See Letting Go: Aeryn and Letting Go: Larraq for the other sides of "A Bug's Life."
"Well, I have to admit, at least you look the part." Was that admiration in Aeryn's eyes, just for a minute? I had to admit the uniform looked really good - they do say clothes make the man. "Now let's just hope you can act the part, too." So much for the swelled head I was starting to get.... "Make sure your commlink is open and you pay attention. Things may start to happen really fast, and ....
"Quit worrying, ok?" I told her. "It's going to be fine."
"I'll believe that when it's all over and we're still alive." She turned on her heel and ran out, leaving me with my thoughts. And they were pretty sorry company just then, to tell you the truth.
Rattlers....big time. Was it the uniform, or did it just get hotter in here? Damn leather....
Deep breath. C'mon, John, you can do this, I told myself. Remember when you were in high school and you got dragged into that production of "South Pacific" by Mrs. Nook and Mr. Dean? You got through that okay, and even got a standing ovation at the end. And you had to do that with plastic coconuts strapped to your chest! At least you have a cool costume this time, even if it is hot as hell. This is a play, nothing more than that....
....except there was a dren load more at stake than a couple curtain calls.
One more deep breath. You're a Peacekeeper captain - calm, cool, in control. Superior being and all that jive. Everyone else is a lesser life form, not worth getting an ulcer over. And if they get frisky, the DRDs and I have a little surprise for them, something Aeryn doesn't even know about.
I heard Aeryn over the comlink. The crew of the Marauder is on board, and already I didn't like this Captain Larraq. Calling Aeryn a 'little girl' - he was lucky she was playing a part too, or he'd have been looking for his family jewels in the next sector.
All right, time for my entrance. Head up, shoulders back, give it my best Bob Fosse / Roy Scheider spin: "It's showtime!"
The doors swished open, and John Crichton disappeared. I Just hoped he'd get the chance to come back when this was all over.....
"Ease your weapon, Leftenant." Aeryn was frozen - never thought I'd live to see that reaction. Was I overdoing it? Something told me no - keep it rolling. I didn't even look in her direction. "That was an order." The pulse rifle went down and I stared into the eyes of the Peacekeepers. "What are you doing aboard my vessel?"
And they bought it, all of them. The blonde lieutenant, whose face would probably crack if she smiled. The two thugs - how the hell did guys like that get into Peacekeeper ranks, much less special ops? On the other hand, they took Crais, so there's a glitch in the software someplace, obviously. Even the Captain, that superior snot, was buying it. I figured we'll look after them for a bit, get their ship repaired and they'd be history, Then I heard: ".... therefore, under article four one four Decca, I hereby assume command over it, your crew .... and you."
Well, from where I'm standing, buddy, looks like you're in command of two things - jack and shit. And Jack just left town..... I felt a smile twitch my lips. "Oh...I think not."
And all hezmana broke loose ....
After the smoke cleared, Larraq looked a little surprised that he and his crew were still standing. News flash, hotshot - if I'd wanted you dead, you would have been. That was just to get your attention. Now we could establish a few rules, and I was going to make sure the home team had the advantage.
And speaking of attention.... As we talked, I did finally glance back at Aeryn, and she looked like she'd been poleaxed. She couldn't take her eyes off Larraq. Okay, sure, there was a knee-jerk reaction to the uniform, officer responding to captain and all that, but ... just what was going on here?
And he seemed to be pretty taken with her too. Hmmmm, I thought, that might just work to our advantage. I fought down my annoyance at the 'some enchanted evening' moment in progress and took our guests on a tour of the ship, trying to ignore the rattlers and my rising blood pressure every time I looked at Aeryn and Larraq ....
How could something that started out so well have gone into the toilet so fast? God hates me, that's what it is....
First Chiana MacGyvered a key to the crate, don't ask me how, I don't think I want to know. Okay, she's a kid, and she's been on her own for a while. She couldn't resist the idea that there might be something useful in there. I could almost have forgiven her - almost. But her tampering cost people their lives, and almost ... man, I don't want to think about that, I haven't got the energy to fight back that kind of anger now. I'd have to hunt down the little brat and strangle her.
And Rygel. Now, he should have known better .... and I should know better than to think he'd give a royal dren. They opened the Pandora's box and people started to die. And Aeryn looks at me like somehow it's all my fault.
"This is a disaster, Crichton." Oh really, you think? "It's a grave misfortune that that uniform did not fit me."
So many things I wanted to say back to her: Tell me just how you would have done it differently, Miss Tough Chick of the Universe? Like you really could have done better with an intellent virus on the loose, a bunch of hyped up Peacekeeper drones on board, and us on a dead course for a secret military base?
Or is it just that you'd rather have been a Captain so you could be on a more equal footing with Larraq?
And did you really want the answer to that, John?
I just sighed and hauled Chiana with me to look for Rygel.
And I can't help but wonder now: if I hadn't been so preoccupied with Aeryn, and with keeping up the little masquerade, would I have noticed? Would I have seen anything different about Chiana, something that would have clued me in that things weren't right? If I'd noticed sooner, would the rest have happened? Damn, the 'what ifs' will kill you if you let them....
We found Rygel in a crawlspace and I had to keep on playing the Captain. They wanted the virus alive, so Rygel was safe....for now. The voice was the same - the imperious tones overlaid now with icy fear. I can't help you this time, Spanky.
Larraq took careful aim with the freezo gun, and Rygel's protests were cut off in mid-squawk. He was hauled out and I looked away for a minute to compose myself - a Peacekeeper captain would not show any emotion over the capture of a criminal. I feel a light, damp touch on the back of my neck, and things started to get sort of fuzzy.....
....then faded back in with a bang. The whole bunch of them, friends and foes, were piled on top of me like I was the football at the bowl game. Struggling out from underneath, I found every gun was pointed at me. And we're not in command anymore, we're in...how did we all get here?
Dizzy....did I hear Zhaan right? The virus was...in me? And if it wasn't anymore, where did it go? I scanned my friends' faces, looking for clues, locked eyes for a microt with Aeryn, searching, praying I wouldn't see the madness there, of all places.
Guns, lots of guns, and lots of paranoid people. What a bass-ackward universe this is - this was the calm, rational, logical way to handle this situation, being ready to blow each other to atoms if anyone twitched wrong.
Then D'Argo was talking, something about Zhaan making an antibody so we can find out where this rat bastard virus is and kill it. Let's do it, I said. Let's get this nightmare over. Please God, let me wake up from this....
"John, there is something you need to know," Zhaan whispered to me as we all headed for the apothecary. I glanced at her, saw the look on her face, and feel my stomach drop. I knew this is going to be bad - I had no idea just how bad....
"I .... what?" The words didn't register, they were just too horrible to contemplate. I knew myself better than that - virus or no virus, there was no frellin' way.....
Then I saw Hassan, slumped on the floor. I saw the caked dark blood, the glistening white bone, the gray brain matter. I saw the tool that did it .... that my hand, my body had used to do it.
Shit, I am NOT gonna be sick, not here, not now.....
Chiana's voice, edgy despite the flippancy: "Hey, lighten up! You didn't do it. Well, you did... but it wasn't really you ...." Thanks for trying, Pip. But that is going to haunt me for the rest of my life.
Now comes the test of truth - who's real, and who's the boogieman.
First Zhaan. I held my breath as she pressed the hypo against her hand. I watched her stiffen a moment, then look back at the rest of us. Okay, she's clear, one down. She comes to my side of the room.
Now Aeryn. I took a breath to steady my hand as I injected her. Please don't let it be in her, if I somehow gave it to her.... Not a muscle twitch. "Told you," she said, and there was even a hint of humor there. Thank you, God. She joined the group beside me.
Thonn - big tough Peacekeeper looked like a scared kid as the antibody went into him. A shiver, then he starts shouting, "It's the Luxan!" The two that are left scream at each other to drop their weapons, and I just want to drop both of them....on their heads.
Now it was down to D'Argo and Larraq, my friend and my ... enemy? Too strong a word, he'd never done anything to me. But ... Aeryn ....
Off topic, John, can it right now. Take care of business.
"Eeenie....meenie...minie....D'Argo." I pressed the plunger and pray.
The big guy's eyes rolled back and I started thinking, ah, God, no.... Then he shook it off, and all hezmana broke loose again. Every weapon in the place was shooting at Larraq....and we all missed! Un-frelling-believable! And I thought the stormtroopers in STAR WARS were bad! Thonn, Aeryn, D'Argo and I took off running. We had to catch him - catch it.
Keep thinking 'it', John, it'll be easier to do what you have to when the time comes. Believe that. But part of me was praying one of the others would catch him - there was enough blood on my hands already.
Weapons fire up ahead, and I rounded a corner and skidded to a halt with D'Argo on my heels. There was Thonn, dead on the floor, and Larraq with one arm around Aeryn's neck and the other hand holding a dagger. She was strong, but he was stronger - she couldn't get away.
"Crichton, just do what you have to do!" she choked out, but I was frozen. If I fired, I might have hit Larraq, but more than likely I'd've hit her, and I couldn't risk it. And even if I didn't hit her, could I take him out before he got her with the knife....
"This Larraq guy .... he really liked you. A lot," the Virus hissed in her ear, then the world went into slow motion. I saw sharp detail of the knife cutting into her, watched the blade come out, dark with her blood. Heard my own voice, as if from a distance, screaming her name. I threw myself forward to catch her in my arms.
"God..." Laying her on the floor, the stain spreading on her tunic, my heart was pounding out of my chest. This can't be happening....
D'Argo's voice cut through the fog. "The virus can't reinfect you. GO!"
I knew he was right, and I got to my feet running. But I couldn't stop glancing back one more time at Aeryn, maybe my last sight of her alive....
Don't think that, John. Find him, stop him, nothing else matters right now. Astronaut training kicks in - one crisis at a time, prioritize.
Rounding a corner, I found Chiana with the wind knocked out of her. She gasped, "The transport hangar.... Pilot, close the outer doors..."
"No, Pilot." A plan presented itself in my head, complete in every detail, perfect. Pilot was confused by my orders, but obeyed without question. I got to a viewport, watched the spark from Moya's tail ignite the trail of cesium fuel, saw the fireball head for the Marauder. All my rage coalesced into one word as the ship exploded: "Boom...." Die, you sonofabitch....
And a small voice in the darkest part of my soul wondered just who I was talking to....
The fragments of the ship disappeared in the vacuum of space, but I kept watching for a moment, to make sure it was really gone. The skyscape before me was quiet, tranquil, the twinkling stars the only things to be seen. There was no hint of the awful fate that has just been averted.
I hit my comlink. "Zhaan, somebody - what's happening with Aeryn?"
A moment of silence that seemed to stretch into infinity, then D'Argo's voice, tight as one of the strings on his shilquin: "Come to sickbay, John - NOW."
My heart froze for a moment. He'd tell me if it was too late....wouldn't he? Don't panic yet, John, just go to her. I took a deep shuddering breath and started to run. With every footfall the plea repeated: Hold on, Aeryn, please hold on....
How long was she lying there, not moving? Microts, arns, cycles? Zhaan said it was close, and it was up to her now. So much life, so much to give, and we almost lost her....
Who was I kidding? I almost lost her, and I was still afraid it'd happen.
Hey, God, Kh'alenn, whoever's listening out there.... help her out here. Give her whatever she needs to pull through this. I'd like to ask for myself, but I won't. Don't think that'd cut much ice with anyone anyway.
I'm asking for her. She's done so much, come so far, become so much. Don't take it all away from her now. Give her the chance to keep on being more. Please.
And give me a chance, too. I guess I am asking for my sake, after all. I haven't told her so many things. We're both still sorting out our feelings, and they're still hard to talk about. She's got a lifetime of conditioning to work around, and I've got my share of baggage too, not the least of which is I'm half a universe from home. We need time to work that out. If she dies now, that can't ever happen. And even if I'm not sure of my feelings yet, I do know this much -- part of me will die with her.
Please -- for her, for me ....
A stirring on the bed, and blue eyes looked at me. "Welcome back, " I said. "You know, for a while there Zhaan wasn't too sure you were gonna make it."
"What happened to the virus?" Her voice was soft, hoarse, but the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard.
"Dead." And how I didn't want to say what I had to say next. "So's Larraq."
Pain, whether from the wound or the news, flickered across her face. "He stabbed me, didn't he?" Betrayal in her voice, maybe grief.... whoa, don't go there, John.
"Yeah. You got lucky, he missed your heart."
A pause, then very low, but clear as a bell: "Closer than you think." I glanced up at her but she didn't meet my eyes, just stared at the ceiling. Well, John, looks like you didn't have to go there, she went there for you ....
Then she did look at me, with something of the old Aeryn in her voice. "What about the Peacekeeper base?"
She wanted to change the subject, lord knows I was game. "We're getting as far away from it as we can. It's still out there, we don't know why." Hardly the sort of thing you want to talk about to a sick person, but then, we were talking Aeryn here.
"So what are you doing in here, anyway?"
"Well, I, uh...." How should I answer that? I'm here because I can't think of anywhere else I want to be right now. I'm here because I've spent the last few arns scared drenless. I'm here because I need to remind myself that you're still alive, to watch the rise and fall of the blanket. I'm here because .....
I'm here because, if you die, I don't want you to die alone.
Damn, why is it when you really need words, they go and lock themselves in the john? I hadn't been so tongue-tied since I tried to ask Mary Ellen Moffat to the junior prom. I finally stammered out, "I just, uh, wanted to .... be there....."
"Thank you." She was looking straight at me now - through the stammer and the earth idiocy, she understood. A mental thanks of my own went out to the universal translator microbes.
I could feel my throat getting tight, and I couldn't look at her for a minute. I was afraid she'd read too much in my face, my eyes. I'm a coward, I couldn't let her see it yet, not even now. A flip answer: "Don't mention it."
"Why would I ever mention it?" she murmured, and I did look at her. A slight smile? Was she making a joke? She was! I gave her the faintest of grins back - I was so tired it was all I was capable of just then, but it seemed to be ok.
"Go back to sleep, you need all the rest you can get," I told her. She glanced at me once more, with that whisper of a smile, then closed her eyes. She didn't ask me to stay, just knew that I'd be there when she woke up. And I would, whenever it is.
I heard soft footsteps behind me, and a deep voice murmured, "How is she doing?" I glanced up at D'Argo - he looked almost as worried as I was. I gave him a tired smile. "Think she's going to be okay."
"Good. Would you like me to take over for a while? You need some rest, too."
"Thanks, D'Argo, but I promised I'd stay."
"I thought you might say that, so I brought something with me." I looked past him to the doorway, and there was a cot in the hall. I started to rise to help him, but he pushed me back down gently - not that it took much -- and brought it in, setting it up next to Aeryn.
"You're a lifesaver, buddy. I owe you for this, big time."
He nodded, smiling. He looked over at Aeryn, and his eyes went soft. I thought back to when they met - superior being and barbaric savage. His hand squeezed my shoulder reassuringly, and I remembered his first reaction to me - I was lucky I didn't get spaced out the nearest available airlock. How the wheels have turned....
He left as quietly as he'd come in, and I sank down onto the cot. I looked down at the metal pipe I'd been holding, the one that killed Hassan - no, I wouldn't think the other, not any more. It was time to get rid of that, time to lay that burden down. I placed the rod on the floor, like the tool that it was. It has no more significance in my life. This was not disrespect to the dead, but rather absolution for the living.
I could feel my eyes start to glaze over - that's all there is, there ain't no more. I stretched out on the cot and pillowed my head on one arm. My other hand went almost involuntarily over to gently touch Aeryn's arm - it was like I had to make sure, one more time, that this wasn't a dream.
Aeryn didn't even twitch - her sleep was deep and restful now. Peace washed over me, rinsing off the guilt, the fear and the anger, leaving me feeling, if not clean and new, at least patched and ironed. There were still a lot of things being left unsaid, but they could wait for another day. I concentrated the last conscious thoughts in my tired brain on sending healing vibes her way. It was little that I could do, but for once it was enough.
For the first time in months, I could let go.