Zhaan stopped just outside of John's quarters. As she peered through the gate that was uncharacteristically closed, she felt a stab of uncertainty. She had meditated long into the night trying to determine a way to help her shipmates. She knew that she was missing something, that some tiny detail would be the key to reversing the mysterious transformation that had taken place.
As she watched John sleep, she was reminded of his first days aboard Moya. He had seemed so much like a child to her then, so wide-eyed and innocent. More recently he had lost that wonder. Until yesterday. Watching him interact with Aeryn and D'Argo had been like watching the "old" John again. He was so full of wonder and awe. She smiled as she realized how much she had missed that wide-eyed innocent who had come through the wormhole.
She closed her eyes and said a quick prayer for John and Aeryn as well as one for herself. Kahalen, I need your guidance. I need your direction if I am to help my friends. She sighed deeply as she opened her eyes and swept her hand across the door's control pad. As it swung open she hesitated. When she had walked him to his quarters last night, John had been so trusting, so sure that she would find a solution to this problem. How can I tell him that I am no closer to an answer? How can I tell him that I don't know what to do?
She peered into the dimly lit room toward John's bed. He lay curled up with his back to the doorway. She noted with some amusement that his clothes lay in a heap on the floor, apparently where he had dropped them before falling into bed. It was interesting to her that someone who could be so precise about some things could be so nonchalant about others. It seemed a strange dichotomy, yet it was definitely Crichton.
Reluctantly, she decided it was time to wake him and begin the additional scans and tests that she had planned. She stepped into the room and activated the lights, setting them to raise slowly. As she approached the bed she noticed that John looked different, smaller. It must be the lighting. She leaned over his sleeping form and laid her hand gently on his shoulder.
John lingered in that state between sleep and wakefulness, reluctant to face another day. He inhaled deeply, willing himself back into the dream that even now was fading from memory. He pulled his blanket tightly around his shoulders and squeezed his eyes closed against the light that insinuated itself into his consciousness.
Not yet. I am not ready for another day to start. He felt himself beginning to drift into the blessed void of sleep yet again. As he relaxed into the dreamscape that was filling his mind, he felt a hand rest lightly on his shoulder. No. Go away. Don't wanna get up. Go 'way.
"John. John, are you alright?" A soft, melodic voice drifted into his sleep clouded mind.
He struggled to reconcile the voice and the touch of the hand with the dream still swirling in his mind. He mumbled sleepily, "Go 'way Mom. Just a few more minutes. Please?"
The hand and voice became more insistent. "John. John, you must wake up!"
Oh alright. He pushed himself into an upright position and swung his legs over the side of the bed. As his bare feet hit the floor he was surprised by its warmth, but his sleep fogged mind reacted slowly. "What's wrong Mom? Am I late for school or somethin'?" he asked as he scrubbed at his face and slowly ran his hands up through his hair. He reluctantly opened his eyes, ready to face another day.
Or so he thought.
D'Argo strode purposefully through the corridor toward Aeryn's chamber. While they had enjoyed a quiet breakfast together, Zhaan had asked him to check on the former Peacekeeper and see that she made it to the infirmary as soon as possible. They had each felt that she had only feigned acceptance of her situation to satisfy John and to regain her freedom. She had made it very clear that she had not appreciated being locked in that cell. They had tried to explain that it was for her own good, but she was having none of it.
As D'Argo approached Aeryn's quarters his pace slowed. It was one thing to tell Zhaan that he could handle Aeryn, but it was quite another to do it. He hated to admit it but she often intimidated him. Though he was a proud member of a warrior race, she was much more of a fighter, much more of a warrior than he would ever be. My hearts are too soft to be a strong warrior. He grudgingly admitted to himself that in a fair fight, she would probably defeat him which was why he was suddenly reluctant to awaken her.
As was usual, the gate to her quarters was closed. He palmed the control pad and watched as it swung open. Stepping into the room, he was struck by how Spartan it was. There were few, if any personal effects in view. Even though Aeryn had lived in this chamber for two cycles, it looked as if she had just taken possession of it. Each of his other shipmates had made attempts to bring a bit of their personalities, their cultures into their chambers. To make them a bit of, as Crichton would say, home away from home. Everyone except Aeryn. Though as he considered it, he realized that this probably was representative of her "home." She had lived aboard a Peacekeeper ship for her entire life. That was her culture. That was her home.
Activating the lights, D'Argo approached the bed in the center of the room, surprised that Aeryn had not heard his approach. He had noticed that she was usually a light sleeper, seemingly aware of her surroundings even while at rest. She looks so small lying there. It must be the light. Leaning down to awaken her, he noticed that she tossed and turned as if caught in a nightmare.
Every move, every nerve, every fiber, every muscle was focused on the task before her. She knew that any lapse in concentration could result in her death, or worse, in failure to complete her assigned mission.
About fifty metras ahead lay the great leviathan. She and her passengers were attempting to escape - something which could not be tolerated. Weapons fire erupted from all around her as her fellow pilots tried to force the beast back into obedience.
Focused as she was on the mission, she didn't notice that she was pulling farther away from her assigned flight wing. Her goal, her sole objective was to bring this alien beast back into the convoy. As she flew closer to the leviathan, she noticed a tiny white ship of an unfamiliar configuration entering the docking bay. From her vantage point, it was impossible to tell if it was flying under its own power or was snared in the larger ship's docking web. Not that it mattered. The pilot would most likely die with those aboard the prison transport when its escape attempt was thwarted.
She continued pressing forward, firing volley after volley at the ship before her. The ever-present chatter on the comm channel was suddenly disrupted by her captain's voice, "All Prowlers. Terminate Assault."
"No!" she screamed silently. She couldn't have heard correctly. The captain wouldn't give that order would he? Instinctively, she pressed forward, refusing to retreat despite her captain's orders.
She was wrenched from the dream by a large hand being laid heavily on her shoulder. As the dream receded, she heard a deep voice say, "Aeryn. Are you alright?"
She was on her feet at attention in an instant. "I'm sorry Sir. I didn't hear the reveille alarm." she gasped out, fear gripping her as she realized that she had overslept again. And this time her training officer had come looking for her.
"Reveille alarm, what are you talking about?"
Aeryn spun around to face the voice's owner and found herself facing a Luxan. What is this? A Luxan? Here? Aboard a training vessel? Her mind raced as she tried to make sense of it all. She began backing away from him and only then realized that she wasn't aboard a training vessel. She was aboard a Leviathan.
Zhaan's heart leapt into her throat as John rose from where he sat on the side of his bed. By the Goddess... he's changed again. Her heart raced as she looked at the young man before her. While he normally stood slightly taller than she did, he was now slightly shorter than she was and he seemed to have lost quite a bit of body mass. He was still well muscled, but was lankier, thinner. And his voice, though still very much his voice, sounded younger, smaller.
John's eyes were wide as he took in his surroundings. He closed his eyes and sank heavily back onto the bed. As he did, Zhaan laid her hand gently on his shoulder. She could tell that he was confused and most likely, very frightened.
"Mom?" he asked softly, timidly.
"John. John, look at me."
He opened his eyes and slowly turned to face her. "Oh my God ... you're ... you're blue!" he blurted out as he leapt away from her. He continued to back up until he was pressed against the wall.
"Don't be afraid John. My name is Zhaan," she said starting toward him.
"Stay away from me!" he shouted. "I don't know who you are or how I got here. Where are my parents?"
"Listen to me John." she began firmly, forcing her own shock at his changed appearance out of her voice, "I will not hurt you." She slowly moved toward him, hoping he would believe her, but fearing he would not.
As she approached, he moved, keeping the distance between them constant. "I don't know you." he repeated, his voice cracking with the fear and panic that surged through him. "Where ... where are my mom and dad? What have you done to them?"
She stopped moving, sensing that her pursuit was adding to his rising panic. "John. Please believe me. You are safe here. We ... I haven't hurt your parents. You have lived here with us for the past two cycles. You came through a wormhole and have been with us ever since."
"A wormhole? I'm in space? You're an ... an alien, right? Is this some kind of alien abduction thing?"
"No John. Please, you have to trust me; you have to believe me. I will not hurt you, but I need you to come with me. I need you to come ..."
"Zhaan, I have a problem here." D'Argo's voice interrupted over the comms.
"Aeryn appears quite a bit younger doesn't she?" Zhaan replied impatiently. "You must bring her to the infirmary as soon as possible. Use whatever means necessary."
Zhaan closed her comm-link with D'Argo and turned back toward John. She found him slumped against the wall, his head in his hands, near one of the view ports. Fearing he was injured or ill, she hurried across the room and knelt before him. She reached up and pulled his hands away from his face. As their eyes met, she could see the fear in his eyes. "John? Are you injured? Are you ill?"
"N ... n ... no," he stuttered, "I'm really in space ... I'm really aboard an alien ship."
"Yes, John. You are aboard a space craft." Zhaan said gently, hoping to calm him. "But you have nothing to fear. You are among friends. Please let me help you. Come with me to the infirmary."
"Why ... why? What do you wanna do?" He asked, his eyes growing wider.
"I need to run a scan to deter..."
"A scan? Oh ... no ... no ... no ... you aren't doing any of your alien tests on me." He said, scrambling to his feet, heading for the door.
Zhaan rose quickly and moved between John and the door. He tried to get around her, but she countered his every move. "We don't have time for this John, forgive me," she said, her hand flashing out in an Adho Jab. "Kahalen forgive me," she prayed as John dropped to the floor, unconscious.
Aeryn moved from where she stood at attention to an attack position. "How did you get me aboard this ship Luxan?" she demanded as she moved away from the bed clearing the space between them.
"You have been aboard Moya for two cycles Aeryn. We are allies."
She snorted humorlessly, "Allies? I don't think so. I would never ally myself with a Luxan."
"You did not do so willingly." He replied flatly. "You were declared irreversibly contaminated. In order to avoid the death penalty, you escaped to Moya with Crichton and me."
"That is impossible. Two cycles ago I was aboard a training vessel, a highly controlled environment. I couldn't have been declared irreversibly contaminated because I wouldn't have been in contact with aliens."
"You have been aboard this vessel for two cycles." He repeated firmly as he moved toward her. She crouched deeper into an attack position and backed away, keeping the distance between them constant. He chuckled as he watched her move rather awkwardly.
"Don't you laugh at me Luxan!" she shouted at him angrily as she launched herself at him.
"That was a mistake Peacekeeper." he replied calmly as she moved within his much longer reach. She tried to land a Pantak jab, but D'Argo easily avoided it and grabbed her right wrist, pulling her close. With his other hand, he captured her free arm as she swung it around to strike him again. He quickly transferred both of her wrists to one hand and pulled her out of her quarters.
"Where are you taking me?" she spat at him angrily, struggling to free herself even as he dragged her through the corridor.
"The Infirmary. Zhaan wants to run some tests on you and Crichton." He growled as she kicked him, causing him to stumble. "That is enough!" he snarled, lifting her off her feet. "If you continue to struggle, I will not be held responsible for injuring you."
"Barbarian! It's no wonder you and your kind were subjugated by the Peacekeepers." she muttered icily, swinging one foot up to kick him in the nose.
D'Argo staggered back a couple of steps, but did not loosen his grip on her arms. In one swift move, he swung her across his shoulders, capturing her legs in his free hand. "Now, you will behave, is that understood?"
"I will never submit to you Luxan. Is that understood?"
After what seemed like an eternity, but was in truth only a few moments, D'Argo carried the still struggling Aeryn into the infirmary. Zhaan looked up from the scanner as they entered, distracted by their commotion.
"D'Argo?" she asked as she moved across the room. "Please bring her over here."
"I suggest you use full restraints," he grumbled as he placed her firmly on the exam table, "unless you intend to knock her out."
"Do you really think that's necessary D'Argo?" Zhaan asked looking quickly from one to the other.
"Yes, I do. She nearly broke my nose on the way here. She may be small and less coordinated than usual, but she is still very strong. And she does not want to be here." He released his hold on her legs as he spoke only to be rewarded with another foot to the face.
"Let me go Luxan!" she screamed as she struggled to free herself.
"Aeryn, please do not struggle. We are only trying to help you." Zhaan said as she swiftly applied restraints to Aeryn's ankles. As she moved to restrain her arms, Aeryn landed a well-aimed punch to Zhaan's eye causing her to stumble back a few steps. As Zhaan lost her hold on Aeryn's arm, D'Argo regained his grasp and quickly secured her in the remaining restraints.
"You will die for this! Both of you!" Aeryn screamed, realizing that she had been subdued by two lesser species. She continued to struggle for a short time until she began to tire. Knowing that she would need her strength if she were to escape from these aliens, she stopped fighting against the restraints. I need to let them believe they can trust me. Get them to let me loose.
As she looked around the infirmary, she noticed the Delvian and Luxan hovering over someone on another exam table. Craning her neck to get a look at who they were working on she was stunned to see another Sebacean. Though he appeared to be unconscious, she noted that he was also restrained.
"Who is that? What did you do to him?" she demanded.
"He will be fine." Zhaan replied patiently, without turning from her work. "He was even less cooperative than you were."
"What are you doing to him?" she persisted, unsure why it was important to her to know.
"I am merely running a scan."
"Why are we your prisoners?" Aeryn continued to press for answers. She could feel a lump rising in her chest, fear that what the Luxan had said was true. Could I really have been declared irreversibly contaminated? Could I be a fugitive with these people? And who is he? "You. Delvian. I demand answers."
Zhaan looked up once again from the scanner and turned her attention to Aeryn. She sighed deeply then turned to D'Argo. "I will see to Aeryn," she said quietly, so only D'Argo would hear. "Will you please look after John. He was quite upset earlier. I am afraid that when he wakes up he may become difficult to handle."
"Do you think it wise for me to deal with him? If he is as frightened as you say, my appearance may only make things worse."
"That is a chance we must take. Unless you want to deal with Aeryn." She said as a smile crept onto her face. Even as she said it, she knew D'Argo would rather walk into battle unarmed than face Aeryn again at this moment. "Perhaps you should fetch John's recordings. They were helpful when we dealt with them yesterday."
He hurried from the infirmary while Zhaan turned her attention to Aeryn. "So, my dear, you want answers? Ask your questions, I will answer as best I can."
"Why are we your prisoners?" she asked angrily as she struggled against the restraints.
"You are not our prisoners, my dear. You and John are our shipmates." Zhaan replied evenly, hoping to calm her.
"That's impossible. I am a Peacekeeper. I would never be part of a crew such as this."
"Yes, you were a Peacekeeper Aeryn. But you were declared irreversibly contaminated. You and Crichton joined us at that time."
"The Luxan ... he told me this as well ..." she said thoughtfully. "But why don't I remember any of it?"
"That is what we are trying to determine."
"I do not believe you Delvian." Aeryn said flatly.
"Be that as it may, it is the truth. And for me to determine what is affecting you and John, I must conduct some tests."
"I will not submit to your ..." she began in protest, but was silenced when John inhaled sharply and his eyes snapped open.
"Crap! It wasn't a dream." he muttered softly as he tried to sit up. Only then did he realize that he had been tied to the exam table. As he struggled against his restraints, he looked around, panic rising in his chest. "What did you do to me?" he demanded when he caught sight of Zhaan. "And why do you have me tied down?"
Zhaan turned to face him, moving from Aeryn's side to his. "It is called an Adho Jab; it is a Delvian martial arts technique. I regret the use of force, but I felt it was the most expedient way to get you here."
"Where ... where's here?" he asked tentatively, surveying his surroundings.
"You are in my medical lab. I am preparing to run some tests ..."
"Tests?" he interrupted, his voice rising. "What kind of tes ..." his voice trailed off as he caught sight of D'Argo entering the lab "... oh ... my ... god ... what is that?" he asked, his eyes growing wide.
Zhaan turned, her eyes following his gaze." That is a Luxan John," she answered, barely suppressing a laugh at the look of consternation on D'Argo's face. "Relax. you don't need to be afraid of D'Argo, he is your friend."
John laid back on the exam table, shock etched on his face. "This can't be happening," he mumbled more to himself than anyone in particular. "This just can't be real. I have a physics test today; the conference championship game is tonight. This has to be a nightmare. Yeah, that's it. I'll wake up soon and everything'll be the way it's supposed to be."
"Please John, calm down." Zhaan soothed, laying her hand on his shoulder.
At her gentle touch, he stiffened and felt fear starting to overwhelm him again. He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping to push the rising panic back down. No. I will not panic. I will not show weakness to these 'people.'
As Zhaan watched John's inner struggle play out on his face, she noticed a single tear escape from the corner of his eye. He never has been good at hiding his feelings. How confused and frightened he must be. Compassion welled up as she saw John's chin begin to quiver and she gently, but firmly took his face in her hands.
"John, look at me." she said firmly. "Look at me. I know you're frightened. I know you're confused. Believe me John, I am too." He eyes snapped open at her admission and she smiled reassuringly. "Yes John, I'm frightened too. You are my friend, a trusted friend and I don't know how to help you. That's why I want to run these tests." She raised her hand to silence him as he began to protest. "I will not hurt you. I want to run a simple diagnostic scan, and take small blood and tissue samples."
"But why? What do you hope to learn?"
She smiled, realizing that the panic that had threatened to overwhelm him had been conquered by his insatiable curiosity.
"By the Hynerian gods ... this thing is useless!" Rygel sputtered angrily as he circled the table in his quarters. In the center of the table stood the statue he had purchased in the Qaran marketplace.
He reached for the small artifact, ready to throw it to the floor, to break it into a thousand pieces. But as he touched the statue he remembered what the dealer had said ... that it was very valuable and would be even more valuable once it left Qaran space. So what if it doesn't work as advertised, it will still garner a large sum at the next commerce planet. Rygel placed the statue on the table again and moved away from it to get a better view.
As he circled the table again, his appreciation for the craftsmanship of the statue increased. It really is a beautiful piece of art, expertly carved and highly polished. Even if weren't for the legend attached to it, it would be of great value.
"Whatcha doin' Ryge?" Chiana asked from the doorway.
"None of your business tralk!" he spat at her as he moved to hide the artifact from her view.
Sensing he was hiding something of value she moved quickly into the room. She tried to get around him, but he kept the throne sled between her and the table. Every move she made he seemed to anticipate. "Aww come on Rygel," she wheedled sweetly, "what're you hiding there? I just want to see it."
"It's mine. I paid for it." He replied defensively, trying to keep her at bay.
"I'm not accusing you of stealing anything Rygel. I just want to see what you've got there."
"It is merely a statue I bought on Qaran." he finally relented, moving out of her line of sight.
She moved to the table and lifted the artifact, examining it carefully. She looked from the statue to Rygel and back again. "It's beautiful Rygel. It must be quite valuable."
"It is," he huffed, "and if it disappears you little thief, I will see to it personally that you are fired out an airlock."
"Why Rygel, I am hurt that you don't trust me." She said innocently. "I would never steal from you."
"And I'm everyone's favorite person aboard Moya. Now, get out of my quarters!"
Zhaan stopped at the foot of the exam table and stared at John. She had been pacing between him and Aeryn as she had explained their situation. Neither of them appeared to believe her, and she had to admit she didn't really blame them. The story did sound like an elaborate fabrication which, were she not living it, she would find difficult to believe.
"Alright. I'll let you run your tests," John said thoughtfully after several moments of silence. "On one condition."
"You are in no position to make demands." D'Argo replied harshly only to be silenced by a look from Zhaan.
"What is your condition John?" she asked calmly.
"You release both Aeryn and me from these restraints and let us out of this lab."
"It would be best if you remained here. In your present state you are unfamiliar with this ship and her technology. You could hurt yourselves."
"Bull. You just want to keep an eye on us. And that ain't gonna happen. If you want to run your tests, you know what you have to do."
"How do we know that you will not attempt to leave the ship?" D'Argo interjected.
"Trust runs both ways. If you want me to trust you, you have to trust me. Now, do we have a deal?"
Zhaan opened her mouth to reply, but was silenced by Aeryn. "You do not speak for me Crichton. I will not cooperate with these ... these aliens."
He looked across the room to where she lay strapped to the other exam table. Her eyes blazed back at him in anger. "You may be willing to collaborate with our captors, but I will not!"
Biting back an angry retort, he looked first at Zhaan, then D'Argo, then said, "Let me up. Let me talk to her alone."
"No, absolutely not." D'Argo said firmly.
"D'Argo, I believe we should allow it." Zhaan said softly as she moved to John's side and began removing the restraints. "It may be our only hope of obtaining their cooperation. I do not want to resort to force. These are our friends, our shipmates."
"I do not like this Zhaan."
"I will accept full responsibility for whatever happens dear D'Argo." She turned to John and added, "We will wait in the corridor while you talk."
As they left the infirmary, John jumped from the exam table and hurried across the room to Aeryn's side. "You're okay, right? They haven't hurt you, have they?" he asked as he leaned in close. Hmmm, she's kinda cute.
"Get away from me you traitor!" she screamed and spit in his face.
He straightened up and turned away, reaching for something to wipe the spittle from his face. Well, so much for cute. Taking several deep breaths to calm himself, he turned to face her again. "If you want to stay here, that's fine by me," he hissed coldly. "I'm only trying to help you."
"By cooperating with the enemy?"
"First of all, we don't know for certain that they are our enemies. Secondly, who says I'm cooperating?"
"But ... but you said you'd let them run their tests ..." she trailed off, confused by his smug smile.
"You want to get away from Blue and Tentacle Boy, right?" She nodded as he continued, "Well you're not going anywhere strapped to that table, now are you? I for one intend to get out of this house of horrors and if I have to appear to cooperate with them, that's just fine by me. You can choose to stay here and wallow in your self-righteous attitude or you can play along and get out of here. It's your choice. Now, what's it gonna be?"
"Can I trust you Crichton?" she asked suspiciously.
"About as much as I can trust you," he said, smiling broadly.
"So long as we both know where we stand." She smiled back.
"Okay then, let's get these things off of you," he said as he began to remove her restraints.
"Stop!" D'Argo rumbled from the corridor. He and Zhaan rushed back into the lab just as John removed the last of the straps.
"Calm down big guy. She's agreed to cooperate for now." John said calmly, staring at the big Luxan. He knew he was taking a huge chance defying the big man, but he felt it was something he had to do. He could break me in two, but I can't let them see how terrified I really am. Something tells me this guy respects strength.
About an arn later, Zhaan put the last of the tissue samples into the processor. She initiated the testing sequence and turned her attention to John and Aeryn. How long will they be willing to stay here? How long can I keep them occupied here?
As if in answer to her unspoken questions, John headed toward the corridor with Aeryn on his heels.
"Where do you two think you're going?" D'Argo growled angrily.
John turned to face the big man and felt his stomach lurch at the thought of defying him again. I got away with this once, what'll I do if he calls my bluff this time? He took a deep breath and closed the space between them in a few quick steps. Looking up into the Luxan's eyes, he raised up to his full height. "Listen Dougo ... D'Argo ... whatever your name is ... " he blustered, "I am NOT going to stay cooped up in this place. I'm in space. I've dreamed of this my whole life. You are not going to deny me the chance to get out of here and look around."
"John, D'Argo, please." Zhaan cautioned, raising a hand to silence both men's protests. "We are concerned for you and Aeryn. We are concerned that you may be injured through your unfamiliarity with this ship. And we cannot be certain that the transformation you are experiencing will not occur again."
"Listen. I don't care how worried you are ... I am NOT staying here. I am going to look around this ship and no one is going to stop me."
"I will accompany you." D'Argo offered, trying to stave off a confrontation. He knew that he could physically overpower both John and Aeryn, but he wasn't certain he was prepared to do so.
"No D'Argo, I would like your assistance here. Perhaps we should ask Pilot to assign some DRDs to act as chaperones."
Even as Zhaan made the suggestion, two DRDs appeared at the door to the infirmary. Pilot's voice came over the comms, "I anticipated your request, Zhaan. Moya and I have directed these two DRDs to remain with Commander Crichton and Officer Sun at all times."
"Thank you Pilot." She replied, then turned toward John and Aeryn once again. "It would seem that you will be able to explore the ship. These two DRDs have been assigned to escort you. Be mindful that they will restrict your access to certain areas of the ship that could be harmful to you. Do not attempt to evade them." She paused and stepped closer to them for emphasis, "That, is our condition for cooperation."
John and Aeryn looked at each other and nodded in unison. "Agreed." Aeryn said for both of them. And then, before D'Argo and Zhaan could change their minds, they dashed from the infirmary with the DRDs hot on their heels.
Zhaan threw the scanner to the worktable in disgust as she straightened up from her work. "I know I'm missing something. I have to be," she muttered as she tiredly rubbed her eyes.
"Are you alright Zhaan?" Chiana asked from behind her as she strolled into the lab.
Zhaan turned wearily to face the young Nebari woman. It had been a long time since something had frustrated Zhaan this much and it was beginning to show. She sighed deeply, "I assume that you haven't seen John or Aeryn today?"
Chiana shook her head as she hopped up on one of the exam tables. "Why?"
"They appear to be even younger today than yesterday. All of my readings indicate that John has a physical age of about 16 or 17 cycles while Aeryn appears to be only 12 or 13." She paused as she turned back toward her worktable. "And I am no closer to determining the cause than I was yesterday." she added with disgust.
"Is there anything I can do to help you?" Chiana offered.
Zhaan was surprised by Chiana's sincere offer and smiled in spite of her despondency. "I don't know Chiana. I have a nagging feeling that I'm missing something. That there's some detail that is the key to what's happening, but I don't know what it could be."
"Well, maybe you should take a break. Get away from all of this for a little while. It might clear your head."
Zhaan turned back to face Chiana again and smiled. "Perhaps you're right Chiana. Perhaps you're right."
"It's almost time for the midday meal, care you join me?" She asked brightly as she jumped down from the exam table.
Zhaan laughed lightly, feeling more at ease than she had in some time. Strange that Chiana would be the one to brighten my mood. We're so often at odds.
A short time later, Zhaan and Chiana sat over their meals in the center chamber talking quietly about what had happened in the last few days.
"I am certain that this has something to do with their trip to Qaran, which is why I've asked Pilot to plot a course back to the planet as quickly as possible." She hesitated, as if lost in thought. "But if they came in contact with something there it should be affecting Rygel as well."
"Well I'm no scientist Zhaan, but isn't it possible that because Rygel's physiology is so different from theirs it doesn't affect him. Besides, maybe it was something they came into contact with while he was buying the artifact he brought back from the planet."
Zhaan's head snapped up at her mention of the artifact. "What kind of artifact Chiana?"
"It looked like a statue, almost like a religious icon of some kind."
"Where is it? I need to see it. I need to talk to Rygel." Zhaan said excitedly, standing to leave.
"You need to talk to me about what?" Rygel asked as he swept into the room.
"I need to see the artifact you brought back from Qaran."
Rygel glared at Chiana. "You told her? How dare you?"
"Rygel, do not blame Chiana." Zhaan interrupted, trying to calm him. "She is merely trying to help me find a cause for the transformation that is overtaking John and Aeryn."
"And what does my property have to do with that?" he spat angrily, hovering just out of the reach of the two women.
"There may not be any connection, but I would like to examine the artifact. Did John and Aeryn accompany you when you purchased it? Could they have come into contact with something there? Could you bring it to the medical lab?"
"I will consider it." He huffed, then turned and sped from the center chamber.
"Whoa! What is that?" John asked as he and Aeryn burst into the hangar.
Aeryn stopped; a look of awe etched on her face. "That's a prowler..." she breathed.
Surprised by her tone, John stopped in his tracks and turned to look at her. Her eyes were ablaze with what he could only describe as reverence. Her breath came in shallow gasps as she started toward the ship again. She reached up and ran her palm lightly, affectionately along the fuselage.
She turned toward him and gave him the most radiant smile he had ever seen. "I've always dreamed of flying one of these. But only the best pilots ever get that opportunity."
"I'm sure you'll get the chance someday." He replied confidently as he approached the vessel.
She continued to examine the prowler, circling around it. "I'm due to start flight training soon. Probably next cycle."
"Next cycle? But aren't you kinda young for that?"
"I am thirteen cycles," she replied defensively. "Many Peacekeepers begin flight training at fourteen. It's very common."
Whoa, musta hit a nerve there. "I've never seen anything like this ship." He said, changing the subject quickly, "It's amazing. What did you call it again?"
"It is called a Prowler. It is the backbone of the Peacekeeper fleet. Though they are the smallest of our vessels, they are the fastest and most numerous. With a well trained pilot at the helm there is no better weapon in the Peacekeeper arsenal."
"And you want to fly one?" He asked, surprised by the passion in her voice. "Why would you want to be a fighter pilot?"
"There is no greater calling in my world Crichton. It's my duty, my breeding. Since birth. It's who I am."
"But you can be more." he whispered. As he said the words, a weird feeling swept over him and Aeryn looked at him strangely. Boy, feels like I've had that conversation before. Suddenly very uncomfortable, he asked, "If this is a Peacekeeper ship, what's it doing here?"
Her face turned dark and her body stiffened as she considered his question. "I don't know," she replied angrily, "but I intend to find out." She whirled abruptly and headed for the corridor.
"Wait a minute will ya?" John called out, running to catch up with her. He grabbed her arm to stop her and as she spun around, she swung her free arm toward his head. He ducked instinctively as he saw the flash of movement, saving himself from the full force of her blow. But his swift reaction caused him to lose his balance and he tumbled to the floor, dragging Aeryn down on top of him.
She recovered quickly and rolled to straddle his chest with her hands pressing his shoulders to the floor. She leaned in close and looked him directly in the eyes. "I may owe you a debt for getting me out of the med-lab," she hissed coldly, "but do NOT presume to touch me Crichton. I will have my answers, and you will not stop me."
Overcoming his surprise at her speed, he threw her off and jumped quickly to his feet. "Listen sweetheart," he shouted angrily, "if you wanna end up locked in one of those cells we've seen all over this ship or tied down in that ... that house of horrors, that's just fine by me! But don't you ever take a swing at me again."
Aeryn inhaled sharply; stunned by his angry response. She scrambled to her feet and started toward the corridor again.
"Hey!" He called after her sharply. "I thought you wanted to get off this boat!" She stopped and he continued, "I may just be a stupid human, but if it were me, I'd get my butt up inside that Prowler and send a distress call to the nearest Peacekeeper ship. But, hey, if you wanna go charging up to the Command deck demanding answers from Blue, that big guy with the tentacles and whatever other aliens may be aboard this ship, you go right ahead. Just don't expect me to come to your rescue again."
He turned his back on her and headed deeper into the hangar. As he rounded the front of the Prowler, he noticed the DRDs had stopped moving and what looked like weapons were protruding. Turning his eyes to where they were directing their attention, he saw that they were scrambling to keep Aeryn out of the ship and were rapidly being joined by several more of the little mechanical devices.
"Ka D'Argo, Zhaan, we may have a problem." Pilot called tersely over the comms.
"What is wrong Pilot?" Zhaan asked as she hurried down the corridor after Rygel.
"It appears that Aeryn Sun is attempting to access the Prowler's communications system. The DRDs report that Crichton suggested she send a distress call to the nearest Peacekeeper vessel. For the moment, the DRDs are preventing her from accessing the ship, but they cannot hold her off for much longer."
"I will go to the hangar Zhaan." D'Argo called over the comms, turning to run down the corridor. "You get to command and make sure communications are cut off. We can't let her send that message."
"Shall I send Chiana to assist you? They may resist recapture."
"Agreed. Get her down her as soon as possible. And tell her to bring weapons. Hopefully we won't need them, but I want to be prepared for any eventuality."
The two women's eyes met. Zhaan could see the uncertainty in the younger woman's eyes. She feared that Chiana would be unwilling or unable to use force to stop John and Aeryn from sending their distress call. "Chiana, perhaps you should go to command." Zhaan offered, "I will join D'Argo in the hangar." She could see the unspoken thanks in Chiana's eyes as she hurried toward the weapons locker.
"Aeryn, look out!" John shouted as one of the DRDs fired its tiny cannon at her. She backed away from the Prowler, startled by the attack. He raced toward her, putting himself between her and the approaching DRDs. "We need to get outta here!" He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her toward the hangar door trying to evade the DRDs who continued to fire.
As they burst through the door, they ran headlong into D'Argo. He grabbed them both by the scruff of the neck and held them at arm's length. "Just where do you think you're going?" he rumbled.
"Away from those!" John said, pointing at the still advancing DRDs while struggling to free himself from D'Argo's grasp. "They tried to kill us in there."
"They aren't trying to kill you. They're trying to keep you from accessing the Prowler's communications. We cannot allow you to contact the Peacekeepers."
"So we are your prisoners!" Aeryn screeched from where D'Argo held her. "Let me go Luxan! You will pay for this attack!" She swung at him as she shouted. When her fists fell short of their target, she lashed out with her feet staggering the big man with a kick to the knee. As he stumbled, she and John broke his grip on them.
D'Argo reacted quickly and grabbed hold of John again. As John struggled against D'Argo's grip, he saw Aeryn had broken free and was running up the corridor. "Run Aeryn!" he shouted. "Run!"
She rounded a curve in the corridor and found herself face-to-face with a pulse rifle. She skidded to a stop and began to back up, her hands in the air. Soon she and John stood side by side with Zhaan's pulse rifle and D'Argo's Qualta Blade trained on them.
"You said we weren't your prisoners." John said defensively.
"You are not, but we cannot allow you to contact the Peacekeepers." D'Argo growled, motioning with his blade for them to move. They grudgingly obeyed.
"Zhaan, D'Argo, I need you up here." Chiana called over the comms. "There is a ship headed our way fast. Pilot says it's on an intercept course."
"We'll be right there Chiana." Zhaan replied. She turned to D'Argo. "We'll have to take them to Command with us."
"No. We should take them to their quarters and lock them in." D'Argo growled. "For their own protection."
"Are you sure D'Argo?"
"No. But it seems our best option. If we're about to be boarded by unknown hostiles, I don't want to be distracted by these two." He paused, looking directly at John and Aeryn. "Now, let's move before Chiana surrenders the ship."
As the gate swung closed on the cell John felt that his life had taken a turn for the worst. He felt a knot tighten in his stomach as he heard the lock engage. From down the corridor he could hear Aeryn screaming at their captors even as they moved out of range. As he listened to her vent her anger he wished he could feel anger, but all he could feel was despair.
For the first time since he had awakened that morning he was alone. Alone with his thoughts. Alone with his fears. This can't be real. I'm locked in a cell aboard an alien ship that's about to be boarded by other aliens. What have I gotten into? And how did I get into it? Mom, Dad ... will I ever see you guys again? DK ... Katie ... Megan ... Oh God, will I ever get home? As despair swept over him he slumped to the floor and allowed the tears that he had held at bay for so long to come.
Chiana stood at the main console when D'Argo and Zhaan arrived in Command. She was studying the readings and didn't appear to hear them enter. "Who is it? And what do they want?" D'Argo demanded as he approached the tactical console.
"I don't know much more than when I contacted you earlier. But Pilot has verified that the ship isn't Peacekeeper."
"Well that is good news." Rygel said as he swept into the room.
"Pilot? What can you tell us?" Zhaan asked, looking to the clamshell viewer.
"Chiana has told you everything that we know. But," he paused if listening to another voice, "we are receiving a transmission from the approaching vessel."
"Put it on the main viewer Pilot."
The view screen flickered to life and before them appeared the image of tall, thin being. He, at least they assumed it was a he, had deep purple skin with violet stippling. His eyes were deep black pools with tiny white pupils. His short white hair stood up straight on his head. As he stared at Chiana, Zhaan and D'Argo, he worked his jaw as if trying to contain his anger.
"I am Prefect B'dak. You have violated one of our most sacred laws and you will be held accountable."
"Prefect B'dak," Zhaan said calmly, hoping to placate the man, "I am Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan. We are a peaceful vessel. Please explain what you believe we have done."
"One of your number has smuggled an artifact off of our planet. This is a direct violation of Qaran law. We demand that the three members of your crew who visited our planet be turned over to us immediately."
"That is impossible." she replied firmly. "But we will welcome a representative of your ship aboard Moya to discuss this further."
"That is unacceptable. You will turn your crew members over to us immediately or we will open fire."
"Prefect B'dak, we are unarmed." Zhaan replied patiently. "If you fire on us, you risk destroying this ship and her crew."
"Why are you resisting us?" B'dak demanded. "We know that one of your number purchased the artifact in question." As he continued to speak, all eyes turned to Rygel. He tried to leave command, but was grabbed by D'Argo as he hovered a little too close to the big man.
"We are not being difficult Prefect. Two of those who visited your planet are ill. We have no wish to infect others of our complement or to endanger your people unnecessarily. We have contained the problem here and merely request that you visit our ship to discuss this peaceably."
The audio portion of the communication suddenly went dead, but they could see B'dak turn as if speaking to someone just out of range. A moment later, the audio returned and he agreed to Zhaan's proposal.
Aeryn paced her cell like a caged animal. Every fiber of her being rebelled at the thought of being imprisoned by these aliens. They had repeatedly claimed to be her friends and shipmates, yet they had locked her in this cell. Her first priority was to free herself and to make contact with the nearest Peacekeeper ship, but she also felt the need to repay the debt she owed the aliens' other prisoner.
As she considered the young man in the cell down the hall, she was surprised at the feelings he evoked in her. He looks Sebacean, but he is like no one I've ever met. This all seems so new to him. He stood up to the Luxan and the Delvian for me on two separate occasions though it meant his own incarceration. Why? Why did he do that? I wouldn't have done it for him.