The trip back to Moya was a somber one. They had agreed that Aeryn would stay behind with the Prowler for a few microts to cover the Transport's escape. She would then follow and they would Starburst as soon as she was aboard. Zhaan had insisted, despite everything she had been through, on taking care of Chiana, leaving D'Argo and John to pilot the ship. D'Argo had tried to get John to tell him what had happened, but he just shook his head and told him to ask Chiana and Zhaan.
Chiana lay silent and unresponsive in the infirmary. Zhaan had been working for nearly half an arn, trying to determine the extent of her injuries. She had tried asking her what had happened, but had received only silence in response. When she was finally satisfied that Chiana was stable, she joined the others in the corridor.
"She's been badly beaten, but she will recover ... physically. She won't talk to me though. She hasn't said a word since we returned. I don't know what else to do for her."
"May I see her?" Aeryn asked quietly. The others looked at her, surprised. It was no secret that she and Chiana did not care for each other. They had, on occasion risked their lives for one another, but only because it benefited the entire crew to do so.
Zhaan nodded, "Yes, but be brief. She is exhausted and needs to rest."
Aeryn entered the infirmary silently. She stood just inside the door for a few microts, watching Chiana. She had rolled to her side and was curled in a tight ball, almost as if she was trying to make herself invisible. What did that monster do to you? Chiana stirred slightly and Aeryn moved quickly to her side. She knelt on the floor beside her and took her hand. Chiana's eyes fluttered open at Aeryn's touch. She recoiled slightly and tried to pull her hand away, but Aeryn held on tightly.
"Shh. Shh. Shh. No one is going to hurt you Chiana." She whispered, reaching up to stroke Chiana's hair comfortingly, "I ... I um ... I wanted to apologize for putting you in that situation. If I had known the kind of man ... the kind of monster Gavyk was I would never have asked you to ... to be a part of this." She paused, chewing on her lip trying to fight back the tears that threatened to spill over. She swallowed and continued, "You have shown great courage ..." She choked. "... more courage than I ... than I think I would have had in that situation."
Chiana tightened her grip on Aeryn's hand. She sighed deeply, her breath shuddering as she exhaled. Tears flooded down her cheeks and she whispered, "I tried ... I tried to fight him."
"I know you did. You did everything you could, I know that. And I am very proud of you Chiana." Aeryn replied, letting her tears flow freely.
"You ... you're proud of me?" she asked quietly.
"Of course I am." She paused, chewing her lower lip. "Chiana, I should let you rest, but ..." How can I ask her this? "There is one more thing. Can you forgive me?"
Chiana blinked the tears back and raised her eyes to meet Aeryn's. "Of course I can forgive you. You did what you thought was best. You didn't know what Gavyk was capable of. I don't blame you. "
Surprising herself as much as she did Chiana, Aeryn gently wrapped her arm around Chiana's shoulders and pulled her into an embrace. They held each other drawing strength and comfort from one another. After several microts, they relaxed their hold on one another and Aeryn rocked back on her heels, looking into Chiana's eyes. For the first time since they had come to know each other she felt that a true friend looked back. "Rest now. I can explain to the others if you don't want to see anyone yet."
Chiana nodded sadly. "I would appreciate that."
Aeryn nodded then returned to the corridor and her waiting crewmates. She looked up into D'Argo's eyes as she explained, "Chiana doesn't want any more visitors for now. She's exhausted and wants to rest."
"What did you say to her Aeryn?" D'Argo demanded trying to push past her.
"Nothing that has caused her to keep you away." She replied, firmly laying a restraining hand on his chest. "D'Argo, she has been through a terrible ordeal and needs some time to rest and deal with what happened. When she is ready, I believe she will come to you. Until then, just be there for her. Don't push her and don't avoid her. She needs you to show her that you care."
"And I do care." D'Argo said softly.
Aeryn smiled at him, then turned and tiredly started toward her quarters. She heard someone following her and without turning she knew it was John. I'd know those footsteps anywhere. He caught up and fell in step with her. "Mind if I walk you back to your quarters?" He asked, almost shyly. She nodded.
They walked along silently; each of them lost in their own thoughts. When they reached the door to her quarters, Aeryn stopped and looked at John, who stood there awkwardly. He wants to say something, but ... "Aeryn," he began, turning to look into her eyes, "I ... are you alright?"
She lowered her eyes, realizing he must have noticed they were swollen from the tears she had shed while talking with Chiana. "I'm fine John."
"You know what happened to Chiana isn't your fault." He said as he cupped her chin in his hand and tilted her eyes back up to meet his own.
"Nor is it yours." She replied. "John, I don't want to talk about this now. Go, get some rest. We'll talk later."
He turned as if to leave, then faced her again, "Will we?"
She smiled, "Yes. We will. You promised me we'd talk when we got back to Moya. I'm not letting you out of that promise. Good night John." I don't really want to be alone tonight, but I can't ask him ... I won't ask him to stay. He might get the wrong idea.
"Good night Aeryn." He smiled and headed down the corridor to his own quarters. God I wish I had the courage to tell her that I don't want to be alone tonight. But what would she think of me?
Zhaan walked silently back into the infirmary to check on Chiana. She seemed to be sleeping soundly so, rather than disturb her, she walked across the chamber to one of the view ports. She stood, hands clasped behind her, staring into the blackness of space. How did this all go so wrong? Ta'al, I will miss you so much. You brought so much back into my life. It was almost as if we were never apart and yet so much happened during the cycles we were apart ...
"Zhaan?" Chiana said softly, coming to stand beside her. "Zhaan, are you okay?"
Zhaan inhaled deeply and brushed the tears from her eyes, then turned toward the young woman at her side. "You should be in bed Chiana." She tried to sound stern, but the fatigue and grief she felt made it impossible.
"I was pretty out of it when we left the planet ... did I imagine it? Did the Peacekeepers really kill Ta'al?"
Zhaan put her arm around Chiana and guided her back to her bed. When she had lain down, Zhaan sat beside her. "No Chiana. I wish with all my heart I could say you did imagine it. But you did not. Ta'al is dead." Why Ta'al? Why did you step in front of me? Zhaan closed her eyes, trying to block out the vision of Ta'al taking the shot that was intended for her, but it only became clearer.
Chiana reached out and placed her hand atop Zhaan's. At her touch, Zhaan opened her eyes and looked down at their two hands. As different as the two women. And yet they were very much the same. They had both suffered at the hands of the Peacekeepers.
"We talked a little while you were away from your cell. I liked him Zhaan. Tell me about him?" Chiana asked softly. Zhaan turned to look at the younger woman. When did our roles reverse, Chiana? She smiled sadly and said, "I first met Ta'al over two hundred cycles ago ..."
Gavyk stood at attention before the Command Carrier's Captain. He stared straight ahead, waiting for some kind of reaction from the man who now sat behind the desk that had been his until this morning. What the frell happened? How did this go so wrong? The Captain stood and began to pace behind the desk. He still did not speak, making Gavyk wait. Making him sweat.
"Lieutenant," he asked icily, "How do you explain the empty containment cells? Your last report indicated that you had the Delvians in custody. Did they meditate themselves out of their cells?"
Gavyk started to explain, but was interrupted by the Captain's aide. "Sir. We have located the data files you requested. I will patch them through to your office."
As the recording began to play, Gavyk stole a glance at the Captain's face. He was shocked and frightened by what he saw. Most Peacekeepers kept their emotions hidden behind a mask of cold indifference, but this man did not. His face was dark with anger; anger which was currently directed at Gavyk.
"I have seen enough." He raged as he disengaged the viewer. "Do you realize what you have done Lieutenant?" Gavyk stared straight ahead, hoping that by observing proper military protocol, he would diffuse the anger being directed at him. The black clad man behind the desk stood again, his eyes locked on Gavyk. " Not only have you allowed Pa'u Zhaan and the equally dangerous Pa'u Ta'al to escape, you have let the very man I seek slip through your fingers."
Unable to contain his curiosity any longer, Gavyk looked at the Scarran/Sebacean hybrid and asked, "Sir?"
"John Crichton. The Bounty Hunter you were so quick to help." He walked around the desk and stood nose to nose with Gavyk. "He is the most wanted man in the Uncharted Territories and you let him walk in and out of here freely. You are a disgrace to that uniform." Gavyk cringed at the implied threat. Horror filled him as Scorpius pressed the communicator in his headpiece, "Lt. Braca. Send a detail to the office. Gavyk is to be detained and stand trial for dereliction of duty."
Several days after returning to Moya, Chiana felt sufficiently recovered to join the others for a meal. She was nervous, very nervous, about joining them. She had kept to herself in the days since being brought back to the ship. At first it had been a forced isolation because of her injuries, but then it had evolved into something more.
She stopped just outside the door to the center chamber. How will they react to me? To what Gavyk did? Will they think it was my fault? Will they think I enticed him? For the first time in her life, Chiana cared what others thought of her. She could hear the lively banter of the crew as they ate, and longed to join in, but she couldn't bring herself to move. Suddenly she felt her courage desert her and she turned to leave. This is insane. I can't face them. Not yet.
As she started to walk away, she felt a strong hand on her shoulder. She closed her eyes, fear grasping her heart. She held her breath, hoping whoever it was would go away. But he didn't.
"Chiana," D'Argo said quietly, shyly, "Why don't you come join us?"
"I can't." She said turning to face him. She could feel the tears threatening to overwhelm her again and she fought to get them under control. I can't let him see this. I won't let him see this. "Not yet."
D'Argo looked down at her. She is so small, so frail. And yet, so strong. "Would you like some company?" He asked shyly, "Maybe go for a walk?"
She nodded, swallowing hard to hold back the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. She knew he was curious about what had happened on the planet, but he hadn't pressed her for details on the few occasions they had seen each other since she'd come back to Moya. At times he acted like a protective older brother and at others like a suitor. She wasn't sure which he was at the moment and she didn't really care, she only wanted to be with him, to tell him everything that had happened on Rykynn.
John finished his meal in silence. He and Aeryn had been avoiding each other for days, but he could feel her eyes boring into him. He assumed that meant she was ready to talk. But he wasn't sure he was. Hoping to postpone the inevitable, he lingered over his food cubes. Unfortunately, that would only work for so long and as he popped the last of them into his mouth he knew he was out of time.
He stood and took his tray to the sink to wash it. Wonder how long I can avoid her? As he rinsed the tray he felt her walk up beside him. Not long enough. "John?" She said softly. He stiffened, but didn't reply. "You promised."
He cocked his head to look at her. He could tell from the look in her eyes that she wouldn't take no for an answer anymore. And he couldn't really blame her. She had been more than patient with him since they'd left Rykynn. "I was planning to work on my module." He said flatly. Maybe she'll get the drift that I don't wanna talk.
"Crichton." She said, raising her eyebrows in a way that said he'd better cooperate or he'd be sorry.
He smiled ruefully, "Wanna help?"
"I thought you'd never ask." She replied, gracing him with one of her most radiant smiles.
Chiana and D'Argo walked in silence for a while, neither of them knowing quite where or how to begin. They wandered through Moya's corridors until they found themselves at the door to the Terrace. It seemed this was where they were all drawn when they needed to talk and to heal. There was something about this place that helped them clear their minds.
D'Argo activated the access panel and the door swung open slowly. Chiana entered first. I love this place. Surrounded by the stars, I'm reminded my troubles aren't so big. She walked across the deck to stand near the transparent shield that kept the atmosphere in and the vacuum of space out. It's like standing amid the stars. She gazed out at the starscape and sighed deeply as she felt, rather than heard D'Argo come to stand behind her. She had to force herself to not recoil when he placed his hand lightly on her shoulder.
"Chiana," D'Argo began quietly, "I know you went through a lot on Rykynn. I regret my part in encouraging your participation in Aeryn's plan."
"It's not your fault. It's no one's fault. What happened, happened. We need to live with it." She replied flatly.
"What did happen?" He asked tentatively.
"No one has told you?" She asked, turning to look him in the eye. He has no idea what really happened to me. He's genuinely concerned. He shook his head in response, meeting her eyes. He could see the uncertainty in her eyes. She smiled sadly and took his hand, pulling him across the deck to a secluded place near the back wall. She then eased herself to the floor, pulling him down beside her.
She began relating the events of the few arns she had spent on Rykynn, speaking in a matter-of-fact tone of voice at first. But as she continued her story, the events and the feelings they evoked swept over her and her voice broke. Without thinking D'Argo placed his arm gently around her shoulder and she leaned into his embrace, grateful for the compassion and gentleness. She continued describing the events of her time in the Peacekeepers' custody on Rykynn for nearly an arn. At times she spoke calmly, without feeling, at other times she broke down, heavy sobs wrenching her body.
Through it all, D'Argo listened silently, cradling her gently in his arms. He was struggling to remain calm for her sake. Every fiber of his being wanted to strike out at the Peacekeepers for what they had done to her. I will have my vengeance for what that monster did to you. I give you my vow.
John lay stretched out along the top of the module, his head and arms hanging inside the cockpit. It wasn't very comfortable, but it was the only way he could reach the component he was trying to replace. And it was a definite conversation stopper. He loosened the last bolt that held the communications array in place and pulled. The faceplate gave way easily, but the actual guts of the machine were still wedged in tightly. "Crap!" he grumbled. "Why can't anything be easy? Just once!"
"What did you say Crichton?" Aeryn said, popping her head out from under the wing.
"This damn communications array is stuck. Can you come up here and give me a hand? Maybe if you get inside the cockpit and have at it from that angle, we can get it out."
She stood up and brushed the dust from the maintenance bay floor from her backside. "We've been at this for nearly an arn John. Why don't you take a break? Rest for a bit?"
"I want to get this done today Aeryn." He groused. And if I take a break you're gonna make me talk.
"You know you can't avoid me forever." She smiled, knowing he was trying to avoid her.
He leaned farther into the module's cockpit and mumbled, "Maybe not, but I can sure as hell try."
"I heard that." She chuckled.
He pulled his upper torso up and looked at her. God she's beautiful. No, don't let her distract you. She leaned against the upturned wing of the module, her arms folded across her chest, a sly grin on her face. "Give it a rest Aeryn."
"I'm not going to give up until you talk to me John."
"Balls, you can be irritating sometimes." He grumbled.
"I had a good teacher." She grinned.
He looked down at her and their eyes locked. He knew she was only joking in part. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply then pushed himself back from the cockpit. He eased himself down to the deck and walked across the bay to the workbench. He threw his tools down roughly before picking up the water bottle and taking a deep drink. "Okay." He said, leaning heavily against the workbench. "You wanna talk? Talk."
Aeryn walked across the bay to stand on the opposite side of the table. She leaned forward, taking up a mirror image of his position. "What the frell is the matter with you Crichton?" She snapped, growing weary of his defensive attitude. "Usually I can't get you to shut up, now I can't get you to talk. What happened? Why are you so angry?"
He looked at her and their eyes met. She felt as if she'd never seen such sadness in anyone. "You ever been raped Aeryn?" He asked flatly.
She stepped back, almost as if she had been physically struck. "What?" Her eyes were wide and confusion was evident in her tone.
John pushed back from the workbench angrily and stomped around it. As he approached Aeryn, she reflexively backed away from him. He stopped, surprised that she appeared to be afraid of him. He closed his eyes, his hands coming up to scrub at his face. "That's the only word I can think of to describe what Scorpius did to me on that damned base." He began tiredly. "He stripped away everything that was private and personal and displayed it for anyone and everyone to see."
He shook his head as he slid to the floor, his back against the workstation. Resting his head on his knees he could feel the pain starting to rise again like bile in his throat. He fought to control it, to push it back down, but when he felt Aeryn's hand rest gently on his shoulder he felt as if a dam had burst inside of him and he pushed her away roughly.
Picture by Johryn
"You still don't get it, do you?" He shouted at her. "I damn near got you killed! You and everyone else aboard Moya. I have blood on my hand ... Hassan's, Laraq's, Tauvo Crais', Gilina's." His voice broke as he brushed angrily at the tears that had started to flow. Swallowing hard, he continued, "You'd all be better off if I'd never come through that wormhole!"
She grabbed his arms firmly, pulling his hands away from his face. He struggled to pull away from her, but she was too strong. "Look at me Crichton!" she demanded, shaking him. "Look at me!" Reluctantly he brought his eyes up to meet hers. "That is not true. We ... I am better because you came through that wormhole."
Zhaan rose from her bed, frustrated that she had been unable to focus her mind to meditate. She had been restless since returning from Rykynn, upset that Ta'al sacrificed his life for hers. And she couldn't seem to stop thinking about her mate Tarak and their son. She tried lighting different incense, one that she hoped would calm her restless mind and help her to focus.
She returned to her bed, settling into the Kodasana position once again. She closed her eyes and tried to settle her mind. After about a quarter of an arn, she stood up disgustedly and pulled her robes around her again. I can't stay here. I need to go somewhere. Anywhere.
She wandered out of her chamber, walking aimlessly through Moya's corridors. It was unusually quiet, everyone seemed to be occupied somewhere. She wandered, until she found herself eventually just outside of the Center Chamber. The room was dimly lit as she entered, but as soon as Pilot became aware of her presence in the room, he raised the illumination. "Pilot, will you please dim the lights in the Center Chamber again?" She asked softly.
"Of course Zhaan. I'm sorry, I thought you might like more light."
"Don't concern yourself Pilot."
She walked across the room to stand in front of the windows, looking out at the stars. How lovely. So calming. I wonder if Rashaan is still gazing at stars?
From behind her, she heard the telltale sound of Rygel's throne sled. She assumed he had come to scrounge for food, but he hovered over near her. "Zhaan?" he asked tentatively, "You've been especially quiet since you returned from Rykynn. Is there anything you need?"
"No Rygel. I've merely been doing a lot of thinking. Seeing Ta'al after all of these cycles brought back a lot of things that I haven't wanted to remember. Some were good, but many others were very painful."
Zhaan spun around from where she stood in front of the windows. She was stunned by his perception. "How did you know?"
He raised up to his full height and brought the throne sled over to the windows beside her. "I often come here to look out at the stars when I'm thinking of my family on Hyneria. I like to believe that they can see the same stars and it makes them seem less distant."
"I forget sometimes that you have wives and children Rygel. It seems at times that you and I have been on Moya for our entire lives."
"Who are you thinking of today?"
She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply to calm her aching heart. "My son."
Rygel turned to look at the Delvian priest beside him. She was full of surprises even after all of the cycles they had known each other. "I didn't know you had any children."
She nodded very slightly. She opened her eyes and stared out at the stars as she replied. "Just one. But we have not seen each other in nearly three hundred cycles." She paused, sighing deeply, "When his father died, I foolishly immersed myself in the Seek to the point that I neglected him. I was young, I had never experienced such a loss and I did not know how to deal with it. Unfortunately my son, Rashaan suffered for my foolishness. In time, Tarak's family took him in. When I finally realized what I had done to him, it was too late. The damage had already been done. The distance between us has never been closed. And when I murdered Bitaal ... well, I brought shame to him and Tarak's family. But I do still think of him."
"And why are you thinking of him now?" Rygel inquired, sensing that Zhaan needed to talk. But he was surprised that she was willing to share this with him rather than one of the others.
She turned to face the Hynerian. I can't believe I'm talking to Rygel of all people about this. But maybe he's the one who can best understand the feelings. "I needed something to hold on to while I was being tortured. The only thing I seemed to be able to focus on was the day Rashaan was born. I remembered Tarak telling me to focus. He told me 'The pain is unimportant.' And he was right. Then and now, the pain was unimportant."
Rygel moved closer to the Delvian woman he had spent so many cycles imprisoned with. She had always exuded a calm serenity, but he also knew that she struggled to control her anger and the demons raging within her. He gently laid his tiny hand on her arm and she looked down at him. "The pain is important Zhaan. It reminds us that we are alive and if we allow it, it makes us stronger. Embrace your pain. Let it make you stronger."
Without another word, he turned his throne sled and sped from the room, leaving Zhaan to stare after him.
After several microts she turned back toward the windows. She stood unmoving, drinking in the panoply of stars; letting their beauty, their mystery ease her troubled soul. Soon she turned and walked slowly through the darkened corridors back to her quarters where she once again began her meditation. This time instead of fighting the images of Tarak and Rashaan and Bitaal and Ta'al, she embraced them. Embraced the love that each had represented. Embraced the pain that each had brought.
Concern for those who called Moya home was a new feeling for Pilot. During the time that Moya had been enslaved by the Peacekeepers to serve as a prison transport he had been as much a prisoner as those confined to cells. His day to day existence had been consumed with his own survival and that of the leviathan to whom he was bonded. But since they had been freed from the Peacekeepers' control, his perspective had changed. These beings who called Moya home were concerned not only with their own survival, but with Moya's and his own. They had risked their lives to save Moya, Talyn and him. They were more than a ship's crew, they were his friends.
Now three of their number suffered physically and emotionally because of all they had been through and he felt helpless to comfort them. He had assigned several DRDs to watch over them, but beyond that he didn't know what to do. For days he had received reports that gave him little hope, but things had changed following today's midday meal. He was gratified that things were finally turning round. Chiana was confiding in D'Argo, John and Aeryn were talking and Zhaan had talked with Rygel.
He sighed deeply, content that they were reaching out to heal one another. Yes, we will get through this. We will grow. We will be more.