Author: Jess Pallas (feedback: jesspallas@hotmail.com)
Rating: R (violence and gore)
Notes: Spoilers; TWWW, DNAMS, TGAS, IET, CDM
Summary: The crew discover a dead leviathan whose Pilot and crew have been brutally murdered. But who was responsible – and could the same fate be about to befall Moya?
Time Frame: Midway through S2 probably after LATP. I can’t be specific because I’m not sure myself!
Archiving: Please inquire.
Part: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |9
 

Part II

They moved on almost at once. The sickening sight leant a hurriedness, an urgency to their journey, fuelling their desire to get the Hezmana out of this place that they all wished heartily they had not chosen to visit in the first place. John moved quickly at Aeryn’s heels, his headache forgotten as he battled instead to keep himself from throwing up inside his helmet, not an experiment he wanted to try. But at this rate, he would have little choice. The image of those sick remains, brutally murdered and mutilated, refused to budge from his mind and his stomach heaved and tumbled every time he thought of it. 

“The DRD,” he said at one point, breaking a long silence as they wound their way down a long, battered corridor. “That flash – it must have been that DRD.” 

D’Argo grunted. “That thing didn’t even look close to being functional.” 

“Well, what else could it’ve been?” John looked back over his shoulder at his crewmate. “I didn’t imagine it, you know!” 

The Luxan sighed. “I never said you did. But…” 

Crichton came to an abrupt halt as he walked straight into Aeryn’s back. The peacekeeper stumbled forward, pushed from her position at the apex of a bend, where she had been gazing down the corridor ahead of her. She regained her balance and shot him a resentful glare. 

“Did you ever consider watching where you’re going?” she snapped, but her heart wasn’t in the admonishment. Her gaze slipped sideways into the corridor ahead. 

John realised this was not the time for a fight. “Another dead end?” he said wearily. “Well, we’ll just have to go back to…” 

“No.” Aeryn cut him off sharply. “No dead end. But I almost wish it had been – rather than this.” 

Her expression was haunted behind her visor. Reluctantly she turned her torch into the passageway ahead. 

This time John did retch – it was all he could do not to fill his helmet to the brim with the contents of his stomach. D’Argo turned his face away, his expression sickened.

“Now I’m really glad I can’t smell,” he muttered under his breath. 

The human was appalled. “What the Hell kind of creature rips apart its victims and decorates a corridor with them?” John demanded. “Skewered body parts at nice neat intervals. What are we dealing with here? A methodical psychopath?” 

“It tells us one thing about our murderer,” Aeryn commented in a detached voice. John could see that it was with great difficulty that she maintained her calm visage. Not even peacekeepers made such raw, gruesome trophies of their victims. A head perhaps, would be kept on display. But nothing like this. “It was not a mindless predator. There was malicious intent behind this and a desire to cause pain. These people were alive when they were ripped apart. Look at the way some of them are twisted –as though they’ve struggled. And the looks on their faces…” 

“Enough, Aeryn.” John felt queasy enough as it was. “I get the picture.” He glanced at the ceiling breathing hard. “So what now?” 

Aeryn took a breath herself. “We go on.” 

“Passed that?” John was appalled. “Isn’t there another way?” 

“Not unless you want to spend arns in this place.” 

John definitely did not want that. “Okay,” he conceded reluctantly. “But would you guys mind if we switched off our torches?” 

“Bad idea, John.” D’Argo regarded him solemnly. “Unless you want to walk into them on top of just looking.” 

John fought to dispel the image. “Good point.” He fixed his eyes on the ceiling and gestured to Aeryn, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Lay on, MacDuff,” he said.

The gruesome display in the corridor was not the last. As they approached the Pilot’s chamber, the unpleasant displays came thick and fast, skewered, dismembered remains dangling preserved like a butcher shop window. John tried to avert his eyes whenever he could – he’d seen some gross things in his time in the Uncharted Territories but nothing compared to such deliberate savagery. Even gazing at the ceiling was no longer an option – the golden curves of the leviathan’s passage were grimly blood-splashed, not graphic perhaps, but enough of a reminder to be disturbing. Even D’Argo and Aeryn, hardened warriors both, began to look a little green around the gills.  

However, after half-an-arn or so, as they finally closed on their destination, the character of the corpses subtly changed. Dismembered, unrecognisable piles of flesh gave way to unmultilated corpses. Slumped figures lay almost peacefully, eyes closed and in tact, their withered hands gripping weapons to their chests, their countenances scarred only by dark sooty stains from weapons fire. Somehow, John found these images of death in repose easier to cope with – his desire to vomit up his shoes slowly began to fade and he actually began to look around again. He noted at once that Kaalene’s walls were slashed by burns from heavy weapons fire – every so often they would encounter a cluster of DRDs, burnt out and heavily damaged from the brunt of some attack. No longer were these deliberate murders – these men had gone down fighting as they struggled for their lives against their mysterious assailant.  

Aeryn had noticed the change as well. “These people died in battle,” she noted, an almost approving edge to her voice. “At least someone on this sorry ship died well.” 

“I’d sooner they hadn’t died at all,” Crichton observed quietly. “Poor bastards.” 

“Better like this than those we passed earlier.” D’Argo commented pointedly. 

John sighed. “Amen to that.”  

He glanced around him once more and suddenly a thought occurred. His brow creased in puzzlement. “Guys?” he said. “Am I the only one to see something missing here?” 

Aeryn half-turned, her pale features a washed out ivory behind the curving visor. “What do you mean?” 

John swept a hand across the corridor. “Who were they fighting? Where’s the enemy?” 

The Sebacean and the Luxan followed his gaze. It was true. The miners were easy to pick out, in their dusty olive-green overalls, their pale brown skin, heavy cheekbones and thick, black facial hair making them recognisable as Wrardi, the inhabitants of a neighbouring system they had skirted the day before. Scattered amongst them were DRDs, all brandishing gun barrels, mostly scorched and damaged by some manner of gunfire. But there was no trace left of whomever they had been fighting – it was possible that their assailants had been boarders who had escaped unharmed or taken their wounded with them, perhaps capitalising of Kaalene’s fragile state. It seemed hard to believe, despite the implication in the distress call, that there was only one attacker, that one person could have wreaked such havoc and still got out alive. Surely this must have happened afterwards. 

“So what do you think?” John said quietly. He could tell that his two companions were mulling it over just as he was. “Some guy goes space crazy, starts crucifying his shipmates, maybe even gets control of part of Kaalene and uses it to do a Durka. The ships in chaos – everyone scrambles to stop him. Some local pirate hears their distress call and comes barrelling in to take advantage. He knows the ship has those sphere things aboard and he knows what they’re worth. To hide what he’s done he wipes out the crew and kills the ship. He leaves and takes his dead with him.” 

“No,” Aeryn was shaking her head. “How would an ordinary miner gain control of a leviathan over it’s pilot? Durka was a highly trained peacekeeper and Moya’s pregnancy meant Pilot’s control was not what it should be.” 

“And if it was pirates, why is it there were so many spheres left on board?” D’Argo added. “Why were they not stolen?” 

Crichton shrugged. “Maybe it was more than they could carry. Maybe they stole a stash from somewhere else.” 

“And ignore the one closest to the docking bay?” Aeryn did not sound convinced. “Be realistic, Crichton. Pirates are lazy. They won’t go any further than they need to.” 

“Well, do you have any better ideas?” John asked, rather annoyed at the cavalier dismissal of his perfectly reasonable explanation.  

“Actually, John’s idea may not be so far fetched.” Zhaan’s calm voice echoed down the comm. If she had been within reach, John would have kissed her. “Pilot has reported that the radiation from the planet is having a numbing effect on Moya’s systems. It is possible that someone could have broken in and gained control without Kaalene or his pilot realising what they were doing.” 

“Are Moya and Pilot all right?” The concern in Aeryn’s voice was unmistakable. “We can leave now, if she’s in any danger…” 

“Officer Sun.” It was Pilot who answered this time. “We are both fine, aside from a mild weariness. If I sense any danger, I will alert you at once and withdraw from the area.” 

“Understood.” Aeryn sounded less than convinced but she did not protest.  

“Maybe they were fighting amongst themselves.” D’Argo rumbled suddenly from behind his mask. “It can happen. Disagreements can turn nasty and spread, especially when it comes to profit. Maybe someone got greedy and the crew split into factions.” 

“But what about the DRDs?” John pointed out. “Who would the ship side with?” 

Aeryn stepped in. “This is a waste of time. We’re standing here speculating when we could be getting solid answers. The Pilot’s chamber is only a tier away.”

John and D’Argo exchanged a glance. “Good point,” John conceded. “Let’s go.”  

However, they had barely rounded the next bend when they hit a problem. 

“Can’t we force it?” John shoved ineffectually at the large, solid golden and very well locked door that was blocking their path. “Maybe if we all push together…” 

Aeryn was shaking her head. “It’s sealed tight.” She ran her fingers over the half-melted lock. “Someone fused this on purpose. It’s beyond help. Whoever did this wanted to make sure that no-one would be opening this door.” 

There was a pause – the three of them exchanged a long, pointed gaze. 

“You don’t think…” John didn’t finish his sentence. He didn’t need to. 

“A trap for the killer?” D’Argo looked doubtful.  

“This was where the fighting was most concentrated.” Aeryn’s voice was bland, even businesslike. She shrugged. “Well, there’s only one way to find out.” Bracing her pulse pistol in one hand and her light in the other, she dropped to her knees and wrapped her fingers around the edge of the half broken flap that allowed access to DRDs. 

“Whoa, whoa, what are you doing?” John dived forward, half hauling her back. She fixed him with a gaze that could have melted steel and shook his hand away. 

“Taking a look,” she informed him icily.  

“Well, what if it’s still in there?” 

“Then it’s long dead. Don’t be a child, Crichton.”  Ignoring the human’s continued protests, she bent, forced up the damaged flap and peered inside, sweeping her light into the passage beyond. A moment later, her expression fell. 

“More bodies,” she reported grimly. “At least a dozen. It looks like someone sealed them between two doors and vented the atmosphere. They all look like they’ve suffocated.” 

D’Argo pulled a face. “I don’t care what that message implied. One person could not be responsible for all this.” 

No one answered. No one could think of anything to say. 

“So now what?” John broke the silence. “Do we try to go round?” 

“There may be a way.” Aeryn hauled herself to her feet and strode passed them to a slender grate. With a grunt, she pulled the lattice clear and discarded it unceremoniously. “This vent feeds down into the passageway that rings the chamber. If I can find a way down it, I should be able to gain access and see what I can glean from the console. You two wait here.” 

Grasping the edge of the dark opening, she started to pull herself up. But John was having none of it. Firmly, he reached out, caught her by the waist and yanked her back to the ground. The peacekeeper wheeled, her eyes gleaming with fury behind the swell of the transparent visor. 

“What the frell do you think you’re doing?” she exclaimed, roughly slapping his hands away with an angry sweep of her arm. John met her gaze unyieldingly. 

“Funny, I was about to ask you the same question!” he snapped back. “We are jamming on the Marie Celeste surrounded by the extras from the Texas chainsaw massacre with God knows what did it still at large, and you want to go down there alone? No way!” 

Aeryn rolled her eyes. “I can look after myself, Crichton. I don’t need you to hold my hand!” 

“I’m not saying you can’t!” John bit back the resurgence of the rising surge of anger he had earlier suppressed. “I just think you should take us with you to watch your back! Why split up at all?” 

Aeryn sighed, a long suffering, weary sigh that John had learned from experience meant that he had just said something that the peacekeeper regarded as stupid.“John, look at the size of the vent,” she said, with a deliberate, almost insulting slowness. “Then look at the size of D’Argo. He isn’t going to fit and you’ll find it tight. And if I take you, you’ll slow me down. You don’t know the consoles so you’ll be no use in the chamber and you’ll distract me when I’m trying to concentrate. I’m going alone!” 

With an angry toss of the head, she turned her back and hauled herself up into the gaping, pitch-black mouth of the vent. John started forward, a protest on his lips. 

“Aeryn, wait a…” 

“No!” Her sharp voice cut short his words like a knife. “You stay! End of discussion, John!” 

And then she was gone, swept into the dark in a single agile move. John glared at the ceiling as he filled the air with fervent curses. 

“I hate it when she does that!” he declared. 

D’Argo shrugged. “Do you think she cares?” 

John smiled, a rueful grin that mixed affection and frustration. “Not a bit.” 

“John, D’Argo can you hear me?” Aeryn’s voice rippled out of the gold net of their comms, her words a bizarre echoed stereo that shimmered in the dark refracting air.  

“Yeah, we hear you.” John squinted into the dark hole that had swallowed the peacekeeper as though to spot a shadow in an oblivion of shade. “Having fun down there all alone?” 

“Don’t be stupid.” Aeryn’s insult was disinterested – she was apparently too focussed elsewhere to put much feeling behind it. “I’m in the corridor leading to the Pilot’s chamber. It’s heavily damaged…” There was a pause, filled by the sound of clatters and mild grunts as Aeryn distantly manoeuvred her way around an unseen obstacle. “It looks almost as though there was a battle of some kind here – there are bodies scattered all over the place, piled over each other. The doorway ahead is packed with DRDs, most of them destroyed. I’d say the fighting was concentrated here.” 

“A last stand?” John exchanged a glance with D’Argo. “The crew protecting the Pilot maybe?” 

“It’s possible,” Aeryn sounded dubious. “But if so they weren’t doing a very good job. They’re facing inwards, towards the Pilot. If they were under attack from behind, they’d be going the wrong way.” 

“Retreating?” 

“Or assaulting.” D’Argo was fingering his Qualta blade thoughtfully, his eyes distant. “If the enemy they sought had taken refuge in the chamber...” 

“And held the Pilot hostage,” John finished the sentence on D’Argo’s behalf as he rose, tapping a finger absently on his helmet. “That would explain a lot. Control the Pilot and you control the ship. You could do a lot of damage from that room if you knew what you were doing.” 

“I’m at the entrance,” Aeryn’s terse voice interrupted their ruminations. “The lock has been breeched. Somebody’s forced their way in here. I just need to…” The peacekeeper broke off to the sound of straining metal – down the distant comm something shifted grudgingly. 

“There.” Aeryn sounded rather breathless. “I’m in. Now to….” 

Abruptly she was silent – low breathing hissed down the comm like dripping poison. 

“Aeryn?” John leapt on the pause like a hawk. “Aeryn, speak to me!” 

“Frell!” The hushed exclamation was not quite what John had hoped for but it was better than nothing. 

“Frell what? Aeryn!” 

With the call, the Sebacean seemed to shake herself – once again she was businesslike but there was a catch in her voice that whispered that she was disturbed. 

“Sorry. It’s the Pilot. It’s… dead.” 

John pulled a face. “We figured that before we came on board!” 

“I know but…it’s very dead. It’s been blasted into pieces. By a mining charge, I think. Half the console’s gone too and three of the walkways. It’s a mess down here. I’m not sure they’ll be anything useful left to find.” 

“You mean we trekked all the way down here, through the House of Horrors, for nothing?” John scowled. “Well, doesn’t that just make your day?” 

“This wasn’t my idea.” Aeryn’s voice contained an element of “I told you so” that John really could have done without. His headache returned with a defiant surge, pounding at his temple like white heat. It was only with a forceful bout of willpower that he restrained himself from snapping. “So now what?” 

“I’m not done yet.” Aeryn sounded strained. “I’m at what’s left of the console. I’m just going to… I think I can use the power cell from my pulse pistol to jump-start this panel. I think….yes! It worked! Now I need to…. What the frell? That’s not right! What is going on here?” 

“Aeryn?” 

“I think I know why Kaalene crashed.” There was a confused tone to the peacekeeper’s voice. “I used the power from my pulse pistol to revive one of the panels for a couple of microts. It showed me the final readouts before Kaalene went offline. He’d been sabotaged, John. Somebody had deliberately attacked his key systems – the neural nexus had been severed altogether. They shut down all his primary functions, took away any chance of control. I think the Pilot was trying to reverse the damage, get control of Kaalene back but…” 

“Someone blew him up before he was done.” John raised an eyebrow. “Nice.” 

“The damage was like a bleeding wound and losing his Pilot was the final blow.” Aeryn sounded haunted. “Kaalene’s higher functions overloaded and collapsed. He died from the stress of the pain, span out of orbit and crashed into the moon.” 

“Killing everyone on board who was not already dead.” Zhaan’s voice was a ghost over the comm. “A horrendous death for such a noble creature.” 

There was a long moment of silence. John stared at the ceiling through the gleaming transparency of his helmet, his mind wandering back to the swamp planet where Moya had crash landed during the early days of his time at this distant end of the universe, to Pilot’s frightened proclamation that the pain of interfering with his ship’s neural nexus could be enough to kill her, and the shiver he had felt at the prospect. He was not sure he had ever quite believed a being as large and magnificent as a leviathan could die from no more than pain or stress – until now, at least.  

“I guess it makes sense,” he muttered quietly under his breath. “Slash a few major tendons, throw in some brain damage and then kill off the means of support that also happens to be your best friend – wouldn’t you wanna let go?” 

“Poor Kaalene. He must have been so scared.” There was a gentle hush to Aeryn’s voice, a softening from the usual sharp edge of a warrior trained from birth.  

“Well, at least we now know that what killed him is no threat to Moya,” D’Argo’s voice was muffled by his respirator, it’s echo oddly whispered. “Maybe now we can get out of this Hezmana of a corpse and leave it to rot in peace.” 

“Not just yet.” From the sounds drifting down the comm transmission, Aeryn was once again on the move. “I want to investigate the neural nexus. I think I can reach it from here.” 

John sighed in aggravation. “Aeryn, for frell’s sake, just leave it will you? Come back, and let’s go. For someone who didn’t want to make this damn trip, you’re sure throwing yourself into it!” 

“I want to be sure that there’s no threat to Moya. I’m not leaving until I’m certain, John.” 

“We are certain!” John fought back a torrent of swearwords. His head pounded mercilessly. “You said he died of sabotage! And unless you’re planning to start ripping out major systems when we get home, that ain’t going to happen to Moya!” 

“But why was he sabotaged? And who by? I just want to take a look. I won’t be long.” 

The human felt his self-control slipping. “You’re damn right you won’t be long!” he exclaimed hotly, fury rising like a wildfire in his heart. Beside him, D’Argo, sensing the shift in atmosphere, took an ominous step towards him. “Because you are coming back here right now! Dammit Aeryn!” 

“Frell you.” The calm, dismissive manner in which the Sebacean threw back her response only served to fan the flames. John felt his cheeks begin to glow; he fought to contain the sudden, irrational rage that swamped ever corner of his mind.  

“Right, that’s it!” John dived for the opening but D’Argo was quicker still – his burly arms grasped the back of his flight suit, lifting him, struggling from his feet. 

“Leave it, Crichton!” he ordered sharply. John ignored him. The washes of stabbing pain seemed to swamp his senses; he felt sick, disorientated and furious. A sudden dizziness set his head in spinning circles; silver glitter rose in a gleaming curtain before his eyes. Red fire seemed to burn inside his mind – for a moment he didn’t even realise that something was wrong. But then darkness rose and smothered the fire, dropping him into blackness. 

“John?” 

A wall of swirling darkness blocked his eyes; for a moment, he thought he had been blinded. But then slowly, steadily, the swirling, dizzying display danced to a gentle halt, coalescing into a large dark ominous mask that filled his field of vision. 

“Yahhh!” John started violently, banging his head on the inside of his helmet with a sturdy thump. As he shook his head, clearing it for the second time, the image before him transformed from unnamed threat to a friend in a breathing mask, leaning over in concern. 

“D’Argo!” John struggled to sit up right, pulling himself up the golden wall against which he had been propped. “You scared the crap of me!” 

“And you scared the dren out of me!” was the firm retort. “What the frell was that all about?” 

“I have no idea.” The headache had settled down into a dull roar deep inside his mind.  

“I had this stupid headache and then suddenly I was just so angry…. I thought you were supposed to be the king of hyperage, not me! Damn!” 

D’Argo was watching him carefully. “You have a headache too? And an irrational rage?” 

John was alert at once. “Too? You’ve had the same feelings?” 

The Luxan nodded. “I thought it was just me – strange rages aren’t all that uncommon in Luxans. But you and Aeryn have been at each others throats ever since we arrived here and now this…” He looked around. “It’s this place. It’s… doing something.” 

“Then I say we get the Hell out.” John scrambled to his feet, and looked around for the first time. A cold feeling lodged at once within his chest. “D’Argo, where are we?” 

“About halfway back to the cargo bay. I was carrying you back to the transport pod when you started to come round.” 

“Back? But what about Aeryn?” John half turned into the dark corridor before realising he had no idea which way to go. He wheeled on the Luxan instead. “We left Aeryn? We have to go back! D’Argo!” 

The huge warrior quickly raised a hand. “Relax, Crichton. She told me to take you. She thinks she’s found another, quicker way back down there. She’s going to meet us at the junction after next.” 

“How does she know? D’Argo, we have to…” 

“Can you hear me?” Aeryn’s voice flowed from empty air, interrupting John’s exclamation. The human pounced on his comm at once.  

“Aeryn! Where are you?”

“Oh, you’re awake now?” The peacekeeper didn’t sound very impressed. “Do you want to tell me what the frell that was all about?” 

“I don’t know, it’s this damn place. Aeryn, listen to me, you have to come back, now. We have to get out, this place, it’s doing something to us…” 

“Not now, John.” 

“Yes, now, dammit! Aeryn!” 

“I’m in the neural nexus!” The Sebacean interjected firmly, silencing John’s protests. “I’ve found the saboteur!” 

There was a pause. “You’re kidding,” John exchanged a glance with D’Argo. “Are you sure?” 

“As I can be. He’s lying next to the severed nexus with a laser saw in his hand. That’s pretty conclusive, isn’t it?” 

“Is he dead?” 

“Of course he’s dead!” 

"Sorry.” John felt his headache resurge at the snappish reply – he fought it down valiantly. “So who is he?” 

“He isn’t carrying an identity chip, John.” 

“Yeah but, is he a miner, a pirate, what?” 

“He’s Wrardi, like the miners, but he’s better dressed. He may be a merchant or officer. He’s definitely one of the crew.” 

“What killed him?” D’Argo asked. 

“DRDs by the look of things. A couple of dozen of them gunned him down.” 

“So,” John paused thoughtfully. “This guy goes psycho. He slashes up the crew, but they turn on him. He breaks into the Pilot’s chamber and tries to get control, maybe even succeeds for a while but Kaalene won’t play, so he kills the Pilot and…” 

“No,” Aeryn intervened firmly. “The Pilot died after the sabotage, remember? He was trying to repair the damage when he died.” 

“Okay.” John paused for a brief rethink. “So he escapes from the siege in the Pilot’s chamber, maybe leaves a bomb behind as a guarantee of good behaviour. He sabotages Kaalene, but the Pilot or the ship gun him down in self-defence. But the bomb goes off and kills the Pilot and then the ship. Hence the dive-bomb into the moon, killing everybody else.” 

John could almost sense Aeryn shaking her head. “No. Something doesn’t sit right. How could one person reap so much devastation? He would have had to have been in several places at once.” 

“Maybe it was a mutiny.” D’Argo commented. “Perhaps he had accomplices.” 

Aeryn was obviously unconvinced. “The message specified a single attacker.” 

“Perhaps he was just referring to the leader of the mutiny.”  

“I’m not so sure.” John heard Aeryn’s distant sigh. “I don’t think they’re much more to be learned here. Are you at the rendezvous yet?” 

“Almost,” D’Argo glanced around. “It was three junctions after the room with the first corpse, wasn’t it?” 

“Four,” Aeryn corrected sharply. “We almost went that way but decided against it. Ironic really. It would have been quicker.” 

“You sure it goes through?” John asked as he fell in beside D’Argo to make his way down the dark, rubbish-strewn passage.  

“I already checked, whilst I was trying to reach the nexus. I had enough time. I moved a lot faster than D’Argo did dragging you.” 

John chose not to respond to that, concentrating on picking his way passed a damaged bulkhead. D’Argo was a dark shadow two steps ahead, the outline of his Qualta blade an ominous slice in the darkness. The walls seemed to glimmer and bounce with refractions from their handheld torches, causing John’s head to twitch and turn as he tried to follow abnormal flickers in the corner of his eye. He found himself unable to shake the cold feeling that something was watching them. 

“Damn!” he muttered to himself. “Aeryn, you still there?” 

“Where else would I be?” 

“I dunno. Look, Aeryn do you have a headache?” 

“I had one earlier. It’s not as bad now. Why?” 

“Cos you’re not the only one. Me and D’Argo have been getting all migrainy and we both have the urge to start smashing things. Now for the big guy that ain’t so unusual, but for me it’s kinda strange. I think something weird is going on here. Anyone else getting echoes of Traltixx?” 

“It can’t be that.” D’Argo responded at once. 

“Why not?” 

“Traltixx is dead.” 

“But he’s not alone. There are others of his kind out there. Could Kaalene have been another light experiment?” 

“It’s not likely.” 

John fought not to get annoyed at the Luxan’s abrupt dismissals of his idea. “Look D’Argo. There’s fairly heavy evidence that the crew were trying to make mincemeat of each other. It sounds kinda familiar to me, especially since we’ve been getting snappier and snappier ever since we got here! So what is wrong with this theory?” 

“Crichton. It’s dark.” D’Argo glanced back over his shoulder. “To be affected by the light, wouldn’t we need some light in the first place?” 

“What about your glowing rocks?” John jumped on an inspiration. The Luxan sighed.  

“You never even saw those rocks and neither did Aeryn,” he pointed out. “So why am I calmer than you?” 

“He’s right, John.” Aeryn’s agreement only made John’s disgruntlement worse.

“Besides, as I’ve already said, the message specified one attacker. If it had been the kind of all out brawl inspired by paranoia, the message would have said so.”

“Great,” John scrambled over a pile of debris. “Another solution down the pan. Anyone else wanna crap on my theory? You know, maybe one of you guys could suggest something so I can rip it to shreds!”

“Calm down John,” Zhaan’s voice was soothing. “Try and stay focussed.”

John snorted, kicking at a piece of detritus with a random swing. Abruptly his foot impacted solidly with something hard – waves of pain rippled along his toes. Biting back a cry, the human rapidly yanked back his foot – too rapidly as it turned out. His heel caught on something mobile, sending his ankle spinning – he stumbled sideways, his balance a distant memory and crashed to the floor with a clatter. D’Argo turned in surprise, to see his shipmate sitting on the ground, his face black as a thundercloud as he spewed fervent curses at anyone or anything within earshot. The Luxan raised an eyebrow.

“You’re even more clumsy than usual,” he commented. Crichton fixed him with an icy stare.

“Thanks,” he drawled insincerely. Clambering to haul himself upright, his hand caught once again on the mobile object that had undone him before, slipping away to send him careening to one side. Even as D’Argo, seeing his companion was in fine form, moved over to assist him, John reached out angrily, grasping the object and dragging it into the light of his torch.  

It was a DRD. But what was instantly obvious was that this was no ordinary maintenance droid. A strange looking power pack had been secured to one side and several panels had been removed, revealing an intricate tangle of wiring. One of the two eye-like antennae had been set vertical, half bound to a silver object that resembled some kind of aerial. Sporadic pulses of colour implied that unlike every other DRD on board the vessel, this one still had elements of life. A device that bore striking similarities to a holorecorder had been strapped and wired onto it’s back. A tape was nestled into a prominent slot. 

“What the Hell?” John came to his knees as he set the adapted DRD to rights, D’Argo looming shadowlike at his shoulder. “Hey Pilot!” 

“Yes commander?” The navigator responded at once. 

“Didn’t you say that distress call came from a DRD?” 

“That is correct.” 

“You still receiving that message?” 

“Faintly. The signal is weak and the transmission is sketchy.” 

John tapped at a control on one of the exposed panels. Abruptly the flickers of life faded. 

“Pilot, still receiving now?” 

“No,” Pilot sounded slightly puzzled. “The transmission has ceased.” 

John felt a surge of triumph. “That’s because I just switched it off. I think I just found the recording of that distress call.” 

“You’ve what?” Aeryn appeared abruptly, melting from the darkness behind D’Argo like a piece of shadow strayed, her face pale behind the screen of her visor as she reached an arm towards the device. “Let me see.”  

John came to his feet and held out the DRD to the peacekeeper, trying to hide the sudden rush of relief he felt at seeing her safely back with them. 

“It’s the transmitter,” he told her. “The DRD that the distress call was sent from.” 

Aeryn held the device in her hands, looking it over by the light of D’Argo’s torch. “I think you’re right,” she asserted. “We should take this back to Pilot. If he can restore the rest of the transmission, we may be able to finally find out what happened here.” 

“Which would be nice to know,” John agreed. He took the DRD back from Aeryn, turning it over in his hands. “This is a pretty impressive piece of improvisation, especially considering it was done under pressure. Whoever did this knew their stuff.” 

“You can admire it later,” Aeryn said shortly. “Right now, I just want to get out of here.” 

“I’m with you there.” John tucked the DRD carefully under his arm and fell into place once more behind Aeryn, D’Argo taking his position once again at the rear. “How long do you reckon it’ll take for us to get back to the transport pod?” 

“Well, we know the way now,” Aeryn replied. “Probably less than half an arn, if we move quickly.” 

“Then what say we up the tempo? This place is really starting to give me the…” 

The flash cut across all their vision like the slash of a knife blade, sharp, fast and sudden, shimmering in a sweeping curve across the passageway before them. All three started to a halt, D’Argo and Aeryn snatching for their weapons as Crichton tried to do the same without dropping the all-important DRD. The light was gone as quickly at it had appeared, the corridor falling back to darkness as though nothing had occurred, as a slow, dark, insidious silence rose to fill the empty moment. 

“What the frell was that?” Aeryn’s voice was a low whisper, her pulse pistol extended before her as her eyes stroked the darkness in search of clues. 

“That was like I saw earlier,” John had also palmed a pulse pistol as he scanned the shadows. “But that was no damn DRD.” 

“It came from that vent,” D’Argo levelled his Qualta blade rifle at the twisted, broken lattice work imbedded into the wall as few yards ahead. “I was staring straight at it when…” 

“Stay here.” Aeryn moved forward on cat’s feet to where the shattered edges of the lattice clawed the wall. Pulse pistol in one hand, torch in the other, she lowered herself gently to eye level and peered inside. Her lip twisted. 

“Bodies,” she said brusquely. “But no sign of a light source. There aren’t even any DRDs.” 

“Weird lights,” John commented. “Want to revise your dismissal of my Traltixx theory?” 

“Aeryn,” D’Argo’s voice was low and serious. “Switch off your torch.” 

The peacekeeper glanced over in puzzlement but did as she was told. D’Argo nodded to John to do the same even as he deactivated his own light. They should have been in total blackness. 

But they weren’t. 

D’Argo and John came quietly to Aeryn’s side as the three of them stared at one at the corner a few yards ahead. A faint, halo-like golden glow whispered up the walls from somewhere beyond, a distant gleam of light that had not been present the last time they had passed this way. Aeryn gestured as she grasped her pistol, indicating that she wished them to flank her. D’Argo raised his rifle to his shoulder as he moved to her side – John started to join them, searching for a safe place to deposit the DRD but Aeryn hushed him back. 

“You stay behind us,” she whispered, her voice a breath in the dark. “If you get the chance, take the DRD and make a run for the transport.” 

John opened his mouth to protest but she tapped his helmet in reprimand. “Just do it,” she said. “Pilot needs to see that recording. We have to be sure Moya is on no danger.” 

Reluctantly John nodded, although he continued to rebelliously finger his pulse pistol. Quietly he fell in behind his two companions as they began the slow, deliberate creep towards the light. Aeryn took the lead, a lithe, stealthy figure as she moved carefully behind a concealing pile of debris. With an agonising slowness, she raised her head and peered around the corner. 

At once she dropped back. John caught a glimpse of her face, confused, anxious; he felt his own apprehension rising as she quickly hurried to rejoin them. 

“What did you see?” D’Argo’s rumbling voice was almost inaudible. 

“Light,” Aeryn’s features were almost invisible in the shadows. “Coming from a chamber just round there. And I think I saw something moving.” 

“DRD?” John asked softly but Aeryn shook her head.  

“Too big.” 

“Another salvager?” 

“Pilot or Chiana would have told if someone else had arrived.” 

“Not if they were here before us.” 

“There are no other ships.” 

“And Pilot’s readings are screwed remember?” 

Aeryn glanced at D’Argo. “What do you think? Wait or confront?” 

The Luxan looked thoughtful. “Is there another way back to the transport pod?” 

Aeryn shook her head “No. That’s the only….” 

“Guys!” John interrupted with a hiss. “The light’s moving!” 

They all wheeled. It was true. The dull glow was strengthening, brightening, the shadows shifting and dancing on the walls as the light intensified, moving closer. 

“It’s coming this way!” Aeryn skipped backwards, her eyes searching for cover. 

There was none worth the name – only heaps of random junk and a few sharp edges. John dropped back as well, his finger itching on the trigger as he gripped the DRD with his other arm. D’Argo did not fall back, but stood his ground, Qualta blade braced at his shoulder, masked face set. He knew it was too late to run. 

He was right. 

In a halo of gold, it appeared. 

John had never seen anything quite like it. What had appeared at first glance to be a stretched oval of gleaming yellow light, suddenly seemed to coalesce, conform into a shape not unlike their own, a body made of flickering lightning, walking upright, with ranging limbs and a glowing head set on slender shoulders. Two eyes as black as jet stared like glimpse of oblivion, two black holes in a glorious display of brightness that seemed to suck at the soul as they fixed with alarming intensity upon the three that stood before it. It was beautiful and terrible to behold. 

For a microt it seemed as startled as they were. But then it seemed to recover itself, stretching, rearing to a greater height as it’s black eyes fixed on D’Argo’s weapon. An almost maw-like gape seemed to open beneath its eyes, dripping fangs of lightning, as flickers of energy rode it’s back and gathered around it’s shoulders like a mane. It’s head darted at them like a cornered snake as an almost electrical hiss filled the corridor. 

“Frell!” D’Argo opened fire with a bolt of blue fire but the creature dodged it easily, it’s eyes darkening like shards of night. It started forward towards the Luxan, glowing intensely, it’s hand like protuberances rose before it as though it meant to strike. 

“D’Argo!” Aeryn reacted instantly. Even as Crichton scrambled to bring his weapon to bear, the peacekeeper’s pulse pistol was already singing, red bolts slamming into the energy being in a violent succession. For a moment it seemed to scream in shock, expanding into an ovoid ball of sparkling red and gold at it pulsed and waned. 

Then it exploded. 

The flash was blinding. D’Argo and John both stumbled back, shielding their eyes – between them, Aeryn was hurled to the ground with a gasp. For an instant, all was white, invisible. 

Then everything was gone. 

Silence roared. All was dark. Nothing moved. 

A pulse of light broke the moment; D’Argo’s torch. Still gripping his Qualta blade, the masked Luxan stumbled passed the massed debris towards his comrades. 

“What the Hezmana was that?” he gasped, breathing heavily. John was already moving, abandoning the DRD as he scrambled to where Aeryn lay. The peacekeeper was lying on her back in the middle of the corridor, her left hand wrapped around the shaking right in which she still cradled her pistol. She seemed to be trying to rise. John slipped her arm under her shoulders and carefully helped her to sit. 

“You hurt?” he asked, trying to peer inside the bowl of her helmet to see if she looked injured. The peacekeeper blinked her eyes a few times and glanced at him. 

“Not really, except for my hand,” she said, gently lifting the offending part. Steam was rising from both pulse pistol and glove although thankfully the material had not been pierced or damaged. “I think I got some kind of feedback from shooting that thing.” 

“Aeryn! Crichton! D’Argo!” Chiana’s anxious voice interrupted the quietude. “Are you guys okay? What the veg just happened?” 

“When we have an idea, we’ll let you know.” With a heave, John helped Aeryn to her feet, and moved back down the corridor to retrieve the DRD. “But right now – what say we get the frell out of here before another one of those things comes along?” 

“Good plan,” D’Argo had already started down the corridor. John lingered by Aeryn for a microt longer but it quickly became clear that she didn’t need any further help as she moved ahead of him and hurried around the corner. 

“It was in here,” she said, sheathing her still steaming pulse pistol as she peered through the lattice into the dark chamber beyond. John and D’Argo came to her side.

All three exchanged glances.  

The room was once again piled with dull yellow rock. Scattered across the mounds were a variety of body parts. 

John cocked his head. “Anyone else think it’s funny that that thing always seemed to be hanging around the dead people?” 

“Can we discuss this back on Moya?” D’Argo was fingering his Qualta blade. “Right now I just want to get out of here.” 

“I can relate to that.” John exchanged a glance with Aeryn who dropped at once into the lead, reaching for her pulse pistol. She yanked her hand back at once. 

“The frelling thing’s still hot!” she exclaimed. Wordlessly, John unstrapped his pistol and handed it to her. She took it with a nod and set out at a brisk pace. John and D’Argo exchanged a look and hurried quickly after.

 

They reached the pod in a surprisingly short space of time. A barrage of questions from Rygel and Chiana were quickly brushed aside in favour of a swift take off. A quick journey and a brief request over the comm had Pilot deftly sweep the pod out of space and safely back into the warm, comforting curves of Moya’s docking bay. To the pleasant surprise of the three weary explorers, it was Chiana who offered to check the pod over on landing, leaping forward to volunteer herself for the task with an almost overwhelming keenness. Too tired to question this unexpected stroke of good fortune, D’Argo vanished with his Qualta blade in the direction of his quarters, muttering to himself about a strong need for a bath. After a brief glance at Aeryn, John disappeared to deliver the adapted DRD to Pilot, in the hope that the navigator might be able to learn something that would help clear up the ever growing mystery of Kaalene’s fate. Rygel, after a hurried departure, was nowhere to be found.  

Aeryn sighed to herself. Tired, achy, and still irrationally annoyed, she flung her atmospheric suit into a pile in the corner of the maintenance bay and reached unthinkingly for her pulse pistol. The searing heat against her fingertips was an abrupt reminder – cursing to herself, the peacekeeper flung the weapon down on the workbench. Just what the frell was going on with that thing? Ever since she had fired on that mysterious energy being in the corridor, her gun had been burning hot and completely non-functional. Picking up a nearby tool, she wrapped a cloth around her hand and pinned the weapon to the table, flipping back the panel to examine its circuits. 

“Aeryn! What are…? Uh… you’re still here!” 

The peacekeeper glanced up. Chiana’s porcelain face peered at her from around the hanger door, flung back and craned sideways awkwardly as she fixed her shipmate with a wan smile. Signs of strain were evident on her pale features and her shoulders were shaking. She looked as though she was attempting to carry something heavy – something just slightly too much for her. 

Aeryn regarded her slowly. “I know that. Chiana, what are you doing?” 

“Me?” The Nebari tried to laugh as she tossed her head – the maneuver made her stumble. “I’m checking the pod- just like I said I would! That’s what I’m doing!” 

Aeryn’s expression didn’t waver – her face was carved in stone. “What are you carrying?” 

“Carrying?” A wash of apprehension swept like sweat across the younger woman’s brow. “What makes you think I’m…?” Her words dried up on spying Aeryn’s face.  

“Oh, carrying!” She flashed a smile. “This is just some old junk of Rygel’s I found in the transport pod! I’ll just go dump it over here for him!”  

Abruptly she was gone. From beyond the hanger door came the sound of something substantial crashing to the ground. 

Aeryn rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to her pistol. She had not been working very long when the sound of footsteps behind her disturbed her concentration once more. 

“Hey, Aeryn.” It was John. He strode casually over to her side, peering over her shoulder as she dissected the wiring of her weapon. “Figured out what’s up with that thing yet?” 

“No.” With a sigh, Aeryn threw down the tool and turned away. “As far as I can tell, there is nothing wrong. Every circuit is in place, all the wires are connected. But it still burns my fingers and it won’t fire! I don’t know what that thing did to it but…”

She tailed off, wiping a hand across her brow wearily. Her headache had returned, with a vengeance and she felt a sudden urge to simply forget about everything and crawl into bed. She glanced up at John, read the concern in his eyes and tried to pull herself together. “What did Pilot have to say about the recording?” 

“He was quite positive,” John chose not to ask Aeryn why it was she had the look of death warmed up, mainly because he suspected he looked just as bad. “He reckons the tape is mostly in tact. He said to give him a couple of arns and he’ll see what he can do.” 

Aeryn glanced at the ceiling. “Did he have any ideas about that …creature we saw?” 

John shook his head. “Not a clue. Neither had Zhaan. D’you think that thing was our killer?” 

“It’s possible, I suppose.” Aeryn fought back a wave of nausea as her skull pounded. She felt a sudden urge to hit something. How did he expect her to think rationally through this stupid pain? Why couldn’t he just leave her alone? 

“I think it’s more than possible,” Oh, why did he have to keep talking? Why didn’t he just be quiet? “Every time we saw that thing, it was near someone dead. And Pilot didn’t detect it through the ambient radiation so maybe Kaalene’s Pilot couldn’t either. That thing could have stalked them one by one, vanished in an instant and they would have had no way to track it!” 

“Whatever,” Aeryn could see several holes in the human’s theory but she was far too tired to debate them. With a clunk, she replaced the panel on her pistol and moved away from the bench. John moved towards her in apparent concern but abruptly, she shook him away. “Look, John, I’m not feeling up to this right now. I’m just going to get some sleep. Alright?” 

“Baby, you okay?” John was a step behind her at once. “You want me to get Zhaan?” 

Aeryn waved him away. “I’m fine. I just need rest.” 

Still he would not leave her side. “You sure? Cos’ it won’t take me…” 

“John!” The harshness in her voice startled him. “Just leave me the frell alone! I can look after myself. Go away!” 

Then she was gone, a sweeping figure in black that vanished down a corridor, leaving John to stare blankly after. 

“Damn!” he muttered to himself. 

“Crichton.” 

The voice behind him made him jump – he wheeled to find D’Argo hulking over him like a harbinger of doom. 

“D’Argo!” John fought down his racing heart. “Man, you have got to stop doing that!” 

“Sorry,” The Luxan apologised with uncharacteristic ease. His eyes were tracing 

Aeryn’s retreat down the corridor. “She seems even worse than usual.” 

“I’ll say!” John pulled a face. “I thought she was going to take my head off!” 

D’Argo’s expression was grim. “In fact, she is acting just like you did back on Kaalene; angry and irrational.” 

John paused. “And she sure looked like something was bugging her – something like a headache.” He slammed his fist into a convenient bulkhead. “Oh great, Aeryn too! So when’s your turn, big guy?” 

D’Argo gave him a long, slow look. “I think I may have had it. When I was on Kaalene, facing that thing – I lost control. My head felt like it was being hacked apart and I could not hold in my rage. I had to fire.” 

John let out a long, slow breath. “I don’t like this. This sounds like the kind of thing that could make rational people tear each other apart and rip out vital circuits. I think we should go talk to Zhaan – she’s our resident expert on messing with people’s heads. Maybe she can figure out what’s screwing with us.” 

D’Argo nodded. “She’s in the command. Let’s go.” 

“I’m with you.” John quickly fell in beside the Luxan. “I’m starting to wish I’d just stayed in bed this morning!” 

Side by side, they hurried around the corner and were gone.

There was a long pause. 

 “Finally!” The frustrated declaration broke the hush as with his thronesled humming beneath him, Rygel emerged from the concealment of a large pile of boxes. “I thought those prabaktos were never going to leave! Chiana!” 

“Yeah Ryge?” The Nebari’s grey head bobbed into view from behind the hanger door. 

“Wait for my command, I said, wait for my command!” The Hynerian buzzed across the maintenance bay, his expression almost glowing with annoyance. “I told you I’d say when the coast was clear! What were you thinking? What if Aeryn had taken an interest? What then? Hmmm?” 

“Hey!” Abruptly Chiana staggered into view, a large crate gripped precariously in her slender arms. “This thing is frelling heavy! I couldn’t hear anyone and I thought it was clear! How was I supposed to know?” 

“You weren’t! That’s why you were supposed to wait for my command!” 

“Frell you!” With a thump, the Nebari deposited their prize on a wheeled trolley standing nearby. “I’m your partner not your porter! Do you want to carry this thing?” 

“Don’t be absurd!” 

“Then stop whining!” Chiana sighed, leaning wearily against the box. “So now what?” 

“We get the frell out of here while the going’s good!” Rygel whizzed hurriedly to the door as he checked the passage beyond for signs of life. “Crichton, D’Argo and Zhaan are up in the command, Aeryn’s sleeping and Pilot’s busy on that tape! This is the best chance we’re going to get!” 

“Get to what? Where are we taking it?” 

“Somewhere secluded, where no-one is likely to poke around. We can stash the crate until the next commerce planet.” Rygel beckoned with his stumpy little arm. “I’ve got a place in mind. Now let’s go!” 

“Fine!” With a huff, Chiana grasped the bar of the trolley and began to heave it forward with all her might. Ahead, Rygel was already scouting the way. After a few moments, they passed into the corridor and were gone. 

There was another long pause. 

The maintenance bay was still. The golden curves of Moya’s hanger door glinted unseen before the scatter of equipment and boxes strewn across the floor. The bottles of Zhaan’s apothecary gleamed in neat, brightly coloured rows, reflecting the golden, gentle glow that slowly pulsed and rippled in the air, streaming into the silent moment of an empty room. Softly, swiftly, the workbench began to vibrate, responding to a low pitched hum that swirled like a flowing whirlpool from the glistening ball of light that a microt before had been the pulse pistol of Aeryn Sun. There was a flash, a burst of light that no one saw, no one but the one to whom the sudden light belonged, no one but the one whose brief journey within the pulse chamber of a Sebacean gun had brought them here, to this new place. 

No one but the one who now stood in the maintenance bay. 

The energy being swept its coal black eyes over the sweeping walls of it’s new home. So familiar, so like the one before, but yet there was one crucial difference.  

This vessel, this crew. 

They lived. 

For now. 

It had to move quickly. 

Fast as lightning, bright as the stars, it was gone. There was much to do. 

“What is the matter with these frelling things?” 

With a low growl, Rygel batted angrily at the innocently gleaming heap of spheres that just a few dozen microts before had been his pride and joy. They scattered harmlessly, rolling in tight little circles on the floor of the secluded ion backwash chamber that the Hynerian had chosen as a hiding place, bouncing gently off each other’s curved surfaces in their mocking dance, spiralling and spreading away. It was all very pretty – but totally irrelevant. 

“Oh, that’s gonna help!” Chiana’s voice was a cocktail of annoyance, frustration and weariness; tightly, the Nebari came to her feet, moving quickly to herd the wayward spheres back into reach. Rygel wheeled on her at once. 

“Well, what do you suggest?” he drawled, sweet sarcasm dripping from his words.  

“That we sit here and stare them into submission? Nothing’s working, Chiana! You said that if we had more than one sphere and one of those key things it would work! Well, we have plenty of spheres!” He swept a tiny hand over the scattered pile. “And we have a key!” He waved the offending implement, a long silver stick inset with a crystal tip, with his other arm. “But what has this gained us? Frell all, that’s what! The key does as much as the frelling spheres! Yotz!” 

“Will you calm down?” Chiana wrinkled her brow as she returned to her cross-legged position on the floor. She’d had a persistent headache ever since leaving the maintenance bay and she was fighting a powerful urge to pick up the inoffensive spheres and hurl them at the more offensive Hynerian. Why was he blaming her? This whole venture was his frelling idea in the first place! 

She rubbed her pounding temple with on gloved finger. “Maybe the crash busted them or something, I don’t know. But does it really matter? As long as no one asks us to demonstrate them, we should be able to sell them on anyway and no one’ll be the wiser!” 

Rygel paused, mulling this over. “I suppose,” he conceded reluctantly. “But I don’t want to just part with them until I know what’s inside. It’s difficult to sell something when you don’t know what it is!” With a frown, he tossed the key into Chiana’s lap.  

“You’re the one who knows all about these things. You try it!”  

The Nebari sighed. Her headache was getting worse, a powerful, throbbing miasma of pain that rippled through her mind like hot steam. It almost seemed to be a whisper in her mind, a hot, burning voice that tried to call her, beckon her, to set her bones to smouldering and her heart aflame with fury. Fire flickered in her mind. She fought a sudden, overwhelming compulsion to gather up every last sphere and flush them out of the nearest airlock. 

Abruptly she came to her feet, flinging the key aside with sudden passion as she wheeled on Rygel.  

“I don’t know!” she almost screamed, her voice shrill and filled with heat. “Why the frell should I? I’m sick of these frelling things and I’m sick of you!” 

With a toss of her head, she stormed from the chamber, leaving Rygel to stare after her in astounded surprise. For a moment, the Hynerian could only sit in shock. 

“Where the yotz did that come from?” he muttered to himself. Then he frowned. Oh what was the use? He was in no mood for this now! Chiana was right anyway – what did it matter if they worked or not? It wasn’t like they’d be hanging around for any dissatisfied customer to demand their money back! 

“Yotz to this!” he exclaimed abruptly. Turning his thronesled, he sped from the room, sealing the chamber door with a curt flick of a switch. 

He completely missed the flicker of life he left behind. 

Lying discarded where Chiana had hurled it, the crystal of the silver key shimmered. A gentle rhythm caressed the silence, a slow stately pulse of soft light that seemed to roll with ripples in the air. One by one the spheres begin to twitch and spin; they seemed almost to convulse, falling gradually, and with a strange hypnotic obedience, into the rhythm exuded by the glowing key. They rolled, moving like magnetised into a neat pair of concentric circles, their silver smiles glinting upwards in a parody of laughter. 

And then the smiles came alive. 

Snakelike, curling like living vines, silver shards of metal sneaked sinuously free of their spherical hideaways. They reached, clawed at the air like feelers, searching, hunting, until they stumbled across others of their kind, melding together like melted mercury to form a tangled web-like lattice that arched like a shattered cone above the circles. Pulsing together, the silver web began to vibrate, sending pulses of light and sound like ripples to set the air vibrating.  

The golden walls of Moya’s inner hull began to flex and bend as well.  

And then, gently, subtly, almost unnoticed, the insidious rhythm began to spread. 

END OF PART TWO.

Part 3

 

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