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

Part VII

John 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. 

If they could just get near him… 

“You 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 back. 

“No 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?” 

John conceded the point. “True. But you know what you have to do?” 

The 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…” 

“Good.” John chose that delicate moment to intervene. He sighed. “I just wish there was some other way of getting into the chamber.” 

“John, 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.” 

John’s 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. 

“He’s 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.” 

John glanced once again at the radiavore in concern. “Is he going to be up to this?” 

Zhaan 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.” 

John 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.” 

Zhaan said nothing. She simply smiled. 

John 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. 

“About 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.” 

“Hey!” 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 there!” 

“Enough,” 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.” 

Chiana 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. 

“I found it.” 

“I’m bigger.” 

“So you don’t need it!” 

There 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 challengingly. 

“It’s all yours,” he conceded gracefully. “So everyone clear on the plan?” 

“Oh, 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…” 

“Pip.” 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 lift-off.” 

An injector glistened in Zhaan’s azure hand. The sluggish turquoise liquid shimmered. “It’s done.” 

John smiled grimly. “Then let’s go party.” 

The 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. 

A surprise awaited them there. 

“So few?” D’Argo’s voice was filled with incredulous disbelief.  “Why would he post only five DRDs to guard his door?” 

“It’s 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.” 

Chiana pulled a face. “D’you think he knows something we don’t?” 

John 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. 

Just a few moments more and then he’d see. 

“It’s time, guys,” he whispered softly. “Kir, you ready?” 

The radiavore nodded softly but John couldn’t miss the slightly sickly edge that now pervaded his golden glow. He chose not to comment. 

“Sparky? Ready to inject some ass?” 

“As 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 silent.” 

John 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.” 

“You’d better,” Rygel muttered.  

John 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. 

“Guys,” he whispered. “Let’s do this.” 

With a nod, Kir rose. He extended his lightning hands. 

This 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? 

Or… 

Oh frell. 

The lack of DRDs outside was immediately explained. They were not outside because they were all inside

It was quite obvious when you thought about it. It was just a shame that John had thought too late. 

The 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. 

At 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. 

The placebo effect of the wrench wore off very rapidly. 

But one pair of eyes didn’t glow. They didn’t need to. John could feel them. 

There 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. 

He 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 obliterated utterly. 

And he was alone. 

There was absolutely no trace of Aeryn Sun. 

Pilot 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.” 

His 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?” 

The DRDs that saturated the walkway clicked to attention. 

And then for the second time, the world vanished into light. 

He had to hurry. 

Rygel 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. 

In his lap, he clutched the injector like a talisman. 

And 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. 

There was no sign of anything. Nothing moved in the impenetrable darkness. 

Rygel felt a shiver of glee. He could do this! He could actually do it! 

There 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! 

Gripping 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 thronesled. 

Rygel turned around, wrapping his tiny arms around the sled as he turned it on one side. He pulled. 

It 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? 

Well 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. 

Abruptly it came free. 

Rygel 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… 

And then the protrusion moved. 

Light 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. 

But what really caught Rygel’s attention was the gun. It was pointing straight at him. 

And then something bright yellow and twitching surged out of the shadows to barrel into his head and the Dominar was hurled back to darkness. 

His veins were on fire. 

With 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.  

The 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. 

Pilot watched and smiled nastily. It was the best entertainment he’d seen in cycles. 

“Is 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 a disappointment.” 

John 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 words angrily. 

Pilot 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 peacekeeper.” 

John felt his heart turn to lead. “Where is she?” he said coldly. 

Pilot gave a little smile. “Safely tucked away. Fulfilling a purpose.” 

John’s expression tightened. “What the hell do you mean by that?” 

Pilot released the edge of a chuckle. “That’s for me to know, and you… not to. That way it’s a pleasant surprise.” 

“John!” The soft summons came from behind him. The human didn’t even turn. 

“Not now!” he snapped. 

“John!” Zhaan’s voice, an urgent whisper, came again. John risked a glance over his shoulder to meet the anxious eyes of the Delvian.  

“Dammit Zhaan, I just said…” 

“John, the DRDs!” Zhaan interrupted sharply. “They’re coming round!” 

It 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. 

“Thank 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.” 

A flicker of light in the corner of John’s eye immediately restored his hopes. He smiled. 

“Not today, pal,” he drawled. 

And once again, light filled the world. 

But 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 their own. 

As 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. 

John 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. 

They acted. 

It 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. 

But 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 think again. 

“How 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. 

Behind 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. 

“You won’t kill me,” he said softly. 

John’s expression echoed of glaciers. “After all you’ve put us through, why the hell would you think I wouldn’t?” 

In spite of his perilous situation, Pilot smiled. “Three reasons.” 

Crichton’s face cooled from ice to stone. “Shoot.” 

The navigator’s smile spread. “That would be the first one, yes.” 

Behind, he heard Chiana gasp. There was a whirr and several dozen clicks. 

John 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.  

The effect of Kir’s final burst had barely lasted fifty microts. 

He 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. 

John’s eyes drifted carefully back and lingered briefly but intently upon one of Pilot’s claws. It was gently stroking a panel. 

“Get away from that command,” he said softly. 

Pilot 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 is.” 

“I don’t believe in stalemates. Move the claw.” 

Pilot 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 hesitate?” 

John did not reply. He didn’t need to. 

“You 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.” 

“No,” 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.” 

Pilot’s expression wavered slightly. The barest flicker of doubt crept across his eyes. 

John 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!” 

There 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. 

What had he done? Where was Aeryn?” 

“You misunderstand, Crichton.” Pilot’s voice was a sibilant drawl.  “Aeryn was my third reason. But I never had any intention of threatening her.” 

John 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?” 

Pilot laughed coldly. “Why don’t you ask her yourself?” 

Scarlet 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. 

It was Rygel. 

They were screwed. 

The 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 John. 

She was smiling. 

But it was not a pleasant sight. 

Aeryn 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. 

“You 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.” 

John’s 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. 

At least until now. 

Her eyes fixed upon his as though to read his mind. She smiled again. 

“Oh, Crichton,” she murmured softly, the words stroking her lips as they slid into the air. “You are such a fool.” 

The dark barrel of her pulse pistol extended towards his forehead. “Move away from him. Now.” 

John battled to contain the shaking convulsions that threatened to steal control of his body. “What if I don’t?” 

Aeryn’s eyes flicked to Pilot. The DRDs surrounding Zhaan, D’Argo and Chiana began to circle threateningly. 

“Then you will watch the rest of your friends die, one by one, until only you remain. And then, we’ll start the real fun.” 

The rest…. John’s brain caught instantly upon Aeryn’s words. “Rygel,” he whispered. “What did you do to…?” 

Aeryn’s expression never wavered from its sultry intensity. “No more than he deserved.” 

Her eyes caught upon Zhaan’s anxious lurch towards the immobile Hynerian and her weapon swung at once to train itself upon the Delvian.  

“No further, priest!” she ordered sharply. “He is beyond your ministrations.” 

For 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. 

John gazed at her flatly. “You’ve killed Rygel.” The words did not seem quite real somehow. 

Aeryn 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.” 

John 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. But now… 

Rygel dead? 

At Aeryn’s hand? 

This couldn’t be happening. He was going to wake up any second. 

“Something the matter, Crichton?” The harsh drawl of her familiar voice made his flesh creep.  

“You sound just like Pilot.” The words escaped his lips like drops of ice.

 Aeryn’s lips curled slightly. “Thank you.” 

“It wasn’t a compliment.” 

“It was for me.” 

The human shook his head. “Why the frell are you doing this? What’s your little excuse?” 

The 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.” 

John gaped. “She was a slave!” 

Aeryn 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.” 

John leaned forward intensely. “And what about you? What’s your role going to be in New Order of Moya?” 

“We’ve worked something out.” 

“You made a deal?” John gestured abruptly at her bloodstained face. “He bashed your head in, for God’s sake!” 

“That 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.” 

It 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? 

If he could only find a chance to try… 

John 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, Aeryn.” 

The 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.” 

“Aeryn, 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.” 

“You’re 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 clearly.” 

“Aeryn,” 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…” 

“A trick.” Pilot’s voice cut through Zhaan’s delicate words with the force of a keen blade. “I can detect no radiation.” 

“That’s 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….” 

“We don’t have to do anything!” This time it was Aeryn’s voice that intruded. “You are not the rulers of this ship anymore!” 

“We were never rulers!” 

“Silence!” 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.” 

“Is 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.” 

“Very well.” Aeryn smiled deliberately at John and gestured towards the golden arch of the door with her pulse pistol. “Run,” she ordered. 

“What?” John exclaimed. 

What?” repeated Pilot and in his tone there lurked imminent danger.  

Aeryn turned at once to the hulking navigator who was regarding her with abrupt, undisguised suspicion. “Something wrong?” she offered casually. 

Pilot’s 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 trouble.” 

There 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. 

“Where’s 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 thrill.” 

Pilot rolled his eyes. “That thrill is wearing thin for me.” 

Aeryn’s smile spread darkly as she toyed with her pistol. “You haven’t heard my ideas yet.” 

There was a flicker of sudden interest in Pilot’s eyes. “What ideas?” he asked with an unpleasant relish. 

Aeryn 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.” 

“That 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.” 

Aeryn gestured to the motionless Hynerian who still lay untouched at Zhaan’s feet. “What about Rygel?” 

The 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.” 

“I 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.” 

Pilot 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 recipes. 

The 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 John’s mind.  

Except this time, it was the lobster doing the choosing. 

Pilot 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?” 

Aeryn shrugged. “Not really. Which one do you think will be the least entertaining?” 

The navigator waved a claw. “Hard to say.” 

“Then 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 longer.” 

Pilot nodded his assent. “A good plan. Very well.” 

Abruptly 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.  

“Get out,” he ordered brusquely, waving a dismissive claw as his would-be playthings. “Now.” 

John’s 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. 

Unless…. 

Unless someone kept them busy. 

A 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…. 

He could buy some time.  

And maybe, just maybe, he could reach through to Aeryn. 

Last one out…. 

Sudden 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 height. 

“Screw you,” he declared with a wild smile. “I’m through running.” 

One 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. 

“Oh please,” he drawled with a roll of his eyes. “Spare me.” 

The 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. 

“You 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…. 

“Us either!” 

For 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. 

It was all very gratifying. But unfortunately, it also rather destroyed the point of John’s sacrifice. 

Great. 

How was he supposed to buy them time if they didn’t go and take it? 

John 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 steely glare. 

“If you are not gone from here in ten microts, I will kill you now,” he declared bluntly. “Ten…” 

Chiana 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? 

“Nine…” 

“John!” 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… 

“Eight…” 

Abruptly John found his voice. “Get out of here now!” he ordered sharply. “I’m not leaving and you’re not staying!” 

D’Argo 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… 

“Seven….” 

“Yes, 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!” 

“Six…” 

“Like 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, yes, yes… 

“Five…” 

With 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 already bolted. 

“Four…” 

With 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. 

“See ya, Blue,” he mouthed softly. 

“Three…” 

Zhaan’s 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 fled. 

“Two…” 

A 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 left alone. 

Well except for…. 

“One….” 

With a dull thud, the door slammed shut. Pilot’s smile burned against John’s skin. 

“Time’s up,” he hissed softly. 

Sharp 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 temple. 

Aeryn’s 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. 

“Crichton,” 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 volunteering.” 

 

END Part 7

Part 8

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