"I'd never leave you, Aeryn." I kept repeating that phrase in my mind. Why did I think that he meant more than that he would come back for me and get me out of blue Moya? I pushed the thought from my mind. Crichton and I had to check every level and tier of Moya for damage.
"Ready for this tier, Aeryn? It looks like the lights down here are all out. "
I held up a portable light module. Did he think I'd come unprepared? We walked into the first cell on the tier.
"Damn!" Crichton said. "I don't remember any tiers with furry walls."
I switched on the light source and stared into a huge, fanged face.
"Christ! Another damned critter, Aeryn. A monster." John yelled.
I reached for the pistol I kept in the holster in the small of my back. Before I could draw, a huge pair of hands scooped me up.
"MONSTERS!" Bellowed a deep voice. "Save us! Save us!" Screamed another voice. "You're a Peacekeeper, shoot him," Roared the first voice. "By the Goddess, he's ugly," mumbled a slightly higher pitched voice.
"Put me down right now!" I yelled. I was promptly dropped to the floor. I managed to find a light control panel and turn on the lights in the cell. I couldn't believe what I saw. Three huge four-legged beings stood before me. They were covered in fur and had huge fangs. However, it was their clothing that really amazed me. The one in the middle, with brown fur, I noticed, was wearing blue and gold vertically striped pajamas in some lightweight cloth. The one on the right, blue eyed and black furred, had a pair of bright red silk pajamas with black trim. I noticed he had pink fuzzy slippers on. They appeared to have been made from some long-eared creature. The third and smallest being had pajamas with what looked like round smiling yellow faces all over them. Hadn't John shown me something like that in the past?
"Aeryn, shoot them!" Yelled John.
"Don't listen to HIM." Bellowed the middle being. "We're peaceable, friendly and very cuddly vorlags. He may look like a Peacekeeper, Officer, but we can tell by his scent that he isn't."
The one in the red pajamas stuck his head around the other one. "Besides, we're paying passengers on Moya."
John and I looked at each other. John, naturally, spoke first. "Who would sell passages to these guys and not tell anyone about it?"
"RYGEL!" We said together.
"Yes," Said the one in the blue and gold pajamas. "Dominar Rygel was kind enough to sell us passage on his ship."
I walked up to him and stared into his eyes. "And you are?"
He politely held out a hand for me to shake. "My name is Larry, and this is my younger brother Moe and the smaller one is my youngest brother, Curly."
John started laughing. "Larry, Moe and Curly? Do you have any cousins named Stan and Olly?"
Larry nodded. "Aunt Matilda's boys. Do you know them?"
I had to stop these four before I lost control completely. "We want to know how much Rygel charged you for the trip."
Larry shrugged. "It was very reasonable. Six and a half million Growlfs. And a few odds and ends we had."
I turned and looked at John who was still laughing at some private Earth joke that I couldn't fathom. "Crichton, we are going to have a talk with that toad."
I strode out of the cell with Crichton behind me, and the three vorlags following. We found His Lowness in the central chamber stuffing his face with food cubes,
"Rygel!" I shouted. He started to back his throne sled away, but I grabbed him by the earbrow before he could escape. "You little bandit. Who do you think...." Suddenly, I recognized something on his breath. "Raslac? You got raslac from them?" I started pulling on his earbrow. I wondered how much force it would take before they came off. Suddenly I saw the bottle on the floor. "Blue Label Thermidor? You drank the whole bottle of Blue Label Thermidor? I'll frelling kill you, toad. Slowly."
John put his arms around me and tried to pull me off of Rygel. I almost turned around and pantak jabbed him. Almost.
"Aeryn, you don't kill someone over a lousy bottle of.....Rygel, what was in this plate?"
The youngest vorlag replied. "I had a chocolate pie. They're the best. Everyone knows vorlag chocolate is the best in the Universe. He insisted he had to have it. "
"Chocolate? Chocolate? You had chocolate, you criminal?" Crichton roared.
It was my turn to grab John."John, you can't kill him over a lousy chocolate pie. We'll kill him together."
Suddenly Larry pushed his way between us and Rygel. "You should be ashamed of yourselves. Threatening this being like that. I will not stand for it." He sat down next to Rygel with an audible thump.
John wasn't done. "We want our share of the money. And what else did you get, Rygel?"
Rygel smiled. "All I got was this deck of Varot cards. Humph! I can't get them to tell a fortune, Moe. I think you cheated me."
The vorlag in the red pajamas looked offended. "Cheated? By no means, good sir. Let me see the cards." In a few microts he had six rows of cards laid out. "Hmm!" He said while scratching his chin. "The Orange Queen, the sign of royalty. The Jester followed by the Guardsman. Power lost and power regained. Then we have the Triple Fives, a sign of great sexual potency. It all looks right to me, Your Highness."
Rygel peered at the cards. "They do seem to be correct. Power regained you say?"
Moe nodded. "We can play other games, you know." He picked up three cards and showed them to everyone. "The Red Princess and two place cards of no value." He said. Then he placed them carefully on the table before Rygel. "Can you pick where the Princess is, Sir?"
"Of course I can." Rygel flipped over a card. It was the Red Princess.
"Very good, Your Highness. A very astute eye you have. Care to make a small wager on the next turn of the card?" Rumbled the vorlag.
He moved the three cards around. Rygel again flipped over the Red Princess and won a small wager.
"Wait, Moe. There's a problem." I started. Before I could finish, John grabbed my arm and was dragging me out of the central chamber, telling everyone we had to finish our inspection. The two other vorlags went with us. The younger said he was going back to sleep and Larry said he wanted to check their baggage.
"John! Let me go." I pulled my arm away from John. "Moe accidentally nicked the Red Princess with his claw. Rygel can't lose that game. He'll cheat that poor vorlag."
John just laughed. "It's nice to see Mexico's gift to civilization has made it this far. Don't worry, Aeryn. Moe will do fine."
John turned to Larry. "What's the baggage you have to check, Amigo?"
"One hundred bottles of vorlag beer." Replied Larry.
"One hundred bottles?" John whispered.
"Oh, dear. How rude of me." Larry said." Will you two join me for a beer?"
John glanced at me. "Beer. Alcohol. Like we had with the Ancients, Aeryn."
I remembered than night. I remembered it very well. I decided I'd better just nod and not try to talk.
We got to the vorlag's cell and Larry rummaged around in a large case. He turned and handed John a huge green glass bottle.
"Whoa! There must be two gallons here. That's enough for the two of us." John suddenly looked at me. "That's okay with you, Aeryn?" I nodded.
Suddenly, the stillness was broken by a shrill scream. Curly rolled over in his bed and muttered, "Moe won."
We walked down the hall with Larry and turned into an empty cell, so as not to bother Curly and the newly rich Moe's sleep. Larry and John touched their beer bottles together in some sort of ritual.
"Slante." Said John.
"Bottoms up." Said Larry.
John and I sat against a wall and passed our bottle back and forth. I found myself leaning on his shoulder and relaxing. He started to sing a song. "One hundred bottles of beer on the wall, take one down and pass it around and there's ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall." The rest of the song followed that pattern and I soon joined in followed by Larry.
"I'd never leave you, Aeryn." That still ran through my mind. He did mean more by it, but what?