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 IV

Kornata’s lab was even more bustling planetside than it was from space. After landing in a glorified parking garage, the trio had been escorted by a personal guard through the crowds. The walk made John very uncomfortable, though he hid it under an all-business exterior. He hated being in hospitals anyway, and this place did nothing to alter his opinion. Beings of every species sat in the waiting rooms, some leaning against family members, faces flushed. Others dabbed at bleeding wounds with pads of cloth. Everyone who wasn’t a patient themselves sized him up, as if trying to figure out was wrong with him that he would need to be there. He resisted the urge to pull his duster tightly around himself and quickened his pace. 

Clearly Kornata had come into some money or a wealthy investor. What had in NamTar’s day been a hole-in-the-wall establishment was now a sprawling, multi-level facility equipped with the finest technology money could buy for fields John had never heard of before. During his mother’s illness back on Earth, John had become more familiar with hospitals than he had ever cared to. This one, however, had skipped the whole affair of the emergency room or surgery and seemed more a combination of an ICU, a dentist’s office, and a dermatologist’s. Powerful fluorescent lights drove out the dankness that seeped into the facility from the planet’s crust. 

The guard guided them to an elevator that whisked them up high above the asteroid’s surface. About three stories up, the elevator paused and a Diagnosian got on. This pulled John’s memories back to the horrors of his time on the frozen planet and he tried to look anywhere but the tall alien. The Diagnosian, misreading his concern, offered a reassuring smile from behind his mask. 

John was relieved when the elevator reached the eighth floor and they left the doctor behind. Here in the upper levels, the money really showed. Whereas the ground floor had been clean bedrock with sheetrock walls, the upper floor was all tile and stainless steel. Nurses, surgeons, and other various medics rushed this way and that. 

“Busy place,” Chiana commented. 

“Kinda reminds me of an anthill after somebody’s kicked it,” John agreed. He turned to the hereto silent guard. “So where do we meet Kornata?” 

The guard pointed down the hall to where three doctors leaned over a patient in a stretcher. None of them looked like the Kornata John remembered, who would have stood out immediately even in this diverse crowd, but then if she could reverse Aeryn’s transformation, she could likely fix herself. She could be anyone. 

John thanked the guard and headed down the hall, Chiana and Scorpius in tow. The hybrid, a consummate scientist, took in the place with hawkish, hungry eyes. 

As they approached, the conversation came to a conclusion with two of the medics scuttling off and one turning their way. Her eyes lit up. 

“John Crichton! There you are!” 

He frowned, studying her intently. “Kornata?” 

She smiled. “Yes, it’s me. Sorry. I forgot you wouldn’t recognize me.” 

“You’re an Interion?” he continued, stating the obvious with aplomb. 

She nodded, a good-natured smile on her face. “Yes, John. This was an Interion science expedition long before NamTar got control of it.” Her expression turned serious. “Which reminds me, you’re here on business. Come to my office. We can speak privately there.” 

“Thanks.” John turned to summon the others and saw Chiana flirting with a handsome Sebacean nurse. “Chiana!” 

She looked back immediately, flashing him an impish grin. “Uh, John, I think I’m gonna go with Nurse Vekkis here” –She stroked his bicep, as if there was any doubt to whom she referred—“so he can fix my ankle while you take care of business. You know how I sprained it on that planet…” 

“But I thought Noranti fixed your—“ John argued. 

The look she sent him and the hunger behind it seemed intended to remind him exactly how long it had been since she and D’Argo had split up. 

He sighed. “Fine, but hurry. I want to leave as soon as I get the solution.” 

She threw off a cheerful salute. “You got it, boss.” Her manner transformed instantly back to the sultry playfulness women were wont to use when flirting with a man who expected his career to leave a woman in a state of awe and desire. “So, you were saying this lab has the best rejuvenating equipment this end of the galaxy…” 

They left, Chiana hanging on his arm and moving with a theatrically exaggerated limp. 

John blew out his breath between his teeth, praying futilely that she would keep out of trouble. Speaking of… 

Further down the hall, Scorpius stood calmly reading a sign that listed the various departments on this floor. 

John whistled. “Stick close, Nosferatu. Don’t want you roaming around scaring the patients.” 

Scorpius rolled his eyes, but returned to John’s side in the way a rottweiler who knows he could crush his master’s throat nonetheless comes when called and obeys. 

Kornata looked him up and down. “You must be Scorpius. I doubt there’s another being of your description in the whole galaxy.” 

“I hope you are correct,” Scorpius agreed, bowing his head respectfully to her. 

She nodded back, then turned, waving them to follow. “Come with me. I know you’re in a hurry.” 

Kornata’s office was large without being ostentatious. A simple desk sat before a window that admitted the city lights. The carpeting was short and drab, pressed flat by the many sojourns made across it in its lifetime. The place was utilitarian, with bits of medical technology and datafiles stacked meticulously on every surface. In fact, the only thing that deviated from the room’s scheme was the branching mass of tubes and mesh boxes dominating one corner. John heard a rustling within it as he entered. 

Kornata settled two chairs before the desk and perched on her own, gesturing the visitors to take the proffered seats. “So, what can I do for you? Has something happened to Aeryn?” 

John nodded. “For some reason, she’s reverting to what NamTar turned her into.” He held up a hand to forestall her questions. “I don’t know what activated the Pilot DNA, but I think it has something to do with this planet we landed on. It’s never happened before, so I figure if we give her that stuff you made the first time and steer clear of that planet, she’ll be alright. Make sense to you?” 

Kornata frowned. “I suppose so, though it’s hard to say. I’ve never heard of this happening before. Did you bring her with you?” 

“No. The wormhole we took accelerated the process. That give you any clues?” 

She pondered this a moment, then shook her head. “Sorry, John, but without extensive study of the planet, wormholes, and Aeryn herself, I can’t give you any answers. I can mix you up a batch of the serum, though. That should at least get her back to her natural form.” 

“Thank you, Kornata.” 

As Kornata spoke briefly into her desk-mounted comm, Scorpius leaned over and whispered, “I’m glad you figured out the planet as the cause.” 

“Not a big deal, Scorp,” John said absently. “It’s the only variable.” 

Kornata turned back to them. “It will take about a quarter arn to prepare a batch. If you wish to wander—“ 

“I think I’ll just sit and wait, if you don’t mind,” John said. 

“Then you won’t need me.” Scorpius rose. “Is there a cafeteria or mess around here somewhere?” 

“Second floor by the elevators,” Kornata answered. 

“Oh, no you don’t,” John argued. “I brought you with me so I could keep an eye on you.” 

“I assure you, John, there’s little trouble he could get into in this facility,” Kornata told him with a touch of pride. 

“Don’t underestimate him,” John muttered. “Alright, but if you’re not back in a quarter arn, I’m coming in shooting.” 

“Duly warned,” Scorpius said with a mock bow. 

Kornata watched John deflate as the hybrid left. “He really worries you that much?” 

John chuckled bitterly. “Lady, you have no idea.” 

# 

“Well, that confirms it,” Rygel said.  

He and D’Argo stood, or sat and hovered in Rygel’s case, around the Strategy Table in Command as a tiny hologram of Moya orbited that of the planet atop it. 

“Moya’s practically skimming the atmosphere!” 

The ship rattled slightly and both looked out the viewscreen, where the outer-most layers of clouds streamed around Moya’s prow. 

“Very well,” Rygel muttered. “Moya is skimming—” 

“But why in hezmana would Aeryn want us to go lower?” D’Argo growled, pounding a fist on the table. The hologram flickered, paused a microt as if in annoyance at the abuse, then resumed. 

“She’s probably trying to return to this gods-forsaken rock.” 

D’Argo shot him a look through the orange holographic orb. “Are you frelled? Why would she do that? She’s terrified by this.” 

“You heard her!” Rygel asserted. “She’s speaking Pilot! I don’t think Aeryn’s completely at the control panel, so to speak.” 

D’Argo was already shaking his head. “Look, she’s turning into a clone of Pilot. That doesn’t mean he’s possessing her.” 

“He’s not exactly operating at full capacity himself,” Rygel snorted. “Look, it’s a credit to your character that you think the best of everyone, but when has that ever gotten us anything good?!” 

“I don’t care,” D’Argo answered. “It’s still Aeryn, Rygel, and she would never knowingly do anything that put her child at risk.” 

Rygel leaned forward. “Which brings us back to the question of how much she is in control.” 

D’Argo pushed off the table with a growl. “You know what? Enough questions. Let’s get some answers. Pilot? Pilot!” 

The line lay dead. D’Argo snarled. “Not again. Sikozu?” 

Nothing. 

“The whole frelling comm system is down!” Rygel reported from one console. 

“Time to find out what’s going on.” D’Argo stormed out the door right as the lights flickered out. “Great. I’ll do it in the dark. Where’re the DRDs?” 

“All I know is the sooner we get away from this yotz-ball of a planet, the better off we’ll be,” Rygel called after him. 

The little Hynerian sighed. It was a heavy burden being the voice of reason and speaking the harsh truths, but he was a Dominar and he would do his duty. 

That done, Rygel felt he had earned his treat, and floated to his nearest hidden stash of foodcubes to wait out the blackout in peace. 

# 

D’Argo stalked down the tier, flashlight flaring off the walls before him. Fortunately, after nearly four cycles aboard Moya, he could make the journey from Command to his quarters with his eyes closed. Now armed with a reliable light source and his Qualta blade, he headed for Pilot’s Den. 

As he rounded the last turn, half a dozen DRDs snapped their eyestalks up at him. 

“There you are. Let me talk to Pilot.” 

The sextet wheeled into a line, all facing D’Argo, silent and immovable as royal British guards. 

D’Argo sighed. “Not you, too.” 

When he moved to step over them, however, the DRDs sent up a storm of squawks and brought their tiny guns to bear on D’Argo. Bolts of red energy chased him back around the curve where he paused to catch his breath. 

Fine, he thought. I’ll do this the hard way. 

A trio of DRDs met him at Aeryn’s door as well. These, however, made no immediate move to block him. He approached slowly, but they simply sat, completely still but for the running lights around their bases. They seemed…distracted.  

Still cautious, D’Argo slunk by them and stood at Aeryn’s door. He was about to call a greeting when he heard her inside. She was issuing a string of complicated Pilot to an unseen source. Rygel’s words rolled hauntingly back to D’Argo. 

Suddenly, Aeryn’s voice cut off. In the eerie silence, D’Argo slowly became aware that all three DRDs were watching him. Fed up and unnerved, he called, “Aeryn? I need to talk to you.” 

There wasn’t so much as a rustle of movement inside. D’Argo’s adrenaline was building by the microt and his nerves could bear the atmosphere no longer. “Aeryn? Are you alright? Answer me!” 

When the silence persisted, he growled, cocked his Qualta blade, and reached for the door controls. The grate swung open before his hand ever got near the panel. D’Argo paused, waiting. The privacy blanket drifted calmly in reaction to the door’s passage. 

“Aeryn?” he tried once more. 

He had no time to move. The name had hardly escaped his mouth when the blanket lunged forward and something solid as metal slammed the bridge of his nose. He dropped backward and stared up, trying to work out why his vision was doubled and swaying. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a large shape rush past him and vanish into the darkness. The last thing he remembered was One-Eye’s distinctive pair of antennae regarding him, then moving off in the direction of the fleeing form. 

# 

Sikozu was about ready to jump ship. She knew for a fact that Moya and all aboard her were in varying stages of insanity and today was doing nothing to improve her perceptions of them. 

She stormed down a tier, finding reasons everywhere to build up a head of steam that could power a locomotive. Her quarters were too cold, a common complaint on a vessel harboring Sebaceans, the comms were on the fritz, the lights had gone out, and now there was a dench and a half of weird mist all over this level. 

It was the isolation that bothered her most. Sure, with Scorpius away she had no one to talk to anyway, but here she was, strolling around in the dark, kicking eddies in the fog, completely unarmed and with no one to call for help. Who knew what she might run into in these depths? 

She rounded a curve, calling once more, “Pilot!” and skidded to a halt with a screech. Before her, backlit by a contingent of DRDs, loomed a bizarre form that nearly filled the tier. She froze in panic for a microt before a slow horror slid over her. “Aeryn?” 

“Get out of the way, carrion-thief,” the form ordered in Pilot. The amalgam of vocal registers involved in that sentence confirmed her suspicion. 

Sikozu found herself backing against the wall, blue eyes wide in the darkness. “Wh-Where are you going?” 

“Do not concern yourself.” The shadowed figure moved to pass her, walking awkwardly, but steadily. 

“But, Crichton will be back any microt! He can help you,” she protested. 

The form hesitated at the mention of John’s name. Slowly, the familiar eyes caught Sikozu’s, and she shivered at what she saw. 

“No one can help me.” The voice held more of Aeryn’s quiet sadness than Pilot’s. “Do not stop me.” 

With that, the figure turned and disappeared around the curve, taking the light with it. Sikozu remained against the wall, as stunned as if she had just faced an apparition. 

Around her, the fog swirled and the darkness closed in. 

To be continued…

Part 5

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