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

Part IV

It was the dull throb of pain throughout her body that made Aeryn realise that she was conscious once more. Determinedly she felt herself strain at the curtains of black that had enveloped her eyes; in the distance she could hear voices. She fought for some level of coherency and was surprised when her plea was answered – strangely enough, the jolt of the electric shock appeared to have cleared her mind. Slowly the blackness receded, the curtains drew back and through a haze of bright lights and colours, she saw the anxious face of John Crichton peering down at her. One cool hand was against her cheek, the other looped gently under shoulder – he was kneeling in a crouch at her side, his face turned away in profile as his voice filtered back to her ears.  

“….much longer is she going to be? Dammit, Pilot!”  

“Zhaan is on her way, commander.” The patient note in Pilot’s voice implied that they’d covered this ground before. “She will be with you as soon as she can.”

 “Well tell her to hurry the Hell up! Aeryn is seriously hurt here!”  

“I am as concerned for Officer Sun’s well being as you are,” An edge of anxious irritation slipped into the navigator’s tone. “But shouting at me will not bring Zhaan any faster!”  

The look on John’s face implied he was in no mood for excuses. Aeryn sighed internally, forcing back her stiff eyelids as struggled for her voice, hoping to put an end to the disagreement as quickly as possible.  

“John,” she gasped. It was little more than a whisper and Crichton missed it, still gazing with intent at the distant clamshell. Pulling a face, Aeryn tried again.  

“John.” Still, he failed to notice, wrapped up in his anger, his frustration, his desperate desire to be certain she was helped. Turning on Pilot was the only vent he had.  

“Pilot, I don’t give a rat’s arse about…”  

“John!” This time the Sebacean spoke with some force, pushing up hard onto her elbows in a bid to catch the human’s attention. “I’m fine. Stop shouting at Pilot.”  

Crichton started as he swung to face her. “Aeryn!” His hands reached out anxiously to support her. “Baby, don’t move, Zhaan’s on her way. How do you feel?”  

Aeryn paused, considering the question. Oddly enough, bearing in mind what had just befallen her, she was feeling surprisingly good. The jolt that had thrown her across the room appeared to have sliced though the muddle in her head – astonishingly, her headache had faded to almost nothing and she found herself coherent again. Her body throbbed deep to the bones and her skin was bruised and battered from her impact with the floor but these merely physical discomforts she could deal with; it had been her mind that had caused the problems. And that felt almost normal.  

Working her arms with a grunt, Aeryn tried to sit up, but Crichton’s quick hands pressed her back.  

“No, you don’t!” he ordered sharply. “Not until Zhaan’s checked you over.”  

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Aeryn swatted his hands away. “I’m not hurt. Let me get up.”  

“You could still be in shock.”  

“I am not in shock. Let me up!”  

“Aeryn!”  

“Crichton!”  

“Stop it the pair of you!” Zhaan’s voice interrupted the disagreement emphatically. The robed Delvian swept to Aeryn’s side, kneeling gently as she reached out soft hands to examine the Sebacean’s injuries. “What happened?”  

“Aeryn got shocked by the pod.” Crichton came to his feet, one hand over his mouth.  

Aeryn suddenly realised he was as white as a sheet and his shoulders were shuddering. He seemed almost more shaken by the incident than she was. “Looked like an overload of some kind. It went right through her body then threw her across the room.”  

Zhaan’s deep eyes fixed on Aeryn in concern. “How do you feel?”  

The Sebacean sat up slowly. Zhaan did not try to hinder her – indeed she aided the maneuver. Crichton did not protest.  

“Surprisingly good.” Aeryn smiled weakly. “I ache a lot.”  

“It’s only natural.” Zhaan reached out, gently examining the sharp array of bruises across Aeryn’s arm. “You’ve had quite an experience.”

The Sebacean sighed ruefully. “One I could have done without.”  

“One you should have done without!” Crichton was pacing the floor, his every step a study of sheer agitation. “Pilot, how the frell did this happen?”  

“Unknown.” The navigator’s voice was a steady roll. “I will have to investigate further. But this is puzzling considering Chiana assured me she had thoroughly checked over this pod after returning from Kaalene. I will speak with her.”

Abruptly his hologram shimmered and was gone. Aeryn pulled a face.  

“Frelling Chiana,” she muttered. “I should have known. She was probably so involved with whatever dren she was plotting in the maintenance bay she overlooked a fault with the pod.”  

Crichton’s head jerked up. “Dren? What dren?”  

Aeryn shrugged. “You tell me. I just know she was behaving very suspiciously when I saw her just after we got back from Kaalene. I was feeling so frelled I didn’t pay much attention to her. But she was definitely up to something. She was unloading something from the pod – Rygel’s she claimed – but I think she may have salvaged something from Kaalene. I would have asked her before but I didn’t need the hassle.” She shook her head as she rose to a crouch, coming to her feet with only minimal support from Zhaan. “I didn’t think it mattered until now.”  

But Crichton was frowning. Aeryn knew that expression all too well – the expression that implied a suspicion was forming, an idea growing, trouble brewing. She exchanged a wary glance with Zhaan.  

“What?” she inquired.  

“I don’t think this stuff is co-incidence.” Crichton was gazing at the floor, tapping one finger thoughtfully against his chin. “I didn’t like to say before because you would have thought I was nuts, but don’t you reckon that half of these malfunctions are kinda personal?”

  Zhaan frowned. “What do you mean?”  

“I mean, look at what’s been happening! I just escaped from the tunnel of Hell after being assaulted by the doors. Pilot gets drenched in crap. And now Aeryn gets electrocuted. Doesn’t this all strike you as rather vindictive?”  

The Sebacean and the Delvian stared. “You think someone is doing this on purpose.” Aeryn stated.  

Crichton met their gaze. “Don’t say you haven’t thought it. I didn’t like to say because who the frell around here would do this stuff to Moya? But what you just said made me think. Those glowing rocks – maybe they were responsible. Maybe they screw with people’s minds. Maybe they’ve screwed with some of us.”  

“You suspect D’Argo.” Aeryn’s eyes narrowed.  

John nodded. “And Chiana too. If she did sneak on board to snurch herself a bargain, the disco rocks may have melted her brain as well as the big guy’s. Maybe they don’t even know they’re doing it.”  

“There are a great many maybes in this, John,” Zhaan pointed out skeptically. “Do you really believe Chiana and D’Argo may be responsible for Moya’s difficulties?”  

“I think someone is.” John sighed. “I don’t like thinking like this Blue. It’s all too Traltixx, too hippy-trippy light for me. But I can’t ignore the fact that everything they fix turns on us. The doors. Fixed by D’Argo. The pod. Fixed by Chiana.”  

Aeryn frowned. “That’s only two. Two can be coincidence.”  

But Zhaan was gazing at the golden ceiling. “Who repaired the comm system?” she asked softly, a hint of fear in her voice.  

John regarded her slowly. “D’Argo. Why?”  

The Delvian sighed, her delicate blue features creasing. “Because I have been suffering from a bad headache ever since we entered orbit of Kaalene’s moon. I have been attempting to mediate it away for several arns now but every time I grew close to reaching the plane, I was interrupted by…noises from the comm system. Beeps. Chirps. Buzzes. All sorts of sounds that seemed almost timed to shake me the most. I was starting to wonder if Chiana or Rygel were playing a bad joke.”

Crichton smiled, but there was no joy or satisfaction in his expression, only grim confirmation of his fears. “And that makes three. We need to talk to Pilot, get a tail on those guys before they do any more damage. We can’t let this go on.”  

“Don’t use your comm.” Aeryn’s face was a grim mask. “If D’Argo has been at the system he could overhear our suspicions. We have to go in person.”  

And we go together.” Zhaan was pale, her voice uncertain but her eyes were resolved. “I am still not convinced by this John. But by speaking with Pilot we can at least find resolution to this matter.”  

John nodded and moved towards the door. “Then we go. If nothing else, we may at least be able to save D’Argo and Chiana from themselves.”  

# 

Zhaan sighed.

It had seemed like such a good idea – talk to Pilot, persuade him to watch over their possibly wayward friends, to monitor and protect them for their own sakes as much as for Moya’s. No confrontations, no nasty recriminations as they had suffered after the influence of Traltixx’s light, just calm, logical reason to prove or disprove a creeping, potentially destructive suspicion once and for all. Yes, an excellent idea.  

But how were they to know that the ones the suspected had chosen exactly the same path?  

“You dare to blame me?” D’Argo drew himself up, a hulking giant in tattered rags, one hand itching for his absent Qualta Blade as he towered over the comparatively diminutive form of the human John Crichton. “Look at me! Do you think I would do this to myself? No, Crichton, this is your doing, you and the peacekeeper and you seek to cover your tracks by shifting suspicion to me and Chiana!”  

“What the hell have you been smoking???” John stood braced in the centre of the walkway, his head tilted back to glare into the angry face of the enormous but battered Luxan. “You think Aeryn almost killed herself to shift the blame to you? She could have died, you moron!”  

D’Argo’s lofty gaze shifted to the pale form of Aeryn Sun, who watched the confrontation from a few steps behind, her hard eyes never flinching from an intense study of the mucky outline of Chiana, lounging in the entrance to the den with Rygel. She was taking no chances on a sudden attack. The Nebari returned the gaze with an icy jet stare that implied she would not endure this examination for much longer without retaliating.  

“We have only your word for that.” The Luxan sneered down his nose at the human. “And she seems to have recovered remarkably quickly from this life-threatening shock!”  

“Are you calling me a liar?” John braced his shoulders indignantly.  

“Yes, I am.” D’Argo ignored his shipmate’s apparent bravado with disdain. “You’ve been a liability for long enough already, but in sabotaging Moya you have crossed the line. I will not let you hurt her!”  

John strode a quick step closer, drawing himself up as much as he was able as he stared into the Luxan’s eyes. “I’d never harm Moya. And I won’t let you cause her pain!”  

Zhaan sighed again, trying to ignore the pulse of her aching head as she attempted to focus her thoughts. This was pointless. It had become obvious to her almost as soon as she had seen the state of the Luxan and the Nebari girl that Crichton’s assumptions had been flawed. The saboteur, if there was a saboteur, was not one of their number. Contrary to Crichton’s belief, they had all suffered abuse in some form or another and it had all been personal. So unless all those who had ventured aboard Kaalene were being mysteriously influenced, it seemed obvious to Zhaan that the attacker was not one of the crew.  

The Delvian glanced at Pilot. The navigator was enduring this ill-tempered invasion of his chamber with scarcely concealed irritation, struggling to concentrate on the desperately important business of repairs whilst his repair crew fractured into factions before his eyes. What he could see, what Zhaan could see, but that the others clearly could not, was that the massed dispute on the walkway simply didn’t matter. What was important here was Moya, her health, her restoration, and the crew, consumed in their own petty struggles, seemed to have forgotten that.  

It was time to intervene. Drawing herself up, she started forwards.  

“You have the nerve to accuse me….”  

“ Have you seen the size of this ship? I’d have to have a thousand mile long arms to do all the stuff you’re pushing on me…”  

“What the frell is your problem, Aeryn? Did that shock fry your brain or is it just the way you are?”  

“I’m just making sure that no little trelk catches me by surprise...”  

“This is ridiculous. This is a waste of time and I’m hungry!”  

“Please stop this, all of you. It isn’t helping.”  

“I’m not the one who made happy with the disco rocks!”  

“But you are the one who had the frelling fit!”  

“What’s the matter? Don’t think you can take me on without your peacekeeper toys?”  

“I could take a pathetic Nebari like you anytime….”  

“Yotz to the lot of you!”  

“Calm down! This is wrong!”  

“Human dren!”  

“Tentacled freak-show!”  

“Thieving trelk!”  

“Peacekeeper skank!”  

“Silence!”  

The hush was abrupt. The protestations of the four combatants died on their lips as they turned to face the suddenly regal azure form of the angry Delvian priestess.  

“This is ridiculous!” Zhaan’s features were stern, her gaze unforgiving as she swept her eyes across the suddenly chastened forms of her shipmates. “Look at yourselves! Why are you so quick to blame each other? After all we have been through together, you still turn upon each other like ravenous beasts at the first opportunity. Has the past cycle and a half taught you nothing?”  

There was a shamed silence. Both D’Argo and Crichton seemed on the verge of retorting in their own defence but a frosty glare from Zhaan was enough to clamp both mouths shut.  

“We need to work together, not fracture.” Zhaan’s tone softened slightly. “Moya needs our help now and we waste time she may not have by arguing over blame that does not exist.”  

“I was trying to protect her.” This time Crichton did speak up. “I thought it was them and I was trying to help everyone. That’s all.”  

Zhaan actually managed a smile. “I know that John. I know you all came to this chamber with the best of intentions. But those intentions have been lost. We need to recover them, to work together to find the real cause of Moya’s problems.”  

“Zhaan’s right.” Aeryn’s voice was strong. “It’s Moya that matters.”  

“Agreed.” John sighed. “I’m getting shades of Traltixx here and it isn’t pretty. I don’t want to go down that road again.” Abruptly he offered a broad palm to D’Argo. “What do you say, D? Truce?”

D’Argo’s eyes were cold. “Do you still blame me?”  

Crichton smiled crookedly. “Do you still blame me?”  

The Luxan frowned. “A little.”  

“And I still blame you – a little.” John grinned. “But I think I can work around it.”  

A reluctant smile twitched in the corner of D’Argo’s mouth. Abruptly he slapped his palm against John’s.  

Zhaan smiled in relief.  

“Pilot,” Crichton turned on the hulking form of Moya’s navigator who continued to regard him with undisguised suspicion. “Any ideas?”  

Pilot didn’t answer. His frown deepened and he turned his attention back to his console.  

John and Zhaan exchanged a confused look. “Umm….. Ground control to Pilot, come in Pilot!” John shook his fingers into Pilot’s line of sight. “Are you receiving me, over?”  

Pilot’s eyes rose in a slow roll. “Go away,” he drawled abruptly, an undisguised threat overlying his tone. “All of you.”  

“Oookay.” John drew the word out curiously as he glanced at his companions – they all looked as nonplussed as he. “Pilot, did you forget to take your happy pills this morning? Cos’ we’re here to help and you’re snapping at us.”  

Pilot’s expression darkened further. “I am in no mood to humour your flippant remarks, Commander. And if you wish to help, return to your repairs. You can do nothing here but distract me.”  

“I think we can,” John leaned forwards, folding his arms across the console. “Because if we can get to the root of this problem, instead chasing around after its tail, maybe we can kill the sucker completely!”  

Pilot sniffed. “I don’t have time for this.”  

Make time!” John fought back the resurgence of his anger at the navigator’s unbending attitude. “What is with you, don’t you want Moya to get better?”  

He knew at once that he had stepped over the line. Pilot’s eyes snapped up, his features contorted with icy fury.  

“How dare you?” he hissed. “How dare you come in here and preach to me about what is best for Moya! I am her Pilot, her guardian! I am not the one at fault here! I am working with all my strength to restore Moya form the damage all of you are causing and now….”  

“What the…?”  

“What did you say?”  

“Us? You think…”

“Pilot, I would never…”  

The cacophony of protests rose and filled the chamber in a tumultuous surge as every member of Moya’s crew started forwards towards her navigator. Pilot growled quietly and turned aside.  

“Guys!” Crichton interceded firmly. “Cool it!” He turned back to Pilot, his eyes wide and curious. “Back up. So you do think it’s one of us.”  

“Or more than one. Possibly all.” Pilot refused to turn. “But someone is causing this.

The pattern of damage is regular, consistent and impossible to achieve under natural circumstances. I have attempted to trace your routes, trying to find a culprit, but I have neither the time nor resources to spare to analyse my findings. So I must suspect you all.”  

“Why do you assume it was us?” D’Argo moved forwards, his rangy limbs reacting with surprising grace beneath their tattered coverings.  

Pilot cast them a sideways glance filled with disdain. “Because there is no one else on board.”  

Aeryn came to D’Argo’s side. “How can you be so sure? Intruders have evaded your senses before now.”  

Pilot’s expression grew indignant. “Are you calling me incompetent, Officer Sun?”  

“Of course not,” Aeryn kept her cool with surprising ease. “I was stating a fact.”  

“Aeryn’s right, Pilot.” John stepped in quickly. “We’ve had critters galore running amok on the streets with you none the wiser. Why are you so sure now?”  

Suddenly Pilot seemed a little less certain of himself. “When I first realised what was happening and noticed the deliberate pattern, I took the time to run a full scan of Moya’s interior. I found no-one but the six of you.”  

“The energy being,” Aeryn’s voice was low but her tone was firm. “Pilot’s sensors didn’t detect it aboard Kaalene. If it somehow reached Moya, could we tell it was here?”  

Pilot was shaking his head. “My sensors were blocked by the ambient radiation from the planet, not the being itself. We are out of range of the radiation field. It would have nowhere to hide.”  

“Yeah, but you didn’t see the thing!” Abruptly, Crichton was pacing, tapping his thumb against his chin as his eyes sunk deep in thought. “It wasn’t just hiding in the radiation, it was radiation. What if it’s made up of the same stuff that blinded your scans of the planet? It would be invisible to your sensors all the time!”  

There was a heavy silence. A flurry of looks was exchanged, combining dawning realisation and sudden nervousness. Eyes darted uncertainly towards the darkened corners of Pilot’s chamber.  

“How could it have got on board?” Chiana’s voice was barely more than a whisper. “I thought you blew it up!”  

“Maybe we did, maybe we didn’t.” D’Argo knit his brows together angrily. “Maybe another one stowed away on the pod. However it got here, I think we can safely assume that we’ve found our saboteur – and probably Kaalene’s too.”  

Aeryn frowned. “But the crew….”  

“Mutinied.” D’Argo sighed. “They did acted as we almost did  – factioned off and killed each other whilst our glowing friend sat back and laughed. Maybe it killed Kaalene or maybe the crew went insane and did it themselves. We’ll probably never know.”  

“But the message,” Zhaan stepped forward curiously. “It sounded as though the assailant was someone they knew – someone they cared about.”  

“Perhaps the creature was their pet. Perhaps it could lead them to those glowing rocks. A servant that turned.”  

“Or a slave.” Zhaan was nodding. “I suppose it’s possible.”  

Aeryn alone read the look on Crichton’s face. Quietly she stepped to his side. “You don’t look convinced,” she stated softly.  

John glanced at the peacekeeper. “I’m not,” he replied in a tone equally hushed. “The whole mutiny thing just doesn’t work for me.” He sighed. “I think… I can’t help but wonder….No, never mind.” He waved a dismissive hand but Aeryn was not to be put off.  

“What?” she whispered firmly.  

John bore the gaze of her ice-blue eyes with uncertainty. “I’m not sure. I’ve got a niggle – a suspicion,” he added on seeing her expression. “It’s probably nothing but until I’m sure, I’m keeping quiet. We can do without more allegations.”  

“You won’t even tell me?” There was a hint of annoyance in the Sebacean’s tone.  

John smiled wanly. “Baby, when I tell, I tell everyone together. No more secrets.”  

Nearby Zhaan was speaking soothingly to Moya’s navigator. “Is this why you’ve been so uptight with us, Pilot?” she said gently. “Because you believed we were responsible for harming Moya?”  

Pilot sighed. “You can see why I thought that. She’s been acting so strangely since we left that planet – absent, distant, barely speaking to me, leaving me to fight a losing battle on my own. She isn’t even frightened, just…indifferent. And it wouldn’t have been the first time you had caused her to behave in such a way….”  

“Let’s not go there, huh?” John intervened. “Unless Moya’s been seeing some leviathan stud on the side, I doubt it’ll be the same cause.” He paused, gazing down with studied nonchalance at Pilot’s controls.  

“Uh, Pilot,” he said casually. “You still got that recording we picked on Kaalene?”  

Pilot shrugged. “Of course. For all the use it is. Why?”  

“Can I borrow it?”  

A flicker of suspicion crossed Pilot’s features. “What for?”  

“Well, you know,” John shrugged. “I hate unsolved mysteries and that tape’s still the only clue we’ve got about what happened on Kaalene. I thought maybe I could have a go at clearing it up, seeing what else we could learn about the energy being and Kaalene’s crew…” His voice tailed off. Pilot’s expression had darkened, his large body abruptly tense. Something unpleasant flickered beneath his golden eyes.  

“I told you,” he stated firmly. “The tape was damaged. I examined it thoroughly but could learn nothing more.”  

John’s façade of enforced casualness was slipping. “Yeah, I know,” he said, trying to avoid any tone that would antagonise the already tense navigator further. “I just thought maybe I could take a look too.”  

The rest of the crew was watching with sudden interest. Aeryn’s expression implied that she had caught onto the subtle undertone that Crichton was trying to conceal – how important it was for him to see the recording. A quick glance at Chiana told her the Nebari had seen the same thing. The two women exchanged a quick gaze and moved forward to join the human.  

“For what purpose?” Pilot’s tone was incredulous. “I gave the recording a thorough examination and found nothing. Why do you assume that you would have more success than I have?”  

“You were busy with Moya when you looked,” John offered. “Maybe you missed something.”  

The moment the words left his lips, John knew he’d made a serious mistake. Pilot’s expression flared.  

Missed something?” he exclaimed furiously, rearing up behind his controls as he turned to face the human. Chiana, her eyes wide, darted to the rear of the console, away from Pilot’s angry gaze. D’Argo, Zhaan and Rygel were already close to the door.  

“Do you all think I am so incompetent?” Pilot roared furiously. “First Officer Sun and now you! Does no one on this ship trust me? After all I have done, all the work and effort I have given without thought of reward…”

  “Pilot,” Aeryn tried to step in, her hands raised in an attempt to placate but Pilot was not to be calmed.  

“No, say nothing!” he bellowed. “Just get out, all of you! I have work to do and so do you!”  

“But Pilot…”  

“OUT!!!!”  

The door swung open with some force, almost knocking Rygel from his thronesled. For a moment his terrified head hung over the vast chasm that formed the lower half of Pilot’s chamber, but Zhaan’s quick action hauled him back to safety and out of the door.  

Pilot was steaming with rage. Crichton looked as though he might attempt to say something more, but Aeryn, sensing the futility of his efforts, took him by the arm and hauled him across the walkway. A moment later, Chiana rushed to join them. Inexplicably, she looked pleased with herself.  

Crichton’s heels had barely passed the threshold when the door slammed shut behind them. There was a long pause.  

“What the yotz was that all about?” Rygel broke the silence at last, still rubbing the sore patch left on his ear-brow by the impact of the door.  

“Yeah, who spiked his fellip nectar?” Chiana leaned back against the door. She was still wearing an inappropriately smug expression. “Whatever happened to nice, quiet, dull, does-as-he’s-told Pilot anyway?”  

Aeryn sighed. “This could be my fault,” she said wearily. “I suggested to Pilot a few days ago that he could afford to be more… forceful. I didn’t think it was a good idea for him to let himself be walked over. But I never thought he’d take my advice to heart so quickly.”  

“Oh great,” Crichton placed his hands on his hips. “You couldn’t have chosen a better time to send him to assertiveness training classes? How to Be a Pain-in-the-Arse, in one quick easy lesson from the legendary Aeryn Sun.”  

“Wait a microt…” Aeryn’s demeanour was poised on the verge of violence but luckily Zhaan intervened.  

“This is not Aeryn’s fault,” the Delvian declared. “Both Pilot and Moya were traumatized by the discovery of Kaalene and now with all that is happening here, of course he will be on edge.” She sighed. “Perhaps I should talk to him about it…”  

“I’d rather do it,” Aeryn interrupted. “If this is because of what I said, perhaps I can talk him round. And if it isn’t – I may be able to make him tell me anyway.” Then she frowned, her features crinkling. “But I still don’t understand why he was so adamant not to let Crichton see that tape.”  

“Yeah, and why did you want it so badly anyway, old man?” Chiana slouched lazily against an upright, twitching something small and dark in her fingers. “If Pilot says it’s useless….”  

“You think he’s lying.” D’Argo made it a statement of fact.  

“I think he’s mistaken.” John corrected the Luxan firmly. “I’ve been going over and over this in my head and some pieces are starting to fit together that I’d sooner keep apart. I’m not sure the energy being is the whole story – if it’s even in the ballpark.”  

Zhaan frowned, her azure brow creasing. “What do you mean?”  

John shook his head. “I don’t wanna say it – not without proof. We’ve had enough blame flying about for one day. Besides it’s kind of irrelevant now anyway since the only way I had to prove myself wrong was on that tape.”  

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Chiana’s smug little smile spread into a full-grown smirk. From within one gloved palm she produced the recording.  

John snatched it from her fingers at once. “How the Hell did you get this?”  

The Nebari grinned, basking in the glow of their admiring disbelief. “I snurched it whilst Pilot was letting rip. He was so mad at you he never even noticed. It seemed important to you.”  

John leaned forward and kissed her quickly on the cheek. “Pip, you’re a genius. I owe you one.”  

Chiana stood up straight and returned the gesture with a sultry smile. “More than one,” she drawled. “And I’ll hold you to that.”  

Noting D’Argo’s glare, John immediately backed off. With a pout, Chiana returned to her position against the wall.  

“So now will you tell us what this is all about?” Aeryn exclaimed but John was already shaking his head. “Not until I’ve looked this over. I really don’t want to be right about this and I’m not even going to suggest it until I’m sure there’s something in it.” He paused, twiddling the recording between finger and thumb. “Tell you what. You guys go back to work, keep Pilot the happy little dictator for a while. I’m going to the maintenance bay. You guys meet me there in three arns and don’t tell Pilot.” He sighed deeply. “Hopefully I won’t have any more to say than I was wrong.”  

“Well, Crichton? Are you going to explain this now?”   

The requisite three arns had passed with astonishing swiftness – the crew, on brief leave from their duties had gathered in the maintenance bay, as requested, to find the grim and somber form of John Crichton gazing in deep resignation at the small dark chip Chiana had stolen on his behalf. He did not even seem to have seen them arrive – it was only with D’Argo’s terse statement that he glanced up, spying his company, it seemed, for the first time. With a sigh, he rose from his contemplation and placed the tape gently into the play-slot of a nearby holo-imager before turning to face his friends. The look on his face was alarming.  

“What’s wrong?” Aeryn responded first with the words hovering on all of their lips. “What have you found?”  

John waved her question to silence with a flick of his hand – with a distinctly forced casualness his eyes scanned the room, walls, floor, ceiling and clamshell before returning to the fore. He opened his lips and mouthed a one-word question.  

Pilot?  

Aeryn’s expression was one of confusion but she quickly answered his query. “He’s busy, John. A neural conduit shorted out on tier sixteen – he has devoted most of his conscious attention to repairing it and shouldn’t be done for several arns. I doubt he’d have time to eavesdrop on us.”  

John looked relieved. “Good. Because I don’t want him to hear this – at least not for now.” He glanced from one face to the other, his shipmates, his friends and wondered how in God’s name he was going to break this to them. He could hardly take it in himself.  

He decided to plunge straight in. “I’ve restored some of the tape. It was actually pretty easy, once I got to grips with the holo-imager. And it’s not just sound – there’s a visual. It’s still pretty broken up and there are some decent chunks of it still missing but there’s enough to get a better idea of what the Hell was going on back on Kaalene. And from what I can tell – I was right.” He breathed a deep sigh. “God, I was hoping I wouldn’t be saying that.”  

“So, what happened?” Chiana’s features were a cocktail of impatience and fear.  

“What’s going on? Frell it Crichton, we need to know!”  

But Crichton shook his head. “No telling. It was only three arns ago that we were threatening to nuke each other – and besides, I want an unbiased second opinion. I’ll play it and you just watch. See if you reach the same conclusions as me.”  

Quietly he reached back and pushed the tape down into the play position. At once, a flickering image rose, a grainy, shadowed, half-hidden image of a pale faced, black-bearded Wrardi man crouched amidst a concealing pile of crates in a golden corridor identical to Moya’s. He was breathing hard, sweat pouring down his brown tan skin, his scarlet robe a tattered, ripped up mess that closely resembled D’Argo’s clothing a couple of arns before. His face was gaunt and scratched. His eyes, deep and haunted, were filled with desperate terror. Around him, the lights were dull and pulsing.  

“I know him,” Aeryn’s voice cut through the hushed silence like a knife, her tone astonished. “He’s the man I found in the neural nexus – the saboteur!”  

John nodded. “I thought he might be. Just keep watching. It makes a lot of things a whole lot clearer.”  

 The Wrardi did not seem to have realised his device was functioning – between static bursts of silver interference, they caught glimpses of him yanking at the DRD transmitter with an almost frantic frenzy.  

“Work, curse you!” they heard him mutter before vanishing behind a curtain of broken silver. When he reappeared, it seemed that he had finally realised he’d succeeded – he sat back on his knees, his eyes wide but relieved as he tried to catch his breath. Through fizzing bursts of incomprehensible sound and colour, he began to speak.  

“This is Captain Jarit Brax of ….viathan Kaalene, in orb…. mining moon at Dar’scay-lat. I’m calling on a freq….. acked DRD … can no longer …. our comms. I beg you… can hear me, help….nder attack from ou…. don’t know why he turned on us… no reason for it, he just went crazy and started killing us one b….he’s gone insane, he’s trying to kill us all…. no way to escape ….cks us at every turn, captures us, tortures us an….. DRDs, environmentals, even the frelling door… all a threat….. How… fight back when yo…ry ship…. against you? Please help us - we’re trapped in…. have to fight bac… can’t hide any …. to forget friendships…. be as ruthless as he’s becom….. decided to cripple Kaa... hate myself…. a home and a friend for six cyc….. don’t  ha…. choice…. close enough to disconnec…. power is… sever that link one way or ano…. crew are going to distract hi….. ssault on… take out Kaalene’s neural nex….. this in the hope that, even if we all die, someone may find this message an….. no part in this …. Pilot. It’s a vague ho…. nly hope we have. I say again, if you can hear …Kaale….ave to go now. I can’t risk thi…..ing detected. DRD, transmit message.”

Abruptly the image terminated.  

There was a long silence.  

“Frell,” Chiana muttered softly.  

John sighed. “My sentiments exactly.”  

“So,” Even D’Argo sounded hushed. “The energy being took over the ship somehow and used it against the crew. The Wrardi captain decided the only way to stop him was to bring down the ship. But the being survived and somehow got on board Moya to start all over again.” He growled. “We should have just kept our distance.”  

But John was shaking his head. “I’m not so sure, big guy. We’ve all been so blinded by the energy being and each other, we haven’t even considered there could be another culprit – one a little closer to home.” He leaned back against the bench with a resigned expression. “One thing about that recording has bugged me from the start – the way it always sounded as though the attacker was someone they knew and trusted. Yeah, I know.” He raised his hands as D’Argo opened his mouth to protest. “The energy being could have been working for them. But I don’t buy that. Guys, think. Think about what’s happening to Moya and what Brax is describing on Kaalene. Doesn’t all this seem a little familiar? Like when Moya was pregnant?” He took a deep breath. “Like when she tried to kill us?”  

Five sets of eyes fixed on him in disbelief.  

“You think it was their ship?” Zhaan’s expression was a mixture of incredulousness and horror.  

John met her eyes grimly. “And now our ship. I think Moya is sabotaging herself.” He read their expressions and raised his hands. “Think about it. Brax refers to his attacker as he and we know Kaalene was male. And he was the captain – why would he kill a ship he obviously cared about to get someone else? It strikes me that this was his last resort – the only way to save his crew. He sent his crew to distract Kaalene whilst he made a run at the nexus and succeeded – only to be gunned down by avenging DRDs. And you heard what Pilot said earlier about Moya’s mood – you’d think she’d be a bit scared with all these systems malfunctions going on. But she’s not. She’s indifferent. And maybe she’s indifferent because she knows nothing’s wrong – because she’s causing the damage personally.”  

Rygel thrust forward on his thronesled, his small green face intense. “But if it is Moya, why hasn’t Pilot done something about it? Why the yotz hasn’t he warned us instead of sending us scrambling around making repairs?”  

“Sending some of us scrambling around.” Chiana corrected dryly. “But Ryge has a point.”  

John gazed thoughtfully at the clamshell. “Pilot is the great unknown in all this,” he stated softly. “Because we don’t know which way he’s likely to jump – metaphorically speaking,” he added wryly. “He’s told us often enough that Moya is his priority – it’s her first and us second as far as he’s concerned. But I also like to think he’s got enough common sense beneath that monster of a carapace to see that if Moya’s trying to kill us, there might be something wrong.” He closed his eyes. “We know Moya can keep secrets from him –little things like pregnancy for example – and for all we know he may know less about this than we do. But he has been in one Hell of a weird mood lately – I don’t know. He is hooked into Moya’s emotions – maybe all that animosity he’s been giving us is channelled through from her, consciously or not. We know so little about the way their relationship works – can Moya take him over, can he take over her? If it’s door number one, we definitely don’t want to let him know what we think. But if it’s door number two, he’s our best shot at sorting this out.”  

Zhaan was watching him anxiously. “What about the tape?” she murmured reluctantly as though loathe to bring it up. “I mean no insult to you, John, but if you can restore so much in three arns, it should have given Pilot no difficulty at all. Why did he tell you it was useless?”  

John tapped his finger against his chin. “Good point. But it still might not mean he was deliberately lying – remember he was trying to unscramble it using his console. I used a PK imager. Do you really think Moya would let Pilot use her own systems to incriminate herself?”  

“The Pilot on Kaalene,” Aeryn’s voice was flat and emotionless but feeling flickered behind her ice blue eyes. “He was trying to stop the sabotage.”  

“He was also trying to save his own life,” John pointed out. “If Kaalene went boom, so did he remember? And he may have found it hard to take the idea that his ship was a cold-blooded killer. Maybe he was in on it or maybe he was just too scared to let go. I guess we’ll never know.”  

“Whichever it was,” said D’Argo softly. “It seems the crew killed him for it.”  

 John came to his feet, aware that five pairs of eyes were following him as his paced the floor. “Let’s hope that’s not a choice we have to make,” he said sincerely. “We need to know if we can trust Pilot. The question is; how do we find out without giving ourselves away? Telling Pilot is telling Moya, whether he likes it or not. As soon as we let him in, she reads his thoughts and the game’s up.”  

“We should not share our suspicions with him,” Zhaan’s voice was low and sad. “Not yet. But the question is – if Moya is trying to harm us, how can we stop her without killing both her and ourselves?”  

“By finding the source.” John met Zhaan’s eyes, his own gaze weary. “I don’t like this any more than you do, Blue. But unless we figure out what’s causing Moya to go kooky, we may end up joining Kaalene as a relict on some lost moon awaiting the next poor saps to stumble across our scattered remains. I’m going to keep going over the recording – there are still some big chunks missing and anything we can learn about what happened to Kaalene may be helpful. Meanwhile we need to start looking around for any possible causes – a virus in her systems, radiation poisoning, anything. We need to search the pods, check our space suits, run some systems scans, try and spot anything that could be responsible. But we have to keep our heads down. We can’t let Moya and Pilot get suspicious. The only reason I reckon we’re still alive right now is because Moya doesn’t realise she’s been sprung – she and Pilot still think we’re blaming the energy being. Do your jobs, act normal and tell Pilot nothing. We can’t afford to blow this. All our lives may depend on the next couple of arns.”  

“Officer Sun!”  

Six beings jumped as one as Pilot’s voice echoed curtly from within Aeryn’s comm. The peacekeeper glanced anxious at her companions before tapping her golden badge gently.  

“Yes Pilot?”  

“Please come to my chamber immediately,” Pilot’s voice was clipped but it contained no evidence that he had overheard their conversation. “I require your assistance with a repair task.”  

Aeryn glanced up at John – he nodded at once. With an admirably level tone, the Sebacean responded.  

“Certainly Pilot. I’ll be with you in a few hundred microts.”  

“Thank you, Officer Sun.” With a click, the comm fell silent.  

Aeryn glanced at Crichton. “Is this a good idea?” she asked tersely.  

“Saying no would have been suspicious,” John pointed out at once. “Besides this will be a good chance for you to sound him out – see if you can tell which side he may be on if it came to the crunch. You know him best. You may be able to tell if he’s lying.”  

Aeryn nodded grimly. “I suppose you’re right.”  

“So now what?” asked Chiana.  

“We do like I said.” Crichton replied. “Act normal and check things out. We have a lot to learn and not much time. Best get to it.”  

With an exchange of looks, the crew dispersed. John watched them go, heavy-hearted, knowing that his fear and dejection at this revelation was reflected within them. It was an inconceivable thought – Moya turning against them and maybe Pilot too – and worse.  

For how were they to stop them except by following the example of Jarit Brax?  

With a sigh, John turned back to the recording. Maybe he would find something useful behind those silver walls of static.  

“Come on, Brax, help me out,” he murmured softly. Picking up a tool, he chose a static filled image and set to work.  

He did not see the two glowing lights that stared at him from behind a nearby crate.  

With a single twitch, the DRD turned quietly and trundled on its way.  

# 

It seemed so much darker than usual.  

Aeryn paused, perturbed, a slender silhouette in the entrance to Pilot’s chamber as she gazed in uncomfortable surprise at the wealth of dancing shadows and hidden curves of black that over-laid the backdrop of a room she had always felt more than safe in. In the course of her journey towards this blackened room, her headache had resurged with irritating persistence and the peacekeeper had found herself struggling to maintain her self-control as the backs of her eyeballs pounded against her skull like rhythmic hammers and little flashes of light teased at the corners of her eyes. John had asked her to assess the most likely direction of their navigator’s loyalties, but in her current state, she hardly felt able to assess her own. A pervasive weariness crept through her bones – she wanted nothing more than to go back the way she had come and lie down for the rest of eternity. But unfortunately, she had a job to do.  

Her eyes shifted at once to the dark, bulky outline of Moya’s Pilot, shrouded in the shades of his console, his fire-bright eyes not even rising from the strobbing lights of his panels to acknowledge her presence. If he had not spoken, Aeryn would not even have been convinced that he knew she was there.  

“You are here. Good.” His tone was clipped and business-like; not unfriendly exactly, but hardly infused with a surfeit of warmth. “Please proceed to the neural cluster immediately. Several of the linkages appear to have shorted out and my DRDs in that sector are not responding. I would appreciate it if you could examine the situation and report it back to me.”  

Aeryn stared, trying to ignore the incessant pounding of her mind. “That’s it?” she exclaimed, reining in her irritability only with the greatest of efforts. She could have been lying down! “You called me all the way up here to pass instructions you could have given me over the comms?”  

Pilot’s frame seemed to freeze – slowly, he raised his vast head, fixing her with a powerful amber stare. “I was trying to be more personal,” he drawled softly. “I’m sorry if you find that so offensive.”  

Personal? Aeryn sighed, fighting her pain as she attempted to think logically. She couldn’t help but feel that the terse manner the navigator had adopted was hardly in keeping with his claim, but she wisely refrained from commenting on it for she did not have the energy to argue. Perhaps she was reading this all wrong – perhaps Zhaan would have indeed proved a better person for this task. But of one thing she was certain; the Pilot she had know a few solar days before would never have spoken to her in such a manner. Was it simply stress as Zhaan believed or was there truly something more sinister behind his behaviour?  

It was time to find out.  

Before her head exploded.  

Softly, Aeryn stepped into the embracing darkness of the chamber, allowing the door to swing softly to a close behind her. In a few quick strides she crossed the walkway, coming to a halt a few steps short of the console. Pilot watched her come in silent contemplation, the blue and scarlet gyrations of his controls playing across his face like a mask.  

“Yes?” he said, his voice a whispered hiss.  

Aeryn ignored it, opting for the blunt approach in her pounded state, even though she knew full well that John would have had fits had he been there. “All right Pilot, what’s going on?” she exclaimed abruptly. “Ever since we left orbit of Kaalene’s moon, you’ve been cold, dismissive and downright rude to us! What’s the matter with you?”  

Pilot cocked his head. There was a vaguely unsettling glimmer behind his eyes. “You told me to be more assertive, Officer Sun,” he drawled smoothly. “I was just taking your advice.”  

“There’s assertive and there’s obnoxious.” Aeryn drew herself up, ignoring the resultant throb in her left eyeball. “You’ve crossed the line and we don’t appreciate it.”  

Pilot’s expression tightened. “Oh, well, I’m sorry,” he said, his voice rich with vast lashings of sarcasm. “I’ll try to be a better servant from now on.”  

Aeryn tensed. “That isn’t what I meant.”  

“Isn’t it?” Pilot retorted at once, drawing himself up. “Do you want to know why I called you down here, Officer Sun? Why I made this request in person rather than over the comms?” There was anger written across his features but also a vague disappointment. “Because I foolishly believed that of all of the people on this ship, you were the one I could still trust!”  

A vast silence echoed through the distant corners of the chamber as Aeryn stared wordlessly at the furious, cold-eyed alien drawn up before her. The pulsing of her head ebbed to a dull roar.  

“I do not believe there is an energy being,” Pilot’s voice was a sibilant hiss. “I do not believe there is an intruder that I cannot detect. I still believe that Moya’s saboteur can be found amongst this crew and as such, I do not wish to have any dangerous hands allowed access to Moya’s primary functions. But when the neural cluster failed and my DRDs malfunctioned, I knew that I had little choice but to chose someone to trust.” He glared. “It seems I chose badly.”  

Aeryn felt a guilty coldness well inside her chest, a rogue counterpoint to the heat swelling in her skull. Frelling Crichton! She had allowed his suspicions to make her turn upon her closest friend! He had come to her for help and she had replied with accusations. What was the matter with her?  

“Pilot…. I’m sorry,” she managed at last. “I didn’t realise…”  

Pilot sniffed. “Of course you didn’t. You people never do. You have always been too quick to think the worst of me – when you think of me at all.”  

Aeryn felt guilt give way to indignation. “That’s not true!” she retorted at once. “And you say we think the worst of you, but what about you thinking the worst of us! Why do you still accuse us even after we explained about the energy being?”  

Pilot’s expression was grim. “I believe what I see, not what I’m told. I learned that from my time with your kind.” His tone was bitter, a barely noticeable undertone shimmering under the words. His gaze was golden ice. “Just go now,” he muttered softly, his eyes dropping back to his console. “We both have work to do.”  

Aeryn hesitated, firmly forcing her headache back behind her eyes. “Do you still trust me to repair the neural cluster?”  

Pilot did not meet her gaze “I have not been left a great deal of choice.”  

The Sebacean nodded. “Then I’ll comm your for directions when I get there.”  

Pilot did not respond. Aeryn paused, waiting for a microt longer but it quickly became apparent that she had been dismissed. Frowning to herself, the peacekeeper turned on her heel and started back across the walkway, her thoughts tumbling over in her mind, a tangled strand of logic trying to pull free from her pain. John had asked her to assess whether or not Pilot could be trusted, but she had to admit that she was coming away even less enlightened than before. The only thing that she could say with definite certainty was that the navigator was not himself. But what did that mean? Were his actions powered by stress and mistrust, a fear of a saboteur amongst those he had thought he could finally trust? Or was there a genuine malice behind his words, a desire to harm influenced by Moya’s strange behavior? Just what were his motivations? Whose side was he on?  

At the moment it seemed obvious that the answer was Moya’s. But that being so, did he realize and support what she was doing or were his actions simply a result of strong but misguided loyalty?  

Who the frell was he?  

She had reached the golden arch of the door. With a sigh, Aeryn reached out and tapped the door control, glancing back over her shoulder at the mystery she had left behind.  

The heat struck her with a blinding suddenness. Aeryn staggered, gasping as the sensation of burning spread across the exposed flesh of her arms and neck; her sight vanished behind an enveloping wall of steaming creamy liquid. The peacekeeper stumbled to her knees, rocking against the sudden deadly warmth as she fought to strip away the searingly hot amnexus fluid that had coated her skin out of nowhere. Grappling the edge of the walkway with her fingers, she hauled herself clear of the gushing white-gold waterfall, choking hoarsely to catch her breath and regain her senses over the mind-numbing hotness of the ruptured liquid. Her unprotected skin, already reddened, was peeling in alarming chunks. Behind her, the boiling gusher lessened softly from a rush to a trickle and finally, a persistent echoing drip that rang in her ears, rebounding against the stunned realization of what she’d just seen like a chorus.  

Frell, no! It couldn’t have been….  

“Officer Sun!” Pilot’s voice seemed a very long way away but it focused her thoughts like a sharpened blade. “Are you all right?”  

A terrible coldness rose in Aeryn’s chest, a rising wall of ice that subdued the raging heat of her outer shell with vicious fortitude. Yes. She knew what she had witnessed. She knew what it meant.  

And she knew what she had to do about it.  

Her scorched fingers wrapped firmly around the reassuringly cold form of her pulse pistol; in one swift motion, she swept to her feet, swinging her weapon out of its holster and bringing it to bear.  

Leveled straight at Pilot.  

The navigator blinked in disbelief. “Officer Sun?” he exclaimed. “What are you doing?”  

“I might ask you the same question!” Aeryn’s voice was shaking – with her free hand, she wiped her amnexus soaked hair from her face. “I saw you.”  

“Saw me?” Pilot’s expression was a combination of incredulity and confusion. “Saw me what?”  

Aeryn was shivering with a mixture of heat exposure, pain and anger – her pistol shook in her grip. She was no longer surprised – after a moment’s consideration, she had seen at once the one possibility that even Crichton had never considered – the one possibility that fit every eventuality of the events aboard Kaalene. It was hard, so very hard to accept, after all that had happened in the past two cycles, all they had been through. But one thought cemented itself in her mind.  

I believe what I see, not what I’m told.  

 Pilot’s own words. How prophetically ironic that they should turn against him now.  

When she finally spoke, Aeryn’s voice was an emotionless void. “You triggered the control that burst that conduit.”  

Pilot’s face was a picture of wide-eyed innocence. “Did I?” he commented blandly.  

He was mocking her. A fiery anger rose within her, a swelling heat that seemed to blister her skin as fast as the congealing liquid. The pulse pistol shook with even greater violence. Her temples screamed.  

“You know you did!” she snarled. “Don’t play games with me! I know your console from end to end and I know what you did. I saw you!”  

Pilot’s expression grew cold. “You’re mistaken.”  

“I’m not!” Aeryn started across the walkway, a slow threatening, step-by-step march, her weapon extended before her like an extension of her arm. “It’s all been you, the entire time! Hasn’t it?” The peacekeeper could not believe the sheer depth of her anger, the total sense of betrayal that stretched bitter fingers around her heart and ruthlessly started to squeeze. At that instant, she wanted nothing more than to yank back on the trigger and cast the being who microts before she had called her closest friend into hapless oblivion.  

“The malfunctions, the accidents, the incidents!” she snapped instead. “You manipulated us, sending us from trap to trap whilst you sat back and laughed! Didn’t you? Didn’t you?  

Pilot fixed her with a long, low gaze. “Do you really expect me to answer that?” He let out a deep sigh, his eyes glowing like a pair of dying suns. “Here we go again,” he declared harshly. “Always so quick to think the worst! You denounce me for saying it and yet here, microts later, you provide a case in point! I think perhaps, Officer Sun, it might be best if you went in search of Zhaan and had your wounds tended. I believe the heat and pain may have gone to your head!” His eyes fixed upon her stone-cast expression. “As it happens, I was in the process of trying to prevent the rupture that you were so unfortunate as to be caught in. I was trying to regulate the flow!”  

Aeryn remained unmoved. “Then why didn’t you try to warn me?”  

“I did not know where it was going to rupture,” Pilot pronounced each word distinctly, as though speaking to an idiotic child. “I am symbiotic, not psychic!” He glared. “You don’t believe me? Then come and see for yourself! You can read my console! I will let you examine my data log and you will see that I was trying to help!”  

Aeryn felt a shiver of doubt – abruptly she felt more than a little less sure of herself. Had she really seen Pilot try to kill her? Uncertainly rose in a twisting whirlwind, spinning and clawing in her mind – it was so dark in here, her eyes were so unsure behind the pounding of her mind and the glance over her shoulder had been brief, momentary. How could she be so confident as to accuse her friend of murder and espionage based on a cursory backward glance? She blinked, trying to force back the tide of mind-numbing agony that had replaced what had once been her head – she felt as though she was about to collapse. What if she had made a mistake? What if this was just another mind frell, another burst of angry recrimination just like the arguments that had filled this very chamber three arns previously? Could she really trust him after all?  

She had to know.  

“All right,” she said, her voice an uncertain whisper. “I’m coming over. But no tricks.”  

Pilot’s expression was bland. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”  

Slowly, precisely, Aeryn stepped up to the console, her pulse pistol fixed firmly on the space between Pilot’s eyes.  

“Arms away,” she ordered firmly.  

With a roll of his eyes, Pilot dutifully lifted all four of his lengthy arms away from his controls.  

“Happy now?” he stated mordantly. “Hurry up and look so I can get on with my work. I’m leaving Moya unattended whilst I’m satisfying your paranoia.”  

Aeryn ignored the complaint. “Don’t move,” she commanded, pressing her weapon against the soft flesh of the navigator’s face. “Just let me look.”  

Her head was pounding with even more determination – forcing back the pain as she tried to concentrate, Aeryn gripped her pistol tighter as she took her eyes away from Pilot to peer down intensely at the flashing maze of readouts. Now where was the data log….  

Searing pain shot through her blistered wrist as it was seized in a vicious, vice-like grip –all at once, her pulse pistol was gone, ripped from her grasp in one swift, ruthless swipe to be tossed away into dark oblivion. Even as she tried to turn, a second grasp closed around her hair, lifting her from her feet to suspend her in agonised mid-air before the suddenly massive form of Moya’s faithful navigator.  

“Did you really think you could stop me with one pathetic pulse pistol?” Pilot spat the words at her in disdainful fury, the terrible grip of his claw around her head tightening as she struggled desperately to break free. His eyes glowed like fiery embers in a too-bright fire. “Foolish peacekeeper.”  

The impact was shocking. Aeryn reeled, screaming for help that was not going to come, trying desperately with all she had to pull away from the vicious grasp of her former friend, but Pilot was too powerful, his expression one of grim but cruel satisfaction as he swung with all his might to slam her head into the bulkhead for a second time. Blood filled Aeryn’s vision; she felt herself slipping, sliding away from consciousness, falling towards the dark abyss of rainbow lights that rose around her eyes. She caught a final glimpse of Pilot, no trace of the gentle, compassionate navigator she had known just three days before to be found, his two burning eyes boring into her soul with heartless fury.  

He was smiling.  

Then her head smashed into the bulkhead for the third and final time, and for the second time that day, she tumbled into blackness.

#  

“This is Captain Jarit Brax of the leviathan Kaalene, in orbit of the mining moon at Dar’scay-lat . I’m calling on a frequency from a hijacked DRD – we can no longer safely use our comms.  I beg you, if you can hear me, help us.  We’re under attack from our…”  

Abruptly the haggard face of Jarit Brax vanished behind a wall of pulsing silver static. John Crichton swore loudly, slamming his fist against the workbench in frustration. What the frell was the matter with this thing?  

It was like clockwork. The early portions of the tape had proved quite simple to fully restore – it had taken him no more than an arn to have the first few microts playing in pristine condition on the Peacekeeper holo-imager. But for some reason, fifteen microts in and just as Brax was getting to the important stuff, the picture would abruptly lose cohesion and jump to a point three or four microts down the line. It was a fault that seemed to run through the entire recording, an error line that blocked out various key parts of the text and John was starting to have a nasty suspicion that someone had implanted it deliberately. And since he could only think of two people who had had both opportunity and motive to do such a thing….  

It was not a pleasant prospect.  

With a sigh, John stepped away from the workbench, taking several deep breaths as he scanned the room once more for DRDs. The last thing he needed at the moment was for Moya and Pilot to take a sudden interest in his activities – that would be a sure fire route to anarchy. The others had already set out on their various missions to investigate possible causes of Moya’s malfunction; Zhaan had made her way to command to run some covert virus scans of Moya’s systems, D’Argo was in the neighbouring maintenance bay, examining the transport pod they had flown to Kaalene and Chiana had taken the space suits and the breathing masks they had used on the moon’s surface to examine them for evidence of tampering. Even Rygel had started helping with the repairs.  

John sighed. Everyone was pulling their weight except for him – and all because of some stupid fault in the recording! He knew that solving this problem was the key to the secret – if he could just unlock this error, the recording would be clear, he was certain of it. It was something to do with the tracking, a shift in bandwidth or something... If he could just…..  

Inspiration dawned. Groping in a nearby box of parts, Crichton yanked free a blank recording chip and inserted it into the data-stream, quickly reprogramming the imager’s settings. If he could re-record Brax’s message, adjusting for the interference manually….  

It was an anxious few hundred microts. John concentrated hard, fiddling and readjusting with a dexterity he barely knew he had as ran through the procedure as quickly as he could. As the recording ground to a halt, John lifted the rerecorded chip in one hand and turned it over in his fingers.  

“Please, God, let this work,” he muttered under his breath.  

With a deep breath, he removed the damaged recording from the slot and inserted the new one. With a shaking finger, he pressed play.   

Brax’s image sprang to life, as familiar to John now as his own face in the mirror. He seemed clearer somehow, more coherent – the human felt his heart begin to race as he listened to the opening words that he knew so well he could all but recite. Was this it? Would Brax be able to enlighten them somehow, to tell them what was wrong with Moya? He had no hopes of finding a cure, considering the drastic measures the Kaalene crew had been forced to take but if they could just find out the reason….  

“….from our Pilot! We don’t know why….”  

 What the….?  

John hit the pause button – instantly Brax’s image froze, a motionless reflection of the man who was suddenly staring at him with wide disbelieving eyes. Had Brax just said….?  

He hit rewind. The image spooled back a few microts. Leaning close, all but touching the image in his anxiety to hear correctly, John activated the distress call once more.  

“I beg you, if you can hear me, help us.  We’re under attack from our Pilot!”   

John froze. His heart turned to ice. He stared hypnotised at the flickering image of a man more than twenty solar days dead, watching it through as though to stop would end the world.  

How could this be?  

The Wrardi man was bloodstained, sweat pouring down his dark features. “We don’t know why he turned on us like this – there’s no reason for it, he just went crazy and started killing us one by one! He’s gone insane, he’s trying to kill us all!” Brax’s face contorted – he glanced anxiously over his shoulder before continuing in a tone deep-laden with despair. “There’s no way to escape – he blocks us at every turn, captures us, tortures us and rips us apart. DRDs, environmentals, even the frelling doors – they’re all a threat. How can you fight back when your very ship rises up against you? Please help us - we’re trapped in this Hezmana. We have to fight back – we can’t hide any more. We have to forget friendships that once were and be as ruthless as he’s become.” His eyes grew haunted. “I’ve decided to cripple Kaalene. I hate myself for this – he’s been a home and a friend for six cycles now but I don’t have another choice. We can’t get close enough to disconnect Pilot from the ship – his power is Kaalene and we have to sever that link one way or another. My crew are going to distract him with an assault on his chamber – I’ll use the time to take out Kaalene’s neural nexus. I tell you this in the hope that, even if we all die, someone may find this message and restore Kaalene somehow. He had no part in this – it was all Pilot. It’s a vague hope; but it’s the only hope we have. I say again, if you can hear us, help us. Help Kaalene. I have to go now. I can’t risk this transmission being detected. DRD, transmit message.”  

The image cut out. The air shivered.  

John didn’t move.  

Pilot.  

Was that possible?  

Disturbingly enough it made sense – certainly it fitted together all the pieces on the mystery of Kaalene. There had been a mutiny but not the one D’Argo had suggested – it was the DRDs acting at the behest of the Pilot that the Wrardi miners had been battling in the corridors, the DRDs that had ripped innocent men down to strips of meat that he really didn’t care to dwell on. And that assault, all those lives lost in the battle to reach the Pilot’s chamber – it had been no more than a distraction, a chance for Jarit Brax to bring down the source of all their wayward Pilot’s power – Kaalene – before being gunned down himself out of vengeance. And then as the Pilot was distracted as he tried to fix the damage, the crew had broken through and set off a mining charge….  

But was that what was happening here?  

Was Pilot of all people their saboteur?  

It made no sense. Why would Pilot damage Moya, the source of his power, his companion, his very life? It would be suicide. And why would he be so insistent on fixing the damage if harming Moya was his intent – why drive them round to do repairs in one breath and denounce them as causing them with the next? Admittedly, he could be trying to throw suspicion away from himself, but to what end? What was he trying to gain from all this – apart from a few sick laughs at the crew’s expense? If he wanted them dead, why the frell didn’t he just kill them?  

 John sighed. Well he had repaired the tape – but far from solving their mystery it had just exposed even more unanswerable questions. But one thing was for certain – he needed to get the others together as quickly as possible to talk this new revelation through. After all, if it really was Pilot and not Moya causing the damage, they would all have to….  

Aeryn.  

He had sent Aeryn to Pilot’s chamber.  

John felt his heart drop through his boots.  

He had sent her into the lion’s den and she didn’t even know there was a lion.  

Frell!  

John reached for his comm mindlessly for a moment before abruptly remembering who was likely to be at the other end. Swearing under his breath, he wheeled, racing away from the workbench as he scrambled for the door.  

It slammed shut in his face.  

For a microt John could only stare in disbelief. He tapped the control. Nothing. He hit it again. Still nothing. Furious frustration roared in his ears – logic was thrust aside. Dammit, Aeryn was in danger, what was the matter with this thing?  

“Open, damn you!” Roaring in anger, Crichton slammed his fist into the door-lock, pounding it and screaming until the blood seeped through his fingers but still the lock stubbornly refused to budge.  

“That isn’t going to help, you know.”  

The disembodied voice made John jump – startled he spun around.  

The guns barrels of a dozen DRDs glinted back at him.  

Oh frell.  

“Pilot,” he muttered softly, slumping back against the door. “God-dammit, it is you.”  

The voice that shimmered over the comm in response was cold and mocking, a smooth wave of sound that was almost unrecognisable as the Pilot he had come to know and care about.  

“Congratulations Commander,” he drawled dryly. “It took you long enough.”  

 

END OF PART 4

Part 5

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