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.
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.
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.
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.
place,” Chiana commented.
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?”
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.
thanked the guard and headed down the hall, Chiana and Scorpius in tow.
The hybrid, a consummate scientist, took in the place with hawkish,
they approached, the conversation came to a conclusion with two of the
medics scuttling off and one turning their way. Her eyes lit up.
Crichton! There you are!”
frowned, studying her intently. “Kornata?”
smiled. “Yes, it’s me. Sorry. I forgot you wouldn’t recognize
an Interion?” he continued, stating the obvious with aplomb.
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.”
John turned to summon the others and saw Chiana flirting with a handsome
Sebacean nurse. “Chiana!”
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
I thought Noranti fixed your—“ John argued.
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.
sighed. “Fine, but hurry. I want to leave as soon as I get the
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…”
left, Chiana hanging on his arm and moving with a theatrically
blew out his breath between his teeth, praying futilely that she would
keep out of trouble. Speaking of…
down the hall, Scorpius stood calmly reading a sign that listed the
various departments on this floor.
whistled. “Stick close, Nosferatu. Don’t want you roaming around
scaring the patients.”
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.
looked him up and down. “You must be Scorpius. I doubt there’s
another being of your description in the whole galaxy.”
hope you are correct,” Scorpius agreed, bowing his head respectfully
nodded back, then turned, waving them to follow. “Come with me. I know
you’re in a hurry.”
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
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?”
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?”
frowned. “I suppose so, though it’s hard to say. I’ve never heard
of this happening before. Did you bring her with you?”
The wormhole we took accelerated the process. That give you any
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.”
Kornata spoke briefly into her desk-mounted comm, Scorpius leaned over
and whispered, “I’m glad you figured out the planet as the cause.”
a big deal, Scorp,” John said absently. “It’s the only
turned back to them. “It will take about a quarter arn to prepare a
batch. If you wish to wander—“
think I’ll just sit and wait, if you don’t mind,” John said.
you won’t need me.” Scorpius rose. “Is there a cafeteria or mess
around here somewhere?”
floor by the elevators,” Kornata answered.
no you don’t,” John argued. “I brought you with me so I could keep
an eye on you.”
assure you, John, there’s little trouble he could get into in this
facility,” Kornata told him with a touch of pride.
underestimate him,” John muttered. “Alright, but if you’re not
back in a quarter arn, I’m coming in shooting.”
warned,” Scorpius said with a mock bow.
watched John deflate as the hybrid left. “He really worries you that
chuckled bitterly. “Lady, you have no idea.”
that confirms it,” Rygel said.
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.
practically skimming the atmosphere!”
ship rattled slightly and both looked out the viewscreen, where the
outer-most layers of clouds streamed around Moya’s prow.
well,” Rygel muttered. “Moya is
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.
probably trying to return to this gods-forsaken rock.”
shot him a look through the orange holographic orb. “Are you frelled?
Why would she do that? She’s terrified by this.”
heard her!” Rygel asserted. “She’s speaking Pilot! I don’t think
Aeryn’s completely at the control panel, so to speak.”
was already shaking his head. “Look, she’s turning into a clone of
Pilot. That doesn’t mean he’s possessing her.”
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?!”
don’t care,” D’Argo answered. “It’s still Aeryn, Rygel, and
she would never knowingly do anything that put her child at risk.”
leaned forward. “Which brings us back to the question of how much she
is in control.”
pushed off the table with a growl. “You know what? Enough questions.
Let’s get some answers. Pilot? Pilot!”
line lay dead. D’Argo snarled. “Not again. Sikozu?”
whole frelling comm system is down!” Rygel reported from one console.
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
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.
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
done, Rygel felt he had earned his treat, and floated to his nearest
hidden stash of foodcubes to wait out the blackout in peace.
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
rounded the last turn, half a dozen DRDs snapped their eyestalks up at
you are. Let me talk to Pilot.”
sextet wheeled into a line, all facing D’Argo, silent and immovable as
royal British guards.
sighed. “Not you, too.”
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.
he thought. I’ll do this the hard way.
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
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.
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.”
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!”
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.
he tried once more.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?”
out of the way, carrion-thief,” the form ordered in Pilot. The amalgam
of vocal registers involved in that sentence confirmed her suspicion.
found herself backing against the wall, blue eyes wide in the darkness.
“Wh-Where are you going?”
not concern yourself.” The shadowed figure moved to pass her, walking
awkwardly, but steadily.
Crichton will be back any microt! He can help you,” she protested.
form hesitated at the mention of John’s name. Slowly, the familiar
eyes caught Sikozu’s, and she shivered at what she saw.
one can help me.” The voice held more of Aeryn’s quiet sadness than
Pilot’s. “Do not stop me.”
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.
her, the fog swirled and the darkness closed in.