The Old Hail Mary

By Bob Hutchinson (aka UCSBDad)
Copyright 2000

Disclaimer: They're mine, mine, all mine, I say. Er, I mean, the characters and situations of Farscape are theirs, all theirs, I say.
Time: Post-Chiana, Pre-A Bugs Life. Spoilers: Probably not.
Rating: PG 13?
Archiving: Go ahead, be my guest. Not that anyone's been falling over themselves to do so. Could it be the beer request?
Apology : Sorry SACC, but there's just something about John that attracts violent Peacekeepers.
Further disclaimer: Anyone who finds anything familiar in this tale of a divided city, corrupt politico-military elites and uncertain loyalties should remember, this is fiction.

"Prior planning prevents piss poor performance." That was one of John's sayings. I suppose if humans say enough, and they do, sooner or later, they'll say something that actually makes sense. But time is the enemy of good planning. Ask me for anything except time, that is the one thing I cannot give you. And now that lack of time had left me standing in the dusty marketplace of a forgotten commerce planet waiting to die with my friends.

We had been chased away from the last three commerce planets by a warship of some sort. Moya's sensors weren't good enough to tell us more than that it was a warship. It could have been a Marauder from Crais's command carrier, or from another Peacekeeper ship. It could have been a patrol from one of the local navies, or local pirates. They were often the same people. It could have been a local trader, since peaceful trade in the Uncharted Territories was often only possible if you were heavily armed. In order to make a positive identification, we would have needed to get closer. If we got close enough to identify it, we might be close enough for it to kill us. But three times we had arrived at a commerce world only to have the warship arrive soon after. So we ran. D'Argo raged at running away, but I, barely, kept my temper.

Chrysostom was the end of the line in more ways than one. We had no map fibers beyond there and we were so short of food that we might starve before we found a commerce planet. But Chrysostom had its own surprise for us. From orbit we spotted a warship in a planetside shipyard. It was small enough to land on the planet, but any warship was too much warship for us. It wasn't any Peacekeeper design I knew of and no one else could identify it. D'Argo and I decided it was likely that if the vessel had needed to land for repairs, it was probably too badly damaged to be any threat to us. We decided we would each take a transport pod down to the only city on the planet and buy as much food and other supplies as we could in as short a time as possible and leave. It was risky, but it was our only option.

I was trying to buy grain in bulk from a merchant and cursing my limited bargaining skills. The merchant must have sensed I was in a hurry and, of course, decided to slow the sale up as much as possible to increase his profit. Worse an old lady was trying to sell me some flowers. Did she think I was a human? Suddenly she shoved the bunch of flowers into my face. I turned to push her away and almost fell over. Hezmana! The pollen or something in the flowers almost knocked me out. I reached for my pulse pistol, but another hand covered my own and easily pulled it behind my back. My knees were giving way and I felt numb all over. I tried to scream to my friends, but nothing came out. One small part of my mind was humiliated to find that I had been so easily caught. My hands were tied behind me and I was half-marched and half-carried out of the merchant's shop by a half a dozen locals. Ominously, I noted they had Peacekeeper issue weapons.

By the time we reached my friends, I was feeling better, but still stumbled in hopes of catching my captors off guard. My heart sank as I saw all of my friends standing in a ragged line in the center of the market, their hands tied behind them. I was shoved into line between John and Zhaan. One local was behind each of us with a Peacekeeper pulse weapon in our backs.

The locals were anthropoid enough, but wore ankle length capes with cowls covering most of their faces. From what I could see they had a mottled black and light gray skin.

And so I found myself standing in the marketplace awaiting my death and bitterly repeating John's human saying to myself.

I saw the four of them approaching. They were covered from head to foot in the local capes, but I knew they were Peacekeepers. As they came to a stop in front of John and me, I decided it was time for me to try to save my friends.

I drew myself up and stepped forward. "I am...." I barely saw the fist that thudded into the side of my head and threw me backwards into my guard.

The Peacekeeper pushed back her cowl. She was as tall as John, with long black wavy hair. She was, I suppose, quite beautiful, but her black eyes glittered with menace. Her voice, however, was quite calm and friendly. "I didn't order you to speak, Blue Eyes. Remain silent until I ask you a question."

John, as usual, decided to enter the conversation. " Look, I'm the one...." John wasn't prepared for the kick in the stomach from the female Peacekeeper. He fell to his knees but she was on him instantly, lifting him back up with the barrel of her pulse pistol under his chin. "I didn't order you to speak, either, Pretty Boy. If you do something again without my permission, you're dead. Do you understand that?" For once, John had the good sense to remain quiet.

She turned to one of the locals. "Report, Force Leader Birhat."

A local stepped forward, "Captain Trinquier, we have captured the criminals from the Leviathan Moya, as you can see." He seemed quite pleased.

Captain Trinquier changed that. "You have confirmed their identifications, then?" Her tone of voice was warm, even friendly, but Birhat didn't look happy.

"No, Captain Trinquier, we lack the capability to do so, but they are obviously..."

She cut him off. " We shall see what is obvious and what is not."

The Captain walked to the end of the row of prisoners, to where Rygel cowered. She had obviously decided to start with our weakest link.

She knelt beside him. "Your name is, slug?"

Rygel ran true to form. "I am a humble merchant, Profo Cunha, by name. I joined these people only a few solar days ago. I know nothing of them. I would never associate with criminals. I am an honest man. I beg you to have mercy on me I can perhaps be of assistance to you. Perhaps..." The captain had knelt by Rygel and put her hand gently on his earbrow and stared into his eyes. What should have excited the little toad seemed to frighten him and he stopped talking.

Captain Trinquier turned to D'Argo, who was next in line. Before she could ask a question, his tongue shot out. Unbelievably, she caught it in her hand before it hit her. Even more unbelievably, she laughed, holding D'Argo's tongue in front of him. "I imagine I could wrap your tongue around your neck and strangle you, Luxan, and not get an answer from you." D'Argo glared at her, but somehow he kept his rage in check.

Trinquier released D'Argo's tongue and turned to Chiana. Chiana was doing her best to look innocent. I knew her too well to be fooled, but who knows, she might fool someone else.

She spoke up before the Captain could ask her any questions. "I am Jana'ea Pondara. I am a student from far Nabar doing research on comparative ethical systems. I know nothing of these people, but in the time I have been with them, they have broken no laws that I know of."

Our little thief was good. Even I almost believed she was a poor, lost little girl who had innocently gotten in trouble.

The Peacekeeper turned to Birhat. "None of the criminals match her description, do they?"

Birhat looked confused, but wasn't about to admit defeat. "No, but criminals attract other criminals."

Trinquier reached Zhaan. Zhaan bowed and said," I am Zedda Ka'ahen, a fifth level Pa'u of the Delvian Seek. I have been with these people for over a cycle, and can assure you that they are peaceable merchants who only wish to trade honestly."

Trinquier snorted. "You are rather old for only being a fifth level, aren't you?"

Zhaan smiled and calmly replied, "Many come to the Seek late in life, as I did."

Captain Trinquier passed by me and went to John. "Med Tech Jagjabir. Do a DNA scan on this one and tell me what his race is. Is he Sebacean as he appears, or this new race of humans?"

Jagjabir stepped forward and threw back his cowl. He was older than most Med Techs, who tended to die as rapidly as Commandos when assigned to combat units. As he ran a scanner over John, I readied myself. I knew I couldn't defeat Captain Trinquier, but the guard behind me was growing lax and I had to do something. The only thing I hadn't planned on was what Jagjabir said.

"He's Sebacean, Captain. DNA scan confirms a 100% match."

What happened next was even stranger. Captain Trinquier stepped in front of me. "This is not Officer Aeryn Sun. I was one of Sun's Tactical Officers during her training. I knew her quite well."

Captain Trinquier turned to Birhat, who looked as confused as I felt. I had heard of Captain Trinquier, but I knew I had never met her. Trinquier laughed again. "Don't look so glum, Force Leader. We still don't know who they are, just who they claim to be. They may yet turn out to be criminals. This is the Uncharted Territories, after all."

She turned to the other two members of her party. "Officer Pehl, Sub-Officer Herat, we will take these honest travelers back to the command bunker and interrogate them further. Move them out."

Officer Pehl dropped her cowl. I almost laughed. She was a slender, dark eyed blonde, and she looked too young to be an Officer. Too young and too fragile looking to be any sort of a Peacekeeper. Her companion was a much older male with a huge grin plastered on his face. He made me nervous, since Peacekeepers usually tried to look intimidating to strangers. Aside from the grin, he looked like just another of the sort who had marched and killed for tens of cycles for the Peacekeepers. Both were well armed, so it seemed only prudent to allow myself to be herded to the end of the marketplace and into an underground bunker. Twice on the way I heard Sub-Officer Herat giggle. Officer Pehl seemed to ignore his odd behavior.

There were a dozen or so other Peacekeepers in the bunker. I recognized communications, information processing and surveillance equipment. It appeared to be a fairly standard small unit headquarters. Once inside the bunker, the Captain Trinquier and her team took off their capes. She was wearing field boots and a pair of brief black shorts that accented her long, muscular legs. Above that was her flat muscular stomach and an equally brief, black halter-top. From what I could see, the rest of her team was more conventionally dressed in dark trousers and black or gray tee shirts.

Then it hit me. Neither Captain Trinquier nor any one else in the bunker had any rank insignia on. I caught D'Argo's eye and got a barely perceptible nod back.

Trinquier also caught D'Argo's nod and walked over to me. "I believe Officer Sun has figured out who we are. Is that so, Officer Aeryn Sun?" Her voice was soft, even friendly, but I found it menacing.

"Yes, Captain Trinquier. This is a detachment of the Aures Regiment." I replied.

She turned on D'Argo." And do you agree, General Ka D'Argo?"

D'Argo nodded. "Yes, you are the Joyous Ones." He did manage to keep any distaste out of his voice.

From their expressions, my friends knew our captors under one name or the other. Except for John, of course. He looked puzzled, as usual. I hoped, pointlessly, as always, that John would remain quiet.

John turned to Trinquier, "The Joyous Ones?"

Trinquier walked over to John and leaned against him. She ran her hand along the side of his face and smiled at him. "Earth must truly be at the farside of the back of beyond if you haven't heard of us, Pretty Boy."

John smiled back. "My loss, I'm sure, Captain."

She let out a whoop of laughter. "You may be a savage, Earthman, but you have style. For your information, the Aures Regiment is the Peacekeeper's penal unit. We're the ones whose courts martial found we were not quite irreversibly contaminated and could still be of some use to Command. We get all those little assignments that Command hopes will save them the cost of an execution. Needless to say, since we're already condemned, we tend to be a little, shall we say, unconventional."

She moved away from John so she could face all of us. "I suppose you'd like some explanation as to why you're not all dead in the marketplace?" We nodded and she continued. "The warship you doubtlessly saw from orbit belongs to a pirate called Raenar the Thand. About four cycles ago one of our patrol cruisers caught him looting a convoy by the Dekkar Reach. His ship was faster, but ours was more heavily armed. He got away, but his ship was seriously damaged. He went deep into the Uncharted Territories, here to Chrysostom. Here he hoped to find the time and facilities to repair his ship. Chrysostom was colonized about three hundred cycles ago from the Republic of Shakashvili. Both the Republic and Chrysostom have seen better days, I'm afraid. The last ship from the Republic to get here arrived twenty cycles ago with a new governor and a regiment of mercenaries. Until quite recently, they hardly saw a ship from cycle to cycle. Their repair facilities are quite minimal."

John, of course, interrupted with a question. "Wouldn't it have been easier to just send a Peacekeeper warship in here and unload on this Weiner the Hand from orbit?" John wasn't doing much to rescue his reputation as a savage.

Trinquier walked back to John. She leaned against him, her face almost touching his. "Do you know what intelligence means in a military sense, Pretty Boy?"

I knew that John did and all I could do was to hope that he'd be smart and not give her some unintelligible human response. For some reason he managed to give a brief, intelligent reply. "I know what it means, Captain."

Trinquier ran her hands down John's chest. "Good, Pretty Boy. I really hate having to give simple-minded explanations. Our Intelligence knew of maybe two hundred worlds where Raenar had made repairs, recruited crew, sold cargoes or ships, or otherwise had dealings and that might be able to provide him with repair facilities. What spare cruisers we had went to those worlds. Even the Peacekeepers don't have an infinite supply of warships. Another six hundred or so worlds had repair facilities that Raenar could have used as well as governments that would welcome someone like Raenar, as long as he had money. Special Ops or Intelligence teams went to those worlds to check them out. What was left over were thousands of third rate planets in the middle of nowhere, that might possibly, just possibly, provide Raenar with a hole to hide in. My team was given a list of some of those planets and here we are, Pretty Boy. Why Raenar picked this Hellhole to run to is beyond me. Maybe he decided it was the last place in the Universe anyone would look. Believe me, it is."

John smiled at her. "But Captain, that doesn't explain why we're still alive. Not that I'm complaining, mind you."

Trinquier smiled back at John and ran her hand over his cheek. "The answer is very simple, Pretty Boy. There's nothing simpler, I think, than Captain Bialar Crais."

Captain Trinquier noticed our expressions and laughed. "Crais has just about got himself outlawed by the Council because he's chasing after you. He can't very well go to the Council for supplies and replacements. Since we're out there to die anyway, the Council doesn't give us the sort of communications equipment that would allow us to talk to headquarters directly. We have to contact message repeater stations and communicate indirectly. Crais has re-programmed the repeaters in this area to talk to him only. So, he alters my reports to say I believe Raenar may be coming here, rather than that he is here. This keeps the Council's attention away from this part of the Uncharted Territories. It also gives Crais the opportunity to intercept any supplies and reinforcements headed for me. Any Peacekeeper headed for the Aures Regiment would be thrilled to get a reprieve and be reassigned to a first class Command Carrier. And best of all for Crais, they'll do anything for him to stay out of the Joyous Ones."

She smiled at us. It looked like a friendly smile, but I was apprehensive, "Which leads me to you criminals. I welcome you volunteers to Battle Group Trinquier. We need you."

D'Argo laughed. "Don't we have enough problems without getting involved with the Joyous Ones? You won't find us to be very good Peacekeepers, Captain. How did you plan to use us? You must realize that without weapons we'd be useless to you, and with weapons, we could be a danger to you."

Trinquier just smiled. Almost too quickly to see, she pivoted on one heel and drove the other boot into John's knee. I heard him scream and start to topple. Officer Pehl was behind me and she still appeared to be just as incompetent as I'd thought. She was watching Trinquier and not me. I stomped my boot down on her instep and dove for Trinquier. John was on the floor of the bunker and Trinquier had driven her boot into his stomach. She was lining up a kick into John's chest. Trinquier obviously wasn't aware, or didn't care, that humans weren't just a different type of Sebacean. A blow that might not do much damage to one of us could kill John. Pehl's scream alerted the Captain and she pivoted easily and slammed a fist into my face and then kicked me as I went past her. I landed face first onto the floor. Before I could roll over, Trinquier had her boot on the back of my neck.

I could hear the gloating in her voice. "Very good, Blue Eyes. He really must be worth being irreversibly contaminated for. But I'm surprised you weren't the only one worried about Pretty Boy here."

For a microt I couldn't understand what she was talking about. Then I realized D'Argo was bent over, shaking his head, with Sub-Officer Herat giggling behind him. And, I realized I had heard others call out when John had been kicked.

Captain Trinquier walked over and knelt by Rygel. "So, Your Eminence, you don't want me to hurt the human?"

Rygel appeared to be as surprised as the rest of us and began to bluster. "As far as I am concerned, you can do what you wish with Crichton. You can do what you wish twice for all I care."

Trinquier laughed again. "Are you saying you didn't say "Stop", Little Slug?"

If Hynerians could blush, Rygel would have. "I have found members of large, muscular races to be of some use in my lifetime, and Crichton is no exception. Although in Crichton's case, I'd say his many failings make him just about as much trouble as he's worth otherwise. But just because I find him useful occasionally doesn't mean I'm about to become a soldier for the Peacekeepers."

Trinquier ran her hand over Rygel's earbrow. "Oh, I think we can do without your military skills, Little Slug. But you can be useful." Rygel looked terrified.

She turned to Chiana. Chiana cocked her head and looked Trinquier over from head to foot. Again, Chiana spoke before Trinquier could ask her a question. A smile slowly lit up our thief's face. "You know, Captain, men like me. As a matter of fact, women like me, too. They're nice to me. Sometimes they're very nice to me. And they always want me to be nice to them. Sometimes it's a little harmless fun. More often, they want me to steal something for them. Or help them to kill their boss, or their wife, or even their captain. John Crichton has been nice to me for as long as I've known him. But he hasn't asked me to sleep with him, or steal something that will make him rich, or even kill someone. Now, if you kill him here, I'll never know what he really wants, will I?"

That got what I thought was an honest laugh out of Trinquier.

The Captain turned to Zhaan. "Don't tell me, Priestess, as a member of the Delvian Seek, you revere all life, even humans."

Zhaan smiled back at Captain Trinquier. "I value John Crichton's life rather higher than most, but as a healer I am, of course, willing to assist your Med Tech in any way I can. However, I can take no direct part in violence."

Captain Trinquier nodded and I managed to suppress a smile. Captain Trinquier just might yet be surprised at Zhaan's ability to take a direct part in violence.

Trinquier turned to D'Argo. "And why do you find yourself protecting this human, Luxan? I would have thought you would be the last to show any interest in this one."

D'Argo actually looked slightly embarrassed. "John Crichton is my ally."

Trinquier's laugh boomed through the bunker. "This human has so impressed a Luxan with his fighting skills that you consider him an ally?" Trinquier was still smiling, but no one would have thought she was amused. "Don't lie to me, Luxan."

Now D'Argo did look embarrassed. "Crichton is not even a warrior by his own planet's modest standards, but I have never found his courage to be lacking. Courage will excuse the lack of anything else to a Luxan. In addition, I have seen the work of those such as Raenar. Shattered ships, dead crews and enslaved passengers. You have no need to threaten Crichton to gain my assistance."

Trinquier moved closer to John. "You couldn't have mentioned that little fact in time to save your ally some pain, Luxan?" Trinquier smiled at D'Argo like he was her long lost comrade.

D'Argo smiled back. Neither of them were very convincing now. "As His Flatulence will doubtlessly let you know, we also have needs. Food and maps. We will assist you with your needs because it is the honorable thing to do. You will assist us with our needs because it is the honorable thing for you to do."

"Honorably put, Luxan." Trinquier replied, with no smile this time.

Trinquier turned her back and started to move away from me. Well, she wasn't going to assume I would follow along wherever she led a certain human. "Captain Trinquier, you obviously have no idea why I was irreversibly contaminated. But I feel the same as Ka D'Argo. I'll fight against Raenar because he needs to be destroyed, not because you threaten my shipmate."

Trinquier looked at me for too many long microts, and I wondered if I was about to die, but she turned to another Tech. "Intel Tech Buryat, interrogate our new replacements. Since they don't come with personnel records, I want to know everything, and I do mean everything, about them that might be of use to us."

With that she turned and walked over to John who was checking his damaged knee. John tried to get himself into a defensive position, but that was obviously useless. Even he apparently realized that, since he merely looked up at her. She bent and picked John up in one fluid motion and headed to the back of the bunker. As she left she shouted back over her shoulder, "Jagjabir, in my quarters with your medical kit, now."

Intel Tech Buryat was tall, muscular and dressed in a Special Ops uniform. He looked almost like a Peacekeeper Commando. But even if I hadnÝt heard him called a Tech, I would have known he was one by his body language. Hezmana. Body Language? That was a human concept and expression. What was happening to me?

Buryat obviously didn't like any of us and made the interrogation as unpleasant as he could, denigrating and scoffing at our accomplishments. D'Argo looked like he would happily kill Buryat and Buryat returned the favor.

I noticed Med Tech Jagjabir coming back out of Captain Trinquier's quarters after only a few dozen microts, without his medical kit. If Buryat had been having trouble controlling his anger before that, he made no effort once he saw that John was alone with Captain Trinquier. I made a note that Intel Tech Buryat had more than a passing interest in Captain Trinquier. This could be interesting.

After two arns of insulting D'Argo and I, and occasionally asking bored questions of our other shipmates, we were herded back into Trinquier's quarters. At first I thought John was naked, but soon saw he only had on his Calvins. Trinquier was rubbing some sort of blue cream onto his knee. Then her hand trailed up his thigh and skipped lightly over the Calvins as she rubbed some more cream onto his stomach. "So the whole point of this exercise is to get your ball into the enemy's end zone, and any damage you do to your enemy's personnel is secondary? Even illegal? What is the point of such a foolish game? Peacekeepers would never do such a thing." She sounded more than a little mystified. Now I knew what I must sound like after talking to John for a while.

John was still able to smile. "The other team is not your enemy, Captain, they're your opponent. And the game teaches athletic skill, coordination, and most importantly it teaches teamwork. The best team wins, just like in a lot of other situations."

Captain Trinquier snorted. "You'll learn a lot faster if defeat is accompanied by the possibility of death."

It was John's turn to snort. "I never saw a dead man who learned anything."

I had been around John too long. He was starting to make sense.

Captain Trinquier turned to Buryat and took a file from him and read it. John took the opportunity to get dressed. I couldn't read his expression, but I was uneasy. I mean, we don't want one of our shipmates getting too friendly with a Peacekeeper Captain, especially one in a notorious penal regiment. Before John was totally dressed, Trinquier tossed the file onto her desk. "It looks like Sun and D'Argo will be of use to us. It's hard to tell what use the others will be from what you have here. I would have thought that an 812-cycle-old Delvian would have provided more data than you got."

Buryat very carefully maintained a neutral expression, "I'll try for some more information later, Captain."

I was hoping to put in a little constructive criticism of the good Intel Tech Buryat, but John broke in.

"One thing you didn't mention, Roher, why did you get court martialed and end up in a penal unit?"

The Captain leaned back on her bed, and smiled lazily. For some reason I couldn't help but think to myself that the bed was awfully large and comfortable for one Peacekeeper. She looked at me, and then back to John. "Bad luck, Pretty Boy. They kept sending me mouthy little girls fresh out of the Academy, and I kept cutting their throats to shut them up."

John didn't look happy with that reply, but Officer Pehl and Sub-Officer Herat herded us out into the main bunker. They and the Captain needed to have a little conference on the new recruits.

Jagjabir told it was mealtime and led us to the kitchen. The food was part food cubes and part local food and all badly prepared. We sat on a section of the bunker floor and started eating. I noticed Buryat was talking to other Peacekeepers and seemed to be motioning towards us. The Peacekeeper soldiers didn't appear to be too interested in him, which made me feel better.

John moved over to me. "Aeryn, do you think a Peacekeeper Captain would actually murder her officers like that?"

I had hoped to avoid this for a while, so I just said "No."

I should have known that wouldn't satisfy John, but I had tried.

"Aeryn, Captains Crais and Durka don't exactly fill me with confidence about the law abiding and peaceful nature of Peacekeepers Captains. Why don't you think Roher is a murderer?"

So now she was Roher. I stared at John wondering how to approach this.

"Crichton, I've never said anything about Peacekeeper politics, have I?"

I knew from John's smile that I was in trouble.

"Well, a former Peacekeeper once told me that Peacekeepers were far too disciplined to engage in factional back biting or buying and selling votes, or anything of that low sort. Obviously any sort of politics, compromise, concessions, or whatever, are utterly foreign to my friend from the opposition party. Right, Aeryn?"

I gritted my teeth and continued. "The Peacekeeper Council has been dominated for the last 50 or so cycles by the Control Faction. Put very simply, they are for the slow, steady expansion of the Peacekeeper's sphere. They aren't a majority, but they are the largest faction. The next largest is the Forward Faction. They want to expand as rapidly as possible, taking almost any kind of risk to expand. Slightly smaller than them is the Flowers of the Forest Group. They're..."

John interrupted me. "The Flowers of the Forest? Somehow I never associated the Peacekeepers with the Greens."

"The Flowers of the Forest is a literal translation of a planet the Peacekeepers invaded over two hundred cycles ago. It's inhabitants were a hive society, like those picnic insects on Earth. Ents?"

"That's ants, Aeryn." John looked like he was starting to enjoy the conversation.

"I thought ants were your mother's or father's sister, Crichton."

"Aunts. Same pronunciation, but a different spelling. Actually, in some societies on Earth, any older female relative is an "auntie". Not usually in the US, but..."

"Getting back to the subject, Crichton." I glared at John and repeated the First Rule to myself: Never ask Crichton to explain anything since he will. Actually, the First Rule should have been, avoid humans at all costs, but that was less and less possible.

"The Chinthe Division garrisoned The Flowers of the Forest when the natives rebelled. They lost thousands of dead for every Peacekeeper they killed, but no matter how many died, they just kept coming. The Chinthe is the only division ever completely destroyed in combat. The relief Task Force reduced the planet to a radioactive cinder, but the lesson was remembered. The FFG believes in one solution to all problems: overwhelming force. They hate to take chances, even if it means not expanding."

"Aeryn, I've watched Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless, does this ever get to the point?"

One day I would tie John up and make him explain every human reference he has ever made, over and over, while I enjoyed a nice, pleasant meal. But not today. "The smallest group in the Council is the Three Flags. They're named after the original Peacekeeper Regiment, formed almost a thousand cycles ago. They're radical reformers who believe the Peacekeepers have strayed from their original mission of enforcing peace in a violent galaxy. They're so small as to be really insignificant, but Captain Roher Trinquier was their most prominent member. There was simply no way she could have been kept from Flag Rank. Until she was court martialed for cowardice."

John grinned. "Let me guess. Captain Bialar Crais was a supporter of the Control Faction, right?"

I nodded. Sometimes he really does surprise me.

John continued, talking as much to himself as to me. "The Control Faction sounds like they do know how to be the party of government, I bet. And Crais always looked like he was a smart money kind of guy. If the Control Faction wanted to expand, they could count on the Forwards. If they wanted to stand pat, the Flowers were on their side. In the meantime, all the best positions, like running a command carrier, went to their supporters. But, I bet you were for the Forward Faction, all the way, Aeryn."

Yes, he does surprise me. "Junior officers have no political views of their own. We follow our Captains without question."

John grinned. "Was that an answer to my question?"

I turned away and looked towards the firing slits of the bunker. John hadn't moved and he was still smiling at me. "Yes. I supported the Forward Faction. Most junior officers did, and I imagine still do."

John's smile faded." You supported Forward Faction? Past tense? "

"I'm not a Peacekeeper anymore, Crichton. I have no business having any opinions concerning Peacekeepers."

John changed the subject. "So do you think the good Captain Trinquier bugged out? Ran away?"

I didn't even have to think about that. "No. There is no possibility of that. Even before I got to know Captains Crais and Durka better, I didn't really believe it. I thought that the Council would recognize that an injustice had been done...." I stopped, feeling very na´ve and foolish.

John, for once, had the sense not to say anything.

Officer Pehl and Sub-Officer Herat came out of Trinquier's quarters and started sending out night patrols, setting sentries and ordering reliefs. Pehl came over to me. "Sun, you and your people should get some sleep. We'll be taking you and D'Argo out to show you what Chrysostom has to offer early tomorrow." Another Peacekeeper threw us each a thin sleeping mat and a blanket apiece.

I saw that Buryat was still glaring at John, so I made point of maneuvering John against a wall and laying down between John and our jealous Intel Tech. I also made a point of ostentatiously checking my weapons and making sure Buryat saw me glare at him. As I fell off to sleep I hoped John had the sense to understand why I had chosen to sleep with my back to him.

I awoke instantly, grabbed my pulse pistol and turned towards John. Buryat was busy kicking a prone John. I rolled to my feet and felt a pulse rifle in my back. Pehl snarled in my ear. "Don't pull a gun on your fellow soldier, Sun."

I considered the quickest ways to kill both Pehl and Buryat and decided they all left too many other Peacekeepers alive to be worthwhile. So I lowered my pistol and snarled back at Pehl. "My fellow soldier was attacked in his sleep. Does that constitute an offense around here?"

Pehl backed off slightly and yelled at Buryat. "How did this start, Tech."

Buryat ignored her and kept kicking John. John had rolled into a ball, but he was still taking too much damage.

Suddenly, a pulse pistol blast shot past Buryat's head, close enough for me to smell his singed hair.

Buryat stopped and turned slightly towards Officer Pehl. "He attacked me when I was going to check the comm interception gear. You have no basis to interfere, Officer Pehl."

With that, he aimed another kick at John's head. John rolled to the side and Buryat's foot sailed over John's head. John grabbed Buryat's leg and pushed Buryat over. Buryat rolled away, but John was finally able to get on his feet. I could see John's leg was hurting him and he was trying to stay away from Buryat until he got his strength back. The other Peacekeepers were yelling at John to fight back. It was hard to judge, but I thought they weren't demanding an "inferior being" stand and fight like a Sebacean, but that they wanted the "inferior being" to seriously damage their own Tech. I filed that away for further use.

Suddenly I saw my opening. Buryat was edging around trying to get to John's injured leg. He didn't notice he was edging closer to me. I took a step forward and aimed at Buryat's knee. Before my boot connected, I felt myself being thrown to the floor. I also heard a shrill scream. I rolled to my feet, ready to help John even if Pehl shot me. Amazingly, Buryat was bent over holding his injured knee. The last thing he saw that night was John's boot crashing into his head.

Before Buryat hit the ground, Pehl was ordering Jagjabir to see to John's and Buryat's injuries. I waived Jagjabir away and went to work on John's leg. Jagjabir and I both decided our patients would live and advised Pehl.

Pehl turned and spoke to no one in particular, "My foot slipped and hit the Tech's knee."

No one said anything. But before I fell asleep I ran the incident over in my mind. There was no way that Pehl's foot could have "slipped" enough to do that kind of damage to Buryat. Between that and the pistol shot by Buryat's head, I decided Pehl was more dangerous than I had thought. I also decided that Battle Group Trinquier was a lot more dangerous than any other Peacekeeper unit I had seen, but not necessarily to their enemies.

We were awake and ready to go before dawn. As the only trained warriors, D'Argo and I were scheduled to go out with Trinquier, but for some reason, John wanted to go. That meant one of us, me, of course, had to watch John and keep him out of trouble. I'd have to depend on D'Argo to brief me on anything I missed while I was human sitting. Then Chiana decided she just had to go with us. That meant adding Zhaan to the group to watch our little thief. Then Rygel decided he didn't want to stay alone with a bunker full of Peacekeepers. Smart of Rygel, but a pain to D'Argo and I.

We were finally on our way around Chrysostom City in a vehicle that ran along the surface. What the source of power was, I can't even guess, but it stank and made more noise than most Marauders I had been in.

Captain Trinquier started explaining the situation to us. "This planet was factionalized long before we got here. When Raenar landed, the Three Hills Militia ran about a third of the city, including the planet's only spaceport. The rest of the city was run by our friend Force Leader Birhat and the Riverside Militia. Raenar made a deal with the Three Hills leader, Force Leader Cebedo and soon they ran two thirds of the city. We got here shortly after that, and haven't been able to do much to turn things around."

Trinquier went on. "To the north is farming country run by the White River Clans. And to the south is the military base run by a regiment of Trink mercenaries. The Republic's Governor died about a dozen cycles ago, so Colonel Prejvalski considers himself Governor and Military Commander. He appears to be equally incompetent at both jobs."

D'Argo spoke, "I've never heard of the Trinks. What is this regiment like?"

Trinquier turned to D'Argo. "There are about twelve hundred Trinks left now. Their race are hermaphrodites so they can fill their ranks themselves, but they also recruit a little locally. The regiment is mostly infantry armed with some obsolete pulse weapons, or at least they're obsolete by our standards. But they have some sonic artillery, directed energy weapons and armored vehicles armed with rail guns." Trinquier shifted her gaze to me. "And those antique weapons may be funny to you, Blue Eyes, but they are the only heavy weapons on this planet. Colonel Prejvalski could blast Raenar right out of business if he wanted to." She turned back to D'Argo. "Individually, the Trinks like to fight and they make good soldiers, but Colonel Prejvalski is a businessman as much as a soldier. He's been competent enough at collecting taxes from the locals to support himself, but he never made much effort at anything else."

Trinquier continued. "Raenar and his allies now run about two thirds of the city and raid into the Clans territory for food and slaves. Raenar doesn't bother Colonel Prejvalski and so far the Colonel doesn't bother him."

"Things changed about eight weekens ago. A shot-up merchant ship entered the system after fighting off a pirate attack. We tried to contact them, but Raenar managed to jam our communications and got a ship's boat up to them. After a short firefight, the merchantman was Raenar's. The vessel was pretty badly damaged, but it did have a functional weapons control system. Unfortunately, a weapons control system is what Raenar needs most to make his ship operational. Raenar salvaged it and some other equipment from the ship and recruited most of the crew for his own ship. If Raenar can install the weapons control system, he'll be back in business. His ship won't be 100%, but he can leave Chrysostom and start raiding nearby planets and take the occasional ship. And before you know it, he'll be raiding in Peacekeeper territory again."

Our vehicle stopped and we got out. Trinquier led us through maze of filthy alleys and burned out buildings. People dressed mostly in rags pawed through the rubble, scrounging for what ever was left there. I noticed they made a point of avoiding us. We ended up on the fifth floor of a wrecked building in a bunker made from twisted metal beams, old bricks, sand bags and assorted rubble. We crawled to a view slit and I put on my oculars to have a look. I had just settled in when John nudged me aside. I nudged him out of the way and he gave me a shove. "Make room, Aeryn."

I muttered under my breath, but loud enough for John to hear, "I don't have time for this." With that I gave him a good shove. I was just set up again when a familiar shoulder shoved me away from the view slit. I pushed John face down into the rubble and got on top of him. "Just stay there for a microt, Crichton."

John stayed but he didn't stay quiet. "Comfy, Aeryn? Can I get you a pillow?" I blushed slightly at those words, but concentrated on focusing my oculars. Our moving around had apparently alerted an enemy sniper. I heard a loud, sharp noise and saw some rubble fly a little to our right.

"John, this is serious. Those aren't pulse weapons out there, but they're still dangerous. They expel a pellet of heavy metal by a chemical or.."

John moved slightly under me, "I know what a bullet is. From the sound of it, Aeryn, I probably know more about this planet's technology than you do."

Trinquier moved over beside us. "Move and give Pretty Boy your oculars, Blue Eyes. He probably does know this tech better than we do."

I rolled off John and handed him my oculars. Hezmana! What was it about humans that made me act this way? Now John was right in the line of fire. I moved to the next view slit and sighted through my pulse rifle's sight. The sniper wasn't visible, but I wanted to be ready for him. Ahead of me was about a half a metra or more of open space surrounding the spaceport. The perimeter of the spaceport was marked by a dirt berm about twice my height. At intervals along the berm were bunkers like the one I was in. I could just catch the outline of a ship in the distance. Suddenly, I saw a slight movement from one of the bunkers, heard the sniper's shot and fired back at him. I was rewarded by a series of small popping sounds and screams.

I looked over and was relieved to see John was all right. He moved back from the view slit and I moved over to him. John smiled at Trinquier. "Maybe you didn't need me after all. What you see is what you get. A kill zone, bunkers, razor wire.."

Trinquier interrupted, "Razor wire?"

John thought for microt. "A length of steel tape, sharpened along the edges. Sharp metal barbs are twisted onto it at intervals."

Trinquier snorted. "That won't stop my Commandos."

"It's not meant to stop you. It's meant to slow you down so the people in the bunkers can kill you. The Claymores will kill your Commandos well enough, too."

I interrupted before Trinquier could get mad at John. "And Claymores are?"

John looked slightly embarrassed. "Claymores are directional mines. Take a sheet of metal, put a layer of explosives on it and cover the explosives with metal balls. When they're fired, they'll kill anything in front of them. You can see them wired to the metal supports for the wire. I'd bet there are mines in the kill zone as well. Small explosive devices that go off when stepped on."

Trinquier looked at John speculatively, "And how do humans deal with these things, Pretty Boy."

"Tubes filled with explosives to blast holes in the wire. Or ladders to cross the wire. At the last minute before your assault you use your pulse rifles on the Claymores. I saw a movie once where..."

I kicked John and saw him grimace with pain. I felt a stab of guilt as I realized I'd kicked him in his injured knee. Trinquier didn't notice. She was already headed out of the bunker. John glared at me. "Was that necessary, Aeryn."

John stood to follow Trinquier, and I put his arm over my shoulder to give him support. "Only if we want Captain Trinquier to think that her expert on antique weapons has actual experience. If she finds out all you know is from entertainments from Earth, you could become unnecessary. And we don't want to find out what it's like to be unnecessary to Battle Group Trinquier."

John said nothing, but leaned a little more on me and grasped me with his arm. We stopped when we got back to the vehicle, but John didn't let me go. He kept his arm around me and just looked at me. Once again I wished I could tell what this human was thinking. A shout from Trinquier got us moving again.

We saw three more Militia bunkers overlooking more or less the same open space and the same berm and the same enemy bunkers. The next stop was a surprise. We went underground to a chamber that looked vaguely like Moya. Trinquier saw our looks and smiled. "If you're thinking it's biomechanoid, you're right. It's the original sewage system for Chrysostom City, installed when the Republic still had technology, and for some reason it still works. She motioned to one of the Militiamen on duty there. He hit a control and a wall opened up.

The blast of heat sent me staggering back. Reflexively, I grabbed John's belt and dragged him with me. I knew he could stand heat that could kill me, but fear and hatred of heat is so ingrained in Sebaceans, I couldn't help myself. Trinquier stood a little ahead of us. "Like it, Blue Eyes? The City uses this to cool their power plant. Cold water goes in elsewhere but hot water goes out here. Usually it's not so bad. But since Raenar arrived they need a lot more power."

Trinquier moved back with John and I. D'Argo, Chiana and Zhaan walked up to the edge of the wall and looked in. I couldn't imagine what the heat they were feeling was like. I took another step back and found my hand was still wrapped around John's belt. John smiled and took my belt and pulled me back a step. "You put your left foot in, you put your left foot out..." Then his face turned serious. "You okay, Aeryn? I can get you out of here in no time, you know."

Captain Trinquier was kind enough to answer for me. "If I'm fine, she's fine, Pretty Boy. Pay attention. None of my Peacekeepers can go any further than this. But we did get a Militiaman to go all the way inside the spaceport with a transmitter. Look." She motioned to a screen set up in an access tunnel. It clearly showed a maintenance hanger with what looked very much like a weapons control system in the back.

Trinquier smiled. Her smile was even less convincing than usual. "That's our target, Blue Eyes. If I could get one person next to it, and if I knew exactly what kind of a system I was dealing with, I could knock it out with a pulse rifle blast in just the right place. But I can't and I don't, so I'll just have to get as close as I can and throw everything I have at it."

Our last stop was the most unsettling. We drove to the other end of the city from the spaceport to an equally ruined area. We started moving through a muddy trench and then into a tunnel. Finally we clambered up to another bunker built on the top story of a wrecked building.

Captain Trinquier turned to face us. "Be very quiet here. We're about six blocks behind the enemy lines here. The Three Hills Militia is sloppy and Raenar lets them stay that way. We've had an observation post here for three weekens and so far they don't ever come into this building. And we don't want that to change."

Trinquier pointed to a large building a block or so away. "That's the Three Hills Militia's barracks. Three hundred cycles ago, when the Republic was just starting here, that was a museum. It's more strongly built than most buildings now, but once inside it's just one huge room after another. No cover at all. Notice, our friend Raenar doesn't trust his allies enough to let them too close to his ship."

My eye caught some movement. A local woman wearing only a square of cloth that barely covered her walked out of an alley across the way from us. The few other locals in the area turned away from her. She went over to one, but was shoved away. She kept walking down the street. Suddenly she stopped as a local man stepped out in front of her. He seemed to be in some sort of a uniform. She froze for a moment and then started to run back the way she had come. After a few steps she stopped as another man, also in a uniform of some sort, stepped put in front of her. The other locals I had seen had disappeared. Soon the woman had a half a dozen of what were obviously the Three Hills Militia around her. One tore off the cloth she was wearing and another punched her in the stomach. I started to raise my pulse rifle and then remembered Trinquier's warning and lowered it. I noticed the captain nod and then smile at me. The woman was being led back towards the barracks, being punched and kicked by her captors.

When we got back to the tunnel, Trinquier gathered us around her. "I told you that Raenar's allies raid the Clans for slaves. Most are used for labor. Obviously, some are used as prostitutes by the Militia. We get a few who do escape and their stories are horrifying. But we are not here to liberate slaves. If we can stop Raenar, we can do a lot more good than a little satisfying raid against the barracks. Our various allies and would-be allies will be coming here soon for a strategy meeting. For a lot of them that barracks is the only priority. We are not going to dissipate our forces in a rescue mission. Is that understood?"

We nodded and I think we even understood. But we didn't like it.

We stopped briefly at Militia outposts around the city. Captain Trinquier seemed to know every Militiaman, their families and their latest gripes. She was the very picture of the confident, aggressive Peacekeeper Commando. I think Trinquier may have been more popular with the rank and file of Militiamen than their own commanders, but it's hard to judge a race you don't really know. A certain human had taught that lesson to me.

We got back to the command bunker in time for dinner and then it was time for sleep. I put my mat by John and rolled into my blanket facing away from him, where any danger would come from and was soon asleep.

I awoke to the sound of a footstep. The quiet footstep of someone who was trying not to make any noise. Someone slender, female and a thief. I clearly saw Chiana in the doorway of the bunker with a pulse pistol in her hand, facing away from me. I rolled out of my blanket and crossed to her without a sound. Before she knew it, I had my pulse pistol against her head and her gun hand tightly in mine.

I snarled in her ear, "Going someplace. Chiana. Someplace that you might need a pistol for?" I turned slightly and saw Trinquier next to me.

She whispered, "Bring her to my quarters, Blue Eyes."

I took Chiana's pistol and handed it to Trinquier Then I nudged Chiana toward Trinquier's quarters. I noticed D'Argo was awake and I motioned to him that everything was under control. I also saw that Officer Pehl was tracking me with her pulse pistol. Trinquier must have signaled to her, because she slid her blanket back over her and seemed to go to sleep.

I quickly looked over Trinquier's quarters and noted the bed seemed to have had two recent occupants. I also hadn't seen Intel Tech Buryat outside.

Chiana seemed to be enjoying herself. I decided I'd better get a grip on myself before I hurt her too badly to get any information out of her. I had never trusted out little thief completely, but deserting to someone like Raenar with a weapon was something I thought she was too smart for.

Trinquier suddenly laughed. "Where did you get this pistol from, Little Girl?"

Chaina laughed back. "Men are nice to me. They give me things."

Trinquier held out the pistol to me. It was not Peacekeeper issue, nor was it any type I knew.

"Men give you pulse pistols, Little Girl?" Trinquier asked.

Chiana's smile widened. She started to walk, no strut, around the room. "The one that owned that wasn't using it. He was having too much fun. Then he had so much fun, he fell down on the ground. I though I should keep the pistol in case someone was nasty to me. Some people can be so rude."

Trinquier stopped smiling. "You got through all my posts and patrols and all of Raenar's posts and patrols and then got to one of Raenar's men. Then you took his pistol and calmly walked back here through all his troops and all my troops and into my command bunker?"

Chiana was really enjoying this. "Not exactly. I also stopped at that weapons control system you are so worried about and borrowed some maintenance schematics. I think these should tell you all you need to know to best blow up Captain Raenar's little toy. I'll be happy to help you read them if needed, or go back for some more. But now I think I need a little sleep. This has been a busy night." With that Chiana pulled a wadded up bundle of schematics from her bodice and handed them to the captain. She turned and headed out the door, but stopped and turned to us, rolling her hips as she turned. She gave us a big smile. "You aren't exactly unattractive, but you certainly do need some help with males of the species. Perhaps if I ever have a lot of free time, I can give you some help. We might even have some fun."

I could feel Trinquier's eyes on me. I felt my face flush and I knew who Chiana was offering to help. I could have killed Chiana right there if she wasn't so frelling useful.

I started to walk back to my bed when Trinquier stopped me. "One microt, Blue Eyes. You don't entirely approve of the way I run my command, do you?"

That was a surprise. No captain would ever invite a mere Peacekeeper Officer to critique her command. I tried to think of a reply, but I couldn't.

Trinquier laughed. This time I almost thought she meant it. "It's not like I can threaten them with a court martial and a sentence in the Aures Regiment, can I?" Trinquier's smile faded. "Within two weekens of our arrival here, fourteen of my troops deserted with all the weapons, equipment and chakon oil they could carry. They set themselves up as the lords of a city far to the south."

Now that was shocking. "Peacekeeper troops deserted as a group? How could you permit this? How could..."

I suddenly realized how ridiculous it was for Aeryn Sun, irreversibly contaminated ex-Peacekeeper, willing accomplice to a group of escaped prisoners, to criticize Captain Trinquier. Her smile was real now. Captain Trinquier thought it was funny too. We both suppressed a laugh.

Trinquier sat down. "Officer Pehl supports me because she hopes her family can rescue her from this. She has two uncles who are on Command Staff, so she may be right. So, she feels her best chance is to be an honorable Peacekeeper and continue with her mission. What she'll do if she ever decides her family can't help her, I don't know. She's here because she testified on my behalf at my court martial. Oh, that wasn't the official reason for her court martial, of course. She was thanked for her testimony and eight weekens later a dozen pulse rifles turned up missing from an arms locker under her control and a large sum of money was found in her quarters. The rest is history, as they say."

I felt sick. I had still tried to believe that Crais and Durka were aberrations. That only a minority of Peacekeeper officers had stained our honor. A significant minority, yes, but still a minority. Now it seemed dishonor was everywhere.

Trinquier continued. "Sub-Officer Herat has been a Peacekeeper for forty two cycles. He was severely wounded on some un-named planet and the med techs used a local medicine to try to save him. It worked, with one side effect. He laughs endlessly. Some officer with no sense of humor decided he was obviously contaminated. He ended up here and since all he knows is following orders, he follows mine."

I suddenly thought of John. Trinquier must have noticed the expression on my face. "You wanted to say something, Blue Eyes?"

"When I first met Crichton, one of the many things that annoyed me about him was his sense of humor. He is never serious, even when he's being serious. He takes some getting used to."

The captain stared at me for several microts, but I couldn't read her expression. Then she continued. " Med Tech Jagjabir apparently tried to save some soldiers that Command thought weren't worth the trouble. I really don't know the whole story. The records are even more meaningless than usual. Jagjabir himself politely declines to describe his crime. But he is smart enough to know that the larger our group, the better chance we have of surviving. So he's made sure everyone knows he supports me to the death. We Peacekeepers aren't afraid of much, but we are afraid of being wounded and unable to care for ourselves. Of being left out in the hot sun by uncaring locals and ending up with the Living Death. Having Jagjabir around to tend their wounds keeps a lot of my troops here."

"Then there's Intel Tech Buryat. He is a genius, even if he is so crooked they'll have to screw him into the ground when they bury him. I don't know why he got sent here. His records were conveniently garbled by the time I got them. But, I need him, or at least the team does. So he gets what he wants." She nodded to her bed.

She sighed. "He keeps track of Crais, not that it does any good. He intercepts Raenar's communications, those of the Three Hills Militia, and our deserters in the south. One day I'll get those bastards, won't I? He has agents and contacts all over. He's even found tannot root plantations on the Far West Continent to supply us with a third rate chakon oil for our pulse weapons. When we need food, he deals with the clans and we get food. I think he's buying the food with locally manufactured weapons he buys from Force Leader Birhat. I don't know what he's paying for the weapons with, and I can't get him to tell me, and I can't afford to force him to tell me. But, I'm sure too much of the money stays with Buryat."

She looked around her room and moved closer to me. "Don't tell this to Pretty Boy, but he also tracks our friends, the Riverside Militia, the Clans and Colonel Prejvalski and his Trinks. Because our friends have lost so much of their technology, they have to rely on written communications and face to face meetings that can't be intercepted. But Buryat picks up enough for me not to trust them. If things go wrong, you might remember that. What am I saying. If things go that wrong, you'll have to decide on your own what to tell Pretty Boy, and a lot more."

Several things went through my mind. Most importantly, Captain Trinquier didn't have a lot of confidence in the future.

Secondly, Officer Aeryn Sun had better start acting like a competent, combat officer. I had behaved like Captain Trinquier was a Peacekeeper in charge of a normal Commando Group instead of a penal unit. I had been a good little Peacekeeper and stood around waiting for my commander to tell me where to go and what to do. I should have been asking questions and figured out for myself that everything was heading for the dren. If I hadn't been so unforgivably sloppy, I'd have a plan now if things went wrong.

Lastly, Trinquier had some odd notions about my relationship with John. That got me thinking about what that relationship was. I considered that issue for a microt and decided I'd be better off using that time to plan, so that John and I might be able to have a relationship. If we wanted one. If I wanted one. If, if, if. Frell, what was happening to me?

I decided I needed some sleep more than anything else right now. I thanked Captain Trinquier and headed for my bed. As I left I heard Trinquier say, "Well, if she has a lot of time, I need the help."

This was a night for surprises.

The next day was worse. Our allies and friends came in for a strategy conference. Colonel Prejvalski arrived first with more than two dozen of his men. Prejvalski was a tall, very heavily built green being with large, bulbous eyes. His aides and bodyguards swarmed around him and tried to bully everyone in their way. That didn't get very far with the Peacekeepers. All of the Trinks wore brilliantly colored uniforms dripping with gold braid and medals. Naturally, Prejvalski had the most colorful uniform and the most awards. Some races, including John's, award their warriors medals for their service and successes. Peacekeepers consider it improper to give awards for what a Peacekeeper should be doing anyway. Considering that Prejvalski and his regiment had spent the past twenty cycles doing no more than collecting taxes to support themselves, I thought the lot of them should be ashamed to wear so many medals.

Colonel, or rather Governor Prejvalski, as he insisted on being called, combined Rygels's arrogance with Chiana's greed, D'Argo's bull headedness and John's wordiness. After listening to Prejvalski talk nonstop for over an arn, I promised myself I would never again complain about listening to John. Well, maybe I'd complain just a little to John.

Stripped of a great deal of excess verbiage, Prejvalski told us that he was the supreme commander on this planet and that he would be in sole command of any attack. And, he would command from his base, over a hundred metras away. In addition, anything captured by any of us, would be disposed of as he saw fit. Oh yes, he wouldn't commit any of his infantry to the attack under any circumstances. His heavy weapons would be sited just barely in range of the City and he expected to be well compensated for all the material he expended in the attack. And, no, he wouldn't loan any of his weapons to anyone else, no matter what payment was promised. The military genius also decided that the purpose of the attack would be to capture Raenar's ship so he could resume contact with his superiors in the Republic. It was obvious to me that he really wanted to turn pirate himself, if he could. I believe that he was advising us that he would need a larger than life sized statue of himself erected in the center of Chrysostom City in honor of his victory when I couldn't take any more and left.

D'Argo hadn't lasted for more than a few microts of Prejvalski before leaving in a near hyper rage, so I was alone. I went looking for John who was designing and building something called Bangalore torpedoes for us. When I found him, he was in the middle of a lot of local techs and seemed to have everything in hand. Thank the Goddess that someone of us was doing well. I was so happy to see him that I put my arm around him and gave him the biggest smile that I could manage. I wasn't sure that after more than an arn with the Governor, that my smile even worked anymore, but it seemed to cheer John up. I decided to make a note of that.

"Hard day, Aeryn?" John looked like he might either laugh with me or comfort me. I thought either one would do.

I took a deep breath and started to tell him about the Colonel. "Prejvalski is so, so, so.....just so..." I had no words to describe him and I have a very good vocabulary.

John smiled and gave me a little hug. It helped. "Prejvalski is the one who looks like one of Dejah Thoris's guards from Barsoom?"

I nodded. "I hope Dejah Thoris kicked her guard's ass up around his shoulders. And his Barsoom as well. That's what I'd do with that, that... imitation warrior."

John's smile faded and he looked serious. "I hate to add insult to injury, but I have something to show you." He took my hand and led me towards the marketplace.

John came to a group of locals who were passing a bottle of some sort around. "Yo, Brikka, my main man. I want you to meet someone. Bring your cousin." Two of the locals detached themselves from the group and came toward us.

John put leaned down and whispered in my ear. "Aeryn, I want you to meet two of our better equipped Clan allies, Brikka and Lal. Boys, this is Officer Aeryn Sun"

My heart sank. They were dressed differently than the Militia in Chrysostom City. They had knee length robes in brown, gray and green stripes, closed by broad leather belts. The robes had no hoods, but their heads were covered with wide brimmed hats, turned up in front. Brikka had a large white feather in the brim of his hat. That would certainly attract an enemies notice. They were carrying what might have been weapons, but I was almost afraid to ask what kind they might have been.

John decided to enlighten me. "Brikka, show Officer Sun your weapon. She'll be interested."

Brikka held out a weapon that was a bit longer than a pulse carbine. His broad smile told me how proud he was of it. I took the weapon from him and stared sat it. It lacked the distinctive smell of chakon oil. Well, it was heavy enough to make a useful club, but I still couldn't figure out how it worked.

John took out of my hand. "This is a sawed off shotgun, Aeryn. You load it by turning this lever and pushing the barrels down, like this. Load two shells and you're ready to fire. Fire twice and you reload. It's got an effective range of maybe fifty to seventy five yards. Er, say over to that fountain in front of us. Brikka tells me he has over fifty shells for this."

John handed Brikka's weapon back to him. "Brikka's cousin Lal has three pistols. Each holds six rounds and each has an effective range of about half of Brikka's shotgun. He has over a hundred rounds, but each of his pistols takes a different size bullet."

John turned to the pair. "And what do you do when you run out of ammo, Brikka?"

Both pulled out long knives from their belts and held them up. "We fight with cold steel, Officer Crichton. We'll teach the city trash not to raid our herds and take our women. They will not forget the White River Clans."

John tossed Brikka a coin and told him to buy his men another bottle. From their reaction, the coin was apparently worth several bottles. Brikka and his relatives and friends started to get down to some serious drinking.

John took my arm and led me through the marketplace. "I have two more people to introduce you to, Aeryn. Let's see...There he is. Serezaner, over here, amigo."

Serezaner was even less impressive than the previous two. He looked like he had missed about half of his meals and all of his baths. He also had a shabby robe, but it was covered with a sleeveless, rather decrepit leather coat. His head had a length of dirty red cloth wrapped around it, left loose so that it ran down his back. Around his waist was a belt holding a long, curved sword. Strapped to his left forearm was a small round shield faced with steel, and in his left hand was a long dagger.

Serezaner reached across his body and touched the hilt of his sword with his right hand. "I am honored to serve with the renowned Aeryn Sun. Your deeds are sung throughout the city. I am a member of the Wind Mountain Clans. Many days have I traveled from my home to trade with my friends of the White River Clans. I could not return home in honor and leave my friends to fight alone and still be counted as an honorable man. Many verses I will add to my war song, will I not, Aeryn Sun?"

I touched the butt of my pistol with my hand and reassured him that he would have a song like none in the Wind Mountains had ever sung. He smiled and swore that he would sing my war song through out the Wind Mountains until I was as famous in the Mountains as in the City. John gave him a coin and pointed him towards Brikka and his group.

I turned on John. "Crichton, we can't possibly be planning to attack anyone with those people. We might as well kill them ourselves and make sure a good clean job is done. And what the frell is this about my song?"

John looked embarrassed. "That brings us to the last person I want you to meet. Well, not exactly meet. Just listen to."

I tried to get more out of him, but John insisted that this had to be done his way. He led me to a little stall near the center of the marketplace and bought me a cold, sweet drink of some sort. He positioned me against a wall and told me to stay right there and left the stall. He was back in under twenty microts.

He put his arms around me. "On the other side of this wall is Wegen the Singer. He sings for a living here in the marketplace. This planet has little in the way of entertainment except what they can make up on their own. I just paid him to do your song. Ah, here it goes."

I heard what sounded like a deeper version of D'Argo's shilquin. Then a deep male voice boomed out across the marketplace.

"There is a Peacekeeper Commando,
Who has a bottom like a peach,
She lives across the river,
And, alas I cannot swim."

The song was about me, all right. The verses alternated between describing my martial prowess and my sexual prowess. It seemed that I went through both enemies and lovers by the battalion. I was apparently the most bloodthirsty, cunning and ruthless Peacekeeper in existence. I was also the most passionate, skillful and insatiable lover in the Universe. All of the descriptions were extremely vivid and embarrassingly detailed. I could feel the rage starting to rise up in me. John wrapped his arms around me tighter. "Aeryn, don't go ballistic on me. This is just a song. We know it's not about the real you, Aeryn. Aeryn, I know you hate Earth references, but I know you're not that kind of a girl."

I ignored John's babbling and concentrated on getting my rage under control. Rage interfered with rational thought and could kill you as quickly as a pulse rifle. By the time the last verse faded, I was completely calm. John's arms were still wrapped tightly about me. I quickly put the idea that other emotions could interfere with rational thought out of my mind. I put my hand on John's chest, smiled up at him and lightly pushed him away. "Really, John. Do you think I'm a little lost Earth girl, to worry about a song?"

John looked into my eyes, his confusion obvious. "You're not angry?"

I smiled at him and shook my head. "I wouldn't recommend that you sing that around me, but a little song is hardly like being chased by a Command Carrier, is it?"

John didn't look convinced, but he had no choice but to accept my statement and let me loose. "I tried to backtrack the song, but got nowhere. But I think Buryat had a hand in this. He doesn't like us and now every pirate on this planet will want to kill the famous Aeryn Sun. This is like putting a great, big bulls-eye on you."

I smiled and took Johns hand as we started back to the command bunker. "I've had a big bulls-eye on me ever since I said something nice about a certain lost human."

By the time John and I got back to the command bunker, Colonel Prejvalski and his Trinks were gone. Now it was the turn of the Clan leaders. And did they have leaders. Every third clansman seemed to lead his own faction. I estimated there were seventy or so jammed into the bunker, all talking at once. They talked to each other and to any one else that would pay any attention. Three had Rygel surrounded and were loudly arguing about the best way to attack Raenar. Rygel entered into the spirit of things by giving military advice a newly caught trainee would have spurned. But Rygel seemed to enjoy the attention.

John and I pushed our way over to Captain Trinquier. She was arguing with three older Clansmen whose assorted weaponry indicated they might be important leaders. When Trinquier saw us she smiled and boomed to the three men over the din in the bunker. "These are some the new Special Ops people Command has sent us. I need to talk to them." With that she grabbed us each by an arm and headed for her quarters.

Once inside, she sat down at her desk. "I don't need to talk to you two, or anyone else. I just had to get away from that madhouse. First we had Colonel Prejvalski who won't fight and now we have the Clans who won't do anything else. But all the Clan warriors in the City don't have the firepower of a single Peacekeeper fire team. Discipline is apparently a completely unknown concept to them and the idea of planning for anything seems unheard of or thought downright dishonorable. They want to attack now, they want to attack tonight, they want to attack at dawn tomorrow, they want to attack Raenar's headquarters, they want to attack the Three Hills Militia, and they want to attack everything at once. I'd do anything to get them all out of my bunker so I could go back to something easy, like planning an assault into the teeth of some strong defenses."

John grinned. "If you have some local currency, I think I can help you there."

Trinquier looked at John, but then shrugged her shoulders and threw him a bag full of some local coins. "Enough?"

John was headed out the door. "We'll see."

Trinquier sat in her quarters and after about three hundred microts, the noise seemed to decrease a bit. By the time a quarter of an arn had passed, the noise was noticeably less. We came out of Trinquier's quarters after a half an arn and saw John shepherding the last few Clansmen out of the bunker.

He slapped the last Clansman on the back and handed him a couple of coins. "Sasso's is the best place for a few drops of the best, and you'll even find a few friendly city ladies there, pal. See you later."

John turned to us. "The Clans may like to fight, but they weren't getting any of that here. They did look like they were getting thirsty and bored. So, I suggested that the good Captain Trinquier had heard so many good plans from so many brave men, that she'd need some time for herself to go over them. And to show her appreciation, she wanted everybody to have a nice, friendly drink on her. It worked."

Trinquier looked at John with a speculative look I didn't entirely like. "Pretty Boy, sometimes you act like a tech and occasionally like some sort of a warrior. But I'm glad you know how to deal with your fellow savages." Her genuine smile took the sting out of what she said.

He smiled back and lapsed into an accent I'd heard before and never quite understood. "Oh, yes'm. Us ole' country boys, we got our uses, now. Ya heer?"

Trinquier's smile faded. "While you and Blue Eyes were gone, Force Leader Birhat dropped by. His men want to fight and they actually have the weapons and discipline for it. At least on the face of it, he wants to fight, too. But he brings up a million little complaints and problems. First, his men haven't had enough training on their Peacekeeper weapons and equipment. Then, Pretty Boy's new weapons need to be tested and tactics worked out for them. or, he needs men to escort a convoy of meat animals coming in from the Clans for food for the City. He wants to work on our defenses, in case Raenar or the Three Hills Militia attacks us. There doesn't seem to be any end to the delays he proposes, but he keeps insisting he wants to attack as soon as possible."

John took a quick glance around the bunker and walked over next to the two of us. "This reminds me of when we were planning the Farscape 1.That's my space ship, Roher. It was a collaboration between more than a dozen countries on Earth. Each one wanted to have their say, and their own experiments and their own equipment on Farscape 1. If we used a German radar, we had to use something French to keep them happy. We had a Japanese engine control system, so we ended up with an Italian built fuel system. The Russians had an experiment that weighed over a ton that they wanted to attach to Farscape. You should have heard the arguments over that one."

I interrupted John. "I'm always amazed when you talk about Earth that you ever got into orbit around your planet, much less to here, but does this have a point?"

I think John remembered our prior conversation since he looked a little embarrassed." Sorry about rambling on so. My point is that the Peacekeepers and Captain Trinquier have one goal. To keep Raenar out of Peacekeeper space. The powers that be on this planet might be better served by getting Raenar off this planet, no matter where he goes."

I had trouble with John's logic on this one."Crichton, how can helping a pirate get back into business help anyone? He's a menace, pure and simple."

Captain Trinquier interrupted me. "Go on, Pretty Boy. I think I see where this is going."

"Aeryn, this planet has next to no interstellar communications with anyone else. If Raenar attacks all the shipping around here, nobody on Chrysostom will even notice. But if Raenar leaves, then sooner or later Captain Trinquier and her team will leave, too. And then, Colonel Prejvalski goes back to being the top dog on the planet. And, perhaps Force Leader Birhat can cut a deal with the Three Hills Militia. Maybe the two city militias can even expand into Clan territory. Birhat looks to me more like a warlord than an idealist."

I looked at Trinquier and could see she couldn't find any flaws in John's argument, either. With that problem hanging over our heads, someone announced that dinner was ready and we broke up.

After dinner, the crew of Moya discussed John's interpretation of the situation. D'Argo thought the whole idea was dishonorable and refused to even consider it. He said if our allies were so dishonorable, we'd have to fight them all. That idea was so dangerous, I volunteered to help D'Argo with a plan of attack on Raenar, just to keep him occupied. Rygel said he thought John was starting to learn something from his long association with a master of Hynerian politics. By the time Rygel was into his third sentence, he seemed to be taking credit for everything that had gone right in our lives in the last cycle. Since there was so little good in the last cycle, I didn't mind that. Chiana and Zhaan admitted that John's idea made sense. I agreed too, but couldn't say so in front of D'Argo. John and I managed to turn our little council of war into a general discussion of our position. Mostly, about our need for new map fibers and food. And the need to get of this planet in one piece. Eventually, Rygel became unbearable, Chiana became bored, D'Argo angry and Zhaan upset at us all.

When it was dark, we rolled out our sleeping mats and got ready for some much needed sleep. Before I put my mat down, John winked at me. "Still sleeping with your back to me, Aeryn. The view can't be that bad, can it?"

I don't quite know why, but I pushed my mat over next to John and wrapped myself in my blanket next to him. I stuck my arm out of my blanket and touched his cheek. "I want you to know you've done well. Not just today, and not just on Chrysostom, but ever since you arrived here."

I was going to leave my hand there, just for a few more microts, but John suddenly reached out and pulled me to him. I felt his lips brush my forehead and he whispered, "Thank you, Miss Sun. Night, night. Don't let the bedbugs bite."

Hezmana. How had this happened? I was wrapped in John's arms facing the bunker wall, facing away from where any danger would come from. My weapons were behind me where I couldn't even see them, much less easily get to them. This was absurd. This was dangerous. This was... comfortable. Well, I was in a bunker surrounded by armed guards. D'Argo, and I suspected Chiana, slept lightly enough to keep track of anything Intel Tech Buryat might try, now that they knew to watch for him. John seemed to be asleep and it seemed a shame to waken him just after he'd fallen asleep. So, I moved my head into a more comfortable position in the crook of his arm and went to sleep.

I woke up next morning looking into John's smiling face. "What's so amusing, Crichton?"

He kept smiling. "Nothing's amusing, Aeryn. Just interesting."

I remembered where he got that expression from and wondered exactly what he meant by it. I was no longer sure what I had meant by it.

But then Sub-Officer Herat was moving among us, giggling and cursing, making sure every one was awake and moving. I actually felt a little nostalgic for my past. But not much.

John went off to the local techs to manufacture more weapons and I sat down with D'Argo and Chiana to try to find a plan to keep Raenar from leaving this planet. We talked for two arns and got nowhere.

Suddenly, I noticed the Peacekeepers moving towards a communicator set up near Officer Pehl and then getting into their gear. Officer Pehl motioned me to her. "Officer Sun, the Clans are massing at the Pahtzdammer Square, trying to head for the Three Hills side of town. Captain Trinquier is there with a small force of Commandos and some of our militia. She wants you to bring all the troops we can spare and try to push the Clans back. I'll be in charge here. Any questions."

I shook my head and grabbed D'Argo and Herat and started to ask questions and give orders. Suddenly I noticed John slipping a pulse pistol into his holster and starting to check a pulse rifle. I motioned to Pehl. "Officer Pehl, we need Officer Crichton's weapons expertise a lot more than we need one more warrior at the square. Please make sure he stays here."

John started to complain to me. "Aeryn, I am not going to let you go running around this third-rate Berlin with a riot starting and no one knowing who the players are without a program."

In one way I did want John with me, but I'm still enough of a Peacekeeper to know where my duty was. "Really, Crichton. Just me, D'Argo, Sub-Officer Herat and about sixty Peacekeepers and as many militiamen, and you think I'll need you too? Don't you trust D'Argo to watch my six?"

I had used another human expression, but John could hardly say that he didn't trust D'Argo's abilities without deeply insulting the Luxan warrior. I didn't give John a chance to come up with some excuse, but turned to Officer Pehl.

"Pehl, since you're in charge here, I want you to keep Officer Crichton here. As I said, we need his technical expertise more than we need another rifleman. He's been busy building Molly Tough Crack Tales for our allies. Make sure he stays here and works with the local techs."

John looked both angry and worried. "Aeryn, those are Molotov cocktails. And I don't think..."

Pehl cut him off. She informed him in no uncertain terms that he was her responsibility and nobody else's and he would not be bothering another officer. I was beginning to like Pehl. John looked angry but he sat down by Pehl. As no one else was looking, I gave John a big smile and a little wave. Then I suddenly caught sight of Chiana standing behind him. She gave me a big smile and a wave back. I turned towards my troops. My troops, what a strange thought that was. I pushed Chiana and John out of my mind and headed to the square with a thoroughly grim look on my face.

The square was packed with Clan warriors. As usual everyone was talking at once at the top of their voices. Also as usual, everyone was armed and everyone was angry. D'Argo said he could just see Captain Trinquier and a small knot of Peacekeepers at a street exiting the square that headed for the Three Hills side of town. He bent down so our allies wouldn't catch what he said.

"Trinquier has got the three Clan leaders we saw at the bunker yesterday with her. They're all screaming at each other and the clansmen are starting to push up against the Peacekeepers and the Riverside Militia. If the clan warriors push too hard, the Peacekeepers will fight and the Militia could..." He hesitated a microt. "The militia could do just about anything, but probably nothing useful. We don't have the time to get to Trinquier, either through this mob or around him. Maybe we should have brought Crichton. This seems to call for one of his irrational plans."

I hoped D'Argo was trying to be funny, but I almost had the beginnings of a plan.

"D'Argo. Herat. Help me get up on the roof of that shed."

Running along the perimeter of the square was a long, wooden shed with a flat roof. D'Argo locked his fingers together, bent over. I put my foot on his hands, and in one swift move, I was on the roof. I motioned for D'Argo to follow me and told Herat to keep the rest of the troops where they were.

I walked to the edge of the roof and looked down on a mass of angry, armed warriors facing towards Trinquier. Everyone was screaming, pushing and shoving. Some had even drawn their weapons, but neither firearms nor swords had been used yet. Yet! The noise level was almost deafening. I glanced over at D'Argo. We couldn't have heard each other, so I smiled at him and pushed his qualta blade down to let him know I didn't want him to shoot. I drew my pulse pistol and rifle and fired them straight into the air, walking along the edge of the roof as I did so. I thought to myself, "Don't walk. Strut. Bounce. Slink. Move your hips like Chiana does. Hezmana knows, you've seen her do it a thousand times. Smile. Tease them. Remember that you are the Aeryn Sun whose name and reputation is on the lips of every singer and warrior in this city. You can't show them how tough you are, but if they believe you're as seductive as the song says, they'll believe the rest."

I stopped at about the center of the shed and stopped firing. Every warrior in the square could see me, so I holstered my pistol and slung my rifle. There was a murmur of voices in the square, but nothing like the bedlam that had been there a few microts before.

I smiled at them, turning my head so everyone in the square could see my face. I hoped my smile was all that they expected from the notorious Aeryn Sun.

"I am Officer Aeryn Sun. Do you know who I am?"

There was a microt of near silence, followed by a roar of recognition. I held up my hands for silence and was a little surprised to get it.

"You are the White River Clan and their allies. And you want to fight. You want to fight for your women now held by Raenar and his allies. You want to fight for the dead and wounded left behind by raiding parties. You want to fight to avenge all the wrongs done to you. You want to fight so that your sons will grow to be honorable warriors."

The clans bellowed their approval of that idea. Some of the warriors started rhythmically clashing their swords on their shields. A few idiots even fired their scarce ammunition into the air. I held my arms over my head for silence and was slightly less amazed when they quieted down.

"I want to fight the Three Hills Militia and their pirate friends, as do all of the Peacekeepers."

The warriors went wild. They were pushing towards me and I could hear cries of, "Lead us, Aeryn Sun. We are yours to command. Death to the city scum."

I lifted my arms and again there was silence. "But, warriors, unlike you, I want to win."

There was confusion and a rising babble of voices. I had to act fast to keep control of the situation.

"I have a plan to defeat our enemies. But we need all of the clan warriors. "I held up one arm and extended my index finger. "Then we need all of the Peacekeepers." I held up my index and middle finger. "We need the Riverside Militia." I held up three fingers. " And we need the Trink regiment." Four fingers. "We need to act together." I closed my hand into a fist and slammed it into my other hand.

Then things started to go wrong. A large, shabbily dressed man leapt up onto a box and screamed, "NO! My three daughters were taken by the city slavers. I will return them to my home today or my family will sing the last verse of my war song tonight." A few warriors around him cheered him on, waving their old weapons in the air and beginning a droning song that must have been their war song.

I slowly walked as close as I could get to him and smiled down on him. "What is your name."

He looked back at me, and I was relieved to see, smiled back. "I am Pauwus of the House of Radetzki of the Family of Strackenz, Lord Aeryn Sun." He suddenly looked embarrassed at giving me a masculine title. I guessed that females were never warriors in the clans.

I knelt down so I could get as close as possible to him. "Pauwus of the House of Radetzki of the Family of Strackenz. Two days from now, before dawn, join me at the fountain at the end of the square. We will go together to bring your daughters home. Will you do this for me?"

Pauwus looked at his family and friends around him. Suddenly he turned to face the crowd of warriors around him. "Dawn and Aeryn Sun. Dawn and Aeryn Sun."

The rest of the mob took up the chant. "Dawn and Aeryn Sun." Slowly they started to leave the square.

I stood on the roof and waved and smiled and did my best to look like the violent, passionate Aeryn Sun they expected. With most of them out of the square, D'Argo and I returned to the far end of the roof and jumped down to where Herat and the rest of the Peacekeepers were. The first face I saw was John's. The second was a very red-faced Officer Pehl.

I turned on Pehl, angry and upset. "Pehl, do you understand the concept of a direct order? What is Officer Crichton doing here?"

Pehl's mouth moved for a few microts before any words came out. "No excuse, Officer Sun."

I pushed my face right into hers and raised my voice. "I didn't ask for an excuse, I want an explanation."

Pehl once again looked like the girl who was too young and too fragile to be a Peacekeeper. "Officer, Sun. He's a lot... I mean Officer Crichton is more persuasive than I thought, but... I mean, I tried...." Pehl didn't seem to know how to explain whatever had happened.

Suddenly, for just a microt, I had a glimpse of the future. Billions of human males wandering through the Universe and with each one was a female Peacekeeper, confused, lost, disoriented, and unable to make any sense of her companion. Every couple looked like John and I.

Suddenly, John came to Pehl's defense. "It's not her fault, Aeryn. I just explained to her that if she intended to stop me from following you, she'd have to do so much damage to me that it would be counter-productive. After the third time I got up after she knocked me down, she started seeing things my way. Some Peacekeepers just learn faster than others, I guess."

I caught sight of a patch of sticky blue cream on the side of John's head. I turned back to Officer Pehl. "You hit Officer Crichton to try to enforce my orders?"

Pehl stared straight ahead. "The first time, I tried to twist his arm around behind him, but he kept turning into me and moving towards the exit of the bunker. I didn't know how hard I could twist his arm, and so..."

I could see it was pointless to blame Pehl, and useless to blame John. "Head the troops back to the bunker, Officer Pehl. And if you do ever learn how to control John Crichton, or any other human, please let me know."

As we headed back, John and I dropped back behind my troops. I ran my hand over his head where the medication was. "Did Pehl hit you on the head, John?"

John winced a little and I quickly drew my hand back. "No, the third time she kicked my feet out from under me, I ran into the bunker wall trying to get up. The Med Tech, Jagjabir, looked at me and put this on me. I'll be all right, he says. He did suggest I hang around with girls who play nicer."

To help John along, I put my arm around his waist and his arm around my shoulder. "It would be easier if you just followed my orders."

John laughed. "It would be easier if you didn't give me orders you know I won't obey."

"John, everything worked out. I didn't need any help, and if I did, D'Argo and Herat were there as well as the rest of the troops."

I felt John's hand start to run through my hair. "Everything worked out this time. It would be better if we cooperated, Aeryn. Lots better."

There didn't seem to be another way when dealing with humans, especially this one. "Cooperation would be better, John."

As we approached the bunker, I realized what John and I would look like, arms around each other, his hand tangled in my hair, my head against his side. Too late. Chiana was smiling from ear to ear, nudging Officer Pehl, who was unsuccessful in controlling a grin. Sub-Officer Herat was grinning and giggling as usual, but I thought he looked different this time. D'Argo and Jagjabir were examining their weapons, carefully looking anywhere but at John and I. In the middle of them was Captain Trinquier.

"Good work, Officer Sun. I hope the plan you have worked out for our assault is as good as you made it sound. What is it?"

I stood in front of my troops, in front of my commander, arm and arm with a human. I looked Trinquier in the eye. "I haven't a clue."

Trinquier sighed. "I thought as much, Blue Eyes. Now we are really in trouble."

Trinquier called a staff meeting for all her officers except John, who would continue to work on his new weapons. I managed to convince John that his work with the local techs was more important than trying to be my bodyguard, especially since I'd be in a bunker surrounded by my friends and many Peacekeepers.

Our strategy meeting got nowhere. Trinquier had a holographic map of the City set up. I didn't care for Intel Tech Buryat, but I had to admire the quality of his work. The map not only showed the physical layout of the City, but where our posts and bunkers were, our normal patrol routes and all the intelligence we had about Raenar and the Three Hills Militia. No matter how many arns we spent looking at the map, we always saw the same thing. The only was to get to the spaceport and the weapons control array was across a metra, more or less, of open space with no cover, under fire from dug in infantry and whatever other surprises Raenar had for us. D'Argo was kind enough to point out that it looked like the bunkers around the spaceport were full of Raenar's militia allies. This meant that Raenar's own men, armed with modern pulse weapons, would be waiting for us after we had run a gauntlet of fire from the militia.

John joined us at dinner time. He looked at the map and asked questions, but made no observations of his own. I had two small victories for the day, both over one lone human. I had, eventually, gotten John to do his work with the local techs, and he had listened to our discussion for a full arn without once making a statement only intelligible to humans. I wondered if humans were always intelligible to other humans. Too bad I'd probably never find out.

After dark, Trinquier told us to get some sleep. She herself went out to check her guard posts and talk to incoming patrols.

I found my sleeping mat neatly laid out next to John's, and John already wrapped in his blanket. When I knelt down unfold my blanket, John lifted his blanket and wordlessly invited me to join him. I put my folded blanket at the top of the mats to serve us as a pillow, and slid in next to John.

John put his arms around me. "Don't worry, Aeryn. We'll think of a plan tomorrow."

I didn't have an answer for that, but fortunately I didn't need one. I felt John's lips press against my forehead. Then he slowly moved down to my lips. I kissed him back for a dozen microts or so and then pulled back.

"If we're going to make a plan tomorrow that will keep us alive, we need some sleep, John."

John gently brushed his lips against mine. "One thing about you, Aeryn. When you're right, you're right."

I rested my head against John's arm and was soon asleep.

Footsteps. Not quiet ones, but someone walking normally through the bunker. Why had that woken me up? I turned and caught sight of Intel Tech Buryat leaving the bunker. I didn't know why, but I slipped John's arm off of me and slid out of my blanket. I quickly crossed to the bunker's door and looked out. I could just see Buryat heading down a nearby alley.

I checked my pistol and followed him, wondering why I was leaving a warm bed to follow Buryat. I kept well back from him and I soon saw him stop and go into a ruined building. I crept up to the building and was rewarded with the sight of Buryat just standing in a wrecked room. Why would Buryat go to a ruined building in the middle of a shot-up neighborhood if he wasn't up to no good?

Suddenly, I saw movement in the building. Some one came up to Buryat, but I couldn't hear a word they said. I slowly eased my way towards the two men. Then I got lucky, Buryat and the other man moved toward me. I loved what I heard from our Intel Tech.

"...our captain. You can tell Raenar that Colonel Prejvalski won't fight, no matter what. But, I might be able to get our little froggies to help us if the price is right. And the price is a ticket off this useless rock."

The other man interrupted. "We know about the Peacekeepers and the Trinks. Raenar wants to know about this Officer Aeryn Sun and her Special Ops Team. What the frell is a Special Ops unit doing out this far? How long have the Peacekeepers been recruiting Luxans, Delvians and the other races? Are we going to see these human and Nabari soldiers in the Uncharted Territories? Who are they?"

Buryat laughed. "Special Ops my ass. Aeryn Sun is no Special Ops Officer. She's a loser and a renegade whose brains are between her legs. She was thrown out of the Peacekeepers when she was irreversibly contaminated by that barbarian human. You should see the two of them together. It would make you sick. Her so called Special Ops team is a bunch of escaped criminals she's taken up with. The Luxan murdered his own wife and the Nabari is a gutless little thief. The Delvian is a priestess who'd be useless in a fight and the Hynerian is beneath contempt, like all his race. Take my word for it, none of them will fight. And we know that the Clans will fight. Oh, yes, just go to any bar in the City and listen to them singing about their glorious charge at dawn. One stupid charge into certain death and the Clans are gone. Raenar has enough firepower to destroy the whole lot, Peacekeepers, Militia, Clans and escapees. I don't know why you and Raenar keep worrying."

The other man kept asking about us and Buryat kept denigrating us. I slid my knife out of the sheath in my boot and crept closer. I decided to kill the other man and take Buryat back to the bunker as a prisoner. I hoped Buryat would fight back. I'd enjoy showing him who was a loser. I gathered my legs under me, ready to leap. Suddenly I felt the muzzle of a pulse pistol against the back of my neck. A hand reached down and took my pistol from it's holster.

I waited for a shot in the back of my head, or a shout to Buryat, but nothing happened. After a few dozen microts, Buryat and his contact left the building, leaving me with the unknown behind me.

I heard a familiar voice behind me. "You are very good, Officer Sun."

"Pehl. What the frell are you doing? Buryat's getting away. He was talking to..."

Suddenly I had a very bad feeling. Trinquier had said she didn't know what Pehl might do if she decided her family couldn't get her out of the Aures Regiment. I just might be able to answer that question.

Pehl backed off. "Stand up Officer Sun, Buryat's gone now. Sun, Buryat is our intel tech, in case you hadn't noticed. His job is to deal with enemy spies, like Fifth Officer Gibba. You have no idea how hard it was for us to get any one of Raenar's officers to meet with a Peacekeeper, even a tech. They all thought it was a Peacekeeper trap." To my surprise, Pehl handed me back my pistol.

I thought for a microt and then put my pistol back in it's holster. "You knew about Buryat's meeting with one of Raenar's officers?"

"Of course, Sun. Raenar was going to try to penetrate our unit anyway, so we might as well make it easy on both of us by giving him what he wants. And what we want of course."

"And we want to give Raenar information about us? What sense does that make?"

I think I went down a little in Pehl's estimation. "Tonight Gibba can give Raenar the stunning news that we're an under-manned, under-equipped, under-armed penal unit. He can give Raenar the valuable intelligence that Colonel Prejvalski is no more a soldier than Rygel XVI. He might even get word of the Clans plan to attack Raenar back to the pirates before a crowd of drunken clan warriors sings "Dawn and Aeryn Sun" under our good Captain Raenar's window."

I took a step towards Pehl. "And what the frell is "Dawn and Aeryn Sun?"

Pehl laughed. Fortunately for her, the laugh had no sting in it. "You really impressed the clans. Every singer in fifty metras has his own version of your speech to the clans. According to them, you have a secret plan to wipe out the pirates and their allies, capture Raenar's ship and lead the clan warriors to glory off planet. All of this while wearing only the skimpiest of garments, or possibly no clothing at all."

I was really beginning to hate music, but I understood. I asked Pehl, "And we want Raenar to think that your "Special Ops" reinforcements are useless and he's in no danger from us. Correct?"

I could see Pehl nod. "Now you're learning, Officer Sun. I'm glad I was able to get to you in time. It would be a shame if something had happened tonight."

A familiar voice rumbled from behind Pehl. "Yes, explaining your death or injury to Captain Trinquier would be difficult. Explaining to my ally how I allowed Aeryn Sun to be endangered would have been even worse." D'Argo stepped from the shadows to stand by Officer Pehl.

For just a microt I smiled at Pehl until I heard another voice. "I'm really not that hard to explain death or injury to, Ka D'Argo. Especially when one of my officers would not have been the one to be killed or injured tonight." Captain Trinquier stood up. She had positioned herself on what had been the second story of the building we were in, in a perfect position to watch, or shoot any of us.

Trinquier started to walk away, but called back to us over her shoulder. "We should get back to the bunker and get some sleep. Buryat is untrustworthy, but I don't think it takes four of us to keep track of him."

John was still asleep when I got back. I slid under the blanket and snuggled against him. Suddenly I asked myself something, "Why would D'Argo think he'd have trouble explaining to John if I were injured? I hadn't done anything to make anyone think John was anything but my shipmate, had I? D'Argo hadn't actually seen anything that time when he rescued us. Since then, I had been much more careful."

We were up at dawn the next morning. We had one solar day to come up with a plan and so far, we had nothing. We even asked Rygel for input. Whatever Rygel's qualifications had been as the strategic brain behind the Hynerian Empire, his grasp of small unit tactics ranged from wretched to abysmal. Not that we could keep him quiet on the subject. Finally D'Argo made a few suggestions about what could be done with our miniature military genius and Rygel left in a huff. Zhaan and Chiana were equally unhelpful, if more honest about their lack of knowledge.

John joined us in the late afternoon. He told Captain Trinquier that he had built as many weapons as he had materials for and that the militia was as trained as they were going to get.

áJohn sat next to me. "No luck on the plan yet, Aeryn?"

I shook my head. Just briefly, I wished I hadn't made such an issue of being the trained, professional warrior with an answer for everything.

John reached over and took my hand in his. I looked briefly around the room to see if anyone noticed and then decided I didn't really care if anyone noticed. I gave John's hand a squeeze and smiled at him.

He smiled back and leaned over to whisper in my ear, "You'll come up with something. All those cycles as a Peacekeeper weren't for nothing."

Oh frell. The only problem was that Aeryn Sun had no idea how to attack a fortified spaceport across a metra of open land in the teeth of dug in infantry with Hezmana knows what kind of support behind them. All with a handful of Peacekeepers, allies who probably felt our attack would do them more harm than good and a mob of savage clansmen whose knowledge of modern warfare was non-existent. And, I might as well admit it to myself, to do all of this while keeping a certain willing, but decidedly unmilitary human out of trouble.

Finally, Trinquier stood up and faced us. "If we don't attack tomorrow, we lose the benefit, such as it is, of the clans. They may not be much by our standards, but they are our most willing allies in this. And I bet that if the clans desert us, the Riverside Militia won't be far behind. So, this is the plan. Tomorrow at dawn we form up behind bunker Trenka Nine. We'll suppress the enemy bunkers with our pulse weapons and before Raenar has time to react, we'll attack. When we get past the bunkers, we'll head for the maintenance shed with the weapons control system. Who ever gets there does as much damage as possible and then fight your way back out. Any questions?"

None of us had any questions. We started to break up to get ready for tomorrow.

Well, of course, one of us had questions. John walked up to Captain Trinquier. "That's it? That is your plan? Larry, Moe and Roher sit down and the best that a thousand cycles of Peacekeeper military wisdom can come up with is "Hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle?" Hasn't anyone ever heard of misdirection? Razzle dazzle? The old flea flicker? "

Trinquier turned to John. Any Peacekeeper seeing the look in her eyes would have turned tail and run. John, of course, just looked more stubborn. Both D'Argo and I headed for John hoping to get him out of the way before Captain Trinquier lost her temper completely. She didn't understand the Earth references any better than I did, but it was obvious that her military competence was being seriously questioned.

D'Argo spoke up. "Crichton, this is a perfectly honorable plan."

John turned to D'Argo. "Honorable. Honorable? Just because the Peacekeepers have decided that war is suicide by other means does not make this plan honorable. Or any other word that means we should listen to this crap. I am not putting up with this!"

I started to babble apologies to Captain Trinquier while trying to push John away from her. Unfortunately, I was trying to push him through D'Argo who'd had decided to be stubborn at having his concept of honor questioned.

D'Argo was yelling at John, John was yelling at Captain Trinquier, I was yelling at John, D'Argo and Captain Trinquier, and nobody was getting anywhere. Suddenly Zhaan interposed herself and very calmly said, "Perhaps John has something to add." I don't know quite what sort of priestly powers she used, but it got everyone's attention.

John pushed himself away from D'Argo and me. He walked over to the holographic map. "I had been giving a plan of mine a little thought, but I assumed that you professionals would come up with the perfect plan, so I didn't worry about it. Until now."

John stood and looked at the map for a few dozen microts. Suddenly he turned to us. "Okay. This is it. We'll make it look like the old Hail Mary, just like Flutie or Schwarzkopf used. But it'll really be a flea flicker."

Even John had to realize that his explanation made no sense to any of us. He quickly gathered us around the map. "To start with, Captain Trinquier, call Colonel Prejvalski tomorrow at about an arn before dawn. Tell him that Raenar is ready to go, to leave the planet for good. Tell him you're desperate to stop him. Sound desperate. Promise him the ship, or anything else, if he'll just use his artillery to hit Raenar's headquarters. The headquarters is far enough from the ship so Prejvalski won't be afraid to damage his prize, right? Prejvalski will be able to shoot without any danger of hitting the ship?"

Trinquier nodded and John continued. "I'll bet that not only will Prejvalski shoot, but I bet he'll have his infantry on their way here ASAP. He won't want anyone else claiming his ship. And it'll give Raenar one more thing to think about."

He took me by the arm and moved me to the end of the map. "Okay, Aeryn. You get to do the Hail Mary part. Take your clansmen and about half of the militia with some Peacekeepers and attack the Three Hills barracks. Do that either at dawn or when Prejvalski's artillery starts up, whichever comes first. The rest of the militia and Peacekeepers will snipe at the bunkers along the rest of the perimeter. That'll keep them guessing as to where the main thrust is."

That was too much for me. "John, I'm the one who doesn't know where the main thrust is. We have nothing left for a main thrust."

"Sure we do. Once Raenar's people are spread out between two attacks, D'Argo and I charge through their line by way of the underground sewer and head for the weapons control system and blow it up. We'll need a couple of militiamen for escorts, but that's it."

That was too much for Trinquier. "Pretty Boy, this whole plan is idiotic. To begin with you'll have the Living Death before you're half way through the sewer. D'Argo is the only person with enough knowledge of both explosives and starship systems to do this job. None of the militiamen knows a weapons control system from the waste disposal system, although they do know enough about explosives. So one lucky shot at Ka D'Argo and this plan is over and done with. I'm not going to risk everything we're trying to do on this planet on the life of one man."

John looked like he was having trouble not laughing. "Two men. Captain Trinquier, I've been trying to convince certain people for over a cycle now that humans aren't just a slightly demented versions of Sebaceans." John was looking straight at me when he said that. I had certainly never suggested humans were only demented Sebaceans, had I?

John turned back to Trinquier. "Your intelligence about humans isn't very good. Humans don't get the living death or heat delirium. I'm not as resistant to heat as D'Argo, but I can go through that sewer with no trouble at all. So you have two men who can place your explosives."

"Three." We turned at the new voice. It was Chiana. "So, I'm not a man. But I do know explosives, starships, and I've been to the maintenance bay, and no one else has. Besides, I'm always asking John to take me places. He can't refuse me now, can he?"

"Four." That was Zhaan.

Trinquier was surprised. "A Delvian Pa'u who knows explosives and starships? The Delvian Seek must be a much different religion than I had been told."

Zhaan smiled. "As I said, I came late to the Seek and learned many things before I did so. I will join my friends."

The rest of the day was a madhouse of planning, assigning people, re-planning, re-assigning people, checking equipment, trying to locate and brief the Clans and a million other things. I personally examined the militiamen who would be John's escort. Not for the first time I cursed humans for being so frelling different from Sebaceans. I should be leading the attack, not a human tech with occasional delusions of warriorhood. There were only four militiamen. I thought again about trying to use a larger force. But John had refused to consider it. "Aeryn, if we get into a firefight of any size, we lose. Our best chance is to go in wearing locals' capes with our weapons hidden under them. That way we're just a bunch of panic-stricken civilians running for cover. The larger our group, the bigger the chance some one will notice us."

He was right, but that didn't stop me from hating it.

By midnight I was done and went of to get a few arns sleep. I was surprised that John wasn't there. I found him staring at the holo-map.

"Crichton, you, that is we, both need sleep. Come with me." I reached out and took his hand and tried to pull him along, but he stayed where he was.

"In a minute, er, a microt, Aeryn. I just want to go over this once more in my mind."

"Crichton, you're more likely to fail from lack of sleep at this point than from some minor point you've forgotten. Even if you did manage to find something the rest of us missed in the plan of attack, it's too late to change anything now."

John smiled at me. That caused something to happen inside me. I'd have to examine this whole episode very carefully when it was all over. "Thanks, Coach Aeryn. It's the big game and if we're not prepared for it now, we never will be, right?"

Once again I made a mental note to myself to sit John down for a cycle or so and explain every human reference in existence. But for now I just nodded and we headed for our beds.

Once again I found myself lying in John's arms. This time I wondered if I would ever do so again.

Well before dawn we were roused from our beds. John went off for a last briefing from the patrols that had just come in about Raenar's defenses. I got my Peacekeepers and militia ready.

I was glad that John and I were able to say good bye like two professionals. A calm handshake and a quiet good-bye and we parted.

Then D'Argo came up to me. "Aeryn, I want you to know that I consider it a matter of honor to protect Crichton as he is not only my ally, but wholly untrained in these matters."

Before I could reply, he turned and walked away. I suppose I should have expected that after catching us when we were caught in the Flax that he might have ideas about John and I. Hezmana! What must he have thought? There was nothing I could do about that now.

Next was Chiana. "Don't worry, Gun Slinger. I've forgotten more about sneaking in and sneaking out than anyone else on this planet ever knew. I'll have John in and out before anyone knows it." And then she, too, turned and left.

"Gunslinger," I thought. "Is everyone on Moya going to end up talking like John? Does everybody assume that John and I are, well, that is, are they all assuming something?"

I was totally prepared when Zhaan came up to me. "Aeryn, I left copies of the records I have for Crichton with Med Tech Jagjabir. I've also identified those medicines for Sebaceans that I think will work on John."

I smiled and thanked her and left the bunker. The trip in the land vehicle was faster this time, since there was virtually no traffic on the streets. I supposed that every being in the city had heard one version or another of "Dawn and Aeryn Sun" and decided to stay well hidden. That didn't make me confident of our reception at the Three Hills Militia barracks.

The scene at the square shocked me. There, in perfect silence were hundreds of clan warriors, neatly lined up behind their leaders. Standing by the fountain, I recognized the face of Pauwus, surrounded by his kinsmen.

I smiled at him, hoping I was doing the smile properly. "Greetings, Pauwus of the House of Radetzki of the Family of Strackenz. Are you ready to add some new verses to your war song today?"

Pauwus seemed to expand and glow at being addressed by the famed Aeryn Sun. I hoped he hadn't put too much faith in me. "Lady Sun, I am honored to stand by your side on this day. Soon, the singers will sing of none but us. I had thought to pay a singer to write our new verses, but I decided that would dishonor Retuna, our own singer." Pauwus gestured to a reedy man of uncertain age who could only be the honored singer. At least he did look like he considered it an honor to be here.

The three senior clan leaders approached me and introduced themselves. Allukko, the oldest, smiled at me. "I hope, Lady Sun, that you did not believe that we were an undisciplined rabble who would give themselves away with much noise and commotion, before the attack was even under way? "

Since that was exactly what I had expected, I wasn't sure how to answer. Luckily, Allukko kept talking. "Life among the Clans can be hard. If you wish to keep the fruits of your labors for yourself and your kin, you must be able to lay silently by a trail for the first sign of raiders, and then silently carry word of their approach back to your home. If you wish to eat the meat of the daquet, you must move silently and craftily to slay the beast. To keep your kill from the packs of raveners, you must fight and kill as a team. You will find us capable, I believe."

With no more ceremony than that, we moved off. We marched through the wrecked buildings of the silent city. We moved through the trenches that I remembered and into the tunnel. Before I knew it, we were at the observation post behind the Three Hills' lines. Most of the Peacekeepers, and militiamen, under Officer Pehl were on the upper floors to suppress the enemy's fire with their pulse rifles. About a third of the clan warriors were packed into the ground floor with me for the assault on the barracks. Most of the rest were packed into the tunnel running back under the Three Hills front line. A picked group of militiamen and clan warriors, numbering thirty or so, commanded by Sub-Officer Herat would attack the bunker line behind us to keep our escape route open.

I stared out into the street in front of us. I could just see a little light in the sky to the west. It was almost dawn. Colonel Prejvalski apparently hadn't decided to play our little game. I'd just have to give John the best diversion I could. Irrationally, I cursed myself for not asking him what a Hail Mary was.

I drew my pistol and nodded to the clan warriors ahead of me. Swiftly, they tore the rubble away from what had been the doors and windows of the building. I stepped out into the street and started to walk calmly towards the barracks. I hadn't taken more than ten steps, when I heard a series of thumps from the far side of the city. Artillery.

I turned to my warriors, "The clans, the militia, the Peacekeepers, and the Trinks. Acting as one." I slammed my fist into my palm and started running.

What happened next is a series of disconnected pictures in my brain. A Three Hills Militiaman walking around a corner with a bottle in his hand, shot dead by someone behind me. A woman hiding in a doorway and screaming. A little girl smiling at me and being run over by a careless clan warrior. A clan warrior spinning, falling, clutching his stomach. Another warrior screaming something to me. A militiaman standing calmly in the street with a pulse pistol in each hand, killing everyone who approached him until I shot him.

Suddenly, I was facing a wide street separating me from the barracks. I could see pulse weapon bursts hitting the building. Pehl was doing a good job of keeping their heads down. I waited for the rest of the warriors to catch up to me.

I turned and gave them my best smile. "Now, all you have to do is follow me across the street and inside. Are you ready?"

I was answered by hoarse screams and the warriors streamed past me. Pehl hadn't done as good a job as I had hoped. My men started dropping, but the rest kept running. I started firing my pulse rifle and pistol at the building and followed them.

Crossing the street, I found myself in front of a pair of huge metal double doors in relative calm. The militiamen inside couldn't shoot at us at the base of the building without leaning out the windows and making themselves perfect targets. We were all right until someone inside got the idea of dropping explosives on us, or leaving the building and attacking our flank. I began firing at the hinges of the door with both of my weapons. Molten metal flew. I felt some hit my arms and saw more of it land on my warriors.

Suddenly, one door drooped from its hinges and fell. With a roar, the clan warriors rushed inside. I pushed my way in and found chaos. It looked like the ground floor was one giant room, filled with fighters from both sides, firing at each other with no cover at all. I had to aim carefully to avoid hitting my own men. Our numbers started to tell and the enemy militia were gradually being driven into little groups that were over run by the clan warriors.

I ran up a flight of stairs to the second floor. It was full of screaming women, and a few dozen warriors looking for their own family members.

I ran up another flight of stairs and found myself on the roof. I checked, but found myself alone. I went over to the roof edge and cautiously peered over it into the streets below. Small groups of the enemy were straggling away from their former barracks. I used my oculars to check the area, but I could see no sign that Raenar or anyone else was sending reinforcements to attack us.

I went back downstairs where the discipline of the clan warriors had collapsed. The second floor was full of weeping women and girls. One threw her arms around me and repeated something over and over to me, probably the name of her father or husband. I grabbed the nearest warrior and told him to take care of he girl.

By the stairs, a group of warriors had hacked open a trunk full of clothing. One had on a bright red jacket, several sizes too large for him, with a long woman's scarf wrapped around his waist. On his head was a peaked cap, worn backwards. He was busy putting large, garish rings on each of his fingers. His friends were equally busy dressing up. As I passed, Red Jacket insisted on putting a garish yellow scarf with red embroidery around my neck. I thanked him and silently noted that I did need a new cleaning rag for my pulse rifle.

In the middle of the stairs were a dozen or so warriors enjoying a drink. Each had a selection of open bottles in front of them which they passed back and forth while they commented on the liquor's potency. Another couple of hundred microts and they would be useless.

At the foot of the stairway were two groups of clan warriors nearly at swords point with each other. Each had one end of a long rectangular metal panel engraved with the image of a commercial space ship, probably looted by Raenar from some merchant vessel. Each side insisted that the panel was theirs. Both sides turned to me to decide ownership. Before I could even consider a reply, a third group showed up insisting that such a beautiful piece of loot should go to the beautiful Aeryn Sun. The original owners agreed at once, but each insisted that the other side should relinquish it so it could be properly presented to me. I told them to get it to the bunker and decide who would present it to me when they got it back.

I headed back up the stairs and got onto the roof again. My oculars still showed no sign of an enemy attack, although the occasional shot was fired towards us by whatever Three Hills Militiamen were still in the area.

I looked towards the spaceport and the area I knew contained the maintenance shed and the weapons control system. What the frell was taking John so long. He had had enough time to get to his target and then some. Frell! He could have stopped to tell a few of Raenar's guards a story about how this reminded him of some frelling human game and still blown up the frelling system by now. He could have taught Chiana some human songs, told several jokes to D'Argo and explained the entire history of Earth to Zhaan and still had time to blow up two frelling weapons control systems.

I had just about decided that I would never let John plan anything else again in our lives, when I saw a sudden, bright flash in just the right place. Microts later a long drawn-out roar followed and a tower of smoke started climbing into the sky.

Frell! How was I going to get that mob downstairs moving? I ran back down the stairs and started grabbing people and shoving them down the stairs. The second floor was now composed mainly of family reunions, so the only real trouble I had was with an endless parade of locals who swore they would name their next child after me. I advised several to be sure to name one after our Hynerian master strategist. It did me no end of good to imagine a planet full of little snotty-nosed troublemakers, all answering to the name Rygel.

The first floor was worse than when I had left it. It seemed equally divided between drunks, looters and vandals. Naturally, these categories overlapped. I grabbed what militiamen I could find and had them start herding the clan warriors out. One group of vandals was busily smashing a mosaic floor. I stopped them and told them to move. The largest, and probably the drunkest, told me that he wasn't letting any foreigner spoil his fun. I smiled at him and gave him a pantak jab. I smiled at the rest of his friends and they picked their leader up and headed for home.

After a quarter of an arn, I seemed to have gotten everybody moving. I ran up to the roof and saw a few Three Hills Militiamen inching down the nearest alleyway. I let them have a burst of pulse rifle fire and ran back downstairs. At the front door I found my friend with the red jacket. Red Jacket smiled drunkenly at me and offered to show me the treasures he had looted. His collection of loot, wrapped in a rug, was as big as he was. A few seconds of arguing convinced me he was too drunk and too greedy to leave his loot. As we crossed the street, a bullet zipped past us. I turned and fired back, but that only seemed to attract more fire. I dragged Red Jacket along, firing blindly behind me. At that point, Red Jacket started up the song about me. Naturally, he only knew the obscene verses.

A heavy burst of pulse rifle fire over our heads from ahead of us told me we had reached the observation post. Pehl was standing calmly in front of the building watching the goings on with her oculars. Sub-Officer Herat was directing the few remaining Peacekeepers and militia.

Pehl watched for a few more microts and then turned to me. "You should be the last one, Sun. And your little friend, of course. The Three Hills Militia had a large number of their troops in their bunkers. When they saw we were behind them, they abandoned their bunkers in a large hurry. We captured one militiaman and he was kind enough to show us the path through their minefield."

A burst of bullets spattered rubble on us. "I think it is time, Sub-Officer Herat. We shall re-deploy the team."

I was the last one to cross to our lines. Pehl would have been last, but Red Jacket insisted on being very sick halfway across. I assisted him by putting down his heavy bag of loot for him and carrying him the rest of the way. I also made sure he was comfy by putting him in a nice, soft pile of dren and making sure he was well covered.

As I started back to the bunker, I was stopped by my friend Pauwus and his family. He had three young women with him, all of whom promised to name a child Aeryn. I decided I liked Pauwus too much to ask them to name one Rygel. As I was about to leave, Pauwus held out a bottle and asked if I would like to celebrate with his family. That dirty old man! I should have insisted that all his grandchildren be named Rygel. But I smiled and I decided I still liked him and replied, "No. I will celebrate with my friend."

As I walked away, a thought struck me. "I meant my friends. I'd celebrate with my friends."

By the time I got back to the bunker, my friends had arrived. John was explaining how Zhaan had found several barrels of a potent explosive near the weapons control system. They had rolled the barrels up to the system and set the whole lot off. That was what caused the delay and the unexpectedly large explosion I had seen.

Chiana helped him tell the tale, using five words for every one John used. Zhaan looked unaccountably quiet and reserved.

D'Argo, however, was frantic to be on our way. He acted like Crais and an entire Peacekeeper fleet was only a few hundred metras away. He insisted that we start loading the transport pods, and right now! Captain Trinquier had been as good as her word. We would have enough food to last for half a cycle. But the Peacekeepers, having no ships, had no map fibers. The only ones available were old ones that showed the old Republic and some surrounding nations. But, they were better than nothing. We would be going deeper into the Uncharted Territories.

Before I left. I did want to talk to Captain Trinquier. She was alone in her quarters.

She smiled, a real smile, when she saw me. "You have done very well, Officer Sun. And don't tell me that I shouldn't call you Officer. You're more of a Peacekeeper than most, these days. You're what we were a thousand cycles ago. What we should be now. And if enough of us keep our honor alive, what we will again be one day. You are our future, Officer Aeryn Sun."

After all the time I had spent telling myself that I wasn't a Peacekeeper and didn't ever want to be one again, that was strangely, but hugely, satisfying.

She continued. "There is one thing you should know, though. It would be easier in some ways not to tell you this, but it is important to you. John offered to sleep with me, for a price."

The satisfaction I had felt disappeared. I couldn't identify most of the emotions I now felt. They were too new to me. I did recognize one, though. Rage. I turned to leave and heard Trinquier rise to come after me. I turned and lashed out at her, but I was too slow. She had my arm behind my back and me pushed up against the bunker wall before I could react.

She loosened my arm slightly, but kept a firm grip one me. "Are you all right, Blue Eyes?"

I lied to her. "Of course. What Crichton chooses to do with his time is only his concern. It has nothing to do with me."

She laughed. "Wrong. It has everything to do with you. His price for his favors was your safety in our little battle."

That stopped me. "What do you mean?"

Trinquier let my arm go a little more and I relaxed. "Pretty Boy really does have a good tactical mind when he has to use it. You should try to involve him more in your problems. He saw how short -anded we were and how much we needed someone with your training and abilities. And how dangerous this could have been. His offer was that if you sat out the battle, he would sleep with me."

John obviously didn't know me at all in spite of the time we had been together. "Did you honestly think that I would just abandon my comrades and go sit in the corner while everyone else fought?"

Trinquier let my arm go and turned me around. "No, Pretty Boy thought that one through, too. John's plan was to appear to give you the most dangerous job. Our intelligence would get word that Raenar was trying to get to a secret command center to direct his defenses. You'd be pulled out just before the start of the battle and given the job of catching and killing him, with the odds stacked against you. While the battle was being fought, you'd be crouched over some empty hole waiting for a pirate who'd never show up. When it was over, well, intelligence failures happen all the time. Intel Tech Buryat would be embarrassed, John and I would be tired and you'd be alive. And for all anyone else, including you, knew, you had taken on the most dangerous job in the fight and had failed through no fault of your own. "

The rage diminished some, but I was still angry. I would never, ever understand humans or John. What kind of a person would treat a warrior in that manner? Other emotions kept forcing themselves on me, some that I knew and some I didn't, but mostly I felt anger.

I forced myself to be calm. "So, tell me. Why didn't you accept Crichton's proposal? As it turned out, I wasn't essential to your plans."

Trinquier looked into my eyes for a few microts as if trying to read me. "It became obvious that his pretty face, blue eyes and his charming smile weren't what had caused you to become irreversibly contaminated because of him. I sure hope the ones back on Earth aren't all like him, or we'll all be in trouble. And, I have enough pride still, not to want a man who so obviously wants another woman. I decided that what I'd get from John Crichton, human, wasn't what I really wanted. And that I'd never get what I did want away from you. But Pretty Boy still managed to get his way. You couldn't be a part of the most dangerous part of the battle. He did see to that."

Trinquier stepped back and stared at me. "It may have been a mistake to tell you this now. But, if you ever get to be a captain and start playing with the destinies of worlds, you may understand what John and I were trying to do."

Hezmana! Instead of understanding John better, we seemed to know less about each other the longer we knew each other. Frell! I didn't even understand Captain Trinquier. I drew myself to attention and saluted. "If you will excuse me, Captain Trinquier, I believe we are leaving."

Before she could say anything, I turned and walked out of the bunker. I had to get away from her. And away from John. No! I had to see John. No! I had to.... Frelling dren!

I got to the market in time to have D'Argo tell me that our transport pods were being loaded and supplies ferried up to Moya. John had just left and I was next. By the time my pod was loaded and I was in space, John was heading back for more supplies.

By the time I landed the last pod of supplies on Moya, John had been sent by Pilot to help Chiana with some aspect of Moya's pregnancy. Frell! The last person in the universe that I wanted present when I confronted John was our resident thief.

I walked to John's quarters and sat down to wait for him. I sat for arns and got angrier an angrier the longer I sat. How dare that, that, that human, make decisions about my life without even the decency of consulting me. How dare he assume it was acceptable for him to lead a possible suicide mission, but Aeryn Sun had to be protected? In all my years as a Peacekeeper, I had never heard of anything like it.

Suddenly, he was standing in the doorway looking at me. He must have seen by the look on my face that I was angry.

"Crichton. How dare you treat me that way? How dare you impose your judgement in military matters?"

John stopped for a microt and then came in to his quarters. He replied reasonably, "The best you Peacekeepers could come up with was to try a kamikaze attack. That was tried on Earth and it failed. It did get a lot of people killed, though. The Peacekeepers would have loved it, I bet."

Crichton wasn't going to sneak out of this that easily. "That's not what I'm talking about and you know it, Crichton. I'm talking about the little deal you tried to make with your Captain Roher Trinquier. Your performance in her bed in exchange for a safe, meaningless assignment for me. I am a warrior. It is my job to fight for what I believe in. What I believe in has changed radically in the last cycle, or so, but it still includes keeping pirates from killing and looting. And I'm still good at what I do. How dare you interfere?"

John had not expected me to know about his little deal, I could see that. I could also see he was getting stubborn.

"Well, forgive me for caring about you, Miss Sun. But the fact is, I do care about you. I care a lot. I care enough to make the preservation of your life my biggest concern. I suggest you just get used to it, since it isn't going to change."

Frelling dren, how could I have been so stupid! I had known he was physically attractive from the first time I saw him. You can't throw a naked male in Aeryn Sun's cell and not expect her to notice. I also knew that the attraction was more than just physical. But we had never said anything about it. Between Crais, the Peacekeepers, bounty hunters, pirates, lunatic scientists, and everything else the Uncharted Territories had to offer, we didn't have the time to consider how we felt about each other. I didn't have time to keep myself and my friends alive and functioning and still have time to try to sort out the new and frightening emotions I was constantly feeling. As long as we never said anything to each other about how we felt, we could concentrate on staying alive and finding some sort of refuge in the Uncharted Territories. Then, when we were all safe, I could.... Well, I'd have to find out what I could do, wouldn't I?

Suddenly, Pilots voice rang through Moya. "Please stand by for immediate Starburst. Please be very careful as Moya's pregnancy has seriously affected many of her functions."

I felt Moya begin to shake, and shake more violently than she had before. John put one arm on the bars on his door and reached out for me. I decided to stay where I was and was looking for something to hang onto, when Moya lurched and I slammed into John's chest. John quickly put his arm around me and held me tightly.

Frelling dren! Crichton had just said that he cared for me. Worse that he cared as much about my life as he did about his. I couldn't ignore that. I had to respond, but how? Captain Trinquier had just shown me that I did not have to spend my life wandering aimlessly through the Uncharted Territories until all of my friends died, or went home or deserted me. I could do something useful with my training and my life. I almost laughed out loud. What I meant was that I could be more, as someone had once mentioned. But I did not understand John Crichton and I knew he did not understand me. Every time I thought I understood him, he surprised me and every time I thought he understood me, he disappointed me. How were we ever going to understand each other?

With a final shudder Moya exited starburst. John remained silent, just holding me. I decided I still had the tactical advantage here. I knew how much John cared for me, but he really didn't know how I felt. Oh, he had his suspicions, I was sure, but he didn't really know!

How were we ever going to understand each other? Well, if there was any member of any race that would go out of his way to tell you everything about his culture and himself, whether you were interested or not, it was John. All I had to do was to explain myself and the Peacekeepers to John. Nothing to it. Just explain a thousand cycles of history and a lifetime of belief and training to a human who had never been out of the sight of his home planet until a cycle ago. No, that was being very unfair to John. He was perfectly capable of absorbing anything I had to tell him.

I lifted my head and stared into John's eyes. We stared at each other for uncounted microts, then I lowered my head to his chest again and put my arms around him. I suppose there is no time like the present to start explaining myself and my life to John, and no better place to begin than the beginning of the Peacekeepers.

I took a breath and recited to John. "By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once: we owe God a death: I'll ne'er bear a base mind: an't be my destiny, so; an't be not, so: no man is too good to serve's prince; and let it go which way it will, he that dies this year is quit for the next."

THE END