Scorpius examined his surroundings warily as he emerged from the transport pod into the interior of the Dreadnought. The ship's docking bay was enormous. The sounds of the pod's arrival had barely echoed, instead fading smoothly into dismal silence. The air smelled stale, and the floor was blanketed thickly with dust and debris.
Crichton, D'Argo and Aeryn exited the pod behind him. Crichton whistled in appreciation of the immensity of the enclosed space.
Scorpius addressed his shipmates without turning. "Data recordings are most likely stored on the bridge."
"Which way is that?" Aeryn asked.
Several steps behind, D'Argo quietly unsheathed his Qualta blade. Crichton watched him curiously. "I thought Pilot said this ship was deserted."
D'Argo's eyes flicked towards Scorpius. "You really want to take chances?"
Crichton grunted in agreement and drew Winona.
Scorpius turned to face the others. His gaze rested momentarily on the drawn weapons, but he made no reference to them when he spoke. "The command bridge should be in that direction, as removed as possible from the engines and main generator." He gestured towards a nearby corridor with a gloved hand.
"After you," Crichton said with mock solicitude.
Scorpius snorted, but began picking his way in the proper direction around the mounds of debris littering the docking bay floor. He studied the ship's interior with equal parts interest and distaste. It had been many cycles since he had last been aboard a Scarran ship. After his final escape he had dearly hoped never again to see the oxygen side of a Dreadnought's hull. Although this craft was far older than any Scarran vessel he had previously encountered, there were still enough similarities between this ship and the current model to awaken unpleasant memories of his childhood with Tauza. He growled and shook his head to clear it.
Crichton brought up the rear of the small party with D'Argo. He trailed his hands lazily along the corridor walls, which were decorated in a crimson scale motif picked out with black and white detailing. His fingers brushed lightly against an exposed power conduit. A blue-white crackle of energy leaped out in response.
"Ouch!" he yelped. "This thing still has juice!" He stuck his singed fingers in his mouth.
Scorpius, who had halted at Crichton's outcry, responded. "The ship's generators could continue manufacturing energy for hundreds of cycles yet. I would, ah, advise against touching any more exposed power couplings."
"Thanks, Obi-wan, for that timely advice," Crichton muttered.
They had only moved a few yards further down the passageway when Scorpius stopped abruptly. He narrowed his eyes and listened closely, as the others behind him paused. Crichton winced internally. He had heard that sound far too often since his first trip down a wormhole. Weapons' fire echoed dimly through the stale air.
"Looks like we have company," he drawled.
They moved cautiously to the end of the corridor, where they could see into the room beyond. It was at least as dusty as the docking bay. Worse, most of the dust had been stirred into the air by its occupants, severely limiting visibility. Footsteps pounded on the metallic floor, then died away. The firing of a single pulse weapon shattered a period of relative silence.
"What now?" Aeryn asked softly.
"Dunno," Crichton replied. "Who's shooting?"
"I can't see. There's too much debris in the air."
"Think they know we're here?" D'Argo asked.
"Doubtful," Scorpius answered. "Otherwise, they would most likely--"
He ducked rapidly to avoid a pulse blast. The sound of gunfire seemed to increase in volume as the shots were aimed at the entrance to the passageway.
"—be doing that," he concluded dryly.
Crichton, Aeryn, D'Argo, and Scorpius flattened themselves against the corridor wall.
"Why is it that everyone we meet is trying to kill us? Didn't your mama teach you not to shoot at strangers?!" Crichton yelled his last remark into the room at their unseen assailant. He was answered by an irritated round of pulse fire.
"Antisocial space invaders," he grumbled.
"Cover me," Aeryn said abruptly. She ducked into the room, and disappeared amid clouds of dust and smoke. D'Argo and Crichton leaped to the entranceway and began firing into the haze.
Aeryn drew her weapon as she sprinted, sliding to a crouch behind a conveniently located console. Pulse fire ripped into the wall behind her, smoke from the seared metal making her eyes tear. She could hear John and D'Argo's covering fire, but she still couldn't see their attacker.
A metallic chirrup issued from across the room, followed by a quiet "Frell!"
Aeryn stood and leveled her pulse rifle at the source of the noises. Crichton and D'Argo followed her lead, Scorpius, unarmed, trailing slightly.
"Whoever you are, put your weapon down and stand where we can see you. You will not be harmed," Aeryn said steadily.
A Sebacean man stepped through the haze into view. His dark hair was mussed, and what could have been minor radiation burns dotted his face and hands. He wore the uniform of a Peacekeeper officer, and his standard-issue pulse rifle was pointed directly at Aeryn. "Traitor," he hissed.
"That weapon's out of charge," she stated coolly, registering no surprise at the man's appearance or his greeting.
The Peacekeeper sneered in reply, then tossed the rifle to the floor.
"Name and rank."
He remained silent.
Aeryn crossed the distance between them in two strides and jammed the business end of her pulse rifle into his chest. "I will not ask again. Name and rank."
The Peacekeeper stared at her contemptuously for a moment before answering. "Officer Bren Levrik, Kelmnar Regiment."
Aeryn removed her weapon from his chest and stepped back.
"What were you firing at?" D'Argo demanded.
He regarded D'Argo with lazy superiority. "I don't answer to prisoners and traitors."
"He was firing at me." The voice was a low growl, interrupting before D'Argo could respond.
D'Argo, John and Scorpius whirled to face the new arrival. A large male Scarran emerged through the dust. His hands were extended to show they were empty, and he was bleeding freely from a large wound on his arm. "Peace. I am unarmed."
Scorpius narrowed his eyes and exhaled sharply in surprise.
"This your ship?" Crichton asked.
The Scarran kept his eyes fastened warily on Levrik. "No. This vessel disappeared cycles before my birth."
"Why was Cap'n Crunch over there trying to make you into Swiss?"
The Scarran looked helplessly at D'Argo.
"Why was the Peacekeeper shooting at you?" D'Argo translated.
"Because he is a Peacekeeper," he answered, as if surprised at Crichton's notion that there had to be another reason. "Why are you here?"
Scorpius stepped forward. "We are searching for data necessary to escape the spatial anomaly. I, ah, don't suppose you could direct us to the relevant datachips."
"Peacekeeper," the Scarran growled, noticing Scorpius for the first time.
Still being held at gunpoint by Aeryn, Levrik laughed cruelly. "That half-breed? Hardly. In fact, I understood he had been executed. Rather a shame I seem to be mistaken."
Scorpius snarled at Levrik.
The Scarran eyed Scorpius guardedly. "If you are not Peacekeepers, I will assist you."
"Under what conditions?" D'Argo asked warily. Nothing had ever come for free, either in the Uncharted Territories or Tormented Space.
"When you leave, provide me with transport to the nearest neutral commerce planet."
"Sounds reasonable," Crichton said. "Assuming you deliver."
"My ship is in the treblin side hangar. Return to your craft and meet me there in half an arn."
D'Argo grunted affirmatively and the Scarran turned and exited into the corridor.
"What should we do with him?" Aeryn asked, jerking her head slightly to indicate Levrik.
"Take him with us," John suggested. "Maybe he knows something."
Aeryn prodded Levrik in the back with her pulse rifle until he stood in front of the group, facing the corridor.
"Walk," she instructed.
Levrik looked back over his shoulder to smirk arrogantly at Aeryn. "I hope the Scarran kills you all." He began moving slowly down the passageway.