Six Arns, One Thousand Eight Hundred Ninety One Microts
"When that frelling Luxan gets back here I am going to personally kick his ass up over his ears." Crichton muttered angrily as he backed out from under his module's access panel. He snatched up a rag and rubbed at his hands. He slammed his tools down on the workbench and plopped onto the stool in disgust.
"What is the problem John?" Zhaan asked as she crossed the maintenance bay.
Crichton looked up at her, startled by her nearness. Despite the time he had spent with her since being tossed into the Uncharted Territories she still took his breath away. Such a dichotomy. Beautiful and deadly. Serene yet walking the edge of insanity. Healer. Warrior. Blue. She knew him better than anyone aboard Moya - even Aeryn.
"D'Argo sabotaged the module so that I can't get to the planet," he groused. He was in a sour mood and this had just made it worse.
"He did ask you not to follow him." She came around the workbench and pulled up a stool beside him.
"I should be down there!" he complained loudly.
"John ... "
"Don't 'John' me," he shouted, jumping to his feet. He stalked back and forth between the module and Zhaan. "Aeryn has been in Peacekeeper custody for nearly three arns! I should be down there. I should be ... "
"You should be what, John?" she interrupted him, her voice rising in anger. "Getting yourself arrested? Or perhaps killed?"
He stopped pacing and turned to look at her. She so rarely raised her voice that it surprised him. For several microts they stared at each other, neither of them sure of what to say next. Finally he walked back to the stool beside Zhaan and sat down. He took her hands in his and looked her in the eyes, hoping that she would see his anger for what it really was. Fear and helplessness.
"Forgive me John," she began, breaking the awkward silence, "I didn't mean to raise my voice."
"Yes you did," he smiled. "And you got the response you were looking for." He chuckled as she ducked her head in embarrassment. "It's okay Zhaan," he continued. "I'm okay. I'm just frustrated. I feel so damned helpless."
He paused, expecting her to offer some advice or encouragement. Instead, she remained silent, studying him intently.
"Zhaan, you don't understand," he finally continued, "I should be on the planet with Aeryn. If I'd been there she wouldn't have been caught. We'd have the cure for Pilot by now and we'd be heading away from this place."
"You don't know that," she replied, her voice heavy with sadness. The past few monens had been difficult ones and she could tell that the strain was beginning to wear on them all, especially John. He seemed to be at the breaking point and she feared this would send him spiraling into depression or worse. Since she had known him he had taken responsibility for things that were beyond his control and he seemed to be doing so once again.
"Yes I do," he persisted. "I know it doesn't make much sense, but I've had a weird feeling about this from the start. There's something going on here we don't know about. That's why I wanted to go with Aeryn. Damnit, I've gotta get down there!"
"I need you here. Pilot needs you here."
"Yeah, right," he snorted. "I'd bet Pilot would prefer I was anywhere but here. I'm not exactly his favorite person right now."
"Then be content to stay because I need you," she said softly, turning to look him in the eye. She watched him for several microts as he struggled with his feelings. It was obvious that he wanted to be doing something to help Aeryn, but he also wanted to prove to his shipmates that he was worthy of their trust. He glanced at the module then back at Zhaan. A sad smile spread across his face as he stood and wrapped an arm around the Delvian's shoulder.
"Well Blue, I think D'Argo kinda made that choice for me. I'm not goin' anywhere for a while. Whadda ya need me to do?"
Six Arns, Nine Hundred Forty Three Microts
Aeryn's eyes snapped open and she sprang to her feet; the solider in her taking control. Her pain was relegated to the periphery of her consciousness as she worked to protect herself and Varga. She pulled the girl to her feet just as the building was rocked by another explosion, closer this time.
Debris rained down on them as the ancient walls of their cell began to crumble. As the building shook again, Aeryn pushed Varga into the corner and shielded her with her own body just as a large block fell toward them. It struck her and she dropped to her knees with a hiss as sharp pain stabbed through her. They lay in the corner, listening to the sounds of the battle.
"What's going on?" Varga asked, panic obvious in her voice.
"The Command Center is under attack." Aeryn whispered. "Now keep your voice down."
Tammat watched the assault on the Command Center with mixed emotions. This was the boldest move the Resistance had made against the Peacekeepers to date. They had taken the Peacekeepers by surprise and were having a measure of success, but Tammat knew it was only a matter of time before that changed. He hoped that their forces could get in and out before the Peacekeepers managed to regroup.
Logren led the main assault. He had the most actual combat experience in the Resistance leadership, having fought against the Peacekeepers for nearly five cycles. In that time he had repeatedly led his poorly trained and equipped soldiers to victory against clearly superior forces. His tactics, though unorthodox, were effective and his followers revered him. Tammat had been reluctant to let Logren lead the assault, fearing for his safety. Losing him would deal the Resistance a serious blow in terms of morale and leadership. He could only pray to his gods that Logren would be safe and that there would be few casualties.
Tammat was enough of a realist to understand that there would be casualties. There always were when they went up against the Peacekeepers. That was how he had lost his own daughter. She had insisted, against his protests, that she be allowed to join a small patrol that was going to scout their next target. She had always been curious and impulsive and he found it hard to deny her anything. Especially when she was ideally suited for the task. To do so would have appeared to be favoritism and as a leader, he couldn't allow that. Not only would it have undermined his authority, it would have been unfair to those who fought alongside him and his children.
Another explosion rocked the Command Center, bringing Tammat's attention back to the present. He smiled as he saw Peacekeeper soldiers, the best trained, most feared force in the universe running for their lives. It wasn't that he found death amusing, but that the rag-tag force they had assembled on such short notice could strike them so hard and so deep.
Logren, as always, had set out an effective strategy. He was a genius at hit-and-run warfare and once again he was demonstrating it. Each explosion was designed to draw the Peacekeepers away from the actual target. Of course, it had been hit as well so that the real objective of the assault wouldn't be obvious. A group of Resistance fighters - all volunteers - acted as decoys, drawing the soldiers away from the main force. They knew to a man that they would be dead by morning, but each one considered the sacrifice worthwhile. Their deaths would be the stuff of Pahkma legends for generations to come.
"Send in the main force." Tammat spoke into his comm unit. He tried to keep his voice even, but it held a tremor that belied his calm exterior. His son, Perin was in the main force and he feared he would lose another child to this hellish war.
At Tammat's order the main force moved forward, staying in the shadows. Perin took up the point position, his experience scouting in the desert being put to use in the confines of the city. He set a fast pace and within microts they had melted into the shadows at the prison's main entrance.
Perin moved with swift assurance. He motioned for two of his number to move into position on either side of the main entrance. The remainder of the patrol fanned out, weapons drawn while he set the explosives Logren had provided. Once the detonator was set, he had ten microts to take cover. Perin quickly affixed the charge to the door, activated the timer and dropped back to take cover with his men.
The bomb detonated, its shaped charge hurtling the heavy door inward killing the two unlucky Peacekeepers who had been left to guard the entrance. Reinforcements surged forward, as it became obvious that they were under direct attack. Unfortunately for the Peacekeepers, Logren's strategy had fooled those in command, leaving few soldiers in the prison. Perin's comrades moved forward with ruthless efficiency, leaving those unfortunate few dead in their wake.
Aeryn lay in the darkness listening to the sounds of the battle. As the fighting seemed to move away from the prison she tried to push herself off of Varga but sharp pain surged through her lower back and she had to fight to not cry out. Varga, however, caught a glimpse of her fleeting grimace. She craned her neck and extended her eyestalks to peer over Aeryn's shoulder. Even in the darkness she could see a slick redness spreading across her back.
"This is going to hurt," she warned as she began to ease herself from under Aeryn's prone body. As she moved carefully to the side she heard Aeryn hiss in pain. "I'm sorry. There's no way I can help you from under here."
"Just do it." Aeryn ground out through clenched teeth.
In one swift effort, Varga pulled herself from beneath Aeryn who groaned as another sharp pain stabbed through her. "Lie still," she urged, hurrying across the cell. She put her hand into a small crevasse in the stone wall and pulled out a tiny object. Clutching it tightly she returned to Aeryn's side and dropped to her knees beside her. She pressed a slight indentation in the device she held and soft light illuminated the cell.
"Relax, let me look at this," she crooned leaning close to inspect Aeryn's wound. It was an ugly gash along the spine and Varga had to fight back the bile that rose in her throat at the sight. To cover her uneasiness, she chattered on about how she'd come to have the light - her previous cellmate had smuggled it in - and how she'd become a Peacekeeper prisoner - taken while on a scouting mission for the Resistance.
"It's bad, isn't it?" Aeryn finally asked, tiring of the girl's ramblings.
Varga hesitated. She knew that without treatment the wound would be fatal. But how could she break that news to Aeryn? She risked her life to save mine. No one's ever done that before. She glanced up and her eyes met Aeryn's.
"Yes," she replied simply. She already knows. "I could call the guards, they could get you medical help." Varga offered, knowing even as she spoke the words that Aeryn would refuse. She slipped down beside the Sebacean and laid her hand gently on her shoulder, hoping to offer some comfort. They stayed like that for some time, listening to the battle move ever farther away.
Suddenly an explosion shook the building. They heard weapons fire and sounds of hand-to-hand combat drawing nearer. Varga deactivated the light, but stayed at Aeryn's side.
The outer cellblock door burst open. Light cut a swath across the cell and Varga leapt to her feet. She was determined to protect her cellmate, her friend at all costs. Soldiers carrying light weapons flooded the cellblock.
"We found them." Perin spoke into his comm unit. "Nineteen prisoners so far. No sign of the Sebacean. Entering the last cell now." Approaching the cell door, he unlocked it and stepped inside.
Varga pounced. Her finger tightened around Perin's throat. Stunned, he staggered back into the corridor, unable to break her grip. As they careened out of the cell into the light, Varga got a good look at her victim.
"Perin!" she cried.
A low growl caught Tammat's attention. He turned to face the Luxan. They had discovered him while moving into position for the attack on the Peacekeeper Command Center. He had been taken into custody after a brief struggle that had left three of their number injured. The only things that had kept the number that low were the element of surprise and their superior weapons.
D'Argo was angry with himself. He had been taken prisoner because he had allowed himself to be distracted by thoughts of revenge. As he watched the battle unfold, he feared that Tal would die in the battle, cheating him out of his chance to exact justice for his wife's murder.
"We do not need to be enemies, Luxan." Tammat said, moving closer to the big man.
"And why should we be friends?" D'Argo snarled.
"You are not a friend of the Peacekeepers, nor are we, as you can see. One of our philosophers has said ... the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
"If I am your friend, why do you keep me in chains?"
"Do I have your word that you will not interfere with our battle?" Tammat asked, coming to stand beside D'Argo. He knew he was taking a chance by offering to release this alien, but something in his gut told him to take D'Argo at his word.
D'Argo considered what he was being offered. A chance to be free of the chains that bound him. A chance to exact his revenge on Tal. He nodded. "There is only one Peacekeeper I want to kill. I give you my word as a Luxan warrior. I will not interfere with this battle."
Tammat gestured to the guards who released D'Argo's restraints. He hefted D'Argo's Qualta Blade and presented it to him hilt first. "An impressive weapon. It has seen many battles, has it not?"
D'Argo nodded as he sheathed the blade. He was puzzled by Tammat's actions. To release a prisoner, a potentially dangerous prisoner, during a battle was unheard of.
Tammat returned to his vantage point, watching the fighting that continued in the compound. Fires raged all around the Command Center and sounds of combat carried through the night air. The rain that had covered their initial advance had stopped, but heavy clouds still hung in the air. He was concerned that the assault on the prison was taking too long. Perin. Take care son. I do not want to lose you too.
Perin reacted instinctively, pulling his weapon and pointing it into the face of the creature that had attacked him. Looking down the barrel of his pistol he was shocked to see a pair of familiar eyes staring at him.
"Varga?" he whispered, his voice soft, almost breathless.
"Gods, how did you find me, brother?" she asked, enveloping him in a hug. "I had given up hope of ever seeing you or Father again."
"We thought you were dead," he said softly, pushing her away to get a better look. His hands moved to her face, caressing her gently as if trying to reassure himself that she was real.
"Aeryn," Varga gasped, suddenly remembering her cellmate. She grabbed Perin's arm and dragged him back into the cell. "She saved my life Perin," she said pointing to the fallen Sebacean. "She's hurt. Help her."
"We have her." Perin reported into his comm unit. He dropped to his knees beside Aeryn and examined her wounds quickly. "I need a Medical Evac team up here now," he shouted.
Five Arns, Two Thousand Seventy One Microts
"What do you mean, the prison is empty?" Tal shouted. The young soldier who had brought the report stepped back. He had never seen the Lieutenant so angry. Tal's eyes blazed and the veins in his neck stood out as he reached out, grabbed the young man's neck and slammed him against the wall. He leaned in close, glaring into his subordinate's eyes.
"I want those prisoners found within one solar day or I will personally see that everyone who was on duty in the prison during the attack receives the Living Death. Is that understood?" As the last word passed his lips he released his victim who slumped to the floor, clutching his ravaged throat. The young man scrambled to his feet and fled from the office. He knew he should have told him that all of the soldiers who'd been on duty had been killed in the assault, but considering the Lieutenant's mood, he decided that discretion was the better part of valor.
The last of the fighting could be heard as Tammat led D'Argo through the streets of the silent city. At the first sign of battle, everyone not involved had wisely moved indoors and so they moved in anonymity. This had been a costly night for the Resistance, but it had been doubly so for the Peacekeepers. Tammat should have been pleased. They had dealt their oppressors a near fatal blow, but he couldn't bring himself to rejoice. He had seen enough to know that the Peacekeepers would not retreat in the face of this defeat. If anything, they would redouble their efforts to bring the Pahkma back into line.
D'Argo stayed close as they hurried through the maze of streets. He had gone directly to the Command Center when he'd arrived and was unfamiliar with this part of the city. He had seen the look on Tammat's face when they had begun their retreat and he understood the conflicting emotions. He'd experienced them, himself, on more than one occasion.
They turned into a narrow alleyway where Tammat approached a heavy door. He rapped sharply three times, hesitated, then rapped twice more. The door opened and the two men slipped through the narrow opening. Chaos reigned inside as the safe house had been turned into a makeshift medical facility. Wounded and dying men and women of all ages were everywhere. Anyone with even rudimentary medical training was pressed into service as they worked furiously to stem the rising tide of casualties.
Tammat shook off his cloak and washed quickly then fell to work alongside a young woman who was fighting to save the life of a badly wounded woman. She had taken pulse blasts to the leg and abdomen. Following the lead of the medic, Tammat worked to cauterize the wounds, but the damage was extensive and for every blood vessel they managed to seal, another ruptured. They all knew it was only a matter of time.
Tammat looked into the dying woman's eyes. What he saw there shamed him. He had spent so much of this night feeling sorry for himself because he had lost a daughter and might lose a son, but he still had life. He still had hope. This woman, lying so close to death had a look of such peace on her face that all Tammat could do was weep in the face of it. He didn't worry about what the others would think. He didn't care. This woman had given everything to fight for Pahkma freedom and she was at peace. How could he question what the Gods had brought to his family? How could he doubt that they were doing the right thing?
Though there was nothing else he could do to help her, Tammat stayed at her side, holding her hand, whispering words of encouragement and thanks to her until she slipped away. He felt the strength leave her hand. Heard the last breath go out of her body. Still he sat with her. After several microts, the young medic grasped his shoulders and pulled him to his feet.
"Elder, I'm sorry," she said softly, "there's nothing more we can do and we need the room. We have to move the body."
Tammat brushed the tears away angrily. Too many deaths. Too many good people dying. He took a deep breath and straightened to his full height. We will drive the Peacekeepers from this planet. I will see to it.
The scene he was witnessing transfixed D'Argo. Watching the man who had given the order to attack work tirelessly to save those who had been wounded because of those orders impressed him. The more time he spent with this man, the more he respected him and what the Pahkma were doing. This was definitely a fight he could support. Perhaps I am here for that very reason.
He stepped toward Tammat ready to ask him how he could help when he heard it. A sound that seemed so out of place he thought he was imagining it. But then he heard it again. The telltale whine of a Hynerian throne sled.
He whirled around, braids and tentacles swirling around him. Rygel. Here? In two quick strides he was across the room, his hand around the Hynerian's throat.
"You traitorous bastard!" he snarled pulling him free of the chair, which dropped heavily to the floor. He slammed the tiny Dominar against the wall with one hand pulling his Qualta Blade with the other. "I will kill you for what you did to Aeryn."