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.
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.”
grunted. “That thing didn’t even look close to being functional.”
what else could it’ve been?” John looked back over his shoulder at his
crewmate. “I didn’t imagine it, you know!”
Luxan sighed. “I never said you did. But…”
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.
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.
realised this was not the time for a fight. “Another dead end?” he said
wearily. “Well, we’ll just have to go back to…”
Aeryn cut him off sharply. “No dead end. But I almost wish it had been –
rather than this.”
expression was haunted behind her visor. Reluctantly she turned her torch into
the passageway ahead.
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
I’m really glad I can’t smell,” he muttered under his breath.
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?”
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
Aeryn.” John felt queasy enough as it was. “I get the picture.” He glanced
at the ceiling breathing hard. “So what now?”
took a breath herself. “We go on.”
that?” John was appalled. “Isn’t there another way?”
unless you want to spend arns in this place.”
definitely did not want that. “Okay,” he conceded reluctantly. “But would
you guys mind if we switched off our torches?”
idea, John.” D’Argo regarded him solemnly. “Unless you want to walk into
them on top of just looking.”
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
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.
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.
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
sooner they hadn’t died at all,” Crichton observed quietly. “Poor
like this than those we passed earlier.” D’Argo commented pointedly.
sighed. “Amen to that.”
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
half-turned, her pale features a washed out ivory behind the curving visor.
“What do you mean?”
swept a hand across the corridor. “Who were they fighting? Where’s 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
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.”
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.”
if it was pirates, why is it there were so many spheres left on board?”
D’Argo added. “Why were they not stolen?”
shrugged. “Maybe it was more than they could carry. Maybe they stole a stash
from somewhere else.”
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.”
do you have any better ideas?” John asked, rather annoyed at the cavalier
dismissal of his perfectly reasonable explanation.
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.”
Moya and Pilot all right?” The concern in Aeryn’s voice was unmistakable.
“We can leave now, if she’s in any danger…”
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.”
Aeryn sounded less than convinced but she did not protest.
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
what about the DRDs?” John pointed out. “Who would the ship side with?”
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.”
and D’Argo exchanged a glance. “Good point,” John conceded. “Let’s
they had barely rounded the next bend when they hit a problem.
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
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.”
was a pause – the three of them exchanged a long, pointed gaze.
don’t think…” John didn’t finish his sentence. He didn’t need to.
trap for the killer?” D’Argo looked doubtful.
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, 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.
a look,” she informed him icily.
what if it’s still in there?”
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.
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
pulled a face. “I don’t care what that message implied. One person could not
be responsible for all this.”
one answered. No one could think of anything to say.
now what?” John broke the silence. “Do we try to go round?”
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.”
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.
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.
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?
rolled her eyes. “I can look after myself, Crichton. I don’t need you to
hold my hand!”
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?”
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!”
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
Her sharp voice cut short his words like a knife. “You stay! End of
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.
hate it when she does that!” he declared.
shrugged. “Do you think she cares?”
smiled, a rueful grin that mixed affection and frustration. “Not a bit.”
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
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?”
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.”
last stand?” John exchanged a glance with D’Argo. “The crew protecting the
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.”
assaulting.” D’Argo was fingering his Qualta blade thoughtfully, his eyes
distant. “If the enemy they sought had taken refuge in the chamber...”
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.”
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.
Aeryn sounded rather breathless. “I’m in. Now to….”
she was silent – low breathing hissed down the comm like dripping poison.
John leapt on the pause like a hawk. “Aeryn, speak to me!”
The hushed exclamation was not quite what John had hoped for but it was better
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
It’s the Pilot. It’s… dead.”
pulled a face. “We figured that before we came on board!”
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.”
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?”
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?”
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?”
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
blew him up before he was done.” John raised an eyebrow. “Nice.”
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
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.”
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.
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?”
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.
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.”
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.”
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!”
want to be sure that there’s no threat to Moya. I’m not leaving until I’m
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
why was he sabotaged? And who by? I just want to take a look. I won’t be
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!”
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
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
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.
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
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.
John struggled to sit up right, pulling himself up the golden wall against which
he had been propped. “You scared the crap of me!”
you scared the dren out of me!” was the firm retort. “What the frell was
that all about?”
have no idea.” The headache had settled down into a dull roar deep inside his
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!”
was watching him carefully. “You have a headache too? And an irrational
was alert at once. “Too? You’ve had the same feelings?”
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.”
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?”
halfway back to the cargo bay. I was carrying you back to the transport pod when
you started to come round.”
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!”
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.”
does she know? D’Argo, we have to…”
you hear me?” Aeryn’s voice flowed from empty air, interrupting John’s
exclamation. The human pounced on his comm at once.
Where are you?”
you’re awake now?” The peacekeeper didn’t sound very impressed. “Do you
want to tell me what the frell that was all about?”
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…”
now, dammit! Aeryn!”
in the neural nexus!” The Sebacean interjected firmly, silencing John’s
protests. “I’ve found the saboteur!”
was a pause. “You’re kidding,” John exchanged a glance with D’Argo.
“Are you sure?”
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?”
course he’s dead!”
John felt his headache resurge at the snappish reply – he fought it down
valiantly. “So who is he?”
isn’t carrying an identity chip, John.”
but, is he a miner, a pirate, what?”
Wrardi, like the miners, but he’s better dressed. He may be a merchant or
officer. He’s definitely one of the crew.”
killed him?” D’Argo asked.
by the look of things. A couple of dozen of them gunned him down.”
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
Aeryn intervened firmly. “The Pilot died after the sabotage, remember? He was
trying to repair the damage when he died.”
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.”
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.”
it was a mutiny.” D’Argo commented. “Perhaps he had accomplices.”
was obviously unconvinced. “The message specified a single attacker.”
he was just referring to the leader of the mutiny.”
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?”
D’Argo glanced around. “It was three junctions after the room with the first
corpse, wasn’t it?”
Aeryn corrected sharply. “We almost went that way but decided against it.
Ironic really. It would have been quicker.”
sure it goes through?” John asked as he fell in beside D’Argo to make his
way down the dark, rubbish-strewn passage.
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.”
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.
he muttered to himself. “Aeryn, you still there?”
else would I be?”
dunno. Look, Aeryn do you have a headache?”
had one earlier. It’s not as bad now. Why?”
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?”
can’t be that.” D’Argo responded at once.
he’s not alone. There are others of his kind out there. Could Kaalene have
been another light experiment?”
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?”
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?”
about your glowing rocks?” John jumped on an inspiration. The Luxan sighed.
never even saw those rocks and neither did Aeryn,” he pointed out. “So why
am I calmer than you?”
right, John.” Aeryn’s agreement only made John’s disgruntlement worse.
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.”
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!”
down John,” Zhaan’s voice was soothing. “Try and stay focussed.”
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.
even more clumsy than usual,” he commented. Crichton fixed him with an icy
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.
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.
the Hell?” John came to his knees as he set the adapted DRD to rights,
D’Argo looming shadowlike at his shoulder. “Hey Pilot!”
commander?” The navigator responded at once.
you say that distress call came from a DRD?”
still receiving that message?”
The signal is weak and the transmission is sketchy.”
tapped at a control on one of the exposed panels. Abruptly the flickers of life
still receiving now?”
Pilot sounded slightly puzzled. “The transmission has ceased.”
felt a surge of triumph. “That’s because I just switched it off. I think I
just found the recording of that distress call.”
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.”
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.
the transmitter,” he told her. “The DRD that the distress call was sent
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.”
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
can admire it later,” Aeryn said shortly. “Right now, I just want to get out
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
we know the way now,” Aeryn replied. “Probably less than half an arn, if we
what say we up the tempo? This place is really starting to give me 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
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.
was like I saw earlier,” John had also palmed a pulse pistol as he scanned the
shadows. “But that was no damn DRD.”
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…”
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.
she said brusquely. “But no sign of a light source. There aren’t even any
lights,” John commented. “Want to revise your dismissal of my Traltixx
D’Argo’s voice was low and serious. “Switch off your torch.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
did you see?” D’Argo’s rumbling voice was almost inaudible.
Aeryn’s features were almost invisible in the shadows. “Coming from a
chamber just round there. And I think I saw something moving.”
John asked softly but Aeryn shook her head.
or Chiana would have told if someone else had arrived.”
if they were here before us.”
are no other ships.”
Pilot’s readings are screwed remember?”
glanced at D’Argo. “What do you think? Wait or confront?”
Luxan looked thoughtful. “Is there another way back to the transport pod?”
shook her head “No. That’s the only….”
John interrupted with a hiss. “The light’s moving!”
all wheeled. It was true. The dull glow was strengthening, brightening, the
shadows shifting and dancing on the walls as the light intensified, moving
coming this way!” Aeryn skipped backwards, her eyes searching for cover.
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.
a halo of gold, it appeared.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
everything was gone.
roared. All was dark. Nothing moved.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Crichton! D’Argo!” Chiana’s anxious voice interrupted the quietude. “Are
you guys okay? What the veg just happened?”
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
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.
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.
three exchanged glances.
room was once again piled with dull yellow rock. Scattered across the mounds
were a variety of body parts.
cocked his head. “Anyone else think it’s funny that that thing always seemed
to be hanging around the dead people?”
we discuss this back on Moya?” D’Argo was fingering his Qualta blade.
“Right now I just want to get out of here.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are…? Uh… you’re still here!”
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.
regarded her slowly. “I know that. Chiana, what are you doing?”
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
expression didn’t waver – her face was carved in stone. “What are you
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
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!”
she was gone. From beyond the hanger door came the sound of something
substantial crashing to the ground.
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.
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?”
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…”
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
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.”
glanced at the ceiling. “Did he have any ideas about that …creature we
shook his head. “Not a clue. Neither had Zhaan. D’you think that thing was
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?
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!”
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?”
you okay?” John was a step behind her at once. “You want me to get Zhaan?”
waved him away. “I’m fine. I just need rest.”
he would not leave her side. “You sure? Cos’ it won’t take me…”
The harshness in her voice startled him. “Just leave me the frell alone! I can
look after myself. Go away!”
she was gone, a sweeping figure in black that vanished down a corridor, leaving
John to stare blankly after.
he muttered to himself.
voice behind him made him jump – he wheeled to find D’Argo hulking over him
like a harbinger of doom.
John fought down his racing heart. “Man, you have got to stop doing that!”
The Luxan apologised with uncharacteristic ease. His eyes were tracing
retreat down the corridor. “She seems even worse than usual.”
say!” John pulled a face. “I thought she was going to take my head off!”
expression was grim. “In fact, she is acting just like you did back on Kaalene;
angry and irrational.”
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?”
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.”
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
nodded. “She’s in the command. Let’s go.”
with you.” John quickly fell in beside the Luxan. “I’m starting to wish
I’d just stayed in bed this morning!”
by side, they hurried around the corner and were gone.
was a long pause.
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!”
Ryge?” The Nebari’s grey head bobbed into view from behind the hanger door.
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?”
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?”
weren’t! That’s why you were supposed to wait for my command!”
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
stop whining!” Chiana sighed, leaning wearily against the box. “So now
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!”
to what? Where are we taking it?”
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!”
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.
was another long pause.
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.
one but the one who now stood in the maintenance bay.
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
vessel, this crew.
had to move quickly.
as lightning, bright as the stars, it was gone. There was much to do.
is the matter with these frelling things?”
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.
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.
what do you suggest?” he drawled, sweet sarcasm dripping from his words.
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
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!
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!”
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.
the one who knows all about these things. You try it!”
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.
she came to her feet, flinging the key aside with sudden passion as she wheeled
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
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.
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!
to this!” he exclaimed abruptly. Turning his thronesled, he sped from the
room, sealing the chamber door with a curt flick of a switch.
completely missed the flicker of life he left behind.
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.
then the smiles came alive.
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
golden walls of Moya’s inner hull began to flex and bend as well.
then, gently, subtly, almost unnoticed, the insidious rhythm began to spread.
OF PART TWO.