Author: This story represents a collaborative effort. Although it was written by AmyJ. the original story concept and characters introduced here were developed by Karl. 
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Unwelcome visitors, the end result of heartless Peacekeeper experimentation, board Moya, separating Aeryn from the rest of the crew.
Archiving: Please inquire. 
Timeline: Season 3-ish
Part: 1 | 2

Part II

 

 

John stepped over Rygel’s empty throne sled and knelt beside D’Argo. The Luxan held in his massive hands a DRD, using its glowing antennae like a flashlight to cut the gloom of the small triangular access conduit

 

"How can she be stuck? Chiana, I told you go in after Rygel!" He growled into the darkened passage. "The smallest to largest!"

 

There was a brief screech that could only come from Jool. Chiana’s sinister giggling soon followed.

 

John looked at D’Argo. “Don’t tell me. Lucy and Ethel are stuck?”

 

He did not look up at John. “If you mean Jool and Chiana… then yes.”

 

The DRD’s eyestalks turned to regard D’Argo. He addressed the little biomech before gently placing it into the portal. “Go see what you can do.”

 

It disappeared into the darkness with a signature purr. John felt a grin forming. This was the same D’Argo that not too long ago used the small yellow beetles as soccer balls. He ran a hand over his mouth and settled back against the wall.

 

“So where’s his royal pain?” He asked.

 

“His com went out the minute he got within thirty denches of tier seven.” D’Argo duplicated John’s position on the opposite side of the portal. He rested his massive arms on his knees. “Pilot seems to think our visitors activated a localized dampening field.”

 

“That would explain it.” John folded his arms and chewed thoughtfully at the pad of one thumb. After a moment, he looked up at D’Argo. “What’s plan B?”

 

D’Argo uttered an exasperated sigh. “You tell me. You’re the one with the frelling plans.”

 

“You’d think one would work by now, huh?” John smiled, adding a self-effacing chuckle.

 

“Friend, there are some mysteries to the universe that will never be explained.” D’Argo chimed in with his own gravel-filled laugh.

 

John looked away, resting the crown of his head against the wall. His expression darkened. He ran his hands over his face and pushed his fingers through his sweat-dampened hair. “How much is enough, D’Argo? I just can’t keep going like--”

 

“You. Have. Got. To see this.” Chiana’s bright chirp interrupted him. She erupted from the access way with a flippant toss of shaggy white hair. Her eyes were wet with tears as she tried to gasp out words between giggles. “The DRD… is trying to…”

 

She laid her head on the deck as she continued to howl with laughter. "I need to get a holoimager for this one!”

 

“Ouch!” Jool’s indignant scream echoed from the shaft. “Watch what you’re doing!”

 

Chiana snorted and rolled blood shot eyes up at John and D’Argo. “This is classic!” She laughed, plainly overpowered with hilarity.

 

John held a hand over his mouth, feeling a laugh try to betray his grim mood. “This is not the time, kids. Aeryn’s in trouble and who the frell knows what those things are up to.”

 

But the bitter thoughts easily quelled the mirth like a heavy damp blanket. He gestured Chiana out of the hole before leaning inside. There was not a great deal to see. The weak lights of the DRD’s antennae barely cut the darkness. He turned back to Chiana. "Pip… Go see if you can get something from the galley to grease her up.”

 

He backed away and climbed to his feet, dusting off the knees of his pants. “I’m going to talk to Pilot, see if there’s a way to get comms through this dampening field.”

 

As John turned to leave, D’Argo looked up at him with a brisk nod. The signature gruffness was absent from his voice. “John… you have to keep going. Trust me. I have been there.”

 

John stopped, looking at his friend. The same numbness had shifted back into place, obscuring the tiny spark of hope to which he clung. He knew in his soul that it was winning. But the forced the thought away, unwilling to perceive what end it would bring. “Thanks.”

 

He cleared his throat and bent at the waist to yell down into the opening. “Jool, just relax. Chi’s looking for something to get you out of there!”

 

“Hurry! I think I have to go,” came her petulant call from the tunnel.

 

John rested his head against the warm wall. “Red, I don’t think you’re going anywhere.”

 

“No, you idiot!” She groaned, struggling to break free. “I mean I have to go to the bathroom!”

 

#

 

Ignoring the protest of leaden lungs, Kael ran though the dark passage back to the rigs. He once more, tried to push out to them, feeling for the ever-present current of their thoughts, but it only Lenis’s childlike mewling filled his head like thunder.

 

ImsosorryRaynepleasepleasepleasebeok…pleeeeeeeeeeaaase…ididntmeanitpleasedontbehurt…

 

Kael stumbled slightly under the power of the current. A warm trickle of blood dripped over his lip. Lenis never seemed to understand how powerful the Connection was. His presence was often overwhelming.

 

Quietlenisquiet… yourehurtingmetoo  Kael called back, felling himself drowned out.

 

He rounded the corner and sprinted the remaining distance to the moon pool of the amnexus bay. His fear soon gave way to anger. Both of them were de-rigged! Sun was gone! He knew that the woman was dangerous, but he had expected much better from his team.

 

Lenis knelt before Rayne, his face buried against her tiny body and his massive arms were wrapped around her in a crushing embrace. His shoulders shook with muted sobbing. Rayne rocked back and forth. Her fingers moved through Lenis’s damp hair as she made quiet shushing noises to him.

 

“Rayne!” Kael barked moving toward them. “Are you alright?”

 

She looked up at him with her same odd pervasive calm. Yeskaelwerefine… She patted Lenis on the back of the head, and offered a sympathetic smile. “I just slipped while Lenis was trying to protect me.”

 

“Rayne… I’m sooo sorry.” Lenis sobbed. He broke his embrace and turned a wounded expression up at Kael. “I’m sorry. I really didn’t—“

 

“Shhh…” Rayne crooned. She placed her hands, small and nearly childlike, gently on either side of the man’s face and made him turn to face her. “Lenis, I’m fine. It was an accident. We understand that.” She looked up at Kael. “Don’t we, Kael?”

 

Lenis’s brute features evened out into a relieved smile before turning expectantly to Kael.

 

“Yes. It’s alright, Lenis.” Kael said quickly. An eager repulsion filled him at the sight of Lenis like this. It made him uneasy. It reminded him of the danger and their increasing dependence on him. Where it was once a comforting burden, he felt it threaten to invade every pore and weigh on him like the thick nascient fluid of the rig.

 

“Lenis,” Rayne wound her arms under the man’s heavy frame and gently pushed him away. “Finish dressing. I want to talk to Kael. OK?”

 

“OK, Rayne.” He said, rising to tower over his two companions. Dutifully he stalked back to his vacant rig, his shoulders sagging slightly.

 

Kael bent at the waist to face Rayne. His voice was firm, but it barely masked the tremor of fear. “I told you to stay in your rig till I got the Amnexus fluid.”

 

She turned wide dark eyes up at him. Her calm was not broken at the sight of his worry. “I had to de-rig, Kael. I needed to get out of the suit.”

 

“You’re vulnerable outside of the suit.” He moved to kneel before her. Gently he gathered her hands between his own. Her skin was so cold. He imagined he could sense the precious heat draining from her body with each passing moment.

 

Her smile was sullen. Finality filled her voice. It was the tone of a soldier, resigned to defeat, well beyond the age of Rayne’s seventeen cycles. “If I am to die, I want my last breath to be air… not the oxy-nascient fluid of the rig.”

 

“Listen to me, Rayne. You are not going to die.” He folded his hands against hers tightly. She winced slightly and he was filled with immediate regret.

 

“Is that an order, Kael?” She asked with acrid mockery. “The suit is dying. It will take me with it. You know why too. Because it’s changing me. It’s changing us all. We’re not Sebacean anymore. We’re something else--”

 

“I told you I don’t want to hear that. It’s not true!” Kael stood abruptly, pulling away. He felt the blood rush to his neck. His eyes began to sting.

 

“Kael…” She rose with great effort, holding onto the arm of the mech for balance. “We are. You can’t accept it, but you can feel it. I know it, because I can… tell.” Rayne looked down almost guiltily as she mentioned the unnatural bond they shared.

 

“Stay out of my head, Rayne.” He shot her an angry glance. She was doing it again. He could feel her presence there. It was like having a slow pressure build in his skull, only truly evident when it retreated.

 

He looked at the room, not seeing it, only feeling the cloying tide of want, pain, and grief that punctuated every exchange with the girl before him. He wanted to destroy, to rend and annihilate. He hated her absolute calm in the face of his hostility and the seeming arrogance that the prospect of death brought her. With her, he knew only want no matter how eager the flesh that welcomed him. He ached at the possibility of her absence and longed for freedom when they were together. He wanted the universe to know this same nameless pain.

 

“Sub-officer Vea!” Kael snapped.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

He ignored her and turned away. The lumbering giant immediately rounded the bulk of his suit, dressed in ill-fitting tech utilities, stretched to their very seams to accommodate the man. He fell into attention before the smaller lieutenant.

 

“Where did the woman go, soldier?” he asked Lenis.

 

“Kael… she’s not a problem. Let’s just take what we need and go.” Rayne tugged at his shoulder, but still he would not turn to look at her. His attention was on Lenis.

 

Lenis’s features were blank as was often the case when he was addressed by his surname. Rayne’s protests were of no concern. It was as if some inner switch had been thrown. The child-like, needy Lenis was gone, replaced by the brute soldier. His voice was a powerful growl. “Hammond direction. Through the corridor past rib fourteen.”

 

Kael smirked. There were only two directions the Peacekeeper could have gone: forward through the ion backwash chamber or aft to the wasted remains of the maintenance bay. “Rig up. I want you to go through the ion backwash chamber. I’ll take the maintenance bay. If you don’t see her on your initial sweep, find me in the bay. We’ll eliminate this threat and complete our original mission for the amnexus fluid.”

 

“Yes, sir.” Lenis replied. He turned to his rig and began ascending the arm, removing his utilities along the way.

 

“Kael…” Rayne said with quiet warning. But she trailed off, to stare at the deck as the full weight of his attention fell on her again. Her fear had been there the entire time. Only now he could feel it, like a cool draft. For a moment, the tempest calmed. Her faint voice wafted across the shared current of thoughts. It was becoming so hard to hear her lately.

 

becarefulkael

 

“I promise. We’ll get what you need. You’re going to be fine.”

 

Ionlyneedyou

 

Abruptly, he stood and made his way back to the rig. Kael looked into the dark warmth of the open hatch and shed the tech utilities. The urge to rejoin was nearly overpowering, but it did nothing to drown out the repulsion that rankled his spine. It drained his will, making him weak, but at the same time infusing him with incredible strength. It was addiction against which all three of them were powerless. A fate they were all cursed and blessed to share.

 

Feeling her gaze on him, he paused to look over his shoulder at Rayne. From this height, this distance she seemed so small, weak and vulnerable. But it was this frail young woman that was his strength. If I fail you, he thought. Kael forbid himself to think the rest. He looked away and slipped into the welcoming warm blackness of joining.

 

The soft interior pulsated against his limbs as he worked his way into the remembered shape. He felt the distinct hungry tug of the tendrils that interfaced with the suit from the harness forever bonded with his spine. Like hungry vines they stretched and grew. A million new connections were reformed. There was a distant tingling sensation to his right forearm as the mending tissues bonded with the broken burned skin of the pulse gun wound. He felt/sensed the suit’s power rising. The thick nascent fluid began to seep into the cavity with him, slowly at first, then building in speed. He fought the familiar primitive panic as it rose past his face and began to invade his nose and mouth. The taste was alkaline and sweet, like lemons in brine. Each time was a tiny death like drowning. But what came next was indescribable no matter how many times he joined with the rig.

 

He felt the surge of raw power through his body. Now he could see. Now he could hear. Now he was immortal. All that came before was a mockery of existence; merely struggling though life, sightless, weak and dying with each breath.

 

Here, he was a god.

 

Findaerynsunlenis… makeherpay

 

#

 

Aeryn moved through the chamber, certain to constantly keep the doorway in her field of vision. She hefted the heavy metal bar from hand to hand as if it weighted nothing. Her mind raced with the seeming speed of her heart. The surge of neurtox did not seem to fade. If anything she was feeling it build, but she was beyond considering the drug’s influence. In this altered state, it made sense to Aeryn: She had always known this power. She had always been this strong.

 

A sure, icy coolness drowned the fear. She nearly smiled at her earlier trepidation. What did she have to fear from the biomechs? Kael and the girl were nothing more than children given much too powerful toys. The one they called Lenis possessed the same level of intellect, dutifully following Kael’s strident demands. They all lacked a soldier’s discipline.

 

“Discipline is strength,” Aeryn muttered, unconsciously reciting the Decca. In a normal situation, it was a habit that would have made her wince and drawn a painful expression from the human. She sneered. As if Crichton could ever understand discipline…

 

The rumble of footfalls stopped. Aeryn crouched, catlike. Nearly every muscle in her body was tuned to the harmony of the raging neurtox. She listened intently. There was nothing more beyond the sounds of the bay and the leviathan, ordinary noises that would have fallen far out of her range of detection without her unnaturally heightened senses.

 

Aeryn laid a flat hand against the warmth of Moya’s decking. There was only the thrum of the leviathan’s complicated circulation. She quieted her own breathing and was perfectly still. Something heavy hit the deck on this tier. It was followed by a series of brief thuds, too irregular to be footfalls. The stillness resumed. The distant sounds of thick liquid and choking wove through the corridors to her.

 

Aeryn straightened, resting the metal bar across her shoulders with nonchalance. The expression on her face would have made her unrecognizable to any of her crew. The shrewd cunning gave her features an incredible similarity to Xhalax Sun.

 

A nearly sinister glee filled her eyes. One of the intruders had just left their biomech suit somewhere near by. It was a tactical error that would not go unanswered. Broken bones grinding painlessly in her chest and leg, Aeryn padded into the darkened corridor, eager to deliver it.

 

#

 

Kael gagged on the remainder of the nascent fluid as it exited his lungs. Panting, he pushed himself up onto hands and knees. The floor was slick with the substance. He dared not test his still weak legs on it.

 

His eyes began to burn. The pain in his lungs settled into a dull pressing. But the worst pain was in his spine. It was a line of fire zinging from neck to tailbone. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. The suit had rejected him. The fluid had turned bitter and stagnant. The synapses snapped away from the harness. Panic set in as he realized that the fluid in his lungs was growing stale, no longer carrying the life giving oxygen. Like what started happening to Rayne…

 

“It can’t be.” Kael muttered. He leaned against the lowered arm of the suit and pulled himself to his feet. His was the strongest, next to Lenis. How could his suit be dying? The gravity of the situation was still a vague concept, halted by the disorientation of being so quickly disgorged from the suit.

 

Slowly he fished the utilities out of the panel and dressed. Each muscle ached in burning off-key chorus. His wounded forearm began to throb. Kael looked down to see the area of the wound was not wholly healed. The skin that covered it was pink and fresh but paper thin and delicate. It was as if the suit had tried to repair it, but lacked the energy to complete the task.

 

“This is impossible.” He whispered. The rage of moments before abandoned him, leaving behind this cold hollow shell of growing fear.

 

“Problems?”

 

Kael whirled, drawing up his fists. Aeryn Sun stood between him and the entrance to the maintenance bay. Her face was flushed. A nearly gleeful hate formed her features. Her eyes were glassy cold stones. With casual malice, she propped a metal bar over one shoulder.

 

“Nothing that I cannot handle.” Kael began moving to the left, keeping his attention split between Sun and her makeshift weapon.

 

“Are you certain?” Her eyebrows pinched with false concern. “I’d hate to think that a young child such as yourself was in distress… in need of help.”

 

He drew in breath between clinched teeth, knowing it was a deliberate barb, yet taking the bait. “I’m no child, Sun.”

 

It was her turn to deliver an appraising glance, head to toe. She arched an eyebrow. “No. But you’re certainly not a soldier. I see some cast off tech that command did not think twice about sending into a dangerous experimental program.”

 

Kael lunged at her with a vicious snarl. Sun sidestepped his charge, turning with him. Quickly she swung the bar. It connected with a solid thud against his lower back. A white-hot bolt of agony paraded up his spine. He fell forward, sprawling on the deck. Rolling to his side, he barely had time to react to Sun’s next strike. While her arms were over her head, ready to bring the bar down, he swung out with his leg. His foot met the center of her unprotected middle. She stumbled back with a wounded grunt. Kael scrambled to his hands and knees, losing purchase on the slick deck.

 

Despite the dagger of pain it drove deep into his skull, Kael pushed out with all of his will to Lenis.

 

Lenisreturntothemaintenancebaysunishere…youhaveto—

 

A loud crack rang in his ears. Kael’s arms buckled like wet paper and he collapsed to the deck. He watched the shape of Aeryn Sun’s boots move into his field of vision. Stupidly he stared at the pattern of their worn leather. Soon the blackness overtook him.

 

#

 

“Stop it.” Aeryn stared at her trembling hand. Ever disobedient it continued to quiver. A sudden chill claimed her and her entire body shivered. A swatch of pain wrapped her chest to dig in with needle sharp teeth. It was building in strength, now working in collusion with the dull throb of her leg.

 

Stupid. How could I be so stupid?! The neurtox was losing its grip on her body’s chemistry. And now the pain settled back in to claim its rightful spot. With it returned rational thought. She looked at the open medkit, still scattered beneath the wing of Crichton’s module. Taking more would make it go away… it would feel so much better.

 

Quickly she looked away, ignoring the urge. The view she found there was no better. Kael’s limp body lay bleeding on the bay deck. She barely remembered carrying him here, but she must have. His features were soft and slackened. He was so impossibly young. Had she ever been that age?

 

Nothing but a boy… and you could have— Aeryn swallowed as the dull nausea circled her throat.

 

“But I didn’t.” Aeryn whispered. She startled slightly at the sound of her own voice in the hollow bay. No. There would be no more neurtox. Ever. She had lost control. Now she observed the savage results that this substance unleashed. The thought left her sick. Whatever pain she suffered now would be her just reward.

 

Grimacing at the fresh pain, she limped across the floor. She stooped to gather the emptied contents of the medi-kit. The remaining flask of neurtox gleamed dully under the ambient light of the room. She ignored it. Finally, gathering the clacking vials and ampoules to her chest, she looked at the neurtox. With the heel of one heavy boot, she crushed the vial. It felt better, but only slightly.

 

With a painful grunt she settled onto the floor next to Kael’s body. She saw by the slow rise and fall of his chest, he lived still. But he had lost a great deal of blood. Aeryn fished through the untidy pile of medicines until she found the familiar pouch of synth. Every soldier was familiar enough with this simple life-giving device. It bore none of the risks of neurtox. She wondered briefly about its potency. After all, the other contents were well expired.

 

“As if I have a choice,” she muttered. She wrapped her hand around the bag, feeling the vials inside crack open. Their contents would mix to form the blood substitute. She drew the cap off the large-bored needle and drove it into the pale skin of the young man’s arm finding the bluish vein beneath. 

 

 He stirred slightly, muttering a jumble of nonsense words. If he came to, she was uncertain just how much of a fight she’d be able to put up. She unfastened the webbed fabric strap of the kit’s handle and began forming makeshift bonds around Kael’s wrists and ankles. Cautiously, she propped herself on one hand alongside the boy. She folded her hand into a fist and rubbed her knuckles against his sternum. “Wake up, lieutenant.”

 

Kael’s face folded into a frown at this painful sensation. He uttered an angry groan. His arms jerked in reflex to swat her hand away. He opened his eyes and looked around the room as if drugged. His gaze shifted back to Aeryn and sharpened. Kael immediately tried to move away, becoming more enraged when he saw his bonds.

 

“Untie me, tralk!” He spat.

 

Aeryn sat back. She tried to hide the pain that this simple movement caused. “I think not.”

 

“Lenis will return. This time he will not be as charitable.”

 

“Listen to me, Kael.” She said quietly. “I know that you and your friends are in a great deal of trouble. And it’s not just the Peacekeepers that you need to fear. What happened? Why did you leave your suit? You could have easily killed me in it.”

 

Kael squirmed to a sitting position against the wall. The same defiant sneer wormed across his mouth. He was silent.

 

“Your friend… the girl…” She leaned forward studying his face. He looked away at her mention. “She looked very ill to me… weakened.”

 

“Rayne will be well. She has to…” He quieted.

 

There was vulnerability in his fierce façade that she understood all too well. The girl. She remembered seeing him pause to touch the blast shield of her prone suit. He had already compromised himself for her. No doubt it would be his undoing.

 

“Why are you interested in Moya’s amnexus fluid? Does she need it?”

 

Kael flashed another arrogant smile as a trickle of blood rolled down his lip. Even before the floor began to rumble, Aeryn realized why. Another biomech was approaching. There was one thing she did not consider, but only now the realization came to her with simplistic ease. They must be connected somehow, able to communicate without coms. That was how he called Lenis to tear down the wall. And it was how he called the biomech now.

 

“Why not ask Lenis?” he sneered.

 

#

 

“Pilot… these things are biomechanoid, just like Moya,” John paced before the Navigator’s console. His actions were nearly manic. “You can’t sit there and tell me, there’s nothing we can do. Come on. There has to be some secret handshake… something… to tell them we’re not a threat.”

 

Pilot exhaled an exasperated growl. “I can assure you, Commander, I am not aware of any other variety of communication we can possibly establish with the three newcomers. Although they are biomechanoid to a certain extent, it is unlikely any leviathan has encountered such… oddities before now.”

 

His patience with the human was wearing. It seemed to him that very little of the explanations he had supplied to Commander Crichton were making sense. He was as worried about Officer Sun as the remainder of the crew, but bore the greater responsibility of Moya’s well-being. She was an aching chorus of the damage caused by the intruders. Much of tier seven would take weekens to heal properly, a situation that was complicated by the abrupt order delivered by Officer Sun to cut off the amnexus flow to the effected area. She risked the possibility of permanent damage to those sections if the circulation was not restored quite soon.

 

“I got it. I got it.”  He flashed a victorious grin at Pilot.

 

“Eh… yes, commander?”

 

“What about a tight band laser link between here and the affected tier?”

 

Pilot’s shoulders shrank together. He uttered another angry grunt. “That was your first suggestion, Commander.”

 

“It was?”

 

“Well over two arns ago.”

 

“Oh?” John shrugged.

 

“Yes, Commander.” The Navigator huffed.

 

John was oblivious to his agitation. “Can we try it again?”

 

Pilot sighed. “Reconfiguring internal coms, commander.”

 

#

 

Using the bar as a crutch, Aeryn climbed to her feet and staggered to the center of the small bay. The giant biomech’s footfalls thundered closer. The deck underfoot trembled. A pervasive weariness threatened to overtake her. Purposefully, she placed more weight on her injured ankle. A white-hot spark ignited her leg and drove sharp nails into her spine. Her anger resurfaced but it had dimmed in strength. She hoped it was enough to fuel her now or she was done.

 

“No more hiding. No more running.” She muttered as she watched the doorway for the monster to appear. A jeering titter came from the corner of the hangar where Kael remained bound. She looked at him, eyes narrowed. The arrogant sneer was a white crescent on his grime-covered face.

 

Closer still, the giant lumbered. There was the incredible sound of ripping biometallic skin as the bay door was curled open with awesome ease by one huge claw. The space widened. The Lenis-mech emerged into the brighter lights of the bay. It was evident he saw her. But he did not act. Inexplicably he stood completely still.

 

Aeryn resisted the urge to shift anxiously. She remained standing in her spot, her arms at her sides. Ribs aching in protest, Aeryn drew in a deep breath.

 

“Lenis! I have no wish to hurt you or your friends! I know that you’re in trouble.”

 

The curious beast remained where it stood. Only its low-level hum filled the silence.

 

“I don’t want to fight you. You’ve all proved your power. But I know that you… and your friend Rayne are in deep trouble without help.”

 

Again, there was no answer. No movement from the Lenis-mech. Cautiously, Aeryn craned her neck to look at Kael. The boy’s eyelids fluttered. A steady trickle of blood ran from his nostrils. The hairs rose on the back of Aeryn’s neck. Kael was communicating with Lenis.

 

A roar-whine split the air. Aeryn turned back in time to watch the mech take murderous efficient strides toward her. She backed away, moving in Kael’s direction.

 

“Lenis! Whatever Kael is telling you is not the truth! I could have killed him, but I spared him. I don’t want to hurt any of you. He gave me no choice!”

 

The mech continued to advance, unmoved by her speech. Aeryn moved faster. But her damaged ankle disobeyed. Her balanced left her. She scrambled, crab-like, on her hands and feet to outpace the raging biomech. The alcove of the smaller bay possessed a slightly lower ceiling. A slim hope waged in her that the mech would not be able to access the confined space. She cowered along side Kael. The Lenis-mech poised to strike. Aeryn gathered her strength, waiting. Lenis lunged, massive claws outstretched. She rolled along the deck extracting renewed complaints from her injured ribs. The deck denches from her head buckled under the creature’s heavy fist.

 

Breathless, she looked up in time to see the hand retract, ready to strike again. She looked around. She was trapped, wedged between the narrowing walls of the antechamber. Aeryn cursed, a combination of the pain coursing through her every fiber and the apparent end to her luck. She turned a defiant glare at the indifferent façade of the mech, glimpsing her own distorted reflection on its surface. This end… I would have never imagined.

 

Another metallic roar-whine and the fist drove down toward her—

 

“Lenis! NO! Don’t!”

 

—and stopped denches over her head.

 

Aeryn’s shoulder’s unfolded from their assumed cringe. She looked over at Kael. But the boy was not looking at her. He sat up, straining against his bonds, watching the bay door. Aeryn followed his line of sight.

 

Rayne leaned heavily against the mouth of the damaged doorway. Briefly she looked at Aeryn, but her attention returned to Lenis. Visibly drawing herself up, Rayne took staggering strides to the side of the biomech. Dwarfed by its frame, she craned her neck to regard her companion.

 

“Lenis,” Rayne said, extending a flat palm to stroke the veined limb of the mech. “You’re not going to hurt her. Back away. Now.”

 

A tremulous voice came from the mech. “Rayne…. Kael told me—“

 

“Kael was doing what he thought he needed to do.” She turned to look at Kael as she continued to sooth Lenis. Her eyes narrowed. “It’s all right, Lenis. Stand down.”

 

Aeryn rose, pulling herself up along the spines of the wall. In an efficient purr of servos, the monstrous hand retreated. Lenis-mech backed away into the larger section of the hangar. The girl moved to Kael’s side. Her energy seemed to evaporate. And she wavered on her feet. Aeryn caught her, lowering her to the deck near Kael.

 

“Untie him.” Rayne murmured.

 

Warily, Aeryn looked at Kael. But his viciousness had disappeared. The concern on his face was painfully apparent as he regarded Rayne. She felt nothing but pity. There is only one end for feelings like that, boy. It is that very weakness that will be your undoing if it has not already.

 

Aeryn grudgingly began to unknot them. Kael shed the loosened straps like a reptile. He pulled Rayne to him like a rag doll. “You never listen. I told you to stay—“

 

“Kael.” The girl said quietly. Gingerly she touched the purpling bruise on his forehead. “No more orders.”

 

“Now.” Aeryn said. “Which one of you is going to tell me why the frell you’re on my ship?”

 

#

 

“Stop laughing! It’s not funny… you little bitch!” Jool hissed. Unheeding, Chiana’s giggling seemed to build. Indignantly, Jool tossed her mop of copper curls. She sighed wearily and rested her forehead against the floor. Abruptly, she jerked her head up, eyes wide and darting around the darkened interior of the channel. A sobering thought overcame the indignity.

 

There was no telling what sort of conduit this was. Her mouth pulled into a whimper. She thought of the trill bat guano filing the very hollows of the ship, mentally recoiling at the memory of the cold sticky texture against her legs and arms as she searched out D’Argo’s Qualta blade. Bat feces. Bile rose in the back of her throat. If that was filled with bat feces, then…

 

Once more her gaze darted around the darkness. A repulsed dread renewed her squirming struggle to break free. There was no telling was foul creatures inhabited this space. Abruptly she shrieked. “I want out now!”

 

“Right away, your majesty.” Chiana’s reply sounded in her coms and muffled in the conduit.

 

Jool wrinkled her nose, sniffing. “What is that awful stench?”

 

“Relax. It’s nothing to worry about.”

 

She felt a warm, slimy glob of liquid ooze down her side. Jool shuddered, completely unnerved. “What is it?”

 

“Well… Crichton said to find something to grease you up so we can slide you outta there.” Chiana answered in a teasing singsong.

 

“You didn’t answer my question!” Panic clinched its fist around her ribs, squeezing the air from her lungs.

 

“Let’s just say… Moya wasn’t going to use it anyway.”

 

Realization moved over her and with it came a flood of revulsion. Her bottom lip puckered and began to quiver. Jool’s scream punctured the indifferent darkness of the tunnel.

 

#

 

“I never thought it would be this way.” Rayne said sullenly. “In the beginning there were a dozen of us.”

 

Kael glared at her, but she refused to look at him. His hand squeezed into a fist around hers. She hissed in pain and finally turned to look at him. Rayne’s voiceless argument filtered through the thrum of his aching skull:

 

Kaelimsotiredofthelies

 

Raynedonottellheranotherword

 

“There were more of you?” Sun asked, ignorant of their silent exchange.

 

“Yes. NeuTech selected only those that had the physical stamina to withstand the joining process.” Kael answered, curtly, cutting off Rayne’s reply. “We were the superior specimens.”

 

“From among prisoners and defectives.” Rayne added. Although her expression was filled with spite, she recoiled from Kael’s stare, snapping her hand away from his grasp. His anger doubled.

 

RAYNESTOPITRIGHTNOW

 

“Prisoners?” Sun prodded. Her keen aqua gaze shifted from Rayne to Kael, clearly suspicious beyond this new information. She focused on Rayne. “You were in stockade.”

 

“Yes. It was an opportunity for freedom. No matter the cost. I didn’t care. I had disobeyed an officer. Kael… Kael as well. And well Lenis…” Rayne jerked her chin in the darkened corner of the hangar into which Lenis had disappeared. “He was not always like that. He was Captain Vea.”

 

The Vea? As in Vea the Crusader?” For a moment, Sun’s voice was filled with plain awe.

 

“Vea…” Lenis’s voice cut through the tense exchange, eerie calm and concise. The towering soldier slowly emerged from the shadows. His hair and clothes were still damp from departing his rig. His darkened eyes stared off into impossible misery as he continued in a tired sing-song that made the small hairs stand up on the back of Kael’s neck. “Vea… the butcher… the killer.”

 

Kael tensed, deliberating. When Lenis got like this, it made him uneasy. It was hard to control this powerful giant of a man as he was. But when troubled, Lenis’s fits of melancholy could spin into ferocious bouts of violence or end plunged into childlike sobbing. But always it was Rayne that calmed the man.

 

“I did… really bad things. Horrible things.”

 

“Quiet, Lenis.” Rayne’s still voice commanded. She pulled away from Kael, intending to stand, but even that action was a monumental effort. Instead she extended a hand to Lenis. He pulled her to her feet with exceeding care, as if she were a fragile thing. She wrapped her arm through his and leaned against his towering frame. Her cheek pressed against the muscular bulge of his bicep. “It’s ok, Lenis. Remember what I said?”

 

“Ancient history.” He nodded, but his voice was still unsure. “Somebody else.”

 

“That’s right. It doesn’t matter anymore.” She said. Her voice was a rusted hinge.

 

Rayne looked down at Kael. Endthisnowkaelenditnoworiwill. She tugged Lenis’s elbow, turning him back in the direction of his suit. “Come on. Let’s check your rig.”

 

Kael watched them walk off, ignoring Sun’s stare and her expectant silence. He was envious of their bond, and of the tenderness Rayne showed Lenis. But it was more than that. For all of the command he assumed for their tiny group, Kael realized that they were nothing without Rayne. It was she that kept them together, like the great pull between planet and moons.

 

“Without her…” Kael said. He startled at the sound of his own voice. Sun was watching him, no doubt taking in every reaction and flaw, seeking to use it against him. “The suits are self-sustaining, but they are still too juvenile to produce their own essential components…”

 

“Like amnexus fluids…” Sun guessed.

 

He nodded, no longer surprised by her assessment of their predicament. Underestimating her was his first mistake. “I’m not going to let Rayne die.”

 

“No. I don’t think you would.” Her aqua eyes narrowed, as if were zooming in upon a hidden fault that even he could not see. She drew in breath to speak, but stopped. Instead she looked away. For a moment he saw her fold inward, revealing a wounded pity. It was a nameless hurt that flickered only for a moment, but was soon replaced by her smooth veneer.

 

Sun shifted, moving with great effort as she pulled herself to her feet. Warily, Kael rose, leaning against the nearby spine for support. 

 

“What you feel for her…” Sun began abruptly, taking a hobbling step closer. She did not look at him, but over his shoulder into the hangar beyond. “Bury it. Hide it. It is a weakness that will destroy you.”

 

Almost casually she stepped back, as if nothing had transpired. Her eyes held his for a moment, but her expression was inscrutable. “Let me talk to Moya’s Pilot.”

 

Kael regarded her, measuring and still trying to discern the motive of her odd-placed advice. An alien confusion bore down on him.

 

Kael… nomoreofthis… lethertalktohim The weak eddy of Rayne’s plea urged. She had been listening. He felt the blood build beneath the skin of his neck.

 

With a thought Kael opened a com with his disabled rig. The sudden want-need to rejoin it, regardless of its current state, was a precious ache that started at his chest and radiated outward. He deactivated disrupters, feeling the synapses lose their spark and power down. With a small sigh of relief, he pushed closed his link to his rig. “Done.”

 

Sun jerked her chin up. “Pilot…”

 

In the darkness over her shoulder the damaged hollow emitter displayed featureless violet cloud. The voice of the concerned Pilot ruptured the tense silence of the bay. “Officer Sun, are you alright? What is your status?”

 

“Pilot, release the manifold to the rear Amnexus bladder.” She instructed, cutting across his string of inquiries. “Allow the biomechs to take as much as they can.”

 

“But, Officer Sun, I do not understand—“

 

“I will explain everything later. Just do it.” She tapped the coms shut and leveled her gaze on Kael once more. Her voice was anesthetically cool. “Now… take what you need and get off my ship.”

 

The End

 

To read more about the original characters in Karlsweb’s Fiction in Technicolor, check out the Character Bios Pages. For background on terms and technology invented by the Karlsweb staff writers, check out the Kweb Lexicon.

 

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