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 II

“Yes, this is most unusual,” Noranti agreed, examining Aeryn to the best of her abilities. “Her skin is developing these growths in several places across her body.”  

She lifted Aeryn’s arm for example, displaying a roughened gray-violet area by the elbow that could have been mistaken for a nasty bruise at a passing glance, if you didn’t look too closely.  

“Normally,” she continued, “I would say that this is caused by an allergy or perhaps a reaction to some native toxin, but this I cannot explain.” 

She pulled Aeryn’s shirt up to reveal the growth below her diaphragm. There, the new tissue appeared to have puckered, with a thin shaft beginning to sprout from it like a bamboo shoot. 

While the others recoiled in horror and disgust, John gnawed his thumb. “It’s happening again,” he muttered. “Why is it happening again?” 

“You’ve seen this before?” Chiana asked. 

“Yeah, back at NamTar’s Little Shop of Horrors. Her Pilot DNA is reasserting itself, though damned if I know why.” 

“That’s what it was like?” D’Argo asked softly, pain in his deep eyes. 

“Sort of.” John paced a bit restlessly. “She was further along when she finally showed me.” 

“Pilot, is it?” Noranti asked, regarding her patient with great interest. “Why, studies of this condition could be invalu—” 

As soon as her fingers prodded the spreading Pilot tissue, Aeryn’s arm shot up and locked around the old woman’s wrist. Her entire body rigid with the return to consciousness, Aeryn stared at Noranti, recognition sliding slowly across her bleary eyes. John had to choke down the urge to run to her side, wondering how long he would be required to feign a remote attitude under these conditions. He settled for being as close to her as he dared. 

Aeryn came fully to at last and released Noranti. “Sorry.” She winced. “What happened?” 

“You collapsed in the tier,” D’Argo answered. 

She jerked as if he had shouted at her and held up one hand. “Shh.” She pulled up into a sitting position, grunting softly. “Frell, it’s really happening.” 

“Don’t worry, Aeryn,” Chiana offered with a shaky laugh. “You got over this before.” 

“Yes, but now we don’t have NamTar’s lab at our disposal.” Aeryn grimaced, one hand going to her head. “Pilot, could you please adjust that thermal amnexus valve under the fifth Treblin rib?” 

“Already on it. Officer Sun, were you able to hear that?” 

“Hear it, sense it, taste it.” After a microt, she sighed. “That’s better.” 

Pilot’s concerned face appeared in the ClamShell. “Ah,” he said, seeing her. “If there is anything Moya or I can do…” 

“You’ll know,” she answered with a smile. 

“There’s one thing we could try,” John mused. “Saw it on Star Trek. The doc was aging prematurely, so they used a sample of her original DNA to reset her system or something.” 

“We’ve gotta have a blood sample on file,” Chiana grinned. “You’ve been in here enough.” 

“It has to be from before NamTar infected me,” Aeryn pointed out as Noranti scanned the database. “Otherwise it will only make things worse.” 

“The only samples I can find go back about two and a half cycles,” the old woman reported. 

“No good.” Aeryn shook her head firmly. “I appreciate it, but without Kornata, I don’t know if there’s anything we can do.” 

“So we contact Kornata,” John said. 

“Commander,” Pilot said. “While her lab is on Moya’s StarCharts, there is no guarantee that a StarBurst would put us anywhere near there.” 

“Don’t need StarBurst,” he said. “Just a wormhole. So long as I’ve been there before, I can get there again.” 

Aeryn looked up, hope in her eyes. “Is there one nearby?” 

“It’s Tormented Space, babe. Can’t swing a cat without hitting a wormhole out here.” 

Aeryn blinked. “And you wonder why I have a hard time with English.” 

He smiled sadly at her, furious that life that life had found another way to try to hurt her. “How long do you have?” 

Aeryn shrugged. “The last time, it only took a few arns to reach the point where you interrupted it.” 

His lips tightened. “So we have no time.”

“This is the nearest wormhole Moya could reach,” Pilot reported. 

“It’s perfect, Pilot, thanks,” John answered, staring into the space before them. D’Argo, Chiana, and Rygel spread out behind him in Command. Even Scorpius and Sikozu had joined them, ever-interested by wormholes. To John’s annoyance, Scorpius kept shooting looks at Aeryn that he would swear held concern. 

Aeryn, for her part, stood at the console nearest him. She glanced back and forth between the console and the viewport, but he could see the tension in her frame and the defensive wall behind her eyes and knew her heightened senses were as distracting as ever. She noticed his attentiveness and sent him one of her smiles that could illuminate a black hole. He grinned back, then was distracted by the twinge of the incoming wormhole against his mind. 

“What the frell is that?” 

“What?” John asked, trying to see what made Aeryn stare at the screen in awe. A microt after he spoke, the wormhole opened. 

“That…bubble that grew before the wormhole opened.” Aeryn’s eyes tracked about the wormhole like a child seeing a rainbow for the first time. 

“What bubble?” Chiana asked, peering over Aeryn’s shoulder. “It’s just a wormhole.” 

Aeryn raised a hand to her ear as Chiana’s already exuberant voice boomed through her head. “Sorry,” Chiana whispered. 

“That bubble signifies the breach a wormhole creates in the space-time continuum,” Pilot explained. “Beyond that, little is known about it.” 

“Huh,” John muttered. Good to know… 

“The wormhole’s stability is down to 97%,” Pilot warned. 

“Right.” John shook off his musings. “Let’s go.” 

Moya slid towards the wormhole and John focused his mental energies on NamTar’s asteroid laboratory. He blanched at the memories of Aeryn, lost and afraid, subjected to the scientist’s perverse obsession. That thought shook him so that it took him a moment to realize that Aeryn’s groan was not in the memory. 

Looking over, he saw Aeryn clutching the console, knuckles pale. Her eyes scrunched shut against a silent pain. 

“Aeryn?” He touched her arm gently. The muscles flexed beneath his fingers and his eyes widened as the Pilot skin on her arm grew and spread before his very eyes, creeping up and down from her elbow like vines. “Oh, God!” 

“Pull out,” she gasped. 

“What?” 

“P—” Her back arched and he watched the tough hide crawl over her jaw onto her cheek, reflecting the wormhole’s blue glow. 

Wormhole… 

“Pilot! Take us away from the wormhole!” 

Moya made as sharp a U-turn as her massive form allowed and returned to their original position. Aeryn slumped into John’s arms, her breath returning, but the new skin did not recede. 

“It accelerated the process,” she said, fear putting a shudder in her voice. 

“It’s just a wormhole, babe,” John whispered into her sweaty hair. “We’ve been through dozens of them and it never affected you or Pilot before.” 

“This is new, John,” she said. “We don’t even know what’s causing this to happen in the first place. We can’t predict anything.” 

“So what do we do now?” Chiana asked. “Rush through and hope for the best?” 

“No,” John said firmly, rubbing Aeryn’s shoulder. “We don’t need to repeat that. Aeryn can stay here on Moya and I’ll swing by the drugstore in the module.” 

“I can make it if—” Aeryn started. 

“Uh-uh-uh,” John stopped her. “No martyring.” He looked in her eyes to make sure she drove all ideas of that from her mind and noticed the orange flecks dotting her irises. Had that happened the first time? “Just rest. Kornata’ll give me the serum and I’ll be back in a jiffy, okay?” 

Her back to the others, their hidden love burned in Aeryn’s eyes. “Hurry,” she commanded. She patted his cheek as she had Crais’ a cycle before, and frowned at the new skin texture on her hand. 

“Well, if you’re going, I’m going too,” Chiana announced. “Wouldn’t mind giving NamTar a piece of my mind.” She exchanged a grin with Aeryn. 

“NamTar’s not someone you need to worry about,” John said, casting a look at Scorpius. “Which reminds me, you’re coming too.” 

“I see little good I can do on this mission,” the hybrid replied calmly. 

“Doesn’t matter. I want you where I can see you.” 

“Sure you can handle him?” D’Argo asked. 

“Yeah, sure. He might even like it there!” 

Scorpius endured John’s vigorous pat on his shoulder. 

“Alright,” D’Argo nodded. “Do what you have to do. I’ll take care of things here.” 

“Thank you.” Aeryn smiled and touched his wrist gratefully. 

As soon as the hard chitin brushed his skin, D’Argo flinched visibly. The movement was involuntary, but the results were the same. 

Aeryn tried to bury the look of shame and hurt that flashed across her features at his reaction, but the others saw it before it vanished under her stock military detached expression. “I’ll, um, be in my quarters until you get back, if anyone needs me.” She finished the sentence as she hurried out of Command. 

D’Argo grimaced. “Frell.” 

“Nice, D’Argo,” Chiana snapped. 

“I didn’t mean to!” he snarled. 

“I know,” John said. “Meet me in the Docking Bay,” he told Chiana. “And just remember,” he added to D’Argo, “it’s still Aeryn.” 

“I know,” the Luxan grumbled. 

John nodded and darted down the tier after Aeryn.

 

By the time he caught up with her, she had shut herself in her quarters and closed the privacy curtain. He swept his hand over the sensor, knowing she had coded it to grant him access anytime, and pushed the blanket aside. 

Aeryn sat on the edge of her bed, shadowed eyes staring seriously at the pulse pistol clasped in one hand, her other running idly around the tiny jointed arm that sprouted from her ribs and twitched with growing nerve connections. 

Fear chilled his guts. “Aeryn, no!” 

Her eyes cleared and she looked up, startled. “What?” She glanced at the gun again and understood. She tossed the pistol on the bed and rolled her eyes. “Frell, John, I thought I told you not to worry about me.” 

“And right after that, you fainted.” He sat down beside her. “You know you don’t have to lock yourself in here.” 

“It’s better this way,” she answered. “No one needs to see me like this.” 

John frowned. “D’Argo didn’t mean to react like that.” 

She smiled sadly. “I know, but I still caused it.” 

“Hey.” He rested his hand on her arm, his fingers caressing the ridges forming there. Her skin crawled a bit, then relaxed under his touch. “Aeryn, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing!” 

A soft smile crept across her lips. She closed her eyes and leaned against his forehead. “I love you, John.” 

“I love you, too, sweetheart.” He kissed her gently. “Want me to stay? I can send one of the others.” 

She sighed. “Kornata knows you best. She won’t trust anyone else.” 

“Yeah, I guess so.” His hand drifted down to rub the still-smooth skin over her womb. “How’s he little one?” 

“It’s safe, so far.” 

“Good, good.” 

Aeryn wrapped her hand around his. They stayed that way for a long time before Pilot broke the peace. 

“Commander, the others are awaiting you in the Transport Pod.” 

“Alright, I’m on my way.” He squeezed her hand. “I’ll be back as soon as I can and we’ll get you back to normal.” He hissed her cheek and left. 

“Normal,” she muttered. “Right.”

# 

“We’re assuming orbit around the planet, John. Comm us when you get back.” 

“You got it, D. Just sit tight. We’ll be home soon.” He clicked off the communications and guided the Pod away from Moya. “Ever done the wormhole slalom, Pip?” 

“Not in front of fek-face, John,” she returned. 

Scorpius just rolled his eyes and hunkered in his seat. 

John grinned. “Never mind. Buckle your safety belts, kids. We’re off!” 

# 

From Command, D’Argo and Rygel watched the Pod plunge down the wormhole. 

“Does he have a chance?” Rygel asked.

“Does he have a choice?” D’Argo returned. 

“Ka D’Argo, Dominar Rygel, we are now entering orbit around the planet.” 

“Thank you, Pilot,” D’Argo answered. 

“Also, Moya is particularly interested in this world. She would like to take some scans of it while we wait.” 

“So long as it doesn’t require me to go down on it,” Rygel sniffed. “I don’t want to end up like Aeryn.” 

“Why would you possibly—” D’Argo stopped, realization blooming. “The planet…” 

“What else, you Luxan half-wit?” Rygel snorted. “This all started when you went down there. Don’t tell me you haven’t considered that!” 

D’Argo ignored him. “Pilot, during your scans, do a full analysis of the fog, the magnetic fields, anything that might affect Aeryn’s DNA. And call me when you’re done.” 

“Of course, D’Argo.” 

“And where are you going?” Rygel asked. 

“To talk to Aeryn; see what she knows.” 

To be continued…

Part Three

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