Crichton swore loudly, filling the air with curses as he wrung his tingling
fingers with his free hand, pausing from his display of profanity only briefly
in order to kick an inoffensive bulkhead. A sore toe was added to his list of
is this, does nothing on this ship frelling work?” he roared at the golden
curves overhead, restraining himself with great effort from kicking the bulkhead
a second time. What was going on with Moya today? Already, since his and
D’Argo’s unenlightening chat with Zhaan in the command, he had been scalded
by the supposedly relaxing shower he had then taken, tripped by an inattentive
DRD whilst searching for his clothes and now had received a powerful electric
shock from the door control leading to Pilot’s chamber. Already fighting the
remnants of rage left behind by the creeping remains of his headache, it was
with some difficulty that he calmed himself from this latest disaster in order
to reach for his comm.
I’m outside your chamber and the door lock just tried to fry me. Any chance
you could let me in?”
There was no
response. John let out a breathy sigh. Great. Now the comms. This was all he
he bellowed again. “Dammit, will you let me in?”
no need to shout.” Pilot’s voice was a smooth ripple out of empty air.
“I heard you the first time.”
his arms, his features creased in a frown as he slumped against the wall.
can hear me, why haven’t you opened the door yet?”
lock is malfunctioning,” There was a testy edge to Pilot’s voice, an
unfamiliar touch of annoyance that was rather out of character. “It will take
a few microts to repair. Please wait and be patient.”
fine, whatever. Just hurry it up, okay? I’ve had a long day and I want some
malfunctioning door is no reason to keep you from your rest.”
curiosity is. I’m not going to be able to sleep with that Kaalene business
buzzing round my head.”
there was a clunk and a whirring of machinery. The dock lock released with a
chitter, the golden door sweeping aside to reveal the cavernous depths of the
chamber beyond. John pushed himself upright, wondering as he did so what he had
done to deserve a day like this one, and strode onto the walkway.
He knew he
mustn’t laugh. It was an instinct, based on a desire to survive, and he had a
feeling that, judging by the disgruntled expression on the navigator’s face,
he would not long be of this world if he so much as cracked a smile at the
strange sight laid out before him. Determinedly, John swallowed the rising grin
attempting to creep its way across his cheeks and forced himself to calmness.
When he finally spoke, his voice was impressively level.
happened?” he asked blandly.
him with a suspicious stare. White goop trickled down his vast carapace to drip
rhythmically into the already well-formed lakes of syrupy liquid strewn across
his panels, overflowing in turn to leak down the sides of his controls like some
rampant, creamy volcano. The sticky substance was everywhere, splattered across
the console, the walkway and most notably over Moya’s navigator, staining his
purple skin with creeping lines of cream. A cluster of DRDs were working
feverishly to mop up the mess all under the watchful supervision of the mightily
peeved Pilot. His expression was one of great offence, his mouth set hard, his
eyes cold under slanted brows, his claws almost seeming clenched as he struggled
to maintain his dignity beneath a curtain fall of white.
Amnexus conduit above my console ruptured.” Pilot’s tone carried echoes of
an Alaskan winter – his expression was dark. “As you can see, I am very busy
trying to clean up the mess. Please state your business quickly.”
John sensed the words without hearing them, whispered in an undertone of
irritation and annoyance that vibrated in the navigator’s statement. He
wasn’t the only one having a bad day.
wanted to know if you’d made any progress with that recording.” Pilot
paused, glancing up from his work as the human tried to smile. “That Kaalene
business has put us all on edge and I was hoping that if we could resolve
it….” He tailed off. Pilot’s expression was unchanged. His gaze was fixed
and vaguely hostile.
learned nothing further.” The words were snapped out like a machine gun round.
“The recording was too badly damaged to reveal any further data.”
in disbelief. “What?”
nothing left to be recovered other than what we had already received. I am
sorry, commander, but you will have to find your answers elsewhere.” There was
a dismissal in Pilot’s tone – abruptly, he turned back to his console.
“Was there anything else?”
on a second.” John stepped forward, carefully avoiding a puddle of gunk.
of arns ago, you told me you could fix it, no problem!”
sniffed, not bothering to look up from his all absorbing work. “I was
certain!” John could barely believe his ears. “You said the damage was
minimal, that it was in tact and could be recovered. And now you’re saying
there’s nothing? Zilch? Squat?”
grasp of the obvious is astounding, Crichton.” Pilot’s eyes flicked up, his
golden gaze streaked with unmistakable darkness. “Now that we’ve established
that your device is useless, do you have any other reason to bother me?”
at the unexpected retort, the harshness of the words, the sudden tetchiness. Boy,
that gunk bath must have really pissed him off, he thought to himself. He
doesn’t usually shoot back like that.
Pilot,” John tried and failed to hide the anxiety in his voice. Had the
strange irritation of Kaalene somehow spread to those on Moya? “I don’t
suppose you’ve got a headache, have you? And an irrational urge to lash
get headaches.” The response was immediate and firm. “And my only reason to
lash out would be that Moya’s systems are malfunctioning for no apparent
reason and you are keeping me from co-ordinating repairs! So if you don’t
systems…” John’s ears pricked up. “Something’s up with Moya?”
sighed. “That’s what I said, wasn’t it? I believe it may have had
something to do with the numbing effect from the ambient radiation of
Kaalene’s moon. It has thrown out the balance of the systems overhaul I was
performing and now systems are failing faster than my DRDs can fix them! So you
see Crichton, I really do not need this irrelevant interruption!”
didn’t you say something earlier?” John leaned forward against the console,
peering at the mad flash of the controls beneath the puddles of amnexus fluid.
Pilot hesitated, glancing up at the human, his features unreadable. Abruptly, he
seemed almost to deflate, his claws hanging limp, his head bowed and his
expression tired as he sighed deeply.
I could manage without bothering you,” he said, his tone suddenly containing
an edge that was almost conciliatory. “You were all so tired after the
encounter with Kaalene; I did not like to disturb you. But then everything
escalated at once and this happened.” He gestured irritably with one
claw at the ruptured conduit. John smiled. “I can see why that might piss you
off,” he said with a nod. “Tell you what. I’ll go round up the guys and
we’ll see what we can do to help. That way we can…”
Pilot, I demand that you answer me!”
strident voice stung through the air like a lightning bolt. Pilot’s head
snapped up; his expression darkened immediately. His mouth twisted into a frown
as he reached for the comm control.
help you with something, your eminence?” There was a whole world of sarcasm
underlying those eight simple words. Rygel somehow missed it.
frelling well can! My food tray has spilled all over my quarters and your
yotzing DRDs are refusing to clean it up! I insist that you rectify this
There was a dangerous edge to Pilot’s voice. John rested his head softly in
his hands. Oh, God, he muttered silently. Sparky, you little moron!
insist!” The Hynerian, far removed from the Den, was oblivious to the danger.
himself up. Rage glittered darkly in his eyes. John rather prudently raised his
head and backed out of range of the console and the explosion that was almost
certainly imminent. This was not going to be pretty.
your eminence,” Pilot’s voice was dripping with venom. “Perhaps if you
spent less time on your lazy backside insisting things and more time actually
doing something, others would be more inclined to help you! I happen to be
extremely busy! No, be quiet!” The sharp admonishment crushed Rygel’s
spluttered protests. “Moya is suffering difficulties and she is my concern,
not your petty housekeeping problems! You made the mess, you clean it up! If it
doesn’t affect Moya, it doesn’t involve me! From now on, you can find
someone else to take advantage of! I will not be imposed on for trivialities!
Now leave me alone!”
the navigator severed the link and sat back, glowering in fury as he snapped
sharp commands into his controls. John could only stare. He could hardly believe
what he had just witnessed. Pilot, the very essence of restraint, going off on
one at Rygel over nothing. True, most of those on Moya had wanted to shout at
Rygel for one reason or another, but Pilot? Something wasn’t right here. He
had snapped before, but only under the most harrowing of personal circumstances.
And even with the technical problems and Kaalene taken into consideration, this
frell was wrong with him?
John knew it was dangerous, but he stepped into the firing line anyway.
“Chill, man. Cool it. Rygel’s an annoying little slug, but that wasn’t
There was a
lengthy silence. With a slow menace, Pilot’s head rose, carapace shifting
shadows like flitting wraiths fleeing before a gaze of angry steel. There was
grim death written large in his every feature.
still here?” he drawled, not so latent threats echoing in every measured word.
the full force of the steely glare and melted beneath its power. It was
definitely time to leave.
get the others and start those repairs!” The tumbling words could not leave
his lips fast enough. He tried to turn and stumbled, almost falling as his foot
slid in a puddle of goop. Arms waving, balance teetering, he turned and fled
from the room and the stare of death that followed his departure. He staggered
into the corridor, breathing hard and glanced over his shoulder.
slammed shut behind him.
sighed and pulled a face as he strode imperiously down one of the
indistinguishable golden corridors that formed the labyrinth of Moya’s
interior. A solar day had passed now since their unpleasant encounter with
Kaalene and her dismembered crew, a solar day not spent in rest and recovery but
in fevered, concentrated repair work, in a desperate and increasingly futile bid
to stay on top of Moya’s ever growing inventory of systems malfunctions.
Pilot, it seemed, had long ago abandoned his rather hopeless attempt to handle
the spiraling whirlpool of problems himself – instead he had taken to
delegating duties to the crew who had accepted these never ending assignments
with the weary condemnation of the damned.
was feeling extremely damned. He had just spent five grueling and infuriatingly
frustrating arns trying to trace an apparent malfunction of the comm system,
trudging his way from one tier to the next, peering into flawlessly functioning
holographic clamshells and at inscrutably perfect bundles of cables in search of
an unseen and seemingly nonexistent flaw. Nothing had revealed it’s secrets,
despite Pilot’s continued insistence that it was vital he continue and
finally, after the latest investigation had yielded nothing, he had thrown up
his hands, tossed aside his tool and pounded away in the direction of the centre
chamber. Repairs could go to Hezmana. He needed a break.
therefore in no mood for what happened next.
nowhere, he was falling. His suddenly clumsy feet scrabbled to maintain at least
a semblance of balance, his flailing arms waving and groping in search of
something to save him from an embarrassing tumble to the golden floor. Abruptly
his hand caught upon something solid, one of the arching ribs of Moya’s wall
and his reeling mind snapped into action as he slapped his other hand against it
and hauled himself quickly back upright. He paused, breathless and confused for
a microt, leaning, wild eyed against the bulkhead as he sought to regain his
composure. What the Hezmana had just happened?
sitting in the centre of the corridor, eyestalks waving and innocent as you like
was a single DRD.
thoughts swelled in D’Argo’s mind like a gale upon the tide. Make a fool out
of him would it, the frelling little box of parts? It dared to send him flying
down the corridor? Inanimate or not, the Luxan’s angry mind demanded nothing
less than total retribution. He was going to make the impudent droid pay for his
quick strides he closed on his prey. The DRD almost seemed to sense it’s fate
– antennae twitching, it started to retreat. But it was too late now.
D’Argo’s powerful foot swung in a dangerous, unstoppable arc – with a
mechanical squeal the hapless DRD was flung into the air. It came down with a
tumble a goodly way away, bouncing and clattering to a standstill, little tracks
whizzing as it rotated helpless on one side. Its eyestalks pulsed dizzily – a
yellow panel hung loose from one battered side. Scratching at the floor with its
attachments, it struggled to right itself.
felt much better.
slightly to himself within his beard, the Luxan turned and started back down the
corridor towards his original objective. It was astonishing how a little
mindless violence could be so therapeutic. His aggression had drained away in
this rapid release and he was starting to feel almost cheerful again. Perhaps he
wouldn’t need that break after all….
The pain was
sharp and sudden, a stabbing rush of agony that pierced his lower ankle.
D’Argo bellowed, hoping on one leg and slumping against the wall as he
clutched at the angry burning hurt in indignant confusion. A single glance
revealed the source of his pain – clear blood was leaking in sinuous globs
from a small tear in the side of his boot. Something had skewered the tender
flesh of his foot.
twinkling lights shone back. A small metal poniard protruded from the damaged
panel, dripping with clear Luxan blood. Something not unakin to a malevolent
gleam shimmered beneath the motionless eyestalks.
With a roar,
D’Argo barreled forward, his injured foot sweeping in a furious curve towards
the object of his wrath. But the DRD was not to be caught so twice – it rolled
easily aside and darted in with a quick jabbing strike, puncturing the skin of
the Luxan’s other foot. D’Argo howled with pain and wheeled but the droid
had already back-pedalled out of reach, it’s loose panel clattering on the
skinsteel floor as it hovered on the edge of the passageway, waiting for a
chance to strike again.
microt, D’Argo almost charged again. But the seeping throb of his ankles
stayed him just in time as he eyed the malicious little beast with a sudden
wariness. Never in his experience aboard Moya had a DRD turned on him of it’s
own accord for taking out his temper. Indeed, it should not even have been
possible, for Moya’s mechanoids were designed to act only as directed or
programmed by Moya, Pilot or one of the crew and he had certainly not instructed
them to stab him in the feet.
D’Argo.” The navigator’s voice was a sea of calm in the raging ocean of
reason, the sound of Pilot’s precise voice infuriated the Luxan all the more.
is going on down here?” he demanded, eyes tracing the path of the DRD as it
slowly began to circle him once more. Instinctively he reached over his shoulder
for his Qualta blade before belatedly remembering that he’d left it in his
cell. His eyes darted across the corridor in search of a weapon. The only one in
sight was gleaming with his blood.
your pardon?” There was confusion in Pilot’s tone. “Is there something the
matter on your tier?”
aggressive DRD made a rapid feint towards the Luxan. D’Argo danced back, his
fists clenched furiously, as he lowered himself to a half crouch, ready to grasp
the yellow menace the next time it fell within his range.
apart from the fact I’m under attack from one of your DRDs?” he snapped down
the comm line, eyes never leaving his opponent’s light-stalks. It was hard
enough reading intent in an enemy’s eyes. How were you supposed to read intent
behind the unblinking bulbs of a machine?
Pilot sounded perplexed. “I am not reading any DRDs within your vicinity,
D’Argo. Are you certain?”
Was he certain???
D’Argo felt rage flash-flood its way through his already turbulent mind. What
kind of a question was that????
He was right
on the verge of delivering a blistering remonstrance when the angry DRD surged
at him, its vicious weapon waving as it darted close in search of flesh.
D’Argo leapt back, just avoiding it’s sweeping assault with a well timed
leap and grasped the wall behind him in a desperate bid to keep his balance.
The pain was
almost blinding. His skin burned with shooting waves of agony as he clutched it
in his fist in disbelief, staring at the red raw sear of fire that had a moment
ago been the back of his hand. His head snatched up to the wall at once; his
eyes widened in shock.
eyestalks gleamed. The red glow of a laser welder glimmered across the golden
Pilot’s voice was awash with concern. “What’s the matter?”
the matter?” D’Argo repeated, his voice a cocktail of confusion and fury.
“There are two of them!”
readouts still show nothing.” There was a note of anxiousness in the
navigator’s tone. “If there are DRDs in your vicinity, they are no longer
under my control.”
gripped his injured hand, his legendary impatience rising. “Then whose control
are they under?”
“I do not
know.” There was a thoughtful pause. “No, wait. I did lose some DRDs on that
tier earlier today. But Commander Crichton assured me the problem had been
The name hissed out from between D’Argo’s gritted teeth. “When I get my
hands on him….”
spark of red fire from the new arrival distracted his attention. D’Argo
stumbled back, staggering to keep his balance but jerked quickly away as he felt
a sharp pain in his heel. He caught a glimpse of his maniacal first victim
wheeling away, fresh blood dripping onto his servos.
definitely time to leave.
painful feet, his agonized hand gripped within the cradle of his arm, D’Argo
abandoned all thoughts of vengeance and hurriedly beat a hasty retreat. He
sensed rather than saw their pursuit, eyestalks waving, tracks spinning, weapons
sparkling against the gleam of Moya’s interior lights. He increased his speed,
staggering desperately towards the bend in the corridor and distant escape,
hardly able to believe in his warrior’s mind that he was running from two
mobile boxes of wiring and servos.
dozen eyestalks turned on him as one.
disgruntled. It was not an emotion he considered worthy of a Dominar – better
perhaps would be “regally distressed” or “discontented” – but he was
honest enough deep down inside to admit that disgruntled was probably closest to
the mark. After Pilot’s personal and entirely unprovoked verbal assault on the
spluttering Hynerian, Rygel had decided to take a stand, refusing point blank to
assist in any repair work until the navigator made a full and unconditional
apology and cleaned up the spillage in his cell. Pilot’s response – a
more restrained but none the less quite emphatic refusal – had been less than
he had hoped for and so, despite the angry protests and occasional threats from
his overworked shipmates, he had nonetheless set up state in the centre chamber
and refused to lift a finger.
And now he
expected Pilot’s apology to follow swiftly once he took his stand. But the
navigator, showing an unexpected stubborn streak, was having nothing to do with
it. On the first occasion that Rygel had plucked up the courage to comm Pilot to
see if he was weakening, the navigator had rather bluntly pointed out that he
was far too busy to waste time massaging the ego of a being whose ego could
already dwarf many small planets and that if he was expecting him to apologize for speaking the truth, then he would be waiting an extremely long time. At that
point he had rather brusquely ceased the transmission and Rygel had not heard a
word from him since.
Or at least,
not a verbal word. The Hynerian was starting to wonder just what impact the
stress of Moya’s difficulties was having on the navigator. He seemed
remarkably unlike himself – bad tempered, adversarial and even bluntly
insulting at times - a far cry from his usual appearance of polite, precise
efficiency, and it was this sudden change that had led Rygel to suspect
something that would not even have crossed his mind before.
out to get him?
after the day he’d just had, he was starting to wonder. He had returned to his
cell after an unsatisfactory lunch to find not only the spillage he had
originally reported but also a puddle of ruptured amnexus fluid seeping
insidiously across his bed and into the crumpled remains of what had been his
primary cache of food. Since particular accident had most definitely been
Moya’s fault, Rygel had at once complained to Pilot who had informed him, with
distant superiority, that his quarters were hardly a priority and that he would
get to them in time. Annoyed, Rygel had returned to the centre chamber in search
of food only to discover their food dispenser wasn’t working either. After
this complaint had been logged, Aeryn had appeared, and told him in no uncertain
terms to get out of her way whilst she made repairs. Now angry and very hungry,
Rygel had made a tour of his hidden stores of food and had discovered, to his
horror, that a good half of his hoards had been spoiled beyond edibility by
spillages, damage and DRDs.
And it was
all starting to feel very personal.
Aeryn had reported the food dispenser repaired, he had returned to his favorite haunt and settled down before a plate of food to eat and be disgruntled.
halfway through a particularly bitter food cube, staring with absorbed
irritation at his almost empty plate when he heard the whoosh of the chamber
door and the soft patter of light footsteps approaching him. He ignored them
deliberately, in no mood for company, ripping off another mouthful of food cube
with angry determination.
Ryge.” The voice was Chiana’s – out of the corner of his eye he saw a
lithe gray figure slump onto the stool beside him. He felt a swell of irritation
at the intrusion on his sullen reverie.
away.” The Hynerian’s response was blunt and uninterested. “I’m not
going to help until I get a full apology from Pilot so don’t try and talk me
round. I’m having too bad a day to be told off by someone with less scruples
than a Zenetan Pirate!”
Chiana protested loudly. “Did I ask for that? And you think you’re having
a bad day? Have you taken a look at me?”
glanced up in spite of himself. He stared.
yotz happened?” he exclaimed, eyes sweeping over the dripping form of the
Nebari girl. “Did you take a bath in amnexus fluid?”
pulled a face, wiping a sticky strand of hair out of her face as liquid tricked
down her cheek to drip onto her saturated clothing. “I was working on a
conduit when the frelling thing ruptured all over me. Didn’t have time to get
out of the way.” The grey thief sighed, resting her pale, glistening face
against the equally damp palm of her hand. “And since I wasn’t feeling so
good anyhow, I decided to call it quits.” She frowned. “I’ve had a
headache all day and now I’m all dizzy. I think I might have to go talk to
barely listening. A nasty suspicion was growing in his mind.
he said thoughtfully. “Have you offended Pilot lately?”
I know of.” The Nebari fixed him with her dark eyes. “Why?”
think he’s out to get me.” Rygel threw caution to the wind. “Everything
that matters to me has been under assault ever since I made the mistake of
asking that four-armed prabakto to do me a favor! My food, my quarters,
everything! And now you get covered in fluid from a ruptured conduit! What are
the chances of that?”
moment, pretty good.” Chiana smiled wanly. “If you’d have been helping out
with the repair work, you’d have known that the amnexus system is shot to
frell – conduits are rupturing all over the ship. It was always gonna happen
that someone would get gooped and it happened to be me. You know it got Pilot
yesterday; which is probably why he’s so frelled off. Its just Moya, Ryge. No
one’s out to getcha!”
Hynerian frowned grimly, as he made his way to the food dispenser for a second
helping. “I wish I could be so sure.”
a damp dismissive hand. “Just relax. It’ll blow over.”
Rygel muttered indistinctly, reaching forward with one stumpy arm to open the
lid on the food dispenser. “I just can’t…..”
impact was a rude interruption. Rygel froze, his words dying on his lips, his
arm still holding the golden panel aloft, his beady eyes darting back and forth
in an anxious search for answers. What the yotz was that?
been gazing disinterestedly at the ceiling but upon noticing her companion’s
distraction, she shifted her attention.
the matter with you?” she drawled. “You don’t usually stop so close to
still trying to establish exactly what had happened himself.
hit me,” he declared, his tone a mixture of indignation and perplexity.
“Right between the eyes!”
Chiana frowned, damp grey features crinkling. “What? And why?”
didn’t see.” Rygel glanced over at the Nebari. “And as for…”
blow struck the side of his face. This time Rygel dropped the lid, reeling back
on his thronesled as Chiana came to her feet with wide eyes. The Dominar drew
himself up furiously, as he rounded on the small brown object that was bouncing
to a standstill on the lip of the dispenser and stared again in disbelief.
It was a
attacked by a food cube?????
frell?” Chiana had appeared at his side, dark eyes wide. “I saw that! That
cube just flew out of nowhere!”
of nowhere,” Rygel corrected, rubbing the sore patch on his face with haughty
irritation. “Out of the dispenser!”
Nebari glanced down at the Hynerian. “You don’t think…” Abruptly she
turned on the clamshell. “Pilot?”
holographic face of Moya’s navigator flickered into life. “Yes, Chiana?”
stared back with an uneasy expression, fingering the tool strapped at her waist
with disconcerted concern. “Ummm, Pilot are you detecting any life-forms in
here? Apart from us, I mean.”
Pilot checked his readouts. “I see no one but yourself and Dominar Rygel. Is
there a problem?”
sighed, her cat-like body twitching nervously. “This is gonna sound kind of
strange but… someone’s throwing food cubes at Rygel. From in there.” She
gestured at the food dispenser sitting serenely in the centre of the chamber.
hologram raised an eye ridge. “I find that highly unlikely.”
true!” Rygel protested at once. “We both saw it! Someone threw that food
tone was wearily patient. “I suggest you take a closer look. It is probably a
malfunction in the conveyor system.”
Chiana exchanged a long, pointed glance.
go.” The Nebari jerked her head towards the dispenser, as she slowly slid her
tool out of view.
doing it!” Rygel drew himself up on his thronesled. “In case you’ve
forgotten, I’m on strike!”
reeled on him. “It’s your problem!”
hasn’t attacked you!”
Chiana threw up her still-dripping hands in disgust. “Just… Fine!”
tool in one hand, the Nebari thief slunk forward, eyeing the food dispenser as
though it was a circling beast. Slowly, warily, she inched forward as though she
expected it to rear at her at any moment, casting nervous glances over her
shoulder in Rygel’s direction. Her dark gloved hand closed cautiously over the
is creeping me out!” she muttered under her breath.
slowly, she lifted the lid.
cubes attacked in a barrage, a successive, never ending flow of brown chunks
that hurled themselves threw the air to slam one after another into the pale
skin of the Nebari. Chiana screeched and leaped back, dropping the golden panel
in a combination of shock and self-defense; food cubes clattered to the floor
all around her, several crushed beneath the tumbling guillotine of the lid as
suddenly the blast zone was coated in valuable supplies. Rygel drew back with a
gasp, staring at his shipmate, who stood frozen amidst the carnage, her already
sticky skin now coated with battered swaths of crumb.
see?!?!” he declared indignantly, his fervent exclamation apparently aimed at
both Pilot and Chiana. “I told you so!”
turned her head with slow menace. Her eyes glittered darkly.
intervened, his voice a wash of indifferent detachment. “The conveyor is
malfunctioning; I recommend that you not lift the panel again. I will speak with
Officer Sun about it immediately. She informed me that it had been repaired.”
image was gone, leaving his two shipmates to gaze at each other across the
silence. Slowly, almost deliberately, the rather shell-shocked Nebari lowered
herself onto a nearby stool, reaching up to peel away a chunk of cube that had
secured itself at a bizarre angle on her nose. She lifted it between two pinched
fingers, examining it absently with wide jet eyes and then with deliberate
precision, she lowered it onto her forefinger and flicked it away.
know about you, Ryge,” she drawled softly. “But I’m not hungry anymore.”
The whirr of
the door made them both start. Chiana darted to her feet, groping belatedly for
a weapon before remembering she wasn’t armed; she settled instead for
brandishing her tool with rather unimpressive menace. Rygel had already darted
his thronesled behind the table, peering out from behind a leg with a worried
drew back. A gigantic shaped loomed before them, silhouetted by the fluctuating
malfunction of the corridor lights, a dishevelled, towering block of muscle
trailing tattered streamers of material, its hair a mass of static as it
staggered forward at a jerking limp to move into the light.
There was a
stared at D’Argo. D’Argo stared at Chiana. Rygel stared at them both.
of eyes blinked as one.
frell happened to you?” The Luxan and the Nebari spoke in tandem, their words
blending into each other with unexpected harmony. Both paused at the unexpected
unity, their eyes once again running over the figure before them just to
reassure themselves they had seen aright. D’Argo was, for want of a more
diplomatic term, battered, to say the least, his maroon robe hanging from his
body in fluttering rags, his boots a torn pincushion of holes smeared in his own
clear blood, his red hair strangely static as it arched out from his body on an
almost horizontal plane. His eyes were wild, his features contorted with
indignant rage, but a flicker of curious confusion could be detected in their
depths as he examined the state of his lover. His expression grew astonished as
he took her appearance in, a slender vision coated in sticky cream goop,
scattered from head to food with food cube crumbs, appearing almost as some
strange delicacy on a distant alien’s table.
the table, Rygel softly sniggered.
D’Argo who broke the stalemate with a huffy sigh, storming across the chamber
to slump down on a stool. He glared from Rygel to Chiana, his expression
ask!” he intoned firmly. “Have either of you seen Crichton?”
me!” Chiana dropped onto the seat beside him. “Ryge?”
shook his head as he emerged from behind the table. “Not since yesterday. Why
do you ask?”
stared at the ceiling, grim death written upon every feature.
tell you why!” he declared in a low, menacing growl. “Because I was just
assaulted by a herd of DRDs that he was supposed to have fixed!
And when I get my hands on him, I’m going to kill him – slowly.” His eyes
grew absent, his expression ever so slightly malevolent as he pictured the scene
in his mind. Chiana sighed.
how that feels,” she said dryly. “Rygel and I were just assaulted by the
snorted. “I suppose Crichton repaired that too.”
Chiana shook her head. “It was Aeryn. Or so Pilot said.”
There was a
long pause as the atmosphere in the room subtly changed. D’Argo slowly raised
his head, turning to stare at Chiana as his eyes darkened perceptibly. His
features were a wash of conflicting emotions.
and Aeryn,” he repeated slowly. Chiana gazed at him, mystified by the sudden
change of demeanor.
she stated. “So?”
fixed his eyes upon her. “Doesn’t it strike you as a coincidence that the
two people worst afflicted by that whatever-it-was on Kaalene are suddenly the
ones making bad repairs?”
Nebari’s eyes widened. “Sabotage?”
shrugged. “Maybe. It would explain a lot.”
why?” Chiana leaned forward intensely. “Aeryn and Crichton are our friends
and they’d both sooner die than hurt Moya. Why would they want to do this to
they don’t want to hurt her. Maybe they want to hurt us.” D’Argo grimaced.
all we know that Wrardi saboteur on the moon could have once proclaimed that
he’d sooner die than hurt Kaalene.”
something may be influencing them?” Rygel glided over, his expression intense.
nodded. “Look at the evidence. An entire leviathan is brought down from within
by one of the crew. Whilst investigating, both Crichton and Aeryn experience
intense headaches and irrational rages. And now it is their repairs that are
causing hurt to us. Think about it; who’s been affected? Both of you, me and
Pilot, that’s who. I haven’t heard either of them complaining.”
haven’t got Zhaan,” Chiana pointed out mildly. D’Argo shrugged.
they’re biding their time. That’s not the point. Moya’s real troubles
didn’t start until a little after we came back on board; all Pilot had
reported before that was a slight doziness. I think something on that planet has
got into their heads. They may not even realize what they’re doing.”
eyes were anxious. “What do we do?”
them.” D’Argo glared. “Keep a close eye on them. Make sure they don’t
get the chance to sneak off alone and do damage.”
are we supposed to do that?” Rygel’s tone was dismissive. “We can’t
follow them around every hour of every day. If nothing else, they’d get
can’t.” D’Argo smiled grimly. “But Pilot can. No one pays much attention
to his DRDs.” He paused, glancing down at his tattered clothing with rage
glittering in his eyes. “At least, not as much as they should,” he added
darkly. “Frelling things.”
call Pilot.” Chiana reached for her comm. D’Argo’s hand moved like
lightning; with a quick swipe, he knocked her hand away. The Nebari stared at
him indignantly, wringing her bruised hand.
she protested. “What was that for?”
comms!” D’Argo admonished sharply. “They’ve been affected and I
haven’t been able to fix them yet. For all we know, Aeryn and Crichton may be
able to listen in. We can’t let them know we suspect them.” He rose, a
hulking form of grim intent in rags. “We’ll speak to him in person,
together. Come on.”
sure we can trust Pilot?” Rygel hovered forward, his expression anxious.
been acting strangely too! He shouted at me yesterday, over absolutely
waved a dismissive hand. “Of course we can trust Pilot. He didn’t get
anywhere near Kaalene and he’d never hurt Moya. He’s just in bad mood
because of what’s happening. Now move, your eminence. We may not have much
the Luxan turned and strode imperiously towards the door, a sticky Chiana
trailing in his wake. Rygel hesitated a moment longer, still not overly pleased
at the prospect of getting within Pilot’s reach, especially when he was
supposed to be protesting. But a sharp bellow from D’Argo stayed if not
eradicated his concerns and reluctantly, the Hynerian tapped the control on his
thronesled and hurried quickly after.
deeply as she paused for a microt, leaning wearily against the golden curve of
the transport pod, her dark head slumping forward as she fought to suppress the
last tattered remnants of the persistent headache that had plagued her since
leaving Kaalene. Sleep and quietude had done nothing to disperse it and the
potion suggested by Zhaan had done little more than dull it down to manageable
levels. The Sebacean would have taken more time to rest and give nature a chance
but Moya’s slow spiraling breakdown and Pilot’s anxiety for his beloved
ship’s well being had spurred her into action in spite of herself. At
Pilot’s request, she had spent the day traipsing from tier to tier sealing
this, and tinkering with that until her travels had brought her to this deserted
hanger to investigate a possible short circuit in the fuelling system for the
transport pod. Since an initial visual investigation had turned up all of
nothing, the peacekeeper had decided to initiate the fuelling system to fill up
the most recently used pod and search for more noticeable flaws as it worked.
it was at that moment that her weariness decided to catch up with her. Even as
she struggled to clamp the fuel nozzle into place, exhaustion swamped her in a
wash; it was all she could do to avoid collapsing to the ground beneath the fuel
lines. For a brief, alarming instant, blackness swirled before her eyes, but
determinedly she shook it off, forcing her rock heavy arms into action to
complete the task that she had been assigned. Now was not the time to succumb to
weakness. Pilot and Moya needed her help and she would not let them down.
She felt so bad!
was in place. Aeryn blinked – she could barely remember installing it. Shaking
her head to clear it, she roused herself and turned, biting back against the
sudden surge of head pain that accompanied the motion as she braced herself for
the long walk across the chamber to start the procedure. Why did it have to be
so frelling far? What kind of stupid system was it anyway, all this striding
back and forth just to top up a fuel tank that didn’t desperately need to be
topped? This was frelling ridiculous! She could be resting, recovering, sleeping
in blissful release from the maelstrom of dizziness, pain and scattered emotion
spinning around inside her cranium, battering her conscious and subconscious
like a storm-lashed shore in winter gales. Why was she even doing this? She’d
examined the system once and had found nothing wrong – why was that not good
enough for Pilot? Why was she making herself go through this endurance test to
find a flaw that no one but Pilot seemed to be able to see?
stop. She should stop right now, throw down her tool and call it a day on
repairs. She’d been running up and down for arns, working with every ounce of
consciousness and energy she could spare to help – wasn’t it her turn to get
something back? Hadn’t she done enough? Why should she work herself to
exhaustion whilst that lazy little runt Rygel sat on his fat backside in high
dudgeon, stuffing his face? Where was the justice in that?
to kill him!
image of the Hynerian filled her sight – in the depths of her minds eye she
saw her hand lash out, close like a vicious claw across the self-indulgent smirk
and throttle with all it’s might. She saw Rygel shake, saw him squeal for
mercy – she saw herself squeeze harder. A slow smile spread across her face as
she felt satisfaction fill her as her imaginary fingers dug deep into his throat
and slowly ripped the life from him.
And it felt
swelled within her – her headache seemed to pulse and flow, splitting into a
strange circle that raced around the edge of her head like a dancing halo,
forced aside by the sheer strength and alarming power of her sudden desire to
kill. Ecstasy flooded her senses, her heavy body, a dull weight just a moment
before, seemed to leave the ground with wings of fire.
never felt so free.
never felt so alive.
The pod was
gone. Moya was gone. There was nothing, nothing but the feeling, nothing but the
want, the rush, the sensation. It was her everything. It was her world.
feeling would be hers forever – if she made it come true.
It was the
tiniest noise, the barest flicker on the edge of her consciousness, but it
caught her senses like a blow. The grate. Someone was behind the grate.
And who else
would be crawling in the ship’s vents apart from Rygel?
think. She was no longer capable of it. Her actions were pure, emphatic
instinct. Her fingers snapped around the handle of her pulse pistol; a single
sweeping motion brought it into place. She pulled back on the trigger.
burned the air.
shit!” The screech tore through her mind like a wraith on fire. The dam that
had subdued her reason faltered, the centrifugal force that had scattered her
mind abruptly collapsing to let the dizziness, pain and confusion wash back. Her
thoughts tangled and crashed in shadow. What?
firing – mindlessly she tucked her weapon away. She was grounded once more,
heavy, exhausted, fighting to stay upright through the wash of weary pain. A
pair of indignant eyes stared at her from his crouch in the maw of the vent,
confused, wary and more than a little shocked. She tried to focus on his shape,
his outline – it was familiar.
Aeryn!” The maintenance bay echoed with the fear and astonishment in his
voice. “Why the frell did you just try to fry me?”
opened fire – why? Why had she fired? Rygel. A vague half-distant part of her
brain surged briefly before being swallowed whole by the remainder of her mind.
She thought he was Rygel. She’d wanted Rygel dead. Why? Aeryn struggled, her
eyes fluttering. What had just happened? She’d been thinking about something,
doing something. What? The fuel. She’d been about to test fuel when she’d
started to black out. She couldn’t remember clearly. She’d seen something
moving, seen it as a threat – she’d opened fire. And it had been John.
mind seemed to clear – her memory surged back in a rush to mingle with the
swath of pain. Yes, that was it. She’d been examining the pod and she’d
half-blacked out. Confused and disorientated, she’d heard someone coming
through the vent, assumed it was a threat and tried to defend herself. And all
it had been was frelling John! What did he think he was doing sneaking around
like that? She could have killed him!
frell do you think you’re doing?” she exclaimed furiously, striding
forward to where the shocked human was hauling himself to his feet. “Crawling
around in the grates! I thought you were a frelling intruder! Why didn’t you
use the door like any sane person would? I could have shot you, you idiot!”
the back of his head as he covered the few steps to the tense, irate outline of
the Sebacean. “I was trying to stay in one piece!” he drawled sharply.
“Big mistake, obviously. What kind of trigger-happy lunatic are you? You ever
think about checking who it is before you try to fricassee me?”
Aeryn felt a
rush of guilt. He was right. She had very nearly snatched his life away from him
on a strange, half-forgotten impulse. This was ridiculous. She wasn’t well.
The best thing she could do was get this maintenance check over as quickly as
she could and find Zhaan. The Delvian would understand better what was the
matter with her and could hopefully put a stop to it.
sorry,” she apologized, her tone more subdued. “I was tired and you caught
me by surprise. But it would never have happened if you had used a more
conventional entrance. What were you doing in there?”
Crichton shrugged, his expression wearily annoyed. “Oh nothing, much, just
running for my life.” He caught her puzzled look and grinned, although his
features were tinged with annoyance. “Don’t suppose you know who’s
supposed to have fixed the doors in the passage between here and tier six, do
through the mire of her memory and an image reluctantly surfaced. “D’Argo, I
think,” she muttered. “At least, I saw him working there earlier today.
a face. “Because I just ran the damn gauntlet to get through those doors
alive. I swear they were out to get me. I’d get to a door; it’d slam
in my face. I’d press the control switch; it’d short circuit and shock me.
Then the door would half open, I’d try to get though and it’d throw me back.
The damn thing was swinging like a demented windshield wiper – in the
end, I had to dive and roll to get passed and then I only just made it. And then
the next one did exactly the same! All that passage needed was a giant
boulder and dead guys coming out of the walls and it would have been straight
out of Indiana Jones!” He sighed. “So in the end, I took to the Jeffries
Tubes. Figured it would be safer.” He grinned. “More fool me.”
grimaced as she moved passed him to the fuel release. “How many times do you
want me to say I’m sorry?”
ingratiatingly. “Oh, I could listen to it all day!”
“Don’t push it.” The lever released with a clunk – with a low rumble,
the fuel system engaged. “I’m not in the mood.”
She felt his
eyes fix upon her in instant concern; irritably she ignored him, examining the
pounding mechanism with intense, entirely feigned concentration. His warm
hand slid softly onto her cool shoulder – angrily she shrugged out of his grip
and started back across the bay towards the pod.
followed her. “Baby, what’s wrong? You’re white as a sheet.”
have a headache, that’s all.” For a moment, a brief tantalizing moment, she
felt a deep and almost desperate urge to tell him about her strange black out,
to share her concerns about her swirling head and get him to take her to Zhaan.
But her irritation clamped down on the emotion with swift deftness and the
desire was gone. It would pass. She needed rest. It was nobody’s business but
don’t look so good.” Aeryn almost laughed out loud, an emotion that
whispered half of disdain and half of hysteria. She didn’t look good?
If only he knew what was inside her mind! “Maybe you should rest.”
to.” Her tone was harsher than she’d intended – it was a battle not to
snap angrily at his statement of the obvious. She fought to control her
irrational anger, wondering in the tiny coherent corner that was left of her
brain just what the frell was the matter with her. “When I’ve finished
“I can do
that.” He was at her side, a solicitous hand placed against her arms, his eyes
filled with sincere concern for her well-being. “Pilot can fill me in. You
shook him off. “I’m fine. I don’t need your help.”
disagree.” There was an iron within his tone that brooked no opposition.
“Give me the tool and get out of here.”
Aeryn strode away from him to the open panel beside the slowly vibrating fuel
tube. “I started this and I’ll finish it. Now leave me alone.”
Aeryn!” She could hear the quick staccato of his footsteps looming behind her
– ignoring him deliberately, she turned away and bent close to her work,
jamming her wrench into the machinery with a force that was more than excessive.
Why couldn’t he just frell off? She didn’t need….
was blinding. Every nerve in her body coursed with fire as she felt the power
burst through her – for a microt she caught a glimpse of bright energy
shimmering down her wrench and into her arm, her connection to the overload that
had earthed violently through her body. She heard Crichton scream her name,
heard herself scream in response and then suddenly she was flying, hurled
backwards with bruising force as blackness reached dark feelers into her mind.
She felt the jolt as she hit the deck, her body numb, her mind inflamed as she
shook and shivered in a fit she was unable to control. She caught a glimpse of
Crichton racing towards her fallen form, bellowing into his comm for Pilot as he
skidded to her side, eyes wide and filled with terror. She tried to open her
mouth, to tell him that she was all right, that it wasn’t so bad, but colours
swamped her vision, the vanguard of the dark invasion and he faded from her
sight. All at once, blackness folded her in its grasp and swept her from his