still found it hard to believe that nobody, not Chiana, not even Rygel when he
had returned, had chosen to protest his decision to take the fight to Pilot. In
a way they all seemed almost relieved. One way or another, within an arn, it
would be over. No more hunting, no more torture, no more games. They would
finally know what fate – or Pilot – had in store.
they could just get near him…
sure about this Sparky?” John’s eyes were fixed upon the disgruntled, tired
and distinctly odoured form of the former Dominar of Hyneria. Rygel stared right
Crichton. I’m going along with it because I want to get us all killed! Of
course I’m sure, you stupid prabakto! Do you really think I’d gamble with
something as precious as my life?”
conceded the point. “True. But you know what you have to do?”
Hynerian rolled his eyes. “It’s hardly brain surgery, Crichton. I wait until
you and the others have started your suicidal assault and then I float down to
beneath Pilot’s console, take Zhaan’s potion and inject him up the…”
John chose that delicate moment to intervene. He sighed. “I just wish there
was some other way of getting into the chamber.”
we’ve been through this.” D’Argo’s voice was calm and cool – the
prospect of a fight back had improved his mood immensely. “Every other
entrance to the chamber has been sealed and guarded by DRDs. Even with Kir to
knock them out, we still wouldn’t have enough time to cut through before the
effect wore off and then we would be in really deep dren. A frontal
assault is our only option. That door is the only one that Pilot hasn’t sealed
and we have Kir to get us past the DRDs.”
gaze slipped over to the corner of their hideaway where Kir lay crouched in a
foetal position, his oblivious eyes apparently closed. He had wondered earlier
but now he was sure – the energy being’s glow was distinctly duller than
before. The human’s gaze lifted to Zhaan. She met his eyes knowingly.
tired, John,” she said softly. “These energy bursts take a great deal out of
him and the wavelength of the spheres is weakening him also, not to mention the
fact he hasn’t eaten in days. We have no tentrite on this ship that he can use
to replace what has been expended.”
glanced once again at the radiavore in concern. “Is he going to be up to
sighed, her eyes drifting absently down to the important potion-making work
being undertaken by her fingers. “He can give us two more bursts – three at
the most.” The Delvian’s voice was an uncertain hush. “One for the DRDs
outside the chamber and one for those within, with one held in reserve for
emergencies. Beyond that, he can promise nothing. His aura is already fading. If
he extends himself too much we shall all be exposed.”
nodded. “He’s already done more than enough. If it wasn’t for him, we
wouldn’t have stayed alive this long. We owe him a lot.”
said nothing. She simply smiled.
shifted his attention to where D’Argo and Chiana were crouched intently over a
pile of what could only be referred to as junk. “How goes the arsenal?” he
inquired, with more hope than expectation. His lack of faith was justified.
as well as you could expect from a broken wrench, two metal bars, a dead pulse
rifle battery and three spoons,” D’Argo commented blandly. “There’s
nothing here that will even dent a being a thick skinned as Pilot. We might as
well go in unarmed.”
Chiana protested. The Nebari had perked up since being given an herbal infusion
by Zhaan to help her wound. “I did my best, okay? It’s dangerous out
John quickly intervened. “Big D’s right, you couldn’t assault a dead
chipmunk with the dren we’ve got here. Besides, we don’t really want to hurt
Pilot. It’s the DRDs we need to watch and if Kir and Rygel do their stuff, all
we have to worry about is looking big and distracting until Pilot conks out. So
just take what makes you feel better.”
pouted defiantly. Her gloved fingers fixed around the larger of the two metal
bars at almost the same moment as D’Argo’s. There was a pause and a brief
exchange of glares.
you don’t need it!”
was no retreat in D’Argo’s stony expression. Her eyes glistening darkly,
Chiana yielded. She grasped the second bar instead and stared at John
all yours,” he conceded gracefully. “So everyone clear on the plan?”
I’m clear!” Chiana’s voice was irritable. “I don’t like it, and I
don’t have a say in it again, but I’m clear! I’m clear on being a
distraction for the second time today when I haven’t got over the first time
yet! I’m clear on…”
John’s voice was soft but it cut off Chiana’s sentence like a knife blade.
“Can it.” He glanced around. “So we’re clear. Now we just need to be
ready. We’re waiting on your potion, Blue and then we’re cleared for
injector glistened in Zhaan’s azure hand. The sluggish turquoise liquid
shimmered. “It’s done.”
smiled grimly. “Then let’s go party.”
journey to the den look a little longer than expected – the numbers of DRDs
patrolling the corridors and vents was definitely on the increase. But thanks to
Kir, they avoided any serious brushes and managed to remain unseen as they
closed down finally on the entrance to Pilot’s chamber.
surprise awaited them there.
few?” D’Argo’s voice was filled with incredulous disbelief.
“Why would he post only five DRDs to guard his door?”
probably all he has to spare,” John commented. “If what we saw on our way
here’s any judge, he’s spreading the troops pretty thin.” He grinned.
“Besides,” he added. “He probably doesn’t think we’d be so dumb as to
attack him from the front.”
pulled a face. “D’you think he knows something we don’t?”
ignored her. He took a deep breath, intaking calming oxygen to sooth his
precarious nerves. They’d be
okay. She’d be okay. She had to be.
a few moments more and then he’d see.
time, guys,” he whispered softly. “Kir, you ready?”
radiavore nodded softly but John couldn’t miss the slightly sickly edge that
now pervaded his golden glow. He chose not to comment.
Ready to inject some ass?”
I’ll ever be.” The diminutive Dominar hovered uncertainly on his thronesled,
his tiny hands gripping Zhaan's injector like a lifeline. “Don’t frell this
up, Crichton. Pilot has very good hearing and this thronesled isn’t exactly
smiled, wishing that the confident front he had so carefully constructed for the
benefit of the others stretched a little deeper beneath the surface. “Trust
me,” he said softly. “We’ll keep him busy.”
better,” Rygel muttered.
gripped his fingers around the broken wrench. It might have been about as much
use as a fan heater in the desert but it made a great placebo.
he whispered. “Let’s do this.”
a nod, Kir rose. He extended his lightning hands.
time John was ready for the blinding surge of light. Blinking madly against the
residue that had permeated his eyelid, he burst to his feet, roaring round the
corner and past the convulsing form of the DRDs. Footsteps pounded behind him,
the heavy, threatening tread of D’Argo, Chiana’s light patter and Zhaan’s
soft flow as they raced like desperate prey into the jaws of death. His hand
reached out and clasped the door release; to his astonishment it gave without
resistance. Was Pilot so arrogant as to think he didn’t need to lock his door?
lack of DRDs outside was immediately explained. They were not outside because
they were all inside.
was quite obvious when you thought about it. It was just a shame that John had
thought too late.
human went from rapid motion to immediate standstill for the second time that
day. The three dull thuds against his back told him that his companions were
close behind him.
least a hundred eyestalks glistened at them from the darkness, illuminating the
walkways of the chamber from its abyss with neat little clusters of lights. It
was like a midnight runway that lifted straight into trouble.
placebo effect of the wrench wore off very rapidly.
one pair of eyes didn’t glow. They didn’t need to. John could feel
were no lights in the chamber but the dull, multi-hued gyrations of the console
and these flickering shades of ochre, scarlet, azure washed across the shadows
of Pilot’s face as though scared to linger there. The navigator’s vast bulk
hunkered within the darkness of his console lair, like a hunched dragon awaiting
fresh virgins and the occasional foolhardy hero. But there was more darkness in
his presence than a simple lack of light – it was all around him, hanging like
a pall, shrouding him in black deepness and wicked, malicious intent. The black
oblivion around him almost seemed to shimmer – and given Kir’s information,
it was hard to tell if this was a trick of the lack of light or a genuine
vibration from the spheres – and he seemed to drink it in, to sup on it’s
power like some alien succubus as it prepared for the battle and the feast. His
golden eyes teased from their hidden depths, unseen but more than present.
Everything about him whispered of death.
was no longer Pilot. That was for certain. Whatever he was now, whatever he had
once been, the being from whom this monster had been spawned had been
he was alone.
was absolutely no trace of Aeryn Sun.
smiled, a slow uncurling of his mouth that more resembled a crocodile yawn than
any expression of pleasure. “You took your time,” he drawled unpleasantly.
“ I was expecting you arns ago.”
dark fire eyes drank in Crichton’s frozen face, the search of his eyes, the
fear in his countenance and an expression of warped concern shimmered across the
colour brushed glimpse of his features. “I’m sorry,” he said with a
scarcely concealed smirk. “Were you looking for someone?”
DRDs that saturated the walkway clicked to attention.
then for the second time, the world vanished into light.
had to hurry.
gripped the golden curves that concealed the lower part of Pilot’s den, his
eyes still blinking against the encroaching silver residue left by Kir’s
second burst of paralytic light. He had seized quickly on the blinding
confusion, surging forward on his thronesled and dipping quickly beneath the
walkway as Pilot and the DRDs reeled, scudding across the vast expanse of empty
air to the golden wall that wrapped around the lower half of Moya’s navigator.
Above him came a cacophony of brutal sounds, shouts, bellows, crashes and roars
– a stunned DRD tumbled past him into oblivion, it’s confused, waving
eyestalks leaving a golden trail that marked it’s soon to be abbreviated
descent. Rygel closed his ears as best he could, trying not to dwell on what
might be happening above him as he edged his way along the target wall,
searching desperately for some kind of opening.
his lap, he clutched the injector like a talisman.
there it was! Rygel surged forward as quietly as he could to the gap that had
just unfolded before him, a small cleft in the golden supports just wide enough
for him to squeeze through. Beyond, all was dark and still, a protective silence
that wrapped around the thickly tendrilled mass of Pilot’s lower half.
was no sign of anything. Nothing moved in the impenetrable darkness.
felt a shiver of glee. He could do this! He could actually do it!
was one minor snag. Rygel could fit though the gap. His thronesled, from this
angle at least, could not. But if he were to dismount, slip inside and turn his
sled onto its side – yes! Perfect!
the injector safely in one hand, Rygel slipped his unwieldy body away from the
sled and hauled himself tightly through the gap. His eyes twitched around the
room nervously but still he saw nothing to alarm him, heard nothing but the
noise from above. For a microt, he considered abandoning his sled temporarily
and simply getting the job done. But no – Zhaan had said the injection had to
be administered into the main bulk of Pilot’s body and with his diminutive
stature, he would be unable to reach the vital place without climbing Pilot’s
tendrils, an act the navigator would almost certainly notice. No – he
couldn’t afford to draw such attention to himself. He would have to get his
turned around, wrapping his tiny arms around the sled as he turned it on one
side. He pulled.
was stuck. Frelling typical! Why the yotz had he agreed to do this in the first
place? He should have made for the transport hanger, got off this crazy ship
whilst he had the chance! What had he been thinking?
it was too late now. With a grunt, Rygel yanked harder. The sled gave a little
more, but still would not come free. With an angry wheeze, Rygel through his
whole weight behind the effort, hauling as much as he could.
it came free.
of course, went flying. He tumbled to the floor with about as little regal grace
as it was possible to display, somersaulting across the cold, dark floor until
he impacted with an unseen something and came to a sudden halt. He groaned
softly in the darkness as he lay still, stunned for a microt against the strange
leathery protrusions that had broken his undignified flight. Well, at least he
had landed somewhere fairly soft…
then the protrusion moved.
blazed from the two eyestalk suns on the far side of the room, shadowed beneath
his serenely floating thronesled. Rygel’s eyes fixed upon the black and silver
of a peacekeeper boot, following the line up a leather clad leg past arms and a
torso soaked in the now dried blood to the damaged face from which that blood
had flowed, dark, tangled, bloody hair and wild blue eyes gazing from the sharp
light and shadows outline of a too pale face.
what really caught Rygel’s attention was the gun. It was pointing straight at
then something bright yellow and twitching surged out of the shadows to barrel
into his head and the Dominar was hurled back to darkness.
veins were on fire.
a roar that shook the invisible rafters, John Crichton charged, kicking his way
past the immobile, twitching forms of the DRDs as he fought to get at Pilot,
bellowing his defiance with gleaming eyes and burning lungs. Pilot watched his
approach with something not unakin to disdain, a slight smirk creasing the
corner of his mouth as his eyes drank in the desperation and fury of the human
and the simple wrench gripped uselessly in one hand. It was a sight too pathetic
even for pity.
navigator moved like lightning. Even as John’s foot made contact with the
console in preparation for a frantic thrust forward, Pilot’s arm whipped out
like a serpent and slammed into the human, hurling him backwards in a delicate
arc that coincidentally concluded with D’Argo. Struck by the weight of a
projectile human at speed, the Luxan stumbled backwards and tumbled to the
ground in a tangle with John, scattering DRDs in all directions. As D’Argo
fell, his flailing arm contacted with an advancing Chiana and sent the Nebari
reeling back. As she staggered, her foot caught on a rotating DRD; faced with
this new obstacle, she lost contact with her balance altogether. Darkness loomed
before her eyes, the beckoning summons of distant gravity – it was only
Zhaan’s instinctive grab of the young thief’s belt that prevented her from
tumbling from the walkway towards an intimate acquaintance with oblivion.
watched and smiled nastily. It was the best entertainment he’d seen in cycles.
that the best you can do?” he commented mildly. “That’s always the way,
isn’t it? You look forward to something so much but it always turns out to be
managed to free himself from D’Argo and scrambled to his feet, breathing with
difficulty. “Sorry…if we’re boring you!” he gasped, spitting out the
cocked his head. “Oh, I’m not bored,” he drawled dryly. There was a nasty
glimmer behind his eyes. “You’re better entertainment than the
felt his heart turn to lead. “Where is she?” he said coldly.
gave a little smile. “Safely tucked away. Fulfilling a purpose.”
expression tightened. “What the hell do you mean by that?”
released the edge of a chuckle. “That’s for me to know, and you… not to.
That way it’s a pleasant surprise.”
The soft summons came from behind him. The human didn’t even turn.
now!” he snapped.
Zhaan’s voice, an urgent whisper, came again. John risked a glance over his
shoulder to meet the anxious eyes of the Delvian.
Zhaan, I just said…”
the DRDs!” Zhaan interrupted sharply. “They’re coming round!”
was true. All around, yellow bodies twitched and pulsing eyestalks glittered as
slowly but surely the functions returned to Pilot’s little soldiers. Already
several, more forward than their fellows, had begun experimentally aiming their
cannons at the human’s forehead.
you, Crichton,” Pilot’s voice carried echoes of soft, mocking laughter.
“Your pointless desire for a conversation has allowed me to recover my DRDs. I
really am very grateful.” Abruptly, his expression darkened. “But
now, I’ve had enough of this. I suggest you prepare to die.”
flicker of light in the corner of John’s eye immediately restored his hopes.
today, pal,” he drawled.
once again, light filled the world.
this light was different. It was not the incandescent, blinding burn that had
marked Kir’s previous defences. It was duller, less sharp, less intense, a
sickly shadow light that pulsed like a shivering candle in a gale lashed window
before dying with a gasp. The already stricken DRDs pulsed as before, their
antennae waving – but they did not convulse as intensely or shut down with
quite such force. With chilling horror, John realised – Kir had nothing left.
A quick glance over his shoulder gave him a reading of Zhaan’s face; it
was a mask of anxiety and concern. The radiavore was spent and they were on
the light drew back, it danced across the furious face of Pilot. “What
keeps doing that?” he roared, rage writ large on every shadow-hewn crag
of his face.
grinned with sudden recklessness. “That’s for me to know, and you not to!”
he declared. A sudden fire filled his body, heart and soul as he saw, inscribed
across his mind in bright, incandescent letters, exactly what he had to do. He
felt shapes loom at his shoulders – the vast, towering shape of D’Argo, the
lithe slender form of Chiana and the smooth, azure presence that was Zhaan –
and knew at once what they all had to do. It was now or never – Kir’s
ineffectual burst was already wearing away. Either they acted now, this microt,
this instant or they died. And they all knew it as well as he did.
was immediately obvious that this time, Pilot had not been expecting a rush –
he was still dazzled by Kir’s small but effective pulse and half his attention
had been focused on his DRDs. The shock combined with the necessary instant to
shift his concentration from remote attack to personal defence proved enough.
The four shipmates burst through his defences and leapt over the console –
Chiana launched herself onto one of his half raised arms with a whooping battle
cry, flinging her whole weight into removing that limb from the fray.
Unfortunately, she was unable to stop the second – Pilot’s rear arm swung
around in a dangerous arc and sent her flying backwards, hurtling into Zhaan who
had been close upon her heels. The two women were thrown unceremoniously back to
the floor. D’Argo proved marginally more successful – he caught the
navigator a glancing blow to the side of his carapace with his hefty metal bar,
but once again Pilot’s reactions were too fast. He snatched the weapon from
the Luxan’s hand and hurled it back at him in one smooth blur, impacting
solidly into his shoulder. Off balance, and clutching his arm, the warrior too
suffered a rapidly forced withdrawal.
for John, the mere distraction of their attacks had proved enough. The human
slammed forwards like a thunderbolt from a tornado, grasping Pilot firmly by the
carapace with one hand even as he jammed his broken wrench against the soft skin
of the navigator’s mouth. For a microt, Pilot’s eyes flared and his arms
began to reach for the human, but the very firm press of jagged metal made him
long d’you think you’re going to survive after I ram this down your
throat?” John’s expression was pure fire, his voice a soft drawn out hiss.
All thoughts of leniency, of simple distraction were forgotten – all John knew
was the he was face to face with the being who had tortured them, the being who
had imprisoned and now discarded Aeryn to some unknown fate. A friend he may
have once been but there was no trace of such sentiment now and to his own
surprise, John found he was quite prepared to act if all other hope was
exhausted. What he had seen left him in no doubt; in this moment, at this time,
the Pilot he had known and cared about was dead. By releasing his physical shell
from the grip of a psychopath, he would be doing him – and Moya - a favour.
Neither of them deserved this.
him, he could feel the burn of his shipmate’s eyes against his back. The air
shivered with anticipation as the darkness roared in his ears. Heat stroked the
skin of his face as Pilot’s eyes glimmered like a pair of dancing flames. He
did not look afraid or even concerned as he met the ice of the human’s stare
with pure, unquenchable fire.
won’t kill me,” he said softly.
expression echoed of glaciers. “After all you’ve put us through, why the
hell would you think I wouldn’t?”
spite of his perilous situation, Pilot smiled. “Three reasons.”
face cooled from ice to stone. “Shoot.”
navigator’s smile spread. “That would be the first one, yes.”
he heard Chiana gasp. There was a whirr and several dozen clicks.
felt that back of his neck prickle. He knew the feeling well after a year and a
half in the uncharted territories. It was the feeling of being targeted.
effect of Kir’s final burst had barely lasted fifty microts.
risked a half glance back. The corner of his eyes fixed at once on the three
contrasting forms of Chiana, Zhaan and D’Argo, huddled together in the centre
of the walkway. A sea of living yellow eyes and twitching jet-black barrels
undulated away from their feet.
eyes drifted carefully back and lingered briefly but intently upon one of
Pilot’s claws. It was gently stroking a panel.
away from that command,” he said softly.
regarded him. “I can tap this console a great deal faster than you could kill
me with that, Crichton. So I’ll just keep my claw exactly where it
don’t believe in stalemates. Move the claw.”
smiled unpleasantly. “I’m not afraid of you. Answer me truthfully, Crichton.
Out of the two of us, who do you believe would be least inclined to
did not reply. He didn’t need to.
know as well as I,” Pilot spoke gently, softly, a tone almost reminiscent of
the being, all but forgotten, that he had once been. “Because of reason number
two. You still think I can be redeemed. I see it in your eyes, human. That is
why you brew sleep potions instead of poisons. You aren’t here to kill me,
Crichton. You’re here to save me. And that is why I’m going to win.”
John shook his head, casting a soft ripple into the shimmering air. “Yes, I
think you can be redeemed. And yes, I didn’t come here to kill you.” He
leaned forward until his forehead was resting against Pilot’s carapace, a
slow, sinuous motion reminiscent of a serpent roused from sleep. “But if that
what it takes, I will. Because in killing you, I won’t be hurting a
friend. I’ll be freeing one from himself.”
expression wavered slightly. The barest flicker of doubt crept across his
fought back an exultant little surge. “And whilst I have your undivided
attention, let’s take a wild stab in the dark about what’s behind door
number three,” he declared extravagantly. “Let me guess – the third reason
I won’t kill you is the radiant, the delectable Aeryn Sun. Right?” He
didn’t give Pilot a chance to respond, although the expression that flitted
across his face implied the guess had not missed its mark. “Well, I don’t
see her here, pal. I don’t know if she’s escaped you, if you’ve hidden her
away or if you’ve killed her already. But the way I see it, you can’t
threaten me with someone that you don’t even have!”
was a lengthy pause, a long, drawn out bout of silence filled only by the slow
uncurling of Pilot’s smile. There were some nasty implications behind his
features, a dancing, mocking little undertone that implied that it’s wearer
not only had the best hand in the pack, but several spare aces up his sleeve for
good measure. John’s adrenalin level dropped like a stone – the red mist
that had shrouded mind and eyes drew away like a curtain to reveal the true
peril of his situation. His body encroached into his awareness like a lead
weight, heavy, stiff, ponderous, screaming aches and roaring pain whispering
into his consciousness with ever increasing force. The wrench in his hand shrank
into insignificance, a small, dull piece of metal that probably wouldn’t even
penetrate Pilot’s rock solid hide, let alone cause any damage. A hundred DRDs
were poised to blast his backside, not to mention those of his friends, into so
many lumps of meat and fibre. And now it was very obvious that Pilot knew
something he didn’t.
had he done? Where was Aeryn?”
misunderstand, Crichton.” Pilot’s voice was a sibilant drawl.
“Aeryn was my third reason. But I never had any intention of
felt the unpleasant plummet of terrible dread sear his chest. “What the frell
are you talking about?” he whispered. “What have you done with her?”
laughed coldly. “Why don’t you ask her yourself?”
tore the air, the screaming red flash of pulse fire. John lurched backwards,
clutching his fist with a cry of pain as the wrench vanished from his grip in a
bright red blur to tumble, swallowed into the distant darkness. Even as he
reeled, a projectile shape hurled past his ear from the all-consuming black that
cloaked the rear of Pilot’s console, a small, green fleshy lump that bounced
and tumbled pathetically to a standstill at the feet of Zhaan, limp, motionless
and alarmingly still. John heard Chiana gasp even as he fought down his own
pulsating heart as his last vestige of hope flickered and died into nothingness.
barrel of a pulse pistol gleamed against the residual glow of the panels,
grasped within the slender fingers of a pale hand. Slowly, step by step, inch by
inch, the darkness peeled back to it’s advance, oblivion falling away like ice
black water flowing to the summons of gravity to expose a long, white arm and a
lithe, familiar outline, her ivory skin, jet hair and bloodstained face bathing
her in the colours of the peacekeepers who spawned her. Her gun was trained at
it was not a pleasant sight.
Sun shared a quick, knowing glance with the navigator who just arns ago had
inflicted her wounds, her cold playful expression almost a mirror to his.
were right,” she drawled softly, her voice echoing with an icy timbre more
reminiscent of Crais or Scorpius than the Aeryn Sun that John had come to care
for. “They’re so predictable.”
eyes were fixed on the apparition before him in disbelief – his ears had heard
Zhaan’s words, her declaration of the possibility that Aeryn may have turned,
but they had never quite penetrated his heart. But seeing her now, like this –
it carried echoes of a part of her past he had always fought to pretend had
never happened, even when faced with it forcibly in the cold light of honesty.
And more, much more; this was not the woman who had thrown him so furiously to
the ground a cycle and a half ago, not even the woman who had barely flinched as
she gunned down an innocent Pilot and handed over her lover for almost certain
death. This was Aeryn Sun as she could have been, an Aeryn who had risen in the
peacekeepers to the ruthless rank of captain, a clinical killer stripped of all
emotion but the joy of power. This was the future John’s inadvertent actions
had saved her from.
least until now.
eyes fixed upon his as though to read his mind. She smiled again.
Crichton,” she murmured softly, the words stroking her lips as they slid into
the air. “You are such a fool.”
dark barrel of her pulse pistol extended towards his forehead. “Move away from
battled to contain the shaking convulsions that threatened to steal control of
his body. “What if I don’t?”
eyes flicked to Pilot. The DRDs surrounding Zhaan, D’Argo and Chiana began to
you will watch the rest of your friends die, one by one, until only you
remain. And then, we’ll start the real fun.”
rest…. John’s brain caught instantly upon Aeryn’s words. “Rygel,” he
whispered. “What did you do to…?”
expression never wavered from its sultry intensity. “No more than he
eyes caught upon Zhaan’s anxious lurch towards the immobile Hynerian and her
weapon swung at once to train itself upon the Delvian.
further, priest!” she ordered sharply. “He is beyond your ministrations.”
a moment, it seemed that Zhaan intended to disobey, to thrown caution to the
winds in her effort to tend to the unmoving Dominar. But Aeryn’s gun at last
persuaded her different; with a stricken expression, she stepped back into the
comfort of D’Argo’s arm.
gazed at her flatly. “You’ve killed Rygel.” The words did not seem quite
regarded him. “No,” she replied coolly. “Because I’m not the one who
sent him blindly unprotected to attack a helpless being. I know Rygel – he
wouldn’t volunteer to risk his life. Which means someone made him and I think
I can guess who that would have been. So, if anyone is responsible for his fate,
it is you.”
stared at the golden bulkheads. He could hardly believe he was hearing this –
his mind was a whirling void of incomprehension. Somehow, someway, a part of him
had never quite released the idea that somehow everything would work out fine.
couldn’t be happening. He was going to wake up any second.
the matter, Crichton?” The harsh drawl of her familiar voice made his flesh
sound just like Pilot.” The words escaped his lips like drops of ice.
lips curled slightly. “Thank you.”
wasn’t a compliment.”
was for me.”
human shook his head. “Why the frell are you doing this? What’s your little
Sebacean shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea. After all, Pilot and I have
always been very close – we share DNA after all. And besides, when it comes to
it, he has a point. You do bring nothing but harm to Moya. In that respect, she
was safer under the peacekeepers.”
gaped. “She was a slave!”
tilted her head. “And what is she now? She is as much under thrall as she ever
was. And so she will stay – until you are eliminated.”
leaned forward intensely. “And what about you? What’s your role going to be
in New Order of Moya?”
worked something out.”
made a deal?” John gestured abruptly at her bloodstained face. “He
bashed your head in, for God’s sake!”
was before he realised I was on his side.” There was an alarming gleam in
Aeryn’s eyes. “He was only defending himself. As I shall defend him and
Moya, once you are gone. That will be my role. But I will be an equal, not the
master. And that will make all the difference.”
occurred to John that maybe she was still concussed, that Pilot had used her
confusion to brainwash her. Perhaps she was barely aware of what was going on
and after all, the amount of Pilot DNA in her bloodstream – the most likely
culprit for her susceptibility to the radiation – was only minor. Pilot was
far too far-gone to be reasoned with – but was Aeryn unreachable also?
he could only find a chance to try…
fixed his eyes on hers, wishing it was not only in his imagination that he saw a
glimmer of her former self staring back. “He’ll turn on you too, once he had
no-one else left to play with,” he said softly. “You can’t trust him,
peacekeeper stared back. “I think I can. You aren’t going to drive a wedge
between us, Crichton. We aren’t as gullible as that.”
look at yourself,” John tried to conceal the desperation from his tone, but it
leaked out and trickled down the edges of his words. “You are in no fit state
to make a decision like this. You aren’t yourself.”
wrong.” Aeryn’s smile spread like a predator stretching its fangs. “I’ve
never been more myself. For the first time in my life, I am seeing
This time the voice belonged to Zhaan. “Crichton is telling the truth. Moya
has been permeated by an invasive radiation that is affecting her and both of
you. We can stop it, we can make Moya well again, if you just let us. Please, we
want to help, there is no need for this…”
trick.” Pilot’s voice cut through Zhaan’s delicate words with the force of
a keen blade. “I can detect no radiation.”
because it’s everywhere!” John jumped to Zhaan’s aid. “It’s made
itself so endemic to the ship you can’t see it anymore! And it’s affecting
your minds! Dammit, you have to listen, you have to see….”
don’t have to do anything!” This time it was Aeryn’s voice that intruded.
“You are not the rulers of this ship anymore!”
were never rulers!”
Aeryn’s voice shattered John’s into a thousand shards. Her eyes were
laughing at him and glaring all as one. “You just don’t get it, do you
Crichton? I don’t care! It doesn’t matter to me if I’m in my right
mind or not – all that matters is that it feels good, right here, right
now. I’ve never felt so in touch with myself, so alive; it reminds me of my
time in the peacekeepers, my true life, before you stole it from me, the
exhilaration of the hunt, the fight, the kill. All that held me back was all the
frelling discipline getting in the way. And now I am free of that too.” She
smiled cruelly. “You’ve spent so much time getting me to search my soul,
Crichton. It’s not my fault you don’t like what I’ve found.”
this going to take much longer?” There was a petulant note of boredom evident
in Pilot’s voice. “I’ve had my fill of self-explanatory banter for today.
I’d sooner just get to the point.”
well.” Aeryn smiled deliberately at John and gestured towards the golden arch
of the door with her pulse pistol. “Run,” she ordered.
repeated Pilot and in his tone there lurked imminent danger.
turned at once to the hulking navigator who was regarding her with abrupt,
undisguised suspicion. “Something wrong?” she offered casually.
eyes fixed ruthlessly upon hers. “You expect me to let them go?” he said
coldly. “My intent was to finish them now; before they cause any more
was a nastiness to Aeryn’s smile that John didn’t like to dwell on. She
sauntered forward, resting one arm against the side of Pilot’s console as she
leaned towards her ally. Her gun-totting hand never left its target. John was
not fool enough to consider that might not be giving it her full attention.
the enjoyment in slaughtering them helpless?” she asked slowly, her voice as
pointed as a mouth full of incisors. “I’ve done that too often before. But
to hunt them down…. Now there is a challenge. And in a challenge comes the
rolled his eyes. “That thrill is wearing thin for me.”
smile spread darkly as she toyed with her pistol. “You haven’t heard my
was a flicker of sudden interest in Pilot’s eyes. “What ideas?” he asked
with an unpleasant relish.
smiled conspiratorially. “Not in front of the prey,” she said with a mocking
grin. “I’ll tell you when we’re alone. But trust me, Pilot; we can squeeze
days more entertainment out of these four yet.”
as may be,” A frown flitted across Pilot’s face. “But I’m tired of so
much work for no reward. I want to see someone die. Now.”
gestured to the motionless Hynerian who still lay untouched at Zhaan’s feet.
“What about Rygel?”
navigator snorted. “That was more a service to the universe than a pleasure.
Besides, I was only half watching. Crichton was waving a wrench in my face.”
know,” Aeryn pushed herself upright in one sinuous curve and stepped easily
around to the walkway as she casually waved her black pulse pistol from face to
face. “We let three go and keep the last one. Three to hunt and one for your
craving. That way, we both get what we want.”
paused, apparently mulling it over. John felt a chill go down his spine. There
was something deeply sinister about listening to the casual way that Pilot and
Aeryn were delegating the rest of their soon to be truncated lives. It was
almost disturbingly surreal. It was like listening to a cannibal talk about
navigator came to a decision. “All right. We’ll do it your way.” He
glanced from prisoner to prisoner thoughtfully. The unwanted image of a gourmet
seafood restaurant with a pick-your-own-victim lobster tank fluttered across
this time, it was the lobster doing the choosing.
finished his assessment with a sigh. “They all look as bad as each other to
me,” he commented indifferently. “The Luxan is in pieces, the Nebari is on
her last legs and the Delvian looks spent. Even the human seems to have lost his
spark. It’ll be a mercy to which ever one we chose.” He sighed. “Oh well,
needs must. Do you have a preference for who we should keep?”
shrugged. “Not really. Which one do you think will be the least
navigator waved a claw. “Hard to say.”
let’s just keep the last one out.” Aeryn leant back easily against the
golden curve of the console once more, swinging her pulse pistol around one
finger. “The slowest will probably be the weakest and stronger specimens last
nodded his assent. “A good plan. Very well.”
his expression darkened, a wave of ill intent that dropped across his face like
a thundershower mask. A claw danced quickly, deliberately across his console.
With an ominous whirr, the door drew back, exposing the debatable safety of
Moya’s gold ribbed passageway beyond.
out,” he ordered brusquely, waving a dismissive claw as his would-be
eyes grazed across the exit. Some would have seen it as the gateway to freedom.
But the last few days had taught John Crichton some valuable lessons, the
foremost of which was how to read a situation. If he went through that door, he
would live – but he’d wish he hadn’t. And even with Aeryn’s inventive
ideas, Pilot’s playful instinct was beginning rapidly subdued by his homicidal
desire – it was only a matter of time before he abandoned the games and did
away with them once and for all. Kir’s energy, their only weapon, was
exhausted unless the radiavore could get some rest and rejuvenate – but until
then, they had no defence against DRDs. And Rygel’s attempt to inject the
serum had failed. Quick death, slow death – apart from pain, what was the
difference? It all came down to time, in the end – time for Kir to recover,
time for Zhaan to brew more sleep potion. And with Pilot and now Aeryn focused
intensely on their deaths, time was a luxury they weren’t going to get.
someone kept them busy.
hollow opened up in the cavity of John’s chest. But what else could he do?
They didn’t need him, not really – they needed Zhaan to make the serum,
Chiana to keep watch with her sharp eyes and ears and D’Argo to protect them
both. He could not contribute anything that they could not provide themselves.
But if he were to stay….
could buy some time.
maybe, just maybe, he could reach through to Aeryn.
resolve consumed him – the adrenalin returned in a tsunami of determination.
Eyes glittering, he turned to Pilot and drew his battered form to its full
you,” he declared with a wild smile. “I’m through running.”
of Pilot’s eye-ridges rose slowly. He regarded Crichton in much the same
disdainful way as a man who’d just found gum on his best pair of shoes.
please,” he drawled with a roll of his eyes. “Spare me.”
impact was stunning. John collapsed in a tumbled of pain as he slammed to the
ground, picking up several nasty bruises as his flight brought him down onto a
cluster of DRDs. The droids withdrew hurriedly, dumping him unceremoniously on
the golden floor as he battled to his knees, trying to ignore the agonized throb
of his cheek from the force of Pilot’s casual blow. Staggering and more than a
little disorientated, he dragged himself upright and reeled against the console.
don’t get rid of me that easy!” he gasped, wondering as he did so if he was
now the one with the concussion. He was sure that Pilot shouldn’t be spinning
quite like that….
a moment, John thought he might have been hearing things. But as he glanced back
at his companions, he realised all at once that D’Argo had indeed spoken. The
Luxan was drawn up in massive defiance, his raging eyes gleaming. Zhaan was a
floral statue at his side. Chiana’s eyes were twitching unmistakably towards
the open door, but a steely glare from D’Argo and the invisible and annoying
prickle of her conscience stayed her. John was not the only one through running.
was all very gratifying. But unfortunately, it also rather destroyed the point
of John’s sacrifice.
was he supposed to buy them time if they didn’t go and take it?
was not the only one feeling irritated. With an exasperated sigh, Pilot thumped
his claw against a panel. With a furious whirring, the DRDs surged into life,
battering violently at the feet of three on the walkway. Pilot fixed them with a
you are not gone from here in ten microts, I will kill you now,” he
declared bluntly. “Ten…”
was already backing away, glancing anxiously at the open door. It was against
her nature to avoid any way out of a bad situation and her nature was screaming
at her now, if only she could make her legs obey. At her side, both D’Argo and
Zhaan had fixed their eyes on John in an apparent unspoken resolve not to desert
him. He tried to gesture but his body, still slightly uncertain after his
tumble, could only manage a slump against the console. He was desperate to cry
out, to make them understand he didn’t want their heroic gestures, but Aeryn
was watching him like a hawk. What could he say without revealing their intent?
Oh, frell, what were they waiting for?
Zhaan called his name with sudden fear rippling through her voice as she read
the intention that shimmered in his eyes. She started towards him but a shake of
his head pushed her back. They had to go…
John found his voice. “Get out of here now!” he ordered sharply. “I’m
not leaving and you’re not staying!”
steamed forward furiously, landing a violent kick on the nearest DRD. “We will
not just abandon you!” he roared. John ignored him, his eyes suddenly fixed on
the unmoving form of Rygel. Aeryn had not mentioned finding the injector on him;
perhaps he still had it. That would save time – maybe enough time. It would be
nice to believe that poor Buckwheat’s death would count for something…
you will!” John stared at them with a sudden ferocious intensity. Understand…
Please, God or whoever, please make them understand… “Take Sparky! Get
some sleep and restore your energy! Then come back for me!”
they’ll be anything to come back to!” Chiana muttered under her breath. But
light had dawned in the eyes of both D’Argo and Zhaan. They exchanged a sudden
glance and began to back almost deliberately away. Yes,
an unexpected burst of speed, Zhaan lunged down, scooping up the still form of
Rygel and clutching him to her chest. Chiana, after a shove from D’Argo, had
a last fiery glance behind him, D’Argo turned and fled after his lover. Zhaan
lingered a microt longer, her eyes filled with sorrow as they fixed for the
final time upon the battered, stubborn form of the human Crichton. He flashed
her a smile.
ya, Blue,” he mouthed softly.
eyes glinted with tears but she did not move towards him, for which John was
grateful. Instead, gripping Rygel against her, she turned sharply and finally
trailing streamer of Zhaan’s robe fluttered out behind her as the Delvian
darted into the corridor. A moment later she vanished from sight and John was
a dull thud, the door slammed shut. Pilot’s smile burned against John’s
up,” he hissed softly.
fingers dug into the soft flesh of his hand – the air whirled in a confusion
of dark colour and sound as his body was dragged into motion. He felt a warm
shape press against his back as his arm was twisted agonizingly into his
shoulder blades; a long pale arm snaked across his chest, grasping him in an
unrelenting grip. The pulse pistol that it guided pressed coldly against his
hair brushed silkily against his neck as she pressed her face against the side
of his head. He could feel the rise and fall of her chest against his back. He
sensed the cold burn of her eyes. Conflicting emotions did battle in his mind.
Her voice was a whisper straight into his ear, her breath a serpent’s kiss
that vibrated against his cheek like warm poison. “Thank you for