"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.