"I refuse to trust her, John." D’Argo folded his arms and paced the length of the cell.
"We don’t have much choice here," John returned, protracting each word. Wearily, he squeezed his eyes shut as he spoke, seeking some remnant of patience. The argument was getting old. Being stuck in this metal box was getting old.
"It could very well be a trap."
"Look around!" He shot back, gesturing at the bleak walls. "We’re as trapped as it gets!"
The Luxan turned to look at him in seething silence, clenching and unclenching his fists.
"Just be ready… Ok?" John implored, lowering his voice.
"I will gladly attack any Mitzan that walks through that door," D’Argo answered. He stepped closer, his agitation barely in check. "Any Mitzan."
"Fine… whatever." He waved a dismissive hand. "Just stay near the door and be ready to do the… the thing."
D’Argo fixed him with an exasperated expression.
"You know what I mean."
Activity at the entrance announced their captors. John hectically motioned for D’Argo to take his place at the side of the entrance, out of view. The door hissed open to reveal Roxas once again flanked by the two guards.
She and John exchanged a silent glance. As she stepped forward to enter the room, Roxas suddenly whirled on the guard to her left, bringing her doubled fists into his unprotected abdomen. John advanced, striking the doubled-over guard at the base of the skull.
The instant the remaining guard’s attention was diverted by Roxas, D’Argo lashed out. The man crumpled to the grating, unconscious with the Luxan’s sting.
Wide-eyed Roxas leaned heavily in the threshold as the wave of maroon rapidly moved over skin. Ignorant to John’s awestruck reaction to her color-response, she panted against the pain in her healing injury caused by the sudden exertion.
"Psychedelic," he muttered, staring as he stepped past her.
John approached the open doorway long enough to spare a quick glance out into the corridor. He dragged the lifeless soldier nearest him into the cell to hide it from view.
D’Argo pounced at Roxas. Like a limp doll, he gathered her up at the collar and pulled her to face him. A low growl parted from his throat as he glared down at her.
"D’Argo! No!" John immediately turned to the aid of their injured conspirator.
Squirming under the Luxan’s powerful grasp, Roxas turned pleading eyes to John. "We have an agreement!"
With him…not with me!" D’Argo snarled.
John sought to separate them, pulling at his friend’s hands, but the warrior remained tenacious with his prey. "Hey! Ease down! She’s on our team, Big Guy."
"How do we know we can trust her, John?"
"You don’t," Roxas gasped, tugging ineffectually at the powerful hands that sought her throat. "But I give you my word. My vow…the Asanti as my witness."
"Come on. You’re wasting time." John reasoned.
D’Argo met his gaze and turned back to the woman. Reluctantly, he released his grip and all but shoved her way. She staggered back, falling against John.
"Are you all right?" He questioned, shooting D’Argo an angry glance.
Coughing, Roxas nodded. Her fearful stare did not leave the Luxan as he searched the two guards for their weapons.
"We must go now," Roxas explained, regaining her breath. She looked up at John. "There’s not much time."
* * * * *
Large fires dotted the center of the yard. Occasionally dark figures fluttered past them, outlined by the flames. The music was tinny and jubilant as it wove amongst the trees of the hillside to find its way up to Aeryn. Laughter, some of it drunken and raucous, mixed with the din of sound.
She had volunteered for this picket, as far away from the noise and crowd as she could manage. These people never failed to surprise her. The Tiron lived under constant threat from the Mitzan, yet they could shed their worries so abruptly to engage in such frivolities. Dethan had tried to explain it to her. Tonight was a feast night. Some means of saying thanks to their gods.
If only they didn’t have to be so… conspicuous about it.
Aeryn shook her head to herself and pivoted to face the blackness of the terrain beyond the Tiron villa.
The crunch of gravel announced someone’s approach. She turned. The flickering bonfires picked out Dethan’s shape as he made his way to her.
"Aeryn Dizine," he announced. In his fists he carried two earthenware cups. Liquid sloshed about merrily inside as he raised one out to her.
She felt a smile build, but denied it. Dethan Meggs was a curious creature. There was something about his unusual nature that she found a comfort though she failed to understand why. He possessed casual arrogance that bordered on annoying at times, but that was tempered by a vague air of tragedy that hovered about him.
Dethan stood before her, a grin stretched across his ruddy face. "Won’t you join me in a libation?"
She tentatively took the cup from him and sniffed at it. The tart scent of alcohol wrinkled her nose. Aeryn arched an eyebrow at him. "A libation? …I’m not a Tiron."
"The gods won’t mind," Dethan chided, jostling her shoulder with his free hand.
Aeryn allowed the smile to come. Sparing another glance at Dethan, she cautiously sipped from the mug. It had a flat, almost bitter taste. Peculiar, but strangely familiar. Her brow furrowed.
"What do you think, hmm?"
"What is this?" She questioned, feeling the undeniable tug of memory attached to the sensation of taste. It pushed against her like a swift current, threatening to overwhelm.
There was something… important. Something about staying hidden.
Dethan had turned back to look at the bonfires. "It’s fellip nectar-"
The cup plummeted from her hand to shatter on the stony ground.
"Aeryn," he said, alarmed. He grasped her arm. "What is it? What is wrong?"
Eyes wide, Aeryn stared through him as the memory ravaged her brain, unbidden. It was absolute in its control of her senses. Sight. Sound. Light.
The room was nearly bare except for the bed set facing the window. The view beyond more than made up for the drab interior. The primitive towers of a city prodded blind fingers at the flat gray sky. Thunder rolled across the bay far in the distance, rattling the window. The sound thrilled and intimidated at once. It granted a primitive excitement that she failed to comprehend but enjoyed nonetheless.
She liked the word. She liked the sensation of droplets of water as they had pelted them in their flight to seek this drab little dwelling.
Safehouse, he had called it.
Her head snapped back on her neck as Dethan shook her shoulders. Any suggestion of mirth had left his expression.
"Tell me," he demanded. Anxiety drenched his voice. "What is it? What is wrong?"
"I… I cannot." She stammered.
Panic, irrational and complete found her. She opened her mouth, but there were no words. The images failed to fit the logical progression of noun and verb. Staggering slightly, she wrestled away from him.
Aeryn crumpled against the gnarled black trunk of a tree, the edges of her vision blurring. She stiffened slightly as she felt Dethan slip a comforting had over her shoulder. But she made no motion to pull away.
"Dethan, I do not belong in this place… I don’t know where I belong." Aeryn said, feeling an ancient ache in her very core.
"You have a place here, Aeryn. As long as you want. With us… with me."
She nodded, allowing her back to fall into his chest. His arms encircled her, granting warmth against the icy wind. The festive music continued from the valley below, ignorant to her torment.
* * * * *
"Tiron… find the Tiron," Roxas grimaced through bloody teeth. "T-t-they might help y-y-you."
"Shh… Don’t talk. You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna be okay," John hushed, bending over the fallen form of Naj Roxas.
The young woman writhed weakly in the dried leaves of the forest floor. Her thick maroon blood was everywhere: his hands, soaking her uniform, running onto the matted dead foliage. Faint wafts of steam met the cold Golgothan air from the pooling liquid. Her pain-glazed eyes stared past him into the thick canopy of branches. A wet gurgling began to obscure her breathing.
Punctured lung? Jesus… does she even HAVE lungs? There’s so much blood.
"Oh… Christ," he muttered, helplessly. His hands, tacky with her blood, hovered over her wound, lighting and then coming away. It was as if he feared his very touch would push her over the edge into the death that awaited her.
Things had gone bad from the moment D’Argo insisted upon reclaiming his Qualta blade. Obviously intimidated, Roxas agreed. She was forced to lead them on a more dangerous route through the base to find the armory. The instant the Luxan had the blade in hand, the guard detail returned, surprising the would-be thieves. They managed to escape. But not before Roxas had been wounded during the ensuing clash.
"She’s dying, Crichton." D’Argo said flatly. He was stationed nearby, scanning the thick expanse of forest for any sign of their Mitzan pursuers. The Luxan had been injured as well, but not nearly as severely as the woman.
"Shut up!" John hissed, over his shoulder at him. "God damn you! Just shut the hell up!"
But Roxas was beyond hearing. Her back arched in a shuddering display. Then she lay completely still, the breath escaping her in one last tortured rattle.
Uttering a helpless sigh, John collapsed back on his haunches. Placing his palms to his temples he stared at the lifeless body. The mutter of forest noises seemed overly loud to him. Neither man spoke for a long moment.
"Crichton, there is nothing you could have done." There was the shuffle of dried leaves as D’Argo moved closer. John felt a hand on his shoulder.
"No… no," John nodded to himself. His jaw knotted as he felt the singe of futile anger. "Nothing."
He rose, his gaze still fixed on the broken vessel of Naj Roxas. Suddenly he whirled, lunging at D’Argo. The injured Luxan easily crumpled beneath him. John wrapped his hands into his collar and pulled him close.
"She wouldn’t be dead if it weren’t for you!" Eyes red-rimmed with agony, he bellowed in to his face. "You just had to go back for your goddamn Luxan swizzle stick!"
"That blade is my son’s birthright. I will not abandon it!" D’Argo snapped pushing him away like a dried twig.
He fell back onto the ground and quickly scrambled away from D’Argo’s lumbering approach. But John’s anger was not dissuaded. He regained his footing and jabbed an accusatory finger at the warrior. "Bullshit! She died so you could salvage your fucked up sense of pride!"
John realized that he was cornered against a mammoth fallen trunk. But instead of charging, the Luxan only loomed over him, snarling. His voice carried a suggestion of remorse. "I was not the cause of her death, Crichton. She knew the risks involved-"
"She didn’t die for me! She died for you! You’re the one that’s gonna bury her!"
"It’s not Roxas you’re talking about anymore." D’Argo replied, the anger slowly leaving his tone. "Or me for that matter."
"Shut up! You don’t know shit!" John exploded, feeling the hot build of blood in his face. He pivoted and stalked off into the dense brush of the forest, angrily batting branches out of his path.
"Where are you going?"
"Disney World! Where the fuck do you think?" John threw a hand out toward the dense expanse of wilderness. "She said the Tiron might help. That’s the best I’ve got right now."
* * * * *
"Pilot," Zhaan placed a trembling hand on the Navigator’s brow. He did not stir. The priestess pressed closer, negotiating around his many lifeless limbs. She studied his still features. His immense eyelids fluttered slightly, quieting her fears for the moment.
"Is he...is Pilot dead?" Chiana ventured as she slid across the ridged top of the console. She turned wide depthless black eyes from Zhaan and back to Pilot. "You can do something, right? To help him?"
Zhaan pursed her lips. She slowly shook her head, uncertain. "He appears unconscious at the moment."
"Oh… that’s wonderful." Chiana chirped sarcastically. She slipped around to his other side. "Hey… hey. Pilot, come on. Wake up."
The large misshapen head lolled on his thick neck. He gave a low gurgling moan. "M-Moya…?"
"Shh… " Zhaan placed a soothing hand on him. "Save your strength, Pilot."
The Delvian began pawing through her bag of medicines and herbs, squinting in the dimness. She glanced overhead and muttered, "If only there were more light."
As if on cue, the lights of the Navigator’s alcove took on a brighter glow. Zhaan turned. Chiana was pressed against the console. Her gloved hand rested on the flat plane of a copper trigger-rod.
Zhaan asked. "How did you know to do that?"
Chiana bobbed her shaggy head. A small smirk curled her mouth. "Oh? That? That’s easy… I guess I remember."
"When you switched bodies from the Halosian attack… of course." In pensive silence Zhaan watched the girl experimentally activate more rods and triangles. "Chiana…"
She turned to face Zhaan seeming to guess her next words. The Nebari quickly shook her head. "Oh. No… no no. There’s no way I can run Moya."
"You may have to, my dear. Until I can understand what is wrong with Pilot."
* * * * * * *
"Aeryn," he whispered. His breath was a frosty plume in the icy twilight.
John lay on his stomach amidst the thicket. He did not feel the prickle of thorns at his skin or hear the annoying drone of insects buzzing near his face. For him all sound had stopped. The dying sun remained a fixed orange orb on the horizon, insignificant. His eyes were riveted on the clearing below.
The word was a flood of elation in his weary brain. It was a welcome torrent of light. A grin, akin to idiot glee, found his mouth beneath the occulars.
The gait. The sway of raven hair over pale arms.
Unmistakable. Undeniably, it was the radiant Aeryn Sun.
"Damn," he whispered to himself, still grinning. "I’ve never been so happy to see a Peacekeeper."
But he remained in place on the hillside. She was most definitely not alone.
He watched her, tiny in scale, move like an equal through the bustle of what appeared to be a group of soldiers in training. Their uniforms were ill matching and care-worn. They were most definitely not Mitzan. Guerrillas was the word that came to mind. They had to be the Tiron.
"What have you been up to, Aeryn?"
She stood before a small group of women, hands on her hips. As she spoke her face was pinched with some matter of great importance. Two of the women stepped forward and began circling each other, prepared for sparring. He recognized some of the Peacekeeper moves thrown into their vicious ballet of darting fits and kicks.
"That’s my girl."
But there was something not right here. His chest tightened. There was a change in her. But what was it? Her gestures? The readiness of her smile?
A Tiron male wove through the rough semi-circle of grunts and stood at Aeryn’s elbow. She leaned toward him, listening intently. Aeryn granted the speaker a broad grin that blossomed into a laugh.
John felt an ugly coolness touch his heart. His own grin evaporated. The beginnings of a headache caused by the occulars began worming through his skull, but he barely acknowledged it.
The soldier threw a quick glance over his shoulder at the group. His hand slid down Aeryn’s arm to settle into hers. He led her, still laughing, behind a partition in the yard. The two could not be viewed by the others in the training field. However, John, from his vantage point, could see everything.
Vinegar flooded John, nearly drowning his earlier relief.
The Tiron leaned back against the wall and pulled Aeryn toward him in an embrace. She fell against him without a hint of hesitation.
The knuckles of John’s hand bleached to white as he unconsciously tightened them into fists, snarling the long grass.
He watched as they kissed like two hurried teenagers sneaking off from Prom.
Pulse thudding in his ears, John ripped the occulars from his head and ran a hand over his face. His hand settled over his mouth as he released a plosive sigh.
S’ok, Johnny boy…
She’s obviously faking. Maybe she’s trying to get one over on him.
But he knew if Aeryn Sun were their captive, she would have never relied on such an instrument as subtlety to earn her freedom.
What are you doing, John? Aeryn’s alive!
Round up D’Argo and-
A snap of a twig sounded to his left. Too late, John rolled over to stare up into the vacant eye of a plasma rifle.
The young Tiron recruit at the other end sneered down at him. "Enjoying the view?"
"No, not really."
* * * * * *
"You don’t have to do this, you know," Dethan said quietly. His eyes sought Aeryn’s, but she looked away. Her fingers played nervously with the edge of her shirt.
"I know." She nodded briefly. Her attention was tuned to the shut door to the holding cell. "But I must, Dethan."
The Sebacean male had been found in the hillside outside of the camp, spying on their exercise yard. From the very moment of his capture he had demanded to see "Aeryn Sun". He would speak to no one else.
Dethan’s mouth sealed into thin line. He studied her profile, as she hesitated before the entrance. He wanted to say something, anything to keep her here with him, forever, on this side of the door. But that would not be right.
Instead he folded his hands behind his back and lowered his gaze to the dirt floor.
He sensed her move close. Her pale hand touched his shoulder.
He looked up at her.
She drew breath, as if to say more, but faltered. Her hand dropped away.
"Go, Aeryn." He jerked his chin at the door, ignoring the sting of loss with those words. "Your answers are in there."
* * * * * * *
Zhaan peered into the light, holding the glass vial containing a sample of Pilot’s blood overhead. The floor gave a sudden shift and she collided with the lab’s counter. The vial slipped from her hand, but she quickly caught it mid-air before it could shatter against the deck. Issuing a sigh of relief, she tapped her comm. "Chiana? What is it? What is wrong?"
"How should I frelling know?" The meter of the girl’s words was frantic as she tried to keep pace with the endless parade of commands. "I’m just trying to keep from pushing the wrong things."
"Try harder. I cannot work if I’m constantly thrown against the furniture." Zhaan leveled her tone. "How is Pilot?"
"He’s… still the same." Chiana returned. Her voice was edgy with panic. "Look… not that this isn’t a lot of fun. But have you figured out why Pilot is like this? Was it the Izlouth that John used?"
Zhaan shook her head, puzzled. Realizing the gesture meant nothing over the comm, she spoke up. "It makes no sense. Surely by now the drug should have left his system as well as Moya’s. She seems, for the most part, uninjured. Yet, for Pilot, it’s almost as if his levels of Izlouth are rising."
At that moment, Rygel hovered in. His over-sized mouth was pulled into a disconsolate frown. "When will this constant nonsense end? Some of us are trying to relax."
As she watched the tiny monarch glide into the lab, Zhaan was struck with an idea. Quickly she ended her conversation with Chiana. "Please continue to try to help Moya. I will find an answer shortly."
"Rygel…" The priestess turned her blue gaze onto him. "When you assisted in the disposal of the remaining Izlouth, where did you place the contaminated containers?"
"One of the reclamation ducts, of course," he answered with the complete surety of the absolutely clueless.
"Which one?" Zhaan pressed, maneuvering around the corner to face him.
"How should I know?" Rygel returned, uninterested in her line of questioning. "I’m not a frelling DRD."
Zhaan struggled to maintain control of her temper with the Hynerian. "Listen to me. This is very important. Which waste reclamation duct, Rygel?"
"The one on tier sixteen, near the neural module." The Hynerian returned, waving a pudgy, dismissive hand.
"I most certainly did," Rygel returned, nodding sagely. "It made a lot more sense that going all the way down four levels to the kemper side-"
"You have no idea what you’ve done!" Zhaan snapped, quickly pulling her lab smock away. "How irresponsible!"
"Now see here, you blue-assed bitch," Rygel spouted, doggedly keeping up with her as she nearly sprinted from the lab and into the corridor. "I’ve put up-"
"Pilot obtains nutrition through Moya’s circulatory system. It is also near that structure. I pray we’re not too late to reverse the damage!" Her anger was short-lived in the face of her desperation to get to the reclamation tier.
Rygel was suddenly alone in the lab with only the mutter of his own hover chair to hear him. His creased face crumpled as he muttered. "They always find a way to make it my fault."
* * * * *
John’s jaw clenched with determination as he tried to muscle the metal lattice from the window. However weak the crumbling plaster of the frame looked, the bars remained grudgingly in place. With a defeated grunt he sagged against the wall, cursing beneath his breath.
"You’re wasting your time. You can’t pull them out."
In the doorway stood Aeryn Sun.
From her time beneath the Golgothan sun, her skin had taken on more color. Her raven hair was woven into many thick braids, done in the same style he had seen in his brief glance of the females here. Gone was the slick black clothing, replaced by the now familiar drab gray and green fatigues of the Tiron. But the vast change was in her eyes, as she silently studied him.
Haunted. Her eyes look haunted.
A nearly palpable silence ensued.
"Aeryn!" John grinned, breaking the stillness. He eagerly closed the distance between them. "Christ… am I glad-"
She stepped back, startled by his greeting. Her eyes narrowed on him. "Stop right there. That’s close enough."
He halted, stayed more by the ice in her tone than her command. The same warning tightness returned to his chest. "What’s going on, Aeryn?"
But her stern expression did not fade. "Why are you here?"
"I’ve been looking for you," he said, feeling the clamor of an alarm in his brain. "You’re why I’m here. I’ve come to bring you back home… to Moya."
Her expression seemed to collapse, as if drawn in by some inexplicable torment.
"Leviathan." She whispered the word as though it were some talisman. Her gaze slid down to the floor.
Recovering, she looked back up at him. The tremble to her voice was barely perceptible. "Who are you?"
He felt his exultation instantly evaporate. "Is this some kind of joke?"
She said nothing, only waited in questioning silence. Something was very wrong. Realization moved over him with a crushing finality. This was not Aeryn Sun, but a suggestion of her.
"Aeryn," he said, licking his lips with apprehension. He took a cautious step forward. "I’m John… John Crichton. I’m human."
There was no change, no sudden awestruck recognition in her eyes.
"I’m from Earth… Earp, remember? You think I’m inferior." His voice trailed off as he peered into her face, trying to gauge her reaction. "We always have a great chuckle over that one."
A ripple of uncertainty pinched the smooth skin of her forehead.
"Damn it, Aeryn! What the hell is going on?" John lunged closer.
Aeryn jumped back, eyes wide with alarm.
He stopped, hands outstretched in a useless, imploring gesture. "Aeryn… what’s happened to you? What did they do to you?
"Dethan has," she paused, seeming to catch herself. Indignation filled her tone. "The Tiron have done nothing to me. They have granted me sanctuary from the Mitzan."
"Dethan?" John returned with a derisive snort. "Who’s that? Is that lover-boy?"
Aeryn’s spine stiffened. Her eyes turned away, keeping her secrets.
Don’t go there, John. It’s not the time or the place.
"Aeryn… I don’t care. I’m just so happy to see you’re alive." He relented, dropping his hands to his sides.
But she said nothing in return.
Uneasy under her oppressive silence, he ran a hand through his hair. John jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the barred window. "D’Argo’s still out there-"
"There was another with you?" She asked sharply. Her eyes hardening with suspicion.
"No," he quickly returned, covering. "D’Argo’s my pet… um.. chihuahua. He’s probably off chasing squirrels.
Unconvinced, she folded her arms and drew her chin up. He sensed her mood take a dangerous turn. In that moment, he had no doubt she would betray the Luxan to the Tiron as well.
"That’s not important." John waved a hand. "Right now we’ve got to find a way to get back to Moya. Zhaan’s probably-"
"Blue." She uttered in a perplexed declaration, seeming to startle herself.
"Blue, "she repeated, her words protracted with concentration. "I had a dream about a blue …um.. priestess."
"That’s right." He felt a cautious trickle of hope. "Zhaan’s a Delvian."
He leaned forward, studying her face. "You really don’t remember, do you?"
Slowly, almost childlike, she shook her head from side to side. She swallowed, seeming to fight for control of her emotions. For an instant, he imagined he saw her, his Aeryn, peering out from the shadows of the stranger before him. John stepped closer, slowing reaching out. To his surprise, she did not retreat. The tips of his fingers brushed the delicate arch of her cheekbone.
"It’s okay," John assured her in a whisper, feeling his own throat constrict. "We’re gonna go home. I’m gonna bring you home."
"Home." It was a pitiful sound. Her eyes locked onto his, beseeching.
"Aeryn, are you all right?" A male voice suddenly shattered their tenuous connection.
Aeryn violently pulled away from John, turning to face the Tiron in the doorway. She swiped a trembling hand at her eyes. Her shoulders pulled into a straighter line. "Yes, Dethan. I’m fine."
Dethan lumbered into the room and came to stand at Aeryn’s side. He placed a possessive hand on her shoulder. His cool measuring stare was on John the entire time.
"You have arrived at a bad time… friend," said Dethan. His tone softened slightly as he turned his attention to Aeryn. "I’ve just learned that Hewitt and two others have not returned to camp yet. It looks as though the Mitzan have taken him alive. If they-"
"If they break him, Jozan will find us." Aeryn completed his thought. For the moment, John and the confusion he had introduced were forgotten.
"Looks like you’ve got bigger problems than me, folks." John interjected, folding his arms. He looked from Aeryn and then to Dethan. "I’m not your enemy here."
Dethan took a menacing step toward him. He growled. "You will remain a threat until I decide that you are not."
"Dethan, please." Aeryn swiftly inserted herself between the two men. She placed a flat hand on the soldier’s chest, coaxing him back.
"Aeryn," John said. He touched her upper arm, sensing the bitter twitch in Dethan’s expression. But his eyes remained on hers. "Come on. You know me. I’m not a threat to you. Believe me."
Her mouth pulled into a pensive bow, as she studied him intently. He could almost hear the war waging in her brain.
"Your name is Aeryn Sun. You were born and raised a Peacekeeper. You love it when I’m wrong and you’re right. You hate dehydrated food cubes. You love your Prowler. You’re a genuine pain in the ass sometimes," John paused in his litany. "But one that’s very important to me."
Dethan gave a sarcastic grunt. "This is ridiculous, Aeryn. For all we know he could be working with the Mitzan."
She granted Dethan a sidelong glance. Tension etched her words. "That’s impossible and you know it. The Mitzan regard all off-worlders as a threat. I know… first hand."
Aeryn turned her attention back to John. "I’ll hear what you have to say."
John felt the small gloating smile invade his mouth and rolled his eyes back to Dethan. But the soldier had stalked out of the room, throwing the door open to slam against the wall.