John couldn’t move.
He wasn’t sure if it was the icy shock
that shivered down his spine, the cold dread lodged in his chest or both of the
above that had caused his paralysis; all he knew was that is entire body was
locked in petrifying immobile hypnosis as his eyes fixed with horrified
resignation upon the hard, mechanical outlines of Moya’s familiar DRDs. He
felt sick, his stomach churning in a tumbling wormhole as the grim truth of his
situation crashed down around his ears. Pilot was their saboteur. Moya was
innocent. And thanks to him, the others had no idea – no idea that they were
almost certain imprisoned within a death-trap of a ship, destined to follow in
the bloody death throes of Jarit Brax and his crew at the hands of a menacing
and seemingly unstable being that a few days before they would have happily
trusted with their lives.
What the frell was going on?
And what had he done with Aeryn?
“Pilot.” He breathed the familiar
name like a curse. “Where’s…..?”
“Officer Sun? Your precious Aeryn?”
Pilot interrupted coolly. John could almost sense the slow, cold smile that must
have crossed the navigator’s face. “So predictable, Crichton.” He laughed
softly, like an echo dancing in ice. “And so pathetic.”
Fire stirred deep within John, icy fear
swamped in an instant by fiery anger. “What have you done with her?” he
growled softly. “If you’ve harmed so much as a hair on her head….”
A dozen gun barrels targeted themselves
abruptly at his forehead. Pilot’s calm voice rippled through the air, his tone
laced with more than an edge of mockery. “In case you’ve failed to grasp the
situation, commander,” he drawled smoothly. “You really are in no
position to make threats.” He laughed again, a soft, low chuckle completely
devoid of any humour. “Especially whilst Officer Sun is my…. special
John felt a helpless anger consume him
– his grip on his emotions vanished beneath the cold swell of Pilot’s
playful cruelty. He felt his fists clench, his shoulders swell – he wheeled in
sudden fury at the gentle curve of the clamshell balanced above the work bench,
a dormant golden grasp that hid behind it’s silence the cause of all their
“Pilot, damn you, show yourself!”
John’s rationality went out of the nearest airlock; he slammed his already
bloody fingers down on the surface in raging, impotent anger as he screamed at
the silent golden shell. “Face me, you bastard! What have you done to
her? What have you done to her?”
There was distinct amusement in
Pilot’s tone at the human’s futile fury. “Aside from knocking her
There was a long menacing pause – John
could sense the air turning to ice.
John fought to regain control of himself
– raging at empty clamshells was not going to help Aeryn or anyone else for
that matter, especially not himself. He had to stay in control – he had to use
his mind or Pilot would have him for breakfast. He had to think this through!
Pilot had been their navigator and friend for more than a cycle – he
wouldn’t just turn on them like this without a damn good reason. Something had
to have affected him somehow, got into his mind and warped it. But what? And how
could he stop it before he followed the Wrardi and ended up as just so much
mangled dog meat?
“Why?” The question slipped from the
human’s lips almost unbidden. “Pilot, why are you doing this?”
“Why not?” The cool, casual response
was not quite what John had expected. “I have thought about it so many times
before, imagined it, dreamed about it, as you people hacked off my arm, threw
Moya and myself into life threatening situations and all but abandoned us
without a second thought. But it was only a dream then, Crichton, only a
fantasy, pondered on in idle hours in a distant corner of my thoughts. I never
would have done it.”
John gazed back up at the clamshell but
still no image flickered there. “What changed?”
“I did.” A hard edge, like a
sharpened blade cut across Pilot’s voice. “It was Officer Sun that made me
see it, Officer Sun that showed me the way. She told me I didn’t deserve the
kind of treatment I endure from you people and I realised that she was right –
I have suffered untold indignities at your hands out of my own misplaced sense
of guilt and ridiculous desire for the atonement of a crime I never even
committed! It was pathetic! I was pathetic!”
There was a pause. “But then it all
John could sense the icy smile on
Pilot’s face once more. “Ironic isn’t it, Crichton - that I should be made
to see the truth by the very peacekeeper responsible for all the hurt I suffered
when I came aboard this ship!” There was an undisguised threat behind his
words. “I’ll be sure to thank her properly. I’ll be sure to thank you
“Pilot…” John half-stepped forward
towards the DRDs, but froze in his tracks at the threatening buzz that arose
from them. Left arguing with an insubstantial voice, he chose to address mid
air. “For God sakes, listen to yourself! We’ve been friends for more than a
“Friends!” Pilot’s derisive
exclamation interrupted John’s attempt at a speech. “Is that how humans
treat a friend then? Like a lackey or a slave to do their bidding and follow
their commands? Like a servant forced to labour with no rest, no respect, no
equality or right to speak if their words do not agree with yours? My
intelligence is a hundred, a thousand times any of yours, my species superior
physically and mentally. I should not be forced to serve you! You should
be serving me!” He took an angry breath. “Your presence is an insult
John jumped on the reference instantly.
“Is this what Moya wants?” he exclaimed abruptly. “Does she share all
these feelings of yours? Does she want you to kill us?”
He’d struck some kind of nerve – the
long, uncertain silence was confirmation of that. John could tell that Pilot had
been forced to mull over his response and that gave him a sudden surge of hope.
If it was just Pilot and not Moya, then Pilot could be stopped. Moya could talk
to him. If necessary, she could stop him.
If he could only get to Moya…
“Moya….does not know what she
wants.” Pilot’s voice broke abruptly into his thoughts. There was a slight
hint of uncertainty about his tone. “She is….. very confused at the moment.
So I must act in her best interests.”
“By attacking us?” John could not
keep the incredulousness from his tone. “How is that in Moya’s best
Pilot’s voice shimmered with sudden
coldness. “Moya is not well. The disruptions to her systems were not all by my
hand. Something – or someone – has made her ill, disorientated, unable to
think clearly. I have no choice but to act in her stead to protect us both. And
you are the most likely culprits.” There was an alarmingly clinical edge
behind his tone. “Once you are all eliminated, she will be better. And
everything will be as it should be.”
John sighed. “So what are you going to
do? Skewer our body parts up in the corridors like trophies? Or just blast us to
beyond with the DRDs?”
Pilot let out a derisive laugh.
“Please! Credit me better than that!” He sighed easily. “It is obvious
that my counterpart on Kaalene had no imagination, although admittedly he did
have a great deal more specimens to deal with. I intend to devise much more
poetic demises for my awkward little crew.”
There was a threatening pause. “You
misdeeds of the last cycle and a half have given me more than enough material to
John’s ice-cold feeling returned in a
rush. “Pilot, think about what you’re saying!” he protested
vehemently. “We are not the ones responsible for this! We’ve been
trying to help you, for frell’s sake! We would never, ever do anything
to harm you or Moya! We care too much about you both to even contemplate
it! Why the frell can’t you see that?”
Pilot’s voice was a dry, sarcastic
drawl. “Such beautiful sentiments, Crichton. I can hardly contain my
John cursed the air loudly. “Dammit,
Pilot, will you listen to….”
The sheer force of the declaration
shocked John to silence as Pilot’s tone of casual mockery dissolved into
sudden hardness. “I’ve had enough of listening to you, Crichton! Enough of
listening as you insult me when you think I cannot hear you! Enough of being
ignored when it suits you and taken advantage of when it doesn’t! Enough of
being molested and mistreated like a common, helpless slave! And more, so much
more than enough of seeing you people abuse Moya’s trust by flinging her into
mortal danger of your causing without so much as a please or thank you!” His
voice echoed like cracking ice. “I’ve reached breaking point, commander. And
now it’s time to pay.”
John felt his stomach churning once
more– he fought to resist the urge to scream in helpless fury.
“What are you going to do to us?” he
“Us…” Pilot hissed the word.
“You should worry more about yourself, Crichton. It’s a little too late to
concern yourself with the others.”
John felt his heart, already dropping,
smash into a thousand shards – his voice, struggling for a single breath,
broke under the strain. “Pilot, what the hell have you….?”
Once again, Pilot replied with a mocking
laugh. It seemed ironic, considering how little he had laughed before, than he
had chosen to take it up now. “Poor Crichton,” he murmured in amusement.
“Always the last to know. Did you not realize? This ship has been locked down
for almost an arn – ever since Officer Sun got a little to close for comfort.
You were the only one on board who did not know it was me!”
John stared into nothingness, his eyes
wide. “What have you done to them?” he whispered bleakly.
Abruptly the silent clamshell flickered
into life; the golden curves of one of Moya’s corridors unfolded before
John’s helpless eyes. Pilot’s voice echoed over the flickering image in a
low drawl, cold and teasing.
“See for yourself,” he suggested.
D’Argo had known nothing like it, not
even from his days as a peacekeeper prisoner. His breath was a poisonous rasp
that echoed in his ears; he fought to stay upright against the coursing agony of
exhaustion that seeped through his bones, a crippling counterpoint to the
pinprick slashes that littered his skin, scattering a tell tale trail of blood
that mixed both dark and clear on the golden floor behind him. Burn marks flowed
from cut to cut across exposed flesh, clinging beneath tatters of shredded robe
that hung over his staggering form like a shroud. He ran, legs numb, the motion
mechanical and barely conscious as he searched with desperate eyes for
something, anything that resembled a weapon.
They were coming again.
He could hear them.
A slow distant whirr. A sound that had
once been normal, a part of everyday life and an occasional minor irritation was
now a harbinger of doom. He glanced left, glanced right; he could not see them
but he knew that they were coming just as they had done before. Just as they had
when they had ripped his clothes. Just as they had when they had stabbed his
skin. Just as they had when they had riddled him with burns. One new pain
followed swiftly by the next – and now they had released him to run, to flee
like a whipped animal from their advancing hoard as they guided him along a
chosen path to coldly hunt him down.
What would they do next?
A flash of light; a pair of shining
eyes; D’Argo quickly changed direction, darting away with all the agility he
possessed through the gaping darkness of an open door into the ion back-wash
chamber. Smoke swirled around his knees; he stumbled and almost fell, groping
for some kind of balance as he staggered, reeling on weakened muscles. His eyes
swept the room – no, there was no sign of them. But there was no telling how
soon they would return.
The far door beckoned invitingly. The
Luxan knew exactly what lay just beyond that simple portal – a quick few steps
to an access vent and a rapid crawl down to the maintenance bay and possible
freedom. He had no delusions of being released through the docking bay. But if
he could just reach Aeryn’s prowler, just launch it and make a run, it might
just be possible to shoot his way out and find help. He would regret the harm to
Moya more than anything in the world but what was he to do? If nothing else, the
maintenance bay might have weapons.
He rushed forward. The open portal
And slammed shut in his face.
For a microt, D’Argo could only stare
as his last hope, his only plan dissolved before his eyes. Hyper-rage fizzled
within his skull – for an instant, he almost turned on the door with his bare
fist, intent upon vengeful destruction. But then a low hum pervaded his senses
– his instinct for survival overcame his rage.
There was no time for this. He had to
get out or he would be trapped.
He turned for the door just in time to
watch it swing lazily to a close.
Darkness swallowed the room in deep
corners – only a single light, a swirling blue strobe that danced like liquid
lightning across the smoky surface from some unseen source in the roof,
remained. The silence echoed.
And then began to change.
It was slow, invasive, cunning, an
almost unnoticed addition to the quiet that rose and grew into it was no longer
quiet at all, but a soft, familiar humming that rose like a gentle crescendo on
the crest of an advancing wave of sound. The mist began to shift and pulse – a
dull glow pervaded it like a halo, an easy swell of light that surrounded
D’Argo in broad crescent moon. Beneath the cover of smoke, lights twinkled
like yellow stars and rose as though with nightfall to emerge as a forest of
dark stalks topped by sun like gleaming bulbs that softly began to advance.
They had found him.
“Hello Ka D’Argo.”
The Luxan did not start at the voice. He
had been expecting it.
“Pilot,” he growled coldly. “You
Hezmana-cursed son of a…”
“There really is no need for that.”
The navigator’s interruption was smooth and easy. “Those would hardly be
fitting as last words.”
“Fitting, my mivonks!” Suddenly
defiant, D’Argo drew himself up and realised a string of the foulest Luxan
curses he could imagine into the empty air. “Record that on your data
log!” he bellowed. “What the frell is the matter with you? Why are you doing
“Revenge.” The response was
immediate. “And to teach a lesson. I would have thought that was obvious.”
“Revenge?” D’Argo could hardly
believe what he was hearing. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s quite simple, Ka D’Argo.”
Abruptly the legion of DRDs ranged out before him whirred into action, closing
the semi-circle with cold firmness as the Luxan took a step backwards. “Simple
enough even for you to understand. I wanted you to know how it feels.”
“What are you talking about?”
The cold skinsteel of the chamber wall
shuddered against D’Argo’s shoulders, bringing his retreat to an abrupt
halt. He scanned the room quickly in search of an escape but there was nothing
–no door, no vent, no weapon and no way out. In a fevered instant he even
considered leaping the advancing DRDs but there were too many, stretched too
deep – he would be dead in microts if he tried to pass them.
He was trapped.
He was doomed.
After all he had been through, was this
really how he was destined to die? Tortured to death by DRDs at the hands of a
Cold fear – the fear of death - welled
within his chest, consuming him with almost uncontrollable fervour. How could
this be happening?
“That is what I mean.” There
was a cold satisfaction to Pilot’s tone, a brutal, icy pleasure that was
deeply and fundamentally disturbing. “That is what I wanted. I wanted
you to know the grip of real fear, true terror, to feel what it is
like to be so afraid you can barely draw your breath. I wanted you to know what
it’s like to be trapped, helpless, with no way to escape and no power to
resist as those around you inflict pain that you never deserved. I wanted you to
understand the horror of seeing someone you had come to trust turn on you in a
selfish whim.” There was a long pause. D’Argo could sense the animosity of
Moya’s navigator shimmering through the walls like an invasive disease and
knew that whatever he was expecting, there was worse to come.
“I wanted you to know,” Pilot’s
voice, when it came, was soft. “Just how much it hurts to lose an arm.”
The pain was indescribable. D’Argo
roared and screamed in agony as the burning hot spike of a DRD the Luxan had not
even noticed, plunged into his shoulder, piercing it though and pinning him to
the wall like a doll. Even as he fought desperately to concentrate through the
pain, he heard a slow, fizzling fire beside his ear and realised that a second
DRD, this time armed with a cutting tool had halted by his arm.
“I’m going to take you apart,
Luxan,” D’Argo could barely breathe, barely hear, but somehow Pilot’s
voice forced it’s way into his consciousness. “Limb by limb, organ by organ,
until there is nothing left of you but an interesting display of Luxan anatomy.
Enjoy your death, Ka D’Argo. You’ve earned it.”
With a flare of light, the cutting tool
came to life.
Rygel surfaced with a splutter, fighting
for some kind of breath, some kind of relief from the terrible, noxious, thick
black excrement that now coated the entire of the exterior of his body and good
proportion of the interior of his nose and throat. As an aquatic Hynerian, he
could breathe under most kinds of water, but this disgusting guano was
impossible, as bad – no worse, far worse – than mud, coating him, choking
him, invading his body and sucking his life away. He gasped and spat with all
his strength, as he hovered face down over the jet waste that oozed in the foot
of Pilot’s chamber, his tiny limbs sore and chafing from the spread eagle
position in which he had been humiliatingly bound to the underside of his own
thronesled. Above him, the chirps and beeps of the impertinent DRD that had
rendered him thus and now actuated the controls for his regular dunkings,
sounded like poison to his ears.
“Pilot!” he bellowed with a gasp.
“Pilot, I demand that you cease this immediately! I demand that you release
me! I demand…”
His words were swallowed, stolen by his
sudden submersion into the trill-bat refuge once more. He struggled and fought
as the stinking purple-black ooze filled his mouth, invaded his body, but the
bonds that held him in place were too firm, too strong. By the time he emerged
once more, the former Dominar was three-quarters drowned and half dead.
“Demand?” Rygel blinked as Pilot’s
soft, smooth drawl echoed out of nowhere. “Is that the only word you know? You
demand, you want, you need, you must have. Every sentence you speak begins and
ends with you. Do you think of nothing else?”
Rygel’s voice was a croak.
“Please….stop this. I’ve done nothing…”
“Exactly.” Pilot chuckled softly.
“You’ve done nothing. Three words that sum up the life of Dominar Rygel the
sixteenth, disposed ruler of Hyneria, who never quite grasped the idea that the
universe does not revolve around him. You lie, you cheat, and you conceal your
true motives. You flout your arrogance, refuse to help and take what you want as
it suits you without earning or deserving it. And then you have the infinite
nerve to tell me, me that has foolishly wasted the last two cycles of my life
serving the worthless without a word of complaint, me that was forced to lose my
arm for your selfish desires, that I should think of somebody else for a
change!” The rage in Pilot’s voice was no longer concealed, the soft tone
“Well how’s this for thinking of
somebody else for a change, your eminence?” With a rasp of horror, Rygel was
plunged once more into the pitch-dark putrid depths. For several agonising
microts, he lingered there before being yanked to the surface once more to be
greeted by the sound of Pilot’s fury.
“I promise, I’m thinking about you
very much,” the navigator was declaring harshly. “How much I hate the sound
of your whining little voice!”
Bat dung filled Rygel’s vision – his
eyes screamed with pain.
“How many times you’ve almost turned
your back on us to preserve your own putrid little hide!”
The odour filled the Hynerian’s
nostrils, choking him – he fought to empty his lungs of the gunk but only
filled them more.
“How much I despise cleaning up your
The stench oozed through the Dominar’s
body – he could feel even his resilient system weakening as the horrendous
excrement consumed him once more. He emerged a wreck, weakened, shivering and
utterly helpless, stripped of all his grandeur and his cunning by simple,
straightforward torture. He stared down at the shifting mass of darkness beneath
him and wondered just how many more times he would be able to endure it’s
“Oh yes, Dominar Rygel.” Pilot’s
voice was as black as the refuge beneath him. “I’m definitely
thinking of you right now.”
And then, helpless and fading, Rygel
felt himself plunge into the black once more.
But this time he did not come up.
tried to scream.
Instantly she was choking, her mouth and
throat consumed by invasive particles, her breath snatched away as she slumped
to crawl on hands and knees across the white-coated golden floor of Moya’s
command. The air before her eyes was whirling, dancing, a convulsive, tangled
mass of white and gray, flakes that crushed any breathable atmosphere between
their tattered edges as they stole away both life and hope from Pa’u Zotah
And worse, there was the sound. It
screeched in her ears, a piercing, mind-blowing discomfort that clawed like
lightning over the soft surface of her brain, loud and inescapable, consuming
every corner of the room as it bounced and echoed in a growing crescendo until
it was so discordant as to be unbearable. The Delvian could feel it vibrating in
her ears, pulsing across her mind, unravelling one by one the tenuous threads of
her sanity. She couldn’t breath, for the particles in the air were poison to
her, couldn’t see for all that filled her eyes was deadly white, couldn’t
hear for her ears were crushed by agonising sound-waves, her sense blown and
useless, her demise imminent. With all the consciousness she could muster within
the depths of her soul, Zhaan mustered her mind and cried out in desperation to
The noise ceased.
For an instant, Zhaan could scarcely
believe it. Even the air seemed suddenly less heavy – she found that she could
almost see, almost breath. Could it be? Had salvation come in some magnificent
Was this not the end?
“Pa’u Zotah Zhaan.”
The Delvian’s hope dropped like a
stone, to be swallowed once more by despair, at the sound of a voice that just
an arn before she would have treasured. She coughed, choking up the gasping mess
that blocked her throat and turned her gaze to the golden, half-lost ceiling
“Pilot,” she whispered. “Why?”
“Because I have not been entirely
honest with you.” The navigator’s voice flowed invisibly as though from
Moya’s very walls. “And felt it was time to put that to rights.” She could
almost sense his smile. “I’m afraid, honoured priestess, that I really,
really hate your singing.”
Zhaan stared. “And for that you try to
“Something had to be done.” There
was a mockery lacing Pilot’s tone that was completely out of place for
Moya’s usually placid navigator. “For the sake of my sanity, you had to be
Zhaan struggled to her knees. “I think
it is a little late to worry about your sanity.”
“Now, now.” Pilot gave a low, cold
laugh. “Just because I am no longer willing to play the happy little servant,
does not mean I have gone insane; quite the opposite in fact. I am seeing sense
for the first time in my life. Which is more than can be said for you.”
Zhaan tried to breathe, but the air was
still too thick with whiteness for it to be comfortably feasible. “Me?” she
“Yes, you.” Pilot’s tone was
pleasantly conversational. “You had it right once, Zhaan, before you took all
of this holy nonsense into your head. It is in there, in you. You know the joy
that is to kill.”
“No!” Zhaan tried to stand but her
legs, robbed of their strength by exhaustion, gave way beneath her.
Pilot ignored her. “I do not
understand why would fight it so,” he continued coolly. “You expend so much
effort, so much of your strength to maintain a façade of peace and control, to
keep it all bottled in, but it’s always there just beneath the surface, and
you know it always will be. Why do you waste your time?” He laughed softly.
“Just let it go, Zhaan. It’s so much easier this way – and so much more
“Never!” Somehow Zhaan managed to
half-rise, a slumped, weakened figure weighed down by her priestly robes and a
blanket of pure whiteness. “The darkness is in all our souls, Pilot, but we
must fight it, we must keep it down or….”
A burst of screaming sound sent her
tumbling to her knees. In the echoes of the ensuing silence, Pilot’s tone was
weary. “Do not think to lecture me, priestess. I was hoping I could spare you;
that you might come to understand. Obviously, I was mistaken.”
Abruptly, the air thickened as choking
white sprayed once more from every vent, stirring their settling fellows back
into a frenzy of spindrift. Zhaan’s eyes were washed over once more, her brief
glimpses of the golden surfaces of command swallowed as she fought to find a
gasp of air between the breathless masses. She struggled to speak, to plead,
desperate to make Pilot understand, to reason with him but she simply did have
the air to spare for words. Coughing frantically, she slumped forward.
“Moya and I really did not appreciate
it when your wretched pollen clogged her systems and almost killed her.”
Pilot’s voice was like ice. “Any more than I appreciated your cruel
conspiracy with Rygel and D’Argo to take my arm in exchange for your selfish
needs. I’m tired of keeping my anger to myself.” There was a malicious note
underlying the words, a cold cruelty born of bitterness and a love of pain.
“You are always telling us how important it is to share our feelings. This is
me sharing mine.”
“Pilot,” Zhaan struggled to force
the name out but try as she might, the best she could achieve was a strangled
“I hate you all.” Pilot’s voice
was oddly bland. “And I want you to die. I’ve had enough of talk. I’d
rather just watch you suffer.”
“Pilot,” Zhaan tried to speak again;
again she found herself unable. She felt light-headedness swim across her mind
in a dangerous wave, tumbling over and over alongside Pilot’s gentle laughter.
“I wouldn’t waste your breathe with
talk, Pa’u Zhaan,” he whispered softly. “I’m afraid I won’t be
And then the screeching stabbed her ears
once more, piercing, eating, swallowing her consciousness as the Delvian slumped
to the floor in a heap, her hands gripped to her head as she stared blank-eyed
into a white nothing. Her lips moved, mouthing wordlessly the desperate passage
of her thoughts.
Goddess help me, they said. Goddess help us all.
“Help me! D’Argo! Crichton! Aeryn!
Somebody, please, help me!”
She scrabbled for a grip, her gloved
fingers scraping with frantic desperation against the slick, sheer smoothness of
the golden wall of her vertical prison. It was a pipe, a vent, some kind of
cylindrical conduit that took frell knew what to frell knows where – at that
particular moment, she really didn’t care that much. What mattered to her was
that it had been blocked, firmly, beneath her feet and there was absolutely no
way she could climb or leap several times her height up to the latticed grate
that closed the pipe above her. There
was no grip and her attempt to edge upwards had quickly failed due to the
slippery slick nature of the surfaces.
It had reached her waist now.
Chiana paused, her chest heaving as she
fought to stay calm, to think clearly and not to panic. It was hard to
concentrate in the smothering, drowning cascade of uncomfortably warm amnexus
fluid that was tumbling down the pipe, coating her from head to foot in sticky,
clinging liquid, but she struggled to try; this was no time to lose her head.
She had to reach the vent – it was the only way out, her only escape from an
extremely unpleasant drowning. She had already considered and discarded the
possibility of waiting for the level to rise and floating to the top with its
aid; the amnexus fluid was simply too thick and too strong – staying afloat on
top of it would be impossible once it reached a height greater than her neck.
No, she had to reach the vent before the fluid rose to a level that would most
certainly see the end of her.
It had reached her stomach.
No time to waste them.
The Nebari’s dark eyes ran over the
possibilities surrounding her. They read only one. Steeling herself against the
slimy onslaught from above, Chiana braced her back and arms against the slippery
wall and hauled free a leg, setting herself firmly between the two immovable
barriers. She could feel amnexus trickling down the skin of her back – her
hold was tenuous at best. But it was try this or drown in a very unpleasant
She raised the other leg and pushed
It was difficult. The walls were slick
and mobile with fluid – the structure was solid but its surface was not –
and the constant cascade from above undermined her barely maintained grip. But
somehow, her body moving on instinct and sheer pounding adrenalin, she began to
leg her way upwards.
The grate was getting closer. Chiana
felt herself laugh, a hysterical hope that instantly filled her lungs with gunk
and made her choke. For a microt she almost tumbled, was almost consumed in the
hungry cream liquid that waited below, oozing to swallow the desperate, grey
little morsel whole. But her fingers screamed against the flowing walls, her
heels dug in, her back buried itself so deep into the wall as to almost become
part of it. She was not going to fall. She was not going to die. Not now and not
like this. She had been through too much to drown unnoticed in some hidden pipe.
The grate was just above her head.
Pressing herself into the walls as
firmly as she was able, Chiana sealed closed her amnexus soaked eyes and thrust
her hands into the air.
Instantly, her feet lost purchase,
tumbling away from her towards the abyss of off white beneath but her fingers
had already grasped the curving lines of the lattice, clinging like tortured
souls to the hope of holding on as the rest of her life and form fell away. For
a moment they yanked, chafed and tore but to her own astonishment, they also
held, swinging her in a slow pendulum arc over the rising tide that tickled at
Chiana opened her eyes. She was dangling
by her fingertips.
A strength borne of sheer bloody-minded
determination flowed into her screaming limbs – she felt her arms haul her
sodden form upwards, felt them loop themselves in a clinging embrace through the
slimy bars of the vent grate, holding her firmly against sudden, lingering
plummets into death. Struggling against the torrent, she peered through the life
preserving bars of her prison and caught a heady glimpse of a control panel and
just beyond, another latticed vent, this time cutting vertically into the wall.
A way out. Open this vent, open the
other and she would escape. She would be free.
Her fingers reached out, groping,
searching for the simple touch, the quick release and the end of her ordeal.
They found broken wires. A ruined
The end of hope.
“Come now. Did you really believe I
would make it so easy?” Pilot’s voice rippled out of nowhere, like a plague,
airborne and deadly. “I’m afraid you’ve been wasting your time. I had that
panel disconnected almost an arn ago.”
“Pilot,” Chiana gasped the name.
“Why are you doing this to me? I’ve never done anything to deserve this –
not to you! Not to Moya! Not to anyone!”
Pilot’s voice dripped with sardonic
amusement. “I’m sure I can find someone to dispute that. But just for now,
I’m afraid I must concur. It is true you have done nothing overtly bad to
us.” There was a thoughtful pause. “I’m afraid I simply find you incredibly
The amnexus burst from above in a surge
of tempestuous proportions. Chiana’s grip, already tenuous was washed away –
screaming, she lost her grasp on the lattice bars. Air rushed passed her, her
stomach somersaulted as she plummeted down, down, down, into the inevitable.
The hungry amnexus fluid opened its
flowing jaws and consumed her whole.
John’s helpless cry echoed across the
maintenance bay as he stared in fascinated horror at the clamshell that had just
played out the tormented fates of his friends. Fury ate at his soul like an
angry beast that would accept no respite but cold and fast revenge. And he could
do nothing. He was helpless. If he moved he was dead and what use was a dead man
to dead friends except as a little company on the road to wherever the Hell the
dead went when the curtain went down and the fat lady sung? And even he could
escape, he couldn’t avoid the nagging truth that this was Pilot he was up
against, not some nameless peacekeeper or alien loony of the week. Despite the
navigator’s claims, John knew that there was no way that Pilot could be in
control of his own actions. Something screwy was going on with his mind – as
John saw it, he needed saving as much as the rest of them. And then he could
take his cold, hard revenge on who or whatever it was that had turned his quiet,
gentle friend into a psychotic, frothing lunatic.
“Pilot, damn you, stop this!” he
roared in frustration into empty air. “Get over the Psycho complex and leave
my friends alone!”
“Friends?” Pilot’s laughed echoed
against the golden walls. “You really do live in a world of your own, don’t
you? Don’t you understand yet?”
“What the frell are you on about
now?” John spat out the words bitterly.
“The truth.” Pilot’s reply was
pointed. “You cannot see it, can you? I suppose I will have to be the one to
break to you – I usually am.” John sensed icy smile that lay behind the
words. “You have no friends on this ship, human; merely people who tolerate
John shook his head. “That’s not
true. It was once, but it isn’t now.”
“Is that what you think?” There was
a mocking, singsong quality to Pilot’s voice. “Poor little Crichton, lost in
space. Looking for allies and finding only pity.” He laughed again. “You
really are a joke – a bad joke but a joke nonetheless. And everybody shares it
That was it. John felt something inside
himself snap. Dammit, why the Hezmana should he be forced to just stand here and
have his life, both physical and mental, assassinated by a being who hadn’t
left the same room for three years? After all he had done to help that
ungrateful bastard! This was the limit! He was John Crichton and he was not
going to take this anymore!
“Just who the Hell do you think you
are?” he shouted at the top of his lungs, drowning Pilot’s mockery with a
surging wave of fury. “I don’t deserve this – none of us do! We have done
everything we could to help you and Moya, to protect you to keep you, her and
her kid safe and this is how you repay us? By torturing us to death? You have
got be able to see that there is something wrong with this picture! You are sick
– and I’m not just taking about your taste in death here, Pilot! Can’t you
see it? Whatever happened on Kaalene is happening here – there is something in
your head making you act all screwy and it may feel good now, but trust me you
will regret this in the morning!”
The following silence dripped against
John’s skull as he fought to get his breath back.
“You think there is something wrong
The tone had changed. John realised it
instantly. The mockery, the smoothness, the nasty, spiteful little undertone,
all had gone. Pilot sounded confused, bewildered and slightly frightened. It was
He felt a sudden hope spring within his
heart. Had he got through to the real Pilot?
“Yeah, I do.” This time he moderated
his tone to gentle concern. “I think something from Kaalene got into Moya’s
systems and into you. You must be able to see that you aren’t acting like
yourself. If you just stop this, just let us out, let us help, we can have you
back to the way you were and everything can go back to normal. Please.”
There was a long hesitation before Pilot
spoke again. “ But John,” he whispered softly. “Before you can help me,
there is something I need to know….”
“What?” John took a step towards the
clamshell, his expression anxious.
“How gullible are you?”
Pilot’s sudden laughter echoed around
the chamber. The hope with John withered and died like a flower in the frost.
“Oh Crichton!” Pilot’s
voice rang out in a melodramatic mockery of desperation. “Help me, Crichton!
I’m bad, I’m evil! I’m not obeying your every stupid order! There must be
something terribly wrong!”
John glared at the floor. “Why don’t
you just shut up and kill me? I know you want to despite the fact I’ve done
nothing to deserve this…”
“Nothing?” The playfulness
was instantly gone leaving only rage in its place; John’s head snapped up at
once at the sudden cold that swept the room. “Nothing? You call
bringing down the wrath of first Captain Crais and then Scorpius on us nothing?
You call crashing Moya on a planet and talking of abandoning her pregnant
nothing? You call letting Crais steal her son nothing? Is nothing forcing me to
expose parts of my life that no one had a right to know of? Is nothing
what is happening to Moya now? Is all this nothing?”
John shook his head. “Most of that was
not my fault. I never wanted any of it.”
“I know that.” Pilot’s voice was
soft. “But you can’t help it, Crichton. You drag disaster after disaster
around the galaxy behind you, leaving an oblivious trail of destroyed lives and
ruined places as your fingerprints. You’re a jinx, a pariah, and a harbinger
of unintended doom. You’re a nuisance, Crichton, a hindrance. The universe
will be a better place without you.” His voice was awash with slow
satisfaction. “I see this less as murder, more a mercy killing on behalf of
all those fortunate souls who haven’t met you yet. Goodbye, John Crichton. And
take heart in the fact that with your death, space will be a safer place.”
“Pilot!” John leapt up but he
already knew that the navigator was gone. He heard the whirr of wheels beneath
him and looked down to face his end.
The DRDs had vanished. Every one.
The sudden clanking made him jump;
startled he glanced around but the noise seemed to have come from every
direction. It was only when his eye caught on the suddenly solid face of what
had a moment ago been a latticed grate that John realised what was going on.
A low hiss filled his ears.
Pilot had sealed the maintenance bay.
And now he was venting the atmosphere.
One by one they returned to her, filled
her senses and span in her brain. Light that seared her slowly rising eyes; the
gentle hums and clicks that battered at her ears against silence beyond; colours,
red, blue, black, purple, that mixed together in her head with the multihued
confusion of unconsciousness. And pain – so much pain that tore into her skull
like a frag cannon barrage.
What the frell was happening to her?
Reluctantly the world swam into focus
– she became aware of herself once more. She stared down at the flashing,
hypnotic lights against which her face was pressed, mingled with uncomfortably
warm lap of scarlet fluid that rippled against her face; it was a moment before
she realised that the liquid pooled beneath her was her blood. Feeling flowed
back through bruised and aching limbs; she could feel her hands pressed into the
small of her back, bound roughly into place by the same sticky substance that
had been used to restrain when she had first joined this unlikely vessel. A
quick twitch of her ankles revealed that they too were similarly restrained and
had been sealed, it seemed, to a convenient bulkhead by an obliging DRD. Her
head, or what was left of it after three forceful blows against a solid support,
was screaming over the surface with the raw pain of her wounds, and beneath the
surface with the slow throb she had endured for several solar days already.
She felt like death.
A pair of golden eyes burned against her
tender skin. Slowly, painfully she raised her head.
“Aeryn Sun,” he said softly.
“Welcome back to the world of the living. It will be a brief visit, but I will
certainly do my best to make it memorable.”
"Pilot.” She moved her lips,
despite the effort and shooting waves of discomfort it caused her. “Why?”
The navigator rolled his eyes and
returned his attention to the flashing array of lights laid out before him.
“I’ve answered that question enough times for one day.”
The implication behind his words was
obvious. “Where are the others?” the Sebacean gasped.
“Dying.” Pilot spoke the word
softly. “One by one, slowly but surely. And soon you will join them.”
Aeryn’s head was a tangled weave of
flashing lights and bursting agony that pushed her thoughts coldly to one side,
but nonetheless, she knew instinctively that she could not give in to her pain.
Ignoring the protests of her muscles, she forced herself to roll onto her side
and, maneuvering with her elbows as best she could, she hauled herself into a
sitting position. Blood trickled down her damaged face and dripped against her
shoulder, staining the skin with crimson. She paid it no heed, fixing her
bloodshot icy eyes on the form of Moya’s navigator.
He was watching her. “Look at the
state of you,” he commented dryly. “It will almost be a kindness when I put
you out of your misery.”
Aeryn stared at him. There was something
about the self-satisfied expression on his face, about the curl of his lip and
the gleam in his eye that told her that she was not the only one in peril aboard
“What have you done?” she murmured
He smiled again, not pleasantly.
“Direct and to the point. How very like a peacekeeper.” His golden flame
eyes clashed with the glacial ice of hers. “What I have done, Officer Sun is
something I should have done a long time ago and that I have dreamed of doing
for even longer. I’m making Moya safe, freeing her from the scourge,
the plague, the infestation of lower life forms I have too long allowed to share
her. And then, at last, it will be just the two of us. Pilot and leviathan.
Alone. As it should be. As it will be.”
The peacekeeper frowned and winced at
the pain it caused her. “I take it you aren’t talking about letting us off
at the next planet.”
Pilot’s grim, intense little smile was
answer enough. “How very perceptive. No. There is too much to owe us for such
a light sentence. I intend to squeeze every drop of repayment from you all
before I allow you a blessed release.”
Aeryn met his gaze measure for measure.
“You don’t want to do this, Pilot.”
The navigator shook his head in
amusement. “Don’t I?” he retorted. “I have to say I’m having rather a
good time at the moment! Why would I not want to continue?” He leaned forward
suddenly, his vast carapace shadowing his features as his eyes flamed. “Tell
me, Officer Sun. Explain to me the error of my ways. Talk me out of my
diabolical scheme. You know you want to.”
Aeryn shook her head, ignoring the
little sparks that agonised the movement. “This is wrong, Pilot. And you know
His eyes gleamed. “Why is it
Aeryn fought to think, fought to
concentrate, reason, retort, but her brain, locked in a cycle of chaos, refused
to cooperate. “It just is,” she managed.
Pilot watched her intently.
“Hypocrite,” he drawled softly. “What you mean is; it’s wrong when I do
it but not when it’s you.”
Aeryn blinked painfully. “What?”
“You tortured my predecessor to death
and I’m sure she wasn’t the only one. And yet when I do the same, you tell
me it is wrong. Why? Why is it wrong for me but not for you?”
Aeryn sighed. “You know that I am not
that person any more because you are one of the ones who taught me to be
different. And even then, when I took a life, I did it because I was ordered to,
not out of desire. I killed quickly and cleanly and never out of vindictiveness.
That is why we’re different. And that is why it’s wrong.”
Pilot’s smile spread slowly across his
features once more. “So you think it is better to kill on behalf of someone
else than out of your own legitimate desire? You think that killing because of
the vindictiveness of others rather than because you consider it right and just
is a better way to live?” He shook his head.
“You call that right?”
Aeryn fought back the emotion and the
searing heat that rampaged through her skull. “I was never vindictive,” she
repeated but the words seemed small, insignificant.
Pilot laughed. “More fool you. It adds
an element of enjoyment that would otherwise be lacking. At least I’m no
mindless assassin. I act in Moya’s best interests.”
Aeryn smiled coldly. “Most of my
peacekeeper commanders told us our actions were in the best interests of someone
– usually themselves. It’s just a fine excuse to kill without taking
responsibility for it.” She gazed at him levelly. “Will Moya take
responsibility for this? Will you place those lives on her conscience?”
Pilot’s expression was like sculpted
ice. “She’ll be pleased.”
“Will she? You’ve told us often
enough that a leviathan needs a crew.”
"I was a fool then.”
“And who will you turn to?”
Adrenalin pumped strength into Aeryn’s bones, dulling the pain to a silent
roar. She sat up straight, her shoulders braced, her head raised defiantly as
she gazed down at her glaring captor. “Who will help with repairs and keep you
company? Who will negotiate for supplies and arrange their transport? Who will
shield you from the tough realities of living in this part of space? You can’t
cope with the real world, Pilot, because you’ve never had to live in it. I
know you. You’ll be scammed, invaded and captured within a quarter cycle!”
Her expression hardened. “I believe what I see not what I’m told. And I see
that you need us to survive whether you like it or not. To kill us all is
suicide, for you and for Moya. Would you condemn her to death along with
yourself?” Her eyes glistened – she felt a sudden power, a dominance, an
all-imposing, all-consuming fire that burnt into her soul. She was the master
here. She had the power. She had never felt so truly her.
“I should have just let you die,”
she whispered, her words shimmering in glacial darkness. “You were right. Moya
would be better off without you.”
The blow was stunning. Aeryn’s head
slammed against the console in an explosion of pain – the sense of power fled
from her consciousness like prey in flight. Pilot’s claw grasped her throat,
shoving her back as she tried to rise – blood filled her mouth and trickled
down her chin. She struggled weakly, futilely against the greater strength of
the enraged navigator but he had already pinned her helplessly in place. His
amber eyes filled her vision as he loomed over her, his features tight with
How dare you?” The razor words
were ripe with venom, spat out one by one at his prey as though to stab her
through with each and every one of them. “You who slaughtered Moya’s first
Pilot in this very room and let me convince myself that it was all my fault! You
deceived me into believing you were something more than a black-hearted soulless
peacekeeper and worse, you deceived Moya too! We trusted you. And for that you
will be punished.”
Aeryn’s eyes raised towards the
navigator – despite the firm press of the panel against her cheek and the
bruising grip of Pilot’s claw at her throat, she felt no fear, no anger,
nothing but a strange sense of detachment.
“You blame for your bad judgment?”
she rasped. Her eyes met his in a blaze of fire and ice that ignited with
terrible force. “I’m not afraid of you.”
His eyes flared. “You should be. I’m
not your quiet, obedient little servant any more. I’ve broken free. For the
first time in my life I am truly myself.”
Aeryn would have shaken her head if only
it had been possible to move it. “I know you, Pilot,” she whispered
defiantly. “I know you better than you know yourself. No matter what you seem
to think, this isn’t you.”
His eyes froze upon her. “This isn’t
me?” he breathed incredulously. “And on what do you base that? A few
fleeting talks with a stupid, pathetic creature who didn’t know his own mind
well enough to act on it? Well, he is gone now and he isn’t coming back. Get
used to it.”
“That’s not true.” Aeryn’s voice
was almost inaudible but somehow she forced out the words.
“And how would you know?” Pilot’s
voice was laced with acidic bitterness. “You don’t know me, any of you! The
only time you ever speak with me is when you need me for something! All I am to
you people is a servicer, a slave, an organic component to a system designed to
do your bidding and mindlessly obey your commands! I lost me, the real me
the moment I was bonded to this ship, forced and bullied by the peacekeepers, in
constant agony because of your kinds impatience! They destroyed me,
Aeryn! You destroyed me! So how can you possibly claim to have the
slightest idea who I am?”
The silence spread in a growing ripple,
filling the chamber from end to end with it’s imposing solitude. Ice and fire
fought a war and reached a solid stalemate.
And then she saw.
She had known all along. She had felt
it. She had shared it. That moment, that instant of power before she had pushed
him too far – there lay the answer, the truth, the secret, the complete
understanding of where she was and what she had to do. The incident in the cargo
bay, the true incident, not a trifling little accident but what had been
revealed before, the depths she had tapped, the promise uncovered, that was all
she needed. His words had given her the answer to a question she had forgotten
had even been asked.
Suddenly it all became staggering clear.
She knew what she had to do.
“I know who you are, Pilot,” she
said softly. “And I know who I am. So why don’t we find a way to make it
work for all of us?”
Could it be?
So this was death. Zhaan had long given
up trying to fight; her body lay slumped, motionless, the life draining from her
fading shell like a shadow into darkness behind her falling eyes. But now…
She had come. She had come.
Death held no fear for Pa’u Zotah
Zhaan. At last she would feel the touch of her Goddess. At last she would feel
Light burned against her eyelids. A
gentle voice called, echoed in her mind.
I have come to help you.
She opened her eyes.
Two coal black oblivions gazed back at
her from within a glowing form. A palm of lightning was held outstretched
Fingers of gold closed around her hand.
End Part 5