band of shipmates pushed closer together, watching each other’s backs as
the DRDs poured down the walls with mercenary calm.
ideas?” John called.
shouted a command at the pack of DRDs in Pilot. The little droids
chittered a bit, but pressed on. She swore, ducking behind Scorpius. “Now he improves their programming!”
other ideas?” John demanded, swinging Winona about, ready.
Pilot actually kill us?” Chiana asked nervously.
don’t want to find out,” D’Argo growled. He dropped his voice.
“How long until Rygel’s ready?”
said 1200 microts,” John whispered. “Plus 1812’s delivery time.”
D’Argo sighed. “Surrender.”
the girls snapped.
he ordered, disarming his Qualta blade.
you say my plans are bad,” John muttered, holstering Winona.
the layer of floating sand and peat, the water was clear. It was also
eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness of the depths. Early in the dive,
her lungs felt near bursting. Surrendering at last, she breathed out in an
explosive burst of bubbles. Beneath her carapace, gills feathered and took
over respiration. These minor physiological difficulties past, she could
instead focus on the goal that had her skittering across the floor of a
subterranean alien lake.
the dimness, a clear sparkle caught her eye.
glared over his console as the DRDs led in their captives. “You needed
to speak with me?”
we tried the comms,” D’Argo said.
have quite a lot to do, Ka D’Argo,” the symbiont replied.
you’ve been a busy little bee around here.” John cast a look around as
if encompassing Moya as a whole. “You wanna explain what you were doing
that meant shutting off our electricity and phones?”
cannot do that, Commander.”
come on, Pilot! Don’t go HAL on me now!” John yelled, risking a few
steps forward that separated him from the others. “The tiers look like
San Francisco, the DRDs are playing Aliens
with us, and Aeryn is missing. What the hell is going on?!”
looked down at his console. “That is not your concern.”
is when DRDs are trying to blast my eema!” Chiana declared.
thought your duties were to Moya first, then those who ride aboard her,”
D’Argo said calmly. “What’s wrong? Is Moya pregnant again?”
hesitated a microt, reacting to the reasonable tone. “No, Ka D’Argo.
Moya is well and so am I. But this situation transcends those
shifted his weight, fists clenching and releasing. “Does it transcend
met his eyes for the first time, an almost pleading look in their depths.
“Aeryn is part of the situation.”
tell me where she is!”
reared back, eyes dark again. “I will tell you nothing more!”
DRDs whirred closer.
Sikozu muttered nervously.
pushed forward, pulling Pilot’s full attention to him. “When Moya was
pregnant, didn’t we all do what we could to keep her and Talyn safe? And
didn’t Aeryn risk her own life again and again to protect Talyn once he
growled softly, but wouldn’t meet D’Argo’s eyes.
did. Aeryn is one of the most loyal friends you and Moya have. Well, now
she needs you. If Aeryn completes the transformation, her baby will
that sink in for everyone. Beside him, he saw the color drain from
John’s features, heard a soft gasp from one of the girls behind him.
you do that to her, Pilot?” D’Argo pressed, twisting the knife.
“Whatever’s going on, is it worth her child’s life?”
them, Moya’s familiar rhythm shifted, almost sounding like a ghostly
moaning. Pilot sat perfectly still, his eyes pinned anywhere but at the
beings before him.
D’Argo took one more step forward. “Pilot, where is she? Help us stop
words snapped the influence D’Argo had held. Pilot jerked back, all four
arms up. The DRDs cocked their tiny, but lethal guns.
growled at the assembled crew, eyes a hard amber. “I can tell you
did a quick calculation of the timing in his head. Not long now. “We
know this fog is messing with your mind, Pilot,” he said quietly. “We
don’t want to do this, but it’s for your own good.”
Command, Rygel perched alongside an open console. His deft little fingers
had worked their way deep into its inner workings to the juncture that
Crichton had described. Now it was only a matter of waiting.
Unfortunately, the position was uncomfortable for his squat body to
maintain and his right earbrow was starting to pinch something awful. He
on, you little krellik…”
Aeryn surfaced with a large gemstone clutched tightly in her claws. At
least, the body that had once been Aeryn Sun’s surfaced. The mind
inhabiting it worked with single-minded determination. What little of
Aeryn’s personality had remained was completely buried by such a force.
Pilot rose from the waters of the lonely planet, muck sloughing off its
shell, and approached the shattered altar of bone.
what, Commander?” Pilot asked innocently. The DRDs circled them like
edgy police officers.
know in a minute. I’m sorry.”
five and Pilot stared off in silence for several long moments. Finally,
Chiana leaned over John’s shoulder.
something should have happened by now, right?”
it another minute,” he gritted back. “The timing’s rough on this
them, the DRD-hole in the main door opened and a blur of blue, white, and
red shot through, tootling cheerfully.
eyes widened. “No! 1812, I said to take it to Rygel,
not me! 1812!”
painted DRD ignored him and zoomed on to where Pilot waited, claw
is this what he was waiting for?” Pilot said, taking a small satchel
from 1812. The DRD squawked to him.
Belixton poultice. You wished to paralyze my connection to Moya and take
didn’t want to do it,” D’Argo said.
we’d rather have done than than this.” John took a deep breath.
“Chi, you still have the Big Gun?”
she said solemnly, leveling it slowly with the console. “I’m sorry,
light wreathed the bone pedestal, hazy with drifting mists. The dripping
Pilot, anointed in the planet’s blood, held the transparent crystal
before it and climbed the ancient sternum. With extreme reverence, it
placed the gem in the shattered depression.
stone glistened a microt, then gleamed, then glowed with a purity reserved
traditionally for solar bodies alone. The Pilot beheld this, awestruck,
filled with the joy and gratification it radiated.
light focused at last and pierced upward, through the gap in the shell,
and etched a solid beam into the sky. The force of this crystallization
slammed into the Pilot, throwing it backwards and into darkness.
slid her finger over the trigger of the gun and hesitated. She knew all
she had to do, according to Plan C, was fry the console, but if she aimed
too high, if the blast was more powerful than anticipated…
herself, she took a deep breath.
reeled back, crying out.
Chiana cried, horror sweeping through her.
clutched her shoulder. “It’s okay. You didn’t shoot.”
DRD in the room sent up a flurry of squeals like stressed metal. Moya
moaned and swung. The lights flashed. Chiana clung to D’Argo, Sikozu to
Scorpius, and John to his lunch.
all was still.
quintet stood in the silent darkness, afraid to move.
lights flickered once, then returned at normal levels. Moya’s steady
hums and drones of life returned. At his console, Pilot swayed, then
straightened up, blinking.
Commander Crichton, Captain D’Argo, are you alright?”
fine, Pilot,” John answered, moving closer with extreme caution. “How
and I are fine. However, we must apologize for our actions, and explain
love to hear it, Pilot,” John said, patting one of his arms, “but
first, I need to cure Aeryn.”
course, Commander. She has gone down to the planet’s surface.”
you,” he said in a ‘Was that so hard?’ tone. “Can you be more
believe it will not be hard to find her,” Pilot said almost sadly.
can take Lo’La,” D’Argo volunteered.
you fly in those clouds without crashing us?” Chiana asked.
bristled a bit at the challenge, but restrained his macho side for once of
good sense. “I’m not sure.”
desperate idea tickled John’s mind. “But you can, can’t you?” John
addressed Scorpius. “Your Superman energy vision wouldn’t be as
affected by the fog.”
hybrid considered this. “Most likely not, no.” He fixed a skeptical
gaze on John. “You would permit me to fly?”
looked around the room. Chiana was checking D’Argo’s leg to make sure
there was no blood. Sikozu was checking on Pilot. And Aeryn awaited him on
the planet below.
Scorpy. So help me, you’re my last hope.” He straightened, heading for
the door. “Alright, mount up if you’re coming.”
hurry, Commander,” Pilot called after him, voice low. “I fear it may
already be too late.”
Transport Pod leapt from Moya’s Bay and hurried away into the clouds.
Immediately, gale-force winds buffeted the little craft. It rocked and
wallowed a bit, but kept moving forward.
uh, have done atmospheric flying before, right?” John asked, hands
clenched immovably on the edges of the copilot seat.
growled softly as he fought the updrafts.
like we’re flying into a storm,” D’Argo assessed, leaning over
John’s shoulder. “We’re never going to see anything at this
pulled the Pod up and out of the atmosphere. Freed of the wind’s
clutches, the ride stabilized.
leaned beside D’Argo, getting well into Scorpius’ personal space.
“Uh, while this is nice, how are we supposed to find Aeryn from up
getting my bearings,” the hybrid hissed, leaning away from her.
frowned at the planet beneath them. “Pilot said she’d be easy to
find,” he mused.
Pod continued its journey around the globe, his eyes widened. “You guys
could we miss it?” Chiana murmured.
the clouds darkened until they were nearly black and swirled in a vortex
already the size of Europe and growing steadily. Unlike a regular
hurricane, however, this was a spiral of clear air cutting through a
cloudy expanse. Bolts of lightning leapt across the arms.
bets Aeryn’s not under that
thing?” D’Argo quipped.
set us down here,” John commanded. He stared solemnly at the quiet
center of the storm and Kornata’s words echoed back to him: For her, it must be the eye. He prayed she was right.
descended, John was able to get a better look at the landscape around
them. Towers of rock and mountains stretched skyward. Across a nearby one,
he saw the pale scrape the other Pod had made on its first descent, had it
only been arns ago? Smaller spikes stood haphazardly on its peak. He
inquired Scorpius of a clearer identification.
squinted at them. “They appear to be tree trunks. Ancient tree
studied them, noticing the weathered smoothness of the sides, the
roughness of the rock above a uniform height on every pillar. Suspicion
the other Pod.” D’Argo pointed.
set down lightly next to it and hurried out.
John called, running up into the sister ship. Finding it empty but for a
confused and nervous One-Eye, he hurried back out again, scanning the
D’Argo summoned from a few meters away. He gestured to a black pile
before him as John ran up. “It’s her blanket. I can smell her and
Pilot all over it.”
gently rubbed the fabric with his thumb as he searched the ground around
them. “Good…good. Damn, the wind got rid of any footprints. Can you
track her smell?”
shifted uncomfortably, sniffing the air. “Um, sort of.”
of?” John demanded. He was going to need a major Prozac if he survived
scent ends here,” D’Argo answered. “Pilot’s scent goes that
way.” He gestured off into the clear wilderness.
Pilot’s?” John asked softly.
may already be too late…John
tried to push Pilot’s words out of his head. “Alright, just lead the
way. We have to find her, one way or another.”
walked to the cliffside Chiana had slipped into and descended carefully,
knocking free small rocks that bounced down ahead of them. Though deep, it
wasn’t nearly as sheer as the fog had made it seem.
canyon, John realized every step took more effort and his breath came
shorter. He felt like he was carrying a Marine cadet’s training pack.
Very little vegetation grew in the gritty soil that crunched under his
feet. Only a few straggly, woody breeds eked out their lives here, and
they looked half-dead already. John broke off a dry twig and sniffed it,
then touched it to his tongue experimentally. He spat quickly, throwing it
away. “Pure salt!” he choked.
could live here,” Chiana muttered pessimistically.
now, no,” John agreed, wiping his tongue with the back of his hand.
“This is a dried up ocean. We hit an island.”
others, save Scorpius, gaped at him.
a scientist,” he explained, gesturing widely. “Patterns.”
the frell could dry up an ocean?” Chiana asked.
don’t know, and I don’t want to find out, but it does explain the
constant fog.” He glanced ahead. “Are we close, D?”
shook his head, panting. “I’m not sure. Maybe if we climb that hill
there we can see her.”
narrowed his eyes. “That’s not a hill.”
cleared a rise in the salted sand and found themselves face-to-face with a
true leviathan. The fossilized exoskeleton reared half out of the soggy
sand that embalmed it, maw gaping wide. Fog clung lightly about it in
John muttered. “Jules Verne would’ve had a field day with this. Lemme
guess; we’ve gotta go inside it.”
is an extremely high concentration of energy within it,” Scorpius
in there too,” D’Argo added.
can I call ‘em or what?” John muttered, trudging down the rise.
approached slowly in silence, wary of every crackle of sand, every whistle
of the wind. A faint voice on John’s right kept rambling just below the
quit playing around and speak up, would ya?”
over here,” she said from his left side, her dark eyes standing out
against the gray backdrop. “You hear something?”
glanced at her, then turned right, training his ears for the voice again.
Distant thunder rumbled over the land, deterring his efforts. “Nothing,
the fog existed only as thin wisps, but they seemed to drift on a breeze
no one felt. Great sheets of ancient baleen hung all around the jaw, water
dripping off them in steady, if irregular patterns. A flash of lightning
outside displayed everything in shock relief for a microt, the after-image
drifting across their visions for a while.
crew proceeded down the throat, John muttered to himself, “Jonah or
Orpheus?” for the mild comfort it gave him.
throat opened into a thoracic cavity and they saw the collapsed form of a
full Pilot crumpled before a jewel seated on a bone shaft. John rushed
no,” Chiana whispered.
John prodded, searching the huge body for some sign of life in her. His
mind tried to shut down in panic. He was too late. She had fully
transformed. Would the serum work now? Would it still be Aeryn if it did?
Oh God, was she already dead?
his hand, her chest plate rose slowly, then fell in a ragged breath. Tears
of relief prickled his eyes. His mind now locked on a single
determination. His shaking hand dug within his coat till it closed around
the syringe. Gently, he slid her fist-sized eye open and some part of him
rejoiced to see a gray ring around the pupil of the orange iris. He met
D’Argo and Chiana’s gazes over her body.
winced as he injected the serum into her iris, then waited. The stillness
filled the room.
the Pilot jerked in a gasping seizure, body convulsing.
you do?!” Chiana cried.
alright!” John said, grabbing one muscular, thrashing arm and reaching
for another. “This is normal. Help me hold her down!”
the four, they kept her from injuring herself in the first harsh moments,
though her protectors didn’t fare as well. After that, she settled into
a steady choking noise and the transformation began. Rough purple skin
turned pink and smooth. Features morphed back to recognizable
configurations. The shell clattered as it fell loose around a Sebacean
body. John had never thought of Aeryn as petite before, but she was
positively tiny in the cavernous Pilot’s shell.
her breath came even and slow. Aeryn’s familiar face lay under a heavy
dome of chitin. Without hesitation, John set about removing the remaining
shell as a squire would his knight’s armor. He gently pulled the
residual gauntlets from her slender arms and pushed the dome off her
slicked raven hair.
he asked, “can I borrow your knife?”
passed it over. Getting a firm grip on the hilt, John raised it over his
head and drove it down with all his strength on her chest plate until it
not attached to her,” he argued, shaking free of their horrified holds
on his arms. “I’ve gotta get her out of there.”
more blows and he was able to pull and pry the Pilot torso apart.
passed it to him. He pushed it inside the shell and wrapped it around
Aeryn’s naked body, unbothered by the sticky discharge covering her.
Delicately, as a parent carries a sleeping child, he lifted her clear of
the exoskeleton, which clattered hollowly upon the sternum, an empty pile.
she gonna be okay?” Chiana asked softly.
think so, now,” John answered, cradling Aeryn close to his chest. “But
let’s get her back to Moya, pronto.”
assured the drama was over, had wandered near the crystal and stood
examining it. “This is the
source of the energy,” he commented.
D’Argo grumbled. “Let’s get out of here.”
Scorpius continued, “not the crystal.” He crouched and peered at the
shattered bone base. “Here.”
on, Scorp,” John called, eyes never leaving Aeryn’s sedate form.
Scorpius was already dislodging pieces of fossil bone from the pedestal.
Beneath, he revealed smooth, polished metal that gleamed opalescent white,
forming the true device on which the gemstone perched. Pin lights
flickered up and down its sides.
shouldn’t play with stuff you find on the beach,” John called again,
lingering impatiently further up the sternum. “Could get AIDS.”
would someone hide technology like this in a skeleton?”
don’t know, grasshopper. Could be a phaser, or a flashlight, or an
Easy-Bake Oven for all I care. Now come on or we’re leaving you
be right there, John.” His gloved finger traced a pattern of lights
along one curve.
intangible wind sprang to life, cascading mists from all corners of the
chamber. They swirled and coalesced over the remains of Aeryn’s shell,
where they settled.
drew his Qualta blade with a snarl. “What did you do?!”
mists pulled closer together and everyone froze. They had formed the rough
shape of a tall figure, very much like a Pilot, but subtly different,
voice echoed forth without the mist-being moving its mouth.
are you?” John asked, clutching Aeryn tightly.
TRUE HEIRS OF THIS WORLD. ITS CARETAKERS. OUR GRATITUDE TO YOU.
me?” he asked.
BROUGHT HER. It gestured to Aeryn. SHE RETURNED THE HEART. WE ARE
RESTORED. BESTOW ON HER OUR GRATITUDE.
be sure to do that. Just answer me this.”
you do this to her?”
The mistling cocked its head enigmatically.
TRUE HEIRS CAUSED IT, YET NO HEIR INVOKED IT.
glared at the alien. “Great. Well, when I figure that one out, I’ll be
back to kick y’all’s ass.” He turned to leave.
mistling drifted before him. The intangible wind blew back a fold of
Aeryn’s blanket, exposing the bare flesh below. An arm of fog reached
out and rested on the skin between her pelvic ridges. The being fixed an
almost friendly face on John’s.
ALL IS WELL.
that, the mistling dissipated, leaving only a patch of condensation on
can we get out of here?” D’Argo pleaded into the silence that
storms had picked up full strength when the crew of Moya returned to their
Pods. The black clouds had opened and a steady rain drummed on the small
you and Chiana take one,” John instructed. “Scorpy, Aeryn, and I will
take the other.”
wind picked up, whipping rain diagonally at them. John hunched his
shoulders against the weather and cradled Aeryn closer to his chest. The
cool rain spattered lightly on her face despite his guard.
wet insistence, Aeryn stirred gently. Her eyes blinked, then snapped open.
She struggled in momentary panic, pressing hard against his chest, muscles
sh, sh,” John soothed, laying her on the ground and crouching over her.
“Aeryn? Are you okay? You with us?”
wild eyes finally focused on his and she stopped fighting. “John?” she
dripped off his cheek. “Yeah, honey, it’s me.” He stroked her sticky
hair back from her face, ignoring the sand that now clung to it.
eyes blurred slightly as she tracked her memories. She squeezed them shut
and reopened them, blinking rapidly. “I can’t see…Can’t
she sat up, casting a look down at her own Sebacean body. Lucid eyes
turned back to John. “You made it to Kornata’s.”
relief glowed on his face. Her voice still sounded modulated but it was
clearly Aeryn speaking. “Yeah, we did. How do you feel?” he asked,
helping her up. “Can you walk?”
fine, John,” she answered. “A little unsteady, but fine. Thank you.”
Her hand gripped his lovingly.
smiled. “Good. Now let’s get back to Moya and away from this
frowned, rooted to her spot. “It’s not a—” She stopped, looking
around sharply. “The crystal! Where is it?”
caught her shoulders, steadying her as the quick movements made her sway
slightly. “Easy. It’s in the sea monster on that gizmo.”
eyes widened, “Well, we have to go back for it!”
no we don’t.”
eyes turned to Chiana and saw the crystal, now smoky gray as topaz, in her
are you—?! You can’t just go stealing stuff like that!” John yelled.
“Haven’t the past three cycles taught you anything?!”
though, snatched the gem with a hungry grab, her fingers still positioned
like a Pilot’s claw. “Chiana, you did it!” She grinned, eyes alight
as she examined the glittering facets. Small flecks of gold twinkled
amongst the lattice.
arched a dark brow. “Uh, glad you’re happy with me for once, but I
snurched it; it’s mine.”
nobody’s,” John stated. “We’re taking it back to where we found
it. Last thing we need’s more P.O.ed aliens on our tail.”
watched the exchange, head cocked slightly to the side in amusement.
“Pilot didn’t explain this to you, did he?”
eyed her seriously. “We didn’t have time to powwow, no.”
going on?” D’Argo asked her, wishing he’d brought his fur coat. He
glanced longingly at the dry Pod.
gestured expansively with one arm, the other wrapped around the gemstone.
“This planet is the original Pilot homeworld.”
others stared at her incredulously.
this ball of fog?” Chiana snorted.
live here?” D’Argo asked skeptically.
once,” Aeryn affirmed.
when this was an ocean?” John said.
Aeryn nodded, eyes bright. “Most of the planet was.”
how do you know this?” D’Argo demanded.
blinked and stood a little straighter. “Well, I was a Pilot.”
John said dismissively. “But what does this have to do with the Hope
held the gem reverently. “This crystal will help restore the planet to
what it once was.”
the more reason to put it back,” John said, reaching for it.
shook her head. “No, John, it’s done here.” She smiled up into the
pouring rain, enjoying the water trickling down her face. “The oceans
are already refilling.”
all followed her gaze up to the hurricane-shaped hole in the cloud cover,
where hot and cold air mingled and birthed the momentous global storm. For
the first time since their arrival arns ago, twinkling stars were visible
in the night sky above.
squinted through the wet at Aeryn. “So if the crystal’s already done
its thing, why is it so important to you?”
the maps NamTar claimed to give you?” she asked the boys. “Well this
is the real thing. A map of the entire galaxy.”
She held the crystal up so it sparkled in the starlight. “It’s a gift for our help, and a message to carry.”
To Be Continued...