Seven Arns, Six Hundred Forty Seven Microts
Aeryn Sun, former Peacekeeper commando, stood proudly before her captors. They had beaten her physically, but in her heart she knew they could never break her.
Though she had once rebelled against the idea, she realized that when she had chosen to follow Crichton and leave the Peacekeepers, it had been the wisest decision she had ever made. For several monens she had cursed Crichton for what he had done to her life, but ultimately it had been her decision. It had taken a near fatal stabbing at the hands of a Peacekeeper captain - Laraq - for her to accept that.
From the day she had become a renegade she knew that eventually she would have to face the consequences of her decision. Today appeared to be that day.
Shortly after she had shaken off the memories of Tal and his ill-fated attack, one of the Peacekeeper jailers dragged a semi-conscious Varga back into the cell they shared. He dropped her without comment into a corner before turning on Aeryn. The look in his eyes sent a chill racing down her spine and she stepped back involuntarily. He leered at her and reached out to grab her elbow roughly.
She lashed out viciously, raising her knee to his groin in a fluid motion. He inhaled sharply, but never broke his grip on her elbow. He pulled her close and she could feel his fetid breath on her cool skin. "Bitch. You'll pay for that," he hissed in her ear. "Move."
Nearly half an arn had passed since she'd been dragged from her cell. Tal's soldiers had taken turns interrogating her. If she failed to answer their questions or didn't respond fast enough she was struck. The end of the interview left her with fresh bruises and cuts. When they finished with her they dragged her to a barren room that passed for an office. She was pushed through the door and left to wait.
She didn't have to wait long. She had barely stumbled to a halt when the door opened behind her. She whirled around to find Baryn Tal standing in the doorway, a self-satisfied smile on his face. Without saying a word, he moved across the room. She followed his every move, unsure of what to expect, but knowing whatever it was would not be good. He took a seat at the desk and began shuffling through papers as if she weren't even in the room.
She pulled her eyes from him and straightened her shoulders, standing tall. It took every bit of her strength but she stared straight ahead, her eyes impassive, her body rigid. I will not give him the satisfaction of seeing my pain.
Tal studied his prisoner through veiled eyes. She was still the image of the ideal Peacekeeper commando. Tall. Proud. Strong. Damn, I could take her right now. He swallowed hard, pushed himself out of his chair and walked slowly toward Aeryn. He circled her much as a bird of prey closes in on its target. She remained unflinching as he stopped before her, their bodies nearly touching. Standing so close, he could almost feel her heart pounding in her breast. Or is that my own? He inhaled deeply trying to calm his growing arousal. This is NOT the time. Hoping to appear casual, he reached up to finger her hair, which lay in a tangle over her shoulders. She flinched at the contact and a cold, hard smile spread across his face.
"So, Officer Sun," he sneered, "my men tell me you have been less than cooperative. You don't seem to fully understand your situation. I can make things so much easier for you with First Command."
"No." she said simply.
"I don't think you fully understand me Aeryn," he whispered seductively, "I can make this all go away. First Command does not need to know that you have been arrested."
A wave of revulsion coursed through her. She bit back the angry retort that sprang to her lips, knowing it would only make matters worse. Does he never learn? "No Tal. I do not want your help," she said at last.
Tal's face darkened in anger. How dare she reject me? His pride wounded, he grabbed the back of her neck roughly and pulled her face close to his. "I will personally see that you are executed for the traitor you are," he ground out then pushed her roughly away. Unwilling to reveal how much her rejection had hurt his pride, he forced himself to walk casually back to the desk where he summoned a guard to return her to her cell.
He watched her being escorted away with mixed emotions. Her courage and calm assurance impressed him, but he was also angered by her defiance. I could have given you so much. You will regret your decision with your dying breath.
Seven Arns, Four Hundred Twenty One Microts
Sand and debris billowed high into the night air as the ship settled to the desert floor. The whining engine rent the stillness of the night. D'Argo had chosen this secluded area to land Moya's pod hoping to avoid detection. He was unsuccessful as four pairs of eyes watched the pod descend and land.
As the pod's hatch opened, D'Argo hesitated in the entry. He knew he shouldn't have come, but hearing the name of Baryn Tal had awakened a deep-seated blood lust within him. Though many cycles had passed, Lo'Laan's murder was still an open wound and he longed for revenge against those who had destroyed his family. This was the first real opportunity he'd had for closure and he was determined to see it through, regardless of the consequences.
He reached over his shoulder and smoothly unsheathed his ever-present Qualta Blade. He carefully checked its charge, running his hand over its cool blade, taking comfort on the familiar feel. The blade was so much more to D'Argo than a weapon, albeit a powerful one. It represented continuity. It represented family. Enough reflection. There is work to do.
The Pahkma scouts watched from their hiding place amid the rocks. They had heard stories of Luxan warriors but had never seen one. Their reputation as fierce warriors and enemies of the Peacekeepers at once awed and inspired the young men. They exchanged a series of quick signs and the fastest of their number raced off, heading toward the city. As his feet flew his mind raced. What is a Luxan doing here? Is he part of a larger force? Are they allies or enemies? I must warn the council. They will know what to do.
Seven Arns, One Hundred Twelve Microts
Pilot's den lay deep in shadows as Zhaan entered. She had discovered that the usual level of illumination had become intolerable for Pilot as the disease progressed. By keeping the chamber as dark as possible, Pilot was able to endure the pain while maintaining a small level of control over Moya's systems.
Moya herself seemed to sense the crisis and had taken rudimentary control over some systems. That control, unfortunately, extended only to those systems directly relating to propulsion and guidance. All internal life support and higher functions were still in Pilot's hands and his control was tenuous, at best.
Zhaan approached Pilot cautiously, not wanting to startle him. As the disease ravaged his system and the pain became more intense, even the slightest noise bothered him and he had started lashing out. The first time it had happened, he had nearly broken Chiana's arm. Since that incident everyone but Zhaan steered clear of him. The bond that had developed between them during their journey into the Builders' space and following Moya's near fatal run in with the Metalites had saved her from his outbursts.
"How are you feeling Pilot?" she whispered softly.
"I am ... enduring." He replied in a tired voice. Zhaan moved swiftly around the massive control console to his side. She rested her hand on one of his claws, which she was surprised to find trembled slightly.
"Is the pain much worse?" Zhaan asked, looking him in the eye. She knew he was trying to hide the truth of his condition from her. She wasn't sure, though, if he thought he was protecting his shipmates or if he was protecting himself from their pity. Either way, she was determined to get to the truth.
He reluctantly met her gaze and nodded. "Do not concern yourself Pa'u Zhaan. I am accustomed to living with pain."
"We are all concerned for you Pilot," Zhaan said, hoping to encourage and comfort him. "And not because you control Moya's systems. You are a member of our crew. And you are my friend."
He looked at her for a long moment as if trying to decide whether or not to tell her the truth. He sighed and his shoulders dropped. "The pain is becoming intolerable," he gasped, "I do not know how much longer I can endure this. Promise me you will allow me to die in peace."
Zhaan's eyes widened. How can he expect me to agree to that? "Pilot ..."
"Pa'u Zhaan, do not deny me this," he interrupted her protest. "I am not asking you to kill me, only to ease my pain and allow me to die when the time comes. Please do not try to lengthen my days. Allow me the dignity of dying peacefully."
Zhaan bowed her head and closed her eyes, struggling to regain control of her emotions. She knew well the desire to die with dignity and without heroic measures. She had desired the same thing not that long ago. But this was different. This was her friend. This was the death of someone she cared about and for whom she was responsible. Goddess, give me courage.
She brushed away the tears that had sprung to her eyes and looked up at Pilot. Smiling sadly she nodded.
Six Arns, Two Thousand Four Hundred Seventeen Microts
Rygel hovered back and forth across the main room of the safehouse. Tammat had left to talk with the Resistance cell leaders nearly half an arn earlier and Rygel was beginning to get nervous. When he had agreed to fund the weapons purchase for the Pahkma Resistance it had seemed like such a simple thing. All he had to do was get to the planet and make contact with Tammat. But as Crichton often said, what should be easy is never easy.
He had managed to get to Pahk; that had been the easy part. Infecting Pilot with Porchavian Plague had been a simple thing. He'd been exposed to the plague himself when he was just a boy so he was immune. Once he had procured the contagion he had waited impatiently for Moya to be within range of the planet before exposing Pilot. The fact that Pilot could really die had never entered Rygel's mind. His plan had seemed flawless.
And it would have been, had Aeryn not been recognized by the Peacekeepers. Tammat's agent had been beside himself when he'd reported that she'd been arrested. His sole task had been to keep an eye on her and see that she was safe and he had failed. He had offered his life to Rygel in exchange for Aeryn's and for a few microts Rygel had considered taking it. But then he'd realized that this man would now do anything he asked to make up for his failure.
As Rygel swung around for another pass across the room, Tammat slipped through the door, bolting it behind him. He looks nervous.
"What took you so long?" Rygel demanded.
Tammat shrugged off his cape, shook the water off and hung it on a peg beside the door. He moved to the small brazier that had been lit to take the chill out of the air. "What you have asked of us is dangerous. It took some time to convince the others that the risk is worth the reward," he replied as he rubbed his hands over the low flames.
"And did you convince them?" Rygel snapped. "By the Hynerian gods I will have an answer!"
"Calm yourself Dominar," Tammat replied smoothly. He straightened and turned to face his Hynerian guest. "The cell leaders have agreed to your demand. We will move tonight."
"Excellent!" Rygel smiled. "We have limited time ..." he stopped as loud pounding echoed through the room. His eyes widened in terror and Tammat hurried across the room and peered through the peephole into the alley. Recognition lit his eyes and he unbolted the door.
"Perin!" he exclaimed as he wrapped his arms around the young man. "Come, you must be chilled to the bone." He pulled him close to the brazier and pushed him into a chair. "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be on a scouting patrol in the desert."
"Father, I have news for the council." he panted.
"You should rest." Tammat cautioned. He moved swiftly to find food and water for his son. The young man looked exhausted.
"Father, don't try to protect me. I am not my sister." Perin hissed sharply. "We have seen a Luxan in the desert. The council must be told."
Six Arns, One Thousand Nine Hundred Forty One Microts
Lieutenant Baryn Tal sat behind his desk, his eyes focused inward. It had been a long time since he had seen Aeryn Sun. A long time to bear the humiliation she had caused him. Had it not been for his family's connections and his record in battle he would have been retired after the incident. There had been times in those long cycles that he almost would have preferred retirement. The Living Death would have been preferable to some of the assignments he had received. All because Aeryn Sun hadn't succumbed to his charms.
But now the woman who had spurned and humiliated him before his fellow Peacekeepers was a prisoner in his jail. A cold smile spread across his face. He would have satisfaction. Aeryn Sun would die at his hands, but not before he got what he had wanted all those cycles ago.
Aeryn Sun stood inside the cell waiting for her eyes to adjust to the intense darkness. There was no artificial lighting in the cells and with the heavy rain still falling, little light filtered through the tiny window near the ceiling. After a few microts she was able to make out some rough shapes. Mostly rocks that had fallen from the decaying walls and what furnishings there were - a fire-pit and a basin that held a small amount of brackish water. In the far corner she could see what looked to be a heap of rags. Varga.
Aeryn picked her way carefully to the girl's side. She eased herself down beside Varga and confirmed that her cellmate was still breathing. Now that her eyes had become more accustomed to the darkness Aeryn could see that Varga had been mistreated. There were fresh welts and bruises on her arms and along her shoulders.
A wave of sympathy swept through her, surprising her in its intensity. I only met this girl a short time ago. Why does her wellbeing matter to me? Crichton must be rubbing off on me. Realizing there was nothing she could do at the moment, Aeryn leaned heavily against the wall and let her eyes close. Rest. I must rest. Then I will find a way out of here.
D'Argo kept to the shadows as he slipped through the city gate. He was soaked to the skin, but he hardly noticed, his mind was so clouded by blood lust. It had taken him longer to reach the city than he had anticipated, but he'd been forced to conceal himself from several passing Peacekeeper patrols. Their vigilance had at once surprised and pleased him. It wasn't often that an enemy sufficiently unnerved the Peacekeepers that they maintained constant patrols. Obviously the Pahkma were a formidable force, one with which D'Argo hoped to ally himself.
The city was quiet under the heavy rain, which suited D'Argo. His only thought when leaving Moya was to find Baryn Tal and kill him. It hadn't occurred to him to determine his whereabouts or work out a plan to find him. But he knew that when he found the Peacekeeper garrison, sooner or later he would find Baryn Tal. And so D'Argo worked his way through the city toward the building the Peacekeepers had confiscated as their command center. He knew it would be secure, but he also knew that it would not be impenetrable.
During the cycles he had spent in Peacekeeper custody he had learned one thing. Peacekeepers were arrogant. They refused to believe that anyone could defeat them. In most cases they were correct, but their arrogance had led to some embarrassing losses when they had become lax in their security. This was a weakness that D'Argo fully intended to exploit.
D'Argo crouched in the dark shadows of an alley across the main street from Peacekeeper Command Central. He studied the building and its fortifications. He was right; it was secure. Very secure. Settling back on his heels, he watched the routines of the sentries, looking for a pattern or a weakness to use. Nothing.
Without a specific plan, he decided to watch and wait. Surely there was some way he could gain access to the complex. He leaned against the stone wall at his side only to feel the cold muzzle of a weapon press into his neck. He froze. He hadn't smelled anyone approach, but then realized that the very rain that camouflaged his presence would mask another's as well.
"On your feet Luxan."