By Laura Folden
Author's Note: This story takes place after They've Got A Secret but before The Flax.
Officer Aeryn Sun inhaled sharply, studying Crais' ship as it drew inexorably closer before she turned and fled down the hallway after the others, dodging frantic DRDs.
Ambushed. She should have been watching, should have been paying attention. Crais had seemingly come from out of nowhere...he was just suddenly there, and Moya'd had no time to starburst. Aeryn's mouth twisted, betraying the coldness inside her.
John turned and stared back at her. "Come on, Aeryn!"
"Coming...." But she turned back to Pilot, frowning worriedly. Moya was trapped in Crais's docking web, something she wouldn't have believed possible at the speed they'd been traveling. But he'd done it, and for all of her skill as a pilot she wasn't able to break free. Now they were going to hide. Whatever good that would do.
Crichton stopped and came back for her. "Come on!" He grabbed her hand and urged her to speed up. They both began to run, Aeryn struggling to match his speed. Then Moya shook again, throwing them both off balance. Aeryn gasped as her ankle twisted under her, spilling her to the ground.
"This isn't working, Crichton!" She gasped, rubbing her ankle. It didn't feel broken. "Go get the weapons and I'll meet you there."
"No, D'Argo can get the weapons."
"We don't have time for this!"
He paused, studying her. "You're right. Now shut up and help me find one of the larger access panels. We're both going to hide here." He paced the hallway, keeping his eyes low on the wall near the ground. "Here we go..." he grinned at her, then stood back and began kicking the arched panel furiously. "Come on, baby, come on," he chanted, kicking in time with his blows. The panel dented and buckled. John gave one last furious kick and the panel burst inward, clattering to the ground.
A DRD squeaked and darted inside ahead of them.
John dropped to the ground and stuck his head through the open panel. "Looks like a storage compartment, maybe," he yelled back at her, his voice echoing strangely. He wiggled his way inside. "But its way too dark to tell. Move it, Sun," he ordered as the last of him disappeared.
Aeryn lay down and slithered in after him, knocking her chin against his boots in the process. "Ow!"
"Sorry," John pulled himself out of her way, "its kind of cramped in here."
'Don't forget dark." She maneuvered herself back around til she was facing the entrance and pushed the access panel back in place. The DRD squeaked and bumped against the panel.
"Sorry, little guy," Crichton whispered. "You're with us for now." He levered himself to his feet, peering blindly into the dark room. "Where does this go?"
Aeryn lifted the corner of her jacket and spoke into her comlink. "Pilot, what's happening?"
"Four Marauder transports are on approach to the cargo bay. Crais still has Moya in his docking web."
Aeryn pursed her lips, thinking. "Open the doors to them, Pilot."
"If you don't they'll just blast them open. When they...when they get to command, can you stall them?"
Crichton flashed her a bemused look.
"I will not reveal your location, Officer Sun." He hesitated. "I should be able to modify Moya's data banks to make it appear as if you are not here-at least for a cursory inspection."
"Do it." Aeryn bit her lip. She didn't like leaving him unprotected. "Where are the others?"
"Tier 19, aft section, and still moving."
Aeryn reached down and pulled off her boot, inspecting her ankle in the dim light from the DRD's eyes. She flexed it, up and down, back and forth. It hurt, but it would bear her weight and at the moment that was all that mattered.
Crichton nodded, crouching down beside her. "I don't suppose there's much chance of catching up to them now but we have to try. Let them know what's happening, Pilot."
"As good as done."
Aeryn sighed, still flexing her foot. John reached down and pressed his fingers expertly against her ankle bone. "How is it?" he whispered.
"Fine. I'm fine, Crichton." She blurted furiously, then reddened. She yanked her ankle out of his grip and stuffed it into her boot.
He stared at her. "I don't feel like sitting around waiting for Crais, do you?" He stood, turning away from her to peer again into the depths of the dark room. "I wish I knew where this goes...if it hooks up with the others."
Aeryn pressed her palms flat against the wall and levered herself to her feet, testing the strength of her ankle. "Pilot." she murmured directly to the DRD, which swivelled to face her. "Can you lead us to the others?"
The DRD turned in an excited circle and then darted off into the darkness.
"I guess that answers that."
They followed the light of the DRD eyes into the darkness. As they walked, Crichton ran his fingers lightly along the wall. "God, Aeryn, Moya's got to have miles of hallways and secret places. We could hide for days."
Aeryn snorted. "Yes. If you don't count in the scent hounds or the techs...or eating, drinking, sleeping...."
They walked on a bit further, listening intently through the walls for any sound of the invading soldiers. "Can they...can their equipment read us through the walls?"
"I don't know. I'm a soldier, not a tech." She hesitated, then drew one sharp breath, trying to ease the coldness inside her. "You know this is hopeless don't you? Pilot can't keep them off our backs for long. And they'll question him." She bit her lip. Question. That's one word for it.
"It sure beats sitting around waiting to die." His voice, already a whisper, was now barely a breath. "Do you think they've boarded by now?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"Well its very likely," she whispered back.
"Aeryn, just what part of 'no' don't you understand?"
The dark hall curved left, then gradually right again. The DRD skittered ahead of them impatiently, its little lights bobbing on its antenna. "Officer Sun." Pilot's voice came, muted, through the comm link. "Officer Sun can you hear me?"
"Yes Pilot. Go ahead."
"The Marauders have landed. I must close the comm link before they reach Command or they will hear you."
"You are approaching the bulkhead behind the Landing Bay. Many Peacekeepers are gathering there."
"Pilot..." Aeryn hesitated, "Don't-if they start to question you, tell them the truth. Don't-I mean, take care of yourself."
"I will not betray your location, Officer Sun. Beginning comm silence now."
Aeryn's fingers caressed her gun. She wished she was up there to protect him, although she knew it was futile. One ex-Peacekeeper against four Marauder transports. "Stay here," Her hushed tone barely carried beyond her own ears. "I'm going to scout ahead."
Crichton nodded tersely. "Careful."
She bit back a retort and stalked off into the darkness, the little DRD at her heels. He was always trying to protect her-as if she were the one who needed protecting! Aeryn suddenly realized she was limping full speed ahead toward the Maintenance Bay without even a thought for silence. I have to stop letting him distract me like this. I'll walk right into an ambush and never know it.
Aeryn halted, straining her ears and eyes for any hint of movement. Dimly she could hear the faintest echo of voices, but they sounded muffled and muted by distance. She sidled to the wall and pressed her ear against it. The voices grew louder if not much more distinct. This must be the back wall of the bay, then, she thought. If that's so, then somewhere above her...there it was.
She gauged the distance from her position to the ventilation duct. The trick was silence...if she made a sound she could bring the entire Peacekeeper force down on them....Maybe she shouldn't try. No, Aeryn thought, we need to know what's going on. If she stepped onto the shelf here, then jumped to that spot there, she should be able to reach the beam without too much noise. Aeryn took a deep breath. Hope this works.
She stepped onto the low shelf, balancing herself precariously on the ledge. This would be difficult enough without her ankle to contend with, but she felt confident she could do it. Well, she hoped she could do it. She took another deep breath. It didn't seem any harder than the obstacle course she had to pass to become a Commando. To make the next jump, she'd have to push off with her good ankle or she'd never make the distance. But that meant landing on her bad ankle...
No help for it. She leaped.
Aeryn landed on her injured foot, felt it give and nearly toppled over the edge, teetering there for a long painful moment, and saved herself only by grabbing the beam above her. She closed her eyes for a moment, her breathing harsh. Her ankle throbbed distressingly. Had anyone heard her? She raised her head and listened intently. No, it was as quiet as before.
She pulled herself up onto the beam above her, swinging her weight over until she was laying on top. Aeryn rose to her hands and knees and crawled the last few feet. She peeked cautiously through the grille. Pilot had said there were four Marauder ships on approach, but she saw only two in the bay. They had landed next to the damaged Pod. The other two Marauders must be patrolling, or readying for docking once landing and command were secure. Aeryn frowned. How were they getting through the docking web? It was something she hadn't considered. Crais had to be releasing the web, even if only for a split second, to let those transports through. Could she use that to their advantage?
Aeryn nearly slid off the beam in surprise. That voice came from right below her... She craned her neck to peer down through the grille.
"The bay is secure, sir. No sign of the prisoners yet."
'Signal the Carrier that the Captain is free to board."
Crais himself coming down? That...that wasn't regulated procedure....Not with just two five-member teams on board, not with only the landing bay out of the entire ship secured. Crais must be foaming at the mouth at the prospect of killing Crichton-he was obsessed enough to disregard every rule of engagement.
The odds were bad enough without more soldiers coming aboard. Not to mention Crais. This was sounding more and more like those ridiculous field strategy games they made her do in commando training. One of the first rules she'd ever learned was to prevent the enemy from placing more soldiers in the field against you. But how to do that? They were horribly outmanned, not to mention outgunned, and even if she managed to take the landing bay she had no way of holding it against any new ships coming in for even a fraction of a micron.. Unless-Aeryn glanced down at the DRD, thinking furiously. A few weeks ago Crichton had done some communicating with these little droids. She slid off the beam and dropped to the ledge below, then lowered herself to the ground. She knelt in front of the DRD.
The DRD's eyes pivoted to follow her. "Pilot?" She whispered. "Pilot, can you hear me?"
The DRD eyes lifted and it chirped at her.
"Well, that could mean anything." Aeryn leaned closer to it. "I don't know if you can communicate through this DRD...but if you can hear me extend a tool, or something."
The DRD sat there.
Damn. Well so much for-
Buzzing softly, a hatch opened in the front of the little machine and a wrench glided out.
Aeryn's breath caught in her throat. Yes, she thought. I don't know how I'm sure...I can't be sure, but...that wasn't just chance. She rubbed her arms, warding off a sudden chill. "I need you to slowly start building up power for starburst...very slowly. If they detect you, they might shoot you. Can you do that?"
The DRD remained silent.
"Right, um, turn in a circle for yes..."
The DRD spun in a tight little circle.
I'm going insane, I know I am. "Okay, here's my plan...." She sketched it quickly but thoroughly, hoping that Pilot would understand all of it. This was such a gamble in everything from timing to avoiding detection, but she couldn't see that she had a choice.
She stood and removed her gun from its holster, checking its power level even though she knew it was fully charged. Aeryn rubbed the barrel, checked the power level again and replaced the gun loosely in its holster. She limped off toward the opposite wall of the bay. She had to find an access panel near to where the damaged pod had landed. The little DRD squeaked softly and started off after her.
"What?" She whispered, staring at it, startled. "Oh, no...go back to Crichton. You have to go back to Crichton."
The DRD seemed to stare at her.
"No, really, go to Crichton....You'll just draw attention to me." Aeryn, you're losing it, you're really losing it. "Go on!" She shooed it away.
It turned and darted off down the hallway. Aeryn lingered for a moment to watch it go before resuming her search for an entrance into the maintenance bay. Crichton would worry when it got back to him without her, but she couldn't take it with her and it was far too valuable as a communications tool to leave sitting here alone. Besides, if she was lucky she could accomplish her task and get back before he came looking for her.
She located one of the larger access panels and began to pry off the cover. Aeryn desperately hoped that it was close to the Marauder transports. She'd paced off the metras but it came down to pure chance. Pure chance that this was close, and pure chance that she could get inside the bay when none of the soldiers was looking. She cautiously pulled the cover away from the wall and bent down to peer through the little hole. She craned her neck left and right but couldn't see anything except the bay and some DRD's zipping around. She drew her gun and pulled the safety. Suddenly the magnitude of what she was about to attempt hit her and she froze. This wasn't merely a field strategy exercise, conducted within the limits and boundaries of a training field. If even one soldier saw her too soon, she was dead, but so was everyone else. Aeryn bit her lip. One person ambushing five...it was crazy. She should go back for Crichton-but time was running out. She had to prevent any more soldiers from getting on board Moya, from getting to Pilot, or they were all dead anyway. Well, as Crichton always says, here goes nothing....
Aeryn lowered herself to her belly and peeked out of the panel. She drew herself slowly forward with her arms, ready to retreat in an instant should she be discovered. No sound except the distant voices of the soldiers guarding the bay. She allowed herself to breathe.
The closest ship was several dozen metras to her left. Aeryn nearly cursed. But if she ducked behind those barrels there, she could be halfway there and still safe behind cover. She drew herself to her knees and bolted for the barrels in a half-crouch, half-limp run, gun pointed down but ready to fire. She reached them and dove for the ground, then crawled quickly toward the ship, shooing two or three DRDs out of her way. She paused to check if any soldiers were nearby before making the final sprint. She reached the ship and spun around, flattening herself against the surface. Had they seen her?
No change in the pitch or volume of their voices, no sudden alarms. She hobbled over to the door and crept inside. With luck, her little ambush should take out all of the team currently in the bay, and prevent soldiers from landing until the mess could be cleared. She needed an awful lot of luck right now.
She checked the batteries; still fully charged, and ran through a basic check without thinking about it. She'd run pre-flight checks on ships like this one since she was...she couldn't even remember how old. Only this time, I'm not flying anywhere. Aeryn quietly, efficiently disabled the warning alarms on the batteries and opened the valves to full.
She reached under the seat for the equipment pack and rummaged for a welding torch and a strap. She limped back to the engine and crawled underneath the battery. Aeryn reached up and strapped the torch to a pipe running off the main battery, twisting the head til it was nearly flush against the surface of the battery itself.
She'd have a few hundred seconds, no more, once she lit that torch.
She swallowed hard, clutched the torch and flipped the power switch. The torch end began glowing white-hot against the battery casement. Aeryn scrambled out from under the battery, snatched her gun and dashed headlong out of the pod-and stopped dead in her tracks.
"On the ground-now!" The commando yelled, staring at her down the length of his pulse rifle. "Now, Officer!"
I should've gone back for Crichton while I had the chance. Stupid, stupid!
The pulse rifle clicked as the soldier prepared to fire.
Aeryn lowered herself slowly to the ground. Well, even if he killed her now, it was too late to stop the battery from overheating., and she'd still have gained them an important tactical advantage. But she was the only one who knew her whole plan. She was the only one who knew there even was a plan. Except Pilot of course.
Aeryn closed her eyes. She didn't want to die.
The soldier collapsed face down in front of her.
Startled, she looked up into Crichton's furious face. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" He gripped her forearm with one strong fist and yanked her to her feet. His blue eyes flashed.
She could've kissed him. Aeryn looked from him to the battery and back again. "Go!" She ordered him, jerking her arm away from his grip.
She shoved him urgently toward the access panel. "Hurry! Now! I've rigged the ship to explode!" Two DRDs buzzed past her feet.
Behind her she heard shouts as they were spotted by the other commandos. Crichton took one look at her frantic face and bolted in the wrong direction. He dodged more of the panicked DRDs as he ran, drawing the soldiers' fire. Aeryn swore, scooped up the unconscious soldier's pulse rifle and comm unit and took off after him. Someone fired, narrowly missing her. She dove to the floor, swinging the rifle around even as she dropped. She fired, once, twice, not expecting to hit anyone. She rolled behind some barrels, drew herself to her knees and fired again.
Crichton was almost to the other marauder transport.
Aeryn's lips tightened and she fired again. The commandos were ducking from obstacle to obstacle, trying to outflank them. She fired left, then right, trying desperately to keep them pinned down. Just a little more time....she needed just a little more time to let that battery start to heat. Time to keep the soldiers from killing them.
Crichton suddenly swerved to his right and ducked inside the ship. Aeryn hopelessly, desperately raised her rifle for another shot at the enemy. Of all the misguided, misplaced.....she didn't know whether to kiss him or kick him now.
Aeryn heard an ominous bubbling sound coming from the direction of the ship behind her.
Kick him. Definitely kick him.
Aeryn started her limping run for the other transport and Crichton. She'd never make it, she couldn't get up enough speed-but at least she thought she'd held the soldiers pinned down long enough. Weapons fire exploded over her head. Aeryn ducked right and stumbled when her ankle gave out under her.
She heard the soldiers shouting, heard pounding footsteps. She scrambled to her knees and spun around, rifle raised for one last shot. And gaped. The soldiers were pinned against the wall....by DRDs. Not just the few she'd seen earlier, but dozens of the little yellow robots, all with tiny guns pointed at the soldiers.
Pilot! Thank you, Pilot! Thank you thank you thank you....
The hissing of the battery raised in pitch to a scream. She wasn't going to make it. Still Aeryn struggled to reach the dubious safety of the other transport, her ankle giving with every step. She fell once, scrabbled to her feet and fell again.
Crichton bolted out of the other transport, scooped her up and practically threw her inside. He dove in after her, flipped himself around and shut the door behind them.
The scream of the battery raised beyond their hearing. A moment of ominous silence, and the Marauder exploded. Their ship slid across the bay, tossed around by the force of the blast, then flipped once crazily into the air. Aeryn felt the intense heat to her bones and thought she yelled but couldn't hear her own voice above the detonation. Crichton grabbed her and pulled her against him, shielding her with his body as their shelter came to rest sideways against the wall of the bay.
She lifted her eyes to his anxious gaze.
"Aeryn, you okay?"
Aeryn took a quick mental check of her myriad of bruises, cuts, scrapes, aches and pains and then nodded. Still nothing broken. "I'm fine. How about you?"
"Fine." He glanced over his shoulder at the dented door. "It's a little hot in here though."
She gripped the front of his shirt in her fist and yanked him closer to her. His face was only inches from hers. "If you ever, ever disobey me again, I will kill you!"
"Disobey you." His voice was flatly disbelieving.
"You ran in the wrong direction." She clinically catalogued his errors. "You drew the soldier's attention to us. You came after me in the first place. You-"
"As I recall it, Miss Sun, I saved your life. I drew their attention away from you so you could make it to safety! You'd never have made it on that ankle of yours before they got us-hell, you barely even made it here!" His frustrated gesture took in the damaged transport. "You were not supposed to follow me!"
She made a disgruntled noise deep in her throat. "If you'd stayed where I left you I wouldn't have had any problems!"
"Yeah, you'd be dead. Or is your memory going with your sanity?" He pulled away from her grip. "That soldier had you, Aeryn, admit it." Crichton gave her a hard look. "Why the hell did you blow up that ship anyway?"
"To stop Crais getting on board.-with the damage and fire out there, they can't land now, can they?" She snapped. "We have to work on our communication."
Crichton flashed her an exasperated look and pulled away from her. "We?" He shook his head. "The only thing we're going to do is have a very long talk, sometime very soon." He reached behind him and opened the door. A blast of heat hit them. "Damn-"he shut the door quickly. "That is hot."
Aeryn wiped sweat off her face. "And we're on the wrong side of it."
"Will spacesuits insulate us?"
"Not for long." Aeryn cocked her head, considering the idea. "Maybe long enough."
"Any in here?"
"Mm-hmm." She pointed to the back of the transport. "That compartment over there should have some."
Crichton clambered over the seats and headed to the back of the transport, bracing himself against the wall. Aeryn mentally urged him to hurry. The air was hot and getting hotter by the micron. He located the storage compartment and the suits. Aeryn busied herself ripping strips of cloth from her shirt and winding them tightly around her ankle. She'd need as much support as she could get. Her ankle was swollen and tender to the touch and it felt weak but she could still flex it. In retrospect, she shouldn't have tried all that leaping about to see what was in the bay. It was necessary, though.
"Here." Crichton climbed back over the seat and handed her a suit and helmet. "This ought to fit you."
Aeryn slid the suit on, wincing as she felt the extra heat from the thick layers. But she was ready to try anything to get back on the other side of the bay.
"Officers, report." The comm unit she took from the soldier crackled. "What is going on down there?"
"Officers, report." The unit crackled and went silent.
Aeryn efficiently tucked her hair into her suit, drew on her helmet and then her gloves. She pushed herself to her feet. Crichton edged over to her, putting his helmet on. It wasn't the best fit, but they weren't heading out into space either. She met his eyes. "Ready?" Her voice was low and breathless as she struggled to breathe against the heated air.
"Ready." Crichton shoved the door open and climbed out. It was like opening a door to a blast furnace; air like molten iron swept into the transport.
Aeryn closed her eyes, feeling suddenly weak. At these temperatures, it wouldn't be long at all before she started succumbing to heat delirium. Sweat ran down her face, matted her hair. "Crichton, listen to me. You have to get to Pilot.When Crais tries to send another ship here, I think...I think he'll release the docking web for two or three microns. Then we starburst. Got it?" Aeryn's hands tightened on the lip of the doorway as another wave of weakness overwhelmed her.
Crichton reached down and grabbed her arm. Bracing himself against the wall of the transport, he hauled her up by sheer strength. "Yeah, I got it."
Aeryn rested on top for a brief moment, surveying the wreckage of the landing bay. It was totally devastated. The ship she'd rigged was nothing more than heaps of molten metal. Flames leapt higher than her head, gorging on oxygen and the deep pools of battery fluid. The soldiers would not be able to land for a while.
"Aeryn-" Crichton shook her arm to get her attention.
She turned, blinking furiously to clear the sting of sweat from her eyes. "It's too hot." She could barely hear her own voice. Another wave of weakness washed over her. Heat. The battery. "John-"
"Yeah?" He jumped to the floor of the bay and reached up for her.
"The battery...this ship...when it gets hot too...." She swallowed painfully.
His blue eyes widened in alarm. He pulled her off the ship and supported her with one arm. . "Right." He reached around her, crouching low, and hauled her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Crichton then turned and bolted for the bay doors, dodging flames and sparks.
The suit protected their skin from the flames but couldn't protect them from the heat. John brushed too close to one fire and his suit caught on fire, slowly at first and then faster. The suits were fairly sturdy but not designed to be used in heat like this. Aeryn beat the flames out with one gloved hand and with the pulse rifle she carried in the other.
Then suddenly they were to the door and through. Crichton dumped her unceremoniously to the ground and then dropped there himself, rolling to extinguish the last of the flames. As soon as they were out he reached for her and yanked her helmet off.
Cool air, blessed, blessed amazing cool air.
Crichton stripped off his own helmet and suit and then came back to kneel beside her. "You okay?"
She smiled up at him. Seemed like he was always asking her that. "It worked, it actually worked!"
"Yeah, well, we've got some more ass to kick, Aeryn, and Crais is still out there," he said, but he grinned back at her. "So come on."
"We have to get to Pilot quickly now-before Crais sends anyone down to clear out that mess." They'd probably only get one chance at this. She rolled over and pushed herself to her feet, standing unsteadily. She was still a little dizzy from the heat, but it should pass soon. Crichton slid his arm around her, helping support her weight. They hobbled as quickly as they could down the curved hallway away from the landing bay.
A little DRD darted out of a side hallway, followed shortly by D'Argo. "Crichton, Aeryn!" He stopped short at the sight of them, his broad arms folded across his chest. "What the hezmona is going on?"
"Dargo!" Aeryn sighed in relief. "Where's Zhaan and Rygel?"
"We heard an explosion. I came to check it out." The Luxan continued, looking askance at their singed clothing. "It didn't take you long to get into trouble."
Crichton shook his head. "Love to stand around chatting, cous, but we have to get to command before Crais can land."
"Crais is coming here himself?! Now?"
"Unless we stop him." Crichton's arm tightened around Aeryn's waist and they began walking again. "Seems he's got this obsession about killing me."
Aeryn ran him through her plan as they got on the lift and headed for command.
D'Argo frowned. "Risky. If our timing's off by even a micron, Moya will tear herself apart in the docking web."
"I know." She looked away. In field strategy exercises, it was acceptable to lose your entire team to attain your goal. Aeryn had always accepted that with a certain calm remove. Emotions were no part of a battle--you could end up sacrificing a friend as easily as you could be sacrificed yourself. Suddenly everything was a lot more... personal. Complicated. She didn't want to lose any of them.
Aeryn exhaled softly and leaned a little into John, feeling the heat of his body on her arm. His warm blue eyes looked down at her, questioning. She studied his features intently, willing them to memory. Not that it would matter--it was highly unlikely that either of them would survive. John's eyes softened a little and his fingers traced the curve of her shoulder comfortingly.
D'Argo shifted, drawing her attention away from John. Aeryn didn't want to lose Dargo, either; or Zhaan, or Rygel, or Pilot. She liked them, respected them all--with the possible exception of Rygel--even when they drove her insane. They'd become her family since her life had been ripped away from her. She was irreversibly contaminated now. Life on the other side of the prison cell had changed her forever.
The lift doors opened and they went together the last few feet into command. Aeryn hobbled over to the control console and activated communications with Pilot. John stood beside her, still supporting her with his arm.
Pilot's purple face shimmered onto the viewscreen. "Officer Sun?" He sounded surprised and pleased.
"We're here, Pilot. How are you?" She smiled at him, still intensely conscious of John's hand rubbing her shoulder.
"I was not sure you survived the explosion in the landing bay. May I ask what caused it?"
Aeryn blinked. "I told you that--when I talked to you through the DRD..." Her eyes widened in alarm and she looked down at the console. If she hadn't talked to him, then... But no, Moya was at about 75% of the trads she needed for starburst. "Pilot--you didn't hear me?"
"No, Officer Sun."
She spared a quick glance at John, thinking about the dozens of DRDs that had pinned the soldiers to the wall. "And you didn't send those DRDs either?"
"Which DRDs were those?"
"Aeryn, what are you talking about?" D'Argo glanced at her. "You're not making any sense. I suggest we concentrate on Crais."
She shook her head. If not Pilot, then...Moya? Her breath caught. Moya was fighting beside them, Moya saved their lives? Moya was building power for starburst. She swallowed. Now I know I'm losing it. But she couldn't think of any other explanation. "Right."
"Attention, please. The command carrier is bring around their frag cannons."
No! Aeryn stared at him in horror. If Crais didn't send any more ships over, if he just shot them... She wracked her brains, trying desperately to think of anything.
John left her side and darted to another control panel. "Can we use the DS inside the docking web, Pilot? Aeryn?"
"I don't know."
John's hands frantically pressed controls for the DS. They'd never had a chance to test it in battle before.
D'Argo stepped toward John. "No. Not yet." He leaned against the console. "Pilot, open a channel to Crais when I say."
"But what--" Pilot started to protest.
"Not now, Pilot!" He growled, turning back to John. "We have to give Crais a reason to send someone through that web. You must challenge him to battle."
John stared at him. "You've lost it, big guy."
The tall Luxan towered over him. "Make him want to take you himself, Crichton. Can you do that?"
John nodded slowly.
"Pilot, open that channel."
Crichton stepped into the center of the room, resting his weight arrogantly against the central console, arms akimbo. He glanced at Aeryn, winked once, and turned back to the screen. Aeryn stared at him. He was insane. Completely insane.
"Yo, Captain Bialar Crais. Crais, you loser, can you hear me? Or don't you have the guts to answer me?"
"Yeah, well, I always knew you were a coward in what passes for a heart in that scrawny little chest of yours. Are your soldiers listening right now, loser? Cause I want them to know just what a yellow-bellied, chicken-livered--"
Crais's face flashed onto the viewscreen. "Crichton!" he roared.
John grinned at him. "Good to see you too, you bastard. How are the wife and children?"
85% trads for starburst and rising.
"This ends now, human." Aeryn's captain's voice was intense, malevolent.
"Sure, course it does, pal. You in your big command carrier, me in this little Leviathan. I'm totally outclassed by all you ugly slimy Sebaceans--and yet I still managed to take out two Marauder transports, all of your commandos, and keep you from getting on board. Wonder what your soldiers are thinking now, hmmm?"
"Frag cannons are locked on target." Pilot's soft voice cut through the conversation.
John laughed derisively. "So much for Peacekeeper superiority. Five months chasing one puny human--and the human manages to whup Sebacean ass every single time."
90% trads for starburst.
"Pilot," Aeryn whispered, "give me manual control of Moya now."
"So Crais, you bastard, you gonna shoot me from there? Or you want to go at it with me, mano a mano? I'd love a chance to kick your slimy butt again. How's the neck, by the way? Still bother you? Another few seconds and I'd have ended this once and for all."
Silence from the Peacekeepers.
"Or just shoot me. I'll be sure to tell your brother what a weakling you are. Not that he's worth my attention either. Slimy bastard from slimy bastard genes. One little wind-up toy of a ship took him out...some pilot he was, right, Crais? But I will be sure to tell him you couldn't even kill me yourself. Took your whole complement to wipe me out, I'll say, and I'm sure he'll be glad to know you couldn't be bothered to--"
"Crichton!" Pilot interrupted hurriedly. "The carrier is opening their docking bay doors."
Aeryn's hands tightened on the controls as they came up. 95% trads for starburst.
"That fast?" Crichton whispered to her over his shoulder.
"We're quick." She threw back. "And they were probably already in their transports awaiting orders."
97% trads for starburst. She bit her lip. One chance at this.
Crichton turned back to the screen. "Come on, Crais, what do you say? You and me, one last time. So I can send you to visit your dead brother. Happy family reunion for the Crais family, huh? Two dead slimy rotten excuses for soldiers, yucking it up on the Other Side."
Seven Marauders flew out of the docking bay, followed by an entire unit of Prowlers. Aeryn, Crichton and D'Argo stared at the viewscreen as if hypnotized. Aeryn's hands tightened further on the controls. The timing on this would have to be absolutely exact.
The ships lined into battle formation, Prowlers at the front for attack, Marauders for landing. They hovered outside the ship. Waiting. Waiting for orders. Waiting for the docking web to be released.
Aeryn drew a deep breath. One chance.
Moya shuddered as the web dissipated. The Peacekeeper ships leaped forward, firing.
Aeryn yanked down on the controls, dodging fire. "Now!" She yelled. "Moya, now!"
Blue light blinded her. Aeryn fell backward as the ship starburst, catching herself on the edge of the console. Then they were through, into clear space.
Crichton yelled happily from the floor where'd he fallen. "We did it! Holy starburst, batman...We did it can you believe this?" He grinned goofily at her, propping his head on his hand.
Insane. He was completely insane. But she found herself grinning back him and D'Argo just as goofily. She arched an eyebrow at Crichton. "Ugly slimy Sebaceans?"
"Uh, yeah, well...present company accepted of course." He winked at her again, then rolled over and sat up. "Come on, guys, we still have a lot of work to do. Fires to put out and all of that."
D'Argo stood up and reached out a hand to help her up. Aeryn rose to her feet, ignoring the painful throbbing of her ankle. Crichton reached out to her, putting his arm around her again to help support her weight. "But first," he said, "we should take care of that ankle of yours."
She tsked at him. "I'm fine, Crichton."
"The hell you are. Let's go."
She broke away from him though and pressed her hand against Moya's wall. "Thank you, Moya," she said softly. She still couldn't believe it had been Moya who'd sent those DRD's to cover them in the landing bay. She mentally added Moya's name to the list of those she didn't want to lose. Then Aeryn leaned back in against Crichton, allowing him to help her out of the command.