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 VIII

The passage was dark and still, a narrow arching curve that edged it’s way along a forgotten corner of Moya’s lower tiers, darkened braces balancing to conceal the five diverse shapes that huddled in it’s shadowed embrace. Despite the presence of a being once incandescent, now it was the turn of darkness to swallow the light. 

But not to swallow the spirit. 

“You mean he isn’t dead?” The tired face of Chiana lit up as she stared at Zhaan in joyful disbelief, her dark eyes suddenly as bright as sunset. “But Aeryn said…” 

Zhaan shrugged, a smile creasing her worn chlorophyll features sincerely for the first time in arns. “It seems Aeryn was mistaken. Rygel is merely unconscious.” 

D’Argo’s features creased in puzzlement. “That is not a mistake that you would expect a peacekeeper to make,” he commented. “They usually finish what they start.” 

Zhaan shrugged again. “Perhaps she was preoccupied by coming to Pilot’s rescue. Besides, when such a miracle comes, we should not question it. We should merely thank the goddess that, despite the horrors we have endured, we all remain alive.” 

“Maybe,” Chiana’s eyes wandered in the direction of Pilot’s chamber. “If Pilot and Aeryn haven’t finished with John.” 

There was a moment of unpleasant silence. Chiana stared down at the immobile form of Rygel, as D’Argo examined a wall with an abrupt glare. Zhaan let her eyes wander to the corner of their quiet, hidden passage hideaway where the now dull, and almost halo-less form of Kir crouched, desperately meditating to restore some echo of his power. 

“What are we going to do now?” Chiana’s words rippled through to push aside the silence. Her grey features looked hewn as stone in the twilight of their concealment.

“That serum was our last hope. What can we do except wait for Pilot and Aeryn to finish up with Crichton and start coming after us?” 

Zhaan softly shook her head. “No, child. Hope is never passed whilst there is spirit to support it. We can make more serum; with rest, Kir may recover enough to attempt another burst.” Her expression hardened. “John sacrificed himself to give us this time. We must not waste it. We must honour his memory by carrying out his final wish.” 

Chiana shook her head. “What final wish?” 

Zhaan met her eyes – even in the darkness, her emotions were easily perceived.  “That we go on. That we survive. That we save ourselves from Pilot and Aeryn – and save Pilot and Aeryn from themselves.” She took a sharp breath. “I intend to return to the ventral junction where we left my herbs. I believe I have enough ingredients left for two more doses.”  

D’Argo nodded. “One from Pilot, one for Aeryn.” 

“Yes. Once we have more serum, we can make another attempt to reach Pilot. But we must act quickly.” She paused, taking several deep breaths as she forced down the emotion rampant in the harshness of the words that would follow. “Whilst they are still occupied.” 

A grim pause followed, broken after several microts by the growling voice of D’Argo.

“What about Kir?” he muttered. “He doesn’t look well enough to move, much less help us.” 

Zhaan glanced at the energy being, her concern not quite concealed by the shadows that washed over her face. “He is in a state of deep meditation,” she said softly. “He believes it will provide him with enough light to give us one last burst – if he is not disturbed.” 

D’Argo sighed. “Well, we can’t stay here, and we can’t leave him. How is he going to come with us if we can’t disturb him?” 

The Delvian sighed. “You will have to carry him.” 

Instant alarm crossed the Luxan’s features. “But…” he began, a protest hovering on his lips. 

“He is dormant, D’Argo,” Zhaan intervened. “It is perfectly safe.” She drew a breath. “Enough of this. D’Argo, bring Kir. Chiana, carry Rygel. We go on and this is the only way. And hurry. We may not have much time.” 

# 

The impact of the golden floor sent shockwaves through John Crichton’s already battered body. For a microt, he could barely move, barely breath, stunned into brief blissful non-awareness by the glancing blow that had just been applied to his skull. He could feel the slow trickle of blood as it wept down his cheek, the raw pounding of rainbow bruises and the sharp penetrating throb of cuts. He began to form a vague impression of how it felt to be ground through a mincing machine. 

Struggling against a rising weariness within, he forced himself to open his eyes. Black eternity stared back, not the welcome relief of unconsciousness, but a long, distant plunge past gleaming neural clusters into a far, invisible nothing. 

“This is pathetic.” The voice came from above and behind, a harsh, disdainful whiplash tinged with a mixture of disgust and disappointment. “We should have kept D’Argo. At least he would have put up an interesting fight.” 

“Humans,” the second voice chimed in, this time tinged with mocking amusement. “They are ridiculously fragile. Barely a quarter of an arn and he’s broken already.” 

John felt a growing hysteria rise within his chest – he tried to laugh but was answered only by a bubbling choke as bloody saliva soaked his lips. 

“You know,” he croaked with a gasp. “If you break all your toys this fast, your mamma’s gonna take them away from you!” 

From the unseen dark behind him, one of the voices laughed softly. “How long was that?” he asked his companion. 

John heard footsteps echo against the walkway – a black shape towered against the strained edges of his vision but he could not, would not turn his head to look more clearly. “Fifty-three microts,” the harder of the two voices shimmered from above. “I told you he was weakening. The gaps between his gestures of defiance have increased by nearly fifteen microts since we started.” 

John struggled desperately to rise, cranking his arms with all the energy he could muster so as not to remain floor-bound. But his body, it seemed, had suffered just about all that it could take – his arms gave up the ghost with no more than a creak and a throb, leaving him to slump exhausted to a golden floor that trickled with his own blood. 

So this is it…. The thought flicked through his mind unbidden and sparked a dawning realisation. How many times have I thought that today? Three, four? He half-smiled ironically under his breath. It came to something when a person lost count of the number of times in a day he’d almost died. 

“Oh, for frell’s sake,” Aeryn’s now harsh voice slashed across his consciousness, tearing unpleasantly against his thoughts. “He isn’t even putting up a fight, just flailing on the floor!” 

A solid black boot slammed into his already screaming ribs. Crichton bit his lip until it bled as he collapsed back to the ground, trying desperately not to cry out as pain ricocheted from muscle to bone in his chest. He was determined at least not to give them that satisfaction. 

“Get up!” Aeryn roared at him, a wave of sound that rode on the back of yet another bone shattering blow to his torso. “Now!” 

John coughed, his throat raw as he struggled to regain his breath.  

“Get...stuffed!” he intoned with a gasp. 

“I’d watch what you say, Crichton,” Pilot’s voice was dripping with mordant amusement from the pool of light flecked darkness to his right. “You might give her ideas.” 

“What is the matter with you, Human?” Aeryn’s words slashed against his ears. “I always knew you were subnormal, but this…. We want to kill you, Crichton! Aren’t you even going to fight back?” 

John grimaced as he fought to retain his sanity above a rising tide of agony. He forced himself to remember that he had volunteered for this – that he had stepped into the mouth of Hell so as to give his companions a chance to snuff the pilot light whilst he tried to convert the devil. He hadn’t really made much progress in trying to talk Aeryn down – most of the words that had passed his lips had been one form or another of exclamation.  

Maybe it was time to try. 

“I don’t…want to hurt you,” he gasped softly. “Either of you.” 

Aeryn snorted disdainfully, her eyes raking his body with a distinct lack of respect. “Like you could!” 

Pilot’s soft voice echoed from beyond her, his tone rich with darkness. “You don’t wish to hurt us, Crichton?” he drawled coolly. “That isn’t the impression you gave me earlier when you threatened to ram a broken wrench down my throat!” 

John closed his eyes – his body was shaking, his mind was awhirl, every breath was a pain-racked struggle. But he had to stay focused – and more importantly he had to stay alive. Time… it was all time…. 

“I was desperate,” he whispered, his voice a raw rasp that staggered ungainly from his throat. “I had to stop you. I had to get you to listen…” 

“To what?” John could sense the disdainful smile that must have been lingering across Pilot’s face at that instant. “To your fascinating little fiction about the radiation? You must think I am a fool.” 

“It’s no fiction.” John’s voice was no more than a glorified choke. “Surely you must be able to see how you’ve both changed! Aeryn, even a couple of arns ago, when you spoke to me over the comm…” 

Abruptly his body was yanked into unwilling motion. A hand grasped his belt – with a jerk he felt himself being hauled unceremoniously upright. Fingers gripped his shoulder as though to draw blood– hard boots kicked his legs into place as a second hand caught his waist and spun him around on his heel. 

To stare straight into the cold blue eyes of Aeryn Sun. 

He had barely seen her. Until now his glimpses had been half-light and shadow play – flickering glimpses insufficient to truly assess. But now, with her ivory hewn features just inches from his, John found for the first time that he could clearly see what Aeryn had become.  

She looked a wreck. There was no denying that. Her hair was a tangled web of darkness, twisted into strange unearthly curls by the dried blood that also coated the flesh of her face like a grotesque tattoo that contrasted sharply with the paleness of her skin. And she was pale, even more so than normal and there was a gaunt weariness around her eyes that gave her a shrunken, almost skeletal appearance. But there was no tiredness in her eyes themselves– they gleamed with fanatical zeal like a pair of hard, blue agates, giving nothing, taking all. It seemed almost to John that her eyes were the only part of her still truly alive – the rest of her body seemed to hang from them unwillingly like a walking cadaver held together only by the murderous strength in her eyes. 

She looked like the dead possessed. 

John couldn’t speak. It hadn’t been so noticeable with Pilot – the navigator had hidden himself well, not appearing in the clamshell and cloaking himself in the dark. But with Aeryn, with a face whose every contour was etched into his mind, whose every expression he could read without thinking, it was glaring. What the frell was this radiation doing to them both? 

“Aeryn,” he whispered. 

A smile flickered across her face, a fleeting nasty twitch of feeling. 

“John,” she whispered back. “John, I’m alive. But I don’t know how much longer that will last.” Her eyes gleamed with unearthly cruelty as she watched realisation dawn across the human’s features. The message in the corridor…. 

“Please, John,” Aeryn’s voice was a tone for tone match to the desperate words which had fired his heart just a few arns before – her expression was one of cruel mockery. “Just do as Pilot says.” 

John felt his stomach drop away. That message had been his hope, his drive – to be told now that it had meant nothing at all was painful. He met her playful, ice-cold gaze with an iciness of his own. 

“So you played me,” he drawled softly. “You played the gullible human. Congratulations.” 

“Oh, John,” Aeryn shook her head slowly, a blur against the black stained background. “I do not understand you. All I’m doing is giving you what you’ve always wanted.” 

John stared at her incredulously. “What?” 

Her iron grip on his shoulder eased abruptly – with a gentle coyness, Aeryn’s fingers danced playfully across his shoulder and reached out to stroke the battered, sensitive skin of his face with tantalizing slowness. Under other circumstances, John’s heart would have been cheering at this sudden motion, but all that flickered through his core now was repulsion. This wasn’t his Aeryn and it meant nothing. She was mocking his feelings and both of them knew it. 

“I’m giving you an Aeryn without limits.” Her face moved towards his, slowly, deadly, sultry, a wraithlike apparition of the woman he’d once known. Her breath seared his cheek like cold heat as her fingers weaved patterns against his temple. “An Aeryn not constrained by foolish discipline and denial of emotions. What I feel, I say. And what I say, I feel. I would have thought you’d have liked me better this way.” 

John’s heart was pounding like thunder in his ears – adrenalin surged through his veins to spill new life into battered limbs. He forced himself to attempt some semblance of calmness, but with Aeryn’s unyielding proximity, it was a little hard to focus. 

“Thanks,” he managed at last. “But I liked Aeryn better when she wasn’t a sadistic killer.” 

A smile teased her cheekbones. “I’ve always been a sadistic killer, John. You simply chose not to see it.” 

He could feel her breath as it swelled her chest, so closely pressed were they. Her eyes glittered like sapphire stars. Her touch was a caress against the skin of his face, her breath a sultry poison. He could feel it brush his lips. She was so close… 

“You’re crazy,” he said softly. 

Pain shot through his face with agonising force as her fingers thrust themselves into his flesh – even as he squirmed in shock and pain, he felt himself being thrust backwards, propelled by the sharp force of her hands. He tumbled, staggering for some manner of control – he caught a half-glimpse of Aeryn, not laughing or angry as he might of expected, but breathing hard, her head bowed as a grimace that hinted of pain contorted her features. But John really did not have time to consider Aeryn’s mood – he had far more urgent problems. Abruptly he ran out of walkway, his left foot flailing out over an alarming amount of nothing as his right foot scrabbled to hold him vertical. His arms windmilled desperately as his toes scraped on the edge of the abyss, his body convulsing and contorting like a drunken marionette. But it was no good – his balance had fled in the same direction as his dignity – and his toes lost their tenuous grip once and for all. He felt himself falling away, tumbling into the void below. To his own surprise, it came as quite a relief. 

Out of nowhere, Aeryn’s arm lashed out. Fingers still stained with his blood grasped his belt, preventing the blissful drop at the last instant. She hauled him back to the near vertical, his toes clinging once more to the golden edge, unable to find a safer haven. John breathed deeply, rather surprised and mildly disappointed to find he hadn’t plunged to a sticky death and made a brief assessment of his new situation. It was hardly much more favourable. The black abyss still yawned alarmingly beneath him; he was nowhere near safe from its call. The peacekeeper might have saved him for the time being but he had no illusions about where gravity would take him if she were to let go. The only thing standing between him and oblivion was Aeryn. 

Not the most reliable lifeline in the universe right now. 

Or was it?  

Because for just a microt, a brief instant so fleeting that it barely registered on his consciousness, a look of alarmed concern had settled on Aeryn’s features. It vanished almost instantly, quashed out of sight by a hard-edged look of fierce determination that John knew all too well; but a quick glance told the human instantly that something had changed. The casual, confident brutality had been erased – the Aeryn that faced him now was strung, tense, the fingers that held his life in their grasp shaking almost imperceptibly. He glanced up to meet her gaze but her eyes swerved away from his as though repelled. She was no longer smiling. 

“What the frell did you just do that for?” At the sound of Pilot’s voice, Aeryn almost seemed to start. “Why didn’t you just let him fall?” 

That was a good question. John’s eyes trained themselves decisively on Aeryn, examining the sudden friction that vibrated across her features as he waited for an answer. 

A cool smile forced its way onto Aeryn’s face but it gleamed with falseness and effort - gone was the casual cruelness of just a few microts before. 

“Well,” she exclaimed softly. “It wouldn’t be right to cast him away without a proper goodbye, would it?” 

Pilot snorted and rolled his eyes. “I would not have a problem with that.” 

“Well I do,” There was a breathy quality to Aeryn’s voice, a hushed seductiveness that did not quite seem to sit right with her demeanour.  “Where’s the fun in an accident?” 

Pilot’s golden eyes gleamed unpleasantly in the darkness. His light taunted features were taut with irritation. “Infinitely more than watching you drool over that human,” he declared harshly. “Just do as you will with him and have done with it. I wish to start plans for the others. Unless of course, you would rather reconsider our arrangement.” 

Pilot was losing patience. John didn’t miss the brief flicker of concern that flitted almost unnoticed across Aeryn’s face – her skin, already ivory, paled further in the half-light. Despite Aeryn’s claims of equality with Pilot, it was pretty obvious to John at least who was in charge. 

But Aeryn’s moment of alarm had passed – her expression rose into a fierce smile.

“Very well,” she said coolly. “It seems, human, that your end has come at last.” 

With a single fluid, sinuous motion forwards, Aeryn filled his world. Her odour, a bloody musk, filled his senses with a cocktail of revulsion and allure. He could feel the press of her chest against his heart, the soft, sensuous caress of her free hand as it slid around his waist, lingering for a moment against the small of his back, before trickling it’s way on down…. 

But instead of warm fingers, John felt something cold and hard press against his skin. He almost started but the fierce gleam of Aeryn’s gaze stayed him just in time – he suppressed his surprise with a gulp. A microt later a second something joined the first, still cold but larger, flatter, more angular, forced behind his belt and tucked firmly into place. Her finger explored its edge for an instant, before coming to rest upon a sharp outcrop of the smooth surface. There was a jerk and then abruptly a strange sensation spread across Crichton’s back and the rear of his legs, a gentle, disconcerting shudder. 

The whatever was vibrating. 

What the frell? 

Aeryn’s hand withdrew. A brief satisfaction stained her expression. 

“Crichton,” she intoned, her voice pointed and precise. Her eyes flickered rapidly in Pilot’s direction but the navigator it seemed, had lost interest in her antics and was barely paying attention. 

“The time has come,” Aeryn’s voice was a soft, deliberate declaration. “For you to follow the path of Dominar Rygel.” 

And then she met his eyes and every thought and feeling, every horror and hope in John’s Crichton’s mind stopped absolutely dead. 

It was Aeryn whose gaze now bored into his soul. 

His Aeryn. 

John opened his mouth to speak. 

She pushed. 

He felt his toes part company with the walkway, his final hold on the land of the living ripped away by one simple motion on the part of Aeryn Sun. For just a microt, all around came to a standstill; he froze, half fallen in mid air to gaze upon the sharp outline of her face against a backdrop of indistinct nothing. Her eyes filled his heart. 

And then reality resumed and she was gone. 

He was falling. 

And this time no hand reached out to catch him. 

The world was a blur, spinning pulsing, indistinct, a rotating tangle of black, silver and gold. Air rushed past his skin, a maelstrom rising – he was tumbling, writhing, hurtling through the air like a skydiver gone haywire, his whole body coursing and vibrating to the strange rhythm spun out from the small of his back. Ridiculous thoughts flitted through his mind – it was a bomb, a booby trap designed to go off as he fell so that his remains would be splattered to best effect like some gruesome Fourth of July. Aeryn had rigged him as the first ever human firework. 

His senses were a blur – screaming air whipped against his ears, his eyes ran with cascades of water as colours flitted through his vision indistinctly. He could taste bitter blood against his tongue, feel the whiplash touch of resistance against his skin. He could smell his fear. 

And still he fell. Did this frelling chamber ever end? Was he going to tumble in a coloured blur for the rest of eternity? 

He closed his eyes. 

And the world stopped. 

John paused, waiting for his mind to catch up with his sudden lack of sensation. The rush of air, the tingle, the burn against his senses –all had ceased abruptly. There was nothing, nothing but the blackness against his eyelids, nothing but the aching pulse of his worn body as it hung, frozen in a horizontal spread eagle, his limbs dangling behind him as they reached out towards the ground. Nothing but a low, invasive and strangely familiar hum that matched exactly the frequency of vibrations from Aeryn’s deftly provided something. 

Huh? 

Was that it? Had he hit bottom and somehow transfused into the next world pretty much as he’d left this one? This wasn’t quite how he pictured dying after a several hundred foot fall – surely it should have hurt for a start. Perhaps he had landed on a walkway – he had had several near misses on his passage downwards -but again, wouldn’t pain have been a factor? Besides he could feel no firmness beneath him – if he hadn’t have known it was impossible, he would have concluded that he was lying motionless on his back in midair. 

John opened his eyes and realised he was wrong. 

He was lying on his back in midair. But he wasn’t motionless.  

He was rising. 

Granted, it was slow and slightly on the jerky side – the juddering hum that had earlier caught his ear was whining uncertainly, the vibrations shuddering out of tempo as though to complain that they were not accustomed to bearing this kind of weight. But at that particular instant John was not about to complain. He didn’t know quite what was happening but he did know this – he was a great deal more alive than he’d expected and that was not a gift to question. 

Above and a little to the left, a walkway was bearing down on his ascent. Shaking himself into some kind of composure, John quickly twisted his reluctant body, swimming against a tide of empty air as he flipped himself over, flinging out a hand to catch the golden lifeline as it passed. His fingers grasped the grainy surface – determinedly his trousers continued to rise, taking his lower body with them but John acted quickly, groping back with his free hand until his fingers seized upon the smooth metallic object that Aeryn had slipped him. He found the small protrusion almost at once, a small, switch like device, but using an unknown switch in an unknown device was not necessarily the safest of plans. But his fingertips were straining to maintain their hold on the walkway – his trousers were on the verge of continuing without him. This was no time to be cautious. 

He flicked it. 

With an abrupt thump, John slumped headfirst onto the walkway, his chin colliding with solidness with unpleasant amounts of force. For several microts, he barely even bothered to breathe, struggling to come to terms with the fact that, instead of being splattered over a fairly decent radius of floor space, he was in fact lying safe, if a little bruised and sore around the chin, after taking a rather unexpected turn as a human elevator. 

What the frell was going on today? 

 “Feel better now?”  

John started furiously, his body leaping to half upright fuelled by pure adrenalin as his head whipped around in search of the owner of that voice. But there was no black and white figure gazing down at him, no hard blue eyes fixed upon him with disdain. There was nothing but the ghost of darkness and the pale rising gold of the neural nexus towering to his left to spill out another walkway a few dozen yards above. A shadowy shape swept across it’s length, her voice echoing as it spoke, not to him, but to the being ingrained into the vessel not very far above him. With a hollow rush, John realised where he was, where this walkway led. 

It was the access to Pilot’s lower chamber. 

“Much,” Above, Pilot’s voice echoed with a nasty, sadistic glee. “But couldn’t you have killed him and then thrown him over the walkway? I find it much more enjoyable when I actually get to watch the life drain away from their eyes.” 

“True,” Aeryn, it seemed had returned to her old position at Pilot’s side, judging by the striation of echoes that shimmered from her lips. “But then we would have missed that wonderful look of horror on his face when I pushed him.” 

Pilot’s laugh was low, cold, cruel. “That was worth watching, I’ll admit. But Crichton is gone now, and the universe will not miss him. It is time to turn our attention to the others.” 

A cold chill seized John’s heart. Time was up. With his apparent demise, nothing stood between Pilot and the fates of his shipmates. And yet here he was, scant yards from Pilot’s exposed underbelly and nobody knew he was there. It was a God given opportunity if he could only find some way to use it. 

He started to half-rise but something dug sharply into the small of his back, reminding him abruptly of his unknown saviour. He reached back at once, fingers closing on the flat, metallic object as he drew it from behind his belt and lifted it into the half-light.  

His eyes widened. 

Of course the hum had been familiar – he had heard it every day for the last cycle and a half. A disbelieving smile flickered across his worn features as he twisted the anti-gravity unit from Rygel’s thronesled over in his hands. It had been removed hastily from it’s casing, judging by the scarring of tool marks around it’s rim, but it’s function had not been damaged – at least not so much as to prevent it breaking the fall of a rapidly plummeting human.  

But the unit had not been the only thing he had been given. A second cool jab against his back reminded him all at once – Aeryn had slipped two items into his belt. His hand swung back at once, yanking the second device to freedom and hauling it before his eyes. 

His jaw dropped. His heart soared. 

This was it. 

It was Rygel’s serum injector. 

Follow the path of Dominar Rygel… 

Aeryn. 

Aeryn was faking? 

John could hardly breathe, hardly think as a thousand conflicting thoughts, feeling, sensations, emotions, danced before his eyes. That was the answer, it had to be – why else would she have provided him with both the opportunity to reach Pilot and the means to stop him? But all the taunting, the sadism, the cruelty she had portrayed – surely she would not have been so harsh – not least to poor Rygel – if she was in her right mind. But yet she had saved his life and potentially everyone else’s as well. Why would she do that if she were the monster she had seemed? It made no sense. 

But now was not the time to ponder it. There would be chance enough later to find out Aeryn’s state of mind; right now, it was Pilot who needed to be stopped and John with an unrivalled chance to do the stopping. 

He paused, his ears straining to hear the low conversation going on above him, to be sure his target was occupied before he plunged into the deep end. 

“…Never thought of using it that way.” It was Pilot, his cool, clear voice delighted as he laughed softly in response to whatever suggestion had just been made. “You really are very ingenious.” 

“I have more.” Aeryn’s voice echoed through the chamber like an icy wraith. “If I could just show you…” 

Through the dark, high above, John caught a fleeting glimpse of Aeryn pulling herself up onto the flashing welter of lights that surrounded Pilot and leaning down intently over a panel. Even as he squinted, trying to catch a better view, he saw her foot snake backwards and press down firmly against a panel just out of Pilot’s view. Whatever she was doing, she obviously didn’t want the navigator knowing about it. 

Grinning to himself, John turned and headed quickly over to the neural nexus.  

Time to party. 

It was the work of microts to scramble up the slender ladder that linked the walkway level to Pilot’s lower chamber. He approached the cusp of the circular doorway warily – it would be foolhardy to assume that Pilot had not maintained some kind of guard. Most of the DRDs had been dispatched from the chamber a little while before, most probably to prepare the way for hunting down the others, but there was no guarantee that some had not been banished here. 

Gripping the rung just beneath the entry with both hands, John slowly raised his head above the lip, his eyes sweeping the chamber with rapid efficiency. A glimpse of yellow caught his eye – he dropped back at once – but after a moment, his brain caught up with his instincts and processed what he had just seen more accurately. Still wary, he raised his head gently once more but this time held position, allowing a thorough sweep of the chamber. His eyes fixed at once on the three yellow guardians scattered across the darkened room, one resting high in an alcove to his right, one just a few yards in front of his face and a third, positioned beside the white, tangled mass of Pilot’s tendrils. Just beside it, Rygel’s thronesled lay upside down on the golden floor, it’s underside pulled apart to provide him with the component that had saved his life. 

But of more interest to John were the DRDs – principally the fact that they didn’t appear to be moving. 

In fact they didn’t seem to be doing much of anything at all, their little gun barrels slumped against the ground, their eyestalks dark and drooping. For a moment, John hesitated, painful memories of Pilot’s cruel trickery playing through his mind, but then a new image surged through his mind, a shadowed half-impression of the leg of Aeryn Sun, reaching backwards across the console. 

The DRDs. 

She had shut down the DRDs. 

The way was clear. 

It was hard to believe after so much pain and so much suffering that it could possibly be this easy. Indeed, although John’s mind was opening exulting at this stroke of good fortune, his body, still feeling the principal effects of his earlier efforts to bring this to an end, all but shut down in disbelief. It took all the effort he possessed to force himself to climb those last few rungs of ladder, to clamber into the shadowed chamber and stumble the three steps that took him within touching distance of Pilot’s lower body. He stared at it almost blindly, the ridged contours, the dark maw that spilled the bright white tendrils down into the bowels of the ship, the tiny, wasted legs that twitched and spasmed more out of a sense of duty than any real need to move. His eyes ran over the glittering form of the glass injector, Zhaan’s serum vibrating fluidly in his shivering hand. One motion. One move. One click and it would all be over. 

A sudden elation filled him, a sharp reckless exuberance. Overhead he could hear voices, Pilot plotting his crew’s demise with the woman who had tricked him, completely unaware that a man he thought dead was about to bring it all crashing down. 

It was a good feeling. 

“Hey Pilot!” he roared suddenly. “Guess who’s not that easy to kill?” 

Above him, he heard Pilot gasp. He felt himself smile. 

With one swift motion, he plunged the injector into the base of Pilot’s tendrils and squeezed the serum home. 

Pilot’s scream of rage echoed through the chamber like a maelstrom of sound. 

“CRICHTON!!!” he gasped furiously. “Crichton, you’re… how could you…” 

His ineffectual legs swiped at the human but John had already back-peddled out of the way, an avenging grin plastered across his face. 

“Poor Pilot!” he bellowed gleefully “How gullible are you?” 

What?” Pilot ripped out the word with the force of rage. “What are you talking about?” His voice struggled to expel the words against the sudden incursion of sleep potion. His lower body was already wracked with convulsions and John was fairly certain by the jerkiness of the navigator’s voice that the effect must have spread all the way to the top. 

 John didn’t stop to think – he was too caught up in the triumph, the glory of the moment, the final victory after so many defeats. 

“Aeryn played you, Pilot!” he yelled at the tops of his lungs, fighting a powerful urge to burst out laughing. “She sucked you in and spat you out! So much for your glorious revolution!” 

Aeryn?” Pilot carved the word out of the air with a blunt blade. “Is that true?”   

No! No, he’s lying to you, I would never…”  

There was real fear in Aeryn’s tone and her voice was originating from an alarming proximity to Pilot. John’s adrenalin level dropped like a stone as he realised he had just made a serious error in revealing Aeryn’s betrayal – Pilot sounded in the mood for rapid reprisal and Aeryn, for whatever reason, was still within his range. His eyes glanced back towards the ladder well but he knew almost at once that if he took the long way around, he would never reach them in time. He grasped hold of the anti-gravity unit, flicking the switch as he flung himself towards the hatch. Wrapping in his arms like a buoyancy aid, he stared out into infinity. 

And jumped. 

Aeryn’s scream pierced the darkness like a knife, squeezing to a gasping choke as Pilot’s claw closed mercilessly around her throat. John’s eyes fixed with horror upon the scene before him as he ascended rapidly to walkway level. 

Aeryn was half-kneeling on the console, her hands scrambling desperately at her throat as Pilot’s claw seized it in a vice-like grip. There was no self-restraint here, for this was not the righteous anger of a quarter cycle ago but genuine malicious murder. The navigator’s pincer claw was squeezing mercilessly and it was only Aeryn’s reflex grab that had prevented the instant crushing of her windpipe. 

Abandoning his ride, John grabbed the edge of the walkway and hauled himself up, hurtling from dead halt to flat out run with the force and speed of a thunderclap. He leapt onto the console at a flying bound, slamming into Pilot’s arm with all the force he could muster in a desperate effort to knock it away from the peacekeeper’s throat, but Pilot was not to be thwarted from this death at least – a free arm grasped Crichton harshly by the hair and flung him backwards towards the abyss. Even as John hurtled back through the air, a chance caught the corner of his eye – snatching out his arm, his fingers fixed around the still ascending form of the anti-gravity unit. For a terrifying instant he swung out over oblivion once more, his momentum carrying him almost beyond his emergency life buoy. But his screaming fingertips held – he reversed on the back-swing, curving round in a graceful arc through the shadowed air and with a wild yell, he hurled himself back at Pilot. 

It was obvious at once that the navigator had not been expecting an assault from the air – his expression gaped in disbelief as he caught a last minute glimpse of the leaping human bearing down from above, his eyes gleaming, his smile maniacally wild. Then Crichton was on top of him, sprawling across his carapace in a jarring impact that jerked the navigator backwards. His grip on Aeryn lessened for a crucial microt – with a cry, the Sebacean yanked herself free and tumbled backwards, rolling head over heels onto the walkway to slump in a shuddering heap against the golden surface. Furious, Pilot tried to grab John for more of the same; but it was immediately obvious that the odds were shifting in the human’s favour. John easily slapped away the drug-weakened assault, pushing himself free as he scrambled away from the console and dropped, breathing hard, at Aeryn’s side. 

“Sweet dreams!” he called out, his smile all but bursting from his cheeks as he faced the incandescent navigator. “All this stress you’ve been under – I think the rest will do you good!” 

“You can’t keep me unconscious forever!” Pilot’s voice slashed at the two foes huddled on the walkway just beyond his reach. His hunched body writhed like a flame-bitten snake in the shadowy flicker of the lights of his console, his golden eyes gleaming with avenging fire. “Not if you want to breath, and eat and survive aboard my ship! You’ll have to bring me round sometime and when you do…” His voice broke off with a gasp, his weakened body sagging as he fought against the sleepiness that was dragging at his limbs.  

“I…” he rasped out harshly. “Will make… you…. pay….” 

The last word drawled out like a dying gasp as Pilot’s strength finally failed him. His head slumped forward, his golden eyes, extinguished finally of the fire, slipping closed beneath the heavy weight of his carapace. His limbs sagged, and drooped, slumping motionless against the pulse of his console. A last gasp escaped his lips, a single angry expulsion of breath before he tumbled deep into silence. 

Stillness fell. For a microt there was no sound, no motion, as the magnitude of what had happened finally sunk in. Then a slow, dawning smile spread across John’s face and fighting an exuberant urge to jump up and down like a six-year-old, he turned towards the slumped form of the Sebacean beside him, reaching a hand towards her shoulder. 

“Damn, you’re good!” he exclaimed. “You had me completely…” 

Her hand whipped back, slashing his touch away as her body shuddered frantically. John’s eyes widened in horror as he realised for the first time that Aeryn’s distress was not simply an aftermath of Pilot’s assault – she was gasping for breath, her body pulsating, shaking, shivering as though trapped in vibrant seizure. Her fingers scrapped the floor until they bled. 

“Aeryn!” John darted to her side, reaching for her face but her head whipped up before he could touch her, her eyes fixing upon him. John felt his stomach drop as he stared into her storm-tossed gaze, her eyes a mad tempest of sanity and bloodlust, self and fever as a battle roared within her between insanity and control. 

“Inject me!” she cried, her voice a desperate screech. “Inject me now before it comes back! I can’t hold out much longer!” 

John stared mindlessly at the serum injector still gripped within one palm, but the glass container had been drained dry by its use on Pilot. 

“Aeryn, I… I can’t! I don’t have any more!” His voice broke as he stared down in helpless horror, his heart pounding in his ears, his frustration welling within him like flash flood against a dam. He had to help her!  “Aeryn!” he exclaimed desperately. 

Abruptly she wheeled on him, her pulse pistol gripped in her hands – John staggered back in sudden shock but the pulse blast he’d expected did not come; instead the peacekeeper grasped his hand and thrust the gun into his fist. 

“Take this!” she gasped at him, her face contorted by wave after wave of agony. “If I turn again, shoot me! It’s the only way!” 

That was not an argument John was prepared to accept. “Wow, now wait a second! I am not going to shoot…” 

Do it!”  Aeryn’s voice slashed his argument apart like a knife. “I am not going back to being like that! Do you hear me? Shoot!” 

“But…” 

John jumped violently as the door behind him slammed forcefully open; D’Argo’s bellowed war cry half-shattered the air before trailing to abrupt silence as he paused, kicking aside several lifeless DRDs as he beheld the scene before him. Chiana hurtled abruptly into his back, her trilling call breaking off as she peered over her lover’s shoulder, her dark eyes wide and shocked. Behind them, Kir was a sickly glow of confusion, bathing the azure form of Zhaan in his now pale glow. The glassy silver of an injector glistened in her hand. 

John’s eyes fixed on it instantly. “Zhaan!” he bellowed. “Get over here!” 

But the Delvian did not need telling. Her feet were already skimming rapidly over the golden floor as she hurried to John’s side, dropping quickly into a crouch behind the huddled, convulsing form of the Sebacean. Her eyes lingered for a microt on John, his skin a riddle pattern of blood and bruises, on Pilot, his darkened form strangely serene in repose, before they fixed at last upon the pale, gaunt form of Aeryn Sun. Her arm arched down – the injector plunged into the bare skin of the peacekeeper’s arm with a hiss. Aeryn’s face whipped up, taking in the new situation at a glance and the brief edge of a smile flickered across her face. 

“Thank you,” she whispered softly. 

And then her eyes slipped closed and she slumped into unconsciousness. 

Nobody moved. 

Nobody breathed. 

Slowly, softly a blanket of silence settled over the den, across the statuesque forms of the five companions, across the motionless forms of Pilot and Aeryn as a strange invisible light cut a gentle swath through the darkness. It seemed to lift the heavy weight, the pall of atmosphere that had lingered shroud-like over them all, casting away the throbbing pain and exhaustion in favour of light-headed, bright relief. They all sensed it, all felt it and one by one it caused them all to smile. 

For the first time in several solar days, peace had fallen over Moya. 

END PART EIGHT

Part 9

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