John Crichton leaned back in his seat as he tried futilely to keep a frustrated sigh from escaping his lips. Turning his pencil around, he began to savagely swipe at the last set of calculations that he had been attempting on his notepad. The fact that the eraser was more or less a non-existent stub only served to increase his frustration and tear the already worn paper. Unfortunately, after over seven months in space, it was also the only pencil still in his possession that he had not already worn completely away.
After only managing to scrape another gouge into the paper John decided that he had dealt with enough frustration for one day and irritably tossed the notepad onto a nearby console. He had been on bridge duty for the last four hours, or arns or what-ever one wanted to call them in this sector of the galaxy. And, due to the lack of events in the past few days, the chore was a particularly dull one. Not that he was complaining too much about that fact. Boredom was definitely preferable to dodging a full-scale attack from a Peacekeeper command cruiser. Thus, in an attempt to alleviate that boredom, and one of his own curiosities, he had decided to figure out the mathematical and physical concepts behind a Leviathan Starburst.
At the time, it had seemed like a good Idea. After all, he had access to Moya's own diagnostics and records of what exactly happened within the Leviathan physiology during a starburst. Pilot had also been available to answer any questions that he may have been unable to figure out on his own. However, three arns after he had started, he found that he was still not any closer to understanding the first thing about how Moya was capable of blasting out of conventionally reality.
John began to massage a small, tense point between his eyebrows in an attempt to relieve the headache that he had felt building. He would have really appreciated an Advil or something in that moment. Too bad there weren't any Intergalactic Seven Eleven's that they could drop by to pick up a half-dozen bottles of painkillers, two Slurpees, and bag of Doritos. Pushing away such thought before they could start to make him homesick again, John rose back to his feet and indulged himself in a stretch and a yawn. He turned to face one of the holographic projectors that Pilot commonly used for communication with the rest of the crew. "Okay, Pilot, you said that it's not exactly an Electro-magnetic distortion field that Moya generates to starburst. So what are we talking about here, some sort of chronal displacement."
"Crichton, we have been working on this concept for more than three arns now." Despite the polite manner in which he made the statement, John could tell that the navigator was beginning to grow somewhat annoyed with him. "Perhaps we should stop for now so that you may have the chance to fully digest the information that we have covered."
If it were not for his brewing headache and the knowledge that he still had another two arns until his shift was finished, he might have tried to make an issue out of the subject. However, he was just too tired at the moment come up with an adequate response that wouldn't just make him seem like a foolish human again. Besides, it was not as if he was really making any real progress on the subject.
"All right, all right," he conceded, waving a hand absently. "We'll go ahead and take a break for a few microts."
"Only a few microts," the holographic projection of Pilot's face showed poorly concealed traces of disappointment. "Are you entirely sure that will be sufficient time?"
John held in a quick smirk as he leaned against one of the bay windows and gazed outwards into the limitless sea of stars. "Just another human expression, sort of. We use it to refer to an indefinite period of time, possibly as long as several arns or even Weekens."
"Weekens?" the hope was unmistakable in the navigators voice.
"Oh, come off of it." He saw the other alien's confusion at his statement but didn't feel like explaining another human expression so soon. "I am learning here. You only have to explain concepts four and five times to me now. That should count for something."
Pilot was giving "the look" again. He recognized it because he got that same look from D'Argo, Aeryn, Rygel, and even Zhaan at times. It was the same look they gave him every time that he was once again displaying his vast human ignorance. Sometimes, he wished that he could see them try to feed a dollar bill into a soda machine just so he could give them the same look.
John decided to change the subject. "Alright, pilot, why don't you go ahead and give me a quick status scan of Moya."
"Affirmative," Pilot responded in a perfunctionary manner. "Tiers ten through eighteen are operating at full efficiency. Nineteen though twenty-four are still operating on low power as energy is being diverted from those sectors to Moya's baby. All other tiers are operating at nominal levels well within safety perimeters for Luxan, Hynerion, Sebacean, and Delvian life-functions."
"And how's the crew doing?" John stifled another yawn as he asked the question. He doubted that any of his shipmates had landed in any serious trouble in the half-arn since he had performed the last status scan.
"Chiana is currently amusing herself at Rygel's expense in the eating area." Pilot moved to elaborate when John raised an eyebrow, "She has apparently found the last of the Hynerion nodules that we have on board."
"Ah..." he nodded in comprehension.
"Zhaan still appears to be meditating in her quarters, D'Argo is performing some sort of Luxan kata in the sparing room, and Aeryn is in the aft hanger, working on her Prowler." Pilot finished the report.
Still massaging his forehead, John returned to one of the seats. The throbbing in his poor head was finally beginning to ebb ever so slightly. However, just looking at his discarded notepad of figures was enough to make it surge back with a vengeance. He was going to have to find something else to occupy his mind for the next arn or so until he could retire to his quarters and sleep off the rest of the headache. John was about to ask Pilot, if Moya had any video games stored in her memory banks, when something on the very edge of the primary view screen caught his attention. His head immediately perked up as his eyes focused on the small anomaly in the lower left corner of the view screen. "Pilot, enlarge quadrant D Five on the main screen." The navigator quickly complied and the strange phenomenon soon filled the entire screen. It appeared to be some sort of pulsating energy nebula. "Pilot, what is that?"
"Uncertain, Moya is scanning it now." Pilot's holographic head tilted slightly as he looked at a variety of readouts. It appears to be a partially collapsed star, mostly burnt out in fact."
"That thing is a star?" John couldn't keep some of the disbelief out of his voice.
"It appears to have become entangled in some type of debris field, possibly from a passing asteroid chain," the navigator answered unequivocally. "The star itself is in its final phases of decomposition and is releasing large amounts of solar energy."
John very nearly did a double take at Pilot's final statement. "You mean solar flares, rights?" He continued when pilot nodded. "And I'll bet with the non-conventional gravity field that debris has to be creating we are looking at a potential worm-hole."
"That is a possibility, yes," Pilot conceded slowly. "Can you get us any closer," John was quickly forgetting about his headache in his growing excitement. "I'd like to get some readings, something that I can study later, maybe reconfigure the data for future reference."
"I don't know if such a course of action would be advisable," Pilot volunteered slowly. "The composition of the debris field is not entirely stable. This fact, combined with the erratic solar activity could prove potentially dangerous."
"Yeah, pilot, I know all this." He had to convince the navigator somehow. This could be an invaluable opportunity to find out more about how wormholes worked. And, the more he learned, the closer he was to getting home. "I just need you to take us in close for a few microts so we can get some good readings."
"By microts, are you referring to a few arns, or several weekens." He hadn't known better, he would have sworn that the Navigator was attempting to make a joke.
"Listen pilot," John was trying to keep his voice from growing too exasperated, "I just need you to take us in close for three-hundred microts. Then you can take us as far away from here as you feel is necessary."
For the longest time, the only response to his plea was that of silence and John thought that Pilot might refuse his request. Finally, he responded, "We should arrive within scanning range of the anomaly within a few moments.
You had better get ready to get your readings, Crichton."
John nearly leaped to the nearest command console in his enthusiasm. "Thanks, Pilot. I owe you one big time."
"No debt is necessary, Crichton," Pilot responded in a voice that may have sounded slightly saddened, he wasn't exactly certain. "I am, after all, only here to serve."
John ran his hand rapidly over the control panel, trying to configure the sensory array as quickly as possible. He knew that, at best, he would only have a few moments to gather the data he needed. He just hoped that it would be sufficient to accomplish what he needed to do. He cut his eyes back towards the main view screen and saw that they were almost in position to begin scanning the phenomenon. John managed to punch in the last sequence necessary to start the scan.
"We are now in position..."
"Yeah, yeah, I got it, pilot," he cut the navigator off. "Three-hundred microts, go ahead and start your clock, or whatever." John was barely paying him any more attention as his eyes were now riveted to the sensory array console. It turned out that the area was indeed a potential location for wormholes. In fact, he was already tracking two individual formations that held a great deal of promise. The former IASA astronaut checked to make sure that an accurate log was being kept to each one. The information that he was gathering now would prove invaluable when he attempted to recreate the wormhole effect later.
"I know, I know, one-hundred and thirty microts to go." One of the formations was definitely showing signs of becoming a wormhole within even the next minute. If he could just get a full recording of the entire process to study later, he would have something to work with.
"Crichton!" Pilot's voice had taken on a more nervous aspect, prompting John to finally look up form his own console. "Structural integrity is degrading rapidly. Another solar flare is about to erupt and I think that it could trigger a collapse of the gravitational field."
John turned his attention back towards the main view screen and nearly swallowed his tongue. He had no clue what a planet that was about to explode looked like, but he didn't think that it could be all that different from the view that now greeted him. The entire anomaly was pulsing and writhing like some barely caged creature. Slowly, one end swelled outward away from the main part of the nebula, looking almost like some grotesque balloon.
"Pilot, get us out of here, now!" John yelled, though it wasn't necessary.
Moya had already begun to move away from the dangerous swell of superheated gasses. The large swell continued to grow with ever increasing speed until John began to wonder why it had not already ruptured. Moya continued gathering speed, moving them farther away from the anomaly and closer to safety.
Unfortunately, it was too late. John watched in horror as the giant swell suddenly ruptured, sending out large particles of super-heated matter as it exploded.
"Pilot, incoming!" John howled in horror. He could see a huge swath of shrapnel careening strait for them.
He felt Moya groan in pain as the deck lurched beneath his feet, sending him tumbling to the floor. The entire ship bucked in agony as a huge wave of debris impacted on Moya's surface with frightening force. John grabbed hold of the base of the closest console and held on for dear life as his entire world seemed to invert around him. Warning klaxons blared and emergency lights seared his eyes as they continued to tumble drunkenly through space.
Finally, after what had seemed like an eternity, the Leviathan's shuddering began to settle and the blaring lights and sounds began to subside. John let out a long, pent up sigh of relief and slowly pulled himself back to his feet. He didn't even want to think about how close they had come to outright disaster in that particular adventure. "Pilot, how are we doing?" John asked while cradling his head. All that sudden jarring wasn't exactly something that he would recommend for anyone nursing a migraine.
"Actually, not good. Not good at all," the symbiote's disembodied voice responded after a few moments pause.
"What?" John jerked his head towards the holographic projection of pilot and immediately regretted his actions.
"Take a look for yourself, Crichton." He noted immediately that the holographic image of Pilot was flickering unstably, as if it were about to fizzle out at any moment. However, enough of the image remained for John to see the look of grave concern and worry on the symbiote's face. The former astronaut dashed back over to the nearest console and quickly began looking over its read-outs. What he saw made his stomach sink like a lead weight. "Oh, boy. The others really aren't going to be happy with me over this one."
Not happy was perhaps a bit of an understatement in describing his fellow crewmates' collective reactions to the situation. "What the Hezmanna were you trying to do Crichton, get us all killed?" D'Argo fumed with a fury that John had only seen matched by his Luxan hyper-rage.
"Is it too difficult for you to understand that while on Bridge duty it is your responsibility to keep us out of potentially hazardous situations rather than placing us in them?" Aeryn chimed in with typical Peacekeeper superiority.
They had all arrived in on the bridge as soon as Moya's shuddering had ceased, each demanding in their own way to know what exactly had just happened. At the time, Pilot's communications with the room had been alternating between fully functioning and going on the fritz every five seconds. Thus, John had been forced to explain to them by himself, what exactly had just taken place a few minutes ago. He wasn't sure if it had been the Symbiote's small way of getting back at him for disregarding his earlier council.
"Look," John held up his hands defensively as he once again tried to explain his actions, "I was just going to take us close enough to get a few readings, maybe learn a few things about wormholes, then get us out of there."
"And you chose to do this without consulting any of us in the matter?" Zhaan's reprimand was delivered with complete calm yet cut him to the very core.
"I didn't think that there was going to be any danger involved in getting a few readings." He winced and placed a hand to his forehead. His damn headache seemed to be getting worse every second. "I never intended for any of this to happened."
"Well it did happen, you stuttering pile of dren." Rygel whirled his hoverchair around in anger to match his own tirade. "And now here we are, stranded on an injured Leviathan, completely incapable of Starburst just waiting for some Peacekeeper command vessel to come along and blast us to shreds."
John found that he couldn't find an adequate response to any of their accusations. In fact, the more he thought about the entire situation, the more he was beginning to see the complete and utter foolishness of his own actions. Pilot had even warned him of the potential danger that the anomaly presented, yet he had simply ignored the Symbiote, thinking that he knew better. He found that he couldn't really justify his actions to them, not that he even wanted to at the moment. Right then, all he really wanted to do was make a beeline to his quarters and sleep until they reached the next commerce planet.
Zhaan apparently felt that they had spent enough time criticizing him for his mistakes and turned to face Pilot's semi-stable holographic projection. "Pilot, how long until Moya will be sufficiently recovered from her injuries to be able to restart her engines?"
"It is uncertain at this time." Even pilot's voice was somewhat distorted now as a result of the damages. "There are several pieces of shrapnel which are currently embedded in her hull, some of which have even severed connections to several of her system functions. In response to his explanation, the main view screen lit up with a rendering of Moya. The image showed were a group of large asteroid fragments were impaled in a section slightly aft of what he supposed was her forehead or something. There were four particular fragments which were considerably larger than the others. He imagined that those were the pieces of shrapnel that were interfering with some of Moya's functions. Pilot sighed deeply before he continued, obviously reluctant to be the harbinger of such bad news. "Unfortunately, Moya is unable to remove all of the fragments on her own. And until they can be removed, we will be completely without any form of propulsion, what-so-ever."
A heavy and uncomfortable silence slowly settled over the entire bridge in response to pilot's dire announcement.
"Well, I guess that's one of the down sides of not having any hands," Chiana finally inserted unnecessarily.
"Aeryn," Zhaan spoke up after studying a set of diagnostics. "Based on what we know about the size of some of these fragments, do you think that your Prowler would be capable of pulling them free from Moya's hull.
Aeryn took a moment to study the diagnostics herself before responding slowly. "It's possible, but my Prowler isn't equipped with any kind of docking web that I could use to tow them out."
"We would have to use a simple cable then," D'Argo interjected. "There are several coils of high tension cable as well as a few harnesses in the docking bay. We could rig a crude pulley system which you could in turn fasten to the fragments and use to haul them out."
For his own part, John tried to stay out of this particular conversation as much as possible. He didn't really have anything useful to add to the discussion at the moment, and he seriously doubted that they were quite ready to forgive and forget just yet. So, instead he simply watched as several speculative expressions passed over Aeryn's normally passive face.
"It could work," she finally responded. "But I'm not going to be able to attach the harness to any of the fragments from the inside of my ship." She paused for a moment before continuing. "Someone will need to physically attach the harness to the fragments from Moya's hull." John really didn't care much for the heavy silence that settled upon the entire crew as they began exchanging glances that all asked the same question. Unfortunately, all of those glances finally came to rest upon him.
"Whoa, wait a minute here," John began desperately. "You can't actually expect me to just float out there in deep space..."
"Seems about fair to me," Rygel huffed in return. "You are the one who put us in this situation after all."
"Yeah, but I wouldn't know what to do." He looked back and forth between Aeryn and D'Argo, his eyes pleading. "D'Argo, surely you would be better suited to..."
"The Peacekeeper environmental suits that we have in our possession are too small for me to be able to wear and function in the necessary capacity." He shook his head slowly. "And Aeryn will be piloting her Prowler." "Yeah... but Zhaan..."
Pilot interrupted him this time. "Moya and I will require Zhaan's assistance in helping Moya deal with the pain of the entire procedure." "Did I mention that I have a headache, a really big headache." John searched all of their eyes looking for even the slightest trace of pity on which he could capitalize. He found none. Aeryn simply smiled at him in pure mirth as she took him by the arm. "Come on Crichton, we had best get you suited up."
And that was how John Crichton, IASA astronaut, found himself attempting his first ever space walk across the surface of wounded Leviathan in the middle of a deserted section of the Galaxy, in a Galaxy on the other side of the universe from his own home. It made him wonder if Neil Armstrong had also been suffering from a headache that fateful day that mankind first set foot on the moon.
He quickly shoved all distracting thoughts from his mind as he slowly began to make his way across Moya's hull. It was not exactly an easy task, as the only things holding him to the Leviathan were the magnetic boots that made up his environmental suit. He was still trying to grow accustomed to the strange weightless of his own body as it seemed to want to drift off into the great void. Then, of course, the entire process was made even more difficult by the fifty some odd kilograms of equipment he was carrying with him.
Up ahead he could see the large chunks of rock that rose from Moya's hull, like some twisted tree trunks. The largest one had the diameter of a huge boulder, prompting him to wonder if Aeryn's Prowler would truly be capable of pulling them free. John simply shook his head to remove such doubts, and regretted the action when the motion caused his skull to throb even more painfully.
After the fog of pain finally cleared, he began moving towards the largest of the asteroid fragments. After all, he might as well get the more difficult part of the job out of the way first. It only took a few more awkward steps before he found himself at the base of the large chunk of rock. John took a quick moment to size it up before activating his comm. "Okay, Aeryn, I've arrived at the base of the largest of the formations." He didn't really care much for the Peacekeeper design that went into making this suit. The mask would fog up too easily from his breath. "I'm proceeding to secure the holding bolts."
"Now remember, Crichton," her voice crackled slightly over the comm, "You need to secure the bolts evenly spaced around the entire formation. Otherwise, the harness will just tear free when I fire up the Marauder's engines."
"Aeryn, I think I can manage to figure that one on my own." After all, he did have a Ph.D., for crying out loud. He wasn't a complete idiot.
"Sorry, for a moment there I thought that I may have been talking to the same person whole overloaded my pulse rifle." John winced slightly at her stinging retort. Okay, maybe he was an idiot at times. He just didn't understand why she had to keep bringing it up all the time. He turned his attention back towards the fragment in front of him, trying to estimate how many holding bolts he would need for it. The shard was roughly three meters in diameter at the base and had penetrated about seven meters into Moya's hull, according to the diagnostics. His head complained mightily at his attempts to make any complex calculations, but John merely overrode his body's gripes and figured that the fragment would probably need to have at least twelve points secured to the harness. He slowly drew a large tool from the pack of equipment that he had packed along. John wasn't exactly certain what the tool was, but had seen it operated often enough by the others to know what it's function was, cutting.
As near as he could figure, the tool projected a field of supercharged electrons, rotating at and incredible speed. The result was a beam of solid energy that was capable of shearing through the molecular structure of just about any substance he had ever encounter, kind of like an atomic chainsaw. It only took him a few moments to remember how to activate the tool, Aeryn had just gone over the process with him earlier that day. Within microts he had the instrument running and was slicing into the surface of the asteroid.
It wasn't much longer before he had managed to drill a hole large enough to insert on of the bolts. He hooked the energy drill back on his utility belt and withdrew one of the long lengths of metal. He braced his weight carefully and shoved the bolt forcefully into the fresh opening. He then twisted the head of the cylindrical object to extend its teeth, which bit deeply into the rocky surface, securing the bolt firmly in place. "Yeah, just like setting up a piton on a rock climb," he muttered quietly to himself.
"What was that, Crichton?" Aeryn's sudden voice made him wince slightly, as well as prompting him to check the volume of his comm unit. With his head as sensitive as it was, he was just glad that he was using the laser drill in the vacuum of space. The thing was rather noisy otherwise.
"Nothing, Aeryn," he responded with a sigh. John didn't quite feel like explaining another human phrase to Officer Sun. "I just manage to place the first bolt. Only eleven more to go on this one, and a dozen or so for all the others."
The next eleven bolts proved to be just as boring and eventless as the first one had been. A fact, which did nothing to relieve any of his pent up tension over the idea that he was hanging on the precipe of the utter void of space. He now vaguely remembered a conversation that and his father had had several years ago. His dad had confided in him that one of his least favorite tasks ever performed was a walk in space during a routine orbital mission. The older Crichton had recounted the intense discomfort the had experienced knowing that a simple space suit was all that stood between him and certain death in the cold vacuum. The younger Crichton was now beginning to understand his father's fears much more than he would have preferred.
After securing the final bolt, John quickly set about the task of hooking up the entire harness around the large fragment. Once it was finally in place, he activated his comm once again to signal Aeryn. "Okay, the harness is in place." he spoke into the communication device. "It's ready for you to come and haul this thing out."
"Affirmative, I'm en route now."
It was only a few moments more before he spotted her ship, its dark form silhouetted by the stars, began to approach his position. Behind the craft trail the makeshift cable pulley system that she and D'Argo had just finished installing, just for this purpose. The Prowler began to slow as it reached his position, finally coming to a hovering halt about ten meters above his head. The cable slowly drifted towards John until it was close enough for him to reach out and grab. Once he had the thick length of cable in his hands, he wasted no time in attaching it to the harness.
"Now you are certain that the harness is securely attached to the shard?" Aeryn's voice asked with a tinge of skepticism.
"You know, you could have done this yourself if you had really wanted to," John reminded her while completing the link up between he harness and cable.
"I know I sure as hell didn't want to."
He gave the cable one last pat before backing off. "All rightie, let 'er rip Aeryn."
John thought that he might have heard the Peacekeeper muttering something about strange human expressions, but apparently she had understood enough of the context of his statement to comply. The slack in the cable was quickly pulled taunt as she gunned the engines to her craft. John could only cross his fingers and hope as the entire harness stretched and strained at the incredible force that was suddenly placed on it. For a single frightening moment, Crichton thought that the harness would simply snap rather than perform its function. Then, slowly, inexorably at first, but then with growing velocity, the huge shard began to budge from its tightly wedged position. He watched with growing hope as the large chunk of rock started to slide backwards out into the unknown. Inch by painful inch, the asteroid formation slid out of Moya's hull and began tumbling outward into space.
The moment the large formation was clear of the ship, Crichton moved to the edge of the crater, created by the large projectile. Reaching into his pack, he pulled another one of the supplies that Pilot had insisted he bring for this particular assignment, a DRD.
"Pilot," he said holding the DRD in a position looking directly into the pit, "are you seeing this?"
"Yes, Crichton," came the ready response, "Visual is operational. The wound is deeper than I had feared, but, fortunately, it has cauterized due to the heat of the projectile when it struck. Thus, heavy bleeding will not be a serious danger."
"Well, that's good, I think."
"I am proceeding to close the wound now, Crichton. So, please try to hold as still as possible." A few microts after Pilot had finished issuing his command, the DRD began spewing a long strand of some super-quick-drying polymer. He had seen the DRD's use it on occasions before to seal smaller openings throughout Moya. Unfortunately, the process of closing a three meter hole required much more time than sealing a simple crawl space. Nearly a quarter of an arn later, the small machine had finally finished its task, leaving behind a makeshift patch over the large gash. Crichton sighed in relief and shoved the drone back into his pack before moving onto the next impaled fragment. He sighed again when he realized that he had already been outside of Moya for nearly an entire arn and had only completed about a quarter of the job he had come to accomplish. His poor head was truly throbbing now, but John saw no available respite for the time being. There was nothing to do but dig the energy saw back out and go at the process all over again. It was in that moment that he resolved that when they finally did reach the commerce planet, he was going to find some kind of aspirin substitute that would be safe for him to use.
The most outer layer of a Leviathan hull was composed of dead skin cells. After all, very few things could possible survive the constantly shifting extremes in temperature that existed in deep space. However, Zhaan was quickly discovering that directly underneath that layer of dead skin was layer upon layer of very sensitive living tissue. Admittedly, the present operation was not nearly as painful as the one that Rygel had been forced to perform a half cycle ago, when he removed the Peacekeeper homing device. But it was far from comfortable.
At the moment, she stood perfectly still, her forehead resting lightly against one of the warm pillar that ran through Moya's bridge area. Practice had made establishing the Delvian mind unity much more simple and she was now seamlessly integrated with Moya's of emotions and sensations, including her pain.
However, Zota Zhaan, Pa'u of a tenth level, was quickly finding that there were fates far worse than absorbing the discomfort of an injured, pregnant, and somewhat disgruntled Leviathan. One of those fates was enduring the constant irritation presented by a certain young Nebari thief and one disposed Hynerion despot. And even though she still could not bring herself in any form or fashion to condone the Nebari's methods of mental cleansing, she was quickly beginning to understand why they would have wanted to do so to Chiana.
"So, just how much more time do they plan on taking, Zhaan," she demanded impudently. "I don't know how everyone else feels on the subject, but I for one do not enjoy simply sitting here in the middle of nowhere, waiting for our food supply to run out."
"That food supply would last a lot longer without you around, siphoning off all the choicest portions." Rygel was obviously still quite unhappy over the entire Hynerion nodules incident that had taken place early that day.
"It's first come first serve, old man," she responded indifferently.
"Well then, seeing as we were all onboard this vessel long before you, I take it that means you will not disapprove of us jettisoning your worthless carcass into deep space should our supplies begin to run dangerously low." Rygel smirked challengingly at the Nebari youth.
"If you so much as breath on me, you pompous toad, you'll need to find a new way to process oxygen without any lungs!" Chiana took a threatening step towards the Hynerions, causing him to back off rapidly from her in his hoverchair.
Zhaan, by any specie's consideration, was an exceptionally patient individual. Yet, she was finding that her patience was quickly reaching an end as she tried to split her attention between her two bickering shipmates and Moya's own needs.
"Listen," she finally spoke up, "if the two of you cannot make a useful contribution to our current situation, then I would appreciate you at least taking your childish squabbling to another tier." She was momentarily forced to return her full attention to Moya as another wave of pain swept through the ship's nervous system.
Once the spasm had past she managed to add, "In case you have not noticed, my present task requires a high level of concentration. I would thus appreciate a little less distraction."
"Well that's easy enough to solve," Rygel quipped in reply. "Just seal this insolent youth in her cell, where she belongs, and be done with it."
"Toss me in a cell? You dren soaked, foul smelling..."
"Rygel, please!" Zhaan barely managed as another rush of agony washed over Moya, momentarily blinding her to her surroundings. Ever so slowly the pain began to ebb, slowly changing into blessed relief, bordering on pleasure, as other large chunk of shrapnel was slowly pulled out of Moya's sensitive skin.
The former Dominar stared indignantly at her for a few more moments, apparently incensed that she would dare address him in such a manner, but, thankfully, held his peace. Chiana too, seemed to finally take a hint and lapsed into a sullen silence as well. The Pa'u simply sighed in relief, both from the welcomed silence, and the absence of pain from Moya. John and Aeryn had now managed to remove all four of the largest asteroid fragments, which had been causing the Leviathan so much distress. Pilot had said that once those four particular fragments had been removed, Moya would be able to begin re-establishing the severed connections throughout her system. With some luck, they would be on their way again in a little more than an arn.
As it on cue, the holographic projector lit up, showing the concerned visage of Pilot. Sensing that the worst had already past behind them, the Delvian Priestess slowly withdrew her mind from unity with Moya and stepped back away from the pillar in front of her. "How is Moya doing now, Pilot?" she asked while quietly readjusting her robes.
"With the more prominent fragments removed, Moya is quickly reestablishing her severed connections. She feels that it should not take much longer than another arn before she is able to restore power to her engines." The Symbiote hesitated for a moment, then inclined his head slightly. "Starburst, however, is another matter completely. With all the power that Moya is diverting to her unborn child, it will be some time yet before we can regain Starburst capabilities."
"You mean that we're still stuck out here?" Rygel sputtered indignantly. "We should have just left the fragments in place for all the good it did us."
Zhaan shook her head slightly, ignoring the former emperor. "That much was to be expected. Fortunately, it should not affect us to greatly as the nearest commerce planet is only a few days distance." Deciding to change the subject, she added, "How are John and Aeryn doing at the moment?"
"Officer Sun is currently returning to the landing bay area, where D'Argo awaits her. Crichton is busy assisting in placing a seal on the final wound, so that it may heal more quickly. Then, I've requested that he remove some of the smaller fragments by hand, if possible. Thus, it will still be some time before he is able to return."
Zhaan briefly wondered how displeased Pilot was with John over the entire situation. Normally, Pilot tended to be one of the more patient members of the crew in dealing with some of John's mistakes. In the last arn, however, she had seen very little of that normal understanding extended to the human. Zhaan found that she was beginning to feel somewhat sorry for John in spite of herself. She was certain that clinging to the hull of a Leviathan in only an environmental suit was a very unnerving task for him. And he had not been lying at all about his headache. Perhaps when he returned she would offer to ease some of his pain to show that she wasn't holding a grudge against him, perhaps.
The Delvian Priestess's thoughts were suddenly interrupted by pilot. "Zhaan, Moya's sensors have just detected another ship in our vicinity and it is closing rapidly on our position."
"What," Rygel sputtered, "who the yohtz would be floating around out here in this dead end section of the uncharted territories?"
"Who indeed?" Zhaan crossed the room to the main view screen. "Pilot, can you bring up an image of the ship on the main view screen?" An instant later, the screen lit up, showing the vast black, starlit expanse in front of them. At first, she didn't see anything. Then the barest flicker of movement in the top right corner caught her attention. The small spot, which she assumed was the craft that Moya was tracking, was indeed moving quickly toward them.
"Have you been able to determine their intentions?" She felt a growing sense of worry settle in her stomach. If their visitors had less than peaceful intentions, they would be powerless to escape them.
"I have attempted to establish communication with them, but all of my transmissions have been met with silence." A thoughtful expression crossed the Symbiote's face as he was apparently studying a set of read-outs in front of him. "It appears to be some type of scavenger ship, seemingly of Zemetin design. Well, originally of Zemetin design anyway. Now it appears to be nothing more than an amalgam of spare parts."
"Could it be our friend, Staanz?" Zhaan asked with hope in her voice.
"Negative," Pilot responded shaking his head. "The ship's markings are not consistent with any ship that we have as of yet encountered."
"Zhaan," D'Argo's voice suddenly crackled over the comm. "Aeryn has just landed her Prowler in the docking area. But, I'm now tracking another ship outside of Moya."
"We know, D'Argo," she responded quickly. "We are trying to determine the situation ourselves. However, we do know that whoever they are, they aren't responding to any of our transmissions."
"How long until you can start the engines again?" the Luxan asked. "Not for another arn, at least," Pilot responded. "What about the defensive grid that we managed to salvage from the Zelbenian?" D'Argo pressed.
"Moya does not currently have enough energy to power the shield and maintain vital functions throughout the ship," Zhaan supplied. She heard a quick harsh hissing sound, that she assumed was a variety of Luxan obscenities. At the moment, Zhaan could almost sympathize. They were completely defenseless against an unknown entity. Chiana, who had wondered over to the view screen, suddenly stiffened in shock. "Well it looks like they are answering that question about their peaceful intentions."
Zhaan turned to see what it was the Chiana was talking about and saw that the approaching vessel had opened fire upon them. "D'Argo! Aeryn! Brace for impact!" She managed to shout over the comm system the instant before Moya was struck by a volley of fire.
Ka D'Argo had been waiting in the cargo bay for Aeryn's Prowler to return after having deposited the rock fragments a safe distance away from Moya when he first noticed the blip show up on the sensors. The display in the cargo area was not nearly as complex as the one found within the command area, yet was still quite serviceable. At first, he thought that perhaps the new ship had just been a resonance image of Aeryn's own ship that Moya had mistakenly registered as another craft. Yet, as time passed, and the blip began to register distinct movement patterns, the Luxan warrior began to grow more and more concerned.
By the time Aeryn's ship had finished landing within the cargo hold and the air lock had been secured, he was certain that they were in potential danger from the new, unidentified vessel, especially when one considered the fact that they were more or less defenseless at the moment. Long developed instincts were now screaming out in alarm. D'Argo touched his comm badge to activate it. "Zhaan, Aeryn has just landed her Prowler in the docking area. But, I'm now tracking another ship outside of Moya."
"We know, D'Argo," He heard the slight edge of concern in her voice. "We are trying to determine the situation ourselves. However, we do know that whoever they are, they aren't responding to any of our transmissions."
"How long until you can start the engines again?" D'Argo glance worriedly over as the hissing opening of the air lock announced Aeryn's entrance into the hangar area.
"Not for another arn, at least," Pilot supplied the response. The Luxan's mind spun frantically, trying to devise solution to the dilemma. "What about the defensive grid that we managed to salvage from the Zelbenian?"
"Moya does not currently have enough energy to power the shield and maintain vital functions throughout the ship," the Delvian Priestess's weary voice responded.
It was then that D'Argo indulged in some of the more colorful language that his people had developed over the years. He hated this feeling of helplessness. It was a sensation with which he had become far to accustomed in the past Moens. He was tired of running from every fight, tired of being on board a ship that was defenseless to almost every danger they encountered, and he was tired of having to talk and bluff his way out of these situations rather than engaging in honorable combat like any self-respecting Luxan was wont to do.
Aeryn raised a questioning eyebrow at his vulgar tirade as she approached from her craft. D'Argo could simply shake his head in rage and frustration, while stalking the room in response. Finally, he managed to growl, "An unidentified craft is quickly approaching our position. Unfortunately, Moya seems to be unable to do a single thing about it."
He could see that Aeryn understood and even shared her frustration completely, but the ingrained Peacekeeper stoicism prevented her from displaying her anger in a similar manner. "We had best get up to command then so we can better assess the situation."
Suddenly, Zhaan's voice crackled desperately over the comms. "D'Argo! Aeryn! Brace for impact!"
The two warriors reacted instantly and instinctively by grabbing the nearest solidly anchored objects and bracing their weights against them. D'Argo wasn't exactly sure why Zhaan had yelled the warning, but he had been expecting a gut wrenching convulsion from Moya or perhaps even a tumbling vertigo in response. What he hadn't been expecting had been a mild feeling of turbulence, as if Moya had just been dealing with some small annoyance. But that scenario was exactly what happened. "Pilot." He risked another glance at the display panel and noticed that the unidentified craft had come to a halt just off to their port side. "What exactly just happened?"
"The unidentified craft attempted to launch and attack upon us. However, It appears that their weapons are not sufficiently strong to penetrate Moya's hull." He could hear an amused note in the navigator's disembodied voice. "Charitably speaking, their ship is a rather poor piece of construction and the weapons system seems to have been cobbled together from questionable sources in various states of operation."
For a moment, the announcement was greeted with a stunned silence. Rygel happened to be the first to break that silence when he suddenly broke into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. In microts, Chiana had joined him in expressing her mirth and before long, even D'Argo and Aeryn were fighting to reign in their laughter.
"What did they hope to capture with that useless piece of dren?" the former Peacekeeper managed between wheezing gasps, "perhaps a space flounder, if their lucky!"
D'Argo let out one last chuckle. "Well, at least we now know tha t this ship is no threat to us what-so-ever."
"Actually," Pilot interjected, his expression once again growing grim, "that statement may be a bit premature." D'Argo turned to back to look at the console screen just in time to see what Pilot had been referring to. The ragtag craft was now closing on them once again , obviously intent on entering into the ship through it's open docking bays.
"Pilot," he quickly felt his sense of urgency returning, "seal all of Moya's hatches and access points, now!"
"But Crichton is still out there," Aeryn objected. The worry in her voice and face was apparent.
"Well that's his tough luck, then" Rygel muttered over the comm system.
"You ungrateful slug," Aeryn's normally stoic face suddenly transformed into violence. "How many times has Crichton risked his own life to say your worthless life."
"Well, he's just going to have to do it again," the Hynerion retorted. "And this time its more than just my life that is in question. If those pirates get on board, they won't stop until we are all dead."
The Luxan Warrior let his eyes travel back to the open cargo bay, where he could see the Pirate vessel quickly approaching. "Aeryn, we have no choice. We can't let them on board Moya."
"At least let me take my Prowler out..."
"Do you want to get us killed just for your frelling boyfriend!?" Chiana's voice silenced Aeryn savagely. "We don't have time for you to indulge yourself."
"I'm afraid there isn't sufficient time, officer Sun," Pilot confirmed. "If we want to prevent them from entering, I will have to close all of Moya's hangers now."
There was another moment's hesitation before Aeryn finally conceded. "Seal the doors, Pilot." She turned and stared back out the doors before she added. "You had better deactivate his comm as well. It would be too easy for the pirates to pick up on his signal if he tries to communicate with us." The pain in her voice at that simple statement was almost palatable.
Almost immediately, the large cargo doors across the ship slowly began to grind together. The two warriors simply stared in silence at the console as the entrances were secured against the pirate craft's entry. Abandoning a comrade in a dangerous situation was not an honorable move even if he was simply a human. However, neither was it honorable for him to allow the entire crew to suffer for the sake of just one of its members. The Luxan warrior silently cursed Crichton for once again putting him in such a compromising position.
The doors finished closing with a ominous clanging noise, before leaving them in a deafening silence. D'Argo couldn't help but wonder what John would think of their abandonment when he realized that he could not enter back into the ship. Perhaps he would realize what had happened and understand why they had felt it necessary to take such actions.
"The Zemetin ship has finally opened a frequency with us," Pilot explained, finally breaking the silence. "Should I respond?"
The question was met with silenc
e for while until Aeryn finally responded. "Will they be able to find Crichton out there?" "I'm not certain," he replied. "I do think that it is highly unlikely they would find him simply on visuals. After all, his position is on Moya's starboard side while their craft is currently docked to Moya's port side. But, if they have the chance to scan the surface of the ship, it is highly probable that he will be located."
"How much longer will his oxygen last," she continued, he face strictly schooled into an impassive expression.
"Another half-arn, at most," Pilot ventured timidly. D'Argo looked back towards the display screen and the ship that was the cause of their current dilemma. It seemed almost unfair for John to have managed to survive thus far while in their company only to die at the hands of such poorly equipped adversaries. Yet, there was no ready solution to their situation that would allow them to maintain the safety of the entire crew. In fact, at the moment, the only apparent option available to him was to simply hope that John's final moments were peaceful.
The tool had a name, one that sounded suspiciously like a bunch of technobabble that he could here on Star Trek or other sci-fi shows. It also had a very specific function, one that Aeryn had taken nearly two Arns explaining to him in painstaking detail. However, at the moment, the long, flat, metal tool was being used for a much more base purpose than its designer had probably ever intended. Such facts, however, didn't really bother John too much as he wedged the length of metal between Moya's hull and a small chunk of shrapnel and maneuvered his weight to pry it out. He gave a grunt of satisfaction as the stubborn piece of rock finally loosened, then pulled free, tumbling outward into space. For a moment, John simply stared at the floating mass as it drifted slowly outward away from Moya. Sometimes, especially with Moya's incredible size, it was easy to forget that he was actually out in space, rather than just inside a large building planet side. However, moments like these served to clarify the situation for him in unequivocal terms.
Of course, the sense of wonder was currently being tempered by his throbbing skull. And, like most stress related headaches, it was finally beginning to subside somewhat, now that he had managed to finish the task that had been giving him most of the stress. Then again, the prospect of getting back inside of Moya and grabbing several arns of sleep wasn't hurting either.
John shoved the crowbar like instrument back into his pack of supplies and activated his comm. "Okay guys, I've managed to pry out the last of the larger chunks. Moya should be able to handle what's left on her own." Pilot had stated that the smaller fragments wouldn't affect the Leviathan's ability to function and would eventual be removed by the natural shedding of the outer layers of skin. "At any rate, I'm headed back in now."
He waited for a full six microts without receiving a response before attempting again. "Hey, guys. Aeryn? Pilot? Yo, D'Argo, big fella'?" John felt his brow creasing in consternation at the lack of reply while his temples continued pulsing in pain. Perhaps the comms were just temporarily inoperable. Heaven knew that Moya had diverted power from other non-essential systems in the past to nourish her baby. Being aboard a pregnant Leviathan had proved to be quite frustrating at times. John simply shrugged and switched the comm off again. It would probably take Pilot a few moments to find and reroute some power back to the central communications system. If nothing else, he could simply bring the matter up when he made it back inside the ship.
John moved awkwardly until he had managed to turn towards one of the cargo bay doors from which he had emerged. Propelled by thoughts of a hot shower and a warm bed, he quickly reached the doors, only to find that they had been sealed during his time removing the fragments. The former IASA astronaut studied the sealed doors uncomprehendingly for a few moments before reactivating his comm.
"Hey Pilot, what gives? The cargo door is sealed." There was no response to his question. So, he tried again. "Pilot, did you forget I was still out here or something." Still no response. John began to feel a sick sense of dread settling into the pit of his stomach. He quickly shoved the sensation away, trying desperately to maintain his calm. Besides, worrying too much would just aggravate his headache even more. "Hey, if some one can hear me in there, please open the rear cargo doors." The panic was slowly rising in his throat, then reverberating inside his tender skull. He was still getting no response of any kind from anyone on board.
John took a deep breath, trying to calm himself once again. He needed to think, analyze the situation like the scientist that he was. His mind whirled frantically, trying to come up with a solution to the problem before him. First, he needed to ascertain his resources. The electron cutting device that he had used to install the holding bolts on the larger asteroid chunks didn't project a long enough blade to slice through Moya's hull. Plus it seemed rather counter-productive to have gone to all of that trouble of trying to help Moya to recover from one injury, only to inflict another upon her. The crowbar-like tool that he had brought with him was equally unpromising. Maybe, just maybe, if he had the strength of a Luxan, he would be capable of prying open one of the cargo doors. As he was, though, such course of action was not really a viable option either. John checked his oxygen intake and quickly noted that he had about a quarter of an arn left before he was in trouble. That thought in and of itself was nearly enough to cause another surge of panic to overwhelm him. It took another few moments to reassert control of his emotions and establish rational thought once again. Once he had though, his first thoughts were to attempt to find another entrance into the Leviathan. Surely Moya hadn't sealed all of her cargo doors. There had to be another entrance opened somewhere on the Leviathan. He would simply find it, get inside then thoroughly chew out Pilot for allowing a communications disruption to go on this long.
Somewhat reassured, John slowly set out on foot, heading in a direction that he vaguely remembered as having another cargo hold. He just hoped that his quarter arn of oxygen would last long enough.
Aeryn stood staring out into the vast expanse of stars from the terrace, without really seeing any of the points of light. By mutual consent, D'Argo and Rygel had both taken the responsibility of communicating with the Pirate craft, Rygel, because of his negotiating skills, and D'Argo because of the intimidation factor. The two of them were currently putting on a display of something that Crichton had once referred to as good cop/bad cop in an effort to buy some more time.
Crichton. Why oh, why did her thoughts have to keep returning to him? She had come to the terrace in an effort to take her mind off of what the human may have been experiencing at that very moment. Yet, despite her best efforts, she found her mind inevitably returning to the plight of the strange and complex entity that was John Crichton. By now he had probably attempted to return through the cargo bay and found it closed. She wondered how he would react to the situation, what conclusion that tech based mind of his would eventually reach.
Unconsciously, the former Peacekeeper checked the time on one of the nearby chronal devices. Crichton had now been outside of Moya for nearly three full arns. His oxygen would be running out soon. How would he deal with that particular obstacle? Knowing Crichton, his reaction could easily range anywhere from his customary overwhelmed panic to the single-minded intensity he often displayed while working with a particularly difficult problem. Almost unwillingly she activated her comm. "Pilot, what is Crichton's present position?"
"He's currently on the move," the Symbiote responded soberly. "I believe he is looking for another open hatch into one of the cargo bays. He doesn't realize that he has been completely sealed outside of Moya, by his own crew no less."
Aeryn heard the slight catch in Pilot's voice. "We had no choice in the matter, Pilot. It would have done him no good to simply survive long enough to enter into the ship and then die at the hands of Zemetin scavengers."
"Yes, but..." there was a slight bit o hesitation on the Symbiote's part, "...I feel somewhat responsible for Crichton's current plight."
Aeryn creased her brow in surprise. "Don't be ridiculous. We needed to remove those pieces of shrapnel, for which Crichton had been responsible, if you'll recall. The plan devised to remove them was a joint effort of all members of the crew and we all decided together that Crichton was the best suited among all of us to accept the responsibility of attaching the harnesses. The blame could hardly be contributed solely to yourself."
"Yes but..." the Symbiote sighed heavily, something that Aeryn had rarely seen or heard him do. "I requested that Crichton remain outside few moments longer to manually remove some of the smaller fragments. Such an action was not really necessary on his part as Moya would only have been incapable of dealing with the larger fragments you removed with your own Prowler." Pilot paused for a few more microts, obviously uncomfortable now. "I admit, it was somewhat petty on my part. But, I felt that it was the least that he could do after having placed Moya and myself in such a great deal of distress. I feel that by making him stay outside of Moya longer than was completely necessary I prevented him from having the opportunity of returning to safety before this entire incident occurred."
Aeryn experienced a momentary flash of anger that slowly subsided as she silently digested the information Pilot had just given her. However, the former Peacekeeper found that she could not really fault Pilot for his actions. And while the navigator's intentions may have indeed been somewhat petty, they certainly weren't malicious and were probably no more than she would have done in a similar set of circumstances.
"It's all right, Pilot," she finally responded. "You couldn't have expected the present circumstances. Besides, even though it was not entirely essential, I am certain that the removal of those smaller fragments was probably a great relief to Moya."
Another silence fell over the terrace as Aeryn felt her thoughts once again return to Crichton and what the human might have been thinking in that moment. She checked the chronal device once again, despite an earlier resolve not to and immediately regretted her action. By now, Crichton would be running dangerously low on air, possible even losing consciousness by now.
"How is he, Pilot?" Her instincts were screaming that she didn't want to know the answer, yet she still asked the question.
"He has stopped moving now," came Pilot's sad response. "I believe that he is trying to conserve what little oxygen he has left by limiting his physical exertion. He also appears to be regulating his own breathing to further conserve his breathing environment." The Symbiote made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a sniff. "He is actually is quite resourceful when he needs to be."
"But, that isn't going to be enough," Aeryn finished Pilot's unspoken statement.
The simple thought was more than enough to kill any form of conversation between them yet again. Aeryn tried to understand why the death of this one individual should bother her so greatly. She had seen companions and shipmates meet untimely ends in the past. She had hardly expected to live past another fifteen or twenty cycles before meeting her own fate. Soldiers died. Some managed to survive until their retirement. New recruits replaced the fallen ones and they eventually died or retired as well, starting the circle all over again.
Of course, that had been her outlook on life before having met John Crichton. Hardly a microt went by that she didn't simultaneously curse and bless the day when she had first heard that name. She missed her old life, sometimes she missed it so terribly that it hurt like a physical pain in her gut. Yet, she was not naive enough to think that the new ideas and beliefs she had begun to adopt would be easily accepted within any Peacekeeper force.
And she just couldn't give up some of those new beliefs. She had tried. She had tried to see Durka as the legend that she had remembered from her training in the academy. She had tried to give him the same respect, bordering on adoration that any other Sebacean would have offered him. For a time, she had even been successful. Then, those new thoughts that Crichton had put inside of her head had begun to get into the way. Durka had begun to seem less and less like a glorious hero and more like a petty, vicious coward, a coward that would abandon his entire carrier rather than admitting his own error in infringing on Nebari space. Now, she was slowly learning to see her entire life from an entirely different perspective, and it was John Crichton's fault. He had just shown up, turned her universe upside-down, fed her some line about how she could be more than what she had been born too, and then whisked her half-way across the Galaxy. Then, she had finally started believing all the things that he had been telling her, had finally begun to see things from a new perspective and now he was leaving her all alone to figure the rest out on her own.
As irrational as it seemed to her ordered, military mind, that last thought made her distinctly angry with Crichton. It made her want to drag his scrawny little ass down into the sparring room and abuse him until he was unconscious. She wanted to stand over his beaten and bruised body and warn him that she would do much worse should he ever attempt to die without her permission again. Then, she wanted to kiss him, just like they had that time when...
Aeryn shook herself out of that particular line of thought so violently that her body convulsed physically. Where in the universe had that particular thought come from? Whatever it's origin, it had taken her so completely by surprise that it took her a full five microts to begin denying it vehemously, even if it only was to herself.
"Are you all right, Officer Sun?" Pilot's voice broke her reverie. "Of course I'm fine," her voice didn't sound very convincing, even to herself. "Why wouldn't I be fine." It was only then that she noticed that her hands had seized a nearby rail and was squeezing so hard that the blood had drained out of her hands.
When Pilot responded, his voice contained more empathy than she had ever before heard in another living creature. "I will miss him greatly as well, Officer Sun."
Finding herself curiously unable to respond, Aeryn simply continued to stare outward at the stars.
Having been raised and groomed for the position of Hynerian Dominar from birth, Rygel the XXVI had, on several occasions been forced to willingly consort and cooperate with individuals whose company he found less than desirable. Such was the life of aristocracy, unfortunately. Thus, he had learned early on in his life that when one is thrust into such a situation to merely act cordial, polite, and maintain as sincere a smile as possible throughout the entire engagement. Currently, some of his facial muscles were beginning to ache from the strain of maintaining a false grin for so long.
He and the Luxan barbarian, whose help had been practically no help, had been trying for the last half-arn to successfully convince this particular ragtag group of self-stylized Zemetin Pirates that they in fact, had absolutely nothing on board their vessel that would merit the Zemetin's efforts at piracy. Unfortunately, their Captain, a dren brained imbecile named Taan'ak, had it fixed in his mind that he should be the one to decide whether or not Rygel's statement was indeed fact. Rygel was just thankful that the moron didn't have the firepower to back up his hot air, like Kricheck did.
"I tell you again," it seemed to Rygel that he had reiterated this statement at least a dozen times, "We are currently carrying no cargo. Our own reserves are almost completely depleted. And with that little display of yours a few minutes ago, you have clearly indicated your own inability to board our Leviathan without our leave."
"Yes," the holographic projection of Taan'ak responded in a slick voice, "but how is it that you are so certain that I our attack was meant to damage you? I have not yet employed a fraction of the firepower at my own disposal. Would you care to see what my crew and I are truly capable of?"
"Perhaps you and your crew would like to meet me in honorable combat." D'Argo's tentacles were trembling slightly, one of the tell-tale signs of the Luxan's anger. "Then we shall see how capable they truly are against my Quanta Blade."
Rygel really did wish that the Luxan would just shut up and allow him to finish the negotiations in peace. D'Argo had no sense of diplomacy, other than threatening and intimidating all of his opponents into silence, a tactic that the buffoon somehow hadn't yet realized was not going to work on these pirates.
"Taan'ak, from what I have managed to gather about Zemetins, I know that you were never a race given overly to subtlety. If you had the firepower to forcibly board this Leviathan, you would already be where I'm standing by now."
The Zemetin captain's eyes narrowed marginally, irritation clearly written on his face. "Our weapon system is somewhat costly to operate. That is why it would be much more preferable for both of us if you would simply cooperate and allow my crew to board. Should you comply, we would spare you lives and even leave with your ship, once we had taken everything of value."
Taan'ak leaned back in his seat, resting his chin on his right hand. "However, should you force me to deplete precious resources in taking your ship, I would have no choice but to show my displeasure."
"Should you even attempt to set one foot aboard this vessel, I will show you the true meaning of displeasure." D'Argo promised solemnly, his eyes blazing in anger.
Rygel would have probably laughed in amusement at the entire situation, were he not directly involved in it. Two mindless brutes endlessly posturing in front of each other, when both of them knew that they really didn't have anything with which to back up their words was certainly an interesting sight to see.
"I still say that you're bluffing." The former Dominar pointed an accusing finger at the captain as way of emphasis. "You don't have the capacity to board us, and we can simply outwait you and your vessel. We may not have much, but we still have enough food cubes to last us for at least another three Weekens. Then you will have wasted not only all that time, which could have been used in raiding much more profitable ships, but also your own supplies for that time." Rygel smiled in satisfaction as he saw a look of doubt finally begin to enter the thick-witted captain's eyes. "If you truly believe that we have something of value, I am more than willing to strike a reasonable bargain with you for the purchase of that item. In fact, I could probably even give you a good deal."
"The Hynerion equivalent of a good deal." Taan'aks flat voice told exactly what he thought of that concept. "Forgive me if I don't leap in joy at your overt generosity."
"I think you would find it preferable to Luxan generosity, Zemitin." D'Argo was still playing the part of fierce warrior into the ground.
"Perhaps we should arrange a meeting then, so that I may determine that for myself." Taan'ak's eyes glowed with repressed violence.
Rygel swore were it not for his fortuitous presence, these two mental defects would have spent endless Arns simply trading insults and threats one with another. And what would that have accomplished. "Listen, we are not allowing you to board this Leviathan under any circumstance and you, by yourselves, are completely incapable of forcing your way onto this ship. So why don't we dispense with the false pretenses and talk business." The Hynerion looked back and forth between D'Argo and Taan'ak to make sure that they had both heard his words. "Now, what is it exactly that you think we might have that you want?"
The Zemetin captain merely glared defiantly at him for a few more moments, causing Rygel to despair that the were simply going to rehash their previous argument. Finally, the pirate relented. "We are searching for a specific individual, one who is worth a great deal of money to the right people."
"Oh really." This truly was an interesting turn of events. Since when did Zemetin pirated turn bounty hunters? "I could, of course, simply say that I have no clue who you are talking about, no matter who this individual is and
you could simply disbelieve me and then we would end up right where we started." He raised one of his earbrows in a speculative expression. "So, unless you wa nt descend into another fruitless argument, I suggest that you reveal a little bit more information."
Taan'ak's face reflected a stubbornness that suggested he was not going to cooperate. However, he once again surprised them by saying. "The individual that we are looking for is also a Zemetin. We had heard a rumor that at some point she had fallen in with the crew of a Leviathan."
"And you naturally thought that we were the crew of the Leviathan involved with this individual." Rygel was genuinely curious now. He had no idea who it was that they might have been searching for, and was beginning to wonder what other Leviathan crew could have fallen in with this Zemetin woman. As far as he knew, they were one of the only Leviathans in the entire sector.
"Rygel." The Hynerion nearly started at the sound of D'Argo addressing him without yelling. He had turned his back to the holographic display so that only he could see the Luxan's face, which looked oddly concerned for some reason. "We need to talk, now?"
"Give us a moment to discuss the matter," he told the image before lowering his own voice. "What the yotz for? Even if we have no clue where this Zemetin female is, we could just lie to him about her where abouts and get rid of them."
Rygel turned his attention back to the captain, mind completely intent on the negotiating. "Perhaps, Captain Taan'ak, I may have heard something on this matter myself. Leviathans are rare in the uncharted Territories and they tend to keep track on one another. If you could provide any more information on the topic, it could aide my memory greatly." Taan'ak studied the Hynerion suspiciously for a moment. "All right. Her name is Staanz..."
The pirate didn't make it any farther before Rygel sputtered. "Staanz!? You're telling me that he was actually a she?"
"Rygel," D'Argo interrupted, growling softly. "You might want to control yourself."
"What's going on here?" Taan'ak was demanding. "He knows this Staanz? So you are the Leviathan crew that associated with her!"
"You knew about this and didn't tell me anything!?" He pointed and accusing finger at D'Argo.
"This is neither the time or place."
"The yotz with time and place," the former Dominar retorted completely ignoring the Luxan. "Why didn't anyone tell me that he was really a she. I mean I probably should have guessed it after he, I mean she, dropped her pant and didn't have any..."
"Yes, I remember now." Taan'ak interrupted, while stroking his chin with a look of malicious glee. "There were also rumors that she had been quite taken with a Luxan member of the crew. I really hadn't given much credibility to the rumor before, but now..." He smiled suggestively.
"You didn't!" Rygel cried, aghast in disbelief. "You and he, well she, you didn't... actually..."
For the first time that he could remember in their time together, D'Argo looked to be totally at a loss for words. However, Taan'ak was more than willing to reply for him. "Yes D'Argo, do tell. How did you enjoy the Zemetin mating experience?"
The Luxan's head whipped back to the holo-screen, his tentacles practically quivering with rage. "You dare suggest that I would even consider such a... a... union!"
"I'm not suggesting anything," the pirate replied with a wicked grin. "I was just asking if it was good for you too?" Rygel shook his head in revulsion. "I will never understand you body breeders."
Taan'ak was laughing openly now. "By Rahanna, what kind of abomination would be produced by mixing in Luxan blood." Rygel noticed the blood rushing to D'Argo's face and immediately knew that they were in trouble. As luck would have it, Taan'ak had inadvertently managed to touch one of the more sensitive topics concerning D'Argo. After all, the Luxan's son, Jothee was actually a half-Luxan half-Sebacean crossbreed, and had been subjected to a great deal of torment because of this fact. Thus, if anything could set the warrior off, it was someone suggesting, even indirectly, that his son was an abomination.
"I will see to your bloody and painful death myself, you piece of triloc scum." His words began coldly, then began rising in pitch and anger. "I will slaughter you and all the members of your crew, in the most gruesome manners possible and then track down the members of your family and send them to meet you!" His voice had continued to rise and the Luxan was now howling.
Rygel simply shook his head, trying to figure our where and when this entire discussion had begun to get out of control. There now seemed to be little to no chance of getting rid of the Zemetins anytime soon, unless they had Staanz, of course. Rygel's mind froze suddenly on that thought and an insane idea abruptly presented itself to him. He almost dismissed the crazy plan out of hand, but it stubbornly refused to leave. Thus, while the lumbering Luxan began to yell derogatory comments concerning the Zemetin Captain's own parentage, Rygel moved his hover throne over to one of Moya's control consoles. It only took a few moments for him to explain to pilot, what exactly he wanted done and the Symbiote then quickly set to work in fulfilling the Hynerion's request. Rygel risked on glance over the back of shoulder to see if either Taan'ak or D'Argo had noticed his absence in their conversation. They, of course, were still fairly intent on questioning each other's ability to even produce offspring in a rather vulgar and inflammatory manner.
D'Argo had been in the middle of some tirade about how he was planning on desecrating the graves of the captain's ancestors when Taan'ak was apparently distracted by one of the members of his own crew. He spoke a few quick words with the unseen member before flashing them a malicious smile and then abruptly ending the transmission. "Where the Hezmanna do you think you are going, you coward!" D'Argo fumed impotently. "Pilot, get that Zemetin scum's ship back on the comm channels!"
"I am sorry, I am unable to comply." A holographic projection of the navigator materialized in place of the captain's own projection. "Their ship is moving to disengage and they are changing their trajectory to move out of range of our comms."
"Well, follow them!" the angry Luxan raged. "In case you haven't noticed, I have some unfinished business to take care of with a certain pirate!"
"I've told you," Pilot responded patiently, "Moya is currently unable to start her own propulsion glands. And besides, they are on an intercept course for the star phenomenon that Crichton was investigating earlier which would disrupt our comm frequencies should we attempt to contact them."
D'Argo finally managed to regain control of his anger to ask. "What are they looking for in that worthless phenomenon?"
"Staanz, I would imagine," Rygel replied calmly while maneuvering his chair next to the Luxan.
His anger was now quickly being replaced with confusion. "And why would they believe that Staanz would be hiding anywhere near that burned out star?"
The Hynerion simply grinned, rather pleased with himself. "Probably because they happened to intercept one of our own tight beam transmissions that was targeted for that specific set of coordinates." D'Argo simply stared at him for a few moments longer, finally prompting Rygel to add, "You know, you probably aren't going to have very long before they realize that Staanz isn't really out there and come back looking for an explanation. So, I would suggest that you use this time to scrape that worthless human's carcass off of Moya's hull, if you want him alive."
The warrior looked at in amazement for a few more moments, before turning rapidly on his heal and then tearing off down the Leviathan's halls. As he ran, Rygel could here him yelling into his comm, "Aeryn, meet me in the aft hangar, now!"
The former monarch nodded to himself in satisfaction before turning his attention back to the projection of Pilot. "I needn't add, that when they do return, they will most likely be just a little upset and it thus behoovesus to be in another location, if entirely possible."
"Understood," the proje ction responded. "Moya is currently tapping into an emergency reserve of energy and should be able to restart her engines in another one-hundred-twenty microts."
"Good." Rygel indulged in a smug smile, rather pleased with himself. Single-handedly he had managed to arrange for a rather tidy solution to a potential dangerous situation, without any blood being spilt. He just wondered how long it was going to take the others to realize how much smoother things tended to go when they would simply listen to him.
It had been John's intention to when he had first set out from yet another sealed hatch to attempt reaching the Starburst fins on the aft section of Moya. He knew that it was a long shot at best, but there was the smallest possibility that he might have been capable of squeezing in through one of the ventilation shafts. From there, he might have been able to navigate his way into her annexus glands and eventually into a pressurized section of the ship. However, the entire argument had become a rather moot point when after no more than thirty steps from the hatch, his exhausted body flatly refused to move another step.
In some part of his mind, he knew that his extreme fatigue was a result of more than just his own exertions and debilitating headache. The oxygen levels in his breathable atmosphere were rapidly becoming depleted. In fact, he would probably only have a few more moments before he lost consciousness completely. And once that happened, he knew that he was as good as finished.
Still, even with the acutely felt panic surging in his throat, he seemed utterly incapable of coaxing, cajoling, or even bribing his body to take another step. In fact, had there been any substantial gravity, he probably would not have been capable of maintaining a vertical position. As it was, he was simply limply floating, held to Moya's hull only by his magnetic boots and the almost negligible amount of gravitational force that the Leviathan's mass did produce. Had it been any other situation, John might have found the weightless sensation quite enjoyable. Instead, he was consciously fighting the near overwhelming urge to drift off into the waiting arms of slumber. It was a battle they he was slowly losing. John would focus all of his energy on simply staying awake, on being able to continue one coherent thought in his own mind. Then, inevitably, his mind would once again begin to drift towards the regions of oblivion. He would be able to catch himself just in time and then would desperately claw his way back to full awareness only to begin the entire process over again a few moments later.
Unfortunately, the struggle was becoming progressively more difficult with each successive attempt. And even he knew that he would be unable to maintain coherence indefinitely. John shook his head once again in attempt to pull himself out of the fog. He stared down at his own feet and began concentrating all of his effort on getting one of them to move, even an inch.
*C'mon, you can do this. Mind over matter and all that good stuff,* he thought desperately. He then focused every last bit of mental energy that he possessed into commanding his legs to move. However, his legs were quite unimpressed. In fact, he got the distinct impression that had they possessed a tongue they would have blown him a raspberry.
The astronaut slumped in place, finally admitting defeat to himself. He had done everything within his power to reach an open airlock, or is some way make it back into Moya. He felt his panic slowly fading into acceptance and eventually peace. Even his headache was finally beginning to diminish. It just seemed somewhat ironic that after all he had been through in the past seven months that he would die on a simple fluke. He found his mind turning back to the conversation that he had shared with Aeryn when they had been trapped aboard Moya's transport pod and convinced then that they were about to die. She had asked him if he had seen any of the things that humans believed in while he had been under from the kill shot. At the time, John wasn't sure who had been more disappointed by his response. Now, he was just praying that his experiences with the kill shot had been a complete fluke, that there would be something or someone at least waiting for him on the other side.
He found himself drifting off again and once again struggled to stay awake, even resorting to shaking his head violently. It was while he was tossing his head back and forth that he caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. He stilled his own movements and concentrated his bleary gaze on the area from where the motion had come. The flicker eventually resolved itself into the form of an individual who appeared to be walking towards him. John blinked his eyes again when he realized that the individual was definitely feminine.
*Okay,* John's groggy brain attempted to reason, *either this is part of the whole death process of seeing loved ones from before, or my brain is finally flipping out and sending me hallucinations in my oxygen deprived state.* Of the two options, his mind was definitely leaning towards the second possibility. He was just wondering whom exactly his subconscious would choose to produce in this particular moment. He concentrated on the approaching figure once again as he tried to puzzle out the identity of his mysterious visitor. Maybe his mind had produced a hallucination of his late mother, or perhaps even his old girlfriend, Alex. The individual continued moving towards him and John very nearly snorted in amusement when he saw just whom his mind had decided to dredge up. Of course it would have had to be Aeryn. Man, Freud would have probably had a ball with this one.
The hallucination Aeryn finally came to stand in front of him, a look of concern in her impossibly blue eyes. "Crichton, are you all right?"
Now John knew that he had to be hallucinating, for there was no way that the two of them would have been able to communicate through the void of space. He did find it curious though, that her voice sounded so full of static and seemed to be coming from behind him rather than from her mouth. He quickly pushed the thought away, intent on enjoying this figment of his imagination. Maybe this was his mind's way of allowing him to say all the things to Aeryn that had never said during his life.
"Hello, Aeryn," he put a the emphasis on her name and couldn't help as an amused smile broke across his face, "I'm doing just fine. Though I have to admit, I was kinda' surprised to see you here. I was expecting either mom or Alex or maybe even Jane Parsons, heaven knows my subconscious produced enough dreams of her while I was in high school."
However, that subject was still somewhat tender because of the eventual embarrassing outcome of that little infatuation. And reliving his most humiliating moments right before death was not something that he particularly wanted to do.
The fake Aeryn gave him one of her classic looks, the one where she arched her left eyebrow just so and managed to convey and entire myriad of emotions including confusion, amusement, and even disdain. "Crichton, perhaps you shouldn't speak, to better conserve what oxygen that you have left."
John grinned in response. "No, you see, I already thought of that. The way I see it there are one of two possibilities here." He held up his hand and ticked off a finger. "One, I have already completely lost consciousness and this entire conversation is going on in my head." He ticked off another finger. "Or two, I am simply floating here talking to vacuum, in which case I am too far gone to even bother worrying about it." He smiled in satisfaction at the absolute logic and his cleverness for having been able to figure it out.
Aeryn was busy pulling some things from her belt pouches but paused long enough to say, "Crichton, you are one of the most bizarre creatures that I have ever met."
The astronaut had to grin and shake his head in reply. Man, the nether regions of his brain that produced this particular hallucination really had her down. "I love it when you say that Aeryn. It's almost as good as when you try to use some of my human metaphors and mess them up."
The hallucination was now securing some straps around his suit and pulling them tight. "I do not err when using your foolish mannerisms, Crichton."
John snorted in response. "Oh yeah, need I remind you of the woody comment..." John suddenly shook himself as he realized what Aeryn was doing.
"Hey what's the deal here? I don't know where the hell my subconscious came up with this one, but I never got into any kind of bondage fantasies." His mental Aeryn simply ignored his comments and continued her work, firmly securing the straps in place. She then reached down and flicked something on his boots and John immediately found himself floating listlessly through the unknown. The sensation was as close to pure euphoria as anything that he had ever experienced, except the Delvian mind unity. He decided that he was beginning to like this hallucination after all. If this is what dying entailed, then he would have to see to it that he died more often. A certain part of his brain knew the absolute absurdity of such a concept, but he wasn't really paying that part of his mind all that much attention right now.
Suddenly, the sensation of being tugged pulled his senses back to the present and of his content state. John looked around him in confusion for a few moments before realizing that it was his mental image of Aeryn that was dragging him along. He tried, without much success to make sense out of the scene before him, but his mind simply refused to stay focused long enough for him to come to any conclusions. The entire hallucination was becoming a little too weird for his tastes.
"Hey, Aeryn?" he addressed the back of the figure in front of him, "what exactly is this supposed to represent? My mind's own way of telling my that I am crossing over into the next world?"
"John, you are making even less sense than usually," the hallucination responded with a hint of irritation in her voice. "For you, that is quite a feat."
John found that he had to grin once again and his subconscious mind's ability to vividly recreate and accurate portrayal of the ex-Peacekeeper, down to the last detail. "There is one thing that I don't understand, however."
"And what would that be?"
"Why, of all people, would my mind choose you as my guide into the unknown world beyond." John felt his brow crease in consternation. "I mean, you're not even dead or anything and I have only known you for a little over seven months."
"Crichton," she responded with a definite edge of something that sounded almost like ironic humor, "your guess is as good as mine."
John frowned in mild annoyance. It seemed that he couldn't even get a strait answer from his own frelling brain. Oh well, if his mind wanted to play twenty questions with him, he was more than up for a little bit of a friendly challenge. "Well, I think it is because of your thighs."
The hallucination Aeryn started if someone had goosed her. "My thighs?"
"Yeah," John hurried to elaborate, "DK was always kind of a breast man. The bigger they were, the more he liked them. His idea of a perfect dinner was an evening at Hooters. As for myself, the legs were always the most important part of the package, that's what first attracted me to Alex, after all." He paused for a moment, wondering if he should voice his next thought then realized, that since this was just a manifestation of some lower part of his brain he might as well.
"That's one of the reasons that I have always felt this attraction for you. You have some of the best pair of thighs that I have ever seen, Human, Sebacean, or otherwise." When the hallucination didn't respond, John couldn't help but add, "Gilina's a better kisser, though. I think that she has had more practice."
John felt a sudden sharp jerk that sent him in a disorienting spin. *Where did that come from?* he wondered when he had managed to get his bearings once again. However, it was simply too much for his exhausted mind to attempt to process at the moment and he thus let the thought drop. He could feel another wave of drowsiness preparing to crash over him and knew that this time he would be unable to prevail against it. Still, he fought against the urge to give in, wanting, no needing to say something more.
"Aeryn," he managed to force out through a supreme force of will. "I don't have much time... need to tell you..." John felt his eyes slide close and was unable to open them again. "Never...told you...even half...of what needed...to be said. Never... told you ... how much..." Despite his struggle, additional words refused to come and John finally found himself mercifully surrendering to oblivion.
Zhaan had been ready and waiting in one of the docking areas for Aeryn and John's return. She had brought all of the medical items that she had felt would be necessary with her. Of course, with Crichton she was guessing about eighty percent of the time, which medicines were safe and which ones were deadly for the human. Almost all of her treatments were based on the assumption that Human and Sebacean anatomy were essentially similar. However, any one of a million subtle differences could cause John to react adversely to any medicine she may give him. There was also the matter of this concept of allergic reactions that John had once explained to her, of how even among his own species certain individuals would take harm from a substance that had absolutely no effect on another. Of course, John had never been able to adequately explain the substance to which he was supposedly allergic. She was certain that the translator microbes had been mistake when he described the item as type of mold that his people used as a medicine. However, the simple fact that even using a mild anesthetic on her crewmate could prove fatal was more than a little disconcerting.
The Pa'u quickly pulled herself out of her own reveries at the hissing sound of an airlock opening, to admit Aeryn, the hardened Peacekeeper that was almost tenderly cradling an unconscious John in her arms. As soon as they had both cleared the air lock Zhaan hurried forward to help Aeryn in lowering the human to the ground and quickly removing his helmet. The Delvian noted, with growing concern that John was not breathing and the color was rapidly leaving his face. Fortunately, his body was still warm, which meant that he had probably only stopped breathing recently.
"How long has he been like this?" Zhaan asked while rapidly scanning the rest of his vital signs.
"It couldn't have been more than a fifty microts," the younger woman responded while removing her own environmental suit. "He was fully conscious and even talking when I first found him." The Delvian priestess quickly turned to the makeshift pack of ointments and remedies that she had assembled. "Let us just hope that too much time has not elapsed."
Aeryn had been preparing to say something else when, she was suddenly interrupted by Pilot's disembodied voice. "Officer Sun, sorry to interrupt. But, D'Argo is requesting your assistance in the forward section. Moya is attempting to restart her engines, but is still having trouble transferring sufficient energy to her propulsion glands. With all the severed connections the power flow is, as I believe Crichton would describe it, bottlenecking."
She could see the hesitation and concern in the younger woman's face and hurried to reassure her. "Go on, Aeryn. I should have no trouble reviving him on my own. And we need to make sure that we can put some distance between us and the Zemetin Pirates."
The Peacekeeper still seemed reluctant to leave John and finally voiced her concerns. "If your medicines can't revive him there is a human technique..."
"The CPR method," Zhaan nodded as she retrieved the medicine for which she had been searching and began preparing an injection. "John has already instructed me on its use."
"He did?" There was a definite trace of surprise and some other emotion that Zhaan couldn't quite place in the Sebacean's voice.
"Yes," the Pa'u took one of John's limp arms and began searching for a major vein. "As I was given the unofficial position of Medical tech he thought it would be best if I knew some human resuscitation techniques in the case of an emergency."
Aeryn stood in place for a moment longer, her face an unreadable mask of emotions, before pivoting decisively on her heel and moving quickly down the corridor. "D'Argo, I am on my way," Zhaan heard her say into her comm.
With the younger woman now gone, the Pa'u turned her attention fully to the body in front of her. She then injected a small dosage of pherenal dew into his arm and sat back to view what effect, if any it would have on John. Pherenal was a fairly exotic plant that grew on her home world of Delvia, she had been quite fortunate to find a small quantity on one of the commerce planets that they had recently visited.
The plant itself acted as an extremely potent muscle stimulant, capable of inducing spontaneous contraction in most muscle tissue. However, the plant itself was far too potent for all but the hardiest of species. Just the dew that collected on the petals of the flower generally was capable of absorbing enough of the plants chemical properties to act as a powerful stimuli in it's own right. She just hoped that the dose would be capable of restarting John's heart.
Zhaan felt a sudden lurch as Moya finally managed to restart her engines. *Good,* the Pa'u thought to herself. *One thing less to worry about. Now if we can just get out of range of those Zemetins before they return.* John was still showing no signs that the drug had any effect on him. However, she didn't dare to administer any more of the stimulant, as such an act could easily prove fatal for the Human. She would simply have to wait a few more microts and allow the Pherenal to work its way through his system.
"Zhaan," Pilot's concerned voice interrupted her own reverie. "We have a small problem. The Zemetin vessel is returning and closing on us quickly."
"Can you outrun them?" she responded, while trying to observe John at the same time.
"Moya is transferring energy as quickly as she can, but there are still simply too many severed connections for her to send sufficient power to her propulsion glands." Pilot was beginning to sound quite concerned, now. At that moment, Moya shuddered slightly, sending a slight tremble throughout the entire room. "What is happening, Pilot?" she asked once the tremors had subsided.
"It appears that the craft is opening fire upon us once again." Panic was not a word that she would ever associate with the Symbiote, but he was coming dangerously close to such a state right then.
"I thought that you had said their weaponry was not sufficient to penetrate Moya's hull." Zhaan was quickly becoming more concerned for John, as he had still shown no signs of responding to the Pherenal.
"Normally their firepower would be quite insufficient," the symbiote sighed. "However, they seem to have detected Moya's recent wounds and are concentrating their firepower in those areas. The simple patch that Crichton placed over the punctures will not be adequate against their ship's offensive capabilities."
Zhaan was not beginning to understand the urgency behind Pilot's words. It the Pirates were successful in targeting Moya's wounds, they could effectively cripple the ship, leaving them completely helpless in space. Unfortunately, there was very little that she herself was capable of doing about it. Her abilities were already being taxed in just trying to revive the Human.
"Just try to outmaneuver them until we can get full power back to the engines." The dosage that she had administered was obviously not doing anything and she could not risk waiting any longer. The Pa'u positioned herself over her crewmates prone form and began performing a series of compressionsover the region where his heart was located, just as he had instructed her long ago.
The Leviathan shuddered again, but more violently this time, as Zhaan tilted his head back and breathed into his open mouth. "Pilot," she called after starting another series of compressions. "How are we doing?"
"The blasts are hitting closer and closer to the wounded area." His statement was emphasized as another shuddering wave passed through Moya. "But D'Argo and Officer Sun are working as quickly as possible to reestablish the severed connections. We should be able to reach full speed in another fifteen mircots."
*Well, at least there is some good news.* She thought as she once again forced a few more breaths of air into Johns lungs. He needed to start responding soon or she wasn't sure if brain would be able to survive much longer.
So intent was she on the task at hand, that Zhaan barely heard Pilot's warning. "Prepare for sudden acceleration."
Unfortunately, prepared was not something that she had been when the Leviathan suddenly lurched forward, as if they had been shot out of a tunnel. The abrupt increase in velocity threw the unprepared Delvian backwards into one of Moya's walls. John's weight came crashing down on top of her, momentarily knocking the wind from her lungs. The Pa'u quickly reoriented herself and was preparing to return to her work on John when she noticed that he was coughing violently and fluttering his eyelids.
"John!" she cried in relief and joy.
John simply looked at he without comprehension as he finally managed to regain control over his breathing. "Zhaan... where.... where am I?"
She regained her feet then helped John into a sitting position, with his back supported by one of Moya's walls. "You're back on Moya, in one of the cargo areas."
John just shook his head in confusion as he continued to calm his ragged breathing. "What happened Zhaan? The last thing I remember is wanting to get a closer look at that collapsing star while on Moya's command deck."
"It's a rather long story, John," she explained. "And I'm afraid that right now I just don't have the time to relate the entire occurrence in detail."
"Zhaan!" Aeryn's voice suddenly interrupted her through the comm. "D'Argo and I have managed to finish wielding some of Moya's nutrient flows." There was a worried pause before she asked, "How is John?"
"He's fine, Aeryn," she reassured the younger woman. Zhaan then turned her attention to the other matter at hand. "What it our status pilot."
"Quite good actually," the symbiote replied in a rather pleased voice. "We have put sufficient distance between us and the Zemetin vessel. In fact, they are even breaking off their pursuit."
"Zemetin vessel?" John was struggling, with little success, to rise back to his feet. "What Zemetin vessel are we talking about here. Will someone please explain to me what has been going on!"
The Delvian simply smiled at his obvious confusion. "All will be explained to you in good time John. All in good time."
Three days later found John standing on the terrace of Moya looking out over the expanse of a huge commerce planet before them. D'Argo, Rygel, and Zhaan had gone down planet side to purchase supplies and, as per his request, attempt to find a mild anesthetic that would not prove harmful to human physiology. Though under normal circumstances, John was generally the first among the crew to volunteer for supply runs, he had opted to stay on board Moya. Ever since his close brush with death a few days ago, the entire crew had been running non-stop to ensure that they had indeed lost their Zemetin pursuers. John hadn't even been spared a moment to sit down, much less attempt to come to terms with what exactly had happened to him.
Of course, one of his problems happened to be the simple fact that he could not remember the smallest part of what had transpired beyond walking out onto Moya's hull. At first, right after Zhaan had revived him, he hadn't even remembered Moya being injured while investigating the Solar phenomenon.
The pieces of his memory had slowly started to fall back into place over the next few arns, but he still had a huge chunk of time that was unaccounted for in his own mind.
They had eventually related the entire story to him once Moya had finally gathered enough energy for a Starburst. Zhaan had calmly explained to him how they had been force to seal him outside of the ship when the Zemetin pirates had attacked and attempted to board them. At first, he had felt slightly betrayed by their action, but once he allowed himself to actually think about the situation he could not argue the logic of their decision. And since he had absolutely no memory of the event, he couldn't very well hold a grudge.
Pilot had apologized to him profusely at almost every opportunity during the time after his return. The poor guy had even been more contrite then after the entire Aquaria incident. John had repeatedly reassured the navigator that he didn't blame him in the least for what had happened and gladly accepted his apology without any hard feelings. He had even willingly offered to assist John in understanding Moya's Starburst capabilities once again, an offer the Astronaut had decided to take at a later time.
It was Aeryn's reactions, however, over the past few days that had truly puzzled the human. He knew from the accounts given to him by the various crew members that Aeryn had been the one to retrieve his body after Rygel and D'Argo had managed to bluff the Zemetins. Aeryn herself though, had refused to comment on the subject. Instead, whenever he brought the matter up, she would simply flash him a mysterious smile, as if at some private joke and promptly change the subject. John had been racking his brain, trying to come up a plausible reason for her odd behavior.
Thus, he had retreated to the terrace for a moment of privacy and maybe, just maybe an opportunity to finally sort out all the events of the recent days in his head. As was his custom, he had brought along his tape recorder to make another letter that his father would probably never receive. John looked down at the small black device in his hand and continued where his mind had left off a few moments earlier. "And that was the end result of my first extra-vehicular tour of duty. I think that now I can understand a little bit why you never particularly cared for that part of the whole astronaut gig." Come to think of it, he felt that he was beginning to understand his father a great deal more in these past seven months.
"Oh, and let's not forget to mention that I have, once again, managed to barely avoid an unpleasant fate out here in the uncharted territories. That's about the sixth time this week I believe." The sad thing was that statement wasn't an overt exaggeration. "Well, at least this time, I don't even remember being in mortal danger."
"Still, one thing has been beginning to bother me lately." Actually, more than one thing had been bothering him, but he didn't particularly want breach that subject just yet. "Do you remember that summer when DK and I were both fifteen and we started playing Dungeons and Dragons pretty heavily. I don't see how you could possibly forget as you insisted that it would rot our brains out even though we were both pretty burned out on it by fall." By then he had moved onto his next obsession, Jane Parsons. "Anyway, I was just thinking about how we would always stick our characters in some of the most outrageous situations and, with a few lucky rolls, manage to extract them from the entire situation relatively unscathed. But, if we kept tossing them into the mix, one of them was eventually going to be killed." He paused for a moment, his voice becoming deadly serious. "Well, I am just wondering how much longer it is going to be before my luck runs out and the dice come up all ones."
John flipped off the recorder and stared back out into the starlit vastness of space. As much as he hated to admit the fact, he knew that his luck couldn't hold forever. There were simply too many factors working against him at the present moment. Crais was still hunting for him, Maldis would probably want to come looking for him again once that evil entity managed to rebuild himself, and the Nebari would probably be less than pleased with him when they discovered that he was harboring one of their fugitives. There were simply too many dangers out there for him to continue relying exclusively on luck. Unfortunately, luck seemed to by the only resource available to him.
"What is this "Dungeons and Dragons"?" John looked up in surprise to find Aeryn standing in the entrance to the terrace watching him with one of her trademark quizzical expressions.
John simply smiled in return. "I guess that you could call it a type of strategy field exercise that we humans participate in for recreation." That explanation wasn't entirely accurate, but he seriously doubted that Aeryn would understand the entire concept of role-playing. "Your people conduct strategy exercises for recreation?" She shook her head slightly while walking over to stand by him. "I thought that you said humans were a peaceful race."
"Well, we are, generally," John chewed on his lip for a second, "when we aren't trying our best to blow each others' heads off, that is." He was just glad that he didn't have to worry about receiving any television transmissions on this side of the universe. It would only take twenty minutes of Die-Hard to convince everyone on board that humans were among some of the more savage species in existence.
She shot him a skeptical glance before turning to look back at the starlit expanse. John kept sneaking glances at her and noticed that she was wearing that same mysteriously amused expression that had been confusing the hell out of him for a couple of days now. John glanced over her briefly, noticing her seemingly good mood. He debated with himself for a moment before finally deciding to try asking her what she found so humorous.
"So Aeryn," he began awkwardly, "what has been tickling your funny bone so much these past couple of days?"
"Funny bone?" she responded quizzically. "I possess no such piece of anatomy."
John shook his head in amusement at her confusion. "Never mind. What I meant to ask is what have you found so humorous these past couple of days?" She was wearing that mysterious smile once again and, for a moment, John thought that she simply intended to evade the entire discussion once again.
However, after a few moments of tense silence, she finally replied with a question of her own. "Who is Jane Parsons?" John felt his jaw drop even as he fought to keep his eyes from bulging out of his head. He hadn't thought of Jane in over ten years and was certain that he had never mentioned anything about one of his more embarrassing high school crushes to anyone on Moya.
After he managed to get his jaw working once again John wheezed, "How do you know about Jane?"
There was no mistaking the broad grin that she only fought for a moment to conceal. "Oh, it just happened to be something you mentioned in your incoherent state when I found you." She cut her eyes at him, obviously enjoying his discomfort. "So, who is she?"
And he thought that Durka had been a sadistic individual. Right now, he felt as if someone had kicked the air out of his lungs and pulled down his pants in front of a national assembly. What was even worse, Aeryn was looking at him as if she actually expected him to answer her question. Well, to hell with that idea. He had not come halfway across the entire universe only to have one of the most embarrassing stories of his youth follow him.
"Well...she was a girl that...I knew when I was still just a kid," he struggled vainly with the vague explanation.
"So, the two of you "clicked"?" John nearly swallowed his tongue at Aeryn's teasing question. Why couldn't she just be satisfied with his admittedly vague and useless explanation. It wasn't as if he asked her to spill her guts about her most embarrassing crushes during puberty. After all, DK had certainly ragged him endlessly about the entire incident for years. He felt that he had already received sufficient punishment for the stupidity of his youth.
"Yeah, you might say that," he finally choked out.
"I see." She was definitely displaying that evil streak that he had come to associate with Peacekeepers. "Well, you certainly had more to say about it while you were delirious."
John was almost certain that his cheeks had now caught on fire. At that moment, all he wanted to do was find a dark hole and hide in it for at least the next twenty cycles. However, he needed to know a few more things first.
"Uh, Aeryn... did I... say anything else interesting?"
The former Peacekeeper's expression suddenly shifted to an expression of mock seriousness. "Oh, I didn't understand most of the rest. You were making even less sense than usual, if that is possible." He could only stare in shear amazement as it finally dawned on him that their serious military minded Peacekeeper was toying with him and quite enjoying herself. Apparently, she was learning a few things from him and the other members of the crew. However, he had learned some things from her as well, one of those things being to know when to declare a tactical retreat.
"Well, I guess that I'll... just head up to command and... " his mind spun frantically for a few seconds as he tried to come up with a reasonable excuse to escape her presence, "...and see how D'Argo and Zhaan are doing with the supplies." Yeah, that sounded good enough. She simply nodded as he slowly withdrew, crushing the urge to run like hell.
He had almost made it to the exit when Aeryn's voice stopped him. "Oh, and Crichton?"
He held his breath as he turned back to face her. "Yeah?"
She took a moment to run an appreciative glance over his body. "Your thighs aren't half bad either." And with that she turned back towards the view of the stars, leaving him completely dumbstruck.
The astronaut just stood there in utter shock, his mouth working soundlessly for several moments before he finally managed to regain enough of his senses to retreat back out into the hallway. There was nothing to do, but hide in his room like the beaten dog that he was. "I didn't say that. There is no way that I would have ever said that. Oh hell, I hope I didn't say that." He mumbled repeatedly.
However, there was no one to hear his denials other then himself. And he wasn't even sure if he believed them.