- "Wait here." Roxas' command was a breathless whisper in
the dark confines of the access tunnel. Aeryn complied,
- sensing more than seeing, the woman move away from her.
It was pitch black in the space, yet Roxas seemed to move with perfect
confidence without aid of light.
- Aeryn tried her best to still the frightened tremor in
her bones. As they slinked through the corridors and darkened passages, her
mind was racing, filled with the horrid glimpses of truth about the Viron
project that Roxas had shared with her. She reeled at the knowledge that her
own natural immunity could allow the suffering of millions.
Each new noise raised an alarm along her spine, but
she sought to control her fear, collapsing it down to some imagined center. It
felt oddly natural for her to do this. If the circumstances were different,
she would have examined this phenomenon, wondering if it meant some vital link
to her past.
There was the sound of metal against metal and then
the sudden protest of a creaking hinge. A sliver of light sliced into the
dark. Aeryn squinted, turning away.
Roxas' shadow gestured from the new doorway. "Let's
go. Before the duty shift changes."
Aeryn felt her way along the wall, hunched over
beneath the low ceiling. She paused at the hatch, looking at Roxas. "Are you
"No." Roxas said with a grim smile.
Aeryn shared the humorless expression. "Honesty… for
She stepped out into the catwalk of the corridor,
shedding the stale air of the tunnel. Her face was greeted with the damp cool
breeze. Off in the distance, came the sound of running water. She looked at
Roxas, her brow furrowed. "Water? I thought you said we were beneath a
"We are." Roxas returned, gesturing her toward the
source of sound. "The Dizine River runs through our compound. It powers part
of this facility."
The doctor moved along the deserted corridor, Aeryn
in tow. She tried to drink in her surroundings all at once, etching them into
her mind. Her eyes searched for anything to jog lose the meaningless jangle of
images that formed her memory, even in this alien place.
They paused at an intersection. The sound of water
had become a roar; the cool breeze was stronger. Roxas stopped at the
bulkhead, and Aeryn nearly collided with her back.
The doctor leveled her gaze on Aeryn. "We will be in
the open. We need to cross through the Great Chamber to reach the tunnels to
the surface. Do you feel strong enough to run?"
Aeryn nodded. Something within her had switched to
life. The fear was replaced by a near predatory willingness for
- Strange… very strange.
- "Very well." Roxas returned, licking her lips
apprehensively. The doctor was clearly out of her element. Her sheer defiance
seemed to make up for it, but not by much. "On my count-"
The air was suddenly split with the clamor of sirens.
A metallic voice accompanied them. "Alert. Alert. Security breach. MedLab
one. Alert. Alert."
"No!" Roxas yelled in protest. Her voice was nearly
drowned out. "Not frelling fair! NO!"
Aeryn looked around in alarm. Motion in the corner of
her eye quickly grabbed her attention. Armed Mitzan troopers flooded into the
corridor behind them.
A volley of shots pierced the air, zinging off the
metal walls around them before the two women could flee. As she shoved Aeryn
toward the Great Chamber, toward their escape route, a shot hit Roxas high on
her back. There was the sickening aroma of charred clothing and skin. Aeryn
pivoted and sank to her knees at the woman's side.
"You're hit." She said, her hands hovering over the
charred wound. Aeryn threw a brief glance at the approaching troopers. "Here,
I'll help you--"
"Go!" Roxas hissed, her teeth clenched in pain. She
weakly shoved Aeryn away once more.
"Go, damn you!"
Their eyes met one last moment in a silent
Aeryn whirled, and fell into an all-out sprint. Her
muscles were instantly singing with the flow of adrenaline as she pushed along
the catwalk suspended high above the raging river.
More shots rained down around her. They struck the
metal of the grating under her feet and the handrails in a shower of sparks.
But this only served to spur her forward.
"No! Cease fire!" An angry voice bellowed. "I want
the Sebacean alive."
The end of the catwalk remained impossibly distant.
Aeryn refused the urge to turn, to steal a glance at her pursuers; it would
only be lost time.
Heart threatening to escape her throat, Aeryn raced
Then suddenly skidded to a halt.
At the opposite end of the catwalk, another set of
guards had appeared, their weapons drawn on her. Aeryn stood, panting. She was
cut off from the only means of escape. There was nowhere else to go.
Aeryn whirled, her fists clenched into defiant knots
at her sides. The other group had advanced, but true to their orders, they had
not fired another shot.
An older cruel-mouthed man, parted from the squad of
guards. "Surrender now! And I assure you mercy."
Aeryn knew him instinctively. This one was Gessit
Jozan, the monster.
She spared a quick glance to the men at her back.
They had advanced closer still in silent caution.
"Why?" Aeryn yelled, not certain her voice could be
heard over river below. "So that you may use me to kill countless others? I
"Do not defy me, woman. You shall only make things
Seeming on cue, a painful scream fluttered to her as
Roxas was dragged unceremoniously away from the Great Chamber. Aeryn could
only watch in helpless guilt. Her eyes moved back to Jozen. He and his men had
moved closer. The group at her back had done the same.
She met his frosty gaze.
It must end here.
An odd serenity found her. She knew what she must
Calmly she approached the edged of the catwalk, her
hands wrapped around the cool, slick metal of the handrail.
down into the black churning depths of the river below. It seemed to stretch
into a blessed eternity.
The troopers were closer, weapons drawn. They were
approaching as one would stalk wounded game in the wild. But she knew they
would not dare kill her. Not yet, at least.
She placed a foot on the lower rail, eyes focused on
Reading her motives, Jozan bellowed. "Stop! Hold it
Aeryn made no response; she did not lift her gaze as
she climbed over the railing and clung to the opposite side.
"Grab her! Get her!" Jozan called.
The catwalk suddenly trembled with the thunderous
barrage of heavy boots as the two squads moved in on her.
She looked directly at Jozan, into his hate-filled
And let go.
"NO!" Jozan's cheated rage found her as she
The world became a torrent of the sounds of the
greedy river and the rush of air as she fell and fell.
Then, with crushing force, she struck the water.
Aeryn was consumed by its murky depths.
"Commander Crichton, I have additional details as to
the planet's environment."
John's eyes did not leave the rack of imposing
Peacekeeper weaponry. He selected a pulse rifle and hefted it in one hand.
"Lay it on me."
- "Er… yes. You were correct in your assumption about high levels of
photo-organic life forms in the upper atmosphere of
- the planet. It offers an explanation for the lack of
- "Cut to the chase, P. I want to know about settlements…
structures. Any signs of Aeryn's prowler?" John asked, stuffing a handful of
charges into the pocket of his duster.
"There is a regularly emitted signal from a
mountainous region consistent with a Peacekeeper distress frequency. However,
there are several automated satellites in orbit that seem to emit a blanket
field electro- disturbance that prevents me from pinpointing it
"Great, they've got VH1." He muttered.
"I'm sorry." The Navigator returned, confused.
"Nothing…" He checked the charge on the pulse rifle
once more. "Can you transmit the data to the transport pod, I want to get down
there ASAP, ok? I'll do my homework on the way."
John activated the closure for the weapons locker and
turned. He nearly collided with D'Argo.
"Whoa!" he said. "Not a good idea to sneak up on a
guy with a pulse rifle."
D'Argo folded his arms across his thick chest. "We'll
have to get a start, if we're going to find the prowler while it is still
daylight in the region below."
"What? You are going with me now? Why? So you
can drive me bug-shit the whole way there? No thanks."
He tried to walk around him, but Luxan would not let
him pass. "God damn it, D'Argo…" John trailed off. "Cut me some slack,
The Luxan's steely gaze seemed to soften, only
slightly. "I insist."
- "Damn. That chick does not know how to parallel
park." John said, surveying the marooned prowler. The landing had
- taken out the tops of trees, cutting a wide swath of
destruction in the heavily wooded area. It was miraculous that the prowler had
made it to solid ground in one piece.
- D'Argo placed a flat hand against the prowler's hull. "It
was obviously an emergency landing."
"Really? What gave it away?" John said sarcastically,
peering inside the open cockpit.
He squinted in the dim light. The console was a
blinded eye of fried circuits dusted with soot.
"The living components on the transport pod must have
shielded our circuits. Looks like those disruption satellites did a number on
the prowler though. Whoever's crib this is… looks like they don't want a whole
lot of visitors."
John flipped a toggle switch experimentally. Nothing.
He brought his hand up. His fingers held the maroon
flakes of dried blood.
"Oh, God… Aeryn," he said under his breath. His gaze
moved out into the horizon of trees. Sunset had come and the forest noises
seemed to grow in greedy anticipation of that event. His imagination wandered
off in that direction. If some predator or worse had gotten a hold of
"Hold it! Right there!"
D'Argo and John whirled in unison.
A group of soldiers in dingy gray uniforms had crept
John spared a quick glance at D'Argo. "I don't know
about you, but this is getting really old."
Low growls parted from D'Argo's throat; his hands
tightened around the hilt of his Qualta blade.
"Hey!" John said, raising his hands slowly. He took a
step forward. Their imposing rifles instantly leveled on him. "We don't want
any trouble. We're here looking for our friend."
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the prowler.
"The one that came with this little action accessory."
The soldiers' faces remained unreadable. For a moment
he was not certain that they understood him, until they spoke amongst
"He is like the one we heard of. Another
The commander of the group remained staring at him.
"What of this one?" The woman nodded at D'Argo. "He
is not Sebacean."
The leader held up a silencing hand to the group. "We
shall bring them both back. No doubt Jozan will want to see the Peacekeeper.
He can dispose of the other as he sees fit. I'll advise them that we have
finally found the alien vessel as well."
John rolled his eyes. "Look. It's pretty rude to talk
The female moved with blinding swiftness, leveling a
small weapon at John. There was a small whine and something struck his chest
like a tiny fist.
- He looked down. A small metal barb had suddenly appeared
there. Disbelieving, he pulled the cylinder from his skin with numb fingers.
"Oh… perfect." He slurred.
He sank to his knees and fell face first into the
dead needles of the forest floor, only dimly aware of the sounds of D'Argo's
similar struggle before sinking into unconsciousness.
- "Is she breathin'?" Keesa said, peering from behind her
older brother's back at the stranger laying face down in the
- muddy bank of the river.
- Elix frowned at her. "Yes… she's breathing, stupid. See?
Her stomach's moving."
- "Don't call me stupid!" The girl returned, shoving a
pudgy hand at his shoulder. But her annoyance was diffuse in light of
- their curious discovery.
"Hush up." Elix commanded. Keesa took a step back as
her brother stooped to retrieve a stout branch from the forest
- floor. Steeling himself, he cautiously prodded the torso
of the "dead" woman with it.
The figure moaned slightly. A bone white hand moved
from beneath the tangle of hair to slap the stick away.
- Keesa let out a startled squeal and darted for the safety
of a nearby boulder. Elix scrambled backwards, nearly losing his
- footing in the wet earth. But the stranger did not give
chase. The pale hand plopped lifelessly back down into the mud at her side.
The two children exchanged a frightened glance.
"You think she's a Mitzan spy?" The girl
Bravado renewed, Elix squatted down over the body and
brushed the tangled mass of dark hair from the woman's face.
- "Doesn't look like any Mitzan I've seen before. Her
skin's so… plain."
"How would you know, Elix?" Keesa taunted. "You've
never seen a Mitzan."
- Seemingly disturbed by the argument, the woman stirred
once more. A thick moan issued from her. The two children watched in horror as
the stranger tried to push her self up on trembling arms only to collapse to
the bank once more.
Debate for the moment forgotten, Elix grabbed his
sister's hand and tugged her back to their village. "Come on, Keesa. We should
go get Dethan."
Jozan turned the prayer stone over and over in his
thick fingers. It was shaped like a bird of prey, wings stretched
- menacing flight. He thoughtfully examined it under the
harsh overhead lights of the medical containment room. He turned icy blue eyes
upon the alien prisoners. The Sebacean was being held, pinned to the wall, by
two of his flank guard. The other, the more disfigured one, lay on the floor
of the cell, still under the influence of the sedative.
"There were Peacekeepers here once… before I was
born." Jozan stated, casually strolling up to the captive. "The story ended
quite tragically for them. We learned to protect our planet from your kind,
"My kind?" John barked a derisive laugh. "Sergeant
Jackass, haven't you listened to a single word I've said? I'm not a
- Peacekeeper. Hell, I'm not even Sebacean."
Jozan felt a tremor of fury at this creature's
impertinence. But he quelled it. There was always time for reprimands
- "And you expect me to believe your… far fetched stories?
Do you take me for a fool?"
"Well… since you asked-"
He frowned. "How many more are coming? You're
obviously some sort of scout for the Peackeepers. As was the
At the mention of the other, Jozan saw a subtle shift
in the captive's expression.
"Was? What do you mean was?" He demanded. "Where's
There was a brief flutter of satisfaction as Jozan
sensed a weakness in his prey where the woman was concerned. Although this one
was not Mitzan, and had no color response, his emotions were by far just as
apparent. A wary, wild-eyed look in the captive's eyes, confirmed his
thoughts. "Prisoner, I asked you a question. Or should I have my men forcibly
remove the information from you?"
- "Go play in the traffic." It was spoken with a tired
bravado. "I've had worse than you try to pick my brain apart, Sarge."
Jozan ignored the barb. "It was a shame what happened
to her, really. She was not entirely… unappealing."
- "What did you do with her?"
"I, personally, did nothing." Jozen felt a surge of
gratification to see the pain in this creature's eyes. "I merely watched
- The Sebacean tried to rend himself free of the two
guards. But his attempts were useless. Something akin to bloodlust
- formed in his features. "You fucking son of a
- Jozan rolled his eyes. He made a brief gesture and the
two guards released their charge. The alien rushed at him. Jozen
- took his time, lunging out of the way at the last minute.
With his superior strength, Jozan brought his fist down square on the small of
his assailant's back. He collapsed to the floor in a winded thump.
Jozan squatted to his haunches and locked a fist full
of John's hair in his hand. He pulled his face up to meet his. "I admire your
attempts, Peacekeeper. But, know this: you will die here."
The dry wind filtered through the open window high
above the cot. She was alone in the morning-filled room. It was
- singing that roused her from the thick shelter of sleep.
The voices, entwined in a graceful harmony, wove along some imagined corridor
beyond this room. A prayer in an alien language.
- Slowly, like a woman triple her age she eased her aching
limbs into a sitting position. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and
tested her weight on them. The flat cool stone of the floor was a sudden shock
to her bare feet that grew goose flesh over her body.
She took slow shambling steps to a chair in the
corner. A mist of sweat had broken out over her prickled skin. She grasped the
back of the chair, leaning heavily on it. Her entire body felt like one
"Ah… she lives." The male voice was sudden in the
quiet early light of the room. The words were spoken more in jest than actual
She froze in place, eyes wide. The doorway was filled
with a man with no soft edges. His clean shaven face was unreadable under a
tousled head of dirty blond hair. The sleeves of his loose-fitting tunic were
rolled up to reveal thick forearms covered in tanned skin.
She crouched slightly and moved, cat-like, away from
him. Heart at a deafening rapture, she barely heard him speak.
"My apologies, friend. I didn't mean to startle you."
His hands were open and flat, the palms up raised. "I'm Dethan Meggs. You are
kept in the house of the Tyron."
He crossed the threshold, arms held out, as if
approaching an injured animal. With each step of his approach, she retreated
further still. Her eyes seized on his every move.
"Tyron?" Her voice was a soft whisper, framed in
"Yes. I am Tyron." Meggs waved a casual hand at her.
His mouth stretched into a perplexed smile. "You, however, are like nothing
I've seen before. You are not Mitzan; yet you wear their colors."
A derisive snort sounded from the archway. A cragged
scrap of an old woman hunched there, dressed in flowing robes of nearly gaudy
colors. Her white hair was pulled into a severe knot at the back of her neck.
The weathered lines of the face met in the thin line of her mouth, pulled into
a disapproving line.
Meggs ushered the old woman into the room with a
wave. "This is Elder Tessa. She is here to help you mend. She's our best
Her eyes bounced between Tessa and Meggs. "Am I your
"I do not know. Are you my enemy?" A furrow formed
over the blond curve of his eyebrows. It was his turn to look suspicious. "You
have me at a disadvantage, friend. Our law forbids us to turn away strangers
in need, even if it is an enemy."
She said nothing, expecting a trick. Surely these
beings were not the warring guerrillas known as the Tyron.
- "I don't blame you." Meggs said, as though judging her
thoughts. "I'd probably be just as wary."
- He ventured a step further then stopped when he saw the
anxiety claw deeper into her. "Do you even know where you are?"
Sadness flickered across her face. She shook her head
with finality, aqua-colored eyes liquid and huge. "I knew only the Mitzan
compound. They found me and brought me there."
"You are in the Delphi flatlands, beyond the
mountains of the Asanti." Tessa interjected, moving to her in a nearly
business-like way. Aeryn could tell from her demeanor she had dealt with the
sick and wounded on many occasions. Tessa guided her with bony hands to sit
down on the cot.
"Have you a name, friend?"
"Aeryn. My name is Aeryn." She said hoarsely, tears
threatening to constrict her throat.
"Tell me..." She managed. The astonishment was
simple, childlike, as she looked wide-eyed at him. "Tell me how... this place.
I remember water… trying to breathe."
He held his hand up, motioning for her
"You were found on the Dizine River, about a mile
from here. That was two days ago. You are alive only by the graces of our
She looked from Tessa's grim face to the plain
incredulity in Megg's and saw little comfort in either. The impossible sadness
swelled in her chest like the black waters that had consumed her in that dread
Memories of her last fateful moments in the Mitzan
stronghold overwhelmed her. Her fear was waning, giving over into the bleak
abyss that dominated her interior. For whatever hope she had held of
retrieving her lost past had vanished in the Great Chamber, with the life of