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.”
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.
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.”
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.
the others recoiled in horror and disgust, John gnawed his thumb.
“It’s happening again,” he muttered. “Why is it happening
seen this before?” Chiana asked.
back at NamTar’s Little Shop of Horrors. Her Pilot DNA is reasserting
itself, though damned if I know why.”
what it was like?” D’Argo asked softly, pain in his deep eyes.
of.” John paced a bit restlessly. “She was further along when she
finally showed me.”
is it?” Noranti asked, regarding her patient with great interest.
“Why, studies of this condition could be invalu—”
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
came fully to at last and released Noranti. “Sorry.” She winced.
collapsed in the tier,” D’Argo answered.
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
worry, Aeryn,” Chiana offered with a shaky laugh. “You got over this
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?”
on it. Officer Sun, were you able to hear that?”
it, sense it, taste it.” After a microt, she sighed. “That’s
concerned face appeared in the ClamShell. “Ah,” he said, seeing her.
“If there is anything Moya or I can do…”
know,” she answered with a smile.
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.”
gotta have a blood sample on file,” Chiana grinned. “You’ve been in
has to be from before NamTar infected me,” Aeryn pointed out as Noranti
scanned the database. “Otherwise it will only make things worse.”
only samples I can find go back about two and a half cycles,” the old
good.” Aeryn shook her head firmly. “I appreciate it, but without
Kornata, I don’t know if there’s anything we can do.”
we contact Kornata,” John said.
Pilot said. “While her lab is on Moya’s StarCharts, there is no
guarantee that a StarBurst would put us anywhere near there.”
need StarBurst,” he said. “Just a wormhole. So long as I’ve been
there before, I can get there again.”
looked up, hope in her eyes. “Is there one nearby?”
Tormented Space, babe. Can’t swing a cat without hitting a wormhole out
blinked. “And you wonder why I have a hard time with English.”
smiled sadly at her, furious that life that life had found another way to
try to hurt her. “How long do you have?”
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.”
is the nearest wormhole Moya could reach,” Pilot reported.
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.
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
the frell is that?”
John asked, trying to see what made Aeryn stare at the screen in awe. A
microt after he spoke, the wormhole opened.
that grew before the wormhole opened.” Aeryn’s eyes tracked about the
wormhole like a child seeing a rainbow for the first time.
bubble?” Chiana asked, peering over Aeryn’s shoulder. “It’s just a
raised a hand to her ear as Chiana’s already exuberant voice boomed
through her head. “Sorry,” Chiana whispered.
bubble signifies the breach a wormhole creates in the space-time
continuum,” Pilot explained. “Beyond that, little is known about
John muttered. Good to know…
wormhole’s stability is down to 97%,” Pilot warned.
John shook off his musings. “Let’s go.”
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.
over, he saw Aeryn clutching the console, knuckles pale. Her eyes
scrunched shut against a silent pain.
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!”
out,” she gasped.
Her back arched and he watched the tough hide crawl over her jaw onto her
cheek, reflecting the wormhole’s blue glow.
Take us away from the wormhole!”
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.
accelerated the process,” she said, fear putting a shudder in her voice.
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.”
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.”
what do we do now?” Chiana asked. “Rush through and hope for the
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
can make it if—” Aeryn started.
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?”
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.
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.
not someone you need to worry about,” John said, casting a look at
Scorpius. “Which reminds me, you’re coming too.”
see little good I can do on this mission,” the hybrid replied calmly.
matter. I want you where I can see you.”
you can handle him?” D’Argo asked.
sure. He might even like it there!”
endured John’s vigorous pat on his shoulder.
D’Argo nodded. “Do what you have to do. I’ll take care of things
you.” Aeryn smiled and touched his wrist gratefully.
as the hard chitin brushed his skin, D’Argo flinched visibly. The
movement was involuntary, but the results were the same.
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,” Chiana snapped.
didn’t mean to!” he snarled.
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.
nodded and darted down the tier after Aeryn.
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.
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
chilled his guts. “Aeryn, no!”
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.”
right after that, you fainted.” He sat down beside her. “You know you
don’t have to lock yourself in here.”
better this way,” she answered. “No one needs to see me like this.”
frowned. “D’Argo didn’t mean to react like that.”
smiled sadly. “I know, but I still caused it.”
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!”
smile crept across her lips. She closed her eyes and leaned against his
forehead. “I love you, John.”
love you, too, sweetheart.” He kissed her gently. “Want me to stay? I
can send one of the others.”
sighed. “Kornata knows you best. She won’t trust anyone else.”
I guess so.” His hand drifted down to rub the still-smooth skin over her
womb. “How’s he little one?”
safe, so far.”
wrapped her hand around his. They stayed that way for a long time before
Pilot broke the peace.
the others are awaiting you in the Transport Pod.”
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.”
assuming orbit around the planet, John. Comm us when you get back.”
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?”
in front of fek-face, John,” she returned.
just rolled his eyes and hunkered in his seat.
grinned. “Never mind. Buckle your safety belts, kids. We’re off!”
Command, D’Argo and Rygel watched the Pod plunge down the wormhole.
he have a chance?” Rygel asked.
he have a choice?” D’Argo returned.
D’Argo, Dominar Rygel, we are now entering orbit around the planet.”
you, Pilot,” D’Argo answered.
Moya is particularly interested in this world. She would like to take some
scans of it while we wait.”
long as it doesn’t require me to go down on it,” Rygel sniffed. “I
don’t want to end up like Aeryn.”
would you possibly—” D’Argo stopped, realization blooming. “The
else, you Luxan half-wit?” Rygel snorted. “This all started when you
went down there. Don’t tell me you haven’t considered that!”
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.”
where are you going?” Rygel asked.
talk to Aeryn; see what she knows.”