Chapter Three: Captivity
"Officer Sun, Commander Crichton, I have picked up a transmission from the planet's surface." Pilot said as his holo-image shimmered onto the view screen. "It appears to be of Peacekeeper origin."
"Peacekeeper?" They said almost in unison as they jumped to their feet.
"Have you been able to contact Zhaan?" Aeryn asked.
"Not yet. She is not responding."
"Stop trying Pilot." John said quickly. Aeryn looked at him questioningly. "If the Peacekeepers have her, we don't want them knowing we're up here. We'll have a better chance of retrieving her if they think she's alone." He grabbed his shirt and a towel and started for the corridor. He looked over his shoulder at Aeryn, "Give me two hundred microts and I'll meet you in the transport hangar," then he sprinted toward his quarters.
The Delvian prisoners knelt before the Peacekeepers, hands on their heads. They kept their eyes locked on each other, wondering what would happen next.
"Pa'u Zhaan," Gavyk barked, gesturing with his weapon. "On your feet. Clothe yourself. Then place your hands on your head again."
As she began to move, she could feel the soldiers' eyes on her. Watching her every move. She moved slowly to reclaim her garments, not wanting to give them a reason to use the weapons they carried. Pulling her shift over her head she noticed the comms still attached at the shoulder. Part of her hoped the others would come for her while she feared for their safety if they did. She placed her hands on her head again only to have them grabbed roughly and locked behind her in handcuffs. How did they find me?
The Peacekeepers then turned their attention to Ta'al, treating him in the same manner. When they had him secured, Gavyk pressed the barrel of his pulse rifle into the small of her back. She stumbled forward toward the street. The Peacekeepers fell into position around then as she and Ta'al exited the dwelling.
"Burn it!" Gavyk spat as they stepped into the bright light.
John hurried into the Transport hangar to find Aeryn already there. She had gathered her weapons and was preparing her Prowler for the trip to the surface. "I don't think we should take the Prowler." He said, coming up behind her.
"It's the fastest way in and out." She replied, turning to face him. He had showered and changed since he had sprinted from the training area. She was surprised to find he wasn't wearing his weapons, though he carried them over his shoulder.
"Yeah. It's also the fastest way to attract Peacekeeper attention. If we go swooping in there in the Prowler, we're likely to be spotted and investigated. If we take a transport pod we just may get by unnoticed."
"We don't even know if Zhaan has been taken by the Peacekeepers."
"I know that. And we can only hope that she hasn't, but if she has, then odds are they'll be waiting for the cavalry to ride over the hill."
She looked at him, unsure what he meant. Sometimes I wish he would talk like everyone else so I could understand him, but I guess his "Erpisms" are part of what make John, well, John. He recognized the look of confusion and explained what he'd meant. As she considered his words, she had to admit that he was right. They would be better off if they didn't use the frontal assault tactics she preferred, but instead took a more subtle approach.
As they loaded their gear aboard the transport, D'Argo charged into the hangar. "I'm going!" he roared as he approached them.
They looked at each other and John stepped forward. He wasn't sure what he was going to say to the Luxan, but he had to convince to remain aboard Moya. And he had to do it fast. Time was of the essence. If the message that Pilot had picked up had been a report of Zhaan's presence, there was probably a Command Carrier on its way and they needed to move quickly.
"Whoa, Big Guy ... "
"You are not leaving me here!" D'Argo interrupted.
"Listen D'Argo. I know Zhaan is your friend, but this is gonna work a lot better if Aeryn and I do it alone. The fewer of us at risk, the better, wouldn't you agree? Besides, we need a warrior up here to make decisions in case a Peacekeeper ship arrives before we get back."
D'Argo opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. John knew he had won. He turned back toward the Transport, then looked over his shoulder at his Luxan friend and said, "We'll bring her back, my friend."
Gavyk noted with satisfaction that the crowd in the market parted before them as the squad escorted the prisoners toward the garrison. They would not take him or his troops lightly in the future. He saw several people shake their heads sadly as they watched the two Delvians surrounded by the Peacekeepers. He knew that Ta'al was well loved by the people who called Rykynn home. But that would not save him or the criminal Pa'u Zhaan.
Aeryn's and John's eyes met when the procession passed them. They were too late. Zhaan was in custody. And she was not alone. They began to follow the small group, being sure to remain hidden within the crowd. They each knew they needed to find out where Zhaan was being taken, but they didn't want to join her. They needed to be vigilant or their lives would be in jeopardy as well.
The Peacekeepers turned off the main street into what appeared to be their garrison. It was heavily fortified, though it didn't seem to be heavily guarded. Being careful to appear nonchalant, they walked around the building, examining it for weaknesses and potential escape routes. When they had gathered as much information as possible without attracting attention, they walked back to the market. After wandering the market talking to people about what they'd seen, they headed back to the Transport where they could talk without fear of being overheard.
"What do you think? Any way we can get 'em out of there?" John asked as he sat down heavily. He was tired and out of sorts - an all too common state lately. Aeryn looked at him curiously. She was concerned about his mood swings of late, but had other things to occupy her just now. Getting Zhaan free without getting themselves captured being foremost.
"It may take more time than we originally planned, but yes, I think we can get Zhaan out of there."
"We'll have to take the other one as well. Zhaan would never let us abandon him to the Peacekeepers."
She nodded absently as an idea was forming. She grinned crookedly and looked at John. "So, Butch, you want to get back in the Bounty Hunting business?"
"Wha ... what are you talking about?" He asked, looking at her as if she'd lost her mind. Then he remembered when they'd pretended to be Bounty Hunters to save D'Argo - and themselves - from Rorf and Rorg. He grinned back at her, nodding. "Good idea Sundance. Now all we have to do is come up with someone to be hunting."
"Leave that to me. I already have someone in mind."
Zhaan stumbled as the Peacekeeper guard pushed her into the cell. Ta'al was locked in another cell directly across from hers. The door slid shut behind her and as she heard the locking mechanism engage, her heart sank.
"Zhaan, we need to talk." Ta'al said tentatively. "I am sorry. I never meant for any of this to happen."
"This is not your fault Ta'al. If anything I am responsible for you being in this position. You have lived here for two cycles without incident and when I arrive, you are taken into custody. Can you forgive me for bringing my troubles to your door?"
"There is nothing to forgive, my love." He smiled wanly through the cell's bars. She returned his smile, then turned to examine her cell. It was a small, windowless room, its only furnishing an old soiled cot.
She needed to refocus herself. She needed to meditate. She sat carefully on the cot and lifted her legs up to sit cross-legged. She placed her hands on her knees, closed her eyes and began to clear her mind for meditation. Her breathing deepened and slowed, as did her heart rate. She was slowly drifting from this world to a freer, more pleasant place.
The air was laced with the fragrance of the Brazia vine. She inhaled deeply of the sweet scent, pulling the azure blossom close to capture more of its aroma. She closed her eyes and luxuriated in the feeling of contentment the vine's scent created in her. This was why she had cultivated the vine in the courtyard of her home.
She waited for the time to be right. It wouldn't be long now. She could feel it within her. Tarak would be arriving soon and they would proceed. They had waited a long time for this day, but they would not need to wait much longer.
Their child would be born before another day dawned, of that she was certain. She laid her hand on her swollen abdomen and felt the child move within her. As she awaited her mate's arrival, she reclined in the courtyard of the home they had built together, basking in the bright sunlight.
She and Tarak had met during her pilgrimage to Tomentouel. It had been a disappointing day for Zhaan, one that had left her tired and wondering about her future. Perhaps her expectations had been too high, but she felt she had failed to make the progress she wanted. As she had walked along the shore of the stream running near her hermitage, she had heard singing. The voice was extraordinary. A deep rich baritone with clarity such as she had never heard before. She had to find the man in possession of such an instrument of praise to the Goddess. She followed the voice through the foliage until she saw him. He was standing alone on a stone outcropping, his hands and face raised to the sky. His eyes were closed as he raised his voice in adoration and praise. As his song came to an end, she stepped out of the trees.
"I wondered when you were going to show yourself," he said without turning to look at her.
"You ... you knew I was there?" She was startled that he had sensed her presence when she had tried so hard to hide it from him. She hadn't wanted to disturb him.
"You are young. You will learn my child. Come, sit with me and tell me of yourself. Tell me of your hopes and your dreams."
That had been the beginning of their life together. At first he had been her teacher, her mentor, but it had grown into so much more. And now, they were giving each other the greatest of gifts. They were giving each other life. Life that would go on after they ceased to do so.
She smiled in remembrance of that day. The day her life had changed so dramatically. As she did, a shadow passed over her and she opened her eyes to see her mate standing before her. He extended his hand to her and helped her to her feet.
"It is time Tarak." She smiled at him and his eyes lit up with anticipation. He signaled for the others who had come to rejoice in this event to begin their preparations. They would need music and much incense. And, of course, much prayer to the Goddess for all to go well.
"Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan." Gavyk said loudly, bringing her back to the present. "You will come with me." She inhaled deeply, trying to calm her beating heart. It had been so many cycles since she had allowed herself to think on these events. Why have these memories surfaced now? She stood, brushed the tears from her face, straightened her garments and steeled herself for what was to come, then turned to face Lt. Gavyk.
What she saw behind him stunned her.