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 VI

 

The 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. 

John 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?” 

Nothing. 

“They said they’d be in orbit,” Chiana pointed out. “Maybe they’re around the other side of the planet.” 

“Yeah, maybe,” John mused. 

“No,” Scorpius said, leaning over John’s shoulder and squinting at the planet. “There they are.” 

Sure enough, the golden arches of Moya were visible half-submerged in the planet’s cloudy atmosphere. 

“Huh.” 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!” 

Dead air. 

“Even Pilot would have to deign to answer that.” John grimaced. “Something’s wrong.” 

He 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. 

John 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. 

Options 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. 

They froze when they heard a sound ahead, leaning back against the wall, guns at the ready. 

In the darkness, they saw two bright lights and dimmer running lights round the bend. If ever a DRD could look stealthy, this one did. 

John lowered Winona with a sigh of relief. “1812,” he hissed. 

The stalk “eyes” turned towards them and it sang cheerfully. It scooted to John and launched into a nervous flurry of Daffy Duck quacks. 

“Whoa there, buddy. Remember who you’re talking to. Are there bad guys on Moya?” 

1812 blinked twice. 

John frowned. “Nobody? Is Pilot alright?” 

The DRD again blinked negative. 

John ran a thumb across his lower lip. “Alright. Where’s Aeryn and the others?” 

1812 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. 

The tier moved under their feet and John grabbed Chiana, bracing them both against the wall. 

“Moya’s descending,” Chiana said. 

“So we know the big girl’s conscious. That’s something at least.”  

John released her and they resumed stalking after 1812. Not for the first time, John wished Aeryn was at his side, armed and confident. 

As they approached Command, John heard a loud pounding noise, then a familiar voice yelling, “Pilot! Rygel! Open the”—string of harsh Luxan—“door!” 

“D’Argo!” 

He spun around. “John! You’re back!” 

“Yeah,” he agreed, holstering Winona. “What’s going on?” 

Chiana frowned worriedly. “And what happened to your head?” 

D’Argo winced as her fingers probed the swollen skin on his face and turned to John again. “Aeryn’s gone.” 

John’s heart had a seizure. “What?!” 

D’Argo 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.” 

At 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. 

D’Argo 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.” 

“What’s got into Moya?” Chiana asked. “This is farbot!” 

“It’s 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. 

1812 tootled its overture and zipped into a passage in the wall. 

D’Argo jumped back, pointing where the DRD had gone. “Watch out! They’re defending Pilot!” 

“It’s alright,” John assured him. “Different frequency. He’s with us.” He looked around. “And Scorpy’s not. Damn, where’d he go?” 

“I’m here, John,” the hybrid said, appearing out of the shadows around them. 

John 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?!” 

“Because Moya’s venting the yotz into herself!” a new voice answered. 

“Sparky! Good to see ya!” John exclaimed, seeing the small head poking out of the tunnels 1812 had vanished into. 

“What’s Moya doing?” D’Argo demanded. 

“Frelled 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.” 

“We’re going to find out,” D’Argo growled. 

“Find Aeryn!” Rygel snapped. “I’d bet you she’s behind this!” 

“Watch it, Spanky,” John muttered. 

“He might be right, Crichton,” Sikozu piped up. “When I saw Aeryn, she wasn’t even speaking Sebacean anymore.” 

John whirled on her. “You’ve seen her?! Where? Where is she?!”

She backed up. “I don’t know now. She passed me in the tier.” 

“When?” 

“A quarter arn ago?” 

“Where was she going?” 

“How 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.” 

John paced away gnawing his lip. “Dammit, Aeryn,” he muttered. “I told her not to be a martyr.” 

Chiana squeezed his shoulder. “We’ll find her, John. And I know right where to start looking.” 

# 

Chiana 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. 

She 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. 

In the shadow of its visage, Aeryn couldn’t help but think of Moya. 

But 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. 

Outside, distant voices howled on the wind. 

# 

“So 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. 

“And making her act so farbot,” Chiana agreed. “And this same stuff—” 

“—Is affecting Pilot so that he is seeking out this planet for more fog—” Sikozu continued. 

“—So that Moya herself has turned against us,” Scorpius concluded. “Therefore we are going to—” 

“—Blast 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 work—” 

“Then we knock some sense into him!” Chiana finished. 

“Just so we’re clear,” D’Argo said as they rounded another curve. 

# 

Before 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. 

She 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. 

As 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. 

Her cry of pain echoed through the corpse. 

Wincing, 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. 

Aeryn 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. 

Either 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. 

That was when it spoke to her. 

# 

At 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. 

John 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.” 

“Is this one loaded this time?” Scorpius asked, appraising the gun’s heft. 

“You’ll find out, won’t ya?” John answered. 

Scorpius rolled his eyes. 

“Alright, guys,” John said, cocking Winona with all the style of Doc Holiday. “Remember: shoot to disable, not destroy.” 

On a silent signal, they swept around the curve, weapons brought to bear…on an empty tier. 

Everyone looked around. 

“Where’d they go?” 

“I don’t know,” D’Argo said. “There were six here before.” 

“Don’t like this,” John muttered. “It’s too easy.” 

“Which for us means…” Chiana began. 

“Crichton!” 

They 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 spark. 

“Crichton!” Sikozu snarled again, infuriated this time. 

Before 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 the knee. 

The 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. 

“That was low, Crichton!” Sikozu snarled, flinging her spent pistol down the tier. “You put all of our lives at risk because of your stupid insecurities!” 

“Hey, 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.” 

“Not important! You set us up!” 

“Both 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 on.” 

Chiana was immediately at his side, checking his injury as John shifted sheepishly, chastised. “How bad is it?” 

He shook his head. “Not very. It’s not even bleeding.” 

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Looks more like it grazed—” She paused, looking at the others and rising slowly. “Um, why is it so bright right here?” 

The five exchanged looks in the silence of an army realizing one grenade is unaccounted for. As one, they all panned their gazes upward. 

A hundred yellow eye-lights peered back down at them. 

“Aw, hell.” 

# 

wehavebeenwaitingforyou

Aeryn 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. 

“Who is there?” she called, answering Pilot with Pilot. 

weraregratefulyouansweredourcall...

Aeryn turned slowly, addressing the room as a whole. “It was you all along. But why? Why me?” 

wehavebeenwaitingforyou...

“Yes, but—” 

youmustrestoretheheart... withouttheheart...therecanbenolife.... 

Within the depths of her mind, pieces fell into place. She stood taller. “I understand.” 

restoretheheart...restoreus...

With these words echoing in her mind, she turned and descended into the peat bog around her. 

To be continued...

Part 7

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