Rating: PG-13 for bits of gore & rough language
Setting: Soon after Chiana arrives -- just before "Through the Looking Glass"
Spoilers: minor ones for "PK Tech Girl," "Durka Returns," "Crackers Don't Matter," "The Flax," "Premiere"
Disclaimer: Farscape belongs to other people. I'm doing this for fun, not profit.
Notes:áThis story was originally going to include Durka, but "Liars, Guns & Money" put an end to that plotline.áServes me right for not writing this up in October. The basic idea for this story first came to me over a year ago. I'd given up ever actually writing it, but then this opportunity presented itself. The title, of course, is a play on the name of my other favorite brunette mayhem machine, AEon Flux.
Thanks to: Janet DeClute for beta reading
Feedback: Yes, please! Do I have to beg?
Archiving: If you want it please e-mail me for permission first.
But still the warmth flows through me
And I sense you know me well
No luck, no golden chances
No mitigating circumstances now
It's only common sense
There are no accidents 'round here
I am willing -- lay your hands on me
I am ready -- lay your hands on me
I believe -- lay your hands on me
Peter Gabriel "Lay Your Hands on Me"
Aeryn Sun surveyed the scene before her. "Like the Khan al-Khalili market in Cairo," Crichton had said. "Only bigger, dirtier and on acid."
Whatever the frell that all means... Her attention was drawn to the black and white form sneaking around in a nearby stall. She went over and forcibly removed Chiana from whatever it was she was up to.
"I can't believe I got stuck keeping an eye on you," Aeryn complained as she started to move through the bazaar once again.
"I'm not thrilled about it, either," the young Nebari woman responded sourly. "But lighten up. It's not like I was going to snurch anything."
"Right. That's what you said at the last commerce planet... and Crichton was gullible enough to believe you," Aeryn said with exasperation at the thought of the human's seemingly unending naivetÚ. "If D'Argo hadn't been there, who knows what it would have taken to straighten out the mess you caused. Sometimes I wonder why he bothered."
"Well, if you're all so concerned about me getting into trouble, why didn't you just let me stay on Moya this time?"
"Leave you up there all alone? Not even Crichton's that stupid."
"I don't get you. You're always talking him down. I mean, you do like him, don't you?"
Aeryn hesitated a moment and then said, "For a primitive, he has proven himself a worthy shipmate."
Chiana had long since noticed the uneasiness that crept into the Sebacean's demeanor whenever the conversation turned to John. She decided that since Aeryn was being such a pain she wasn't going to let an opportunity to ride her a little slip by.
"You just like him as a shipmate. Uh-huh, suuuure."
She smiled inwardly as Aeryn appeared to get angry and embarrassed simultaneously.
"My relationship with John is none of your business."
"Oh, so now it's a relationship," she replied with a sly smirk. She noticed something in a stall they were passing. "Here, Aeryn, this is just your style -- black leather. I'd wager John would find you very fetching in it."
Suddenly she felt the barrel of Aeryn's pulse rifle jammed under her jaw.
"That's enough!" the former Peacekeeper barked. Frelling brat. We should have let the Nebari have her.
"Sorry," Chiana pouted. "I didn't mean to upset you." Yeah, right. "I was just having a little fun."
"Find your amusement some other way," Aeryn said coldly as she lowered her weapon. "Now come on. We've got things to buy."
Gods, this bitch needs to loosen up, Chiana thought as she rubbed her throat. A good frell might help, but I can see why John's so hesitant.
They worked their way through the market in silence for a while. Eventually Chiana observed, "Do you notice anything odd about the natives?"
"No, just that they come in two varieties -- tall and short. What of it?"
"The tall ones all look well-to-do while the short ones all look poor."
"So there's species-specific economic stratification."
"Trust a Sebacean not to find anything wrong with that. But then I suppose a 'superior being' like you has never been on the wrong end of things in your life."
Chiana was taken aback when Aeryn looked momentarily stricken. "If that were true I wouldn't be here now," the ex-Officer said somberly.
"I'm sorry," Chiana responded, meaning it this time. "That wasn't very considerate of me."
"True, but you're right about Sebacean arrogance. Mine still rears its ugly head from time to time."
Chiana was surprised at Aeryn's unusual candor. "Yeah, well, we Nebari won't let you Sebs corner the arrogance market just yet," she said with a smile and was gladdened when Aeryn returned it.
They turned a corner and, for very different reasons, both gasped.
"Fotok," Aeryn whispered as she pulled Chiana to one side to let the three towering, amorphous black forms pass, just like everyone else did.
"Don't tell me they frighten you," Chiana remarked.
Aeryn glared at her again. "Don't be ridiculous. But, they are... unnerving... especially in those all-concealing get-ups they wear."
"Yeah, I suppose they are," Chiana answered somewhat dreamily.
What's with her? Aeryn wondered as she noted the odd look on Chiana's face. It was somewhere between wistful and overtly wanton. She started to walk away but then saw that Chiana was still watching the Fotok as they receded into the crowd. "Come on," she said testily, again grabbing the younger woman by the arm. "Snap out of it."
"What was that about?" she asked a minute later.
"What?" Chiana replied.
"You and the Fotok."
"Oh. Um... nothing."
"Haven't you ever seen one of them before?"
"I... I don't want to talk about it."
"They didn't hurt you at some point, did they? I know they're pretty xenophobic."
"I said I don't want to talk about it!"
"Suit yourself," Aeryn responded disinterestedly just as her comm badge beeped.
"Aeryn," said D'Argo's disembodied voice.
"Yes, we're here."
"The four of us will be making our way back to the transport soon. I suggest you complete your tasks as quickly as you can. We've just learned that this place is in the middle of a war zone."
"A war zone?" asked Chiana with alarm.
"Yes," replied D'Argo. "One of the shopkeepers we were dealing with told us it's some sort of guerilla conflict."
"Let me guess," said Chiana. "It wouldn't have something to do with the differences between the two native populations, now, would it?"
"That's it exactly," came John's voice. "Seems they've got their own little apartheid system here."
Aeryn and Chiana exchanged puzzled glances. Apartheid? What the frell is that? they both thought.
"I still haven't found any of the spare parts I'm looking for," Aeryn told them. "I'm beginning to think that we just won't be able to get them here, but I want to keep searching a while longer."
"Very well, Aeryn," said Zhaan. "But try not to tarry. It's quiet now but that apparently could change at any moment."
As the circuit closed Aeryn turned to Chiana. "Come on, we'd better get moving."
I'm not sticking around if I can help it, thought Chiana.
"Maybe I should just head back to the transport. If there's any trouble I'll probably just get in your way."
"Probably, but if we find what we're looking for I'm going to need your help to carry it all back."
Damn, they both thought.
"Don't worry," Aeryn said. "It's unlikely that anything will happen; but if it does, I'll look after you."
"I can look after myself," Chiana shot back.
"Seen much combat in your life?"
She's got a point, Chiana thought.
"Um... No, not really. Unlike you, I try to avoid situations where I might get killed."
Aeryn snorted derisively and they resumed searching.
Some time later, after fruitlessly trying to get a lead from yet another merchant, Aeryn emerged from a stall to find Chiana actually talking to two Fotok. She was even more surprised when it sounded to her as if Chiana was singing now and again as she talked.
"I can't believe you had the mivonks to do that," she told the younger woman as the Fotok went on their way.
"I just thought that if anyone knew where in this market we might be able to get spare parts for your Prowler, it would be them."
"And did they?"
"No, but they did say that one of them might have some that would do. They apparently have a trading post here and told me to come there tonight."
"I don't think it's wise for us to stay here that long."
"Actually, you're not invited - only me."
"Oh, lovely. Do you have the faintest idea what I need?"
"No, but I'm sure we'll figure something out."
"And what makes you so special that they'll deal with you and not me?"
"I guess I'm just that kind of girl," Chiana answered with her characteristic short laugh and quick tilt of her head.
"I bet you are," said Aeryn acerbically.
"Hey! I don't talk about you..."
Several shrill whistles filled the air. "Get down!" Aeryn shouted as she pushed Chiana to the ground and fell heavily on top of her.
Several explosions rent the market. Luckily, none of them were close enough to do the two women harm, and they only sent clouds of dust swirling over the pair.
"Uck!" Chiana spat as she tried to clear the debris from her mouth. "And, by the way... you can get off me now!"
"You're welcome," Aeryn said as she got up.
Only then did it occur to the Nebari that Aeryn had shielded her with her own body.
"I'm not used to someone doing something like that for me," she said, chastened. "Thanks."
Aeryn offered her a hand up. "Don't read too much into it. It was simply a training reflex."
"What were those things, anyway?"
"Mortars. I expect we'll have more soon."
John's anxious voice came over their comm links. "Aeryn! Chiana! Are you alright?"
"Yes, Crichton, we're fine," Aeryn informed him. "Just a little dusty."
"Where are you? We're all here at the pod ready to get the hell out."
Aeryn and Chiana both dived down again as a second round of shells arrived.
"We're all the way across the market from you," Aeryn said as the dust and fleeing crowds churned around them. "The shells are landing between us. It's too dangerous for Chiana and me to try to get there. Take off and we'll signal you when things settle down."
"We are not leaving you," came D'Argo's gruff voice.
"Look, we can't get to you. There's no point in putting us all at risk needlessly by having you wait there for this to blow over."
"Very well," D'Argo answered, seeing Aeryn's cold but correct logic. "We will come as soon as you call. Good luck."
"Oh, that's just drad," said Chiana sarcastically.
"You did want to stay 'til tonight, remember? Looks like you may have just gotten your wish."
Staying low, they made their way out of the marketplace, as it seemed to be the focal point of the attack. As they wound their way through the maze of streets, stalls and carts, they soon heard small arms fire amid the continuing mortar bursts.
"What do you think we should do?" asked Chiana as Aeryn ducked them into a dark and narrow alley off a small side street.
"Exactly what we're doing now. Get as far from the fighting as we can and find somewhere to lie low."
"Do you think it will last long?"
"Who can say? This might just be a raid of some sort or it might be something more sustained. Given that it's starting to get dark, I think we might not find out until tomorrow morning."
"Stay here all night?" Chiana asked uneasily. "Can't we try to get back to the landing pads?"
"If you want to walk through an unfamiliar free-fire zone, in the dark, in a conflict we have no stake in, be my guest. Circling 'round probably would take us all night, and we still wouldn't know what we'd be facing on the way. And even if we could make it to the pads safely there's no guarantee that a transport pod would be anything other than an easy target. The most prudent course of action is to find a quiet spot and sit tight," Aeryn concluded as she sat down.
"You think this will do?" Chiana asked as her eyes scanned the tall, black stone walls.
"At least for now," Aeryn answered as she motioned for Chiana to sit next to her. After she was settled, Aeryn continued, "So, tell me, what were you doing singing to that pair of Fotok?"
"Their language is tonal. I've picked up a few words."
"When did you get the chance to do that?"
"How many times do I have to tell you? I don't want to talk about it! It's none of your business anyway."
"Did they hurt you?" Aeryn persisted.
That depends on your point of view.
Chiana could see that Aeryn appeared genuinely concerned, but she just shook her head and said, "I can't tell you about it."
Silence again descended between them. After a while, Aeryn said, "You handled yourself well out there."
"I'm an expert at cowering when necessary."
"You should give yourself more credit than that. Ducking down and using cover to lower your profile when under fire is not 'cowering.' It's just common sense. You saw that most people just panic and run. They're the ones who stand to get hurt. You didn't do that, even though you're unarmed and untrained. That shows courage and a cool head."
"How much guts do I need when I have you to look after me? You're more than brave enough for both of us." You hardly know me and don't like me, yet you didn't leave me to fend for myself. I would have if I were you, Chiana added to herself.
Just then they heard more gunfire, except that it was much closer this time. Chiana jumped nervously and scooted close to Aeryn. Almost immediately a nearby explosion shook the alley, causing Chiana to yelp and clutch hold of the Sebacean. "See, I told you I was a coward."
"You think I'm not afraid?" Aeryn asked. "Believe me, I am. It's the natural reaction. I'm just conditioned not to show it or act blindly on it. I'm also simply more used to this sort of thing than you are."
"You've also got a pulse rifle and a blaster."
"Yes, those help too," Aeryn added with a smile.
"Should we move on?"
"Let's stay here for now and see if the fighting moves on first."
They sat in silence as darkness descended. At times it was quiet, but they still frequently heard shots and explosions, sometimes quite close by. Aeryn took the opportunity to contact Moya a couple times to let everyone know they were both still in one piece.
Eventually Chiana asked, "Do you want me to go see about the parts?"
"No, that would mean heading back towards the market. It's too dangerous."
They continued to sit. Presently it began to rain mistily.
"Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse," Chiana groused with a shiver.
"I'll have to tell Crichton I've had to rethink my attitude towards rain. This dren is frelling cold."
Chiana suddenly put her hand up to Aeryn's mouth to quiet her. "I thought I heard something," she whispered.
A large dark shape appeared in the entrance to the alley. Aeryn instantly sprang to her feet and raised her pulse rifle. "Halt and identify yourself!" she shouted authoritatively.
"That weapon will have no effect on me," came the metallic and otherwise-obviously-synthetic voice.
Chiana motioned for Aeryn to lower her rifle. "It's a Fotok." With its Garment in full tactical mode, she added to herself, as she noted the indistinct outlines of the Garment's defensive shielding.
Aeryn was unmoved. "State your business!" she snapped.
"It was you who had business with us."
"Are things so unprofitable here that you have to go out in the middle of a battle to hunt down potential customers?" Aeryn asked disbelievingly.
"It is not you or your wants we are concerned about, but your companion. We only desire for her to be safe."
Aeryn looked doubtfully at Chiana, who could only shrug her shoulders. "It's a long story," she said meekly. Which I can't tell you, anyway.
"Come with me," said the Fotok. "We have a sizeable bunker under our trading post that is secure during attacks such as this."
"Excellent!" Chiana said with obvious relief.
As they began to exit the alley the Fotok turned to Aeryn. "You will have to fend for yourself. We will not have anything to do with you."
"What?" Chiana exclaimed. "No way!" She didn't abandon me - I'm not abandoning her.
"It's alright, Chiana. I'll manage."
"Forget it! You're just as cold and wet as I am." She looked up at the Fotok sternly. "I'm not leaving her out here alone! Either she comes with us or you go back without me. Try explaining that to your Lord!"
So, she's not completely self-centered, thought Aeryn.
The Fotok considered for a moment. "Her kind are known for their savagery. Will you vouch for her behavior?"
"Of course. I trust her with my life," Chiana said to Aeryn's further surprise.
"If she should cause any of us to come to harm, that harm will be visited on you both tenfold."
"Don't worry. She won't hurt anyone unless you give her reason to, and then it's you who'll be sorry."
"Can she be counted on not to reveal what she might see?"
"Just as much as I can."
And how much is that? Aeryn couldn't help wondering, before realizing that she probably just had glimpsed the motivation for Chiana's tight-lipped behavior. Who'd have thought the little thief could keep promises or someone else's secrets?
"Very well, then," the Fotok said. "Follow me."
"And just how did it find us?" Aeryn whispered to Chiana as they trailed behind the Fotok. "Between the rain and everything else, a Vorcarion Blood-Tracker wouldn't have located us so quickly without some serious luck."
"They evolved from predators too. They have a very good sensory arsenal," Chiana quietly replied.
The Fotok led them through a warren of dark side streets, stopping occasionally when it seemed the fighting was getting too near. Eventually they ended up in front of a heavy wooden door at the bottom of a short flight of stone stairs.
"You will have to stay here for a moment while I tell the others they must prepare themselves for an unexpected guest," the Fotok told them.
"What did it mean by 'prepare themselves'?" Aeryn asked after it left.
"With you around they'll probably want to put their Garments back on."
"You mean that they go around naked when they're among only their own kind?"
Chiana laughed. "No, they call that black thing they wear the 'Garment Worn Among Infidels.' They have this hang-up about not being seen by outsiders."
"No kidding," Aeryn said drolly as she touched her comm badge to inform Moya of their new situation.
Eventually the door reopened. "This way," said the Fotok.
They were led down a further, longer flight of stairs into an area Aeryn recognized as clearly having been fortified to some extent. At the bottom a short hallway opened into a large, well-lit common room with about a dozen black-shrouded Fotok in it.
"This is the Nebari?" asked one of them.
"Yes, Lord. Her name is Chiana. She told two of us earlier today of her place among us. She also asked about obtaining some minor spacecraft parts."
"And the Sebacean?"
"She's Aeryn, one of my traveling companions," Chiana answered. "We got separated from the others when the fighting broke out. They went back to our ship and are waiting for things to quiet down so they can come get us."
"So, she only requires short-term shelter," replied the Lord. "As she is with you, that is acceptable to us. You, of course, are welcome for as long as you wish to be."
Another Fotok entered the room. "We have prepared something to relieve your chill. Please come this way."
They turned to leave. "Your weapons stay here with us," said the Lord.
Aeryn looked askance at Chiana, who nodded. "Very well," she said as she laid them on a table. She gave Chiana another questioning glance when the Nebari added her gloves to the pile.
"They find gloves insulting," Chiana told her.
They were led into an adjoining room containing little more than a large round wooden tub. Aeryn smiled broadly when she saw the steam rising from the water in it.
"We thought you might like a hot bath," the Fotok told them. "We will also bring you something to wear while your own clothes dry; and then I would imagine you'd like something to eat."
"Thank you," Aeryn told it. "I never would have guessed Fotok could be so hospitable."
"You have your friend to thank for that," it said as it departed.
Aeryn immediately began removing her shirt.
"Hey! Who said you could go first?" asked Chiana sharply.
"That tub's obviously made for Fotok. There's easily enough room for both of us."
Chiana was taken aback. "Both of us?"
"You suddenly modest?"
"Well... I do hardly know you," Chiana said sheepishly. "But I suppose you military types don't have much use for privacy, do you?"
"Use for it - yes. Expectations of it - no," Aeryn said as she stepped into the tub. "Ahhhh... This is wonderful," she added as she settled into it. "Aren't you going to join me?"
She watched in amusement as Chiana hurriedly peeled off her sopping clothes and then quickly jumped into the water, sinking in up to her chin. "What's so funny?" she asked peevishly, seeing Aeryn's grin.
"It's all a put on, isn't it?"
"Your incessant vamping."
"That's not what you implied about me earlier today," Chiana reminded her pointedly.
"I'd never shared a bath with you before."
"Yeah, I suppose this is the first time we've had any quality time alone together. It would be a shame if we didn't take full advantage of it," Chiana said with a salacious look as she slid towards Aeryn.
The Sebacean hastily moved away from her. "Alright, maybe I was wrong."
They both laughed.
"To survive on my own I've had to learn to use my feminine wiles, and, unlike you, they're usually the only weapons I carry," Chiana said frankly. "And, I may be free, but I'm not easy," she added with a renewed smile.
"In the Peacekeepers overt behavior like yours is absolutely forbidden. It's a life where you learn early on to hide your feelings or simply avoid having any." Except for Velorek... and look what I did to him.
"No wonder you're so cold, then."
"What do you mean by that?" Aeryn asked sharply, anger flaring.
"Just the way you treat poor Crichton."
"And just how do I treat 'poor Crichton?'"
"Like he means nothing to you."
He's safer that way, Aeryn thought.
"You're living such a lie," Chiana continued. "I can tell how you feel about him."
"And just how can you tell?"
The Nebari tapped the side of her nose. "I can smell it. But maybe I'm giving you too hard a time, since I also get the feeling that something happened when you went down that 'wormhole' after him."
Aeryn's thoughts momentarily went back to the 'safe house' in 'Australia.' "Well, you're wrong. Nothing happened between us," she lied unconvincingly.
Before Chiana could answer a Fotok entered the room. "Here are some towels and clothes for you. I doubt they'll fit you well, but it was the best we could do."
"I'm sure they'll be fine," Aeryn said. "They are dry, after all."
The Fotok gathered up their wet things. "I am also sorry that we don't have a Garment suitable for you at the moment, Chiana." It turned to leave. "I will see to getting these dried."
"Thank you again for everything."
"Do not thank me, Sebacean," the Fotok said as it walked out the door.
"I know. I know," said Aeryn quietly. "Thank my 'friend.'" She regarded Chiana once more. "Now can you finally tell me what it is with you and them?"
Chiana just shook her head.
"It must have really been something. It's a pity Rygel's not here. They're treating you like frelling royalty."
"His titles would mean nothing to them, and I don't think he'd like being lumped in with you."
They both chuckled again.
"You should laugh more, Aeryn. You're really beautiful when you smile."
Aeryn looked down and, to Chiana's surprise, managed a blush even in the steaming water. Chiana moved over to her and lifted Aeryn's chin up so that they were looking squarely at each other. Aeryn's eyes were gleaming.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing. It's just that no one has ever called me that before."
Then someone should kick Crichton's sorry ass for not having told you...
"Well, I mean it. You're beautiful. I don't understand why you do so much to hide it."
"Probably for the same reason you're always such a tease," Aeryn replied as she turned her head away.
"You mean as a defensive reaction."
"Exactly. Being purposefully attractive isn't something that Peacekeepers are allowed to do. It creates 'problems' in the ranks. Women, in particular, are expected to always be professional, so we tend to close off that part of ourselves."
"But you're not a Peacekeeper anymore. You can stop repressing yourself."
"Old habits die hard."
"But what about just smiling more? Every little bit helps."
"Lately I don't feel like I have much to be happy about."
"Not even John?"
The sides of Aeryn's mouth curved up slightly. "It's like you've got two different people inside you, Chiana."
"At least! Don't you?"
"I didn't used to think so. Now, I'm not so sure."
"Well, let's see," said Chiana mischievously. "There's the trigger-happy, bad-ass Peacekeeper... the beautiful, repressed, sexual dynamo..."
"And the domineering, cold-hearted, arrogant bitch," she added splashing water at Aeryn playfully.
"Loud-mouthed brat!" retorted Aeryn with a splash of her own.
"Bitch!" Chiana repeated with another splash.
By now the water was flying furiously and both women were laughing and shrieking hysterically.
"I'm glad to see you are enjoying yourselves," said a Fotok as it came through the doorway, causing Chiana and Aeryn's play to come to a sudden halt. "The traders you wanted to see have just arrived," it informed them. "They will be here presently," it added and then left.
"I suppose that means we should get dressed," an abruptly sober Aeryn observed.
"I'm still enjoying this. They won't mind if we stay right here."
"Whatever you say," Aeryn answered skeptically. "But I'm getting out," she added as she stepped from the tub and retrieved a towel.
Soon another Fotok entered. It came up to the tub and, to their surprise, pushed back the hood of its Garment. "Hello, Chiana," it said.
Aeryn gasped. She couldn't believe the musical beauty of its natural voice. She was also startled by its large, black, wedge-shaped head and gray face, as they reminded her for an instant of the accursed Namtar. That parallel was quickly shattered, however, when she noted the Fotok's large, glittering silver eyes and its complete lack of a nose.
"Hamarr!" Chiana cried as she leapt from the water and threw her dripping arms around their visitor's waist. "I can't believe it's you!"
"We were in a nearby town doing some business when we were informed that someone was looking for goods we might have."
"And you came here in the middle of a battle just for that?"
"No, but when we found out it was you who was looking, nothing could have kept us away."
"Yes, us," said another Fotok as it came into the room and took off its hood to reveal its green and gray features.
"Lord Riit," said Chiana in a breathy croon.
"Hello, my dear. I see you are looking well."
"Um... Yeah, I guess I am," she replied, suddenly once again obviously uncomfortable with her nudity.
"But if you stand around like that I doubt you'll stay that way."
She quickly wrapped herself in a towel and came over to him. She reached up and, with a noticeable shudder, ran her hand down the side of his face. "I've missed you so much."
"And I you."
Chiana turned towards her slack-jawed companion. "This is one of my new shipmates, Aeryn. She's the one who's looking for the parts."
"Hello, Aeryn. I see you have been taking good care of Chiana. Thank you."
"You're welcome," she managed to answer. "She was in a lot of trouble when we ran into her."
"Yes, I know." He turned back to the Nebari. "How did you get away from Salis this time?"
"How did you find out about that?" Chiana asked in surprise.
"We were contacted by a Nebari host vessel when his transport failed to make its rendezvous with them. We feared you were dead."
"I nearly was. Salis is."
"I should have anticipated that they would track our vessel while you were on board," said Riit guiltily. "But I thought you would be safe once we were out of Nebari space."
"I guess we both underestimated just how much they wanted me."
And someday we're going to have to find out exactly why, thought Aeryn. There's got to be far more to it than she's letting on, otherwise she's not worth the trouble they've gone to about her.
"Fortunately, you are free now," Riit said.
He turned back to Aeryn. "So, tell us, what sort of parts are you trying to find?"
Chiana looked at her shipmate with alarm. She was swaying slightly and her eyes had a glazed appearance.
"I see no one instructed her about the Impermissibles," observed Riit as he turned his head away and pulled his hood back on. Hamarr did likewise.
"I guess no one thought she'd be seeing you without your Garments all the way on," replied Chiana as she gave Aeryn's arm a gentle shake. The Sebacean shook her head and looked around anxiously.
"Wh... what happened?"
"I should have told you. Don't look them in the eye."
"But I saw you look at them that way!"
"It doesn't affect Nebari as strongly as it apparently affects Sebaceans. Besides..."
"Another part of your special treatment?"
Chiana nodded. "Don't touch them either. What they can do with their eyes is insignificant by comparison."
"We'll leave you two to get dressed and let you get something to eat before we see to business," said Hamarr. "Is that acceptable to you?"
Aeryn nodded while Chiana looked longingly at Riit. "I'd rather stay with you if I can," she said to him.
"We'll have time together later, Chiana. After you eat, Hamarr can discuss your wants with Aeryn while you and I talk. Right now we have to see to our own arrangements with the local Lord."
The Fotok exited, leaving the two women to sort out what manner of clothing they'd been given. Finally, after figuring out how to wear what Crichton would have called togas, they made their way back to the main room. One of the Fotok there quickly led them to another side room where food and drink had been laid out for them.
"You have an interesting taste in friends," Aeryn observed as they ate.
"They saved me from Salis once, just like you did."
"Can you tell me what happened or is that off limits too?"
"About half a cycle ago I stowed away on their ship because Salis and Durka were about to catch me at a Nebari spaceport. They were kind enough to take me in and drop me off outside of Nebari space. Unfortunately, Salis figured it all out and he and Durka were waiting for me."
"And that's when our paths crossed."
"Why didn't you stay with them? They obviously have feelings for you and vice versa."
"Let's just say we're simply too different as species."
"And because of this time you spent with them they treat you like one of their own?"
"No, that's not really why. And why do you keep trying to pry?"
Because you keep trying to make me talk about John, Aeryn thought.
"I'm just curious," Aeryn said. "The way they are with you runs counter to everything I've ever heard about them."
"Sometimes I think they started those stories so that others would leave them alone. I've never known them to be anything but kind."
"They were willing to leave me out there by myself."
"I think they're scared of you because you're Sebacean and, in all honesty, I can't blame them."
"And they're not frightened by the Nebari? Even I'm frightened by the Nebari."
"Who'd be scared of little ol' me? Maybe I should start strutting around with a pulse rifle like you do."
"You'd probably just blow it up like Crichton did."
Chiana laughed and then turned serious. "Why do Nebari frighten you?"
"I saw what one ship of yours did to the Zelbinion. I never thought that such a thing was even remotely possible. I'd have to be insane not to be at least a little scared of a species who could do that. I hope I never cross paths with your people ever again."
"Neither do I," replied Chiana sadly. "I guess neither of us can ever go home again."
"No, I guess not," said Aeryn heavily.
They ate in silence for a while, until Chiana asked, "Do you miss your family?"
"I never had a family."
"Sometimes I do miss some of my comrades, though, at least a little. They were as much of a family as I ever had. Why do you ask? Do you miss yours?"
Do I tell her about Nerri? wondered Chiana.
"Sometimes, though I don't really know why. Running away was the smartest thing I've ever done. It's like I was slowly being suffocated. But, I guess part of me still misses being taken care of sometimes."
"No wonder you like the Fotok so much. They seem determined to take care of you, especially this Lord Riit."
"Riit's been a good friend. I thought I'd never see him again."
"Yeah, he's a male. Fotok females are all black like Hamarr. That's the only way I know of to tell them apart just by looking."
"You mean they look the same otherwise?"
"As far as I've been able to see," Chiana answered and then gulped from the mug she'd been given.
"So, how long were you and Riit lovers?"
"Ffffffttt! How did you know that?" Chiana managed as she nearly choked on her drink. She timed that on purpose. Bitch.
One side of Aeryn's mouth curved into a slight smile as she tapped next to her eye, deliberately echoing Chiana's earlier gesture. "I can see, can't I? It was pretty clear there's something strong between you two."
She certainly can turn an interesting shade of blue, Aeryn mused.
"Besides, you're just that kind of girl," she added.
Chiana gave her a withering look. "It's none of your business anyway," she caustically replied.
"That's what I keep telling you when you needle me about Crichton. It doesn't stop you."
Nailed my ass, didn't she? concluded Chiana.
"What's the matter? Don't like the taste of your own medicine?" Aeryn continued.
"Just don't let them know that you know. It might make things 'difficult.' It's one of the things I'm supposed to be keeping secret. And, please, don't tell anyone on Moya, especially..."
"And why does he deserve to be singled out?"
This is where sweet little me gets killed by the big, bad Peacekeeper.
"He... I... I don't want run the risk that it'll change how he treats me, that's all."
"And why is that?"
"Because... because he cares about me. Unlike you, he's nice to me. It's not something I'm used to... and I like it and I don't want it ruined."
To Chiana's surprise, Aeryn smiled. "John cares about everyone, even Rygel. I don't think his knowing about you and Riit would change anything. He's never even heard of the Fotok. But don't worry, your secrets here are safe with me." Like your not having any nipples...
"You don't mind?" Chiana asked disbelievingly.
"Why should I mind? That he cares about you might be something unusual for you, but it's not for him. Besides, how he feels about others is none of my business."
Looks like we're back to that frelling 'there's nothing between us' nonsense again, Chiana thought.
Aeryn stood to leave. "I'm going to go track down Hamarr."
"Just stay here."
"Haven't you noticed how each time we show up they've shunted us off to a side room as quickly as they can? They don't want to be around us... around you. Don't worry. Hamarr will come when she's ready."
Even as Chiana spoke two black forms came through the tall, wide door.
"Was the food to your liking?" one asked. Even Aeryn could tell it was Hamarr's voice.
"Yes, very much," Aeryn answered. "Of course, our diet on Moya consists mainly of food cubes, so anything real is a welcome change."
"Food cubes?" asked Riit, with more than a hint of distaste. "Perhaps we should sell you some provisions instead of spare parts then. I'm sure we could provide items to fit your nutritional needs. Are the rest of your ship's crew all Sebaceans?"
"No," answered Chiana with a laugh. "We've got a Luxan, a Delvian, a gluttonous Hynerian and a human."
"Human? I've never heard of that species."
"Neither has anyone else," said Aeryn with a smile.
"He's like a Sebacean, only well-mannered and even-tempered," Chiana added, causing Aeryn to give her a cross look.
"I still think we can come up with some things for you all to eat. I'll have our quartermaster look into it." Riit motioned to the door. "Come, Chiana. Let us leave Hamarr and Aeryn to talk business."
Riit turned back to Aeryn as he and Chiana headed out. "The local Lord informed me that these attacks are a regular occurrence here. They usually last about one or two days."
"Wonderful," said Aeryn in frustration.
Riit and Chiana exited and Hamarr took the Nebari's place across the table from Aeryn.
"I would like to remove my hood, if you don't mind," she said to Aeryn. "It's rather warm for me in here with it on."
"Feel free to do whatever you need to do to be comfortable."
"Just remember not to look me in the eyes."
"Can't you control the effect?"
"No wonder you wear those hoods, then. It must solve a lot of problems."
"That is part of the reason we wear them, yes," Hamarr answered as she pushed hers back. "Stunning potential customers is not good for business," she added, causing Aeryn to laugh. "So, what sort of parts were you looking for?"
"Forget about the parts for a moment. There is something else we'd be much more interested in getting -- star charts."
"Your ship has none of its own?"
"Our ship is a Leviathan that used to be a captive of the Peacekeepers. They erased the charts from her memory banks when they fitted her with a control collar. It was part of their way of ensuring that she couldn't escape."
"What sort of maps are you looking for?"
"Ones that can guide us to the homeworlds of the various crewmembers. Except for me, I'm looking for a Sebacean colony not currently associated with Sebacea or the Peacekeepers. Then there's Chiana, who can't go back to Nebari Prime. I don't know where, if anywhere, she wants to go. And as for Crichton, I doubt anyone knows where Erp is."
"Crichton is this 'yoomin?'"
"Unfortunately, I don't think we can accommodate you. I know that Riit has traveled to some of these places, but that was cycles ago when he was serving on another, more far-ranging trader. Our ship's charts are rather limited beyond the local trade routes we travel."
Oh, well. It didn't hurt to try.
"Even local charts would be a big help. What do you want for them?"
"They are not something we usually deal in. I will have to ask Riit. It shouldn't be too much, though, as all that's involved is making a data crystal copy. I only hope that what we can provide will be compatible with something like Leviathan technology."
"How about Sebacean technology? I know that information can be downloaded from my ship into Moya's systems, so if your crystal can be read by it we should be fine."
"What sort of ship do you have?"
Aeryn hesitated a moment before answering. "It's a Prowler."
"A Prowler? How did you come to possess such a thing?" Hamarr asked in surprise. "I know that the Peacekeepers inflict severe penalties on civilians who steal their equipment. You must be some sort of renegade."
"Never mind how I got it," Aeryn said sharply.
"How you procured it and what you do with it are beneath my concern," the Fotok stated flatly. "Is it the craft you want parts for?"
"Yes, I need some pumps, conduits and engine parts."
The bargaining went on for some time and then turned into conversation. Eventually another Fotok appeared to show Aeryn to the bedroom set aside for her and Chiana.
Aeryn surveyed the room and was pleased to see their own clothes were back and had been laid out for them.
"There's only one bed?" she asked as she examined the large, heavily-cushioned hammock that dominated the small room.
"We thought that, given its size, it would accommodate you both easily," her host replied.
Aeryn immediately began imagining the wisecracks from Chiana she'd have to endure back on Moya about them 'sleeping together.' She grabbed some of the cushions off the bed and tossed them on the floor.
"I think I'll be more comfortable this way."
"As you wish," the Fotok said and then left.
A few hours later Aeryn awoke as Chiana stumbled into their room. She got up from the floor and turned on the light.
"What happened to you?" she asked the Nebari with some alarm. "You look like dren."
"I'm just really tired, that's all."
Aeryn saw differently. "You're trembling. Here, let me help you."
She guided Chiana over to the hammock and bundled her under the sheets as best she could. She also noted some dried flecks of something orange in the younger woman's white hair.
"I'll be alright," Chiana said weakly. "I just need some sleep," she added as Aeryn turned the light off again.
The next morning Aeryn was again awakened, this time by a quiet tapping on the door. She opened it to find Hamarr standing there.
"I see you sleep late," the Fotok commented.
"Hardly," answered Aeryn with a yawn. "It's probably still the middle of the night for us, ship time."
"Ah, yes. I have been planetside for long enough now that I forgot about that. In any event, the locals asked me to come and tell you that breakfast is available if you desire it."
"They don't want to come near me, do they?"
"No, but then they don't know what they're missing," Hamarr replied, again causing Aeryn to smile.
Aeryn walked over to the hammock and gently shook Chiana's shoulder. "Come on, sleepy, wake up. It's time to eat."
When Chiana did not stir Aeryn gave her a harder shake. "Chiana! Wake up!"
She put her hand to the Nebari's face. It was covered with a film of cold sweat. She turned to Hamarr. "She's unconscious!"
The Fotok came alongside her. "Oh, dear," she murmured.
"What is it?"
"I was afraid this might happen. Do not be concerned. Chiana will be alright in a few arns. What she needs now is rest."
"Don't be concerned? How can you say that?"
Hamarr was silent for a moment as she considered her answer. "Chiana's reaction is normal for someone who comes in 'contact' with our species," she finally said.
"What do you mean? Is something like this going to happen to me as well?"
"You have not had that sort of contact with us."
"I am going to have to speak with Riit about this. In the meantime, why don't you get something to eat while Chiana recuperates?"
Aeryn was not persuaded.
What the frell do I do now? I wish Zhaan was here. She'd have some idea how to help Chiana.
"Alright," she finally agreed, though, as she could think of no alternative course of action for the moment.
Aeryn was sitting with Hamarr when Riit arrived to eat. She immediately shot from her seat and accosted him. "What have you done to Chiana?" she asked Riit angrily, pushing him up against the nearest wall. "She was fine until I let her go off alone with you!"
Aeryn felt herself thrust back by what seemed like a half dozen hands. "It is none of your business," Riit told her.
I'm getting sick of hearing that particular phrase, Aeryn thought. "I trusted you with her," she spat back at the Fotok.
"Your concerns are of no interest to me," Riit said as he strode past Aeryn, attempting, feebly, to ignore her and, by extension, the situation.
"Aeryn is right, Riit," Hamarr chimed in. "Your behavior is not above reproach and Chiana is the one suffering for it."
He turned back to Aeryn. "What happened was Chiana's wish," he said regretfully. "I admit that, in the light of day, it is not sitting easily on my conscience."
Another male who thinks with the wrong part of his anatomy...
"Is that all you've got to say for yourself?" she demanded.
"It is not your place to ask for an apology. What more do you want?"
"All I want," said Aeryn acidly as she pointed a finger at Riit for emphasis, "Is for you to stay the frell away from her!"
Aeryn turned and stormed back down the hall to check on Chiana. She came into the room and, with relief, saw that, although she had not moved, her companion was conscious once again.
"How are you feeling?" she asked as she came over to the bed and noted that Chiana was again trembling. "You have me worried."
"I... I'll be... be alright," Chiana managed and then let out a long, low moan.
"What's the matter? Are you in pain?" I might be able to do something about pain, at least...
"It... it hu... hurts."
Aeryn put her hand to Chiana's forehead. It was cool to the touch. She realized she had no idea if that was good or bad for a Nebari, or for whatever was wrong with Chiana.
Then a recollection stirred in the back of her mind.
"Chiana, did Riit give you anything?"
Even in her weakened condition Chiana smiled. "Oh, yeahhhh," she replied almost under her breath.
Aeryn shook her head as she watched Chiana slip back into unconsciousness. You're acting like you've been taking moddion, she concluded. A lot of it.
Aeryn searched her memories. What was it we did? Keep them warm or cool?
Unable to remember she decided to again bundle Chiana up the best she could. Deep down she didn't really believe what the Fotok or Chiana had said about her condition and finally decided that Zhaan had to be consulted.
She tapped her comm badge. "Pilot?"
"Yes, Officer Sun?"
"I need to speak to Zhaan."
"Pa'u Zhaan usually does not awaken for about another two arns. Is your need urgent?"
"Yes. Something has happened to Chiana."
A few minutes later Aeryn had apprised a rather sleepy Zhaan about Chiana's condition.
"I agree Aeryn," Zhaan said. "It sounds like Chiana is having a reaction to something. But I know nothing about the Fotok, or their ways or vices. I know little more about the Nebari. At this point I would only be guessing as to the possible cause of Chiana's ailment."
"But what should I do?" Aeryn asked with a hint of exasperation in her voice.
"Without knowing more about the cause, I can't recommend a course of action. Do you think the Fotok might be willing to give you more information."
"Zhaan, you can't be serious. These creatures give secretiveness a whole new meaning."
Zhaan smiled at Aeryn's use of a human colloquialism. "Then you'll just have to hope that Chiana can tell you more herself when she next awakens," the Delvian concluded. "Good luck," she added and then closed the channel.
Aeryn turned back to Chiana and shifted her cushions and coverings around into what she hoped were more comfortable positions. As she finished she heard noises outside. She opened the door and stuck her head out just in time to see the black backs of two Fotoks escorting a local native down the hall.
One of the short ones - they're probably the group doing the attacking. What's one of them doing in here?
Aeryn decided to follow them at a distance, more out of curiosity than anything else. The Fotok had begun to intrigue her, since rarely, if ever, before had she come across a species who seemed to so poorly live up to their reputation.
She watched from around corners as the Fotok led their guest through a series of storerooms. Wonderful time to do some shopping, she concluded and then decided to go back and look at the first place the Fotok had taken the local. What she found didn't surprise her. Weapons... and quite a variety too. I wonder if that's what Riit and Hamarr are dealing in as well.
Aeryn headed back to her and Chiana's room and arrived to find the Nebari sitting up and getting dressed.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"I'm fine," Chiana answered even as Aeryn took note of the tremble still evident in her hands. "Really."
"And just where do you think you're going?"
"To find Riit," Chiana responded as she got up and headed for the door.
Aeryn stepped in front of her to block her way. "You have got to be kidding me."
"No, I'm not. This is probably the last chance I'll ever have to spend any time with him... Now get the frell out of my way!"
Aeryn grabbed Chiana's arm as she tried to get past and forcefully pulled her back. "You're not going anywhere just now."
"What business is it of yours anyway?"
Aeryn ignored the question. "You want to go back to him? Even with the effect he has on you?"
"Because of the effect he has on me. But then, I wouldn't expect an unfeeling killing machine like you to understand."
"Do you really love him that much?"
Chiana became downcast and Aeryn finally released her grip on the younger woman's arm.
"It's not that I love him that much," Chiana said softly. "It's just that I want him that much. I need him that much. You don't know what it's like. One last time won't hurt me."
"I suppose you told yourself that last night too, eh?"
"Yeah, but I thought we'd be leaving today."
"Well, clearly you weren't thinking very much then. Even if we could leave, I don't think you're up to the walk back to the landing pads. What was I supposed to do? Carry you?"
"Aeryn, please," Chiana pleaded. "Please just let me go to him."
"No," Aeryn answered with finality. "Besides, if I didn't stop you, Hamarr almost certainly would."
"Yes. She's not exactly pleased with Riit at the moment, either."
"She's just jealous."
"Oh, come off it. Even if it's true, that's not what's concerning her. She cares about you."
"I suppose you're right," Chiana answered sullenly.
Aeryn noticed that Chiana's knees had suddenly become very wobbly. She caught her just as Chiana started to collapse. "See, I was right," she said as she half carried the Nebari back to the bed. "You're not fit to go anywhere."
"I guess not," Chiana answered dejectedly as her whole body again began to tremble with increasing violence.
"Are you sure there's nothing I can do for you?"
"No, there's noth... nothing to be done. I j... j... just have to ride it... it out."
Just like moddion, Aeryn again thought. "You rest then," she said. "I'll turn out the light so maybe you can get some sleep." She stretched out on the floor in the dark. I could use some more sleep too...
About an hour later Chiana silently slipped from her bed and slinked towards the door, moving carefully around Aeryn's prone form. Just as she reached for the knob she felt a hand grab her ankle firmly.
"I thought you'd try to sneak out," came Aeryn's voice out of the darkness.
"I was just going to get something to eat and I didn't want to wake you," Chiana answered as Aeryn stood and turned the light back on.
"Would you be surprised if I said I didn't believe you?"
Chiana's face again became downcast. "No."
"Are you actually hungry?"
"No, not really."
Aeryn led her back to the bed. "I want you to rest. That is what everyone, including you, tells me you need. You have to be ready to leave here under your own power when the time comes."
"I suppose you're right," Chiana said as she climbed back into the bed.
"Now behave yourself this time," Aeryn admonished. "If you try to leave again I'll put you to sleep personally."
Chiana scowled at her. "You just don't know what it's like," she repeated.
"I understand better than you think. That's why I'm not just letting you do what you want."
"You understand? Ha! That's a laugh!"
"I've seen a lot of people going through what you are."
"Really? When?" asked Chiana in scornful disbelief.
Aeryn sat back against the wall. "Not long after I became an Officer, my regiment was on route to an assignment. We ended up at a Peacekeeper transfer point on a little piece of dren called Trilvios, where we were supposed to be picked up in a couple days by the next routine transport to take us on to our destination. Something came up and it got diverted. We ended up spending almost a quarter cycle there."
"The Peacekeepers on Trilvios were involved in a little conflict not too different from the one here. We'd been there for ages, with no end in sight. It was considered a dead-end assignment. The troops had no morale. It was disgusting."
Aeryn paused and drew in a heavy breath. "The locals grew a plant they used to make a drug called moddion. It's a powerful narcotic. Many of the Peacekeepers stationed on Trilvios were addicted to it."
"And if they didn't get it they went through withdrawal like I am?"
Aeryn nodded. "That's why I asked you if Riit gave you anything. Moddion is often used to 'enhance' recreation."
"It's used to make sex better," Aeryn clarified bluntly.
"Oh," Chiana responded quietly. "No, he didn't give me any drugs. He didn't have to. He is the drug."
Aeryn gave her a puzzled look.
"I can't go into the details," Chiana added just as her stomach growled loudly. "Hmmm... Maybe I am hungry after all. Can I go get something to eat?"
"Are you up to the walk?"
"I think so. There's only one way to find out."
They arrived in the room where their food was provided to find Riit and Hamarr there. Chiana immediately started to move towards Riit, only to be held back when Aeryn quickly grabbed her by the scruff of the neck.
"Ow! Let go! You're hurting me!" Chiana squealed as she writhed in Aeryn's grip.
"You're not going near him," Aeryn announced so that everyone could hear.
"Is that sort of restraint really necessary?" asked Riit.
"I'm not relinquishing control of the situation to you and her again."
Frell, she's in full kick-ass Peacekeeper mode, thought Chiana.
"Aeryn, I think you and I are adequate chaperones," put in Hamarr. "It is safe for you to let go."
"Very well," Aeryn said flatly as she released Chiana. "Just remember you're not going anywhere alone with him," she admonished her shipmate.
"That's what you think," Chiana said to her as she ran over and threw her arms around Riit. "I've decided," she said as she looked up at him. "I'm leaving Moya and coming with you!"
"No," said Riit as he pried Chiana loose. "You can't come back to us. You know what that would mean for you."
"I don't care. I just want to be with you."
"Your feelings for me are not what's driving you. Your neurons simply crave the stimulation."
"Is wanting to feel that good so bad?"
"You once thought so yourself. That's why you left me in the first place, remember?"
"That was before I came within a few arns of being mentally cleansed."
"I thought you were stronger than that," observed Hamarr.
"Indeed, it surprises me that you have suddenly become so fatalistic," added Riit.
"All I want is to feel good for a change," Chiana answered them.
"And you're willing to endure the misery of addiction along with it?" asked Hamarr.
"Why shouldn't I be? I'm miserable most of the time as it is now anyway!"
Riit shook his head. "There is no reasoning with her in her present state." He looked Chiana in the eyes, using the chill it gave her to reinforce his point. "Understand this, young Nebari, you are not coming with us - not now, not ever. I will not be a party to your urge to self destruct for a few moments of ecstasy. I care too much about you for that."
Chiana began to respond but could not find any words to counter the Fotok with. Finally she turned her back on her tormentors with a huff.
"Once the craving dies down a little her thoughts should become clearer," Hamarr informed Aeryn.
That would be a welcome change, mused Aeryn.
"Then I suggest you leave, Riit," Aeryn said pointedly. "Removing the source of the temptation can only help."
Riit nodded and began to walk out. He moved past Aeryn, who made sure she was between Chiana and him as he left.
"And do your best to avoid us while we're still here," Aeryn added as he went out the door, only to be surprised when he didn't challenge her but simply nodded again and kept on walking.
"I have already told him the same thing," said Hamarr. "It makes him very unhappy, but he knows it is the correct course."
"And what about my happiness?" Chiana blurted tearfully. "Don't you frelling care what I want?"
"I think I know what you really want, child," said Hamarr soothingly. "I definitely remember you being so angry with Riit at one time that you wanted to kill him."
"I was, wasn't I?"
"And the reasons for your anger and fear have not changed."
"No... No, they haven't," agreed Chiana with resignation. "It just seems that for me they're the lesser of the problems I have to choose from. At least with you I was safe from mental cleansing... or dying. On Moya I have no idea what will come next."
"But with them you are whole and healthy... and I'm sure they will come to care for you as we did."
"You know John already does," Aeryn added.
"And Aeryn has also shown a strong desire to protect you. She has your best interests at heart."
Though I'll be damned if I know why, thought Aeryn. I'm going soft. I must be spending too much time with frelling Crichton.
Hamarr motioned to the table and the foods laid out on it. "Come now, Chiana. Eat. Food will help your body chemistry readjust."
As Chiana settled down at the table Hamarr added, "I will see to Riit so that you will not have to worry about his behavior in the future, Aeryn," and, with that, she departed.
Aeryn sat down across from Chiana. "How are you feeling?"
"You don't have to keep asking me that."
"You don't like it that others are worried about you, do you?"
"I can take care of myself," said Chiana defiantly.
"You haven't been doing so well today, though."
Chiana smiled slightly. "No, I suppose I haven't." The smile widened. "Thanks for looking after me again."
"Well, as I said, I've seen situations like yours before, and I wouldn't wish them on anyone."
"Did you ever try moddion?"
Aeryn was taken aback. "That's none of your business."
"So, I take that as a yes?"
Aeryn hung her head. "Yes... yes, I did." She straightened and leaned in towards Chiana, her stare boring into the Nebari's dark eyes. "If you ever tell anyone I admitted that I'll kill you."
Chiana leaned back, frightened. "I can keep secrets."
"Make sure you do," said Aeryn as she sat back.
"Was it any good?"
"It was incredible." Though recreating still hurt just as much...
"Did you get addicted?"
"No, fortunately some of my comrades were able to pound some sense into me, literally."
"Then you really do know how I feel," said Chiana as a tear ran down her face.
"Yes, I think I do," Aeryn replied as she took one of Chiana's hands in hers. "And I told you I'd look after you."
Much to Aeryn's relief, the rest of the day passed uneventfully as Chiana slowly returned to normal. The next morning she was again awakened by a tapping at the door. As she rose she noticed with irritation that Chiana had somehow managed to slip out without waking her.
Little frelling sneak -- if she's been with Riit again I'll tear her apart... or just leave her here.
To her surprise and relief, she opened the door to find Riit, not Hamarr. "Chiana isn't here," she said pointedly. "Not that you should be calling on her in any case."
"She left with Hamarr to do some early shopping in the market."
"That means the fighting has stopped."
"Indeed. That is what I came to tell you. You can get the supplies you purchased from our ship whenever you like."
"You're not going to bring them down here?"
"Normally we would, yes. But my crew is anxious to see Chiana again, and our cook insists on having your ship's crew visit for a meal in your honor. If it is alright with you, Hamarr and I would like to accompany you when you're picked up."
"That shouldn't be a problem and I'm sure that everyone will be pleased to hear about your invitation."
Especially Rygel... and we could all use some 'real' food...
"Our hosts have laid breakfast out for you again in the same room. I will be dining there as well and would appreciate you joining me when you're ready. I have much I wish to say to you."
Aeryn smiled slightly. "Alright, but first I really should contact Moya."
"I expected you would want to. I'll see you soon," he answered and then departed.
Aeryn touched her comm badge. "Pilot?"
"Yes, Officer Sun?" came his immediate reply.
"The fighting is over, at least for now."
"That is excellent news. I will inform the others that you can be..."
She heard him inhale sharply.
"What is it, Pilot? What's wrong?"
"At present, nothing," he answered. "I was momentarily startled by the sensor readings I was getting. Another ship has just joined us in orbit. I do not think I have ever seen such a vessel before. It is immense and apparently extremely powerful."
"Is it behaving threateningly?" she asked with concern.
"No. It has merely entered a parking orbit similar to our own."
Suddenly Riit came back through the door. "We have a problem," he announced.
"I'll have to get back to you, Pilot," Aeryn said as she turned to face the Fotok. "What's the matter?"
"Please understand that I believe Lord Dewi was only doing what he thought was best."
"Fine. Now, what did he do?"
"He contacted the Nebari."
"He what?" asked Aeryn in alarm.
"He thought that they might want to help Chiana, so he contacted the nearest host vessel. They have just arrived in orbit."
"A host vessel?"
"I'm afraid so."
Aeryn touched her comm badge again. "Pilot, that ship is..."
"A Nebari host vessel," came the reply.
"How did you find out?"
"I did not know for certain until now, but I had inferred it. The vessel just launched several small transports. Scans show they are identical to the one Chiana arrived on. They also indicate that any one of the mother ship's plasma cannons could probably vaporize Moya with a single shot. That is what I would have expected of the sort of ship that could have destroyed the Zelbinion."
The dren just got a lot deeper.
"Have D'Argo get down here with a transport pod as quickly as possible."
"He and Commander Crichton are already preparing to leave. They should be on their way in a few microts."
"We'll try to meet them at the landing pads. Hopefully we'll be able to steer clear of the Nebari in the meantime." She hit her comm badge again. "Chiana?"
"A Nebari host vessel has just arrived. They're on their way here for you!"
"What? How?" Chiana asked, her voice full of fear.
"Never mind that now!" Aeryn admonished her. "Try to get back here or find somewhere to hide if you can. D'Argo and Crichton are on their way to pick us up. Riit and I will come meet you, alright?"
"I guess," said Chiana, her response lacking any signs of confidence.
Aeryn looked up at Riit. "Come on. We've got to find Chiana before the Nebari do."
Aeryn burst into the bunker's common room, startling the Fotok present there. "Chiana's in danger! I need my weapons back now!" she announced loudly as Riit came in behind her.
"I'm sorry, but that is not possible," one of the Fotok responded.
"Why is that, Lord Dewi?" asked Riit.
"It is none of your concern, Riit."
"They are your guests and under your protection," he responded angrily. "Chiana is part of my House! Honor demands that you assist us, especially as your meddling has caused this crisis!"
"I will send some of my employees out to look for Hamarr and the Nebari female, but the Sebacean's armaments are no longer here."
"You sold them, didn't you?" asked Aeryn pointedly. "I imagine a couple Peacekeeper weapons netted you a tidy little profit in this market -- especially since you didn't have to pay for them yourselves."
"What?" asked Riit incredulously. "Is this the case? Such behavior would be theft!"
Dewi was silent.
"Come on, Riit," said Aeryn as she headed for the door to the surface. "Let's get out of here and find Chiana and Hamarr before anything happens to them."
They found their way blocked by two Fotok.
"What is the meaning of this?" asked Riit. "The Guild will hear of this contemptible behavior, Dewi!"
"We are not part of your precious Guild, Riit. We are free traders."
"No wonder your efforts towards upholding our honor can end so abruptly."
"You try to lecture me about honor?" Dewi responded angrily. "You - who fraternizes so casually with infidels, who brings a Nebari slut into his House -- you're going to teach me about honor?" He strode up to Riit and looked him in the face. "You may go, Riit, but the Sebacean stays here," he added, pointing at Aeryn. "We have every reason to believe that she is a Peacekeeper spy."
"You must be joking," Aeryn shot back. "That's patently ridiculous." She tried to muscle her way to the door but found herself thrown back forcefully.
"What has caused your suspicions?" Riit asked as he tried and failed to catch Aeryn before she hit the floor.
"She was nosing around our supply rooms and observing transactions yesterday."
"I was just looking around because I was bored," Aeryn told Dewi as she stood up. "I didn't mean anything by it."
"You were attempting to move surreptitiously. One would have thought that the Peacekeepers would have briefed you more thoroughly on our sensory abilities before they dispatched you here, Officer Sun."
Frelling dren, they must have been eavesdropping on me and Pilot.
"And just what interest would they have in you?" asked Riit.
"They're selling arms -- to both sides, I'd wager - and I would imagine that mine weren't the first Peacekeeper weapons they've sold."
"You are correct on both counts," Dewi admitted. "We supposed that it was only a matter of time until you Sebaceans came to investigate."
"I will vouch for her not being a spy," Riit declared. "Aeryn told Hamarr of her situation. She escaped from the Peacekeepers when they deemed her to be contaminated by alien contact. She has been on the run from them for nearly a cycle."
"Even if that is true, it doesn't change matters. She could use the information she's gleaned here to try to get back in their good graces."
Dewi motioned for two of his assistants to restrain Aeryn. Again she got the impression of many hands on her, holding her tightly.
There is only one safe course of action for us," Dewi announced as he reached out towards her.
"NO!" cried Riit as he lunged forward to try to stop Dewi, only to be held back himself as the Lord lightly grazed his Garment along Aeryn's collarbone.
Aeryn felt her chest explode.
Echo & the Bunnymen - "The Killing Moon"
Aeryn's body collapsed in a heap at Lord Dewi's feet.
"You didn't have to do that!" Riit shouted at him as he struggled against the pair restraining him.
"Is she dead?" Dewi coolly asked one of his henchmen.
The Fotok bent over Aeryn and felt for any signs of life.
"Yes, Lord. The Peacekeeper is quite dead."
"Good," Dewi responded as he motioned for his men to release Riit. "You are free to leave," he added. "Go and find your Nebari whore before her people do." He kicked Aeryn's body. "And take your trash with you."
Riit gathered Aeryn into his arms and hurried out of the bunker. He laid her out on the ground just outside the entrance and began to run six of his hands over her body, searching.
He noticed a gray blur come around a corner and then, suddenly, in a cloud of dust, Chiana was standing in front of him.
"What happened?" she asked breathlessly as she looked down at Aeryn. The Sebacean's ashen color told her the answer. "Why?"
"Dewi thought she was a Peacekeeper spy," Riit answered.
"We've got to get her to Moya!"
"There isn't time! Now, let me concentrate!"
Chiana watched in growing panic and puzzlement as Riit's hands continued to play over Aeryn's prone form.
"What are you doing?" she finally asked.
"All Fotok who travel among infidels are taught how to kill with their Garments. Only a few of us know how to reverse the process, or even know it can be done."
"Yes, if I can find the right points on her body in time. Dewi gave her a shock to stop her heart. Starting it again is a more precise task."
Riit splayed out several of his Garment-covered hands around Aeryn's head and chest. "Here we go..."
Aeryn's body shuddered.
"Did it work?" asked Chiana hopefully.
"No. She is still not breathing. We may be too late."
Again Aeryn's body jumped to no effect.
"I will try increasing the power."
The result was no different. Riit began to rise.
"You can't give up!" Chiana implored him, tugging at his sleeve to pull him back down to Aeryn.
"Any more power would in itself be fatal."
"You have to try! You're no healer; you could be wrong!"
"Very well..." Riit agreed as he again bent over Aeryn. "This would kill either of us," he added.
Aeryn convulsed violently... and then coughed.
"You did it!" Chiana shouted as the former Peacekeeper drew in a gasping breath.
Aeryn looked up with a dazed look on her pallid face. "What the frell happened?" she managed. "Dewi... he..." Her expression changed to one of rage. "Get off me!" she shouted as she pushed Riit back and jumped to her feet only to immediately collapse again.
"I don't think you should have tried to get up so quickly," Riit playfully chided her. "You are still oxygen starved. I'm surprised you're even conscious. Your body must have some means of shielding your brain from such deprivations. If you would like, I can carry you to the landing pads."
"No thank you. I can make it on my own," Aeryn answered as she tried and failed to get up.
"Let him take you, Aeryn," Chiana said, as she bent down next to her shipmate. "I can hide here in the bunker while Riit takes you back. You can rest in the pod when D'Argo and Crichton get here. You'll be safe there."
"Will they let you stay in the bunker?" Aeryn asked in disbelief.
"If they have any honor at all, they must," Riit told her.
"And it's a good place to hide," Chiana added. "I doubt they'll want the Nebari nosing around in their little lair. And if they don't let me stay, I'll head out of town in the direction we went during the attack. That'll take me in the opposite direction they'll be coming from."
"How will we find you?" Aeryn asked.
"Riit will be able to track me down. Won't you?"
"In these conditions I should have no trouble. And we can always contact you via your comm link if we need help."
"Alright then, it's settled."
"Wait a frelling microt!" Aeryn complained. "I haven't agreed to any... Riit! Put me down this instant!"
"See ya," Chiana said with her customary short laugh and head tilt as she headed down into the bunker.
"What is that?" John asked D'Argo as they descended the transport pod stairs. "It looks like a cross between the Grim Reaper and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar."
"That," the Luxan answered with distaste, as he noted the tall black form moving across the landing pads towards them, "Is a Fotok."
As the Fotok approached John noticed that he couldn't really focus on the creature. The outlines of it's clothing seemed oddly blurred.
"Why can't I see it clearly?"
"That shroud must have some sort of defensive shielding built into it."
The Fotok came to a stop. "You are from the Leviathan Moya?" came the metallic voice.
"Yes," John answered. "I'm John Crichton and this is Ka D'Argo. Were you sent..."
"Where are Chiana and Aeryn?" D'Argo demanded impatiently.
"Chiana was with me," Hamarr answered evenly, as she shut down her Garment's shielding. "But then she decided to run back to our local Lord's bunker. I assume they are both still there."
"Why didn't she just come here with you?" John asked.
"We did not know who would arrive here first -- you or the Nebari. Chiana therefore thought it best that she find somewhere to hide. Since her pursuers will not be interested in me, I came ahead to fetch you."
"Have you seen any other Nebari?" D'Argo inquired.
"No. They have not arrived yet, but I expect they will be here soon. We must hurry. They will be landing right where we now stand."
"That's going to make getting past them and outta here... difficult," John observed.
"All the more reason to make haste; you may be able to get away before they arrive," Hamarr concluded. "This way," she added as she turned and started back into the town.
They had only gone a few steps when another Fotok emerged from between buildings.
"That Fotok," John said as he pointed. "It's carrying Aeryn!"
D'Argo and John ran to Riit, who was having increasing difficulty with his burden.
"I'm not frelling telling you again - put me down!" they could hear Aeryn demanding as they came up to Riit.
"She seems alright," D'Argo observed wryly.
"I am alright!" Aeryn asserted. "But Riit refuses to let go of me!"
"I told you I would carry you until we got to the landing pads, and here we are. Are you sure you can stand on your own now?"
"Why were you unable to walk?" D'Argo asked as Riit set Aeryn down.
"It's a long story," Aeryn answered as she started off purposefully towards the transport pod. "I hope you brought some more weapons."
"We brought your usual arsenal," John responded as he started after her. "But if Salis was any indication, I don't think we'll need serious firepower against the Nebari anyway."
"I'm not interested in the Nebari," Aeryn said flatly.
John gave her a questioning look.
"I have a little score to settle."
Shaking his head, John walked back to D'Argo and the Fotok to wait for Aeryn to reemerge.
"Loaded for bear, as always," he remarked to himself as she came out with her pulse cannon on her hip, a pulse rifle slung over each shoulder and a pistol strapped to each thigh.
"Where are you going?" Hamarr asked her as she strode right past their small group.
"I'm going to get Chiana," Aeryn shot back. "I'll cover her if there's any trouble."
"Do you need all those weapons?"
Aeryn ignored the question and headed off into the town.
"You know Peacekeepers," John then remarked to the Fotok. "It's always 'peace through superior firepower' with them."
"Look," D'Argo said, pointing into the sky. "Here come the Nebari." He turned to John. "We need a plan," he said gravely.
"And I think I've got one."
"This will never work," D'Argo complained.
"Just shut up and look mean and nasty," John implored. "That should be easy for you."
"For a warrior, bluffing is not honorable."
"It worked well enough on those Sheyangs when we found the Zelbinion, didn't it? Just play along - or do you want to end up mind frelled into a zombie like Durka was? And remember what Pilot said that ship could do to Moya."
"You have a point," the Luxan growled.
The two of them moved to flank Riit and Hamarr as the three Nebari shuttles came in for a landing. The quartet watched as four Nebari emerged along with two other creatures.
"Blood Trackers," D'Argo observed.
"Great, just great," John replied. "Just stick to the plan. They don't know anything more than the Nebari do."
"Are you the Fotok who contacted us?" one of the Nebari asked.
"Yes," Riit answered.
"Where is Chiana?" another one asked.
"She is no longer here," Riit responded. "She left with her companions on their ship last night. I'm sure that by now they must be well out of this system."
The Nebari exchanged glances. "And just why did you let her go?" one asked.
"We knew of no reason for keeping her here. Is she in some sort of peril that you are so eager to gather her back to your flock?"
"She is a very dangerous and mentally unbalanced criminal."
"Did you make our Lord aware of this?"
"Yes, we did."
"Then it is no wonder that he let her go," Hamarr said to the Nebari's surprise. "It was barely tolerable that we were honor bound to shelter her in the first place. To have to mingle with infidels is bad enough, but criminals..."
"We are sorry to have brought you all this way for nothing," Riit added.
The Nebari again all looked at each other.
"These four have all had recent contact with a Nebari female," one of the Blood Trackers announced as it sniffed the air. "This one in particular," it added, pointing at Riit.
"Did we ever deny we had been around this 'Chiana' that you seek?" Hamarr asked.
"No, no, you hadn't," the Tracker answered, nonplused. "But the scent - it is very strong."
"Being stuck together in a bunker for a couple of days will do that," John added aggressively.
"And just what is your part in this, Sebacean?" asked one of the Nebari suspiciously.
"As we deal in weapons, we find it useful to have some 'muscle' of our own," Riit told them. "We, of course, refuse to sully ourselves in such matters."
"A Sebacean and a Luxan working together? That must have taken some doing."
"We are well compensated for our troubles," D'Argo responded. "And our coworkers."
"This one is not Sebacean," said one of the Nebari, who was holding some sort of device. "The readings are too different."
"That explains the oddness of his scent," the Tracker observed.
"It's true," John answered. "I'm not Sebacean. Big deal."
"Just where are you from?" asked the Nebari with the device. "We are familiar with all of the races in this part of the galaxy."
"Then, obviously, I'm not from this part of the galaxy, am I? When people call me Sebacean I usually let it pass so I don't have to put up with silly questions like yours. My friends here have learned to do the same. Now, can we get back to business?"
"Is the scanner picking up any signs of Chiana?" asked the Nebari who now appeared to be the one in charge.
"No, but its range is too limited to cover the entire city or find her if she is underground."
"Then we will have to search for her."
"What part of 'she is no longer here' did you fail to understand?" asked D'Argo pointedly. "Searching for her would be a waste of your time."
"We must be certain. That should be no concern of yours," the Nebari leader said evenly.
"Ah, but it is," Riit interjected sharply. "You doubt our word. You suggest we lie. The Chosen do not usually tolerate such behavior from infidels like you."
The outlines of Riit's Garment suddenly became blurred as he activated its shielding. Hamarr did the same. D'Argo took this as a cue to level his Qualta blade at the Nebari and John followed suit with his pulse rifle.
"If you wish to remain in the good graces of the Fotok here, you will leave," Riit announced gravely. "Now!"
"You do not dare challenge us," the lead Nebari responded coolly.
"Are you really so ignorant of how the Chosen treat those who cross them?" asked Riit icily.
"We should cleanse the entire Fotok population here," one of the Nebari observed.
"That is not an idle threat," said the head Nebari.
"Yes, we all know of the might of the Nebari," Riit answered. "But consider how many Nebari lives such a course of action would cost. And all for the sake of finding a girl who is not here."
The Nebari all looked at one another again.
"Now leave before you do something else to offend us," Riit added with finality.
To John and D'Argo's surprise the Nebari began to leave.
"We are sorry for doubting you," the Nebari leader said. "We all know of the honorable nature of your people, and want nothing but cordial relations with you."
"And we understand your eagerness to complete your task," said Hamarr. "Good luck in tracking down your quarry."
"Well, that was easy," D'Argo said sarcastically as the Nebari ships departed.
"Hey, I told you it would work," John told him. "No problemo."
D'Argo growled at him.
"Just why did they back down so quickly?" John asked the Fotok.
"Our kind are known for being easily offended by, and ruthless towards, other species," Riit told him.
"It is a reputation we earned long ago and find useful to this day," Hamarr added.
"Yeah, I see how that could come in handy," John replied. He turned to D'Argo. "We should find Chiana and Aeryn get the hell out of here."
"The two of you should go with Hamarr to the bunker," Riit suggested. "I will stay here in case they return on their own, or in case the Nebari do."
"Cool. It's a plan. Let's go, D'Argo."
The trio arrived to find Chiana crouching next to the blasted entrance to the bunker, out of which a small trail of smoke was rising.
"What is that?" John asked with a wrinkle of his nose as they got closer.
It's like rancid North Carolina barbecue, he thought to himself.
Suddenly Hamarr stopped dead in her tracks. "That smell! It's..."
D'Argo was about to ask Hamarr to finish her thought when it became clear to them that Chiana was crying.
"Are you alright?" he asked as he bent over her small form.
"Yeah," she sniffed, her face streaked by the trails of her black tears. "I'm not hurt or anything. But Aeryn..."
"But Aeryn what?" John asked with alarm.
"She came into the bunker. There was shooting -- lots of shooting. I ran up here."
"So where is she?"
"She hasn't come back out."
John immediately hurried through the blown out door into the bunker.
"John! Wait!" D'Argo called after him. "It might be a trap!" He turned to Hamarr. "You must come with me, to talk to your people."
"I don't think that will be necessary," Hamarr said weakly. She began to back away. "Excuse me. I think I'm going to be ill."
D'Argo growled and started after Crichton.
He quickly arrived in the common area at the end of the entryway to find John standing in the middle of the room with a horrified look on his face. He scanned the room looking for Aeryn. All he saw, however, were the smoldering cloaked bodies of a number of Fotok and some charred furniture.
"She... she must have done this," John said as he fought to keep himself composed.
"This sort of butchery could only have come from her using her pulse cannon on them," D'Argo informed him as he noted the bits of flesh and splashes of pale green blood all over the walls and floor.
"But what about the shielding in their cloaks?"
"Obviously it wasn't powerful enough."
They then heard someone coming down a hallway towards them.
"Spread out," D'Argo whispered to John. "We don't know who or what that is."
A moment later Aeryn strode calmly into the room, her cannon still on her hip. "Sorry about the mess," she said in faux apology.
D'Argo and John both lowered their weapons. "I am glad to see you are unhurt," the Luxan told her.
"What did you do here?" John asked in growing agitation.
"I killed them," Aeryn said flatly. "I killed them all."
"How... how many?"
"At least fifteen. Maybe twenty."
"Holy shit, Aeryn! Twenty?!"
"Did you deal with the Nebari?"
"What?" John asked in astonishment at Aeryn's lack of emotion or even concern about the scene around her.
"Yeah, yeah, they're gone," he managed.
"Good, because there's a lot of material here we could use. I'll need you two to help me carry as much of it back as possible."
"What sort of material?" D'Argo asked.
"Weapons mostly. Crichton, why don't you look around and see if you can find where they kept their food."
John blanched at the thought of food, but soon composed himself somewhat again.
"Just, just tell me one thing, Aeryn -- why?" he implored.
"They killed me."
John and D'Argo looked at each other in bewilderment as Aeryn headed out of the room.
"This way," she told them.
After giving Riit and Hamarr the obligatory tour of Moya before they returned to their trader, John headed for the galley, only to find Aeryn there eating some of the food they'd brought back from the planet.
Not who I wanted to see just now, he thought.
"Hey," he said, as he moved around the perimeter of the room so as to avoid contact as much as possible.
"Hey," Aeryn responded between bites. "You should try this, Crichton, before Rygel gets hold of it."
John made a non-committal noise and started out of the room, but, before he could leave, Aeryn sprang up and grabbed his arm.
"John, is there something wrong?"
"You might say that," he said as he tried and failed to pull away.
"Then talk to me about it."
"No. I don't feel like it."
"You never let me get away with saying that when you want me to talk."
John sighed. "You're right. But, I really think I need some time to think before I say anything to you about today."
"And why is that?"
"I... I thought I knew you, Aeryn."
John pulled himself forcefully from her grip.
"I thought Officer Sun was gone, but now I'm not so sure." He looked her squarely in the eye. "And I don't think Officer Sun is someone I want to be around very much," he added and then walked purposefully out of the room.
Aeryn stormed back to her quarters.
That presumptive frelling primitive... Why I put up with... Sometimes I just want to space...
Upon arrival she threw herself onto her bunk and stared up at the ceiling as if she were trying to bore a hole in it. Eventually a noise from the doorway drew her attention. She jumped to her feet.
"Am I disturbing you?"
Aeryn shook her head to clear it.
"I sense you are upset. Forgive my intrusion. I will come back later."
"No, wait. Don't leave. I wanted to talk to you."
Riit tilted his head questioningly at her.
"I... I wanted to thank you. You saved my life down there today."
"My kind had done you the ultimate injury. I am glad that I was able to undo it."
"You're still glad even after what I did?"
"Yes, even after what you did. They were a dishonorable band of thieves and dealers in death. No one will mourn their passing, and, in our society, that is just about the worst thing you could say about anyone."
Aeryn shook her head again. "I don't understand you. They were your own people. How can you forgive me so easily?"
"Do you need to be forgiven?"
"By you, yes. I owe you a great debt. I don't want to add to it, as I can never repay you as it is."
"You've saved Chiana from a horrible fate more than once. At the very least I consider us even."
Aeryn's eyes began to fill with tears. "Thank you."
Riit brought a Garment-clad hand to her cheek. Aeryn marveled at the profound feeling of warm comfort and sympathy the touch gave her.
"I never thought I'd ever see a Peacekeeper cry."
"I'm not a Peacekeeper any more."
"Indeed, a Peacekeeper would not have thought twice, nor felt any misgivings, about what you did today."
"And a Peacekeeper would never have bothered to help a member of another race, either."
"Is that what is really troubling you? From what Chiana tells me, she is not alone among the various other species you've helped since you came aboard Moya. You have come a long way in such a short time. You should feel very proud of yourself."
"Proud of myself?" Aeryn asked in disbelief as she turned away from Riit. "I feel only shame -- shame that I ever felt that way at all! What you did for me today threw that into the starkest relief possible."
"We all have things in our past we regret. You didn't choose to be a Peacekeeper, did you?"
"No, I was born on a command carrier. It was all I'd ever known."
"Then be thankful that, unlike the rest of your former comrades, you have come out of the darkness and into the light."
Aeryn turned back to Riit. "Your words are very kind." She smiled. "I think I'm beginning to understand what Chiana sees in you."
"And I see what she sees in you, as well."
Riit turned to leave.
"Don't go yet," Aeryn asked.
"Is there something more you wished of me?"
"Could I see you?"
With Riit off talking to Aeryn, Hamarr went in search of Chiana, finally finding her on a remote tier in the far rear of Moya.
"It is fortunate that Nebari are so easy to track, otherwise I might never have found you back here," she said as she came upon Chiana.
"After what happened, I just wanted to be alone for a while."
"I can understand that. I would imagine that few Nebari have seen the sort of violence you saw today."
"They were kind to us. How could they have turned on Aeryn so completely?"
"Their generosity only extended as far as their money purses would allow. They saw Aeryn as a threat and acted accordingly, though rashly and foolishly."
"I did warn them."
"Did you, indeed?"
"Yeah, but at the time I thought it was a load of dren. I didn't think that she was capable of what she did. She killed them all without getting so much as a scratch."
"Peacekeepers are usually very proficient. That is why their services are in such demand."
"So, why did you want to find me?"
"A transport from our ship will be arriving shortly with the goods Aeryn purchased and the foodstuffs Riit promised you. I wanted to know if you would like to come back with us for a short visit."
"I would like to see Sussen, Victan and the others, but I don't think it's a good idea."
"Why is that?"
"It's hard being around Riit. The trip up here in the pod made my skin crawl."
"The craving is still strong?"
"It's been strong all along. I was finally beginning to think I was getting better when we arrived at this trash heap of a planet. Seeing him again -- being with him again -- has just made it all worse."
"I would imagine that being around any of the Chosen at all is difficult for you."
"Frelling right it is. All part of me wants to do is come back to you. I would never have gone into that bunker in the first place if there weren't people all around shooting at each other."
"If it is any consolation, I believe that Riit feels even worse about the situation than you do."
"I know. It breaks my heart to be causing him pain."
"He is strong. He will be alright, just as you will be."
"Now come with me. At least you can say hello to the crew coming over in the transport."
Immediately after everyone had seen off the Fotok, Aeryn arrived in Command to find Chiana watching their ship recede as Moya broke orbit.
"I thought I'd find you here," she told the young Nebari.
Chiana looked at Aeryn warily. "Yeah, I just wanted to get one last look."
"So did I."
Chiana flinched slightly as Aeryn came up next to her.
"It's alright, Chiana. You don't have to be frightened of me."
"Isn't that what you Peacekeepers want? For everyone to be afraid of you?"
"It may be what Peacekeepers want, but it's not what I want."
"Could have fooled me. I think everyone but D'Argo is scared to death of you."
"He's a warrior, so he's the only one who really understands why I did what I did."
"Oh, I understand just fine. I just can't believe it. You really are a killing machine."
"Of course I am. I was trained my entire life to be one."
Chiana was struck by the matter-of-factness of Aeryn's self-evaluation.
"It's just not something I've had any real experience with before," she said quietly. "There aren't any Nebari like you. We don't have soldiers. We don't..."
"You don't kill."
"You just take away a person's mind and reprogram the shell that's left."
"That's better, isn't it?"
"I don't know. I would imagine that Durka would say he'd rather have died than stayed 'cleansed'." Aeryn looked Chiana in the eyes. "I seem to recall you saying much the same thing as well."
"Yeah, I guess I did."
Aeryn turned back to the viewscreen. The Fotok ship was long gone.
"He showed himself to me."
"Yes. I don't know why they hide themselves. They're not particularly unusual for beings from a moderately low gravity world."
"Clinical as usual. But then soldiers can't let emotions cloud their evaluations, can they?"
"Oh, I don't know. Not long ago I'd have added how grotesque and obviously inferior to Sebaceans they are. When everyone is a potential enemy it helps to automatically judge them to be your lesser."
"I suppose that makes killing them easier," observed Chiana with distaste.
"That's right," Aeryn answered to Chiana's surprise. "I didn't realize that until recently. All my training about other species was geared to making it easier for me to be emotionally detached when I had to kill them. It was all part of the Peacekeepers' objective of keeping us from feeling our natural empathy for others."
"Was it really that bad?"
"Yes. When I first got here Crichton had to explain to me what the word 'compassion' meant. I told him I hated the feeling."
"Do you still?"
"No. What's happened here on Moya has shown me that other life forms are not worthless or inferior." Aeryn smiled. "I'm almost to the point where I could call Riit beautiful."
"I got there a long time ago."
"You'll miss him, won't you?"
Aeryn began heading out of Command. "Maybe someday I'll learn what it's like to miss someone or be missed."
Oh, I bet you already have a pretty good idea, Chiana thought as she bit her lip to keep from saying so aloud.
Aeryn was in the exercise area pounding on some equipment when John tracked her down.
"Hey," he said to her.
"What do you want?" she shot back.
"I just wanted to talk."
"I'm tired of talking, Crichton. I'm through explaining myself to all of you. I did what I did, now just let it go. Besides, I thought you didn't want to be around me anymore."
"That feeling's passed," he said with a slight smile. "I realize now that I might have done the same thing in your place."
"I know what wanting revenge is like," he added as he remembered how he had waited years to wreck a motorcycle to get back at someone who'd wronged him. "And, after what they did to you, I guess they got what they deserved."
Aeryn came over to him, put a hand on his shoulder and asked, "Do you really mean that?"
"Yeah, I think I do."
Aeryn suddenly realized that John's understanding was the only one she really cared about having.
"So," John continued. "Did you see anything?"
"You know -- when you were dead."
"No. It was like when we were caught in the Flax and you didn't see anything. It was just blackness."
"Well, now that's really depressing," John observed with a grin.
"Maybe it's like you said then - that it wasn't my time yet, or maybe my body hadn't really started to die."
"Or maybe you Sebaceans are right and there is nothing after death."
"That is depressing," Aeryn said with a smile.
"But there is some good news -- Chiana's whipping up a feast with all that food we got from the Fotok trader."
"Can she cook?"
"Riit told me she was the cook's assistant on their ship. Besides, however it turns out it's gotta be better than food cubes."
"A thief and a chef -- who would have thought."
"I know, so we better get up there before Rygel eats it all."
"And speaking of Sparky, while you were stuck down on the planet, he was talking about trading Moya in for a faster ship. That was brought on by Pilot's saying that we probably can't starburst anymore because of Moya's pregnancy. And, to top it all off, D'Argo's been grousing about leaving too."
"Sounds like we'll have a wonderful time at dinner, then."
"Yep. One big, happy family - just like always."