Chapter One: Friends and Lovers
I hate this duty assignment. This waste hole of a Commerce Planet doesn't need guarding, it needs extermination. All these species and not a one of 'em worth the air they breathe. There's no action. Nothing to keep me occupied. No reason for me to be here!
Grot work, that's what it is. A punishment. I guess I shouldn't have beaten Commander Kravis so badly at Monjovian darts. But how was I to know he couldn't hit the board with a pulse rifle? 'Course, he had been drinking for an arn before he challenged me.
Frelled either way ... if I hadn't accepted the challenge, he'd have had me transferred for insubordination and by accepting it and beating him, I get transferred to this dump! Someday I'll learn.
Lt. Gavyk rose from his desk and stretched. He picked up his pulse rifle and headed into the market for his daily patrol. He hated this part of his job almost more than the boredom. Having to brush elbows with all of these aliens on a daily basis was driving him crazy, though as ranking officer of the small contingent of Peacekeepers on Rykynn, he felt it was something he had to do. He hoped today might be the day that something happened so that he could redeem himself and get back to duty with the fleet.
"We have entered orbit around the Commerce Planet. There appears to be no Peacekeeper presence, but we cannot be certain."
"Thanks Pilot." John responded from Command. "Did you guys hear that?" he asked, activating his comms.
"Yes Crichton." D'Argo responded gruffly. "We're ready to leave for the surface. This should take no more than four arns."
"Great. But keep an eye on Rygel and Chiana. You know how much trouble they can get into." He grinned as he deactivated the comms. He'd heard both Rygel and Chiana protesting, but knew D'Argo would see that they were chaperoned. In fact, he had a feeling D'Argo would be keeping a very close eye on Chiana. He chuckled as he pictured the big Luxan hovering over Chiana, apparently smitten with her. Guess I can't say much considering how I feel about Aeryn. It's inevitable that we'd start to pair off, the longer we're aboard Moya. But somehow, I just can't picture Zhaan with Rygel ...
He laughed aloud at that image, then busied himself with scanning the surrounding space for any sign of Peacekeepers. He knew that Pilot had just run a thorough scan, but he needed to check it for himself. When he was satisfied that everything seemed clear, he told Pilot he'd be in the hangar working on his module and left Command.
D'Argo brought the Transport Pod in for a soft landing near a secluded area of the space dock. It was out of the way, but easily accessible if they needed to leave in a hurry. As they left the transport, they nonchalantly paired up. D'Argo and Chiana headed off in search of food while Aeryn accompanied Rygel, though neither was pleased with the arrangement. They were in the market for some parts for Moya and Aeryn's Prowler, both of which would require Rygel's negotiating skills. Zhaan, meanwhile, headed off in search of some herbs and other plants for her pharmacy.
Watching the others move ahead of her, Zhaan smiled at the interplay between them. Aeryn and Rygel were bickering about where to start their search for the parts Moya needed and what would be a reasonable price, while D'Argo and Chiana seemed perfectly at peace with one another. They were chatting amiably and Chiana was practically purring she was so content in the big Luxan's company.
As she watched the two of them, Zhaan sighed slightly. She was glad that D'Argo seemed to have found some happiness with Chiana, though she had no idea what their relationship was. But at the same time, she was saddened that their own relationship seemed to have cooled. They were still good friends, but the passion she had once hoped would grow between them had dissipated. I never thought I would admit it, but I'm lonely. It has been so long since I have felt truly close to someone. Close enough to share my heart. To share my hopes and dreams. And yes, to share my bed.
Gavyk strode purposefully through the marketplace, keeping his eyes and ears open for anything out of the ordinary. Not that anything out of the ordinary ever seems to happen here. All around him were alien species from every corner of the known universe. Drax, Tavleks, Delvians, Sheyangs, Hynerians, Scarans, Luxans, Banak, Drellans, Monjovians, and so many others he had never seen before. Sprinkled here and there among them were Sebaceans. I don't understand it. Why would they choose to live in such a place, surrounded by these aliens, contaminated by them?
He marched up the main street of the market scanning the faces of the shoppers and the vendors. A small crowd had gathered near a jewelry vendor. There seemed to be some sort of disturbance which he decided to investigate. As he approached the crowd, he saw the looks of fear his presence generated. He smiled inwardly. Inferiors. They should cringe before the Peacekeepers. The crowd started to disperse as he drew nearer, but he could see that a young Nebari woman was at the center of the furor. She was arguing with the merchant over a necklace which he apparently had accused her of stealing. From somewhere in the crowd, a Luxan warrior moved forward and threw the purchase price of the necklace on the merchant's table. He glowered at the Nebari woman who ducked her head and fell in step beside him.
Gavyk grinned at the scene and continued his patrol through the market.
Zhaan wandered aimlessly through the market at first, just enjoying the sights and sounds of this vibrant place. She realized, though, that time was fleeting and that she had business to take care of. D'Argo had insisted that they meet back at the Transport Pod in no more than four arns and she had already spent half an arn in her reverie. With renewed interest in the merchants' wares she started looking for the herbs and other supplies she needed.
She walked through the open-air market, but found none of what she needed. Growing more and more frustrated with each passing microt, she turned a corner and found the exact shop she wanted. Entering, she was surprised to see a member of Br'Nee's race behind the counter.
Within an arn she had completed her business and was heading out of the shop to enjoy the morning sunlight. She wandered through the market until she found a quiet place near a fountain. She sat down and leaned back to bask in the glorious sunlight. Mmmmmm ... that feels good. It has been so long since I've been able to bask in the light. Think I'll just sit here for a while ...
"Pilot, any word from the Transport?" John asked as he re-entered Command.
"Negative, Commander," he replied shortly, "But D'Argo did say it could be as long as four arns."
"Any sign of Peacekeeper activity?"
"None at all. Why do you ask?"
"I don't know. I just have a bad feeling. Nothin' to base it on, just a weird feeling in my gut."
"Do you wish me to contact them and ask them to return?" Pilot offered.
John hesitated briefly then replied, "Nah, we need the supplies. It's probably just somethin' I ate." He leaned over one of the consoles and checked the read-outs. "Pilot, do you need me to do anything? Any maintenance that Moya needs done? Anything at all?"
"No Commander. My DRDs are managing quite well."
John sighed in frustration.
"Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan!? Is it really you?"
Zhaan's eyes snapped open as she sat up and looked around quickly. She wondered, as panic gripped her, who would know her here. Then she saw him ... a tall Delvian. Ta'al? Out here? It couldn't be ... not way out here. It's not possible. It's been so long. Could this be a dream? A response to my desire for companionship?
"It is you Zhaan." He said as he sat beside her. She stared at him, speechless.
She reached out and cupped his ear with her hand. Yes, he's real. "Ta'al? By the Goddess ... what are you doing out here?"
"I might ask you the same. The last I heard you were in Peacekeeper custody."
"Shhhh!" she hissed. "Not so loud, you fool! You never know who might be listening."
"Then let us find a more private place where we can talk."
They rose from the side of the fountain and Ta'al led her through the crowd to a small dwelling on the outskirts of town. As she entered, she heard the sounds of water splashing and felt the cool freshness of a garden. The air was laced with the fragrance of Brazia vine. She turned to him, eyes full of questions. This reminded her of home. Of Delvia.
"This is my home." He said in response to her unspoken question. "I have been living here for nearly two cycles and I wanted to bring a little of Delvia with me. Come," he continued as he directed her through a narrow passageway, "I have a courtyard where we can talk."
Gavyk was just about ready to call it a day when he spotted the tall Delvian. It was rare that the man came to the market so he watched him with interest. Gavyk had heard stories about this man, but had seen little to confirm his suspicions. Ta'al was well respected on Rykynn, but tended to keep to himself so he was surprised to see him stop beside the central fountain and speak to someone. His surprise turned to shock when a beautiful Delvian woman stood and walked out of the market with him. There's something about her. Something familiar. Can't quite place it though. I'll need to check the archives when I get back to the garrison. Why would Ta'al be meeting with another Delvian here?
"D'Argo, are you and Chiana finished yet? I'd like to get back up to Moya soon." Aeryn spoke into her comms. She and Rygel had finally completed negotiations for the repair parts they needed and she wanted to get him off of the planet before he could get them into any trouble.
"We're just arranging delivery of the last of the cargo now. We'll meet you back at the Transport in a quarter of an arn."
"Perfect. Have you seen Zhaan?"
"No, not since we left the Transport this morning. You don't think she's gotten into any trouble do you?" he asked, suddenly feeling guilty for having been so focused on Chiana.
"Doubtful. She's probably sitting in the sun somewhere, smiling. I'll contact her and let her know our schedule."
"This is amazing, Ta'al. I would have thought I was in a home on Delvia." Zhaan said as she seated herself near the water fountain. "So, tell me why you're here."
"It is a long story Zhaan. Do you have the time?" He replied, pouring two glasses of Tamaralis tea.
"For you, Ta'al, I will make the time." She said, softly, a smile curling her lips. It's been so long. What is it, nearly two hundred cycles? He doesn't appear to have changed much. What must he think of me after all this time? Have I changed? Have I aged? He obviously knows I was imprisoned. How does he feel about what I did? I wonder, will he be able to trust me?
"Zhaan, this is Aeryn. Where are you?"
"Aeryn? Is there a problem? I thought we still had another arn before we needed to return to Moya."
"We're heading back early. We've all finished our business and want to get going. Is that a problem?"
"No. No," she sighed, "I'll leave for the Transport now. I should be there in a quarter arn."
"Zhaan, are you certain everything is alright? You sound disappointed."
"I ran into an old friend. I was hoping to spend some time with him, is all."
Aeryn thought briefly, then replied, "Take your time Zhaan. We'll take the provisions up to Moya, then I'll bring the Transport back for you when you're ready. Life's too short to pass up opportunities like this."
"Aeryn?" Zhaan asked, surprised. "Are you certain? D'Argo and the others will not be happy about this."
"I'll take care of them. You enjoy yourself."
Zhaan turned and smiled at Ta'al who had walked to the other side of the courtyard to give her some privacy. She was surprised at Aeryn, allowing her the time to spend with him. Perhaps nearly losing Crichton had given her a new perspective on relationships.
"Do you need to leave?" Ta'al asked, disappointment evident in his handsome face.
"Not yet." She smiled as his face lit up. "My companions will finish their business, then come back for me when I'm ready to leave." She hesitated, then added, "You were about to tell me what you are doing way out here in the Uncharted Territories."
"Was I?" He teased.
By the Goddess, he's flirting with me. "Yes. You were." she laughed.
"You told her what?!" Crichton stormed, as Aeryn explained why Zhaan wasn't on the transport. "Are you out of your mind, leaving her down there alone? We don't know if there're Peacekeepers down there, and you just decide that she needs some time alone? And you!" he raged as he turned to D'Argo, "You just let her stay? Am I the only one who sees the problem here?"