chapter 8 - Inside Crichton's Head
The Doctor worked through the night on the plans for the generator stabilizer. He had no need to study the data the Pathfinders had collected. What little information they had, he'd learned as a child. His brilliance was apparent to Vanitem, Rivortus and Lastren who watched with constant amazement as he easily solved problems they had been struggling with since the inception of their wormhole program. The three researchers had actually felt quite useless until the Doctor gave them each a special project to do. He didn't bother to explain the end results to them and they didn't seem to want to know. They simply worked diligently and silently for several hours way past their sleep cycle. When the Doctor noticed them each trying to stay alert and keep their eyes open, he suggested they go get some sleep. Niwek had turned in some time ago, after stationing two of his guards to watch over the scientists. The Doctor continued working for another hour or so. He could have kept going without rest but thought it best not to let the Scarrans know that he was a virtual EverReady Bunny, able to keep going and going and going. Besides, he wanted to check on Crichton and the others to make sure they were still alive and not being mistreated. After reaching a good stopping point, he stood and walked over to the guards who looked to be halfway falling asleep themselves.
"Think I'd like to get a little rest now. I take it, accommodations have been provided?"
Shegwon and his shorter companion, Fooglea escorted the Doctor down to the basement and into a wide corridor with several large-windowed rooms on either side. The rooms were similar to zoo enclosures and each contained the family members of the exploration crew. The lights had been dimmed but the Doctor was still able to make out the sleeping forms of the siblings and spouses huddled together on the bare floor. The last unit contained Crichton who could be seen through the window sitting in a corner on the floor with his knees to his chest, back against the wall and his head resting atop folded arms. After the Doctor entered the room, the door was locked securely behind him and his escorts walked away.
The Time Lord walked slowly about the small room noting that there was nothing very useful in the way of escape. There was no inside door lock to try to pick open and the air vent was only big enough for air to get through. There was a closed panel in the door for the introduction of food and water, and a small shower drain in one corner. The place had been intended to house animals, not people, and the people were never meant to be alive for very long. The only good thing about that was there were no extra security measures in place. There was no video or sound monitoring, and only simple, sliding latches on the outside of the door. The Doctor stopped in front of the wide, picture window and looked across to the one directly opposite him. In the darkness, he was surprised to see a glowing pair of bright blue eyes peering back at him. A small face moved closer to the window, pressing against it as a hand rose up and waved at him. It was Veyadad. The Doctor gave a nod of recognition and returned the wave. An adult moved up behind the younglin as she apparently explained who the strange alien was across from them. The Doctor assumed it was her father, judging by the protective way he pulled her back from the window and into the far shadows of the enclosure.
"So, what's the plan?" a soft voice spoke just above a whisper.
The Doctor turned around, leaned his back against the smooth glass and folded his arms across his chest. Instead of answering the question, he asked one of his own. "How are you feeling?"
Crichton grunted softly as he sat up a little straighter and tilted his head backwards against the wall. "Headache's gone. Ears stopped ringing. Not seeing multiples of you...."
"I'm sorry I couldn't prevent him hurting you."
"Not your fault. You never wanted me to come along in the first place. All I did was give the Scarrans something to use against you. Man, you were doing okay up until Niwek started in with the mind torture. You had him going. I saw it in his eyes, he was ready to cave. If I hadn't been there.... Guess I should have just stayed on board Moya."
"Why didn't you?"
"Thought I could help in some way."
"Is that the only reason?"
Crichton was slow in answering, but knew the Doctor had already figured it out. "Not the only reason, no. It's just... you know how to get back to Earth. I didn't trust you before, but after you proved yourself...."
"So you want me to take you back home. You'd leave your friends behind that easily?"
Crichton sighed despondently. "They're better off without me. Trouble's been hounding me since day one out here. Everywhere I go, people I care about get hurt or worse."
"Yeah," the Doctor said as he rubbed a weary hand over his face, "I know the feeling. He was silent for a moment, weighing his thoughts carefully before speaking. Finally, he asked, "Do you believe that everything happens for a reason?"
"Not really. That's what everyone said when my mom died. There was no reason for it. Just...." Crichton shook his head, not knowing what to add to that.
"Sometimes there really are reasons for things happening the way they do. There was a reason why you fell down a wormhole and ended up half a billion light-years away from home. There's a reason why you became a passenger on a Leviathan with an odd assortment of aliens that became your family. There's a reason why the ancients stuffed your brain full of wormhole technology; why Moya and the Pathfinder ship collided; why Zhaan died; and why you're sitting here chatting with me right now. Think about it... the only Human in this entire galaxy just happens to meet up with the last surviving Time Lord. I mean, what are the odds?"
"So you're talking fate. You and I being brought together is because we were just meant to be? Why? To make sure that this planet is saved?"
"Perhaps. It's like a game of three-dimensional chess being played by some omnipotent cosmic force. We're nothing more than chess pieces being strategically moved about, setting the stage for either a spectacular win... or a dismal defeat."
"I hate being played," said Crichton, "and I hate losing. So, what do we do now? How do we get out of here, free the Pathfinders and get rid of the Scarrans? I know you don't do plans but we could use a good one right about now."
"Well, actually, I do have a bit of a plan in the works."
"Yeah? What is it?"
"Oh, I can't tell you any of it. One good zap of the Scarran's mind probe and you'll blab everything."
"Oh, yeah, right." Crichton sighed heavily. "Man, hate to say it, but kind of wish the old Harvey was around."
"The old Harvey?"
"The original Harvey. He helped to protect me. That was one of his functions. When Scorpius implanted the chip, he had it programmed to collect data but also to keep me alive. I first met Harvey when I had been captured by a Scarran scientist who used some kind of mind altering machine on me; had me hallucinating big time, on the verge of a complete mental breakdown. Harvey materialized and warned me about what was going on. In order to protect me, he temporarily stopped my heart so that I would appear to be dead. Once the Scarran was thrown off guard by my death, Harvey started me up again and I was able to shove an overloading pulse pistol into the Scarran's mouth. Blew his head clear off. Wait... that's it! If we can get our hands on a pulse pistol and set it to overload... we can take out the big guy. Once their leader is gone, the others will probably hop in their spaceship and head home. What do you think?"
"I think I'd like to meet Harvey."
"The fellow that lives inside your head. I'd like to meet him."
Crichton chuckled lightly. "Well, Slim, there's one problem with that. You'd have to get inside my head to meet him."
"I know. That's actually what I was asking."
"You... you want to get inside my head to meet the imaginary guy that lives there?"
"How? And more importantly, why?"
"I happen to possess certain psychic abilities which allow me to read people's thoughts, which I only do if I have permission, of course. I'm thinking that I may be able to help Harvey protect you from the Scarran's mind probe should they use it on you again. Course, if you'd rather not let me in, I completely understand. I know you've been mentally violated by aliens already, and you've no real reason to trust me inside your mind. But, I promise not to invade your privacy and any alterations I make will be minor and temporary."
Crichton thought about it for a moment. He was very leery of letting yet another alien have access to his brain, not that he'd ever had any say-so in the matter before. At least this time he was being asked for permission to have his head screwed with. However, politeness aside, he figured that it probably wasn't a very good idea.
"I still don't get why you would need to talk to Harvey."
"He's buried deep inside your subconscious. He's aware of things that you're not. The original Harvey had enough control over your brain to make your heart stop and start. I want to give the current Harvey back some of that control so that he can protect you against the Scarran's mind probe."
"Oh, frell no!" said Crichton, getting to his feet. "No way am I turning control over to Harvey!"
"Not full control. Just enough to thwart the Scarran's heat ray effect on you."
"What makes you think they'll even bother to use that on me again anyway?"
"Because Commander Niwek will want to know what we've been discussing. There are no monitoring devices in here, so that just leaves you, Arthur Dent."
Crichton cocked his head to one side as he peered at the Doctor through the semi-darkness. "You told him that was my name because... you figured my real identity might cause problems.... Why did you think that?"
"Your name... is legendary. Or, at least it will be soon enough."
"You were protecting me?"
"You, and your future."
"My future's that great, huh?"
"Let's just say that it's worth protecting."
Crichton had trusted seemingly nice aliens before and had been betrayed or used by them, either for fun or profit or simply to save their own hides. There was no real reason why he should put any faith into this particular alien. Okay, there was the time travel thing which was pretty cool and the fact that he'd met him as a little boy. Perhaps the guy had gotten inside his head already in some inconspicuous way to make himself appear harmless and completely trustworthy, even if he wasn't. Crichton assumed that having the Doctor inside his head would not be nearly as painful as having the Scarran's mind probe tearing through his skull again. Feeling as though he didn't have much of a choice, he sighed deeply and consented with a slight nod.
"What do I have to do?"
The Doctor moved to stand directly in front of the Human and placed his hands on either side of his head. "Just relax. Anything you don't want me to see, just imagine it behind a locked door. I promise I won't go in."
Inside Crichton's head there was a dimly lit hallway lined with several doors on each side. Some were partially opened and a few were closed. As the Doctor walked down the hall, he noted the signs on the doors. Opened ones were labeled with Earth, Moya and Space, the Final Frontier. Crichton, dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans, came out of a door marked Private. He closed the door behind him and locked it with a key. After pocketing the key, he signaled the Doctor to follow him down the corridor towards the closed door at the end of the hallway. The door was well lit with the name Harvey printed in an arch over a gold star. He tapped lightly on the door, and without waiting for an answer, pushed it open.
Beyond the door was a short dock surrounded by a peaceful looking lake. The sun was shining and there was a gentle, warm breeze blowing. Near the end of the dock, a figure sat in a deck chair, wearing a straw hat, Bermuda shorts and a flowery shirt over what looked like a black scuba diving suit with knee-length boots. He was sipping from a frosty glass containing a red, fruity drink with a tiny umbrella in it. He turned his head at the sound of approaching footsteps on the dock. Harvey's white face was similar to that of Commander Niwek, but was more Human in appearance and much less intimidating.
"Ahhh, visitors!" he beamed happily. "How nice." Harvey didn't bother to stand. He merely gestured towards two chairs that suddenly appeared across from him. "Please, sit." The Doctor and Crichton made themselves comfortable as Harvey continued. "This is such a pleasant surprise having company like this. John, aren't you going to introduce us?"
"Harvey, Doctor." Crichton flipped his hand from one to the other. "Doctor, Harvey."
"A pleasure to meet you, Doctor," said Harvey with a wide grin, displaying a row of sharp, canine-like brownish teeth surrounded by thin, black lips.
"A pleasure to meet you as well, Harvey. I suppose you already know why I'm here."
"You want me to help Crichton overcome the Scarran's mind probe."
"And as I understand it, you have the ability to empower me."
"Yes, if you're willing to cooperate."
"But of course. I would gladly do anything to help out my good friend John."
"However..." Harvey took a moment to take a sip from his drink before continuing. "I can't help but wonder... what's in it for me?"
"Well, mainly, your survival. After all, if Crichton dies, you die, right?"
"Of course, there's that. But, it's not exactly a party living inside Crichton's head. It's awfully boring at times and truly depressing dealing with his homesickness, guilt and unrequited love.... Perhaps death would not be such a bad thing."
The Doctor glanced at Crichton, wondering just how much of Harvey's thoughts reflected what the Human was thinking. "Well, umm, what would you like for your full cooperation then, Harvey?"
"I want out. I want to leave this desolate wasteland and never return."
The Doctor leaned forward in his seat and asked, "Exactly, what's keeping you here?"
"Ah, there's the rub. If only I knew for sure. But an educated guess would be..." He surreptitiously pointed a finger in Crichton's direction.
"And why would he want to keep you around?"
"Why, indeed? Perhaps Johnny Boy and I have more in common than he cares to admit."
"You're referring to the quest for wormhole technology?"
"When I first arrived on the scene, it was all I thought about. It was my mission to dig through his brain and find every little scrap of scientific data I could. When the chip was removed, I should have gone with it, but apparently Crichton's subconscious decided it needed me. You see, there's quite a bit of wormhole information still missing. I suppose I've become that part of John's brain that's fully dedicated to continuing the search for the missing parts of the puzzle. Unfortunately, I have some relentless competition for his full attention." Harvey gave a nod towards the very end of the dock where Aeryn, wearing a white bikini and sunglasses, lay stretched out on a towel, sunning herself.
"Hey, leave her out of this!" Crichton snapped, and the image of Aeryn vanished immediately.
"Spoilsport," Harvey grumbled. "Anyway, perhaps that's it. If Crichton gets his hands on wormhole technology, then he won't need or want me around anymore. He can expel me, release me from this dreary existence. You're giving all that wonderful technology to the Scarrans; why can't you do the same for John? He wants it. Wants it bad. Just too shy to ask."
"Crichton, is that true?"
"No... I mean... I just wanna be able to get back home."
"Is that all? You just want to go home to Earth?"
"Yeah. I mean... you know, it would be really cool to understand how it all works and to be able to use it to jet around the universe, see the sights. Go where no man has gone before. But..." Crichton sighed and shook his head with regret, "there are just too many power hungry crazies out there. Like most scientific discoveries, somebody's always gonna want to use it for bad things... war or whatever. And it really scares me, because even the little bit I know, people are willing to kill or die over it. So, on one hand yeah, I wish I could master wormhole travel, but on the other hand... I wish I never even knew they existed."
It was a good answer which the Doctor easily accepted. He looked to Harvey and asked, "Do you want Crichton to continue to pursue wormhole knowledge?"
"I only want what's best for dear John," Harvey spoke with a gentle voice that somehow lacked sincerity.
"That's not what I asked."
"No, I suppose it wasn't, was it? It's just that... John doesn't quite know what he wants. I have to be his voice of reason, his guidance counselor. The Ancients apparently saw something very special in him or they would not have given him the wormhole knowledge to begin with. He sees it only as a curse, but that's because his gift has not been fully developed. Much of the information is still locked deep inside his subconscious waiting to be realized. You, my good Doctor, I imagine can help him to unlock that particular door."
"Technically, I could. But I have a feeling that Crichton's clever enough to unlock that door himself when the time is right. Preferably, when you're no longer lurking about. No offense."
"But I do take offense. You won't trust Crichton with wormhole tech, but you're willing to hand it over to the Scarrans because of a simple threat of carnage.
"Well, to be perfectly honest, I'm not giving the Scarrans wormhole technology."
"You're not?" asked Crichton in surprise.
"Of course not. What do you take me for? Giving Commander Niwek a wormhole machine would be like giving a BB gun to an eight-year-old boy. He's liable to shoot someone's eye out with it. Metaphorically speaking, of course, and on a more cosmic level."
"So you lied to the big guy."
"Not so much lied as fudged the truth a bit." The Doctor looked about as if making sure they were alone. "I suppose it's okay to talk in here. I told Commander Niwek what he wanted to hear. I did it to buy us some time. He's given me access to the computers and I've managed to implement a little bit of a plan."
"What's the plan?" asked Harvey, rubbing his hands together excitedly. "I love a good plan. Crichton hardly ever has any."
"The plan is quite simple, actually. We need to destroy this building. I was talking with Lastren and a couple of the other scientists. This facility is the only one of its kind on the planet. It's not like on Earth where multiple countries have invested in the same technological advances. You shut down one site, others are there to take up the slack. Here, because the complexities and expense for this type of research is so great, and all the nations get along pretty well, they tended to put all their eggs into one basket, as it were. So, once this place is destroyed, no more wormhole research and no reason for the Scarrans to stick around."
"Oooh, excellent idea!" Harvey applauded. "Oh, John, I like him. He's very clever."
"Thank you. Except, there is one slight problem, however."
"Getting the Pathfinders out of here safely before you destroy the place," Crichton guessed correctly.
"And the Scarrans as well."
Crichton was taken aback by that. "What, you want to save the bad guys?"
"If possible. Everyone deserves a chance to live."
Harvey sneered. "On second thought, I'm not so sure you are all that bright."
"I don't know, Doc," said Crichton, "Letting the Scarrans go, especially the commander, might not be such a good idea. You heard what he said. These people mean nothing to him. You destroy his little pipe dream here, he may just take it out on the whole planet. Might come back with a shipload of that toxic gas."
"Yeah. Maybe." The Doctor thought about his run-in with the Sycorax. He had allowed them to go, but only after dispatching their captain. The leaders of Earth were not satisfied with allowing the aliens to get off scot-free. They were afraid that they might return with larger forces to annihilate the planet, and the Doctor -- their protector -- might not be around when he was needed. Quite often, he wasn't. Earth had UNIT, Torchwood, and Sarah Jane Smith to fill in the gaps when he wasn't around. From his quick search on the computer, the Pathfinders had no such protective force in place.
"Yes, right, umm... Commander Niwek may be a problem, but I'll deal with him. I'm hoping I can convince him to allow the families to return to their homes."
"What good would that do? An explosion big enough to destroy this building will probably wipe out everything within a couple miles radius."
"I was thinking more of an implosion. I'll be able to contain any disturbance within a hundred yards or so."
"Implosion? Oh, you mean like those demolition experts that can take down an old skyscraper by placing explosives on different floors in key locations. But how do you plan on getting around this place to set charges unnoticed."
"Oh, there's more than one way to make a building implode. I've got something a bit more hi-tech in mind."
"Okay. Sounds good. What can I do to help?"
"Well, before we go any further into the planning stage, I need to make sure you're able to keep secrets should the Scarrans decide to chat you up again." The Doctor looked to Harvey. "So, what do you say, Harvey? Mind if I get inside your head?"
Chapter 9 - The Not So Great Escape
The Doctor knelt down in front of the half-Scarran and placed his hands on either side of Harvey's head. Just as he had done with Crichton, he closed his eyes and began to concentrate on entering into what was actually the human's subconscious. Then, he instantly vanished.
"Harvey! What the frell did you do to him?" asked Crichton with alarm.
"Wasn't me. Perhaps you should..." Harvey gave a suggestive nod towards the exit door.
Crichton raced to the door and tumbled back into reality. He opened his eyes to see the Doctor standing in front of him, his hands held up in surrender and the barrel of a pulse gun held just inches from his head. Dread turned into relief when he saw who held the weapon.
"What was he doing to you, John?"
"Nothing, it's okay."
"What did he do?" Aeryn hissed, insisting that he give her a full answer.
"He was... just... talking to Harvey." He knew how ridiculous it sounded and saw the disbelief in her wide eyes staring at him as though horns were sprouting from his forehead.
"He was talking to Harvey. The Scarran boss used his heat ray on me earlier. The Doctor was trying to fix it so that I would be immune to it if they tried it again."
"So you gave him permission to enter your mind and read your thoughts?"
"No, not to read my thoughts; just to talk to Harvey. Look, I know it sounds weird, but it's okay... I'm fine. No harm done. No reason to shoot him. So just...." He motioned for her to put away the gun.
Aeryn wasn't completely convinced about the Doctor's good intentions. She was reluctant to lower her weapon but she did so begrudgingly. As she stepped over to Crichton's side, the Doctor lowered his hands and let out the breath he'd been holding. He then quickly walked over to the door and glanced out, checking for signs of the Scarran guards. Everything appeared to be quiet, so he turned his attention to Aeryn.
"Mind if I ask how you managed to get inside the building without detection or setting off any alarms?"
"I scaled the outside of the building up to the roof. From there, I worked my way through the air ventilation system and down the elevator shaft."
"Impressive. However, I doubt we'll be able to get the others out that way. We'll have to go for something easier and straight forward. Come on, we should leave now."
The Doctor opened the door and crossed over to the opposite enclosure. He waved at the occupants through the window as he slid back the bolt on the door. Veyadad and her father were quickly on their feet. Although the child was obviously pleased to see the thin, pale alien, her father was apprehensive and held his child back protectively when the door was opened.
"Veyadad, are you all right?" asked the Doctor, keeping his voice just above a whisper.
"Yes. I am fine," she whispered back. "This is my eada."
"Thought as much. Hello, I'm the Doctor, and your name is...?"
"Skeekon," the tall, blue-green alien replied after a brief moment of hesitation.
"Skeekon, very pleased to meet you. Now I'm guessing you've had enough of these uncomfortable accommodations and wouldn't mind very much getting out of here. Am I right?"
"What of the Scarrans?"
"Oh, I'll take care of the Scarrans. Don't you worry about them. Come on out. We need to get going."
Skeekon stepped warily out of the enclosure, holding securely to the hand of his daughter. He was slightly alarmed at seeing another pair of similar pale-skinned aliens with furry heads, carrying what he assumed to be weapons. The Doctor paused to introduce them.
"Skeekon, this is Aeryn and John. Don't be afraid. They're here to help free you and your people from the Scarrans. Now, let's get the rest of these doors open and get everyone out of here."
There was no time wasted in getting the doors opened and ushering out several frightened females and children of various ages, warning them to keep together and remain quiet.
"What of our brother?" whispered a young adult male, his right arm being clasped tightly by an even younger female.
"What are your names?"
"I am Goren. This is Renog."
"And my guess is that your big brother is Engineer Lastren?" asked the Doctor.
"Yes. He was here earlier, but they took him away."
"I know. He's on the fourth level in the research area along with two other technicians. Don't worry. I'll see to it that they get out safely. Now everyone, this way, quickly and quietly."
The Doctor led the way down the corridor towards a storage bay in the rear of the building. Crichton was by his side, now armed with a pulse pistol while Aeryn with her pulse rifle, brought up the rear. The group moved swiftly and cautiously through the storage bay, beyond numerous crates of supplies and machinery until finally reaching a locked exit door. The small purple light in a wall panel with keypad next to the door signified that a security lock was in place.
"Don't suppose you have a gadget for figuring out the combination, do you?" asked Crichton.
"Funny you should ask."
The Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver, adjusted the setting on it, then held it up to the keypad. Everyone looked on curiously as the odd little tool lit up with a blue glow and made a strange whirling sound. Almost instantly, a series of symbols began to flash by on the keypad display window, well on its way to deciphering the six digits of the security code. As the screwdriver worked its magic, Crichton took a few steps towards a nearby wall where he saw a long row of canisters the size of trash cans that were stacked three tiers high. He sniffed the air picking up an unusual but not unpleasant odor.
"Mmm, something smells good... like someone's frying up some bacon."
Nearly as soon as he uttered those words, the group of aliens he was helping to guard, suddenly all began to cough as though they had just inhaled some sort of irritant. The Doctor became instantly concerned, temporarily abandoning his attack on the door lock. He glanced over at the canisters and back at the Pathfinders, coming to a quick and dangerous conclusion.
"It's the toxin! One of the canister's must be leaking. Quickly, everyone cover your gill flaps, hold your breath and keep close to the floor." They all followed his advice, squatting down, and placing their hands over the gill openings on either side of their heads while the Doctor went back to breaking the code on the lock. After a few more seconds, the final digit fell into place, the purple light turned blue and the low click of the locking mechanism release could be heard. The Doctor carefully pushed the door open just a crack and cautiously peered out into the semi-darkness before waving the others out into the fresh air. He herded them into the shadows close to the building and gave them time to catch their breath and clear their lungs.
"Aeryn, did you notice any guards outside when you came in?" the Doctor asked.
"Two walked around the perimeter every half arn. I estimate we have less than ten microts before they come through again."
The Doctor scanned their surroundings. They were in the rear of the building, a section used for parking transport vehicles. There were several truck-like and bus-like vehicles stretched out in a row within fifty feet of where they stood. There was also one medium-sized spaceship parked under a protective steel canopy. No doubt it was the Scarran's ship, big enough for a crew of no more than a dozen and likely fitted with weapons. He looked to Aeryn and Crichton and asked, "Are either of you familiar with Scarran spaceships?"
"I've studied them as part of my Peacekeeper training," said Aeryn. "I'm not so sure I could fly one though."
"No, don't need you to fly it. The Scarrans are going to fly it. They'll need a way off this planet. I just wouldn't want them to start blasting weapons at anyone once they get on board."
"I believe that particular model is equipped with two long-range canons, one forward and aft. And probably one or two smaller short-range laser guns."
"I was afraid of that. Suppose we'll have to worry about that later." The Doctor turned his attention back to his new entourage, deciding that their safety was his first priority. "Everyone feeling better?" he asked and received nods all around. "Good. There's transportation over there. Let's go." He led the way to the nearest bus, and as the others boarded it, Crichton and Aeryn remained outside to stand guard. As everyone found seats on the bus, the Doctor checked to make sure the vehicle was in operable condition. He made quick use of his sonic screwdriver to turn on the electronic engine which thankfully was virtually silent. "Any drivers among us?" he asked, once the engine had started.
Skeekon came forward and announced, "I can drive."
"But... where to? We can not return to our homes. The Scarrans will only come after us again."
"No, they won't. The Scarrans will be leaving your planet. I'll see to it. But, everyone listen. In order to get the Scarrans to leave and never return, I will have to take away their only reason for being here. That building," he pointed to what stood outside the window, "and all the technology inside of it... will have to go."
"You are going to destroy the building?" asked Skeekon.
"Our brother is still inside," Goren spoke up worriedly, seated beside his equally perturbed little sister.
"I haven't forgotten. I'll go back for him and the others in just a bit, but first, I want to make sure you all are safely away from this place."
"We can drive into the city to the authorities," suggested the frightened female the Doctor had encountered during his first visit to the planet.
"That would not be so simple," said Skeekon. "We will not be able to get through the main gate. It has a security lock and an armed Scarran on guard at all times.
"In that case, the safest place for you to be is aboard my spaceship. Veyadad, you can show him where it's parked." He pulled the TARDIS key from his pocket and gave it to the younglin, pressing it gently into her palm and folding her fingers around it. "Here you go. Once inside, keep the door closed and make sure no one touches any of the controls. Just wait for me there. Understood?"
"Hold on for just a moment." The Doctor stepped off the bus and approached Crichton and Aeryn standing near the rear. "The two of you should get on the bus and go back to the TARDIS with them."
"Thought you were going back inside for the others and to set off you little device," said Crichton.
"I am. Actually, I still have some work to do on it. But it shouldn't take too long."
"Will you be needing any help?" Crichton asked.
"I'll handle it, thanks. You two should go now."
"We've got company!" Aeryn announced in a hushed voice as she gestured towards the far end of the building where two Scarrans were just rounding the corner.
"Frell," Crichton hissed. "No way you'll get past them, Doc."
"Not without a diversion," said Aeryn. "Stay here. I'll draw them away."
Before either the Doctor or Crichton could object, Aeryn dashed away, darting behind the other parked vehicles heading in a direction opposite their present location. In a scant few moments, she had been spotted by the Scarrans who immediately began a pursuit.
"Oh, she's going to get herself captured or killed," the Doctor grimaced.
"I'll watch her back," said Crichton. "You'd better take off."
"No, Crichton, you--" the Doctor's attempted warning fell on deaf ears as the earthling hastily trailed after his female companion. "Oh, wonderful. Now, they'll both get themselves captured or killed."
There really was nothing he could do to stop them, so he chose instead to take advantage of the diversion they provided. He turned briefly towards the opened bus door, and signaled to Skeekon to drive away quickly. He then ran alongside it keeping in its shadow until he was forced to move away in order to make it back to the rear entrance door. He entered the building again without detection and raced down the corridor, skidding to a stop in front of the elevator doors. He pressed the button for the lift and bounced nervously for all of two seconds before he lost patience and decided to take the stairs. He burst through the staircase door and bounded up the steps three at a time until he reached the fourth floor.
He was cautious about stepping out into the fourth floor corridor. Everything was still quiet. He quickly but quietly walked past the laboratory door to the end of the hallway to the little room that served as sleeping quarters for the scientists. He slipped inside and gently shook Lastren awake first.
"Come on," the Doctor whispered. "We're getting out of here. I need your help."
The Doctor gave the other two scientists a quick shake to stir them awake. "Let's go. We've got work to do. Quickly!"
"What's going on?" Lastren asked as he sat up in bed and swung his feet to the floor.
"I've helped your friends and family to escape. I came back for you three and to make sure that the Scarrans won't cause you any more trouble."
"No time to explain. We've got work to do and very little time in which to do it. So, if you don't mind, we really need to go. Now!"
Fortunately, they were already dressed and only needed to slip into their shoes before obediently following the Doctor back to the laboratory. The door to the lab was locked with the same type of keypad combination lock as the exit door in the basement. Rivortus pressed in the code to unlock the door, and as soon as they were inside, the Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and used it on the keypad. A series of symbols flashed by until they all read the same and then blacked out.
"What did you just do?" asked Rivortus with suspicious concern.
"Secured the lock. I imagine that the Scarrans have the code to get in but I'd rather we not be disturbed. Now, the project we were working on earlier, we need to finish it right away."
"Wait!" Rivortus grabbed the Doctor's arm and turned him away from his projected direction. "Exactly what is that project? It is not a wormhole machine, is it?"
The Doctor really did not want to waste time explaining himself, but he could see by the Pathfinder's expression that he would not be cooperating if he did not get an answer to his question.
"No, it is not a wormhole machine, exactly. It's something that will destroy this building and everything in it. That is the only way you will be able to rid this planet of Scarrans."
"You want to destroy our life's work?"
"No, I don't. I really don't. But I do want to save your planet. And there's only one way I can think to achieve that goal. Which is more important to you? Your life's work or everything else?"
That seemed to do it. There were no more questions and no further delays. His three helpers followed his lead and faithfully performed his bidding. They worked quickly and effectively, and in only twenty minutes were close to completion. Rivortus, the eldest of the Pathfinders, looked over the odd looking contraption which was comprised of several parts from a previously non-working generator, a jumble of wiring connected to and from one of the computers and a power source, topped off with a small laser aimed at the donated clear crystal that was once a treasured pendant belonging to Vanitem.
"How does this device work?" asked Rivortus.
"Simple, really," the bespectacled Doctor replied while making some last minute fine-tuning. "Just flip the red switch and wait for it to warm up...."
"I mean, what does it actually do?" Rivortus rephrased the question. "Is it a bomb? Will it cause a huge explosion?"
"No. That was the original plan. An explosion of sorts, but then I saw those canisters of toxic gas in the basement storage area. An explosion would damage the canisters and release deadly fumes into the atmosphere. So, I've made some significant alterations. Now, the building will simply be sucked into another dimension."
"That's not possible," said Vanitem, in disbelief. "Is it?"
"Yes, it is. Mind you, I had to rush this into production so it's more than a bit crude. But it should still get the job done." The Doctor used the sonic screwdriver to actually tighten a screw, then put it away, his project finally complete. "As I was saying before, just flip this switch to turn it on, give it a moment or so to warm up, then once the light begins to flash, turn this knob all the way to the right."
"No timer or remote starter?" asked Lastren.
"No. I did mention it was crude, didn't I?" the Doctor asked as he pulled off his thick-rimmed glasses and placed them in his pocket.
"But," Lastren queried, "once it is activated, how long before it does what it is supposed to do?"
"Not long. Which is why everyone needs to evacuate before I set it off."
The three Pathfinders shared equal looks of worry and disbelief. It was Lastren who spoke what they all were thinking. "You will stay behind and risk your life to save ours?"
"I'll be all right. I'm a very fast runner."
The rattling of the door handle to the lab drew their attention to another problem they faced. The rattling was quickly replaced by intense banging as the Scarrans attempted to penetrate the sturdy, locked door.
"It would appear," said Lastren, "that none of us will be leaving. You are certain that our families and friends are safely away?"
"Use your communicator to call your brother. Ask him where he is now."
Lastren lifted his wrist and pressed the button to activate his communicator. "Goren? Can you hear me? Are you and Renog safe?"
"Brother, I hear you. Yes, we are all safe. Everyone is aboard the Doctor's ship. His remarkable, impossible ship. Are you coming?"
"Soon, Goren. Just... stay there." Lastren switched off his communicator, then looked to his fellow colleagues. "Everyone else is safe. Perhaps we should activate the device now and save our planet."
"Yes," both Vanitem and Rivortus agreed.
"No, no, wait!" the Doctor raised his hands to discourage their line of thought. "My plan is for everyone to get out of here alive."
"But the Scarrans--"
"Will no doubt choose survival and retreat over being sucked into the black void of space."
The banging on the door abruptly stopped and was soon followed by the sound of weapons fire as a pulse rifle was used to destroy the door lock. A moment later, the door burst open from the impact of Scarran brute force. Commander Niwek stepped a few feet into the room and stood menacingly starring at the Time Lord.
"I know what it is you are up to, Doctor," he sneered. "I had another conversation with your companion Arthur Dent." He snapped his finger towards the opened door which was a signal for two of his men to enter with their prisoner. "Or should I say... John Crichton."
The two armed guards dragged in a dazed and bloody-nosed Crichton. It was apparent he had been subjected to the Scarran's heat ray again, and probably for a much longer interrogation. He was unable to stand on his own and after the guards released their grip on his arms, he sank to the floor in a heap.
"You didn't have to do that," said the Doctor, not moving away from nor trying to hide his science project. "I could have told you what I was up to myself."
"I can believe nothing you tell me. Crichton, however, is more truthful. He has told me of your plans to destroy all the research here. I found the news upsetting at first, until I discovered his true identity. He is a being of much interest among my associates. It appears he has great knowledge of wormhole technology locked inside his brain. One merely needs enough time and the right methods to retrieve it. So, destroy this place if you wish. These so-called scientists do nothing but fail and are no closer to a breakthrough than they were when I first arrived. You can have them. I will take Crichton. I am sure I will be well compensated for his capture."
"Listen, Niwek, why don't we swap? Let Crichton go and you can have me. My technical knowledge is far greater than his, and you don't even have to unlock it. Just ask nicely."
The corners of Niwek's mouth turned upwards. "Your knowledge may be great, but you have a certain power that cannot be easily harnessed. You can not be made to speak the truth and you have already proven that you should not be trusted. I will take my chances with Crichton."
As Niwek began to turn away, the Doctor took a step forward and stated, "You are right about my power not being easily harnessed. And perhaps you can't tell when I'm being honest, but trust me on this, release Crichton and leave this planet now, or I will be forced to destroy you. I won't ask again."
There was a momentary flash of fear in Niwek's eyes. It was the second time the Doctor had threatened to destroy him with an intensity in his voice and eyes that said indeed he could make good his threat. Again, the commander decided to brush off the possibility of death at the hands of the frail looking alien that was surely all bluff.
"I have a counter offer for you, Doctor. I take Crichton, have you shot, and as a parting gift, have all the canisters in the storage room opened to release the gas that your new friends find so deathly unpleasant."
The Doctor sighed sadly and spoke softly. "I'm afraid you leave me no choice." In one swift motion, he turned and reached down to flip the switch on his machine. "I'm sorry," he apologized to the Pathfinders standing nearby. All three seemed resigned to their fate and only nodded in understanding.
Chapter 10 - Out of the Frying Pan
"What did you do?" asked Niwek, hearing the low whine of a motor starting up. "What is that thing?"
"Well, it's not so much what it is, but what it does," the Doctor responded casually as he folded his arms across his chest. "It's designed to create a very tiny black hole, just big enough to swallow up this building and everything inside it."
"That is not possible," Niwek huffed.
"Oh, but it is. My people invented black holes. Accidentally, mind you, but still, we found them very useful for taking out the trash. The one I'm creating will open a portal into a dimension known as the Void, which happens to be the empty space between universes where nothing exists. Well, nothing but the other trouble-making beings and unsavory creatures I've already banished there. Anyway, once the portal is open, this building and its contents will be ripped apart and pulled into eternal darkness."
"You lie," Niwek sneered. "Even if that machine does as you say, you would not put your own life or the lives of your new friends in such peril."
"Now there's where you're wrong. If I have to risk a few lives -- including my own -- in order to save a planet, so be it. I do it all the time. Ask Crichton about Pompeii."
"Pompeii?" Niwek raised his palm to Crichton's head but decided to hold off on emitting the heat ray for the moment. The Human, now sitting up and resting on his elbows, looked a bit more alert but probably couldn't handle another session of intense interrogation without losing consciousness. The mere threat of another heat blast was surely enough to keep the truth coming. "What is Pompeii?"
"Used to be... a city on my planet," Crichton tiredly explained. "A while ago, some aliens invaded our world... planned to kill everyone and take over the place. The Doctor figured the only way to stop them was to blow up this really big mountain.... The resulting molten lava and falling burning ash covered the city, killed some 20,000 people. They were either suffocated or burned alive."
"How is it you survived?" Niwek asked the Doctor.
"Didn't think I would. Most times I'm very good at what I do, but more often than not... I'm just very, very lucky. What matters now is that I want to save this planet. I'm willing to die to do it and I'm willing to take you all with me if necessary. Shegwon," the Doctor made his appeal to the guard he knew by name, "I don't know if you and the others are just good soldiers following orders no matter how insane they may be or if you've simply lost all ability to think rationally for yourself. But listen and think carefully about this; if you stick with your commander, you will all die. That's a fact. If you want to survive, you need to vacate this building as quickly as you can. Just put down your weapons, gather the rest of your men, board your spaceship and fly far away. Do it right now or follow your commander into the Void."
Shegwon exchanged a worried look with the other guard. After a brief moment of uncertainty, they soon reached a simultaneous and mutual decision. Niwek noticed their movements from the corner of his eye as his guards laid down their weapons. The commander turned his head and stared at them with disapproval and shock.
"What do you think you are doing?" he demanded to know. He never received an answer as the two guards hurried out of the opened door. "Come back here!" Niwek's command went unheeded and he found himself without any backup. He was not armed himself and had never seen the need for carrying a weapon while in the building, until now. He picked up one of the pulse guns left behind by his not so loyal followers and aimed it at the Doctor. "They may be weak-minded enough to believe your lies, but I am not so easily fooled."
"Well, I don't know about that, but if you're so certain I'm lying then you should have no problem with waiting around a bit until the light starts flashing on my machine here."
Niwek's eyes flittered briefly away from the Doctor towards the somewhat unnerving contraption cobbled together with a mass of cables and a variety of spare parts. Something about the increasing sound and vibration of the machine was unsettling. "Turn it off," the Scarran commanded.
"Sorry. Can't. No 'off' button and no 'pause' button. It's only designed to do one thing."
"You are mad."
"So I've been told."
Niwek finally came to the conclusion that the Doctor was most likely telling the truth, and that indeed something very bad was about to occur. "Go ahead. Stay and destroy yourselves! I will leave and take John Crichton with me." As the commander turned away from the others, he saw the Human crawling along the floor, reaching for the other pulse pistol that had been left behind by the guards. Niwek smirked, thinking that even if the Human did reach the weapon, he would be too weak and shaky to pull the trigger. Besides, the commander knew that his natural armor would offer him superior protection from such an attack. That was merely another of the many mistakes the Scarran had made over the last several hours since meeting the Doctor and John Crichton. He underestimated his enemies and he allowed himself to be too overconfident of his own status and abilities. Knowing that he couldn't simply shoot his prisoner, he began to raise his palm in order to dish out another mind-numbing heat blast. Just before he was able to fulfill his objective, a small white projectile smacked against the side of his head and left some sort of gooey, yellow substance dripping down onto his shoulder. As he took time to inspect the foreign matter and figure out from where it had come, another projectile was launched at him. The Doctor's aim caught him right between the eyes.
"Trick or treat," said the Doctor. "Quaint little Earth custom."
Niwek wiped the egg from his face and decided he'd had enough of the Time Lord. He pointed his weapon at him, prepared to shoot him on the spot.
"Yoo-hoo," a voice sounded close behind him.
Niwek turned his head and found himself staring point-blank down the barrel of a pulse pistol. It may not have been easy to penetrate a Scarran's tough hide, but where the gun was aimed, there was no armored protection. Crichton fired the pulse pistol directly into Niwek's left eye, followed by two blasts into the mouth that opened in surprised shock. The seven foot tall alien fell to his knees, then toppled forward, dead by the time he hit the floor.
The Doctor was not happy about the death of the Scarran or that Crichton had killed him in a nearly cold-blooded fashion, but if the rest of them were to get out alive, it was the only recourse.
"Doctor," Vanitem pointed to the machine, "the light is flashing."
"Right. All of you need to get out of here now. Quickly as you can."
"But, now that the Scarrans are gone, we don't really need to go through with this, do we?" asked Rivortus.
"Remember how I told you the device was crude? There's no turning it off. The generator is about to go critical. If I don't turn the knob all the way to the right, the whole thing will blow up and the toxins in the basement will be released into the atmosphere. So, there's no debate, and no time to wait. All of you out now!" the Doctor insisted as he herded them towards the door.
"What about you?" asked Crichton.
"I'll be right behind you. I'm just giving you a head-start. Go! Now!"
The urgency of the matter seemed to finally sink in and the Doctor's order was quickly obeyed. Once the others had cleared the room, the Doctor went back over to his black hole machine. He listened intently to the growing whine of the motor, knowing that he had to time it just right to keep the generator from going critical and exploding. But he also needed to give the others time to make it out of the building. Crichton had been a little wobbly on his feet, and the Pathfinders didn't exactly seem much like sprinters, so they would all need every possible second to clear the danger zone. He allowed ten seconds to pass before he turned the knob a quarter of the way to relieve some of the pressure building up. Another eight seconds elapsed before he moved it to the halfway mark, hoping that the others had at least made it down to the first level by then. His fingers hovered over the knob waiting for the seconds to tick off in his brain. As the whine of the generator continued to escalate, he gave the knob one final short twist, then stepped back and watched as a tiny ball of energy began to form in the air directly above the machine.
"Time to run!"
The Doctor was just about to pass the elevator on his way to the staircase when he heard a chime and saw the door light up. He assumed that Crichton had sent it back up for him and skidded to a stop just as the door slid open. "What?" He was stunned to see the elevator still occupied, shocked even more to see Crichton on his knees trying to offer aid to Vanitem who appeared to be semiconscious. The two male scientists had collapsed but were still awake, though coughing heavily and gasping for air. The odor of cooked bacon wafted out from the lift; what would have been considered on Earth to be the anticipation of a hearty breakfast, was now a signal for impending death.
"Couldn't get through, Doc," Crichton explained needlessly. "The fumes were just too strong for them."
The Doctor stepped through the door and pushed the button for the top floor. "We'll try the roof," he said as he knelt down to check Vanitem's condition. "Aeryn said that she was able to scale the building. Perhaps we can climb down the same way she climbed up."
"Don't think anyone's up much for climbing, Doc. Except maybe you."
As he glanced around him, the Doctor realized that Crichton had very likely made an accurate assumption. It was distinctly possible that only the Time Lord, cosmic cockroach that he was, would be the only one to survive the imminent disaster. Still, he wouldn't give up easily on any of the four other lives in his care. When the elevator reached the top floor, the Doctor lifted Vanitem in his arms and looked about helplessly at the others. He realized that Crichton was still recovering from the earlier mind torture, while Lastren and Rivortus could barely breathe or see, their eyes stinging and watering from the fumes.
"Stay close and help each other," was all he could offer them as the door slid open. He led the way down the corridor and towards the staircase leading to the roof.
Crichton was sandwiched between Lastren and Rivortus, the three holding each other up as they stumbled along. The door to the roof had a keycard lock, a job for the sonic screwdriver which was tucked safely away in his breast pocket out of reach at the moment. He glanced down at Vanitem and saw that not only was she more alert, but she also carried the necessary key to work the lock. Her hand was a bit shaky and her eyes were still tearing from the fumes but she managed to endure whatever discomfort she was experiencing long enough to fit the card into the slot and turn the handle. Stepping out onto the roof provided the Pathfinders with some much needed fresh air and a modicum of relief. The Doctor carried Vanitem over to the rear of the building and laid her gently down a safe distance from the edge. Crichton helped Lastren and Rivortus to settle down next to her.
It was nearly dawn, the sky beginning to lighten with the rising of a pale pink sun, but there was no time to admire the sunrise. The Doctor quickly scanned the roof looking for whatever Aeryn Sun had used to scale the building. He had hoped for a rope or cable but saw nothing obvious among the water reservoir and air control units. The roof was flat but had a four-foot high railing all the way around to prevent accidentally falling off. The Doctor glanced over the closest rail and noted the details of the building's design. It appeared to be made of a marble-like material laid out in a brickwork pattern with deep, evenly spaced horizontal grooves. Only someone with impressive rock-climbing skills or Spiderman powers could have scaled it without any special climbing equipment. Crichton must have realized the same thing as he carefully peered over the ledge.
"Whoa! You think she climbed up barehanded?"
"You know her better than I do. What do you think?"
"I think we're screwed."
"Doctor," Lastren called to him and pointed to a metal cabinet around the corner from the doorway. It turned out to be a storage unit housing emergency evacuation equipment.
"Yes!" The Doctor was pleased to find a roll-out ladder which, with the Human's help, was quickly draped over the ledge and ready for use. "Okay, I think you should go first."
"What about them?" Crichton asked, nodding towards the Pathfinders who were now sitting up, having recovered somewhat from the gas. However, they still didn't appear to be in any shape for climbing.
The Doctor stooped down in front of the three scientists and took turns looking each in the eyes. "I know you're all still feeling a little sick and shaky but I'm afraid there's only one way to get safely off this roof. You'll each have to climb down under your own steam. Vanitem, I'll help you as much as I can, but we don't have much time. We have to move quickly, all right?"
The three nodded and got to their feet, determination showing on their faces as they stood tall and moved towards the ladder. Only after Crichton saw that they would be following him did he begin to make his own descent. He was over the ledge and on the sixth rung down when the building suddenly began to rumble and sway heavily as though hit by an earthquake. The Doctor hastily looked over the side to check on Crichton and breathed a sigh of relief to see him still hanging on tight to the ladder. But relief was short lived as he noted that three floors below Crichton, several windows and the wall that had supported them were suddenly missing. The ladder itself no longer reached to the ground but instead curved into the building, being pulled into a gaping hole in the structure.
"Crichton, climb back up. Now!"
A confused glance downward persuaded Crichton to quickly follow orders, but not before the building shifted again to lean at a 5 degree angle. Crichton nearly lost his purchase on the ladder, managing to hang on with a one-handed grip. The Doctor reached for and grabbed his wrist. With an added assist from Lastren they helped pull the Human over the ledge and back onto the relative safety of the roof.
"The ladder!" the Doctor exclaimed as he sought to rescue it. "We can try it on the other side. As he pulled on it, he found it much harder to raise than it should have been. Two other pairs of hands grabbed a section and began to tug with him. A few seconds later the ladder finally became slack and yielded to their pulling. Unfortunately, only about 30 feet of the 100-foot ladder returned. The rest had been sheered off by the same force that had obliterated a section of the forth floor.
"Frell!" Crichton cursed. "What now? We climb down as far as it goes and jump the rest of the way?"
The Doctor shook his head regrettably. "Not likely to survive," he sighed. "Besides, I'm afraid it's too late for climbing now. More than likely we'd get sucked into the Void on the way down. I'm sorry. I really thought we had a chance."
"Our families and our planet have been saved," said Lastren. "We are grateful to you both for that. This was not your battle. I regret that this will cost you your lives."
"Yes, well... no good deed goes unpunished."
"Aeryn!" Crichton suddenly took notice of her absence. "God, I hope she didn't go back inside looking for us."
"I'm sure she's fine," the Doctor lied. Knowing Aeryn Sun, even for such a brief time, he knew that she would have done all that she could to rescue her friend. She was so much like Rose, Martha and Donna when it came to bravery and loyalty. Still, he hoped that she'd had enough common sense to save herself and turn back in the face of insurmountable danger. "I'm sorry. I should never have let you two come along on this. I just... thought somehow we'd all make it." The Doctor glanced about to the left and right, still seeking some form of last minute escape. "I mean, things usually have a way of working themselves out around me. Either I come up with a fantastic last minute idea, a bit of luck practically falls into my lap or someone unexpectedly comes forward and does something truly extraordinary."
"You mean like that?"
The Doctor followed Crichton's gaze upwards to the Scarran space ship descending slowly out of the sky directly above them. "Yes! Oh, yes, exactly like that!"
There was no way the ship could land on the tilted roof, and fortunately, it didn't need to. It came to hover about twenty feet above their heads before the access door slid open and a narrow, flexible ladder was uncoiled and dropped down. Vanitem was urged to go first, followed by Rivortus and Lastren. As Crichton and the Doctor anxiously awaited their turns, the building shook violently as a hole opened up in the center of the roof. It was as if a giant toilet had just been flushed and everything was being pulled into it by the suctioning vacuum. The Doctor and Crichton each held on tightly to the bottom of the ladder, looping their arms into the rungs as securely as possible. Rivortus was being pulled through the door and Lastren was only a foot away from reaching it.
"Go! Tell the pilot to go! Now!" The Doctor yelled over the swelling noise. Whether his voice was actually heard over the disturbance or the pilot recognized the immediate danger at hand, the ship began to rise and move away from the building. Lastren made it to the door and was helped inside, but both the Doctor and Crichton were too mesmerized by the sight of the building's destruction to think about climbing. They watched, transfixed, as the roof folded in on itself and sank into the spiraling hole. The sides of the building began to distort, taking on a distinct hourglass figure. Upper floors began to sink downward as the lower floors began to rise upwards. In a matter of seconds, entire floors disappeared as they were suctioned into a black hole no larger than a ping pong ball. Pretty soon, all that remained was a swirling of dust and debris, resembling a miniature upside-down tornado hovering over a barren foundation. The mini-tornado quickly receded into the black hole, and as the last of the building disappeared, the black hole itself -- as though it had run out of fuel -- shrank to an even smaller size, and with the sound of a thunderclap, vanished into thin air.
"Dude! That was frelling awesome!" Crichton exclaimed in wide-eyed astonishment.
The Doctor grinned proudly and said, "Yeah, it was a bit of awesomeness, wasn't it?" The wind whipping through his hair and the dangling of his feet reminded him that they were still hanging from the ladder a few hundred feet in the air. "You think maybe we should um..."
"Oh, yeah, right!"
Crichton began climbing and as he reached the door, he was startled by a large, scaly hand with sharp claws grasping onto his arm. Even though it was a Scarran space ship, he never actually expected a Scarran to be there trying to assist him aboard. Considering his recent experience in their company, he had reason to try to jerk away, but lucky for him the Scarran held tight, preventing him from tumbling backwards. Crichton quickly realized that for the moment, he was being helped and not harmed. Soon, he was standing on the floor of the cargo hold beside the Pathfinders who were nervously huddled together. Apparently, they were not too keen on being passengers of the Scarrans either. Still, it was undoubtedly better than the alternative. The Doctor soon joined them, a big smile on his face, obviously happy to be rescued and not thinking of the possible consequences in store as the cargo door was secured.
"Thank you!" he gave his gratitude to the Scarran that helped him inside, then turned to his fellow refugees. "So how is everyone? Feeling better?"
"We are... better," answered Lastren wearily. The other Pathfinders nodded quietly in agreement, and all of them cast a wary glance towards the three Scarrans in the room.
The Doctor followed their gaze, but did not quite get what was upsetting them. "What?"
"Yo, Slim," Crichton spoke softly, "does the phrase 'Out of the frying pan, into the fire,' mean anything to you?"
Chapter 11 - Lemonade
"Out of the frying pan?" It took a split second for the Time Lord to piece together the saying with their current situation. "Oh! Oh, I see now. You think that these chaps only rescued us so that they can pick up where their commander left off. Well, that is a thought, but, no, I don't think so." The Doctor turned to face the two closest Scarrans, Shegwon and a previous escort named Fooglea. "After what they've just witnessed, I'm certain that Shegwon and his friends don't want to do anything that could possibly jeopardize their own existence."
The threat was casually expressed and easily understood. Shegwon didn't have to consult with the others. His reptilian face may have lacked obvious emotion, but his eyes still managed to convey a certain amount of fear as well as a healthy dose of respect. Shegwon looked down at the Doctor and spoke calmly. "We mean you no harm, Doctor."
Crichton wasn't quite buying it. "So, what? They rescued us out of the goodness of their hearts?"
"Oh, I wouldn't go that far."
The familiar voice was a welcome relief to his ears and Crichton spun around to see Aeryn standing in the doorway holding the mother of all pulse rifles. The gun was about as big as she was and carried with the help of a padded shoulder harness. Crichton's first instinct was to go give her a big hug and a kiss, but Aeryn was in Peacekeeper/Rambo mode and it probably would not have been a good idea to approach her at the moment.
"Aeryn! God, it's good to see you. How'd you...?" He simply gestured with his hand, asking for the details of how she ended up on board the Scarran vessel carrying her new best friend.
Aeryn took a couple of steps forward as she began to reply to Crichton's half-asked question. "After you got yourself captured again, I was unable to follow. Three other guards were searching the area. The best hiding place I could find was aboard this ship. Managed to keep myself occupied by disarming the ship's canons and laser guns, just in case." Aeryn gaze fell briefly upon the Doctor, giving him credit for putting the idea into her head. "Not long after, the crew came back. I kept out of sight and overheard their conversation. They were all for leaving the planet but they wanted to stick around long enough to see if anything would actually happen to the research facility. They saw you trying to climb down just as the building was beginning to... well, do whatever it did. That's when I came forward and persuaded them to mount a rescue."
"Aeryn Sun, you are absolutely amazing," said the Doctor with a wide grin.
For the first time, Aeryn smiled and said, "You're not half bad yourself, Doctor."
There was a slight bump as the Scarran ship touched down, landing back in its original resting place. "We will be leaving," said Shegwon, "as soon as all of you have departed."
It was a polite way of saying, 'Get off our ship so we can get the frell off this planet and put this nightmare of a mission behind us.' Everyone was more than willing to disembark, and the Doctor was the only one that bothered to pause and offer a courteous farewell to one of the individuals who had once held him captive.
"Take care of yourself, Shegwon. By the way, you may want to let your superiors know that there is no longer anything on this planet that would be of interest to them. And even if there were... well, just let them know that it would not be a wise idea to come back here."
Shegwon nodded, the pale alien's warning easily understood. "I will convey the message, Doctor."
"Good man," the Doctor smiled and left the ship to join his companions. Moments later, to everyone's relief, the Scarran space ship took off and disappeared into the stratosphere. After watching the ship fade from view, all eyes were cast to the area where a building once stood. Not even the foundation remained. There was now only a deep cavity, slowly filling with trickling water from damaged underground pipes.
Vanitem shook her head in wonderment and said, "How are we going to explain this when everyone else shows up for work?"
"I always find the truth to be a good way to start," said the Doctor. "What say we get back to the TARDIS. Your friends and family are probably getting a little anxious by now."
The Doctor didn't want to admit that he was a bit anxious himself, leaving a bunch of strangers alone in the TARDIS. Fortunately, they had all behaved themselves and merely sat around in the console patiently waiting. Lastren used his communicator to contact his brother to give him the good news and the entire troop all came running out to greet their heros. Smiles of relief, tears of joy and gracious hugs were in the offering for Pathfinders and pink-skinned, furry aliens as well. A celebration meal was suggested but the Doctor declined with the perfect excuse that he had to get Crichton and Aeryn back to their rightful place. Good-byes were short but heartfelt especially by Veyadad who gave each of her new alien friends a warm hug.
"Will I ever see you again, Doctor?" the child asked as she and the Doctor said their farewells in front of the TARDIS.
"Oh, you never know with me, but I would like very much to see you again some day."
"I would like that also."
"Good-bye, Veyadad. It's been a pleasure meeting you."
"Good journey, Doctor. I will think of you always."
"And I, you." He gave her one final smile and a wave of his hand before he retreated into the blue box. Once inside, he wasted no time flipping switches and turning knobs to start the engine to begin the trip back to Moya. His passengers were fairly quiet at first. Now that their adventure was over, they each had to contemplate their future. After the TARDIS had leveled off a bit in flight, Crichton finally decided to broach the subject that had been in the back of his mind since learning the Doctor was from Earth.
"So, Doc..." he began as he moved to stand next to the Time Lord in front of the console. "Are you planning on heading back to Earth anytime soon?"
"Oh, I never plan anything if I can help it. But I'm sure I'll find my way back there sooner than later. I suppose you'd like me to drop you off?"
"Well, I doubt I'll ever get back any other way."
"Why would you even want to go back?"
"Why?" Crichton grunted at the absurdity of the question. "Why do you think? It's my home! I've got family there."
"Yes, of course. Family's important and all, but... still, you're an explorer. Isn't that why you built your Farscape module in the first place, because you wanted to leave the confines of your planet and travel among the stars? Just think of all the wondrous things you've seen, the technology and the alien life-forms you've encountered."
"Yeah, about that, most of the critters I've encountered wanted to eat me, and most of the aliens I've met either wanted to punch me, kill me, use or control me. Some of that fantastic technology has been used to torture me, scramble my brain, steal my DNA, and turn me into a statue." Crichton laughed lightly to keep from crying. "And I've killed people, Doc," he continued, his voice growing softer and his demeanor somber. "People have died because of me... for me... instead of me. My first day through the wormhole, I killed a man... and it hasn't stopped." Crichton sighed deeply at the thought of all those whose deaths he had caused. "When I signed up for space travel, I never in my wildest imagination figured on anything like this. Hell, I just thought it would be a quick spin around the planet, then a celebratory beer with the guys. But my little Gilligan's Island three-hour tour around the Earth has turned into one long, endless nightmare. And I'm... I'm just ready for it to be over now."
"I'm so sorry that the beauty of the universe has been spoiled for you," said the Doctor with heartfelt regret. "What's happened to you is beyond remarkable, but I suppose a little overwhelming as well. So, if you feel as though you've had enough, of course, I'll take you home."
Crichton nodded and murmured softly, "Thanks."
The Doctor walked around to the other side of the console to turn a wheel and smack a knob. "Brace yourself," he said as he pulled on the brake, bringing the TARDIS to an abrupt stop.
Crichton teetered briefly before catching his balance. "Are we...? Is this Earth?" he asked, excitement and disbelief making his heart beat a little faster.
"You're home," the Doctor responded casually. He glanced over Crichton's shoulder at Aeryn who had been sitting quietly on the jump-seat feigning disinterest in the entire conversation and pretending not to care that they had just landed on Earth.
Crichton took a few steps towards the door, then stopped and turned around, seeking eye contact with Aeryn, not sure if he wanted to say good-bye to her or ask her to come along. She was watching him, her eyes a bit too shiny and her voice oddly unable to form words.
"Before you go out there," the Doctor interrupted their staring contest, "you may want to take time to think about what you're going to tell everyone. No doubt your government and the news media will want to hear your story. You get to tell the world all about how you were sucked down a wormhole and ended up in a galaxy billions of light-years away with all kinds of intelligent alien beings. Blue aliens, amphibian aliens, reptilian aliens and aliens whose scream can melt metal. And you can tell them how you lived with escaped prisoners on a space ship that is actually a sentient life form. And don't forget about the wormhole technology implanted in your brain by the Ancients. Of course, you might want to leave out the part about Harvey the half-Scarran living inside your head, or the fact that you've become a killer. And when they ask you how you got back home, just keep in mind that I'm not very well known on Earth. Not everyone believes in time travel, and even those who do are not likely to believe that all of this here," the Doctor gave a slight nod to indicate the interior of the TARDIS, "can fit inside a phone booth."
Crichton had been staring at the grill of the TARDIS floor as the Doctor spoke. He could tell that the man was trying to talk him out of walking through those doors. No doubt the Time Lord had seen his future and knew that this was not the road to be taken. He also had to know that Crichton would have a tough time selling his story as fact rather than fiction to the world at large. Only a handful of people would even believe he could have been sucked down a wormhole, fewer still would believe that John Crichton, scientist and first time space traveler had lived such a remarkably adventurous life in a distant universe. "You're saying that if I go out there and try to explain where I've been, no one's going to believe a word of it. They'll think I'm nuts."
"Not necessarily. You do have some proof of alien contact. The fabric of your clothing and the materials of your weapon are unlike anything found on Earth. The translator microbes in your system would no doubt be of great interest to your government, and a scan of your brain might just back up your claim to having wormhole technology hiding in there. Of course, if Aeryn accompanies you, a thorough examination of her internal organs would --"
"Stop!" Crichton did not want to hear the rest of that. It reminded him too much of the Ancients' simulated Earth experiment. They had wanted to test the reactions of Earthlings to the arrival of extraterrestrials. Stephen Spielberg had gotten that one right with his E.T. movie. Crichton figured that one of two things would happen if he returned to Earth; either he would be thought insane with his talk of living with aliens and traveling in time machines, and promptly fitted with a straight jacket or he would be believed and spirited away by his own government to become their own private science project.
"I'm screwed if I go home," Crichton sighed despondently. "Basically, I'm screwed anywhere I go."
"Well, you know that old Earth saying; you should always pick the barnobs closest to the scerrube."
"No, sorry that's what they say on Raxacoricofallapatorius. What I meant was, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. You've got plenty of lemons, just add water and sugar." The Doctor shifted his eyes to the left and jerked his head slightly to indicate that the sweetener Crichton needed was waiting only a few feet away.
Crichton seemed unsure. Only a few days ago Aeryn had rejected the notion of becoming romantically involved with him. She had felt guilty about being resurrected by Zhaan who had sacrificed her life force to do so. Aeryn didn't think she deserved to be happy and in love at the expense of someone else's life. She refused to give in to her desire for Crichton, refused to even admit it existed. The woman had always been maddeningly frustrating since the day he met her, and it did not appear that things would change anytime soon.
Seeing the indecisive expression on Crichton's face, the Doctor decided to offer what he hoped to be encouraging words. "You know, I recently had the chance to make lemonade. Well, actually, I prefer tea with honey and lemon, but still... I had this wonderful opportunity to make my life a little sweeter. But... I chose a different path instead." The Doctor felt his throat tighten with emotion and realized that perhaps this was a mistake, but he pushed forward anyway. "Look, all I'm saying is that you should follow what's inside your heart."
"Did you follow your heart? Or hearts?" Crichton asked, automatically guessing the answer. He watched as the Doctor's expression turned solemn and his lips remained sealed. "Do you regret it, Doc?"
The Doctor didn't respond verbally. There were far too many regrets in his life to give voice to any one lost opportunity. His silence, as well as the sadness in his eyes, answered Crichton's question. The Human nodded in understanding, then turned away to face the TARDIS door. It was a tough decision choosing between an uncertain life on Earth and an uncertain life on Moya. There was sure to be pain and chaos waiting for him in either direction. The only difference was that Moya had Aeryn. He couldn't help but wonder if she would be willing to stay with him on Earth if he asked her. She'd already risked her life to follow him to the Pathfinder world, and several other worlds before that. Of course, if he asked, she would probably step through the TARDIS doors and risk being placed under a secret military microscope, dissected like a frog and --
The voice was soft and filled with emotion. It cut through his rambling thoughts and instantly soothed his frazzled nerves. He turned to look at her, waiting to see if there were more words to come. Her eyes held his but her lips trembled, either not knowing what else to say or afraid if she did speak, she would say something that would drive him away from her. Crichton glanced back at the closed doors, considering whether or not he should at least take one last peek at his home world. But he quickly reasoned that it would be like eating potato chips. After just one taste, he'd want to finish off the whole bag. Best to just make a clean break. He turned away from the doors and while keeping his eyes on Aeryn, said, "Take us back to Moya, Doc."
"Oh, I'd love to." said the Doctor. "Except...."
"Well, I've a little confession to make. You see --"
There was a sudden, loud pounding on the TARDIS door, followed by a gruff voice yelling out, "John! Aeryn! Are you in there?"
"D'argo?" Crichton looked to the Doctor in disbelief. "We've been on Moya all along? You said you were taking me to Earth."
"Actually, I said I would take you home."
Crichton grunted. "Right. You've seen my future. You knew all along I'd end up back on Moya."
Before the Doctor could respond to that, D'argo called out again, concern and agitation in his voice, "Crichton!"
"Yeah, Big D, we're here! Be right out." Crichton turned his attention back to the Doctor. "Why did you let me think we were back on Earth?"
"Because you still needed to make that choice."
"And what if I had chosen Earth?"
"It would have been a mistake. And I would have corrected it."
That sounded a little scary but in Crichton's world it was pretty much par for the course, another powerful alien wanting to control him. This particular alien, although all smiles on the outside, had already proven that he could be a lethal adversary. Crichton decided not to ruffle any feathers or question what was to be his own destiny. He gave the Time Lord a simple nod to indicate a full understanding of the situation, then turned to open the TARDIS door. As he stepped outside into familiar surroundings, it was more than apparent he and Aeryn had been gone long enough to be missed and fretted over. Chiana leapt into Crichton's arms and gave him a fierce embrace, forcing him to actually support her weight as she wrapped her legs about his waist. D'argo was far less expressive with his emotions, but a definite sigh of relief could be heard as he casually welcomed the return of his shipmates. He gave Crichton a friendly pat on the shoulder once Chiana had relinquished her hold on him, then moved over to Aeryn and relieved her of the heavy Scarran pulse rifle, the trophy from her exploits.
"So, how did it go?" D'argo asked.
"Good," Crichton replied thoughtfully. "Things went good for a change." Considering the only casualties were a child's pet critter and a power-mad Scarran, that was much better than average in Crichton's book.
"Well tell us all about it." Rygel insisted. "Details, Human, details!"
"Let's do it over food," Chiana suggested. "I've got a whole meal waiting. I thought we could... you know... do a family thing.... In memory of Zhaan."
Crichton smiled wistfully. "Sounds good, Chi," he said to the Nebari then turned to look over his shoulder at the Time Lord. "Care to join us, Doc?"
All eyes turned his way expectantly, making it rather hard for him to flat out refuse, which had been his first impulse. The adventure was over, the bad guys had been vanquished, lives had been saved, and so, it was time to move on. The Doctor fidgeted a bit under their steady gaze, tugging at his ear and looking away. "Well, I've got this really, really important thing I've got to go do, and uh--"
"Don't," said Aeryn standing just off to his right side.
"Lie," she finished the thought. "I was just beginning to trust you."
"Go if you want. But Chiana's quite the cook."
"Among other things," Chiana cooed with a quick tilt of her head, then began slinking towards the exit.
"Come on, Slim," said Crichton waving him on. "You look like you could use a good meal."
He had to admit that he was feeling a bit peckish after all, so he closed and locked the door to the TARDIS, then followed his latest companions out of the storage bay. It turned out that Aeryn was right. Chiana was quite the cook. The food was good, the company pleasant and the conversation intriguing. The Doctor sat at the table with a wide assortment of aliens and found himself right at home. It felt a little like the Christmas dinner he'd had with Rose, her mom and Mickey all those years ago. After the meal, the Time Lord stuck around a bit longer in order to help with some necessary repairs. He had nearly forgotten the promise he'd made to Moya when he first came on board. A few hours of careful work with his trusty sonic screwdriver and the Leviathan was feeling and sounding more like herself.
"Sure you don't want to hang with us for awhile, Doc?" Crichton asked as he accompanied the Doctor back to the TARDIS.
"I know. You're like the Lone Ranger, except without a Tonto."
"Oh, I've had plenty of faithful companions. Just... time to go it alone now."
"I'd go nuts if I had to go it alone out here."
"It's not for everyone."
"Listen, Doc, um... could you... do me a favor?"
"If I can."
"Could you... when you go back to Earth, would you..." Crichton shook his head and sighed. "Oh, never mind. Bad idea."
"What's a bad idea?"
"I was thinking that maybe you could give my dad a message. But... what could you tell him? That you're an alien and you bumped into me in another galaxy, and that I asked you to tell him, 'Hi,' for me? How wacko is that?"
The Doctor nodded with his hands in his pockets and said, "Yeah, I suppose that would sound a bit nutty. Of course... you could just as easy tell him yourself."
"I can...." Crichton did a double take. "What?"
"When you get back to Earth."
"Are you serious? When? How?"
"When the time is right. How?" The Doctor tapped a finger to his temple, indicating the information locked inside Crichton's mind. "It's in there. You'll figure it all out. When you do, you'll be able to go home again. And you'll be world famous. John Crichton, American astronaut returns from outer space... along with a few of his alien friends." He gave him a knowing look and saw Crichton's eyes widen with disbelief. "May want to keep that to yourself."
"Wait... why are you telling me all this? I thought it was a bad thing to know what's going to happen in my future."
"Well, for the most part, yeah, but that particular rule is like time itself... somewhat bendable. I do it on occasion to provide a of ray of light down a dark tunnel. I had to offer Dominar Rygel a bit of encouragement when he cornered me earlier and asked if I would take him back to Hyneria and help him stage a coop to regain his stolen throne. Told him that his best chances for success in that area was to stick with you."
"With me? You're joking, right?"
"Not at all. You, John Crichton are destined for great things. May not seem like it for a while, but... just hang in there. That was my motivational speech, by the way."
"So I gathered." Crichton smiled thoughtfully and asked, "How do you do it, Doc? What keeps you motivated?"
"Oh, the unexplored, the unexpected, the unimaginable... and meeting people like you." The Doctor held out his hand to shake and said, "It's been a pleasure."
"Back at cha, Doc," said Crichton as he accepted the proffered hand. "Take care of yourself."
The Doctor gave a smile and a wave as he stepped inside his ship and closed the door. Before starting up the engine, the Doctor paused to view the monitor capturing the image of Crichton standing a few feet away from the TARDIS waiting to watch it disappear. He was soon joined by Aeryn who came to stand beside him. Her eyes remained on the blue box as her lips moved. "He's an odd one." The Doctor smiled as he read her lips, then reached for the volume control so he could hear what came next.
"No argument there."
"Are you sure you made the right decision? Choosing Moya over Earth?"
Crichton didn't bother to look at her as he responded softly, "What makes you think I was choosing Moya?"
It seemed to take a second or two for his words to sink in. Once they did, Aeryn stared wide-eyed at Crichton with her mouth open, too overwhelmed to say anything for a moment. Finally, she took in a deep breath to regain her cool composure, then shifted her gazed towards the blue box again. Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor watched the awkwardness of the couple on the monitor. They were still healing, still trying to rationalize their desire for each other, but eventually, they would work things out. John Crichton and Aeryn Sun were destined to become the stuff of legends. The Doctor turned on the engine and continued to watch the monitor until the couple faded from view and were replaced with the colorful kaleidoscope of the time vortex. His thoughts lingered on Crichton, actually feeling a bit sorry for him, knowing some of the heartache and pain the Human had experienced since leaving Earth and having his dream of space travel turn into a nightmare. But he had learned to adapt and survive, and he would eventually bring peace to a galaxy at war. John Crichton would take all the bitter lemons hurled at him by the universe and -- unlike a certain Time Lord -- would choose to make lemonade.