Author's Note: This story takes place after "Jeremiah Crichton" but before "Durka Returns"
John Crichton turned over in his bed, hoping that maybe...just maybe if he ignored whoever it was that was calling him, perhaps they'd go away. No such luck.
"What is it, Zhaan?" Crichton said as he swung his legs over the side of the bed.
"Ah. John. I'm very sorry to wake you, but Pilot and I are getting some very strange readings. Could you come up to command and assist us, please?"
"Sure thing, Zhaan." Crichton rubbed his eyes and temples and forced himself awake, vainly attempting to push the thoughts of a few more hours sleep from his mind. "Man, this is gonna be a long day."
The doors to his quarters hissed open and he stepped outside, barefoot. The metal floor panels felt warm on the soles of his feet, something one could only expect when walking around the inside of a living spaceship.
Crichton stopped suddenly, feeling a slight shimmer against his toes, like a mini-earthquake. Despite the fact that he had just woken up, he immediately felt very attentive and alert. He heard a faint groan-Moya, no doubt. The shake had obviously been a reaction to something, but what?
Walking around the corner, he came face to face with Aeryn, who nearly flattened him with her brisk pace. Crichton stumbled back against the corridor wall.
"Well, good morning to you too." John said.
"Going for a little morning workout, I see. Isn't it a bit early for that?"
Aeryn gave him a little grin. "Actually, I convinced D'Argo to show me some Luxan hand-to-hand fighting techniques. From what I've seen, they are quite similar to the style Sebaceans use. They shouldn't be terribly difficult to learn."
John winced visibly. "Yeah, well, just don't let him know that."
Aeryn's grin broke into a full-fledged smile. "I'll keep that in mind." She started walking off down the corridor, but stopped and half-turned around. "You're welcome to join us, later, if you want."
"Umm...I think I'll pass, thanks." John had absolutely no desire to go through the latter half of his day tending to bruises. Being thrown to the floor repeatedly wasn't exactly his idea of fun. Although, maybe it would be a good idea. Maybe he might be able to get to know and better understand D'Argo and Aeryn more...and maybe they'd be more willing to trust him if he showed he was capable of guarding their backs a little more effectively.
"Suit yourself, then."
"Actually, wait. Maybe I will. Be down. A little later. I need to help Zhaan with something first, okay?"
"Okay. Good. I'll let D'Argo know we can expect you...a little later."
John continued up to command, actually hoping that whatever Zhaan needed wasn't too terribly serious. D'Argo had been acting particularly withdrawn lately. Sometimes he couldn't tell if that was normal for all Luxans or if it was just this one in particular. All he knew is that D'Argo had been spending an awful lot of time roaming around the lower decks lately...by himself. And he seemed to be tired an awful lot. It's a wonder he would have the drive to do anything that even resembled an Aeryn Sun workout.
Crichton smiled as realization hit. Aeryn...the little minx. Obviously, she'd noticed D'Argo's behavior too, and decided to do something about it. She'd 'convinced' him to show her some Luxan hand-to-hand battle techniques, eh? He made a mental note to ask her later just what exactly it took to 'convince' the hard-headed Luxan of anything.
"Ah, John. Thanks for coming up here so early."
"What seems to be the....trouble....? Now that's trouble." John took one look at the viewscreen and his jaw dropped. A huge, swirling cloud of dust occupied the center portion of it. "What is that?"
Pilot's image buzzed to life within the communications array. "It is a class 10 gaseous nebula. I am picking up intense gravitational eddies all throughout this area of space. They seem to be originating from inside the nebula."
"Pilot, a few minutes ago, I felt Moya shaking...was that caused by one of these gravitational eddies?"
"Unknown, but highly probable. At this distance, the eddies are merely a nuisance to navigation. If we were to move any closer, we would be putting Moya and her baby at risk."
"I doubt," Zhaan interjected, "that that is something Moya would be willing to do. Pilot, how long to travel around it?"
"On our present course....nearly 39 solar days."
"39 days?" John blurted. "That's a long time considering we don't even know we're headed in the right direction."
"I agree, John. Perhaps it is time for a slight course change. However, I believe we should confer with Rygel, Aeryn and D'Argo before making this decision. Pilot, the system we are currently passing through...are there any inhabited planets?"
"One moment, please, Zhaan."
John turned to Zhaan. "I don't suppose there's any way we could just starburst around it?"
Zhaan smiled softly and shook her head. "I doubt it. Normally one starbursts as far from intense gravitational sources as possible, not right in the middle of them."
"Yeah, right.....Zhaan....have you noticed anything wrong with D'Argo lately?"
Zhaan took a deep breath and walked slowly over to John as he stood in front of the viewscreen. "I was hoping that it was just my imagination, but obviously you have seen it too."
"And Aeryn. She 'convinced' D'Argo to join her in her morning exercise routine."
Zhaan smiled at that. "He has lost his drive, his purpose, I think, and he has nothing to fall back on. I was once where he is now. But I had my faith, my spirituality, to guide me through the hardships. He has lost so much. The more time that passes, the dimmer his hopes become for ever being able to return home."
"I never really did apologize to him for accusing him of abandoning me, before. Perhaps I should..."
Zhaan held up her hand, cutting him off. "No, John, you misunderstand me. During that quarter of a cycle that we were looking for you, I have never seen any man...any person, for that matter...so dedicated or so resolved to a single task. He never gave up hope even when the rest of....even long after I had given up hope of finding you again."
Crichton smiled, though part of him felt stunned.
"But now that drive, that purpose is gone. Now that you are back on Moya, the danger has passed." She moved over, placing a hand on John's shoulder. "He has lost much and he has sacrificed much." Zhaan continued, her eyes half-lidded. "And now, I think, he is wondering if it was worth the cost."
Pilot's image crackled to life once again. "Zhaan, my scans indicate there is a large moon orbiting the gas giant in this system. There are indications of an advanced civilization present, although I am detecting no space-faring vehicles."
Crichton turned away from the viewscreen. "Well, regardless of whether or not we go around this big space cloud, we're going to need supplies soon, Zhaan."
"Agreed. Besides, it will give us time to decide whether or not we want to make that journey or choose an alternate course."
"Yeah, time is something we've got plenty of." Crichton turned to head back toward the cargo bay where Aeryn and D'Argo were waiting for him. "Although, there's no time like the present to clear the air."
"What kind of a block was that? You need to hold your arm up higher." Aeryn said.
"This is foolish." D'Argo snorted. "I don't know what I was thinking when I thought this would be beneficial. How are you going to learn anything if I have to restrain myself from hurting you?"
Aeryn feigned a hurt look. "Oh, is that all you're worried about?"
"Peacekeeper, I could throw you across this cargo bay."
D'Argo and Aeryn circled around each other, each looking for an opening in the others' defense.
"Of that, Luxan, I have no doubt. But you'll have to catch me first."
Aeryn was the first to spot an opening. The Luxan's size gave him a distinct advantage in the strength department, but it also was a weakness defensively, being that he had more to defend. Luxans must have very strict rules when fighting each other hand-to-hand. An unscrupulous opponent could easily make do with a handful of the Luxan's hair or fleshy tendrils and do a considerable amount of damage.
Aeryn threw her fist forward, attempting to connect squarely with the Luxan's unguarded sternum. She hoped the strike would at the very least teach him to not underestimate her. It didn't exactly work out that way.
The thrust hit him squarely in the chest, but seemed to have no effect on him, aside from alerting him to the fact that there was a hole in his defense. His right hand grasped around the Peacekeeper's wrist in a lock she knew immediately she wouldn't be able to break.
"What now, Peacekeeper? Your speed and agility have come down to naught. I could snap your wrist like a twig, if I wanted to."
Aeryn just looked up into his cold, blue eyes. "Really?" She moved forward and down, pulling him off balance, and at the same time, guiding him to the floor and using his own weight and strength against him. The muscles in Aeryn's arm twisted and seared though, as the Luxan refused to give up his hold on her.
"Not bad, Peacekeeper. But now you've left yourself open to attack." Stunned for a moment, Aeryn realized he was right. Her maneuver had not only left her without her dominant hand, but her arm was now twisted across her body, making it impossible to attack, to defend, or even move. He could easily have broken her arm on the way down, but had chosen not to. Instead, with one leg he kicked out and swept her feet out from under her, at the same time releasing her wrist so as not to break it. She fell in a heap beside him.
D'Argo got up and dusted himself off. He offered his arm to Aeryn and pulled her up from the floor.
"You know, D'Argo, strength and stamina aren't a guarantee for success." Aeryn watched D'Argo as he moved over to pick up his Qualta Blade which he had propped against the wall. Who was she kidding? The Luxan was stronger and sturdier than even the most endowed Sebacean. Luxans could also move quite quickly when they wanted to, but it was apparently easier for them to swing their mighty swords around and act like brutes.
"What now? A sword lesson?" she said mockingly, but when D'Argo turned around, Aeryn saw something she'd never expected to see in the warrior's eyes. She'd seen it before in the eyes of some of her own comrades, although it was usually the weak, the old, or the injured. It was the haggard, weary expression of a person worn down by life and living. The signs weren't as pronounced as they would have been in someone, say, twice D'Argo's age, but they were there nonetheless. The Luxan's eyes seemed less sharp than normal, his gait a little less militaristic, his shoulders not quite as erect.
D'Argo looked down at the blade and took a deep breath.
"D'Argo, is something wrong? You've been..."
"No, nothing is wrong. I'm just..." A smile peeked out from beneath his moustache...a very forced smile, Aeryn noted. "Nothing that I can't handle. Here."
D'Argo palmed the blade and offered Aeryn the hilt of the weapon. "Show me how you would use this."
Aeryn looked at D'Argo skeptically, but reached out and took the sword. "Well, to be honest....unless you want me to shoot you with it, I probably wouldn't use it. At least not the way you're thinking. It's far too bulky and cumbersome for a person my size to use."
Aeryn would also have included that the weapon was too heavy, but it was surprisingly light considering its size and durability. However, unwieldy it was most unequivocally. The Luxan's strength and size could allow him to swing the blade easily with one or two hands, if need be. Aeryn would be lucky to be able to get it over her head using two hands and all her strength.
"D'Argo, I don't think...."
D'Argo walked over to the wall and picked up a short metal pipe. "Nonsense. You just said yourself that strength and stamina by themselves aren't the means to success. Maybe you should try something else. Like speed and agility....although, I hear they're vastly overrated."
D'Argo raised the pipe over his head and brought it down toward Aeryn. Without even thinking, Aeryn raised the sword and used it as a shield, easily deflecting the blow. The strike obviously didn't have the Luxan's full strength behind it, Aeryn thought, because if it did, she'd probably be on the floor with a large bruise where her head used to be.
"That's good, Peacekeeper. Most people's instinctual reaction is to try to use it like a club." He reigned a few more wide blows in her direction and watched her slowly getting the feel for the blade, heavy as it was in her hands.
"Be careful, Luxan. I just might surprise you." With that, she lunged forward, much as she had with her punch earlier. This time, though, she wasn't aiming for a vital part of the Luxan's anatomy. Instead, she was focused on D'Argo's own makeshift sword. After all, there was no point in staying on the defensive the entire time.
D'Argo snorted. "So, you do like to 'play', eh?"
They continued their dance in earnest. Aeryn quickly became aware of just how much she was sweating, whereas the Luxan looked entirely too comfortable. He was right. She was never going to outlast him, so she'd better find another way to even the odds. The Luxan liked to make extremely broad, powerful arcs when bearing the weapon down on her. That left him open for attack.
She deflected another blow, this one a side shot that could easily have dislocated a shoulder if she'd let it. She brought the sword around quickly, using all her strength and speed, to get it into an attack position. The Luxan was winding up for another similar shot, but instead of deflecting it with her sword again, she dropped to one knee, allowing the swing to pass harmlessly overhead. She raised the sword up, aiming it at the Luxan's chest.
"Now what, Luxan? I've got your hearts in my line of sight. Do you yield?"
Crichton hadn't gotten more than a few steps out of command when he felt Moya's shimmering through his bare feet again. But something felt different this time. Something awful was about to happen, he could feel it.
"Zhaan?" He yelled, coming back down the corridor.
"I feel it too, John. Pilot, what's happening?"
But there was no time for Pilot to respond. Suddenly, it felt as though Moya had just....stopped. Crichton fell face first and skidded nearly halfway across the command deck. Zhaan managed to catch herself on the central command console, but it took all of her strength not to tumble forward and over it. The wrenching of bulkheads was only slightly drowned by the sound of Moya crying out in pain.
After he was sure the floor would no longer move under him, John picked himself up and looked over to Zhaan, amazed that she was still on her feet. "You okay?"
"Yes," her hands danced across the control panel. "But I'm getting odd readings from most of Moya's systems."
"Damn. Well, I'm sure by the time we get everything picked up off the floor, Moya will be back to her old self. Pilot?"
There was no answer.
"Great. Our majordomo is missing in action. We must have hit one of those gravitation eddies Pilot was talking about. Wait a minute, did you hear something?"
A small crackle sounded from Crichton's communicator.
"Aeryn? D'Argo? Is someone there?"
There was no sound for a long, terrible moment, then static, and nothing again. Crichton looked at Zhaan. "That can't be good."
Suddenly, the communicator burst to life, although it continued to fade in and out.
"....please, Crichton, Zhaan... somebody. I'm... transport bay... D'Argo... medical...." There was no mistaking the desperate terror in her voice.
John's jaw dropped. "Man, that can't be good."
Zhaan was already in motion. "John, go to the transport bay. I will stop by the infirmary and meet you there shortly. Go."
John moved. He didn't remember leaving the command deck or twisting his way through Moya's labyrinthine innards. Before he knew it, he was standing at the doors to the transport bay. There was no time for hesitation. Aeryn's or D'Argo's life could be hanging in the balance.
John swiped his hand across the control for the door, and it hissed open loudly. He stumbled into the room where he expected to find D'Argo and Aeryn, praying to God for the best but expecting the worst.
But nothing could prepare him for what he saw.
D'Argo opened his eyes. His blurred vision gave him no indication of what was going on, aside from a hazy figure or two that seemed to be hovering over him. The taste of blood was in his mouth and deep in his throat. The smell of blood was heavy in the air, overpowering the other scents around him.
"Zhaan?" The word burned across his chest, but the heat trickled away until he was left only with pain and coldness.
"I am here, D'Argo." Zhaan replied in her usual, even manner. "Lie still, you're very badly wounded."
"John and Aeryn are right here."
"Aeryn...don't...." He wanted to continue but he couldn't. He wasn't sure if it was that he didn't have the words or just wasn't physically capable of speech, but all that came forth was a long, rattling breath. He could still hear the voices, but they were all but imperceptible from each other.
"He's going into primary cardiac arrest."
"I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do."
D'Argo felt his body lighten, his vision clearing. So this is it, he thought. No time for last farewells. No time for regrets. Just the encroaching darkness.
But, oddly enough, it wasn't darkness that was encroaching. It actually seemed to be getting lighter. He saw one of the shadowy figures that had been moving around him was now above him, looking down on him. It seemed to slowly be coming into focus. The overpowering smell of blood was gone...and so were the odors of his companions. The air suddenly turned sweet...like Koktalla blossoms after the rainy season.
"Who is it? Who's there? Aeryn?"
Perhaps he wasn't dying...or maybe it was too late...he was already dead. In any event, he had found his own voice again. There was no pain in his chest at the words, no slow fading into coldness.
D'Argo stopped. The voice didn't seem to come from any one particular direction...it seemed to almost be coming from within him...from inside his own head. It was familiar...and the sweet aromatic scent drove the memory home.
His newfound voice wavered even as the figure above him came into focus. But he didn't need to see to know that it wasn't Zhaan or Crichton or even Aeryn.
"Yes, my love. I've been waiting for you."
D'Argo struggled to get to his feet, pushing the woman next to him out to arm's length, refusing her assistance. He turned and faced her, taking a step back.
"Who are you? What do you want from me?"
"Ka, it's me, Lo'Laan? Don't you recognize me?"
"You're not Lo'Laan. What is this? Another hallucination? Or some kind of sick practical joke? Crichton? This isn't funny."
"Ka, come and sit down beside me." Lo'Laan moved over and sat down on a bench that seemed to have materialized in the middle of Moya's transport bay.
D'Argo looked her over carefully. She certainly looked like his long lost wife. Her long, sable hair was tied up in a knot above her head, and yet had the length to cascade down to around her shoulders. A large Koktalla blossom was just above her left temple. He noted grimly the simple yet elegant house clothes that fit around her athletic frame. They were the last clothes he had seen his wife wear before she was murdered.
When he did not come to her, she rose up again and came forward to grasp his hand. He nearly tripped trying to backpedal away from her.
"You're not Lo'Laan." He repeated, as if by saying it enough times he could convince himself that it were true. "You're a hallucination, a dream. You can't be...you're...."
D'Argo took another step back, his eyes wide. "And if you're dead, then that means...."
"That you must be dead too?" Lo'Laan smiled. "Not exactly." When she saw the confounded expression on D'Argo's face, however, the smile vanished. "My dearest, do you remember the day we first met? The day you came to visit my father? The day you, I, he and Macton all dined in my father's grotto and you told us of how you had survived the last battle of your second campaign? Do you remember, Ka?"
"I remember." His expression had softened slightly, though at Macton's name the muscles in his neck clenched.
"Or how about the time you sent me a dozen Koktalla blossoms, and I loved them so much that I tried to make you tea from the leaves?"
"I remember the tea was horrible and you were sick for days afterward."
She took a step toward him and this time he did not retreat in turn. He didn't even flinch when she raised her hand up to his cheek.
"Lo'Laan...." He said, placing his own hand atop hers.
"Do you remember the melodies you played for me? I've missed them, Ka. I've missed them so much." She looked up to him and stared into his eyes. "Hallucinations don't speak of love in hushed tones and whispers. Dreams don't have soft skin that longs to be caressed."
There was a long pause. D'Argo attempted to form sounds several times, but the words simply would not come out. "I don't know what to say," he finally stammered.
Lo'Lann slipped her arm into D'Argo's and they walked. "Well, they say that the beginning is the best place to start, but in this case, I think I disagree. Why don't we start with the ending?"
"The ending of what? My life?"
"No, beloved. More of the end of here, this place, actually. I told you before, you're not dead. But, I think it would be safe to say that you're not really alive right now, either."
"I'm sorry, Ka. Time really hasn't much meaning in this place. I don't know from where you've just come or to where you are about to go. I've been here for as long as I can remember, and it seems like an eternity."
"Lo'Laan, why are you here? What is this place?"
"Look around, husband. What do you see?"
D'Argo looked around. At first glance, nothing on Moya appeared to be out of the ordinary. But then he realized that there was no sound. There was no echo of their footsteps as they walked along the deckplates. None of the normal sounds that Moya normally made played throughout the corridors. The only sound was the sound of his own breathing and the slow rhythm of his pulse in his head.
"Nothing. There's nothing here."
"Yes. Cold and barren. And over here?"
D'Argo spun around and realized they were suddenly in command, despite the many tiers between it and the cargo bay. On the projection table was a glowing sphere of light.
"What is it?"
Lo'Laan reached over and stroked the reddish sphere. It flared out in bright oranges and reds, the flames licking along her arms. "This is the fire that is within you, Ka D'Argo. It is your life energy. It breathes life into your mortal body. Once it is extinguished, it cannot be rekindled." She looked up into his clear, cold eyes. "And it is dying, and there is nothing that I can do to stop it."
"What happens once it is extinguished?"
All expression on Lo'Laan's face vanished. "Then you will die, I suppose, for real. I really don't know, for certain, my love. You will go to where we all go, when we die."
"But you live on here."
She walked over close and put her arms around him. "But this isn't living, my love. I don't know what it is, but it isn't that, and I don't know that it will even exist once the light is extinguished. All I know is that we will be together." She lay her head against his chest. "I love you. I'd trust you with my very soul."
D'Argo pulled away. "How can you say that?" He turned, unable to look her in the eye. "How can you say that you trust me, after everything I cost you? You lost everything because of me...your family, your friends, your home...your son...your life. How can you stand to even look at me?"
He stood with his back to her for several long moments. Finally, he garnered the courage to turn around and face her.
"Nice speech, D'Argo. I take it was meant for someone else?"
"Crichton! What the Hezmona are you doing here? Where is Lo'Laan? What have you done with my wife?"
John Crichton jumped off of the projection table as D'Argo took several large strides toward him.
"Well, at least you don't have your Qualta Blade, so I suppose you'll have to catch me if you want to do any real harm."
"Calm down, big guy, calm down. Give me a chance to answer your questions."
D'Argo took another step and snarled at the human.
"Okay...in the order they were asked....One. I don't know what the Hezmona I'm doing here. Two, last I heard, your wife was dead. And three, I haven't done anything with her."
"Crichton, stop toying with me. This game has gone on long enough."
"Game?" Crichton strolled over to D'Argo. "You think this is some kind of game? Catch a clue, pal. You're dead."
"No I'm not."
"No? Well you looked like you were heading in that direction awful fast, you all spread out on the transport bay floor. Blood fanning out all over Moya's shiny deck plates."
"Crichton, must you always be so incessantly....annoying?"
"Only to you, big guy. Only to you."
D'Argo let out a deep breath through his teeth.
Crichton's smirk faded slightly. "Come on, big guy. If you can't laugh at yourself now that you're dead, when can you? Besides, when else am I going to get the chance of poking a little fun at you without having to worry about you ripping my head off?"
D'Argo snorted and forced a smile. "You make a good point." One of his browridges perked up. "Wait a minute. You're not dead."
John raised an arm in salute. "As our good friend Rygel would say, Hail Prince of the Obvious."
"Crichton. How did you get here?"
"Hmmm," Crichton responded casually. "I suppose that depends on where exactly 'here' is." Crichton looked around the room. "Hmmm. Looks like Moya." John moved over and banged his hand against a bulkhead. "Sounds like Moya too. And yet, it seems oddly cold and empty. Sort of like you, D'Argo."
Another Luxan scowl was the response. "I seriously doubt that you were sent here merely to insult and annoy me, Crichton."
Crichton took another few steps toward the towering Luxan, his expression more somber. "I'm sorry, D'Argo. Really. But I don't think I was sent here by anyone. I'm here, I think, because some part of you called me here."
"Why would I want to bring you here, human?"
"Beats me, but here I am. Tell me, D'Argo, what's the last thing that you remember on board Moya?"
"Aeryn and I were sparring in the cargo bay...I was showing her...." His voice trailed off for a moment. "Actually, she was showing me some things about speed and agility and the use of my Qualta Blade. She'd managed to get through my defenses and..." His gaze met Crichton's evenly. "And I don't remember. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor in the transport bay and you were all looking down at me, I think. I couldn't move or speak. My vision clouded over...I thought I was looking at Aeryn, but it was actually my wife. What happened to me?"
"I'm not exactly sure, D'Argo, but Moya hit some kind of gravitational wave just at the wrong moment, and I think you fell on the blade Aeryn was holding. I'm not sure how bad it was, but like I said, there was a lot of blood. Yech. I think I'm going to make myself sick."
D'Argo didn't respond.
"I wish I could tell you more, D'Argo. About what happened. About what's happening right now, but I just don't have the answers. I wish I knew more about Luxan mysticism. Hell, sometimes I wish I knew more about Luxan everything."
"And why would you be interested in anything Luxan?
"Why? D'Argo..." Crichton put his hands into the air, thinking. "I don't think I can explain this, but I'll try. Your people are warriors, right? For whatever reason, they have this natural drive to fight. Well, my people...they have this natural drive to expand...move outward...to increase their own knowledge and sphere of influence. To look into the unknown."
"Not all of my people can be warriors John...we have farmers and politicians just like everyone else."
"No, but your....battle lust is what sets you apart from other species."
"And you...your species is some kind of 'explorer' species?"
"Kind of, yeah...I guess you could call us that. Although, we've got our farmers and politicians and fighters, too. Me, I'm a scientist...'pushing forward the frontiers of human knowledge'." He said, in a self-mocking tone. "Sometimes I wish I was more than that though, especially what with that bastard Crais hot on our tails. Sometimes I wish I was more like...well, like you, actually."
D'Argo snorted. "Like me? You?"
"Yeah. You know. Strong. Fearless. The kind of person who'd risk their life guarding your back." Crichton looked up at D'Argo. "I know we'll never be the best of friends, D'Argo. I know for that you'd need somebody you knew was capable of watching your back. I wish I could do that, but I think we both know I'd be hacked to ribbons in a real fight."
"I suppose it is true, but that doesn't mean that you're without...." He struggled desperately to find the right word. "...worth. You've saved all of us on board Moya more times than I can count."
Crichton smiled. "Just trying to be part of the team. You know, I could point out more than a few times when you came through for us too....like the Sheyangs....ring a bell? How about when Aeryn and I were stuck in the Flax? Sometimes I wonder what we'd do without you, D'Argo."
D'Argo suddenly hunched over, a sharp pain piercing his chest that failed to cease.
D'Argo stumbled, but held out his hand in protest. "No, it's alright, John." He looked over at the spinning orb that measured the remains of his life energy. He noticed it had shrunken significantly in unison with the pain now emanating from deep within his body.
"D'Argo, maybe you should lie down?"
"Maybe that's a good idea." D'Argo laughed to himself, though. What good could lying down possibly do at this point? The room seemed to shift suddenly again and he was in his quarters, or perhaps he just didn't remember walking here. He had one arm around Crichton for support, the other hanging loosely at his side.
"Shut up, D'Argo, and just lie down." D'Argo half fell into his bed. It seemed as if it took all of his energy to swing his booted feet up and over the side.
"About what you said earlier, John."
"You were wrong. What you said about who I choose for friends."
Crichton looked quizzically at the warrior.
"My friends aren't the people who are capable of guarding my back in a fight. They're the people who would choose to try."
Crichton smiled. "See ya, D'Argo."
And D'Argo closed his eyes.
When D'Argo opened his eyes again, he was still in his room. The pain in his chest had subsided to a dull ache, but was still present nonetheless. For a very brief second he thought everything might have been a dream...until he saw the small, glowing orb of light hanging above one of the tables in his room. Its fiery reds and oranges were paler, more muted.
"It shouldn't be long now," he said, lying back in bed. Then, an interesting thought came to him. What if this was all that there was. Was this Hezmona, for real? Was this some kind of merciless existence that would continue on without end? Perhaps Lo'Laan had lied.
Immediately he pushed that thought out of his head, repulsed at himself. It had been Lo'Laan. It had. His body shook, tendrils of pain shooting through his body. He took a deep breath, trying to banish them forever.
He felt a pair of hands on his chest. They pressed into him, and he could feel the heat on his exposed flesh. One hand moved downward, across his stomach. There was nothing sexual about the touch. It reminded him more of the touch used by a field medic examining a patient for internal wounds. He didn't need to open his eyes to know that the figure sitting next to him on the bed would be azure-tinted.
D'Argo opened his eyes, but was dismayed by what he saw. Zhaan's normally bright eyes seemed clouded. Her posture...slumped. If the Luxan hadn't known her better, he'd have said she looked almost nervous...something that he had rarely seen in her during the past cycle they had known each other. She had always seemed so calm and collected...very admirable traits in even a non-warrior.
"What's the matter?"
Zhaan pulled her hands away from him and turned from his gaze. "I'm sorry, D'Argo. I could do nothing to save you."
"My wounds were too severe?"
Zhaan got up from the bed and moved over to the dimly glowing orb above D'Argo's nightstand. "No, D'Argo. The body can always be repaired. Right now, on Moya, you still live, albeit in a deep coma. I can keep your body alive indefinitely until we find someone or something that can deal with your physical wounds."
"You are keeping me alive?"
"Yes. But I see now that perhaps you would prefer it if I were to stop. You told me that your hearts were very private places. They are very private places, indeed. You've shut yourself off completely."
D'Argo swung his feet over the side of the bed despite the pain in his body. "Zhaan, it's just that..."
"What? What is it D'Argo? Please, talk to me. I want to help you."
D'Argo looked into her clear eyes. "I....cannot take the risk."
"The risk of loving someone? Are you afraid you will get hurt?"
D'Argo got up from his bed. "No.....I..."
He turned on her. "Everything I have ever loved I've lost or had taken from me. Don't you see? I can't take that risk again. Too many people have paid the price for loving me...for wanting to be with me...for looking up to me. It is better that I don't allow that to happen again."
"So instead you close your heart to the universe. How very honorable of you. Pardon my thinking so, Ka D'Argo, but that's a rather selfish thing to do. Don't you see? It's not just your body that is dying. It is your spirit that is dying, too."
"And what would you know of the Luxan spirit?"
Zhaan breathed deeply. "I know enough. I know that it is not much different than the Delvian, or Sebacean or even Human spirit. Look around you, D'Argo. This is you. This is what you have become. Cold. Empty. For nearly a cycle I've watched you, thinking that your behavior was just an act...a fašade. A desperate attempt for someone who has been treated poorly by life to cope with the loss and hurt they were feeling inside. But you're not 'coping' with anything. You've allowed your own hate and loneliness to consume you."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't I? D'Argo, look at me." When he didn't turn to face her, she walked over into his line of vision. "D'Argo! Don't you see? You're being given a choice. The choice between life and death. Or is it that you've already made the choice? Is death so preferable to living?"
When D'Argo replied, it was almost a yell. "Choice? What choice? I've been given no choice, here. I didn't choose this." He gestured with his hand at his surroundings. "This isn't living. Frell this. I'm still not even sure if any of this is even real."
"It is real, D'Argo. Is a thought...a dream, any less real simply because we cannot touch it? How about love, D'Argo. I've seen you with your wife and son. I know that love was once in your heart."
D'Argo closed his eyes, refusing to look at her.
"Then how about hate, D'Argo? Is hate real? You've spent the last eight cycles getting on to very good terms with it. You've let your hate for what Macton did to you and your family control you. Would you let it destroy you, too?"
"It's too late."
"No, it's not too late, D'Argo, but you have to want it."
Zhaan walked back over to the dimly glowing orb. "Life isn't easy, D'Argo. You, of all people know that better than anyone. But sometimes you have to fight for it. It isn't easy. It will kick you in the head and it will kick you in the heart, but you can't let it defeat you."
"How then? How do I get out of this place? Assuming I do want to live, how do I get back to my life?"
Zhaan smiled for the first time. "You never left it, D'Argo. This is you. This is your life. Right now it is cold, and barren and you are alone, and it is real. I am here with you now...as others have been and others will be. We are...all of us...inside you, a part of you. We are...reflections of you, our spirits bouncing off yours like the light in a looking glass. You only see what you want to see. The hurt, the blame, the pain. Only occasionally do you see what you truly need to see."
D'Argo's mouth opened, but no words came out.
"You'll understand, D'Argo, in time. To live, you must reach for the fire in your own heart. It is not too late."
Zhaan placed both of her hands on opposite side of the dimly glowing orb that was D'Argo's heart. Her eyes rolled back into her head and her eyes darkened to their sapphire limit.
D'Argo took a step toward her, reaching out with his hand. "Zhaan, wait," he said, but he was cut down in mid-sentence.
Streaks of blue-white light cascaded from Zhaan's fingertips, striking the glowing orb in an electrical frenzy. D'Argo howled, his chest searing, and collapsed to the floor. He felt like he was burning...like his chest was about to erupt in flame and there was nothing he could do to stop it. And yet, at the same time, the pain felt good, almost invigorating.
But the pain was also intense. His eyes fluttered and his fingers tingled as if from electric shock. He could feel himself passing out.
The room had become bright until he could no longer see. He couldn't be sure how long he lay there on the floor, blind. It could have been two arns and it could have been two cycles, for all he knew. His vision did finally return, though and he could see that the dimly glowing orb was once again bright. Even from several units away, he could feel the warmth which Zhaan had restored to it.
But Zhaan, like Crichton and Lo'Laan before her, was gone. Crichton had said that he had called them there, but no amount of thinking or praying made any of them suddenly appear before him. For days he wandered the corridors of Moya, thinking, watching, trying to understand what Zhaan had told him. The burning orb floated behind him wherever he went as if it were watching him, waiting for him to do something. He noticed that like before, the orb continued to shrink and diminish its warmth and light. Zhaan had bought him more time...but more time for what? To make a decision that should not have taken a real warrior even a moment's thought?
D'Argo found himself in the transport bay, staring at the large Peacekeeper symbol laid out in the center of the room. There was a dark stain of blood in the center that he had not noticed before. He considered himself fortunate that it did not take a genius to figure out where it had come from.
Squatting, he traced the pattern of blood with his finger. Perhaps death was preferable. He would be reunited with his wife, who still loved him, despite all the hardship he had brought her. They would be together, but would that necessarily bring him the happiness that he had lost in life? If he died, who would look after his son? How would he ever know that his son was safe? And Macton...would he ever be punished for what he had done?
D'Argo growled in disgust.
D'Argo had felt the presence behind him and was not surprised as he had by the others' appearances. After having both Crichton and Zhaan show up, he figured it was only a matter of time before the rest of his shipmates made an appearance.
He stood up from examining the floor and turned around. "Hello, Aeryn." Her posture and face were expressionless...as if she were awaiting a regimental inspection. In her hands she carried his Qualta Blade.
"Are you ready?"
D'Argo sighed heavily at the question, not wanting to answer. He was tired of this game. One way or another, he just wanted it to be over.
"I see. So you're still not ready to face the truth."
"The truth? What truth? The truth that I'm responsible for the death of my wife? That in loving her, I not only destroyed her life, but perhaps that of my son, as well? That is what happened. That is, as you say, the 'truth'."
"No, D'Argo, that's not what I'm talking about." Aeryn walked over and squatted down near the blood stained floor, much as D'Argo had just moments before. She placed his Qualta Blade on the floor gently before straightening her stance. "D'Argo, do you believe in honor?"
"What do you mean?"
"It depends. Honor means different things to different people. To a Peacekeeper, honor is doing your duty with precision and dedication. To carry out orders without question. To subvert your own needs for the cause of the greater good. To never shy away from your responsibilities."
D'Argo looked at her questioningly. "And you want to know the Luxan definition of honor?"
Aeryn smirked. "No, not really. It's just that from my perspective as a Peacekeeper, you, D'Argo, are one of the most honorable men I have ever known."
D'Argo's eyes widened. "What do you want from me, Aeryn? What do you expect me to do?"
"I don't want anything from you, D'Argo, except your forgiveness."
"Well, for accidentally skewering you, for one thing. I should never have asked you to spar with me. I thought it would give you the opportunity to take your mind off what was troubling you."
"It did. You don't need to apologize."
"As for what I expect from you.... I want you to live up to your own ideals and sense of honor, and to live up to expectations. Not my expectations. Not Crichton's, or Zhaan's, or even Rygel's. I want you to live up to your own expectations. I want you to be able to live up to your own expectations. You may not realize it, but we all want to see you succeed, D'Argo. We all want to get to meet your son and the man he's become. And we all want to see the man you'll become when that day finally arrives. The man you'll become again. "
D'Argo just looked at her, stunned.
Aeryn began backing up slowly toward the hangar doors. "You see, you don't realize it yet, D'Argo, but we need you. All of us on Moya. We need your strength and your courage. We need your sense of honor to help guide us on this journey."
D'Argo turned and looked at his sword, its metallic edge contrasting sharply with the darkly stained deckplates beneath.
"Aeryn, I don't know if I can...."
But it was too late...she was gone.
D'Argo slouched, turning back to face his loneliness and the empty room once more. Only this time, it wasn't empty. There, in the center of the room, holding the Qualta Blade that Aeryn had left on the floor... was himself.
"What's the matter, Ka D'Argo? Haven't you liked what you've been seeing?"
"Give that to me," D'Argo said, pointing at his blade. "It doesn't belong to you."
"Really." The doppelganger looked down at the blade in his hands. "Seems to me that it belongs as much to me as it does to you. Besides, you don't need it. I mean, what use has it been to you?"
D'Argo growled and took a step forward even as his simulacrum took a step back.
"I mean...it didn't help you save your wife from being murdered. It didn't help you save your son from the Peacekeepers."
"Or else what? You're all talk, D'Argo, and you haven't the courage or the experience to back it up."
D'Argo looked away from his counterpart for a moment, spying exactly what he needed. He walked over to the wall where the short metal pipe he'd used in his sparring match with Aeryn still lay, certain that it hadn't been there moments before. He brandished it in his hands, flexing his muscles.
The simulacrum feigned fear at D'Argo's approach "Oh my. What are you going to do with that, D'Argo?"
"I'm going to beat the dren out of you until you go away and leave me alone."
The reflection drew up his blade in a ready stance. "What makes you think you can defeat me with such a clumsy weapon? You couldn't even keep Aeryn from plunging your own Qualta Blade into your chest. You practically let her kill you. You're a coward, D'Argo."
"We'll see who the coward is." With that, D'Argo lunged forward in a high arc, bringing the pipe down right toward his opponent's shoulder. But his adversary merely raised his sword and blocked the blow.
"You're going to have to do better than that, D'Argo, if you're going to kill me."
"Fine. Watch me." His left hand was still free, and so he stuck it out, palm open, right into his rival's face. There was no wind-up or time for contemplation and thus, no time for it to be avoided. It connected squarely with his opponent's head, just below the right eye. D'Argo watched the man's head snap back slightly and then he began to teeter, off balance, until he fell to the floor.
The simulacrum brought his own hand up to rub his face where D'Argo had smashed into it. "That was a good shot. Hmm. Does it feel a little warm in here to you?"
D'Argo could feel it... it was hotter in the room all of a sudden. He looked over at the glowing orb of light that danced just beyond his shoulder. It flared brighter than he had seen it since his arrival.
But his moment's distraction caught him unaware as his counterpart leaped up and ploughed into him, causing him to drop the metal pipe, pushing him back against the wall.
"You're so predictable." He drove a punch into D'Argo's gut, and then another. "Do you seriously think that anyone on board this ship really needs you? Do you? You're an idiot if you believe that."
"No," D'Argo replied, his teeth clenched. "You're an idiot, because you don't believe it." He brought his head forward and connect with his opponent's, stunning him into releasing his hold. D'Argo felt the pain coursing through his skull as if someone had shot a hot rivet into his head. He could feel the small trickle of blood coursing down his forehead as easily as the sweat on his back. It felt good.
There was no time to hesitate. His doppelganger was already moving to retrieve the Qualta Blade he'd dropped when D'Argo had punched him the first time. He was scrambling across the deckplates toward it. If he hurried, he might get to it before his opponent did.
D'Argo reached the blade at the same time as his double. Their hands touched as they both reached for the hilt. D'Argo noticed without surprise that his twin's skin was cold and unyielding.
The pseudo-D'Argo got the better grip on the blade, forcing it out of D'Argo's grasp. They both rolled back and stood, facing each other.
"What are you going to do now, D'Argo?" He waved the sword at him mockingly. "You've lost your weapon and your strength isn't going to save you. What a pitiful excuse for a warrior. I guess it's finally time that this all came to an end."
"That's what you think."
D'Argo didn't hesitate. He dropped to one knee, crouching just far enough that his opponent's hilt was even with the top of his head. Seeing the look of shock on his adversary's face, he reached up and grabbed the razor-sharp blade of the sword with his hands, pulling back with all his strength. His twin, refusing to loose his grip on the sword, was thrown forward, off balance, and D'Argo very carefully and very deftly planted him on his back, twisting and very satisfyingly breaking the other's sword arm in the process.
The other D'Argo yowled and scrambled, trying to get back up, but D'Argo was on top of him in the space of a breath.
"Never. You'll have to kill me."
D'Argo looked down at himself and marveled at just how pitiful and pathetic he really sounded. "You will yield. I'm not going to kill you. I can't kill you. Because if I were to kill you, I'd only be killing myself."
D'Argo could feel the searing pain in his hands, but he would not let his resolve falter. He kept the sword aimed directly at his opponent's hearts.
"I suppose it would be easier if I could just kill you. To erase all my doubts and fears with a single cut of the sword, but that's not going to happen." D'Argo repeated himself. "Yield. I'm not really giving you a choice in this."
"You're a fool, D'Argo."
D'Argo looked down at his quivering opponent and smiled. "No. I'd only be a fool if I had let you win. The power was mine. All I had to do was choose to use it."
D'Argo turned and looked up at the glowing orb. It burned white and clear. When he turned back, his opponent had vanished.
For a moment he hesitated, but then realized the time for indecision was long past. He raised himself up off the barren deck, sheathing his sword at his back. People were depending on him, and the feeling filled him with a warmth he had not known for many cycles. He walked over to the floating orb of light. He could already feel the growing heat across his face and chest. He felt the energy as it coursed through the wounds in his hands as he stretched them outwards toward it. He felt himself connect with it, and a flood of thoughts filled his mind.
He thought of his new friends...yes, they were friends. He could admit that to himself, even if he could not yet admit it to them. They had come a long way together on Moya, and would continue to do so. He thought about the joy he felt now that he was free, and anticipation of the joy he would know when he was once again reunited with his son.
But beyond all this, he thought of his wife. The memory of their love had kept him alive the past eight cycles, and the thought of being with her once again had been overpowering. For now, though, it would have to remain a memory. A memory and a hope. A hope that one day, in some place and somewhere and in some time, they would be together again.
At first, D'Argo wasn't sure if he was dreaming. He opened his eyes, or at the very least, he tried to open his eyes. He felt like he was buried under a collapsed building.
"Wake up!" It was the Hynerian bellowing at him.
His voice was raspy, and barely above a whisper. "I'm awake, Rygel."
"Not you, you slumbering giant. I was talking to this other worthless bag of flesh over here."
D'Argo's eyes glanced over as the floating Hynerian slapped the sleeping Peacekeeper next to him. Aeryn awoke, startled and more than a little annoyed at her makeshift alarm clock. He was quick to float back over in D'Argo's direction, or perhaps more appropriately, out of Aeryn's reach.
"You know, Luxan, you snore louder than a drunken Kurzan opera singer."
D'Argo cracked a painful smile. "Thanks, Your Eminence. Does that mean you're pleased I'm going to survive?"
"I should say not," the Dominar proclaimed. "All it means is that in a couple of days you'll be back to eating more than your fair share of food cubes. Humph!"
The Peacekeeper forced a smile as the Hynerian departed.
"Forget about it."
"Don't worry about it, Aeryn. It was an accident." He tried to shift his position to get a better view of what had happened to him. But he couldn't move his head far enough to see over his nose. It suddenly became apparent to him that he was in his quarters, on Moya. It also became apparent that he was hooked up to several pieces of medical diagnostic equipment that were most definitely not a part of Moya.
"We were fortunate to find a planet with advanced technology not too far away from where we encountered the gravitational wave. They have yet to acquire interstellar travel, but their medical technology is quite advanced. For a while we weren't sure you were going to make it. The blade was deflected by your sternum, but managed to slip in the left side of your rib cage. It nearly punctured a lung and came so close to your hearts that it caused you to go into primary cardiac arrest. You also cut yourself trying to pull the blade out with your bare hands. But the doctors say you're going to make a full recovery, in time."
"Time." D'Argo mused. "What else do we have out here in the uncharted territories?"
A long silence passed before Aeryn continued.
"D'Argo, can I ask you a question?"
"Did anything happen to you when you were, you know..."
"Crichton said that his people believe that when they die, they are reunited with all the important people in their lives who have died before them. But when we were trapped in the Flax he said he didn't see anything...only blackness."
D'Argo thought hard for several moments. "I...I don't remember. It's almost like...trying to remember a dream. But there was...something. I'm positive of it. And it wasn't all darkness. Quite the opposite, I think."
"You should get some rest. Conserve your strength. You're going to need all of it to get better." She got up from her chair. "In the meantime, I'll let Crichton and Zhaan and Pilot know that you're awake. I'm sure they'll be pleased to know that all our vigilance wasn't for nothing."
"Your vigilance? You've been keeping an eye on me?"
"From the first moment, D'Argo, one of us has always been with you. Even..." Aeryn grunted as she bent over and picked up a DRD and placed it on the nightstand next to D'Argo's bed. "....even Moya offered to watch over you, when the rest of us were unable to."
D'Argo watched the two twittering eyestalks of the DRD that Aeryn had placed next to him.
"I'll be sure to thank her." D'Argo said, seeing the tiny reflection of himself in Aeryn's clear blue eyes.
Aeryn smiled. "I'm sure she already knows."