Eight Arns, Two Thousand Microts
Varga scuttled into the darkest corner of the cell when she heard the outer door open. He can't be coming back for me. Not yet. Oh please, not yet. As the sliver of light pierced the darkness she saw him coming. That bastard in black leather who delighted in tormenting her. Oh gods, he's stopping at my cell. No. Please don't take me again. Don't take me.
The cell door creaked open on its rusty hinges, the sound tearing at her sensitive ears. She cowered in the darkness, hoping that if she curled into a small enough ball he wouldn't see her. Wouldn't take her.
As she prayed to her gods for a respite from the Peacekeeper's cruelty she heard what sounded like a sack of something being tossed into the cell and the door slamming shut. Not daring to believe her good fortune she stayed curled in her cocoon for a few microts. But curiosity had always been her downfall - it's what had led her to be in this hellhole - and she peeked one eyestalk up over her clenched fists.
A Peacekeeper? Here? In a cell? Gods, what did they do to her?
She crept across the cell to where the newcomer was sprawled in the dust and debris that covered the floor. She reached out gently to push back the woman's long black hair. At her touch, the woman groaned. Not dead. At least not yet.
Varga was shocked to see deep purple bruises beginning to form on the woman's pale skin. Her eyes were badly swollen and her lower lip was split and bleeding. Even in the near darkness of the cell, she could tell that this woman had fared badly at the hands of her Peacekeeper captors. Far worse than they've ever given me. What did you do to anger them so?
Her new cellmate groaned again as she began to regain consciousness. Varga hurried across the cell and grabbed the tiny scrap of fabric she had hidden. She then soaked it in the stream of water that trickled down the cell wall. It wasn't the cleanest water on the planet, but it was cool and would soothe her burning flesh. When she turned, Varga was startled to see the Sebacean had somehow struggled into an seated position. She leaned heavily against the cell wall; her bound arms pinned between her and the cool stone.
"Who are you?" she asked in a hoarse whisper. "Where am I?"
Varga crouched warily before her, unsure what she should tell her. Could this be a trap? Are they using her to get me to tell them about the Resistance? She cocked her large head as she watched the Sebacean trying to find a comfortable position, but with her bruises and bound arms it was an impossible task. There's something different about this one. Can I trust her?
"I am called Varga. You?"
"Aeryn. Aeryn Sun."
"Why are you here? You're like ... them." Varga asked, her curiosity once again overruling her suspicion.
"They consider me a deserter." Aeryn answered carefully. She hadn't expected to be kept in a cell with anyone and wasn't sure if this was merely a ploy to break down her defenses.
"Are you?" Varga asked bluntly moving closer to Aeryn. "Not that it matters. If the Peacekeepers are your enemy, then you are my friend."
She reached toward Aeryn who recoiled at the gesture. "It's just a damp cloth." Varga explained, holding it out for Aeryn to see, "to clean your wounds.
Aeryn nodded in reply and Varga set to work soothing her cellmate's battered body.
"What do you mean, it's Rygel's fault?" D'Argo demanded, coming to stand beside Crichton. He glowered at the Nebari, angry that she was accusing Rygel and even angrier that he hadn't been there to protect Aeryn when she'd needed him.
"It is his fault." She repeated, stepping carefully past the two men. "I overheard him talking to someone before they left for the planet. He said that he needed Aeryn to get him to the surface, but that it was up to whoever he was talking to to take care of her when they were there."
"When did you hear this Chiana?" Crichton asked, his voice low, shaking with barely concealed rage.
"I told you, it was before they left. I went to his quarters to talk to him. Something didn't seem right about his interest in saving Pilot. When I got there he was talking to someone on a communicator."
"And you waited until now to tell anyone?" he shouted.
"I tried to tell you before they left," she countered, "but no one had time for me."
The silence in the room was palpable as D'Argo, Zhaan and John turned to stare at her. Their expressions told her that she had struck a nerve. As she watched them struggle with their thoughts she considered pressing her advantage, twisting the knife in a little deeper, but finally decided against it.
"You're right Chi," John said, finally breaking the silence, "we were all too busy with our own problems to pay attention." He closed the distance between them and drew her into a brotherly embrace. "Can you forgive me?"
"Don't I always?" she grinned up at him. Now this is the Crichton I've been waiting to see.
"What else can you tell us?" Zhaan asked, coming to join them, "Maybe we can use Moya's logs to trace who it was that Rygel was talking to."
They moved to the tactical table as Chiana recounted the story again, this time with a bit more detail. So intent on every nuance of Chiana's story, John and Zhaan didn't notice that D'Argo had slipped quietly from Command.
Eight Arns, Five Hundred Microts
The sun was just beginning to set as Rygel piloted his throne chair into a narrow alley off of the main market. The shadows were deep and the air was heavy with impending rain. It will have to be tonight. There may never be a better chance.
For the past three-quarters of an arn, Rygel had slipped from shadow to shadow, hoping to elude the Peacekeeper patrols that he knew were looking for him. The fear of recapture and imprisonment at the hands of the Peacekeepers gnawed at the Hynerian as he melted into the darkness of the alley. So far it appeared that the Peacekeepers didn't know if they were looking for one or all of Moya's passengers. Aeryn hasn't told them anything. We may pull this off yet.
A short distance ahead, a tiny sliver of light shone from under a door. He directed his chair toward it while staying hidden in the shadows. Reaching the door, he hovered, fear suddenly overwhelming him. Tammat, his contact in the market had said he would find refuge here, would find help, would find a way to get back to Moya. But now, waiting on the alley side of the heavy wooden door, Rygel was unsure if he could, or should, trust the merchant. All manner of scenarios raced through his mind - none of them pleasant - but finally he decided he needed to take a chance if he was to achieve his goals.
He eased forward and pressed the access chime, nearly jumping from his throne chair at the sound. They must have heard that three streets over. Terror flooded through him and he glanced around quickly to see if soldiers were bearing down on him. No one. He sighed in relief only to start again when the door opened just a crack.
Tammat peered out into the dimly lit alleyway. He had to be careful. Lives depended on him and he feared he had put them in danger by telling Rygel where the safe house was located. Can this Hynerian be trusted? And what of his Sebacean companion?
Just as Tammat was starting to push the door closed, he heard a low whistle. He relaxed at the signal indicating that Rygel was alone and hadn't been followed. At least not by Peacekeepers.
Opening the door just wide enough for Rygel to get through he was nearly run over by the Hynerian.
"What were you waiting for?" Rygel sputtered angrily as he sped through the opening.
"We are cautious people Dominar," Tammat replied quietly, "surely you must realize that we had to be sure you weren't followed."
"This is dren!" Crichton raged as he paced Command. I've gotta get down there Zhaan."
"John please, let Rygel handle this."
"Rygel?" he snorted derisively. "What're you smokin' Blue? He got her into this!"
"Perhaps, but I do not believe he would turn her over to the Peacekeepers. Rygel may be many things, but he is not a collaborator." Zhaan replied as calmly as she could in the face of John's ranting. His anger, while understandable, was beginning to wear thin. She had hoped that once he and Aeryn had become lovers that they would both mellow somewhat. But that hadn't been the case. If anything, their physical passion seemed to have spilled over into every aspect of their lives.
"Blue, I just can't leave her down there without trying to help. "
"Crichton, listen to me!" Zhaan snapped. "There are Peacekeepers on that planet," she continued deliberately, "do you want to get caught? They are most certainly looking for us. If you go to the surface you jeopardize us all. I will not permit that."
He turned to face her as she spoke, startled by her use of his surname. Stunned by her words, he opened his mouth to protest, but wisely decided against it. The look on Zhaan's face told him that she wouldn't tolerate any kind of a protest.
Eight Arns, Three Hundred Microts
"Why are you here?" Varga asked, losing yet another battle with her curiosity. She had tried to hold her tongue as she worked to clean Aeryn's wounds, but with every passing microt she longed to know more. This Sebacean was so different from those who tormented her. This one was genuinely grateful for her help. She didn't speak. In fact, she barely seemed to be conscious, but Varga knew she was gathering her strength. Preparing herself for the next round with her jailers.
"I told you," Aeryn whispered, fatigue heavy in her voice, "they consider me to be a deserter."
"No. I mean, why are you on Pahk? You must have known about the rebellion. Everyone within the three systems knows about it. Knows that the Peacekeepers are here to bring us back in line. If you're wanted by the Peacekeepers it was foolish to come here."
"Yes. But necessary." Aeryn replied, hoping that her short, cryptic answers would dampen Varga's curiosity. She was tired and every dench of her body ached. The last thing she wanted to do was chat with her cellmate. How much time have I lost?
Despite her muscles' protests Aeryn pulled her feet beneath her and began to push herself up. With her arms still bound behind her she was forced to use the wall as leverage. By the time she was standing she was panting heavily and her head was spinning. Must get out of here. She took a step away from the wall but felt her knees buckle and she collapsed to the floor. Running out of time. And everything turned to black.
Eight Arns, Fifty Microts
"You are asking a great deal Dominar Rygel." Tammat whispered. He leaned across the rough table and pulled the Hynerian's throne chair closer. "My people will still be here when you are gone. We will pay for what you have in mind."
"I am well aware of that Tammat." Rygel hissed back. "You will be paid handsomely for your services."
"But she is just one Sebacean. You were imprisoned by her kind. Surely she doesn't mean anything to you."
"She is ... " Rygel paused, searching for the right word, "valuable."
"Very well, I will talk to my people." Tammat replied with resignation. He didn't like what Rygel was proposing, but he understood loyalty to comrades. Even though Rygel had tried to sound casual about the Sebacean woman, Tammat could see the truth in his eyes. He cares. Perhaps more than he is willing to admit. Even to himself. The decision made; Tammat rose from the table and started across toward the door.
"It must be tonight." Rygel added casually as he reached for another piece of fruit.
Tammat turned to face the Hynerian. He knew this man was accustomed to being obeyed, but his arrogance was becoming annoying.
"Dominar ... " Tammat began through clenched teeth. "You cannot expect us to mount this kind of a plan on such short notice."
"I can. And I do." Rygel replied, raising up to his full height. "I am on a tight schedule. It must be tonight." He closed the distance between them, bringing him nose to nose with the Pahkma. "Listen to me," he snarled, "If you had handled things properly earlier today this would not be necessary. You will follow my plan. You will carry it out tonight. Do you understand me?"
He watched the emotions play across the Pahkma's face. Rage mixed with fear followed by acquiescence. Rygel knew he had won this round, but he wasn't sure how many more times he would be successful.
Seven Arns, Two Thousand Five Hundred Seventy Five Microts
Aeryn's first conscious thought was of rain. As she struggled back to complete awareness she realized that outside of her cell, it had started to rain and the sun had set. How long? How much time has passed? She could feel despair beginning to well up within her. Moya and Pilot and her shipmates were depending on her and she had failed them all. As the events of the past few arns swept unbidden through her memory, she cursed herself yet again. How could I have been so careless?
Baryn Tal. Of all the people she had not wanted to run into he had to be at the top of her list. On more than one occasion she had rebuffed his advances, much to the amusement of several members of their detail. It wasn't so much that she'd found him unattractive, but he was crude. He was all muscle and no brain. The perfect Peacekeeper drone.
She remembered well the last time she had seen him. They had just finished a routine patrol and were heading in for some rest and recreation. It had been a long patrol and all Aeryn wanted to do was take a warm shower, get some food and fall into her bunk for some well deserved rest. But Tal had other ideas. He not only wanted rest; he wanted recreation. And he wanted it with her.
As soon as she locked down her Prowler she headed toward the crew quarters. She was glad that Pleisar Regiment had been awarded private quarters because of its standing within the fleet. It meant she wouldn't have to contend with the comings and goings of the other pilots. She could be alone, which is what she wanted more than anything.
Tal was glad that they had private quarters as well, but for very different reasons. He watched Aeryn go through the lock-down procedures, making sure he would finish just microts after she did. He'd been planning this for days and was ready to make his move. She would be his partner for the sleep cycle and he was certain she would remember him for a very long time.
Aeryn had moved quickly through the corridors of the carrier, coming at last, to her quarters. She swiped her ident chip through the scanner and stepped through the door as it slipped open. As soon as she heard it close she stripped down and headed for the shower that she shared with the other soldiers in this cluster or rooms. She stood under the stream of water for a long time, letting it soothe her sore muscles and her tired spirit.
Finally, she stepped from under the soothing water and wrapped a large towel around her to head back to her private quarters. As soon as she entered, she knew something wasn't right. She'd let her uniform lay where it fell when she'd stripped for her shower, but it was gone from the floor. It now lay neatly folded on the table beside her bunk.
Scanning the small room, she didn't see anyone, but knew that someone else had been, or was still there. She eased toward her sidearm which hung in its holster just inside the door, hoping she wouldn't need it, but fully prepared to use it if she did. As she reached for the pistol, the door slid open and Baryn Tal grabbed her arm, twisting it behind her.
He pushed her back into the room and activated the locking mechanism on the door, all the while increasing the pressure on her arm. She struggled in his grasp, but he was bigger and stronger and she was unable to break free. Her mind was racing, seeking a way to escape what she knew he wanted.
Then it hit her. He expects me to struggle. He wants me to fight him. Without warning, she forced her body to go limp. Startled, Tal released his grip and she dove for her sidearm. In a single fluid motion, she grasped the weapon, rolled and fired. Tal screamed when the shot contacted his thigh, just denches from his manhood. Aeryn leapt to her feet, activated the door lock and thrust him out the door. As the door slid shut, she could hear him screaming.
That had been the last time she had seen Baryn Tal. She'd heard later that he'd been hysterical and had confessed to attacking her and several other women in the regiment. Since fraternization between genders wasn't encouraged - even though it was tolerated - he'd been reduced in rank and transferred out of Pleisar Regiment.
She shook her head as though trying to shake away the memories. No. I can't waste time with useless reminiscence. Pulling her feet under her, Aeryn inhaled sharply as pain coursed through her tight muscles. The cold dampness of the cell had seeped into her joints and the smallest movement caused pain to shoot through her. After several microts of struggling, she pushed herself to her feet. Only then did she notice that Varga was not in the cell.
Seven Arns, Two Thousand, One Hundred Fifty Seven Microts
Tammat rapped on the heavy wooden door once sharply, waited several microts then rapped three more times. He waited, scarcely breathing, for the door to open and allow him entry. Coming here had been nerve wracking for him. He didn't like Dominar Rygel XVI. He didn't trust him very much either. But they had a mutual goal. They both wanted to see the Peacekeepers driven from Pahk.
The door before him finally opened and he released the breath he didn't realize he had been holding. He slipped quickly through the opening and was relieved to hear the door being secured behind him. Five pairs of eyes locked with his. They were not happy about being called together like this. It put the resistance movement at risk.
He moved quickly to join them at the center of the room. They had gathered around a brazier burning low but warming the room against the chill of the night. Tammat knew that the chamber had been swept for listening devices and that it was safe to talk, but he was still reluctant to reveal the reason for this sudden meeting. He removed his cape and shook off the rain as he settled into the only vacant seat.
"Enough stalling my friend. Why have you summoned us here tonight?"
Leave it to Logren to get right to the point. "Very well Logren," Tammat smiled. "I'll get to it." He leaned in toward the center of their circle, wordlessly encouraging the others to do the same.
"I have found someone willing to finance our weapons purchase." Tammat paused, waiting for the full impact of his news to be felt. They had struggled long and hard to find a way to purchase weapons on the black market, but it seemed that every time they found a backer, the deal would fall through at the last moment. There were many races who wanted to see the Pahkma drive the Peacekeepers from their planet, but so far none of them were willing to put actions to their words.
"Is this another pipe dream? Or is this one going to follow through?" Logren asked, voicing the doubts they all felt.
"It is the Hynerian I told you of several days ago. He has no love for the Peacekeepers. They helped his cousin overthrow him and have imprisoned him for over two hundred cycles. Aside from regaining his throne, his one goal in life is to do as much harm to the Peacekeepers as he can."
"But can you trust him?" Logren asked.
"Probably not," Tammat answered thoughtfully, "but he needs us right now as much as we need him."
Seven Arns, One Thousand Eight Hundred Seventy Five Microts
Crichton strode through one of Moya's endless corridors. Anyone who knew the human would know that he was angry. Angry and frightened. When Chiana had told them what she had overheard outside of Rygel's quarters he had been livid. If Rygel had been aboard Moya right then John realized that he probably would have killed him with his bare hands.
Finally Zhaan could stand his ranting no longer and sent him on an errand. She had said that there appeared to be a blockage in one of Moya's amnexis conduits and that it would need to be cleared manually since Pilot was in no condition to send the DRDs. If he'd been thinking straight, he have seen it for what it was - a ploy to take his mind off his anger and fear for Aeryn's safety. Instead, he took her at her word and headed for the supposed blockage.
He stopped at the entrance to the service conduit that was nearest to his destination and pulled the cover plate off in a smooth motion. Dropping down to his hands and knees he crawled through the tight opening and headed toward the amnexis junction Zhaan had indicated. It was close and hot. Hmm, reminds me of Florida in July.
He crawled through the shaft until it split into two paths. He'd been so distracted when Zhaan had sent him on this mission he couldn't remember which fork he was supposed to take. Sitting back on his heels he contemplated calling Zhaan on the comms, but that would be admitting that he hadn't been paying attention. Instead, he weighed his options. I can go the right ... the Hammond side ... everything on Moya seems to happen on that side. Or I can go to the left. Well ... as ass end as everything around here's been lately, that's probably the side the problem's on. Aww, what the hell. Left it is.
Picking up his small toolbox, he started down the left fork of the shaft but he'd only gone a few steps when he heard his comms start to buzz and crackle. Damned interference. Better back up. He retraced his steps and as he reentered the main access shaft the signal cleared.
"... back to Command."
"Zhaan? What was that? I only caught part of it." he asked as he scuttled back toward the main passageway.
"John, you need to come back up to Command. We have a problem."
"Okay, fine. Like we need another one." He muttered more to himself than to Zhaan. "I'm on my way."
A few microts later, he rushed into Command to find Chiana in tears and Zhaan looking as though she was about to cry as well. "Okay, what's the problem?" he asked gently, all of his anger dissipating when he saw the fear and sadness on the women's faces.
"John," Zhaan said, turning to face him, "D'Argo's gone."
"What do you mean, gone?" He asked. He'd thought that perhaps something had happened to Pilot or that they'd had news about Aeryn. But D'Argo? What could have happened to him?
"He's left Moya. Gone to the planet." Zhaan replied as she sat heavily at the tactical table. She suddenly looked every one of her eight hundred cycles. "He left a recording. Here, watch this." She said in a tired voice.
"John, Zhaan, Pilot ... Chiana. This is probably the last you will see of me. One of my wife's murderers is on that planet. I go to seek vengeance. If I can free Aeryn, I will do so, but I will have justice. Lo'Laan's blood cries out for it. I will miss you my friends.
"John, do not try to come after me. Allow me to do this to avenge my wife's murder."
For several microts the only sound in Command was the ever-present hum of Moya's systems. John was stunned. He hadn't made the connection before. Rygel had said that Aeryn's captor was called Baryn Tal. And Lo'Laan had been murdered by Macton Tal, her brother. There had to be blood between them. How could I have been so dense?
Damn. Damn. Damn! He paced angrily between the tactical and weapons consoles clenching and unclenching his fists. Like it wasn't bad enough when I only had to worry about Aeryn. Now I have to worry about that frelling Luxan.
"This is just great." John muttered under his breath. "What should be easy is never easy! Just once I'd like it if a plan came together."