tanaquiljall: (Default)
[personal profile] tanaquiljall
Title: Cheese for Supper
Fandom: Farscape
Rating: General
Word Count: 3470 words
Summary: Stocking up on food is rarely straightforward for Moya's crew, but their latest shopping trip results in more than a bout of indigestion.
Disclaimer: This story is a transformative work based on the Jim Henson Company/Nine Network/Hallmark Entertainment/A&E series Farscape. It was written for entertainment only; the author does not profit from it.
Author's Notes:Written at [personal profile] scribblesinink's urging after she mentioned a news story about a research study into cheese. Thanks to [personal profile] scribblesinink for the beta.

oOo


"Are you sure this stuff's going to keep?" John picked up one of the packets and poked at it doubtfully. Rygel always insisted on being the one to go food shopping, claiming the combination of his three stomachs and his negotiating abilities meant he'd get the best deal, but they often ended up regretting it in some way or other.

"Of course." Rygel waved an imperious hand. "The manufacturing process and the special wrappings are designed to maintain the quality of the product for at least a cycle."

"But it is cheese? Made from milk?" John decided he didn't want to know what creature had provided the milk. Nor was he sure why he was so surprised by the idea. After all, even a planet as primitive as Earth could come up with Kraft Singles.

Rygel gave him a disdainful look, refusing to repeat his earlier explanation.

"So, if it's so great, why was it so cheap?" Chiana, circling around the crate, snagged the packet from John and twirled it in her fingers.

"Surplus to requirements." Rygel patted the case as if he were comforting it, though more likely he was comforting himself. "The manufacturer thought he was about to secure a large order with the Scorvians that fell through."

"You mean that fell out of the back of a Scorvian transport?" D'Argo, pushing a second crate out of the pod, didn't seem displeased that the enemies of his people's chief allies had been swindled.

"Who cares? It's food and it's delicious. It comes in five flavors and it's—."

"For all of us." John grabbed hold of the back of Rygel's thronesled and pulled him away from the crates of cheese. "Come on, Sparky. You're gonna come with me and show me how to cook this stuff so it actually tastes halfway decent."

oOo


When John woke early and staggered into the central chamber after a restless night, he was surprised to find he wasn't the only one there. Aeryn and Chiana were listlessly picking at breakfast. D'Argo stomped in, with the barest of nods at the rest of them, while John was fixing himself the Uncharted Territories' equivalent of coffee to try and wake himself up.

"I had a dream about you last night," he told Chiana, as he slid onto a bench opposite her.

"Oh, yeah?" Chiana was making patterns in the grains in her food bowl with her spoon, but didn't seem inclined to eat any of them. "Well you were in my dream, too. We were having to do some boring ceremony with one of the frelling highups from the Establishment."

John laughed. "In my dream, it was a photo op for the President and the IASA astronauts." He had no idea why Chiana had been there, or any of the rest of them—except that maybe they now felt closer to him than any of the crew he'd served with on his three shuttle missions.

"The Grand Chancellor was honoring soldiers who had performed with outstanding merit." Aeryn spoke quietly, and when she raised her gaze to meet John's, her expression was troubled. "You and Chiana were both there. Also D'Argo."

The three of them turned to look at D'Argo, who gave an uncomfortable shrug. "A senior general was confirming field promotions."

"So we all had the same dream, more or less?" Aeryn said slowly, catching John's eye again. He could tell that she was as unhappy about the idea as he was. The dream itself had been unsettling, though John couldn't have said why, except that he'd woken with his heart racing, ready to start up out of bed. Now that he knew the others had had the dream too, he liked it even less.

The sound of tuneless humming and the faint whir of Rygel's thronesled made them all turn toward the chamber entrance. Rygel, a cheerful grin on his face, scooted through the door and then slowed and halted as he saw their faces. "What?"

Chiana tilted her chin up, her expression challenging. "We were just talking about our dreams. I don't suppose you had a dream last night, did you?"

Rygel raised his eyebrows slightly, and then resumed his journey across the chamber to find some food. "As a matter of fact I did," he remarked cheerfully. He began to hum again as he lifted the lids of various containers and peered inside at the contents. "You were all in it. As my loyal subjects, demonstrating the appropriate respect following my reinstatement as Dominar."

There was a moment of stunned silence, before Aeryn snorted quietly. "Well, that figures. The rest of us get an audience with our rulers. In Rygel's world, he's the one giving the audience."

John cradled his cup, thinking. "You know," he said slowly, "usually when something like this happens, it means we've picked up an unexpected passenger. And we did stop at a commerce planet and take some supplies on board yesterday...."

Chiana pushed her cereal bowl away from her and put her head down on the table with a theatrical sigh. Aeryn set down the cracker square she'd just picked up and rolled her shoulders, clenching and unclenching her fists as if loosening herself for action. Rygel was still clattering among the jars and boxes, piling different items on to a plate, but D'Argo closed his eyes briefly and groaned, before opening them and saying, "Pilot?"

"Yes, Ka D'Argo?" Pilot's image appeared on the clamshell.

"We may have picked up some kind of problem along with the supplies we got yesterday. I'm going to need you to run a full check on all of Moya's sensors—internal and external. Anything unusual...."

Pilot dipped his head. "Understood. Beginning sensor check now."

"And the rest of you...." D'Argo's expression turned as glum as everyone but Rygel swung round to face him. "Pilot might be able to give us some targets, but we should still do a manual search, tier by tier." He snatched the plate out of Rygel's hands as Rygel, humming to himself and apparently oblivious of the possible danger, hovered toward the table. "That means you, too, Your Eminence."

"But—." Rygel waved his hands futilely in the direction of the heavily laden plate that D'Argo had set down out of reach. "Can't I eat breakfast first? I work much better with two full stomachs."

oOo


John had begun his search by looking for Zhaan, the only one of them who hadn't made it to an early breakfast. She was still her quarters, meditating, and he hated to interrupt her, but it had to be done. She admitted, when he got her attention, that she too had had an unsettling dream involving the Delvian ruling faction. For a few microts, he thought she was going to return to her meditation—she looked more rattled than he'd seen her in a while, though she was evasive about just what her dream had involved—but then she sighed heavily and got up to join him.

But they didn't find anything, even though they searched the ship from top to bottom and nose to tail. They started their search in the cargo bay where the goods from the previous day had been stored, but Moya's sensors showed nothing out of the ordinary, and searching by hand, even sending Rygel into the vents, turned up no clues.

Dropping the lid closed on the container of Scorvian cheese, which had proved to be quite tasty, John remarked idly, "Cheese for supper."

"What?" Aeryn, checking the next stack of crates over, gave him a puzzled look.

"It's a saying where I come from." John patted the top of the container. "Eating cheese late at night is supposed to give you bad dreams."

Aeryn made an unimpressed noise and muttered something that sounded like, "Humans and their primitive Earth superstitions...," but John didn't bother to get into an argument about it. She was right that it was just nonsense. And, besides, there was nothing in Earth folk wisdom about co-ordinated dreams.

Once they were done with the cargo bay, they worked their way down the ship, getting Pilot to seal off each section as they cleared it. But there was no sign of any intruder. After dinner, when they were careful not to eat any of the latest batch of food, John spent some time talking to Pilot about possible changes to the sensors to make them more sensitive. Pilot had gotten the DRDs to make the adjustments and run another sweep overnight, but he still had nothing to report when they met again for breakfast the next day.

The good news was that all of them had slept well—or as well as they could sleep, given there was some unspecified threat on board; Rygel claimed not to have caught a wink, even though John had been woken by his snoring from across the hallway. What was certain was that there had been no more strange shared dreams. It still didn't explain what had happened the previous day.

But with the memories of the dreams fading, most of the crew were inclined to consider it a harmless coincidence. Only John continued to look for an explanation. He was aided a little by Zhaan, who let him use some of her array of pharmaceuticals and preparations for his tests, and by Pilot, who repeatedly recalibrated the sensors for him. But by mid-afternoon, even John was beginning to wonder if he was chasing shadows only because it was something to do to relieve the tedium of another long stretch in space.

"Maybe it's your cheese after all," Aeryn had snapped, when she grew tired of him questioning her—along with everyone else—about what had happened.

But at dinner, it was another matter altogether. They didn't have enough food on board to discard any of the stuff they'd picked up during their last stop without good reason, but Rygel flat out refused to eat any of the new food—can't risk the health of the rightful dominar of six billion subjects—while Chiana muttered something about having had enough of being forced to think the way somebody else wanted her to. D'Argo argued that if they were all going to go down with food-induced space dementia, someone had to remain sane, and he was the acting captain at the moment. Aeryn defiantly offered to eat the food anyway—determined to prove John's theory wrong, perhaps—while Zhaan smiled serenely and pointed out that her physiology was so different that she would likely be unaffected. John's own misgivings about the food were outweighed by the need for another data point, although he took care to select a different flavor of cheese this time.

oOo


"So, what did you dream about?" John asked Aeryn as she thumped her breakfast bowl onto the table and sat down opposite him.

"Nothing." She dug her spoon into the bowl, taking great care not to meet his eye.

"Hmm." John wasn't sure he believed her, but her behaviour suggested her dreams had been nothing like his. He'd woken feeling well rested and with a smile on his face, although all he'd been able to remember of his dreams was that they'd involved DK and several other friends from college—oddly enough, Aeryn and Zhaan had been there as well—and there'd been a sense of long, drowsy, endless summer days.

"Good morning, John." Zhaan wafted into the room looking even more content than usual. "I am sure the food had nothing to do with it, but I had the most marvelous dreams last night. I was recalling friends I had not thought about for many hundreds of cycles, who were with me during my training as a first- and second-level Pa'u."

Zhaan's smile was so infectious that John automatically smiled back at her, even though his guts had clenched. "Funny you should say that. I dreamed about some old friends too." He turned to face Aeryn and raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, all right!" Aeryn banged her spoon down hard enough to send some of the grains flying out of the bowl. "I dreamed I was back in basic training with He—with some of my squadmates. Happy now?"

John almost reached out to give Aeryn's hand a comforting squeeze, but he stopped himself. He understood now why she looked so miserable. She might have done her best to build a new life for herself on Moya, given no other option, but he knew she still missed her old one. Reliving the past must have been painful for her.

"So we all had the same dream. But this time it was a pleasant one." Zhaan busied herself preparing her breakfast. "I suppose we must wait and see if the others also had this dream."

John was about ready to climb the walls by the time he got the answer. D'Argo was the next to appear, strolling in half an arn later, looking pleased with life—but apparently not as a consequence of his dreams. "Slept like a baby," he reported. "Don't remember a thing."

Rygel followed shortly after. "My loyal subjects doing homage and bringing tribute, while my despicable cousin Bishan begged for his life," he announced smugly. John's disbelief must have shown in his face, because Rygel heaved a sigh and said wearily, "Oh, very well. I was dreaming about that wonderful feast we had on that planet—what was it's name? With those heavenly marjools...." He poked unhappily at his breakfast. "Not like this dren."

Chiana meandered in last of all, just as John was about to go haul her out of bed. "Sex," was her answer. "I always dream about sex. Except for when we all had that freaky ceremony dream. Doing it, watching it being done, having it done to me. Last night, there was this great looking guy, and he and I—."

Aeryn coughed noisily. Rygel had already covered his ears with his hands. John was tempted to do the same. Instead, he said hastily, "So only the three of us who ate the Scorvian cheese had the same dream. Which makes it our prime suspect."

"You're saying we shouldn't eat it?" Rygel's mouth turned down at the corners.

"I'm not sure we have much choice," D'Argo pointed out. He'd asked Pilot to scan for the nearest commerce planet, but so far there was no sign of anything in the direction they were heading. And with Scorpius on their tail, backtracking to the planet they'd just left could prove an even worse move than eating the cheese.

"But you've definitely never heard anything about Scorvian food having this effect?" John asked. He and D'Argo had discussed it the previous day, but D'Argo had admitted he didn't know much about Scorvians beyond their long-standing enmity with the Illanics. Pilot's databanks hadn't thrown up anything useful either, though there were a few references to Scorvian military units being unusually close. If they had shared dreams induced by their rations, that might explain why.

D'Argo shook his head in answer to John's question.

John tapped his thumb against his lips, thinking. "There may be a way we can use the food without... getting inside each other's heads, so to speak. And we can't be a hundred per cent sure yet it is the cheese. I'd like to run another experiment. We still have three flavors left, right? I suggest we pair up and each pair eats a different flavor of cheese."

"And if each pair shares the same dream, but the dreams are different for each pair, we will know that the dreams are linked to the flavors." Zhaan inclined her head in John's direction as a mark of appreciation. "Most ingenious, John."

"Well, I'm not sharing my frelling dreams with anyone." Rygel scooted his thronesled back from the table in horror.

"I would be willing to risk sharing my dreams with Chiana." D'Argo spoke softly, a smile on his face as he looked at her.

"Yeah?" Chiana tilted her head and gave him a grin in return. "Sounds drad to me."

"Perhaps, as John and I have already shared unity—." Zhaan began.

Aeryn didn't let her finish. "John and I should pair up," she announced abruptly. "Since our species are genetically similar."

There was complete silence for a long moment—during which John didn't dare look at her, because if he wanted to share his dreams with anyone, it was with her; he just hadn't expected her to want that too—and then Aeryn pushed her chair back from the table with a screech and stomped out of the chamber.

John cleared his throat. "Zhaan, you and Rygel can be our control group. We need one of those, too. No cheese should mean no dreams, right? If you're affected, then my theory's wrong. But if this works the way I hope it does, then there may be a way we can eat the cheese and not send ourselves crazy."

oOo


John woke with a sense of something very precious having been ripped away from him. He'd been dreaming, and Aeryn had been there, and—.

Even as his mind groped for the rest of the dream, the sound that had woken him came again, disrupting his thoughts and banishing the dream completely. From the direction of D'Argo's quarters to his left came a garbled groan that John's translator microbes did their best to render as "Oh God, yes! Again!" On the other side, to his right, Chiana was giggling. No guesses what those two were dreaming about together.

John squeezed his eyes shut and tried to recapture his own dream, but it eluded him. Only the feeling of something wonderful and very much desired and a little frightening remained.

Sighing in frustration, he drew in a deep breath and let it out again, recalling a meditation exercise Zhaan had once tried to teach him and hoping that it would help him fall asleep again quickly.

When he next woke, it was to the sound of banging from D'Argo's quarters. In both senses of the word. Apparently D'Argo and Chiana's shared dream had been vivid enough that neither of them were content to simply experience it in sleep.

Grabbing a pillow and pulling it over his head, John tried to block out the noise. Again, his own dream had been disrupted, so that he was left with no more than an impression of Aeryn, and that sense of wonder and joy and fear mixed together, and perhaps another presence....

The third time, he woke of his own accord, with the memory of the dream intact, and a deep ache inside him for the loss of something that had never been—and probably never would be. Something he wanted very badly, though he'd not realized how badly until now.

Covering his eyes with his arm, he groaned. He had no idea how to face Aeryn when he next saw her, whether she'd had the same dream or not. It would have been so much easier if he'd just dreamed about having sex with her. That she would have understood, even if it would have her rolling her eyes. But this....

He lay there, putting off the moment he'd have to see her, and listened to everyone else—even D'Argo and Chiana—getting up and heading for breakfast. At last, he hauled himself out of bed and got dressed and made for the central chamber.

"Ah, John!" Zhaan beamed at him as he entered. "I was about to fetch you. It seems your experiment was quite the success. D'Argo and Chiana report a... mutually satisfactory night of intimacy, but Aeryn has assured us her dream was quite different."

John had turned to look for Aeryn, but she had her head bent. Though the way her hands were clasped over her stomach....

He looked back at Zhaan. Swallowing hard, he said carefully, his voice hoarse in his own ears, "I dreamed we had a child together."

There'd been a great deal more to it than that: an accelerated progress through parenting highlights, like all the best bits of a home movie on fast forward. His arm around Aeryn's shoulders while she breastfed; his son's first steps—first word—first day at school, while he and Aeryn stood ready to encourage him or to catch him if he fell, proud and terrified all at once; the three of them happy and laughing at the beach, in the park, at the lake. There'd even been a house with a white picket fence for him to come home to....

Aeryn, still not looking at John, said in a harsh tone, "Yes, that." She pushed to her feet, her gaze carefully averted. "I suppose Scorvians must attach greater importance to family bonds than Peacekeepers."

John turned to watch her as she pushed past him and strode out of the chamber. He guessed everyone attached greater importance to family bonds than Peacekeepers.

Including him.

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