wormhole spat John’s Transport Pod out like a piece of gristle in an
otherwise tasty bit of steak; with much contorting and shifting to
accomplish the trick.
immediately threw open the comms. “Pilot! D’Argo! We’re home!”
When he got only silence back, he tried again. “Pilot? D’Argo? Yo,
where are you guys?”
said they’d be in orbit,” Chiana pointed out. “Maybe they’re
around the other side of the planet.”
maybe,” John mused.
Scorpius said, leaning over John’s shoulder and squinting at the
planet. “There they are.”
enough, the golden arches of Moya were visible half-submerged in the
planet’s cloudy atmosphere.
John frowned, shoving Scorpius back. “That’s weird. But the comms
should work from here.” He set a cautious course for the Leviathan and
tried again. “Pilot! Big D! Klaatu barada nikto!”
Pilot would have to deign to answer that.” John grimaced.
and Chiana exchanged glances and he lowered the Pod into the open
Docking Bay. It worried him when the atmosphere-protecting door within
did not open. It worried him more when it finally did in an almost
grinding motion and revealed the darkness inside.
and Chiana slipped quietly into the tier, pulse pistols drawn. Scorpius
strolled behind them, unarmed, as usual. Every tier they passed was
drenched in darkness and fog trailed on their boots as they walked. He
felt Chiana’s tension at facing a sightless world yet again.
flowed through John’s mind. Could the PeaceKeepers have found Moya
while they were away? The Scarrans? The Nebari? Revenge of the
T’raltixxes? The pitch black before them made an ideal screen for his
imagination to project on and it was happy to take advantage of this.
His heart wrenched at images of Aeryn hunkered, scared and
half-transformed, in her quarters as a troop of soldiers burst down her
door and took her at gunpoint.
froze when they heard a sound ahead, leaning back against the wall, guns
at the ready.
the darkness, they saw two bright lights and dimmer running lights round
the bend. If ever a DRD could look stealthy, this one did.
lowered Winona with a sigh of relief. “1812,” he hissed.
stalk “eyes” turned towards them and it sang cheerfully. It scooted
to John and launched into a nervous flurry of Daffy Duck quacks.
there, buddy. Remember who you’re talking to. Are there bad guys on
frowned. “Nobody? Is Pilot alright?”
DRD again blinked negative.
ran a thumb across his lower lip. “Alright. Where’s Aeryn and the
nudged his ankle and sped away down the tier. John and Chiana followed,
wary despite the DRD’s assurances. John was reminded of the old images
of movie cops entering an abandoned warehouse knowing the serial killer
lurked somewhere within. You took no chances.
tier moved under their feet and John grabbed Chiana, bracing them both
against the wall.
descending,” Chiana said.
we know the big girl’s conscious. That’s something at least.”
released her and they resumed stalking after 1812. Not for the first
time, John wished Aeryn was at his side, armed and confident.
they approached Command, John heard a loud pounding noise, then a
familiar voice yelling, “Pilot! Rygel! Open the”—string of harsh
spun around. “John! You’re back!”
he agreed, holstering Winona. “What’s going on?”
frowned worriedly. “And what happened to your head?”
winced as her fingers probed the swollen skin on his face and turned to
John again. “Aeryn’s gone.”
heart had a seizure. “What?!”
brushed Chiana’s hands off him. “She was acting weird after you left and after Pilot shut down, she knocked me out.
I can’t find her.”
least, as far as D’Argo knew, she was still alive. That only took the
edge off John’s fire of terror. “What do you mean weird?! Why would
she hit you?” His voice went high with panic.
shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ll fill you in later. Right now,
Rygel’s in Command and the door’s locked me out.”
got into Moya?” Chiana asked. “This is farbot!”
this planet,” D’Argo answered. “Something about it has Pilot in a
mood. Now he’s preventing me from taking manual control.” He slammed
a fist on the door.
tootled its overture and zipped into a passage in the wall.
jumped back, pointing where the DRD had gone. “Watch out! They’re
alright,” John assured him. “Different frequency. He’s with us.”
He looked around. “And Scorpy’s not. Damn, where’d he go?”
here, John,” the hybrid said, appearing out of the shadows around
started. “Jeez!” He saw Sikozu lurking at Scorpius’ side. “I
want you with us, Scorpy, not off playing Jack the Ripper. Frell, we
even have the fog. Why do we have the fog?!”
Moya’s venting the yotz into herself!” a new voice answered.
Good to see ya!” John exclaimed, seeing the small head poking out of
the tunnels 1812 had vanished into.
Moya doing?” D’Argo demanded.
if I know, but she has completely submerged herself in these clouds! I
don’t care what Pilot says, there’s something in the mist.”
going to find out,” D’Argo growled.
Aeryn!” Rygel snapped. “I’d bet you she’s behind this!”
it, Spanky,” John muttered.
might be right, Crichton,” Sikozu piped up. “When I saw Aeryn, she
wasn’t even speaking Sebacean anymore.”
whirled on her. “You’ve seen her?! Where? Where is she?!”
backed up. “I don’t know now. She passed me in the tier.”
quarter arn ago?”
was she going?”
should I know?” she snapped. Seeing the intensity of their gazes, she
sighed. “She wouldn’t tell me. And she said it was too late.”
paced away gnawing his lip. “Dammit, Aeryn,” he muttered. “I told
her not to be a martyr.”
squeezed his shoulder. “We’ll find her, John. And I know right where
to start looking.”
could never have guessed where Aeryn currently stood. She couldn’t
have imagined the beast whose empty, fossilized carapace towered over
the befogged landscape. She could not have conceived of the mountainous
presence, the skeletal limbs stretched like foothills or massive roots,
the angular skull, mandibles hanging and half-submerged in peat. And she
certainly wouldn’t have predicted the pain that lanced Aeryn’s Pilot
heart as she viewed the behemoth.
sighed heavily, as if acknowledging the loss of an era long past. In her
mind’s eye, she could see the mighty creature as it had been in life:
elegant, gentle, a magnificent animal. Now here it lay, quite possibly
the last of its kind, a silent memorial to what once had been.
the shadow of its visage, Aeryn couldn’t help but think of Moya.
such sentimentality was not getting her anywhere. Gently, she reached
out one claw and rested it on the smooth stone jaw, then followed the
driving urge down its gullet.
distant voices howled on the wind.
this fog is what’s causing the change in Aeryn,” D’Argo said as
the current crew of Moya, sans Rygel, who held his position in Command,
and Noranti, who was at work in the Apothecary, marched down the
darkened tiers to Pilot’s Den.
making her act so farbot,” Chiana agreed. “And this same stuff—”
affecting Pilot so that he is seeking out this planet for more fog—”
that Moya herself has turned against us,” Scorpius concluded.
“Therefore we are going to—”
our way into Pilot’s Den and try to talk some sense into him so
he’ll tell us where Aeryn went,” John said. “And if that doesn’t
we knock some sense into
him!” Chiana finished.
so we’re clear,” D’Argo said as they rounded another curve.
Aeryn, the formerly-organic cavern opened into the monstrous hollow of
the torso. Stalactites had rooted themselves in the ancient shell roof
overhead where a gap between shell plates admitted a dim shaft of gray
light. At her feet, a smooth brown pathway that had clearly once been
the creature’s sternum led away into the darkness. Broken ribs arched
on either side like abbreviated pillars.
squinted, but couldn’t see farther than ten metras in any direction.
Cautiously, she stepped out onto the breastbone. Hairline fractures in
the stone rubbed against her didactyl feet, but it did not even shift as
she put her full weight on it. She plodded on. Aeryn did not know what
exactly she was trying to reach, but something told her it was very close.
she passed between two nearly complete ribs, a section of the cracked
bone depressed beneath her foot. Her heightened senses witnessed what
Human eyes could only infer from the results. From somewhere in the
shadows, she heard a click. A blur of white shot at extremely high
velocity on a vector with the leg responsible. Her mind calculated how
long until it would impact with her down to the nanosecond.
Unfortunately, all of this could not make her large, awkward body move
any faster in this high-pressure environment.
cry of pain echoed through the corpse.
she looked down. The white object had imbedded in the exposed knee joint
of her outer right leg. Leaning on the other three, she carefully pulled
it out with the corresponding claw, earning another grimace. Dark Pilot
blood spurted forth with new vigor.
lifted the weapon for close analysis. Mercifully, it did not appear to
carry poison. It was clearly a shard of bone, but shaped far too
symmetrically to have broken off under natural conditions. Someone or
something had rigged this path. This had been a strangely non-fatal
attack, however. She deliberated whether further traps lay ahead or if
the passage of time and the lingering dampness had put an end to the
worst of the defenses.
way, Aeryn knew the leg needed treatment. Gingerly, testing every step
before committing to it, she made her way to a broad section near the
middle of the sternum. Here, it appeared a formation of bone had broken
off at some point during the fossilization process. She put her injured
leg up on the shattered ridge to better assess the damage. Dark blood
still ran down the gray carapace of her calf and trickled through the
porous innards of the bone stump.
was when it spoke to her.
the last curve before Pilot’s Den, the quintet of Moya’s crew
paused. D’Argo converted his Qualta blade to its rifle form. Chiana
charged the enormous cannon of a rifle that Aeryn usually toted,
affectionately called the Big Gun by John. Now that she was hauling the
thing around, she wondered briefly why Aeryn had favored the massive
armament over a far more portable pulse rifle.
temporarily holstered Winona and cinematically pulled two pistols from
the back of his belt, trying to ignore the smutty smirk from Chiana. He
passed them to Scorpius and Sikozu. “Here. Be ready.”
this one loaded this time?” Scorpius asked, appraising the gun’s
find out, won’t ya?” John answered.
rolled his eyes.
guys,” John said, cocking Winona with all the style of Doc Holiday.
“Remember: shoot to disable, not destroy.”
silent signal, they swept around the curve, weapons brought to bear…on
an empty tier.
don’t know,” D’Argo said. “There were six here before.”
like this,” John muttered. “It’s too easy.”
for us means…” Chiana began.
whirled around to see a small army of DRDs advancing on Scorpius and
Sikozu from the rear. She managed to squeeze off a few sputtering shots
at the robots before her cartridge ran dry. Scorpius didn’t even get a
Sikozu snarled again, infuriated this time.
the trio could bring their guns around the right way, the DRDs sent off
a flurry of little shots. D’Argo grunted as one struck his leg above
firefight itself lasted only microts. The beleaguered combatants
carefully scanned the smoking DRDs for any lingering signs of activity.
Once assured they were alone, they relaxed some.
was low, Crichton!” Sikozu snarled, flinging her spent pistol down the
tier. “You put all of our lives at risk because of your stupid
I didn’t expect them to come around that way, alright?” John
defended. “I don’t even know how they got back there so fast.”
important! You set us up!”
of you!” D’Argo called over the argument. “We don’t have time
for this. We need that door open and I could use someone to balance
was immediately at his side, checking his injury as John shifted
sheepishly, chastised. “How bad is it?”
shook his head. “Not very. It’s not even bleeding.”
she agreed. “Looks more like it grazed—” She paused, looking at
the others and rising slowly. “Um, why is it so bright right here?”
five exchanged looks in the silence of an army realizing one grenade is
unaccounted for. As one, they all panned their gazes upward.
hundred yellow eye-lights peered back down at them.
recoiled sharply, glancing about. The voice seemed to lack any
particular point of origin, emanating from every wall, every bone. It
was smooth and clear, neither masculine nor feminine.
is there?” she called, answering Pilot with Pilot.
turned slowly, addressing the room as a whole. “It was you all along.
But why? Why me?”
the depths of her mind, pieces fell into place. She stood taller. “I
With these words echoing in her mind, she turned and descended into the peat bog around her.
To be continued...