John gasped. "I need air."
Aeryn grunted, displeased, as he pulled a few denches from her.
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
"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
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
Half an arn later, the Pod circled the planet for the third consecutive
"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
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
"Me too," D'Argo said. "Aeryn." He clapped a hand on
her shoulder, making her jump. "That was one hezmana of a landing.
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
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
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?"
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."
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
"Dammit," John muttered, slowing his pulse. "You're gonna
give me a heart attack. What did you say?"
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
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.
"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
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
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
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
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,
"Sha! What the fek is that?!"
The skin of her throat looked like patches of it had melted and fused as a
"Shit," John murmured, hurrying on, as if to outrun what he
suspected was happening.