He was back, he was safe but he wasnít home. This ship had been his only home for monens but it wasnít really home. They say home is where the heart is but john doubted he had a heart anymore. All he had was pride and even that was a frail shield against the hurt he had suffered at the hands of the others. Yet still he owed them. Owed them loyalty they had shown to him by coming looking for him. Owed Chiana and Jool for the unconditional love and compassion they gave him. Owed DíArgo for being a comrade in arms and owed Aeryn forÖ what?
He stood in the medical bay staring at the cabinet that held the drugs he would need to heal his hurts and hesitantly turned away from it. They would take to long hours perhaps days to heal him and while they worked he would be unconscious. He didnít have time. They didnít have time? So much was happening, so little was understood. Riots, fighting death. Troops hiding until the fighting was over, safe, letting innocents die.
Perhaps it made sense to someone, somewhere but not to him, here. But it was irrelevant. Had no importance whatsoever. These werenít his problems, these werenít his people to try and save. He had learned that lesson the hard way. Save what you can, leave the rest. He could save his friends the rest he had to leave.
He entered the armory and pulled from the wall the box marked in black and yellow. Hazard. The scull and cross bones of the lid leering at him. He pulled it open and removed one of its contents. A syringe. He slammed it into his thigh and felt the first sting of the needle, swiftly followed by a burning searing pain that racked his body for eternity. Moments later it was gone, everything, the pain, the fatigue and all his worries. He felt energized, alert and more alive than at any point in his life. But he knew the cost.
For twelve hours of feeling like a god, he had just sacrificed a little under a year of his life. The drugs caused irreparable harm to the bodies systems and the effect were accumulative, the first time a year, a second it was five a third twenty and a fourthÖ no one had survived a fourth. But it was a price he had to pay, a debt he owed.
He loaded himself up with what he felt he might need. Irreplaceable death from his limited store of imperial weapons. Human weapons. These people out here in the uncharted territories thought they had seen it all until they fell foul of Imperial Tech. One thing humans excelled at was killing, newer better faster and deadlier. Or to put it another way, there is more than one way to skin a cat. It was the human way.
Pistols strapped to his thighs, plasma rifle slung over his shoulder and his backpack filled with nasty surprises he left. Not looking back, never looking back. Looking back would be like looking into the past, seeing the trail of blood he had left behind him. Very much like the one he had left throughout his ship.
All this for nothing. Monens of searching, sifting through the smallest of clues to find the frelling human and now that they are so close this happens. Such a typical thing to happen when John was with them. Now it seems it happens to anyone of they get to close. He was a frelling magnet for trouble. Like some dark angel of doom. It makes sense, ever since he appeared in the uncharted territories things had grown steadily worse, wars, disease and destruction. He powers werenít even limited to the Uncharted Territories, he went home and what happened? Two major wars and billons dead, frelling human couldnít take him anywhere without his causing trouble.
Aeryn knew that john wasnít really to blame but he made a good target right now. After all the entire reason everyone was even on this hole of a planet was him. So therefore it was all his fault. A sense of satisfaction stole over her now she knew for sure who was to blame for her situation.
So looked around once more, a bare cell with just a single light source and one entrance barred by a heavy metal door. Her only resources were her companions, Chiana and Jool, not the most promising of situations she felt. With a sigh she gave up staring around the cell and sat down beside the other females to wait. Something was bound to happen sooner or later that would afford them a chance of escape, all she had to do was be patient and ready to seize the opportunity when it presented itself.
John cursed the drug that flowed through his system for the hundredth time. It kept him awake and aware but it had the side effect to make him less than cautious, the sense of invulnerability it imparted was intoxicating and deadly if taken to far. He knew all this consciously, had it drilled into him in training, but there was no really way to train for this, not without killing yourself in the process, so it was on the job or not at all.
He kept low and scurried away quickly from the bodies of the patrol that he had stumbled into. The one saving grace of the encounter was that the patrol was just as surprised to find him as he was to find them, and he reacted first.
He was close to where he had first seen the vehicles appear from a seemingly derelict warehouse. The entire area seemed devoid of life but he wasnít fooled, this had been where hundreds if not thousands of troops had appeared from, along with dozens of vehicles. There was bound to be someone or something keeping guard, they were just very good at staying out of sight. Thankfully however, being good wouldnít be enough in this case.
Using Imperial Tech, biometric masking, black noise generators and refractors he turned himself into less than a shadow. Walking with care if not impunity straight through whatever web of sensors and guards were in place. The inside of the building showed signs of recent activity, discarded boxes and broken equipment but that was all. There was one tell tale sign however. Tracks that started under one wall, simply appearing as if a vehicle had driven through the wall.
Reaching into his pack he pulled out a smallish thick rectangle and attached it to the wall, stepping back a few paces he activated it. There was a brief hum, a flash that was expected. What wasnít expected was the huge explosion that occurred almost instantaneously after.
She didnít have to think long or hard to know what was happening. John. Only John could piss so many people off so quickly. The air was full of shouted orders and the ground shook faintly from the feet of the running soldier passing the area containing the cells. Mere moments before everything was calm almost tranquil, the only sound the faint hum of the ventilation system. Then without warning the floor jumped up at them. Or perhaps more correctly they were thrown to the floor.
The lights were flickering with alarming regularity, plunging the cell into deepest night over and over again. As things became quieter outside another sound became evident, a clicking from the door, a clicking the occurred in time with the flickering of the lights. Hesitantly she approached and pulled on the door just as the room was plunged into darkness. It opened.
Aeryn offered a brief prayer of thanks, swiftly followed by a curse at John for getting her into this situation in the first place. She reached over and pulled Jool and Chiana from the floor and set out to find DíArgo. It wouldnít be hard. She could here his outraged bellows and threats nearby. Rounding the corner as silently as she could with the others in tow she seen why DíArgo was so outraged. The one guard who seemed to be left in the cells area was taunting him with his qualta blade, using it to poke a Chain DíArgo. Swiftly she attacked him from behind and disabled him before releasing DíArgo from his restraints.
With the guards weapon and the Qualta blade they were at least minimally armed. Now all they had to do was find a way out and find John. He obviously had found them but they couldnít stay here and hope he would come, they had to escape themselves and hope for the best. Although with Crichton chelnac knew what that might be.
With a cough John sat up, pushing the debris off of himself. The wall where he had placed his explosives was gone, completely. There should have only been a small opening in the door instead it was ripped as if some mad god had attacked the doorway to hell it with an axe, Flames shooting out of every opening.
Without even a groan he stood and stomped his feet to make sure he hadnít broken anything vital. He coughed into his hand and stopped staring at them for several seconds. Blood. He was coughing up blood. His broken ribs must have caused him even more damage when he was thrown across the building. Still, nothing he could do about it for now. He had to find and rescue the others.
He slowly made his way to the vast opening he had created, the heat was oppressive, daunting, or would have been if he could have felt it. So he just kept walking, knowing that he would pay the price later but for now he had a job to do, a duty that had to be discharged no matter the personal cost.
Carefully he picked his way through the flames passing remnants of boxes marked explosive. They must have been preparing to send them out and had them stacked ready for shipment, that at least explained what had gone wrong with his attempt at a stealthy entrance to whatever this complex was.
He could hear shouts and orders, running feet and the cries of those caught in the explosion but not lucky enough to have been killed instantly. In he confusion with the failing lights no one paid attention to John, no one noticed his clothing wasnít the same as theirs, that his weapons were completely different.
The air smelt burnt and dry, sound echoed dully yet clearly, muted as if heard underwater and just as deceptively. Sounds that seemed to come from behind really were coming from up front, mechanical noises echoed in placed it was impossible. Eerily and disconcertingly, yet Chiana charted all these perils with ease, years of practice or just reckless bravado Aeryn was unsure.
Aeryn had reluctantly allowed Chiana to lead, acknowledging her as an expert at sneaking undetected. She was taking up the rear watching for anyone coming behind hem but so far Chiana had found deserted corridors and service ways, all heading in roughly what they though was exactly opposite the direction everyone seemed to be rushing. Away from John. Again.
She feltÖ Guilt? Shame? Something? At what they were doing but they couldnít fight all these people with two weapons and they couldnít help John if they were recaptured. She just hoped and prayed he didnít do anything else foolish and get himself killed before she talked to him, explained or at least tried to repair some of the damage between them.
She walked into someone that let out a quiet squeal before Aeryn realized they had stopped and she had almost knocked Jool over. John, he was trying to kill her, it was the only explanation, when she thought on him she seemed to lose herself in thought and expose herself and all the others to danger. Firmly she quashed any and all thoughts beyond simple survival, the here and now.
Then the lights came on.
They froze instantly taking stock of their surroundings, Chiana was the first to move. Straight into the smallest darkest service corridor she could see, swiftly followed the others and finally by Aeryn. This corridor lead away from their established direction, away from what they had hoped was safety, but in reality one direction was as good as another, just as long as it wasnít back.
As they progressed faint noise became evident, the rumble of conversation and the shifting of feet. Aeryn signaled Chiana to halt as she squeezed past and went ahead to find out what was ahead for herself. Light could be seen ahead but faint and flickering.
She found herself on a skywalk, high above a vast endless seeming room. There was a man standing on a platform shouting, issuing orders, mostly to get the lights repaired and find out what had caused the explosion. All around the room there were lanterns illuminating sections of the room in pools of light, leaving the rest seemingly even darker.
He had been exploring for what seemed an eternity but couldnít be much more than an Arn. He had stopped and questioned a few soldiers he had caught on their own but as most of them traveled in packs he was pretty much still in the dark as to where Aeryn and the others could be, both literally and metaphorically. He needed answers and that meant he had to find someone in charge an officer or a sergeant. Someone with more intelligence than the grunts he had stopped previously.
So following the logic that anyone in charge of an army invariably stays as far away from danger as the possibly can, he had headed directly away from where he had entered. Heading against the flow of the stream of troops. He found himself in a large, cavernous room, it contained thousands of troops, sitting and standing in their units, but spaced apart, in their own pools of light, people walking and running back and forth between the groups relaying orders and quires.
At the far end was a large pool of light and lots of people wearing lots of things that gleamed in the light. Officers, perfect. He could hear loud strident voices shouting for the lights to be repaired, screaming for it infact. John increased his pace competing in a race he didnít even know he had already lost.
Little over halfway to the podium the lights came on. He didnít let that phase him, the cocktail of drugs he had taken didnít even allow him to consider being concerned. As is the nature of intelligent beings, if a person acts like he belongs in a place then invariable others accept that as the truth. And such was the case here. A man carrying weapons radically different from any they had ever seen before wearing a uniform they had never seen was accepted purely on the basis he didnít seem to be concerned over his location.
He had reached the table before cries of warning and surprise over his presence were raised, too late. He grabbed the one that had been doing all the shouting and put his pistol to his head. Using the man as a shield he dragged him out a doorway at the back, kicking the door closed.
The light came on and Aeryn squinted for a microt to allow her eyes to adjust to the light. The first thing she saw was the number of troops below her. The second was John seemingly strolling carefree amongst them toward the podium. She opened her mouth to shout warning but closed it quickly realizing she was unsure whom she would be warning. Tensely she watched as John made it most of the way to the podium before any hint of warning was raised.
She watched as he seemed to blur into action, moving faster than she had thought possible and grabbed the commander of the forces below. With his pistol to his head John dragged the man out before anyone could do much more than gape with shock.
She closed her eyes and swore silently, just like him, just when you thought things couldnít get more complex John came along and totally frelled things up beyond recognition.