Wayward astronaut John Crichton returns home after almost a decade away
from Earth, and brings his daughter. Insert your favorite disclaimer here.
Also, my only knowledge of any space program comes from re-runs of “I
Dream of Jeannie,” so don’t expect a lot of verisimilitude. Just suspend
be continuedSomewhere in the Nevada Desert: Area 51, Hangar 18.
to be continuedSomewhere in the Nevada Desert: Area 51, Hangar 18.
General John Crichton, Brigadier Aeryn Sun, and Lt. Commander Robert "Howdy" Jones stood at the back of the hangar, near the curtained Prowler, and watched the Prowler candidates watch the clock, in their pre-assigned groups. All three wore black fatigues with US Air Force markings, as did the more than one hundred men and women in the hangar, regardless of nationality or original military organization. The applicants had already been pre-screened for flight time, skills and aptitude; those that passed the first screening were then screened for personality traits: how well they got along with others, how well they adapted to new situations, their openness to new ideas, etc. From that remaining pool, potential candidates were told of a UN-sponsored, multinational training program on a new, classified aircraft. If candidates asked any questions about the aircraft, they were simply told that they had to volunteer for the program to learn anything more about it. This would have scared the general populace, but not fighter pilots. It merely piqued their curiosity, and made the candidates more eager to apply. For now, they milled about, waiting to begin. Most pilots spoke English to each other; the next common language was French, followed by Arabic.
"They've been waiting for over half an hour, John. They're getting restless. Shouldn't we get started?" Howdy asked his brother-in-law, as he saw one group engaged in a shouting match. "It's just that the groups you put them in; I mean, you've got Arab and Israel pilots in one group, Bosnians and Serbs in another; North Koreans and South Koreans in a third. Let's face it, you've got every long-standing conflict in a microcosm here."
John and Aeryn exchanged glances. John merely said, "That's the idea."
Aeryn took a sip of water and explained: "They're going to have to learn to get along with each other before they can get along with other species."
John, seeing Aeryn down half the bottle in one gulp, was instantly concerned. "How are you holding up under the sun, Ms. Sun?"
Aeryn smiled. "I'm fine, John - it's not hot enough for the living death," she replied.
John brushed an errant lock of hair out of Aeryn's eyes and said, "Just make sure you stay in the shade."
A commotion in the hangar got their attention. Two pilots who had been yelling at each were now in a shoving match, and it would soon escalate. Howdy moved to break up the fight, when Aeryn held him back. "Let him do it," she said.
A man Aeryn remembered from the Tico broke away from his group and grabbed the two would-be boxers, one shirt collar in each hand and separated them. "What is the matter with you guys? Can't you wait in the same hangar without going after each other's throats? Hello, this is for a UN operation! You have to get along with each other, or it's pointless! Now, shake hands and play nice!" Lt. Jim McDowell scolded them. Being from the USS Ticonderoga, McDowell had an advantage over the other recruits: he knew they would train to fly an alien craft and, and would have to work with other species. He, and the other volunteers from the Tico, had also been ordered to not reveal that information to the other recruits.
"'E's right, people. No use gettin' edgy, you know the military: 'urry up an' wait, it's the same no matter what country you're from," a pretty young RAF pilot named Elizabeth Atkins said to the group.
John Crichton walked to a podium at one side of the hangar and addressed the group. "Congratulations! You've just learned the first lesson. Get along with each other, or get out. If there is anyone here who thinks that he or she cannot work side by side with everyone else in this hangar, there is absolutely no room for you in this program. Unless you are ready to ignore the color of someone's skin - be it white, yellow, brown, black, gray or blue, and get along with people of any religion - whether they worship one god, multiple gods, or a tree; leave now, before you are invited to leave. And it will happen. We estimate that only 25 % of you will complete this training program." McDowell let go of the two pilots. As Crichton's words sunk in, one extended his hand in friendship to other; the second man whispered an epithet and left the hangar.
"That's one down," Crichton told the group. "Allow me to introduce myself. I'm General John Crichton, and I'm going to be your commanding officer for the next four weekens-weeks." Many pilots tried to place his name or face - something about him was familiar.
"General, can you tell us about the mission?" One of the pilots asked.
Crichton gave a sardonic smile and answered. "Only in vague terms for now. After you have completed this training program, you will go on a mission, engage the enemy, destroy strategic targets, and return to the base of operations." The pilots laughed.
Another pilot asked "What enemy would that be, sir?"
Crichton smiled again and replied "For now, that information is classified. Now, let me reiterate. ALL pilots who complete this training program will go into a combat situation." Crichton paused while this new information sunk in.
Two female Apache chopper pilots did a high five, while Lt. Atkins of the RAF cheered and said, "It's about time we get to prove ourselves!" The rest of the women in the hangar looked pleased; only a few men frowned.
Crichton continued. "Now, since you are all military pilots, I assume you have no problem being in combat yourself. But if you have any problems with women in combat or taking orders from women, you should leave now." Three men left, to the jeers of the 45 female pilots in the hangar.
John signaled Aeryn and Howdy. "Collectively, you have vast experience on a variety of aircraft: Apache choppers, Harrier jump jets, F-16's F-18's, A-10's, and even F-114's. If you think the Stealth Fighter is advanced, wait until you see the Prowler," John said as Howdy released the curtain hiding the Prowler. As the curtain fell away, there were gasps and whistles of appreciation from all the candidates. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: when the Stealth Fighter dreams, it dreams it's a Prowler." The volunteers looked on appreciatively. Aeryn went to bring the remaining three flight instructors to the hangar.
"Now, before we get started, you'll all have to be injected with translator microbes," Crichton told the volunteers.
"Uh, I beg your pardon, General, but we're to be injected with what, exactly?"
"Translator microbes. They colonize at the base of your brain, and allow you to understand almost all spoken languages," Crichton explained. He saw Aeryn return with company, they made their way to the podium. They were still wearing their regulation Peacekeeper uniforms of black and red leather.
Many of the volunteers were too busy speculating to notice the four people heading to the podium. There were whispers of "what the hell is a translator microbe?" and "what's this BS about?" Then, as more and more people noticed the new arrivals, there was stunned silence.
Crichton resumed, "You're going to need them, you won't be able to understand your flight instructors without the microbes." Aeryn and her crew joined Crichton behind the podium. "This is Brigadier Aeryn Sun, of Peacekeeper Command - that's the Sebacean Peacekeepers, not the United Nations; Officer Bal Sontana, he's Luxan, Officer Reni Toya, she's Nebari, and Lt. Sha'nar T'al, he's Delvian. All are personnel on the PK Battle Carrier Zeuxis, which is currently behind the moon and orbiting Earth."
"God, I thought he was kidding about getting along with blue people," one of the RAF pilots said, and it succeeded in breaking the tension.
Crichton laughed, then said, "This is your last chance to leave
"General, may I ask a question?" one of the volunteers asked. Crichton nodded. "Are you the same John Crichton who died on a IASA mission about ten years ago-I mean, disappeared?"
Crichton answered, "Yeah, I used to be an astronaut. The Farscape accident didn't kill me; it just sent me to the other side of the Universe. But I guess you could say I'm back for a visit."
"Uncle Rygel, do you think we can take a break now?" Katie asked. Rygel had been briefing the heir to throne and her guardian on many things since they left Earth. For starters, Rygel insisted that Katie wear the traditional court attire of form-fitting white shirts and skirts. Katie, being seven years old, protested. Jack had come up with the compromise of allowing Katie to wear sneakers, white tee shirts, and white painter's overalls. Jack didn't understand why John had bought ten pairs of each for Katie until he heard about the Court dress code.
"Yeah, I could do with a break myself," Jack Crichton added. "Not that I don't love learning two thousand years of court politics and history in two weeks," he muttered as he stood up.
"Of course, Empress," the former Dominar said indulgently. "Let's break for lunch. I'm feeling a bit peckish."
Jack said "Katie, why don't you find your Aunt Chiana and ask her if she'll join us for lunch."
"OK, Granddad," Katie said as she skipped into the hallway.
Jack turned back to Rygel and said "There's something about the assassination of the Empress and Regent that bothers me, Dominar."
Rygel paused his throne sled in front of Jack and asked, "What would that be?"
"Well, I understand that Katralla and Tyno were killed when the capital city was under attack. Security couldn't have prevented the bombing, although they should have evacuated the palace sooner. But an assassination inside the castle itself is an inside job; or it at least the cooperation of someone working in the castle." Jack would have continued, but Rygel interrupted him.
"Just what are you saying?" the diminutive Dominar asked.
"Exactly what it sounds like. I think there may be a spy on the castle staff. Look, I want Katie to be safe when she returns to the Royal Planet; if her safety isn't 100 % guaranteed, I should just take her back to Earth right now."
Rygel hovered closer to Counselor Crichton. "Well, you are quick, I'll say that much. It took the head of Palace Security a bit longer to come to the same conclusion. After a short investigation, a mid-level functionary was arrested. He took advantage of his family connections to obtain his post, and claims the Scarrans coerced him. Of course, there is no evidence to support his story. The Minister of Intelligence assures me that he was the only collaborator. At any rate, Zhaan is doing her best to acquire a new security detail for Katie."
Jack was angry, but knew there was noting he could do. "Alright then," he said through gritted teeth.
In the corridor, to the side of the door, Katie crouched down and listened. She gave in to her emotions and cried again for her grandparents.
Aeryn and John sat at a small table in his modest quarters. They always reviewed the day's training with each other, before giving a videoconference to the UN security counsel. They were finishing their dinner of Chinese take out. To John's chagrin, Aeryn had quickly learned to use chopsticks - something he was still trying to learn. "I can't believe we're halfway through Prowler training," Crichton said casually as he put down his fork. 'Just do it, don't chicken out again,' he told himself.
"Yes, the volunteers are doing quite well, and there haven't been as many washouts as we anticipated," she said as she ate Kung Pow chicken. She found she liked the variety of foods available on the base--they made an effort to have food from all of the volunteer's home countries, and she discovered that she liked spicy foods. "Peacekeeper Command is sending a ship, it's due tomorrow, and about time - we need replacement parts if we're to have a Prowler for every pilot after they finish simulator training." Aeryn said distractedly as she tried to capture the last piece of chicken with her chopsticks.
"And they are champing at the bit to start flying," Crichton replied, then cleared his throat. "Aeryn, there's something I've been wanting to ask you." 'Just say it,' he told himself.
"Mexican," Aeryn said as she finally snagged the last of her dinner on her chopsticks.
John shook his head. "What?" he asked.
"Mexican. Let's have Mexican tomorrow night," Aeryn said as she put her chopsticks in the empty carton. "I want fajitas again." She smiled at John. "John, you've been somewhat withdrawn lately. What's wrong?"
John took his mother's ring out of his pocket and said "Oh, I want to ask you something, but it's not the right time," John said softly, and mentally added 'or the right place. "This was my mother's ring. My Dad gave it to her. It would mean a lot to me if you wore this ring, and when all this is over, I'm going to ask you something." John placed the small diamond ring on Aeryn's left ring finger.
Aeryn stared at the ring, then at John. She knew from her conversation with Jessica that this was an engagement ring. She took the ring off and handed it to John. His heart stopped, until Aeryn asked "Read the inscription to me, please."
John exhaled with relief. He read from the inside of the ring: "It says 'Come grow old with me, the best is yet to be.' I think it's from Robert Browning, but-"
Aeryn didn't let John finish. She put her hands on either side of his face and kissed him-thoroughly. When they had finally come up for air, Aeryn said, "There's no question about it. When this is over, we're getting married!"
"Yeah. Either you marry me, or I'll have "Property of Aeryn Sun" tattooed on your forehead."