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.
longer is she going to be? Dammit, Pilot!”
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
tell her to hurry the Hell up! Aeryn is seriously hurt here!”
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!”
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.
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.
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.
I don’t give a rat’s arse about…”
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
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?”
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.
her arms with a grunt, Aeryn tried to sit up, but Crichton’s quick hands
pressed her back.
you don’t!” he ordered sharply. “Not until Zhaan’s checked you over.”
be ridiculous,” Aeryn swatted his hands away. “I’m not hurt. Let me get
could still be in shock.”
am not in shock. Let me up!”
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
got shocked by the pod.” Crichton came to his feet, one hand over his mouth.
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
deep eyes fixed on Aeryn in concern. “How do you feel?”
Sebacean sat up slowly. Zhaan did not try to hinder her – indeed she aided the
maneuver. Crichton did not protest.
good.” Aeryn smiled weakly. “I ache a lot.”
only natural.” Zhaan reached out, gently examining the sharp array of bruises
across Aeryn’s arm. “You’ve had quite an experience.”
Sebacean sighed ruefully. “One I could have done without.”
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?”
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.”
his hologram shimmered and was gone. Aeryn pulled a face.
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.”
head jerked up. “Dren? What dren?”
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.”
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.
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?”
frowned. “What do you mean?”
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?”
Sebacean and the Delvian stared. “You think someone is doing this on
purpose.” Aeryn stated.
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.”
suspect D’Argo.” Aeryn’s eyes narrowed.
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.”
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
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.”
frowned. “That’s only two. Two can be coincidence.”
Zhaan was gazing at the golden ceiling. “Who repaired the comm system?” she
asked softly, a hint of fear in her voice.
regarded her slowly. “D’Argo. Why?”
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
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
how were they to know that the ones the suspected had chosen exactly the same
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
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!”
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
have only your word for that.” The Luxan sneered down his nose at the human.
she seems to have recovered remarkably quickly from this life-threatening
you calling me a liar?” John braced his shoulders indignantly.
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!”
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!”
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
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
was time to intervene. Drawing herself up, she started forwards.
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…”
the frell is your problem, Aeryn? Did that shock fry your brain or is it just
the way you are?”
just making sure that no little trelk catches me by surprise...”
is ridiculous. This is a waste of time and I’m hungry!”
stop this, all of you. It isn’t helping.”
not the one who made happy with the disco rocks!”
you are the one who had the frelling fit!”
the matter? Don’t think you can take me on without your peacekeeper toys?”
could take a pathetic Nebari like you anytime….”
to the lot of you!”
down! This is wrong!”
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
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?”
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.
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.”
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.”
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
right.” Aeryn’s voice was strong. “It’s Moya that matters.”
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?”
eyes were cold. “Do you still blame me?”
smiled crookedly. “Do you still blame me?”
Luxan frowned. “A little.”
I still blame you – a little.” John grinned. “But I think I can work
reluctant smile twitched in the corner of D’Argo’s mouth. Abruptly he
slapped his palm against John’s.
smiled in relief.
Crichton turned on the hulking form of Moya’s navigator who continued to
regard him with undisguised suspicion. “Any ideas?”
didn’t answer. His frown deepened and he turned his attention back to his
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?”
eyes rose in a slow roll. “Go away,” he drawled abruptly, an undisguised
threat overlying his tone. “All of you.”
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.”
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.”
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!”
sniffed. “I don’t have time for this.”
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
knew at once that he had stepped over the line. Pilot’s eyes snapped up, his
features contorted with icy fury.
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….”
did you say?”
I would never…”
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.
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.”
more than one. Possibly all.” Pilot refused to turn. “But someone is causing
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.”
do you assume it was us?” D’Argo moved forwards, his rangy limbs reacting
with surprising grace beneath their tattered coverings.
cast them a sideways glance filled with disdain. “Because there is no one else
came to D’Argo’s side. “How can you be so sure? Intruders have evaded your
senses before now.”
expression grew indignant. “Are you calling me incompetent, Officer Sun?”
course not,” Aeryn kept her cool with surprising ease. “I was stating a
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?”
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.”
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?”
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.”
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!”
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.
could it have got on board?” Chiana’s voice was barely more than a whisper.
“I thought you blew it up!”
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.”
frowned. “But the crew….”
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.”
the message,” Zhaan stepped forward curiously. “It sounded as though the
assailant was someone they knew – someone they cared about.”
the creature was their pet. Perhaps it could lead them to those glowing rocks. A
servant that turned.”
a slave.” Zhaan was nodding. “I suppose it’s possible.”
alone read the look on Crichton’s face. Quietly she stepped to his side.
don’t look convinced,” she stated softly.
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.
she whispered firmly.
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
won’t even tell me?” There was a hint of annoyance in the Sebacean’s tone.
smiled wanly. “Baby, when I tell, I tell everyone together. No more
Zhaan was speaking soothingly to Moya’s navigator.
this why you’ve been so uptight with us, Pilot?” she said gently. “Because
you believed we were responsible for harming Moya?”
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….”
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.
Pilot,” he said casually. “You still got that recording we picked on
shrugged. “Of course. For all the use it is. Why?”
I borrow it?”
flicker of suspicion crossed Pilot’s features. “What for?”
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.
told you,” he stated firmly. “The tape was damaged. I examined it
thoroughly but could learn nothing more.”
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.”
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.
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?”
were busy with Moya when you looked,” John offered. “Maybe you missed
moment the words left his lips, John knew he’d made a serious mistake.
Pilot’s expression flared.
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.
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…”
Aeryn tried to step in, her hands raised in an attempt to placate but Pilot was
not to be calmed.
say nothing!” he bellowed. “Just get out, all of you! I have work to do and
so do you!”
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.
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.
heels had barely passed the threshold when the door slammed shut behind them.
There was a long pause.
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.
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?”
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.”
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.”
a microt…” Aeryn’s demeanour was poised on the verge of violence but
luckily Zhaan intervened.
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
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.”
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….”
think he’s lying.” D’Argo made it a statement of fact.
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.”
frowned, her azure brow creasing. “What do you mean?”
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 not.” Chiana’s smug little smile spread into a full-grown smirk. From
within one gloved palm she produced the recording.
snatched it from her fingers at once. “How the Hell did you get this?”
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.”
leaned forward and kissed her quickly on the cheek. “Pip, you’re a genius. I
owe you one.”
stood up straight and returned the gesture with a sultry smile. “More than
one,” she drawled. “And I’ll hold you to that.”
D’Argo’s glare, John immediately backed off. With a pout, Chiana returned to
her position against the wall.
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.”
Crichton? Are you going to explain this now?”
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
wrong?” Aeryn responded first with the words hovering on all of their lips.
“What have you found?”
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
expression was one of confusion but she quickly answered his query.
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.”
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.
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
what happened?” Chiana’s features were a cocktail of impatience and fear.
going on? Frell it Crichton, we need to know!”
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.”
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.
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
nodded. “I thought he might be. Just keep watching. It makes a lot of things a
whole lot clearer.”
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.
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.
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.”
the image terminated.
was a long silence.
Chiana muttered softly.
sighed. “My sentiments exactly.”
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
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?”
sets of eyes fixed on him in disbelief.
think it was their ship?” Zhaan’s expression was a mixture of
incredulousness and horror.
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.”
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?”
some of us scrambling around.” Chiana corrected dryly. “But Ryge has
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.”
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?”
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?”
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.”
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.”
it was,” said D’Argo softly. “It seems the crew killed him for it.”
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
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?”
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.”
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.
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.”
glanced up at John – he nodded at once. With an admirably level tone, the
Pilot. I’ll be with you in a few hundred microts.”
you, Officer Sun.” With a click, the comm fell silent.
glanced at Crichton. “Is this a good idea?” she asked tersely.
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.”
nodded grimly. “I suppose you’re right.”
now what?” asked Chiana.
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.”
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.
how were they to stop them except by following the example of Jarit Brax?
a sigh, John turned back to the recording. Maybe he would find something useful
behind those silver walls of static.
on, Brax, help me out,” he murmured softly. Picking up a tool, he chose a
static filled image and set to work.
did not see the two glowing lights that stared at him from behind a nearby
a single twitch, the DRD turned quietly and trundled on its way.
seemed so much darker than usual.
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.
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.
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.”
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?”
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.”
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?
was time to find out.
her head exploded.
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.
he said, his voice a whispered hiss.
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?”
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.”
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
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
tensed. “That isn’t what I meant.”
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!”
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.
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
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?
I’m sorry,” she managed at last. “I didn’t realise…”
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.”
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
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.”
hesitated, firmly forcing her headache back behind her eyes. “Do you still
trust me to repair the neural cluster?”
did not meet her gaze “I have not been left a great deal of choice.”
Sebacean nodded. “Then I’ll comm your for directions when I get there.”
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?
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?
the frell was he?
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
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.
no! It couldn’t have been….
Sun!” Pilot’s voice seemed a very long way away but it focused her thoughts
like a sharpened blade. “Are you all right?”
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
knew what it meant.
she knew what she had to do about it.
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.
straight at Pilot.
navigator blinked in disbelief. “Officer Sun?” he exclaimed. “What are you
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.”
me?” Pilot’s expression was a combination of incredulity and confusion.
“Saw me what?”
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.
believe what I see, not what I’m told.
own words. How prophetically ironic that they should turn against him now.
she finally spoke, Aeryn’s voice was an emotionless void. “You triggered the
control that burst that conduit.”
face was a picture of wide-eyed innocence. “Did I?” he commented blandly.
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.
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!”
expression grew cold. “You’re mistaken.”
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
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?”
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!”
remained unmoved. “Then why didn’t you try to warn me?”
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!”
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?
had to know.
right,” she said, her voice an uncertain whisper. “I’m coming over. But no
expression was bland. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
precisely, Aeryn stepped up to the console, her pulse pistol fixed firmly on the
space between Pilot’s eyes.
away,” she ordered firmly.
a roll of his eyes, Pilot dutifully lifted all four of his lengthy arms away
from his controls.
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.”
ignored the complaint. “Don’t move,” she commanded, pressing her weapon
against the soft flesh of the navigator’s face. “Just let me look.”
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….
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
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.”
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
her head smashed into the bulkhead for the third and final time, and for the
second time that day, she tumbled into blackness.
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…”
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?
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….
was not a pleasant prospect.
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.
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…..
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
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.
God, let this work,” he muttered under his breath.
a deep breath, he removed the damaged recording from the slot and inserted the
new one. With a shaking finger, he pressed play.
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….
our Pilot! We don’t know why….”
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
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.
beg you, if you can hear me, help us. We’re
under attack from our Pilot!”
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.
could this be?
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.”
image cut out. The air shivered.
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
was that what was happening here?
Pilot of all people their saboteur?
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
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….
had sent Aeryn to Pilot’s chamber.
felt his heart drop through his boots.
had sent her into the lion’s den and she didn’t even know there was a lion.
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.
slammed shut in his face.
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
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.
isn’t going to help, you know.”
disembodied voice made John jump – startled he spun around.
guns barrels of a dozen DRDs glinted back at him.
he muttered softly, slumping back against the door. “God-dammit, it is you.”
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.
Commander,” he drawled dryly. “It took you long enough.”
OF PART 4