Disclaimer: One of these days, I will claim I own them, just to see what happens. But not today.
Spoilers: Well, yes, a few.
Rating: Edging past PG 13.
Time: 7:39 PM, PDT, if you must know.
Archiving: Sure, why not. I won't even ask for a tall, cold one in exchange. I'll just sit here and look appealing.
Long, black hair, tied in a ponytail bobbing behind her head. Blue eyes. A lithe, muscular body in a Peacekeeper Special Ops uniform. Pulse pistol riding on her right thigh, ready for instant use. She should have been the answer to my prayers. She wasn't. She wasn't Aeryn Sun.
I headed for the back door of the bar, trying to keep as many customers between us as possible. I just made it to the end of the bar, when one large, gray unpleasant customer hit a smaller green customer. Some things in the Uncharted Territories never seemed to change. Mr. Green slammed into me and, deciding I was easier to handle, threw a punch at me. I dodged him and kicked at what I hoped was his knee. Mr. Green slammed into a multi-tentacled alien, knocking him off his barstool. Before Green or I could continue, we had a tentacle around our necks and Mr. Tentacle was trying to bash our heads in against the ceiling. Suddenly, a pulse pistol shot took Tentacle's head off, and I fell to the floor. I still might have made it out if Green hadn't tripped me.
I looked up and saw Peacekeeper boots. With the boots came a voice. A female voice, but a Peacekeeper voice none the less. "Report."
I scrambled to my feet and came to attention. "Officer Shamael Parako. Ikarian Company, Pleisar Regiment. Captain Crais's Command Carrier. My Prowler crashed here on Zindernouf seven monens ago. I've been trying to regain contact with my unit since then."
She obviously didn't think much of me. "Was there some reason you didn't kill that tentacled alien yourself? Or do you feel your superiors will always be there to solve your problems for you?"
"Captain, I caught some sort of a virus when I landed here. I've been sick most of the time."
She snorted. "Absurd. Your vaccinations will protect you completely from anything the Uncharted Territories has to offer."
I tried snorting back a little. "I'm no med tech. All I know is what happened to me and how I function." I thought I put just the right amount of Peacekeeper warrior contempt for techs into my voice. It apparently worked.
She relaxed her Peacekeeper sneer a little. "All right, Officer Parako. As it happens, I need help and I can't be particular where I get it. You now work for me. I'm Fleet Captain Ayesha Mara, Headquarters, First Command. For your information, Crais is no longer a Captain. He's been declared irreversibly contaminated. Your old unit is commanded by Scorpius now. But your new job is to help me capture a Peacekeeper defector. Former Officer Aeryn Sun. Since you were in her company, I assume you knew her?"
Oh, Lordy. Some people had all the luck. In my case, all bad. "I didn't know her particularly well, but I would recognize her if I saw her again."
Captain Mara smiled. Not a bad smile, when she wasn't being a hard ass Peacekeeper. "Sun is travelling with a group of outlaws. I assume she's their leader. Her followers are a Delvian priestess, Pa'u Zhotan Zhaan, a Hynerian, who used to be Rygel XVI, a Luxan warrior, named Ka D'Argo, some thief from here in the Uncharted Territories, called Chana, or something, and a new kind of creature. Calls himself a human and claims he's from some savage planet called Earth. He's said to resemble a Sebacean. And, he's supposed to have infiltrated a Gammack Base to spy on Scorpius. I can't understand how any member of a lesser race could convince even a newly caught recruit that he was a Peacekeeper, let alone a Special Ops Captain. I can only assume that the quality of security personnel assigned to a research base in the middle of nowhere must be pathetic. So if you see a vaguely Sebacean looking male with Sun, that'll be him. He calls himself Yon Cry-Ton."
This could be fun, if it didn't kill me. The Peacekeepers had just assigned me to catch myself. With Captain Mara's attitude towards us members of the lesser races, it shouldn't be too hard to fool her. I stopped myself before I let that thought get any older. I couldn't assume Captain Mara was a fool.
Captain Mara walked me outside and into the restaurant next door. She took a table in the back where she could see all of the entrances. I sat beside her so we could each cover half of the room. I was learning. The meal was no worse than I had eaten elsewhere, but the conversation was fascinating.
Captain Mara briefed me on the Peacekeeper's version of the last cycle. Briefly, everything that had happened had been the result of either Aeryn Sun's twisted criminal genius, Crais's unbelievable incompetence, or plain old bad luck. Aeryn had apparently gone to Namtar's asteroid with the intention of getting some of Pilot's DNA implanted in her. She, of course, had defeated Namtar. She had single handedly fought off the Marauder team that had boarded us when the Drakh Queen had been laying her eggs and destroyed Larraq's Special Ops Team as well. She had obviously impregnated Moya with the gunship. Exactly how the incompetent Crais had ended up with Talyn was glossed over.
It was apparent to me that when the Aeryn Sun Story, appearing at a multiplex in your galaxy soon, came out, the part of John Crichton would be played by an inanimate object. The Peacekeepers refused to believe that anyone other than a Peacekeeper could do anything right. I didn't like it, but in a way it made me feel safer.
I ran the actual events of the last few weeks over in my head to make sure I didn't make any foolish mistakes. We had heard that a Marauder had crashed on Zindernouf. The plan was for Aeryn and me to pose as a Peacekeeper salvage team and recover any map fibers, charts and any other sort of useful data. That idea had ended when Pilot found he needed too much help controlling Moya now that he was only partially attached to her. He needed Aeryn badly. So, John Crichton became Officer Shamael Parako, a Peacekeeper from Crais's Carrier who had actually disappeared monens ago. No problem. All I had to do was sneak onto a third rate commerce planet, look tough, grab anything worthwhile from the crash site and go home. That idea ended about two metras short of the Zindernouf Spaceport when my transport pod crashed. No, Aeryn wouldn't let me take her Prowler.
My transport pod wasn't going to fly again without more parts and talent than Zindernouf boasted, so I was stuck here until Aeryn decided I needed to be rescued. The downed Marauder turned out to be a large, black hole in the jungle outside of town, with a few pieces of vaguely Peacekeeper scraps of metal in the bottom.
I had been trying to stay out of sight for the last week and a half. That was no big problem on Zindernouf. Aside from the inhabitants who did the actual work, the inhabitants were the crews of pirate ships, smugglers, slavers, mercenaries and assorted cosmic bad guys, and they did love their privacy. Zindernouf was a typical Uncharted Territories dump. It was filled with buildings that had seen better days and people that had seen even worse.
When the meal was over, Captain Mara announced that we'd head back to the spaceport to bed down for the night. I hated what she said next. "I haven't recreated in a while, Officer Parako. I imagine you could use some recreation, too."
I spent the rest of the walk back to the spaceport wondering just how sick I could pretend to be before Captain Mara decided I was useless and shot me.
The spaceport was huge. A crumbling tower, far larger than any building on Earth, loomed over square mile after square mile of landing area. Everything was abandoned and desolate, except for Captain Mara's Prowler and a few ships parked in the distance. Her Prowler was parked up against the wall of a hangar of some sort. Mara pulled a sleeping mat and a blanket out of her Prowler and invited me to undress.
I sat down and I had my boots and jacket off, when I looked up and saw her. She was just putting her black Peacekeeper underwear away on top of her folded jacket and pants. A Fleet Captain was a fairly senior Peacekeeper rank, as best as I could tell. She would have to be older than I was, but how much? Ten years? Twenty? Fifty, even? Captain Ayesha Mara had a face and a body that a twenty-year-old human aerobics instructor would have killed for. I had a brief, unpleasant vision of a ninety-year-old Aeryn Sun, still looking drop dead gorgeous, and her bald, wrinkled, toothless human boy friend.
Captain Mara knelt in front of me. "I hope you aren't one of those men who expects the woman to do all the work? Since I am the senior officer, I do expect a little help from you. As a matter of fact, I expect a lot of help."
She giggled and lifted my tee shirt off over my head. Then she pushed me onto my back and laid on top of me. She started kissing me and soon was trying to put her tongue in my mouth. I opened my mouth, telling myself that Aeryn would forgive me, in about ten or twenty cycles. Captain Mara was discovering that it was nearly impossible to take a man's pants off while you're on top of him. She broke the kiss and slid over on to her side, pulling me with her. She attacked my pants ferociously.
I reached back with my right hand and grabbed my pulse pistol and shot the gunman coming up behind her. We both rolled away from each other as blue and yellow pulses slammed into the space we just left. Captain Mara had a pistol in one hand and a carbine in the other, firing madly. I had only my pistol, but I used it where it would do the most good.
It took Mara only a few microts to kill the other three. They apparently thought we would be too busy to notice them until we were dead since they were all out in the open with no cover. We checked their bodies. Four aliens from four separate races. Both the races and the individuals were completely unknown to me.
Captain Mara came up to me. "I don't recognize any of them. I suppose they're just criminals who took a chance and lost." She moved closer to me and put her arm, still with a pistol in her hand, around my neck. "Officer Parako, I confess that I thought you were either irreversibly contaminated, or too damaged to be useful. Even though I am considerably senior to you, I think that you've earned anything you want tonight." She stressed the word "anything" in case I had trouble understanding what she meant. She was also doing a great job of rubbing her body against mine. I just pointed to her Prowler.
She turned and looked. "Frelling Dren. I'll kill those bastards again. Look at it. Look what they did to my Prowler." She headed to her Prowler and the smoking hole in the side, just behind the cockpit. I guess Aeryn isn't the only Peacekeeper who loves her Prowler. Captain Mara had an access panel off and was pulling a tool kit from behind her cockpit, and cursing a blue streak at our deceased companions.
Having managed to recover from the sight of a naked Prowler repairwoman, I told Captain Mara that I'd better keep a look out for more criminals while she did the repairs. It took her two arns to make repairs and check every system on her Prowler that might have been damaged. At least she had managed to take a little time out to put her clothes back on. Finally, she was done and decided that one of us should stand guard while the other slept. I was given the first watch.
We were up with the sun and of to see what Zindernouf had to offer in the way of irreversibly contaminated ex-Peacekeepers. I could have told Captain Mara that Aeryn had never been near this planet, but then why spoil her fun?
Captain Mara started working her way through the town looking for information. The town was like dozens I'd seen in the Uncharted Territories. Old, crumbling buildings that had been architectural masterpieces a millennium ago alongside crude structures made from rough-hewn logs and mud bricks. The town probably held fifty thousand people and had probably been designed for closer to a million. The market sold mostly farm products and local handicrafts, and occasionally the loot from half a galaxy. Away from the market were bars, gambling dens, brothels and more to cater to the crewbeings of the ships that called Zindernouf home.
If Zindernouf was familiar, Captain Mara turned out to be different. Crais or Scorpius would have charged in with pulse pistols drawn and demanded that Aeryn Sun be produced instantly and shooting a few innocent bystanders to make their point. Captain Mara walked through the market talking to every one and being careful to be polite and friendly to all. She had money of some sort, silver metal rectangles about a quarter the size of a dollar bill, and she seemed generous to a fault. She bought at least three kinds of local fruit and a cold sweet drink that tasted vaguely like lemonade. I discovered that I was very hungry for something that wasn't food cubes and ate and drank my fill. As I handed my glass back to the shopkeeper, I caught Captain Mara smiling at me. She had a radiant smile that reminded me of another Sebacean lady I knew. I almost asked her why she was smiling, but decided it wouldn't be in character. She turned and continued her discussion with a red being that looked like an animated pincushion.
By the afternoon, Captain Mara had learned three things. First, no one had heard of or seen Officer Parako before about ten days ago. I covered that by explaining that my Prowler had crashed at the edge of the farm country to the far north and I had only reached town after walking for many monens.
Next, and worse, there were survivors from the Marauder I had come to Zindernouf to salvage. The three surviving Peacekeepers had decided to irreversibly contaminate themselves. They had hired themselves out on two occasions to local pirates and were currently in town raising Hell after their last successful raid.
Last, and worst of all, we had received an invitation to a party thrown by Se' Eb'ool. He was the local godfather. The richest, smartest, toughest, least scrupulous pirate on the planet. He had actually left the piracy field to others and was now the local bank, shipyard, and all around criminal conspiracy. If there was anything illegal you wanted done, Se' Eb'ool was your man. Or possibly your woman. I didn't know which and didn't want to find out. I briefly hoped that Captain Mara would decline the invitation, but she had the full complement of suicidal Peacekeeper courage.
That night, Officer Shamael Parako, quaking in his boots, escorted the lovely Fleet Captain Ayesha Mara to a soiree thrown by that local bon vivant, Se' Eb'ool. I had tried to suggest that Se' Eb'ool was untrustworthy, dishonest and a loser of Biblical proportions. I suggested in my best Peacekeeper manner that we should be very careful. Mara seemed to find the idea that Se' Eb'ool was dangerous to be very funny. I couldn't say any more without giving myself away.
Guards met us at the door and disarmed us. They politely took my two pistols and the knife from my boot. Mara gave up four pistols, two knives, what looked like a throwing star and two or three pieces of equipment I couldn't identify.
Mara was angry. "Se' Eb'ool can't see us immediately. He's too busy. Just who does that third rate pirate think he is? That being needs to be taught some manners."
I checked the number of heavily armed guards around and almost replied that he was the being that could kill us at his pleasure, but I wisely kept my mouth closed.
We walked through Se' Eb'ool's mansion. I noticed that the partygoers stayed away from us. Apparently Peacekeepers weren't any more popular here than anywhere else. That left me with plenty of time to admire Se'Eb'ool's lack of taste. He had stuffed his mansion with the fruits of a lifetime of crime and it literally shouted, "Look at me, I'm a rich criminal."
Suddenly, Captain Mara grabbed my hand. "Look, thassar. I haven't had any since I was a brand new Officer."
Thassar seemed to be a drink made out of gasses rather than liquids. It was colorful, and glowed and swirled in the dark. Mara grabbed two glasses and handed one to me. She drained her glass in one gulp, so I did the same. It tasted sweet and tingly. To my mind, it was better than raslak any day.
Mara grabbed my hand. "Let's dance, Parako. You do know how to dance, don't you?"
I started after her. I noticed that somehow my feet had moved several light years from my body. I tried to look down to find them, but my head seemed to have a mind of it's own. Somehow I ended up on the dance floor with Captain Mara holding me up.
I could hear Mara smile at me. "Thassar can sneak up on you if you're not careful. I'd guess that you've never had any before, Parako."
Captain Mara had backed me up against a wall in the darkest part of the room, and was holding me up by pushing her body against mine. She had her arms around my neck and her mouth up against my ear. "You are a very different Peacekeeper, Parako. You ate food in the marketplace that had been touched by members of a lesser race with no problems. You didn't even insist on having your own glass for the drink. And you never threatened or beat even one of the people we talked to today."
Between the thassar and the fear, all I managed to get out was a little babbling about having gotten used to the people of this planet in the monens I had been here.
Mara giggled. "Don't worry, Parako. I don't consider you irreversibly contaminated. I think you're cute. Maybe more than cute."
She gave me a kiss that could have curled my toes if they hadn't been light years away. Maybe it did curl them. If I could ever find my toes, I'd have to check them.
"Parako. I'm feeling very naughty tonight. Do you know what I want to do?"
A large number of things, none of which I would ever be able to explain to Aeryn, flashed through my mind. I managed to get out a feeble, "No."
Mara rested her head on my chest. "I think I'd just like to stay here and enjoy being with you. I hope the idea of a fellow Peacekeeper enjoying your company doesn't shock you, Parako. In case it does, I do have a little surprise for you later tonight. "
I babbled something that I hoped sounded positive. We stood in the dark, with alien music playing softly around us. Mara leaned against me and whispered the Peacekeeper equivalent of sweet nothings in my ear. Not having wild, uninhibited and totally unemotional sex with me probably made Mara a pervert in her culture. There were times I thought I'd never understand Peacekeepers. At times like this, I knew I'd never understand them.
Suddenly a heavily armed guard approached us. Se' Eb'ool was ready to see us. The guard handed both of us a small glass with a clear, oily liquid in it. Captain Mara downed hers and I did the same. My feet made their way back to where they usually were and my head cleared up.
We followed the guard to a large, nearly empty room upstairs. Se' Eb'ool looked like a large praying mantis. Other members of his race were gathered around him. His guards kept their eyes, and their weapons, on us. Two of his race were doing something in the middle of the floor that had the attention of all concerned. They could have been making love, killing each other or dancing. I couldn't tell. Suddenly they pulled away from each other and left the room.
We were ushered to Se' Eb'ool by a guard. Se' Eb'ool began the conversation. "What are Peacekeepers doing so deep in the Uncharted Territories? Certainly there is little here to attract the attentions of so powerful a people. The money to be made here would hardly pay for the cost of a Command Carrier. Perhaps the Captain has a personal motive for her long and hazardous journey?" With that, one of Se' Eb'ool's underlings opened a large chest. The chest was full of gems.
Captain Mara looked contemptuously at him. "I'm not here to get rich. I seek a renegade Peacekeeper. Her name is Aeryn Sun and she is a very dangerous criminal. You would be advised to turn her over to me at once if she has sought refuge here. Turn her over to me, and we will be gone."
I couldn't tell positively from Se' Eb'ool's expression or his body English, but I strongly suspected he was laughing at us.
"Captain, I know of only two Peacekeepers on this planet and they stand before me. I suggest that you already have all that you need to be gone."
Four guards appeared around us. For a moment I thought Mara would try to fight on general principles, but she turned around and stalked out with me right behind her.
Our weapons were returned to us and we were politely, but firmly sent on our way. As soon as we were outside, Mara turned to me. "Parako, that creature is lying to us. The three Peacekeepers from that Marauder are here someplace and he must know it. Dren! They probably work for him. He'd want to hire the best."
I tried to be the good little Peacekeeper junior officer. "Yes, Captain. But there's no evidence that former Officer Sun is anywhere near this planet. And she is our quarry."
Captain Mara looked like she wanted to turn around and go shoot Se' Eb'ool on general principles. Suddenly, she turned around and started walking back to town. "Parako, I promised you a surprise and you'll get one tonight."
About halfway to town, Mara suddenly turned to me and threw her arms around me. She kissed me and then whispered into my ear. "This isn't your surprise, Parako. It's someone else's surprise. Kiss me again and move me back into the woods."
I kissed her back and pushed her towards the trees. As soon as we made it into the trees, she broke the kiss and we started running. When we reached a large, fallen log, she stopped and tore off her jacket. "Parako, pull off your jacket and start stuffing it with leaves, grass, anything you can find."
While I did so, she found two large rocks and put one atop the other at the end of the log. Our jackets went beside them. In the dark, it looked like a pair of Peacekeepers making love, partially blocked by the log. We backed into the trees and waited.
We didn't have long to wait. Two forms glided through the trees and stopped just beyond us. They both fired at once and the rocks exploded. Before they could recover from their mistake, they were dead.
Mara checked the bodies. "They're Se' Eb'ool's men, I'm sure, but he'd deny it and I'm too tired to start a war right now. Let's go home."
I was thrilled to find a Peacekeeper Captain who didn't want to start a war, so I didn't question the part about home.
When we reached the town, I started to head for the spaceport when Mara stopped me.
She took my hand and smiled. "This way Shamael."
We stopped in front of what had to be the best kept up building I had seen on Zindernouf. All the windows were in place and it even had a front door. Even more surprising, the door had a lock. Captain Mara put the palm of her hand against the lock, and we went inside. "This inn is the only place you can go on Zindernouf if you want to be able to sleep without someone trying to kill you." She laughed, "Of course, you can do other things than sleep here. But this place is built like a fortress and there are heavily armed guards on every floor. Here's our room."
She palmed the door and it opened on a large, windowless rectangular room. The only furniture was a large bed, a dresser and a chair. As soon as the door swung closed, Mara had her arms around me, pressing her lips against mine. She took my hands and slid them under her jacket and shirt to her breasts. While I stroked her breasts, she was taking her jacket and tee shirt off. I tried to remove my hands from her breasts to help her undress, but she moved them right back. Then she went to work on my jacket and shirt.
Finally, she ended the kiss, and stepped away from me. She quickly took the rest of her clothes off while I did the same. She winked at me, and said she was going to the bathroom to freshen up. I winked back and told her I'd be waiting.
As soon as she was in the bathroom, I dove for my jacket and took out a package I had managed to buy in the market place. I laid down on the bed, hanging my head over one side of the bed. As soon as I heard Mara enter the room again, I made a vomiting sound and squirted the contents of the package on the floor, tossing the container under the bed. My, a nice rancid smell, too.
"Shamael. What's wrong?"
"I'm sick. I don't know what happened. My stomach is cramping and…" I leaned back over the edge of the bed and tried a nice strangling cough. Not bad. Captain Mara pulled me back up and put me on my back. She dashed to the dresser and came back with a Peacekeeper medical kit. She poked and prodded me with a couple of instruments I couldn't identify and then injected me with something.
She looked a little worried. "You are sick, Shamael. Your readings are all over the place. Whatever that virus is, it's obviously gotten past your inoculations. The shot I gave you should relax your stomach muscles and take care of the cramps."
Having a naked nurse fussing over me was distracting enough. I hoped she didn't notice how un-Sebacean my readings really were. I also hoped that the muscle relaxant didn't relax my muscles to the point that they all stopped working altogether. Mara pulled a sheet over me and crawled in next to me. She put her arms around me and told me I'd be okay. I was really starting to lose it. My eyes got heavier and soon I was asleep.
I woke up to see a full dressed Captain Mara standing over me. "How do you feel, Shamael?"
Strangely, I felt great. "Fine, Captain. I'm ready to go."
She blushed. "We don't have time for that, Shamael. The sun is up and we have work to do."
I didn't have the heart to tell her that that was just an Earth expression. Besides, it would have gotten me killed.
We were through with the marketplace. We were moving on to the bars, gambling dens, brothels and God-knows-what that catered to the crewbeings of the ships based on Zindernouf. The market had been easy. The people there were so happy to see someone with a gun that didn't shoot first and ask questions never, that they would have told Captain Mara anything. Once she started spending freely, she could have been elected queen of the place.
We started off in a bar right off of the market. There were about three beings there who looked like they were at the end of a three-day, or maybe three cycle, drunk. They were armed and looked like they would kill us if they could do it quietly, so as not to inflame their hangovers. The bartender knew nothing. Absolutely nothing. About anything. His customers were even more ignorant. In their case, I believed them.
I knew Aeryn had never been on this planet. I just wished I could think of some way to get that message to Mara without getting myself a ride in the comfy chair. Nothing sprang to mind.
About the fifth place we visited was an arena where what I hoped were animals fought for the amusement of the customers. The games were about an arn away from getting started, so there were only a few people around. Mara sent me upstairs to check it out. There was nothing up there except a second floor that looked ready to crash onto the floor below. When I got back downstairs, Mara was gone.
I was met by what looked like an armadillo on steroids who said he hadn't seen another Peacekeeper there. He didn't want to see me there, either. I let my hand slide towards my pulse pistol and saw him smile. Two of his friends were to my right and another to my left. Not for the first time, I reminded myself that discretion was the better part of valor and left quietly.
I asked an old man if he had seen a Peacekeeper leave the area. He insisted he had never seen a Peacekeeper, but his eyes darted guiltily to the right. I decided it was better than nothing. I went to the right.
Two blocks down, I found Mara's throwing star on the ground. An alley branched off from the street, so I decided she dropped it to tell me to turn. Another long block and I saw what looked like a brief flash of a Special Ops uniform at the end of another alley. I suddenly wondered if I was being led into a trap. In another hundred microts, I was sure that if I was being led into a trap, I had avoided it. I had no idea where I was and less idea where Mara was.
Then I heard a loud, male laugh somewhere to my left. This part of the city was mostly very abandoned and very wrecked buildings so there couldn't be that many people around here. I heard the laugh another two times and finally traced it to a mostly intact building. That is it had a roof and parts of four walls. I snuck through a hole in the side of the building you could have driven a Prowler through and looked down into a large, bare room.
Captain Mara was tied spread eagle to a pillar. There were three Peacekeepers around her. She looked disgusted and they looked nasty. Then one grabbed her hair and pulled her head back. Another started to drive his fist into her stomach, over and over. The third had something in his hand that he kept pressing against her head. Every time he held it against her head, a blue aura surrounded her head and she jerked spasmodically. With his other hand, he was pushing a bottle down her throat.
"Enjoy yourself, Captain. A little slovotix, and a little neural whipping, and you'll have no more problems.'
There was no reason for me to risk my life for a Peacekeeper who had probably tortured and killed her share of the lesser races in her time. Even if she hadn't, she'd send Aeryn to the Living Death if she ever caught her. Not to mention what she'd let Scorpius do to one wandering human if she ever figured out who I was.
Having figured out what the stupid course of action would be, I took it.
I had walked about halfway towards them, when the one hitting Captain Mara in the stomach, turned and saw me. I shot with both pistols and hit him with both shots.
The one who'd had his hand in her hair took five shots to hit and even then he was screaming and rolling on the ground after I hit him.
Luckily the last one didn't have a gun on him, only the neural whip. But he was still a Peacekeeper and he charged me. I shot him at a range that I conservatively estimated at half a millimeter.
Mara was hanging from the pillar when I got to her and started cutting her down.
"Parako. Get my weapons. Especially the neural whip." She could hardly talk or move, but she had her Peacekeeper priorities intact.
"Captain, let me do this my way."
"Shamael, we'll need my weapons to get by anybody else Se' Eb'ool sends after us. I need the neural whip to treat myself. Slovotix and a neural whipping give you a fever. A fever that will end in the living death for me if I can't treat it. I need to see what setting they had the whip on. Now move."
I moved. One of the ex-Peacekeepers was still rolling around and whimpering. As a good little Peacekeeper, I should have finished him off. I decided I'd chance letting him live. Once I had everything, I picked Mara up and headed for the inn.
I had to ask directions twice. Either the locals were more friendly to Mara than I had thought, or they wanted us Peacekeepers the hell out of their 'hood, pronto. I figured it was the latter, but didn't care.
After only getting lost once, I made it to the inn. I pressed Mara's palm against the door lock. I rushed her to our room and used her hand to open that door.
I laid her on the bed. She was too pale and she alternated between too cold and too hot. She was looking at me, but I thought her eyes weren't focusing. She was trying to talk.
Setting? Frell! What was the setting of her whip?
"Uh, its…." I tried to read the damned Peacekeeper numbers. "Denka 4, Captain Mara."
Green? The medical kit. I opened the dresser and pulled the kit out. Right on top was a syringe with a green top.
Frell! It looked like she nodded and pointed to her throat. I injected her with it.
Dren! I was no damned doctor. I opened the medical kit. There were at least three different types of pills in it. I held each container up to her. When I got to the third one, I thought I saw something in her expression change. I tried to ask her how many, but she was too far-gone to talk. I made a quick guess and gave her two of them. If there was anything else she needed from me, I didn't think she'd be able to tell me.
I went to the environmental controls and after turning the heat up full blast, managed to get the air conditioning going. I went back to the bed and pulled off her boots. I thought for a second and then pulled her pants off and then her jacket and shirt. I left her underwear on.
I sat down in the only chair in the room and prepared to wait. I didn't have to wait long. She started to go into convulsions. The first ones almost tossed her off the bed and onto the floor. I got her back on the bed and decided I'd better lay down with her and hold her on the bed. I barely had my arms around her when she started thrashing around again. In between convulsions, she ran, jumped, talked to people who weren't there, and did her best to beat me up. I remember thinking that Peacekeepers gave a new meaning to the term combat medic.
After about five arns, she quieted down. I wasn't sure if she was getting better, or was too weak from the heat delirium to do anything.
I must have fallen asleep. I opened my eyes. The room lights had turned themselves off. I felt something brush against my face. It was Mara.
"How did you ever manage to last this long as a Peacekeeper, Shamael?"
Her voice was so weak I could hardly hear it, but she wasn't in the Living Death. But from her question I just might be.
"Just go back to sleep, Captain. We'll talk in the morning. " Sure, we'll talk. If you can catch me.
"It's not just your reaction to the lesser races, Shamael. You don't even try to control your expressions. You were shocked and frightened when you saw me being tortured. You were worried about me. Even in the dark now, I can tell you care for me."
"Captain Mara. You've been sick. We can talk about this tomorrow. I'll explain everything." Well, I'll explain everything if the other option is worse. And it may be, I thought to myself.
Mara laughed. "Don't worry, Shamael. I'm not going to declare you irreversibly contaminated. I'll take you back to First Command with me. I'm entitled to an aide and it's time I had one. We'll be together. People stay at First Command for cycle after cycle. No one thinks it's unusual for a Fleet Captain and her aide to spend time together. You'll be surprised how it feels to really care for someone, and for someone to care for you. We will talk tomorrow, Shamael. I promise you that."
With that, she fell asleep again.
This was not good. Now I had a lovesick Peacekeeper Captain on my hands. She was going to take me home to meet Mom and Dad! Okay, John. Think. Think. This is the perfect time to bail out. Grab Captain Mara's Prowler and head for Moya. Right. And leave a sick woman alone on a planet where the local Godfather is trying to kill her. I kept trying to convince myself that Mara would be fine until I fell asleep.
"Wake up, Shamael. Time for breakfast."
I rolled out of bed. Captain Mara was up and dressed. She looked like dren, but she was upright and moving. Someone had delivered a tray of food to the room. Not surprisingly, we were both starved.
After breakfast, I decided to chance it. "Captain. About last night? You were pretty sick and sort of out of your head, I think."
Mara laughed. A bigger, happier laugh than I had ever heard from a Peacekeeper. Even Aeryn. "I remember, everything I said last night, Shamael." She grew serious. "I intend to take you with me and teach you what it means to care. Don't worry, Shamael, I can protect you. Better than you can protect yourself, from what I've seen." With that she leaned over and gave me a long, deep kiss.
We were no sooner out the front door of the inn, when a local called to Mara. She told me to stay where I was and headed over to talk to the man.
When she came back, she had a bigger smile than usual on her face. "This way. One of our friends has made a big mistake. I think we should correct that."
It must have been Se' Eb'ool, or maybe the ex-Peacekeeper I hadn't killed yesterday. Captain Mara was just going to have to learn to chill out.
We dashed through a series of back alleys until we came to someone's back door. Captain Mara stopped and motioned me to pull my pistol and follow her.
Long, black hair, tied in a ponytail bobbing behind her head. She was sitting with her back to us, eating breakfast. Before I could do anything, Captain Mara had pressed her neural whip against Aeryn's head and fired. Aeryn slumped onto the floor.
Before Mara turned around, I had my pistol pushed into her back. "Don't move, Captain. I will shoot you."
She moved and I aimed for her upper thigh and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
Captain Mara turned and faced me over the sights of her pistol. "I took the precaution of removing the chakan oil cartridge from your pistol and putting an empty one in its place, John Crichton."
I truly felt like an idiot. "How long have you known?"
Captain Mara smiled. This was not her nice smile. "From the instant I saw you. The surveillance camera's records at the Gammack Base were saved. You are quite a distinctive creature, John Crichton. Now, pick up former Officer Sun and carry her to my Prowler."
She could see I wasn't looking forward to that. "I can shoot you in the arm or leg, John Crichton. Then I can hire any number of beings on this planet to carry you and Sun to my Prowler. Now move."
I moved. As I carried Aeryn through the streets I kept hoping one of Se' Eb'ool's people would try something, or Mara would make a stupid mistake. I was still hoping when we got to her Prowler. I set Aeryn down under the wing, so she wouldn't get over heated.
"Walk to the end of the wing and sit down and cross your legs, John Crichton. I don't want you doing anything stupid." I did as I was told as Mara checked Aeryn.
"She's still out, but she'll be fine in a couple of arns, human."
Mara turned to me. "Why did you save my life, John Crichton." Her voice had that puzzled tone that Peacekeepers get when someone does something nice to them.
I thought about telling her that I had obviously done it because I was a brain deficient member of the lesser races, but decided against it. "I've been tortured by the Peacekeepers before. I didn't like it and I wouldn't want anyone else to go through what I went through. Not even another Peacekeeper."
Mara seemed to think that one over. "Anything else, John Crichton?"
"You saved my life in the bar. And again on the way back from Se' Eb'ool's party. Since I probably wouldn't have been a target if I hadn't been with you, I'd say you saved my life one and a half times."
That seemed to make more sense to her. "Anything else?"
I thought about letting it go at that, but decided to go on. "You may be a great actress, but somehow I don't think so. For what it's worth, I think there just might be a person worth saving under that hard-assed Peacekeeper exterior."
Mara smiled again. "Get out of here, John Crichton."
"Get out of here?"
"You heard me. My Prowler had to be reconfigured for the trip into the Uncharted Territories. It carries more fuel, but something had to be taken out. It doesn't have the life support to keep three people alive for a long journey. In my opinion, if you come with us, we'll all be dead before we reach the nearest Peacekeeper base. Of course, when I reach First Command, I'll have to report your presence here to Scorpius. Through the appropriate channels, of course. In the meantime, go, human."
"You're letting me go because I saved your life, right?"
Captain Mara said nothing.
I stood up and faced Captain Mara. "You're making mistake. I'm far more valuable to the Peacekeepers than Aeryn is. If you let me get away, Scorpy'll have you in the Aurora chair and have the truth out of you. Believe me, I've seen him work. Being a Peacekeeper Fleet Captain won't save you from him. Leave Aeryn here and take me back with you. It's your only chance."
Mara's smile had faded. "Are you insane, human? No one volunteers to meet Scorpius. Certainly no one who'll end up in his Aurora chair. And you will end up there, human. He'll sit you in that chair until you have no memories left, if he has to. Your companions won't be able to help you. Scorpius will surround you with a regiment of troops, maybe more, each checking the others identity every fifty microts. He'll keep his Command Carrier on top of you every microt. You'll die in agony, human. Is that what you want? Even if you do have a death wish, my mission was to capture Aeryn Sun. Nothing more, and nothing less."
Mara had let her gun hand droop until her pistol was pointing to the ground. I launched myself at her, knowing I'd need a miracle to save Aeryn and me. No miracles. Her smile came back on full force as her pistol centered on my chest. A microt before I reached her, she pivoted to one side and I sped by her. As I passed her, I felt the pistol smash into the back of my head and I fell to the ground. By the time I cleared my head, Captain Mara was sitting astride my back. Female Peacekeepers seemed to have a thing about that position.
I felt her pistol at the back of my head. "You really love Aeryn Sun, don't you, human? Enough to die for her."
"All things considered, I'd just as soon not die for her, but I do love her."
Mara sighed. "Let me give you some good advice, human. You'll last a lot longer in the Uncharted Territories if you love no one but yourself. And trust fewer people than that."
Maybe there wasn't someone worth saving under that hard-ass Peacekeeper exterior. "Sorry, Captain. I'll keep doing things my way."
Captain Mara laughed. "You may be right. If I followed my own advice, I wouldn't have spent all this time trying to save my daughter."
It took a second for that to sink in. "Your daughter? Aeryn Sun is your daughter? You're Aeryn's mother?"
I heard what almost sounded like a giggle. "Your records said you didn't think like a Peacekeeper, John. Did you expect that Aeryn would be my daughter, but I wasn't her mother? You must come from a very strange planet, this Earp. John."
I felt the gun leave the back of my head and Captain Mara stood up. "Get up, please, John."
I stood and faced her. Captain Mara's pulse pistol was back in her holster. "Can we just have a talk, John?"
I started losing it. "Oh, a talk. Yeah, we can really have a talk, lady. Let's talk about how you've jerked me around since you got here. Let's talk about recreating. Lets'…Wait a minute. Aeryn said you were battle scarred. You don't have a mark on you." God! The stupid things you say sometimes.
Mara held her hand up to stop me. "This might be easier if you just let me explain, John." She giggled again. "As for the scars, we Sebaceans heal very fast and very completely. I'm sure I did have scars the last time I saw Aeryn, but they're gone now. I hope I didn't disappoint you with my body."
I blushed and she giggled again.
"You have no idea how I have hated you, John. I've dreamed of having you at my mercy and tearing you apart, very, very slowly."
She smiled and I decided that even if I didn't like it, silence was a lot safer.
"I've kept an eye on Aeryn her whole life. Oh, it's not that hard or dangerous. A senior Peacekeeper should be keeping tabs on bright, competent cadets and junior officers. I just made sure I always kept a very close watch on Aeryn. Not that she wasn't the best of the lot, no matter what that idiot Crais thought."
It suddenly occurred to me just how much Mara and I had in common.
"Then I got word that Aeryn had been declared irreversibly contaminated. Worse, she escaped from custody and had taken up with a group of escaped criminals and some sort of monster from beyond the Uncharted Territories, who called himself a human."
Mara knelt beside Aeryn and ran a finger over Aeryn's hair.
"It wasn't too hard to convince my commanders that I'd been behind a desk in First Command for too long. A mission to recover a defector would be the perfect way to get myself back in shape."
I interrupted her. "And when you recovered Aeryn?"
"Oh, Aeryn Sun would have died and her body would have had to stay on a suitably inaccessible planet. Soon after, a new colonist would have arrived on a Sebacean agricultural world. You'd be surprised how few people ask silly questions of a new colonist out on the frontier, especially if she's armed. I know where to get identity documents for her, travel warrants, money. Everything Aeryn would have needed to start a new life."
"It was all quite easy, John. I'd catch you all, kill you and get Aeryn away to somewhere safe. It started to go wrong when I started gathering intelligence on the escaped prisoners. The official records were shockingly sparse, and Crais had sent nothing but the briefest report on you."
That had me interested. How did a Peacekeeper captain see things go wrong? "What happened?"
"I tried to find out about D'Argo from Macton Tal's family. They made no secret of the fact that he had killed Lo' Laan and had blamed D'Argo for the murder. They were proud of the crime, in fact. I am a Peacekeeper, John, and proud of my heritage. I believe that Lo'Laan should have been punished for her crime. But her family had no right to punish her and no right to abuse our legal system for their own ends. They should have been punished, but I soon found no one in First Command was interested in justice."
I thought that the vaunted Peacekeeper legal system looked to me like a lynch mob, but I wasn't ready to tell her that. She was apparently finding out for herself.
"For the rest, Zhaan, Rygel, Pilot and Moya….Well, the Universe is a hard and dangerous place. Pilot and Moya were valuable property, Zhaan did murder a client of the Peacekeepers, and Rygel became inconvenient."
The Universe certainly was hard and dangerous when the Peacekeepers ran it. I wondered if she ever had made that connection.
"Then I started talking to people who had seen you and Aeryn together. The scientists at Namtar's Asteroid, Kornata in particular. Your attack on a beast like Namtar to help Aeryn was, I admit, surprising to me. But it was conceivable that a ruthless, desperate criminal, anxious to save a valued accomplice, and possessed of some sort of powers to twist the thinking of someone like Aeryn, and for that matter, Namtar, would have done what you did."
"I also talked to a woman named Furlow at Dam Ba Da. She said that Aeryn was not guarded and seemed to be able to come and go as she pleased. She told me Aeryn had risked herself in a firefight to save you and D'Argo. And that Aeryn had suggested that the payment for the repairs to your craft should be the data you collected on wormholes. It was still possible that you didn't have full control over Aeryn and that she wanted to prevent you from returning to your home to bring more humans to confront us, but I did have to concede that Aeryn might be helping you willingly."
I should have been happy to find a Peacekeeper capable of thinking and not just reacting to her prejudices concerning us members of the lesser races. But this was Aeryn's mother. Somehow I expected more of her mother.
I got it. Ayesha Mara gave me a radiant smile that was every bit the equal of Aeryn's. "I am sorry, John. You must think I'm terrible."
I had thought just that, but what can a poor human do, confronted with a smile like that? "No, no. I mean you were worried about Aeryn. You couldn't take any chances. I understand." The funny thing was that I did. I'd forgive anybody just about anything if they were worried about Aeryn.
"For a while the evidence I got was sparse and confusing. Then I got a hold of a copy of Scorpius's report. Our Scarren half-breed had a mountain of evidence and he found that it all pointed to you being a spy interested only in wormholes. The fact that you managed to suborn a female tech who faked a work order for a tissue sample that just happened to match Aeryn was meaningless to him. By the way, I hope Tech Ranaez is all right. Needless to say, she's been declared irreversibly contaminated, too."
"It's meaningless from her point of view. She's dead." It still hurt, too.
"I am sorry, John. I believe I owe her a great deal."
She did. We all did.
"Look, Ayesha, what I really want to know is why did you, I mean when we were together, you know, why did you want to recreate with me?"
She grew serious. "I wasn't positive I could trust you. You seemed to care for Aeryn from what I had found. But I didn't actually know you and I hadn't talked to Aeryn. I couldn't risk Aeryn unless I was positive about you. I suggested we recreate for two reasons. First, if you had some power to make a Peacekeeper turn on her own kind, it was logical for you to use it on me. A Fleet Captain would be invaluable to you. Then I could try to break your control over me and then free Aeryn."
I thought about it. "So if I really did have the power to cloud men's minds, you would have been mine. That wouldn't have done Aeryn much good, would it."
"If you were some evil being, Aeryn couldn't have been in a worse position from my point of view. If you somehow managed to turn me against my people, at least I would be with Aeryn." Suddenly, Ayesha smiled. "And if you had no powers to control me, but enthusiastically recreated with me, I would have thought that you didn't care much for Aeryn. You wouldn't have had much fun I'm afraid. You know I've never had a man prefer to shoot my Prowler instead of recreating with me."
She saw my expression. "John, the shot into my Prowler could only have come from someone shooting up towards the cockpit. No one but you could have fired that shot."
I decided to change the subject. "What about the night we went to Se' Eb'ool's?"
Ayesha smiled her radiant smile again. "I confess, I was getting more sure that you did care for Aeryn. I was interested in seeing how you'd get out of another bout of recreating. And I did enjoy teasing you. I'm sure you thought you were being the stoical Peacekeeper the whole time, but I could hardly keep from laughing you were so upset at what I was trying to do to you. And since I apparently wasn't going to be able to slowly kill you, I got back at you a little for what you put me through."
Ayesha stopped when she saw my expression. She giggled. I seemed to get that reaction a lot from at least one female Peacekeeper. "Oh, John, it wasn't that bad, was it? I've always thought that I was at least an acceptable partner. Most men don't spill toggal soup on the floor and pretend they're sick. Well, at least I never caught one before."
It seemed that Ayesha had been ahead of me the whole time. I was wondering if I was going to have this trouble with female Peacekeepers the rest of my life. With any luck I would.
"Ayesha, it's not like absolutely nothing happened that night. We did get, sort of, involved. And I'll have to tell Aeryn, and I don't know how she'll take it. I know I love her. You know I love her. But she doesn't know it. And worst of all I don't know how she feels. Some times I think she does care for me, sometime I think she doesn't, but most times I just don't know."
Ayesha took my hand. "John, I may have not seen Aeryn since she was a little girl, but I think I do know her and how she'll react. From the way she's treated you in the past cycle, she does love you, and she knows you love her. But she isn't going to be able to say that to you for a while. You must be patient."
That was John Crichton, lost human, all right. Patient. I just stood around waiting for the Universe to think up another trick to pull on me.
I grinned at Ayesha. "It'll be good to have you around. I think Aeryn will enjoy having another Peacekeeper around, and if that Peacekeeper is her mother, Aeryn will be radiant."
Ayesha stopped smiling. "John I have to leave now. If I stay and talk to Aeryn, and really get to know her, I'll never be able to force myself to leave. And if I stay, you'll be in even more trouble. A Fleet Captain defecting to Moya and her crew would shake the Peacekeepers to their core. You wouldn't be fleeing from just a Command Carrier. First Command would send entire task Forces to look for us. You wouldn't have bounty hunters chasing you from planet to planet. Entire divisions would be deployed to the Uncharted Territories to destroy us."
Ayesha stepped closer to me and put her arms around me and buried her face in my chest. "John, I can't take Aeryn away and head for a Sebacean colony. I'm sure she wouldn't go without you and I know you'd follow her if she did. And you'd never last on a Sebacean planet. You're just too obviously not a Sebacean, let alone a Peacekeeper, no matter how much like us you look. Too many people would talk and soon word would get back to the Peacekeepers about you."
I felt something wet on my chest. "I'll go back to First Command. I won't be able to help you much, but I can try. None of you will ever have the charges against you dropped, I don't know if you'll ever be able to live normal lives anywhere. John, I've always hoped that Aeryn would find what I found with her father. I'm glad she's found more than I did. I wouldn't be able to leave her at all, no matter what, if you weren't with her. But since you are, I can leave even if it means that I never see my daughter again. Or my son. Thank you, John."
Ayesha turned towards her Prowler. She kept her head down so I wouldn't see her tears. I pulled Ayesha back to me. "I'll bring Aeryn and the grandkids to see you. That's a promise, Mom."
Ayesha headed for her Prowler and I picked Aeryn up and headed away from the Prowler's engine backblast. I rested my back against a wall and slid down so that Aeryn sat in my lap.
I looked down and found myself looking into Aeryn's eyes. "How long have you been awake, Aeryn?"
Her eyes didn't seem to focus properly and her voice was weak, but she answered. "Ever since you dropped me on the concrete."
"I did not drop you. I was very careful." Suddenly, I decided this was the wrong time to argue with Aeryn. "Sorry if I dropped you. I'll be more careful next time."
Aeryn smiled. "She's very beautiful."
"It runs in the family, no question about it."
"She loves me, John."
"There's a lot of that going around, Sunshine."
Ayesha's Prowler swept over the field and then headed for space. Aeryn put her head down and for the second time that day, I felt a Sebacean woman's tears.
"I meant what I said, Aeryn. I meant every word."