Title: Penny for Your Thoughts
Author: Karolyn Gray <kmgray3@aol.com>
ScifiBB/Chat Handle: Gray3
Rating: PG
Synopsis: None.
Type: Story
Spoilers: Minor reference to Won't Get Fooled Again.
Archiving: Yes.
Disclaimers: All Farscape names, characters and other related indicia are the property of Jim Henson Productions, Hallmark Entertainment, Nine Networks, the Scifi Channel and all associated parties. No copyright infringement is intended.

Note: Originally a part of my canceled fics "How Many Miles To Babylon?" and "The Trial" segments from both were taken and altered to make this fic. After all, a fic is terrible thing to waste. :)



Penny for Your Thoughts
by Karolyn Gray

Part 1

"We demand to see him. Now!" D'Argo growled menacingly.

"Impossible. The Justicars have not yet carried out the his punishment for his crime." The small yellowish alien attendant replied.

"What crime? What punishment?" Zhaan asked.

"Murder, of course." The alien replied, looking upon them as if they either were mere children or mentally deficient. "No one would be handed to the Justicars for any lesser offense."

"Murder?" Aeryn stated in disbelief. "Crichton would never murder anyone."

"Several witnesses state otherwise." The alien countered.

Restraining D'Argo and Aeryn, Zhaan smiled peaceably. "Perhaps you could tell us what exactly happened to our shipmate?"

The alien seemed to consider this before nodding his assent. "You are off worlders so I shall make an exception in this case."

"How generous of you." D'Argo ground out.

"Indeed." The alien agreed with a nod of the head. "Quite simply your shipmate, one John Crichton, Sebacean, was seen arguing with a Takalla vendor named Tabek over the price of some parts known to be used on Peacekeeper Prowlers. Tabek refused to sell Crichton the parts. When Tabek turned to attend to another patron, the Sebacean drew his pistol and fired several shots killing the vendor. He then left and was later being apprehended at a nearby tavern claiming he knew nothing of the events that transpired. He was tried, convicted, sentenced and brought here for punishment to be carried out."

During the entire story, Aeryn felt her concern grow. At the mention of the Prowler parts she glanced over to D'Argo noting he too was startled at the news. Neither of them had been able to locate any of the Peacekeeper systems that had been rumored for sale on this planet.

Under normal circumstances if Crichton had found them he would have contacted them. Unfortunately Crichton had been anything but normal since the incident with the Scarran at the last commerce planet they had visited. He had been somewhat withdrawn and moody, though Aeryn had recognized the symptoms and dismissed the behavior as merely an after effect of the Scarran interrogation techniques.

"John Crichton would not murder an innocent being." Aeryn stated, confident that even as odd as Crichton had been acting of late he would not commit such a crime.

"Yes. I believe the John Crichton you knew would not commit such a crime. That was the opinion of the court when he was found guilty of murder with exception." The alien replied.

"Murder with exception? What does that mean?" D'Argo asked.

"He was not in control of faculties at the time of his actions and thus not fully accountable. We do not murder those who commit crimes simply because they have not received proper treatment for their mental ills. He was sent here so that this problem may be corrected." The alien replied.

"Corrected?" Aeryn repeated.

"Perhaps I can answer your questions?"

They turned to see another of the aliens, a female, smiling politely at them. "I am Justicar Avakis Por, John Crichton's attendant."

"And that means...what?" Aeryn asked.

"I am in charge of administering John Crichton's rehabilitation. I am sure you will be most pleased to discover that the treatment was a complete success. He will be able to rejoin you unsupervised in a few days." The Justicar replied, gesturing for them to join her.

"What did you do to him?" Aeryn demanded.

"Carried out his sentence of course. I assure you he was unharmed." Avakis replied neutrally.

"You carried out his punishment without our knowledge or consent?" Zhaan asked in shock.

"We do not need your consent. As for your knowledge you obviously did not file the proper permit requests in time." Avakis replied reasonably.

"File the proper permits! We've been tied up in your frelling bureaucracy for four solar days!" Aeryn snarled, her lunge towards the creature stopped as Zhaan restrained her.

"Forgive us. As you can imagine we are quite unsettled by this news." Zhaan soothed the startled alien.

Avakis smiled solicitously. "Of course. I shall allow the outburst to pass as it is only normal for a female to protect her mate."

"Most understanding of you." Zhaan agreed amicably.

"May we see him?" Aeryn asked politely, her voice dripping with bitter sarcasm of which Avakis seemed oblivious.

"Of course. Please follow me. We may be able to catch them before the afternoon break." Avakis replied.



Part 2


The short trip down a hallway to a door and a small observation window was uneventful but for some odd reason Aeryn felt the tension building within her. As a former Peacekeeper she took some satisfaction in knowing that there were others concerned with maintaining order but something about this place bothered her. The fact that it was some sort of rehabilitation facility did not concern her in the least and yet she still felt disturbed by this place and it's people.

Avakis quickly led them to the window gesturing for them to look. "As you can see your shipmate is quite safe."

Looking through the window they could see a dozen or so aliens engrossed in a number of activities. Some were reading, others playing games and still more painting or drawing while attendants like Avakis discreetly observed or, in a few cases, openly assisted their charges.

At a nearby table John Crichton could be seen sitting next to a squat, three legged being that was vaguely avian in appearance. Around them dozens of sheets of paper and transparencies were covered in strange images and symbols.

Avakis smiled at their stunned expression. "Would you like to speak with him?"

Nodding their assent, Avakis opened the door and led them into the room. The Justicar quickly lead them over to the human's table. Stopping just a few feet away, she gestured to them as if asking them to come no closer before directing her attention on the human.

"John Crichton."

John ignored Avakis' call, his attention focused on the piece of paper he was sketching on. The others could now see the patches of color were images and possibly the letters of John's native tongue.

"Is that Moya?" Zhaan asked softly, gesturing to a transparency that lay near their feet. The image was crude but obviously meant to represent the Leviathan.

"It would appear so." D'Argo replied in an equally soft voice, his eyes scanning over the array of images scattered about the pair at the table.

"John." Avakis called, this time touching his shoulder.

The human jumped, shuffling backwards in surprise as the small alien next to him gave a very bird like chirp and scurried to the other side of the table. "I'm sorry. I-I..."

"It's all right, John. I know how much you enjoy your drawings." Avakis reassured him. She gestured to the sketches strewn about him. "May I see what you've been working on so diligently?"

Smiling in relief John sat back down, shrugging slightly. "It's not very good." He said as he handed her his latest sketch.

After the most cursory of looks, Avakis nodded. "It's quite good actually, even if it is not finished." She said as she laid it on the table.

"I have some visitors who wish to see you." She announced.

John cocked his head to the side with a curious look. "Visitors?"

"Your friends. When your treatment is completed they will be taking you back to your ship." Avakis replied, gesturing to his shipmates, who watched now with very degrees of concern on their faces.

The human looked over each one with an expression of interest, but not recognition. An almost shy smile came to his face when his eyes met Aeryn's own gaze. "Um...Hi."

"John, how are you feeling?" Zhaan asked hurrying towards her shipmate. She stopped in surprise as a look of sheer terror crossed John's face and he scrambled backwards into the table.

"I'm ok. I...really." The human stuttered out, eyeing them with wariness and not a little fear.

"It's all right, John Crichton." Avakis assured her charge, rubbing his shoulder reassuringly. "These are the people we talked about yesterday. Remember?"

John nodded uncertainly, looking from Avakis to his fellow shipmates and back once more. Seeing that her charge had no intention of approaching the others, Avakis sighed. "Why don't you work on your sketches some more while I speak with your friends."

"OK." John nodded eagerly, a little too eagerly for the comfort of his shipmates, who now stared at him in varying degrees of shock and disbelief.

After settling John back into his chair, Avakis rejoined the others. "I'm afraid I should have warned you about this. I thought we settled this problem yesterday." Avakis apologized, gesturing to human who was furiously sketching away on the piece of paper before him. "He's usually much more sociable, I assure you."

"What did you do to him?" Aeryn demanded. "It's like he doesn't even remember who we are."

Avakis nodded solemnly. "I'm afraid that sometimes the procedure damages the memories of our patients. Usually only in cases where the recipient is especially violent or resists." Avakis looked over at John with a look of concern. "I'm afraid in this case we are unable to explain why this occurred. We've never seen this reaction before."

"Perhaps because he is not Sebacean." Zhaan noted gently.

"Of course he isn't. We discovered our error when we carried out our examinations." Avakis replied. "He neural-chemistry is quite unusual. We naturally took every precaution to ensure that a minimal effort was needed to carry out treatment successfully. He was quite compliant during the entire procedure but suffered this affliction nonetheless."

"How bad is his memory damaged?" Zhaan asked, silencing Aeryn and D'Argo with a look when they started to protest.

For the first time since they met her, Avakis looked uncertain. "The physicians are uncertain. He seems to have gaps in his memory, which is to be expected from the procedure, but they are sporadic. For example, when I spoke with him yesterday about you he seemed quite eager to reacquaint himself, but when he saw you he was obviously frightened."

"As if he knew our names but not what we looked like?" D'Argo asked.

"Yes." Avakis replied. "In all honesty we here at the Institute are as mystified by this situation as you are. It is part of the reason we have held him as long as we have."

"What else did you do to him?" Aeryn demanded, refusing to let Zhaan silence her any longer.

"We removed that which caused his violent episode in the first place." Avakis answered, not in the least intimidated by the Sebacean woman.

"Explain." D'Argo demanded.

"Quite simply, we removed the trauma that would cause him to act so violently. John Crichton is now incapable of harming another or acting in an aggressive manner, which may lead to violence against another being. He is quite peaceful and content now. Wouldn't you agree?" Avakis asked with a smile.

"No, I would not." D'Argo growled. "Our journey is a dangerous one and he needs to be able to defend himself against those who would harm him."

"I'm afraid that is no longer possible." Avakis stated. "John Crichton will not harm another being, even with his own life in peril. You act as if we have made him mentally deficient."

"Perhaps you have." Zhaan noted. "If he is unable to remember us, what else will he have forgotten?"

"He will have forgotten all the pain and misery he was suffered that made him a murderer. I would think that a Delvian Pa'u such as yourself would agree that this is the most compassionate manner in which to deal with a murderer." Avakis countered. "His victim's family has already forgiven him for the crime. If they can understand that this is for the best, surely you can as well."

"I have some measure of understanding in this area, Avakis Por, and I can assure you that one cannot attain forgiveness if they have no memory of their guilt." Zhaan stated archly.

"I can see..." A soft chirping sound ended Avakis' reply. Smiling apologetically, she tapped a small brooch on her lapel. "Yes?"

A soft warbling came through the brooch that caused the Justicar to frown and nod to herself. "Understood." She said tapping her brooch once more.

"I'm afraid that you will need to come with me. A Peacekeeper Command Carrier has entered our jurisdiction and is demanding we hand you over to them."

"What? What about Moya?" Zhaan asked.

Avakis waved her hand dismissively. "There is no cause for concern. We have instructed your ship's Pilot to a new orbit that will keep it out of the Peacekeeper vessel's sensor range."

"But they know we are here!" D'Argo protested. "We must leave immediately."

"Impossible." Avakis replied. "You must come with me now so that this matter may be settled quickly. I assure you that we are a neutral world and have no interest in you or the Peacekeepers. How you came here is how you shall leave: with you freedom. Please come with me."

"I'm staying here to watch over Crichton. If it is Scorpius' Command Carrier we cannot be too careful." Aeryn said.

"Very well, but you must maintain your vigil from the observation window. Your presence may disturb our other patients." Avakis agreed. Aeryn simply nodded and followed them out of the room, taking up a position beside the observation window to watch her shipmate and friend as the others left.

She soon lost track of time as she stood there watching Crichton through the window, noting his occasional furtive glance in her direction before ducking his head down back to his sketchpad. She couldn't help but smile, reminded of the few occasions she had caught him staring at her or he caught her doing the same. Such occasions had left her often feeling strangely giddy.

When he looked up at her again, he smiled at her. A warm, friendly smile not unlike the ones she used to see when she had first met him. A smile that she had begun to see less and less in the past quarter cycle. She didn't realize until now just how much she had missed it.

Seeing his gesture for her to join him, her smile broadened and she started for the door. Aeryn sensed movement behind her, all her instincts and training telling her the same thing: Danger.

Without even thinking she whirled around and drew her pulse pistol.



Part 3


"There is no need for violence." Scorpius spoke calmly. He raised his hands in surrender but the twisted smile on his face made a mockery of the gesture. "I am unarmed."

"Scorpius." Aeryn hissed in disgust.

The hybrid smiled at that, lowering his hands. "And you must be Aeryn Sun."

"Don't you mean the 'defector' Aeryn Sun?" Aeryn spat back, keeping her pistol trained on the Peacekeeper.

"I can hardly be held responsible for Crais declaring you irreversibly contaminated. Though one does wonder why you chose to stay with your current companions rather than face tribunal." Scorpius replied.

After a few microts consideration, Aeryn re-holstered her pistol. "I made my choice. I regret nothing."

"So you did. However, I suspect there are more than a few regrets." Scorpius agreed.

"What do you want, Scorpius?" Aeryn snapped in irritation.

"John Crichton, of course." He replied easily, brushing past her to have a better look through the observation window.

"Of course." Aeryn muttered, shaking her head in annoyance. Turning back to the window she glanced out of the corner of her eye noting what appeared to be concern on Scorpius' face for what he saw.

"What did they do to him?" The Peacekeeper scientist asked after several microts of silent observation.

"We're not exactly sure. His attendant says that he was treated for a mental illness that caused his crime." Aeryn replied carefully choosing what she told the hybrid.

"His crime was murder. Correct?" Scorpius asked.

"He didn't do it." Aeryn countered.

"Or so you wish to believe." Scorpius added. He cast a glance to Aeryn smiling conspiratorially. "I am in agreement with you on that assessment. My study of the human indicates such activities are not within his nature."

Aeryn snorted softly in disdain, but otherwise remained silent as she watched the human. Part of her desperately was looking for the man she had known while another part marveled at how innocent and childlike he had become. He would be completely at the mercy of those around him now, unable or unwilling to harm others even when defending himself. Such a person would not survive long in the Uncharteds alone.

"You know I won't give him over to you. Not after what you and that frelling Chair did to him." Aeryn stated matter-of-factly.

"I didn't think that you would. Not without something to justify your actions in any case." Scorpius replied.

"I'm not interested in rejoining the Peacekeepers." Aeryn turned to look at the hybrid noting him nod his head at her words.

"You understand that even knowing your answer I had to at least make the offer?" He asked. He chuckled at that. "I would have given the same answer."

Aeryn shook her head in disbelief. "I'm sure." She replied caustically.

"That is why I am here to offer you and your compliment a deal." Scorpius continued, as if not hearing her remark.

"What are you offering? We hand him over, you put him in the Chair and then return whatever is left of him to us when you're through? I don't think so." Aeryn asked sarcastically, dimly aware of how Crichton-like her words had sounded to her, down to his uneven cadence and strange accent.

"Partly, but with two added provisions. Your freedom and the freedom of the escaped prisoners and the return of John Crichton to you as he was before he was placed in the Aurora Chair. I'll even allow your Leviathan to remain free from Peacekeeper control as a show of good faith." Scorpius offered, turning to meet Aeryn's skeptical gaze.

"Consider this, Aeryn Sun. You and your comrades would no longer need fear Peacekeeper pursuit. You would be free to do as you wish and travel wherever you would. I could perhaps even arrange for you to be 'retired' as far as First Command is concerned. Certainly that in and of itself is worth the short amount of duress Crichton would be under."

Aeryn's eyes narrowed ever so slightly at Scorpius' words. "I don't believe you."

The Scarran hybrid shrugged slightly at her response. "Given the betrayal by your former Captain, I do not expect you to believe me but the offer is genuine." Scorpius replied. "Do not judge me based on the actions of others, but of my own."

"That's why I don't believe you." Aeryn said, turning her gaze back to Crichton. "I will not accept your offer."

Scorpius sighed. "Very well. Then at least tell your shipmates of my offer. If they refuse then you obviously leave me little recourse."

"They won't accept it." Aeryn noted.

"Perhaps. Perhaps not." Scorpius gestured noncommittally, before bowing his head. "Good health to you, Officer Sun." With that the hybrid departed in silence.

Aeryn ignored Scorpius' parting barb, keeping her eyes locked on Crichton. For a microt she reconsidered the offer before dismissing it. While much of Scorpius said was true, it left out the details. Details such as the incarceration and torture of Stark came to mind.

To interrogate a possible spy as Scorpius had done to John she could accept, but to place a being into a device such as the Aurora Chair repeatedly over two cycles time just to see what would happen was abhorrent to her. As a Peacekeeper she had done her fair share of interrogations and torture. Once her goal had been achieved and the information obtained the prisoner was dealt with by others. But Scorpius....

"Frell." Aeryn muttered, shaking her head in disgust at herself, Scorpius, Crais, the Peacekeepers, everything. She hadn't lied to Scorpius when she said she had no interest in being a Peace Keeper any more. She'd seen too much of what life outside of the restrictive Peacekeeper atmosphere was like. She could never go back now.

She smiled slightly when John looked up at her from his seat at the table, her dark thoughts strangely dissipated by just a glance from him.

"Aeryn, could you please join us in the administration building. There seems to be a problem." Zhaan's voice carried over her comm.

"I'll be right there." Aeryn replied, casting a final glance over her shoulder at the human before departing.

****

Zhaan smiled in relief at the sight of Aeryn entering the drab looking office. "Aeryn, there's a problem."

"Scorpius is here. On the surface." Aeryn stated flatly, earning a surprised look from her gathered shipmates.

"How...?" Zhaan started to ask with a perplexed expression but was cut off before she could finish her question.

"I just spoke with him outside the detention center holding Crichton." Aeryn answered, shaking her head in frustration.

"What does he want?" D'Argo asked.

Aeryn sighed as if the answer should have been obvious to her Luxan shipmate. "Crichton."

D'Argo growled at that. "Crichton should have killed Scorpius when he had the chance. I should have known better than to leave before making sure the job was done."

Aeryn nodded tiredly. "Yes. Well, be that as it may, what's the problem?"

"Avakis has informed us that our permission to leave with Crichton had been suspended pending the outcome of their inquiry." Zhaan said.

"What inquiry? We filled out all that frelling bureaucratic nonsense days ago." Aeryn asked in irritation.

"An inquiry into whether we are the most suitable to be assigned John's protectorship." Zhaan paused; looking for the first time rather annoyed. "It appears someone had petitioned the Justicars for guardianship status of John."

"Scorpius. I should have known better." Aeryn hissed angrily. "What about Rygel and Chiana?"

"They're back aboard Moya. Pilot had moved them to the new orbit designated by the port authorities. The Command Carrier's sensors cannot locate them now." D'Argo supplied. "Not that it really matters now that Scorpius knows we are here."

"Where is Avakis Por? We need to get this settled as quickly as possible." Aeryn said.

"She told us to wait here while she gathered together the necessary permits. That was some two hundred microts ago." Zhaan answered, looking towards a door that Aeryn assumed the Justicar had departed through.

"Great. More bureaucratic nonsense." Sighing, Aeryn quickly sat down on one of the room's uncomfortable bench-like chairs.

*****

He smiled to himself as he watched the bird dip its head, feeding small portions of the insect it carried in its mouth to three small chirping hatchlings contained in the nest. Remaining perfectly still he admired the ruffle of the bird's bright red feathers and their ever-shifting shades of colors at the tips of its four wings.

The rustling of the leaves by the wind caused the bird to freeze and its young instantly silenced. Small black eyes stared at him but he remained motionless except for the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed and the occasional blink of the eye. He could feel the limb of the tree he was balanced on move gently, but not enough so to concern him.

Seemingly satisfied that all was safe the bird returned to feeding its young their meal. John was simply content to watch the spectacle, enjoying the light cool breeze on his skin and the warmth of the sun on his body. He wanted to chuckle at his own happiness, but remained silent having no desire to scare the strange creature away.

A dark shadowy figure below them startled the bird. It let loose a high-pitched screech and flew off, leaving its once more silent young behind. John sighed in disappointment.

"Ah, there you are, John Crichton." Scorpius gestured up to the branch John sat on.

"You chased it away." John said, earning a puzzled expression from the hybrid. Seeing the look John shook his head and shifted on the branch to allow his legs to swing free. "The bird."

"Ah. I am sorry." Scorpius replied a bit non-plussed by the human's reaction. "But I have been looking for you for quite some time now."

"I've been here for the last quarter arn." John replied. He cocked his head to the side; giving Scorpius the same intense scrutiny the hybrid had noticed him giving the bird's nest. "I know you. You're Scorpius."

"I'm pleased that you remember." Scorpius said. "I was told you were having trouble with your memory."

"It's just part of the treatment." John shrugged easily. His nonchalant attitude was starting to actually become a concern for Scorpius. "You put me in that Aurora Chair of yours. Hurt me."

Scorpius was stunned at the almost child like tone to Crichton's voice but the human continued on.

"But that's ok. I mean, I was impersonating a Peacekeeper and trying to sneak around your base without being caught. What else were you supposed to think?" John said. Shrugging he smiled slightly. "I guess I'm just trying to say I'm sorry and I forgive you."

"How...magnanimous of you." Scorpius replied after a moment's consideration. A slow smile came to his face as he strode over to stand nearby Crichton's dangling feet. "Had circumstances been different I believe we could have been colleagues."

"Well, I guess we'll never know. I mean with you chasing my friends and all that." John replied watching the Peacekeeper scientist without any sign of distrust or hate on his expression.

"That could all change, John." Scorpius said. "You and your friends could be free of the Peacekeepers."

John cocked his head to the side with a skeptical look. "How?"

"If you could help me obtain the..."

"Wormhole technology in my head." John finished. He shrugged. "I don't even remember how I created a wormhole. I just remember I came through one." John said in obvious frustration.

"Perhaps we could help each other, then." Scorpius replied with an oily smile. "If you are interested."

******

"I believe that is the last of the required forms." Avakis said, shuffling the small stack of transparencies into order

"When will the inquiry be held?" Zhaan asked.

"They are deliberating as we speak. However, a final decisions shall not be handed down until midday tomorrow." Avakis replied with a small smile. "I would not be concerned. I doubt the Committee will rule in favor of the Peacekeeper. After all, John Crichton arrived on this world as part of your compliment. We prefer to maintain the status quo in instances such as this."

"We are relieved to hear this." Zhaan replied, a relieved smile coming to her face.

Avakis rose from her seat. "Quite understandable. This Scorpius seems a rather disagreeable sort."

Aeryn chuckled ruefully at that, the first sound she had made in the half arn since she'd come at Zhaan's call. D'Argo smiled in amusement as well, standing to stretch his muscles.

"Fortunately you need not be concerned about John's safety while he and Scorpius speak." Avakis said.

Aeryn was instantly on her feet. "Scorpius is with John?"

"Yes. His ship filed the proper permit shortly before you arrived." Avakis replied. "Is there something wrong?"

"Why were we not informed?" Aeryn demanded, sprinting to the door before the surprised alien could even reply.

Looking somewhat perplexed, Avakis turned her gaze upon Zhaan and D'Argo. "I do not understand. John is perfectly safe amongst us."

D'Argo shook his head in disbelief. "If you truly believe that, then you do not understand how truly dangerous Scorpius is."


******

"I don't know." John said doubtfully, picking at his gray trousers nervously.

"You'll be helping your friends, John." Scorpius reminded the human.

"You'll leave them alone? Stop hunting them?" John asked.

"Yes." Scorpius said with a reassuring smile, which was anything but.

John nodded his head. "Can I think about it?"

"Of course." Scorpius agreed amicably, noting with some amusement that Aeryn Sun was now hurrying towards them. "I see your friend Aeryn is coming to visit with you. I think I should now leave and let you think over my proposal."

"OK. I will." John agreed.

"Good day to you, John Crichton. I hope our next encounter is as productive." With that Scorpius departed, casting a mocking smile to Aeryn as he left.

"John, are you all right?" Aeryn asked her brow furrowed in concern as she watched the retreating form of Scorpius.

"Yes. Why wouldn't I be?" John asked curiously.

Aeryn blinked once in surprise. "We're talking about Scorpius, John; The man who's been hunting us for over a quarter cycle. The Aurora Chair. Wanted beacons. Peacekeeper patrols. Bounty hunters."

"I know." John replied, casually swinging his legs back and forth from his perch upon the tree branch. "He's kind of creepy, don't you think?"

"Creepy is not the word I would use." Aeryn murmured, he gaze drifting off to track the Peacekeeper scientists movements.

Long after he had disappeared from view her gaze remained distant, a look of deep concentration on her face.

"Penny for you thoughts."

Startled, Aeryn blinked several time as if to clear her head before looking over at John. "What?"

He smiled gently. "You looked like you were thinking real hard about something. I was wondering what it was."

Aeryn sighed. "Nothing you can help me with, I'm afraid."

"Oh." John replied looking a bit dejected before shifting round in the tree to lean closer to her. "You're Aeryn. Right?"

Aeryn simply nodded, not allowing herself the hope that he was starting to remember her and the others. Her half-arn discussion with the Justicars had convinced her that they were too skilled in the procedure to allow such a thing to happen.

John chewed on his lower lip for a moment, watching her intently before smiling nervously. "On the ship, on Moya, were we...friends?"

She nodded. "I'd like to think we were. Why?"

"I...I don't really remember you. Just flashes. Sometimes you're smiling. Sometimes you're uh...hurting people." He shrugged sheepishly, looking away again with an almost shy look that just seem to enhance the childlike look in his eyes.

"Sometimes I've had to...hurt people. So have you." Aeryn replied, gesturing as if asking permission to join him on the tree branch.

"Yeah. I know." He nodded, scooting over a little as she quickly climbed up and sat next to him.

Deciding that she didn't like the sad tone to his voice Aeryn looked around at the tree with only mild interest, noting it wasn't much different than any other tree she'd seen. Perhaps this was the best way to reacquaint herself with the human and regain his trust in her and the others. "So what are you doing up here?"

"I was watching a birds nest." John replied. "Scorpy chased the parent away."

"Can't blame the bird. Can you?" Aeryn joked, earning a chuckle of amusement from the human.

"No. I guess not." John agreed. "I was hoping it would come back and finish feeding the hatchlings, but it hasn't. Too many people around I guess. It's not good for them to be alone."

"I'm sure it will be back. They won't be alone." Aeryn said. She rested her hand on his shoulder, squeezing slightly. "And neither are you." She added softly.

He looked a way for a moment before returning his gaze to her with a grateful look. He chuckled softly. "Is it that obvious?"

"A little." She admitted.

"It's just...um..." John sighed.

"Frustrating?" Aeryn supplied.

"Frightening." John admitted. "I mean I look at you and the others and it's like...it's like looking at old pictures of relatives. You know who they are, but..."

"There's something missing." Aeryn finished.

"Yeah. I mean I...feel something but there's nothing there. It's like...like..."

"You don't need to explain it, John. I understand. So do the others." Aeryn interrupted. "All that matters now is getting you out of here so we can go home."

John visibly relaxed in relief. "Thank you."

Aeryn nodded and glanced over to the nearby nest. "So how did you get the bird to stay with you so nearby."

John smiled happily. "I'll show you. But you've got to be quiet. OK?"

"I think I can manage that." Aeryn replied, listening carefully as he started to explain what he had been doing. She couldn't but smile as she recognized the scientist in him coming back to the fore. That gave her hope that the John Crichton she knew and cared for was still in there, somewhere.



Part 4


"Ah! There you are, Aeryn. Where have you been?" Zhaan asked, looking relieved at the arrival of their sebacean shipmate. "They are going to convene shortly."

"We were concerned when you did not come back to the inn last night." D'Argo added as Aeryn settled next to them on the long wooden bench they sat upon.

Aeryn stifled a yawn. "Sorry. I was with Crichton yesterday. Talking, of course." At this she grinned gently. "By the time we were finished it was already late. Avakis arranged for me to stay at the Institute for the evening."

D'Argo nodded in understanding. "How is John?"

"He's fine. He seems happy enough. He doesn't seem to be diminished or incapacitated in any way as I had thought might be the case." Aeryn replied shaking her slightly, the grin fading away. "It's strange, D'Argo. It's Crichton and yet not. I don't really know how to describe it."

D'Argo harrumphed, eyeing a group of passing Justicars with obvious disdain. "I suppose we'll see for ourselves once we leave this wretched planet behind."

****

A short time later those gathered were called to attention as a group of five elderly looking beings entered the room and sat upon the raised dais. Each was dressed in a long flowing robe of coppery silk, trimmed with silver and black symbols. Each bore a silver necklace embedded with a massive jewel varying in hue for of the individual Committee members.

The centermost cloaked figure bearing a jewel of deep red stepped forward and removed his hood. "I am Justicar Vekt, Primus of the Committee for the Noble Enforcers of the Law. Brought forth in this conclave let the judgments rendered here be wise and just."

A short hiss startled the crew of Moya as the local populace that had gathered affirmed the Primus' words as they raised their palms skyward as if in supplication to a deity.

"Proceed." The Primus hissed.

Instantly the two outermost Justicars departed from the Committee. One wearing a deep blue gem took up position by crew of Moya, while the other, bearing an amber stone silently stood next to Scorpius and his aide, Lt. Braca. Unlike Primus Vekt neither removed their covers.

"Segundus Justicar Penn, Segundus Justicar Olan: Make your pleas." The Primus directed. Instantly the pair flanking him removed their cowls and bowed their heads reverentially.

The younger appearing of the two stepped forward and made a gesture to Scorpius
"Primus, an off worlder has come to claim the Guardianship over a Reformed. A Peacekeeper named Scorpius asks that the Committee indulge his request and consider his words and actions in this matter."

The other moved forward and made a matching gesture towards the crew of Moya. "Spoken well, Justicar Penn, but the Right of Association take precedence on all off world affairs. The Reformed arrived on a vessel named Moya. He must remain as such upon leaving."

"Truth be your words, Justicar Olan, but truth also be that the Reformed cannot be delivered into Guardianship of those who are not of the Lawful or Reformed." Penn countered as he turned to face the Primus. "If you would allow the Peacekeeper to speak freely, he will show this to be the truth."

"We have no need for the words of an off worlder to relate facts that we are already cognizant of." The Primus intoned, causing the Justicar before him to wince as if he had just lost the case. "The Peacekeeper, Scorpius, may only state what benefit he may provide the Reformed."

"As you direct, Primus." Penn replied, gesturing for the Scarran hybrid to step forward.

Scorpius looked displeased by events so far but obeyed. Drawing himself up to his full height, he stepped forward and nodded his head to the Primus.

"On behalf of the Peacekeepers and myself, may I convey my thanks for this hearing on the behalf of John Crichton. Quite plainly, my vessel is better equipped to maintain the needs of the Reformed as well as protect him from those less civil beings in the Uncharted Territories who may wish to use his new found good will to cause him harm. We can feed him, clothe him, and provide him a means by which to continue his scientific pursuits." Scorpius paused, pointedly looking at the crew of Moya with a smile on his face. "He would want for nothing under Peacekeeper graces."

"While some would have you believe that I and the Peacekeepers hold ill will towards Crichton, quite the contrary is the case. I value Crichton as a valuable colleague. It is the unfortunate circumstances that led to his presence in the company of criminals and a Peacekeeper deserter that I wish to attend to and repair. I simply want what is best for John Crichton. Nothing more."

Scorpius bowed once more. "I thank you for your audience." With that he quickly tread back to stand by Lt. Braca, many of the gathered onlookers hissing their approval of his words.

"Your counter, Justicar Olan." The Primus ordered.

Olan smiled and nodded his thanks. He gestured to Scorpius with a mocking look. "Well spoken, Peacekeeper, but unfortunately your lack the sincerity to convince my heart as to your intentions. Yes, it is known to us that the crew of Moya are criminals of varying degrees. Yes, it is known that the Peacekeepers relentlessly have pursued them in a manner worthy of a Justicar. But here, in this place, at this time, such is irrelevant."

"While many of us may agree with your words, the Right of Association has been the basic tenant for our world's interaction with aliens. The law is simple: As you came, so shall you leave." Olan gestured to Zhaan, Aeryn and D'argo. "The Reformed committed the crime, not these beings. It has been with considerable patience and understanding on their part that they acknowledge and accept our laws without question. They have broken no laws, disturbed no one's sensibilities. They have done nothing to warrant the removal of Guardianship status of the Reformed. The law is clear on this. I leave it to the wise council of the Primus to decide thusly." Olan bowed, his actions aped by those of Penn.

The Primus acknowledged the two lower Justicars bows with a sharp nod. "I have listened well to the arguments laid before me and am prepared to make judgment under the eyes of the Eternal."

The Primus looked pointedly at Scorpius as he continued. "You have done nothing to convince me of your suitability for Guardianship over those with whom the Reformed arrived on this world with. Your request is denied."

Scorpius frowned, but did not seem further upset at the Primus' decision. The Primus turned his eyes on the smiling crew of Moya.

"Despite this ruling, I am hesitant to allow the Reformed to return to a situation that may cause further regression into violence. The Right of Association applies not only to the Guardian but to the Reformed as well. It is thus my decision that the Reformed shall decide whom shall attend to his protectorship." The Primus ruled. "Bring forth John Crichton."

A few moments later Justicar Avakis Por entered the chamber, followed by Crichton still wearing the simple gray tunic and pants worn by the Reformed. Both nodded solemnly to the Primus.

"You have listened to these proceedings and have heard my verdict. Correct?" The Primus asked.

"Yes." John replied softly.

"Your decision?"

John looked over at the Zhaan, D'Argo and Aeryn with a smile, nodding to each one in turn. "They are my shipmates: confidantes, allies, friends. We've been through much together. I've learned so much from them. I can't think of any other way to thank them for their help than to rid them of what has plagued them for so long."

At their puzzled looks, John turned to face Scorpius. "I choose Scorpius."

"So be it." The Primus intoned. "Per the Law of Inclusion of the Reformed, I hereby declare the Peacekeeper, Scorpius, to be the Guardian of the Reformed, John Crichton."

****

"What?" D'Argo bellowed over the shocked grunts and clicks of the obviously surprised crowd.

"You can't! You're just going to hand him over the creature who made him farhbot in the first place?" Aeryn demanded.

"Silence!" The Primus bellowed, his voice startling all in the room into compliance. Slowly Primus Vekt looked over the room his cold eyes eventually settling on the still defiant Aeryn Sun.

"You make a dangerous accusation, Aeryn Sun." He said.

"It's the truth!" Aeryn spat back angrily.

"Or perhaps what you would have us believe be the truth." Vekt countered. His eyes trailed over to the silent Scorpius and his aide. "We have no disputes with the Peacekeepers just as we have no disputes with the crew of Moya. However, we cannot in good conscious allow one of the Reformed to be placed in Guardianship of those who may have reason to harm their charges, even when the Reformed has requested such a placement."

Scorpius nodded his head as if agreeing to the Primus words. "I understand your concerns, but I can assure the last thing I desire is for any harm to come to John Crichton. Quite the contrary actually; I wish to help him find his home world."

"And to plunder the knowledge he carries within him." Vekt interrupted with a small smile.

Scorpius blinked in surprise, which only increased the smile on the Primus' face. "Do you think we did not know of your intentions for the Reformed? His memories of you are quite complete, I assure you. As was our review of them."

"Then you know I speak the truth to you when I say I value John Crichton alive far more than I would dead." Scorpius replied easily. "This knowledge, along with Crichton's willing consent for me to take over his Guardianship, should be enough to ignore Aeryn Sun's protestations."

"Normally this would be so." Segundus Justicar Olan admitted with a curt nod. "However, a new accusation has been brought forward. One that questions your sincerity in the role of Guardian."

"Until this accusation is confirmed or denied you may not retain Guardianship." Segundus Justicar Pehn added. "A judgment must be made."

"Then let us proceed. I am sure I shall meet your requirements, whatever they may be." Scorpius replied confidently.

"You are not the one to face judgment. John Crichton is." The Primus announced. "Avakis Por."

Avakis stepped forward, bowing slightly. "Yes, Primus?"

"You are John Crichton's Justicar. You attended his rehabilitation. You will attend to this judgment and render a verdict." The Primus ordered. "Proceed as directed."

Avakis glanced over to her charge with a look of concern. "Primus, I feel compelled to make known my reservations for this decision. I believe a deep review may cause the Reformed undue discomfort."

"Your concern is so noted, Justicar Por. Proceed." The Primus ordered.

Avakis nodded, reluctantly gesturing to two technicians. The techs quickly rolled out a small table with an array of restraints and electronic equipment. Wordlessly, Crichton hopped onto the table, looking somewhat nervous as the technicians lay him down and strapped him in.

"Are the restraints really necessary?" Zhaan asked, causing the Primus and the other Council members to frown in displeasure. Before they could reprimand her outburst, Avakis spoke up.

"The restraints are for his protection as much as our own. The review can be very intense and often the Reformed may react poorly. Some have even been known to become violent while under such intense scrutiny." Avakis explained quickly. Seeing Zhaan's mouth open in horror, Avakis smiled apologetically. "I know it sounds cruel, but it is the only way. I assure you that I and the technicians will try to minimize his discomfort."

Zhaan bowed her head in reluctant acquiescence. "May the Goddess guide you well then."

Avakis nodded and turned back to Crichton. A technician finished arranging two neural nodes to his temple. He swallowed hard, smiling nervously at his Justicar. "So what do I do?"

"Just relax and don't fight me. Just like we did in your final treatment. Understood?" Avakis asked, accepting a pair of matching nodes from the second technician.

John tried moving his arms against the restraints that held him to the table before nodding. "OK."

Avakis quickly adhered the nodes to her temples and nodded to a technician. "Proceed."

Simultaneously, the human and the Justicar gasped and stiffened as if in pain. Crichton began shaking, as his eyes rolled back into his head while Avakis was leaned over grasping the table for support, spasms wracking her frame. A moment later both relaxed, Avakis rising back to her full height with her eyes closed and a hand resting on the unconscious human.

For several long minutes they remained that way, only the rise and fall of their chests and an occasional twitch of muscle indicating that either was alive. This ended as John suddenly started screaming as Avakis crumpled the floor in pain.

"Get 'em off, get 'em off, get 'em off! Nooooo!" He screams trailed off into incoherent grunts as he started jerking his arms against the restraints. One of the technicians calmly injected the human with a tranquilizer. Almost instantly, Crichton settled down, moaning softly as he drifted off back into unconsciousness.

"I..." Avakis coughed violently and slowly rose from the floor, shaking visibly. "I have completed the review."

"Your decision." The Primus asked.

"Scorpius is not a suitable candidate for Guardianship. The Peacekeeper's continued harassment of the Reformed since escaping torture clearly indicates an unacceptable risk to the Reformed's health, both mental and physical." Avakis replied, her face unusually blank.

Scorpius stepped forward visibly shaken, though whether from fear or outrage was indistinguishable. He gestured to the Justicar. "And what proof do you have to support these allegations. As a Peacekeeper, it is my responsibility to recapture escaped prisoners but I can assure you that I done nothing more than this."

Avakis' eyes went cold as she turned to face the Peacekeeper scientist. "Do you truly wish for me to recount the moments you have haunted the Reformed? How your constant harassment has led him to act recklessly times beyond count? How he has nearly harmed his own crewmates? Or himself? His memories are quite clear to me." Avakis stepped menacingly towards the Peacekeeper. Surprisingly Scorpius stepped back, sensing he had pushed the Justicar too far. "I know the truth. Do you question my judgment?"

"Of course not, Justicar Por." Scorpius replied, trying to back down gracefully. "I will gladly accept your ruling. I was simply curious as to your reasons. I intended no offense."

"Then this inquiry is closed. The Reformed shall be remanded to the Guardianship of the crew of Moya by this time tomorrow." The Primus announced. "This conclave is concluded." With that the Five Justicars departed without further comment.

Once the Justicars were gone, Zhaan, Aeryn and D'Argo rushed over to the unconscious human. With a nod Avakis indicated the technicians to leave, as she and the other members of Moya's crew unstrapped Crichton from the table.

"Will he be all right?" Zhaan inquired, gently brushing a hand over his brow.

"I'm not certain." Avakis admitted. "I will need to complete another scan tomorrow morning to be certain the treatment is undisturbed."

"And if he passes, then we can depart?" Aeryn asked, looking pointedly at the Justicar.

"I've already arranged it. All docking procedures have been secured. You will be cleared for immediately launch." Avakis replied.

"Why?" D'Argo asked suspiciously.

Avakis frowned in confusion at the question.

"Why are you helping us?" D'Argo clarified. "You had no interest in us before hand. Why now?"

Avakis looked at each of them in turn before turning her eyes back to Crichton. "Your John Crichton is a remarkable being. I knew that from the moment I first saw him." She sighed before looking up at them once more. "As a Justicar I am only supposed to care about enforcing the law and carrying out sentence in the prescribed manner, regardless of my charges needs or feelings. I find I cannot do this in his case. His...experiences...amongst the stars are too compelling for me to remain indifferent to his pain and your own. I sped through your requests to ease that pain."

"I wish I could believe you." D'Argo replied.

"I know." Avakis replied with a sad smile. "But Crichton does. That's all that matters to me."

Aeryn rested a hand on the Justicar's shoulder. ”Thank you."

Avakis nodded once. "If you excuse us, I must have the technicians take Crichton back to his cell." She said apologetically. Silently they stepped back allowing the technicians to wheel the sleeping human away with Avakis trailing slowly behind them.

"Take care of him." Aeryn called. Avakis turned to look at her, a slow smile coming to her face as she nodded in reply.

"What was that about?" D'Argo asked, looking between the ex-Peacekeeper and the Justicar.

"I'll tell you on the way back to the shuttle pod." Aeryn replied, turning to depart. She stopped short at the sight of Scorpius standing before them.

"Well played, Officer Sun." Scorpius gave a little nod of respect. "But this is far from finished."

"I didn't think it would be." Aeryn replied, brushing past the hybrid as if he were some minor annoyance.


*****

Next morning.

Aeryn strode into the small room with John's long, black duster carefully draped over her arm. She couldn't help but smile at the sight of Crichton back in his usual black shirt and leather pants instead of the plain, shapeless gray tunic and pants he'd worn the previous day. She also found it oddly relieving when she noted he had his pulse pistol strapped on without seeming any concern.

"Hey, Aeryn." He said, grinning brightly as he looked up from a sheaf of papers in his hands.

"I brought you your coat. The temperature has dropped since yesterday." She said, passing it over to him.


“Thanks.” Setting the papers down, John quickly donned the coat. "Where are Zhaan and D'Argo?"

"They've gone back to Moya." Aeryn replied. "We'll be going back in the Prowler."

"I thought the Prowler was on Moya?" John asked with confusion.

"It was. I had Chiana bring it down to the surface. She went back on the transport with the others." Aeryn explained. "Scorpius may be stuck here for the next few days, but his Command Carrier is still out there. Best to be careful."

For the barest of moments Aeryn was certain he was going to question her further, something the Crichton she had known would have done. Instead he simply shrugged his acceptance of her words and snagged a small white bag from his bed. "OK. So we're going now?"

"Whenever you are ready." Aeryn said, doing her best to keep the disappointment she felt from her face as John passed her going to the exit.

"What's in the bag?" She asked curiously.

"Oh, Avakis gave me some Tollian snack cakes to take back to Moya. They're delicious. You should try one when we get back." John said.

"Perhaps I will." Aeryn replied as she started to follow him when she realized the papers he had been holding were still lying on the bed. "What about your drawings?"

John glanced back over his shoulder at them and shrugged. "I thought I'd leave them for Avakis. You know, something to remember me...us by. Besides, if I feel like drawing on the Moya I can."

Aeryn nodded silently in agreement. "Well, let's go then."

The pair quickly walked down the short hall and into the main concourse only to be greeted by the sight of Scorpius and his ever-present second, Lieutenant Braca, waiting for them.

A slow smile came to Scorpius' face as he spotted the pair and started towards them.

Aeryn grabbed John's arm and pulled him along with her, not for the first time wishing she could simply shoot the Peacekeeper scientist. "Come on." She whispered harshly.

John stopped and pulled his arm from her grasp, a serious expression on his face. "No. I want to talk to him."

"John..."

"Please, Aeryn?" John asked, a pleading look entering his eyes. "I need to do this."

Sighing in resignation, Aeryn nodded once. "All right."

"Ah, John. There you are." Scorpius held out his hands in a welcoming gesture. "I had hoped we could speak again before you left."

John nodded. "So had I, Scorpius." John's smile grew at the sight of Lieutenant Braca, much to the obvious discomfort of the Peacekeeper officer. "And how are you today, Lieutenant?"

"I'm well, Crichton." Braca replied neutrally.

"Good. No harm from blasting yourself out of that airlock I hope?" John asked, chuckling softly at the flush of crimson across Braca's face.

"No. No harm." The officer replied trying to ignore the sidelong look of disapproval Scorpius gave him.

"It is most unfortunate that the Justicars decided not to allow you to join us." Scorpius said. Glancing around once, he leaned in conspiratorially. "Despite this we could still make our own arrangement."

John cocked his head to the side as if curious, never seeing the look of pure venom Aeryn shot towards the Scarran hybrid. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, John, that we could rendezvous a weeken from now at Perifi IV. It's a small little traveled commerce planet. Isolated. Perfect for our needs." Scorpius replied with an encouraging smile.

"You'll keep your end of the deal?" John asked.

"If you are there at the rendezvous time, yes." Scorpius nodded.

John nodded and started to drift away, stopping suddenly and offering the bag he held to the scientist. Seeing Scorpius and Braca's puzzled look, John smiled. "It's just some food. I figure since you're going to be stuck here for a couple more days you'd like it."

"Thank you, John Crichton. I'm sure I will." Scorpius said, reaching for the bag. Once in his grip, John yanked him a little closer and pointed his right hand at him as if holding a weapon, while making an odd clicking noise.

"Gotcha, Scorpy." John whispered and spun away, laughing at the bewildered expression of the two Peacekeepers.

"Come on Aeryn. Let's blow this popsicle stand." John said, cheerily waving to a now fuming Scorpius. Aeryn looked to Scorpius and back to John with a puzzled expression as she followed her human companion out into the cold midday sun.

With a snarl, Scorpius slammed the bag into a startled Braca's grasp and stalked off muttering a string of obscenities that made the Lieutenant nervous. Despite this, Braca followed his commander, still convinced Crichton was completely insane.

A few steps outside the Institute, John stopped, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, all the while with a smile on his face. Aeryn watched him for a few moments before finally tugging gently on his sleeve. "Are you all right, John?"

"Right as rain, Aeryn." John replied with a grin. "Now let's get the hell off this planet and starburst away before old Scorpy weasels his way out of the bureaucracy here."

Seeing her confused look, John linked her arm with his and started towards the star port, leaning his head towards her to speak. "I'm OK, Aeryn. I remember now."

"You remember!" Aeryn stopped, jerking him to halt in her surprise, "How?"

"I don't know." John admitted encouraging her to resume their trek to the awaiting Prowler. "I think it had to do with that scan the Committee had Avakis do on me. I mean one minute I'm a peacenik with memory gaps the size of galaxies and next: Bam! Ol' Mama Crichton's boy again."

"The probe must have eliminated the blocks they put in place during your treatment." Aeryn said. She stopped once again as realization dawned. "Avakis knew, didn't she? She knew you would remember!"

John nodded. "Yeah. I think she knew what would happen. Maybe she even planned it this way."

"But why?" Aeryn asked.

"I don't know, Aeryn." John replied with a shrug. "I don't know."

She squeezed his arm gently. "Well, whatever the reason, I'm glad you back with us."

"Me, too."



Epilogue


She found him in command later that evening quietly observing the star field of the new region of space Moya's last starburst had brought them. Seated beside the holographic station, he seemed relaxed and calm despite the way his fingers fidgeted with the pulse pistol that lay snugly in its holster in front of him. The distant look in his eyes was enough for her to know his thoughts were elsewhere, perhaps thinking of his home world or perhaps the events of the past few days.

She quietly slid up behind him, carefully resting her hands on his shoulder.

"Hey, Aeryn." John looked up at her with a tired, but welcoming smile. She noted the weariness in his voice but did not allow it to concern any more than she already was.

"How are you feeling, John?" She asked, allowing herself to revert to their more familial manner.

"Tired. Confused. Hell of a headache. That about covers it." John replied, chucking softly.

"I still have some of that zaket root Zhaan gave me." Aeryn noted, squeezing his shoulders once more before taking a seat next to him.

John shook his head. "No, but thanks. A little sleep and it'll go away."

"Then maybe you should be sleeping in your quarters instead of sitting here staring at stars." Aeryn replied reasonably, earning a bemused grin from the human for her trouble.

"Hmm. Yeah." Was his only response.

"Pony for your thoughts?" Aeryn asked suddenly.

John jumped slightly, giving a strange look before busting out laughing.

"What?" She asked.

"Penny, Aeryn. It's 'penny for your thoughts'." John replied trying to regain his composure.

"I though it was rather odd your people would offer beasts of burden to one another just to know what they thought." Aeryn commented with a small grin. John chuckled at that, realizing Aeryn had known exactly what she was saying.

John grabbed her hands in his, giving them a gentle squeeze. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Aeryn replied, returning the gentle pressure before releasing her grip. "May I ask you something?"

John shrugged, fingers one more fiddling with his pulse pistol. "Sure."

"Why did you offer to go with Scorpius?" She asked.

"Seemed like a good idea at the time." John replied with a soft chuckle. Seeing her slight frown he shrugged. "I just wanted you and the others to be safe. Scorpy would not have a reason to keep hunting the rest of you if I was in his custody."

"So you were going to go with him to save us?" Aeryn asked.

"Yes." John replied simply.

"Even knowing he would torture you?" Aeryn asked.

John nodded. "Yes. But, to be honest, I don't think Scorpy would have tortured me. I mean with the state I was in, why bother? As long as anything he asked me to do was not violent and he didn't break his deal I would have gone along with it."

"Would you?" Aeryn asked in surprise. "Really?"

John looked down. "Yeah. I would."

"I'll never understand you." Aeryn murmured.

John started to protest when Aeryn laid her fingers over his mouth. She smiled at him, her affection plainly obvious upon her face. "That was a compliment."

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as she pulled her hand away. "I'll take your word for that."

For several microts neither said anything, each lost in their thoughts.

"May I ask you something?" Aeryn asked tentatively.

"Anything." John replied, noting the unusual tension in Aeryn's tone.

"I need to know the truth, John. Did you kill that trader? Murder him as the Justicars claim?" She asked bluntly.

Instantly his fingers stopped their caressing of the holster. He closed his eyes and looked down, heaving a heavy sigh as his whole body seemed to collapse in defeat. Worried by his reaction, Aeryn swallowed and forcibly restrained herself from reaching out to him. She had to know the truth, one way or the other.

"John?"

"I don't know." Came the whispered reply.

"What do you mean you don't know?" Aeryn asked softly.

John looked up at her with pain and confusion in his eyes. "I remember meeting the trader. I remember arguing with him over the parts. But I don't remember killing him. I just s..."

Aeryn saw him swallow, his face blanching. He looked away from her quickly. "I don't remember the rest."

"No. What else, John? You were going to say something else." Aeryn pressed. When he remained silent, she grabbed his chin and forced him to look at her. "John, please. I need to know the truth!"

"And what if I don't know what the truth is, Aeryn?" John countered, looking uncertainly at her once more.

Seeing the look of defeat in his eyes, Aeryn released her grip on his chin caressing his jaw before withdrawing her hand. "Then at least tell me what you...remember." She urged.

John sighed. "The trader. Arguing over the part and his smart ass remark about Peacekeeper women." He swallowed hard as he paused. "Scorpius."

"Scorpius?" Aeryn repeated with concern. "You saw Scorpius?"

"Yeah." John laughed shakily. "The trader turned away and there was Scorpy with a pulse pistol to the guys back. Scorpy said...something; I'm not sure what know. It's kind of hazy, but I do remember turning away and leaving. I don't remember ever drawing my pistol and shooting that guy."

"But it was confirmed that he was killed by a blast from a pulse pistol, John." Aeryn said. "I checked the results of their tests myself."

"So you think I did kill him?" John asked.

Aeryn shook her head uncertainly. "I don't know, John. Pulse weapons are readily available from weapons dealers."

"Hmm." Was John's only reply.

"Let me see Wynona." Aeryn said, holding out her hand.

A bit puzzled at the request John nonetheless handed his pulse pistol over to Aeryn, briefly wondering how she recognized that the pistol before him was his favorite of those available to him. He silently watched as Aeryn quickly removed the chakan oil cartridge and studied it critically.

"Something wrong?" He asked.

Aeryn frowned, shaking her head and checked the pistol's power setting before reassembling everything and placing it back in it holster. "Have you changed anything since we left the planet."

"No. I thought about cleaning her again but decided it could wait until morning." John replied. "Why?"

"Did you have a full cartridge when you left for the planet?" Aeryn asked.

"Of course." John replied, starting to get defensive. "And yes I know that the cartridge shows that Wynona's been fired."

Aeryn nodded. "Yes, but the level of oil that's been used doesn't seem to correspond with the amount of damage suffered by the victim." Aeryn noted. "The power setting it is set at couldn't possibly have used so little chakan oil for the amount of damage done to the trader."

"Maybe I had the power setting higher and turned it back down. "John offered.

"Are you saying you did kill him?" Aeryn asked, incredulously. "Because that's what it sounds like to me."

John gave a short bark of frustration. "I'm not saying anything, Aeryn. Just tossing out ideas." John rubbed his forehead. "God, I just wish I knew what happened!"

Aeryn lay the pistol down on the table. "So do I, John."

"What if I did murder him, Aeryn?" John asked quietly. "What then?"

Aeryn opened her mouth to speak, but stopped and sighed. Shaking her head, she rose to feet and laid a hand on John's shoulder. "I don't have an answer to that, John. All I can say is that whatever happens, we will deal with it as we always have. Together."

John smiled at that, taking her hand on his shoulder into his own. "Together." He agreed.