"Impossible." She said the word under her breath. Roxas looked around the control suite. There were no other med techs within ear-shot. She regarded the sample of the Sebacean's reaction to the Viron once more.
The Viron had taken cycles of engineering. It was as deadly as it was resourceful, shifting its appearance too quickly for the host's immune system to combat it. But the Sebacean's body had defeated it. Her body had produced an antigen that killed the Viron within arns. It was obvious that Peacekeeper medical technology was far more advanced than she had first assumed. With enough study the immunity could be duplicated; it was a certainty.
But with this wonderment, came a new worry. Roxas' eyes regarded her own ghost-like reflection in the window. Guilt and anxiety, her two companions for the great bulk of her life on Golgotha, struggled anew in her mind. A darker vision appeared on the bleak horizon. With a way to protect the Mitzan troopers from their own bio-weapon, the Viron would be released. The war would end. Finally.
And millions would die, her hands drenched with their blood.
I am damned enough.
But…A glimmer of something else. A hope.
The thought was completely foreign. Startling to her in its purity. Roxas realized she was the only one that knew of the alien's immunity. She peered into the window of the observation room at the one called Aeryn.
"Doctor. What news?" Jozan's voice erupted at her back.
"Gessit." Roxas blurted, feeling the instant distrust well in her stomach. Subtly moving the data coil of results to the side, she pivoted to face him.
Jozan was physically big, a brute. Angular jaw. Eyes like arctic ice. Sharp nose. Cruel, thin lipped scissors of a mouth. An air of self-approval always seemed to float around him like a cloying fragrance.
"Since your preliminary reports, you've had little to tell me." Jozan picked up a data coil, and frowned at it. It was tossed back to the side, having provided nothing to capture his attention.
"There's been nothing new to report, sir." She fought the waver in her voice. "I am waiting for a new section of data."
"The subject?" He glanced into the observation room at the sleeping figure on the small cot. "Have you administered the Viron to it?"
She took the small break in his attention to drop the data coil of results in the small space between the wall and the workbench, obscuring them from view.
"We administered a sample of the agent an arn ago." Roxas moved in beside him at the window, careful to keep out of arm's reach.
"And?" He studied her face, eyes moving over the delicate veining pattern on her skin. Roxas knew she was terrible at controlling the color-response, much unlike her battle hardened compatriots.
But, remarkably, the lies came easier. "It is dying. I'm gauging the process. Her metabolism is slower… it could take… days."
How long have I been here?Weekens? Longer?
It was nearly impossible to judge the passage of time.
Aeryn had come to tell the arn by the nameless medtech that would come to check on her, their eyes cautiously averted out of fear and awe. They would work quickly, checking on her healing injuries, eager to bolt back through the door. There would be food and water twice a day. And once a day, Roxas, the only one of the Mitzan that would talk to her.
She had been shown little reason to doubt the doctor, but there were things that made no sense. They plagued her like the strange dreams that visited her in sleep, never to fully manifest, but serving only as echoes of doubts.
Roxas seemed to dance some inner edge between reckless curiosity and fear. The doctor would seldom talk of herself. Instead she was always filled with questions that only served to frustrate Aeryn. Questions about the "Peacekeepers". About the life that escaped the feeble focus of her memory.
Aeryn pushed a quivering hand through her hair. She rose
from the narrow pallet and paced the length of the room. Her legs felt surer
beneath her. There was no longer the sickly tremor in her muscles. The long days
of confusion had passed. The waking dreams, the visits of half-glimpsed ghosts
were more seldom. To Aeryn their departure was somehow worse, for they were at
least brief glimpses into her now lost past.
Fitting. Describing me perfectly. A rueful smile played across her mouth.
But those thoughts did little to help.
Aeryn drew in a deep breath, closed her eyes and tried once more to concentrate… to remember. But as always, the fuzzy flutter of memory danced just beyond her hazy vision, elusive and stubborn.
The door suddenly opened.
"Doctor." Aeryn greeted the familiar face with a mix of relief and apprehension.
But the physician's face was pensive as Roxas answered. "How do you feel?"
"I still cannot remember much more." She looked hopefully at Roxas, trying to keep the desperation from her voice. "You said this should pass. And that it could be a temporary effect of the stasis?"
But Roxas did not meet her eyes. "Yes. That is a possibility."
The woman was unusually silent as she went through the usual morning ritual of checking her patient's vitals. Aeryn watched the woman's face. A dim flush seeped from the pattern of veins in her thin skin, making them all the more vivid. She had learned that at times of distress, the Mitzan would exhibit this sign.
"Something has happened." Aeryn ventured. "What?"
Roxas smiled bitterly. She glanced warily at the observation windows before leaning to Aeryn's shoulder to check the healing wound there. "Nothing is wrong. That's the problem."
Swiftly, Aeryn reached out, clutching the Roxas' wrist. "Look. I've played enough games. Why am I still here? I feel fine. What are you not telling me?"
Roxas did not react. Only her eyes moved to regard the windows. Her voice was a low hiss. "Release my arm and I will tell you."
But Aeryn's grasp remained fixed. "Answers. I want answers. You told me I was not your prisoner… yet I have not been allowed to leave this room."
Cautiously, with her available hand, Roxas removed the ever-present microset from over her ear in a quiet show of truce.
Aeryn released her arm.
"I cannot tell you everything… not here… not now. But, Aeryn, know this. I will have no part in another death… I've seen enough of that, " she began in a cryptic whisper.
"John… help me."
The soft voice carried like a cold draft through leviathan's corridors. A shiver moved up his spine. It found him as he worked in the muttering solitude of the access tier, loops of cabling wound at his feet.
He looked down at his chest, to the spot were the com would be. But it was not there. He had shed it along with his vest in another area of the ship.
John looked around. "Harvey?"
But the joke was getting old. And it never had been funny, anyway.
Shrugging, he returned his attention to the task at hand.
The voice was unmistakably feminine.
"Chi?… Zhanny?" He called, moving away from the wall to peer into the alcove that led out to the corridor. "That you?"
A shadow flitted past, a momentary ghost in the corner of his eye.
"Zhaan?" He pursued, the hairs standing up on his arms.
"All we ever do is say good-bye to each other."
But the voice was at his back now. John whirled.
And recoiled instantly at the sight.
Gilina stood before him. At least, what remained. Her skin was mottled gray and sloughing from the skull. The once flaxen hair had fallen away in clumps. The great burn mark left by the pulse gun stood out like a charred mouth in the middle of her chest. Her eyes were obscured in milky white. Ice water pooled in his stomach as they moved over him.
It took a shambling step towards him, hand outstretched. The mocking words gurgled from the rotting throat. "Tell me. If things were different.. Could you tell me another lie?"
He skittered away only to collide with the closed gate of a cell. John looked around. The containment tier. His reeling brain took in this fact with the absolute acceptance that only comes with dreaming.
"You left me to die. You could have come after me. But
"You left me to die… Father."
"Ellie, honey... I--" He began, shame invading his heart.
An arm grasped his shoulder, forcing him to turn.
Skin pale as frost under a November moon. Her once, aqua eyes were like onyx, sunken in. Dead.
A loathe radiated from the horrid shade. Her words were sound of groaning ice.
"Is this what you meant, by being more? This is your fault… had you only told me the truth--"
John mindlessly clutched at the heavy hand on his shoulder, scrambling to his feet. His other hand flew to the pulse gun at his side.
"What? What!" He looked up at D'Argo, mind racing to split the shell of the nightmare.
"You fell asleep." The Luxan stepped back, regarding him. "I've been trying to raise you over the com."
John pulled his shirt into a straighter line. He hid his eyes from his friend and stooped to retrieve a bundle of cables. He muttered, "Oh. Right. Pulling an all nighter. That'll do it."
"Moya has already begun the search. The Izlouth is taking effect."
"Great. Let's get up to command then." John said, slapping the Luxan's shoulder. A shabby attempt at a grin moved over his face.
But D'Argo did not join him. He remained in place, arms folded across his chest, as he continued to study him.
"What?" John paused in the alcove.
"I demand that you tell me the truth."
"Truth?" He chuckled nervously, feeling the gooseflesh form on his arms at the familiar words. "Don't know what you're talking about, D."
"No. I think you do." D'Argo returned.
Roxas massaged her temples as she rested at the workbench. More than ever, she felt like a gear in some great dread machine. One whose designs could not be glimpsed in one whole to be understood or even controlled, for that matter. But her choice had been made. The gears were in motion.
There had been yet another meeting of the base leaders. The
room had been filled with the grim desperate faces of the ranking officers. Fear
was a color that lingered in the air. It was unspoken, but known by all. The end
was near for the Mitzan.
All the while she remained slouched in the corner, spine alive with fear. She imagined at any moment her discovery about the Sebacean would be found out. Each off-hand comment she over-analyzed. Another glance would yank the truth out into the harsh reality of the overhead lights. Nerves frayed, she left to wander the base throughout the rest of the day, careful to avoid Jozen.
It was early morning by the time she returned to the medlab. She lingered in the darkened room, the equipment blacker shapes around her. There was another piece of business to attend. The reports on the Sebacean had to be destroyed.
Carefully, she tried to move the workbench away from the wall, as noiselessly as possible. It proved to be heavier than she thought. The heavy piece of furniture barely budged.
"You were nowhere to be found, Roxas. Explain." Jozan commanded.
The voice in the silence, particularly his voice, made her start. "Oh!"
Somehow she knew he liked that, liked scaring her. The thought added another layer of dread. Roxas turned, trying to keep calm, to keep the flush from her skin. "I didn't hear you come in, sir. I have more tests to conclude. It's been very time consuming."
"Yes. The whole process has been that." He stepped closer, blocking her in against the counter. "Very time intensive. If I didn't know any better, I'd say someone was lying to me."
"But, sir." Roxas felt a fresh wave of fear consume her. "It takes as long as it takes."
Jozen leaned in, his face inches from hers. "I beg to differ. Maybe all this time you've worked with the alien has warped your... perspective."
"I don't … I don't know what you mean." It was a monumental effort to meet his gaze or keep the tremor from her voice.
"Oh? I'll explain. You see, today I made a very startling discovery." Jozan nonchalantly turned the data coil before her eyes. Panic blossomed in her chest at the sight of it. The bastard had found the Sebacean's immunity results.
"Look what I found. You didn't drop this by any chance?" He mocked with an icy grin.
"You're accusing me of --."
But the play was over. Jozen had tired of the slow torture, she could tell. His eyes narrowed. "Enough!"
With sudden ferocity, Jozan grabbed her by her upper arms. "You lied to me." He shook her as he purposefully enunciated each word. "You choose to betray the Word of Order? For the life of an insect!"
"I will not see another life end! I refuse." Roxas blurted. "I was forced into this… but no more! No more suffering by my hand."
His voice became deadly calm. "Suffering is the great teacher of us all, Doctor. That is a universal constant... something you've failed to recognize."
Jozan's eyes pinned her to the spot. Her fear altered course to a new level of hell. It struck her, full-force in that moment, that there were far worse things than her own death. She struggled against his grasp with renewed strength. "Let me go."
With a great shove, he sent her across the floor. She faltered, thrown off-balance. The small of her back collided into a heavy shelf laden with medicines. It fell to the floor with a solid metal clang, spewing its contents around her as she came to rest.
He leveled a finger at her. "By the time I am done with you, I will hear you beg for your own death, Roxas."
The pain paraded up and down her spine. Roxas lay limply on floor, trying desperately to recapture her breath.
"We are all as good as dead, Jozan. And the Asanti do not care! This war is a lie!" She panted, thoughts swimming. Frantically she looked around, searching for something to use as a weapon. But there was nothing more imposing than a rack of test tubes. In the scattered medicines on the floor her hand settled over a syringe.
"Insolence!" Jozan lurched toward her, eyes alive with murderous hate. But she managed to scramble backwards on her hands and feet, remaining out of his reach. Out of space, she struggled to her feet with the wall at her back.
He stepped closer. "You will suffer, Roxas. That, I promise."
Ducking the swipe of his fist, she slipped past him and sprang toward the door. But she was far too slow. His fist caught a hank of her hair to pull her head back with a painful snap. As he forced her to turn back to him, she lashed out with the syringe.
Its drug-laden needle landed in the thick muscles on side of his neck. She pressed down on the plunger.
Jozan's grip suddenly relaxed. A cheated surprise widened his eyes. Then he crumpled to the floor in a graceless heap at her feet.
Panting, Roxas regarded his fallen form and then the syringe in her hand.
Sedative. But she had no idea of know how much had been in it.
The dread machine that sought to consume her life had
switched into overdrive. She moved quickly, trying to keep pace with the frantic
beat of her own heart. Roxas darted to the doorway and checked for any
intruders. Satisfied, she came back to Jozan and frantically searched his
pockets for the data coil. Later, she turned her attention to the rest of the
"Huh? Why? You feel like taking a drive? Last I looked, we weren't within prowler range of…" He leaned closer, the concern moving over his face to betray his weakness. But she decided at that moment, it was a welcome failing to find in him.
She nodded, her mouth fixed in grim acceptance. "I didn't lie to you. My muscles are healed. But the knife must have pierced my paraphoral nerve. Once damaged, it cannot regenerate. Within forty or fifty arns, it will fail and I will die. Nothing can be done."
Aeryn stood before the flimsy metal mirror over the basin in her cell. The memory had come, unbidden like a sudden rainstorm. Wide-eyed she looked at the stranger reflected in the mirror. The powerful emotions, the brief glimpse of cheated death, had drained the color from her face.
Was it true? Had she lived that moment? Or another trick of her injured mind? And the other? Was he part of that life as well?
The brief connection felt so tenuous, so frail, she dare not push at it lest it slip from her grasp entirely.
But there was one way to find out.
Aeryn spared a quick glance at the observation windows. They remained mute darkened eyes. Quickly, with trembling fingers, she opened the fasteners to the uniform blouse.
In the flat overhead light the scar on her chest was a vicious waxy pink, running just beneath her breastbone. The punctuation left by a violent moment.
It was true. She was remembering.A cautious excitement seeped into her.
The door cycled open. The time was odd. Aeryn had not expected another medtech for quite some time. She whirled, feeling as though she had been caught in some guilty act.
Naj Roxas staggered into the room. The flush of her skin stood out in vivid contrast to the white sway of her lab coat.
"You want out of here?" She hissed. But her anger was not directed at Aeryn.
Aeryn remained in place, mouth agape. "What has happened? You are injured."
Roxas barked a dry laugh. "I'll be fine. And so will you."
"He found out, " Aeryn said in a hushed whisper.
The other woman's face crumpled beneath the weight of her anger. "Yes. Jozan knows that you are immune. There's no time. We have to go, Aeryn. Or we are both done."
Their eyes met. Aeryn nodded somberly.
"Come on," said Roxas. "Let's get out of here."
Chiana slid down from her seat on the command table and regarded the view screen. She was careful not to blink, for she was certain that it would happen again. The field of stars beyond the leviathan continued to burn on in their aloof secrecy. Then... Another ripple of light moved deceptively across the view, shifting like the wave of a curtain.
"Did you see that?" She asked, eyes still glued to the viewer.
There was a subtle tremble to the deck beneath her feet. Alarmed, she looked up to Zhaan. "What the frell was that?"
The Delvian held a calming hand up to her before turning to the clam-shell viewer. "There seems to be something happening to the viewers in Command. Pilot, how is Moya?"
"Frell that." Rygel spouted, guiding his throne sled into the room. "This constant traveling in circles is driving me fahrbot. I demand that this nonsense stop immediately."
"Rygel, please." Zhaan snapped.
Pilot spoke in halted stretches. "Moya … is operating … normally for the moment. I am… I am just starting to receive … the sensors data …will get back to you."
"For the three thousandth time, D'Argo… No! This is not the time or the place!" John's angered voice carried into command well before he arrived. His arms were raised, mid-gesture as he stalked into the chamber. The Luxan kept behind him doggedly. Ignoring the others in the room, D'Argo centered his attention on John. "You are wrong! You have been behaving more and more strangely with each passing weeken. I demand that you tell me what is happening."
"What is the meaning of this?" Zhaan interrupted. "This is hardly--"
"It's nothing, Blue." John fluttered a dismissive hand in D'Argo's direction. "How's Moya? What--"
"I am attempting to get some answers from him. This pewhkah, knows more about Aeryn's disappearance than he will divulge."
Temper at an end, John whirled on his accuser. He pushed at the warrior's chest. "Listen! It is none of your goddamned business! What happened is between me and Aeryn."
"John, please hear me." Zhaan smoothed her hand along his shoulder, stepping between the two men. "D'Argo has a point. You have been behaving strangely. Even before Aeryn's departure."
John rolled his eyes and pivoted away from her calm blue gaze. "Christ, Zhaan. Not you, too."
"Perhaps you forced Aeryn to leave." D'Argo interjected.
"That's it." John dove at him.
But Zhaan remained in place between the two, holding John at bay with a firm hand. "This will solve nothing."
"Hey, guys!" Chiana called, still intent upon the view screen. "You've got to see this."
"Not now, Chiana." D'Argo growled.
Pilot's holo-image flickered onto the clamshell. "Your… attention. Commander Crichton… I believe your theory… was correct."
John slowly relaxed his guard and turned to the clamshell, argument for the moment abandoned. "What? What did Moya find?"
"We are receiving readings for a massive planet less than forty thousand metras from here. I shall… display it on… viewers under magnification."
The field of stars in the screen remained unchanged. Only the occasional ripple of light moved over the view. John frowned. "Pilot, you're more tanked than I thought. There's nothing there."
Chiana moved in beside him. She chirped. "You don't see that? It's as big as a Keurig slug beast."
"See what? There's nothing…" He paused. Realization flooded him. "That's right. Red light…"
Excitedly he turned to the Overseer's console. A victorious grin found his mouth as he worked. He pushed the last sequence and adjusted Moya's radiation filters. "Disco."
The viewscreen image shifted once more, filling the room with iridescent red light.
"By the goddess." Zhaan prayed.
There on the screen hovered the mammoth planet, the swirl of its dusty brown atmosphere made black with the red cast. Smaller moons clung nearby, insignificant.
"Ladies and germs… and Rygel." John smiled triumphantly. "I give you… Golgotha."