Setting: Some time after the episode Fractures, all spoilers included. Aeryn takes a different direction when John's mission to destroy Scorpius' wormhole research goes awry.
Crichton may very well have always been the last to know, but this time he never even suspected.
Slumped against the iron wall of his prison cell on the command carrier, it was all he could do to remain conscious. Dried blood clung to his cheek, puddled like caked mud in his collarbone. The pounding in his head had ebbed to a dull, persistent ache--better than the nauseating throb he had awoken to less than an arn earlier.
The pain was the least of his problems. Where the hell was Aeryn?
The mental image of her fighting, screaming in agony, fighting harder still to no avail--he closed his eyes to try to erase the picture from his mind, but instead it grew stronger. Scorpius' new device, over a cycle in the making, had made the Aurora Chair seem like a bad day at the dentist. John had spent over two arns stretched out flat, strapped to a cold table that could've come straight out of Frankenstein's laboratory.
When Scorpius was through, Crichton was once again drooling and bleeding from his nose and ears, and was returned to his cell completely disoriented. His grand and noble mission to find and destroy all the research on wormhole technology had been appallingly short-lived. They'd been captured before they ever got close.
Crichton didn't have a clue as to the fates of his crewmates, but he and Aeryn had been thrown into the same cell, surprisingly. Knowing they were being monitored, they hadn't discussed any part of the mission. Instead, he had pushed in another direction.
"I wish now I hadn't let you come." He hadn't looked at her the entire mission until then.
Aeryn scoffed at his concern. "You've deluded yourself into thinking you ėlet' me come. I make my own decisions now, and they're not based on your opinions."
Even as accustomed as he was to her sharp tongue, Crichton was still taken aback at her venom. "I see. So that's how it is. All bets are off. All ties broken. No partnership, no talking, no...no love lost between us. Is that it?" This might be wading into deep waters, but it might also be now or never.
"That's it, Crichton." She didn't bother looking at him.
His lips twitched, then pursed tightly together. That cold shell--man, did that feel like old times. Longing to shatter it, he reached for the sledgehammer he'd put down a thousand times before. He was too angry to think about the consequences.
"What's the matter--did he disappoint you that much?" She wasn't quick enough to hide her surprise at the crudity of his question. It encouraged him to dig deeper. "Or is it just that you're a coward?"
Her jaw clenched, but she hadn't taken the bait. It only infuriated him more.
"Well, come on, it's one or the other, Aeryn. Either you don't have the guts to live your life, or you discovered that he just wasn't worth the effort!"
He'd wanted her to fly across the room at him in mutual rage, tell him she hated him, tell him anything. Instead he'd managed to turn her eyes colder. She was paler than he'd ever seen her. Too late, he bit his lip and berated himself in anguish. "God, why'd I say that?"
When she didn't speak, or move, he began to mumble. "I'm sorry. I'm angry. You didn't deserve that. I don't want to hurt you more. I...I just want...to be able to tell you...that I've missed you. I've been waiting for you. I still love you."
It took all his courage to look up at her. She just stared at him, unresponsive. For the first time, it truly frightened him.
"And you don't want to hear that."
It had seemed like arns before there was any sign of life from her. When she spoke her voice was flat.
"You don't know the place I went to after he died. I don't mean Valdon. I mean the place inside myself." She looked away from him then, far away. "I came back from that place once. I couldn't make it back again."
Crichton thought about letting it lie, but he had to say something. He had to. Before they came for him.
"You think I don't understand. I do. It takes more courage to let go...and live."
While he was still waiting for something, anything, from her, the guards had come to take him. He was totally out of it when they'd thrown him back onto his cell floor, after Scorpius had played the first round of his latest game. When he woke up, she was gone.
Every time he pictured her on that table, her mind being probed and dissected, he felt like he would vomit. Why did Scorpy want her, anyway? She couldn't help him with wormhole. Crichton was beginning to hate his obsessive chase for wormholes, beginning to hate himself for risking everyone else in the process. Why had he allowed this private war between Scorpius and himself to hurt everyone he had come to love and care about, as well?
Scorpius' various methods of torturing Crichton didn't compare to his own.
The guards came for him again, much later. Without a word, they led him not to the interrogation room again but into Scorpius' personal quarters. Still in chains, Crichton didn't even flinch when Scorpius hissed from behind him.
"Welcome back, John. I hope you've rested well."
"No rest for the wicked, Scorp, you oughtta know that by now," Crichton sneered. "Where's Aeryn?"
"That doesn't tell me where she is." Crichton's bloodshot eyes narrowed. "Where--is--Aeryn?"
"I'm here, Crichton." Aeryn's voice drifted from a darkened corner of the room before she came into the light, where he could see she had no restraints on her wrists. "And Scorpius is correct, I'm fine." She actually smiled, slightly. The hair on the back of John's neck began to stand up. ėHoo boy,' he thought. ėWhat's he done to her?'
Slithering round his prey, Scorpius circled between Crichton and Aeryn, benevolently explaining the situation. "John, Officer Sun has made a decision--of her own accord, I might add, that will not only once again save your life but also eliminate my need for your brain, enjoyable as the pursuit has been."
Crichton snorted in derision. "Sure, whatever."
"I'm quite serious, John. It's a wonderfully simple arrangement that benefits all of us, for once. Very rarely does anything work out to such a delightful conclusion."
John's stomach began to turn. "Careful, Scorp, you're beginning to drool," he chided, but Scorpius ignored the barb as if he'd never spoken. "I'm not sure I know quite what to do next, being so inexperienced at happy endings."
It always made Crichton extra nervous when Scorpius licked his chops. "Well, let's have us a party, man!" he drawled, sardonic as usual. "I'll get the beer, you run and fetch all your spare cooling rods--got to have ice-cold beer or the neighbors will talk, you know."
Scorpius seemed to know just how to counter Crichton's bravado. He paused, standing uncomfortably close to Aeryn and leering, just enough for Crichton to notice. Before Crichton could draw another breath to react, she interrupted.
"You might begin by having the guards escort Crichton back to the pod and allowing him safe passage to Moya. That is a crucial part of the arrangement." She didn't look at Crichton. She didn't have to.
He walked purposefully to within inches of her face. "Aeryn, I'm not going anywhere without you." She knew he meant it.
"That, of course, is your choice, John," Scorpius began, but Aeryn would have no part of it. "No, it isn't. You'll have no cooperation from me without his immediate return to Moya."
"WHAT cooperation?! She doesn't know anything at all about wormholes, Scorpius, she's just playing you to get me released. Forget it, Aeryn!"
"Ah, but that is where you are once again wrong, John," Scorpius corrected him. "Officer Sun has been very helpful already, and will continue to be--as a reinstated Peacekeeper officer under my command."
Aeryn stared straight ahead, refusing to meet Crichton's eyes. Those eyes....
She closed her own, much in the same way she had closed John's on that awful day. This was her own death, of a sort. Once again, there was no other option.
Crichton barely heard Scorpius explain the deal Aeryn had cut with him. Crichton, Moya and the crew, in exchange for information on Furlow and John's module. And herself, of course. She had even convinced Scorpius she knew the approximate location of the Ancient's home world.
A bluff. And Scorpius was buying it. Why?
When she opened her eyes, Aeryn's breath caught. Crichton stood directly in front of her again, his blue eyes boring into her own. And she knew, in his eyes, that he didn't believe it.
She took a deep breath. "I am what I was born to be, Crichton. I am a Peacekeeper. It is my choice." She stared at him as coldly as she possibly could. "If High Command needs wormhole technology, then as a Peacekeeper, I am bound to use whatever methods at my disposal to fulfill my duty."
For once, the Human was at a loss for words. When he found them, he might as well have used a sword.
"I guess I have my answer now, don't I? What was I thinking, anyway? A Human, and a Sebacean--what a joke. Can't have inferior blood infecting a superior being, now, can we? Obviously he--I--wasn't worth it." Aeryn had never seen Crichton so bitterly resigned.
Crichton turned to Scorpius. "Turn out the lights, Scorp, the party's over. Take me to Moya."
The pod pulled out of the docking bay of the command carrier. There was no communication from John Crichton, but Aeryn knew he was on board. ėWell,' she mused, ėthat was easy enough.'
"Safely away, Officer Sun, as requested." Oh, yes. Scorpius. Absorbed in her own thoughts of how quickly Crichton had believed her admission of betrayal, her attention had been diverted.
Only momentarily, however. Scorpius was never one to be ignored for long. "Your ruse seems to have succeeded. It will be interesting to see the results of this little experiment you've set in motion."
Aeryn stared straight ahead at the screen as the pod faded from view. So, she wasn't as clever as she had thought, after all. But what did Scorpius mean by experiment? A knot began to grow in the pit of her stomach.
Scorpius' tone was condescending. "Rather disheartening, isn't it, to know he's so eager to accept that you'd return to the Peacekeepers rather than succumb to his charms?" Scorpius sidled up next to her, immensely enjoying the prospect of her impending torment. "Or is he? Our Human is a stubborn fool. You don't know John Crichton as well as you presume."
Aeryn itched to subdue his arrogance. "Neither do you," she sneered.
Nothing she could say would crack his self-assurance. "Perhaps. But I know that your performance was intended to send Crichton crawling away from you, defeated and broken hearted. Glorious, I must say, watching you tear the spirit from his chest and trample it beneath your boots. But enough basking. It's time for truth."
"Wasn't a performance. Furlow does have wormhole knowledge; she successfully created and navigated a wormhole. I am...a Peacekeeper. Whether or not I am truly reinstated is up to you."
"And the location of the Ancient's home world, Officer Sun? A diversionary tactic only." Scorpius' eyes bored into hers, the warmth of his breath on her face and sweat beginning to drip from his brow. Fascinatingly repulsive, she found him. And terrifying. "Let's speak frankly, shall we? Or is it on to the interrogation room?"
Aeryn shuddered internally, and quietly marveled at how he could issue a threat as benignly as a dinner invitation.
She hadn't been aware she could feel fear again, until she'd seen Crichton, pale and bloodied, barely breathing after they'd tossed him like a corpse onto the cell floor next to her. It had been only then that Aeryn realized, no matter whether Scorpius ever succeeded in getting what he wanted from John Crichton, he would never tire of the hunt.
She steeled her resolve. "It served the purpose. Crichton is out of your grasp once again."
"Oh, yes, your great and noble hero wasted no time in abandoning you," he taunted her. "Unfortunately for him, it will be temporary abandonment only. He will come for you."
Aeryn's blood turned cold. She tried to convince herself as much as Scorpius. "I've betrayed him. He won't come."
Scorpius always did enjoy making his prey squirm. "Have you forgotten the chip? I know things about the inner workings of Crichton's mind that you will never begin to understand. If he does not believe your profession of allegiance to the Peacekeepers, he will come for you. If he truly believes you have betrayed him, I assure you, he will come for you...with a vengeance."
D'Argo had experienced many things because of John Crichton, but guilt was becoming too familiar.
Crichton was running from Command to the docking bay on Moya, with D'Argo not ten steps behind, trying to conduct a rational conversation with him--unsuccessfully, as usual. Crichton turned and practically snarled in D'Argo's face. "If you had listened to me in the first place and let us take your ship, it would've gone down exactly as planned!"
D'Argo rolled his eyes and huffed, "John, when has it EVER gone down exactly as planned?"
Crichton was in no mood for humor. "D'Argo, I'm going to get her. I'm not going to let her do this."
In the docking bay, Crais paced impatiently, pondering how he could have ever believed that this band of ill-begotten miscreants could pull off infiltrating a Peacekeeper Command Carrier, and cursing himself for throwing in his lot to try it again.
Crichton and D'Argo reached the bay at the same time as Chiana and Jool. D'Argo cocked his head at them. "Where do you two think you're going?"
"Oh, we're going along to watch three big, strong, warrior heroes--that's you guys--rescue Aeryn," chirped the Nebari vixen. "Just drop us off on Talyn. Then Jool and I will come and get all four of your butts out of the hole you dig for yourselves."
Arms crossed, Jool chimed in as well. "With any luck, Pilot, Rygel and Moya will be back in time to save all our butts."
Crichton looked at Crais, who shrugged his shoulders in resignation. They all turned to the Luxan. He growled once and placed his hand on the control panel to open the hatch.
Crais picked up a load of extra weapons, climbed the stairs and disappeared into the back, scowling as the women trailed after him. John packed up the extra ammunition and followed the others. D'Argo stood in the bay, hesitating to say what he was thinking. "John..."
Crichton stuck his head out of the hatch. "WHAT?"
"What if...she wants to do this?"
"She doesn't! Anything else? No? What are you waiting for?"
D'Argo sighed heavily, mounted the steps and sat in the pilot seat of his ancestral warship. He knew exactly what Aeryn was doing. Why couldn't John see it? "If she does...."
Crichton set his jaw, a gesture D'Argo knew all too well. He wished he hadn't asked.
"She'll have to kill me to do it."
Aeryn studied her image in the mirror. Dressed in full Peacekeeper officer uniform, with the notable exception of a pulse pistol at her side. Trust was hard won with Scorpius, and yet, he had entered her full reinstatement into the databanks and sent the communication to High Command. Whatever his game was, he was convincing at it.
As she would have to be, also. While on her way to her assigned quarters, Aeryn had passed a security detail unit, escorting a prisoner to the cells in the lower levels. How many thousands of times as a Peacekeeper had she witnessed the same scene, or been one of the officers assigned to such a detail? She couldn't count. But this time, Aeryn found herself staring. The prisoner was Delvian, and all Aeryn could see was Zhaan.
At the time, she did nothing more than reflect momentarily on the bitter irony of life and death. She had looked away from that prisoner to find Scorpius studying her, not so much suspiciously but rather as he would a lab specimen.
Aeryn knew he would test her, try to trap her. What a waste of time. She'd made her decision and sealed her own fate. What did it matter what her motivation was?
Her only concern was that Scorpius was right about Crichton. The last thing she needed was for him to come charging to her rescue. That was the last thing she needed. Right. The last thing.
And he wouldn't, she told herself. Even if he wanted to, the others--Chiana, Jool, Rygel, perhaps even D'Argo--they would all convince him to let her go. He would listen to them. She was sure of it. Right. Sure.
Aeryn jumped at the sound of Scorpius' voice from her doorway.
"...will drive you to distraction." He motioned for a tech to bring in a food tray and set it on Aeryn's bunk. "Of course, it also works to the advantage of anyone who wants to catch you...off guard, shall we say?"
Aeryn decided forthrightness was her best defense. "Frell you, Scorpius!" He shocked her by laughing out loud at her outburst, delighted with such refreshing honesty. She turned from the mirror to face him.
"No wonder the Human couldn't resist you, Aeryn, with that shrewish tongue of yours. He's constantly seeking torment, and you provided it for him much more deliciously than I ever could!"
"And I succeeded without even trying, as opposed to your best efforts which failed time after time, in front of a full audience of Peacekeeper Command." She smiled serenely while Scorpius' smile faded slightly.
"Yesss, well...thus far, at any rate." Aeryn's smugness was diminished a bit, as Scorpius had wanted. How she loathed him!
"Be careful, Officer Sun. My favor will evaporate like a mist if you are treacherous."
"Where would I go, sir, in my treachery? Back to those who already believe me to be a traitor? The only reason I have to fear you is for my own life, which I hold in low esteem; therefore, your threats carry no weight with me. I think it is you who should be careful."
"Why is that, Officer Sun?" Scorpius was enjoying this far too much.
Aeryn's smile vanished. Her tone was flat. "The only thing I have left is ambition. I want you to answer to me one day very soon...sir."
"Ha! It's a match, then! How delightful. You may actually prove a challenge, and a charmingly distracting one at that." He turned to leave her room.
"Scorpius," she started. At her door, he turned his head only slightly in her direction.
"Remember what you advised me about distractions."
Crichton stared at the red and gray walls of Talyn's docking bay; the control panels of D'Argo's ship, none of which he could read; Winona; his fingernails, badly in need of cleaning. Anything for a distraction, to take his mind off of her.
He didn't want to be there, where they'd been together. Where they had connected. Where he, the other guy, had died in her arms. Crichton had never felt comfortable on Talyn before all this mind-bending dren, but now...well, now being aboard Talyn was like walking across a grave that bore his own name.
And whereas Moya was soothing and calm, Talyn always seemed like he'd had too much caffeine. Everything was always revved, ready to rumble, pulsing with energy. Moya was graceful, but Talyn was...sensual. No wonder he and Aeryn....
ėNope, don't go down that road,' Crichton scolded himself.
She had loved him, that was obvious. She'd finally let herself love John Crichton, and then she lost him. What if she never let herself take that chance again?
What if she did want to return to the Peacekeepers? What if she DID? Unless Scorpius was lying, this was the first opportunity she'd had to have the charges against her dropped. The mood she was in at this point, maybe she truly believed this was what she wanted.
What would she do when he tried to stop her?
ėAh, shut up, man! What are you doing, changing your mind about this? Not gonna happen, pal.' Crichton could actually visualize a little winged John in white on his right and a little Scorpy John on his left, duking it out over who'd win this battle. Enough of this crap! He commed D'Argo. "What are they doing, redecorating? Let's go!"
"On our way, John," replied D'Argo as he and Crais headed from Command. "Try to stay out of trouble, please," D'Argo reminded Chiana. "I will if you will," she retorted.
As the warship pulled out of Talyn's bay, Crichton remained unusually silent. The Luxan studied him. Regardless of his lack of enthusiasm for this entire plan, which had turned into a fiasco, as expected, D'Argo had never entertained a thought about abandoning his friend. John had proven himself loyal and honorable; his dedication to his cause, and to Aeryn, could not be faulted.
D'Argo only hoped that Aeryn would once again prove worthy of Crichton's faith in her.
Aeryn went nowhere without the presence of a guard unit. Not one, but two very young officers came to her private quarters to escort her to Command.
Not that it mattered to her, but Aeryn noticed these two seemed to hold no opinion of her, or at least not the contempt she'd seen in so many other officers' eyes. They were casual enough to hold a conversation with each other, as though she wasn't there. One was in pilot training. The other was obviously envious.
"I don't understand it; my marks were as high as yours," complained the young male soldier to his female companion.
"It's more than marks, and you know it. It takes an intuitive feel for the craft, an instinct for it. You've either got it, or you don't. You might as well withdraw your application." The pilot seemed to be unaware of her own conceit, it seemed to Aeryn, until she recalled having a strikingly similar conversation with a fellow officer several cycles past.
In fact, as Aeryn remembered it, her remarks had been even more cutting and abrasive. In a flash, she was out on that ledge with Xhalax again. ėWe Peacekeepers think we are so remarkable, and yet I've realized...we do nothing for love.' Not even for kindness, she had to add now. But what does kindness get you as a Peacekeeper, anyway, where everything is about superiority?
They passed a female tech working on a conduit. Without warning, the female officer reached out and struck the tech, forcing her into the sharp side of the conduit door. As the tech fell to her knees, dazed, the officer viciously kicked her side twice, sending her sprawling on the floor in pain.
Aeryn bolted to the officer and pinned her to the wall. "What the FRELL are you doing?!" she demanded, but the male guard had by then grabbed Aeryn's elbows behind her to subdue her. Aeryn shoved him off of her, immediately defensive. "I SAID, what's this all about?"
The male soldier snarled at her. "Officer Sun, surely you know better than to interfere in a disciplinary matter!"
"Where in regulations does discipline include an unprovoked attack and beating without Command authorization?" Aeryn countered.
The female officer glared at Aeryn. "If you're so concerned about one tech, perhaps you're not as ready for Peacekeeper duty as Command thinks. Why don't you discuss it with Scorpius? Now, back off!"
The officer turned back to the tech and grabbed her by the collar to bring her into a sitting position. Blood oozed from a gash on her brow. The officer hissed in the tech's face, something about how slow the tech had been last time preparing a prowler for flight. With one last shove, the young pilot resumed her guard duty, and marched down the corridor with renewed vigor.
Aeryn glanced back at the tech, who struggled to get to her feet. Just a tech. Aeryn herself would have shown little mercy for any tech, until one had taught her something about selflessness and courage. Perhaps this tech was another who would go to extraordinary measures to save the life of someone who had not earned such a sacrifice.
Aeryn quickly closed her mind and heart to such memories. She was silent the rest of the way to Command.
Lieutenant Braca was one who could not hide his contempt every time he looked at Officer Sun. Ever since her defection over three cycles ago, he'd regarded her as the ultimate traitor. It rankled him that Scorpius had exonerated her, dismissing all charges and reinstating her full commission as officer. He'd been bold enough to protest the action with Scorpius, but he'd also learned to not argue with his commanding officer once his mind was made up. Instead, Braca dealt with his frustration by snubbing her every chance he got.
"Sir, I don't believe she has security clearance for this area," he began when he saw Aeryn by Scorpius' side as they entered the Wormhole Bay Laboratory. He was cut short by Scorpius' raised hand.
"I've upgraded her security clearance, Lt. Braca, as your reports would inform you if you read them on a regular basis. Officer Sun's presence here is acceptable for as long as she has relevance to this project. Please become accustomed to that fact." Scorpius' tone finally silenced Braca's protests. The lieutenant knew he'd pushed as far as he could on the Sun issue.
Aeryn couldn't resist. "Please, Lt. Braca, let's be civilized about this. After all, we're on the same team now. If I prove to be the traitor you presume, I'm sure Scorpius won't hesitate to throw you the bone before the rest of the dogs are released." She smiled ever so subtly. As expected, Braca bristled but remained silent.
Scorpius sighed in exasperation. "There is no point in making things more difficult for yourself than they already are, Officer Sun. I strongly suggest you refrain from giving your fellow officers further reason to plot your demise."
Aeryn's brow raised in mock consternation. "Sir, I had no reason to suspect any of your officers would disobey your direct orders."
Scorpius didn't miss a beat. "They wouldn't." His lowered tone made the threat all the more sinister, and she took a step back, properly subdued for the moment.
Satisfied, Scorpius placed a gloved finger under her chin and lifted it slightly. Running the finger along her jawline, his breath once again warm on her face: "On to our work, then, Officer Sun?" Aeryn fought the urge to shudder in revulsion.
A young lieutenant interrupted. "Sir, the reconnaissance team is returning. They report the Leviathan Moya has starburst away, but there are still signals of another Leviathan in the sector. We haven't been able to get an accurate reading, but we believe it may be the hybrid, Talyn." Aeryn started, only slightly, but cursed herself for showing any reaction.
Scorpius seemed only mildly interested. He glanced at Aeryn. "And Crais?" Before the lieutenant could reply, Aeryn offered the information. "Crais was aboard Moya when I left, sir. His part of the plan was to back Crichton up with Talyn, but I don't believe Moya would starburst away without Talyn."
Scorpius nearly always knew when she was not saying something. "Really? And why is that?"
Aeryn swallowed hard. This was more than she'd wanted to tell him. "Crais' control over Talyn has been strained recently, sir."
"Now that IS interesting." Scorpius' eyes widened as he contemplated this development. "The prodigy outgrowing the master, you say? Perhaps the youngling needs a new master."
Aeryn's stomach nearly convulsed at the thought of Talyn in Scorpius' hands, but she was becoming flawless in her portrayal of cool indifference. "Sir, if I may, I believe that pursuing Talyn at this time is not in line with your priorities, as you have explained them. Talyn has been bonded with Crais, and would take considerable time and training to bond with a new captain...."
"Unless that captain was someone with whom he was already familiar, such as yourself," Scorpius finished for her. Aeryn was genuinely surprised, and didn't hide it.
"Me? I mean, sir--me?"
"Oh, I'm sure you're quite correct that Talyn is nowhere near this system, so we're speaking hypothetically, but as you've had experience with Talyn since his birth, it would seem logical that you would be the one to command him--under my leadership, of course." Scorpius let the import of his remarks sink in with her, while Braca boiled silently in the background.
Aeryn struggled momentarily to hold back the memories of Talyn. Scorpius mistook it for suspicion. "You're correct in thinking I don't trust you, Officer Sun, because, of course, I don't. Not yet. But you will have ample opportunity to prove yourself before any of this theoretical plot thickens. Now, can we concentrate on the ėpriority' at hand, as you have reminded me, Officer?"
The docking bay doors closed with a deafening roar several microts after the last prowler landed. Pilots disembarked, growling orders at Maintenance Techs, who scurried to get repairs and refueling done.
"I tell you, she's not here to rejoin the Peacekeepers," one dark-haired male tech whispered to a small group of his coworkers. "There's no way."
"Oh, and you know that for a fact, eh? Such good friends with her you know her every motive?" asked a female tech to the first.
"Why else would she try to help a tech, putting her own neck at risk? Sazcha said that soldier might have killed her if Aeryn Sun hadn't stopped her." He looked around the group, waiting for one of them to offer a reason why an officer would defend a tech. No one could explain it.
He looked back to the female tech. "Gilina wasn't wrong, Zandran. She believed in these people."
"That may be," argued Zandran, "but it doesn't explain why she's working with Scorpius. Look, Ephron, just do your work and forget about Aeryn Sun. She's not part of the plan and probably never would be."
Another young tech chimed in. "I agree with Ephron. Everything they've done in the past two cycles alone tells us she'd never come back willingly. Perhaps Gilina convinced them to help us."
"Gilina was already long gone with them before we even started planning any of it," said Zandran.
"I think I'd know better than any of you what Gilina would do," said Ephron. Duly chastised, the others grew silent. Ephron continued. "We don't know enough yet. Let's just keep our eyes open, shall we? If an opportunity presents itself, we'll take it." The group returned to work.
No one noticed an extra pair of officers make their way through the bay to the interior corridors of the command carrier.
Aeryn relaxed for the first time in forty arns as the steaming water pounded her shoulders. Her private quarters included her own washing facilities--a luxury usually afforded only to the highest ranking officers.
She knew Scorpius was waiting for the slightest hint that she was being duplicitous. The mental image of cooling rods overheating in anticipation made her actually smile. Crichton. His quirky sense of humor was second nature to her, in spite of her best efforts.
The game she played was exhausting. Resuming the stances, gestures, duties of a Peacekeeper officer; concealing enough of her motives and thoughts to keep Scorpius' suspicions at bay while truthfully revealing some of her experiences aboard Moya and Talyn; providing enough information to keep Scorpius interested.
Traitor, she was. She'd told him as much as she knew about Neeyala's wormhole research vessel. She'd given him enough information to track down Furlow. She'd maneuvered her way around revealing everything, though, about Jack, and....
Well, it was enough. Enough to keep her in his good graces, at least for now. She couldn't let her real plans, her true emotions show through, couldn't even think about them while in his presence. The strain of controlling her thoughts had taken every bit of her strength. Aeryn had been trained to deal with battle fatigue, few rations, no sleep. But this game--this was all strategy.
She would never understand how Crichton could enjoy his strange game of chess this much.
Aeryn scrubbed her skin and hair, determined to get the sickening stench of blood and flesh out of her nostrils. The look of that pilot, with his face splitting open, his lungs gasping for air and choking up blood as he stumbled from the cockpit of the test prowler--her shock and dismay was matched only by Scorpius' complete lack of concern for the welfare of the dying wormhole pilot. He'd been angrier about the time and effort wasted on yet another failed wormhole experiment.
It had taken monumental effort to keep the disgust from showing in her eyes. She hadn't wanted to remember how expendable a Peacekeeper's life was to High Command, to a Commanding Officer, even to fellow officers who saw death as one less competitor in the race to a promotion, a coveted detail unit, a distinguishing mark on a report. But how could she have forgotten in only three cycles how cutthroat and callous a Peacekeeper's life could be?
Until she realized she hadn't forgotten anything. She no longer saw a Peacekeeper's life through the same eyes as she had three cycles ago. Everything had changed. Aeryn had changed.
She'd been raised as though blind to kindness, compassion; as though the instinctive yearnings for family and friendship didn't exist. Those instincts were drilled out of a Peacekeeper from an early age. Giving in to those yearnings meant weakness, vulnerability--death.
As her muscles eased, Aeryn's mind wandered also. She'd never known a gentle, maternal touch until Zhaan's soothing ministrations had healed and restored her, too many times to recall. In Unity, Zhaan's peaceful spirit had wrapped around her own to breathe life back into her body. And when the time came for Zhaan to release her own life, she had done so with grace and forgiveness.
Aeryn remembered the sharing of meals in the warm cocoon that was Moya. The joy on D'Argo's face when he realized his lost son was found at last. The burgeoning elation that came with the sweetness of John's kiss, when she knew she could bear his child.
As empty as John's death had left her, Aeryn could not force herself to forget everything she had learned.
But what a curse such knowledge bore, also. It had opened her eyes and her heart to the possibilities of life, and made her long for them. Her mother had also yearned for love. Reaching for that bounty while still a Peacekeeper had cost her everything, and had made her bitter and twisted.
Reluctantly Aeryn turned off the water. Unbidden memories of the last shower she had shared with John flooded over her. His fingers running through her hair, his teeth gently nibbling at her neck while the water had streamed in rivulets down their entwined bodies....
Frell, this would never do. Not if she was to keep it together long enough to....
What was that? Aeryn grabbed a cloth as cover and stepped from the shower. She was sure she'd heard something from the next room...damn that Scorpius, no pistol, nothing to--again, the slightest shift of muffled footsteps. She had nothing, not even her boots to use as defense.
A shadow fell on the wall. Instinctively, Aeryn attacked, knocking the intruder to the floor. She fled towards the door, but her assailant grabbed her ankle and she fell hard onto her bunk. Before she could turn over, he was upon her, pinning her face down.
She knew who it was before he even spoke. "Aeryn, it's me! It's me! Stop fighting before we bring the entire brigade down on our heads!"
Of course. She groaned. "Oh, no. Ohhh, NO!"
"Missed me, didn't ya?" As he released her, she flipped over underneath him to come face to face with those brilliant blue eyes. Damn him.
"You IDIOT!" Why was her heart soaring at the same time her stomach was sinking? "I don't know how the frell you got in here, but you'd better be able to get yourself out the same way. I'm watched constantly, monitored everywhere I go. I think Braca himself has taken to sleeping under my bunk."
"As long as he's not in it. Then I'd have to kill him, which I'd just HATE." Crichton was always Crichton: a grinning idiot.
She told herself it was the chill of her wet skin and hair that made her shiver. "Did Scorpius remove most of your brain along with that chip? You still have the neural clone, didn't he tell you that Scorpius is just waiting for you to do this?"
"Yes, he did. But I haven't listened to Harvey since D'Argo tried to make mincemeat out of what's left of my brain. Now, as much as I enjoy the view from here, grab your clothes so we can get out of here."
Aeryn shoved him off of her, pulling the cloth over to cover her bare skin. She flew from the bed to her clothing and pulled them on without a word, fully aware he was watching unabashed the whole time. When she turned around he was standing, the smile gone. Something else had replaced it: longing. Oh, how he looked at her!
"I'm not going with you, Crichton. This is where I belong now."
He took a step toward her. "Remember what you told Pilot? ėTake the journey with me,' you said. Why'd you say that?"
The memories of that event flooded back to her, but only registered externally by the slightest twitch of her brow.
He took another step closer. "You wanted to take the journey back then because you didn't want to go back to where you were before. Maybe you didn't know it could get this hard. It's not something anyone else can get you ready for. There's no getting ready for the hard part. You just take it when it comes."
How stupid this Human could be! "It's not your place to instruct me in ėtaking' my pain. This IS how I ėtake' it." She reached far down within herself to maintain control. Her voice was low but unsteady. "John made a choice. He chose to sacrifice himself so that others could live. I know that you would do the same. Well, now the choice is mine. I want you to live."
Crichton's heart leapt. She wanted him to live! He knew she was struggling. He was very careful when he answered her.
"I want to live, too. But I want to live with dignity, honor--love. I want to live trying to do what I know to be right and true. Anything less than that is no kind of life at all. And you wouldn't be able to love any John Crichton who could settle for anything less."
"High ideals, Crichton. Are you the only one allowed to die for his principles while the rest of us must live with your legacy? You came for me, willing to sacrifice yourself to ėsave' me from my own choice. It never occurred to you to honor MY sacrifice!"
Their voices grew louder. "Did HE have any other option? I fight for my life. I can't believe he gave up his life, and you, unless there was no other way. What you're doing isn't fighting for life, it's surrendering to it!"
Her eyes flashed. "You are arrogant, Crichton, and always so. Why must my choices be determined by what you want for me?"
The sting of that truth hit him full in the face. Momentarily stunned, his expression changed to confusion, and then sorrow as he thought about the answer to her question. "You're right. I am arrogant. I made the assumption that you needed me as much as I need you. Was I wrong?"
Aeryn remembered needing John. Showing Talyn they needed each other. Her eyes softened. He saw the tenderness, the conflicting emotions. He took another step toward her.
Before she could answer, the door to her chambers flew open and soldiers fell on Crichton with rabid vengeance. She stood, motionless, as they chained him and dragged him out into the corridor.
Ephron Dayne quietly slipped into a corner of Docking Bay 5, joining his co-conspirators in further talk of treason. He knew the slightest hint of any of it getting to any officer would mean immediate death for all involved, without benefit of doubt. But what he'd learned was worth the risk.
One of the other techs wasn't so sure. "You are surely mad, Ephron. What can be so important, calling all of us here half an arn before the next reconnaissance cycle? What excuse do we have for being here if we're caught? And what if...."
"Angus, if you're that nervous, go back to your duty station like a good little tralk," Ephron scolded his friend harshly. "Now, listen. Crichton's been captured on board the carrier again. He's in the prison cells on Level 3. He is here as part of their plan, I'm sure of it. With the right persuasion, they will join us, or at least ask for our help."
"But, what can we do about it?" whispered Zandran. "Are we really ready for this?"
"We have to be. I've already spoken with the rest of the council, and they're meeting with their units in the next quarter-arn. All we have to do is wait for his shipmates--the Luxan, the Nebari, perhaps even Gilina. They will come. I know it." Ephron reached out to join hands with the other four, who nodded in agreement, even the timid Angus. "When they come, we must be ready."
Crichton was beginning to feel right at home in a Peacekeeper cell. ėWell, at least I actually got into the ship this time before I screwed up,' he thought ruefully. He wouldn't let himself dwell on the question he'd left hanging before all hell had broken loose.
He looked up. Aeryn stood outside his cell door, glaring at him, furious with him.
"I told you, didn't I? Warned you. But you wouldn't listen. You wouldn't hear."
He stood and stormed to the cell door. "Hear what, that you've made a 180 degree turn from everything we've been through in the past three cycles? That you really want to return to that Peacekeeper life? And with Scorpius?! Never!"
Aeryn knew she had to convince him for good this time. It wasn't too late. She could still get him out of here. She just had to make him believe her, once and for all. So why did it feel so good that he hadn't believed her?
"How inspiring, Crichton." Aeryn immediately stiffened as her commanding officer walked across the room to stand next to her at the cell door. Crichton's skin crawled at the sound of Scorpius' voice. "Imagine, it only required three cycles to create a Peacekeeper with feelings. What a pity they've betrayed her at a most crucial moment."
Aeryn was too angry to be afraid. "The only betrayal here is yours, Scorpius. Let him go."
"Surely you're not that stupid, Aeryn, to think I'd let Crichton go yet again. I kept my word. He's the fool who keeps coming back to rescue you." Scorpius was once again very satisfied with himself. He'd achieved exactly what he'd wanted, without having to lift a finger. The Human was far too predictable.
Aeryn was beginning to run out of options. Her bluff was about to be called, and she knew it. "How, then, does that indicate betrayal on my part?"
"Very simple. You would choose your renegade friends over your renewed Peacekeeper duty. Disappointing, I must say, but not entirely unexpected."
Aeryn set her jaw and looked straight at Crichton, knowing full well what she had to do at this moment and already regretting it. "I have no intention of disavowing the Peacekeepers a second time. But I will fight you to the death if you harm Crichton."
"If a quick death is your desire, Officer Sun, I will most certainly comply."
"Can it, Scorpius. Just because I'm dumb enough to keep banging my head against this rock hard Peacekeeper wall doesn't mean Aeryn has to die for it. She's more valuable to you alive and you know it." Even Crichton couldn't believe how cool his own voice sounded.
"Calm yourself, John, this game of cat and mouse between Officer Sun and I has been more entertainment than I've enjoyed since I removed the chip from your surprisingly intricate little brain. For the moment, she's in no immediate danger."
Aeryn had no intention of playing Scorpius' game any longer. "Both of you, shut up." To her amazement, they did. She turned to Scorpius. "You want the truth? There are two John Crichtons. Ever hear of Karvok?" She saw recognition in Scorpius' eyes. "One Crichton is dead. Before his death, one of the Ancients...."
"Aeryn, don't do this," Crichton warned, but she didn't even take a breath.
"--unlocked the wormhole information in John's brain. There is no other way--only the Ancients have the key. John used a wormhole...."
"AERYN, NO!" Crichton couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"--to destroy a Scarren dreadnought that had downloaded Furlow's wormhole data from her research lab. If you want wormhole, you'd better stop wasting your time with this John Crichton." She glanced back at Crichton. "It's locked in his brain forever without the Ancients, and no one knows where they are now."
Aeryn truthfully answered the question she knew would be next. "I know that the Scarrens will eventually wage war on Sebaceans. I know they will destroy all other races unless they are stopped. Until the Scarrens are defeated, I will fight them. If that means chasing after the elusive wormhole technology, then I am bound to do what I can to help."
Scorpius grinned malevolently, but in a flash the coldness was gone from Aeryn's voice and eyes. Rage had replaced it. She glared at both of them.
"You listen to me, you fools, playing your games with the secrets of the universe as if you yourselves had created it! You both long to capture wormhole and use it for your own purposes, and yet neither one of you realize it has captured you. The power you seek will boil your blood and tear you limb from limb if you try to possess it!"
Aeryn stood toe to toe with Scorpius. "I warn you now, the day will come when your obsession will swallow you whole. On that day, if I am alive to see it, I will rejoice."
She looked back at Crichton, and was rewarded, at last, with the sting of her betrayal in his eyes. She turned and walked away from him, the staccato click of her boots echoing down the corridor.
He wondered if he had ever really known Aeryn Sun at all.
Prowlers lined Docking Bay 5, ready to embark on the regular reconnaissance run. As pilots manned their ships, one lost his temper with a tech, kicking him in the face as he climbed aboard. Without so much as a glance back, the pilot guided his prowler out of the bay into open space.
He never noticed the barely discernable distortion that hovered just beyond the bay doors. It moved slowly, like a mirage, slipping into the bay without a sound.
The Luxan warship maneuvered its way into an unused corner of the bay. The voices aboard were low.
"How long can we remain concealed, D'Argo? How long before we can get out of here and find Crichton?" Chiana had been nervously pestering the Luxan for details since he had picked them up from Talyn an arn earlier, after John had missed the rendezvous time.
D'Argo sighed. This was going from bad to worse. Actually, the worse had come and gone; all that was left was desperation. Now he was putting Chiana and Jool at risk, as well.
"We have to wait until the bay is empty. We won't be shrouded while the hatch is open, but as soon as it's sealed up again, no one will be able to tell it's here." D'Argo had been extraordinarily patient with her questions.
"You mean until someone walks into it, right?" Ever the pragmatist, that Jool.
"Quiet, Jool," answered D'Argo softly. "Let's just hope Aeryn's been doing what I think she's been doing, and that Crais has made himself useful. John, I'm sure, is sitting in a cell right now."
"If he's still alive, that is," Jool whispered solemnly.
Chiana shook her head, even though she'd had no precognition. It was more intuition. "He's alive, you guys. I know it."
The last tech left the bay. A loud whoosh, and the distortion became corporeal. The small group quickly exited from the hatch. With one touch of D'Argo's hand to the control panel, the ship instantly vanished again.
As she marched from the prison cells down the corridor, Aeryn fought with all her might to hold back the tears. Her course was set, and it was now or never. She'd worry about how she would accomplish her task when she got there.
So distracted by her inner turmoil, she never noticed the shadowed figure that hid in a side passageway until a hand grabbed her by the neck and pulled her in with him. "Who's the traitor now, Aeryn?" Crais whispered in her ear. In spite of his accusation, he released her neck and instead pressed a pulse pistol against her chest.
"I can't believe it. You and Crichton, working together?" Aeryn actually smiled.
"Desperate situations, Officer Sun. Where are you headed?"
The smile disappeared. "Wormhole Bay Laboratory. I'm going to finish what I came here for while I still have Scorpius' trust, as much as there is. How have you managed to elude capture?"
"I know this command carrier top to bottom, remember? How do you think Crichton made it as far as your quarters?" Crais grinned wryly. "D'Argo should be waiting in Docking Bay Five, unless he's given up on us. I have more weapons one level down. Come on."
They waited to make sure the corridor was empty, then stole their way down to Crais' stash of pulse pistols and rifles.
"Did you come ready for a war?" Aeryn asked incredulously. Crais laughed a short, cynical laugh. "Crichton always has had a flare for overdoing things, hasn't he?"
"Thank the goddess this time. We'll need all the help we can get." With that left-handed supplication, Aeryn and Crais set out to complete John Crichton's mission.
D'Argo rounded a corner and entered an empty corridor, two levels below Bay 5. Jool followed, with Chiana not far behind, watching their backs.
Aeryn and Crais lugged as much ammunition as they could carry with them up to the empty corridor they had left a few microts earlier.
As Aeryn rounded a corner she came face to face with D'Argo's Qualta blade. Frozen in place, all five renegades and allies studied each other for a few hesitant breaths. Then, D'Argo dropped the blade to his side. There was trust in his eyes when he spoke.
"It is good to see you again, Aeryn."
Chiana and Jool surfaced from behind him. Aeryn looked at all of them, and made the assumption about why they had come. "Crichton is just down this corridor and to the left...."
"We're here for you, too, Aeryn," Chiana said firmly. "We're leaving together--all of us."
Jool's curls bounced in agreement. "I for one refuse to take Crichton back unless you come too," she whined without apology. "He's driven us crazy. It's your turn to put up with him."
"One for all and--or--it is all for--Chiana, what is it he's always saying?" D'Argo affectionately misquoted the Human.
Aeryn swallowed hard. From the moment she'd stepped foot on Moya again, they had let her be. They hadn't demanded anything of her. But they wouldn't let go of her, either. Once again this odd mix of comrades, her loyal friends, were reaching out to where she was, to bring her back to them.
"Much as I hate to interrupt, this is hardly the place for a family reunion," Crais reminded them quietly. Chiana whispered, "Where do we go from here, Aeryn?"
Aeryn took a deep breath. "Go get Crichton. Crais, you go with them. Give me a quarter of an arn and I'll join you in Bay Five, and we'll get the frell out of here."
"We're not splitting up." A voice no one recognized came from behind D'Argo. They turned to see the pulse pistol dug into Jool's neck, her eyes bulging in fear. The tech didn't waste time.
"Where is Gilina?" he asked bluntly.
"Who the frell are you?" D'Argo growled quietly.
"I am Ephron Dayne, her...friend. Why isn't she with you?"
Aeryn offered the answer, gently. "Gilina was helping us escape from the Gammak Base when Scorpius shot her. She died shortly afterwards, aboard Moya."
Ephron's face crumpled in momentary grief. "Scorpius..." he breathed with contempt. "He has been the cause of more death and suffering than any crew could tolerate." His anger propelled him towards his goal. He looked up at the group. "Rebellion amongst the techs has been imminent for some time now. This can serve as the catalyst for a revolution."
The tech released Jool and handed the pulse pistol to D'Argo. He looked directly at Aeryn.
"Many cycles ago, Peacekeepers fought for justice. We were honorable once. I believe we must become so again. If you are the brave and noble person Gilina believed you to be, then I will pledge my allegiance to you, and fight with you."
Aeryn's eyes welled up once again, and she had to fight the tightening in her chest. "Don't pledge your allegiance to me, or to any person. Pledge yourself to that cause in which you believe. Then you will not fail."
Ephron nodded. "Come with me," he instructed. "There are over two hundred techs waiting to help you. And if you're planning what I think you are, you're going to need it."
Scorpius paced back and forth on Command. Where had Aeryn Sun hidden herself?
He hadn't heard one report of her since she'd made her dramatic exit from the prison. Extra guards were posted around Crichton, but there'd been various monitor failures on the levels immediately above and below Crichton's cell.
Seldom was Scorpius caught off guard, but her revelation in front of Crichton had renewed both his lust for investigating this new information and his tentative partnership with Aeryn. When she hadn't shown up anywhere, his suspicions grew.
Braca gloated, but inwardly only. He knew better than to vex Scorpius at this point. He indulged himself with a momentary picture of Aeryn Sun in chains, cowering in her cell while he stood over her, ėinterrogating' her as Crichton could only listen to her torture.
Braca's reverie was shattered by the loud whine of the ship's alarms. He scrambled to a control panel, then looked up at the screen.
Scorpius roared. "What is it?!"
Braca could scarcely get the words out. "A Scarren dreadnought, sir! Still two hundred thousand metras out, and I can't tell whether they've sensed us yet--but we read several scout ships have been deployed."
"Launch all the remaining prowlers except mine, Braca, immediately!" Scorpius commanded. The pilots ran to the docking bays, leaving fewer than half the officers aboard the carrier. Rarely had Scorpius ever made such a mistake.
He never saw his assailant coming from behind him until he felt the pulse pistol at his head and heard Crais' voice in his ear. "Old foes are truly the ones we remember best, are they not?"
Aeryn had hoped to reach the Wormhole Laboratory before the sound of pistol fire erupted in the corridors outside the bay, but it wasn't to be. Techs, she couldn't help thinking. Not exactly battle-trained, but still--not bad for beginners.
The guards in the lab had immediately sealed the security doors. Aeryn ducked and narrowly avoided pulse shots from three more Peacekeepers in the bay. Before she could return fire, five techs moving into the bay from the corridor took out the soldiers with deadly accuracy. ėApparently NOT beginners,' Aeryn surmised.
With the techs guarding her back, Aeryn darted to the lab doors, placed two explosives and ran for cover. Through the ensuing smoke and flames, Aeryn could see her handiwork had accomplished more than she'd hoped: all four guards and the lab workers were dead.
But the familiar sound of the ship's computer began the monotone message she'd not expected: "Countdown to self-destruct initiated. Evacuate immediately. Self-destruct will detonate in five hundred microts. Evacuate immediately."
Well, wasn't Scorpius a clever creature. This was quite a deterrent for would-be saboteurs.
Aeryn set four more explosives and sprinted out of the bay with the techs. The blast knocked her off her feet and momentarily dazed her. She looked back to see the last of the databanks engulfed in flames.
She closed her eyes and whispered softly, "For you, John."
Crichton paced back and forth in his cell. He knew something was up, something big. He muttered to himself. "Is this how it's supposed to end? With me hog-tied? Damn, I'd rather go out the way he went."
"Be careful what you wish for, Crichton." Aeryn's voice at the door halted his pacing. Before he saw her, the door swung open. He stepped out to join her while she watched for any remaining Peacekeepers. "Come on, you need to get out of here."
In spite of what he'd been wondering about her in the past arn, Crichton immediately followed her as she headed down the corridor. "What's with all the bells and whistles?"
"Scorpius had a self-destruct program installed in the Wormhole Lab, which I managed to initiate when I blew it up. Now I've got to...."
Crichton stopped her with a hand on her arm. He stared at her in shock. "You--you destroyed it? You did it--you did it!" Without even thinking, he grabbed Aeryn around her waist and swung her off her feet as his joyous laughter echoed around them. She had to fight the urge to laugh, too. How ridiculous! They were in horrendous danger! She shoved at him when he put her down.
"Stop it! We don't have time! I must get back to Command to stop the self-destruct. D'Argo's ship is in Docking Bay Five, two levels up and to the left. I want you out of here--now!"
"No way, baby--I'm not leaving here without you."
"Go now, John, please go!"
His breath caught. "John--you called me John."
She looked at him like she could smack him. "Haven't changed your name, have you?"
"But--John. Not Crichton." He knew the grin on his face was utterly stupid. He didn't care.
Aeryn's limited patience was slipping fast. "Get OUT of here NOW!"
But John's hope had gotten a needed shot in the arm. Still grinning, but with more force than before: "I'm not leaving without you."
Desperate to get him out of harms way, Aeryn's voice was low and shaky. "I chose this. I wanted this."
John shook his head. "No, you didn't. Maybe you thought this was all that was left for you, but you don't want this."
"You don't know that. You don't know WHAT I want any longer."
He hesitated, almost stumbling over the words. "I wasn't...sure. But I hoped."
There it was. He hadn't been sure of her. All the time they'd spent together, all the times they'd backed each other up, saved each other. She'd done her best to convince him, yes, but...still.
Then, in that same instant, realization of what his doubt meant. He hadn't been sure that the Peacekeeper in her was gone forever. Not sure of her loyalty. Not sure she could ever love him again. And yet, in spite of his doubts, here he was, risking everything again. For her.
Who was this man, that he could be so flawed and so magnificent in the same breath?
Her voice was soft. "You came for me anyway."
"I always will. You already know what it will take for me to leave you."
Instantly Aeryn was with him on his deathbed again, watching him leave her. Did Crichton want to torment her? She gritted her teeth, angry again. "I won't let that happen."
John knew how she hurt, and reproved himself for reminding her of it. But he also knew she had to let go.
"That implies more control than anyone ever has. Sometimes you get heads, sometimes...it's tails."
Her eyes glistened. "How can you live like that, accepting that happiness can be snatched away from you at any moment? Why would you want to?"
Good question. John recalled spending a lot of years hiding from exactly that kind of risk. She deserved an honest answer.
"You know, it's amazing Aeryn. I can't imagine my life now without you in it. That's what love does. It...compels us...to hope, to believe. No choice. It's simple, really. Being with you is worth everything, every risk. The question for you is...am I?"
As if on que, the alarms grew louder, and there was renewed pulse fire up ahead of them. A rumble shook deep within the ship. Aeryn took off for Command again, shouting to John as she ran. "Neither one of us will ėbe' anything if we don't get to Command. Come on!"
Crais and Ephron Dayne were working furiously on circuit panels, rerouting wires and checking thousands of possible passwords at light-speed. The self-destruct couldn't be accessed.
John and Aeryn had just entered Command when Chiana screeched, "What about that dreadnought?"
"WHAT dreadnought?!" they both shouted, unable to fathom that the situation could get worse.
Angus popped his head up from underneath another control panel. "Not to worry, it'll be gone in another microt or two."
The crew turned in unison to the screen, where the dreadnought's image was barreling down their throats. John gave an ėare you SURE?' side-glance back to the tech, who still grinned confidently. Sure enough, another microt, and the dreadnought vanished completely from the screen.
"Cool, dude. Now, somebody want to bring us up to speed?" John requested as calmly as he could.
Nearly panicked, Ephron shouted, "Angus! See if you can access the Wormhole Project on the second set of data chips--hurry!"
Angus' smile vanished. "I don't have the code--I'm not on the project, Ephron, you know that!"
"Try, anyway!" Ephron gritted out.
Zandran and at least fifteen more techs burst into Command, shouting of their victory. "We've done it! The rest of the soldiers are being taken to the prison cells now! We've won!"
But the warnings grew louder, blaring the same message: "Self-destruct will detonate in seventy-five microts. Evacuate immediately."
Dumb-founded, Zandran looked at Ephron. "You mean...you mean the self-destruct is REAL?"
Aeryn glanced around Command. She yelled at D'Argo, "Where's Scorpius?"
Crais and D'Argo looked towards the pillar where they'd chained Scorpius, his cooling rods removed to keep him subdued. The chains were melted, enough for him to break free and slither away unnoticed in the battle that had ensued.
D'Argo DID growl then: "JOOL!" All the Interon could do was bite her lip while Chiana swatted at her.
Braca lay wounded, unable to fight, face down on the floor next to Scorpius' empty chains. D'Argo pounced on him, turning him over and shoving a pistol into his temple. "Your ėdaddy' forgot to take you with him when he crawled away like the coward he is. Give me the Wormhole Project code, or you'll wish you were dead already!"
Braca only laughed, then choked as he gasped his last breath.
Chiana grabbed D'Argo's sleeve. "We've got to get out of here, now!"
Aeryn shouted above the alarms. "There are more than two hundred techs aboard this carrier. We can't abandon them!"
"But we can't save everyone--this ship is gonna blow in fifty microts!"
Aeryn looked to John for help, and froze.
John stood in a trance, his eyes fixed on a distant vision. Aeryn knew immediately what he was doing. All she could think of was how much he hated that clone, and how much she loved him at that moment.
John drifted into the hypnosis that would allow his demon to draw forth. "Harvey, unless you want to say your final prayers in Purgatory, you'd better show yourself. Come on, Harv, front and center!"
"Yes, John, I'm here. I just wanted to see how desperate you'd get before you realized you needed me, after all. I was starting to feel a little taken for granted."
"Yeah, well, seeing as how survival is the name of your game, maybe you shouldn't wait for the chocolates and roses before you give me the code we need to stop self-destruct."
"You know, John, you're not much fun at all anymore. Try Relani."
John shouted the word as soon as Harvey said it. Crais looked at him, confused, but Aeryn instinctively went to the panel and entered the name. Instantly, the data was accessed.
With the countdown relentlessly marching on, Aeryn searched frantically for the self-destruct sequence,
found the deactivation code,
"....will detonate in...."
and punched it into the databank with five microts left. The alarms stopped, but they all held their breath until they heard the drone of the computer voice again: "Self-destruct has been terminated."
A roar of celebration broke out across Command. Chiana squealed with joy, this time hugging Jool, who looked like she would faint.
But Crais picked up the empty chains and waved an arm to quiet the crowd. "We MUST find Scorpius!"
Chiana stilled, her smile fading. "He's taken the last prowler. Crais, where was Talyn supposed to wait for us?"
Talyn could sense being boarded, but he knew it wasn't Crais. A Peacekeeper, yes, but something else, also. He began to panic.
Moya had starburst only the minimum distance from the carrier. The shrill call for help from her offspring brought her back within microts, but she found only empty space from where Talyn's cry had come.
Pilot commed D'Argo. Scorpius had wounded the Leviathan gunship, dismantled some of his control capabilities and starburst out of range.
Scorpius was now in control of Talyn.
For the first time, the Peacekeeper Command Carrier and the Leviathan Moya shared the same space as allies rather than adversaries. Fugitive allies, being hunted by Peacekeeper High Command, but allies none the less.
The prowlers had been allowed to return to the carrier, but the few pilots who had survived the battle in the docking bays were immediately imprisoned.
Crais had, of course, ėrequested' command of the carrier after agreeing to share authority with the Tech leadership, especially when he realized he was completely outnumbered.
"I understand you have your own agenda," Crais assured the Tech Council. He was becoming a proficient diplomat. "But you must also understand, finding Talyn and freeing him from Scorpius is my highest priority."
The Tech Council had only begun to adjust to their new freedom and autonomy, and weren't about to let a former Peacekeeper captain make their decisions for them.
"Only because we also have a vested interest in stopping Scorpius from obtaining the power that would come with wormhole technology, we will agree to search for him," one of the council leaders pronounced. "However our ultimate goal is not to hide forever from High Command, but to build a legion of Peacekeepers dedicated to reformation."
Crais scoffed, tactfully, at the absurdity of their quest. "Commendable as your goal may be, one carrier cannot defeat the entire fleet. You cannot force the issue, and even if such a rebellion were to take place on every carrier, High Command will never be persuaded to join hands in an alliance with an army of techs."
Ephron Dayne was not deterred by Crais' skepticism of the council's vision. "Captain, you yourself are proof that anything is possible," the Tech leader reminded Crais, who took the back handed compliment in stride.
John had stood silently shaking his head at the coalition being formed between Crais and the techs. Aeryn's pulse raced faster when he leaned in to whisper in her ear.
"This is a bad move, handing the carrier back to Crais. You sure trust him more than I ever will."
"Fine," Aeryn had patronized him. "You stay on board with him. I'm going home to Moya. She's leaving to find Talyn with or without us, so you'd better make up your mind quickly."
John smiled spontaneously at her slip. "Home?" he'd repeated. Aeryn was more surprised than John when she realized what she'd said, but she didn't try to deny it.
An arn later, the crew was back on Moya, with Rygel pompously berating them for taking so long. Pilot plotted a course for Dambada. Aeryn was convinced that would be the first place Scorpius would head--to find Furlow.
But while Moya waited impatiently for starburst capacity, Aeryn took the time to gather her bearings. She knew it was her fault that Talyn was in Scorpius' hands. He would never have tried to board Talyn if she hadn't revealed the young Leviathan's vulnerability. She headed for the terrace.
When the door swung open, she hesitated. John turned to face her, as though he'd been waiting for her. As much as Aeryn wanted to turn and run, she forced herself to walk past him, looking up at the sea of lights above their heads.
They stood there, silent, for a long time. Eventually, John moved to stand next to her. His shoulder brushed hers.
He cleared his throat nervously. Aeryn couldn't help smiling, but turned away so he wouldn't see.
"You know, umm...you never...answered my question."
Aeryn gave him a puzzled look. "What question?"
He looked down at his boots. "The one I asked you on the carrier, after you came for me." He forced himself to look in her eyes. "Am I worth the risk?"
Ah, yes. He'd said it was ėsimple'. Simple, perhaps, but not easy. Her eyes fell from his gaze. "What does the name Relani mean to Scorpius?"
John allowed her the momentary dodge. "It was his mother's name," he replied. He contemplated on what Harvey had shared with him about Scorpius' past. "A son's devotion. Go figure," he mused, shaking his head in amazement.
Aeryn only nodded in agreement, thinking of her own mother. Xhalax hadn't failed Aeryn. She'd once given her little girl hope in a world where there was none to be found. No wonder Aeryn loved John Crichton. That man lived and breathed hope.
That man...John Crichton...lived. And he had taught Aeryn Sun how to hope.
But the first steps back from an abyss are the hardest. She couldn't even look at him as she spoke from her heart.
"John, listen to me very carefully. I don't know that I can be who you want...give you what you want. I don't know if I can...love...anyone--you--that much." She struggled in her attempt to explain to him how lost she'd been. She glanced at him and was instantly sorry. Why must his pain be hers, as well?
How could she tell him that John had brought her more happiness than she'd ever known? How could she tell him that part of her had died with John?
She settled for the words that had been the mantra of every Peacekeeper soldier for hundred of cycles. "I'm...afraid. And fear means weakness, failure...death."
Fortunately, John had never been a Peacekeeper soldier. He raised his brows. He was gentle, but there was no way he was letting her off the hook with THAT old line. "You really think that Peacekeeper propaganda crap is gonna keep you from becoming the person you're destined to be?"
Immediately, Aeryn bristled. "And what is that, Crichton? What grand and glorious future do you see for Aeryn Sun? To save the universe at your side, forever getting our asses kicked from one frelling planet to the next, always waiting for the moment when...." She hesitated to even say it. Her eyes reflected the pain she'd borne. "...when your luck runs out and I'm again left to wonder what I'm to do without you?"
John softened, reminded of what she'd lost. What she was afraid of losing again. He reached out, tentative at first, and stroked her hair. "Plan A. Plan A's been a helluva ride. Brought John Crichton to Aeryn Sun, where he belongs."
Would he never give up? No, of course not, she marveled. He was right, whether she wanted him to be or not. She belonged with him, too. She knew it. And yet....
"Got him killed, too."
His hand moved from her hair to her cheek, caressing lightly. Her eyes closed. How could a touch feel so good? And the sound of his voice, full of love but tinged with laughter.
"Plan B: let's see, find a Sebacean colony, or a wormhole--oops! Sorry, bad word! Uh, somehow find Earth, settle down, make babies, get fat and lazy...."
She feigned outrage. "You may get fat, Crichton! YOU! Don't go THERE again!"
Oh, God! She didn't say no! His heart soared. "OK, OK, I'll get fat, you'll keep kickin' MY ass, we'll end up a couple of old geezers, gardening or some such other rot. Don't you get it? I don't care what we do. Let's do it together. Would that be so terrible?"
For as long as she lived, Aeryn would never be able to fathom the depths to which John could reach her. She'd gone as far away from him and as deep into herself as she possibly could, and yet, here he was, coaxing her out onto that shaky limb she had already fallen from.
"So we are destined to spend our lives together, however long we have. Is that my only purpose? To live for John Crichton?" The question was pointed, but delivered with tenderness and warmth.
He wasn't quite sure how to answer her. He didn't have the answer himself. How do you love someone with everything you have without losing yourself in the process? John only knew that the strength to trust love again had to come from inside, and Aeryn was just beginning to find it.
"Don't live for me, Aeryn. Just love me. Let me love you, when you're ready. Why is that so impossible?"
Why, indeed, was that so impossible? Because fate wouldn't allow it? She looked away from him, towards the vast expanse of space that surrounded them. She spotted a central, bright star that held its planets in alignment around it. Still not looking at him, she whispered, "You are a dreamer, John Crichton."
John didn't take his eyes from her. He didn't need to look up at that star. When she turned again to look in his eyes, she was smiling, softly. Her voice held no fear in it when she spoke.
"And so, it would seem, is Aeryn Sun."