Author: SETI_fan Please send feedback to scifibard@yahoo.com 
Rating: PG, for language
Category: Drama/Action Adventure
Notes: Special thanks to everyone at Kansas who encouraged me to finish this story! And many thanks, as always, to AmyJ for her help and wonderful illustrations.
Summary: During a supply run on a seemingly abandoned planet, Aeryn's Pilot DNA begins to resurface mysteriously. While she deals with the mutations, John returns to NamTar's lab to get the cure, D'Argo seeks the cause, and Pilot begins acting strangely...
Spoilers Up to Twice Shy, especially for DNA Mad Scientist
Season: AU Season 4, when J/A are hiding their love
Parts: 1 2  |  3  |  4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |

Part I

"Honey," John gasped. "I need air."

Aeryn grunted, displeased, as he pulled a few denches from her. "Weakling."

He grinned, nuzzling her neck. "I know I said I could kiss you till I was blue in the face, but I want to be conscious for this!"

Aeryn sighed, then tightened her legs around his waist, pulling him back against her. "Well then," she said between kisses, "let me breathe for you."

"D'Argo and Chiana are heading for Command," Pilot's sober warning interrupted. "You have two tiers until they arrive."

John groaned at this news. They rested their foreheads against each other's. "Time to go."

Aeryn sighed again, her soft breath caressing his lips in a way that raised the hair on his scalp. "Why don't we just let them find us together? How bad would that be?"

"What did Chi do with your last secret?"

"I'll see you later." She released John and composed herself as he bounded out the door and away down the tier. A few microts later, D'Argo, Chiana, and John sauntered into Command, where Aeryn worked at a console.

"Found any suitable planets yet?" D'Argo asked.

"One." Aeryn called up a holographic map of a solar system on the Conference Table. "This is only a few arns from here."

Chiana stared rapt at the single orb circling a dim sun. "Only one planet in the system?"

"That narrows our choices some," John commented, moving next to Aeryn. Even as he focused a serious gaze on the subject before them, hidden from view, he walked his fingers up Aeryn's spine, feeling her shiver in response.

"We've picked up no transmissions from the planet," she added, trying to cover the distraction.

"So we'll expect primitives," D'Argo concluded. "I think Rygel can keep hold of things here for a few arns. You three come with me."

Staying in character, John agreed and left Command to get ready without giving Aeryn a second look. For her part, she appeared more concerned with plotting a safe course for the lonely planet. Chiana's keen eyes watched them both suspiciously, but she kept her discretion.

"Shall I ready Lo'La?" Pilot asked.

"No, just a Transport Pod," D'Argo answered. "I don't think we'll have any trouble down there."

"You forget who you're talking to," Aeryn said dryly. She patted the pistol at her thigh. "Trouble's always five steps ahead of us."

#

Half an arn later, the Pod circled the planet for the third consecutive run.

"Luck, be a lady tonight," John muttered.

Aeryn pulled her gaze from the controls just long enough to shoot an arched brow in his direction. "Is that what you're hoping to find on this planet?"

He grinned. "Honestly, I'd be happy to find ANYTHING at this point."

Chiana leaned over their shoulders. "It'd be a lot easier to search if we could actually go UNDER the clouds. C'mon, Aeryn! Can't you take this thing any lower?"

"What do you think I've been trying to do for the past half arn?" Aeryn snapped. She bit her tongue as Chiana drew back. She hadn't meant to be so short with her friend. She just hated atmospheric flying and the endless grey obscuring her vision and straining her eyes as they struggled to bring a naturally blurry world into focus did nothing to soothe her nerves. In a smoother voice, she continued. "Every time I drop beneath a layer there are more. I think they go all the way to the ground."

Chiana grinned, showing no hurt feelings. "Well, that'll make it even more fun to find a town when we get down there."

"If one even exists," D'Argo grumbled.

"Now come on, D," John said, turning around in his copilot's seat. "Where's your sense of optimism? I mean, for all we know, the clouds'll part and there'll be a beautiful Four Seasons or--"

"John!" Aeryn yelled as a massive shadow loomed only metras ahead of them out of the fog. Aeryn yanked the Pod off its collision course, throwing the others from their seats, but even with adrenaline-enhanced reflexes, she wasn't fast enough. The sickening jolt and scrape of heir Hammond side hitting the rocky outcrop shuddered through the ship. That horrible sensation was soon coupled by a drop that sent Aeryn's stomach against the soles of her boots. Living every pilot's nightmare, she desperately fought the falling altitude, unable to even guess when the fog below would give way to solid ground. Her fingers raced across the controls, nearly faster than her thoughts. For a microt, she thought she heard a keening noise, and then her perceptions blurred out.

Blinking, Aeryn suddenly realized that they were securely landed. Certain she had blacked out, she turned to John. He was hauling himself back into his seat, looking battered, but fine. Then who...?

"Everyone alright?" John asked.

"Yeah." Chiana laughed a little giddily. "I'm still in one piece."

"Me too," D'Argo said. "Aeryn." He clapped a hand on her shoulder, making her jump. "That was one hezmana of a landing. Well done."

The others voiced their agreement.

Aeryn stirred from her reverie. "Thank you. I'd better go see how much damage we took back there."

John pulled a repair kit from beneath his chair. "Tech support, on the way."

#

While Aeryn assessed the damage, John and Winona stood watch, patrolling back and forth.

"How's it look?"

"Not as bad as I thought," she called back. "Most of it is superficial. We can probably get by just patching these conduits here. Can you give me a hand?"

He holstered Winona and crouched beside her, letting their shoulders and hips brush each other. Together, they repaired as much as they could, although the adhesive on the patches was hindered  by the humidity.  A comfortable silence hung between them, words unnecessary in such close quarters.

As Aeryn's thoughts began to stray from her work at hand, she caught a faint voice at the periphery of her hearing. "Hmm?" she asked.

John looked over. "Huh?"

"Did you say something?"

"Not me."

She shrugged and smoothed another patch.

After a moment, John went on. "Probably just the weather. Fog does weird stuff with voices." He patched the last one and stood up, brushing the gritty loam off his hands and squinting into the mists. "Kinda reminds me of England. The moors, Bronte. Half expect to see a ghost, or at least Heathcliff."

"John."

He jumped a foot with a yelp as Chiana emerged from the fog only a metra away, her skin for once a natural camouflage. She giggled mischievously.

"Sorry, Crichton. Just letting you know that D'Argo and I are getting cooped up in there. Are you almost done?"

"I've done as much as I can here," Aeryn reported, supporting herself on the hull as she straightened. "The patches should hold, but I don't trust the exposed machinery in this moisture. I think we should return to Moya and try another Pod."

"Think we'll have an easier landing next time?" Chiana asked. "We might as well see if there's a town or something nearby."

"What does D'Argo say?" John asked.

"I've got a rope," D'Argo's voice came from the fog beside Chiana.

"Dammit," John muttered, slowing his pulse. "You're gonna give me a heart attack. What did you say?"

The Luxan moved closer, appearing from the ether like a Saxon god of yore. "Rope. We can tie it to the Pod so we don't get lost."

John nodded. "Alright, I think the Pod will last a quarter arn or so. This okay with you, Aeryn?"

She shrugged, drawing her pistol. "A quarter arn. Then I'm taking the Pod back."

"Deal."

They secured the rope and took their place, Chiana in the lead, Aeryn at point. Aeryn paused, the hint of a voice playing cat-and-mouse with her ears again, but no one else seemed troubled by it. Wary, she followed.

Chiana moved carefully through the fog. At least it seemed so. Aeryn couldn't see beyond John, but the sudden scream and downward yank on the rope was clear enough. They rushed to D'Argo, who had caught Chiana by the arm and was setting her on her feet beside him.

"What happened?"

"I fell," she explained. "There's a hole or something."

Aeryn moved cautiously forward, crouching to feel the spongy ground. Nodding, she swept some of the fog away to show the others the sharp drop-off only denches before them. "You were right, John. It's a heath cliff."

He shook his head at the irony. "You okay, Pip?"

"Think so."  She let go of D'Argo's arm and cried out, shifting her weight off one ankle. "Then again..."

"This is pointless," D'Argo growled. "Let's go back to Moya. I'd rather search for another planet than stumble to our deaths in this frelling fog."

Chiana managed a laugh as D'Argo helped her limp to the Pod. "And if we get that desperate for food, we can always eat Scorpy."

John grimaced. "Add that to my list of things I never want in my mouth." When he didn't hear the expected snarky or suggestive reply from Aeryn, he turned around. "Aeryn?"

She was still crouched by the cliffside, staring down into the fog intently.

"Sweetheart, you alright?" he asked, joining her.

She stirred at his presence. "I'm fine," she said. "Just thinking."

He didn't seem fully convinced, but nodded. "You can do that back on Moya. Come on."

They stood and, cloaked in fog, John wrapped his arm around her waist. Aeryn shivered and pulled her coat tighter around herself as they followed the Pod's lifeline home.

#

Aeryn settled the battered Pod expertly in Moya's Docking Bay. As she shut down the engines, a buzzing remained. Frowning, she tapped her comm, wondering if the moisture had affected its internal circuits. She made a note to have the DRDs check it later.

They exited the Bay, D'Argo assisting Chiana slowly to the Apothecary. John and Aeryn preceded them, destined for Command. D'Argo and John were offering Chiana comforting remarks, but Aeryn paid them no mind. The noise seemed louder and more grating, and now an undertone of rhythmic whooshing permeated it. She tried to ignore it, but the sound drove her disciplined mind to distraction until she ripped off the badge and stuffed it in her pocket. The effort changed nothing.

Dimly, she realized John had asked her something. Drawing his voice above the racket, she inquired, "What?"

"I asked if there was a problem."

She barely heard him, though, for she realized as he spoke that the world seemed... slow and delayed to her eyes. Shaking her head, she said, "I'm fine, John." She shook it again, wincing as the whooshes throbbed louder in her head. Frell her comm. "Don't worry about me."

No, not throbbed, PULSED. A cold recognition seeped down her spine as the pieces fell into a pattern.

John scoffed. "I think I have a right to. I've never seen you like this before."

She tried to focus on his words, but coupled with the din and her slurring vision, such effort only made her woozy. Her world brimming with chaos, Aeryn didn't even hear her own disembodied reply. "Actually, you have."

Without further warning, the world curtained and she collapsed. D'Argo and Chiana caught up quickly to where John had halted her fall, sweeping her into his arms. He tried to summon her back, then looked up.

"I've gotta get her to Noranti," he said unnecessarily.

They nodded agreement, clearing out of his way. As John shifted Aeryn's limp body for a better grip, her hair fell back from her neck. Chiana swore, pointing.

"Sha! What the fek is that?!"

The skin of her throat looked like patches of it had melted and fused as a purplish chitin.

"Shit," John murmured, hurrying on, as if to outrun what he suspected was happening.

To be continued…

Part Two

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