Hunter and Hunted

By Leonard Dickens
Copyright 1999

Everyone was gathered in an access cubicle. Their faces were blank, not understanding. All but John's.

"We can't go in that way," he said. "You'd have to kill those two at the front, at least. There is no way we can get close enough to them to knock them out."

"So we will kill them," said D'Argo. "Aeryn will kill one. I will kill the other. We can fire from across the square." The others nodded. "The risk is small. If Aeryn misses, I can still kill that one before he is likely to be able to call for help or get behind cover. The Qualta can fire quite rapidly. You know this, Crichton."

Aeryn said, "John, they attacked us first. You, anyway. Even if D'Argo misses his, we can just leg it. By the time they have figured out what happened, we will be on the shuttle back up here. They have no navy."

"Don't you care about them?" John asked. "We can't just kill people like ..." He trailed off. D'Argo was squinting at him, as if he was looking into a bright light and couldn't quite make him out. "You can. Right. No, no no. No: it's wrong, people. We can't do that. We have to find another way in."

"May I remind you that we are pursued by bounty hunters?" D'Argo spat out. "We don't have the time for more of your sightseeing. This has taken long enough! Too much of our time. We have been here for three days now. How long until someone recognizes us?"


"The plan is simple. It will get us in that library. Do you deny it?"

"No, but..."

"Well, then, it is settled. We go tonight. Once we are in, we can get the information we need. Starcharts of this region for Moya, and map readouts to Lux."

"And Hyneria", said Rygel.

"And Delvia", said Zhaan. "Surely you understand that it is wrong for them to prevent our access to that information? John, we need that information!"

"And your wormholes," said Aeryn. "That stuff you found today is also coded for level 4 or above."

"We don't know if they know anything about that," John said. "There were links to level 4 information. It did not say what it was. Judging from the stuff we can get," he waved at one of the consoles, "they don't know anything."

"This star has a flare cycle," Aeryn argued back. "You don't know what they know. If anyone knows anything, it's them."

Zhaan said, "John, yesterday you were very excited about the possibilities of what they might know about wormholes. Surely after today's research you can only be more excited."

"I'm not killing anyone! I will figure it out..." he paused, then quietly: "somehow". A glum look. Then to Aeryn: "I will not help you."

D'Argo looked even more disgusted. "We do not need your help, `ally'. If you warn the Landers..." He grabbed the front of John's shirt.

"D'Argo," Zhaan laid her hand on his shoulder. "John will not betray us. Please put him down."

"Easy, big guy. Look, back on Dam Ba Ba -- that was about helping each other. Allies defend each other, they don't go out hunting for others to kill!"

"Some ally."

It was dark. Across the square from the edifice, there was a sound. The two guards, who had been talking together, moved apart, then forward. A woman in a dark gown moved purposefully towards them, accompanied by a small figure on a levitation pallet. When she was halfway across the square, the guard on the left said, "Halt. Citizen." She halted. "Access to the library is forbidden until daytime", he said. "Please leave the square promptly -- Citizen."

At that moment, there was a sound like a chord of energy. Zing-zeew in the high register, zang-zing in the low. The guard who had been talking slumped to the ground, his head shot away. The second guard staggered back a step, then silently collapsed.

Zhaan ran forward, grabbed the first body and heaved it behind one of the massive pillars. By the time she had the second body hidden, the others were there. Without speaking, they moved to the front entrance beside the main one. Rygel, who had paused, hovering near the beheaded corpse, handed a key card to Zhaan. D'Argo and Aeryn took positions in front of and beside the door for assault, then Zhaan quickly swiped the card, kicked back the door, and flattened herself to the ground, holding it with her foot. Nothing... D'argo rushed into the corridor.

Crichton was on Moya. Pilot chimed, then spoke from the com unit: "Zhaan reports that they are in the library, and have downloaded data fibers with the navigation charts. They are now looking into the level 7 datastore for information on remote star systems."

John looked at pilot sadly. "You know how they got in?"

"Yes, John Crichton. I am not surprised." Pilot wiggled his arm slightly. "You should not forget that before you came here, your compatriots were considered criminals."

"Tell Aeryn not to bother looking for wormhole stuff, OK? Just tell her to get out of there as fast as possible. Tell them not to do anything for me."

"I will tell them." Pilot disappeared.

Crichton stared at his hands, and thought about his friends. Well, maybe "allies" was more like it, he thought. Not friends. Friends share an outlook, don't they? A moral frame of reference? How can you be friends with... killers? What is the morality of killing a man to get information, no matter how much value? Of course, Zhaan was right, in a sense, about the information. Of course we do need it. And yes, they did beat me up and throw me out yesterday, when I tried out some things on the level 4 access.

But that can't justify murder!

Is the man who knows of murder being planned, but does nothing -- is that man guilty too? Yes, according to the law. According to human law, anyway.

Of course, you kind of expected that from D'Argo. He seemed to think that anyone not a friend, or at least an 'ally', was automatically worthless. And Rygel, well, in spite of what Zhaan said, he was still a pesky little shit. Now, Zhaan, though. Think about that; what sort of holy woman was she? Of course, back on earth we had our Templars, too. But dammit, she seems so peaceful! She's always so nice, so understanding. So understanding to me, at least. But what do I really know about her? Not much. She's 800 years old, that's what I know. That's scary.

John turned back to the Farscape. He was installing new sensors. "I don't need the information in that library", he thought to himself, " I will find it out myself. This star isn't active right now... but there must be one somewhere nearby. The Landers may or may not know anything about wormholes, but they do know a thing or two about flares! With these new guys, I think I can get up to 15 minutes warning from the magnetic flux, before flare start. That means I can be into the slingshot just when it hits... no dawdling around trying to get things just right at the same time. Like last time, with..."

"Aeryn. Damn!" This was the thought he was avoiding, but she kept coming back into his mind. John put down the sensor and the welding torch. So smart, so lithe, so ... lovable, so beautiful. Yet, a killer. She had not exactly affirmed the plan, like Zhaan, but she had done it! Just when I think I know her, she does this. She's not human! I know that... how stupid am I? ... but I cannot see past that exterior. I have to control myself.

"Never", John said to the wall. "Never!".

Crichton awoke from an exhausted sleep. A DRD was poking him. "Huh?" He looked at it. It looked back. "Um... OK, little buddy. What's on your mind?"

At that moment, the com link chattered. "John Crichton, are you there?"

"Yes Pilot?"

"I apologize for waking you. There is a problem. The others are trapped. They report being cut off from the exits. I can hear fighting now."

"Dammit!" John swore. "OK, I'm going down there!" He thought, but did not say, "not sure what I can do..."

John strode purposefully into the office. The woman at the desk stood up. As with other Sebaceans, her light blue eyes seemed to bore into you. John wondered if she could see that he was lying. But the secretary had not, nor had the archiver. You never know, John thought, and that is what makes a scam interesting. He had spent the morning in the stacks, brushing up on his legal knowledge of the locals. Then he had gone back up to Moya for a little forgery. "My name is Mason", he said. "Perry Mason. My credential." He offered a flat metal disk.

"May you find the knowledge you seek", said the Librarian. "I am Librarian first class, Dranel, researcher, fellow of the Kha Library. My archivist tells me you are representing an offworld consortium." She took the disk, passing it across her reader.

"That is correct." John said. "Drax, SA, based at Boron."

"Yes," said the librarian. "I see." She handed the disk back to John.

"Our business here -- forgive me, my business, properly -- is import and export. But we are chartered for general operations. As you may be aware, Lander law contains reciprocal extradition treaties with other worlds in the proximity. Included in the language of certain of these treaties, are rules for handling persons with posted bounties, bounty to be shared as specified. Now, as I said I am here on other business..." The Librarian raised an eyebrow. "... which is private. However, I happened to notice an item in the local news listing this morning, while doing research towards our goal."

"And that is..."

"You captured a number of persons last night in the library. My research tells me, they are wanted. In fact, there is a bounty on them in several local systems!"

The librarian consulted her reader. After some tapping, she came back: "Mr Mason, it is true that we have an extradition treaty with Boron, but it does not allow for the extradition of persons to private concerns, only the government of Borony." Again, she raised an eyebrow.

"That is true," said John, "but you do have such a treaty with the Confederacy of Nralia. My company has concerns there, and the bounty is offered."

The librarian consulted her reader. "I see no evidence of that."

John quickly said: "General Code, section 8. Paragraph 10, I think, down near the middle."

A wave of the hand. "No not the treaty. The treaty is of course as it is. You are a lawyer; you would know. There is no evidence of any bounty offered at Nral."

John started to speak, but the Librarian waved him silent. "Oh, never mind that. I am sure it will work out; we shall shortly find out. Meanwhile, I must inform you that you are the fourth bounty hunter to visit me this morning! It seems your idea is not entirely original, eh? Two of them were freelancers, and we do not deal with private persons. I will enter you into the database, subject to verification of employer and bounties claimed. You are second in line, Mr. Mason."

John rose, and stuck out his hand. Then after a second, he sat back down. "May I inquire", he asked, "which prisoners were claimed by ... um... who did you say was here before me?"

"I did not", the Librarian said, a bit coldly. "But his name is Plaisance. Represents the --" she tapped "oh yes, government of Pulia Station. He has claimed prisoners alleged to be: Ka D'Argo, a Luxan. Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan, a Delvian. And Dominar Rygel Sixteenth, a Hynerian."

"Not the other one?" John asked. "If not, I claim her. Can get a little profit from it, after all." He smiled. "Yes? Is there not a fourth prisoner, female, apparently Sebacean, dark haired? Name is 'Sun'?"

"The fourth prisoner has not talked, and we have no wanted records on her. None of the other hunters has mentioned her. You say there is a bounty for her too? On Nralia?"

"Yes. Please make my claim. I was planning to leave tomorrow, but I can wait for your verification. How long will it take?"

"I cannot say at this time. It could be as little as a week, or as long as two. I will place a hold on the execution, then. Everything for our allies, eh?" She smiled, and held out the reader: "Please read the affirmation of intent here and palm it." John looked at it for a short time, then put his hand on the screen as they had done in at the library earlier.

"Now, is there anything more I can do for you?"

"I would like to query the prisoner myself, to see what sort of transport needs she has. Atmosphere, food, you know. Shouldn't take a moment, if she is a Sebacean."

"She does appear to be, at least from the pictures," the Librarian said. "Very well, I will have you taken there."

Escorted by a guard (armed, he had noticed, with a device looking remarkably like an Earth submachinegun), John stepped around a corner. "In, immediately right, left, right", John thought to himself. Woops, there she is.

Aeryn stepped forward, with a puzzled looking expression: "J...".

"YOU SHUT UP!" John screamed at her. The guard jumped. "Murderer!", he said with real vehemence. For a second she looked surprised, perhaps even wounded. "I am NOT here to talk to you." He glanced at the guard. Looking away. Time for a risk: "Question: what happened on Moya before you got there?" he asked her. She looked confused, but he thought she would understand soon enough. John held his eyes on the guard, while talking forward: "I am here find out just a little information about you. I am extraditing you, to Nralia, as soon as the Landers can clear the paperwork for it."

She looked puzzled: "'Paperwork?'"

"Verification, authentication," he said idly. Check the guard: nope, back still turned. "Here is the question: you look like a Sebacean. Are you?" He shook his head, no, as emphatically as he could. Aeryn said nothing. "Yes, no? Speak up!" Still nothing. Good, she's getting it.

After another quick check of the guard, he said slowly: "I need a blood sample, then." As he said it, he gestured very slowly to her. Pointed at her: 'you'. Hit his own chin with a clenched first: 'knockout'. Hand out flat, then emphatically dropped to waist height: 'go down'.

She shook her head up and down once, very fast. John thought: "Now for my next trick."

He pulled out a small needle, then reached through the bars and grabbed her arm. "Well, suit yourself," he said for the guard. Then, he pushed her back, hard. "Hey, come over here," he said, shaking his head no.

"Never," she spat at him. "I will give you nothing."

"Guard!", he said. "Come here." The guard turned around. "Can you let me in there? I want to get a blood sample from her."

"No sir, she's dangerous! Killed two men last night after they gassed 'em! Shoulda been unconscious, too! She's a rough one."

"I'll take the chance. I need the money", John said. The guard still hesitated. "I have the 5th degree in fchi-lin-goo-au, back on Boron".

The guard looked impressed. "Well, OK", he said, moving back in the corridor.

"So that is where it is... too far," thought John. "Well, stick with plan A." The door opened; he walked in. Aeryn advanced, and he met her with his best karate scream and a pulled pop in the jaw. She looked a bit surprised at the scream, but went down. Bam.

"See?" John said. Then he used the needle to draw some blood. Pulled it out, capped it, then back into his pocket. "That's got it," he said. Then: "uh oh." He knelt beside her: put his hand on her neck where her carotid was. John wondered, idly, if Aeryn had carotids, but he figured it didn't matter -- the guard wouldn't know either. Then, to the guard: "Hey, I think I hurt her... I thought you said she was tough!"

The guard said, "So?"

"So nothing", John said, "just let me out. " The guard pushed the button. John walked back out of the cell. "OK," he said. The guard closed the door. John stood there. "Hey, c'mere," he said at the guard. "Do you think she looks OK? Maybe you should call up a doctor or something?"

The guard came over and peered in. "Looks fine to me... where did you hit her?"

"The jaw, just underneath," John said, backing up slightly.

No return, Johnboy, no return. John hit the guard for all he was worth. The guard dropped to his knees, and John hit him again. He grabbed at the gun; they briefly wrestled for it. Suddenly the man lurched forward off his feet -- Aeryn had hit him from behind, through the bars. John had the gun; the guard was on the ground. The guard started to scream! John swung hard and staved his head in.

Aeryn smiled when he handed her the gun. John dragged the body back to the corner, and mashed the man's thumb onto the switch. The door opened.

"Ready?" he said. "The way out is: left here, right down at the end of the corridor. That last corridor opens out, and it is the only entrance I saw. There's a weapons detector and three guards there at the entrance. You know any other way out?"

"No," she said. "Frontal assault, then?"

"No," he said. "Just wait here a second." He dragged the guard back into the cell. In a bit, he emerged in uniform. "How do I look?" he asked. "Gimme that."

She handed him the gun. "Turn around." He did. She wiped at his back with her sleeve. "Blood. And brains too, I think." She continued: "A question, John. How did you know how they activated the controls? I was watching when they threw me in, and didn't realize it was biometric."

"Well, I noticed they use the hand a lot for verification around here, so it kind of made sense. But to tell the truth, I was guessing."

"Well then, what was that performance all about, hitting me?"

"I was improvising. I guess we didn't really need that, but it did get me a good first shot at him."

Back at Moya, John climbed out of the Farscape. The prowler was there: Aeryn was back already. Figures, he thought. Even with two holes in her, she still beats me back up here. He popped the hatch, climbed out, and headed for the main hold.

Aeryn was there waiting. "Thank you," she said. "Now what about the others."

"What about you? Let me look at those." He looked. A neat puncture of the calf, ugly but not dangerous. Another shot in the stomach. "That one looks bad," he said. On Earth, it would be bad, anyway.

"Just a flesh wound," she said. "The bleeding has stopped, mostly. What about the D'Argo and Zhaan?"

John said, "And Rygel... yeah... I couldn't get near them. I got to you pretending to be trying to collect your bounty. Some other guy already made the claim on the others. Especially after this little business, I doubt we can get to them. And you! You are in no shape to fight, anyway."

"True." she said. "Wait... the others are 'claimed'? What does that mean?"

"I checked in the library this morning. Lander has treaties with some of the local planets, allowing extradition in certain cases. One of the cases is when a bounty is offered in the other location, but not here. They split the profits. Makes sense. In this case, the bounties are not here yet. So we are hot property. At least, D'Argo, Zhaan, and Rygel are. You aren't, but they didn't know that."

"So, are the others going to be transported out of here?"

"Yes. I am sure it isn't arranged yet, though. We have some time."

"I have an idea," she said. "You think you can go down there and get me some information?"

"Not until I get you into the doctor's office. Come on, a few minutes won't kill them. What's your idea?"

A small ship took off from the official port at Lander City, the one reserved for Library business. Making orbit, it turned towards a distant star. Suddenly, a second engine flared. The prowler lanced in towards the skiff.

Back at Moya, Pilot said: "Aeryn Sun is now attacking the transport. Shall I open communications?"

John told Pilot: "Yes," and the line was opened. There was nothing clever, this time. "We threaten your destruction," John told the man who appeared. "Please turn towards the nav coordinates we will supply. If you comply, you will not be harmed. If you do not, we will kill you. The choice is yours." He fervently hoped the man was reasonable.

John was standing in command, looking at the readouts. After some work, he at least had the numerics working in Arabic numbers. He smiled. Now all I need to do it get Moya speaking English. The sensors looked good. They had been here half an arn, and no pursuit. That meant that almost certainly, nobody had managed to get a vector on them before the starburst. Pilot was getting good at this.

Aeryn Sun walked in, up to the left station. John though about saying something, but he didn't feel much like talking to anyone right now. Much less, her. He screwed up his interest in the solar flux readout. "Ya never know", he thought to himself, "maybe this star is a flarer." Type M, nothing special about it. Magnetics, normal. Radiation flux, more or less normal. A little high, maybe, in the gamma? Hmm.. check on that...

Sun said: "Hey."

He didn't want to talk! "Hey."

She was staring at him still. She said, rather distinctly: "Hey."

The minx! He had to credit her, though. She was fast on the uptake. "OK", he said. "I thought it was wrong to kill those guards, and I still do. And I can't understand why you did it. And..." he paused. "I'm disappointed."

She thought about that for a second. "You killed the guard, at the cell. I didn't think you would do that."

"That's different, Aeryn. That was for..." he paused and thought "you" He said, "I had to get you out. They would have executed you." Then, "... and the others, too. And I needed you to help me get them back. By the way, that was a smart idea."

She smiled. "Well, not really. Standard drill, actually."

He said, "Peacekeeper. Trained to kill, huh?" She nodded. He said, "well, I'm not. And I don't see how you do it."

She said nothing, but just looked at him. John said, "When I was a kid, back on Earth... I used to go hunting, in the fall, with my father and uncle. We would hunt for deer," he paused briefly, noting her look, then continued "...deer are large creatures, four legs, harmless... herbivores."

"Well, since I had been a little boy, I had gone with Dad on these trips, but I had never gotten a deer. It's not that easy. But this time, things turned out different. Dad and I were together in the woods, walking back from spending all morning in a blind, when suddenly on the other side of a meadow, there is this huge buck. Beautiful, just standing there in the tree line, chewing. Dad looked at me, didn't lift his gun, so I did. Aimed and shot, and I hit it. The deer took off behind the trees."

"I remember, we ran over to where it had been standing, and there was blood. Lots of it, a blood trail. I felt great, elated. I had finally done it! I got one! Finally I had something to show for myself, after another year... it was like I had joined Dad as an adult, for a moment."

"So, we jogged down the hill, into a ravine, almost, and there it was. The deer was lying there, still alive. I had hit it, but not that good. I had gut shot it. All the intestines were hanging out, and had gotten snagged," his voice caught "on a branch. The deer was lying there, panting. There was blood... all over the place. There was so much blood. I'll never forget it. It was terrible."

"I remember I turned away from it, towards Dad. He looked a little grim, and said: 'Are you going to just stand there?' I said, 'I can't do it.' He said, 'You started it. It's your responsibility. You end it. Do it.', and handed me his pistol."

"Deer don't scream... they don't make any noise, much, at all. I looked at it again, and I could see it was in pain. A lot of pain, I think. It was in shock, too. But it lifted its head, and just... looked at me. Then I killed it... shot it in the head, just like Dad said to. Just like that guard. It died right there, at my feet, almost, kicking a few more times. Then it was still. That's when I threw up. I ran back in the woods and puked my guts out. I was really embarrassed and humiliated."

"Then we butchered it. Dad did it, really, because I was pretty shook up. But Dad said it would wrong to just leave it there to rot. We were eating it, by gum. He sent me back to the cabin, to get Uncle, to help with the butchery. That was a relief, to be away from it. Dad always told me: if you're not going to eat it, don't kill it. Well, after that trip, I never went hunting again. Because I found out that I didn't want to kill it even if I did eat it. I mean I didn't mind eating meat, or anything weird. But... I didn't want to kill after that, either. I mean, I don't think I ever did want to kill; I just wanted to do what adults do, what Dad did, and I didn't really realize what it would mean to me."

"But you know what? We did eat it. We ate that deer, my deer, that winter. And it really did taste good!"

John looked at her. A long moment passed. She said nothing, instead concentrating on her station. Finally he said, "Well, I guess I belong on this ship now, for real. Just... one of the gang." Then he walked out.