Four Arns, One Thousand Nine Hundred Seventy One Microts
Zhaan sat legs akimbo, her straight back to the latticework door, which stood uncharacteristically closed. All around her candles burned giving an eerie illumination to the chamber as shadows danced on the deep golden walls of Moya's bulkhead. The air was filled with the heady aroma of incense and the faint sound of chanting.
She stared unseeing into the dimly lit chamber; her mind focussed on finding an alternative solution to the latest crisis to strike those who called Moya home. This time affecting the one most intimately linked to the great Leviathan -- Pilot. With every passing microt she felt her hope waning. She had seen so much cruelty and suffering in the cycles that she had spent aboard Moya but had never lost hope that everything would work out for the best. Not until today.
Pilot was dying. Aeryn had been imprisoned by the Peacekeepers. D'Argo had left Moya with revenge on his mind. Rygel had acquired the Veriten Ore as a cure for Pilot but was trapped on Pahk. John and Chiana were doing their best to keep Moya in orbit but both were distracted; John, by his concern for Aeryn and Chiana for D'Argo.
There had been little time to meditate since they had discovered Pilot's illness and she was feeling the effects of that deprivation. As she sought to control her wavering concentration she poured out her heart to her goddess.
"Kahalen, help me. My friend is dying. The ship's builders gave me charge over these lives and I am failing them both miserably. Give me wisdom to do the right thing. Pilot has asked me to end his life before the pain becomes unbearable and Goddess help me, I agreed. But can I do it when the time comes? Could I take the life of my friend? Even if means saving him from suffering."
As she prayed, tears began to roll down her cheeks, finally loosing the emotions she had held in check for so long.
From his vantage point in the passageway Crichton watched his Delvian friend. Never one to put much stock in organized religion, he had found her devotion to her Goddess alien and yet comforting. She seemed to draw strength from her time of meditation and the rituals of her priesthood and had imbued the rest of Moya's crew with that strength. She had become their spiritual anchor, an anchor they probably all would have denied they needed, but to which they all clung desperately.
He had come to Zhaan's quarters to talk with her about Pilot, but seeing that she was in a deep meditative state he started to back away. As he stepped back he saw her shoulders begin to shake. Even without seeing her face he knew that she had succumbed to the stress and was crying. Without thinking he hurried forward, activated the access control for the door and found himself face to face with a very nude Delvian. She hastily pulled her robe around her as John gathered her into a comforting embrace.
"It'll be okay Zhaan," he murmured softly as she sobbed in his arms. He had never seen her like this. Zhaan was always the strong one, the one they all went to for guidance and comfort. As he held her, he wondered who she went to when she was in need.
"He's dying John," she whispered into his shoulder.
He pulled her tighter, letting her know without words that he was there to support her as she had supported him so many times. "We'll find a way to save him Zhaan. You'll find a way to save him."
She pushed him back and cocked her head to look him in the eye. "You have more confidence in my ability than I do John."
"Tell you what Zhaan," he said as a crooked grin spread across his face, "you can borrow my confidence anytime."
"Crichton," Chiana's voice cut in over the comms. "I've got a transport pod on the sensors ... I think."
"Whadda ya mean, you think? Can't you tell?" He stepped away from Zhaan who had started gathering her medical supplies at the news.
"All of the systems are frelled. If you think you can do a better job, get up here and do it yourself," she snapped.
"Sorry Chi, I know you're doin' your best." He glanced at Zhaan who appeared to be her calm, confident self again. "I'm with Zhaan, we'll head for the Transport Hangar. See if you can get the docking web on whatever's out there."
Choreographed chaos was the only phrase D'Argo could find to describe the scene before him. The medics worked furiously to prepare the wounded for transport while everyone else packed up whatever they could in anticipation of the move to the caves. He pitched in wherever he could though many of the Pahkma were suspicious of him and so were reluctant to accept his help.
He realized that his presence among them would be a problem. The Peacekeepers were certain to notice him among the diminutive Pahkma, calling undue attention to anyone with whom he was traveling as well as putting himself in danger. And D'Argo wasn't about to let anyone or anything interfere with his mission on Pahk -- to find and kill Baryn Tal. If he managed to help the Pahkma gain their independence from the Peacekeepers in the process that was a bonus, but it wasn't his main concern.
Of course, he reasoned, Tal could have been killed in the previous night's fighting, but until he saw a body he wouldn't believe it. Something in his gut told him that his prey still lived and that something was urging him to strike out on his own. He knew that Tammat would be angry if he left the safe house but he had to do something. Waiting for the Pahkma to move out was getting him no closer to his goal.
Med-Tech Waban was tired. His eyes were purple-rimmed and burned with fatigue as he slumped onto the bench near the sanitation area. He had been working for fifteen arns straight treating wounded and he looked at the remnants of his labor with disgust. Pools of blue-red blood soaked the floor along with surgical instruments, bandages and other equipment.
Gods, he thought, will this war never end? How many lives will it cost before we come to our senses? His chin dropped to his chest as fatigue overwhelmed him. Only then did he notice that his clothes were soaked in blood and that he still wore steri-gloves. He pulled at the gloves, desperate to remove them, desperate to rid himself of the blood.
Waban slumped heavily against the wall. He couldn't remember ever feeling this exhausted, this drained. He had endured longer sessions in surgery, had seen more patients in succession when he'd been in training. But never like this. Never burned from plasma weapons, gunned down from the sky by Peacekeeper ships that escaped to hunt them another day.
As the day's events replayed in his mind he heard footsteps approaching. Please, he thought, please let them pass by. I can't face another victim of Peacekeeper brutality. He realized as the footsteps drew nearer that he was holding his breath and had squeezed his eyes closed, almost as if willing them away.
"Waban. We need your help."
He was tempted to ignore them, but knew he couldn't do it. He had taken a vow as a Med-Tech and he could not ignore that, no matter how exhausted he felt he was. Two Pahkma resistance fighters stood before him, a makeshift stretcher hanging heavy between them. He sighed as he pushed himself to his feet.
"What've you got for me?" he asked as he walked slowly toward a treatment table. The stretcher-bearers followed closely and lay their burden gently before him.
"You brought me a Peacekeeper?" Waban was stunned. All of the carnage and suffering he had seen this day had been caused by a Peacekeeper fly-over and now these two had the audacity to bring one of their wounded to him for treatment. "You cannot be serious. I will not treat this woman."
"You will treat her," Varga said stepping into the surgery, "she is not a Peacekeeper."
Waban stared at the young woman before him. The last time he had seen her had been over a monen before. He had bid her farewell on what should have been a routine scouting mission. When word had come back that she was presumed dead he had been devastated. They were to have been married one weeken later and he blamed himself for not objecting more strongly when she had insisted on joining the scouts. He knew her father had also tried to persuade her not to go, but to no avail. And now, she stood before him. The woman he loved, back from the dead. Without thought he took several steps toward Varga, his mind focused only on her.
"Waban, she saved my life. You must help her."
Her voice, so flat, so emotionless stopped him. He glanced over his shoulder at the woman who lay motionless on the exam table then back at Varga. Finally tearing his eyes away from her face he turned to Perin for confirmation.
"It's true." Perin replied. "She was a prisoner of the Peacekeepers. From what we could piece together, she shielded Varga with her own body when the prison was attacked. If not for her, Varga would not be here now."
"You look exhausted," Waban said as he returned to the woman's side. "Go. Rest. I will see to her. Have someone find my staff and get them here as soon as possible."
"I'll stay," Varga offered, "I owe her that much."
"No. I need to concentrate on the Sebacean. I can't do that with you here," he answered without looking up.
Varga looked at him, a sad, almost lost expression on her face. She walked slowly toward the entrance. As she reached the door she stopped. "Her name is Aeryn Sun," she said then turned and raced from the chamber.
Four Arns, Seven Hundred Forty Three Microts
"How could you just leave her there Sparky?" John leaned in close to Rygel's face, his hands reaching for the Hynerian's throat. "She's hurt? And you just left her there?"
"I did what she would have wanted." Rygel answered as he felt Crichton's hands beginning to tighten. His words had the desired effect; John straightened up flinging Rygel away.
"What she would have wanted? Are you insane?" he shouted.
"Yes," he replied evenly. "Aeryn's goal was to get a cure for Pilot. She was willing to sacrifice herself to achieve that goal."
"Oh and who made you keeper of Aeryn's intentions?" John spat, sarcasm dripping from every word.
Rygel's eyes narrowed as he regarded the raging human. He raised up to his full height and brought the throne sled up to Crichton's eye level. "Listen to me human. Aeryn is a soldier. She was raised a soldier. She will always be a soldier. For a soldier the mission is everything. She does not let emotions or personal indulgences get in the way of that. Aeryn's mission was to help me get the Veriten Ore for Pilot's cure. That is done. For me to stay on the planet trying to save her only to lose Pilot would have been wrong. By coming back when I did, how I did, we can save them both. If you would quit thinking with your mivoncks you'd see that."
"He's right you know." Chiana said from behind Crichton. He whirled to look at her standing in the doorway.
"Not now Pip."
"Think about it Crichton," she said sauntering closer. "Remember when you sent me back to Moya with the cure for Aeryn even though it meant you had to endure more time in the Aurora Chair? The goal was to get the cure for Aeryn, right? Well, much as I hate to agree with the slug, this is the same thing. Now that Zhaan has the ore, she can work on the cure for Pilot and the rest of us can go to the planet to find and bring back Aeryn."
"Oh no," Rygel whined, backing up his throne sled, "I am not going back to that planet. If you want to go, be my guest."
John looked from the Hynerian to the Nebari and back. He took two quick steps across the chamber and grabbed Rygel by the collar. "No, Sparky, you're comin' with me."
"What? I demand you let go of me!" Rygel sputtered. "I am not going back there."
"Yes you are. You're up to something. I don't know what, but you're up to something. I want you with me."
"But what about me?" Chiana protested.
"You're going to stay here with Zhaan to keep Moya from panicking."
"No buts Chi," John said, smiling. "You've been doing a great job so far. I know you can do it."
"I have been doing a pretty good job, haven't I?" she said as a broad smile lit up her face.
"C'mon Ryge," Crichton said with forced good humor as he directed them toward the corridor, "you're gonna introduce me to this Resistance leader of yours."
Tammat paced the length of the main room of the safe house, pounding his tightly clenched fist into the palm of his other hand with every step. He berated himself for having trusted the Luxan and Hynerian.
He'd made the mistake of believing the Hynerian would help them with their weapons purchase and had committed the Resistance to a foolhardy and very costly mission as a result. But Rygel had taken the first opportunity to get off the planet after the battle and was no doubt sitting on his ship gloating over the gullibility of the "locals". He had to admit that it was much more peaceful without his incessant demands and whining, but he had brokered the deal in good faith and was disappointed and angry that Rygel appeared not to have done so.
Then there was the Luxan. Tammat felt especially betrayed by his desertion. He had taken a chance when he'd released him during the battle, but he'd had a good feeling about the man. There was something in the way he carried himself that said he could be trusted. But now he was gone. He hadn't said a word to anyone and no one remembered seeing him leave. Though he felt betrayed on a personal level it was the damage the Luxan could do to their cause that concerned him. He knew of their plan to move the main Resistance force to the Caves of Tarn. He had seen the faces and heard the names of many of the men and women who had been present in the battle's aftermath. Will he betray us all? Tammat wondered, was I foolish to trust him?
"It's time to go my friend," Logren said as he blocked Tammat's path. "What's done is done."
Tammat stared at his friend. He knew that Logren was only trying to help, trying to break him out of his malaise, but he wasn't the one to blame for everything that had happened in the past four arns. Gods, he thought, has it really been only four arns? It seems like days. "You go ahead without me. I'll follow soon."
"I'm not leaving here without you. The Resistance needs you. You did what you thought was best."
"Yeah," Tammat snorted humorlessly, "and look where it got us. We're leaving our homes, leaving everything we know and love. We're leaving everything we're fighting for behind because of my wonderful decisions."
"You did not make those decisions alone." Logren replied, fire in his voice. "You are not the sole member of the leadership council. Had we not all agreed, the battle would not have happened. We would not be moving our operations to the caves."
"But I am responsible for bringing the Hynerian and Luxan into our midst. If they betray us, it is on my head."
"As I said my friend, what is done, is done. Come with me. Your son and daughter are waiting."
"Lieutenant, the men are assembled. We're ready to move out on your order."
Tal raised his head to look directly into the eyes of the officer before him. They had been on several campaigns together and had developed a good working relationship. Not what anyone would call a friendship, but they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses and most importantly, they knew they could trust each other in battle. When Tal's second in command had been killed during the Resistance raid, he'd had no qualms about elevating Officer Ayan.
"Well done Officer. We move out in two hundred microts."
"Permission to speak freely sir?" Ayan asked, surprising Tal.
"I wouldn't have it any other way. What's on your mind?"
"Can you trust your source sir? Is it possible that we're being set up?"
Tal studied his subordinate for a few microts. He had surprised him by openly questioning his information. But, Tal realized, he'd been a Peacekeeper long enough to never take anything at face value. It was a quality that had kept him alive this long. Tal admired the man's temerity, but he decided to test his mettle by asking, "Are you questioning my leadership Officer Ayan?"
Ayan didn't flinch. "No sir."
"Then why are you questioning me?"
"History, sir. I've seen too many Peacekeepers killed in Resistance ambushes based on information from 'reliable' sources. I don't want to see more of my comrades die needlessly. And to be perfectly honest sir, I don't want to be one of them."
A broad grin split Tal's face. He rose from his seat at his desk and walked across the room to stand mere denches in front of Ayan. Locking eyes with his second in command he gripped the man's shoulder tightly. "I have no intention of being a victim of Pahkma subterfuge myself. You watch my back Ayan and I'll watch yours. Now, let's move out."
D'Argo ducked quickly around the corner taking cover in the entrance to an alleyway. Since he'd slipped out of the safe house he'd moved from shadow to shadow trying to evade Peacekeeper patrols. As the sun had risen further in the sky more people had begun to arrive in the marketplace making it easier for him to move freely, but still he was cautious. And now he sensed he had picked up a tail. Though he had doubled back several times he hadn't been able to confirm his suspicions, but he couldn't shake the feeling.
Easing back further into the alley, he took refuge in the shadows. He reached for his Qualta Blade, then thought better of it. In this confined space a weapon of that size would be a hindrance. Instead, he pulled his knife from his belt and waited. Every muscle, every nerve ending was taut with anticipation. He inhaled deeply trying to get an idea of who was following him but there were too many odors. Sebacean and Pahkma scents mingled with the everyday aromas of a busy marketplace. It could be anyone. He would have to wait for his pursuer to make a move.
He didn't have to wait long.
In the Surgery, Waban and his team worked furiously to stop Aeryn's bleeding and repair her wounds. He was stunned that she had survived this long. Looking at her wounds he credited her survival more to her strength of will than to anything the field medics had done. In addition to the ugly wound in her back she had several broken ribs, a broken arm as well as countless contusions and abrasions.
"How could they do this to one of their own?" he muttered. "What kind of monsters are they?"
"You have pity for this thing?" his assistant asked.
"I will not have that kind of talk in this Surgery," he snapped. "This woman deserves our help and if you are incapable of rendering it, get out."
"Surely you haven't forgotten how many Pahkma her kind have killed and maimed," she protested.
"No. How could I? But I will not deny her aid just because she is a Sebacean. Perin vouched for her and that is good enough for me. Now, give me that regenerator."
Jorrin scanned the growing crowd for the Luxan. He had seemingly disappeared, but that was impossible. No one just disappeared into thin air, not even a warrior of the Luxan's abilities. He lifted his eyestalks in hopes of getting a better view over the heads of the crowd. Nothing. He has to be here somewhere, Jorrin thought as he cursed himself for letting D'Argo get so far ahead of him.
He pressed forward through the early morning market crowd, finally coming to the mouth of an alley he hadn't seen before. Rounding the corner to get out of the press of people he caught sight of a large fist aimed straight for his head. Fortunately for Jorrin, his agility and lithe frame save him and he dodged the blow. As he regained his footing, he saw another fist targeting him. He ducked, barely avoiding the impact. He backpedaled hoping to buy himself some time to explain before the Luxan took his head off.
"Wait, wait! Please. I'm not your enemy!" Jorrin exclaimed as D'Argo charged him.
"Why are you following me?" D'Argo growled, pulling the small Pahkma further into the alley.
"I ... I saw you leave the safe house," he stammered. "I want to help you. I ... I ... I failed your friend. I can take you to her."
"Why should I trust you?" D'Argo challenged, his voice low and menacing.
"I owe you a life," he replied with more confidence than he felt. He had never confronted a warrior of D'Argo's size or caliber before and he found it terrifying. But, Jorrin thought, I can't let him see my fear.
D'Argo cocked his head to look at the man before him. He was little more than a boy. Probably no older than Jothee. He relaxed his grip and stepped back one pace.
Jorrin released the breath he had been holding as he waited for the Luxan's decision. "Follow me. I'll take you to the caves. That's where your friend is."
"No. She is in good hands. I am looking for Baryn Tal. Do you know of him?"
Jorrin's eyes grew wide. "Why ... why would you want that butcher?"
"I have unfinished business with him. He owes me and I intend to collect on that debt." D'Argo said with such hatred that Jorrin felt a chill crawl down his spine.
The only sound in the apothecary was the soft hum of one of Moya's DRDs. He skittered back and forth across the room, almost as if he were pacing. His antennae followed Zhaan's every move as she worked with the Veriten Ore Rygel had brought from the planet's surface.
At the moment she stood immobile, eyes closed, hands lifted in silent prayer. Since this crisis had begun almost nine arns earlier she had developed a close bond with Pilot - even closer than the one established after their encounter with the Builders. She could sense that he was near death and was torn between her duty to his spiritual well-being and her duty to find a cure for his condition.
The cure was so close now. She had set up the distillation process and Goddess willing she would have enough of the serum within a quarter arn. But would that be soon enough?