"Hurry up D'Argo!" Crichton shouted as he pushed his way through the crowd. "Everyone else is at the Transport Pod and Aeryn is threatening to leave without us if we're not there in five hundred microts!"
"Tell her I will be there when I am finished and not a microt before!" the big Luxan grumbled back.
"On no, no, no, no." Crichton said, coming to stand beside D'Argo at the stand of a weapons dealer. "I am not getting in the middle of a pissing match between you two. I like my head right where it is."
As D'Argo turned to give John his best "you are the strangest creature I have ever met" look, he caught a glimpse of two Banthas observing them closely. He turned back toward the merchant and casually replaced the knife he had been examining. "Crichton," he said quietly, "you're right. It's time to leave."
John looked at him questioningly, He knew something had to be wrong for D'Argo to have changed his mind so suddenly. "Okay, what's up?" he asked, falling in step beside his friend.
"We've attracted the attention of at least two Banthas," he replied, indicating the two aliens with an almost imperceptible nod of his head.
John glanced sideways in the direction D'Argo had indicated. He saw two solidly built men lingering in the shadows trying to look inconspicuous. Unfortunately, their blood red skin and three rows of red and black spines atop their heads made that impossible. They stood in height about halfway between John and D'Argo, but were stockier than the Luxan. Recognizing danger when he saw it, John looked back at D'Argo and nonchalantly reached up to activate his comms, "Aeryn, we're on our way." He began, trying to sound calmer than he felt, "But we've picked up some company. D'Argo says they're Banthas."
"Bounty hunters?" She asked urgently.
"More'n likely. Old Scorpy's probably getting antsy to see me again."
"Frell! I'll have the pod ready to go when you get here," she replied matter-of-factly.
"Great! We may need to beat cheek." he replied as he deactivated his comms.
They moved through the throng in the marketplace trying to maintain a rapid, but not rushed pace. Every so often they would stop at a seller's stall, pretending to check out some merchandise all the while checking on their Bantha pursuers. After nearly a quarter arn of playing cat-and-mouse with the bounty hunters, they arrived at the edge of the market.
They could see the transport pod about a quarter of a metra ahead, but to reach it they'd have to make a break across open ground. The two men stopped at the last booth and pretended to look at the merchandise. To John's amusement, it turned out to be a haberdasher and he took the opportunity to check out their surroundings while trying on several different hats. He pulled on what he would have called a fedora and stood before the polished metal plate that passed as a mirror as if examining his appearance.
"So, big guy," he asked, grinning widely, "what do you think of this one?"
"If it hides your ugly face, then it is worth any price." D'Argo replied, a huge grin on his own face. He stepped further into the haberdasher's booth as if to check out a hat for himself. Leaning in close to John he asked, "Can you see if there are still only the two of them?"
"Yeah D'Argo. I got a good look. There're three of 'em now. We may need to head back the other way to throw 'em off the scent."
"They do not track by scent Crichton." D'Argo said flatly.
"It's an expression D'Argo. Why do you take everything so literally?"
"Why must you always use your earth expressions that no one understands?" D'Argo shot back angrily.
"Okay, okay. Let's just head back the way we came and see if there's somewhere we can lose 'em in the crowd." John said, pulling the hat off and turning to leave the booth. The haberdasher, sensing that she wouldn't be making a sale, jabbered animatedly at the two men, "You won't find any better hats in the market. Best prices. Best quality. You need hats. You need to buy from me." As she gave her sales pitch, she pawed at John's arm and as he turned to dislodge her hand, he noticed it was the same blood red as the Banthas' faces.
"D'Argo, Let's get the hell outta here!" he shouted, jerking his arm away from the woman who was quickly shedding her merchant's disguise. He streaked from the booth with D'Argo hot on his heels, heading back into the crush of the market.
In the warm, humid air of the planet, he started to tire quickly and visions of being dragged in chains back to Scorpius flashed through his mind. He could hear D'Argo breathing heavily behind him as he struggled to keep up. Both men dreaded the thought of being in Peacekeeper custody again. They reached an intersection in the market and D'Argo grabbed John's arm firmly, pulling him into a heavily shadowed alley.
They melted into the shadows, hoping the Banthas hadn't seen their change of direction. Both men leaned heavily against the wall lining the alley gasping for breath. As they struggled to catch their breath two of their pursuers raced past the opening of the alley.
"Whew, that was close," John sighed when he was able to speak again. "I'm definitely gonna have to start working on sprints when we get back to Moya."
"We are not safe yet Crichton." D'Argo muttered gruffly. "Remember, there are at least four Banthas chasing us. We have only seen two pass us by, and that may have only been a decoy to draw us out."
"Fine. Point taken. But what do you suggest? We can't just stay here. They're bound to come back and start searching all of these alleyways sooner or later."
"We must make a stand. I will not be taken prisoner again."
"While I agree with the not being taken prisoner thing, I'm not so sure about taking a stand here. We're outnumbered two to one ... as far as we know. There could be more of them out there and they look like pretty mean customers to me."
"I will not run from a fight Crichton."
"Discretion is the better part of valor, big guy. I'd rather live to fight another day, if you don't mind. Let's see if we can't circle around the back way and get to the transport pod."
"Very well, but if we run into them again, we will make a stand."
"Agreed." John said as he started edging his way to the other end of the alley. As he reached the opening, his hand instinctively reached for his ever-present sidearm. He pulled the pistol, taking comfort in the feel of the cool metal in his hand. He'd never been a great proponent of guns back on earth, though he'd learned to shoot with some proficiency during his brief stint in the military. But since arriving in the Uncharted Territories he'd learned to appreciate a good weapon. It often meant the difference between life and death.
"Aeryn," he hissed into his comms as he waited for D'Argo to join him, "we ran into a little trouble. We're gonna have to circle around to get to you. Last count, we had four of these Banthas on our tails. This could take a while."
"Do you want me to come find you?"
"No, the fewer of us there are being hunted, the better. Be prepared to get out of here if we get caught."
"I won't leave you here. Either of you."
"Thanks for the sentiment Aeryn, but promise me you'll get everyone else back to Moya and starburst the hell out of here if we're taken." His request was met with silence and he persisted, "Aeryn, promise me."
"Alright. I will see that everyone gets back to Moya safely." she paused, then added, "Be careful John. Banthas are a dangerous species. They're renowned as bounty hunters. Once they target a prey, they seldom give up."
"Oh, thank you so much for that encouraging bit of information." he replied sarcastically.
"John, I ..."
"It's okay Aeryn." He interrupted, "I know, you were only trying to help. We've gotta go. See you soon."
He turned to D'Argo who stood at his side, Qualta blade drawn and ready. They nodded to each other and in unison burst from the alley into the market. They scanned the crowd for any signs of the Banthas, but saw none. Lowering their weapons, but keeping them ready, they headed for the landing pad where the transport pod waited.
Because of their round about route through the market they found themselves further from the pod than they had been earlier. Anticipating that the Banthas would have at least one of their number keeping an eye on the pod, D'Argo and John proceeded cautiously. They stopped at the end of a narrow side street, peering into the crowd for any signs of pursuit.
"Damn!" John cursed quietly. "I see one of 'em. He's about ten meters away on the other side of the street."
"I see him." D'Argo replied. "I have an idea Crichton. Can you draw him out? Get him to chase you this way?"
"Yeah, I'm sure I can, but isn't the idea to avoid being seen?"
"He is probably not alone. We need to even the odds a bit if we are to succeed in reaching the pod."
"This had better work big guy or I will take it outta your hide!" John muttered. He circled back through the side streets until he stood opposite the Bantha scanning the crowd for the two fugitives. He took a deep breath and stepped with cocky assurance into the street, sauntering past the bounty hunter, as if daring him to follow.
The Bantha took the bait and fell in step about ten feet behind John who began to increase his pace. Soon the two men were running through the market to the shrieks and curses of the shoppers who were being jostled and tossed aside. He prayed that the Luxan's plan would work, knowing he couldn't keep up this pace much longer. As he rounded a corner into another alley, he heard the sound of a body dropping to the ground. He peered out of the alley to see D'Argo dragging the body of an unconscious Bantha into the shadows.
"What'd you do?" John asked a few moments later when D'Argo joined him in his hiding place. D'Argo merely grinned in response and pointed toward the pod. As he leaned, hands on his knees, gasping for air, John realized he'd never seen such a wonderful sight before – Zhaan and Chiana stood at the base of the pod's access ladder while Aeryn stood in the doorway, all with pulse rifles at the ready. Their break across the open landing area would be covered after all.
The two men looked at each other and grinned. They were almost home free.
Just as they were ready to make a run for the pod, D'Argo caught a flash of movement to his left. One of the Bantha. They eased back into the shadows of the alley, hoping he hadn't seen them.
John's heart raced, partly from his sprint through the market, but also from fear. With every step the Bantha took, he felt himself one step closer to Scorpius and the Aurora Chair. At last the bounty hunter stopped just outside of the mouth of the alleyway in which John and D'Argo hid.
Without a moment's hesitation, D'Argo's tongue shot out, striking the Bantha in the side of the neck. He spun toward D'Argo and John, a shocked look on his face, then crumpled to the ground. D'Argo dragged his limp body into the shadows then turned to John and grinned.
"Come on. Let's get the hezmanna out of here!"
The two men sprinted across the landing area to the waiting transport pod. As they scrambled up the ladder into its relative safety, John looked back toward the alley where the Bantha bounty hunter lay. He grinned and punched D'Argo on the shoulder, "Man, you give the term tongue lashing a whole new meaning!"
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