Out from the Bars

By Paul Douglas
Copyright 2000

Author's Notes:
I've tried to keep any details which would spoil later surprises in the show out of this, so you probably won't find any spoilers in it (except for the whole wormhole thing, which let's face it, you probably knew anyway).

Rating should be about M-ish. Prison escapes and mutinies can get pretty violent, after all.

Anyone else who wants this, email me at Delphi_sector@hotmail.com. I won't complain, but it's cool to know other people like this stuff.

This was written for fun, not for profit. All characters and trademarks remain property of their rightful owners.

Rygel XVI, former Dominar of the Hynerian Empire and overlord of 600 billion sentient beings, is working extremely hard.

The thought of Rygel working hard under any circumstances would come as something as a surprise to those who knew him long ago, and indeed, to many who know him now, yet he sits in his cell on a Peacekeeper-run Leviathan called Moya, working very hard indeed. He is working very hard at a task which is currently of the utmost necessity to several beings. He is working very hard at not letting on just how nervous he is, and just how busy he's been over the last few weekens. Letting people get the wrong ideas, and decide that contrary to all expectations he hasn't sat twiddling his tiny Hynerian thumbs and sighing mournfully at his predicament, could have dire consequences for the aforementioned beings. Needless to say, it would severely inconvenience Rygel too.

The reason this has become such a necessity is that the Peacekeepers, proud wearers of the boots of oppression on hundreds of worlds, are using Moya to transport his Eminence to a colony named Taran Rau, thoughtlessly disregarding any opinions Rygel may have had on the matter. The place serves as a dumping ground for enemies of the Peacekeepers who either retain some ransom value or have simply proven to be too much trouble to execute. Rygel doesn't know which category he falls into, which is good, since his ego may not be able to cope with the answer.

Taran Rau is alternately far too hot, far too cold, and altogether a dreadful choice of residence for... well, anything really. The inhabitants are drawn from the most pathetically unsuccessful career felons anywhere in charted space, and escape has never, but never, been attempted successfully.

Rygel, needless to say, does not plan to end his illustrious life on Taran Rau.

So since the Peacekeepers loaded him on to Moya almost a cycle and a half ago, his Eminence has been keeping a watchful eye and a thoughtful (or at least busy) mind on the other career frell-ups who've arrived on Moya. He's considered how each one could be useful to him as he's gone over his mental lists, night after night.

Many he's discounted completely. Like the timid, insectoid Gesinid his gaolers (who, perhaps to help soothe his offended royal ego, he thinks of as his guards) threw in three cells down from his. Its distant, constantly humming wings kept him awake night after night until finally it adamantly refused to eat its food cubes. Or the blinded Zebetan pirate whose translator microbes had somehow cut out, leaving him unable to understand the most elementary commands from the Peacekeepers. Or the bizarre crystalline thing, which had been on Moya as long as anybody could remember. No one had a clue where that came from, or had any way to translate whatever it used for a language. Assuming it spoke a language at all, that is.

Useless though it is, Rygel likes that thing. Every time he sees it, it reminds him that there are being in the cosmos which have even less chance than he did of ever returning to their homes.

Some of his fellow prisoners seem potentially very useful, though. Right now, in fact, Rygel's thinking of one of them. A Delvian named Zotoh Zhaan, who's been on this ship only a slightly shorter time than Crystal Thing. Ordinarily, Rygel wouldn't waste any time wondering what sort of crime an old Delvian would have committed to wind up where she is, but in Zhann's case he's made an exception.

Zhaan, you see, has what Rygel thinks of as Potential.

Zhaan has become the key factor in his plan to take control of his own fate for the first time in 100 cycles. It has become a very pressing need for Rygel to understand what she's doing here in the first place. If he knows that, he knows whether or not he should rely on her.

Zhaan seems to have other ideas, though, 'cause she's not talking about what she did. Not to Rygel, and not to anyone else that he knows. This might be good for him, or it might not be. It might mean that she's renounced her former criminal lifestyle to pursue enlightenment or something, and hasn't he heard of Delvians doing that? On the other hand, she may just not want people's guards up so she can do it again, and Rygel's seen that happen far too many times to want it to happen to him. Despite the gulf between his species and hers, or perhaps because of it, he's pretty sure that any yotz who smiles that much has to have something wrong with them.

Given the fact that she's about the most together convicted felon he's come across though, in a life not unmarked by the meeting of convicted felons, and the fact that she seems nearly as homesick as he is, he's assuming the former. It's a big gamble, but there you go.

The possibility that Zhaan might have her own ideas regarding escape from Moya and the Peacekeepers hasn't yet crossed Rygel's mind. Be sure to be watching when it does.

Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan is one of those legends which circulate around Peacekeeper prisons all through this region of space, including places she's never been in her decacycles long career as a failed revolutionary and political prisoner. Since the Peacekeepers took her into custody all that time ago, she's become a mythical figure, to which all new prisoners have to pay proper obeisance before they can truly be initiated into life as a convict.

The old, grizzled veterans of (between them) thousands of cycles of enforced Pacification will tell the new, fresh, innocent cons the Legend of Zhaan, recounting her deeds (or those things which, over time, have become her deeds) with awe in their hard voices. They tell the new cons of how, when the Peacekeepers first took her, Zhaan was a killer. And they tell the new cons that her eyes glowed red in the darkness from the madness they kept imprisoned in her lignin-laced skull. And they tell them how when Sakik the Teeth, Luxan warrior and assassin extraordinaire, was found cut up and baking in four different ovens, NO ONE asked Zhaan where she'd been that night. And they tell them how when the riots were quelled in the Chentyst max security prison, NO ONE thought too hard about how Zhaan came to be sitting happily in her cell, surrounded by five silent prisoners, rocking themselves gently in some sort of catatonic stupor.

Then they tell the new cons of how Zhaan just decided one day that this bad frelling madness-kill-crazy dren wasn't for her, and just like that she took control of herself again. And they tell them how she saved herself from the badness and dren the Peacekeepers pump their prisons full of, by pulling her own mind out. And they tell them that Zhaan's proof that the Peacekeepers can't destroy you if you don't frelling want to be destroyed. And they tell them that Zhaan's still out there, and she can help them if they'll help themselves.

Most new cons don't think Zhaan ever actually existed.

Certainly, Rygel didn't believe the legend when he first heard it, which is why he doesn't realise that the Zhaan whose mental stability he's worrying about is currently serving as a messiah for prisoners throughout Peacekeeper territory.

At least one of the Peacekeepers has heard the legend though, 'cause he can't quite keep the expression of mixed disgust and awe off his dumb-dren face whenever he gets stuck on guard duty near her cell. And Zhaan, although she's now a ninth level Pa'u and has full control over her earthly desires, can still think of better things to do with her time than rot on Taran Rau. So when the Hynerian waddled past her in the galley one morning, with his tray of food cubes almost obscuring his face, and muttered to her that he had a plan to get them off Moya and well away from Taran Rau, she didn't see a lot wrong with the idea.

Something yes, but not a lot.

So because escape seems so much more pleasant an option than Taran Rau, Zhaan moves over to the door of her cell, almost gliding in that way that males of a half-dozen species at least find so fascinating, and faces mister wonderful dumb-dren soldier boy. As usual, he can't stop himself from gaping at her, and she responds by smiling a gentle smile and beckoning him over. And soldier boy's so amazed that the legendary Zhaan wants to talk to him that he decides that regulations can wait a few microts, and he heads on over to her.

He hasn't let go of the whole 'lesser species' doctrine though, 'cause when he says "Yes, prisoner?" it sounds threatening enough.

Zhaan, true to form, doesn't seem to notice, or maybe she's just decided that hey, she's already travelling to a lifer's colony, what else can go wrong? So instead of flinching like she's supposed to, she just points a little way down the corridor to her left, where a Luxan, looking pretty pissed off even by Luxan standards, is slamming his fist into the cell door. "I wonder if you could do something for me" she says.

Soldier boy's guard is way down right now, so Zhaan gives him a little psychic prod, just to make sure it stays that way, before she continues. "I fear that the Luxan down there is nearing hyper-rage. I realise that he can't get through his cell door, but his bellowing will soon begin to disturb my meditation. I wonder if you could arrange to have him taken down to tier 12 for me?"

Both Zhaan and Soldier boy know that tier 12 is mainly used for storage, with a few spare cells for when Moya gets really crowded. It's also the tier farthest from any Peacekeeper quarters. If something goes wrong on tier 12, it'll take a while to get anyone there to fix the problem.

Both Zhaan and Soldier boy know this. But because Soldier boy's higher mental functions are being kept on their back foot by Zhaan, he just sees that tier 12 is a nice, safe place where a loud, hormone-crazy Luxan can be stashed where no-one will mind how loud he yells and screams. Because he can't think straight, Soldier boy decides that sticking this Luxan on tier 12 is a great idea. The other Peacekeepers would certainly appreciate having him nicely out of sight and out of earshot, he thinks.

Zhaan loves the way other species minds work.

The chains don't clink properly, which annoys D'Argo. He fully realises that the purpose of his stay on Moya isn't really for other people to attend to his wishes, but Ka D'Argo comes from a warrior culture, and warrior cultures usually put a lot of value on doing things properly. Some traditions are sacred, he thinks, and one of them is that when a prisoner is being escorted around while secured with chains, they should clink in a metallically ominous way. He suspects that these chains aren't even metal, just some hard, nasty plasticy stuff which you couldn't get a proper clink out of if you tried. How are chains like this meant to warn people of the dangers of offending against authority?

Besides the chains locking his wrists together behind his back, and the ones keeping his feet no more than half a comfortable step apart, two long lengths of the stuff have been threaded through the rings drilled directly into his collarbone. His two Peacekeeper escorts are holding these as they wind their way through the softly humming passageways of Moya.

Despite his annoyance at the chains inability to clink, D'Argo has to admit he enjoys the way his gaolers are shying away from him, keeping as far away from him as the chains will allow. He thinks he even heard one of them mutter something about hyper-rage to the other. He finds that funny, 'cause D'Argo is the one being on Moya who's sure he's nowhere near hyper-rage at the moment. Granted, after eight cycles of imprisonment he's probably due for some, but not just yet. Still, he gets a kick out of snarling at his guards every microt or so, just to watch them jump.

When they push him into an elevator, he makes sure he doesn't waste his best opportunity to size up his escorts. The one on his right is one of the youngest Peacekeepers he's ever seen, probably only just out of adolescence but looking like he can handle the pistol strapped to his thigh. The other Peacekeeper is almost the exact opposite. An old, scarred woman, probably transferred to the prison unit after her commanding officers decided she couldn't cut it on the front lines any more. Still, she looks more dangerous than the youngster.

Bored with snarling, D'Argo takes a few deep breaths as the elevator begins to descend. Tier 6... tier 9... tier 10... tier 11... tier 12... and it stops, the doors opening on to a corridor deserted except for a single DRD. D'Argo's gaolers step out, tugging on their chains to urge him forwards.

D'Argo's eyes light up as he steps out of the elevator, 'cause he knows what's so special about tier 12 as well.

As they walk past the DRD, he hisses at it loudly enough to send the thing into a tiny robotic panic, and it quickly scoots around a corner and disappears. The younger guard flinches, but either they're really scared of him or they just put it down to some lesser-species-irritation thing. Either way, they don't seem to care that the only means anyone had of directly observing them has just gone.

This is good, thinks D'Argo. This is ideal, thank you.

He plants his feet firmly on the deck, his heavy boots helping him cling in place as the Peacekeepers run out of slack chain and pull slightly against his chest. Old Peacekeeper seems to be willing to just let him do it, but young Soldier boy doesn't seem to be in the mood for this dren at all, 'cause he grabs his chain in both hands, shoves it over his shoulder and starts to lean forward as he pulls, putting his weight into it.

This is just a gift from the Gods to D'Argo, who puts Old Peacekeeper out with one quick lash of his tongue to her face. As she slumps to the ground, D'Argo jumps forward, sending the chain slack and Soldier boy falling. As he hits the ground, the dumb-dren doesn't let go of the chain, so D'Argo lifts his head by way of kicking it and loops the slack chain around his neck. Then he stamps one foot down on Soldier boy's face and twists his upper body away, tightening the chain around Soldier boy's neck until his eyes start bulging and D'Argo's collarbone ring threatens to rip right out.

The pain is frelling incredible, but if there's one thing D'Argo's learned in his battle campaigns and eight cycles of imprisonment and persecution, it's how to deal with pain.

D'Argo sits with his back to the dead Peacekeeper and blindly, laboriously goes through his pockets until he finds what he's looking for: his access card. He manoeuvres it through the slot in his manacles until he hears a faint beeping, which turns into a louder beeping, and then a fully-fledged alarm ringing throughout the ship. D'Argo doesn't know this, but when he released the manacles outside a cell, automatic systems were tripped to warn the Peacekeepers of an escape attempt.

D'Argo doesn't know this at all, but he knows enough to realise that an alarm at this stage could easily have terminal consequences for him, so he swipes the card through his ankle-chains as well, and sprints down the corridor.

At this point, lots of stuff happens at once.

The Peacekeepers are alerted to a loose prisoner on tier 12 (except for the two who are already there, and are a bit beyond alerting at this point), and begin converging in force on the area. Given that the escaped prisoner is a Luxan, the Captain orders them to shoot to kill.

Rygel hears the alarm and scurries with unseemly haste towards one of the ventilation shafts he uses to roam Moya in those hours when the Pilot has decided that enough prisoners are sleeping to warrant a dimming of the lights. He's almost laughing now, 'cause his plan's going off without a hitch so far. He climbs the bars of his door to reach it, throws himself in and begins to crawl for freedom.

Zhaan begins to beat on her cell door, yelling at the guards and working the other prisoners into a state of panic. Ignoring the Peacekeepers commands to back away into her cell, she begins to subtly play on the moods of everyone in the vicinity. More, she thinks. More! The more on edge everyone is, the easier this will be for all of us! When other prisoners begin to scream and beat their cell doors, she doesn't even smile. This is too important for smiling.

Finally, D'Argo, who unwillingly finds himself at the centre of this drenstorm, sees a loose panel in Moya's ceiling. He leaps up and bats it away, revealing some sort of access duct. Not thinking about where he's going, he grabs the edge of the hole, pulls his bulky frame up into the ceiling, drops the panel back into place and begins to move.

Rygel the XVI has stopped laughing. Laughing, in fact, is a long way from Rygel's mind at the moment.

Rygel has stopped laughing because his plan's beginning to look like it might just fail totally after all. It's looking this way 'cause Rygel, former Dominar of 600 billion sentient beings, schooled since childhood to make decisions so vast that entire stellar clusters would shake at their consequences, is too scared to jump down a hole.

Around him, the alarms are continuing unabated, and in the distance he can hear Peacekeepers swearing in increasing fear and frustration, 'cause the Luxan they're supposed to find and kill can't be found, and would thus seem well beyond killing. Any minute now, he knows, they Peacekeepers are going to start going through the access shafts, and when that happens, he'll be trapped and at their mercy again.

If someone were to point out to him that he shouldn't worry about that, 'cause Peacekeepers don't show mercy, he wouldn't find that comforting at all.

Five tiers below him, he can see one of the strange, oily liquid pools which surround the Pilot's control panel. If he were to drop straight down, he would almost certainly land in the dead centre of it, and from there he'd just have to swim to the edge and convince the Pilot to help with the final stage of their plan. As an aquatic Hynerian, the swim would be extremely easy, and with his negotiating skills the Pilot should play straight into his hands.

The five-tier drop straight down, though, bothers Rygel more than a little.

Now he's even beginning to feel Zhaan's projected anxiety. She's having no trouble convincing herself to be anxious, all of Moya's doors should have opened several microts ago, and the Peacekeepers are getting better and better organised, while Rygel trembles on the edge of his drop.

He hears movement nearby, and instead of galvanising him into action, this just paralyses him even more. Rygel's agile brain and ferocious instinct for self-preservation have both kicked into action, and he's thinking that if he can sell out Zhaan, or better yet, that Luxan yotz, to the Peacekeepers, he might just be able to wrangle himself an amnesty for his own part in all this.

His dilemma isn't a moral one. That particular question was solved as soon as it entered his mind. No, he's worried about the practicality of all this. Should he continue with the plan, and maybe die, or give himself in, and maybe die? Employing the sort of specialised mathematical skill which has won him the grudging respect of courtiers and convicts alike, Rygel is carefully calculating the probability of either course of action being successful. As the microts continue to tick by, he's becoming increasingly certain of which option he wants to take.

So when he turns around to find the Luxan a single step behind him, blocking his way back to the relative safety of the Peacekeepers, his Eminence's jaw can only drop in guilt, shame and fear worse than anything he has ever, ever felt before.

D'Argo, it must be said, is feeling extremely pleased with himself. From a very bad initial position, he's managed to escape captivity and elude his pursuers with little adverse effect on himself. Crawling through this maze of DRD access passages, even given the time he's wasted backtracking when they got too small for him to fit through, has allowed him to stay perfectly hidden while he works his way towards the cargo hold, the transport pods, and freedom. He figures he has several arns at least before the Peacekeepers can pin down his position.

When he sees the back of Rygel, the Hynerian from six cells down, hovering in apparent indecision at a hole in the duct, he figures he has enough time to find out exactly what the little yotz is doing here. He's about to ask when the Hynerian turns to face him, and for just a momen D'Argo wonders why his jaw drops, his earbrows stand nearly vertical and his eyes widen grotesquely.

As Rygel starts to babble, D'Argo reaches out, grabs the Hynerian by one arm and without apparent effort dangles him above the drop. Gruffly but calmly, he asks, "What are you doing here?"

There's a strange squeaking sound, and when Rygel speaks, his voice is significantly higher than D'Argo remembers. "Unhand me! I don't know what you think you're doing, but this is spoiling our plan!"

"Hmm." Growls D'Argo, who's thinking now that it should have been fairly obvious to him that someone was setting him up as a diversion. Given what he knows of Hynerians in general, and this one in particular, he feels pretty damn stupid for not figuring it out earlier. He figures he was just supposed to set off the alarm and die, so he says "You did not really want to include me in your plan, did you. Not after the first few microts."

This shocks Rygel even more, 'cause it means that either this Luxan figured out that he was going to sell them out, or Zhaan read his thoughts and told him. Either way, his best bet seems to be to assure the Luxan that actually, he's decided against that course of action since then. So he farts again and says "On the contrary! You've always been vital to the plan! It's just that by holding me here you're preventing me from doing my part!"

"And your part is...?"

"I have to get Pilot to open the doors!"

D'Argo looks past Rygel's struggling form and sees the pools surrounding Pilot's control panel. Aaah. Now it's all come clear to him. Yes, he was a diversion, but Rygel was going to let everyone out anyway. Much as he despises the little yotz's timidity under interrogation, he's more than slightly amazed at how generous the Hynerian could be. He never suspected as much.

And he had to jump into the pool to get to Pilot quickly.


D'Argo looks at Rygel with something approaching admiration, or at least respectful tolerance, in his eyes, and smiling, gives him a traditional warrior's benediction. "May your ghost feed upon the souls of our enemies."

And Rygel finds himself without any decisions to make at all.

It's difficult to confuse a Pilot. Their six-segmented brains can tackle most situations without any trouble, and given the extensive amount of sensory apparatus there is around Moya to let him know what's going on, Pilot really shouldn't be surprised at anything which happens on his ship. When the small figure plummets from one of the DRD access tunnels and falls noisily into the pool in front of him, though, Pilot is genuinely surprised and confused.

Undetected invasions of screaming airborne Hynerians are just not something he's used to.

So he devotes one segment of his brain to watching the Hynerian swim with surprising grace to the edge of the pool and clamber out. As it reaches the edge and stands spluttering, he wonders what it could possibly be here for, that it needed to make such a dramatic entrance. He decides that his best option is probably to talk to the thing, now that it's here. "Greetings" he says.

Rygel gasps a final heaving breath and, summoning what little dignity he feels he retains, turns toward Pilot. "Just what the frell is that stuff?"

Pilot is a little taken aback by the question, but answers anyway "It is a fluid secreted by Moya's specialised glands. It has many uses, but primarily it is used by the DRDs to clean the floors."

Rygel shudders, forgetting for the moment that he can't really afford to be disgusted just yet, but rallies. "Where are the Peacekeepers?"

Pilot, who knows that Rygel's an escaped prisoner by this stage, but has decided almost without thinking that he's probably not a threat, answers truthfully "They are split into search parties throughout Moya. They appear to be looking very carefully for you."

"They won't find me."

"How is it that you can be so sure?" asks Pilot, who really doesn't like working for the Peacekeepers, and is letting himself take far too long to alert the Captain that he's got one of his targets right here in front of him.

"Because you're going to make sure they don't. You're going to open every door on this ship and let all my colleagues out." Rygel has to force himself to look confident now, with the microts ticking steadily away.

"And why am I doing this?"

Rygel smiles at Pilot's question, and instead of answering, leaps bodily on to the control panel, yelling the code-words he bribed a maintenance tech to divulge so long ago, and stamps down hard on one of the buttons. Having received the signal, Moya hears parts of Pilot's brain still considering the idea of opening all the doors, and the great ship responds.

Throughout the ship there is a single subdued hiss.

As the doors swing open, Zhaan joins a charge of panicked prisoners. They've got different ideas, the lot of them. Some are after revenge, some are after escape, some just want to break something after long cycles of confinement.

The Peacekeepers stand in the way of all these goals.

They're armed and trained, but they're outnumbered ten to one at least and let's face it, they weren't exactly commando standard to begin with. And the prisoners, they just tear through Moya corridor by corridor, tier by tier, like a frelling supernova. Eight or nine cons go down for every Peacekeeper, but that's enough. And if the sirens were loud when they were looking for D'Argo, then they're cracking people's hearing organs now.

D'Argo pulls himself along the access passages until he finds another exit, and grinning hugely, he stalks towards where he thinks Command will be. 'Cause D'Argo, he's got himself a score to settle with the Captain of this dren-heap of a transport. He follows the passage he's in to a corner, where obviously some guards tried to make a heroic last stand. DRDs are polishing blood, and less readily identifiable bodily fluids, off the decks, and nudging mangled bodies into one of the ducts he just left. D'Argo doesn't know exactly what'll happen with them, but if Moya's partly biological, he supposes she must have to eat.

She will get a good meal today, he thinks. And he's about to leave when in front of him this tall blue figure just appears out of frelling nowhere, fixes him with this strange stare and says "You are a warrior, it seems."

And D'Argo is about to answer that it's none of her frelling business when she makes some sort of strange gesture, passing her hands, or whatever she calls those appendages, over her head and saying "I am Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan. I have need of a strong warrior. Come, we must find Rygel." And without waiting for an answer she grabs him by the hand and starts gently but firmly pulling him along. D'Argo would ordinarily try to protest, but in this case he doesn't think it'll have much effect.

Zhaan, she's got her own ideas regarding escape from Moya and the Peacekeepers.

Anarchy is alive and well in the cargo hold by the time the mismatched pair arrive. Soon-to-be-ex-cons are piling into transport pods as fast as they can be filled, disregarding anything they might know about safety standards. Others are breaking up bits of Peacekeeper equipment that had the misfortune to be lying around the vicinity. Another group is clustered around where a massive quadruped of a type D'Argo doesn't recognise. As he watches, it brings up a broken, bloody Sebacean form in what looks like the Captain's uniform and lets out a low scream before throwing the body to the deck with enough force that D'Argo and Zhaan can feel the impact through their feet.

Zhaan frowns, but D'Argo doesn't care. He's watching the other escapees pile into transport pods, and he's thinking that this is what he should be doing too. As if reading his thoughts, Zhaan turns to him and shakes her head, pointing instead to a small form floating on a hover-throne above the mob. D'Argo recognises the Hynerian he dropped into Pilot's chamber as Zhaan pulls him towards the hovering seat.

"Rygel!" she shouts over the mayhem in the background "We need to get to Command!"

"What?" Rygel returns. "Hezmana to that! You and I are leaving this ship forever! You can bring that thing," he gestures towards D'Argo "if you feel you have to." He begins to pilot his chair towards a waiting pod, shouting "Make way for your rightful Dominar!"

Zhaan, she must be really sick of this dren, 'cause she leaps up and grabs Rygel's throne. As she pulls him down to eye level, the first pod, stuffed to bursting point with desperate cons, launches.

"What are you doing you Delvian maniac?" Rygel yells desperately, feeling helium well up in him again. "Can't you see we're missing our best chance?" He turns to look despairingly at the first lucky yotzes as they make their bid for freedom.

He sees the pod explode into incandescent particles only momens after it leaves the cargo bay, and wonders why, right up until he sees the sleek, black form of a Peacekeeper prowler pull past the opening.

"I have a better idea," says Zhaan.

Were you watching Rygel's face? His expression's priceless.

Ensconced in the relative safety of Command, Zhaan and D'Argo watch the prowlers harry the stricken Leviathan mercilessly.

"Is there any way out?" asks D'Argo for the third time, hopelessness plainly evident in his voice.

"Not that I can see," Pilot answers in a patient tone, which belies the panic the rest of his segmented brain is feeling. "Certainly not with Moya's control collar on." To avoid distractions, Pilot switches off his holographic projection, making D'Argo growl in a self-pitying mix of rage and despair.

"When I next see Rygel, I will spare no effort to let him know just how displeased I am with his lack of planning."

Ever the calmer of angry tempers, Zhaan tries to soothe D'Argo. "He could not have known that the code he gave Pilot to open Moya's doors would also activate her control collar."

D'Argo isn't listening, though. He's staring at the viewscreen as the Peacekeeper vessels circle them, the prowlers pumping shot after shot into Moya's ailing hull. D'Argo doesn't really care who to blame, he's just wishing there was something he could do, if not to save his life, then at least to save his honour.

Suddenly Pilot's hologram chirps back into life. "I don't wish to unduly raise everyone's hopes, but a new vessel of unknown design has just appeared on Moya's sensors. It appears to have arrived by some means other than starburst, and it has already destroyed one of the prowlers."

D'Argo and Zhaan both look up at this. They look at Pilot's image, the look at each other.

"If we could drag this vessel aboard Moya..."

"It and its pilot could possibly help us escape..."

"It seems extremely risky though..."

As the prowlers continue their attack, something explodes in the distance, throwing both Zhaan and D'Argo off balance, and dimming the lights for a momen. They look at each other again. They look at Pilot.

"Do it."

The Beginning...