Warm. Comfortable. He inhaled deeply, breathing in the familiar aroma of the sea. It felt so right. So perfect. He could hear the water lapping insistently against the sand upon which he lay. A gull called in the distance, pulling his attention back from the dream he had so recently enjoyed.
Reluctantly John opened his eyes, shielding them from the sun burning brightly overhead. He raised up on his elbow, turning to examine the form of the woman reclining at his side. A lop sided grin spread across his face as he watched her. For the first time in days she appeared to be relaxed; truly and completely comfortable within her skin.
John leaned over to blow a stray lock of hair from Aeryn's face. Her eyes fluttered open at the unexpected sensation and she smiled up at him. Encouraged, he leaned down to kiss her gently. As their lips touched, his world shifted violently and John found himself face down on Moya's deck.
"Are you alright down there?" Aeryn asked, struggling to hide her amusement as she peered over the side of the bunk at him.
"Oh jus' peachy." He groused as he struggled to untangle his legs from the blanket he'd pulled down with him. "What the hell happened?"
"Haven't a clue," she chuckled swinging her legs over the side of the bed. "You need a hand?" she asked extending her hand to him.
"I'm fine. Owww!" He winced as she grasped his hand to pull him up.
"You don't sound fine."
"Damn. I think it's broken. Musta landed on it funny."
"Oh come on, it can't be that bad." She teased until she saw the look of pain in his eyes. "Let me take a look at it." She pulled him down beside her and gently took his hand in hers. Turning it palm down she was stunned to see the back of his hand turning deep purple. John inhaled sharply and jerked his hand away as she touched the worst of the discoloration.
"Yeah," he gasped, "it's broken. Been there, done that. Hurts like hell."
"You'd better get to Zhaan, have her take a look at that."
"No, ya think?" he snapped, the pain in his hand making him even more short tempered than he had been lately.
"Don't get shippy with me!" she snapped back, her anger flaring.
"That's snippy or shitty." he laughed, diffusing her anger. She grinned at him, her cheeks coloring in embarrassment. It seemed like every time she tried to use one of his Earth sayings she messed it up. Granted, sometimes she did it intentionally to tease him, but more often than not, it was a simple mistake that left her embarrassed.
He stood and reached for his pants. "I'll go find Zhaan, you should find out why Moya lurched like that."
His suggestion made sense to Aeryn who leaned across the bed to find her clothing, which lay in a tangle on the floor with John's. She quickly pulled her clothing on and started toward the door.
"Um, Aeryn ... " John muttered as she reached for the control pad, "I ... uh ... I ... I could use a little help here."
Aeryn turned to face him and had to bite her lip not to laugh. His face was bright red from embarrassment and exertion as he tried to pull up the tight leather using only his uninjured hand.
"Pilot! Pilot, respond!" D'Argo shouted into the comms. "Why won't you answer?" He paced angrily around Command moving from one console to the next checking readings.
"D'Argo? What's going on?" Aeryn asked, activating her comms.
"Aeryn. I have no idea. Pilot is not responding. These readings show no reason for our present state."
"I'm on my way to Pilot's den. I'll check in when I find out more."
"How did you say you did this John?" Zhaan asked as she ran the scanner over his hand one more time.
"I fell out of bed when Moya lurched, okay?" A combination of pain, embarrassment and impatience made him abrupt with her.
"There's no need to be snappish John, I know you're in pain," she replied softly, hoping to calm him. For the past few monens he had been easily agitated and she was afraid that he would injure himself further if he grew any angrier.
"You don't believe me, do you?" he accused. "You think I did this intentionally."
"Well you must admit it is rather an unusual injury to have happen simply by falling out of bed," she said as she began gathering the materials she would need to repair his hand. "And just how did you manage to fall out of bed?"
"I told you I fell when Moya lurched."
"John ... "
"Zhaan I know what you're thinking." he paused, his cheeks blazing scarlet. "I wasn't alone, okay. Moya's beds aren't exactly made for two you know."
The Delvian smiled as she watched him try to explain without really explaining. She found it amusing that he was so embarrassed. "It's alright John. I believe you. Now, please sit still while I take care of your hand."
Aeryn hurried through the corridors toward Pilot's den. She was concerned about her friend. It wasn't like him not to respond when called upon. Though they had been through a lot in the past few cycles she still found it odd that she called him friend. She had been raised to look upon all other species as inferior, to be used or dominated. But since she had met John Crichton everything she had once known had been called into question.
Why does he so dominate my thoughts? Even when he's not here, he's here. She smiled as she thought of her human lover. They had come so close to losing everything, including their lives. When they had finally reunited, she had made a promise to herself, that she would never again allow that to happen. She knew that she couldn't protect John from everything the Uncharted Territories threw at them; he would never allow that. But she would be at his side through it all.
She hesitated at the entrance to the den, a sudden wave of fear and uncertainty washing over her. Somehow she knew that Pilot was in trouble. Perhaps it was their shared DNA, perhaps it was just the time they had spent together that gave her a sixth sense where he was concerned.
She punched the access control and waited impatiently for the door to swing open. When at last it was open far enough she squeezed through and hurried toward Pilot's control console. The large symbiont looked up slowly as she approached."Pilot?" Aeryn asked hurrying around the console to stand beside him. "Pilot, what is it? What's wrong?"
He turned his head slowly to look at her. Aeryn could see the pain in his eyes and her heart went out to him. She reached up to caress his cheek hoping to reassure him but pulled her hand back immediately. He was burning up with fever.
"Zhaan!" she called urgently, "Zhaan I need you in Pilot's den right now."
"What seems to be the problem?" Zhaan asked, her voice calm as ever.
"Pilot is ill. He has a fever and appears to be in great pain."
"I'll be there as soon as I can," Zhaan replied. Her voice remained calm, but her expression betrayed her concern as she turned to face John. His injured hand was suspended within the Reconstructor Unit. He met her eyes and nodded.
"Go. I'll be fine. I'll join you as soon as this thing's done."
She smiled in gratitude and gathered up her portable exam kit. As she headed for the door she turned back toward John checking to be certain the Reconstructor was working properly. When she was satisfied that all was as it should be she swept into the corridor in a swirl of blue.
Twelve Arns, Six Hundred Seventy Five Microts
"I've managed to stabilize Pilot's condition so that he can regain rudimentary control of Moya's systems. But it's only a temporary fix." Zhaan said as she looked to each of her shipmates. The Center Chamber was unnaturally silent as each of them struggled to comprehend the news of Pilot's illness.
"There has to be a mistake." Aeryn protested; her voice a plaintive whisper. "How could he have contracted Porchavian Plague? He never leaves the ship."
John reached over to pull her close, hoping to comfort her or at the least show some support. Instead she slapped his hand away in anger. "Not now," she hissed.
"Well, 'scuze the hell out of me," he snapped back. "I know you're worried about Pilot, but that's no reason to turn on me."
"Snapping at one another isn't going to help Pilot." Zhaan interrupted before their quibbling turned into an all out argument. "Though I have nothing firm to go by, I must assume that one of us was or is a carrier. I'll want to run some tests on each one of us."
"Shouldn't our first concern be finding a cure?" Rygel asked in a low, even voice. All eyes turned to look at the diminutive Hynerian. He so rarely seemed to think of anything or anyone beyond himself so when he expressed his concern, the others turned to stare.
"Is there a cure?" Chiana asked in a soft, hopeful voice. She had come to care a great deal for Pilot and would be loath to lose him. Not because he held control over Moya and in turn, their lives, but because he was her friend.
"There is one thing that may prove effective." Zhaan replied thoughtfully. "I have heard that an extract of Veriten Ore can be used as a remedy for this plague."
"Do you have some of this Veriten Ore aboard Moya?" D'Argo asked.
"Unfortunately no," she said sadly. "Veriten Ore is very rare and therefore very expensive. There is only one planet in this sector where it can be had."
"Pahk." Aeryn said softly, her face falling and her shoulders slumping in defeat.
"I take it that's bad." John asked looking from Aeryn to Zhaan.
"Yes. The Pahkma are in open rebellion against the Peacekeepers." Aeryn replied, looking directly at him for the first time since they had gathered in the Center Chamber. "It would be far too dangerous for us to go there."
"But if that's the only place we can get what we need ..."
"It's too dangerous Crichton." she snapped. "Don't you remember what happened when we went up against the Peacekeepers to get a cure for me?" Her eyes flew wide as the words passed her lips. Frell! If anyone would remember, it'd be him. I damn near got him killed.
John inhaled slowly trying to control his temper. How could I forget? I got Gilina killed and very nearly cost you your life. "No," he whispered, "I haven't forgotten. But ..."
"It's the only place we can get what we need to cure Pilot." Rygel interrupted. "We have to take the chance."
"Rygel?" D'Argo asked surprised that he was so insistent. "Is there some other reason you want to go to Pahk?"
Rygel looked at each of his shipmates in succession. He couldn't blame them for questioning his motives; he'd never given them much reason to trust him. But Pilot was a member of the crew as much as any of them and he deserved a chance for survival. Choosing his words carefully, he rose up in his throne chair.
"I don't understand why you're balking at this. The problem is simple. We need a cure for Pilot. The only place we can get one in time is Pahk. Therefore we should set course for the planet immediately. Self-recriminations and finger pointing are of no value. Pilot is an important member of this crew and I, for one, am willing to risk the trip to Pahk to save him."
Ten Arns, One Thousand Five Hundred Seventy Five Microts
"I don't like it! I don't like it one bit!"
"Will you sit down Crichton!" Aeryn snapped as he paced angrily behind her.
As soon as their meeting in the Center Chamber had ended, she had headed for the maintenance bay, hoping to have some time alone to sort through her thoughts about this course of action. It was dangerous, no denying that, but Pilot would do the same for any of them. In fact, he had done the same for them numerous times. Part of her knew she would follow through on their plan, she would do anything necessary to save her friend, but another part of her wondered if she was insane to even consider it. Every member of the crew was wanted by the Peacekeepers and they were heading straight into the middle of an all out rebellion.
She had always found it easiest to think when her hands were occupied so she started cleaning her pulse pistol. If I'm going to do this, I want everything in order. This is going to be risky enough. She had just started working when John had stormed into the bay demanding she talk with him. And so, while she wanted some peace to sort out her own thoughts she found herself trying to explain them to a very irate human.
"Why do you have to go?" he raged, continuing to pace a short course back and forth behind the workstation. "If this place is in open rebellion against Peacekeepers you could be in danger just because you're a Sebacean."
"I know that John," she replied evenly. In the time she had known Crichton she had seen him in a variety emotional states - happy, depressed, morose, even manic - but she had never seen him as irrational as he now appeared.
"I am going because I'm the best pilot we have aboard Moya. I can get us in and out the fastest and if we do meet up with Peacekeepers or even Pahkma resistance I have the best chance of getting us out." Aeryn hoped that by explaining it again, John would calm down, but she was beginning to think there was little hope of that. In the few weekens they had been together again, she had discovered an instability in John that frightened her. He had always been the one that had held them together when things got out of hand, but since his latest run in with Scorpius, something had changed.
"You know Pilot better than any of us. You can help him better than any of us if he weakens again. You should stay here. It just doesn't make sense."
"We've been over all of this. I agree with you that it makes sense for me to stay here, but I can't be in two places at once. You and the others will just have to make do without me here. Chiana has developed a knack for comforting Pilot and I believe D'Argo can handle the controls if Pilot becomes disabled."
"I still don't like it. And nothing you say can change my mind." Crichton groused, flopping onto a stool near the workbench.
"You're being very childish John." Aeryn snapped. The wounded look that flashed across his face made her pause. She continued softly, "Why does this bother you so much?"
"I don't think I could take losing you again," he whispered so softly she could barely make out his words.
Chiana slipped through the empty corridor near the crew quarters. She needed to talk to Rygel. His attitude since they had discovered Pilot's illness was so uncharacteristic that she suspected he was up to something. And she wanted to know what it was.
As she approached the gate to his quarters, Chiana could hear Rygel talking to someone. At least she assumed he was talking to someone. She couldn't see anyone else in the chamber, but he was most definitely carrying on a conversation with someone. He couldn't be working with the Peacekeepers, could he?